The Three Magic Knights

Part 13

Illusionary reality.

Askot followed behind Caldina as she jumped through the trees of the forest. He struggled to keep up with her pace despite the floating rock that he rode on and called after her.

"Caldina! Wait!" he weaved around bushes and stones on the ground as he followed desperately behind the woman.

"What is it?" she said as she jumped down beside him finally tiring of his cries.

"Are you really going to fight the Magic Knights again?" said the boy with a fearful look in his eyes.

"Of course! Don't you worry your pretty little head none! I'll defeat those girls so you can come back to the castle!" said the woman cheerfully.

"No! Just leave them alone! I don't want you to die!" pleaded the boy as he pulled on her cape.

"Now Askot! Don't you know better than that? I know what I'm doing," chastised Caldina as she pulled her cloak away.

"You don't understand! That man with them is getting worse!" exclaimed the boy with tears in his eyes.

"Now that's enough out of you!" cried the woman as she slapped him across his face without much force. "Look at yourself! Quivering because of a bunch of little girls! Have I ever let you down before now?"

Askot paused and looked up at her with a stern and shocked face. "It's not those girls I'm worried about."

Caldina snorted and turned her attention to a nearby clearing. "There they are! Askot, you wait here while I take care of this! Don't worry now!" She jumped away leaving him alone on the ground.

"Caldina no!" he whimpered reaching for her. He stood up and looked at the four knights as they rested by a waterfall nearby. With a final glance he turned away and disappeared into the forest.


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Dan frowned as the three girls washed their faces in the water nearby. He was standing under the waterfall cooling off and washing away the mud and dirt that covered his body and the blade attached to his arm. "Look at them, happy just being able to wash their faces."

"That's right Mr. Dan!" agreed Hikaru excitedly. "You look pretty cheerful yourself under that waterfall."

"Isn't that cold?" asked Fuu with a slight hesitation in her voice.

"I can't put my sword away like you girls can. I have to take any opportunity to clean it off. Besides, I stink." He stepped away from the fall and shook his head off throwing water in every direction.

"He's got a point," agreed Umi as she pinched her nose.

"You three don't exactly smell like flowers yourselves," snorted the boy a little angrily. He stepped up next to them and sat down on the ground.

"The water is so clear here!" said Umi as she looked around her at the scenery.

"Yes, it's very nice," agreed Fuu.

"Shouldn't we be moving?" asked Dan impatiently. He stood up and noticed something was missing. "Where the hell is the rat?"

"I wish you'd speak more politely Mr. Dan," commented Fuu in slight disgust.

"I have to put up with your annoying habits and you have to put up with mine," retorted the boy as he glanced around in search of their guide.

Mokona appeared from behind several bushes and puued cheerfully.

"There he is!" said Hikaru.

"Guess even he has to take a dump on occasion," commented Dan. It earned him a glare from Fuu and he smirked at her indicating that it was his intent to annoy her.

"Jerk!" muttered the girl as she turned away from him with a blush on her cheeks.

Mokona puued again and pointed off in a random direction. Dan spoke up before any of the girls could respond and started walking in the direction the animal had indicated. "This way. He wants us to follow him."

Mokona chimed in agreement and started to hop away.

"Yeah! Let's go get the third Rune God!" cried Hikaru as she rushed after him; the other two quickly followed her.

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Dan emerged from a patch of bushes just behind Mokona and paused. They were standing on a small cliff that overlooked a mountain range. In the sky was a familiar formation of crystals that protruded from the surface of a small floating island.

The three girls emerged behind him and stopped as well.

"That's the mountain in the sky from before!" exclaimed Umi.

"Yeah!" agreed Hikaru.

Fuu turned towards Mokona and spoke to him. "Are you telling us we need to get there?"

Mokona gave an affirmative nod and puued happily.

The three girls shrieked in shock.

"And just how in the world are we supposed to get over there?" cried Umi angrily.

"Yes, the flying capsule was destroyed," pointed out Fuu.

