Chapter 60: Re-memory

 

 

 

 

Hiiragizawa Eriol sat in his study, head leaned back against his great oak chair. It was almost winter but he thought he could catch a whiff of spring if he closed his eyes.

 

Edward-sama! Look, the cherry blossoms are blossoming. Come back to visit next year, promise?

 

A cool hand was placed on his forehead. How soothing. Eriol opened his eyes. Long strands of auburn hair tumbled down and twinkling marigold eyes stared into his eyes. ¡°Kaho.¡±

 

¡°What are you thinking of, Eriol?¡± asked Mizuki Kaho, brushing away a lock of blue-black hair from Eriol¡¯s smooth forehead.

 

Slowly, Eriol reached over to find his glasses on the table. ¡°Of olden days.¡±

 

¡°You¡¯ve been doing that more often recently, haven¡¯t you?¡± Kaho leaned against the table, running her hand over the feathered quill perched on the stand. With antiquated artifacts and imported Italian oak furniture, the study looked like a window into the last century. ¡°It¡¯s a sign that winter¡¯s coming.¡±

 

¡°Perhaps.¡± Eriol put on his glasses.

 

Sensing that Eriol was not in a talkative mood today, Kaho remarked, ¡°Aunt Miara is going shopping with me and wants to know if you want a winter coat in black or navy blue.¡±

 

¡°Either one¡¯s fine,¡± said Eriol. He strummed his fingers on his armrest.

 

¡°You¡¯re not really enjoying the situation anymore, are you?¡± Kaho sighed. ¡°You were always better at playing the villain than the ally.¡±

 

¡°The enemies that Sakura will face in the future are not there to amuse themselves,¡± replied Eriol grimly. ¡°They are out there to win at any measure.¡±

 

¡°You don¡¯t truly think that Syaoran has gone over to the other side?¡± said Kaho.

 

¡°He¡¯s a Li, though.¡± Eriol frowned. His cute little relative had the accursed Li trait of pigheaded obstinacy and single-mindedness.

 

¡°He¡¯s not Shulin-sama, though,¡± Kaho said.

 

¡°Why are you bringing her up?¡± asked Eriol with a tight smile.

 

Kaho replied, ¡°Clow Reed never forgave either his parents, did he?¡±

 

¡°He stopped thinking about them a long time ago,¡± said Eriol.

 

¡°But he never did forget them either,¡± replied Kaho. ¡°I saw the drawing you brought for art class.¡±

 

¡°Well, that probably was Clow Reed¡¯s greatest impediment as a sorcerer,¡± Eriol said. ¡°That he never learned to forgive and that he never learned to love again.¡±

 

Kaho gazed at Eriol, wondering why his soul could never rest happy. While Eriol was only half of Clow Reed¡¯s reincarnation, Kinomoto Fujitaka was the half that did not retain the memories. Therefore, Fujitaka was free to love and be loved. But so long as Hiiragizawa Eriol held the memories of Clow Reed, he could not be free. Slowly, Kaho began to realize why Sakura had chosen to forget.

 

A breathless Miho burst into the room, holding up a movie brochure. ¡°Eriol! You promised me to watch the new Arima Akagi movie with me!¡± Then she realized Eriol was with Kaho. She jumped then ducked behind the door again. ¡°Oh, sorry. I didn¡¯t realize you were here, Kaho-san.¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s fine, Miho. I was just about to leave,¡± said Kaho with a smile.

 

¡°Do you want to come watch the movie with us?¡± asked Miho.

 

¡°I¡¯ll pass this time,¡± replied Kaho, giving Miho a pat on the back and walking out of the study.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Kinomoto Sakura, age sixteen, was a freshman at Seijou High School. Her grades were mediocre, except in history and home economics, in which she received top marks, and her favorite subject was physical education. She was currently a member of the cheerleading club but because of her athletic skills, she was often recruited by various teams to partake in their sports. Her father was a professor of archeology and her older brother was a resident intern at the Kinhoshi Hospital, a private hospital run by the Kinhoshi Corporation. Outwardly, she seemed like any other teenage girl getting ready for a date on a day off to school as she hurried back and forth from her room, looking for her other pair of knee socks. However, floating midair next to her was a creature that resembled a yellow teddy bear, and it had its arms crossed, quite perplexed.

 

¡°Where are you going?¡± questioned Kero-chan, Guardian of the Sun, suspiciously circling around Sakura.

 

¡°Nowhere special,¡± Sakura replied as she fussed with her short golden-brown hair. She held up the red barrettes and the red ribbons. ¡°Which one?¡±

 

¡°The pompom ties,¡± replied Kero-chan, wrestling them out from her bureau drawer. ¡°Why are you dressed up then?¡± Sakura looked unusually adorable in a red vest over a black blouse and a short red tartan plaid skirt.

 

¡°I¡¯m going to the movies,¡± replied Sakura, averting her eyes from Kero-chan who seemed to have taken over the role of her older brother now that Touya dormed at the hospital.

 

¡°With Tomoyo-chan?¡±

 

¡°Noooo¡¦¡± Sakura fastened her hair with the pompom ties then examined her reflection in the mirror. She rubbed shiny gloss on her lips then stood up.

 

¡°With who?¡±

 

¡°See you later, Kero-chan!¡± she exclaimed.

 

 

 

¡°So, who is Sakura-chan meeting up with on a Sunday?¡± demanded Kero-chan, poking his head out of Tomoyo¡¯s handbag.

 

Daidouji Tomoyo, in a Holmesian trench coat and sunglasses, smiled furtively. Her favorite hobby was to make clothes for her best friend. Her second favorite hobby was to film her. ¡°Watch and see.¡± She positioned her video camera.

 

Peeking over the bag, Kero-chan watched Sakura fidget as she waited in front of the movie theater. Several times, she flipped out her cell phone to check the time. Sakura must have forgotten to wear a watch in the flurry of dressing up in the morning. Then, Kero-chan caught sight of the boy with long violet-black hair pulled back in a ponytail. He was wearing a navy blue jacket and jeans—Kero-chan had never seen Chang Eron wear jeans before. The pretty boy held up two tickets, waving at Sakura. Together, they disappeared into the theater. Kero-chan¡¯s jaws dropped. ¡°It¡¯s Eron!¡±

 

¡°Shush—we¡¯re following them in,¡± Tomoyo said, almost colliding into a short girl with red hair.

 

¡°Tomoyo-senpai!¡± exclaimed Tanaka Miho. ¡°Are you here for Akagi Arima¡¯s movie too?¡±

 

¡°Miho-chan!¡± exclaimed Tomoyo, tilting her head as she lost sight of Sakura and Eron. ¡°Umm¡¦ Yes.¡±

 

¡°Great! Eriol and I were here to watch it too,¡± Miho stated. ¡°Are you here alone? You should join us!¡± She called out to Eriol, who was by the ticket booth. ¡°Eriol! Three tickets! Tomoyo-senpai is joining us.¡±

 

Tomoyo almost dropped her camcorder as she caught sight of the tall young man with pale skin and glossy blue-black hair. His black-rimmed glasses glimmered as he looked up at her and smiled.

 

 

 

¡°Umm¡¦ Should I buy popcorn?¡± asked Eron, walking towards the line in front of the popcorn stand.

 

¡°S-sure!¡± replied Sakura, taking out her wallet.

 

¡°It¡¯s on me,¡± Eron said, pushing her hand away.

 

¡°But you bought the tickets also,¡± protested Sakura.

 

Eron gave her a stern look. ¡°It¡¯s a gentleman¡¯s responsibility.¡±

 

¡°Eron-kun, you¡¯re so old-fashioned,¡± Sakura laughed.

 

Popcorn and sodas in hand, the two entered the theater.

 

¡°Is this seat okay?¡± asked Eron as they reached the middle of the aisle.

 

¡°Sure,¡± Sakura replied—the theater was packed. It was the premier day of She Loves Me, Akagi Arima¡¯s new romantic comedy. There had been a lot of scandal in the entertainment news regarding Arima and her male co-star, resulting in quite a lot of publicity for the movie. It was full house.

 

The two sat awkwardly, waiting for the movie to start. Most of their conversation until now had involved either school or something about the dark forces. Thus, Sakura realized that she did not know how to make small talk with Eron. What did normal people out on a date—not that this was a date—talk about? She took a handful of popcorn and stuffed it into her mouth; eating gave an excuse to stay silent. Instead, she choked on a kernel.

 

¡°Drink,¡° Eron said, handing her the coke.

 

Taking a breath, Sakura sipped on the soda. Fizzy coolness slid down her. ¡°T-thank you.¡±

 

When Eron wanted to be, he was quite considerate and well-mannered. They sat in silence as the movie began. Akagi Arima was a delight to watch, as she became the role of a strong-willed, obstinate woman who failed to recognize the love right in front of her.

 

In the midst of the movie, Sakura glanced around her and realized she was surrounded by couples. Girls had their head nested against their boyfriend¡¯s shoulder. Or guys casually looped their around their girlfriend¡¯s shoulders. Two rows ahead of them was a striking couple—the guy had honey-blond hair and had his lips locked with a girl with dark curls. Sakura¡¯s mouth dropped. Apparently Eron had noticed to because instead of watching the movie, he was gaping at the pair.

 

¡°Youth these days!¡± he muttered.

 

Sakura snickered. ¡°Grandfather.¡±

 

But Eron¡¯s eyes narrowed and he leaned over. ¡°Wait. That¡¯s my sister! That Mike Kant—how dare he!¡± He grabbed a handful of popcorn and then flung it at Mike¡¯s head.

 

The couple pulled apart and both Mike and Erika turned around. Instinctively, Eron pulled down Sakura and they ducked their heads. Mike and Erika shrugged and turned around again.

 

¡°You¡¯re pretty childish,¡± remarked Sakura, smothering her laughter.

 

¡°Perverted old photographer,¡± replied Eron with a scowl. Then, his eyes flickered golden in the dimness of the theater. Sakura had smiled for the first time that day.

 

 

 

For some reason, Tomoyo found herself wedged between Miho and Eriol and was by default the popcorn holder. The theater darkened and the trailers flashed on.

 

¡°I didn¡¯t expect to meet you here,¡± remarked Eriol, reaching over for the popcorn. His arm brushed against her arm.

 

¡°I didn¡¯t know you watched movies in theaters, Eriol-kun,¡± Tomoyo replied. She stuffed a handful of caramel popcorn into her bag. Kero-chan chomped on it happily.

 

¡°Miho wanted to watch it,¡± replied Eriol. ¡°I¡¯ve read the original play, however, and thought it would be interesting to watch on big screen.¡±

 

¡°Tomoyo-senpai, isn¡¯t that Sakura-senpai?¡± Miho pointed to the familiar golden-brown hair in short pigtails. She craned her neck. ¡°Who is she with? Wait—isn¡¯t that Chang Eron?¡± Popcorn bits sprayed from her mouth. ¡°Are those two dating?¡±

 

¡°Shhhh¡¦¡± hushed the annoyed moviegoers around her.

 

¡°Ohmygosh¡¦¡± muttered Miho. ¡°I can¡¯t believe it. I just can¡¯t. I mean, even if Syaoran did betray her and all¡¦¡±

 

¡°So, did you give the two your blessing?¡± Eriol asked, turning to glance at Tomoyo. He seemed more amused than concerned.

 

Tomoyo looked straight on ahead at the wide screen. ¡°What ever makes Sakura-chan happy makes me happy.¡±

 

¡°I see.¡± There was a strange expression of pang in his eyes, but Tomoyo brushed it off as the light from the movie screen.

 

 

 

¡°That was a good movie,¡± Sakura stated, stretching her arms as she exited the theater. When was the last time she had watched a movie in the theaters, anyway? Since Tomoyo had a wide-screen movie theater in her own house, they rarely went out to watch movies.

 

¡°It was all right, I guess,¡± remarked Eron.

 

Sakura chuckled. ¡°Liar—I saw you getting teary-eyed in the scene where Arima-san realized that her secret admirer was actually Himura Takuya¡¯s character all along.¡±

 

¡°Did not!¡±

 

¡°Sure, sure,¡± replied Sakura. ¡°It¡¯s no big secret that Eron-kun is a romantic at heart.¡±

 

¡°So what if I am?¡± he grumbled. ¡°The only books they had at the orphanage were fairytales and biographies about boring people that no one cared about. Oh, and there was one adult book that I don¡¯t think we were supposed to read.¡±

 

¡°What was your favorite fairytale?¡±

 

¡°Hansel and Gretel.¡±

 

Sakura¡¯s green eyes twinkled. ¡°Wait, am I supposed to be the wicked witch that you shove into the oven?¡±

 

¡°Yes.¡± Eron sighed. ¡°But instead, you bewitched me and trapped me in your candy house. And I¡¯m playing dollhouse instead of finding my way back out.¡±

 

¡°Is that supposed to be a compliment?¡±

 

¡°Maybe.¡±

 

As they walked out into the streets, Sakura turned around suspiciously—she sensed that she was being followed.

 

¡°What¡¯s wrong?¡± Eron asked.

 

¡°Nothing.¡± Sakura shook her head.

 

¡°Now, where did that photographer disappear off to,¡± muttered Eron.

 

¡°How did Mike Kant-san and Erika-chan end up dating?¡± Sakura asked. ¡°They don¡¯t seem to have any similarities.¡± She didn¡¯t mention the age gap, since her mother was only sixteen when she first began dating Kinomoto Fujimoto, seven years her senior.  

 

¡°I don¡¯t know,¡± Eron said. ¡°When Erika has her eyes set on something, she must have it.¡±

 

¡°Mike-san is a nice guy,¡± remarked Sakura. ¡°He won¡¯t hurt her, I don¡¯t think, so you don¡¯t have to worry so much.¡±

 

¡°Oh, I¡¯m not worried about Erika getting hurt,¡± replied Eron. ¡°It¡¯s not like Mike¡¯s her first boyfriend—I can¡¯t even keep track of how many boys she has dated since she moved to Tomoeda.¡±

 

¡°Then, what are you worried about?¡± asked Sakura.

 

¡°I think she will end up missing the person who is really right for her while she is wasting her time with all those good-for-nothing playboys,¡± replied Eron. ¡°Well, enough about Erika. Do you want to go for dinner?¡±

 

 

 

Kara Reed frowned as she walked down the street, her thigh-high leather boots clip-clopping on the pavement. Her hands were buried in the pockets of her fur-trimmed jacket. She turned to the somber black-haired man, wearing a black Chinese-style shirt with black trousers—even without any visible weapons, he looked menacing. ¡°Jin, is it necessary for us to baby-sit that boy even on my precious Sunday?¡± She watched the boy walking several steps ahead of her. Poor Syaoran¡¯s shoulders were drooped, and he sent poisonous glares back at her and Jinyu.


The pair got quite a few stares because they both stood out from the crowd, Kara with her golden hair and tall physique, and Jinyu with his strange black hair with the long strands of braids that reached clear down his back. Though Li Jinyu was closer to her own age, he sometimes seemed older than Leiyun. Maybe mafia lifestyle aged people quicker.

 

Suddenly, Li Syaoran halted, and Kara almost collided into him.

 

¡°What¡¯s wrong with you?¡± she snapped. Then, she followed his line of vision across the street. By the window side of the MacDonald¡¯s chain store, a girl with green eyes sat by a boy with long blue-violet hair. Kara grinned. ¡°Oh? It¡¯s our darling Card Mistress, isn¡¯t it? She seems to be on a date! Now, who is that handsome boy? He looks familiar.¡±

 

Syaoran continued walking briskly. Quickly, Kara caught up to him. ¡°Aren¡¯t you jealous?¡±

 

The boy narrowed his amber eyes coolly—at times like this, he resembled Leiyun greatly. ¡°Why would I be jealous?¡±

 

¡°Oh? Someone told me you and her were so-and-so,¡± replied Kara with a sly grin, holding up her pinky finger.

 

¡°Nonsense.¡± Syaoran continued walking faster.

 

Kara kept up with him. ¡°You can tell me about it—I won¡¯t tell Yunyun-chan.¡±

 

At this, Syaoran stared at the older girl with the twinkling lavender eyes. He could almost laugh at her nickname for Leiyun. ¡°Yunyun-chan.¡± As far as he knew, Kara Reed was somehow a descendent of the Reed line. She also had some connection with their mutual friend Kaitou Magician in the past. While Syaoran had yet to figure out Kara and Leiyun had met, he knew that Leiyun seemed to trust Kara more than anyone else, besides Jinyu. At first, Syaoran had suspected Leiyun and Kara to be lovers, but they did not seem to care for each other in that way. But both Leiyun and Kara were difficult to read. In terms of powers, Syaoran did not know what Kara¡¯s potential or real skills were—her forte didn¡¯t seem to be combative magic, however. Overall, the foreign-looking girl was hard to pin. Sometimes, she had strange, broody mood swings. Other times, she was jovial and teasing, like today. In many ways, she resembled Mizuki Kai.

 

¡°She didn¡¯t forget you right away,¡± remarked Kara out of the blue.

 

This time, Syaoran did stop and turned to look at her. ¡°What are you talking about?¡±

 

¡°For months, she seemed to be in pain. Probably suffering from hurt because somebody shunned her in Hong Kong,¡± Kara stated. ¡°But that pretty boy grew closer and closer to her. Chang Eron, the Dark One. They came to my tent together when I was reading Tarot Cards for the school cultural festival. That was right before summer vacation. In the middle of my reading, she fainted in my tent, and it was Chang Eron who carried her to the infirmary. They were always together, you know, odd knowing who he really was. I would have liked to read that one¡¯s fortune. The Dark One. But I didn¡¯t get a chance to. It¡¯s pretty clear he is in love with the Card Mistress though. He gave up Chang Ryuichi¡¯s powers and chose the side of the Mistress.¡±

 

Now, Syaoran¡¯s full attention was on Kara. ¡°He did what?¡±

 

¡°Foolish, but admirable.¡± Kara smiled. Now she got the wolf boy¡¯s full attention. ¡°I tried to look in Sakura¡¯s heart when she was in my tent to have her fortune read. But her heart was concealed to me.¡±

 

¡°Why are you telling me this?¡± asked Syaoran shortly. This Kara Reed was a lot sharper than he had expected—and potentially more dangerous. 

 

¡°I thought it might interest you,¡± replied Kara. ¡°It¡¯s not like I mentioned any of this to Leiyun or anything—he doesn¡¯t care about my little readings. He only cares about what I can tell him about the future.¡±

 

¡°Do you know what will happen in the future?¡± Syaoran said. Kara was a descendant of the Reed line. Perhaps she had inherited Clow¡¯s prophetic skills.

 

¡°Depends on the choices we make now,¡± said Kara with a far-off look. ¡°If everything happens for a reason, then do we have free-will, I wonder.¡±

 

Squinting his eyes at the setting sun, Syaoran glanced at Kara. She shared Clow¡¯s same sad half-smile, though nothing else in her dainty, feminine features resembled him.

 

¡°Well, we better be getting back,¡± Kara stated. She glanced around. ¡°Where did Jin go off to? I guess we didn¡¯t get to buy a winter wardrobe for you—Lei was very concerned because you get cold so easily. He said, ¡¯little Syao-chan hates winter with a passion so buy him a warm fur coat and a big thick wool scarf and leather gloves for his poor hands.¡¯ Oh, and ¡®Syao-chan is a picky dresser and he won¡¯t wear last season¡¯s clothes so don¡¯t even think of looking in the sales rack.¡¯ ¡±

 

¡°Like I care about shopping with you and Jinyu following me around,¡± snapped Syaoran.

 

¡°So, where did you get your awesome fashion sense?¡± asked Kara with a grin. ¡°Leiyun told me that you¡¯re the Li Clan¡¯s unofficial fashion coordinator—if you ever want to quit with all the Chosen One business, you have a backup plan.¡±

 

¡°Let¡¯s go home,¡± said Syaoran with a sigh. Sometimes, Kara was no better than his older sisters.

 

¡°Without Jin? He¡¯ll be angry that we ditched him.¡±

 

¡°I think he ditched us.¡±

 

 

 

Chang Erika walked down the streets, arms locked into Mike Kant¡¯s arms. She stated, ¡°Geez, I can¡¯t believe someone dared to threw popcorn at us in the theater. How immature!¡±

 

¡°It was probably a mistake,¡± Mike said, picking out a crumb from his hair. A heavy Nikon camera hung from a leather strap around his neck. Even as he walked down the street, he snapped shots of whatever caught his fancy.

 

¡°Don¡¯t you ever put your camera away?¡± asked Erika, scowling. ¡°You¡¯re on a date with me now.¡±

 

¡°But I might never get the same shot again if I miss it,¡± said Mike, snapping more shots with his analog camera.

 

¡°You might never see me again,¡± Erika retorted.

 

Mike sighed. ¡°You¡¯re right here beside me.¡±

 

¡°I might disappear from here. I might suddenly die from a heart disease or something,¡± replied Erika.

 

¡°Don¡¯t be silly—you¡¯re young and perfectly healthy,¡± said Mike, eyes fixed to his lens. A man with tanned skin and jet-black hair caught his eye. Something about him looked familiar. He looked like someone who would step out in a Hong Kong mafia movie.

 

Erika looked up and caught sight of the black-haired man. There was something strangely similar to Syaoran about him—perhaps it was the slanted amber eyes. And he was heading her direction.

 

¡°Mike-san, you need to run some errands in town, right?¡± Erika said.

 

¡°Right—but you said you wanted to eat dinner?¡± Mike replied, baffled.

 

¡°I¡¯m not hungry anymore—I¡¯ll see you tomorrow,¡± Erika said, pushing Mike away.

 

¡°See you,¡± Mike said, walking off in relief.

 

Now, the amber-eyed man stood directly in front of her. In the darkness cast in the remote alley, his eyes gleamed like rubies. Murderous eyes, Erika thought.

 

She frowned. ¡°What do you want?¡±

 

¡°My name is Li Jinyu. Li Leiyun wants to speak to you, Chang Erika, Dark One,¡± he replied. His voice was deep and monotone.

 

So this was the Clan Protector, the Black Dragon King of the Hong Kong underworld. ¡°Why should I meet with him?¡± demanded Erika.

 

¡°You should be acquainted with Li Syaoran, probationary Chosen One of the Li Clan,¡± Jinyu replied. ¡°As of recently, you should also be aware that the Clow Cards are currently in possession of the Li Clan. It will probably be of benefit to you if you cooperate with us.¡±

 

For a moment, Erika gazed at the young man who stared at her without expression but felt more menacing than any person she had ever met in her life. At the moment he seemed unarmed, but she was pretty sure he had hidden weapons throughout his body. And as a Li, he was without doubt an expert martial artist. He could very well be those trained assassins that Eron had so often told her about, one who would drag her to a dark alley like this one and slit her throat then dispose of her body in the dumpster. ¡°Very well. Lead the way.¡±

 

 

 

The moon lit the cloudless blue-black sky, and Eron¡¯s eyes glowed a deep-gold as it did when he was in a good mood.

 

¡°You didn¡¯t have to walk me home,¡± said Sakura, hugging her jacket close to her as she entered the gate. ¡°You live closer to town.¡±

¡±Thank you for today,¡± Eron said. ¡°We should hang out again. It was fun.¡±

 

¡°Yeah, we should.¡± Sakura smiled. ¡°I¡¯ll see you at school tomorrow then.¡±

 

¡°Good night.¡±

 

When Sakura reached her room, she plopped down on her bed. Kero-chan flew out and screamed, ¡°How could you go on a date with the Dark One?¡±

 

Sakura narrowed her eyes. ¡°I¡¯d prefer if you not call him that. And how could you and Tomoyo-chan follow me around all day long? Do you know how embarrassing it was pretending not to notice you guys?¡± She shook the pins out of her hair out and changed into pajamas because Kero-chan had no reply and sulked in a corner by himself. Finally, she ventured to ask, ¡°So, how did Tomoyo-chan and Eriol-kun¡¯s date go?¡±

 

¡°Miho-chan was there too,¡± replied Kero-chan. He frowned. ¡°It¡¯s not going to work, you know.¡±

 

¡°What?¡± Sakura yawned.

