Chapter 51: The Third Wish
More than a year ago, the Chang twins transferred to Seijou Junior High
class 2-1 to carry out their ancestor’s revenge, their alter egos being the
“Dark Ones.” Kinomoto Sakura, the Card Mistress chosen by Clow Reed, was once
again thrown into a hurdle of attacks, awakening in her the new power to seal
dark forces into Sakura Cards. Meanwhile, Li Syaoran who had returned to
Soon, the two discovered glimpses of the past that were unexpected and at times shocking, such as the ambiguous relationship between Li Ryuuren, Syaoran’s father and Amamiya Nadeshiko, Sakura’s mother. Simultaneously, the attacks from the “Dark One” increased in number and intensity, while Sakura and Syaoran had to relearn how to trust each other and most importantly, believe in their own strengths. Despite his uncle’s warning to stay away from Sakura resulting in his initial brusqueness towards her, Syaoran slowly began to realize for the first time that there were matters of more importance to him than Clan honor. From the whirlpool of events ranging from the camping trip, the New York adventure, staying together in Syaoran’s apartment, summer vacation on the run in Tokyo, the Best Couple Contest, the Star-Crossed Production and the many events in between, the arguments and the laughter, the bond between the two strengthened as they became more truthful about their feelings regarding each other.
What began as a simple matter of defeating the Dark Ones became more
complicated as more and more people got involved. Old friends were there as
always. Kero-chan and Yue remained Sakura’s faithful guardians, ready to
protect their mistress at any moment. Daidouji Tomoyo was exhilarated by more
opportunities to videotape her cousin and best friend, and make Sakura, and
anyone else who would endure it, new battle outfits. Initially intending
mischief when she returned to Japan after Syaoran, Li Meilin, still struggling
with her longtime affection for her childhood fiancé Syaoran, gradually began
to mature by the time she returned to
New acquaintances were made also. With the trip to
Chang Eron and Erika sometimes were puzzled by Sakura’s easing going attitude towards them. For though they were the “Dark Ones,” and their true identity was not exactly a secret, they might have opened up to their sworn enemies more than they had ever expected to. Recently in the ski trip, the two realized that in the end, there may be forces even greater and deeper than their ancestor’s vengeance call.
One dark and sinister winter’s
night, not long after the junior high ski trip, Chang Eron leaned over the
banister of his balcony, the bitter cold biting through his thin cotton shirt,
reflecting upon the past year. In the past year and a half, he had participated
in a violin concert, a trip to
If he could stall for just a little longer. But even as he opened his eyes again to the bleak night, the wind whispered in his ears, “Time is running out. Choose, Chang Eron.”
Eron crumpled on his knees, still clasping the banister, his knuckles turning white. “I can’t.”
“You must. It is now time,” came the deadly chill voice.
“I refuse to,” he gasped, clutching his hands over his ears, unable to block out the menacing Voice.
“You cannot disobey, Chang Eron.”
“I am not your puppet!” Eron shouted out loud. His heart beat so rapidly, that he felt as if a hand was squeezing it. Eron dragged himself up again and staggered back to his room. “I will… I will make her mine. Then, then I’ll figure something out.”
Sakura propped her head on her chin and stared out at the barren trees outside the hospital window. Working at the hospital had at first seemed like a tedious obligation after joining the journalism club, but now it had become a part of her weekly routine. She was taking a break in the middle of her usual chores; she wondered if Syaoran was at the hospital yet. They haven’t had a chance to talk since the ski trip, him being busy with soccer practice and his after-school job. Or maybe he was deliberately avoiding her. You never could tell with him.
“Sakura, there you are,” Yukito said, bursting into the linen room. “I need you to come with me for a second.”
“What is it, Yukito-san?” Sakura asked, troubled by the worried look on Yukito’s usually relaxed face. She also liked working at the hospital because it provided a chance to see Yukito on a regular basis; the long feeling of ardor had faded into a warmness and sense of familiarity. Being near Yukito always made her feel calm.
“It’s Subaru. He’s been giving the nurses some trouble again.” Yukiyo sighed. Whether at the orphanage or in the hospital, the boy was always ready to cause a ruckus.
Subaru had been hospitalized since before Christmas. It was no surprise that he was restless. There were only few people that could handle the seven-year-old boy’s tantrums. If Syaoran or Kai were around, Subaru usually listened to them. He had a tendency to listen to Touya as well, but children tended to obey the ogre-‘nii-sama, as he was labeled at the hospital. Yet, most of the nurses were helpless when Subaru began to yell at the top of his voice. And he also unsettled the other children in the children’s ward, which usually lead to chaos and tantrum throwing contest.
Even down the corridor leading to the children’s ward, Sakura could already hear echoes of Subaru’s yelling. Some other children were bawling as well. She rushed into the room to the end bed which was surrounded by a group of flustered nurses.
“Sakura-chan, thank goodness you’re here,” said the head nurse. “Do you think you can handle things?”
“I’ll talk to Subaru—can you leave us alone?” Sakura said, smiling sympathetically at the nurses who filed out of the room in relief. Yukito went around to the other children, who stopped crying as they looked up to see Yukito’s reassuring smile. Without surprise, Yukito was a favorite among the children and nurses alike.
Meanwhile, Subaru had stopped yelling and glared up at Sakura ferociously, or at least as ferocious as he could muster. Though he had never been well fed at the orphanage, he had lost considerable weight over the past weeks. His eyes were hollow and his skin had lost all of its healthy tan. A gray knit hat covered his head—he had lost all his thick brown hair as a side effect of chemotherapy. Sakura and Tomoyo had knit little caps of varying colors for Subaru, most of which the boy had thrown out the window in his last tantrum. Sakura’s heart ached at the mere sight of him, for she knew how active and lively he usually was; he loved to run around outside, and was full of mischief and laughter. It was no wonder he was cranky, being cooped up indoors the entire winter. She asked gently, “Su-chan, what’s the matter?”
“Sakura-nee-chan,” he said in a broken voice, hoarse from all the yelling. “Sakura-nee-chan, get me out of here. I want to leave here. Why do I have to stay in bed all the time? I want to go back. Even to that orphanage. I miss Mai-chan, and Ken-kun, and Riku and Nozomi-sensei…”
“I’m sorry Su-chan,” Sakura whispered, hugging Subaru tightly. “I’m sorry, but you have to stay here a little longer. Be a brave boy, okay?”
“Why?” demanded Subaru, pushing Sakura away. “I’m sick of the hospital. I’m bored. And the food sucks.”
“I promise I’ll take you out for pizza and ice cream next time the doctor allows you to have a break,” Sakura said, wondering when next time will be.
“Really?” Subaru asked.
“Of course,” Sakura said. “We can go to the aquarium this time.”
“With Syaoran-nii-chan too?”
“With Syaoran-nii-chan too.” Sakura smiled, patting Subaru’s head. Syaoran probably would not like the idea. He would ask what fun there is staring at a bunch of fish in glass cases. Yet, though Syaoran would grumble, he would follow along anyway. “And look what ‘nee-chan brought you.” She took out picture books that Touya had read to her when she was little.
“I’m too old for fairytales,” Subaru stated, crossing his arms.
“No one’s too old for fairytales. I used to read them to Syaoran-nii-chan too,” Sakura replied. Syaoran would probably chuck her with a cushion should she try to read him a fairytale. That was the problem with him. He never had anyone read him a nice fairytale when he was little—he spent all his time training. No wonder he turned into such a grouchy, ill-tempered boy.
Subaru eyed her suspiciously. “Then, can you read them to me?”
“Which one should I read?” Sakura said, showing him the selection and secretly sighing in relief. For now, it would be okay. Yet, she couldn’t always be at the hospital for Subaru.
“None with princesses and silly dresses and stuff. How about one with a knight who fights dragons?” Subaru crossed his arms, tilting his head up expectantly.
“I think you’ll like this one then,” Sakura said, selecting a dog-eared book, a book her brother read her frequently when she was a child.
On another wing of the hospital, Yukito found Touya working late hours at the office, sorting through patient’s computer data. “I thought you can go home for today,” Yukito commented.
Without turning around, Touya saved the data. “I had some work to finish up,” he said. He swiveled around on the wheeled chair and looked at Yukito, who looked weary. “How’s Sakura holding up?”
“She’s fine,” Yukito replied. “She’s a big girl now, you know. You don’t have to worry about her so much anymore.” But even he couldn’t help being concerned, because he knew better than anyone the generosity of the girl’s heart. Subaru’s brain tumor was at stage four, in the malignant stage.
“That kid does things that make me worry about her.” Touya yawned and stretched. “Even when she is married, I’ll still worry about her.”
“I don’t think you’ll ever let her marry—you’ll probably eat alive the husband,” Yukito muttered.
Sakura left the hospital exhausted that night. Subaru was finally asleep, after she had fed him a meager dinner, most of which ended up back on his tray. It was long past her regular shift hours when she walked out of the hospital. To her surprise, her brother was waiting for her. “Onii-chan! What are you doing here?”
“I’m released for today—otou-san’s on his way home too,” Touya said, taking Sakura’s book bag.
“Arigato ‘nii-chan.” Sakura took her brother’s arm, and Touya ruffled her hair with a rueful smile.
It was a rare these days that all the Kinomoto’s were gathered for dinner. A picture of Nadeshiko in a yellow-green chiffon dress was inserted in the photo frame on the kitchen table. Fujitaka was puzzled to see his two children so quiet and pensive.
“Sakura-san, is something worrying you?” Fujitaka asked, pouring another ladle of chicken curry over Sakura’s plate of rice.
“I was just wondering, how curable is cancer?” Sakura said, poking at the carrots with her spoon. Maybe because she had chopped up the vegetables, they were uneven. Almost nostalgically, for a moment, she recalled that when she was living with Syaoran, the vegetables were always chopped up meticulously.
Her father looked grave for a second. “It depends on the type of cancer and how early it’s found and treated. With the advancement of medical technology, there are many options these days such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery. Yet, each case is individual, as is with any disease.”
“Onii-chan, you must know what’s happening with Subaru,” Sakura said, setting down her spoon and looking up at her brother who had been silent through the meal.
“What about him?” Touya asked, still not looking at her.
“He doesn’t seem to be improving at all.” Sakura frowned, for she knew the tone her brother took when he wanted to hide something from her. “Why isn’t he getting surgery?”
Touya heaved a sigh, nostalgic of days when
Sakura took his word as supreme authority. “Sakura, think about it. It’s not
even a matter of getting surgery or not.”
”Then what is it?” Sakura demanded. “Su-chan’s life is at risk. Why isn’t anyone helping him?”
“It costs a lot of money to be
hospitalized. And it costs even more money to get a surgery. Subaru’s an
orphan—he has no parents, no relatives who can support him. He doesn’t have
health insurance. And the orphanage certainly does not have the money to
support his surgery,” Touya stated. “The doctors are not going to operate on a
child that cannot pay for his surgery.”
”But there must be a way.” Sakura furrowed her brows down. “We’ll find a way to pay later—doesn’t he need to get a surgery right away, before things get worse for him?”
“I told you, it’s not even a matter of money anymore. Even if Subaru gets a surgery, chance of success is very low. The tumor is in the final stage and is located in a spot that will be hard to reach in surgery. There is no point in getting a surgery with high risk, that is not even affordable in the first place.”
“But Yukito-san said that both chemotherapy and radiotherapy is not working out well for him. How is Subaru’s illness going to be treated then?” Sakura demanded. She pushed her chair back—she had lost her appetite.
“We’ll see,” Touya said. He didn’t want to mention that time was running out. That all was futile, that there was nothing that anyone can do to save Subaru. Brain tumor was the most common type of cancer in children, and in many cases fatal. It was a pity when an illness hit someone so young, one of the unfair, cruel twists of nature. Yet, when had life ever been fair?
“There’s something wrong with a hospital that has a patient and does not treat him,” Sakura stated, before standing up and bowing her head. “If you’ll excuse me, otou-san, I have a test to study for.” Then, she stomped off to her room.
Touya and his father exchanged quizzical glances. \
Now that the long-anticipated winter trip had passed by, there was nothing much to look forward to school. Less than three months remained till the third years moved on to high school. Nobody seemed to care about classes anymore, and there was a sense of restlessness and student attendance dwindled with increased cases of flu and end of school year nervous breakdowns. With the cold weather, there was little incentive to wake up early in the morning and go to school. In class, half the students were sniffling or coughing and the other half were drowsy and unmotivated. Sakura, too, wished the dreary winter would end, as she blocked out the monotonous hum of the history teacher’s voice.
“While the first outbreak of a pandemic
traced to be caused by the bubonic plague happened in the 500’s A.D. in the Age
of the Justinian, we are most familiar with the outbreak of the plague in the
1340s that eventually wiped out more than half the population of
Sakura frowned. The 1850’s had been the era of the Great Ones. She could not help recalling the images the Fates had shown her in the Mirror of Truth of France in the Middle Ages, in the midst of the Black Death—it had been a terrifying experience.
When class ended, Naoko spread out the photos on her desk. “Look at the pictures I developed from the ski trip!” Chiharu, Takashi and Rika gathered around her. “This is from the ski competition—look, here’s Tomoyo-chan crossing finish before Hiiragizawa-kun. And Mizuki-kun turning a flip midair in the snowboard competition. Aki-kun on his face—you can’t tell it’s him because only his skis are sticking up. Oh, and doesn’t Eron-kun look handsome standing next to the tree? Sakura-chan, here’s a good shot of you and Li-kun. You look like a couple!” Naoko blinked expectantly at Sakura—she wondered when the two would give up being stubborn and officially start dating each other.
Sakura turned over from her desk and glanced at the pictures with a smile. Leaning her chin against her folded arms, she glanced over to Eron’s long blue-black hair tied back in a simple tie. He had not spoken to her since the ski trip. Lately, he had dark circles under his eyes; it bemused her that someone as handsome as Eron could look tired and cranky. But she could not help recalling Eron’s words during the ski trip. Life becomes sweeter when I see it in your eyes, he had said to her. Truthfully, those words haunted her, because she couldn’t deny that deep in her heart, something had stirred. She didn’t like Eron in any special way, but still, when he stared at her with those desperate eyes, she couldn’t say that she felt nothing. If he had come into her life earlier, if the circumstances were different, if Syaoran had not returned, she did not know what would have happened. What really had he meant when he asked, Do I really stand no chance?
Sometimes, she had a feeling that Eron was amused by her. But sometimes, she sensed that he desperately wanted to say something to her, and was giving her the signals to reach out to him and help him out of his agony. Seeing Subaru somehow reminded her of Eron, for she could not help remembering that at one point, Eron was an orphan with only his sister in the world to love.
As if he could read her mind, Eron walked steadily over to her. She tried not to look up, thinking that if she ignored him, he’d go away, but he was already standing before her and called her name in his low, crisp voice.
For a second, Sakura stared at her textbook, the numbers and figures blurring in front of her eyes. Just go away, Eron, I have nothing I want to say to you.
“Sakura,” he repeated impatiently.
Finally, Sakura took a deep breath and looked up at Eron. He stared down at her almost bemused, but too grim to smile. She confirmed that it was true that Eron was either losing weight or sleep, or both. His skin had lost its pallor and was tinged yellow, almost as if he was sickly. They were both aware that even though it was break, the attention of the class was on them. From the opposite corner of the classroom, Erika watched her brother warily, while from behind Sakura’s seat, Syaoran, who had been napping with earphones on, surreptitiously turned off his music and had one eye open, covered under his thick bangs. Tomoyo merely continued to knit.
Sakura looked up at Eron, signally telepathically that she did not desire to talk with him at all.
Sighing, Eron said, “Meet me after school, at
Nodding, Sakura returned to being absorbed in her homework assignment, watching Eron trod away with heavy steps out of the corner of her eyes. She could not tell if he was limping slightly, or if he was merely very weary. She dropped her eraser on the ground, giving her and excuse to pick it up and in the meanwhile take a peak at Syaoran—he was sleeping with his music on. Fine then, I’ll go see Eron and hear what he has to say then, and it’ll be none of your business!
The rest of the day, Sakura was distracted, wondering what Eron had to say to her. Most of her friends let her be—they were used to her being spacey from time to time.
Winter days were short and the crimson sun was low as Sakura sat on the swing set, swaying back and fro. The metal chain was cold against her bare hands. Eron was late—she hadn’t been anticipating that. It irritated her that he called her out and kept her waiting. She was about to leave when he appeared in front of her, as if a ghost emerging from the dusk’s fog.