"That's easy," commented Dan lazily. "We go up." He pointed to the side of a nearby mountain.

"Have you forgotten that there are mountains between here and there?" screamed Umi as she rushed up to him. She was stopped cold as she found a blade pointed at her chest.

"No. What's the matter? Afraid a little exercise is going to kill you?" said the boy with a dangerous calm about him.

"Yes!" retorted the girl as she backed away from him. "We could fall, or be crushed under falling rocks!"

"Then we'll die," said the boy as he lowered the blade.

"How can you be so calm about this?" asked Fuu as she tentatively stepped up to him.

"How can you be so upset about a little work? We've been through far worse," he started walking and left the trio standing behind.

"He is right you know," said Hikaru as she started after him.

"Traitor!" raged Umi as she reluctantly started after her. Fuu went with her silently.

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Caldina paused as the group came into her view again. They were walking up a trail on the side a mountain. "Looks like they're heading for that mountain in the sky," she told herself. "I'll get em for sure this time!" She jumped towards the girls laughing to herself as she followed close behind them making her way up the rocks.

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Hikaru turned from climbing up the side of the mountain and looked down below her. Dan was just behind her slightly to her right, while Umi and Fuu were struggling to climb a fair distance below them. "Hey! Come on, what's taking you guys so long?"

"All that soft living in Tokyo that's what," commented Dan as he passed by her and continued to climb.

"Where do they get all of this energy?" wondered Umi as she stopped and rested against the rocky surface of the mountain.

"I don't know, but I wish I had that kind of energy!" gasped Fuu.

Finally they reached a cliff near the top of the peak. Hikaru was looking over the mountainside at the scenery below in wonder. "You guys have got to see this!"

Umi and Fuu looked up in surprise and walked over beside her. The view was breathtaking. They could see miles into the distance around them.

"My!" exclaimed Fuu in wonder.

"We've seen this place before from the sky!" said Umi cheerfully.

"I'm sure it would be even more beautiful if there were nothing wrong with Princess Emerad," commented Fuu.

Mokona chimed an agreement and nodded in Hikaru's arms. She looked out over the scene and smiled. "I wonder what Cipher was like, before any of this happened?"

A small pebble hit Hikaru on top of her head and she blinked in surprise looking up. Dan was climbing higher on the mountainside and glaring down at them.

"Are you going to stand there and look at the scenery all day? Come on! We've got a long way to go yet!"

"Mr. Dan! Don't you have any feelings at all! Look at this beautiful view!" cried Umi.

"We can look at the scenery after we get the Rune God!" retorted the boy without turning to look at them as he continued to climb.

The girls started to move towards the wall of rock again, but paused as a strange pleasant scent was carried on a breeze to them.

"What's that fragrance?" said Hikaru.

"Hmmm! It smells good!" Umi sniffed the air and sighed.

"Do you think it might be a flower?" asked Fuu.

Another pebble hit Fuu in her head and she turned to glare at the boy as he looked down at them with a scowl on his face. "Stop and smell the roses late ... " His voice trailed off and he stopped his climb suddenly. "What's that mist?" he muttered to himself noticing a light pink haze that the girls were standing in.

"I feel strange," said Hikaru as she held her head and swooned for a moment. The other three girls seemed to react in the same way as the mist dissipated from around them.

"I feel dizzy!" said Fuu as she struggled for a moment.

"It started so suddenly! What could it be?" agreed Umi.

Dan watched the scene with a scowl on his face and relaxed his grip on the rock surface. "What's going on down there?" He briefly began to wonder if another opportunity to rid himself of his unwanted companions was about to occur. Something wasn't sitting right in his stomach about the situation though. He started down the side of the mountain and watched the girls as he went.

The three girls shrieked in shock, as the ground seemed to shake beneath them, suddenly becoming unstable.

"What's going on? The ground is moving so violently!" cried Fuu.

All three girls screamed as boulders began to fall from above directly on top of them.

