Chapter 57: The Gathering

 

 

~~~~~~

 

 

 

At the edge of the cliff stood the woman in a white kimono. Her long dark hair, unbound, whipped around in the wind. Tears blurred by rain streamed down her pale cheeks from golden-brown eyes. Her heels had hit the edge of the cliff and rocks crumbled down the deep ravine below. But she did not glance back. Ever so slightly, her lips moved.

 

The wind carried the whisper of her voice in the abyss below. ¡°Gomennassai¡¦ Sayonara¡¦¡±

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

End of summer break, Japan¡¦

 

 

 

¡°Mizuki Kai, you¡¯re going to be late on your first day of school,¡± Li Meilin called out, pounding on Kai¡¯s apartment door. She smoothed out the crinkle in her white summer blouse of her Seijou uniform, tucked neatly into her pleated black skirt. Tapping her foot impatiently, she adjusted her black tie.

 

It was just a couple weeks ago that she had been back in Hong Kong, with no intention of ever returning to Japan. Till this day, she wondered if following Mizuki Kai had been the right choice—it certainly had not been logical one or the prudent one. But that day at the airport, she had a feeling that if she let him go, she would never see him again. Participating in the Best Couple Contest had not been her idea of fun, but it kept her mind off the imminent problems. It had been strange returning to this apartment complex without Syaoran. Because she refused to stay under the same roof as Kai, she had no choice but to return to Syaoran¡¯s flat. She no longer had the key, but it was a simple enough feat for Kai to break in for her sake—he even produced a set of spare keys that he had somehow molded months ago. Meilin had long since given up on questioning Kai¡¯s shady ways.

 

Everything had been left the same in the apartment. She did not enter Syaoran¡¯s room, but she saw that his laundry was folded, and in the bathroom, his toothbrush was in the toothbrush holder. In his bedroom, there were stacks of books on his desk, along with his careful notes for all his subjects, as if he had been in the middle of exam preparation. While there was relatively less dust than one would expect to have gathered in half a year, Meilin found a distinctly unpleasant odor from the refrigerator and hastily emptied it of long-expired and half-rotten products. It was as if Syaoran had been taken away without warning. Perhaps her initial theory was correct, and he had been kidnapped after all.

 

In the mere week she had to settle into the apartment and clean up everything, Kai had been missing. Her boxes of luggage packed shipped from Hong Kong by her mother had arrived, and Meilin had been busy unpacking that—she had even been more surprised at her mother¡¯s apparent willingness to let Meilin reside in Japan. ¡°It might almost be better for you to remain there and have a normal high school life with your friends,¡± her mother had said. That is if you would consider it possible to have a normal school life with a former thief, a Card Mistress and an aspiring designer and filmmaker as you friends. Meilin had grown too used to Kai¡¯s spontaneous appearances and disappearances to take his absence personally. But she heartily hoped that Kai remembered that today was the first day of school as she continued pounding on apartment #705. There was still no answer. Fine, she had been knocking out of courtesy, but the door wouldn¡¯t be locked knowing Kai. She kicked open the door, furious and barked, ¡°Mizuki Kai, do I seriously have to wake you every morning from now on?¡±

 

Perro-chan greeted her with a peck on her nose. ¡°Left already! Left already!¡±

 

¡°What?¡± Meilin shrieked. Neighbors peeked out their doors and shot her nasty looks. ¡°He dared leave without me?¡±

 

By now, Meilin was seriously contemplating whether her hasty decision to follow Kai back to Japan had been the best choice after all.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

This particular summer in Tomoeda had been a remarkably hot and wet one, and students bemoaned their first day of school back after break. Some students furiously filled in their math problem sets before class started because they still had not finished their vacation homework. Such was not the case for Akagi Aki, who came back with a tropical tan and a box of chocolate covered macadamia nuts from his trip to Hawaii. His private tutors had long since finished his homework for him.

 

¡°Aki-kun, your hair is even blonder than before,¡± remarked Erika to her deskmate.

 

¡°Erika-chan, your eyes are even more slanted like a fox¡¯s,¡± replied Aki sweetly, offering her a chocolate.

 

Erika turned her nose up in the air. ¡°No thank you. I¡¯m on a diet.¡±

 

¡°Sakura-chan, how was summer vacation?¡± asked Rika, cooling her friends with a hand-crafted bamboo fan. The heat of late summer permeated the classrooms as the restless students of Class 1-2 chattered excitedly about their summer excursions.  

 

¡°It was nice—ojii-san gave me lots of pretty dresses that okaa-san used to wear,¡± replied Sakura. She paused for a second. It seemed as if she had spent the entire summer trying on outfits to please either her great-grandfather or Tomoyo. Never before had she suspected any similarity between their formidable great-grandfather and her best friend.

 

¡°I designed a lot of new outfits while I was there,¡± Tomoyo added. ¡°I received lots of inspiration from the Victorian and Edwardian style blouses and skirts. And because I had lots of clips of Sakura-chan since she was small, I showed them to ojii-chan, and he was happy to watch them. And he showed us lots of pictures of okaa-san and Sakura¡¯s okaa-san when they were girls.¡±

 

The two cousins had grown considerably fond of their great-grandfather, who they discovered was nowhere near as strict as Sonomi had warned them to be, and found him to be quite young at heart. While any adult would adore the well-mannered, gentle Tomoyo, this trip around, Amamiya Masahiko had discovered Tomoyo to be a charming and entertaining girl with similar interests to himself. And unlike her mother, Tomoyo had a sweet disposition and a lack of a temper. And Masahiko had found in Sakura that innocence in heart he had lost so many years ago when his granddaughter had left his house almost twenty-four years ago. In Sakura, Masahiko manifested all the dreams and hopes he had lost in Nadeshiko, who was now gone from this world. In Sakura, he could see traces of Nadeshiko¡¯s grace and purity, but there also was an alertness of her surroundings and wisdom that seemed to extend beyond her mere sixteen years. Perhaps she got it from her professor father.

 

Sakura smiled nostalgically as she recalled the beautiful mansion in the mountains. ¡°I¡¯ve always known I liked ojii-san, but I really realized I love him, same as I love otou-san, onii-chan and Aunt Sonomi. I hope I can see him more often in the future.¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s so amazing that Sakura-chan¡¯s mother and Tomoyo-chan¡¯s mother used to be best friends when they were young,¡± remarked Naoko. ¡°And now you two are best friends.¡±

 

¡°You know what I think was even funnier?¡± remarked Chiharu. ¡°I was looking through my mother¡¯s old yearbooks, and there¡¯s a picture of Sakura¡¯s mother, a guy called ¡®Li Ryuuren¡¯ and Miho-chan¡¯s mother. And another guy who actually looks a lot like Mizuki-kun, now that I think of it. He wasn¡¯t wearing the school uniform though. They were in the theater club page.¡± Chiharu¡¯s mother had also been a Seijou alumnus.

 

¡°Li Ryuuren?¡± Naoko turned around to look at Sakura. ¡°Could he possibly be Li-kun¡¯s father?¡±

 

Sakura wrinkled her nose. It was a name she hadn¡¯t heard all summer long. ¡°This ¡®Li-kun¡¯ again.¡±

 

¡°Well, Li is one of the most common surnames in the world,¡± remarked Naoko shrewdly. She had not forgotten that Tomoyo had warned them all about mentioning Syaoran in front of Sakura before break.

 

Chiharu shook her head. ¡°But the kanji for ¡®Li¡¯ was for ¡®plum,¡¯ same as for Li-kun. And he looked so much like Li-kun, that I mistook Li Ryuuren for him. The funny thing is, in Li Ryuuren-san¡¯s class, there was a person called Chang Ryouta.¡±

 

¡°Chang? Could he be related to Eron-kun and Erika-chan?¡± Naoko said. ¡°How interesting. It must be nice having a mother who went to the same school. My family¡¯s originally from a different prefecture.¡±

 

¡°Why haven¡¯t I seen these old yearbooks before?¡± Sakura murmured to herself.

 

¡°When your mother ran away from home to marry your father, she couldn¡¯t bring a lot of stuff with her,¡± replied Tomoyo. That summer, it had been so difficult not mentioning Syaoran, because Syaoran had been so relevant and present in their lives since elementary school. Sometimes, Tomoyo got the sense that Sakura had not completely forgotten him. Why else would a sudden shadow flash over her emerald eyes whenever his name was mentioned? Nonetheless, it didn¡¯t occur to Tomoyo that Sakura wouldn¡¯t recall Li Ryuuren anymore either. Well, he was Syaoran¡¯s father, and Sakura had forgotten Syaoran completely.

 

¡°Tomoyo-chan, have you seen our mothers¡¯ old yearbooks?¡± asked Sakura to Tomoyo.

 

Tomoyo shook her head. ¡°I don¡¯t think okaa-san brought them with her when she married my father and moved into our house.¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s a pity—yearbooks are precious mementos of our school years,¡± remarked Rika. ¡°At our age right now, it seems like life revolves around school. But I guess as we grow older, meet new people, and start working and raising a family, it becomes less and less significant.¡±

 

Turning to Rika, Tomoyo asked quietly, ¡°Have you heard from¡¦¡±

 

Rika shook her head. ¡°Okaa-san sent me away to the countryside all summer. Besides—I¡¯m sure he¡¯s doing well somewhere. Sensei is a grownup after all.¡± There was a soft smile characteristic of Rika.

 

Tomoyo sighed. Everybody sat up straight and looked up as their homeroom teacher, Mizuki Kaho entered. It seemed as if Mizuki-sensei had grown even more beautiful over break—she didn¡¯t seem bothered by the heat at all and smiled at the class.

 

¡°I hope all of you had a great summer. I am excited to announce that today, we have a new transfer student from Hong Kong, one who most of you know very well,¡± announced Mizuki Kaho.

 

Naoko nudged Chiharu who sat in front of her. ¡°It can¡¯t be Li-kun, can it?¡±

 

¡°Wouldn¡¯t Sakura-chan have told us if he was returning?¡± Chiharu whispered back.

 

¡°Shush, Tomoyo-chan told us not to speak about him in front of her,¡± remind Naoko. ¡°That was very tactless of you to mention Li-kun¡¯s father and all that stuff earlier.¡±


¡°Well, doesn¡¯t it annoy you that we can¡¯t even talk about him anymore?¡± Chiharu replied, scowling.  

 

Yamazaki Takashi, seated beside Chiharu, sighed. ¡°I miss Li-kun. Nobody listens with utter conviction as he did.¡±

 

Naoko folded her arms in front of her and whispered back, ¡°It¡¯s being rude to Eron-kun that we always bring up Li-kun—don¡¯t you know he and Sakura-chan are practically dating by now?¡±

 

¡°Says who?¡± demanded Chiharu, ready to start an argument with her friend when the door slid open and a girl with jet black hair tied into two buns with the lose ends hanging into pigtails at each side of the head stepped in.

 

¡°Meilin-chan!¡± exclaimed Sakura.

 

Eron, sitting next to Sakura, scowled. So, she remembered this Li. Life had been so good for the past half year without meddlesome members of the Li Clan.

 

¡°Let us welcome Li Meilin back to Seijou High,¡± Mizuki Kaho stated as she wrote out Li Meilin¡¯s name on the chalkboard.

 

Meilin bowed to the class and there was a round of applause—she was clearly popular with the classmates.

 

 

 

¡°Meilin-chan, how come you never told us you were transferring back here,¡± Sakura exclaimed during break time.

 

¡°It was not really planned,¡± replied Meilin. ¡°It¡¯s all his fault—always his own pace, never considering other people¡¯s feelings. Anyway, where is he?¡±

 

¡°Who?¡± asked Sakura, looking around.

 

¡°Kai. Isn¡¯t he in our class?¡± Meilin demanded looking around the classroom. ¡°Don¡¯t tell me he¡¯s late on the first day after all.¡±

 

¡°Mizuki-kun transferred back to Seijou?¡± squealed Naoko.

 

¡°Ugh, I hope he didn¡¯t get sent to Seijou Junior High—he never even received his junior high diploma, did he?¡± Meilin groaned.

 

¡°Well, let¡¯s check the other first year classes,¡± said Tomoyo. ¡°He might have been transferred to a different homeroom.¡±

 

So the three girls proceeded to pop their heads into each of the seven freshman homeroom classes. But Kai was nowhere to be found.

 

¡°I guess he was transferred to the junior high section, after all,¡± remarked Sakura.

 

¡°How humiliating, to be put in the same grade as your little sister,¡± stated Meilin, cackling maliciously. ¡°Well, if he studied in the hospital like I told him to, he wouldn¡¯t be stuck in junior high now, the same grade as his little sister!¡±

 

 

 

By lunch break, Meilin has settled into Seijou High so well that it was as if she never left in the first place—she now appreciated how much she preferred school life in Japan over that in Hong Kong. Half the girls in her school had been intimidated by her because she was a Li, and the other half were nice only because she was a Li and also cousins with Syaoran. Here, she was just Li Meilin. She felt at ease as she sat with Tomoyo and Sakura in the classroom, sharing lunch boxes—it was too hot to eat outside.

 

¡°I guess Kai-kun really is in the junior high section,¡± Sakura remarked, chomping on triangular egg salad sandwiches that Meilin had packed.

 

¡°I would love to see Miho-chan¡¯s expression,¡± stated Meilin.

 

Clearing her throat, Tomoyo remarked, ¡°So, Meilin-chan, about the Best Couple Contest¡¦¡±

 

Meilin glared at her giggling friends. ¡°Don¡¯t you ever dare bring that up in front of me again.¡±

 

Sakura couldn¡¯t help adding, ¡°Oh—but you and Kai-kun were such an adorable couple— Tomoyo-chan and I were routing for you two from the beginning.¡±

 

Luckily there was a commotion in the hallway outside the classroom which prevented Meilin from losing her temper at her friends.

 

Sakura stuck her head outside the door and spotted a short-haired brunette upperclassman. ¡°Tachibana-senpai, what¡¯s going on?¡±

 

Tachibana Rei from the track team pushed through the flock of shrieking girls to Sakura. ¡°Everybody wants to see the new transfer student in my grade. He¡¯s handsome and super nice—just my ideal guy. Oh, and he signed up for the archery club!¡± exclaimed Tachibana Rei.

 

¡°It¡¯s rare that people transfer into the second grade, in the middle of the school year,¡± remarked Tomoyo.

 

¡°Archery club?¡± Sakura exclaimed, turning to Meilin.

 

Meilin gaped. ¡°It can¡¯t be—¡± Sakura and Meilin turned to each other.

 

¡°Tachibana-senpai, what class is he in?¡± Sakura asked.

 

¡°My class,¡± replied Tachibana Rei with a swoon. ¡°Class 2-2. We¡¯re so lucky to have him. We¡¯re going on our school trip soon, so I hope I get paired with him.¡±

 

Sakura bowed to Rei and then ran down the hallway to class 2-2, pushing her way through the crowds, followed closely behind by Meilin. The students of class 2-2 stared up at the two underclassmen girls who had the audacity to burst into an upper classroom in front of even the third years.


Meilin and Sakura looked around then fixed their eyes on the far corner seat by the window where the early afternoon light cast a golden halo on the silky auburn hair parted perfectly down the center. There he sat in his seat, solemnly reading a book despite the loud chattering and curious glances his way. His tie was tied impeccably at his throat and his shirt was even buttoned all the way. Meanwhile, his usual earrings and jewelry was nowhere in sight.

 

¡°Who are you?¡± Meilin asked in belief.

 

Mizuki Kai set his book down and looked up with his lovely blue-gray eyes, perfectly enhanced by the sky-blue Seijou blazer. ¡°Hello, Meilin-chan. Hopefully you weren¡¯t late for school this morning, I hope. Sakura-chan, hisashi buri nee (Long time no see)?¡±

 

Sakura was at loss of words, staring at the boy smiling at her, a replica of the ¡°Mikai¡± she had once encountered thanks to the Age card and once to the Fantasy and Transform Card. ¡°Kai-kun?¡±

 

¡°My, I¡¯ve been gone for a couple months and you already forgot me? I¡¯m hurt,¡± replied Kai in his usual glib manner.

 

¡°Why are you in Class 2-2?¡± demanded Meilin.

 

¡°It¡¯s the grade I tested into, since I never took my junior high examinations,¡± replied Kai. ¡°That¡¯s why I had to come to school early this morning, to take my placement exams.¡±

 

¡°If you could so easily pass the exams, why did you play dumb all this time?¡± Meilin asked in disbelief.

 

¡°I wanted to be in the same grade as you young¡¯uns,¡± replied Kai. ¡°Why else? This is the grade I belong in, you know, since I¡¯m a year older than you kids.¡± 

 

¡°And why now? Why are you turning all serious now?¡± Meilin did not know what to make of this ¡°new¡± Kai. The flashy, good-for-nothing Kai that she had reluctantly grown fond of was nowhere in sight.

 

¡°Didn¡¯t you always scold me to take life more seriously?¡± Kai smiled sunnily. Meilin scowled. He then made a shooing hand gesture. ¡°Now scurry back to your class, freshmen. Your senpai needs to finish the summer reading assignment before next period.¡±

 

Sakura stared at Kai, still dumbstruck. ¡°You had the house built for Miho-chan, didn¡¯t you? All this while, you were planning on returning to her. Why did you make such a big fuss in the first place—you could have saved us all a lot of anxiety and worry. ¡°

 

¡°When did you cut your hair?¡± Kai asked, leaning forward, chin on his hand. ¡°I can¡¯t braid it for you anymore. You look like you¡¯ve been doing well though—a far cry from Syaoran¡¯s state of being for the past several months. He¡¯ll be heartbroken to see that you¡¯ve been doing so well without him.¡±

 

¡°You haven¡¯t lost your sharp tongue despite all the airs of being a model student,¡± commented Meilin crassly. ¡°How can you be so inconsiderate to Sakura the very moment you see her?¡± She turned to Sakura to reassure her. After all, surely Syaoran didn¡¯t mean to leave so abruptly, and true the Elders were up to no good, and Syaoran was involved in it, but Syaoran would never betray Sakura.

 

Sakura blinked up at the two. ¡°Who is this Syaoran-person person again, and why will he be heartbroken?¡±

 

At first Meilin thought Sakura was joking or in denial; then she noticed the genuine confusion written on Sakura¡¯s face. It clicked in her mind. She and Kai turned to each other and gaped.

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

¡°What do you mean she has forgotten Syaoran?¡± demanded Meilin to Tomoyo. ¡°You¡¯re kidding, right? Is it some sort of revenge plot? Or perhaps she¡¯s still mad at him for leaving Japan—I don¡¯t really blame her.¡±

 

¡°If only that were the case.¡± Tomoyo sighed. Eriol glanced over at her. He and Meilin were not particularly well-acquainted because they had never been formally classmates; back in elementary, he transferred after she had left back for Hong Kong. They had bumped into each other in a number of occasions, and both of them heard a lot about each other. If Meilin hadn¡¯t been so distraught over Sakura¡¯s memory lost, she would have taken more interest in the boy who was Clow Reed¡¯s reincarnation and Syaoran¡¯s greatest nemesis in the past. But there were more urgent matters at hand.

 

Meilin turned around to glance at Sakura and Eron sitting side by side at their desk, engrossed in a deep conversation like the best of friends. ¡°When did those two become so chummy? He did something, didn¡¯t he? That Chang Eron, he must have completely brainwashed her! How could you guys allow something like this to happen while I was gone?¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s true that they¡¯re friends now,¡± Tomoyo said slowly. ¡°But in his defense, Eron-kun¡¯s been nothing but good to Sakura these past months. He¡¯s been helping her heal if anything.¡±

 

¡°Isn¡¯t he the Dark One? How can she trust him? Besides, she remembers me,¡± replied Meilin indignantly. ¡°And Kai-kun too. So, are you telling me she¡¯s somehow just forgotten all memories concerning Syaoran? How is that even possible?¡±

 

¡°I don¡¯t know either—but she doesn¡¯t remember anything about Syaoran anymore,¡± replied Tomoyo staidly. ¡°I showed her a video of the Star-Crossed musical while we were at our great-grandfather¡¯s place. In pictures, it seems like she doesn¡¯t see him at all. But I thought surely in a video, she would have to recognize him. When I talked about it to her afterwards, she didn¡¯t recall who played Romeo and had no recollection of even what he looked like. She said she had a headache and refused to talk anymore about the subject. If anything, I have to ask you not to talk to her about Syaoran-kun or try to make her remember—I think it only distresses her, and she doesn¡¯t even know why.¡±

 

¡°On the bright side, she is in a better state of being now than she was a couple months ago,¡± remarked Eriol. ¡°Remembering him caused her more pain than the slight inconvenience she has now because of a missing person in her memory.¡±    

 

Tomoyo looked slightly perplexed as she chose to ignore the statement. Eriol merely had a lazy grin. Looking up earnestly at Meilin and Kai, Tomoyo said, ¡°Sakura-chan has been hurt enough already. Let her heal now.¡±

 

