Title: Troubled Hearts (2/?)

Author: Matthias (Solarsenshi@gmx.de)

Beta: None (at the moment)

Category: General/Romance

Rating: PG-13 (for now)

Pairings: Hikaru/Umi, Fuu/Ferio, Lantis/Primera, Caldina/Lafarga, Presea/Clef, Ascot/?, Eagle/?

Timeline: Several years after the end of the manga, does include a few topics and concepts of the anime. The most of it though is manga-related. Hikaru IS The Pillar, her power IS not fully necessary to stabilize Cephiro but there nonetheless, Mokona IS the creator and still around (to annoy Umi), that's everything important you need to know.

Summary: The crowning of the official new Pillar is near and with it the marriage of Shidou Hikaru and Lantis. But the Pillar has second thoughts and a vacation with her best friend changes everything… Not to mention the typical new menace brewing, mind you.

Disclaimer: Magic Knights Rayearth belongs to CLAMP and assorted companies. Possible new characters and the plot belong to me.

Legal Disclaimer: This is a work of Shoujo Ai (not Yuri yet), if the thought of two girls falling in love offends you or is illegal where you live, turn around, shriek and leave very, VERY fast. Or I'll send Mokona after you! J

Distribution: My site (www.catstrio.de), ff.net (www.fanfiction.net), Shoujo Ai archive (www.shoujoai.com), others might follow. If you want to post it, just tell me where and I would be more than pleased.

Chapter Notes: Betaing will be done eventually, so excuse me some spelling/grammar errors

(Voiceover Hikaru)

Four years after the official election of the new Pillar, myself, everything had been more or less set for the crowning ceremony and my wedding to Lantis, which would mark the beginning of a new era. Yet, everything came different as we expected. During a time of hesitation and doubt, my best friend Umi took me on a small vacation and revealed her own feelings for me. I was shocked, that's for sure, but I was also forced to make a decision. And a decision I made. As it stands the wedding will have a slight change to it, now we just have to tell our friends and the rest of Cephiro…

            Meanwhile Clef and Lantis are confronted with a threat to our very existence which could make our romantic troubles insignificant. Guru Clef risked a lot when he decided to release the unpredictable renegade known as Nova.

Opening Scene (theme Yuzurenai Negai)

Tomaranai mirai wo mezashite

Yuzurenai negai wo dakishimete

(We see Hikaru standing beside a river and Lantis on the other side, a bridge is forming between them Umi and Primera are approaching. Instead of walking towards each other they wait for the other two to come, Umi embracing Hikaru lovingly from behind while Primera was perched on Lantis's shoulders. Between them a shot of Fuu and Ferio in matching royal gowns with crystal crowns appear. The three "couples" turn around to face the screen and behind them the MKR logo appears.)

Umi no iro akaku somatte-yuku

(We see Hikaru casting a fire spell illuminated by a white-red aura, we see Umi casting a water spell mingling with Hikaru's. Fuu joins the pair and casts a strong wind spell around their combined magic.)

Mujuuryokujoutai

(Mokona floats into the scene above the three, Hikaru and Umi's hands joined in front of them and Fuu with an arm around both of their shoulders, Ferio behind them with a hand on Fuu's right shoulder.)

Kono mama kaze ni sarawaretai

(We see Lantis with a taller version of Primera in his arms, Eagle behind them, to their right Clef appears with Presea who has her hand atop his staff. Smiling softly. Between them Lafarga and Caldina become visible, Mokona floats into the scene once again.)

Itsumo tobenai HAADORU wo

Makenai kimochi de

KURIA shitekita kedo

(Mokona dashes out of the picture, filling up the screen momentarily. The scene shifts to a beautiful view over Cephiro's surface from up in the sky. A blue dragon shoots through the picture, two people on its back. A four-winged bird rises beside the dragon with a lone figure on its back. The camera zooms closer on the figures, revealing Umi on the back of the dragon, a happily laughing Hikaru behind her, after them Fuu can be seen riding the bird.)

Dashikirenai jitsuryoku wa...dare no sei?

(The dragon and bird glide down towards the ground where a beautiful fire lion with a horn can be seen running beneath and between them. Hikaru jumps down and the three Knights retrieve their Mashin armor. There's a flash of light…)

Tomaranai mirai wo mezashite

Yuzurenai negai wo dakishimete

(Rapidly scene change. The Mashin in their Mecha form rise to the sky once again, straight towards a thick wall of blackness… A dark shadow, the outlines of a woman, can be seen looming over the three Mashin and the whole of Cephiro. Switch to the knights on a ground facing of a horde of monsters, purple flames erupt from which a smiling Nova ascends, a golden light overlays here image in which the outlines of another girl with long hair can be seen. Switch to a picture of the palace, a phoenix racing past it, closely followed by the lion, dragon and bird, close up on the Magic Knights in front of the entrance, they have their three swords raised, Umi to Hikaru's left touching her rapier diagonal to Hikaru's sword, the same with Fuu on Hikaru's left. Hikaru swings hers forward and draws a pentagram in the air.)

Iro asenai kokoro no chizu...hikaru ni kazaso!

(In the pentagram shots of the NSX (top right corner), the Fahren Dragon (top left corner), the Chizeta Fortress (right bottom), and a yet unknown ship (left bottom) can be seen. In the middle bottom the Neo Cephiro group can be seen, including Lantis, Eagle, Primera, Clef, Presea, Caldina, Lafarga, Ascot, Aska, Sanyun, Tarta and Tatra), the inner outline of the star is filled with the outlines of Cephiro as well as shots of the other countries in the background of the "corners". On the end of the star tips the outlines of the Magic Knights can be seen, as well as two other figures on the bottom two. One can be clearly recognized as Nova the other is unknown yet. The pentagram zooms in quickly and shows the Magic Knights standing side by side, their Mashin behind them. Their armor is a little different and Umi's sword resembles more an actual rapier now, while Fuu holds up an Escudo longbow, Hikaru's sword has a second, slightly bend blade coming out of the first one. Below them are Nova in a black and white Magic Knight armor with two pulsating blades in black and white, and the other girl in a golden-brown armor with a long staff which ends in an impressive battleaxe. She has long brown-black hair and purple eyes. A beautiful phoenix rises over the group and the picture is frozen.)

Magic Knight Rayearth

Troubled Hearts

By Matthias

Story concept based on the works of CLAMP

Chapter 2: Changes

Pillar Year 5008, Year 4 since the founding of the new Cephiro (Eagle)

Blackness as deep as infinity was the only comparable description of the void filling the front screens of the NSX II. A deep, pulsating see of all-consuming nothingness that was the mantle of Cephiro's very mana nexus. In the center of the void was the nexus itself. The pool of brilliant white radiance, the center of all the little minor nexi that made Cephiro what it was. Tiny lines could be seen in the void, extending from the pool and connecting this world with its power. Without the magical center that was also known as the Spring of Fundament, magic would be a concept as foreign to us as it was to the other worlds and Cephiro's outer mantle. Earth.

"Status." I ordered, observing the scene with a frown. The void was steadily expanding. Not very fast but apparently without indication of stopping anytime soon. The web of ley lines was still existing but a lot of its parts were already darkening, not to mention that the center itself was slowly being overshadowed. As it stood there still would be months until the last bit was consumed, yet that alone was frightening enough.

"Substance analysis brought no results. Growth of the void at unstable 0,467 percent per hour. I cannot say for sure how long the center will hold at this rate, because the expansion rate is varying every few minutes," Zazu reported, staring intently at his console, as if it would jump him any seconds. The rest of the bridge was no better and even I had to say I felt a certain uneasiness at this scouting mission. We were facing totally unknown territory here. Journeying to the fundamental center of Cephiro alone was something you were privileged to survive, especially with a maybe hypermodern but yet simple battleship. But this… thing was something nobody, not even Guru Clef, knew how to fight. If it was even possible to fight it. I glanced over at my Second-in-command. Geo stood stoically but his eyes betrayed his outer calm. They were scared and that was something you saw very rarely within my old and trusted friend.

"I cannot say I am surprised. Resume the overall scan and gather as much information as possible. Give me Ascot." A screen flickered and showed the Summoner, riding a winged monster outside of the NSX II. "Yes, Eagle, I hear you." The young man shivered and I was sure it was not from the general arctic cold that reigned this area. I could feel it too. The outside area was a mixture of a total overload or zero negative zone of magical energy, meaning either a spark could initialize a bonfire or even a Spiral Flash of the combined Mashin would matter as much as breathing. The feeling was straining and I was only a minor mana-adept, channeling mostly willpower with technical means. I could not even begin to imagine what it had to be like for Ascot who grew up with using magic on a high scale.

"Can you test the void for reaction. We know that the outer area should not be there and therefore is unnatural. I'd like to see, if there is any different reaction as Clef said we should expect." Ascot nodded quietly not bothering to answer. The scene shifted when Geo switched the view to show both the Summonner and the void. Magic gathered in Ascot's hands and he threw a minor blast of white-blue flame at the unnatural blackness. The column grazed the void briefly and then simply vanished. Nothing else happened.

"Well, that was…" Geo never finished his statement, then the void suddenly flashed once in an eerie gray. Acting out of the instinct, I reacted with the speed necessary in this moments. "Shields on full power! Prepare for impact!" The command had just left my mouth when a sphere of black jumped from the edge of the void, a sphere nearly as big as the NSX II herself. A white field of fluctuating energy blinked into existence just a moment before the projectile impacted with speed that betrayed its size and power that was a hundredfold more than expected. I could briefly see Ascot creating a shield of his own but wisely hiding behind the battleship. But I couldn't keep track of him. The impact almost sent me to the ground. Gripping tightly at my seat, I gritted my teeth and watched as the shields of the huge battleship tried to survive under the onslaught of colossal energy.

The NSX II was the first of a new generation. Bigger and faster as the first model, was it of a much leaner design and equipped with a combination of highly effective mana and old-fashioned techno-magic weapons. Yet, all that was almost in vain and the first semi-official duty of Cephiro's flagship had also been her last. Almost. I breathed a heavy sigh as the energy sphere finally despised, barely losing the struggle with the ship's defense. "Return fire! Charge the Phoenix Cannon!" Geo looked at me skeptical for a moment but then his face darkened and he went to comply.

The Phoenix Cannon was a weapon using the ship's combination of Autozam's and Cephiro's specialty. A highly dangerous weapon of immense power, even greater than the original design of the Laguna Cannon. After the thing that was threatening our existence tasted this, we would know how strong it really was. Nobody would come away with nearly destroying a ship under my command. Nobody.

