"So…how are we gonna do this?" Umi asks, and because she's the tallest of the three and the one most attuned to the water in the earth and in the sky and in the air, it makes sense for her to carry Presea's body. It is not the coolness of the dying night that makes her shiver. "I don't want her buried here in all this wreckage."
"I don't want her in the forest, either," says Fuu, and she glances nervously at the dark woods. It hasn't been too long since they slew the evolving caterpillar so Presea should still be warm, but soon the rigor mortis will set in, and though the danger had passed there's no way of knowing there's another monster stalking the forests just waiting for the right moment to strike. "If we don't dig deep enough, something will and…." She couldn't finish. She didn't want to, but Umi can see it plainly on her face what she means.
"Away, then," Umi adds, nodding. "Far away from here, where nothing can reach her. There's gotta be somewhere we can go that's safe for her. Right, Mokona? You know, don't you?"
"Puu puu! Puu puu!" Mokona yipped, nodding so fast she fears he will give himself whiplash. She would have told him so were it not for the forlorn look he's giving the woman in her arms. His ears droop until the tips touch the ground. "Puu…."
"I know, Mokona," she says quietly. "She was our friend, too."
"Yes, Sir Mokona," Fuu adds, coming to step beside Umi. "We're going to do her right and become the Magic Knights Cephiro needs us to be. Now more than ever."
"Puu?" Mokona picks his head up and tilts it curiously.
"That's right. We have to, because no one else can stop Zagato; and,"—Fuu searches for the right words— "and if we can't give the people that much hope, then Cephiro will crumble and Princess Emeraude will be lost forever. We have to give back to them what Master Clef and Presea gave to us."
"Puu! Puu!" He smiles—a small, tearful smile, but a smile nonetheless.
"We have to start now," says Umi, readjusting her grip on the corpse. "If we're going to have any chance at beating Zagato and his lackeys to the Rune Gods, I want to be out of here by daylight. The longer we stand here the more time we waste and they get a head start on us. Mokona, do you have any shovels we could use?" But Mokona shakes his head. "What do you mean no? If you can summon tons of food and a house with all the basic toiletries and utilities, then you should be able to conjure a couple shovels!"
"Puu puu, puu! Puu!" Mokona keeps shaking his head.
"It's not because he can't, Umi," says Fuu, and to demonstrate she taps a foot against the ground. "Have you felt how hard the earth is beneath our feet? It will take us hours just to dig a couple feet. We might not even be able to get done on time." She gives her a long, grim look. "We might be schoolgirls given magic, but we're not gravediggers."
"Something has to be done!" Umi exclaims. "We can't just leave her here!"
"I know, Umi."
"Then what do you suggest we do? I'm not just gonna drop her and walk away! She deserves better than that! Not after all she's done for us!" She swallows thickly and licks her lips. Her eyes are wide and white in the starlight, and Fuu's heart aches for her.
"I know," she says again, and stares at Presea's face. How lax it is in death as it was in life when she presented them the weapons they would borrow on their journey to the Spring. "I know."
"Magic, then," says Hikaru, so softly that they think for a moment they are imagining it. Yet they look up at her and they see her close the ill-formed circle Umi and Fuu have wrought for themselves amidst the backdrop of a particularly large piece of debris that had been a wall. She moves a strand of hair out of Presea's eyes and lets her hand fall to her side. Her eyes are black, bereft of the usual cheer and boundless energy she is filled with. It is not the fear of the dark and the unknown that frightens them now, but the utter lack of life in her. She may as well be a husk with the name Shidou Hikaru. "We have to use magic."
"Magic," Umi breathes, as though she's saying the word for the first time. Then, in a gush, "Yes…we can use magic! Cephiro's a land of belief. We can do it. We can give Presea a proper burial!"
"But what if Cephiro doesn't respond to us?" Fuu asks. "It challenged our beliefs in the Spring by showing us our loved ones. Who's to say it won't do so again by testing our resolve in death?"
"That's a load of crock! Cephiro isn't that cruel!"
"But it showed you your parents, Umi, and they attacked you. If that's not enough to break a person, then what is?"
"Princess Emeraude helped us!"
"But only because her will was so strong it could breach the prison she's in. Just imagine how different things might have gone if her will was weaker or Zagato got the slip on us. The will of the land obeys a person as much as a person must obey the will of the land. Cephiro is a land of belief, but it's just like Earth; it doesn't always operate on a two-way street."
"Then how?" Umi asks, defeated. "How are we going to bury her?"
"Magic, Umi," Hikaru says again, and a spark, so tiny as to be indistinguishable, ignites in her eyes when she looks upon her. "I believe we have the means to give her a proper burial. Do you, Fuu?"
"Yes," she says. "When you put it that way, I know we can."
"And you, Umi?" Hikaru asks.
"I…I want to," Umi says, hesitantly. "But…what if the land won't let us? What if Cephiro challenges us to do it the hard way?"
"Umi…do you want to give Presea a burial?"
