somariel: Ferio from Magic Knight Rayearth (Ferio)
Title: Forest Encounters
Rating: T/PG-13
Fandom: Magic Knight Rayearth
Characters: Ferio, Hououji Fuu, Shidou Hikaru, Ryuuzaki Umi
Warnings: Slight spoilers for the first volume of Magic Knight Rayearth 2.
Summary: While in the Forest of Silence on the way to Eterna, Ferio encounters three strange girls. Who are they and what are they doing in the Forest of Silence?
Notes: Set in the manga universe.

A/N: Many thanks to FFN's Antoinette Veronica for beta'ing this for me.
All recognizable dialogue and thoughts are taken from Tokyopop's 10th anniversary edition of Magic Knight Rayearth. Umi and Hikaru's lines in the second scene are from the color comic omakes in the Memorial Book included with the Tokyopop 10th anniversary boxed set of Magic Knight Rayearth 1. Alternative wordings and spell names are taken from the resources on the Magic Knight Rayearth fansite Definitely Not Tokyo.

Late in the afternoon of my second day in the Forest of Silence searching for the way to Eterna, I heard a commotion off in the distance. It sounded like someone had encountered a monster, so I started tree-hopping in that direction. I hadn’t gotten very far when I heard someone shout something that sounded like “Honor no yeah!” Since that made no sense, whoever it was, was probably trying to cast a spell. Curious as to who would be stupid enough to try and use magic in the Forest of Silence, I began moving faster.

The commotion continued as I got closer until, when I had almost reached it, it ended with a final shout and the sound of something large being cleaved in two. Whoever it was had managed to kill the monster. Still curious, but feeling more cautious now that no one was in danger, I hopped through several more trees and stopped at the edge of a clearing.

Standing in the clearing, beside the rapidly disintegrating corpse of a monster, were three girls, one wearing red and black, one wearing blue, and one wearing green. I couldn’t hear exactly what they were saying, but it looked like they were congratulating each other, probably over defeating the monster. As I watched them, trying to decide whether or not to let them know I was there, a white rabbit-like creature hopped out of the bushes and was eagerly picked up by the one in red and black.

The decision on revealing my presence was quickly taken out of my hands when I heard a rustling below me and looked down to see a plant monster approaching. I wouldn’t be able to learn who these girls were if they were dead and they were so engaged in their chatter, they hadn’t noticed it yet.

They didn’t notice the plant monster until it reared up out of the bushes and by the time they were ready to deal with it, I had already sliced it in half. The monster didn’t actually fall apart until a few seconds after I had cut it, but the girls looked shocked when it did. Standing on one of the bare lower branches of a tree and leaning against the trunk with my arms crossed and my sword beside me, I called out “Who are you guys?”

The girls instantly fell into ready stances when they looked up and saw me, showing that they had some battle reflexes at least, even if their observation skills seemed poor. While they stared at me in surprise, I took a moment to study them.

All three of them were wearing simple armor—just a cuirass with a single pauldron and a bracer on one arm with a gauntlet on the other. The one in green was an archer, while the other two carried swords—a broadsword for the one in red and black and a rapier for the one in blue.

Before I could study them any further, the rabbit-like creature hopped forward, then bounced its way up the tree I was standing on. When it reached me, it hugged my arm as best it could with its own stubby ones, then bounced up onto my head.

“Yow!” I cried as it started bouncing on my head, repeating “Puu” over and over. “What is this…this thing?”

Then I heard one of the girls cry “Hikaru!” and looked down to see that the one in red and black had stowed her sword and was stepping forward.

“Wait!” the one in blue cried. “We still don’t know whether he’s an ally or an enemy!”

“It’s okay,” the one in red and black replied. “Look how much Mokona likes him.”

As soon as she said that, the creature—Mokona, apparently—stopped bouncing, gave a final “Puu”, and grabbed onto the back of my head.

“Thanks for helping us,” the one in red and black called up to me.

“I’ll ask again,” I said, “who are you guys?”

“My name’s Hikaru,” she said. “I’m from Tokyo.”

“Toe-kee-yo?” I repeated. “Never heard of it.”

“We were summoned by Princess Emera-” Hikaru was abruptly cut off as the girl in blue clapped her hands over Hikaru’s mouth, but I could take a guess as to how she would have finished the sentence. Summoned by Princess Emeraude.

I knew things had been getting bad in Cephiro lately, but had they really gotten so bad that my sister had had to summon the Magic Knights? I’d heard rumors that Zagato had made a grab for more power, but this was the first time I thought there might be more than a grain of truth to them.

While the girls held a quiet conversation with each other, I took the opportunity to detach Mokona from the back of my head. A polite clearing of the throat from below alerted me to the fact that the girls had finished their conference. I looked down to see that the other two girls had stepped forward.

“My name is Fuu,” the one in green said.

“And I’m Umi,” said the one in blue.

“If you don’t mind,” Fuu said, “could you please tell us your name?”

It looked like they had decided not to say anything more about what Hikaru had started to mention. If they really were the Magic Knights, that was a good idea. I wouldn’t harm them, but if the rumors were true, Zagato would definitely have people hunting them.