“I was afraid you wouldn’t show up,” commented Eron, walking slowly up to her, hands shoved in his coat pocket, quite different from his usual cocky self.
Sakura slipped off the swings and fiddled with her scarf fringe, not knowing how to approach him.
Sparing her the agony of awkward silence, Eron cut straight to the point. “Have you considered what I said?”
“What do you mean?” Her voice came out in a squeak—she hated it when people played word games with her.
If Sakura was feigning dumbness, Eron ignored it. “At the ski resort. I asked you if you really won’t give me a chance.”
“I’m not quite sure if I understand, Eron-kun,” Sakura said, staring at
the ground, wishing Eron would take the hint.
“But you do, Sakura,” Eron replied sharply, if not tactlessly. “I’m not going to hide anything, anymore. I’m laying my feelings out for you as straightforwardly as possible. I like you, and I need an immediate answer. You need to stop me from doing something really stupid, because if you refuse me, I don’t know what I’ll do.”
If she had been less absorbed in how to formulate a response, she might have heard the hint of desperateness in his plea. Instead, a dumbfounded Sakura slowly asked, “What words do you want to hear from me now? I don’t know if you’re threatening me or asking a question, but can’t you at least give me some time to think it over?” Come to think of it, it was the first time in her three years of junior high that someone had confessed to her, if this could be called a confession. If she was an average teenager, would this have been a more giddy, carefree moment? After all, the person standing in from of her was Chang Eron, handsome, charming and smart. Yet, she also knew his other side, the loathing anger within him, the obsessive and loving brother, the unpredictable strain of madness.
“I did give you time. And time’s running out. I need an answer right away,” Eron replied flatly.
Sakura looked up at Eron’s face, shadowed by the tree branches. She felt more cornered than anything else. Did he truly like her, or was he playing with her in another one of his games again? But if it was a game, she seriously had no idea where it was leading to. “Eron-kun, I want to trust you but…”
“Why do you have to always listen to Li Syaoran? Because he told you to be careful of me? Can’t you make your own judgment?” Eron’s eyes gleamed in the setting sun a blazing orange.
“How can I trust you after everything?” Sakura asked, knowing the weakness of her argument.
“Because you’re the one person who can, even after all I’ve done. Because you’re different from any other girl. You’re the one that I chose,” Eron said. He smirked in spite of himself. “Or more like, fate has chosen for me. I’m not stupid. I’m not sacrificing my pride here for no reason. You know me well enough. You know I won’t do this if I wasn’t serious. It’s against all my principles.”
I can’t listen to his words, Sakura thought. Eron could charm anyone with his glib tongue, and if she listened, she would fall under his spell. She had to trust her instincts. “I’m sorry Eron-kun. I really am. I can’t return your feelings. I like someone else, so…”
“It doesn’t matter. Sooner or later, you’ll end up coming to me,” Eron replied matter of fact, as if he had already known the answer and did not care.
Something inside Sakura clicked. Why is he so confident? What makes him think that he can possess me? Has he ever respected my opinions? “No,” she said slowly.
“What did you say?” Eron blinked, as if gazing upon an obstinate child.
“I said, never. My heart is my own, and I can’t ever like you, Chang Eron,” Sakura stated, shedding her last sense of hesitancy.
He grabbed her by the wrist as she tried to turn away from him. “Listen to me, Sakura. You’ll regret it later. Just say yes to me. It’s okay if you like Syaoran. It’s okay if you don’t trust me now. It’s okay if you don’t love me. Just say that you’ll be there for me and only me, and I swear I’ll make everything work out.”
“Eron, Let go of me.” Sakura reproached herself for putting herself in a vulnerable situation yet again. She tried to yank out her hand. Why she continued to be drawn to Eron, when she clearly knew him to be dangerous, she did not know.
“I warned you, Sakura. I warned you,” Eron said, letting go of her abruptly, sending her stumbling back.
“I don’t care!” Sakura replied, her eyes stinging with tears of indignation. But she would never cry in front of Eron. Yet, if it was a matter of pride, why did she have this prickling sensation in her chest, as if she had just let go of her balloon string and regretted it.
No. He had not been joking; his air was neither smug nor spiteful, like Erika might have been were she issuing the warning. Instead, Eron’s golden eyes were sorrowful, his voice level but strangely strained as he said, “Don’t reproach me later, Sakura. I swear you’ll regret it later on. But remember, you made the choice.” Eron turned around and walked away.
Sakura’s knees crumbled and she sank down onto the ground, catching her breath. For a wild instant, she wanted to call out to Eron and apologize. For what, she did not know. Something had changed in Eron’s eyes, and she was very afraid of this suddenly calm demeanor, as if Eron had suddenly lost the will to fight. It was more frightening than all the empty threats he could make, all the cruel words he could say, all the dark forces he would send her way. If only she called out at that moment his name, just one more time, she knew not what difference it would have made. But he walked on slowly down the road without turning, in defeat.
For hours afterwards, the image of Eron walking away down the road leading
“Sakura-chan, what is the matter? You looked anxious,” Tomoyo commented the first break they had after homeroom.
For a second, Sakura blinked, not realizing that anxiety was written all over her face. “Tomoyo-chan, Tomoyo-chan, what should I do?” Sakura asked slowly. “I’m so frightened.”
“Of what, Sakura-chan?” Tomoyo asked, stroking her friend’s shoulder.
“Of what Eron-kun might do. He said I’ll regret it later,” Sakura crumpled her woolen gloves in her hands.
“What can he possibly do?” Tomoyo knew Sakura had not even been scared when Yue’s Judgment nor Clow Reed’s reincarnation, but what about Eron frightened her so?
Sakura shook her head. “I do know the worst he can do, that’s why I’m so scared. Maybe I should have just agreed with him.”
“Sakura-chan, you can’t just humor him because he threatened you,” Tomoyo said. “You don’t love him. You like someone else.”
“That’s not it. He wasn’t asking me out or anything, I don’t think. I think he was asking something more. I don’t know what. But I can’t be with him. He makes me nervous, because I feel like if I anger him, he’ll find away to get back at someone; he doesn’t consider others at all. I want to trust him, but I know in some matters, he barely has control over the will of the Dark Ones.”
“Well, you can’t be nice to him because you pity him, either,” Tomoyo murmured.
“I don’t pity Eron-kun,” Sakura replied. “That’ll be very arrogant of me to. After all, despite all he’s done, Eron-kun also has many admirable qualities.”
“Well, do you like him then?”
“I don’t know. Sometimes I really like him, and sometimes I really am afraid of him. I think I can grow to like him if I knew that somehow that will solve all of this. But I don’t really know where this relationship is going, because his hatred of Amamiya’s and Li’s is routed too deeply for me to comprehend.”
“What about Syaoran?” Tomoyo peeked at Sakura’s expression through her bangs.
“Truthfully, I see no future for us, as long as the Dark Ones continue looming in the shadows,” Sakura answered softly. “Tomoyo, why is it so difficult for two people to just like each other?”
Looking at Sakura with soulful violet eyes, Tomoyo shook her head. Why did it have to be so hard for two people to be together? Sakura liked Syaoran, and Syaoran liked Sakura, and they both knew that. Hopefully they did. Yet, they could never move on with their relationship so long as the enemy existed, so long as they were copartners in fighting a dark force. Because personal relationship and business could not mix. No, more because they both knew there would be no future for them if they did not fix the present. Tomoyo twisted the end of her long curl around a finger. Or maybe they were simply afraid of shattering what bond they had now, because it had taken so long to build. “Did you tell him about what happened between you and Eron?”
Sakura stared at her friend blatantly. “How can I?”
That was right. There was no telling what Syaoran might do to Eron if he found out. Heaven knew how Syaoran had reacted when he found out that Eron had dared to bruise Sakura. Though Tomoyo was partial to Syaoran, she secretly did harbor empathy for Eron. She understood what it must be like to be in Eron’s position. “Well, there’s nothing to do but wait and see what Eron does. But I think Syaoran needs some warning too.” Tomoyo had a feeling that Syaoran already suspected, however.
“I guess you’re right, Tomoyo-chan.” Sakura sighed—thankfully her friend always kept a level head.
Only later on in the afternoon was Syaoran was able to corner Tomoyo in the music room. “So, what did that bastard say to Sakura?”
“Don’t you have soccer practice, Syaoran-kun?” Tomoyo asked, gathering the music sheets from the piano.
“She did tell you, didn’t she?” Syaoran tailed after Tomoyo.
“Why don’t you ask her yourself what Eron-kun said to her?” Tomoyo smiled politely. “I have to go to choir practice. You’re fifteen minutes late for soccer practice. Anyone who’s late gets ten laps around the field, remember? It’s your own rule as captain.”
“I can’t ask her!” Syaoran retorted.
“Well, maybe you can ask Eron then,” Tomoyo suggested.
“I would if he had the courage to show up to school.” Swinging around the piano, Syaoran exclaimed to Tomoyo, “I know! She must have dumped him. He must be in a slump right now because his pride is hurt.”
Since he looked so awfully pleased with his deduction, Tomoyo let him be, gently pushing him out of the music room. What could she do with such a silly couple? If only her two best friends could become a little more honest with each other.
That afternoon at
“What a hassle, and we have a game coming up,” Syaoran muttered, bouncing a soccer ball on his knee as Sakura and he waited for the bus to come. “And that Kai—he’s supposed to be our manager. If he shows his face…”
“So, you’re still keeping up as captain?” Sakura asked rather bitterly. The two were waiting for the bus to take them to Kinhoshi hospital after school. They had to fill in Eron, Erika, Miho, and Kai’s shifts. It was the first time Sakura had time alone with Syaoran in a while, yet he seemed to be more absorbed in his soccer ball than her.
He shifted the ball to his other knee. “Can’t lose the Junior Championship Cup, can we?” As the bus drove up to the stop, Syaoran kicked up the ball and caught it with one hand, tossing it into his duffel bag.
“Well, I guess you’re not curious about what Eron had to say to me?” Sakura asked, watching the bus door swing open.
“Not particularly,” Syaoran replied shortly.
“Good, because I didn’t plan on telling you anyway,” Sakura stated, stomping up onto the bus. What was wrong with Syaoran, getting angry that she did meet with Eron and then not caring at all when something important did happen?
Sakura had been permanently assigned to the children’s ward, partially because of Yukito’s request and partially because she was the only one who could appease Subaru now. “How come you get to work with Tsukishiro-san, while I’m stuck following around that grouchy intern (by the name of Kinomoto Touya),” Syaoran had grumbled.
Trying to retain a smile, she went from bed to bed, making sure each child did not need anything. She picked up various stuffed animals and picture books off the floor. Most of the children had parents, siblings and relatives constantly visiting. Only Subaru’s bedside always remained empty. He had long since grown tired of all her picture books; since he insisted he was too old for toys, Sakura was running out of ideas to entertain him. Even now, he stared listlessly out the window.
“Sakura,” Syaoran called from the doorway.
Sakura turned around and almost smiled when she saw who called her. Then she stared down at her feet, waiting for him to walk up to her.
“The doctor wanted to give Subaru’s charts to Tsukishiro-san.” Syaoran handed her the charts.
“Is that all?” Sakura asked, taking the papers. “Won’t you say hello to Su-chan?”
Syaoran looked like he was about to refuse, but Subaru spotted him first and waved. So, Syaoran awkwardly walked over to the boy’s bed. “Hey, kid.”
“Syaoran-nii-chan,” Subaru said, faintly grinning. “Do you know what happens to the little mermaid?”
“Doesn’t she marry the prince or something?” Syaoran looked up at Sakura quizzically.
“No, she can’t kill the prince to save her own life. So she jumps into the ocean and becomes foam and dies,” Subaru replied matter of fact.
“What have you been reading to this kid?” Syaoran asked Sakura with a raised brow.
“Well, I ran out of adventure tales,” Sakura said meekly. “But after she turns into foam, she becomes an angel.”
Sighing, Syaoran knelt by Subaru’s bedside and said, “After you get better, ‘nii-san will take you out and teach you how to play soccer.”
“Are you good?” Subaru asked skeptically.
“He’s captain of Seijou Junior High soccer team,” Sakura stated, noting that Subaru regained a spark in his eye. “Main striker with his key kick, the Whirlwind Flash, and two years as MVP player.”
“Ah, well…” Syaoran rubbed his head bashfully.
“But my brother’s better,” Sakura continued curtly. “He was star striker of Seijou High and he was MVP for all three years though he wasn’t even on the soccer team.”
Touya, who happened to drop by the room with his remarkable timing, smirked.
“Keeping an eye on Sakura-chan as usual,” murmured Yukito, who walked up beside him.
“Has she been spending a lot of time with that little boy lately?” Touya asked quietly, looking at the way Subaru’s brown eyes had momentarily regained that mischievous sparkle.
Raising a silver eyebrow, Yukito commented, “He’s only seven, you know.”
“No, it’s not like that.” Touya glared at Yukito when he realized that Yukito was chuckling slightly. “It’s just that I don’t think it’s a good idea for Sakura to get too attached to that boy.”
“It’s too late for that,” Yukito sighed. “You know Sakura’s warm heart.” His marigold eyes flickered over to Syaoran, who was slowly walking out the room without giving even a nod to Sakura. I see what he’s doing. Maybe I’ll have a word with him later on at the restaurant. Yet ever since Syaoran had been promoted to the head chef’s assistant, and began working as a full time sous chef, it was difficult to catch a word with him.
“Well, that aside, there’s been some hushed up rumors of a new epidemic,” Touya stated. “We’ve had five patients admitted to the hospital yesterday with symptoms of fatigue and high fever.” He flicked through the pages on the doctor’s charts.
Taking the chart from Touya’s hands, Yukito remarked, “That’s nothing new with this weather.”
“Today, they’re showing signs of hemoptysis and delirium,” Touya continued. “We got the blood samples back and the causes are unknown—the blood cell count is abnormal but no virus or bacteria has been identified as the cause. And seven more patients were admitted to the hospital this afternoon with similar symptoms. We don’t yet know if they’re related, but—”
“I’m sure it’s nothing we need to worry about—maybe a new strain of flu,” Yukito said.
Shaking his head, Touya murmured, “I don’t like the signs of this at all—they’re not just coughing up blood because of some lung infection. I’ve seen the patients. They don’t look like they’re just sick. They look…sort of possessed.”
“You’re over-analyzing, To-ya,” Yukito chided.
“Maybe. I hope so.”
The twins were not the only ones who were constantly absent for class. Mizuki Kai showed up to class for the first time after the ski trip, a week later, shrugging off Terada-sensei’s request for an explanation for the absence.
“I was merely recovering from my injuries from snowboarding during the ski trip,” Kai said with an apologetic smile. “But I’m feeling all better now. Thank you for worrying about me.” He sneezed.
“I was not worrying about you,” Terada-sensei muttered. His eyes flickered over to Rika, who glanced away. Did Rika look slightly feverish? He shook his head and focused back on the class.
Turning around in her desk, Sakura eyed Kai skeptically. “Did you finally muster enough courage to show up to school?”
“Eh?” Kai readjusted his blue-tinted glasses.
“What happened with Miho-chan? She called you out to talk to you at the ski lodge. You told me that you though she suspected. You never told me what happened afterwarsd,” Sakura said. It was a relief to take focus off herself and worry about someone else for a change.
“Oh.” Kai leaned back in his chair without a change of expression. “Nothing much.”
Syaoran glanced over to his friend and muttered, “It doesn’t explain why Miho has been missing school lately.”
“Eriol-kun said she caught a cold—she should be at school today,” Sakura said, trying to catch Syaoran’s eyes. He was clearly as curious as she was about what had happened between Miho and Kai. Yet, Syaoran returned to reading a book without probing Kai any further. Sakura sighed, wondering if Syaoran knew any more of the situation than he let on.
“Yeah, she usually comes around during lunch break,” Tomoyo commented.
Sure enough, there was a loud bang and the classroom door slid open. Miho entered, uniform jacket hanging loosely with buttons undone, swinging her bento box as she walked into the classroom.
“Hey Miho-chan! We’ve missed you. Are you feeling better?” Chiharu asked.
“Yes, thank you!” Miho smiled. She searched the classroom. “Eriol! You forgot your lunchbox today!”
“Thank you, Miho,” Eriol said.
“Bye bye!” Miho turned around.
