Umi wasn’t entirely sure that there would be a lot of studying going on this holiday, as she and Fuu were currently fixated with watching Hikaru sparring with Ferio. Lantis apparently didn’t want to fight with Hikaru, and so she had asked someone of a similar height to spar with her, rather than someone like Lafarga.
“Fuu, we really should try to concentrate. Ah, thank you very much, Ascot,” Umi said, taking a ceramic tumbler of some exotic juice from the tall summoner, “What are you doing today?”
Ascot looked as ruffled as he normally did when Umi took any interest in him. It was quite endearing, “I’m not really sure; I suppose I will go and visit one of the villages I stayed in while I was a child…they always seem so happy to see me now.”
“That’s really great, Ascot. I’m pleased for you!” Umi smiled, causing the summoner to go even more red.
Ascot wandered off, mumbling to himself and looking quietly pleased that Umi had paid so much attention to him.
“So! Physics,” said Fuu, looking amused as Umi groaned and placed her head in her hands, “Come now, Umi-san, you’re the one that said we needed to concentrate.”
Umi put on a devilish grin as she raised her head again, “As if you’re one to talk, Fuu, checking out Ferio the whole time when you think I’m not looking.”
Fuu sighed, “I am like a schoolgirl around him, and I can’t help it. He must think I’m so immature.”
“You are a schoolgirl, Fuu. You are fourteen years old, and you are at school. Stop trying to act older than you are, and let yourself have some fun.”
Stunned, Fuu found herself unable to say anything. Umi, like Hikaru, had moments of distinct and serious clarity, though Umi was a lot more matter-of-fact about her advice.
“I suppose you are right, Umi-san.”
Just looking back to their work once more, their heads snapped up again as there was a resounding ‘thud’ noise on the neatly maintained lawn of Cephiro Castle, and saw Ferio flat on his back, holding his sword aloft. Hikaru dropped to her knees, exhausted. Fuu leapt up and went to check on him.
“Ferio, are you okay? Should I use my magic?” Fuu asked, leaning over him to look straight at his face.
Ferio grinned up at her, golden eyes just as flirtatious as ever, “I’m okay, Fuu. I’m sure nothing other than my ego is bruised. But I’m just gonna lay here for a little while longer, just to make sure.”
“I’m sorry, Ferio!” Hikaru said, crawling over, “You’re a really good opponent, thanks for being my sparring partner.”
“The same to you, Hikaru. You must have been training really hard recently.”
Fuu left them to their conversation and went back over to Umi, trying not to worry. However, Ferio did not get up for what felt like a further half hour, and eventually Umi started to pack up the revision materials and prodded Fuu over towards the prince.
“Ferio, aren’t you going to try getting up?” Fuu asked, looking quite concerned.
He looked slightly less confident than before, “Yeah, well, I think I actually landed on my back way harder than I thought, and I think it’s going to hurt a lot when I move.”
And so, Ferio spent the rest of his week in his suite, Fuu finding plenty of excuses to go and visit him, take him his meals, help him to the dining hall later in the week when he felt more mobile…and stay with him overnight for another couple of days. She questioned why he wouldn’t let her use her magic to heal him a little faster, but Ferio gave her a sly smile and never responded. Caldina later suggested to Fuu that he enjoyed having her looking after him, and that he was getting off on it. Fuu said little or nothing in response, and quietly excused herself, secretly pleased.
Finally the time had come, now the girls were becoming quite homesick, to return to Tokyo This is what they had planned; however, Fuu was nowhere to be found once again. Umi resolved that she would go and find her, as she assumed she might find Fuu in the prince’s chambers. She left Hikaru to say her goodbyes to Lantis. Why was she the only one that hadn’t found love in New Cephiro yet?