 

¡°Clow Reed is not capable of loving a woman,¡± replied Kero-chan. ¡°Everybody knew that.¡±

 

Raising an eyebrow, Sakura asked flatly, ¡°What are you trying to insinuate about Clow-san?¡±

 

Kero-chan rolled his beady eyes. ¡°I mean Clow Reed doesn¡¯t love anybody, not even himself.¡±

 

¡°He loved you and Yue,¡± said Sakura.

 

¡°No, we were like his children. He nurtured us. Love is learning to trust someone completely. It¡¯s a reciprocated process. Yue might have respected and admired Clow all he liked. And Clow may have cared for us. But at the end of the day, he kept a wall around himself, and his distance as well. We were not his equals. He understood us completely, through and through. But till this day, we only know the face of Clow that he chose to show us.¡± Kero-chan paused.

 

¡°But Eriol-kun is not Clow-san,¡± Sakura remarked.

 

¡°Those who have finished their business on earth do not reincarnate themselves. Their souls can rest in peace. Only those who have earthly sentiments lingering on earth choose rebirth,¡± stated Kero-chan.

 

¡°But doesn¡¯t Eriol-kun seem a little interested in Tomoyo-chan?¡± Sakura asked.

 

¡°He¡¯s nice to everyone, you know,¡± Kero-chan replied. ¡°I admit, Clow always was fascinated by those who he couldn¡¯t predict. Someone like Tomoyo would interest him. But interest and love are two different things.¡±

 

¡°Falling in love is such a hard thing,¡± said Sakura. ¡°And having those feelings reciprocated is so much harder. I always thought it would be nice if I can marry the first person I fall in love with, with no heartache, no suffering. Like okaa-san.¡±

 

¡°I thought her first love was Li Ryuuren,¡± Kero-chan said sharply.

 

Sakura sat up from her bed. ¡°She loved Ryuuren-san?¡±

 

¡°Never mind. Anyhow, how did you change subjects? We were talking about you and that Chang-boy.¡± Kero-chan folded his arms in front of him. ¡°Do you love him?¡±

 

¡°I like him. A lot,¡± replied Sakura distantly. ¡°He¡¯s always been truthful to me and he¡¯s pleasant to hang out with.¡±

 

¡°But do you love him?¡±

 

¡°Oh, Kero-chan. You sometimes sound like onii-chan!¡± Sakura fell back onto her pillow again. She was silent for a long time and Kero-chan thought she had fallen asleep when she said, ¡°You know, I saw him again.¡±

 

¡°Who?¡±

 

¡°That boy. The one who stole the Sakura Cards from me.¡± Sakura fingered the black teddy-bear on her bed that stared out at her with beady glass eyes. She never noticed before that the teddy bear looked sad. ¡°Eron and I were eating dinner, and I looked out the window. And he was standing there, across the street from me. I almost didn¡¯t recognize him because he was dressed in normal clothes, not those strange Chinese robes. He seemed just like a normal boy crossing the street. I thought he saw me and was scared for a second. But he walked away.¡±

 

¡°Don¡¯t worry—we¡¯ll get the Cards back,¡± Kero-chan said in a choked voice.

 

¡°You know, I never knew what if felt like to hate somebody before,¡± Sakura murmured. ¡°When I saw him, I felt this fury boiling in me, this anger towards him. I thought I wasn¡¯t capable of such dark feelings. And it made me feel disgusted with myself.¡±

 

¡°You don¡¯t hate him,¡± Kero-chan said.

 

¡°I do.¡±

 

¡°Have you ever hated anyone before?¡±

 

¡°No¡¦ I had a period of disliking Erika-chan for a while. But I didn¡¯t exactly hate her.¡±

 

¡°If you¡¯ve never hated anyone before, how do you know what it feels like?¡± Kero-chan asked.

 

¡°That¡¯s like asking someone how do you know if you love someone if you¡¯ve never loved anyone before?¡± Sakura replied. ¡°Silly Kero-chan. I¡¯m going to sleep now—I have school tomorrow.¡±

 

¡°Good night, Sakura-chan.¡± Kero-chan gazed outside at the moon. Clow Reed had given Cerberus and Yue ¡°consciousness.¡± Back then, Cerberus had been content serving his master and creator, and Clow¡¯s well-being was enough to satisfy him. But Yue had wanted more. Yue had wanted ¡°love.¡± That was a human emotion. At that time, Cerberus had not understood what more Yue could desire from Clow Reed. Yet, after living with Sakura for six years, Kero-chan had felt what ¡°love¡± felt like. Granted Yue might have wanted a different sort of love from Clow Reed, Kero-chan felt a little closer to understanding Yue now. Before you feel warmth, you do not know cold. Without knowing love, you cannot hate, nor hate without love.

 

 

 

*******

 

 

 

Kara Reed leaned against a willow tree, eyes shut. Though it was chilly outside, it was better than sitting in a classroom full of silly chattering girls. She had never had many friends and it was no different at Seijou High.

 

Mizuki Kai spotted Kara, looking quite serene with her long, pale lashes fluttering over her cheeks and an opened book on her lap. ¡°Kara-senpai!¡± he called out.

 

With a half-smile, Kara blinked up at him with lavender-mauve eyes. ¡°Kai.¡± Just like when she first met him, his copper-gold hair blew back from his forehead in the wind, and his eyes were the same color as the overcast sky.

 

¡°Makes me nostalgic finding you here,¡± remarked Kai, plopping down on the ground beside her.

 

¡°Yeah.¡± The corners of her rose-colored lips curled. ¡°You were such a well-behaved innocent boy back them.¡±

 

He blinked at her with his wide gray-blue eyes. ¡°I am still well-behaved and innocent.¡±

 

¡°You¡¯re wearing my earrings,¡± remarked Kara, reaching over and brushing her fingers against his lobes. Uncut aquamarines that sparked a periwinkle blue, the exact shade of Kai¡¯s eyes when he was happy.

 

¡°Hmm...¡± Kai fingered his lobes. ¡°Yeah.¡± Though he had taken out all his other piercings, he had left those studs in as they were fairly inconspicuous.

 

¡°Who knew we would end up going to the same school again?¡± Kara asked, brushing away wisps of her platinum hair.

 

¡°Well, you did flunk a grade, it seems.¡± Kai grinned. ¡°Weren¡¯t you two grades above me back at Eitoukou?¡±

 

¡°I didn¡¯t flunk,¡± replied Kara, wrinkling her nose. ¡°It was necessary for me to be in the proximity of the Card Mistress.¡±

 

¡°Because Leiyun asked you to keep an eye on Sakura.¡±

 

¡°Who would have thought I¡¯d end up returning to school in the first place,¡± sighed Kara. Her eyes were now a deep violet as she gazed at Kai. ¡°Maybe it was fate for us to meet again like this though.¡±

 

¡°Kara.¡± Kai paused. ¡°There is something I have to tell you.¡±

 

¡°I always hated it when you looked so serious. It used to be sort of cute when you were an elementary kid.¡± Kara petted Kai on the head. ¡°I would give anything to have my Prince back. But we¡¯ll never return back to those old days, will we?¡±

 

¡°Listen, senpai—¡°

 

¡°I don¡¯t want to listen,¡± said Kara, standing up.

 

¡°Is this what you wanted, Kara?¡± Kai asked. ¡°When you wished way back then to hurry up and become an adult. Do you have everything you want now?¡±

 

¡°When you vowed to get everything back, is this what you envisioned for yourself, Mikai?¡± Kara replied, looking into Kai¡¯s eyes. ¡°In this world, we never get everything that we ask for. If we gain something, we must sacrifice something else. I am content with what I have now.¡±

 

¡°Being content is different from being happy.¡±

 

Kara¡¯s voice was quiet. ¡°I know. But we¡¯ve always been essentially different. For someone who has never known true happiness, contentment is happiness. It¡¯s different for you who overnight went from having everything you can ask for in life to nothing. But you don¡¯t know what you lost if you never had it in the first place.¡±

 

¡°But sometimes, you don¡¯t know what you had until you do lose it,¡± replied Kai softly. He turned his head yearningly towards the Seijou Junior High building. 

 

 

 

Sakura sat on the classroom windowsill, staring outside blankly.

 

¡°What are you watching, Sakura-chan?¡± asked Tomoyo, staring out the window. Beneath a bare-branched tree, an auburn-haired boy and a golden-haired girl sat next to each other. ¡°Isn¡¯t that Kai-kun and Rido-senpai together?¡±

 

¡°Shh¡¦ Don¡¯t tell Meilin-chan,¡± said Sakura.

 

¡°Don¡¯t tell me what?¡± asked Meilin, walking to her friends. She glanced out the window. ¡°What, about Kai-kun? I¡¯m okay with it.¡±

 

¡°You are?¡± Tomoyo blinked.

 

¡°They¡¯re old friends. It¡¯s natural that they want to catch up,¡± Meilin replied with a straight face.

 

¡°Is that it?¡± Tomoyo watched the two heads bent together. An impenetrable bond of years.

 

¡°That¡¯s what he told me. And I believe him,¡± said Meilin. She put on a smile. ¡°Sakura-chan, so tell me all about your date with Eron-kun!¡±

 

¡°How does everyone know about it?¡± Sakura narrowed her eyes at Tomoyo. ¡°And it wasn¡¯t a date, not exactly.¡±

 

Meilin snickered. ¡°Look at him. He¡¯s been in a daze all day long. It¡¯d be sort of cute if it weren¡¯t Chang Eron.¡±

 

The girls turned to glance at Eron, sitting alone at his desk, leaning his chin on his hand, spaced out. He was wearing a sky-blue ribbon in his hair, and he was actually humming the theme song from Arima¡¯s movie. Classmates giggled—nobody had ever seen Eron like that. Erika rolled her eyes.

 

Chiharu walked over and slung her arms around her long time friend. ¡°Now, Sakura-chan, is there something going on between you and Eron-kun?¡±

 

¡°N-no!¡± exclaimed Sakura. ¡°We just went out together to watch a movie, that¡¯s all.¡±

 

¡°That¡¯s what they all say,¡± stated Naoko, shaking her head. ¡°Look at that boy. He¡¯s positively in seventh heaven.¡±

 

Rika tilted her head. ¡°Isn¡¯t that ribbon he¡¯s wearing part of the Seijou cheerleading squad¡¯s uniform?¡±

 

¡°You guys, it¡¯s nothing!¡± stated Sakura, blushing. ¡°Really.¡±

 

¡°Sakura-chan, you¡¯re sixteen now. It¡¯s about time you have a steady boyfriend,¡± stated Chiharu. ¡°Eron-kun seems to really care about you.¡± She turned around. ¡°Takashi, I saw you eat my shrimp.¡±

 

¡°Speaking of shrimps—¡° Yamazaki Takashi began, wiping his mouth on his sleeve.

 

Chiharu grabbed an eraser and threw it at Takashi. ¡°Don¡¯t you dare start another story.¡±

 

Sighing, Takashi turned to Sakura instead. ¡°There is no reason to rush says all ancient lore of love. When you rush, you miss what is standing right beside you. You¡¯re all familiar with the story of the tortoise and the hare. One day, the tortoise and the hare had a race. The quick and nimble hare laughed—of course the hare would be faster than the slowly crawling tortoise. When the race began, the hare dashed off first in line. It decided to rest a little for the other to catch up, so the hare went off to eat some carrots and then take a nap on the grass. Meanwhile, the slow and steady tortoise crawled forward inch my inch and gradually it passed by the napping hare. When the hare woke up, it realized that the tortoise had already caught up and passed it. Desperately, the hare raced forward, but it was too late—the tortoise had reached the end line first.¡±

 

¡°Oh, Takashi. You¡¯ve told that fable a million times already and if you intend it as an allegory, do you seriously think you are in the position to speak about love?¡± Chiharu said, patting his back. ¡°You¡¯re a thousand years to early to do that!¡±

 

Rika stared off out the window at the clouded sky. ¡°So the tortoise eventually caught up?¡±

 

Tomoyo quietly patted her friend on the shoulder.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Though she had reassured Sakura and Tomoyo that she did not mind, Meilin did mind very much. Since she and Kai were in different grades, their paths rarely crossed at school. Because of his club activities, he went to school earlier than her and came back later. Oftentimes, she heard the door next door swinging very late in the night. What did Kai do in the hours past midnight, especially now that he had retired as Kaitou Magician? Meilin tried not to think about it. Maybe she should join a club too—Chiharu had tried to recruit Meilin into the cheerleading team as well but Meilin had declined. Since Kai had archery practice today, Meilin found herself walking home alone again. Thus, she was surprised to find a silver haired man waiting for her a little way off from the school gates.

 

¡°L-leiyun?¡± Meilin stammered, staring into the man¡¯s beautiful turquoise eyes.

 

¡°Cousin Meilin, it¡¯s good to finally see you.

 

¡°Is it really you, Leiyun-geo-geo?¡± Meilin swallowed hard. ¡°I heard you were back. But you¡¯re really here.¡±

 

Leiyun smiled. ¡°I meant to greet you since September but the timing did not work out and autumn has already passed.¡±

 

¡°Why are you in Japan? And why did Syaoran—¡°

 

¡°We are only following the order of the Clan. This is an important time as you know. We are not sure what will happen once all the dark forces are sealed—but that time is approaching. It is only appropriate for the greatest magical Clan of the East to be present and offer support in this time of uncertainty and fear.¡± Leiyun paused. ¡°You are a Li, Meilin. You should be by our side.¡±

 

¡°I¡¯m sorry, cousin Leiyun. I don¡¯t particularly agree with the ways of the Clan,¡± Meilin said. ¡°And I don¡¯t think the Li Clan particularly needs me.¡°

 

¡°Syaoran needs you,¡± said Leiyun. ¡°You should know very well what he¡¯s been going through especially after losing his powers. He needs a friend.¡±

 

¡°I am his friend. I will always be here should he come look for me,¡± Meilin said.

 

¡°It is ridiculous for you to be living alone next to some criminal though Kara insists he¡¯s reformed. I insist you come live with your family in the Li mansion.¡± Leiyun held out his hand. ¡°Please come. We all want you.¡±

 

¡°I¡¯m sorry, I can¡¯t,¡± said Meilin.

 

¡°We can¡¯t protect you if you are off on your own,¡± said Leiyun. ¡°These are dangerous times, Meilin, more dangerous than you can fathom. Things have changed.¡±

 

¡°I don¡¯t need protection,¡± Meilin replied staidly. ¡°Despite it all, I¡¯ve been through a lot. I can take care of myself.¡±

 

¡°You¡¯re being selfish, Meilin.¡± Leiyun¡¯s blue eyes were sad.

 

¡°You¡¯ve always been good to me, Leiyun-geo-geo. When all my other cousins bullied me, you always watched out for me and Syaoran.¡± A frown came over Meilin¡¯s brows. ¡°But if you hurt my friends, I won¡¯t forgive you, even if you are my dear Leiyun-geo-geo.¡±

 

¡°If you are that adamant, there¡¯s nothing I can do—your mother will scold me for not looking out for you.¡± Leiyun smiled ruefully. ¡°You¡¯re all grown up now, Meilin, standing up to me like that. Just remember, you¡¯re always welcome at the Li mansion any time you want to come. We¡¯ll be waiting.¡±

 

¡°Sorry Leiyun-geo-geo.¡± Meilin¡¯s eyes turned misty. ¡°But I¡¯m so glad you¡¯re back, that you were all right after all.¡±

 

¡°I¡¯m glad to be back too, Meilin.¡±

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

The Kinhoshi Hospital was located in the prestigious neighborhood of Eitoukou, adjacent to Tomoeda. It was founded a quarter century ago by Kinomoto Fujishinta¡¯s first wife and had expanded to being a premier hospital in the Kanto region. Only the top students of medical school could dream of residency at this hospital. There were rumors that young Kinomoto Touya had been selected as a resident intern because he was related to Chairman Kinomoto. But perhaps it was a coincidence after all—besides, Touya had graduated as salutatorian of his department at Seijou University. And fellow resident intern Tsukishiro Yukito had graduated as valedictorian.

 

¡°Tsukishiro-sensei, have you seen the new Akagi Arima movie?¡± asked Doctor Li Jingmei, blinking through her spectacles at the most beautiful and kind-hearted doctor in Kinhoshi Hospital—never mind that he was younger than her. ¡°I happen to have two tickets, and I know Sunday is your day off—not that I checked the resident interns¡¯ schedule or anything like that—and was wondering if you are interested though I completely understand if you aren¡¯t.¡±

 

¡°Sounds fun,¡± said Yukito with a smile. ¡°Arima-san was our classmate back in high school—her movies are always wonderful.¡±

 

¡°Then, we have a d-d-date?¡± squeaked Jingmei.

 

¡°I¡¯ve wanted to watch that movie as well,¡± stated Touya loudly as he walked into the conversation. ¡°Can I come too?¡±

 

¡°Ah, s-sure,¡± stammered Jingmei—she was not opposed to watching a movie with two handsome men at all, but she so rarely got alone time with Tsukishiro Yukito.

 

¡°Oh, I want to go too!¡± exclaimed Nakuru, a new nurse in training, popping her head into the doctors¡¯ lounge.

 

¡°Didn¡¯t you already see the movie last week?¡± demanded Touya.

 

¡°I want to see it with Touya-kun!¡± Nakuru stated, wrapping her arms around Touya¡¯s waist and nuzzling up to him.

 

¡°Great—I¡¯ll reserve two more tickets and we can have a d-double d-date!¡± Jingmei blushed, glancing at the silver-haired Yukito-san again. Sure, it would have been nice to spend some alone time with him, but if Touya and his girlfriend joined them, there might be less awkward moments.

 

Touya narrowed his eyes and remarked to Jingmei, ¡°This creature is NOT my girlfriend by the way.¡±

 

Nakuru pretended to wipe away tears. ¡°How can you say that, Touya-kun, after all that we¡¯ve been through together?¡±

 

¡°Shoot, I¡¯m being paged.¡± Touya felt the vibration in pocket. ¡°Let me know the date and time, Li-sensei.¡±

 

¡°Yes, Kinomoto-sensei!¡± said Jingmei, sighing. Touya was completely Fanren¡¯s type of man—too bad her cousin wasn¡¯t in Japan right now.

 

Grumbling to himself, Touya hurried down the hallway and almost collided into the last person he had expected to meet. He scowled at the unpleasantly familiar face. ¡°You. What are you doing?¡±

 

Li Syaoran scowled back. ¡°They actually hired you here? Standards really must have fallen.¡±

 

Touya glanced at Syaoran¡¯s bandaged right arm, recalling how the last time he and Syaoran had faced off in the hospital, Syaoran had smashed his fist into a glass door. The door had long since been replaced. Surely Syaoran¡¯s arm had healed since then—that was a good nine months ago. ¡°I heard you were back in Japan.¡±

 

¡°News travels fast.¡± Syaoran stared at the floor. He had bumped into the person he could have down without seeing for the rest of his life.

 

¡°You. I know what you did. I don¡¯t know what you and your shady Clan are up to, but if you hurt Sakura in anyway, all the threats that I¡¯ve been making to you since day one, I would carry them out.¡± Touya¡¯s midnight blue eyes were quite murderous. ¡°Every single one of them.¡±

 

¡°No worries. I¡¯m doing my best not to cross her path,¡± replied Syaoran. ¡°And as you probably already know, she does not know me. So, what you have always wished has come true.¡±

 

Suddenly, Touya realized that Syaoran had lost that fighting spark in his eyes in the half year and plus months since he had last seen the boy. Touya had no desire to argue with this defeated Syaoran, the one who did not meet his gaze with that same ferocious scowl he had when he was just a fifth grader. ¡°Why are you at this hospital? Surely you¡¯re not volunteering here anymore. Are you sick?¡±

 

¡°You might have already met my cousin. She¡¯s a doctor who just transferred here,¡± replied Syaoran. ¡°Li Jingmei. I¡¯ve come to see her.¡±

 

¡°Yes. I have met her,¡± replied Touya wryly.

 

¡°She¡¯s not that bad, once you get used to her,¡± said Syaoran. ¡°She¡¯s just a bit¡¦¡±

 

¡°Eccentric?¡±

 

¡°You can call her that.¡± Syaoran slipped his arm out of his pocket.

 

Touya¡¯s eyes flickered to Syaoran¡¯s bandaged right arm. ¡°How come your right arm didn¡¯t heal from the Plague yet? Especially with a personal healer by your side?¡±

 

Syaoran didn¡¯t reply. Slightly nodding his head as he turned around, he mumbled, ¡°Well, if you¡¯ll excuse me then.¡±

 

¡°Hey, you. Kid,¡± Touya called out. ¡°I¡¯ll be keeping an eye on you.¡±

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Tomoyo entered Syaoran¡¯s old seventh floor apartment, carefully taking off her shoes and slipping on the fleece ribbon slippers laid out in the front. ¡°Wow, Meilin-chan, what did you do with this place?¡± She looked around at the beaded cushions on the sofa, paintings of sunflowers on the wall and glasses of potpourri set around the house.

 

¡°Do you like it? I redecorated the place,¡± said Meilin. ¡°I don¡¯t think Syaoran would mind, since he¡¯s living in the great Li mansion.¡±

 

¡°Where is the Li mansion?¡± asked Tomoyo setting down the box of cheesecake on the kitchen counter.

 

¡°It¡¯s near Eriol-kun¡¯s house,¡± replied Meilin. ¡°Same fancy neighborhood near Eitoukou.¡±

 

¡°I see.¡± Tomoyo fingered the teen fashion magazines on the living room table. ¡°Sakura-chan couldn¡¯t make it.¡±

 

¡°Why, does she have a date with Eron-kun again or something?¡± said Meilin wryly. ¡°Though Syaoran treated her badly, I can¡¯t really say I approve of Eron becoming his replacement.¡±

 

¡°I wonder if Sakura would have gotten this close to Eron-kun if she hadn¡¯t forgotten about Syaoran-kun,¡± Tomoyo remarked. ¡°Because I truly believed, deep in my heart, that the two are meant for each other.¡±

 

¡°What, like soul mates or something?¡± Meilin let out a short laugh. She poured Earl Grey tea into a rose-painted tea cup for Tomoyo.

 

¡°Something like that.¡± Tomoyo sipped the tea—Meilin¡¯s tea brewing skills seemed to have improved.

 

¡°I once thought he was my soul mate,¡± said Meilin dryly. ¡°And I got over it.¡±

 

¡°I¡¯m sorry,¡± said Tomoyo, staring at the black leaves float down to the bottom of her cup.

 

¡°No, don¡¯t be.¡± Meilin fingered the rim of her tea cup. ¡°When I was little, I had a vision of true love being my prince on a white horse whom I will marry in a flowing wedding dress. That dream has long since faded away.¡±

 

¡°But you have Kai-kun.¡±

 

¡°Yes, I do.¡± Meilin smiled wistfully. ¡°I never thought I could feel like this about anyone except Syaoran. It¡¯s not the same you know, loving someone in your mind and actually being involved with someone. I¡¯m always worrying about that intolerable thief, living in anxiety.¡±

 

¡°Isn¡¯t that a sign you love him?¡± asked Tomoyo with a soft smile.

 

¡°It¡¯s draining,¡± said Meilin, leaning back on the couch. ¡°Emotionally and mentally. I don¡¯t know if I love him or if I¡¯ve just made another habit that I can¡¯t get rid of.¡±

 

¡°But you care for each other. That¡¯s a wonderful thing,¡± Tomoyo said.

 

¡°It¡¯s better to just be in a one-sided love. That way, you can just imagine and be content. But when you are in a relationship, it¡¯s not under your control anymore. The other person is constantly changing. Every day, I¡¯m afraid who he¡¯s going to transform into. No pun intended.¡± Meilin sighed. ¡°I don¡¯t know how long his good boy act would last. It frightens me that overnight, he can just revert back to being golden boy ¡®Tanaka Mikai.¡¯ If he can change his personality and appearance like that, then what¡¯s to say his heart can¡¯t change like that too?¡±

 

¡°Oh Meilin-chan. Even if Kai-kun¡¯s appearance and name changes, the core of him doesn¡¯t change. You should know that as the person closest to him.¡± Tomoyo smiled sadly. Meilin did not know how blessed she was to have just one person so completely devoted to her, someone she could pour a hundred percent into. All her life, Tomoyo had been alone as other people found their respective pair. Sakura had Syaoran. Her mother always had the memory of Nadeshiko. Her father had work. And Eriol had Mizuki-sensei.