“Miho-chan, aren’t you staying for lunch today?” Naoko asked. “I wanted to show you pictures from the ski trip.”
Miho forced a smile. “Next time. I have to take a make-up test during lunch break.” Before walking out, she caught Kai’s eye and nodded. Kai sighed and as she left, he reached into his pocket and felt the cool metal of his locket against his palm. Ever since that night at the ski lodge, he had stopped wearing the locket. Still, he could not yet completely part from it.
The days that passed since the night at the ski resort was the longest, most excruciating week Miho had ever faced. Every day she dreaded seeing Mizuki-sempai, to the extent that she refused to go to school. But today, she was ready. She was ready to face the truth.
After school, Miho waited for Kai in front of the school gates.
“Well, Mizuki-sempai, you promised to show me,” Miho said quietly when the young man in black arrived by her side.
“So I did.” Kai glanced over to the pale girl with short auburn hair tucked under a black beret. Her school uniform was covered by a black felt coat. “My car’s parked not too far away from here.”
“You drive?” Miho looked up at Kai, almost ready to smile, then stopped.
“Don’t go blabbing on the teachers; they’ll probably confiscate my car.” Kai took out his key and pressed the unlock button.
“Awesome,” murmured Miho as Kai opened the door to his gleaming black sports car.
The car ride was silent, without any music or conversation as they passed through a familiar neighborhood. Miho realized with some wryness that she no longer felt that knot in her stomach whenever she passed through her old home. Home now was in the Reed estate, with Eriol, Nakuru and Suppi-chan.
Finally, they came to a familiar graveyard, the one that she had always passed by on her way to elementary school. The car was parked aside, and grimly, they walked through the heavy iron gates of the Tomoeda graveyard shrouded in the chill fog of early evening. Dry leaves and twigs crackled at their feet.
They walked past through rows and rows of fancy headstones until they finally came to a small mound, strewn with withered flowers, with an unmarked marble slab. Kai halted so suddenly that Miho almost collided into his back.
“Is this it?” Miho asked, staring at the gray stone.
“It is.” Kai moved aside so that Miho could step forward.
Miho knelt in front of the mound and reached over to stroke the gravestone. “Why is it unmarked?”
“The people who buried him did not know his name or his age or where he was from.”
The soulful gray eyes that stared up at him was no longer one of distrust and disbelief, but of long brimming despair, as if she had lost all direction in life. Yet, this was the only way she would recover.
Kai could still vividly recall that night at the ski lodge, when Miho approached him. Because he made the fatal mistake of wearing his locket and Miho saw it. The locket with the ruby embedded in the center was too distinct to be mistaken for anything else; it even had initials M.M. carved into it. For the first time, he had been out of lies, out of excuses. When Miho had called him out, he had been completely off guard. Kai knew that Miho saw the locket around his neck, when he was injured by the Silver Wolf, and he knew that she would approach him about it. He wasn’t expecting her reaction to be so immediate, before he could prepare an explanation. Yet, in the end, maybe it had been for the better for he knew it would come down to this. He shut his eyes to the rows of graves surrounding him, recalling the conversation he had with Miho a week ago, that night in the midst of the snowy mountains after the capture of the Riddle.
The moment Miho entered the parlor, regardless of Sakura and Syaoran presence, and called him out, Kai knew it was all over for him.
Miho said in a cold, flat voice. “Mizuki-sempai. Can I talk to you for a minute?”
He reluctantly on his feet. “What is it?”
“I can’t talk to you here… Can I see you outside?” It wasn’t a request but a statement.
Kai grimly stood up and followed the girl out of the room. Dragging his feet, Kai followed the younger with a heavy heart, leaving Sakura and Syaoran gawping at him. They walked down the dark corridor. Through the tall windows, they could see the eerily blue glow of the snow-covered mountains. Finally, they came to the end of the hallway, a secluded place where no one would pass by.
“Mizuki-sempai,” Miho began, swallowing hard. Her voice couldn’t fail her at this vital moment. She gazed up at the tall young man standing before her, a person of intrigue, a person she despised and admired at the same time. If only he could take off those dark glasses which always shielded his eyes.
“What is it, Miho?” Kai asked staidly.
“Mizuki-sempai, at the mountains… I saw…” Miho trailed off. “Can you show me the locket that you always wear?”
“This?” Kai slipped the locket out without flitting an eye. He collected his wits quickly enough; after all tight situations were what he was best trained for. “Why, may I ask?”
“Because it looks rather familiar.”
“You think it looks like the Mizuki heirloom locket,” Kai said cutting to the point. There was no use wheedling out of this one.
“How did you know?” Even Miho was not expecting such straightforwardness from him.
“You’re quite easy to read,” Kai replied curtly. “But do you seriously think I can be your brother?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know anymore.” Miho looked at him with piercing slate gray eyes. “Can you tell me?”
“Since you seem to lack a level head when it comes to your brother, why don’t I reason out the logistics for you.” Kai smirked. “Say, if I were your brother, it would be very sadistic and cruel of me to keep my identity from you for so long. Would your brother do something like that?”
“Maybe. He did leave me, even knowing that Mother was ill. Without a word.” Miho smiled bitterly. “And he never contacted me once, all these years, never even checked on how Okaa-san was doing. He probably doesn’t even know our house burned down, five years ago, that no one lives there anymore.”
“So, I surmise you did not know he left you a note?” Kai said quietly.
“I didn’t see it. And the house burned down soon afterwards.”
“I see. Well, he had his reasons to leave.”
“I don’t doubt it. But he could have talked to me. I would have understood.” Miho looked up at Kai desperately trying to read his expression. Why couldn’t he take those glasses off?
“But he probably wouldn’t have been able to leave you if he talked with you,” Kai murmured, more to himself than Miho.
Miho’s eyes narrowed. “How would you know so well?” she demanded.
“Tanaka Mikai was an acquaintance of mine,” Kai replied vaguely.
“How did you know him?”
“I met him in my travels, nothing more.”
“What was he doing? Why did he run away?” Miho crossed her arms, ready to scorn any excuse.
“He was finding out who ordered the murder of Tanaka Keisuke.”
Miho blinked. The murder of Tanaka Keisuke. The words echoed hollowly in her ears. “My father was not murdered.”
“How did he die then?” Kai asked coolly.
“He was on a business trip in
“That’s what your brother was investigating. Which lead to the discovery of the secret behind the Five Force Treasures,” Kai replied.
“And where is he now? Did he find the answer?” Miho was bewildered by Kai’s response. She had been expecting flat denial from Kai of knowing anything about Tanaka Mikai. Yet, what was this sudden disclosure of information on her brother? Why now?
“He did find some answers. But he sacrificed his life in doing so.”
“What do you mean?” Miho was smiling now, because she simply did not believe Kai anymore.
“It’s as I said. I mean, he’s no longer living.” Kai gazed at her coldly.
Miho stared up at Kai. “You’re lying.” She started laughing nervously. “It’s very cruel of you to joke about something like this.”
“I can show you his gravestone.”
“There’s no way he’s dead. You’re making things up!” Miho shouted, clasping her hands over her ears. “Stop lying to me. I’m not listening!”
Gently, Kai took Miho’s hands and dropped them down to her side. “You’ve got to listen to me, Miho.”
“I don’t believe a word you’re saying; show his grave to me and maybe I’ll believe you,” Miho said. She grabbed the locket around Kai’s neck. “That locket. Why do you have it?”
“You’re trying to seek your lost brother in me. But you won’t find him. Tanaka Mikai is dead. I took this locket from him when he died. Because it’s a link to the Five Force Treasures which I was trying to locate.”
“Onii-chan, stop lying to me!” Miho said in a strained voice. She reached up and grabbed Kai’s sunglasses and flung it on the ground, then stamped it with her heel. Kai winced; he doubted she knew how expensive Gucci was. “Look at me and tell me the truth!”
“Miho, look at me,” Kai said, placing his hands on her shoulders.
Miho slowly looked up through her disheveled hair, afraid that if she looked, he would crumble away into dust. And she found herself gazing into deep violet eyes.
“Look into my eyes, Tanaka Miho,” Kai said in his low, hypnotic voice. “I am not your brother.”
Miho’s eyes, still fixated on Kai’s, brimmed with tears. “You are not my brother.”
“Tanaka Mikai is dead,” he continued.
“Tanaka Mikai is dead,” she repeated after him. Her eyes closed and she collapsed into Kai’s arms. Gently, he wrapped her in his jacket and carried her up to her room, that quiet night at the ski lodge.
That incident during the winter excursion trip had happened over a week ago, and Kai was left with no choice but to show the promised proof to Miho that Tanaka Mikai was indeed dead. Standing in the solemn and still graveyard, Tanaka Miho recalled how she had spent many nights thinking of Kai’s words that night at the ski lodge. Her conversation with him was foggy, and when she woke the next morning, it seemed merely like a bad dream. Yet, she awoke with the strong conviction that Mizuki Kai was not her brother after all. She realized how stupid she had been in suspecting Kai to be her brother—she was trying to see things because she wanted him to be Mikai, to reassure herself that he had been so nearby all along. How foolish she was to think that her brother would be by her side and not approach her.
Here, in the bleak, gray of the graveyard, there seemed to be no lies, no deceit possible. All the hate she felt for the person standing beside her disappeared, replaced by a mellow silence within her. For the first time, she didn’t think, she didn’t try to come up with explanations; she just let be. She knelt down on the ground, her bare knees digging into the soil. Then, she pressed her cheek against the cold, hard stone. A slow breath came from her lips. “Ah, I feel him.”
She did not even realize tears were streaming down her face, because
she did not feel any sorrow or any pain. For the first time since her brother’s
disappearance, she felt a strange, chill calm. She couldn’t help recalling a
poem by Emily Dickinson she had read back in
“I’m sorry, Miho,” Kai finally said, shoving his fists into his jeans. Never in his life had he hated himself more. Yet, the damage was already done.
“You said that my father was murdered? And that investigating his death would lead me to finding out how my brother died, right?” Miho’s came out strangely high in the silent graveyard. “If you were sent by my brother to tell me this, why did you wait so long?”
“Because the Five Force Treasures have been finally gathered in one spot for the first time in a century and a half.” Kai stared at the ground. “I am sorry this all the information I can disclose right now. But, you have powerful friends amongst you. The truth will be uncovered eventually.”
“I’ll definitely find out the truth.” Miho’s sleet gray eyes glimmered fiercely with brazen determination. She took a deep breath of cold winter’s air. “I’ll do everything that my brother couldn’t.”
“And he would have wanted you to have this.” Reluctantly, Kai took the locket out of pocket and unclasped the chain. Miho stepped forward, and he clasped it around her neck.
Carefully, Miho cupped the locket in her hands staring at the deep blood red ruby embedded in the circle. A droplet of water plopped down on it and streaked down the silver engravings. Head turned away from Kai, she said firmly, “I’m ready to go back now.”
Though Syaoran wasn’t particularly interested in Kai’s personal life, he nonetheless couldn’t qualm his curiously about what happened the night at the ski lodge, when Miho called Kai out to speak with him privately. For days afterwards, Syaoran patiently waited for Kai to mention it. When he couldn’t find anything out, Syaoran prepared an extra festive dinner for Kai to wheedle out an explanation from the elusive one. And for some strange reason, Kai found that he didn’t mind telling Syaoran everything that had passed.
“You’re telling me she saw your face, and she still didn’t recognize you? You can’t possibly have fooled her with purple contact lenses as disguise.” Syaoran scowled at Kai, crossing his legs on the floor. Wolfie-chan snuggled against his side. “She’s not that dumb.”
Kai laughed harshly. “Silly, it’s not because I changed eye colors that she didn’t recognize me—though it’s pretty lucky that I was wearing color contacts that day.”
“I’m sure it was chance.” Syaoran rolled his eyes. “You’ve been wearing them for a while now. Vanity.”
Kai stroked his lavender tinted parrot. “Anyway, for your information, I simply hypnotized her on the spot. And she ended up believing me.”
“So you hypnotized her that night at the ski lodge? How did you do that?” Syaoran admitted Kai impressed him at times. “Seems like a handy trick to learn.”
“Trade secret,” Kai replied smugly. He would have preferred to borrow the Erase card from Sakura, but somehow, he figured Sakura would not allow that.
“Kai, you can’t simply go around modifying people’s memories.” Syaoran tossed Wolfie-chan a doggie biscuit. “Besides, that didn’t mean you had to go tell her Tanaka Mikai’s dead.”
“I had to do that,” Kai said quietly. “Or else she would never stop with her fruitless quest. I needed to snap her out of it for good.”
“What harm is there in having a little bit of hope?”
“She’s wasting her time and energy searching for someone who does not exist anymore.” Kai sighed.
“Why couldn’t you just tell her the truth? Why did you have to hurt her to that extent? You didn’t have to carry it to that extreme. You didn’t have to show her the grave.” Syaoran eyed Kai, wondering if he could catch a glimpse of remorse in him.
“She needed physical evidence to believe me,” Kai replied.
Syaoran was having a hard time keeping himself from snapping at Kai; Sakura was the feeling person, but even he felt pity for Miho. If he were her, he would not have wasted time searching for the scum sitting in front of him. “I thought you hypnotized her, and she would have believed you anyway. Besides, all you had to do was convince her that you weren’t her brother, right?”
“Partial hypnosis. I could have completely made her forget the event—which would have left a gap in her memory and would cause uncomfortable questions later on and the chance of having the memory return. I could have left her with only my words as evidence. But this way, I solved the problem forever. She’ll learn to deal with Tanaka Mikai’s death, and stop confusing me with her brother. The whole matter is resolved for once and for all.”
“You’re a cold hearted one, aren’t you?” Syaoran muttered. “Well, whose grave did you show her?”
“Kaitou Magician’s,” Kai said quietly.
Syaoran sighed. “You don’t make any sense, though personally, I’m not in the position to point out your faults.”
“Well, you’re the one who demanded what happened between Miho and me,” Kai replied. “And I told you what happened. Now don’t go blabbing it to Sakura.”
“Don’t worry—I haven’t been talking her much lately,” Syaoran replied vaguely. Somehow the missing pieces did not match up. “I don’t get it—was your father really murdered? I don’t see why you had to tell her that; isn’t it better for her not to know? And I’m surprised that you actually returned the locket to her.”
“Well, it was hers in the first place,” Kai replied, cool violet eyes staring at his parrot, who was pecking at Wolfie-chan. “Now I can say goodbye to Tanaka Mikai forever.”
“Silly, you can’t change your blood by merely changing your name.” Syaoran leaned back into his sofa. How can I say that when I know that when I am trying my best to leave behind the Li Clan? Kai’s no different from me, no more of a liar, a deceiver than I am. But no, he’s doing it all for completely selfless reasons, whereas I am acting utterly based on my own selfishness. Will I be punished someday for my willfulness?
As Syaoran went to bed that night, he could not help reflect in awe of Kai’s ability to completely sever his own emotions in the actions he took. Syaoran was aware that Kai had concealed more things than he had revealed in his story, but that was something to probe about in the future. Meanwhile, Kai’s automatic responses in certain situations sent a chill down Syaoran, because his lack of hesitancy in lying, his ability to scar someone without flitting an eye was on par with any of the Li clan’s top assassins. But even more alarming was that Syaoran knew better than anyone else how Kai doted upon Miho, yet he pushed her away in order to protect her without ever putting himself in perspective. Whereas Syaoran acted upon day-to-day impulse, Kai seemed to have everything planned out from the day his father had died. For Kai, everything was a means to and end, and his body was only a tool in order to achieve his goals. He did not value himself at all. Syaoran could almost understand why Kai was drawn to Meilin, because Meilin was the opposite of him. She acted upon her heart and did not stop to think of the end, of the consequences. As Syaoran’s lids shut, he wondered where he lay in the spectrum of human perseverance. When he was young, he could only see as far as tomorrow, how to survive the next level of martial arts training, how to master the new spell, how to become the Chosen One, how to capture the Clow Cards. And Sakura had to enter his life and throw everything off balance. He had to start thinking further ahead, where he would be living in a year, how long he could stay in Japan before being called back to Hong Kong, how much time he could spend with her before being separated from her forever, whether forever could be shortened to a few years, whether a few years would bridge into forever…
When Syaoran opened his eyes again, he found himself on the edge of a cliff again, gazing at the hills glazed a blazing orange. It was almost as if the trees, valley and river were on fire. Even though this is a dream, I’ve been here before, he thought, as he felt the fresh morning breeze seep through him.