(Fuu)

For several moments a devouring silence lay over the throne room of Cephiro Palace and its four occupants. Master Mage Clef stood patiently but years of dealing with the elder of this world were enough to know that even he was uncomfortable with the change of events. Next to me Ferio had sucked in a sharp breath and had yet to release it. My friends always said that I was the most patient one of the knights, the most calm, logical and levelheaded one. However, logic was defying me right now and calm was a very stretching concept. I was not sure, if I really believed what I saw nor if I was meant to believe it.

"Is she for real?" I finally managed, my voice barely above a whisper. The small, elf-like warrior in black and white Magic Knight armor was not really what could be declared a complete mirror image of Hikaru but the eyes, the face, the whole aura. If I would just depend on supernatural senses, simply reading the girl's aura, I could have sworn it was Shidou Hikaru, one of my two best friends, companion and Fire Knight.

"It depends on your definition of real," Clef answered. The Guru didn't show any outward sign of nervousness but seemed to periodically stealing glances at the other girl. "As I said. Nova is a shadow image, created during your battle with Emeraude. It was pure luck that I and Lantis discovered her while the land was crumbling. If not, I don't want to know what the darkness that filled Cephiro at this time would have done to her." Ferio cleared his throat and gave the old Guru an uncharacteristic glare. "And you were going to inform us about her when?" To his credit Clef didn't flinch and met my husband's eyes with an even look. "I have done so now, didn't I?"

My eyes narrowed and Ferio fumed. Mentally preparing myself, I yet again learned that being a Queen often had more down- than upsides. "It does seem that you had some valid secrets. This threat you were talking about, her… Is there anything more, you want to share with us, Guru?" Unlike with Ferio, Ckef averted his eyes to the ground, at my dangerous low voice. "I only acted in Cephiro's best interest. With the impending ceremony and meeting, Lantis and I didn't want to worry anyone more than necessary," he mumbled, still not looking up to meet my gaze.

For a moment my features softened and I was tempted to let the matter drop for now, but then my eyes fell on Nova again, who seemed to find the whole exchange amusing. It did not bode well with me to know, that such a dangerous creature was inside the palace all those years, right under our noses. And it was certainly not fair to Hikaru who had a right to know of her shadow's existence. "Did not want to worry us?" I repeated, my voice rising but I kept it barely under actual shouting. "Damn it, Clef! You don't have to take responsible for everything. For that you have Hikaru, me and the council. You cannot hold secrets like this from us. What if something would have happened to you and Lantis. Nobody would have known of her existence and then she could have easily surprised us all!" Finally looking up, the Master Mage answered my challenging stare with a sad one of his own. "I had to. It was my duty at this time and it still is. The stasis would have held even without Lantis or my existence. Nova was simply not ready to be released into the world and the last four years had be straining enough for all of you without dealing with Nova and the emotional trauma she surely would have caused."

We held the contest of wills for several more moments before I finally sighed and dropped my eyes to the ground in a gesture of defeat. "Alright, it is not my place anyway. You can discuss that with Hikaru when she comes back." Clef blanched but gathered his resolve quickly, while Ferio chuckled lightly. The mood effectively lightened, I turned towards Nova who had followed the whole scene with a light grin. However, apparently my little display of royal anger seemed to have impressed her. I could not be fully sure, if her actions were out of respect or a light mocking, but she seemed genuine when bowing her head. Before I could speak, Nova looked up and humbly introduced herself. "My Queen, I am glad to be of service to you. I am Nova, Magic Knight of Spirit."

That did made me wonder. From Clef's reluctance about this whole matter, I would have gathered that Nova's personality was a bit… different. I stopped in front of her and reached out to lay one hand on her shoulder. Nova apparently tried hard not to look away. If I compared it to how she dealt with Clef, Nova almost seemed meek now. "I greet you Nova and welcome you to the palace. Can I ask you something." The fairy-like girl nodded silently. "I watched you and it seems you have more respect for me than everyone else in this room. Why?" Nova looked down at her foot again. After a while she quietly replied: "Because you are one of Hikaru's best friends. Hikaru loves you, so I love you. When I was first born, I thought that everyone Hikaru loves, I hate, because her despair created me. However, I learned that you would not ever hurt Hikaru as would Umi. That is why."

Alright, that made more sense. From what Clef told me, the antagonizing response in Nova's feelings towards anyone close to Hikaru was more than understandable. And although it was true that Hikaru was a very trusting person, a lot of people tended to take advantage of that. Umi and I would never do this, a testament to this was Umi's silence on her feelings in order to spare Hikaru the pain of indecision until now. I wondered briefly, what reactions it would cause in Nova, when the trip ended as I fear… expected.

Smiling softly, I stepped closer and embraced the smaller girl briefly. Nova stiffened for a moment but then relaxed with a relieved sigh. I released her and took her right hand in mine. "Then call me Fuu."

(Umi)

It was early morning and the sun was just beginning to rise on the horizon. There was, as almost always no cloud in the sky and beneath us lay the lovely picture that spoke of Cephiro's beauty. A creation we had achieved, all of us together. Call it possessiveness but I felt a bit reluctant to open the gateway and allow humanity to share this dream of a world. The wide green woods, the high mountains on the ground and in the sky, the clear, blue skies… It was like a picture book or – as we had often joked – directly out of a video game. But Cephiro was real. A peaceful land that had cost us a lot of effort to shape and protect. I considered it our world and humanity had the bad tendency to stain such beauty. That was why the first contact was so delicate and I might have made it even more delicate with the events of last night.

It is worth any complication, I thought to myself. I planted a soft kiss on the forehead of the petite redhead leaning totally content against me while the winged, blue dragon soared high over the land in the direction of the palace. I would trade the world for her. I really wanted to enjoy this vacation longer. It was just like Clef to first push me into admitting my feelings before it was too late and then calling us back after three days on a vacation. Hell, he couldn't have even been sure that I opened up by now. It was pure coincidence that the talk had been yesterday. If not, everything would have been in vain and I surely would have never had the courage again to express my feelings, Hikaru would have married Lantis as planned, I would have been back to my old role and everything would just have been as before… God, I was rambling in my head and acting like a lovesick fool but I couldn't help it. Hikaru had just laughed when I brought my displeasure at Clef up and said that was just one thing she loved about me. Okay, maybe I had a temper problem but was I really that bad?

Hikaru turned around in my embrace that was as much practical as completely emotional, she didn't gave me time to further babble in my head, when her lips caught mine in a brief, reassuring contact. "It's alright. I tell Lantis as soon as we are back and we know what's going on," Hikaru told me and traced my cheek with a finger. I laughed gently. That was my Hikaru always concerned about those she loved. Even if it was not exactly what had been on my mind, she knew exactly how to divert my concern. "I'm sure you do. And remember, what ever happens, I always love you." The redhead's cheeks immediately matched her hair color and I was once again surprised that sometimes she still acted as innocent as the fourteen year-old tomboy I had met this day on Tokyo Tower and shortly after fell in love with.

An indignant cough reminded me of the other passenger on Selece's back. While I could understand the idea, I thought it a bit funny to actually sent Primera as a messenger. Her relationship with Hikaru was mostly benefited by Primera's own role as similar to mine before. She had stopped her pursuit of Lantis because the Kairu had been happy with Hikaru and she was able to see that, eventually. Now, with the new development, I could not be sure where she stood with my new fiancée or if the old rivalry would flare again fueled by different motives. I had been embarrassed to say the least, to be caught in the middle of Hikaru's proposal and tried to ignore the looks the pixie sent our way.

Concentrating on the scenery rather than dealing with Primera, I noticed that we had reached the palace grounds even more quickly than expected. After Primera's message that we were to return to the palace immediately, it had already been late night and we were tired from the day. So we decided to rest first and then make an early start at the first signs of daybreak. A good thing Selece was fairly quick in his natural form. Maybe not so much as Windam but that was enough for now.

Selece made a graceful descend and Hikaru and I jumped down in front of one of the side entrances – a giant blue dragon flying over the palace was probably enough cause for attraction already. Primera flew down also and perched on Hikaru's shoulder… I blinked at that but simply shrugged my shoulders. There was no time for that now. Several figures were already coming down the hallway. Amongst them Fuu and Ferio and probably Clef from what I could see. There was a fourth small shadow that I could not identify but something about the form seemed awfully familiar.

"Hikaru-san, Umi-san, I am glad you made it back quickly," Fuu greeted us. I could tell that there must have been something very emotional, because Fuu looked somewhat nervous. "What happened? Why did you call us back, Fuu?" Hikaru asked, squeezing my hand softly. The action thrilled me, especially in front of our friends. Fuu seemed to notice but didn't comment on it. Stepping out of the shadows Clef confronted us with a sad gaze that made me reconsider about strangling the twerp elder for his bad timing. "I apologize. You are here because I wished so. Cephiro may be in terrible danger. I will tell you as soon as the rest is here. But first…" He motioned for the figure that had remained in the shadow. "I want you to meet someone important, Hikaru. Come out… Nova."

When the elfish girl stepped into the light, I immediately tightened my grip on Hikaru's hand. A chill ran down my spine and I felt Hikaru shudder at the sight that looked so much like her. Not really the outwards appearance but the eyes. The eyes were often said to be the mirror of the soul and then I looked into those, I only saw Hikaru. Yet… Where Hikaru was in the truest sense light and a joyful soul, in Nova's eyes there was only sorrow, despair and darkness.

(Hikaru)

I felt like looking into a mirror. Red eyes were locked firmly on mine in curiosity and a bit of playful joy. Yet I could clearly see the despair and sorrow deep within. Emotions that were as strange as they were frighteningly familiar to me. I knew her. With absolute clarity I had the undeniable feeling that I should… No, that I DID know her. "Nova…" I repeated the name softly to myself, my heart lurched at the sound and my soul wept. Why did I feel like this? What was this strange girl that looked so much like me doing to me that I was literally frozen in place. "Who… are you?" I finally asked, my voice whispered so much that I didn't think anyone heard. But I think Nova did and Clef apparently did as well. "Your shadow."