 

¡°I don¡¯t know, Tomoyo-chan,¡± Meilin said. ¡°I¡¯m so scared of losing him. I almost lost him once. I don¡¯t love him yet, Tomoyo-chan. I can¡¯t let myself. If I give my heart to him, I am afraid there will never be a way to get it back. It¡¯s completely different from loving Syaoran. I loved him so much too, but it was all in my mind. It hurt, but the pain was just in my heart. But with Kai, I have this dreading fear that paralyzes me entire body. Loving Syaoran, everything was within my control but with Kai, it scares me that he can manipulate me into becoming someone I do not recognize.

 

Tomoyo played with the end of Meilin¡¯s pigtail. ¡°That¡¯s what you get for falling for a magician thief. And to me, it looks like you have him waiting at your fingertips.¡±

 

¡°He almost died, Tomoyo-chan,¡± said Meilin. ¡°The surgery to remove the bullets from his chest—it went badly. He lost so much blood, and he had a rare type of blood, O negative. I thought he I was going to lose him.¡±

 

¡°I didn¡¯t know it was that serious,¡± Tomoyo murmured. ¡°He just joked about it.¡±

 

¡°He would have died if Mizuki-sensei didn¡¯t come to save him,¡± Meilin said.

 

¡°Mizuki-sensei?¡±

 

¡°She came to Hong Kong and was the blood donor who saved his life.¡±

 

¡°I see. So Mizuki-sensei saved Kai-kun¡¯s life.¡±

 

Meilin sipped her tea again. ¡°It must be difficult.¡±

 

¡°Hmm?¡±

 

¡°Having such a woman as your competition,¡± said Meilin. ¡°You¡¯re one of the most admirable people I know. But if there¡¯s anybody to match you, it¡¯s Mizuki-sensei.¡±

 

¡°If I can be half a woman like Mizuki-sensei, I would be honored,¡± Tomoyo said.


¡±Tomoyo-chan, now is not the time to be praising your rival.¡±

 

¡°Rival?¡± Tomoyo blinked.

 

¡°I know what it¡¯s like being the ¡®other girl,¡¯ what with Sakura-chan and Rido-senpai unfortunately entering my life,¡± stated Meilin. ¡°If it was anyone less that Sakura-chan, I would not have given up on Syaoran.¡±

 

Tilting her head, Tomoyo asked, ¡°Now that Syaoran and Sakura are like that, would you want another shot with Syaoran-kun?¡±

 

¡°Of course not,¡± replied Meilin, chin up. ¡°I am done with liking someone who loves another person.¡±

 

At this, Tomoyo was silent.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

A brisk knock came on the door.

 

¡°Syaoran-sama, dinner is served,¡± Wei said from outside Syaoran¡¯s bedroom. ¡°Leiyun-sama requests that you come downstairs.¡±

 

Sighing, Syaoran set aside his book and sat up from his bed. He had no appetite but walked down the stairs to the dining room.

 

To his surprise, he saw Chang Erika standing at the bottom of the stairwell. She wore a short white wool coat and a matching hat. Her violet curls were spread over her shoulders, slightly longer than last year. She watched him with catlike golden eyes, as if she had been expecting to see him.

 

¡°What are you doing here?¡±

 

She blinked her long lashes. ¡°Is that a way to greet an old friend who you haven¡¯t seen in months?¡±

 

¡°I don¡¯t recall ever being friends with you and don¡¯t see why you are here,¡± said Syaoran. ¡°And what are you two up to now?¡±

 

Head in the air, Erika replied, ¡°For your information, Leiyun-san invited me here. I¡¯m up to nothing and my brother is too busy dating Sakura.¡± She checked Syaoran¡¯s face.

 

He did not flinch. ¡°Why did Leiyun want to see you?¡±

 

¡°That scary-eyed guy brought me here,¡± replied Erika. ¡°The one with the eyes slanted like this.¡± She point her fingers upwards at the corner of her eyes.


¡±Jinyu?¡±

 

Erika nodded. ¡°Well, I need to get going now. We¡¯ll be seeing more of each other in the future, so don¡¯t glare at me like that. It¡¯s really not my fault my brother has such poor taste in women.¡± She adjusted the white beret on her head and walked towards the door.

 

¡°Wait, Erika!¡± Syaoran called out.

 

Slowly, Erika turned around. ¡°The Plague really wasn¡¯t something I could control. I¡¯m sorry about your arm¡¦¡±

 

¡°I never blamed you or you brother for it,¡± replied Syaoran, tucking his bandaged right arm into his pocket. ¡°When¡¦when did they start¡¦¡±

 

¡°When did ¡®nii-chan and Sakura start dating?¡± Erika shrugged. ¡°I don¡¯t know¡¦last semester maybe? I wasn¡¯t paying attention because they make me want to barf.¡±

 

For the first time, Syaoran found that he had to concord with Chang Erika.

 

 

 

That dinner was the longest meal that Syaoran had ever had to sit through. He sat uncomfortably at the long dining table, struggling to cut into his steak with his knife. Jingmei noisily chomped on her steak, applauding Wei¡¯s culinary skills and gushing about the handsome resident interns at the hospital. Especially the one with silvery-white hair and glasses. If Syaoran had a sense of humor left in the situation, he might have chuckled. The Li Clan seemed to be magnetic to Yukito-san¡¯s charm. Kara on the other hand was in a foul mood and picked at her black nail polish, sending poisonous glares at Jingmei every once in a while. Jinyu was absent. And Leiyun, sitting at the head of the table, quietly chewed on the steak. Syaoran never found out why Leiyun had spoken with Erika.

 

Without looking up, Leiyun remarked, ¡°Your steak is getting cold, Syaoran. Is it not cooked to your liking?¡±

 

¡°I will instantly go and prepare you some Chinese food instead, Syaoran-sama,¡± Wei said.

 

¡°No, no, the steak is delicious, Wei,¡± Syaoran said. He swallowed the piece he had been chewing—it could have been cardboard for all that it mattered to him.

 

¡°Let me assist you cutting the steak, Syaoran-sama,¡± Wei said, watching Syaoran try to cut the steak with his left hand, right hand hidden underneath the table.

 

¡°I can do it on my own,¡± snapped Syaoran. Over eight months, he had grown accustomed to doing everything with his left hand. 

 

¡°So it seems,¡± said Leiyun. He narrowed his silver-blue eyes. ¡°Do you think you can manage to fight in your current condition, Syaoran?¡±

 

¡°Why?¡±

 

¡°There seems to be a dark force on the loose. I want you to go check it out.¡±

 

¡°Why don¡¯t you send Jinyu or something?¡± asked Syaoran.

 

¡°Jinyu is on an errand.¡± Leiyun gazed at Syaoran. ¡°I would go myself. But this is your opportunity to prove yourself to the Clan as the Chosen One.¡±

 

¡°Where is the dark force?¡± asked Syaoran through gritted teeth. To think that he had to ask now because he could not sense it.

 

¡°Near the town. Find the Card Mistress. She¡¯ll be there.¡± Leiyun took out the Clow and handed it to Syaoran. Of course he would never tell the boy that no one seemed to be capable of opening the Clow.

 

Syaoran took the heavy Book in his hand. ¡°What do you want me to do with this? I can¡¯t use magic.¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s under your safekeeping. There are dark forces yet to be caught. The Elders bid you collect them all.¡±

 

¡°The Card Mistress is the only one who can seal the dark forces,¡± said Syaoran.

 

¡°Then let her seal them. But when they are caught bring them back; don¡¯t let the Card Mistress keep them,¡¯ said Leiyun.

 

¡°So, you are basically telling me to assist the Card Mistress seal the cards, but once they are sealed, take them from her?¡±

 

¡°Is there any problem with that?¡± asked Leiyun.

 

Bowing his head, Syaoran replied, ¡°No I do not.¡± He slipped the Clow into his pocket. ¡°Now, if you will excuse me.¡±

 

With narrowed lavender eyes, Kara watched the boy leave. ¡°You are being lazy, Lei. Isn¡¯t it dangerous for him to face the dark forces without his powers?¡±

 

¡°He¡¯s a warrior—he won¡¯t let that minor handicap become an impediment,¡± said Leiyun coolly.

 

Jingmei set down her fork. ¡°His arm is not yet recovered.¡±

 

¡°You said it¡¯s been improving,¡± Leiyun replied.

 

¡°His finger tips slightly moving after half a year of therapy is not saying much,¡± Jingmei replied. ¡°In his current condition, he¡¯s not fit to carry out the duties of the Chosen One—it¡¯s a folly.¡±

 

¡°Nobody forced him to do this. It¡¯s his own choice. He wants to prove himself to the Elders.¡± Leiyun folded his hands in front of him. ¡°And let him prove to them he is worthy of the title.¡±

 

¡°What a joke,¡± murmured Kara. ¡°A Card Captor without cards, a Chosen One without powers and a Dark One in love.¡±

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Sakura zipped up her red jacket a little higher to the neck—it was very windy and people hurried down the street, eager to get back indoors. She glanced around. Perhaps she had been mistaken after all; she thought she felt a dark force. Tomoyo and she had originally decided to visit Meilin and cheer her up—Meilin seemed a little down these days. Sakura had promised Tomoyo she would just quickly check out the situation, and if it was nothing, she¡¯d join them. But perhaps, it had been an excuse after all. For some inexplicable reason, Sakura did not wish to visit Meilin¡¯s apartment, next doors from Kai. She had a vague memory of sitting in that apartment the very first day she met Meilin, six years ago. Meilin had been angry and shouting at her. Because Sakura had been wearing someone else¡¯s t-shirt. Meilin¡¯s? No¡¦ Whose t-shirt had she been wearing?

 

Then, she heard a piercing scream. Releasing her staff, Sakura hurried and ran to the sound of the scream. A figure in black armor raised a gleaming axe over a young woman as if a scene from a horror movie replayed in front of her.

 

Rushing forward with her staff drawn, Sakura came in between the black knight and the woman to break the blow of the axe. The impact of the blade on her staff sent a shock down her right arm.

 

The figure in armor turned to Sakura and the woman ran off. It raised the axe again and struck down at Sakura¡¯s head. Sakura ducked and then jabbed forward with her staff, only to be blocked by the knight¡¯s shield.

 

¡°This is really not my forte,¡± she mumbled to herself, taking another lunge forward at the knight with the tip of her staff. ¡°If only I have the Sword Card.¡±

 

Another knight in black armor appeared from behind her, and Sakura ducked as this one wielded a large broadsword. Yet another knight appeared. She ran toward an alley, away from the main street.

 

A fourth knight galloped towards her one a white horse, lance in hand. Sakura jumped on top of a trash can—if only she had the Jump or the Fly. How did she think she was going to face off the dark forces without the Sakura Cards? And where were these medieval-looking knights coming from anyway?

 

An armored knight dashed towards her, sword raised above his head. Sakura kicked over the trashcan and the knight stumbled over the pile of garbage. Clenching her staff, Sakura ran down the alley. She could hear the clamor of armor chasing after her. Cold wetness touched her cheeks. She stared up at the white sky. Large white snowflakes began to fall. In the midst of being changed by huge armored creatures waving sharp weapons at her, Sakura could not help let out a little sigh. It was the first snow of this winter—and it was early.

 

A tender voice seemed to whisper in her ear, Do you know why I like watching snow? Those millions of tiny white snowflakes all seem to be alike. But, even so, each one of them is different, no two exactly the same as another.

 

Sakura slid over the thin sheet of snow that had piled on the ground. Her breath came out in puffs. Three more knights headed towards her. She spun around. They were coming at her from all directions. If she broke through ahead of her, she might be able to get out from this alley. She dashed forward. The armors swung down at her with swords. She struck out at the with her staff—she hoped whatever Clow Reed had made it out of, it was durable. Her fingers were cramped from the cold. Sakura blinked away the snow from her lashes—it was getting dark and difficult to see. An armored knight swung down at her with the axe—she barely managed to leap back. Another came at her from her back with a long sword. She didn¡¯t have time to dodge.

 

In the snowy twilight, a black silhouette flew out from the sky and a long gleaming blade with a red tassel swirled around like a trail of ice and fire.

 

There was a clang and five of the armored creatures toppled over.

 

Breathing hard, Sakura stared up at the figure standing atop a pile of abandoned boxes. His jacket was unzipped and chestnut brown hair dishelmed. He was breathing hard too, as if he had been running. His eye, the color of the setting sun, met hers.

 

It was the Li boy. ¡°What are you doing here?¡± demanded Sakura, finally regaining her voice.

 

¡°How can you rush out to this sort of situation without any sort of plan?¡± replied Li Syaoran. He turned around as the fallen armored knights staggered back to their feet. With a masterful long stroke of his left arm, the knights all fell again.

 

Though Sakura did not know much about kenjutsu, she marveled at the boy¡¯s sword form for a brief moment. Then, she scowled, ducking the blow of an axe, kicking the armored knight¡¯s left leg. It toppled over.

 

¡°Nice kick,¡± said Syaoran, jumping down from the pile of boxes, next to Sakura.

 

¡°I surprise myself sometimes,¡± replied Sakura. ¡°I didn¡¯t know I knew martial arts.¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s not enough to defeat these¡¦ creatures,¡± said Syaoran, watching the black armors rise flock towards them.

 

¡°Then what did you expect me to do when there¡¯s a dark force? Just because I lost the Clow Cards to you, sit and do nothing?¡± Sakura returned. ¡°Now, don¡¯t get in my way.¡±

 

¡°What are these?¡± Syaoran muttered, slicing through the head of the armored knights. ¡°They¡¯re hollow inside.¡±

 

¡°It sort of feels like¡¦¡± Sakura scrunched up her face. ¡°The Fantasy. That¡¯s what it feels like.¡±

 

¡°That makes sense.¡±

 

¡°And these armored creatures look awfully like those knights in the King Arthur movie we saw in history class the other day.¡± Sakura turned to Syaoran. ¡°Is it possible to manipulate the Fantasy in the real world?¡±

 

¡°It must be, if the wielder¡¯s vision of fantasy is within the realm of the real world,¡± replied Syaoran, brown hair whipped by the wind. ¡°I guess it sort of works like the Create mixed with the Illusion.¡±

 

¡°Meaning none of this is real?¡±

 

¡°I don¡¯t know.¡±

 

Sakura turned to Syaoran, brushing back her bangs from her eyes. ¡°There¡¯s stuff that even you don¡¯t know?¡±

 

Briefly, his gaze met hers. ¡°There are many things I don¡¯t know.¡±

 

Shrugging off Syaoran¡¯s sudden show of humility, Sakura held up her staff again. It was snowing so hard that she could barely see her own hand in front of her. She glanced at Syaoran and noticed he looked positively blue. The hand gripping his sword hilt was trembling.

 

¡°We can¡¯t fight them like this,¡± she said, squinting her eyes through the snow. ¡°I can¡¯t see anything.¡±

 

¡°Let¡¯s retreat,¡± said Syaoran, looking relieved.

 

The snow had formed a sugary sheen across the ground that almost reached their ankles. Sakura¡¯s stockings were soaked and her skirt clung to her knees. She heard Syaoran mutter, ¡°This is why I hate Japan.¡±

 

Sakura turned towards Syaoran. ¡°Why did you come here anyway if you hate the cold so much?¡±

 

¡°Because there was a dark force,¡± he replied. He sniffled. ¡°Stop talking—continue walking.¡±

 

The two were half running, half wading through snow now.

 

¡°Why is it snowing so hard in November?¡± demanded Sakura, trying to gather her jacket tighter around her. The snowflakes felt like electric pellets against the bare skin on her face and hands.

 

¡°Find some shelter around here,¡± replied Syaoran, teeth chattering. ¡°Why aren¡¯t there any houses in sight?¡± How did they end up from being in the bustling mid-town to this deserted white clearing?

 

¡°Wait, I see a house ahead of us!¡± exclaimed Sakura, pointing at a bleak, black house ahead of her.

 

¡°Let¡¯s head towards there,¡± Syaoran said.

 

Sakura ran up the steps to the grand door. She first tried the brass door-knockers shaped like a lion¡¯s head. There was no response, so she pounded on the door. ¡°I don¡¯t think anyone lives here.¡± She tried the door. It was unlocked. ¡°Is it okay to enter like this?¡±

 

The wind howled and Syaoran¡¯s hood was knocked aside. ¡°Just enter. We¡¯ll explain later.¡±

 

Inside was damp and cold. But at least they were safe from the wind and snow.

 

¡°Hello? Is anyone in here?¡± Sakura asked, stamping the snow off her boots.

 

Walking down the hallway, Syaoran wiped his finger over the furniture. ¡°Looks like a deserted house.¡± He sneezed and shuddered. Drafts of wind seeped through the cracks in the window. It was a large house and might have at one point been luxurious but now was worn down.

 

¡°It¡¯s sort of creepy in here,¡± Sakura murmured, glancing around her at the cobwebs on the walls and the rows of old portraits that seemed to stare at her with hollow eyes.

 

¡°Don¡¯t tell me you¡¯re scared of ghosts and stuff,¡± remarked the boy with the amber eyes that almost flickered teasingly.

 

¡°Of course not!¡± Sakura exclaimed. She sneezed.

 

The two walked deeper into the house. They came to the living room and they spotted a brick fireplace.

 

¡°I wish I had a match. Or a lighter,¡± Sakura said. She pouted. ¡°Or the Fire Card.¡±

 

Syaoran bent over the fireplace, arranging the logs. Then, he sighed.

 

¡°What¡¯s wrong?¡± Sakura asked.

 

He handed her a slip of paper with Chinese characters written on it.

 

¡°What¡¯s this?¡± Sakura asked, examining the ward paper suspiciously.

 

¡°Put a little bit of your power into it,¡± he said.

 

Sakura touched the ofurda and then pushed out her power. The paper lit in flames and Syaoran tossed it into the fireplace. Immediately, his profile was illuminated by the light. For a second, Sakura wished it was still dark. But now, they had a merrily lit fire. She put here hands of the red-orange flames. It was warm. ¡°Don¡¯t you have magic, Li-san?¡±

 

The boy looked at her with strange amber-brown eyes that reflected the changing colors of the fire.

 

¡°What¡¯s wrong?¡± asked Sakura.

 

¡°Nothing. Kinomoto-san.¡± Syaoran turned back to the fire, shuddering again.

 

¡°You don¡¯t like the cold, do you?¡± remarked Sakura.

 

¡°No¡¦ It never gets this cold in Hong Kong,¡± replied Syaoran. He sneezed again at the time Sakura did.

 

They huddled next to the fire, a little closer to each other, silent. Slowly, their jackets dried and heat circulated through their body. While Sakura did her best to avoid eye contact with the boy called Li Syaoran, she couldn¡¯t help peaking at him every once in a while. He looked so much like Li Ryuuren. There was a bit of the mystery of the Black Dragon Li Jinyu, the aloofness of Leiyun and Meilin¡¯s obstinacy present in him also. No, but Syaoran was just Syaoran.

 

She jumped a little because she realized that he had caught her staring at him. What was he thinking? Why did those amber eyes lit golden by the firelight seem so sad—yet understanding? Her heart was thumping and beads of sweat rolled down her neck, down her sweater. She hated this boy—he was the one who had stolen the Sakura Cards from her. He was the enemy from the Li Clan. This deep aching within her heart¡¦it must be the hate she felt for the boy. Why was he still watching her? One moment he seemed to be trying to reach out for her like some lost soul and the next moment, he switched back to the sullen, standoffish Chosen One of the Li Clan.

 

It must have been nightfall though it had been dark for hours because of the heavy snowfall. Sakura¡¯s stomach growled loudly.

 

¡°You must be hungry,¡± Syaoran said.

 

¡°I¡¯m fine,¡± she replied shortly.

 

¡°Let¡¯s try the kitchen and see if anything¡¯s there.¡± Syaoran headed out the living room.

 

¡°Wait, don¡¯t leave me by myself!¡± Sakura exclaimed, scampering after him.

 

Touring the kitchen, Syaoran examined the dusty cupboards. ¡°This place must have been empty for a long time.¡±

 

But he managed to gather some dry ingredients. An unopened box of spaghetti and a carton of salt and pepper. He was mumbling to himself now. ¡°If I can just find some olive oil and wine¡¦¡± He stepped opened up another cabinet and found what he was looking for.

 

¡°Is it okay to just intrude like this?¡± Sakura asked.

 

¡°No one¡¯s using it—so long as it¡¯s here, there¡¯s no reason to starve to death. I don¡¯t know how long the snowstorm¡¯s going to last.¡± He tried the sink—the water was ice cold, but at least there was water. He scrubbed the skillet and the pots with his left hand. Sakura figured he was washing the dishes like that for minimum contact with the cold water.

 

¡°Is there anything I can do?¡± Sakura asked.

 

¡°Come here and light the oven,¡± Syaoran said, handing her a ward paper.

 

Sakura fingered the thick yellow paper with the Chinese characters scrolled down the length of it. Why did the boy carry around ofudas when he could not use them?

 

The pasta was boiling in the pot, and Syaoran heated the olive oil in the skillet. Sakura watched him drain the pasta then toss it into the skillet and season it with salt, pepper, basil and oregano, all from the cabinet—they were ingredients that wouldn¡¯t go bad. And he did it all with one hand. His right hand was tucked into his pocket. Now that she thought about it, his hand had been bandaged that time she first saw him playing the violin at Eitoukou. He now struggled with the cork and wine opener. Sakura took it from him and opened the wine bottle—she didn¡¯t even know where he had found it.

 

¡°T-thanks,¡± he said, taking the wine back. He then poured wine over the skillet and the flames turned purple as he flipped the pasta mid-air; Sakura refused to be impressed.

 

Meanwhile, Sakura rummaged through the drawers to find some utensils and washed it in the sink. The water was freezing and there was no soap, but hopefully the sponge would suffice. When Syaoran was finished, he served the pasta on the fancy porcelain plates that Sakura had found. She poured them hot tea from a pot, then mustered a smile. ¡°I found some tea in the cabinet. Since we¡¯re trespassing already, figured we might as well do a good job of it.¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s good,¡± Syaoran said, taking a sip of the aromatic Darjeeling. Again, that melancholy expression came over his face before he buried his face in his tea cup. They sat down in the dining hall table, far too large for a company of two, and stared at the steaming pasta.

¡±I¡¯m sorry—I had to make do with the ingredients in the kitchen, so it won¡¯t be very good,¡± Syaoran said.

 

Sakura shook her head, as she shoveled a mouthful of pasta into her mouth. The aromatic white-wine basil and olive oil sauce on the pasta—perfectly cooked—filled her taste buds. Her eyes were teary-eyed.

 

¡°What¡¯s wrong? Do you feel sick?¡± asked Syaoran. ¡°I don¡¯t really know how long the ingredients were sitting in the cabinets and—¡°

 

¡°No¡¦¡± Sakura had a wistful expression. ¡°It¡¯s not that. It¡¯s just¡¦ it tastes rather familiar. I was wondering where I tasted it before.¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s a common dish,¡± shrugged Syaoran.

 

¡°No, it¡¯s the best pasta I¡¯ve ever had—even better than onii-chan¡¯s. And he¡¯s really good at cooking because he used to work at an Italian restaurant back in high school.¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s because you¡¯re hungry,¡± said Syaoran, twirling his fork with his left hand. ¡°Hopefully we won¡¯t die of food-poisoning or something.¡±

 

¡°It tastes so good—I can die happy if we do end up being trapped her,¡± said Sakura. ¡°Li-san, you¡¯re such an amazing cook. Where did you learn to make such great pasta?¡±

 

¡°I once worked at this fancy French restaurant,¡± replied Syaoran with a lopsided grin.

