I know that some of you have been wondering in which grave I've been hiding in these last...seven months or so. Muses for BW died a little so I decided to sign-up for a Bigbang challenge on Livejournal. This is what came out. Hikaru/Lantis with a side of Fuu/Ferio (I'm still learning to write them though. *wiggles nose*)
Let me take this opportunity to thank my beta, the lovely vipersweb who saved my life at the last moment, endured the fact that English is not my first language and hung my dangling participles up where they belonged - a.k.a beta-ed this for me, and my dear artist chibifukurou who drew the adorable chibi!Hikaru and chibi!Lantis. You can find the drawing on my profile page. xDD
Hopefully I'll get to update some other MKR stories soon...anyway, I took the liberty of signing up for another Bigbang so a MKR story is going to be born one way or the other. ^^;
Touch of Grace
She was having the strangest dream – it involved flying; or perhaps floating was more appropriate to define her current position?
Yes. Hikaru smiled and stretched her arms, feeling the bright sunshine break through the once dreary clouds that had covered Cephiro and warm her from head to toe through the cloak that shielded her back.
The air was balmy and delicious - a strange contrast to the electricity filled atmosphere that had suffocated these lands moments ago – and even the sky seemed to recreate itself under her eyes; all shades of blue and white of such splendor that she couldn't even begin to describe the sight.
Even the castle looked surreal to her – to Umi and Fuu as well most likely – all bathed in pale light and hope.
All this beauty simply because she had wished to save a land that was not even hers to begin with.
After all the sacrifices and the pain, the confusion and the tears…Hikaru could finally feel her heart settle into a shaky sort of peace. It was…worth it.
From way up here, so far away into the blue sky, she could see the happiness, the smiles, the renewed life of the people of Cephiro who had fled outside the castle to welcome them back. Even though, in the end, the Magic Knights had required their help and not the other way around, the gratitude that fueled the people's happiness seemed genuinely directed towards them.
Hikaru blinked and snuck a peak sideways at her friends, all of whom seemed just as absorbed by everything as she was. But while Fuu seemed busy staring at a fixed spot in the crowds – Ferio, Hikaru thought with a pang of dread she couldn't explain – Umi perused the crowds…apparently not looking for anyone in particular.
From right below her, Lantis caught her gaze with his and her heart squeezed at the sight of the gorgeous smile he gave her. Only her.
'…thy wish has been granted.'
Her eyes widened.
'Thy wish to visit Cephiro once again and fight for thine hearts…has been granted.'
Despite how natural it had become, over the last few weeks, to speak to each others Rune Gods, Fuu couldn't suppress a slight shiver as Rayearth's deep voice invaded her consciousness.
She berated herself mentally for her silliness, vaguely realizing that her wayward hair obstructed her vision of the people below her – Ferio, Ferio, Ferio – but feeling too disconnected from reality to lift her hand and push back her bangs.
Thy…their wish? Had they themselves been the ones responsible for this second return in such a strange land? She could barely wrap her brain around it…just like she still felt a bit shocked by how easily they had vanquished such a powerful enemy as Debonair.
Well… if one ignored the bolts of evil energy that had attacked all of them and the bone-jarring hits they had taken as the bolts had slammed into the ground.
It had been simple. They'd had no additional weapons but their swords and magic – and the latter had barely kept up with the pacing of the battle anyway. All it had taken had been…a collective will, a foreign power – the Pillar's Crown – and their sword.
One hit. One stab – a direct, frontal attack and Debonair had cursed them one last time before dissipating into dust and darkness under their hands. Simple. A simple outcome for such a complicated and complex war that had ensnared an entire country…no, four countries!
"Then,"she heard Hikaru gasp next to her – a strangely innocent inflection underneath that didn't belong to such a battle-hardened warrior - and she struggled against the urge to reach over and squeeze her hand reassuringly. "…We were actually summoned back to Cephiro by…?"
'Yourselves,' came the answer immediately.
How could this be? Fuu wondered numbly. Even despite their fight against numerous monsters…even despite the fact that she had told Miss Aska that she was not strong by herself…still, she had been able to add her will to that of Hikaru and Umi's and succeeded in transporting herself back here.
Fuu let out a shuddering breath and secretly thanked the gods that Hikaru and Umi were still too stunned to notice her shifting emotions.
She'd wanted it. Oh, how much she'd secretly hoped to go back to Cephiro in that one month after Emeraude's death. She'd not known that Ferio was the prince, had not known much about him at all actually…but he'd always been in her thoughts when she was awake; in her dreams when she slept.
The way his eyes crinkled at the corners, the adorable scar on the bridge of his nose that drew upwards when he frowned or when he was embarrassed; his smile, his courage…even his lies. His hands on her body, his hugs, and the way he inadvertently pressed his lips to the top of her head when he embraced her.
When he comforted her and made her feel special…
"Then, we…" Umi murmured softly, almost to herself.
"…must return back home now." Fuu finished, surprising herself even when her sentence ended in a sob.
Hikaru and Umi were of the same mind because they nearly drowned each others voice as regret gripped their hearts.
How could they…Fuu trembled…how could everyone still be smiling up at them? How could the people of Cephiro still…?
Did no one realize that now that the Magic Knights' work had finished, they would have to disappear? She would never, never see…
"Umi." Clef murmured in her mind, soft-spoken and so achingly familiar.
The water-haired knight jumped, bluer than blue eyes snapping open in surprise. Clef. Could it be? She'd thought that she'd never get to hear his voice again.
"Clef! Clef, I…" If she had felt more herself at the moment, Umi would've felt embarrassed by the sheer level of naked longing that hid in plain sight in her voice…and by the fact that she'd barely registered when her mouth had ran away without her.
She was going to tell him, she was finally going to gather the courage to pour all of her feelings out. Clef had to know that even though she'd never see him again she really…
A picture of her smiling parents flashed though her mind.
Umi froze mid-sentence – her loving mama, her dearest papa, her captain and best friends who were waiting for her…this was most likely the last time she would ever return to Cephiro now that Hikaru had eradicated the Pillar system.
What use did the Knights have now? None. She trembled even as her pupils dilated and her vision misted over with the promise of unshed tears.
This was the end of the road in Cephiro. Clef could not leave and she couldn't stay…
Umi closed her eyes and smiled despite the sadness that was clogged her throat and threatened her ability to speak. She was grateful for these feelings, she was happy to have met him – happy to have been able to help him and call him by his given name whenever she wanted to; happier still to have received his assistance for so long.
She would not become a burden…
"Thank you, Umi."
It was by far the most heart-wrenching goodbye she had ever said.
"Ferio," she cried out, unable to stop herself from calling out his name one last time.
Even as she said that something struggled inside her…dying slowly despite his wistful smile.
He knew too.
"You returned just as you promised," his voice caressed her tenderly. Proudly. He was proud of her and it only made her feel like crying more.
They hadn't had nearly half the moments she'd hoped for.
She had harbored high hopes of staying in Cephiro after the battle – a little more with him - and keeping her promise of having tea with him and Princess Aska; Ferio and Aska were both hardheaded, stubborn personalities and would probably end up bickering while she acted as a compromiser between them…smoothing out things with a smile and a witty phrase.
"I will not forget you…I will never forget you." She struggled to keep herself together, jumbling phrases, stumbling over the right words to say.
What were the right words to say? Fuu didn't know; she was good at mathematics, not at literature. Flowery words were not her specialty…yet it seemed as if Ferio could still smile for her as if she had told him that she loved him.
She should have. The short time she could still look at him and memorize his features was getting even shorter
"Fuu." He whispered tenderly in her mind, amber eyes warm.
"Lantis."She would not cry…not going to cry…she did not want to curl up in a small ball and die.
But the truth was that she did.
Because the more she looked into his eyes – that appraising, dark gaze that made her feel vulnerable and small every time – and replayed his deep, wonderful voice in her head…the more she wanted to break down and scream at the fates for giving her this sad love that would never have enough moments to make it…enough.
"I'm sure that Cephiro will be a beautiful and peaceful country from now on."She loved Cephiro, she loved the people…Hikaru was sure of it; she had fought for them, bled for them. She simply couldn't feel it now, even though her mouth wouldn't shut up. "Just as when Princess Emeraude was around, or even more so."
Of course, of course she had to mention Emeraude. Mentioning her inevitably led back to Zagato and his death at her hands, led back to why she had been…no, still was, so miserable about Lantis possibly hating her.
Despite his denial. Despite everything. Zagato, Emeraude and time had always been between them and now they were no more and she still had difficulties speaking her emotions.
"Yes." Lantis nodded mutely, his eyes still as dark and beautiful as a starless night. At least, as far as Hikaru could see…the violet was so dark when he looked at her, that it was almost black.
"Lantis," she said, tears gathering in her eyes. Any moment now she would disappear. She could feel it. "I love you."
And there it was. Her dirty little secret – she was in love with the brother of the man she had killed.
Her heart plummeted for a moment, certain that rejection was on its way. Or maybe not a rejection per se because he was so kind and gentle and…
"And I love you," Lantis murmured, sounding as close as if he had been whispering the words in her ear. Hikaru couldn't stop the shock that coursed through her body at the unexpected declaration.
Unexpected? She had hoped for it; had barely dared to dream of hearing the words despite Eagle's whispered – conspiratorial – assurances before leaving the castle! It felt like a burden had been lifted off of her heart, after hours and days of wondering and worrying.
Then Lantis stepped forward and Hikaru extended her hand, wanting to touch him, wanting him to pull her in his arms and crush her to his chest and make it all better.
And right before their fingertips touched – so close that she could lean down and kiss him - Hikaru felt the white light pulling her away and into an endless void.
"It's finally…over? It feels strange to go back now. We've been through so many things…"
"I don't want to go back. I don't want to leave Cephiro."
"Hikaru! How can you say that? We've fought for so long to get where we are now. We promised we would return one day!"
"Forgive me please, Miss Umi, but…I do not wish to return to Tokyo either. I…"
"Not you too, Fuu."
"Lantis told me that he loved me and I finally told him that I loved him as well. I didn't even get to kiss him." Another sob, this time louder. "We only ever managed to be awkward around each other and now I'll never see him again."
"I promised Miss Aska that I would have tea with her when all was done. I wanted to have tea with Ferio as well. I didn't even manage to tell him my real feelings."
"Isn't it okay if we…stay?"
"Stay? Forever? What about my parents and my friends? I haven't repaid any of them yet for their kindness and their love and attention yet. I can't stay in Cephiro. I can't do such a thing!"
It seemed a familiar darkness – as ridiculous as that sounded, seeing as how darkness was the same everywhere
And despite how silly she sounded to herself, Hikaru recognized the truth of her words. The feel of the atmosphere around her, the clouds in the distance that seemed to be violet one moment and blue the next…even the gem-studded pillar beneath her feet. Even the air seemed to resonate with fine magic.
A familiar magic.
"Miss Hikaru," Fuu called worriedly from a few feet above her. She wasn't wearing her final armor and, on closer notice, Hikaru noticed that her own cloak and red and white ensemble were also gone. Everything was back to the way it had started.
After all the time spent dealing with cool armor and dazzling jewels, the school uniform looked slightly…frumpy on her.
"Fuu," Hikaru called back, surreptitiously pulling down on her skirt, which was threatening to rise with the mellow wind blowing around them, "Where is Umi? Actually, where are we?"
"My, I'm not really sure! This looks like…"
"The alternate dimension of our Rune Gods?" Hikaru squeaked, trying to push herself upwards to reach her friend. "But a moment ago we all were…leaving! Why have we come back here again?" Wasn't Cephiro done with them yet?
Was it abnormal to not want Cephiro to be done with them yet?
Hikaru had no idea…just moments ago she'd heard herself say that she was willing to give up her world, her friends, her family to live in another land, with people she hardly knew and a man she was positive wouldn't come twice in the same lifetime. At least for her. Actually, she was pretty sure that she had heard Fuu say the same thing…
The only one who had disagreed had been Umi. And she was nowhere in sight.
Fuu gasped quietly, meeting Hikaru's eyes over the void. The latter pursed her lips tightly, a few stray tears still clinging to her eyelashes even in the shadows (though, Fuu supposed that she wasn't fairing any better either) and the question passed between them as clearly as if they had shouted it.
