Chapter 63: The Joining of the Circle
sweet aria drifted through the auditorium of the
Kinomoto Touya and Tsukishiro Yukito glanced at each other.
“Isn’t Sakura-chan and Syaoran-kun supposed to come out next?” Yukito whispered to his friend.
“Do you think something happened backstage?” Mihara Chiharu asked Sasaki Rika, brushing off Takashi’s hand as he whispered in her ears, “It’s an alien abduction.”
Tanaka Miho turned to Eriol and mouthed, “Is it a dark force?”
And then, the lights turned off. Was it a part of the show? What was going on? After a couple of minutes, a loud buzz of chatter resonated throughout the auditorium. Was this a blackout? Why wasn’t the emergency generator coming on?
And a shot resounded through the pitch blackness like a truncated thunderclap. Then, there was a silence.
Li Meilin, like everybody else in the auditorium, felt the startling bang erupt in her eardrums. Cold sweat trickled down her neck. A gunshot. She gripped her armrest expecting more gunshots. But there was only one. By now, the audience was thrown into a state of panic. Was it a massacre? A terrorist? There were shouts and cries.
But Meilin kept a level head. She lost no time scanning all the exits, six in total. She saw a shadow move towards the edge of the left aisle of the auditorium. As soon as the lights came back on, she saw the left wing emergency door swing shut as a man in black slipped away.
“Where are you going?” Miho called out as Meilin pushed through the crowds of people thrown in panic, towards the exit door.
the background, Meilin heard someone call out that Kinomoto Fujishinto,
Chairman of the Hoshi Group, had been shot. Her breath came out in short pants
as she ran up the emergency staircase, chasing after the footsteps ahead of
her. She caught her balance on the railing and swerved around and continued up
the spiraling stairwell. Long black legs disappeared through the door above.
Meilin leapt up the stairs two steps at a time until she reached the metal door
and burst onto the rooftop. Her vision was blinded by the glare of the
afternoon sunlight, which tinted
She blinked as her vision cleared, shivering as a gust of cold wind swept across the rooftop of the museum rooftop. There, at the edge of the roof, stood Mizuki Kai all in black. In his hand was a gleaming semi-automatic pistol.
Mizuki Kai thought he heard footsteps following behind him, but he did not waste time to look back. He sprinted up the stairs faster and faster. Flinging open the door, he burst onto the rooftop, his eyes shielded from the glare of the sunlight by his black-tinted glasses. There was nobody on the roof deck. He ran over to the edge of the roof where a gleaming silver pistol on the ledge and picked it up. He saw a black figure streak away across on the adjacent roof. It was too late.
Just then, he heard the door swing open behind him, and he swerved around. It was Meilin; her jet-black hair whipped behind her as a gust of icy wind blasted across the rooftop.
“Mizuki Kai,” she murmured, her eyes flitting in confusion between him and the pistol.
Kai blinked, startled, and then realized the heavy gun gripped in his hand. “Meilin, it’s not what you think—“
Instead of answering him, Meilin ran up to the edge of the roof and looked over the ledge. “Where is he?”
For a second, Kai blinked. No words of reproach. No accusations. Not even a hint of suspicion. “He escaped.”
both stared down at the street far below and if they strained their eyes, they
thought they could see a man in black silk with a thin black double braid
twined with a thin red ribbon trailing out behind him, melting into the crowds.
The Black Dragon of Death, so named because he was the most feared assassin of
At that moment, the door swung open again, and Meilin and Kai found themselves facing Miho, staring up in confusion between Kai and Meilin. Then, her gray eyes widened as she stared at the pistol in Kai’s hand. A look of horror washed over her pale face.
“M-Miho, what are you doing here?” Meilin trailed off, realizing the idiot Kai was still holding the gun.
“I followed after you, Meilin-senpai,” said Miho, her eyes not leaving the pistol. Her whole body was shaking. She had an urge to run away, but her feet were pinned to the ground.
“Wait, Miho,” Meilin reached out towards Miho.
“Don’t touch me!” shouted Miho, stepping away. “You’re the same. You are a Li. I bet you were in on this as well.” Her eyes did not leave the gun once.
“Let me explain,” said Meilin in exasperation.
“There is nothing to explain. Sakura-senpai’s father was shot instead of Chairman Kinomoto—did you know that? Well, I now understand what sort of business onii-chan has been involved in, and why he cannot return,” said Miho, not meeting Kai’s eyes. She swerved around and dashed back into the stairwell, slamming the door shut.
“Miho-chan!” called out Meilin.
“Let her go,” said Kai in a chill tone.
Meilin stared at the closed door and that back at Kai. She wished he was not wearing those ridiculous sunglasses so that she could see his eyes were a cold, stormy gray. “Are you an idiot? Why didn’t you explain to her it was all a misunderstanding?”
“It’s better this way,” said Kai. “She’s not too far from the truth anyway.”
“What do you mean?” demanded Meilin, hands on hips.
“You should go down and see if Sakura-chan is all right,” he said.
“You’re right,” Meilin murmured, turning pale as she recalled that thunderous gunshot, trying to keep the worst thoughts to herself. “Aren’t you going to come as well?”
“No. I can’t show my face at the moment.”
“You have to clear things up with Miho,” said Meilin. “Do you want me to explain to her? She’ll understand.”
“What, that the Black Dragon showed up to assassinate Kinomoto Fujishinto and then shot Sakura’s father by mistake, and then ran up the rooftop dropping his gun so that I mysteriously picked it up just at the right moment?” Kai let out a short laughter. “Give me a break.”
“You’re right. It sounds pretty implausible.” Meilin sighed.
“Why?” Kai asked slowly. She had not demanded an explanation, not even questioned him. “Why didn’t you suspect me?”
Meilin gazed up at him with her piercing ruby-amber eyes. “Because you are a thief, not a murderer.”
Ah, after all this time, after all these years of training my heart to be steel, it can still waver by one kind word, one kind gesture… For a second, Kai had the urge to squeeze Meilin into a hug, but he restrained himself.
“What makes you so sure?” Kai said darkly, twirling the pistol around his finger in an adept way as if he was used to handling guns.
“You’re a silly, vain magician who would probably rather use a golden bow and arrow and a rainbow fog machine as of choice weapon, if anything,” said Meilin.
“You may be right,” Kai said, the corner of his eyes almost crinkling behind his sunglasses.
“Besides,” Meilin continued with a wry smile. “I know you have a phobia of guns.”
“Do not,” muttered Kai.
“You can’t even play videogames that involve shooting,” said Meilin with a teasing clap on his shoulder. “Now, let me take that.” She held out her hand.
“What are you going to do with it?” Kai frowned. “It’s not a child’s toy you know. It’s a dangerous weapon.”
“I know,” said Meilin with an evil smile. “Maybe I’ll just take it along and interrogate Syaoran with it.”
Kai let out a short chuckle. “Poor Syaoran.”
“Do you think he knew that Li Jinyu was planning on assassinating Kinomoto Fujishinto-san?” asked Meilin.
“Who knows,” said Kai with a careless shrug.
“Because I know that Syaoran would never, never want any harm to fall upon Sakura-chan’s father. But then, it’s strange that Syaoran agreed to participate in the fashion show in the first place. It’s not really something he would do—unless he knew something was going to happen today.”
“Mei-chan, it’s not good to meddle in this sort of dangerous adult affairs,” said Kai, expertly unloading the bullets from the pistol. He slipped the bullets into his pocket and handed the pistol to Meilin. Till this day, the sound of a gunshot would paralyze him for a brief moment, and he was glad to rid himself of the gun.
Narrowing her eyes, Meilin said, “Don’t treat me like I’m some naïve child. These ‘dangerous adult affairs’ involve my own family. And I know you know more than you let on.”
“Dear Meilin-chan, when did you grow so distrustful of everybody?” Kai said, shaking his head.
“Ever since I met you, Mizuki Kai,” replied Meilin, tracing the elaborate carving on the side of the pistol. If there was any doubt as to who the owner of the gun was before, there was none now because an engraving a dragon traced along the side the metal barrel of the gun. Carefully, she wrapped the pistol in a handkerchief and slipped it into her handbag.
In the distance, they heard the police siren and ambulance alarm ringing through the streets.
“Go, Meilin. It won’t be safe to be spotted here,” said Kai, pushing Meilin in through the door, back into the stairwell. “Make sure Sakura-chan is all right.”
“Where are you going?” demanded Meilin.
“Sorry Meilin, for always disappointing you.” Kai smiled sadly and shut the door. His long black cape caught the wind and billowed out behind him like black wings against the crimson sky.
From the ground, someone pointed and shouted, “Look, it’s Kaitou Magician!”
Li Syaoran watched the girl on the floor of the auditorium in a crumpled ice-blue tulle dress, bent over a bleeding man and screaming, “Otou-san, otou-san,” over and over again.
He wanted to wrap a reassuring arm around her trembling bare shoulders and tell her it was all right, that her father was going to be all right, but instead, he could only stand behind her and watch the tears flow from her eyes.
Soon, the paramedics made their way through the crowd, and Fujitaka was hoisted up onto a stretcher. Touya and Sakura followed him in the ambulance.
The auditorium was promptly evacuated, and the policemen quickly blocked off the exits and marked the scene of crime.
As the auditorium emptied except for officials, Syaoran stared at the bloodstained wooden floor. He picked up the black-framed glasses. While he had grown up without a father, he imagined that if his father had been alive, he would have wanted him to be as kind and loving as Sakura’s father was. Though Syaoran barely knew Kinomoto Fujitaka, he had admired the professor ever since hearing his lecture on Egyptian pyramids back in elementary school, even before he knew that Kinomoto-sensei was Sakura’s father.
The designers, judges and models were more stunned than anybody else at the events that had occurred, and Shiori and Jun lingered about at a loss at what to do, too dazed to even complain that their fashion show had been ruined. The other designers had calmly collected their belongings and exited, figuring the contest was terminated, while the judges had been escorted out by the guards. Tomoyo walked up to Syaoran, holding a bag with Sakura’s regular clothes.
heading over to
“I—can’t…” stammered Syaoran.
“Sakura will probably need all the support she can get,” said Tomoyo softly. “I think you should be there for her.”
“C-can you call me and let me know how things turn out?” Syaoran asked, staring at the ground. “Oh wait. I don’t have a cell phone.”
“Why don’t you come with me and ask her yourself?” Tomoyo said. And there was no refusing Tomoyo when she had that resolute glint in her violet eyes.
Kai stood in the west wing second floor gallery in the
A pair of heavy footsteps against the marble floor came from behind him. Kai didn’t turn around.
“Princess Odette, betrayed by Prince Siegfried who mistakenly swears his love to the sorcerer’s daughter Odile, who had disguised as Odette, decides to jump off the cliff rather than live her life forever cursed as a swan,” said a voice behind him.
Slowly, Kai turned around to face the artist of the exhibition.
“Swan Lake. The story is based off a German legend that was adapted into the much popular Russian ballet by Tchaikovsky,” said Shing.
“I know,” said Kai. “Some versions of the tale said the Prince jumped after the Swan Princess, in sorrow, while others say he wept at the cliff side in grief for his lost love. Some say that the double suicide of the Prince and Princess conquers the curse of the evil sorcerer Rothbart and sets the swan maidens of the lake. Yet others say that that when the dawn came, the Princess, transformed back to a human, and the Prince rose up from the foams of the ocean, alive and curse broken.”
“You are well-versed with the tale,” remarked Shing. “Well then, as such an expert, what do you think about this exhibit?”
“It seems like you were having a crisis. You are an artist noted for a keen eye in capturing human movement and realistic portraits. You’re also known for your whimsical themes and surreal use of color and details,” remarked Kai, staring at the earlier pieces of the swans by the lake, a stunning piece using soft grays and blues and whites to portray the lake and the swan maidens against the bleak greens and browns of the forest. “But you seem to have grown bored with that style.”
“You seem to know a lot about art, young man,” said Shing. “So, you don’t like this exhibit?”
“No,” replied Kai slowly. “This exhibit was a break from your style as the paintings become progressively more abstract and impressionistic, and you began to experiment with bolder brushstrokes and a darker, more dissonant palette. Some critics have applauded this innovative change while others expressed distress in the change of your signature style. You are already an acclaimed artist—it doesn’t matter what the critics say. You have received awards and you have had exhibits in the greatest museums of the world. I think these paintings reflect your inner dilemma of: where do you go from here?”
“You are a very shrewd boy,” said Shing. “As an artist, I just paint what I feel like painting, when I feel like it. And it’s true. Artists have to change up their style every so often, or else the audience gets bored. It is true I was having a painter’s block, I suppose.”
“Why did you paint the ‘Thief of the Night’ piece?” asked Kai.
The artist smiled. “I figured it would bring you to me, one day, and I could have a conversation like this with you, Kaitou Magician.”
And Kai smiled crookedly. “How did you figured out my identity?”
“Just an artist’s eye,” replied Shing with a chuckle. “You don’t exactly need to parade in a black cape to exude that villainous ambiance. And criminals always return to the scene of crime, they say. Well, do you have any intent of returning that piece, Kaitou-san? You see, it’s a piece that I’m rather fond of.”
They heard footsteps and the sound of policemen patrolling the halls.
“Shing-sensei, it’s dangerous for you to be standing around here with a shooter on the loose,” said a policeman, peeking into the gallery. “I understand you might be concerned with that Kaitou Magician having been sighted, but the police are guarding your paintings with the highest security.” He peered at Kai suspiciously. “And that boy?”
“Mizuki-kun is with me,” replied Shing. “We’ll be leaving in a while.”
“Yes sir,” said the policeman, hearing the call of his superior.
Kai glanced up at Shing. “Why didn’t you turn me in?”
“As an artist, I have an appreciation for fellow artists, con artists included,” replied Shing with a chuckle. “I would say, Kaitou Magician’s interest in my artwork has brought about good publicity, if anything. Besides, I think Sakura-chan would be sad if her good friend Mizuki-kun is arrested. Or, does she already know you are Kaitou Magician?”
“When did you figure out my true identity?”
