Hours later, Umi and Hikaru were really starting to wonder about Fuu’s location. Caldina had said she’d met her in the hallway, but didn’t seem willing to share her whereabouts with the other two Magic Knights. This was highly unusual for Caldina, who normally took great pleasure in spreading cheerful rumours about other peoples’ love lives.
“Do you suppose we should go looking for her, Umi-chan? She hasn’t eaten anything today, and it’s going to get dark soon. It must be quite late,” Hikaru suggested, looking at the display on her mobile phone. She’d been playing with it, although she wasn’t quite sure why she expected it to have any kind of concept of time, or any reception, in a totally different universe. It still read the same time as it had from the observation deck of the Tokyo Tower: 2.34pm.
Umi smiled, “I’m not sure, Hikaru. They might be doing something important.”
Hikaru frowned and considered this for a moment, but then stood up and started out of the courtyard, only to encounter a slightly ruffled Fuu, her hair a little tousled and her lips curiously slightly darker than before.
“Fuu-chan! Where have you been? Have you been running? Your hair is a bit messy,” the redhead grinned, “Or have you been making out all afternoon?”
“In Ferio’s private room!”
“Hikaru-san! If you must know, he has a living room, and I did not progress further than that.”
Umi hadn’t really expected Fuu to kiss Ferio at all this trip, let alone in the first few hours of their being there, “Really, Fuu? Then we need to move you on to second base!” she joked, and then burst into hysterical laughter as the expression on Fuu’s face became rather more thunderous.
She turned on her heel and was about to storm off when she bumped into Ferio coming towards her. His hair, of course, looked just as scruffy as ever. He wrapped his arms around Fuu and smiled quite cheerfully around at Hikaru and Umi, then at the other bewildered castle residents in the courtyard. Fuu tipped her head forward to hide her face in her hair, thoroughly embarrassed.
“I realise you two probably pushed her to do this,” Ferio said, looking knowingly at the other two Magic Knights, “But anyway, it was great, and I have invited this lovely lady to stay with me tonight.”
Umi and Hikaru’s mouths dropped open.
“Ferio…” Clef started, at a loss for words, “I can only hope you have honourable intentions.”
“Oh, don’t worry, Guru Clef,” Ferio assured him, bowing with a flourish. “Under your instruction, I have become a model gentleman. Now, what’s for dinner? Don’t be so silly, Fuu, all we did was kiss,” he executed a small twirl, freeing Fuu from her safe position against his chest, and pulled her back into the main courtyard by her wrist to where the others had been too stunned to start their evening picnic.
Fuu found herself placed next to Umi, and sat down without another word to anyone.
“Fuu, we didn’t mean for such a big deal to be made of it,” Umi apologised in a whisper, patting her friend’s shoulder, “We shouldn’t tease you so much.”
Fuu looked at her, dismayed, “I’m not angry at you specifically, Umi-san. I just don’t want exaggerated rumours circulating the palace.”
“I’m sorry too, Fuu-chan,” Hikaru added quietly, looking aside like a scolded dog. Fuu managed a small smile at this, and comforted Hikaru with a shake of her head and a gentle pat on the shoulder.
With that, the three went about their dinner with their friends. Mealtimes in New Cephiro had always been the same; it seemed that every time they came to visit, the cooks would bring out some other meats, fish, vegetables or fruit that the girls had never come across, and they would have to ask someone for advice. Of course, there was nobody else there to compare it to Earth food for them, and they generally entertained the Cephirans by exclaiming things such as, “Ah, this tastes a lot like sweet potato!” Umi and Fuu had started to write down this sort of thing, so that one day they might be able to help prepare some food in return for the constant hospitality they received, but today this had been forgotten.
It grew late, and Caldina had brought out a couple of bottles of what looked like wine from somewhere. Umi and Hikaru seemed quite happy to consume plenty of it, but Fuu refrained from more the a few sips, conscious that she would be spending the night in Ferio’s suite, and she didn’t need anything clouding her judgement. She then passed her glass chalice to Ferio, who had initially declined the drink from the Chizetan dancer.