"My… shadow?" The elfish girl stepped closer hesitantly. A wave of protectiveness rushed through me and I answered the worried squeeze from Umi's hand with one of my own. It was strange, somehow I felt, as if I should be terrified of the girl in front of me but at the same time I didn't want to be. Why was I having this conflicting feelings and what did Clef mean with the girl being my shadow? Nova softly reached out to trace my face with one gloved finger, earning a barely-suppressed growl from Umi in the process, and giggled lightly. "Hikaru. I finally met you, Hikaru. I've been waiting so long…"

"I… I don't understand…" She leaned forward catching me off-guard when she brushed her lips over my cheeks. Suddenly something deep in my heart stirred and memories I had buried deep inside came rushing to the surface with an intensity like never before. "Iie…" I squeezed my eyes shut, shaking my head. "Onegai…" Memories of the final battle which revealed the horrible truth about the fate of the Magic Knights. "Yameru… Don't… I don't want to remember…"

"GET AWAY FROM HER!" Umi's outburst snapped me out of my trance and I saw Nova stumbling back from a shove and Umi preparing to launch a water spell at her. Quickly I caught my new fiancée's wrist. "Umi-chan, it's alright. I'm fine." The blue-haired girl looked at me skeptically but finally dropped her arm. I looked back at Nova who seemed to look somewhat guilty about the whole thing. "Do you understand now?" she asked softly, slowly closing the distance again and taking my hands in hers. "Yes," I whispered, not able to say more.

"I am called Nova. I am a mirror image of your heart. The despair and utter helplessness you felt in the moment where you learned about Emeraude's true wish has created me. I am a reflection of your darkest emotions, the side that every human being has, be it even as small as in your pure heart." Yes, she was right. I had felt so terrible the moment I learned the truth. That Emeraude had loved Zagato, that we had killed him for naught and that we now were forced to accept our actual purpose. To kill the Pillar herself. At this moment the world had become the harshest and darkest place for me and for a moment, for a single, long moment I had felt utter hatred at the unfairness of it all. And that feeling, now I recognized it clearly, was exactly what I had seen in Nova's eyes.

"Is that true, Hikaru?" Umi asked gasping, staring at Nova with wide eyes. I simply nodded and pulled the startled girl into a tight hug, feeling the need to express my own sadness over the situation. However, it was short-lived. Clef turned sharply and began to walk into the palace. "Follow me. I must brief you in the situation as quickly as possible." Nova wiggled out of my arms, glared at the Guru for some time and then joined me at my left. The smile she sent Umi's way was both dazzling and grateful which caught my friend to blush slightly. "Thank you, for taking care of her. You are good for, Hikaru." Before anyone could ask her about the statement she started after Clef and we quickly followed. Fuu was giving us a long, somewhat strange look before Ferio placed a hand on her shoulder and she sighed deeply. After that only silence reigned in the hallways where we walked towards the conference room.

That at least left me some time to think about the rapidly occurring events. I was not really sure how Nova fit into all this. The armor she wore was similar to ours, it had just a darker touch. While it was true that Clef had been searching for the last Magic Knight that he told us should be there, the one that manipulate the element of Earth, I was sure Nova wasn't that last one.

Since she was me in more than just one sense, her general powers probably also lay in the fire area. The response I got when I tried to read her emotions was confusing and a little scaring. Reading her was as easy as understanding myself but what I actually saw there troubled me. Her heart was so heavy with depression it hurt, yet outwardly she seemed to be the complete opposite, with this cheery, cute, little girl attitude. I wonder, if it wasn't an act. I certainly wouldn't be surprised. Nova seemed to be awfully hostile against almost everyone except me. However, the same held true for Umi and Fuu which surprised me a bit. Maybe it was because in that moment that she was created from my heavy heart, my friends felt the same as me.

I turned my head to the side and saw Umi looking down on me with a concerned and thoughtful look. I grasped her hand more tightly and she pulled me a little closer. Nova watched this with open amusement and a content smile while Fuu tried her best to ignore the obvious. I know she must have guessed about us already and knowing her, she probably tried to figure out what exactly she was feeling at the moment. I decided to gave her some time.

We finally reached the chamber that was the conference room of the High Council. We were expected because when we stepped into the corridor, there was Lantis already waiting for us. I only had to take one look at his face and knew I wouldn't need to bother to hold up a façade in front of him. He knew. He had known all along.

(Ascot)

The onslaught of dark energy was so strong I was barely able to hold the barrier, even though I was already partially hiding behind the NSX II – who had equal problems with the biggest part of the attack dancing over their shield. That wasn't good at all. I had expected trouble but such power was indeed scaring. From my position I watched the energy ripping right through reality, simply swallowing everything in its path like a giant black hole or one of these things Umi told me about. Vacuum cleaner they were called, I think.

Finally the hurricane of darkness subsided and there was an eerie silence except for the natural sound of the howling and wiping wind. Zainor was being flung around a lot, despite his enormous size and strong wings. The air was high-charged with magical energy and at the same time there were unpredictable pockets where no spell would work. It was hard to navigate and I did have to anchor my beast to not suddenly losing it while flying through a pocket.

Watching intently, I saw that Cephiro's flagship obviously prepared for a counterstrike. Weapons were readied and large currents of magical and mental energy danced over the smooth bluish-white shell. They were going all out as it seemed. I had helped a bit in devising the Phoenix Cannon and was more than aware of exactly how powerful it was. However, personally I would have to reconsider before using it here, right in the center of everything that was Cephiro. It could cause irreversible damage and might even play in the unknown substance's "hands" by destroying the Mana Nexus. Not that I really thought that was possible, even by the Pillar. Nobody would listen to me anyway. When it came to combat I wisely stood back and shut up, leaving strategy to the more capable ones. The reason I was here was getting a feel of what we were up against and a feel I got, alright…

"Oh shit!" I gasped seeing as the nothingness began to wobble. Portions of it were spat out and formed into huge creatures that had nothing to do with any beast or monster I had ever encountered. They were of the same void-like substance – although non-substantial would probably be the best term to use. At first only a few but then dozens began to come out, dozens turned to a hundred… "INAZUMA SHOURAI!" Cutting loose with a vast blast of lightning I didn't wait for any indication, if the creatures were to attack. Frankly there probably wouldn't be one needed. The NSX II immediately opened fire as well. Blasts of magic and mental energy ripping through the air, while more and more energy gathered in the center of the wing-shaped weapon on the top back of the NSX II.

I quickly gathered that magic over large distance was simply wasted. You were lucky than a spell avoided the pockets and didn't fizzle out or was severally weakened. The blast fueled with mental energy weren't as effected by this and took out several of the creature. I was at a loss of what to do. I was reluctant to let the things get any closer and summoning other beast was no option either, since the anchoring would take its time, for which I simply didn't have the concentration. Zainor was at least a fire breather and could provide natural element power but that wasn't enough in an outnumbered battle like this one.

I was seriously considering boarding the NSX II when the charge period for the battleship's main weapon had ended. "KAKUEN BOUJO!" Fueling every bit of power possible into the spell, I chose to be prepared this time for any backlash. The Phoenix Cannon was glowing in a bright gold with the concentrated magical and mental energy and without further ado was fired. A beam of pure and gigantic golden power ripped apart everything in its part and the whole area was lit in its light for a while when it impacted with the void. The following explosion was so strong that for a brief moment every sound and every matter was cast away by it, before the huge energy beam was simply sucked into the dark mass. "Uh oh," I mumbled. The substance wavered a bit, trying to absorb the energy and all the creatures were suddenly blinking out of existence, as if…

"Ascot, retreat at once! I don't think we saw the last of them and we can't fight properly while in here," Eagle's voice echoed out of my communication earring. He didn't have to tell me twice. Acknowledging the command, I turned my beast around and fled in the opposite direction. The NSX II despite its enormous size was rather agile and quickly managed a full hundred-eighty degree turn, catching up with us quickly. I mumbled a quick chant, reopening the gateway that led us to the otherwise completely shielded mana nexus area and entered, Cephiro's flagship close behind.

Catching my breath, I finally had sometime to think back on the events. "What the heck was that?" I asked aloud. As I said, the Phoenix Cannon was probably the strongest mechanical device ever created in all worlds and this, this… thing simply absorbed the whole power. Not without effects alright, effects we probably thanked our escape route, but… I had never imagined the capabilities of what we were facing here. Clef and Lantis had not exaggerated than advising us to the utmost caution.

"If you are referring to the Phoenix Cannon, we are baffled here as well. That creatures though seemed to be made of the main mass, that would explain why they disappeared when it dealt with our counterstrike." That was what I suspected as well. "It's kind of like those high-level illusions from Fahren, just more bound to… What…?" I turned around as we exited the gateway and therefore was the first to see the totally unexpected. The creatures from earlier had followed us through. All of them. "That is so not good," I heard Geo comment and could only agree.

(Lantis)

The anticipation I had felt all morning, ever since I woke from the barely three hours of sleep, was unbearable. I had been prepared for that moment. I really had been. The words laid out, the reactions and shown emotions, the understanding yet forced smile. All this was sure to come. Albeit Primera's encouragement that I might have misinterpreted what I would find when my fiancée returned, I had known for sure, any hope was in vain. Last night, after sunset, was the final proof when I had felt the bond that linked me to Hikaru crumble and finally break. That exact moment the decision had been made, there was no doubt about that. Hikaru had finally settled her heart for the one person that she wanted at her side, this time for sure. And it had not been me. I had been prepared for this. However, actually seeing Hikaru with her… I started to realize that someone simply could never be prepared for… heartbreak.

Hikaru had been the first person to touch my heart in this special way. A long time I had not really understood how Zagato could have fallen for the one person he could never have, even though he was loved back. I understood the principle and why it happened between my elder brother and Emeraude but I had never experienced it for myself. After the tragedy had started I had already known how it would end. The legend was to precise and way to real for my brother to simply overcome it. I had left Cephiro, choosing to not witness the drama enfold in front of my own eyes.

At this time, I had thought that if that was the price for love, I could never bring myself to feel that overpowering yet traumatic emotion. My thoughts had solely been focused on crushing the cruel Pillar System with my own hands, had become reclusive in order to not make Zagato's mistakes… But… when I had met Hikaru and before I knew it, had fallen in love with the next Pillar. Such an irony.

The redhead girl so full of kindness and determination had somehow penetrated my shell and made me more aware of how people around me felt, she had taught me, if your heart was strong enough, you could overcome even the most difficult of hardships. Even being the Pillar and being in love. We had managed it, without Cephiro falling apart. Actually what we symbolized had been the sign for a lot of people to realize that the times had changed. We had become the symbol for a new beginning and everyone believed us to be the pair that led them into a new age… How ironic again. Just like Zagato, it had not worked out. This time though, only for me.

