To the loving memory of all the unfortunate victims of Hurricane Katrina which struck the

city of New Orleans back in August 2005. Even now, our thoughts & prayers are with you all.

MAGIC KNIGHT RAYEARTH/ALIENS II:

VICIOUS TROOPS

2005, 2009 by Anthony Ogozalek

PROLOGUE

No mater how hard she tried, she simply couldn't stop the images from flashing in her head.

She couldn't even ignore them.

As if her subconscious were a television screen & someone was changing channels within her repeatedly hoping to find something good on, images kept flashing in her mind as she slept in up to her neck in a white sheet & a light blur blanket, the girl—looking no more than an early teen with long lavender hair—was sleeping unsteadily & unevenly, tossing her head left & right, trying to wish the images away with nothing more than her own willpower. Her breathing was getting more ragged & heavy as these flashes/images kept appearing in her head, her pillow getting soaked with her own sweat.

In spite of her troubles, she tried desperately to make out what it was exactly which she was witnessing.

She couldn't guess any clearer than before what they were, but she did know that they were anything but pleasant. Even if she wasn't getting physically hurt on any level, what she was being shown disturbed her on many levels.

Another image flashed in her mind;this one showed a plethora of oval-shaped & leathery objects standing around in clusters. One opens up to reveal a multitude of pale yellow spindly legs that were attached to something resembling a big hairless spider with a long prehensile tail at its rear. It raced at her with such speed that the girl wanted to scream in terror, but the image was gone by the time it reached her before she could, & was replaced by another image in her mind.

This one consisted of another creature, only this one was much larger than the spider-thing she saw only seconds ago. This thing stood a good two meters tall, & was humanoid in shape, but similarities with humans ended there. It was a hideous combination of a reptile & insect, & it had a black body that served as a chitinous exoskeleton as insects—and even arachnids—commonly would possess. It posed with four toes on each foot & six fingers on each hand, all ending with pointed claws. Four tubular dorsal spines protruded frim its upper back, but what disturbed her most was its banana-shaped head, & at the front of its eyeless face was a mouth of sharp, needle-like teeth that glistened in the darkness, giving it an even more ghastly appearance. It stayed still for two seconds before vanishing from her mind.

But her nightmare (& visions) still didn't end, despite her silent pleas for them to. The thing was soon replaced by another of its kind, only now she was seeing it literally in her face. Even as an image, she can feel its hot breath on her. Every instinct told her to scream, but she was so still & paralyzed with fear that she couldn't. The creature opened its mouth, & from within was a second mouth with teeth inside. That too opened up, & shot out from inside with almost bullet-speed, but it vanished in a blurry haze before it can make contact with any flesh or bone.

By this time, the girl was panting heavily as her visions were getting too intense for her to handle. Undaunted by her silent prayers for them to cease & desist, another image showed up in her head. Now she was seeing an entire swarm of the creatures rushing right towards her like a living tide of black, teeth, & claws mashed into one. A blinding flash of light occurs, & suddenly she's witnessing a woman bound to the wall somewhere by some clear, epoxy-like substance that had hardened as it dried. The woman kept begging the girl to kill her in a weak, raspy voice, but her pleas go unanswered as she coughs up blood just before letting out a blood-curdling scream as the woman's chest abruptly swells up from within, like something was trying to break out from inside her.

And it was: like a bubble in a bathtub, the swelling in her chest bursts open, cutting off the woman's scream, spraying blood, flesh, & bone all over. From the hole emerged a head of what looked like a eel or snake with the same kind of teeth the other monsters had. It suddenly took off from its birthplace & scuttled off into the unknown.

The dead woman & snake-like creature dissipated from the young girl's mind, this time replaced by another of the full-grown monsters again, only now this one was much bigger than those she'd seen before. This one was a mountain of a monster, looking to be twenty feet tall or more, standing like a Tyrannosaurus on two powerful legs. Like its brethren, its tail was segmented & pointed at the end with a razor-sharp edge, only longer. And unlike its kin, this one had half a dozen dorsal spines protruding from its back, & were pointed instead of rounded out. Another big difference was the smaller pair of arms that jutted out from its midsection, each one ending with three-fingered, clawed hands. Its large mouth possessed the needle-teeth like its kin, but its head looked nothing like the others. Like its size, it was larger than those of its kind, branching out in the rear, resembling an antler-like comb that had three points in the back. This monster made a heavier & more hideous breathing sound. When it roared, its sound screeched & echoed all over.

The girl saw this huge, frightening monstrosity in all its glory in a room which appears to be within a castle of some sort. The thing was crouched over as a Tyrannosaurus probably would over a girl dressed in a green outfit & skirt with body armor on her chest & left shoulder. She was at the beast's mercy as it held her down on the ground with its hands.

Again her vision flashed, & now she saw the huge monster once more, but now she sees it as if she was the helpless girl in green staring up at it. She sees the thing open its toothy maw, just inches from her face, revealing the inner mouth. As before, the interior mouth shot out with great speed, & her vision suddenly turned all white as she heard the girl in green scream in anguish at the top of her lungs.

Finally, she was able to scream herself.

CHAPTER I

Shinzeta sat up in her bed, her stark naked body covered in sweat as she breathed heavily in & out, waking from her many nightmarish visions she'd been viewing. Her long lavender hair was whipped out in front of her when she awoke, covering her large, melon-sized breasts. Her skin was slick with sweat & looked very pale, almost as if she had just died & was brought back to life as a zombie, even though blood flowed freely through her veins with a very lively beating heart in her chest. Working to slow her racing heartbeat & breathing, Shinzeta surveyed her surroundings to help her remember where she resided. She rested on a bed in a round room that was thirty feet large, & looked to royalty that would make any king/queen merry & gay. The furniture (including her bed) looked ravishingly wealthy & unique, with a drawer & table in exquisite fashion. She also had her own private lavatory, complete with sink, toilet, & shower. Above the only door in & out of the room was a camera which surveyed Shinzeta at all times. There was even one in the lavatory itself.

Working to calm herself, Shinzeta's mind are riddled with thoughts.

What's happening to me? Why am I having these visions in my head every time I lay down & go to sleep? For over a month now, they keep haunting me in my dreams, with no end in sight. I can't understand it…those creatures I saw, that girl in green, what does it all mean? And why, for some reason, do I get the feeling that his all seems familiar to me somehow? Where have I seen all of this? How am I seeing all of this? Most importantly, why the hell am I seeing all of this? It just doesn't make any damn sense!

Her chain of though was broken when the metal door of her room slid open horizontally & a massive figure stepped inside. The figure was humanoid, had red reptilian skin, & was dressed in white armor that covered its pelvis, chest, & shoulders. It sported a long but powerful tail in its rear, & had three toes on each foot, each ending in a sharp black claw. Four-fingered hands were attached to its slender but muscular arms, & black claws has also punctuated the fingers. The thing's head sprouted elongated jaws, with a mouth full of sharp teeth, perfect for tearing away chunks of flesh. Its characteristics were more or less like that of a humanoid dinosaur; a T-Rex, if one is to be exact. It stood eight feet tall, & had a pistol & sword holstered on each side of its hips.

"Is everything all right, Lady Shinzeta?", it asked with more passion than its appearance might allow. "I suddenly heard you scream out in your sleep & thought that maybe you were…"

"No, it's nothing serious, Tyrannix", Shinzeta said, waving away his worries with the stroke of a hand. "Just seeing those same old visions I've been having for over a month now. No matter how hard I try to make them go away or figure them out, it all becomes as vague as the day I first started seeing them. To this day, I cannot make heads or tails of them. They baffle me now more than ever, & I just don't know what to do anymore about them!"

Shinzeta buries her head in her hands as Tyrannix approaches the bed & sits in front of her as a father would to his child after having a bad dream. He gently places a four-fingered hand on one of her legs, which were still under her covers.

"Do have patience, Lady Shinzeta", he says calmly. "Everything will become crystal clear to you in due time, once your treatment has been completed. Speaking of which, my dear, you're due for another in about four hours from now. Try to get some more rest until…"

"NO, goddamnit! No more sleep! I've done that shit enough!", Shinzeta barked, slashing her left arm out at Tyrannix like it was a sword. The dinosaurian warrior had been taken aback by the abrupt movement & outburst, & backs away just a few inches. Realizing what she'd done, the young naked girl speaks to Tyrannix, but in a softer tone. "I-I'm most sorry, Tyrannix. I truly did not mean to snap at you as I had. Please accept my humble apologies. It's just that…"

Tyrannix kindly took Shinzeta's hands into his own as a parent would. "No apologies are necessary, my dear. Your situation is quite understandable. You are most anxious to get answers as to the cause of all these visions you've been having, yes?"

Shinzeta nods her head.

"Very well then, my dear", he continues, getting up off the bed & heading for the door. "I shall have one of my associates bring you a platter of food for you to get your strength restored. I believe you must be famished right now."

Shinzeta nods again as Tyrannix pauses at the door, turning to her. "I thought as much. Once you finish, I will lead you down to the infirmary where Doctor Coelophys will attend to you. But first, there is a small matter of business I must take care of."

Tyrannix leaves Shinzeta's room & the door closes before she can say or do anything. The dinosaurian warrior walks down a corridor to the main room where the rest of his warriors are awaiting him. He heads there with both eagerness & a bit of detest within him. The thought of Shinzeta snapping at him in that tone of voice still stung him: had anyone else other than her even think of doing so to him, Tyrannix wouldn't hesitate to tear that individual apart. He does not suffer fools lightly, whether they be friend or foe. The only reason for his not doing so to Shinzeta was because she was—is—very vital to him for visiting some 'old friends' very soon, & Shinzeta is the key to a most powerful door to which he has tried many years to open.

That alone made the dinosaur warrior smile.

In a large conference room that measured 100 feet in width, 30 feet in height, had monitors & computers on three-quarters of its walls, a door on each one & a large metal table in the center with chairs, the inhabitants of the room—all humanoid versions of different dinosaurs, wearing battle armor in the same fashion as Tyrannix, but different colors—all sat down & watched on the monitor which was showing Shinzeta & Tyrannix sharing an 'intimate moment' before words were exchanged & the latter left the room as the former got out of bed & put on a clean white robe to cover her nude body.

No one in the room was pleased with what they had witnessed, & one of them—a humanoid Pteranodon named Terradaclys, who wasn't sitting—makes his feelings plainly clear to the others.

"How utterly disgusting!", he snaps, his voice sounding like a parrot's.

"Like we haven't heard you say that hundreds of times already, Terradaclys!", replied the humanoid Stegosaurus named Stegron.

"Stuff it, Stegron! I know you & the rest feel the same way I do, so don't patronize me! To see our so-called 'leader' associating with a human is enough to make even my flesh crawl! Why must we even tolerate this tomfoolery?"

"Because Tyrannix has ordered it so, pigeon!", the humanoid Ankylosaurus called Ankylla snapped at him. "And as you yourself stated, he is our leader, & we will all follow his orders to the letter, whether we like it or not!"

"Feh! You're letting your loyalty get in the way of your better judgement, Ankylla!", the humanoid Pteranodon argued. "What could Tyrannix possibly hope to achieve by having a human become one of us? Doesn't that make any of you even the least bit suspicious of his motives?"

"Knowing our leader, I'm sure he has a good reason for it!", replied Megalas, the humanoid Megalosaurus.

"And knowing you, Megalas, you'd blindly follow Tyrannix into an active volcano! Why he made you his second-in-command of us, I'll never understand!"

Megalas growled lowly but threateningly at Terradaclys. "You don't need to understand it at all, Terradaclys! Just know that I am the second-in-command, & orders from me are the same as orders from Tyrannix himself! Don't ever forget that!"

"Hmph! Be that as it may, I still think Tyrannix is a fool to even consider having a human be a member of this group! That was never the way back in the old days, where we used to ravage entire areas of humans without giving it another thought! Our leader was at his prime then, but nowadays, he's become too soft for this group!"

"So who do you suggest should lead this group from now on, pigeon? You?", the humanoid Triceratops called Tri-ton said.

That got a laugh from him & the others, but Terradaclys just scowled menacingly, baring his teeth as well.

"Laugh while you can, fools!", he spat at his crew. "Soon, Tyrannix will drive us all to our graves because of his tomfoolery, & you'll only have yourselves to blame once that happens!"

Terradaclys didn't notice the room going dead quiet while he was talking until he was all said & done. Megalas & the others were staring at one of the doors to the room with eyes wide open as if in shock, which was not untrue. When Terradaclys turned to where his comrades were all looking at, he, too, went into shock, & his eyes went agape along with theirs.

Tyrannix has just entered the room—and he doesn't look happy!

The Tyrannosauroid immediately turns to Terradaclys & walks right towards him, like he was out for an easy stroll through the park. The Pteranodonoid, so brazen & cocky just moments ago, freezes up in both body & mind, unable to move except cringe a bit as Tyrannix gets closer to his winged warrior.

"Lord Tyrannix, I…", Terradaclys starts to say, but gets cut off.

What he does next to Terradaclys is anything but easy: he grabs the Pteranodonoid & lifts him up by his throat before another word can be uttered. Tyrannix brings him to eye level, with a scowl that can melt even the thickest ice.

"So I'm a fool, am I, Terradaclys?", Tyrannix growled. "I'm too soft for our group? And you honestly believe you can lead this team better than I? All because I'm associating myself with a human, you believe all this? Huh?"

Terradaclys tried to summon an apology to Tyrannix, but the Tyrannosauroid kept a firm hold on his neck, cutting off his air which makes Terradaclys struggle for breath. Megalas & the others watch the scene unfold, & while they currently loathe their comrade at the moment, they can't help but feel some hint of sympathy for him. To go endure Tyrannix's wrath is a foolhardy way for anyone to die, & it doesn't help if you're on his side either.

Just when Terradaclys' vision started getting dark, Tyrannix throws him against one of the computer consoles. The winged warrior makes a dent in it & gets to his hands & kness on the floor, gasping for air at his leader's feet as he looks up.

"P-Please forgive me, Lord Tyrannix", Terradaclys says pleadingly. "I was just saying…"

"I know what you were saying, pigeon! "Tyrannix barks. "Now listen good! Lady Shinzeta is our ticket in helping to avenge all our fallen brethren who died in those great battle we all fought years ago, two of which nearly wiped us out with them! With her now at near full strength, she will lead us to our enemies once more, & this time, we shall make them suffer for their atrocities toward us! Until that time, you will all treat her with the respect you give me, & she is not to be harmed in even the slightest by any of you! Understood?"

Too scared to resist him even slightly, Terradaclys nods.

Tyrannix turns to Megalas & the others.

"Understood?", he asked them,though not as forcefully.

"Yes, Lord Tyrannix!", the quartet said, rising from their seats & bowing.

"Very good, my soldiers."

Then Tri-ton starts saying more.

"With all due respect, Lord Tyrannix, while Terradaclys may have overstepped his bounds just now, he does raise a good point: why are we associating ourselves with this female human you have 'brought in' to us? She has stayed with us for more than a month now, but we need to know—how will she fulfil our desires?"

Tyrannix looks at Tri-ton for a few moments. While the dinosaur warrior leader & most of his soldiers stand a good eight feet tall in height, Tri-ton stands taller than any of them by about a foot-&-a-half. He's also the most built of them, & he literally weighs close to a full ton. But even so, Tri-ton has always been one of Tyrannix's best men, & deserves to ask a question of him with no fear or regret.

"Fair enough, Tri-ton", he says with a smile. "While I will not go into full details about it at this time, I will say that Lady Shinzeta is going to help us achieve not just vengeance, but great power as well! She will be the key in helping us to obtain that power, & once it becomes ours, no one will be able to oppose us! We just need to make a few more preparations, & then our quest shall start! Speaking of which, I want Stegron, Terradaclys, & Ankylla to go prep our ship ready for departure. Tri-ton, Lady Shinzeta desires nourishment. See to it."

"Yes, Lord Tyrannix", Stegron, Ankylla, Tri-ton, & Terradaclys all say simultaneously, as the latter gets up & rushes up to join the former two without making eye contact of any kind to his leader, who is probably still pissed at him for his insubordination, however mundane it may have been.

When only Tyrannix & Megalas are left, the former loks straight at his companion.

"Megalas, let's you & I take a little walk", Tyrannix says, heading for a different door than the one he entered the room in.

"Yes, Lord Tyrannix", Megalas says without question, coming right behind him.

Tyrannix led Megalas down a corridor that led into a room just at the end, on the right. As the door opened, they enter a brightly lit room which had dozens of metal cylinders standing in a vertical position, each with a glass door & filled to the brim with fluid. They stood on either side of the path that the two dino-warriors were walking down. Each of the cylinders had within a tall creature, measuring ten feet in height & had bleach-white skin. They were all humanoid like them, but wearing no armor anywhere on their person. They were basically identical, right down to the last detail, having powerful tails, sharp claws on their three-toed feet & four fingered hands. Their mouths were elongated like Megalas', & they were in a dormant state with their eyes closed as tubes were attached to their necks, arms, chests, & legs as blood was being transferred.

"Magnificent, aren't they, Megalas?", Tyrannix asks his second-in-command.

"They are, my lord", Megalas replied. "Although, truth be told, they're not who we want them to be in every detail."

"I understand your feelings in the matter, old friend. But due to the limited 'resources' we've had, I'm afraid this is the best we can come up with. It won't matter—they will still follow our orders without question."

"And what of our other troops, my lord? Can they be taught discipline as well?"

Tyrannix doesn't answer his soldier's question until they come upon a large glass window at the path's end, one that covers a separate room next to it. Pressing a button just below it, the room lights up to reveal a multitude of oval-shaped objects laying nearly everywhere upon the room. In the center was a massive black creature supported in midair by thick strands of a clear substance which has hardened. Behind it is a huge yellow sack, also supported by the same substance, that kept producing the oval-shaped objects—eggs—like it was a machine in a well-kept factory. The thing's breathing was ragged, & it stayed in its position like a spider ready to pounce on an unsuspecting insect.

It was the same creature Shinzeta had been dreaming about.

It was an Alien Queen.

"Don't worry about that, Megalas", Tyrannix finally answers him. "With what we have, they will be as obedient as a dog to its human master!"

"How soon wll they be ready, Lord Tyrannix?", Megalas asked. "It feels as if the process is taking forever with them."

"Doctor Coelophys has told me the other day that our troops wil be ready in full capacity in only two days time. Once they are, we will prepare our aliens for the same treatment. In that time Lady Shinzeta will be at full strength, & our 'training' for the aliens will only take a single day more. Then we will embark on our journey to the first of the only two worlds who have dared to oppose us!"

Tyrannix & Megalas continue to stare admirably at the alien queen as she keeps producing her unborn brethren from her oversized egg sac. Both combatants can see an eerie beauty in the alien beast as she goes to work laying her eggs non-stop, reproducing without the need of a male of her species for the process. They can literally see their future in their own minds, triumphing over those who have bested them in the past—and with the help of their troops, alien & such, they intend on making that vision come true after so many years of strategic planning.

In only a few day's time, that mental image will begin, & their plan will finally bear fruit.

Tyrannix & Megalas smile with great pride, baring their sharp teeth.

CHAPTER II

Cephiro, one month later:

The sun shone high & bright overhead in an almost cloudless sky, which was usually the case on the world motivated by the will of the people. Not since before Princess Emeraude fell in love with High Priest Zagato & disrupted the planet's peace has Cephiro looked so beautiful. And since Magic Knight Hikaru Shidou (one of three young girls from Tokyo, Japan of Earth who were summoned by Emeraude, along with Umi Ryuuzaki & Fuu Hououji) had more or less 'fixed' Cephiro's pillar system so that it wouldn't need a pillar to keep it stable, the planet has retained its former glory & beauty. Even when the vicious acid-bloded aliens had attacked just over two months ago, the weather & condition of Cephiro didn't falter, let alone change: when Hikaru had become the new pillar of Cephiro (one of two candidates for it, the late Eagle Vision of Autozam being the other), she also made it so that even if any of the inhabitants of Cephiro get scared or sad or any melancholy feeling, the planet would not lose its beauty over it, let alone produce any new monsters.

But even with a 'fixed' pillar system, new monsters was what Cephiro received anyway: a ship called The Comet had crash-landed on the planet, unleashing a horde of the hideous space creatures & kidnapping all of the children's parents. Despite the valiant & bold efforts of Master Mage Clef, Swordmaster Lantis, & all the other brave warriors who fought against Lady Debonair when she tried to wipe out Cephiro, the parents were all taken captive to become living hosts for the acid-blooded nightmares. Even with the arrival of the Legendary Magic Knights, none of the parents could've been saved from their fate.

And the aliens weren't the only threat they all had to face: Autozam's Bio Metro & his good friend Kaza Rosque (the former being the brother of Geo Metro), who had both chosen to live on Cephiro with Geo & Zazu Torque after being exiled from their home, had known of the monster's arrival all along by a mysterious benefactor & betrayed everyone, planning to have the children meet the same fate as their parents, as well as Cephiro's guardians themselves.

And they did it all for nothing more than money.

Were it not for the intervention of a man named Treece (the only parent not taken by the aliens to be impregnated & forced to do Bio's bidding, lest his daughter Tamara be forfeited), Bio Metro would've had the last laugh.

But in a way, Bio Metro did have the last laugh: while the aliens on Cephiro & within the castle were all dealt with, the parents were all killed, & Treece gave his life by reaching Bio's craft—the RXT—and blasting it out of the sky, with both of them on board. Kaza Rosque didn't fare any better: as the Magic Knights pursued the traitors to their ship, Kaza cornered them & tried to kill them, but it was he who ended up dead as one of the alien queens pierced him from behind with her pointed tail & ripped him in half.

Despite their victory over the two Autozamian traitors, it was a bitter taste in everyone's mouth, having lost so many good people over the course of that battle.

Nevertheless, as grim as the outcome of the situation had been, the people of Cephiro have picked themselves up from their fall & have taken steps to regain what they've lost. After they had successfully collaborated & made a pact with Autozam after a year-long dispute due to the automated world's loss of Eagle Vision—their best combatant, which struck a huge blow to the Chiefs of Staff, & the planet itself—Master Mage Clef had used Geo & Zazu's screen to get in touch with the people of Kietana, a world whose inhabitants had been good friends with Cephiro long before Princess Emeraude's demise, asking for help in sending over some residents from their home to Cephiro to act as foster parents for the children & live frivolously on Cephiro. One simple explanation from Clef was all it took for the people of Kietana to agree without a second thought about it. Working as fast as they could, the President of Kietana (a world only half-run by machinery, & resembling much like Earth) had rounded up willing volunteers to be sent over.

And now, the day of their arrival is today.

Everyone from Clef to the Magic Knights themselves have attended in the greeting of the arrival of the Kietanian ship & its passengers from right outside the castle. Geo Metro & Zazu Torque have kept track of the craft since entering Cephiro's outer rim, keeping it in their sights on their monitor—the same one they used to reconcile with their home, & lift their exile from it. Like Lady Aska, Sang-Yung, & Elder Chang Ang had, Geo & Zazu have stayed on Cephiro since the alien invasion (though more like infestation) to help take care of the orphaned kids with Presea, Caldina, Ferio, & all the rest of the planet's brave fighters to keep them in good spirits until the new arrivals show. As an added bonus, the two princesses from Chizeta, Tarta & Tatra, have also arrived to Cephiro in order to lend their assistance to the children. They had only arrived just a few days ago upon hearing the news of the alien attack, but for those few days, they gave it their all in making the kids happy as can be, some say even better than most others.

Even the Magic Knights themselves had stayed on Cephiro after the alien's attack to give a helping hand to Mira & all the kids, unable to head home to Earth after their deadly ordeal with the aliens. While they've been away from Earth for over two months now, it hardly mattered: like a time machine, the girls (Hikaru Shidou, Umi Ryuuzaki, & Fuu Hououji) can be sent back to nearly the exact moment after their departure from their home. So what seemed like over two months here on Cephiro will only be a few moments back on Earth. The girls can probably stay on Cephiro for a few years & still get back to Earth only seconds after leaving for Cephiro.

Just one of the many benefits of living on a world where the will reigns!

Waiting patiently, the guardians of Cephiro & its (for now) orphaned children keep their sights on the skies, wanting to catch the first glimpse of the approaching Kietanian ship.

Of course, there are those who always wish for things to hurry to their benefit.

"It's been six hours now, Geo, & I still don't see any sign of our attendants", Lafarga says in a rather impatient tone. "Are you sure they said they'd be arriving today?"

"I assure you, Lafarga, it's exactly what they said to Zazu & I when we spoke to them via our monitor", Geo says. "They should be within our airspace any time now."

"It's been too long for me. They should've been here only four hours ago, tops."

"Master Mage Clef & I happened to be there at the time they'd broadcasted their message to us, Lafarga", Lantis says politely, cutting off his friend. "Trust me, if there's one thing that I know of Autozamian technology is that it's never flawed. And that both Geo & Zazu always speak truthfully, even when they were against us during the battle for the pillar."

"I suppose that trait would be because Eagle was the same way, Lantis", Zazu said. "He had taught Geo & myself to always be truthful to everyone you meet—even if it's an enemy."

"And Eagle did keep his word that Autozam would not attack Cephiro in order to get a readout of the pillar system to help save it from destruction."

"True, I must admit", Lafarga said. "Unfortunately, it got Geo & Zazu exiled from their home for Eagle's efforts." He looked at the two Autozamians, & immediately regretted what he had just said. "Forgive me, you two. I meant no offense."

Geo & Zazu put their hands up in a friendly gesture as the latter spoke. "Please don't think anything of it, Lafarga. Tragic as his death was, Eagle did it all for the love he had for Autozam. I doubt Geo & I would've done any differently. And we did help form an allegiance between us, am I right?"

Lafarga smiled. "Yes you did, Zazu. For that, we are most grateful, even though it took more effort than Chizeta & Fahren did."

"You're not like this usually, Lafarga", Lantis says. "Is something ailing you?"

The swordsman lowers his head. "I guess I'm just not used to seeing the kids without their parents, is all. Those aliens really did a number on all of us, not just the kid's parents. Even with all our magics & Geo & Zazu's technologies on our side, we couldn't prevent what happened then. I felt as if we've failed, even now."

Clef approaches Lafarga & speaks in a soothing voice. "No one failed back then, Lafarga. It was just unexpected on a number of levels—the alien's arrival, the betrayal of Bio Metro & Kaza Rosque, no one, not even myself, could've predicted the outcome of it all. There are some things our abilities simply cannot do, no matter how powerful they may be. As stated once before, we should never take our abilities for granted, feeling they'll always be there for us. Bio & Kaza have made that perfectly clear, having weakened me to prevent me from sensing their presence & then placing an invisible barrier over the castle so that magic cannot be used—and it had all been done right under all our noses. So please, Lafarga, don't feel like you've failed. Like Ferio & all the others, you fought valiantly & did what you could. I could ask no more or less of you."

Lafarga bows to Clef in the highest respect. "You speak judiciously as always, Master Mage Clef. I am honored to hear your wisdom whenever the need arises."

"Thank you, Lafarga. I'm always glad to lend advice to anyone who desires it, no matter the situation."

Geo & Zazu listen to every word being exchanged between Clef & Lafarga.

"You know, Zazu", Geo says, "I hate to admit it, but I guess we ought to thank my brother & Kaza."

"What do you mean by that, Geo?", a puzzled Zazu asks.

"Because of their attempts to take over Autozam's government with the now-terminated Xenomorph Project, they helped them to forgive Cephiro for Eagle's demise, an action they held both them and us responsible for."

"You mean if Bio & Kaza hadn't stabbed us in the back, Autozam wouldn't have made a merger between them & Cephiro, like Chizeta & Fahren have?"

"More or less. And you & I would still be outcasts from the world we called home for all our lives. I know how this sounds, but sometimes it takes a tragedy to help achieve one's goals."

Zazu didn't know how to respond to that. As ironic & tragic as it sounds, he knew Geo had a point. Bio & Kaza had planned to overthrow Autozam's current government because of their top-secret Xenomorph Project, one which only very few from Autozam knew about, which included Eagle Vision himself, a fact than not even Geo himself knew until his traitorous brother relayed it all to him when he was held prisoner with the others. Bio & Kaza even knew of the alien's arrival before anyone else, thanks to a mysterious benefactor, whose identity is still a big secret. Zazu had sometimes wondered if Bio & Kaza hadn't turned traitor to him & everyone on Cephiro then, but it was no use: those two had went down the wrong path in life, & it had cost the both of them their lives, but sadly, it caused the demise of innocent people as well.

Not even the power of Cephiro's pillar can ever hope to change that.

In some small comfort, Geo doesn't know what to say about it either, & it was he who had brought the subject up.

Thanks to the noise of the children speaking to each other in high anticipation of awaiting the arrival of their soon-to-be foster parents, none of the others could hear the melancholy subject Geo, Zazu, Lafarga, Lantis, & Clef were bringing up. In fact, they seemed just as enthusiastic as the kids are in what's to come this day.

"This is just great!", Ascot says. "After what feels like an eternity, we're finally going to get our new arrivals today!"

"Why Ascot, don't tell me ya wasn't havin' fun with the kids, tendin' ta their needs & all that jazz!", Caldina says cheerfully.

"I-It's not that, Caldina! I just…"

"Now now, you! You were havin' just as much fun with them young'ns as anyone else! The kids even told me so themselves, so don't ya deny it now!"

"Come on, Caldina! You're embarrassing me!"

Caldina giggles, as does Ferio, Presea, Primera, Lady Aska, Sang-Yung, Chang Ang, Tarta & Tatra, & the Magic Knights themselves, along with Mira, Tamara, & some of the other children who were close to their vicinity.

"I think what Ascot really means, Caldina, is that it's nice to be able to get these kids parents again, even foster ones", Ferio says. "We just want them to be happy again, that's all."

"But haven't y'all been makin' them happy for over two months now?", the young Chizetian Princess Tarta wonders. "They all seemed quite cheerful bein' with y'all."

"Of course we are, Miss Tarta", Mira says. "We loved being with Hikaru & all the others, & we just can't thank you folks enough for being with us in our time of need. That also goes for you & your older sister—thank you both so much!"

The two Chizetian princesses smile charmingly at Mira.

"Don't ya think nothin' of it, Mira", Tarta continues. "After hearin' about your horrible ordeal with those monsters that claimed the lives of your parents, we just had ta come down & lend our services, even if we were a tad late due to some business back home."

"Speaking of which", Umi Ryuuzaki cuts in. "Nobody bothered to ask either of you before about it, but what exactly was the bit of business that kept you two from arriving here, if you don't mind my asking?"

"We don't mind at all, Umi", Tatra explains. "Ya see, since the power of the pillar helped ta make our country bigger than it was before, while the over-crowding problem had been put to an end, another rose in its place: territory. Since being expanded, our residents were getting a tad too greedy about how much land they wished ta own for themselves, so Tarta & I had ta settle all the multiple arguments & help bring order back ta our people."

"And what a headache that was, Tatra!", Tarta says. "After a year, we finally settled all the disputes, & then there's this little problem…an' the rest is history, ya might say."

"At least the kids had all o' you ta take care of them in the meantime, includin' those who aren't really native ta Cephiro", Tatra said.

"You are correct, Tatra", Presea said. "As much as Lady Aska & the Magic Knights longed to be back home, they needlessly stayed to aide the kids as best they can. There's no way we can ever repay them for their generosity."

"There's no need to repay us, Presea", said Hikaru, holding Mokona in her arms. "As one of us stated once before, Cephiro is like a second home to us. There's no way we could abandon any of you in times of need. It was a pleasure to remain & assist in taking care of Mira, Tamara, & all the rest of the kids up to this day."

"And we would gladly do it all over again if need be!", Umi added happily. "To us, you're all family, & there's nothing more important than that, no matter where one is from."

"Spoken like true Magic Knights", Sang-Yung says, getting nods from everyone. "I'm real glad it was you three who were chosen!"

"So are the rest of us, Sang-Yung", says Tamara. "I didn't believe for a second that they would refuse to help care for us when we became orphaned. True Magic Knights would offer their services to Cephiro's inhabitants, & Hikaru, Umi, & Fuu are living proof of that."

"Thank you, Tamara", Hikaru says. "That means a lot to us. I only wish…"

Presea cut her off. "Hikaru, we've been through this. What happened to Treece & all the kid's parent's wasn't your fault in the slightest. Don't forget: we were caught off-guard as much as you three, with both the alien's arrival and Bio Metro & Kaza Rosque's betrayal. Please try to understand that. For us?"

Like Master Mage Clef, Presea knows what to say to put one at ease, & her words always had a lasting effect on those she addresses, even as she takes on the identity of her late twin sister who had perished in her home during the Magic Knight's first arrival to make their custom weapons when High Priest Zagato ruled the land. Her real name is Sierra, & aside from a bird-like birthmark above her left breast, one could never tell them apart. Sierra took her sister's identity to spare Hikaru, Umi, & Fuu the grief of watching Presea die right in front of them, a secret she intends to keep. Only two people know of this—Master Mage Clef & the late Alcyone, a former pupil of Clef's before turning evil & joining Zagato.

Hikaru became refreshed by her words & even smiled, but it was Fuu who spoke.

"You speak wisely just as Sir Clef does, Miss Presea. While it still ails us, at least we can be comforted in the fact that the children's parents are at peace now, as Princess Emeraude is."

"Just like Sang-Yung said, 'Spoken like true Magic Knights'", said Lady Aska. "Speaking of peace, however, how come you guys are all wearing your battle armor & carrying your weapons around? Isn't this supposed to be a friendly greet to our new arrivals?"

"It's customary for a warrior to always be armed & ready for any sign of trouble even in times of peace, Lady Aska", Elder Chang Ang explains as he places a gentle hand upon her. "For you see, trouble can happen when one least expects it."

"Yes", Fuu said. "You see, Miss Aska, where my friends & I come from, there goes an old saying, 'It's better to have your guns & not need them, than to need your guns & not have them'."

"That's right", Hikaru adds. "Another old saying from our world is, 'Always be prepared'. I have three elder brothers at home who had learned that when they were in the Boy Scouts."

"What are 'Boy Scouts'?", Chang Ang, Presea, Ferio, Ascot, Caldina, Tarta, Tatra, & all the kids (including Sang-Yung & Lady Aska) asked Hikaru in unison. Hikaru, Umi, & Fuu had strange looks on their faces for a moment or two, but then realized they aren't used to or familiar with any of their customs from Earth.

So they smiled as Fuu spoke.

"It seems there is still quite much to tell you about the customs where we come from. After we get our new arrivals settled in, the three of us will be glad to relay them to you, if you'd like."

"We would like to know more about the world where you three come from, Fuu", said Ferio. "But business before pleasure, of course."

"It's a deal, Ferio!", Fuu concludes with a giggle.

Just then, Geo Metro addresses the crowd, holding a pair of binoculars in one hand & points upward with the other.

"Look alive, folks! Object approaching from the sky!"

Everyone murmured to each other with anticipation, all believing it was the people from Kietana arriving in their caft. Looking upwards, they see nothing at first except clear blue sky & a few clouds. But after several moments, they do get a glimpse of an oncoming object that descends slowly but surely from the heavens above, becoming larger & larger in scope as it did. Even from a distance, everyone can tell that the ship was rectangular in shape, measuring the length of about a Boeing 747 plane on Earth, but with a width of about twenty feet across. When the craft got closer to the planet's surface, the people can see the front of it, catching a horizontally-placed windshield which left more than enough of a view for those who piloted. Now that it was at close range, they could also see rounded windows on the side about the size of a large salad bowl, plus a door that was ten feet in height & six feet wide, its height being half of how tall the whole ship was from top to bottom. Underneath the craft were six engines that were placed like those of the holes on a billiards table, only upside-down.

For its impressive size, the ship didn't make all that much noise, even with the four engines spewing & belching flames underneath. Truth be told, it sounded very much like an overgrown cat purring as it gets petted/caressed tenderly. Geo & Zazu couldn't help but admire & be awed by its unbelievable stealth; it reminded them both of their own Battleship NSX which Eagle Vision had commanded once. Like their beloved craft, you may not be able to detect it approaching you until it was too late, but neither Autozamian could tell if this ship from Kietana was armored or even armed. Nonetheless, they both made a mental note to check out the ship & study it thoroughly—with permission from the pilot(s), of course.

But as Ferio stated, 'Business before pleasure'.

Feeling the rush of wind in their faces, Clef & everyone else watches & waits patiently for the Kietanian ship to touch down on Cephiro's surface from about forty yards away, not wanting to get too close until all engines have been killed.

And finally, they are.

Cephiro's newest inhabitants have arrived!

CHAPTER III

A chorus of cheers erupted from Mira, Tamara, & all the other children as the Kietanian ship gently touched down on Cephiro. Moments after, the door on the side of the craft slides open to the left as a ramp from right underneath extends downward diagonally until it touches ground in a simultaneous fashion.

But no one came out as of yet.

For nearly a minute, there was no movement since the door opened & the ramp extended, & it gave more than a few cause for concern.

"I wonder why they would hesitate to come out & greet us?", Lafarga wondered. "Are they nervous by some chance? Surely they should realize we mean them no harm."

"Why would they be nervous, Lafarga?", Lantis says. "The people of Kietana know we're their good friends, and that they have nothing to fear from us. They came here on a goodwill mission, & of their own accord."

"Then why don't they come out, Lantis?", Zazu wondered. "They're behaving like they've never been on Cephiro before, & don't know what to expect."

"That could be part of it, Zazu", Geo said. "From what I know of Kietana, only a handful of people from there have ever set foot on Cephiro. This being a world motivated by the will, maybe those folks inside don't know what to expect, as you've surmised."

"Let me try to coax them out. If that doesn't work, Lafarga, Lantis & myself will approach the craft alone", Clef says, raising his voice & aiming it directly at the ship. "Hello there! Please do not be afraid! No one here will hurt you! We promise!"

Another minute passes with no sign of any activity, let alone a single noise being heard from the craft.

"It appears we'll need to approach the ship, Master Mage Clef", Lafarga said. "We should have better luck that way than by shouting from this distance if we're ever going to get them to come out."

Clef nods. "Very well, Lafarga. Let us…"

"Wait! Here they come now!", one of the children calls out from behind. All eyes are glued to the ship's entrance, & sure enough, they can see people emerging out. Men & women of all ages gracefully step out & walk down the ramp, dressed in attire similar to the clothing worn by the people here on Cephiro, if not with a little more style. Amid the crowd, twin dogs—one with white fur, the other with brown, both wearing a red collar—happily bark as they run down the ramp & approach the crowd as the white one comes up to Fuu Hououji & the brown one comes running up to Hikaru & lick their cheeks with glee, causing both Magic Knights to giggle.

"Well, how do you like that?", Umi says, giggling herself. "They've only been here for just a few moments, & already their two pets have each made a friend!"

Boisterous laughing from the children erupted, & the other warriors joined in, including Chang Ang.

"I guess it's because I have a dog back home, & this fella here must somehow sense that in me, Umi!", Hikaru says matter of factly.

"And I would guess that this fella likes Fuu quite a lot just because…well, just because!", a merry Ferio says.

"That must be something of an odd assumption, Ferio, since unlike Miss Hikaru, I've never owned a dog or any kind of pet back home!", Fuu said, doing her best not to let the dog knock her down to the ground by its friendly attempts.

Ferio comes up to Fuu & turns her to him as the dog finally gives up & steps down.

"You don't need to own a friendly animal for anybody to assume that you're quite the special person you truly are, Fuu", Ferio says passionately as he gives in to his heart & places his lips upon Fuu's own for several seconds before withdrawing.

Oh Ferio. You really do love me!, Fuu thought to herself, staring into his eyes. Since they met for the first time when Ferio assisted the girls in the Forest of Silence to ward off monsters, Fuu had feelings for the swordsman (who later discovered that he was the younger brother of Princess Emeraude, who had wiped his memory of her as a child years before), & wondered if he felt the same way towards her. Fuu had the suspicion that was the case right after their battle against Lady Debonair, & now he simply comes out of the blue & expresses it firsthand.

Never has Fuu felt so wonderful with herself.

"Come on, everyone! Let's go meet our new arrivals!", Ferio says, addressing the crowd.

A boisterous 'Yeah!' came from the crowd of kids & warriors (with Mokona letting out a cheerful 'puu-puu') as they kindly walked up to the approaching newcomers of Cephiro, with Master Mage Clef taking lead.

One of the people from the craft, a man having black hair & wearing a tan robe, was the first to speak to the group.

"Sorry for not coming out right away, Master Mage Clef", he said. "We just needed to do a quick inventory to make sure nothing was damaged during our ride here."

"Did you run into any trouble getting here, good sir?", asked Clef.

"Just a slight asteroid field, but we managed to avoid it easily. And please, call me Tamu."

"Very well, Tamu. On behalf of all the inhabitants of Cephiro, I bid you all welcome to our beautiful world!"

"We're all very proud to be here on Cephiro, Master Mage Clef", said a woman in robes similar to Tamu's, only in white, & had long brunette hair. "I'm Tamu's wife, Woona."

"Pleased to meet you, Woona", Lafarga says. "None of us here can thank you & your people enough for hearing our situation & coming all this way from Kietana to become foster parents for the children, as they unfortunately lost their real ones to a hideous alien menace only two months ago."

"Yes, our President had given us some of the details, but we wanted to hear the whole story from you", said Woona. "And now that we're here, we'd like to hear just how this terrible ordeal had happened."

"Then let us take you all into the castle to our Residential Quarters for a feast in honor of your arrival, & we'll spill it all out for you", Lantis says.

"We would enjoy that very much…Lantis, is it?", Tamu said as the Master Swordsman nods in agreement. "It's been quite a long journey from Kietana to here, & we are all pretty famished from our trip. Some nourishment would be an excellent idea!"

"That's what we figured", Presea said. "We can attend to your personal belongings after you all have had something to eat to replenish yourselves from your long journey. Again, we simply cannot thank you enough for coming!"

"Nonsense!", said another man, wearing a tan shirt & pants. "On Kietana, if children are in even the slightest bit of trouble, we'll drop everything to help them. Your situation is no different whatsoever. In fact, we love kids so much, we can practically 'eat them up', you might say!"

That got a laugh from just about everyone.

When the laughter subsided, a woman with short blonde hair & wearing a purple dress had become serious.

"All kidding aside", she began, "no child should ever have to suffer the burden of losing even one of their parents, especially at such a young age. Children need their parents to teach them all the basics of life, such as right from wrong. Children without parents are like a beautiful world such as this without a day of sunshine, which isn't right."

And no one would know that better than any of us here on Cephiro, for we've had quite a number of days with no sun shining on this wonderful world, Clef thought solemnly, remembering the days when Cephiro was nothing more than a wasteland full of monsters, all due to the fears of the people who had created them.

No doubt Caldina, Ascot, Lafarga, Ferio, & even the Magic Knights themselves felt the same way.

"We couldn't agree more", Tatra said. "Now, let's get y'all ta the Residential Quarters so ya can enjoy plenty o' nice, delicious foods already prepared for ya."

"Before we do that, Miss", another man said, "we'd really like to get our personal belongings inside as soon as we're able. They're…most vital to us."

"But that could take hours ta deal with!", Tarta says. "By the time we're all said & done, all o' that scrumptious food would get cold, & I for one hate ta see good food go ta waste!"

"Come now, Tarta", Tatra tells her younger sibling. "If it's that important ta these folks, then ah think we should lend them a helping' hand & get their belongings inside."

"It won't take long at all, folks", Tamu said. "We have six large wooden crates to haul, & they're all suspended upon a hover platform each. All it takes is two people to move each one, & we'll have them within the castle in no time."

"That sounds reasonable", Lantis says. "All right. Lafarga will help escort one of them."

"Ferio & I will help with another", Ascot said, getting a nod of approval from Ferio.

"Geo & I can help with one", saidZazu.

"I don't know, Zazu", said Geo. "If they're carrying all their stuff in large crates like they say they are, it might be really difficult for you to help push them along, even if they are on hover platforms."

"Not at all, Geo", said Woona. "Even someone of Zazu's physique can push a hover platform easily, no matter how heavy the load is. The platform itself does the lion's share of the work."

Geo thought about it for a moment, & nodded. "All right, Zazu. From how things sound, they don't seem much different from what we use back in Autozam. Let's get busy, partner!"

"All right!", Zazu said excitedly.

"Miss Hikaru, Miss Umi & I will help to haul one together", Fuu says. "You & Miss Presea can help with one yourselves."

"Good idea, Fuu", Hikaru said, turning to Presea, who nods.

"Great idea, Hikaru", she says. "That leaves only one left for two more people to help haul."

"Sang-Yung & I can help too!", Lady Aska said. "If Zazu can help push one, why not us?"

"Actually, these crates need at least one adult to help haul", said a man. "I'm afraid two kids won't cut it. Sorry."

"Awww", Lady Aska & Sang-Yung said, drooping.

"Don't worry, you two", Chang Ang says. "While your willing assistance is most desired & admirable, I believe it best to allow someone like the two Chizetian Princesses to take up the chore, wouldn't you?"

"A grand idea, Elder!", Tatra says cheerfully. "How about it, Tarta? Care ta give these people a helping' hand?"

The younger Chizetian Princess sighs, but answers with high regard. "Ah suppose the food can wait until we get these people's belongings inside. After all, mah sister & I came here ta help Cephiro in their time o' need. Right?"

"That's mah girl!", Tatra says with a smile, placing her hands together. Tarta couldn't help but to smile herself. "Now that we all have our participants, we can have your belongings in the castle in no time!"

"Excellent", said Tamu. "They're located within the cargo bay in the rear. This way, please."

The twelve volunteers follow Tamu & his wife Woona over to the rear of the ship, where engines are placed, much like the ones underneath it. Geo, like everyone else, assumes that these are used in propelling their craft forward through space, while the ones underneath are used in making nice comfortable landings, as was evident in their arrival. But what really surprised them is when the rear opens up like twin doors on a cabinet, revealing their spacy cargo hold. Like the side door, a ramp was jettisoned beneath it & reached the ground. Walking up into the craft, Geo & all the others see in plain view the six wooden crates all floating on hover platforms.