Meilin scowled. She did not know how to accept this news. That side, now, what was with the tense atmosphere between Eriol and Tomoyo? She had never seen Tomoyo out of all people give another person the cold shoulder. Then, there was Eron, as suspicious in Meilin¡¯s eyes as ever, and nobody seemed to care. Really, look at the mess that everyone had gotten into without her around! Good thing she came back—she¡¯d set everything right again. Starting with Kai first, of course, and Sakura. Tomoyo seemed to be able to take care of herself.  Oh wait¡¦ And there was Miho to be dealt with as well.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Tanaka Miho frowned as she furiously typed out her new article on the adverse effects of carbon emissions on the environment. As a third year in junior high, she found that the workload at school had increased considerably, and she was no longer breezing through her subjects as she did in her second year. Being the editor-in-chief of the journalism club was a chore too—she had to admire Akagi Aki for being able to handle the pressure. Now that Sakura and Eriol and the others were in the high school building, school was all together dreary. She too wanted to wear the Seijou High uniform with the sky blue blazer and be included in all the high school activities. Junior high was positively dull.

 

¡°Say, Miho-chan, did you hear about the new ¡®ojii-sama¡¯ of the high school division?¡± asked her classmate Saeko.

 

¡°What do I care about the senior division when the school newspaper has to be copy-checked by 5PM?¡± Miho replied, yawning. Her article was already 200 words over limit—she¡¯d have to shorten it. She tapped her fingers on her new laptop keyboard—it had been her mother¡¯s birthday present to her.

 

¡°You know boys in our grade our completely immature. It¡¯s totally unfair. But you know how my older sister is in the archery club?¡± Saeko said. ¡°Well, she said that this semester, a really handsome, prince-like guy transferred into her class. And he joined the archery club. Supposedly, he broke the school record and is vying for a spot in the All Nippon Kyudo Championship.¡±

 

Miho closed out of her article and looked up at her friend, turning pale. ¡°What¡¯s his name?¡±

 

¡°Mizuki something,¡± replied Saeko. ¡°Kaori-chan and I are going to sneak over during lunch break, do you want to—¡°

 

But Miho had already bolted out of the classroom. She ran across the field and climbed over the wire fence to the senior division of the Seijou Gakuen. Her legs pumped her forward till she reached the archery courtyard. Students shot her a look, surprised to see a girl from the junior division.

 

Miho heard a round of applause. She pushed through the crowd of students that had gathered around. A bunch of Sakura¡¯s friends were there too. Sakura was there also—since when had she been a part of something like this? They took no notice of the short middle-schooler as they were all watching someone in the center of the courtyard.

 

¡°Chiharu-chan, that senpai is just my ideal type,¡± swooned Naoko.

 

¡°He¡¯s even better at archery than Tsukishiro-san,¡± Chiharu remarked, sighing. ¡°That senpai, doesn¡¯t he look familiar though? I wonder if I¡¯ve seen him before?¡±

 

Sakura guffawed. ¡°Do you seriously not recognize him, Chiharu-chan?¡±

 

¡°I thought he just transferred here,¡± replied Chiharu, eying the handsome new transfer student. Takashi, who had reluctantly followed to check out what the fuss was about, made a rude guttural noise.

 

¡°Humph, I don¡¯t see what¡¯s so great about some upperclassmen in the archery club!¡± declared Aki, crossing his arms. He was in his blue and white basketball uniform. ¡°Who is this senpai that all the girls keep raving about? Let me have a look at him.¡±

 

¡°He¡¯s handsome and courteous and everything a girl can ask for in an ideal guy,¡± replied Naoko.

 

¡°Well, what makes him better than me, huh?¡± Aki looked up and caught a glimpse of this ubiquitous senpai. Then he gulped. Quickly, he turned around and found an exit away from the archery courtyard in defeat.

 

¡°Well, I guess nobody has really seen Kai-kun without the sunglasses and the awful spiked hair,¡± remarked Tomoyo to Sakura, videotaping the crowd.

 

Finally, Miho pushed through the crowds of screaming girls. It didn¡¯t take long for her to spot the tall boy holding up a long bow and releasing an arrow, which pierced straight into the bull¡¯s-eye, already embedded with a cluster of arrows.

 

Kai set down his bow and turned around, his glossy red-gold hair tumbling into his eyes.

 

¡°I swear, what shampoo does he use?¡± Sakura fingered her bangs enviously.

 

¡°Do you think that¡¯s really Kai-kun¡¯s real hair color?¡± asked Tomoyo, fighting the urge to reach out and touch his hair. Instead she decided to film him—ever since Syaoran had left, she had been lacking bishounen to videotape.

 

Miho, unnoticed till then, emerged from the crowed. She stood stunned, staring at the person who was in the center of attention. Mikai-¡®nii-chan with his smiling eyes and his love of archery. Mikai-¡®nii-chan who had been the ¡°ouji-sama¡± at Eitoukou Elementary School, the one who was loved by the student body. Mikai-¡®nii-chan who was always there for her¡¦ ¡°Onii-chan?¡± Her knees were locked in place. She could not move forward.

 

Sakura turned around, finally noticing the younger girl. ¡°Miho-chan—what are you dong here?¡±

 

¡°Caught at last,¡± remarked Tomoyo with a furtive smile.

 

Kai¡¯s blue-grey eyes rounded as he spotted who had called out for him. Despite all his poise and grandeur, his legs locked into place as he saw his little sister with the angry storm-gray eyes and short red hair flying away her face. He gulped.

 

¡°What are you doing? You¡¯ve been waiting for this moment,¡± Meilin hissed, giving him a gentle kick from behind.

 

He stumbled forward, then regained composure. Putting on his brightest smile, he cried out, ¡°Miho-chan! You¡¯re here!¡± He ran up to Miho and swept her into a tight bear hug before she could let out a squeal of protest.

 

All the other girls let out an exclamation of astonishment. ¡°Who the heck is that junior high girl—how does she know our precious Mizuki-sama?¡±

 

¡°Mizuki-sama?¡± Chiharu repeated to herself, perplexed. She took another look at Kai¡¯s face, then mentally pictured Kai¡¯s face without the sunglasses. ¡°Mizuki Kai? Our Mizuki Kai? No way!¡±

 

¡°Miho-chan, I missed you so much! Did you hear my message on national television?¡± Kai asked.

 

For a second, Miho let herself be embraced by ¡°Mikai onii-chan.¡± How long had it been since he had hugged her like this. When otou-san died? When okaa-san fell ill? Then she came to her senses. It didn¡¯t matter who he had been then. This was still Mizuki Kai, the liar and thief, she had to remind herself. What was he doing back here? Why had he returned? ¡°Get away from me!¡± Miho exclaimed, shoving aside Kai.

 

Kai sighed morosely. ¡°Ah, so cold. After you didn¡¯t see your precious brother for half a year.¡±

 

¡°Who the heck ran away in the first place?¡± demanded Miho, glaring up at her brother. It had been easy to snap at ¡°Kai¡± with his insolent grin and eyes always shaded by dark sunglasses. But when here sunny-smiling brother Mikai gazed back at her, she could not raise her voice. Why, why did he have to show up like this?

 

¡°Ah, Miho-chan, do you reproach your brother for being a coward? But here, I¡¯ve returned. Onii-chan¡¯s here to be with you, forever and ever, Miho-chan!¡± Kai dramatically reached out his arms towards his precious little sister.

 

¡°Who said I wanted you anymore?¡± Miho scowled, slapping away his hands, afraid to look up at him again. Her brother Mikai. His eyes were the same periwinkle-blue of her mother¡¯s eyes. But he was starting to resemble their father more now that he was older. The same nose and firm jaw line. It was her brother in every way, not the evil, heartless Mizuki Kai. What was he playing at now? What happened to the person who pretended Mikai was dead, that he had nothing more to do with her? Miho¡¯s voice was steel cold as she said, ¡°Now, get away from me; you¡¯re making a spectacle.¡±

 

¡°I¡¯m so confused,¡± Chiharu stated. ¡°Miho¡¯s long lost brother—Tanaka Mikai—is Mizuki-kun? Our Mizuki-kun?¡±

 

¡°That¡¯s right. If Mizuki-kun was Miho¡¯s brother, why until now—¡° Naoko trailed off glancing between Kai and Miho.

 

Kai cleared his throat. ¡°Well, to put a long story short, you see, some years ago, I got into a little accident and got amnesia. When I woke up again, I forgot who I saw, what my own name even was. I wondered through the streets, a lost soul and took the dark path. Back then, I did not know that my forlorn little sister was looking for me.¡±

 

Sakura and Tomoyo snickered. ¡°Dark path¡± was a mild way to put that he had become an internationally notorious top-class thief chased by the police of every major city in the world.

 

Glaring at the two, Kai continued with extra glibness, ¡°But by chance or by fate, I happened to transfer to Seijou Junior High, the same school as my little sister.¡± There was an ¡°ooh¡± amongst the girls in his audience as the soap opera unfolded. ¡°Then, one fateful day half a year ago, I got hit on the head by a soccer ball and all my lost memories returned. I remembered I was Miho¡¯s older brother, Tanaka Mikai. But I was overcome with shame for causing my sister and mother all the anguish over the past five years. I could not face the guilt, so I ran away, taking some time off to cool off my head and come to terms with who I truly was.¡±

 

¡°Lies and more lies,¡± muttered Miho, rolling her eyes.

 

¡°Miho-chan,¡± Chiharu said earnestly. ¡°You must not suspect people like that. Mizuki-kun is speaking more candidly that I have ever heard him speak.¡± Her eyes were glistening as she gazed at Kai blinking back angelically. ¡°I wish I had an older brother like that.¡±

 

Meanwhile, Yamazaki Takashi was patting Kai on the back, grinning. ¡°Welcome to the league, brother. You¡¯ll get to Hiiragizawa-kun and my level in no time if you keep this up.¡±

 

¡°Wait, so Mizuki-kun, your real name is Tanaka Mikai?¡± asked Naoko.

 

¡°I guess,¡± replied Kai vaguely. ¡°But because of school records and whatnot, I¡¯ve just continued to use the name ¡®Mizuki Kai.¡¯¡±

 

¡°What a heartbreaking story,¡± Naoko sighed. ¡°It sounds like something straight out of a daytime drama. Miho-chan, you¡¯re lucky to have such a wonderful brother.¡±

 

¡°Ha, that fake, lying, conniving brother? Let¡¯s see what he¡¯s up to next,¡± replied Miho, glaring at Kai. ¡°Don¡¯t go around calling yourself my brother, Mizuki-senpai, and cause confusion. I have no brother. You said so yourself that he is dead. To me, he is the same as dead now. You can change your hairstyle and fashion, but you¡¯re still Mizuki-senpai. Bye now—I¡¯m late for class.¡± Head held up high, Tanaka Miho stomped off back to her own building.

 

¡°Don¡¯t take it personally,¡± said Sakura, touched by Kai¡¯s crestfallen expression.

 

¡°It wasn¡¯t supposed to happen this way,¡± Kai stated. ¡°She was supposed to come into my arms and cry tears of joy, and I would have swirled my little Miho round and round with sparkles and flowers bursting out around us.¡± He turned to Sakura with a dull look. ¡°What? Okay, I admit it—I read a few of the shoujo manga that Meilin brought for me while I was stuck in the hospital for rehab.¡±

 

Sakura patted Kai on the back sympathetically. ¡°She¡¯ll come around.¡±

 

¡°Do you think so?¡± Kai smiled sadly. ¡°Maybe Meilin¡¯s right. Trust once lost can never be regained. I guess I¡¯ll just have to try harder, won¡¯t I?¡±

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

If anything, Miho¡¯s flat out refusal to acknowledge her brother sparked Kai to work twice as hard to seek her approval. Because he was now a second year, Sakura, Tomoyo and even Meilin barely saw him since they were not in the same class as him. 

 

At the end of that week, there was a murmur in the school corridors as the test results were posted up. Second year was notoriously a difficult year as everyone was preparing for college entrance exams, and they were a group of serious scholars.

 

¡°Look at the exam results. Mizuki-kun is placed as number one,¡± were the whispers in the hallway over who had received the coveted top spots in the charts.

 

Meilin, who had been walking towards her classroom, stopped mid-track and stared at the board. Mizuki Kai: 100 points. Her jaw dropped.

 

¡°Are you cheating?¡± demanded Meilin to Kai that evening in her living room as she took a gulp of jasmine tea. Kai was lounging on her sofa (Syaoran¡¯s living room sofa), drinking coke out a bottle. If only his classmates he could see their precious idol now, sloppy in a tank top and baggy shorts. Meilin scowled. ¡°Sneaking into the teachers¡¯ lounge and stealing the exam answer sheets should be an easy enough feat for you.¡±

 

¡°Why so quick to jump into conclusions, Mei-chan?¡± Kai flicked a lock of hair off his forehead. He let the empty coke bottle roll on the floor, much to Meilin¡¯s annoyance.

 

¡°There¡¯s no way you can go from flunking 7 out of 8 classes in junior high to top of your grade level in high school,¡± stated Meilin, glaring at Kai with suspicion.

 

¡°So, what did you get on your last exam?¡± Kai remarked, slipping out Meilin¡¯s exam which was crammed into her book bag. ¡°68%?¡±

 

Meilin scowled. ¡°I was on a different curriculum back in Hong Kong. Besides, Japanese is my second language.¡±

 

¡°Do you need some special lessons?¡± Kai asked, slinging and arm around Meilin¡¯s shoulder. ¡°I can become your private tutor.¡±

 

¡°No thank you,¡± Meilin said, peeling his arm off. ¡°I don¡¯t need the help from a cheater.¡±

 

¡°Mei-chan, whether you want to believe it or not, I was once a straight-A student—I can show you my Eitoukou transcripts if you don¡¯t believe me.¡± Kai pulled out a daisy from Meilin¡¯s ears and tickled her nose with it.

 

Absentmindedly pushing away Kai¡¯s hand, Meilin replied, ¡°I¡¯d rather eat my exam paper than receive help from you.¡±

 

Sighing, Kai said, ¡°What happened to the Mei-chan who told me that wherever I went, she would follow me? We were even crowned ¡®Best Couple of Japan.¡¯¡±

 

¡°You lost her somewhere between Hong Kong and Tokyo,¡± replied Meilin, scowling. It didn¡¯t help that Kai, without his fripperies, all the jewelry and punk gear, fit exactly her ideal mold for a guy. Too bad his personality was still rotten. She pretended to be absorbed in her Ancient History textbook in order to avoid looking at Kai.

 

¡°So, what do you make of Sakura¡¯s little case of amnesia?¡± asked Kai in a more serious tone.

 

¡°I¡¯m mad at her—after all that Syaoran¡¯s been through for her sake, Sakura just goes ahead and forgets him. It¡¯s unfair!¡± replied Meilin.

 

¡°But I don¡¯t exactly blame her,¡° replied Kai softly. ¡°There were times that I wished I could just forget everything also.¡±

 

¡°Really?¡± Meilin asked. ¡°There has been never a moment, no matter how painful the situation was, that I wished to forget something. My memories make me who I am. If anything or anyone tries to take it away, I would fight, fight hard. Sakura took the easy way out, and I don¡¯t know what the circumstance was, but I think the least she can do for Syaoran after all the sacrifices he made for her is to remember him.¡±

 

¡°Sometimes you scare me,¡± said Kai, reaching over and placing a gentle kiss on Meilin¡¯s forehead. ¡°I solemnly promise to never to forget my Mei-chan.¡±

 

¡°Really, I don¡¯t have any expectations from you anymore,¡± replied Meilin, pushing Kai away abruptly. She almost preferred it Kai¡¯s frivolous teasing, because she never knew how to react when he turned serious. His intensity frightened her at times. ¡°Now go back to your own apartment.

 

Kai blinked his gray-blue eyes prettily. ¡°Aren¡¯t you making me dinner?¡±

 

Meilin sighed. How did she ever end up being pushed around by this angel-faced, conniving devil? ¡°I only have leftovers from yesterday.¡±

 

¡°That¡¯s all right,¡± Kai said. He turned solemn. ¡°Regarding Sakura, I wouldn¡¯t worry too much. I know something about memory loss,¡± said Kai. ¡°Memory can never truly be erased. Like a computer hard drive. You can delete files. But when you do a cache check, you will be able to trace what files once was stored on the hard drive even if the actual file has been deleted.¡±

 

¡°You know I don¡¯t understand computer lingo,¡± Meilin stated.

 

Kai sighed. ¡°Just because you forget something once happened does not mean that it never happened. So, even if a memory is erased, it¡¯s actually still within you somewhere, suppressed deep within the subconscious.¡±

 

¡°I don¡¯t understand psychological talk either,¡± said Meilin flatly. ¡°I don¡¯t understand metaphors. I like things told to me simple and straight.¡±

 

¡°As I was saying, because the memory is suppressed deep within the subconscious state of mind, with the right trigger, you will be able to recall it.¡±

 

¡°And what makes you such an expert on memory loss?¡± demanded Meilin.

 

¡°I studied hypnotism, remember. I can make people forget things. But I can¡¯t erase it from their mind. Even the Erase card can¡¯t do that, I believe. It can make things disappear, but it leaves a hole in the mind as evidence that something is missing. Perhaps this dark force Memory is of a higher caliber and can manipulate memories with even greater control. Perhaps Sakura willed it on herself to override all her memories of Syaoran and everything directly related to him. But she must feel that void in her heart.¡± Kai stared into Meilin¡¯s eyes.

 

Feeling a blush coming up, Meilin glanced away again. Lately, she found it difficult to look Kai directly in the eyes. She almost preferred the days when he used to go around in his sunglasses so that she did not see the thoughts reflected in his eyes. ¡°So, will she ever remember him?¡±

 

¡°The rose which once bloomed forever fades,¡± murmured Kai demurely. ¡°And the memory once made forever grows dimmer.¡±

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Once in a while. Miho would sneak into the Seijou High school grounds for lunch break and share her bento with Sakura, Tomoyo and Meilin. Considering Miho¡¯s contempt for Kai, she had grown quite attached to Meilin. Perhaps it was because they had the shared comprehension of how ridiculous this Tanaka Mikai/Mizuki Kai persona was.

 

¡°Did you let your mother know that Kai is back?¡± asked Sakura to Miho. Miho had a beautiful bento especially packed by Eriol. By now, Miara had given up on her attempt to be domestic; she realized that Eriol was by far the superior cook.

 

¡°No.¡± Miho stared down at her plump egg rolls and octopus sausages. ¡°Why concern her with it.¡±

 

¡°But would she like to know that he is safe?¡± Tomoyo remarked. She eyed Miho¡¯s crisp, golden-brown croquettes—it looked the recipe she had taught Eriol last semester during home economic class.

 

¡°I think she sense that he¡¯s fine,¡± replied Miho abrupt. ¡°Can we not talk about that Mizuki-senpai-creature? It¡¯s ruining my appetite.¡±

 

As if on cue, Mizuki Kai, having spotted his little sister from his classroom window flung open the window panes. He called from above ¡°Miho-chan!¡± and proceeded to jump down to the ground. Then he pranced along and threw his arms around his little sister,

 

¡°Get away from me, you freak!¡± said Miho, pushing away Kai¡¯s arms. ¡°Sister-con.¡±

 

¡°Sister-con?¡± Kai repeated.

 

¡°Sister complex,¡± explained Tomoyo. ¡°That¡¯s what Yukito-san describes Touya-san¡¯s over-protectiveness of Sakura-chan.¡±

 

¡°EHH?¡± Kai sulked. ¡°I just wanted to share a bento with my darling little sister.¡±

 

¡°Go eat by yourself,¡± snapped Miho. ¡°I¡¯d rather eat by myself than eat with you.¡±

 

Kai clutched his heart. ¡°Ah, words that pierce an arrow through my heart.¡±

 

They were interrupted by a shriek of girls holding out bento tied with pink kerchiefs. ¡°Kyaaah!!! Mizuki-sama! Take our bento!¡±

 

¡°Shoot¡¦¡± Kai grabbed Meilin¡¯s hand and said. ¡°Retreat time!¡±

 

¡°I don¡¯t want to go with you!¡± protested Meilin.

 

¡°You need to help me plot my ¡®Make My Sister Love Me Again¡¯ Action Plans¡¦¡± Kai exclaimed. He turned reproachfully to Tomoyo. ¡°Tomoyo-chan, you have failed me. #1 apologize on national television, #2 become a role-model brother #3 become archery champion and #4 ace all school exams have all failed failed failed!¡±

 

¡°Oh ho ho!¡± said Tomoyo. ¡°I think I need to consult with Eriol-kun for further Action Plans.¡± Then she recalled that she had been avoiding Eriol since the cultural fair before summer vacation.

 

Sakura and Miho sweat-dropped. They watched Meilin get dragged away by Kai, and a group of squealing Kai fans follow them.

 

¡°Say Miho-chan, aren¡¯t you being too harsh on Kai-kun?¡± asked Sakura softly.

 

¡°Then do you expect me to accept him back with wide open arms because he makes a fool of himself?¡± asked Miho. ¡°He thinks he can walk in and out of my life just like that. I¡¯ve finally adjusted to life without him. Okaa-san and I don¡¯t need him. He doesn¡¯t have a place in our lives anymore.¡±

 

¡°But he¡¯s trying so hard to please you,¡± said Sakura. ¡°He wants to make you happy.¡±

 

¡°No, he¡¯s not doing anything to make me happy,¡± retorted Miho. ¡°It¡¯s because he¡¯s selfish—he¡¯s doing it for himself because he thinks it¡¯ll make everything he did wrong right. He¡¯s forcing something on me that I don¡¯t want.¡±   

 

Sakura couldn¡¯t protest, because she knew there was a grain of truth in Miho¡¯s words as well.

 

 

 

¡°Where are you taking me?¡± demanded Meilin as Kai dragged her behind the school. They were away from the legions of shrieking girls now.

 

¡°To have alone time with my Mei-chan of course!¡± exclaimed Kai. His smile dropped suddenly as he looked up.

 

Meilin glanced up to see what had stopped Kai mid-track. A tall, slender girl with short platinum hair stopped in front of them. Meilin recognized her as an upperclassman. Her black pleat skirt had been shortened to a miniskirt and she wore high-heeled black lace-up boots. In contrast to her edgy punk get-up, including rows of earrings down her lobe and chain jewelry, Meilin realized this senpai had a very angelically pretty oval-shaped face with wide-set violet eyes framed by long, fair lashes. Everything about her features was delicate and porcelain-like. 

 

She gazed at Kai with her cool lavender eyes, completely ignoring Meilin. ¡°Hello, Kai. It¡¯s been a while.¡±

 

Kai swallowed hard. ¡°Kara.¡±

 

It was so rare to see Kai¡¯s poker face shatter. He was genuinely surprised. Frowning, Meilin turned to Kai, waiting for an explanation.

 