“Nee, Syaoran. Isn’t it beautiful?” Sakura asked, brushing back her long golden-brown hair from her face. Her white dress tinted yellow in the sunlight fluttered in the wind like feathers.
Sakura was beside him. When did she appear? He stared at her hard, afraid that if he reached out and touched her, she would crumble away, and he would find this to be a dream. Yet, she seemed so real, breathing, laughing beside him. He loved the way the warm light of the rising sun set her features aglow, the way her deep green eyes were flecked with gold, the way her soft lips were parted as she stared up at him with her hesitant smile, the one she had when she was trying to figure out his reaction.
“By the way, Syaoran, don’t you have something to tell me?” Sakura looked at him imploringly.
Syaoran gulped. I need to tell her. I need to tell her the truth; I
need to tell her everything. That I’m no longer the
“What is it, Syaoran?” she looked away from him, staring ahead at the rising sun. Or was it setting? “Why can’t you tell me?”
Why can’t I speak? Why isn’t my voice working? He clutched his chest.
She turned to him reproachfully and said, “It’s too late now, Syaoran. You missed your chance. It’s too late.” The ground beneath her crumbled, and Sakura fell through the crack.
SAKURA!!! Syaoran desperately reached out for her hand, but she slipped through his grasp. He clenched an empty fist, the feeling in his guts when she fell through off the cliff during the fall mountain trip. I need to chase after her. I need to find her. He tried to run, but his feet were lead. He tried lifting his arms, but somehow, he felt as if both arms had been bolted down with nails to his side. I can’t feel my body. I can’t move. Sakura, please let me get to her. Please, let go of me, demon who has seized my body.
A cold hand reached his neck, then groped tightly around his throat. Syaoran gasped for air. Then, he heard a voice, a voice he may have heard somewhere before. “Li Syaoran, foolish boy. You took everything I ever dreamed for, and you threw it all away for a silly girl who will leave you in the end?”
Syaoran struggled to escape from the grasp, but someone grabbed his arms and twisted it behind his back. There was a crack. An intense pain erupted from his arm and etched itself down to his hands. Though he could not see the face of the voice, he knew those silver-blue eyes that glimmered in the darkness.
His last thoughts as he fell into and endless black gulf was, I need to tell her. I need to see her one last time…
Syaoran had never willed himself to wake up before, but this time, he forced himself to wake up from his nightmare. He stared at his trembling right hand which was throbbing as if shards of glass were embedded in his veins as it tended to do on rainy days. It hadn’t hurt this badly since the nightmare training days. There was only one thing on his mind as he woke up, and that was that he had to hear her voice. He stumbled out of bed and reached over to find his cell phone and dialed 1. Sakura, pick up the phone. Please pick up the phone. But he was only greeted by her automatic voicemail; her cell phone was turned off. In disgust, he threw his cell phone on the floor and flopped back onto his green flannel sheets. Who was he kidding? It was three in the morning. He would have called her home phone, but the likelihood was high that her brother would pick up. Truthfully, he had the urge to run to her house this moment to talk to her, but the last time he did that, the consequences hadn’t been too good. I’m overreacting again. I’ve been extra neurotic these days, probably because of that incident with Eron and her. I need to go back to sleep.
But he couldn’t fall asleep. Rather, he was afraid to fall asleep again. This was the first time he had heard the voice of the mysterious ice blue eyes that haunted his dreams. Next time, he might see the face. For as long as he could, he wanted to stall the looming evil waiting at the edge of the cliff. Once he crossed, there would be no return.
Hiiragizawa Eriol found Miho standing in his study late that night, staring out the window in a daze. Ever since the ski trip, Miho had not been herself—almost reverting back to her post-fire days, days when she was silent and wary.
“Miho, where were you this afternoon? I waited for you after classes ended,” Eriol said.
“Did you know?” Miho asked coldly, not turning around.
“Know what?” Eriol asked, blue-black hair falling into his eyes as he stared down at the worn maroon carpet.
“Did you feel sorry for me, so you couldn’t tell me?” Miho turned around and in a choked voice, demanded, “Did you know onii-chan’s never going to return?”
Eriol stared up sorrowfully at Miho, wondering what sort of story Kai had concocted for his little sister. Miho ran up to him and threw her arms around Eriol’s neck. “You have to help me find out who murdered my father. Did you know he didn’t die in an accident? Onii-chan knew, and he never told me. I never knew anything. I need to find out a truth. I need to find out why everything happened. Why onii-chan left—why he was looking for the Five Force Treasures.”
Caressing Miho’s cheeks in his hand and rubbing away her tears, Eriol listened, for that was all he could do for her.
“I visited Mother today. She was getting so much better. But she’s ill again—the Plague will not spare her, not a second time. I’m so afraid. She’s the only family I have left now. But I can’t do anything for her. If onii-chan were here…” Miho gulped hard. “But he’s not, and I need to save okaa-san—I couldn’t do anything else. I have to save her, but when she gets better, how can I tell her about my brother and father? If only I knew earlier what onii-chan was searching for…”
Tenderly stroking Miho’s short red-gold hair, Eriol murmured, “I’ll help you find out the truth Miho. Time will reveal everything.”
Burying her head into his chest, Miho sobbed, “Why am I always made the foolish one? Why am I always left behind?”
Eriol hugged her tighter, for the first time without an answer to her questions.
Miho answered for him, swallowing a hiccup. “And you’ll tell me, ‘there’s a reason for everything.’”
Since they worked at the hospital, Sakura and her friends heard about the new disease that was rapidly infecting the residents in Tomoeda before it hit the mass media. At first, it was hushed rumors among the nurses and doctors. Then, they saw with their own eyes the influx of patients and the panic among the staff who knew not the cause of the illness.
“I told you, Yukito. I think all these cases are related.” Touya pointed at the graph on the whiteboard. “It’s spreading at the rapid rate and if we don’t find out the source—”
“On the other hand, it seems like just another case of severe pneumonia or influenza,” Yukito argued.
“Over fifty people have been admitted to the hospital over the past few days, all with the same symptoms. I don’t understand how it can be spreading so rapidly,” Touya exclaimed. “It’s almost as if…” He paused.
“Almost as if what?” Yukito asked.
“Kaijou—come out of there,” Touya sighed, nodding his head at the door.
“Gomen, ‘nii-chan. I didn’t mean to overhear,” Sakura said, bringing over the manila folders that her brother had asked for.
“It’s all right. It’s not as if this new epidemic is a secret in the hospital, anyway,” Touya said.
Sakura nodded. “I heard the nurses talking about it—how serious is the epidemic? Why are they trying to hush it up?”
“I guess they don’t want to cause a preemptive panic throughout the city,” Touya replied. “It could be just a simple case of flu virus, after all.”
But something in Touya’s eyes indicated contrary to his words. Sakura nodded and left the ward. She knew that there was an influx of patients rushed into the quarantined wards of the hospital, and the doctors who entered that ward were masked and gloved—they were extra cautious when dealing with an unknown disease, in order to prevent contamination.
It did not take long, however, for the panic of a possible epidemic to hit the news when within a week, over a hundred people were infected by an unknown source, all showing common symptoms of nausea, dizziness, then eventually delirium and high fever. All the talk at school was about the new epidemic—everybody by now knew at least a person who was infected, whether it was a relative or a friend’s friend.
“The rate of patients getting infected is increasing exponentially,” Syaraon stated, looking at the Tomoeda daily newspaper headline, “Deadly Flu Virus Circulating.” Another newspaper was headlined, “An Epidemic on the Rise?” “How is it circulating so quickly?”
“I don’t think it’s an airborne virus,” remarked Eriol.
“Then how else is it spread? By touch? Exchange of fluids? Bacteria?” asked Miho.
“It’s spreading at such a rapid rate, it must be human to human,” Tomoyo stated.
“No, onii-chan told me that the quarantined people were not directly transmitting the disease to any of their visitors or the nurses and doctors. Rather, I think it’s a dark force,” Sakura said, staring at the Five Force Scroll rolled up on her lap.
Syaoran dropped the newspaper and tried to bring up a coherent counterargument. “The Dark Ones are not so dumb as to release a force that affects so many people—something that can affect them also.”
“You’ve been thinking it too. But I think we were both trying to deny it, because we were scared,” Sakura stated. “I’ve been expecting it ever since I saw it in the Mirror of Truth, during the Star-Crossed performance. You remember it too, the vision that the Fate showed us. All those people dying and being helpless.”
“The Plague,” murmured Syaoran pensively. He glared at Eriol. “You knew, didn’t you?”
Eriol peered at him through his glasses without responding. Seeing the sorrowful look, Syaoran realized that he wasn’t angry at Eriol. No, Eriol hadn’t spoken for his own reasons. Maybe Eriol had been scared too. It was a strange idea, thinking someone as powerful and as self-assured as Hiiragizawa Eriol had fears too. And that frightened Syaoran even more.
The Plague. The cause of Sakura’s mother and Syaoran’s father’s death. And Mizuki Miara’s decline in health. Possibly the most deadly and devastating of the dark forces, because in the face of disease, humans were truly helpless.
“It’s my fault,” Sakura stated, lowering her face into her hands. She finally understood Eron’s last plea. And she had been unable to stop him. “He warned me. He warned me, and I didn’t heed his warning.”
“What are you talking about?” Syaoran said. “It’s no one’s fault, let alone yours that this dark force was released. We knew it was coming sooner or later.”
“No, he gave me a chance. He gave me a chance to stop him, to save all these lives,” Sakura said, voice trembling.
“Don’t be silly, Sakura-chan,” Tomoyo said, putting her arms around her friend. “You didn’t know he was going to do this.”
“Eron. He told you he was going to do this?” Syaoran demanded, fury boiling in his blood when he deciphered what Sakura was rambling about.
“No, but he warned me that if I don’t stop him, I would regret it later,” Sakura replied in a strained voice. “This is what he meant.”
“And so you didn’t stop him?” Miho asked.
“I couldn’t; I thought it would be useless,” Sakura said. “No, I was scared. I was a coward, so this happened.”
“Well, he would not have listened to you anyway; releasing this force requires more determination than a simple whim,” reasoned Syaoran. “He would have done it either way.”
“Li-kun’s right. If it’s anyone’s fault, it’s the Dark Ones,” Tomoyo said.
“Anyway, instead of wondering of ways we could have prevented it from happening, we need to focus on how to prevent anymore damage from happening,” Syaoran stated, staring at the distraught Sakura. He knew what Eron must have said to Sakura. Syaoran knew that Eron desired Sakura. Eron was the type of guy who was fixated in attaining what he wanted, and he desired to possess her more than anything. And upon knowing that he could not possess her, probably out of infuriation and defiance, he had released the final straw; the Plague. Any other time, Syaoran would have been furious at Eron; but there were more pressing matters at hand. Besides, Syaoran couldn’t help being relieved all the same that Sakura had refused him.
The Kinomoto’s watched the evening news together in the living room. Every channel covered something about the mysterious epidemic that was spreading through Kanto region—the newscasters related the statistics of the increasing amount of patients, the religious channels predicted the coming of apocalypse, the historians pointed to a cycle in history of extinction and regeneration and the scientists proclaimed the high chances of genetic mutations. What all the channels shared, however, was the sense of uncertainty and apprehension.
Over the past days, Sakura had learned to drown out the buzz on
speculation of the cause of the new outbreak of disease; she knew what the
cause was. As she watched the news, she was the clips of The anchorwoman
announced grimly, “The new epidemic that has spread from Tomoeda to as far as
Tokyo and surrounding provinces seems to be more than a mere case of influenza.
Currently, several hundred patients have been hospitalized and more are
developing symptoms this very moment. The symptoms are rather similar to the
bubonic plague as patients show signs of fatigue high fever, chills, delirium,
coughing, and in extreme cases, coughing up of blood.” The announcer continued,
“The cause is yet unknown, however, for lab researchers have not been able to
isolate any traces of the enterobacteria Yersina pestis, the bacteria which is
the cause of the bubonic plague, in the blood sample of patients. Doctor Iwada
Setting down the newspaper which headlined, “MYSERIOUS EPIDEMIC IN JAPAN—A NEW STRAND OF PLAGUE?” Fujitaka asked, “Touya-san, how are things at the hospital these days?”
“Tiring,” Touya said, rubbing his eyes. “I won’t be coming home for a while—some staff members have fallen ill. And patients have doubled yet again.”
Shaking his head, Fujitaka said, “Sakura-san, I know you volunteer at the hospital, but I’m not sure if it’s a good idea to spend so much time there—with your brother, it can’t be helped because he’s an intern, but for you…”
“Don’t worry, otou-san,” Sakura said, realizing with a pang that the epidemic might bring back unpleasant memories for her father. “The hospital’s more sanitary than any other place. And I’ll be careful.”
“I don’t know. Otou-san might be right,” Touya said tiredly. “As long as we don’t know the cause of the disease, for all we know it might be airborne, it might be a good idea to stay away from the hospital.”
Sakura looked into her brother’s eyes, “Onii-chan, you know Su-chan needs me. I’m working under Yukito-san, anyway. He’ll look after me. You don’t need to worry about me.”
Touya sighed. Who could argue with Sakura when she was in her stubborn streak? Besides, Sakura’s powers would protect her.
It was not a week before the epidemic had spread to the masses, not
just the elderly and sickly. There was no shield in the victims, no age barrier,
no consistency. Both male and female, elderly and young, healthy and weak were
affected. Early symptoms were similar to the common flu, so some patients
ignored their illness until the fever grew too high. Sakura didn’t realize the
urgency of the situation until she looked around at school and saw the
diminishing attendance rate of both students and teachers. There were rumors
that a Fourth Pandemic was arising in
“We’ve sealed many odd dark forces till now,” remarked Syaoran, staring at a computer screen in the library. He was scanning through microfilm of archived newspaper articles to find more information about the plague. “But how do you seal a disease.”
“There must be a way,” Sakura murmured, looking through the Five Force Scroll. “There must be.”
“If there was, Eriol would have let us know,” Kero-chan, popping out of Sakura’s book bag, commented off-handedly.
“Then what are we supposed to do? Watch everyone fall ill?” Sakura demanded.
“Maybe. And just hope that the disease fades away,” Kero-chan said. “Sakura, there are things that even magicians can’t control, can’t conquer. Even Clow Reed was aware of that.”
“Well I’m not Clow Reed,” snapped Sakura.
“No, you’re not.” Kero-chan sighed.
“Look at this. This is interesting,” Syaoran commented, zooming on a local news article dated back to 23 years ago.
Sakura leaned over Syaoran’s shoulder and read the headline, “The Coming of a Fourth Pandemic? The Plague Strikes Again.” She quickly scanned the article. “The situation is very similar to what’s happening now!”
“Obviously, since it’s what our parents had to battle,” Syaoran said. “But the current news media is downplaying that incident. Because it was a crisis that sort of burgeoned then died out—they don’t want to bring it up again.”
“If this indeed is the very same thing,” Sakura began, “Then if we find out how our parents sealed it…”
“Impossible,” Syaoran said. “Besides, there’s a chance that this time it’s different—it could be more dangerous or not. But we have to be cautious and just see how it develops.”
“The Brat’s right,” Kero-chan stated. “You can never be too cautious in such a situation.”
“But it’s so frustrating, not being able to do anything,” Sakura stated, slamming down the Five Force Scroll.
Sakura did not have to wait long to have the Plague’s poisonous breath to reach near her. Rika was the first of Sakura’s close friends to fall ill, followed by Naoko and then even Yamazaki Takashi. Class 3-1’s attendance had dwindled to half. Chiharu, hunched over her desk, sobbed into her arms. “Takashi never gets sick. He never misses school, either. But he’s sick now—and I told him yesterday that he was lying when he felt a burning fever. I laughed at him, but he’s delirious now. He has to get better—he will get better, right?”
“Of course, Chiharu-chan—he’ll be fine,” Tomoyo said, rubbing Chiharu’s shoulder.
“And I can’t even go see him because my mother doesn’t want me to get sick too. I don’t care.” Chiharu looked up with puffy red eyes. “I hate just waiting, not being able to do anything.”
Sakura and Tomoyo exchanged worried looks. Chiharu had always been the confident, rational, fearless one. She in her own right had been a ringleader, the only one who could laugh off Yamazaki-kun’s exotic tales, bring Rika out of her quiet shell and put up with Naoko’s wacky ideas. Chiharu was Sakura’s closest school friend next to Tomoyo, had been since they both joined the cheerleading squad in third grade school.