"Here they are, people", Woona said.

"Six crates, just as you've said", said Lafarga. "Let's get started,everyone."

"Yes!", they all said in unison, each aforementioned team taking a crate & helping to haul each one out of the ship, going single-file down the ramp. Lafarga & Lantis go first, followed by Geo & Zazu, Ferio & Ascot, Umi & Fuu, Hikaru & Presea, & finally Tarta & Tatra. Even though what they need to haul is heavy, the hover platforms made it almost as simple as pushing along a shopping cart full of groceries.

This was definitely something for Geo & Zazu to be proud of!

"Yep—very similar to what we have at Autozam, Geo!", Zazu said as both laugh.

"So, where exactly in the castle shall we take them to?", asked Ascot.

"We'll place them within one of the storage rooms", said Lantis. "After we show the people where the children live at originally, they can come gather their belongings & take them there."

"Speaking of which, how are the children's homes looking since Cephiro's been saved by Debonair?", Fuu asked.

"Oh, that's right, Fuu", Ferio says. "You three never even saw the new refurbished towns & villages since you've been helping us care for the kids at the castle the past two months."

"That's right, Ferio", Umi said matter of factly. "We've wondered just how they look now. I assume they look so much better than before, am I right?"

"Just wait until you've seen them, Umi!", said Ascot. "Once you do, you'll hardly recognize Cephiro! You'll think you've landed on yet another world!"

"Can't wait to, Ascot!", Umi finishes.

Watching the twelve hauling the crates, Clef turns to the crowd.

"People, let us take you now to our Resdential Quarters, so that you may each take a seat. As soon as your belongings have been safely stored away, we'll all feast in your honor."

Chatering of approval erupts from the people.

"Master Mage Clef, please permit Sang-Yung & myself to escort all these good folks to the Residential Quarters", Lady Aska requests.

"Permission granted, young Princess of Fahren", Clef says with a smile. "Lead the way & tell Primera to keep the food warm until we're all ready to eat."

Lady Aska & Sang-Yung nod happily as the former leads the way, with the latter trailing right behind with Chang Ang at their side.

"Come, everyone", Ang addresses the group. "Follow these young folks inside the castle."

The newcomers do as Chang Ang suggested, & they get lead inside the castle, with Caldina joining them.

"This way, y'all. Don't be nervous", she says jokingly, followed by a slight giggle.

How Lady Aska has changed since the day we arrived at Cephiro to try & claim the power of the pillar, Chang Ang thought, having remembered just how immature the young Fahren princess had been. Even though it was a long & tiring journey, she actually learned something from it all, & matured into such a lovely & prosperous young lady. I couldn't be more proud of her—or of Sang-Yung at that, for being by her side all this time!

In total irony, the teacher of Lady Aska believed that coming to Cephiro was a good thing in the long run; sometimes, in order for one to learn anything, one has to have a front-row experience in it, which is what Aska had went through after capturing the Rune God Windam & its Magic Knight Fuu, who taught her discipline & what the power of the pillar entails. When Fuu told Aska of its nature, having to think only of the planet & its people & live a life totally of celibacy & not allowed to be able to fall in love with anyone ever, Aska decided that she didn't wish to be Cephiro's pillar any longer. Instead, like both Chizeta & Autozam themselves, Lady Aska chose to fight for Cephiro & help to defeat Lady Debonair.

The rest of the trip to the Residential Quarters went silent, but happy thoughts kept entering Chang Ang's mind about his two young pupils, soothing him further, & while it's impossible to tell due to his long white beard, he smiles.

The Residential Quarters:

With everyone seated, they all had a grand time of dining on fine foods, ranging from finely cooked meats, fresh fruits, numerous breads, & more than enough crisp, clean water to help wash it all down. For dessert, their choices consisted mostly of freshly baked pies of various flavors. Even after living for two months, Hikaru, Umi, & Fuu have not gotten used to how utterly delicious their food tasted here on Cephiro. It reminded them of how their parents (& Umi & Fuu themselves, as they used to do the same for their parents back home) always made the same treats when they were young; their scrumptious tastes only strengthen those memories for the girls.

When everyone had their fill, Master Mage Clef took center attention & addressed the new arrivals of their situation as was promised to them. Cephiro's top sorcerer explained to them of how they were all betrayed by Bio Metro & Kaza Rosque, who sabotaged the screen they had used in numerous attempts of trying to get Autozam to reconsider forming a merger between them, allowing the aliens to arrive on the planet basically unnoticed, attack the castle as Clef was in a weakened condition caused by the two traitors, unable to even sense their presence. Worse of all, he explains that the children were to be impregnated by the aliens for the trip to Bio & Kaza's mysterious employer, & later it was discovered that they had an alien queen ready for transport all along, never intending to take the children once they had a 'seed' within them. Right down to Treece's bold sacrifice, Clef tells his story, getting all sorts of reactions from the new arrivals.

"And that, dear people, is the reason as to why we have asked you all here—to become foster parents for all these kids who have lost their original ones during the attack", said Clef. "I know I should've explained it to you sooner, but we were desperate in finding parents for these kids to take care of & love them as their own."

"If you're going to apologize, Master Mage Clef, don't", said Woona. "All we needed to hear was that Cephiro needed foster parents to replace the ones the kids had lost in that horrible alien attack. Any full explanations can wait until we've arrived, such as now."

"And anyway", Tamu adds, "we're your longtime friends from Kietana. Like our President once told you, should you people ever need anything from us, just say so. You can explain your predicament once we get here."

"And now that you have", said a man, "I'm more or less glad you called for our help. I only wish we could've been here during the time Cephiro was crumbling when High Priest Zagato had kidnapped Princess Emeraude, not to mention the time that Lady Debonair creature attacked your beloved land."

"Even so, those were our problems", Lafarga had said to the newcomers, "& our Princess Emeraude summoned the Magic Knights to help deal with it, which they did admirably."

I guess you could say you're half-right on that, Lafarga, Hikaru said to herself, having felt a heavy burden at the moment she was forced (along with Umi & Fuu) to kill Princess Emeraude in order to help save the very land she loved. In that moment, her grief & guilt helped to develop the being known as Nova, who was founded & nurtured by Lady Debonair herself, the being created by the fear of the people of Cephiro. Only by convincing herself that she can never lie to her own heart was Hikaru able to suppress Nova's violent actions to all she cared for & bring her 'home'.

Lantis, sitting next to her at the table, places a hand on her shoulder, giving her all the proof she needs that killing the one-time pillar wasn't anywhere near her fault, & that she did what was necessary, given the circumstances.

And a friendly smile from him didn't hurt either.

Comforted by his presence & touch, Hikaru smiles herself & nods back.

"Be that as it may", Woona went on, "we here from Kietana are all proud to have arrived on Cephiro & lend our everlasting services to your orphaned children, or should I now say, formerly orphaned children. I'm sure they'll grow to love us as if we were their original parents."

"That's exactly what we want them ta feel about all o' ya", Caldina said. "These kids here are fast learners. It was them who urged everyone ta stay strong when Lady Debonair attacked us & not be afraid in order ta weaken her so that she could be defeated. Truthfully, ah doubt Cephiro would still be here if not for their grand advice." She turns to Mira & winks at her. "Right, Mira?"

A big smile came across Mira's face & nods at Caldina, for she had been one of the ring leaders who urged the people to put their fear aside so the Magic Knights, Autozam, Chizeta, & Fahren can bring down Debonair.

"Right you are, Caldina", she replied happily, turning to Tamu & Woona. "And I'm sure all of you people will make for very good foster parents to us."

Tamu turns to Ferio & Ascot.

"What confidence these kids have", he says. "We like them already."

"Here on Cephiro, it pays to have confidence & a strong will", Ascot says. "With that, there's nothing you can't accomplish, a fact proven here time & time again."

"But let's not forget, Ascot", Ferio cuts in. "Our will also made Cephiro vulnerable in spots not too long ago, especially when Princess Emeraude was abducted by High Priest Zagato, then perished in battle afterwards. When you really think about it, it can be a double-edged sword."

"But that's why I fixed the pillar system", Hikaru said as eyes turned to her. "When I had become Cephiro's newest pillar, I made it so that this world didn't need a person keeping it stable with his/her own will, thus living a life of total celibacy. No one deserves to live that way."

"So you were the most likely candidate for Cephiro's next pillar, young lady?", asked a woman.

"Not just her, miss", Geo said. "Our commander from the Battleship NSX, Eagle Vision, was the other best candidate for the pillar. Sadly, he perished in battle when Lady Debonair made her move on Cephiro."

Mentioning his late commander made Geo sigh, & Zazu joined him soon after.

Not that I'm not glad that Hikaru was chosen, but Geo & I still wish it was you, Eagle, Zazu said to himself.

"But Autozam was still saved from becoming extinct, right?", one man asked. "I mean, I had heard it was on the brink of collapse, &…"

"Oh yeah, our home was definitely rescued, thanks to the cooperation between Cephiro & Autozam", Zazu said. "Our people got a readout of the pillar system, & with that, we were able to make sure our home didn't become extinct."

"And yet you & Geo got exiled?", one woman said. "That doesn't seem right to me—you helped save your home, for pity's sake!"

It was Geo who responded before Zazu could.

"Well, our government took Eagle Vision's death really hard, & since Zazu & I served under him faithfully for many years, we took the brunt of the punishment & were banished from our home. When my brother Bio & his friend Kaza heard of our exile, they took us here to Cephiro in his own craft, the RXT, & the four of us lived here for more than a year now. Then the aliens came &…well, the rest you all know."

"Right down to the last bitter detail", one man said solemnly & remorsefully.

"But we completely understand as to why Cephiro contacted us", said Tamu. "It surely must have been quite a chore for you all to see to their needs up until now."

"It was", Caldina confirmed. "Though we all grieved for them, it got pretty hectic for us ta see ta their needs each & every day. Ah tell ya, that was a battle all in its own right. But it's nice ta see these kids now have real parents. Substitutes just won't cut it."

"I wouldn't exactly say that, Caldina", Presea says. "Because of our efforts, we were able to keep them all in good spirits until the big day arrived."

"Presea has a good point, Caldina", Ascot said, putting in his two cents. "Take Lady Aska for instance. She & Sang-Yung remained here on Cephiro to help attend the kids, & devoted every spare moment to their needs. And neither one of them is any older than they are. True, the power of the pillar made them a little bit taller that when we first met them, but all in all, they're still kids themselves."

"Indeed, young man", said Chang Ang. "Their tireless devotion to the kid's needs was most uncanny. They've worked twice as hard as any of us had. Never had I been so proud of them."

"Thank you, Elder", Lady Aska & Sang-Yung said together happily, hearing his words.

"So you see, Caldina", Umi steps in, "by being with the children all this time, we've given them good reason to believe that Clef's mission will be most successful, in spite of the difficulties of it. In short, we've given them good purpose to go on until now."

"Miss Umi speaks truthfully", Fuu said. "In spite of the rigorous experience, our efforts were well worth it & in the end have paid off quite nicely. And now that the children finally have parents once again, they can settle down & be regular families just as they were before the aliens arrived & destroyed that."

"And come what tomorrow morning, the parents will be taken to their new homes where the children resided at originally", Lafarga announced. "They will be sleeping as guests here at the castle for tonight, however. We have set up spare bedrooms for each & every one of you."

"You mean to say that we have a village completely to ourselves with the kids?", asked a man.

"Two of them, in fact", said Ferio. "One is located on the outskirts of the Forest of Silence. I know that area like the back of my hand."

"Another is not that far off apart from it", Ascot said. "It's Piraus Village, where Caldina once had some 'business' with the original inhabitants. Right, Caldina?"

"Puh-leez, Ascot", she says, not too pleased. "That bit o' business was long overwith & done a long time ago! Are ya gonna torture me with that little ol' reminder o' mah former life the rest o' mah days?"

Ascot smiles sheepishly as both Ferio & the Magic Knights tried (& failing) to conceal their laughter, remembering the time when Caldina served as Zagato's minion & took control of Piraus Village & forced the townsfolk to kill the Magic Knights against their free will. If not for Ferio & his clever plan, they might've succeeded.

The Beast-summoner tries to defuse his one-time partner-in-crime.

"It's nothing to be ashamed of, Caldina", he tells her. "Those folks knew that some of us—myself included—were enemies of Cephiro before we saw the light of things, & forgave us."

And a big part of that is due to the Magic Knights, Lafarga said to himself. Were it not for them, we all would've ended up being destroyed along with Cephiro itself. The thought of when he was under Zagato's spell & ordered to kill the girls was still fresh in his mind even now. His duty was to protect Princess Emeraude at any & all costs, but even his might was no match for Zagato's powerful magic, & thus became his servant until Hikaru helped break the spell he was under.

As with Ascot & Caldina, it is a relief to be free from his life as one of Zagato's minions.

"Well, all da same, ya don't have ta rub it in mah face like that!", Caldina says to Ascot.

The two Chizetian Princesses approach the Illusionist with warm smiles.

"If it's all the same ta ya, Caldina", Tarta says, "mah sister & I can help escort the folks ta that particular village & spare ya the unpleasant memories. What do ya say? Deal?"

"Whoa, Tarta, ya don't have ta go through all o' that trouble for little ol' me", Caldina says.

"Oh, it's no trouble at all, Caldina", Tatra said. "It'd be a pleasure ta help out these folks & escort them ta their new living quarters. Besides, you're a fellow Chizetian, & we all gotta stick tagether, don't we?"

Caldina had to smile at that.

"Ah suppose you're right at that, Tatra. But do ya even know where it resides at? You & your sister hadn't been here for that long, & we never got to show ya any maps o' Cephiro."

"Allow me to handle that, Caldina", Geo said. "In the time Zazu & I have been here, we've studied the layout of the land & memorized just about everything. I can help lead these people to that village practically blindfolded."

"I take it you won't need my help, Geo?", asked Zazu.

"Not on this task, Zazu. But you can go with Ferio & whoever he's taking to the village on the Forest of Silence's outskirts. Fair enough?"

Zazu nodded & even gave Geo his traditional thumb-up of approval.

"I'd like that a lot, Geo", said Ferio. "I think I'll also ask Caldina & Ascot to accompany me as well."

Caldina & Ascot nod.

"Count us in too, young man", Chang Ang said, with Lady Aska & Sang-Yung by his side as they nod their approval. "Young Mira is from that village, & since she's very good friends with both of these two, they insisted on tagging along."

"Can't see any problem with that, Elder", Ferio said. "They're in." He turns to Fuu. "Care to join our little caravan, Fuu? We'd be most delighted."

Fuu smiled. "If the good people of Fahren will be accompanying you on your trip, Ferio, then I would be most honored to join your group. Count me in too!"

"That takes care of one group. Now, who'd like to accompany me to Piraus village? Any volunteers, or do I have to go it alone?", Geo asks, half jokingly & smiling.

"I'll go with you, Geo", Tamara said. "I used to live in that village with my father, so count me in."

"You got it, sweetie. Anyone else?"

"Umi & I will join you, Geo", Hikaru said as Umi nods.

"Ha. I suspected as much from you, Hikaru. You're both in. Who else?"

"Count mah sister & I as well, Geo", Tatra said, getting a nod from Tarta. "It's a very grand opportunity for us ta see the land of Cephiro, & this is a good place ta start with."

"I guess that settles on who's going where, & with whom", Clef says. "And I must say, they are very well-organized parties at that. Good choices, everyone. After we all get a good night's rest here at the castle, you can all get started as soon as you're all able."

"I take it you won't be going with us, Clef?", Umi asked, already knowing his answer.

As she surmised, Clef shook his head but with a smile.

"I'm sorry, Umi. My place is here within the castle, but I have utter faith in you & all the others in your task of taking our new arrivals to their new homes. Lafarga, Lantis, & Presea will remain here with me."

Hikaru nods.

"It's too bad you four won't come with us, but we understand", she says. "And thanks."

"You're more than welcome, Hikaru", said Presea. "If it's quite all right with you, I'd like for Mokona to remain here with me, since Geo will be leading you to your destination."

"Sure, Presea. I can't see anything wrong with that. Besides, you are his rightful owner. Aren't you, Mokona?"

Mokona gives Hikaru an approving 'puu puu' for an answer.

The red-haired Magic Knight giggles with glee.

Good. That red-haired Magic Knight will be away from my Lantis!, Primera said to herself as she had been overtly jealous of Hikaru since the first time she'd laid eyes on the Magic Knight & saw her too close for comfort to the one who rescued the little fairy from a monster when the planet was overrun with them.

What Primera doesn't know is that Hikaru & Lantis had announced their love for one another after Debonair was defeated (albeit telepathically), & once the little fairy finds out, she'll be in for quite the surprise!

It was just a matter of time until she does find out.

Tamu suddenly rises from the table.

"Well, it is getting late, & we have a big day ahead of us tomorrow, so why don't we all call it a night & turn in?"

"Now that you mentioned it, Tamu, I suppose we could get a good night's rest right about now", said Lantis. "Mokona can handle the clean-up."

A 'puu puu' from the fluffy creature with the red jewel on his forehead erupts as he clearly understood his chore—a fairly simple task for one who can make things appear in a flash.

And disappear in a flash as well.

But Master Mage Clef announces a final statement aimed directly at the new arrivals.

"People of Kietana, on behalf of all of us here, welcome to Cephiro! Welcome to our humble home! May your stay be as joyful as can be!"

A round of applause from the Magic Knights, Presea & company, & all the children erupted all around the Residential Quarters. Tamu & Woona have to admit that they are most flattered in getting the attention of everyone from both on & off Cephiro. The same goes for the rest of their party, but then again, they do deserve it without question.

"Everything's going perfectly", Tamu said to Woona.

"Yes it is, & this is only the beginning", Woona replied.

Both smiled.

Soon phase two will commence, Woona said to herself.

CHAPTER IV

As Lantis instructed, Mokona had cleaned up all the food with one swift movement of his red jewel once the people began to retire to their rooms as prepared by Caldina & company. The last two of the new arrivals, Tamu & Woona, were the last ones to turn in, having asked Mokona to provide tem with a fresh, cooked steak for each of them, as they have a case of eating during the night from time to time. With no objections, Mokona happily supplied them with their heart's desires.

All was quiet within the castle at this late hour. Everyone was sound asleep in their beds, & dreaming of what happy times Mira, Tamara, & all the other children will be having with their new foster parents. They've all had these thoughts in their heads for just over two months now, & finally their prayers had come true, ensuring a peaceful sleep for all involved who helped keep this moment possible by giving their all until the big day.

But that still doesn't erase the memories of the alien invasion, or the aliens themselves.

Presea was walking down a dark corridor, fully dressed in her usual attire—the same kind her late twin sister wore. Even though it was very dark, judging by the layout, she knew she was in the castle; she just didn't know exactly where in the castle she was at. Perhaps if she just kept on walking, she'll find a door of some kind, open it, & then she'll discover where in the castle she's at.

She first has to find that door, which was not too easy, considering on how dark & eerie the corridor is.

Then, after what seemed like an eternity of going through darkness, a sudden oval of white light appears just twenty-four feet from her. Thinking this could be her way out of the darkness & into familiar territory, Presea runs up to meet it. She only got to a few steps when a figure, female in form, comes into view. She stood at about the same exact height as Presea did, & wore the same attire.

Her eyes went wide not with fright, but with deep surprise.

She was looking at her twin sister!

Suddenly she didn't feel like she was Presea anymore.

"Hello, Sierra. Long time no see, dear sister", said 'Presea'.

"Presea? Is that really you?", Sierra asked with shock & excitement.

"In the flesh."

"I…I thought you perished when…"

"When Ascot attacked me using one of his monsters as I was making the Magic Knights' specialized weapons? Did you really think I'd perish that easily?"

Sierra was overjoyed to see her twin again, she almost ignored the coldness of her tone when Presea continued, scowling.

"So tell me, Sierra. How does it feel to steal my identity & use it for your own?"

Sierra took full notice of her tone now, & got caught off-guard for a moment.

"Presea, what are you…?", she began to say but her twin cut her off.

"You know damn well what I mean…sis!", she snapped. "After I died, you not only took my identity, you also side with the one who killed me, for Emeraude's sake! How the hell can you live with yourself, being associated with Ascot? Does my death mean nothing to you?"

"It means everything to me, Presea!", Sierra said, tears flowing in her eyes. "The reason I had adopted your identity was because I wanted to spare the Magic Knight's feelings of guilt because they were very fond of you! They loved you, Presea! I loved you! That's why I took your identity & lived as you did, fighting alongside the Magic Knights & everyone else…up to & including Master Mage Clef, whom I know you loved! As for Ascot, like Caldina & Lafarga, they were all deceived by High Priest Zagato & made to do his bidding! Not a day goes by that Ascot doesn't regret to the fullest what he did to you, & were it in his power, he would've undid it without a second thought! Please, Presea! You must believe what I tell you is true! You're my twin sister! I love you! I'd do anything to have you back!"

Presea thought about it for a moment before responding.

"Anything?"

"Yes, anything!", Sierra said as the tears continued, putting her hands together as if praying.

Presea stayed silent a tad longer. Then she smiled.

"All right, then", she said, putting a smile on Sierra's face.

Then began a horror show: bloody slits started to appear on Presea's arms, legs, chest, & up to & including her face, followed by a sickening sound of flesh being actually peeled off, as if her skin was like the one of an orange or a banana. Blood stained her outfit, & she was shedding her skin like an insect or a snake would, discarding it like a used coat. What remained of Presea's skin lay on the floor in a bloodied mess.

But what really made Sierra's eyes go wide was what lay underneath her sister's skin.

It was a full-grown alien warrior, & it spoke—in High Priest Zagato's voice!

"Then you can join your sister, Sierra—in death!"

The creature then lunged at Sierra with unbelievable speed, giving her no chance to scream.

Presea woke & stood up in her bed with a sudden rush of air escaping her lungs, wanting to scream when the alien leaped at her. She was breathing heavily, & her head was sweating from her nightmare, making her pillow partially wet. Working to get her breathing under control, Presea pulled the covers off her & rose from her bed.

Curse those aliens!, Presea thought to herself. Even in a joyous occasion, they plague us in our dreams like a disease! Worse yet, this isn't the first time we've each had them featuring those space horrors, & it probably won't be the last!

Dressed in her pajamas & deciding she won't be able to go back to sleep anytime soon, the Master Smith exits her room.

Presea walks down the corridor, heading towards the room where three special people to her now sleep at. Since having her nightmare, Presea wanted to check up on Hikaru, Umi, & Fuu for no other reason than to see them at ease. Approaching their room, Presea carefully opens their door as quietly as she possibly could. Without a sound, the door opens a tad more than a crack, & the Master Smith can clearly see the three Magic Knights sleeping peacefully in their beds, dressed in their own pj's, with Mokona snuggling up with Hikaru, just as peaceful as any of the girls.

This sight alone was more than enough to put Presea herself at ease, & a smile came to her face.

I just can't help it—they're adorable when they sleep, she said to herself. Rest well, my dear Magic Knights. May you think only of pleasant thoughts for the remainder of this night.

Closing the door as silently as she opened it, Presea suddenly catches a scent of meat in her nostrils.

Where's this smell coming from?, she thought. I thought Mokona had cleaned all the tables off when the feast was done. Is someone other than myself up at this late hour?

Presea thought this was worth investigating, & she tracks the scent in a stealthly fashion, not wanting to wake anyone from their slumber. She goes into the weapons room & grabs her sword to use in case an intruder is on the premises. While it's unlikely, enemies have entered the castle undetected even by Master Mage Clef, & Presea wanted to make sure she was armed in case she does stumble across a foe. If it is, her actions will get the attention of Lafarga, Lantis, & everybody else & join in the melee to help defeat it.

Presea tracks the scent of meat to the room where the new arrival's crates are stored.

And she hears voices from within the room, faint as they are.

Even if she can't exactly make out what is being said, Presea can tell that a man & a woman are inside the room. Moving with the grace of a ninja, she keeps her sword at the ready & makes her way to the entrance, with one of its doors left open. She could no longer hear any voices, but it didn't mean that nobody was still inside. The doors to the room was the only way in or out, & if who's inside are enemies, Presea can keep them trapped within until the others arrive.

Peeking in, she sees not enemies, but two familiar faces at one of the crates, which they've just reclosed.

"Tamu? Woona?", she says, lowering her weapon & calmly walking up to them.

"Oh, Presea", said Woona. "We're sorry. We didn't mean to get you so riled."

"What brings you here, Master Smith?", asked Tamu.

"I was just about to ask you both the same thing, Tamu", Presea said matter of factly. "I had a bad dream & decided to take a stroll to clear my head of it, when suddenly I caught the scent of fresh meat, which led me here."

"Forgive us, Presea. My wife & I have a habit of eating at a forsakenly late hour at times, so we asked your cute friend Mokona to supply us with a 'late meal' if you will. If we startled you in any way…"

Presea smiled. "Not at all. Believe me, some of us get the same way at this hour, so you have nothing to apologize for or be embarrassed about. But anyway, why are you two here? Did you lose something?"

"Not at all, Presea", said Woona. "We were just checking our belongings & deciding on what we should take with us first when we move to our new quarters, that's all. Our personal items are most…special to us. And since we're up with a craving for our late meal, we thought we'd…"

"I understand, Woona. If you two are finished in here, I can walk you back to your rooms."

Tamu & Woona look at each other, then at Presea with a smile.

"We would like that very much, Master Smith", said Tamu.

"Then follow me", she said, leading the couple out of the room & down the hallway that leads back to their quarters. But along the way, Presea still felt something wasn't quite right with what went down just now. More so, she wasn't convinced of what Tamu & Woona told them as she caught them with the wooden crates they came with. Why check your personal stuff when it's under the strictest guard, & in the middle of the night, no less? What is in those crates that would cause them to check them at such a late hour?

This is something Presea needs to investigate.

But not right now, & certainly not by herself.

Morning:

Just after the crack of dawn, all the inhabitants of the castle had awoken one after the other & getting dressed in their traditional garb, but most—mainly the new arrivals, the children, the Magic Knights, & most of the warriors—decided to take a nice soothing bath before getting all dressed for their journey which was to take place on this day. Following their bath was a nice hearty breakfast of fresh fruit, again courtesy of Mokona. His trick of making things appear right before one's eyes never ceased to amaze the Magic Knights since the day they were first brought to Cephiro.

They only wish Mokona could work his magic back in Tokyo!

Finally, after forming into their two assorted teams, everyone was ready.

"It looks like we're good to go", Ferio said, taking a head count of who was too accompany him—Caldina, Ascot, Chang Ang, Lady Aska, Sang-Yung, Zazu Torque, Mira, & Fuu, Tamu, & all the rest of the children who once lived in the village which was to be their destination, including the white dog—one of two—that the newcomers have brought with them.

"Yep. You got your team & I got mine, Ferio", Geo said as he too takes a quick head count on who was to go with him—Tarta & Tatra, Hikaru & Umi, Tamara, Woona, & all the kids who resided in the village they lived at. Going with them is the brown dog which took quite a liking to Hikaru after touching down on Cephiro the other day.

"Then let's get a move-on!", Ascot said. "Those homes in the villages won't fill themselves up, you know!"

Caldina laughs at Ascot's remark, joined in by the rest.

"Ah couldn't agree more, Ascot!", the Illusionist said, patting the Beast Summoner on the back. "Time ta fill them up with life again, like they're meant ta be!"

"But first", Ascot said, looking straight at Umi. "Umi, I'll…I'll see you later, okay?"

The blue-haired Magic Knight smiled at Ascot.

"Sure thing, Ascot", she says. "Don't worry—we won't be gone too long!"

Caldina slightly elbows the Beast Summoner in the shoulder.

"Still got a crush on that one, don't ya, Ascot?", she says, giggling.

"Cut it out, Caldina!", he protests, getting chuckles from Fuu & all the rest.

Hikaru walks up to Clef, Lafarga, Lantis, Primera, & Presea, the latter of whom holds Mokona in her arms.

"I still wish you folks would come with us", Hikaru said sincerely. "It'd mean a lot to these people if you did. Won't you reconsider? We'd love that as well."

All of them—including Primera—smile at Hikaru's words.

"Always the one with the heart of gold", Lafarga says. "It's no wonder you became one of the legendary Magic Knights, same as your two companions."

"Indeed", said Clef. "Hikaru, we are most humbled by your request, but like I said the other day, this castle is where I rightfully belong. Someone must always guard the pillar even at times such as this. You of all people should understand of how dire the consequences would be if that power should somehow fall into the wrong hands."

Hikaru nods. "Yes I do, Clef. Even something as well guarded as the pillar can be infiltrated & misused for evil intentions."

Clef returns the nod. "Exactly. Because of its limitless power, it must never be left unguarded if it can be helped. That is why I remain here to perform this task. But I already am most gracious in all aspects, & these people who selflessly volunteered to become the kids' foster parents no doubt feel the same way, even without my accompaniment."

"And Lafarga, Presea, & myself feel obligated to be by his side", said Lantis. "Even the most powerful individual needs trustworthy allies he can rely on, which is where we come in."

"You're right, Lantis", Hikaru says, nodding.

"Of course Lantis is right!", Primera says. "And besides, I'm going to be accompanying him while you're away, so you don't have a thing to worry about with me on…huh?"

Paying the little fairy no mind, Lantis approaches Hikaru & kneels down to meet her face to face.

"However…", Lantis says before planting his lips to Hikaru's in a loving embrace.

This sight shocks Primera beyond belief.

Lantis?, she thought. It can't be!

The master swordsman pulls away from the red-haired Magic Knight.

"I'll see you when you return", he says.

"I'll be sure to do so as soon as I can", Hikaru said before rejoining Geo's group, waving to him as she does. "Take care of Mokona, Presea!"

"Count on it, Hikaru!", Presea says as Mokona lets out a cheerful 'puu puu'.

Oh sure, don't pay any attention to the broken-hearted fairy!, Primera says with a sulking face & crossed arms.

"Hey Zazu", Geo addresses. "Keep a close eye on your group & lend them a hand whenever they need it. I'm counting on you, you know!"

"I do, Geo!", Zazu says, flashing his thumb-up signal. "And you also know that I've never let you down!"

"How true! Eagle was proud of you then, & I know he'd still be now!", Geo finishes before addressing his group. "Let's move out, gang!"

Their departure gave Ferio the signal to do the same with his team.

"Time to get on the road ourselves, folks!", he calls out to them, & both teams are well on their way, leaving Clef, Lafarga, Lantis, Presea, Primera, & Mokona alone at the castle.

"Even with all the proof, I still find it hard to believe that we've accomplished our mission after two months", Presea says, getting another 'puu puu' remark from Mokona. "Yes, Mokona. It seems more like two years."

"That's the feeling people can get when they've accomplished something they worked so hard to make it become a reality", Lafarga said. "I know, because I myself have that same feeling."

"I guess you speak for us all, Lafarga", Lantis says. "Now it's time for me to undergo on yet another task."

"What might that be?"

Lantis smiles. "A nice refreshing bath. I didn't get the chance to take one like the others did before taking off, so that's where I'll be at."

A smile comes across Lafarga's face. "Same here. I could go for one myself."

"As can I", said Clef, as eyes fell onto him. "Just because I sport great magic, that's still no excuse for me not to practice good hygiene, correct?"

"Good to know you haven't lost your sense of humor, Master Mage Clef", Lafarga jokes as both men share a laugh. Soon they & Lantis start heading to the bathing area, but the latter stops as he sees Primera in such a partly ominous mood.

"Is something the matter, Primera?", he asks her. "You seem…upset about something."

"It's nothing, okay?", said Primera, her back turned to him. "Enjoy your bath!"

Lantis wanted to say more to her & put her at ease, but thought better of it. With the way she feels now, a few kind words won't smooth out her current rough edges. Primera was always felt close to Lantis since being rescued from a monster over a year ago. He figured seeing him kissing Hikaru would make her feel betrayed, so he really couldn't blame her for that.

I'm sorry, Primera, Lantis thought. When the time is right, I'll explain it to you. I promise.

But now was not a good time, & Lantis resumed heading for the bathing area.

That was when something occurred to Presea, & she addresses Clef.

"Master Mage Clef", she says, causing him, Lafarga, & Lantis to pause & turn to her.

"Yes, Presea?", Clef says.

"I almost forgot. There's something I feel I should bring to your attention. It may not be much at all, let alone important, but still…"

"Presea, whatever it may be, I feel it can wait until after we three have our bath first, since you say it may not be of dire circumstance. I promise you that you'll have my full attention once my bath is finished."

Without another word, Clef marches away, with Lafarga & Lantis by his side. Presea felt her situation needed looking into like she figured last night as she took Tamu & Woona back to their rooms after catching them where their crates were stored, but she also vowed not to do so alone.

She would wait until the three men were done with their baths to look into it.

Presea only hopes that it is nothing to worry about.

A soft 'puu puu' comes from Mokona's lips.

The outskirts of the Forest of Silence:

With Ferio in the lead alongside Fuu, the group he leads have traveled for three hours, the worst of it being the forest itself. Going through it brought back a good number of memories for both Ferio & Fuu, most of which were unpleasant. When the light brown-haired Magic Knight had first arrived here with Hikaru & Umi, the place was swarming with all sorts of monsters that literally came out of nowhere & attacked the girls. Even with their weapons at the ready, the trio probably would never have made it out alive were it not for Ferio. Discovering that monsters were being made by a mysterious rock & that magic was useless in the forest, Hikaru & Umi battled the monsters while Ferio & Fuu struggled to destroy the stone that was causing all the trouble. Focusing her willpower, Fuu managed to destroy the stone using her bow & arrow, & the monsters all reverted back to innocent forest creatures, & magic was once again permitted to be used in the forest like anywhere else on Cephiro.

Now, since Lady Debonair's defeat, the forest has been converted from a wasteland full of monsters to a beautiful greenery, with trees growing the most greenest leaves & animals roam freely. It reminded Fuu of all the endangered forests she'd learned about back home, & it made her wish that a simple thought or surge of power would restore them to their former glory—she's never seen the place look so good.

A definite improvement from when we first arrived here!, Fuu thought. The people certainly did a fabulous job of making it the way it used to be!

The forest's beauty certainly didn't go unnoticed by Tamu & the other people.

"Such amazing wildlife this forest supports", Tamu replied. "I still find it hard to believe that monsters once roamed here, considering how utterly gorgeous it looks now."

"I know the feeling, Tamu", said Ferio. "But it was—once. No doubt you folks have known of what transpired here & all over Cephiro since High Priest Zagato went & kidnapped Princess Emeraude?"

"Yes, we were told of it by our President back home", said a woman. "How awful."

"Speaking of Princess Emeraude", a woman began, "is it really true that you're her younger brother, Ferio?"

The swordsman stopped to look at her, as did everyone else.

"That's right", Ferio said. "How'd you know about that? Did Master Mage Clef tell you?"

"As a matter of fact, he did. He didn't think it would cause any harm doing so, considering we're all of the same tribe here on Cephiro. Is that…all right with you?"

Ferio's answer to her was a grand smile.

"Of course it is, young lady", he says. "Our friends from Autozam, Chizeta, & Fahren know it as well, so what's the harm in you people knowing it too, right?"

The new arrivals all nod with smiles, & they all resume their trek through the forest.

Their conversations continue with it, as Zazu brings up his own topic.

"So Kietana is a half-automated world, as I'd heard?", he asks a man.

"That's right, young man", he said. "While some prefer to live within the big cities, there are a number of us who have chosen to 'rough it', if you get my meaning, living on farms & villages where one needs to tend to animals and/or hunt for their food & clothing. In short, on our world we prefer to keep an equal balance, & not have to resort entirely on one or the other."

"That sounds very much like the world Miss Hikaru, Miss Umi, & I come from", Fuu said.

"It does?"

"Yes. On Earth, which our planet is called, we too have big cities like Tokyo, where we three reside at, with all sorts of machines to help us travel & large buildings/houses to live in. But there are also those who live out in the wilderness, living & working in farms, producing eggs, milk, & other vital foods for a healthy diet in which we eat on a regular basis."

"Your 'Earth' does sound a lot like our Kietana, Fuu", said Tamu. "I hope one day I & others from our world can come by & see yours for ourselves one day."

"I would very much like that, Sir Tamu, & I'm sure Miss Hikaru & Miss Umi would too."

As would we, Magic Knight, Tamu said to himself.

"Even though you only live in a half-automated world", Zazu says to the man he had been speaking with, "I must say, your technology is most similar to our own from Autozam. With your permission, Geo & I would like to check out your hover platforms, as well as your ship. We'd very much like to compare it to ours."

"I think that can be arranged, young Autozamian", said the man. "But just as the old saying goes, 'Business before pleasure'."

Both the man & Zazu said the phrase together, & got a nice laugh from it.

"So you people who live in the wilderness go hunting for big game?", Lady Aska asks. "A good number of my people do that too back on Fahren."

"Yes indeed", Elder Chang Ang says. "They hunt the biggest game in order for our people to have plenty to eat during the harshest winters, some of which can get an average of six feet of deep snow."

"Our country can get twice that amount during the winter, Elder", a woman says. "That's why we hunt very hard in order to get enough nourishment & clothing to help us get through the freezing months. To do less can be fatal, & believe you me, we've had quite a couple of deaths during those winter months."

"How terrible", Sang-Yung said. "From the way you described it, your winters make ours like a simple walk in the woods, like the one we're having now. I can't help but feel bad for you all."

"No need to, Sang-Yung. It's the way of life some of our people prefer to live as, albeit the extremely harsh conditions, & we won't hold it against any of them for wanting to do so."

"Then the people of Kietana are as brave as ah heard from Master Mage Clef, choosing to live out in the woods rather than in the luxury of a well-heated house or building. One can't help but admire that."

"Thank you, Caldina. You don't have snow on Chizeta, do you?"

"Ah'm afraid not, hon. Chizeta stays at a comfortable warmth all year round. That's why we stay dressed like ah am."

A giggle erupted from Caldina. "Sorry—ah just couldn't resist!"

That's when everyone joined in her giggle.

"Well, be that as it may", Ferio addressed his group, "you won't need to worry about any snow on Cephiro, & there are a lot of big game for you to hunt for food & clothing."

"So, in short, you'll all feel at home here in the village", said Ascot. "And, if memory serves me right, we should be approaching it anytime soon. Right, Ferio?"

"You got it, Ascot!", Ferio confirms. "Just a couple more dozen yards to go now, & you're all going to see your new homes!"

Big smiles erupted from the mouths of Tamu & the others, & Ferio helps matters by picking up the pace, walking faster than they'd been doing for the last three hours. Finally, after what had seemed like days instead of hours, one of the new arrivals can see a clear patch of land up ahead despite the grove of tress blocking the way.

But they see more than just open ground. They can see structures occupying it.

"Ferio, is that…", Fuu started to say.

"You bet, Fuu!", Ferio said. "Let's get past these last few trees so you & the others can get a much better view! Come on, everyone!"

Almost into a run, Ferio's group race through the last of the forest into the open area.

"Voila, people! Take a gander at this!", he says, gesturing proudly with his hand at what now lays before his group like a TV game show host presenting the grand prize to the top contestant.

What lay before Fuu & the new arrivals was nothing short of breathtaking: from out in the clearing stood two-story village buildings that more resembled something like hotels rather than huts which Fuu remembered they used to live in during their first visit to Cephiro. They were still made from traditional materials like wood & such, but were made with style & grace. Fuu can see half a dozen of these gracing the area with their beauty, each having numerous windows & doors & a chimney placed on top, made with traditional bricks. These miniature buildings were placed in random spots, probably where their original homes were placed before the renovation. Residing near them was something resembling a barn, complete with a stable & a fence surrounding it. A group of mares stood comfortably within the quarters, eating away at the grass at their feet. Some chickens were scratching their feet & plucking at unseen worms poking up from the ground. An old-fashioned water pump nearby finishes the scene of serene beauty.

To Fuu, it looks like a farm like any other, but with major upgrades.

To the new arrivals (and to Fuu), it was a paradise.

"Wow, Ferio—it's astonishing!", said Fuu. "I've never seen anything so…wonderful!"

"We told ya you'd like it, Fuu!", Caldina says. "With assistance from Geo & Zazu, we helped build these new structures with the finest interior materials, even though they might look frail on the outside."

"Meaning they'll be able to withstand all but the most severe earthquakes, should we ever be struck by one again", Ascot says. "This time, we made sure these buildings are built to last. As you can see, we didn't spare anything in making these grand living quarters."

"That's right", Mira says, speaking after being silent for most of the time. "A combination of raw materials from Cephiro coupled & merged with Autozam technology gives these structures the strength to keep us safe & secure more than ever. Again, I wish to greatly thank you & Geo for helping with the construction, Zazu."

"Not a problem, Mira", Zazu said. "Since you & the rest of Cephiro welcomed us with open arms when we were exiled from Autozam, it's the least we could do. My only regret is that Geo & I won't be getting to spend any more time with you & all the others."

"I take it you'll be going home soon? We'll miss you both, Zazu."

"Thanks, Mira. The feeling is more than mutual with Geo & I, but you know Autozam is our true home, & since we've been given a ride home, we need to take it."

"We understand, young man", Chang Ang says. "Now that our mission has been fulfilled, we too need to head back to Fahren as quick as we're able to. While Cephiro had been very generous to Lady Aska, Sang-Yung & myself, we need to see to our own country's needs. No doubt they're wondering about us at this very moment as we speak."

"And ah'll just bet that Tarta & Tatra from mah home of Chizeta are probably feelin' more than a little bit homesick themselves", Caldina added. "Ah'm guessin' that they're either finished in bringin' their group ta their new homes or they're real close to it."

"Knowing them, I'm pretty sure they are", said Fuu. "As for this new & improved village, if the inside of them looks half as good as the outside, I just might consider staying here myself!"

"I don't blame you, Fuu!", Ferio says half-joking. "Let's show these people the inside of the buildings. I'm sure they're just as anxious to see them as you are." Ferio turns to Tamu & the new arrivals. "How about it, folks? Ready to see the insides of your new living quarters?"

Now it's time, Tamu said to himself, approaching Ferio.

"Actually, fine warrior, we've seen enough", he says, crossing his arms with a wicked grin on his face, followed by the rest of his companions.

Ferio, Fuu, Ascot, Caldina, Mira, Zazu, Chang Ang, Lady Aska, & Sang-Yung were somewhat perplexed by Tamu's response. Believing it to be some kind of inside joke, Ascot laughs slightly.

"What are you talking about, Tamu?", he asks. "Don't you folks want to see just how…"

"What's the point, dearie?", said a long-haired woman. "This place is going to get run down & destroyed, just like everywhere else on this dismal world of Cephiro is gonna be, & soon!"

Now the group of warriors & kids were taken aback & appaled by the woman's remark; a joke is a joke, but with that, things weren't as funny as they used to be a second ago.

In fact, things aren't funny any longer, & they were about to make that statement clear.

"I beg your pardon, Miss!", Chang Ang snaps. "Cephiro is anything but dismal, & if truth be told, neither I nor any one of my friends here appreciates you insulting it!"

"Yeah! What's the big idea?", Sang-Yung snaps, joined by angry murmurs from the other children.

But Lady Aska gets near Chang Ang, & they talk to each other.

"What's wrong with them, Elder?", she speaks lowly to her teacher. "Even I wasn't that bad with my manners back then!"

"Quite right, Lady Aska!", said Chang Ang. "Between them & how you used to be then, you were an angel compared to these people!"

Lady Aska nods & makes a noise with her throat to get the rebellious people's attention.

"You people have some nerve!", she spat, pointing her hand with a Chinese-looking fan in it at them. "The regular inhabitants from Cephiro worked their tails off to produce this wonderful-looking village after Cephiro was saved from Lady Debonair! They gave their lives to make this a paradise, & they're not even here anymore to enjoy it! And you have the mitigated gall to say it's dismal?"

"Yeah! Just who the hell do you people think you are, anyway?", Zazu snaps, getting angry approvals from the other kids in agreement.

"Permit us to show you, young Autozamian!", Tamu said, snapping his fingers. In the wink of an eye, several of the newcomers grab & snatch Mira, Zazu, Sang-Yung, Lady Aska & the other children by their arms & wraps one of their own around each of the children's throats in a choke hold. The kids fight & struggle to get free of their friends-turned-enemies, but their hold on them is solid. Even the white dog that accompanied them stood by Tamu's side, growling at Ferio & company & baring its teeth. The maneuver not only shocks them, but the adults as well.

"Sang-Yung! Lady Aska!", Chang Ang shouts.

"Zazu!", Ascot called out.

"Mira!", Fuu called out.

Letting their instincts take over, the adults pull out & draw their weapons: Caldina with her twin stabbing blades, Ferio with his sword, & Fuu willfully drawing her sword from her glove. A staff emerges from within Chang Ang's blue robe, as even he has carried a weapon just in case of trouble like what he faces now, as does Ascot himself, only he draws his own sword instead of a staff.

"Y'all better let the kids go & step away from them, if ya know what's good for ya!", the Illusionist ordered.

The people weren't at all intimidated by Caldina's threat; all they did was remain where they were, each of their mouths in a toothy, maniacal grin. Lady Aska & the other kids remained all but helpless in their grasps.

"Don't make us tell you people again!", Ferio barked, his weapon raised threateningly like his companions. "We won't be responsible for what happens next if you don't comply! Do it!"

"We're giving you traitors ten seconds to do what we ordered you to do!", Ascot says. "If you still haven't released the kids by then, you'll deeply regret turning on us!"

"Who the hell are you people, really?", Fuu demanded as Ascot counts down the seconds orally. "Terrorists? Spies? And who sent you? Answer us!"

"My dear Magic Knight, we are not 'people' at all!", Tamu says.

What Fuu Hououji & the others saw next was a horror show beyond anything they had the displeasure of witnessing. All at once, the people began removing their clothes & started changing right before their eyes as bones & flesh began to morph & change shape.