“At the Best Couple Contest this summer?” Shing said. “I realized that you were no ordinary boy when I saw you on stage with all your magic tricks. Of course, I figured if you are in cohorts with Kinomoto Sakura’s crowd, you definitely would not be ordinary. But it didn’t seem particularly like you wanted to hide your abilities. You are a meticulous thief, I acknowledge that, but you seemed to have targeted me too many times. I’m not quite sure how you even knew that I possessed the sapphire ring. But I figured you either wanted me to be aware of your existence or you are just very interested in art.”
And Kai looked up at the artist. “I’m just a big fan of your works.”
“I see,” said Shing. “Well, I hope you remain a fan. And someday, maybe I’ll paint something that you feel worth stealing again.”
Kai gave an elegant bow. “May I have the pleasure of meeting such an esteemed artist again.” Then, hands in pockets, he turned around and walked out of the gallery, through the crowd of the policemen shouting, “Are there any signs of Kaitou Magician?”
“Young man, you should hurry out; it’s not safe here—there is a shooter on the loose,” said a guard. “Be careful, and if you see any suspicious people lurking about, report to the police immediately.”
“Yes, I will,” said Kai. “Thank you.”
is Sakura’s father’s state?” Tomoyo asked, rushing up to Yukito who was seated
on the benches in front of the operation room in
Tsukishiro Yukito, changed into his white coat, looked up, his face brightening slightly. “Tomoyo-chan, Syaoran-kun. Kinomoto-san is in operation room—Touya accompanied him. And Sakura-chan…” Yukito looked around. “Sakura-chan…” They all turned to where his gaze rested upon.
Sakura sat outside the operation room, on the floor, her long ice-blue skirt billowed out about her, trickles of blood stained down the front, her head buried in her knees.
Yukito’s brows furrowed down in sorrow. “I’m worried for her. You might want to get her to go and wash off the blood at least… She hasn’t budged from that spot since we got here.”
Tomoyo walked over to Sakura and knelt down next to her. Sakura’s eyes were glazed over, barely focusing on Tomoyo.
“Oh, it’s Tomoyo-chan? When did you get here? I’m sorry, Tomoyo-chan. Your beautiful dress—I ruined it—and the fashion show,” rambled Sakura, pallid and shaking.
“Shush, Sakura-chan, it’s all right, that’s the least important thing right now,” said Tomoyo, stroking her friend’s back. “Here, I brought you your clothes so that you can change.”
“Oh—thank you,” Sakura said, taking the bag.
Yukito sighed. Thank goodness for levelheaded Tomoyo—he never quite knew how to deal with a crying Sakura; when his Mistress was down, it seemed like his heart ached as well.
“Why don’t you go to the bathroom and wash up a little bit?” Tomoyo asked, taking the edge of her handkerchief and rubbing Sakura’s tearstained cheeks. “I’m going to the cafeteria and buying something warm to drink for you and a piece of fruit. You haven’t eaten all day long.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“Your father will not want to wake to see you in such a pitiful condition. Now, up.” Tomoyo said, pulling Sakura up to her feet. “Syaoran-kun, can you escort her to the restroom?”
Sakura looked up, noticing Syaoran for the first time. She didn’t say anything but obediently headed towards the ladies room, following his lead.
After Sakura disappeared through the doors, Syaoran awkwardly stood in front of the ladies room, not quite sure of what to do with himself. He ignored the stares he got from the nurses and women for blocking the entrance to the restroom. Finally, after a good quarter hour had passed, Syaoran grew anxious that there was now sign of Sakura. He pressed his ears against the wall. There was no sound of running water. Was she all right? What if she had collapsed in the bathroom?
Where was Tomoyo? He should go find her so that she could go check on Sakura. Or was there a nurse near by that he could ask—but what if Sakura was lying unconscious—
Syaoran burst into the ladies room. “Sakura!” There was no answer. He opened the stalls one by one. “Sakura?”
He heard a muffled sound. I knew it. I knew she would be crying by herself… Some girls wailed out loud, some girls threw a tantrum, but Sakura always cried quietly by herself, holding and holding her tears till they spilled out like an overflowing glass of water down her quivering cheeks. He flung open the last stall. “Sakura!”
Sakura sat crouched on the covered seat of the stall, crying into her blue tulle dress. “Otou-san… Otou-san…”
If Sakura had looked up at that moment, she would have seen a tender look come over Syaoran’s face. “Sakura, get up now,” he said, gently crouching at her feet. “Your father is going to wake up soon, and you want to be by his side when he does.”
“Otou-san…” she said through hiccups. “Otou-san.”
Her shoulders were trembling uncontrollably, and Syaoran wanted to take her in her arms and hug her close to him. But he felt that would be unfairly taking advantage of her in the situation.
“Otou-san…” Sakura swallowed hard. “I always took otou-san for granted. He’s always been there. He’s always been the kind, gentle otou-san that never gets angry or scolds me. He’s always been so strong and dependable… he never gets sick. And I was so scared. Seeing him on the floor… blood everywhere. I learned for the first time otou-san is not perfect. That he can get hurt and die too. Otou-san is the one thing in my life I took completely for granted. I cannot imagine life without otou-san being otou-san. Not being there when I come home from school, not being there to change the picture of my mother in the kitchen photo frame, not baking me a cake for my birthday, not telling me embarrassing stories about onii-chan… What will I do without otou-san?”
Carefully, Syaoran reached out and cupped both cheeks with his hands. “Look at me, Sakura. Your father is going to be all right. He is after all half the reincarnation of Clow Reed, isn’t he? He won’t die so easily. Now, you have to be strong and wait for him.”
“You’re right,” said Sakura, sniffling. “I know otou-san has always watched over me when I was sick, when I was feeling down, when I was struggling. This time, it’s my turn to protect otou-san.” Slowly, she got up. “I’m going to change and wash up.”
“Do you need help—“ Syaoran asked out of courtesy, coming from someone who had grown up with four sisters.
“NO THANK YOU!” snapped Sakura, turning red to the ears. “Now if you’ll please excuse me—this is the ladies’ room.”
A nurse entered the bathroom, giving Syaoran a suspicious glare as she cleared her throat.
Turning red, Syaoran scrambled out the door. “Call me if you need anything. I’ll be waiting outside.”
“Creep,” muttered the nurse. When she turned her head, Syaoran realized it was none other than Nakuru.
“As if you have a right to say anything,” Syaoran said, arms crossed.
Tomoyo sat on the first floor benches near the lobby, a bag with a bottle of tea, an apple and a cookie on her lap. She clenched the paper bag to keep her hands from trembling. Her face was as white as the walls.
Eriol and Miho walked into the lobby and spotted her.
“Why are you doing by yourself over here, Tomoyo-san?” asked Eriol. “Where is Sakura-san?”
“Second floor, by the operation room,” replied Tomoyo, looking up.
“Are you all right?” Eriol said, taking a seat next to her.
“I’m all right. I should go back and give this to Sakura-chan. She hasn’t eaten all day long, and I’m worried for her,” said Tomoyo, staring at the paper bag.
“As considerate of a friend as ever,” remarked Eriol.
“No, I’m not,” Tomoyo murmured, bloodshot eyes dilated. “I saw Sakura, and seeing her like that, I couldn’t face her. I couldn’t tell her everything’s going to turn out fine. I couldn’t say anything. I grew up without a father. But that isn’t true. Actually Sakura’s father has always been the closest thing to a father I’ve ever had. He’s always made me feel very welcome, as if I’m a part of the Kinomoto family. And I—I may actually love him more than my own blood father. If anything happens to him—”
Miho had never seen Tomoyo distraught like this before. To her, Tomoyo was always calm and composed, the reassuring person, the person who encouraged everyone. And Miho could not help wondering if it was the circumstance or Eriol that brought out this vulnerable side of Tomoyo. If there was one person more impenetrable than Tomoyo, it was Eriol. For the first time, Miho understood why Tomoyo might need Eriol.
At the age of ten, when Miho had lost her father, she knew the world as she knew it had come to an end. Nowadays, Miho rarely thought about her father. Because recalling him would mean recalling long gone-by days that would never come back to her again, beautiful days when she truly believed that the world was a good, perfect place. At that time, she had needed one person, just one person to reassure her and tell her that things would be all right. But her mother had taken ill and her brother, the brother she had depended on since the moment of birth, had abandoned her.
And at that point, I thought the world had betrayed me. I hated life and my very own existence. When the house burned down, I thought that I should burn down with it, that my existence did not matter in this world.
But you showed up. Hiiragizawa Eriol, a person whom I never knew existed before that day. You, a stranger, took me in. Miho smiled softly. If her cousin Mizuki Kaho had not shown up that day and brought her to Eriol, ‘Tanaka Miho’ might not be in existence anymore. All this while, she had reproached her brother for leaving her. But for the first time, Miho wondered, who had been there for her brother? Had he also felt completely and utterly alone? She had always believed her brother to be invulnerable, yet perhaps, he had felt abandoned as well and lost. Miho had been blessed. She had her cousin Kaho, Eriol, Nakuru and Suppi-chan. But who had been there to support her brother?
Turning on the faucet, Sakura splashed ice cold water on her face, rubbing off the smudged eye-makeup from the fashion show. She took a deep breath and stared into the mirror, looking a bit like herself again. “Otou-san will be all right,” she told herself. Then she walked out the bathroom, dressed in her regular clothes.
Syaoran was waiting for her a little down the hall, leaned against the wall, arms crossed. For a second, she felt a wave of relief as she met his level gaze. His amber-gold eyes were filled with compassion despite his grim expression. “Ready?”
Yukito rushed towards the pair as they walked back towards the operation room. “There you are, Sakura-chan. Hurry, your father’s out of the operation room. He’s been taken to room 508.”
Heart pounding to her ears, Sakura hurried down the hall to the elevator well. She tapped her foot impatiently as she waited for the elevator to come.
She saw her brother come out of the fifth floor room. His face was pallid, but he seemed calmer than earlier.
“Onii-chan, how is her? How is otou-san?” she asked. “Hurry, tell me.”
“Go on in,” said Touya.
Sakura swallowed hard, and her knees trembled as she carefully grasped the doorknob. She felt a warm hand squeeze her shoulder gently, very momentarily, but enough to give her the courage to turn the knob.
And Sakura burst into the room. “Otou-san!”
There was her father, sitting propped up on the hospital bed. He did not have his glasses on and he was dressed in a white hospital gown, but he slowly smiled as he saw his daughter. “Sakura-san.”
Sakura felt her throat choke up. She ran up to her father and flung her arms around him. “Otou-san! Otou-san!” She buried her head into her father’s chest and sniffled. “Otou-san, are you all right? What… how… I thought you were shot…”
“It was just a shallow flesh wound,” said Fujitaka. “It’s an almost embarrassingly minor injury, in fact. I’m sorry for making you all worry.”
“But there was so much blood…” Sakura said, hiccupping. She had seen her father collapse.
“Well, it seems like the bullet merely grazed his shoulders,” Touya said.
The nurse frowned. “Actually, I heard the surgeon say it was rather strange. The location of the wound indicates the bullet should have gone much deeper. But they said there was no bullet in the wound, not even a fragment. It was almost as if… there was something that blocked the bullet or slowed it down.” She shook her head quickly, as if to brush off paranormal thoughts and then fluffed up blankets.
“So, otou-san is all right?” Sakura asked.
“Yes, I’m all right, Sakura,” said Fujitaka. “I’ll be able to go home as soon as tomorrow, if I want to.”
Sakura’s eyes misted in relief. “Really?”
“Really,” replied her father with his gentle brown eyes.
“You’re really okay?” Sakura asked again.
“Yes, I’m completely all right,” Fujitaka said.
And Sakura’s knees completely buckled, and she knelt by her father’s bedside, head pressed against his lap. Her father patted his daughter on the head with sad eyes. He looked up and smiled at Touya who stared beyond the bed into the distance.
“Come now, everyone. Kinomoto-san has to rest,” said the nurse, shooing out everybody of the room.
As Kinomoto Fujitaka lay back down in bed, feeling blessed for such a loving family, a smile rested upon the corner of his lips. “Thank you, Nadeshiko-san, for protecting me.”
Someday, we can be together again, but till then, you have to stay by our children and be by their side being the wonderful father that you are.
“Yes, you are right. I cannot be an irresponsible father now, can I?” Fujitaka felt a cool hand on his cheek, and he smiled.
When the nurse came to check on him later, she thought that she saw a light by the bedside silhouetting the shape of a woman with white wings. And Fujitaka, in his sleep, had the most beautiful blissful smile on his face.
“You go home and rest up a bit,” said Touya to his younger sister as they walked down the private suite hallway of the fifth floor. Both siblings were paler and still a bit shaken, but there was an unmistakable sense of relief on their faces. “I’m going to stick around a bit, so you don’t need to worry.”
Touya’s midnight eyes crinkled, and he patted Sakura on the head. “It’s all right now, Sakura. Otou-san is completely fine. Okaa-san won’t let father die so easily. You know that.”
Again, Sakura nodded. It was rare that her brother took such a gentle tone with her. And impulsively, she flung her arms around her older brother with a newfound sense of appreciation for that steadfast figure that had always guided her through the years, whenever she was down, when she was struggling, when she was sick, when she was lonely. For the past months after Subaru’s death, she had completely isolated herself. She had thought she was completely alone, but how mistaken she had been. All her friends had been by her side… Well most of them. And her brother had always been watching out for her.
“If you don’t mind, can you see her home?” Touya said.
Syaoran, who had been trying his best to camouflage with the walls, flinched and looked from side to side. There was nobody else. He choked. “Me?”
Touya narrowed his eyes. “Do you see that glass door over there?”
Gulping, Syaoran nodded.
“It was a big hassle to get that door repaired and cost quite a bit of money, custom fitting the glass, steering patients away from that door because the danger of glass shards, not to mention the inconvenience of not having a door for the month it took to get it fixed,” said Touya. “Now, who was that idiotic cockroach of a thing that was so arrogant and decided it was a smart idea to smash it up in the first place?”
Syaoran swallowed hard and bowed his head slightly. Then, he quickly grabbed Sakura by the wrist and dragged her towards the elevators.
“Hand!” called out Touya.
And Syaoran dropped Sakura’s wrist like it was hot coal. He sighed in relief as the elevator door opened and hurried in, prodding Sakura along.
“You’re chuckling maliciously,” remarked Yukito, stepping next to Touya. “What are you plotting?”
“Nothing,” said Touya.