"Lantis…" The group had stopped. I spotted Nova beside Fuu glowering at me darkly yet keeping quiet but my eyes were locked on Hikaru. Her hand was in Umi's and their closeness was speaking more than any words. There was a mixture of emotions in Hikaru's eyes. I had become quite good in reading her. Sadness, a tiny bit of doubt, the dire need to somehow explain herself, but also a spark of determination that proofed that her decision had been made and would stand. She took a step towards me and Umi reluctantly let her hand go but before she could make another step I turned around and opened the door to the chamber. "Come in, we have no time to lose." If we had this discussion now, there was no telling when Clef and I could update them on the situation. And for that the situation was to dire. I felt that we needed to inform everyone right away.

I caught Hikaru looking hurt and unsure for a moment and that brief expression really pained me but it could not be helped. There were more important issues at the moment. Everyone filled into the room including Lafarga and Caldina, only Ascot and Eagle were absent for reasons only known to me and Clef. While everyone settled down, Hikaru never made eye contact which hurt even more, and Umi seemed to switched from sad to resigned glances towards Clef. I was much more unnerved though by the dark looks Nova kept sending my way. Hopefully Clef knew what he was doing. Primera had seated herself quietly upon my shoulder, her expression in more than one way unreadable.

The tension was still evident when Cephiro's Guru started the meeting. "I am truly sorry for the promptness of this meeting and apologize, if I stepped over some people's position dealing with the situation but until yesterday evening I had not been sure, if we were truly facing a crisis or not." He looked pleadingly at Fuu who at long last nodded but her neutral expression didn't change. Holding up his staff the head glowed blue and an scrying orb appeared in the middle of the table, showing the area of importance Clef and I had been observing those past days.

"Is this?" asked Presea who had been silent until now. Being Cephiro's Master Smith and not to mention earning a high rank in the new world's military provided her with a lot of knowledge others didn't have access to. Such as Lafarga, Caldina or Ascot who simply stared blankly at the image. Fuu and Umi also seemed clueless, while Hikaru blinked a few times before realization crept into her eyes. "The Spring of Fundament, Cephiro's mana nexus," she simply stated, as if it was an obvious thing. Only when she received questioning stares from mostly the rest of the council, did she elaborate.

"Cephiro is a land of will, where a believing soul becomes a recognizable force. THAT is the force of every magic and the concept." If I wasn't used to it, I would have been as surprised as the rest of them – well except Umi who had spent even more time than me with Hikaru. The petite redhead sometimes was a fountain of knowledge that was simply just… there, as she put it. Being the last Pillar probably had a lot to do with it and who knew, what she and Mokona had been talking about since he… it came back a year ago for no apparent reason than to be his/its usual annoying pseudo-self. Umi hadn't been very pleased and the fact that she knew about Mokona's real identity didn't change anything.

"So, what is the problem here?" my mutual rival asked. Clef waved his staff and the image zoomed in. Hikaru's eye's narrowed. "The void is bigger than it should be. The mantle has a simple shielding purpose. It shouldn't be THAT big." I nodded, deciding to relieve Clef of some of the explaining. "Exactly. Over the last days the void has steadily expanded. Outwardly and inwardly. At first we thought it had been a natural response to the changes Cephiro had gone through lately but… it keeps growing and at this rate, whatever is responsible for this growth rate, will either swallow the mana nexus and crumble Cephiro's entire magical power or simply eating away reality around it until…" At that point, I was rudely interrupted but didn't think that I really had to finish the sentence for anyone in the room present.

(Nova)

I had hung back, drawing as little attention to myself as possible. Being a shadow in the widest sense of the word helped immensely. While the little twerp informed the rest of the chamber's occupants about the nexus, I let my gaze wander over the gathered people, people I had actually never seen and should barely know but still did. Hikaru's memories of them were present in me and they weren't all that pleasant. Which left me confused and my feelings jumbled.

They had hurt Hikaru and her friends, trying to kill them even at one point. Yet, they were friends now. Hikaru's heart had taken irreparable damage during this battle which had ultimately led to my birth. I could not quite describe, nor grasp what my feeling about this people were. No one had been there to tell me why I was born or how I was to deal with the pain and loneliness in my heart. I wanted to make Hikaru happy but didn't have any idea how. On this matter I had to agree with Clef that it had been a good thing he and Lantis had found me. In my mental state I probably would have fallen easy prey to any dark force in the crumbling remains of Cephiro.

I guess, I had no real problem with Lafarga and Caldina, they were all more or less misguided and didn't know the real reason behind Zagato's actions. The same went for Presea, who did gain a higher opinion from me since she and Hikaru were so fond of each other from the beginning. The other's though – I was mainly referring to Clef and Lantis – were of an entirely different category.

Lantis was in my eyes responsible for a lot of pain within Hikaru. Though, I had only experienced the events after my capture through mental observation that I hadn't been able to put together until now, the Kairu had kept my Hikaru away from her true happiness, her true love. He couldn't make her happy, not completely, not like she deserved to be. And he had known it, yet refused to let go. On top of it, he had almost succeeded. Zagato's blind quest for Emeraude's heart had been hard enough on Hikaru but Lantis, although everyone claimed he wasn't like his brother, was as much trouble for Hikaru as his brother had been for the previous Pillar. It was more subtle but still present. At least for me who I knew Hikaru as much as she knew herself.

Clef… It was a bit more simple than with Lantis. As I already mentioned, I didn't blame him for imprisoning me, that might have really been for my own good. However, what made me literally hate the small, old Guru was that he had known. He had known right from the beginning and even if he simply had followed Emeraude's orders and wish, that was no excuse. Not knowing about the true cause was one thing, but knowing and still hiding this truth. I don't think I could ever forgive him for that. He had set Hikaru up for this heartbreak, without warning, without the slightest indication that their quest was anything less than a honorable, life-saving one. Cruel.

The other knights I had no problems with. Really. It had taken me a long time to understand it but I had time to think in the last four years of inactivity. Both of them had never done anything to hurt Hikaru. Quite the opposite, everyone of the three had at any point be ready to give her life for the other two, without regret. No, I could not blame them. They loved Hikaru with all their heart and Hikaru loved them back. She wanted to be with them, live with them and make them happy like they made her happy. That is why I was positively delighted to learn that Hikaru had dropped Lantis in favor of Umi who was simply right for her. Nobody could know that better than me.

I looked up when the image Clef had formed suddenly went black for a moment and then showed another man's quite frantic face, effectively stopping Lantis in mid-sentence. Eagle. Autozam's commander and now General of the new world's air military. The guy was somewhat of a puzzle to me. I knew that he wasn't much better than Lantis in some regards but like Hikaru I couldn't quite bring myself to hate him.

Pushing these thoughts to the back of my mind for the moment, I concentrated on the man's excited gestures. "Guru Clef! This is the NSX II. We require immediate reinforcements for air combat! I repeat: Immediate reinforcements for air combat!" Hikaru stood up, concern plainly visible in her face. "What happened, Eagle?" For a moment the man seemed relieved to see her, when his features hardened and he reached for something out of view. The picture switched again, this time showing an area not far from the Forest of Silence in which the giant battleship and a horde of beasts commanded by Ascot were engaged in a fierce battle that left not much doubt who was the superior force. "We tried to test the things reaction to hostility. Apparently, it didn't like being shot at. Not that it did anything. Clef, the void even absorbed the Phoenix Cannon."

There was an uncomfortable silence that fell over the room as everyone digested that. I had no real idea what the Phoenix Cannon was but judging by the shocked looks it was not something that was meant to be simply absorbed. The moment was brief and before anyone could take in more than a few breaths, Hikaru straightened up and determinedly looked at Umi and then over to Fuu. Both nodded in an unspoken agreement. "Hold on there, Eagle. We are on our way."

Turning my counterpart was already halfway out of the door, before she suddenly stopped and looked back at me. "Do you have a Mashin too, Nova? Is there a shadow of Rayearth." I thought about that, hard, then finally shook my head. "I don't think so." There was regret that I couldn't keep out of my voice. I wanted to help Hikaru, that is why I had been freed so early anyway but if I couldn't even do that… Closing my eyes briefly, I made a quick decision. "But I'm still coming with you. I can call a creature or something else and that would be a good time to test my abilities." Hikaru hesitated for a moment but nodded finally, obviously aware of the gravity of the situation. Arguing would bring us nowhere.

"Alright," Fuu took over. "Everyone else stays in the castle. If there are any of these things slipping by us, they should be met properly." With Hikaru's nod things were authority settled and the three Knights hurried out of the room, I floated along silently.

(Fuu)

I had always been complimented for staying calm, even in the most peculiar of situations, however, I guess I was still a bit mad at Clef for keeping secrets like that. It was not like I wanted to intrude in his position as the Guru. As talented as we were, none of matched his wisdom concerning everything magical, probably not even Hikaru who was more an intuitive source of wisdom. Still, while I might be able to overlook the Nova issue and would gladly leave that to Hikaru, the departure of the NSX II and Ascot without my knowledge was something that would have to be discussed. Later.

Arriving on of the outside platform, the three of us quickly looked at each other. Nova stood a few feet back and obviously waited with a summoning spell until we departed. For the first time I was really glad that both Mokona and the Mashin had returned a few years after the crowning of the Pillar. Nobody really knew why or was going to answer that question. And if Hikaru knew, she wasn't telling either. But that didn't matter know. You simply don't question the wisdom of a creator, after all he probably knew that we would need our Mashin again.

Willing my armor into existence and summoning the Escudo sword that marked me as a true Magic Knight, I took the lead, quickly followed by Umi and Hikaru.

"Windam!"

"Selece!"

"Rayearth!"

The next thing I knew was simply switching places from outside the castle to the inside of my Mashin. I never really experienced any transportation other than the brief sensation of green light rushing towards me. "Magic Knights, it is good to see you again," boomed the combined voices of all three mecha. "It is good to see you too, Windam." Unlike Umi who had been out more often, neither I or Hikaru had much time for more than brief contact these last year and therefore this was quite literally the first we would don the Mashin again. Part of me had hoped it would never be necessary again in this way. Life just wasn't fair. That was a fact.

I looked to my right side. Hikaru had taken her usual position in the middle with Umi and myself flanking her. "Let's go!" our ever-fearless leader shouted. I had to refrain from giggling at the thought, apparently my husband's sense of humor was rubbing off on me. Oh well… Mentally willing Windam to move, all three of us broke through the dimensional barrier and were positioned right above the Forest of Silence, the battlefield only one or two miles in front of us. The air was filled with electrical and magical discharged energy. Surprisingly Nova was right beside me, on a flying, fiery bird of some kind I didn't recognize.

