Chapter 2: Return of the Wandering Knight

Upon his return to Cephiro, Lantis was relieved to know that the tragic, shocking truth regarding High Priest Zagato and Princess Emeraude had been revealed to the inhabitants of Cephiro. The rash actions Zagato displayed during his desperate struggle to save Princess Emeraude had inevitably tarnished his reputation, as no one could expect the once caring and gentle High Priest could have such a change in attitude. But since his motives were made known to everyone, the late High Priest was more seen and sympathized as a most tragic figure who by his own conscious will, gave up everything to save the life of his beloved, including his reputation and ultimately his life. Besides traitor though Zagato was, all the civilians of Cephiro could testify the fact Zagato and his minions never actively went after the lives of people other than the Magic Knights, not even Alcyone. Clef told Lantis that even Alcyone was obsessed with carrying Zagato's orders, Alcyone had refused to hurt Clef and people other than the Magic Knights. When Cephiro started to fall apart after the loss of its pillar, Zagato's former minions Ascot, the gorgeous Caldina from Chizeta and Lafarga joined forces with Master Mage Clef to evacuate the civilians.

High Priest Zagato's death was mourned as deeply as that of Princess Emeraude, and no one thought of Lantis as a brother of a traitor, what Zagato feared for Lantis did not materialize in the end. But that relief did not last long, for his best friend Eagle Vision of Autozam started a plan to invade the now vulnerable Cephiro, hoping to claim the position of the Pillar and take over Cephiro so as to solve the problem of the air pollution in Autozam and a road to Cephiro was created by Eagle's formidable will power. Since Lantis spent some time there, some thought of Lantis as a spy for Autozam, especially Lafarga, who took Lantis' position as Captain of the guards after he left Cephiro.

But that was of no significance to Lantis for it was more important to figure out a way to stop Eagle from condemning himself to that miserable life as a Pillar, a life where he could never think for himself, no...Lantis had enough of losing people dear to him, his elder brother and Princess Emeraude were lost to him forever and he didn't want to go through all that grief again, he couldn't lose Eagle...he even felt resentful towards Eagle...how could he do something so reckless? For goodness sake, Eagle Vision of Autozam should know perfectly the price to pay to get Cephiro! Since Lantis confided everything to him...his cherished brother Zagato, Princess Emeraude and that Pillar system that required a person to sacrifice his or her happiness and free will to become a life support machine and defense system for the country. After Zagato passed away, Eagle was his best friend and brother in all but blood. Did Eagle think about how much it hurts him to see him doing this? Is Eagle out of his mind? Does Eagle not know that once he becomes the Pillar, he will be ALONE as an island? He will not be allowed to love, will not be allowed to have friends and family and not allowed to think about anything other than Cephiro?

Although Lantis had been informed about Zagato and Princess Emeraude's demise and the circumstances leading to it, listening to Clef's firsthand account of the deaths of the lovers made the whole story more heartrending... Lantis felt like a leaden clamp was tightening on his heart as he sat through Clef's retelling. His brother had remained true to his heart, fighting to protect the princess till his very last breath and was annihilated by the Magic Knights in a combination attack. The Magic Knights, no more than innocent children themselves, who thought and were told they were fighting in the name of justice...then Princess Emeraude who finally got her last selfish wish by joining Zagato in the afterlife. But not before caving into the grief and rage that naturally came after the loss of her one true love.

Clef told Lantis all the details, how sweet, gentle, innocent Princess Emeraude, the very personification of love, goodness and beauty, who decided to die rather than allowing herself to be unfaithful to her duties as the pillar, finally got weary of her lifetime of caring only for others and never for herself. Losing Zagato was the last straw to her, that ultimate blow that shattered her benevolent and selfless attitude lead to her forsaking all her duties as the Pillar and ruler of Cephiro.

The harrowing narration assaulted Lantis' heart more and more relentlessly as he heard how Princess Emeraude reached her own breaking point after Zagato was vanquished at the hands of the Magic Knight in his futile attempts to save her life. And in the end the desires she held and fought so hard to suppress surfaced, she could stand no more, she could no longer hold back. Princess Emeraude screamed, called out to Zagato and dissolved in tears…with each tear shed, Princess Emeraude's firm resolve to die for her country ebbed away, all that unyielding will power to hold back her own wishes dissipated.

The desires she held as a human woman who wished nothing more than to live with and for her love soon manifested to turn Princess Emeraude into her adult form, a form which was more ravishingly beautiful than ever, crowned with the same wealth of long silken golden tresses that shone like the sun, the same alabaster complexion, lips red as a rose petal, the dainty, petite girl blossomed into a tall, willowy lady, graceful and regal, stunning like a goddess, a goddess of vengeance, as mild and gentle as she was in her child form, that adult form was the complete opposite... unfeeling, heartless and murderous, the once soft, soulful and kind emerald eyes held a deadly, steely glint. In that form, she could only think of Zagato and herself, all that sense of duty and saving the world was thrust aside like old, dirty, worn clothes. All she could feel was resentment and hatred, resentment towards the world where she was forced to forgo her own will, freedom and happiness to keep it going and intense hatred towards the Magic Knights who killed her one true love.

In one single burst of power, she created her own rune god and destroyed the very castle where she imprisoned herself and lashed out onto the Magic Knights in a fit of unstoppable rampage of revenge, and in her all-consuming rage Princess Emeraude would have even turned herself against her country she protected with her life by praying for the complete destruction of it. Unlike Zagato, who in essence was no more than a high ranked subordinate, Zagato appeared to be apathetic to the fate of Cephiro after his fall from grace but he absolutely got no say in whether the country survives or dies even if he cared. Princess Emeraude was the Ruler in her own right. She was the one who was fully capable of destroying Cephiro if she wanted to and decided to. That was why the rune gods must be revived in the first place as the knights would be powerless to fight her. Cephiro was saved from total destruction at the nick of time only by Princess Emeraude's former good self appearing to the knights very briefly before she got totally lost to beg them to kill her. If Princess Emeraude did not hang on to her former self for the brief instant... Clef told Lantis gravely, he would not even have a Cephiro to return to, all the people Lantis used to know would be lost to him in that mindless wrath.