Dan jumped down as he neared the group and saw that they were moving dangerously close to the edge of the cliff. He raised his blade and smiled as he descended, aiming for the breaking point on the ground below. "I have you!" he cried triumphantly. Something in the back of his mind snapped into gear as he realized he had no idea what was happening, or why they were acting the way they were.

As he reached the ground the three tumbled off the edge of the cliff. He dove forward and reached out catching one of them by her arm. He felt himself jerk forward as she slammed into the side of the mountain and slid towards the edge until his torso was hanging off the ledge. He strained under the weight and momentum of the girl and finally came to a stop. She was still screaming and jerking around violently.

"Stop moving!" he growled through his teeth. Suddenly she jerked to a stop and he looked at what he was doing. "What the? Why did I?" He looked down and saw Umi staring him in the eyes with a look of complete terror on her face. She hung in the air with nothing to grab or hold onto but his arm.

"Please! Don't drop me!" she cried desperately.

Dan frowned and stared her dead in the face. Slowly he allowed his grip to loosen on her wrist. "I could just ... " He started to smile again and the girl's eyes went wide.

"No!"

"But then I'd never know what was going on," he snorted in disgust and gripped her wrist once again pulling her up with him.

Umi gasped for her breath and curled up into a ball as tears fell down her face. "I thought you were going to drop me!" She shuddered as sobs overcame her and simply lay where she was.

Dan glared at her angrily, uncertain of what to do. His left arm flexed and he looked down over her moving the blade jerkily. "All it would take is one good cut," his mind told him. "Strike hard and fast, she'll never know what happened." He forced the urges down and knelt beside her.

"Tell me what happened. Why did you jump off the cliff?"

She jumped up into his arms grabbing his neck in a desperate hug. "I could have died! Thank you!"

He stopped with a look of shock on his face and froze. "What the? Listen girl, we don't have time for this right now!" He pushed her back and stood up.

"OHMYGOD! Hikaru! Fuu! We have to find them!" she cried desperately as she jumped up to her feet and started down the mountainside.

"Hey! Tell me what happened damn it!" cried Dan as he followed her.

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At the base of the mountain Hikaru and Fuu slowly stood up. "What happened?" asked Fuu as she glanced around. She rubbed her head and pulled her hand away in shock as she found a spot of blood where she had landed.

"We're alive!" cried Hikaru in shock.

The ground began to shake beneath them again and the pair fell to their knees again. "It's an illusion!" said Hikaru as she realized what was going on.

"What do you mean?" said Fuu.

"I just felt a rock hit my head!"

"There are no rocks or boulders lying on the ground around us," noticed Fuu.

"It sure feels real!" snapped the redhead as she tried to stand again and failed.

"It would seem that knowing this is an illusion isn't enough to help us at the moment."

The two girls looked up and cried out in fear as the trees at the edge of the forest began to fall towards them. Hikaru remained where she was with a look of determination on her face. "If all of this is really just an illusion ... "

"Miss Hikaru!" cried Fuu as she realized her friend had not yet moved.

The trees slammed into the ground seeming to crush the girl where she stood. After a moment they vanished into thin air around her leaving her untouched.

"I was right!" cried the girl triumphantly as she stood again. She was promptly thrown back to the ground as the earth started to shake again.

"Miss Hikaru! Where are Miss Umi and Mr. Dan?" cried Fuu in alarm.

"What? They aren't here?" The girl stopped and realized her two friends were absent.

"Perhaps they didn't fall off the cliff?" reasoned Fuu.

"That must be it! Come on! We've got to get out of here! We're sitting ducks in this mess!" The redhead stood again and started towards a nearby cave.

"Good thinking Miss Hikaru! Perhaps we will find shelter inside that cave!"

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Caldina watched the scene with a smirk on her face. "They ran into the cave! Just what I wanted, my illusory incense works well." She laughed to herself and started after the girls. "Only two though. I'll have to keep an eye out for those other Magic Knights. They'll be much easier to get rid of if they're separated."

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Dan and Umi reached the foot of the mountain where the girls had landed.