¡°I¡¯m sorry, Meilin. Can you leave us for a second?¡± Kai said.

 

Meilin was so stunned, that she actually quickly hurried away. Had she been less dismayed, she would have hung around to eavesdrop.

 

Watching Li Meilin leave, Kara turned back to Kai with a mirthful smile. ¡°Fancy seeing you here, Kai. Or is it Mikai again? I had to do a double take.¡±

 

¡°What are you doing here?¡± Kai demanded.

 

¡°You haven¡¯t heard? I¡¯m a part of the Li delegation in Japan,¡± replied Kara.

 

Kai was startled. ¡°When did you join forces with the Li¡¯s? What¡¯s your association with them?¡±

 

¡°Silly boy. Why do you think you were safe in the Li Hospital in the first place?¡± Kara narrowed her eyes. ¡°They didn¡¯t have to keep you. They could have easily taken the Five Force Sword and disposed of you there. But I persuaded Leiyun that it is in our best interest to keep you.¡±

 

¡°For what?¡±

 

Kara turned around and smiled. ¡°Because it¡¯ll keep me happy. And Leiyun likes to make me happy.¡±

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

¡°So, who was that golden-haired girl?¡± demanded Meilin that evening at home.

 

¡°Why, jealous?¡± Kai asked, pinching Meilin¡¯s nose. The poker face had returned.

 

¡°You wish. Your face turned several shades paler when she called out your name, that¡¯s why,¡± replied Meilin. She knew Kai used jokes as a defense mechanism—but she could see right through it all.

 

¡°She¡¯s someone I used to know,¡± replied Kai vaguely.


¡±From your Kaitou Magician days?¡±

 

¡°No, from before,¡± replied Kai.

 

¡°What¡¯s her name?¡± Her voice was level.

 

There was a pause. ¡°Kara.¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s a pretty name.¡± Meilin stared at Kai¡¯s profile. ¡°How do you know her?¡± More correctly, she wanted to ask him, What is this Kara person to you?

 

¡°Hmmm? I thought she might be back in Japan—I just didn¡¯t expect her to be attending the same school,¡± said Kai distantly. And Meilin knew she wouldn¡¯t be getting anymore information out of him that night.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

As the initial excitement of coming back from summer break and having new transfer students quelled down, Seijou students were now in anticipation of their school outdoor lesson trip to Kumatori mountains. While they had been there during their second year of junior high, Sakura¡¯s class was nonetheless excited for any excuse to get away from schoolwork.

 

¡°Meilin, what¡¯s wrong?¡± asked Sakura as she tucked her textbooks in her bag. Her friend had two lines furrowed in between her forehead and looked extremely ticked off. Sakura hadn¡¯t seen Meilin this peeved since elementary school days when¡¦ There was somebody she had always been annoyed at then. ¡°Aren¡¯t you excited that we¡¯re going on a school trip?¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s been bugging me,¡± Meilin said. ¡°This Rido Kara girl.¡±

 

¡°Oh, that. After you told me about it, I checked with Miho-chan,¡± said Sakura. ¡°And she said she¡¯s never heard of anyone called Rido Kara.¡±

 

¡°Isn¡¯t she the senpai who did the fortune telling?¡± Tomoyo asked.

 

¡°Right, she read Tarot Cards during the cultural fair,¡± Sakura said. Now that she thought of it, she had never finished her Tarot Card reading. ¡°Well, so what did Kai-kun say?¡±

 

¡°He said she an old acquaintance. I guess if Miho doesn¡¯t know her, then she¡¯s not ¡®Karin.¡¯¡± Meilin scowled.

 

¡°Who¡¯s Karin?¡± asked Sakura.


¡°Who knows,¡± replied Meilin. She already knew that Kai was a lady¡¯s man, and she almost didn¡¯t want to know what ever shady past he had. ¡°Come, let¡¯s go to the archery field.¡±

 

¡°Why?¡± asked Sakura.

 

¡°To spy, of course,¡± replied Meilin matter of fact.

 

¡°Ah, passion fueled by love,¡± sighed Tomoyo.

 

¡°Don¡¯t say silly things,¡± Meilin scolded.

 

To their dismay, the three found that they could barely see Kai through the crowd of admiring girls that surrounded the archery courtyard.

 

So, they retreated and waited on the side benches till archery practice ended and the courtyard cleared.

 

Meilin grabbed Sakura by the arm. ¡°Look, she¡¯s there!¡±

 

¡°Ah, it¡¯s Rido-senpai,¡± Sakura exclaimed. She watched the pretty girl with pale gold hair walk up to Kai, in his traditional kyudo gear. He seemed to bend over to hear what she said. Then, he followed her.

 

¡°See, I told you! I told you there¡¯s something fishy going on!¡± Meilin stated, pushing Sakura forward. ¡°Go after them and see what happens.¡±

 

¡°Hoe? Me?¡± Sakura blinked.

 

¡°Yes, I can¡¯t go—what if he¡¯s sees me. It¡¯ll be so embarrassing.¡± Meilin looked up with sparkling eyes. ¡°Please? As a friend?¡±

 

¡°All right.¡± Sakura quickly tailed Kai and Kara. The two had disappeared off into a corner. Where did they go? She walked into the building and looked around at the empty corridors. Then she checked the boys¡¯ locker room and in front of the bathrooms. Nowhere to be seen.

 

After a while, she sighed in relent. She would just have to tell Meilin that the two disappeared.

 

¡°Boo!¡±

 

Sakura let out a little shriek. She flung around. ¡°Kai-kun!¡±

 

¡°What are you doing, tailing after me like you¡¯re a part of the Mizuki Kai Fanclub?¡± asked Kai, having changed back into his school uniform already.

 

¡°Ugh, don¡¯t creep up behind me like that,¡± stated Sakura. She looked around. ¡°Where¡¯s Rido-senpai?¡±

 

¡°I don¡¯t know.¡± Kai blinked.

 

¡°But you walked off with her,¡± said Sakura.

 

¡°She told me my homeroom teacher was looking for me,¡± said Kai. ¡°That¡¯s all. What are you doing? Snooping around for Meilin?¡±

 

¡°N-no!¡± stammered Sakura.

 

¡°Really, do you take me as the kind of guy who would see some girl behind Meilin¡¯s back, contrary to all the horrible things she believes about me?¡± Kai snorted.

 

¡°NO!¡± Sakura blushed now. Of course—it was wrong of her to suspect Kai. But Meilin seemed so convinced¡¦

 

¡°So, how¡¯re you holding up?¡± Kai asked, bending down to take a closer look at Sakura. ¡°I really thought you¡¯d be moping around, but you seem better than I have ever imagined.¡± Kai sighed, realizing the slight vacant look that came over Sakura¡¯s eyes whenever she tried to decipher double-entendre messages her friends sent her. After all, Sakura had voluntarily chosen to annihilate Syaoran from her memory. Kai guiltily recalled the rather acerbic letter he had sent Sakura at the beginning of the summer—hopefully that letter wasn¡¯t to blame.

 

¡°You returned a lot quicker than I anticipated,¡± returned Sakura, turning the table on him.

 

¡°What made you think I was going to come back in the first place?¡± remarked Kai.

 

Sakura said wryly, ¡°A criminal always returns to the scene of crime. And the wayward prodigal¡¯s son always returns home.¡±

 

¡°Humph, acting all mature. You¡¯ve been hanging out with some old-fashioned senile person all summer long, haven¡¯t you?¡± said Kai.

 

¡°Ojii-san¡¯s not senile—though he¡¯s a bit old-fashioned,¡± retorted Sakura. It was true that ojii-san still thought a high-school girl¡¯s bedtime was at 9:30 PM, and he seemed quite relieved that neither Tomoyo nor she had a boyfriend at their age.

 

¡°You¡¯re as cute as ever,¡± said Kai, ruffling Sakura¡¯s head. ¡°I like your short hair—I saw a painting in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art of a little girl with hair like yours.¡±

 

¡°Shing-san¡¯s collection?¡± Sakura pouted. ¡°That was me.¡±

 

¡°Really? And that darling little brown-haired boy must have been Syaoran then,¡± Kai remarked mildly. He played with the locket around his neck as he watched that puzzled frown appear on her face whenever someone mentioned Syaoran¡¯s name. ¡°Ah, that ring hanging from your neck.¡±

 

¡°Ah, this?¡± Sakura pulled a chain from her neck. From it dangled a silver band with a star-sapphire gem. ¡°Isn¡¯t it pretty? I found it in my music box. Funny—I don¡¯t remember putting it there.¡±

 

¡°That letter I sent you from Hong Kong¡¦¡± Kai trailed off.

 

¡°Did you send me a letter?¡± Sakura frowned. ¡°Now that I think about it, I believe you did at the beginning of the summer—you told me about the status of your operation. I was so relieved.¡±

 

¡°I also wrote to you about—¡± Kai began.

 

¡°So, how is Miho reacting to you coming back and all?¡± asked Sakura, changing the subject.

 

¡°She¡¯s avoiding me as usual.¡± Kai as he yanked off his tie and ripped open the top collar of his uniform shirt. He fanned himself with a notebook, realizing he was still hot from archery practice. The summer heat saturated the air.

 

¡°Hard isn¡¯t it?¡± Sakura remarked wryly. ¡°Being a good boy.¡±

 

¡°Suffocating,¡± returned Kai, scowling. He ran a hand over his hair and mussed it up.

 

¡°Wonder how long the Mikai masquerade will last,¡± Sakura said, staring at Kai. It was painstakingly clear that ¡°Mikai¡± no longer existed. The front that Kai was putting on right now was just another act, just like ¡°Kaitou Magician¡± and ¡°Voleur Delanuit.¡± When did a person lose one identity and emerge as another person, and which then was the real you? The person who you once were, or the person who you are now?

 

Looking away, Kai remarked offhandedly, ¡°I¡¯ve noticed you¡¯ve been hanging around Eron a lot recently.¡±

 

¡°He¡¯s been helpful capturing the latest Dark Forces,¡± said Sakura defensively.

 

¡°And he isn¡¯t the one setting them on you in the first place?¡± asked Kai.

 

¡°No—back when the Plague was released, all the Dark Forces under the Dark One¡¯s control were released as well,¡± replied Sakura.

 

¡°Well, a Chang or a Li, they¡¯re all the same. You know, I don¡¯t particularly trust Eron,¡± muttered Kai more to himself than to Sakura. ¡°But they always say, Li¡¯s are a very fickle bunch themselves.¡±

 

¡°Don¡¯t repeat that to Meilin,¡± said Sakura. She fingered the sapphire ring hanging around her neck. It gave her a strangely calming feeling.

 

¡°Well, the school trip¡¯s tomorrow—aren¡¯t you excited. Sakura-chan is usually the first to jump up and down in joy when there¡¯s a school trip,¡± Kai remarked, still staring at the sapphire ring.

 

¡°Am  I?¡± Sakura smiled slightly. ¡°It¡¯s just another trip. And with my luck, I¡¯ll probably get attacked by another dark force.¡±

 

¡°You¡¯ve been to the Kumatori mountains before, haven¡¯t you?¡± asked Kai.

 

¡°Yes—in our second year of junior high.¡± Sakura frowned again. ¡°I got attacked by a dark force then, the Rocky. It was not a good experience.¡±

 

Kai stared off at the afternoon sky with and remarked in a wistful tone, ¡°You do realize that those mountains were where Amamiya Hayashi-sama, Li Shulin-sama and Mizuki Mayura-sama first met, don¡¯t you?¡±

 

¡°No,¡± replied Sakura slowly. ¡°How does Kai-kun know so much about the Great Five?¡±

 

At this Kai smiled. ¡°For there to be memory that has been forgotten, there has to be someone else who remembers the things that has been forgotten. Otherwise, nobody would know that something has been forgotten, and then it¡¯s the same as it not having existed in the first place.¡±

 

At this Sakura sweat-dropped and dismissed it as Kai speaking in riddles again.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

¡°It¡¯s unfair,¡± said Miho, sprawled over Eriol¡¯s study table, staring at the screen of her laptop. ¡°I want to go on a school trip to the mountains too.¡±

 

Nakuru dunked her finger into a platter of pudding and licked it. ¡°Don¡¯t you guys get to go on a trip to Kyoto for your junior high cultural trip?¡±

 

¡°I don¡¯t care. I want to go with Sakura and Eriol and everyone.¡± Miho poked Suppi-chan¡¯s side. Suppi-chan rolled over on the sofa, yawning.

 

¡°At least you¡¯re not the one always left behind,¡± gloomed Kero-chan. He was currently under Miho¡¯s custody because Sakura figured it was better than being alone in the Kinomoto Residence. When Miho went off to school, Miara did everything she could to order him around and bully him. In fact, Nakuru, Suppi-chan and Miara all ganged up on him and made him do household chores. Kero-chan was starting to have a taste of what it felt like to be Cinderella. 

 

Miara tugged Kero-chan¡¯s tail and said, ¡°Continue typing.¡±

 

¡°Yes, ma¡¯am,¡± said Kero-chan glumly. ¡°Sakura-chan, come back!¡±

 

Miho stared at the portrait of Kaitou Magician hanging up against the fireplace. ¡°I hope they don¡¯t have some fun adventure without me,¡± she muttered. 

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Meanwhile, in the mountainside¡¦

 

 

 

¡°I can¡¯t believe we¡¯re coming back to Kumatori mountains for our school trip,¡± grumbled Aki as he lugged his luggage off the school bus. ¡°Why couldn¡¯t we go to and onsen or the beach or somewhere nice. Instead, we¡¯re stuck in some log cabin in the middle of nowhere for the next three days.¡±

 

¡°The upperclassmen are staying at a resort at the bottom of the mountains,¡± said Naoko.

 

¡°Unfair! You mean Kai is staying at some resort while we¡¯re stuck here with the outdoor bathrooms and mosquitoes?¡± demanded Meilin.

 

¡°Well, it¡¯s an improvement from junior high—they made us camp in a tent for three nights,¡± replied Chiharu.

 

Sakura, Tomoyo, Meilin, Chiharu, Naoko and Rika were cabin mates and found their way to their cramped log cabin where there were three bunk beds. Since Rika was scared of the top bunk, she got the bottom bunk and Naoko took the top. Of course Sakura and Tomoyo shared a bunk, Sakura taking the top, and Chiharu and Meilin took the last bunk. Meilin also took the top bunk.

 

Dinner was relatively uneventful as the students ate runny curry that they had haphazardly made. Campfires were set up by nightfall, and students were given skewers so that they could roast marshmallows over the fire.

 

¡°I heard that the upperclassmen got to eat sushi and are enjoying the spa,¡± stated Naoko, skewering marshmallows and banana slices.

 

¡°Sucks to be freshmen,¡± muttered Aki, glaring at his roommates, Eron, Eriol, Takashi and Ichiro, none of whom were particularly well acquainted with each other save perhaps Eriol and Takashi who were the best of friends by now.

 

¡°What¡¯s wrong, Meilin-chan?¡± Sakura asked as she twisted her skewer over the fire.

 

¡°I think Kai¡¯s cheating on me,¡± stated Meilin, glumly staring at her marshmallow turn black in the flames.

 

Sakura raised an eyebrow and interjected, ¡°You¡¯re finally admitting that you two are dating?¡±

 

¡°No!¡± Meilin¡¯s marshmallow burst into flame and dropped down into the fire in ashes. ¡°I mean, I came back to Japan because of him. But he¡¯s meeting that golden-haired fox behind my back and lying about it.¡±

 

Sakura and Tomoyo exchanged amused glances.

 

¡°I don¡¯t think Kai-kun¡¯s really meeting her behind your back or anything,¡± said Sakura. ¡°I don¡¯t know what their relationship, but Kai-kun definitely wouldn¡¯t want to jeopardize his relationship with you.¡±

 

¡°Besides,¡± continued Tomoyo logically, ¡°He is busy with archery practice and schoolwork you know.¡±


I know—but there¡¯s female instinct,¡± replied Meilin.

 

¡°Did you figure out how they know each exactly?¡± Sakura asked.

 

¡°I don¡¯t know. He won¡¯t tell me. But they seem to go way back,¡± stated Meilin.

 

¡°I always thought their ambiance was sort of similar,¡± remarked Tomoyo. ¡°And fashion sense too. That is, before Kai turned to ¡®Mikai.¡¯¡±

 

¡°What am I supposed to do?¡± Meilin asked, poking at the ground with her stick.

 

¡°Maybe you should trust Kai a bit more,¡± Sakura said slowly, recalling Kai¡¯s conversation with her. Perhaps Kai hadn¡¯t been tell her the entire truth, and she didn¡¯t know anything about this Rido Kara person either. But one thing she knew was that Kai cared for Meilin much more deeply than he let on.

 

¡°Sakura-chan did you hear what the kimodameshi for this trip is going to be?¡± asked Rika from the group of girls who were happily munching on their s¡¯mores. Oftentimes, school trips used the kimodameshi as a test of courage for the students.

 

Sakura looked up to her girl friends. In contrast to Meilin, the rest of them seemed quite lively, even Rika. 

 

¡°Do you remember back in fifth grade, we had our courage test in the haunted cave? It still annoys me how I can¡¯t remember what happened at all,¡± stated Naoko.

 

Tomoyo and Sakura exchanged glances—they knew it was because of the Erase Card.

 

¡°I heard that they¡¯re making us go up the mountain in the evening and camp out all night,¡± stated Chiharu. ¡°It¡¯s a Seijou ritual.¡±

 

¡°Why didn¡¯t onii-chan mention it before?¡± said Sakura, shuddering. ¡°Why would anyone want to camp out on the top of the mountain?¡±

 

¡°I heard that every year, someone always goes missing,¡± stated Naoko. She held her flashlight underneath her chin and made a ghoulish face. ¡°And the next day, nobody remember that person who went missing.¡±

 

Meilin made a face. ¡°Who believes those kind of stories.¡± She yawned. ¡°I can¡¯t believe we have to spend the next three days here in this wilderness.¡±

 

¡°We can make it fun,¡± said Yamazaki Takashi. ¡°Did you know the legend behind the Kumatori mountains?¡± He made a haunted face. ¡°Supposedly, the cliff side was a perfect suicide spot for those who failed the bureaucrat examination and these woods contain the spirits of all those tortured souls.¡±

 

¡°Oh, I love ghost stories!¡± stated Naoko.

 

¡°Let¡¯s play truth or dare!¡± exclaimed Chiharu, shoving her toasted marshmallow into Takashi¡¯s mouth.

 

¡°That¡¯s a good idea too,¡± conceded Naoko. ¡°It was really fun playing it last time. Has it already been two years?¡±

 

¡°Truth or dare? Count me in!¡± Aki joined in without an invitation. ¡°I¡¯m starting. Chang-kun, come over here—we¡¯re just starting truth or dare, and it¡¯s more fun if we have more boys.¡±

 

¡°This stupid game again?¡± Eron frowned as he sat took a seat across from Sakura who had a melancholy expression as the orange flames flickered over her face.

 

Sakura stared into the crackling fire, thinking how warm the fire was. How bright and warm when you were near it, but when you actually reached out and touched it, it burned you. Here, sitting with this group of people, with this conversation. What a strange sense of déjà vu.

 

¡°You¡¯re playing too, Sakura-chan,¡± said Chiharu.

 

¡°Hoe¡¦¡±

 

¡°Of course she is,¡± replied Naoko. ¡°Okay, who¡¯s starting?¡±

 

¡°I will!¡± Aki stated, raising his hand. ¡°I pick Tomoyo-chan. Truth or dare?¡±

 

¡°Eh?¡± Tomoyo looked up. She rarely got picked for things like this. ¡°Truth.¡±

 

¡°Do you have a guy you currently like?¡± Aki asked.

 

Tomoyo cast her violet eyes down. After a long pause, she replied, ¡°Yes.¡±

 

Aki was taken aback. The ice princess liked someone? ¡°Who?¡±

 

¡°You used up your question,¡± said Naoko. ¡°Tomoyo-chan¡¯s turn.¡±

 

¡°Not fair!¡± exclaimed Aki. ¡°I worded my question wrong.¡±

 

Smiling sweetly, Tomoyo said, ¡°I pick Eron-kun. Truth or dare.¡±

 

¡°Dare,¡± replied Eron, eying Tomoyo suspiciously—he mistrusted her smile.

 

Tomoyo had been expecting this. She pointed up at a tall, narrow tree with scarce branches. ¡°You see that single flower up there on the top of that tall tree? Well, go up and pick it for that person you used to love.¡±

 

¡°Eh, that¡¯s a tough one,¡± Aki commented, craning his neck to see the top of the tree.

 

¡°Oh!¡± Chiharu exclaimed as she remembered something. She turned to glance at Sakura. ¡°It¡¯s Eron-kun¡¯s dare to Li-kun two years ago.¡±

 

Naoko poked her side with her stick. ¡°Shush. Why bring him up here?¡±

 

¡°Is it too difficult?¡± Tomoyo asked Eron, who met her gaze with level golden eyes.

 

¡°No, it¡¯s simple enough. I¡¯ll do it right now.¡± Eron stood up and walked over to the tree, taking grab of the tree trunk. Carefully, he climbed up till he reached the top. It was more difficult than he had anticipated. Syaoran had done it so effortlessly. He reached out over the farthest branch for the flower blossom. A bead of perspiration rolled down his temple. Just a little further.

 

¡°It¡¯s too dangerous!¡± he heard Sakura exclaim from down below. She called out, ¡°Eron-kun, come down. It¡¯s just a silly dare!¡±

 

Eron frowned as he leaned further forward. No, this was a matter of his pride. He could do everything Syaoran could. Finally, he grabbed it, and no too soon because he heard a crack in the branch. Hurriedly he climbed down and brushed the dirt off his shirt.

 

¡°There, satisfied?¡± he said, showing the crushed white blossom to Tomoyo.

 

¡°Now, who will you give it to, Eron-kun?¡± asked Tomoyo staidly.

 

Eron¡¯s eyes lingered over at Sakura, who looked away. Turning around, he called out, ¡°Oy, Erika!¡±

 

¡°What?¡± asked Erika from her corner where she was trying to find cell phone reception to call her boyfriend.

 

Walking over to his twin, he tucked the flower into her hair.

 

¡°What did you put on my head?¡± Erika asked, scowling. Then, ignoring the rest of them, she waved her cell phone in the air as she continued searching for a signal.

 

¡°Cheap one,¡± muttered Aki. It was so obvious to everyone that Eron was in love with Sakura. Even he could see that. ¡°Well, the next one should be good. Eron-kun, who do you pick?¡±

 

Eron took his seat around the campfire. ¡°Sakura. Truth or dare?¡±

 

¡°Truth,¡± replied Sakura in a monotonous voice.

 

¡°Do you currently like someone?¡±

 

Sakura looked up and met his gaze squarely. ¡°No.¡± She turned to Chiharu. ¡°Chiharu-chan, I pick you next.¡±

 

¡°I pick dare,¡± said Chiharu with a forced grin—she had to liven up the gloomy atmosphere.

 

Regaining her smile, Sakura stated, ¡°I dare you to kiss Yamazaki-kun on the cheek.¡±

 

¡°Too easy!¡± exclaimed Aki. ¡°You can¡¯t go easy on her just because she¡¯s your friend. Make it a kiss on the lips.¡±

 

¡°Yes, that¡¯s good,¡± Naoko declared.

 

Blushing, Chiharu leaned over to Takashi¡¯s face and pecked him on the lips.

 

To everyone¡¯s amusement, Takashi turned a lobster red, right to the tip of his ears.

 

¡°Don¡¯t tell me this is your first real kiss on the lips!¡± exclaimed Naoko. ¡°What have you been doing all this time? You mean you had no progress since your first kiss in kindergarten?¡±

 