“You can hold just one glass of wine, can’t you?” Fuu asked.
Ferio continued to hold it without drinking it, “I turned Caldina down because I didn’t think you wanted me to drink at all,” he paused to take a sip, “but yeah, I won’t be misbehaving after one glass.”
Hikaru, fighting her inebriation, shifted her gaze from the prince and his lover, to analyse the eye contact going on between Umi, Clef and Ascot. She giggled a little – perhaps more loudly than she imagined – and tipped her head to lean on Lantis’s arm.
“Hikaru, should we get you and Umi back to your room?” Lantis asked gently, noticing that Hikaru had become drunkenly cheerful, and Umi had become drunkenly sorrowful, “Ascot, would you mind helping me escort these young ladies back?”
He stood, walked over to Umi and whispered quietly in her ear, and helped her to her feet rather shakily. Lantis had gathered Hikaru and her limbs up, a bridal style, and led the way to the Magic Knights’ sleeping quarters. Fuu waved goodbye to her friends, slightly sad that she wasn’t going to be spending the night with them; but at the same time glad of it if they were in this state.
“Lantis,” said Ascot as quietly as he could, “I’m worried.”
“About Prince Ferio and Fuu?”
“Yes, I mean, he might try to ‘marry’ her.”
Umi piped up, “I think Fuu would like to marry Ferio, what’s the problem?”
Ascot was bewildered again. He bit his tongue to prevent himself from saying anything ridiculous, and remained in resolute silence until the girls were safely in their under-subscribed three-person room.
Back in the courtyard, Fuu and Ferio were one of the last few people remaining. Clef and Presea had bid them goodnight, as had Lafarga, carrying an incredibly inebriated Caldina off to their quarters. Two serving girls were left with the task of clearing up the mess they had left behind, picking their way carefully around the prince and Magic Knight as they remained engaged in conversation.
“You know,” Fuu said anecdotally, “The three of us are below the legal drinking age in our country.”
Ferio drained the last of the drink from his glass and stood up, offering his hand to her, “Your world doesn’t sound as fun as mine,” he smiled as she took it and he hoisted her up, kissing her forehead.
“You can go ahead and open the door,” said Ferio, as they stood in his lounge once more.
Fuu was preoccupied with looking over a half-height bookcase just outside the bedroom door, the metallic printed text on the leather-bound spines frustratingly alien to her. Slowly his speech buffered into her conscious mind and she straightened up, carefully regarding him from behind her glasses. She was about to open her mouth to respond, but there came a knock at the door, and Ferio went to attend to it.
Presea, the Master Smith, stood there with Fuu’s small suitcase, “Good evening; I’m sorry to disturb you both but I found Fuu’s belongings still in the throne room when I went for my evening walk just now,” she smiled and handed it to Ferio, who studied the smooth, man-made metal and plastic construction with interest.
“Thank you so much,” Fuu said with a bow, taking her suitcase in one hand and Ferio’s arm in the other, “I had no idea where Hikaru-san intended to take it. Sleep well tonight, Presea-san!”
Presea gave a small wave and shut the door behind her, wondering on her walk back about Fuu’s judgement in staying there tonight.
Fuu pulled her suitcase over to sit it beside the sofa, and then she turned to face Ferio properly, “What are the sleeping arrangements to be, Ferio? I can sleep on this–”
He caught her hands in his, “Fuu, I can’t have a lady sleeping on the sofa. So long as you brought nightclothes with you, nobody will be in trouble, right?”