Umi knocked on the door. Nothing. She entered the first door into that small lounge; Fuu’s suitcase, bag and jacket sitting neatly on or by the little sofa. Umi looked around at the pretty decorations and the trinkets that decorated the room, never tiring of New Cephiro’s culture and history. Her eyes adjusting to the dim light, she found the door to Ferio’s bedroom near a large cluster of bookshelves, where the children’s book about the Magic Knights sat untidily on top of the other, more neatly arranged books. Assuming Fuu to be the slightly prudish, reserved girl she’d always known, she opened the door without hesitation.
For starters, Fuu was – not to put too fine a point on it – sort of on top of Ferio, his hands pulling her shirt up to slightly reveal her bra as they lay locked in an intense kiss on his bed. Ferio also seemed to be lacking in clothing above his waist, and Umi wasn’t sure whether to stare, leave the room, or make her presence known. She resolved to step inside nonchalantly and close the door none too quietly.
Fuu scrabbled to pull her shirt down, and turned to see who was in the room, “Umi-san! I didn’t hear you-”
“It’s time to go, Fuu,” Umi said, trying to avert her gaze, “I’ll um, I’ll be in the next room.”
She went back into the lounge, trying to fight the urge to giggle madly. She had never expected to find Fuu in such a compromising position just yet! After all those months of nothing with Ferio, they’d certainly gotten a lot more comfortable with each other in the last few days.
“I’m here, Umi-san!” Fuu announced, looking quite flustered and gathering her things with haste, “Are we departing from the throne room as normal?”
Umi nodded, unable to wipe the smirk from her face. Fuu trailed a little behind her on their way to the throne room, though both of them were running, Fuu’s suitcase bouncing behind her and occasionally catching her heels.
Hasty goodbyes were said to the other residents of Cephiro, all of them with knowing smiles to Fuu – some too knowing, and some far too assuming – as the Magic Knights departed on their way back to Tokyo Tower.
Hikaru made a note to look at her phone again: 2.35pm. She frowned. It was a minute later than they had left, but she figured they could have just been on the cusp of a minute changing between leaving and returning. She chose not to say anything about this to Umi and Fuu at this time, but she thought she should keep an eye on it.
“Off to my house, then, right, Umi-chan, Fuu-chan?” Hikaru asked, smiling up at them both. She noticed however that Umi was withholding a smirk, and Fuu was hiding behind her hair, looking shamed.
“Let’s look out over the city, Hikaru-san. We did pay to do this, after all,” Fuu said, turning to face a window rather than face her friends after what Umi had seen. She looked down, seeing that the queue was still as long as it had been when they entered, still disorientated since they’d been away for a week in her mind.
She thought back to her looking out over Cephiro when Clef had given her that little geography lesson. Tokyo was so different, so advanced, so metropolitan.
“Do you think Autozam looks anything like this?” Fuu asked, as Umi and Hikaru came to stand beside her.
“I think it’s even further advanced than our Tokyo,” Hikaru said, leaning on a railing to look out over the city herself, “Wow, Tokyo just isn’t as amazing once you’ve been to New Cephiro, is it? I’m glad we’ve been able to see the Cephiro that we always heard about. It’s so far on its way to being back how it used to be. So beautiful!”
Umi ruffled the redhead’s hair, “In no small part thanks to you, Hikaru.”
Hikaru laughed, enjoying her friend’s sisterly affection, “Come on guys, let’s go have an awesome night at my house.”
Over the coming months, Tokyo grew colder. The girls started to wear their winter uniforms to school, and their winter coats and scarves on their visits to New Cephiro, confusing the inhabitants; Cephiro was still the country of eternal spring, and they had never known snow or cold weather. The girls wondered, if they wished hard enough, whether they might be able to summon snow one day.
“Incoming!” Hikaru yelled, launching two snowballs at her friends – they were back in Shiba Park, in front of the Tokyo Tower. This weekend they didn’t plan on visiting New Cephiro, however; they were just out having a good time the day before Hikaru’s kendo test for her scholarship.
Fuu ducked in time, but Umi found a snowball hit her squarely in the back of the head, soaking her neatly plaited hair, and falling down the back of her expensive dry-clean-only overcoat. The Magic Knight of Water turned on her heel, looking furious, watching the fire knight laugh hysterically. Umi pondered her return attack. She should probably have her revenge a little later, when Hikaru least expected it.
