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~ Even Under the Wrong Circumstances ~

"We are going to Cephiro."

Those five words dumbstruck Geo and Zazu.

"What?"

Eagle had neither a smile on his face nor a remorseful gleam in his eyes. Geo could not pinpoint what emotion Eagle was conveying in his speech, but there was something there. Something that Geo wasn't sure he has ever heard out of his best friend. Something that Geo felt he would hear more of in the next few... days? Weeks? Months? Possibly years?

"We are going to Cephiro," Eagle repeated. "We're going to obtain the Pillar System."

"WHAT?!"

Visiting Cephiro after the barrier vanished, after Princess Emeraude died, had been an absurd idea. Everybody could only imagine what he would meet when he arrived to that hell of a fantasy world. Rocketing rocks hurtling who-knows-where, tremendous tsunamis, colossal demons beating at anything that stirred--just about the worst nightmares he often dreamt about as a child. Geo never thought twice about what Lantis would encounter upon his return, but he knew that Lantis could take care of himself better than most men could.

But trying to get the Pillar for themselves? Now that was one ridiculous and enigmatic plan.

"It may be our key to curing our pollution problem," said Eagle. Now he had a smile. He was covering up something he wanted neither Geo nor Zazu to notice, but Geo knew Eagle all too well. There was something wrong. "My father has agreed to allow the NSX and its crew members to accompany us. That is, if you want to come along."

Zazu asked the first question and the only question he needed to ask to determine whether or not he would go.

"Are you taking the FTO?"

Geo chuckled. Eagle giggled.

"Yes, and the GTO, too," said Eagle.

"ALL RIGHT! I'm in!"

Geo burst into laughter. "I doubt you'd be able to do some mechanical work on it, though," he said.

"Who knows?" Zazu pouted. "We might run into the Magic Knights while we're there."

"And if we do," said Geo, "you will take care of the GTO, too, won't you?"

"Why should I? It's not as cool as the FTO."

"Hey now! You're closing in on dangerous territory there!"

"So, you're in, Geo?" asked Eagle. He always found the right time to intrude on Geo's and Zazu's teasing.

Geo looked at Eagle, searching for something that would be able to convince him otherwise. Going to Cephiro? No, they had to be invading Cephiro if they were bringing along two of the best fighter mecha in Autozam. He would have understood the normal, soldier mecha. Those were required for most missions anywhere as a safety precaution. But the FTO and the GTO? Custom made fighter mecha? Eagle was intending to battle the people of Cephiro?

He was going to betray Lantis?

But Geo found nothing that could possibly turn him away. He sought and found only curiosity in Eagle's eyes--perhaps a touch of plead. Eagle wanted Geo to come along as well.

Geo sighed. "Why not? Somebody has to keep you out of trouble."

"I'm glad," said Eagle, a bright smile on his face. "We leave tomorrow at noon."

"Great!" exclaimed Zazu. "I'll need to tell my folks. I'll see you then!"

Zazu jogged down the nearby corridors. Geo lingered. Did Eagle really want to go through with this invasion?

"Eagle."

"Yes?"

Geo stared at him for a moment, again trying to catch anything--anything at all--that would answer his question without having to answer it. But Geo saw nothing. He had to ask.

"Does Lantis know?"

Eagle shook his head.

"Is this all right? Invading Cephiro?" asked Geo. "Cephiro, of all places?"

"It is the only country with the Pillar System," said Eagle, a grin still plastered on his face. Geo could not detect a single strand of guilt in his voice.

"Ea--" Geo began. He shook his head and sighed. "Never mind."

Eagle was going to betray Lantis? Geo refused to believe it. Of course he had always been jealous of the friendship that the two shared--Geo felt like he had been booted second place once Eagle began spending more time with Lantis than him--but that didn't mean he had to consent with this treachery. After all, he and Lantis had been friends, too.

But, in a way, Geo did believe in the betrayal.

He decided to go along with the invasion. He was just as much of a traitor to Lantis as Eagle.

Geo hoped that it was neither envy nor vengeance that was the cause of his agreement. It was because Eagle wanted him to go. Right?

Right.

***

It was getting more and more cramped in Chizeta by the day. Even with the law passed many years ago to limit each family to two children--the royal family decided to be no exception--there was no ruling to stop the growing demand of farmland and factories for the expanding population.

