Chapter 59: Thundercloud

 

 

Shadowing the golden stars way up high,

Thunderclouds loom ominous in the distant sky¡¦

 

 

******

 

 

 

¡°Well, well, I guess the Card Mistress has finally sensed my presence,¡± said a low, silky voice.

 

There in the shadow were three figures. The man in the center, the one who had spoken, stepped forward towards the lamppost. His hair was silver like the moon, and his eyes were sterling blue. Sakura gasped. She had seen those eyes before, in her dream.

 

Stepping back, Tomoyo glanced at Kero-chan. This man resembled Syaoran so eerily—hair color and eye color were different, but his facial features were so uncannily similar. He must be related to Syaoran somehow.

 

Kero-chan shook his head in response. ¡°I don¡¯t know who he is—but he¡¯s from the Li Clan. They¡¯re all wearing the Li Clan emblem on their clothes.¡± Tomoyo looked up and saw the white tri-petal on a black circle on the silver-haired man¡¯s dark blue cheongsam. The other two men¡¯s faces were shadowed, but she could see the white and black symbol with her keen eyes. Her gaze reverted back to the silver-haired man.

 

The man in the center extended a hand out and bent his head slightly in a mock bow to Sakura. ¡°I apologize for failing to introduce myself earlier, successor of Clow Reed. I am Li Leiyun. I doubt you have ever heard of me before, though my cousin, the former Chosen One, should have been an old acquaintance of yours.¡± Before she could step back, he reached out and tilted her chin up. ¡°Hmm¡¦ Interesting. I never expected this.¡±

 

Sakura could not even move away as the man¡¯s gaze held her mesmerized yet paralyzed in fear.

 

¡°Don¡¯t touch Sakura-chan!¡± exclaimed Kero-chan, flying out.

 

¡°And you are?¡± Leiyun looked up at the yellow creature with perplexed amusement.

 

¡°I am the great Cerberus, Guardian of the Clow!¡± replied Kero-chan, head in the air.

 

¡°I beg your pardon for not recognizing your radiance.¡± Leiyun smiled. ¡°I didn¡¯t expect you to be quite so¡¦ small.¡±

Kero-chan was about to transform into his full size when Sakura stated, ¡°Stop it, Kero-chan.¡± She turned to Leiyun. His hand against her skin had been so cold, like his eyes. ¡°What do you want from me, Li Leiyun-san?¡±

 

¡°That¡¯s an easy question.¡± Leiyun smiled warmly as he said, ¡°Get lost from the face of the earth.¡±

 

¡°That¡¯s it!¡± Kero-chan transformed into his full form and released a fireball from his mouth.

 

Leiyun leapt away lithely, and the man in black swept forward with his double-jian unsheathed. Thin black braids sailed behind him like tassels, and the blades of his sabers gleamed in the moonlight, and his eyes flashed a crimson-amber.

 

Tomoyo gave a little gasp. ¡°Mafia-san!¡±

 

¡°Shoot¡¦ What is the Li Clan Protector doing here?¡± muttered Cerberus, backing up.

 

¡°Sword!¡± Sakura called out. ¡°Sword!¡± she commanded again. Her staff barely transformed into a long, thin bladed sword to block Li Clan Protector, Li Jinyu¡¯s attack. His blow was so powerful that a shock rippled through her arms as his blow reverberated from the sword. With arrow-like precision, he spun around, his sabers extended out, then he struck down his left sword at Sakura. Her staff-sword was knocked from her hands, and she gasped as the cold, crimson-amber eyes gazed at her without a glint of mercy. He extended both arms out, swirling around the sabers by their tassels, till they became a blurred flash silver.

 

Cerberus leaped in front of Sakura, blocking her from Jinyu¡¯s attack.

 

¡°Stop it, Jin. It¡¯s all right,¡± stated Leiyun. ¡°I can handle this by myself. When the Card Mistress is so weak, her Guardian can only be so powerful, no matter what potential was bestowed upon him by his Creator.¡±

 

Looking up, Jinyu caught his sabers by the hilt then sheathed them again across his back.

 

¡°Sakura-chan is not weak!¡± exclaimed Cerberus. ¡°How dare you insult the Card Mistress?¡±

 

¡°Oh really?¡± Leiyun arched a silver brow. ¡°You seriously think your Card Mistress can hold a candle to Clow Reed in his golden days? You do not realize yourself that your own strength is but a shadow of what it once was? What good is a Card Mistress that can barely control her own powers?¡±

 

¡°That¡¯s because of certain circumstances,¡± Cerberus protested. ¡°But Sakura-chan is Clow Reed¡¯s chosen successor, and she is the most powerful sorcerer of our generation.¡±

 

¡°The Clow should rightfully have been handed down to the Li Clan,¡± stated Leiyun.

 

¡°Sakura Cards,¡± Cerberus growled lowly.

 

¡°What?¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s not the Clow Cards anymore. It¡¯s the Sakura Cards. And unfortunately for the Li¡¯s, it was the will of Clow Reed that Kinomoto Sakura be his successor,¡± replied Cerberus. ¡°Your Chosen One then acknowledged this. When will you Li Clan accept defeat and move on?¡±

 

Leiyun turned from Cerberus to Sakura. ¡°And do you not have words to defend yourself, Card Mistress? Let us not drag out this argument for too long, for it¡¯s a school night and good children should go to bed early. I am not here to mask my intentions. It is simple and direct—you are not worthy of being Card Mistress. Therefore, the Li Clan will reclaim the Clow as it rightfully should have been ours in the first place.¡±

 

¡°The Sakura Cards were bestowed upon me by Clow Reed, and I have passed Yue¡¯s Judgment,¡± stated Sakura staidly. ¡°Until the fight against the Dark Ones is over, I intend to continue my duty as Card Mistress. When that is over, we can discuss who really deserves to be master of the Cards, if that is what you came here for.¡±

 

¡°Spoken as expected from the Card Mistress,¡± stated Leiyun. ¡°However, how about I make a proposition to you: if you hand over the Clow to us, the Li Clan, we will take care of the matter of the Dark Ones from now on. I can see in your eyes even now that you are a pacifist. You don¡¯t enjoy fighting. It¡¯s not in your blood. We are the Li Clan. Battling has been in our blood since the era of the feudal wars. My clan is the single most powerful family in the East. You can wash your hands of this mess and return to the life of a normal high school girl.¡±

 

¡°Don¡¯t listen to him, Sakura-chan!¡± Cerberus exclaimed.

 

¡°I will give you some time to think of my proposition,¡± stated Leiyun. ¡°I would rather not resort to violence, and it would save both of us a lot of trouble if you can come to a sensible decision.¡± He turned around. ¡°Well then, until next time.¡± He and his two companions disappeared into the shadows again.

 

Kero-chan, back in his small form made a fist into the air. ¡°How dare he? Those rotten, stinking, arrogant Li¡¯s!¡±

 

¡°Maybe he¡¯s right,¡± murmured Sakura. ¡°Maybe they should have the Clow Cards after all.¡±

 

¡°Don¡¯t be silly,¡± Kero-chan exclaimed, still fuming. ¡°There¡¯s a reason why Clow made you his successor, not that brat Syao—¡± His mouth was muffled by Tomoyo¡¯s hand.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

During art class the next day, Sakura fiddled with her pile of photos she was going to use for her family collage. She had gotten little sleep the previous night, but she was not tired. Aki was absent, but that was expected. Though Eron had been trying to catch eye contact all day long, Sakura avoided talking to him—she could simply not explain to Eron the situation with Li Clan. Perhaps the Dark Ones were in alliance with the Li Clan¡¦ No, Sakura couldn¡¯t believe that Eron would be linked with that ghostly, silver-haired man from last night. The Dark Ones despised all descendants of the Great Ones. She looked up across the table at Eriol, who was sketching Suppi-chan on a scrap piece of paper without any regard to the actual assignment.

 

Sakura stared at her mother and father¡¯s wedding photo. Both her mother and father had left behind their families at one point, but with each other had formed a new family. Aki had always struggled to come to terms with himself and try hard to create the best version of himself. In contrast, Kai had tried his hardest to reject his former image, but somehow returned to it. For Sakura, she had always hoped that one day, she would become a Card Mistress that was half as great as Clow Reed.

 

Hiiragizawa Eriol was another example of one who tried to abandon his roots but did not stray far. Kero-chan had mentioned that as a child, Clow Reed was not close to either his mother nor his father. Li Shulin and Lord Landon Reed of the Great Five were headstrong individuals who eventually went separate paths after producing one son, Clow Reed. Perhaps it had been Clow Reed¡¯s loneliness as a child that had propelled him to becoming the greatest sorcerer of the East and West. Or perhaps, it had been in his blood as the son of two of the Great Ones. Eriol¡¯s eyes were shaded by his gleaming glasses, and Sakura never knew what he was thinking.

 

¡°Eriol-kun, why did Clow Reed choose me as successor to the Clow Cards? Sakura asked out of desperation.

 

Eriol turned to Sakura slowly. ¡°Do you not yet know the answer yourself?¡±

 

Sakura shook her head. ¡°No, I don¡¯t! The Li Clan has always wanted the Clow. They are the strongest force in the East and direct descendants of Li Shulin-sama of the Great Five. They said they¡¯ll conquer the Dark Ones. Maybe I wasn¡¯t cut out for this. I can¡¯t even control my own powers. They¡¯re right. I¡¯m not suited as Card Mistress.¡±

 

¡°Do the Sakura Cards make you unhappy?¡± Eriol paused.

 

¡°I don¡¯t know,¡± replied Sakura. ¡°I never asked to be Card Mistress. It was all thrust onto a ten year old. I never really questioned anything back then.¡± She shut her eyes. Back then, it had been exhilarating. The first time she flew through the sky with the Fly Card. The first time Kero-chan taught her to release the bird staff. That moment when Tomoyo found out about her powers, and Sakura could finally share the secret with someone. Then, somebody had tried to take the Clow from her and told her that she was an incompetent Card Captor. That had been the first time she felt so crushed and defeated. And determined to prove everyone wrong and become a great Card Captor. ¡°But even then, when I knew how unskilled I was, I was happy when I got to know each card, and one more card came into my possession. I don¡¯t know.¡± Sakura buried her head in her hands. ¡°I¡¯m sorry, Eriol-kun. I didn¡¯t mean to sound ungrateful or to complain.¡±

 

¡°I heard from Tomoyo-san that you had an encounter with members of the Li Clan last night,¡± Eriol replied.

 

¡°Do you know who Li Leiyun is?¡± asked Sakura setting aside her photos.

 

¡°I¡¯m afraid I don¡¯t,¡± replied Eriol. ¡°Perhaps Meilin-san would know?¡± He paused. ¡°Ah, but you can¡¯t speak to her about it. Because Meilin-san is a Li, too.¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s not like a suspect Meilin-chan is with them,¡± protested Sakura. ¡°Or rather, it¡¯s natural for her to be by her family¡¯s side. But¡¦¡±

 

¡°You don¡¯t have to explain yourself to me. That will be a matter between you and Meilin-san,¡± said Eriol, glancing over to the other table where Meilin sat intently coloring her drawing with color pencils.

 

 

 

A silver-haired man in his early twenties waiting for her outside the school gates when school ended. Sakura¡¯s skin felt clammy though it was mild outside.

 

In daylight, his eyes were a brilliant sky-blue in daylight, the only color in contrast to his white turtleneck and white trousers. He looked nowhere near as menacing in regular clothes—he would almost be handsome if there was not something about unsettling about the way his eyes narrowed calculatingly and the overwhelming malicious aura he exuded. ¡°You are¡¦ Li Leiyun-san?¡±

 

¡°I¡¯m flattered you remember my name, Card Mistress,¡± he said in his melodic voice.

 

¡°What are you doing here?¡± Sakura asked.

 

¡°Why ask the obvious?¡± replied Leiyun. ¡°I¡¯m here to collect the Clow Cards. Hopefully you spent last night properly saying goodbye to them.¡±

 

¡°I won¡¯t give them to the Li Clan,¡± stated Sakura staidly, trying to keep her voice low as students passed by.

 

¡°Why the stubbornness?¡± Leiyun narrowed his eyes. ¡°I have bigger business to take care of, and will prefer not wasting time on a stubborn adolescent girl drunk on her own sense of self-importance. If you just hand over the Clow, that would save a lot of hassle for the both of us.¡±

 

¡°And if I still refuse to hand them over?¡± Sakura asked, brows furrowed down.

 

¡°We¡¯ll still end up getting them.¡± Leiyun smiled.

 

Sakura shuddered. Li Leiyun was a beautiful man with the smile of an angel. And till now, she had not known what it was like to fear another human being.

 

 

 

¡°You¡¯re enjoying goading her on,¡± Kara said accusingly, bag slung over her shoulder as she joined Leiyun and watch Sakura run off into the street, into the crowd of other Seijou students.

 

¡°I completely overestimated her. I knew she was only sixteen. But I thought since she was Card Mistress¡¦¡± Leiyun frowned.

 

¡°Isn¡¯t that her appeal though?¡± stated Kara, tucking her golden hair behind her ear. ¡°She¡¯s nothing like Clow Reed.¡±

 

Leiyun¡¯s silver-blue eyes narrowed. ¡°To think the Li Clan had to bow down to something like her six years ago. We will crush her and show to her what her proper place is.¡±

 

¡°She¡¯s only sixteen—take it easy on the poor girl,¡± Kara drawled. ¡°Her life has been full of rainbows and cotton candy till now.¡±  

 

¡°Only sixteen? At sixteen, my Clan sent me off to death,¡± said Leiyun lowly.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

The first time Kai had met her, she had given him the same glare she wore right now. He called out, ¡°Kara-senpai.¡±

 

¡°I told you not to come to my classroom,¡± Kara said, sitting up from her chair and dragging him out of the room as the upperclassmen whistled at the pair. When they reached the hallway, she said, ¡°You¡¯re too notorious in the school, and I don¡¯t want unnecessary rumors spread about me.¡±

 

¡°You¡¯ve never been the type to care about useless rumors,¡± replied Kai, running a hand over his hair.

 

¡°So, what is so urgent that you had to burst into the classroom like that?¡± Kara asked, tilting her head up to see the tall boy. The periwinkle studs in his ears gleamed the same shade as his gray-blue eyes. Those earrings were perhaps the only difference between the young man standing in front of her now and the ¡°Mikai¡± of olden days. Besides the fact that he was taller.

 

¡°What exactly is the Li Clan up to in Japan?¡± asked Kai.

 

¡°Didn¡¯t Sakura tell you about her encounter with Leiyun? The Li Clan means to take the Clow Cards,¡± replied Kara.

 

¡°Yes, I saw what happened. I was there,¡± replied Kai.

 

Kara raised a narrow eyebrow. ¡°Oh? Spying as usual? I thought you were escorting Tomoaki-kun home.¡±

 

¡°He was already knocked out—and I sensed the Li¡¯s aura,¡± replied Kai. ¡°And yours as well.¡±

 

Sighing, Kara remarked, ¡°Jinyu always gets too excited with his attacks. He never knows how to hold back. It¡¯s a good thing Leiyun told him to hang back—he wouldn¡¯t have hesitated to slash up the cute little Card Mistress. He did not get to become the King of the Hong Kong Underworld with mercy or hesitation.¡±

 

¡°Why are you with them? What are you gaining from all this?¡± demanded Kai.