It was also nearing Fuu’s birthday, and she hoped that she could spend some of it in New Cephiro, owing to the fact that her romance had recently developed. They had never progressed further than this newfangled kissing thing, of course, but they were doing it rather a lot. Fuu felt quite pleased with herself, like she was being a normal teenage girl, were it not for the fact that she was dating a prince from another world.
She also had a task ahead of her for this next trip.
Kuu had become very worried about her younger sister, who would often fluctuate between being very happy to go out with her friends, wistful and sad when she got back, tearful over long times apart from them…and then of course there was that terrible period of depression between seeing them the first and second times at the Tokyo Tower.
Fuu had made the mistake of writing down a lot of her very detailed thoughts in a journal that she normally kept safely in her desk drawer, but one day she had left it open when she raced to go to school. Kuu had gone into her sister’s room to ensure the window was closed before she left for school herself and their parents went to work, and the notebook had caught her eye, largely because of the love hearts drawn everywhere. This seemed very out of character for her ever-serious younger sister, and she had stood reading just the open pages.
Later, in private, Kuu had asked who Prince Ferio was, smiling as if it were a silly pet name her sister had been using for a local boy who might be particularly into cars. Fuu had looked horrified and covered her mouth, eyes wide. She didn’t really know what to say – she considered making up some story about an imaginary friend, some role-playing game she did with Umi and Hikaru – but she had finally chosen to share her worries with Kuu, who had never yet let her down with a secret.
Kuu was a surprisingly believing person, enthralled by the stories of their first visit, aware of her sister’s discomfort as she told the story of Emeraude and Zagato. After all, why would Fuu go into this much detail to make up something so fantastical and chilling, especially when it perfectly explained all her strange moods? She smiled wider whenever Fuu mentioned this Ferio character, who had obviously stolen her heart. And really, her little sister, dating a prince from another world?
Kuu had asked Fuu to wait as she went to her own room, rummaged for a few minutes and returned with a bulky camera. Fuu looked surprised as Kuu handed her the Polaroid 600, one of her most prized possessions. “Well,” Kuu had said, a mischievous smile on her pretty face, “Maybe my favourite little sister can take a photo of her favourite young man for me.”
Fuu in fact felt very relieved to have got this off her chest to someone that wasn’t Hikaru, Umi, or some resident of New Cephiro or its neighbouring allies.
Of course, in her reverie, she was caught by a snowball from Hikaru in the small of her back. Umi laughed this time, collecting her own snowballs to launch at Hikaru while the redhead was distracted.
The girls piled in, tired and wet, to the living room at Fuu’s house – the closest of their residences to the Tokyo Tower. Kuu had been forewarned by text message, and had prepared mugs of hot chocolate for the girls when they returned. Fuu had asked her sister not to say anything she knew about their situation; she wasn’t sure how Hikaru and Umi would react to someone else knowing about their story.
“Are you sure this is the best thing you should have done, the day before you have that competition, Hikaru-san?” Fuu asked, warming her hands on the hot beverage.
Hikaru nodded, “Having fun with my two best friends? Of course that is the best idea, Fuu-chan!”
Umi smiled at the elder Hououji sister as she was passed her cup of hot chocolate, “Thank you very much, Kuu-san. This is just what we need! It’s very cold out.”
Kuu made a little curtsy with a pleased smile and exited the room, informing Fuu that she would be out with her own friends for the rest of the day, and wishing Hikaru the best of luck with earning her scholarship to CLAMP School.
A few hours later, Hikaru regretfully went home on her own; Fuu and Umi walked her to the nearest Metro station, as they planned to stay at Fuu’s to study, Umi would sleep over, and they would all meet at CLAMP School the next day to watch Hikaru’s match. It felt strange to do something without Hikaru, but it was an important time for all three of them, and things like this had to be put to the back of their minds. They wished Hikaru a good night’s sleep and waved her off as she entered the station on the way back to her dojo.