Everyday Tatra went into the nearby marketplace to see how the citizens of Chizeta were doing.

Everyday Tatra heard complaints about the rich booting the poor off their lands to build great mansions.

Everyday Tatra heard rumors spreading that the rich thought they were too good for the laws of Chizeta--or too clever, for that matter--and married, had two kids, divorced, remarried, and had two more kids.

Everyday Tatra heard protestors about many different things: enforcing the laws more properly, changing the laws so that there were only one child per household, exiling the criminals and thieves to Fahren or Autozam and destroying the prisons (there was even one party who demanded that all criminals and thieves were to be put to death no matter how small the offense), banning immigrants and tourists from Chizeta altogether, lessening the taxes for the poor and raising the taxes for the rich, and so much more.

And everyday, Tatra would report this to her parents.

Her mother and father, the rulers of Chizeta, were concerned about their people like all good rulers should. In the society of Chizeta, the two main concerns were the bitterness between the rich and poor and the overpopulation. Always, Tatra's mother and father would try their absolute best to meet the demands of the people of Chizeta as reasonably as possible.

Tarta always tried to come up ideas every night. She was only a princess, and the younger one, at that, so Tarta could only make suggestions. Their mother and father always listened, but they never followed through, which made Tarta angry but only the more determined to find a different approach to things.

Tatra pitied her younger sister. She always tried so hard to please their mother and father.

But today, when Tatra came home from visiting the marketplace, she found that Tarta had finally done something that their parents were very willing to do.

"Tatra, darling!" cried their mother. "Your sister has come up with a wonderful idea! It might just work, too!"

"Your little sister," said their father, "has proposed becoming Pillar of Cephiro."

"Pillar?"

Tarta was at the foot of the steps in the throne room, but she faced Tatra with a grin on her face that would have fit all of the citizens of Chizeta and Autozam. Possibly Fahren and Cephiro as well, since both of those countries had fairly tiny populaces.

"I have just found out that the Pillar of Cephiro has died," said Tarta. "Anybody with a strong enough heart can become Pillar if they desire. And the Pillar can do anything. We just have to get there first."

Tatra smiled. It was a rather good idea. "That's brilliant, Tarta!" she said as she clapped her hands together. "I'm sure we can do it! I'll go with you!"

"Go... with... me?"

"Well," said Tatra, "I can't just let you go alone! And I think you have a stronger heart than anybody else in Chizeta."

"I oppose," said their father. "Tarta will go, yes, but Tatra, you will remain in Chizeta. I cannot allow both of my daughters, my only two children, to face that sort of danger."

"Danger?"

"Flying debris of the land breaking up, possible opposition of the people of Cephiro--they are powerful magic wielders, you know--and having to face the other two countries invading," he said.

"The other two countries?" asked Tatra. She held her smile, though her mind threw itself into turmoil. "You mean Fahren and Autozam?"

"Those are the only other two known countries."

"In that case," said Tatra, "I should go with Tarta. We could always use the Djinn if times get rough, right, Tarta?"

Tarta nodded. "Please don't worry about us, Father," she said. "As long as we have Rakun and Rashin, we won't be in any danger."

He stared at Tatra and Tarta intently. After a moment or so, he glanced at their mother, who only nodded.

"Very well," he answered. "You will leave tomorrow at sunrise. Please come home safely, my daughters."

Tatra and Tarta bowed. "Thank you, Father."

As the two sisters left the throne room, Tatra came to a solemn decision. Autozam was going to invade Cephiro as well. She couldn't blame them. They needed to lest the pollution killed everybody in the country. If her boyfriend--it almost didn't sound right, "boyfriend"--was not part of that particular crew, there would be nothing at all to worry about. But if he was, then Tatra knew that in the end, she would have no choice but to battle him.

Unfortunately, with him being close friends with the son of the president, who would be most likely to lead the invasion, it was almost inevitable that she would have to fight against him.

But she made a promise. She was going to make sure that her little sister Tarta was going to be safe. She was going to be safe, happy, and Pillar of Cephiro.

Tatra really wanted nothing more than that.

***

Making the road wasn't as hard as Geo, Eagle, or Zazu thought it would be. Eagle was through in less than an hour, and the three could enjoy the trip to Cephiro.