 

Kara gazed up at Kai with her pale violet eyes with long golden lashes framing them. ¡°Kai, you and I are alike. We¡¯re both survivalists.¡±

 

¡°What does that mean?¡± Kai gripped Kara by her thin shoulders.

 

¡°Your girlfriend is watching—you don¡¯t want her to misunderstand.¡° Kara knocked off his hands and walked back into the classroom.

 

Slowly, Kai turned around to see Meilin standing at the end of the hallway, holding a tray with little cookies. He half expected her to fling the tray at his head. Instead, she walked up to him with a smile. ¡°Do you want to try my fresh-baked oatmeal cookies? I just finished home economics class, and I had some left over cookies.¡±

 

Kai took a cookie and bit into it. ¡°It¡¯s good.¡±

 

¡°I know—I got an A on the assignment,¡± replied Meilin.

 

¡°You look like you want to ask me something,¡± said Kai.

 

¡°Well, do you have any explanations for me?¡± Meilin asked, still with a smile.

 

¡°What exactly do you want to know?¡±  

 

Meilin was completely serious now. ¡°Who exactly is this Rido-senpai, if that is even her real name?¡±

 

¡°You heard of the last remaining Reed that has joined alliance with the Li Clan?¡± Kai said. Meilin nodded vaguely. ¡°That¡¯s her.¡±

 

¡°What? I thought the last Reed would be some old man,¡± replied Meilin, trying to laugh and finding she could not. ¡°Miho said she used to go to the same school as you way back. She used to go by a different name then.¡±

 

¡°Kamura Karin.¡± Kai paused. He seemed to be vaguely surprised that she knew about it. ¡°We went to Eitoukou Academy together. She was in junior high when I was in sixth grade.¡± 

 

¡°Karin¡¦¡± Meilin bit her lower lip. The mystery girl¡¯s name that Kai murmured in his sleep. ¡°And your relationship to her then?¡±

 

A sardonic smile came over his lips and his eyes turned a steely gray. ¡°You¡¯re being nosy today, Mei-chan.¡±

 

She would have asked further. But she was afraid that he would answer that Kamura Karin was the person he loved.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

¡°You don¡¯t have to walk me home,¡± said Sakura to Tomoyo as they walked down cherry blossom lane, which was now a lane of trees with bare branches.

 

¡°I¡¯m not going to leave you alone after that Li Leiyun person threatened you like that,¡± stated Tomoyo. ¡°I can¡¯t believe he had the nerve to show up at our school. Did he hurt you? What did he say?¡±

 

It was rare to see her best friend this angry, and Sakura smiled gratefully. ¡°He was just trying to intimidate me—but it didn¡¯t scare me. See, I¡¯m fine.¡±

 

Tomoyo frowned. ¡°I don¡¯t trust him one bit—he had this ruthless air about him. Which is funny because his expression and mannerisms are rather gentlemanly.¡± In fact, Leiyun seemed to be the opposite of Syaoran, who was rash and crass at times, but exuded a sense of dignity and honor. But she would not mention this to Sakura.

 

¡°I¡¯m not afraid of Li Leiyun or that wretched Li Clan of his,¡± stated Sakura out loud.

 

¡°Oh? Is that so?¡± said a drawl voice from down the street. ¡°I thought your knees would be clattering and you would be crying on your bed. But you seem overly self-confident, Card Mistress.¡±

 

Sakura paled at the voice of Li Leiyun. Her knees were shaking—whenever Leiyun was near by, the air seemed chillier. While Leiyun had never physically harmed her, his mere presence petrified her, and she did not know why.

 

¡°I guess you are ready for a battle against me,¡± Leiyun said, hands moving towards the hilt of his sword—the Five Force Sword. ¡°The strongest one is the rightful owner of the Clow.¡±

 

Her voice failed her. Sakura gulped, fumbling to find her star key hanging from her neck. There Li Leiyun stood with his silver hair and ice-blue eyes, a genuine smile on his face. Not an arrogant smirk, nor a condescending grin. It was a bright smile, as if he was happy to see her. He was in a silver cheongsam, and a large sword was sheathed to his waist. Standing to his left was Li Jinyu, in stark black, in contrast to Leiyun¡¯s silver.

 

¡°Please leave this one to me, Leiyun. You don¡¯t have to waste your energy on the likes of her,¡± stated a new voice. It was the third unidentified person who had remained silent last time, behind Li Leiyun and Jinyu, the Black Dragon.

 

¡°If you put it that way,¡± said Leiyun with a crooked smile. ¡°After all, it was originally your mission.¡±

 

¡°Jinyu can leave also. I can handle it by myself. I will bring back the Clow Cards for the Clan,¡± said the voice from the shadows. 

 

Sakura squinted into the darkness to the owner of that pleasantly smooth, nostalgic voice.

 

Leiyun turned around. ¡°Jin, let us leave this to Syaoran.¡± The silver and black one retreated for the night.

 

Sakura found herself facing a tall boy with dark chestnut brown hair, dressed in a strange Chinese robe of green. Her heart was beating rapidly. Was it the fear of danger? Or was it a sense of déja-vu. This feeling¡¦ what a familiar sensation.


The boy called ¡°Syaoran¡± stepped out of the shadows. Ah, she had seen him before. Sakura squinted her eyes. The wind swept through his dark brown hair, and she glimpsed eyes glowing like burnt out ember in the dark. He was the boy at Eitoukou High School, the one playing the violin. Why was he here? She absorbed the crest of three white marks on the black circle and the red-tasseled sword by his waist.

 

Tomoyo had instantly recognized Syaoran¡¯s voice the moment he had spoken—she had been suspicious since the other night, when everyone had been focused on Li Leiyun. There had been a third figure behind Li Jinyu, the Protector that had not moved nor spoken. In this situation, Tomoyo could only nervously glance back between Sakura and Syaoran. It had been over half a year since Tomoyo had last seen Syaoran—she hadn¡¯t seen him in Hong Kong back in March. He was taller, more darkly handsome than she recalled him to be. For the first time, Tomoyo saw the man in Syaoran that she had once pictured and failed to fully envision. Slowly, Tomoyo stared back at Sakura. No, it wasn¡¯t just Syaoran. Sakura too was taller and more woman than girl now. It finally occurred to Tomoyo that Sakura might have been right, and back at the Kumatori mountains, it really could have been Syaoran who had rescued Sakura. Nonetheless, she did not set her camcorder down. Perhaps seeing Syaoran face to face again would trigger Sakura¡¯s memory of him. Tomoyo shook her head. Then again, maybe it was best for Sakura not to remember him.

 

¡°Who are you?¡± Sakura asked in a shaky voice. ¡°W-what do you want?¡±

 

¡°Hand over the Clow,¡± the boy stated in a low voice. His expression didn¡¯t change.

 

¡°Why do you want the Clo—I mean Sakura Cards?¡± Sakura demanded. ¡°

 

¡°It doesn¡¯t matter, does it?¡± he asked. ¡°I would prefer you hand them over to me when I ask.¡±

 

Sakura lifted her chin up defiantly. ¡°Or else?¡±

 

¡°Or I will have to take it by force,¡± he replied softly into her ear. His breath tickled her cheek.

 

When had the mysterious boy closed the gap between them? His left arm snaked around her waist, and he slipped the Sakura Book out of her pocket before she could even push him away.

 

¡°What are you doing?¡± she exclaimed, grabbing the boy by his right arm. ¡°Give it back to me.¡± She reached out to grab it out of his hand.

 

But with his left hand, he raised the stolen book way above his hand, out of her reach. In frustration, Sakura yanked the boy¡¯s right arm. He grimaced. Sakura stared at the stone-face shatter, then realized that his right arm was bandaged. That¡¯s right—he had it bandaged on that day in the music room also. He used her moment of hesitation to leap back and then run off into the night.

 

Sakura ran after him for a second, but realized there was no trace of him anywhere. She sank down on her knees. The reality of what had just occurred hadn¡¯t sunk into her yet. When Tomoyo ran up to catch up with her, Sakura was still in a state of bewilderment.

 

¡°Sakura-chan, what just happened?¡± Tomoyo said. ¡°What did Syao—I mean that guy do to you?¡±

 

¡°He¡¦ stole the Sakura Cards,¡± Sakura replied slowly, as if she was just realizing what had happened herself. ¡°He just grabbed it away from me¡¦ and I forgot to even release my staff. I forgot I had magic.¡±

 

¡°Eh?¡± Tomoyo¡¯s mouth dropped. ¡°How is that even possible?¡± And why, Syaoran?

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

There was an immediate emergency meeting held at the Hiiragizawa residence, called forth by Tomoyo, who spent no time getting in touch with Eriol.

 

The usual crew was gathered in the large study. Miara was absent since she had already gone to bed, but Mizuki Kaho had already been at the house when Eriol received Tomoyo¡¯s call. Yue had flown over from the hospital and Kero-chan from the Kinomoto residence. Tomoyo¡¯s chauffeur had dropped them off at Eriol¡¯s house, but it took all of Tomoyo¡¯s strength to drag along a stunned Sakura. Even now, she sat on the sofa, dazed as Tomoyo related what had happened. As Sakura stared off into space, Tomoyo mouth to everyone, ¡°Syaoran¡¯s back!¡±

 

¡°Eh, no way!¡± exclaimed Miho, looking up from her laptop—she was in the midst of editing her article.

 

¡°I wonder if Meilin or Kai knew,¡± remarked Yue. After all, Kai seemed to have inside dibs on the Clan, and Meilin was the boy¡¯s cousin.

 

Nobody had remembered to call either of them in the chaos.

 

¡°So, basically this mysterious boy came along and just snatched away the Sakura Cards from you?¡± asked level-headed Suppi-chan.

 

Sakura just nodded. Then she stood up.

 

¡°What¡¯s wrong?¡± everyone asked, jumping up.

 

¡°Nothing,¡± she replied staidly. ¡°Bathroom.¡± Everybody sat down again, dabbing sweat from their brows.

 

After Sakura walked out of the room, Kero-chan turned to Eriol. ¡°How could this happen? Shouldn¡¯t we have sensed his presence back in Japan?¡±

 

¡°Unfortunately, without his powers, it¡¯s impossible to recognize his presence,¡± remarked Nakuru. ¡°Or else Eriol would have noticed right away.¡±

 

¡°Either way, it seems as if Li Syaoran is finally back,¡± remarked Eriol mildly.

 

¡°Yes, we¡¯ve already figured that out,¡± Kero-chan snapped. ¡°I¡¯m asking, how did that little Brat (well, not so little now) manage to steal the Sakura Cards?¡±

 

¡°Well, Sakura¡¯s bind to the Cards is weaker at the moment. Of course, in the situation where she has her original star powers, Li Syaoran would never have been able to take the cards forcefully from Sakura. However, in the current situation, the Cards themselves are in turmoil because their Mistress¡¯ powers derive from the moon. If you recall correctly, Syaoran has also temporarily been owner of the Clow Cards, and furthermore, has no problem wielding them.¡± Eriol paused.

 

¡°So, are you saying that these former Clow Cards feel some affinity to that Brat or something, more so than Sakura-chan?¡± Kero-chan demanded.

 

¡°I wouldn¡¯t be too worried. It¡¯s not like the Cards have chosen a new master. Only Yue can appoint the new master to the Cards,¡± replied Eriol.

 

¡°Not worry too much?¡± Kero-chan¡¯s beady black eyes bulged. ¡°My Card Mistress almost died from sealing the Plague, lost all her star powers, got her heart broken by some obnoxious successor to the Li Clan and currently had the Sakura Cards stolen from the same obnoxious bloke, and you¡¯re telling me not to worry?¡±

 

Tomoyo cleared her throat. Everyone turned to her. ¡°I—I don¡¯t mean to interrupt. But I¡¯m more concerned as to why Syaoran-kun is back in Japan all of a sudden.¡±

 

¡°There¡¯s a Li delegation in Japan,¡± said Yue. ¡°They planted a Li doctor in Kinhoshi Hospital to keep an eye on Touya and Yukito.¡±

 

¡°Eh?¡± Kero-chan gaped. ¡°You never mentioned that before.¡±

 

¡°I don¡¯t know if Syaoran is back voluntarily or involuntarily, but either way, he is at the mercy of the Clan Elders¡¯ mission instructions. What ever that is,¡± stated Yue.

 

¡°Wait, one more question—Syaoran-kun didn¡¯t seem surprised when Sakura-chan didn¡¯t recognize him,¡± stated Tomoyo with a frown over her forehead. ¡°It seemed as if he already knew that she had forgotten him.¡±


¡°Well, there can only be two options,¡± said Eriol. ¡°Either this is not their first encounter since Syaoran came back to Japan—we don¡¯t know when that was, since I cannot sense his aura anymore. Or the second option is that he has an informant from amidst us.¡±

 

Miho glanced around those in the room suspiciously. No, nobody here seemed to be capable of being a Li spy.

 

¡°Li Meilin is his cousin. And she conveniently showed up at the beginning of this semester,¡± Yue began. ¡°That¡¯s suspicious.¡±

 

¡°No, Meilin-chan is our close friend,¡± Tomoyo stated in defense.

 

¡°Then who?¡± asked Nakuru.

 

Miho scowled. ¡°It must be that good-for-nothing brother of mine. It¡¯s something he would do.¡±

 

Tomoyo couldn¡¯t disagree because she also knew that Kai was close to Syaoran—furthermore, Kai might be the only person who might have had access to communicate with Syaoran. After all, Kai had been treated in the Li hospital in Hong Kong for months.

 

¡°What are we going to do now?¡± asked Kero-chan, who had calmed down a bit.

 

¡°Sakura-san hasn¡¯t truly grasped what it means to lose the Cards yet,¡± Eriol said somberly. ¡°From now on, things will be very difficult for her now that the Li Clan has finally gotten their hands on the Sakura Cards.¡±

 

¡°I don¡¯t get it,¡± Tomoyo said sorrowfully. ¡°How could Syaoran, out of anybody, betray Sakura-chan?¡±

 

Eriol stared up at her with grave midnight blue eyes. ¡°I guess you have not seen the true nature of the Li Clan yet.¡±

 

The door opened and Sakura returned to the study. Everybody fell silent. She bit her lips and picked up her bag. Her friends had been talking behind her back again—they had been doing that a lot recently. ¡°I¡¯m sorry—I¡¯m not feeling well. I think I¡¯ll head back home. I¡¯ll try to come up with a solution, so I apologize for inconveniencing everyone.¡± She bowed her head down low to hide the tears welling up in her eyes.

 

Tomoyo jumped up. ¡°I¡¯ll ask my chauffeur to give you a ride—¡°

 

¡°I¡¯m sorry, Tomoyo-chan. I¡¯d like to be alone,¡± said Sakura quietly.