“So, Umi-san, what did you want to study this evening?” Fuu asked, sat on the floor with Umi. They had made up a futon on the floor for her, in contrast to Fuu’s modern western-style single bed against the wall.
Umi looked very disheartened, unpacking her books from that same little suitcase, “I don’t feel very much like studying tonight, Fuu. I’m afraid I’m never going to get in. I feel like the learning to CLAMP’s standard is taking a very long time to happen. All I really want to study is foreign language and cooking! Why do I need to have all these technical subjects, too?”
Fuu gave her friend a sympathetic smile, “Umi-san, you know I am happy to help you until you feel you are completely confident to pass this entrance exam into the school. Unfortunately, I cannot fathom their entrance requirements either. They just have to ask for the same subjects as every other school in Japan, I suppose, even if they do offer specialist education.”
“What will you be studying, Fuu?”
Fuu smiled, looking across at her computer which was displaying a screen saver, “I will be taking mathematics and computer science, Umi-san. I am afraid that the three of us will be taking completely different subjects, but we will always be able to have library sessions, Japanese studies and our lunches together. Maybe even extra-curricular activities too.”
Umi was warmed by this reassurance, but she had to ask; “Fuu, those subjects won’t be very helpful when you become princess of New Cephiro, will they?”
Fuu sighed, looking amused, the same way she did every time Umi brought this up, “I am not thinking about that yet, Umi-san. I just want to study the subjects I enjoy the most. I consider New Cephiro’s monarchy to be more decorative than anything, so I don’t assume politics or any other subject would really be very beneficial to me. Now then, mathematics, or sciences?”
Umi groaned, but got ready for a late night of studying with her genius best friend.
The CLAMP School seemed to have rather a large subscription to its scholarship competitions, especially when it came to any of the traditional martial arts. Thankfully, the snow had caused them to hold this competition inside, and Umi and Fuu were just taking their coats off and settling down when Hikaru came into view for her deciding match. These competitions had taken place over several days already, days that Umi and Fuu were unable to attend due to their own commitments with their own schools.
They had been told not to wave or make themselves known to Hikaru. She had to pretend they were not there. She had to bring everything she knew about her martial art into this one match, for she would be judged from her actions here. It could mean getting into the prestigious CLAMP School and getting a fantastic foundation for working with animals, or settling for that public school her somewhat conceited friends had tried to coerce her into attending.
Hikaru would be up against a highly regarded first-year member of the high school’s kendo club, apparently well matched for her. Hikaru had to worry; she believed a lot in her own abilities, but she could never underestimate the girl she was up against here, if she was indeed a good match for her.
The match was long and difficult, though Hikaru discovered that she consistently held the upper hand due to her constant and dedicated training, as well as some fights against wild cards like Ferio and Lafarga that didn’t conform to kendo principles. She emerged victorious to an awed crowd, and laughed nervously when they started to applaud and whistle. She looked for Umi and Fuu in the crowd and waved to them, giving them a thumbs up with her free hand, still clutching her sword. She had done it, and she was the first of the three Magic Knights to get into their dream school.
“You were so amazing, Hikaru!” Umi shouted, hugging her friend tightly; she had escaped from the spectators’ seats to congratulate her, Fuu still politely trying to get out from between the people Umi had almost trampled.
“Yes, congratulations, Hikaru-san!” Fuu added, joining in with the hug, “Now we just have to hope that Umi-san and I can get in!”
“That will be no problem for you, Fuu,” Umi said sadly, still not confident in her abilities. She thought she might never get into CLAMP School at this rate, even with Fuu’s tutoring.
“You’ll be fine, Umi-chan! Besides, you have Fuu-chan teaching you!”
Fuu was quiet for a moment, and then spoke, “Umi-san, why didn’t you try to get in the same way as Hikaru? I’m sure there is a way in for people good at fencing.”
Umi shook her head, “I left it too late to enter that way; the fencing tournament registration finished long before Hikaru registered for the kendo route, and I didn’t even know. This is the only option I have left.”
