“Sakura-chan, can you do me a favor?” Daidouji Tomoyo said.
The two sixteen year old girls sat in Tomoyo’s bedroom. Unlike most girls her age, Tomoyo had a six-room chamber that occupied the entire second-floor east wing of the Daidouji mansion. First was her parlor done in dainty pastel colors and ivory furniture, then her study with her high-tech video-editing equipment, the next her design room, another room was a media room with a private theater system, and yet another compartment was set aside as her walk-in-closet with a whole subsection of her self-designed wardrobe for her best friend Sakura. Tomoyo’s bedroom was the size of the entire Kinomoto’s upstairs and done up all in lace and silk like a princess’ room.
Kinomoto Sakura, sitting crossed legged on the paisley print bed, stared up at her best friend. In all the nine years they had been friends, Tomoyo never had needed Sakura for anything. If there was ever an opportunity for Sakura to repay Tomoyo back for all the times she had been there for her, she would gladly take it. “Of course. What is it, Tomoyo-chan?”
“You know I’ve been preparing a portfolio for a design contest for some time now,” Tomoyo began.
Sakura nodded, feeling rather guilty because she had been so occupied with other thoughts over the past months that she really hadn’t noticed what Tomoyo had been up to.
Taking in a deep breath, Tomoyo continued, “Well, I’ve been selected as one of the five finalists for the Japan Young Designer Contest.”
“That’s awesome! Congratulations!” exclaimed Sakura. Even Sakura had heard of the Young Designer Contest—it was a launch pad for many innovative young designers held only every three years. Winners of the contest often continued on to very successful careers in the fashion industry. When had Tomoyo been preparing for this contest? Right. There was the time when Sakura had been avoiding everybody at the beginning of the school year. And then Syaoran came back, and Sakura had tried to completely isolate herself from anything that reminded her of him. And then she began spending more time with Eron because he was virtually the only person who would never voluntarily reference Li Syaoran. Guiltily, she squeezed Tomoyo into a big hug.
“Thank you,” Tomoyo said, her eyes brimming with gratitude. “I really didn’t think I would make it this far, so I haven’t told anyone yet I’ve been selected—you’re the first.”
“Isn’t the contest geared towards students in design school, usually in their twenties?” asked Sakura.
Tomoyo replied, “I checked—there wasn’t any restriction set forth in the guidelines and applicants do not have to be design students. It said specifically, ‘any aspiring designer under the age of 29 is eligible to enter.’ So, I decided to just enter instead of waiting another three years until I’m in university.”
what were the requirements?” asked Sakura. “It’s an awfully competitive
contest, isn’t it? All the top designs school students in
“For the preliminary round, they asked for a portfolio with fifteen designs following their specifications. Second round, we had to submit a dress that was displayed at the Piffle Princess shopping plaza and put to popular vote. Third round, there were ten of us left, and we were brought to a studio where we were given 24 hours to design and execute an outfit specified by the judge.”
“Hoe-eee! When did you do all of this?” Sakura exclaimed. “When did you even start preparing?”
“I’ve always wanted to enter the contest ever since I went to the Young Designer Showcase Fashion Show when I was seven,” replied Tomoyo. “I picked up the applications over summer vacation and the three rounds happened over the last two months.”
“Ah, that’s what you’ve been working on since summer vacation,” Sakura exclaimed, recalling how Tomoyo had constantly been sketching at their great-grandfather’s house.
“I was doing other stuff too, then,” replied Tomoyo. Namely sewing battle outfits that had not been put to use yet. She sighed. There just had not been any decent video opportunities as of late.
“Wow, Tomoyo-chan, you’re so amazing.” Sakura stared at her best friend in admiration. “While I’ve been doing nothing, you’ve become a finalist for such a nationally prestigious contest.”
Chuckling slightly, Tomoyo remarked, “I wouldn’t quite call fighting against the Dark Ones and protecting the world from chaos nothing.”
“So, what do you have to do in the final round?” asked Sakura.
“The five finalists have to put on a runway show with seven themes showcasing their designs from their portfolio,” replied Tomoyo. “We will be judged by a panel of guest judges on technique, style and originality.”
Sakura’s mouth was dropping lower and lower. “It sounds like so much work. When will you make seven whole outfits for a runway show?”
“Actually, it’s fourteen—male and female designs,” replied Tomoyo. She sighed. “I’m not so confident with the men’s line—my specialty is female couture.”
“When is the fashion show?” asked Sakura.
“A week before Christmas,” replied Tomoyo.
“Hoe! That’s not much time at all!” exclaimed Sakura. “What can I do to help you, Tomoyo-chan?”
“I feel bad asking, since it’s so busy with finals coming up and Christmastime is always so hectic,” said Tomoyo.
Sakura clenched her hands into a fist. “Just ask me. Sewing on beads, lace, ribbons? Shopping for fabric? Cutting patterns? Hemming skirts? I can do it all!”
Tomoyo giggled. Somehow, Sakura had learned more about dressmaking being friends with Tomoyo than she would ever need to know. “Actually, I’m finished with most of the outfits—I just need to do the fittings and some final detailing on my free choice outfit.”
Eyes sparkling, Sakura exclaimed, “Tomoyo-chan is so amazing! I can’t believe you already made fourteen outfits! Then… what do you need me to do?”
“Oh, that.” Tomoyo placed her hand to her cheek, eyes turning into radiant amethyst sparkles. “To be my model of course!”
“I—I can’t!” exclaimed Sakura. Tomoyo looked like she was about to cry, so Sakura quickly refuted, “No, I mean, I want to, but I can’t model in front of all those people—what if I mess up on such an important contest for you.” The Young Designer Runway Contest was an open show that was held in front of hundreds of people in the Metropolitan Auditorium, broadcast on cable TV.
“But you’ve done professional photo shoots and starred in my Young Director Contest film entry,” reminded Tomoyo. “Not to mention the Best Couple Contest…”
“T-that’s different,” Sakura said. “The photo shoot only had Mike Kant-san, and I could make mistakes and stuff. On the runway, it’s a one-shot deal, and if I mess up, I’ll be an embarrassment to you, Tomoyo-chan. You should get a professional model, or somebody who is tall and beautiful, who can do your outfits justice. ”
“Oh, Sakura-chan. You’ll never embarrass me,” said Tomoyo. “I designed all the outfits with you in mind, so I can’t imagine anyone else wearing them. For me, this contest is very important. I entered the Young Director Contest for fun, without much thought. Also to show the world how cute my darling Sakura-chan is.”
“I usually do things for entertainment value, because I’m frivolous and silly. Or because I want to please mother and great-grandfather. But this time, I entered the Designer Contest to test myself to see if I can do it.”
“Of course you can. Your designs are so lovely!” exclaimed Sakura.
Tomoyo shook her head. “My designs are my own whims—you’re nice and wear anything I make for because you’re my friend. But in the real world, the fashion industry is a very competitive one. Many talented designers don’t make it. And truthfully, my designs are very self-indulgent—they won’t work in every day life. Nonetheless, I want to be able to do something for myself. And after I finish this contest, I’m going to confess to Eriol-kun.”
“Oh, Tomoyo-chan!” Sakura stared at her friend with new awe. She had never seen such determination behind Tomoyo’s eyes before. “I’m so excited for you! Is this the beginning of Daidouji Tomoyo’s Love-love Chronicles.”
And Tomoyo gave Sakura a strange look. “I know already the answer. I’ll confess to him in order to move on.”
“What are you talking about?” asked Sakura. “Eriol-kun will surely return your feelings if you confess to him.”
“No, Sakura-chan,” said Tomoyo, shaking her head. “Eriol-kun will never be able to return my feelings towards him.”
Sakura frowned. “Why, Tomoyo-chan, would you think that? Isn’t it you who always said that if you are truthful to that person, everything will work out fine?”
“Eriol-kun has somebody else in his heart,” Tomoyo said.
“Who?” demanded Sakura, indignant that anyone would not completely be in love with her darling Tomoyo. Actually, it was difficult to imagine Eriol in love with anyone at all.
“She’s the reincarnation of Clow Reed’s first and only love.”
And Sakura looked up at Tomoyo with suddenly sympathetic emerald eyes. “Mizuki Mika-san.”
“Sakura-chan knew about Clow Reed’s first love too?” Tomoyo smiled slightly. “Only I didn’t know.”
“No, I recently met Mika-san. When I was in the Fantasy. And she reminded me very much of someone,” replied Sakura. Now it made sense.
Tomoyo’s lashes were lowered. “What was she like? Clow Reed’s first love?”
“Mika-san was beautiful and kind. Composed and nurturing… like Mizuki-sensei.” Sakura shut her eyes. Yes, Mizuki Mika in Memoria had been like a younger Mizuki Kaho. That was what Sakura had felt then. “But she looked like Nakuru-san.” Sakura opened her eyes again. She kept thinking inside Memoria that Mika reminded her of Mizuki-sensei and even gave her the same hanyaan feeling she only felt for two people—Yukito-san and Mizuki-sensei. “Mizuki-sensei is Mika-san’s reincarnation?”
Tomoyo nodded. So it was true. The girl that resembled Nakuru she had glimpsed in the Fantasy must have been Mizuki Mika. “Miho told me. I should have noticed sooner…”
“How would we have known?” said Sakura heavily. “There is so much we don’t know about Clow Reed. But Eriol-kun himself always emphasizes that he is not Clow Reed. You can’t give up before you hear an answer from his own lips.”
“How could I beat the memory of Clow Reed’s first love?” asked Tomoyo with a sad smile. “Mizuki-sensei is the reincarnation of Mizuki Mika. Mizuki Mika soul lies within Mizuki-sensei. I can’t stand up to that.”
“But Mizuki-sensei is not Mika-san,” said Sakura.
“And Eriol-kun is not Clow Reed,” replied Tomoyo. “Don’t you see, it’s a bond I cannot venture to break, that I have no place in at all.”
“Tomoyo-chan…” Sakura stepped to her friend and gave her a tight hug. She wished she could tell Tomoyo that everything would work out fine.
“It’s all right, Sakura-chan. I’ll be all right. After I confess to him, I can really start anew,” murmured Tomoyo into Sakura’s shoulder. “Remember what you once told me? ‘Maybe someday we will find other people who become very important in our lives. But our relationship won’t change. We will laugh, cry, and support each other until we marry and grow old, and our children would also grow up to be the best of friends.’ Who cares about anyone else? So long as you are my friend, I think I can endure anything.”
“It’s a promise,” Sakura whispered back to her best friend.
The hospital was busy as usual come wintertime, and Kinomoto Touya, a first year resident intern, had not had a chance to return home to check on his little sister again ever since her memory of the Brat had returned. If he had a choice, he would watch over her like a hawk. Then again, it had been getting difficult being near his little sister and constantly watching her so subdued. He too had been fifteen the first time he got his heart broken. When Mizuki Kaho, at that time his teacher, left, he had stayed awake at nights wondering what he could have done differently. Slowly, he grew to accept that some things, no matter what you do, are just not meant to be. Time heals, he had always told himself. But though the heart heals, the mind does not forget.
“What are you spacing out in the hallway for?” asked Tsukishiro Yukito, his best friend and fellow resident intern in the pediatric department, placing his head in front of Touya and blinking up with large golden-brown eyes.
“Yuki. Don’t scare me like that,” said Touya, jumping back.
“So, Sakura has regained her memory of Li Syaoran.” Yukito pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “I wonder how that will complicate things now.”
“I don’t know. Kaho says that Li Syaoran went into the Fantasy at the risk of being trapped in there himself in order to bring Sakura back. Why would he do that?”
Yukito blinked. “Are you seriously asking that question?”
“He betrayed Sakura. He stole the Cards from her,” said Touya with a crease across his forehead.
“There is a reason for everything,” replied Yukito in a far-off tone.
“As Kaho always said,” murmured Touya.
“Kaho-san again, is it?” Yukito smiled slightly. Hitsuzen. That was what Clow had always told Yue, a century before Mizuki Kaho had ever uttered them to young Kinomoto Touya. “You two seem to get along well lately.”
“I never thought that we would really become friends,” Touya remarked. “But we have, and I’m glad. It’s just…”
“It has always bothered me.” A dark scowl came over his face. “Whether she liked me for who I am, or whether she liked me because I resemble him.”
Yukito smiled in exasperation. “Who?”
“Clow Reed. I am the son of one half of his reincarnation, after all,” said Touya.
‘Why did you choose me?” his fifteen-year-old self had once asked her.
‘Because you remind me of someone,’ she had replied in her convoluted way. ‘Someone I have not yet met.’ Back then, he had felt flattered, as if fate had brought them together that one morning at Tsukimine Shrine. If only he knew then of the existence of Clow Reed.
“What a silly thought, To-ya! She loved you because you are you,” stated Nakuru, jumping out of the supply closet and wrapping her arms around Touya’s neck. “Who wouldn’t?”
“Nurse Nakuru-san, please conduct yourself appropriately—this is a hospital,” said Touya even more stiffly than usual, embarrassed at having his intimate thoughts overheard by the likes of Nakuru.
Akizuki Nakuru jumped off his back and swung around to face him, her long auburn hair fanning around her. She adjusted her white nurse cap and tilted her head up close to Touya’s face. “You hate thinking that you were just a replacement of Clow Reed to her, don’t you? You have similar eyes and the same jet-black hair as Clow. And that uncanny ability to sense the supernatural. But otherwise, you’re as different as night and day from him. If she was not Mizuki Mika’s reincarnation, she might have truly loved you and only you.”
“Mizuki Mika? Who is that?” Touya scowled, debating whether to block out Nakuru or whether she actually had a point she wanted to make.
“Ask him.” Nakuru nodded her head at Yukito. “He should know better.”
“Yue, what is that thing talking about?” asked Touya, not looking into Yukito’s eyes.
“Mizuki Mika. Lord Edward C. Reed’s first and love,” replied Yukito shortly.
“Who the heck is Lord Edward C. Reed?” Touya demanded. Edward C. Reed. C. Reed. He choked. “Clow Reed?”
“That was his given name, isn’t it? I’ve heard stories about Clow Reed’s one true love who died when she was just sixteen,” stated Jingmei in a squeaky voice, poking her head out from behind a pillar. “Is it true that he sold his heart to the devil to get her back?”
“Li-sensei!” exclaimed Touya, realizing that Li Jingmei had also popped out of seemingly nowhere. “What are you doing here, sneaking up like that?”
“Sorry, you were having such an interesting conversation, and I didn’t want to interrupt,” said Jingmei, pushing up her glasses up her nose. “And it’s not like we need to all pretend that we’re all strangers or anything. I mean, granted I am not much involved in the main Li Clan Council affairs because I’m a doctor by profession, I am a Li and a descendant of Clow Reed’s mother’s side of the family, as you all probably know.”
“Yes, we know,” muttered Touya darkly.
“Then I guess you already know that we’re not human,” stated Nakuru, turning to the annoying female-doctor and wrapping her arms around Yukito’s torso. “Tsukishiro-sensei and me.” With a mischievous smile, she added, “In fact, I’m not even a female.”
“Of course you are!” stated Jingmei indignantly. “You’re wearing a female nurse’s uniform.”
Nakuru gloated. “Appearances can be deceiving. And your precious Tsukishiro-sensei is not technically ‘male’ either.”
Now, Jingmei was in a state of inner turmoil. Her dream prince Tsukishiro Yukito was not human and not even a man? True, he was too beautiful to be human, but what was he if he was not a human? An angel? Suddenly, she had the image of a Yukito-san sheathed in white with pure white feather wings and long silvery hair. She drooled.
“Shut up, Nakuru—you’re just putting ideas into her head,” said Touya. “Now, somebody just finish the story about this mysterious Mizuki Mika and Clow Reed.”
“There is no story,” said Yukito in Yue’s chill voice. “She died when she was just a girl, and Clow Reed never got over it. Though it all happened long before any of us came into existence. And he never showed any emotion to us.”
“Us?” Jingmei asked.
“Cerberus and me,” replied Yukito.
“Cerberus?” Jingmei’s eyes widened. “By any chance, you do not happen to be the great Yue-sama, Guardian of the Moon and Clow Reed’s most trusted companion?” She circled around Yukito. “I’ve seen paintings of you by Clan artists—an angelic figure with great white wings with a face more beautiful than the moon. Where do you hide your wings? Can I see it? Oh, wait till I tell Fanren about this—“
Touya guffawed then cleared his throat. “Well, if you will all excuse me, I have clinic duty.” He walked off despite Yukito’s desperate silent pleas to save him.
Even way down the hall, Touya heard Jingmei squealing, “Can you really fly, Yue-san? Was it really true you and Clow Reed were lovers? Do you still love him?”
And Nakuru wasn’t helping as she added comments like, “Oh, in his real form, he’s really mean and cold; this niceness is all just a façade—and he has long silver hair, longer than anyone else’s in this century and last, and he doesn’t wear shoes and has funny long toes!”
Touya and Yukito had the evening off, and Touya parked his care in front of the driveway to the Kinomoto residence. As they entered the hose, they smelled burnt curry, surely Sakura’s concoction.
Yukito carried a box from the cake shop across the street from the hospital, but he was in a foul mood.
“Come on Yuki, are you still mad at me for leaving you alone with Nakuru and Li Jingmei-sensei?” asked Touya.
“I’m not mad,” replied Yukito shortly.
“Onii-chan! Yukito-san!” Sakura exclaimed, running out of the kitchen with a ladle in her hand and a yellow apron with a teddy bear in the front. “You’re back! Hurry come in. Outo-san is returning any minute.”
“What is the celebration for?” asked Yukito. He smiled softly. It was good to have his Mistress back to her usual genki self. She would never return to that same, cute ten year old girl he had first met, but in the sixteen year old girl standing in front of him were glimmers of the bright-eyed, laughing Sakura he always cherished in his memory. Even if it was painful, perhaps it was better for her to remember Li Syaoran. Because that gave her fuel to continue to live on.
“Onii-chan didn’t tell you, Yukito-san?” Sakura gave her brother a foul look. “Otou-san’s book is finally getting published!”
They heard the car drive up to road and the engine come to a halt.
“Shh… Turn off the lights,” said Sakura.
Kinomoto Fujitaka walked into the doorway. “Sakura-san? Touya-san? Where are you? Why are all the lights off—“
The lights came on and party poppers cracked. Confetti of all colors showered down on Fujitaka.
“Congratulations outo-san!” exclaimed Sakura, clapping in delight.
“Congratulations!” said Yukito, smiling and taking out the fruit cake he had bought from the local bakery.
“Thank you everybody!” said Kinomoto Fujitaka bashfully. “You didn’t have to all gather like this. Touya-san, I know you’re busy at the hospital.”
“Of course we have to celebrate, Father,” said Touya. He knew that his father had been trying to publish a book on the transformation of alchemy through civilization and its impact on culture and society for the past decade. Since their father had been recently tenured and his lectures for archeology seminars had been popular, a publisher had expressed interest in a book—if it was successful, they would request for more books.
“I never thought I would be publishing a book elaborating on my doctorate dissertation,” said Kinomoto Fujitaka. “It’s still hard to believe that my work really is going to be published and will be sold in bookstores.”
“I told everyone at school,” said Sakura. Since her father had given guest lectures at school several times in elementary school, he was popular amongst her peers. Though Sakura did not know a lot about her father’s specialty, she was immensely proud of her father nonetheless. She knew it had been a lifelong dream for him to publish his research and while Sakura was not much of a scholar, she knew what it meant in the academic arena to be a published professor. Turning to the picture of her mother, today wearing her high school sailor uniform, Sakura grinned. Okaa-san, are you proud of otou-san too?
With Christmas just around the bend and students exhausted from schoolwork, the Young Designer Fashion Show was just the kind of distraction the students of Seijou High Class 1-2 needed.
“Tomoyo-chan, who will you use as your male model?” asked Naoko, flipping through Tomoyo’s sketchbook. “These dresses will look adorable on Sakura-chan.”
Sakura blushed. “Hoe-e… I don’t know if I can do justice to Tomoyo-chan’s designs.”
Chiharu scanned the boys in the classroom. “The tallest boys in the freshmen year are Eriol-kun and Takashi. You definitely can’t use Takashi for obvious reasons. Eriol-kun is very handsome. But I just can’t picture him on the runway.”
Naoko nodded. “He will look odd posing on stage. On the other hand, Eron-kun is very handsome too. And he looks really good with Sakura-chan. After all, they are going out. He’ll look beautiful on the runway.”
“Actually, he was one of my choices, but he said he’s not interested,” replied Tomoyo with a sigh. “His frame doesn’t exactly fit the samples though, anyway. I need someone slightly taller with broader shoulders. I should probably have found a model before making the clothes.”
“That leaves you with Takashi or Eriol-kun then,” said Chiharu. “Unless you want to go with an upperclassmen. Maybe we should hold auditions.”
“Great idea!” cried out Naoko, glasses glinting.
“What about Aki-kun?” asked Rika, looking up as their class president walked in with stacks of the Seijou newspaper to distribute to the class.
“I forgot about Aki-kun,” Naoko said. “He’s tall and has a muscular build since he’s a basketball player. He’s no Li Syaoran, but I guess he’ll do—“
And Chiharu kicked Naoko under the table, sending her warning glares. Li Syaoran was still a tabooed topic in front of Sakura.
Tomoyo sized Aki with her eyes and seemed more cheery than before. “Aki-kun!” She ran up to him. “I know this is a big favor to ask of you, but can you be my male model for Young Designer Contest? You will fit my clothes perfectly and it will be an honor if you can wear them.”
Aki blinked. “Y-you’re asking m-me?”
“You have the right confidence and coordination. And Sakura-chan will feel comfortable on stage with you rather than a stranger,” said Tomoyo. “And you’ve done CM work before.”
“Umm… I was just an extra on my sister’s set, but…” Aki stroked his head sheepishly. “I mean, I don’t want to mess up such an important event for you. Have you even tried asking Kai-kun, I mean senpai? He’s very confident on stage and probably has the sort of charisma you need for a fashion show.”
“You know, Aki-kun has a point,” stated Chiharu. “Kai-kun would be perfect as well.”
“Don’t bother asking him. He’s been missing school for the past week,” stated Meilin from her seat, arms folded across her chest.
“Oh? I wonder if Kai-kun’s reverting back to his old ways,” remarked Sakura. “Last week, he came to school with his hair spiked up as usual.”
“He was wearing sunglasses indoors too,” added Risa.
“His good-boy act was not bound to last,” remarked Chiharu, shaking her head.
“Well, that decides it. Aki-kun, you’ll do it, right!” Naoko exclaimed. “Perfect. We need to measure you and see if we need any alterations.” Naoko had assigned herself to be Tomoyo’s manager for the contest, and with Sakura and Aki as models, everything was set.
Perhaps the one person at the hospital that Dr. Kinomoto Touya showed the gentle side that he usually only showed his family and Yukito was Ishikawa Nina. Yukito figured it was because Touya was reminded of little Sakura growing up without a mother. Except, it didn’t seem like Nina was orphaned but rather, her parents seemed to have abandoned her in the hospital. They sent Nina truckloads of toys and clothes. But they never came to see her.
“There’s a rumor amongst the nurses that she’s the daughter of the actress Ishikawa Nanase,” whispered Nakuru to Touya and Yukito. “We figure her father must be some sort of big-shot—or else, why would it be all hushed up? Maybe he’s another actor. Or a politician. It’s pretty clear she’s the product of an extramarital affair. Hence, they need to keep the child hidden.”
Touya sighed. “If you nurses have that much spare time to gossip about some child’s parents, spend that much more time checking patient charts and making sure their needs are met.”
“I’ve also heard rumors that she’s Kinomoto Fujishika’s illegitimate daughter,” stated Nakuru, unfazed. “That would make her your cousin. Is that why you pay so much attention to that little brat?”