The horrific metamorphosis before them not only shocked & scared the children, but Ferio & the warriors as well, having been frozen with fear & unable to move, let alone turn away from the terror before them.

"Good heavens!", Chang Ang said, barely audible as the fear on his face can be seen even with his long beard.

"What in the name of Princess Emeraude…?", Ferio said, also in a whisper.

"Oh my god!", Fuu said, putting her hand to her mouth as if she'd sinned.

Even with their weapons in hand, the five warriors have never felt so helpless in all their lives, not being able to do a thing.

The kids, however, began to scream.

Piraus Village:

Geo Metro & his group had reached their destination only five to ten minutes after Ferio & his band had reached theirs. During their journey, Hikaru & company chatted about customs from both of their worlds, & how they are alike & differ from each other.

"Sounds like all our worlds have somewhat similar traits, don't they, Hikaru?", Geo says.

"Sounds like it, Geo", the red-haired Magic Knight said. "Even for a half-automated world, I have to say the folks at Kietana do quite all right for themselves. It reminds me of my home quite a bunch."

"So your world isn't fully automated like ours is?"

"Sorry, Geo", Umi said. "While technology does give us an edge, it can't help to solve every problem we encounter. Sometimes we have to face it using only our wits, but some of us back on Earth prefer it that way."

"Ah guess that makes sense, Umi", said Tarta. "Not every problem can be driven away by or fixed with the mere push of a button. Uh, no offense there, Geo."

Geo bellows a hearty laugh. "None taken, Tarta. I'll tell you what—if Zazu & I ever decide to take a break from our technology for a while, we'll head over to your country & do a little game hunting, using only the most primitive tools like spears & such. Deal?"

Tatra giggles. "Geo Metro of Autozam, it's a deal! And ya won't find any shortage of big game ta hunt either."

"No shortage, huh? I like your country already, Tatra!"

This time, both Chizetian sisters giggled.

And to think, we were all at war with each other once!, Umi thought, feeling happy seeing former enemies being on the most friendly terms. Now look at us—we're like one big, happy family here on Cephiro! Princess Emeraude would be so proud!

"We should be just about there, Hikaru", Tamara said. "Right around that bend."

"Great, Tamara", said Hikaru. "It'll be amazing to see Piraus Village refurbished since this world was saved from Lady Debonair."

They walked in silence until reaching the bend Tamara spoke of. When they looked past it & beyond, Hikaru, Umi, & the two Chizetian sisters stopped in their tracks, causing the newcomers to do the same. What they saw amazed mostly the warriors: the buildings of Piraus Village were two stories tall, with three residing on either side for a total of six. One glance & the scene looked to both Hikaru & Umi like an old western town they've seen in movies as kids, only upgraded.

It almost looked like a futuristic city & it would, if only it weren't made of the usual wood & stone.

"Folks, say hello to the new & improved Piraus Village!", Geo announced. "Made with the best wood & stone materials & interior skeletons of fine Autozamian metal for the best support!"

"Whoa!", was all Tarta could say at the moment.

"My, my!", Tatra said, putting her hands together. "Ya sure did a grand job of buildin' this place, Geo! Mah hat goes off ta ya!"

"I didn't do it alone, Tatra", Geo said. "Along with Zazu's help, I had assistance from all the original inhabitants in this place. What a friendly bunch they were!"

"Thanks for that remark, Geo", Tamara said. "My dad was one of the most grateful to you & Zazu for all your hard labor on reworking our homes. I know he's still proud."

"I appreciate that, Tamara", Geo said.

Poor kid, Geo thought, remembering what happened to her father Treece. Deep down, I know she's still hurt from his death. Damn, Treece, why? Why'd you do it & leave poor Tamara alone?

But Hikaru, while knowing Tamara misses her father, has happier thoughts running through her head.

What a brave girl Tamara is, she thought. Even though she's lost her father Treece & is hurt from it, she still manages to get through life. If only I hadn't been so guilt-stricken by our choice in killing Princess Emeraude at that moment, Nova wouldn't have been created by my own heart & then raised by Lady Debonair to wreak havoc on my friends, nearly killing those I love dearly. I guess one can learn a lot from a child like it is the other way around most of the time. What a teacher she'd make!

But there was no sense dwelling upon the past, Hikaru believes; she'll just have to take what happened as a learning experience for the future & not repeat those same mistakes, just as Umi & Fuu would (& possibly have).

Now Hikaru has learned to do so as well. She still grieves for the kids' original parents, but like the other inhabitants of Cephiro, she's worked very hard in helping to making them happy again & live their lives frivolously like they were meant to.

And deep within her heart, Hikaru gets a wonderful which transcends most everything, & tells her she has done flawlessly in her task.

But the sad thing about this is that once she & everyone else has accomplished their chore in bringing the kids & their foster parents to their homes, it wouldn't be long for them to do the same—Geo & Zazu to Autozam, Lady Aska, Sang-Yung, & Chang Ang to Fahren, Tarta & Tatra to Chizeta, & she, Umi, & Fuu back to Earth. What's more, their task is just about done, & it won't be long for the inevitable to occur. It might not be a bad thing, however: as much as the trio enjoys spending time with Clef & the others here on Cephiro, she can't deny that she so longs for the company of her three elder brothers—Kakeru, Masaru, & Satoru—including her dog Hikari, & no doubt Fuu feels the same with Kuu, her older sister, & Umi with her own parents.

I just wish Lantis could accompany me in my trip home, Hikaru thought, her hand clutching the mirror pendant he gave to her during their last visit to Cephiro. She loves him, & he her, that much is fact. Sadly, what is also fact is that Lantis would not be able to go back to Tokyo with her when the time comes, & that time is rapidly closing upon them both.

Looking at the pendant & seeing her reflection in it, she begins to shed a tear.

"Lantis, I…"

Screams from the kids brings Hikaru back from her temporary trance, & just as the others turn to the disturbance, Hikaru looks up from the pendant to see a most disturbing sight—Woona & the other new arrivals grabbing the kids by the throat & holding them using one arm!

"Woona! What do you & the others think you're doing?", Hikaru snaps. "Put them down!"

Instantly, Hikaru & Umi draw their swords willfully from their gloves, as Tarta & Tatra do the same, the former also drawing her shield that goes with her weapon. Geo pulls out the rifle slung on his back & points it at Woona, having her dead in his sights.

"Y'all heard the Magic Knight!", Tarta said firmly. "Put them down, or it's gonna get really messy if ya don't!"

"What's wrong with you people?", Tatra snapped. "Have y'all gone insane? Whatever the hell you're up ta, this ain't funny!"

"I'll say it isn't!", Geo said, keeping his gun leveled at Woona's head. "Woona, put the kid down & tell your party to do the same, or so help me, I will splatter your brains all over the damn place! And I'm quite the good shot—I can do it from here! Drop the kids!"

"Woona, we really don't want to resort to violence, but if you don't do as you're told, we'll do whatever it takes to protect those kids!", Umi said, her sword pointed towards her. "Now, what will it be?"

For a moment, it didn't look as if the traitorous Woona or her group of new arrivals would comply with the warrior's orders, having staring at them with contemptuous eyes. Tensionous seconds pass by as Geo was ready to squeeze the trigger on his rifle, when suddenly Woona & the others did as they were told. Releasing the kids, they raised their hands as if surrendering & the kids were all rubbing their necks, which got sore from having pressure placed upon them.

"Tamara, take the kids & head back to the castle!", Hikaru ordered. "When you get there, tell Clef & the others of this treachery! Go!"

Without another word, Tamara nods & runs off into the woods with the other children right behind her. Luckily, neither Woona nor any of the other newcomers made a move to stop them or take them hostage again; even the brown dog made no move to impede their escape.

"No matter. We can save the kids for later for our masters", a defiant Woona says, keeping her devious grin like the rest of her rebellious pack.

"Masters? What masters? Who really sent you people, & what do you want with us?", demands Umi.

"Oh, don't worry, Magic Knight!", one man said. "You'll be meeting them soon enough! As for what we want, let's just say it's best if you experience it yourself!"

"Don't y'all play any games with us!", Tarta said. "Ya better start talkin' if ya wanna keep yah heads attached ta yah shoulders!"

"Who are you people, really?", Tatra demanded.

"Oh, you wish to see what we truly are, Chizetian?", Woona asks, half-jokingly. "I believe we can arrange that for you!"

Without saying anything else, Woona & her band began shedding their clothing, tossing them all away like they were trash bags, revealing their nudity. Under any other circumstances, the warriors would be grossed out by this kind of indecent exposure, but they were too angry to care for anything trivial.

But Hikaru & company did become grossed out, & the situation had nothing to do with any nudity. Immediately after Woona & the rest stripped their clothing off, they began to morph as flesh & bones started reforming & changing color from a healthy peach to a filthy, scaly white. As one, their arms & legs grew longer, growing long claws on their toes & fingers. Their height rose to a good two meters tall, & each of their heads began forming into those of a giant reptile, with teeth becoming pointed & perfectly capable of tearing flesh from bones. Finishing off the hideous transformations were tails that grew from their rears, & eyes that turned reptilian like the rest of their newly-formed bodies.

When all was said & done, Woona & her group were converted from humans into what looked like humanoid dinosaurs, & they all seemed ready to tear Geo & his team apart with their claws & teeth.

Immediately Tatra regretted demanding who (& what) they really are.

When the beast that was once Woona opened its mouth, no words of speech came out, but an animalistic roar that was joined by the others.

"Ah can't believe it, Tatra!", Tarta says. "For all this time, we brought monsters in people's clothing ta Cephiro right under our damn noses!"

"Ah believe you're right, Tarta!", Tatra says. "If our new arrivals are all of these creatures in disguise, then ah fear that Ferio & his group are in the same danger that we're in!"

"I'm sure you two are right!", Hikaru said. "But as much as I hate to say it, they're on their own for now until we defeat these monsters before we can get to them!"

"Then let's make this quick, folks! Let 'em have it!", Geo said, squeezing the trigger on his rifle & firing a powerful round. Unfortunately for Geo, the creatures anticipated this, & with speed like that of a cheetah & more, they easily dodge Geo's shot & disperse, heading right for them.

"Flame Arrow!", Hikaru calls out, raising her right hand & bringing it down as flames shoot from her hand.

"Water Dragon!", Umi calls out, spewing forth an actual water dragon from her hand.

But neither Magic Knight had any more success at hitting the creatures than Geo did. As a unit, the monsters spread out & avoid getting scorched & drowned. Now the things were clinging onto the newly refurbished buildings like giant spiders or insects, along with ground troops that ran after the two Chizetian Princesses.

Tarta & Tatra, for all their charm & polite manners, get serious when the going got rough, & their skills with a sword were second to none (something Umi can tell you about, the only person thus far who's ever beaten them in a one-on-one duel). Working as a well-oiled machine, the two sisters stand side-by-side, their swords ready to cut down any of the monsters that dare to get too close. Racing like ungodly horses, the creatures leapt at the twins & Tarta & Tatra swung their weapons at the dinosauroids, but for all their skill, neither swing made contact with any of them.

In fact, they didn't even come close to hitting them.

Hikaru, Umi, & Geo were having the same problem: no matter how hard & skilled their aims were, neither the Autozamian nor the two Magic Knights scored any points in making contact with their reptilian foes. The monsters all avoided getting shot, scorched, or even skewered by the attacks thrown at them. The only thing they were hitting are the buildings themselves, spattering pieces of concrete & wood all over, & torching/freezing the surface in spots.

They were doing more damage than the things were, but it was collateral damage they could live with; the buildings can always be repaired to their former glory.

It's the creatures that were unacceptable, & they need to get rid of them quickly before they can escape, run off to find Tamara & the other children, & so they can hurry to Ferio & his band to deal with their infestation of humanoid dinosaurs in disguise.

But with every blast that comes their way, the monsters dodge & avoid it all. They don't even try to get close to attack them, & it perplexes them all.

"What kind of monsters are these?", Geo wondered aloud. "Not only do they keep avoiding getting hit, they don't try to charge us for some reason!"

"It is weird, Geo!", Umi said. "Even though they vastly outnumber us, not one tries to charge us up front! Almost as if they're…waiting for something!"

"Don't let them deceive ya, Umi!", Tatra said. "They're just keepin' us from tryin' ta get ta our friends, who are no doubt in this same situation!"

"And we need ta get ta them—fast!", said Tarta. "Every second we waste here, the danger ta them increases!"

"Then our best chance to do that is to make a break for it!", Hikaru said. "When I clear a path, we all take off in their direction! Got it?"

"Do it, Hikaru!", Geo urged.

The red-haired Magic Knight nodded.

"Flame Arrow!", Hikaru shouts, a powerful stream of flames protruding from her hand in the direction they'd arrived at Piraus Village. As they had hoped, the creatures leapt away from her pyrotechnic attack, leaving a clear path for them to take.

"There's our way out! Let's move, people!", Geo shouted. Not bothering to answer or even nod, Hikaru, Umi, Geo, & Tarta & Tatra run at full speed in the path made, with the latter four keeping an eye on both sides in case any of the beasts do decide to rush at them

But they didn't count on some of the creatures making their way on the rooftops: in a blink of an eye, several of the beasts leaped down & catch them unawares. Taking only several steps to freedom, they look up in time to see about two dozen of them come down from above, & even with time for Tarta to put her shield up, they were knocked down to the ground, losing their weapons, & the creatures pin their arms & legs with their brute strength, looming over them as they each can feel their hot breaths upon their faces, never giving them a chance to counterattack.

Dammit!, Geo thought angrily as he fought brutally to get free. We didn't even think to keep an eye out on the rooftops, & now we're all in it deep!

"Get off of us, you hideous things!", Umi shouted angrily at her captors, struggling wildly to break free of her dinosaurian foes. But she may as well be shouting at a ghost; her words fell on deaf ears, & no matter how hard she fought & struggled, Umi could not get loose from the horde of dinosaur warriors any more than Hikaru, Tarta, Tatra, or even Geo can, strong as he was.

Things go from bad to worse as the creatures now open their toothy maws & slowly but surely bend down closer, statint the obvious to all.

They're going ta eat us!, Tarta said to herself, her frantic struggles increasing with each inch the things get to them.

"Oh no ya don't, busta! We're not gonna be on your menu for today!", Tatra growls, using all her strength to drive away her captors. She vowed that once she does, she will teach these apparitions what it means to piss off a native of Chizeta—especially the twin Princesses of that country.

Unfortunately, Tatra's attempts were as feeble as Umi's or anyone else's, & now the hungry mouths of their reptilian foes were now inches away from the inevitable, one of which was over each of their throats, ready to be torn out in a bloodied mess.

Hikaru & the rest closed their eyes.

Not one of the monsters managed to bite down on any of their jugulars. About an inch away from biting, they all abruptly ceased their attack & backed away several feet, each of them roaring out as if in pain. Umi & the others rise from the ground immediately & regain their weapons to finish them off before heading off to get to Fuu & her group, but strangely all the monsters go down on one knee & clutch their chests, growling.

It may seem strange, but they couldn't help but feel pity for them.

"Well, how do ya like this?", said Tarta. "None of us laid a finger on any of these beasts, & yet they all folded & gave themselves up!"

"Ah don't think that's the case with them, dear sister", says Tatra. "It seems more ta me like they're in some sort of pain!"

"I believe you're right, Tatra!", Umi said. "They had us totally at their mercy, & then they let up & released us! There's no way we could've been saved otherwise!"

"But what kind of pain are they in?", Geo wondered. "And why would they all contract it at the same exact time like this?"

Good questions, Geo!, Hikaru said to herself, not being able to make heads or tails out of this situation.

Without warning, the dinosaurian creatures all rose simultaneously to their feet & let out an ear-splitting howl. Hikaru & the others readied their weapons, but at that same moment, the things had taken a few more steps back away from them, not even bothering to attack, as white foam had mixed with blood & started streaming from their toothy maws. Blood also began to run from their nostrils, & they all looked skyward like they were offering themselves to some unseen god.

"You were right, Tatra!", Hikaru said. "These monsters are hurting really bad! What the hell is happening to them?"

"Look! Look at their chests!", Tarta said, being the first to spot what was wrong & points to several of the beasts. Doing as she suggested, the warriors can all see a red bulging in each of the dinosauroid's rib cage, as if something was trying to push its way out from the inside to burst free.

Burst out. From the inside…

Those exact two phrases rekindled a blood-chilling & bone-curdling memory in both the Magic Knights & Geo, but it was Hikaru who recalls it the soonest: it was her who actually witnessed the horrific scene firsthand, having seen one of the original kids' parents go through the same terrible ordeal while being held prisoner inside a cavern only two months previous.

At first she refused to believe what she was seeing could be happening all over again, but the indisputable proof before her cannot be denied: it was happening again, & she felt drained of all life at that moment. The same went for Umi & Geo, for they, too, knew the awful truth too well themselves.

Oh please God, no! Not here! Not again! NOT AGAIN!, Hikaru screamed in her mind.

Jesus Christ!, Geo said to himself, momentarily unable to level his gun at the nearest carrier & shoot it in the chest.

Hikaru & Umi couldn't attack either: their minds were too frozen with denial, never mind the proof they're seeing. Tarta & Tatra were just as confused as either the Autozamian or the two Magic Knights; obviously the reproductive method of the horror that has come back was never explained, let alone mentioned, to the twin Chizetian sisters.

Geo Metro was the first to break out of his trance of denial, & raises his gun to blow a hole into the chest of the closest target before it can give birth to the horror inside it.

He was too late: like a volley of New Year's Eve party poppers going off at once, the chests on each of the dinosaurian creatures exploded from within, spraying flesh, bone, bile, & blood in all directions at the five warriors, forcing them to cover their faces with one arm to prevent any ichor from entering their eyes, noses, or mouths. Even with their sights covered & averted, Geo & the two Magic Knights know full well from the creatures—eel-like beasts that have skidded quickly across the ground. By the time they all removed their arms away from their faces, the snake-like creatures were just about gone into the forest. They only saw a very few skitter off, & even then, it was only for a few seconds before disappearing altogether.

They only paused long enough to watch as the dinosaurian monsters' corpses disintegrate before them, bones & all, into vast puddles of now-unrecognizable goop, sinking into the ground & gone from sight.

"What the hell just happened here?", Tarta asked. "One moment those lizard beasts were gonna make a feast out of us, & the next…"

"Their chests suddenly swelled up & exploded, right out of the blue!", Tatra answered for her.

"That's only the beginning, ladies!", Umi said. "What just happened was part of the aliens' life cycle! Believe me when I tell you that they'll evolve into larger & more ferocious monsters than the eel-things we briefly saw!"

Tatra pieced it together in about two seconds.

"Wait a minute!", she said. "Y'all mean ta tell Tarta & I that those things are the same aliens in which…"

"Which kidnapped & killed the kids' original parents two months ago, that's right!", Geo confirmed.

And now they're back on Cephiro!, Hikaru, Umi, & Geo all said to themselves.

Even after they'd been defeated, everyone on this peaceful world has had nightmares about the acid-blooded monsters whenever they went to sleep, some more than others. And now, what they used to wake up screaming about has once again come true.

The aliens have returned to Cephiro!

CHAPTER V

Cephiro Castle:

Presea waited patiently with Mokona for Master Mage Clef, Lafarga, & Lantis to complete their baths in her quarters. It's been over an hour since they've left to take care of their personal hygiene, but for the Master Smith, it felt more like a whole day. Part of her wanted to go & check out the wooden crates the newcomers had brought since catching Tamu & Woona in the middle of the night after sniffing the scent of meat on them, looming over their prized possessions like a hawk. She could not understand why they would, & she needs to get to the bottom of it. But she has no intention of doing it by herself, even if it meant making her look foolish if she was wrong, & it turns out to be nothing at all.

So she waits for Clef & the others.

Like most things, the waiting was the hardest part, but she would wing it for as long as she had to.

Suddenly she heard a soft sobbing from outside her door.

Walking to her door, she opens it up to find a pretty much sad Primera, fluttering by casually with her arms crossed.

"Primera?", Presea said softly.

The little fairy turns to her direction.

"Oh Presea", she says, wiping her tears away with her hand & fluttering up to her. "Sorry. I was lost in thought. If you were in the middle of something…"

The Master Smith smiled. "Not at all, my little fairy friend. Mokona & I were just waiting for Master Mage Clef & the others to finish their baths. Won't you kindly come in & tell me what's wrong?"

"Promise that tub of fluff won't try to eat me?"

Presea laughed. "Don't worry, Primera. Mokona won't do any such thing. He's quite fond of you, I'll have you know. He tells me what great company you are to him."

This was news to the little fairy, & her eyes widened with surprise.

"You can…understand him?", she asks.

"More or less."

Who would've thought?, Primera said to herself. After all the times he gulped me up in his mouth, he still thinks of me as a friend. Then again, he did shield me when the castle started crumbling during Debonair's attack. I never got to thank him properly for that.

"All right, Presea", Primera said, flying into her room as the Master Smith closed the door.

She was glad: talking to Primera will keep her occupied until Clef & the others finish.

Then they can take care of business.

Primera explained to Presea about on how hurt she was seeing Lantis & the Magic Knight Hikaru giving each other a passionate kiss right in front of her, seeing as to how Primera always had more or less a crush on the Master Swordsman since being saved from a monster by him over a year ago.

"I see, Primera", Presea said with passion. "You think that just because Lantis & Hikaru are in love, you feel as if you'd been cast out of his life."

Primera nods somberly. "I just don't get as to why Lantis would do that to me, especially as I've been by his side for all this time, assisting him in every way possible."

Presea places her hand out for Primera to land on, which she does.

"Primera", the Master Smith began saying. "Listen to me. Just because Lantis & Hikaru have feelings for each other, it still doesn't mean he's cast you out of his life. Do you know how often Lantis has told me of what great company you are to him, having always attending his wounds whenever the need arises & such?"

This too shocks the little fairy.

"Lantis told you that?", she asks.

Presea nodded. "He also said that he would be lost without you by his side."

Now Primera was blushing, & she tries (but fails) to conceal it.

"But then, why does he love Hikaru?", she asks once the blushing faded.

"It's hard to explain, but I sensed they've always had strong feelings for each other since they met that first time, even if either was a little afraid to confess to it. But rest assured, it doesn't mean that Lantis has any less feelings for you. You want to know a little secret, Primera?"

The fairy nods.

Presea continued. "I'm deeply in love with Master Mage Clef."

That really caught the little fairy off-guard.

"Whoa! You've got a fling for Clef? Does he even know?"

"He has his suspicions about it, yes. Even if it's a hopeless case, I can't stop doing so."

It's really my twin sister who fell deeply in love with Clef, she said to herself. But since I'm taking her identity, I must confess that I, too, have done the same thing. I guess it's easy for me to see exactly why she did. I suppose it is true when people say 'the apple doesn't fall very far from the tree'.

"Presea, if it really is a hopeless case, then why do you continue to love Clef in the way you do?", Primera asked.

"Because, Primera…I can never lie to my own heart", the Master Smith said with unhidden honesty. This made Primera think of the relationship between her & Lantis: she could never feel any different about him, even if he & the Magic Knight Hikaru are an item. And even when both Hikaru & her two Magic Knight companions—Umi & Fuu—return home to their own world, it would still be the same, despite the worlds apart difference. As the old saying goes, 'love knows no bounds'.

Because, like Presea, Primera could never lie to herself, let alone her own heart.

A telepathic message from Clef abruptly enters Presea's mind.

Presea, Lafarga, Lantis & myself are finished with our baths, it said. We will now attend to the business you'd like for us to look into.

Good, Presea said back in her thoughts. Meet me at the storage room where the people's crates have been brought. I'll see you shortly.

"Let's go, Primera", said Presea, rising from her bed as Mokona follows.

"Where are we going, Presea?", Primera asks.

"To do a little investigation. I'll explain along the way."

Although baffled, Primera followed the Master Smith & Mokona out of her room.

Clef, Lafarga, & Lantis had all stepped out of their own private baths, dried themselves off, & redressed in their traditional clothing/armor, their weapons at their side. Rejoining each other moments later, the trio walk down one of the hallways of the castle, each one feeling refreshed in both body & spirit.

"I must admit, that was very refreshing", said Clef, feeling chipper than usual.

"Of course, Master Mage", said Lantis. "When your troubles & worries—including your own personal filth—begin to pile upon you, a simple bath is the exact remedy to wash/melt it all away in an instant, making you feel like you haven't a care in the world—at least to a degree."

"I know what you mean, Lantis", said Lafarga. "It's just too bad that all of our problems can't be solved or corrected by a mere, simple bath. If only that were true, however, then we would all truly be living in paradise."

"Unfortunately, gentlemen", Clef adds, "life simply doesn't work that way. As you know, in order to get peace, let alone paradise, one needs to fight for it. You can never expect something all that pleasant to be just handed to you upon a platter. Even on Cephiro—where the willpower is dominant—one needs to give it his/her all in order for one to achieve their goals. There are no exceptions to that rule."

"Why do I get the feeling you still blame yourself for the deaths of the children's original parents, Master Mage?", asks Lafarga. "Did you not tell me the other day not to do the same?"

The three warriors all stop in their tracks as Clef looks at Lafarga.

"Why do you ask that, Lafarga?", he says.

"Like Lantis, I know you more than well enough to see you're still troubled by not being able to have protected them better", Lafarga explains. "Granted, we ourselves still feel that burden as you, but you've taken it the worst. When will you realize that we've all failed in that because we've been deceived, & not because we fought with all of our might?"

Clef didn't know how to answer that. He has been so hard on himself for the deaths of the children's parents, not being able to spare them the fate they had been dealt with by the aliens that crashed-landed in a ship which contained them. Bio Metro & Kaza Rosque were the real problem which caused their demise, by making him sick with a flu of some kind that rendered him almost completely helpless & unable to use his most powerful magic, not to mention that they knew of the alien's arrival to Cephiro & never bothered telling anyone about it until they were captured & taken hostage. On top of that, they were hired by a mysterious benefactor whose identity remains a secret even now.

Clef can see no point in laying the burden upon himself any longer, & certainly more than anyone else on Cephiro.

Perhaps it is time to let it all go & desist punishing myself, he thought.

"Master Mage?", Lafarga says.

"You speak wisely, Lafarga", Clef said as the trio resume their walk. "As I've just said to myself, I believe it's time to lift the burden of guilt off my shoulders once & for all. I realized that bad things can & do happen in life, & no amount of power can change that, even if you're the most powerful sorcerer anywhere."

"But that doesn't mean we should do nothing if & when they do, Master Mage", Lantis tells him. "Tragic as the deaths were, we still rose from the ashes & went to every extreme to go help repair the damage done. You contacted our friends over at Kietana for assistance, while the rest of us helped in refurbishing the villages for the new arrivals to accommodate & live in. In short, if & when one is faced with a crisis, they need to assess the situation & help prepare to fix it up as best they can, rather than grieve or think about what they could've done to prevent it from happening to begin with. No one should know that better than us."

"And rising from the ashes is precisely what we had done, Master Mage", Lafarga said. "By working together with the people from Autozam & Fahren were we able to bounce back from the alien infestation & prosper like we have. It's no different from what we did after both the death of our beloved Princess Emeraude & Lady Debonair's assault on us, the latter of which we received assistance from Autozam, Chizeta, & Fahren, as they all gave up on trying to capture the power of the pillar for their own needs."

That made Clef smile.

"Spoken like true warriors", he praises. "I'm guessing that is why Princess Emeraude chose you two to be her guardian, for you are both strong in body and in mind."

"Brute strength can only go so far, Master Mage", Lantis tells him. "A wise mind combined with a body capable of overcoming any hardship makes for a person who can achieve anything he puts his heart into."

"And because of that", Lafarga adds, "we accomplished what we set out to do, & Cephiro can live life as it was meant to like it always did in the time of Princess Emeraude."

"Correct again, Lafarga", Clef says. "Now, let us go see what it is in which Presea wants us to look into, as she mentioned to us earlier."

Lafarga & Lantis nod, & the trio walk to the storage room in complete silence. When they reach their destination, they see Presea, Mokona, & Primera waiting for them at the entrance.

"My apologies, Presea", Clef said, walking up to her. "You know I would've…"

Presea held up her hand. "None are necessary, Master Mage. I'm never one to get in the way of a man & his bath", she jokes before turning serious. "But I feel I should bring this to your attention. Let's go inside."

Led by the Master Smith, Clef, Lafarga, Lantis, Mokona, & Primera enter the room & find the half-dozen wooden crates still laying on their hover platforms, which have been deactivated & are now resting on the floor.

Presea explains as they walk up towards them.

"Just the other night, after walking from a nightmare & needing to walk for a bit to clear my head, I caught the scent of meat in the air & it led me here, where I found Tamu & Woona inside checking one of their crates."

"What's so irregular about that, Presea?", asked Lafarga. "It could be they had a nightmare like you did &…"

She shook her head. "No, Lafarga. I heard voices when I approached them, almost as if they were…speaking to someone."

"You mean to say that they weren't speaking to each other?", asked Clef.

"I couldn't tell exactly, Clef. But I do know they were talking—and that they shut the lid to this very crate just as soon as I entered the room."

"And this occurred late last night, I take it?", asked Lantis.

"Correct, Lantis. Like I mentioned before, it could be nothing at all, but judging from all the evidence I've gathered, I believe it's more than just a mere midnight stroll with those two."

"Are you saying we should check the crates?", Clef asks. "Presea, that's a complete invasion of privacy. You & the others are above such childish antics."

"Please, Master Mage Clef!", Primera pleaded. "Presea feels the need to investigate, & she won't be at ease until she does!"

Lantis looked at Primera for a moment before answering.

"She told you what she told us, Primera?"

The little fairy nodded.

"I'll take full responsibility, Master Mage Clef", Presea said. "If it's nothing, I will accept the blame & explain my actions to the people, most notably to Tamu & Woona. But if it isn't…"

"Very well, Presea", said Clef. "You're one of the most responsible people I know of. Check the crate if you wish."

"Thank you, Clef."

With that, Presea checked the electronic lock on the crate & opens it with a thin device Geo had given her some time ago. A beeping sound, & the red light turns to green, indicating that it is now unlocked. With baited breath, the Master Smith opens the crate slowly but surely.

May the Princess forgive me for this intrusion, she said to herself.

When she got it partly open, both her eyes & Primera's went wide.

This definitely went noticed by Clef & the others, but it was Lantis who asked.

"What is it? What did you find inside?"

"You'd better see for yourself, Lantis!", said Primera. "You won't believe it!"

Coming around, Lantis opens the crate a bit wider to find…nothing.

"It's empty", he says in a low voice, but that didn't prevent Clef & Lafarga from hearing his words.

"Empty? There's absolutely nothing inside?", Lafarga asked.

"Not even the smallest piece of shredded cloth lies within."

"We'd better go & check the other crates", said Clef after a moment's thought. Both Lafarga & Presea nodded, & they immediately went to work on opening the other five crates, with Lantis doing the same after closing the first one.

But like the first, each wooden crate was just as empty as the last, the warriors announcing it as soon as they make the discovery.

"All of them are empty", said Lafarga. "How can this be? They were rather heavy when we helped haul them from their ship, even with the hover platforms."

"Do you suppose the people could've removed their belongings right before heading off for the villages?", asked Primera. "It's an understandable reason."

"True, but I doubt it", said Presea. "There was hardly any time for them to do that, as both Geo & Ferio helped round up everyone right after dawn arised for breakfast, & those people had been completely in our sights until the moment they left."

"But it doesn't make any sense!", Primera said. "How could the crates be empty now when they were full being brought in from the other day? What exactly did these people bring with them here to Cephiro?"

"I fear that our new arrivals are not who they appear to be", Lantis says grimly. "And that they may be some here within the castle as we speak!"

"Therefore, we have intruders here on Cephiro!", said Lafarga, stating the obvious. A nervous 'puu puu' from Mokona indicates him as being more than a little scared from this news.

"But how is that possible?", Presea asked. "Clef would've known it long before they even attempted to land here!"

"And had Bio Metro not weakened Clef with that strange flu back then, he would've sensed & destroyed the aliens before they touched ground on Cephiro", said Lantis.

"True", said Clef. "There's absolutely no way for an enemy to approach Cephiro without me knowing about it. Unless…"

"Unless what, Master Mage?", asked Lafarga. "Is there something you're not telling us?"

Could it possibly be…?, Clef asked himself, only half listening to Lafarga.

He had no time to continue pondering about it: from high above them, an unseen device which had been planted to the wall suddenly erupts a thick cloud of black energy that covers the entire room, turning it dark.

"W-What's happening,Lantis? What's going on?", a scared Primera asks.

"It appears we are about to meet the occupants of those wooden crates!", Lantis says as he draws his sword, his blade illuminating in the darkness.

Lafarga & Presea draw their weapons as well, & Clef stands alert with his staff in hand.

"Mokona, stay close to me!", Presea orders him. But she doesn't get a 'puu puu' answer from him, & it begins to worry her.

"Mokona?"

Still no answer.

Lantis shines his sword to where he last saw Mokona. His light suddenly finds him & so he announces it to the others. They all find Mokona sleeping away on the floor, as well as something stuck in his thick neck.

Lantis recognizes it instantly—it was an Autozamian tranq dart!

"Mokona?", Presea said. "Who did this to him?"

"All of you, stay alert!", Lantis ordered. "Our uninvited guests are here somewhere!"

"Whoever you are, show yourselves! Now!", Clef ordered. "If you don't, you will suffer the gravest of consequences!"

"You'd better do it! This is your one & only warning!", Lafarga shouted.

"Then it's best not to disappoint you, yes?", said a raspy voice, sounding like it came from a parrot. Everyone turned to where the anonymous voice came from, & they saw only a glimpse of—something—heading straight towards them, moving too fast for it to be identified. The object rams straight into Lantis with such incredible force, it knocks the wind out of him & is slammed right into Clef in one swift act. Whatever just attacked left as suddenly as it appeared, & both Clef & Lantis hit the black barrier hard, losing their weapons & falling to the floor unconscious.

"Lantis!", Primera shouted.

"Master Mage Clef!", Presea & Lafarga shouted.

Both warriors put their concern aside for the time being; whatever attacked their friends is still within the blackened room, & they need to be ready when it attacks again.

"Primera, you'd better stay close to me!", Lafarga said, but after a moment he gets no answer from her.

"Primera? Are you there? Answer us!", Presea calls out, & the result is the same.

It can only mean that Primera has been taken down like Mokona—swiftly.

Lafarga stands ready with his weapon when he suddenly hears a low, distinct, animalistic growl emerge from behind him. With a swiftness that's all but unmatched on all of Cephiro, he does a quick 180 degree turn, sword & all, to cut the intruder in half & down to size. But as fast as he was, the intruder was even faster: he grabs Lafarga's sword with his bare hand with hardly any effort on his part. Being stunned temporarily by the maneuver, Lafarga sees a tall, dark silhouette in the room, & tough it was dark, he can see well enough that he was taller than he by about a foot or two. That was all the Master Swordsman could see of his foe before being buffeted by a huge right hand that connects with his head, sending him sprawling across the floor as he joins Lantis & Clef in the state of unconsciousness.

Presea was attacked almost as swiftly: just as Lafarga turned to meet his enemy, she had been grabbed from behind by a scaly reptilian hand that covers most of her face & mouth. She fought & struggled against her assailant, mumbling angrily as she did, but she felt herself get weaker with each passing second.

In no time, her mumbling & struggles ceased altogether.

The room was as silent as the grave.

When the six inhabitants of the room were all dealt with, the blackness began dissipating & withdrawed into the device which hung overhead & deactivated, bathing the room in light once more. The only difference now is that Lafarga, Lantis, Presea, Mokona, Primera, & Master Mage Clef were all lying on the floor, alive but out of commission. In their place stood six new figures which stood over the fallen heroes, reptilian in appearance, wearing body armor (now covering their shins & forearms) & having swords & guns hanging at their hips on belts.

Tyrannix, Megalas, Terradaclys, Tri-ton, Stegron, & Ankylla stood in triumph over Master Mage Clef & company, each one grinning & bearing their teeth.

"Excellent work—everybody!", Tyrannix tells his dinosaurian troops. "Now that we've brought down the ones who would pose the most danger to us, the others should be no problem for our newly recruited 'troops' to contend with!"

"Ha! If even they couldn't defeat lowly reptiles like us", Tri-ton said, pointing to Master Mage Clef, Lafarga, & Lantis, "then what chance do the other warriors of this world have?"

"Best still to take caution, Tri-ton", Megalas warns him. "Lowly as they may appear, they are never to be underestimated under any circumstances."

"And that was how we were beaten last time!", Terradaclys says. "That defeat still leaves a most bitter taste in my beak!"

"I have to go with Terradaclys on that!", said Ankylla. "Not one day goes by without that awful memory stinging my brain with a pins-&-needles feeling to it!"

"Rest assured, Ankylla, you will soon have a new & more pleasant memory to replace it in no time!", Stegron said, picking up the unconscious form of Lafarga by his neck & bringing him to his scaly face. "So, when do we get to feast? I hunger for real flesh!"

"Very soon, Stegron. I assure you."

The voice—a female one—comes from the room's entrance behind the dinosauroid warrior as they all turn towards her. Lady Shinzeta wore a maroon long-sleeved shirt & pants, which was covered mostly by her golden armor, equally identical to all the dinosauroid's own, which protects her shins, forearms, chest & shoulders, the latter of which were pointed in fashion. Her long hair was styled in twin ponytails, & a lavender cape (which matched her hair color) draped from her shoulders. A golden belt wrapped around her waist, & twin sword handles hung loosely from it.

In all, she looked similar to the three Magic Knights Hikaru Shidou, Umi Ryuuzaki, & Fuu Hououji in their outfits when they don their Rune Gods Rayearth, Selece, & Windam, but unlike the trio from Tokyo, her intentions for Cephiro were anything but pleasant.

"Ah, Lady Shinzeta", Tyrannix proudly acknowledges, bowing to her slightly.

The dinosaur warrior eyes his troops to make sure they do the same, which they do.

"Well done, Tyrannix, everyone", Shinzeta says. "While I do loathe to deprive any of you of a fine serving of fresh meat, please keep in mnd that we need them all alive for the time being. As you know, this is just the first step in our plans to conquer Cephiro, followed by other worlds once we get what we came here for."

"First we need to capture all of Clef's other companions, not to mention the so-called Magic Knights", Tri-ton reminds them.

"And we shall, Tri-ton", Shinzeta assures him. "That's why we sent our 'troops' to deal with that situation. Once they do, the real fun will begin!"

Lady Shinzeta places her hands on her hips & tilts her head, letting loose a maniacal laugh which echoes throughout the room. Tyrannix & his dinosaur warriors do the same, joining her in the melee, filled with the anticipation as their human ally is filled with.

For them, their was rapidly approaching & merely upon them, but for Cephiro, it was starting to slip away just as fast.

CHAPTER VI

Piraus Village:

It wasn't supposed to be this way, they kept saying to themselves.

It was supposed to be a joyous occasion & a time to rejoice.

It became a recurring nightmare, one that Cephiro had hoped would never be brought to its doorstep again: after two months of dealing with it for the first time, it all comes back with a hefty vengeance, & what's worse, it's spread in other parts of the planet instead of at the castle.

Aliens with acid for blood & who impregnate other life forms in order to reproduce have come back!

And Geo Metro, Hikaru Shidou, Umi Ryuuzaki, & Tarta & Tatra are currently searching for the very things that caused the deaths of the children's parents two months ago & put a stop to them before anyone else shares their horrible fate, literally leaving absolutely no stone unturned as their search turns frantic, their weapons all drawn & ready to take down the aliens at the first glance of needle-teeth or razor-sharp tails.

As one, the five regroup in the center of town.

"Any luck, people?", Geo asks.

"None, Geo! And it's been nearly an hour since they reappeared from those other creatures which were our 'guests' once!", said Hikaru.

"I found no trace of them anywhere either!", Umi said grimly. "It's like they disappeared all of a sudden! But then, they do have a knack for that!"

"But we do know they're here, Umi!", Tarta says. "And ah for one would like ta find them long before they find us!"

"Not ta mention the children!", Tatra reminds them. "Ah can only hope that Tamara & the others reach the castle in time!"

That's when the thought enters everyone's mind at once, & it wasn't a pleasant one.

Shit! We should've thought of that before!, Hikaru said to herself.

"That's probably where they're all headed for right now—the kids!", Geo said, the first to announce it orally. "Let's get a move on & head those things off before they…huh?"

The Autozamian paused in mid-sentence when he feels a slight rumbling at his feet. Soon, it was Hikaru, Umi, & the two Chizetian sisters who feel it as well. Pebbles & tiny rocks start to go up & down on the ground, jumping like Mexican jumping beans. The rumbling becomes intense after several seconds, & it made it hard (but not impossible) for the five warriors to go & keep their balance.

"What's happenin'? An earthquake?", wondered Tarta.

I'm not so sure about that, Tarta!, Umi said to herself. The blue-haired Magic Knight was about to announce what was really going on when the answer suddenly appears before them. At about thirty feet away from where they stood, a geyser of dirt & gravel shoot up from the ground like a fountain, & within it emerges a multitude of the aliens—all fully-grown, including a dog-like one—as they surround the five like wolves would do to an animal they've just found for dinner & intend to eat.

"They were underground all this time?", a shocked Tarta says.

"No wonder we couldn't find them!", a frustrated Tatra said, unhappy of the aliens finding them first like what Tatra didn't want to happen.

"And they find us first! Let's make them regret it! Bring them down!", Geo said, raising his gun & firing a volley of rounds from it, hitting one in the head & exploding it like a balloon full of acid as its remains sizzle at wherever it lands & the body drops like a sack of potatoes.

"Ruby Lightning!", Hikaru calls out, drawing a ball of cackling red energy between her two hands & throwing it as she would a softball. One alien gets blasted to bits as others scatter like roaches, its pieces—arms, legs, etc.—get thrown in numerous directions like a piñata being beaten by a stick at a child's party.

"Icicle blades!", Umi calls out, & sticks of ice—pointed at both ends—shoot forth from her right hand. Like Hikaru, her attempt gets her only one alien, as it becomes a livng pincushion & gets struck by Umi's attack, piercing its tough hide & letting out a death screech before slumping down to the ground, smoking.

Tarta kept two of the aliens at bay using her shield, while using her sword to skewer them with a quick jab to their midsection. The aliens have time for a screech as their epitath before they slump dead to the ground.

"All right! Who else wants some o' this?", she taunts her alien attackers as her sister Tatra manages to slice off an alien's tail, dodging its acid blood as she does so.

Fortunately, she & Tarta were informed of their acid blood by the others.

And though they smoked, their swords were immune to melting & dissolving from it.

Turning her sword into a whip, Tatra wraps the tailless alien around its waist & throws it as if it were a baseball into a bunch of the monsters, all of which dived in different directions. The one Tatra threw was put out of its misery by a shot from Geo's weapon through its chest.

Half a dozen down, many more aliens to go!

"You girls all right?", Geo called to the Chizetian sisters as they stayed in close quarters of each other.

"We'll live!", Tarta said. "But unless we do something & wipe out all o' these aliens, that may change in a heartbeat!"

"Then let's do just that!", said Hikaru. "Umi, help me lay out a sweeping attack on two sides of this horde while Geo does the same at a third!"

"We get it, Hikaru!", Geo says. "And any aliens we don't get with this attack, Tarta & Tatra can finish off on their own!"

"That's right, Geo!", Umi says. "Ready, girls?"

"We're all set, Umi!", Tarta said.

"Yes! Do it!", Tatra said.

"Then all of you be set to go on my mark!", Hikaru said, beginning her countdown to carry out their plan. "On three! One…two…"

Before Hikaru could get to three, the ground shook once again, only this time it was even more violently than last time, like someone was punching it with a giant fist. It happened once & even twice to three times, & on the third attempt the ground erupted again at the opposite side of where Geo's group had entered Piraus Village. Huge crusts of dirt, rocks, & grass sprouted into the air & rained down near the band & aliens themselves, all of whom currently pay no mind to the humans they've been battling.

In fact, instead of attacking, the aliens go down on their knees & look to where the ground erupted at, as if they were worshipping what was coming out.

And what was coming out from beneath the ground was huge.

The thing rose up like a bear from hibernation, but it was anything but a bear—it stood on a pair of powerful legs, with two pairs of arms (one smaller than the other), a long pointed tail, & a huge head that was shaped like an antler.

The five warriors stood agape in both eyes & mouths, but it was Hikaru, Umi, & Geo whose hearts were beating the fastest in not adrenaline but fear, as the worst thing they could imagine has appeared right before them, something even worse than the aliens themselves.

It was the alien queen, the biggest & most dangerous of the acid-blooded monsters. The red-haired Magic Knight vividly remembers that time in the cave where all the children's parents had been brought to their deaths (with Umi & Fuu nearly joining them), & Hikaru fried the alien eggs she was producing within. Never has she loathed & abhorred something as much as she did the alien queen—it laid the eggs that took the kids' original parents away from them, it nearly killed Fuu Hououji in the castle, & like her 'children', she was just as relentless & merciless.

Like before in the cavern, Hikaru's fear was sinking, being replaced by undisguised hatred.

"The queen!", she spat.

"The queen?", Tatra says. "Y'all mean this thing lays eggs?"

"The very same, Tatra!", Umi said, confirming it. "This alien bitch lays eggs which hatches a spidery creature that attaches itself to the victim's face, thereby implanting an embryo inside the chest! After a while…well, you saw what happened!"

Tarta & Tatra glance at each other quickly. The Chizetian sisters were both astonished & disgusted by the method of how the aliens reproduce, hearing it for the first time since arriving to Cephiro to help attend the kids until the newcomers got here. So quick were the twin Princesses in assisting to the children's needs that they'd hadn't bothered to ask about the monster's life cycle in full. They regret it now, & may not live long enough to speak of it to anyone else.

Now their troubles have doubled or even tripled due to the queen's presence, & need to take her down before things get worse than they already are.