“I’m Ferio,” I said. “Why are you guys wandering around the Forest of Silence? Magic is useless here. Spells, magic books, talismans—all of it. Your strength and your wits are all you have to rely on. You can’t get out alive unless you’re skilled with your sword.”

“So why are you here?” Umi asked.

“Me?” I said. “I’m on my way to Eterna.”

Eterna?” all three of them cried.

“Wh-why are you going to Eterna?” Umi asked.

“To get the Legendary Mineral Escudo,” I said.

All three of them cried out in surprise at this statement. Umi and Hikaru then started a hushed conversation while Fuu looked thoughtful.

Deciding that it was time to get out of the tree, I jumped down, holding my sword in one hand. These girls just kept getting more intriguing. If they really were the Magic Knights, then my quest for Eterna was unnecessary. They were unlikely to tell me anything like that straight out, though, so I decided to pry a little.

“You guys sure are dressed funny,” I said as I landed. “It looks like you have guards on, at least.”

As I stood up from the crouch I had landed in, Mokona on my shoulder, Fuu approached me. “So,” she said, “your name is Ferio?”

“Yeah,” I replied. It seemed she had decided to ignore my comment.

“And you’re going to Eterna?”

My instincts went on high alert as she smiled up at me charmingly. What was she trying to get at?

“Uh-huh,” I said.

“Then I presume you know the way there, yes?” she said, unleashing a devastatingly charming smile.

So that was what she was after. “Well,” I said, “seeing as I just told you magic is no good here, I assume you realize that also means magic compasses. Everyone knows you’ve got to go through the Forest of Silence to get to Eterna, but there is no map. You have to find it yourself.

And…” Here, I smirked. “No, I don’t know the way.”

“Well, we know the way out,” she said.

What?!” I cried.

Off to the side, Umi and Hikaru started, staring at Fuu in surprise.

“F-Fuu?” Umi stammered.

Fuu just smiled at her and Hikaru, laughing silently.

“You say you know the way out?” I said. Fuu seemed to be running according to some plan known only to her, so I wasn’t sure I believed her. “Start talking in your sleep after you fall asleep!”

“Do I look like I’m asleep?” she replied.

I just stared at her for a moment. Even with her eyes closed, the smile on her face left me no doubt that Fuu was fully awake. “Do you really know the way out?”

“Yes, but if you don’t believe me…” Fuu let the sentence trail off.

“Where is the exit?”

“Do you want to know?”

“Of course,” I said. “If you’re telling the truth.” I was still slightly suspicious of her claim, but I wasn’t going to pass up a chance to learn the way to Eterna.

“I suppose I could tell you,” Fuu said. “On one condition…”

Well, I hadn’t really been expecting to get the information for free. “What?”

“You have to take us to the exit with you,” she said.

I started at that and Umi and Hikaru called out in congratulations and surprise, respectively. She was sharp.

“Since there seem to be a lot of monsters in this forest,” Fuu said, “it seems to be very difficult for us to escape from this forest without any help. So, if you are willing to help us fend off the enemies in this forest, we will guide you to the exit.”

“And if I refuse?” I was pretty sure how she would answer, but I wanted to be certain.

“Then it’s no use to follow us,” she said. “It looks we won’t be able to get out of this forest alive if we can’t find any help...” She gave me another of those charming smiles, then finished with “…and I’m sure that you would get lost.”

Scratching the back of my head, I thought about it for a minute. If they were the Magic Knights, they weren’t from Cephiro and wouldn’t know anything about it. They might not even have much experience with weapons. No matter how I looked at it, they would only benefit from having me along. “So I would be your bodyguard?”

“Everything works as a ‘give-and-take’ situation,” Fuu said.

“What’s that?”

“A proverb of our native land.”

“Native…?” I said. “Then you are travelers?” Travelers from the nearby countries were rare in Cephiro, so that was another thing pointing towards the idea that they were the Magic Knights. “Where are you from?”

Fuu just smiled at me again, amusement clear on her face.

“You’re pretty tricky.” I returned her smile with a half-grin of my own.

“Better than being easily tricked,” she replied.

That was true, especially if they really were the Legendary Magic Knights.

“Okay,” I said, acting more annoyed than I actually was, “you have a deal.” Even if they were the Magic Knights, I wasn’t going to let them think I was a pushover.

Off to the side, I could see Umi and Hikaru cheering, but I was more interested in the rustling behind me. My caution proved appropriate when a pair of thorny vines shot past my head and I turned to see another plant monster rearing up out of the bushes.

I heard someone cry “Another one?!” as I grabbed my sword, but then I was busy killing the monster.

As I landed again, the monster in pieces behind me, Hikaru rushed up to me. “You’re amazing!” she cried. “That sword is so big, I can’t believe you can swing it around with just one hand! Did you practice a lot?”

Caught up in her excitement, I grinned at her, saying, “Yeah.” Then my mood sobered as my train of thought led me back to my sister and her current situation. I had idolized my sister when I was younger and when she became the Pillar, I had felt that the best way to honor her would be to train until I was good enough to join the Pillar’s Guard.

“For Princess Emeraude…” I said, mostly to myself, but partly to them to see their reaction.

While they stared at me in surprise, I looked up at the sound of cawing and saw one of the nastier monsters in the forest flying towards us. “We have to start moving,” I said, turning to look at them. “It’s useless to keep killing monsters here. Which way do we go?”