Finally brushing off Nakuru, Touya walked alone towards the doctors’ lounge from the children’s ward—it was not his specialty but he spent his spare time there either because of Yukito or Nina. By nature, Yukito was kind to children, and he was popular in the pediatrician ward to both children and adults alike. What puzzled Touya was Mizuki Kai’s consistent attention to little Nina. Touya had pinned Kai as the type of person who did not associate with people who were not beneficial to him. While Touya could see why Mizuki Kai might be interested in Nina, he still could not figure out Kai’s motives.
And speaking of another person he could not figure out the motives, of, there stood Li Syaoran, as gloomy and sulky as ever.
“What’re you doing here?” asked Touya curtly to the younger boy who was lingering by the doctors’ lounge.
“Waiting for Li Jingmei-sensei,” replied Syaoran.
“My sister’s memory has returned,” remarked Touya.
“So I heard.”
“Don’t pretend like you don’t know. You’re the one who went into the Fantasy to bring her back. Why did you do that?”
“Are there any secrets anymore?” muttered Syaoran. How did Touya know about this anyway? Wait, of course. Mizuki-sensei. The other day, when he had left the Hiiragizawa residence, he had seen Mizuki Kaho at the doorway. She had stared at him with those mysterious golden eyes of hers that he so disliked. “It’s been a long time, Li-kun,” she had said with a sad smile, as if she was pitying him. He had not responded to her. Syaoran’s distrust of the woman had not diminished over the years.
Touya peered at the boy with narrowed blue eyes. “Do you want her forgiveness? What do you want, Li Syaoran?”
“You actually know my name.” Syaoran almost preferred being called “Brat” by Touya. That meant everything was normal.
“Do you know how long I had to live with hearing ‘Syaoran-kun’ this, ‘Syaoran-kun’ that?” Touya rolled his eyes.
Syaoran almost chuckled. “Humph… all I ever heard was ‘onii-chan is such an ogre,’ and ‘onii-chan is so mean—I’m growing to grow taller than him and stomp on him.’ What’s your real name again?”
“You brat. Just answer my question.”
“Isn’t Chang Eron her boyfriend now? Go bother him. Isn’t that your joy in life? Making any guy near your sister miserable?”
“He’s too smart. It’s more fun making you suffer,” replied Touya with a sadistic half-chuckle.
“Once in a while, you remind me very strongly how you are the son of Clow Reed’s half-reincarnation,” remarked Syaoran.
A sudden, wry smile came over Touya’s lips. “You don’t have to remind me. You know, now that her memory is back, sooner or later she’s going to find out about the power transfer.”
“So what? What do you want me to do? Tell her?” was the boy’s sullen reply.
“I don’t know,” replied Touya. “You know, probably just as much as Sakura was distressed when you disappeared (which in itself I do not want to admit), I was glad to learn you left. I wished that you had gone far away and were to never to return again. Then, then we would have eventually forgotten about you. But also, I would have been eternally in your debt for saving Sakura’s life. For all it’s worth, I am glad you’ve returned and done the things you did. Because you stole Sakura’s Cards, I no longer have to feel in debt to you.”
“You were never in debt to me in the first place,” replied Syaoran slowly. “It was a choice I made for my sake—not your sake, not her sake, but for my own sake.”
“And still, you do not regret that choice you made then?” asked Touya.
Syaoran met Touya straight in the eye. “No.”
“I don’t care about why you left. What I want to know is why you returned, and why you stole the Sakura Cards. They’re no use to the Li Clan so long as Sakura remains their mistress by contract. Not that I know anything about magical contracts.” Touya paused, gazing at the younger boy’s expressionless face. “They’re even more useless to you since you don’t have your powers. Yet, why did you steal them?”
“I merely followed orders,” replied Syaoran, staring at the ground.
“You know, for the past half year, I’ve been researching on the circumstances of the transfer of magic. Even Clow Reed’s library does not have much information on it,” stated Touya. “In fact, in the magical annals over the past millennium, you are the first recorded case where one individual has successfully transferred his powers to another individual at the brink of death.”
“Didn’t you transfer your powers to Yue years ago?” asked Syaoran.
“First of all, Yue is not technically a human being. He is a simulacrum of a human with a conscience and a soul,” replied Touya. “Secondly, he was fading away, not dying, because Sakura’s powers then were not sufficient to support both Yue and Cerberus. However, my powers returned once Sakura’s powers grew exponentially, and Yue no longer needed my support. This made me think about under what circumstance you will be able to regain your powers. If Sakura regains her powers, then you by default would regain yours.”
“It’s impossible,” said Syaoran. “At the time I yielded my powers to her, she had completely burned through her powers in order to seal the Plague and had also cut into her life line. If she had anything left in her, her powers might have been able to regenerate, but of course then, she would not have been able to overpower the Plague. She fully knew the consequences of overreaching her limits. Yet she did it.”
“If her powers don’t return naturally, there are two other options for you to regain your powers. Sakura can die.” Touya shuddered as he uttered those words. “Or you can gain powers though another external source, whether it’s another person or something else all together.”
Syaoran was already too aware of his limited possibilities as he had discussed with Li Renshu, the Great Elder. He had already grown to accept that he may live the rest of his life without magic. “Since when were you so concerned about me regaining my powers? Or is there some other ulterior motive to this? What you are more concerned about is if there are any chances of Sakura’s power returning, isn’t it?”
“You’re right. It is slightly disturbing to find your presence in my house at all times,” replied Touya. “It’s like there’s a like a ghost of you lurking around her all the time. It disgusts me, and yet, she is still my sister. But more importantly—” Touya paused and stared at Syaoran. “And suddenly, everything all makes sense.”
“What does?” asked Syaoran glumly.
“Time will tell the truth,” replied Touya. “You know, it might be better if you tell her yourself about what you did rather than her finding out from another source and creating more misunderstanding.”
“I really have enough on my mind without you meddling,” said Syaoran, frustrated that out of all people, he had to bump into Sakura’s brother, and even more disturbed that Kinomoto Touya, who for as long as he remembered had despised him, suddenly stared upon him with pity.
“Maybe you should switch hospitals or get treated at home then,” replied Touya curtly.
“Good idea.” Syaoran ran his hand over his hair in frustration. Where was Jingmei?
“Hey, you, what’s wrong with your wrists?” said Touya grabbing hold of Syaoran’s arms. “It looks like… rope burns.”
Syaoran rolled his eyes. “My skin had an allergic reaction to these new wrists bands I got.”
“Heh. For a second, I thought your crazy clan people were keeping you locked up in the basement dungeon, all chained up or something,” said Touya.
Syaoran grinned. “I don’t know what sort of crazy fantasies you indulge in, but…”
Touya knuckled him on the head. “You little brat.”
Nakuru popped her head out from the wall and cackled mercilessly. “Nice one, Syaoran. Ten points to the Li-boy!”
“Oh no… I never thought Touya was like that.” Yukito stated, hands over mouth. “Into S&M.”
Jingmei pushed her glasses up her nose. “Well, Kinomoto-sensei does seem sort of the sadistic, domineering types…”
“I’m leaving!” Touya shouted. “I have to shadow an important surgery.”
Jingmei, Nakuru and Yukito all laughed out loud, eliciting stares from nurses and patients passing by. Even Syaoran managed to muster a half-grin before following Jingmei into her office.
Despite everyone’s busy schedules, Tomoyo’s friends managed to find time to gather after school to practice for the fashion show. Somehow, Tomoyo’s fashion show had become a major class project. Naoko had self-designated herself as manager and her leadership skills were much appreciated by Tomoyo. Rika and Chiharu volunteered to help out backstage with hair, makeup and dressing. Yamazaki Takashi by default had been assigned as errand-boy, carrying all the clothes, DJing the soundtrack for the catwalk and pretending to be the MC (when Chiharu was not telling him to shut up). And of course, Sakura and Aki were models. Aki of the two had taken modeling to heart and had taken a strict regiment of a low-carbohydrate diet and even borrowed his sister’s facial creams on the sly. Meilin stopped by every so often to scold people who were not doing their jobs properly (mainly Sakura), and Miho came along with her little junior high entourage who seemed to have a crush on MVP basketball player Akagi Aki. Eron seemed mildly amused by the whole affair and highly skeptical of Sakura’s ability to model and very relieved that he had not been coerced to take part in the whole chaos. He did not look too pleased, however, when he learned that one of the categories for the contest was “swimwear.”
“Aki-kun, you are fabulous!” squealed Naoko as Aki walked down the room, posed and then walked back. “Where did you learn to walk like a professional model?”
“My sister used to model a bit in between her acting gigs when she got started,” replied Aki. “I used to help her practice at home.”
“Sakura-chan, why can’t you be more like Aki-kun?” sighed Naoko. She slammed a fist into her left palm. “Bam, bam, bam pose at the end. Like that. And now, swirl around gracefully. No!!! Don’t wobble.” Naoko pressed her forehead into her hands. How could someone who could be so graceful in gymnastics be so clumsy?
“Hoe-e!” wailed Sakura. “Let me try it again.” Though she had excellent athletic coordination, something about walking in a straight line in high heels was beyond her line of expertise. Having to walk and pose with all eyes on her and try to do Tomoyo’s clothes credit was very nerve-wracking.
“Sakura-chan. It’s okay to relax!” called out Tomoyo. While Tomoyo had no doubt Sakura would pull together at the end, she was slightly concerned that Sakura seemed like a wooden soldier on stage. Well, she had been like that with the Star-Crossed rehearsals and didn’t get her act together until performance night. And Syaoran had been twice as bad.
“Again!” Naoko called out, and Takashi turned on the stereo. Music blared on. “Put the book on your head. Chin up! Walk in a straight line! No, Sakura-chan, you’re walking too slowly. Keep pace with Aki-kun. Aki-kun, fabulous!”
There was tittering outside the gymnasium, where a crowd had gathered to watch. Rika and Chiharu groaned. They could see that Sakura was trying so hard for Tomoyo’s sake that she was as stiff as a board.
Sakura was surprised to return home in the evening after school to find that the lights were turned off in the living room. She yawned from sheer exhaustion; her ankles were swollen from all the walking in high heels. Her father’s car was parked outside, meaning he must have returned already. But the kitchen was dark, even though it had been her father’s turn to cook. Her brother’s shoes were in the front, meaning he was home. Quickly, she made her way upstairs. The master bedroom door was shut. She rushed into her brother’s room. Touya sat at his desk grimly.
“Did something happen?” asked Sakura her brother. He was supposed to be at the hospital.
“Otou-san. His book is no longer going to be published,” said Touya shortly.
“What do you mean? I thought that the contract were already signed. The cover, the print, everything was already decided upon. Otou-san was supposed to start promotion for the books soon,” said Sakura.
“Well, that’s all been canceled,” Touya said.
“Why all of a sudden?” Sakura’s brows furrowed down. “Why did the publishers change their mind? They didn’t like the book. Was there some problem?”
“No, the book was wonderful. All of otou-san’s peer readers gave it rave reviews. There were talks about the book having a possibility to become a bestseller—which is rare for a nonfiction academic book.”
“It’s the publisher. Or more importantly, the owner of Kodansha,” replied Touya.
“The owner of Kodansha Publishing?” repeated Sakura.
“Yes, it’s an imprint of the Hoshi Enterprise,” Touya said.
“Or maybe Fujishika-san.” Touya narrowed his eyes. “How much do you know about otou-san’s family background?”
“Enough,” replied Sakura. “But why would our grandfather do something like that to our father? After all this time.”
“I don’t know,” replied Touya. “People tend to hold grudges for a long time. You remember we saw him at the Halloween masquerade. He invited us and ignores us for the entire evening. That’s how people in that society are. We are like puppets.”
“So that’s how Syaoran always feels,” murmured Sakura, suddenly thinking of the overbearing Li Clan and the Council of Elders.
“Nothing, onii-chan,” replied Sakura, her eyes already blazing. “So, basically, if we can convince ojii-san to let otou-san publish his book, the publishers will print the book again?”
“I suppose so—wait, Kaijou—what are you plotting?”
“Nothing!” replied Sakura, dashing upstairs with an impish glint in her eyes.
“Don’t do anything silly—you don’t know what you’re dealing with!” called out Touya.
“Don’t worry, ‘nii-chan!” called out Sakura.
was a bright, sunny afternoon and Sakura, still dressed in her school uniform,
hopped on the bus to Eitoukou as soon as school ended—she had to skip
gymnastics practice today. She felt a strange pang as she passed
“Young lady, where do you think you are going?” demanded a guard.
Kinomoto estate was perhaps the largest house Sakura had seen in
“I am here to see Kinomoto Fujishinto-sama,” called out Sakura, chin up.
“And who may you be?” asked the guard.
“His granddaughter,” replied Sakura.
The guard burst out laughing. “Do you think that will work on me? Fujishinto-sama does not have any granddaughters.”
“I am the daughter of Kinomoto Fujitaka,” replied Sakura.
“Who the heck is Kinomoto Fujitaka?” the guard asked.
A second, more elderly guard smacked the younger man on the head. “Idiot, he’s Fujishinto-sama’s second son.”
“You mean the one who left home when he was eighteen?” whispered the first guard. “Either way, wasn’t he disowned?”
Sakura’s placed her hands on her hips and glared at the guards and showed an uncanny resemblance to her deceased grandmother for a brief second. “You will let me in, or let me talk to Mori-san.”
“How do you know the Head of Staff, Mori-san?” demanded the guard.
Sakura smiled sweetly. “She’ll be very angry if she learns that you turned me away, so please let me in, and I will not report this to her.” All the time she spent with Syaoran had made her an expert at empty threats, it seemed.
“Give the main house a call,” said the older guard. After the younger guard made a brief phone call, he nodded.
“Put in a good word about me to Mori-san,” said the younger guard. The iron gates swung open. “She’s waiting at the front door.”
“We might get in trouble,” said the older guard with a frown.
“Mori-san will take care of her—it’s not our problem,” said the younger guard with a shrug. He watched Sakura walk up towards the main mansion. How wonderful duty would be if such a cute young lady lived in the house instead of some stodgy old men.
Sakura barely walked up the white marble steps to the front door when the wooden doors swung open and a wizened old lady tottered up to the front steps. “Welcome, Sakura-ojou-sama!”
“Mori-san!” exclaimed Sakura, bowing her head. “It’s been a long time.”
“Far too long. Come on in, come on in,” said Mori, taking Sakura by the arm and pushing her along.
Once they were inside, Mori lead Sakura to the parlor and brought her some fragrant Earl Grey tea and biscuits.
“Now, tell me, what brings you here today?” asked Mori, taking a seat across from Sakura.
Sakura sipped on the tea. “I need to speak with Grandfather.”
“May I ask regarding what?” asked Mori, watching Sakura with her black eyes.
“I’ve heard that Grandfather was involved in canceling my father’s publishing deal. I just want to ask him to restore the deal,” replied Sakura, staring at the rose-print on the bottom of the tea cup.
Mori clucked. “That old man. He’s been impossible to deal with recently. He’s been doing better too, ever since your visit last year. But over recent months, he’s turned into an absolute fiend. Ever since he recovered from his stroke, he’s been a nightmare. He fired half the household staff over the course of a month, and it’s impossible to hire a new cook with his temper. He thinks he’s some sort of king or royalty of some sorts. Of course the Kinomoto family did come from a daimyo line that dates back from the Heian era. Nonetheless, nobody has the courage to stand up to Fujishinto-sama anymore. If the old lady of the house is still here… or Fujiko or Fujitaka-sama…” Mori heaved a long sigh.
“I’ll go speak to him,” said Sakura.
“I don’t know if he’ll see you,” Mori said. “But I’ll announce to him you’re here. Come along. I will lead you to his study.”
Mori entered Fujishinto’s study and came out a few minutes later, lips pursed and face pale. “He will call you in a few minutes, Sakura-ojou-san. I will have to attend to some duties. However, I wish you the best—that old geezer is impossible to reason with anymore. But maybe you’ll have some say. After all, you do bear an uncanny resemblance to Fujiko.”
“Thank you, Mori-san,” said Sakura, pressing her hand on the old housekeeper who had shared so much about her father’s past to her last summer, when she had visited this house. That time, she had been with Syaoran, that one crazy summer they had somehow been meddled in Kaitou Magician’s affairs and then thrown into the Best Couple Contest. Sighing, Sakura leaned against the wall, watching Mori walk down the hall, muttering and grumbling to herself. It occurred to her that Mori-san looked older than she had a year ago.
After waiting in the hallway for a few minutes, Sakura cracked the door open and peeked through the door. Her grandfather was sitting at the head of a marble-topped wood table, looking grave as he faced another guest. Kinomoto Fujishinto seemed older, grayer than he had last summer. She had heard another voice in the room. Who was he speaking to? Sakura craned her neck further. To her surprise, she saw none other than Li Syaoran inside, sitting on a mahogany chair facing Kinomoto Fujishinto. She almost did not recognize Syaoran, who was wearing a crisp gray pinstripe suit with a sky-blue collared shirt and a maroon silk tie. It was the first time she had seen him dressed up in business attire. He seemed so different, so distant. Not like her once-ally in capturing the dark forces, but like a grown up in a different world. The last time she had met him, on a rainy day after she had regained her memories, she had told him she despised him. She briefly recalled a brown-haired figure mounted on a black stallion in an earth-tone tunic and a deep indigo cape, then shook her head to rid herself of that image, a mere figment of her imagination left from her ventures in the Fantasyland. The Fantasy didn’t count, anyway.
Though Sakura thought that eavesdropping was wrong, she could not help but press her ears against the crack of the door.
“Welcome, Li-san. We meet again. You have grown quite a bit,” said Kinomoto Fujishinto.
“Greetings to you, Kinomoto-san,” said Syaoran. “I apologize for not greeting you properly at the Halloween Masquerade you hosted. It was difficult to find a moment with you as you had so many guests seeking to greet you.”
“We received the Chardonnay from the Li Clan. I thank you very much,” said Kinomoto Fujishinto. “I trust Li Wutai-san is doing well.”
“He is,” replied Syaoran. “And he sends his greetings.”
was odd to hear Syaoran speak so formally. But that’s what being the
“So, what brings you here today, Li Syaoran-san?” said Fujishinto, folding his wrinkled hands in front of him. “Does Li Wutai-san agree to sign Project Emerald?”
Sakura cracked the door open further so that she could hear better and then lost balance, toppling into the room.
Both Fujishinto and Syaoran looked up and stared at her. Sakura picked herself off the floor, running her hand over her hair sheepishly.
“Ojii-sama,” stuttered Sakura.
“Kinomoto Sakura.” Fujishinto stared at his granddaughter with narrowed eyes. “I have lots of surprising visitors today.”
well, I apologize for interrupting… I’ll step outside and come back later,”
stammered Sakura, trying her best not to meet Syaoran’s eyes. Why, oh why did
Syaoran have to be here out of all the places in
“Well, if you excuse me, Kinomoto-san, it seems you have another appointment. I will convey our meeting to the Elders and come back at a later date as to continue our conversation then,” said Syaoran, standing up from the chair and bowing. He took no notice of her whatsoever.
It was strange hearing Syaoran speaking so formally, it was strange seeing him wearing a suit. It was even stranger having him completely ignore her like this. Sakura had the childish impulse to stick out her tongue at him. Instead, she stared straight ahead as he walked past her then walked out of the door, not glancing at her once.
When the door clicked behind her, Sakura walked up to her grandfather’s desk and bowed her head. “I am sorry for intruding without any notice.
“And what brings me the pleasure of having you visit me?” said Fujishinto, wrinkled hands folded in front of him.
“I realize it’s rude of me to show up like this, and I understand that it may not really be my place to say this. However, he is your son, and I really don’t think he deserves this. I know with your influence, you can easily restore it, and…”
“I do not have all day,” Fujishinto stated curtly. “State what you need.”
“Please restore otou-san’s publishing contract,” Sakura blurted out.
“Unfortunately, I have no idea what you are talking about.”
“I beg you. It’s been otou-san’s dreams for years. The book is really good. I don’t even like to read textbooks, and I read it all.” Sakura opened her bag and drew out a thick manuscript and placed it on Fujishinto’s desk. “Please try reading the book. It’s written beautifully—and it’s very accessible to people who do not even know anything about archeology and ancient relics.”
Fujishinto stared down at the stack of paper disdainfully. “I’m sorry, Sakura, but what that useless son of mine does has no bearing upon me whatsoever. I do not care who he associates with or what he chooses to do in his spare time. I would appreciate it if you don’t bother me about such trivial matters anymore.”
“He’s your son. He cares for you deeply. Why can’t you accept him?” demanded Sakura. “I grew up not even knowing I had grandfathers on both sides of my family. I always figured there must be a reason why you cannot accept back otou-san after all these years. What has he done that is so wrong to you?”
“He betrayed my trust, Sakura. You are yet young and do not have children. But do you know what it feelings like when the one you love and trust the most, one of your own sweat and blood turns his back on you? I never turned away Fujitaka. He chose to leave me. He could have returned any time, but he never, not once, came to apologize to me for his sins against his father. He never contacted me, never came to visit. I waited and waited but my son never came.”
The lines on Fujishinto’s face had hardened with age, his countenance cold and stern. Yet, Sakura thought her grandfather’s eyes held that same sort of bitter sorrow that she had glimpsed in her great-grandfather Amamiya Masahiko’s eyes. With old age came about a sort of relentless stubbornness, it seemed. “But perhaps if you forgive him first, he would then be able to apologize.”
Fujishinto shook his head. “In my days, young women were taught to be polite and know their position. Nowadays, youth talk back and think they know more than adults.”
“Or perhaps, you’ve just grown too proud and stubborn to listen to what is the truth. Otou-san never stopped caring for you, I know that. But you’re afraid to accept him and can’t stand him being happy or successful because that would prove that you were wrong. You wanted him to fail so that he would return to you and you could gloat and say that you were right, that your way is the only correct way to live.” Sakura was surprised at the words that escaped her lips but could not stop now. She realized that she was hot and frustrated—perhaps it was the aftereffect of seeing Syaoran a while ago. “You’re just bitter because otou-san found everything he wanted to in life while you are still trapped here with people who fear you more than love you, with all the material things you could desire but no one to share it with—“
“Enough!” Fujishinto stamped his cane down on the floor. “Enough with your insolent mouth, young lady. I see you give your father great credit. Did he send you here to aggravate me? What does he want—more money? Well, such impertinence will not be tolerated in this house. Guards, come and take this girl away!”
“I’m not done talking!” shouted Sakura, struggling against the man in a black suit and sunglasses that grabbed her arms. “Please listen to me, grandfather. I apologize if my words angered you. But it’s not my father’s fault—I came here all on my own. Please, leave him alone at the very least if you don’t want to make amends with him. My father worked so hard—you have no right to take away his dreams away just because of your old grudge—“
Sakura’s voice was silenced as the guard clamped his hand over her mouth. He forcefully dragged her out of the room and wouldn’t even let her go once they were out in the hallway. Instead, he pushed her along down the corridor.
“Let me go!” screamed Sakura. “Where are you taking me?”
“Sorry, orders to keep you detained until further orders,” replied the guard as he tossed her into the end bedroom and then slammed the door shut. Sakura heard the locks click.
“Don’t you dare lock me in here!” cried out Sakura, pounding her fist on the door.
She tried the brass handles of the room and pushed her shoulders against the doors. It was fast shut and did not budge. There was no window in the bedroom, which was decorated lushly in gold-gilded ivory furniture and ash-rose tapestry. Her eyes flitted towards the ivory wood chair—perhaps she could use that to bash the door open, worst case scenario. Since she no longer had the majority of her Cards, she was helpless, and there always remained the problem of escaping out of the estate unseen.
When she was finally exhausted from pounding on the door, Sakura flopped back onto the canopy bed. The sheets had a musty, mothy smell to them though the down comforter was a lovely ivory satin with a country rose print and the curtains draped around the canopy bed were a golden and silver rose-eyelet pattern brocade. When she ran her hand down the ash-rose velvet drapery, a cloud of dust flew up. She sneezed.