"Alien bitch or not, Umi, she can be brought down like the rest of her soldiers!", Hikaru said with contempt in her voice, but not at her friend, who nods in agreement.

But first, they need to contend with her aforementioned soldiers, & right now, they plan on bringing them down. When the queen 'sees' six of her brethren lying in pieces or on the ground missing an appendage or two, she does what any mother would do seeing any harm coming to her kids—she screamed.

This scream was one of pure anguish & rage, & the queen's children respond to it.

So do Hikaru & the others.

"Flame Arrow!", Hikaru calls out as flames protrude from her right hand.

"Water Dragon!", Umi calls out, sending forth a dragon-shaped stream of water from her own right hand.

The Magic Knight's attacks are sent directly towards the first group of oncoming aliens that rush right for them. Geo Metro unleashes a barrage of rounds from his weapon in very rapid succession, giving the girls some additional backup. But as deadly as their attacks were at their enemies, the warriors notice something about the aliens they hadn't before: not only do they avoid getting struck in every way, but also sense them coming—it was as if the aliens know of what they had planned to do. Some dodge left to right, & some leap up like giant frogs in the air, never getting so much as even a scratch on their hideous person.

This became painfully clear to Hikaru, Umi, & Geo.

It can't be!, mused a disbelieving Umi. They anticipated our move towards them! How in all of Cephiro is that possible?

Quickly, Umi tries another method of attack.

"Sapphire…", she starts to call out, but as quick as she was, the aliens were quicker. At the moment she raised her and to commence her attack, one of the aliens lands hard on the ground at Umi's spot, as the Magic Knight dives backward just a split second before. Drawing her sword & keeping it between her & the creature, she begins to run at & slice it in half, but only gets one step when an alien from behind wraps its six-fingered hand around her face, cutting off her air. Like she was no more than a rag doll, the alien flips her over its grotesque head & slams Umi down hard on the ground, making a dent in the dirt.

"Umi!", Hikaru & Geo shout, as the latter gets attacked by three aliens at a time. In one swift motion, one alien grabs Geo's gun & breaks it like a cheap toy in one hand. The other two grab Geo himself by his wrists & squeeze, destroying his equipment there into useless scrap, crumbling off his wrists & sprinkling to the ground like metal snow.

"Alien scum!", Geo yells, suddenly getting a rush of renewed energy. Using his own brute strength, he tears himself free from his alien captors & swings his fists & feet like a prize fighter at his inhuman adversaries. One thing one should know about Geo Metro of Autozam: just because you take away his armament doesn't make him any less dangerous; one blow would give anyone a severe headache that would last for at least more than a week.

But his current opponents aren't just anyone, & no matter how hard he fights, Geo doesn't land a single blow to any of the aliens. The trio of creatures dodge & avoid every strike made by the Autozamian by ducking, leaping, & stepping back. All Geo was hitting was empty air.

The aliens, however, make solid contact; as one, the monsters throw a fist at Geo, hitting him in the stomach, chest, & face. The Autozamian goes sprawling across the ground. When he stops sliding, he's just as out of it as Umi.

Hikaru calls his name, & things are looking bleak for the home team.

Two were down, & then there were three.

"This is looking bad, Tarta!", Tatra says, seeing two of their comrades/friends going down under attack. "Our forces are droppin' like flies, & we need ta do something ta even up the odds!"

"Then maybe this will give us that edge, Tatra!", Tarta says, running at full speed at a horde of aliens with her shield placed in front of her. Acting like a living battering ram, Tarta slams full throttle into the aliens, screaming out a battle cry as she does. Aliens get scattered like bowling pins at an alley from Tarta's charge. Using her sword, she manages to slice one of the monsters in half, but the rest get to a safe distance from her weapon.

Just one out of all that? Fine—let's try somethin' else!, she says to herself. Changing her tactics, Tarta then throws her shield like a Frisbee at another bunch of aliens in an attempt to cut them down to size—literally. When her shield gets within two feet, one alien snatches it from the side. The maneuver stuns the two Chizetian Princesses & Hikaru.

What…? How in the world was that creature able ta catch that?, Tarta wondered.

Wasting no time, the alien that caught Tarta's shield flings it right back at her with amazing speed, the Chizetian Princess had no time to avoid getting clobbered by it. Her shield hits her hard square in the face, but thankfully not by the edges, otherwise she'd be decapitated by the move instead of being knocked out cold from it.

The blow knocks her sword from her hand, & she lays to rest near one of the buildings.

"Tarta!", Hikaru & Tatra yell out.

Now it was three down, with only two to go for the aliens.

Seeing her younger sister being defeated by monsters from space put Tatra in a state of a blind rage. Like Tarta before, Tatra rushes the aliens with her sword in hand, screaming angrily in every desire to behead each & every one of the creatures if she had to. Getting within range, Tatra swings her weapon with grace & style in swipes that would surely cut any opponent down in an instant.

And that's what would've happened to the aliens, had they not stayed clear from the swings of her sword. Like skilled acrobats at a circus, the creatures leaped & landed safely out of the range of Tatra's weapon. Realizing her tactic isn't working, Tatra transforms her sword into a whip.

Her rage, though, stays the same as before.

"Filthy alien shits! Nobody does that ta mah sister! Nobody!", Tatra barks, raising her whip above her head & back before throwing it forward with all her might at the nearest alien to cut it into as many pieces as possible. The whip approached the alien in two seconds, but even that was more than enough time for it to take the offensive: in one fluid movement, the creature grabbed it with one hand.

What the hell…?, Tatra thought, just before the alien pulled on it using both hands with all its might, taking Tatra with it, who didn't have time to let go & had been propelled forward by the momentum. Once within range, the alien who pulled on Tatra's whip suddenly kicked her in the solar plexus with a powerful leg, knocking the wind out of her. Tatra went soaring into the wall of one of the new buildings, denting it before dropping to the ground not too far from where Tarta laid at, becoming just as unconscious as her younger sister.

"Tatra!", Hikaru called out.

Even though she kept her sights on the aliens, Hikaru saw what happened to her friends, & this made her mad. She was now the last one standing, & the aliens now focus their attention on her with nothing else interfering. But this still didn't deter Hikaru in the slightest: just because her friends have been dealt with & defeated, it doesn't mean she would throw in the towel & give up to the acid-blooded nightmares. If she has to defeat each & every one of them single-handedly & by herself, then that's exactly what she'll do.

Determined as she was, though, she found there were two major problems with that. One, the aliens outnumber her ten to one, & two, even if she does manage to defeat all the 'small fry', she still had to contend with the alien queen who waits patiently at the outer rim of Piraus Village as if she were a coach in a football game.

And as Hikaru can tell you, fighting the queen will be anything but a walk in the park.

Nevertheless, despite the overwhelming odds, Hikaru refuses to stand down. Cephiro is like a seond home to her, & even if she were the drop-dead last person left alive on it, she will defend it until every last enemy—alien or otherwise—has been beaten, or until she falls.

And Hikaru has no intention of falling—or failing.

Her sword in hand, the red-haired Magic Knight braces herself for action.

"Come on, you alien motherfuckers!", she snaps with all her hatred for them, gritting her teeth & scowling. "You brought down all my friends with your fancy new moves, let's see if you can do the same with me! Come & get it!"

Screeching in answer to Hikaru's challenge, the aliens gracefully accept. Coming at her one at a time in rapid succession, the aliens leap at Hikaru, not caring that she wields her sword. Like a female & teenaged Jackie Chan, Hikaru kicked, punched, & judo-threw every alien that dared to approach her. Even when hordes of the monsters leapt at her in groves of two or more, Hikaru had stood her ground & fought, ignoring the pain in her limbs as hitting the aliens was like hitting a man of metal. She even paid no mind to the cuts & bruises she's receiving from, as blood was dripping from mostly her hands, among a few other places.

As muchas she wanted to, Hikaru dared not use her sword at such close range with her acid-blooded foes: while she may be a very tough individual physically, she isn't acid-proof, & their blood will melt her down to nothing should it make contact. Even using her 'Flame Arrow' and 'Ruby Lightning' attacks that close would have dire consequences, so the best thing to do is wait until she has the perfect chance to use them.

Unfortunately, that meant getting them together as a group to use either method of attack, & not one of the aliens are compliant in her wish to do so.

So somehow, she'll have to make them gather.

The aliens realize themselves that their intended victim isn't going down by their regular standard of attack, no matter how many of them charge her; she simply fends them off with all her might, with deadly accuracy. So a change of strategy is needed if they're going to win against this one individual young female human. All of them head for the west entrance of Piraus Village where Hikaru & company entered, gathering like a swarm of bees in a hive until it became like a living tide of black. Hikaru couldn't believe the odds turning in her favor: she needed to have the aliens in a bunch for easier pickings, & she got what she wished for.

Perfect! A quick combo of my 'Ruby Lightning' & 'Flame Arrow' attacks should bring this to a swift end!, Hikaru thought. Then I can concentrate on the queen herself!

Hikaru knew the alien queen was still among her troops: what she didn't know was as to why the queen would remain where she is & not attack her.

The red-haired Magic Knight didn't ponder on it. Like the old saying goes, 'Never look a gift horse in the mouth'.

Instead, she readied her two magic attacks for demolition of the alien horde, as the monsters themselves were poised to do the same with their own attack—to charge her as one & crush her under their immense weight.

But neither the aliens nor Hikaru had the time to carry out their attack plans at each other. A large shadow rose up from behind Hikaru, & she turned to it, believing it to be what she suspected even before she saw. As she guessed (much to her dismay), the alien queen came at Hikaru—from above!

Sending a hormone to her troops, the queen ordered them to stand down so that she may take care of the young Magic Knight herself. Once they complied, the alien bitch took a mighty leap into the air on her two powerful legs. Hikaru looked up just in time to see the queen come crashing down at where she was. With barely enough time, Hikaru dived for cover as the queen's landing shook the ground like thunder, causing cracks in the buildings of the village.

Like it or not, Hikaru was going to concentrate on the queen now!

"Ruby Lightning!", the Magic Knight called out, quickly forming a cackling ball of crimson energy between her hands & firing it at her alien foe as soon as she was able. The red ball came flying straightforward for the queen, & the bast would surely take her oversized head off in an explosion of alien bile—if it made contact.

As fast as Hikaru was on her attack, the queen was faster: with the grace of a rattlesnake or a cat, she moved her head over to one side as Hikaru's 'Ruby Lightning' ball whizzed past her & hit the top of a tree, exploding it in a shower of burnt wood & leaves, turning the pieces into all but kindling. But this mishap didn't deter Hikaru at all, & she pressed on with another strategy.

"Flame Arrow!", she called out, shooting high intensity flames from her hand, directly at the queen. She missed her again, but the alien bitch did feel the scorching heat of the flames & let out a loathing screech that echoed the forest, her segmented tail hitting the buildings & causing much damage, partly reminding her of the giant monster movies she used to watch on TV in Tokyo.

But this was real, & unless Hikaru does something to end this soon, the entire village which Geo & the others put their hearts & souls into will end up being a ghost town, more so than usual.

Not to mention that she & her unconscious friends will end up being killed or cocooned for impregnation for more aliens. So far none of her friends have been stepped on by the queen or ravaged by the aliens, but that may (& probably will) soon change.

Keeping her flame attack going, Hikaru turns it toward the queen, rising to her feet. The alien bitch steps back, taking wide & quick steps like a Tyrannosaurus Rex probably would, were one confronted in this same situation. But being intent on just the queen alone makes Hikaru open to attack from behind. Unknown to the Magic Knight, the alien queen sent a message to one of her brethren, & that warrior—the alien dog that emerged from the chest of the thing that had once been Woona's—rushes from behind. heading straight for the red-haired Magic Knight. Sensing danger, Hikaru turns around—just in time to see the dog alien ram its misshapen head right into her, slamming into her face & chest. The force of the hit sends Hikaru sailing to the ground, & she lands near the feet of the alien queen, who now looks over the now out-cold Magic Knight, hissing lowly as she does.

Her curiosity fulfilled, the queen bends down lower for a closer look.

Her face just inches from the Magic Knight's, the queen shoots her inner jaws with a snap.

The outskirts of the Forest of Silence:

Just as it did for Geo's group, things went from bad to worse for Ferio's.

After Tamu & the other newcomers revealed what they truly were (white-skinned dinosaur creatures), a swift but brutal battle ensued, resulting in the deaths of the creatures but not by the hands of Fuu & the others. Their chests swelled up & exploded on their own, revealing the snake-like chestburster aliens that lay within. A rigorous search for them went unsuccessful, & the full-grown aliens showed themselves by popping up from beneath the ground, ready to either devour or take captive the band of warriors & children for impregnation.

In the melee, Ferio ordered Elder Chang Ang to take the kids back to the castle, which also included Lady Aska, Sang-Yung, & Zazu Torque as fast as they can & not look back for any kind of reason whatsoever. While they ran, Ascot summoned two of his monsters to help fight the new alien horde: a creature that resembled a centipede with pincers at the front, & a four-legged reptile which resembled a lizard with fangs in the front like a saber-tooth tiger. Ascot figured since the aliens are more or less a combo of insect & reptile, it would take an insect & reptile to help them even the odds a bit.

During the entire struggle between them & the returning horrors, Ferio & everyone else is hoping & praying that the kids & Chang Ang are all right.

Lady Aska didn't know how much more of this she could take.

When Chang Ang was helping to lead the kids away from the traitorous/monstrous Tamu & his band once ther were miraculously released, they ran into the forest in hopes to find cover from the terror until they could reach the castle & inform Master Mage Clef of what happened.

Unfortunately, they were ambushed by the aliens, & Lady Aska had put up her defensive shield just in the nick of time, covering herself, Sang-Yung, Chang Ang, Zazu Torque, & all of the children as the aliens began pounding & scratching on her dome non-stop, waiting for a crucial weakness in her defense. But the attempt was taking a heavy toll on Lady Aska's power, & she felt herself getting weaker at each passing moment as the aliens continue their merciless assault upon her protective dome.

"I can't help but be scared, Elder!", Sang-Yung said, not bothering to hide his feelings. "The aliens have been trying to break this dome for nearly an hour now, & I don't see them giving up anytime soon!"

"I know the feeling, Sang-Yung!", Chang Ang says, still holding his staff. "Like we saw back at the castle last time they arrived, these creatures are relentless! Once they set their sights on a specific target, they just won't quit until they get it! And I fear very greatly for Lady Aska & all of the children—I have no idea how much longer she can hold out for!"

"I…can't give up, Elder!", Lady Aska says, her voice straining from her attempt at keeping her dome up. "For your sake…& those of the kids…I've got to hold on..as much as I can!"

Lady Aska, Chang Ang had said to himself, admiring her bravery in the face of immediate danger & horror. She fights to protect the kids of Cephiro without a second thought, even though she strains & struggles vigorously in her attempts. It would be no different in the aliens were on Fahren; Lady Aska loves her people, & would no doubt die to keep them safe, & she shows that courage here on the land she once decided to invade for her own purposes.

Chang Ang wanted to tell her how more proud he is of her, but with monsters with acid for blood pounding & scratching on her dome, now was definitely not a good time.

He'd have to save it for later—if there is a later!

"But what if they do manage to break the dome, Elder?", one child asks, needing to know the answer. "What will we do then?"

"Then it'll be my turn to protect you!", Zazu said, raising his little but deadly pistols. "Don't worry: if those monsters want to take any of you away, they'll have to contend with me first!"

"Hey! Look, everyone!", Mira said suddenly, pointing.

As amazing as it may seem, the aliens cease & desist their vicious attack on Aska's dome & back away several steps, keeping a distance of about ten feet. Like a pack of wolves, they circle around the dome, waiting with infinite patience.

Knowing they'll attack in a mute second, Aska keeps her dome up & dares not deactivate it for even the briefest of moments. True, they're stuck where they are, but they still have the Magic Knight Fuu Hououji & the other warriors to rely on, & each of them knows for sure that they'd never let them down.

At least they all hope they won't.

Hurry, Fuu!, Aska says to herself. I'm doing all I can to keep the kids safe, but I still need your help! Please come!

That's when a rumbling occurs from beneath their feet.

"What's that?", Sang-Yung wondered.

Then a terrible thought entered Zazu's mind.

"I think more of those aliens are about to join those right outside!", he says. It would put them more in danger; the aliens right outside Aska's dome are more than enough trouble, but now it seems that reinforcements are on their way to assist their brethren, & if they should begin their assault anew, Lady Aska may not be able to keep her protective dome up for very long, having been drained of most of her energy as it is.

It wasn't as bad as it was, it was worse: while Zazu was correct about the aliens tunneling from beneath them like they did before, they do it from inside the dome! A pair of aliens suddenly pop up from the ground, catching the kids & Elder Chang Ang off-guard. Lady Aska turns to see one of the aliens crack its tail like a living whip & smacks the young Fahren Princess in her side with such strength, she gets knocked out cold before even hitting the ground, thus deactivating her dome. At that same time, the other alien smacked its tail into Zazu, causing him to lose his guns & rendering him unconscious as well.

"Zazu!", Mira called out.

"Lady Aska!", Chang Ang & Sang-Yung called out, seeing the young princess get clobbered by one of the horrors.

"Filthy beast!", Chang Ang yelled, unable to contain his anger at seeing Lady Aska attacked by anyone or anything. Holding his staff firmly, he swings it at the one who clobbered his young pupil with all his might, hitting the alien in the head. Unfortunately, his effort was about as much effective as if he had hit a brick wall; the only thing that got damaged was his staff, as it bent upon making contact with the alien's head. But while the creature wasn't affected by the blow, it sure as hell felt it, & turned on its attacker. Paralyzed with shock & fear, Chang Ang had no defense when the thing backhanded the elder in the face, knocking him to the ground with hardly any effort.

Seeing their main protectors go down, Mira quickly decided to take matters into her own hands. She dived for the guns that Zazu had dropped when one of the aliens took him down, but before she could get near them, the creature stomped hard on them both, flattening them to pieces like mere cockroaches & rendering them all but useless.

Now without weapons of any kind & their guardians down, Mira, Sang-Yung, & all the kids huddle as a group, keeping close to one another as they wait to what their fate will be as the aliens converge closer upon them.

"Emerald Cyclone!", Fuu called out, as green rings come forth from her hand & shoot at the oncoming aliens in an attempt to cut them into pieces like knives through butter. But the aliens jump to two sides & avoid being skewered by Fuu's attack.

It's just like before!, thought Fuu. The aliens are somehow wise to our attacks! How can this be when they're nothing more than savage animals?

That's when Ferio joined her, wielding his sword.

"This is crazy, Fuu!", he says. "For all this time I haven't scored even one hit on these alien bastards! And Caldina & Ascot aren't faring any better either! What gives?"

"I've thought that same presumption, Ferio! These monsters have somehow…evolved into something more than just raging, relentless beasts!"

"We see what ya mean, Fuu!", Caldina said as she & Ascot rejoin their friends. "When we all fought them the last time, they attacked us without thinkin' twice about it! But now, as the both of you pointed out, they've evolved: they bide their time ta know just when ta strike & when not ta!"

"Even my two monsters—Centipas & Gilas—are having the utmost difficulty in dealing with them!", Ascot said. "In all this time, they've only been lucky twice, having disposed of only that amount of aliens! What happened to them that made them evolve so quickly?"

"We'll worry about that later, Ascot!", Fuu said. "Right now, evolved or not, these aliens are a major threat to Cephiro, & we need to deal & dispose of them quickly before they overrun us!"

"You got that right, Fuu!", said Ferio. "As skilled as they believe themselves to be, we're even more so! All we need is the perfect moment to strike, & we'll have them by the…"

"Wait! What are they doing?", Ascot said, cutting Ferio off.

Fuu, Ferio, & Caldina look over to where Ascot pointed. The scene was described as one out of a horror show: all the aliens were currently focused on Centipas & Gilas—two of Ascot's most faithful monsters—as they race toward the insect & lizard-like creatures like a swarm of angry bees ready to sting. Even though both Centipas & Gilas fought valiantly against the aliens (even managed to dispose of almost six in the process), they were no match for the horrors from deep space. Several of the acid-blooded creatures leapt up on top of Centipas & Gilas upon their backs with ease, making it hard for either of Ascot's beasts to try counterattacking, let alone reach them due to their positions. It was like trying to scratch an itch you couldn't reach, & the aliens were digging their foot claws into their flesh as they make their way towards their heads. No matter how rough Centipas & Gilas shake their bodies to rid themselves of their smaller but dangerous foes, the aliens held on fast, their claws making it merely impossible to get them off.

Even Centipas, who had a pair of crab-like pincers to grab & hold his prey, was unsuccessful in ridding his 'pest problem'. When the aliens reach the backs of the monster's heads, Ascot finds out their plan, & it frightens him dearly.

"No! Centipas! Gilas! Get them off—quickly! Don't let them…!", the Beast Summoner yelled.

Ascot's warning came too late: as one, several aliens struck both his faithful monsters in the rears of their skulls using their inner jaws, burying them deeply in their craniums & spraying up little fountains of flesh, bone, bile, & blood. Centipas & Gilas roared at their highest decibles in the greatest anguish, their roars spreading throughout the forest, feeling like a dozen daggers had been plunged into their brains, & in a way, they were.

It all happened so fast, that Ascot's two beasts took only moments to die & drop to the ground, even after a violent struggle during their death throes/spasms, disappearing in flashes of light.

"Noooooo!", Ascot yelled, rushing after the things which killed his two monster friends, his sword still in his hand.

"Ascot, don't!", Caldina yelled, going after Ascot before he does something rash.

Though a regrettable loss, Ferio sees an opportunity.

"Now, Fuu!", he tells her. "While they're in a huddle, use your…!"

"Got it, Ferio!", Fuu cuts her off, knowing exactly what he meant. Summoning her 'Winds of Admonishment' spell, Fuu unleashes her winds which quickly snatch the aliens in an unbreakable grip, despite their struggles. Almost all the horrors are whipped up & held by her magic spell of containment, & even if it's a strain on her somewhat, Fuu doesn't falter.

In the meantime, Ascot halted in his tracks once seeing how effective Fuu's counterattack has become, with Caldina right by his side.

"Whoa, hold on there, Ascot!", she says. "While we all feel bad about your two monsters, they gave us the perfect chance ta snatch up them nasty buggers & put an end ta this! Now, what say you go deliver the final blow—with interest?"

Ascot knew Caldina had a point. Sad as it was, Centipas & Gilas gave their lives to try & bring this second alien infestation to a close, & Ascot himself gets to deliver the coup de grace—a chance he will relish.

"You're right, Caldina!", he tells her, smiling. "And I got just the beast to finish them off for good!"

Good boy, Ascot! Ah knew you'd do the right thing!, Caldina said to herself, glad that Ascot didn't allow revenge to cloud his judgement too much & ruin a perfectly laid out plan.

Placing his right hand in front of him, Ascot begins to summon his next beast.

"Beast I summon…!", he starts to say, until he gets rudely interrupted by a very unwelcome guest—an alien has dropped down from the trees & rammed itself into the Beast Summoner. It seems that Fuu didn't capture all the aliens that attacked Centipas & Gilas, as some took refuge in the trees of the forest without Fuu or anyone else knowing about it.

"Ascot!", Caldina cried out, seeing her one-time partner in crime getting tackled by one of the aliens Fuu had missed.

"Dammit! I thought I got all of them!", Fuu said displeasingly.

"Leave the loose ones to me, Fuu! You just make sure they stay put!", Ferio said, noting to Fuu of the aliens she does have in her 'Winds of Admonishment' grip as Princess Emeraude's younger brother charges off with his sword, rushing off to assist Ascot & Caldina as best he can.

"Get the hell off o' him, ya sonsabitches!", Caldina spat, charging the alien with her twin blades.

"You heard her! Let him go!", Ferio barked, raising his sword & ready to chop the alien in half like a piece of sausage. But the aliens were prepared for such an attempt by the warriors. Two more who weren't snared in Fuu's trap suddenly swing down from trees & head right for Caldina & Ferio, landing right in front of them, hissing & baring their needle-teeth.

Neither warrior was intimidated, nor were they scared by the gesture.

"Get the fuck outta mah way!", Caldina spat, charging her alien foe with her blades, swinging them in an attempt to stab it to death. Ferio does the same with his sword, & each strike is just as deadly as the last. Unfortunately for either one, none of their strikes makes it home, as the aliens casually dodge each blow made at them, getting not even the smallest nick. With a swift swish of their tails, both aliens knock the weapons from Caldina's & Ferio's hands, sending them spinning away & far out of reach. Stunned by the abrupt movement, both warriors were then grabbed by the face with one alien hand. Ascot was also disarmed & grabbed in the same way by his alien attacker, fighting to break free. But to no avail: the aliens each had Ascot, Caldina, & Ferio in vice-like grips. Even by kicking the aliens hard in their legs did no good, & the trio of horrors faced each other with their catch.

Fuu Hououji can only watch at what happens next.

With a powerful thrust, the aliens ram their captive's heads together with such force the noise is heard even from where Fuu is at. Going limp, Ascot, Caldina, & Ferio fall to the ground like someone found their 'off' switch.

"No! Ascot! Caldina! Ferio!", Fuu yells out, horrified to see her friends beaten.

That's it! I'm the last one standing!, Fuu says grimly to herself, with the remaining aliens now turning their attention towards her.

It sends a chill up her spine, but last one standing or no, Fuu refuses to give in: she's swore to herself to protect Cephiro with all her might, & she'll be damned if she does anything less.

I will not yield!, she told herself. Miss Hikaru, Miss Umi & myself made a solemn vow to keep Cephiro safe from any & all threats, & that is a vow I intend to keep, no matter what!

When all the aliens Fuu failed to catch in her wind trap suddenly come out of hiding, they run straight for her & screech their defiance.

With her right hand still administering her 'Winds of Admonishment' spell, Fuu reaches out with her left hand at the oncoming horde of alien beasts.

"Emerald Typhoon!", she cries out, sending forth a powerful blast of wind from her left hand that hits the aliens with deadly force. The blast strikes them with the force of, well, a typhoon which slows their onward progress by a high degree.

It slows them, but it does not stop them.

Using their claws to get momentum & surefire holdings in the ground, the aliens slowly but surely make their way closer to the Magic Knight in green, screeching in anger & eagerness. Fuu puts more pressure in her second attack on them by increasing the force of the wind in her left hand, but also being careful so as not to blow away her three defeated friends lyng on the ground.

Between holding the enemy with her 'Winds of Admonishment' & keeping them at bay with her 'Emerald Typhoon' spells, Fuu feels the strain on her increasing with each moment that passes. But she knows that if she lets up on either, she'll go down like her friends—a luxury she cannot afford.

Someone has to defend Cephiro from these acid-blooded nightmares, & if Fuu must handle the chore by her lonesome, she will.

In her wind gust, a trio of aliens manage to get the closest to the Magic Knight. Fuu notices this little setback a bit too late: with powerful thrusts, they bust through her mini typhoon & rush her like a linebacker would do in a football game to attempt a sack on the quarterback. As soon as they commit this mode of attack, Fuu loses control of both her hold on the aliens in her 'Winds of Admonishment' spell & her attack with her 'Emerald Typhoon' method. Now with all the aliens free, they converge on her but the trio who ransacked her in surprise hold her firmly against a tree by her arms & legs, as one holds them down to prevent her from trying any kicking maneuvers.

Fuu was pinned & helpless, unable to try any more of her spells, let alone draw her sword.

But she still struggles despite her predicament, determined to defeat the horrors from space by whatever means necessary. She may as well try getting loose from a straightjacket: the aliens have her pinned but good, & their strength is solid. To make matters worse, one of the aliens—the dog-like one which came out of the thing that used to be Tamu's pet—runs up to her & gets a bit too close for Fuu's tastes.

The dog alien lets out a nasty screech in Fuu's face, & the Magic Knight, unable to hide her trepidation, cries out & turns her head away from the horrible thing to the right. She can both feel & smell the thing's breath next to her as the four-legged creature prepares to strike with its inner mouth as Fuu closes her eyes, her own breath coming in terrified gasps & her heart palpitating like mad. The monster held its position for several moments before retreating, leaving Fuu with those who hold her firmly.

It didn't mean Fuu was spared anything hideous. Just as the dog alien departed away from her, a second creature came up to the helpless Magic Knight, only this one didn't hiss like the other aliens did. It more or less growled, sounding like a hungry cat or bear, or maybe a combo of the two. Slowly opening her eyes & daring a look, Fuu caught a glimpse of something huge that stood in front of her, but with the sun shining directly behind it, she couldn't make out exactly what it was. All she did know was that it was yet another alien, but this one was shaped just a bit differently from the ones she saw before.

She had no time to ponder on what it was anyway; a moment was all that was given to her before she got buffeted by a powerful right fist that connected with her face, & Fuu's vision had transformed from bright white to pitch black in two seconds.

While she didn't know it, the thing that slugged her still growled lowly & bent down for a closer look at the fallen Magic Knight.

Then it roared.

CHAPTER VII

Fuu Hououji didn't know for how long she was out for.

When she awoke, she vaguely recalled being attacked by the acid-blooded aliens at the village from the outskirts of the Forest of Silence. She remembered seeing Ascot, Caldina, & Ferio being knocked out by the space horrors before being overwhelmed by them herself. Fuu had quite the headache when she got clobbered by another alien, even though there was something different about it. What it was, she couldn't quite make out, because her headache made it hard for her to think clearly.

But what she did know was that she's awoken in her own room back home in Tokyo!

She looked around to make sure she wasn't still dreaming, but the resemblance was totally uncanny: everything was where it should be, from her dresser to her pajamas, the latter of which she awoke with on.

I'm really back home!, Fuu thought. How can this be? I recall fighting the aliens on Cephiro when one of them knocked me out! Did Sir Clef discover me & sent me, Miss Hikaru & Miss Umi all home again?

Fuu knew she wasn't going to get any answers by just laying in bed, so she pulls her sheets off & heads downstairs to the phone, calling Hikaru first.

She gets no answer. Next she tries Umi.

Her answer is the same—she gets none.

No answer from either of them, Fuu says to herself, hanging the phone up on the receiver. I assume they may be out somewhere—if Sir Clef really did send them home like he did me.

Believing they may be at the original meeting place where they were first summoned—Tokyo Tower—Fuu heads back to her room to change into her standard green outfit, getting the feeling that Hikaru & Umi have dressed the same way. Along the way, Fuu must think that the alien threat has been vanquished by Clef & company, & that new foster parents have been sent to Cephiro from Kietana to begin the good life on Cephiro once more.

If that is the case, they why shouldn't she go see Hikaru & Umi? They probably sense the same thing as she did, & have decided to meet at Tokyo Tower & are waiting on her.

Well, no sense in keeping them waiting longer than necessary!, Fuu said inward with those thoughts running through her head just now.

She reaches her bedroom & opens the door.

When she looked inside, what she saw made her gasp in horror.

The glamorous décor of her room had been replaced by unearthly objects that were the walls & floor of her room, followed by six figures that were clung to it, held fast & very secure by a clear & epoxylike substance. The figures were held only a foot apart from each other & six feet off the floor—and they were all familiar to Fuu!

It can't be!, she said to herself.

But it was: those six figures clung to the wall were Ferio, Clef, Hikaru, Umi, Caldina, & Lady Aska, all looking pale as if they were drained of their blood. All of them said Fuu's name with a very weak voice, their tones as drained as their bodies were.

"Please hold on! I'm going to get you all out of this!", Fuu said frantically, rushing over to Hikaru first.

"It's…too late, Fuu", Ferio said, stopping her in her tracks.

"Don't talk like that, Ferio! There's always a way out!"

"Not…this time, Magic Knight", Clef said.

"Sir Clef?"

"We all…have one inside o' us", Caldina said grimly. "We can…feel it moving."

This bit of news made Fuu's heart pound hard & fast.

"Run, Fuu…don't worry about us", Lady Aska said. "Save…yourself."

"No! I can never do that to my friends!", Fuu said firmly. "You're all a part of my life, & I'll be damned if I leave any of you here to die!"

"But…you must go, Fuu", said Hikaru. "It's…for your own good."

"Hikaru's right", Umi said. "There's no telling…how much time we have left…before…"

Suddenly, the half-dozen trapped warriors all began grunting in pain as Fuu sees a horror more terrifying than anything she'd seen previous: their chests began to bulge, & blood started to drip & run down from their mouths. Then their low grumbles became high-pitched yells of deep anguish as they screamed their hearts out when their chests abruptly burst out from inside them & revealed an alien chestburster, screeching their birth pangs. The sight was horrible to Fuu, but she could not look away in spite of it. Seeing her friends dead & giving birth to the aliens had, in a way, hypnotized Fuu & the scene held her in a rather tight grip, refusing to let her go.

Even when the chestbursters suddenly shot out of their now-deceased hosts & headed right at her, Fuu could not move an inch.

All she could do was scream.

Fuu was still screaming when she opened up her eyes again. This time, though, she did not find herself in her room at all: she was back in the castle at Cephiro, in Clef's room, only here she found the place the same as how she saw her own room in her nightmare seconds ago—all in a hideous décor, looking more like she was inside some creature that just ate her up.

But that wasn't the worst part of it—she was bound to the wall by the same substance the aliens use to cling their victims for impregnation.

She also heard a voice calling out her name—a familiar voice!

"Fuu! Fuu! Wake up!", Ferio called out to her.

"Ferio?", she called out. Getting her vision more into focus, Fuu can see the man she loved bound to the wall like she was, but he wan't the only one in that predicament. From her vantage point, she can see Hikaru, Umi, Clef, Lafarga, Lantis, Geo, Ascot, Caldina, Presea, Lady Aska, & Tarta & Tatra all bound to the walls in the same manner, each of them six feet apart from one another.

From near the double doors of the room (one of them opened), she can see all their weapons kept right beside it all hung in a row from Clef's staff to Lafarga's sword, up to & including the Magic Knight's gloves; without them, neither one can summon their swords.

"Glad ta see you're still among the living, gal", Caldina said. "Figuritively speaking, that is."

"I know what you mean, Miss Caldina", Fuu said with a smile before dropping it. "But from the way we are all clinging to the wall like this, I assume we are scheduled for impregnation by the aliens sometime soon."

"You are correct, Fuu", Clef said. "Those creatures who some of you have dealt with had all brought your unconscious selves here to become hosts."

"Needless to say, you had an unexpected run-in with them yourself, Clef", said Hikaru.

Clef shook his head.

"I'm afraid you're wrong, Hikaru."

"How do you mean, Clef?", asked Geo.

"Lafarga, Lantis, Presea, Primera, Mokona & myself had been attacked by different kinds of adversaries here in the castle. When we went to go check on the crates the new arrivals brought with them on Presea's suspicions, we found them completely empty. Whoever got the drop on us before, it wasn't the aliens."

"Y'all mean ta say that Tamu, Woona, & all the rest had smuggled new enemies here inta Cephiro?", Caldina asks.

"And you were never aware of it, Master Mage Clef?", Ascot asked. "How could that have happened?"

"Speaking of the aliens", Tarta cut in, "how is it that they were able ta have beaten us in the way they did? Ah thought ya told Tatra & I that they were nothing but savage creatures, never knowing about the concept of danger, let alone getting killed on a suicide run!"

"Ah have ta agee with mah sister there, folks", Tatra adds. "Ta us, they acted more like a band of trained soldiers rather than ruthless & mindless killing machines, like how y'all described them ta us."

"We don't know how that was possible, you two, but you've got to believe us when I say that they weren't like this before!", Umi says.

"Umi's right, ladies", Presea added. "Last time, all they had was their relentlessness & single-minded nature. Even when weapons were pointed at & used on them, they kept on coming like a horde of insects, no matter how many were brought down."

"It's all ridiculous!", Lady Aska said. "Monsters like them don't just get smarter & more skilled in combat overnight!"

"Lady Aska is correct", said Lantis. "Whatever happened to the aliens isn't a natural or even an evolutionary development. I can only assume that whoever Tamu & those traitorous people smuggled into Cephiro had done something irregular to them."

"And I believe Master Mage Clef knows just who those 'whoever' are", Lafarga says, his gaze right at him. "Am I right?"

"What makes you think, Lafarga, that I…", Clef starts to say but gets cut off by a new voice.

"Oh, you can permit me to tell you, Master Swordsman."

The new voice—a female one—gets the attention of the 'captive audience'.

"Who said that?", Ascot demanded.

From the opened door of the room emerged a young girl that measured the same height as Hikaru, Umi, & Fuu. She wore golden armor & a lavender cape which matched her long, double-braided hair. Twin sword handles hung at her sides on her belt. When Hikaru laid eyes upon her as she came in, they went wide, for she was reminded of someone who looked very similar to her.

"Nova?", she says in disbelief.

The new arrival was somehow taken aback by this, but it didn't bother her in the least.

"You seem to have mistaken me for someone else, Hikaru", she said. "I am Lady Shinzeta, & I am completely different from the being your heart created back at the time you, Umi, & Fuu had been forced to kill Princess Emeraude."

This brought a state of shock to all the captives.

"How do you even know about that?", Lafarga asked forcefully. "We've only just met you!"

Shinzeta just laughed.

"Let's just say I'm a very 'close' friend of the three Magic Knights."

"Highly unlikely, Shinzeta!", Umi said. "We'd never be friends with the likes of you!"

"I agree!", said Fuu. "To be friends with the one who obviously masterminded this whole thing is absurd!"

"Oh, you girls would be very surprised as just how close I am to the three of you", Shinzeta says. "In fact, I know you three better than you've ever known yourselves. As for masterminding this scheme, I can't take all the credit for it."

"Who else is here with you, Shinzeta?", Lantis demands. "We know that you didn't come here alone! Who else was smuggled into our world besides you?"

"Ah, where are my manners?", Shinzeta said playfully, snapping her fingers. As if on cue, a group of half-dozen reptilian warriors stepped in, all wearing armor & having weapons hanging on their belts. While everyone was astonished at their appearances, they all felt anger & loathing towards them, but it was Clef, Lafarga, Lantis, Presea, & Geo who felt the most abhorrence.

"Tyrannix!", they all said through clenched teeth, scowling.

"Hello, Master Mage Clef", the dinosaur warrior said with a toothy grin. "Long time no see."

"Not enough years to suit my tastes, reptile!", Clef snapped at him.

"As charming as ever. You do remember my associates, don't you?", Tyrannix says, pointing with his finger as he names them. "Terradaclys, Tri-ton, Stegron, Ankylla, & Megalas?"

"You know of these dinosaur people, Clef?", Umi asked.

"All too well, Umi!", the Master Mage said. "Tyrannix & his band of savages once arrived here on Cephiro many years ago, doing what they do best—causing untold destruction & death! They have such an unmatched, unequaled loathing for human beings that not only do they conquer them, they consume them like the voracious, ravenous beasts that they are! Among all the invaders that have tried to attack us, they were the only ones who have slipped by us undetected by my magic!"

"Thanks to these", Megalas says, tapping his armor in the chest. "Our armor holds a special kind of shielding which blocks any types of magical detection, rendering us invisible to it. The same goes for our ships."

"Needless to say, Shinzeta's armor has those same properties, I imagine!", Presea said. "And I presume those 'people' who arrived here wore clothing which do the same, blocking the aliens' and their true form's presence from us, correct?"

"You always were a sharp one, Master Smith", Shinzeta said, grinning. Presea just scowled & gritted her teeth.

"I don't get it!", Ascot said. "How did you even know we needed foster parents for all of the children in the first place? We sent a signal to Kietana, not to you cold-blooded devils!"

"Unless you intercepted that transmission anonymously, which you must've done!", Lafarga deduced.

"Very good, swordsman!", Terradaclys says. "And it was us who had cloned our troops from Megalas' DNA, thus impregnating them with the aliens & disguising them as humans for you to bring to your world!"

"Ya cloned one of your own troops?", Tarta wondered.

"We had to, Chizetian!", said Ankylla. "When we arrived on Cephiro, we were a plentiful race of warriors, sent on wiping out every living soul here! But we greatly underestimated the power of both Clef & the pillar, & thus he & Princess Emeraude had nearly wiped us out in the process! With only a few hundred of us left alive, we retreated into space, vowing revenge on one of two countries that dared to defy us!"

"One of two countries?", Fuu wondered. "Who was the other who rose up & defeated you?"

"That would be us, Fuu!", Geo growled. "After hearing about the attack on Cephiro, we at Autozam decided to keep on high alert! Our government figured that anything which can attack a country like Cephiro with decisive & deadly force would become a dire threat to us as well! It proved to be the right choice: these reptilian bastards hit us extremely hard, costing the lives of so many good men! After a rigorous battle, we were finally able to wipe out more of their number & drive them away, but not before they stole a good number of our technology first!"

"Yes, Autozamian", said Stegron. "While your country may have dwindled our number to us six, we left with technology that can & has benefitted us greatly, like the collar around Clef's neck & the metal cuff that occupies the Beast Summoner's right arm!"

"You did what to us?", Ascot said.

"A mere insurance on our part", Tri-ton explains. "Those collars are used on Autozam to help keep prisoners in check, same as with the metal cuff, although they usually come as a pair. It delights me to say we've added some 'advancements' to them!"

"What kind, you snake in the grass?", Ascot demanded.

It was Terradaclys who answers after a brief chuckle.

"That collar & cuff you both wear will prevent either of you from performing any magic or summoning any of your monsters! Should you try to remove them, they will explode with enough explosives to bring this castle down to rubble!"

That caused all the dinosaurian warriors, as well as Shinzeta, to chuckle.

"So with all that stolen technology", Tatra states, "ya lizards had managed ta clone your own people, created & improved on the Autozamian weaponry & gadgets, snuck inta Cephiro virtually undetected, & now ya got us at your mercy! Ah suppose ya had somethin' ta do with the behavior of the aliens too, am ah right?"

"You might say we improved on their behavioral patterns, yes", Shinzeta said. "Allow me to show you what I mean."

In moments, a small horde of the alien warriors—fifteen in all, including one of the two dog aliens—have entered the room, the two-legged ones each carrying an egg in their hands, all with four-pronged metal clamps placed on top. The creatures all stood like obedient soldiers, awaiting orders from their commanding officer(s), not making any attempts to attack either Shinzeta, the dinosaurian warriors, or the captive guardians of Cephiro & their friends. It didn't surprise them to see the aliens bring in eggs, because as Fuu Hououji surmised before, they are scheduled to all be provided with an offspring of an alien nature.

But what did surprise them was when the dog alien snuggled & cuddled up to Shinzeta like a common pet cat would do to its owner, hissing softly as Shinzeta gracefully caressed its head as if it were no more than a cat.

Not only did this surprise the Magic Knights & the others, it sickened them.

"Wonderful, aren't they?", Shinzeta said casually. "A fitting combination of both science & sorcery, & these creatures become as loyal as any soldier out in the field, their judgements totally unclouded by conscious, remorse, or morals—the way any soldier should be to their superiors!"

Shinzeta then bent down & rubbed her nose playfully with the alien dog like two lovers might do in a sensual way, the sight being repulsive to the captive warriors.

"Disgusting!", Tatra says.

"Totally!", Tarta agrees.

"Ah'm gonna be sick!", Caldina chimed in.

"You three Chizetians said it!", Ascot added. "Yuck!"

It could be worse, Ascot—they might've French-kissed! Eww!, Umi thought, being grossed out by it.

Shinzeta then rose, & suddenly Clef spoke out to Tyrannix.

"Tell me something, Tyrannix! When we were on the verge of being wiped out of existence due to Princess Emeraude's disappearance, why didn't you & your foul band arrive & try to do so then yourselves? Were you too afraid—of Lady Debonair, or of us, perhaps?"

The tyrannosauroid laughed loud & hard before speaking.

"Firstly, we do not fear you or your friends in the slightest, Master Mage Clef! You are all no more than mere roaches needing to be stepped on & crushed like the bugs you are! As to why we hadn't shown when Cephiro nearly became extinct, let's just say it would have pleased us to see you all fade out of existence! How fortuitous for us to have been given a second chance to come & do so ourselves!"

"And that's why you have these alien eggs here for—you wish to see us die when we host one of these monstrosities within us, correct?", Lafarga asks, though the answer was obvious.

"In part, swordsman", Megalas says. "You see, we have learned that, when impregnated inside a host, the aliens take a sample of the DNA & adopt it, thus receiving the characteristics of their hosts, which is where you all come in!"

It didn't take long for the warriors to deduce what Megalas was saying, & Lantis was the first to point it out.

"I get it, reptile! By impregnating each of us with an alien, they'll take our DNA with them, & therefore breed aliens with sword-wielding talent and/or magical tendencies! Is that it?"

"Correct!", said Stegron. "Imagine it, Lantis—aliens with the ability to not only wield swords & guns, but those with the ability to use magic! All the abilities of Master Mage Clef, the sisters of Chizeta, & even the Magic Knights themselves will be stored within these fantastic creatures for us to use at our whim! Combined with their relentless nature, we will breed the ultimate soldiers for us to command, & we will conquer the universe with little or no opposition!"

"And you all get the honor to provide us with those soldiers!", Shinzeta said proudly. "Isn't that grand?"

"I'll die first before I give you the opportunity of providing you & your reptilian friends in what you want, Shinzeta!", Ferio said defiantly.

"Same here!", Hikaru, Umi, & Fuu said in unison.

"The Magic Knights speak for us all, lizard-lips!", Tarta says. "And on top of it all, nobody gets possession of our guardian spirits ta do with as they please except us!"

"My Secret Spell of Dragon Art Reincarnation in the possession of aliens & lizard men? I won't allow that to happen!", Lady Aska said. "I refuse to let you have it!"

Ankylla walks up to the young Fahren Princess right to her face, grinning.

"And how will you prevent it, child?", he taunts. "Cry for your parents?"

The dinosauroid burst out laughing at his own joke, making Lady Aska irate. In complete defiance for one so young, Lady Aska spat at the dinosaurian straight in his face, causing Ankylla to take a step back in disgust & surprise. Ankylla growled angrily & raised his clawed hand to smack the little Fahren Princess before Tyrannix stops him.