A wish had been made and Cephiro had been saved. They had thought their job done and over with, but what about the wish they had made without realizing in a moment of despair?
"Legendary Magic Knights of Cephiro!" the voices called around them in unison, timbers unmistakably belonging to their Rune Gods. A moment later Hikaru and Fuu twisted their bodies mid-air even as Rayearth and Windam materialized around them, kneeling around the pillar with unfathomable ease.
It probably didn't matter much if they stood or not, as it was not really that easy to lose two huge Rune Gods in such an empty space. Actually it wasn't easy to lose them anywhere – as they pretty much managed to overtake even the very famous Tokyo Tower – but they were probably being respectful to their charges.
No use having anyone break a neck while gaping upwards.
"Windam," Fuu intoned softly, respectfully.
"Rayearth?" Hikaru echoed behind her, the question slipping through unnoticed.
This felt like déjà vu all right.
"Why are we here? I thought you said that we'd have to go back to Tokyo."
"Are the inhabitants of the castle alright? There has not been another disaster, by any chance?"
Neither Mashin spoke for a moment and Hikaru, who hadn't even taken into consideration something going wrong until Fuu had mentioned it, wanted to wring her hands like crazy. Her friend's worry was nearly palpable as well and she had little comfort to give.
"Calm yourselves, girls from another world," Rayearth rumbled, eyes taking a vague metallic gleam. "Nothing has gone wrong in Cephiro."
"It would be improbable for another disaster to take place in such a short span of time as this," Windam continued sagely and not for the first time, Fuu wanted to know what he thought under that immovable visage. She hated guessing games that she couldn't win.
"Thou have summoned us once more with your words and we have come. As promised."
She'd been somewhat afraid of hearing this, but not taken by surprise. "Are you saying that…our wish to stay here has prompted you to hold us back?"
Hikaru nearly gave herself a whiplash while turning her head to look at her companion. "That…" It had to be a lie – a lie too good to be true. She couldn't believe that something so big could come so easily to her…
"It is the answer to thy desires, girls from another world. Remember that thou have only to speak thy desires and all is possible here." Rayearth focused on her and Hikaru found herself thinking that the look he was giving her – while not exactly expressive in its own way – was different from anything else she'd received from him. "Especially if thou desire, Pillar of Cephiro. Thou need only to wish it hard enough."
This time it was Fuu's turn to look at her strangely.
Pillar of Cephiro.
"I'm not the Pillar anymore," Hikaru covered her mouth, the truth of what she had become, fully sinking in. While not exactly anyone's dream, more like a nightmare come true, the Pillar position was the only thing that had anchored her for a few seconds to this strange world; her ticket to stay. "Can I still…stay?"
"If that is thy wish," Windam approved, endlessly patient. "If that is what thou both wish."
Fuu hugged herself, feeling as if it was up to her to say something sensible again…even though she wasn't all that ecstatic about being the voice of reason this once. "What about Miss Umi? Our families and friends back home?" This was a big decision that couldn't be taken so lightly and it seemed slightly blasphemous to just kick their old lives away for uncertain relationships and foreign lands.
"We do not know what will become of thy kin for we are only able to move into this dimension, but the third Magic Knight made her choice to return to her old life with little doubt. The Sea God Selece has already gone back to sleep in the Shrine of the Sea…and we would have as well had thou decided to return back to your Earth."
They made it sound as if Umi had abandoned them when actually it had been the other way around, Hikaru thought, knowing that she and Fuu had overtly ignored their promise in favor of staying behind. And worse, Umi was so kind that she probably understood and forgave too.
"What have thou decided, Magic Knights?" Rayearth questioned. "Does thou wish to make use of our powers once more?"
There was no end to the surprises, was there? No end to the temptations either, Fuu thought, itching to say yes, but still caught in between feeling guilty for leaving her parents and sister and wanting to stay with Ferio. If he truly was ready for a long-term commitment with her as he'd let her think…
"I want to stay," Hikaru's voice rang out, clear and true. "I truly believe that I can have a future in this land, that I can help these people rebuild what was taken from them when Princess Emeraude died."
Fuu blinked, startled for a moment by the ease with which her friend removed the suffocating doubt from her heart. This she should've expected because, no matter what, Hikaru was Hikaru. Straightforward and single-minded when it came to something in which she believed. And people she loved.
"Is that the only reason thou wish to stay?" Windam asked, not bothering to hide the curiosity from them.
"We wish to stay because our loved ones are here also," Fuu reinforced, grabbing Hikaru's hand and smiling encouragingly at her bewildered look. "We trust Miss Umi and we know that our families will understand our feelings and be happy for us."
Logic and rationality be forsaken this time, Fuu chose her heart over her mind and Windam had to approve of her illogical logic!
"Really, Fuu? We can really really stay friends forever?" Hikaru squealed, looking as if she could've jumped if she would've been standing on anything solid.
"My, but of course we can. Miss Umi will always be our friend too, even though she's far away from us." Both girls exchanged a wistful smile and Fuu blushed as she awkwardly moved a wavy strand of hair behind her ear. "And I am positive that everyone will be happy to see us back, as we must have saddened them quite a bit with our abrupt leave. Ferio and Lantis as well…"
Wistfulness quickly turned embarrassment and both turned back to their respective Rune Gods to try and pretend that their faces weren't burning. Rayearth and Windam never commented on their wayward human emotions anyway.
"We will stay," they chorused, hearts synchronizing with surprising quickness, as blindingly white magic formed around them and flowed into the dark abyss beneath them in waves and wide circles. It was the true show of power of their Rune Gods – despite the lack of the original formation that had begun the legend of the Magic Knights – and Hikaru and Fuu were almost too acquainted with it to even flinch as it wrapped around them, forming an impenetrable ball of light.
"Time and time again, thou have proven yourselves to us and to the people of this land."
Hikaru felt heat creep down her spine. And slight drowsiness as well. She took a deep breath and slowly put a hand over her forehead, to ward off the dizziness. Actually, the more she sat in the circle of white fire surrounding her, the more she felt like a headache was developing in the back of her head.
A stubborn, persistent headache that pulsed in sync with her heart.
"Thou have called our names and trusted us with thy lives and thy hearts. Thou have always seen as close confidants and trusted companions."
"Fu-u-u…" Hikaru called out to her friend, vaguely wondering how she'd been able to slur something as simple as that. But her legs felt wobbly and weak and she really wanted to just drop in the middle of the ground and sleep her sudden fatigue out. She struggled to turn around even as she saw Fuu wobble on her feet, from the corner of her eye. A moment later pale magic encircled and broke her fall and her friend didn't seem to feel it, so far gone into whatever strange dreamland she'd been lured.
Whatever this was, it didn't really feel like…anything she'd…
"We wish to repay this trust and thus we shall bind thy souls to Cephiro forevermore. Thou will live into eternity as is dictated by the power of thy wills."
Hikaru fell to sleep before Rayearth managed to reveal the extent of their destiny; a slumber fed by the changes affecting her soul and body. Smoky threads of magic quickly burst out of the white mass surrounding them and caught her before she could fall and hurt herself, setting her down next to her fallen friend with infinitesimal care.
"Sleep well, girls from another world. When thou wake up, thou will be with thy loved ones once more."
It was - with the greatest respect towards Clef and his former teachings – regretful to come to the conclusion that complete concentration was impossible to achieve at the moment; or, better said, he held so very little interest in focusing on recreating the land now that the very process seemed insulting.
Lantis surveyed the charred, empty grounds that stretched beyond the torn, ruined castle with pursed lips and a dark frown that belied his gratitude at seeing moonlight once more.
Not that he was responsible for the latter. He didn't really care if anyone berated him for not contributing with his share of mental energy to the reconstruction of Cephiro like everyone else who loved it. He had never much cared about what people had to say about him anyway, preferring to keep to himself and live his life the way he saw fit.
Only one person had ever managed to see through him with a single glance…the very one who occupied his thoughts even now, hours after she had declared her love for him – a second time – and then literally disappeared out of his life.
And by the Gods if he didn't feel particularly mutinous about having to let her go so easily. Mutinous enough, that reducing something to dust was beginning to sound appealing. The only thing keeping him back from drawing out his sword and reducing the crystals around him to smithereens was that he might not stop once he began…and, really, wrecking half the palace didn't seem at all appealing if he weighed it against how much blood and tears she had spilled in order to keep it whole.
Lantis took a deep breath, hoping to calm the storm brewing within him, and raised his face towards the moon, letting its soothing power wash over him and encase his heart in ice once more. Just like before he had met her, when he'd been a wanderer without a place which to return.
Her eyes were so earnest, and he could tell with just a glance that she was the type to wear her heart on her sleeve.
"You're hurt after all!" She'd just met him, but when she took his hand in her smaller ones, she held it as if it were made of glass; no one in a long time had treated him so carefully or looked at him with such soulful eyes.
His breath ended in a low hiss of annoyance as his hand fisted in the pliant material of his cloak, nearly tearing through it with the sharp edges of his hand guard.
Primera was saying something about healing him, like she usually did, and trying desperately to disentangle their hands but he could barely pay attention to anything else but the girl who seemed as fascinated by him as he was by her.
"I…I killed your brother. You can hit me if you want. No, I know that hitting me won't be enough!"
"Sorry…but…I love you."
"Lantis. I love you."
Lantis raised his hand to study the possible damage he might have inflicted on himself, and then calmly wiped the blood off; staring rather disinterestedly at the pillar he had slammed his fist into without conscious thought. The marble had cracked a little of the surface, but it would probably take a lot more to break into it and the pain was too dull to bring him to his senses – at least compared to the one that squeezed his heart like a vice right now.
Honestly, he couldn't quite shake the feeling that this would not be the first or the last object to accidentally get in his away.
Actually, the pillar was still intact and the urge to kill something had not gone away yet. He could exhaust himself by breaking it down piece by piece and then, maybe, he wouldn't have her name stuck in his head like a mantra.
Hikaru, Hikaru, Hikaru…
His knuckles cracked dangerously and just as he was debating having an impromptu punching session (ironically enough, in the same place he had watched Hikaru vanish), a sharp pain gripped his head, sending him to his knees, vision blurry around the edges.
It was slightly reminiscent of that time she had shouted his name while falling into the darkness that Nova had woven around her.
What was wrong this time?
If it brings her back to me, than let it be anything, Lantis thought darkly, stretching his senses throughout the castle in search of whatever foreign presence had alerted him so suddenly.
'Master Mage Clef.'
'Did you sense the disturbance as well?'
'Yes. It did not feel like anything I have ever encountered before. However…it was not malevolent. Like Debonair.'
'I will send Lafarga to check in on the inhabitants of the castle. Just in case.'
The Kail closed off the connection and rubbed the bridge of his nose, trying to put an end to the intense throbbing between his temples. Whatever it had been had certainly left its mark on him and now he couldn't shake it off.
It just added to his bad mood, Lantis thought sourly, looking at his blurred reflection in the polished surface of the outside of the castle.
Everything had changed and everything was still the same once more.
There was no more Pillar system – change – but he and Hikaru were worlds apart, never destined to be together, unless tragedy struck and brought them together in a place neither yet knew – no change. He hadn't wanted to die with her like his brother had done with Emeraude – change – but other than that he would've done everything in his power if he could've kept her here with him – no change.
Hikaru had been whisked away faster than he had been able to act; with just three words on her lips and her last, most tender, smile reserved only for him. Lantis hadn't gotten to ask her if she would consider staying with him.
He would've bound her to him in any way possible if she would have agreed and then he would've never let her go.
But Cephiro had chosen for them once more. Like it chose for everyone who got involved with it.
This time the pillar shattered into pieces under the force of his anger.
"They do not seem happy."
"All will be remedied soon. They must only have patience. The process is nearly at an end and the girls from another world will belong to ours in a few moments. Permanently."
"Tis a pity that Selece could not be here to watch the proceedings till the end. If the Water Knight had chosen to stay, Hikaru would have not been compelled to feel sad."
"Indeed. I must admit my concern for Fuu but, in the end, it was not our choice to make, nor was it theirs. One day, the girl may yet return through her own powers to this land and the three Magic Knights will once more be reunited by fate. One day…"
"Thou know something…?"