¡°Sweet,¡± declared Takashi, touching his lips, still dumbstruck. ¡°Like marshmallow.

 

Everyone chuckled good-naturedly.

 

¡°Well, I pick Meilin-chan now. Truth or dare,¡± said Chiharu.

 

¡°Truth,¡± replied Meilin.

 

¡°So, are you really dating Mizuki-kun?¡± asked Chiharu with a mischievous grin.

 

Meilin turned beet red. ¡°No¡¦ not really.¡±

 

¡°Oooh, she lied to us. Meilin-chan lied. Penalty!¡± Naoko exclaimed.

 

¡°I¡¯m not lying—I mean¡¦ why would I go out with that lying, sneaky, conniving cheating thief?¡± Meilin exclaimed.

 

¡°Eh?¡± Chiharu blinked. ¡°But Rika-chan saw you made a bento for Mizuki-kun. She even saw you two eating together on the rooftop the other day. Didn¡¯t you, Rika-chan?¡±

 

Rika blushed. ¡°I didn¡¯t want to interrupt.¡±

 

¡°Interrupt what?¡± demanded Meilin, exasperated. ¡°It was just lunch. Don¡¯t you eat lunch with your friends?¡±

 

Chiharu shook her head. ¡°A boy and girl eating lunch together on the rooftop only means one thing. That they are dating.¡±

 

¡°You¡¯re really dating Mizuki-senpai?¡± asked Aki in awe.

 

Naoko laughed out loud. ¡°Heh? When did you start calling Mizuki-kun ¡®senpai.¡¯ He was our classmate after all, and you used to boss him around horrible during journalism club meetings.¡±

 

¡°That was then—he¡¯s clearly an upperclassman now,¡± Aki stammered.

 

With a malicious chuckle, Naoko turned back to Meilin, ¡°Now, what was the punishment for lying again?¡±

 

¡°Let¡¯s see¡¦ I think the punishment is a double dare,¡± replied Chiharu with a cackle.

 

¡°I see. And the punishment is¡¦ At midnight, after lights out, you have to sneak down to the resort where the second years are staying. And you have to bring back one of Mizuki-kun¡¯s jacket with his name as proof that you accomplished you mission,¡± said Naoko.

 

There was a murmur around the campfire.

 

¡°Isn¡¯t that too risky?¡± said Rika tentatively.

 

¡°Well, it¡¯s punishment for lying. And for the rest of you, you know what will happen if you lie. It¡¯s a double dare!¡± said Naoko.

 

¡°Fine, I¡¯ll do it,¡± Meilin declared, her impetuous side getting the better of her. ¡°Since we¡¯re playing that way, let¡¯s get the game moving. Aki-kun!¡±

 

¡°Yes!¡± Aki sat up straight. ¡°I choose dare.¡±

 

¡°I dare you to pick the girl you like most here and kiss her,¡± said Meilin.

 

¡°Too easy,¡± said Naoko, shaking his head. ¡°He¡¯s a known playboy. This is the kind of stuff he thrives in.¡±

 

But Aki actually hung his head down bashfully as he inched closer and closer to Tomoyo. Finally, he blurted out, ¡°If you don¡¯t mind, Tomoyo-chan¡¦¡± He gripped her by the shoulders and closed his eyes, pouting his lips as he leaned forward.

 

Squirming in Aki¡¯s grasp, Tomoyo inched away.

 

To Aki¡¯s surprise, when he opened his eyes, he found his lips had smacked into a large, plump marshmallow on a skewer. He looked up and saw who interrupted his much anticipated kiss. A pair of spectacles gleamed at him in the dark. ¡°Hiiragizawa-kun, what¡¯s wrong with you? It¡¯s just a game.¡±

 

Eriol reached over and pulled Tomoyo out of Aki¡¯s grasp, putting a protective arm around her shoulders. To Eriol¡¯s surprise, though her face didn¡¯t show any expression to her friends, he found that her shoulders were trembling ever so slightly. He turned to Aki with a frown. ¡°If you aren¡¯t blind, you can clearly see that the other party involved is not enjoying the ¡®game.¡¯ Tomoyo-san is too polite to say anything, it¡¯s clearly disrespectful to a person if you enforce one-sidedly something that the other person feels uncomfortable with.¡±

 

Blinking, Aki looked up and saw that Tomoyo was unusually pink and refused to meet his eye. She quickly scrambled to Sakura¡¯s side, away from his reach. He too blushed and exclaimed, ¡°I¡¯m sorry Tomoyo-chan—I didn¡¯t mean to make you feel uncomfortable. I was just thinking about myself.¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s okay, Aki-kun. It¡¯s just a game. I understand,¡± replied Tomoyo with her belligerent smile.

 

And Aki sighed in relief that Tomoyo was not reproachful of him for his hasty action.

 

¡°Ah, I¡¯m sorry!¡± Meilin exclaimed, realizing she might have been the instigator of an uncomfortable situation. ¡°I thought Aki-kun liked Erika-chan.¡±

 

Naoko rolled her eyes. ¡°That¡¯s so last year, Meilin-chan. Well now that dare¡¯s ruined. Oh, I know what will be fun. Mizuki-sensei!¡± She called out to their homeroom teacher who had appeared just when Eriol had. ¡°Mizuki-sensei, we¡¯re playing truth or dare. It¡¯s your turn next. What do you pick?¡±

 

¡°Me?¡± Mizuki Kaho joined her students by the merry bonfire. ¡°Truth, I suppose.¡±

 

¡°Tell us about your first love,¡± Naoko said, hugging her knees to her chest. ¡°You¡¯re so beautiful, sensei, you must have been so popular with the boys when you were in school.¡±

 

¡°Actually, my first love was when I was a twenty-one year old student teacher,¡± replied Kaho with a soft smile. ¡°Some may call me a late bloomer. When I was in school, all I did was study and train at the shrine.¡±

 

¡°Oh, don¡¯t tell me your first love was a student?¡± Chiharu asked in a hushed voice.

 

Sakura choked on her marshmallow.

 

¡°Yes, he was my student. He was a dark-haired, tall boy, who spoke little and seemed a little with gruff. But he had the kindest heart out of anyone I knew. It was a wonderful year, one of the happiest memories I remember,¡± said Kaho nostalgically.

 

¡°And then? And then what happened between you two?¡± asked Meilin.

 

¡°Oh, we went our separate ways. My teaching term ended, and I went to study abroad in England. And he eventually found his most important person,¡± Kaho said.

 

¡°How sad,¡± Rika said softly. ¡°It didn¡¯t work out, after all.¡±

 

¡°But we¡¯re still good friends,¡± said Kaho with a soft smile. ¡°And we¡¯re working to become even better friends. I want him to be happy with all my heart. Hopefully, he feels happy for me too.¡±

 

Tomoyo glanced at Eriol, wondering what he thought of all this. He didn¡¯t show any expression.

 

¡°Well now, the fire is burning out, which means it¡¯s time for bed. We¡¯ll be doing lots of hiking tomorrow, so get plenty of rest tonight,¡± said Kaho, standing up and poking the embers with a stick.

 

 

 

Even after lights out in the cabins, the girls chattered away on their bunk beds with their flashlights.

 

¡°Who would have thought that Mizuki-sensei fell in love with her student,¡± remarked Chiharu from underneath her covers

 

¡°Why do you think it didn¡¯t work out?¡± Rika asked. ¡°Age difference? Societal pressure?¡±

 

¡°No—it wasn¡¯t like that,¡± replied Sakura from her creaky top bunk. ¡°Sometimes, people grow out of their first loves. Somewhere out there, they each had their true most important persons.¡±

 

¡°But what if you realize afterwards, looking back, that you already missed your most important person because you didn¡¯t know it was him back then?¡± asked Rika. ¡°And by the time you realize this, it¡¯s too late?¡±

 

¡°Then, you¡¯ll just have to find a new person who can grow to become your most important person someday,¡± replied Tomoyo softly.

 

¡°I can¡¯t believe Aki-kun tried to kiss you, Tomoyo-chan,¡± interjected Chiharu. ¡°I didn¡¯t think he¡¯ll have the guts—all the guys know Tomoyo-chan is untouchable.¡±

 

¡°I though it was so romantic that Eriol-kun came to interrupt. He just popped out of nowhere,¡± said Naoko.

 

¡°I never knew he had that side to him,¡± Rika commented with a wistful sigh. ¡°He¡¯s one of the most considerate boys in our grade.¡±

 

¡°Oh it¡¯s midnight!¡± exclaimed Tomoyo, looking at her watch. ¡°Meilin-chan, are you ready for your dare?¡±

 

¡°Do you really want me to go through with this?¡± asked Meilin, grabbing her flashlight.

 

Sakura tossed her a flashlight. ¡°I know you wanted an excuse to go check on him, anyway.¡±

 

¡°Did not. I¡¯m just doing this because I never got back on my words.¡± Meilin turned on her flashlight and crept out of the log cabin. It was dead silent outside. ¡°So, I just need to bring back his jacket, right?¡±

 

¡°Yup!¡± replied Chiharu. ¡°Good luck, Meilin-chan!¡±

 

The door shut.

 

¡°Don¡¯t you think the dare was too harsh?¡± asked Rika. ¡°What if she gets caught by a teacher?¡±

 

¡°Don¡¯t worry about her getting caught—she¡¯s a blue-blooded Li and the girlfriend of a world-class thief, after all,¡± Tomoyo said with a smile.

 

¡°Eh?¡± A puzzled Rika turned over in her bed and fell asleep.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

¡°I can¡¯t believe I¡¯m doing this,¡± Meilin muttered to herself as she trekked down the trail. Since she took the main road, it was an easy walk and she reached the resort in half an hour.

 

The receptionist didn¡¯t even act suspicious when Meilin passed by. ¡°Sneaking around late at night to see your boyfriend, aren¡¯t you?¡±

 

¡°I¡¯m not!¡± exclaimed Meilin. Then she remembered to ask, ¡°What floor are the Seijou High School second years located?¡±

 

¡°Third floor.¡± The receptionist winked. ¡°The teachers are patrolling on the second floor right now—make sure you don¡¯t get caught.¡±

 

When Meilin got off the elevator on the third floor, she could hear a lot of scrambling and screaming from the rooms down the hall. Clearly the students were having a blast. Shoot—which room was he in? What would he think when she just popped up in his room on a school trip. Besides, he¡¯d be with all his roommates. She hadn¡¯t taken that into account. Well, as long as he wasn¡¯t with that Kara-girl.

 

One of the doors burst open and a boy, barefoot and wearing gym shorts came out, laughing. The room was still lit, and there was wooting in the room. The boy turned and looked at Meilin, who stood there, dumbfound.

 

¡°Hey cutie, where did you come from?¡± he asked. His friends clambered to the door and popped their heads out.

 

¡°Oh look, she¡¯s a freshman. She must have snuck here from their log cabins.¡±

 

¡°That was brave of her, coming all the way in the dark. So, sweetie, who are you here to see?¡± The boy leaned over, slinking an arm around Meilin. ¡°Come join us in a game of poker.¡±

 

He guided Meilin into the room where there were at least ten boys and five girls. There were cards scattered about with empty chip bags and bottles of soda. Teacher patrol seemed quite lax for the upperclassmen.

 

She spotted an upperclassman that Sakura was close to that she knew by name. ¡°Tachibana-senpai!¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s Meilin-chan, right?¡± Tachibana Rei looked up from her cards.

 

¡°Do you know where Mizuki Kai is?¡± Meilin asked. ¡°I-I mean Mizuki-senpai.¡±

 

¡°Oh—you just missed him. He was playing black jack with us—it was unfair. He could count cards and he was winning all the money from us,¡± complained the shirtless boy.

 

¡°And then, he and Rido-senpai went off together, right Junko?¡± Rei turned to the girl next to her.

 

¡°When did those two sneak off?¡± said Junko. ¡°I was so excited to be playing cards with Mizuki-kun. Ugh, I really don¡¯t like Rido-senpai. Why wasn¡¯t she with her classmates? The third years are on the second floor, anyway.¡±

 

¡°What are you talking about—Rido-senpai is the hottest upperclassman ever,¡± said the shirtless guy.

 

Meilin bowed in thanks and hurried out of the room.

 

¡°Hey, where are you going?¡± asked the boy in short, following after her. ¡°Don¡¯t leave already. Play with us.¡±

 

¡°Sorry—I need to go back,¡± said Meilin, trying to step away from him.

 

¡°Don¡¯t be a poor sport—you said Meilin-chan¡¯s your name, right?¡± the boy said, leaning in closer. ¡°This senpai will entertain you. You¡¯re quite cute, you know. Why haven¡¯t I seen you around before? Come, let¡¯s get to know each other better.¡±

 

¡°I¡¯m not interested,¡± Meilin responded flatly.

 

¡°Do you have a boyfriend already?¡± He grinned. ¡°That doesn¡¯t matter to me.¡±

 

¡°Don¡¯t lay hands on her. She¡¯s my girl,¡± said Kai, cracking his knuckles. ¡°Didn¡¯t she say she¡¯s not interested, Fukada-kun?¡± said Kai in a dangerously low voice as he cracked his knuckles. 

 

¡°M-mizuki-kun! I didn¡¯t know she was your girlfriend.¡± Fukada scrambled away back to his room.

 

Meilin could not meet Kai¡¯s eyes, and she turned around, facing the wall.

 

¡°What are you doing here?¡± he demanded.

 

¡°Why does it matter to you?¡± Meilin replied, crossing her arms.

 

¡°Why does it matter to me?¡± Kai grabbed Meilin by the shoulder and turned her around to face him. ¡°We are on a chaperoned school trip. What kind of freshman girl walks into an upperclassmen room like that in the middle of the night? It¡¯s like inviting danger. Guys will misunderstand, like Fukada did.¡±

 

¡°For your information, I can fend off guys all right, and the most dangerous one is the one of them all is the one I¡¯m talking to right now,¡± replied Meilin snappily.

 

¡°Come, we can¡¯t talk in the hallway—everyone can hear,¡± said Kai, as he realized that Fukada had not returned to his room and instead was standing around, eavesdropping.

 

Kai lead Meilin to his room and locked the door behind him.

 

¡°Where are your roommates?¡± asked Meilin, staring at the empty room in disbelief.

 

¡°Playing poker next doors in Fukada¡¯s room—I¡¯m sure you met them already,¡± replied Kai shortly as he turned on the lamp and sat on the bed, cross-armed. ¡°So, are you going to tell me why you¡¯re here in the first place?¡±

 

Meilin was going to tell him about the dare and had been certain that they would share a good laugh together. Instead, she glared at him with flashing amber eyes. ¡°Well, if you tell me what you were doing alone with Rido-senpai in the middle of the night.¡±

 

¡°What, are you here spying on me or something?¡± demanded Kai. His hair was in disarray, and in his black sleeveless shirt and black sweats, he was slowly reverting back to his usual self from the Mikai mold. He even wore his periwinkle studs.

 

¡°No! But Tachibana-senpai said that you two went off together in the middle of the card game,¡± stated Meilin.

 

Kai was angry now—Meilin could tell because Kai¡¯s eyes were flashing silver-blue. ¡°For your information, Kara went back to her room because she was tired. And I went to go buy a drink in the vending machine because I was thirsty.¡± He held up a bottle of coke he had been holding. ¡°Can you really not trust me?¡±

 

¡°How can I trust you? It¡¯s your occupation to lie!¡± replied Meilin. She turned around and reached for the doorknob. ¡°I¡¯m leaving now.¡±

 

Kai stood up and barred her from the door. ¡°You can¡¯t go back up the mountain in the dark. It¡¯s dangerous.¡±

 

¡°It¡¯ll be fine. It¡¯s a large path, and I came here fine,¡± said Meilin, swallowing hard. She could not bare being in the same room as Kai at the moment.

 

¡°Wait till dawn. I¡¯ll take you back. My roommates are probably not coming back tonight anyhow—they vowed to stay up all night playing cards. You can sleep in one of their beds,¡± said Kai.

 

¡°No. I¡¯m going back,¡± said Meilin, pushing away Kai from the door.

 

¡°I said, stay. Why are you so stubborn?¡± Kai demanded.

 

Meilin looked up at his face angrily. ¡°And why are you so self-centered? It¡¯s all your way. Your way is always right. You never take into consideration my feelings.¡±

 

¡°That¡¯s not true,¡± replied Kai. ¡°I¡¯m always worried for you. I was worried that something might happen to you a while ago.¡± He reached over and stroked her flushed cheek. ¡°I know you can protect yourself with martial arts. But you don¡¯t know how guys these days can be underhanded and dangerous.¡±

 

¡°Like you?¡± said Meilin, looking into Kai¡¯s eyes.

 

¡°Like me. I¡¯m a guy too. What am I to think when my girlfriend comes sneaking into my room in the middle of the night on a school trip?¡± asked Kai.

 

¡°That maybe, I lost out in a dare, so my friends sent me here?¡± Meilin scowled. ¡°I was supposed to bring back your jacket as proof that I accomplished my task. And what do I get? It was scary enough walking all the way down here in the dark, when some upperclassman tries to hit on me, and then I find out that you are off with Rido-senpai, and you have the nerve to scold me? Not only that, you guys have such nice room with soft sheets and pillows while we¡¯re stuck in some log cabin in the mountains with bunk beds and mosquitoes.¡±

 

¡°You¡¯re here because of a dare?¡± Kai chuckled. ¡°Are you an idiot or what? Who actually carries through with those things?¡±

 

¡°How can you laugh when I feel like crying right now?¡± Meilin demanded, lower lip trembling. All this had been too much for her. Who knew relationships were this draining? Growing up, she only had Syaoran as her friend. And then, Sakura and Tomoyo became her first girl friends. But unlike all of them Kai demanded attention then did his own thing, completely ignoring her. He played with her like she was one of his doves to come to him when he beckoned and disappear when he sent her away.

 

¡°What can I do to reassure you that nothing¡¯s going on between Kara and I?¡± Kai asked. ¡°She¡¯s just an old acquaintance of mine.

 

¡°Then don¡¯t do things that make me feel suspicious. Don¡¯t sneak around and meet her alone. Don¡¯t ignore me,¡± Meilin said.

 

Kai blinked. ¡°You are jealous, aren¡¯t you?¡±

 

¡°You wish!¡± Meilin exclaimed. ¡°That¡¯s the final straw. Hand over your jacket. I¡¯m leaving this instant.¡±

 

¡°But you¡¯re all the way over here now, and it¡¯s so dark and scary outside. And I know you don¡¯t want to go back to that horrible log cabin and the hard bunk bed with scratchy sheets,¡± said Kai in a low voice, toying with the ends of her long black hair.

 

Meilin looked up with a pout. ¡°I¡¯ll stay a little longer because it¡¯s air-conditioned here.¡±

 

¡°Admit it, you came all the way here because you missed me, didn¡¯t you?¡± said Kai, leaning over with a mischievous grin.

 

¡°I¡¯m going to leave,¡± Meilin warned.

 

¡°Thank goodness I¡¯m supposed to be on my good behavior right now,¡± Kai whispered in her ear. ¡°Or else, who knows what I might have done to you by now.¡±

 

Meilin sighed. Even thought it was draining to be with Mizuki Kai, being with him was much more exhilarating than being alone back in Hong Kong.

 

 

 

At the crack of dawn the next morning, Meilin woke up in a clean, soft bed. As they had expected, Kai¡¯s roommates had not returned—they had crashed next doors after their all-night poker tournament.

 

She didn¡¯t have a brush, so she tied back her hair in a loose ponytail and looked around. Kai¡¯s bed was empty. Oh well—it was light enough outside to sneak back. Hopefully nobody had missed her.

 

Tiptoeing, she crept out the door.

 

¡°Took you long enough to wake up,¡± said Kai, who had on a baseball cap over his head, waiting by the door. He flung his jacket over Meilin¡¯s shoulders. ¡°It¡¯s chillier in the morning.¡±

 

As they walked up the trail, Meilin said, ¡°We might actually make it to see the sunrise if we go up that path over there.¡±

 

¡°Oh?¡± Kai raised his eyebrow. ¡°You don¡¯t seem much of a nature person to me.¡±

 

¡°Well, it seemed like a Sakura-like thing to say,¡± muttered Meilin. ¡°I don¡¯t know. It¡¯s just strange, walking with you through nature like this, especially since I grew up in a city. I never thought that I¡¯d come back here. We once came here for our junior high school trip also. It was just after I came back to Japan, two years ago. You¡¯ve never been here, have you?¡± She realized she was babbling, but couldn¡¯t help herself because it was so silent this early in the morning. All that could be heard was the chirping of birds and the rustle of branches.

 

¡°Hmm? Rather, you can say it¡¯s more like a homecoming to me,¡± replied Kai demurely. ¡°Follow me.¡± To Meilin¡¯ s surprised, Kai headed off the main road into a less worn trail.

 

Soon, they came to a clearing in the mountains where she followed Kai up a series of stones steps. A t the head of the steps unexpectedly stood a large shrine which seemed to be abandoned. In the still of the morning, it was almost surreal walking on what seemed like sacred ground. The first leaves of fall were scattered about and crunched beneath her feet as she walked up the pavement.

 

¡°Who would have thought a shrine would have been here,¡± said Meilin, staring up in awe. ¡°Which shrine is this?¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s the Mizuki Shrine,¡± replied Kai as he walked beside her, taking off his hat. He seemed strangely relaxed as he squinted his eyes up at the red torii structure, which marked the entrance of the shrine. ¡°First home to the Great Five. And dying place of Mizuki Mayura-sama.¡±

 

¡°Ah, if I had any magical powers, I would probably be able to sense the ancient magic around here. Even without magical powers, I feel it in the ambiance,¡± Meilin remarked, walking in. She saw a worn archery board at the far end. ¡°Look, I wonder if Mayura-sama practiced archery here.¡± Meilin turned to look at Kai. He had the same expression as the one he wore that one time at the graveyard. ¡°Kai, what¡¯s wrong?¡±

 

¡°When I first ran away from home when I was twelve, I came to this shrine in the mountains.¡± Kai placed his hand on a tree trunk which was marked with faded vertical carvings. ¡°This is where I first trained my special powers. I was completely cut off from the outside world, and for the first time, I was one with nature. I harvested my own food. I drank water from the well. I had no electronics, no telephone, no telephone, nothing. For the first time, I learned to be self-reliant.¡±

 

¡°How long did you stay here?¡± Meilin asked.

 

¡°See the carving on the tree? Each mark was a day that passed. I had no other means of telling how time passed.¡± Kai stared at the vertical lines that lined from the top to bottom of the trunk. ¡°I guess I was here for approximately half a year.¡±

 

¡°Half a year?¡± Meilin exclaimed. ¡°Doing what?¡±

 

¡°I told you. Training. Under Mayura-sama.¡± Kai smiled crookedly. ¡°The demonic priestess.¡±

 