It occurred to her after a while that she should try to devise an escape plan. It would be nightfall soon. There was nobody to come help her; nobody even knew she was here, not her father, Kero-chan, nor Tomoyo. That is, nobody save Syaoran…
Why did she keep bumping into Syaoran like this? When she vowed she would cut all ties with him. So long as he has my Sakura Cards, I will be linked to him. Once I get the Cards back, I will no longer be connected to him in any way… Is that why I am stalling to get them back? Because I am afraid that after this last tie, we will truly become strangers. No, I am over-thinking.
While Sakura was smarting a little from the humiliation of being caught eavesdropping on Syaoran—which she had not done on purpose at all—she was more interested in exactly what sort of deal the Li Clan was conspiring with her grandfather. She vaguely recalled Syaoran mentioning the Li Corporation was involved in deals all over the world. It could have been a purely business matter. But what did Syaoran know about business? The Li Clan would not use Syaoran for simply financial matters—they probably had financiers.
She was so absorbed in her thoughts, she almost did not hear the door creak open. Sakura sat up from the bed and grabbed a chair, raising it above her head. It might be the guard—this was her chance to escape. Her jaws dropped when she saw who it was.
Mizuki Kai stared at Sakura, hair disheveled, with a wood chair raised above her head and the dumbest expression possible on her face. He was almost tempted to burst out laughing, but instead gently wrestled the chair out of her hands and set it down on the floor again. “Now, what bird in a cage did I find today? Don’t play with such dangerous toys, ojou-chan.”
“Kai-kun! What are you doing here?” demanded Sakura at the familiar face with the spiky auburn hair and black sunglasses. She was so glad to see him she felt like giving him a hug even though she was mad at him for two-timing on Meilin.
“What are you doing here is my question,” replied Kai. “I felt your presence as I was passing by and decided to probe. And good thing I did. Do you know how many locks I had to break through to get into this room? What is wrong with this house? They leave their jewels and national heirlooms lying about and then put such complex locks on a room without a speck of anything of value. Save yourself.”
“Thank goodness you were passing by, though I do not even want to know what you are dong here in the first place,” said Sakura, glancing down the hall. She had to escape for now. Her talk with her grandfather had been greatly unsuccessful, but she had gained several important pieces of information through this excursion.
“Anyhow, I’ll be causing plenty of distraction soon, so hurry along,” said Kai.
“Thanks, Kai-kun,” said Sakura. “Don’t do anything too dangerous.”
Kai ruffled Sakura’s hair and smiled sadly. “I’ll try.”
If Sakura had not been so distracted at the moment, she might have noticed that there was a strange, forlorn tone in Kai’s answer, but Kai then was the last of her worries. She did not ponder too hard about what mischief Kai was up to in the Kinomoto estate.
Sakura ran down the hallway, down the stairs. She was pretty sure she could sneak out the kitchen back door once she got to the first floor. Without her Cards, she had to rely solely on her wits and physical abilities. She could not walk elegantly down the runway for the life of her, but she could run faster and jump higher than any girl her age. To her surprise, she saw Kinomoto Fujishinto stomping down the hallway, fist raised in the air.
“Catch her!” shouted Fujishinto, chasing after Sakura.
Sakura turned around. Kinomoto Fujishinto was surprisingly nimble for an old man. Quickly, she jumped on the banister of the stair well and slid down the polished marble railing, then leapt off on the first floor, skirt flying up behind her.
“Guards, what are you doing?” Fujishinto demanded upstairs.
Sakura dashed through the kitchen where the cook shouted at her and then fled into the dining hall.
“Do not let her escape!” called out Fujishinto, stamping down his staff as he had caught up with her.
Sakura turned around to see guards blocking both entrances into the dining hall. She was trapped. “What do you want from me, Grandfather?”
For a second, the old man stared at her as if he himself did not know the answer. Fujishinto slowly replied with a sneer, “Get down on your knees and beg for mercy. And show that you know your place.”
“Is that it? Is that what will take for you to forgive my father?” asked Sakura, her voice only slightly trembling. “That’s not such a hard thing to do.” Her blazing emerald eyes staring up at her grandfather showed no trace of fear though her knees were wobbling. “But I do it for my father’s sake, not because I truly believe you are worthy of respect.”
Trembling in fury, Fujishinto raised his hand to slap Sakura across the cheek. He was surprised to find a firm hand grip his arm, keeping him from striking down. Fujishinto turned around to see the brown-haired boy standing behind him. The old man struggled to wrench his arm away from the boy’s grip without avail. “What are you still doing here? I do not care if you are an envoy from the Li Clan. Unhand me this second, or else I will call the guards on you as well.”
“Call the guards, if you please,” replied Li Syaoran, amber eyes narrowed coldly. “How dare you try to strike your granddaughter?”
Kinomoto Fujishinto’s shriveled thin lips curled into a cruel smile. “Ah, youth. Are you here to save your precious girlfriend?”
Syaoran jerked back Fujishinto’s arm a little further. “Tell your guards to back off and let us leave your premise. Is there really a need to have twenty armed men for a single girl?”
“I pay them to be my slaves,” replied Fujishinto. “It is their duty to protect me.”
“From whom? A sixteen year old girl half your size?” asked Syaoran in a level tone.
A short, dry laughter escaped from Fujishinto’s throat. “Don’t you know that it is your own blood that is the deadliest in the end?” He yanked his arm from Syaoran’s grip with surprising strength from an old man.
At this, Syaoran sighed. His eyes then finally met Sakura’s. Without speaking, he nodded his head. And he noticed Sakura nod slightly back. “One, two, three,” he mouthed silently. And he burst forward, taking Sakura by the hand, and they jumped onto the long dining table.
“Guards!” cried out Fujishinto as Sakura and Syaoran sprinted down the span of the elongated dining table, knocking over glasses and silverware.
The guards jumped on both ends of the table. Syaoran turned to Sakura and mouthed, “Jump!”
Sakura jumped off, kicking off one of the guards who had grabbed hold of her ankle. Meanwhile, Syaoran did a handspring off the table, and then whilst midair smashed down his left fist on the center of the table. The hard wood cracked and the table split in half; the guards slipped as the table caved in and slid into a big heap at the center of the broken dining table.
Then, Sakura and Syaoran ran out of the dining hall and out through the corridors and up the stairs to the second floor.
“Are they still chasing us?” asked Sakura, breathless, as they swung around a corner.
“I don’t think so,” replied Syaoran, also catching his breath.
“What are you doing here? I thought you had already left,” said Sakura, red in face and sweating in her winter jacket.
“I stuck around because I was a little concerned because of the dark force lurking within Fujishinto-san,” replied Syaoran.
“That’s a relief,” Sakura said, offhandedly. “You can still sense everything, after all.”
Syaoran remained silent.
“That’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you,” said Sakura, leaning against the wall as she heard the guards pass by. “I don’t sense your aura anymore. Why is that?”
And still, Syaoran did not reply. His cuffs and collar had been loosened, and he looked markedly more disheveled than earlier.
“Ha, caught you little rascals,” cried out Kinomoto Fujishinto, his eyes blazing like a madman’s. He glanced over and then grabbed an ancient katana hanging on display so on the wall. He unsheathed it and then lunged forward.
Syaoran and Sakura leapt in opposite directions.
Fujishinto, like all men of the Kinomoto line, had classical Kendo training from an early age. Of course, he was old now, but as a youth, he had been the Kendo champion in his school and back then, they learned the real deal, not the flimsy swordplay kids did these days. The blade gleamed under the chandelier light, and he charged forward.
Syaoran glanced around and saw another katana hanging from the wall beneath the one Fujishinto had taken. He grabbed a vase off the table and shielded himself with it as the katana sliced right through the porcelain. “Toss me the other katana!” he called out to Sakura who was standing next to the mantelpiece.
Her eyes widened and then she quickly jumped up and grabbed hold of the katana. She threw it towards Syaoran who caught it with his left hand and then drew the sword from the sheath in time to block Fujishinto’s third attack.
It took Syaoran a few minutes to adjust to the katana since unlike the Chinese jian, the blade was more slender and slightly curved. The sword was a lot lighter than what he was used to training with—but the blade, as a testament to the swordmaker, was sharp and not rusty despite its age.
“I’m impressed, boy. They say the Li Clan trains their warriors well,” said Fujishinto, slashing at Syaoran’s sword.
“Sir, please put the sword down. You are putting strain on your body. You’ll injure yourself,” said Syaoran, blocking the blow. It was difficult trying to defend himself without attacking for fear he might hurt the old man. For despite being controlled by a dark force, which seemed to give a surge of extra strength and virility, it was still taking a toll on his physical body.
“What, are you looking down on me now because I am old?” Fujishinto laughed out loud. “Insolent thing. I will crush you and all you haughty Lis. A Kinomoto shall not have to bow down to a Li. Never.”
“And yet you have the nerve to ask your own granddaughter of your very own blood to kneel down in front of you for no wrong she has committed?” demanded Syaoran, knocking Fujishinto’s katana out of his hand and then pointing his blade at Fujishinto’s neck.
“Don’t hurt him,” Sakura called out to Syaoran.
“I know,” replied Syaoran, sweat rolling down his brows. It was easier to injure someone than to not.
A thin smile curved over the old man’s lips. “Tell me, boy, are you here today as a Li or as a man?”
Syaoran’s dark brows were furrowed down.
“If I were you, I would not dare point a sword at the man that can bring down your entire Clan,” continued Fujishinto. “I know the dark deeds that shroud the Li Clan. It doesn’t matter how wealthy or powerful your Clan is when your enemy holds your fatal flaw.”
“I am going to put down the sword, and the two of us will leave quietly,” said Syaoran. “Do not call the guards on us and let us go in peace. We will continue our talk next time, Kinomoto-san.” He turned his head slightly, sizing up the ceiling-length windows.
He flung the sword down and the moment he did, Fujishinto hollered, “Guards, the second floor east wing, NOW!”
They heard footsteps outside and the door swung open.
“Capture these two and take them to the police station as trespassers!” called out Fujishinto.
Without thinking, Syaoran ran up, throwing his arm around Sakura and then crashed through the windows, breaking through the glass.
“We’re on the second floor—” Sakura managed to squeal as they sailed out through the window and fell into a bush outside in the gardens with shards of broken glass.
For a moment, they sat in a tangled heap in the bushes. Syaoran had broken most of the impact of the fall by pulling his body beneath Sakura’s. Neither of them were hurt by the broken glass it seemed, though Syaoran’s suit was now ripped in places, and Sakura had lost her hair ribbon somewhere. The two clambered out of the bushes. Sakura turned back to give Syaoran a hand as he was seriously entangled between the twigs. He looked a bit dazed but he had protected his right arm and the worst injury he had from the fall would be a couple of bruises.
“You could return the Cards to me, and I could have used the Jump or the Fly,” remarked Sakura as they ran through the gardens and slipped out of the back gates. They could hear the guards shouting in the yard. It didn’t matter. The pair heaved a sigh of relief as they were out in the bustling streets now. Life was never quiet when Syaoran was involved.
“Now I know where your family gets all your athleticism from,” muttered Syaoran, shaking his head. “He’s almost seventy and can run like that?” He picked a dry leaf out of his hair and then loosened his necktie and stuffed it into his pocket. He had bramble scratches on his cheek and looked quite frazzled.
Sakura had to smother a giggle—she liked Syaoran looking a little disheveled like this. This was more like the Syaoran she knew, not the grim person in a business suit she had seen earlier.
“Oh, did you know Kai-kun’s in there too? He said that he’d be causing a disruption—looks like we’re the ones who created the bigger ruckus,” remarked Sakura, still catching her breath.
“That Kai is seriously going to get in trouble one of these days. He has nerve walking into the lion’s den in broad daylight,” said Syaoran more to himself than to Sakura.
“I’m glad your arm seems to be doing well,” Sakura stated.
“Eh? Yeah.” Syaoran made a fist with his right arm. Though he had though the Fantasy was not real, he had somehow retained the muscle mass he had regained while training inside Memoria, as well as the training. It was only the magic he had left behind in there.
realized Syaoran still had not answered her question earlier regarding his magic.
It had puzzled her that he had asked her to pass her the katana from the wall.
Where was his sword? Syaoran had always been able to release his sword from the
medallion he kept on him at all times. She had two theories—either the Li Clan
must have sealed Syaoran’s powers so that he could not use it anymore, or that
Syaoran was now more powerful than her to the extent that he could conceal his
aura from her. But she had not seen Syaoran use magic since he had returned to
It was as if Syaoran could read her mind for he had an odd expression of rue on his face as he gazed at her quizzically. “Why were you visiting your grandfather anyway?”
“He canceled otou-san’s book contract,” replied Sakura. “But I can’t figure out what part of his actions is based on his own grudges and what part is because of the dark force.”
“That’s the fearsome quality of the Emotions,” Syaoran remarked. “Because it plays upon the darkness within the human heart and oftentimes, it is not a matter of being helplessly controlled by the dark force but something much more complex.”
“I know,” said Sakura. She knew after she sealed the Despair that the Emotions magnified the darkness in one’s heart and consumed you with that certain emotion.
“Well, I guess we’ll have to think of a way to seal the Dark Force when the time comes,” remarked Syaoran.
“Yes, I guess I will have to think of something, eventually. It’s a bit difficult without my Cards,” said Sakura. “So, you really aren’t going to return the Sakura Cards to me, are you?”
Syaoran didn’t reply.
“May I ask why you took them then?” she asked.
“It was one of my missions in order to remain the Chosen One,” replied Syaoran.
“I see. I thought so much.” Her lips were smiling slightly but her eyes were hard like green marble. “See, that wasn’t so hard, was it? You could have just told me you chose the Li Clan. I would have understood.” She turned her head away from Syaoran, letting her bangs cover her eyes. “My bus arrived. Goodbye. I won’t thank you for today. I figure, you were just perchance in the right place at the right time again, nothing more.”
Sakura climbed into the bus without turning back again. This time, it was Syaoran who was left in the street watching the bus melt away down the road into the traffic.
“How fortunate that my ward and the Card Mistress created such a perfect diversion for you,” remarked Kara Reed, standing by the doorway of Kinomoto Fujishinto’s study.
Mizuki Kai turned around, almost dropping the papers he was looking for. “What are you doing here?”
“I got tired of waiting for Syaoran, so I decided to check out what was happening,” replied Kara, examining her black-polished nails.
“What happened to the Black Dragon? Since when was it your duty to follow Syaoran around? As is you weren’t better than that,” stated Kai.
“Jinyu’s been busy,” Kara stated, crossing her arm. “If I had a choice, I would not follow the Little Wolf around. But he runs away and causes one problem or another the moment you leave him alone. He’s going crazy, slowly. You can see it in his eyes.”
“What person wouldn’t go crazy when he is caged and watched like he’s some sort of circus animal,” replied Kai.
“True. We both should know that,” said Kara with a short laughter.
“Now, where could it be,” muttered Kai as he tried the locked top drawer. He niftily swiped out a picklock and unlatched the drawer.
“Kinomoto Fujishika is not stupid. He would not leave written evidence of any shady business deals lying around,” stated Kara.
“I’m not looking for evidence,” Kai replied.
“Then what are you looking for?
Shutting the drawer, Kai sighed and stared into Kara’s eyes. “You know, nothing surprised me more than seeing you associate with the Li Clan. You, out of all people.”
Kara shrugged. “You know I was never much about family honor or all the nonsense. I follow where opportunity falls. I am on the side of what benefits me the most. Aren’t you like that too? I can see it in your eyes. The madness that creeps in all of us. Syaoran may be in the processing of falling. But you’ve already long since crossed the line.”
The alarm bell in the room started ringing and echoed shrilly throughout the mansion.
“Well, time to run again,” said Kai with a crooked smile. “So is the life a thief.”
“Don’t get caught,” said Kara.
“I won’t.” Kai’s periwinkle blue eyes glimmered. “Hey, Karin-senpai, tell me when you’re ready.”
“I will, Kai.”
That evening, Sakura ate dinner alone because her father had stayed home all day locked in his room, and her brother was at work. Balancing a tray with jasmine tea and a plate of pumpkin pie, Sakura knocked on her father’s bedroom door. She peeked in. “Otou-san?”
Her father turned around on his chair with a smile. “Sakura-san. Sorry, I didn’t hear you knock.”
“I brought you a snack,” said Sakura.
“Thank you. I could have come down.” Fujitaka took the tray. “Mmm… Smells good. Did you bake it?”
“Yes, I followed your recipe. It’s not as good as the ones you make though,” said Sakura.
“It looks delicious,” said Fujitaka. He took a bite. “It’s very moist and the crust is done perfectly.”
Smiling, Sakura said, “I’ll come pick up the plate later on then.”
“You can stay, Sakura-san. Come sit down.” Fujitaka adjusted the spare chair.
Timidly, Sakura sat down on the chair.
“Sakura-san, I know you’ve been worried about me for these past few days,” said Fujitaka. “I’m sorry for making you and Touya worry. I admit, I was disappointed that the publishing deal fell through because it is something I’ve dreamed about all my life. But there will be other opportunities. I’m not discouraged at all.”
Sakura shook her head furiously. “It’s all Grandfather’s fault.”
A slight frown came over her father’s brows. “No, that’s not right, Sakura-san. I don’t want you to ever grow up thinking ill of your grandfather, my father. I apologize for not talking much about him before. I never meant to hide him. I guess you are already aware that your grandfather is Kinomoto Fujishinto, chairman of the Kinhoshi Group. Do you know anything else?”
“Mori-san told me almost everything,” said Sakura.
“You met with Mori-san?” Fujitaka smiled gently. “I guess she is still there. Is there anything you are curious about?”
For a second, Sakura stared at her slippers. “Well… Do you have any regrets leaving your family behind?”
Fujitaka replied slowly, “No, I never regretted leaving behind my family name. The one thing I regret is disappointing my father though. It is a strange world we live in. On the one hand, I gained everything I dreamed of, Nadeshiko-san, you and Touya, a job I deeply care about. But I had to leave behind Fujiko—she would be your aunt. She is no longer here in this world, but she was a beautiful, kindhearted person. She would have loved you dearly.”
“I know,” murmured Sakura.
“My mother, your grandmother, would have cared for you dearly too. I do regret that we had to live such an isolated life and that I deprived you and Touya from growing up with loving relatives and grandparents.” Fujitaka sighed.
“All I ever needed was you and onii-chan,” said Sakura. “And okaa-san is always by our side too. And I think Great-grandfather likes us now.”
“Yes, he does,” said Fujitaka with a sad smile. Even Amamiya Masahiko had forgiven him for taking his precious granddaughter away. Yet, his own blood father had not forgiven him yet for leaving home at the age of eighteen. That was so many years ago, when he had been but a boy just a little older than Sakura right now. His little Sakura who had been such a cute toddler with big bright green eyes just like her mother’s was already a young woman, consoling her old father.
Children grow up so quickly, don’t they, Nadeshiko? We were once so young and blissful as well. Someday, Sakura too would leave my side. But till then, I will protect our children with what strength I have.
A phantom pair of arms wrapped around Fujitaka’s broad shoulders and a quiet voice whispered in his ears, And I will always be by your side too.
And someday, I will finally be able to join your side, my beloved Nadeshiko.
At the end of the work day, Touya was exhausted and was not pleased to find Nakuru lying on his bed in the doctors’ residence hall, long auburn hair fanned out on his pillow.
“What are you doing here?” asked Touya, slipping off his white coat and tossing it on a chair. “How did you even get in?”
“I slipped the key from Yuki-chan’s pocket earlier,” replied Nakuru.
”That’s stealing,” said Touya. “Get up. I’m tired and do not have the energy to deal with you.”
“Yeah. The patient had a stroke in the midst of the surgery… He won’t be the same again.” Touya sank down into the chair, burying his head in his hand.
“I heard about your situation,” said Nakuru. “Is it really true that you’ve been dismissed?”
Touya frowned. “I guess the rumors are circulating already. I’ve been asked to go on a temporary leave. I’ll just wait this out and hopefully the order will be revoked in due time, before my family hears about it. They can’t fire me without a valid reason.”
they can, if it’s the will of the chairman of
“There are other hospitals that will hire me,” said Touya with a long sigh. “I don’t understand why Grandfather is suddenly taking interest in my family’s life again. I liked it much better when he pretended we did not exist at all.”
“His health has been failing him for some time now. He suffered two strokes in the past year, they say, and he’s not getting any younger. The past will always haunt,” murmured Nakuru. “The question you asked last time.”
“Whether Mizuki Kaho liked you because you resembled Clow Reed, or whether she liked you because you were you,” Nakuru said, staring up at the ceiling. “What you really wanted to know was if Yukito loved you for being yourself. Or if he was drawn to you because you are the son of half of Clow Reed’s reincarnation.”
Touya narrowed his eyes. “I never thought about that.”
“Yes you did.” Nakuru sat up from the bed to stare into Touya’s midnight blue eyes. “Do you remember the first time we met?”
“Yeah. You transferred into my class mid-semester. And you created a big ruckus.” Touya sighed. Nakuru had been such a pain to deal with in high school. And some things never changed.
A soft smile came over Nakuru’s. “You stared at me, almost as if you saw a ghost. Why was that?”
“I’ve always thought you sort of resembled Kaho,” remarked Touya reluctantly. Though Kaho was much more beautiful than Nakuru in his eyes—yet perhaps it was the annoying personality that tagged along with Nakuru that diminished her. But it was true, there always had been an uncanny resemblance between Kaho and Nakuru.
“That’s right, you thought I looked like a younger Mizuki Kaho. So you were drawn to me, even if you saw right through my true identity and found my personality repelling.”
“I never found your personality repelling—just extremely annoying,” remarked Touya.
Nakuru gazed at him with golden-brown eyes. “You know, I was always jealous of Yue. Everyone cares for Yue. Clow. You. Sakura. Do you know why?”
“There are only two people that your little sister went ‘hanyaan’ over.”
Touya smiled crookedly. “She’s a silly thing.”
“Tsukishiro Yukito and Mizuki Kaho.”
“She was attracted to their powers of the moon.”
“True. But they’re also very similar types of people,” remarked Nakuru. “As you pointed out, they’re both moon-holders. But also personality-wise they’re very similar. Kind, gentle. Even-tempered, spacey, like the kind of person that would sit outside observing the moon under the night sky. But they’re surprisingly killed archers with acute intuitions and uncanny insight.”
Touya shrugged. “I guess there’s a similar quality to both of them.”
“There is no such thing as coincidence,” continued Nakuru. “When Mizuki Mika died, young Clow Reed fell into deep despair. He sought for many ways to bring her back. All of them resulted in failure. While he was researching for ways to bring back the dead, a tabooed magic since the beginning of time, he learned how to create artificial beings. It took many years to complete the process, but he finally gave birth to two perfect beings. The Guardian of the Sun, Cerberus, and the Guardian of the Moon, Yue. But when Clow created Yue, he unwittingly channeled his desire to bring back his first love. Of course, Clow was not able to recreate Mika’s soul within Yue’s body. But his soul was a mimicry of Mika’s. So, naturally, Yue grew to love Clow Reed also, even though he knew Clow would never love him back. Yue grew so warped and bitter because his unrequited love festered away. Part of the reason Clow Reed gave Yue a new master is because he wanted Yue to gain happiness, and the only way he could do so was for Clow to leave Yue. The Tsukishiro Yukito we know of today is more similar to Mizuki Mika than Yue ever was because he is now loved and happy.”
“Was Yue not happy?” asked Touya quietly.
“Nobody who fell in love with Clow Reed met with a happy end,” replied Nakuru. “But ironically enough, the replica of Mizuki Mika’s soul and the reincarnation of Mizuki Mika both were adored by the new Card Mistress. You too. The only two people you loved, they’re very similar, don’t you think?”
“Don’t,” said Touya, frowning. “Yukito is Yukito and Kaho’s Kaho. I don’t even know who this Mika person is.”
“I was born in the fall, so I was named Akizuki, with the kanji for autumn moon. The kanji for Mizuki is ‘moon observer.’ Tsukishiro stands for ‘moon castle.’ We all draw our power from the moon.” Nakuru reached over and took Touya’s hand. “The elusive moon.”