All three of them immediately turned to stare at Mokona. Before I could wonder why, the jewel on its forehead began to sparkle.

“The jewel on Mokona’s forehead…!” Hikaru cried.

“It’s glowing,” Umi said.

Then a beam of light shot out of the jewel and Fuu cried, “Follow the light from Mokona-san’s forehead! He’s showing us the way out!”

At the same time, Hikaru looked up and noticed the monster I had seen earlier. “Monster!” she cried.

“Run!” I shouted, grabbing my sword and suiting actions to words.

As the girls caught up to me, Umi asked, “Why aren’t you fighting that one?”

Didn’t they know anything? “Swords are no good against that monster!” I yelled as we ran, the monster chasing after us. “You guys are wandering around here and you don’t even know that? You said you were travelers…but what are you really? If you’re not warriors, why do you have weapons?” Right then, I was really hoping they weren’t the Magic Knights. Surely the Magic Knights wouldn’t have been allowed to go off on their own this unprepared, right?

Before I could say anything else, three more monsters emerged from the ground in front of us. Umi and Hikaru quickly drew their swords and had disposed of all of them in under ten seconds. “Hey,” I said, impressed, “you guys aren’t too bad.”

Unfortunately, the brief stop to get rid of those monsters had given the one chasing us a chance to catch up. “It caught up with us!” I cried.

Hikaru swung her sword at the beast’s single leg as it shot past her and even succeeded in slicing through it, but just as I had known would happen, the wound immediately disappeared.

“The wound healed?!” she cried in surprise.

The creature, angered by being wounded, opened its mouth and blasted the ground right behind us with energy.

“That’s why I said that swords are no good,” I shouted as I did my best to dodge the continuing blast.

“W-wait!” Umi cried. “That thing is awfully powerful!”

“What about arrows?” Fuu asked as she recovered from the blast.

“You can’t kill it with weapons,” I said.

“In a forest where you can’t use magic, how are you supposed to kill it without using weapons?!” Umi cried.

“You use your head!” I said. Spotting what looked like the right type of tree a few dozen feet beyond the beast, I jumped past its head and into a tree behind it. It quickly turned and chased after me.

Behind me, I could faintly hear someone yelling for me to look out, but I was focused on keeping ahead of the creature. As I got closer to my target tree, I could see that it was indeed the type I thought it was. With a final leap, I landed on one of the tree’s spike-like branches and waited for the monster to catch up.

Someone shouted my name when I stopped, but I kept my attention on the beast. When it lunged for me, I backflipped over its head and landed on the ground by its foot. Then I slammed my sword into the boulder the creature was standing on, knocking it off balance. It wobbled once, then fell towards the tree and was impaled on the spiky branches.

I was just starting to relax when the monster’s head jerked and it fired a final blast of energy from its mouth—right at Fuu!

“Idiot!” I cried as she stood frozen in surprise. “Don’t just stand there!” I jumped forward and pushed her to the ground right before the blast would have hit her.

The blast ended as the creature’s head flopped down and it went limp. Then Umi and Hikaru were rushing towards us, calling Fuu’s name, so I pushed myself up and started getting off of her.

“Thank you so much,” she said, sounding a little dazed. “You saved my life. But…I’ve never been called an idiot before.” She unleashed another devastating smile on me, although there was something slightly different about this one. I didn’t realize what the difference was until she raised a hand to put those strange lenses of hers back on her face. They must have fallen off when I knocked her to the ground.

“You…” I said, “…you can make a cute smile.” She really could, especially without the lenses. “You looked kind of malicious a while back,” I continued, “but that was really cute.”

Fuu looked at me for a moment, then her face flushed with color and she raised a hand to hide her blush.

Politely ignoring her blushing, I offered her my hand and she accepted it, allowing me to assist her in standing up. By the time she was on her feet again, Umi and Hikaru had reached us.

“Are you okay?” Umi cried.

Allowing Fuu to reassure her friends that she was fine, I turned to look at the monster again. Is that creature really dead? I wondered.

:-:-:-:-:


After that incident, we continued through the forest for a while, defeating several more monsters along the way. With each encounter, the girls grew in my esteem, proving they had the fighting skills necessary to survive in the Forest of Silence. Their biggest problems appeared to be lack of real battle experience and a complete lack of knowledge about any of the monsters, both of which were quickly being remedied.

Shortly after sunset, which was about two and a half hours after I had met them, Hikaru suggested that it was time to rest for the night.

“And where exactly are we supposed to sleep in this freaky forest?” Umi complained. “There’re monsters everywhere!

I’d never had a problem with that, but then again, I’d usually spent my nights in the forest up a tree. Before I could say anything to them, however, the jewel on Mokona’s forehead gleamed again and another beam of light shot out of it. This one stopped several feet away from the girls and a large, egg-shaped object balanced on several legs appeared at the point where the beam stopped.

“Mokona, that’s sooo cool!” Hikaru exclaimed as the beam faded.

I was in shock. I’d been able to pass off Mokona’s earlier direction finding as something natural about him, having seen weirder things from monsters, but this was most definitely magic. What was Mokona, to be able to use magic in the Forest of Silence?

