Authoresses' Note:

Wow. Long time, ne? I apologize, and I can't even blame a sufficiently busy schedule. All right, I haven't been loafing around either, so be content with that. Mostly it's writer's block. You work too much on the one thing and then you get so sick of the one thing when time comes around to continue and get off your lazy butt it's the hardest thing to do in the world. But I feel inspired!! So the result is a part eight of Forbidden. Drum roll, please. One last thing to note - my writing style has changed, mostly because a whole lot of time has passed and I wasn't just sitting there idle the whole time feeling sad about how I wasn't continuing my MKR Forbidden story...I wrote other stories and the experience has made a difference (at least I think so) Okay. Me shut up now. Read!! Review, so that I know what to change or what to do or whatever! *Those words are supposed to appear in Italics, being Eagle's thoughts, but it might not come out that way once posted on the site.

***Part Eight of Forbidden: This Once Barren Landscape***

It was starting to get sufficiently depressing, this eternal black sky that Fuu could not escape. Throughout all the events that had transpired it had stubbornly hung there, deftly refusing to move and provide even the slightest break from the turmoil. Things were bleak enough without it's intervention, but Fuu also supposed this was just another of those things that she couldn't control or do anything significant enough to merit change. It was a list that was continuing to grow at a concerning rate, but she also supposed quite logically that there would always be problems like these such in life, and getting derided by the facts of their existence surely didn't aid a journey to the quickest solution.

She turned away from the window through which she had been viewing this spectacle of a sky, her gaze falling immediately on Ferio. He was amusing. She giggled privately to herself - yes, this inside joke was a keeper. The valiant knight and part-time prince was not so noble in his sleep, at least not with his mouth wide open and his legs sprawled all over the place (they had been sleeping in separate beds, of course, as would dictate two such honorable characters). Rest seemed well suited for Ferio after his duel with Ascot's strange brother than for Fuu, whose mind's new doubts plagued her incessantly.

She was not able to spend much time reminiscing before she heard a strange sound down from the garden below. Such were the circumstances that after the strenuous last few days; she looked back to the garden in what was definitely a suspicious mindset.

There was something down there - she was sure of it. At this stage, taking chances was a mode of action only requested by the foolish. Picking up Ferio's sword from by his bedside, and hoping dearly that he would not miss it, she had picked her method of exit within an instant. It was the window, however admittedly bizarre a decision that may seem, it was actually most practical, seeing that the room was on the ground floor.

Things went from bad to worse when she made her move. The second she landed she had lost sight of the suspect, lost to the disorienting dark. Also, this person was good. She could not make out even the slightest indication of movement. She didn't dare doubt her earlier suspicions either, however, for she had to entrust absolute faith in her abilities as a Knight.

Suddenly, it happened - a sword was at her throat and Fuu's mind raced, wondering if she was to fall victim to another of Alcione's calculating plots. Not about to go down without a fight, she elbowed her captor and whirled out of the embrace, sword moving with her to clash against the enemy's steel.

It was then that she was able to see her enemy's face. Out of sheer surprise, she dropped her sword to the ground, where it rotated on impact and then lay very still, utterly useless.

"You - scared - me!" Said an infuriated Umi. "What're you doing out here at this time of night?" Umi had also dropped her sword; the fellow comrades were not about to go raising their arms against each other anytime soon.

"I could ask the same of you." Pointed Fuu out calmly in a matter-of-fact tone, betraying the fear that had been so evident before. "You know Umi, this isn't really a good time for anyone to go wandering around alone. It would be bad to lose you."

"I needed time to think. But you're right - it was dumb of me."

Fuu smiled reassuringly, taking her friend's hand. "Never need the privacy. Things have been very stressful. But where's Ascot?"

"Actually, we got back hours ago." Umi's expression, which had changed from irritated, suddenly was cast over with an inexplicable dark. She turned away from Fuu for the briefest of moments, but Fuu understood that it was a rare sign of weakness that Umi allowed, communicating that something was wrong and that Umi wasn't quite sure how to go about dealing with it. "Everyone seemed to be sleeping, or at least you and Ferio were, so Ascot decided we should also get our rest. But I couldn't sleep, so I took a little stroll, just thinking, you know."

"Worried that if you closed your eyes he would disappear?"

Umi looked back at Fuu very quickly, even suspiciously. Fuu was a strange creature, she decided, altogether loveable but also surprising. The way she acted a lot of the time, you wouldn't think that she necessarily suffered the same emotional implications as everyone else. In her own cheerful fashion, she was aloof; it was as if nothing bothered her, or at least very little.

Then, she was back to the same old Fuu. It was hard to figure out whether this was good or bad, but right now Umi would rather have the logical impassiveness than anything - she supplied herself with enough of the melodrama by her own lonesome, thank you very much. "It's not an illogical fear. After all, it already happened once, and it's certainly possible for it happen again."

