And begins....

A Duet of Pigtails
By Libby Thomas

Based on characters and storylines in Ranma½ by Rumiko Takahashi and Magic Knight Rayearth by CLAMP

Part One:
Falling Down

Far away, beyond the veil of space and time which kept the universe in order, there was another dimension, another universe in which reality operated in a slightly different manner. This universe was more populated, more explored, and less a mystery to mankind. That did not make it any less dangerous for its inhabitants. There were at least four known worlds on which human civilization had taken root, but none of the four were as important as the world that was the very pillar of the cosmos.

Cephiro. A world governed by the laws of magic, and until recently, besieged by countless wars and conflict. A world that had only recently found peace, though it took the sacrifice of its beloved leader and the near destruction of the universe itself. It was only due to the courage and honor of three warriors from beyond the crystal blue skies, that the world stood today...

...and that King Ferio ruled the kingdom. The current monarch of the world, he was well-loved by his people, though not to the degree that his sister Emeraude had been. That was no slight against him, but instead a celebration of how vital his sister had been to the well-being of the land. In the end, the world had chosen to forget her aberrant attitudes towards the end of her life, instead embracing the actions put forth by Magic Knight Commander Shidou Hikaru, the final Pillar of the land. Her method called for the abolishment of the Pillar system, having the people of the world responsible for the fate of their world, to mend it or tear it asunder. The people would thus have the power, not confined to one soul.

Since the return of the Pillar to her home world, the populace was now having to learn to live in a world where finally their will was rule--but still they learned to do so under the kind-hearted rule of Ferio and his queen, Wind Knight Hououji Fuu. The royal couple had brought a dimension of peace and prosperity to the land, the beasts and the people living together in perfect harmony. Even the refugees of Autozam, that dead world, had adjusted to life on Cephiro, and were now part of their new homeworld. The Autozam hierarchy had become nobles under the current rule, and though the fact that the tech levels on Cephiro were far behind that of Autozam (though the Autozamians were trying to correct this), the unspoiled beauty of the world was something that made up for it (and the Autozamians were trying to find a way to preserve that, too).

Life was considered grand on that lush, green planet. And although there were myriad reasons why the Pax Cephirica existed, many people agreed that it was due to the nobility, the remaining Magic Knights, and the well-loved King, Ferio, and his kind heart.

And it was that very kind heart that brought Ferio, along with a small contingent of men, to the small town of Hiace. Recently, a dark shadow had been discovered over the small town in the southern part of the world. Crops were dying, and rivers were drying up, as though the strange cloud was sucking the life force out of the very world. Worse, there were reports that spoke of some armed strangers, possibly even an invading army. Those reports disturbed Ferio mildly, to say the least; he knew he was on good terms with the neighboring nations, and there had been no civil unrest in the land since time before time--that sort of thing being not in the nature of your average Cephiran.

Still, there he was, alongside three of his finest warriors and friends--the driven LaFarga, the legendary Water Knight Ryuuzaki Umi, and a younger, aristocratic archer named Cabrio--yet his mind was elsewhere. Admittedly, though he was not the type to daydream, the slight breeze on the move in the air brought memories to his mind, of his beloved wife, with her enchanting green eyes and a smile that spoke volumes, despite her shy demeanor.

Fuu, how I wish we could be together, my love. The time out here on the road away from you and the children is sore to my heart, but a need that must be attended to. The slightest smile came to his lips as he remembered their brief moment between them before he departed on this mission; her soft, loving kisses always seemed to send jolts of electric delight up and down his spine. His wife was a perfect lover for him, knowing him very well. He also knew that he could not be truly the King of Cephiro were it not for the grace and sensibility of his Queen, another set of traits that he loved about her. An intellectual, Fuu saw things in ways her husband did not, both in her role as the Queen and as the Wind Knight. The exquisite and delightful combination of marriage and parenthood brought out the best in them, and that wealth was spread to the people in the form of wise rule.