Fuu paused; she hadn’t brought her pyjamas with the intention of anyone other than Hikaru and Umi seeing them, “I have, but they are not particularly…elegant,” she emphasised the final word, thinking of the mass-produced and oh-so-comfortable bunny print, button shirt and pants combo in her suitcase. Not even her nice silk pyjamas or a pretty nightdress; no, the bunny ones. She wondered if she could go and catch up with Presea or find Umi and Hikaru to borrow something else, but all the time her mind was wandering wildly, Ferio was still watching her intently. Really, Fuu, she thought to herself, this is the guy you might want to spend the rest of your life with – he shouldn’t be offended by bunny pyjamas.
“I’m sure,” Ferio persuaded, “If they’re not ‘elegant’, then you will look extremely cute. Now, would you like to open the door? It’s getting late.”
Fuu walked over from the sofa to where Ferio was impatiently stood by a door made of the same dark wood as the entrance door from the outer corridor, although it was significantly less intricate. She took the handle and released it from the frame, opening the door to a much larger room. More beautifully decorated than the bedroom she had witnessed at Umi’s house earlier in the day – or maybe that comparison was unfair, as the styles were completely different.
Ferio’s living quarters seemed to be composed largely of dark wood; perhaps most evocative of stained oak, and not as reddish as mahogany, and the linens and upholstery seemed to have a theme of white and red.
“Are these royal colours?” Fuu asked, noting that they echoed the colours of Ferio’s clothing.
He was in the process of removing his cape and the shoulder pads they were attached to. As he pulled off his gloves, he said, “I suppose, but I’d say they’re more…my colours, specifically, though I think white has always been part of our colour scheme,” he deposited the items somewhere in the wardrobe.
“Should…should I change in there?” Fuu asked, indicating a different door.
Ferio turned to examine it, and then back to her, “The wash room? I’m not sure, wouldn’t it be more comfortable to change in the lounge? Besides, your…case? is still out there. I’ll change in here while you do that, just knock when you’re done.”
Fuu nodded and passed back through into the lounge, shutting the door firmly behind her. She hastily opened her suitcase and pulled out her pyjamas, changing into them with the same speed. Looking down at herself, she sighed, amused with how ridiculous the modern fibres and cute pattern looked against the finery of Ferio’s royal suite. She folded her clothes neatly and placed them into her suitcase.
Now padding about on the plush carpet in her bare feet, she wandered around to study that bookcase again. The Cephiran script looked like it was constructed in much the same way as the simpler phonetic Japanese alphabets, which comforted her; she intended to learn it at some point, and this would make it much easier.
Some English text caught her eye. Wait, English? There was only one English phrase she knew that was used in New Cephiro, and that was… “Magic Knights,” Fuu said aloud, almost struggling to read the beautiful script it was written in. She was puzzled about how anyone knew which letters to use, and wondered if they knew what the letters meant, or if they just recognised the alphabet and shape for the words “Magic Knights”.
Ferio opened the door slowly – had Fuu really taken that long that he needed to come looking for her? – and found her still staring at the front of that year-worn book, covered in rich burgundy-coloured leather with gold lettering. Fuu was tracing her finger over the crest of Windam on the front, wondering if she’d ever see the phoenix again.
“That’s a children’s book,” Ferio said gently, snapping her back into reality. She looked at him – clothed in a white sleeveless shirt with the seemingly popular high, split Cephiran collar, and some loose cotton trousers of the same colour. She couldn’t help but think that, for nightwear, it quite flattered his tanned skin and toned arms.
“It was yours?” Fuu asked, averting her eyes from his trim figure, lest she lose all her composure.
Ferio took it from her hands and the lights dropped in the lounge – not that Fuu was sure what the source of light was, in fact – and he nodded in the direction of his bed, “It is, I’ve had it since I was a small child. Come in, I’ll read it to you.”
Fuu slowly followed him in, clicking the door shut. Ferio deposited the book on his ample bed and picked up a glowing sphere from its stand on his bedside table. He rolled this into the middle of the bed, and Fuu realised there were probably the same kind of things in the lounge that had been providing light. Perhaps she hadn’t noticed because they were so reminiscent of electric lights back on Earth.
