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Topple the Lion Shrine

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Lantis padded quietly down the carpeted hall. He wasn’t exactly singing a jaunty tune but, with his hands in the pockets of the pants Hikaru lent him and with the shadow of a smile across his handsome features, he looked like the cat who had found — and eaten — all the cream. And why shouldn’t he? After the night before… well, it would put a spring in any man’s step.

He still couldn’t really believe that he was actually there. He was amazed with himself that he’d actually found the place. This huge city of Hikaru’s was truly vast, far larger than any town he’d ever seen in Cephiro. Larger even than most cities he’s visited in Autozam. When he thought on it, Tokyo and Autozam were similar enough; mechanized, gleaming giants. So, when he’d stepped out of the Tower and into the sunlight the previous afternoon, he hadn’t been quite as daunted as he’d first anticipated.

Quietly, Lantis peeked around the open door into Hikaru’s room. He could see her red hair in ragged tufts sticking out from her blankets. Her pillow was on the floor and one of her feet hung unceremoniously over the side of her bed. He suppressed a smile. She’d always been a rather haphazard sleeper.

But he was awake now and, however badly he wanted to, he didn’t disturb her slumber. He’d let her sleep for now.

Lantis continued down the hallway and stopped in the door. Here was the kitchen. Through the other door, he knew, was Hikaru’s living room. It was full of all of the strange gadgets this world had to offer. Curiosity would soon get the better of him, he knew that. Buttons would be pressed and knobs turned. He only hoped nothing bad would come of it.

Lantis realized, after staring at the strange device on the counter for quite some time — Hikaru would later tell him that it was called a “toaster” — that he was hungry. He looked around the kitchen. Where did Earthlings keep their food?

He settled with a few slices of bread from a loaf that’d he’d found wrapped in a colorful bag. The bread tasted very foreign to him, very unlike the fresh, earthy taste of the bread back home, but he chewed it thoughtfully and poked around for something to drink.

Yes, he was still rather in awe about actually being here. It was all thanks to Umi, really. He thanked his lucky stars for the blue-haired imp’s infrequent visits. Normally, he felt indifferent about Ryuuzaki Umi's presence, especially since Hikaru's departure, but, well... he was a desperate man, and this had been weighing heavily on him for quite some time. Yes. Truly, it was desperation. 

And it was all because he hadn’t laid eyes upon Hikaru in over five years.

 

~*~

There comes a point when you’re in a period of stagnation that you reach critical mass. Lantis had reached that point approximately twenty-four hours prior to arriving on Hikaru’s doorstep. Five years of going through the motions of Kailu, of training, training, training, of castle duties and killing the occasional monster, of stupid political dinners and political trips, of trying to ignore the edge of the black void that he was constantly in danger of falling into, a big red-haired, ruby-eyed void that had been screaming in the space between body and soul ever since she’d left him… Well, five years of that was enough to break even the strongest of men. It was certainly enough to break Lantis. Yes, Lantis was comfortable with admitting that he’d reached his breaking point.

He couldn’t go a single day longer looking Clef in the face, for every time he did, he struggled with the overwhelming urge to strangle the smaller man to death, to watch the light leave his eyes, while he pictured his former beloved’s tortured expression in his mind. Lantis couldn’t possibly imagine spending another second in that castle without her, forced to look upon Fuu and Ferio, like a mockery of what he once had with her, and he couldn’t bear to keep walking past entrance to the former Magic Knight wing of the castle (it was on the way to the training wing).

No. It simply could no longer be borne.

Anyway, the previous afternoon, the waiting had finally gotten to him. She hadn’t come back, nor given any indication that she was. Fuu and Umi were little help. They spoke to him but little of Hikaru’s disappearance. Now it was time. He was going to see her. If she wouldn’t come back to Cephiro, then he would cross the universe, cross the fabric between the worlds, just to see her face. Just to know that she was all right. He’d save his questioning for later, too. Ask why she’d left him, why she never even said a word about it before she disappeared and why she’d never helped to comfort them over their loss.

So, he tracked down Umi and forced her to help him. Upon later reflection, he found his actions rather distasteful, as forcing anybody to do anything was really not his style, but this was different. He threatened to tell Ascot that Umi had been cheating on him with Clef for years now. Reluctantly, the bluette acquiesced.

