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~ Chapter Four ~

As Umi was running through the corridors, she questioned whether she should first go to Eagle's room or if she should check the courtyard to make sure the NSX hadn't departed yet. It wasn't a situation that wouldn't matter if they had already left or not; Umi was unsure if Selece would come if she called, and she refused to take that chance. Of course, if Geo and the others had left for Autozam already, perhaps she could ask Lantis to stop them or protect them.

Whichever was more convenient.

What's worse, though, was that she didn't even know where Lantis was.

She hated these types of dilemmas.

"Somebody's leaving this world?!"

"It's a perfect target for Eirei--he'll know that you're trying to evacuate the strongest people and attack right there on the spot! Even if you weren't, he'd still do it! He is just as merciless as we are, maybe even more so!"

Geo, I know I said take Eagle home "as soon as possible", but please, just don't! Not yet, not until we know exactly what to do, she thought, closing her eyes, finally deciding her destination. If I had known as much as I know now before I asked you to leave, I wouldn't have-

Umi's palm found the intricately carved handle of the door and shoved it down, the door flying open. Relieved, seeing the forms of Eagle in bed and Geo standing next to them, she shouted frantically. "You can't leave yet!"

However, her panic had blinded her sight of two other figures in the room, and Umi's hand covered her mouth once she took notice of Zazu and the younger brother of Zagato.

Oh no.

"Umi-san?" Zazu widened his eyes at her outburst.

Geo scowled in disgust and directed his eyes to the Eagle's supposedly sleeping body. "Eagle, don't tell me you got Umi into persuading you to stay. You know it's too dangerous for you to stay here."

Eagle's giggle ran through Umi's mind. "I haven't spoken to Umi for the last couple of days. You know that, Geo."

"Geo, it may be dangerous for Eagle to be staying here, and he may be safer in Autozam, but he won't be safe in the NSX!" Umi explained, placing a hand on Geo's shoulder so that he would look at her. "The Guardian of Nature is watching Cephiro, and he'll know that we're trying to evacuate the strongest people! He's going to destroy the NSX if you head back to Autozam!"

Geo narrowed his eyes. "What?"

Lantis shifted his relaxed form to a tenser one--one that Umi remembered seeing when she first met him. Zazu had a batch of confusion and worry in his voice when he asked, "How do you know?"

Umi sighed, knowing from the beginning that it would have to come to this. Though, she hadn't promised Chikari anything, right? "I just had a visit from Hi no Gogyou--Hikaru's older brother..."

***

Fuu Hououji could appreciate each month for its unique weather. January's snow gave Tokyo a mystical feel to the normally smoggy atmosphere. February brought along skiing fever, lessening the crowd in downtown Tokyo by two percent. March got rid of the tiresome snow and in its place rain fell, but a little rain never hurt anybody. In fact, at times, it was quite refreshing. April had a nice mix of tiny showers and bright sunshine, whereas May and June shared increasingly warm weather. July and August had the warmest seasons of the entire year and was perfect hiking weather. September began the coloration of the leaves, and October finished the coloration. November allowed the leaves to fall delicately.

December was the beginning of January's winter and brought forth a enjoyable frosty wind.

It was Christmas season.

Always, around this time of year, Fuu would make her way to the Koubutsu Shrine, which was famous in her area for promising good fortune in the future. When she was younger, she would pray for the health of her family and friends. After the trip to Cephiro and the "Legendary Battle", she found it difficult to do so--after all, Princess Emeraude had to do the same, but for everybody in Cephiro, not just her family or her lover.

However, after the Pillar System had been abolished by Hikaru, Fuu found her love for the beautiful nature of the Koubutsu Shrine once again and began praying once again for the well-being of her family and friends and the hope one day that she and Ferio would never have to separate again.

After tossing a coin into the box in the front of the shrine, Fuu softly clapped her hands twice and closed her eyes. Bowing her head, she began praying.

Prayers never took anymore than a couple minutes for Fuu--picking up her purse, she stood and began walking to the small shop when she caught notice of a familiar man with a mop of brunette hair strolling out of the side of the temple.

"Ah! Fuu-san! Haven't seen you since graduation!" he called, leaning his crossed arms on the wooden railing in front of her.

"Good afternoon, Tsuyoshi-san," Fuu answered back to her old classmate. "I didn't know you worked here."

Tsuyoshi Kazeo, the good-natured boy he was, laughed blissfully. "Oh, no, I have an acquaintance who happens to be the priestess--I just came to visit her guardian."

He looked around the grounds of the shrine quickly, and then pushed his body up in the air using the wooden rails and swung his legs over. "You know you shouldn't do that, Tsuyoshi-san," Fuu pointed out, glancing behind her to make sure no one had seen.

"Oh, it's fine," Tsuyoshi waved his hands as Fuu directed her attention back to him. "Aibara-san knows I do it all the time--though he's never happy about it."

"Precisely my point."

"Oi, although you've matured from a cute girl to a beautiful one, I must say that you haven't changed a bit from what I remember!" Tsuyoshi laughed again, Fuu's cheeks tinting pinkish. "So, you still come around here to pray, don't you?"