 

Sakura¡¯s eyebrow was raised. ¡°I can¡¯t imagine you working at a restaurant.¡± She stared down at her empty plate. ¡°Thank you for the meal.¡±

 

¡°I¡¯ll clear the dishes then.¡± Syaoran stood up, gathering the plates. He reached out with his right arm then quickly switched to his left one.

 

Sakura frowned. Before she could comment, they heard a rumble on the rooftop.

 

She turned to Syaoran. ¡°What was that?¡±

 

¡°It sounds like the snow piled on the roof.¡± Syaoran paused. ¡°When it snows so heavily like this, the snow piles on the roof and the weight adds up.¡±

 

There was a tremor. ¡°Did you feel that? The building shook.¡±

 

Syaoran knocked on the floor. ¡°As I was saying, the weight of the snow adds up. This house is quite old and built with wood. If the roof rotted and hasn¡¯t been repaired in a long time, there is a chance the roof might buckle under the weight—¡°

 

A deafening roar and crash sounded upstairs as the house shook underneath their feet.

 

Sakura turned to Syaoran, aghast. ¡°The house is collapsing!¡±

 

¡°So it seems,¡± remarked Syaoran dryly. ¡°If it¡¯s just upstairs that collapsed¡¦¡± They stared up at the ceiling as the chandelier swung unstably. Rubble crumbled down and dust dropped on their foreheads. There was another tremor and they heard wood planks splintering. ¡°Shoot—we need to get out of this house!¡±

 

They ran to the front door and tried to open the door. It wouldn¡¯t budge.

 

¡°Move, let me give it a try.¡± Syaoran took several steps back and kicked the door. He managed to kick a hole through the door and snow poured in.

 

Sakura ran to the window and tried to look up. Snow had piled clearly above floor level and the window wouldn¡¯t budge because it had been frozen into the frames. ¡°There¡¯s at least two meters of snow outside—probably more because the wind swept up snow to the sides of the house. We¡¯re completely snowed in.¡±

 

¡°If I give you the Explosive, do you think you can blast a whole through the snow?¡± Syaoran asked, shoving the card into Sakura¡¯s hand.

 

Sakura quickly released her staff. ¡°Explosive, burst through the door!¡± Nothing happened. Her ears burned—how humiliating, of all times for her magic to fail, in front of a Li out of all people!

 

The trembling ceiling then caved in. Syaoran stared up as the flood of snow poured down with debris and broken planks of wood. ¡°No time. Let¡¯s run to the basement.¡±

 

The two ran down the stairwell, Syaoran leading the way in near pitch black. ¡°Be careful. There are some crumbled steps.¡±

 

¡°Li-san¡¦ I¡¯ve been meaning to ask you. Have you been in this house before?¡± Sakura asked, following close behind Syaoran.


¡±What makes you ask that?¡± asked Syaoran.

 

¡°I don¡¯t know. You knew there was a basement—you knew where the secret stairwell was. You move around as if you¡¯ve been here before,¡± said Sakura.

 

Syaoran ignored her comment and handed her a fire ofuda. ¡°Can you light this please?¡±

 

Though she could not summon the Explosive, Sakura had no problem lighting the ward. She welcomed the warmth from the little tongue of flame from the paper. They could now see the long corridor leading down the basement lit orange. It was damp and chilly down here. Instinctively, she drew closer to Syaoran.

 

Sakura peered at the eerie metal bars of the dungeon. Why was there a dungeon down here? ¡°Do you think that there are g-g-gho¡¦¡±

 

¡°Ghosts down here?¡± Syaoran glanced around. ¡°Perhaps corpses as well.¡±

 

¡°Hoe!¡± Sakura scowled deeply, holding up the light to see Syaoran¡¯s face. ¡°Did you just laugh at me?¡±

 

¡°Of course not,¡± he replied, straight-faced. ¡°I thought you weren¡¯t scared of ghosts anymore.¡±

 

¡°Anymore?¡±

 

¡°I meant, why would a Card Mistress be scared of ghosts?¡± Syaoran rapidly corrected.

 

¡°Fine, mock me. If you grew up hearing the stories onii-chan told me, you¡¯d be scared of ghosts too. Besides, I¡¯m much better about it than I used to be.¡±

 

Syaoran didn¡¯t reply, walking on ahead until he came to the end of the hallway. ¡°The ghosts of this place don¡¯t seem to be ill-meaning,¡± he remarked. ¡°We¡¯re still here, with a roof over our head in the storm.¡±

 

¡°Well, I guess we¡¯ll just have to stay here until the storm ceases,¡± said Sakura. Syaoran surprisingly didn¡¯t seem to mind much at all under the current situation.

 

He was ready to plop down on the concrete floor.

 

¡°Wait!¡± Sakura exclaimed. She spotted a gray blanket folded on the floor and dragged it over. ¡°Don¡¯t sit on the ground—it¡¯s cold.¡± Carefully, she lay out the wool blanket.

 

¡°I¡¯m fine with sitting on the ground,¡± said Syaoran. ¡°You can use the blanket.¡±

 

¡°Don¡¯t be silly. We can share it,¡± replied Sakura. ¡°Give me a hand now—grab that end.¡±

 

Syaoran awkwardly spread his end with one hand. Sighing, Sakura shoved him aside and brushed out the blanket on the floor. It smelled musty but it was still better than sitting on the stone. She plopped down and looked up expectantly at Syaoran. Hesitantly, he sat at the farthest corner of the blanket. His right hand was still tucked in his pocket.

 

Carefully, Sakura set the fire ofuda in between them. The tiny flame flickered and lit the dark abyss of the basement. They sat in silence for a while, before she spun around to face Syaoran. ¡°You know, it¡¯s been bothering me from before—let me look at your arm.¡±

 

¡°Why?¡±

 

¡°Just let me see it.¡±

 

¡°No!¡± he replied.

 

¡°If you show it to me, I might be able to fix it.¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s fine!¡± he exclaimed. When had she noticed? He had been trying to keep his right arm hidden from her.

 

¡°Just show it to me!¡± demanded Sakura. She grabbed Syaoran by the arm.

 

¡°Oooowww!¡± He winced as she purposefully dug her nails into his wrist.

 

¡°Sure, it¡¯s fine,¡± she muttered, as she began to unwind the bandage around his arm.

 

¡°What are you doing?¡±

 

¡°Oh, stop fussing about,¡± Sakura said. ¡°I may not look it, but I spent a year volunteering at the hospital, and my brother¡¯s a doctor, so I know what I¡¯m doing.¡± For a second, she saw a strange expression wash over the boy¡¯s face, and he did not protest anymore. Carefully, she examined his arm, tracing the blue veins running down to his wrist. ¡°What did you do to your arm? It doesn¡¯t look like it¡¯s sprained or fractured.¡±

He didn¡¯t respond.

 

Her fingers touched two tiny marks on his biceps, just blow his elbow. ¡°Did something bite you?¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s just scars from a mosquito bite,¡± he responded shortly, trying to pull his arm away without much avail.

 

¡°Give me the Heal,¡± Sakura said. ¡°You have the Sakura Cards on you, don¡¯t you?¡±

 

¡°I can¡¯t give you the Cards,¡± he replied, forgetting he had given her the Explosive just a little while ago.

 

¡°I know that—but if you lend me the Heal Card for a moment, I might be able to heal you,¡± Sakura replied.

 

¡°It¡¯s all right.¡± Syaoran again tried to pull his arm away. He did not want her using that card, not after what had happened last time.

 

¡°Fine then.¡± Closing her eyes, Sakura summoned, ¡°Heal, return to your rightful mistress.¡± She hoped it would work.

 

From Syaoran¡¯s pocket slipped a pink card. He scowled. ¡°Can you summon all your cards back just like that?¡±

 

She gripped the card between her two longest fingers. ¡°No. But I was confident I can call back at least the Heal and the Light. Those two cards came from within me.¡± During the fifth grade play Sleeping Beauty, the Dark had taken away someone very important to her, and she had been lost in a pitch-black despair. At that moment, she had found the Light from within her. A broad back striped with red welts flashed into her mind. Her heart felt a pang. And when the Whip had hurt someone she loved very much, she had created the Heal.

 

Shaking away the image, Sakura closed her eyes and sought the soothing power of the moon within her. Her warm hand was pressed against his palm as she murmured, ¡°Power of the Moon. I, Sakura command you. Cleanse the evil poison that flows within these veins. Heal!¡±

 

A strange, tingling feeling flushed through from the tip of his hands up to his shoulders. Like that moment he had reached out to grip Sakura¡¯s hands that day at the cliff side. Unbeknownst to him, his hands curled around hers and gripped it tightly. Her large green eyes blinked at him.

 

¡°How is it?¡± she asked.

 

Syaoran realized that he was clasping her hand, and he pulled away quickly. Then, he stared at her. Holding up his hand, he made a fist then opened his fingers again. Slowly, he twisted his wrist and even tried a swinging motion. ¡°I can move it again.¡±

 

Sakura smiled. ¡°Thank goodness.¡±

 

He said dully, ¡°I¡¯m your enemy. Why are you doing this to me? I came today to take away the dark force from you once it was sealed.¡±

 

¡°I figured that much,¡± replied Sakura. ¡°It looked like it hurt though. Besides, I feel bad fighting someone who always looks like he¡¯s in pain.¡±

 

What a Sakura-like thing to say. Syaoran sighed. She hadn¡¯t changed.

 

Sakura tucked the Heal in her pocket.

 

¡°H-hey—you have to return that to me!¡± he stammered.


¡±Too bad,¡± she replied. ¡°You should have lent it to me when I asked. Then I might have returned it.¡± Scowling, she turned her back to Syaoran.

 

¡°Hey, you.¡±

 

¡°I have a name, and it¡¯s not ¡®hey, you.¡¯ It¡¯s Kinomoto Sakura. And I¡¯m not giving back the Heal,¡± said Sakura, back still turned to Syaoran. ¡°Don¡¯t even try to take it from me either—I¡¯ll fight back this time if you do.¡±

 

¡°I¡¯m not going to take the card away from you,¡± Syaoran said wearily. He also sat back towards Sakura and with his legs stretched out. ¡°I¡¯ll think of it as payment for healing my arm.¡± The Heal was not a combative card—Leiyun would hardly miss it. He mumbled into his collar, ¡°Thank you.¡±

 

Sakura turned her head to him. ¡°What?¡±

 

Syaoran glanced away.

 

There was a long period of silence. Sakura sat shivering, and even the layer of blanket did not provide much insulation between her and the hard cement floor. Her breath came out in puffs and her lungs hurt from the cold. Oftentimes, she wanted to look over her shoulder and see what the boy was doing. Was he sleeping? Why was he so silent? It was so cold¡¦ the ofuda didn¡¯t provide much heat.

 

A heavy down jacket settled over her shoulders. She turned her head and saw Syaoran, in his wool sweater, take a seat again. ¡°Why are you giving me your coat—you¡¯re cold too—here take it back.¡±

 

¡°No, you take it,¡± said Syaoran clenching his chattering teeth. ¡°I¡¯m not cold at all.¡±

 

¡°Liar.¡± Sakura sighed. Why was he being nice to her all of a sudden? Perhaps he had a guilty conscience, and if they were to die here and now, he thought he could redeem herself with a bit of kindness. ¡°You know something like this happened to me two winters ago.¡±

 

¡°Did it?¡±

 

Squinting her eyes in recollection, Sakura murmured, ¡°I was with a group of friends, and there was a snowstorm then too. We ran to the nearest house. It was like a haunted house. There was a crazy madman who thought I was his dead fiancée.¡±

 

¡°What happened?¡±

 

¡°He locked me up in a dungeon¡¦quite like this one. It makes me wonder if it¡¯s this same house—how many people keep dungeons in their basement, after all.¡± Sakura chuckled. ¡°It was quite terrifying, actually.¡±

 

¡°You must have been scared.¡±

 

¡°I was¡¦for a little while. But there was somebody with me. He told me stories about his family.¡± Sakura paused with a wistful smile. ¡°I miss him. I miss him so much.¡±

 

¡°Who?¡±

 

¡°I don¡¯t know. I don¡¯t know. You must think I¡¯m crazy.¡± She turned to face the boy with the amber eyes that seemed to cry in her stead. ¡°There is this hole inside of me, and I feel this emptiness, this overwhelming hollowness. I tried to channel it as anger towards you for stealing the Sakura Cards. But I¡¯m not angry at you. I¡¯m angry at myself.¡±

 

¡°Aren¡¯t you happy, Sakura?¡±

 

She did not even notice he had called her by her first name. ¡°I am. I am¡¦ I should be thankful. I almost lost my life after sealing the Plague. I have Eron-kun—he¡¯s been a blessing to me. It¡¯s strange. I never thought I could rely on someone who was my enemy. But he¡¯s been so helpful all these months—I don¡¯t know what I would have done without him.¡±

 

Abruptly, Syaoran drew back. ¡°You¡¯re cold and tired. You¡¯re not thinking clearly.¡±

 

¡°You must be right,¡± Sakura said. ¡°I¡¯m being ungrateful. He¡¯d scold me if he saw me like this. He told me it¡¯s useless to just sit and cry doing nothing, that I should stay calm and think clearly.¡±  Sakura paused. ¡°It must have been Eron who told me that. Or Eriol-kun? Or maybe it was Yue-san. No¡¦¡± She drew the jacket closer around her. ¡°Li-san, is your family back in Hong Kong?¡±

 

¡±Yes.¡±

 

¡°Have you been to Japan before? Your Japanese is so fluent,¡± Sakura remarked.

 

¡°Most Li¡¯s are multilingual,¡± replied Syaoran.

¡°Where do you live in Japan?¡±

 

¡°At the Li Mansion at Eitoukou.¡±

 

¡°With Li Leiyun-san and Li Jinyu-san and Rido-senpai?¡±

 

¡°And another cousin who¡¯s a doctor. And Wei of course.¡±

 

¡°I¡¯m glad. It must be less lonely then, living here in Japan away from your mother and father.¡±

 

¡°Just mother. And four sisters.¡±

 

¡°Oh¡¦ I¡¯m sorry. I forgot about Li Ryuuren-san.¡± Sakura hugged her knees to her chest. ¡°They were friends. Did you know that? Your father and my mother.¡±

 

¡°I know.¡±

 

¡°I wonder.¡± Syaoran¡¯s coat felt so warm around her shoulders. And it smelled like how she had imagined he would smell—clean of soap and slightly minty. Not marred by the heavy scent of cologne like Kai¡¯s scent nor the sterile smell of the hospital like her brother¡¯s clothes. ¡°I wonder if we could have been friends too.¡±

 

¡°If I didn¡¯t steal the Sakura Cards from you.¡±

 

¡°If I met you a little earlier.¡± Sakura turned to him. ¡°I used to be strong—I wouldn¡¯t have lost the cards to you. Then there would have been no reason for me to be mad at you.¡±

 

¡°Why aren¡¯t you strong anymore?¡± Syaoran asked.

 

¡°I lost something important to me. And because of that, I lost confidence in my own abilities.¡±

 

¡°If it was within you in the beginning, it should still be with you,¡± said Syaoran.

 

At this, Sakura smiled slightly. ¡°You might actually be a nice person, Li-san.¡± She yawned—she always felt rather sleepy after using the Heal. ¡°That day when I first saw you at Eitoukou,¡± Sakura began. ¡°You were playing a tune. What tune was it?¡± Her lids grew heavy.

 

 

 

*******

 

 

 

Many nights, Tomoyo stayed up late finishing up her designs for new dresses. High school work was definitely more time consuming than junior high. Luckily, Tomoyo was not a procrastinator like Sakura, and she always finished her homework first thing when she got home. Because she needed all the time she could get for her hobbies. When she was busy, she didn¡¯t have to thing—she was completely consumed by her work. Tomoyo was surprised that her cell phone rang past midnight. It was an unknown number. ¡°H-hello?¡±

 

¡°Hello? This is Chang Eron.¡±

 

¡°E-eron-kun?¡±

 

¡°Sorry to call you so late at night. I was just wondering if Sakura is with you.¡±

 

¡°No, she isn¡¯t.¡± Tomoyo frowned. It really was none of Eron¡¯s business where Sakura was. Unless¡¦ they couldn¡¯t be dating now. Sakura wouldn¡¯t. The old Sakura. But Sakura without memory of her most important person was a different Sakura.

 

¡°She¡¯s not at home either. I called her cell phone and her stuffed animal thing told me she might be with you,¡± said Eron.

 

¡°Kero-chan doesn¡¯t know where Sakura-chan is?¡± Tomoyo frowned. If it was the old days, there would only be one other person she could be with. She shook her head. Impossible.

 

 

 

When Sakura opened her eyes again, she realized her neck was cramped and her bottom was cold. The dungeon smelled of mildew and mold.

 

¡°What time do you think it is?¡± Sakura asked, rubbing her eyes. She had dozed off several times during the long night.

 

¡°It must almost be morning,¡± replied Syaoran. He rolled up his sleeves to see his watch.

 

Sakura glanced over and saw the unique silver-wrought watch with the face of the clock fashioned on a leaf. ¡°What an interesting watch,¡± she remarked.

 

He quickly pulled his sleeve down, covering it.

 

¡°What time is it?¡±

 

¡°I don¡¯t know. The watch battery died.¡± The hands were permanently at twelve¡¯ o¡¯clock even though it should be near morning by now.

 

¡°Oh. I wonder if the snowstorm stopped.¡± She stood up and straightened her back.

 

¡°I don¡¯t hear the wind anymore,¡± replied Syaoran. ¡°We should go and check if we can make a way out of here.¡±

 

For a second, Sakura thought he almost sounded reluctant. Why? She followed him up the stairwell. Syaoran tried to open the door to the first floor. It didn¡¯t budge.

 

¡°I think the rubbles collapsed outside, blocking the door.¡± He gave the door a kick. Turning around, he said, ¡°I think you need to use this.¡±

 

Sakura realized he had handed her the Explosive again. ¡°You saw me last time. I can¡¯t.¡±

 

¡°You were able to use the Heal on me fine. You can do this,¡± said Syaoran.

 

That¡¯s right. She used the Heal without a problem. Taking the chain from her neck, Sakura stated, ¡°Key that hides the power of the moon. Show you true self to me. I, Sakura, command you under contract. Release!¡± She twirled her staff around her fingertips for show and the brought it down on the card. ¡°Explosive!¡±

 

She would have been thrown back from the impact of the great explosion, but Syaoran steadied her from behind her. Blinding light streamed in—it was already morning.

 

She turned to Syaoran excitedly. ¡°It worked!¡±

 

He gave her sort of a half-smile. ¡°Of course it did.¡± He cleared away the shattered fragments of wood and climbed out of the hole. Then, he turned around and extended his right hand. Hesitantly, Sakura took it. Her eyes widened as she stared up at his eyes. He tightened his grip and pulled her up.

 

They walked out, wading through the rubbles of cement and wood. It was remarkably warm for a winter¡¯s day, and Sakura unzipped Syaoran¡¯s jacket. ¡°Umm¡¦ Thank you¡¦¡±

 

He took it. ¡°It¡¯s no problem.¡± The jacket was still warm from her body when he put it on again.

 

She shielded her eyes with her hands and looked around. ¡°Where did all the snow go? It couldn¡¯t have all melted overnight.¡±

 

Shrugging, Syaoran replied, ¡°Who knows.¡±

 

They heard a loud grumbling noise and turned around. What remained of the wooden frames of the house caved in and completed crumbled in.

 

¡°Well, looks like we got out of there none too soon,¡± remarked Syaoran.

 

¡°Umm¡¦ what are we going to tell the house owners?¡± asked Sakura.

 

¡°Look.¡± Syaoran nodded ahead. Lit by the dazzling morning sun, a pale woman with long golden curls that hung down her waist stood ahead them. She had a white dress that fluttered about in the wind. Her lips moved. She smiled and then turned around, joining a man with dark hair.

 

¡°Her name¡¦¡± Sakura brushed the tears off of her eyes. ¡°Kinomoto Fujiko.¡±

 

Neither of them were particularly surprised when they turned around to find the ruins of the house completely had disappeared. It was one of those ethereal moments that neither of them would ever speak about to anyone again. They walked down the road in silence until they came back to a familiar path that lead them back to downtown. In the distance, they saw someone running towards to them. Syaoran halted.

 

Sakura stared up in surprise at the boy with violet-blue hair stagger towards her, panting. ¡°Eron-kun, what are you doing here?¡±

 

Eron faced Sakura. ¡°Are you all right? What happened?¡±

 

¡°I¡¯m all right,¡± Sakura replied. ¡°How did you find me?¡±

 

¡°You disappeared—I got worried. Tomoyo-chan, Cerberus all didn¡¯t know where you were.¡± Then, Eron looked up to see Syaoran. He turned tense. ¡°What are you doing here?¡±

 

¡°We got trapped together in the snowstorm,¡± Sakura replied for Syaoran.

 

Eron took her by her shoulders. ¡°Did he hurt you in any way? If he did¡¦¡±

 

¡°No, I¡¯m fine,¡± Sakura said.

 

Unraveling his cashmere scarf from around his neck, Eron wrapped it around Sakura. ¡°Let¡¯s go now; we need to get you warm.¡± Eron took her by the arm and she followed.

 

Looking over his shoulders, Eron glanced at Syaoran then walked off with Sakura by his side. Syaoran stood watching Eron and Sakura walk off down the road. He lifted up his right hand, free of all bandages, curling his fingers into a tight fist.

 

 

 

¡°Are you sure he didn¡¯t do anything to you?¡± demanded Eron as he walked Sakura to the bus stop. ¡°Where were you trapped? He wasn¡¯t the one who locked you in? He didn¡¯t try to hurt you?¡±

 

¡°No, it was fine,¡± Sakura repeated with a long sigh. ¡°He¡¯s not that bad of a person, I don¡¯t think.¡±

 

Of course Li Syaoran wasn¡¯t. Eron scowled. ¡°He stole the Cards from you. And he¡¯s with the Li¡¯s. He¡¯s dangerous.¡±

 

¡°Even so, it didn¡¯t particularly seem like he wanted to harm me in any way,¡± said Sakura. ¡°I mean, we were alone together for hours, trapped in the mansion. If he wanted to, he could have easily disposed of me and no one would ever have known.¡± She laughed shortly. Probably Li Jinyu would have had no problem doing that. But Li Syaoran didn¡¯t have the eyes of a murder. ¡°Well, I guess I should head back home now so I can change before school starts.¡±

 

¡°Nothing happened between you two?¡±

 

Sakura turned to Eron, raising an eyebrow. ¡°Who? Me and him? What could have happened? You have such silly ideas, Eron-kun.¡± She walked ahead, her short hair blowing out behind her.

 

Eron watched Sakura¡¯s back as she got into the bus. Sakura, when will you ever turn around and look at me? I¡¯m the one standing here now. 

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

¡°Where were you all night?¡± Kero-chan hissed when Sakura snuck back into her room in broad daylight. ¡°Do you know how worried I was?¡±

 

¡°I got trapped in some haunted house because of the snowstorm,¡± replied Sakura. ¡°And we couldn¡¯t get out.¡±

 

¡°Who¡¯s ¡®we¡¯?¡±

 

¡°That boy from Hong Kong.¡±

 

¡°The Brat?¡± Kero-chan demanded. ¡°Li Syaoran?¡±

 

¡°Kero-chan, it¡¯s not polite to call people names,¡± said Sakura.

 

¡°And it¡¯s perfectly polite to snatch away personal possessions from somebody, especially a century-old magical artifact?¡± Kero-chan¡¯s arms were crossed. ¡°Anyhow, why were you trapped in some house again?¡±

 

¡°The snowstorm.¡±

 

¡°What snowstorm?¡±

 

¡°Why, the horrible snowstorm last night.¡± Sakura raised her hand high above her head. ¡°It snowed at least two meters.¡±

 

¡°I don¡¯t know what you¡¯re talking about,¡± replied Kero-chan. ¡°And if it were a dark force, I¡¯d have sensed it.¡±

 

¡°Well, I¡¯m not lying.¡± Slowly, Sakura slipped out the little wooden jewelry box from under her bed. The melody of Swan Lake tinkled on. She slipped out a silver-wrought watch fashioned in the shape of flower petals. The hands of the watch had stopped at twelve¡¯ o¡¯clock.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

That day at school, Sakura was barely awake with the lack of sleep the previous night. Luckily, she had caught some hours of sleep at that haunted mansion next to a perfect stranger. She wondered if he was sitting in class at Eitoukou High, dozing off also and almost smiled the thought of it. Last night, she had caught a peek at Syaoran¡¯s sleeping face, and he looked surprisingly boyish when he wasn¡¯t scowling.