He was brought out of his reverie by the cursing of Cabrio. The young man, recently in service of the Cephiro Royal Guard, had risen through the ranks quickly, becoming a trusted aide of LaFarga’s, and certainly one the King knew he could rely on. An androgynous-looking male, Cabrio had soft blue hair, and eyes the same shade of sienna that Hikaru’s were. Although delicate looking, the man was dangerous with a sword and even more lethal with his stock-in-trade, the longbow; he was reputed throughout Cephiro to be as good as, if not better than Fuu herself, widely considered to be the world's best archer. He was currently wearing a simple mail shirt that was colored somewhere between gray and lavender, and the fact that he was swearing was a sign of how unnerved the usually even-flowing man was. "Bloody hell! Look at this place! We’re not even near the town, and I can smell the stench of evil. We should have brought more mages with us, Ferio. Maybe Caldina, or even Guru Clef!" The young man pointed to a great blackish-blue cloud in the sky, as though the very air had been bruised.

"And what do you think I am?" a female voice rang out. The annoyed tones of Lady Ryuuzaki Umi, Water Knight and wife to Lord Lantis, stung the young man worse than any of his barbed shafts could. "Admittedly I'm fairly useless," she said, pure venom dripping from each word, "but I might be able to throw at least one spell." She rode on the horse with a look of plain boredom. Admittedly, she'd much rather have been at home with her daughter, but one of the Knights had to come, and that usually meant Umi.

"Ease your anger, Umi. I don't think he meant much harm towards you," LaFarga said, his quiet tones soft and loaded as always. Riding at the flank of Ferio, he turned to Cabrio and added, "Personally, Cabrio, I feel you worry too much. We don’t need more magic here than our fair Water Knight can provide; the spells of brute force should be more than enough!" Ferio, knowing his friend well, caught the undertone of LaFarga’s words.

"LaFarga, you misunderstand me. I have no doubt in our skills at armaments, whether it be the blades of you, Umi, and Ferio, or my bow. But there is little our skills can do against that, for that is what I fear is the cause of the troubles at Hiace!"

Before either Umi or LaFarga could continue, Ferio spoke up. "Personally, I think you may be right, Cabrio. However, it’s far too late to anything about it other than continue on and hope for the best. The people there may be in trouble, and I can’t allow any of my people to suffer like that!" With that, he spurred his horse on, heading on towards the threatened village of Hiace.

It was thus, then to their surprise that the sky suddenly darkened above them, as the cloud moved with an unnatural speed to blot out the very sunlight that made the small band of fighters so readied. As the horses began to grow uneasy from the sudden change in lighting, a lightning bolt rocketed down from the darkened sky, an unnatural jag of violet that burnt into the earth before the contingent of twenty. As the bolt of plasma connected with the terrain, a blinding flash of purple filled the sky, causing all to shield their eyes from the optical assault.

When the light cleared once more, three people stood before Ferio’s band. Two men, and one woman, each standing before them, imposing and yet calm in their composure. One man, thin as a rail with close-cropped spiky blonde hair and piercing blue eyes, stood, arms crossed over an armored torso and a severe-cut suit, colored in tan, with a blood-red cape draped around his shoulder. A short sword hung at his side, ready to be loosed at a moment’s notice. The second man was a small mountain of muscle, standing above even LaFarga’s stature, wearing armor of cobalt over the same tan clothing that the first wore; a huge, opal-encrusted sword was strapped to his back. The black in his hair and beard was as night, but worse was the flicker of rage in his hazel eyes. Last on the list was the woman, a classic beauty with inviting green eyes and soft white hair. She wore neither armor, cloak, nor sword, but just the same garb as the other two; however, the red pulsing aura of energy that enveloped her showed that this was no dainty maiden. The three, standing together, made for a trio that spoke of pure danger.

The thin man spoke first, addressing Ferio. "You, I take it, are going to the town ahead of us, Ferio?"

"That's Your Majesty to you, upstart!" Cabrio snarled. Umi and LaFarga looked at each other and nodded; LaFarga's hand loosened, ready to grab for his blade, while Umi called forth a sphere of water the size of a baseball--a primer for loosing her Aquamancy.

As for Ferio, he said nothing, wondering how the man could have known who he was; he was not wearing his white clothing denoting his identity, but instead his old tan and brown woodsman’s garb. The accent in the other's voice was odd, clearly not of this world--or of any of the others; he was clearly a stranger to this world, and thus could not have known Ferio's identity. Perhaps, Ferio reasoned, this stranger was a key to solving the mystery lying ahead at Hiace.