“Oh, they finally fixed the glass door, now that I think of it,” Yukito said.
The elevator ride down to the first floor was perhaps the awkward silence Sakura had ever encountered. Her knees were wobbly with a sense of relief because her father was all right. She had not eaten all day and felt lightheaded. The fashion show felt years away already. Could it have happened just a couple hours ago? And then, out of all the people in the world, how was it this person she had vowed never to speak to again was the person standing beside her at this very moment. What was he thinking? Why didn’t he say anything? Why was he still here?
“Umm… You really don’t have to take me home,” said Sakura, struggling to keep up with Syaoran’s stride as they went through the first floor lobby.
“But your brother said—“
“I’m fine now. Otou-san is all right.”
“That ogre-brother of yours will get mad,” said Syaoran.
“You live near by here, and it’ll be inconvenient for you to go all the way to Tomoeda. I’ll go find Tomoyo-chan,” said Sakura.
“Tomoyo got called earlier to pick up her stuff at the Museum.” Syaoran met Sakura’s eyes. “I—“
“Why didn’t you answer your phone? I called you a million times,” said a male voice, interrupting Syaoran’s sentence.
Eron, his violet-blue hair slightly disheveled, ran straight up to Sakura.
“Eron-kun! What are you doing here?” Sakura exclaimed, her attention immediately diverted to Eron.
“I was so worried. They wouldn’t let in none-family members up, and I couldn’t get in touch with you,” Eron stated.
“You’ve been waiting here the whole time? I’m sorry—I must have left my phone back in the dressing room,” said Sakura.
“Your father—is he all right?” asked Eron.
“Yes, the bullet barely grazed his skin.”
“Thank goodness.” Eron smiled.
Then, Eron seemed to notice Syaoran for the first time and glanced questioningly between Sakura and Syaoran. “Well, fancy seeing you here. Thanks for looking after Sakura.”
Syaoran met Eron’s eye, not mistaking the sense of proprietary in Eron’s tone.
“Well, I will take over from here. Sakura, I’ll take you home—you must be exhausted, and it’s dark outside,” Eron took off his jacket and wrapped it around Sakura’s shoulders.
Sakura glanced up at Syaoran briefly before adverting her eyes.
“I guess I’ll be heading off then,” said Syaoran. He quickly walked into the crowd.
Eron frowned, watching him disappear through the revolving door.
“Ojii-sama!” called out Sakura as she spotted a stooped gray-haired man walking out towards the hospital driveway, towards a black Mercedes.
Kinomoto Fujishinto slowly turned around.
“Otou-san is all right. He’s resting now, but he should be able to move about within a couple days,” said Sakura, walking up to her grandfather.
“That is good to hear,” said Fujishinto stiffly.
“That’s all?” Sakura stared up at the old man incredulously. “You’re not going to go see him?”
“Yamamoto-sensei already reported to me that Fujitaka’s injuries have been taken care of and that he is healing well,” replied Fujishinto.
“He risked his life to save yours!” exclaimed Sakura. “Don’t you think the least you can do is to go see him?”
“Nothing has changed between us just because of this… incident,” replied Fujishinto rigidly.
Sakura glared at her grandfather. “My father was willing to die in your stead. And you can still deny that he is your son?”
“I have a headache. Get the car ready,” Fujishinto said to his secretary.
“I’m disappointed in you beyond belief, Grandfather,” said Sakura, all the exhaustion of the day suddenly sweeping over her. “You don’t deserve my father as your son.”
“Please, Sakura-san, Fujishinto-sama had a stressful day. We have taken care of the hospital fees, and Fujitaka-sama will be ensured to have the best service over the next week and a private nurse to his attendence. If he has any concerns or needs, here is my name card. Please feel free to contact me, and I will see that his concerns shall be addressed,” said Yamada.
Sakura knocked away the name card. “We don’t need it. We never asked for a luxury suite or special service. Is this your way of thanking my father, ojii-sama? All you had to do was wait by his side when he was undergoing surgery. Or come by and see him when he awakened. Or even give a call. But I guess that was asking too much of your, Grandfather. Or Kinomoto-san. I am not your granddaughter if you refuse to recognize my father, am I.” She bowed stiffly. “I won’t ever seek you out in the future again.”
Kinomoto Fujishinto simply stepped into the car and the chauffeur shut the door before driving the car down the road.
“Wow, I never knew you could be that intimidating,” remarked Eron, catching up with Sakura.
Still trembling in indignation, Sakura turned to Eron. “Can you believe him? My father almost died, and he doesn’t even go to see him!”
“But don’t you think your grandfather stayed here at the hospital until this late hour because perhaps he too was very worried and couldn’t express it?” said Eron.
Sakura slowly gazed into Eron’s eyes. “Maybe you’re right. And there’s the dark force to reckon with on top of everything. I’m no better—I can only see things from my perspective.”
“You’ve had a long day. I’ll go catch a cab,” said Eron.
“Thank you, Eron-kun,” Sakura murmured, Eron’s black wool jacket weighing over her shoulders.
sank his hands deeper in his jacket pockets as he walked towards the front
gates of the
“Syaoran!” Meilin called out.
“Meilin,” said Syaoran with a small groan as his angry cousin charged towards him. Could this day get any worse?
“The audacity of you showing up here, after what Li Jinyu did to Sakura’s father,” said Meilin with a fierce scowl. “Thank goodness he received not vital injuries. Were you in the plan too? Was your role to distract Sakura to keep her from noticing?”
“So, it was Jinyu, huh,” muttered Syaoran, hands in pockets.
“As if you didn’t know,” stated Meilin.
“Think what you want,” said Syaoran shortly.
Meilin quickly dragged Syaoran to an ally and fumbled in her bag and drew out the pistol wrapped in a handkerchief. “Why did he leave this behind? It was not a very discreet job at all. It’s not like the Black Dragon to miss his target, let alone leave behind evidence. Furthermore, he did it at such a public location, as if to flaunt it. This is not the style of the Li Clan at all.”
Syaoran gazed at Meilin pointedly. “You might find out more from a certain thief who is in cohorts with the said Clan than some puppet of the Elders who simply obeys orders without knowing reasons.”
“You mean Kai-kun did know about this, after all?” Meilin demanded.
“Meilin. This is because I’m genuinely worried for you,” Syaoran said. “Be glad you are not in the direct Li descendent line. The less involved you are with Clan affairs, the happier you will be. And while you’re at it, tell Mizuki Kai that he should watch his back once he crosses over to the dealings of the Clan. Neither he nor the people he cares for will be safe once he does.”
Arms akimbo, Meilin glared at Syaoran. “Are you threatening me, Li Syaoran?”
“No, I am giving you a warning,” replied Syaoran.
Meilin swerved around and gave Syaoran a kick in the shin. “You’re a thousand years too early to be threatening me.”
“Oww…” groaned Syaoran, rubbing his leg.
“Well, Syaoran, I’m saying this because I genuinely do care about you as my friend,” said Meilin, suddenly somber. “What were you thinking showing up at the Fashion Show today? I never thought that there would be a day I would say this, but I think Eron makes her happy.”
“That’s a relief,” said Syaoran grimly. “It saves me the trouble of beating him up.”
“You have no right to be concerned about her welfare,” said Meilin. “You gave up that right when you betrayed her not once, but twice. You missed your opportunity. It’s too late now.”
“I know it’s a sacrifice you made for something that is probably beyond my grasp,” Meilin said, finding it harder and harder to speak. “But perhaps it was too great a sacrifice on your part.”
Syaoran remained silent.
“I still think the only hope you have is to be honest with her. Just tell her everything,” said Meilin.
Slowly, Syaoran shook his head.
“Then, there is nothing you can do,” Meilin said with sad amber-red eyes. “But to stay out of her life.”
Syaoran watched Meilin stomp off in anger. She had always been very blunt—that’s what he liked about her when they were growing up. While his other cousins had been either intimidated by him or ordered by their parents to treat him with respect because he was the Chosen One Candidate, Meilin did not care about Clan structure or hierarchy. She always spoke her mind to him.
He still recalled the weight of the pistol in his hand. While he had watched Jinyu load a pistol dozens of times, he had yet to have held one before. Just then, a taxi swerved around the driveway and down the street. He glimpsed Sakura and Eron in the back seat of the cab and quickly jumped behind a tree before they could see him. Eron whispered something to Sakura, and she gave him a beautiful smile that flickered away like a phantom beacon of light in the midst of the abyss of darkness surrounding Syaoran.
was called back to the
“It’s a relief that Sakura’s father was all right, isn’t it,” said Eriol, carefully folding up articles of clothing from Tomoyo’s collection for the Fashion Show. He examined a chain necklace with a skull pendant with keen interest. Then, he quizzically picked up a pair of lacy bloomers. Miho quickly snatched it away and muttered “pervert.”
“Yes, I’m so glad,” said Tomoyo absentmindedly rolling a skirt into a ball before tossing it into a bag. She spotted a green watch on the floor, next to the folded pair of beige jeans and green blazer. It was a pretty watch, metalwork wrought into the shape of a leaf. She gathered all the other jewelry and dumped them into a box, but slipped the watch into her purse.
Eriol carefully took out the skirt and folded it again so that it wouldn’t get wrinkled. “I guess they’ll have to postpone the results of the contest.” He also untangled all the necklaces and bracelets and wrapped them separately in tissue paper.
“Right,” said Tomoyo, clearly not interested in the contest at all anymore. She frowned. “Eriol-kun, did you know that Sakura’s father was all right?”
“How should I put it… He is my other half,” said Eriol slowly. “I think I would feel it when something really bad did happen to him.”
“How strange, thinking that your soul is connected to somebody else,” said Tomoyo, picking up the long strand of red satin ribbon.
Eriol picked up the other end of the ribbon and began raveling it up. “You did a good job today. You should be proud of yourself.”
“But why did something like this have to happen during the Fashion Show?” asked Tomoyo. “It was my selfishness forcing everyone to participate…”
“It was going to happen either way, whether or not you were a part of it,” said Eriol. He had finished raveling up the red ribbon into a ball and handed it to Tomoyo.
“Inevitability?” Tomoyo took the ball of ribbon in her hands.
“But if you did not participate in the contest and didn’t ask Sakura to be your model, and consequently, Kinomoto Fujitaka had not been here, then there might have been a dead man today,” replied Eriol.
What is this slowly sinking feeling of helplessness? Was this a meaningful coincidence? If everything happens for a reason, then was it my choice that I decided to enter this contest in the first place? Tomoyo looked up at Eriol with violet-blue eyes searching for an answer in an unfathomable person who had closed his heart to the rest of the world, yet sought to salvage souls who were fragmented and take the hands of those who had gone the wayward.
“Wow, this is so pretty,” said Miho, holding a billowy pink lace dress to her and swirling around in front of the mirror. “I would love to model in such a pretty dress.”
“You’re too clumsy to model,” remarked Suppi-chan from her bag.
“Well, did you see Sakura-senpai before her catwalk training?” said Miho with a giggle.
Eriol watched Miho with a smile. She had been more shaken than anybody else when she learned that Sakura’s father had been shot. But she was greatly cheered as well as she heard that Sakura’s father was fine and said it was all right not to see Sakura. “Syaoran-senpai is with her. She’ll be fine,” Miho had said, and insisted upon accompanying Tomoyo back to the Museum to gather her fashion collection.
But she also had an ulterior motive.
The scene of crime had been taped up, and the auditorium was heavily patrolled by police officers. All outsiders were forbidden to enter, but the designers had been allowed to go backstage to get their stuff. Only two of the designers, besides Tomoyo, were left.
“Are they not announcing the results today?” asked Aoyama Shiori to Watanabe Jun.
“Aoyama-san, somebody was shot—how can you seriously even think about the contest at a time like this,” said Jun. The other two designers had already gathered their belongings and long since left. Shiori had stuck it out in the hopes that the contest might be finished within the day. She scowled heavily at Jun.
Jun turned to Tomoyo. “I heard the person shot was your model’s father? He is all right?”
“Yes,” Tomoyo replied.
a relief,” said Jun. “Never thought I would say this, coming back from
Meanwhile, Miho carefully slipped beneath the yellow tapes barring the auditorium. She could see the faint stain of blood on the wooden floor, marked up.
“Hey, girl, you’re not supposed to be there!” exclaimed a guard.
And Miho scowled. “Did the policeman catch a suspect?”
“No—it was impossible to investigate all 500 people in the auditorium, not to mention all the visitors in the museum. Sundays are always the most crowded. Nothing was caught on the surveillance cameras either.”
“Didn’t they say that Kaitou Magician was spotted earlier?” said a policeman with a yawn.
“Do you believe that Kaitou Magician is capable of killing someone?” asked the guard. “I don’t know… It sounds very sketchy, like a tabloid story in the makings. Kaitou Magician is a thief of the people, not some assassin.”
“He’s a criminal nonetheless,” said Miho.
“I don’t know. I don’t consider criminal activities all on the same level. I mean, there are acts that are definitely more harmful to society than others. Stealing from the rich, who are already filthy rich, is definitely not of the worst evils you can do in the world, in my opinion. After all, aren’t those wealthy people always stealing from the poorer, the helpless?”
“But a crime is a crime,” said Miho. “And shouldn’t it be punished by law for justice?”
in modern day
“I’m not a nosy girl, I’m an investigative reporter!” exclaimed Miho in indignation.
“Heh, so a criminal in the eyes of some may be a hero to the eyes of another beholder,” said the guard. “Anyhow, it’s odd—we haven’t discovered any stolen items yet.”
Miho knelt down, puzzled. No stolen items. That meant her brother had no alibi. He had been holding the pistol—what further evidence was needed. If Kinomoto Fujishinto was a key instigator in the murder of her father, and it’s not like she didn’t already have deep suspicion for those associated with the Hoshi Group already, then her brother had every reason to want to kill him. But I don’t want that. Even if Kinomoto Fujishinto was the person who killed my father, I wouldn’t want him dead.
But if the person shooting was after Kinomoto Fujishinto’s life, then why did he run after missing the target, instead of shooting again? It was dark and there would have been ample time to fire again. Had he been surprised that he had hit another man? Because Miho knew her brother’s marksmanship, she was skeptical that her brother would have missed, should he have wanted Fujishinto dead, as much as she didn’t want to think of her brother as the shooter.