Since they did not know the cause of the new epidemic, people were extra cautious and frightened. What was even more frustrating was the limited information available on the disease. People were thrown into a sort of panic because they did not know how else to react.
With the outbreak of the plague epidemic, hospital duties had doubled for all those who hadn’t yet fallen ill since many staff members were inflicted already. Carrying stacks of fresh linen, Sakura walked down the corridor lost in thought. If she could only figure out the cause of the Plague, the source, she might have a better shot at sealing it. She checked the charts for the room number and realized that it was Tanaka Miara’s suite.
Hesitantly, Sakura knocked on the door, balancing the linen in her other arm. There was no answer, so she entered. “Hello? There was a request for fresh linen…” She trailed off.
Sakura found Miho sitting by her mother’s bedside. Miho, who had only recently come to terms with her brother’s death and father’s murder, was at the verge of losing yet another loved on. Her mother thrashed about in her bed, moaning and perspiring. Miho gently reached out to fix her mother’s blanket, but Miara, in her sleep, knocked away Miho’s hand. “Get away. Get away from me,” she groaned. Automatically, Miho stepped back—she looked almost in tears.
Clearing her throat, Sakura said, “I’ll leave the linen here on the bench—I guess you’re spending the night here, Miho-chan?”
Miho nodded. She wondered if her mother knew about the truth behind her father’s death; she had desperately wanted to ask. But at this rate, she would never get to ask.
“I’ll bring an extra pillow and blanket for you later. Call me if you need anything.” Sakura tried to smile encouragingly at Miho, then rushed out of the room to the nearest restroom, her eyes stinging and her chest aching as it did when she was a child of three, when she ran upstairs to her mother’s bed and found her cold and limp. She almost collided into someone, but ducked her head and swerved away.
“Hey, wait, Sakura!” Syaoran called out, startled at Sakura streaking down the corridor without looking up.
When she reached the restroom, Sakura turned on the faucet and splashed her face with cold water in the sink. She took several deep breaths and left the restroom. I have to seal the Plague. For my mother and Syaoran’s father’s sake. Miho and Kai deserve to have their mother back. I know what it’s like losing a loved one… All these suffering people should not be suffering. There is enough tragedy in the world—the Plague cannot, must not take more lives.
A nurse ran up to Sakura. “Sakura-chan, Tsukishiro-san’s calling for you again.”
Nodding, Sakura hurried towards the second floor—she could not spare a moment of weakness.
“I want to go out! I want to play and run around!” shouted Subaru, knocking away the nurse with great ferocity for a seven-year-old.
“Subaru-chan, your immunity is low, and with the epidemic…” Yukito sighed. “It’s safest for you to stay here.”
“Yukito-san; is there anything we can do for him?” Sakura implored. She knew what it felt like to be trapped and suffocated indoors when sick.
Yukito shook his head. “We’re doing everything we can for Subaru. But his body had rejected chemotherapy and other forms of medication. He’s so young. It’s difficult for him.”
“It’s unfair. Why does someone as young as him have to suffer this?” Sakura demanded.
“I don’t know, Sakura-chan,” Yukito replied, looking away. Though Clow Reed had believed there was a reason for everything, Clow had not always believed that the reason was just or right.
“Sakura-nee-chan.” Subaru suddenly grabbed Sakura’s sweater sleeve. “Don’t leave me.”
Kneeling by Subaru’s bedside, Sakura smoothed a hand over his chest. “I won’t leave, Su-chan.”
“’Nee-chan, don’t leave me, okay?” Subaru continued, half hallucinating, slipping his hand into Sakura’s. His breath came out in short pants, and his forehead was covered with beads of sweat. Carefully, Sakura fixed the blue wool cap that she had knit for Subaru’s shaved head.
“Shh… I’m here so you can sleep,” Sakura murmured, wiping the sweat off the boy’s temple with a handkerchief.
“I—can’t breathe,” Subaru croaked, tossing around in the bed. “There’s something there—get it away! Get it away from me!”
“There’s nothing there, Subaru,” Sakura said, looking at the foot of the bed, to see what Subaru was pointing to.
“I’m scared! Take it away!” Subaru said, burying his head into his pillow. “Go away!”
“Take what away, Subaru?” Sakura urged, gently. “What do you see?”
“It. Get it away from me!” Subaru thrashed and kicked in his bed.
Sakura turned to Yukito and asked, “What’s wrong with Subaru-chan? He’s seeing things.”
“He’s been hallucinating for a couple days now,” Yukito replied somberly. Doctors did not have time to spare to check on a mere boy—even he had been assigned to so many patients, it was difficult to find time to spare to come by Subaru’s bed. “It’ll be best to humor him for the while.”
Frowning, Sakura placed a cool hand on Subaru’s forehead. The boy’s
round brown eyes focused on her again. “Sakura-nee-chan will protect
“From what?” Sakura whispered. “Subaru, tell me, and I’ll protect you from anything.”
Subaru murmured, “Get it away from me… the black rat, it’s crawling up my bed.”
Sakura stared hard at the foot of the bed then drew the blankets tighter around Subaru. “Shush, it’s all right, there’s nothing there anymore.”
“Hmm…” Subaru rolled over into turbulent sleep.
Even as she stroked Subaru’s head to calm the boy, an idea dawned upon her. “Yukito-san.”
“What is it Sakura-chan?” Yukito gazed at the pensive girl, wondering what the Card Mistress was up to now.
“You said that other patients in this hospital struck by the new disease have been suffering from delirium, right?”
“Yes, the ones with more severe conditions, the ones who have been ill for a couple days,” Yukito replied, confused. “The delirium and hot fever is an acute symptom of the disease spreading in the body.”
Sakura turned around. “And most of the patients seem to be frightened by something in their delirious state?”
“Well, yes.” The Yue in Yukito narrowed his eyes and gazed upon his card mistress with skepticism.
“What exactly were the patients afraid of?”
“Who knows,” Yukito said. “They’re not conscious—“
“I know, but do they seem to be afraid of something in common? Like a certain creature?” Sakura was now gazing up intently at Yukito, waiting for his answer.
“Now that you mention it… They seem to be afraid of some sort of monster or creature.”
“Did any of the patients mention anything about a black rat?” Sakura asked urgently.
Yukito paused for a second and nodded. “We ignored it—it’s not good for the hospital’s reputation to have patients talk about rats.”
“But you’re sure that other patients have mentioned the rat?” Sakura’s eyes gleamed.
Yukito nodded, about to ask her what the significance of that was. However, Sakura had already run out of the room.
Sakura dashed from room to room, looking for Syaoran in the large hospital. Nurses glared at her for running in the hallway. She found him mending hospital gowns in the linen room.
“Syaoran, I think I figured it out,” Sakura gasped, closing the door behind her.
“Figured what out?” Syaoran had one eye shut, threading a needle. Expertly, he drew the white thread through the eye then doubled the thread over.
“The source of the Plague, its real form,” Sakura said. She blinked several times at Syaoran, who was calmly hemming the fray sleeves of a hospital gown. “What in the world are you doing?”
“They have a shortage of staff members—I was reallocated the tasks of five other people who have fallen ill,” Syaoran replied shortly. He briskly tied a knot and snapped off the thread. “So, how did you find out about the real form?”
“All the patients—when they get delirious, they mention rats. Yamazaki-kun, Rika-chan, Subaru-chan, they all talked in their sleep. And they mentioned a black rat; I think it’s possible that the Plague’s true form is in that of a rat.”
“A king rat.” Syaoran smirked. “That makes sense. Since the bubonic plague initially originated from the spread of the disease by rats.”
“Well…” Sakura blinked expectantly.
“Well what?” Syaoran yawned, stretching.
“We’re one step closer to capturing the Plague. We now have a lead—we know what we’re looking for,” Sakura exclaimed.
Syaoran tossed the hospital gowns aside and stood up, looking Sakura level in the eye. “Sakura, just because we have a vague notion of what the Plague’s true form is doesn’t mean that we are any closer to capturing it. This dark force is unlike any other we have dealt with thus far. It’s in a complete different league, something that we have no control over.”
“Then are you telling me that I should just sit and watch and do nothing about it?” Sakura demanded. “Our friends, Su-chan, Miho’s mother—numerous people are ill this very moment. We have to do something about it and stop it.”
“Sakura listen to me,” Syaoran said, grabbing her tightly by the shoulder. “This is the dark force that killed our parents, the one that your mother and my father sacrificed their lives for in order to seal. It’s not to be taken lightly—it’s not within you powers.”
“How do you know without even trying?” Sakura demanded. She jerked her shoulders, trying to shrug Syaoran’s grip off. He held on even tighter.
At that moment, the linen room door flung open. “What are you two doing in here together with the door shut?” barked Touya.
Syaoran let go of Sakura abruptly, sending her stumbling back. Both of them turned red-faced, though they knew they had not been doing anything bad.
Before fleeing out of the room, Sakura glared at Syaoran. I’m going to look for it whether or not you agree to help me.
Fine, go ahead then. Syaoran yanked the basket of linen back onto his lap.
That evening, after her shift at the hospital ended, Sakura found Syaoran waiting at the gates by the lamppost, his head buried into his olive cashmere scarf.
“What are you doing here? Don’t you have waiter shift at the restaurant now?” Sakura asked, pulling on thick gloves and slamming a woolen cap onto her head.
“You’re going to search for the Plague, aren’t you?” Syaoran asked, his breath coming out in little puffs of smoke in the chill night air. His hands were shoved into his camel-colored wool coat and he shifting his weight back and forth to keep warm.
“Yes,” she replied curtly.
“And nothing I say to discourage you will stop you?”
Sighing, Syaoran said, “Well, then, I have no choice but to follow.”
“Why? You don’t have to follow me if you don’t agree with me,” Sakura remarked.
“I don’t think it’ll be that easy to locate the Plague, but just in case, I think I should be around if you do encounter it,” Syaoran replied.
From the bushes, Tomoyo burst out with her camcorder. “Hurray! For old times sake?” She twiddled sheepishly with the settings on her new camcorder. “I’m sorry—I know it’s really not appropriate so I won’t suggest a costume change. But would you mind if I tag along?”
Sighing in exasperation, Syaoran said, “I’m sorry—this situation is different from anything else we’ve dealt with up till now. The Plague is by far the most dangerous and lethal force we’ve encountered, and we can’t get you involved in it for your own safety.”
“I understand. I understand how dangerous it is—but can’t you let me be a part of this? All I can do is watch, but if I can come of use in some way…” Tomoyo trailed off. This was no situation to protest Syaoran judgment.
“No, Tomoyo-chan can stay,” Sakura stated. “It’s more dangerous where I can’t see you—I won’t let any harm come to you as long as you’re within my sight.”
“Sakura, this is not a game,” Syaoran said. “If we’re going to search for the Plague—“
“If we’re going to search for the Plague, the more of us are gathered, the more of a lure we are. Tomoyo-chan, you would be of help.” Sakura looked directly at Tomoyo. “But if I just have on request from you. If I ever tell you to leave or run, you must do so without questioning me.”
Tomoyo nodded. From her bag, Kero-chan popped out. “Well, do you any leads then?”
“Kero-chan! I was going to call you!” Sakura exclaimed.
“Humph, and you were trying to leave me out of this,” Kero-chan grumbled.
“Well, I knew you wouldn’t approve,” Sakura muttered.
Kero-chan crossed his arms. “It’s pure madness trying to seek out the Plague yourself.”
“Nobody sane would do so,” Syaoran added.
Raising an eyebrow, Kero-chan remarked, “For once the Brat and I are in concordance.”
“Well, why don’t we think things through logically,” Tomoyo said. “Before we even think of capturing it, we need to figure out where it is.”
“Right. Even if the Plague is a dark force, we must remember that the dark forces follow trends to their true form. As you remember, when we were capturing the Clow Cards, certain Clow Cards held special traits because of their real form,” Syaoran said.
“I see. And if the Plague is a rat,” Sakura ruminated.
“That’s right. Rats are nocturnal creatures. Naturally they will come out in the dark,” Syaoran concluded.
And it was already dark. Sakura realized that she didn’t have to look. The rats appeared on their own will, out of garbage cans, from dark nooks and crannies, from the sewers, from behind bushes. It surprised her that she hadn’t noticed earlier—but they kept quiet and still, watching their prey with gleaming eyes. Tomoyo, Syaoran and Sakura instinctively inched together. While Tomoyo could not see anything, she felt a discomforting, itch, as if she was being played into a spider’s web, as if something was watching her.
“Careful, Sakura-chan,” Kero-chan said. “These rats have multiplied incredibly over the past several days. “You must not let one of those bite you.”
“I see.” Syaoran swung out his sword grimly. “They’ve had their feast of the sickly and the elderly, the healthy and the young. They’re craving for more. They want us. They want to sap the blood of those in power. To multiply at even a greater rate and consume even quicker.”
“Don’t talk like that,” Sakura said, shuddering. Just for a second, she thought she saw pure hatred and wrath in Syaoran’s flashing amber eyes. She shook her head. It must be because the reflection of the lanterns in the dark.
Kero-chan stuttered, “S-Sakura—“ He pointed his paw at the ground. “They’re gathering around us. Even as they put their backs to each other, the rats had crawled out of their hiding spots and crowded around the three humans, attracted by the fresh, raw energy radiating from the boy and the girl.
Turning to Tomoyo, Sakura cried out, “Tomoyo-chan, get away from here.”
Without questioning Sakura’s decision, Tomoyo ran towards a black van that drove up to the sidewalk—her bodyguards were waiting standby. But she did not leave; she watched from the safety of the van.
“We must get rid of these rats!” Sakura exclaimed to Syaoran, realizing that it would be a matter of seconds before the rats pounced on them. “Fiery!” She burned out the rats crawling across the cement.
“They’re just increasing,” Syaoran replied, leaping on top of a ledge and whipping out ofudas in all directions. “Rai tei shou rai!” The paper ofudas burst into flames with the rats.
“Sakura-chan, behind you!” Kero-chan, emerging as Cerberus exclaimed. He thought he had an advantage because he was able to levitate in the air, but the rats scrambled up trees and flung themselves at him at an alarming height. Cerberus breathed a puff of fire over the grown contaminated with the filthy vermin. They withered away.
Quickly, Sakura struck down a rat that leapt at her with her staff. “Fly!” She leapt off the ground.
“This is no use!” Syaoran exclaimed from the highest tree branch. Rats were clambering up the base of the tree, and he struck them off with his sword. “They’re just multiplying. They won’t disappear unless you get rid of the boss.”
“Meaning I need to find the king rat… The Plague,” Sakura murmured. “How?”
“I don’t think you’ll need to try hard,” Cerberus murmured, looking ahead. The hundreds of rats, once realizing it could not bite into any of the four, streamed back to a central point, merging into a larger creature. The rat king appeared to find what prey its minions could not taste. Larger than any other rat, the rat king stood on its hide legs and its fur was a glossy pitch black, its tail as long as a small rattlesnake. Unlike other sewer rats, this vermin’s eyes were a deep red, glowing in the dark. Its eyes darted back and forth between Cerberus, Sakura and Syaoran.
“Sakura, get out of the way. Don’t let that thing touch you,” Syaoran shouted, tightening his grip on the hilt of his sword. Beads of sweat dripped down his neck even in the cold of the winter. He stared hard at the vile creature, something stirring in him that he thought he had long forgotten. It was a deep hatred and anger at the very force which had taken his father from him. The odds were low, but if he could take one swing at the creature, if he could just strike one blow…
Cerberus saw the changed expression on Syaoran’s brows, one of a chill fierceness that he had never seen before on the boy’s face. “Brat, don’t get reckless yourself,” he said in his booming voice.
Sakura turned to Syaoran, who had raised his sword diagonally in an attack stance. The rat had been circling the trio, gazing its prey. Then, without warning, it darted forward, baring its sharp yellow fangs. Without any hesitance, Syaoran leapt forward, slashing down his blade upon the vermin’s neck. He wasn’t surprised when the creature’s wound simply resealed and while the rat was unfazed physically, it hissed and leered at Syaoran with new venom.
“It’s not the Five Force Sword,” Syaoran murmured, staring at his father’s dragon sword in dismay.
“What are you talking about?” Sakura asked, holding out the Fiery Card.