“What are you doing?” demanded Touya.
Nakuru pressed his hand over her chest. “I do not have a heart. I cannot love or be loved. I have no soul.” She smiled ruefully. “When Clow Reed created his two Guardians of the Moon, he gave one the soul of the person he loved and one the face. Together, Yue and Ruby Moon make a whole. But a human being once passed from this world can never be recreated. I am but an empty shell that simply resembles a woman who once lived, not a male, not a female, not a human, not a beast.”
For the first time, Touya gazed upon Nakuru with eyes of pity. “Don’t be silly. You do have a heart. It’s beating now—if you can’t hear it, listen to it through this stethoscope here.” Touya yanked out his stethoscope and placed it into her ear and placed the chest piece over her left chest. “And it is an insult to Yue to say that he loved Clow Reed because his soul was designed to do so. Because people can’t be forced to love someone they don’t want to love. Yukito once told me Clow expected Yue to fall in love with Sakura. But he didn’t. And you, you say you have no soul. But do you not also love Hiiragizawa Eriol? Not because he is Clow Reed, but because he is who he is.”
Slowly, Nakuru met Touya’s eyes. “Perhaps you are right, Kinomoto Touya.” A gentle smile came over her lips.” But you know what the reincarnation, the soul replica and the physical replica of Mizuki Mika have all had in common?”
Nakuru smiled widely. “They’ve all once fallen for you.”
At that moment, the dorm room swung open and Yukito, back from his night shift, exclaimed, “Touya, I heard about what your grandfather did—it can’t be true, can it? And I lost my room key. I can’t find it anywhere—oh?” His golden eyes narrowed to find Nakuru on Touya’s bed, holding Touya’s hand. “I’m sorry to interrupt.” He swerved around, about to leave.
“Yuki—it’s not what it looks like!” exclaimed Touya, dashing after him.
Pretending to wipe a tear from her eyes, Nakuru said, “How can you be so cruel and pretend like nothing happened between us?”
“Go back home—isn’t your shift over?” Touya stated. How could he feel compassion for this creature even for a brief moment?
Nakuru stuck out her tongue and then grinned, falling back onto Touya’s bed. The sheets smelled sterile and clean like the hospital.
Over the course of a week, Sakura mastered walking straightly down a long line in high heels and turn around without losing balance. She practiced walking with a book on her head in the morning when she woke up and after school when she got home. Her heels were covered in blisters, but even Naoko had okayed her walk. On the other hand, exams were fast approaching and all the rehearsals had taken a toll on her studies. Thus, after school on Saturday, Sakura headed straight to the public library with her books, ready to spend the entire day studying. Sakura took a seat in the back of the library and set down her book bag next to her chair. Carefully, she stacked her textbooks on the table and cracked open her notes. She had perfect history and literature notes from Eron. But with math, notes were not sufficient enough when she had not done all the problem sets and memorized all the formulas. You really ended up paying for copying math homework in the long run, when exam time struck. Their mathematics teacher was a demon-grader too. Sakura groaned as numbers swam in front of her eyes, and she loosened her uniform tie.
“Hoe… What is the quadratic formula? X equals negative b plus or minus square root…” Sakura grabbed her head with both hands. “Hoeeee… Did I see this formula before?”
She heard a low chuckle. Startled, she stared up to see the last person she had expected to see in the library, a boy in the black and gold-trimmed Eitoukou uniform with those familiar amber eyes twinkling in amusement. She frowned. “What are you doing here?”
“Studying for finals,” replied Syaoran, setting his book bag on the floor next to the table and drawing out the empty chair across from Sakura’s seat.
“W-what do you think you’re doing?” she demanded, pointing at the chair he had taken the liberty to occupy. How could he act so nonchalant, like that last conversation between them and everything till then never happened?
“Sitting down.” Syaoran slumped into the chair, pulling out his books from his book bag.
“You can’t sit there!” Sakura exclaimed. “I’m… I’m saving it for someone else.”
Syaoran sighed, opening his notebook and uncapping his pen. He nodded his head towards the crowded tables. “It’s the only available seat at the moment.
And Sakura looked around, realizing the Tomoeda library was completely full now that finals time was nearing. “Why don’t you go to the library in you own neighborhood then? I’m sure the Eitoukou public library is much bigger.”
“I don’t know where it is,” replied Syaoran with a simple shrug.
Stumped by Syaoran’s matter-of-fact response, Sakura buried her nose into her book and pretended to be absorbed in her studies. Syaoran began studying as if it was perfectly normal to be sitting across from her, not strangers, not classmates and not quite friends either. Out of the corner of her eyes, she caught the title of the book he was reading, Genji no Monogatari. He was writing out a composition on loose sheets of paper with a gold fountain pen. The sound of the tip scratching on the paper grated Sakura’s nerves, and she stared at the problem set, blood rushing to her head. Her grip on her mechanical pencil was so hard that her lead snapped. Forget Syaoran, what was she doing wrong? How did the graph end up as an inverse curve? She crumpled her scrap paper up and started on a fresh piece of paper. When she reached the bottom of the page with her new scribbles, she let out a sigh of exasperation. How did her graph come out in this warped shape? She erased it hard with her pink rubber eraser, almost ripping a hole through her paper. Sakura thought it was too quiet across the table and glanced up.
To her chagrin, Syaoran was watching her over the top of his book, eyes crinkled in merriment again. “You know, when you derived your function, you forgot to transfer the plus and minus signs…”
“I-it’s none of your business!” exclaimed Sakura, cheeks turning crimson. “I know how to do it!”
“I know you do,” replied Syaoran, chin rested on his palm. “I personally taught the formula to you in junior high.”
Sakura’s knuckles turned white as she clenched her eraser. “How long do you plan on sitting there? Since you’re so smart, it seems like you don’t have to study. Then again, you never did graduate from junior high, or did you?”
And Sakura thought she saw a glimmer of self-defensiveness in Syaoran’s eyes, something she hadn’t seen in a long time. It was like Syaoran when she had first met him. Always suspicious, always wary. But instead of losing his temper, Syaoran pushed Sakura the essay he had written out in the time she had been solving one formula. “Can you edit my essay for me please? It’s been a while since I’ve had to write a full composition in Japanese. I’ll check your problem sets for you in exchange.”
Because Sakura did not respond, Syaoran simply reached over and took her problem sets and began to mark the errors lightly in pencil. And Sakura could do nothing but read over Syaoran’s essay on Genji Hikaru, the handsome, philandering son of an emperor of the Heian Period and his love for the Lady Murasaki. They had covered the novel last semester, so Sakura was already familiar with the subject. There was something so nostalgic about sitting at a table together, doing homework. It was like olden days.
“Your Japanese skills have improved quite a lot,” Sakura remarked reluctantly. “You don’t even need to use a dictionary anymore.”
Syaoran smiled slightly. He couldn’t tell Sakura that for half a year, he had been locked up indoors, unable to use his arm, unable to go to school, the only source of entertainment books and his studies. Which in the long run was not a bad thing, since he had not been keeping up with school work over the past year. “I hope you’re doing better in your other subjects than in mathematics.”
Sakura pouted. “There’s no one who can explain math so that it makes sense—especially with all the vector graphing we do.” Nobody since you.
“You can ask your boyfriend to tutor you,” said Syaoran, setting down his pencil and pushing the problem set back to Sakura.
“Who?” Sakura almost dropped her pencil before clearing her throat. “You’re right. I should ask Eron-kun,” said Sakura, eyes not meeting Syaoran’s. “I feel bad though, because he’s busy enough with his studies already.” She gathered up her books rapidly and shoved them into her book bag. “Thanks for checking my problem sets. I have dinner duty.”
Syaoran watched Sakura hurry out of the library, not even wearing her jacket before going out. He stared at the empty seat in front of him then noticed the pink Piffle Princess notebook marked “History Notes.” He groaned. How scatterbrained like Sakura.
In a huff, Sakura dumped her books onto her desk at home.
“Back so early? What’s wrong? You look a bit red,” Kero-chan remarked, circling around his mistress. “I thought you were going to study at the library with Eron until closing hours.”
“Oh, right. I was supposed to meet Eron-kun at the library later on,” Sakura groaned. She had completely forgotten. Quickly she drew out her cellphone and sent Eron a text message. “Do you want to come over to my house to study instead? Otou-san baked a yummy pumpkin pie.”
Half an hour later, Eron stepped into the Kinomoto residence awkwardly. This was the first time he was entering Sakura’s house. And nobody else seemed to be home. Except Kero-chan, that was.
“Sorry Eron-kun, making you come all the way here,” said Sakura, taking Eron’s coat and hanging it on the coat stand. “The library was so crowded, I thought it might be better studying at home.”
Eron sat on the floor, in front of the living room table as Sakura brought out a tray with two slices of pumpkin pie and hot tea.
“This is delicious,” said Eron, taking a bite into the pumpkin pie.
“Isn’t it? I helped otou-san bake it yesterday. I’m saving a large slice for Kero-chan.”
Kero-chan doing?” asked Eron, taking out his textbooks.
”Playing a new bishoujo game,” replied Sakura, opening up her folder. She saw a bold, scratchy handwriting that was not her own, the title at the top of the page, “Tale of Genji: A Thousand Year Love Story.” How could she have been so careless? She had taken Syaoran’s essay!
“Wow, you solved all the math sets already?” asked Eron, glancing over at Sakura’s problem sets.
“Yeah, I sort of get the quadratic formula now,” Sakura mumbled.
“I guess we can start by reviewing history first then,” Eron said. “Shoot, I forgot to bring my history notes. Can we use yours?”
“Sure!” Sakura replied, flipping through her stacks of notebooks. “Eh? It’s not here. Maybe I left it upstairs.” She ran to the stairwell. “Kero-chan, can you check if my history notebook is on my desk. It’s the pink Piffle Princess one!”
“Nope it’s not here!” replied Kero-chan from her room.
“Where can it be?” Sakura murmured to herself. “Maybe I left it at school?” No, she had definitely seen it at the library. She groaned. She must have left it on the table at the library in her hurry to leave. “Gomen, Eron-kun. Can we start with chemistry?”
Touya and Yukito walked into the Kinomoto residence, noticing the unfamiliar pair of men’s shoes at the front steps—a shiny patent leather Italian brand.
“Kaijou, you have a friend over,” remarked Touya, walking into the living room to discover Eron and Sakura’s head bent over a shared textbook.
“Onii-chan, I didn’t know you’re stopping by,” said Sakura, jumping to her feet.
Eron stood up also, bowing his head so lowly it almost touched the floor. “How are you doing, Kinomoto-san, Tsukishiro-san. We were just studying for finals.”
“Well, continue then,” said Touya, turning around towards the stairwells, Yukito trailing after him.
“That’s it? You’re not going to say anything else?” Yukito asked. “The sister-complex ogre onii-chan just let his sister be?”
“Why, they’re studying. And Chang-kun seems to be a well-mannered boy,” Touya replied as he entered his bedroom. He could here squeals of excitement coming from Sakura’s room—the stuffed doll seemed to have leveled up on another new video game.
“Wow, I really don’t know what to say, To-ya,” remarked Yukito, blinking his eyes.
“Then don’t say anything,” Touya said with a scowl.
After Eron left, late at night, Sakura went back to her bedroom. She sighed, taking out her cellphone. Perhaps she should give Syaoran a call and let him know he had her essay. What if it was due tomorrow? It was a long composition, and there was no way he could write it out all again. Syaoran’s number had once been on speed dial before she deleted it. She still knew his number by heart, but there was no way he would still have the same phone number. Actually, did he even have a cell phone? She didn’t know.
Slowly, she dialed Syaoran’s old cellphone number. Her thumb lingered over the send button.
“Who are you calling?” asked Kero-chan, popping his head out of the drawer.
She was so startled that her friend slipped and pressed the send button. “Hooeee!!!” squealed Sakura as the phone began to dial. With trembling hands, she brought the receiver to her ear.
An automated voice stated, “The number you have dialed does not exist. Please try again.” The tone went dead. Sakura dropped her cellphone on her bed and sighed.
Yawning, Kero-chan sank back into his bed.
Then, the phone began to ring, and Sakura jumped again. Who could it be at this hour? Sakura checked the caller ID. It was masked. She pressed send. “H-hello?”
There was silence on the other end of the phone.
“Who is this?” Sakura asked.
“It’s me.” There was a pause. “Li Sya—“
“I know. I know your voice,” replied Sakura, dropping down to the floor, back against her bed. “How do you have my number?”
“What do you mean? It’s still the same.”
Sakura almost smiled. “You’re right.”
“Um… About earlier in the library…”
Of course. That was why he had called her. Silly her being so startled. “Ah, I’m sorry! I took your Genji composition. I didn’t realize it until I got home and—“
“Oh… You had it?”
“Eh? Then why did you call?” Sakura asked.
“Ah, well, actually…” Syaoran sighed. He said in a quieter voice, “I…”
“Why are you whispering?” asked Sakura.
There was a lot of static. “Shoot, I have to go.”
can you meet me in front of
The only response was the beeping of the tone. Sighing, Sakura tossed her cellphone aside and flopped over on her bed. She half expected it to ring again, but it didn’t. She knew because when she woke up the next morning, the shape of her cellphone had been imprinted onto her palm from clutching it tightly all night long.
“God you are such an idiot, Li Syaoran,” stated Kara, leaning against the doorway to Syaoran’s room.
“It’s just you,” said Syaoran, sighing, sinking back down onto his bed.
“Give me the phone,” said Kara extending her hand. “I’ll take it back.”
Syaoran tossed her the receiver. “I was just calling a friend about homework.” Which wasn’t completely a lie. Except the friend part.
“I never asked you,” replied Kara, playing with the antenna on the cordless phone. “Really, after your last stint, I would have expected you to be on model behavior. Instead you run off doing as you please, leaving me to make excuses for you.”
“Who asked you to make excuses for me?” demanded Syaoran.
“Oh please. Would you rather be tied up in the basement again?” stated Kara. “Really, even Leiyun went too far this time. Though you did not help the situation either, running off like that without a trace. You know how worried we were? The Elders called and we could not exactly tell them you had vanished without a trace. Leiyun brought you along under the provision that he is responsible for your every action. If anything happens to you, all blame will fall on him.”
Syaoran rolled up his sleeves and stared at his wrists. The welts had disappeared but the humiliation of being tied up like some beast would not soon be erased from his mind. Even though Leiyun had apologized to him, and then returned to being cousin Lei of olden days.
“Seriously, I hope Jin comes back from his business soon, because I absolutely refuse to be your guardian any longer,” stated Kara, flipping back her shoulder length golden hair.
“Don’t, then,” Syaoran said. “I am not going to run away. Seriously, what damage can I cause in my current state, anyway?”
Kara knelt down on the ground, hugging her legs. “There’s a secret darkness within all our hearts, a darkness which desires the misery of others. It’s the same sort of sadistic pleasure one gets when the noble knight becomes a ruthless murderer, when the virginal princess is tarnished, when the politician turns out to be corrupt, when the minister is revealed to be a sinner. It’s the darkness within our hearts which keeps us ticking.”
“And what is the secret darkness within your heart?” Syaoran asked, staring at Kara Reed, the only outsider who seemed to be more amused than intimidated by the Li Clan.
“I killed my own father,” replied Kara.
The next morning, Sakura got up an hour earlier than usual and hurriedly rushed to pull on her uniform.
“Do you have classroom duty today?” asked Kero-chan, bleary-eyed.
“Umm… Yeah,” replied Sakura, grabbing her book bag and running a brush through her tangled short hair. It was never a good sign when she lied to Kero-chan. But she could not bring herself to admit that she was going to see Li Syaoran.
arrived five minutes before six at
half an hour, Sakura took a seat on one of the swing sets, bookbag on her
knees, gently rocking back and forth. A little while later, several children
with their mothers came to play on the swings and slide. She moved to the
benches near by. The sun had fully risen, and still, he had not come. Maybe he
had not heard her. Maybe he forgot. From her bookbag, she slipped out Syaoran’s
essay. She ran a finger of the paper which was indented by his print. Now, the
students walked down the path heading towards school. She was going to be late
if she waited any longer. It was nearly eight. In the distance, the clock tower
bell rang eight times. Of course he wouldn’t come all the way to
During lunchtime, Meilin and Sakura sat side by side on the rooftop, overlooking the soccer field and the bare treetops in the distance. Both sighed in unison.
“You were late for school today,” remarked Meilin, picking at her store-bought bento box.
Sakura groaned. “I thought I snuck in without people noticing. By the way, I saw Kai-kun at my grandfather’s house the other day,” she remarked. “I don’t know what he was up to though.”
Tugging the end of her pigtail with her fingers, Meilin remarked, “He’s up to no good these days. It’s just a gut feeling, but I feel like he’s been meddling in Li Clan affairs—I was always suspicious ever since he turned up at the Li Hospital in Hong Kong.”
”I’m a bit worried for him; I’m afraid he might really lose Miho-chan at this rate,” remarked Sakura. Kaitou Magician had been masquerading on the front page of all the newspapers and headlining all the evening news channels for the past week. There was no news of what exactly he had stolen, however. It didn’t matter. He was lurking about, being chased by policemen again.
“Well, every time I
hear about Kaitou Magician on the news, it makes my heart sink to my stomach,”
said Meilin. “You don’t know what it feels like. That night, in
“I do understand,” murmured Sakura. That time when Syaoran had been covered in lash marks from the Whip, his back completely torn up, that time he had been bruised and battered in his duel against Eriol, and then again when he was bitten by the Plague. Time and time again, when Syaoran had gotten injured because of her, she felt so frustrated and agonized.
“I’m sorry. You do know,” murmured Meilin. “But to me, Syaoran always seemed invulnerable. He was the one watching out for me. Syaoran’s not stupid. He will not endanger himself recklessly.” Unless it was for Sakura. “Sorry. I won’t talk about him if it makes you feel uncomfortable.”
“It’s all right. It’s all right now,” replied Sakura staidly.
“For better or worse, I’m glad your memories of him came back,” remarked Meilin. “It was awkward trying not to mention Syaoran’s name and everything.”
“Sorry,” said Sakura, staring up at the clouds. “I didn’t mean to cause everybody such an inconvenience.”
“Don’t apologize. Heaven knows I know better than anybody else what if feels like to be rejected by that heartless Li Syaoran.” Meilin let out a short laughter than sighed again. “Sorry, I know your situation is a lot different from mine. And Syaoran has… changed. If I met the Syaoran now eleven years ago, I doubt I would have fallen for him. It’s amazing how time changes people. Even Cousin Leiyun.”
“Tell me a little more about Li Leiyun,” said Sakura. It was Meilin who had first insinuated to Sakura about Syaoran’s dead cousin.
“I don’t know what more to say about him,” Meilin said. “You met him. We all thought he was dead for all these years. He seems the same. Yet he seems different.”
Sakura set her lunchbox down. “I heard Syaoran trained under Leiyun as a child.”
“In our generation, Great Elder Li Renshu had three main disciples. Li Leiyun, original Chosen One candidate, Li Syaoran, Chosen One candidate replacement and Li Jinyu, shadow disciple. Of course, many of us didn’t find out about Li Jinyu until last year, when he was suddenly appointed the new Li Clan Protector. Though all three disciples received training from the Great Elder, Jinyu’s specialty seems to have been hand-to-hand combat and Leiyun’s swordsmanship. The two probably first met each other training together, though Leiyun’s a couple years older than Jinyu. Of course, Syaoran, after Leiyun’s supposed death, trained to become the ultimate warrior and his actual chi and spiritual potential surpasses anybody in his generation, or so they say.”
“The Li Clan is so complicated,” Sakura remarked.
“It’s not really. Syaoran by default was the popular choice for the Chosen One position since he was the Great Elder-candidate and Chosen One Li Ryuuren’s only son. I heard there was a great banquet the night Syaoran was born. Rumors say that when Aunt Ieran was pregnant, she dreamt that a shining dragon entered her womb—it’s a good sign in our culture. But everything became complicated when Syaoran’s father passed away so early. The Li Clan was put into a crunch to quickly find a Chosen One candidate since Syaoran was but a toddler. The logical choice was Li Leiyun, son of the Head of the Clan Li Wutai, who had received training from the deceased Chosen One and was ten at that time—in a couple years under the Great Elder’s special guidance, they figured he would become a fine warrior. The factionalism stems from that time onwards. Supporters of Syaoran as Chosen One argued that Syaoran would grow up in no time, that he could be the one and only Chosen One. Supporters of Leiyun argued that Syaoran was but a baby, that Leiyun was by all means the most qualified person to become the Chosen One. Of course, his father as the Head of the Clan was his biggest proponent. Either way, it was a given that if one became the Chosen One, the other would become the Protector of the Clan. Yet Fate had it that Leiyun ‘died’ on his mission to decree whether he would be qualified to become the Chosen One. There were rumors of conspiracy theories that Syaoran-supporters in the Council had decided to get rid of Leiyun. Nonetheless, Syaoran became the default Chosen One candidate. And the shadow disciple, only a couple years older than Syaoran, was appointed as the dark-horse Protector some years later. But it turned out that Leiyun was not dead after all, and both positions which rightfully should have been his had already been taken.”
“Does Leiyun-san still want to be the Chosen One then?” asked Sakura.
“I don’t think so. Leiyun is very different from Uncle Wutai. He was an idealist and never cared much for power or politics. But who knows.”
“You said you don’t know about the internal stuff of the Li Clan, but you seem to know an awful lot, Meilin-chan,” remarked Sakura.
Meilin shook her head. “This is still common knowledge within the Clan. I really do not even want to know the deep secrets contained within the innermost chambers of the Clan. ”
“Neither do I,” sighed Sakura.
“Syaoran is in a difficult position right now. If the Great Elder passes away without naming his successor, Uncle Wutai would become the Great Elder. And then, the Li Clan’s structure may very well change completely.” Meilin paused. “Of course, if Syaoran does follow all of Uncle Wutai’s orders, his position in the Clan may very well be elevated. Though Leiyun is his son, I think Uncle Wutai is a little scared of him. Though I am mad at Syaoran for the choices he made, I don’t really blame him. I think perhaps, if I was the predestined Chosen One of the Clan, all the choices I make would eventually lead me to that path.”
“I really don’t care what Syaoran has chosen at this point,” said Sakura.
“Sakura, I’m not
really sure what passed between you and Syaoran in
“It doesn’t matter, Meilin,” said Sakura. It’s not like she didn’t already know that Syaoran must have been watched that day. “The circumstance then really doesn’t concern me anymore. The fact of the matter is, Syaoran and I just can’t be our lighthearted childhood selves anymore. We each have obligations and responsibilities we have to carry out. We are no longer rivals, allies nor friends. He is just someone who is, and that’s all.”
Aki tapped his pen on his notebook and stared at the newspaper clippings on the wall. At the center of the board hung the front page of that morning’s paper, headlined, “Kaitou Magician Strikes Again.”
Miho burst into the journalism club room, panting. She also held the daily newspaper, rolled up and tucked under her arm. “Senpai, are you covering the story in the Seijou High Times?”
Slowly, Aki swung over on his chair and glanced up at Miho. “I don’t know. Do you want to cover it? I’ll let your article run in the high school section.”
Her gray eyes only flickered bluish for a moment as she replied in a slightly wobbly voice, “No, you should cover such a big story, Aki-senpai.” She slowly gazed around the journalism club room. It mirrored the club room in the junior high division in that it was covered from wall to wall with clippings regarding Katiou Magician and his various escapades.
Leaning back in his chair, arms crossed, Aki remarked, “Funny. I thought you would jump at a chance to publish in the high school paper. Where did your ambitions go?”
Casually shrugging, Miho replied, “I’m just not interested in Kaitou Magician anymore. His fifteen minutes of fame are so over.”
“I see.” Aki stood up and stared at the blurred black and white photo of a caped figure gracing the front page. “You know, Mizuki-kun has not shown up to school lately. I wonder what he’s up to.”