At least, they enjoyed it as much as they possibly could enjoy it. Eagle was always in his room sleeping when there was no business to attend to on the bridge of the NSX, so Geo and Zazu often kept each other company. Sometimes, though, Geo and Zazu would go do their own thing. Geo never did find out what Zazu did in his spare time, but Geo found himself going about it two ways: talking to the other crew members aboard the NSX or thinking.

Geo felt that he was given just a little too much time to think.

What would Lantis think, if he saw them? When he saw them, for that matter? After all, where else could Lantis have gone? Cephiro was his homeland.

But of course, there was always Chizeta and Fahren he could have fled to.

Chizeta...

Geo was not ill-informed of the problems on Chizeta. He knew that the population was overflowing. Even with all the laws the royal family passed to reduce the problem, a famine was on the verge of occurring. The rich were knocking the poor out, and the poor provided the food for the people. It was imperative that more land had to be found.

Chizeta would probably try to become Pillar as well to gain this land.

But who from Chizeta? That was the question. Who in Chizeta had the strongest heart to be eligible to become the Pillar?

Princess Tarta, Tatra's younger sister? She always did talk about how strong-willed Tarta was whenever Geo visited Chizeta.

Geo sighed. His answers would come in his mail, he was certain of that. The night before he left Autozam, he sent a letter to Tatra telling her where he was going to be indefinitely. Surely she must have responded by now, right? It had been three days, and Tatra normally took no longer than two days to get a letter through.

With the differences between Autozam and Chizeta, it would be difficult to get a letter through. Geo did it electronically. Tatra handwrote hers. But with the help of Zazu, Geo managed to get a portable computer in the palace of Chizeta. All Tatra had to do was learn to type after Zazu taught her how to use the computer.

Before Geo could check to see if Tatra had indeed responded back yet, Eagle walked on the bridge and asked, "How much longer before we reach Cephiro?"

"About two more days," said Geo. He had the answer ready for whenever somebody asked. Somebody always asked at least three times a day.

"Two days?"

Geo nodded. He swiveled his chair around to face Eagle, who was looking out the large windows gravely. It irked Geo terribly. Was Eagle regretting the invasion? If so, why didn't he just turn back? But what if Lantis had done something to Eagle before he left Autozam?

If he had, Geo would make the NSX move faster. It wouldn't be treachery, it would be revenge.

But what if it wasn't?

"Eagle," said Geo. Eagle looked at him, the innocence flooding back into his eyes. Geo sighed. "Why, exactly, are we invading Cephiro?"

Eagle smiled. "To get the Pillar System, of course."

"I know that, but why?"

"To cure Autozam's pollution," said Eagle with a small laugh. "What's wrong, Geo?"

Geo almost strangled Eagle at that point. Did invading Lantis's country mean nothing to him?

"Eagle..."

"GEO!"

Eagle and Geo turned at the sound of Zazu's voice. He ran down the corridors and the bridge and stopped in front of the two. His frantic howling ceased at the moment he looked at Eagle.

"Um, you're awake, Eagle?" asked Zazu, laughing uncertainly. "I didn't know..."

"What's wrong, Zazu?"

"Um... well, I just found out from one of the computers," said Zazu, "that Chizeta and Fahren have just created roads to Cephiro as well."

Geo shook his head. Figured as much. "Looks like we have a bit of competition, then," he said.

"I'm not surprised," said Eagle. "After all, who wouldn't be after the Pillar? That's why Father let us use the NSX."

Eagle stared back out the window, his unfamiliar sober features returning. Geo glanced at Zazu, who looked at him with an identical expression that was in Geo's heart.

Zazu probably knew, too, that Eagle was hiding something from them.

Or maybe he didn't. Maybe he only thought that Eagle had no choice but to obey his father's wishes and go along with the invasion. If so, Geo planned to keep it that way. No need to worry the poor kid.

But later, Geo found that Zazu was looking at Geo the way he was because he knew how Geo must have felt about Chizeta moving in for invading Cephiro. It wasn't until later that night did Geo find out that Tatra, with her sister, was leading it.

Geo was going to have to, eventually, fight Tatra, the one person he wished to never quarrel in any form with.

He loved her too much to do that.

But he had to keep Eagle out of trouble. That was why he came along, anyway.

***

........