"You're always so inspiring, Fuu."

But Fuu was not finished with her vote of confidence. "Something else is bothering you. Would you like to talk about it? You should really get anything you're concerned with handled now, you know." She was thinking strategically again. "That way we can minimize our problems so that when real conflict comes things are handed as efficiently as possible."

"I'm fine." Said Umi huffily, that fiery defiance more characteristic of her coming into play once more. Then, a wavering, something in her eyes that betrayed that particular notion. "Okay, fine, but not out here."

"All right, that's perfect. We can even get some hot chocolate from the cook."

"Oh, man." Umi let out a long sigh, evidently not very pleased with what she was about to say, or ask, or whatever it was. "I don't know what I'm doing, Fuu, I'm just all mixed up." She lifted her hot chocolate up to her lips, sipped, and sighed again. "I've just been thinking and thinking and I can't stop, you know?............Well, I suppose you don't, but I just - Fuu, you've got a sister, right?"

It was this complicated statement that introduced Fuu to Umi's problem. They were now sitting in one of the larger halls, on two very grand, eccentric-looking chairs, hoping dearly it would grant them some degree of privacy, even if only for a short while. Fuu drank a little of her own hot chocolate, raising her eyes to the ceiling in quiet whimsy, her head rested on the comfortable behind her. "Yes, an older sister."

"And you love her?"

Fuu raised an eyebrow. This was a strange question. "Yes."

This induced Umi to a long period of silence, during which she seemed to be thinking very hard about something. Unfortunately, it seemed that any definite decision was evading her. "I'm not sure what it would be like. I've always been an only child." She contemplated the rim of her mug, as if this would grant her the final clue to her dilemma.

"If you were wondering how I would feel were she to leave me, I would be devastated. The bond between siblings is great, Umi, it really is - somehow, you go through life thinking that the person will always be there. Friends will leave, parents will even leave - but chances are you will always have that person until the very end of your days. Not forever, I suppose, but longer than anyone else..............I love her. There are so many people I love, but only certain people I depend on, people that I need."

Umi looked up in gentle disquiet at Fuu's stirring statement. Then, timidly, she inquired, "And your sister is one of those people?" This caused Fuu to be quiet for a very long time. When she finally met Umi's gaze, her eyes shone with sadness. "I feel very bad for Ascot, Umi. I don't know that much about his situation but I saw his conversation with his brother. ...............It would be like losing you, Umi. I don't ever want to lose you or Hikaru."

Umi smiled warmly. Talking did indeed help, even if it didn't get you your answer. "Yes. Hikaru is our little sister, after all."

"That is..............unsettling." Eagle had dropped the sword out of surprise at its sudden activity, and Lantis stooped to pick it up. As he did so the object's humming gently ceased, and the glow clicked off as if commanded. "Have we overcome one problem just to deal with another?"

Lantis surveyed it in his normal calm manner, but when he spoke it was with an underlying tone of alarm in his voice. "Hikaru is a target. We learned that much from Alcione." He put it back within its sheath, and then let it fall haphazardly on the bed - he seemed very tired, Eagle noted, and rightfully so.

Having experienced loss, and then working tirelessly to make sure that the new people in his life never fell to such a fate again - it was too much responsibility, and yet he bore it without complaint. It was that strength that Eagle desired. Mokona had decided that Eagle had been pure and strong of heart, enough to be a candidate for Pillar, but that strength had been the offspring of desperation. It was entirely different, and although Eagle wasn't sure how, he wanted what Lantis had, as much as he wanted Lantis.

Eagle laid what he hoped was a reassuring hand on Lantis' arm. "The question is - if I'm correct, of course - what do we do with this information?"

"You are always correct in these matters, Eagle." The distant closed between the two, and with definite affection Lantis put some of Eagle's fine hair between his fingers. "Thank you."

No elaboration was needed on Lantis' 'thank you', but Eagle also felt for a moment that the thanks was unwelcome, unnecessary. The roles should have been reversed. He put no voice to this particular muse however, something else altogether invading his thoughts.

"Oh - Geo!"

"What?" Lantis took a step back, a murmur of surprise evident in Eagle's sudden outburst.

Eagle was vibrant; anxious suddenly at some injustice he'd done their friend Geo. "I stood him up, he asked me to meet him in the control room in two hours!"

"Then you have two hours, right?" Lantis paused, another thought striking him. "We have a control room?" It was an attempt to soothe Eagle's worry with logic, but it was to no avail. "No, that was three hours ago, I'm sure of it! He said it was private and important.............." And with that, Eagle was gone, a distant apology of abandonment the only remainder as he raced out of the room and down the hall.