 

¡°What are you smiling about?¡± Meilin asked, bending over Sakura¡¯s desk.

¡±Meilin-chan. I¡¯m so sorry I couldn¡¯t visit you yesterday,¡± said Sakura.

 

¡°It¡¯s all right. There was a dark force, right?¡± Meilin smiled. ¡°Did you capture it?¡±

 

¡°Nooo¡¦¡± Sakura sighed. ¡°Far from it.¡±

 

¡°You look really tired. Did you even sleep?¡± asked Meilin, peering at Sakura¡¯s face.

 

Shaking her head, Sakura yawned again. ¡°Do you remember that strange haunted mansion we got trapped in two years ago?¡±

 

¡°I remember. With the madman who thought you were his fiancée?¡± Tomoyo said.

 

Sakura frowned. ¡°It was you, Meilin-chan, Eron-kun and Erika-chan there, right? Was there anyone else?¡±

 

Tomoyo and Meilin glanced at each other anxiously. ¡°It was just us,¡± replied Tomoyo.

 

Sakura stared up with bright green eyes. ¡°Are you sure?¡±

 

¡°Yes of course. Unless you count the ghost?¡± Meilin said with a nervous smile. ¡°Why are you asking about that incident?¡±

 

¡°I think I got trapped in that same house again,¡± said Sakura. ¡°It couldn¡¯t be purely coincidence that I got trapped there a second time during a snowstorm, right? We got trapped in the dungeon of the house.¡± And she had seen the beautiful woman. Her name was Kinomoto Fujiko—was she a relative?

 

¡°Anyhow, Eron-kun was really worried about you last night,¡± said Tomoyo. ¡°He called me.¡±

 

¡°I know. He found me,¡± said Sakura, glancing over to Eron, stooped over his desk in sheer exhaustion. His twin was not present today.

 

Meilin¡¯s eyes rounded. ¡°You mean you spent the night with Eron-kun?¡±

 

¡°No, he found me in the morning, after everything was over,¡± Sakura said.

 

¡°Then who were you trapped in the dungeon with?¡± asked Meilin.

 

¡°Huh?¡± Sakura paused. ¡°I meant I was trapped in the dungeon. With the ghosts I guess.¡± She couldn¡¯t quite bring herself to tell her friends about those moments spent with Li Syaoran, how she had healed his arms. They probably wouldn¡¯t understand her actions.

 

¡°Well, I¡¯m taking another look at Eron-kun now,¡± remarked Meilin, watching Eron¡¯s sleeping face. ¡°He does seem to care for you a lot.¡± Like Tomoyo, she had also thought Sakura and Syaoran would be forever. But if Sakura did not remember Syaoran, then forever became just a forgotten memory.

 

¡°I didn¡¯t expect to see Eron-kun either,¡± said Sakura softly. ¡°He was genuinely worried for me.¡±

 

 

 

Eron insisted upon walking Sakura home after school, as if he didn¡¯t trust letting her out of his sight.

 

¡°I don¡¯t understand. If there was a dark force, why didn¡¯t you call me?¡± asked Eron. ¡°It could have been dangerous without you cards.¡±

 

¡°It never occurred to me to call you,¡± replied Sakura. She smiled crookedly. ¡°After all, usually you were the one instigating everything.¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s not funny,¡± said Eron. ¡°What more can I do to prove to you that I want to be by your side when you need help?¡±

 

¡°Oh, Eron-kun. I do trust you now,¡± Sakura said. ¡°I¡¯m just not used to relying on anyone when there¡¯s a dark force—because I need to act quickly, not because I can¡¯t use help.¡±

 

¡°But you let him help you.¡±

 

¡°Who?¡± Sakura blinked her green eyes. ¡°Do you mean Li Syaoran?¡±

 

Eron didn¡¯t reply but stared at her straight in the eye.

 

¡°He happened to be there. Most likely, the Li Clan sent him to capture the dark force.¡±

 

¡°Look at me, Sakura. You can¡¯t trust him. He is dangerous,¡± said Eron.

 

Now, Sakura did look up at Eron, perplexed. ¡°What¡¯s wrong, Eron-kun? Why does it bother you so much that I, not out of choice, got trapped by a dark force with that Li Chosen One?¡±

 

¡°Because you¡¯re hiding something from me,¡± replied Eron. ¡°I can tell.¡±

 

¡°Don¡¯t be silly—there is nothing to hide from you.¡± Sakura stared at the floor. She didn¡¯t tell Eron that she had healed Li Syaoran¡¯s arm. Nor that he had cooked pasta for her. Li Syaoran¡¯s eyes had been so somber, the color of ember right before it fades into ash.

 

¡°Sakura, I told myself I won¡¯t ask for more. But in the end, I can¡¯t help wanting. That¡¯s human nature. I love you, and naturally I want you to trust me completely,¡± said Eron. ¡°I want to make you happy.¡±

 

Sakura smiled hesitantly. ¡°I want you to be happy too, Eron.¡±

 

¡°Then will you go out with me?¡± Eron said. ¡°It doesn¡¯t have to be serious. It¡¯s okay if you don¡¯t return my feelings. I just want to be the one who can always be by your side.¡±

 

For a second, Sakura stared at the buttons on Eron¡¯s school blazer. It¡¯s not like she hadn¡¯t been expecting this. She had always dreamed of hearing those words from somebody, I just want to be the one who can always be by your side. Her mother¡¯s words replayed in her mind, When all else fails you, Sakura, trust your heart. And trust the ones that have always been by your side. Her voice was steady when she replied, ¡°If it will make you happy Eron, I¡¯ll go out with you.¡±

 

Eron¡¯s jaw dropped, as if he had been expecting an automatic rejection, and then his eyes lit a warm hazel-gold as he embraced Sakura tightly. ¡°Thank you. Thank you Sakura, for giving me a chance.¡±

 

How strange, thought Sakura. It feels so warm and nice to lean against someone¡¯s chest like this. Eron has been nothing but good to me. I can trust him. And I truly do want to make him happy.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

¡°You are WHAT?¡± demanded Kero-chan, toppling over the pumpkin pie he had been devouring.

 

On the contrary, Tomoyo seemed calm as she set down the Victorian pinpoint lace she was crocheting. ¡°How did it happen?¡±

 

¡°I don¡¯t know. He just asked me out. And I agreed,¡± replied Sakura.

 

¡°Are you sure you¡¯re not rushing into things?¡±

 

¡°He cares for me. Isn¡¯t that enough?¡±

 

¡°Just half a year ago, he was your enemy,¡± said Tomoyo.

 

¡°So what? He¡¯s been a good friend to me all this while,¡± said Sakura, sipping on her spiced hot chocolate prepared by Tomoyo¡¯s cook. ¡°And he said he loved me. Nobody¡¯s ever said that to me before.¡±

 

A slight frown came over Tomoyo¡¯s brows. ¡°Do you love him?¡±

 

¡°I think I can try,¡± replied Sakura slowly. Her eyes were downcast. ¡°Why can¡¯t you just congratulate me? I¡¯m doing something normal for a change. Eron-kun was so happy when I said yes. I want to make him happy.¡±

 

¡°And you, Sakura-chan. What about you?¡± Tomoyo asked, pressing her hands against her friends¡¯.

 

Sakura stared at Tomoyo¡¯s blistered white hands without looking into her best friend¡¯s eyes.  ¡°I¡¯m no longer ten years old anymore. I¡¯ll never go back to those carefree days.¡±

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

When Tomoyo was worried, she sewed. Instead of attending choir rehearsal, Tomoyo sat in the art room, cutting patterns for a long taffeta blue dress. Outside, she could hear the chanting of the cheerleading squad and the shouts from the soccer field. Tomoyo checked the white thread in the sewing machine and positioned the fabric against the needlepoint. The rhythmic sound of stitches being formed was soothing to her. She was now in high school but her hobbies remained the same. She was still going to sing in the annual Christmas pageant, and designed dresses in her spare time; filming was still her favorite pastime and she had an entire wall of DVD edits of Sakura¡¯s adventures as Card Captor Volume 1-132 and counting. Her hair was long, the same way it had always been since her mother had wanted her to grow it out like Nadeshiko¡¯s. She hadn¡¯t changed at all, but everybody around her was changing. Tomoyo glanced up at the wall of the art room where the family portraits were still hung up. She gazed at Eriol¡¯s charcoal portrait. Nakuru had become a nurse. Miara had regained her health. And Miho had found her brother. Eriol seemed to have surrounded himself with many auburn-haired women, it seemed.

 

A nasty ripping sound came from the sewing machine, and Tomoyo stared down at the snare in the fine ice-blue fabric. Ruby-red droplets welled out from her forefinger and stained the fabric in a deep maroon.

 

¡°You need to be careful, Tomoyo-san.¡±


Tomoyo glanced up. When had Eriol walked into the art room? Quickly, she wrestled the fabric away from the needle. Her finger continued to bleed, dripping on the taffeta.

 

¡°Let me see it,¡± said Eriol, walking over and sitting down in the chair beside her.

 

¡°It¡¯s fine—I¡¯ll go find a band-aid,¡± said Tomoyo, trying to stand up.

 

¡°Sit.¡± Eriol took her pale hand and carefully examined her bleeding finger. He dabbed the blood with his white handkerchief then folded it up. Carefully, he bandaged her finger to stop the blood flow. ¡°It¡¯s a pity to injure such a pretty hand. Don¡¯t do it again.¡±

 

¡°T-thank you for the bandage.¡± Tomoyo fingered the crisp white handkerchief tied around her finger.

 

¡°It¡¯s not like you to make such a mistake,¡± Eriol remarked, staring at the expanse of fabric, snagged and smeared with blood.

 

¡°I wasn't paying attention,¡± Tomoyo replied, hurriedly gathering the soiled taffeta, rolling it up and throwing it into the trashcan.

 

¡°You skipped chorus,¡± said Eriol. He was the accompanist for choir.

 

¡°I lost track of time while sewing.¡±

 

Eriol glanced at the pattern sheets. ¡°Do you need help?¡±

 

¡°I¡¯m fine, thank you,¡± said Tomoyo. ¡°I was almost finished.¡±

¡°You can¡¯t use scissors with fingers like that,¡± said Eriol. ¡°Let me cut the fabric for you.¡±

 

Tomoyo gazed at him. ¡°Thank you, Eriol-kun.¡±

 

Expertly, Eriol cut the fabrics and while Tomoyo hemmed the skirt on the machine, Eriol worked on sewing lace on the bodice of the dress. His stitches were smaller and neater than even the machine.

 

¡°So, will you tell me what is on your mind, Tomoyo-san?¡± Eriol asked.

 

¡°It¡¯s about Sakura-chan,¡± said Tomoyo. ¡°But I realized it¡¯s not my place to interfere.¡±

 

¡°Well, Kaho always says that Sakura-san is capable of finding the right answer within herself.¡± Eriol stared at the delicate flower petals crocheted into the cream-colored lace.


¡±Mizuki-sensei?¡± Tomoyo turned to Eriol.

 

Eriol held up the bodice he had completed lacing. ¡°Such a beautiful dress must be for Sakura-san, right? What joyous occasion will she wear it at, I wonder?¡± His deep voice held a note of tenderness. ¡°Nobody would go astray for too long with such a caring friend like you, Tomoyo-san.¡±

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Mizuki Kaho had grown up barely knowing her aunt. But she and Miara had quickly developed a deep friendship since Kaho spent many evenings at the Reed mansion. While Miara had a difficult time getting along with most people, the well-tempered and intelligent Kaho¡¯s company pleased her very much. Kaho also had a beautiful voice to listen to when she read out loud. Besides, Miho adored Kaho and was very much in awe of her all the time.

 

¡°Say, Kaho, how did you first end up meeting Eriol-kun?¡± Miara sipped her mug of steaming hot chocolate. The two women often sat together after dinner, talking, sometimes reading or working. ¡°Did you intentionally seek out Clow Reed¡¯s reincarnation? Or did he find you first?¡±

 

¡°Oh, that¡¦¡± Kaho smiled, setting down her students¡¯ essays. ¡°I had just come to England as an exchange student in my college days. Before that, I¡¯d spent a year teaching as a student-teacher at Seijou Junior High.¡±

 

¡°Seijou¡¦My alma mater,¡± remarked Miara nostalgically.

 

¡°Mine as well,¡± replied Kaho. ¡°I was sad to leave my students. But I felt at that moment, I had to go study in England or else I would never have the opportunity again.¡±

 

¡°You probably needed a change of environment, after your father passed away.¡± Miara closed her eyes. First, it had been her best friend Nadeshiko, then Li Ryuuren in Hong Kong. Then her older brother, a Shinto priest at the Tsukimine passed way leaving behind a grown daughter. Because of the age difference, Miara had never been close to her brother who had been reared in a strict upbringing to inherit the family shrine. And Miara had been left alone to do what ever she pleased. Sometimes, she wondered if her older brother had envied her freedom—she would have died than to be cooped up at the Tsukimine Shrine for the rest of her life. ¡°It must have been a hard time for you.¡± At Mizuki Kazumi¡¯s funeral, Miara recalled how her grownup niece had been so mature and calm. In contrast, Miara felt ashamed at her own lack of composure at her husband¡¯s funeral. Like Kazumi-onii-sama, Kaho was always cool and put together.

 

¡°It was hard losing otou-sama. I thought I would have him with me much longer. But I had a very supportive and mature boyfriend back then,¡± remarked Kaho. ¡°He sometimes seemed more like a grownup than me. Even though he was actually my student.¡±

 

¡°Really?¡± Miara raised an eyebrow. ¡°What happened to him?¡±

 

¡°Oh, he grew into a fine adult.¡±

 

¡°You¡¯re no longer with him?¡± Miara asked.

 

¡°No. We broke up when I left for England.¡±

 

Even without her eyesight, Miara could sense a womanly sadness in Kaho¡¯s voice. ¡°Poor boy. You gave him no choice but to let you go, didn¡¯t you?¡±

 

¡°I told him that we each will find our most important persons in the future,¡± replied Kaho. ¡°And that the next time we meet, we would become really good friends.¡±

 

¡°So, did you two really end up good friends? It¡¯s a hard transition from friends to lovers and an even harder one from lovers to friends.¡±

 

¡°I¡¯d like to think we¡¯re good friends now,¡± replied Kaho.

 

¡°But your most important person?¡± a smile came over Miara¡¯s lips—the journalist in her was as nosy as ever. ¡°So, how did you meet Eriol again?¡±

 

¡°That¡¯s right. Well, I had just arrived in England and was hopelessly lost as usual. It¡¯s was a humbling feeling going from being a teacher and role model to students, back to being a student in a foreign land again. I was hungry and lost and broke—I¡¯d forgotten to change yen to pounds. It was raining and windy, and I was feeling absolutely blue and miserable, every word of English I knew erased from my mind. Then I bumped into Eriol. And he helped me find my apartment.¡±

 

¡°Mizuki¡¯s have no sense of direction,¡± sighed Miara. ¡°Well, so I¡¯m guessing Eriol knew you were coming all along.¡±

 

¡°Perhaps. But it makes a better story to think that we met thanks to a lack of a sense of direction. And we became fast friends because we have much in similar.¡±

 

Miara turned to Kaho sharply. ¡°Not because you knew all your life that you would one day meet him? Clow Reed¡¯s reincarnation.¡±

 

¡°Father told me that me since I was a young girl that I would someday meet him,¡± said Kaho. ¡°In fact, I thought I would meet him much earlier. I waited and waited. But he never came to find me.¡±

 

¡°So you went to go find him.¡± Miara smiled wryly. ¡°Mizuki women were always headstrong.¡± Mizuki women were also cursed, it seemed, to lose their most loved ones. But perhaps Kaho could break the mold.

 

Mizuki Kazumi had been overly protective of his only daughter, more so after his fragile, timid wife passed away and Kazumi was left alone to raise the girl. Perhaps he was afraid of losing his daughter like he did his wife. Or perhaps, he was always afraid that his daughter¡¯s fate would be the same as all the accursed fates of the women of the Mizuki clan. 

 

¡°She has the old soul of a young girl who passed before her time,¡± Mizuki Kazumi had said about his lovely daughter.

 

But Kaho grew up, strong and with no signs of illness. All her life, she grew up with the desire to live and live life the fullest. Her father despaired that he could not hold her back and sheltered her in the Tsukimine Shrine in the quiet town of Tomoeda. Perhaps it was his fault for filling her head with tales of the Great Five and the wicked magician Clow Reed from an early age. But Kazumi grew to acknowledge Kaho was cut out for great things, that the tides were changing once more in this town which became the last residence of the greatest sorcerer in the world, Clow Reed. Thus, Mizuki Kazumi passed away with the knowledge that everything was just beginning for Kaho, who had just graduated from college.

 

¡°You¡¯ll see him. The reincarnation of Clow Reed. And you¡¯re going to a part of something great, perhaps ever greater than the circle of the Five Force Magicians. Now, take this bell. It would serve you great purpose when Judgment Day arrives,¡± were his last words to his daughter.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Since they were dating now, Eron walked Sakura back home every day after school; it was the only time they could spend alone together. On days she had cheerleading practice, he waited for her, working on his homework. When he had soccer practice, she practiced her routines in the gym. Tomoyo was always busy around this time of the year when the choir prepared for the annual Christmas repertoire, and now that the weather was colder and days shorter, it was nice having a companion to walk back home with.

 

¡°Mizuki-sensei¡¯s lecture today on the ancient Mayans civilization was very interesting—the things they were capable of over a millennium ago—it¡¯s amazing,¡± Eron said, walking beside Sakura, carrying her book bag for her though she insisted she could carry it herself.

 

Sakura paused for a second, staring up at the bare tree branches at King Penguin park. She saw two children swinging back and forth on the swing set.

 

¡°What?¡± Eron stopped as well.

 

¡°Hmm¡¦¡± Sakura smiled crookedly. ¡°I just remembered somebody got so excited when talking about archeology as well. Mizuki-sensei is a good teacher. Her lessons are always so fun—it¡¯s the first time I haven¡¯t fallen asleep in a class yet.¡±

 

¡°Humph, that¡¯s because I poke you when you start to doze off,¡± said Eron.

 

¡°I wonder if there¡¯s anyone who wouldn¡¯t love Mizuki-sensei,¡± said Sakura with a wistful sigh. ¡°She¡¯s so beautiful and intelligent and graceful.¡±

 

¡°You just went hanyaan,¡± Eron remarked. ¡°You¡¯ve never done that before.¡±

 

¡°Oh?¡± Sakura¡¯s cheeks turned red. ¡°I only did that around Yukito-san and Mizuki-sensei.¡±

 

¡°No one else?¡±

 

¡°Nooo¡¦¡± Sakura pouted. ¡°Remember how you mentioned that you could tell onii-chan liked Mizuki-sensei. Did you know that onii-chan and Mizuki-sensei actually used to date?¡±

 

¡°Why didn¡¯t it work out?¡±

 

¡°She told him that one day, they¡¯ll each find their own true important persons. And that someday they can become really good friends,¡± said Sakura.

 

¡°Ouch. That¡¯s a harsh way to break up with somebody,¡± said Eron. He sighed. ¡°You¡¯re brother¡¯s going to kill me if he finds out about us, won¡¯t he?¡±

 

¡°I don¡¯t think he hates you that much,¡± replied Sakura.

 

¡°Thanks, that¡¯s reassuring,¡± remarked Eron wryly.

 

¡°Oh, if you¡¯re on onii-chan¡¯s blacklist, you¡¯ll know it.¡± Sakura shuddered. ¡°He¡¯s an ogre-brother, after all.¡±

 

It was dusk by the time they had reached the Kinomoto residence. There was light inside, meaning that Sakura¡¯s father had gotten home.

 

¡°Are you sure you don¡¯t want to stay for dinner?¡± asked Sakura. ¡°Otou-san wouldn¡¯t mind—Yukito-san always used to come over. Tomoyo-chan too.¡±

 

¡°I¡¯ll save formal introductions for next time,¡± said Eron. ¡°I¡¯ve got to make a good impression on your father at least if your brother is determined to hate all boys who care for his precious little sister.¡±

 

¡°You¡¯re right.¡± Sakura chuckled. ¡°But otou-san likes people who like archeology—you¡¯ll have plenty to talk about with him.¡±

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

¡°You look rather murderous today, To-ya,¡± remarked Yukito, setting down patient charts on the table in the doctors¡¯ lounge. He hadn¡¯t seen that look on Touya¡¯s face since the Syaoran days.

 

¡°Supposedly my little sister is dating that good-for-nothing feminine-looking Eron of a creature,¡± muttered Touya, crumpling a paper cup in his hand.

 

¡°Chang Eron?¡± Yukito couldn¡¯t hide his surprise. ¡°She¡¯s dating him? Are you sure—you haven¡¯t even been back home in two weeks. How would you know?¡±

 

¡°Oh I have my sources,¡± said Touya, cracking his knuckle. ¡°Just wait till my next day off—I look forward to getting my hands on that scumbag.¡±

 

¡°I thought you were okay with anyone so long as it¡¯s not Li Syaoran,¡± said Yukito.

 

¡°Rather, I¡¯m okay with no one, especially not the Brat,¡± replied Touya.

 

¡°Poor Syaoran. I wonder if he knows,¡± Yukito remarked. ¡°I wonder if Sakura will remember him.¡±

 

¡°I hope she never does,¡± said Touya.

 

¡°Seriously?¡±

 

Touya leaned his chin on his palm. ¡°She¡¯ll remember him if she needs to.¡± He flipped open his cell phone.

 

¡°Who¡¯s texting you? You¡¯re not supposed to have your cell phone on,¡± Yukito said, peeling the wrapper off his anko bun.

 

¡°Kaho-san,¡± replied Touya, scowling. ¡°Sakura actually packed lunch for that ponytail-kid? She never even packed lunch for herself.¡±

 

¡°That¡¯s why girls do when they start dating,¡± said Yukito. ¡°Pack lunches, make chocolate on Valentine¡¯s Day, eat popcorn at the movies, hold hands and eat ice cream in the park¡¦¡±

 

¡°Not everything revolves around eating, Yuki,¡± Touya said, rolling his eyes.

 

¡°What did you and Mizuki-san do then?¡± asked Yukito. ¡°She¡¯s the only girlfriend you ever had.¡±

 

¡°What did we do¡¦¡± Touya sighed. ¡°I was just a kid then too. I didn¡¯t know what I was doing—I just followed her pace.¡±

 

¡°She¡¯s a hard person to get to know, it seems,¡± Yukito remarked. ¡°You don¡¯t know what she¡¯s thinking.¡± Like Clow Reed.

 

¡°You¡¯re right. I never knew what she was thinking till the last moment,¡± said Touya with a small laugh. ¡°But she never let me feel young and insignificant. We would talk together through lunch breaks on the rooftop. When I stopped by early in the morning at the Tsukimine Shrine, she was always practicing archery, and we would walk to school together and talk. We talked a lot. But we were so different. We were in different places in life. We had different interests. Different ways of approaching a situation. She was always one step ahead of me, and I could never catch up to her, it seemed. But I never felt that when I was with her. She was that considerate.¡±

 

¡°What did you talk about?¡±

 

¡°I guess Kaho-san and I had many similarities as well. Her mother passed away when she was a baby, and her father raised her,¡± said Touya. ¡°I think she grew up very lonely though. She always knew as a child that she had special powers. She knew what it was like to see things that other kids didn¡¯t. She taught me that my powers weren¡¯t strange.¡±

 

Yukito brushed the crumbs on the table off with his hand. ¡°Do you ever regret dating her?¡±

 

¡°No. Not a single minute of it,¡± replied Touya softly. ¡°Even when she left me, I still felt glad to have met her.¡±

 

¡°So, you can¡¯t be so disapproving of Sakura-chan then,¡± said Yukito.