 

When Sakura left, Kero-chan glared at Eriol. ¡°Well, don¡¯t you have a plan?¡±

 

Mizuki Kaho, who had been silent until this point, spoke out. ¡°It seems to me rather fortunate that this happened while Sakura has forgotten who Li Syaoran is. Otherwise, I can¡¯t imagine what sort of mental and emotional state Sakura would have been in right now at having a close friend betray her. With the Sakura Cards in the Li Clan¡¯s hands, it would be difficult to reclaim them, especially as Tomoyo pointed out that the Li Clan Protector Li Jinyu is here. What we need to find out is the motive of the Li Clan, whether their objective was the Sakura Cards or whether that was just an intermediary step. Meanwhile, we need to be more alert of dark forces, because only Sakura, at the moment, can seal them. Without the help of the Cards, it¡¯ll be a difficult feat. We need to be on the watch now that Sakura is the most vulnerable she has ever been.¡±

 

Tomoyo frowned. ¡°I never thought that I would say that I¡¯m almost relieved Sakura lost her memory. Out of anybody, I always thought I could trust Syaoran.¡±

 

¡°I knew from the beginning we could not trust him,¡± muttered Kero-chan.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Li Syaoran, probationary Chosen One. walked into the Li mansion and flung the Sakura Cards on the study table that Leiyun was seated at. Jinyu and Kara were not in sight for a change.

 

Leiyun stared at the cards and looked up at Syaoran. ¡°Good job,¡± he said with a crooked smile. ¡°I didn¡¯t expect you to do it¡¦ so quickly.¡±

 

¡°It wasn¡¯t a hard feat,¡± replied Syaoran crisply. ¡°It¡¯s not like the Card Mistress can really stand in the way of anything the Li Clan wants.¡±

 

¡°That¡¯s true. It would have been a matter of time. You saved us all a lot of hassle, Syaoran. The Elders will be very pleased with the news when I tell them.¡± Leiyun placed a hand on the sun emblem on the face of the Clow. ¡°Go get some rest now. You have school tomorrow, don¡¯t you?¡±

 

At this, Syaoran scowled. ¡°What was your intention of sending me to that school?¡±

 

Leiyun blinked back. ¡°Why, Eitoukou Academy is only the best school in the district, and Li¡¯s only take the best. No other intention at all.¡± He tilted his head with a smile. ¡°Of course, Kara¡¯s over at Seijou, so there¡¯s no need for you to be over there. She can keep an eye on the Card Mistress on her own. It would be awkward and all when dear Sakura-chan seems to have forgotten you completely. Even after that heart-warming letter she wrote you saying that she would wait. How cruel of her. Granted it seems like a dark force has taken hold of her memory.¡±

 

¡°Either way, we were not on good terms when we parted, whether she remembers me or not,¡± said Syaoran staidly. ¡°This is for the better.¡±

 

¡°True. Essentially, you betrayed her when you took the Clow from her,¡± stated Leiyun. ¡°I must say, I¡¯m impressed, Syaoran. You pulled yourself together very well—the Elders would be pleased. You must be a true Li after all.¡± He stroked the golden Cerberus engraving on the face of the Clow.

 

 

 

After Syaoran left, Leiyun turned around and walked through the back door, down to the basement. The basement had been refurbished into a somewhat creepy den—Kara had been in charge of the interior design and the furniture was antique and the tapestry seemed quite ancient. Leiyun wrinkled his nose in disdain.

 

Jinyu was seated at one end of a long oak table, reading a Chinese scroll (but he could have been napping since Jin oftentimes slept with his eyes open). Kara, in a long-sleeved black lace shirt and silver cross earrings gleaming in her ears, had Tarot Cards spread out across the table. At least she looked at home in the Gothic environment.

 

 ¡°Kara, where do you find all these hideous tapestries?¡± Leiyun said, pushing aside a black velvet drape to enter the den.

 

¡°Aren¡¯t they lovely?¡± asked Kara, pointing to one behind him. ¡°That one¡¯s from the Reign of Terror in France—it depicts Marie Antoinette at the guillotine. The one next to it with the unicorns is said to be from Queen Mary of Scotland¡¯s castle. You know. Bloody Mary.¡±

 

¡°Jin, we can report to the Elders tomorrow that we have obtained the Clow,¡± Leiyun said, refusing to look behind him.

 

¡°Your cousin really managed to get the Clow Cards?¡± Kara asked, gathering her Tarot cards into a stack. ¡°How?¡±

 

¡°I have to admit that I was a bit surprised as well,¡± said Leiyun. ¡°Though the Card Mistress isn¡¯t the most powerful opponent out there, Syaoran doesn¡¯t have powers at all. And he seems to harbor a soft spot for the Card Mistress. But he went and did it without hesitation.¡±

 

Kara blinked. ¡°I guess he was serious about proving his loyalty to the Clan after all. Well, can we see what it looks like?¡±

 

Leiyun tossed the Clow book onto the table, making a face at the cover. ¡°Yes, it is alarmingly pink.¡±

 

Hesitantly, Kara ran a finger on the golden sun emblem on the face of the Clow. An electric current ran through the tip of her fingers. She stared up at Leiyun. ¡°I can¡¯t get the book to open.¡±

 

¡°I know.¡± Leiyun stared at the pink book grimly. ¡°I haven¡¯t been able to open it either. We can keep that minor detail from the Elders for now. We¡¯ll find a way to use the Cards in due time.¡± 

 

¡°Do you think the Card Mistress cast some sort of spell upon it?¡± asked Kara. ¡°That¡¯s pretty clever of her.¡±

 

¡°I doubt it,¡± replied Leiyun. ¡°It seems more like the Cards¡¯ assertion of who their true master is. But Syaoran successfully stole the cards from the Card Mistress. It means that he has as much right to the cards as her at least. He should never have been able to take the cards from their Mistress forcibly, otherwise.¡±

 

Kara¡¯s mouth dropped. ¡°This was all planned. You got Syaoran to steal the cards because you knew something like this might happen.¡±

 

¡°It only makes sense. When I first met this Card Mistress, I was surprised at how she used the power of the moon, and she doesn¡¯t even seem to be aware of whose power she is reeking of. Syaoran gave up his powers to her. I was puzzled at first, as to what had happened to his powers. I¡¯d never seen something like it,¡± Leiyun said. ¡°He must have transferred his powers to her for one reason or another.¡±

 

¡°Something about capturing the Plague,¡± replied Kara vaguely. ¡°So, your silly cousin transferred all his powers to the Card Mistress, and that¡¯s why he¡¯s powerless now? How foolish.¡±

 

Leiyun cleared his throat. ¡°I was thinking it was rather noble and chivalric of him. I raised him to be a gentleman after all.¡±

 

Kara rolled her eyes. ¡°Jin tells me the boy¡¯s miserable at Eitoukou—I don¡¯t even blame him. Students there are rich brats. Why did you send him there?¡±

 

¡°To keep him out of trouble, of course. His heart might waiver if he¡¯s in the same school as the cute little Card Mistress,¡± Leiyun replied. He gazed at Kara with a sudden thought. ¡°I forgot you went to Eitoukou for a while, Kara. You used to go by another name then, didn¡¯t you?¡±

 

¡°Kamura Karin.¡± Kara smiled slightly.

 

¡°Did you ever tell me where you got your name ¡®Kara¡¯ from?¡± asked Leiyun.

 

¡°It was a nickname someone once coined for me,¡± replied Kara with a far off look on her pale violet eyes. ¡°He abbreviated my last name Kamura to Ka-ra.¡±

 

Leiyun chuckled. ¡°So, even an ice princess like you had a friend back then?¡±

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

The next day at school, Sakura sat blankly in her chair, not taking notes during lecture and wordless during break.

 

Finally, a frustrated Eron spun sideways on his seat and turned Sakura. ¡°What¡¯s wrong with you? You look like you haven¡¯t slept a wink last night, and your notebook is blank—look, you wrote down the date and that¡¯s it.¡±

 

¡°The Li Clan. They took the Sakura Cards,¡± said Sakura numbly.

 

Eron¡¯s eyes bulged out. ¡°Come with me. We have to talk.¡± He grabbed Sakura by the wrist, dragging her up to the roof deck where they might have some privacy. She didn¡¯t protest and followed him up the steps without a word. They were greeted by a blast of chilling autumn wind.

 

¡°Eron-kun¡¦¡± Sakura said slowly. ¡°I failed as a Card Mistress. I couldn¡¯t even protect my own Cards.¡±

 

¡°How did they steal it from you?¡± Eron gripped her by the shoulders urgently. ¡°Did they do anything to you? You¡¯re not injured, are you?¡±

 

¡°He just reached over and grabbed them from me. And I couldn¡¯t even stop him.¡± Sakura looked down at her feet.

 

¡°Who?¡±

 

¡°Some Li wearing green robes,¡± replied Sakura. ¡°He just took them. I was afraid to call on the Cards. Because if I messed up again, that would prove that I¡¯m not a qualified Card Mistress. So I just stood there, unable to fight back.¡±

 

Eron watched pools of tears form in Sakura¡¯s eyes. What was he supposed to do with a crying girl? To his surprise, Sakura flung herself into his chest. The only girl he had ever comforted in his arms before was his sister. Her shoulders seemed so frail. How could Clow Reed be so cruel and let such a slight girl bear the curse of the Great Five? Why did someone so genuinely warm-hearted and peace-loving have to be involved in the epicenter of this great chaos that caused her nothing but misery and pain? Awkwardly, he stroked her back. ¡°They must have been taken from you for a reason. But you are the rightful Card Mistress. Clow Reed chose you because you are the best suited for the job. So, the cards will most definitely return.¡±

 

¡°What if they don¡¯t?¡± asked Sakura. ¡°Remember how I refused to use the Cards for a while after the Plague? I shunned my duties as Card Mistress then. That¡¯s why I¡¯m being punished now. First, with not being able to heal Miho¡¯s mother¡¯s eyes, and my powers becoming unstable. And now, the Cards have left me.¡±

 

¡°The Cards haven¡¯t left you,¡± Eron said. ¡°You abandoned them. There¡¯s a difference.¡±

 

Sakura stared up at Eron¡¯s golden-flecked hazel eyes. Those eyes that she had often thought were distant and mysterious were filled with nothing but sympathy. His hands were now gently brushing away the tears from her eyes. ¡°I didn¡¯t fight to protect the cards.¡±

 

¡°That¡¯s right. But it¡¯s not too late to show them that you do want them¡¦ You can fight to gain them back and let them know that you didn¡¯t abandon them, that you are the rightful Card Mistress.¡± With a lopsided grin, he added, ¡°After all, you are the enemy chosen by the Dark Ones.¡±

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

That night, Sakura lay slumped over her bed. She stared at a photograph of her mother in her Seijou High uniform—back then, the girls uniforms were sailor uniforms. What would you have done in a situation like this, okaa-san? She reached from underneath her bed a wooden box. What was it? It looked vaguely familiar. Perhaps a childhood gadget? It certainly looked battered. Carefully, she opened the box. The faint twinkling of ¡°Swan Lake¡± filled the room. It was a music box. Inside, there was a yellowed letter. It was her mother¡¯s letter. That¡¯s right. Miara-san gave it to me at my junior high graduation. There was a crumbled piece of cloth in the music box too. She turned back to the letter and carefully unfolded it. The paper smelled musky, perhaps with a dab of her mother¡¯s perfume. And her mother¡¯s beautiful handwriting in black ink filled the page. Leaning back against her bed, Sakura reread the contents of the letter. She remembered the last time she had read it, her heart had been hurting so much. But whatever the ache had been, she had forgotten it already. Time numbed all feelings.

 

She read the last paragraph carefully.

 

¡°There are many wiser than me in the world, and at this young age, I have nothing to leave you, dear Sakura, but a sixteen-year-old¡¯s words on love. I cannot pretend to know any more than I actually do, but what I know with certainty is that when all else fails you, Sakura, trust your heart. And trust the ones that have always been by your side. There are times in life when you are afraid of trusting, and you end up losing chances. Life is too brief, too transitory to miss a given opportunity simply because you cannot allow your heart to trust. You cannot return to the past, you can¡¯t undo what is already done. All you can do is continue looking forward. So, Sakura, grow up to be a magnificent, lovely young lady. But most importantly, all I want for you is to be able to be confident in who you are, Sakura. Never lose your smile, for at the end of a storm will come a rainbow. I will always watch over you, my darling daughter. I love you¡¦ One last word to leave to you¡¦ Things may seem confusing for you at the moment, but everything will be revealed in its own time. Seek for the Eye of the Dragon, and you will find answers.¡±

 

There was a gentle knock outside, and the door opened. Yukito brought into Sakura¡¯s room a plate of pudding. ¡°Dessert for Sakura-chan!¡±

 

¡°Yukito-san!¡± Sakura said with a weak smile. She tucked the letter into the music box and pushed it underneath her bed again. ¡°Are you and onii-chan back from the hospital?¡±

 

¡°We¡¯re just dropping by because Touya needs to do some laundry,¡± said Yukito. ¡°What¡¯s wrong, Sakura-chan? You look concerned about something?¡±

 

¡°Can I talk to Yue-san please?¡± Sakura asked.

 

Yukito nodded and transformed into long, silver-haired Yue with his slanted eyes and cold demeanor. Overnight, Yue had been thinking long and hard as to what to tell his Mistress. After all, he had been the one who had appointed her new owner of the Clow Cards. ¡°I heard from Cerberus that you¡¯ve been worried over not being able to use the Veil to recover Miara-san¡¯s vision. It was not something within your control anyway. But you lost confidence in yourself, and consequently, you let the Sakura Cards be taken away by the Li Clan.¡±

 

¡°But there is something wrong with me, isn¡¯t there? My powers just gave out on me in the mountains—it¡¯s been weird since the Plague,¡± Sakura burst out. ¡°Kero-chan and Eriol-kun will tell me everything¡¯s all right, so that I wouldn¡¯t worry. But Yue-san, Yue-san would be truthful to me, won¡¯t you?¡±

 

Yue stared at his mistress with narrowed silver eyes. ¡°If you feel there is something wrong with your powers, it¡¯s your job as Card Mistress to improve your own concentration and hone your skills to control them.¡±

 

Kero-chan flew out from his drawer and screeched, ¡°How dare you say such harsh things to Sakura-chan?¡±

 

¡°Kero-chan, weren¡¯t you asleep?¡± asked Sakura.

 

¡°Cerberus, you¡¯re too lenient on her—that¡¯s why her skills don¡¯t improve at all,¡± replied Yue. ¡°It¡¯s the truth.¡±

 

¡°Yue, how can you—¡± Kero-chan raised a fisted paw into the air.

 

¡°Kero-chan, stop it. Yue-san is right.¡± Sakura said, burying her head between her knees. ¡°It¡¯s all my fault that I lost the Sakura Cards.¡±

 

¡°Why is it your fault?¡± demanded Kero-chan. ¡°It¡¯s that Brat¡¯s fault!¡±

 

¡°It is your fault,¡± Yue said to Sakura with directness. ¡°I appointed you as Card Mistress of the Clow Cards six years ago, entrusting you to protect the Clow with your life. It was a contract with you and the Cards. But you failed to keep that contract; thus, you have no right to the Sakura Cards—if we can call them that when you are no longer their mistress.¡±

 

¡°Sakura-chan will always be the one and only Card Mistress!¡± exclaimed Kero-chan.