¡°Wait, Mizuki Mayura-sama of the Great Five. Isn¡¯t she long since dead?¡± Meilin shuddered. ¡°Don¡¯t tell me this shrine is haunted.¡±

 

¡°Probably is,¡± replied Kai. ¡°Really talented magicians can leave behind imprints of their soul. So that even if they don¡¯t physically exist, they can communicate with someone in the long future. You probably have heard of things like that.¡±

 

Meilin nodded. Some of the Great Elders of the Li Clan were known to have left behind relics in order to save the Li Clan in times of peril. ¡°Then, for six months, you were here training your magical powers? What magic do you know how to do, anyway?¡± She had never seen Kai use magic in the traditional sense.

 

¡°I told you. I manipulate wind,¡± replied Kai. Suddenly, the trees around them rustled, and Meilin felt her hair whip around, her ribbon coming undone. Kai reached out and caught the red ribbon.

 

¡°And what do you do with that?¡± Meilin asked, tucking her long black hair behind her ears.

 

¡°I make my cloak fan out magnificently,¡± Kai said, smiling. ¡°But besides that, Mayura-sama taught me how there are many different types of magic. Some of them are more complex, more intricate and require deep knowledge of spells and rituals. Others are more simple and basic. They involve becoming more aware of your own five senses and the nature surrounding you. Just like magic has a myriad of uses, there is a myriad of magics in this world. It can be the power that the Great Five wielded or it can lie in the creation of a pot made from a potter, the song from a singer or the simple miracle of a baby being born into this world.¡±

 

¡°The Elders won¡¯t agree with that,¡± remarked Meilin ruefully. At the age of five, she remembered being cruelly labeled as ¡°magicless¡± by the Elders and being rejected from entering the elite training fields that her cousins were admitted into. ¡°So, what was Mayura-sama like?¡±

 

Kai grinned. ¡°She was beautiful and calm-looking, very similar in appearance to Mizuki-sensei. Personality-wise, however, she can be labeled as worse than Hiiragizawa Eriol, perhaps.¡± Meilin shuddered. ¡°She was sadistic and poison-tongued, a complete slave-driver.¡±

 

¡°She sounds like a pleasant person,¡± said Meilin with wry smile. The warm rays of dawn¡¯s sun hit Mizuki Mikai¡¯s red-gold hair, which blended in with the warm orange and vermillion leaves on the trees surrounding them.

 

¡°It¡¯s strange, talking about this with someone. I never told anyone about Mayura-sama. People would think I¡¯m crazy,¡± said Kai.

 

¡°I think it¡¯s already been established that you¡¯re crazy,¡± said Meilin. ¡°Who else would go around with a bullet buried in their chest for half a year? That aside, what did you end up doing after you left here?¡±

 

¡°Well, I got sick of harmonizing with nature and being bullied by a ghost,¡± replied Kai with a chuckle. ¡°So I decided to learn to become a professional thief.¡± He turned to face Meilin. ¡°Well now, don¡¯t you have to return to your cabin before they find out you¡¯re missing?¡±

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Back in the log cabin, Sakura leaned over the edge of her top bunk and pulled at Tomoyo¡¯s blanket. ¡°Tomoyo-chan.¡±

 

Tomoyo blinked her violet eyes. It was already light—she had meant to stay awake till Meilin came back last night but had fallen asleep. ¡°Morning Sakura-chan.¡±

 

¡°Tomoyo-chan, look, Meilin-chan¡¯s bed is empty. She¡¯s still not back,¡± said Sakura. ¡°Should I wake the others?¡±

 

Glancing at the clock, Tomoyo shook her head, ¡°Let¡¯s wait until breakfast time.¡± She yawned. ¡°Why are you up so early? Were you worried about Meilin-chan? I¡¯m sure she¡¯s fine.¡±

 

Sakura replied, ¡°I had strange dreams all night long—and couldn¡¯t fall asleep after that. And then I noticed Meilin wasn¡¯t back so I was keeping an eye out for her.¡±

 

¡°What dreams did you have?¡± asked Tomoyo.

 

¡°The same one. There was a woman by the cliff side with tears in her eyes. I tried to stop her, but I couldn¡¯t stop her¡¦¡± Sakura trailed off, shuddering even under the cover of her blanket. ¡°I hope Meilin comes back before the teachers check in on us.¡±

 

 

 

Sure enough, Meilin snuck back into the cabin shortly before the wakeup horn sounded.

 

¡°Meilin-chan! Where were you all night?¡± hissed Sakura as Meilin tiptoed up to her bed. ¡°We were worried sick.¡±

 

¡°Long story—¡° Meilin said, yawning.

 

¡°Don¡¯t tell me you stayed with Kai all night long!¡± Sakura stated, looking horrified.

 

¡°It¡¯s not like that,¡± said Meilin, crawling into her sheets to catch a few more minutes of rest before they were due for breakfast. ¡°Ugh, these beds are so uncomfortable. It¡¯s not fair at all.¡±

 

 

 

Breakfast was a clamorous event as students fumbled to find missing socks and sneakers and eat the unappetizing breakfast fare with watered down tea. Rubbing her eyes, Meilin sat down next to Sakura on the log bench for breakfast and proceeded to butter her biscuit.

 

¡°Meilin-chan, what time did you get back last night?¡± Chiharu said, yawning. ¡°We were trying to stay awake but fell asleep. We thought you got caught.¡±

 

Pointing to the name embroidered on the breast pocket of her oversized blue jacket, Meilin said, ¡°Mission accomplished.¡±

 

Chiharu noticed the name and exclaimed, ¡°You got Mizuki-kun¡¯s jacket!¡±

 

¡°Shush,¡± Naoko said, looking up at the teachers. ¡°Anyhow, how did you do it? Was it hard to sneak into the upperclassmen¡¯s rooms?¡±

 

¡°Nope, it was easy enough,¡± Meilin said smugly. And she had earned the girls¡¯ utmost respect from then on.

 

 

 

After breakfast, the students hustled to prepare for the hiking trip. It was rumored that the freshmen were going on the most difficult, steepest and rockiest trail while the upperclassmen were going on the scenic, smooth trail.

 

¡°Ugh, I can¡¯t believe they¡¯re making us hike up to the top of the mountain,¡± grumbled Erika as the students packed their hiking bags. ¡°As if it wasn¡¯t bad enough sleeping on those rock-hard beds.¡±

 

¡°Worst school trip ever,¡± agreed Aki as he slapped at the mosquitoes.

 

An evil spark came to Erika¡¯s golden-brown eyes. She looked around and made a show of tripping over a pile of bags. ¡°Ouch! I think I sprained my ankle.¡±

 

¡°Are you okay, Erika-chan?¡± Rika asked, concerned.

 

¡°Oow—I don¡¯t think I can walk,¡± Erika groaned.

¡±Oh dear. I think we need to take her down to the infirmary at the resort,¡± said Yoshimoto-sensei. ¡°I¡¯ll drive her down in the car.¡±

 

Sakura and Meilin stared at Erika in disgust as Erika leaned against the teacher who helped her to the car.

 

¡°Why didn¡¯t I think of that?¡± Naoko said, groaning.

 

¡°Your twin is hopeless,¡± remarked Chiharu to Eron.

 

¡°Well, better for me—she would have whined the entire way up and made me carry all her bags,¡± said Eron.

 

¡°Aww, you¡¯re such a sweet brother, Eron-kun,¡± said Naoko.

 

¡°I know, Erika-chan is really lucky,¡± stated Chiharu.

 

As Sakura tightened the straps on her bag and tied the navy Seijou sweater around her waist. She looked up with an amused smile. Eron seemed to a lot more relaxed with his classmates better than before.

 

Tomoyo, also in the matching navy blue Seijou sweat suit and hair tied back in a high ponytail, seemed to notice this also, except she pinpointed that it was actually Sakura who had served as segue between Eron and the rest of their classmates. Then Tomoyo sighed, turning off her camcorder.

 

¡°What¡¯s wrong?¡± asked Eriol, walking up beside her.

 

¡°It¡¯s been half a year now. Does Sakura-chan look happy to you?¡± Tomoyo squinted her eyes as Sakura helped Meilin fill up her water bottle. It had been half a year since Syaoran had left.

 

¡°Happiness is relative,¡± said Eriol. ¡°Under current circumstances, she¡¯s smiling and laughing, so yes, I suppose she is happy.¡±

 

Tomoyo turned to Eriol. ¡°Happiness is not the same as contentment. Though there are many different ways to feel sorrow, there is only one kind of happiness.¡±

 

¡°Well, you¡¯re asking the wrong person then,¡± said Eriol somberly. ¡°I don¡¯t think I¡¯ve every known what true happiness is. Amused, yes, I¡¯ve been that. But happiness is something quite foreign to me.¡±

 

At this, Tomoyo bit her lip. This person said he had not once in his life known true happiness. If she could be the person to show him happiness.

 

¡°Ah, I lied. I was happy, once.¡± Eriol¡¯s smile was crooked and slightly sinister. ¡°I was happy when I was born, knowing that I was not Clow Reed.¡±

 

¡°But yet, you cannot be happy because of the shadow of Clow Reed forever in your heart,¡± Tomoyo said, turning away.

 

Eriol blinked, puzzled. He turned to Kaho, who was taking attendance. ¡°Did she just give me the cold shoulder?¡±

 

Tucking a long strand of auburn hair behind her ear, Kaho smiled. ¡°In spite of all your great wisdom, you don¡¯t understand a woman¡¯s heart very well, do you, Hiiragizawa Eriol?¡±

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

The first hour up the trail was quite a pleasant walk, and the students enjoyed walking through the woods at a relaxed pace, chattering and playing pranks on each other. However, soon enough the path became steeper and steeper, and they were putting all their energy to climbing up the rocks, without breath to talk.

 

¡°I¡¯m hungry—when is lunchtime?¡± groaned Naoko, panting.

 

Rika wiped her dirt-covered hands on her towel—she had slipped more than once on the trail. She remembered days when Terada-sensei had come in a hurry to pick her up. But there was no one to help her stand now, save herself.

 

¡°Takashi, how can you still talk when it takes all my breath to climb,¡± groaned Chiharu as Takashi continued on his story about the legend of the mountain ogre.

 

Sakura took a swig out of her water bottle and wiped the perspiration off her brows as she stood at the peak of the mountain. As one of the most athletic people in her grade, she was the first to have reached the top. Able to appreciate the moments of quiet before her classmates caught up with her, she stared out at the greenery around her. Standing alone at the summit in the tranquility of the woods, she felt calmer and more clear-headed than she had in a long time. She gazed out at the cliff side opposite from where she was standing. A dark-haired woman in white stood there, looking out at her. Squinting her eyes, Sakura looked again. She was gone.

 

Her eyes flickered. Rubbing her eyes, Sakura turning around and seeing that nobody had reached the top yet, she whipped out her key and released it. ¡°Fly!¡±

 

She jumped on her winged staff and flew off to cross the ravine. Seconds into the sky, her vision flickered again, and she realized that it had become pitch black. An overwhelming aura of a dark force shrouded her. In the moment¡¯s panic, she realized she had lost control over the Fly Card midair.

 

 

 

¡°Where did Sakura-chan go?¡± Chiharu asked her classmates.

 

¡°She shot off to the top of the mountain by herself,¡± said Naoko. ¡°You know she¡¯s really athletic.¡±

 

¡°How does she do it?¡± muttered Aki, groaning as the sun beat down on his back and sweat gathered down his back.

 

¡°Why are you having a hard time—weren¡¯t you captain of the basketball team in junior high?¡± asked Naoko.

 

¡°Being a basketball player and trekking up the mountains are two different things—basketball is indoors at least,¡± replied Aki.

 

At that moment, they heard a piercing scream echo throughout the mountains.

 

¡°Did you hear a girl scream?¡± Meilin asked Tomoyo.

 

¡°Sakura-chan!¡± Tomoyo exclaimed.

 

Forgetting their weariness, they sprinted up the last meters up to the summit.

 

 

 

This wasn¡¯t the first time she had lost over the Cards. When Sakura realized that she wasn¡¯t falling anymore but gently floating in the air, she sighed in relief. Whose power was this? It took her a while to place where she had sensed it before. She fell into a strong pair of arms that steadied her and set her on the ground. But when she opened her clenched eyes, she realized that darkness surrounded her. No, it wasn¡¯t that. It was still light outside because she could smell the minty evergreens and the chirping of the birds. She reached up and touched her eyes. It was as if there was a blindfold around her eyes.

 

¡°You had a close call there, didn¡¯t you?¡± said Kai, the one who had rescued her.

 

¡°Kai-kun, it¡¯s you,¡± said Sakura, stepping forward and almost tumbling over a rock. ¡°What are you doing here? Are you alone?¡±

 

Kai steadied her. ¡°What happened there?¡±

 

¡°I don¡¯t know—I lost control of the Fly Card¡¦ And then, there was a Dark force,¡± replied Sakura. She reached out in front of her until she was able to grab Kai¡¯s arms.

 

Slowly, Kai waved his hand in front of Sakura¡¯s face. There was no response. It dawned upon him. ¡°Sakura. Can you see anything?¡±

 

Swallowing hard, Sakura responded, ¡°No.¡±

 

 

 

Having reached the top of the mountain, Meilin, panting, said, ¡°She¡¯s not here. Where is she?¡±

 

Tomoyo frowned. ¡°I thought she reached the top long before us.¡±

 

¡°That¡¯s why you¡¯re not supposed to go running off on your own,¡± muttered Eron, also having caught up.

 

There was a melodic ringtone that resembled chirping birds.

 

¡°Meilin-chan. Cellphone,¡± said Tomoyo, pointing to Meilin¡¯s bag.

 

¡°Eh?¡± Meilin fumbled to find her phone. ¡°I didn¡¯t know we got reception in the mountains.¡± She took out her phone and found that it was off. The ringtone continued chiming. ¡°Oh, other phone.¡± Fumbling in her bag, she produced the metallic red cellphone that Kai had given her. ¡°Kai, what is it?¡±

 

¡°Meilin, listen carefully. I¡¯m with Sakura—she¡¯s had a little problem, and I¡¯m taking her back to your cabin. Let your teacher know that she was not feeling well and went back to the cabins. And come back down as soon as you can.¡±

 

¡°Wait, Kai—is Sakura-chan alright?¡± Meilin said. ¡°What happened?¡±

 

¡°Reception is cutting off,¡± said Kai as the line cackled.

 

¡°What is it?¡± asked Tomoyo.

 

¡°I don¡¯t know. I think something happened to Sakura-chan,¡± said Meilin. ¡°Let¡¯s get back down—Kai took her back to the cabin.¡±

 

Mizuki Kaho excused Meilin, Tomoyo, Eron and Eriol from the afternoon activities as she promptly sensed the situation when she saw Meilin and Tomoyo¡¯s panicked faces. The four made their way down the mountain in half the time it took to climb it because Eriol found a shortcut for them.

 

To their relief, when they entered the cabin, Sakura was calmly sitting on a chair and showed no signs of bodily injury. Kai was sitting on the floor, munching on Sakura¡¯s lunch.

 

¡°Kai-kun, Sakura-chan,¡± Tomoyo exclaimed. ¡°What happened? Are you all right? Where did you disappear off to?¡±

 

¡°She looks fine to me,¡± Meilin sighed in relief. Then she glared at Kai. ¡°You made it sound like such an emergency. And how in the world did you get reception in the mountains?¡±

 

¡°My cellphone is special,¡± replied Kai with a grin. Then, he turned to look at Eriol, who was silently estimating the situation.

 

Carefully, Eriol waved a hand in front of Sakura¡¯s face.

 

Tomoyo frowned. ¡°Sakura-chan.¡±

 

¡°Hmm?¡± Sakura carefully sensed who was present. Tomoyo, Meilin, Eriol and Eron.

 

¡°There¡¯s a red scarf tied around Sakura¡¯s eyes,¡± Eriol commented.

 

¡°I don¡¯t see it,¡± said Meilin.

 

¡°It must be the Veil,¡± said Eron, frowning. ¡°That escaped long ago.¡±

 

¡°How does the Veil work?¡± asked Tomoyo.

 

¡°It can work in two levels. It can either induce physical blindness; in the literal sense, the Veil ties an invisible blind over the person¡¯s eyes,¡± replied Eron. ¡°Or, it can shield knowledge, like putting a Veil over the mind. With Erika and my dark powers, it would have been obvious to anyone with some magical sense that we were the Dark Ones. We initially used the Veil to keep Sakura and the others from suspecting us, otherwise our strong aura would have been a dead giveaway or our true identity. Of course, that didn¡¯t last long and the Veil escaped from us—it¡¯s a slippery dark force. It¡¯s a useful force, albeit it¡¯s mischievous and difficult to pinhole.¡±

 

Sakura felt around her eyes and head, as if she could feel the Veil. ¡°So, how do I seal this dark force?¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s not even stated the in the Five Force Scroll,¡± stated Eron. ¡°It¡¯s one of those obscure dark forces that nobody knows anything about.¡±

 

¡°You mean, you don¡¯t know how long she would stay this way?¡± Tomoyo demanded.

 

At this, Sakura had the urge to scream but instead stumbled along till she found her bed. She placed a hand over her eyes then took them away. No difference, only darkness.

 

¡°Wait, then, Miara-san¡¯s blindness...¡± Sakura trialed off. ¡°Could it be because of the Veil?¡±

 

Meilin turned and saw Kai¡¯s solemn expression.

 

Sakura continued, ¡°I didn¡¯t even suspect. You noticed, Eriol-kun, didn¡¯t you?¡±

 

Eriol stared down at his feet. ¡°Yes, since the beginning. I tried all sorts of different countermeasure, but haven¡¯t found a way to seal the Veil.¡±

 

Sakura pulled her knees to her chest. ¡°When I stated I¡¯d give up being Card Mistress, I did not realize in how many different levels it would affect those around me. Had I known earlier—all these months, Miho¡¯s mother had to endure this darkness, that to me is seems so unbearable after a day. Does Miara-san know—¡°

 

¡°I believe she suspects it to be a dark force,¡± Eriol said. ¡°Neither Miho, Kaho, or I have mentioned it specifically to Miara-san, for fear of creating a false atmosphere of hope that her vision might return. Because there is a high chance that it might not.¡±

 

¡°Why not?¡±

 

¡°Anything after long disuse fades. Legs that do not move for a long time wither away when the muscles die. Voice which is not used with eventually result in the throat closing in. Eyes, after long dysfunction, too, will loose ability to see because the brain does not support extraneous organs,¡± replied Eriol. ¡°Believe me, I¡¯ve been researching for the past half year to find a way to seal the Veil. Its patterns are unpredictable, and there is no written record of attempts to seal it.¡±

 

Eron nodded. ¡°It¡¯s a difficult force to control—it was one of the first dark forces to blatantly disobey and escape from the Dark Ones¡¯ control.¡±

 

¡°You mean¡¦ Sakura-chan¡¯s vision won¡¯t return?¡± Tomoyo asked. ¡°What is she supposed to do during this trip?¡±

 

Sakura¡¯s heart dropped—she had assumed that either Eron or Eriol would know of a way to capture this dark force, and it would be a simple enough card to seal.

 

¡°Sakura doesn¡¯t necessary need her vision to see. She has her mind vision,¡± said Eriol staidly. ¡°Miara-san, who has less power than Sakura, moves around perfectly fine —and her specialty never was sensing auras. This is one of Sakura¡¯s strongest skills—she should have no problem.¡±

 

At this, Sakura felt an elevated sense of frustration. ¡°Eriol-kun, you don¡¯t know what it¡¯s like to be in complete darkness. What¡¯s the use if I can sense things? I can¡¯t see anything!¡±

 

¡°Darkness is safe. Sakura-san, don¡¯t you know it is true light that is blinding? We can stare all we want into a pitch black night but never can we stare directly into the blazing sun,¡± replied Eriol solemnly.

 

 

 

Walking out of the cabin, Meilin turned to Kai, handing his jacket back. ¡°How did you end up finding Sakura? Isn¡¯t your class on the trail opposite direction from here?¡±

 

Kai replied, ¡°I sensed a dark force out there, and I was lucky enough to see Sakura falling.¡±

 

¡°Impressive,¡± said Tomoyo. ¡°Thank goodness you were there, Kai-kun—I didn¡¯t even realize you had magical powers.¡±

 

¡°These mountains are full of ancient magic—my powers get enhanced while I¡¯m here,¡± admitted Kai. ¡°It was lucky that my scope was larger today, hence I could save Sakura¡¯s fall.¡±

 

¡°What¡¯s Sakura-chan going to do if she can¡¯t see?¡± Meilin asked. She once had pinkeye and couldn¡¯t see properly for a day and that had been horrible enough.

 

¡°Eriol said that she¡¯d manage,¡± replied Kai vaguely. ¡°I¡¯m sure she¡¯ll find a way to seal it, because she¡¯s Sakura.¡±

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

¡°How unlike Sakura-chan to fall sick on a school grip,¡± remarked Naoko at dinnertime as she gulped down her beef stew—she was ravenous from the hike.

 

Rika picked at her bowl of rice. ¡°Is she all right?¡±

 

¡°She¡¯s all right—it¡¯s just fatigue. She needs to rest in bed, and she¡¯ll be fine,¡± replied Tomoyo.

 

¡°I don¡¯t know—Sakura-chan¡¯s health never seems to have fully recovered since she fell ill during the plague epidemic,¡± remarked Rika.

 

¡°You¡¯re right,¡± Chiharu said. ¡°Especially since Sakura-chan has always been so healthy—she can recover from a cold in one day. Well, she really hasn¡¯t been herself since Li-kun left.¡± Chiharu had always suspected there was more to the story that was not being told. ¡°What exactly happened between the two? Why does Sakura pretend to not remember him?¡±

 

Tomoyo set her spoon down. ¡°Even I don¡¯t know the whole story. And it is best not to speak of him.¡±

 

¡°Why, he¡¯s not dead or anything, and he was our friend too. It¡¯s clear that Sakura-chan still likes him, or else why would she pretend not to remember him?¡± Chiharu stated. Then she paused. ¡°I¡¯m sorry—it¡¯s not like I know what went on either.¡±

 

¡°I think Sakura-chan will speak of him when she is ready to,¡± said Rika softly. ¡°And as friends, we should support what ever decision she makes.¡±

 

Naoko nodded. ¡°If Sakura-chan says Li-kun doesn¡¯t exist, then he doesn¡¯t exist. I refuse to speak his name ever again.¡±

 

¡°That¡¯s right—I won¡¯t talk about him anymore either, if it hurts Sakura-chan,¡± said Chiharu. She had been the worse about slipping. Then again, Takashi had always been close with Syaoran, and Takashi rarely had close guy friends.

 

Tomoyo let the girls believe what they wanted to believe—it was easier than explaining the truth: that Sakura truly had forgotten Li Syaoran¡¯s existence. 

 

 

 