“Well! Chin up, Umi-chan, the entrance exams aren’t until February. They’re two months away! Let’s have a fun time for Fuu’s birthday, and Christmas and New Year, and then we’ll concentrate again. I can try to help you, too!”
Umi smiled, almost moved to tears by her two friends, “Thanks guys, you’re the best.”
Fuu’s parents and sister had always known that Fuu would want to see her friends on her birthday, and so they had organised a trip to the Tokyo Tower themselves as a surprise; they would go to a restaurant and visit some shops before arriving at the viewing platform. Finding this out on the morning of her fifteenth birthday, Fuu hid her worries and went to contact Hikaru and Umi in a slight panic over instant messenger.
They reassured her – her family shouldn’t notice that they would disappear for a split second. Fuu wondered if she should mention that Kuu knew all about it, but thought better of it. She didn’t really want her friends to know this. It was something special that the three of them shared, and she wasn’t sure how they would react to knowing that someone else was in on the secret.
Fuu heard a knock at her door, and turned to her right to see Kuu dressed up and ready to go out, waving money in her gloved hand, “Mother and Father are treating us to breakfast out by ourselves, would you like to start your day the unhealthy way and go to the McDonald’s down the road for breakfast, Fuu-san?”
Fuu smiled at her sister – they rarely did anything together alone, but had grown closer since Fuu had shared the secret about New Cephiro and Ferio – and nodded, “Please excuse me then, Kuu-oneesama, I will wrap up for the weather!”
Dressed up in her new winter coat – a birthday present she got almost every other year – with a scarf, warm gloves and fur-lined boots, Fuu said goodbye for now in her group chat to Umi and Hikaru, and descended the stairs to find Kuu sitting ready in the kitchen, checking her phone for messages. Kuu stood up and offered her arm to Fuu, “Shall we go, then, Fuu-san?”
Fuu giggled and took Kuu’s arm, waving to their parents – still dressed in their nightwear and dressing gowns – and the two sisters emerged onto the snowy street. There had been perhaps a few centimetres of snow in the night, just enough to enjoy without being dangerous. The neighbourhood children were already out and building snowmen and throwing snowballs at each other, so Fuu and Kuu made their way hastily down the street to avoid being hit, laughing with each other and enjoying the fresh air.
“You’ll be visiting that other place with your friends today, won’t you, Fuu-san?” Kuu asked, and was rewarded by a nod from her younger sister, “Will it be a problem that mother and father and I are there?”
Fuu shook her head now, busying herself with looking at the menu as they lined up for their orders, “You wouldn’t even notice us gone. Last time, we were in New Cephiro for a week, but no time passed in Tokyo before we got back.”
“Then maybe your birthday has already passed, Fuu-san!” Kuu giggled, and Fuu was appreciative of the fact that Kuu would believe every word she said about their time in the other world. It was refreshing to talk about it with someone other than Umi and Hikaru, “And I should make sure that you have my camera!”
Fuu did have to wonder for the rest of the morning, even as she, Kuu and her parents travelled towards Shiba Park to meet with Umi and Hikaru; what exactly did all of this time spent in New Cephiro do to their physical ages? Fuu always felt full of vitality and youth when she was there; it seemed to have a positive effect on her health, due to its lack of industrialisation, its clear air, and pure spring waters. She somehow felt that it might be making her more youthful rather than older.
A message from Umi suggested that she had brought two cakes in the basket she would be carrying; one for New Cephiro and one for the six of them to share later when they returned. Fuu mailed back her thanks, minutes before she was hugged aggressively and very loudly wished a happy birthday by her two best friends.
Fuu discovered that her parents had booked ahead at one of the restaurants in the Tokyo Tower, which was probably for the best, since it was so busy at this time of year. They ate a traditional Japanese winter meal, sharing a large communal bowl of oden, filling and warming, glad to be in from the cold and growing very red-faced and comfortable in the warmth of the restaurant.
