The year was 1322, thirty years after the crisis of the Gate of Revolution. The Kingdom was at peace, a ten year stretch of peace and prosperity that saw the next generation rise to prominence and make their mark on the world.
The Child of Fire, Hiko, had a child of her own, Morgan, who, unlike Hiko, was fast becoming a master of the sword. The Child of Wood, Shizumaru, had born a son, Moriya, who very much took after his father, exploring the ways of the sword and the elements. The Child of Air, Mikage, mysteriously presented the world his daughter, Nausicaa, who shared her father's mastery of the mind, though was far more friendly. Kanna, born of Corrine of Ember, followed in her mother's footsteps, though with a lot more thrown punches. Ramon and Keiko gave birth to Motoko, who entered the ranks of magic and military. Beowulf, son of Wakaba, now grown up, made his debut in Amber.
The next generation of the kingdom of Amber had grown up....
Except for one, who had disappeared 20 years ago.
And she was finally coming back.
A shy eleven year old girl peered into the grand castle entrance, hiding behind the coattails of her father, a far taller, louder presence.
The moment they entered the room, it seemed they slowly became the center of attention, as one by one, the servants and staff noticed them and, after a moment's nagging doubt, realized who they were looking at.
"This is... home?"
"Yeah, yeah it is, sweetie. Welcome home."
"This... this is really home?"
"Yeah, yeah it is." The man finally noticed all the attention they were getting, and turned to the people.
"Ladies'n Gents!" he said with joy and pride in his voice. "My daughter, Jacqueline Tenjou has returned! Give'er a big welcome for me! Let'er feel the love, y'all!"
It was, all in all, a very touching moment, especially when Lady Kasumi emerged from the hallways and ran to her child, taking her in her arms and crying tears of joy.
The rest of her return to Amber wouldn't be quite as dramatic... though still interesting.
Kanna was looking forward to a brief vacation in the Arden forests, her former stomping grounds and home to many elves she befriended. What she found there instead was an unexpected surprise.
The massively muscular red-head stared down at the pink-haired little girl. The little girl did likewise.
The first thing Kanna said was, "Dwah?"
The first thing Jacqueline said was, "...."
Kanna stared at Ramon and Ota, then back at Jacqueline, then back at Ramon and Ota. "You mean this is... she is..." She stared at Jacqueline again. "You're... Jacqueline?"
The smaller girl smiled weakly and nodded. Her eyes briefly scanned the room in a helter-skelter manner, as if looking for some place to duck into. She took a step backwards, not quite hiding behind Ota, but almost.
"B-b-but she's so... I mean she's still..." She looked at Jacqueline again. "I mean, you're so... _small_. It was twenty years since..." She thought a moment. "Slow shadow?"
"Damn slow shadow, I guess," said Ota. "But it's really her."
"Um, hi," said Jacqueline.
A broad smile formed on Kanna's lips, and she suddenly wrapped Jacqueline up in a hug. "Welcome back, Jacqui-chan! It's good to have you home!"
"NNng... aack.... can't... breathe...."
"Oh! Sorry about that," said Kanna, putting Jacqueline down, though still smiling. "Sometimes I don't know my own strength, y'know." She turned to the elves and shouted, "Alright guys! Jacqueline's back! Let's throw'er a party!"
The Elves of Arden roared their approval.
Meanwhile, Jacqueline, now fully hiding behind her father, tugged his sleeve. "Daddy... Kanna is.... er.... huge."
Ota snorted. "Yeah, baby, s'a Harad thing, I think."
There was a disturbance in the force.
Moriya sensed this, being a child of the Child of Wood, deep in his element. He'd come out to Arden to relax, meditate a bit, iron out the writer's block he'd had on his poetry, and so far it was going rather well. Twelve haikus and two sonnets.
"Strange," he muttered.
And so Moriya took a deep breath, strode over to a nearby cliff that had a magnificent view of the forest below, and blinked slowly as a small mushroom cloud suddenly came to life in the distance.
No, that couldn't possibly be good.
He frowned and pulled out his trump of Aunt Hiko, Arden Warden.
"Hello, Aunt Hiko. There seems to have been an explosion off to the edge of the western forest."
Hiko smiled wryly. "Yes, I'm all too aware of it. That was-"
Moriya suddenly had a bad feeling.
He looked behind him, around him....
And then he looked up just in time to see a pink-haired cranium slam into him from above.
--- WHAM ---
"Jacquel... oh. There you are. Jacqueline, meet your cousin Moriya, your Uncle Shizumaru's son. Moriya, this is Jacqueline, your long lost cousin."
"....... hel.... ow... hello there."
"nice.... owie... to meet... owowow... you."
Yumi looked down at her freshly bandaged student and chuckled. "I'm sorry, I'm not laughing at you, sweetie," she assured Jacqueline. "It's just... I'm just happy to see you, even if you're still clumsy with magic. In a way, it's reassuring," she said, ruffling Jacqueline's hair. "You're still the Jacqui-chan I knew."
Jacqueline blinked. That was a compliment. She thought. Best to treat it like one. "Thank you, auntie," she said softly.