I didn’t actually come out of my shock until Fuu started shaking my shoulder. “Ferio-san,” she said, “are you okay? You weren’t responding when I called your name.”

“I’m fine,” I replied. “I was just thinking about something.”

“Okay,” she said. “Anyway, I wanted to ask you if you’ll be okay sleeping outside. The tent Mokona-san provided only has supplies for me, Umi-san, and Hikaru-san.”

“I’ll be fine,” I said. “This won’t be the first night I’ve spent in this forest.”

“All right,” she said. “In that case, why don’t you come into the tent and have some of the food Mokona-san provided.”

After eating my fill, I left the tent thing and jumped up into the lower branches of one of the nearby trees, just high enough to be out of reach of most monsters on the ground, and settled down for the night.

:-:-:-:-:


The next morning, I woke to the sound of Fuu calling my name. She sounded somewhat worried, like she had been calling me for a while, so I quickly grabbed my sword and jumped down from the tree.

She started when I landed beside her. “Where were you?” she asked.

“Up a tree.” I pointed to the one I had slept in. Then, seeing that the tent thing they had slept in was gone, I asked what had happened to it.

“Mokona-san took it back,” she said, “but he left behind breakfast.” She pointed to where Umi and Hikaru were sitting on a blanket, eating. “Come join us.”

Never one to turn down free food, I did. When all of us had finished eating, a light shot out of the jewel on Mokona’s forehead to hit the blanket and the remaining food, both of which disappeared when the light did.

Then a new beam of light shot out of the jewel, pointing off into the forest. After a moment, the light faded and Mokona hopped a few steps in the direction it had pointed. “Puu puu,” he said, then hopped a few more steps in that direction.

“Mokona’s showing us the way again,” Hikaru said, starting after him. “He says the exit is this way.” And so, we all followed Mokona through the forest.

Like the day before, we encountered numerous monsters as we traveled, but this time, as the day went on, the girls contributed more and more to each fight, until, by late morning, all our contributions were approximately equal. I was still doing somewhat more than any of them individually, but that seemed to be coming from a lack of stamina on their part, rather than any lack of skill.

In the early afternoon, right after we had defeated the most recent monster, Mokona began “Puu”-ing happily. As Hikaru leaned down to pick him up, a bean of light shot out of his forehead jewel and illuminated a short path through the trees to a vast treeless area.

“The exit!” Hikaru cried, dropping Mokona and grabbing Umi’s hands in glee.

“We did it!” Umi cried happily.

“Let’s hurry,” Fuu said, starting forwards. And then we were all running towards the exit.

Finally, we get to be magical girls!” Umi cried as she ran, leading the way.

We were almost out of the forest when Mokona gave a loud, worried-sounding “Puu!” from behind us. Fuu and I slowed down and Hikaru paused, turning towards him and saying his name questioningly, but Umi was already at the edge of the forest.

As soon as she stepped fully out of the forest, someone ahead of us shouted “Araia!” and large shards of ice came shooting down from above. Hikaru, Fuu and I were safe, but Umi was hit many times and collapsed to the ground, bleeding heavily, as Hikaru and Fuu shouted her name.

As Hikaru dashed over to Umi, still calling her name, with Fuu and I close behind, someone above us started laughing. I looked up to see a vaguely familiar woman standing on top of a tall pillar of rock ahead of us.

“You’ve kept me waiting, rude little magic knights from another world,” she said. Her voice was also vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place it.

“Another world?!” I cried, startled. Until that point I had completely forgotten the fact that these girls might be the Legendary Magic Knights.

Hikaru was now on her knees, holding Umi close while calling her name. Fuu had also knelt down and was inspecting Umi’s wounds. “Her wounds are serious,” she said. “We have to find a doctor.”

As soon as she said that, Hikaru turned and directed a fierce glare at the woman.

“Since I can’t use magic in the Forest of Silence,” the woman said, “I decided to wait here…for you to find the exit and come out of the forest unharmed. You won last time, now it’s payback!”

Whoever this woman was, it sounded like she had encountered the girls before and come out the worse for it.

“Fuu-chan,” Hikaru said, transferring Umi into the other girl’s arms, “take care of Umi-chan.” Then she stood up with a stomp and stepped forward angrily.

Fuu cried her name, but Hikaru ignored her.

“How dare you hurt Umi-chan!” Hikaru cried.

“You seem to be able to use magic,” the woman said. “But can you defeat me, a student of Guru Clef and one of the sorcerers serving Princess Emeraude?”

Once she said that, I was able to place her from my occasional visits to the castle. She was Alcyone. She’d been training with Guru Clef for about a year and a half when I visited the castle several months ago and there had been some discussion going on about the possibility of training her as his successor.

“Of Princess Emeraude?!” Hikaru exclaimed.

“…A student of Clef-san…” Fuu sounded surprised.

“If that’s true, why are you fighting us?” Hikaru shouted. “Haven’t you heard from Clef that Cephiro is in danger?!”

“Of course I know,” Alcyone said. “But what does that have to do with anything?”

“Princess Emeraude is the Pillar that supports Cephiro, right?!” Hikaru cried. “And she’s been kidnapped by Soru Zagato!”