“I don’t know,” replied Miho. “It’s none of my business.”
“It’s very interesting how the appearance of Kaitou Magician in Tomoeda coincided with the transferring of Mizuki Kai to Seijou Junior High. When Mizuki-kun disappeared, Kaitou Magician also lay low. Now, Mizuki-kun is back, and it seems like Kaitou Magician is also.” Aki narrowed his brown eyes. “It’s a strange pattern.”
Miho stiffened. “It must be coincidence.”
you know that Kaitou Magician first starting making headlines around three
years after the disappearance of ‘Mizuki Tanaka?’ It seems like ample time for
a top student and golden boy to learn to become the greatest con man of the 21st
century.” Aki smiled crookedly. “Of course, if you look further back into
records, Kaitou Magician has existed for at least a decade before. Look at this
headline from three years ago: ‘Jewel-thief Kaitou Magician, Shot: Is He Dead?’
There is a detailed account of how the Tokyo Metropolitan shot Kaitou Magician
seven times. According to Chief Inspector Daidouji, there is no way any human
could withstand those bullets. He fell from the rooftop of a high-rise
building. Yet, his body was never discovered. The police assumed him dead. But
some months later, Kaitou Magician emerged in
“Perhaps the policemen were not good marksmen, and he healed in those months,” Miho replied.
perhaps, the Kaitou Magician that emerged in
“Why the Kinomoto family?” asked Miho.
“Because Kinomoto Fujishika was the man who requested the arrest warrant for Kaitou Magician and employed martial measures to take him down,” replied Aki. “And that explains why your brother, ‘Tanaka Mikai,’ was unable to return to you.”
Miho forced out a laugh. “Aki-senpai, you are an excellent journalist, but I think too much journalism has got to your head with your conspiracy theories and crazy deductions. You think my worthless brother is Kaitou Magician?”
“I’m the journalist, not the novelist,” replied Aki. “Thus, I cannot help observing and finding connections. What I seek is the truth. Perhaps my deductions are wrong, but only time will tell.”
Pulling out a sheet of paper from her bag, Miho said, “Anyway, this is our budget proposal for next semester. Can you review it?”
“Sure.” Aki took the papers. “How is your career interview column of the week coming along?”
got some interesting people, but I’m running out of people to interview now,”
replied Miho. The interview columns had been a popular feature first introduced
by Aki the previous year. “I’m dying to interview Mike Kant while he’s still in
“I can arrange that. He’s a good friend of my sister,” replied Aki. “Any other interviews you have in mind?”
“I don’t know. We’re going to get one from a doctor’s perspective. Tsukishiro-san agreed to let us interview him. After that, I’m out of ideas.”
“What about Shing-san?” Aki said. “We never got around to interviewing him, and we don’t have an artist perspective yet.”
“Eh, THE Shing-san?” gawked Miho.
“I heard he’s going to be a judge at the Young Designers Fashion Show,” said Aki. “My sister will also be on the judging panel. The high school journalism crew is definitely going to cover the contest since one of our own is a runner up.”
Miho rolled her eyes. “Just admit it’s because you like Tomoyo-senpai.”
With a long sigh, Aki replied, “It’s a hopeless cause though. Anyway, you might be able to score a short interview with Shing-san during the contest if you’re lucky. We can run the story simultaneously in the high school paper if it turns out good.”
“Really?” Miho clapped her hands in delight. “I better
start gathering my materials. Shing-san has a new “
Aki smiled at the younger girl. Then he stared back at the newspaper headline. Tanaka Mikai, I will reveal you someday.
It occurred to Chang Erika that lately her twin had been avoiding her completely. Perhaps it was ever since he had started to date Kinomoto Sakura. Erika wanted to vomit in her mouth whenever she recalled that those two actually were dating. Either her brother had finally gone mad, or Sakura had.
“Onii-chan, homework,” said Erika, holding out her hand before chemistry class started.
“You do it yourself,” snapped Eron, leaning back in his chair. Sakura was not back from lunch yet.
“That’s not fair. You help Sakura-chan out all the time,” said Erika, crossing her arms.
“She actually solves everything herself. You just copy everything without doing the work yourself,” stated Eron.
“Excuse me, who took your junior high finals for you so that you could be in the same class as the rest of us?” said Erika.
“That proves you can do the work if you actually try,” said Eron. “You don’t except me to take your college entrance exams for you, do you?”
“You look enough like me, you might as well,” stated Erika. “And who says I even want to go to college? You and Mike. Ugh. So patronizing and always trying to make me do things I don’t want to do.”
“Mike Kant?” Eron raised an eyebrow.
“Speaking of which, he’s going to be a guest judge for the Young Designer Show thing that Tomoyo is taking part of,” said Erika. “It must be hard to spend time with your darling Sakura-chan these days with her being so busy preparing and her family being like that.”
“What about her family?”
“Oh, you didn’t hear? Her father’s publishing deal got canceled because of some riffraff with her grand-papa Kinomoto Fujishinto. Goodness, don’t tell me you seriously didn’t know about this. You would think she would tell her boyfriend when something that important is going on.” Erika laughed shortly. “Then again, she’s been too busy breaking into her grandfather’s house with Wolf-boy though technically they are not on speaking terms.”
“She went to see her grandfather?” asked Eron.
“Gosh, what do you guys do when you’re together? Hold hands and silently gaze the stars or something? Even Mike and I at least have the basic courtesy to tell each other how our days went,” stated Erika.
There was no soccer practice or rehearsals for the fashion show, so Eron walked Sakura back home after school ended. Sakura chattered lightly about the fashion show and little stories she heard from Yamazaki Takashi. However, Eron remained silent.
“Eron-kun, you’re coming to the fashion show, right? I have a ticket for you, otou-san, ‘nii-chan and Yukito-san,” said Sakura, halting and looking up at Eron for the first time.
Eron watched Sakura without speaking.
“What’s wrong?” asked Sakura. She felt guilty that she spent so little time with Eron lately because of preparation for the fashion show and school studies. “Are you busy that day?”
“No,” said Eron. “I’ll come if you want me to come.”
“Of course I want you to come,” stated Sakura. When he did not meet her eye, she realized that something was bothering Eron. “Tell me, what is it that’s bothering you, Eron-kun?”
“When were you planning on telling me about your father’s situation?” asked Eron slowly.
“Oh. You heard?” Sakura kicked a pebble on the road.
“Something so important that has been on your mind lately. And you didn’t think you could share it with me?” Rather than anger, there was a trace of hurt in Eron’s voice.
“I didn’t want you to worry,” replied Sakura. “After all, it is my family problem.”
“But I am here to listen to your problems. I should be the first person you think of when you have any concerns or worries,” said Eron.
“I’m sorry. It never occurred to talk to you about it. I will next time,” said Sakura. And still, Eron seemed to not be satisfied with her response. “Is there something else?”
“It’s really nothing,” Eron said with a sigh.
“What is it?” Sakura’s brows were creased.
Eron stared at Sakura with glimmering golden-hazel eyes. “You met with Li Syaoran.”
“Is that what’s really been bothering you?” asked Sakura with a short laugh. “I bumped into him at grandfather’s house. It’s a small neighborhood. I am going to see him, whether I want to or not.”
“It’s not a laughing matter,” replied Eron. “He stole the Sakura Cards from you. The Li Clan is on the move, and they are not a foe to be taken lightly.”
“Why does it matter now?” asked Sakura wearily. “I know the dangers of the Li Clan—I won’t be defeated by them twice.”
“It’s not the Li Clan that is most dangerous,” Eron muttered. “It’s Li Syaoran that I don’t trust you alone with.”
Sakura raised an eyebrow. “What, you think that I am ready to forgive Syaoran for all he has done just because I now regained my memories of him?”
“No, I think you might regret going out with me now that he is back and you remember who he is,” replied Eron darkly.
Sakura stared at Eron, dumbstruck. It occurred to her that Eron was less concerned for her welfare and acting more like a jealous boyfriend. Which he was. Eron was her boyfriend now. Sakura knew nothing about dating, nothing about what entailed being in a relationship. And perhaps neither did Eron. “Do you seriously think I started going out with you because I lost my memory of Syaoran?” Sakura stated, pretending to be insulted. “Is that really all you thought of me?”
“But…” Eron stared at his feet. “Perhaps I did take advantage of the fact that he was no longer here and that you didn’t remember. I’ve always known what he means to you. Only when you had forgotten him did I think I have a chance.”
he meant to me,” Sakura corrected, recalling Syaoran profile as he read
his book at the library. She could not bring herself to tell Eron that she had
met Syaoran then, that he had called her. But why did she feel the necessity to
hide this detail from Eron? He was her boyfriend. Should she be able to tell
him everything? “Syaoran and I, we’re over. We’ve long since been over, at
least ever since
“But now that he is back…”
I know when I first agreed to go out with you I was still growing to trust you.
But all this while, you’ve been the one by my side. When I was hurting after I
came back from
Eron still looked dubious. “But—“
Sakura said firmly, “The person I chose is you. I chose you, Eron-kun. Isn’t that what’s most important at the end of the day?”
“Can you sincerely tell me that you don’t love Li Syaoran anymore then?” asked Eron staidly.
Sakura stared up at him with her brightly emerald eyes. “I trust you, Eron-kun. Can you not trust me also?”
“I’m sorry for questioning you. I do trust you,” said Eron.
Sakura smiled up at Eron and murmured, “Thank you for believing in me.”
Eron reached over and embraced Sakura tightly. In a choked voice he said, “No, thank you, Sakura. Thank you.”
That night, after a long spell of dry weather, there was a raging thunderstorm. Sakura sat awake in her bed, watching the lightening flash outside. She thought that it had been strangely comforting to be hugged by Eron. And a bit confining as well, as if she had set forth some sort of contract binding herself to him and only him. But perhaps that was what a relationship was, an unwritten contract between two people, just like her Cards were bound by contract to her.
“Aren’t you going to bed?” asked Kero-chan, yawning.
“In a while,” replied Sakura, listening to the pitter-pat of raindrops on the rooftop. In the distance rumbled the deep sound of thunder.
remembered vividly that one thundering summer’s night. It was that blissful
summer that she had spent at Syaoran’s house, carefree days full of laughter,
scattered with some misunderstanding and mishap, precious days that would never
come back. That night was so memorable not because the thunder rumbled outside
with a blue vengeance but because it was the first time she had seen a
vulnerable side to Syaoran. It was the first time he had opened up to her and
told her about his childhood, that he had directly told her about Li Leiyun.
She still recalled that faraway nostalgic look in his amber eyes as he talked
about his cousin who had passed away on a Clan mission prior to Syaoran coming
Li Leiyun. His name meant thundercloud…Maybe he was a thundercloud because he appeared… then disappeared just like that…Leiyun was like a real brother to me. After my father died, he always looked after me, even if he was only seven years older than me. He was practically the only male that I could turn to. My elders just were to stiff and strict. Though Wei was caring, Leiyun provided brotherly companionship. Even as I underwent the hardest and most trying obstacles in my training, he helped me through, always with a bright smile. He was optimistic, talented, and kind-hearted. Everyone admired him.
Back then, Sakura learned that Li Leiyun had been the person that Syaoran admired the most next to the Great Elder, and the person who had been a brother, father, friend and mentor to him. The Leiyun that Syaoran had described was a kind and caring figure. Completely different from the icy, menacing person with the silver hair and cold blue eyes that Sakura had met for the first time some months ago. And there yet remained the mystery of why Leiyun was alive; Syaoran had been sure that Leiyun had passed away seven years ago in mission. Though Sakura did not know under what circumstances Leiyun had returned to the Li Clan some years later, she knew for certain that the Li Leiyun that she had met was a very different Leiyun from the one that she had envisioned all this time. Something must have happened over the course of seven years. Meilin said that people change… But can they change so drastically?
Because Sakura knew how Syaoran had looked up to his older cousin, she could partially understand why he could not go against Li Leiyun. She understood, that was why she was frustrated that Syaoran thought that she would not. It was pitch black except for when the lightening struck and a brief glimmer of electric light flashed through the window. She picked up her cellphone and stared at the pink buttons. There was only one person who could answer all her questions. And it was the one person she could not reach. She did not even know his phone number. Call me. In the olden days, this had worked. She could hear him, and he could hear her.
But the phone did not ring. Smiling ruefully, Sakura slid into her blanket. Of course he wouldn’t call. There was no reason for him to. There was no reason for him to show up at her windowsill, no reason for him to wait for her before school started, no reason for him to show up where ever she was. Old habits died slowly, and she could not help waiting for him slightly, even now. But that had to change. She had promised Eron, and she did not want to break her trust with him.
“Why the museum all of a sudden?” asked Meilin, walking down the corridors. She recalled meeting the nefarious Kaitou Magician last spring during the Mirror of Truth exhibition. Who knew a year and a half later, he would have become such a central figure in her life?
wanted to see Shing-san’s
“That’s a good idea,” remarked Sakura.
“Actually it was Aki-senpai’s idea,” replied Miho.
“Aki-kun?” Sakura asked. “When was he so interested in fine arts?”
“I don’t know.” Miho stared blankly at the oil paintings of the Impressionists. She liked Impressionism because the paintings were so beautiful and vibrant from afar but when you got closer, you realized that the images were formed by messy blobs of colors slabbed on the canvas. Impressionists were masters of deceiving. “Aki-senpai’s been acting pretty strange lately.”
“That’s what getting rejected does to you,” remarked Meilin with a giggle. “Didn’t he get turned down by Tomoyo-chan?”
“Well, he’s developed an unhealthy obsession with Kaitou Magician,” stated Miho.
“Oh, Aki-kun’s always had a Kaitou Magician complex,” said Sakura.
“I don’t know. I’ve always thought of Aki-senpai as being sort of stupid,” Miho said. “But he’s really too nosy for his own good. I feel like there’s a chance he might find out about the whole dark forces and whatnot.”
“You know, all our friends to some extent have figured out there is something strange going on in this neighborhood,” Sakura stated. “It’s only natural since strange things have started happening every since elementary. And inevitably, all of them have become entangled with a Clow Card or dark force at once point or another.” Sakura realized it was impossible to keep her friends and loved ones completely sheltered from the strange occurrences that centered around her. That was why it was so essential for her to be able to completely be able to protect her loved ones, and she could not do that so long as she did not have the Sakura Cards.
gasped in awe as she walked into Shing-san’s “
Like all his paintings, the heroine bore an uncanny resemblance to Amamiya Nadeshiko. And Prince Siegfried with his dark hair and blue eyes resembled Li Ryuuren. The first painting of the series portrayed a serene lake in the midst of the deep woods with pure white swans afloat. The second painting portrayed the Prince glimpsing the swans transform into beautiful maidens in white under the pale moonlight.
beautiful,” Meilin murmured in awe. “Shing-san is so amazing. How does the
Miho cleared her throat and began, “Once, an evil sorcerer name von Rothbart casts a spell on Princess Odette and her maidens, turning them into swans by daylight. Only by nightfall do the maidens return back to their human form. One day, Prince Seigfried chances upon the lake where the swans reside. He witnesses the transformations of a swan into a beautiful princess. When he asks her about her strange transformation, the Princess relays to him the circumstance of her curse. The Prince falls in love with the beautiful Odette and invites her to the ball. At the ball, a beautiful princess that looks like Odette appears. But it actually is sorcerer von Rothbart’s daughter Odile, disguised to look like Odette. Odette arrives later to see her prince dancing with Odile, vowing his love to her. She rushes off back to the lake, heartbroken. Siegfried chases after Odette and apologizes to her for his mistake. However, it is too late. Odette realizes that the sorcerer’s spell can never be broken because Prince Siegfried vowed his love to Odile instead of Odette. The two lovers then jump off a cliff in a double-suicide. The sorcerer is destroyed by this act of sacrifice.”
Meilin’s bottom lips trembled. “It’s a tragedy then?”
“Well, lots of ballets are tragedies,” remarked Miho. “But there are several endings to the ballet. In some versions, they say the two lovers rose out of foams and the curse was broken because of the Prince’s true love for Odette. In other versions, only Odette jumps from the cliff after learning she is cursed to remain a wan forever, and the Prince is left heartbroken. Still in another version, the two lovers jump off the cliff and two swans rise up and fly off together.”
“So what is the real ending?” asked Meilin.
Shrugging, Miho replied, “Who knows.” She walked up to the last painting in the series. “Betrayal.” Something about the ambiance of this painting was similar to the one that had been exhibited in the “Angel and Warrior” series, with Li Ryuuren pointing a sword at Amamiya Nadeshiko. While Shing usually portrayed lots of light and an ethereal beauty in his paintings, this painting was rough and showed a bleak and gray cliff with a thunderous black sea below. A blurred figure in white stood atop the cliff. She noticed that Sakura looked a little pale as she saw the last painting.
“You know, I read in the pamphlet that Shing-san said in an interview he was not able to complete this collection,” stated Meilin, holding up the pamphlet. “I wonder what he means. The collection looks pretty complete to me.”
Miho shook her head and pointed to the empty space next to the last painting. “He didn’t know how to end the story. Each storyteller, artist, director has their own version. But Shing-san was obviously conflicted. See how the tone of the paintings, the brushstrokes, the techniques are so different from each piece to piece. That oil painting of Odette there dancing in the woods is surreal and angelic, but there, Von Rothbart portrayed as an owl is painting almost in monochrome colors and the paint is layered and thick. But then, look at the sorcerer’s eyes. Why are they so human and sad? It’s like in this version, Von Rothbart was also in love with Odette. After all, it is never clear why Von Rothbart cursed Odette in the first place. And Siegfried in some pictures looks everything like a gallant prince. But in that last frame, he seems to be in some sort of agony. Odette looks different in each painting. There, she looks remarkably like Nadeshiko-san. But in the last frame, she looks like a different woman. It’s like Shing-san couldn’t decide where he wanted to go with this collection, what story he wanted to tell.”
“You know an awful lot about paintings,” mused Meilin.
really,” replied Miho sheepishly. “My whole family has been into art, and I
grew up going to a lot of museums. And Eriol took me to museums all over
“I still think it’s fascinating that Shing-san was friends with your mother and Syaoran’s father,” stated Meilin. “He also knew Miho’s mother, didn’t he?”
“I wonder if he knew my father as well,” stated Miho. “I always thought Shing-san was a lot older.
“No, he’s only a couple years older,” replied Sakura. “I think he was an art student in college when he first met my mother. He didn’t even know that Ryuuren-san and my mother had passed away and said that the last he heard from Ryuuren-san was when Ryuuren-san sent him the sapphire ring.”
“Why did Syaoran’s father send Shing-san the sapphire ring if it’s one of the Five Force Treasures?” asked Meilin.
“I guess because it reminded him of Nadeshiko-san,” replied Miho. “What I don’t understand is how Shing-san did not know anything that happened to Nadeshiko-san and Ryuuren-san afterwards. If he was that close a friend that Ryuuren-san sent him the Five Force Ring, you would think he would have stayed in touch with him until he passed away or at least heard the news after.”
Meilin shrugged. “The few times I met him, he seemed a little loopy. Aren’t all artists a bit like that, anyway? Absentminded and detached from the real world. What I find odd is why Kai stole the “Thief of the Night” painting from Shing-san. After all, it isn’t like Kai to do something without a reason.”
“Maybe he is just a narcissist who wants to have his own portrait by the best artist of this generation,” replied Miho wryly.
that’s in character for Kai-kun,” said Sakura. “You know, I just realized
Kaitou Magician stole the sapphire ring from Shing-san when we were there in
her eyes, Meilin replied, “I won’t be surprised if he’d been stalking out his
little sister all the while she was in
chance,” muttered Miho, crossing her arms. “Ah,
”Not so fun for Sakura-chan. She was being chased by the Stalker and haunted by the Phantom,” remarked Meilin. “Made you even suspicious of Syaoran for a while.”
“Speaking of Syaoran-senpai, have you seen him recently?” asked Miho.
“No, why?” asked Sakura slowly.
“Aki-senpai said that his friends at Eitoukou are pretty annoyed that Li-senpai’s been missing so many soccer practices recently, since he is their ace player,” remarked Miho. “Not that I think you would care or anything.”
Sakura smiled tightly. “You’re right. It really is none of my business what he does.” She glanced at her watch. It was half past five. “Well, I’m going to head on back home.”
“You won’t stay for dinner at the new deli?” asked Meilin.
Shaking her head, Sakura replied, “No, I should be getting back.”
of getting off the bus stop near her house, she got off the next stop at
felt nostalgic walking by the park on a winter’s afternoon, when the setting
sun dyed the sky a deep orange-gold. Sakura glanced at her watch; it was 6 pm.
And there he was leaning against the back of a bench, waiting. As he always had
been, like that autumn afternoon when she had been turned into a five-year-old
by the Age, like that summer in
more, Sakura and Syaoran faced each other in
“Hey,” said Sakura stiffly, not sure how to address Syaoran. She did not feel comfortable calling him by his first name any more. But she could not bring herself to call him “Li-kun” or “Li-san.” That sounded too formal and just odd.
Syaoran stared at her with sad amber eyes, as if he knew that she did not know what to call him. “Hey.”
“What are you doing here?” she asked. “It’s far from your neighborhood. Don’t tell me you couldn’t find a playground in Eitoukou either.”
The corner of his lips turned up ever so slightly. “As a matter of fact, I couldn’t.”
“Well, what brings you here to Tomoeda?” asked Sakura.
said to meet you at
Suddenly, all the anger that she had bottled up since her memories had returned erupted. “That was a week ago. I said to meet at six in the morning, before school started.”
didn’t hear the rest of it. I only heard
Sakura stared at Syaoran in his black wool coat and cable-knit green scarf covering his Eitoukou uniform of black and gold. He must have come here straight after school. “I just wanted to return your homework. But it’s too late anyway. I hope it didn’t cause too much of a problem for you.”
“Oh.” So that was it. Sakura wanted to return his silly essay on the Tale of Genji. Syaoran sighed. He had never rewritten that essay and received a zero. Well, literature class had never been his forte. “I rewrote it. So that was it?”
“Yeah. Well, can I have my history notes back?” Sakura held out her hand.
Syaoran stared at her blankly.
“You don’t have it with you?” Sakura sighed. “Forget it. I’ll copy Tomoyo-chan’s. That might just be quicker since finals are next week.”
“Sorry. I had it with me on Monday. But I changed my bag today,” stammered Syaoran. “I can mail it to you or—“
“By any chance…” Sakura paused. There’s no way... “You weren’t waiting here every day at six for the past week?”
Syaoran kicked the sand. “It’s on your way home. I figured you were bound to turn up one of these days.”
“Are you stupid? What if I didn’t show up today? What would you have done if I didn’t come?” Sakura demanded.
“I would have waited all night until you did,” he replied with a crooked smile.
At this, Sakura felt her throat choke up. When she had been caught by the Age, Syaoran had waited for her all day long as well. She thought he had already left, but he had been waiting all along. He had answered the same way then. Did he too remember that conversation? Sakura stared hard at Syaoran. Why, oh why did he have to show up now just when she had hardened her resolve?
“Just kidding. I was about to leave when the next bus came. Soccer practice ends for the season today. If you hadn’t shown up today, I would have stopped coming,” replied Syaoran.
“Why did you come?” asked Sakura in a strained voice.
“Didn’t you have something to tell me?”
“I thought you had something to tell me. The phone call got cut off,” said Sakura.
“Sorry about that. The Li estate’s telephone lines were installed back in the Meiji era, it seems.”
you don’t have to make excuses to me anymore. Sakura squinted her eyes as the crimson sun sank below the
branches. And finally, she realized why she had felt this dangerous unease
every time she bumped into Li Syaoran. Why she always waited for him even now,
why in a crowd when near Eitoukou, she always turned her head when she saw a
brunette boy, why in the still of the night, she still slept with her cellphone
by her side, why when the mail came, she sorted through it first, waiting and
waiting. Eron was right; he had seen a part of her that she had tried to deny,
or perhaps, had not been aware of. She realized why she had come to
“What is it?”