"Let it go, Ankylla", he says. "She will soon be dead like the rest of them. You can then feast upon her carcass once we have our 'new troops'."

A scowl & low growl from the dinosauroid, & Ankylla reluctantly steps away from Lady Aska, rejoining his band & Lady Shinzeta.

"We still won't let you get away with this, Tyrannix!", Ascot said. "Our powers & abilities are not yours for the taking!"

"Brave words for one who will be dead soon!", Terradaclys says. "As for taking what will be ours soon, I'm afraid you don't have any say in the matter!"

"Then why impregnate me?", Geo says. "I don't have any magical powers or abilities to call my own to offer you!"

"Let's just say that it would be hugely satisfying to have an Autozamian die from an alien's birth pangs!", Tri-ton said. "But don't worry—we'll be back to view your carcasses just before we feed for a second time!"

"But first—we have some 'young chicks' who are in dire need of our attention", Megalas says with glee.

Oh no! They've rounded up Zazu, Mira, & all the kids! And now they're going to eat them!, a suddenly nervous Hikaru thought, with that very thought going through the heads of all the other warriors.

"Don't any of you cold-blooded devils dare so much as touch the children!", Presea barked.

"You goddamn lizards!", Ferio shouted. "If you so mush as scratch even one of those kids, I swear on my life I'll skin you all alive! You hear me?"

"Yes, we hear you", Stegron says. "But I'm sure you'll forgive us if we decide to ignore your warning, which we will!"

"Monsters!", Caldina shouted.

"I knew I should've blasted the whole lot of you out of the sky instead of letting you retreat out into space when I had the chance all those years ago!", Clef snapped.

"That's right, Master Mage, you should have", Tyrannix says, walking up to Clef until he was in his face, grinning. "But you didn't! You know why? Because you're soft, a weakling who doesn't have the stomach to do what's necessary in battle, unlike us!"

Clef's face was one of anger & burning rage, but stayed silent.

"It's not that at all, Tyrannix!", said Umi as Clef & Tyrannix turned to her. "The reason why Clef spared you then was because he didn't wish to become too much like you & your troops—cold-blooded in heart & soul! That's what separates him from you!"

Thank you, Umi, Clef said to himself, smiling. I suppose that is true. Princess Emeraude was the same—while she'll defend this world from threats like Tyrannix, she's no soulless killer.

"Feh! You & your morals! Look where that's gotten you!", Tyrannix says. "That's why the aliens make for better soldiers—they have none!"

"I won't be bothered by any morals when I get my hands around you, Tyrannix!", Geo spat.

"That will never happen, Autozamian! Like your friends here, you'll do nothing except give birth to our brand new recruits! And just to make sure you do, these aliens shall stay here & keep a close watch! We've ordered them to kill any of you should you try anything funny! And now, if you'll excuse us, it's time to spend some 'quality time' with the kids!"

Tyrannix turns to rejoin his group & Lady Shinzeta as they prepare to exit the room, but not before Megalas makes one last statement to their captives.

"Don't worry!", he says. "Even though we most pefer 'fresh meat', we'll be back to view all your corpses—just before we devour them,too!"

"You fucking bastards!", Hikaru spat with all her rage. "I'll see you all dead before this day is done!"

"Sure you will, Magic Knight!", Terradaclys says teasingly.

The dinosaurian warriors & Lady Shinzeta share a heartfelt laugh as they exit the room & shut the door behind them, their hideous laughter still audible for several more moments before ceasing altogether. Their departure gave the aliens the signal to go & place their eggs in front of Clef & all the others, being set down just six feet in front of each one. The scenario reminded all of them about the aliens' last 'visit' to Cephiro: last time, it was the kids themselves who were in danger of being impregnated by the creatures, thanks to the traitorous Bio Metro & Kaza Rosque who had set it all up in order to escape with a captured alien queen to give to their mysterious employer. Now it was the opposite: this time it's the adults who are in danger of impregnation, & the children are in no less trouble than they were in last time.

Except for Lady Aska, who was in this kind of danger twice in a row now, & there was no one to help her escape her predicament. She can only hope that Elder Chang Ang is all right, & is devising some kind of plan to get her & the others out of this. But, not to put him down, even with his vast knowledge, he isn't as physically strong as Ferio or the Magic Knights are, & Tyrannix & his dinosaurian fiends are no doubt planning to devour him along with the kids, being absent from this room of horror & having no magical properties of his own.

But even a slim hope is still better than no hope at all.

Please be all right, Elder, Sang-Yung, Lady Aska said to herself.

The Residential Quarters:

After the aliens emerged from their discarded dinosaurian hosts from both villages, a group of the acid-blooded monsters had gone off to round up all the children while their other brethren dealt with the Magic Knights & all their friends. Once they were caught, they had been brought to the castle as prisoners rather than as guests. That also included Sang-Yung, Mira, Tamara, Zazu, & Elder Chang Ang (the only adult in the group of juveniles), the latter two of whom had to be carried upon the alien's shoulders after putting up resistance. Now, a team of two to three aliens guard each of the area's entrances, preventing any of the kids from trying to escape. Some have tried, but their reward was a quick slap with an alien tail & a vicious hiss, not to cause any kind of unconsciousness, but to get their message across.

And like bad news, it got across to the kids quickly. There was no way for them to even come close to matching the alien's velocity in any way.

So they huddle as a giant group, doing their best to not be afraid.

Mira, Tamara, Zazu, Sang-Yung, & Chang Ang sat in their own little group.

"These monsters have kept us here for a few hours now", Tamara says. "I wonder what they intend to do with us. Will they kill us?"

"I don't think so, Tamara", Mira said. "If they wanted to, they would have already done so in the forest as we were trying to escape."

"I must concur, young lady", Chang Ang says. "By the way they've rounded us up as they had done, one must assume they must be more or less saving us for something rather important."

"You don't suppose they're going to try &, what's that phrase, impregnate us, do you?", asks a pretty nervous Sang-Yung.

"I'm not so sure about that, Sang-Yung", said Zazu. "I don't see any alien eggs, let alone an alien queen anywhere."

"But keep in mind, young man, that just because we don't see any doesn't mean there aren't any around", Chang Ang offers words of wisdom.

Zazu nodded solemnly.

"Speaking of not seeing, why isn't Lady Aska here with us right now?", Tamara wondered.

"I've wondered the very same thing myself after waking up from my terrible ordeal, young lady", Chang Ang says, regarding the hit on the head from an alien, which still stings him. "Why they would chart her off away & not us, one can only fear for the worst, I'm afraid."

"Do you think they placed her where the Magic Knights & all those other brave warriors are?", Mira asked.

"Such a smart child."

Everyone turned to where Lady Shinzeta spoke, as the group of aliens that was guarding the entranceway parted to allow her to enter. By her side was the second dog alien.

"Hello, children", she says charmingly, totally unlike her intentions. "I am Lady Shinzeta. I'm quite pleased to meet all of you. It's just too bad we won't have much time to get acquainted."

The kids did their best to stay brave, but it was Mira, Tamara, Zazu, Sang-Yung, & Chang Ang who stood the most firm, hiding their trepidation better than everyone else.

"I wish we could say the same of you, lady!", Zazu barked.

"Where have you taken Lady Aska to, you foul woman?", Chang Ang shouted at her. "If you've so much as put a scratch upon her, I'll…!"

"You'll do nothing, old man!", said a growling voice from behind Shinzeta. With Tyrannix in front, he & his band of dinosaur warriors stepped inside the Residential Quarters. Their sight had caused gasps & eyes that went agape from the children, including Zazu & company. They had never laid eyes upon them before, & their sight was one of both trepidation &, ironically, awe.

The dino-warriors all smiled, flashing their teeth & licking their reptilian lips with their long tongues, drool dripping from their toothy maws which gave the kids more fear than they care to feel.

"Finally! Food at last!", Tri-ton says proudly, as he & his companions chuckle devilishly.

Their revelation caused more than a few spines to get a freezing chill run up.

So that's why the aliens kept us all in here!, Tamara said to herself. These monsters intend to eat us!

Hikaru, where are you?, Mira said to herself, praying for a miracle to save her & the others.

Hikaru & the other captive warriors struggled with all their might to get free of the wall they were bound to before the eggs hatch & the facehugger larva residing inside each one leaps out & attach themselves to their victims & implant their embryos. But the aliens being ordered to keep a close watch on them suddenly ran up to the Magic Knights & the rest, slapping them hard in the face & hissing threateningly. Some even shot their inner jaws at their captives, stopping only inches from their face before retracting them.

Amazingly, not one warrior showed any sign of fear to the creatures, refusing to give them any kind of satisfaction. Even Lady Aska, young as she is, stood firm against the aliens, just as she had done with Ankylla earlier on when the ankylosauroid came to her face to taunt her.

Satisfied they got their point across, the aliens retreated thirty feet away, giving the eggs—now since free of the clamps that binded them from opening—plenty of room when the time comes, & judging by the time that has passed, the warriors can suspect that it won't be long until they do hatch open.

"We've gotta do something, people!", Ferio said, loud enough for the others to hear him. "If those alien soldiers don't kill us, those embryos they'll plant inside us will! I hate to say it, but it feels as if this is the end for us!"

"No it's not, Ferio!", Fuu said. "We're not beaten yet! Don't forget what's at stake here! As long as there's even a pinch of life left within our bodies & souls, we will never let these fiends get the best of us, much less harm those we care deeply for!"

"I'm with Fuu!", said Umi. "Just because we're slated for impregnation by these monsters, it still doesn't mean we give them what they want! I don't know about the rest of you, but I'll be damned if I let the children down now, & I know that neither will any one of you! Am I right?"

It only took a second to get an answer, & it was Presea who does so.

"Of course you are, Umi! Our situation is grim, I admit, but that doesn't mean we throw in the towel & submit to our fate! Those kids need our help: we have to get loose so that we may save them, & believe me when I say we can!"

Presea punctuated her statement with a blissful smile that can melt even the coldest heart. It quickly spread to everyone else, as they do the same.

Fuu looks at Ferio with one of her own, telling him he can do it without saying a word. The swordsman happily gives one back.

"I knew you all wouldn't submit to defeat easily!", Hikaru said. "So, let's get loose & save the kids! They're counting on us!"

"Ah'm all up for it, of course, but how can we get free?", Tarta says as things turn serious once more. "Those alien shits over there won't allow for any escape attempts, lest we all wish for another slap in the face, or worse!"

"Ah have to agree as well", Tatra said. "Don't forget: Master Mage Clef has that metal collar around his neck, preventing him from using his magic."

"And poor Ascot's got that metal cuff on his forearm, disabling him from summoning any of his monsters ta help us", Caldina said.

"Worst of all", Lady Aska concludes, "those fiends have stripped you all of your weapons & gadgetry from head to toe! How can we get out if we don't have any…huh?"

A sound like skin being peeled off of bones catches everyone's attention, & they look down to the floor for a sight that suddenly got their hearts racing.

The alien eggs were opening up!

Like hideous flowers, the tops of the eggs split & blossomed. From within each one, spindly legs began surfacing & wriggled like fingers. The Magic Knights & the rest knew that the things inside—the facehuggers—will leap out & grab hold of them in mere seconds, thus forcing down an embryo in their throats & in their chests.

If that does happen, game over.

The aliens screech lowly in joy over their soon-to-be newborn brethren.

But Geo has other ideas.

"Hold tight, everyone! I've still got one more card to play!", he says as he moves his tongue around his mouth until he finds the right one. A soft crick sounded within his mouth, which was heard by all.

Was that a…tooth?, Hikaru wondered, not quite understanding how a tooth can be their one salvation against being impregnated.

Odd or not, Hikaru was right: it was a tooth, & Geo wastes no time getting it from the back of his mouth to his lips, where he spits it out as far as he can. The tooth lands near the middle of the room, & at first the aliens pay it no mind & the facehuggers still emerge from their eggs, their legs really squirming in readiness to pounce on their new victims.

But when the tooth started beeping—slowly at first before speeding up in volume—then the aliens sense a threat to the beeping projectile, which is a false tooth equipped with tiny bits of machinery placed within. The aliens screech & head straight this new threat to put an end to it, but arrive too late: when they get within five feet of it, the false tooth suddenly unleashes a powerful electrical discharge which catches & roasts not just the aliens, but also the eggs & its inhabitants inside, cooking them before they can fully emerge. The creatures screech loudly in anguish which echoes beyond the room. While it may be painful to hear their death throes, it was more or less music to the ears of Geo & all the captives.

Ha! And Eagle always used to complain to me about my sweet tooth!, Geo thought with a smile, reminiscing in his mind about the times Eagle Vision worried that Geo would someday lose his teeth, eating all those sweets he used to keep on the Battleship NSX. Although he did lose a tooth, it didn't deter him in the slightest: he just mearly had a false molar installed—with modifications, of course!

And right now, it was put to very good use.

The aliens continue screeching their epitaph & the eggs & facehuggers become a charcoal black, their hides smoking as the temperature in the room rises to that of a sultry jungle.

The children huddled in fear as Tyrannix & his dinosaurian warriors took steps closer to what will be their main courses. The aliens remained at the entranceways to block the kids' path in case they try to make a break for it.

"Finally!", Ankylla says. "After two months of feasting on artificial meat by-products, we'll get to feast on the real thing! I've not had a human in quite some time!"

"Neither have the rest of us for that matter!", Megalas added. "But now, the long wait is over & done, & after a hard day's work, we've more than earned it!"

The dinosauroids let loose with another chuckle & advance more towards the children. All over, hearts were beating fast & nerves were getting shaky with fear. But just because they were faced with the threat of being consumed by humanoid dinosaurs, it didn't mean they would give in thst easily, & Mira, Tamara, Zazu, Sang-Yung, & Elder Chang Ang were the first to rise up in defiance.

This shocked the dinosauroids, as well as Shinzeta.

"You may be on the verge of consuming us like the ravenous reptiles that you are, but you can bet that we five won't make it easy for you!", Chang Ang says firmly as his little band nod in agreement.

"Neither will the rest of us!", said a boy, & all the other young boys & girls rose to their feet & stood firm, no longer huddled as a pack of scared children, their hands clenched in tight fists.

This made Tamara & the others proud.

"You see?", she says. "Even though we face death right before us, we won't be scared to face it, & we will fight you all to our dying breaths if need be!"

"That's right!", Mira said. "If there's one thing we all learned from the time Lady Debonair attacked us, it's that we need to face our fears as best we can, no matter what the odds are against us! What you plan to do to us is no different!"

At that moment, Zazu & Chang Ang each take out a hidden object the size & shape of a pen which were hidden within their clothing, close to their hips, something both the aliens & Tyrannix & his band missed as they were being brought in the castle as prisoners. With the simple push of a button, a blade of pure white energy measuring a foot long emerges, illuminating the room with its glow.

"Like I said out in the forest, if you wish to do any harm to these kids, you'll have to deal with me first!", Zazu said firmly, placing his weapon in front of him like a sword.

"The same goes for me, foul beasts!", said Chang Ang,doing the same with his weapon.

Several of the aliens screeched their defiance & began to converge upon the two, but were stopped in their tracks by Lady Shinzeta when she raised her hand.

"This should prove to be amusing!", Shinzeta said with sinister glee.

"Yes, it should!", said Stegron with a chuckle. "Go ahead then, humans! Resist us in every way possible! We love prey that fights!"

"Yes! It goes & gives us more of an appetite afterwards!", Ankylla says gleefully, his remark getting sinister chuckles from the rest of his pack.

Despite the overwhelming odds, none of the kids showed any signs of fear, as they all stood firm with clenched fists. Zazu & Chang Ang readied with their weapons, poised to slash out at the first dinosauroid that dares to get too close.

Then a sound, muffled but still most audible to everyone, echoed in the halls as Shinzeta & her six reptilian allies turn to it, temporarily paying the children no mind. It sounded like the aliens screeching in the room the Magic Knights & the rest of Cephiro's guardians are being held at, & Terradaclys assumes the inevitable must've occurred, & lets out a laugh of joy.

"Ha!", he gloats. "It would seem that the facehuggers have emerged & latched onto Master Mage Clef & the others, & our new troops are well underway to being born, as our aliens are now celebrating their achievement & victory!"

Hearing the screeches for herself, Shinzeta gives the matter a little more thought, & judging by the tone of them (along with her instincts), she doesn't particularly share the pterosauroid's enthusiasm.

"No. Something's wrong", she says, scowling her eyes. "The aliens we left with them are in great pain. I can feel it!"

Tyrannix felt the same uncertainty as Shinzeta does, & nods his head in agreement, joining her in a scowl of the eyes. Cephiro's guardians must have done something to prevent their fate from happening, & it boils his cold blood.

"Curse them!", Tyrannix says under his breath before raising his voice. "Tri-ton! Stegron! Go & investigate the cause of their pain! Take some of the aliens with you for backup! If they have escaped their fate, you all know what to do!"

Tri-ton & Stegron nod.

Even though they hunger for live flesh, Tri-ton & Stegron are compelled to obey Tyrannix's orders & take off the way they came with two dozen aliens following right behind, heading back to where the Magic Knghts & the other warriors are, running with slightly thunderous footsteps & a lot of skittering from their acid-blooded troops.

"They better not have injured or killed our new troops, Stegron!", Tri-ton growls.

"If they have, comrade, those insolent curs will all pay for their insubordination with their lives!", Stegron addresses.

The aliens screech either in defiance or agreement to their statement.

Every alien in the room—the eggs, facehuggers, & full-grown warriors—lay dead upon the floor inanimate, hence the smoke rising in streams from their charred carcasses, fried alive from the false molar in Geo's mouth. After they fell dead, Geo was the first to get free from the wall, using all his strength to pull himself loose, followed by Lafarga, Ferio, & Lantis, who in turn helped to pry the others free & back on their feet.

"Pretty neat trick, Geo!", Hikaru praised, getting freed by the Autozamian.

"Thank you, Hikaru, it was!", Geo said. "The electricity from my little surprise not only fried all the aliens in the room, it rose the temperature up briefly to melt the substance enough for us to rip free of it!"

"Iwas referring to your 'little surprise' itself. It would seem that having a sweet tooth had proven rather useful at times like this."

Geo smiled.

"Let me guess: Eagle Vision told you about that?"

Hikaru nodded with a smile.

"Huh. Leave it to Eagle to spill certain secrets, eh?", Geo joked.

The two shared a giggle as the last of the captives were getting free with assistance.

"Thank you, Fuu. Ferio", Lady Aska says, getting pulled free from the wall by the two, unable to pry herself loose on her own power, & is set down gently to the floor.

"Not a problem, little lady", Ferio says.

"Anytime, Miss Aska", Fuu says with a smile.

The young Fahren Princess looks around the room, seeing everyone else freed from their prison.

"Glad to see that everyone's accounted for!", she says. "Now to help gather our weapons!"

"Already on it, Lady Aska, though we do appreciate your assistance", Lantis says, grabbing his sword as Presea grabs the rest & hands each weapon out to its rightful owners: Lafarga's & Ferio's own swords, Clef's staff, Caldina's blades, Geo's spare guns & gadgets, & finally, the Magic Knight's gloves, which will enable them to willfully draw their own swords. A kindly 'thank you, Presea' came from each one. As for Tarta & Tatra, their weapons are magic-based like Hikaru, Umi, & Fuu's; when they lost consciousness during their fight with the aliens over at Piraus Village, their weapons disappeared altogether, a fact similar in nature to the Rune Gods the Magic Knights once used, returning to the dimension where they sleep when not in use or if the possessor loses consciousness.

"Only one thing remains", Caldina said. "What can we do about the cuffs that Clef & Ascot have those devils placed upon them? We've got ta at least try ta get them off, despite the devious surprise we'll get if we do!"

"I don't believe we'll have the time to remove them, Caldina, booby-trapped or not", Presea said, taking her own sword.

"Presea is correct", said Clef. "By now, Tyrannix & his group have no doubt heard of the alien's death throes & suspected something wrong with his plan & have sent reinforcements! For the time being, I will have to use my staff to fend them off, & Ascot will need to rely on his skills with a sword & firearm!"

"Don't worry, Master Mage Clef. I've got no problem with that!", Ascot said.

"I figured as much from you, Ascot. Catch!", Geo said, tossing to the Beast Summoner two items—a sword & a small gun. Ascot catches them with ease, keeping the sword in his right hand & the gun in his left.

"That's a special gun, Ascot", Geo continued, adjusting the controls to his own firearm. "I didn't bring it with me before, but you'll find it to be most useful against those aliens!"

"In what way?", he wondered.

Geo smiled. "When we face those monsters again, you'll see!"

Ascot nodded, smiling.

"Huh! Ah'll say this for Tyrannix!", Tarta said. "It was awfully decent for him ta leave our armament in the room with us ta get at easily!"

"Actually, Tarta, ah suspect they were left here for the aliens which were supposed ta have been birthed from us", Tatra said.

"Yeah, well, is he gonna be in for a surprise!", Tarta says with a smirk, willfully drawing her shield & sword as Tatra does the same, as do the Magic Knights.

"Then let's get going, everyone!", Umi says. "There's no telling what's happening to the kids at this point!"

"Not to mention Primera & Mokona!", Hikaru mentions. "In all of the excitement, I almost forgot about them! We need to find them too!"

"Leave that to me, Hikaru!", Lantis said. "I have my ways of finding Primera, & once I do, I'll bet I'll find Mokona with her as well!"

"You do that, Sir Lantis!", Fuu said. "We'll get to the children before it's too late!"

That was when they all heard a slight rumbling which grew in volume. It had been abruptly replaced by the sound of the double doors to the room being smashed by two powerful, reptilian clawed hands, the lower portion receiving the majority of the damage. In the ravaged portion of the doors stood one of Tyrannix's minions, his teeth bearing & glistening in the light.

The Magic Knights ready their weapons before this occurred, poised for action.

"Tri-ton!", Clef said through clenched teeth.

"It is already too late, humans!", the ceratopsoid growled. "Even as we speak, Tyrannix & the rest are feasting upon the children you've all sworn to protect, peeling & tearing the very flesh off their frail bones!"

"I don't believe you!", Lantis says in a fit of rage, drawing the energy blade from his sword & charging straight at the humanoid dinosaur. He positions his sword like a major ball player intent on hitting a grand slam with his bat, ready to take off Tri-ton's three-horned head with one lethal swing, screaming a battle cry as he does.

Tri-ton didn't move an inch, & he didn't have to: before he could make contact, Lantis is hit in the chest by a spiked tail which resided right outside the entrance. The blow tore into his armor & sent him sprawling backwards as he landed on his side. Hikaru calls out his name as she & the others rush to his aide just as the second interloper appears to the group.

"Stegron!", Lafarga spat.

"Believe it, puny fleshbags!", the stegosauroid said. "Also believe that none of you will be going anywhere—except to your own graves!"

"Ya know, that's kinda funny!", Tatra said firmly. "Because we were all thinkin' the very same thing about the both of y'all!"

"Ha! Pathetic humans!", Stegron scoffed. "Do you really believe you stand a chance in Hell against us & our alien troops?"

The two humanoid dinosaurs stand aside to allow the two dozen aliens to appear & enter the room; some come in from the walls on both sides, others from the doorway. All, however, hiss angrily & flash their needle-like teeth at the heroes, seeing their fallen brethren dead at the feet of their enemies.

"So Chizetian—who's going to be sent to their graves again?", Tri-ton gloated as he his comrade share a wicked guffaw.

Hikaru angrily pointed her sword at the dinosaurian fiends.

"Tri-ton, Stegron, I told you all before that I'd see you all dead before this day was done, & I intend to live up to that promise to the fullest!"

"And she has more than enough friends to help back her up & fulfil that vow!", Umi said as she points her own sword.

"Then it is a fool's promise, Magic Knights!", Tri-ton says. "Not only are we superior to you humans in every way, we still have our alien troops who have easily defeated you before, & are most longing to do so again! Do you honestly think you can triumph over us?"

"We don't care how many of those aliens you have in your possession!", Fuu says, pointing her sword at the acid-blooded beasts. "Or how highly advanced/evolved they, or even you, are! We are going out that door, & we will be rescuing the children!"

"Over our dead bodies you will, Magic Knight!", Stegron said, his reptilian gaze growing even colder than before.

"That's the general idea, reptile!", Ferio snapped, his gaze like fire.

Tri-ton & Stegron look at each other with evil grins, mildly amused by the overwhelming confidence of their enemies.

"This isn't some fairy tale where the prince gets the princess at the end of the story & live happily ever after, humans!", Stegron says. "We need to wake you up from your perverted dream so that you may face the reality—and the seriousness—of your situation!"

"Right back at ya, lizard-lips!", Caldina barked.

"Then may the best species win!", Tri-ton said, pointing a scaly clawed finger forward. "Go now, our alien troops! Tear them to shreds!"

Screeching in response to Tri-ton's order, the aliens immediately leap into action, baring their hideous claws & teeth, the latter both sets. The dinosaurian warriors charge into battle along with their troops, as the Magic Knights & the rest do the same, their weapons raised as the room becomes a battle royal, creating a free-for-all melee.

Seconds after the fight was joined, blood was spilled.

CHAPTER VIII

In the Residential Quarters, Chang Ang & Zazu wielded their energy blades at every scaly hand or maw that dared get too close for comfort. Tyrannix, Ankylla, Terradaclys, & Megalas had each received scarred, bleeding cuts from the glowing weapons that the Fahren Elder & young Autozamian had given them. Cuts on their arms, legs, chests, & tails dripped droplets of blood onto the ground. It didn't stop the dinosauroids from attempting to try again, though; with each try, they get more desperate & vicious than the last, & Zazu decided it was time to up the ante. Digging into his shoe, he pulls out another pen-like object, only this one doesn't have a blade of energy. As Zazu presses the button, a stream of stinging electricity shoots out, hitting the reptilian quartet with a jolt that causes them to cry out in pain & sends them back several steps away from the children.

As exercise, The dinosauroids were having a blast, despite the lumps they were receiving, but by now their hunger had reached the boiling point, & they were fresh out of admiration—as well as patience.

"I must say, you two fight pretty good for an elder, and a lad!", Tyrannix grudgingly praised as his wounds & those of his troops begin to heal up. "However, I should point out that you're only delaying the inevitable! Sooner or later, we will be feasting upon your flesh!"

"So why not just give in now & save yourselves the trouble as we consume the whole lot of you?", Megalas adds. "If you do, we'll promise to do so quickly & take really big bites!"

"We'll pass on that, thank you very much!", Zazu barked. "If you want to make meals out of any of us, then you're going to have to really fight for them! And believe me, we won't make that so easy for you reptilian devils!"

"You said so yourselves before—you enjoy prey that fights!", Chang Ang said. "What's the matter? Have you lost your nerve & decided that we're not worth it any longer? Can't stand to see yourselves getting it on the receiving end of things?"

The dinosauroids eye each other before setting sights on their intended prey once more.

"No, human", says Ankylla. "The question should be, can you stand to be on the receiving end of it?"

Ankylla boldly steps forward & heads for Chang Ang & Zazu. The young Autozamian gets ready to fire his electrical discharge weapon again & does so, but this time is different. As soon as Zazu presses the button, Ankylla swiftly turns 180 degrees & the electricity hits the shell upon his back, causing no damage whatsoever to the ankylosauroid. With his body being used as a living shield, it gives Megalas & Terradaclys the golden opportunity; with their powerful legs, they leap into the air over Ankylla & descend down upon Zazu & Chang Ang. Before either could swing their energy blades, the two dinosauroids swing their tails like living whips & knock all of their weapons out of their hands, shattering them to pieces & killing their electrical charge before they even hit the ground as useless scraps.

While Megalas grabs Chang Ang by his neck, Terradaclys gets hold of Zazu in both his winged hands. The grips of the dinosaur warriors were vice-like, & no matter how much either of them fought & struggled, they couldn't get loose—at least not without losing a proportionate chunk of their flesh, or even bone.

Through it all, Lady Shinzeta & the aliens simply stood by & watched as things unfolded before them, becoming quite amused unlike the children were.

"My my, you are quite the feisty morsel of a human! I like that!", Terradaclys says to Zazu's face before guffawing loudly.

"Indeed!", Megalas said, eyeing his own catch & licking his mouth with his tongue. "Like we mentioned, it makes our meals all the more satisfying! And after we've all had our fill of you & the kids in this room, we'll go to the main course with your protectors—if Tri-ton & Stegron have not already devoured them!"

"Don't worry—they haven't!"

The young female voice from behind the dinosauroids & Shinzeta cause them to turn & face who it was. As they do, a pair of well-placed arrows strike Megalas & Terradaclys in their shoulders, puncturing their armor but not drawing blood. It did, though, force them to release their intended victims, both of whom get to a safe distance away from the two humanoid reptiles so as not to be snatched again.

"Are you all right, you two?", asked a worried Tamara.

"I'll live", said Zazu. "But who fired those arrows? Could it be…?"

"For the answer to that question, young man, just look there", Chang Ang said, pointing.

He does, & his heart along with those of the other children are filled with joy at seeing Lady Aska, Fuu (the two who shot the arrows), Hikaru, Umi, Lafarga, Ferio, Ascot, Geo, Caldina, Tarta & Tatra, Presea, & finally Clef all alive & well, their bruises & cuts all healed up, courtesy of Fuu's 'Winds of Healing' spell. The tan-haired Magic Knight replaces her bow & arrows for her sword as she willfully withdraws it, ready for battle like the rest of her friends.

"Are you surprised to see us again, Tyrannix?", Clef says, half mocking his enemy. "It looks as if humans aren't so weak after all, like you first thought!"

"So…you all survived", Shinzeta says as several of the aliens crowd guardingly around her. "You're far more resilient than I realized!"

"It would appear so, Lady Shinzeta!", Tyrannix growls. "It seems some fools just don't know when to die & stay dead!"

"So sorry to disappoint ya, Tyrannix, but we're not obedient dogs for you ta command as ya wish!", Tarta said.

"And we follow nobody's rules but our own!", Tatra added.

Megalas & Terradaclys manage to remove the arrows from their armor & toss them aside as the former speaks.

"Where are Tri-ton & Stegron? There's no way you all could've beaten them and the alien horde they were with!"

Ascot & Caldina smirk.

"Wanna bet?", they say in unison.

This irritated the dinosauroids even more.

"What are you smirking about?", Terradaclys bellowed. "What have you done with them?"

Now it was Lafarga's turn to smirk, & he pulls something out from his cape with his free hand, something concealed within it. He tosses two objects, one of them at Tyrannix, the other over at the pterosauroid, landing near their feet. The dinosaur warriors were shocked at what had been left with—the severed heads of Tri-ton & Stegron, their facial expressions frozen in a state of utter surprise.

"Does that answer your question, reptiles?", Lafarga says, his sword poised & ready to go & do the same to the rest of them, aliens & all. "Maybe perhaps you'd prefer to join them! I'm sure we can certainly arrange for that!"

"In fact, we're going to arrange for that!", said Ferio. "Say your prayers!"

Tyrannix, Terradaclys, Ankylla, & Megalas all gather as a group, with several aliens bringing up the rear. Chang Ang, Zazu, & all the kids back away to get as much distance as they can to avoid being caught in the crossfire of the battle that is going to happen.

"It shall be a cold day in Hell before any of you get the chance to decapitate us, like you did Stegron & Tri-ton, humans!", Tyrannix spat.

"Then we hope you four got your winter coats prepared, because it's about to get really nippy for you right now!", Umi said, raising her right hand. "Icicle…!"

Umi's cry was abruptly interrupted by a high but muffled screech that sounded like it had come from behind the castle walls. It sounded a second time, & this time it sent a chill up hers & all the warrior's spines, for it was a sound they all know too well. That also included Tyrannix & his band, but they instead relish the noise & grin upon hearing it, with Shinzeta joining in.

"You were saying, child?", Megalas gleefully gloats as the screech occurs again, only higher but still muffled by the walls.

For a few seconds more.

Oh no! Not her!, Hikaru thought grimly, knowing full well of the thing that produced such a hideous sound. The aliens screech in answer, & a thunderous pounding now shook the Residential Quarters, its vibration felt by all inside.

"Elder!", Hikaru shouted. "Get the kids out of here now! Before…"

Her statement was cut short from the sudden smashing of one of the walls in the room, & pieces of stone & concrete flew outward, heading for the children. Luckily, several swift moves from the Magic Knights have saved a handful of them from being crushed or even splattered by the debris. Before any of them can ask if the kids are all right, the alien queen emerges from the newly developed hole in the wall in all her glory.

"Hikaru! Umi! Fuu!", Clef shouted.

"You three & the kids are going nowhere, Magic Knights!", Shinzeta said. "Aliens, recapture their friends & bring them to the egg chamber for re-impregnation!"

"Forget it, woman! That's not going to happen a second time!", Ascot said, drawing the gun Geo handed to him. Twelve aliens started running right for them & Ascot fired the gun. The pistol unleashed a powerful electrical discharge not unlike the false tooth Geo had in his mouth to help dispatch the aliens that watched over them in Clef's room. He managed to make contact with half of these creatures as the other half kept a safe distance, lest they share their fate. The aliens who got caught in the crossfire were turned into charred beasts & they fell to the ground, their lifeless bodies still smoking.

The queen screeched in anguish & rage at seeing her soldiers killed, but made no move to attack the warriors that hurt her brood.

"Nasty, huh?", said Geo. "I modified our guns to the alien's cellular structure, therefore they can be used against the aliens themselves without hitting anyone else! But don't think we won't use it on any of you! All it will take is a simple switch, & your asses are toast! So, unless you five wish to end up as someone's portion of a good breakfast, you'd better tell that alien bitch & the rest of her brood to stand down! NOW!"

"So you can roast them as well?", an irate Terradaclys barked.

"We don't needyour permission to, pigeon!", Lafarga said. "We're giving all of you this one chance to surrender! Take it or leave it!"

"Well, what's your answer, ya cold-blooded devils?", Tarta snapped. "We can go & do this the easy way, or the hard way!"

"Here is our answer, fleshbags!", Ankylla growled, pointing his left forearm out at his foes. A thin dart the size of a pencil shot out from his armor & headed straight for the gun Ascot held. It hit the firearm dead center & went all the way through, causing it to spark & short out. The Beast Summoner got a taste of the aftershock, & was forced to drop it. All this happened in seconds, & no one was able to counteract, much less avoid, what just occurred.

Needless to say, the gun was now scrapped & useless.

"Reptilian bastards!", Tatra spat. Before another furious word could be uttered, even more of the aliens entered the Residential Quarters by the dozens through each of the entrances except the one Clef & company came from. Their troubles multiplied by the hundredfold as wave after wave of aliens came in. None of the heroes could move, as the tidal wave of monsters kept on appearing & screeching. Even the Magic Knights, Chang Ang, & all the children were paralyzed with trepidation; even by using their magic at full power, it would seem doubtful that Hikaru & her friends can take on & defeat all the aliens, especially with both their intelligence & endurance being enhanced by Shinzeta & the dinosauroids through magic & sorcery. Hikaru, Umi, & Fuu all remember when they were caught in a tidal wave of aliens like this & be defeated from last time in the forest near the ship that crashed which unintentionally brought them here to Cephiro. If they could've done that as they were mindless, savage predators, these 'new & improved' beasts will undoubtedly beat them in a snap, especially as a horde of this magnitude.

But strangely, the aliens were more or less ignoring the Magic Knights and the children, as they currently were focused on others at the moment.

They had their 'sights' set on Clef & company, & they all knew it!

"It would seem that the tables have once again turned in our favor, haven't they?", Tyrannix gloated.

"Your last batch of higher-IQ'd aliens couldn't defeat us, Tyrannix!", Clef said with more confidence than he actually felt. "What makes you think these foul beasts will fare any better?"

"Do I detect fear within you, Master Mage? I definitely hear it in your tone of voice! And you should be scared: we still intend on breeding those special, magic-wielding aliens from all of you, & you're going to assist us in that, one way or another!"

"In a pig's eye we will, lizard-lips!", said Ferio.

"We shall see, swordsman!", Megalas said, turning to the alien horde. "Aliens, recapture these warriors & take them where Lady Shinzeta instructed you to last time! Go!"

A hideous chorus of screeches echoed throughout the Residential Quarters, sending a chill up everyone's spines, mostly in particular the Magic Knights'.

Oh no! Even they won't be able to defeat all those aliens at once!, Hikaru thought nervously.

There was only one thing for the girls to do, & they waste no time in deploying it.

"Run, everyone!", Hikaru, Umi, & Fuu all shouted simultaneously. "RUN!"

Even without encouragement from the Magic Knights, Clef & the others are motivated by the swiftly moving alien horde heading straight for them.

"Go!", Lafarga shouted, grabbing Clef in one arm as Geo did the same with Lady Aska & ran like crazy down the hall they came in. If only Clef had his magic & Ascot could summon his beasts for assistance, the aliens wouldn't stand a chance against Cephiro's guardians. But unable to do so, it was they who wouldn't stand a chance against the living tide of claws, razor-tipped tails & needle-teeth heading their way, hot on their tails.

"But what about Sang-Yung & the other kids—and the Magic Knights?", Lady Aska asks as Geo takes her in his arm, the young Fahren Princess being unable to run fast enough on her own, same reason as to why Lafarga took Master Mage Clef.

"Sorry, little princess, but unless we get rid of our own problem, I'm afraid they're on their own for the time being!", Geo grimly tells her.

Please be safe, Hikaru!, the Autozamian says to himself.

Please be safe, Fuu!, Lady Aska says to herself.

After the alien tide all but left the Residential Quarters, it was now just the kids, the Magic Knights, the alien queen, Shinzeta, & Tyrannix & his band.

"Come, Tyrannix!", Shinzeta said. "I wish to see how Cephiro's finest get taken down by our troops!"

"As do I, Lady Shinzeta!", the tyrannosauroid says, turning to his own soldiers. "Come! Let us witness the end of Clef & his band, my men!"

Toothy grins & growls of cheer erupt from the dinosaur warriors, & they take off in the direction the alien horde, but get stopped temporarily by the Magic Knights as Hikaru shoots out a stream of flame from her hand, followed by several icicle projectiles by Umi.

"You devils aren't going anywhere!", Hikaru said.

"You heard her!", Umi said. "Our next shots won't be warning ones!"

"Forget about us, Magic Knights, for you got bigger problems right now!", Ankylla says as he points to the alien queen, who makes her way towards the children. It gives Tyrannix & his band the distraction they need to exit the room, & once they do, Megalas pushes a button on his left forearm cuff which activates a light yellow barrier that keeps the kids, Magic Knights, & the alien queen all trapped within as it surrounds the entire room, cutting off all exits & the giant hole the queen made in her grand entrance.

"Alien queen, take the Magic Knights alive, but kill the rest!", Shinzeta ordered with a grin before she took off running with Tyrannix's group, leaving the girls from Tokyo to face the queen with a bunch of scared kids & an elderly adult.

The queen screeched in obedience, & began to carry out her orders.

Elsewhere in the castle:

Lantis ran as fast as he could, breaking off on his own as he hurried to find both Primera & Mokona somewhere in the castle. He hated not going with the others, but the thought of the fairy & Presea's faithful pet & friend alone in a castle overrun with old enemies & an alien species that gave no quarter in even the slightest was too much for him to bear. Primera being on her own would have absolutely no chance of making it out alive, & there was no telling whether or not the aliens would be effective on Mokona either by attacking with their claws & teeth, or if their acid blood will actually do him any damage.

He could not take that chance. He runs even faster.

Thanks to Geo, I placed a mini tracking device on Primera in case we get separated in times like this, Lantis says to himself, following the beacon on a mini transmitter in his hand. She's not too much farther from here. Good! I hope Mokona's there with her. Hold on, Primera—I'm on my way! Just hold on!

With his sword at his side, Lantis pushed himself even harder.

When Primera & Mokona woke up, they found themselves within a magical sphere that had kept them confined with one another. The inside was the only thing that was lit, as the area outside had become pitch black, so they had no way of knowing just where inside the castle they're being held at.

It gave Primera the creeps, & she shook in fear.

Mokona, as usual, said & did nothing, but that didn't mean he wasn't worried.

"I don't like this, Mokona!", Primera said, the worry clear in her voice. "We can't see a thing past this magic orb, & I've no idea where we've been taken to! Are we even still in the castle?"

Her only response from her captured mate was a soft 'puu puu'.

The little fairy sighed.

"Yeah, me too", she says. "You know, I've been thinking about what Presea said to me before all this happened. She told me that I shouldn't beat myself up or feel left out just because Lantis & that Magic Knight, whatshername, Hikaru are in love with each other. I guess I shouldn't as she suggested, but I can't help it, I suppose. Deep down in my heart, there'll always be a spot for Lantis no matter what. Call it a silly crush, I know, but can you blame me for it? I mean, Lantis is so big & strong & fearless…& look at me. I'm just a fairy who can fit in the palm of one's hand. What does that tell you?"

Mokona remained silent & still, but he was listening. He knows Primera was talking levity in an attempt to ease the way she felt inside—alone, nervous, & scared.

He approaches her & gently places one of his ears upon her head, caressing it in a motherly fashion. A smile on his face puts her at ease some more.

"Huh?", Primera wondered of the gesture. "You…you can understand me?"

A 'puu puu' from Mokona is the closest the fairy gets to a 'yes'.

"So what do you think, Mokona? Do you believe that Hikaru & Lantis are meant for each other, as was evident earlier today?"

Mokona nods his head with a happy 'puu puu'.

"You do, huh? I guess it was meant to be then. I suppose I should cease trying to…"

Mokona interrupted Primera by shaking his head 'no', coupled by a few 'puu puu' answers.

"You mean to say I shouldn't give up on Lantis just because of the love affair between him & Hikaru?"

Primera recalled in her mind what Presea told her earlier on:

Do you know how often Lantis has told me of what great compant you are to him, having always attending his wounds whenever the need arises & such? He also said that he would be lost without you by his side.

Those thoughts gave the little fairy a different perspective on her lovesick situation.

I guess I did overreact a little when I saw Lantis kissing Hikaru, Primera thought. If we get out of this tight spot, I'll apologize to him for my behavior this morning. He deserves that much.

That's when Primera & Mokona heard footsteps outside of where they were being held at.

Muffled as they were, they were still audible enough, & they got louder with each passing second.

That might be Lantis on his way here!, Primera thought happily.

Whether it was or not, Primera wasted no time in getting his/her attention.

"Hey! We're in here! We're in here!", she shouted, pressing her hands on the rim of the ball which held them captive. Mokona assisted by letting out boisterous 'puu puu's.

"Primera! Mokona!"

Even the wall didn't stop the two captives from recognizing the voice.

It is Lantis!, Primera thought happily, her hopes rising.

"Here we are, Lantis! Come & get us!", she shouted.

From outside, Lantis shouted back.

"Just hold tight, you two! I'm on my way!"

Even though he knew he was heading in the right direction, Lantis was still highly pleased to be hearing the little fairy's voice, along with Mokona's 'puu puu' remark. Picking up the pace in his run, Lantis continued following the signal from Primera's little tracker.

He only had meters to go.

Finally, he had come to the room where the fairy's signal led him to. Immediately he swung open the doors to find a room that was pitch black, but what he could see was the glowing sphere which held Primera & Mokona inside, both of whom were pleased to see their rescuer.

"Lantis!", Primera said gleefully, as Mokona lets out a happy 'puu puu', jumping for joy.

That made Lantis smile.

That's Mokona for you, he thought. Even in crucial times like this, he always finds the time to show how gay he is. Such is his nature.

Nevertheless, he was utterly pleased to see them alive & unharmed, aside from being taken hostage by Tyrannix & his ravenous group.

"Glad to see you two are all right!", he said. "Don't worry: I should be able to get you both out of your little prison without harming either one of you. Just sit tight & move over to one side of the sphere while I…"

Only seconds after Lantis opened the doors to the room, the lights suddenly flickered on & made it nearly as bright as day. It was't much of an improvement, however: there was something else inside the room besides the captive Primera & Mokona.

A whole lot of something elses!

The eyes of Lantis & Primera went wide & Mokona shivered with trepidation when they discover what was accompanying them in vacancy. Laying in crouches like sleeping tigers/lions were a whole bunch of aliens, & joining them were several unopened eggs laying in random spots all over the floor. Primera & Mokona recognized the creatures as much as Lantis himself did, & it gave them an even more dreaded feeling now than when they saw them the first time two months ago. Even being imprisoned within a sphere didn't help matters any: for all they know, the things could bust through & devour them where they stand.

Almost as soon as the lights went on, the aliens started getting up from their alleged sleep & all the eggs began opening like they did in Clef's room. In no time, facehuggers started crawling out, their spidery legs wriggling with anticipation of latching themselves onto a victim.

A trap!, Lantis thought with dread. Tyrannix & his men set up a trap! They planned this just in case someone went looking for Primera & Mokona! And I just walked right into it!

It didn't take long for the aliens—facehuggers & all—to acknowledge Lantis' presence in the room, & like angry banshees, they screeched their fury at the Master Swordsman. Acting upon instinct, Lantis' hand went for his sword, but did not get the chance to draw the blade in time as the aliens suddenly leapt right at him. Lantis only had time to get the doors shut & he does so in the nick of time, but barely. His joy was short-lived, though: the aliens began pushing & pounding on the doors, & Lantis can feel every hit & scratch the monsters make. Worse, Primera & Mokona were trapped inside in more ways than one, & unless he does something quick, both Primera & Mokona will be dead along with himself, & his rescue attempt will be all for naught.

Even with all his strength used to keep the doors shut, Lantis can feel them being pushed with such force that he was being outmatched in every way. He needs an edge, & he needs it now.

Dammit, these things are strong!, Lantis says to himself through clenched teeth. If only there was a way to bring them all down in a single blow…wait! There is a way to do that!

With his free hand, Lantis draws the energy blade from his sword, just as a crack in the door allows a quartet of facehuggers manage to get their spindly legs in between it.