 

¡°Well, then she better act like the Card Mistress that I bowed down to and accepted over Clow Reed,¡± replied Yue in his steely voice. ¡°Well then, have a good evening. Your brother is looking for Yukito.¡± He swept out of the room then transformed.

 

¡°That Yue! He always had a sharp tongue—he doesn¡¯t mean it all. He¡¯s just being grumpy,¡± stated Kero-chan.

 

¡°No. Everything Yue-san said is true,¡± said Sakura exuding a grim aura. ¡°I failed the Sakura Cards.¡±

 

 

 

¡°How is Sakura doing?¡± Touya asked Yukito when he came down the stairs. He sat in the living room, folding up clean shirts. ¡°Outo-san is already sleeping—he has a breakfast seminar tomorrow—but he told me that he¡¯s worried about that troublesome little ogre.¡±

 

Yukito sat on the couch, next to the basket of fresh laundry. ¡°Not very well¡¦ I shouldn¡¯t have let Yue do the speaking—he made her feel worse, I believe.¡±

 

¡°Sometimes the truth is what you need to hear,¡± replied Touya.

 

¡°Perhaps.¡±

 

Touya sighed. ¡°Do you remember when we first met the Brat?¡±

 

¡°Syaoran? Yes, he was trying to take the Clow Cards from Sakura, and you popped up and lifted him up by his collar with your scary scowl,¡± replied Yukito.

 

¡°And then he kicked me in the arm and took a fighting stance with the most ferocious glare I have ever seen from a ten year old.¡± Touya smiled ruefully. ¡°Goodness knows what would have happened if you didn¡¯t show up that moment with your pork buns.¡±

 

Yukito raised a silver eyebrow. ¡°Surely you wouldn¡¯t have beaten up an elementary kid half your height?¡±

 

¡°No, I¡¯m pretty sure he would have beaten me up,¡± replied Touya reluctantly. ¡°I¡¯m strong, but it¡¯s not like I had official martial arts training since birth.¡±

 

¡°You¡¯re a karate black-belt and kendo champion,¡± Yukito reminded. ¡°Though I admit Syaoran was an intimidating kid. Poor thing—he¡¯s been on your black list ever since that first encounter. He never stood a chance to get on your good books after being caught bullying Sakura-chan; not even after saving her numerous times.¡±

 

¡°But that first time I met him, I thought ¡®this boy is strong,¡¯¡± stated Touya. ¡°Stronger than me. At that point, I have never met somebody who I believed was stronger than me. And I realized that if he is at age ten so incredibly strong, what would he be like in another five years, ten years?¡±

 

¡°You know Sakura became equally if not stronger than him,¡± remarked Yukito.

 

¡°I know,¡± replied Touya. ¡°Years ago, they just completely surpassed my estimation on how powerful they would become. And it scared me.¡±

 

¡°That Sakura no longer needed your protection or that Sakura herself didn¡¯t realize how strong she is?¡± asked Yukito.

 

¡°Both. But mostly that I could see a parallel in the increase of powers between Sakura and the Brat. When he was gone, Sakura¡¯s powers stayed stagnant. And when he returned, her powers surged again. And especially that summer we were in England, Sakura¡¯s aura became unbelievably brilliant while we were gone.¡±

 

¡°But now, he¡¯s gone, and he no longer has powers. And Sakura¡¯s powers have been unstable. I don¡¯t know if Clow Reed had foreseen this, but at this rate, the fight against the Dark Ones will become very difficult.¡± Yukito stacked up the neatly folded towels. Touya had a very roundabout way of admitting that Li Syaoran was an integral part of Sakura¡¯s life, and that without him, Sakura would never have developed.

 

¡°It¡¯s a fight I never wanted her to be involved in, in the first place,¡± remarked Touya.

 

¡°Touya, I think you should know,¡± began Yukito.

 

¡°Know what?¡±

 

¡°Li Syaoran is back.¡±

 

¡°What?¡± demanded Touya with a menacing scowl. ¡°You¡¯re joking, right?¡±

 

Yukito set aside the laundry and gazed into Touya¡¯s eyes. ¡°He¡¯s supposedly the one who stole the Sakura Cards from Sakura-chan.¡±

 

Touya jumped up to his feet, hands clenched into fists. ¡°I¡¯m going to kill him. Where is he?¡±

 

¡°Calm down, Touya. This is Sakura¡¯s battle against him. It is not your place to interfere. You said so yourself. That Sakura grows most when she is facing him,¡± said Yukito.

 

¡°I don¡¯t care if he saved Sakura¡¯s life back in February—if he makes her cry, I will break every bone in his body and throw him into the river,¡± said Touya through gritted teeth. ¡°I would make him regret ever setting foot in Japan again."

 

¡°Ah, this stressful situation is making me hungry again.¡± Yukito stood up with a forced smile. ¡°More pudding?¡±

 

¡°I will grind him up and make him into pudding,¡± Touya continued.

 

Yukito sighed. ¡°Maybe I¡¯ll heat up some pork buns as well.¡±

 

¡°Mince him up and make him into dumpling,¡± added Touya with a definitive punch.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Autumn in Japan was considerably chillier than Hong Kong. Li Syaoran had always taken attending school as part of his duty. That was until he transferred to Tomoeda Elementary. He never had friends at his school in Hong Kong. The only reason he had been enrolled in Tomoeda Elementary was because the new Card Captor was a student there; furthermore, the Clan had arranged for him to be enrolled in the same class as Kinomoto Sakura. There was no such thing as chance. But, perhaps it had been chance that he had been assigned to sit directly behind her.

 

¡°Stop following me around,¡± snapped Syaoran, turning around on the steps to the gleaming white Eitoukou building to face Jinyu who had been quietly tailing him. ¡°It wasn¡¯t my idea to attend this school. I don¡¯t know what Leiyun was thinking. Haven¡¯t I proved my loyalty? I¡¯ve stolen the Clow Cards, I go to school, I go back home straight after school and do my homework. Don¡¯t you have anything better to do than to follow a high schooler around?¡±

 

Jinyu, dressed in all black, looked up at him with eyes that matched the color of the changing ginko tree leaves. ¡°It was the Elders¡¯ orders for me to keep an eye on you. Don¡¯t mind me. Do as you please, and I won¡¯t get in your way.¡±

 

Scowling, Syaoran stomped off into the school.

 

 

 

Syaoran stared at his geometry textbook blankly, blocking out all the incessant chattering around him. Really, he thought the Seijou students had been loud enough, but if anything Eitoukou students who prided themselves as being the cream of the crop elite, were worse. He glanced out the window. Out of the corner of his eyes, he thought he saw a black figure disappear behind trees.

 

The classroom door opened and a tall man with cropped hair and wearing a pin-striped blue suit entered the classroom.

 

¡°Hello class—your math teacher took a maternity leave, therefore I will be your new math teacher for the rest of the semester,¡± announced teacher.

 

Syaoran looked up at the sound of the pleasantly familiar voice. His mouth dropped.

 

The new teacher wrote him name on the board and bowed to the class. ¡°Nice to meet you all. My name is Terada Yoshiyuki. Let us have a great semester together!¡±

 

During break, the girls were giggling among themselves. ¡°The new math teacher is rather handsome.¡±

 

¡°He looks so serious,¡± replied a girl with pigtails.

 

¡°I wonder if he¡¯s single?¡±

 

One of the girls, Hanamori Fuko, looked around and said, ¡°Didn¡¯t you hear rumors about Terada-sensei? I heard that he used to teach at Seijou.¡±

 

¡°Eh, that loser school,¡± said a boy with glasses. ¡°Why did he leave there?¡±

 

¡°I heard her had an affair with a student,¡± stated Fuko. ¡°And he got kicked out.¡±

 

¡°Eh? I thought Terada-sensei looked like the shy type—you never can tell by looking at a person!¡± squealed the girl with pigtails.

 

¡°How lecherous—with his student of all people. I hope the girl got punished for creating such a scandal,¡± said that the boy with glasses.

 

Unable to withhold himself, Syaoran slammed his book shut with a bam. Everyone looked up, startled. They had forgotten he was sitting there.

 

¡°What¡¯s wrong, Li-kun?¡± asked Fuko.

 

¡°Don¡¯t just assume things about people you don¡¯t know,¡± said Syaoran, sweeping up his book-bag and throwing it over his shoulder. He stormed out the classroom.

 

¡°Li-kun¡¯s so scary,¡± muttered another one of the girls.

 

¡°Where is he from again? Hong Kong?¡± asked the boy with glasses.

 

¡°I think he¡¯s awfully handsome though—or would be if he¡¯s not scowling all the time. Pity he¡¯s so antisocial,¡± said Fuko with a sigh.

 

¡°Where do you think he got his arm injury? Do you think he got into some fight?¡± asked her friend.

 

¡°Who knows¡¦ I think it¡¯s best not to get involved with him—he seems sort of dangerous. Hey guys, do you remember Tanaka-senpai?¡± Fuko stated.

 

¡°You mean the great Tanaka-sama?¡± asked the girl with pigtails; all of them had been at Eitoukou from elementary days.

 

¡°I heard he transferred to Seijou—my friend who goes there, Rei-chan, told me,¡± said Fuko.

 

¡°Really? Why did Tanaka-senpai transfer to that loser school? Wasn¡¯t he like really smart?¡± asked the boy with glasses. Similar to Seijou, Eitoukou had an escalator system and most students had been there since elementary. And those who were there all remembered the school¡¯s golden boy, archery champion Tanaka Mikai without doubt.


¡°Supposedly his sister goes to Seijou Junior High,¡± replied Fuko.

 

¡°Eh, he had a sister? I always wondered what happened to him after he left in the middle of sixth grade,¡± said the pigtailed girl.

 

¡°Humph, I heard he got expelled after he got caught having a relationship with this older girl,¡± whispered the boy with glasses.

 

¡°He didn¡¯t seem like that sort of type,¡± stated Fuko. ¡°I heard he got a scholarship to study abroad.¡±

 

The glasses girl stated, ¡°Really? I think he probably became a rebel and the boss of some underground organization—he was uber-smart, and had a great shooting range, you know; government officials were looking to recruit him and all. He probably wears a black leather jacket and has a regent hairstyle, and goes around on a motorcycle.¡±

 

The others glanced at each other after the last suggestion then burst out in laughter.

 

At this, Syaoran, still outside the class door, almost snickered. Then, he walked off in order to find a quiet place to study.

 

 

 

Syaoran found Terada-sensei sitting alone in the teacher¡¯s lounge.

 

¡°Li-kun¡¦ I didn¡¯t expect to see you in my class,¡± said Terada-sensei looking up from his schedule planner to his former best mathematics scholar.

 

¡°Same here, Terada-sensei,¡± replied Syaoran, narrowing his eyes. ¡°I wouldn¡¯t have expected you to come teach at Eitoukou.¡±


¡°Well, various circumstances lead to¡¦¡± Terada-sensei trailed off. ¡°I heard you defending me earlier. Thank you.¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s nothing,¡± muttered Syaoran. ¡°I don¡¯t care about your personal matters. I know you¡¯re a good teacher and that¡¯s what¡¯s important.¡±

 

¡°To the point as usual, aren¡¯t you, Li-kun?¡± Terada-sensei smiled sadly. ¡°We were very sad to lose you from our class last spring. I never thought I would have you as my student again though. But there must be a reason why I meet you here again at this place.¡±

 

¡°Perhaps, sensei,¡± replied Syaoran. Terada-sensei had always been his favorite teacher, and it was somewhat a relief to see a familiar face in this unfamiliar school.

 

Terada-sensei¡¯s face brightened. ¡°Li-kun, you were the captain of the soccer team back in junior high. I¡¯m actually the new soccer coach, and was recruiting members. I think you would be a great asset to the team.¡±

 

¡°I don¡¯t think I will be joining any clubs here,¡± said Syaoran. ¡°I mean, I have many other obligations and don¡¯t think I will have time for after school activities.¡±

 

¡°That¡¯s too bad,¡± Terada-sensei sighed. ¡°The Eitoukou team is decent overall, but our offense is still weak. The team could use a strong striker like you, especially in the game against Seijou next week. I won¡¯t be able to attend that match, so I¡¯m worried for the team.¡±

 

Syaoran glanced out the teacher¡¯s lounge window and replied absentmindedly, ¡°Maybe I can find some time to fit it into my schedule then.¡±

 

 

 

*****

 

 

 

¡°Hurry, Sakura-chan. We need to get changed for the soccer match,¡± said Chiharu, dragging Sakura along to the girls¡¯ locker room. Ever since Sakura had temped for the cheerleading team for the Eitoukou competition, she had somehow been assimilated into the squad.

 

Sakura adjusted the sky-blue uniform with white stripes and looked in the locker room mirror before walking out to catch up with her teammates. School and cheerleading took her mind off the immediate problems. She passed by the boy¡¯s locker room, where Eron-kun came out in the navy blue Seijou soccer uniform. His long blue-violet hair was loose, and he held a white band between his teeth as he bent over to tie his shoe laces.

 

¡°Eron-kun, when did you join the soccer team?¡± Sakura asked.

 

¡°Beginning of fall semester,¡± replied Eron. ¡°I needed to get back in shape after summer break.¡± He dropped his hair-tie as he spoke, and he picked it up and fumbled to tie his hair back in a tight ponytail.

 

¡°Ah, you missed a piece,¡± said Sakura, pointing to a loose piece of hair.

 

¡°I did?¡± Eron tried again to tie it, and the elastic of his tie snapped. ¡°Shoot.¡±

 

¡°Wait—¡° Sakura untied the sky-blue ribbon from her head then reached over to Eron¡¯s hair. ¡°May I?¡±

 

Eron nodded, awkwardly standing as Sakura stood behind him.

 

Carefully, Sakura gathered Eron¡¯s hair back and tied it tightly with the blue ribbon. ¡°There! All set.¡±

 

Eron shifted uncomfortably. ¡°T-thanks.¡±

 

¡°Do you have a game today?¡± Sakura asked.

 

¡°With Eitoukou,¡± replied Eron.

 

¡°Really? Then I¡¯ll be cheering for you.¡± Sakura smiled.

 

Quickly, Eron turned his head away from her so that she could not see him blushing.

 

 

 

¡°The Eitoukou students have arrived!¡± exclaimed Naoko. She peered at the large crowd seated on the bleachers around the soccer field. It was full house. ¡°This is going to be an exciting game! I heard that Eitoukou has the best-looking sports teams.¡±

 

¡°That doesn¡¯t change that they¡¯re stuck-up,¡± muttered Chiharu with a scowl—she was still bitter about losing in the cheerleading competition to them.  

 

¡°Sakura-chan looks so cute in her cheerleading uniform!¡± squealed Tomoyo with her camcorder queued.

 

¡°Hoe-e, Tomoyo-chan,¡± Sakura said, trying to hide behind her silver pompoms.

 

¡°Look, our team is out,¡± Rika exclaimed.