“Here,” she sighed, scribbling away on a sheet of parchment. “This is Hikaru’s address. Now just listen to what I say and don’t ask any questions.” She shoved the folded parchment in his hand. “When you teleport, you’ll be in the Tokyo Tower. It’s where we always go to cross into this world. Anyway, once you get there, you’ll have to leave the Tower and go down into the city. Now, just stand on the street outside and hold out your hand — no, just listen, I said not to ask any questions! Just hold up your hand and someone will come to pick you up. Give him this paper and he’ll bring you straight there…”

Her instructions naturally earned her the barrage of questions that she’d specifically asked him not to give her, but what could he do? What did he know of “cabs” and “streets” and “apartments?” She was patient with him, however, and for that he was grateful. He might not have liked the girl much, married in her old world and traveling back to theirs to hop into the beds of both Ascot and the Master Mage, but she’d helped him when he’d truly needed it. Perhaps that was the mettle of a true Magic Knight.

Lantis opened the door of suspicious-looking large, white box thing and leapt back in surprise. He groped the air where his sword should be. Cold air had blasted him in the face! What sorcery was this?

Inside, he saw what he’d been looking for; a jar of milk. Carefully, Lantis extended a finger into the box and felt the air. It did not harm him. He took the jar and gave the box one last suspicious look before shutting the door.

He sat on her couch and frowned at the furnishings. He didn’t belong there and felt it very strongly.

The man who’d greeted him at the street below the Tower was surly and hairy. He regarded Lantis with a grouchy look before taking the paper in his hand. “Yeah, I know the place,” he’d grumbled. “S’only a few miles from here. Get in, I’ll take you there.” He blinked at the Kail. “What, are you going to a con or something?”

Lantis remembered blushing and sliding into the backseat of the car without a word. Umi had warned him against wearing his usual robes and armor, but how could a warrior enter an unknown world unprepared? In his hand, he held some crumpled paper bills.

“Take this,” she’d said. “This is money. You’ll need to pay whoever brings you to Hikaru’s place.”

Lantis had surreptitiously slid his hand over the back of the front seat and let the bills fall to the driver’s side. He never said a word to him.

And when he finally got there, finally, after feeling like he’d been paraded around the city for hours, getting strange looks from passersby, watching tall, menacing buildings sweep past him and ignoring the gruff ramblings of the driver, he finally saw her face. It was comic really and he laughed, wishing he hadn’t, because it seemed rather inappropriate to laugh in such a situation, but…

Well, needless to say, they’d spent the long night together, wrapped in their own little world, and she hadn’t questioned him or asked him to leave. It was better than he could ever have imagined. Where had five years gone?

“Hey,” she said from the doorway. Lantis leapt from the couch, still clutching his glass of milk. He felt heat creep into his cheeks, as always happened whenever he laid eyes upon her, and nodded.

Hikaru rubbed her eyes and yawned. “Sorry I overslept. Hungry? I can make you some breakfast if you want.”

“Um,” he replied.

She smiled and sidled over to him, clad only in a flimsy little robe. “I don’t have much. I was actually about to go shopping before you got here, but, I can whip up something small.” She took his hand. “Come on.”

She spoke in her woman’s voice, a voice he hadn’t heard much of yet, and it thrilled him. He followed dumbly.

After all they’d done the night before, all the hours spent together, she still didn’t question him as to why. It surprised him, to say the least. Then again, he was rather glad she didn’t. How could he tell her that he’d blackmailed one of her closest friends in order to get here? Well, Umi might end up whining to Hikaru about it later anyway, once she returned to this world.

She slipped a delicate arm around his waist. Yes, even after all these years, she was still small and fragile.

“Sit down. I’ll start cooking.”

He took a stool and watched, fascinated, as Hikaru pulled strange devices from hidden cabinets and began to throw together his meal. He tapped the countertop with his worn, chewed fingernails. She hadn’t questioned him, so he wouldn’t press her, but he still wanted to know why.

He stared at her back, at the unruly hair that tumbled over her shoulders and felt great sadness.

Five years ago, Fuu and Ferio had been married. Their wedding had been lavish, at Fuu’s request, which had initially puzzled Lantis. He’d never pictured her as being a particularly extravagant girl. Indeed, he’d expected Umi to be that type.

It had been a beautiful day. “Don’t worry,” Hikaru’d told him excitedly. “I’ve been praying for great weather for ages now, so I’m sure it’ll be a wonderful day!”

Fuu's outdoor wedding hinged on that fact, so the young Pillar had been particularly worried all day, looking constantly up into the sky.

She’d asked him to be her “date” to the wedding that day. Of course he’d agreed. He’d loved her for years by then.

Before Fuu returned to Cephiro to be married, the three girls had remained in their world for several years to finish their schooling. Fuu refused to marry before she graduated, much to Ferio’s dismay. He’d heard that Umi married right out of high school. She returned to their world on the day of Fuu’s wedding with a bit of a belly. It would be the first of many children for her, all of whom would grow to look beautiful and haughty, just like her.