Sorry, creatures! Better luck next time!, Lantis says to himself as he shoves the blade in the crack, piercing & killing one of the facehuggers as its acid blood melts a portion of the door. With the blade inside the room, Lantis puts his plan into motion.

"Lightning Bolt Assault!", he shouts. In an instant, the energy blade from his sword lets out & unleashes a powerful lightning attack that touches & fries every alien within the room, each one screaming out in anguish that sounds like a radio playing nothing but static set at the highest level of volume. Lantis had no time to decipher on whether or not this attack would also cause damage—or even death—to Primera & Mokona, despite being encased in a sphere. But what he does know is that if he does nothing, the three of them are goners.

It was a dangerous risk, but one he has to take.

Lantis keeps up his attack for a full minute before ceasing, withdrawing his weapon but not its blade. Carefully, he opens the doors & places his sword in front, ready to take down any of the aliens if there were those who survived the lightning assault. The only things he does find are the smoking carcasses of the facehuggers & full-grown aliens lying on the floor with not so much as a twitch from any of them, but the one thing that pleased him more was the relatively unharmed forms of Primera & Mokona in their unscathed sphere, both shielding their eyes from the bright flash his attack emitted.

As one, they look up to see Lantis as unharmed as they were, sans the torn scratch upon his armor which Stegron had given him earlier on his chest.

Thankfully, the late stegosaurian didn't draw any blood.

"Lantis! Are you all right?", Primera asked.

"I'll live", he said. "I'm just glad my lightning bolt attack did no harm to either of you, but I had to act fast. I apologize had I scared you two with it."

"Hey, desperate times call for desperate measures, right?", Primera asked, unoffended.

Lantis offers her a smile, happy that the little fairy didn't take it personal, & from the looks of things, neither did Mokona.

"How right you are, Primera", he says. "Now, let's get the two of you out of there, shall we?"

Primera & Mokona nod & stand to one side of the sphere as Lantis had instructed them to do before. Raising his sword above his head, Lantis brings it straight down on the sphere in one swift motion near the opposite side from its two captives. When is sword made contact with the sphere, it not only opened it up like an overripe fruit, but disappeared righ after in thin air without a single trace of its prior existence anywhere.

Primera & Mokona are free!

The little fairy flies right up to her hero, as her partner jumps up & down, uttering several happy 'puu puu's in joy & gratitude.

"Despite the danger, I just knew you wouldn't let me down, Lantis!", Primera says, being only inches from his face. "Thanks so much!"

Lantis nods, smiling.

"Think nothing of it, Primera", he says. "Like Mokona, you're one of us, & we take care of all of our own, regardless of size or species."

Primera nods.

"Um, Lantis, about before", she started, her gay feeling turning somber. "I didn't mean to get snippy with you this morning. It was wrong of me to do so. I hope you can…forgive me for it."

Lantis' smile remains on his face.

"Of course I can, Primera", he says. "I'll explain it to you once we…"

"Oh, there's no need", the little fairy cut him off, but happily. "Presea already did before, & it made me realize that it's not so bad to see you & that Magic Knight Hikaru in passion with each other. In fact, it's kinda…sweet, really."

That made Lantis really happy.

"I'm glad you can accept that, Primera. But rest assured, I would never toss you aside like an old rag for anything. You're too important to me…and the rest of us."

Now that made Primera extremely happy: even as her hero has a fling with Hikaru, she still feels wanted by him. That alone can make her bear the sort-of heartache of losing him as a lover.

It was a loss, sure, but it was more than acceptable to the little fairy.

And she got something to highly atone for it—his utter trust & companionship.

Then a disturbing thought entered Lantis' head, & he was all business again. Primera notices & asks him what's wrong.

"It's Hikaru! She's in immediate danger!", he says, getting bad vibes in both mind & soul. He suddenly takes off & exits the room, keeping the energy blade on his sword drawn as he runs down the hall, wasting no time in getting to his destination.

I can sense she's in the Residential Quarters!, he thought. Hang on, Hikaru! I'm on my way!

From behind by several yards, Primera & Mokona follow Lantis, hurrying as fast as they could.

The Residential Quarters:

Fuu Hououji brought up her 'Winds of Protection' dome just in time before the alien queen can cause any of the kids the slightest bit of harm. Her dome covered her, Chang Ang, Zazu, Sang-Yung, & all the children as Hikaru & Umi battle the queen from outside, locked in combat with a nightmare that they hoped Cephiro would never endure again. But here it was again in the most hideous flesh, a sight which nearly killed one of the Magic Knights last time they invaded the castle—right here in this very room, in fact.

And it was Fuu who remembers it the most, as it was her who almost lost her life here as one of two alien queens had punctured her left shoulder with its inner jaws before going for her head. The alien bitch would've succeeded were it not for Caldina & the others coming to rescue her & her friends from a gruesome fate.

Even now, she gets chills just recalling it in her mind, & dealing with only one alien queen this time around didn't help matters: one alien queen was sufficient to about fifty to a hundred of her warriors. This is something Hikaru & Umi are now experiencing by fighting with the bitch in the room, having needed to dodge her razor-sharp tail, deadly claws, & double mouths.

From inside her green dome, Fuu can only watch as her dear friends fight for their lives & those of all the children trapped within.

That goes double for the kids themselves, & like Fuu, they feel helpless not being able to do anything to help the two Magic Knights defeat the vicious queen.

"What can we do, Elder?", a nervous Sang-Yung asks. "We can't just sit here & wait for that monster to finish off Hikaru & Umi before it turns its attention back to us!"

"I know how you feel, Sang-Yung", Chang Ang says. "Unfortunately, we have no weapons in which to defeat a monster of that size & viciousness. All we can do is hope & pray that the two Magic Knights out there will be victorious against it."

Mira places a hand on Sang-Yung's shoulder.

"Like before, we have to be brave", she tells him. "I'm sure you know the Magic Knights are always looking out for us, & will do whatever is necessary to protect us to the fullest! Don't give up on them now, Sang-Yung!"

"That's right!", Tamara added. "They would never give up on any one of us, so it's only fair we return the favor to them!"

"In short, they're saying to believe in the Magic Knights!", Zazu stepped in. "Believe they'll beat this monster & those dinosaur warriors, & put an end to this nightmare!"

"Sir Zazu is correct!", Fuu said, facing the kids & keeping her barrier up. "When monsters came & attacked the castle during the Lady Debonair crisis, you helped us vanquish them—and her—by not being afraid! Even though these aliens are not manifestations caused by our fear, it doesn't change the fact that you can still stay strong & brave for those who fight for your lives! I give you all my word—and I speak for my friends with this—I will never allow this monstrosity to lay one finger upon even one of you!"

Fuu Hououji's smile gives the children reassurance on the Magic Knight's promise to keep them safe from the aliens, including the queen.

"Then we will stay strong, Magic Knight!", one boy said, getting nods of approval from the other boys & girls. This made Fuu stronger with confidence, & it somehow spread to Hikaru & Umi in spirit.

Sang-Yung felt the same way.

"Then I will too!", he says. "First, let's beat this monster & then break through that barrier in which those reptiles imprisoned us with!"

"I have an idea about how to do that!", Umi said, turning to Hikaru, who was on the opposite side of the alien bitch. Hikaru nods, & she unleashes a stream of flame from her right hand as Umi unleashes her 'Icicle Blades' attack at the queen. Their attacks strike her near the legs & abdomen of the creature but do not hit her. They instead drive her back several steps for the Magic Knights to put their real plan into action. But they better do it fast: knowing the queen, the alien bitch won't stop until she kills the Magic Knights & all the kids in the room, even if she hadn't been instructed by Shinzeta to do so.

So they're gonna make sure it will be them who does the killing.

They waste no time in acting while the queen is distracted.

Hikaru & Umi face the palms of their hands at each other.

"Flame Arrow!", Hikaru calls out.

"Water Dragon!", Umi calls out.

Streams of flames & water shoot out from the girl's palms at their highest intensity, heading straight for one another. The queen sees this & stays clear of both projectiles until they let up. If she were capable of speech, the queen would tell the Magic Knights just what lousy shots they are.

But the girl's aims were far from lousy, & the alien queen isn't what they were aiming for.

When their fire & water projectiles collided, a huge cloud of steam erupted like a mushroom cloud after an atomic bomb went off & covered the entire room with it, turning it into a sauna.

The queen screeched in anger as the thick cloud covered her vision of her intended prey, & it left her unsure of where to go.

Fortunately, the Magic Knights didn't have that problem. They knew exactly where they were at the time of their planned steam bath, & they put the second half of their plan into action.

Standing together, they combine their strengths as one.

"Spiral Flash!", Hikaru, Umi, & Fuu shouted, as a ball of red, blue, & green energy form from their hands & launch it. The sphere hits the barrier that keeps the girls, kids, & alien queen inside with each other & hits it with such force that the barrier crackles with energy all around before causing it to short out & disappear from sight.

When the barrier dissipated, so did the steam & Fuu's protective shield. This proved to be a double-edged sword: not only can the kids escape the Residential Quarters & get away from the alien queen, but the queen can now see her victims again, & she screeches in hatred.

It was now or never!

"Go! Take that exit & run, kids! Hurry!", Fuu shouted, pointing to the exit just opposite of the one Clef & company took to escape the aliens that went after them. As one, Chang Ang & the kids ran as fast as they could. In no time, the children were all out of the Residential Quarters, leaving only the three Magic Knights & the alien queen. Hikaru, Umi, & Fuu pray that there are no aliens left where the kids are all heading to, but they can't do anything about it currently, as they've got their own problem—a big one!

Fuu draws her sword, joining Hikaru & Umi & ready to do battle with the alien bitch.

"It's just you & us now, bitch!", Hikaru spat, gripping her sword like grim death.

The queen screeches in rage & acceptance to her challenge, & charges the Magic Knights.

Lashing out with her claws, the queen swipes at the trio in a blow which would've sliced them in half, had they not dived out of the way in time in three separate directions. But now that the children are all in another room & safe (they hope), the girls don't need to pull their punches any longer, & they counterattack with a vengeance.

"Ruby Lightning!", Hikaru calls out, forming a ball of crimson energy between her hands.

"Icicle Blades!", Umi cried out, shooting icicles pointed at both ends from her right hand.

"Emerald Cyclone!", Fuu cried out, firing green energy rings from her own right hand.

The girls all attacked the queen as one: their projectiles head straight for the alien bitch, & while she was able to avoid some of their shots, the queen could not dodge all of them, getting both stabbed by pointed icicles & green rings with sharp edges, drawing acidic blood upon the ground as drops sizzle & melt wherever they landed. The girls didn't let up on their assault: Fuu let loose with her 'Emerald Tphoon' attack as Umi unleashed her 'Sapphire Whirlwind' attack on the queen, & their assault pushed their alien foe back against the wall like she was being pushed by a giant hand that was even stronger than her. Being rammed to the wall caused a new hole to appear into it, with debris raining down on the queen as she fought against the powerful force of Fuu & Umi's magics, screeching in defiance & anger.

Now to finish her for good!, Hikaru thought.

"Ruby Lightning!", she shouted, forming another crimson energy ball between her hands & launching it forward, determined to hit her with it, unlike the last attempt where she had dodged it with ease.

But dodging it (again) is just what the queen does: leaping into the air, the alien bitch breaks free of the grip Fuu & Umi had on her & lands where the girls stand at as Hikaru's attack only hits more of the wall, enlarging it. When she lands, the ground shakes like some giant slammed its fists with all its might. The sudden jolt catches the girls off-guard, & with cat-like reflexes, the alien queen snatches Hikaru up with her tail at the end of it, in the same manner a boa constrictor or anaconda might do to its prey.

"Hikaru!", Umi shouted.

"Miss Hikaru!", Fuu shouted.

The two Magic Knights watch helplessly as the queen lifts Hikaru off the ground, wrapped in her tail & is being brought closer to the bitch's toothy maw. Hikaru tries to pry herself free of the bitch's grip on her, but the alien's hold is solid: for all her fighting skills & spirit, the queen is the one who's physically stronger, & can tear Hikaru apart with ease.

The red-haired Magic Knight still has her sword in her hand, but she knows better than to dare cut the queen's tail, just as Umi & Fuu know themselves not to try any attack on the alien as she holds their friend in her grasp: the bitch's acidic blood would eat away at both her flesh & bone about as fast as she can cut the creature's sturdy steel-hard skin.

All she can do is wait for a much better opportunity to get herself loose, providing that it even does present itself.

In no time, Hikaru finds herself face-to-face with her hideous, alien enemy, staring straight at the queen's multitude of sharp, needle-like teeth which glistened in the light of the room. But even with death literally in her face, Hikaru remained defiant & ready to battle the bitch until she is no longer capable to, or until she kills it, or it her. The queen opens her toothy maw, warm saliva dripping from her pointy incisors. From inside, Hikaru can see the queen opening her inner jaws & plans to drive them through Hikaru's head, splattering her brains all over the ground.

But Hikaru has other plans, & they don't include being killed at the hands of some alien dinosaur with acid for blood.

The queen shoots forth her inner jaws at near-blinding speed, which would've penetrated Hikaru's skull & blow a hole at the rear of it, had she not dodged to her right at the last second as fast as she could. When the jaws whooshed past & clamped shut with a loud snap, Hikaru grabbed it tightly with her left hand, squeezing it for a moment. A moment was all she needed before using her sword in her right hand to slice off the queen's inner mouth, cutting off as much as she could without getting any of the acidic blood on her or getting gobbled up by her main jaws. The alien bitch took a second to realize she had been cut & her inner jaws forcibly removed before she screeched an ear-shattering sound from her mouth.

With Lady Luck partly on her side, Hikaru was not hit with even a drop of the alien's blood anywhere on her person, & her sword—made from Escudo, Cephiro's hardest substance—was all but undamaged by what did splash upon it.

But even through all that, it still did nothing to cause the queen to release or even loosen her grip on Hikaru with her tail, even as she thrashed about wildly from the pain of having her inner mandibles severed. Hikaru was about to unleash her 'Flame Arrow' attach upon the queen, but did not administer it in time: the queen was furious at both Hikaru & the pain she was experiencing, & flailed her tail—with Hikaru in it—like a whip, slamming the red-haired Magic Knight on the ground & walls repeatedly, causing craters wherever she landed. Bringing the Magic Knight up to her face again, the queen hissed angrily but Hikaru stayed defiant, her face cut & bruised in many places, as were her arms & legs.

"Is that all you got for me, bitch?", growled the tomboy girl through clenched teeth with a scowl that would scare even the most hardened criminal. "My grandmother can slam me a lot harder than you can!"

The queen may not know what was said much, if at all, but she does know when she's been insulted, & shows her contempt in the red-haired Magic Knight by continuing her assault on her.

We've got to do something!, Umi said to herself, furious & worried at seeing her dear friend being thrashed like she was a rag doll. Tough as she was, Umi & Fuu know that even someone like Hikaru will be broken in so many pieces if this keeps up.

Whatever they got planned, they need to carry it out pronto.

"Water Dragon!", she called out, sending a stream of powerful water in the queen's direction at high speed. It hit the queen with such force that it knocked her off her feet, giving Fuu a chance.

"Winds of Admonishment!", she calls out, sending tendrils of wind that wrap themselves around Hikaru. Using all her willpower, Fuu orders her tendrils to pull her friend loose from the queen's grip but without ripping her in half in the attempt. As some of Fuu's tendrils pry loose the tail, the rest grab Hikaru & yank her free, bringing her back to her two friends. A quick 'Winds of Healing' spell, & Hikaru was as good as new without a scratch.

"Thanks Umi, Fuu!", Hikaru said. "Even I wasn't sure how much longer I would've lasted under that barrage of blows that bitch was giving me!"

"You're more than welcome as always, Hikaru!", Umi said. "But unless we kill this thing, I'm afraid our efforts to rescue you will be all for naught!"

"Agreed!", said Fuu. "Either we kill her or she kills us!"

"Then let's make sure it's us who does the killing, you two!", Hikaru said, getting nods from her friends.

The queen gets up on her hind legs & bellows an angry screech, indicating that she was now extremely pissed off. The intensity of her sound told the Magic Knights that the queen will be more dangerous than ever, hence the wounds & all, & she'll possibly be in a sort of berserker rage & cut the girls down to size in the blink of an eye.

Unless the girls do it to her first.

Swords at the ready, the trio brace themselves as the queen charges them like a rhino, cutting loose with another irate screech.

"Lightning Bolt Assault!"

A powerful bolt of lightning from Lantis' sword shoots forth & hits the alien queen in the side, shoving her to the wall, shattering concrete everywhere. Stunned but not down, the queen got back to her feet & addresses her new enemy as Lantis enters the room, his sword glowing bright.

"You want a real challenge, bitch? Then come face me!", he dares her.

The queen accepts by unleashing an angry screech.

Lantis showed no trepidation at his monstrous opponent.

Not on the outside, anyway: deep down, he fears for the lives of the Magic Knights, Hikaru in most particular fashion. The thought of what the alien queen had nearly done & might do to the girl he loves stuck in his head like peanut butter on a pinecone. He had to shake it out in a hurry & remain focused on the battle. Like her friends, Hikaru can handle herself more than quite well.

The queen rushed Lantis, ignoring the girls as she does.

But she wasn't ignoring the Magic Knights. Being full aware of their presence even as she faces the newcomer, the queen whips her long, segmented tail at the girls like a cobra would go to bite someone. It happened too fast for the girls or Lantis to do anything to counterattack or even prevent the maneuver. Hikaru, Umi, & Fuu were swept off their feet when the tail came at them & slapped them in their solar plexus, knocking them to the ground & the wind out of them. Lantis wasn't as fortunate either: being concerned for the girls left him temporarily vulnerable, even as his sword still held the energy blade. With both hands, the queen scooped up Lantis, causing him to lose his weapon as it drops to the ground & the blade vanishes. She then slams him against the wall of the room, making a dent in it as little rocks & pebbles cover him from above. As hard as he tried, Lantis could not pry free of the queen's grip any more than Hikaru could from her tail before on her own. The alien bitch levels her head with Lantis & begins to open her jaws, & even though her inner mandibles were gone due to Hikaru, it didn't make her any less dangerous than she is now; she can still chomp down on the Master Swordsman like a child might do to a candy bar still in its wrapper.

Now it's Lantis who stares death in the face, & he's weaponless!

Fighting the pain of the queen's blow, Hikaru struggles to get up & take in deep breaths of air to fight her queasiness & get back in the game as soon as possible. Although slightly blurred in her vision, Hikaru can see Lantis at the mercy of the alien queen against the wall, & suddenly her adrenaline was renewed in a snap.

Lantis! No!, she says to herself, thinking of a way to save him before the inevitable occurs.

And she finds one, seeing her sword still clutched in her hand.

Back upon her feet, she makes her move.

"Hey, you alien bitch…catch!", Hikaru shouted, throwing her weapon at the monstrosity only yards away. Though groggily, she threw it good enough that it heads in the queen's direction like a guided missile. Hikaru's shout had caught her attention, & the queen quickly turns to see the oncoming projectile heading her way. Like the aforementioned cobra, the queen snatches Hikaru's sword with her right hand in midair before it can make contact.

But that's exactly what the red-haired Magic Knight wanted.

It begins: the moment the alien queen grabbed Hikaru's sword, mystical & powerful flames engulf the queen's body from head to tail tip & she screeches in agony, causing her to release her helpless captive & take several steps back as Lantis drops to the ground, bruised a bit but alive. A very high-pitched screech echoes the room, becoming so loud that Lantis & the Magic Knights have to put their hands to their ears to muffle out the eerie sound as much as they could. Despite this minor setback, Hikaru had planned it to a 'T': she knew the alien queen would try to grab her sword, with her augmented intelligence & all. Like the other swords of the Magic Knights, Hikaru is the only one who can handle her sword, something the girls remembered the first time they had come to Cephiro when Umi picked up Fuu's weapon & became the heaviest thing she ever tried to lift, & Umi's turned to water when Hikaru tried to pick it up. As for Hikaru's, the only other person to touch her weapon was Lafarga. When he was under High Priest Zagato's spell to do his idding & ordered to kill the Magic Knights, he grabbed hold of her sword & was engulfed in the same manner the queen is now, cleansing his soul & breaking the spell which was cast upon him.

But the alien queen is not Lafarga, & she has no soul to be cleansed of. Unlike the Master Swordsman, she is evil incarnate, & thus the only thing in which the flames that engulf her bring is excruciating pain, one that cooks & boils her alive as her steel-hard skin begins to both blister & smoke in many spots.

Finally, what seemed like a lifetime of pain—which, in reality, was only several seconds—the alien queen crashes to the ground, the room vibrating as she does. Hikaru's sword disappears from the dead queen's hand & returns to its rightful owner.

At that time, Umi & Fuu rise to their feet, battered but alive as Lantis retrieves his weapon & joins the girls.

"That was a close call, Hikaru, but your tactic worked to perfection!", Umi said. "Good job!"

"Yes", said Fuu. "With the queen now dead, we shouldn't have to worry too much about any alien eggs here in the castle, unless…"

"I ran into a batch of them as I was rescuing Primera & Mokona a while back", Lantis says of his encounter, cutting Fuu off. "Not to worry, though—they're all dead. I saw to that."

"Speaking of Primera & Mokona, are they…?", Hikaru began to say, until two familiar—and very welcome—faces enter the room, heading right for them.

"We're fine, Hikaru! Thanks to Lantis!", the little fairy said, fluttering up to her face with Mokona as the latter jumps into the Magic Knight's arms—always a happy gesture for her.

"Are you…all right?", Primera asks. "You're not hurt too bad, are you, Hikaru?"

"Not anymore, Primera", Hikaru says, smiling. "Thanks for being concerned for me. I really do appreciate it."

Wow, Primera thought. After all the times I had been rude to her in the past, she's still kind & sweet to me. I guess it's easy to see as to why Lantis loves her, even risking his life for her.

The fairy turns to the comatose queen to her right, getting a chill from it, even in death.

"That thing really is dead, right?", she asks nervously, her feelings reaching Mokona as well.

"It is, but we don't have any time to check to make sure if that's true or if the bitch is just playing possum on us!", Hikaru reminds them.

"That's right!", said Umi. "There's still her brood to deal with, not to mention Tyrannix & his reptilian soldiers, & that Shinzeta woman!"

"Tyrannix & Shinzeta?", Primera asked, confused. "Are they the ones who…"

"Captured & imprisoned you & Mokona before, yes", Lantis fills her in. "But we've no time to fully explain it! We need to get to the others & help them deal with their own problem!"

"Correct!", said Fuu. "The rest of the alien horde have followed Clef & the others through that entrance where you entered, Sir Lantis!" Fuu points to that very opening. "As to where they had gone to, I cannot say for certain!"

Lantis thought about it for a second, & it hit him straight away. There was a place the others could go to & deal with the aliens properly, & Lantis knows where.

At that point, it hit the Magic Knights, Primera, & Mokona all at once as well.

"I know just where you mean, Lantis! Let's move, everyone!", Hikaru said, getting nods from her group & they take off like shots fired from cannons, with Primera in the lead.

Even as they run off in the opposite direction of Chang Ang & the kids, the Magic Knights each pray for their safety, despite their more pressing matters currently.

I pray you are safe, Elder, Sang-Yung, Fuu thought to herself.

Please be okay, Zazu, Hikaru thought to herself.

Hang in there, Mira, Tamara, Umi thought to herself. We'll end this nightmare as fast as we can. I promise!

Umi prays she & her friends can live up to that promise.

Another part of Cephiro Castle:

During their retreat from the oncoming alien horde, Geo Metro tells everyone to follow him to the letter, as he develops a plan in his mind to help assist them in bringing down all the living horrors in hot pursuit. More than one of the warriors had wanted to ask Geo what he was planning within his mind, but thought better of it. First & foremost, now was not a good time to stop & ask any questions when several feet of Hell is after their asses & in groves. Secondly, Geo, along with Zazu, have lived on Cephiro for more than a year now before their exile from Autozam had been lifted, becoming a dear friend & part of their 'family'. Therefore, they trust him, & if he says he's got a plan to help deal with the aliens, then they'll follow him anywhere.

And here is where that 'anywhere' is—a second Residential Quarters, one made during the castle's reconstruction after Lady Debonair's attack.

"Here we are, folks!", Geo said as the rest enter the room with him. Lafarga puts down Clef gently, & Geo does the same with Lady Aska.

"Good thinkin', Geo!", Tatra says, looking at the wide open space. "Comin' here will give us plenty o' room ta fight those alien bastards instead o' in the hallways!"

"And we'll be ready for them this time!", Tarta added, wielding her sword & shield.

"Actually, you two are half right!", Geo tells them. "We will be ready for them, but we won't need to fight them much at all if all goes well!"

This puzzled the warriors.

"What gives, Geo?", Ferio wondered. "How can we defeat those alien bastards if we don't have to fight them?"

"Yeah, Geo! The last ah checked, ya ain't got no magic ta call your own!", Caldina said. "Ya mean ta say ya got a trick or two up your sleeve?"

Geo smiled. "Something like that, Caldina! Think of it: why fight them when we can just trap them?"

"And that's why you lead us here?", Ascot asked.

The Autozamian nodded. "You all remember those 'security enhancements' in which I told you about just in case we were ever invaded by those monsters again, & magic couldn't be used for the most part? Well, they've been installed during the last two months, & now's the time to put them to good use!"

The sudden sound of echoing screeches from the aliens put the warriors on edge, & they get poised to face them head-on, all drawing their weapons & facing the entrance.

"Whatever you're planning to do, Geo, make it fast!", Clef said, pointing his staff like the rest have done.

"Give me one minute to get it armed!", Geo said, running off to the far wall. Once he gets to it, the Autozamian opens a well-concealed panel to reveal a mini screen & several numerical & colored buttons to the right of it, accompanied by a few knobs & switches. Immediately Geo gets to work & begins pressing buttons, turning knobs, & flicking switches in the order which only he knows of—for now. He hadn't had time to go over it with everyone in the castle, as they were too busy looking after the kids, leaving him & Zazu to handle the chore. Should they survive this, he'll relay the info to his friends so they may be able to access it when he & Zazu head back home.

If they make it back home!

The hideous sounds of the aliens behind him urges Geo to hurry in setting up his trap when Presea reveals not-so-good news.

"They're here! Everyone, stand firm & give Geo the time he needs!", she shouted.

It looks like they'll have to spend some time in fighting them before the trap can be set.

"Lady Aska, you'd better encase yourself in your dome—quick!", Lafarga said, as the young Fahren Princess nodded & summoned her dome, covering her person. While she wished she could do the same for the others, there wasn't any time to give them protection like she did with the kids from the outskirts of the Forest of Silence before getting caught.

She said a silent prayer for her friends.

Then the aliens blasted into the room, extending their clawed hands in an attempt to grab & immobilize their prey like Lady Shinzeta ordered them to. But the warriors don't give in as easily to the horrors as they did before: now they were wise to their antics & maneuvers, & they even manage to score several hits on them, drawing their acidic blood & avoiding each & every drop which heads their way. But just because Ferio & all the rest were wise to them, it didn't mean they were winning the battle; the aliens, while receiving many cuts & bruises, were still avoiding the worst of it all, & it was just a matter of time before they score a lucky shot or two of their own.

"Geo, we don't mean to be pushy, but now would be a great time to put that plan of yours in motion!", Ascot said, swinging his sword as his heart pounds like a jackhammer.

"Only ten seconds more, gang! Hang tight!", Geo replied, feverishly completing the final few sequences to get his plan rolling.

I left the finishing touches to you, Zazu! You best not let me down, especially not now!, Geo had said to himself, remembering him leaving the last of the trap's assembly to his young but faithful companion not too long ago.

Suddenly, the screen read as follows:

TRAP PRIMED & ARMED

DO YOU WISH TO PROCEED? Y/N

I owe you one, Zazu!, Geo thought with a big grin as he now represents the machine. You bet your ass I wish to proceed!

That's when Lady Aska screamed out his name.

Turning, Geo saw a horrible sight—a pair of aliens, the other dog one & a warrior, leaping right at him!

He barely had time to move out of the way as the aliens swiped their front claws at Geo which would've decapitated him, hade he been a split second slower than he was. The alien duo now stand in front of the console that would enable Geo to spring his trap. From the corner of his eyes, the Autozamian can see his friends & companions going down like living trees, & some of them were now converging on him.

He needs to press the button which will save the lives of his friends—and his own!

So far, only the second dog alien & the two-legged warrior stand in his way, but soon he'll be both outmatched & outnumbered if he doesn't get to that console fast.

Therefore, Geo does the only thing he can think of in such a desperate situation—he rushes the enemy!

Using every ounce of strength he can muster, Geo rams headlong into the two aliens who stand between him & the console, howling like a lunatic. Even the aliens were surprised at the sudden adrenaline rush by one of their intended prey, for they had some trouble in holding him as Geo continues onward for the button that will be their salvation if he can reach it. But the aliens had only the slightest bit of difficulty in holding Geo back, & they press onward in restraining him.

No, goddammit! We're not going out! Not like this!, he said to himself, refusing to give in to the alien's immense strength, using his own to reach the 'yes' button.

His farthest outstretched finger was only a millimeter away from pushing it.

The aliens he were struggling with threw him to the ground.

They never get the chance to pile on top of him like the other warriors are: all over the room from the ground to the walls, numerous baby-blue tendrils lash out from small ports & whip/wrap themselves around every alien within the room, pulling them off Clef & everyone else as they are becoming gathered in clusters of teeth & claws all over. The creatures all screech in frustration & strain with all their might to get free, but the ties that bind them are too strong even for them, & are more or less immobile.

Geo Metro had pressed the button just in time!

Relieved to have the aliens bound & all but helpless in their straps, Lady Aska lets down her protective dome & the other warriors rise up to their feet, pleased at the results of Geo's plan.

"Everybody accounted for?", Geo asked loudly. His answer was a chorus of 'yes' from each one, putting the Autozamian at ease even further.

"Clef!", Lady Aska shouted, getting their attention as all gathered over to the Master Mage to see what the cause of alarm was. Carefully maneuvering through the clustered maze of all the captured aliens so as not to get a nasty surprise by a stray inner jaw, the warriors get to Clef & gasp to see as to why Lady Aska was worried.

Clef was bleeding in his chest!

"Master Mage Clef!", Ferio shouted, bending down to his side & placing a hand alongside his with pressure to help slow the bleeding.

"I…received a cut across the chest, but…I'll be all right", Clef assures him. "It's but a mere scratch. Nothing more."

Unsure of what to say, Ferio just nods.

"But all thing considered, it coulda been much worse", Caldina said.

"We hear ya, Caldina", Tatra said. "But now we see as ta why Geo led us all here, & because o' him, we're all still alive!"

"And how!", Tarta said. "That was a brilliant plan, Geo! We owe ya one for it!"

"Don't forget to thank Zazu as well", Geo said. "While it was I who started this thing, it was him who went & finished it up for me. We brought these with us when we came to live here over a year ago, but never got the chance to install them. Then, after the trouble with the aliens just two months ago, Zazu & I went to work on them straight away in case we should ever get attacked by these monsters again."

"You just never got the chance to deploy it until now, huh?", Lafarga wondered.

"Well, Lafarga, those aliens did catch us by surprise just like last time", Ascot said matter of factly. "And our magic was working, don't forget."

"After this is all over, I'll have to devise a way to make sure that Cephiro doesn't get caught off-guard by these things ever again", Geo promised.

"But what amazes me is that only the aliens were caught in your trap & not us, Geo", Presea deducted.

"That's because Zazu & I had them tuned in to the alien's genetics, Presea. We took a piece of alien skin & did a biological readout of their DNA, & adapted our trap to ensure that they'd go after them, & not us. And besides, why bother constructing a trap if you're going to be caught in it yourself, right?"

Presea nods with a smile. "Point taken."

"But how long can your binds keep these aliens in place, Geo?", Lady Aska wondered.

"For as long as I want to, little lady", Geo says. "Even if it means keeping them here from now until the end of time, they'll stay snug & secure within their binds. Trust me, they ain't going anywhere!"

"That makes two of you, Autozamian!", said a growling, angry voice.

Geo & the others turned to the sound, & they are all greeted with the most unwelcome of surprises—three of them.

"Ankylla!", Geo spat at the dinosaurian who spoke that got their attention.

"Terradaclys!", Lafarga barked.

"Megalas!", Tarta & Tatra said in unison with a snarl.

All of them readied their weapons as the three dinosaur warriors stepped closer, eyeing the captured aliens with caution & keeping Clef & company within sight as well.

"Stupid humans!", Megalas growled. "Do you think you've won just because you snagged our alien troops with your little trick?"

"It's just too damn bad that you reptiles weren't among them!", Ascot barked. Megalas let out an angry growl in response, scowling.

Damn! Ascot has a point!, thought Geo. It's too bad the tendrils weren't tuned in to their DNA, or this would truly be over right now!

"Don't you get it now?", Ferio snapped. "We're never going to allow the birthing of an alien version of ourselves, let alone be conquered by the likes of you!"

"Has your last visit here to Cephiro so many years ago taught you nothing?", Lafarga says with his sword raised. "As long as we reside here, you will never vanquish all that we hold near & dear to us on this world!"

"Now, y'all wanna be smart & get the hell off o' Cephiro while ya still have the chance, or ya wanna be stupid & forfeit your lives?", Caldina says coldly. "You choose!"

"Last chance!", Presea said firmly. "Leave Cephiro now & we'll spare you, provided you never return! If you don't, you three will get it right between your cold-blooded eyes!"

The three dinosauroids look at each other as if to consolidate, then stared at their foes again.

"You're all welcome to try, human!", Megalas mocks. "But you should realize just how fast we are! There's no way any of you will get that lucky with us as you did with Tri-ton & Stegron before!"

"You know something? You could be right, Megalas!", Geo said with a smirk. From behind his back, he pulls out a concealed pistol & draws it with near-lightning speed, firing off a really powerful round. It would have blown the dinosauroid's head clean off his shoulders, had that been Geo's intended target. But instead, he aims & fires it at the alien cluster closest to the dinosaurian trio. The shot splatters an alien's chest, & the acid blood sprays out like a fountain.

Right onto the dinosauroids themselves!

Lafarga gets the idea, & he swings his sword with ferocity, using the simple wind pressure of his swing to cut more of the aliens & release their deadly bodily fluids, bathing both Megalas & Ankylla in it. Even the ankylosauroid's tough shell is no defense against the alien blood, & he screams his death throes with his partner as their flesh & bones melt before Cephiro's guardians.

"Filthy fucking humans!", Megalas manages to get out before the damage was too severe on him. "I will tear your hearts out from your chests & eat them!"

"You'll do nothing of the kind, reptile!", Clef says in a cold voice, despite the wound to his chest. "Except die!"

Geo & Lafarga keep up their assault on the trapped aliens, killing as many as they can with their sword & gun, spraying their foes with yellow acid. More & more, Megalas & Ankylla melt in a gruesome fashion as their persons dissolve in puddles of sickening ichor. Soon, their screams of pain become garbled sounds, & where once there stood two mighty reptilian warriors was now a pair of smoking & still-dissolving corpses.

But through it all, Terradaclys had managed to escape into the air, having been spared the fate of his companions due to his ability to fly.

"Lousy pigeon!", Geo barked angrily, pointing his weapon skywards in an attempt to bring down the next to last member of Tyrannix's group. He fires vehemently at the pterosauroid with deadly accuracy, but as sharp as Geo was on the draw, Terradaclys was even more so in the air as he dodges every single shot being fired upon him, being in his element.

Terradaclys lets out a mocking laugh before becoming deadly once more.

"Foolish fleshbags!", he spat. "You will all pay with your lives for this treachery! I shall begin by gutting you like fish with my bare claws & beak before eating your insides!"

"Like hell you will, you bad bird!", shouted a low-pitched but powerful female voice.

Terradaclys turns to who it was that called out to him. He gets a glimpse of Primera heading right towards him at top speed, having no time to avoid her charge. And where the little fairy does charge into Terradaclys is his right reptilian eyeball, ramming her left foot straight into his cornea & iris, causing ichor to squirt from the impact. The pterosauroid yells out in anguish, & the sudden impact causes him to lose his balance & tumble to the ground like an airplane that just went out of control. Primera manages to get her foot from out of the creature's eyeball but could not avoid crashing with him, landing only two-&-a-half feet away from the fallen Terradaclys. The one-eyed reptile puts his right hand to his eye as it continues to bleed vigorously from its socket & stares at the fallen fairy with utter loathing, giving her the chills.

"You little fairy bitch!", Terradaclys spat furiously. "I shall enjoy crushing you in my bare hand & watch you become a bloody pulp just before I swallow you whole!"

"Says you, pigeon!", said another female voice.

Again the pterosauroid turns to see who the newcomer is, & this time it was Hikaru, who runs at the fallen flying lizard & swings her sword, cutting through Terradaclys' tendons & part of his right wing, causing him to yell in pain for a second time in a row as the red-haired Magic Knight scoops up Primera with her free hand & takes her to safety. Like bats, a pterosaur with a ripped/torn wing cannot fly, & with his hamstring in the back of his legs sliced to the bone, the winged reptile was literally grounded, becoming easy pickings for his foes.

Right where Hikaru wanted him.

"Now, Lantis!", she shouted.

Lantis called forth his 'Lightning Bolt Assault' attack, & shot a powerful blast of lightning directly at a cluster of captured aliens. To Terradaclys' dismay, he was laying right in the center of the aliens Lantis was shooting at, & the creatures were blasted to bits & pieces, spraying their acid blood all over the crippled pterosauroid, & now he gets to join his fallen comrades—Megalas & Ankylla—in the same gruesome death they'd been given moments before.

Lantis, along with Mokona, Umi & Fuu, race up to rejoin all their friends.

"Hikaru!", Geo said.

"Umi!", Tarta & Tatra said.

"Fuu!", Lady Aska said.

"Glad ta see y'all are still among the livin'!", Caldina says proudly. "Ah thought that queen had put your lights out as we were retreatin'."

"I guess we could say the same about you all when these aliens went after you", Umi said. "I see you all had things well in hand, thank god."

"Fortunately, the alien queen has been dealt with, & Elder Chang Ang & all the kids have run off for safety", Fuu added. "But you all have taken quite the beating by the aliens, especially Sir Clef, I see!"

"Like I told them, it's not that bad, Fuu", Clef said, rising from the ground with help from his staff. "Just a mere scratch, is all."

"Even a 'mere scratch' can lead to a big infection, Sir Clef. All of you, gather round."

Lafarga & the rest do as Fuu suggested, & the light brown-haired Magic Knight conjures up her 'Winds of Healing' spell & heals all the wounds everyone received when the aliens had them at their mercy before Geo had sprung his trap. After the glitter show, they all feel rejuvenated & refreshed, as much as if they had just taken a soothing bath.

"Much obliged, little missy", Caldina praised. "That sure felt good."

"Way to go, Fuu!", Ascot praised.

"Again, I & the rest are in your debt, Fuu", said Clef.

Nods from the others confirm Clef's words.

"You're all so very welcome", Fuu said proudly, turning serious again. "Now, all we need to do is find those fiends Shinzeta & Tyrannix! As long as they continue to roam free, they…"

Fu gasped in horror when she sees something she shouldn't, or rather she should, but isn't where it ought to be. This caused concern from Clef & the rest.

"Fuu, what is it? Is something wrong?", the Master Mage asked.

"Sir Clef, look at your hands!", the Magic Knight said.

"What about my hands, Fuu? Do you see anything wrong with…"

Clef was checking his hands as he spoke, then the realization hit him, & when it did, it had done so like a ton of bricks. Lantis & the others gather closer to discover what it was that has Fuu & Clef scared so. Then they see it themselves, & their hearts began pounding madly, & their nerves went on end.

Clef's ring—the one that would allow him access to the pillar room—was gone from his finger!

"Those devils!", Lafarga growled. "They obviously must've taken it from you at the time we were all slated for impregnation before, Master Mage!"

"Yes, & until Fuu discovered it just now, I hadn't even realized it myself! Dammit!", cursed Clef.

"Then that means that any one of Tyrannix's soldiers could've had it on them, & we may have destroyed it when we killed Megalas & the others just now!", Tatra said.

"No, Princess Tatra", Lantis corrected her. "The ring such as Master Mage Clef wears would be undamaged by something like the alien's acidic blood. Secondly, I do not believe that either Shinzeta or Tyrannix would entrust it to any one of their troops."

"Then that must mean that Shinzeta or Tyrannix themselves have it!", Hikaru said. "And have probably headed to the pillar room even as we speak!"

"What's the big deal about that?", Tarta asked as they look at her. "Ah mean, from what ah learned of the pillar, any enemy with evil intentions who enters that room loses their life, right? Ah bet those two are committing suicide by entering there, yes?"

"That might be true, Tarta, but we still can't take that chance!", Umi says. "If they have even the slightest bit of success, then all of us—and Cephiro—are done for!"

"Not to mention Autozam & countless other worlds afterwards if they are successful!", Fuu adds. "From what Sir Geo told us, I'm quite positive they'll want revenge on his home as well!"

"I don't doubt that, Fuu!", Geo says. "We need to stop them before that happens!"

"Then I'll go", said Lantis. "Aside from Master Mage Clef's ring, my sword will also allow me access to the pillar room."

"Count me in as well, Lantis!", Geo says, clenching one hand into a rock-hard fist. "Like you, I got a score to settle with that reptilian bastard!"

"I'll accompany you also!", Presea said.

"Count us in as well!", Hikaru, Umi, & Fuu said simultaneously.

Lantis nodded.

"I thought as much, Magic Knights", he said. "The six of us will head to the pillar while the rest of you…"

"Leave the extermination of these aliens to us, Lantis", Lafarga said. "Go. Make sure neither Shinzeta nor Tyrannix get what they want."

Lantis nodded again as Zazu enters the room.

"Geo!", he calls out.

"Zazu! Are the kids all safe?", Ferio asked.

"I instructed them to head for the emergency shelters!", he replied, putting Ferio & the rest at ease even further.

"Zazu!", Geo says, scooping his young partner up in one arm & patting/rubbing his head. "I & the others here owe you a huge debt of gratitude! I asked you to finish installing this special trap in case we were ever attacked by these aliens again, & you came through with flying colors! I knew I could count on you! And now, I got another job for you!"

"What's that, Geo?", Zazu says as Geo placed him down again.

"Those metal bands that Tyrannix & his fiends placed on Master Mage Clef & Ascot—you think you can remove them without triggering an explosion?"

Zazu looks at the aforementioned bands & studies them, considering the possibilities.

"It'll be tricky, Geo! Aside from the fatal blast if I try, there might be other booby traps those devils may have added to them! One false move &…who knows?"

"It'll be tough, I'm sure, but I'm counting on you to remove them safely!"

"I'll do my absolute best, Geo!", Zazu said, giving his trademark thumbs-up.

"I expected nothing less from you, Zazu!", Geo said as he, Presea, & the Magic Knights stood in a small group with Lantis as the Autozamian tosses his gun to Caldina, who catches it with ease. "Take care of our pest problem, folks! We six have got bigger fish to fry!"

Caldina & the rest nod as suddenly a bright flash of white light engulfs the six warriors in a sphere, shining for several moments before disappearing altogether, taking them along with it.

Lantis, Geo, Presea, & the Magic Knights are gone & on their way to the pillar room.

May Princess Emeraude be with you six, Clef said to himself, praying for their success, as does everyone else.

Now it was all up to them in a race against time, something they may not have much of to begin with.

CHAPTER IX

The Pillar Room:

Despite reaching their primary goal, Tyrannix wasn't all that happy.

From his wrist gauntlet, he was watching a holographic display of the battle between their aliens & the guardians of Cephiro from both Residential Quarters of the castle. Losing the alien queen to the Magic Knights was bad enough, but seeing the other aliens lose to such a trap the Autozamians installed & watching as his own warriors get dissolved by the alien's acidic blood had boiled Tyrannix's. Even Lady Shinzeta hadn't been too pleased with the outcome to both the scenarios: their wishes of getting magic-wielding aliens to command has all gone down the drain indefinitely. The only consolation to that is they went to the pillar room to avoid the fate of the aliens and Tyrannix's troops, having done so shortly after the aliens charged Clef & his group.

But both warriors—humanoid & dinosaurian—put aside their detest of the matter & were now concentrating on their ultimate goal, which now stared right in front of them.

And after having disposed of the hidden defenses within the large, round, brick room which were installed after the castle's refurbishment (i.e., laser guns, for instance), there was nothing to oppose them.

They stand only fifteen feet away from their prize.

"Well, Tyrannix, the time has finally come at last!", Shinzeta said, Clef's ring on her finger.

"It most certainly has, Lady Shinzeta!", Tyrannix says with pride. "Once we have the power of the pillar in our possession, I'll be able to resurrect my army of dinosauroids I've lost during our battle with both this world & Autozam, getting our revenge after so many years!"

"And I can use it to make our next batch of aliens invincible & have them run loose on the Magic Knight's homeworld, savoring the satisfaction of seeing the world they love so much get ruined by these merciless horrors!"

"Hmmm! Have the aliens invade the Magic Knight's home? Even I wouldn't have thought of doing that! But a good idea is a good idea! We'll place that in our 'to do' list!"

Shinzeta & Tyrannix bellow a loud maniacal laugh, picturing the carnage in their minds on all three worlds. Their joyous occasion was abruptly cut short as Tyrannix was suddenly attacked from behind by a bolt of lightning, striking him in the back & pushing him forcefully forward on his reptilian face. He stops inches away from the pillar's door entrance, his armor absorbing the brunt of the blast; were it not for that, the tyrannosauroid would probably be toast now.

Aside from Master Mage Clef, Tyrannix knew there was only one person capable of such an attack, as he & Shinzeta turn to see that very individual staring at them from twenty-five feet away.

"Lantis!", he growled.