~~~~~~

 

 

 

When your vision is taken from you, there is no distinguishing between night and day, consciousness and dreaming. Thus, when Sakura fell asleep that night, she did not even know she was asleep.

 

Ah, I¡¯m  here again¡¦ Sakura squinted her eyes through the hard pelting of the rain. There, by the edge of the cliff side stood a woman with long, wavy hair, unbound and whipping around in the wind. Her skin was as pale as the white kimono she was wearing.

 

Her lips were moving. ¡°Gomennassai¡¦ Sayonara¡¦¡±

 

Sakura tried to cry out in vain. Stop, you¡¯ll fall over. Don¡¯t go any further!

 

But the golden-eyed woman smiled at her sadly and disappeared from sight.

 

Sakura screamed.

 

 

 

~~~~~~

 

 

 

The next day was the day of the courage test. In the morning, the students would hike up the mountain and find camping spots. They would play games till late afternoon and once the sun set, pairs would be sent up to the mountain summit to place their marked stones on the great boulder on top of the mountain. Of course, there would be teachers disguised as ghosts and whatnot to scare them along the way. Partners were based on desk partners in homeroom. There was a weather report that a storm was coming, but it wouldn¡¯t be until the next evening. It was a particularly breezy and clear early autumn day, perfect for camping out.  

 

Sakura¡¯s vision had not returned that following morning. Rather than frustration, she now had come to a calming acceptance. After repeating to herself that this was what Tanaka Miara had to endure for all these months, she found that she could not complain after a mere day of darkness.

 

¡°Sakura-chan, what are you doing?¡± demanded Meilin as Sakura packed her overnight bag.

 

¡°I don¡¯t know when my vision will return, and I can¡¯t continue to just stay in bed,¡± replied Sakura. She missed her bottle of water, which fell over and rolled on the ground.

 

Meilin reached out to pick it up.

 

¡°Don¡¯t—let me do it.¡± Carefully, Sakura bent down and groped around. The floor felt grimy and the wood panels had splinters in it. There, this hard object was the bedpost, and the cool plastic that slipped from her reach---she grasped the bottle in her hands triumphantly.

 

¡°Sakura-chan, you can¡¯t go around the mountains blind—it¡¯s dangerous,¡± reasoned Tomoyo. She glanced up at the door. Rika, Chiharu and Naoko returned with their food rations for the day.

 

¡°I¡¯ll be fine,¡± Sakura replied quietly, zipping up her bag. ¡°I¡¯ve gotten used to going around without sight—I can sense things better now. It¡¯s harder sensing inanimate objects than living beings.¡±

 

¡°Sakura-chan, are you feeling better?¡± asked Rika, her voice filled with concern. ¡°Did you have a nightmare yesterday? You were screaming in your sleep.¡±

 

¡°I was?¡± Sakura said. She chuckled nervously. ¡°I think I was dreaming about onii-chan bullying me or something.¡±

 

Chiharu and Rika exchanged glances. They all knew what a bloodcurdling scream Sakura had let out in the middle of the night; they had all woken up in cold sweat, thinking something had happened.

 

¡°Are you coming on today¡¯s hiking?¡± Naoko asked.

 

¡°Yup,¡± Sakura said, hoisting the bag up her back.

 

¡°Great! The kimodameshi won¡¯t be the same without Sakura-chan!¡± said Naoko—Sakura was probably the only high schooler who would be scared of the courage test.  

 

¡°Are you sure?¡± Tomoyo asked.

 

Sakura nodded firmly. ¡°I¡¯ll be fine.¡±

 

 

 

The students hiked up a different trail today.         Luckily, it was a smoother path than yesterday.

 

¡°Are you crazy?¡± asked Eron when he saw Sakura. ¡°Erika¡¯s still in the infirmary down at the resort when she has no injury, and you insist on going on this trip when you can¡¯t see?¡±

 

¡°I¡¯m fine,¡± replied Sakura. ¡°It¡¯s actually good training, as Eriol-kun pointed out. I never had to rely completely on all my other senses besides vision before. But I can sense everything though I can¡¯t see it. Besides, I won¡¯t be able to find a way to seal the Veil if I¡¯m just trapped in my bed all day long.¡±

 

¡°Well, you stick by me during all times then,¡± said Eron.

 

¡°Tomoyo-chan and Meilin-chan are keeping an eye out for me,¡± replied Sakura.

 

¡°I¡¯m your partner for the courage test,¡± reminded Eron. ¡°For today, let me be your eyes.¡±

 

At this, Sakura smiled gratefully.

 

For the most part, Sakura could sense where the large objects were and a good perception of where people stood. What she had most trouble with was bumps on the path or stray bits of pebbles. That was where Eron helped her out and pointed out where to tread upon. He walked slightly ahead of her so that she simply had to follow his path, which was easy enough since his aura was stronger than anyone¡¯s perhaps except Eriol¡¯s. So, they were able to be one of the first pairs to reach the camping location without any mishap or anybody even noticing anything abnormal about Sakura.

 

 

 

When night fell, the pairs were sent off by the teachers the top of the mountain summit. Each student was given a rock with their number and pairs were given five minute intervals in between each other.

 

Tomoyo and Eriol were one of the first pairs to go. The two walked in silence to the summit. Tomoyo clenched her rock in her hand. Though ghosts did not scare Tomoyo, there was something eerie about the forest once the sun went down.

 

Eriol finally broke the silence by asking, ¡°Tomoyo-san, have you been avoiding me lately?¡±

 

Tomoyo turned around and stopped mid-track. ¡°No, not particularly.¡±

 

¡°You have been. Have I done something wrong?¡±

 

¡°No—no,¡± Tomoyo refuted quickly.

 

¡°Then, is there something I can do to help?¡±

 

¡°No, it had nothing to do with you,¡± said Tomoyo. ¡°I mean, I didn¡¯t mean it that way. It¡¯s just¡¦ don¡¯t bother with me like that. You don¡¯t have to make way to be kind to me.¡±

 

To Tomoyo¡¯s surprise, Eriol looked slightly taken aback and perhaps a little¡¦ puzzled?

 

 

 

Sakura and Eron were one of the last pairs to leave.

 

¡°Well, on the bright side, it¡¯s so dark out that it doesn¡¯t really matter if you have your vision or not,¡± remarked Eron.

 

¡°Always the optimistic one, aren¡¯t you?¡± replied Sakura. She realized that when you grow dependent on someone, you inevitably grow fonder of them—she was feeling more kindly towards Eron today than she had ever before.

 

¡°Why don¡¯t you use the Float or something to get to the top? Nobody would notice in the dark,¡± said Eron as they trudged up the path.

 

¡°Actually¡¦¡± Sakura paused. ¡°My magic has been sort of haywire recently.¡±

 

¡°What?¡±

 

¡°When I fell from the sky—it was not because of the Veil. I lost control before that. And it wasn¡¯t the first time I lost control of my powers,¡± said Sakura.

 

Eron frowned. ¡°Well, do you know the reason why?¡±

 

¡°My powers have not felt the same since I woke up from the Plague,¡± replied Sakura. ¡°I figured it would eventually return to normal. You know I use the power of the moon now¡¦ I don¡¯t know how compatible it is with me. I wonder if something¡¯s really wrong with me—why can¡¯t I use the power of stars anymore?¡±

 

At that moment, the truth almost slipped from his lips when behind them, two white-sheeted figure burst out with a ghoulish ¡°Ooooh.¡±

 

Sakura shrieked and Eron instinctively put an arm around her. ¡°It¡¯s just a teacher or something.¡±

 

She turned red—she might have noticed their presence if she hadn¡¯t been so busy concentrating on everything else around her in her attempt to map out her surroundings because of her vision impairment.

 

¡°Sakura-chan¡¯s a scaredy-cat after all,¡± remarked a familiar female voice—someone from the track club. ¡°C¡¯mon, Rei-chan, let¡¯s go scare the next group.¡±

 

It took Sakura a second to realize that Eron was still holding her tightly. For a second, she let him. She never knew before that when your vision was taken away, all other senses became so acute. Like the sense of human touch. Eron¡¯s arms around her was tight and sturdy, as if she could depend on him. It was not possessiveness but protectiveness. And his heartbeat was strong and loud. For the first time, she became aware of Eron as a boy. 

 

Instinctively, Eron dropped his arms. ¡°We¡¯re almost there now. Let¡¯s hurry up and get over with it.¡±

 

 

 

Li Meilin knew how to put on a brave front; hence when she was sent up to the summit alone, she held up her head high and walked up boldly. If she heard a rustling in the bushes, she ignored it. Logically, she knew that teachers would be hiding, waiting for an opportunity to scare. Yet, in the pitch black with only her flashlight to guide her, she couldn¡¯t help feeling slightly jittery. At that moment she noticed the presence of someone stalking right behind her. Without missing a step, Meilin made a powerful turn-kick and sent a white figure sprawling on the ground.

 

¡°Oww...¡± he groaned.

 

¡°Kai?¡± asked Meilin, bending over the collapsed white sheets. ¡°What are you doing here?¡±

 

Kai slipped off the sheet. ¡°The second years got to dress up like ghosts and scare the first years. I did not expect to get kicked. Why are you alone, anyway?¡±

 

¡°There an uneven number of boys and girls in my class, and since I transferred late¡¦¡± Meilin shrugged. She could have paired off into a group of three, but she volunteered to go alone—especially since her reputation as the fearless Meilin had been established. 

 

¡°Well, it can¡¯t be helped. I¡¯ll be your partner,¡± said Kai. He had a nostalgic smile on his face as he walked up the path, side by side with Meilin.

 

¡°What are you thinking about?¡± asked a scrutinizing Meilin.

 

¡°Hmm¡¦ Just¡¦ I never thought I¡¯d be on some high school trip participating in something as silly as a courage test.¡±

 

¡°True¡¦ What is this compared to running from the police squads all chasing after you with guns,¡± remarked Meilin. She took a peek at Kai. He had spiked up his hair and was wearing a ripped black shirt and dark jeans. Small silver hoops gleamed from his ears and his black combat boots clumped on the ground in steps that seemed strangely liberated. She snickered.

 

¡°What?¡± Kai glared at her suspiciously.

 

¡°Nothing.¡± Meilin snickered again. ¡°Just because Miho-chan¡¯s not around, you revert back to your bad-boy image so quickly. What did do you classmates say?¡±

 

Shrugging, Kai replied, ¡°I haven¡¯t really hung out with them since the first day, and I think they think I¡¯m just a student from a different class when I¡¯m like this.¡±

 

¡°Kai?¡± Meilin stopped, taking Kai¡¯s hand in her hand. ¡°I know I told you that you have to try hard in order to gain Miho-chan¡¯s trust again. But, somehow I can¡¯t help thinking this isn¡¯t right. You don¡¯t have to try to become something you aren¡¯t anymore. If she truly believes in you again, she would like you in what ever form you appear in front of her. She will be able to accept all of you. Isn¡¯t that what you truly want?¡±

 

Kai slipped his hand out of Meilin¡¯s grasp. ¡°I envy you, Meilin. I wish I can be half as forthright and honest as you.¡± 

 

Meilin blinked. There were hints of his former bitter sarcasm shadowing his words. This was the person who she had blindly followed from Hong Kong. Was this love? She still had no answer as to what their relationship was. That one day by the graveyard, when he cried on her shoulder, she got the sense that he needed her. And then, he slowly began to consume her. Stop, Meilin¡¦ Don¡¯t fall any deeper. If you do¡¦ If you do, there is no recovering this time.

 

 

 

By the time Meilin reached the top and placed her rock on the boulder where everyone¡¯s rocks were neatly stacked, she found all the other pairs were chattering and laughing. The ¡°ghosts,¡± upperclassmen dressed up to scare the freshmen, had come out of their disguise and were mingling with them. 

 

Kai slipped off somewhere on his own, and Meilin looked around. ¡°Tomoyo-chan. Where¡¯s Sakura-chan and Eron-kun? She left long before I did.¡±

 

Tomoyo looked up. ¡°Were you the last person, Meilin-chan?¡±

 

Meilin nodded. ¡°Even if she was going slower because of her vision¡¦ I would have passed her then.¡±

 

Trying not to look alarmed, Tomoyo reasoned, ¡°Well, she¡¯s with Eron-kun¡¦¡±

 

¡°You think it¡¯s safe to be alone with him? He is the Dark One, you know,¡± replied Meilin.

 

¡°But I don¡¯t think he¡¯d harm Sakura-chan¡¦ anymore,¡± said Tomoyo slowly.

 

¡°Still, maybe we should report to a teacher¡¦¡± Meilin trailed off to see Eriol¡¯s opinion.

 

Eriol looked up, ¡°Wait a while. She¡¯ll come.¡±

 

¡°All right.¡± Meilin walked off dubiously, in search of Kai.

 

¡°You don¡¯t seem particularly worried for Sakura-chan,¡± Tomoyo commented with a frown to Eriol.

 

¡°As I said, this will all be a good training experience for her,¡± replied Eriol matter-of-fact.

 

¡°But her vision¡¦¡±

 

¡°It¡¯ll eventually return. She¡¯ll find a way. Her world is too full of light for her to live in eternal darkness,¡± replied Eriol.

 

¡°And Miara-san—¡°

 

¡°There is a reason why the Veil affected her, as there is a reason for everything,¡± said Eriol staidly.

 

Tomoyo frowned slightly. ¡°No, sometimes there isn¡¯t a reason for everything. Sometimes, it¡¯s a just a cruel twist of fortune, sometimes it¡¯s coincidence, mischance.¡±

 

¡°The world may seem to be in chaos, but even that chaos is an ordered chaos. Live in the world long enough and the patterns in life, the connections between events that apparently seem to have no relevance, become more apparent,¡± replied Eriol in a far-off voice.

 

¡°Well, maybe my view of the world is young and naïve. I would like to think things happen for a reason. But if the reason is purely to torture one soul, I would prefer to believe that there is not some greater scheme behind one¡¯s suffering. I¡¯d rather like to just say it was bad luck, nothing more. No malicious master plan.¡± Tomoyo paused, surprised at the words that came out of her lips

 

¡°Tomoyo-san, do you believe in soul mates?¡± Eriol asked.

 

Even considering Eriol¡¯s randomness, the question was still completely out of the blue. Tomoyo reflected for a moment. ¡°Soul mates? Yes, I do, for some people. Not for me.¡±

 

¡°Why not?¡±

 

¡°I think I would like to believe in the red thread of fate theory. But I also believe that there are those who don¡¯t have someone waiting for another at the other end of the red thread.¡±

 

¡°And why is it that some people have soul mates and other people are doomed to be eternally alone?¡± Eriol asked wryly. ¡°That isn¡¯t really fair, is it?¡±

 

¡°Maybe some people¡¯s soul is complete on its own already,¡± Tomoyo said shortly.

 

¡°That¡¯s a bold statement to make, Tomoyo-san. So, you are indicating that you don¡¯t need a soul mate because your soul is already complete so you do not need anyone else to complete you?¡±

 

¡°No, I¡¯m not saying that—just that I feel that I can still be complete even if I am doomed to be alone. Like Clow Reed. Perhaps he was lonely, but I doubt he felt incomplete because he never found his soul mate. On the contrary, I believe he lead a very satisfying, fulfilling life.¡±

 

¡°And what if one has a soul mate but loses that soul mate?¡± asked Eriol, softly.

 

¡°Well, if you knew that person was your soul mate, at least you have the satisfaction that at one time you have found your most important person,¡± replied Tomoyo. ¡°It¡¯s not an aimless, answerless chase after the ephemeral rainbow. The memory of the rainbow-chase can sustain you, because you knew it was once real. Which is the sadder, which is the more wearying, I do not know.¡± 

 

¡°At least when you¡¯re chasing the rainbow, whether there is an answer or not, you have hope. But when you are in complete darkness, when light and dreams are shut away from you, despair is all you are left with.¡± Eriol was quiet for a while.

 

Suddenly, knowledge sank into Tomoyo as she looked up. ¡°Eriol-kun, did Clow Reed¡¦¡±

 

¡°No, I was speaking hypothetically,¡± replied Eriol. He took off his glasses and gazed up at the moonless sky. ¡°Many years ago, there was a woman here who died because of her love for a man. She thought she could be happy just being by his side and watch him. Yet, eventually, she wasted away in the knowledge that the man loved and always will love another woman. So, she decided to end her hapless misery and consequently, her twin swore vengeance for the death of his sister.¡±

 

Tomoyo gasped. ¡°The Dark Ones¡¦¡±

 

¡°That is correct. It was a story that all began here in these mountains,¡± replied Eriol, staring out at the black outlines of the mountain slope.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

¡°Sakura—where are you going? We strayed off the path five minutes ago,¡± said Eron, struggling to keep up with Sakura. How could the girl walk so fast even without her sight? Actually, in the dark, it was probably to her advantage. She was simply moving forward with her senses.

 

¡°So familiar,¡± murmured Sakura, pushing away a low branch that almost smacked her.

 

Eron ducked the branch that came swishing back at him full force. ¡°Of course it¡¯s familiar—we came here two years ago—I think we were camping on this side of the mountain then too.¡±

 

¡°No—I dreamed about here,¡± said Sakura, emerging at the top of the cliff side. The wind blew across her face. ¡°Exactly here. I can feel it.¡±

 

¡°Sakura!¡± Eron had a moment of a heart attack as Sakura stood dangerously near the edge of the cliff. Perhaps because she could not look down, she was fearless, but seeing her standing so near off the edge of the cliff made him panic.

 

¡°Ah, I¡¯ve been here before,¡± said Sakura, dropping to her knees, hands pressed on the dirt below.

 

¡°I told you, we came here on the school trip in junior high,¡± said Eron, exasperated.

 

¡°I know that. We were hiking. But what was I doing here, on this cliff side?¡± asked Sakura. She remembered an urgent voice pounding in her ears, No! Sakura, I¡¯ll never let you go. Just hold on tight and I¡¯ll get you safe. Trust me.

 

¡°What¡¯s wrong?¡± Eron asked, bending over.

 

¡°Headache,¡± Sakura replied, letting Eron help her up. ¡°Chang Risa died here, didn¡¯t she?¡±

 

Eron turned chill. His eyes narrowed as he stared at the pitch-black crevasse down below. ¡°Yes.¡±

 

¡°I¡¯m sorry,¡± said Sakura.

 

¡°What is past is past,¡± said Eron. ¡°Come now, let¡¯s go finish our test of courage.¡±

 

¡°Uh¡¦ Eron-kun? I think I dropped my numbered stone somewhere¡¦¡±

 

Eron sighed. ¡°Just great.¡±

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Long after everybody had fallen asleep in their sleeping bags, Sakura lay awake. She could hear Tomoyo¡¯s soft breath beside her. Naoko muttered something in her sleep and across on the guys¡¯ side of the campground, she could hear someone snoring.

 

Carefully, she rolled out of her sleeping bag and fumbled in her bag for her sweater. It was not yet morning, because it still smelled like the stark darkness of night. Moist droplets gathered on her hair and lashes from the dew when she stepped outside.

 

Once more, she felt her legs drawn towards the cliff side she had seen in her dream. Later on, she could not recall if she had walked or if she had somehow been summoned there. But once more, she was standing on the highest peak. If she could see around her, she would have seen bleak grayness. No, she could see¡¦

 

It was the scene out of the dream, as it began to drizzle. For the first time, Sakura could see everything clearly as if it was all happening before her. Except, she did not see with her eyes; it was more like the image was imprinted in her mind and her mind-eye had opened. Perhaps it was a dream, or perhaps she had slipped back in time. She could not tell as she squinted through the mist. Before, she only saw one figure on the cliff side. Now, she could see that there were six figures.

 

At the edge of the cliff stood the woman with long, wavy hair, unbound and whipping around in the wind. Her skin was as pale as the white kimono she was wearing. Tears blurred by rain streamed down her beautiful golden-brown eyes. Her heels had hit the edge of the cliff. Her lips were moving.

 

Sakura could hear it clearly.

 

She mouthed the words, ¡°Gomennassai, Hayashi-sama. Sayonara¡¦¡±

 

¡°RISA!!!¡± The man with green eyes dashed forward frantically, throwing out his arm. ¡°Hold my hand, Risa!¡±

 

But his outstretched hands grasped thin air as the long-haired woman took a step back and disappeared off the edge of the cliff, dropping down to the deep abyss below.

 

Hayashi crumpled onto his knees, staring hollowly at the black chasm. ¡°Risa¡¦¡±

 

¡°RISA!¡± exclaimed a woman with long auburn hair and dressed in the white and red garb of a miko.

 

There was a man in a navy kimono, with long blue-black hair tied up in a high ponytail. ¡°RISA! NOOO!¡± He turned around and grabbed Hayashi by the throat, golden eyes flashing. ¡°You killed her, Hayashi. You killed Risa.¡±

 

Hayashi looked away and did not respond.

 

¡°Bring her back! Bring my sister back!¡± exclaimed the man, shaking Hayashi. ¡°BRING HER BACK!¡±

 

¡°Ryuichi—stop it!¡± exclaimed Mizuki Mayura, grabbing his arm. ¡°Please—let Risa¡¯s soul rest in peace now.¡± Her gray eyes glistened as she put a reassuring hand on Shulin¡¯s shoulder. Li Shulin sat on her knees, paralyzed. Behind her, a tall man with long golden hair stood silently, watching over Shulin with sorrowful midnight blue eyes.

 

¡°We can save her. With our powers combined, we can do anything. We have the powers to save her.¡± Ryuichi stared up desperately at the four with his hungry golden eyes. 

 

Slowly, Hayashi shook his head. ¡°There are things that even we can¡¯t do.¡±

 

¡°There¡¯s nothing impossible for us!¡± Chang Ryuichi gave a short laugh as his long blue-black hair whipped back in the wind. A delirious look came over his face. ¡°We are the Great Five, aren¡¯t we?¡±

 

¡°Ryuichi, we can¡¯t,¡± Mayura said softly.

 

¡°Why not? Bring back my Risa!¡± Ryuichi crumpled to his knees, sobbing into his hands like a broken child. ¡°Bring back Risa¡¦¡±

 

There were now five figures on the cliff, pelted down with vengeful rain. There were five. And then, there were none.

 

Hayashi-sama—why didn¡¯t you take hold of her arms? Why didn¡¯t you get there in time?

 

If you had, would everything have changed?

 

If she could have cried, Sakura would have cried out loud for Chang Risa. But no tears fell. Only her chest ached as it was lit on fire and her eyeballs seemed to burn and smother till only darkness surrounded her again. Turning, Sakura began to run back to the campsite, desperate to get away from the cliff side. She stumbled on rocks and shrubs, unable to see, unable to sense her surroundings clearly in her desperation to get away from there.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

The Seijou High freshman year students woke up to the unpleasant sensation of great humidity and raindrops plopping on their foreheads. Some zipped up their sleeping bags all the way while others rapidly leapt up and drew out their waterproof ponchos.

 