Apparently, she’d been pledged to a rich young man in her old world. Her parents had a hand in it, which she hated, as she’d reminded Lantis drunkenly that afternoon.

“But hey,” she shrugged, downing the rest of her champagne, “he makes a lot of money. I was used to being petted and spoilt at home. I wouldn’t have settled for any less in a husband!”

All Lantis could offer was a cold remark on her alcohol consumption while pregnant.

“Cephiro is a land of the will!” she shouted at him, champagne sloshing out of her glass and across his freshly-pressed shirt. “If I will my baby not to be hurt then it won’t be, all right?”

He paid the hellcat little mind that day, however. The previous week, Hikaru had reclaimed the title of Pillar. She, too, wanted to wait until she finished school in her old world so she could fully devote herself to the position. There had been a grand ceremony and Lantis had seen little of her since then. But, she was at the wedding, and in her simple yellow gown and crown jewels, she looked beautiful.

If only he’d known it would be his undoing, that day.

Loud clanging brought Lantis out of his daydream. He saw Hikaru crouched on the floor, pushing a veritable wall of pots back into a cabinet beneath her sink. She looked sheepish. “Heh, sorry. I’ve never been very good at being organized, so I kind of just throw them all in here. Man, this happens every time…” He watched her shove the pots back into the cabinet with both hands and one foot, and he felt himself smile.

She started talking, then, telling him about how life had been for her so far and what she liked to do in her spare time. She took a moment to look sad about the recent death of a beloved dog, but waved it off quickly and continued to chatter on about idle things. She lumped rice into a bowl for him and pushed it into his open hands. “It’s not much, but I make pretty good miso soup. I hope you like it!” She brandished a large spoon and grinned. “I haven’t burned it yet, so just you wait. It’ll be delectable!”

How can you burn soup? he wondered quietly to himself.

The last memory of Umi still lingered in his head. Her wedding ring, her swollen belly. Lantis cringed.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered to his rice.

“Hmm?” Hikaru said.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry you lost the child. I—never got to tell you that.”

She was silent.

“I never got to tell you anything,” he said rather pointedly. “I’m just…sorry.”

“Don’t,” she said. “It wasn’t your fault.”

“It was! I’ve always felt that!”

Hikaru set her spoon down with a sigh. “Stop. Please, I don’t blame you.”

He closed his mouth. Perhaps he’d been wrong to dredge up old injuries, but he couldn’t help himself.

“Why did you leave me?” he stammered. “Why… why, with not so much as a word of goodbye? Why?”

He watched her shoulders slump and knew that the pain she felt must have been as great as his own. She looked just as defeated as him, if not more so. “I’m sorry,” was all she said.

He wanted to press her further, to make sense of why she had betrayed his love in such a way, but… well, what good would it have done? There was no sense in crying over last winter’s snow. And Lantis didn’t know much about women, but what little he did know gave him the suspicion that, even if he were to press her about it, he’d get nothing but emotional, cryptic answers mingled with tears and sobbing apologies. He wanted neither at the moment. But Pillar, after what they’d been through…

After Fuu and Ferio’s wedding, they’d both been drunk and fell into bed together like two horny teenagers. It was unavoidable, really, or so he told himself to quiet his own soul. It did little to quiet hers.

She spent the next few weeks in Cephiro, performing her Pillar duties, but always seeming saddened and glum.

“I feel unworthy now,” she’d told him. “I—I don’t blame you or anything, but I feel like I’ve failed one of my duties as the Pillar. I haven’t maintained purity. How can I be a proper Pillar when I’ve committed such sin?”

Her sad face tore at him and it took all his strength not to pull her back into his arms. But what could he do? He knew all too well what could befall the land if the Pillar were to fall in love. His own brother was evidence of that. He didn’t want to die, and he certainly didn’t want Hikaru to die.

He nearly left Cephiro again, but Hikaru stopped him with the news that she was pregnant. It had been a hard blow to him, he, an unmarried soldier. And she, the Pillar.

“Here,” Hikaru said, once again bringing him out of his reverie. “It’s finished. Here’s a spoon. Eat it with your rice, it’s good.” She smiled and took a stool beside him. “It’s very Japanese, you know.”

He looked into her smiling eyes. They were carefully devoid of any of the sadness that must have filled them a moment before. Having thought of nothing proper to say in response, Lantis tasted his soup and nodded at her.

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” She shoveled rice into her mouth and slurped loudly from her bowl. “I’ve gotta hurry. I have work soon.”

“Work?”