"Do I want to? Of course I do! She's the one who gave us our weapons and saw us off when we went to go find the escudo! She's the one that gave it shape with her will! If it wasn't her, we might be dead by now!"
"Then harness those feelings and give them strength," Hikaru says—growls it, and the shaking brought on by nerves flees from Umi completely, as if by a tide. Her heart skips a beat, borne out of a surge of love for her friend and a fear of the sensation of otherness that seems to take hold of Hikaru in that moment, in her voice and in the brightness of her eyes that flare like a flame. It sounds inhuman, almost lupine, and before she can think anymore on it the determination drains from Hikaru. "Please, Umi," she says in her normal voice. "Help us. It's the least we can do."
"Puu~" Mokona purrs, and places a little paw on her leg.
Guilt slams into Umi, but just as the tide passes so too does the sea settle into complacency. She takes a shaky breath, hefts Presea closer to her breast, and nods. "I will," she says. Then, more confidently, "Yes, I will."
So they spend the rest of the night preparing the burial. Fuu is the first to volunteer, by calling upon the leylines in the world and projecting her will into the aether: to give her flight, so that she may search the land for a spot Presea would appreciate to be her resting place; and so Cephiro responds, after a brief moment of silence and witless fear that lasts too long for comfort. The wind bears her up on malleable, cyclonic shapes that look like wings, and with Mokona on her shoulders she is able to follow his direction to the point of interest. It is a barren hill, set far and away from the homestead, and to their immense relief Fuu relays to them that there is not a monster or foul spirit in sight that may disturb it. She makes another plea to Cephiro to extend its blessing to her friends, and the land again responds again in kind and gives Hikaru and Fuu a set of wings to carry them across the sky to the hill.
Umi walks up to the ramp, comes to a stop, and takes a good long look at the Forest of Silence below them and the mountains and the creeping moorlands in the distance spread out before them. The air is still cool, makes her shiver still in her uniform and armor, but she smiles, and she nods approvingly when she turns back to her friends. "This is a good spot," she tells them. "I think Presea would like it. Don't you think so?" And they thought she would have, for all the grief and frustration it has caused them Cephiro is a beautiful land, and such beauty must be preserved.
So now it is Umi who calls upon the magic in her blood and in her heart (and in the soul, as well, but these are all interconnected in the great ordering of the world, and when one source is used then the other two are used in conjunction) and sends her will out into Cephiro: to raise the water from the aquifers nestled deep beneath the earth and carve a niche to lay Presea in; and the world allows her to draw it forth. She weaved her hands to and fro, lead the dragon-shapes to climb up, up, up into the hill, with sweat upon her brow and strain shaking her limbs. Then does she finally let them guide her, and together they soften the soil to fall and create a compact square.
Hikaru stands off to the side and watches Fuu call upon the wind again, to dry the wet earth and turn it hard. It is only after Umi goes to lay Presea down on the bed does she step forwards, and, clearing her mind, reaches out into the void and asks for Cephiro to cover the grave—completely, so that no one and nothing would think to disturb her from her rest.
And so Cephiro responds to her, and guide her hands to form the mound over Presea. They do not shake, and Hikaru keeps her eyes open long enough to remember that face in repose: soft and sweet, like the sunrise.
It gets very hard to see when she finishes. Her hands are shaking so badly that when Umi walks past her to place the little cross at the top, she tries to take it from her—neither blindly nor madly, but automatically and with little thought. "Rest, Hikaru," Umi tells her, smiling sadly. "I put this here as you would and as Fuu would."
Hikaru lets her pass, and when the cross is firmly in place Fuu goes up and sets the red jewel crest Presea wore around the cross. She goes to stand by Umi's side, but not before letting Mokona go between them in several hops.
"Puu-puu, puu-puu!" he says, and on reflex Hikaru catches the rabbit as he leaps into her arms. She strokes his head and across the backs of his ears with a hand, and then reaches inside her uniform. Being the closest to the cairn, she kneels down and lays the wrapped candy at its base.
She doesn't let go of the piece. Not yet. She wants to keep it as warm as long as possible, wants to hope it will seep into the earth and reach Presea from beyond the veil in whatever serves as an afterlife in Cephiro so that she will savor the taste and enjoy it to her heart's content. It's a silly notion, but somehow, piercing the heartache threatening to consume her whole it gives her a small measure of comfort.
She knows, as Umi and Fuu know, it's going to take a lot more than that to keep going forward.
"I promise you, Presea," she says, working around the roughness in her throat, "we're going to save Cephiro. With the blades you gave your life for, we're going to bring back Princess Emeraude and restore the Pillar. Come what may." She wills herself to loosen her grip on the wrapper. It is akin to letting go of a lifeline.
Hikaru stands up nonetheless, and takes in the lay of the land with eyes dry but no longer burning.
This world will be saved. There is no doubt about that; and when they strike the road again later that morning, the sun at their backs, they will say, once again, that, prophecy or no, they will do their part at their own accord.
That is all that counts, Runes willing, so long as they reach the end, regardless of doom.