The prince leapt up onto his bed with an almost feline grace, and held his hand on top of the glass ball quite casually. Fuu watched as the glow increased in intensity until it seemed a sensible amount of light for reading. Ferio, sat cross-legged, now looked up and patted the other side of the bed, “Story time, Fuu. I promise this one has a happy ending.”
Fuu clambered up as well, with perhaps less grace than Ferio, “A happy ending? Though I presume as this is a children’s book, nobody likes to upset children.”
He smiled and opened the cover of the book. The text appeared to be hand-written in different coloured inks, and the illustrations were rather more modern and simple than Fuu had expected from a Cephiran publication – she supposed she expected some classical Japanese style art, or the old fashioned western art featured in illustrated versions of Alice in Wonderland.
He pointed to the first line of text, under a picture of a pretty, petite princess, “The Pillar of Cephiro is a beautiful young lady, with golden hair and eyes the colour of Cephiro’s sky,” he sounded slightly choked towards the end of this sentence, and Fuu noticed him narrowing his eyes, perhaps against tears. She placed a hand on his arm, and he apparently snapped out of it and continued onto the facing page, “She prays every day that Cephiro should remain a beautiful and peaceful place. She prays for everyone’s happiness,” the page turned again and showed the princess looking scared, in front of a large shadowy creature, “But nobody in Cephiro is able to help the Pillar if she is in danger. That is why she can summon the Legendary Magic Knights to rescue her.”
The next few pages seemed to detail the journey of the Magic Knights to gain their Escudo weapons and their Rune Gods, only in pictures. She could see a map of Former Cephiro, including the floating mountain where she had met Windam, and the volcano and sea fortress where Hikaru and Umi, respectively, had met their own Rune Gods. There was also an illustration of a small, white, rabbit-like creature standing between the Rune Gods.
“Mokona,” said Fuu, touching the page where he stood between the three others. She noticed that the pictures had also been added by hand, because it felt distinctly like the pictures had been drawn in something like oil pastels and then covered in a shiny film of protective coating, “Ferio, did somebody make this book especially for you?”
Ferio didn’t verbally respond to this question, but nodded and turned the page to a double spread, continuing to read, “The Magic Knights will be able to destroy whatever is in the way of Cephiro’s place in the Pillar’s heart.”
Fuu looked carefully at the illustration. The dark shadow didn’t seem to have any specific shape or form, but she could only imagine it as Zagato, and the blonde princess as Emeraude. She looked over to see that Ferio was frowning slightly, and she reached over to turn the page herself. There were few words; just a picture of the Rune Gods circling a smiling Pillar.
“So this is what you were lead to believe, Ferio?” Fuu asked, turning to the back of the book. She felt like she immediately recognised the signature and seal at the bottom corner – the mark of the artist.
Ferio nodded, “This book is why I ended up lost in the Forest of Silence, looking for the Spring of Eterna. Clef read me this book almost every night when I was a small child. He told me it was very important.”
Fuu’s eyes widened in recognition, barely processing the adorable mental image of Ferio’s childhood, “Is this Clef’s mark?” she asked, pointing to the signature and the seal next to it. When Ferio confirmed this with a nod of his head, she was quite surprised. She did not know that Clef was an artist, “It seems very lovingly made.”
Ferio withheld from making comment but closed the book, placing it on his table and then moving to put the sphere back in its place. He dimmed the lights again, and laid down on his side of the bed, “I’ll tell you about my childhood one day, but I think tonight I might just like to sleep next to the girl I love…in her very cute pyjamas.”
She giggled nervously, “I’m very sorry that I did not bring anything more proper. What about you? Are those really pyjamas?”
He looked down over himself, “No, I don’t think guys really wear pyjamas. Personally, I normally sleep naked,” he grinned mischievously as Fuu’s face grew red, “but I didn’t think it would be appropriate.”
