The quiet click of the door to the room Hikaru, Umi, and I had been given closing roused me from the restless half-slumber I had fallen into. Sitting up, I saw that Hikaru and Mokona were still asleep in the middle of the bed, but Umi was missing from Hikaru’s other side. She must not have been able to sleep either. I wasn’t really surprised, considering everything that had happened today. I actually found it more surprising that Hikaru was able to sleep so soundly.
Deciding it was pointless to continue trying to sleep, I quietly got out of bed and got dressed. Draping my uniform’s jacket over my shoulders for if I got cold, I left the room.
It was so strange to be back in Cephiro. I hadn’t thought we’d ever return and I didn’t think Umi or Hikaru had either. It looked so different now—the land was all barren rock, the castle the only place anyone could live, and the sky was constantly dark and stormy. I didn’t think any of us had realized just how literal the title of Pillar was. And as if all that wasn’t enough strangeness, we’d learned that Ferio was Princess Emeraude’s younger brother and had met Zagato’s younger brother as well.
Pausing to look out a window as lightning flashed near the castle, I wondered what would happen when a new Pillar was found. Would the legend of the Magic Knights eventually be repeated?
“Fuu?” Ferio’s voice sounded from off to my left. Turning, I saw him standing several feet away. The shoulder armor, cape, and gloves he had been wearing earlier were missing from his outfit and he looked less regal and more approachable.
“What’s up?” he asked. “Is something wrong?”
I shook my head in answer.
He came closer, stopping a foot or two away from me. “Did you have a bad dream?”
“No,” I said, “I just couldn’t sleep.”
“Me neither,” he said, looking out the window. “I was with you guys only for a short time, but that didn’t stop me from worrying about the three of you.”
“Ferio-san…” I said, feeling warmed by his concern. Then I remembered the apology I had wanted to make. “I’m sorry for being so selfish in the Forest of Silence.”
He turned to look at me, surprise clear on his face. “You were just doing what you had to do to stay alive,” he said. “Don’t worry about it.” Stepping even closer, he brushed a hand against my cheek. “You’ve lost weight. In the Legendary Battle, you girls were the ones hurt the most, you Magic Knights.”
Then he reached up to his right ear and gave a slight tug. When he held out his hand, something glittered between his thumb and forefinger. It was… A ring? “That’s…!” I gasped, surprised.
“It’s the ring I gave you,” he said.
“I remember putting it in my pocket,” I said, “but when we got back to Tokyo, I couldn’t find it anywhere.”
“You mean you actually looked for it?” he asked, a small smile on his face.
Looking down, I could feel my cheeks burning. I couldn’t even say that I had only looked for it as proof that Cephiro had been real. Seeing Umi and Hikaru with the same tears on their faces that I had on mine had been proof enough. I had wanted a reminder of Ferio.
“For some reason, it returned to me,” he said.
“I wonder if it was because we went back to our world…” I said.
Then I received another surprise as he picked up my right hand, placed the ring in my palm, and closed my fingers over it, giving them a gentle squeeze. Still holding my hand, he said, “I want you to have it again.” His expression turned sad and he said, “My sister gave me these rings.”
“I can’t accept something so precious!” I cried. I certainly wanted to. But I couldn’t believe that he was really willing to part with either of them.
“When she gave them to me,” he said, “she told me, ‘If you ever find a special person, give one ring to her.’ My sister…knew well that she and her own beloved would never be together in Cephiro. So…she probably gave me these rings in the hope that at least I could be in love.”
I couldn’t help it then and started crying. That Emeraude had been able to wish for Ferio to have something that she would never be able to just gave me one more thing to regret about having killed her and Zagato.
Wrapping an arm around my back, Ferio drew me close, tucking my head against his chest. “Please don’t cry,” he said. “I wasn’t trying to make you sad.”
Slowly, the comfort of being held in his arms enabled me to stop crying.
“I don’t remember my sister ever smiling from the depths of her heart,” he said, placing his hands on my shoulders and drawing me back somewhat. “Her smile was always gentle, yet she always had sad eyes.” He looked straight at me, a gentle smile on his own face. “I want you…to stay smiling. So that when I remember you, you will always be smiling…”
Looking up at him again, I said, “Ferio-san…” I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say right then. Actually, that wasn’t true. I knew what I wanted to say right then, I just wasn’t sure how to express it coherently or, perhaps more importantly, if Ferio would agree with what I was thinking.
The Pillar system wasn’t just unfair to the Pillar, it was unfair to all of their loved ones, beloved or simply family. It wasn’t hard to imagine that Ferio had spent so much time away from the castle because he hadn’t been able to stand seeing his sister so unhappy, even if he didn’t know why she was unhappy.
Grasping my left hand and drawing it up to his cheek, he said, “Just call me Ferio.”
I almost asked him if he knew the level of intimacy he was requesting I use in addressing him, but then I remembered that I hadn’t ever heard anyone in Cephiro use any sort of honorifics beyond titles like “Guru” and “Faru”. Also, if I was being honest with myself, I wanted to be able to use that level of intimacy when speaking with him. So I simply did as he asked and called him by his name without the “-san”.
If he wanted me to address him that way, I would not deny him the happiness that he could derive from it. And if he wanted me to smile, I would do my best to move on from my depression—for his sake.