"Where are they?" said Umi as she glanced around. "I don't see any of those boulders either."

"Boulders? What boulders?" said Dan in confusion.

"The ones that fell on us! They had to pass by you ... " she trailed off and looked at him in shock. "You threw those boulders at us?"

"I don't know what the hell you're talking about! No boulders fell on top of you! You just started screaming and tumbling around for no reason. That's why I came down after you."

"No boulders? What kind of idiot do you think I am?" snapped the girl as she jumped back and slowly reached for the jewel on her wrist.

"Shut up, I've found something," said Dan as he kneeled on the ground in front of her. "Tracks, these must belong to Hikaru and Umi, but there's another set. These are two big for either of those two." He felt himself smirking as he noticed a small spot of blood on the ground. "This is where they landed all right."

"But, there's no rocks!" cried Umi. She looked around nervously.

"I already told you, there were no rocks," snapped the boy. "Come on, we're going after them. I think I know what's going on." He stood upright and started to follow the footprints.

"Hey! Aren't you going to tell me?" cried Umi as she rushed after him.

"No."

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Hikaru and Fuu kneeled at the edge of the cavern and clutched at their bellies. "I don't feel so good," said the redhead.

"The ground moving has made me ill as well," agreed Fuu.

"Someone's using all these dangerous illusions! Whoever it is doesn't want us to reach the second Rune God."

"Yes, we should remain alert. Zagato's minions could be near by, or even be causing this!"

A familiar voice called to them from within the cavern. "Welcome, legendary magic knights! Can you hear me? It is me!"

Hikaru jumped in recognition. "I know that voice!"

A small light formed ahead of them and they started forward into the cavern. After a few moments a bright light blinded them and the looked at their surroundings in wonder.

"Master Mage Clef!" cried the two girls as they recognized the man before them instantly.

The pair found themselves standing inside a large room within the cavern. It seemed like a small temple of sorts. More shocking was the presence of the diminutive man before them.

"What are you doing here? I thought Zagato turned you to stone!" cried Hikaru as she rushed up to him.

"It would take more than the likes of Zagato to stop me. Anyway, I've got important news for you. Princess Emerad would like the pleasure of meeting you."

The two girls blinked in surprise at this.

"Yeah, but ... Isn't Princess Emerad still under Zagato's imprisonment?" asked Hikaru.

"No, I have rescued her. She would like to personally request that you save Cepheiro."

"This is great! It means that the princess is doing well!" cried Hikaru.

"It seems a little strange to me," said Fuu.

"Huh?" Hikaru paused and looked at her friend.

"It all seems to easy," said the girl suspiciously.

"Please, this way," said Cleff as he created another passage in the wall with his staff.

The two girls walked by him and he remained behind. Neither of the girls noticed him close his eyes and smile to himself as they passed. He chuckled to himself and re-opened his eyes again revealing two rings of gold where they had once been blue. "I wonder where Dan is? I'm sure he'll be along shortly. That Caldina has impressed me though, it really is a well thought out illusion, let's see what happens if it's more than that shall we?" He waved the now very different looking staff in the air and smirked to himself.

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Just behind the girls Caldina walked up and gasped at what she saw. "What are you doing here?"

"Me? Nothing really," said Xellos as he turned from what he was doing and smiled at her.

"I told you I don't need your help!" snapped the woman.

"Your monster Illusions are of no real use to me. I decided to make the danger a bit more real, that's all."

Caldina snorted in anger and started to walk past him. "Stay out of my business!" She was stopped as he barred her passage with his staff.

"Apparently you don't understand my dear. To go forward any more would be dangerous. Even for you." He winked at her and faded into the shadows.

Caldina paused and looked at the cavern as it stretched out before her. She shuddered as she suddenly realized that she was no longer controlling anything within the cave. "He broke my illusion? How? No one can do that! It's impossible!" She slowly backed away as a low growl emanated from within the darkness. "Somehow I think I should leave." She turned to run, but stopped cold as something sharp poked her in the chest.