“Yep.” She took a sip of tea and glanced at her wristwatch. “Dad’s expecting me at the dojo. I have to go get ready soon.” She winked at him. “We were up so late last night. I’m sure I’ll be exhausted by the end of the day.”

Lantis colored. “Um… forgive me—“

She nudged him. “Don’t apologize. It’ll be the most excellent tired feeling I’ve ever experienced.” She slurped up the rest of her soup and tossed one last handful of rice into her mouth. “Ok. Gotta go get ready. Hey, you could come to work with me, if you’d like. Would you like that?”

“Um.”

“Come on. It’ll be fun. I’m a teacher at my parents’ dojo. It’s a kendo school. You can come and watch. I’ll tell my dad you’re a prospective student or something. What do you say?”

How could he say no? It was either that or hang around her house all day, alone. He nodded at her and watched her retreat down the hall to prepare herself to depart. He looked down at his barely-touched rice.

I shouldn’t have brought it up.

The pain in her eyes had been too great. She’d talked about renouncing her position, about marrying him and having their child in exile. He knew it hurt her, but he also knew that she felt a small bit of delight at the thought of a child. The fact that she was unmarried, though, seemed to trouble her greatly.

“We come from very traditional families,” Fuu had told him in confidence. She’d been the only one he’d told of their dilemma. “Her mother and father are very devout people. They’d be ashamed if she had a child out of wedlock. She was raised in that environment and so feels shamed as a result. It can’t be helped. I’d feel the same way, if I were her.”

Lantis thought on Fuu’s words often. He didn’t want Hikaru to renounce her position, for he knew it gave her great joy to uphold the land and her people, but if she did, he would do the right thing and marry her. He’d be a proper father to their child. Though he was young and unpracticed in any form of fatherly duties, he would do his best for her. He loved her. Even if it meant renouncing his own title, he’d have done it for her.

In her kitchen, Lantis finished the last few drops of his soup impassively. So, she wanted him to “go to work” with her. She was a teacher, and that made him smile. It suited her. Perhaps she taught little children. That suited her even more.

'Oh no,' he thought. 'Why did I have to think that?'

Her belly had only been a little swollen when last he saw her. As always, since they’d first slept together, she had that bewildering mixed look of sadness and delight on her face. No one knew about the pregnancy yet… she kept it carefully hidden beneath loose-fitting robes. Most importantly, she wanted to keep the secret from Clef, who was the most likely to throw an enraged fit. Hikaru feared Clef most of the time and so avoided him a lot in those last few weeks.

“Soon,” she’d told him one night, lying next to him in his bed and scratching absently at her stomach, “soon, I’ll figure out what’s to be done. Don’t worry. We’ll both be all right.”

But whatever she’d had in mind, he would never know it, because it finally happened; the thing they'd both been dreading in the back of their minds but had never voiced.

Disaster.

“Lantis!” she called from somewhere in the depths of her apartment. The Kailu looked up from his empty bowl. He heard running water.

“Coming?”

Pillar. He felt there’d be no end to blushing as he rose from the counter and followed Hikaru’s voice. He stripped the borrowed cotton pants and let them stay where they fell.

As small as her apartment was, her bathroom was surprisingly spacious, which he was glad for. Her shower easily accommodated the both of them.

Gods.

She was wet, she was lathered, and she smiled at him so very happily. She let him touch her, but they were pressed for time, she explained, and he went no further than caressing her and helping her to rinse her very long hair.

Maybe it was the heat and steam from the shower, mingled with the dull undercurrent of unfulfilled arousal resulting from bathing naked with his former lover, but Lantis was suddenly rather overcome with fatigue. More than likely, the events of the night before, travel through the fabric between the worlds and lack of sleep were finally getting to him.

Slowly, he lowered himself to a sitting position at Hikaru’s feet, letting the water hit his head and slide down his face. He closed his eyes and listened to the water, to Hikaru busying herself with washing her face and taking care of other such womanish things. The roar of water soon crowded out all other things. He settled, almost by habit, into a warrior’s meditative trance. Hissing, roaring water. And with it came the darkest of memories.

Disaster.

Out of the blue, storms struck Cephiro, storms that Lantis had not seen since the land had nearly crumbled into ruin in the days of Debonair. Fuu and Umi both used the words "typhoon" and "hurricane," but Lantis had never seen anything like it. Winds came from seemingly nowhere and tore the land apart. Floods destroyed crops, drowned citizens and their cattle. Lightning set aflame what wasn't drowned by the torrential downpours. Mudslides, chaos, death.