“So it is true…” I murmured, mostly to myself. That had been one of the more outlandish rumors I’d heard about Zagato having made a power grab. It was also one of the most repeated ones, but I had been discounting it since not even the Soru and the Guru combined could match the Pillar’s power. But if these girls, whom I was now convinced were the Legendary Magic Knights, had been told that, then it most likely was true.

“Lord Zagato is my master now,” Alcyone said.

“Zagato?” Hikaru cried. “Why?”

I wanted to know the answer to that as well. What had caused her to side with Zagato?

“Why?” Alcyone repeated. “Because I love him!” Then she pointed her staff at Hikaru and shouted “Arailu!” Shards of ice even larger than the ones that had wounded Umi formed in the air in front of her and shot towards Hikaru.

“Hikaru-san!” Fuu shouted. “Look out!”

Hikaru leaped off the ground right before the first ice shard would have hit her, then proceeded to dodge between the subsequent shards with great agility, even going so far as to jump onto one of the larger shards, then bound from one shard to the next.

It was beginning to look like she might make it through the barrage unscathed when one of the smaller shards grazed her arm, sending her tumbling to the ground. She quickly turned the tumble into a controlled roll that allowed her to continue dodging, coming out of it in a crouch when the attack ceased. Both of her sleeves were torn, but other than that, she was untouched.

“My, how nimble,” Alcyone said. “But it won’t work this time. I’ll cut you to ribbons, just like your friend.”

“That’s right…” Hikaru said. “You hurt Umi-chan. Umi-chan, Fuu-chan and I are fighting together to save Cephiro!” Energy started to swirl around her. “They are my dearest comrades and you…” She seemed to be unable to find the words for what she wanted to say then and the energy around her started swirling faster.

“Hikaru-san…” Fuu gasped as the energy started radiating off of Hikaru like heat shimmers.

Hikaru swung her arms around her, then abruptly brought one down to point at Alcyone, shouting, “Honouou no ya!” Great arrows of fire blazed into existence around Hikaru and blasted towards Alcyone, several of them tearing up the ground as they went.

Alcyone shouted, “Cresta!” and a shield sprang into existence around her, but some of the arrows still made it through the shield, destroying some of her clothing and slicing her cheek.

“The power of her will…” Fuu said in a hushed tone as she stared at Hikaru and the fire blazing around her. “Hikaru-san’s anger at Umi-san being hurt has increased the strength of her magic.”

Hikaru’s barrage soon faded, leaving Alcyone on her knees in the center of a circle scorched into the ground, her head hanging. “To be able to increase your magical powers so much in such a short amount of time…” she said as she lifted her head. “You really are a Magic Knight. But you still are not at a level with which you can defeat me.”

She held her staff out upright in front of her and energy swirled around her. Then she swept her staff down to point at Hikaru and shouted, “Astora!” Large shards of ice, looking sharper than any of the earlier ones, appeared in front of her and sped towards Hikaru.

“Uh-oh,” I cried, “she’s serious this time!” That attack looked much more lethal than the previous ones. Then something occurred to me and I turned to look at Fuu. “Why aren’t you asking me for help?” I asked. Not that I’d really be much help without magic of my own, but I thought they would have at least asked.

Fuu was silent for a moment, her expression serious, and then she spoke. “I have made you promise to come with us to the exit from the Forest of Silence,” she said. “It would be selfish of us to ask for any more than that.” Looking straight ahead at the battle, her expression solemn and firm, she finished “This is…our battle.”

I just stared at her in a mix of surprise and awe after that statement. I hadn’t expected someone as young as she had to be—as all of them had to be—to act so mature.

Then Umi groaned and I was broken out of my reverie.

“Umi-san!” Fuu cried. “Are you all right?”

“Where’s…Hikaru…?” Umi asked weakly, raising a hand to her forehead.

“She’s fighting that black-clad old lady,” Fuu said, pointing at the battle.

I turned to look along with Umi and we both gasped in surprise. Since I had last looked, the battlezone had become an absolute mess of ice and fire. Enormous pillars of ice were springing up from the ground to be met with blazing balls and ropes of fire. The amount of steam being generated was tremendous, often obscuring our view of Hikaru and Alcyone.

Clumsily, Umi struggled to her feet, Fuu rising with her. “We can’t let Hikaru fight alone!” she said, wobbling in Fuu’s arms.

“No!” Fuu said sharply. “Stay still! Your wounds…”

“No…” Umi said, trying to pull away from Fuu. “Hikaru… I have to help Hikaru!”

“Umi-san…” Fuu said.

Off to the side, Mokona reminded us of his presence with a soft, worried-sounding “Puu.”

Carefully dropping to her knees, Umi picked him up, a sad smile on her face. “Mokona… Are you worried about us?”

Mokona replied with another worried-sounding “Puu puu.”

“Your real master…” Umi said. “…that conceited magician… I wish I had properly learned magic from him… Then…I would have been able to save Hikaru. I need magic…magic to help Hikaru. I need magic!

As Umi’s cry faded, Mokona’s forehead jewel gleamed and started to glow.

“Look!” Fuu cried. “The jewel on Mokona’s forehead…!”

That was when I noticed that the jewel had changed. “It was red a moment ago and now it’s blue!” I cried.