“Well, no, quite,” Fuu mumbled, removing her glasses and placing them on the other table. She slid down to lay next to him, toying with the cuffs of her sleeves. He watched her fondly, recalling that the last time she removed her glasses…
Aware that he might alarm her for doing this sort of thing on his bed, he edged over to cup her face and kiss her anyway. She was quite surprised, but did not pull away or resist. Rather, she closed her eyes and pressed her hands against his chest. He wrapped his arms around her waist and they laid there for another magical moment. She looked disappointed when he pulled away and said, “Goodnight, beautiful.”
“Goodnight…Ferio,” Fuu replied, now smiling sleepily. She closed the gap between them again, nestled her head against him and closed her eyes. He contentedly closed his eyes too, and they drifted into a deep sleep together.
Umi and Hikaru had been encouraged into the palace’s large public bath by Caldina and Presea, in the hopes that the relaxation would help their terrible hangovers. There was an unmistakable absence of Fuu in the large bowl-shaped pool, however.
“Our prince is very forward, isn’t he?” Caldina mused, as ever not trying very hard at all to conceal her dignity. Because of this, it was quite difficult to take her question seriously.
Umi stretched her arms, her head still muddled from the hangover and starting to feel floaty in the steam, “A little, but I think he’s good for Fuu. Besides, she won’t let him do anything she doesn’t want to do.”
“Ah,” said Hikaru, also looking rather worse for wear, “But haven’t you noticed that Fuu-chan becomes very silly around Ferio?”
“Hikaru-chan, don’t make us worry,” Umi said, lowering herself deeper into the water.
Fuu herself had woken up rather a long time ago with some subconscious notion, despite the lack of real windows anywhere in the room, that the sun might be rising. Quietly, she untangled herself from Ferio’s arms, and, taking the book with her, passed through the two doors to the corridor housing that enormous glass window. She sat on the cool marble floor and watched the sun start to rise over at least two ranges of mountains that were in view. She looked at the map in the book – she couldn’t read the Cephiran script labelling them, but it was easy to identify which ones they were.
“These are the Altima Mountains,” a soft voice said behind her. She almost jumped, then looked back to see the Master Mage of New Cephiro – Guru Clef. He smiled apologetically, and then pointed to the ones that were the next furthest away, “To the left you can see the Outlooks, in front of us, the Murano mountains, and to your right, the Polizu and Galant mountain ranges.”
Fuu wasn’t wearing her glasses, but she willed herself to see more clearly, and she could. Squinting against the rising sun, she looked out past the last two ranges, “And I think I can see the Forest of Silence from here, Master Mage Clef. Would I be right?”
He nodded, with another of his smiles, the smile he used to appreciate with never-ending wonder, the beauty of his world, “Not so far from where I first met you young women from another world. And, I have been told, where you met Prince Ferio.”
Fuu now nodded her head in confirmation, but couldn’t think of anything to add. Instead, she opted for an apology, “Master Mage Clef, I’m sorry that we turned up for a long while without thinking to ask ahead.”
He sighed and shook his head, looking amused, “Fuu, you know that Umi and I have a reputation for play-fighting,” he looked a little pensive at this, but he continued. “It is always a pleasure to have you three here with us. We are indebted to you not on one count, but two,” he stood next to her, closer to the window, “But what do you intend to do? Surely, you can’t live your lives just passing between Earth and New Cephiro.”
Fuu pulled her knees up against her chest, and became conscious that her feet were getting cold. She looked out over the scenery in front of her, feeling as if she were in some fantasy video game, “I don’t really know, Master Mage Clef. I know I intend to finish high school with Umi-san and Hikaru-san – we’re working to get into the same one together – but I don’t know where to go from there.”
There was a long silence before Clef asked his next question, and he chose his words carefully; “You do intend to act on your relationship with Prince Ferio, don’t you?”
She was slightly chilled by the fact that he hadn’t turned to look at her when he asked the question; she wasn’t really sure what the right answer would be. She twisted the ring on her finger and said, “I do, and I know this for sure, in my heart, but I don’t really know what is expected of me here.”