Logically speaking, it was most likely that someone from the Li Clan wanted Kinomoto Fujishinto dead. That meant either her brother made a deal with the Li Clan to shoot Kinomoto Fujishinto or made an arrangement to assist the actual shooter. Which was the same thing in her eyes. No matter what excuses I try to come up with for you, this time, I really can’t forgive you, onii-chan.
was past midnight by the time Syaoran made his way back to the Li Mansion. He
could still see white spots behind his eyes from the glaring stage lights.
Since he had used up all his change on the cab fare to the
“Why can you forgive him for being the Dark One, our enemy, yet can’t forgive me for being a Li?” he had asked her earlier that day.
“Because you lied to me and betrayed me, Syaoran… Because you out of anyone, I trusted in and believed in most.”
The starkness of solitude was realized only after you learned the sweet bliss of human warmth. “You have no right to be concerned about her welfare,” Meilin had told him, and she was right. Syaoran placed his forehead against his palm. I messed up. I messed up really badly this time.
“Syaoran, you missed dinner.” Leiyun asked, his silver-blue eyes flashing like aquamarines in the dark hallway as Syaoran entered the front door, which was open. “Where were you today?”
Syaoran did not reply but stuffed his hastily re-bandaged right hand into his pocket.
“Why can’t you answer, Syaoran?”
probably already know, since Jinyu told you,” replied Syaoran. “What was Jinyu
doing at the
“Since when did you care what Jin is up to?” said Leiyun.
“I asked you a question,” replied Syaoran grimly.
“Which you probably know the answer to already,” said Leiyun.
“You never told me the Elders ordered the assassinating Kinomoto Fujishinto,” stated Syaoran. “Why?”
“That is none of your business,” said Leiyun. “You are a servant of the Clan, not the master. You obey orders and do not ask questions.”
“As the Chosen One, I have a right to know,” stated Syaoran.
“As a demoted Chosen One, I think you have relinquished that right.”
Syaoran remained silent, glaring up at Leiyun with fiery amber eyes. This demon standing before him, the one person he had respected and looked up to so much. And the one person he could not defy.
did you seriously think the Black Dragon’s mission in
“Then what will happen to Kinomoto Fujishinto?” asked Syaoran.
“He was very lucky today. The Elders had an emergency meeting and decided to divert plans of attack on the Kinomoto Fujishinto for the time being. Instead, we are ready to move forward with Plan C, it seems.” Leiyun’s face was half hidden by the shadow as he peered at Syaoran from the dark. For a brief moment, his eyes were full of pity.
Sunlight seeped in through the hospital curtain window. Yukito stopped by Kinomoto Fujitaka’s hospital room in the morning to cover Touya with a blanket. Touya had fallen asleep on a chair by his father’s side.
“Yuki?” said Touya, yawning. “It’s morning already.” He glanced up to see that his father was sleeping restfully. He smiled.
“Thank goodness he’s all right now,” said Yukito.
“I’ll have to thank my mother,” Touya remarked with a soft smile.
Yukito nodded with a gentle look in his marigold eyes. “Here, I brought you breakfast.” He handed a croissant to Touya and munched on one himself.
“Thanks.” Touya realized he hadn’t eaten since lunch the day before.
“I was really surprised to see Syaoran at the fashion show yesterday,” said Yukito. “He was good.”
“Surprisingly,” said Touya, biting the croissant. His neck was completely stiff. “He’s come a long way since the Sleeping Beauty play in elementary school.”
“God, that was awful.”
“Absolutely painful to watch.”
“Yet, he and Sakura-chan were quite adorable back then, weren’t they?” Yukito remarked with a smile.
Touya was technically still dismissed from his position at
“I think yesterday, I was reminded how fragile human life can be,” said Fujitaka adjusting his spare pair of glasses. “Touya-san, if anything happens to me, you must look after your sister.”
Touya nodded solemnly. Years ago, his mother had been on her deathbed, looking like a beautiful, frail angel. She had told him then, “Touya-kun, my dear Touya-kun. Don’t be sad when I am gone because I will always be watching over you and your father and Sakura-chan. So be strong, because I am trusting you to look after the family.”
The rare father and son time, however, was interrupted by a constant bombardment of visitors in the afternoon.
Doctor Li Jingmei rushed into the room in the afternoon. “I heard about your father, Kinomoto-sensei. Is he all right?” She took a glance at the sleeping Fujitaka and swooned. “What a beautiful man. He is just like my ideal type.”
“No such thing as privacy in this hospital,” grumbled Touya.
Yukito sighed. “I guess it’s true you were only interested in me because I resemble him.”
“N-no!” Jingmei stammered. “Yukito-san is the person I love the most!”
“Really.” Yukito narrowed his eyes in a very Yue-like manner and his lips curled into a thin smile.
“This is a patient room, now please leave us in peace,” said Touya, shooing Jingmei out of the room and closing the door behind him so that his father could get some quiet. Ever since Kinomoto Fujitaka’s colleagues had found out about the injury, he had a stream of students, former students, fellow professors and former teachers come in to pay a visit.
“It’s sort of embarrassing because I’m here for such a minor injury,” his father had said.
Touya was fairly impressed by the number of female students that seemed to linger by his father’s door as well—his father was as popular as ever.
“Ah, let me know if you need anything!” called out Jingmei as Touya kept prodding her along.
“Doesn’t your department keep you busy enough?” demanded Touya.
Jingmei ran off down the hall, dabbing a handkerchief to her eyes. “Kinomoto-sensei is such a meanie! I like Tsukishiro-sensei best, after all.”
“Why are you so distrustful of Doctor Li Jingmei?” asked Yukito after Jingmei was out of earshot. “She seems like a nice enough person.”
“Because she’s a Li,” replied Touya. He narrowed his eyes at the thought of the round-faced, pleasant Li Jingmei. She was intelligent and skilled at what she did. Furthermore, she held great healing power. As a doctor, he held great respect for her medical talent and prowess. But at the end of the day, the Li Clan most likely planted Li Jingmei in Kinhoshi Hospital to keep an eye on him and Yukito, no, Yue.
“You think she’s a spy or something?” asked Yukito.
“Who knows.” Touya sighed. “But either way, we need to be careful in the hospital what we say and what information we share with her. It will most definitely be going back to higher ups of her Clan.”
“To-ya~” shouted Nakuru in her tiny nurse’s uniform, arms stretched out. “My shift is finally over. Let’s play!”
Touya expertly dodged. He narrowed his eyes. Just like Hiiragizawa Eriol most likely planted Nakuru in the hospital to keep an eye of all of them. While Touya up till now had avoided Eriol as much as he could, perhaps it was high time to finally have a face to face talk with him because it seemed like those he could call Sakura’s ally was dwindling fast.
The Young Designer Fashion Show received much more publicity than anticipated because of the shooting incident. The next day, all the news channels were extensively reporting on the contest. Much interest thus was garnered for the contest itself as well as the act of crime.
Of course, as their own student was a contestant in the prestigious design contest, the students of Seijou High were abuzz with talk about the Sunday incident and speculations of who the assassin was.
Naoko held up the newspaper, which was headlined, “Kaitou Magician: Cold-Blooded Murderer?”
in the midst of the much publicized Young Designer Showcase, Kinomoto xxx, 45,
was shot at 4:47PM in the auditorium of the
‘I used to think he was kind of cool… But if he’s a murderer, he’s a really bad person,’ said xxx-san, 38, a housewife.
‘I’m so disappointed in Kaitou Magician. He used to be my idol,’ said xxx-san, 17, President of the Kaitou Magician Fanclub.
“How ridiculous,” said Meilin, shredding up her copy of the daily newspaper. “What is this? Slander? Libel? How can reputable reporters spout such nonsense?”
“I’m surprised,” Naoko remarked. “I didn’t know Meilin-chan was such an avid fan of Kaitou Magician.”
“I’m not,” snapped Meilin. “But some things are just too ridiculous to be true.”
Chiharu nodded slowly. “I agree. Something sounds a little off about Kaitou Magician being an assassin. It’s inconsistent with everything we do know about him.”
“What, that he’s a charming gentleman thief who won’t hurt a fly?” Naoko said. “He’s certainly clever enough to pull off a murder, and he is an internationally wanted criminal.”
“Well, if I was as clever as Kaitou Magician, I don’t think I would leave behind that much evidence,” remarked Yamazaki Takashi.
“Yamazaki-kun makes sense for once. Someone as capable of pulling multiple pranks on the police for years will probably be able to pull of a perfect crime without being caught,” stated Akagi Aki, neck in braces due to a basketball injury. “Instead of an incomplete messy job with evidence lying around.”
“Then, who did it?” asked Rika. “Who wanted to kill the Chairman of Hoshi Group?”
“I don’t know,” replied Aki. “The question may be better answered if we try to figure out why the real killer was trying to frame Kaitou Magician for the incident.”
frowned. “Well, what was Kaitou Magician doing at that location in the first
place—it’s not like he was forced to be there. They say he stole nothing from
“There was absolutely no evidence linking Kaitou Magician with the assassination attempt,” said Aki.
“But was it simply coincidence that Kaitou Magician was there, at the wrong place, wrong time?” Chiharu stated with a frown.
“It’s like he became the scapegoat on purpose,” said Aki, staring at the blurred black and white photo of nefarious figure in a black cape. “The police were distracted by Kaitou Magician and the media was thrown into a frenzy of speculation about Kaitou Magician rather than focusing on why there was an assassination attempt of the chairman of Hoshi Enterprise or who the real instigators of the assassination attempt was.”
“Why would he do that?” asked Tomoyo, suddenly interested in the conversation.
Naoko shrugged. “Maybe Kaitou Magician just wanted media coverage.”
Shaking his head, Aki stated, “In the situation where the chairman really was killed, then what would have happened? There would have lead to a major investigation.”
“But instead, the focus of the media coverage has switched from an attempted assassination case of the chairman of one of the top zaibatsu in Japan to another sensationalized, ‘what is Kaitou Magician up to now’ story,” said Tomoyo.
Aki continued, “There are dozens of people who could hold a grudge against Kinomoto Fujishinto. Because of the position he is in, there would be two lists of suspects—somebody business related or somebody holding a personal grudge.” He glanced towards Sakura, who was listening without commenting. “A proper investigation would perhaps take months, no maybe years. And a major business corporation like the Hoshi Enterprise cannot risk all that time and attention from a very public police investigation, which would involve the police delving to deeply into the personal details of Kinomoto Fujishinto, CEO of a major zaibatsu. They probably have private documents and such they would not want to reveal to the police, and furthermore, it is not good for the public image of the company to be put through the investigation. Public faith in the Hoshi Group would decrease drastically and stock prices would fall.”
“Wow, Aki-kun you’re actually kind of smart,” remarked Naoko.
“Did you just figure that out?” said Aki, arms crossed smugly.
Meilin frowned, staring at her desk. Blame was shifted to Kaitou Magician instead of holding a proper investigation… a major business corporation like the Hoshi Enterprise cannot risk all that time and attention from a very public police investigation, which would involve the police delving to deeply into the personal details of Kinomoto Fujishinto... So Kaitou Magician inadvertently helped out Chairman Fujishinto by being there.
While listening, Sakura did not partake in her classmates’ speculations about the attempted assassination of her grandfather—most students did not know Kinomoto Fujishinto was her grandfather as a matter of fact. And only her friends who were present at the fashion show yesterday were aware that it was her father who had been shot. She was dead exhausted after the previous night. Her legs were swollen from the runway show, her eyes were puffy from all the crying. She barely got any sleep last night, but her brother had called in this morning to tell her that her father was perfectly fine and that she should go to school.
“What will you do if it’s Kai-kun that tried to shoot your grandfather?” asked Chang Eron.
“I don’t think it was Kai-kun,” said Sakura, scribbling a star on her notebook.
“I don’t think it was, either, but who knows,” said Eron. “How is your father doing?”
“Onii-chan said he’s doing well. I’m going to go see him after school,” said Sakura, leaning over to take a book out of her bag for class. The Star Key that hung from a chain around her neck fell out from under her blouse
Eron reached over and examined the star-sapphire ring hanging on the same silver chain that her Key hung from, careful not to touch the Key.
For a brief second, Sakura felt a sort of panic. “What is it?”
“Just surprised to see you still wearing it,” remarked Eron, dropping the ring. “I thought it might perhaps hold an unpleasant memory for you.”
Sakura touched the cold metal of the ring. “I don’t know… I must have begun wearing it when I had lost my memories because I found it in my jewelry box. It’s on the same chain as the Key, and I never take off the Key, so…” She glanced down at the sapphire stone. The light caught the surface of the gem and reflected a twelve-pointed star.
“I meant to ask, why do you have it? I thought Kaitou Magician took all the Five Force Treasures,” said Eron. He fingered his left lobe where a ruby gem sparkled.
“Kai-kun sent it to me some months ago,” replied Sakura. With a strange letter, as a matter of fact.
are, he’s planning something hand-in-hand with the Great Elder so that he can
regain his title of
Back then, she had been hurting too much to pay attention to the letter at all. But Kai’s letter had insinuated two things. That perhaps there was something linked to Syaoran and the Great Elder which motivated Syaoran’s decision to return to the Clan. And secondly, the Li Clan still wanted the sapphire ring. The line that hurt the most was when Kai wrote, ‘When he finally came to see me the other day, it was not to ask about you but to ask me what I’ve done with the sapphire ring.’ What did Syaoran want with the ring? Did he still want it?
Eron thought that the ring still evoked memories of Syaoran to Sakura, he did
not mention it. “I see, Kai sent it. He did seem to
make an effort to return the Five Force Treasures to their respective owners.
Well, he returned ours. And I figure he returned the Mirror of Truth to Miho
and his mother. The Li Clan Sword was returned to the Li Clan in exchange for
his hospital treatment in
“Shouldn’t it belong to a Reed descendent then, since it was Landon-sama’s treasure?” said Sakura. “But Kai-kun stole it from Shing-san because Li Ryuuren-san sent it to Shing-san, so technically, shouldn’t it have been returned to Shing-san?”
“So, why didn’t Kai return it to Kara Reed or Shing-san?” asked Eron. “Why did he send it to you?”