 

¡°Oh, Eron-kun looks so handsome in the soccer uniform. He really looks good in blue,¡± stated Naoko. She pushed her round glasses up her nose. ¡°Hey, isn¡¯t his hair tied with a cheerleader¡¯s ribbon? It¡¯s the same sky-blue color.¡±

 

¡°Sakura-chan, what happened to one of your ribbons?¡± asked Chiharu. Her pigtails were tied with matching sky-blue bows, in uniform with all the other cheerleaders.

 

¡°Hoe?¡± Sakura looked around. ¡°Oh, Yamazaki-kun is there—what position does he play?¡±

 

¡°The Eitoukou soccer team has entered the field,¡± Naoko said. ¡°They¡¯re so big!¡±

 

¡°They¡¯re not particularly good-looking, in my opinion,¡± asserted Chiharu. ¡°Let¡¯s go down to the field, Sakura. We¡¯re going to start our routine soon.¡±

 

¡°Oh, that boy there is cute. Number 13. The one with the dark brown hair,¡± Naoko pointed out.

 

The girls looked up. Sakura squinted.

 

¡°He looks awfully like Li-kun,¡± Rika remarked. Then she stammered, ¡°I mean, of course he¡¯s not in Japan but¡¦ Oh, we¡¯re not supposed to talk about him¡¦¡± She hid her face behind her hands and sat down on the bleachers.

 

Heedless, Sakura had already jumped down the rows of bleachers towards the field, and Chiharu followed after her.

 

Meilin pushed in between the girls and stared hard at the boy in the black and red uniform. ¡°That is Syaoran!¡± she exclaimed.

 

¡°Meilin-chan, you¡¯re here too?¡± Tomoyo asked.

 

¡°You guys have been avoiding me recently, and I was wondering why.¡± Meilin narrowed her eyes. ¡°You guys knew he was back!¡±

 

Tomoyo stared into Meilin¡¯s eyes. ¡°You honestly didn¡¯t know Syaoran-kun was in Japan?¡±

 

¡°Would I be sitting here like this had I known?¡± Meilin stared at the field. ¡°Why is he on the Eitoukou soccer team¡¦Wait, that means he¡¯s going to school there? When¡¦¡±

 

Ascertaining that Meilin¡¯s surprise was not an act, Tomoyo said, ¡°It seems as if Syaoran-kun is a part of the Li delegation in Japan. And he stole the Sakura Cards.¡±

 

¡°He did what?¡± Meilin turned around with widened amber-red eyes to Tomoyo. ¡°And you kept this all from me?¡±

 

¡°I¡¯m sorry. We didn¡¯t know if we could trust you,¡± replied Tomoyo. ¡°By the way, where is Kai-kun?¡±

 

¡°Strange. He was here with me a second ago¡¦¡± Meilin turned around at the excited crowd around them. Then she turned back to Tomoyo, appalled. ¡°He knew all about this and didn¡¯t tell me!¡±

 

 

 

It had been difficult to slip away from Meilin unnoticed, but stealth was his profession. Mizuki Kai managed to return into the building. There was only one chance to speak to Li Syaoran alone. He grabbed Li Syaoran by the shoulder as he came out of the locker room with the other Eitoukou students. ¡°What do you think you¡¯re doing here?¡± Kai demanded.

 

Syaoran peeled Kai¡¯s hand off his shoulder and turned around. ¡°Kai. Good to see you. I almost didn¡¯t recognize you in that get-up.¡± He indicated Kai¡¯s impeccably tied necktie and smoothly parted hair.

 

¡°I know you stole the Sakura Cards. How can you show your face here out of all places?¡± Kai frowned. ¡°What exactly is the Li Clan up to now?¡±

 

¡°Aren¡¯t you friends with Kara Reed?¡± Syaoran replied. ¡°She should keep you informed.¡±

 

¡°I thought you weren¡¯t going to show yourself. Meilin doesn¡¯t know you¡¯re back,¡± said Kai, ignoring Syaoran¡¯s snide comment.

 

¡°I¡¯m just here to play soccer,¡± said Syaoran staidly. ¡°Too bad it coincidentally happened to be at Seijou High. It really wasn¡¯t my choice. Besides, it¡¯s not exactly a secret I¡¯m back in Japan anymore.¡±

 

Kai narrowed his eyes. ¡°You mean to tell me, you¡¯re actually in the Eitoukou Soccer Team?¡±

 

¡°The game is starting soon. I¡¯ll talk to you later,¡± stated Syaoran, walking away. ¡°Also, you should let Meilin know that Leiyun wants her to come live with us at the Li mansion.¡±

 

¡°Why now all of a sudden?¡± demanded Kai. ¡°The Clan¡¯s never been concerned with her before.¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s not the Elders¡¯ request,¡± replied Syaoran. ¡°It¡¯s something that Leiyun would prefer, that¡¯s all.¡±

 

¡°And what about you?¡±

 

¡°She¡¯s our cousin. It doesn¡¯t make sense for her to be living alone in Japan when her relatives are here,¡± stated Syaoran.

 

Now, Kai stared at the person standing in front of him in disbelief. This was not the Syaoran he had seen in Hong Kong, nor the Syaoran back at Kumatori Mountains. There was a hard, impenetrable glean in his eyes, a look that Kai recognized better than anyone else. It was the look he himself had worn back in his early days as Kaitou Magician. ¡°Who are you?¡± Kai demanded to Syaoran. ¡°Just because Sakura has forgotten you doesn¡¯t mean you can do all this crap and get away with it. Eventually, when she regains her memory, she will be more scarred than you can imagine.¡±

 

Syaoran smiled crookedly. ¡°Well, let us just hope she never regains her memory then.¡± He walked away, to his teammates.

 

 

 

¡°Go, go, Seijou!¡± cried out the Seijou cheerleaders lined up on the sidelines in the sky-blue and white uniforms.

 

¡°Go, go, Eitoukou!¡± returned the Eitoukou cheerleaders from the opposite end in their flashy black and red uniforms. They waved gold and red pompoms in the air viciously.

 

¡°Sakura-chan, are you all right?¡± Chiharu whispered as she waved the blue and silver pompom in the air. ¡°You dropped your baton your head during our pre-game routine.¡±

 

¡°I¡¯ll probably get a small bruise tomorrow on my forehead tomorrow, as usual,¡± replied Sakura, unenthusiastically waving her pompom and kicking up her leg. Since they could not break their formation line, she could not slip away to talk to the Li boy. Besides, he was in the midst of the soccer tournament. It took all of her restraint to not hurdle her baton at his head during the game. She would just have to wait till halftime to speak to him. But she never took her eyes off of him.

 

Chiharu whispered in between the chant, ¡°I swear, Eitoukou¡¯s player 13 looks just like him. If I didn¡¯t know he was back in Hong Kong¡¦¡± She bit her lips, noticing the resentment in Sakura¡¯s eyes as she gazed at the soccer player with brown hair and the number 13 in red on his back.

 

What seemed like the longest 45 minutes passed for Sakura. She had to admit that number 13 was an excellent soccer player. He sprinted across the field faster than any other player and passed to his teammates with great precision. And he made two goals in the first half of the game—that was usually unheard of in a high school game. The first goal was a fabulous, clean shot straight into the top right-hand post of the goal. And the second goal was an unexpected header as three Seijou defense players all lunged towards him. She scowled. Well, he was a professionally trained martial artist probably, since he was a Li; she refused to be impressed. 

 

The score was 2:0. Now, it was Seijou¡¯s ball. Nobody had been more surprised than Eron to find Li Syaoran on the opponent team. What was more infuriating was that Syaoran showed no recognition of him. How could he disappear for half a year then show up again nonchalantly in a rival school¡¯s soccer team? Eron scared off the Eitoukou player blocking him with the dark aura he began to radiate as he fumed over his archenemy Li Syaoran. Meanwhile, Syaoran tackled and stole the ball from the Seijou team captain. Eron, though he was a striker, ran back into defense. Syaoran was posed to make another goal, but Eron expertly blocked.

 

¡°What are you doing back in Japan?¡± Eron hissed as soon as he was within earshot of Syaoran. ¡°And what the heck are you doing in that ridiculous Eitoukou uniform?¡±

 

¡°I would have enrolled in Seijou if I knew you missed me that much,¡± replied Syaoran, twirling around while dribbling the ball between his feet. ¡°Your skills have improved a bit, vice captain.¡±

 

From the sidelines, Sakura called out, ¡°Go Seijou! Go Eron-kun!¡±

 

¡°Go, go, Chang Eron!¡± echoed the other Seijou cheerleaders—everyone knew Eron by name since he was the bishounen of the team and possibly the prettiest Seijou male student.

 

¡°If your intention was to make Sakura hate you, you¡¯ve succeeded,¡± stated Eron, maneuvering his feet between Syaoran and the ball. ¡°Lucky that she lost her memory of you. You weren¡¯t even worth remembering I guess.¡± He managed to kick the ball away from Syaoran¡¯s feet.

 

¡°Good job, Chang!¡± called out their team captain, Watanabe. ¡°Now get back into formation!¡±

 

Eron ran back across the halfway line, unable to finish his conversation with Syaoran.

 

Yamazaki Takashi, a midfielder, was dribbling the ball across the field. Takashi and Eron were the only freshmen starters on the team. There was one minute left till halftime. An Eitoukou player was blocking Yamazaki-kun—if Seijou didn¡¯t marginalize the gap in scores before halftime, there was no way to catch up in the second half of the game.

 

¡°Go Yamazaki Takashi! Pass!¡± cried out Chiharu, desperately waving her pompom in her air.

 

Then, he made a long-distance shot across the field. Forty-five seconds left till halftime.

 

¡°No, there¡¯s no one to receive the pass!¡± groaned Chiharu.

 

But Eron shot across the field and made a long-distance shot that connected straight from Takashi¡¯s pass. The ball hissed in a corner of the opposite goal and then fell to the ground.

 

There was a roar from the bleachers. The whistle sounded the end of the first half of the game.

 

¡°Good job Chang!¡± cheered his teammates, mobbing him and clapping him on the back. But Eron looked up to the sidelines. Sakura had disappeared.

 

 

 

As soon as break time was announced, Sakura slipped away from the cheerleading squad.

 

¡°Sakura-chan, we need to do a routine during the break!¡± exclaimed Chiharu.

 

¡°I¡¯ll be right back,¡± said Sakura throwing down her pompoms.

 

Chiharu nodded understandingly.

 

Most of the Eitoukou students were huddled together with their captain discussing offense tactics—they didn¡¯t seem to have a coach, strange enough. Player number 13 was not amongst them. She looked around. There was a water fountain off the side of the field. He was bent over taking a drink. Evidently he was not friends with any of his teammates, who might have lent him a water bottle. It was as if he knew that she was approaching him. He wiped his mouth with his sleeves then slowly turned around to face her.

 

Sakura stood once more facing the amber-eyed young man, right hand buried in his black shorts pocket. His chestnut-brown hair was extra tousled by the wind, and his eyes were emotionless. In broad daylight, she realized he was only but her age. He had brown-black eyebrows slanted upwards which made him look like he was permanently angry. Even though he was wearing the black and red Eitoukou soccer uniform, he exuded an aura of smug superiority, same as he did when he was in his ceremonial Chinese robes. How dare he show his face here as if nothing was wrong? But he stared at her coolly without words.

 

In a civil tone, she began, ¡°My name is Kinomoto Sakura. I am a freshman at Seijou High.¡±

 

He raised an eyebrow. ¡°Eh?¡±

 

¡°That¡¯s how you properly greet a person,¡± replied Sakura. ¡°You don¡¯t go up to stranger and randomly take away personal possessions by brute force. It¡¯s considered rude in Japan and most places in the world.¡±

 

¡°I see,¡± was his calm response.

 

She bit her lips and her hands were balled into tight fists. ¡°Now, give it back to me!¡±

 

¡°Give what?¡± he replied. The corner of his lips twitched. ¡°The baton you dropped on your head?¡±

 

Her ears turned slightly red—he saw that? How could he joke in this situation? ¡°The Sakura Cards. They¡¯re mine!¡± she replied, louder.

 

¡°Well, they¡¯re the Li Clan¡¯s now.¡± He paused. ¡°Besides, you can barely use your powers properly. You¡¯re a failure as a Card Mistress.¡±

 

Sakura found herself trembling. It was not because she was wearing the short-skirted cheerleading outfit, either. She was trembling in pure fury. The words she most loathed to hear. To have this stranger tell her this¡¦ But she stared into his golden-amber eyes. ¡°I don¡¯t need to hear that from the likes of you. Why do you hate me so much?¡±

 

¡°I don¡¯t particularly hate you,¡± he replied. ¡°It¡¯s not my fault that you are a weak Card Mistress, chosen by Clow Reed or not.¡±

 

Now, Sakura was really furious. ¡°My powers are unstable right now because I¡¯m still adjusting to the power of the moon—but when my powers return back to normal, I¡¯ll show you¡¦but that doesn¡¯t matter.¡± Her eyes were blazing like emerald fire. ¡°It doesn¡¯t change how I loathe you. You have no right to criticize me. And I will get the Sakura Cards back. You wait and see.¡±

 

To her greater indignation, he laughed a short, sarcastic chuckle. ¡°You are welcome to try. Now, if you would excuse me, halftime is over.¡± He looked at her straight in the eye. ¡°By the way, my name is Li Syaoran, Chosen One candidate of the Li Clan from Hong Kong. Whether you choose to remember or forget my name is up to you.¡±

 

 

 

After halftime, neither team made anymore goals, and it was an uneventful forty-five minutes. The game ended with Eitoukou¡¯s victory, 2 to 1. But the new hero of the game was Eron, since it would have been humiliating for Seijou to not get a single goal on a home game.

 

¡°Good job, Eron-kun!¡± Sakura exclaimed, handing Eron a towel.

 

¡°T-thank you,¡± Eron said, wiping his brows. ¡°I¡¯m sorry we lost the game.¡±

 

¡°There¡¯s next time. Besides, you were marvelous. That goal you made was awesome!¡± Sakura said.

 

¡°I think your ribbon was a good luck charm,¡± said Eron, fingering the end of the sky-blue ribbon. ¡°Ah, I should give it back¡¦¡±

 

¡°No, keep it.¡± Sakura smiled. ¡°It can be your good luck charm.¡±

 

Eron smiled back. ¡°Then I will always treasure it.¡± He looked up. Syaoran was gone from the field. Though Eron had seen Sakura speaking to Syaoran during halftime, he had expected Sakura to go find Syaoran again. Instead, she seemed to have completely blocked out Li Syaoran¡¯s existence. What did they speak about? Syaoran had not been the same in the second half of the game, missing simple passes and not even attempting any shots at the goal. Granted, his right arm seemed to be giving him trouble ever since he collided into a big Seijou student who had knocked him to the ground. Perhaps he had a sports injury earlier. Or perhaps his arm never healed from the Plague¡¯s bite; but it was not Eron¡¯s business.

 

 

 

As soon as the game ended, Meilin escaped from the crowd of students smashed into the bleachers and ran out to the back building. Syaoran was already gone—how did she miss him? Instead, she spotted Kai in his sky-blue blazer unbuttoned, and his auburn hair blown back by the wind. For a second, she missed his bleached spiky hair and his black gangster get-up. At least he looked like the bad-guy then. When he looked like an ordinary model-student, she couldn¡¯t find the heart to scream at him. But she stomped up to him, arms akimbo.