Lantis was very perplexed. If Hikaru or Clef had been there they would've cheerfully explained that Hikaru had wished up a control room for Geo, whose very psyche was destroyed without some high-tech gadget, and since he intended to stay for a long time, everyone had decided that it was necessary for his (and everyone else's) survival that he have such a place to entertain himself. Mostly, however, it was useless. All he could really do was monitor the status of the other worlds (besides Earth, which was not on radar and seemed more a fairytale than anything else to Autozam's native Geo) and receive incoming calls from those different countries. It seemed a relatively useless mechanism, devised only because of Geo's stubborn insistence that every world needed such devices.

It was also Geo's stubbornness that kept him waiting for Eagle even after all logic should've dictated that his arrival may be nonexistent. Fortunately for him, stubbornness and uncanny intuition work together, and Eagle did arrive, even if he was an hour late. Geo was not too crestfallen. He'd been too busy looking over the details of what he intended to show Eagle, so in all honesty he hadn't even dwelled momentarily on the fact that Eagle was late.

So, he was a little confused when Eagle arrived in quite a state, bumbling through rushed apology after apology. Geo swiveled in his chair to face him, patiently waiting for a break in the talk. "What're you apologizing for?" He asked when the opportunity arose.

"I'm late." Explained Eagle, somewhat indignantly. "At least an hour - maybe even two hours."

"Oh, okay, yeah. That's true. You're horrible Eagle, tell me, how do I put up with you?"

"I'm your commanding officer. It's your job." Eagle took a seat next to Geo, his gaze sweeping over the various panels, screens, buttons, and keyboards that doubtlessly meant something to Geo. It was too much like being back in Autozam than Eagle really thought comfortable.

"True, that. Or you were. No interest in returning?"

His expression went suddenly cold, the way it always did when Geo even hinted at the subject. For some reason, he was really touchy about that. "Minimal. We've determined that." Then the coldness was gone, to where Geo was not certain. Instead there was a fleeting fear, an unsureness that worried Geo even more than any momentary coldness. Eagle spent his life being cold when need be; it was any other emotion besides happiness that was strange and worrisome. "Geo, I don't want to be selfish..............if you miss Autozam, you -"

"Don't even say that." Geo leaned forward, making sure his eyes directly connected with Eagle's own calm, blue-eyed gaze. "I would sooner die than leave you. I've determined that."

Vague comprehension finally entered the mental wandering's of Eagle of Autozam, and it made his eyes go all the wider, although Geo would not have noticed it.

*Geo, you still - after all that's happened...................

The moment was brief. Geo turned back to his technology and kept his gaze carefully trained there. "Alright. The moment of truth has come. Are you ready?"

"Is it really worthy of all that drama?" Inquired an amused Eagle.

"Skeptics shall be left behind. Now, do you know what this is?" Geo pointed to a couple dots on a radar screen, and although Eagle had taken a rather long hiatus from computers and the like, it was a habitual part of his being that was not quickly forgotten. Geo knew this and thus did not wait long for an answer. "Of course you do. It's a ship, an Autozam ship, judging by the make. And for the last couple of days, while you were out there fighting it out with those weird Sheki, it's just been sitting there."

The relevance of this was quite clear to Eagle. "This isn't good. I'd hoped that they would have just designated our mission unsuccessful and gotten over it. The mechanics and technicians we sent back on our previous ship were supposed to present a diplomatic view of Cephiro, calling it as unusable land but also not a threat. But this latest action of theirs -"

"We're thinking the same thing." Observed Geo in an air of wisdom, "Seeing that we're two of the greatest tactical minds ever, I'd put the money on our being right. Presenting Cephiro as diplomatic would not have been in character of some of the crew who wouldn't understand why we couldn't use all that land. They would use the three most important officer's disappearance as a way to spread the rumors. Lantis was not a good image for Cephiro either. Too many idiots challenged him, but those idiots had power. Eagle," He paused, and then sighed, a very long sigh, looking back to him to see his expression (which was rather blank), and then turned to the screen once more. "Worlds that Autozam saw as threats - they always start things out by sending a ship just to observe, decide on what the weaknesses or strengths would be by gaining an analysis of the way the ecology runs, what life forms are there, etc."

There was only one word that could describe what Eagle thought of these new developments. When Geo stopped talking, as if waiting for his input, he voiced it, however unhelpful as it may be.


"I agree. But that's not all. Look at this."

With a few final clicks and some random screen changes, Geo had located the next issue of interest for the two Autozam foreigners. It dwelt quite heavily with the concept of foreigners actually, as two other familiar foreign faces suddenly appeared on screen. Tatra and Tarta of Chizeta seemed as beautiful as ever, and as usual there was a fierceness to their exotic beauty. Eagle leaned forward with interest, wondering what all this was about.