"All right," Umi said, observing the situation. "We go in in pairs. Nova you go with Fuu, I'll go with Hikaru." Usually I didn't questions Umi's tactical sense, something she had developed quite nicely over the years but there was more than a tiny doubt if that set-up was tactical or simply based on feelings. I kept quiet though. That was another problem that should be dealt with later. And I mean later.

Apparently Nova had other ideas. "I hate to correct you and know very well why you do this. But I think we should split powers equally. Hikaru can cause the most damage of all of us, while I don't have a Mashin at the moment. Also Fuu would be left without a serious attack addition to her defense magic while you and Hikaru are both more offensive than defensive." Umi started to protest although I thought she knew exactly that Hikaru's… shadow was right. "I can watch her, trust me. After all I AM her." Umi finally gave in but her jaw was tightened and she was definitely uncomfortable. Thankfully Hikaru took the initiative again, sending an encouraging smile Umi's way. "We need to go, now!"

With that we raced straight into the battlefield. Shots from the NSX II were ripping through the air and into countless enemies, Ascot was busy casting lightning spells as well as barriers for himself and his beasts. I think we just came in at the right moment…

"AKAI HA DOU!" A wave of intense heat suddenly sprang forward from Hikaru's outstretched palms and burned its way through over a dozen adversaries, consuming them totally. "KAIRYUU NO NAMI!" Umi's spell had much the same effect as a massive tidal wave jumped up and crushed several of the indefinable things under the fast and brute force. I DID sweatdrop. Apparently I had really been too focused on my duties as the Queen, my magic studies had become less and less frequent while I knew Umi and Hikaru were steadily training. The result was noticeable.

Wiping these thoughts aside but saving the information for later use, I saw a pair of enemies sneaking up on Umi. "MAMORI NO KAZE!" Their attacks were deflected by the wind barrier and forced them to hastily evade their own shadow attacks. I was quick to follow up with an attack. "MIDORI NO SHIPPU!" Umi flashed me a grateful smile as the two things disappeared and drew her sword to meet the next wave, I did equally, wondering what this battle would bring and how long it would take to take down such many foes. Not even to mention, if it was even possible… No, that was a silly thought. We would succeed, together we always did. And Hikaru was still the Pillar after all. No reason to be sloppy though.

Dispatching another enemy with a quick sweep, I noticed some of Ascot's beasts being pummeled quite brutally by the nameless creatures. That sight triggered something in me that was not usually a part of my character. I was already a bit mad from the discussion with Clef and the discoveries made but seeing these peaceful beasts being trashed like this. A bright aura of emerald sprung up around me, as I focused my will and anger alike.

"KAZE NO IKARI!" As the enormous wall of green wind ripped apart the torturers, I allowed a brief smile. Who said I couldn't learn new spells, if I wanted to do, hm?

(Umi)

Phew, that was one heck of a spell. I was sure that Fuu had made it up just that moment and that said a lot. Stealing a glance over to where Hikaru and Nova were I quickly realized that they indeed harmonized quite nicely. Except that this made me kind of envious I had to admit that Nova had every bit of Hikaru's fierce battle style. Wielding a pair of golden crescent blades she slashed like a raging wildfire through the creatures. The energy weapons were going through them like a knife through butter. Quite impressive. A Red Lightning spell just fried another group – even her magic was the same. Hikaru wouldn't need me for this.

I whirled around to meet a new attacker and a spear-like weapon collided with my sword. Quickly reversing the grip on the handle, I slipped it under the weapon and sent it flying. The creature was momentarily surprised and that was enough for the killing slash. A good thing Hikaru and I had spent so much time perfecting and mixing our individual styles of kendo and fencing with the other and Cephiro's primary style. It became handy now.

A sudden feeling leaded me to look to the side, just in time to witness one of Ascot's beast getting pulverized, the one he was currently riding on… "Fuu! Cover me!" Without waiting for an answer, I rushed downwards, right into the maze of incoming creatures. "MIDORI NO SHIPPU!" The green gale swirled around me and cut through the incoming mass. I made a few quick slashes to clear the rest and then finally reached Ascot's falling form. Catching him I turned just in time to see two of the creatures rushing in for a severe blow… "MAMORI NO KAZE!" Only to be blocked by a wall of wind. Raising my other arm, I quickly finished them off with a Water Dragon that cut through one and threw the other out of reach and right into Fuu's waiting blade.

Concerned I looked down at the Summoner. "You okay?" Ascot nodded numbly, sadly looking up at the spot where his beast used to be. Glancing back, he seemed to think for awhile then asked: "So, how did your vacation go?" A genuine smile lit up my face although he could not see it through Selece. "Well," I answered truthfully the happiness in my voice evident. "Very well." Ascot gave a serious nod and a tiny smile. "Good. I'm glad." And there really wasn't much more to say.

The not-quite-so-little-anymore guy did know and had accepted a long time ago that I could never feel for him as he did for me. I cared for him alright but if I had ever considered anyone else it would have been Clef. I had spent a lot of time with him during my and Hikaru's lessons. But Clef was too much a teacher for me, not to mention the awkwardness of dating a guy who was over seven-hundred years old and looked like ten… Besides, there was Hikaru and my decision on the matter was like stone. Either her or nobody. Both Clef and Ascot knew this and never had questioned me about my obvious ill-fated devotion. I had won now and that was what counted. Ascot wanted to see me happy and that was exactly what I was right now.

"You better get out of here. Your friends only get hurt or worse. We can handle it." Reluctantly the Summoner nodded, even if disappointed to not be of further help, and held up his hand. The glow that began surrounding it worked like a magnet, drawing all the beasts out of their battles and back from they came from. Ascot looked back up at me. "Take care and… Good luck." With that he mumbled something and blinked out of existence. He, the kid – I could not help but still compare him to the little imp sometimes – had really gotten better.

Turning back to the battlefield I glared at some of the creatures who had previously been engaged with Ascot's beasts and were now focusing their attention on me. "Well, how about taking on something your size?" Fuu joined me at my side again and went into a defensive stance. I thought for a moment and then came up with an idea. Spells of different elements than our own were hard to cast but could work. I learned this little trick to counter my own magic, if necessary. Now, if I combined it with that, balanced it out right…

Raising my sword, I took on the standard stance to call lightning. "RAIDEN NO…" A loud rumbling could be heard and a vicious thunderclap accompanied the lightning that struck down on my blade. "NAMI!" True to the name the blast of blinding white lightning burst through the air like a tidal wave, similar to my previous spell. What was not obvious was that there was actually water magic mixed into it, making the electricity highly-effective. When the attack hit, it generated a giant detonation taking not only the intended group but quite a number of other enemies with it. Oh well, even better.

I looked back to Fuu grinning, catching her staring at me blankly for a moment before regaining her senses. "I really ought to train my magic more," I heard her mumble before readying her sword and without a further comment rushing back into battle. Shrugging I did the same. Fuu was just a bit too hard on herself these days, I thought. Lately she shouldered a lot, as well as Hikaru did, and that simply didn't leave her time for intensive studies outside her usual schedule. And she really shouldn't compare herself in this area to me and Hikaru. Her skills lay in other areas than ours and magically-wise our positions required high-level spells. Hikaru was the Pillar and even though the title was even more hollow than Hikaru's I was more or less her Soru. A better one in combat than Zagato had ever been for Emeraude. Without Fuu's defensive and healing spells though, we probably wouldn't even live today.

(Hikaru)

This was getting rather annoying, really. They were many, alright, but that was about every quality they had to bear against three battle-hardened Magic Knights and the best battleship of the NUW (New United Worlds, which includes Cephiro, Autozam, Chizeta and Fahren). Not even to mention a vicious energy sword-wielding shadow image of myself. It was even that annoying that I was going to fall back on sarcasm. Only worry for my inexperienced… other self and seeing some of Ascot's beasts getting merciless killed kept my inner fire raging and my senses alert. Not that it helped in any way. Those creatures were simply no match for us.

Not bothering to even look, I twisted my body to the right which caused Rayearth to mirror my motions and the next not quite definable shape of… nothing… sailed past me. I reversed my grip on the sword and rammed in backwards knowing that I caused a direct hit without looking. That dealt with, I resumed watching Nova dealing with a group of four creatures single-handily… Okay, maybe with both hands and both blades, but dispatching them quite easily.

Casually I raised my hand to a pack of two attackers trying to sneak up on her. "HOONO NO YA!" The arrow-shaped flame ripped the first one apart and was enough to warn Nova of the second. Hurling her blades to both sides and this way momentarily forcing her opponents backwards, she jumped off her bird right over the heads of now five very surprised attackers. "AKAI INAZUMA!" All five bolts struck perfectly and left nothing but clouds of smoke.

I whirled around to plunge my sword in another attacker and was surprised to not find it there anymore. My senses flaring I reacted with the speed years of training with Umi, Lafarga and Ferio had taught me. The attacker I had sensed came down with a blade of quite the same substances – if you could even call it that. However, although I was sure these creatures looked just like the void around the Spring of Fundament, they were indeed quite solid. The blades met in a shower of spark and I gritted my teeth. Was it just me, or were they getting stronger? A series of quick strokes were met with startling speed from my opponent. Even if most of the time had been frustrating and the fighter in me longed for a challenge, I knew enough that wasting my time with one opponent out of still nearly a hundred was dangerous.

"Shid da me," I whispered under my breath in a tongue that only Emeraude would have recognized… and Mokona. A white light flared around my hand and sprung up the fire sword bathing in the otherworldly radiance of pure Pillar magic. The creature recoiled as if burnt. Smiling smugly, I sent the sword home, the creature exploding upon contact. "I don't always play fair anymore," I said to no one in particular. True, I hated to use my skills as the last living Pillar because they reminded me of how powerful I really was and if I wanted to I could change the system right back. Mokona had told me that much. But sometimes they came in hand.