 

¡°How could you not tell me that Syaoran was back?¡± Meilin lashed out.

 

¡°What makes you think I¡¯m not as surprised as the rest of you?¡± Kai returned coolly.

 

Meilin hated it when Kai pulled that patronizing tone on her, as if he was older and amusing an angry child. ¡°You knew. Of course you knew. You knew about the Li delegation in Japan and whatnot. You knew that Syaoran was back.¡±

 

¡°All right¡¦ I did know. I bumped into him at the school field trip at Kumatori Mountains,¡± stated Kai with a long sigh.

 

¡°You knew since back then, and you still kept silent? How could you?¡± Meilin¡¯s amber eyes flashed angrily.

 

¡°We weren¡¯t trying to deceive you or anything,¡± stated Kai. ¡°We were trying to protect you!¡±

 

¡°From what? My own family?¡± demanded Meilin, arms crossed.

 

¡°You know better than anyone how dangerous the Li Clan is. At least you, Syaoran wanted you to be kept out of the mess.¡±

 

¡°What, so an outsider thief can get involved with the dealings of the Clan, and I can¡¯t because I¡¯m merely talentless, powerless Li Meilin?¡± Meilin paused with a sigh. ¡°Why do I even try arguing with you?¡± She glared at the tall boy. ¡°I¡¯ve always known you to be a periodic liar. To think for a tiny second that I thought you might have changed.¡±

 

¡°Well, now you know better. I am an escapist liar, and I¡¯ll never change my ways.¡± Kai¡¯s eyes were flashing a stormy gray now. ¡°Obviously, you never trust anything I say. You never did—you always thought the worst of me.¡±

 

¡°I¡¯m sorry but I refuse to listen to another word you¡¯re saying,¡± stated Meilin. ¡°Now, just tell me where I can find Syaoran—is he living in the Li main house now?¡±

 

¡°You can¡¯t go to him,¡± said Kai.

 

¡°And why not?¡± Meilin demanded.

 

¡°He¡¯s with Leiyun and Jin—they guard his every move. You¡¯ll put him in an uncomfortable position.¡±

 

¡°Leiyun and Black Dragon Jinyu are here too?¡± Meilin paused. ¡°Leiyun¡¦ he really is back.¡±

 

¡°Who exactly is this Leiyun character?¡± Kai asked, a little calmer now because Meilin was no longer screaming at him.

 

¡°He¡¯s Syaoran¡¯s first cousin—the person he was closest to. Cousin Leiyun was Syaoran¡¯s mentor and friend. He was the father-figure to Syaoran after Uncle Ryuuren died.¡± said Meilin briefly. Once, she had told Sakura this too. Had Sakura already met Leiyun? ¡°After Leiyun died, Syaoran was never the same again.¡±

 

¡°But he came back,¡± said Kai.

 

¡°That¡¯s right¡¦ everyone believed him to be dead these seven years. We all loved him—he was kind to everyone, and we all admired him. He was a great loss to the Clan. And Syaoran¡¦ he was in so much pain.¡± Meilin¡¯s lashes were lowered. ¡°He must have been so relieved to find that Leiyun was alive after all.¡±

 

Kai reached out and stroked the end of Meilin¡¯s jet-black hair with a melancholy expression. ¡°You say that Leiyun¡¯s not a bad person. Perhaps, you might be better off with the protection of the Li¡¯s.¡±

 

Meilin grabbed Kai¡¯s wrist. His hands were cold. ¡°What are you saying?¡±

 

¡°You¡¯re a Li. They won¡¯t hurt you. Go to Syaoran¡¯s side—he¡¯s here now. He probably needs a friend at a time like this,¡± Kai said.

 

A frown came over Meilin¡¯s brows. ¡°How can you say something like that to me? Do you know why I¡¯m here in Japan in the first place? I came here with you. Because of you.¡±

 

¡°I know, but the circumstance has changed,¡± stated Kai. ¡°The Li¡¯s have the Clow. Li Jinyu and Syaoran by your side will offer you more protection.¡±

 

¡°Protection from what?¡± demanded Meilin. ¡°I can take care of myself, thank you. I will never betray Sakura. Syaoran betrayed all of us. He stole the Sakura Cards from her. I won¡¯t forgive him for that.¡±

 

¡°He¡¯s not a person to act without thinking,¡± said Kai somberly. ¡°In his position in the Clan, he probably had no choice.¡±

 

¡°Well, he had the choice to walk away, like I did. I want Sakura to know that she has at least one Li by her side.¡± Meilin added ruefully, ¡°Though I¡¯m probably the most useless one of the bunch.¡±

 

Kai smiled crookedly. ¡°Sakura has a good friend in you.¡± He mussed up his hair then slipped on his sunglasses. The periwinkle studs in his ears gleamed in the afternoon sunlight. Taking off his tie, he stuffed it in his blazer pocket.

 

¡°Where are you going? Don¡¯t you have archery practice?¡± Meilin asked.

 

¡°Starting from this semester, I¡¯ve been appointed the captain of the archery club—so I can cancel meetings whenever I want,¡± said Kai with a careless little wave.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Akagi Aki had grown accustomed to eating dinner alone in the large dining hall every night. His brother lived in a penthouse apartment in Tokyo and his older sister was often away shooting her films or promoting her new movies. She had an apartment in Tokyo also, but she visited home once in a while, especially when their neighbor Tamemura Asuma was back from his racing competitions. Most days of the night, his parents had business dinners and when they did have dinner at home, it was later on in the evening. Aki preferred not eating under the stifling presence of his strict, conservative father who would look at him with a stern eye and remark, ¡°Tomoaki-san, what is wrong with your hair color?¡± or ¡°Tomoaki-san, Tomohisa-san was at the head of his class at Eitoukou when he was your age¡± or ¡°Both Tomohisa-san and Arima-san had excellent horsemanship—it is a pity you are so uncouth on a horse.¡± He would then state, ¡°Tomoaki-san, I am a self-made man. I worked hard to get where I am now. If I had at your age half the opportunities you do¡¦¡±

 

¡°What¡¯s wrong, Aki?¡± Arima asked her younger brother who was reading the newspaper while picking at his sirloin steak. It was rare that she joined him for dinner—she¡¯d been away on her movie set since summer. ¡°You look glum. Did you get dumped again?¡±

 

¡°No, why would I get dumped?¡± demanded Aki, setting aside the newspaper.

 

¡°So, how is Tomoyo-chan?¡± Arima tilted her head with a mischievous smile.

 

¡°W-why are you asking me about her?¡± Aki stuttered, ears reddening.

 

Tossing back her golden waves, Arima replied, ¡°Come on, it¡¯s so obvious you are completely smitten with her.¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s unlike you to be concerned about my matters,¡± said Aki gloomily. He pierced the sirloin steak with his fork and began sawing away at it with his knife.

 

¡°I just don¡¯t want you to end up like Asuma and me.¡± Arima sipped her foamy milk tea—she was only having salad for dinner. ¡°We spent so many years fighting and misunderstanding. Because we were both too proud to admit that we loved each other.¡± 

 

Aki looked up from his plate. ¡°How is Asuma-san doing?¡±

 

¡°Practicing hard for the Tokyo Cup,¡± replied Arima. ¡°I don¡¯t know. I haven¡¯t spoken to him for three weeks.¡±

 

¡°Why not?¡± Aki asked. Arima pointed to the entertainment section of the newspaper on the table. Reaching out, Aki scanned the page. ¡°This is old gossip. They¡¯ve linked your name with Himura Takuya before.¡± Aki peered at his older sister. ¡°Unless¡¦ the rumors are true? This is your third project with him, and you used to have a crush on him in high school.¡±

 

Arima buried her head in her hands. ¡°Even my own brother suspects me! I love Asuma, I would never be unfaithful to him.¡±

 

¡°I know that, and Asuma-san knows it too. You never mind celebrity gossip before, anyway.¡± Aki crumpled up the papers. ¡°No need for you to now.¡±

 

¡°I know. But it just gets worse and worse.¡± Arima pouted. ¡°It¡¯s so hard not being able to see him, even when we¡¯re so near by. I haven¡¯t seen him since this summer; and we weren¡¯t even able to go to Hawaii like we planned.¡±

 

¡°Well, unless one of you quits either acting or horse racing, it¡¯ll continue to be like this,¡± replied Aki. ¡°Both of you two are so ambitious, no wonder you have no time to see each other. But these are the important years in both your careers. Since neither of you are willing to compromise, you can only trust each other and continue doing long distance. I mean, it¡¯s not even like we live in the olden days when it took a month for letters to reach you. You¡¯re just a phone call away¡±

 

With a giggle, Arima looked at her younger brother fondly. ¡°When did you become so wise in the matters of love, little brother? It must be Tomoyo-chan¡¯s influence.¡±

 

Aki frowned. ¡°Actually, the journalism club is understaffed, so I¡¯m stuck writing the love advice column, ¡®Ask Akiko-chan.¡¯¡±

 

¡°I guess you should follow your own advice, then,¡± said Arima with a gentle smile. ¡°Follow your heart, Aki, and I¡¯m sure Tomoyo will accept what a wonderful boy you are. Albeit you are vain, selfish and egocentric.¡± She giggled. ¡°You¡¯ve come a long way though, Akiko-chan!¡± She patted him on the head.

 

¡°Don¡¯t do that—I¡¯m not a kid anymore,¡± said Aki, brushing away her head.

 

¡°You¡¯ll always be my cute, pudgy little Tomoaki-chan,¡± replied Arima. Her eyes softened. ¡°You know, Aki, I¡¯ll always be grateful to you. It¡¯s so long ago—you were but an elementary kid then. But do you remember when I first said I would go into acting?¡±

 

¡°Vaguely,¡± muttered Aki.

 

¡°Father threw a big fuss and threatened to disown me. He said onii-sama was in Tokyo University and had been scouted by the government. And that I had a promising future as a racer, that I knew everything there is to take over the business. At that moment, though I loved horseracing, I wanted to leave it. Because I didn¡¯t want to follow the path that my parents had lined up for me.¡± Arima paused, then smiled a little. ¡°Otou-sama threatened to disown me, and I had packed my bags, stating I was going to leave the house. Then you showed. You were only ten or eleven. And you said that you would take over the family business, that you would learn everything about horseracing, so ¡®let Arima-nee-chan do what she wants to do.¡¯ Otou-sama finally relented and let me pursue acting. I was always so grateful to you. And I felt guilty, because it seemed as if you sacrificed your future for my selfishness.¡±

 

¡°I didn¡¯t sacrifice anything,¡± said Aki. ¡°It was my choice. Back in elementary, there was this upperclassman I used to look up to. He was popular, a sports champion and a top-scholar.¡±

 

¡°Sounds a bit like Asuma,¡± remarked Arima with a chuckle.

 

¡°But what I admired most about him was his dedication to protecting his little sister. I¡¯m the youngest child, but I have a big sister who¡¯s a bit of a baby anyway.¡± Aki smiled. ¡°I think back then, I thought I wanted to protect my sister¡¯s dream and see how far she can go.¡±

 

Arima turned misty eyed and squeezed Aki into a tight hug. ¡°That is so sweet, Aki-chan!¡±

 

¡°Hey, I don¡¯t do mushy stuff anymore—I¡¯m sixteen!¡± he protested against her arms.

 

When Arima finally released him, she asked, ¡°So, do you know what happened to this role-model of yours?¡±

 

A secretive smile came to his lips. ¡°He still loves his sister very much—but she¡¯s big enough now and doesn¡¯t need protection anymore.¡±

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Aki walked up to Tomoyo¡¯s desk the next day. Everybody turned towards the back of the classroom.

 

¡°T-Tomoyo-chan, can I see you on the rooftop please?¡± Aki burst out.

 

¡°S-sure,¡± replied Tomoyo, glancing at Sakura. This was the first time Aki had spoken to her since the day that Sakura had sealed the Pride—because for appearance of Li Leiyun and Syaoran stealing the Sakura Cards, they had all temporarily forgotten about Aki for the time being. She doubted Aki had any recollection of what had occurred under the influence of the Age, but she never could be sure.  

 

Tomoyo timidly followed Aki out the classroom, helplessly turning to Sakura.

 

¡°Oh my gosh, Aki-kun is going to confess to Tomoyo-chan,¡± Naoko exclaimed, as soon as the pair left the room.

 

¡°Aki-kun must really like Tomoyo-chan,¡± Rika murmured.

 

¡°Of course—it¡¯s so obvious,¡± returned Naoko.

 

¡°They say confessions made on top of the Seijou rooftop are doomed because of the ghost of the rejected lover haunting it,¡± stated Yamazaki Takashi.

 

¡°Where are you going Naoko-chan?¡± Chiharu asked, as Naoko inched towards the door.

 

¡°To watch—aren¡¯t you interested?¡± Naoko said.

 

¡°You can¡¯t watch them—it¡¯s a private moment for them,¡± said Sakura.

 

¡°Aren¡¯t you in the least bit curious, Sakura-chan?¡± Naoko asked. She glanced over her shoulder to see what Eriol thought of all this. Eriol was calming reading a book.

 

Meilin remarked, ¡°Actually, I really wonder how Tomoyo-chan would respond to Aki-kun—they¡¯re the completely opposite of each other.¡±

 

 

 

It was particularly breezy on the rooftop, and Tomoyo shuffled uncomfortably as Aki turned around to face her.

 

¡°T-Tomoyo-chan. I-I really like you. I have ever since last Christmas. Would you go out with me?¡± Aki blurted out.

 

Tomoyo remained silent. Finally, she said, ¡°Aki-kun, thank you for your feelings. I really appreciate them. But¡¦¡±

 

¡°No, I don¡¯t want to hear the rest,¡± Aki blurted out, shoving his hands into his pocket. ¡°I figured. You¡¯re too good for someone like me, I know. But I have a confrontational personality. I need to hear a clear answer in order to give up on you and move on.¡±

 

¡°I¡¯m sorry,¡± said Tomoyo quietly. ¡°You¡¯re a really good person.¡±

 

¡°I know,¡± replied Aki. ¡°You won¡¯t find anyone as cool as me at Seijou.¡±

 

This brought a smile to Tomoyo¡¯s lips. ¡°This was my first real confession. I¡¯m sad I couldn¡¯t videotape it.¡±

 

Aki¡¯s mouth dropped. ¡°That¡¯s pure evil—capturing such a humiliating moment for me!¡± Then he tilted his head. ¡°I can¡¯t possibly be the first to confess to you? You¡¯re so beautiful and popular.¡±

 

¡°I think people are a little intimidated by me?¡± Tomoyo shrugged.

 

¡°Can I ask you again? Do you have someone else you like, Tomoyo-san?¡± Aki asked. He saw the shadow over Tomoyo¡¯s eyes. ¡°It¡¯s Hiiragizawa-kun, isn¡¯t it?¡±

 

Tomoyo looked up with a sad smile. Her long violet hair whipped back in the wind.