 

¡°You had this conversation with me just to prove that?¡± demanded Touya. He frowned. ¡°Her situation is completely different from Kaho¡¯s and mine.¡±

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

¡°Sorry, Eron-kun, making you come to the hospital.¡± Sakura held a shopping bag in her hand. ¡°Otou-san wanted me to bring this bento for onii-chan and Yukito-san to eat.¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s fine—the hospital¡¯s close to my house anyway,¡± replied Eron, walking beside her. ¡°Your father seems like such a caring person.¡± The kind of father he had dreamed of having.

 

Sakura gazed down the gleaming white hallway. ¡°Makes me nostalgic. We spent so much time here last year candy striping.¡±

 

¡°Well, why don¡¯t you go ahead,¡± said Eron. ¡°I¡¯ll be waiting in the lobby.¡± He had no intention of bumping into her brother here.

 

¡°Okay. I won¡¯t take long.¡± Sakura took the elevator to the second floor.

 

The elevator opened. She found herself facing Li Syaoran. What was he doing here? It was their first encounter since the snowstorm incident. He did not speak and stared at her with that strange expression he always wore whenever she met him. Initially, she had thought it was an expression of contempt, of aloofness. But Sakura thought that she recognized that look—she had seen it before. It was the expression that her brother had worn when he saw Mizuki-sensei again after two years of separation.

 

Sakura glanced at his arm—for some reason it was still bandaged. Her voice came out in a squeak. ¡°How¡¯s your arm, Li-san?¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s fine. I just need to get it checked,¡± replied Syaoran, glancing at his wristwatch then sighing. He slipped out his cell phone from his pocket and checked the time. 

 

A doctor with horn-rimmed glasses and dark brown hair walked passed them. ¡°Sorry I¡¯m late, Syaoran—there¡¯s an emergency meeting in the department. Can you can stop by my office in half an hour instead?¡° She turned to glance at Sakura. Her eyes widened. ¡°You! You¡¯re the Vogue Japan model!¡±

 

¡°Hoe?¡± Sakura blinked up at the unfamiliar doctor.

 

Jingmei clapped her hands together. ¡°I saw you in the magazine. Syaoran almost walked into a lamppost after—¡°

 

¡°Doctor Li Jingmei!¡± Syaoran exclaimed loudly.

 

¡°Oh, sorry—I got carried away,¡± said Jingmei, extending a hand to Sakura. ¡°My name is Li Jingmei. I work with your brother. I heard a lot you. I heard Kinomoto-sensei had a sister-complex? You¡¯re so cute, no wonder. Tsukishiro-sensei speaks very highly of you. He¡¯s the kindest, most wonderful person in his hospital, as you must already know. You are lucky that your brother is best friends with such a great person.¡±

 

¡°Don¡¯t you have a meeting? Syaoran said.

 

¡°Oh no, I¡¯m late!¡± Jingmei dashed down the hall.

 

Sakura almost smiled. She liked Doctor Li Jingmei—she reminded her of someone. ¡°Is she your cousin?¡±

 

¡°Yeah. Can you tell?¡± asked Syaoran dryly. He slipped his hand out of his pocket.

 

¡°Li-san, that day at the mansion¡¦¡± Sakura glanced at Syaoran. He was wearing the same forest green jacket he had been wearing that day.

 

Syaoran looked up. To his dismay, he saw Kinomoto Touya walk down with a group of doctors. Without thinking, he grabbed Sakura¡¯s hand and pulled her into an empty room, closing the door behind them.

 

He found Sakura staring at him as if he were mad. ¡°What¡¯s wrong?¡±

 

¡°I—¡° Syaoran gulped. ¡°I saw someone I didn¡¯t want to see.¡±

 

Sakura did not hear him. She stared down at the hand holding her hand. The gauze bandages rubbed against her palms and tickled her. This feeling¡¦

 

Realizing he was holding her hand, Syaoran released his grip; to his surprise, she didn¡¯t let go.

 

Her voice was hushed. ¡°It was you that day at the cliff, wasn¡¯t it?¡±

 

¡°What are you talking about?¡± Syaoran asked, quickly snatching away his hand.

 

¡°Back at Kumatori Mountains, I almost fell off the cliff and someone caught hold of my hands and pulled me up.¡±

 

¡°What makes you think it was me?¡±

 

Sakura stared at her hand. ¡°It¡¯s just a feeling.¡±

 

¡°I might not even have been in Japan then,¡± Syaoran said staidly.

 

¡°I was thrown off at first because your right arm was injured. That person at the cliff pulled me up with both arms.¡± Sakura frowned. But her instinct couldn¡¯t be wrong.

 

¡°Logically speaking, as you point out yourself, it couldn¡¯t have been me then,¡± said Syaraon. ¡°Back then, my right arm was not functional.¡±

 

¡°But it felt like you.¡±

 

¡°I don¡¯t have any magic. You wouldn¡¯t be able to feel me.¡± Syaoran shut his eyes. She had called out his name that day, over and over again. And he could not reply to her.

 

¡°Why do you wear a watch that doesn¡¯t tell time?¡± Sakura asked.

 

¡°Huh?¡± Syaoran stared at the silver-wrought watch that peeked out from under his left sleeve, still at twelve¡¯ o¡¯clock. ¡°It must have run out of battery—so what?¡±

 

¡°It wasn¡¯t running that day during the snowstorm either,¡± said Sakura.

 

¡°You should go now. Your boyfriend will be waiting.¡± Syaoran pulled his sleeve over the watch.

 

Sakura looked up. ¡°Boyfriend? Oh¡¦ You mean Eron-kun.¡± How foreign that term sounded in her ears. Boyfriend.

 

¡°He¡¯ll get mad again if he sees us together.¡± Syaoran opened the door. He glanced down the hallway. Touya was gone.

 

Sakura stared at the back of his broad shoulders. ¡°Wait,¡± she called out. ¡°I know you from somewhere, don¡¯t I? We¡¯ve met before. Before you showed up with Leiyun-san and everyone.¡±

 

Syaoran did not speak.

 

¡°Tell me. I feel like there¡¯s something very important that I need to find out from you,¡± said Sakura. ¡°What is it?¡±

 

¡°There is nothing for me to tell you,¡± he replied in a hollow tone.

 

Sakura gripped the sapphire ring around her neck. ¡°When did first come to Japan?¡±

 

¡°October.¡±

 

The field trip to Kumatori Mountains had been back in September. So, it really hadn¡¯t been Li Syaoran then. Why did she feel this dull sense of disappointment? Shouldn¡¯t she feel relieved that she owed nothing to this boy? ¡°And you¡¯ve never been to Japan before that?

 

¡°How many times do I have to tell you? I first came to Japan in October.¡± Syaoran said.

 

¡°Why can¡¯t you look me in the eye when you speak?¡± demanded Sakura. ¡°You steal the cards from me and then come rescue me from a dark force. You insult me yet you give me your jacket in the cold. Are you just a hypocrite or is there something I¡¯m missing?¡±

 

¡°Don¡¯t think just because you healed my arm that you understand me or something,¡± Syaoran lashed out. ¡°The Li Clan is dangerous—stay as far from it as you can. Don¡¯t try to pry. I am here to take the sealed dark forces away from you, nothing more.¡±

 

His voice faded as he saw Eron come out of the elevator. Of course Eron would be here too. He was always there wherever Sakura was.

 

Eron wondered what was taking Sakura so long. Then, he saw Syaoran and Sakura standing together, Sakura looking furious. Dropping the cans of sodas that he had pulled from the vending machine, Eron rushed forward and shielded Sakura¡¯s body from Syaoran. ¡°What¡¯s wrong, Sakura?¡± He saw that she was still holding the bag of food for her brother.

 

¡°It¡¯s nothing, Eron-kun,¡± Sakura replied, looking away from Syaoran¡¯s gaze.

 

Eron turned to Syaoran and demanded, ¡°What right do you have to say this and that to my girlfriend?¡±

 

Syaoran opened his mouth and closed it again.

 

¡°Now, if you please, leave us.¡± Eron put a protective arm around Sakura. Sakura did not resist him. And they walked off, together like that. Just like that day after the snowstorm. And just like in his dreams.

 

Syaoran slammed his fist against the wall.

 

 

 

Li Jingmei gazed at her younger cousin. She tapped his knuckles and helped his flex his arms. ¡°I¡¯m sorry about earlier. Did you have to wait long?¡±

 

¡°No.¡±

 

Syaoran was never talkative but he seemed to be in a fouler mood than Jinyu in his worst brooding moments. Jingmei cleared her throat. ¡°Now, try to make a fist.¡±

 

With a scowl, Syaoran tried without much avail.

 

¡°You know, if I didn¡¯t know any better, I would swear that you¡¯re just pretending you can¡¯t use your arm,¡± stated Jingmei. ¡°What happened? You were showing signs of improvement before.¡±

 

¡°Well, can you just write up that report so that I can go back home now?¡± Syaoran asked.

 

Sighing, Jingmei scribbled notes on her patient chart. ¡°You know that girl earlier¡¦¡± She saw a tension come over Syaoran¡¯s visage. ¡°I never thought Kinomoto-sensei would have such a cute little sister. It¡¯s hard to believe such a young girl became the Card Mistress. At age ten too. She¡¯s sort of like you in that sense. You became the Chosen One at age ten too.¡±

 

¡°May I leave now?¡±

 

¡°Yes, you can go home. Remember, same time next week,¡± said Jingmei.

 

Syaoran hurried out of her office—out of all the hospitals in Japan, why did his cousin have to be employed in Kinhoshi Hospital?

 

¡°Why are you pretending to not be able to use your arm?¡± came a steely voice behind him.

 

Turning pale, Syaoran turned around to face a silver-haired man in a white coat. ¡°Yukito-san.¡±

 

Yukito took off his glasses. ¡°It seems like your arm has been cured. By the Heal Card. Which means Sakura must have healed your arm for you.¡±

 

¡°You can¡¯t tell Jingmei,¡± said Syaoran. ¡°Yue-san, it¡¯s important.¡±

 

¡°I don¡¯t particularly have a reason to tell anyone. It¡¯s just an observation I made,¡± replied Yukito in Yue¡¯s cold tone.

 

¡°I guess you are angry at me too.¡±

 

¡°No.¡± Yukito narrowed his pale eyes. ¡°I pity you.¡±

 

At this, Syaoran gazed up at the older man who he had one time considered his mentor. Only now did he realize that at one time, he might have been attracted to Yue¡¯s power of the moon, but moreover, Yukito¡¯s ambiance reminded Syaoran of Leiyun of old days. Not so much anymore. Leiyun had changed.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Sakura sat in homeroom at school the next day, staring at her hand. Why, oh why had she said such things to Li Syaoran? If only he hadn¡¯t shown up there. Why had she made such a fool of herself that day at the hospital? Of course it couldn¡¯t have been him at the cliff side that day—what would he have been doing at Mount Kumatori?

 

Eron slipped a note into her desk. Sakura glanced sideways at her desk mate, and he smiled at her.

 

Carefully, Sakura rolled open the folded piece of paper ripped from his notebook. Do you want to go to the movies this weekend? She clicked her mechanical pencil and wrote back, Sure. What do you want to watch?

 

He smiled and wrote back on the piece of paper, Ringu IV.

 

With a gasp, Sakura turned to Eron and whispered, ¡°I¡¯m not going to watch a horror film!¡±

 

¡°We watched a romantic comedy last time. This time, I get to choose,¡± he whispered back with an evil snicker.

 

¡°I¡¯m going to close my eyes through the entire film,¡± said Sakura, sticking out her tongue.

 

¡°So you¡¯re going to watch it with me?¡± Eron¡¯s eyes twinkled.

 

¡°Chang-san, Kinomoto-san. This is silent reading time,¡± called out Mizuki-sensei.

 

There was a snicker throughout the class.

 

¡°Must be nice to be a lovey-dovey new couple,¡± muttered Naoko from her seat.

 

 

 

Meilin watched Mizuki Kai string an arrow to his bow and shoot. The arrow hit bull¡¯s-eye and there was a cheer in the alley.

 

Tomoyo, who was embroidering a sleeve, glanced up. ¡°Mizuki-kun is practicing hard.¡±

 

Kai wiped the sweat on his brows with his sleeve and a bunch of girls rushed up to him, offering him towels.

 

¡°Here.¡± Tomoyo handed Meilin a handkerchief. ¡°Go hand it to him.¡±

¡°No, why should I?¡± replied Meilin grouchily. It was bad enough in the Kaitou Magician days with the Kaitou Magician Fan Club. But now that Mizuki Kai had resumed his ¡°Prince Mikai¡± mode, the girl¡¯s were all out for him. True, she could see why girls were attracted to Kai with his lean, muscular physique, lovely shampoo-commercial hair and courteous manner which still retained the charismatic air of the magician thief laced with the façade of an aristocrat. Meilin almost resented this Tanaka Mikai-mode Kai.

 

Carefully, Tomoyo folded the handkerchief into Meilin¡¯s hands. ¡°Because he wants it from you, not anyone else.¡±

 

Meilin pushed the handkerchief back to Tomoyo. ¡°I don¡¯t care if girls flock over him—why should I?¡±

 

Looking up from her book, Sakura remarked, ¡°He really does seem like a different person though. Has he made any progress with Miho-chan?¡±

 

¡°She won¡¯t forgive him,¡± replied Meilin. ¡°But I think he stops by the junior high building quite often. He sometimes helps her with layouts and stuff for the newspaper.¡±

 

¡°That¡¯s sweet of him,¡± Sakura said.

 

¡°You¡¯re not eating lunch with Eron-kun today?¡± Tomoyo asked, threading the needle.

 

¡°He has a soccer meeting,¡± said Sakura.

 

¡°You know, I never thought there would be a day that I¡¯d say this, but he seems like a good boyfriend,¡± Meilin said. She sighed, glancing at Kai again. ¡°You know, you can really tell what kind of boyfriend a guy would be by looking at how he treats his sister.¡±

 

¡°Eron-kun is completely devoted to Erika-chan,¡± said Tomoyo.

 

¡°And Touya-san is completely protective of Sakura-chan.¡± Meilin smiled wryly. ¡°Good boyfriend material.¡±

¡±You¡¯re right about that,¡± Tomoyo said. ¡°And Kai-kun? He cares for Miho very much.¡±

 

¡°But he also abandoned his ill mother and ten-year-old sister too,¡± Meilin reminded. ¡°I wonder how Syaoran fits into the equation. He¡¯s scared of his older sisters—with good reason too. They used to make him braid their hair, press their clothes and paint their nails.¡± Then she realized she had slipped and glanced at Sakura.

 

¡°I wonder what kind of girl Li Syaoran-san would like,¡± Sakura remarked. ¡°He seems so rigid and doesn¡¯t look like he likes people at all.¡±

 

¡°I wonder too,¡± Meilin murmured. ¡°Have you seen him again lately?¡±

 

¡°I saw him on the day of the snowstorm,¡± Sakura said.

 

¡°You never mentioned that before,¡± Tomoyo said.

 

Sakura slipped the Heal Card from her pocket. ¡°His arm was injured. I healed it for him. He looked like he was in pain. And we got trapped in the snowstorm together.¡±

 

¡°Did you get to seal the dark force?¡± Meilin remarked. She was pretty certain that the Li Clan was not satisfied with just stealing the Sakura Cards—they would most likely want to possess all the dark forces as well.

 

¡°I think it was the Fantasy that attacked me,¡± replied Sakura. She might have been sliced into two by the armored knight if Syaoran hadn¡¯t shown up at that moment.

 

¡°And you couldn¡¯t seal the Fantasy?¡± asked Tomoyo.

 

¡°No¡¦ I remember last time it told me, ¡®As long as you have the faintest gleam of hope in your heart, as long as you have dreams and fantasies and the desire for them to come true, you won¡¯t be able to seal me. Only when you are in true despair and have given up all your dreams, all your hope and accept the cold injustice of reality will I be sealed.¡¯ ¡± Sakura traced the rose embroidery that Tomoyo had made. Suddenly, she recalled making an embroidery of a wolf by a cherry blossom. It had taken her all of December to make. A wolf. What symbolized a wolf?

 

¡°How do you know if you are in true despair?¡± Meilin commented with a short laugh.

 

¡°Did anything else happen?¡± Tomoyo asked.

 

¡°Hmm?¡± Sakura set down the embroidered sleeve. ¡°I saw him again yesterday at the hospital.¡±

 

¡°What was he doing there?¡± asked Meilin, unable to hide the concern in his voice.

 

¡°He was meeting with his cousin, a doctor there,¡± replied Sakura.

 

¡°Oh, Jingmei-jie-jie.¡± Meilin smiled. ¡°She¡¯s a cardiologist—she¡¯s very smart and a good doctor too.¡±

 

¡°She¡¯s not a part of the whole Li conspiracy then?¡± asked Sakura wryly.

 

Meilin shook her head. ¡°I don¡¯t think so—she¡¯s never played a big role in the Council; she¡¯s not even a dual warrior-healer. She¡¯s just a doctor.¡±

 

¡°She seemed nice. But I wonder why she¡¯s in Japan then,¡± said Sakura.

 

¡°Was Syaoran¡¯s arm¡¦ completely healed?¡± Meilin asked.

 

¡°Yes. You don¡¯t happen to know how it was injured in the first place though? Since you¡¯re his cousin and all¡¦¡± Sakura paused. ¡°I felt like there were traces of a dark force paralyzing it.¡±

 

¡°He¡¯s a Li Clan warrior—there are many reasons for him to have injured his sword arm,¡± replied Meilin in a strained voice.

 

¡°It was injured since I first saw him back in October—do injuries that don¡¯t even involve a broken bone last that long?¡± Sakura said. ¡°It was definitely a dark force injury.¡±

 

¡°I don¡¯t know. The Li delegation came at the end of August—he might have been facing off dark forces since then,¡± said Meilin edgily. She had never been a good liar and it was getting more and more difficult with all of Sakura¡¯s incessant questioning.

 

¡°End of August?¡± Sakura stood up abruptly. ¡°I need to go talk to Eron-kun.¡± Quickly, she dashed out the gymnasium towards the soccer field.

 

Meilin swung around to face Tomoyo. ¡°Did I say something wrong?¡±

 

Tomoyo shook her head quizzically.

 

 

 

Eron was pleasantly surprised to find Sakura waiting for him after his hour-long soccer practice. ¡°Lunch break¡¯s almost over. What are you doing here?¡±

 

Sakura handed Eron a towel. ¡°Eron-kun. Do you remember that day at Kumatori Mountains. When I almost fell off a cliff.¡±

 

Wiping his brows with the towel, Eriol replied, ¡°Hmmm...¡±

 

¡°At the cliff side, was it really you who pulled me up?¡± asked Sakura.

 

Slowly, Eron looked into Sakura¡¯s eyes. ¡°Yes, it was.¡±

 

¡°I see.¡± Sakura put on a smile.

 

¡°Why do you ask all of a sudden?¡±

 

¡°Just. That day is just so hazy in my mind,¡± said Sakura.

 

¡°You receive a lot of trauma—you don¡¯t have to remember it,¡± Eron said briefly. ¡°Come, let¡¯s go to math class.¡±

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Li Syaoran was not pleased to find a golden-haired girl sitting by the piano when he entered the music room with his violin. She was wearing the sky-blue blazer of Seijou High, out of the place in the midst of a school of black blazers lined with gold. Black leather boots laced up her long legs.

 

Kara Reed looked up with keen violet eyes. ¡°Oh, so you can still play the violin even if you can¡¯t hold a knife with your right hand.¡±

 

¡°What are you doing here?¡± demanded Syaoran, setting his violin case down. ¡°Don¡¯t you have class in the next town over?¡±

 

¡°Eitoukou Academy has such nice facilities, doesn¡¯t it?¡± remarked Kara running her finger of the ivory keys. ¡°Makes me nostalgic.¡±

 

¡°How did you end up in party of the Li¡¯s when you once attended such a fancy school?¡± asked Syaoran.

 

¡°I was a scholarship kid. Didn¡¯t fit in at all,¡± replied Kara curtly.

 

¡°Are you originally from this neighborhood then?¡±

 

¡°No, next town over. Nowhere near as fancy and posh as Eitoukou.¡± Kara glanced at Syaoran. ¡°I ran away from home when I was fourteen. Taking my mother¡¯s credit cards and cash. Just like you once did.¡±

 

¡°I didn¡¯t run away. I was going to return. I just had things I had to do in Japan,¡± said Syaoran.

 

¡°Liar. You weren¡¯t going to return to Hong Kong. You wanted to stay by her side,¡± Kara said, tracing a heart with her forefinger on the piano. ¡°Forever and ever with the Card Mistress.¡±

 

¡°Why did you run away?¡±

 

Kara¡¯s lips curled like a Cheshire cat¡¯s. ¡°Maybe I had to escape an alcoholic abusive stepfather who made every day a living hell. Or maybe I simply had a calling that I had to follow, like you did.¡±

 

Syaoran squinted as the afternoon sunlight filtered in through the windows. ¡°And that brought you to the Li Clan?¡±

 

¡°No, it brought me to Leiyun.¡± Kara stared at Syaoran. ¡°You¡¯re a lot different from what I expected you to be.¡±

 

¡°What did you expect?¡±

 

¡°A mini-Jinyu, perhaps.¡± Kara tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. ¡°Leiyun always described you as such an adorable, serious little kid. I think we forgot that as we aged, you would have aged too. It reminds me of a kid I used to know. He was such an optimistic, pure-hearted boy. And then, one day I met him again and he had become a corrupted, jaded crook.¡± Now, Kara stood up and circled the room. ¡°Likewise, the Card Mistress was not what I expected either.¡±

 

¡°Sakura?¡± An almost-smile came to his lips. ¡°No, she hasn¡¯t changed a bit since I first met her.¡±

 

¡°The image you retain in your mind of her hasn¡¯t changed,¡± said Kara. ¡°Every relationship formed and broken changes a person.¡±

 

¡°When a person simply vanishes from the memory, it is as if he didn¡¯t exist in the first place,¡± said Syaoran. ¡°She¡¯s still Sakura without me in her memory, isn¡¯t she?¡±

 

¡°What an idiot you are. You think just because you have been deleted from her memory that your past existence as Li Syaoran has ceased to exist?¡± Kara¡¯s voice was cold. ¡°A child unborn is still a child lost to a mother who miscarried. A love unrequited is still an emotion true and real to one in love. And a memory forgotten is still an event once experienced even though it has faded from the mind.¡±

 

For the first time, Kara saw Syaoran¡¯s expression crumple. He sank down on a chair, head down. ¡°Don¡¯t you see? She is content now. My entire existence caused nothing but pain to her. It is better that she doesn¡¯t remember me, it¡¯s almost a relief. Her life is perfect now, and I don¡¯t have to live in guilt for hurting her.¡±

 

¡°How selfish you are,¡± said Kara. ¡°Men are like that. It¡¯s their hubris. No matter how hurt she was, she bore it. And you are afraid because you can¡¯t take the consequence of your own actions? You¡¯re relieved to have reset your relationship to ground zero?¡±

 

¡°She erased me from her memory. What better reminder is there of my wrongdoings then seeing her every time and realizing six years of my life has been depleted from existence?¡±

 

¡°Self-imposed amnesia.¡± Kara laughed shortly. ¡°Sounds like something that would happen in the movies.¡±

 

Syaoran regained composure as he looked up again. ¡°Where is Jinyu?¡±

 

¡°Perhaps negotiating a treaty with the yakuza—who know,¡± said Kara with a shrug. ¡°Why, do you miss him?¡±

 

¡°Tell Leiyun he can report to the Clan I am not planning on running away. He doesn¡¯t need to have someone keep an eye on me every waking moment of the day like I am some sort of child or a criminal.¡± Syaoran¡¯s brows were furrowed down, and Kara had to control herself from laughing at him when he was so serious.