"Yes," the blush from Fuu's face disappeared. She was never used to compliments about her appearance; although Ferio was much better looking than Tsuyoshi, the cheerful man was indeed handsome himself.

"Good fortune for the family, I assume," Tsuyoshi smiled boyishly, standing next to Fuu while observing the shrine, as if it was his first time setting his eyes on it. "You know, there's a bit of a legend behind the Koubutsu Shrine."

"The life force of the universe rests under the grounds of the temple," Fuu commented, intrigued to hear what Tsuyoshi knew about the legend. After all, mythology had always been his favorite subject, and he always had deep insights to these sorts of things.

Tsuyoshi nodded. "Ever wonder how it got there? The legend states a theory: the one who fathers generations of the defenders of the shrine was the first priest of the Koubutsu Shrine, well over two hundred years ago.

"He had two children: a daughter and a son. The son tried to kill his father because he believed that his father was evil. His daughter, however, believed that he was like a saint. The two children battled each other until, eventually, their father passed away.

"Even so, they still continued to fight, for they knew that although their father was dead, his spirit still rested within him--they were fighting over whether or not to destroy his body and his spirit. Soon, the daughter gave birth to twins. This was the same year in which she killed her brother the second he put the killing blow to her.

"The two twins lived with their father in the Koubutsu Shrine and buried all three of the bodies in the basement of the Koubutsu Shrine. The father knew that there will followers of the brother to obliterate the bodies, so he was the inside defender while the two twins trained to prevent those followers from reaching their father. The twins gave birth to children themselves, and when their father died, the roles switched. It has been like that ever since.

"The outer defenders soon became distant, but they were always reunited whenever somebody threatened the three bodies--the life force of the universe," Tsuyoshi concluded.

Fuu grinned and looked at Tsuyoshi, predicting what was next. "And when people pray to the Koubutsu Shrine with a good heart, they are, for sure, going to get the wish that they asked for."

"Good fortune," Tsuyoshi confirmed solemnly, "is something that is always promised by the spirits of the three: Dimension, Time, and Nature."

Fuu's smile faded as she studied Tsuyoshi's face. Never during her junior high and high school years has she known Tsuyoshi to lose his cheerfulness--not even when he declared that the teachers were being unfair. Tsuyoshi seemed regretful in a way that Fuu could not understand. Could he be thinking of the legend as the same thing that she once  thought of Cephiro's legend of the Magic Knights?

"How do you feel about this myth, Tsuyoshi-san?"

"The legend never did state that it was over," Tsuyoshi replied, beaming once again as he looked at Fuu. "Don't you ever wonder what's going on now to conclude it? Well," he huffed, glancing up at the gray sky, "it's getting kind of late. I'd best head over to the train station so I can get home before it gets dark. Take care, Fuu-san!"

Fuu watched as her old classmate strolled down the dirt path to the street curiously. Why did he avoid answering my question? she thought sorrowfully, observing the shrine once more before heading to the shrine's tiny shop with the legend replaying in her heart.

***

Chikari started walking back to the corner where Kakeru was waiting, sighing a breath of relief.

"She's not going to tell anybody else," she reported, glancing back over her shoulder, "and neither are the others."

Kakeru didn't bother to ask how she knew; Chikari had her ways, and he was going to leave it at that. "So, Chikari, what are we going to do?" he queried, not moving from his lounged position on the wall.

"Well, we could find someplace to eat-"

"I don't mean that," he said. "I mean, are we going to stay here in Cephiro? Or are we going to return home and arrange for Terashi-san to automatically send us to Cephiro whenever there's trouble?"

Chikari's eyes widened in disgust. "We're going to stay here, of course! And if we have it arranged that way, what if Eirei decides to attack during the least convenient time? And by that, I mean using the bathroom, taking a shower, eating..."

"Okay, okay," Kakeru sighed. "Where are we going to stay, though?"

"Let's try a nearby village. We look foreign enough to be accepted."

Kakeru rolled his eyes, knowing what was coming next. "Oh, hell."

***

Eagle smiled inwardly as he heard the two Gogyou walk away down the hall. While Umi had been telling the tale of her meeting with the two newcomers, Eagle had kept a close eye on the Gogyou conversation. Apparently, the one who was Umi's friend, Chikari, had asked the Knight to promise to not tell anybody. After listening to Umi describing the situation and Chikari's worrisome questions to Hikaru's older brother, Eagle realized how important that promise was to her.

Therefore, he had sent Chikari a mental message that he would make sure that Umi would not tell anybody; if she would not promise her, then he would make Umi promise him.

It was really simpler than it sounded.

"Umi, I think it would be best not to worry Clef further with this new information," Eagle "spoke", keeping a cool atmosphere to his comatose state.

"What?" she exclaimed, jumping up from whatever it was she was sitting on. "I think that if we don't tell him, that's exactly what he'd do: worry some more! Everybody else, too!"

"This is too complicated," Eagle continued. "Even we have questions--you, too, Umi. We don't know the whole story yet."