Meanwhile, the rat rebounded and leapt at Syaoran. Sakura stood frozen, staring into its crimson pupils, her card still at the tip of her fingers, her tongue wooden. To her relief, Syaoran bent low and knocked away the creature with his arm, but not before its fangs grazed into his sword arm. For a second, he grimaced, then raised his sword, ready to stab the creature. The rat snarled at the boy for a second, before its nose quivered. The sun was beginning to rise in the East, the first streams of dawn’s rays rippling through the trees. Without a swish of its long snake-like tail, the king rat retreated from its preys, back into the shadows. Along with its king, the black rats melted away into dark corners.
For a second, Sakura stared blankly ahead, before reality hit her. She dropped her staff and grabbed Syaoran’s right arm. She stroked his jacket sleeve. “Syaoran, did it bite you?”
“Silly, it’s just nicked my sleeves—its fangs didn’t penetrate my skin at all,” Syaoran reassured. Just a little slip and Sakura could have… he didn’t want to think of it; it had been too close of a call. “Now do you understand how dangerous the Plague is?”
“It’s scared of light,” Sakura murmured. “We found out its weakness.”
“Well, it’s already dawn. We have school today. You should get some rest before.” Syaoran waved his sword away, breathing in the chill morning air.
“Syaoran, are you sure it didn’t bite you? Do you want me to take a look at it?” Sakura asked, frowning.
“I told you it’s all right,” Syaoran snapped. “What, do you think I spent all the years training for—one thing I have confidence is my quick reflexes.”
“But when it looks into your eyes—you become paralyzed. You can’t move,” Sakura murmured, shivering at the idea of what might have happened had dawn not struck. “Well, as long as you’re okay…”
“Let’s go home before your father finds out you were out all night,” Kero-chan, back in his smaller form, urged. He narrowed his beady black eyes at Syaoran; it was not like the Brat to get reckless. Then again, he is only human; it is natural to feel anger against the source of your father’s death.
That morning, Kai found Syaoran standing in front of the stove, his eggs burning up in the frying pan. “What’s wrong with you? The eggs are burning—you never let that happen.”
Startled, Syaoran glanced at Kai with dark circled eyes; he hadn’t slept at all and was still in his school uniform from the previous day. He tried to lift his hand up to turn off the stove. However he could already feel the numbness spreading up his right arm. He used his left hand to turn off the stove.
Attentive as usual, Kai demanded, “What’s wrong with your arm?”
Syaoran sighed. He really did not want to explain the situation to Kai, but Kai stood arms crossed awaiting for an answer. Stretching out his right arm, Syaoran rolled up the sleeves for Kai to see. There were two parallel red dots by his biceps, a little below his elbow. Syaoran tried to make a fist and found that his fingers were too stiff to flex. “We found the Plague, and I… I made a little slip.”
“A slip? You call that little? You idiot! It bit you, didn’t it? How could you let the King Rat bite you?”
In this situation, Syaoran was not even surprised that Kai seemed to know the true form of the Plague already. “You don’t understand. It sort of gazes at you and you become immobile. It didn’t bite me deeply—just grazed the skin.”
“Nonetheless, you let its poisonous fang tear your skin,” Kai said. “You’re in serious trouble. Once the poison spreads through the rest of your body...”
“I can stall it for a while,” Syaoran said, thinking back on all the herb-lore he had learned from his third uncle.
Kai’s lips curved into a sadistic smile. “Maybe you should consider cutting off your arm, before the poison spread to the rest of your body. Better that than losing your life.”
Syaoran stared at his bare arm. With his left hand, he drew a silver pocketknife engraved with a rising dragon from his pocket and flung open the blade.
“Hey, you’re not serious, are you?” Kai asked, loosing his smirk as Syaoran brought the knife to his arm.
With a steady hand, Syaoran drew the blade vertically against his skin, on the rat bite. Crimson blood welled up.
Though Sakura knew that she had to search out for the Plague and stop it, that her friends were falling more ill day by day, she did not know where to start, what to seek for. Chiharu had told her that Yamazaki-kun was coughing up blood now—Rika was so ill that was not even allowed visitors. For the first time, Sakura began to feel the real burden of being the Card Mistress. Because being a Card Mistress made her responsible to do what was within her power to help society—but what was within her powers and what was beyond human control? Meanwhile, Subaru’s health was quickly deteriorating. She spent every waking moment not at school at the hospital by his bedside, because she was the only person that could and would, and because she realized that the little boy needed her more than anyone else at that moment. Even early that morning, Sakura visited Subaru before school started—she was not surprised to find him awake already. He had been waiting for her.
“Good morning, Su-chan. You’re up early.”
Subaru gazed up at Sakura, clutching one of the picture books that Sakura read him at bedtime. He asked, “’Nee-chan, since I don’t have parents, why don’t I even have a fairy godmother?”
“But you do,” Sakura replied, smiling.
“Who is it?”
“I’ll be your fairy godmother.”
“Stupid. I want a real fairy godmother.” Subaru turned around in his bed, sulkily covering his head with his pillow.
Sakura bowed her head down crushed. She had a vague memory of the Cinderella play that her brother’s high school class had put on five years ago—Yukito-san had been the fairy godmother, and an eccentric one also. When she was little, her brother would grant all of her wishes, so she had doted upon him. Yet, could she not do the same to another person?
Yet, Subaru reconsidered. “Sakura-nee-chan.” Subaru stared up at Sakura with his round chestnut brown eyes. “I have three wishes before I die. If you really are my fairy godmother, you should be able to grant them for me.”
“What are they, Su-chan? Tell them to me, and I’ll grant them for you,” Sakura said, cupping the boy’s cheek in her hand. Only a couple weeks ago, he would have shrugged such touch, but now, he nested his face against the warmth of her hand, the warmth of the mother he never had.
“I want to fly—fly like a bird and see the world from up high,” Subaru said looking up at Sakura in earnest.
“You mean, like riding an airplane?” Sakura asked.
“No, with wings. Like yours, ‘nee-chan,” he replied solemnly.
Suddenly, Sakura recalled hearing that sometimes, those near death could see not what the healthy living could see. It was clarity of vision only granted to those who were already at the gates of the otherworld.
“Okay, if you want to fly, you’ll get to fly,” Sakura said. “But it’ll be a secret, okay?”
“I like secrets.” Subaru grinned slightly as Sakura held out her pinky. He locked his little pinky with hers.
Kai watched the dark blood ooze from the fresh cut across Syaoran’s forearm. Carefully, Syaoran pressed his arm, squeezing out the foul, black blood, indicative of the poison from the rat’s bite. He had already soaked up a towel in blood.
“You scared me there,” Kai muttered. “I really thought you were cutting your arm off for a second.” Of course Syaoran wouldn’t do anything so rash. But more and more lately, Kai felt that Syaoran’s actions were spontaneous and unexpected.
Shaking his head, Syaoran said, “A swordsman without his arm is like a magician without magic.”
“What are you implying?” Kai drew out a black silk handkerchief and pressed it against Syaoran’s cut. “Bleeding out the poison might stall the disease for a bit. But in the end, the Plague has already entered into your bloodstream. No matter how powerful you are, it would be a matter of time before it overtakes you. Like it did your father.”
“It’s all right.” Syaoran bent his right arm and painfully straightened it. “This is a risk I have to take. As long as I can move about for now, it’s all right…”
“You idiot.” Kai sighed, wrapping the handkerchief around Syaoran’s arm into a bandage. “It’s okay if you’re a good for nothing like me, but you have many people who would cry should you fall.”
“What are you talking about?” Syaoran pushed his sleeves down to hide the black bandage.
“Sakura-chan. Meilin-chan. Your friends, your family. You have many people expecting great things from you and a long path upwards in front of you.” Kai patted Syaoran’s shoulder. “Take care of yourself.”
Syaoran gripped his throbbing arm ruefully. How much time did he have before the poison spread to the rest of his body? “Well then, Kai, you better tell me what you know about the Five Force Treasures and the reason why you’ve collected them.”
At this, Kai sighed from his stomach, rubbing his temple. “So, how much have you guessed already?”
That night, Sakura stayed after hours in Subaru’s room, waiting till the children’s ward shut down for the night and only the night nurses were left.
Subaru clapped his hand gleefully. “We’re really going to fly? You’re not lying are you, ‘nee-chan?” He could barely remain still as Sakura struggled to get him into warmer clothes.
“Let’s bundle you up first—it’s cold outside,” Sakura said. The boy was still wearing the white and blue hospital robe, but she wrapped him up in his winter jacket.
“Visitor hours are over,” came a crisp voice by the doorway. The lights were off, and visiting hours had long since ended.
“I know, and you’re not going to tell on me Li Syaoran,” replied Sakura curtly, without turning around. “There you go, Su-chan!”
“Well, Sakura, can you at least explain, what are you doing?” said Syaoran, as he walked in the hospital room where seven other children were sleeping. He knew that Sakura had been spending extra hours by Subaru’s bedside, long after her shift hours had ended. He had stayed back because Touya had bullied him into filing charts from ten years ago. But he had also sensed Sakura was up to something.
Sakura was not listening, wrapping her scarf around Subaru’s neck, until only his eyes peeked out. “You keep watch, okay, and make sure no one notice’s Su-chan’s missing, okay?”
“You’re doing something very reckless,” Syaoran warned.
“It’s his last wish.” She looked up at Syaoran pleadingly.
Sighing, Syaoran relented—could he ever resist that soft, begging look of hers when she had a favor to ask? “You better use the Invisible if you’re taking Subaru out, because people might still be up.”
“Good idea. Thanks!” Sakura took Subaru by the hand. On a second thought, she fished out her red knit mittens and tucked Subaru’s small hands into them though they were ridiculously large on the boy. Quietly, they tiptoed to the nearest fire exit, which lead to the rooftop.
A couple minutes later, Subaru let out of whoop of delight as he soared through the starry night sky, thousands of meters away from the ground, over the highest skyscrapers. Who would have thought that just a while ago, the boy had been sulking and throwing a tantrum? Sakura tightened her grasp around Subaru’s waist as the boy released his tight clutch on the staff, reaching his red-mittened hands out towards the moon, which seemed just about in reach. Beaming, he tilted his head up at Sakura. “Nee-chan, are you a witch?”
“Something like that,” Sakura replied sheepishly.
“I thought you were an ogre, but I guess you’re a lot cooler than that.” The scarf around his neck whipped back in the wind as Sakura swerved the Fly up higher, into the clouds.
“Aren’t you scared?” Sakura asked, looking down at the dazzling city lights far down blow.
“Are you kidding? This is great!” Subaru exclaimed, holding on to the staff again. “Higher!” And she soared higher upon command.
“What’s that blinking tower there?” Subaru asked, nodding his head towards the long white tower at the harbor.
“It’s a lighthouse. The light blinks on and off to indicate to the boats the direction to return home to,” Sakura replied. “So that even if the boats drift off into the ocean and get lost, they can find their way back.”
“I see.” Subaru gazed at the lighthouse longingly.
“Are you sure you’re not cold?” Sakura asked.
“No way. Wait till I tell the kids at the orphanage that I got to fly!” Subaru laughed out loud, forgetting momentarily that he might not get to see them again. “I knew it. I knew that there really is magic in the world.”
“Well, now do you believe that I truly am your fairy godmother? So, what’s your second wish, Su-chan?” Sakura asked, grinning in spite of herself.
Subaru’s usually pallid cheeks were flushed with color from excitement. “I’ll tell you tomorrow.”
The next day, Sakura went straight to
“Sakura-nee-chan!” Subaru exclaimed. “What took you so long?”
“Su-chan. You look better today,” Sakura said, dragging a stool up to Subaru’s bedside. She fussed with Subaru’s sheets and pillows. “Well, did you have time to think of your second wish?”
“You can’t laugh, okay?” Subaru muttered, fiddling with his wool cap, drawing it down over his eyes.
“Of course not.”
“I wish I can see Mother, just once,” whispered Subaru hesitantly, as if almost afraid to say it because Sakura might not be able to grant this wish.
Sakura was taken aback. She had been expecting a request for toys or food or maybe a trip outside of the hospital. But this was a harder request to grant. In the short time she had, how would she ever find Subaru’s mother, granted she was alive. For all she knew, both of the boy’s parents may be dead, which was why he ended up in the orphanage. Or even perchance she did manage to locate his mother, what if she was unwilling to see the son she had forsaken? Sakura sighed, fiddling with her Star Key. There was no other choice.
“Wait a moment, okay?” Sakura told Subaru, walking into the bathroom. Then she summoned to the Illusion. “Illusion! Show Subaru the person he wants to see the most.”
Though she could not see what Subaru saw, Sakura saw the boy’s face lighten up in delight as a woman figure bend over his bedside. He flung his arms around his mother and quietly sobbed into her chest. In his heart was the question, “Why did you leave me?” But all he could do was cry. And his mother said no words, but her eyes were filled with maternal sorrow, and Subaru understood at that moment that his mother had never mean to abandon him. It was at this moment that he was no longer afraid of death.
Sakura had been so absorbed in watching Subaru embrace the Illusion, that she did not notice Syaoran had crept up behind her.
“Playing fairy godmother again?” Syaoran asked dryly. He entered the room, sensing the usage of Sakura cards.
Sakura smiled bitterly. “No, I’m no better than Kaitou-kun, playing at the art of deceiving. Subaru wanted to see his mother, and I knew I couldn’t find her for him. I lied to him with the Illusion—he thinks he’s really seeing his mother. But I don’t know where she is, how to locate her, if she is alive. All I can do is deceive him, because I want to grant his wish. Is that being selfish of me?”
Seeing how troubled she looked, Syaoran flicked her forehead lightly with his left hand. “Silly, what he wants is the love of his mother, and you’ve given it to him; whether it’s real or not to you, it’s completely sincere and true to him. That’s what’s important.”
For a second, Sakura felt like giving Syaoran a big, hard hug, but withheld herself. Why Syaoran was being sympathetic for a change, she did not know. But Sakura’s spirits lightened at his encouragement.
“So, what’s your third wish, Subaru-chan?” Sakura asked on the third day.
Subaru stared up at the white tile ceiling. In his hand, he clutched the angel figurine that Nina had given him for Christmas. “It’s all right, ‘nee-chan. I’m okay now. I saw mother. I saw the ocean. I flew higher than the birds.”
Carefully, Sakura stroked Subaru’s cheek—was he slightly feverish? “But you said you had three wishes, Su-chan.”
Shaking his head, Subaru buried his head into the pillow.
A timid head peeked into the doorway. Sakura turned around to see a little girl with golden hair tied into two pigtails. “Nina-chan, what are you doing here?”
“Su-chan, why don’t you come to the playroom anymore?” Little Nina asked.
“I’m sick,” Subaru stated flatly.
“You don’t look sick,” Nina said. “But you do look very funny with that hat. Why are you wearing it indoors?”
Subaru yanked off his blue cap, revealing his shaved head. “This is why.”
“Ha ha! You look like a monk,” Nina sniggered. “Well, if you’re sick, how come no one’s coming to see you?”
“My mother came to see me,” Subaru declared.
“Liar, you don’t have a mother!” Nina stuck out her tongue.
“I do too! And I saw her; she came to see me. She was the most beautiful woman in the world,” Subaru retorted.
“My mother is the most beautiful woman in the world,” Nina declared, hands on hips. “And she said it’s bad for children to lie.”
“I don’t care what you say!” Subaru shouted. “I have a mother, and she came to see me!”
“I don’t believe you,” retorted Nina, arms crossed.
Subaru tried to sit up from bed, glaring at Nina, but ended up breaking into a bout of coughing.
“Nina, Subaru-chan’s sick right now so why don’t you come back later?”
Sakura said gently leading Nina back to the door.
”No! I want to play with Su-chan now!” replied Nina, not budging. “Everybody’s sick, even Kai-nii-chan, and no one’s playing with me anymore. Grown ups are no fun!”
“What a spoiled brat,” muttered Kero-chan from Sakura’s pocket.
“What’s that?” Nina asked, pointing at the yellow stuffed animal. “It’s ugly. And it talked.”
“Here, it’s a talking doll—take it and play with it.” Sakura handed Nina Kero-chan. Sorry Kero-chan.
After Nina left, Sakura tucked Subaru back into bed—his brown eyes flashed animatedly. His argument with Nina had restored some of his old vigor in him. “I wish I can be an adult. If I were a grown up, people would believe what I say, and I’d be able to go everywhere I want to, eat everything I want to, do whatever I want to.” Subaru broke off. “I wish I can see what’s beyond the ocean.”