"Perhaps…it is time! The process is complete."
"I can't believe that Cephiro will finally be a peaceful land now!"
"We can go back and rebuild our homes soon, my Prince?"
"As soon as we get some land underneath our feet again…"
"But when will that be?"
"Be silent! The Prince doesn't know when any of that will happen anymore than we do! That's enough of your worries and chatter…forgive them my Prince. They're simply old women…they mean no disrespect."
Ferio laughed and patted the soldier on the back, smiling reassuringly to the buzzing group of worried matrons in front of him. "Don't worry about it. I can understand how eager you all are to return to your daily lives and I promise that we will attempt to recreate Cephiro from scratch as fast as our magic and memories allow us. The Fountain of Eterna always kept moving around all over the land anyway…"
The women laughed boisterously and despite the fact that all he wanted to do was collapse down somewhere, Ferio indulged them with another smile of his own. It had been a while since anyone had smiled in this castle…
"In the end, the one who saved you was Master Mage Clef…"
Fuu stopped behind him and he turned, slowly, to look at her almost afraid that she would agree with him. She merely shook her head, hands laced as if in prayer. "But the one who saved me from trouble aboard the dragon of Fahren," her eyes were warm and soft and her smile even more so, "was you."
No…there had been someone else who could still smile for him even when things got tough and he felt beaten and worn down.
His heart clenched and he quickly made his formal excuses to the small group around him, wanting to be alone now more than ever. Looking at all these people…seeing their happy, radiant faces and hearing their future hopes left somewhat of a sour taste in his mouth when all he could consider was a lifetime of duty and loneliness stretching before him.
A life with no Fuu. A life with no happiness or warmth or candor.
He wondered how Lantis was carrying his own burden. He hadn't seen the man since they'd had that brief talk about him reclaiming the mantle of Captain of the Guards earlier that evening…and even then Lantis had seemed distant – more so than ever – and desolate. Lonely and alone.
Took one to know one, Ferio supposed, taking a sharp turn to the left to avoid another large group of people. Lantis was probably somewhere private (the castle was full of places like that simply because it had too many corridors and turns and doors to hide behind) most likely wondering what could've been if his Magic Knight had been allowed to remain in Cephiro.
Which was just what Ferio wanted to do as soon as he stopped running into all these people who seemed too excited to go to sleep!
Couldn't they all have their celebration where others weren't so depressed about losing the loves of their lives? It was really a downer, he thought grimly, slipping easily into one of the many unused rooms and going straight to the large windowsill from which he could have a better view of the glowing moon.
If Fuu'd been here, they surely would've gone to the crystal pillars outside – where ironically enough she'd disappeared – and enjoyed the quiet balmy night with a hot cup of tea.
Ferio growled and willed himself to think of something else…
Emeraude, Zagato, Cephiro…Fuu.
Not many subjects that didn't somehow involve his ladylove.
With a despondent sigh, Ferio leaned his forehead against his knees and thought. Thought real hard about what he had left behind him and what was still to come.
They had all defeated an evil entity threatening the land for which his beloved sister had given her life. That was…good. There were no regrets there. Emeraude had wanted more than anything – more than love and life – to protect Cephiro and Ferio considered himself somewhat redeemed for fighting so fiercely; he had never really been able to be by her side and support her the way a brother should have.
The Pillar System was obsolete. Gone. No more.
Something heavy pressed inside his chest and Ferio had to struggle to make his thoughts heard over the sound of blood pumping in his ears.
The dreaded System that had killed so many – directly and indirectly – had now become a memory thanks to the Magic Knights…to Hikaru especially if he were honest; though he knew that she would never take full credit upon herself for wishing it away (which was good because both of them knew very well that Umi and Fuu were the backbone through which Hikaru's wish had come to fruition…heck, even Lantis and Clef knew it).
Maybe now monsters would no longer roam through the woods…
His lips pursed and he took a moment to consider that thought.
Better said – monsters would no longer infest the land and places like the Forest of Silence would not exist again. No matter how strong their hearts were or how much magic and blood and sweat they poured into recreating everything and keeping it afloat, monsters would once again be born. In small numbers, bringing fleeting displays of horror...
A country born from the people for the people was still bound to have chinks and weaknesses; people who were afraid of their memories or children who were afraid of their dreams…
Two out of three wasn't all that bad, Ferio thought, pulling one of the two orbs from his pocket to admire it wistfully.
"It is enough to make most happy, but thy heart still yearns for something more."
Ferio nearly jumped from his spot as his sister's orb started glowing, the jewel becoming a dazzling green and very nearly humming with restrained power in his hands.
"What the heck?" he yelped unceremoniously, wanting to throw it away from him but unable to unglue his hands.
"Calm thyself, Prince. I am not here to harm thou."
That's what they all said before trying to slash him to ribbons!
"Who are you? How did you manage to charm these orbs?" Ferio hissed, clenching his fingers around the arl with crushing force. He, better than anyone, knew that the sole purpose of these magic objects was to act as communicators between different parties… and since he had both of them in his possession, he had no idea how anyone had activated them!
The orb buzzed quietly for a few more moments before light burst from the jewel in the form of golden sparks and splashes of vibrant green that immediately latched onto everything with which they came in contact.
Magical occurrences were frequent in this land, but this surely bordered on abnormal even for Cephiro.
Ferio barely had time to jump to his feet before his peaceful and unobtrusive little corner of the world turned into a large and dark cave – seemingly having modified dimensions as well as colors…and air quality.
He could hardly pull air into his lungs and whatever little he managed to inhale, seemed to burn the inside of his chest as if he was sitting atop a mountain where the air was most rarefied.
The air shimmered close to him, darkening and shaping up into something of gigantic proportions that seemed to occupy so much space that Ferio almost feared there wouldn't be any more space for anything else – him included. This would've been a good time to have his broad sword with him.
"My name is Windam, Rune God of Wind, Lord of the Skies. I have come with most excellent news for thou, Prince." It was a bird…a giant four-winged green bird. A Rune God – Fuu's Rune God! The one that a non-Magic Knight was never supposed to see directly…let alone come into such close contact with.
"Indeed." Windam replied gravely, almond eyes so clear that Ferio could literally see his reflection within them. The golden feathers at the corners matched its curved, predatory beak and the ovum gem embedded into the soft feathers between its eyes seemed to pulse in sync with the orb in his hands.
The young Prince bit his tongue before he could repeat the same stupidity and demean himself further in front of the proverbial God of Wisdom. Instead he clung onto the only thread of safety in his otherwise spinning world. "Fuu is not here."
"I am well aware of such, Prince."
Ferio narrowed his eyes and tried to keep his panting to a minimum, detesting his human need for air in front of this powerful and unruffled creature standing in front of him. "What news could you possibly bring to me? She is gone."
He hadn't expected to sound so downright bitter about it, but then again he was well aware that his wounds were raw and that there was an empty space in his heart that refused to be pacified by things like other people's happiness.
That had been his sister's lot in life and things hadn't ended pretty.
"I bring news of one who has broken free of the binds of fate for thy sake. Are thou not curious?"
It had to be a riddle. He detested riddles. "Spellbound."
"Thou need not be sarcastic with me, Prince. Fuu would be displeased to see thou care so little of her return."
Ferio snapped to attention instantly and when he spoke he did so with a voice laced heavily with emotion. "What do you mean by that?" Somehow he didn't think that a God so serious and full of wisdom would crack such an inappropriate joke, but it…he couldn't help but doubt the truth of it all.
"Now…it seems that I have thy attention."
"Don't kid with me!" The young prince shouted, the sound carrying throughout the cave easily. "Are you implying that Fuu is somehow back in Cephiro?"
"I am not implying anything. I am simply stating that it is so." A glimmer of something lit the great bird's eyes and Ferio heard the faint snapping of his teeth as he worked the muscles in his jaw too tightly.
If this Rune God had information about Fuu, he was not about to anger him to the point of silence…that didn't mean, however, that he appreciated being strung on and played with at a whim.
"Where is she?"
The rush of magic had descended upon him before he'd even had time to register its presence and now he found himself in a golden wasteland that seemed to go on forever.
Lantis blinked carefully, trying to adjust to the splashes of red and yellow that spread like ribbons all over the bright sky. The atmosphere around him trembled visibly, as if a living entity, and Lantis realized faintly that he was panting in an effort to inhale the burning air. Worse of all, the wind that blew through the great nothingness around him did not bring relief and the sweltering heat clung to his skin and clothes.
"Welcome to my alternate dimension, Magic Swordsman."
Lantis drew in a deep breath, tensing reflexively, and slowly turned around, his suspicions concerning the identity of his opponent already half-confirmed. "You are…a Rune God?" He inquired sharply, slightly disbelieving that he was actually looking at one of the Legendary Beast Gods that had been known for their power to either save or condemn Cephiro since immemorial times.
"I am Rayearth, Lord or Fire, a legendary Rune-God that awaits the Magic Knight in the Volcano Shrine. I have been here since the beginning of time and will continue to exist even after this world ceases to be."
A blazing mane, red eyes…Lantis couldn't decide whether he was looking at a wolf or a lion and the shifting fire around it didn't make it anymore clear.
"Why have you called me here?" Lantis inquired, unable to hide his curiosity and his pique. He found it unbearable to be subjected to this once more…this vivid, moving picture, which represented Hikaru so well that it very nearly hurt to look at.
"Dost thou not wish to see the Magic Knight of Fire, Hikaru, Kail Lantis? Thy heart tells me that it is so," Rayearth prodded, stepping forward on padded feet and bringing pure, raw fire with him…or maybe Lantis had forgotten how to breathe at the mention of her name.
"I will do anything to see her." There was no hesitation. There could be no hesitation. His heart didn't falter one bit when he thought of Hikaru and bringing her back to him…even if it was a selfish wish to keep her away from her own world.
"Thou must not do anything. The choice has already been made and the process already completed."
"Process?" Lantis narrowed his eyes threateningly. The choice?
"Indeed. The choice has been made," Rayearth admitted gravely and above them the clouds shifted through patterns of varied colors – gold and red, blue and green, violet and black – until Lantis felt everything blur in front of his eyes.
"I'm not the Pillar anymore. Can I still…stay?"
"I truly believe that I can have a future in this land; that I can help these people rebuild what was taken from them when Princess Emeraude died."
"We wish to stay because our loved ones are here also. We trust Miss Umi and we know that our families will understand our feelings and be happy for us."
"We wish to repay this trust and thus we shall bind thy souls to Cephiro forevermore. Thou will live into eternity as is dictated by the power of thy wills"
"The choice has been made and the changes are irreversible," Rayearth intoned patiently, ignoring Lantis' obvious bewilderment. "Two of the Magic Knights have chosen to make of thy world their homes and their wishes have been fulfilled in the best manner possible." Rayearth speared him with a sharp look and Lantis fell to his knees, feeling like a blade had run through him once more. The headache from earlier returned with a vengeance, paining him to the point where he saw white spots.
"Thou will find her in the place where she is most suited to be."
"Wait!" Lantis called out hoarsely, desperately trying to focus on the fading world around him. "Where is she?"
"Thou will find her, Kail. Thou know the place better than anyone."
The hot world around him melted away and Lantis had to cover his mouth to stop the sudden rush of cool air from invading his lungs too suddenly. He needed air and he needed it desperately, but too much was actually harmful. One arm wrapped around his torso even as the pain faded and became less bothersome and he fell back on his haunches, feeling sweat drip down his forehead as if he'd taken a recent dip in a cold lake.
So that was what it was like meeting a Rune-God. Even his magic had not worked against such a powerful creature…
'Lantis! Lantis!' Clef called to him, his power wrapping around him like a soothing balm that immediately took away the last remnants of pain. 'Did you see him? Did you meet Hikaru's Rune-God?'
He didn't even need to ask how his former master knew such things.
'I see…' Somehow, Lantis had the feeling that Clef was smiling wryly. 'Quite a shaking experience, isn't it? No matter how powerful we are by ourselves, we are not their Chosen ones…we are not meant to make contact too often. The results, as you've well seen, can be quite…painful.'
'You know something, Master Mage…but that can wait. Hikaru is somewhere here. In the castle.'