"Going somewhere? The fun is just starting," said Dan with a dangerous grin on his face. Umi stood next to him with a scowl burned into her features as she drew the weapon from her wrist jewel.

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Hikaru and Fuu walked into the cavern and gasped at what they saw. Emerad was standing before them with two guards on either side of her. She smiled at them warmly and opened her mouth. Only to vanish into thin air before she could speak.

"What? What's going on here?" cried Hikaru as she pulled her sword from her wrist.

Fuu moved into a defensive position as well and slowly moved closer to her comrade. "It would appear that we've been tricked."

"What sort of cave is this?" said the redhead as she glanced around. Thousands of reflections of her and Fuu stared back at her from the mirror-covered walls.

"I do not know, but perhaps we should turn back. It would seem that this is a trap."

Hikaru was about to agree when she suddenly screamed in pain. Fuu turned and gasped as she saw her friend fly across the room and land roughly on the ground with three claw like marks across her back. She slowly looked up and saw a large lizard like creature standing in the doorway with its claws spread wide. It hissed menacingly and slowly stalked forward.

"What is this thing? Miss Hikaru, are you all right?"

The redhead was slowly rising to her feet with her sword held ready. "I'll be fine, we have to beat this thing in order to escape!"

"Right!" Fuu rushed forward and slashed at the monster. She screamed as her blade passed through its body harmlessly. It snorted and raised its knee slamming into her gut and sending her sprawling on the ground winded badly. She lay there struggling for breath and it started towards her.

"Fuu no! Flame Arrow!" cried Hikaru as she shot a spell at the creature and saw it pass through it. The fire spell hit one of the mirrored surfaces and bounced back towards her. She screamed and ducked in shock as it passed over her head and ricocheted several times before finally hitting the ground.

The thing paused and glanced at Hikaru for a moment. Fuu rolled away from it during the distraction and managed to stager into a defensive position. "It would appear that neither magic, nor weapons will be able to defeat it."

"What are we going to do?" cried Hikaru. The lizard thing jumped forward and backhanded her in the face silencing her. She staggered back to her feet just in time to see Fuu take a slash on her shoulder drawing blood.

"We must think of something quickly!" cried the blonde girl as she stood with her back to Hikaru.

"I've got an idea! If all this is an illusion..." She ducked a swipe and the pair jumped away from each other. "Quick! Close your eyes!"

"What?" cried Fuu as she jumped away.

"Just do it!" screamed the girl. Both did so, and immediately regretted it. The thing swiped at them again and both were sent flying into the walls.

"What the heck is that thing?" cried a new voice from inside the room. Caldina stepped back and was poked in the back by Dan's blade forcing her to jump forward again. "Hey, watch it with that thing!"

Dan eyed the creature carefully. It was rubbing two spots on its belly in irritation and glancing back at the new group. Hikaru and Fuu were both leaning against the mirror like walls of the cavern in a somewhat beaten state. "You don't know what that is? This is your trap isn't it?"

Caldina growled and glanced back at him. "No. I didn't have anything to do with this room."

"Keep your eyes forward illusionist," snorted the boy in disgust. He poked her again and she jumped forward.

Umi rushed by him suddenly. "Fuu! Hikaru! Are you all right?" she cried as she ran into the room with her weapon drawn.

"Miss Umi, watch out!" said the blonde as she struggled to stand and warn her friend.

The blue haired girl slashed at the monster and gasped in shock as she passed right through it. The thing slashed at her back creating three deep cuts and she bounced against the floor from the impact of the blow.

Caldina instantly realized something was wrong. "I shouldn't be able to see those wounds! That's no illusion!"

Dan looked at her and raised his eyebrow. "Oh really? Lets find out shall we?" He poked her sharply in her rear and she jumped forward screeching in pain. A little too late she realized that she had jumped towards the creature. It snagged her out of the air and threw her effortlessly over its shoulder. She slammed into the wall and collapsed on the ground unconscious.

"Well, this is certainly interesting," commented Dan as he stepped forward and lit a cigarette.