Realizing that it would probably do no good to attempt a ruse, he leaned forward on his saddle lazily, commenting, "Well, you seem to have the advantage of me. You know who I am, but I am afraid that I’m not familiar with you."

The man smiled, not at all friendly. "You don’t have to be. I am Daimler, and these are my associates, Trabant and Passat," indicating the man and the woman, in turn. "We are the rulers of this world, now, the ones who will make it pure. You can consider yourselves retired. If you attempt force, I will have to respond in kind. Make it easy on yourself and go back from where you came, Ferio."

"So you are the ones responsible for the blight?" Ferio ventured, feeling insulted by the man's effrontery.

"As I said, since I rule now, it is no longer of your concern." The man stopped smiling, and this gave his face an even more dangerous look. "This is your final warning, Ferio. If you do not return the way you came, I will slay you where you are."

Before Ferio could respond, LaFarga rushed his horse forward, bellowing, "I doubt it! You have me to face, and I assure you, it will not be pretty." He unsheathed his blade, readying for a strike at the enemy now revealed before him.

"Trabant." Daimler spoke once and once only. There was a flash of blue, and the hulking behemoth disappeared. As LaFarga neared for a strike, a blast of blue erupted beneath him, flinging rider and horse skyward. The blast turned out to be a mystical geyser of water, controlled by the huge swordsman. Upon the return to earth, LaFarga landed easily and attacked his foe; the horse, not as prepared, landed on its neck and snapped it instantly, killing the beast. Ignoring the sorrowful pain that his steed had died in, LaFarga silently promised the beast justice by planning to run his blade through the large behemoth.

In the meanwhile, Cabrio waited for no attack. He whipped out his bow and began firing arrow after arrow, choosing as his target the woman named Passat. To his shock, she was easily outmaneuvering each of his shots, nimbly dancing around each of his missiles and softly tapping each with her finger, incinerating each in the process. Finally, she smiled a grin that could have been construed as inviting, if it wasn’t for the next words she called out: "And now it ends. Fire Ballista!" A multitude of flaming arrows launched out towards Cabrio, but he was not as quick as she was. Though he maneuvered to and fro, he managed to avoid most of them. Unfortunately, however, a few finally hit him, and he fell, defeated.

Umi bounded from her horse in one smooth move, drawing her rapier from her gauntlet as she leapt into battle. Searching for an unengaged target, she immediately noted Cabrio's fall at the hands of his opponent, and fearing the worst, advanced on the woman, lethal intent in her eyes. With a vicious scream of "MIZU NO RYUUUUUU!!!" she loosed her Hydrodragon Blast at Passat, who parried with a shield of flame. The two stopped, eyeing each other. Passat put her fists together, then pulled them apart, drawing a line of flame from them. Speaking in a language that Umi didn't understand yet sounded eerily familiar, that line of fire became a sword with which the ivory-hair woman thrust at the Water Knight.

Meanwhile, Ferio, also seeing one of his friends downed, finally entered the fray, ordering his men into battle. He leapt from his horse, unholstering his scimitar, and moved to strike out against Daimler, who had also unsheathed his own blade for the conflict. He had the confidence that his guardsmen would easily contain the fighting around them. Had he bothered to turn around, he would have noticed that his own men were not involved in the fighting.

They were instead being beaten to a pulp by giant golems made of stone that had leapt from the earth unexpectedly. Those golems in turn, were being controlled by a small woman dressed similarly to Trabant, her short forest-green hair and black eyes as cold and impassive as the burnished coppery color of her chest armor. In one hand, she held a short rapier, ready to attack should any of the Cephiran Guard break through her golems; while the other glimmered a bright orange in echo of the magic she wielded in controlling her creatures.

In the interim, the combat between LaFarga and Trabant ended immediately. While the two were more than a match when it came to the skill of the blades, and indeed, it appeared for a moment that LaFarga would get the better of him, Trabant struck out with his magic. Instantly, the Cephiran master-at-arms was buffeted by high-pressure streams of water, slamming into him with the force of a ton. LaFarga switched from attacking the other swordsman to fighting the torrents of water swinging his blade to and fro to minimize the damage. And though he managed to succeed at that, too, he was brought down by a fist to the back of the head, which crumpled him to the floor.