¡°Everybody, wake up!¡± announced Kaho, clapping her hand urgently. ¡°There has been a report of a thunderstorm, which is hitting earlier than expected. Let us gather up everything and hurry back to the cabins.¡±

 

There was a groan from the half-asleep students. Their backs were sore from sleeping outside, and they were groggy enough anyway without having to be woken up an hour earlier than anticipated.

 

¡°Where is Sakura-chan?¡± Tomoyo asked, spotting Sakura¡¯s empty sleeping bed. She was holding a spare poncho for Sakura.

 

¡°What do you mean where is Sakura?¡± Eron repeated, looking around. There was no Sakura. ¡°Shoot. That idiot. Where did she wonder off to alone in that state?¡±

 

¡°Well, how like Sakura-chan not to make it through a single school trip without causing trouble,¡± muttered a cranky Meilin.

 

Eriol frowned. ¡°We should split up and look for her.¡±

 

Tomoyo was taken aback by the sense of urgency in Eriol¡¯s voice. Why was he suddenly so concerned when he had been so ambivalent before? ¡°Sakura-chan will be fine, won¡¯t she?¡±

 

¡°So long as she keeps a level head,¡± he replied.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Sakura stumbled through the woods, brambles scratching her calves and arms. Somehow the mist had turned into a soft drizzle and that turned into heavy rain pelting down on her skin. She could feel the cold and gritty mud splatter on her ankles and seep into her sneakers and socks. Where was she going? It was pitch black. For the first time since she had lost her vision, she felt an acute awareness of how black it was, blacker than when she was surrounded by the Dark in the middle of the Sleeping Beauty play. She could at least see herself then.

 

Shouldn¡¯t she be back at the campsite by now? A sense of panic choked up in her throat. ¡°Tomoyo-chan! Chiharu-chan! Rika-chan! Naoko-chan!¡± she called out. ¡°Meilin-chan!¡±

 

From a distant place, she could hear the roaring of the river and the patter of hard rain. Her foot slipped on a loose rock, sending her sprawling on the slope. Gravel loosened by rain slid under her, and she slid on her side until she hit a tree trunk. Shivering, Sakura crawled up against the tree. Where was everyone? It was getting cold, and she felt so hungry and weary. If she could just lie here and close her eyes for a while. Her hand reached for the sapphire ring hanging from her throat. She took a deep breath. No, she had to get up and look for everyone. Using the tree trunk to brace her weight, Sakura dragged herself up and staggered forward.

 

Wrestling her key from under her shirt, she commanded, ¡°Key that hides the power of the moon. Show your true self to me. I, Sakura, command you under contract. Release!¡±

 

She gripped her staff tightly, using it at first to balance herself. Then she commanded, ¡°Fly!¡±


Barely before she kicked off the ground on her staff, the wings withdrew and dropped her down on her side. She moaned, as she dragged herself out of the puddle of mud—at least that¡¯s what she supposed the wetness was. She held out her hands in front of her until she came to reach a low branch and dragged herself again. Why, why can¡¯t I use the Fly?

 

Groping around the ground till she found her staff, Sakura picked it up with bleeding hands and commanded this time, ¡°Jump!¡±

 

With the aid of jump, she took bounds from tree to tree—sometimes slipping on the wet branches, sometimes missing her footing and having to grab onto the trunk to balance herself. She missed a step and came crashing down, saved by landing in another puddle of mud.

 

She could hear the river below her—she was still near the cliff side, meaning she had been going in the wrong direction all along. The Jump had resealed itself; she could not rely on her magic nor her vision to go back to her friends.

 

I can¡¯t see. I can¡¯t see and it¡¯s suffocating me. The world is so black, as if I will never see light again. A clap of thunder sounded before her. She let out a muffled scream and stumbled forward. It¡¯s dark, oh so dark. I don¡¯t want it to be dark anymore. Blindly she ran, sometimes uphill, sometimes downhill, slipping and sliding, standing up again and staggering forward. ¡°Tomoyo-chan! Onii-chan! Otou-san! Yue-san, Kero-chan.¡± Thunder rumbled in the mountains and then a deafening crack sounded beside her. A tree collapsed over her path. I¡¯m scared¡¦ I don¡¯t want to be alone.

 

Then, the forbidden name burst out from her lungs as if a seal had been ripped from her lips. ¡°Syaoran! Syaoran¡¦ SYAORAN!¡± A huge gulp formed in her chest. It hurt, hurt so much. She did not know what part of her was aching any more, the bruises on her knees and elbows from falling, the excruciating agony of opening her eyes and being greeted only by pitch blackness or this desperate wringing in her heart that told her that no matter how hard she called his name, he would not answer.

 

Too late did she realize as she stumbled forward that her feet slipped straight off the end of a ledge. She almost laughed because she realized she had been going around in a circle in the dark and was back where she started off. Desperately she reached out and grabbed a stone embedded at the edge of the cliff, slippery from the wetness. What is this sense of déja vu? This has happened before. Twice before. Both times, he had been there. He had held out his hand and called her name. Is this the end? She could hear the thunderous roar of the rapids below her. If she fell into the river, she would be swept away by the current and smashed against the boulders. It would be over quickly.

 

And then a sterling knowledge washed over. I would like to hear his voice one more time and hear him call out my name. Syaoran, if this is my final moment, I thought I¡¯ve forgotten about you, but you are the last and only thought that comes to my mind at this moment. I want to see you.

 

Her last strength gave out and her fingers slipped from the boulder and her weight dropped down. Just like Chang Risa, will I fall from this spot¡¦

 

Then a, firm grip clasped her right hand just as she let go of the ledge.

 

Whose hand?

 

She could feel the trembling of his hands, those warm, large hands that held her so tightly that her circulation cut off. Even in this perilous moment when she was dangling off the side of the cliff, she could not help thinking she would die in peace if she could see the face of the owner of this hand. She could feel his heavy breathing, as if he was panicking more than she was. The ledge underneath him began crumbling away, and she could feel him struggling to support her weight. ¡°It¡¯s all right. Let go of me. You¡¯ll fall too,¡± she cried out.

 

He tightened his grip.

 

¡°I wish I can see your face—whoever you are, thank you,¡± she whispered, holding onto his hands for dear life.

 

 

 

It shocked Syaoran when he realized Sakura could not see him. Perhaps it was too dark to see him. Or more likely, it was a dark force. He held on to Sakura¡¯s slippery right hand as he had never held anything before. Her hand was icy cold against his left hand. He would never let go. But it was so wretchedly muddy and slippery, there was no way he could raise her up with just his left arm¡¯s strength. If only he could move his right arm, the arm that had not moved for half a year. Maybe if he could extend it out just a little bit to give her something to hold on to. He stared at his right arm reproachfully. Why didn¡¯t it move at such a vital moment? There was nobody else. It was just him and her. And he had no powers. All he had left was this pair of hands.

 

¡°I don¡¯t think I can hold on any longer,¡± called out Sakura. She looked up with her glassy emerald eyes. Eyes that could not see light. ¡°Just let go of me. It¡¯s all right, I don¡¯t want you to fall too—I¡¯ll survive somehow.¡±

 

Silly, do you think I¡¯ll ever fall for that? It never worked on me. With all his might, Syaoran stretched out his defunct right arm. At first, he thought it was his imagination, but definitely it was moving. A little further. Just a little further. There, her outstretched left arm was within grasp now. He felt his tendons snap like a branch snapping from the tree trunk. His right hand was shaking so much that he was losing grip of Sakura with his other hand. He concentrated on his stiff fingertips. Make a fist. Make a fist. With all the strength he could muster, he commanded his fingers to move from its state of paralysis. No, don¡¯t fail me now. I don¡¯t care if I can never use this arm again. Just this once, just this once, work for me. I have nothing left now. No magical powers, no sword, no family title. Just these pair of hands. A ripping sensation rippled through his veins as he clenched his right hand tightly around Sakura¡¯s hand. With a final burst of energy, he heaved her up on the cliff beside him. She collapsed half on top of him, her left hand still entwined in his right hand, which had fallen limply to his side. Even if he wanted to let go of her hand, he would not have been able to, because his right arm somehow had returned to its paralyzed state. All he could do was sigh in relief that he had made it in time. Thank goodness, Sakura¡¦ What will you do without me to watch over you?

 

 

 

Somehow, Sakura had been saved by this mystery person. He did not speak a word, but she could here the sound of his heart beating as her head was leaned against his chest. The warm, firm chest evoked a dizzy, nostalgic feeling. His large hand still grasped her right hand so tightly that it hurt, in a pleasant way like the soreness after running a marathon or the iciness of the water when you first jump into the beach. It was such a familiar hand, the palm hardened by calluses, the fingers so long and lean and strong. The back of the hand so very soft in contrast with its steady, slightly moist warmth. It could only be his hand. If only she could see. Carefully, she sat up, untwining her hand from his hand. She was breathing hard. No, it couldn¡¯t be him. It couldn¡¯t be.  He was back in Hong Kong. She still remembered his hard amber eyes when he left her by the harbor side back in March. But it had to be.

 

Her voice was caught in her throat. ¡°Syaoran. Is that you?¡± There was no reply. ¡°Syaoran, it is you, isn¡¯t it?¡± It had to be. Hesitantly, Sakura reached out her right hand towards him, afraid to touch him, as if he would evaporate into thin air the moment she confirmed it was him. ¡°Say something. Anything. Just let me hear your voice.¡± Tears were streaming down her face, tears for him that she had been trying so hard to hold back all these months. When one has a close encounter to a life threatening situation, all guards are put down and the most naked and exposed version of your soul is bared. ¡°Please.¡± Tenderly, she stroked his cheek with her hands to feel his facial structure. Yes, this strong jaw line and chin. It had to be the contour of his face. ¡°It is you. I know it¡¯s you.¡±

 

¡°Forgive me, Sakura,¡± he whispered, placing his left hand at the nape of her neck and applying pressure at her vital points.

 

¡°Syao-ran,¡± she whispered as her eyes rolled back, and she collapsed in his arms, unconscious.

 

Gently, he laid her on her back. He took off his rain jacket and covered her from neck to waist. It was no longer raining, and he could hear footsteps from the slopes, and Tomoyo calling Sakura¡¯s name. Gripping his right arm which felt like it was burning under the skin, he silently slinked away into the mountains.

 

 

 

When Sakura awoke, she found herself in a soft bed, covered with layers of flannel blankets. She had a pleasant dream that someone had been holding her hand all along.

 

¡°You¡¯re finally awake, Sakura,¡± a male voice stated, sighing in relief.

 

Sakura blinked up. It was still dark, but she recognized Eron¡¯s voice right away. ¡°Eron-kun?¡±

 

¡°Thank goodness.¡± He slumped down back in his chair.

 

¡°Sakura-chan, you¡¯re up now!¡± Tomoyo cried out. ¡°I¡¯m never, ever letting you go off by yourself in the mountains again.¡±

 

¡°Tomoyo-chan.¡± Sakura smiled, turning to Eron again. ¡°Were you here the entire time?¡±

 

¡°Eron-kun found you first,¡± said Tomoyo. ¡°He carried you back to the cabin and stayed by your side the entire time.¡±

 

¡°Eron-kun did?¡± Sakura reached out and touched Eron¡¯s arm. ¡°Thank you. So, it was you who pulled me up from the cliff.¡±

 

Tomoyo¡¯s eyes widened. ¡°You fell off a cliff? Why in the world did you not use the Fly Card?¡±

 

¡°I wasn¡¯t able to use it,¡± replied Sakura, slowly sitting up on her bed. She was sore, but her body was still moving. She held her left wrist. No, she had not been dreaming. It was definitely sore, and if she could see it, she was sure there would be a longish green bruise across the wrist and back of her hand, as if someone had been holding her very tightly and had left a telltale imprint.

 

¡°Thank goodness you found her in time, Eron-kun,¡± Tomoyo said, feeling very kindly towards Eron for a change.

 

¡°Hmm¡¦ Yeah,¡± replied Eron. ¡°Thank goodness. Well, I¡¯ll go let Mizuki-sensei know Sakura has awakened. You can help her up.¡± He left the room.

 

¡°Poor Sakura-chan, just look at you. All scratched up,¡± Tomoyo said, taking a wet towel and wiping Sakura¡¯s face.

 

¡°Tomoyo.¡± Sakura gazed up at her best friend. ¡°When you found me, was there anyone else?¡±

 

¡°Hmm? No, Eron found you first and let out a flare, and we joined him. I don¡¯t know what would have happened if he didn¡¯t find you—we never knew you would be so far up on the mountains.¡±

 

¡°There really was no one else?¡± Sakura asked urgently.

 

¡°No¡¦¡± Tomoyo frowned. ¡°What¡¯s wrong?¡±

 

¡°I saw him, Tomoyo. No, that¡¯s wrong. I couldn¡¯t see, but it had to be him. It had to.¡±

 

¡°Who, Sakura? You¡¯re not making any sense.¡± Tomoyo decided that she should take Sakura to the infirmary to check for concussions.

 

¡°Syaoran. It had to be him. I would recognize him anywhere,¡± said Sakura in a far-off voice.

 

¡°Oh, Sakura,¡± Tomoyo sighed haplessly. Had her memory returned? ¡°I wish it were him, for your sake. But there¡¯s no way he¡¯s in Japan right now. Besides, if it was him, you would know for sure. You would sense him, as you always could. I know it¡¯s hard to accept. But sometimes, the mind plays tricks on us when we want something so badly.¡±

 

¡°No, Tomoyo-chan, I know the difference,¡± said Sakura in frustration. ¡°Trust me, I do. I always thought I can recognize his aura right away. But I didn¡¯t feel his aura¡¦ I can feel his moon energy if he¡¯s within the same country as me. Yet, I couldn¡¯t feel his powers at all. Yet, it was him; if felt just like him.¡± She was beginning to realize how ridiculous she sounded.

 

¡°Eriol would let us know if he were back in Japan,¡± Tomoyo reasoned, a little uneasy because she realized that even in the near impossible case that Syaoran were in Japan, she doubted his powers had returned to him, and his aura would definitely not be recognizable to Sakura even if he were near by.

 

¡°That¡¯s true.¡± Sakura buried her head between her knees. It¡¯s not like she was some foolish, romantic girl thinking that because she called out for him he would come and save her. I¡¯m no weakling. It wasn¡¯t Syaoran. It was Eron who found me and pulled me up. Because I was thinking of Syaoran, I mistook Eron for Syaoran. I must thank Eron-kun again later. But for now, I don¡¯t want to face anyone. Just when I thought I got stronger, that everything¡¯s truly okay, I slip.

 

¡°Go back to sleep, Sakura-chan,¡± whispered Tomoyo, helping Sakura lie down again. ¡°Go back to sleep and get some rest.¡± She carefully tucked Sakura in bed and watched Sakura¡¯s breath soften into deep sleep.

 

Syaoran, when I open my eyes again, I may not remember you anymore... I think I remember why I forgot you—can a human heart feel so much pain and not wish to erase it?

 

If I called for you, it was nothing but a momentarily slip¡¦ That¡¯s all¡¦

 

And Sakura fell back into a black slumber.  

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

¡°It was not you who saved Sakura-chan, was it?¡± Tomoyo remarked to Eron as they waked out the cabin.

 

Eron turned to face the girl that he was ever intimidated by. ¡°No, it wasn¡¯t me.¡±

 

¡°Then who did?¡± asked Tomoyo.

 

¡°I don¡¯t know. When I go there, somebody had already pulled her up from the cliff, and she was lying there unconscious.¡± Eron frowned.

 

¡°I guess the one who saved her is the owner of the jacket covering her,¡± said Tomoyo. ¡°You know, I thought Sakura had forgotten Syaoran completely. But she hasn¡¯t.¡±

 

¡°Actually, I¡¯m surprised too. I think the incident with the Veil and the moment of danger dislodged whatever the Memory had been doing to her. It can happen, I guess,¡± Eron replied staidly.

 

Tomoyo said softly, ¡°She may not remember his name or face, but she remembers him, of his existence. If that isn¡¯t love, what is?¡±

 

¡°Well, it¡¯s hard to break a habit,¡± said Eron.

 

¡°Habit?¡±

 

¡°Yes. He¡¯s nothing but an old habit that she can¡¯t break,¡± repeated Eron. ¡°That¡¯s why in a moment of danger, his name springs to her lips even though she doesn¡¯t remember him.¡±

 

¡°Will she forget him again then?¡± asked Tomoyo.

 

¡°Most likely,¡± replied Eron. ¡°So long as she wishes to forget him, a moment¡¯s lapse won¡¯t make a difference.¡±

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Sakura knew she was dreaming, because the world was so bright. After two days of darkness, she yearned for sunlight and color. She walked through the woods with hues of brown, green, vermillion and orange, where the brilliant afternoon rays pierced between the bamboo branches. There was the sound of a flute, so beautiful and piercing in the stillness of the woods. Her feet lead her to the direction of the flute. Finally, she came to a clearing, where stood a handsome man with pale brown hair and eyes as verdant as the leaves surrounding her. He was in a deep green kimono and stood there smiling kindly as he drew the ryuteki flute from his lips. She knew who he was, but she was not afraid of him perhaps because of the familiar smile.

 

¡°Kinomoto Sakura,¡± he said, in a light, melodic voice that echoed in the woods. ¡°Do you know who I am?¡±

 

¡°Yes. You are Amamiya Hayashi-sama of the Great Five,¡± replied Sakura staidly.  

 

Hayashi nodded gravely.

 

¡°Then please answer me. Why did Chang Risa-san have to die?¡± asked Sakura, looking up at the man who was at the heart of everything.

 

He was silent as he gazed back at her with sorrowful emerald eyes.

 

¡°And why did the Dark Ones come to be?¡± she continued, desperate to hear any response from the Great One.

 

Instead of answering, Hayashi reached over to the back of Sakura¡¯s head and untied a red blindfold tied around her eyes.

 

¡°Why?¡± Sakura blinked up at Hayashi. Without the Veil, his aura was so bright that his presence was blinding.


¡°Your world is a world full of light. It does not do to have you wander in darkness. But remember, where there is light, there is dark. Life is about harmony and balance. Let the mind-eye come to terms with the world-eye. Use this now to help those around you,¡± said Hayashi. Carefully, he dropped the red Veil onto Sakura¡¯s hands. ¡°Things will be answered in due time.¡±

 

Sakura nodded. She drew out her key. ¡°Key that hides the power of the moon. Show your true self to me. I, Sakura, command you under contract. Release! Spirit of the dark forces. I, Sakura command you. Return to a new shape under contract. Sakura Card!¡±

 

A new card levitated in front of Hayashi. He held out the newly formed card, on the face of which there were long red scarves tied in knots against a black background.

 

Receiving the Veil Card, Sakura stared up at Hayashi. ¡°One last question then¡¦ Are you a g-g-gh¡¦¡±

 

¡°Ghost?¡± Hayashi chuckled, and the smile lighted up his features. Sakura was almost susceptible to sighing hanyaan. ¡°No, I¡¯m not a ghost in the literal sense, though perhaps some may prefer to call me that. More precisely, I¡¯m an imprint in the woods. The Great Five have deep magic here in these mountains, and the woods remember me even if nobody else does.¡±

 

Sakura gulped and nodded.

 

He continued in a gentle tone, ¡°Remember Sakura, the truth will be revealed with time. Believe in yourself when you can¡¯t believe in anything else. Seek for the Eye of the Dragon.¡±

 

 

 

When Sakura awoke, her eyes were filled with the afternoon sunlight that seeped in through the curtainless window. Her pupils dilated as it soaked in the light. She did not know light could be so blinding. Holding out her hands in front of her as their silhouettes came into focus, she blinked twice before realizing she had completely regained her vision. Bolting up so quickly that she banged her head on the top bunk, Sakura swung out of the bed. A card fell off. Carefully, she picked it up and turned it over. The Veil

 

With this, she could help Miho¡¯s mother.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

As he walked backed towards the shrine in the mountains, Li Syaoran stared at his right hand. Slightly, so slightly, but very surely, he could see his forefinger move. Perhaps it had been some miracle that his right arm moved to grab Sakura¡¯s hand. Or maybe, it was no miracle. Maybe Jingmei was right; it had been psychological. His arm had physically healed months ago. All that was keeping it from functioning was his inner demons. And he had to fight that. That burst of movement which enabled him to bring up Sakura proved that his right arm wasn¡¯t completely paralyzed. Slowly, every so slowly, he was regaining use of his right arm.

 

¡°Just as I thought.¡± 

 

Syaoran jerked and looked up to see who spoke. The downside of losing his powers was that people could take him by surprise now. Even so, this person always knew how to sneak up without a sound. ¡°Kai.¡±

 

¡°You¡¯re lucky she¡¯s been affected by the Veil and couldn¡¯t see you,¡± remarked Kai.

 

¡°You were wrong—she called out my name,¡± said Syaoran.  ¡°I thought you said that she couldn¡¯t remember me,¡±

 

¡°Probably the familiar situation and panic lead to a momentary lapse—it happens sometimes. Don¡¯t sweat over it. I doubt she¡¯ll remember you when she wakes up,¡± replied Kai with perhaps a slightly malicious undertone. ¡°Besides, you would have rushed out to save her even if she did remember you, even if it meant letting her know you were back.¡±

 

¡°There are others who would have saved her,¡± Syaoran replied shortly.

 

¡°But at that moment, you were the one who reached her first. You were the one who realized she was in danger, even without your powers.¡± Kai paused. ¡°By the way, how did you even sense that? It can¡¯t be coincidence you were there at the same time. Is it because she has your powers, so you can still sense them since they were originally yours?¡±

 

¡°It was coincidence,¡± replied Syaoran and abruptly turned around.  ¡°I have to head back now. I guess I¡¯ll see you around. Take care of Meilin for me.¡±

 

Kai remained silent, recalling the previous day. It had taken him by surprise yesterday when he saw Li Syaoran again—he was the last person he had expected to see back in Japan.

 

 

 