The thing was standing silently and clutching its head in pain. It hissed angrily and turned towards the boy.

"I don't think so ugly. You have to finish your dinner before you can have dessert." He pointed towards the fallen girls with his sword and smiled.

The creature ignored him and charged forward. Dan sidestepped the blow and slashed through the thing's body.

"No! That won't work ... " muttered Hikaru weakly as she struggled to rise again. She stopped and fell back to the ground in surprise as the thing suddenly jumped in pain and clutched at a slash that appeared on its back.

Dan smiled and pulled his blade from one of the mirror like walls. He had stabbed it with the sword on his arm and it shattered instantly. The thing fell to its knees as another cut appeared on its body as he broke yet another portion of the reflective wall.

"I noticed you seemed irritated whenever something hit one of the walls. You'd rub whatever spot your reflection had been hit in," said the boy with a dark smile. "Why can't you monsters ever attack me after you've finished with everyone else?" he thought angrily as he continued to hack and slash at the walls around him. Each broken mirror left another deep cut on the thing's body. It screamed in agony and rolled on the ground leaving smears of blood all over the room as it writhed. Finally Dan stood in front of the last mirror and slashed down cleaving the thing's reflection on the neck. It let loose one more cry of pain and shuddered as it died finally.

"That was certainly messy," commented the boy as he wiped his blood soaked boot on the thing's carcass.

"Mr. Dan, you saved us again," said Fuu as she stood up shakily and turned towards her friends. "I'll fix us up. Winds of healing!"

The group was surrounded by the girl's magic, the cuts and battle scars magically closed up leaving them feeling much better. Fuu was a little weakened after the ordeal, but was not in near the condition she was in before.

"Come on, let's get moving before sleeping beauty wakes up," commented Dan as he jerked his thumb towards the fallen Caldina.

"Should we just leave her here?" said Hikaru with a look of worry crossing her features.

"I could kill her you know. Then you won't have to worry about her will you?" snorted Dan.

"No! Please don't kill another one of my friends!" cried a familiar voice from the tunnel.

The group turned to see Askot lying protectively over Caldina. He had tears in his eyes and looked at Dan in complete terror.

The boy looked over at him coolly and smirked. "So, that mirror beast was your doing was it?"

"No! That wasn't one of my friends!" said the boy as he cringed in fear.

"Friends? He said something about that before. I wonder if he means those monsters that keep attacking us?" said Fuu.

"My friends aren't evil! They're my special friends and nobody else can understand!" screamed the boy.

"I don't care. If you want your friends to be safe, then stop having them attack us. If you don't make them fight, they don't die; and I don't have to kill you for doing it." Dan walked past the boy leaving him draped over Caldina.

"You murderer! I won't forgive you for killing my friends!" shouted the boy after him.

Dan paused and turned his head slightly. "I was fighting for my life. Tell me. What were your friends fighting for?"

"They were fighting cause I told em to!" replied the boy.

"So, you tell me who the real murderer is," he continued to walk away. The three girls watched the scene in shock and slowly began to follow Dan out of the cave.

Askot remained alone and began to cry as he beat the floor with his fists. Caldina was still out cold and he was left to think about his actions. "Damn him. Why does he have to be ... " his mouth couldn't find the words to finish, but he knew that Dan was right. "My friends."

He jumped to his feet as another familiar pair of boots appeared just in front of him. "What do you want?"

"Nothing, just checking up on things. I did warn her not to come in here after all," Xellos smirked and sat down on one of the rocks that lined the floor around him. "Ah well, at least she survived. It's more than I expected."

"Will she be all right?" said the boy tentatively as he crouched next to her and stroked her hair.

"She'll be a little sore, but otherwise she'll be fine," said the mage as he stood up and started on his way.

As Xellos walked out of the cave he smiled to himself. "Well Dan, you certainly are full of surprises aren't you? I wonder why you saved that girl?" He paused and took a final glance at the cavern behind him. "I suppose that too shall be revealed in time." With that said he vanished into the shadows.

TBC...

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