“Is he… really the Li Leiyun that you told me about, the cousin that was in line to become the Chosen One and then perished in mission?” Sakura saw Syaoran’s jaw line turn tense.
“Leiyun was not dead, after all,” Syaoran replied stiffly. “He was just in a position where he could not return nor communicate with the Clan.”
Syaoran’s surprise, Sakura smiled, the first real
smile she had given him since he had returned to
And Sakura saw that same gentle look come over Syaoran’s amber eyes. “Yes. I was surprised. But I was glad, so glad that he was not dead, after all. Even though he is… different. You need to know that he was not always like this. I—”
“It’s all right. You don’t have to say anymore,” said Sakura. “I understand. I don’t forgive you. But I understand why you have to be on Leiyun-san’s side. So, this is it.”
“What do you mean?”
Sakura tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear. “You know, Li Syaoran, I always thought that if anything, we will always stay friends, precious, dear friends. But I realized, I can’t be friends with you. I can’t maintain friendship with someone who has taken the Sakura Cards from me, to someone who has lied to me and broken my trust. You are the last person I would have wanted as my enemy. But you once told me that you will make your own choices. Well, it seems pretty clear to me that you have made your decision.”
Syaoran did not know when the next time he could be alone with Sakura again without Kara or Jinyu or Leiyun watching was. It could be tomorrow, or it could be next year. “No, it’s not like that—“
“I’m not going to deny it. Li Syaoran, you were once a very important person to me, so I want you to be happy and successful. I don’t reproach you for choosing your family. You loyalty is a part of you that I have always admired, after all. So, don’t hold back. I’m going to get the Cards back by force if that is what it takes. There will be inevitably a day when you will have to draw your sword against me. When that day happens, I will fight you for real and defeat you.”
“Don’t say such dangerous words.” Syaoran stared at the slender girl standing in front of him, green eyes blazing, feet planted firmly on the ground, so unlike that little ten year old girl who had trembled under his glare the first time he had met her. “I will never be your enemy.”
“It’s too late already,” said Sakura staidly. We were once rivals, then friends. And once, we might have been something more. But now we are none of those. “From this day forth, pretend like you don’t know me. Do not call my name. We are strangers. That will be the best for the both of us.”
“Saku—Kino—“ Syaoran trailed off with no name to call the stranger standing in front of him.
And Sakura stared at him with narrowed green eyes. “That’s all. That’s what I wanted to tell you.”
“So be it then,” he said. Slowly, he turned around. “Good bye.” He walked out towards the street, leaving Sakura standing next to the swing sets.
He was surprised when she suddenly called out, “I have one last question to ask.”
“Were you… did you enter the Fantasy by any chance?” asked Sakura.
“No,” replied Syaoran coolly, not turning around. “What makes you think that?”
Sakura gazed at Syaoran with masked green eyes. “I was pretty sure I sealed the Memory while I was inside the Fantasy. But I don’t seem to have it with me. Perhaps I was mistaken.”
“I guess you were.” And then he left as the sun sank over the horizon, casting a violet darkness over the park.
Sakura glanced over at the tree that she had tied Syaoran’s essay to. The paper had shriveled up and yellowed after the rainfall the night before, but it was still hanging on the tip of the branch. And next to it was a pink ribbon tied on the branch, swaying gently in the breeze.
then on, Sakura took care to take the road that did not pass by
“Eron-kun, can I borrow your history notes?” asked Sakura, taking her seat next to Eron in the classroom. “I lost my notebook.”
“Sure,” said Eron. “When did you lose it? You took such careful notes—it’ll take forever to copy them over again. I’ll make a photocopy of my notes.”
“Really? You’ll be a lifesaver then!” exclaimed Sakura with a smile.
Eron smiled back at Sakura. Very little brought that beautiful smile to her face. If only he could keep her happy. The time he spent with Sakura was always blissful. It was just everything in between. He knew not what or whom she thought of when her head was turned from him.
“Aww, those two are so cute together,” murmured Naoko with a sigh. “I wish I have a handsome, considerate boyfriend like Eron-kun.”
“I’m really surprised how well they get along together,” remarked Chiharu, leaning back on her chair, legs crossed. “Do you remember how she and Li-kun used to fight all the time?”
“Nobody fights as much as you and Yamazaki-kun,” stated Naoko.
“But you can see in Eron-kun’s eyes how much he cares for Sakura-chan,” stated Risa.
“And I was so sure he was the bad-guy,” stated Takashi pensively, leaving over Chiharu’s shoulder.
“Oh, you and your conspiracy theories,” said Chiharu, rolling her eyes. “How many times do I have to tell you that the Chang twins are not aliens from outer space come to earth to take over the world and defeat Sakura and her super rangers?”
wait and see. One day, the twins will reveal their true form and fly up in a
saucer from the top of
Chiharu banged her forehead on her desk, and Risa patted her back. “Well,” Risa began. “I like this version better than the twins being blood-thirsty vampires theory.”
“Really?” Naoko sighed. “I liked Yamazaki-kun’s clone-attack theory better.”
“Well, then again, you’re the only one who believed Takashi’s silly theory last year that mysterious transfer student Mizuki Kai was Kaitou Magician in disguise,” stated Chiharu.
They all burst out laughing.
For lunchtime, Miho snuck into the high school building again. She could not help peeping into class 2-2.
“Your brother is not here,” stated Tachibana Rei upon spotting the younger girl.
“I-I’m not looking for him!” stammered Miho.
“He hasn’t been attending classes for two weeks now,” Rei stated. “Is Mizuki-kun all right?”
“Why wouldn’t he be?” replied Miho with a forced smiled. She bowed and quickly hurried down the corridors to the freshmen classes where Meilin and Sakura were waiting for her. It was too cold to eat outdoors now, so they sat on the stairwell.
“Have you heard from onii-chan lately?” Miho asked Meilin.
Meilin shrugged. “I sometimes hear him next doors late at night. We’re not exactly talking at the moment, you see.”
“You know, you’re about the one person he listens to,” said Sakura. “I really don’t know why he’s going about as Kaitou Magician again—“
“Has he even stolen anything?” said Miho. “It’s like he’s just parading his name around in the news to let everyone out there know he’s still around. Kaitou Magician is so last year!”
“But the media is gobbling it up,” Meilin said. “The news channels and papers love to report about him—it’s as if they don’t have anything better to report!”
“Hmm…” Miho stroked her chin. “That in itself is an interesting theory.”
“What?” Meilin blinked. She sometimes forgot the younger girl had spent the past five years under the guidance of the cryptic Hiiragizawa Eriol.
Miho crossed her arms and stated, “You know, it’s all very strange. Onii-chan told me last spring that my father was murdered. Why would he say that?”
“Perhaps he wanted you to find out who the murderer is and bring about justice,” stated Meilin.
“You know, once, onii-chan brought me to an unmarked grave at Eitoukou. He told me it was ‘Tanaka Mikai’s’ grave. At that time, I thought he did it to make me believe his words. But now that I think about it, I feel like he wanted to show me that grave for a reason. Do you know whose grave it is?” asked Miho.
Sakura shook her head. She did not know what Miho was talking about.
“I know which grave you’re talking about,” Meilin replied slowly. “When I first saw the grave, I thought it was his father’s, or perhaps a former love. But he once told me it was a friend’s.”
“Aki-senpai had a theory that there are two Kaitou Magicians. The original one. And onii-chan,” said Miho.
“Do any of us even now how Kai-kun spent the three years between when he ran away from home and debuted as Kaitou Magician?” Sakura asked. They all turned to look at Meilin.
Meilin shrugged. “He never speaks much about his past, especially not about what he did when he left home. I feel like those are times he doesn’t want to talk about. And I can’t bring myself to ask.” A sour smile came to her lips. “There probably is one person who would know.”
Miho blinked. “Kamura Karin-senpai was a childhood friend. I would be surprised if she knew anything about what onii-chan did after she left Eitoukou.”
“I think she is somehow related to the grave,” Meilin said.
“I’m pretty sure she is,” stated Aki.
“Aki-kun!” exclaimed Sakura, jumping.
“I didn’t mean to barge in. But this is a case that I too am invested in,” Aki stated. “Asuma-nii-san once told me it is best not to meddle in the affairs of the Li’s. But I want to know the truth behind the bankruptcy of Kinhoshi Software and Technology.”
“It’s because otou-san was in debt,” stated Miho.
“And Uncle Fujishika wanted the Mirror of Truth,” said Sakura bitterly.
“But why did Kinomoto-san want the Mirror of Truth?” Aki stated. He quickly added, “Not that I don’t know all the legends behind it or anything.”
Miho rolled her eyes. “Is it really okay to be discussing these sort of things in front of Aki-senpai?”
“Oh please, I haven’t spent the past three years being in the same class with Sakura-chan with my head in a bucket,” Aki stated. “Naoko-chan and the others have told me about the strange things that happened since fifth grade.”
“Hoe-e.” Sakura’s head drooped. So much for being discreet.
“I really don’t care much for anything happening in the metaphysical level. But in terms of the Kinhoshi zaibatsu, our family does business with them too, so it is important for me to know what they deal with.” Aki paused. “Doesn’t it strike you odd that Kinomoto Fujishika struck down on Tanaka Keisuke-san, Miho’s father, so hard?”
“What do you mean?”
“I tried searching Tanaka Keisuke-san’s files. He came out completely clean. Granted he was young and someone who was planted there through family ties, Tanaka-san was an honest, good-hearted man, well-liked by everyone. He never had debt, he was never involved in any sort of fraud or embezzlement. Yet, what did Kinomoto Fujishika gain from striking down on Tanaka Keisuke?”
“He wanted the Mirror of Truth,” said Miho.
“Is that it though? True, the Mirror is a national heirloom, perhaps priceless. But the Kinomotos are already wealthy. Kinomoto Fujishika is a smart man. He would not risk angering the Tanaka Group just because he himself coveted the Mirror,” said Aki. “The Kinomotos had nothing to gain from the Software Company filing for bankruptcy unless there was another backup source to balance the cost.”
“Are you saying there was a shadow master behind the Kinomotos?” asked Miho.
“Yes. Somebody else wanted the Mirror, someone who probably knew its true worth. Someone Kinomoto could not refuse.”
“Hence Kinomoto Fujishika concocted a plan to destroy Tanaka Keisuke and confiscate his assets, including the Mirror,” murmured Meilin.
“Who is so influential that the Kinomotos could not refuse?”
Aki stared at Meilin pointedly.
“What, I’m sick of everyone always accusing the Li Clan!” exclaimed Meilin. Then she sighed—Aki had a point.
“Onii-chan kept leaving me hints. The unmarked tombstone, Shing-san’s painting of Kaitou Magician. Telling me ‘Tanaka Mikai’ was dead. What is the meaning of it all?” Miho said.
“If the isolated hints do not make any sense, try tying everything together and see what is the connecting link between these factors,” replied Aki, like the journalist he was.
“Eriol once told me a strange thing,” Miho stated. “That deep inside, onii-chan wanted to be caught. That’s why he has been giving me all these clues.”
Meilin remained silent. Up until recently, Mizuki Kai, no, Tanaka Mikai, had no will to even live. She had foolishly convinced herself that Kai had really left behind his old ways when he underwent the operation to remove the bullet in his chest. Deep inside, Meilin had a feeling if she sat down and asked Kai what he was planning, he might give her a somewhat truthful answer. But she could not ask him because if she did, she was afraid of what truth she would learn.
“Miho-chan, I’m sorry for bringing this up, but how did your father pass away again?” Meilin asked.
died in a car accident in
“In Hong Kong?”
“Yes.” Miho stared at her feet. “That’s what they told me.”
When Sakura checked the postbox before she left for school in the morning, she found a brown parcel without any address. She opened it. It was her history notebook. For a moment, she was tempted to run out on to the streets and see if he was still there, lingering. Instead, she headed towards school.
First period was history class, and Sakura took out her notebook. It was strange to think that this notebook had been in Syaoran’s possession for the past week, and suddenly, the notebook no longer seemed to belong to her anymore.
“You found your history notes,” remarked Eron.
“Um, yeah. I don’t have to borrow your notes after all,” stated Sakura with a smile.
Eron quickly slid the copies he had made of his notes back into his desk. “That’s good. Where did you find it?”
“Oh… It was at home. I misplaced it,” said Sakura, wincing slightly. Again, she was lying to Eron. Not exactly lying, but definitely withholding. Why did she not feel comfortable confiding with Eron that she had met Syaoran, that she wouldn’t see him anymore, that he had taken her notebook by mistake that day at the library when she had been actually waiting for Eron?
“I see Tomoyo is absent today. The fashion show is tomorrow—I guess she’s busy preparing,” said Eron.
“You’re coming, right?” said Sakura. She handed him the ticket. “Here’s your ticket—it’s open to public but there are limited seats and it fills up quickly.”
“I’ll support you of course,” Eron said. “What’s your favorite flower?”
Sakura stared at Eron and blinked.
“That’s not a hard question,” Eron said with a little chuckle. “Don’t you have a favorite flower, miss-named-after-a-flower?”
Before she realized what she was saying, she blurted out, “Chinese peonies.”
Sakura was surprised to find her brother and Yukito’s shoes at the doorway when she returned home from school. She had not expected anybody at home already. Her brother had even cooked up dinner.
“Yukito and I will be taking photos tomorrow,” said Touya, munching on a crispy potato croquette.
“Don’t you have work?” asked Sakura. “You’re spending an awful lot of time home these days.”
Yukito exchanged a glance at Touya. Touya shook his head. Now was not the time to tell Sakura about losing his residency position at the hospital. For the time being he had not even moved out of his dorm room shared with Yukito.
Pouting, Sakura stated, “You really don’t have to come.”
“And miss the sight of my little ogre stomping down the stage?” Touya chuckled. “Never.”
“Hoe-e.” Sakura turned to her father. “Otou-san, will you be coming as well?”
“Yes, Sonomi-san and I will be there,” replied Fujitaka with a smile, glancing at the picture of Nadeshiko in a yellow sundress on the kitchen counter. “Who knew Sakura-san would become a model too?”
“It’s for a student design show,” replied Sakura sheepishly. “I just hope I can do justice to Tomoyo-chan’s designs.”
“Good luck with that,” muttered Touya.
“He’s just teasing. You’ll do fine, Sakura,” said Yukito.
Sakura sighed. “By the way onii-chan, what is my favorite flower?”
“How should I know?” asked Touya. “It’s always been cherry blossoms, hasn’t it?”
“Oh.” Sakura picked at her croquette with her chopsticks. “And my favorite color?”
“Pink and white,” replied Touya. “Otou-san and I bought you everything in pink and white when you were little.”
“Oh, I always thought Sakura’s favorite color was green,” remarked Yukito.
Over time, your favorite food, favorite colors, favorite flower and favorite movies change. Even your friends change. Six years ago, Sakura would never have thought Meilin would become her best friend next to Tomoyo, or that she would be friends with a thief, the reincarnation of Clow Reed and an actress. Or that she would be dating the Dark One.
would she have imagined she would be walking down the catwalk in a fashion
show. True, it was a student design contest, but it was daunting nonetheless.
Tomoyo’s driver came to pick up Sakura in the morning and drove her to the
“Oh my goodness, Sakura-chan, you look quite pallid,” stated Naoko, frowning, as she walked up to her friend.
“Naoko-chan, you’re here,” said Sakura with a weak smile. Her hair was pulled back from her face as Tomoyo had been in the midst of applying makeup on her.
“Where’s Tomoyo-chan?” asked Chiharu, setting down her bag of hair products in the female dressing room. There was a rack labeled Contestant #5 for Tomoyo’s clothes. This was the first time they saw the other contestants.
“She went out to make a phone call. It seems like Aki-kun’s not here yet,” said Sakura, spinning around in her chair.
“That’s strange. Aki-kun is usually so punctual,” Chiharu said. “Anyhow, let’s change you into your first outfit then.”
Sakura sat up from her chair, almost wobbling as she got up from her chair.
“Have you eaten anything at all today?” demanded Naoko.
Sakura stared at Naoko and chuckled sheepishly. “Now that I think about it, I don’t think I have.”
“Chiharu—go to the vending machine and bring Sakura something to eat,” Naoko said, sighing in exasperation. “You’re not going to do any good if you faint in the middle of the show.”
Nodding, Chiharu hurried out to the hallway. She spotted Tomoyo in front of the men’s dressing room, nodding and frowning on her cellphone.
“Tomoyo-chan, what is it?” asked Chiharu as Tomoyo hung up her cellphone solemnly.
“It’s Aki-kun. He’s injured,” said Tomoyo.
“I knew it. It’s from the injury from yesterday’s basketball game, isn’t it? The Eitoukou captain pushed him over and Aki-kun fell pretty hard—I swear I thought he cracked his skull or something. I thought he won’t be able to continue but Aki-kun just went on with the game.” Chiharu shook his head. “I thought he would be all right, but really, it was quite a bad fall.”
“Yeah, he said that he was fine yesterday, but this morning, he couldn’t move his head at all. They had to take him to the hospital to get an X-Ray.”
“It’s that serious?” asked Chiharu.
“I don’t know. Aki-kun said he sprained his neck and luckily it was not a fracture,” said Tomoyo. “He said that he’d be fine walking, but changing would be a problem because of his neck brace. He said he sent a replacement this way.”
“Who?” Chiharu asked. She didn’t have to ask because she looked up at the doorway, and she gasped.
this place is packed,” remarked Touya to father as they made their way down the
rows of seats in the auditorium located in the third floor of the
“Sonomi-san said she would be saving us seats,” stated Fujitaka, glancing around. His eyes met that of an elderly man with white hair and silver-framed glasses. He halted.
Touya turned around and realized who the older man was. It was his grandfather with his uncle and secretary to each side.
“Hello, otou-sama. It has been a while,” said Kinomoto Fujitaka, bowing his head down.
The older man stared hard at his son then turned around. “Yamada, who put together the guest list?” he asked his secretary.
“I’m afraid, sir, that this is an open event,” replied Yamada, bowing down.
“Humph. I told you I was not interesting in such a frivolous event,” stated Kinomoto Fujishika, walking ahead.
“Your presence is required since Shiori-sama is one of the contestants and Aoyama-sama, a cosponsor of the event, will be in attendance,” replied Yamada.
Touya saw that his grandfather had a slight limp ever since his stroke a couple months ago even though the old man still carried himself upright and stiffly. He thought he heard his father sigh, but Fujitaka showed no reflection of his thoughts on his face as he went ahead and greeted Tomoyo’s mother.
“What a stubborn old man,” muttered Touya, watching his grandfather take a seat in the front row. Yukito patted his back sympathetically.
Chiharu and Tomoyo stared up at the doorway to the backstage to see none other than Li Syaoran.
“What’s the emergency?” asked Syaoran, panting. His hair was disheveled and coat unbuttoned as if he’s been running. He had loose change gripped in his hand as if he had just gotten off a taxi. “What happened to Sakura?”
“What are you doing here, Li-kun?” Chiharu asked.
“Aki-kun. I bumped into him in the hospital. He was
injured, and he told me that Sakura and Tomoyo were in an emergency situation
and to go to the
“Great. Perfect timing,” said Tomoyo, all matter of business now. “I guess you’re Aki-kun’s replacement then.”
“As a model for the Young Designer Contest,” replied Chiharu, hands on hips. “Tomoyo-chan is a finalist. Of course, you would have known that Li-kun if you didn’t betray us and go to our rival school.”
For a second, Syaoran stared at the two girls in puzzlement. “So let me get this correct. Nobody’s in danger. And you expect me to model in this contest thing?” Syaoran crossed his arms. “Oh no, I refuse to take part in any more of your schemes after all that I’ve been through—“ Chiharu had already had shoved him along into the men’s dressing room and held up a pale green jacket against him.
“Please, Syaoran-kun. I know it’s a big favor to ask. But there really is nobody else at this moment,” said Tomoyo. “And this means a lot for me.”
Syaoran’s eyes met Tomoyo’s eyes. “This is something important to you?” Tomoyo nodded. “Well, if it’s that important to you. So, what do I have to do now?”
Soon, Syaoran was changed into the first outfit for the theme of “casual wear.” He stood stiffly in the center of the room as the four other male models watched the newcomer in exasperation. Syaoran recognized one of the guys to be an Eitoukou High senior who was a fashion model and rarely came to school. He was dressed in tight red leather jeans and a ripped black shirt.
“Tomoyo-chan, it fits perfectly,” Chiharu exclaimed, circling Syaoran. “It looks as if the clothes were specially tailored for Li-kun! They always fit a little tightly on the shoulders on Aki and the sleeves were slightly too long on him.”
Tomoyo smiled surreptitiously. She couldn’t tell Chiharu that these clothes were actually tailored to fit Syaoran perfectly. Even though she had not measured Syaoran in almost a year, she had estimated his probable growth in height pretty accurately when she had begun to make her male clothes. After all, in her mind, Syaoran would always be her ideal male model.
“Now, what exactly do I have to do in these clothes?” asked Syaoran.
On the other side of the backstage, Sasaki Risa ran a brush through Sakura’s hair one last time and tied a big yellow bow around her head. Though she would never dream of walking on a stage alone in front of hundreds of people, Risa thought Sakura looked lovely in her canary yellow bell skirt and pale cotton blouse with tatted lace edges. It was time to head to the entrances to wait for the cue. They could hear the introductions being made on stage.
“Welcome to the 10th Young Designer Contest. This year, we The contestants are Yamato Masaru, age 27, who is currently working as an apprentice for Anna Sui, Fukada Hitomi, age 24, graduate of Parsons School of Design in New York City and currently works as designer for the House of Comme des Garcons, Watanabe Jun, age 22, who has studied in the Paris Institute of Fashion, Aoyama Shiori, age 20, a student of Horitsuba Design School and Daidouji Tomoyo, age 16, currently a student at Seijou Junior High and our youngest contestant ever,” stated the MC.
“What an impressive list of candidates,” murmured Nakuru to Eriol. She looked over her shoulders and blew a kiss at Touya, who scowled back at her. Yukito waved.
“I don’t know a whole lot about fashion, but it seems like Tomoyo-senpai is hugely disadvantaged,” stated Miho. “Everyone seems to be professional designers or went to some top fashion school. Only Tomoyo is a high-schooler.”
“She’ll be all right,” stated Eriol with a laid-back smile.
Many Seijou High students were also in the audience to show support for their beloved Tomoyo.
Risa peeked out the backdoor at the audience and spotted Aki in the audience, sitting next to Takashi and a couple other classmates. She hurried backstage and found Chiharu.
“What is Aki-kun doing out there?” asked Risa to Chiharu. “Isn’t he supposed to be backstage right now preparing for the fashion? And his neck is in braces! What happened?”
“He got injured in the basketball game yesterday,” Chiharu said, shaking a can of hairspray. “By the way, did anyone let Sakura know that Aki-kun couldn’t make it?”
Naoko’s mouth dropped. “I was too busy helping Tomoyo-chan with the fitting.”
“I was helping Sakura-chan change in the female dressing room,” replied Risa. “Who exactly did you get to replace Aki-kun so last minute?”
Sakura had thought backstage before the Star-Crossed production was chaotic—but it was nothing compared to the backstage of a runway. Models in various array scrambled about for loose articles of clothing as hair and makeup artists clambered after them. The designers ran about with a sewing kit and scissors for last-minute mending while the stage manager frantically tried to order people to take position.
“Female models to the right wing, male models to the left!” called out the stage manager. “Hurry, line up in order of one through five!”
Quivering from head to toe, Sakura took a deep breath and lined up next to the tall model fourth in line. The beautiful girl was a head taller than her in heels and had wide-set eyes and beautiful curly brown hair. Her skin was pale as snow and her limbs were long and graceful, like a dancer’s. She looked completely at ease on the runway—in fact, Sakura was pretty sure that she had seen the model in teen magazines before. Not only was Sakura the shortest out of the female models, but she seemed to be the only one who had not had runway experience. All four other girls were aspiring models and were completely comfortable posing and walking.