A part of Lantis' brain insisted that he didn't want to get up just yet. He pushed it away stubbornly and stood up despite the dizziness it brought, feeling that just her name on his tongue was enough to give him strength to continue. It was a heady concept. 'Yes. I will find her myself.' He announced, a pleased smile curving his lips upwards even as he started forward, mentally going through all the rooms of the castle he knew so well.
There was pain - oh yes - but beyond that there was excitement and that excitement was gradually spreading through his limbs, making him feel like nothing was too much…
Hikaru had returned.
Lantis paused, fingers brushing against the entrance door. 'Master Mage Clef?'
'I believe that there is yet another Magic Knight somewhere inside the castle. Possibly, the Wind Knight – the prince should be told if word hasn't already come to him from…better sources.'
He'd forgotten how big this castle was, Ferio panted nearly breathless with exhaustion, leaning heavily against one of the many curved walls for support.
It would've probably been better had he not rushed to end the conversation with Windam in his impatience; then, then, maybe he would've been given a clue as to where he could actually find his ladylove instead of just aimlessly running around opening every door and searching every darkened chamber for her familiar presence.
It didn't help that he didn't possess a drop of real power and that he was practically useless when it came to sensing magical signatures.
It was also very frustrating. He'd exhausted three levels worth of rooms, kitchens, bathing areas and whatnot – corner by corner with a patience he hadn't known he possessed – and if his memory wasn't failing, then he had at least fifty more levels to go through before finishing his search.
Ferio wiped the sweat that clung to his brow and wearily stood up, determined to use every resource in his power. Magical or non magical.
'Master Mage, I need your help.'
'Have you found her yet?'
'Not yet. The castle is too big to cover alone. I'll probably be at it all night if you don't help me locate her.'
A faint glimmer of surprise resonated across their bond and Ferio nearly held his breath in expectation of the inevitable question that would come, 'Did Windam offer no place for you to start?'
'Forgive me. I got too carried away and didn't wait for him to tell me more details.'
Even with his limited telepathy, Ferio could virtually hear Clef sigh in aggravation. 'Not even one clue?' he inquired, irritation making him sound more boyish than he was. Ferio decided that his wisest bet was to take a page from Fuu's book and keep silent…any attempt at defending himself would be useless and probably more liable to make Clef angry rather than helpful.
And the young Prince needed the cooperation because even standing still as he was now, he was boiling with impatience to find Fuu and hold her in his arms. This time for good.
'Very well, I suppose it can't be helped. Though Lantis' encounter with Rayearth was easier to deal with,' Clef added the last sentence with a rather decided mumble, 'I will attempt to locate Fuu and I will get back to you as soon as I have her location. Until then, try to look in all the familiar places you can think of.'
Ferio tried very hard not to feel confused. The whole castle looked familiar to him after two months of familiarizing himself with the route that the guards patrolled in order to ensure the comfort of his people. 'Master Mage?'
This time Ferio felt Clef's sigh as if it were his own. 'All the places that might signify something for the both of you. It was something that Rayearth suggested to Lantis to ease his search. Whatever place holds more meaning to you and Fuu is most likely the first place you should be looking for her.'
'Ah, yes. Understood.'
The mental bond went quiet a few moments later and Ferio resisted the urge to start it up again to complain about trivial issues. He was no little boy…
Special places, special places! Well, there were hallways and hallways…and then some more hallways.
Or maybe the throne room? No…Clef would've told him if she'd suddenly dropped out of the sky there.
Ferio squared his shoulders, working the chink out of his neck deftly, and decided that he had to start from somewhere if he wanted to find her before Clef – who was tired, weary and not in any real condition to use his magic at this time – managed to do even that before him.
That would be a terrible blow to his pride as a man…and it would remind him too much of that time when the Master Mage had saved them from that ghastly Debonair woman and he had been useless to do anything.
He clenched his jaw and turned on his heel, making a sharp turn towards the rounded staircase that led to the upper levels and thus to the living area and the quarters of the former Magic Knights and everyone else. He'd never personally been to Fuu's quarters, but he would start his search there and then do a wide perusal of the corridors and finally ask around the place for anyone who could offer some advice.
…there was something on the floor…
Ferio slowed down for a moment, brain struggling to catch up with his eyes, and then he was bolting – past the very familiar arcade and the very familiar round windows – nearly throwing himself to his knees in his haste.
…there was someone on the floor, clothes askew, hair curving softly around her shoulders and back in a way that was both familiar and strange at the same time.
"Get a hold of yourself…hey! Miss!" He lifted the woman gently in his arms and nearly froze as a stray moonbeam fell on her, revealing a face he knew better than his own. "Fuu?"
What the hell had happened to her? Her hair was green and long and her face…her face! Ferio cupped her cheek; barely able to think past anything aside the fact that his ladylove looked about seventeen – which made her nearly his age. "Wake up, Fuu. Fuu!"
She didn't even twitch.
'Do not worry prince…she is merely slumbering. Our magic has taken its toll on her', Windam murmured in his mind in a way that Ferio perceived as being almost…comforting. He forced himself to unclench his muscles, lest they snap under the pressure, and calm his pounding heart. For a moment there, she'd seemed so still that he'd thought her dead.
'What the heck happened to her!'
'Change', Windam replied cryptically and almost annoyingly calm in the face of his anger and Ferio very nearly seethed as, moments later, the presence of the Rune God faded from his mind completely.
He detested riddles.
'Caldina!' he hollered mentally, lifting Fuu easily and pressing her to his chest – where she best belonged. 'Tell Clef that I have Fuu. She's unconscious and weak and if anyone wants to talk to me, I'm unavailable at the moment!'
And if they didn't like it, tough luck!
He couldn't believe it…to find her here of all places. He'd searched the fountain room, her room. Lantis had even gone as far as to search the throne room, from where a visibly baffled Clef had shooed him off, and then his room as well. Though Hikaru probably didn't even know in which part of the castle he resided.
To think that she would be lying in the Crown chamber, curled up loosely on the stone pillar situated in the center of the room. It was irony in its highest form.
Lantis didn't much appreciate irony.
The water was cold as it slowly saturated his clothes and the heavy armor nearly pulled him to the bottom before he managed to raise himself to the surface through sheer will. The distance to the pillar was something even a child could handle and normally he wouldn't have had a problem swimming, yet now he found himself panting as he grabbed the stone ledge and half pulled himself up; somehow remembering to push Hikaru's loose hair away before he accidentally hurt her by kneeling on it.
The wound that Nova had given him had barely healed and the presence of the Rune God had sapped him of the little strength he'd managed to acquire after the Great Battle.
"Hikaru. Hikaru, wake up." She was lightweight even in his condition and he maneuvered her in his embrace with ease – struggling not to savor the feeling too much in favor of checking her pulse – until she rested against his chest snugly.
"Hika-" The rest of her name lodged itself in his throat and for a moment Lantis could only stare at her face, wondering if his eyes deceived him.
This was not the girl he'd let go just a few hours before.
He caressed her cheek tentatively and pushed a strand of hair behind her ear, taking in the obvious change that Rayearth had mentioned earlier. The…years worth of change that were ever so obvious. She'd always been slim and delicate, but now her features seemed to have gained a more mature edge that only enhanced her femininity.
With careful movements he eased them both back into the water, mentally grimacing as the chill soaked into Hikaru's clothes as well and wondered what in the world had possessed Rayearth to teleport her in the middle of a place to which it was so hard to get; a place too narrow for him to jump to without hurting her…in a room too filled with residual magic to use other spells to create a temporary bridge.
"You found her!" Sierra exclaimed from the door, slightly red-rimmed eyes the only signs that betrayed the fact that she had been crying earlier. "Master Mage Clef told me what was happening but he was vague when it came to the details." She crouched down, helping him pull Hikaru out of the water with an unhappy cluck. "Of all the places Rayearth could send her…is she alright? She's unhurt, isn't she? Oh."
Lantis silently counted the moments till her outburst.
"What in the name of the Pillar happened to her?"
…and of course anticipated her words easily. "Do not fret."
Sierra sized him up, taking notice of the puddles of water forming around them and bit down on the avalanche of questions that could most likely get answers later.
"I'll ask what's this all about later. For the moment, you're both cold and soaked to the bone and I need to check your wound and change your bandages." She gave him a hard stare that expected immediate compliance and Lantis found himself too weary to bat away her worries.
"My room is in the West Wing."
"Perfect, I'll carry her!"
Lantis narrowed his eyes at her and Sierra found herself backpedaling before she even realized it.
Or rather not.
Lantis picked Hikaru up from her arms – infinitesimally careful and surprisingly fluid for a man still recovering from some serious wounds - and Sierra fought the urge to acknowledge her own inadequacy as she sat up in a hurry and stumbled after him; pinpricks of sensation traveling up and down her legs from her earlier uncomfortable position.
"Did Rayearth tell you why? I mean," Sierra sped up in order to keep up with his long strides, wringing the excess water from her knee length dress in an effort to make herself slightly more presentable. "Did Rayearth tell you why the girls were back so suddenly? I thought that this would be the last time we would see them…for a while now."
From the corner of her eyes, she noticed the subtle tightening of his jaw and mentally berated herself for wording her question in such a hurtful way – of course Lantis had probably been aware of that too. She didn't need to drive the knife in deeper…
"They wanted to stay." He told her quietly, veering towards a slightly less illuminated part of the castle with confident steps. Hikaru sighed quietly and snuggled in his embrace and Lantis was sharply reminded of another time he'd carried her in his arms like this.
"Hikaru and Fuu wanted that?" Sierra inquired wide-eyed, pushing open the polished doors of his chambers for him. She'd been here only once when Caldina had given her an impromptu tour of the castle but it was easier to distinguish it from most others.
The rooms generally resembled each other – there hadn't exactly been time and mental energy for custom-built rooms for everyone – but the walls and floor in Lantis' room were made from light plum colored arl, a wonderful mineral that retained warmth even without the aid of sunlight.
"Set her on the bed please. I'll change her into something more comfortable so that she won't catch a cold," Sierra entreated lightly, rushing towards the imposing wardrobe and throwing open the doors for something to dress her friend in before she caught a horrible cold that would spoil all the pleasure of her return.
As expected, Lantis' clothes weren't anything out of the ordinary but Sierra still found herself ogling some of the court attires and wondering how he would look dressed in those. There had been neither time nor occasion to parade in any of these – with all the attacks and the battles waging around the castle and even inside it - but she could clearly imagine the ladies fawning over him once things went back to normal. Lantis probably would never wear them for that very reason, Sierra thought muffling a giggle so as to not make him uncomfortable.
Hikaru would love these.
"You don't mind if I take one of your shirts, right?" Changes or not, anything of Lantis would still look big on Hikaru's small frame.
"Take anything you wish," Lantis murmured, oddly strained, and Sierra blinked as a moment later she heard the sound of the door shutting.
A quick perusal of the room revealed that he had given them the privacy they needed and she couldn't help but wonder if he had actually gone to change in another room…or even in the hallway just for Hikaru's sake.
"Idiot…stop blushing," Sierra berated herself, not really knowing why she felt flustered at witnessing such a considerate gesture but slightly jealous that she had yet to meet a man that would show her even half of such love.
"Guess you don't need my help after all, do you?" She smiled, looking at the sleeping girl on the bed. "You two can fix your problems just fine. Must be true that love wins in the end after all."
One-way or another, she thoughts testily, remembering Princess Emeraude and Zagato's tragic end. Despite all the pain brought on by that, Lantis seemed to fare rather with the fact that he loves a woman who killed his brother.
The bed creaked slightly as she seated herself down on the edge and contemplated how to remove the wet – and now rather clingy – clothes that seemed to fall short now that Hikaru had gained inches…in height and…chest. Sierra hid another smile behind her hand and wondered if Lantis had taken notice of every change that had taken place. Beneath wet clothes these things were easier to notice.
Well, even if Lantis hadn't noticed yet – blaming the circumstances and the excitement – Hikaru would notice it when she woke up and looked a bit at herself. It was hard to miss a difference of, oh, three to four years worth of growth especially since the poor girl had been so embarrassed of having an unsuitable body.