My senses already alert flared again and I turned to see Umi combine some lightning magic with her own in a tremendous result. Recalling my previous thoughts about the improving of our enemies I momentarily flew up higher to pull out of the battlefield. My gaze went from Fuu to Umi and then to Nova, casting a sidelong glance at the NSX II which still had problems with the fast-moving creatures. They were getting better… No, wait. Not really better. Smarter. As if they picked up our fighting techniques even those who weren't involved with one of my friends before. I knew I was close, the solution was nagging on my senses like a swarm of bees that…

"Ah!" I snapped my fingers. A collective awareness. That was what made them harder to kill as time went by. They learned from each other. That was why Umi's combination spell had caught a huge number off guard. Quickly I went through a few possibilities to solve the situation. Clearly that would not be the last of them, if they came directly from the source. And if the collective awareness was connected to the source as well they wouldn't simply take their information to the afterlife – granted these things had one. Something had to be done now. Right now.

*Umi, Fuu, Nova, get out of there, NOW!* That was all the warning I sent. Actually the Magic Knights couldn't be harmed, actually nobody than the creatures should be but I didn't want to take any chances. Especially with Nova. Mumbling a quick prayer, I began reciting a chant in the old tongue and then raised my arms as bright white light began to engulf me and Rayearth. "JOUZAI HITOAME!" The only thing that prepared the creatures and the crew of the NSX II who wasn't really in danger either for the following action was the sudden flash the sun overhead was giving. Then, just like tiny meteors, beams of intense white sunlight rained down upon the creatures, reducing one after the other into smoke, leaving not a single one alive.

It was over as quick as it had begun and I was glad about it. My heart raced a little and my breathing was shallow for the moment. I wasn't used to this high-level spells at all and a lot of the ease a Pillar should be able to pull them off went out of the window when I had decided to lay part of the responsibility in the hands of Cephiro's inhabitants. To put it into easy words, I was left a little drained.

"Hikaru! Daijobu? Why did you do that?" I smiled weakly at my fiancée's usual concern. Biting down on the urge to simply say that I was alright – very well knowing what the answer would be – I struggled to first catch my breath before replying. "Gomen nasei, I was not very thrilled to do this either as you can see but they kept analyzing and learning from each other. If we had fought this out to the end, we would have let too much information go." Fuu looked thoughtful, as if she had came to the same conclusion as me. "You mean they acted like a collective awareness?" Umi gasped slightly at the implication and I nodded. Tumbling a bit, I regained my balance under Umi/Selece's helping hands. "Exactly…" I looked around curiously. "Where is Nova?"

A weak groan sounded from below and I looked down to see Nova holding her head in obvious pain. "Hey, could you warn me the next time a bit more clarified? I am still connected to you in someway and I am not really keen on light magic either, being a shadow and all." I didn't really know why, but I had to giggle at that, Umi and Fuu soon chiming in, while my counterpart just groaned.

(Ferio)

The long hallways were silent as I walked down them to a certain direction. The Knights had returned from their battle a while back and certain issues had to be… taken care of. There was a lot going on at the moment. Hikaru and Umi's more or less open declaration and the changes this would cause, especially in light of the wedding, dealing with Lantis in the process of this… Then there was Clef's little solo in dealing with the earlier stage of this new crisis that had gotten Fuu so wrapped up. Nova was probably causing much more problems than that since I had no idea how to take the "Shadow Hikaru". After the four girls had returned she had disappeared rather quickly and I didn't really know, if I even wanted to know what she was doing right now.

Knocking softly onto the door, I had been standing in front of for a minute or so, I finally snapped out of my reverie and walked into the room, knowing that I was expected. Presea looked up from her studies with a soft smile. "Your Highness." I grimaced, the Faru just loved to tease me with titles in private, although she knew very well that I didn't like that any more than Fuu or Hikaru did. That was actually kind of a funny thing. None of the present rulers of Cephiro's new system was quite cut out for the role. We were kids, thrown into cold water and mostly lived from reputation and respect from the local population, not to mention the backing of the full High Council. We wouldn't have survived in an old-fashioned country like, say Fahren or its Earth equivalent China.

"Would you cut that out?" I replied out of reflex and then turned serious. "You wanted to talk to me?" Presea barely suppressed a giggle and then nodded, motioning for me to sit. "Actually Clef wanted to but he's presently… occupied, as we both know." Namely by Fuu. I think my wife was overreacting to the whole thing when the Guru simply wanted to relieve her of some more worries in her already tight schedule but I knew better than to tell her this. Fuu might be a gentle and well-mannered soul but she could be pretty stern about her beliefs. So it was better to let her and Clef discuss matters. Poor guy…

"What can I do for him? I believe it has something to do with our recent problems?" Presea sighed. "Clef didn't even tell me and I often am the first to hear about it when something troubles him. He must have been pretty shaken up to be this reclusive. My guess is that he really wished it would all turn out to be nothing bigger. Still, he should have said something." Shaking her head, she briefly looked down at the table at the table where a large map of Cephiro was spread out. "But that is not what I wanted to talk about with you. Ferio, you came around a lot of places during your travels, didn't you?"

"Pretty much the whole of Cephiro, yes. Why?" I replied, not really knowing where this discussion was leading. The Faru looked thoughtful for a moment. "Did you ever come across anything similar significant than the volcano, the floating mountain and the ocean…" In other words the three areas where the Mashin temples were located. "If you are getting at the fourth…" I started but Presea shook her head slightly. "We had this figured out already. No, I'm not asking about the possible location of the Earth Mashin. I'm rather asking, if where could be any other location we haven't found out about yet. Something related to probably both fire and… spirit."

Something clicked in my mind just then and the puzzle pieces fell into place. "You mean for Nova?" I didn't really need an answer on that one. Clef had explained about her special abilities besides the one she inherited from her creator. "Yes, Nova… Quite a strange girl but otherwise… Wasn't Hikaru-tachi equally strange to our land?" I nodded at that, allowing a wistful smile to grow on my lips before replying. The old days had been harsh but also good. A lot of things had also been easier than they were now with the upcoming wedding and first contact with the politics of the other world.

"Yes, they were indeed. I don't know what to make out of this new addition since she's even more different than they had been; even to them. And to answer your question. I don't think, I remember anything that could pass as another hideout for a Mashin. Then again," I continued with a hint of sadness, "there are a lot of new places in the new Cephiro and I never came to travel as much as I did in the old days." And I did regret this somewhat. We all had our regrets about the position we had tied ourselves down with but none of us ever lamented. Hikaru's wish had been a Cephiro where everyone put their efforts and hearts in and that was exactly like it should be. No doubt about that.

Presea didn't look that disappointed at my answer. "I had to ask. But I guess nowadays I should ask other people about those things than our king." I did register the remark but this time didn't falter. "After all. For all we know Nova is Hikaru's shadow and was created in this world. If there is a Mashin, it could be about anywhere."

"You could try asking Mokona. Or better ask Hikaru to ask Mokona, what she'll be doing anyway, I guess." The Faru stood there for a moment, as if the simplicity of that possibility just hit her. Apparently it had since she was punching herself in the head. "Darn, you are right… I guess, I still treat Mokona like… well Mokona." Which was what the thing was acting like anyway ever since it bounced back into the castle, as if nothing of the revelations had ever happened. More than one of us had uttered the thought that Mokona was actually kind of a vessel for the Creator, an avatar to keep an eye on his world, that he maybe couldn't directly intertwine with anymore except the choosing of a Pillar. "I can't blame you," I said at last.

(Nova)

Cephiro's palace was a combination of long hallways that tended to confuse the hell out of someone who didn't know their way around. In point of fact the structure was not overly complex as you might have thought from the central capital of the NUW. Still, you could easily get lost without the right directions. Luckily that was one thing my mind had been able to pick up over the years of containment. I might as well knew the palace like Hikaru did, maybe even more, and so I had no trouble to locate my first target of business. The battle had been straining but I was still more than healthy to get this done with… whatever that was anyway. I was still unsure of the exact nature of my planned action, so I simply chose to go with the flow.

That decided, I wasted no time, standing in front of the room thinking. Instead I simply let the – locked – door slight open, much to the surprise of the room's occupant. The dark-haired man looked up startled at the intrusion obviously having expected someone else. That made sense since my and Hikaru's aura were exactly the same unless you looked closely for the finer points which clearly marked me as her shadow.

Without a word, I stepped into the room and let the door close behind me. Lantis stood up casually, his expression unchanging while he tried to gauge my intentions. The sight caused a wave of pilled-up feeling that came a long way from deep inside to well up inside of me. "So? Is there anything I can do for you… Nova?" I didn't answer right away, just stood there for a moment. How to handle this? It would be easy to simply give into the impulses and strangle the man for the trouble he had given Hikaru but I knew she wouldn't like it. And that was about the only thing holding me back.

"I take it, you and Hikaru haven't talked just yet?" Before he could answer, however, I already continued. "Anyway, I trust that you will respect her decision and finally give her what she deserves. Mainly her freedom to choose." There was a flash in the Kairu's eyes though his face never changed from the cool, calculating stare. "I don't see how it is your business, I never did anything to corner her into…"

He never really knew what hit him, as I exploded forward like a wild animal. The next thing he probably realized was being held up at one arm against the wall, several items thrown aside, which was quite an astonishing achievement for someone my size and built compared to his. "Listen and listen carefully," I intoned, my voice a literally feral hiss, "YOU hurt Hikaru, regardless of what you think. Your selfishness has cornered her in missing her true love for so long and you KNEW it. So, if you ever. EVER hurt her again, I swear…"

"Nova!" The obvious relief replacing the growing fear in the man's eyes was only enraging me further but the sharp but not loud command from my other half cut through my anger like a sharp knife and was probably about the only thing that held me back from fulfilling my yet to be spoken swear. Reluctantly I let the poor fool down but not before finishing my prior sentence. "I swear that I WILL kill you." And I think he got it. Kairu he might be, a mighty warrior, loyal and prideful but I think he got it.

Stepping away I turned around to face the disapproving gaze of Hikaru and I immediately had to resist the urge to look down. Hikaru was so good and innocent, she wouldn't understand. I was only doing what was good for her, what had to be done. Yet, not pleasing her made me feel worse than dirt and so it needed all my self-control to walk steadily past her and out of the room. I knew she was following me, so I simply went ahead through the hall and into an unused chamber. Apparently "the talk" would be coming now and I had a feeling it would not be pretty.

There was nothing more that meant more to me than the approval and acceptance of my other half. The first meeting had gone so well and all three Knights had accepted me with open arms despite my origins. Hikaru had accepted me right away, without questions, without accusations, a simple embrace for a long-lost… Yes, what exactly was I anyway in her eyes? I wanted to know, I wanted to find out. Because nothing mattered more to me than for Hikaru to understand me as much as I did her. Empty hours in the void and in the stasis capsule had only further ignited the craving for someone to understand me, to show me what my place in this strange world was. And who better could it be than my other half. I had waited so long for Hikaru, four, long years. Just waiting.