Dead and wounded were carried into the castle in droves. Lantis and his Mage Knights helped as best they could, as did the Magic Knights, but Hikaru was devastated. She watched it all with wide, almost unseeing eyes. The horror reflected in her pale face still sickened him to think about. So much blood and death and ruin, and she thought it all her fault. Blame was etched on every face that looked upon her, and so she went into seclusion.

Days later, Clef came to him, looking outraged.

“You,” he snarled.

Lantis paled. “Dosh—“

“You’ve defiled her. The Pillar.” Clef pointed his staff menacingly at Lantis. “You, above all others, Lantis, should have known the gravity of such crimes! And look what came of it, damn you!”

“She told you?” was all Lantis managed to whisper.

“Yes!” the old man hissed. “Not only that, but you’ve impregnated her.” Clef looked positively livid. “She’s only a child, Lantis! What were you thinking!?

“I didn’t rape her,” he’d snarled back at the hateful old man, “and she’s not a child. She hopped just as willingly into that bed with me!” Lantis colored, ashamed of himself for saying such a thing about Hikaru, and for even arguing over it in the first place when the result of their carelessness had been catastrophe in their own kingdom.

Clef waved him off as if he were an irksome fly. “It matters not. You must know, as well as she does, that she is no longer fit to fill the role of Pillar. She's turned from her sole duty and already chaos has descended upon the land. And it’s not by my decree,” he added when Lantis opened his mouth in Hikaru’s defense. “Mokona himself made such a decree, long before you or I ever appeared in this realm. It will happen tomorrow. She’s already been informed and, though it pains me to say so, she seemed rather relieved by the idea.” Clef sighed wearily and suddenly looked every bit his age. “I love her dearly, as you do, Lantis but… I am sworn to uphold the laws of this land. It is out of my hands.”

Lantis nodded dumbly and didn’t listen to anything more of what Clef had to say. He didn’t know what would happen to Hikaru after that stripping of her title. It would require great magic. Perhaps, in her condition, it could possibly do her harm. He dared not think of it.

But the next day, when he knew Hikaru to be in the pits of the castle, having her powers stripped away, he was still hopeful. Perhaps now they could run away together. Hikaru may not have been exiled, and he surely wouldn’t be (the laws, much to his distaste, were far less harsh in regards to men in such situations), but she may want to leave the castle just the same. She’d be shamed, and he wouldn’t begrudge her a quiet place to marry him and raise their child. The thought gave him a small bit of happiness.

He underestimated just what being stripped of the title of Pillar would do to Hikaru. She was distraught, broken. It was very powerful magic indeed that she was subjected to and she was ill and bedridden for days. She vomited often and refused to eat.

“Leave her,” Fuu told him the day before she’d disappeared. He had been haunting the hallway outside her bedroom. “She’s very weak, and terribly depressed. She loves this land and in turn, loved to uphold it. She can't bear the weight of so many deaths upon her shoulders. I… well, I think she just needs to be left alone.”

He understood that and so was willing to leave her be. Perhaps when the sickness had worn off, and the sadness, she would have been a little something like her old self again. And when that happened, he planned to broach the subject of their departure.

Of course, he never got the chance. Lantis grimaced.

He opened his eyes when the water suddenly shut off. Blinking, he looked up at Hikaru, who was smiling down at him.

“Nodded off, did you? Silly.” She put her small hands on his shoulders then, leaned down, and pressed a gentle kiss to his lips. He hesitated in returning it, almost flinched, especially when her lips felt cold rather than warm from the shower water, and suddenly he saw her white and frightened face from five years prior, the face from the night of the typhoon or whatever they’d called it, and he flinched again, harder this time. He hoped she didn’t notice, but she did, and when she pulled away, he could see in her eyes that his stiffness troubled her. The Kail could almost see mirrored in her eyes the image that he had in his mind; her, restrained, stripped of power, crying out and broken.

But then she blinked, and the smile returned to her face. If she read his mind, she didn’t show it anymore.

Lantis looked down at the water circling the drain, feeling ashamed and not knowing why. Could Magic Knights even read minds? He found that he wasn’t even sure on that score. Surely they couldn’t… Her hand found his cheek and he leaned into it, closing his eyes again.

“Come on, space case,” she said quietly. “Time’s pressing.”

Once they’d dried and dressed, Lantis found his way back to the living room while Hikaru continued to ready herself for her work. His head ached a bit from lack of sleep and the heat from the shower had only succeeded in making him more tired, but he found that he rather looked forward to getting out with Hikaru. He wanted to see her school, to see her city with her and to see her in her element. He just wanted to see her life, her everyday life, even all the mundane, ordinary things.