"At least now I know why you were comparing chest size with Alcyone of all people," Sierra rubbed her temples with another nervous laugh, hoping that Lantis wouldn't suddenly return to the room and catch her staring blankly at the sheets.
"Comparing sizes with Alcyone is impossible. I'd never win."
Sierra tensed for a split second. "You're awake?"
"Mhmmm," Hikaru nodded sleepily, yawning heartily and wondering how she had ended up in such a luxurious bed. The last thing she remembered, she was falling asleep with Rayearth and Windam telling her something about rewarding her and…Fuu
Hikaru stood up so fast that Sierra was forced to move out of the way lest she ended up with a serious concussion. "Wait, wait…slow down, Hikaru!" She quipped, setting her hands on her shoulders before the girl did something reckless and bolted out the room or something. "You're in Cephiro. You're in Lantis' room…safe."
"What about Fuu?" Hikaru insisted, struggling to shake the sleep from her drugged mind and not really comprehending what her friend was saying in her urgency to make sure that Fuu was all right.
"Ferio is looking for her in the castle as we speak."
Relief washed over her even as her erratic heart beat wildly in her chest and Hikaru wondered at the odds of giving herself a whiplash in just three seconds after waking up. "I am…"
…in Lantis' room.
"In Lantis' room?" she squeaked, nearly hyperventilating again.
"He's not here. Calm down, Hikaru. Lantis carried you here from the Crown Room to change your clothes…"
Hikaru turned an astounding shade of red and Sierra followed suit, realizing just what stupidity she'd let out. "I mean Lantis carried you here because you were soaking wet and then he left me in charge of changing your clothes! We don't want you catching a c-cold." Oh, for the love of the Pillar she was even stuttering now?
She smiled nervously and made to run a hand through her hair seconds before she remembered that, as Presea, she kept it in a high ponytail.
Sierra stifled a sigh.
"So he's…not here?" the red haired girl whispered shyly. "Is he coming back?" the last time he'd carried her to his – her – room, she'd woken up alone; at that time she'd hurried to Presea to check that she was safe, trying not to let his absence bother her too much.
Sierra gave her shoulders a slight squeeze and winked almost conspiratorially. "Of course he is. He probably wants to see you just as much as you want to see him! And don't try to deny it because it's written all over your face and at this point we pretty much all know that you're both very much in love."
Hikaru clamped her mouth shut and nodded, willing herself to stop digging her nails into the blanket lest she ripped a hole in it in her excitement…she didn't want to have to explain that to Lantis instead of spending her time with him more meaningfully. When in his presence, she tended to babble like a twit about inconsequential things.
"But first you have to change," Sierra coaxed, pushing the dark shirt into her hands and speaking slowly as if to a small child (not that Hikaru herself didn't know that she looked young). "And then you might want to look into a mirror and…see if anything can surprise you anymore!" The blonde finished awkwardly, realizing that she didn't yet know how to break the news to her impressionable friend.
"A mirror?" Hikaru inquired, blinking up at her with such wide and guileless eyes that Sierra began to wonder at the injustice of leaving poor Lantis alone with this one.
No matter how courteous that man was, even Lantis was probably going to have problems resisting those eyes.
"Ah, yes." She patted her hand, moving to pull off the white ribbon that hung limply at Hikaru's chest. The moment the ribbon was off, the mirror pendant tumbled out all bright gold and glittering glass. Sierra smiled. "It appears that your newly formed bond with our land has brought on some very interesting changes which will probably take some time to get used to."
As if to prove her point, she lifted the pendant, turning it towards Hikaru so that the young girl could get a glimpse of her reflection in the clear mirror.
She wasn't left disappointed.
"Breathe, Hikaru, breathe. Slower sweetheart."
"This can't be me," Hikaru choked, grabbing the pendant and practically gluing her face to it. "What happened to me?"
Her face looked older, more mature…as if a stranger was looking back at her and if not for the distinctive hair and eye color, which she could hardly confuse with someone else's, Hikaru would've sworn that it was magic at work and not her own reflection. Well, it probably was magic at work but…
She touched her face hesitantly, trying to accustom herself with the new adult her; moving across her sharper, more defined features and faintly caressing her loose, longer hair that now seemed to fall all around her in soft waves, curling against her thighs and tickling her calves.
Surely, she'd never been this pretty before.
Sierra curved her fingers against the edges of the pendant, forcing Hikaru to look away from her reflection and into her warm, amber eyes; her smile was sunny and motherly even in the darkness and Hikaru felt some of the painful tenseness leave her shoulders.
"From now on, you'll only bloom more and grow more beautiful so don't worry. I believe that this change is all for the best."
A moment of awkwardness and then Hikaru nodded stiffly and let the older woman pull off her red jacket and her knee length socks; batting her hands away when it came to removing her shirt and skirt and her undergarments.
"I'm sorry I have nothing to give you here," Sierra mumbled with a slight blush, half turning away when Hikaru drew the black shirt over her small frame.
"It's okay," Hikaru replied, blushing as well – again – and trying to tell herself that she didn't have to feel embarrassed by her near nakedness. The shirt covered her thighs and brushed comfortably against her knees, leaving little vulnerability issues…generally.
"Don't worry, we'll find you some new clothes tomorrow and you can have your old ones back as soon as they're cleaned and dried. If things go a little too well tonight, you might not be needing undergarments anyway…"
"What was that?"
"Oh, nothing." Sierra chirped, patting her hand and pushing herself up, the small bundle clutched in her hands. "I'll just go see if I can find Lantis now so you two can have your talk." She turned on her heel and nearly skipped on her way to the door.
Hikaru wondered if it was wise to try and figure out what went on through her friend's mind.
For a moment, Sierra asked herself if maybe her enthusiasm had been too much for the poor girl (Hikaru had looked a tad overwhelmed). Maybe, just maybe, trying to emulate her dear sister had gone over a little too well…Presea had always been unhealthily happy while still managing to not scare off those around her.
But then again, Sierra herself didn't know to encourage other girls with relationships – no matter how much she pretended to be Presea and thus all knowledgeable – and she definitely didn't know how to be just the right shade of chirpy so as to not frighten people but still offer a measure of comfort and safety.
No matter what, Presea was better at this type of thing.
"Is she better?" Lantis' quiet voice interrupted her jumbled thoughts and Sierra had to force herself not to jump out of her boots at his sudden appearance behind her. The lack of light affected her eyes a bit too much and he was as quiet as a shadow…no doubt as a result of many years of training.
He'd gotten rid of the wet garments, donning instead a simple white tunic and a pair of black pants, and if the towel he was using to dry his hair was any indication, he'd taken a quick bath to warm himself up a bit as well.
"Ah, yes. But why don't you check on her yourself and see how she's doing? I've finished changing her clothes so the risk of her catching a cold is little to none." She just needs some body warmth from you, Sierra thought, trying to keep her smile neutral as to not arouse suspicions.
Thankfully enough, Lantis was too unsuspecting of her to search for any suspicious intentions beneath her innocent visage. "The Master Mage will wish to know the outcome of my search, no doubt."
Well, she was no soldier reporting for duty but…Sierra couldn't have planned things better. "I'll tell him that Hikaru is resting" liar, liar, "in your room and that all is well. He'll probably give her till noon tomorrow before summoning us for explanations. We've all had a hard day, after all."
Lantis stared at her pointedly, one eyebrow raised.
Sierra stared right back, hands on her hips, so that he could clearly see the message in her eyes – she was going to make it so that no one would be bothered by uncomfortable questions before they were ready!
Apparently, that message satisfied him enough because he inclined his head towards her shortly and bypassed her, slipping into the room so quietly that Sierra was almost sure that Hikaru would have a heart attack.
Hikaru very nearly had a heart attack when the door opened and Lantis entered the darkened room with the grace of a large feline – actually, she was pretty sure that if the door hadn't creaked a bit, she would've completely missed him altogether.
"You came," she breathed, drinking in the sight of him with such heady feelings that it almost frightened her.
"You're awake," he responded, a hint of surprise buried deep beneath his smooth tones, and a moment later he lengthened his strides to get to her – his – bed and Hikaru was sure that her current vulnerability blatantly showed in her eyes and posture. It was kind of hard to hide it seeing as how she'd never been in a man's room in the middle of the night…half naked.
His fingers curved around her cheek in a gesture she had done for him so many times before and Hikaru jumped a little before covering his hand with her much smaller ones, mutely telling him just how much she'd missed him. Her strong emotions were most likely pretty evident because he quivered slightly under her touch and for a few more moments neither moved from their positions. Her, kneeling on the bed, and him, standing by her, underneath pale moonlight.
The warmth from her face echoed in her heart and Hikaru opened her eyes to look up at him adoringly. "You're really here. After I left…I thought I'd never see you again."
Lantis' eyes turned as black as a starless night – almost raw and beautiful – and when he sank on the edge of the mattress Hikaru pushed back her girlish awkwardness and sank into him…too happy with their closeness to restrain herself. His clothes were comfortable and smelled of him and his chest was warm in a way that made her tremble pleasantly.
"I'll never let you go."
Hikaru tried to untangle herself from his embrace to look at him but his arms held her tightly and all she could do was listen to the timbre of his voice as he bespoke of his own worries.
"After you disappeared, all I could think was that Cephiro had taken yet another person I loved. It was just like this land to choose according to its selfish whims…but then I realized that I was just as selfish because, no matter your own wishes, I wanted to keep you here with me always." His arms tightened around her to the point where the pressure was nearly painful. "No matter what you came back for, I want to keep you with me forever."
The way he said it was probably meant to reveal an unpardonable sin but Hikaru had a hard time not swooning over such a straightforward admission. It probably would've seemed possessive to someone like Umi, but for her the intensity of his feelings was nearly undoing in itself. The lone, strong and silent warrior trying to put his love for her into words…
It was a humbling experience.
"Then keep me forever," she murmured softly, inhaling his musky scent and wondering if this was bliss or another dream that she'd eventually wake up from. "You know I…I left my parents and my brothers to be with you," she smiled at the catch in his breath and tried to discreetly blink away the tears in her eyes. "It's painful to know that I'll probably never see them again but I think they'd understand. Satoru always did say that I should follow my decisions until the end and this is what I chose…"
This time when she pulled back he let her and her smile only widened when he reached forward to brush his knuckles against the corners of her eyes. "I chose you. And I don't regret that. And…and…I think it's as simple as that."
Her laughter ended abruptly when Lantis leaned forward to press his lips against hers and this time it was her turn to pause in surprise.
Hikaru exhaled with a hum of pleasure and let him pull her between his legs and against his body until she was sure that every little inch of her was molded to him. He was all muscle and fiber, somehow very different from her own softer body, and she nearly melted when his hands moved around her to settle on the small of her back and between her shoulder blades respectively.
The kiss was gentle and tentative, and while Hikaru couldn't stop the small shivers from going up and down her spine, she had the feeling that the experience could be so much more intense. It was strange…she'd always been bolder than most girls but she'd never been so comfortable around men. Never so open and so daring.
She pushed herself harder against him, not sure of what she was supposed to do next, and Lantis hoisted her up in his lap, until she was looking down into his eyes and kissed her again…in a way that made the last kiss seem like a friendly peck on the cheek.
Hikaru whimpered, sagging against him boneless when he angled his mouth against hers just so and made her see bright stars behind her closed lids. Obviously, she'd been right when she'd thought that it could get better…
Her hands spanned his wide shoulders and brushed briefly against his chest before curling around his neck loosely. His hair, slightly damp, tickled her wrists…
Bliss, bliss, bliss…
Lantis broke the kiss first to allow them air, his breathing harsh and irregular, and Hikaru tried to calm herself for a few moments, moving a longer strand of his hair from his cheek even as he kept her spellbound with the sheer intensity of his eyes. They seemed even darker now…possibly darkened by passion.
Hikaru blushed but leaned down to apply another tender kiss to the corner of his mouth nevertheless. And when he captured her lips once more, Hikaru prepared herself for another roller coaster ride. Lantis, on the other hand, seemed to have something else in mind as he languidly moved to kiss the corner of her mouth, as she had done moments ago, then her cheek, followed by a spot beneath her ear…
The air in her lungs whooshed out, slightly jerky, and she let her head fall sideways to give him all the access he needed. He took full advantage of that, nudging the high collar of her – his – shirt downwards to kiss the space between her neck and shoulder; sending goose bumps across her skin.