Sakura shrugged, letting the light catch the gem and shimmer its mysterious azure glow. “But I kept wearing it because ever since I did, it seems like my powers have become more stabilized. You remember how I was having a lot of trouble controlling it earlier this year.”
“That’s because you’re using the power of the moon,” Eron mumbled.
“Did you say something?” Sakura asked.
Eron shook his head and folded Sakura’s hand over the ring. “Continue wearing it. May the grace of the Great Five protect you.”
Meilin’s top priority was to find Miho and clear up the misunderstanding from the day before—of course, it was something that Kai himself probably should be doing but would never do. She tried to track Miho down during lunch break in the Seijou Junior High building, but it seemed that the younger girl was just as sneaky like her crafty older brother. Meilin tried her luck again after school, by sneaking into the junior high journalism room with the spare key she had borrowed from Aki.
As soon as Miho opened the door and saw Meilin seated by the computer, she turned around again.
“Miho-chan, stop trying to avoid me,” said Meilin, chasing after Miho.
“Stop following me—I don’t want to talk to Meilin-senpai!”
“Miho, you can’t believe everything you read in the papers,” said Meilin.
“I know that,” Miho said. “It’s just dirty journalism to get readers to subscribe.”
Meilin blinked her red-amber eyes. “Then you should know, yesterday at the fashion show—”
“I don’t want to talk about it, Meilin-senpai,” said Miho.
“It wasn’t Kai-kun who did it,” Meilin said.
“I figured,” said Miho. “If he did it, he would have run away faster instead of lingering around.”
“It was a setup,” continued Meilin. “I’m pretty sure it was.”
“Then why is it, Meilin-senpai, that his name keeps getting connected with all these shady dealings? It’s not just once. Again and again. It’s like he’s crossed over to a world that I don’t belong in, a world I’m scared to look at.” Miho’s brows were furrowed down. “I’m afraid that I’ll hate what he’s become.”
And Meilin could not say any of the heroic words she had thought up in Kai’s defense. He loves you. He is doing everything for you. He wants you to forgive him. Because all those words seemed so futile and shallow when they were not said in person.
Coming back from the Junior High building, Meilin was late for cheerleading practice, having changed into the sky blue and white winter cheerleading uniform with long sleeves and a short blue and white plaid skirt. She wore her track pants underneath because it was so cold.
The girls warmed up and Sakura helped Meilin stretch—she would have skipped if it were not the last practice of the semester. “So, Miho-chan doesn’t think it was Kai-kun who shot him either?” She reached over and touched her toes then stood up again.
Meilin looked up at Sakura. “It was Li Jinyu. I’m pretty sure of it.”
“Jinyu-san?” Sakura felt a sinking in her stomach as her worst fear was confirmed. For a second, I was really fooled. This was expected. But then, what is this stifling sense of disappointment? What, did I really think Syaoran was on my side again?
And Meilin stared down at her feet. “Truthfully, I couldn’t guarantee to Miho-chan that Kai-kun was not a part of the plan. I know he was not the one who shot Kinomoto Fujishinto-san, but even I don’t know what’s going on between him and the Li Clan.”
“Did you ask?”
“He’s so evasive in his answers.” Meilin bit her lips. No. That was not true. She was afraid to ask. Because she was afraid of the reason he might state.
“If I’m correct, is it not the Li Clan that brought about his father’s death? Why would he want to cooperate with the Li Clan then?” Sakura said slowly.
“I don’t know. The Kinomotos, no offense to you Sakura-chan, were equally involved in the incident, I would think,” said Meilin. “Kai is the type of person who doesn’t care about the methods and just the result.”
It occurred to Sakura that Kai might be working together with Syaoran. But with Kai, Sakura had a deep faith in his loyalty to his sister, that he would never intentionally harm Miho. Sakura looked her friend in the eyes. “Don’t you think that Kai is not a person to be motivated simply by something as simple as vengeance? He is a smart person. Every move he makes is a pre-calculated move. He has gotten this far because he is such a person.”
“If not by vengeance, then what?” Meilin demanded.
“You out of everyone should know by now how strong Kai’s convictions are once he makes a promise. He follows through no matter at what cost. Why is it that he is cooperating with the Li Clan that he hates so much, that he wishes to crush?” Sakura was more ruminating to herself now. “It must mean that the Li Clan is holding something even dearer to him or the power to give him something he desires.”
Meilin stared up at the rooftop of the school building. Something dear to him… Something dearer than his desire to bring down the Li Clan.
Mizuki Kai, hands folded behind his head, stared up at the cumulus clouds floating across the cerulean sky from the school rooftop. How peaceful.
“You had the nerve to show your face at school today,” remarked Kara Reed, taking a seat next to Kai and dropping a copy of the local newspaper on his stomach. “You made quite a splash in the news for doing absolutely nothing.”
“Kara-senpai,” said Kai, tilting his head up and smiling at the older girl. “Were you worried about me?”
“What do you gain from doing this?” Kara asked.
“A scapegoat was needed. And I happened to be a convenient black sheep,” replied Kai.
Kara’s pale brows furrowed down. “Or is it that you secretly did want Kinomoto Fujishinto dead? After all, he brought financial ruin upon your family. Isn’t that what you were seeking all along? Revenge? If so, you should have shot him. Shot him straight through the heart.” She placed a hand on Kai’s left chest, where a scar from the operation still remained.
“Kara, do you see me as a person that is motivated by something as trite as revenge?” asked Kai.
“Then why did you cover for Jin?” asked Kara. “Jinyu’s the Black Dragon—he knows how to cover up his tracks. He didn’t need a cover up.”
“Did Leiyun ask you to do it? Do you have a deal with the Li Clan?” Kara asked. “I thought you were smarter than that.”
“That is between the Li Clan and myself,” said Kai.
“Or is it you want revenge against the Hoshi Group so badly, Mikai?” Kara said. “Don’t you know it was actually the Li Clan—”
“I said, it’s not for revenge,” replied Kai. He was only wearing his sky blue blazer, thrown casually over a black t-shirt, but the wind was not cold for winter.
“It’s a matter of time before Miho finds out,” Kara said, staring at the pigeon’s blood red ruby embedded in the silver locket that gleamed from his chest.
“Why are you keeping it from her?”
“I’m not. I’m just waiting for the right moment.” Kai closed his eyes. “The truth will always be revealed in due course. I’m doing nothing to conceal it or reveal it.”
“You’ve grown up, Mikai,” remarked Kara with a smile of defeat.
Kai smiled crookedly, eyes still shut to shield the glaring afternoon sunlight. “What, did you think I would stay your cute little kouhai forever?”
“I thought you might remain my obedient and doting Prince Mikai, but I guess it was selfish of me to think I can indulge in you forever,” Kara said nostalgically. “Tell me, Kai, whose side exactly are you on?”
“I am not on anyone’s side, save me own,” replied Kai. His auburn-gold hair caught the sunlight.
Kara ran a light hand over his hair, sweeping loose strands off his forehead. “I’m a little bit sad. I thought you were feeling obligated to save me from the evil clutches of the Li Clan or something of that sort, my ouji-sama.”
Kai finally opened his eyes and looked up at Kara’s bent head, her golden hair a halo around her pale, pointed face. “You don’t need to be saved, Kara-senpai. You never did. But I made a promise to him that I will protect you in his stead.”
And Kara instantly dropped her hand from his hair. “I told you never to talk about him in my presence.”
Sitting up, Kai gripped Kara’s thin shoulders. “Tell me, senpai, why are you working with the Li Clan? You don’t have any reason to be with them. And you of anyone should know about the true nature of the Li Clan.”
“You realize that I am with Leiyun voluntarily. I chose to be by his side,” said Kara. “You and I, we are perhaps both victims of the Li Clan. Or perhaps, we’re just victims of ourselves. So I don’t blame the Li Clan, never did.”
Kai looked up at Kara with sad gray-blue eyes. “You were always so willful. Never listening to what anyone else said. You could have chosen me, and yet, back then, you chose to run away.”
“I’m sorry Kai. I never meant to hurt you,” said Kara, her pale lashes lowered.
“That’s just the way you always were, Kara,” said Kai. “You would disappear without a trace.”
“Well, even if I told you I wanted to return by your side and asked you to protect me from now on, you wouldn’t take me back, would you?” asked Kara.
“If it means I would be able to keep my word to Leon-san, then I will swear to protect you, if it means you’re leaving that person’s side.”
Bending over, Kara covered Kai’s mouth with a finger. “If you say that name again, I’m going to slit your tongue.” Her fingers traced his prominent jaw line to his earlobe, where the strange aquamarine gems twinkled on his lobes. “I should make you give me back these now that you are dating that other girl.”
“Do you want it back?” he asked.
“No, because I don’t want to give these back,” said Kara, the amethyst cross earrings dangling her ears. She leaned over even closer and whispered in his ears, “If you are so intent in keeping your promise with that person, then why don’t you come join my side, after all? You are an opportunist, like me. I’ve never been in favor of staying on a sinking ship.”
“Is that what you really want me to do?” asked Kai with somber eyes the color of the periwinkle studs in his ears.
She let out a short, callous laughter.
Sakura walked out of her father’s room at the hospital quarter to eight. He was sleeping now—the doctors said he was recovering remarkably well.
“Is he asleep?” Tomoyo asked, walking up to Sakura from the lounge—choir practice had ended late in preparation for the Christmas Concert.
“Yes,” said Sakura. “Otou-san said thank you for the basket of fruits from your mother.”
“I’ll let my mother know,” Tomoyo said. At times like this, she realized that her mother was very fond of Sakura’s father—Sonomi had been in tears all night yesterday, crying, “Kinomoto-sensei, if you die, I promise I’ll adopt Sakura-chan and raise her like my own daughter.” Tomoyo reached into her pocket and took out a watch. “Here you left your watch in the dressing room.”
Sakura stared at the leaf-shaped watch that Tomoyo had pressed in her hands. She blinked. “Wait, Tomoyo-chan, this is not mine—“
“Really? It looked sort of like something you would wear. I wonder if its Syaoran-kun’s then,” said Tomoyo. “Oops—look at the time. I’m going to miss the new episode of Kobato.” She skipped off—she was finished the fashion show, which had been her biggest project up till now, unlike other students, she had already finished studying and her favorite hobby, filming Sakura, was sort of put on hold for the time being. “See you tomorrow, Sakura-chan.”
Carefully, Sakura pressed her finger against the glass of the watch face. The hands were still at twelve o’clock. Syaoran must have taken the watch off when he was dressing for the fashion show. After all the flurry of events that had happened over the past twenty four hours, that strange warmth against her back and the strength of the arms that her encircled her shoulder for a brief moment had completely slipped from her mind until now. Words that she wished she hadn’t heard but were too precious to forget and a person she wanted to forgive a dozen times but couldn’t.
Tell me, Syaoran, why do you wear a watch that doesn’t tell time?
“Okaa-san,” Miho murmured, kneeling by her mother’s armchair, head leaned against her mother’s lap.
Her mother ran a gentle hand through her short red hair. “What’s wrong, Miho-chan?”
“I don’t remember otou-san’s face anymore, it seems,” Miho said. “Can you tell me something about him?”
“Keisuke-san…” Miara paused. “Keisuke-san was a good father. When I was busy with work, he would always take you and Mikai around to zoos and aquariums and museums and parks. He used to take you to work too. He used to carry you on his shoulders all the time when you were little. Do you remember?”
Miho giggled. “And I cried out ‘horsie’ didn’t I?”
“Yes… Your father was a family-oriented person,” said Miara with a nostalgic smile. “I wonder why I got mad at him when he took days off of work to spend time with us. I scolded him from leaving charcoal marks all over the couch and carpet when he was drawing pictures for you guys. He never took anything seriously it seemed. Always joking, unorganized, a big slob… He seemed to think he had all the time in the world, but he didn’t…”
Miho realized that her mother was more speaking to herself than her. “Okaa-san. Do you miss him?”
And Miara was silent. “Yes, I miss him every waking hour of the day. Him and my Mikai. But because you are here, my Miho, I can bear it through each day.” She embraced her daughter tightly to her. “We’ll be strong, Miho. One day, Mikai might return to us.”
“Okaa-san…” Miho felt tears stinging in her eyes. “Onii-chan—he’s all right. He’s doing fine.”
Miara closed her eyes, tears flowing down her cheeks. “I know,” she said softly. “I know.”
During break time the next day, Meilin walked down the hallway in the second-year section of the high school. She peaked into class 2-A. Kai’s seat was empty again.
“If you’re looking for Kai, he’s probably on the roof deck again,” remarked the tall, blonde girl with slanted violet-quartz eyes. Her black skirt was hiked three inches shorter than anyone else’s, and she wore over-the-knee black lace up boots. Her blouse was untucked and her she wore her blazer extra baggy, sleeves rolled up, tie nowhere in sight. Silver cross earrings studded with amethysts glimmered from her lobes. There was only one other person who got away with bending so many school uniform regulations.
“I wasn’t looking for him,” said Meilin curtly. Again? What did that mean? That Kai was at school yesterday, after all? With Kara Reed.
“Kai always gets a little moody during this time of the year,” remarked Kara. “But you already know that.” She reached into the air and drew out a large red and white striped candy cane.
Meilin recalled how Kai suddenly showed up at her school in
“Because he lost two people that he really cared for around this time of the year,” replied Kara. She tossed the candy to Meilin.
Kai’s father had passed away around this time of the year. But who was the other person? Perhaps the mystery of the unmarked grave? How did Rido-senpai know this? As far as she knew, ‘Kamura Karin’ was a student at Eitoukou and knew Kai before he left home. Kai always gets a little moody during this time of the year, Kara had sad, implying that she had known Kai for years. Sakura had asked some time ago, “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.” It had been embarrassing admitting that she didn’t know. And Kara Reed probably did.
During lunch break, Miho caught up with Meilin, who was eating lunch with Sakura and Tomoyo in the music room because it was too cold to eat outside now. Tomoyo, as the priced vocal talent of Seijou High, had been awarded keys to the music room for her personal use.
Meilin sat on a desk, tracing her fingers over the graffiti etched into the corner. There was a crooked heart with the initials M.M. and T.K. carved out into the wood.
“Meilin-senpai, I’m sorry about the other day,” said Miho, hanging down her head. “I spoke without thinking.” She offered Meilin a tangerine as a peace offering, then one to Sakura and Tomoyo.