He heard humming behind him and he turned. She was standing in the hallway, her hair carefully plaited over her shoulder and wearing what appeared to be enormous, oversized clothes. Lantis frowned. “What?” she asked, looking down at herself. “They’re only kendo clothes. I know they’re not exactly fashionable, but…” She shrugged and tossed him a bag, which he caught with a trained soldier’s ease. “My things. Hold on to them for a sec while I close up shop here.”

He watched her mill about the room, throwing dirty pans and utensils into the sink, flicking off light switches and going on maddening searches for her keys. Finally, she smiled at him, with her red hair all flyaway around her face and a pink flush staining her cheeks as she ushered him out of her house.

At the dojo, she introduced him as an old friend from school and explained that he was thinking about taking up Kendo. Her father, whom Lantis at first thought to be a rather formidable man, was surprisingly welcome. Her mother was even more so. She was Hikaru in aged, adult form, all smiles and laughter and warmth.

Lantis had been right before. Hikaru did indeed teach little children. He got to sit in a corner for most of the day, watching her patiently correcting sloppy little child strokes and laughing along with them.

She smiled over at him often and, once or twice, insisted that he need not sit idly in the corner. He could join in, if he’d like, or tour the rest of the school. But he was perfectly content to sit there and watch her while she was in her element. It pleased him, and he’d never thought of her as more beautiful than she was then.

As she tightened the mask of a small, dark-haired boy, Lantis fell into his dark thoughts again. No matter how happy being there with her made him, he couldn’t help but think of the pain and loss of their past. Too much hung between then now to forget that.

“I’m fine,” she’d told him that day. She still looked sickly and pale, but instead of sad and depressed, she seemed resolved.

“Hikaru…”

“Please, just leave me be.”

His heart clenched within his chest.

She gave a heavy sigh and turned to finish making her bed.

“I lost the baby.”

He recalled the world sort of screeching to a halt at that point. Most of what she said after that was difficult to hear over the loud ringing in his ears. Even most of the air seemed to go out of the room. All Lantis could manage was a quiet, “Oh.”

“I know you’ll blame yourself, so don’t. It’s no one’s fault, not even Clef’s.”

“Hikaru—“

“No. He warned me of the dangers of being formally stripped, but I chose to go through it anyway. It’s my fault.” Her tiny hands were clenched in white-knuckled fists.

Lantis stepped forward, groping the air before her. “Beloved...”

“I’ll see you later,” she said without looking at him. “I’d like to go… talk to the girls now. I’ll find you later, Lantis.”

That was the last he saw of her; her retreating back. Why hadn’t he seen the signs that she was planning an escape? She’d had a bag open and packed in the corner. She’d made her bed. She never did that.

Devastation wasn’t quite a strong enough word for what he felt when he’d discovered that she’d gone. Umi had gone, too. He’d guessed that Hikaru’d left out of shame, to hide from her pain, but…

He was loveless and childless all in one day, and that was over five years ago.

He looked up when Hikaru came plodding toward him, wiping sweaty strands of hair from her eyes. She was smiling again. “I’m done for the day. I just have to do a little cleaning up here before we go.” She leaned down to peck his cheek. “Thanks for coming with me.”

“Not at all,” he said a little awkwardly.

Mentally, he slapped himself. What was wrong with him?

In the corner, she was busy bustling and chattering away at him. “Later, we’ll go down the road to grab some dinner. Like I said, I don’t have anything at the house. There’s this little café not far from here and they serve the best food. Oh! And you have to try coffee! I’ll get you some coffee and you have to drink it. It’s popular in this world and is very good.”

“Of course,” he said softly.

“After that, who knows? Maybe we can go see a movie! There’s this fun new horror film that came out last weekend that I’ve been dying to see… full of blood and guts and all that fun stuff. You might like it.” She paused to give him a curious look. “How long are you planning on staying, anyway?”

“As long as you’ll have me, Kishi.” She blushed upon hearing her old nickname. But mingled with the blush was a look that concerned Lantis. She looked apprehensive. Almost worried. Why?

Lantis watched the little children she’d been teaching running past him, laughing in a care-free sort of way. She was watching them too, smiling.

“One day,” he said to her, almost wishing he hadn’t. Her face grew solemn again. “One day… you’ll have another chance one day.”

She only looked at him sadly, saying nothing in reply.

They both turned when a door behind them opened. Through it strode two people; a tall, handsome man and a small, dark-haired boy. Lantis blinked at them, failing to notice the way Hikaru’s face drained of color.

“Mama!” the little boy shouted as he let go of the older man’s hand and ran to embrace Hikaru. She caught him up with ease, smiling into his hair.