Sakura buried her head in her hands. Life was unfair—how could it be so cruel to one so young, one who had not even had a chance to stand? Subaru’s third wish was the one wish she could not grant. After all, she was but a mere mortal girl, not god.
“Sakura-nee-chan, I promise I’ll be a good boy from now on,” Subaru said in a choked voice. “I promise I won’t break other kids’ toys or pull girls’ hair. I won’t ever lie anymore, and I’ll do everything the teacher says at school. I’ll even clean my room and study hard. I won’t complain about the orphanage. So, why, why can’t I live?”
And the tabooed words were spoken. The seven year old boy blinked up at her, lips trembling in his effort to hold back tears—men didn’t cry. Instead, Sakura wiped the tears away from her eyes, and grasped Subaru’s hands, so tightly that he cringed. “You’ll live, Subaru. I promise I’ll make you better.”
“It’s okay, Sakura-nee-chan, ‘nee-chan…” Subaru murmured as he shut his eyes. His breathing eased as he drifted into sleep. Only then did Sakura leave her seat, realizing that she hadn’t eaten since morning and her stomach lurched. Hastily, she wiped the tears off her eyes with the back of her hands.
“Don’t make empty promises to children,” Syaoran said quietly, leaning against the wall, when Sakura came out of the room. “It’s the cruelest thing you can do to them.”
“Who said it’s an empty promise?” Sakura replied, staring up at Syaoran with her green eyes a bright emerald, the look she had on her face when her conviction was beyond all logic. “I plan on keeping it. Subaru’s going to live, no matter what it takes.”
“Sometimes, things are beyond the hands of our mere wishful. We can’t defy the Death Gods.” Syaoran slowly walked down the hallway, unable to face Sakura, who was full of so much determination. The back of his shoulders were hunched over, and Syaoran looked more weary than she had ever seen him before.
“Well, we’ll just see,” Sakura replied grimly. This was not just for Subaru, but for all the innocent victims of the Plague. To teach the Dark Ones a lesson. She did not know that at that very moment, the very Dark Ones were reeling from the effects of the gruesome force that had been released.
Chang Erika did not recall having spent more horrifying weeks, ensuing from the moment Eron locked himself up in his room that one afternoon he had returned home in a rage after meeting with Sakura. He did not take the food and water she left out for him outside his door—he did not let her into the room at all. Every day she pounded on his door, begging him to let her in. And he did not reply. She feared for the worse. It was on the third week since the release of the Plague that his door finally unlocked, and Erika was allowed to enter.
A pale Erika clutched the doorframe, staring hard at the monster standing in front of her in the shape of her twin brother. She could not find voice to express her horror at her twin. “Eron. What have you done? Have you seen the news? This is not what I wanted. This is not what you wanted. Anything but this.”
Long blue-violet hair hanging disheveled around his face, Eron turned to the girl standing before him. For a second, Erika was afraid that he didn’t recognize her from the blank stare he gave her with those glazed golden eyes. “Erika,” he finally croaked. “Erika, dear sister, is that you?”
“What ever you have done, Eron, you’ve got to stop it. Have you gone mad?” Erika demanded, afraid to step forward to her brother, because she barely recognized him anymore. He had not seen sunlight, eaten or drank anything in days.
“The Dark Ones called for it. I only followed their command,” Eron replied, the corner of his lips quivering.
“You said we won’t have to use It. Not now, not later.” Erika had never feared her brother before, but at this instant, she felt that he might not even care if it was her; he wouldn’t stand anyone approaching him.
“There was no choice,” Eron murmured almost in a trance. “I’m an idiot, Erika. I thought I can save both of us. But here I am now, as powerless as I was at age seven.” He stared at his trembling hands and let out a high-pitched hysterical laughter. “I’ve been running around in circles.”
“Dear Eron, God, why did you have to do the unforgivable act?” Erika cried out. “We promised to seek vengeance—not to become murderers!”
Eron’s bloodshot golden eyes widened, as if the gravity of his actions was just sinking into him. “What… did I just do?”
“Eron, you tell me,” Erika said soberly.
“I don’t know, Erika. Erika, what mess did I make of things? Erika, Erika—“
She could not bear hearing him call out her name so forlornly—she flung out her arms and wrapped them tightly around her twin. “Its okay, Eron, I’m here. It’s okay. We’re in this together. Go back to normal, Eron. As long as we’re together, it’ll be all right.”
“Erika,” whispered Eron into his sister’s hair. “Forgive me, Erika. Forgive me. I swear I’ll save you, no matter what measures I have to take.”
“There’s no one to protect us now, except ourselves,” said Erika, shutting her eyes and letting tears flow down her cheeks, onto Eron’s hair. “This time, I’ll protect you Eron.”
In the last few days, it took all of Sakura’s willpower to maintain a bright, cheerful demeanor in front of Subaru every time she visited, when he only seemed to be getting weaker and weaker. Rika and Takashi had been hospitalized in the Kinhoshi hospital as well, and she went to visit them often as well—their rooms were always filled with friends and family. Yet, Subaru’s only visitor was herself, Yukito-san and the nurses.
“Kinomoto-san, I think we might need to increase the dosage of gentamicin in the patient’s IV,” the doctor commented as he looked over Subaru’s chart. “Either that, or we would switch him to doxycycline.”
“We tried that last week, and it didn’t work, Iwada-sensei,” Touya replied, staring at the boy who lay on the bed scowling at the doctor.
“All right. Go and get the antibiotics. We’re going to increase the milligrams of gentamicin to 2.6 mg. Let Doctor Yamato know,” Doctor Iwada said.
“Yes, sensei.” Touya scribbled on the charts.
Sakura had returned from school and flung her book bag in a corner of the room. “What is it, onii-chan. Did they come up with new antibiotics yet?”
“No, we’re still experimenting with different medications—one of them may work still.”
“I see.” Sakura sighed, turning to the boy. “Su-chan, should I read you this new book—it’s about an orphan boy who finds out that actually he’s a wizard.” Sakura said, holding a bag of books she had purchased at the bookstore.
Slowly, Subaru shook his head. He stifled a cough, only to have his little body shake, then explode into a fit of painful coughing from his lungs.
“Nee-chan,” Subaru said, when his coughing subsided. “Look at the drawer.”
Sakura opened the drawer full of toys, candy and child’s trinkets. “I want Ken-chan to have the robot and Mai-chan to have my stuffed elephant. It was hers in the first place any way.” She picked up the beaten elephant doll without eyes.
“And the gold angel. Can you give it to me, ‘nee-chan?”
Carefully, Sakura took out the little angel figurine from its tissue paper wrapping and handed it to the boy. Subaru held it to his chest. “Nina-chan gave it to me for Christmas. I want her to have it back—I never gave her anything in return.”
“Su-chan, why are you giving your stuff away?” Sakura asked.
“I don’t have a lot of things,” Subaru said ruefully. “I don’t have anything to give ‘nee-chan. You don’t want any of my toys—they’re old and ugly, anyway.”
“You don’t have to give me anything, Subaru,” Sakura said laughing. “It’s not like it’s Christmas or anything.”
“I won’t need any of this stuff when I leave,” Subaru said, waving his hand at his few possessions.
“Leave for where?” Sakura asked.
“Where mother is.”
“And where is your mother?” Sakura asked deliberately.
Subaru pointed his finger upwards. “Where the angels are,” he replied, matter of fact. “She told me, when I saw her, not to be scared, that I will be with her soon. She told me that I will never be lonely again, that she loves me.
Something in Sakura’s stomach lurched at that moment. She held back tears and told the boy, “Don’t talk like that, Su-chan. She did not mean right away. Not yet.”
Shaking his head, Subaru replied, “It’s all right. I was scared at first. But I’ve been thinking, I miss her a lot. I want to see her again.”
Burying her head in her hands, Sakura realized that she had made a grave mistake showing Subaru the Illusion. The boy had not only wanted to see his mother—he wanted to be reassured that he would be able to join her soon.
“Don’t be sad, Sakura-nee-chan,” Subaru reassured her. “I’m not scared.” And he was not, for there was a sense of calm on his smooth brows, as if he no longer was battling, that he had accepted everything and was at peace in heart. “Nee-chan, if I’m born again, I’ll be healthy and strong. And then, I’ll take you away from Syaoran-nii-chan.” He sat up and planted a kiss on Sakura’s cheek. “That’s my present to you, Sakura-nee-chan.”
Sakura fingered her cheek and smiled at the child who had shut his eyes and lay back down and shut his eyes.
Holding back a sob, Sakura left the room and then ran out the hospital backdoor to the courtyard. Subaru, he had been reassuring her, not the other way around. How stupid she had been, playing fairy godmother. It had been to ease her conscience; he didn’t need anything from her. The air outside was chilly as she did not have a coat over her school uniform. But it didn’t matter, for, she began to run, as far from the hospital as possible. She did not hear Syaoran calling her name, the footsteps that followed close behind her as she ran as fast as her feet would carry her.
“Sakura, where are you going? Stop!” Syaoran called out, grabbing her wrist and yanking her around.
“Subaru’s dying! I have to do something about it!” Sakura exclaimed, struggling against Syaoran’s grip. Syaoran was startled to see the tears streaming down Sakura’s red face. What had happened? She broke free from his hold relatively easily, startling herself—she knew the extent of Syaoran’s strength.
“Syaoran, there’s something wrong with your arm, isn’t there?” Sakura demanded, looking into Syaoran’s eyes for the first time. It couldn’t be—
“I told you, I got a tiny sprain from soccer practice,” Syaoran snapped, drawing away from Sakura.
“Then let me heal it—it’s no use for you to have a bad arm when we fight the dark force,” Sakura said, drawing out the Heal card.
“It’ll be fine if you just leave it alone.” Syaoran stomped away, cursing himself for letting Sakura notice.
Sakura frowned, staring after Syaoran. If she had not been so caught up with Subaru, she might have noticed earlier that something was not all right with Syaoran.
As the days passed by, the number of patients infected by the new strain of plague increased. The hospital’s hands were too full and those new patients who showed symptoms were encouraged to be put to rest at home, for there was no more empty beds at any of the local hospitals. Never before had Tomoeda been thrown into such a state of panic. There was talk of closing school down since so few student remained in classes, for half were sick and another quarter was taking care of sick ones at home.
The Chang twins had disappeared from sight ever since the first outbreak of the Plague. Sakura did not miss them. So, Sakura was surprised to receive a call one afternoon she was at the hospital.
Her cellphone began ringing and she picked up to an unknown caller. She waited for the other person to speak but there was no sound. Finally, Sakura said, “It’s Erika, isn’t it? What do you want?”
If Erika was surprised that Sakura had guessed who it was so easily, she did not mention it. “I need to speak with you.”
Perhaps Sakura would have refused if it had been Eron who called. But she heard the tremor in Erika’s usually staid voice—it could be possible that Erika had not been involved in the releasing of the Plague. More importantly, however, Sakura was desperate at this point. She thought that Erika might know something vital in capturing the Plague. And if she didn’t, Sakura could at least find out what Erika’s motivation was.
An hour later, Sakura stood at the local park looked up at the girl in a long black coat tightly belted at the waist. “Erika.”
But it was a very different Erika from what she was used to. Erika’s carefully arranged curls hung limp and straight around her face. Her eyes were red-rimmed, and her skin a shade paler than usual. Her cheeks were more hollowed than before, which made her chin seem sharper.
“Kinomoto Sakura. I know you can stand me about as little as I can stand you. So I’ll be straight to my point.” Erika stared at Sakura, trying to keep her chin level.
“What do you want from me this time?” Sakura asked frostily.
“Please save my brother.” Erika’s tone was sulky, but even her pride could not mask the sense of urgency in her voice.
Taken back, Sakura stared hard at the girl that she had tried hard not to dislike but had difficulty liking. She had never understood the girl. Now, she understood her even less. “What do you mean, Erika?”
“I can’t put it in any plainer words. The Dark Force is going to kill Eron if you don’t do something about it. Regardless of that, it’s going to kill everyone else if you don’t stop it. You have no choice. You must seal the Plague. Only you can. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be imploring you like this.”
“Why can’t you seal it yourselves? You’re the ones who released it. Do you understand how much damage you have caused?” Sakura stated, brows furrowed down. She had never been angrier at anyone before, and she would not have even spoken to Erika, had she not believed that there might be information to be gained on the dark force. At the same time, her suspicion had been confirmed—Erika had not been a part of the release of the Plague. Which lead her to wonder, was the release of this dark force really intentional on Eron’s part?
“Do you think I don’t understand how destructive the Plague is? If I could have sealed it, don’t you think I would have already done so? Why do you think I came to you like this?” Erika responded snappily. Then, she lowered her head, remembering her purpose. “I beg you Sakura. I know you want to save everyone. And I just want to save Eron. That’s why you have to seal the Plague, whatever it takes.”
“I was planning on sealing the Plague anyway, not for Eron, but for everybody else,” Sakura replied coolly. Under different circumstances, she might have been more sympathetic towards Erika. However, not now. “I would immediately, but unfortunately, I don’t know how.”
Erika stared at Sakura in disbelief. “What do you mean you don’t know how? With Kaitou Magician as your friend?”
Sakura blinked at the other girl. “I’d prefer if you don’t speak in riddles. If there is a way to seal the Plague, you might as well as tell me straight out.”
“Why do you think Kaitou Magician stole the Five Force Treasures? He should know better than anyone else. Actually, you have Clow Reed’s reincarnation by your side too. They all know. What have you been doing? Resourceful Card Mistress you are.” Erika let out a short laughter, more out of nervousness than mirth. “Go ask them and see what they have to say.”
“Erika, one more question,” Sakura said slowly, still reeling from the knowledge that there were those around her who knew the cure for the Plague and kept it from her. Why? Wait, if Eriol knew, that meant it was likely that Yue and Kero-chan knew also. It had something to do with Kai stealing the Five Force Treasures. Did Syaoran know? Was he keeping it a secret from her too? She continued, “I get the impression that Eron acted on his own this time to release the Plague. Were you not involved in it? What is he doing now—does he even realize what he’s done?”
“Don’t think you can get all friendly with me now—mind your own business and just do what you have to do,” Erika replied curtly. “Don’t even pretend to understand what it’s like to carry the legacy of the Dark Ones.”
“Well, if you understand the magnitude of the damage you’ve caused upon society—” Sakura was cut off.
“What ever low opinion you have of us, Kinomoto Sakura, unlike Amamiya Hayashi, we are neither betrayers nor murderers. At least not yet.” Erika smirked. “And if you don’t stop the Plague, it would be you who killed the people, not us.”
Then, turning around, Erika walked away from Sakura, carrying her head high though she realized that she had hit the lowest pit in her life, asking a favor of Kinomoto Sakura. What Sakura did not know was the nights Eron spent vomiting up blood, the other hours he spent burning with high fever then shivering with hypothermia—his body was fast being devoured by the Plague. He had become emaciated and malnourished over the weeks because he did not consume any food. She managed to make him drink water, which was the only reason he was still alive. At this point, he was delirious and did not know night from day. Sometimes, he thought he was still at the orphanage and other times, he called out Sakura’s name. Yet, even in such a state, she loved her brother, even more so as she realized the reason why he was suffering. He in his own way was fighting against the Plague; he was defying the Dark Ones. It had cost him his health and sanity, but he was still fighting. Eron, for you I’ve thrown away all pride and dignity. For you, I can throw away much more. Dark Ones, just return him to me, and I’ll give you anything that you request.
When Sakura returned to the hospital, she was another person. Coolly, she walked towards Syaoran, who was clearing the toys in the children’s playroom. This was her last test to see how much Syaoran knew. She did not tell him that she had spoken to Erika.
“I heard Kai’s sick—is he all right?” Sakura asked, bending next to Syaoran, picking up the scattered puzzle pieces.
“Yeah—I was worried he might have been contaminated, but it seems like just the common cold,” Syaoran replied.
Sakura realized that Syaoran had been avoiding eye contact with her lately. “Syaoran, do you know anything about the Plague that I should know about?”
“No.” He sighed.
“There must be a way to seal it—and I’m going to seal it whether or not you help me,” Sakura stated—she sensed that he was keeping something from her, because he had blocked his mind from hers. “What are you so scared of? Death? Syaoran, people are going to die if we don’t stop the Plague, hundreds of people. We can’t just let it be!”