“It’s all right,” said Meilin, peeling the tangerine, surprised that Miho apologized. She put a sliver of tangerine in her mouth. “Sweet.”
“I thought about it, and I was wrong to lash out at you, Meilin-senpai,” said Miho. “When you were just trying to help.”
Tomoyo smiled, taking the tangerine. “Miho-chan is surprisingly very cute.”
Miho ducked her head bashfully. “Onii-chan taught me how it’s important to apologize when I am wrong as soon as possible to clear up any misunderstandings.”
“Wish he followed the same policy himself,” muttered Meilin. “Well, I don’t particularly blame you for being unable to forgive Kai-kun, either.”
“Has anyone seen Kai-kun recently?” asked Sakura.
“Yeah, I did,” said Tomoyo. “I heard from Tachibana-senpai that he showed up to homeroom with his hair all bleached and spiky and his pants all baggy, looking like a gangster again. Seems like he didn’t do any homework, either, and the teacher had a mini-heart attack at what has become of his model student.”
“Completely back to the old Mizuki Kai,” remarked Sakura, not knowing whether to laugh or not.
“I wonder if they’ll catch the real gunman,” said Miho.
“They won’t. They’ll never catch Jinyu,” said Meilin.
“It was… Li Jinyu-san the other day?” asked Sakura, turning pale.
“Yeah,” said Meilin grimly.
Sakura stared at the floor. Syaoran had let her cry on his shoulders. He had pretended to be concerned for her. He had comforted her and stayed by her side when her father was in the operation room. Had he known that it was his very own cousin who had shot her father and tried to kill her grandfather? She felt sick to her stomach.
father was very lucky,” said Meilin to Sakura. “From what I heard, Jinyu-san is
the strongest martial artist of the family. He’s unparallel in hand-to-hand
combat and weaponry. But they say his strongest skill is his gunmanship. That’s
how he became Protector of the Clan without magic skills, and how he climbed to
the top as Head of the Triads in
“You know an awful lot about this stuff,” remarked Sakura.
Meilin narrowed her eyes. “I once thought I could become Clan Protector when Syaoran became Chosen One. I quickly learned that it’s not a path I could handle, however. Jinyu has no morals, no ethics, no conscience. He became the Protector because he is a cold-blooded assassin who has no qualms about taking another person’s life, has no hesitance in following the Clan’s orders, no matter how ridiculous they are.”
Sakura picked at her lunch box, appetite lost. Is that the kind of person they want Syaoran to become? Is that really the path you chose, Syaoran?
Miho shivered. “Why did onii-chan involve himself with such a frightening person?”
“I don’t know,” said Meilin, glancing over at Sakura—wondering if she made a mistake in mentioning Jinyu; but she was bound to find out sooner or later. “The way the Elders work, this probably was a top secret mission between them and the Protector. I doubt Syaoran even heard about it.”
But Sakura did not respond.
“Why would the Li Clan want to kill Kinomoto Fujishinto-san…” Miho shook her head. “Why would they not. The Li Clan and the Hoshi Group had foul dealings for years now.”
Sakura said quietly, “The Mirror of Truth. Grandfather kept it instead of handing it over to the Li Clan, as they had requested.”
“And in revenge, they killed my father,” said Miho darkly.
frowned. “I remember you mentioned your father died in
I was too young to go to the funeral. I heard they never even recovered his
body,” said Miho. “But yes, his funeral was held in
“An empty casket.”
“I know this may sound strange… but how do you know if he’s dead if they didn’t recover his body?” asked Meilin.
Miho stared up at Meilin. “He died. They had a funeral and everything. Why would they say he died if he wasn’t dead?”
“Well, it means that either his body was never recovered from the accident, which I find very suspicious. Or there was no body found in the first place,” replied Meilin.
Kinomoto Fujitaka was released from the hospital the following Thursday, much to the disappointment of the fifth floor nurses.
“He could have been released yesterday, but the nurses wouldn’t let him leave,” said Nakuru with a giggle.
Touya rolled his eyes, zipping up Fujitaka’s overnight bag. Sakura packed away her father’s laptop and books—even in the hospital, Fujitaka refused to be idle and continued to work. Luckily, lectures were over because it was exam preparation week at the University. Fujitaka was grading seminar papers, so that students could receive feedback on their essays before the exams.
“Otou-san, are you sure you don’t have to stay a couple more days? You really shouldn’t think about going back to work already,” said Sakura.
“I’m fine already. The wound’s barely a scratch,” said Fujitaka. “I’m ready to go home.”
Touya made a face—it certainly was not a mortal wound, but it definitely was not as trivial as Fujitaka made it out to be. He knew his father passed off the injury as something minor so that he and Sakura wouldn’t worry, but there was nothing to joke about being grazed by a bullet. Nonetheless, his father was stubborn and perhaps it would be better for him to return home instead of being restless, locked up in the hospital room.
“What is this ruckus outside?” remarked Nakuru, arms on hips, as she marched out to the hallway.
“Nina-chan has disappeared from her room!” exclaimed a nurse, near in tears.
Nakuru blinked. “Is she having a checkup?”
“No, she’s been gone all afternoon.”
“Why didn’t anyone report this to me earlier?” Nakuru demanded.
“I’m sorry—we thought perhaps she was in the playroom or playing a prank on us as usual…” The nurse sniffled.
“Well, what are you doing? Report to the Head Nurse and the guards, and we need to find her,” said Nakuru.
“Y-yes, Akizuki-san!” exclaimed the nurse, scampering off.
“Nina is missing?” exclaimed Fujitaka.
“Did you meet Nina-chan?” asked Sakura to her father. She had spoken about her in the past.
“She took an attachment to otou-san over the past couple days,” remarked Touya. “She’s been spending a lot of time here, and otou-san of course is a pushover and wouldn’t send her away.”
“Hmm…” Fujitaka frowned and then peered under his bed. “Nina, can you come out of there?”
Sakura bent over and stared underneath the bed. “Nina-chan, how long have you been hiding in there?”
Nina, crouched into a ball, holding a stuffed teddy-bear in her arms, stared out at them.
Fujitaka reached in and pulled out Nina-chan. “There, it must be cold underneath the bed.”
Nina-chan snuggled against him and said, “Oji-chan, don’t leave me too.”
“Nina-chan is found!” called out Nakuru to the nurses. She turned to Nina. “Nina-chan, you are a very naughty girl. Do you know how worried everybody was?”
Of course Fujitaka was not helping the matter by carrying around a clingy Nina one-armed though he should be lifting anything heavy because of his injuries. He stared up at the door, looking a bit frazzled by the loud chatter of the nurses and the commotion in the hallway.
Then, Nina whispered very quietly, “Otou-sama.”
Sakura turned her head towards Nina then back at the door. She said, “Excuse me, I’ll be right back.” Pushing through the nurses in their white uniforms, she ran out through the hallway. She glanced in both directions.
A tall, stooped gray man walked down the hallway, alone.
“Ojii-sama!” Sakura called out. “Father’s injuries are almost completely all right. We’re leaving soon.”
Kinomoto Fujishinto turned around slowly to face the granddaughter that reminded him so much of his dear Fujiko, lost forever. “That is good to hear.” Nobody took notice that the Chairman of their hospital was walking down the hallway because he was not surrounded by his usual entourage of secretaries and assistants, and without them, he looked like any other elderly man, slightly limping despite his erect posture.
Sakura then bowed her head down to her grandfather. “Ojii-sama. I apologize for my rude words last time. It was out of line. And I do not doubt how much you care for your family. Because I know how much otou-san respects and cares for you.”
And Fujishinto held up his head high, but his eyes were glassy beneath his spectacles.
“Won’t you come see him before we leave?” said Sakura, gently.
“You’re a persistent girl, aren’t you?” said Fujishinto with a long sigh. “I give up. This old man has not many years to live, and I am a fool for keeping such a lovely granddaughter disappointed all the time. I was wrong.” It seemed like his brown eyes regained light as he continued, “I would be honored if you and your family can join me for Christmas dinner this year, Sakura-san.”
“Ojii-sama.” Sakura’s eyes misted. And she thought she saw a black aura lift up from Kinomoto Fujishinto. The mask of Pride had finally slipped away. Unable to contain herself, she ran up and did the unthinkable. She threw her arms around her grandfather and gave him a tight hug. “Thank you, ojii-sama.”
The old man blushed, something he never did. And Sakura saw her grandfather smile for the first time. It was startling how similar he looked to her father when he smiled.
“You’ve grown up a fine young lady. Your mother and father both must be very proud of you,” said Kinomoto Fujishinto, bending down. Because of his stubbornness, he was unable to see his grandson and granddaughter grow up, and here they were, already old enough to have their own opinions and stand up to him. And then, a pang of sorrow washed over his eyes, before he looked up at the commotion down the hallway.
“Wait, Nina-chan, wait!” cried out the nurse, running after the truant little girl, her pigtails streaming behind her.
“Don’t let her escape!” cried out Nakuru.
“Whoa, was that Nina-chan?” Yukito asked, as a little figure streaked right between his legs and knocked over his can of juice.
“I caught her!” exclaimed Li Jingmei, stooping over to catch the little girl, dropping all her stacks of paper. The girl slipped past her arms.
Touya and Fujitaka ran out from the room. “Otou-san, please don’t run, your stitches will pop!” exclaimed Touya.
Little Nina, scampered down the hallway until she was
facing Kinomoto Fujishinto. Everybody caught their breath as they
realized it was the Chairman of the
“I apologize on behalf of the staff, Kinomoto-sama—she’s just one of the patients,” said the nurse, but Touya held her back. The nurse blushed happily that the handsome, young Kinomoto-sensei was holding her.
Nina stared up at the silver-haired man and dropped the teddy bear that she was clutching. Her lower lips trembled. “’Tou-sama.” Her voice trembled. “O-otou-sama,” she repeated.
“Hoe?” said Sakura, turning between the six-year-old girl and her grandfather. “Father?”
“Eh?” said Nakuru.
“EEHHHHH???” All the nurses echoed.
And Nina stared up at Kinomoto Fujishinto with large tear-shaped hazel-brown eyes and then ran back to Fujitaka and hid behind his leg.
“Otou-sama,” said Fujitaka, facing the older man. “Thank you for arranging such a comfortable stay at the hospital. I received the flowers as well.”
“My secretary sent them,” muttered Fujishinto, before he caught Sakura’s eyes. “Fujitaka-san,” he continued. “I…” And his gray brows wrinkled. It seemed that he had grown too old to apologize after years of grudge. And all he could muster to say was, “You shouldn’t have risked your life for an old man like me who doesn’t have many years left to live.”
And Fujitaka replied, “Please don’t say something like that. You have many many more years left to life, otou-sama, because we will need all those years to catch up the years that we have missed.” He lifted up Nina-chan. “And a beautiful young daughter that you have to see grow up.”
Nina was all bashful now, hiding her face in Fujitaka’s shirt.
“Nina, how are you doing?” asked Fujishinto awkwardly to his youngest child.
As a response, Nina peeked up at her father then quickly hid her head again. Fujitaka smiled. “Nina, don’t be shy. You said you wanted to see your father, didn’t you? Come say hello.”
While everybody was distracted, Sakura hid away in the nearby restroom, feeling rather lightheaded. The Pride had released her grandfather. She should be able to seal it now before it escaped. She drew out her key. “Key that hides the power of the moon. Show you true self to me. I, Sakura, command you under contract. Release!” She twirled her staff around her fingers and looked up.
Then, she realized that one of the stall doors shut close. “Who’s there?” she demanded, hitting herself on the head mentally for her carelessness.
Slowly the stall door opened again. It was Syaoran, looking rather more sallow than usual. He stared at her as if he was startled, a look she had rarely seen on his face in the past, because he had always been able to sense out her presence.
“W-what are you doing here?” Sakura demanded.
With a meaningful look, Syaoran pointed to the urinals lining the bathroom wall. “It’s the men’s bathroom, you know.”
Sakura blushed a tomato red.
“Worst luck possible today. I go down the hall to see your brother walking, so I decide to go the other way and your grandfather there, so I run into the restroom, thinking I’ll hide out in here till all the annoying Kinomotos are gone, but you run in here like it’s your playground and start releasing your staff without evening checking if anyone’s here,” said Syaoran.
“Sorry I’m one of those annoying Kinomotos,” grumbled Sakura. “Well, then, did you hear everything going on outside?”
“Yes, I had the shocking revelation that Nina-chan is somehow my father’s youngest sister. You can laugh too,” said Sakura. She thought Syaoran’s eyes twinkled, despite the fact he looked sort of haggard, like he hadn’t slept in days. Why was Syaoran in the hospital again in the first place? She thought his arm was all right, but she couldn’t tell because he was wearing long-sleeves, and both hands were tucked in his pockets. “It seems like a big joke to me at the moment.”
“Well, she has the same chubby cheeks and the strange hair that always sticks up into the air,” said Syaoran, the corners of his eyes crinkled gently, as if recalling the bright-eyed ten year old girl that would shout and bicker and smile and laugh at him.
Sakura touched her cheeks self-consciously and flattened out her bangs. “About the other day,” she said suddenly.
And Syaoran stiffened. “I’m sorry about that. I was out of line saying those things…”
Sakura looked up at Syaoran curiously. “I meant to say, thank you. Thank you for staying by my side at the hospital. It meant a lot to me.”
Syaoran opened his mouth and closed it again, staring down at his feet. “Is he all right now? Your father?” Did Sakura know that it was Jinyu who had attempted to assassinate Kinomoto Fujishinto?
“He’s being dismissed today,” replied Sakura. “He was annoyed we kept him longer in the hospital than a day.”
“What an amazingly resilient person,” remarked Syaoran in genuine awe. “Has the Pride released your grandfather?”
Sakura nodded solemnly, the smile dropping from her face. The question remained, had Syaoran been aware of the assassination attempt? And what was to guarantee that the Li Clan would not try to assassinate him again?
“Your grandfather should be safe for the time being,” said Syaoran slowly. “You don’t have to worry.”
Was Syaoran inadvertently admitting the Li Clan’s involvement in the plan to assassinate her grandfather? “You know, I was happy the other day. For a brief moment, it seemed like you were the Syaoran-kun I knew again.” Sakura clenched her hands into a ball. He had taken her off guard and taken advantage of her emotional vulnerability. “But I guess there is a reason for everything, so there was a reason why you were there at the fashion show. Were you ordered to distract me so that Jinyu-san could shoot?”