"Lantis," she pleaded wanting him to stop teasing her and do something about the ache in her belly. It was hard to put it into words but she knew that if he didn't touch her more insistently soon, she'd go insane.
"Are you certain?" he murmured, sounding slightly rougher than usual.
"Yes," she murmured, caressing his face trustingly. This…he was what she had come back for and whether it was now or later, her feelings wouldn't change.
The world tilted on its axis and Hikaru sighed pleasantly when her back hit the bed with a muted thump. Lantis towered over her, palms outstretched on each side of her head, knees bumping her thighs and touching skin where her shirt had slid up a few inches. She was only with him in this quiet, private world and the concept didn't seem as awkward as she'd always imagined it would be.
And when he moved to kiss her neck – a sharp nip followed by the soothing rasp of his tongue – imagination blew up in smoke and she moaned her assent, trying to tug him down so she could envelope herself in his warmth once more. He went down willingly, his hands moving down to grasp her legs and lift them around his waist so as not to crush her smaller frame underneath his weight.
Hikaru didn't know whether she should anticipate or dread the moment he decided to take her shirt off. It was bound to happen sooner than later because of the way it constricted movements and…
Lantis' chose that moment to slip his fingers under the black material and she couldn't hold back a gasp of surprise. A look at him revealed that he was gauging her reactions carefully so she forced herself to relax under his touch and not flinch at every whisper of movement. It was definitely harder done than said because some rebellious muscles kept clenching even though she didn't want them to.
"You don't…" His fingers curved firmly around her hip and Hikaru blushed as red as her hair when she realized that he knew exactly what wasn't beneath the borrowed garments.
She pulled him down for a kiss so she wouldn't have to babble out a stupid answer and fortunately he seemed to understand her embarrassment, choosing to slant his mouth against hers as hard as she needed to sate her desire.
He didn't know what he'd ever done to deserve to have a woman like her but even the way she looked at him – all expressive, wide eyes in a heart shaped face – managed to stir something deep and powerful inside him. No other had managed to wake up such emotions and he had a hard time remembering the murky state of unhappiness he'd been in before he'd stumbled upon her that first night. Lantis raised himself up and pulled the tunic over his head with sharp, sure movements regretting that he couldn't be more thorough in his exploration of her but barely able to ignore the impulse to rip off that shirt and get her naked into his arms. Especially when she looked like she would like that.
Hikaru stared at his chest wide-eyed like a doe and flexed her legs around his waist as a surge of heat traveled down her spine. Then she did it again as he pushed against her, rolling his hips and making her see stars. With only their breathing as background noise, her whimper rang abnormally loud.
She trembled as his hands ghosted over her thighs, advancing slowly to allow her time to get used to him, and when he moved to grasp the edge of her shirt she gathered her courage and lifted her arms above her head, preparing to be embarrassed when she'd again look him in the eye.
Instead, she had only a puff of warning as he kissed the space between her breasts, turning her knees into jelly and forcing another cry of pleasure from her throat. "Oh, please." She threaded her fingers through his hair and the flicker in her belly exploded into a full-fledged flame, growing in intensity with each bite and kiss and teasing nip. Her legs tightened painfully around his waist but there was little relief forthcoming and Hikaru could only sob in frustration.
He didn't bother to take off the shirt completely, wrapping the ends around his knuckles and pushing it off her so that it only covered her eyes and left her completely at his mercy. Hikaru could barely foresee where he would touch next – she could only beg him when he teased her sensitive flesh and try to stifle her cries when he gave her what she wanted and the sensations turned maddening without an end.
He was gentle with her, oh, as much she could tell. However his gentleness lit up a bright fire and heated the room until she had difficulties drawing even one breath.
In the back of her mind, it was hard to believe that he could twist and use her body this way…that her breasts would become so tender so quickly under the assault of his mouth or that her belly would quiver whenever his chest brushed against it. It had never happened while she bathed or dressed herself and now a simple whisper seemed to kill any rational thought.
"Please, oh please, oh please!" Her senses had sharpened and attuned to his every caress and her whole body simply vibrated with the need to be with him. The girls at her school had talked about first time pains and discomfort and of course pleasure but right now Hikaru was quite willing to accept a little pain after so much pleasure if only to get the relief that seemed so far away.
The shirt was wrenched away and Hikaru had but a moment to adjust to her dark surroundings before Lantis covered her lips with his, making her head spin with a sweet dizziness of sorts. Instead of being hot, like she'd expected, his kiss was tender and languorous and somehow had the same effect as his earlier touches had…or maybe she was teetering over the edge and a mere push could send her over anyway.
She dragged her heel across the back of his leg, trying not to question how or when he had removed his last article of clothing, decided to not be skittish about his state of undress and instead happy to simply savor this wonderful intimacy. He was warm, hers, and he loved her.
"Forgive me," he murmured thickly and for a moment Hikaru could only look at him helplessly, unable to make anything of the mixture of muted regret and resolution etched in his indigo tinted eyes. Then he flexed his fingers against her hip and Hikaru wasn't sure how they moved against each other but one moment he was breathing hotly against the curve of her jaw and the next she was arching against him, freezing beneath him and tightening around him.
So this was pain. She had felt worse…so much worse during her endless battles. But like every pain she had been subjected to – the last one generally erased the memory of the previous ones.
Reality rushed back in a few second's time and Hikaru let out a little whimper as Lantis gently kissed away the tears coursing down her face. "I'm fine." And she was. The invasion of her body had been sudden and unexpected but Lantis had done all in his power to have it end as fast as possible and the soreness and ache between her legs she could deal with bravely.
"Hikaru…" Her name always managed to sound so intense coming from his mouth. And that was not the only intense thing…
"I hope that's not all there is to this," she joked trying to dispel the newly formed darkness in his eyes. "That would be just…"
Lantis rolled his hips against hers and Hikaru choked mid-sentence, throwing her head back and seeing bright lights that had everything to do with the friction between them and nothing with the bright sky peeking from the high window.
He pushed her long hair out of her face carefully, pressing his forehead against hers, and Hikaru vaguely noticed the sweat dripping on his brow before he suggested that she should hold onto his shoulders…
…and then took his cue to show her just how much better this could get.
Hikaru had nothing to complain about that.
She couldn't remember that last time she'd slept so soundly. Her muscles were relaxed, her head a bit light and she was positive that sunshine was streaming through a nearby window, because the side of her face that wasn't buried into the soft pillow, was gradually getting warmer by the moment.
Fuu hummed, pleased, and stretched beneath the covers, trying to discern where exactly she was. It felt like a late Saturday morning spent in her room but…
Cephiro…Ferio…she'd made a wish…
She got up so quickly that she probably would've given herself a whiplash had Ferio not held her down firmly by the shoulders. "It's alright, Fuu. Calm down. I'm here."
Something that shouldn't have happened had she been back in Tokyo like she was supposed to, Fuu thought dazedly, wondering if the burning tears behind her eyelids were just because of the bright light behind him or because he had such a beautiful smile.
"Ferio…?" Oh no, just the sight of him turned her into a weak, clingy woman who cried at the smallest things. Fuu had never thought herself the type to become weak-kneed because of a man of all things; she'd always been so level-headed, composed and especially analytical…
Ferio sighed loudly and passed a hand through his hair, making it frizz slightly (for which reason Fuu wanted to giggle uncontrollably, even at the risk of looking like a lunatic), "Good God, Fuu, you had me fretting through the longest night of my life and the first thing you can say is my name?"
Frizzy hair, a baffled Ferio who fretted and her shaky nerves…
Fuu didn't know whether she wanted to burst into tears because she was so very happy or laugh because she was so very happy and because this was her first good wish concerning this land which had come true. She buried her face in her hands and sobbed lightly…
…which was more than enough to make the young prince turn a shade or two paler.
"Come on, Fuu, sweetheart, don't cry," Ferio panicked, mentally, giving himself a good beating down for being such a cad with the one he cherished the most. He'd only wanted to bring a smile on that serious visage; wanted to be the first face she saw when in the morning – he'd actually practiced what he was going to say to her now that she was back to stay!
Being slightly sarcastic and sounding annoyed in a dozen words hadn't been outlined in his plan to woo her.
He really was an idiot. He'd actually been much better at wooing her with phrases like 'you're my happiness' and 'I won't let others have what I cherish most' when he hadn't been so aware of using them!
"I'm sorry…I didn't mean to sound angry at you." Ferio reassured, seeing that his ladylove had no intention of stopping anytime soon. "I'm really bad at this," he muttered, awkwardly hugging her…and trying hard not to imagine what was under the thin, white shirt of hers. "If Caldina catches us like this, the whole of Cephiro will find out in a few hours…minutes, you know."
Fuu chuckled in his shirt and Ferio's heart lifted a bit realizing that maybe a few more moments would be enough to make it all better.
"Are you afraid that maybe tongues will begin wagging or are you just trying to make me feel better?
"Both," Ferio admitted shamelessly. "It's good that you're able to smile," finally, he thought feeling relieved, "but if tongues start wagging, people will start thinking that I'm asking you to be my princess because of a stupid obligation and not simply because I love you."
Cradled at his chest, Fuu felt another bout of dizziness overtake her – which was simply absurd because she was sitting down, "Become your princess?"
"Yeah," Ferio replied, a hint of pride in his voice, pulling her back so he could cup her face. "Windam made me a little visit last night." Fuu blushed under his knowing smile, "He told me that you'd chosen to stay in Cephiro forever; going as far as binding your soul to the land."
Binding her soul to the land? Had she really? Well, she supposed she'd had. Hikaru had probably done so as well. There was pretty much nothing in Cephiro that could surprise her anymore; she'd seen all that could shock sensible people, fought against magic and monsters and dangerous masterminds.
"Did you do it for me?" Ferio asked tenderly, lifting her like she was a feather and setting her down on his knee, apparently not caring about their impropriety like he'd let her believe earlier. The tone of his voice, the surety in his tawny eyes, as if he'd caught her and she didn't know, and the handsome smile that flitted across his lips made her want to lift her chin primly and chastise him for his arrogance…but the fondness in her heart didn't allow it.
Especially since he was correct and she couldn't bring herself to lie to him.
Fuu smiled sweetly and wrapped her arms around his neck, pressing her forehead against his. "You shouldn't," she threaded her fingers through his ponytail, watching his own smile deepen with satisfaction at her display of affection, and tugged playfully, enjoying his yelp of pain, "be so sure of yourself, my prince. It doesn't become you at all. You should be more modest."
Ferio mock glared at her.
Fuu smiled innocently, trying to placate him with a gentle caress.
"You haven't changed at all since that meeting in the Forest of Silence, have you, you ruthless woman?"
"It would be most disappointing if people were able to change at the snap of a finger. One would never know how to act around others."
"That's right," Ferio grumbled to himself. "I couldn't have chosen Hikaru or…Hikaru," he finished lamely, realizing that Umi was nowhere near an option for a woman – at least not his. "I just had to choose myself the sharp-tongued, cunning and stubborn one of the three Magic Knights."
At this, Fuu covered her mouth (strangely comfortable practically straddling him by now) and laughed quietly. "You could go and try right now, however I'm afraid that Mister Lantis might try to harm you irreparably if you attempted to steal her."
"He would," Ferio grumbled again under his breath comically. "That man wasn't Captain of the Guards for nothing so long ago. He'd probably cut my throat. Allegiance or no allegiance."
That sounded a tad exaggerated to her, but then again, the silent ones were said to be the more unpredictable ones. Hikaru claimed that Lantis was good and kind but perhaps that only applied when he wasn't dangerously angry (suggesting such a thing as stealing Hikaru from him sounded like it could make him do dangerous things).
No need to test the theory and end up without her love interest now that she'd finally managed to, as Umi would kindly put it, 'snag him' forever. Miss Umi…
Ferio was probably more attuned to her mood changes than she realized, because he caught the subtle plummeting of her mood even before she felt the full effect of it herself. There could be no other explanation, Fuu thought, sensing his sudden concern and somehow knowing what he was going to ask before he did it. "Hey…what's wrong? You've gone all quiet on me," he commented softly, brushing a stray curl from her face.