Umi and the woman named Passat moved in a duel of steam, their motions, strikes and parries being countered time and time again by the other. A thrust by Umi was parried by Passat, who immediately snapped out with a slice that Umi brought up short via a counter swing by her own rapier. As she did, Passat lashed out with flame magic, screaming, "Inferno Whip!" As the serpentine stream of fire slashed its way towards Umi, she countered it with a new spell of her own, a defensive spell called Amemajirinoyuki Kakuheki. As the blast of flame impacted against the snowflake-shaped spell ward, Umi then took the time to leap into the air, cocking her arms back and readied for a powerful, fatal thrust.

As she did this, however, she failed to notice the golem that wrapped its massive hand around her slender ankles. What she did notice was a change in trajectory as she was pulled off course and painfully slammed into the ground. The golem picked her up again, and before it could toss her around once more as though she were a rag doll, she managed to blast it to nothingness courtesy of a well-timed Aoi Tatsumaki. Her relief was short-lived, however, as Passat kicked her sharply in the side of the head, knocking the Water Knight unconscious.

As for the conflict between Ferio and Daimler, that too was brought short. All it took was an emerald glow of Daimler’s right hand, and a blast of wind launched Ferio away from his intended target. At the same time, Daimler brought his sword up over his head and down in a fast arc, shearing through Ferio’s sword, cutting it in half. The broken half fell and buried itself in the ground, as Ferio, still holding on to the handle half, slammed into a nearby tree, knocking the wind out of him.

Standing up, he wiped a sliver of blood from his mouth and tossed the remnants of his sword down, crying, "You’ll have to do better than that, Daimler. I’ve fought against everything that there was in this world, and I will continue, no matter what. You. Will. Not. Stop. Me!"

"I’m sorry to hear that, Ferio," Daimler responded in disinterested tones. He snapped his fingers and spoke softly, uttering a simple phrase: "Targa, hither."

A blast of violet once more descended to earth, shredding the tree--and Ferio underneath it. He screamed in pain as he was electrocuted, then slumped to the ground in a shaking fit of nerve impulse overload, his mind mercifully having slipped into unconsciousness milliseconds earlier. In the crater that was the remains of the tree, stood a man wearing an indigo version of the same suit everyone else wore. He wore a cape similar to Daimler’s, and in his hands he carried two short swords. His features, including his shock of dark blue hair and gray eyes, would be handsome if it wasn’t for the malicious sneer that was plastered into his face. His rail-thin body moved with a lithe grace as he bent down to check his victim. "He still breathes, Daimler," Targa hissed in response. "He is stronger than we guessed."

"Let him live then, Targa. We may have use for him and the others, who I can guess are also still alive, Jetta?" he commented, directing his query to the short forest-haired girl.

She was looking over the body of Cabrio. "He suffered a couple of second degree burns from Passat’s attack, but he’ll live. As for the other, he has a couple of chest bruises--Trabant’s AquaStrike did the job nicely--and a concussion from that last punch, but he’ll also live. The Water Knight--" she said, tapping Umi's unconscious form with her foot, "--will probably be the first to recover, and since she's the most dangerous, we'll have to keep a close eye on her. As for the rest of their army, my Geoslaves tore most of them apart, but I think one escaped. He’ll probably notify the rest of the Cephiro aristocracy and Presea will be leading an army down here."

"Hah," Trabant scoffed. "This--" pointing at LaFarga, "--is the Head of the Guard. Do you think that the General of their Army could do any better against me?"

"From what I understand," Targa said, in a haughty tone, "the one called Presea is very dangerous. She is the Weaponsmaster of Cephiro, an expert with any kind of weapon. Unlike where we came from, here that quality is rare. She is one not to be trifled with."

"Personally," Passat said, leaning on Daimler’s shoulder in a seductive manner, "I’m hoping they’ll send that geriatric brat Clef. He’s 700 years old and needs to reach the end of his life. I’ll be more than happy to oblige the gentleman." She formed a fist, and instantly the red glow of fire magic surrounded it, as though it were a pet eager to do its master’s bidding. "I will burn the little bastard to a crisp, I swear."