Lantis' determination only increased further upon hearing the tale. He felt it was hardly surprising to hear what happened to Princess Emeraude after having a lifetime that lasted for centuries of living only for others, thinking only for others and having everyone else's lives depending on her and never being allowed to find her own happiness and fulfillment. With the weight of the possible destruction of the country falling upon her shoulders, imagine the grueling strain on the poor soul of the unfortunate maiden. Anyone would have gone depressed and insane; it was too impressive that she lasted so long in that miserable life of hers, fettered to the fate of her country, not able to be an individual who have emotions, who cries, who laughs, who loves. She lived solely as a life support machine and defense system for all the lives in Cephiro while still having a conscious, free will.

Although Lantis knew Cephiro would be changed with Princess Emeraude's demise, he was still in for a nasty shock at the crumbling, jagged, desolate wasteland that his once beautiful, vibrant home country degenerated into. The volcanoes, floating mountains, the deep blue seas, the forests teeming with life were no more. The formerly cerulean skies were dark stormy grey, the same skies were lit up ominously every so often by lightning that striked down like thousands of merciless swords. The land was dying... the grounds were disappearing into the encroaching darkness, the only inhabitable area was a massive crystal castle held together by the will power of many mages working together, headed by Master Mage Clef.

As Lantis was surveying the land, mixed feelings came to his heart. What could he do about the situation? The land could not save itself unless a new Pillar was found as far as everyone knows, as far as he knows, but if the country has to save itself by condemning another person to that ostensibly prestigious, but wretched existence as the Pillar again, he wouldn't allow this to take place.

Lantis felt that if there was a way for flowers to bloom without the Pillar, for the land to be beautiful without a Pillar, wouldn't there be a way out for the land without getting a new Pillar? Have the people depended too much on one person's power and will to maintain the world? The land should belong to everyone who lives in it, right? The Pillar System should cease to exist! Could the people not work together to maintain the country, like how they worked to maintain the castle? Why depend only on one person? Had the tragedy of Zagato and Emeraude not make them learn? He remembered hearing about a road to the Pillar somewhere in Cephiro before, his quest was to find it and destroy it before Eagle could lay hands on it so no one could become the Pillar... No, there is no way he would allow the tragedy that happened to Zagato and Princess Emeraude to repeat itself, he would not even wish this fate to fall on his worst enemy, figuratively speaking. Lantis was determined; the very last victims to suffer under the Pillar system would be Zagato and Princess Emeraude, regardless of the consequences to the land. He must see this happen. Saying his mission was difficult was an understatement, his path was strewn with multitudes of obstacles, with the barren mountains crumbling and dropping rocks on top of him, the ground breaking asunder and forming chasms beneath his feet, withered dead trees collapsing in front of him, even if Lantis took to the air with his trusted spirit horse, it took constant vigilance AND also his superb power shields not to get electrocuted by lightning. It was no wonder that no one dared to venture out of this last stronghold except Lantis, the only Magic Swordsman of Cephiro. Lantis had to keep using his spells to keep himself safe. If he did not learn so much magic and combat skills from his prestigious education with Master Mage Clef, he would have expired and joined his brother and Princess Emeraude on the first step out of the castle...not that he was scared of death anyway...he was prepared to give his life...he would prefer to have something to live for and die accomplishing it, like his brother who decided to follow his heart and paid the price. Lantis was not looking for a long uneventful life with no goal, no dreams, no wishes. But he could not die before realizing his goal, he had a cause he would not waver from, even on the pain of death...his will was adamant...the Pillar System must be demolished, nothing could stop him, no one could stop him...at that point, Lantis realised he was more like Zagato's than he thought...with his all set on destroying the Pillar System, just like Zagato's heart was all set on the same goal and also to save the life of Princess Emeraude. They didn't just look alike (save for the different clothing choices and hairstyles), they didn't just sound alike... their spirits were alike. Even Zagato was dead and gone, Lantis felt the bond between the brothers had never been stronger, for now, they both had a wish they would never relinquish, a wish they held more significant than anything else, a crusade they would strive to win at all cost and if not to win, was prepared to die trying.

Lantis was not someone who would preen in front of mirrors, but when he had the chance to look into a reflective surface, he was astonished as to how much he changed... after all those misfortunes that befell him after another. First of all losing his cherished elder brother and Princess, seeing Cephiro disintergrating, betrayal by his best friend Eagle Vision of Autozam, and finally isolating himself from everyone else because of the suspiscion around him...it was impossible not to feel dark and bleak..and the state of his heart was revealed in his appearance... he looked so distant, detached, expressionless, his azure eyes like two frozen lakes, coupled with his black armor decorated with pale blue gems. He even heard people describing that he was like an ice sculpture, or like a Winter's night. The once cheerful, carefree, friendly boy was long gone... just like the verdant, lush beauty of Cephiro. Lantis nearly laughed to himself mirthlessly when he saw his reflection, suppose his younger self went on time travel to see the man he now become, his younger self would not have recognized this impassive, austere man.

However, little did Lantis know, the coldest, darkest winter's night would soon be replaced by a bright, warm spring morning. The beauty of the land would be restored without condemning another person to the miserable existence as the Pillar. Because a ray of light has arrived from the other world, accompanied by a soft breeze and a crystal sea. This ray of light would penetrate his shell of ice and fill him with warmth, love and beauty again.