~~~~~~

 

 

 

The previous day¡¦

 

 

 

After Meilin returned to her cabin, Mizuki Kai found himself wondering along the trails. He came to a cliff side overlooking the mountain range and smiled nostalgically. Mayura-sama, I¡¯m back again. He turned around, ready to go back to the resort before the teachers missed him since it was long past breakfast time, when he found himself facing Li Syaoran. At least, Kai believed him to be Li Syaoran—he had the same dark brown hair and amber eyes. And his left hand was tucked into his green jacket while his right arm hung limply by his side.

 

¡°What are you doing here?¡± Kai demanded, unable to analyze the situation. It was highly unlikely that Syaoran had run away from the grasps of the Clan, which could only mean he was with Li Leiyun¡¯s delegation. But that meant¡¦

 

¡°Same goes to you,¡± replied Syaoran gruffly. He looked around suspiciously then turned his attention back to Kai. ¡°Do you think I¡¯ll let you off with abducting my cousin like that?¡±

 

¡°Meilin?¡± Kai rolled his eyes, lowering his baseball cap. ¡°She came according to her own free will. And it¡¯s not like you¡¯re back in Japan because of her. What¡¯s your intention?¡± Why hadn¡¯t Kara let him know that Syaoran was a part of the Li delegation in Japan? Had she deliberately withheld that information from him? Or had she simply overlooked it?

 

Syaoran didn¡¯t respond to Kai¡¯s question because he was looking off into the distance. Instantly, he took Kai by the arm and hid behind a shrub.

 

Kai stuck his head out and took a glance at a summit immediately adjacent to where they stood. A girl in the Seijou navy blue training suit stood across from them. ¡°It¡¯s Sakura-chan!¡±

 

¡°Hush,¡± said Syaoran, dragging Kai back down. ¡°I can¡¯t let her know I¡¯m back yet.¡±

 

¡°What is she doing?¡± Kai asked, squinting across the gorge. ¡°She just released her staff.¡±

 

¡°Are you guys all here on some school trip or something?¡± asked Syaoran.

 

¡°Yeah—the freshmen are staying at log cabins down at the bottom of that trail,¡± replied Kai.

 

¡°The freshmen?¡± Syaoran raised an eyebrow. ¡°What does that make you?¡±

 

¡°Junior,¡± replied Kai smugly. ¡°We¡¯re staying at the resort.¡± He frowned as Sakura whipped out the Fly Card. ¡°Is there a dark force?¡±

 

¡°I wish I can tell,¡± Syaoran said. ¡°Do you feel anything abnormal?¡±

 

¡°Right, I forgot¡¦ You don¡¯t have your powers anymore,¡± said Kai. Then his eyes rounded. ¡°Yo, I think she¡¯s flying in this direction.¡±

 

¡°Eh?¡± Syaoran panicked for a second.

 

¡°Wait¡¦ why is Sakura flying like that—she looks like she¡¯s going to fall,¡± stated Kai.

 

¡°Shoot—she lost control of the Fly.¡± Syaoran was no longer concerned with hiding. He ran out and snatched out an ofuda from his pocket. Frowning, he shoved it into Kai¡¯s hand.  ¡°Hurry up—call up a chain of wind. This ofuda will amplify your powers. The spell to release it is fuuka shourai.¡±

 

Kai didn¡¯t question Syaoran¡¯s method and held out the ofuda, borrowing Syaoran¡¯s spell. ¡°Fuuka shourai!¡± With all his concentration, he summoned the wind to sweep up Sakura in a basin, gently allowing her to float midair. He was surprised at how easily the ward paper channeled his energy to control wind.

 

¡°Go catch her,¡± Kai said, turning to Syaoran. ¡°I don¡¯t know how long this spell would last.¡±

 

Syaoran shook his head slowly and rolled up his right sleeve, revealing the bandage that went up from his hands to the top of his elbow.

 

¡°Your arm¡¦¡± Kai trailed off. ¡°You still can¡¯t move it¡¦ Well, that doesn¡¯t matter.¡±

 

¡°I can¡¯t show my face to Sakura like this,¡± replied Syaoran quietly.

 

¡°Well, she won¡¯t even remember you anyway,¡± replied Kai crassly. ¡°That¡¯s right. She¡¯s forgotten your existence completely. The Memory or something, I figure.¡± To Kai¡¯s disappointment, Syaoran didn¡¯t show much change in expression—he would have reported delightedly to Meilin that Syaoran had been distraught and hurt by the fact that he had been forgotten. After all, it had been his fault for causing Sakura so much pain in the first place. ¡°You don¡¯t care?¡±

 

After a second, Syaoran replied with a rueful smile, ¡°Perhaps it¡¯s for the better. Still, I¡¯d rather not let anyone know I am back for now. Don¡¯t tell Meilin know, either.¡±

 

¡°If you insist,¡± replied Kai. Then, Kai leapt off the cliff with all his grace as Kaitou Magician, catching Sakura in his arms and letting the wind levitate them down to a stable place on the mountain. When he turned around to gaze up at the top of the cliff, he found that Syaoran had already disappeared.

 

 

 

~~~~~~

 

 

 

It had taken great self control on Kai¡¯s part from blabbing to Meilin that Syaoran was back. While Kai had been expecting Syaoran to have returned to Japan sooner or later, this was much sooner than he had anticipated, especially because Kai knew the dire situation back in Hong Kong. What had Syaoran sacrificed to be allowed back? Alone, he walked down the muddy mountain trail. It was drizzling on and off now. Too bad he couldn¡¯t question Syaoran anymore when he had a chance.

 

¡°Kai-kun!¡± A smooth female voice called him.

 

Kai looked up at the tall girl who swirled a black umbrella around, letting rain droplets bounce off it. She had on a long black raincoat and shiny black boots. His eyes lingered on her face shadowed by the umbrella, pale in complexion and those eyes, pale lavender eyes that were so familiar.

 

¡°Come stand beneath my umbrella—you¡¯re getting wet,¡± she said.

 

¡°I¡¯m all right,¡± replied Kai, blinking up at the cloudy sky. It was a clearing rain, and he could see the glimpses of silver lining the clouds as if the sun was on the verge of peeping out again. ¡°You didn¡¯t tell me Syaoran was with the Li delegation.¡±

 

¡°I didn¡¯t?¡± Kara smiled. ¡°I guess it slipped from my mind. He¡¯s not exactly the most important Li anymore, you know. I didn¡¯t realize you were close friends with him though.¡±

 

¡°You shouldn¡¯t underestimate him,¡± replied Kai.

 

¡°Oh, I know that. My two polices are, never forget the legacy of the Great Five,¡± stated Kara. ¡°And never underestimate any descendent of the Great Ones

 

 

 

When Syaoran returned to the Mizuki shrine after leaving Kai, he found Li Leiyun, his cousin and son of Elder Wutiai and Li Jinyu, Li Clan Protector, waiting in the courtyard. ¡°Where were you?¡± Leiyun asked from under the straw-thatched awning. ¡°You¡¯re filthy.¡±

 

¡°I slipped in the mud. It was raining pretty hard outside,¡± replied Syaoran. He didn¡¯t need to tell Leiyun about his arm. Yet.

 

¡°You¡¯re not allowed to go about on your own yet. We¡¯re barely back in Japan and you sneak off on your own. It¡¯s my responsibility to watch out for you, as decreed by the Elders,¡± said Leiyun as he paced around the courtyard of the shrine.  

 

¡°I just went for a walk. And there¡¯s nowhere to run off to. We¡¯re in the middle of the mountains,¡± said Syaoran.

 

Leiyun seemed satisfied with the answer.

 

Not long after Syaoran¡¯s return, Kara walked into the shrine, careful to step around the mud that had formed from the rainwater. She flung down her umbrella when she realized it was no longer raining. ¡°Lei, Jin, I can¡¯t believe you guys followed me on my school trip,¡± she remarked.

 

¡°Coincidence, coincidence,¡± replied Leiyun, shrugging. ¡°Who would have thought the Seijou High trip would be at Mount Kumatori?¡±

 

¡°The gathering place of our great ancestors,¡± replied Kara with a furtive smile. ¡°I thought you don¡¯t believe there is such a thing as coincidence, Lei.¡± She turned around to glance at Syaoran.  ¡°Hey, boy, what¡¯s wrong with you? Looks like you bathed in mud.¡±

 

Syaoran scowled back. Kara glanced back and forth between Leiyun and Syaoran. They had so many similar facial features, yet they didn¡¯t look anything alike. Even though the two were cousins, they gave off a completely different ambiance.  

 

¡°Well, it is a fateful day indeed. The descendents of Amamiya, Li, Mizuki, Chang and Reed are all standing on this mountain for the first time ever,¡± remarked Leiyun.

 

¡°You¡¯re right,¡± Kara said softly. ¡°Now we are the ones gathered here. Perhaps to start a new era.¡±

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

The Seijou High students enjoyed their three days at Kumatori mountains but were more than glad to be going back home again. They longed to take a long hot bath and eat home-cooked food.

 

As they clambered on the school buses, Naoko cast a longing look at the mountains. ¡°The courage test was nowhere near as scary as I hoped it to be.¡±

 

¡°Takashi told a total of twenty new tales on this trip,¡± stated Chiharu with a sigh. ¡°That¡¯s a new record. He even made all the second-years listen to them yesterday night.¡±

 

¡°I can¡¯t wait till I¡¯m a second year—I¡¯m so going to scare all the freshmen on their courage test,¡± stated Naoko. ¡°And I¡¯ll do a much better job of it—I¡¯ll get Tomoyo-chan to make the costumes.¡±

 

Aki grumbled scratching his arm, ¡°I got fifteen mosquito bites—fifteen!¡±

 

Erika stated, ¡°I had such a relaxing time at the resort. The doctor there was super nice and handsome.¡±

 

Turning to his sister, Eron frowned. ¡°What about the photographer dude?¡±

 

¡°He¡¯s not around, is he?¡± Erika replied sassily.

 

¡°Meilin-chan, I heard from Tachibana-senpai that Mizuki-kun went missing from yesterday,¡± remarked Rika. ¡°And Rido-senpai from the third year too.¡±

 

¡°WHHAATT???¡± Meilin raged.

 

¡°T-that doesn¡¯t mean they¡¯re together or anything though,¡± stammered Rika, regretting having brought it up in the first place.

 

Meanwhile, Tomoyo was still filming the last shots of Sakura in the mountains—since Sakura was asleep for the last day, she missed out in filming her.

 

¡°Eriol-kun, doesn¡¯t Sakura seem a little happier?¡± Tomoyo remarked as Sakura waved.

 

¡°She does,¡± said Eriol gently.

 

¡°She didn¡¯t remember Syaoran after she woke up again. But she said Amamiya Hayashi helped her seal the Veil,¡± Tomoyo said. ¡°I wonder if he really came to help her.¡±

 

¡°Perhaps. The ways of the Great Ones are still a mystery to me,¡± replied Eriol. ¡°But Sakura wouldn¡¯t have sealed the Veil without Sakura¡¯s own inner strength.¡±

 

¡°That¡¯s right. I hope Sakura-chan never forgets that even if Syaoran-kun is not here, she has all of us supporting her,¡± Tomoyo stated  She noticed out of the corner of her eyes that Eriol had was gazing at her with unusual mellowness. ¡°What is it, Eriol-kun?¡±

 

¡°Hmm?¡± Eriol looked down, his glasses glimmering. ¡°I¡¯m glad you¡¯re talking to me normally now. I didn¡¯t like it when you were avoiding me.¡±

 

At this, Tomoyo smiled tenderly. If only she could be the one to make this twisted soul happy.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Kero-chan was ecstatic to have his mistress back and escape from the horrible Mizuki mother-daughter pair, plus Nakuru and Suppi-chan. Sakura related to him most of what had happened, but not quite everything. Not the part where she almost fell down the cliff. Eron had saved her—but where did this green rain jacket come from? Sakura hugged the jacket to her chest, breathing in the musky scent of pine woods, and fell back onto her bed. 

 

That night in her dreams, Sakura was standing atop the cliff again. For a second she saw a flash of ice blue eyes. But it was not raining and it was not night. It was the crack of dawn where the world was painted orange and golden as if the mountains were aflame. The scenery spread before her was so beautiful that she stood utterly transfixed. Because she was so mesmerized, it took her a while to realize she was not standing alone and that someone was beside her. Though his face was a blur in waking memory, in this dream-world, there was a sense of time-old familiarity, as he belonged here, right by her side. And even upon waking, she could hear his words in his ears as clear as the breaking day.

 

You know what I like about sunrises, Sakura? It¡¯s a new beginning of another day, where anything can await. A whole new day to forget the darkness of the night and erase all the pain and bitterness. It is something you can look forward to with a yearning smile. Do I make any sense?

 

Even in her sleep, Sakura murmured to herself, ¡°Even if the day before went wrong, the sunrise can bring another chance to mend all the hardships. You can face a whole new day to start over again. There is never a dead end if there is a sunrise. You can seize the day¡¦¡±

 

 

 

***************************************************

 

 

 

Wish-chan: (August 2008)

 

Check out my new fanart http://wishluv.deviantart.com for this chapter:

 

Sakura and Syaoran -- The Veil

Sakura and Syaoran – The Veil (another version)

Tomoyo and Eriol

 

 

This was a really nostalgic chapter to write. I almost feel like we¡¯ve come to a full circle here. Truthfully, in the midst of work getting busy and preparing for LSATs, I didn¡¯t except this chapter to be out for another month or so¡¦ But last weekend I wrote till 6am and I¡¯ve been working on finishing this chapter up vigorously for a week. (A bulk had already been completed while writing other chapters.) I tend to write scenes when I¡¯m in the mood for it before I forget it, even if it¡¯s chapters ahead. ^_^ Actually, the cliff scene might have been written before Yesterday¡¯s Letter. Hmm¡¦ I can¡¯t remember anymore. (It¡¯s like shooting a movie I guess.)

 

I guess many people guessed correctly that Kara was somehow acquainted with Kai. J I thought it was pretty obvious, especially with Kara¡¯s fashion sense. Li¡¯s tend to be a jealous bunch, if you haven¡¯t noticed. So, everybody important is all gathered together now. Lol.. Kind of.

 

I thank all of you who have emailed me or reviewed my fanfiction at fanfiction.net or left comments at the Yahoo Group. It is all of your support which sustains this fanfiction. (In fact, I won¡¯t be surprised if the number of emails I receive is not correlated to me producing chapters faster!) Please email me at hopeluvpeace@hotmail.com with any comments. If you haven¡¯t already, check out the Yahoo New Trials Ring at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/newtrialsring/

 

Lastly, check out my site at http://www.wishluv.com