She heard cheering outside. Tomoyo was up on stage with the other contestants, and Sakura felt very alone.
Well, it can’t be worse than playing the Prince in the Sleeping Beauty play in fifth grade or doing the magazine shoot with Mike Kant at the Empire State building in New York or acting as Juliet in the junior high production of Star-Crossed, she thought to herself as the MC’s voice droned on outside. All those other times, she recalled ruefully, that person had been there with her.
to the 7th Annual Young Designer Contest. We have five talented
young designers gathered today, finalists after a long process of elimination.
Today, we have seven categories of presentation: casual, formal, swimwear,
street wear, Shing-san’s special theme, designer’s free choice and lastly,
evening gown. The contestants will be judged on technique, style and
originality.” The MC cleared his throat. “Our esteemed judges today are budding
actress Akagi Arima, a celebrity photographer that hails from
Sakura was slightly relieved that she knew all the judges on the panel except for the designer Issey Miyake. Kinomoto Hisano was her aunt. And also her father’s former love.
The music started and the first model in her tight denim shorts and patterned t-shirt filed onto stage. As she returned, the second girl went on stage. Taking a deep breath, Sakura counted and as the fourth model returned, she stepped onto the runway through the right wing. Aki was supposed to enter from the left wing. They were to meet in the center and walk down the runway together. Her vision was blinded by the glare of the stage lights. She concentrated on placing one foot in front of the other and was too nervous to even smile or look up at the crowd lined down the runway through the back of the auditorium. Though the spotlight was hot, she quivered to the tip of the yellow bow in her hair. And then, as her pupils adjusted to the glaring stage light, she caught glimpse of the boy standing in front of her. Her mouth dropped. It was not Akagi Aki at all. There he stood, so very casually with his brown hair arranged in a windblown way. He looked like he was strolling down the streets of a tropical island in beige jeans and a light green blazer over a crisp cream-colored polo shirt. She tottered, almost falling backwards before catching herself in time.
Taking a deep breath, Sakura continued walking down the runway with him by her side, the music blaring in the background. Her jaws almost dropped a second time as they reached the end of the runway, the point closest to the panel of judges, as Syaoran slipped off his blazer and casually tossed it over his shoulder, then turned around.
Sakura wobbled as she turned and tried to catch up with Syaoran’s pace. Once you fell out of beat with the music, it was impossible to get in sync again. There was a slight snicker from the backstage from the other designers.
From the audience, Meilin groaned—she was more distressed over Sakura’s uncouthly walk than Syaoran’s sudden entrance. Meanwhile, Touya and Yukito exchanged quizzical glances.
“Was that Li Syaoran just now?” asked Erika to Eron. She answered her own question. “Nah—I don’t think Syaoran’s half as good looking.” She watched Mike who was sitting in the judging panel, looking highly amused.
Meanwhile, Eron sat at the edge of his chair, quite frigid. At least to his solace, Sakura had looked quite as shocked as he did when Syaoran entered onto the stage. On his lap was a bouquet of yellow roses—he had not been able to locate Chinese peonies in this season. Besides, he was not particularly fond of that certain type of flower.
As soon as Sakura exited off the stage, she dashed towards the dressing room.
“What is he doing here?” hissed Sakura as Tomoyo rushed up to her with the next outfit.
”I’m sorry—I should have told you earlier. Aki-kun had a basketball injury—we had to replace him last minute,” replied Tomoyo.
“I can’t go on stage with him,” said Sakura as Tomoyo deftly wrapped her in a kimono and tied an obi tightly around her waist. “I just can’t.”
“I’m sorry—can you put on these accessories? I have to go check on Syaoran-kun’s outfit,” stated Tomoyo, purposefully ignoring Sakura.
“Tomoyo-chan, are you listening to me? I refuse to go on stage with that person!”
Tomoyo smiled sweetly. “I spent five months preparing for this fashion show and my fingers bled till they turned shriveled like prunes from all the sewing, but if you really don’t want to wear my clothes, I guess I cannot force you, Sakura-chan.”
“Hoe… I’ll do it—but for your sake, no other reason,” said Sakura in defeat. She pouted. “And why does he have to be better at walking than me? I’m the daughter of a model.”
Meanwhile, in the men’s dressing room, Syaoran quickly stripped off his blazer and shirt. His action elicited the stares of all the females in the room and a couple of the males as well.
you see Li-kun?” squealed Naoko as she fussed with Syaoran’s hair, something
she had only dreamed of doing. “He not only walked perfectly, but he even
posed.” She let out a gleeful chuckle. “He actually took off his jacket and
tossed it over his should and posed at the end of the runway like some
“And Li-kun didn’t even get to rehearse beforehand, but he nailed it!” exclaimed Chiharu, adjusting Syaoran’s collar and cuffs.
Tomoyo, entering the men’s dressing room, just smiled knowingly.
“Where did you learn how to walk like that, Li-kun?” asked Naoko. “Did you practice in private?”
“I’m just good at imitating movement, that’s all,” grumbled Syaoran, turning a deep red.
“It took Sakura-chan two weeks to master the walk, and she still sometimes trips on her heels though she’s usually very athletic,” said Chiharu.
“She does have an awfully clumsy side to her,” remarked Tomoyo. “Though it’s a cute aspect about her.”
“Yeah,” said Syaoran with a nostalgic smile.
The girls managed to exchange a sympathetic three-way eye contact and they sighed, staring up at Syaoran dreamily.
“Hurry and gather backstage in position!” called out the stage manager, sticking her head into the dressing room. She blushed at the sight of Syaoran shirtless and quickly shut the door again. Then she popped her head back in, turned red, and then rushed out again.
The first time she went up on stage, Sakura had been dreading tripping smack in the center of runway and falling on her face in front of hundreds of people. Now, it was ten times worse—she would fall right in front of Li Syaoran if she did trip. I absolutely cannot fall. Since the next category was “formal,” Tomoyo had chosen to dress Sakura up in a lovely violet silk kimono with pink and silver sakura prints on the sleeves and down the front. To add a modern touch, Tomoyo had embellished the neckline and the sleeves with layers of pale lavender lace and the length of the kimono fell into a longer train that trailed behind, decorated with splashes of lace and clusters of flowers. The obi that accentuated her waist was a pale pink that matched the dangling hair accessories pinned to Sakura’s hair. Her feet were in 5-inch high wooden geta and the restricting skirt did not help her with keeping balance.
The pretty model for Contestant #4 Aoyama Shiori played with her long curls. She wore a sheer blouse and a high-waisted maroon pencil skirt for a completely different take on the theme of “formal wear.” She turned to Sakura and remarked in her slightly accented Japanese, “That boy you modeled with is very cute. Where did Daidouji-san find him? Is he with an agency? I don’t remember seeing his face around.”
“He’s not from around here,” stated Sakura stiffly, playing with the sash around her waist.
“Oh, a foreigner?” the tall girl smiled. “Like me! I’m half Spanish and half Japanese.”
“I know… you’re the popular idol Olivia—I’ve seen you in fashion magazines,” said Sakura.
“I’m flattered you know my name,” said Olivia, flipping back her hair. “Well, here we go.” She walked onto the stage, head in the air.
Sakura only knew because Naoko had unfortunately pointed out all the other models were professionals. The male model with Olivia was a part of a boy idol group that was popular with teenage girls and went by the name “Kazu.” He was dressed in a velvet three-piece suit and his wavy bleached hair was probably as long as Eron’s and hung loose. As Olivia returned, Sakura walked onto the stage, careful not to trip over the train of her long kimono. The wooden clogs clopped on the slippery platform. Momentarily, she caught her breath when she saw Syaoran in a deep navy-blue haori over a steel gray kimono and hakama. Just for a brief second, she felt she was transported back into the era of the Great Five. She had never thought Syaoran would look so comfortable in traditional Japanese clothing. And she could not help but recall how he had looked so bashful as her father dressed him in the yukata she had made him years ago for the Tanabata Festival. Now, she was walking along side with Syaoran again, but under a completely different circumstance.
“You’re scowling—smile a bit,” whispered Syaoran out of the corner of his mouth.
“What are you doing here?” hissed Sakura.
“Tomoyo asked and I couldn’t refuse.” Syaoran posed at the end of the runway, a step behind Sakura. Sakura barely remembered to smile, before spinning around.
“You should have refused,” she said; she wobbled as the train got caught between her feet.
For a brief second, Syaoran caught hold of her hand until she maintained her balance and then dropped it like it was hot coal.
“You hate stuff like this,” she said.
“I couldn’t refuse when she stares up with her puppy eyes,” he said—their backs were to the audience now.
“She does that on purpose—Yukito-san or Eron-kun could have done it too.” Sakura was clearly scowling now because her face was turned from the judges.
“I’m sorry I spoiled your chance of modeling with darling Eron-kun,” muttered Syaoran.
Sakura actually snuck a glance at Syaoran. “Are you actually jealous?”
Syaoran snorted. “Do you seriously think I would be?”
The two separated and stomped towards their separate exits.
Tomoyo waited for the two backstage dabbing the corner of her eyes with a handkerchief. Sakura and Syaoran both walked up to her while trying to avoid each other.
A furious Naoko had her hands placed on her hips. “Do you two seriously want to ruin Tomoyo’s fashion show for her, the show that she put her blood and tears and months of preparation for? Can you two just do what you’re supposed to do and carry your person problems elsewhere after the show?”
“Sorry,” said Sakura and Syaoran in unison, both hanging their heads meekly in shame.
“Good. Sakura-chan, try to keep tempo with Li-kun; Li-kun, can you at least try to look like you’re modeling with Sakura-chan, not like you’re doing your own thing on stage and making it back as soon as you can,” Naoko chided.
I better step up for now, for Tomoyo-chan’s sake, thought Sakura as she quickly unraveled from her layers of kimono and changed into her swimming suit in the women’s dressing room.
It occurred to Sakura that she didn’t feel much inclined to squabble with Syaoran on the stage clad in a skimpy two-piece swimming suit, anyway. She glanced around at the other models in the dressing room. Olivia was dressed in a tight black bikini with gold accents, boasting a wonderful curvaceous figure. Her long hair was piled on top of her head and she wore black stiletto sandals. She looked every bit like a glamorous woman.
“Hoe, this is embarrassing,” said Sakura as she tried to cover her body with the sheer turquoise blue fabric that wrapped around her waist.
Tomoyo strung multiple strands of beaded necklaces of turquoise, green and silver entwined with clusters of pearls and fragments of Mother of Pearl around Sakura’s neck so that it covered much of her chest and hung down her bare stomach. “What are you talking about? You look beautiful. Syaoran-kun will trip over his feet when he sees you.”
As Sakura walked onto the runway in a sparkly turquoise bikini with a long sarong made of a translucent material that resembled waterfall cascading from her narrow waist, Touya’s mouth dropped. Sakura looked like a Greek goddess rising from the sea as the sarong swished around like foams of the ocean, revealing glimpses of her slender legs and the silver gladiator sandals that laced up her ankle. A tiny coronet fashioned out of tiny seed pearls and uncut aquamarine gems circled her head and little pearl drops also dangled when she moved her head. “What is my little sister doing unclothed in public? Doesn’t she have any shame?” He hadn’t commented when the other models came on stage in much more revealing swimwear; Sakura’s was quite modest in comparison.
“Oh Touya, you are so old-fashioned. People wear bathing suits at the swimming pool and beach all the time,” replied Yukito, snapping a photo. “Besides, she looks like a sea nymph more than anything else.”
“Don’t you dare take a picture of my little sister in a… in a…” Touya could not quite bring himself to say bikini and finally sputtered, “In a state of undress.” He barely noticed Syaoran walking beside Sakura with his bare chest and chiseled abdomen exposed under a loosely buttoned translucent white hemp tunic and dark blue breeches. Around his neck hung a necklace fashioned out of brassy chains entwined with anchor charms and seashells and a black eyepatch with golden trims covered one eye. Only Tomoyo would come up with a pirate-mermaid scheme for the theme of “beachwear.” But Touya did notice that Syaoran almost stumbled several times not because of the eye-patch but since he seemed more focused on glancing towards Sakura than towards the audience.
“That’s not the originally planned beachwear outfit, is it?” Risa asked Chiharu, as they had taken a seat in the audience with their classmates.
“Tomoyo-chan said something about Li-kun not matching the Hawaiian tropical shirt,” replied Chiharu with a smile.
“That’s true,” nodded Aki before wincing in pain from his neck brace.
“Not very practical as beachwear, but very fantastical and siren-like,” remarked Mike Kant from the judging panel, slipping out his camera and snapping some photos of the pair. Sakura looked nervous, but at least her knees were no longer knocking together.
Judge Issey Miyake nodded his head in approval. “I thought that girl was a joke, but I see why Daidouji-san picked her. She has a certain refreshing charm that is very rare on runway though her walk is atrocious.”
“Don’t you know, she’s the daughter of model Amamiya Nadeshiko,” said Shing.
“Eh, really?” Issey stated, taking a double look at the lithe green-eyed girl looking like a mermaid on land. “Nadeshiko did more of catalogues and photoshoots than runway, but there was no one who didn’t know her in our days.”
As “swimwear” came to an end, Sakura tumbled back stage, flustered. With trembling hands, she removed her accessories. The fourth outfit was “street wear,” perhaps one of her own personal favorites of the collection. Most of the models had already changed since they were up on stage earlier. Their outfits ranged from military camouflage to Harajuku style. The pretty girl with long curly hair called “Olivia” was supposedly good friends with Aoyama Shiori and thus agreed to model for the show even though she was a professional. She looked stunning in zebra-print leggings and an edgy gray vinyl tube dress.
“That’s a cute outfit there, Kinomoto-san, was it?” she remarked as she applied extra mascara. “It’s a pity about the set results. Daidouji-san seems to be a talented designer despite being so young. Too bad she won’t be considered for grand prize.”
“What do you mean, Olivia-san?” asked Sakura, dropping her stockings. “Everybody’s designs are wonderful, but I think Tomoyo-chan has as much of a chance as everyone else to win.”
Olivia stared down at Sakura with a patronizing smile. “My dear, do you seriously believe a contest like this would be all about fair opportunity. Of course, I do believe all the finalists are very qualified, at least the ones who did all the designs for themselves. I wouldn’t have agreed to take part in an amateur event if I wasn’t guaranteed the front page of all the news. Shiori is going to win, no matter what.”
Sakura held her head up high. “I think Aoyama-san’s designs are very nice, but not as good as Tomoyo-chan’s.”
“It doesn’t matter. The Aoyama Group is an important lender to the Kinhoshi Group. Shiori is the only daughter of the CEO of Aoyama Group. Since the beginning, first place was hers,” said Olivia.
“Then what’s the whole point of holding the contest and all the multiple rounds if the winner was already set from the beginning?” demanded Sakura.
“Oh, it’s all formalities and good publicity,” Shiori replied, dabbing her red lips on a Kleenex. “Though runner-up is up for grabs. I think either Watanabe Jun or Yamato Masaru has a good chance. Watanabe-san’s mother is best friends with Kinomoto Hisano-san. And Yamato-san has good connections in the fashion industry, especially with Miyake-san. Of course, Daidouji-san may also stand a chance since Daidouji Group is not an insignificant catch for the Kinhoshi Group, I would think.”
“This is a design contest. There are five judges; they will pick the best design to win,” stated Sakura.
I don’t know. Akagi Arima can’t disobey her agency, and her agency’s largest
financer is the Kinhoshi Group. Shing-san’s
After Olivia left the dressing room, Sakura changed into a black bustier top trimmed with red lace and a tartan plaid miniskirt with black lace peeping out from her underskirt. A black studded leather belt circled her waist twice and clasped into a silver buckle. She rolled up black thigh-high fishnet stockings and then fastened them to the black lace garter belt. Finally, she pulled on black leather combat boots with silver buckles. She slipped her hands into fingerless black leather gloves embedded with metal studs. Sheer adrenalin flowed inside her, brimming from her head to the tip of her toes. She had to show the audience that Tomoyo’s designs were indeed the best. There was no way Tomoyo could lose.
As Sakura waited in the right wing, she tapped her foot along with the guitar and drumbeat. Three… Two… One… She almost laughed when she saw Syaoran enter the stage from the left wing. He wore tight black jeans and a torn black shirt over which he wore a black distressed leather jacket with silver zipper trimmings. His hair was styled with gel, and he wore a metal-studded leather belt with a large rusty silver skull buckle. In the light, silver ear-cuffs glimmered and as he walked, the chains from his belt clinked together. He too wore fingerless leather gloves matching with Sakura’s. Sakura thought that Tomoyo was clearly inspired by Kai’s rocker style, however, Kai was perhaps more punk and Syaoran was borderline goth. This time, she was not thinking about falling, not thinking about Syaoran, nothing about her grandfather or the dark forces. She was purely thinking about Tomoyo’s clothes, and her clothes alone.
Metal music blasted on as Sakura walked towards Syaoran. The two met at the center of the stage then stomped down the runway in unison, posed back to back, spun around and walked back down the runway, turned and posed one more time, then split to each end of the stage. They had finally mastered the walk together.
Shing adjusted his glasses. Were they really the same pair that had walked onto stage some half hour ago? The two seemed to feed off each other’s energy and shone brighter than anybody else when in unison. They were the only non-pro models and probably the shortest and youngest of the bunch. Yet, they had what Parisians would say the “je ne sais quoi” or what he liked to call “charisma.” Tomoyo’s designs were fabulous—they always were. But what made her designs stand out was that her clothes were made to make the wearer shine, whereas other designers were all about the clothes, not the wearer.
an interesting concept for ‘street wear,’” remarked Mike Kant, tapping his feet
in beat with the music. “Only in
managed to pull off the look without making it look tacky,” drawled Issey. “But
I’m more partial to Watanabe Jun’s style—he designed something I can imagine
fashion-forward people wearing on the streets. The streamlined jacket, the
large shoulders and earth tone color scheme is what’s hot in
“We’re looking for innovation, not conformity,” said Shing.
“But we can’t pick a designer that will not fit in with the fashion world and stick out like a sore thumb,” stated Issey.
Tomoyo and Naoko waited for Sakura and Syaoan backstage in breathless rapture.
“Now, that’s what I’m talking about,” Naoko said, this time with tears of happiness. “That was wonderful, perfect.”
“I thought these clothes were tailored for Aki-kun,” remarked Syaoran, examining his leather jacket. “How do they fit me so well?”
“Sakura-chan, I didn’t know you could become so awesome!” exclaimed Naoko, wiping the sweat off Sakura’s brows with a handkerchief.
There was not time to waste though. Tomoyo ushered Syaoran off to change in the men’s dressing room.
Naoko held her agenda list. “Next category, models enter in pairs on the stage. You and Li-kun will enter from the right stage together when Olivia and Kazu turn around. Okay?”
Sakura nodded. She changed into a white dress trimmed with black ribbons. A lace bodice wove diagonally from her right chest down to her left hip and the skirt flared out asymmetrical and longer in the back. Black Venetian lace peaked out from the bottom. She pulled on black and white vertically striped stockings and slipped her feet into high-platformed rocking-horse ballerinas, lacing up the white ribbons up her ankle. A little white top hat with a black band was perched on the side of Sakura’s head and pinned into place. Tomoyo sighed in satisfaction as Syaoran came out of the dressing room looking sharp in a white military jacket with black trimmings and silver buckles over white pants—this was her personal favorite theme.
“Grandfather is in the audience. I cannot face him after what happened the other day,” said Sakura. “I heard something very strange from one of the models. About the judging of the contest.”
Syaoran watched Sakura out of the corner of his eyes. “I heard some stuff backstage too, from Kazu-san.”
“Don’t pay attention to anyone,” said Tomoyo. “Nothing makes me happier than seeing you two wear my clothes. I don’t care about the results.”
“Wait, you knew about the bribery of the judges?” Sakura asked. “How can you be okay with that? You worked so hard. And you’re designs are better than everyone else’s.”
“Shh, Sakura-chan. Don’t worry about anything. I want you to wear my clothes and shine.” Tomoyo drew a three-meter long narrow red ribbon from her pocket and tied one end around Sakura’s right pinky finger.
“What are you doing?” asked Sakura, holding up her pinky finger with the long ribbon dangling from it.
“The next theme is ‘love,’ chosen by Shing-san,” replied Tomoyo.
The judges did not know what to expect from the next theme which was an abstract notion rather than a concrete style. Eron leaned back in his chair, arms crossed. It was almost worth the annoyance of seeing Syaoran on stage to see a side of Sakura he had never seen before. Sakura was one of those people who shone the more people loved her and supported her. She did not let it get to her head but instead, tried even harder.
“You chose a difficult theme, Shing-san,” remarked Mike, tapping his pencil on his judging sheet.
“I’ve been looking forward to this one,” remarked Arima with a little smile. It was hard for her to be impartial when she so absolutely adored Sakura and Syaoran.
The first couple came on stage in modernistic white, consistent with Yamato Masaru’s style, the man in a white tuxedo and the woman in a short, billowy-skirt wedding dress. A small veil covered her hair.
“Refreshing designs, but a clichéd idea,” murmured Mike.
Fukada Hitomi’s models reflected a hippie theme as her female model wore an ashen-rose mauve floral print off-the-shoulder tunic over faded embroidered bell jeans. Multicolored beads hung around her neck and a sequined headband circled her head. The male model also wore bell jeans with messy hair loose to his shoulders and a t-shirt with a peace sign.
“Very Bohemian chic and romantic,” remarked Kinomoto Hisano, nodding in approval.
Watanabe Jun’s forte was avant-garde haut couture, and he took the liberty to design a futuristic silver piece with a wide-shouldered silhouette.
“I don’t know where he’s going, but Watanabe is a visionary designer,” remarked judge Issey.
Aoyama Shiori’s design caught the audience’s attention as both her models entered on stage in an array of flaming red. Olivia was by far the most popular model in the room and was greeted by loud cheering as she sashayed down the catwalk in a flamenco-dancer-inspired red-sequined gown. Her lips were painted a deep crimson and a large red flower was tucked behind her ear.
“Passion. Aoyama’s design defines love as fiery passion,” murmured Shing, nodding in approval.
Last, Sakura and Syaoran walked down the stage in their white and black apparel. A long red ribbon trailed down from around Sakura’s pinkie and the other end lead to Syaoran’s left pinky. Together, they sailed down the runway, the red ribbon floating behind them and in unison, they turned around.
“I don’t get it,” remarked Kinomoto Hisano, frowning. “Why white and black for love?”
“It’s to offset the red ribbon of fate,” remarked Shing, leaning his chin against his hand. “Daidouji Tomoyo doesn’t merely show love. She is expressing ‘destiny’ for this theme. White and black expresses yin and yang—together they make a whole.”
“Eh, I didn’t think it was that deep,” remarked Mike. “What is this red ribbon thing you Japanese are so fond of.”
“They say that soul mates have their pinkies tied together by a red ribbon of fate,” replied Arima with a whimsical smile.
second to last theme was “free-choice” meaning designers were given the liberty
to design what ever they pleased. Each designer had his or her unique style.
Watanabe Jun liked streamlined modernistic silhouettes. Fukada Hitomi was more
The judges eagerly awaited Tomoyo’s design. When Sakura and Syaoran did emerge on stage, the judges and audience all did a double-take. Syaoran was dressed in a forest green Chinese traditional robe with gold embellishments while Sakura wore a pink dress bedecked with ribbons and lace under a cherry pink cape very reminiscent of her earliest Card Captor battle outfits. In her hand was a pink staff with a tip shaped like a beak, a replica of her very first “bird staff.”
“A wand?” commented Mike.
“More like a magical staff,” Shing remarked.
“Are the two outfits supposed to match?” said Issey, frowning.
“It’s seems like a battle-outfit,” stated Arima. “You know, inspired from Daidouji’s Tomoyo award-winning student film entitled ‘Card Captor Sakura and Friends.’ “
“Oh, I remember that film,” said Mike. “From the Talented Young Director Contest.”