"Your plans to invade our three worlds will never happen, reptile!", the Master Swordsman says crystal clearly, as Geo, Presea, & the Magic Knights stand by his side. "Just as the power of the pillar will never become yours—or hers! Now get up!"

Amazingly, Tyrannix complies with Lantis' order & walks up to Shinzeta, keeping his hands in plain sight. Both keep grins on their faces, like it was all a big joke.

Lantis & the others watch them like hawks would do to mice before swooping down to catch & devour them.

"So, it's all been about obtaining the power of the pillar, wasn't it?", Fuu states. "Cloning your troops, disguising them as foster parents for the kids, impregnating them with aliens, trying the same with us, it was all a distraction! This was your real pourpose in coming to Cephiro!"

"Very good, Fuu!", Shinzeta said. "Yes, the power of the pillar is the main reason as to why we're here—and we aim to get it, no matter what!"

"It won't work for either one of you, Shinzeta!", Presea said. "Even if we don't stop you in trying to obtain the power, the pillar itself will! Only those who are worthy enough to become Cephiro's next pillar can even come close to entering that room! Should either of you try…"

"Yes, Master Smith, Tyrannix & I are well aware of the conditions for entering! Just as I'm also well aware of the fact that Hikaru & the late Eagle Vision were the only two candidates of becoming the next pillar when Lady Debonair attacked after Princess Emeraude's final wish had been granted by the Magic Knights themselves! Tell me, girls—do you still feel guilty now as you were when you murdered Cephiro's Princess?"

The Magic Knights were not intimidated at the guilt trip of killing Princess Emeraude when they had to, but were curious as to how she found out about it, especially since they've never met her before this day.

"Forget it, Shinzeta!", Hikaru said firmly. "We all went through that emotional rollercoaster once, & we're not going on that particular ride again! But I still don't get it as to how you knew of that, since this is the first time we've made your acquaintance, much to our dismay!"

"Like I told you before, Hikaru, I know you, Umi, & Fuu better than you three do!", Shinzeta says. "Like I know how angry you & Umi must've felt when you discovered that message aboard the traitorous Bio Metro's ship, seeing as to how the people of Cephiro were expendable in order for them to make a profit in delivering the alien queen they captured to bring to their mysterious employer!"

Now that was something that took the girls, Presea, Geo, & Lantis by surprise.

"How…how do you even know of that, Shinzeta?", Umi asked. "You make it sound as if you were actually there!"

"And how the hell did you know of my brother's betrayal to us all, witch?", Geo demanded with a clenched fist.

That's when Tyrannix started letting out a boisterous laugh, as if he'd heard the funniest joke in all his life.

It made Geo even more pissed off.

"What the fuck is so funny, you goddamn lizard?", he spat.

"Foolish Autozamian!", Tyrannix says with a wide grin. "Who the hell do you think was willing to pay your brother & his friend Kaza Rosque for trying to get an alien queen for us?"

This bit of news really hit the group hard in the face, but it hurt more like a punch in the gut than a slap. For several seconds, none of them could move, let alone speak as the revelation left them paralyzed with denial.

I…I don't believe this!, Geo said to himself. My brother & Kaza…?

That's when the realization hit Umi.

"Now I get it!", she says. "That message we saw on Bio's ship—the RXT—the mysterious 'T' they were talking to! That was you? All this time, those two traitors had been associating with you?"

"Bingo, Magic Knight!", Tyrannix says with his grin still wide.

The six warrior's blood was rising to a boiling point, but still kept their posture & their cool as there were some things they've yet to know.

"But I don't understand it!", Presea said. "How were you even able to get in possession of the aliens when Treece had blown up the RXT before it can even leave Cephiro? Unless…"

"Unless you had an alien queen all along…didn't you?", Lantis says coldly. "All those people dead the last time those monsters arrived here, coaxing Bio Metro & Kaza Rosque to stab us all in the back by promising them a huge sum of money by capturing a queen to bring to you for your scheme…you caused all that! Bio & Kaza were useless to you, after all!"

"Not entirely useless, Lantis!", Tyrannix says. "They did provide us via teleportation vital blood samples from three most important individuals…namely the Magic Knights!"

Hikaru, Umi, & Fuu wondered what he meant, as they were more confused than ever.

"How did you even get samples of our blood without us knowing about it?", Fuu demands.

That's when the answer struck Geo.

"I believe I know how, Fuu!", he said. "Bio must've used our little mechanical needle bugs to do it! They're no bigger than an ant, & they have the tiniest needles so thin, you won't even feel yourself get pinched! We use them mainly to deliver medicines or to get samples when we need to!"

"Then that's probably how Bio & Kaza made Master Mage Clef sick that time, so he'd be much too weak to use his magic against them—or the aliens!", Lantis added.

"That's right! I should've known that before!", Geo said, putting a hardened fist in his hand.

"And Bio & Kaza probably collected the Magic Knight's blood when they had kept us all captive in the arboretum, or even when Hikaru, Umi, & Fuu fought those two alien queens in the Residential Quarters—or when they were aboard the RXT!", Presea added.

"And the results of the three collected samples are right here!", Tyrannix said, gesturing his hand at Shinzeta, finally adding the final piece of the puzzle.

It was another shock to Cephiro's guardians.

"You mean to tell us that Shinzeta…", Lantis began to say.

"Was created from the Magic Knights themselves?", Presea concluded.

"So you were…spawned from us?", Fuu asked.

"Isn't she a beauty?", Tyrannix says. "A flawless combination of human & alien DNA all rolled up into the fine warrior she is, whom you see before you!"

"So Shinzeta is…part Magic Knight & part alien?", Hikaru asked.

"I get it!", said Umi. "Because of her alien DNA, that's how she was able to have the aliens behave less like mindless beasts & more like trained soldiers, unlike last time!"

"Yes, Magic Knight!", Tyrannix said. "Her alien genes allow the creatures to recognize her as rather a mother, like they would a queen! Thus, they will obey her commands without question as was evident before! But most of all, because she also possesses the DNA of Hikaru—the only person who was chosen to be the next pillar, aside from Eagle Vision—she is perfect in obtaining the power of the pillar without trouble! Once she does, she will share that power with me!"

Lantis, Presea, & the Magic Knights draw their swords as Geo clenched his fists tightly.

"Like Lantis told you before, Tyrannix—that's not going to happen!", Presea said.

"And don't think you'll get help from either your warriors or the aliens!", Umi said. "The last three—Terradaclys, Ankylla, & Megalas—all met their fate with splashes of acid, & even as we speak, Clef & the others are exterminating all your precious aliens which we got trapped!"

"Oh no, Miss Ryuuzaki, you didn't get all of our aliens!", Shinzeta says, placing her left hand over to the left wall of the pillar room. At her whim, a ball of yellow energy six feet tall emerges & disappears. When it does, Hikaru & the others can see something curled up in a ball before it begins to rise slowly but surely on its feet. It made a growling noise as it did, & a sudden chill went up Fuu's spine.

That sound!, she thought. I've heard it before! Right outside where…

As Shinzeta said, it was another alien, only this one was a little different in appearance. As it rose to its full height, the half-dozen warriors can see its features clearly. It had a body just like the other aliens, if only with a different tone in skin in spots of a sickly flesh color. Its head was like that of an alien queen, but much smaller in scale & had on the both sides of it something that resembled hair of some sort. At the front of its face were extra mandibles, highly resembling that of an insect or, more likely, a crab, which opened & closed like a hideous flower. Fresh saliva was dripping from its mandibles, & its low growl sent their nerves on edge as much as its appearance was doing.

"A magnificent creature, is it not?", Tyrannix says proudly. "Say hello to the PredAlien, an interesting & fascinating hybrid of an Alien & a Predator!"

"Predator?", Hikaru wondered. "What kind of predator do you mean, reptile?"

"The Predators are a race of alien hunters, my dear Magic Knight! They roam the galaxy in search of only the best, most ferocious prey to hunt, & no other species gives them more of a thrill than the aliens themselves do! We've been wary of their obsession of finding & hunting those vicious beasts for a good long time, & we wondered what would happen if one had actually been impregnated with one & hatched!"

"So you kidnapped one of those 'Predators' & got it impregnated with an alien embryo to give birth to this, just to pique your curiosity?", Umi snapped.

"And all mine to command, like the other aliens had been!", Shinzeta says. "He will act as my bodyguard while I enter the pillar room & seize its power for Tyrannix & I to share!"

"Is that so?", Fuu asks mockingly & menacingly. "Well, Miss Shinzeta, we beg to differ! If you believe this alien hybrid of sorts is going to stand in our way of stopping you from entering the pillar room, you & Tyrannix are both sorely mistaken!"

"Fuu speaks for us all!", Umi firmly stated. "This is as far as you get!"

"No, Magic Knights! We beg to differ!", Tyrannix says, as Shinzeta points towards the girls & their friends. This gave the PredAlien the signal to commence its attack, letting out a loud roar before following its order.

"Presea & I got this creature!", Lantis says, as both ready the thing's charge.

"The three of us will handle Shinzeta!", Hikaru says, getting nods from her two friends.

"Good! That lizard bastard is all mine!", Geo growled.

Cephiro's guardians rushed with their weapons drawn to their acquired targets, & it became pure pandemonium in the pillar room. Shinzeta readied her twin swords & drew a single golden energy blade from the one on her right hand, while the one she had in her left had sprouted two energy blades at both ends. After avoiding the deadly tail of the PredAlien, Geo rushed like a bull at Tyrannix, who drew his own sword but was decimated by the Autozamian after snatching it from his reptilian grip & smashing it against the wall into little pieces. The PredAlien was about to assist the tyrannosauroid, but Lantis & Presea got its attention when the former shot a bolt of lightning at it for them to deal with.

"Forget about them, creature!", Lantis barked.

"Your business is with us!", Presea added.

It worked like a charm: the PredAlien completely ignored Geo and the Magic Knights & ran over to Zagato's younger brother & the Master Smith, growling its anger for being attacked by Lantis' bolt. It didn't cause too much damage to the thing, merely a graze, but made it pissed off enough to focus its full attention towards them. If this were any other room anywhere in the castle or out, Lantis would finish it off with a powerful blast & blow it to bits with one shot from his sword. But because they were in the pillar room, he does not with to cause any unnecessary damage, let alone make it any easier for Shinzeta to enter the room & collect the pillar's ultimate power within.

But that still doesn't mean that he'll go easy on it either.

Unfortunately, the same thing applies to the PredAlien: with a swipe of its hand & a swing of its tail, the PredAlien attempted to knock Lantis' head off his shoulders & slash Presea in her chest to cut her in half. It happened so fast that both warriors barely managed to avoid their fates by ducking & putting some distance from the hybrid.

Good heavens! This hybrid is just as fast & deadly as any one of the other aliens that we've fought!, Presea said to herself. Like before, I'd better keep my distance & make sure it doesn't get its hands on me, as it won't hesitate to kill either one of us!

The PredAlien charges again, & Lantis & Presea swing their swords.

With deadly accuracy, Shinzeta swings her twin swords at the Magic Knights as the girls do the same with theirs in expertly fashion. Hikaru, Umi, & Fuu swing, slash, & even stab at Shinzeta repeatedly in an attempt to bring down their 'spawn' & prevent her from achieving her goal. But no matter how expertly the trio use their weapons, Shinzeta expertly blocks & avoids every strike made at her. Like Lantis, none of the girls wished to use their magic against any of their foes, for fear of giving them easy access to the pillar or even hitting their friends with a stray shot in such a confined space, as it was tough enough because of it. In a bit of irony, this particular scenario had reminded Hikaru of one of the 'Star Wars' movies, where two Jedi warriors were battling a Sith that had a double lightsaber similar to what Shinzeta was now wielding, only the blades were red instead of gold.

She couldn't recall which one it was, but she knows that now was not the time to reminisce about movies which take place in a galaxy far, far away. If she, Umi, & Fuu don't put the brakes to her insidious plan to possess the power of the pillar, she won't reminisce about anything, much less have a home to do so in.

She keeps the pressure on Shinzeta, hoping to find an opening in her defense.

But so far, neither she, Umi, nor Fuu can find one, as their spawn continues to block & avoid every strike made at her.

"You're good, Shinzeta! I'll give you that!", Umi said.

"Oh, I'm better than good, Umi!", Shinzeta says with a sinister smirk. "I'm your superiors! As an old song from your world goes, 'Anything you can do, I can do better'!"

"We'll have to see about that, Miss Shinzeta!", Fuu said firmly. "There's no way we'll let you destroy the things we hold near & dear to our hearts on our homeworld!"

"Says you, Miss Hououji!"

Their swordfight got even more intense.

With the strength of a prize fighter, Geo Metro threw numerous punches at Tyrannix, hitting him in the chest (putting many dents in his armor) & face, causing many cuts & big black-&-blue marks all over. He even caused the tyrannosauroid to lose a few of his sharp, pointed teeth from his maw. But even as Geo had disarmed him & knocked Tyrannix down to the ground & was now pounding the living daylights out of him, the dinosauroid showed his defiance as he spit up blood to the side.

"Ha! Is that all you've got, Autozamian?", Tyrannix mocks him with a grin. "I'll bet that young one—Zazu—can give me more of a fight than you can!"

"Now you're really pissing me off, lizard!", Geo spat, resuming his punches on Tyrannix as he gives it his all, his fists being splattered with reptilian blood with each strike. The dinosauroid could no doubt take even more than what he's just received by his human adversary, but enough was enough. Like a cobra, Tyrannix's tail wrapped around Geo's left bicep just as he was about to deliver another powerful blow. This distracted him long enough for the tyrannosauroid to go & grab him by his throat with his own left hand, thus slamming Geo to the wall & keeping him pinned to it. Try as he might, Geo could not pry the reptile's fingers loose, & no amount of blows from his fists could force him to either.

Tyrannix literally had the Autozamian up the wall.

"You always were a tough individual, Geo Metro!", the tyrannosauroid says. "It's no wonder as to why your late commander Eagle Vision kept you by his side up until his very end! I can still painfully recall the time he led the assault melee which wiped out all but a few of us when we had invaded Autozam all those years ago! My only regret about Eagle's death at the hands of the Rune God Regalia is that I won't be ale to feast upon his flesh! But I'm sure that you'd make a fine substitute!"

"Sorry, lizard-lips! But I've got other plans, & they don't include me being on your personal menu!", Geo says, taking out a thin object from his breast pocket. It resembled a pen, & is actually a pen: pressing a button, Geo squirts Tyrannix in the face with its black, inky contents that makes his vision vague, thereby releasing his prisoner.

"I suppose you've never heard of the old phrase, 'The pen is mightier than the sword or guns', have you, Tyrannix?", Geo says before raising his tone & charging his foe again, who was busy getting the ink out of his sight. "And you don't ever speak of Eagle Vision like that! Do you hear me?"

Geo's fistfight with Tyrannix begins anew.

Small craters were left behind from each & every one of the PredAlien's landings of both its feet & hands as it tries to rip, tear, slash, or pummel Lantis & Presea. Even with their swords to give them some protection, both warriors were having difficulty in dealing with the hybrid, having only so much as to give it a few nicks on its body, not even close to slowing it down. As Presea stated to herself before, the PredAlien was just as fast & relentless as any of its brethren, & it had nothing to do with the extra features on its person, i.e. the crab-like mandibles or the 'hair' it had sprouted from the sides of its head.

The PredAlien spread out its arms & unleashed another hideous roar before charging both Lantis & Presea again, attacking with its tail & sharp claws. Lantis & Presea kept their swords in front of them to make sure the thing can't get too close unless it wishes to lose a finger or two, or maybe even an entire limb. But the thing was more clever than to try a foolish tactic like that, & didn't take any unnecessary chances.

It knows it has to disarm them first.

The PredAlien makes another attempt at a frontal attack by lunging forward, but it had been a ruse: as Lantis & Presea take a swipe at the creature with their weapons, the thing swings with its tail like a whip, aiming it straight for their swords. The sudden hit had stung both the warrior's wrists, & their swords went flying from their grips. It was the moment the monster was waiting for; before either warrior can make another move, the PredAlien rushed at Lantis, grabbing him by his shoulders with its powerful arms & slammed him against the wall, the impact causing bricks & debris to scatter.

Presea wasn't so lucky either: when the hybrid wen after Lantis head-on, the PredAlien had wrapped the Master Smith with its tail around her waist like the alien queen had done to Hikaru earlier before. Its hold on her was tight & firm, giving Presea trouble getting air into her lungs as she tried desperately to pry the thing's snakelike tail off. But she had no more success at it than Hikaru, & she was starting to see spots in her vision as the monster's tail was now beginning to squeeze the life out of her, making her breathing all the more difficult.

Lantis was having problems of his own, having been facing the front of the creature as the PredAlien opens its mouth in preparation for launching its inner jaws at the Master Swordsman & ram it in his head for an instant death. The thing shot its inner mouth at Lantis with incredible speed, but he was able to avoid the impact by swiftly tilting his head to the right before contact could be made. The PredAlien retracted its inner jaws & shot them out again, but this time Lantis dodged it again by moving his head to the left. Over & over, the monster kept shooting its inner mouth at its enemy, but each time Lantis had dodged each strike & avoided death. But sooner or later, the PredAlien was going to get lucky & splatter Lantis' brains all over the place, not to mention Presea will be crushed to death within its tail, & the swordsman knows it.

It was time to take the offensive.

In a swift maneuver, Lantis brought his knees to his chest & used both feet to push his alien foe off him with all his strength using a powerful kick to its chest. The PredAlien was caught off-guard by this attack, & it forced it to release Presea from its python-like crushing grip. The Master Smith hit the floor gasping for air in her lungs as Lantis scooped her up in his arm just as the beast's tail stabed where the two of them had been only a split-second ago, kicking up a small fountain of rocks on the floor.

"Are you all right, Presea?", Lantis asked.

"I'll be okay, Lantis!", she said, still struggling to put fresh air into her lungs. "But we need to put this hybrid down & fast!"

"Then I guess it's time to take off the gloves!"

For the most time, Lantis would have to hope not to use such drastic actions in dispensing with their foes, being in the pillar room & all, but seeing as to how deadly the PredAlien is & how it nearly killed Presea & himself, he has no choice in the matter. Having regained his sword along with Presea, Lantis summons his 'Lightning Bolt Assault' & fires streams of lightning at the alien hybrid, being very careful not to hit either Geo or the Magic Knights in the process. Lantis' shots were powerful & aimed with complete accuracy, but even that did nothing to help him score even one hit on the PredAlien, which dodges & avoids every bolt it was thrown its way. All Lantis was hitting was the floor & walls of the pillar room, sending small showers of stone to fly in different directions.

Dammit! This alien also has a higher degree of inelligence like its brethren!, thought Lantis regretfully. I'd better try a different tactic if I'm going to have any success in bringing it down!

But Lantis doesn't get a chance to try something new in order to defeat the PredAlien: the creature swings its tail again, & this time it uses its point at the end of it to cut Lantis' forearm & draws a stream of blood which makes him lose his weapon. Presea calls out his name in concern & both get buffeted by the PredAlien when it wallops Lantis & Presea with its right arm in their chests, knocking them against a wall before they fall onto the ground, landing on their hands & knees.

The PredAlien spreads its arms & roars in triumph.

This did not go unnoticed by the Magic Knights & Geo Metro.

"Lantis!", Hikaru called out.

"Presea!", Umi & Fuu called out.

"Never mind about them, Magic Knights!", Shinzeta said, swinging her swords at her trio of enemies, which were all blocked. "You'd best pay more attention to me & this fight!"

"We don't discard our friends like you do, Shinzeta!", Hikaru snaps. "That's the difference between us!"

"That's right!", Umi said. "Our friends are not chess pieces to be sacrificed & then left for dead! That would make us just as cold-blooded as you & Tyrannix are!"

"And that is something we three shall never become, no matter what hardships we may face in life!", Fuu concludes. "But you wouldn't know about any of that, would you, Miss Shinzeta, even though you were spawned from our blood?"

"Then you three are fools!", Shinzeta said, using her swords to block the girl's latest attacks & push them away to give her some elbow room. Before Hikaru, Umi, or Fuu can attack their enemy again, Shinzeta places her palm in front of her & unleashes a strong gust of wind which knocks the girls back over to where Lantis & Presea have landed, crashing into them.

Geo receives a similar treatment by Tyrannix, as the tyrannosauroid grabs the Autozamian by his shirt & hauls him over his reptilian head before getting heaved & thrown at the floor near the other fallen warriors. Amazingly, Geo was able to pick himself up almost instantly despite the bruises he'd received from Tyrannix. Lantis, Presea, & the Magic Knights also rise from the floor to renew their assault on Shinzeta, Tyrannix, & the PredAlien.

"I guess it shouldn't surprise us too much that you possess the same magical abilities as we do, Miss Shinzeta!", Fuu says.

"But don't think that just because you do, it means that you can still defeat us!", Umi said.

"So why don't we find out just whose magic isstronger, shall we?", Hikaru says, placing her hands together for a 'Ruby Lightning' attack. Umi & Fuu also prepare their hands for a magical attack of their own as the warriors all stand side-by-side with each other, ready to give the girls any backup.

But Shinzeta was quicker on the draw: sensing itself in danger, the PredAlien withdraws over to her & Tyrannix as Shinzeta unleashes a blast of freezing snow & ice, hitting the half-dozen warriors as their legs get covered in thick ice that goes up as far as their hips & reaces up to & trapping their forearms along with it. The six guardians fought, struggled, & even wriggled themselves to get loose of their ice shackles, but it was no use—the ice held them firmly in place.

Unable to use magic because of their predicament, they were as good as trapped.

"Don't you three get it yet?", Shinzeta says. "I am you, & I can outdo you in everything! No matter how hard you girls may try, you can never defeat me, or to be more precisely, you girls can never defeat yourselves! But don't worry: I have no intentions of killing you just yet! I'll allow you three to live so that you may watch as your beloved Earth gets overrun by multitudes of aliens as they wipe your race out & everything on it!"

Shinzeta & Tyrannix share a boisterous guffaw for several moments.

"It's over, Magic Knights!", Tyrannix says. "You & your friends have lost, & now we shall consume the power of the pillar & use it to first get our revenge on your world, Cephiro, & most especially Autozam before we spread fear throughout the galaxy & conquer it!" He turns to his human ally. "Lady Shinzeta, I believe it is time."

She nods.

"Yes, Tyrannix, it is", Shinzeta says, holding up Clef's ring on the index finger of her right hand, facing it. Putting her hand out in front of her, Shinzeta uses the ring to open the door as it dissapears & leads to the pillar—a room surrounded with water that is actually alive, with a small stone fountain placed in the center, & has a glowing crown on top which was suspended in midair.

"Let's go", she says, & Shinzeta & Tyrannix make their way towards the now-exposed pillar room, walking casually as if they were strolling through the park on a bright sunny day. Having been given no specific orders from Shinzeta, the PredAlien remains where it is & watches over them—and the trapped warriors.

Hikaru & her friends, trapped in ice, needed to think fast on what to do to try & prevent the unthinkable. Neither she nor her friends were all that sure on how; how can the Magic Knights defeat someone who was cloned from their blood & possesses all of the same magical abilities as they do, & then some? Time was running out, & Shinzeta & Tyrannix are now only yards away from their goal.

It was now or never.

Then it dawned upon Hikaru: there was perhaps a chance to escape their predicament & put a stop to it all, & maybe she & the others can do it without lifting a single finger. It was a pretty slim chance at that, but it's better than the alternative.

And it could be the only chance they have.

"Shinzeta, wait!", Hikaru calls to her. "Before you go in the pillar room, please listen to me!"

"Save your breath, Magic Knight!", Tyrannix says to her without facing her. "Lady Shinzeta is not interested in hearing you beg for…huh?"

Shinzeta gently places her hand on the front of his reptilian lips, silencing him.

"It's quite all right, Tyrannix", she tells him. "I'm somewhat…curious as to what one of my three 'parents' have to say to me."

Shinzeta starts walking back towards the captive Magic Knights & their friends. Tyrannix loathed it, but since victory was merely in his grasp, he could wait just a bit longer for ultimate power to be in his possession. Therefore, he complies & walks up with her.

Shinzeta gets to within ten feet from Hikaru & the others.

"What's on your mind…mother?", she mocks with a slight giggle.

Hikaru began.

"Shinzeta, if you really are a clone of Umi, Fuu, & myself & spawned from us three like you say you are, them you should also possess our good will & morals along with all of our magical abilities! Surely you must realize that what you're about to do is wrong to the fullest! Think for a moment, Shinzeta: do you honestly believe that any one of us would go & lay waste to a world & wipe it all out of existence? Do you think the three of us could stand to have billions of deaths on our conscience? Tyrannix & his reptilian warriors don't have any problems with causing that kind of disaster & could stand it easily, but could you?"

Shinzeta remained silent & still, but the girls, Geo, Presea, & Lantis can all tell that she was listening. It would seem that Hikaru has struck a cord with her, & now they want to see if they can take it one step further as Umi picks up where Hikaru left off.

"Shinzeta, Tyrannix may have cloned & made you from us & has made you a part of his team, but that still doesn't mean that he sees you as it! No matter what he may have said or done for or to you, the fact remains that you're still a human being, & like Clef said before, Tyrannix & his dinosaurian fiends have an unwavering loathing of humans! Can you look at him & still think or believe that he would see you as an ally, a partner, or even a friend? Once you obtain the power of the pillar & you share it with him, what do you think he's gonna do to you afterwards? As far as he & his race are concerned, the only good human is a dead and/or eaten one!"

Tyrannix did not like where the Magic Knights were going with their pep talk, so he quickly assesses the situation & attempts to swing things back his way.

"Don't listen to them, Lady Shinzeta!", he steps in. "Who was it who has given you life in the first place, & gave you a purpose—a meaning—for it? Who was it who made things clear for you when you were struck with all those visions you couldn't get out of your head? It was me, my dear! I was the one who did so for you! It was I who made you powerful & allowed you to lead us to our goal, which is now within our grasp! Are you going to let these pathetic beings cloud your judgement for you, especially now that we've achieved what we set out to do? Are you?"

Shinzeta stayed as still as a statue, unsure of what to say or do, giving Fuu a chance to say her piece.

"He's wrong, Miss Shinzeta! Tyrannix is the one who's clouding your judgement, not us! He created you for one purpose & one purpose only—to obtain the pillar's power & use it to rule all which is decent in the universe! Once that's completed, he'll discard you like a broken toy & even consume you as he would any other human! Can't you see? Like us, you're just food to him! That's all you are & ever will be to him & his race! Please, Miss Shinzeta, we beg you—open your eyes to the truth!"

Shut the fuck up, you Magic Knight whore!, Tyrannix says to himself.

By now, Shinzeta was utterly confused by all their words, & she puts a hand to her forehead as if feeling to see if she has a fever of some sort, which isn't entirely untrue when one thinks of it in that sense.

Tyrannix steps in to reassure her.

"Do not believe them, Lady Shinzeta! Do not believe anything they tell you! You are more than human, my dear—you are practically a god, & the power of the pillar can make you one! Will you allow these weak, flimsy mortals to take it away from you? From us?"

Now it was Presea who jumped into the foray.

"Shinzeta, we can tell that this is something you really do not wish to do, despite what that ravenous reptile has said to you! The Magic Knights are right—you do possess their good hearts & morality! Not only that, you have been given a god-given free will, & that's something no one can ever take from, let alone control, for you! This is your life, Shinzeta—not Tyrannix's! You just need to look deep within your own heart—look deep, & see that all the Magic Knights have just told you is nothing short of the truth! Once you do, it will all become clear!"

"Give it a rest, humans!", Tyrannix says, having heard enough tomfoolery by his foes. "Lady Shinzeta knows where her place is in life! She won't be deceived by…what?"

Shinzeta drops th the floor on her knees, her hands to her head. Hearing all the words from friend & foe alike has somewhat put her in a deluged state of mind, as suddenly flashes of pics & scenes come flooding back into her head: she sees images of not only aliens, but also the times the Magic Knights have shared from the first two times they've been summoned to Cephiro. Scenes like when the girls first befriended Clef, Presea, Ferio, Mira, as well as changed the evil ways of Ascot, Caldina, & even Lafarga when they served High Priest Zagato. Images of when they met all of the one-time invaders of Cephiro—Autozam, Chizeta, & Fahren—enter Shinzeta's mind, & she wasn't spared the thoughts & flashes of Hikaru's elder brothers & Hikari, Umi's beautiful/loving parents, or even Fuu's elder sister Kuu. Included in all of these mental photos were all the good deeds Hikaru, Umi, & Fuu had done to so many people throughout their lives, like offering some money to those less fortunate & assisting friends whenever they required it in any/every way.

These thoughts & images made Shinzeta breathe in ragged gasps, like she was suffering an asthma attack, & her eyes went wide.

"These thoughts…these images…", she was saying, "are they…what the Magic Knights are like…deep down? What…have I done?"

Impossible!, Tyrannix thought bitterly. I thought Dr. Coelophys had wiped all those useless memories from her mind when we created her! How is she able to recall what the Magic Knights went through in their own lives? What went wrong?

Suddenly, Shinzeta got up from the floor, one hand still on the side of her head.

"Shinzeta?", Lantis asked calmly. "Are you all right now?"

"Hey, little lady", Geo cuts in, "whatever crimes you may have committed against Cephiro & us, I'm sure Master Mage Clef & everyone else will forgive you for them once we explain all the details. Believe me, they'll be just as understanding as we are to you."

Nods from Lantis, Presea, & the Magic Knights back up Geo's statement.

"All these words…all these images in my mind…", Shinzeta says, troubled, "I…I don't know what to believe anymore! I…I'm so confused…it's so hard to think clearly…"

"Then allow me to make it clear for you, Lady Shinzeta!", Tyrannix says, grabbing her by the back of her neck with one hand in a tight grip. Unable to contain his patience & anger or keep it in check, the tyrannosauroid puts his face to hers & growls threateningly towards her.

"Put her down, Tyrannix!", Lantis barked at him.

The dinosaur warrior ignored him.

"Here's what you will be doing, my dear! You will enter the pillar room & absorb its power right down to the last drop! Once you do, you will share that power with me as planned! If you do not, or try anything funny to resist me, I will give you everlasting pain! Like so!"

Tyrannix punctuates his threat by placing his free hand upon Shinzeta's stomach & putting some pressure there with his claws, drawing thin streams of blood. Shinzeta lets out a fast scream before Tyrannix eases up.

Being trapped in their chains of ice, the Magic Knights & their friends can do nothing to help her.

"See? Not very pleasant, is it?", he goes on. "And that shall only be the beginning of your pain & suffering unless you do as I command you! So, what will it be, my dear? Will you be smart & carry out our plan as we discussed? Or are you going to be stupid & become a poor glutton for punishment?"

No one expected this kind of answer from Shinzeta.

"Go fuck yourself, reptile!", she spat.

"So be it, then!", Tyrannix growls. "A pity—we were going to rule the universe together, you & I! You could've had it all, my dear! Instead, you allow these pathetic humans to put such utter nonsense into your head!"

"I gues the truth really does hurt, doesn't it, Tyrannix?"

"Not as much as what I plan on doing to you, Lady Shinzeta! If you think that pinch I gave you before hurt, just wait until you see what I have in store for you as I…"

Everyone's attention was brung towards Tyrannix's threat to Shinzeta to the fullest, that no one paid any mind to the PredAlien standing by near the wall until it was growling, approaching silently until it was halfway over to Tyrannix & Shinzeta. It didn't seem too happy to be seeing Shinzeta being mistreated by the dinosauroid, & while it has a loyalty to the tyrannosauroid, it was Lady Shinzeta who the PredAlien was most obedient to, having sharing its DNA with it, like the other aliens that have attacked Cephiro on this day. Tyrannix & his band were mere seconds, & the creature takes precedence to Shinzeta over anything else.

Because of that, it sees Tyrannix now as a threat.

The tyrannosauroid turns to the PredAlien in time to watch it open its toothy maw, & his eyes go wide as the alien hybrid shoots forth its inner mouth at him. The entire top of Tyrannix's upper mouth right up to his eyes gets blown & shattered in a hideous mess of flesh, bone, & blood which splashes onto the floor & Shinzeta herself. In his death throes, Tyrannix lets out a gargled howl of pain that lasted for a few seconds before the PredAlien grabs him by what remains of his head with one hand & yanks it off with one sickening pull, taking the spinal column with it. The PredAlien raises the head of the dinosaurian above its own & lets out a roar of its victory, like it was showcasing its prize to rival hunters. With its other hand, the alien hybrid tosses Tyrannix's headless body away like a bag of trash, spraying blood across the floor as it lands near the pillar room, followed by the head & spinal column moments after.

The Magic Knights, Presea, Lantis, & Geo watch this spectacle of horror, unable to turn away from it, despite how terrible it may have appeared.

"What a horrible way to go", Hikaru says softly.

"Even for someone as cold-blooded as Tyrannix", Lantis added, also in a soft tone.

That got silent nods from Umi, Fuu, Geo, & Presea.

Having disposed of Shinzeta's would-be murderer, the PredAlien slowly approaches her as a concerned mother would do for any of her children, or vice versa. Shinzeta lay on the floor on her hands & knees after Tyrannix had forcefully dropped her, as the PredAlien gently caressed a strand of her lavender hair in a soothing fashion, growling very softly & flexing its mandibles.

What is it going to do to her?, Geo wondered, seeing this display of unusual compassion.

That same thought went through the rest of their heads.

Shinzeta—momentarily lost in a world of her own—takes notice of the PredAlien touching her & turns to it, opening its crab-like mandibles gingerly. At that moment, she became horrified by it, & in a swift motion, took her single-bladed sword & ignited it.

"Don't you TOUCH me!", she screamed, swinging her weapon at the PredAlien & ramming the blade into its chest. The alien hybrid let out a howl of anguish, being taken by surprise & not expecting an attack by its 'leader'.Shinzeta then gives the creature a powerful kick that sends it flying backwards, landing on its side with her sword sill embedded in its chest. After staring at it for several moments to make sure it wouldn't come back, Shinzeta was convinced it was dead.

Then, drawing the double-blades from her other sword, she makes her way towards Hikaru & company, unsure of what her intentions with her weapon are.

Seeing the worry in their facial expressions, Shinzeta puts them at ease.

"Fret not, people", she assures them with a smile. "I intend to use this sword to get you all free from your ice shackles, not lob your heads off."

This did put them at ease, & they all return her smile.

"Thank you, Miss Shinzeta", Fuu says. "It would seem that you have found the truth within you after all."

"Perhaps I have at that, Fuu", Shinzeta says, carefully cutting at the ice with her weapon as chunks get picked away. "Or perhaps I was merely tired of getting used by…"

"No, Shinzeta", Lantis said. "You looked deep into your heart & discovered the deception which Tyrannix had fed to you, & rose up to it. And as Geo told you before, Clef & the rest will be more than lenient towards you. You have my word on that."

"And like us, Lantis' word is as good as gold, Shinzeta", Presea said. "Because you helped to avert disaster this day, we may even make you one of us here on Cephiro. In fact, I'd count on it."

"You'd…actually do that for me?", Shinzeta asked, being surprised by the request. "After all I tried to…"

"Don't give it another thought, little lady", Geo said. "The only reason you helped Tyrannix & his lizard band was because you were made to. None of this is your fault in the slightest."

"I agree", Umi adds. "You may be a clone of Hikaru, Fuu & myself, but you're still a good-hearted person in our book. Somehow, we all knew there was one within you all along."

"And you all helped to bring it out in me before I did something I surely would've regretted for life", Shinzeta said, removing the ice from their hands & forearms with her weapon. Their arms free once more, they rub them to get the feeling back into them.

"No, Shinzeta. You brought out the good in you on your own", Hikaru said. "You could've easily ignored our words, but you didn't. You took them to heart, & because you did, you became a free person with the ability to make your own choices instead of having them made for you by a band of savage dinosaur people."

Shinzeta nodded.

"I suppose you're right, Hikaru", she said. "Now, let's get your legs free of that ice, shall we?"

"Sounds good, little lady", said Geo. "I think the feelng's gone out of mine by now!"

Geo & the rest share a little laugh from his remark, including Shinzeta herself, savoring the blissful moment.

Oh, how good it feels to laugh at something genuine, such as an innocent joke, Shinzeta says to herself.

"Just stay still, everyone", she says, deactivating her sword & placing it back on her holster before placing an open palm in front of her. "I'll have you all free in simply a matter of…"

No one was prepared for what came next.

Shinzeta was stabbed from behind as the PredAlien rammed its tail through her back & out her chest, penetrating armor, flesh & bone, spraying some of its contents on the faces of the still-trapped warriors as the point is clearly visible in her front. Shinzeta's eyes went wide from the pain & surprise, & blood ran from her wound, nose, & mouth.

"SHINZETA!", Hikaru, Umi, Fuu, Presea, Lantis, & Geo screamed, their own eyes agape with surprise & horror.

As it rose to its feet, the PredAlien took out the sword Shinzeta had rammed within its chest & threw it against the wall hard, smashing it to pieces & deactivating its energy blade. Standing once again, the alien hybrid slowly but surely pulls her closer to it, growling angrily, feeling more than a little betrayed by her sword attack on it; although the PredAlien can sense the alien DNA in Shinzeta & has followed her orders before, it didn't mean that it was a forgiving creature when it was attacked by its 'master', like two members of a tribe suddenly turning on each other, thus becoming enemies.

Now it would do the same to Shinzeta as it did to Tyrannix.

Hold on, Shinzeta! We're coming!, Hikaru said to herself, using her flames to melt the ice as quick as she can without burning herself or her friends in the process.

Shinzeta grabbed for the double-bladed sword on her belt, but before she could activate it again, the PredAlien slapped it away & shattered it into pieces with its claws. It wouldn't have done her any good anyway: with her strength ebbing away due to loss of blood, Shinzeta would not have been able to wield it too well. She fought to stay conscious, even as her vision started to go dark. But she can see well enough to know that the PredAlien was now only inches from her face. Flexing its crab-like mandibles, the creature opens its regular mouth, & Shinzeta can see the inner jaws opening up inside, ready to give her the same horrible fate that Tyrannix received.

Past the creature, Shinzeta can see the open doorway to the pillar room, & she had a plan to dispose of the beast.

But she only has one shot to make it work.

Mustering the remainder of her strength, Shinzeta places her open palm in front of the thing & summons the best flame attack she could. The flames aren't that strong, but they're more than enough to cause the PredAlien to howl in pain & step back in revoltion—straight into the pillar room itself, as Shinzeta wanted.

Hikaru finally frees herself & her friends from the ice using her own flame, only to see both the PredAlien & Shinzeta get knocked inside the pillar room. The six warriors run up to the room & stop at the entrance to see an amazing spectacle: the water within the room comes alive & it wraps itself around the PredAlien in a barrage of aqua tendrils that snatch the beast at its limbs & neck. No matter how much the alien hybrid fought, the water tendrils held it fast as they started to squeeze it, just as the alien's tail was being removed, quickly but carefully, from Shinzeta, keeping her hovering in midair by its power.

The PredAlien bellows out its death throes as the living water severs its limbs, head, & tail from its body, cutting short its howling. Acid splashes all around but does no damage whatsoever to the room or the water itself, & not one drop did any harm to Shinzeta, as she was encased in an aura of glowing energy. Not only did it keep her suspended in the air, it began closing & healing the fatal wound the PredAlien inflicted upon her.

It was the exact opposite from what the PredAlien had experienced.

Shinzeta felt flourished & rejuvenated by the pillar's power, the sensation coursing all over her body, feeling as comfortable & as soothing as the best bubble bath anyone's ever taken.

The power of the pillar…it is incredible!, Shinzeta says to herself as she embraces it enters her very soul, cleansing it even more than the words from the Magic Knights & their friends—not that they weren't any help to begin with, that is. Never has Shinzeta felt so safe & secure in her short but eventful existence, being in the protective aura of the pillar's power like the devoted love of a mother to her own child.

Hikaru & company can only watch as Shinzeta continues to shine & is being brought to the center of the room.

"Although it galls me to say it", Geo says, "Tyrannix was correct in his assumption when he created Shinzeta."

"That he was, Geo", Lantis said. "The pillar must somehow sense Hikaru's DNA within her & deduced her as a true candidate for its power, just as Hikaru & Eagle were the first time they had entered this room & came back out alive."

"But what about Miss Shinzeta's alien DNA within her?", Fuu asked. "If it senses that, won't it consider her a threat to it instead of a candidate?"

"It's hard to say, Fuu", Umi said. "I don't think Tyrannix would have cloned her the way he did if the alien DNA would cause the pillar to reject her, & from the looks of things, I don't see it doing so."

"I agree", said Presea. "Just because the pillar can sense any kind of 'abnormalty' within a suitable candidate for its power, it doesn't mean it would reject it entirely. Remember—the pillar only chooses those whose hearts are pure & true. It doesn't judge you from whatever your body structure may consist of."

"Then the pillar must also sense that Shinzeta isn't really evil inside, unlike Tyrannix", said Hikaru. "And she wasn't—she was merely an innocent pawn in that dinosaur's sick game, & the pillar must know that."

The group nodded as Shinzeta nearly reached the center of the room, enjoying the soothing power surging within her.

But then the blissfulness abruptly stops:the comfort Shinzeta was experiencing turns into a bloated, uneasy feeling, as the power of the pillar was starting to overtake her with more power than she could handle. Her eyes in a state of shock & fear, she feels like a balloon that was being blown up too big & is on the verge of exploding into a million shards. She's never experienced in possessing the pillar's power until now, despite the fact that she shares the DNA of Hikaru, & it was about to cost her.

Then she started glowing more brightly.

"Hey, what's going on with her?", Geo asked, shielding his eyes from the intense shine like the others were.

Oh my god! The power—it's too much for me!, Shinzeta thought as she began glowing even brighter than before. Hikaru! Umi! Fuu! Please…help me…!

Shinzeta & the pillar room shined its whitest for about two-three seconds before vanishing altogether. When the Magic Knights & company took their arms away from their eyes & looked inside, they saw everything back to the way it was before, the crown in the center unchanged.

But Shinzeta was nowhere to be found.

She was just…gone.

"Shinzeta", Hikaru said softly, slowly beginning to sink to her knees before Lantis grabs & does his best to comfort her in his arms.

"Easy, Hikaru. I've got you", he says in a soothing voice.

Hikaru looked at him with tears in her eyes.

"We couldn't save her, Lantis. We've failed her", she sobbed.

"You're wrong, Miss Hikaru", Fuu reassures her. "We did save her—not only did we do so from Tyrannix's hold on her, but from all the confusion & anger he poisoned her with. But most of all, we saved her soul."

"That's right, Hikaru", Umi adds. "Tyrannix wanted to create a monster, Shinzeta instead had become a hero & saved not only Cephiro, Autozam & our world, but all the others they would've conquered, had their plan been fulfilled. But thanks to us boosting the confidence within her own heart, she opened her eyes & turned the tables on Tyrannix's quest in gaining the power of the pillar. Surely you can take comfort in that, yes?"

Hikaru sees the soothing smiles on her two best friend's faces, & gets a boost of confidence herself, wiping the tears from her face & smiling.

God bless you, Umi, Fuu, Hikaru said to herself as the three gather for a big group hug.

"Thank you, guys", she says tenderly, the trio comforting one another. Geo, Lantis, & Presea stare inside the pillar room where Shinzeta was last seen. In their minds, they salute her bravery in saving them & other worlds from utter destruction, each one saying a silent prayer to the warrior who saw the truth not just with her eyes, but with her heart.

Cephiro, Autozam, & Earth still have futures.

Because of Shinzeta.

May Princess Emeraude bless your spirit, they said in their minds.

Unable to help themselves, Geo, Lantis, & Presea each shed a tear for her.

EPILOGUE 1

Cephiro Castle, one week later:

The events at the castle were monumentous: The Magic Knights & company had disposed of the bodies of Tyrannix & his dinosaurian fiends, along with all the carcasses of all the aliens in which Geo & Zazu's trap have all caught that Lafarga & his group have all dealt with, leaving not one creature left alive, or any alien egg left lying around. But their chores weren't confined to the castle alone—the aliens had invaded the village on the outskirts of the Forest of Silence, & that of Piraus Village. Because they had been first spotted at these two locations, it was imperative for the warriors to give both areas a thorough search for any alien eggs, especially at Piraus Village, as the alien queen had emerged from there, to be certain the alien bitch hadn't laid any eggs there so that when the actual new arrivals do get to Cephiro, they won't get a nasty surprise waiting for them. Summoning his flying steed, Lantis took Lafarga as Ascot took Ferio on a flying monster of his own (once his wrist gauntlet & Clef's collar had been successfully removed by Zazu without any incident) & headed to the Forest of Silence, while Clef's flying fish creature (the same thing which the Magic Knights first met upon their first arrival) took Hikaru, Umi, & Fuu, along with the two Chizetian Princesses, Tarta & Tatra, to give Piraus village a rigorous search.

Thankfully in both cases, no full-grown aliens or queens (or even hybrids) had been found in either place, giving everyone a collective sigh of relief.

In accordance to hunting for any aliens they might have missed, Zazu Torque looked over the ship that Tyrannix & his dinosaur warriors came to Cephiro in, leaving no wire unchecked. He tells Master Mage Clef that he can use the ship's navigational guide to pinpoint & track down where Tyrannix's group had originated from, followed by sending a message to Autozam & give the coordinates to the next available fleet to head over to their anonymous Base of Operations & put an end to any surviving dinosauroids tha may be settling there. Another chore for using their ship was to send a clear & unintercepted message to Kietana, a job which Clef personally wished to partake in handling.

Thanks to Zazu's genius, the transmission went as he promised, & Clef explained the details in full detail to Kietana's President of both their horrible experiences with the aliens, including the betrayal of Bio Metro & Kaza Rosque of Autozam & how they were secretly associated with Tyrannix & his dinosaurian fiends in getting for them an alien queen at the cost of the lives of the children's parents, & almost their own lives.

After a hour, Clef finished his report.