"Nova…" This time the voice was softer, more gentle and I dared to turn and respond to her questioning gaze. No longer really disapproving, more confused. I mentally prepared myself. This talk would most likely determine the path of our relationship in the future and I suspected that it would not be as easy as the first meeting.

(Clef)

Imagine, being over seven hundred years old – looking like ten or so I've been told – and being scared of an audience with your country's eighteen years-old queen. What an ironic concept. What an ironic concept that I found myself in right now. Then again, age never mattered that much in Cephiro. Wisdom and skill are valuable achievements but what truly mattered was the strength of one's heart. And there was nobody in Cephiro who could match the heart of those three girls.

Those three who were not from our world but had not only saved us countless times, they also were the foundation of what Cephiro was becoming now. A world where EVERYONE could find his or hers happiness. I allowed myself a rueful smile. It had taken us a tragedy and the strong will of outsiders to finally let go of the old ways and try the brave step in a new future. How truly ironic. I suppose being scared of the wrath of one those was not that bad after all.

The doors opened at my gentle knock. There were no guards outside the private chambers but the magical field was more than enough to fend off any intruders. "Please, come in, Clef-san." And I did, knowing fully well that meeting Fuu in her private quarters could be both a good or bad thing. Here she could be both the Queen or the polite, reasonable girl – which often could be even harder to deal with.

"Pleasant as always," I commented, standing in the middle of the room. Fuu sat at the table, a tea kettle and two cups present. The Wind Knight looked up at me and motioned for the other side of the table. "Please have a seat. I am sure the mood will be a lot more relaxed over a cup of tea." I did as I was told and accepted the cup of tea Fuu poured me. After taking a few leisure sips in which only silence reigned over the room, I collected my resolve once again. It was true that I had kept a lot of secrets and that one of those had truly hurt the girl in front of me and her friends. I knew that, Nova – being a consequence of this – knew it and I think they did as well. They never blamed me and I was glad about it. But still… Having Nova's existence revealed to them earlier would have caused chaos and a trauma that would have greatly effected the still unstable new system. With a growing age and a high position you were often forced to make painful decisions. That was the price, I guess.

"So, you do not regret your actions." It was a statement, spoken softly and even but it managed to shatter the silence nonetheless. The side of Houji Fuu that had become a Queen was never one of much words or pleasantries. Often one sharp comment could be more dangerous than any sword's edge. She surely had developed a bluntness as well. I met her eyes, forcing myself not to wither under the intense expression there that seemed to see right through me. "I do not, Your Highness. What I did was in the best interest of Cephiro. Nova was too unstable to release and too painful of a topic to reveal. I have betrayed your trust once, I will not again."

Fuu regarded me for a moment before answering. "And yet you have." She continued quickly before I could protest. "It is not easy, I noticed. To have so much responsibility. You often have to decide what is the lesser evil, what will hurt less in the end." She cocked her head to the side and a small smile was suddenly on her face. Back was the politeness that could throw someone completely off guard. And she did that change so quick, even my preparation was rendered useless. "Demo, as I said. Nova is Hikaru's responsibility and if she wishes to hold a grudge against you for lying to her, she will discuss this with you." Fuu winked at me. "But we both know that Hikaru-san is too kind to do that."

A very true statement. It was not Hikaru I feared though I dreaded the day if I ever earned her wrath. Thankfully that chance was very slim. Umi was another story. The Water Knight could be angry with me, we had our clashes in the past and though I knew that there was a genuine affection building between us, I also knew that her heart belonged to Hikaru alone. And therefore I probably had to be more wary of her now.

"The reason I wished to see you," Fuu continued, her tone of voice suddenly being dead-serious again, "is because of the unauthorized dispatch of the NSX II in company of Summoner Ascot." Oh man, this could become ugly. I should have been prepared for this. After all I knew Cephiro's Queen for four years now and should have expected this. She and Hikaru took their positions very serious. Even though they never truly wanted to be rulers it was their wish for a safer, happier Cephiro that had helped them to accept those position. The new system was for the most part their creation. And though the Council and myself had enough influence to counteract them if necessary it was true that they were the pillars of the new stability. Pillars. Heh, that is an interesting choice of words.

The point was, both did not like it when their position were overridden like this, especially when it concerned the safety of their friends. And I had done just that. I had sent both the NSX and Ascot into unfamiliar terrain, knowing fully well that avoiding a conflict was wishful thinking. And then I looked into Fuu's… No, my Queen's eyes I realized that this was exactly what was on her mind right now.

No, this truly would be ugly. As she said. It is not easy to be a Guru…

(Primera)

Pixies – including both fairies and elves – have a very long life-span but despite common belief, we weren't many. The reason for this is that pixies rarely enter into relationships. Love is a known but not often practiced art that is in the same way rare as it is special. In the most cases the life of my kin is spent in harmony with nature, we devoted ourselves to a specific task and mastered it. Healing and nature pixies were the most common ones. Some even stayed hidden within human society and aided them without their knowledge. In a few cases some even devoted themselves to protect and care for the welfare of one family or person.

Love was an exclusive thing, saved for only a few selected ones. I had not actually searched for it. The painful truth was that I hadn't had anything else to hold onto at this time. My life was a dull existence until meeting Lantis and therefore the infatuation I had felt upon being rescued by this strong, tall dark-hared human quickly grew past simple devotion and liking. Lantis provided an anchor to my until then purposeless life and I had grabbed onto this anchor so tightly I was sure it would crumble.

And maybe that was the problem. Inexperienced and desperately searching for a meaning to my existence I had not seen the complications and difficulties of falling in love, especially falling in love with a human. I had been bossy and overprotective, which in the end brought nothing else than snapping that thin band of kindred spirits that HAD been there before he and Hikaru met. Until then we were both searching for a meaning in life, something to hold dear. Lantis had found it in Hikaru and I had been scared to lose the one thing I thought I had found.

Looking back on the whole thing, I would have done a lot of things differently if I ever had the chance. But I could not change time – though there were a few of my kin who could. But could I ever have earned his trust and affection before Hikaru dropped into his life? No, most likely not. And it really didn't matter anymore. I had learned a lot in these past four years and ironically this learning had not so much come from Lantis but from my rival. It had taken me a long time to understand it, to understand that you could not force someone to love you. And just like that I could not force Lantis to simply love me now. What did I expect? That he simply switched his feelings and transferred them to me? I did not want that. I didn't want to be loved as the shadow of someone he couldn't have or just for the sake of someone to be loved. I wanted to be loved for what I was and what I had become. I could wait, even if it took years or never happened at all. I could wait.

Or that was what I was telling myself, worriedly observing the man I still was in love with, or maybe really was in love with. Not an infatuation, an obsession but something much deeper. It hurt seeing him like this which was probably the best point to prove my matured feelings. I could not help but wanting to reach out to him and comfort him, giving him some reassurance that at least I would never leave him. Lantis was a man of few words but even he needed a touch and a gentle word once in awhile.

"You cannot stop from loving her, can you?" I asked finally, disrupting the void that Nova's departure had left. "You cannot stop despite what she said." I dreaded the answer and had to concentrate to not let my fear show. It probably would not do any good. Lantis knew me too well to be fooled like this. The Kairu had not left his place, leaning against the wall staring at the space where Hikaru's shadow had been and yet staring into nothing.

"I cannot." It was a typical answer for him and I really had expected it. The feelings were just so strong my heart lurched at the sight. Anyone who did not know Lantis would not have known how much the whole thing tore his heart apart. Yet, you just had to look into his eyes. The struggle was evident there. On a basic level which dominated his actions there was the knowledge that Hikaru had to choose on her own and had to be free to do so. It was the honorable thing to do, the right thing to let her go. But on a more primal level his heart could not let go, not yet and most likely not ever. A part of his heart would always belong to the cheerful redhead. Always…

"Lantis…" It was not fair. It was simply not fair. The only thing I wanted to do right now was reach out to him and comfort him. I did not care about me or my feelings. I did not want anything in return. If he always would go back to her, if there was someone else in the future, someone other than me, that was alright. As long as I could be with him, love him and give him someone to talk to, someone he could confided in. Was it so much to ask for? Being able to show the person you love how much you truly do? I could not do that. As small as I was I could not even do anything then sitting on his shoulder!

This… this frustration was eating away at me. I wished for nothing more right now than being able to hold him. Providing warmth and reassurance in a mere gesture of comfort. Not this, not just standing there, my arms tightly slung around me there it became an effort not to crush me, my slender body against his… Wait a minute… Can we repeat that?

No, no, no… For a moment I managed to just push the realization that came with the thought to the furthest corner of my awareness, just relishing in the feeling of being held and being able to do so. I did not care for the "whys" and "hows" for the space of a few moments which was truly a grand achievement.

Finally reality won over the dream though and I… stepped… I STEPPED back. Lantis was staring at me as if I had grown a second head which probably wouldn't have been as surprising as… I looked down at myself. About one meter seventy in height, a slender yet not thin figure, the wings still there. Everything was there, just… bigger. "Huh…?" was the only intelligible sound I managed before my mind short-circuited. How was that possible? I felt so warm inside, my heart was literally singing. There was something… something inside my heart…

My eyes that had briefly closed when my consciousness had seriously considered fainting fluttered open and I exclaimed with a shrill shriek that surely could have been heard on the other side of the castle: "HIKARU! WHAT THE HELL HAVE YOU DONE?"

(Hikaru)

There we stood in one of the small guestrooms that would come to use in a few days time. There were so many things to say, secrets to share, emotions to understand about… myself – in more ways than one. And yet, yet only silence overshadowed the silent exchange that went on between us. Our eyes, so much alike… no, the exact same, they spoke of what we could not express aloud.

I did not know how to approach this strange girl who was me. Whoever heard of meeting him- or herself anyway? And what exactly was she? Yes, I said I understood and basically I did but there was so many things about her I didn't know yet. That pain, this deep sadness and hatred, anger and loathing at herself… myself… It made my heart weep, cry out in anguish at her fate although I knew it to be mine all along. But she was living it, that part of me. And I just could not imagine how it felt like, not totally, not like I should…

"Nova," I finally dared to break the silence and took one of her hands. I knew she wanted to look away but I made her look without touching, just with my eyes. "Why do you hate everyone so much?" Ok, not such a grand opening but seeing her with Lantis had scared me. I could have sworn if I hadn't intercepted her that she would have carried through that threat right there. It was so different from how she treaded me, Umi and Fuu. And to know that a part of myself had done that to the man I had loved for four years… still loved and would most likely always do even after choosing someone else, that was another thing I did not understand about this shadow of my heart. And I wanted to understand.