Jetta looked at her associate, shaking her head in disagreement. "You can be so cruel, Passat, but however, the one we truly have to watch out for is the queen herself, the Wind Knight. Fuu has a reputation of fighting against anything to protect this land. Furthermore, knowing her loved ones are in peril, she may mount an attack of high proportions, possibly using her Mashin, if it came to that."

"I'm unconcerned," Trabant admitted, polishing his fingernails against his chest. "We have the Levin mechs that Sharan and Citroen are building for us. Sharan's the finest scientist we have, and I doubt we will ever see his like. Furthermore, we have a mage of our own in Citroen. I would place her up against 'the mighty' Clef any day." He spread his arms to encompass the area surrounding them. "This is our finest moment, and our armies must win. Between the Levins and our skybattleship OPEL, we will become the clear victors!"

"But I hear of rumors that you do not," Passat warned. "There is supposedly a goddess who protects the land, known as the Pillar. If the need of the world is great enough, the Pillar can easily be summoned."

"A goddess. Hah. Clearly you've been hearing too many wives tales, Passat." Daimler scoffed at the notion of anything being more powerful than his forces, nor anything more convincing than his raison du guerre. "Why waste the time in debate? Clearly they stand no chance against us." Turning back to Targa, he commented, "Return us to the stronghold. We have much work to do before we bring this world to its knees."

Nodding once, Targa stabbed the air once with his glowing dagger. There was the familiar blast of lighting...

...and then they were gone, destination unknown.


Hours later, a very weary and tired Fuu was done speaking to the surviving guardsman, who’d barely escaped with his life; it would take many a healer many a day to totally bring this man to any semblance of total well-being. He was able to report all that he did before mercifully slipping into a comatose state. The Queen of Cephiro sighed; at least someone would be spared the pain of the next few days to come.

As she began to walk out of the infirmary and down towards the grand hall, her mind was a bitter, tangled mess. I thought we’d moved away from this, she thought, trying to keep her mind off the fact that her husband and best friend were now amongst the missing, and possible casualties. Why now, after we've fought so hard to win a peace here on this world? Why, after we've risked everything to save this place?

She wandered the halls, trying to keep a brave front, though most of the servants had already heard of the events south of the palace. As a result, Fuu had discarded her both usual comfortable clothing and the gowns of state, opting for the clearly combatant look of the Wind Knight's uniform. Always a subtle planner, it was her way of declaring without outright saying that the Wind Knight stood ready to defend her people..

As she continued down the halls of the grand castle, a voice called to her. "I know it can’t be easy, Fuu, but we are here for you."

The blonde turned her head, her lens covered green eyes smiled at her friends more than her mouth did. "Thank you, Presea, Caldina. I know it is just as hard for you two." That was all she would mention of Caldina’s husband or Cabrio, who’d recently begun courting the Weaponsmaster of Cephiro.

"We’ll manage," Presea said, tersely. In her gold and silver armor as General of the Cephiran Army, she looked very regal, the very image of a Cephiran Valkyrie. Her golden hair was in that ever-familiar topknot of hers, and she still looked very beautiful. However, her green eyes were embedded with a worry that the Wind Knight had never seen before, and her usual quirky humor was almost non-existent today.

"Are you sure? I need you both rested and prepared. Not only because the world needs you, but more so because you're my friends, and I'm concerned." This next comment was directed not so much at Presea, but the woman next to her.

The woman at the side of Presea barely looked at Fuu. Despite her normally, enchanting, hypnotic beauty, today, she looked...well, as though the magic had drained from her body, the siren’s call having been halted by deepening sorrow. On any other given day, the girl’s garb, an Arabian-like assortment of silks and lacy, gossamer fabrics would entice any man to hormonal madness; today, they limped at her side, pathetic and spent; she looked like she was on day 1002 of the 1001 Arabian nights. Caldina stared at her queen and close friend, the pain showing in her dark eyes. Her normally tanned skin somehow looked paler today, and her rose-hued hair didn’t have that usual just-so sheen to it.

Fuu spoke again, directly to her this time. "Caldina, will you be okay? I need your assistance in this crisis. If you cannot lend your talents to this crisis due to your own, I will understand."

Caldina’s dark eyes flickered for a second. She then spoke, in that lilting Chizetam accent that Umi always said somehow reminded her of the city of Osaka, on her homeworld: "I’ okay. You needn’t worry about me, okay? We’ll get through this together. There’s no choice."