"I don't see what's else more to find out," Geo said from the edge of Eagle's bed, where he had taken his seat when Umi began the report. "It's as simple as this: the Larenim is the core of the universe. Eirei, the Guardian of Nature, the guy we--you, Umi, was fighting earlier, wants to get rid of the Larenim by killing off everybody, starting with the strongest because it's too old to hold a stability level. The Gogyou are just trying to stop him. The only thing we don't know is what they don't know."

"We're not even supposed to be fighting," Zazu piped up. "This is only between Eirei and the two Gogyou--the Gogyou just want to protect the strong."

"As opposed to protecting the weak like we were taught," muttered Geo. "Are those two even reliable?"

Eagle giggled. "See? You have questions as well. Umi--no, everybody: until we know everything that is going on, you don't tell anybody what's happening. We don't even know why the Guardian of Nature doesn't just seek out the core and destroy it there, and why he is attacking Cephiro and only Cephiro."

"Even so," Umi said, "when Eirei comes again... I'll need to talk to him."

"Isn't he trying to kill you?" asked Geo.

"It's too dangerous," Zazu agreed. "When someone is trying to kill somebody, "negotiations" don't exactly turn out well."

Eagle could tell that Geo rolled his eyes when he said, "Oh, don't remind me."

"It'll be fine!" Umi protested cheerfully. "Besides, Chikari and Kakeru, if they are really loyal to their duty, would be there, and they are here to protect who Eirei thinks is the strongest: me. Maybe it'd be better if Eirei keeps believing that."

There was a brief moment of silence, and Eagle could only imagine what could be going on during this time. He knew that silently, everybody was reluctantly agreeing with her. Eagle felt a little guilty; he and Clef were really the strongest in Cephiro, and it wasn't fair that Umi was being drawn into this. But Eagle could not defend himself yet--not until he found the strength to finally open his eyes and walk, and Chikari didn't want Umi telling anybody, so Clef could not know. In this case, he was helpless as well.

"I think it might be better if, when Eirei comes again, Lantis goes with you," Eagle suggested. "After all, a Guardian of Nature probably wouldn't be brought down by even Autozam's technology," he could feel that Geo and Zazu were ready to object, and Eagle didn't blame them, "so magic might be the best course to follow."

"No, it's okay!"

"Eagle's right," Lantis finally said. "It would be too dangerous for you to go by yourself, even if those two Gogyou are there. You don't even know if you can get your Mashin to help."

"But if you come, Eirei would think-"

"It'll be fine," Eagle assured the Knight. "You don't have to worry about Lantis as much as you should yourself."

Umi sighed in defeat. "I guess I have no choice, then."

"Say, how will you know when Eirei comes?" Zazu asked. "And do you have any clue when he could attack next?"

Geo exhaled loudly. "Do you remember that earthquake earlier today, Zazu? I think that's around the time that Eirei shows up--I think the earthquakes may be a signal that he's arrived."

"Or it could be some sort of conspiracy that the earthquakes are really the Larenim's attacks on Cephiro," Umi suggested, "and Eirei shows up before it occurs. Geo, it wasn't until a few seconds after I felt the earthquake that you came to tell me that he came-"

"The earthquake could come in a form of a shockwave."

"If what you're saying is true, Umi-san, then that would mean that Eirei has some sort of a connection to the Larenim," Zazu cut in. "That doesn't really make sense, if you come to think about it."

"It only happened once," Lantis pointed out solemnly. "Don't jump to conclusions until it's happened a second time."

As if the tremors had ears of their own, there was an ear-splitting sound. The room trembled violently, and Eagle frowned. He had been safe on his bed, but he wasn't sure how the others took it. If he could, he would have sighed in relief when he heard Geo scold Umi:

"You ought to be more careful."

"What? As if I had a choice who I was to be thrown on? Sheesh!"

"If you weren't standing-"

"How was I supposed to know..."

Eagle couldn't help but to laugh as Zazu stepped in to play referee; however, he did not laugh "out loud"; he kept it to himself. It wasn't until Lantis's voice reached into his ears that he took the quake seriously.

"That was the second one that happened today. Maybe the earthquakes are signs that the core of the universe is falling apart--much like the Pillar."

To spare the other three from anymore concern, Eagle directed his speech only into Lantis's head. "You changed your mind so quickly, Lantis? That's not like you."

"I only disbelieved that the earthquakes and the Guardian of Nature were connected. Ever since Umi told us about the instability of the core of the universe, I knew that the quake earlier today had to be a part of it."

"So, you don't think that Eirei is here?"

There was a flying flash of silence between the two before Eagle realized that Zazu had succeeded in quieting Geo and Umi--though, it shouldn't have been too difficult in the first place. As if the sub-commander had eavesdropped into their conversation, he said:

"Well, I guess we'd ought to check to make sure that he's here."

Chapter Five: Altercation
Chapter Listings

Disclaimer: Magic Knight Rayearth and its characters are not mine; they belong to the wonderful manga artists Clamp, Mixx Manga, and any others who may hold claims to the series. However, the story is mine, so please do not post this on other websites claiming it as your own. All elements in here that are not part of Magic Knight Rayearth are mine, so please, if by some odd reason you would like to use them, ask. Do not post this story anywhere without my permission.

Written in June, 2001 by Bearit at grinandbearit@iamnotboring.com.