“Is that what you truly believe? How can you even think I would do something like that?” Syaoran burst out. It was the first time since he had returned that Sakura heard him really raise his voice at her. “Well, weren’t you going to seal the Pride? You should do it before somebody else walks into the men’s room.” His voice was monotonous again.
He didn’t even properly deny that he was unrelated to the incident. What was that stunned look on his face, as if he is grappling to come up with an excuse? Sakura twirled her staff around her fingers, almost knocking Syaoran over because of the confined space in the restroom. “Spirit of the dark forces. I, Sakura command you. Return to a new shape under contract. Sakura Card!” There was no response.
“Perhaps it’s one of those forces you have to call out the true name of in order to seal,” remarked Syaoran, watching the star-moon staff glow as Sakura concentrated.
She repeated, “Spirit of the dark forces. I, Sakura command you. Return to a new shape under contract. Sakura Card! Pride!”
Still there was no response, though she could clearly sense the presence of the dark force. Her brows twitched in irritation.
“Pride!” she called out yet again. The haughty mask of the Pride stared at Sakura, bemused. “Why isn’t it working again?” Sakura glared at Syaoran. “Did you do something?”
“Why would I?” asked Syaoran, wearily.
“I don’t know. Then why else would you be here? My powers worked fine before,” said Sakura. Then she narrowed her eyes. “Are you spying on me again? Are you here because of the Li Clan? Like at the fashion show?”
Syaoran’s face paled. “Maybe you should look deep within yourself to rein control over your powers before so readily blaming others.”
“You always did think you were a better magician than me didn’t you? I’m sure you held a grudge to losing the Clow Cards to a lesser magician—I was stupid. I never even noticed,” said Sakura, brows furrowed down. Why was she so angry at Syaoran? Because momentarily, during the fashion show, she had been so delusional and hopeful that Syaoran had returned, and she was furious at herself for her own lapse in judgment, for once again falling into the same old trap. “Well, I have no desire to hear a lecture about how I should use my magic especially from someone who doesn’t even have powers.”
He opened his mouth and shut it again, then finally said stiffly, “I’m sorry. I would refrain from giving any advice in the future if it offends you that much.”
Why did he look more hurt than angry? Sakura could not meet his eyes. She had expected him to retaliate—shy didn’t he defend himself. She hated that such hateful words came out of her mouth when she was with him; she felt that the memories that had been regained since the sealing of the Memory had given birth to a monster within her full of rage and disappointment at the one person she had believed in more than anybody else.
“It seems like the commotion outside is over. I will leave you now.” Syaoran turned around and slowly walked away, looking wearier than his sixteen years of age accounted for.
As the door swung shut, Sakura turned, and attempted again to seal the dark force. Syaoran watching had made her nervous; surely she should be able to now. “Spirit of the dark forces. I, Sakura command you. Return to a new shape under contract. Sakura Card!” she commanded again, striking down her staff. The haughty white masked face of the Pride appeared in front of her and leered at her.
“I don’t think you will be able to seal the dark force unless you conquer that dark force yourself,” remarked a little voice.
Sakura turned to spot a little, plump white rabbit-like winged creature. “Moonie-chan!” she exclaimed. “Long time no see. Where have you been all this time?”
The creature flew up and landed on Sakura’s shoulder. “The Pride is a very stubborn Dark Force to reckon with, I would say.”
“Are you saying that I can’t seal the Pride because of my own pride?” asked Sakura. “I know I have a lot of flaws, but I don’t think I particularly have a whole lot of pride or arrogance. I mean, look at me. Do I even have anything to be excessively proud about?”
Moonie-chan shrugged, white paws in the air. “I don’t know. But the fact that you can’t seal the Pride even after you said identified its true name indicates that there is something in your heart that is keeping you from relenting to something.”
“I have no idea what it can be,” said Sakura with a little frown. “I remember I could not seal the Despair after it left Yutaka Ichiro-kun.”
“And how did you seal it?” asked Moonie-chan.
“Inside the Fantasy. Despair was countered with the
feeling of Hope,” replied Sakura. Truth be told, lately, she had been feeling
less threatened by the dark forces than by the presence of the conglomeration
of a certain Clan from
“Why do you think so, Sakura-chan?” replied Moonie-chan.
“Well, I thought it must have something to do with the Li Clan. Either Leiyun-san or someone else sealed his powers for one reason or another. Or maybe he’s learned to conceal his aura from me and is not using his powers in front of me in purpose,” said Sakura. “But why would he do that?”
“That’s a possibility,” said Moonie-chan. “It’s a good battle strategy to not reveal to the enemy your true powers beforehand—the element of surprise. You’ll always be at a disadvantage, Sakura-chan, if you ever fight against Syaoran because he knows all of your powers. But even when Syaoran was on your side, you never really did know the true extent of his magic. Unlike you, he has received the utmost highest training from a very early age of all the lore of the Li Clan, the strongest remaining magical clan of the East, not to mention general study in theoretical Western magic and intensive training in combat magic.”
“Oh, the Li Clan annihilated all threatening Clans long ago or reduced them to a subordinate position to the Li Clan,” replied Moonie-chan.
“I don’t remember it too well, but there was a Syaoran inside the Fantasy that could use an incredible magic,” said Sakura with a far-off smile. “He could summon dragons and defeat hundred warriors with one strike.”
“But that Syaoran inside the Fantasy was a fake,” remarked Moonie-chan.
“Sakura-chan, it’s time the legacy of the Great Five is reunited,” said Moonie-chan. “Time is running out.”
With a long sigh, she sealed her key again. Yes, she had been putting it off because she was afraid to face that gaping hole that would become evident once the circle was formed. “Thanks Moonie-chan.” But the white winged creature was already gone.
“Kaijou, where were you?” asked Touya with a frown as Sakura rejoined them. “Did you just come out of the men’s room?”
“Onii-chan!” Sakura exclaimed, turning bright red. “Anyway, what is this business about Nina-chan being our grandfather’s daughter?”
“Ishikawa Nina is the daughter of actress Ishikawa Nanase and Kinomoto Fujishinto,” replied Touya, matter of fact.
“You knew this and kept it from me?” demanded Sakura. “I didn’t know Nina-chan was related to us by blood.”
“But rumors were that she was Kinomoto Fujishika-san’s daughter,” Nakuru remarked. “I always figured the heartless Kinomoto Touya was nice to Nina-chan because she’s your cousin.”
“Those rumors were to cover up the scandal. That is why Nina was not registered under the Kinomoto family. The reason why she has been confined to the hospital is to hide her existence from the world,” said Touya.
Li Jingmei, completely distracted on her way to her department meeting, frowned. “Wait. Nina-chan is not Kinomoto Fujishika’s daughter, but the Chairman’s daughter. So that will make her not your cousin…”
Touya pretended not to be listening.
“That will make Nina-chan Fujitaka-san’s half-sister. Which means that Nina-chan is your…” The corner of Nakuru’s lips twitched.
Everybody blinked as they all reached the same page.
“Nina-chan is your aunt?” Nakuru clutched her stomach and burst out laughing. “This is just too priceless,” she gasped, wiping the tears from the corner of her eyes. “Little Nina-chan is Touya-kun’s aunt!”
“See, this is why I didn’t want to tell anyone,” grumbled Touya. He glared at Sakura. “What are you laughing at? You realize she’s your aunt too.”
And Sakura turned somber again, though the corner of her lips were still twitching. “Hoe. Our family is awfully complicated, isn’t it?”
“Well, either way, you must be glad that your dismissal was retracted by the Director,” remarked Nakuru. “When do you start work again?”
“Onii-chan, you were fired?” exclaimed Sakura, completely serious now, turning to her older brother. “What did you do this time? You’re such a dictatorial ogre, it’s no surprise.” Her hands were on hips. “Wait, onii-chan! Does otou-san know about this? If he hears about this…”
Touya groaned, palm hitting face. “Nakuru, I’m going to kill you,” said Touya as Nakuru left the room, arms behind her head and whistling.
Yukito laughed out loud, chasing after Touya. “On the bright side, you don’t have to hide out in the residence hall anymore, and I don’t have to sneak food up for you from the staff cafeteria.”
Sakura sighed, walking out after her brother. Her grandfather had even meddled in her brother’s job. And of course, her brother hadn’t said anything. Because he didn’t want his father to be any more stressed than he already was after the canceled publication.
“I’m pulling the car out from the parking lot,” called out her brother. “Otou-san is waiting in the lobby already.”
“I’m coming!” Sakura replied down the corridor.
“Are you all right?” asked Yue, watching his Card Mistress, still in his human form. “Is there something you wanted to ask me?”
“Yue-san, why did you choose me over Syaoran to become Mistress of the Clow?” asked Sakura.
“Because you are Clow Reed’s chosen one,” replied Yue.
“Why did Clow Reed choose me, a stranger, over Syaoran, who is a descendent of Clow’s mother?” Sakura asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe you should ask the person who made the decision because nobody will ever understand the depths of his warped mind,” replied Yue. “But in my humble opinion, I am glad it was you who became my mistress. Regardless of what anybody says or anything that will happen, you are the one I, Yue, chose as Card Mistress, and swore to guard until the days comes when you will no longer need me anymore.”
She smiled up at Yue, her green eyes shining. “Thank you, Yue-san.”
Sakura slipped her hand in her pocket, where a cold metal met her fingertips. She had forgotten to give Syaoran back his watch. No, she wasn’t able to give it back to him, just like she could take off the sapphire ring, just like she could not throw away the black stuffed teddy bear, just like she could not lock away her silly childhood memories into a treasure box and throw away the key. She walked out towards the hospital lobby where her brother and father were waiting.
Miho stared up at the painting of Kaitou Magician hanging in the parlor of the
There must be a reason why the Li Clan ordered for the assassination of Kinomoto Fujishinto. The tie between the Li Clan and Kinomoto went back far. Then, there were the fishy happenings between the Li Clan, Tanaka Keisuke and the Hoshi Group regarding the Mirror of Truth.
She placed her hand on the wall next to the painting. “Onii-chan, what were you trying to tell me? Why can’t you tell it to me in simple words? What are you trying to hide?”
Nakuru walked behind Miho, a trench coat covering her white nurse uniform, home from work. “Shouldn’t he have always stayed by you and looked after his little sister? He betrayed you. You have every right to hate him. Betrayal is the greatest of sins, and betrayal of friends, let alone blood is the most unforgivable crime.”
Miho turned around, watching Nakuru’s coldly gleaming mauve eyes. “I don’t think onii-chan betrayed me. I thought he abandoned me. But he came back. He could not have returned, but he did. He tried to make okaa-san better. He had our house rebuilt. If anything, everything he did was for my sake.”
And now, Nakuru was grinning lazily. She patted Miho on the head. “Good, then stick by that belief.” Yawning, she headed upstairs, whining, “Touya-kun is so mean to me Eriol-kun!”
Slowly, Miho walked up to her bedroom.
Like the journalism room, her walls and bulletins boards were all covered with
Kaitou Magician material. She stared at the newspaper clipping on the far wall.
December three years ago. Kaitou Magician shot in
Miho smiled. She had been in
Why did onii-chan tell me Father was murdered? Because he wanted me to get revenge on the murderers? No, onii-chan is not the kind of person who would want me to seek revenge. There’s something he can’t tell me, because he wants to protect me. That’s the kind of person he was. But there is something important that I must know.
He kept lying to me and lying to me. But what if those lies were actually told for a reason, and they had another meaning? He told me ‘Tanaka Mikai’ was dead, and even showed me the tombstone. And I even believed it. Whose tombstone was it?
No, onii-chan doesn’t just lie. It’s not his style. He has been presenting me with a riddle. A riddle that he wants me to figure out.
Kaitou Magician’s criminal number is 00603, a number he supposedly determined himself. 603.
It was the first clue. He became a public thief; he wanted to be on the news and be splashy. He wanted me to know that he was alive. The “Earl of darkness” was a character from the stories her brother had told her when she was little, shortened to “E.o.d.” When you reflected those letters into the mirror, you got “603.” And June 3rd was her birthday. She should have known since her encounter with the Earl of darkness in the Fantasy.
The second clue was that he had told her that ‘Tanaka Mikai’ was dead and showed her the nameless grave. Why had he shown the physical proof? She had believed him. And he had said that her father had been murdered.
Last winter, why did he not admit to me that he was my brother, that the reason why he had been missing for five years was because he was trying to gather the Five Force Treasures and also figure out who murdered my father? How dare he hypnotize me and warp my memories?
Furthermore, he sent me such cryptic clues. If he didn’t want to be found out, he wouldn’t have told me about otou-san’s death. Why? He has been sending me clues because wanted to buy time.
Shortly after the ski trip incident, the Plague struck Tomoeda. Kai knew that the Five Force Treasure was needed to seal the Plague. And once their mother had been cured, he had left.
The third clue was the Mirror of Truth and the painting “Thief of the Night” that she had received last spring. The painting was not simply him proclaiming that he was Kaitou Magician. Her brother had sent these two items as a key to solve the mystery of their father’s murder. The Mirror of Truth was the reason her father was killed. Then, what did the painting by Shing signify? Meilin had told her about how Kaitou Magician had been shot. And he had never gotten the bullets removed. Her brother almost died, but he could not stop what ever he was doing. To him, it was more important than his life.
“There was a good chance he might not have survived the operation to remove the bullets,” Meilin had told her.
Miho doubted her brother went all the way to
Which still brings me to the question, why did he leave me all these nonsensical fragmented clues? What more does he want? He found a way to save okaa-san. He’s recovered our house. He’s found out who killed our father. But there still must be something left. It must mean he can’t do it all by himself. He needs my help.
Let me think back to the beginning. Why did he tell me ‘Tanaka Mikai’ was dead, and even show me the tombstone? Whose tombstone was it?
eyes flickered back to the December article, three years ago. Kaitou
Magician shot 7 times by the
She recalled Meilin’s strange words, “It means that either his body was never recovered from the accident, which I find very suspicious. Or there was no body in the first place.”
Life and death. One that should be alive is dead. One who appears to be dead is actually alive… Miho frowned, suddenly remembering the third verse of the Riddle’s conundrum.