"Good." Fuu breathed a sigh of relief. As much as Presea was hurting over Cabrio’s disappearance, Caldina was in worse shape over the loss of her husband. "As you said, Caldina--we’ll make it through this together." Her words came out hollow, in her opinion, and she wasn’t sure if she’d said them to console Caldina, Presea, or herself.

Down at the end of the grand hall, a voice broke the relative silence, as another ran up to the trio, his figure a dashing sight, resplendent in Cephiran armor. "Presea, the FTOs are ready to launch. Conventional forces are also ready for deployment." Zazu brushed the black hair out of his eyes; like Ascot before him, he’d benefited from enhanced growth; the adult that strode beside them was not the child of old. "Presea, I tell you, I don’t like the idea of using the FTOs. We have so few of them and it takes a looonnngggg time to build new ones. If these guys are--"

She cut him off with a piercing glance. "NO. Get those units airborne, and wait at the outskirts of Hiace. My cavalry will join you there." She softened her gaze, adding, "I know that the Cephiran military is more magic based and less tech-based than the old Autozam forces, but until we find a way to compromise building tech without doing environmental damage to Cephiro, you’ll have to live with what we’ve got."

"I understand. Don’t worry, we’ll get them back." Showing his pearly whites in that lop-sided grin, he saluted haphazardly and took off towards his mech. A short flight would get him to the newly-renamed ARK CEPHIRO, the space cruiser that was once the flagship of Autozam’s military operations.

"He certainly is still impetuous," Fuu said, as she watched the pilot race into the distance. "I just hope he’s right. Stars, if Ferio is killed, not to mention LaFarga and Cabrio...." She shook her head, fighting back tears, trying to maintain some sense of calm before she snapped. "Presea, you’re the military expert, but is a full assault on Hiace the answer? I think we're at a disadvantage without having a full accounting of the situation!"

Presea fought back tears as her face went into a cold, dispassionate beauty; the Wind Knight could see that she’d spent hours worrying about this decision. " of the kingdom is paramount. We have to stop whatever’s out there. If these people are as powerful as the messenger said, we have a battle on our hands." For a second, she looked as though she were about to cry. Then the moment was gone, and General Presea had returned, Cephiro’s Ice Shieldmaiden. "Excuse me, my friends; I have a war to run, just as you have a kingdom to lead in this crisis. Lady Caldina, Your Highness," she said in a stiff formal manner to Caldina and Fuu, respectively, "I shall talk to you two later." With that, she turned and strode away purposefully; in truth, it was so that they wouldn’t see her tears. She had to be strong, for Cabrio, for Caldina, for Fuu, for her friends, and for her world. She couldn't fail them. She couldn’t afford to.

Once Presea strode away, Caldina turned to Fuu. "Call her."

Fuu said softly but firmly, "No. We can handle this on our own. I won't put Hikaru through the emotional stress that bringing her here will give her. Besides, it's been years. We've no idea if she's still alive."

"She is, and you know it," Caldina countered. "She's the Pillar. We would have known if she died. In fact, considering how the land's doing, I would say it's due to the fact that all is going well in her life at the moment."

"There is no more Pillar. She abolished it, remember?" 

"Fuu, you know as well as I do that the people have rejected that power.  That power is not theirs, and they know it.  They know it belongs to their Pillar, their Goddess, and the fact that she was willing to give up her very power to ensure their happiness pretty much made them certain that the right person was granted that power this time.  The people have spoken."

Fuu’s face took on a sorrowful look. "You remember when Umi came back to stay? When she told Lantis and all of us about her pregnancy? And then there’s her daughter, six months after she told us. I love that child as much as I do my children, but she would be a living reminder to Hikaru of what went wrong in her relationships with Umi and Lantis." She looked at Caldina sadly. "Furthermore, I don't think that even she--"

"SHE can. She is the Pillar," Caldina interrupted, not caring about the breach in protocol. "The Pillar can do whatever she damn well pleases. Hikaru is the Pillar, whether she likes it or not. It is she who should rule, not Ferio, since she is the true soul of Cephiro. This is her responsibility, whether she likes it or not." She calmed down and said, "Don’t get me wrong. Ferio’s a very good ruler, and I’m not advocating anything rash or insane. What I’m saying, is that in the end, Cephiro is not something Hikaru can walk away from. Whether she says the people are the Pillar now, as much as she can deny it, she is the One True Pillar, the True Soul of Cephiro. She cannot walk away."