Then a beam of light shot out of the jewel and hit Umi in the center of her forehead. Slowly, she stood up, her eyes closed and her hair floating on a non-existent wind.

“Umi-san!” Fuu cried.

“What the-?” I shouted. What was going on?

“…Clef…?” Umi said hesitantly. Who was she talking to?

There was a pause, then Umi said, “Yes, I can.” She was having a conversation with someone who wasn’t present. Was Mokona helping her to do so?

“Yes! Please, show me how!” Umi cried. Was it Guru Clef she was talking to? She had just said his name and had mentioned that a ‘conceited magician’ was Mokona’s real master. I wouldn’t have called Clef conceited myself, but he definitely had an aura of confidence about him that could probably come across as conceited.

“I can feel it,” Umi said. “So much warmth…inside… Words… There are words coming… I feel them…”

A shout of “Arailu!” brought my attention back to the battle and I turned to see Hikaru flattening herself to the ground to avoid Alcyone’s latest attack.

Then Umi shouted, “Mizu no ryuu!” and an enormous dragon of water sped towards Alcyone and enveloped her with its jaws. When it dissipated, all that was left of Alcyone was one of her jewels.

As Alcyone’s jewel hit the ground, Umi collapsed into Fuu’s arms, sending Fuu to her knees with the sudden weight as she called Umi’s name.

“Umi-chan! No!” Hikaru cried, dashing over to her. “Umi-chan! Oh, god!”

“Hikaru…” Umi said weakly, “are you all right?”

“Yes!” Hikaru said. “Because you helped me! I’m all right because you helped me with your magic!”

“That’s good…” Umi smiled through her obvious pain. “I couldn’t just leave you alone, Hikaru…you’re cute like a little sister…and so determined…” Then she turned her head to look at Fuu. “You’re not hurt either, are you, Fuu?”

“No, thanks to you,” Fuu said. “Your magic defeated the enemy, Umi-san.”

“I’m glad…” Umi said, her words coming more slowly now. “I don’t know what’s going to happen to us…but we got called here to Cephiro together and…” Her voice trailed off as her eyes slipped closed.

“Umi-chan!” Hikaru cried, tears starting to roll down her cheeks as she grabbed Umi out of Fuu’s arms. “Umi-chan, no!”

As Hikaru cradled Umi in her arms, crying, Fuu got to her feet. “Umi-san saved our lives,” she said. “She used her magic, sacrificed herself… Now it’s my turn.” Turning, she knelt in front of Mokona. “A light shone from Mokona-san’s jewel. It gave Umi-san her new magic. Mokona-san, please give me magic. For Umi-san’s sake… I need magic to help Umi-san!”

Similar to what had happened with Umi’s plea for magic, as Fuu’s cry faded, a beam of light shot out of the jewel on Mokona’s forehead and hit Fuu in the center of her forehead.

As Fuu slowly stood up, her hair billowing in a non-existent wind, Hikaru cried her name.

Then I noticed the difference in Mokona’s jewel. “It’s changed again,” I said. “It’s gone all green!”

“Clef-san…” Fuu said. “Is that you?” There was a brief pause, then she said, “Please, teach me magic…” Then another pause and she said, “I feel words in my heart…”

There was a third pause, longer than the first two, and then Fuu swept her arms upwards and shouted, “Iyashi no kaze!” A wind came out of nowhere, swirling around Fuu and lifting Umi out of Hikaru’s arms before swirling around her as well. Everywhere the wind touched Umi, her wounds faded, until, as it gently deposited her on the ground again, they were all gone.

“Umi-chan!” Hikaru cried, throwing herself at the other girl and hugging her with great glee.

“Our belief,” Fuu said, “is our greatest power.”

“Yay, Umi-chan!” Hikaru cried, hanging around Umi’s neck. “I’m so happy! It doesn’t hurt anymore? Are your wounds fine now?”

“I’m all right, Hikaru,” Umi replied, detaching the other girl from her neck and using a cloth to wipe at the dirt on Hikaru’s cheeks. Then she turned to Fuu and thanked her.

“No, Umi-san,” Fuu said, smiling warmly, “if we didn’t have your magic, we all might have been killed by that old lady. Thank you, Umi-san!”

Then she turned to Hikaru. “Thank you too, Hikaru-san…” she said, “…for fighting against that old lady.”

Hikaru shook her head fiercely. “We are comrades. Although we just met, we are all alone in Cephiro.”

That was interesting. I had been assuming they had all known each other for a while, since they certainly acted like it and it would make a great deal of sense for the Magic Knights to already know and trust each other. However, if I was interpreting Hikaru’s statement correctly, they had only met each other upon their arrival in Cephiro.

“We are the dearest of comrades. If I’d been summoned to Cephiro alone, I don’t know what I’d have done. But because of you two, I have the strength to do this. Just the thought that I have comrades makes me full of power”

As Hikaru finished speaking, Umi and Fuu stared at her with something like surprise visible on their faces. The silence between the three of them stretched on awkwardly until Hikaru flushed slightly and hunched her shoulders a little.

“…Maybe I’m the only one that feels that way…” she said. “Maybe you’re annoyed that I thought you were comrades… I mean, I haven’t asked either of you and I just assumed that we were…” As she said that last bit, her entire face went red and she scratched the back of her head nervously.