"It's nothing," she attempted a strained smile, bravely grabbing hold of his hand and placing it against her face once more to savor the warmth he seemed to exude naturally. He wasn't wearing any gloves and the contrast between her cool skin and his body heat was soothing. "I just wish that miss Umi could've been here with us as well." The same went for her mother, father and sister, though she'd known that she'd never be allowed to bring them to Cephiro.
A glint of something dark entered his eyes and Fuu couldn't help but wonder if he wished the same as well. When he looked at her though, his gaze was steady and she could only wonder if she'd imagined the whole thing. "No matter how much I understand your plight now, I can't let you feel sorry for yourself, Fuu. You were already thin enough when you returned," Ferio disapproved, referring to their conversation from a few days ago. "If you start worrying about Umi or your family now that you've left them behind, you'll only do more damage to yourself."
"But," Fuu attempted weakly only to have Ferio silence her with a stern look and an abrupt lift of his free hand.
Well, he certainly played the part of royalty convincingly. It was almost hard to believe that he'd grown up anywhere else but a palace.
"In Cephiro, it's not abnormal for young women to leave their families and travel to remote parts of the land to be with their lovers. You chose this path for yourself – and so did Hikaru – so neither of you should be sad about it. It's disrespectful for those you've left behind. If you chose this, you must see it through until the day you die."
Fuu blinked down at him dazedly, feeling a bit stunned by such a passionate speech.
"I think I'm starting to see why you're going to be next ruler of this land," she blurted out the first, admittedly silly, thought that came to her mind. Her mouth stretched into a light smile as Ferio indignantly puffed up. "You could probably make jumping off a cliff look like a patriotic and logical thing to many people."
"I'm ecstatic that my future queen thinks so much of me and her people." came the dry response.
Fuu staggered in his embrace, forcing Ferio to tighten his grip on her. "Please don't faint on me, Fuu, sweetheart! If you react this way to my proposal now, I can't even consider what you might do when you look in a mirror!" he begged, realizing what he'd said moments after he'd spoken…
…when it was too late to escape his her notice and all he could was hit himself for not being more sensible about the situation.
Fuu was not the type to act rashly but he had the feeling that his ears would hear some serious high-pitched screams soon.
"What will happen when I look in a mirror, Ferio?" Fuu inquired mildly, unconsciously looking for a mirror in her room (every room in Cephiro had one after all so why would this one be different than the rest?) and ignoring Ferio's slightly panicked look as he tried to restrain her in his embrace before she bolted to assuage her curiosity.
"You'll probably rediscover a new side of yourself, sweetheart," the prince attempted standing up with her in his arms, mindful of the cold floor under her bare feet.
A new side of herself? Had her hair turned green by any chance?
"Ferio," she protested lightly, not really liking the wary glint in his eyes, "put me down. I can look at my own reflection without falling down!"
"I'm not so sure. Let's not take chances, please?"
"You're not making me feel better…"
"Let's hope that I don't shock you too much," Ferio added, walking with measured steps towards the round, high mirror situated a few feet away on the large dressing table. "The soul bond you now have with Cephiro and Windam might have…changed a few notable things." He grimaced slightly, putting her down so she could have a close look of herself…
…not that it was really necessary to look closely.
"Before you say something," he commented in a low, reassuring tone, setting his hands on her shoulders just in case, "let me just say that you look even more beautiful than before."
Fuu struggled to open her mouth and say something in response to that, but for more than obvious reasons, her witty remarks seemed to have abandoned her completely.
More…beautiful? Rediscover a new side? She was a completely different person!
"Ferio…?" Fuu asked, around the lump in her throat that seemed to make breathing properly somewhat impossible. There was a stranger in her bedroom and one way or another it seemed to have gotten into her mirror!
"How old am I now?"
"And why is my hair just three shades lighter than yours?"
"Now, now, don't panic! Breathe!"
There was no way she would not panic here!
Hikaru woke up to golden sunlight and strong arms around her body. Or better said, she woke up completely tangled in her Lantis' embrace like it was the most natural thing in the world.
They had fallen asleep after many exhausting hours of lovemaking but she still remembered the sweet nothings he had whispered in her ear as she snuggled into his chest. Most likely sometime in the middle of the night, Lantis had decided that just holding her wasn't enough, which was probably why she was currently half sprawled over his chest, legs twined with his to the point where Hikaru wasn't even sure where she started and he ended. The sheets were strewn around them along with her loose hair and she was acutely aware of the hand that rested on the small of her back, fingers loosely skimming the curve of her behind even in sleep.
It would've actually been really embarrassing if it weren't for the fact that nothing could beat being glued to a naked man while wearing little more than a sheet and a silly smile. That and the fact that his hands had already been there, back and everywhere else in-between.
Hikaru had the feeling that if she didn't stop grinning soon, she'd end up being permanently stuck like that.
It was too much in such a short amount of time – too much happiness in a single day not to feel overwhelmed by what was happening.
She had the insane urge to just bury her face in his chest and cry until the rush of delight eased and she could breathe properly. But that would mean waking him up and as much as she wanted – and dreaded – such a thing, his peaceful expression made it all worth staying still and watching him a little more.
It was only the third time she'd seen Lantis in the sun and the first time didn't count, because a few magic induced memories couldn't compare with reality, while the second was vague around the edges…most likely because she'd been crying about leaving Cephiro. Him.
Until now she'd barely been able to catch stray glimpses of his peaceful visage – and occasionally a smile that made he heart skip a beat – but now he was completely unguarded against the world. His hair, as black as a raven's wing, half covered his face and his lips were parted slightly in slumber, giving him a boyish look that only enhanced his charm.
Hikaru settled more comfortably on his chest – freezing for a moment when he stirred and tightened his hold on her – and pressed the side of her face against his shoulder, smiling affectionately. He was warm under her touch, just like she'd secretly believed he would be, and she could faintly pick up the beat of his heart…along with the spicy tang of cinnamon and another more earthy scent that now clung to her skin as well.
Hikaru blushed with pleasure, pushing away the sadness that threatened to overflow from her eyes. Always, she'd been a little naive about love and relationships…always she'd viewed boys as friends – a fault of attending an all girls' school – and it hadn't really helped that she'd generally been overlooked in favor of other, prettier girls.
Well, Lantis thought her pretty. Actually, he made a very good point of showing that he thought her to be his very special someone…all night long, Hikaru thought, feeling like she could just die from an overload of happiness.
Bliss fluttered in her bosom like a trapped bird under the strain of her fluctuating emotions.
In her bosom…
Incredibly how she could finally say that she wasn't so lacking anymore in that department, Hikaru thought dryly. She'd been so worried when Caldina had joked about how men must like that sort of thing at women. She was still no match for Alcyone or even Caldina herself, and frankly she had no desire of achieving such monumental feats, but it was good to know that she wouldn't have to feel embarrassed when such subjects came up in girl talks.
And such subjects would definitely come up again…especially now that had returned to Cephiro and here to stay. Forever.
It would've been truly wonderful if Umi had been here with them as well, Hikaru thought sadly. And her family.
Her mother had always wanted to see her in a wedding dress one day.
She blinked in surprise when Lantis lifted her hand and kissed the center of her palm, half-lidded eyes on hers. His gaze made her heart flutter again and she berated herself for not paying attention to the insistent tug in her chest that announced his awakening.
"Are you alright?" He asked, his tone slipping into a deeper octave even as fingers slipped through hers in a move that was meant to be both comforting and tender.
Hikaru smiled down at him and squeezed his hand firmly. "Perfect. I was just…thinking."
"About your family?"
Well, he sure knew how to nail the problem.
Her smile lost a bit of its luster and she set her chin on his chest. "I've been away from my world for such a long time that one would think I'd be used to it. But I really do miss them. I wish there would've been a way to make the two worlds meet." Satoru would've hit it off with Lantis, she was positive. They were both such quiet, unobtrusive people and they both loved her a lot.
Lantis listened pensively and Hikaru wondered what exactly he thought of her misty-eyed dreams. He wasn't the type to disregard others, but she was being silly and she knew it. It wouldn't have been possible to have both worlds…as much she'd learned from Cephiro and Emeraude.
"I would have…liked to meet your family."
Hikaru felt pleasure bloom in her chest. "Maybe someday you will. This is the land of all possibilities." She wasn't Pillar anymore, but surely her strength of heart could turn any dreams into reality if she believed.
His mouth curved indulgently and Hikaru found their positions switched before she could even blink.
"If you say it," Lantis interjected, capturing her wrists and tugging her gently so that her arms were around his waist, making Hikaru turn a very becoming shade of red "I'm sure that it will come true."
Though she'd thought it only second before, his heartfelt words still warmed her like nothing else.
"Until that day comes," Lantis continued, kissing her nose, "I will," his lips moved over her cheekbone, giving her fine shivers, "take good care of you and make you happy."
Hikaru silenced him with a very satisfying kiss and that was the last thing either of them said for a very long time.
"Ferio, what am I going to do with green hair? I, I…this can't be normal!" Fuu exclaimed, trying to control the unwanted bout of hysteria bubbling in the back of her brain.
She had chosen to move away from her family without so much as an explanation for her disappearance; had taken the chance of being with a foreign man whom she didn't know too well but with whom she was enamored beyond all sense and sensibility. Her Rune God – as if that wasn't enough to sound superfluous – had charmed her into binding her soul to Cephiro and now…
…and now this?
Armor, swords, large robots, flying purple dragons (literally), flying Arabian lamps…anything she could take! But to change the color she had inherited from her beloved mother was just unbelievable!
"While I appreciate that you think me abnormal, this is really not a reason to panic so much Fuu. It's only a color change," Ferio soothed, slightly disbelieving that he was the reasonable one in this relationship. Was there something in the water?
…No wait, he hadn't given her anything to drink yet.
"But it's my mother's hair color! It's the only thing I had to remind me of her."
Ferio turned her around so she could look into his eyes and see the truth there. "Look, I understand what you're going through. I know that the reality is probably setting in and you being you can't help but analyze every little detail and worry about everything. It's not necessarily a bad thing but you can't, under any circumstance, panic or lose your stability of mind because those are your strong points. Am I clear?"
Fuu blinked, somehow feeling that she could draw strength from his words alone. It also helped that he was so reasonable that she could actually find her balance and realize just how silly she was being. "You're doing it again…"
Ferio mimicked her earlier actions – somewhat owlishly - and the earlier effect was completely spoiled. "Doing what again?"
"Being a king. And reasonable. All at once!" Her eyes lit up and a generous smile curved her mouth upwards, wiping away any signs of disturbances.
He couldn't tell whether he should feel pleased or insulted, but before he had fallen for her, Fuu had had this effect on him so now it didn't come as a surprise anymore…
"Oh, I'm sorry," Fuu covered her mouth guiltily, realizing just how bad that sounded…especially when she knew better than anyone that Ferio could be really cunning and shrewd.
Ferio sighed and opened his mouth to tell her that it wasn't that much of a big deal before his ladylove raised herself on tiptoes, small hands fisting in the material of his shirt, to kiss him chastely on the lips. Making all his words fly right out the window…
And then she had the gall to hum in satisfaction and look at him as if that solved all their problems.
"What was that?"
Fuu smiled brightly and arranged his white collar like a doting wife, trying not to think too much about the way he smelled (leather and wilderness) or tasted (a tang spice mixed with sweet fruits). "That was my apology to you for being so mean." Her face flushed a little despite herself, "If we will be husband and wife, we'll be a lot closer in the future than we are now, right? It's not too early to get used to…being together!" Good God, but he was turning her into an idiot and they hadn't even done something more serious.
Fuu lowered her face so that he wouldn't see her blush. It was not proper to think about…the…wedding night before they were even married.
Heat spread across her cheeks and she had to consciously stop her fingers from rearranging the perfectly fine collar.
Maybe it was him, the young prince thought dazedly looking down at the crown of green hair, but he was drawing blanks on this one. "So basically, you kissed me?"
She turned an even more fetching shade of red and he watched it spread to her neck and disappear beneath her gaping shirt. "Well…yes. Was I…wrong?"
This was a joke, right?
"So you kissed me!" He stressed wondering if he sounded as stupid as he felt but wanting to be sure he'd her heard right.