Fuu sighed in resignation. This was something that she did not want to do, but there was no choice in the matter at all. "I suppose you are right. Let me go to the tower and ask Clef to send the summoning signal," she said with a heavy heart, as the queen moved to the spiral staircase that would lead to the summoning tower. "I hope you're right about this, Caldina. Just as Umi is, Hikaru's my best friend, and I would do anything to spare them the pain of what's come between them. I just wish there was another way." Nothing more to say, Fuu continued on her journey to Clef's chambers at the top of the spire.

As Caldina watched Fuu walk away, she felt shamed that she'd driven her close friend and sovereign to this. Sure, this was to protect her husband and friends, but in doing so, she was risking hurting sweet Hikaru, a person who deserved nothing but happiness. And the illusionist could swear that somehow, when the queen completed her conversation with him, the 700-plus year old Guru would be feeling every year of his age.


There was a knock at the door. "Guru? May I come in?"

The guru answered. "Of course you may, Your Highness. This is, after all, your palace. Until, of course, that vile phenomenon you Terrans call a 'tax audit'."

Fuu smiled at his humor; he always knew when to cheer her up. "The tax forms are black magic in and of themselves, and the Ministry of Finance has always been a dark coven, assuredly." She moved into the room, and he bade her sit. "But that's not why I came up here, my old friend."

Clef smiled with his eternal smile. "I know why you’re up here, Fuu. And I understand that you want to spare her the pain of seeing Lantis and Umi married, and with a daughter."

"So much has changed here since the last time we were all together. We all have children now, and we're certainly more powerful than we were when we were younger." She looked at him, her eyes pleading for some other alternative. "Surely, isn’t that enough to stop this threat? I’d spare Hikaru the pain if I could, and if there is any alternative, I’d like to explore that, first."

He didn't lie to her. "There is no alternative, Fuu. In this case, it is the Fire Knight, or perhaps even the Pillar herself that can stop this mess. However, I will make one concession to you."

"And that is?"

"If she is willing to come. The last few times, it was compulsory, and we pulled you back--although you traveled willingly, you would have arrived whether you wished to or not. She has the power to breach the dimensional gates herself, and so we no longer need to summon her. Simply sending a signal will suffice."

"It still makes me feel dirty, Clef," Fuu whispered. "I feel like I'm damning my best friends."

"You, Umi, and Hikaru are the Knights. You three were born for this; furthermore, Hikaru is especially critical since she is Knight Commander. Furthermore and even more important, Hikaru is the last Pillar. Although there will be no other, it is still her willpower that fuels the core of this world. In the end, Hikaru must return to Cephiro. But I will make the signal optional."

Fuu said, "Thank you." At his nod, she left the room, with a possibly heavier heart than the one she'd entered in. She knew that Hikaru, personal feelings aside, would come when innocents were at risk. But she truly feared what the results of seeing how things had changed and what effects that would have on the Knight Commander. At best, Hikaru would be heartbroken. At worst.... Fuu shook her head at that. It was too uncomfortable to consider.

Disturbed by the whole mess, Fuu returned to the lower parts of the palace. She had to meet Lantis and the others in the war room. The fact that she wore her Wind Knight clothing signified her hint that Cephiro was at war. Now it was time to declare it for real.


An hour later, a blast of energy tore into the nighttime sky, destination unknown. The beam, pulsing every so often, changed hues from red, to blue, to green and back again. Additionally, the beam seemed to change appearance every now and then: from a blast of energy, to a bolt of fire, to a column of water, to a tight hurricane, and back. The beam continued on its path, seeming not so much to transcend for another world, but more as if it were trying to break the dimensional barrier.

From a location in the Forest of Dominion, south of Hiace, Daimler and Passat watched the beam streak on into the indigo-blue air. "I don’t like the look of that," Passat snarled. "It could be a distress signal to their allies on the other two worlds."

"Doubtful. They have no idea what is happening here, and by the time they do it will be too late. We will be in power, and entrenched. They will have to fight us and lose, or deal with us."