“That girl also makes films?” Issey asked with newfound awe.
Meilin and Miho exchanged amused looks from the audience—how like Tomoyo to choose such familiar outfits for her “original concept.” This was the second outfit Tomoyo had altered since rehearsals with Aki. Even Eriol seemed slightly nostalgic for the olden days when he had fun torturing his cute little relative and the Card Mistress.
And to Sakura and Syaoran, their battle outfits were their uniforms, the most comfortable clothes they can imagine. They confidently walked down the stage. When they reached the edge of the catwalk, Syaoran drew his sword-replica from its sheath and then did a simple attack stance. Meanwhile, Sakura twirled her staff up in the air and deftly caught it and the two posed back-to-back for five seconds before turning around and walking back down the stage. The upbeat music came to an end.
There was a loud applause as the floor lights turned on. Now, there was a ten-minute intermission before the final outfit and judging. The models backstage were frantically preparing for the last theme, “evening wear.”
“Well, seems like the contest is pretty much decided,” stated Issey Miyake. “We have a clear winner. Aoyama Shiori’s designs are not only original but very wearable. I can see lots of women buying her designs.”
“But Daidouji Tomoyo’s designs are by far the most creative,” stated Arima. “Did you see her workmanship? I’m amazed that she could produce 14 full outfits of that finesse in a couple months.”
“Her designs are flamboyant and rather unsuited for the current fashion industry,” stated Kinomoto Hisano, hands folded primly on her knees.
“What are you talking about? I can see many young girls—and boys—embracing the uniqueness of the outfits,” stated Arima in indignation. “And that white and black dress—without the accessories, I can see myself wearing it for a movie premier or a cocktail party without a problem. Or that cute tartan skirt and the headband for the first outfit. Each article of clothing has so much structure and thought put into it.”
“Her designs are haute couture and not very translatable to prét-a-porter,” remarked Mike.
Arima glared at her friend. “This is a best designer contest, not some generic ready-to-wear design contest. I am disappointed that you all do not recognize the sheer ingenuity of Daidouji Tomoyo’s designs.”
“I found her outlook rather childish and costume-like myself,” stated Issey with a shrug. “Aomoya-san or Watanabe-san portray a coherent theme and are compatible with the current high-fashion international runway scene. But Daidouji-san’s designs seemed all over the place to me. From denim to kimono to some Halloween gimmick—I have no idea what her vision is.”
“If I may contradict you, my honorable colleague Miyake-san,” said Shing after a long silence. “On the contrary, I was amazed to find that Daidouji Tomoyo was the only contestant trying to tell a story through her designs. Her casual wear outfits with its use of a palette of bright yellow and green evokes youth and spring—innocence. For formal wear, unlike the other contestants who chose to stick to Western-style business suits, Daidouji-san chose to return to her cultural routes and designed a kimono—of course with a modern-flair—to juxtapose against her first outfit. Her third outfit evoked the ocean, also representative of rebirth, rejuvenation.”
“That was my favorite one,” remarked Mike. “It seemed like a sailor caught by a siren.”
“I rather thought it was a pirate who caught the mermaid,” remarked Arima with a smile.
“After rebirth came rebellion,” continued Shing, “With the introduction of ‘street wear,’ Daidouji-san chose a punk theme, representing anarchy and a break against tradition. After rebellion, the red thread represented destiny between two people, the bond between the two models.”
“And what is your explanation for that last outfit we just saw?” asked Kinomoto Hisano.
“Individuality,” replied Mike with a grin.
“Oh, you artists try to find hidden meaning in everything,” said Issey, rolling his eyes.
“Well, talk things over amongst yourselves. I am going to take a cigarette break,” stated Shing, standing up. It was a pity Tomoyo would not win, no matter how much he explained her designs to the other judges. Because ultimately, Arima would not be the one casting the vote but her manager who followed the orders of her agency and the other two had already been bribed by the Aoyama Group. Mike was the wildcard, it seemed.
Sakura felt lightheaded as she realized that the contest was almost over. In her mind, there was no doubt that Tomoyo was the winner—not because she was her best friend, but because Sakura believed after seeing all the clothes of each designer that they were unparallel to Tomoyo’s designs.
“Where are you going?” asked Syaoran as Sakura flung her cape onto the wardrobe racks.
“I’ve got to talk to Grandfather and sort out what I went to sort out last time,” Sakura replied.
She walked out to the front of the auditorium where the friends, family and colleagues of the contestants were mingling and debating amongst themselves what their favorite outfit of the day was. While Sakura had been on stage, she had been too blinded by the lights to spot him. But now, she could see her grandfather sitting in the front row, right behind the judging panel. Some rows back, she saw her father, brother and Yukito-san sitting. Who knew when the next time her father and grandfather would be in the same room again? She quickly through the crowd to the VIP seat where her grandfather was sitting.
“Ojii-sama,” said Sakura, facing her grandfather.
“Sakura. I didn’t fancy seeing you here, let alone as a part of the whole circus act. Like mother, like daughter.” Her grandfather looked down at her over the tip of long nose.
“Don’t you dare say anything about my mother. She was a beautiful model and brought happiness to lots of people,” retorted Sakura.
“Humph. And she broke Masahiko-san’s heart, didn’t she?” said Fujishinto. “No good comes from disobeying your family and guardian.”
“Do you know my great-grandfather?” asked Sakura.
“He is a notorious recluse. And to think he had the nerve to think a Kinomoto was not good enough for his orphaned daughter!”
Sakura frowned. “If you met my mother, you would have known how happy she made my father.”
“Beauty and youth all fade. But wealth does not,” Fujishinto replied with a thin smile.
“And what good is wealth if you have no one to share happy memories with that wealth. What good is power and fame when you are all alone? Do you seriously love anybody except yourself, grandfather?” demanded Sakura.
Fujishinto stared hard at Sakura. “I did, once, young one. I did. But that is all very long ago. People can be bought with enough money. There was once a young man, a very foolish young man. He was one of my employees, the president of the subsidiary Kinhoshi branches. He was a well-liked man, a nice, generous and kind person. But he was not a businessman. He did not know how to manage his funds. He lent money without keeping track of his returns. And his family was thrown into bankruptcy. And then, where did all his friends go? All the people that the man once helped out all turned their backs on him. He died and left his wife and two children in destitute. Nobody, not one single person, helped them out. It shows the selfish nature of humankind.”
Sakura felt a coldness rush over her. “Grandfather, what happened to that man? How did he die?”
“What does it matter? It doesn’t matter how he died so much as that he is dead.”
“Did you order him to be killed?” asked Sakura in a quiet voice.
“How dare you accuse me of such a thing?” demanded Fujishinto in a rage. “Do you know what you are saying, girl?”
“Then who had him killed?” Sakura whispered.
“I don’t know. Go ask that Li-boy that you are so fond of if you are that curious,” replied Fujishinto. Oddly enough, he did not deny that someone did kill Tanaka Keisuke.
“Yes, and that no-good Clan of his. The Kinomotos have a
reputation to uphold, whereas it’s the Li Clan that is affiliated with the
During the ten minute intermission, Miho clutched her notepad to her chest, scanning the audience for Shing. He had left the judging panel and walked off to one of the exits. Now was the perfect opportunity to score an interview with him. Just outside in the stairwell next to the auditorium, Miho found the artist Shing leaning against the railing, slowly smoking a cigarette. She coughed as she stepped into the stairwell.
“Smoking is prohibited inside the building,” remarked Miho, squinting through the cloud of smoke.
The man looked up and then quickly dropped his cigarette, stamping it out with his foot. “Sorry, you’re right about that, little girl. I’ve always meant to quit, but it’s a nasty habit that comes back whenever I’m stressed.”
“You littered,” stated Miho, pointing at the cigarette on the steps.
“Ah, you’re right.” Shing bent over and picked up the crushed cigarette butt and shoved it in his pocket. He finally turned to examine the red-haired young girl. “Have we met before?”
my name is Tanaka Miho. I am Sakura-senpai’s underclassman,” Miho stated,
bowing her head. “We met in
“Ah, yes,” said Shing, clearly not recalling her.
Miho cleared her throat. “Could you possibly grant me the honor of a short interview for the Seijou Junior High newspaper?”
“Right now?” Shing said. “Intermission will be over any minute.”
“Five minutes will be enough,” said Miho, reporter-mode.
A few minutes before intermission was about to end, Syaoran saw Sakura rush backstage, looking clearly upset.
“I saw you talking with your grandfather— are things all right?” asked Syaoran.
“It’s none of your business,” said Sakura curtly.
“It is my business so long as he is under the influence of a dark force,” replied Syaoran.
“You, you don’t have any right to say anything. You’re just the same as Grandfather,” stated Sakura, hurrying towards the dressing room.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” said Syaoran on the verge of irritation.
“Is it true that the Li Clan was involved in the murder of Miho’s father?” demanded Sakura, spinning around.
Syaoran remained silent.
“You mean, you knew this, and you didn’t say anything? And this is the Clan that you serve, that you are chosen to represent?” Sakura shook her head. “I thought I knew you pretty well, Li Syaoran, but it shows that you really don’t know a person. All this time, I really knew nothing about you or the Clan.”
“Listen, let me explain,” said Syaoran.
“I don’t want to hear anything from you any more!” Sakura ran into the dressing room and locked the door behind her.
“Let me in, Sakura,” he said through the door.
“Go away. I need to get changed,” said Sakura, determined not to cry for fear she would ruin her makeup. Her mind was a white blur. Not now. Right now, she had to concentrate on Tomoyo’s fashion show. Her hands trembled as she pulled the long silver-blue tulle evening gown over her layers of white petticoats. She stared into the mirror. The dress was surprisingly simple coming from Tomoyo, but it was elegant and beautiful. It was the last outfit, and then, the fashion show would be over. Then, she would no longer have to see Syaoran. Tomoyo and the other designers had been called up on stage for the judging. The other models already were in position backstage. Hurriedly, she tried to pull up the zipper up her back. It snagged in the fabric and got stuck. She let out a sigh of frustration. There was no one else in the dressing room to give her a hand. She struggled with the zipper that was stuck half way up. After a while, she asked. “Are you still there?”
“Yeah. Are you all right?” Syaoran asked.
Sakura pressed her back against the door. “It’s nothing. I’m fine.”
“Let me in so I can talk with you.”
“I don’t have anything to say to you.” Her voice was muffled by the door.
“But I have so much to say to you still.” They were no longer separated by the ocean, nor by a prefecture. Instead, they were just a thin plank of wood away from each other. Yet, he felt further from her than ever before.
Sakura closed her eyes, a weariness falling on her shoulders. “It’s too late. There’s nothing to listen to anymore.” Her stuck zipper was forgotten.
Fists curled into a ball as he leaned his head against the door, Syaoran said, “Please listen. I have to say this to you and should have earlier. I’m sorry, Sakura. I’m sorry. I don’t have any excuse, I know. But just hear me say this. I’m sorry.”
There was a long silence. Syaoran heard the latch unlock. But the door did not open.
“It doesn’t matter, anymore, Syaoran. So please just leave me alone.”
“Was it true when you said… when you said that you despised me?” he asked slowly.
“Yes, it was,” replied Sakura in a choked voice.
“And you will never forgive me?”
“I’m tired of this all. Let’s just stop,” said Sakura, hugging her bare arms close to her.
“I just want to know one thing.”
For a moment, Syaoran pressed his hands against the closed door. He struggled to keep composure in his voice before he finally lashed out, “Why can you forgive him for being the Dark One, our enemy, yet can’t forgive me for being a Li?”
He was referring to Eron. Sakura might have been almost pleased if she hadn’t been so furious. “Because you lied to me and betrayed me, Syaoran,” replied Sakura. “Because you out of anyone, I trusted in and believed in most.”
Slowly, the door swung open, and Syaoran walked in to see the back of her shoulders trembling. He could not see her face, but he was sure she probably wore the same pained expression he wore on his face at the moment.
Sakura turned around, her back facing him. “Don’t come any closer.”
Syaoran took another step forward.
“I told you, don’t come any nearer to me,” said Sakura, staring at the ground. She could feel Syaoran was right up behind her now. After a moment of silence she thought she could almost feel his fingers on her back, but it could be her imagination. “What are you doing?” she demanded.
“I’m fixing your zipper,” replied Syaoran, unsnagging the zipper from the fabric, careful not to actually touch her skin.
“It’s all right!” said Sakura, turning red and squirming forward. “I’ll do it.”
“Just stay still,” Syaoran said.
At that point, Sakura couldn’t do much but stand motionless, uncomfortably aware that Syaoran was standing so close behind her that she could feel the warmth of his breath tickle her neck.
He pulled the zipper right up her back. “There. Fixed. I don’t have four sisters for no reason, you know.”
“T-thank you,” said Sakura stiffly. She felt more comfortable talking to Syaoran now that she was fully dressed and zipped up. But she did not have the courage to turn around and face him.
“When did you cut your hair?” he asked, his fingers ever so gently touching the tip of her golden-brown hair at the nape of her neck. Even the slightest touch of his fingers sent a shiver down her spine.
“First day of high school,” replied Sakura. “Yukito-san cut it for me.”
“You were so intent on growing it out,” Syaoran remarked ruefully. “Like your mother’s.”
And Sakura suddenly recalled how Syaoran used to playfully tug at her pigtail. She almost regretted cutting her hair for a moment, just because she realized she would never feel his fingers run through the ends of her hair again. “It’s much easier to wash and brush in the morning,” said Sakura, more stiffly than ever. “Why do you even care whether I cut my hair or shaved it off?”
“Don’t be silly. It looks good on you. It just reminded me of old days, that’s all. Besides, any hairstyle looks good on you.”
“I’m not going to forgive you with simple flattery,” stated Sakura.
“You look beautiful in that dress though,” said Syaoran.
“Tomoyo-chan’s designs are always beautiful.”
“It’s remarkably void of ribbons and lace for a change,” remarked Syaoran with a rueful smile. Sakura really did look beautiful in the pale blue dress made out of an ethereal soft fabric. It made him feel painfully aware that they were no longer children, that she had become a woman and that he was now a man, not a conflicted boy learning about love for the first time.
“Tomoyo-chan said she had a hard time holding back,” replied Sakura with almost a chuckle. It was almost like things were normal again. But they weren’t. At this very moment, they were so close yet so far apart. Yet she realized one thing that she had been denying all along. I missed you, Syaoran.
Outside, they heard footsteps and voices.
“Models, get ready for the cue. Daidouji-san, where are you models? They are not in position!” called out the stage manager.
“We have to go,” said Sakura, pushing past Syaoran and leaving the dressing room as quickly as she could, brushing off the recollection of the phantom trail of his finger on her back and the nape of her neck.
For the final round, “evening wear,” each couple walked on stage together from the left wing and instead of returning backstage, they lined up in a row at the back of the stage to await the decision of the judges. Olivia, in an elegant Breakfast at Tiffany’s inspired shimmery black gown, and Kazu, in a black silk tuxedo, entered onto the runway. Sakura and Syaoran were the only pair left backstage now. They had around a minute before they had to enter on stage.
Sakura clutched her fists tightly, her nails imprinting on her palms. Just a little longer, and she could get away from him. She moved towards the left stage entrance, ready to standby, not meeting Syaoran’s eyes.
And just as Sakura was about to walk on stage, from behind her, Syaoran enveloped his arms around her frail form, hugging her so tightly to his chest, almost as if he was afraid that if he let her go she would melt into foam and disappear like she always did in his dreams. For a brief moment, Sakura ceased to breathe, only aware of the warmth against her back and the rustle of her petticoats against her legs. There were in the limbo in between backstage and the runway. The audience could not see them since they were concealed by the pillar of the entrance, but they were technically half on stage already.
“Let go,” she murmured. “It’s our cue soon.”
“Just a little longer,” replied Syaoran into her ears. “I might never get a chance to be alone with you again.”
“We just missed our cue.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Let go.” But she didn’t have the strength to struggle against him.
Because of the chaos that occurred afterwards and the pounding of the music, Sakura was never quite sure if she heard him correctly. But she thought he said, “I can’t explain everything, and I can’t return to you at the moment. But for once, let me be selfish. For once, let me say what I truly desire…” His words afterwards were so quiet and blurred together, she had to hold her breath to hear them.” I can’t be by your side yet, but I swear, I swear to you that I will return. So even thought it’s painful, even though I know you’re hurting, wait for me just a little longer, Sakura.”
Hot, silent tears rolled down Sakura’s cheek as she leaned into the strong arms around her. She heard the music loop over again and a wave of murmurs circulate in the audience.
The stage manager called out, “Where are the models? Aren’t they backstage? What’s keeping them?”
All she had do was reply, Yes I will wait. But she had missed that magic moment to respond to him. Sakura pulled away from Syaoran. “We have to go now.” She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, only to remember that she had makeup on and might have smudged it.
As Syaoran’s arms dropped from around Sakura’s shoulders, suddenly, the lights turned off.
“What is it?” whispered Sakura, tentatively reaching towards Syaoran in the pitch black.
“Power failure?” replied Syaoran. That special gentle plea in his voice was completely gone, and he was back to matter-of-business Syaoran. “Which is strange because a large building like this should have backup generators.”
“Dark force?” asked Sakura.
“I don’t know,” replied Syaoran, grabbing Sakura’s hand, burst onto the stage.
“Everybody, stay calm!” cried out the stage manager. “Do not panic and please stay in position! The technicians are working on getting the power back and it is important that you all do not panic or else there can be injuries.”
Grasping Sakura’s hand tighter, Syaoran dashed down the slippery runway, pushing through the other models lined up, awaiting in confusion. Even though he did not have any magic, he still had excellent night vision and intuition so he managed to keep from bumping into anything.
“What is it?” Sakura asked, pulling her long billowy skirt up with one hand and panting. “What’s wrong, Syaoran?”
Syaoran leapt down from the platform and turned around to help Sakura—but she had already hiked up her skirt and jumped down as well. His eyes scanned across the dark rows of people. Some people were holding up cellphones for light and there was a loud buzz amongst the audience.
“Who are you looking for?” asked Sakura, instinctively drawing closer to Syaoran.
Syaoran’s eyes scanned the lines of the auditorium, the back and the exits. Then, he noticed a glimmer of black steel from the left exit and a figure dressed in black.
“Sakura, it’s your grandfather!” he shouted, as he realized the direction the pistol was pointing towards.
And amidst the loud murmur of people, a startling bang shook the auditorium asunder.
There was a complete silence before someone shouted, “That was a gunshot!”
“There is a shooter amongst us!”
“It’s a terrorist attack!”
“We’re all going to die!”
The lights switched back on with an abruptly glaring brightness. There was a piercing scream.
“Oh my gosh, a man has been shot!” shrieked a woman.
“Please everybody, stay calm and do not move from your seats,” called out the security.
“I saw him. I saw the gunman try to assassinate Kinomoto Fujishinto-sama!” cried out a young man from the audience.
“No, Kinomoto-sama is all right!” called out the Kinomoto family secretary.
Sakura and Syaoran ran forward to the crowd that had formed around Kinomoto Fujishinto’s seat.
“Fujitaka-san!” cried out a woman with her brown hair pulled back into a bun, Kinomoto Hisano —Fujishika’s wife and contest judge. “Fujitaka-san!”
A stunned Fujishinto sat on the ground, staring at the sight of his second son crumpled over his legs. Fujitaka’s glasses had been knocked aside and lay shattered to the side. Blood stained the wood floor. Sakura walked up and saw the vermillion red against the paleness of her father’s skin.
Her voice was caught in her throat before she finally shrieked out loud, “OTOU-SAN!” Her legs trembled to keep her weight up. Syaoran caught her as she wobbled back.
“What happened?” he asked.
“Fujitaka—he pushed me over to save me,” said Fujishinto, trying to reach out and touch his son’s pale face with shaking hands. “Why? Why did he try to save this old man? Foolish son.”
“Otou-san!” cried Sakura, kneeling on the floor and clasping her father’s hand. It was so cold. “Otou-san, hang in there!”
“We are certified doctors, let us through!” shouted Touya, pushing through the crowd, followed by Yukito. He shoved aside the secretary Yamada-san who was hovering about. “I said, get out of the way!” He caught sight of his father sprawled on the ground, unconscious, and turned pale. “Call the ambulance, Yukito. Someone, get me a First-Aid kit.”
Meilin had been as confused as everyone else when first, Sakura and Syaoran missed their cue to enter stage, then, suddenly there was a black out. She too heard the loud bang, a sound that made her chill to the bone. When the light switched back on, she sat up from her seat and scanned the auditorium. She stared up and the saw the left wing emergency door swing shut. She jumped over the seats and then pushed towards the door and ran up the staircase; she heard footsteps above her. The door to the roof of the building swung open. Meilin leapt up the stairs two steps at a time. She reached the door and burst onto the rooftop, squinting her eyes as the afternoon sunlight glared down.
There, on the rooftop of the museum, stood a young man dressed in black, black shades covering his eyes. In his hand was a gleaming pistol.
Wish-chan (July 13, 2009—it’s actually the 14th but I’m going to pretend it’s the 13th) (ver.2):
This chapter is dedicated to a longtime reader and supporter of New Trials, Kirei Blossom. She is the founder of the Yahoo New Trials Group amongst other things and has offered much support to the development of this fanfic since its early stages. I am not exaggerating when I say that I’ve been inspired to write chapters just in order to read her awesome loooong reviews after each chapter. She is getting married in the fall and may have to leave CCS fandom for a while (I hope it’s not too long :P) Anyhow, I ended this chapter with a cliffhanger so that Kirei-chan will inevitably return as soon as possible. Actually, I’m hoping I would get to the next chapter before she does get married, since I’ve begun to write it already.
I remember I did a chapter in Arc 3 with the theme of “mother.” So, I thought it was only fair to do a chapter on theme of “father.” I think this entire chapter dealt with the theme of “father,” though it was not something I initially planned. I think this is probably the most fast-paced chapter we’ve had in a while. Everything sort of exploded at once. Well, it was only to be expected since now we’re really getting to the heart of Arc 4. I had fun writing this chapter but it was pretty crazy keeping track of so many subplots and characters. I was especially glad that this arc, I’m getting a chance to expand on Touya and crew a bit more.
I get my
chapter ideas from various things. I mentioned the “Memory Arc” was something
I’ve been planning on since the beginning. On the contrary, the fashion show
itself was inspired a year or two ago when I was in the men’s section of Banana Republic. I saw a mannequin wearing khaki pants and a
pale green blazer and thought how good it would look on Syaoran. Lol. I couldn’t resist the cheesy mystery novel-like title,
however. Please check out my “
My laptop recently crashed, and I am posting from my new laptop now. RIP my laptop of 6 years, you have served me faithfully. I just realized that though I saved most stuff, I had not backed up a lot of my artwork from the past two months, and there were A LOT of New Trials fanart. Grr.. I’m hoping I can salvage these files in the future from my old laptop when I figure out the whole XP Recovery Console business.
Lastly, HAPPY BIRTHDAY LI SYAORAN July 13, 2009!!! You are still very much and adored even if the CCS fandom and CLAMP seem to enjoy making you and all your subsequent replicas suffer!
Reader feedback is what have kept this fanfic going for a decade, and have been always cherished at email@example.com I am working on catching up with responding to backlogged emails. If I ever do not reply, please send me a gentle reminder to respond, and I apologize for my sheer scatter-brainedness. I value reader response more than anything, and I am always grateful that this certain hobby has opened me up to a group off CCS fans from all over the world of all different ages.
Please check out the New Trials Group at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/newtrialsring/ for the latest updates; I also have a new blog at http://wishluv.blogspot.com/ where you can find the latest updates for New Trials as well as other random tidbits. If you haven’t already, check out the ending I made for a hypothetical New Trials anime ending using Maaya Sakamoto’s “Strobe no Sora” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cFyZpA-9d8Y I actually made reference to the song in this chapter. Lol. Thank you so much for supporting New Trials!