Fuu nearly backtracked, wondering if it had been the wrong thing to do after all. She'd gathered nearly all her courage to placate him with a kiss, something she had never bestowed on another, and his patent disbelief at her actions and repeated questioning made it feel as if she'd done a crime. "Is there something wrong with that, my Prince?" she requested straightening her spine until she stood at her full height, pride prickled and slightly hurt even though she would never admit it out loud.
"Heck yes!" Ferio hollered, wrapping one arm around her waist and pulling her into his chest forcefully. "I can't have my future Queen kissing me like an unschooled virgin if I can do anything about it!"
Then he raised her chin and angled his head down, slanting his mouth over her soft, willing one and turning her into a boneless mass of longing and want in less than two heartbeats. It didn't even come close to her demure peck, feeling more like a hungry claim to her entire being than a kiss and Fuu had to wrap her arms around his neck to keep herself from collapsing on the floor.
He drew back before she was ready to let go and she whimpered in disappointment, drawing a satisfied laugh from Ferio. "That's the way to kiss! Now this is what we'll be doing the next time and the one after that and…"
Fuu put her hand over his mouth to stop him from further embarrassing her – as she was, it was good that legs hadn't buckled already – and nearly jumped out of her clothes when he nipped at the tips of her fingers and winked at her rakishly. Why the flirtatious…! First making her think that there was something wrong with being affectionate and now trying to win her good graces with his games.
"Don't wrinkle you nose like that Fuu, I know that you didn't really mind my kiss at all." Ferio commented cheekily, drawing an exasperated smile from her.
"Don't let it get to your head please – you managed it only because I was too busy trying to decipher your cryptic comments about my kissing."
"It just needs a little more spice and fire," came the mock response.
Fuu put her hands on her hips and tried to feign disapproval but the twinkling light in her bright eyes couldn't hide her happiness.
"I have no worries…you'll get used to it when we share the same bedroom," Ferio pretended to concede playfully, capturing her hand and kissing it chivalrously. "I suppose that I'll just have to behave till then."
The door to their room burst open so suddenly that Fuu nearly jumped out of her skin, again, and Ferio instinctively reached for the sword he'd propped against the dressing table just to keep near (and to avoid incidents like the one with Windam in which he'd been completely at anyone's mercy).
"Did I miss anything?" Caldina chirped, running into the room as if her very life depended on it.
Ferio nearly dropped his sword. Fuu very nearly lost her bearings…and her serious visage.
She wasn't sure if her sudden need to giggle spawned from the way Ascot had remained frozen in the doorway, one hand raised to politely knock, or the way Caldina's face seemed all puckered up in childish excitement.
"Caldina?" Ferio inquired looking like he was having a hard time understanding why the pink-haired dancer was in his room at such an ungodly hour in the morning.
"Nothing's going on in here, Miss Caldina," Fuu tried to explain patiently, putting two and two together and managing to hide her amusement admirably. If she would've barged in on them five minutes ago, she would've had gotten quite an eyeful.
"Awwwwwww! I missed it didn't I?" Caldina pouted, hands on her hips. "I bet that you two were all lovely dovey before I got here." Realization dawned on Ferio while Ascot looked like he could pull out his hair any moment now. "You came here to spy on us?"
Caldina sniffed primly. "A girl's gotta get some excitement in her life and there ain't a better way to do that than to pair up friends and acquaintances."
Ferio counted to three. Then he counted to six. And nine..."Is there any other reason for your visit? Other than, you know, prying in our private lives?"
The fan snapped sharply. "Don't be testy, Ferio. We'll be out of your hair in no time and you two can return to your youthful declarations of love." The pout returned with a vengeance and Fuu suspected that the woman would never truly be satisfied until Ferio bent her over his arm and kissed the living daylights out of her.
"That Master Mage of yours sent me to check up on y'all and make sure you're both alright and kickin'!"
"Y'all?" Ferio drawled, wondering exactly how many people the twosome was supposed to spy…check up on.
A wide grin lit Caldina's face until she fairly glowed and she tapped her foot on the floor, looking like she'd remembered something good. "Oh, that's right! We still have to go see what Lantis and Hikaru are doing! Master Mage probably told you already that our serious eye candy," here Ferio and Fuu nearly choked on thin air while Ascot groaned despairingly from the doorway, "found Hikaru last night and took her to his room to let her rest."
"Mister Lantis…" eye candy, good God, eye candy "found Hikaru last night?" Well, at least she knew now that her dear friend was safe. Fuu released a breath she hadn't even been aware she'd been holding.
"Uh-huh…if you ask me those two lovebirds didn't bother wasting their night sleeping."
Fuu's face exploded in color and Ascot looked like he was having a premature heart attack…that or he was dying of shame while standing. Ferio…well, Ferio looked green. More so than usual.
"Ah, but what do I know?" Caldina laughed shrilly. "Maybe they behaved the whole night and slept chastely next to one another. Well! Gotta go and pull the details from our cute, little Hikaru and then I'll tell you aaaaaaall about it. Ta!"
Ferio didn't get to say anything in return as his impetuous – and very crazy – friend skipped out the room, taking the petrified Ascot (who had barely managed to let out some indescribable gurgles of horror throughout their discussion) and closing the door behind them.
Fuu had trouble believing that they had just been forced to listen to a monologue about her best friend's sex life with a man she respected and appreciated.
"That was interesting…" Ferio intoned blankly.
"It…was?" the former Wind Knight inquired baffled.
An eyebrow rose. "Eye candy?"
Fuu struggled hard not to laugh. "You have to consider though…if Miss Caldina feels comfortable giving Mister Lantis such a casual nickname, what about you?"
Ferio turned a darker shade of green and Fuu couldn't help but giggle. "Muffin? Cupcake?"
He glowered at her. "I am not amused."
Hikaru had heard the expression 'I could die happy now' numerous times, but she'd never really thought it could apply to her. Ever.
"That tickles," she complained perfunctorily, giggling as Lantis blew softly on a sensitive spot between her neck and shoulder. Her laughter only escalated when he lightly brushed his fingers against her curve of her breast, sensing tiny pinpricks across her skin.
"Ticklish, are you? This is a useful tidbit."
"No it's not!" she squeaked, trying to squirm from underneath him, somewhat half-heartedly; the weight of his body was only too comfortable and the heat that still lingered between them in the aftermath of a second bout of languorous love making only too pleasant to lose by moving away from him…even if Lantis was purposely trying to discover all her weak spots using torturous means.
"I give, I give," she begged even as his hands ghosted over her sides in ways that had her seeing blurry stars behind her eyelids. She muffled her laughter in the pillow, and kicked the mattress with her feet for good measure when the tickling became too much to bear at once. "You're just taking advantage that you're bigger than me!" she accused, throwing a reproachful look over her shoulder.
One of his eyebrows rose at her statement and this time Lantis dug his fingers a little more firmly, making her squeal and attempt to flee from his assault seriously – like that was possible, all things considered. "I would be careful with accusations right now, Hikaru. You're too vulnerable to try and anger the enemy."
"The enemy?" Hikaru inquired innocently, smiling, making him seriously consider kissing her, "You would be my enemy, Lantis?"
It was more likely that he would be her devoted protector if she kept pulling him in with her soft smiles and her big expressive eyes like she was doing now.
"You know that such a thing is improbable," Lantis countered patiently, feeling a strange rush of something when her eyes twinkled at his answer. He was beginning to see how the littlest of things brought her pleasure and how he could make her happy with just the right answers – and for her, it seemed like he had a lot of right answers.
He buried his nose in her shoulder and just breathed in her scent, somehow unnervingly happy after the longest period of gloom in his life. There had been a time once – during his short rule as the Captain Guard – when he'd witnessed a young soldier, a boy really, kneeling in front of a village girl and wooing her in such a way that Lantis had only been able to dismiss it as ridiculous puppy love at that time.
Now he could only think that he was deficient for not being able to woo the girl he loved with at least half the words he'd heard spoken then. That inexperienced boy was better than him and that much was obvious now.
"Lantis?" Hikaru inquired, turning around in his embrace and cupping his face with her delicate hands as if he had distress written on his forehead in bold letters. "What's wrong? You've gone still so suddenly…" Her brow furrowed and either the gesture was naturally adorable, or he was turning into a lovesick boy as well.
"It's of no consequence. I was merely thinking of the past." Better to dismiss it than make her sad again with his callous attitude.
"Really," Lantis conceded with a faint smile, decided to mull over such difficult matters at a later time when there was no danger of making her worry over him. Hikaru had a tendency to treat him like he was breakable at times and he didn't want to see her doing anything but smiling for – or because of – him for a long time now.
It didn't seem like she was unhappy any-
"Yoo-hoo! Is anyone awake?"
Hikaru and Lantis froze in their respective positions. Rather compromising ones.
"Hikaruuuuuu! Lantiiiiiis! Rise and shine!" Caldina chirped from the other side of the door, though it seemed to Lantis like she spoke right next to them.
"Caldina, please," Someone hissed, obviously embarrassed by the attempt to wake the dead so early in the morning. "Don't disturb the whole castle!"
"What are ya saying Ascot? Don't be so silly!" Caldina slyly laughed, sounds of a playful pat/slap resounding along the quiet hallways.
Oh please let the doors be locked! Hikaru prayed fervently, hating the mental image of Caldina bursting in on them right now of all times!
Do not fret. She wouldn't be able to open them even if she tried. The faint answer whispered across her subconscious, bringing with it a soothing note that slowed down the frantic beating of her heart.
She blinked wide eyes at Lantis who shook his head reassuringly and inclined his head towards the pale, smoky sheen of magic engulfing the doors.
Oh…Hikaru thought to herself rather stupidly. He was using magic. Can, can you hear me?
Yes. It is only bound to get better, Lantis smiled indulgently down at her, as if he understood her trepidation. This is merely the adjusting period. We will be able to communicate after we connect more
Before Hikaru could further consider how much better they could connect, things outside her head got worse. Somehow…
"Come on, Caldina. Let's leave. The Master Mage only ordered us to check and see if everything was alright in the castle…he didn't say to intrude in people's chambers without their consent!"
"My, my, sometimes I forget that you're still a little boy, Ascot!" the dancer laughed, as if she was private on a wonderful joke. Knowing Caldina, this could very well be true. "We're not gonna go in anyone's chamber – especially Lantis' chamber where Hikaru is now – unless ya want to see something really saucy!"
Hikaru's face exploded in color and Lantis clenched his jaw so tightly that she was afraid it might break if the strain increased.
There went the notion of having privacy behind closed doors…
"Ohohohoho! Now don't go all red in the face on me, Ascot. I'm sure that you'll find yourself a nice girl to bring to your room soon enough as well! Lantis just happened to be lucky enough to snatch himself a real beauty at first sight – not that he isn't a fine specimen himself!" Hikaru made a hysterical sound in the back of her throat, hiding her face in the pillow when Lantis speared her with a sharp look of disapproval. "Though I already have my Lafarga so I can't complain, ya know?"
Ascot either didn't know, or he'd already covered his ears in hopes of not being subjected to the horror anymore, because Caldina's voice slowly got further and further away and then there was silence…
Complete and utter silence.
Hikaru snorted and buried herself deeper in the pillow, trying to make herself small as small could be. Lantis wasn't sure he could properly chastise her for something that was giving him headaches; already he was having difficulties associating himself with the words fine and specimen.
Coming from Caldina…he was going to avoid looking at Lafarga for a week or so; until the effect of the words faded away a bit.
"Well, I-uh," Hikaru attempted, muffled, sounding like she was on the verge of a breakdown, "can understand what Caldina's trying to say, Lantis. You shouldn't feel offended."
"Would you feel better if you laughed and let it out?" he sighed, collapsing next to her.
"Possibly," Hikaru giggled, rolling over to snuggle into him. "Maybe we should take a bath and get dressed though…before Caldina decides that it's time for second rounds!"
Lantis blew out a weary sigh and rubbed the bridge of his nose in exasperation. "I do not put it past her to convince Master Mage about the need to break down the door."
This time, Hikaru did laugh.
Alrighty then...this is done. Over 20000 words of plot-less madness which I always wanted to write. xDDD
Reviews are love!