Umi and Fuu smiled at each other, then Umi said, “Hikaru, for a girl to be sooo cute and sooo innocent—that’s really rare…”

“Really!” Fuu added. “I am happy that I have such a cute comrade.”

Hikaru immediately perked up at their words and stood up straight, the flush leaving her face.

“When I thought about helping you, Hikaru, I was full of power.” Umi blushed slightly. “When I was thinking that I had to save an important comrade from the evil hands of that old lady, courage just welled up…and the magic just came.”

“Umi-chan…” Hikaru said, sounding quite grateful. Mokona, whom Hikaru had picked up while Umi was talking, wagged his ears happily.

“I don’t know what’s what,” Umi said, “and it’s unjust that the three of us have to through all of this, but…let’s do our best to go back to Tokyo, where we came from. I give my best regards for our future, Hikaru.” As she finished speaking, Umi extended her hand to Hikaru.

“I give you my best regards also,” Fuu said, also extending her hand.

“Fuu-chan…” Hikaru said, her words accompanied by a smile from Mokona, who was now hanging off of her shoulder. Then Hikaru reached out and clasped the offered hands in her own, the three of them smiling warmly at each other.

I had watched this entire scene with growing bemusement, as it became more and more clear that they had forgotten my presence. Now, however, I felt it was time to remind them I was there, and I decided to get some real answers from them at the same time.

“I thought something was funny about you…” I began.

From the way they started at the sound of my voice, they really had completely forgotten I was there. “Ferio…?” Hikaru said.

“You guys are those Legendary Magic Knights,” I finished.

“We didn’t mean to lie to you…” Hikaru said.

“You were cautious because you didn’t know if I was an ally or an enemy,” I said.

“I’m sorry,” Fuu said. I wondered why she had chosen to use ‘I’ instead of ‘we’ in her apology, since it hadn’t been her decision alone, and for some reason, my heart twinged at how downcast she looked.

“Don’t be,” I said. “You were wise in doing so.”

They really had been, but all three of them looked surprised by my statement.

“From what you just said,” I continued, “it’s pretty clear you’re determined to find Princess Emeraude and rescue her.”

“Fuu-chan, Umi-chan,” Hikaru said, turning to them, “I want to tell Ferio the truth.”

Umi and Fuu both nodded and Hikaru turned back to me. “We come from Tokyo,” she said. “It happened in a flash. The floor of Tokyo Tower gave way and the next thing we knew, we were in Cephiro. Then, we met a sorcerer named Clef and he asked us to save this world…Cephiro.”

“You met Guru Clef, the top sorcerer in Cephiro?” I asked.

“That old man was a celebrity,” Umi said. She sounded bemused, like she couldn’t quite believe it.

“It seems that way,” Fuu replied.

“Then, the one that summoned you…” I said, trailing off to get them to say it. I knew it was Princess Emeraude, but I wanted to find out how much they knew. Plus, it would serve as a lead-in to what I really wanted to know.

“Clef told us it was Princess Emeraude,” Hikaru said.

“You were saying earlier that the one who kidnapped Princess Emeraude was Soru Zagato.” That was what I really wanted to know about. Hikaru had said it earlier, but it was unbelievable enough that I needed to hear it again.

“Yeah,” Hikaru said, “Clef told us that, too.”

So it was Guru Clef who had told them that. All the doubts I had about the information’s validity were wiped away by that fact. He would not have lied to them. It did mean, however, that Zagato had either found some way to drastically increase his magical power or he had somehow managed to reduce Emeraude’s power.

“Man,” I said, mostly talking to myself, “now it makes sense… That’s why there are monsters roaming about Cephiro, a world that’s supposed to be peaceful. That’s why there have been strange phenomena in a world where the weather is supposed to be eternal spring.”

I was deep enough in my own thoughts that I started slightly when Umi spoke. “Okay,” she said, “fair is fair. We told you who we are. Now who are you?”

“An acquaintance of the princess,” I said. They looked at me curiously, like they were waiting for me to say more, but I wasn’t going to tell them anything else. I honestly found being the prince to be more of a pain than the privileges were worth, so I wasn’t going to tell anyone that I was Emeraude’s brother unless I absolutely had to. Not even the Magic Knights. And speaking of the Magic Knights, this meant the legend was true.

“Legend?” Fuu asked. “What legend?”

I hadn’t realized that I had said that last bit aloud, but I was more surprised that Guru Clef hadn’t told them about the legend.

“Both Clef-san and Presea-san mentioned it,” Fuu continued, “but no one’s filled us in on the details.”

So they had at least heard of it. However, if no one had yet told them the details, then I guessed I had a duty to do so. “It’s a tradition,” I said. “It’s never been recorded…only passed along by word of mouth. When something happens to the Pillar of Cephiro, those who are summoned from another world become the Legendary Magic Knights and fight using the power of the Mashin.”

“That’s right!” Hikaru cried. “Clef said we have to revive the Mashin if we want to become Magic Knights!”

“But…why do the Magic Knights have to be from another world?” Umi asked. “Aren’t there a lot of strong people like you here in Cephiro?”