But now, a week later, things still were not completely back to normal, even though the kids were now totally out of danger. The revelation of Bio & Kaza's association with Tyrannix when the Magic Knights, Lantis, & Presea presented it to Lafarga & the rest still felt like they were all carrying a lead weight on their backs. Even Shinzeta's torturous predicament got an emotional response from the rest who were absent from the battle in the pillar room.

But it was Geo Metro who received the worst emotional pain of them all; hearing the truth of his brother's betrayal made him feel like he had been stabbed not only through his heart, but his soul, & nothing he did—from sleep to food—helped to ease it.

In their room, Zazu tries to reason with his superior.

"Come on, Geo", he says. "You've been in our room for a full week now, leaving me with all the work!"

"I'm sure you were more than capable of handling it on your own, Zazu", a melancholy Geo replied.

"That's not the point, Geo! You won't eat with us, you won't spend any time with the kids like you used to, you won't even answer the door, let alone speak to us! How long are you gonna stay like this? Until we're picked up?"

"How long until we are, Zazu?"

"In just under two months from now, Geo. I told you that already! Come on—I hate seeing you like this! We all do!"

"You don't understand, Zazu!", Geo said with tears forming in his eyes. "My brother went & betrayed us to a pack of reptilian scumbags, & he did it right under our noses! How could he go & do such a thing to us? To me, of all people?"

"You couldn't have known of his associaton with Tyrannix & his people, Geo!", Zazu tries reassuring him. "None of us could! We're all just as shocked when you, Lantis, Presea, & the Magic Knights relayed the info to the rest of us! You can't keep beating yourself up like this!"

Just then, their doors swung open & Lantis entered the room. Both Zazu & Geo turned to face him.

"Zazu, would you kindly excuse us?", Lantis asked him politely. Zazu turned to Geo, who nods.

"Go ahead, Zazu. It's all right", Geo tells him.

"Sure thing, Geo", Zazu says, walking out of their room. When the young Autozamian was gone from sight, Lantis walked up to Geo & began to speak.

"He does have a point, you know. Beating yourself up like the way you are will only make it worse for you emotionally. Once you go down that particular path, more often than not, it will be difficult to claw your way out of your own despair. That's what he wants to save you from, as do the rest of us."

"How can I, Lantis?", Geo started to say. "My brother…"

"Went down the wrong path on his own, as did Kaza", Lantis cut him off. "Neither you nor Zazu had anything to do with that. They were merely deceived by Tyrannix, & by being offered a large sum of money, it made them go astray. Let me ask you something—had they actually sent the alien queen over to them, do you honestly think Tyrannix would've paid them like they said they would?"

It took Geo a few moments to answer.

"I…I don't believe so", he says.

"Neither do I or any of us. He & his warriors would've in turn stabbed them in the back & consumed them like they would with any other humans. Like you told Shinzeta back at the pillar room in being associated with Tyrannix, it wasn't your fault—it was Bio & Kaza's. Like Shinzeta had been, they were blinded by Tyrannix's ambitions, but unlike Shinzeta, they could not see the truth in time. If anyone would understand the blind ambitions of one's brother, it would be me."

Geo couldn't argue with Lantis on that. Like the others, from the Chizetian Princesses Tarta & Tatra, Fahren's Lady Aska to the Magic Knights themselves, Geo was all too familiar with the story of Lantis' older brother High Priest Zagato & Princess Emeraude falling in love with each other, even knowing it was forbidden for the pillar of Cephiro to do so, nearly causing its total & utter destruction.

If anyone can comprehend what Geo was feeling right now, it was Lantis.

The Autozamian looked at him.

"I suppose you're right, Lantis", he says. "Even though Bio was family, he did try to kill us & all the children—and almost succeeded in that, I have to add."

"So, ya willin' ta put the past where it belongs, Geo? Ascot & ah have."

Geo turned to see Caldina & the others standing at the doors, all with smiles on their faces.

The group also included Sang-Yung, Chang Ang, Mira & Tamara.

"Like Lantis has done", Chang Ang begins, "he's put the past of what his older brother High Priest Zagato nearly did to Cephiro when he & Pricess Emeraude fell in love & left it all behind him. Surely you can do the same with your own brother?"

Geo sees the logic in his words, & wears a smile on his own face.

"Ha! I can see why you were chosen to be Lady Aska's mentor & teacher, old man", Geo says, half-jokingly & rises from the bed he sat on. "All right, first things first. I'll take a couple of volunteers & head over to Piraus Village to repair all of the damage caused by the queen & her brood. Zazu, do we still have enough spare materials for the job?"

"For repairing both villages, Geo! I'll take some volunteers & head over to the one located at the Forest of Silence", Zazu replied.

"Good man. I guess we can make them same teams as before. Sound good?"

Everyone nodded without a second thought.

"Count us in as well", Lantis says, referring to himself, Lafarga, & Presea. "Presea & I shall accompany you at Piraus Village, Geo."

"And I shall pair up in Zazu's team to help fix the village near the Forest of Silence", says Lafarga.

"Don't forget about us!", Primera says, referring to her & Mokona, who gives out a happy 'puu puu'.

"We would never do such a thing!", Hikaru says happily as Mokona jumps into one of her arms & the Magic Knight lets out her free hand for Primera to land on. "Every little bit helps, & it doesn't matter where it comes from! Glad to have you aboard!"

"The children want to help as well! Despite the hard work it ensues, they had fun building their new homes, & now that repairs need to be made, they want in!"

Hikaru nodded. "They're gonna get their wish, Primera!"

"Then they're on board, Hikaru!", said Geo. "Let's go get a move-on, people! Those villages aren't going to repair themselves, you know!"

"No they're not, Geo!", Ferio says, turning to Clef. "We'll see you later, Master Mage Clef."

Clef nodded. "May Princess Emeraude be with all of you", he says warmingly.

They all nodded & left, forming their perspective groups along the way.

In the rear at a distance from the others, Primera speaks with Hikaru.

"Um, Hikaru?", the little fairy starts as the Magic Knight turns to her.

"Yes, Primera?"

"First off, I'm glad you're okay. Secondly, that was a great save you made with Lantis during that fiasco with that alien queen. Lastly, thanks for rescuing me from getting an acid bath before."

Hikaru smiled.

"Think nothing of it, Primera. You're one of us, & I'd gladly rescue you again without any hesitation, just as Lantis himself would."

Primera went silent for a few moments before speaking again.

"You really do love him…don't you, Hikaru?"

"I can't lie to my own heart, Primera. Yes, I do", she says, though reluctantly at first.

That's just what Presea said to me about her feelings towards Master Mage Clef, Primera thought. I guess love really has no boundaries, despite their living on separate worlds.

"I…understand, Hikaru", she says softly. "I won't get in the way anymore."

Hikaru stands in front of Primera.

"Primera, you think that just because Lantis & I are in love, it means you don't have a place in his life anymore?", she asks. "That's not true, sweetie! I'm sure that Lantis highly enjoys your company, being by his side & all."

Wow! That's another thing Presea said to me days ago!, Primera thought.

"And besides", continued the Magic Knight. "I need you to take care of him for me once I go back to my own world with Umi & Fuu. I'm counting on you for that."

Primera saluted her.

"Leave it to me, Hikaru!", she said.

The two shared a laugh as they raced to catch up with the others, being left behind some.

EPILOGUE 2

Two months later:

With hard work, determination, & eagerness, the two villages were completely repaired back to their newfangled glory, & everyone took great care for the children like they had before being deceived by Tyrannix & his band of cloned troops. Now they await the new arrivals from Kietana to make their landing, which has just occurred right outside the castle in the exact spot where the ship Tyrannix & company made their landing at (that ship was dismantled for spare materials in rebuilding the homes in the villages once transmissions were made).

But that wasn't the only ship that made a landing on Cephiro: ships from Cephiro's former invaders—Autozam, Chizeta, & Fahren—have also made landings outside the castle, & all are now dispensing its passengers before a crowd of Cephiro's children & warriors. Mira, Tamara, & all the kids ran up to the newcomers with literal open arms, giving them big hugs in greeting.

The warriors also greeted the new arrivals, but in the form of handshakes instead of hugs.

Clef greeted one of these.

"Hello, Master Mage Clef", said a man in blue cloth, accompanied by a woman in pink. "I am Mena, & this is my wife Kuuta. We're pleased to be here. Our Kietanian president sends his best to you."

"We are pleased to have you here, Mena", said Clef. "We cannot thank you enough for this."

"You are our friends, Master Mage", Kuuta said. "Anything you need from us, we'll be more than happy to assist you in. And this…" Kuuta spread an arm at the kids. "…is something you are in dire need of. I'm sure handling their needs was rather tough for you & the rest, yes?"

"It was difficult, I admit", said Lafarga. "But I would've gladly given my time for them if the need arose without a second thought, & I believe I speak for everyone here."

"Yes you do, Lafarga", said Lantis. "I believe it's safe to say, finally, mission accomplished."

That got a chuckle from everyone in their immediate area.

Clef, Lafarga, Lantis, Mena, & Kuuta watch with glee at the people of four different countries happily consult with the kids & the other warriors: a couple from Chizeta comforting a brother & sister; two husband & wife teams from Fahren sharing some info with several boys & girls; some men & women from Autozam showing some children pieces of their technology from their home & giving slight demonstrations, getting 'oohs' & 'ahhs' out of them.

The Magic Knights, Ferio, Caldina, Ascot, Zazu, Presea, Sang-Yung, Lady Aska, Chang Ang, & Tarta & Tatra—standing as a group—proudly watch the cheery display of affection all around them, & it warms their hearts like being next to a fireplace on a cold winter's day.

"Now this is what Cephiro is all about!", Ferio says.

"That's right—happy families, even if the parents are from other countries!", Ascot said. "I gotta say, this is a sight I missed seeing for four months now."

"It might as well have been four years, Ascot, because that's what it felt like ta me", Caldina says.

"We know what ya mean, Caldina", Tarta says. "Ah was honestly beginnin' ta think we were never gonna find parents for these kids."

"Come now, sis", Tatra said with a smile. "Don't ya be tellin' me ya didn't have fun with the young'uns all this time?"

Tarta's face started turning red in response to her elder sister's remark.

"Touche, sis", she says with a smile.

The others laughed.

"But it was all worth it in the end", Sang-Yung said. "And I'm real happy that Autozam & Chizeta could help out, along with our own Fahren."

"I couldn't possibly let Kietana handle the burden all by themselves, Sang-Yung", Lady Aska says. "That's why I made contact with our people in that other ship before we took it apart for materials. Once I let them know of the situation, they were more than happy to help."

"Same with us at Autozam, Lady Aska", Zazu said. "Believe it or not, there are some people back home who want a change of pace on their way of life, & Cephiro is the perfect place for one."

"Same with our people at Chizeta", Tatra says. "That's why ah took the liberty of askin' for any assistance ta our own people in seeing who would like a life here at Cephiro. Ah could not believe the number of responses ah got from mah request."

"But it doesn't mean one would completely abandon their way of life, just because one flees from his or her home", Chang Ang says. "As you can see, the new arrivals are sharing it with the kids. It's one of many ways in forming a union with others. That's how civilizations evolve."

"Much like what Geo & myself did by being here for over a year now after Cephiro had brought us in due to our exile", Zazu said.

"Precisely, young man."

"And we've got even more to share with Cephiro, Zazu!"

The group turned to see Geo with five other Autozamians, four of which were two pairs of married couples. One was holding the hand of Mira, the other of Tamara. The fifth member of Geo's group was about his height with suave brown hair & a charming smile no woman could resist.

Oddly enough, he reminds the Magic Knights of someone they knew.

"Allow me to introduce you folks to some nice people here", Geo starts. "The couple with Mira are Micro Sanque & his wife Ketu, & with Tamara are Poxer Fisque & his wife Biza. They instantly connected with them, & I'm sure they'll make the perfect parents."

"Upon first sight of them, Geo, I could easily tell they would", Mira said. "Besides, they more or less resemble my other parents in fine detail."

"Same with these two, Mira", Tamara said. "The resemblance to both my father Treece & my mom is truly uncanny."

"Geo told Biza & I about what happened to Treece, Tamara", Poxer said. "I have never heard of a more braver man than he. My wife & I will do everything we can to help ease the pain & make you happy again like everyone else who volunteered to become your new parents."

"Thank you, Poxer", Tamara said. "While I do miss him, I have no doubt you two will be the loving parents they used to be."

Poxer & Biza smiled warmly.

"Now, who's this gentleman with you, Geo?", asked Presea, noting the fifth member of his group.

"Where are my manners? I am Hawk Vision—Eagle's brother", he says in a voice an octave lower than Eagle's own.

Hawk extended his hand, but no one could shake it. It wasn't because they were being rude in the slightest. It was because of the shock of knowing that the late Eagle Vision has a brother, as Geo once did.

"You're…Eagle's brother?", asked Hikaru.

"That I am", Hawk said, lowering his hand & walking up to the Magic Knight. "You must be Hikaru Shidou. Eagle's told me about you when you were aboard the Battleship NSX. He's told me quite the number of good things about you, Hikaru."

"Did he?"

Hawk nodded.

"Indeed. He admired your warrior spirit, & the fact that you wouldn't give in no matter the circumstances. Even when you were at odds with him in protecting the castle & its pillar, he had highly admired you. He wasn't ashamed to have called you a friend. Even now, I'm positive he still does."

"Speaking of which, Sir Hawk, we want to extend our…", Fuu began saying before he cut her off.

"No need to despair, Fuu Hououji. Eagle did what he had to for his country. Please do not feel any guilt in his death. I don't, even tough I miss him so, as Geo & Zazu do. But I appreciate the gesture, & thank you deeply for it."

They stayed silent for a moment before Umi breaks it.

"He was a brave man, your brother. I hope Princess Emeraude is watching over him now."

"I'm sure she is, Umi Ryuuzaki", Hawk says proudly. "Oh, you'll all be happy to know that our forces at Autozam have found Tyrannix's base just a few days ago on a nearly deserted place called Kouza. There remained a few of Tyrannix's warriors who resisted us there, but we brought them down quickly & brutally. We had also found their lab where they kept their cloned troops & alien queen, & destroyed every single trace of them as well, including the eggs that were laid. Our only regret was that they had destroyed the technology they'd stolen from us, but I'd rather have that than have it in possession of enemy hands."

"A small price to pay, Hawk", Ferio said. "At least there's geat comfort that Tyrannix's race has been wiped out but good, & that no other world will suffer the same ruthless attacks that both Cephiro & Autozam suffered because of them."

"Couldn't have put it better myself, Ferio."

"And now Cephiro can really begin anew, thanks to their bravery of disposing the rest of those ravenous reptiles before they can try & attack us again", said Ascot.

"You said it, Ascot", said Ferio. "With them literally extinct, the universe is a safer place to be traveling in. Bless the people of Autozam in their success."

Geo, Hawk, Zazu, & the other Autozamians with them smiled in gratitude.

"Let's not forget Shinzeta", Hikaru said. "She helped to make sure the power of the pillar didn't fall into enemy hands."

Amid the happy crowd, the group fell silent in prayer for their one-time foe who assisted the warriors in defeating Tyrannix & making sure he did not receive what he longed for.

"Shinzeta helped to avert the worst kind of disaster two months ago", Umi said. "She more than deserves to be here among us now."

"I agree", Fuu said. "Miss Shinzeta may have started out as our enemy, but in the end, she had become our last remaining hope for a future for all our worlds."

"And since she had been spawned from the three of us, I feel like a mother losing her only child, if you think about it", Hikaru added.

Umi & Fuu nodded, as they feel the same way.

"I'm not so sure, ladies", Presea said as they turned to her.

"What do you mean, Presea?", asked Umi.

"What I mean is, shortly after she had vanished in the pillar room, I heard her voice within my head—almost as if she was trying to communicate with me. The same thing happened last week as I slept."

"Presea, why didn't you tell any of us about it?", asked Geo.

"Because I couldn't be sure if it was for real, or if I had just imagined it all."

"Does that mean to say that Miss Shinzeta…", Fuu started to say.

"Could still be alive somehow?", Umi finished for her.

"It could be possible, Presea!", said a hopeful Hikaru. "Just because her body disappeared in all that light, it doesn't mean she's actually dead. Could it?"

"It is quite possible, Hikaru", Presea explains. "The power of the pillar is virtually unlimited in nature, & can perform even the impossible at times. But because of its unpredictability, it's very difficult to say for certain. All I can say about it is, whether she's dead or alive right now, we can only hope that Shinzeta has finally found the peace in which she's longed for."

No one had any alternative answer for her statement, & thus remained silent.

Somewhere in space:

It has been two months since the bright flash, but she doesn't know that. Surrounded by a magical barrier which covers her entire person, Shinzeta had kept on floating unobstructed in the merciless vaccum of space, her eyes shut & looking as if a giant had her in the palm of its hand as her arms hung loosely behind her, same with her legs. She was still attired in her golden armor, & her lavender cape & hair hung loosely behind her back & head, almost as if she was flying on her own power.

In a way, she was: she drifted through space with no knowledge of how she got here, much less where she had been. Even if she were awake, she wouldn't be able to recall a thing. It was a good bet she doesn't even know her own name, of all things.

But she was still alive regardless.

Shinzeta continued on through her trek in space, heading in no particular direction since she has no idea on how to steer herself through the vacuum. It would be unlikely that she would be able to even if she were awake. So she drifts on, & will continue to do so until she either reaches a planet or unless something stops her.

The latter comes first:a light green beam of energy captures & surrounds Shinzeta all over & begins to be pulled into some unseen object, as the beam seems to literally come from nowhere in the infinite void. But then, the origin of the green beam suddenly reveals itself from a cloak of sorts, exposing a massive dark silver ship of some kind with twin engines sticking out of its sides in the back of its pointed design, looking like a missile of sorts. Shinzeta was brought in through a belly ramp which closes, now that she had been safely contracted within.

Shinzeta doesn't acknowledge being brought aboard.

She doesn't acknowledge being carried by humanoid beings.

She doesn't acknowledge their scent, let alone the cackling noise they make.

Shinzeta was brung into a room with an examining table to which she was strapped to by her limbs & chest. The room was consistent of walls with strange symbols embedded into it, & it was warm & humid like the rest of it inside. Attached via cables to the table Shinzeta lay on & her metal straps was a monitor which displayed her biology to the two figures studying her. Both were over two meters tall, but one was taller by a few inches. Like the other, this humanoid figure wore metal gray armor which covered its shoulders, chest, forearms, shins, & on the sides of their upper legs. Its toes & fingers ended in sharp claws, & a red cape hung onto its shoulders that had reached the floor in length. The head had numerous scars & markings on it, & on the sides was a kind of long blue 'hair' that reached between its chest & stomach, complete with golden 'braids' embedded in spots. Its face was something of a combo of an insect, crab, or blossoming flower, & had a pointed tooth at the end of each of its mandibles.

The other one beside it had the same attributes, complete with a necklace of bones—or more precisely, skulls—that hung from their necks, & a shoulder cannon that was placed on their left sides, but unlike the taller one, this figure had a metal facemask of some kind, & its hair was black in color. No cape of any kind hung from its shoulders.

The taller creature tapped & pressed buttons from a nearby control panel, & within seconds of it, the monitor displayed a readout of Shinzeta's DNA readings in pictures. These pictures were outlined silhouettes of what her biology consisted of. It displayed those of three young human girls &, more importantly to them, that of an alien. When the alien silhouette had appeared, the two figures turned to each other & cackled with surprise, fascination, & eagerness.

In their own cackling language, they consulted with one another.

This one has the DNA of three human girls, plus an alien!, said the shorter one. Fascinating!

Yes, it would seem our scanner readouts were true when we spotted her out there!, said the larger one. It was logical to bring her here to be certain!

And now that it is, this young human can be very useful to us!

Yes! She can be used to help us search for & track down our most sought after prey—the acid-blooded Xenomorphs!

You wish to make her part of our clan, Elder? Can it be done? Will she cooperate with us?

With the right training & coaxing, we can. I highly sense a warrior's spirit within this one. I believe she will fit right in with us, even if she is a human. Go tell everyone aboard that I wish to make a statement. Have them gather in the arena.

Yes, Elder. Right away.

The shorter humanoid saluted the Elder with an arm across its chest before exiting the room to carry out its orders. The Elder stared down at Shinzeta with anticipation, flexing its crab-like mandibles & cackling softly. It caressed Shinzeta's face with a clawed finger, doing so gently. It can even somehow feel the alien within her with that mere touch. Where this human came from or how she obtained the alien DNA inside her remained a mystery to the Elder, but it didn't seem to matter to it.

What did was that they have the perfect tool for finding the Xenomorphs to hunt.

It will take some work to get her to function properly for them, but they will be successful.

Shinzeta remained asleep through it all.

She has no idea what goes on around her, & she probably won't until she recovers.

Until they get her to recover.

The spacecraft continued on its trek through the vacuum, traveling at a speed impossible for most other craft to achieve.

It was time for Shinzeta's training—and their hunt—to begin.

THE END…?

MEMORIALS

2005 Memorials:

James Dougherty, Marilyn Monroe's First Husband, 84 (1921-2005)

Brock Peters, Actor, 78 (1927-2005)

Charlie Hampton, D.C. Jazzman, 75 (1930-2005)

Bob Denver, Actor, Best Known for 'Gilligan's Island', 70 (1935-2005)

Patricia McQueeny, Celebrity Manager, 77 (1928-2005)

Toni Fritsch, Former NFL Kicker, 60 (1945-2005)

Donn Clendenon, World Series MVP for New York Mets, 70 (1935-2005)

Sid Luft, Producer, Judy Garland's Ex, 89 (1916-2005)

Robert Wise, Director Who Won 4 Oscars, 91 (1914-2005)

John McMullen, Owned New Jersey Devils, 87 (1918-2005)

Simon Wiesenthal, Nicknamed 'The Nazi Hunter', 96 (1908-2005)

Joe Bauman, Held Home-Run Record for 47 Years, 83 (1922-2005)

Constance Moore, Movie & Television Actress, 84 (1921-2005)

T.R. Bond, Actor, 'Our Gang' & 'Little Rascals' Bully, 79 (1926-2005)

Don Adams, Actor, TV's Agent of Humor on 'Get Smart', 82 (1923-2005)

George Archer, Professional Golfer, 65 (1939-2005)

Steve Marcus, Sax Player, 66 (1939-2005)

Michael Wittenberg, Spouse of Bernadette Peters, 43 (1962-2005)

Frank Smith, Cincinnati Red, 77 (1928-2005)

Lord John Bradbourne, Produced 'A Passage to India', 80 (1925-2005)

August Wilson, Prize-Winning Playwright, 60 (1945-2005)

Nipsey Russell, Poetic Entertainer, 80 (1924-2005)

Ronnie Barker, Comedian, 76 (1929-2005)

Jack Lesberg, Bassist, Played With Jazz Greats of 1940s & 1950s, 85 (1920-2005)

Hamilton Camp, Actor, Folk Musician, 70 (1934-2005)

Jerry Juhl, Former Head Writer for Muppets, 67 (1938-2005)

Louis Nye, Found Fame on 'Steve Allen Show', 92 (1913-2005)

Charles Rocket, Comedian, 56 (1949-2005)

Hal Lebovitz, Hall of Fame Baseball Writer, 89 (1916-2005)

Tony Adams, Producer of Films & Theatre, 52 (1953-2005)

Edmund N. Bacon, Father of Actor Kevin Bacon, 95 (1910-2005)

Rosa Parks, Civil Rights Matriarch, 92 (1913-2005)

Wellington Mara, NFL Pioneer & Giants Patriarch, 89 (1916-2005)

Len Dresslar, Voice of the Jolly Green Giant, 80 (1925-2005)

Al Lopez, Catcher, Hall of Fame Manager, 97 (1908-2005)

Tony Jackson, St. John's Basketball Star in 1961, 64 (1941-2005)

Skitch Henderson, Bandleader for 'Tonight Show', 87 (1918-2005)

Reggie 'Crusher' Lisowski, Wrestler, 79 (1926-2005)

Lloyd Bochner, TV & Film Actor, 81 (1924-2005)

Fred S. Fox, Comedy Writer for Bob Hope, George Burns & Others, 90 (1915-2005)

Michael Pillar, 'Star Trek' Writer, Producer, 57 (1948-2005)

Sheree North, Actress, 72 (1933-2005)

Moustapha Akkad, Movie Mogul, Produced 'Halloween' Films, 72 (1933-2005)

Eddie Guerrero, Wrestler, 38 (1967-2005)

Robert Tisch, Giants Co-Owner, 79 (1926-2005)

Ralph Edwards, Hosted TV Show 'This Is Your Life', 92 (1913-2005)

Dutch Hiller, New York Ranger, Winner of 1940 Stanley Cup, 90 (1915-2005)

Harold Stone, Character Actor, 92 (1913-2005)

Pamela Duncan, Movie-TV Actress, 73 (1932-2005)

Link Wray, Guitarist, Inventor of 'Power Chord', 76 (1929-2005)

Ruth Siems, A Creator of Stove Top Stuffing, 74 (1931-2005)

Pat Morita, Actor, Best Known for 'Karate Kid' Movies, 73 (1932-2005)

George Best, Legendary Irish Soccer Star, 59 (1946-2005)

Keith Andes, Starred on Broadway, Film & Television, 85 (1920-2005)

Constance Cummings, Actress, 95 (1910-2005)

Mike Austin, Professional Golfer, 95 (1910-2005)

Vic Power, Gold Glove First Baseman, 78 (1927-2005)

Stan Berenstain, Co-Creator of 'Berenstain Bears', 82 (1923-2005)

Jocelyn Brando, Actress, Sister of Marlon Brando, 86 (1919-2005)

Wendie Jo Sperber, Actress, 47 (1958-2005)

Fanny McConnell Ellison, Writer, Helped Husband Edit 'Invisible Man', 93 (1911-2005)

Herbert L. Strock, Pioneer TV Producer, Director, 87 (1918-2005)

Michael Evans, Ronald Reagan's Personal Photographer, 61 (1944-2005)

Edward Masry, of 'Brockovich' Fame, 73 (1932-2005)

Gregg Hoffman, Movie Producer, 42 (1963-2005)

Bud Carson, NFL Architect of Pittsburgh Steelers, 75 (1930-2005)

Richard Pryor, Actor & Comedian, 65 (1940-2005)

Robert F. Newmyer, Noted Movie Producer, 49 (1956-2005)

Jean Parker, Actress, 90 (1915-2005)

Frederick J. Philips, Icon of Electronics Giant, 100 (1905-2005)

Beverly Tyler, MGM Film Actress, 78 (1927-2005)

Jerry Lynn Williams, Rock-R&B Songwiter, 57 (1948-2005)

Argentina Brunetti, Actress, 98 (1907-2005)

Vincent Schiavelli, Character Actor, 57 (1948-2005)

Michael Vale, Dunkin' Donuts Pitchman, 83 (1922-2005)

Clint Sampson, Ex-NFL Receiver, 44 (1961-2005)

Lewis Hanson, Air Force One Pilot, 81 (1924-2005)

Patrick Cranshaw, Actor, 86 (1919-2005)

Richard De Angelis, Actor, 73 (1932-2005)

Candy Barr, Exotic Dancer of the 1950s, 70 (1935-2005)

Barry Cowsill, Musician, 51 (1954-2005)

Betty Hockin, Grandmother of Hockey Great Wayne Gretzky, 84 (1921-2005)

Yu Fujiki, Famed Japanese Actor, Starred in 'King Kong vs. Godzilla', 74 (1931-2005)

2009 Memorials:

Erich Kunzel, Leader of Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, 74 (1935-2009)

Ismael 'Milo' Valenzuela, Jockey Who Won Kentucky Derby Twice, 74 (1934-2009)

Bill Hefner, 12-Term Democratic Congressman of North Carolina, 79 (1930-2009)

John Stephens, Played for New England Patriots, 43 (1966-2009)

Dick Berg, Longtime Writer-Producer for Film & Television, 87 (1922-2009)

Robert Schnabel, Former Valparaiso University President, 86 (1923-2009)

Keith Waterhouse, British Writer, Wrote 'Billy Liar', 80 (1929-2009)

Buddy Blattner, Longtime Sportscaster, 89 (1920-2009)

Rear Admiral Wayne Meyer, Force Behind 'Aegis' Weapons System, 83 (1926-2009)

Gerhart Friedlander, Worked on the Manhattan Project, 93 (1916-2009)

Wycliffe 'Steely' Johnson, Reggae Producer & Keyboardist for Bob Marley, 47 (1962-2009)

Jesse Mahelona, Former Tennessee Titan, 26 (1983-2009)

John Foley, Veteran Suffolk, Brookhaven Political Figure, 90 (1919-2009)

Army Archerd, Variety Columnist for Hollywood, 87 (1922-2009)

Frank Batten, News Exec Who Created the Weather Channel, 82 (1927-2009)

Larry Gelbart, Writer for Theatre, Film & Television, Created 'M*A*S*H', 81 (1928-2009)

Gertrude Noone, Oldest Veteran in Women's Army Corps, 110 (1899-2009)

Juan Almeida Bosque, Vice President in 1959 Cuban Revolution, 82 (1927-2009)

Pierre Cossette, Founded & Produced Modern Grammy Awards, 85 (1924-2009)

Norman Borlaug, Scientist & Nobel prize Winner, 95 (1914-2009)

Jack Kramer, Tennis Champion, 88 (1921-2009)

Jim Carroll, Author, Poet & Punk Rocker, 59 or 60 (1949 or 1950-2009)

Crystal Lee Sutton, Inspiration for 'Norma Rae' movie, 68 (1941-2009)

Patrick Swayze, Golden Globe-Winning Leading Man's Actor, 57 (1952-2009)

Jack Foley, Athletic Director & Father of Pro Wrestler Mick Foley, 76 (1933-2009)

Jody Powell, Adviser to President Jimmy Carter, 65 (1944-2009)

Darren Sutherland, Olympic Boxer, 27 (1982-2009)

Mary Travers, One-Third of Folk Group Peter, Paul & Mary, 72 (1936-2009)

Myles Brand, NCAA Chief, 67 (1942-2009)

Melvin Simon, Led Mall Firm & Owned NBA's Indiana Pacers, 82 (1927-2009)

Henry Gibson, Original 'Laugh-In' Cast Member, 73 (1935-2009)

Monte Clark, Coached NFL's Detroit Lions, 72 (1937-2009)

Irving Kristol, Neoconservative Pioneer, 89 (1920-2009)

Linda Black, Syndicated Columnist & Astrologer, 65 (1944-2009)

Robert Searcy, Tuskegee Airman from World War II, 88 (1921-2009)

William Kennedy, Little League Coach & Marine in Korean War, 77 (1931-2009)

Dick Hoover, Bowling Hall of Famer, 79 (1930-2009)

Frank Coghlan, Child Actor, Starred in 'Adventures of Captain Marvel', 93 (1916-2009)

Jose Ortega Bonet, Sazon Goya Founder, 79 (1929-2009)

Maurizio Montalbini, Sociologist, 56 (1953-2009)

Jeanne Toomey, News Pioneer, 88 (1921-2009)

Robert Curcio, Ex-GOP Chairman, 83 (1926-2009)

Art Ferrante, Movie Theme Pianist, 88 (1921-2009)

Thelma May Rainwater, Owned Portable Potty Business, 86 (1923-2009)

Timothy Russert, Father of Late Newsman Tim Russert, 85 (1924-2009)

William Safire, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author & Columnist, 79 (1929-2009)

Donald Fisher, Co-Founder of Gap Inc., 81 (1928-2009)

Lucy Vodden, Inspiration for Beatles' 'Lucy in the Sky', 46 (1963-2009)

Arthur Zaccaria, Pearl Harbor Survivor, 87 (1921-2009)

Ryan Job, Iraq Veteran & Mountain Climber, 28 (1981-2009)

Rev. John 'Bootsie' Wilson, Member of the Silhouettes Group, 69 (1940-2009)

Rev. Forrester Church, Influential Unitarian Minister, 61 (1948-2009)

Guillermo Endara, Former Panamanian President, 73 (1936-2009)

Pavel Popovich, Space Pioneer & Soviet Cosmonaut, 78 (1931-2009)

Paul Fay Jr., Longtime Confidante of JFK, 91 (1918-2009)

Sam Carr, Widely Acclaimed Blues Dummer, 83 (1926-2009)

Marek Edelman, Leader of Warsaw Ghetto Revolt, 90 (1919-2009)

Donal McLaughlin Jr., Designed United Nations Emblem, 102 (1907-2009)

Mercedes Sosa, Argentine Folk Singer, 74 (1935-2009)

Shoichi Nakagawa, Former Japanese Finance Minister, 56 (1953-2009)

Peg Mullen, Author, 92 (1917-2009)

Bob Hollingsworth, Ex-Newsday Reporter & Editorial Writer, 84 (1925-2009)

Rev. Aengus Finucane, Roman Catholic Missionary & Pioneer, 77 (1932-2009)

Grace Amond, Culinary Landmark in Hot Dogs, 76 (1933-2009)

Irving Penn, Fashion & Celebrity Photographer, 92 (1917-2009)

Tony Fein, Iraq Veteran Who Played for NFL's Baltimore Ravens, 27 (1982-2009)

Ben Ali, Founded DC Eatery Ben's Chili Bowl Diner, 82 (1927-2009)

Frederick Wirth, Doctor of America's First Test-Tube Baby, 68 (1941-2009)

Shelby Singleton, Maverick Country Music Mogul & Talent Scout, 77 (1931-2009)

Raymond Brown, NJ Defense Lawyer, 94 (1915-2009)

Abu Talib, Blues Musician, 70 (1939-2009)

Stephen Gately, Boyzone Vocalist, 33 (1976-2009)

Lionel Pincus, Investor, 78 (1931-2009)

Donna Mae Mims, Racing's 'Pink Lady', 82 (1927-2009)

Larry Jansen, Former NY Giants Pitcher, 89 (1920-2009)

'Captain' Lou Albano, Pro Wrestler, Manager, & Pop Culture Icon, 76 (1933-2009)

Judge William Wayne Justice, Changed Rulings In Texas, 89 (1920-2009)

Bruce Wasserstein, CEO & Wall Street Superstar, 61 (1947-2009)

Al Martino, Singer & Actor, Starred in 'The Godfather', 82 (1927-2009)

Willard V. Oliver, World War II 'Code Talker', 88 (1921-2009)

Nan Robertson, Pulitzer-Prize Winner for New York Times, 83 (1926-2009)

Daniel Melnick, Film Studio Executive, 77 (1932-2009)

Richard Whitcomb, Noted Flight Innovator, 88 (1921-2009)

Dickie Peterson, Bassist & Lead Singer for Blue Cheer, 63 (1946-2009)

Cullen Bryant, Ex-NFL Running Back, 58 (1951-2009)

Ruth Kirschstein, NIH Pathologist, 83 (1926-2009)

Dr. Mahlon Hoagland, Discovered Transfer RNA, 87 (1922-2009)

Vic Mizzy, Television Theme Song Ace, 93 (1916-2009)

Jack Nelson, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Reporter for Los Angeles Times, 80 (1929-2009)

Collin Wilcox-Patton, Actress, Starred in 'To Kill A Mockingbird', 74 (1935-2009)

Joseph Wiseman, Actor, Best Known As 007 Villain 'Dr. No', 91 (1918-2009)

Soupy Sales, Comedian & Kids' TV King, 83 (1926-2009)

Jack Poole, Won Bid for 2010 Olympics, 76 (1933-2009)

Ray Browne, Pop-Culture Professor, 87 (1922-2009)

Ted Sizer, Worked for Education Reform, 77 (1932-2009)

Nancy Spero, Feminine Artist, 83 (1926-2009)

Shiloh Pepin, Child Born With 'Mermaid Syndrome', 10 (1999-2009)

Lou Jacobi, Actor, 95 (1913-2009)

Camillo Cibin, Chief Bodyguard of Pope John Paul II, 83 (1926-2009)

Leslie Geddes, Biomedical Pioneer, 88 (1921-2009)

Dorothy Rich, Education Reformer, 77 (1932-2009)

Dee Anthony, Bronx-Born Rock Manager, 83 (1926-2009)

William 'Bill' Basch, Survivor in 'The Last Days', 82 (1927-2009)

Troy N. Smith, Sonic Drive-In Founder, 87 (1922-2009)

Roy DeCarava, Photographer of Harlem & Jazz Greats, 89 (1920-2009)

Michael Rothbard, Co-Founder of IMAC, 63 (1946-2009)

Alan Ogg, Ex-Hoopster, 42 (1967-2009)

Qian Xuesen, Ex-Rocket Scientist, 98 (1911-2009)

Michelle Triola Marvin, 'Palimony' Figure, 76 (1933-2009)

Claude Levi-Strauss, A Giant in Anthropology, 100 (1908-2009)

Joseph Sugar, Musician, 80 (1929-2009)

Mildred Cohn, Pioneering Chemist, 96 (1913-2009)

Carl Ballantine, Magician & Actor, Best Known for 'McHale's Navy', 92 (1917-2009)

Art D'Lugoff, Owned Iconic NYC Nightclub 'The Village Gate', 85 (1924-2009)

Bernerd Harding, Flew B-24 Bomber in WW II, 90 (1919-2009)

Vitaly Ginzburg, Won Nobel Prize in Physics, 93 (1916-2009)

Charles P. Sifton, Federal Judge, 74 (1935-2009)

Robert Enke, Top German Goalie, 32 (1977-2009)

Al Cervi, Pro Basketball Star, 92 (1917-2009)

John J. O'Connor, Husband of Ex-Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, 79 (1930-2009)

Stacy Rowles, Jazz Trumpeter, Fluegelhorn Player & Vocalist, 54 (1955-2009)

David Lloyd, Emmy-Winning Comedy Writer, 75 (1934-2009)

William Ganz, Catheter Inventor, 90 (1919-2009)

William B. Ecker, Navy Captain, Key Figure in 1962 Missile Crisis, 85 (1924-2009)

Earl Cooley, U.S. Forest Service Smoke Jumper, 98 (1911-2009)

Pavle, Serbian Patriarch, 95 (1914-2009)

Ron Klimkowski, Ex-Yankee, 65 (1944-2009)

Ken Ober, MTV Game Show Host, 52 (1957-2009)

Sy Syms, Apparel Pioneer, 83 (1926-2009)

Edward Woodward, Actor, Best Known for TV's 'The Equalizer', 79 (1930-2009)

Lewis L. Millett, Army Colonel, Won Medal of Honor, 88 (1921-2009)

Herbert J. 'Jack' Miller, Lawyer Who Brokered Nixon Pardon, 85 (1924-2009)

Stefanie Spielman, Wife of Ex-NFL Star Chris Spielman, 42 (1967-2009)

Irving Kriesberg, Celebrated Artist, 90 (1919-2009)

Eli Sercarz, Pioneer in Immunology, 75 (1934-2009)

Paul Zamecnik, Scientist, 96 (1912-2009)

Elisabeth Soderstrom, Opera Star, 82 (1927-2009)

Waldo Hunt, Popularized Pop-Up Books, 88 (1920-2009)

Konstantin Feoktistov, Russian Spaceship Designer, 83 (1926-2009)

Rena Kanokogi, Women's Judo Pioneer, 74 (1935-2009)

Samak Sundaravej, Briefly Led Thailand, 74 (1935-2009)

Abe Pollin, Owned NBA's Washington Wizards, 85 (1923-2009)

Robbins Landon, Authority on Franz Joseph Haydn, 83 (1926-2009)

Tom Janik, AFL-NFL Veteran, 69 (1940-2009)

Ira Hanford, Won Kentucky Derby in 1936, 91 (1918-2009)

Edward Stimpson, Noted Aviation Advocate, 75 (1934-2009)

Lester Shubin, Kevlar Vest Developer, 84 (1925-2009)

Nancy Mangione, Mother of Jazz Musician Chuck Mangione, 95 (1914-2009)

George Edward Walter, Firefighter, WW II Veteran, 92 (1917-2009)

Al Alberts, Sang With Group The Four Aces, 87 (1922-2009)

John London, World War II Veteran, 87 (1922-2009)

Bernard Birnbaum, Newsman, Worked With Charles Kuralt & Walter Kronkite, 89 (1920-2009)

Princess Ferial, Daughter of Egypt's King Farouk, 71 (1938-2009)

Bess Lomax Hawes, Folklorist, 88 (1921-2009)

Hale Smith, Classical & Jazz Musician, 84 (1925-2009)

Tommy Henrich, Yankee Great, 96 (1913-2009)

Clarence Petty, Adirondacks Conservationist & Advocate, 104 (1905-2009)

Fred Joseph, Ex-Drexel CEO, 72 (1937-2009)

Bob Keane, Made Hit Records, 87 (1922-2009)

Foge Fazio, Grid Coach in NFL, 71 (1938-2009)

Richard Nader, Music Promoter, 69 (1940-2009)

William A. Wilson, 1st U.S. Emissary to Rome, 95 (1914-2009)

Edward Fatu, Wrestler Known Best As 'Umaga', 36 (1973-2009)

Liam Clancy, Irish Balladeer, 74 (1935-2009)

Aaron Schroeder, Songwriter for Elvis Presley, 83 (1926-2009)

Malcolm Perry, First Doctor to Treat Shot JFK, 80 (1929-2009)

Rodrigo Carazo, Costa Rican Ex-President, 82 (1927-2009)

Edward Sanders, Presidential Aide to Jimmy Carter, 87 (1922-2009)

Alfred Hrdlicka, Artist who Courted Controversy, 81 (1928-2009)

Thomas Hoving, Former Director of Met Museum, 78 (1931-2009)

Mark Ritts, Starred in Children's TV Shows, 63 (1946-2009)

Raymond Martinez, Aspiring Hip-Hop Artist, 25 (1984-2009)

Vytautas Cekanauskas, Lithuanian Diplomat, 80 (1929-2009)

Torrie Zito, Pianist & Arranger, 76 (1933-2009)

Gene Barry, Actor, Best Known for TV's 'Bat Masterson', 90 (1919-2009)

Kjell Eugenio Laugerud, Former Guatemalan President, 79 (1930-2009)

Stephen E. Toulmin, Philosopher, 87 (1922-2009)

Robert G. Heft, Designed 50-Star American Flag, 67 (1942-2009)

Paul Samuelson, Celebrated Economist, 94 (1915-2009)

Hans W. Ringwald, Veteran of World War II, 85 (1924-2009)

Dennis deLeon, Latino Leader & AIDS Activist, 61 (1948-2009)

Sol Price, Founder of Price Club, 93 (1916-2009)

Oral Roberts, Charismatic Pentecostal Evangelist, 91 (1918-2009)

Roy E Disney, Nephew of Walt Disney, 79 (1930-2009)

Arthur Cores, Co-Founder of Boston Market, 52 (1957-2009)

Yvonne King Burch, Member of Singing King Sisters, 89 (1920-2009)

Jennifer Jones, Oscar-Winning Actress, 90 (1919-2009)

Ardath Harter Rodale, Ran Publishing Company, 81 (1928-2009)

Ccourtland Dixon Barnes Bryan, Wrote 'Friendly Fire' Novel, 73 (1936-2009)

Dan O'Bannon, Science-Fiction Screenwriter, 63 (1946-2009)

John 'Jack' Zilly, Notre Dame Grid Star, 88 (1921-2009)

Yegor Gaidar, Russian Economist, 53 (1956-2009)

Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, Iran's 'Spritual Father', 87 (1922-2009)

Brittany Murphy, Film & Television Actress, 32 (1977-2009)

Leigh Gilmore, Woman Rescued From Hotel on 9/11, 50 (1959-2009)

Alaina Reed Hall, Actress, Stared in 'Sesame Steet' & '227', 63 (1946-2009)

Chris Henry, NFL Receiver for Cincinnati Bengals, 26 (1983-2009)

Ann Nixon Cooper, Atlanta Centenarian Hailed by Obama, 107 (1901-2009)

Kim Peek, Man Who Inspired 'Rain Man', 58 (1951-2009)

Arnold Stang, Actor, Best Known for 'Top Cat' & 'Mad World', 91 (1918-2009)

Dale Raymond Wright, Writer & World War II Veteran, 86 (1923-2009)

Yitzhak 'Ike' Ahronovitch, Captained the Exodus Ship, 86 (1923-2009)

Connie Hines, Actress, Starred in TV's 'Mr. Ed', 78 (1931-2009)

Rafael Antonio Caldera, Led Venezuela, 93 (1916-2009)

George Michael, 'Sports Machine' Host, 70 (1939-2009)

Knut Magne Haugland, Last Kon-Tiki Crew Member, 92 (1917-2009)

Vic Chesnutt, Singer & Songwriter, 45 (1964-2009)

Dennis Brutus, South African Poet & Activist, 85 (1924-2009)

Jim Ryan, NYC Firefighter, 48 (1961-2009)

Percy Sutton, Civil Rights Icon & Political Fixture, 89 (1920-2009)

Esther Chavez, Women's Activist, 76 (1933-2009)

Yves Rocher, Cosmetics Pioneer, 79 (1930-2009)

Abdurrahman, Former Indonesian President & Democratic Voice, 69 (1940-2009)

Morris Lasker, Judge who Sentenced Ivan Boesky, 92 (1917-2009)

David Levine, Legendary Caricaturist, 83 (1926-2009)

Ruth Lilly, Philanthropic Eli Lilly Heir, 94 (1915-2009)

Roman Cardinal Cahal Daly, Ulster Peacemaker, 92 (1917-2009)

Jeanette Scola Trapani, Survivor of Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, 107 (1902-2009)

Bill Powell, Broke Golf Racial Barriers, 93 (1916-2009)

Al Bernardin, Inventor of McDonald's Quarter Pounder, 81 (1928-2009)

Mary Gardiner Jones, Lawyer, Feminist, & Descendant of Thomas Jones, 89 (1920-2009)

Arthur E. Bartlett, Real Estate Innovator, 76 (1933-2009)