“Haru,” she whispered.

The man frowned in Lantis’ direction, but otherwise ignored him and waltzed up to Hikaru with his hands in his pockets.

“Busy day?” he asked.

Hikaru, whose face shone a brilliant red to the roots of her matching hair, stood to peck the man on the cheek.

“Yeah, I guess so. We’re just closing up here.”

The man nodded at Lantis. “Who is that?”

“A friend. Just an old friend.”

Lantis didn’t hear much of their conversation, as he was staring with wide eyes at the small boy in Hikaru’s arms. He looked very much like her.

'She has a family,' he thought with a heavy sense of sorrow. His very spirit felt dampened, and now he felt ashamed. 'She has a family, and she didn’t tell me.'

Hikaru set her son down on the floor. He rubbed his nose and trotted over to the corner to play with the practice kendo swords.

She gave the man a cold look. “I thought you two would be camping through the whole weekend,” she said in a low voice.

The man shrugged. “Haven’t you been watching the news? A big storm is coming through. It’s supposed to hit tonight.”

Hikaru sighed and carefully avoided Lantis’ gaze.

'I have to go,' he thought suddenly. 'I have to leave now.'

Very quietly, he stood and straightened the clothes Hikaru had let him borrow. Pillar, was he wearing that man’s clothes? They were nearly the same size…

His hands closed into shaking fists. How could she… in her very marriage bed, how could she?

From the corner of his eye, Lantis saw the man give Hikaru a one-armed hug. “I have to run. Got some paperwork to go take care of. See you later.” He kissed her cheek and left the room.

Hikaru and Lantis both watched him leave. Both shared strangely blank expressions.

Lantis cast one last look at the child playing in the corner before he swept from the room.

He heard bustle and clamoring inside and soon, Hikaru rushed out with wide eyes.

“Where are you going?” He didn’t look at her.

“Home. I think I’ve stayed long enough.”

“But—“

“It was good to see you, Hi...” For some reason, the Kail found himself unable to finish the word.

He made his way across the cleanly-raked gravel paths leading to the dojo, but stopped when Hikaru grabbed at his hand. “Don’t go,” she said breathily.

“And why shouldn’t I?” he asked, allowing himself to sound angry now. He had every right to be, after all. “Why didn’t you tell me you had a family? A husband? Pillar, Hikaru, do you think me a fool?” He tugged his hand away from hers. “You're not like Umi, and I won't let you use me as she uses Clef and Ascot.”

The look on her face made him stop. It was almost confused. After a moment, Hikaru let out a small chuckle, in spite of herself.

“You think I’m some harlot?” she asked nastily.

“Do I think? I’ve seen it, Hikaru! I—Pillar, in his bed…” He scowled and turned away. “Good-bye.”

“Mama?” said a small voice. The child.

Hikaru sighed and said, “In a minute, Haru.”

She followed Lantis through the gardens. He could hear a smaller set of feet pattering after their own and knew the boy to be following them.

When he stopped at the front gate, he turned to see the boy clinging to his mother’s leg. Her expression was stony.

“Lantis, that was my brother, Kakeru. Not my husband.” He frowned. “I’m not married, and I’m certainly not an adulteress.” Her face mirrored the distaste in his own. “I would have hoped that you’d think better of me than that.”

Lantis’ eyes moved to the child at her feet. No wonder Hikaru had looked so worried when he’d said he’d be staying for a while. She was trying to hide her secret Earth-family from him. And why shouldn’t she? He was the one who’d barged in on her, in her world. The child had his small arms wrapped around her knees, looking up at him with wide eyes. Wide, dark eyes. He was quite young, too, perhaps not even of school age yet. He looked to be…

He looked to be about five years old.

Lantis’ knees gave out and he fell back against the iron gates of the dojo. His breath caught, his heart stopped and his vision blurred. The well-manicured gardens of the dojo came rushing at him and all of a sudden, Lantis felt he would be sick.

He stared at the boy. Dark hair, dark eyes, a rather solemn-looking face. He was staring at a mirror image of himself.

No… he was staring at his five-year-old son.

He pushed back violently against the gates and staggered away from Hikaru.

“Lantis,” he heard her say weakly.

“No.” His voice was unsteady. He wouldn’t look back; refused to look back.

“Please—“

“NO!” He walked as steadily as he could manage down the street, collapsing against a telephone pole and gasping for breath. “No.”

“Uh-oh.” Lantis’ head snapped up. There, standing in the middle of the sidewalk, was Umi. She held a small purse in one hand and a shopping bag in the other. Her eyes lighted on Lantis, then on the mother and child that were rushing to catch up with him. She sighed wearily. “Oh, boy.”