 

¡°I didn¡¯t come here in Jin¡¯s stead.¡± Kara¡¯s plucked the string on the violin. It let out a screech. ¡°Or maybe I did. You know, I told you that the Card Mistress came into my fortunetelling tent for the culture fair, didn¡¯t I? She didn¡¯t lose her memory because of you.¡±

Because Syaoran did not respond, Kara continued, ¡°She saw a vision in my Tarot Cards. She saw the reason behind why the Dark Ones came into existence, why Chang Risa committed suicide on that very cliff you saved Sakura from falling off of.¡± 

 

¡°That¡¯s why¡¦¡± Syaoran swallowed hard. ¡°Why do you know about what happened at the cliff?¡±

 

¡°I have my sources,¡± replied Kara, examining Syaoran¡¯s rosewood violin. ¡°You know, you could have tried harder to make her remember. If she remembered you, you wouldn¡¯t have lost her to the Dark One. If we can still call Chang Eron that, since he seems to have reformed in the midst of love.¡±

 

¡°I was in Hong Kong—what could I have done?¡±

 

¡°What are you talking about? They started dating two weeks ago,¡± Kara said. ¡°The day after the snowstorm incident, to be precise.¡±

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Sakura walked outside the school gate, exhausted after a strenuous cheerleading practice. There were whispers amongst girls walking out the school.

 

¡°Isn¡¯t that the Eitoukou uniform?¡±

 

¡°Who¡¯s he waiting for—¡°

 

She stared blankly at the chestnut brown-haired boy in the black and gold-lined Eitoukou uniform leaning against a tree in front of the school.

 

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

 

After a long pause, as if he himself did not know what he was doing there, Syaoran replied, ¡°I came to see you.¡±

 

¡°Why?¡±

 

¡°I needed to speak with you,¡± said Syaoran. There was an urgency in his voice that Sakura had never heard before.

 

¡°I¡¯m sorry, Li-san, but I don¡¯t have anything to say to you.¡± Sakura frowned. Every time she called him Li-san, he seemed cringe. ¡°Eron-kun¡¯s going to come soon. Please leave.¡±

 

¡°Do you care for him that much?¡±

 

¡°Excuse me, but I don¡¯t think that¡¯s any of your business,¡± replied Sakura sharply. She was startled when Syaoran suddenly stepped forward so that he stood directly in front of her.

 

Syaoran gripped Sakura by the shoulders. ¡°Do you really love him?¡±

 

¡°I don¡¯t know what you¡¯re saying,¡± said Sakura, quickly knocking away his hands. How could one¡¯s touch send such an electrifying shiver throughout her entire body? She must detest this person so much. Why did he keep popping up wherever she went as if to irritate her on purpose?

 

¡°Answer me. Can you seriously say you love him?¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s none of your business. I don¡¯t even know you. Why do you care?¡± Sakura looked up and saw a pair of saddened amber eyes. Why did he look so pained?

 

¡°Why don¡¯t you remember me, Sakura? Did I hurt you so much that you had to erase me from your mind? Is this my punishment?¡± Syaoran demanded.

 

Sakura crumpled on her knees, hands over her ears.

 

With a trembling right hand, Syaoran reached to touch her.

 

¡°Don¡¯t touch me! Don¡¯t come near me. Go away. Please leave me alone,¡± Sakura said.

 

Syaoran¡¯s hand trembled then dropped to his side. ¡°I¡¯m sorry. If my presence bothers you so much, I will leave now.¡±

 

As his hollow footsteps faded away, Sakura looked up again. His back was hunched and he looked so weary, as if her words had actually hurt him.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

The walk back to the Kinomoto residence was a silent one. Their footsteps echoed hollowly on the pavement.

 

¡°Sakura, what¡¯s wrong?¡± Eron brushed back a strand of hair from Sakura¡¯s face. Every time he touched her, he trembled, afraid that he would brush her away. But she just stood still, letting him feel her, letting him adore her as he had only dreamed of, a dream he never suspected he would actually attain. She was no longer the bubbly, cheerful girl that annoyed him with her insistence upon justice and joy in life. She was mellower, more mature. Deep in his heart, he knew that something of Sakura¡¯s purity had been corrupted over this past year. And he was glad that Sakura was no longer untouchable and untainted. This was a Sakura who knew darkness and could accept Eron as he was. And he was not the one who had brought down Sakura to his own level. She had come herself.

 

Sakura¡¯s eyes were downcast. ¡°Nothing.¡±

 

¡°You¡¯ve been acting strangely lately.¡± They had already reached Sakura¡¯s house. Eron wished she lived further away from school so that he could spend more time with her.

 

¡°I¡¯m fine. Really.¡±

 

¡°Well, if there¡¯s anything you want to say, you can tell me,¡± he said, placing a hand gently on her shoulder. ¡°I¡¯m here for you.¡± He bent his head closer to her face. Was it too soon? Eron watched Sakura¡¯s closed lids flutter. She stood there, this time not pushing him away, not protesting. She was his now. He drew nearer to kiss her. She really was his girlfriend.

 

This was the second time that he tried to kiss her—the first time she had struggled against him. But this time, Sakura shut her eyes and tilted her chin up slightly. She wouldn¡¯t push him away. This was natural. They were dating now. Besides, it wasn¡¯t like this would be her first kiss. Her first kiss was long since taken¡¦ By whom? The Star-Crossed production¡¦ Romeo had kissed her on the lips for sure in the final scene. No, it was before then. Suddenly, the sensation of the racing train on the railroad, the blazing golden sunrise, the heat of the summer daybreak burst upon her lips raced back to her.

 

Why don¡¯t you remember me, Sakura? Did I hurt you so much that you had to erase me from your mind? Is this my punishment? He had called her by her first name, just like that. As if he knew her. Did he?

 

Eron¡¯s grip on her shoulders loosened. Sakura opened her eyes again. ¡°What¡¯s wrong?¡±

 

Gently, he brushed a strand of hair off her cheek. ¡°When I really kiss you, I want you to be thinking of me and only me.¡± His cheek slightly brushed against her cheek as he whispered in her ear, ¡°Good night, Sakura. I¡¯ll see you tomorrow.¡±

 

Watching Eron leave, looking slightly weary, Sakura touched her lips. Why did Eron change his mind all of a sudden? But in a sense, she felt relieved as she walked into her house.

 

 

 

¡°I saw that,¡± remarked Kero-chan when Sakura entered her bedroom.

 

¡°We didn¡¯t do anything,¡± replied Sakura crossly. ¡°You really need to stop spying on me all the time, Kero-chan.¡± She picked up the black teddy bear on her bed and rubbed her nose against its fuzzy nose. ¡°Bear-chan, what is your name I wonder?¡±

 

Kero-chan circled around Sakura. ¡°Is something wrong?¡±

 

¡°Nothing¡¯s wrong.¡± Sakura hugged the bear to her chest and curled up in her bed. ¡°I just thought it¡¯s so sad that this teddy bear doesn¡¯t have a name.¡±

 

¡°It does have a name.¡±

 

¡°Does it?¡± Sakura turned to face Kero-chan.

 

¡°I would think the name of the bear would be the name of the person who gave it to you.¡±

 

¡°You know who gave this bear to me?¡± Setting down the bear, Sakura stared at Kero-chan. ¡°You know. Everyone knows. Only I don¡¯t know¡¦ I don¡¯t remember¡¦¡±

 

¡°What don¡¯t you remember, Sakura-chan?¡± prompted Kero-chan.

 

¡°I¡¦ went to Hong Kong last spring. Why? Who did I meet there?¡± Sakura murmured to herself. Her head began to pound.

 

A cold voice told her, Go back. You shouldn¡¯t be here.

 

Unbeknownst to herself, tears began to trickle down her face.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Sakura walked into a classroom with all the shades drawn. She knew that Rido Kara would be there, and indeed, she found the older girl seated by the table with a stack of Tarot cards in front of her.

 

¡°What brings you to me, Kinomoto-san?¡± Kara asked. Her lashes were lowered, and her face expressionless. Her hands were folded in front of her, and her long nails were painted in black with glittered tips.

 

¡°Can you read my fortune again? That day at the cultural fair, you never finished telling my fortune,¡± said Sakura.

 

¡°True. You fainted in the fortunetelling booth, and your boyfriend took you to the infirmary,¡± said Kara. ¡°He was so worried, and he took charge, carrying you on his back to the infirmary.¡±

 

¡°Eron-kun?¡± Sakura stared down at her hands. ¡°We weren¡¯t dating. Then.¡±

 

¡°Well, you are now,¡± Kara shrugged. ¡°He is a Chang. No good can come from a Chang and an Amamiya.¡±

 

¡°What do you mean by that?¡±

 

Kara raised a thin eyebrow. ¡°You¡¯ll find out in time.¡± She spread the card out on the table. ¡°Why do you want to do this all of a sudden?¡±

 

¡°That day, I feel like I lost something very important to me,¡± replied Sakura.

 

¡°Are you sure you want to do this?¡±

 

¡°Yes.¡±

 

Carefully, Kara laid out the Tarot cards in the Celtic cross form. ¡°You might regret it. There is a reason why your mind chose to forget, don¡¯t you think?¡±

 

¡°I have to do this,¡± Sakura said. Reenacting that day would bring back what she had blocked out of her mind for these past five months. She flipped over a card. The Hanged Man.

 

She felt the same lightheadedness she felt that day in the tent. And then she was consumed by a blazing light that burned images in the back of her mind.

 

 

 

A woman with long violet-black wavy hair pulled into a bun sat on her knees. Her kimono was a deep plum color, a lighter shade of her hair. She sat across from a woman in the white and red garbs of a miko; Sakura immediately recognized her as Mizuki Mayura of the Great Five.

 

¡°You look pale. Is your health all right, Risa?¡± asked Mayura.

 

¡°I am much better now,¡± replied Chang Risa with a small smile. She put her hands over her stomach, over her orange and gold obi.

 

Mayura¡¯s gray eyes flickered over to Risa¡¯s hands. ¡°Don¡¯t tell me¡¦¡± Her eyes widened. ¡°You can¡¯t be?¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s been three months,¡± said Risa.

 

¡°Congratulations¡¦but¡¦¡± A dark shadow came over Mayura¡¯s eyes. ¡°But your body¡¦¡±

 

¡°I¡¯ll be fine. I want this... I want this child.¡±

 

¡°Did you tell him yet?¡±

 

¡°No¡¦ He would be worried for me. He wouldn¡¯t let me keep it.¡±

 

¡°But he should know,¡± said Mayura slowly. ¡°You have to tell him.¡±

 

¡°Just a little longer. Until I am sure I am stable.¡± Risa stroked her stomach. ¡°I¡¯ve always wanted a child, Mayura. I never thought it could happen. But this baby, I will protect it.¡±

 

¡°Risa, you must be careful.¡± Mayura reached over and held Risa¡¯s thin hands in hers. ¡°I¡¯ll be here for you, so don¡¯t overburden yourself.¡±

 

¡°Thank you, Mayura.¡± Risa smiled. ¡°Thank you.¡±

 

 

 

Everything all came rushing back to Sakura, passing out in the fortuneteller¡¯s tent that summer, speaking with the Memory, wanting to forget him.

 

A cold hand touched her hand. Sakura blinked her salty eyes to see a pair of violet eyes stare at her. Eyes that looked very much like Landon Reed¡¯s.

 

¡°Are you all right, Kinomoto-san?¡± Kara asked.

 

¡°Rido-senpai, did you see also?¡± Sakura questioned, teeth chattering though the room was heated. Her hands slipped to her stomach. If Chang Risa did not died, if Amamiya Hayashi had reached her in time, she might never have come into existence. History would have been completely different. ¡°Did you know also?¡±

 

¡°I know parts of the story. Nobody knows everything. We all know different parts and can only together piece together the whole picture,¡± replied Kara solemnly. ¡°Chang Ruichi never recovered from the death of his sister. He vowed vengeance and the Circle of the Great Five was forever shattered. Chang Ruichi delved into dark magic and came under the alias of the Dark One. Amamiya Hayashi never forgave himself for Risa¡¯s death. Eventually, the Dark One grew out of hand and the remaining Four had to gather again to put an end to everything.¡±

 

¡°And after that, what happened?¡± asked Sakura. She remembered that Erika had once called Amamiya Hayashi a murderer. Eron and Erika had known all along. Yet, how could Eron still say that he loved her?

 

¡°You know what happened. The Dark One¡¯s life was taken but he sealed his soul into his descendants so that one day justice could be sought. Everybody went on to their respective paths. And here we are today.¡± Kara¡¯s lips curved into a thin smile. ¡°Did you find what is important to you, Kinomoto-san?¡±

 

¡°No,¡± Sakura said, shivering hard. ¡°No¡¦ I lost everything.¡± Now, she could never go back. Her fingers went to her throat and loosened the star-sapphire ring from the chain.

 

 

 

Sakura did not remember bowing and leaving the room, nor walking out of the school grounds. Her feet kept on moving forward, faster and faster, until she was running. All the while, she heard a voice in her mind, a voice she had been trying to block out all this while. Her eyes began to blur and all she could hear was that same voice flit through her mind.

 

¡°Why do you always try to exceed yourself? Crying doesn¡¯t make you weak¡¦ So, cry hard as you want when you are exhausted and tired from all the hardships you face. It will make you feel better. But, don¡¯t ever cry because you feel lonely, because you are not alone, Sakura.¡±

 

¡°You know what I like about sunrises, Sakura? It¡¯s a new beginning of another day, where anything can await. A whole new day to forget the darkness of the night and erase all the pain and bitterness.¡±

 

¡°You don¡¯t understand, do you? I am different. I was brought up differently, and I was brought up to be alone and count on myself, and not to trust. I was taught to not lean on others. That¡¯s why I was named after the wolf. No matter what, to survive, a wolf has to be strong on its own.¡±

 

¡°Do you remember what this place is? This is where I finally told you that I had ¡®special feelings¡¯ for you¡¦ Funny how we can look back to yesterday and realize how silly it was. It seems like another life time.¡±

 

¡°Is that all you ever want to be to me? Just a good friend?¡±

 

¡°I¡¯ve been a coward, always trying to run from the truth. But Sakura, I vowed I would always tell you the truth from now on. I do care for you.¡±

 

¡°Of course I came back to you, Sakura. You are my sunrise, the hope in each day.¡±

 

How could she have forgotten that precious moment? His eyes had been a warm amber, brilliant like the rising sun. Nobody had ever looked at her like that before. At that moment, on a racing train track, she knew he was the one and only one.

 

Instantly, all the images of Syaoran flooded back to her. Syaoran scowling, Syaoran smiling. Syaoran¡¯s sad eyes that day in the thunderstorm when she sat beside him on his bed, his lips parting from her lips that day the train last summer.

 

¡°I¡¯m not returning¡¦ How can I make it any plainer? I¡¯m staying here; I don¡¯t need to go back to Hong Kong¡¦. This is my home now.¡±

 

He had lied to her.

 

She remembered that autumn day in King Penguin six years ago. Her most vivid memory was that day, that moment she leaned against his shoulder. They were mere kids then. But she had been crying from a broken heart into his shoulders. She had clutched his crisp blue handkerchief to her chest. His words had been so soothing. He had told her, ¡°It would be nice if you found him¡¦ It¡¯s all right¡¦ I¡¯m sure you will find him.¡± Her most important person. Why hadn¡¯t she known then?

 

He had always been there to tell her when she panicked, ¡°Calm down¡¦ If you calm down you will understand.¡± Like that time in the cave during the elementary school trip to the beach when all her classmates disappeared in the cave because of the Erase. She would have panicked, unable to do anything if he hadn¡¯t been there. 

 

And that cold early spring day in Hong Kong, Sakura saw Syaoran, a grown-up Syaoran, by the harbor side. She had finally realized that he was her most important person. His eyes had been so cold and distant when he told her, ¡°Go back. You shouldn¡¯t be here.¡± He had walked off without turning back. She could still recall that image of the navy blue trench coat fading into the mist of the morning. Her voice called and called his name but he did not turn back, not once.

 

Why Syaoran, why did you send me away like that that day? Why did you betray me, you out of all people?

 

What can I do now?

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Freezing rain fell from the sky as Syaoran stepped out of the Eitoukou school building. He buttoned his coat, squinting through the downpour. He didn¡¯t have an umbrella. He saw the silhouette of a girl in a sky-blue blazer stagger towards him with a halo of white around her from the rain.

 

¡°Hey—¡° Syaoran called out. He swallowed hard. ¡°Kinomoto-san?¡± Was this a dream again?

 

Sakura looked up, her short, limp brown hair clinging to her face. She was breathing hard, as if she had run all the way.

 

¡°Wait¡¦¡± Syaoran frowned. ¡°Are you crying?¡±

 

There was no response.

 

¡°Sa—Kinomoto-san.¡± He reached to her.

 

¡°Don¡¯t touch me,¡± she snapped.

 

¡°I¡¯m sorry.¡±

 

Her voice came out in a low tremor. ¡°Why did you betray me?¡±

 

¡°What are you talking abou—¡° Syaoran frowned. ¡°Kinomoto-san?¡±

 

¡°Syaoran, why did you betray me?¡± Sakura looked up at him square in the eyes, her flashing emerald eyes glistening with tears.

 

Syaoran stumbled back. She had never glared at him like that before. ¡°You remember—¡°

 

¡°Does it matter?¡± Sakura¡¯s lips curved up into a half-smile. ¡°I almost wish I didn¡¯t. It would have made things easier for you, right?¡±

 

¡°I never meant to hurt you.¡±

 

Rain poured down Sakura¡¯s forehead and cheeks. ¡°Don¡¯t worry. You didn¡¯t.¡±

 

¡°I can explain.¡±

 

¡°I don¡¯t want to listen anymore.¡± Sakura¡¯s face was stone. ¡°Li Syaoran, there is only one person I despise in the world. And that is you.¡±

 

She turned around and left Syaoran standing in the rain, staring at her back. I guess this really is the end.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Eron was startled to find Sakura in a soaking wet uniform standing in the school hallways.

 

¡°Sakura, where were you—you disappeared after lunch. I thought something happened. You didn¡¯t even pick up your phone,¡± said Eron. ¡°Sakura, why are you wet?¡±

 

But Sakura was not listening. She didn¡¯t even notice the random stares from students as she hurried down the hallway. She hurried towards the girl¡¯s locker room—no one would be there right now.

 

¡°Wait, you¡¯re going to miss biology—¡° called out Eron.

 

¡°Please let me be alone,¡± she said in a muffled voice. She pushing through a crowd of upperclassman and entered the locker room, locking the door behind her.

 

 

 

Drenched to her skin, Sakura sat on her knees in defeat. Her wet uniform left a puddle on the locker room floor. It had been Syaoran who had betrayed her. Syaoran who had left for Hong Kong without telling her. Syaoran who told her to leave when she went to see him. Syaoran who came back a cold stranger and took the cards from her.

 

Syaoran had betrayed her.

 

Mother, you said to trust those who have always been by my side. But what if the person you trusted the most has betrayed your trust? Then what?

 

Hands covering her ears, Sakura let out a blood-curdling scream. When her voice was hoarse and her breath came out in gasps, she collapsed on the floor. Her eyes had run dry of tears to cry and her heart had once ached so much that all she felt was an empty void in her chest. Just like Chang Risa whose only wish had been crushed by the existence of a Li. There was nothing, absolutely nothing she could do.

 

Why Syaoran, why out of anyone did you have to betray me? You have taken away my only hope.

 

A prismatic form materialized in front of her.

 

¡°What troubles you, little Cherry Blossom?¡± asked the silvery voice which seemed to stroke her head in a motherly way.

 

¡°There¡¯s no reason to fight anymore. I can¡¯t face him. It¡¯s not just anyone who took the Sakura Cards from me. It¡¯s the one person who has been by my side from the very beginning, the one who has fought by my side, guided me and helped me when I was desperate. I don¡¯t know who is friend or foe. I don¡¯t know what I¡¯m doing anymore,¡± she replied, voice muffled in her arms.

 

¡°Do you remember what I once told you?¡± asked the Fantasy. ¡°Only when you are in the depths of despair, when all hope is lost, will you be able to seal me. You are ready now.¡±

 

¡°I do not wish to seal you,¡± said Sakura, not looking up from the floor. The Fantasy¡¯s words held no meaning to her. Capturing the dark forces had no purpose to her now.

 

¡°Are you sure? I can take you away from here. To a place where you will have no hurt, no painful memories. I can take you to a place where you will have everything you desire.¡±

 

Slowly, Sakura turned her head up to face her mother¡¯s beautiful emerald eyes. Her mother gently stroked her cheek and wiped a way a tear. ¡°Don¡¯t cry, my child. Come with me now, and we can be together, forever and ever.

 

¡°Can you do that?¡± Sakura asked. ¡°Take me far, far from here, where I can be happy again.¡± A world away from the curse of the Great Five, away from responsibilities, away from him.

 

¡°Seal me, and I will open the gateway for you,¡± said the Fantasy. ¡°Escape from here. Escape from despair and misery.¡±

 

With a far-off smile, Sakura reached out and took her mother¡¯s hand.

 

 

 

When Eron heard Sakura¡¯s scream, he tried to enter the locker room, heedless of the fact that it was the girl¡¯s changing room. When he finally broke in through the door, he discovered Sakura collapsed on the floor.

 

¡°Eron-kun what happened to Sakura-chan?¡± demanded Tomoyo. Eriol had sensed a dark force in the school grounds, and she had followed him. ¡°What did you do to her?¡±

 

¡°I didn¡¯t do it,¡± said Eron, taking off his blazer and covering Sakura¡¯s wet body.

 

¡°It¡¯s not—¡° Tomoyo turned pale recalling the horrors of the previous winter when Sakura had collapsed.

 

¡°It¡¯s the Fantasy,¡± said Eriol, bending over and gently wiping Sakura¡¯s wet face with a handkerchief. ¡°And perhaps another dark force. Let us take her to my house—we can¡¯t send her home like this.¡±

 

¡°I¡¯ll call my chauffer,¡± Tomoyo said, dialing with trembling fingers.

 

Eriol bent over to pick up Sakura, but Eron said, ¡°If you don¡¯t mind, I¡¯ll accompany you.¡± He picked up Sakura and carried her to Tomoyo¡¯s car.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Sakura was laid in a guest bedroom in Eriol¡¯s house. She looked very pale and serene against the crimson satin sheets.

 

¡°She will be all right, won¡¯t she?¡± asked Miho in a small voice, peaking in the door. She could not bear watching Sakura asleep like that; it was too soon after the horrors of the Plague.

 

¡°If she wakes up,¡± replied Eriol.

 

¡°How do we wake her up?¡± Tomoyo frowned. This was different from when Sakura lay unconscious after sealing the Plague, when she had been battling for life and death. Right now, Sakura looked as is she was just in deep slumber, as if she would wake any moment. For the first time, she seemed to be completely at ease and a tiny smile was on her lips as if she was having a pleasant dream.

 

¡°I don¡¯t know,¡± said Eriol. ¡°She entered the Fantasy with her own free will. Just like she chose to forget. Only she can choose to return.¡±

 

¡°But if she doesn¡¯t want to return?¡± Miho turned to Eriol. ¡°I¡¯ve been trapped in the Fantasy before. I know how it works. I wouldn¡¯t have been able to return if you guys didn¡¯t come to get me.¡±

 

¡°Sakura sealed the Fantasy and only she can wield it now,¡± Eriol replied, picking up the Fantasy Card which was clutched in Sakura¡¯s hand.

 

¡°Can¡¯t you do something about it?¡± demanded Miho.

 

¡°I can try to enter through it. But I can¡¯t guarantee that I will be able to find her, if she has concealed herself within the realms of the Fantasy,¡± Eriol replied. ¡°There are many doors into the Fantasy, and I may be very well trapped in my own fantasy and never reach her.¡±

 

¡°You were able to find me,¡± Miho retorted.