"This is a tape they sent to us about a day ago, and it's really what's worrying me."

Then, without another moment's pause, the tape started up. Tarta was the first to speak. She mentioned some greetings and pleasantries, and Eagle wondered briefly why Geo was wasting his time showing this to him, when he could be doing something more constructive, such as investigating why all magic would pinpoint the Pillar to be in some form of distress or trouble.

His doubts did not last for long, and he would've felt foolish and apologetic afterwards, were it not for the fact that he was too busy with his extreme concern.

Tatra spoke next. "There is something more concerning at work, however. We, as rulers of Chizeta, would like to aid you in the war against Autozam. If Autozam has not yet alerted you to their decision, then they are waiting for a surprise strike, because all other sources indicate they are definitely preparing for full-scale battle. The only target they've hinted is the place where they 'lost' Eagle of Autozam."

The black stallion could sense emotion. It could sense it, but it couldn't make sense of it, if that makes any sense. For its species the creature was one of the oldest and thus one of the wisest, and the onslaught of emotion that it had been experiencing for the last few days was beginning to take a toll on it. It couldn't make sense of it, yes, that much was true, but such vibrant emotion definitely stressed the ancient beast. There was so much love, and with that love there also came such pain. Nothing can escape from either of these two things, but the love can overshadow the pain. It is the natural balance. Were it a speaking creature, it would have communicated this as Lantis stroked it, for it could sense that Lantis was worried again.

Lantis had been in a constant state of worry ever since the first disappearance, and it seemed that things weren't going to be slowing down anytime soon. It was worse because not only did he know Hikaru was in trouble, the only woman he loved deeply, but he didn't know where she was, or how to help her. There was also that little problem about the company he was depending on caring for her. His rivalry with Lafarga was more one- sided, with Lafarga taking to a definite dislike of him that Lantis didn't really understand, but it was so habitual for the both of them that Lantis deeply questioned Lafarga's capabilities as a bodyguard. His previous history with the former Pillar did not reassure Lantis - of course, Lantis had run away from the scenario, even after predicting the results, so Lantis knew he was at equal fault.

So, all this worry tearing him down, he'd retreated for a small walk with his favorite stallion. He had no way of knowing, but he was indeed in the very same meadow where Presea and Clef had conversed before Clef had fallen to the sorceress Alcione back at the castle. Had he know, he would've thought the fates ironic, but he didn't, because there was no way for him to conceive of this information. Footsteps sounded behind Lantis; he turned, ready to face any potential attacker. Paranoia had indeed fed into those at the castle, if there was any doubt let.

"Clef. Shouldn't you be resting?"

The sorcerer shook his head, smiling warmly. "This is rest. This place has always been the most peaceful place in all Cephiro. I come here to clear my thoughts."

Lantis was vaguely aware of Clef's habit of coming to the meadow, but he made no mental or physical remark upon that. "Clef, something has happened. My brother's sword was activated today."

Clef was silent for a long moment. Lantis noted the Guru Clef would not like him in the eye, his gaze instead straying to the black sky, the long grass, or something invisible beyond Lantis. Lantis had seen him act so on prior occasions when Clef was worried, and because of his past experiences knew that Clef would say something very enlightening next, something that would shed light on the confusing circumstances.

He had no idea.

"I know." Clef said, after further deliberation. "I sent her to the enemy."

All of Alcione's plots were finally coming to their full potential. No word in any language could have accurately depicted the frustration Alcione felt at the incompetence of those Sheki fools, but that had soon been followed by a massive relief. Her new master was not angered by her failure; rather, the entity had explained, it had simply been a sequence of events that had needed to take place.

This had at first only proven to enhance Alcione's anger. What was she, some mere pawn in this game? But then her anger had been domesticated into humility. Yes, she was. There was no use getting all upset over truth. Being a pawn would eventually attain her what she truly desired - revenge on everyone and everything that had pained her so immensely. Working for her wise and cunning new master was the only secure path that guaranteed such a result, so for the meantime she would abide by this unorthodox way of accomplishing goals.

Now, with Clef and his crew of fools distracted by the Sheki's leader Nori's cry of war, they would turn a blind eye while the Pillar fell. Alcione had been assured of this, and somehow, she wasn't sure quite how, the idea had gotten into her that she would only be satisfied when this happened. It would be soon.

So, Alcione went to the Jova tribe and promptly warned them that the Sheki tribe was planning an attack. She also warned that if a fellow named Ascot came bearing tides of peace, it was to be immediately ignored and he should be killed on the spot. Deceit was his favorite mode of operation, she explained. All this she had been instructed to do, and she did it perfectly.

The seeds of war had been planted in the once barren landscape of Cephiro.