Fuu and her two friends ran ahead of her family to the Tokyo Tower viewing platform, gathering their hands together in haste and disappearing to New Cephiro minutes before even Kuu had ascended the stairs. Only, Kuu did see something; as she got to the top of the stairs to the viewing deck, she couldn’t see the three girls. Disconcertingly, just before her parents got to the deck, she saw the girls reappear from thin air, giggling; Fuu looking thoroughly happy and sporting a girly pinkish blush. She turned to Kuu and gave her a thumbs up, suggesting that she had got the photo Kuu wanted, though was surprised when her sister responded with nothing more than a nervous smile.
Hikaru also had noticed something, checking her phone when they returned. Had another minute or so passed since last time? She caught Kuu’s eye as she looked up from her phone and exchanged an alarmed look with the bewildered girl, but neither of them said anything to the others.
Another hour was spent in the Tokyo Tower, Fuu’s parents slightly wearied already and wondering how their daughter and her friends managed to come here almost every week without getting bored. Fuu and Umi didn’t seem to notice that Hikaru and Kuu were quieter and slightly worried, even when Kuu wasn’t quite as enthusiastic as usual about the chick pastries she liked so much from the Tower’s patisserie kiosk. Umi was happy that she had a break from studying for a few weeks, and she was starting to think that she might have a thing for Ascot after all; she was even allowing Hikaru to tease her about it, which was a sign in itself. Fuu on the other hand was just smiling happily to herself, her hand over the freshly developed Polaroid in her deep coat pocket. Umi and Hikaru didn’t know anything about this one.
Ferio had of course been quite confused but amazed by Kuu’s camera, and seemed concerned that Fuu had shared this information with someone other than the two other Magic Knights, sister or not. He seemed pleased to hear that she and Kuu got along well enough to share this, though, and he said he wished he’d been able to spend more time with his sister during his childhood. He had sat cheerfully on the sofa in his lounge after this conversation, despite his back still being a little stiff, allowing Fuu to take his photograph, and then pleading for one of her. Fuu was amused by the novelty using the camera brought him, resulting in a beautiful natural smile in the photograph Ferio now kept by his bed.
“I’m sorry, Kuu-oneesama, one of your photographs from this cassette is back with Ferio. He was very amused,” Fuu said, handing back her sister’s camera as they sat in her room later. Kuu still didn’t look quite like she was feeling one hundred percent okay, and Fuu finally noticed this, “What is the matter, Kuu-oneesama?”
Kuu fiddled with the sleeves of her jacket for a moment before looking into her sister’s identical green eyes, “Fuu-san, I don’t think you are immediately returning from the other world. I saw you and Hikaru-san and Umi-san appear from nowhere before mother and father got up to the observation deck. We were only a minute or so behind you, and I don’t think anyone else saw, but I thought it was very strange.”
Fuu was surprised, and slightly worried. Was there something up with the link between the Tokyo Tower and New Cephiro? She bit her lip, holding on to the photograph tightly against her chest.
“But, Fuu-san, that is probably something to worry about with Hikaru-san and Umi-san; I don’t think I can offer any help. In the meantime, may I see this young prince of yours?”
“Of course!” Fuu said, putting those worries to the back of her mind for now. She handed the photograph carefully to Kuu, her blush returning.
“Oh,” Kuu said, grinning at the photo, “He is quite a handsome prince, isn’t he?”
Fuu allowed herself a girlish giggle, “I’m glad you approve, Kuu-oneesama.”
Kuu squinted, something catching her eye, “And this in his ear, Fuu-san, is this the same kind of ring you have on your finger? Did you forget to tell me you are engaged?”
Fuu looked alarmed, and then went on to explain her non-engagement, rather that there was no real concept of marriage in New Cephiro, and it was more a statement of affection than anything, but that Hikaru and Umi had made the same mistake in asking her. And then Kuu insisted with some firmness that Fuu had to talk to their parents about it if she intended to leave Earth to marry this boyish Prince Charming of hers, and she left her younger sister worrying on her bed.