 

Poor Aki¡¯s heart skipped another beat. Undoubtedly, Tomoyo was the most beautiful creature in the entire world. But he couldn¡¯t help thinking she was a little bit evil and mischievous too. Perhaps she was best suited with someone deep and mysterious like Hiiragizawa Eriol.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Tanaka Miho was surprised to find her former editor-in-chief walk into the Seijou Junior High journalism club room. ¡°Aki-senpai, what are you doing here?¡± she saved her article and looked up.

 

¡°I heard you were looking for me the other day,¡± said Aki. ¡°Something about club budgets from the school finance committee.¡±

 

¡°Oh, right.¡± Miho tilted her head. ¡°By the way, have you resolved things with onii—I mean, Mizuki-senpai?¡±

 

¡°Yeah.¡± Aki smiled ruefully. ¡°I realized that my problem was not with him, but myself.¡±

 

¡°What do you mean?¡± asked Miho.

 

¡°Mizuki-kun has never done anything wrong to me. I picked on him back in junior high because I looked down on him. I judged him based on his looks because he looked like a delinquent,¡± said Aki.

 

¡°I don¡¯t really care what your relationship with him is, so you don¡¯t have to report it to me,¡± Miho said flatly.

 

¡°I don¡¯t really know what¡¯s going on between you and your brother,¡± stated Aki. ¡°And as an outsider, it¡¯s not really my place to comment. But as an outsider, there is one thing I do know. Back in elementary school, I was always envious of you and your brother¡¯s relationship. I wasn¡¯t really close with my siblings.¡±

 

¡°I thought you and Arima-san are close,¡± Miho remarked.

 

¡°Now we are,¡± replied Aki. ¡°Though we barely see each other with her busy schedule. But back then, we attended different schools. She was always busy with horseback racing, and my oldest brother is a genius, and I was terrified of him. I saw myself as the failure of the family. When I was being bullied at school, I had no one to turn to. I hated going to school. I hated facing my classmates.¡±

 

¡°You¡¯re so outgoing and popular now. It¡¯s hard to imagine,¡± stated Miho. ¡°What made you change?¡±

 

¡°Tanaka-senpai.¡±

 

¡°My brother?¡±

 

Aki nodded. ¡°Back when I was a nobody, when I felt invisible in that school, he once told me he enjoyed the sports articles I wrote. He said he could tell how much I loved basketball and told me to keep practicing and someday, I would become so good people who think I¡¯m a natural talent.¡±

 

Miho couldn¡¯t help smiling. ¡°Sounds like something onii-chan would say.¡±

 

A frown came over Aki¡¯s usually smiling face. ¡°So I understand better than anyone else why you are mad at Mizuki Kai. Because I¡¯m someone who once knew Tanaka Mikai. Mizuki Kai stands for everything Tanaka Mikai was against. Mizuki Kai is a tarnish upon the person we once considered our hero.¡±

 

¡°I guess you can put it that way,¡± remarked Miho. She paused; she no longer remembered why she was so angry at her brother, only that she would never forgive him.

 

¡°But nonetheless, whatever blunders he has made, whatever wrongs he has done to you, Mizuki Kai clearly loves you and wants forgiveness,¡± said Aki. ¡°Isn¡¯t it about time to set aside your pride and let him back into your heart?¡±

 

For a while, Miho stared at Aki hard. ¡°I really don¡¯t remember seeing you back in primary school.¡±

 

¡°You probably won¡¯t.¡± Aki smiled. ¡°So, do you want to discuss about the journalism club budget allocation?¡±

 

 

 

*******

 

 

 

¡°Good job on your projects—some were quite remarkably done,¡± stated the art teacher. ¡°They will be on display in the classroom, so please go around during break time and look at everyone¡¯s wonderful projects.

 

Sakura¡¯s collage was instantly popular, mainly because her family consisted of gorgeous people.

 

¡°Your mother was so beautiful,¡± gushed Chiharu, staring at the magazine clips of Nadeshiko¡¯s model shoots. ¡°I didn¡¯t know how much Sakura resembles her.¡±

 

¡°And your brother was so dreamy,¡± added Naoko. There was a clip of Touya making a goal for a Seijou soccer match—Yukito was also on the team. 

 

Tomoyo stared at a family picture of Kinomoto Fujitaka, young Touya, age seven, and Nadeshiko holding an infant Sakura to her arms—it was one of the rare family portraits. Fujitaka rarely liked being photographed and took numerous photos of his wife and children, but mostly avoided being in the pictures himself. Sakura had also included a rather recent photo of their ojii-san, Sonomi and Tomoyo herself—Kero-chan made a cameo in guise of a stuffed animal. At this, Tomoyo smiled. Ever since the Eitoukou and Seijou soccer match, Sakura had seemed to have regained some of her spirits.

 

Another piece that caused a sensation was Eriol¡¯s sketch. It was a portrait done in charcoal of himself, Miho holding Suppi-chan in her arms, Nakuru and Miara.

 

¡°Does Eriol-kun not have parents?¡± asked Chiharu quietly to Tomoyo.

 

¡°Hmmm?¡± Tomoyo turned around and stared at Eriol¡¯s family portrait. She smiled wistfully—he had captured Miho¡¯s spirit, Nakuru¡¯s mischief, Miara¡¯s poise and Suppi-chan¡¯s nonchalance in a simple black and white portrait. ¡°I¡¯m not sure—but this family means everything to him now.¡±

 

¡°What a weird family,¡± remarked Naoko. ¡°Is he even blood-related to anyone of them? I remember Nakuru-senpai—she sort of resembles Miho-chan and her mother. You said Miho-chan is cousins with our Mizuki-sensei, right? The three of them all look like sisters in that portrait. Is Eriol-kun related to the Mizuki side or the Tanaka side?¡±

 

¡°I don¡¯t think he¡¯s related at all to either side,¡± replied Sakura, wondering what Tomoyo was staring so intently at.

 

¡°Eh? That¡¯s strange—I always figured they had some sort of blood connection. Did Miho¡¯s mother adopt Eriol-kun then? His surname is Hiiragizawa, now that I think of it,¡± asked Naoko.

 

¡°Not exactly,¡± Sakura said slowly. It was rather the opposite. Eriol had adopted Miho and Miara. ¡°Tomoyo-chan, what are you looking for?¡±

 

¡°Found it,¡± said Tomoyo.

 

¡°Found what?¡± asked Sakura.

 

¡°Ghosts of the past,¡± replied Tomoyo mysteriously.

 

¡°Eriol-kun, your portraits so good—why didn¡¯t you color it?¡± asked Sakura, turning to Eriol who had crept up beside them.

 

¡°Coloring is not my forte—I can merely sketch a little bit with pencil, but that¡¯s my limit,¡± replied Eriol.

 

¡°That¡¯s right—Eriol-kun¡¯s sketches were always good,¡± stated Sakura.

 

¡°So, I¡¯m interested in what you discovered, Tomoyo-san,¡± continued Eriol.

 

¡°Shulin-sama and Landon-sama,¡± replied Tomoyo, pointing at the backdrop of the portrait, which was based of the Reed parlor. ¡°Behind, the paintings on the wall. There is a miniature portrait of Shulin-sama and Landon Reed-sama. It¡¯s them, right?¡±

 

¡°Very observant,¡± replied Eriol. ¡°They¡¯re so small, I didn¡¯t think anyone would notice.¡±

 

¡°Why did you add them in then?¡± asked Tomoyo.

 

¡°I was merely painting the parlor—and there happened to be a portrait of them hanging there,¡± replied Eriol slowly.

 

¡°There isn¡¯t any portrait of them in the parlor,¡± Tomoyo pointed.

 

¡°You¡¯re right,¡± said Eriol, almost looking surprised for a second. ¡°There used to be one. But Clow Reed took it down long ago.¡±

 

A sudden revelation came over Sakura as she glanced between the portrait and Eriol. ¡°Eriol-kun, you didn¡¯t draw that portrait, did you?¡±

 

¡°What do you mean?¡± asked Tomoyo, turning to her friend. ¡°Who else would¡¦¡±

 

¡°Well¡¦¡± replied Eriol with a wry smile. ¡°I cheated this round because I was occupied with other things. You¡¯re right, Sakura-san, I didn¡¯t draw this portrait—Clow Reed did. It was on one of his last days, after had sealed away Yue and Cerberus. He was feeling lonely and worn. But he suddenly had a vision of the family he would one day have. And it gave him peace at heart. This was the sketch he drew then.¡± He turned to Sakura curiously. ¡°How did you know it was not my drawing?¡±

 

¡°Your parlor doesn¡¯t look like that anymore—Miho-chan and Miara-san rearranged all the furniture. But I¡¯ve been to Clow¡¯s house before with the Return—it¡¯s what I recall it to look like,¡± replied Sakura. And suddenly, she came to a revelation, staring at the blurred faces of Li Shulin and Lord Landon Reed in the background. ¡°Eriol-kun.¡±

 

¡°Yes?¡± Eriol¡¯s glasses glimmered.

 

¡°Clow Reed didn¡¯t hate Shulin-sama and Landon-sama, did he?¡± Sakura looked up at Eriol. ¡°He wanted to be loved by his parents and perhaps he was bitter that they neglected him. He was lonely. Clow-san never married and had children. But to him, his Cards were his family, and he loved them like his children.¡±

 

¡°I guess you can put it that way,¡± Eriol said slowly. ¡°The Li Clan is a close-knit entity in itself. The Elders always expected to succeed the Clow Cards, the greatest single body of powers in existence in the East and West. Clow waited for a long time to find a successor to the Cards, because in the wrong hands the Clow Cards had potential for great destruction. The Li Clan was always hungry for power. And the Reeds were a noble family which ran into financial crisis in the generations after Landon Reed. The Reeds were fixated on wealth and reputation. Clow decided that rather than let the Cards become corrupted by either families, he would hide it and let the rightful successor discover it. And she did. There is no one who could have loved the Cards like you do, Sakura-san.¡±

 

Sakura¡¯s eyes became glossy. ¡°I¡¯m not the most powerful person, and I¡¯ve made so many mistakes as Card Mistress. But I am confident in one thing, and that is my love for the Cards. I swear I will get them back.¡±

 

At this, Eriol smiled warmly. ¡°That¡¯s what Clow would have wanted to hear.¡±

 

Tomoyo patted Sakura on the back. ¡°We¡¯ll get the Sakura Cards back, Sakura-chan. You are the one and only Card Captor Sakura, after all!¡±

 

Eron looked over and smiled slightly. Sakura looked slightly cheered up. Syaoran was back, but Sakura didn¡¯t remember him. Furthermore, he had betrayed Sakura. He had clearly chosen the Clan over Sakura. Syaoran, you gave her up. Now, I have no hesitation.

 

Perhaps Erika¡¯s family portrait was most surprising to the class. It was a candid shot of Eron and Erika walking through Central Park in New York City. They were both smiling brightly for a change as snow drifted down.

 

Eron raised any eyebrow, ¡°When was this picture taken?¡±

 

¡°Last winter, in New York. Mike-san took it when we weren¡¯t looking, I guess. I asked him to print a copy for me.¡± Erika scowled. ¡°What? You expected me to waste time on this project or something?¡±

 

¡°No.¡± Eron smiled gently, looking at the title. ¡°My Brother and Me.¡± If their mother and Uncle Reiji had been alive, they could have been a very happy family, perhaps. But, he and Erika had managed fine alone all this while. One day, maybe one far off day, Erika would marry and have children of her own. Then, he could be the cool Uncle Eron, and he would be able to bring his nephews and nieces many presents.

 

¡°That¡¯s a nice drawing,¡± Sakura commented wryly, staring up at Eron¡¯s project. ¡°After I spent all that time looking up pictures in the yearbook for you.¡± Eron¡¯s poster board consisted of stick figures. There was a long-haired girl stick figure in between two identical boy stick figures. Then, there were two smaller stick-figures, one with a ponytail and one with curly hair and a ribbon. ¡°Which of the girls is you?¡±

 

Eron made a face. ¡°Ha ha, very funny. I suck at drawing.¡±

 

¡°Eron-kun?¡± Sakura spun around, hands folded behind her back. She suddenly recalled the words in her mother¡¯s letters. When all else fails you, Sakura, trust your heart. And trust the ones that have always been by your side. Eron¡¯s side-profile was probably his best angle, because you could see the prominent line of his nose and his chin—like a classical sculpture. He was wearing the blue ribbon in his hair again today.

 

¡°What are you staring at me like that?¡± Eron shifted uncomfortably.

 

¡°I never got to say it. Thank you for cheering me up last time. I get the feeling, you¡¯ve become a person I really depend on these days,¡± Sakura said. ¡°I want you to know, I¡¯m always grateful to you.¡±

 

¡°Well, if you¡¯re so grateful, do you want to go watch that new Akagi Arima movie with me this Sunday?¡± asked Eron, holding his breath—he knew he was being bold. ¡°I mean, you mentioned you wanted to watch it, and if you¡¯re not busy, which you might be¡¦¡± Now be was blabbering—something he never did.

 

¡°All right.¡± As simple as that. She smiled. ¡°This is the second time you asked me to the movies. I think not too long after you transferred to Tomoeda, you asked me once.¡±

 

¡°Yeah.¡± Eron grimaced. It had not been a successful date with Tomoyo and Syaoran insisting upon spying upon them the entire time.

 

The school bell rang and class was dismissed. ¡°Well, see you tomorrow, Eron-kun!¡± Sakura said, waving and running to catch up with her friends.

 

Long after the art room was empty, Eron slipped his hands to his pocket and stared at Sakura¡¯s collage. Sakura as a kid was undeniably adorable. Her mother was lovely as well, with masses of violet curls that floated around her—she embodied sort of what he had imagined an angel to look like as a child. ¡°Do you think I am just a replacement for Li Syaoran?¡±

 

¡°You¡¯ve earned your trust from her the hard way,¡± replied a high voice. ¡°Don¡¯t do anything to lose it, and you¡¯ll be fine.¡±

 

¡°But if she hadn¡¯t forgotten his existence, then there would have been no room for me at all,¡± Eron replied. He stared out the window. It had begun to drizzle outside. ¡°No matter what, I can¡¯t let her remember him.¡±

 

 

 

Miho opened up her yellow umbrella as she left the school building as raindrops began to fall from the sky. She walked past the Seijou High building, glancing at the gateway. Kai stood outside, hands in pocket, hair plastered on face from the rain. He didn¡¯t even have on a jacket. She was about to walk past, then she glanced back again. ¡°Mizuki-senpai!¡±

 

Kai looked up, startled. A pale, heart-shaped faced peaked out from under a yellow and white polka-dotted umbrella.

 

¡°What are you standing around there for, getting wet?¡± she called out.

 

¡°Waiting for Meilin-chan,¡± he replied, squinting as the raindrops fell harder.

 

For a second, Miho fuddled in her backpack and produced an extra foldable umbrella she had forgotten to bring home from school after the last time it rained. ¡°Here.¡± She threw the foldable umbrella at Kai, who caught it with one hand, startled. She cleared her throat and stated, ¡°Stupid, you can¡¯t wait for a girl when it¡¯s raining outside without an umbrella!¡± Blushing red, she turned and ran off.