"He hurt you." I started to protest but she cut in sharply. "Yes, he did. Don't lie to me, Hikaru! Don't… just don't…" I was perplexed by the forcefulness of the request. She seemed so desperate, so… helpless? Nova held her gaze for a moment before turning away, silently pacing through the room. "You're just so good and kind, I know how it is… was… whatever. But I know how it is in there." She turned and tapped a finger to where her heart was. "Lantis knew all along that you and Umi were meant for each other but he kept you…" A sniff rose from her throat but she shoved it down. "But he still kept you away from her, from seeing it."

I wanted to scream at her that it wasn't true, that Lantis would never do such a thing, that he was different, not like Zagato, that he would have let me go, if he felt that there was someone else… And I loved him, still did and ever would. We had this already. And I knew that Nova knew this too. Still I could not find the strength in me to protest and defend my beliefs from her. She wasn't doing it to hurt me… She just knew it was true. That sometimes I was simply too good and…

I shook my head in an effort to cast away the rebellious voice. Maybe it was better to not speak about Lantis anymore. That appeared to be a too controversial topic right now. "And what about Clef, I noticed that…" Her eyes flashed literally and I think as much as she despised Lantis there was something more about Cephiro's Guru, something that stirred a volcano of feelings deep inside of me. Safely buried and sealed away… "Clef," she hissed. "You know very well what he did." I shook my head trying to deny the truth. I knew this discussion had quickly reached the root of the problem, the reason for Nova's existence. "He knew. All along, he knew. And right there you had no choice anymore he told you!" My heart was bleeding, I suppose, just a little but it was enough to once again remember that horrible moment. That scream that echoed in my heart and that I just wasn't able to reason or I had surely burst. And even though I felt like running, every cell inside of me screamed out to me to get away from that hurt, that pain, I still reached out to the trembling girl and drew her in close.

"It hurt…" Nova shook with tremors and I could only hold her as I felt tears slide down my own face. "I was alone, no one was there… I didn't… didn't know what to do…" I could feel my clothes drenching but didn't care right now. With one hand I stroke softly through long pinkish hair. It held the same softness than mine, the same feel, I realized. "I'm so sorry," I whispered and meant it. All this problems could wait. That I had to tell her, that I didn't want my friends to hurt even though they might… might… I didn't want that, but it could wait. I think she understood anyway.

After a long while we separated and Nova looked up to me, suddenly serious again, a little sadness was there though. "And that is why we can't just go back to what we were. Maybe once we could have… be one again. But you moved on. Four years, Hikaru. You moved on and I didn't. I never could have and most likely never will do…" I reached out to caress her cheek but she swatted my hand away angrily. I stared at her in surprise. "Don't pity me. Please, you can love me, hate me whatever, but don't pity me."

I thought that over for a moment and realized that pity really wasn't what this other me needed. She needed salvation, to be complete again. "I wish I could take you back." Nova sighed and fixed with a gaze that made me shudder. "Can you do that? Can you face all that what is me? As I said, you moved on. You know what I said about the people who hurt you is true but can you face that? Are you ready to accept this truth? You thing you forgave them but did you really? Didn't you just… hid it away, forgot about it. Can you love yourself, even the feelings that you felt hurt and betrayed by someone you trusted? Can you truly take this part of yourself that knows the truth back?"

I shuddered at her words but could not deny how right she was. I could not argue back at her about those things because I understood, really understood now that she was all this things. I bowed my head and mumbled a soft "No", before quietly turning and fleeing the room. My emotions in utter turmoil.

(Umi)

Night began to enfold Cephiro in a blanket of darkness as I finally was able to retreat to my room, sitting down on the bed with a sigh. What a chaotic day that had been. Nova, this new threat that nobody knew how to deal with, Clef and Lantis having secrets, the battle, the consequences… and Hikaru and I had been in the middle of all of it. No one really spoke about it but I could feel the awkwardness, the looks sent our way. Not really of disapproval. Acceptance, sadness, uncertainty how deal with it… Even Fuu was a bit wary, so she had busied herself with Clef and the Guru looked royally chastised when I saw him later in the evening.

However, I did not regret my decision. For all the complications that surely would come, I did not regret it. For once in four years I felt free from that tightly-kept secret that had threatened to burst me from the inside. The truth was out and… and… she loved me back. Nobody could imagine how good that made me feel. They all had practically jumped into their relationships. None of them had to patiently sit back, wait and watch the person they love go chasing after another for four, long and antagonizing years. I had thought it to be the best for her and maybe it had been. Innocent, fourteen years-old Hikaru would have not known what to do with a declaration of love from one of her two closest friends, not to mention another girl. Maybe it really had been better that way. But… nonetheless the pain had been hard to bear. Only for her sake, I had managed.

Was I selfish? Probably. But as I said, could they ever really understand? One person could only continue giving and giving before it became too much. I had reached this point, perhaps just in time for me to receive my reward. The only one who might understand me was Primera, as funny as this sounds. She was in much the same position and even now for her it was harder to express her feelings because of the species barrier. Though Hikaru had helped there a little.

I chuckled quietly. After her talk with Nova – which I had accidentally listened into – I had caught up with Hikaru a bit later after she had to patiently explain a frantic Primera what exactly had happened to her body and that she could reverse it whenever she wished. As it turned out Hikaru had granted the pixie a wish so to say. I hadn't paid much attention last night when they had talked for a moment but I could have sworn there was a small spark of Pillar magic for a brief moment. Hikaru had explained that the pixie's new ability to change size was not her doing. She had just provided her willpower to grow and fulfill what her heart wished for more than anything else at that moment. It hadn't really surprised me that she hadn't wished for Lantis to return her feelings. As I said, I understood very well what Primera was going through.

A knock on my door rose me from my thoughts and it took only a moment for me to identify the aura on the other side. Hikaru's presence could be picked out in the whole castle but with that new bond that was growing between us, it became even easier. I stood up and opened the door. The sight that awaited me was one that made my heart whimper. Hikaru stood there, clad only in a pair of light blue pajamas, her head hung low and the whole posture spoke of misery. I knew she was faking her calm when she had spoken with Primera but the talk with Nova had roused uncomfortable… oh, who was I kidding? It had brought out feelings in her that were buried for a long time, feelings she didn't want to face and that tore on her soul. I knew exactly what it felt and though I never allowed myself to think about it for the same reasons as Hikaru, I could not deny the fact that a part of myself always wanted to loathe at Clef for knowing Emeraude's true wish and the sad promise of the old Cephiro behind the legend of the Magic Knights. I understood all too well.

Without a word, I pulled my redheaded fiancée inside and let the door slide shut. Gathering her in my arms, I held her for a few moments, somewhat surprised to actually feel the girl sobbing for awhile. Hikaru rarely showed her emotions. I made my point about that clear to her a long time ago but she still acted reclusive a lot. "It's okay, I understand," I mumbled in the soft patch of red hair I had buried my face into.

After a long time just standing there, she pulled away and proceeded to wipe some tears from her face. I caught her wrist and gently took over the task, showing her how greatly I appreciated her trust, that she let me know how she felt. The half-smile somehow failed to justify the effort. "I don't seem to be able to get some sleep…" She hesitated for a moment, then almost meekly asked: "Can I sleep with you?" For a moment I froze a billion thoughts rushing through my mind. Hikaru was someone who did not face her own feelings very well. She cared so much for others that there was simply almost no time left for herself. If I accepted that request now, I would be taking advantage of her and that would be the last thing I…

I pouted at her sudden giggle, though I can imagine my expression must have been quite priceless. Hikaru drew a fingertip over my cheek and I shuddered under her touch, before I suddenly found myself drawn into a kiss fueled by passion and suppressed feelings that left me breathless. "Baka, I meant that I just need someone to hold me tonight." I did not ask why, I knew why and I suppose she knew that I had been there as well. That topic could wait until tomorrow. Suddenly I realized how short our time to further deepen that new stage of relationship had been. The day's events had kept us away from each other and then we were together almost always someone else had been there.

So I simply nodded and lead her back to the bed for some much deserved rest… and some pleasantly welcomed snuggles.

TBC in Chapter Three

Nova stirs some more trouble and turmoil. Lantis must make a decision of what to do. The Kairu and Umi clash, Hikaru's decision is tested and the first battles with the new menace. Not to mention that the wedding and conference with Earth is drawing closer.

Author's notes

Phew, and another hanging chapter done. I had a lot of those lately and with my Christmas fic taking up the whole last month I had no time for any of them. Now I finally wrote this last few scenes. And I think all in all the chapter was a good one, more deeper plot-wise than the last.

What to say about this? Well, I mentioned already that this is Manga-based but I'm taking a few Anime things into account here. Especially some character traits that just weren't explored as deeply in the Manga.

I have been asked if it is not kind of unfair from Hikaru to drop Lantis like this and just "jump over" to Umi. It might has seemed to be that in the last chapter but I do not intend to leave it like that. This IS a Hikaru/Umi-fic after all and if you are a Hikaru/Lantis-fan and can't stand this, you should go somewhere else. Also, I think this chapter has brought some more light on the feelings of at least three of the four involved parties. I will give some more light on Hikaru and also Lantis dealing with the decision being made in the next chapter which will be another in-between to set the stage. After that the story will most likely be moving faster.

If some of you now think that Nova is rather OOC, I want you to consider the last episodes of the Anime. She had been misguided by Debonair. Alone and not knowing what to do, without her missing half nearby, she had been vulnerable to Debonair's manipulations. You could see her confusion after she abducted Lantis and when Debonair wanted to kill her with the other knights. This Nova is just my guess at how she could have turned out if she had been found and given time to figure out her answers without an evil influence. For now, I know that she is rather undefined in character but that is intended that way. Her character will form more clearly later. Since she spent a lot of time in stasis she's practically as fresh to the world as a newborn, just with an imprint of Hikaru's memories and darkest feeling in her soul.

And now I probably have given away a lot of possible dialogue patterns for future use. Oh well… I am sure half of you skip the author notes anyway.

Enough of that, more in chapter three. Give me feedback/reviews please how you like this story, what you think could be made better and so on. We author's depend on feedback. Addy is in the header.

I hope you all have great holidays/vacation.

Ja ne, yours

Matthias