“You,” he seethed. “Why? Why didn’t you…”

“Not here, Lantis. Let’s go.”

“No, wait!” Hikaru cried after him.

“No,” Lantis repeated, holding a hand out to stop her. “I’m going back to Cephiro.”

“Please Lantis, just listen—“

“I will not.” He glared at her with so much venom that she stopped dead in her tracks. Her child—their child—began fretting in her arms. He didn’t know what to think, to say. He felt elation and terror when he looked upon her son’s—his son’s—face. With that elation was a sense of dread, horror, relief, pride. He wanted to laugh and cry at once.

How could she lie to him? Why did she lie to him? He couldn’t see any reason at all behind it. Why punish him? It hadn’t been him who stripped her of her power, who cast her out of Cephiro.

Soon, his feelings of sadness and delight were covered by a slowly welling feeling of anger. Of rage. Pure, unfiltered rage at Hikaru.

“How could you,” he hissed. “How could you!?”

She said nothing, only looked at him sadly. Her face was etched in sorrow, but it did nothing to deter his feelings. He shook his head slowly at first, then rapidly, furiously. “No. No, no, no, no, no.”

Umi caught his hand and pulled him away. “I'll call you, Karu!” she shouted over her shoulder.

The redhead made no move to stop her. She only stood there with her little boy in her arms and watched them go dully.

Lantis squeezed his eyes against tears as he practically limped along behind Umi. The pain and shock reached his very toes.

“I hate you,” he said under his breath to Umi, who dragged him along as if he were a disobedient dog. “I hate you. Why didn’t you tell me?”

Umi sniffled, and Lantis wondered suddenly whether or not she had been crying too. “It wasn’t my business to tell, Lantis.”

He raged at her then. What else could he do? He felt as if nothing else could have possibly come from his mouth. “Your business!” he spat. “You are Magic Knight, Ryuuzaki Umi, and sworn to a life of service to Cephiro and all its inhabitants! I—you—!”

He faltered. What did she owe him? Nothing. If anything, he was indebted to her, along with the rest of his sad, sorry race.

When she saw that he could say nothing against her, her face softened. She continued to pull him along on the sidewalk. On the corner, he saw a small car parked; it was shiny and silver. “We’re going back to the Tower,” she explained as she pushed him into the passenger side of the car. “You need to go home.”

“What of you?” he groused, frowning as he was forced to contort himself inside the small, cramped interior of the car. “Are you coming as well?”

“No.” She climbed in the car and completely disregarded the oncoming traffic as she led the car screeching out into the street. “I’ll stay. I have a dinner to go to with my husband tonight. You, on the other hand, will return and forget this whole sorry business.” She sighed. “Oh, I shouldn’t have let you come.”

Lantis clapped his hands to his cheeks. “Pillar… if only.” He willed away thought. He thrust it from his mind. If he thought on what had just happened, he would surely go mad.

“Umi,” he gasped, “How long? How long have you—?“

The bluette gave him a look that said Are you kidding me? then turned her attention back to the traffic. “I helped deliver him.”

Pillar.

His face screwed up, all angst and bitterness. She may as well have skewered his heart and taken a great bite out of it. Lantis drew his knees up in the seat as best as he could and turned his face into the window. He wouldn’t weep. He would not weep.

It didn’t help that the rage he felt towards Hikaru had not diminished. It hadn’t grown either, but as he sat in the too-small seat of Umi’s decadent car, blind to the cars and lampposts and mailboxes whizzing by, a new feeling was mingled with the old. It could have possibly been regret, but it was so tinged with shame that he couldn’t bear to contemplate it any longer.

It was like a great, blood-dripping word in his subconscious. A huge, w-word.

Why?

He couldn’t understand, and probably never would.

As Umi shunted him into the elevator that would take him to the top of the tower, he still felt his rage and shame and hatred and regret. Tears stung his eyes and he found that he no longer cared if Umi saw. She seemed on the verge of weeping, herself. They were both rather red-faced and solemn, neither saying anything to the other during that lonely elevator ride.

She was able to aid him in the great magic that would send him back to Cephiro. Ryuuzaki Umi, Dragonmaster, had always wielded great power when she wanted. For once, it was to his advantage.

The light filled his vision and engulfed his spirit. The open air of Cephiro once again touched his cheeks. He fell.

And even though he’d only seen him for a few moments, he already missed the sight of his son.

 

 

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Author's Note:

Updates will come, though it may be rather slow. I've sat on this story for many, many years. Reviews are always appreciated. This is for you, Royal Blue Kitsune, wherever you are.