“Sakura, you’re trying to accomplish the impossible!” Syaoran burst out. Why didn’t Sakura understand? He was scared for her. If they waited out a little longer, the Plague might come to a natural end, but if Sakura did something rash… “Please, don’t do anything reckless! I—” In mid sentence, he broke into a fit of coughing. His whole body shuddered as he yanked out a handkerchief to cover his mouth.
“What’s wrong?” Sakura asked, frowning.
“Caught a cold—you know I hate cold weather,” Syaoran gasped. He quickly crumpled the quite handkerchief into a ball, but not before Sakura glimpsed the flecks of blood on it.
“Oh, god, Syaoran.” Sakura clasped her hand to her mouth.
“I told you, it’s just a cold,” Syaoran retorted, but not before he began coughing again.
“You never get sick, Syaoran,” Sakura said as it dawned upon her. “It’s because of the rat bite, isn’t it? Why did you lie to me?”
“I’m fine,” he snapped.
Sakura took Syaoran’s right hand away from his pocket and yanked up his sleeve. She gasped, for it was even worse than she had expected. His arm, from elbow downwards, had turned gray from the poison of the bite. “Can you seriously tell me you’re all right, even after seeing this?” She wrapped her warm hand around Syaoran’s cold, stiff, blue-black hand. “Can you even move your hand?”
“A bit,” Syaoran said, suddenly relieved that he didn’t have to hide it from Sakura any more. Even as she pressed his numb hand against her cheeks, he felt as if he could feel some blood rush back into the veins.
Unable to hold back her tears any longer, Sakura threw her arms around Syaoran. “I’m sorry, Syaoran. I’m so sorry.”
Leaning his burning forehead against Sakura’s shoulder, Syaoran sighed. “What are you sorry for, silly? I told you I’m fine. It’ll get better.” Even in his ears he heard the blatant lie.
“What should I do, Syaoran?” Sakura whispered into his chest. “What can I do?”
“Just this once, promise me you won’t do anything,” Syaoran replied, holding her tightly to him with his good arm. He wanted to hold her tightly to him forever, so that he could forget his throbbing arm, forget the raging pandemic, forget that he was no longer the Chosen One, forget about the whole battle against the Dark Ones. Instead, he pushed Sakura away suddenly.
Sakura gazed up at him with glistening evergreen eyes. At that moment, Syaoran felt that he could tell anything to her, and she would just listen. He wanted to tell her that he was scared, that he wanted to run away with her, far away from everything. He wanted to tell her all about his childhood, everything he remembered about his father. He wanted her to know the hate, the anger, the jealousy buried deep in him, the part of him that he had slowly learned to suppress. He wanted her to know that despite all, he loved her more than anything, anyone in the world, and he would gladly give up his life for her. He wanted her to promise him that she would not do anything reckless.
But that moment of transparency was interrupted by a frantic cry in the hallway. Nurses screamed, “Call the doctor to Room 237!”
“No.” Sakura swung around and ran to the hallway. “That’s Suburu’s room.”
She was greeted by Yukito, who gently pushed her to the side of the corridor as the doctor and the nurses came with a stretcher. “What’s wrong with Su-chan?” Sakura demanded, grabbing onto Yukito’s sleeve. She glimpsed the boy, so deathly pale, convulsing in the bed.
“He went into an epileptic seizure. His heart beat is dropping rapidly,” Yukito said. “He’ll have to go in surgery, or else he won’t last the night.”
“No! He was doing fine just yesterday,” Sakura exclaimed. She tried to follow Subaru, for she was sure he would open his eyes and tell her it was another prank he was pulling on the nurses. “Su-chan! Su-chan, do you hear me?”
“Li-kun, take Sakura away,” Yukito said. “You two are getting in the way.”
With his good arm, Syaoran clutched Sakura around the waist and dragged her away from the corridor.
“SUBARU! Listen to me! I’ll grant your last wish, so you better be listening!” Sakura cried out. She swallowed a sob into Syaoran’s chest.
“Subaru’s going to be fine,” Syaoran whispered into her hair, without any conviction himself. Subaru’s body was already so weak—what strength could be left in that tiny body to battle against the Plague? He’d never felt more frustrated at himself for being helpless.
“He will be,” Sakura replied, giving Syaoran a false sense of relief. But he didn’t see her eyes, for they were cast downwards. If he did, he would have seen the cold look of sheer determinacy, a sort of driven, haunted look as if she had shed her last bit of hesitation.
Sakura used the Fly Card to get to Syaoran’s apartment complex even though it was broad daylight and did not even bother to ring the doorbell as she burst into Kai’s apartment. The door was unlocked as usual.
“Intruder! Intruder!” squawked Perro-chan the parrot. Since his master was ill, he was simply a plain white today and faithfully guarded the house.
“Kai-kun, are you in there?” Sakura called out timidly, walking right into the Kai’s bedroom. The curtains were drawn, and Kai lay in bed, covered in black sheets.
“Who let you in?” Kai asked, voice muffled in the pillow.
“Kai, I’ll get straight to the point.” Sakura’s voice was steel. “Just answer yes or no. Do you or not know the cure to the Plague?”
Kai refused to turn around to face her, burrowing deeper into his blanket, “Why are you asking me? I’m sick.”
“Don’t give your usual sly, evasive answers, Mizuki Kai. It’s vital; too many people’s lives are at stake—Subaru’s dying. If you know, please tell me,” Sakura said, kneeling by Kai’s bedside. Still there was no answer. “Kai-kun, I can save your mother.”
Kai opened his eyes again. Slowly, he sat up and faced Sakura, sitting by his side. Though it was dark in the door, her eyes glowed with verdant fierceness. “Does Syaoran know what you’re up to?”
“I don’t think he’s in any condition to make decisions at this moment,” Sakura stated curtly. When she saw the surprise in Kai’s face, she added, “Kai, I already know about his arm, if you’re trying to hide that from me also. There isn’t much time left for anybody.”
“What makes you think that I’d know how to capture the Plague?” Kai questioned. “If I knew, don’t you think that I’d have already sealed it?”
“You did try, and you failed,” Sakura replied. “Isn’t your current state a proof of it? You’re an idiot, Tanaka Mikai, you really are. I know that you love Miho and your mother—that is why you sacrificed everything to find the cure for your mother, isn’t that true? Well, Kai, you will either tell me now, or you will be responsible for the murder of you friends, your mother, everyone around you.”
Level gray-blue eyes rested on Sakura, the willful yet warmhearted girl he had befriended initially to steal the Amamiya diamond from. Yet, somehow, he too had fallen under the spell of that sunshine-like smile. Long ago he had learned to distrust humankind. But if there was one last hope; if there was one last person he might be able to trust his life with... Warily, he said, “Listen carefully, Sakura. It’s better for you not to know. I don’t want you doing something stupid, because you let your heart get the better of you.”
“I don’t care. Just tell me. Please,” Sakura looked at him levelly. Kai’s eyes were red-rimmed, as if he hadn’t slept in days, though he’d been confined to bed for the past week.
“You probably want to know why I collected the Five Force Treasures,”
Kai began. His voice was still hoarse and his breath came in gasps. Sakura was
right when she told him that there was not much more time left. His chest
ached, where the bullet was buried deep under his skin. He was no longer
looking at Sakura but at the blank wall in front of him. “I’m not sure how much
you know about the Dark Ones of the previous generation. But you should know
that your mother and Syaoran’s father both died of the same disease. It’s the
same disease that my mother suffers from right now in a less severe form. Some
23 years ago or so, the Dark Ones released their final trump card—the Plague.
You’ve seen it in news archives. The symptoms were the same, and eventually,
the disease spread from Tomoeda to
“What do you mean they sealed the Plague in their bodies?” Sakura said blankly.
“It’s as simple as I’ve stated. You must be aware that you are the
first since Clow Reed to actually be able to seal dark forces into your own
contract. Even our parents’ generation was not capable of that. To save the
“But you have all five treasures, don’t you Kai-kun? I can seal the Plague with their aid.” Sakura’s head was swimming at Kai’s words—how did he know all this? Information he collected during his days as the elusive Kaitou Magician?
“You really don’t understand, do you?” Kai laughed bitterly. “Sakura,
you are nowhere near as powerful as your mother was, or Li Ryuuren was. It’s
impossible in your current state to seal the Plague—you’ll only end up
endangering your life, and if the spell rebounds, the lives of everyone in
Tomoeda. And I’ll be truthful; though I know the Five Force Treasures are the
key, I have no idea how their powers can be awakened and what they will do.
Some say that their true powers can only be awakened by their original creator.
It’s a fruitless endeavor.”
Suddenly, she realized why nobody had told her; everybody had thought she was not capable of handling the Plague. Sakura reached out and grabbed Kai’s hands, looking into his eyes. ”Tanaka Mikai, you told me that I’m the only one since Clow Reed who is able to seal Dark Forces into a contract. Don’t you see I’m the only one who can do this? You told me all this—you’re going to let me carry out what I have to do. You just need to lend me the Five Force Treasures, and you will finally be able to complete your duty.”
Silently, Kai watched Sakura; he knew all along it would come down to this, yet why did he hesitate so? With a shaking hands, he pointed to a vault in the wall. “It’s there. The Five Force Treasures. Make sure you return them to me.”
“Thank you, Kai,” Sakura said, standing. “I swear I’ll save your mother, and everyone else.”
“Sakura, you know your limit—don’t do anything reckless,” Kai said, knowing that the girl was not listening to him anymore, hating himself for not trying to stop her.
Sakura smiled half-heartedly. “By the way, Kai-kun, promise me you don’t tell Syaoran about this—he’ll just make a fuss and make things more complicated.”
“Don’t worry.” Kai grimaced. “I know better.” He never prayed but this once, he did. God of wind, please protect this girl.
To seal the Plague, she needed a secluded place. Somewhere high above, somewhere that she won’t be disturbed, somewhere where she’ll be able to focus all of her energy, somewhere that she felt most comfortable in. There was only one obvious place. Sakura flew over to her school, which was abandoned because it was Sunday. She landed on the rooftop. First of all, she had to make sure that no one would interrupt her. Now she felt completely calm, because for the first time, she knew exactly what she had to do. There would obviously be people who would want to disrupt her, and though she knew that barriers were Clow Reed’s specialty, she decided that she would have to give a try. Her power was at a height—she could feel how much her powers grew in over the past year. She could tell because she knew how much Syaoran had grown, but even in his presence, she didn’t feel her powers being overwhelmed. Even Kero-chan had commented that she was reaching her maximum potential.
Without a second thought, she whipped out the Shield Card, which she rarely used. “Shield! Draw up thine strongest barrier and prevent outsiders from entering or locating here!” And whatever happens, keep him out. An image of Syaoran’s disapproving face flashed in her mind before she brushed it off. Syaoran was infected with the Plague too—somehow, she thought Syaoran would be safe. But he had jumped in front of her and had been bitten instead of her. He had kept it hidden from her, that he had lost use of his right arm. How could he let such a thing happen to him?
She made the barrier extra strong by drawing upon extra strength from the school building, which absorbed much energy from all the students and various activities within it for years and years. It had come to her knowledge recently that raw energy could be drawn from many different sources—nature, the heavenly bodies, artifacts, people. By the time the Shield finished, she was confident that no one from outside, not even Eriol would be able to locate where she was or know what activity was going on inside the barrier.
The magic she was about to draw upon was completely unfamiliar to her, and she would have to make the rules as she acted upon them. Clear mind and strong will. Mother protecting me from above, and ancestors whose blood runs in my veins. Grant me strength to carry this through. Standing in the center of the windless rooftop, Sakura stamped the end of her staff on the cement ground, and around her appeared the magic star circle. She closed her eyes now, because sight was no longer required; she saw everything clearly in her mind. With a flick of her wrist, she summoned the Five Force Treasures out of her bag. The Mirror of Mizuki Miara, the Ring of Landon Reed, the Sword of Li Shulin and the Earrings of Chang Ruichi floated around her. And the Necklace of Amamiya Hayashi hanging around her neck levitated up and slipped off from her neck to join the other four treasures. Then, they landed around her in a circle, forming a five-pointed star with her in the center, the Mirror of Truth at the head of the point.
Her voice was strong and authoritative as she stated, “Honored Li-sama, Mizuki-sama, Reed-sama, Chang-sama, Amamiya-sama. Bequeath upon me your guidance. Power of the Five Treasures. Lend your strength to me. I, Sakura, command you under contract. Release!”
Though her eyes were closed, she felt a blaze of green, red, blue, yellow, and violet light shroud her and a new heat rushed into her body. Her mind felt clearer than ever before, and for a second, she thought she had a glimpse of the many hidden wonders of the world, the gate of truth, the face of seraphim, the song of angels, the lament of the mer-people, the clock of Father Time. The five treasures were glowing. At this moment, Sakura felt that anything would be possible—in her veins ran power older and deeper than she could conceive.
Are you sure you want to carry through with this, Card Mistress Sakura? asked a melodic man’s voice, so familiar yet never heard before.
I promised Subaru that I would save him, and Kai that I’ll cure his mother’s illness. I owe this to my mother and Syaoran’s father, who died in order for our generation, to all those innocent ones suffering this very moment. To myself and my brother—we grew up with a mother—I don’t want anyone else to have to endure losing a loved one. “Circle of Five, become one once more,” Sakura commanded, setting down the staff, with the head pointing to what she perceived was the East. “Bestow the power of the Five Treasures onto your one humble servant to seal the foulest of dark forces.”
A surge of light overwhelmed her, and she let out a gasp as her skin tingled. The Treasures levitated around her again. She felt a burning on her throat, earlobes, and left finger, where the blue jewel glittered. The Li Sword unsheathed itself and lay in front of the Mizuki Mirror. When the light faded, she found herself staring at her reflection, the reflection of a girl with a cloud of golden brown hair handing over her shoulders. Through her hair, she peeked ruby studs in her earlobes. The star diamond glistening on her chest, and the sapphire ring sparkling on her middle finger. She didn’t know if she was seeing a distortion because of the light, but she glimpsed five tall figures standing behind her—but she didn’t turn around, for there was something more important to do.
“The Mirror that Sees. I summon the Plague in front of me. I, Sakura, command you under contract!” Sakura blinked. In the Mirror of Truth, she could see a dark rodent running through the floor of the hospital, sniffing to find a leg to bite on. There was a strong, compelling smell—it spotted a tall young man with dark hair in a white coat. Suddenly, it stopped, looking around, almost sensing some power was summoning it. Then, it let out a soundless screech, as it disappeared from the Mirror. Sakura gasped, stepping back. The last image she saw in the Mirror was Touya’s widened blue eyes, just as he realized that he sensed the same smell of death that had lingered over his mother for so many years.
In front of her materialized a large black rat with glowing red eyes. The Plague. Its yellow fangs were bared; it was clearly angry from being robbed of its feed. When it realized who had summoned him, he snarled at the Possessor of the Five Force Treasures.
Sakura swallowed hard. This was the wretched dark force that had killed her mother and Syaoran’s father. The wind whipped back her long golden-brown hair from her face. The Plague. This time, I’ll seal you even if it takes my life.
Distractedly, Syaoran wiped the counter during his part time job at the
gourmet restaurant La
He stabbed the carving knife into a chunk of beef. It had been bothering him for a while that Sakura’s aura had completely disappeared. He couldn’t feel her proximity at all. Usually, she could sense her presence as long as they were in the same vicinity, the same neighborhood. If compelled, he was pretty certain he would be able to locate her at least within the same country.
“Boy, what are you doing?” demanded the chef. “You’re ruining the meat!”
“I’ve got to find her,” muttered Syaoran, throwing off his apron and running out of the kitchen.
“You crazy, Li-kun? Get back here this second!” shouted the manager. “It’s a Sunday; we’re booked out for tonight!”
“I don’t care!” shouted back Syaoran.
Syaoran almost laughed, for that was the least of his concerns at the moment. He swallowed a fit of coughing as he emerged into the streets, his heart heavy. Sakura, please wait for me…
Both live and never see each other again.
One lives while the other dies loving.
Can we not love and be together?
Or the third choice,
Wish-chan: (August, 2007) My comments on this chapter will be compiled with Chapter 52 comments! Please head on right to Chapter 52:.
Thank you everyone for being so patient with me for the past year and being a strength for me to continue on with New Trials, and to make up for taking such a long time to get this chapter done, I have completed two chapters!