 

Kai watched her fade into a yellow streak bobbing down the street. Then, with a wistful smile, he unfolded the umbrella and put it over his head, staring up at the duck pattern.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

It started pouring as Sakura got off the bus. She ran under an awning, hugging her thin white jacket over her uniform. Hopefully it was just a passing shower. It had surprised her when Eron had asked her out. Was it a date? No, it was normal for two friends to go to the movies together. But did guys and girls go the movie alone together when they weren¡¯t dating? But she didn¡¯t like Eron—not in that way. Sure, he claimed he was no longer affiliated with the Dark Ones. But he had once been her enemy. Perhaps that didn¡¯t matter—lately, whenever she felt down, it seemed to always be Eron by her side. She still remembered her mother¡¯s words. ¡°When all else fails you, Sakura, trust your heart. And trust the ones that have always been by your side.¡±

 

Squinting at the sky, Sakura let out a long sigh. It was such a heavy rainfall that it didn¡¯t seem like it would end soon. Maybe she should ask her brother to ask her to come pick him up—no he was at work. She couldn¡¯t bother him. She could run all the way home, she supposed. But she was wearing a jacket that Tomoyo had given her and didn¡¯t want to ruin it. Shivering as raindrops splattered on her bare legs as people splashed by, she watched the crowds rushing past, unfolding their umbrellas and hurrying past. Ah, she couldn¡¯t stand here all day. Holding her bookbag over her head, she braced herself and stepped out into the rain. But instead of wetness a shadow covered her head, and she heard the pitter-pat of raindrops above her. She looked up to see a green umbrella covering her head. ¡°Hoe!¡± Who? She turned around to see who was standing behind her, but the person thrust the handle of the umbrella into her hand and stepped away, shielding his face from her. Quickly, she swerved around but could only glimpse a boy pull a hood over his head and run off in the other direction, mud splattering up from his feet. The only evidence that he was there was the warmth on the wood handle of the umbrella and the ripple of waves following his footprints in the silver sheen of water on the pavement.

 

She stood on the sidewalk, umbrella in hand, staring down the misty street long after he disappeared from sight. What is this familiar feeling? That¡¯s right¡¦ It was last year in the summertime¡¦ I got off the bus stop and it was late afternoon. Cheerleading practiced had ended and I was¡¦ and I was on my way home. No¡¦ It was a different bus stop. Why did I get off there? It was pouring rain when I got off, and I stood underneath a flower shop awning. I remember because it smelled like wet daisies. I wanted to call onii-chan, but onii-chan was in England. And otou-san was at the seminar¡¦ That¡¯s right. They were all gone for a semester last year. I was lonely while they were gone. The house seemed so big and empty, and even my room seemed unfamiliar without Kero-chan around. It must have been a very lonely summer.

 

Ah—No, I remember. I wasn¡¯t lonely. There was something else¡¦ It¡¯s this same warm, fuzzy feeling I have right now. And that day, I stood there when a green umbrella covered my head. I turned around to see someone. Who was it? Why can¡¯t I see his face?

 

Unable to recall anymore, Sakura headed back home, twirling the green umbrella and humming a familiar little tune. Oh well¡¦ Something to ponder about on another rainy day.

 

¡°You seem in a good mood, Sakura-san,¡± Fujitaka commented when Sakura came home, shaking the water off the umbrella at the front door.

 

¡°Ah, kaijou¡¯s back. I can hear Sakura all the way from upstairs,¡± her brother commented, coming down the stairs with a wet towel on his shoulders. ¡°I haven¡¯t been home in two weeks and my little sister is not even waiting for me.¡± He saw Sakura carry a green umbrella indoors and put it in the umbrella rack. ¡°Where did you get that umbrella, Sakura? It doesn¡¯t look like ours.¡±

 

¡°Huh?¡± Sakura blinked. Leave it to her brother¡¯s acute attentiveness. ¡°Someone lent it to me.¡±

 

¡°Well, you have to return it to that person before the next time it rains,¡± Fujitaka remarked, starting up the oven to heat up dinner. It was rare that the family was all gathered for a meal.

 

¡°Ah¡¦ I don¡¯t know who lent it to me,¡± Sakura said remorsefully. ¡°I wanted to thank the person too.¡±

 

Touya narrowed his eyes at the green umbrella.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Syaoran crept into the Li Mansion, newly renovated and refurnished since they first moved in a little less than a month ago. In his eyes, the new carpet, curtains and furniture seemed garish and overly ornate. On the bright side, the mansion, though a tenth of the size of the Li main house back in Hong Kong, was still spacious enough that the entire east wing of the second floor was his private space. He kicked off his soggy converse sneakers and tiptoed inside. Perhaps he could sneak up to his room before anyone noticed.

 

¡°You¡¯re late. Jinyu said you skipped soccer practice today. Where did you go?¡± asked Leiyun, taking a glance up from the living room couch as he read a book.

 

Syaoran stood shivering as he lowered his hood. Water dripped from his hair onto the marble tiled floor.


¡°You¡¯re soaking wet,¡± remarked Leiyun. ¡°Didn¡¯t you carry an umbrella to school this morning?¡±

 

¡°I left it at school,¡± muttered Syaoran, inching towards the stairwell.

 

¡°Go dry up—Wei, please take care of the puddle on the floor,¡± said Leiyun, returning to reading his book.

 

Wei did not meet Syaoran¡¯s eyes as he mopped up the floor.

 

Thankful that Leiyun did not question him any further, Syaoran hurried upstairs and entered into the shower stall after taking off his wet clothes—even his uniform underneath his jacket had been drenched. He was chilled to the bone. Carefully, with his left hand, he turned on the faucet. Steaming hot water spewed out of the showerhead. Warmth flowed through his body again.

 

Seeing Sakura standing underneath the awning today reminded him of a certain rainy day. He shut his eyes, recalling of the summer so blissful that it seemed like a far off dream.

 

More than a year had passed since the Sakura and Syaoran had grown completely reliant on each other during the months of cohabitation. Those long summer days were days full of carefree laughter and many quiet glances and timid first-times. For the first time in his life, Syaoran felt closer to another human being than he had ever before. Those were the days when all in life was chaos and within that chaos was a newfound sense of order. Those were also the days when the two were almost always near-tardy for school. Syaoran blamed it on the fact that Sakura took too long to use the shower while Sakura blamed Syaoran for taking too long to finish his daily morning martial arts training routine. Usually they left together, but once in a while one or the other had classroom duties and had to leave early, or sometimes Syaoran had morning soccer practice. Those were the days where they squabbled over petty little things like who should do the dishes or take Wolfie-chan on a walk.

 

A few days ago at the soccer game at Seijou High, Sakura had told him that she loathed him. Syaoran leaned against the tiled wall. And her emerald eyes were full of defiance and anger—an expression he had never seen in her before.

 

I wish I can go back to those carefree summer days. But those days are no more¡¦

 

 

 

~~~~~~

 

 

 

Flashback to last summer¡¦

 

 

It was a humid, summer¡¯s morning, and Sakura had overslept as usual. The kitchen smelled of fragrant sweet and sour sauce—Syaoran had cooked his special chicken stir-fry for their lunches. Sakura barely had time to take a shower, and for once, Syaoran did not have to complain about Sakura taking too long to use the bathroom. Nobody else knew how pretty Sakura looked in the morning, bleary-eyed with her long golden-brown hair still wet and her skin moist.

 

That day was particularly memorable because the news forecasted a torrent of summer typhoon. Syaoran called out from outside the bathroom. ¡°Sakura, I have morning soccer practice, so I¡¯m leaving first. Remember to take your umbrella—the weather forecast said that it¡¯s supposed to rain in the afternoon, and you have cheerleading practice today after school, don¡¯t you?¡±

 

¡°AWRRGHH,¡± Sakura replied as she brushed her teeth. The front door clicked shut, and she heard Syaoran footsteps towards the elevator. They would have been able to leave together if she hadn¡¯t slept in.

 

¡°Hoe-e! I¡¯m late for classroom duties!¡± Sakura wailed as she struggled to pull on her left shoe on her right foot. Switching the shoes rapidly, she grabbed her book bag and lunch bag and made a mad dash out the front door.

 

 

 

¡°Sakura-chan! Earth to it!¡± Chiharu called out during cheerleading practice by the soccer field that afternoon.

 

The cheerleading baton bonked Sakura on the head. ¡°Hoe-e! It hurts,¡± Sakura moaned, rubbing her forehead. She glanced quickly at the soccer field—it was empty because soccer practices were canceled for the week. The soccer team had won a great victory in the Junior High sixteenth division, and even the devil captain Syaoran had granted his hardworking team a well-deserved break. He was probably home by now. That was rare—she had grown accustomed to looking forward to going home with him after sports activities ended for the both of them.

 

¡°I said, Sakura-chan, cheerleading practice is over,¡± Chiharu said, gently tapping her baton on Sakura¡¯s shoulder. ¡°What are you so lost in thought about?¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s over already?¡± Sakura looked around the field was already empty.

 

¡°Look at the sky—it ended early because it¡¯s overcast. It¡¯ll rain soon,¡± Chiharu said, pointing up at the cloudy sky.

 

 

 

It was a rare day that Syaoran got home before Sakura did. Well, his soccer team deserved a break, and truthfully, Syaoran didn¡¯t mind having a week off either. Too bad it was cloudy outside—it would have been nice to go for a jog. He stared at the apartment entrance and scowled. Sakura¡¯s pink umbrella was still in the umbrella stand—she had forgotten to take it after all. That girl¡¦ Well, it was her problem.

 

It was Sakura¡¯s turn to make dinner that night, and he had no homework to do because he had finished it during lunch break. So, Syaoran found it the very occasion that he had nothing to do. For a while, he watched a wildlife documentary on TV, then stared at the clock. What time did cheerleading practice end again? It was so quiet without Sakura running about. He stared out the window—dark cumulus clouds shrouded the sky. His eyes flickered to the cherry-print pink umbrella in the umbrella stand, next to his own green one. They had ended up buying matching umbrellas at the market sale the other week.

 

¡°It¡¯s going to rain a lot this summer!¡± Sakura had declared. ¡°And it¡¯s a bargain price!¡±

 

And she was the one who forgot to take the umbrella along with her in this monsoon season.  Syaoran sighed, shaking his head. ¡°Impossible girl.¡±

 

 

 

Sure enough on Sakura¡¯s way home on the bus, it began to drizzle, lightly at first. Then it began to pour. Sakura had fun tracing pictures on the foggy bus window with her forefinger. She wrote out ¡°Li Syaoran¡± on the glass then quickly wiped it away with her palm, blushing, glancing sideways to see if anyone had seen. When she was let off at the bus stop, it was raining so hard that it was difficult to see in front of her. Putting her book bag over her head, she ran to the nearest awning, under a flower shop. Her white short-sleeved uniform blouse clung to her back where it had gotten wet around the shoulders. She tapped her feet impatiently, listening to the pitter-pat of raindrops on the awning above her. The rain showed no sign of stopping—and she had to get home for dinner. It was her turn to cook, and Syaoran would make a fuss if she tried to skip it again. At this rate, she could be here all night. It was just her luck that she had forgotten to wear a camisole slip underneath her blouse today. And Syaoran had reminded her to take an umbrella that morning too—she mentally knocked herself on the head. Finally, she decided to make a run for it anyway; hopefully she could dash into her room before Syaoran saw her. ¡°Ready or not, here I go!¡±

 

As she rushed out, she ran into a boy holding a green umbrella, standing right in front of her, panting.

 

¡°Syaoran!¡± she exclaimed as he put the umbrella over her head. ¡°What are you doing here?¡±

 

¡°I came out to buy milk and just happened to see you standing around, looking lost,¡± Syaoran replied. ¡°Didn¡¯t I tell you to take an umbrella in the morning?¡±

 

¡°I forgot,¡± Sakura mumbled as the two walked back towards the apartment.

 

¡°Come closer—your bag¡¯s getting wet,¡± he said, pulling her to him by her arm. Sakura instinctively drew nearer to Syaoran, glad have an excuse to walk closer to him.

 

As they neared the apartment complex, Sakura said, ¡°Ah, we forgot the milk!¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s all right. I think we still have a carton at home, now that I think of it,¡± was his matter of fact reply. 

 

Sakura giggled and hugged her bookbag closer to her chest.

 

At her laughter, Syaoran raised a suspicious eyebrow. ¡°What?¡±

 

¡°Nothing¡¦¡± replied Sakura, beaming up at him.

 

Syaoran smiled back, the corner of his eyes crinkling. The pitter-pat of raindrops on the green umbrella beat in unison with their hearts.

 

 

 

~~~~~~

 

 

 

Kinomoto Sakura opened her eyes. She could still hear the raindrops on the rooftop and drew her blanket around her.

 

¡°What is it?¡± asked Kero-chan, rubbing his eyes.

 

¡°A dream,¡± replied Sakura.

 

¡°Another nightmare?¡± Kero-chan hovered to Sakura with concern.

 

¡°No¡¦ At least, I don¡¯t think it was¡¦¡± Already the face was fading into a blur like a reflection off a puddle on the roadside. She smiled wistfully. ¡°No, it was a good dream for sure.¡±

 

 

 

~~~~~~

 

 

 

Back then, I had a glimpse of a world so brilliant that it hurt my eyes. I had for the first time a taste of sweetness that lingers on my tongue still. It was a dream world, a world forbidden to me. But I desired. And I fought to keep from waking. If I close my eyes, maybe I can fall back into that dream world again. 

 

If only I can see that smiling face once more¡¦

 

 

 

 

 

****************************************************************************************************************************************************

 

 

 

Wish-chan: October 31, 2008

 

So a lot happened in the last two chapter because everything till now was sort of build-up till Syaoran¡¯s return. : ) I always wanted to write about Aki¡¯s back-story, and it came a little bit earlier than I expected. These two chapters would make more sense with Kaitou Magician¡¯s Special, which I have been holding off releasing because of potential spoiler material. But whew, I think I can finally release a part of it now. Aki¡¯s not the sort of character to get too deeply affected by the dark force, hence a relatively anticlimactic resolution to the Pride. The monologue at the end is not Sakura¡¯s monologue, though it seems like it. Lol¡¦ I have a pounding headache, so though I should probably edit more, and I have more comments to make, I think I¡¯ll just stop now. I really wanted to write a Halloween special but I wonder if I¡¯d get to it. Sighs¡¦

 

On a side note, I¡¯ve been sort of obsessed with the Macross Frontier OST recently, and it¡¯s been a long time since I¡¯ve been into a soundtrack. Well, it¡¯s Yoko Kanno-sama, so what do you expect? : ) I was really excited for the opening song Triangler, which was the first Yoko Kanno and Maaya Sakamoto OST collaboration since¡¦ hmm¡¦ Platina? My 23rd birthday just passed, and I¡¯ve unexpectedly been going through sort of an identity crisis (is that not reflected in this chapter? Lol). It¡¯s sort of unusual for me, I guess. Well, one thing for sure is that it¡¯s been ten years of New Trials. Thank you everybody for your support! While everything else in life is so uncertain, the one thing I do know for certain is that I love writing this story.

 

I am also always thankful to 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 novel of a fanfiction which has my blood, sweat and tears. 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