"Oh, but you have to meet Lily now, she'll be so happy to see you!" said Yumi, pulling out Lily's trump card. "And my other daughter, Mitsune, I'm sure you two will be good friends."
"Lily's, ah, older now too, I guess," mumbled Jacqueline.
A moment later, she was proven right, as a young lady with flowing blond hair and wearing a rather revealing outfit emerged.
Perception clash hit Jacqueline for what seemed like the hundredth time this day. Lily, in her mind, was born just a few weeks ago. Now, Lily was twice her age.
"Um...nice to meet you," said Jacqueline.
Lily smiled warmly and leaned down to talk to Jacqueline. "It's a pleasure to meet you too, Jaqui-chan," replied Lily.
There was a tapping on Jacqueline's shoulder. She turned around and stared into the gaping maw of a freakish monster.
A little girl Jacqueline's own age put down the mask, stared up at the ceiling and whistled. "Wow, she really shot up there fast, didn't she."
"Mitsune-chan, that was _not_ nice," chided Yumi. "Jacqui-chan? Sweetie? You can let go of the chandalier now, okay? That's it, let go slowly..."
She had returned to the castle to have a word with her grandmother, but Motoko found herself in an odd mood this day, instead wandering aimlessly around the castle halls and thinking back to her childhood days. Scattered about the castle grounds were the bookmarks of memories, hallways she once ran in, ballrooms they had held parties in, gardens she had once played in.
From the gardens in the back, he looked up at the various balconies and eyed one in particular, the balcony where her long lost cousin Jacqueline would have been... if she was still alive. It'd been twenty years since she disappeared, and while others held onto hope (aunt Kasumi insisted that the room remain untouched), Motoko was not quite the optimist. She only hoped that Jaqueline's end was painless, whatever it was.
Jacqueline.... growing up, she seemed rather the opposite of Motoko. Shy, polite but awkward, insecure, and always so very clumsy with magic.
Motoko shook her head and turned away, looking instead at the sunset, and cracked a small smile. It was the sort of sunset that might inspire Moriya to write poetry.
Her admiration of the sunset was interrupted as a small drop of water tapped her on the head.
Odd, there wasn't a cloud in the sky.
Another drop of water fell down, and another. There was a tingle of magic in the air nearby, she could sense it. It wasn't just any magic, but a familiar sort... one she'd made a long time ago with....
She looked straight up, just in time to see the sudden river of water crashing down upon her.
She had enough presence of mind to try to teleport out, but the rushing waters cut her off, sweeping her off her feet and sending her tumbling head over heels down the gardens.
There were bumps, there were scrapes, but Motoko managed to avoid serious injuriy as she was flung across the garden. As quickly as it came, the waters stopped, and a very dazed Motoko gasped for air and pushed her wet hair out from her face.
A ghost stared back at her.
It had to be a ghost, because Jacqueline was dead, and even if she wasn't, she surely would no longer be a child.
The ghost continued to stare at her.
Motoko continued to stare back.
"Ara..." said the ghost in a very Jacqueline-esque way.
"Do... do I know you?" Jacqueline's ghost asked.
It seemed rather... solid for a ghost. Maybe this was a hallucination. She reached forward slowly and poked Jacqueline in the arm.
Yes, very solid. Also very wet. She didn't think ghosts were damp, no. Maybe the ones that leave slime, but the girl before her didn't seem particularly slimy.
So Motoko asked, "What... what's your name?"
"Ano.... Jacqueline Tenjou. Sorry about this."
Yes, yes, that's exactly how Jacqueline apologized after one of her massive blunders, JUST like that!
She stared at Jacqueline.
Jacqueline stared at her.
She still stared at Jacqueline.
Moriya blinked at the very drenched and soggy Motoko.
Motoko blinked at the bandage on Moriya's head.
"What happened to you?" they asked in unison.
Jacqueline sat on her balcony, looking up at the stars. It was her bedtime, but she was still feeling dazed from... well... everything. She didn't remember being gone twenty years, no, it had to be some sort of mistake.
But everyone she knew was.... well... grown up.
Aunt Kanna _really_ seemed more like an aunt now. Motoko, the Motoko that was just a few years younger than her, Motoko seemed like a whole different person. Morgan... Morgan really changed too. Little baby Lily was all grown up! All the chambermaid's children she knew were now chambermaids themselves, or had gone on to other things.
Well, at least they were still nice to her. Though nobody had time to play dollhouse anymore.
She sighed for what seemed like the hundredth time that night, and went to bed. It was gonna be a long day tomorrow too. She was supposed to be checked over by Dr. Wasyuu (though daddy didn't seem happy about that), then more training with Auntie Yumi (she hoped Mitsune would be nicer next time) and then they were gonna meet Auntie Wakaba's son (Jacqueline thought that was rather neat) and then Uncle Nagisa's daughter (also rather neat, Uncle Nagisa was a Nice Uncle) and then do this and that and other things she just lost track of...
Oh well. Maybe it'd be fun. Maybe it wouldn't.
But at least she was home.