 

¡°That was different,¡± said Eriol. ¡°You wanted to be found. Sakura is a powerful magician—if she doesn¡¯t want to be found, no one would be able to find her.¡±

 

¡°There is one person who might be able to,¡± said Miho.

 

There was a silence in the room. 

 

¡°What will happen if she doesn¡¯t return?¡± asked Tomoyo.

 

Miho gasped and pointed. ¡°Look at her fingers—they¡¯re starting to fade.¡± Indeed, Sakura¡¯s pinky finger had been rendered invisible.

 

¡°That¡¯s what I suspected. Her physical body might disappear from this world completely if she does not return from the Fantasy soon.¡± Eriol clasped his hands in front of him.

 

Eron frowned and stared at Eriol. ¡°If she disappears completely, will she be permanently trapped inside the Fantasy?¡±

 

¡°Most likely,¡± said Eriol, staring at the rainbow colors flashing on the Fantasy Card¡¯s surface.

 

¡°I¡¯ll go inside the Fantasy and bring her back,¡± stated Eron.

 

¡°Don¡¯t do anything foolish, Chang Eron,¡± said Eriol lowly.

 

Turning around to face Clow Reed¡¯s reincarnation. ¡°Why, do you doubt my ability? I am the Great One¡¯s descendent. I can wield the Fantasy. I¡¯ll find her and bring her back.¡±

 

¡°You won¡¯t be able to,¡± Eriol said. ¡°The Fantasy is an overwhelming force. You have a desire, a desire deeper and stronger than even your desire to find Sakura. The Fantasy will trap you.¡±

 

So this was the omniscient eyes of Clow Reed. Eron trembled, unable to meet Hiiragizawa Eriol¡¯s eyes. ¡°I am not weak. I won¡¯t be trapped by some mere dark force.¡±

 

¡°Said many foolish magicians before you,¡± Eriol said.

 

¡°Then will you save her? How do you expect me to sit here and do nothing? Is that how you reacted when you lost Mizuki Mika? Simple acceptance of self-defeat?¡± demanded Eron.

 

Confused, Tomoyo turned to Miho, whose gray eyes widened as if horrified by Eron¡¯s statement. Tomoyo then had an inkling of who Mizuki Mika was.

 

Eriol had a dangerously glimmer in his deep blue eyes concealed by his glasses. ¡°Sakura-san is not dead. Her consciousness is merely elsewhere at the moment, and there is a way to bring her back. One that has already passed over to the realm of the dead has no way of returning.¡±

 

¡°I¡¯m sorry. That was inappropriate—¡° Eron stammered.

 

¡°Tales of times before Clow Reed came into existence do not interest me anymore,¡± said Eriol. ¡°We live in the present and now.¡±

 

¡°Can I enter the Fantasy and try to bring Sakura back?¡± Tomoyo spoke up. ¡°I know I don¡¯t have magical powers but—¡°

 

Eriol shook his head. ¡°It¡¯s too dangerous for someone without powers. It would be dangerous for anyone.¡±

 

¡°Why is it so dangerous?¡± asked Miho. ¡°You all came to save me, and we were all fine.¡±

 

¡°I think Sakura entered the deepest core of Fantasy Land, Memoria,¡± said Eriol. ¡°If that is true, it would be near impossible to find her unless you are a magician stronger than her.¡±

 

¡°Or your desire to find her is stronger than her magical powers,¡± Eron added. ¡°And even if you do find her, I guess convincing her to return would be another story.¡±

 

A gentle look came over Tomoyo¡¯s face as she smoothed out the blanket covering Sakura. ¡°There is only person I am a hundred percent sure will be able to find her. The very person she ran away from. But he¡¯s not here right now. I¡¯m tired of sitting and waiting, doing nothing. I think my desire to bring her back can suffice for my lack of magic. Let me go find her, please.¡±

 

¡°Are you sure?¡± asked Eriol.

 

¡°Yes.¡± Tomoyo looked into Eriol¡¯s eyes. ¡°What do I need to do in order to reach her?¡±

 

¡°I will open up a passage in the Fantasy for you. The rest is up to you,¡± said Eriol. He held up a key. ¡°Key that hides the power of darkness. Show your true self to me. I, Eriol, command you under contract. Release!¡± A large black staff with a sun emblem at the head materialized. He flung up the card. ¡°Fantasy!¡±

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

After passing through a gateway of prismatic light, Tomoyo found herself walking down a familiar path. How strange. The cherry blossoms were in full blossom and it was warm—it was almost winter now, in Japan. She caught her reflection in the brook. Her long hair was pulled back into a bun, and she was no longer wearing her school uniform. Instead, she was dressed in a navy blue kimono with a pink obi around her waist—quite similar to a kimono print she had at home. In her time spent in the company of a Card Mistress and a group of world-class magicians and non-humans, Tomoyo had encountered many unusual circumstances; nothing daunted her much anymore. She crossed the wood bridge and glanced around her, by now pretty sure that she was still in Tomoeda. There was an empty space where King Penguin Park would have been. There were no lampposts nor electric lines anywhere. There was just a wide, empty space. Now, she came by the Tsukimine Shrine. At least that was the same. And, there was a young man, pale-skinned and tall. His neat dark blue-black hair was parted in the center, and he was dressed in a Prussian blue waistcoat and trousers. The cream-colored cravat tied around his neck and the golden pocket watch all indicated wealth, though his waistcoat and trousers seemed to be made of travel-durable material. In the midst of scenery that seemed to depict a rural Japan, the English gentleman seemed out of place, but then again, perhaps like he belonged. He stood about lanky and awkward, as if lost but not lost. He turned around to glance at her. He had kind blue eyes, the same color as his waistcoat.

 

Appearance-wise, Tomoyo would have guessed this young man, no older than herself, to be none other than Hiiragizawa Eriol, sans glasses. However, something about the ambiance of the man made her suspect he was not Eriol. Which meant that he must be Clow Reed.

 

¡°You¡¯ve come a long way,¡± he remarked, walking towards her.

 

A little taken aback, Tomoyo looked around to see who he was speaking to. Realizing she was the only person there, she stammered, ¡°C-clow Reed-san?¡±

 

¡°That¡¯s what I will be called in the future,¡± the blue-eyed gentleman replied. ¡°At this point I am simply known by my given name. Edward Cleau Reed.¡±

 

Tomoyo had been trying to pin what made this young Clow Reed different from Eriol, and she realized that Eriol, though he had the appearance of a sixteen year-old had the countenance of someone who had lived for a century. This man, though as shrewd and sharp as Eriol was, still was truly young. ¡°When exactly is this period, Edward Cleau Reed-san?¡±

 

¡°Not long after the Meiji Restoration,¡± replied Clow.

 

The feudal Japan era ended in 1968 with the Meiji Restoration. It was more than a century and a quarter years in the past. ¡°Do you know who I am?¡± asked Tomoyo in disbelief.

 

¡°Vaguely. You have the same ambiance as him.¡±

 

¡°Whom may you be speaking of?¡±

 

¡°Amamiya Hayashi-sama of the Great Five. I¡¯ve only met him once but perhaps he is the most impressionable man I have ever met,¡± said Edward Cleau Reed with a smile. ¡°I don¡¯t think I will ever live up to him.¡±

 

¡°What are you talking about? You are Clow Reed, the greatest sorcerer of the East and the West!¡± exclaimed Tomoyo.

 

¡°Is that what they will call me in the future?¡± The young man stared up at the sky.

 

Even his side profile was the same. But Tomoyo thought that unlike Eriol, Edward Reed seemed very forlorn, like a lost and bewildered boy. ¡°Do you live here?¡± asked Tomoyo, peering into the Tsukimine Shrine. Mizuki-sensei¡¯s shrine.

 

¡°No. I¡¯m from England,¡± replied Edward. ¡°I was born and raised there.¡±

 

¡°What brings you to Japan then?¡± Tomoyo asked. She knew from Sakura that Clow Reed had spent much of his adult life in Japan and had died here.

 

¡°After my mother left, I used to spend summers with my grandmother at the chateaux de la Loire. My grandmother was originally from that area—Lady Eleanor Reed, née Cleau. She was my father, Lord Landon Reed¡¯s mother. But she passed away, and my father had nowhere to send me off to during vacations from prep school. He had acquaintances in Japan, so he sent me here.¡±

 

¡°Loire—that¡¯s in France, isn¡¯t it?¡± asked Tomoyo. Eriol. Loire. Eriol was Loire spelt backwards.

 

¡°Yes. My grandmother was a dear—she was a tiny Frenchwoman with an immense amount of energy and vitality.¡± Now, Edward had a soft smile as he remarked, ¡°People used to whisper that she was of fairy folk—justifiably, too. The Cleau family was originally from Brittany. I don¡¯t know if you¡¯re familiar with old Arthurian folk tales. But that¡¯s where they say the legendary Avalon was once located.¡±

 

¡°Where Morgan Le Fay and the Lady of the Lake originated from! They say the great magician Merlin trained there in his youth,¡± exclaimed Tomoyo—she knew her share of legends about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. It was strange watching this strangely animated person who resembled Eriol so much but was not Eriol. Her eyes were now filled with sorrow. ¡°You must have loved your grandmother very much.¡±

 

At this, Edward Reed turned to stare at the strangely beautiful girl who seemed like a kindred spirit yet a bit ethereal. ¡°Yes, she practically raised me. My mother was Chinese. Li Shulin, Chosen One of the Li Clan. My memory of her is faint—she left my father when I was quite young. Father was never the same after she left—he didn¡¯t like being with me. Said I reminded him of her. It was my grandmother who taught me magic. She was the one who told me about the Great Five, the greatest magical alliance of the century. It was her vision which made her believe that someday it will be my destiny to create my own magic and create a bridge between the East and the West.¡±

 

¡°And her vision was correct,¡± murmured Tomoyo.

 

¡°You know, I had this idea. I think I will convert dark forces into cards,¡± stated Edward, suddenly excited. ¡°I haven¡¯t quite figured out how to get the dark forces to relent to a contract with me, but I have this vision of a blend between Tarot Cards and let¡¯s say binding spells more in the vein of the Japanese onmyouji. It¡¯ll be a difficult process in order to keep balance. Ying and yang, the cosmic order through wu xing—it¡¯s all so fascinating to me. I¡¯m sorry—I¡¯ve been babbling nonsense—I tend to get carried away at times.¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s not nonsense—I think cards are a great idea. You will earn worldwide fame through creating the Clow Cards. And many people would fight to become the next Master of the Cards,¡± replied Tomoyo. 

 

¡°You know, it¡¯s funny. When I first met you, I thought you might be the next successor to the Cards.¡± Edward laughed shortly.

 

¡°I¡¯m not,¡± replied Tomoyo. ¡°But my best friend is.¡± Her eyes flickered for a second. Sakura¡¦ How could she have forgotten about Sakura?

 

¡°So it really does happen,¡± murmured Edward in awe. ¡°The Cards are a possibility.¡±

 

¡°I thought you can see the future, Clow-san,¡± Tomoyo remarked. ¡°I mean, Edward-san. Reed-san. So don¡¯t you know everything that will happen? You knew I was coming.¡±

 

¡°You can just call me Edward,¡± Edward said. ¡°And there is a difference between knowing something will happen and knowing something has already happened. I thought someone like you might show up today, but there was no guarantee that you would, or that if you did, we would meet. Yet we did. And things don¡¯t always turn out the way you expect it to.¡±

 

Tomoyo said with a wistful tone, ¡°I wouldn¡¯t know.¡±

 

¡°I see—you do not possess magical aura,¡± Edward remarked. ¡°It¡¯s sort of deceiving. You seem to possess some inner eye. If you had magic, you would have made a formidable sorceress, perhaps greater than anyone in history.¡±

 

¡°I¡¯m glad I don¡¯t have any special powers then,¡± said Tomoyo. ¡°I¡¯m content providing moral support to those who battle for all our sakes.¡±

 

Now, Edward Reed stared into her violet eyes. ¡°I¡¯ve never met anyone like you before. It¡¯s a pity we¡¯re from different eras. I think we could have become good friends.¡±

 

Tomoyo¡¯s smiled now. ¡°Someday, should our paths cross again, we will be.¡±

 

¡°I surely hope so, Tomoyo-san,¡± he said.

 

She had not yet told him her name. So this was the formidable power of Clow Reed. But if Clow could know her name without her telling him, at least now she also knew his true name. ¡°By the way, if you ever feel like making a key staff for your successor, it should be cute and pink. Because the owner of it will be a very cute, young girl.¡±

 

Edward Cleau Reed smiled back. ¡°I¡¯ll keep that in mind.¡± Perhaps her time there was up, or perhaps Clow Reed had deemed it time for her to return. The scenery around her started to blur and Tomoyo¡¯s body felt light, as it was floating.

 

Tomoyo brushed back a loose strand of hair from her face and looked up. She saw a timid face peek out from behind the temple wall—it was Nakuru with her long coppery auburn hair, dressed in a dandelion-colored kimono matching the shade of her eyes. ¡°Edward-sama?¡±

 

Edward turned around, the visitor from the different era instantly forgotten. His eyes lit up with the gentle cerulean warmth that he rarely showed anyone. ¡°Mika—¡°

 

Where have I seen those eyes before. Ah, those are the eyes Eriol has when he gazes upon Mizuki-sensei¡¦

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

When Tomoyo opened her eyes again, she was no longer in the Meiji Era Tsukimine Shrine but in a room with the curtains drawn. The bed sheets were a deep indigo satin and there was no modern technology in sight.

 

¡°Tomoyo-san! Tomoyo-san, are you all right?¡± Eriol asked.

 

Tomoyo smiled sadly. Eriol looked just like young Edward Cleau Reed, except with glasses. In that aspect, he resembled Clow Reed. ¡°Mika¡¦¡±

 

Suddenly, Eriol turned somber. ¡°Mizuki Mika.¡±

 

¡°Was she Clow Reed¡¯s first love?¡± asked Tomoyo.

 

¡°Yes.¡±

 

¡°What¡¦ happened?¡±

 

¡°She passed away before her time,¡± was his short reply. ¡°And Clow realized that all the magic in the world cannot bring back the life of a dead person.¡±

 

And Tomoyo knew she would never get any more than that out of Eriol. ¡°I¡¯m sorry—I didn¡¯t get anywhere near finding Sakura. I guess I overestimated myself. I fell into the Fantasy¡¯s trap. I completely forgot about her.¡± The brocade duvet cover was embroidered with golden sun symbols. ¡°I wasn¡¯t able to do anything.¡±

 

¡°No, it isn¡¯t your fault,¡± said Eriol. ¡°I called you back before you even had a chance to fully enter into the Fantasy.¡±

 

¡°Why did you do that?¡± asked Tomoyo, turning to Eriol. She realized that this must be Eriol¡¯s private bedchamber. The antique oak wood furniture suited him, as did the velvet curtains and Dutch still-life oil paintings hanging from the walls.

 

¡°I was afraid of losing you,¡± replied Eriol.

 

Tomoyo¡¯s cheeks turned pink. ¡°Why¡¦¡±

 

¡°I forgot what an outstanding imagination you have—you would be the worst candidate to send inside the Fantasy. It was a brief lapse of judgment on my part.¡± Eriol smiled. ¡°Besides, I think Chang Eron has swallowed his pride and is going to bring our friend back.¡±

 

¡°Do you think he will come?¡± asked Tomoyo.

 

¡°If Eron asks him, I think he would.¡±

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

A teammate kicked the soccer ball out of bounds.

 

¡°I¡¯ll get it.¡± Syaoran ran out to the shrubs look for the ball.

 

Somebody threw the ball at him, and Syaoran caught it with one hand. ¡°What are you doing here?¡±

 

Eron stepped out and faced him. ¡°You have to come with me.¡±

 

¡°What if I refuse?¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s about Sakura. She¡¯s in danger. You need to come.¡±

 

¡°I can¡¯t. I can¡¯t face her—you know that.¡±

 

¡°Only you can save her,¡± Eron said, teeth gritted. ¡°It¡¯s taking me a lot to even say this much. So just hurry up and follow me.¡±

 

 

 

The last place he wanted to end up in was the Clow Reed estate. But to Syaoran¡¯s relief, Eriol and his group was nowhere in sight. Eron led him to a bedroom at the end of the second floor.

 

A terrifying rage boiled within him as Syaoran stared at Sakura lying motionless as she was at that time when she fell to near death after using up all her powers. Her short golden-brown hair was spread out on the pillow and her hand was folded on her chest. Blood rushed to his temples, and he turned to Eron, gripping his collar.

 

¡°What did you do to her?¡± hissed Syaoran.

 

¡°It wasn¡¯t me. She wanted to forget. She was in too much pain thinking about you, and she chose to forget you. This is the result.¡± Eron stared Syaoran straight in the eye. ¡°You did this to her. She trapped herself in the Fantasy to run away from you.¡±

 

Syaoran¡¯s hold on Eron¡¯s shirt loosened. ¡°Why did you let this happen to her? She chose you. You said you love her. You said you would protect her.¡±

 

¡°That¡¯s why I came to you.¡± Eron¡¯s face contorted for a moment. ¡°Do you think I came to you because I wanted to? As if I don¡¯t have any pride as a man? It makes me boil inside thinking I have to come to you. But you are here. You need to resolve what wrong you did.¡±

 

¡°What can I do?¡± Syaoran said. ¡°I¡¯ve lost all my powers. Even if I had any idea how to bring her back from the Fantasy, I can¡¯t do anything. Couldn¡¯t Eriol find a way? Or Mizuki-sensei?¡±

 

¡°They can¡¯t. Those who enter the Fantasy will get trapped in their own fantasies and forget their initial target. But you will be able to find her and bring her back.¡±

 

Syaoran wished he could stroke Sakura¡¯s cheek and check her pulse to see if she was alive. Her chest was heaving. She was breathing. ¡°Do you love her?¡±

 

¡°Yes I do.¡±

 

¡°Did you make her happy?¡±

 

¡°Yes.¡± Eron frowned. ¡°Until you came and ruined everything. You betrayed her. You are the one who drove her to this state.¡±

 

¡°I never meant to hurt her like this.¡±

 

¡°But you did.¡±

 

¡°She can never forgive me after what I did to her.¡± Syaoran shut his eyes. Her stinging last words echoed in his mind so vividly, Li Syaoran, there is only one person I despise in the world. And that is you. ¡°Do promise me you will make her happy?¡±

 

¡°I don¡¯t need you telling me that. That¡¯s what I always planned on doing. I love her. And I need her. You never did.¡±

 

Syaoran stared at Eron. ¡°Even if you and I have switched places, even if I have no one to blame but myself for all the wrongs I did to Sakura, that does not change the fact that every moment that I breathe, I live with the desire to see her again.¡±

 

¡°Keep that in mind when you find her,¡± said Eron. ¡°Do you think you can find her inside the Fantasy?¡±

 

¡°She despises me—she doesn¡¯t want to see me.¡±

 

¡°Yes or no question. Do you think you can find her?¡± repeated Eron.

 

Glancing at Sakura¡¯s long fluttering lashes, Syaoran said quietly, ¡°How do I enter the Fantasy?¡±

 

Eron held up the card, the face of which kept shifting. ¡°I will open up a portal for you. There is no one who will be able to go in and find you. So you better come back, with Sakura.¡±

 

Syaoran¡¯s eyes met Eron¡¯s. ¡°I¡¯ll bring her back no matter what. And then, it¡¯s up to you to keep your promise.¡±

 

 

 

For the second time, Syaoran found himself facing an ephemeral globe of shifting light. He heard a familiar androgynous silvery voice.

 

¡°We meet again Little Wolf,¡± said the Fantasy. ¡°What do you want this time?¡±

 

¡°I need to find Sakura.¡±

 

¡°I¡¯m afraid that isn¡¯t possible,¡± replied the Fantasy. ¡°The Card Mistress does not want to found and has entered deep into the realm of the Memory. Even I don¡¯t have control over Memoria. You will never find her.¡±

 

¡°It doesn¡¯t matter. Let me enter.¡±

 

¡°You are not my master. You cannot command me,¡± the Fantasy stated.

 

¡°What would you want in exchange for allowing me passage into Memoria?¡± Syaoran asked.

 

The Fantasy chuckled. ¡°Your memory of course. You can¡¯t expect to be able to enter the realm of Memoria with your memories in tact?¡±

 

¡°How will I be able to find Sakura if I don¡¯t have any memory?¡± demanded Syaoran.

 

¡°Oh, if you want to find her enough, you¡¯ll manage,¡± said the Fantasy. ¡°Besides, I¡¯ll be gracious and grant you one memory. You can choose to remember yourself. Or you can choose to remember her. I advise you to remember yourself, because you will never be able to return without knowing your own name.¡±

 

¡°All right then, open up the passage,¡± said Syaoran.

 

¡°Have you decided?¡±

 

¡°Yes I have,¡± Syaoran replied.

 

A gleaming sphere opened up, and Li Syaoran stepped into the Fantasy Kingdom once more.

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

Wish-chan: January 30, 2009

 

You know a fanfic has gone on too long when the author starts coining new words as chapter titles. Lol¡¦ Chapter 60 is where everything starts to pick up momentum again. This chapter is an example of something that would have done better as an anime episode and was also a difficult chapter to write because I realized just how much work has to be done in order to pace all the subplots through Arc 4. Because of the main plot, a lot of the subplot actions I had written for this chapter had been pushed to the next chapters. (Oh well, means less work later on! ^_^)

 

As we all know, Clow Reed was named after the infamous British occultist Aleister Crowley (Crowley=Kuro Reedo). I thought for a long time what Clow Reed¡¯s real name would be (because everyone knew that wasn¡¯t his real name, right? ^_^;) I knew his first name would be Edward because Aleister Crowley¡¯s real name was Edward Alexander Crowley. Those of you who have read the Legacy of the Five Forces Special would know that the ¡°Clow¡± comes from his maternal grandmother ¡°Cleau.¡± And if you recall in Chapter One of the Legend, Lord Landon Reed¡¯s good friend¡¯s name is Edward—he names his son after his best friend. And Eriol derived his name from the place where Clow Reed spent much of his summers during his childhood. His grandmother had estates in Loire (famous for the castles), and Lady Eleanor Cleau Reed was the only one who showed kindness and love to him in his childhood. I mean, Eriol IS a pretty funny name, not really used in the English-speaking world but not a Japanese name either.

 

I¡¯ve been waiting for so long to write this arc, I am afraid I won¡¯t be able to do it justice. The following chapter will be one of the ¡°original blueprint chapters.¡± 75% of New Trials is shaped by the flow of things over the years but the original 25% is what I knew from the beginning that I was going to write. So once more, the Fantasy surfaces—if you can¡¯t tell, it is my favorite dark force because it is so malleable and every time it shows up, it¡¯s different.

 

This whole theme of memory has played such a central role in CCS, I had to revisit it in New Trials. I guess CLAMP decided the same thing when they wrote Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles. I was initially reluctant to read it because I was afraid of influence on NT. But now, I keep up with it, and I can rest assured because I am comfortable enough with what I want out of New Trials not to let the plot from TRC bleed in. But I also enjoy reading TRC to confirm my theories about CLAMP¡¯s vision, in order to keep that alive within New Trials. Coincidentally, Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles seems to be coming to a wrap as of 2009. It has been a bittersweet journey for me because on the one hand, it was so nostalgic being given another lens into CLAMP¡¯s beloved characters. On the other hand, if CLAMP ruins the wonderful thing they created in CCS, I would be really angry. I¡¯ll refrain from commenting more until I get to see the end of TRC. If TRC ends before New Trials, that would mean CLAMP went through both CCS and a spin-off in the span of one fanfiction. Lol¡¦

 

Here is a fanart of Tomoyo and Mizuki Kaho: http://wishluv.deviantart.com/art/Tomoyo-Versus-Mizuki-Kaho-111276866 I thought it was an interesting concept to draw. Comments are always cherished at hopeluvpeace@hotmail.com and please check out the New Trials Group at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/newtrialsring/. Thank you so much for reading New Trials and Happy Lunar New Year to you all! It¡¯s the year of the Ox (my birth year.)