“We haven’t had a pair of monarchs in my lifetime,” Clef said, now turning to smile a little sheepishly at her, “So, I am not entirely sure what you would be expected to do as part of your duties either.”
Fuu continued watching the sun break over the mountains, “Well, I would very much like to study under you, if it would be possible. Become a scholar.”
Clef now looked quite pleased and flattered at the same time, “It would be my pleasure, Fuu. From what I have heard, you are a model student. Although, for someone so interested in science and technology, Cephiro must be a very frustrating and bewildering place.”
“I thought that at the beginning, Master Mage Clef, but now I share your love for this place, and I want to learn everything I can about it,” she gazed out of the panoramic window, in awe of the fully fledged sunrise in front of her, “And perhaps, while I am learning at school, I might be able to share some of our Earth academia with you as well.”
“I would be most interested,” he said, giving her another smile, “And I will leave you to your sunrise, Fuu. Please come to the dining hall for breakfast when you are both up and ready.”
Fuu peacefully watched the dawn for a while longer, but decided to crawl back into bed next to Ferio, warming her feet against his. He stirred slightly uncomfortably when her cold skin made contact with his, but did not wake up. She giggled quietly at his wrinkled nose and snuggled up next to him again, falling asleep again almost instantly, not stirring until a few hours later when they were rudely awakened.
“Fuu-chan! Fuu-chan!” Hikaru’s voice somehow penetrated two thick wooden doors. It was accompanied by Umi’s slightly more demanding one a few seconds later, which always grated on Ferio’s nerves.
“Time for breakfast, I suppose?” Fuu asked, rubbing sleep from her eyes. Ferio rolled over onto his front and groaned into the pillows, not wishing to leave the warm haven of his bed. Fuu looked at him, and then got up to check on the outer door. Umi and Hikaru had very damp hair, but looked quite relaxed and healthy considering the amount of alcohol they had consumed the previous evening, “You’ve been in the baths today, already?” Fuu asked.
Hikaru nodded vigorously, sending tiny droplets of water everywhere, “We were going to come and get you, Fuu-chan, but we thought you would be busy. Oww!” Hikaru protested, as Umi gave her a smart nudge in the ribs.
“What Hikaru means, Fuu, is that–”
Fuu laughed quite loudly, which was out of character for her, “I know what you both think. We slept in nightclothes and nothing happened, it was very romantic.”
“So did we,” Umi said with a grin, “But it wasn’t the same without you, Fuu, will you come and stay with us at least once during this trip?”
Fuu smiled brightly, “Of course I will, I’m sure Ferio won’t mind. Now, allow me to go and get dressed, and we will join you for breakfast.”
“See you later, Fuu-chan!” Hikaru beamed, waving as she and Umi made off back to the dining hall.
Without thinking, Fuu began to take off her pyjamas in the lounge and pick out her undergarments and outer clothing for the day. She had just picked up her shirt when she heard the door opening – Ferio must have gotten dressed while she was talking to her friends. She shrieked and positioned the shirt to cover her chest.
“Sorry! Sorry!” Ferio apologised hastily, covering his eyes, “I’ll…I’ll go back in here…until…” he mumbled as he walked back into his bedroom.
Wishing her face didn’t have to flush such a bright shade of red all the time, Fuu was at least glad that he had only caught some of her from behind the sofa, and at least she had been wearing underwear.
“I’m dressed now, Ferio,” Fuu said, opening the door to find that he had been stood directly behind it, looking quite discomposed, “Don’t worry about that.”
“You’re very beautiful, Fuu,” he said quietly, still avoiding eye contact.
“Okay,” Fuu said, flustered at this sudden comment, “Okay. Thank you. We should really go to have breakfast.”
Ferio regained his composure and leaned down the small height difference between them to kiss her once more, “I mean it.”