"Still, it could be worse...and could get worse if we don’t do something about that message," the woman warned. "It could be nothing, but it’s better to cover our backs, than to have to worry about what it could be, correct?" She leaned on his shoulder. "I personally would rather have a small decorative blast of energy nullified than to have a plea for help slip through."

Jetta frowned. "Of course, there is one other answer: they are calling the Pillar from her haven." Everyone stared at her in disgust. The old wives' tales of the land were obviously having a pathetic effect on the young woman. Turning to her comrades, she added, "Why else would they send such an elegant looking beam of power? It's certainly no weapons system."

Daimler grunted. Regardless of what the beam meant, Passat was correct; the problem had to be eliminated, and soon. Even if it was not a problem, to take a chance with that would be risky, at least; the need to lessen the chance of Cephiro receiving allied support was tantamount. His eyes scanned the beam as it continued to streak its way into the nocturne darkness. If he didn’t act soon, the chance to stop the beam would be lost, and the possibility for furthered conflict could be inevitable. He continued to look at the sky, seeking some kind of sign.

Epiphany struck him when his eyes descended on one of the crystalline sky-islands. Airborne mountains of dirt and quartz, these floating behemoths usually did nothing, save migrate with the clouds in the sky, a more solid addition to the cirrus and cumulus structure in the blue sky of this world. At night, they glowed with a barely ambient light, residue from the billions of shafts of starlight that constantly bombarded them. Tonight, they would serve a purpose.

He closed his eyes, raised his hand towards the sky, and began to concentrate. Abruptly, his hand began to emanate a green aura of eldritch power, the mystical energies swirling and dancing in eddies and vortices around his hand. He opened his eyes, and in those mirrors of the soul, the same effect could be seen. He felt nothing happening, no motion or effect; he poured more power into his spell, and the results showed as his body became bathed in the same eerie luminescence.

Thousands of feet above, one of the islands began to move. Not the biggest or the widest, but the one that made the most sense: a small island, nearly one of the smallest, the one with the clearest crystal. The island began to glow with a faint hue of the same magic color, and began to move in a direction not normally associated with Cephiro’s natural wind patterns.

At the last second, the crystal moved into the path of the beam, neatly intercepting the beam. The prismatic nature of the mountainous shard began to glow, absorbing the light beam and its arcane sub energies. The beam’s energy slowly began to overload the matrix of the stone, and within minutes, the floating island began to produce ambient energy bleed as the crystal began to overload. In the end, the beam was absorbed by the floating crystal island, which now resembled a miniature sun. The crystal appeared to have expanded to twice its size...

...then it exploded in a shower of sparks, crystal, and motes of light, as the remnants of the beam split into two thinner (and presumably, weaker) shafts of light. One stopped a few meters more from where the crystal island had been before dissipating in a ripple-like effect. The second beam went off in another direction before also stopping in a burst of light similar to a fireworks display. As for the blasted remains of the crystal island, the burnt and blasted hulk, its magical crystal gone, began to fall like a slow moving meteor towards the ground below. If it kept to its present trajectory, Daimler noted, it would impact against one of the coastal towns, creating a huge crater; there was little hope that the villagers would be able to clear out of the blast radius in time.

Oh well, if one wishes to make an omelet....

With the surety that the beams had been nullified, Daimler and Jetta returned to their campsite. Tomorrow, the bulk of the army of Cephiro would be moving on the town of Hiace. Once they discovered that it was a ghost town, they’d begin to return to the palace--and walk right into a major trap. Daimler smiled; he already had his forces well in hand, but he wanted to make sure that no one could impede his chances of victory.

He turned to Jetta and Passat. "Ladies, the beam has been weakened, and I doubt it will reach its intended destination. However, just to be on the safe side, I will arrange for Citroen to follow that beam and see where it ends. This might prove...interesting, and may turn out to be to our advantage." With a gleam in his eye, he felt that it was time to consult his personal mentor. He headed back to his personal tent, and the restricted area which lay within. It was time to consult the oracle, and see what advice could be gleaned from The Leader.

Part Two: Girl Talk and Pillow Conversations
Duet Index

I’d like to thank my pre-readers for assisting me with the mess that this has been, and for steering me away from a massive disaster, in some cases. I hope that you’ve all enjoyed this, and are looking forward to the next part!