“That was what I didn’t understand either,” I said. “So I was going to get Escudo at Eterna to see if I could become the Legendary Knight.”

“That reminds me,” Fuu said, “Guru Clef said that many warriors and sorcerers had already tried to rescue Princess Emeraude.”

“If Zagato is the enemy,” I said, “it’s hopeless. There’s no way you can win.”

“I-is he th-th-that strong?” Umi stammered.

“He’s tremendously strong,” I said. He really was. His power as a mage was second only to Guru Clef’s and, given that he had managed to kidnap the Pillar, it might even have become stronger than Clef’s.

“Oh, my…” Umi said. “I feel faint…”

“But if he’s so strong, wouldn’t it be even harder for a foreigner to win?” Fuu asked. “Cephiro is a complete mystery to us. In our world, there is no such thing as monsters, sorcerers… The only place you find those is in a role-playing game or something.”

“Yeah,” Umi said, “‘Legendary Magic Knights’ sounds like something out of a video game.”

“I don’t know about that, either,” I said. “But it seems as though the legend is starting to become reality. The Pillar of Cephiro, Princess Emeraude, has been kidnapped by Soru Zagato. The current condition of the Pillar is unknown right now, but the Pillar-less Cephiro is seeing monsters even in the residential districts and earthquakes and storms follow one after another.

“The monsters of this world are the materializations of the fears of the people. The Pillar supports our world with the power of her will. Princess Emeraude’s heart, which prays for a Cephiro where it is always peaceful and easy for people to live in, kept Cephiro as a bountiful, beautiful world free of abnormal weather. But now…the Princess’ heart seems to be in a condition where she cannot pray for the welfare of Cephiro. That’s why the sky is stormy and the earth shudders. People’s hearts are full of fear…and those fears, those feelings of darkness, give life to monsters.”

“Then those monsters…” Hikaru sounded shocked.

“…Are all manifestations of the heart,” I said.

“The heart…” Hikaru said. “The heart full of fear and terror…manifests as those monsters.”

“The same powers that bring people peace…can also bring destruction,” Fuu said.

“Cephiro…” Umi said, “…a truly mysterious place.”

“My people are afraid,” I said. And I did think of them as my people in a sense of responsibility as well as a sense of community, for all that I found being the prince to be a pain. “Many sorcerers, knights, and warriors believed that the reason for this abnormality was that something happened to Princess Emeraude. They journeyed to her castle to rescue her, but we never heard from them again.”

“Castle…?” Hikaru said.

“Did all those people try to become Magic Knights, like you?” Fuu asked.

“No,” I said. “Only those closest to the princess are even aware of the legend of the Magic Knights.”

“Th-then…how did you…?” Fuu stammered.

Whoops. That was getting dangerously close to the things I didn’t want to share. I just laughed quietly in response to the question, rubbing the back of my head in embarrassment before I pulled myself together.

“But the fact that Princess Emeraude summoned you from your world implies that only those from another world can become the Legendary Magic Knights,” I said.

Then Mokona’s forehead jewel gleamed again and a beam of light shot out of it.

“The jewel on Mokona’s forehead…” Hikaru said.

“…Is glowing red, like usual,” Umi said.

“Puu puu,” Mokona cried from where he was once again nestled in Hikaru’s arms.

“Mokona’s showing us the way to the Legendary Spring of Eterna!” Hikaru cried.

This was it, then. It was time for me to part ways with them. Since they were the Legendary Magic Knights, I no longer had any need to go to Eterna and I’d only be in the way if I tried to come with them anyway. Reluctantly, I turned away from them and headed back into the forest.

I had only gotten a few steps into the forest when one of them called my name. Turning back just enough to face them, I said, “I only agreed to escort you out of the Forest of Silence, remember?”

All three of them looked downcast at the reminder and Fuu in particular looked about ready to cry. I didn’t want to leave them, either—didn’t want to leave Fuu, especially—but they didn’t need an extraneous person tagging along.

That was when I thought of the rings my sister had given me. It was Fuu in particular that I didn’t want to leave and out of the three of them, she was clearly the most upset by the prospect of my departure. She had become special to me and it looked like I had become special to her.

Taking the ring out of my right ear, I walked over to Fuu and took her right hand in my left. Holding it palm up, I placed the ring in it.

“What’s this?” she asked.

“My gift to you,” I said, closing her fingers over the ring.

“I-I can’t take this,” she stammered, bringing her closed hand up to her chest in opposition to her words. “I don’t have anything to give you…”

I hadn’t given it to her with the expectation of receiving anything back, but if she was going to insist, I could think of one thing that would be more than enough repayment for the gift. Feeling greatly daring, I got down on one knee, took her left hand in my right, and gently kissed the back of it.

As I stood up, I saw that her entire face had flushed bright red. Feeling not too far from blushing myself, but determined not to show it, I gave a carefully casual wave, winked, and said, “I got my reward.”

Then I turned and jumped up onto one of the higher branches of a tree at the edge of the forest. I turned to face them as I landed and called down “Catch you later!” Feeling a need to give them a more formal farewell, I then dropped to one knee and said, “Magic Knights…I bid you adieu.”

As soon as I finished speaking, I turned and leapt off into the next tree.

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somariel

June 2016

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