Desperate times summon forces combined;
Moon rises, circle rejoined, blood intertwined,
Moon wanes, eye cracks, world goes round;
Two conceived lost forever would once more be found.
“Onii-chan, is this your method of explaining yourself?”
Due to the interruption of the Fashion Show, the five judges and contestants gathered the following Saturday for a press conference to announce the winner of the Design Contest held at the Hoshi Plaza Hotel.
Sakura let Tomoyo tie ribbons into her hair. She was no longer nervous. Nothing was quite as nerve-wracking as walking with Syaoran down the runway. Sakura kept glancing through the crowd, half expecting to see Syaoran again. She did not have the courage to ask Tomoyo if she had called Syaoran back for the press conference.
“Ah, sorry I’m late!” exclaimed Aki, running up to Tomoyo. “I had my neck braces taken off just this morning.”
“I’m sorry I asked you to come at such a short notice,” said Tomoyo.
“No problem, it’s something I agreed to do in the beginning, before I was stupid and got injured in the basketball game—but we’re off to nationals,” said Aki. “So, weren’t you able to get in touch with Li-kun today?”
“I don’t have his number,” said Tomoyo. “Besides, Li-kun was stand in for you, anyway, and you got better.”
Aki chuckled. “I know I was stand in for Li-kun, anyway. It was just lucky that I found him at the hospital to take my place.”
“Well, can you change into this?” Tomoyo asked, handing Aki a bag. “They want our models to wear a showcase outfit for photographs later on.”
“Sure.” Aki took the bag and peeked inside.
Since Sakura was already dressed, she glanced around at the familiar faces. The press conference was mostly reserved to reporters and industry related guests.
Aoyama Shiori’s model, Olivia, was dressed in a micro-mini zebra-print dress with metallic leggings. She was complaining to her makeup artist about having to be called in again despite her busy schedule. Watanabe Jun’s model, Malanie, from Italian runways, was the tallest of the girls and towered over Sakura by at least a head. Olivia shot a jealous glare at Malanie. With her wavy dark brown hair tied up in a high ponytail and striking blue-green eyes, Malanie was stunning in a black tailored jacket with a Venetian lace blouse and streamlined tweed skirt. The models were as tense as the designers, because they were all keen on winning a fashion spread in Vogue Nippon. Sakura almost went hanyaan when the older girl smiled at her, because Sakura, even after her experience in the fashion show, was still a little bit in awe of the other-worldly beauty of all the models
Over at the judging panel, Arima sat at the corner, eyes half shut and arms crossed. Mike was talking to one of the female models, who was clearly charmed by Mike’s conversation or perhaps his dashing good looks.
“Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule again,” said the director of the contest at the opposite corner of the room.
“It is always my pleasure to see the ingenuity of youths. It gives me newfound inspiration and vigor.”
“Sensei, have you lost some weight? You look really in shape,” remarked the director.
Pushing a ribbon out of her eyes, Sakura turned around and stared at Shing, almost not recognizing him. He had shaved his face clean and underneath the bushy beard was a prominent jaw line and a much younger visage than she had expected. In fact, he could be not much older than forty. He had also changed from his elderly round golden spectacles to a chic black-rimmed square framed glasses. His hair, too, was cropped much shorter and combed back with gel instead of the usual floppy mop it usually was and revealed to be a shade of dark mahogany brown.
“Ah, yes, I’m been jogging lately,” Shing said with a chuckle. “The doctor said it would be good for my health after all that sitting and painting. The park down by the hotel is really a nice jogging course.”
His assistant, Aiba, remarked, “Sensei, it’s true; you are looking younger by the day. Why the sudden change in style? Is there a woman?”
“Woman?” laughed Shing.
“How about the lady in all the pictures that you draw? The woman with the long violet hair.”
“She is my muse. But my only love is my art,” replied Shing.
“But it’s about time you settle down and have a family of your own, sensei.”
“I’m too old for that now,” said Shing.
“You’re not, Sensei. You’re in the prime of your life,” said his assistant. “And with you looking so well, you look no older than thirty.”
Shing let out a low chuckle.
Sakura glanced at Miho. “I thought you were trying to score another interview with Shing-san?”
“Hopefully,” said Miho, staring hard at the artist. “My article deadline is coming up soon, after all.”
The audience members took their seats and the press readied their cameras as the judges took their seats.
The MC walked up to the podium and stated, “Due to an unexpected circumstance last week, the announcement of the results of the Tenth Young Designer Contest has unfortunately been delayed. We apologize for the unprecedented chaos of last week and would like to reassure you that Kinomoto Fujishinto is completely fine but unfortunately is not present here today because he is still in recovery process. He sends thanks to all those who expressed their worries.”
“He wasn’t even the one shot,” remarked Meilin with a scowl. “And they made no mention of Sakura’s father being all right.”
“What did you expect?” said Miho.
“Now, onto the much anticipated results of the fashion showcase. The contestants are Yamato Masaru, age 27, apprentice to Anna Sui, Fukada Hitomi, age 24, graduate of Parsons School of Design in New York City, designer for the House of Comme des Garcons, Watanabe Jun, age 22, graduate of the Paris Institute of Fashion, Aoyama Shiori, age 20, student of Horitsuba Design School and Daidouji Tomoyo, age 16, currently a student at Seijou High and our youngest contestant ever,” continued the MC. “They have amazed us with amazing talent and ingenuity last week in their fashion show and it was a very difficult decision for the judges to reach.”
esteemed judges today are actress Akagi Arima, top fashion photographer from
The five designers and the ten models lined up at the front of the press conference room. Sakura wore a billowy dress as pink as pink could get with triple layers of lace covering the hems of the skirt and the sleeves. Her short hair was fastened by two pink ribbons and her shoes were pink patent leather. Aki wore a white vest over a pale pink shirt and perfectly tailored white pants, which suited his bleached hair remarkably well.
“Wow, these fit perfectly,” remarked Aki, admiring the meticulous cut of the vest.
“Because those were actually made for you,” said Tomoyo with a smile.
“Meaning the others weren’t?” Aki blinked.
“Contest number 5, Daidouji-san’s final outfit was unfortunately not shown on the fashion showcase last week, but the judges have reviewed the design sketches and have come to a decision based on a photograph of the dress and suit designed by Daidouji-san,” said the MC, turning to the panel of five judges seated at the front of the room. “Now, let us hear what the judges have to say.”
Kinomoto Hisano took the microphone. “We have had a very difficult decision to make, and because all five young designers were so talented beyond expectations and all brought a unique vision into fashion, we first of all would like to applaud all five contestants. You all have very promising futures ahead of you in this industry. Finally, after much deliberation, the judges have come to a decision. The runner-up is…” There was a pause. “Watanabe Jun.”
There was a round of applause and Watanabe Jun rushed up to the front where he was handed a certificate.
“Watanabe Jun will receive a 500,000 yen check and an opportunity to showcase his designs at the Spring Japan Fashion Week,” stated the MC.
“And the grand prize winner of the Tenth Young Designer Contest is…” Kinomoto Hisano smiled. “None other than Aoyama Shiori.”
Shiori bolted up and accepted the certificate from Hisano with a beaming smile.
“I don’t know what to say,” Shiori said into the microphone. “This is such an honor!”
“Aoyama-san will be awarded a scholarship to the prestigious Paris Institute of Fashion, a prize of 1,000,000 yen and an opportunity to launch her new design line at the Japan Fashion Week, as well as a feature photo spread in Vogue Nippon,” stated the MC.
A look of disgust came over Arima’s face as she slouched and tapped her fingernails on the table, glaring over at the sidelines at her manager. Mike patted her on the back.
“Don’t touch me,” snapped Arima. “You voted for that Aoyama-creature. Gosh, I loathe her.”
“Her designs aren’t half so bad,” remarked Mike. “Though a tad bit on the boring and predictable side.”
“How ridiculous is the contest? The results were rigged from the beginning. I can’t believe my manager even signed me up to do this. It’s like what I say doesn’t matter at all!” exclaimed Arima.
“Well, Shing-san was leaning towards Daidouji Tomoyo and Yamato Masaru as well,” Mike said.
“What’s wrong with you?” demanded Arima. “I know that my agency voted for me. But you had your own vote, didn’t you?”
“Even with Shing-san and me, it would still have been three to two. And I could not risk offending the sponsors of this contest, who are good friends with my father and support his modeling agency,” said Mike.
“So, because Tomoyo-chan was going to lose anyway, you didn’t vote for her?” Arima demanded. “She could have at least placed runner-up then. I hate deliberately calculating people like you.”
“It would be an insult to Tomoyo-chan’s skills to have her place runner-up to the amateur skills of Aoyama Shiori-san,” said Mike. “Wait and see. Tomoyo-chan’s moment to shine will yet be coming.”
The contestants and models stood in the front as the reporters snapped photographs. Sakura took personal offense that Tomoyo did not win and found it difficult to smile at the camera because she was fuming at the result of the judges’ decision.
“Smile a bit, sweetie,” called out a cameraman.
Sakura glared back at him.
“You should smile a bit, Kinomoto-san. After all, you’re wearing Daidouji-san’s designs, and it’s a dress that was made to make the wearer feel beautiful and happy. Don’t you want to show that to the world?”
Sakura turned craned her neck up at the speaker.
Italian model, Malanie, turned to Sakura, her blue-green eyes twinkling. “For
all that matters, I found Daidouji-san’s designs absolutely beautiful. I’ve
never seen such detail in any haute couture lines in
Sakura smiled gratefully and replied, “Thank you!” Ah, I thought they were all stuck up, but there are nice models as well. If I become a model, not that I do, I would like to become like Malanie-san…
“Watanabe-san, Aoyama-san, please come to the front of the room with your models for an interview,” called out the MC. Malanie was Watanabe’s model, so she waved to Sakura and caught up with her designer.
Aki smiled gently and patted Sakura on the back. “Come let’s go cheer Tomoyo up.”
Sakura and Aki caught up with Tomoyo in the hotel lobby. Sakura glanced at the crystal chandelier and the cream marble interior of the lobby. She had stayed in this hotel once. With Syaoran, that summer, when they were being chased by the police because they were safekeeping Kai’s locket which had a microchip attached to it.
“Tomoyo-chan! I can’t believe you didn’t win the contest!” exclaimed Sakura, blood rushing to her face. “What were the judges thinking?”
Tomoyo smiled. “It’s all right. The results are the results.”
“Are you really okay with it? You’re designs were by far the most original and beautiful in the whole contest!” Sakura stated.
“I wholeheartedly agree, coming from someone who has the vainest sister in the world,” stated Aki. “My sister threw a tantrum yesterday because of the decision of the agency to override her vote with their entries. This whole contest was rigged—there’s no point in getting overworked about it.”
Tomoyo shook her head. “Aoyama-san and Watanabe-san’s designs were very beautiful as well. I’m honored that I got to compete with such talented designers. And it makes me even more inspired for my next designs for Sakura-chan!”
Sakura bit her lower lip. “But Tomoyo-chan… You said that if you win this contest, you’ll confess…”
Tucking her hair behind her ear, Tomoyo smiled.
Aki glanced between the two girls. “Confess? Confess to whom?” A look of panic washed over his face. “Not to Eriol-kun. No, you can’t!”
Tomoyo merely smiled demurely. “Aki-kun, thank you for coming at such a short notice, when you’ve barely recovered from your injury,” she said. “I really appreciate it.”
Spotting Shing heading towards the parking lot, Sakura ran up to the artist. “Shing-san!” she called out.
“Sakura,” said Shing with a smile.
heard you’re returning to
I’m leaving tonight actually. I’ve been away too long,” Shing replied. “And I
think I’ve done what I can in
“Have you been painting anything new?” asked Sakura.
“I have, actually. I was inspired after the Fashion Show, last week, as a matter of fact,” replied Shing. He looked excited for a change. “Do you want to come see? My studio is not too far from the hotel, actually, and I still have some time to kill before my flight.”
Sakura tilted her head and caught Tomoyo’s eyes. Miho watched them enviously.
“Does your little reporter friend want to come along too?” asked Shing. “I never got to finish my interview with her last time.”
Sakura turned to Miho, who exclaimed enthusiastically, “Really, I can go too?”
“Come along,” said Shing. “You can finish your questions.”
Tomoyo waved with a smile. Her six bodyguards entered into the van, and Aki looked thrilled that he was getting a ride alone with Tomoyo (plus her six bodyguards and chauffeur).
Meanwhile, Sakura and Miho climbed in the backseat of Shing’s car, and Shing entered on the other side.
“To my studio, please,” said Shing to his assistant who also drove him around everywhere.
don’t have a Japanese driver’s license, unfortunately,” said Shing with a
chuckle. “Actually, riding cars makes me feel a bit claustrophobic, and I try
to walk as much as I can—it’s more doable in
had first met Shing-san in
“So, what were the rest of your questions, Miho-san?” said Shing, turning to the younger girl. “I think we got up to what was my least favorite food. Let’s see… I don’t like sour things that much, it seems, though I do admit I have quite a sweet tooth.”
Miho scribbled in her notepad furiously. Now that she finally had a real chance alone with the great artist, however, her mind turned blank. “Umm… What are you New Year’s resolutions?”
“Quitting smoking?” Shing laughed. “I’m sorry, I’m not very good with interviews and stuff.”
“No, I’m sorry—I’ve read before you don’t like giving out interviews,” stammered Miho, scanning her list of questions for a suitable question to ask but was tongue-tied.
“Sakura-chan, you were great during the Fashion Show,” remarked Shing, doodling on a small sketchpad as he liked to keep his hands occupied at all times. There was a bump in the road and his pencil slipped. He examined the result and continued working off of the stray line.
Recalling the press conference, Sakura’s bottom lips quivered
“I’m sorry your friend didn’t win. But for all it’s worth, I think her talent shone with a youthful brightness that I haven’t seen in years. I’m sorry my one vote didn’t amount to much, but Daidouji-san had my whole support,” said Shing. “I didn’t realize she was Sonomi’s daughter—they look nothing alike—but she must be very proud of Tomoyo.”
“Shing-san,” Sakura said. “You knew Tomoyo-chan’s mother as well.”
“Yes, Sonomi-chan was quite a persistent thing. She was quite brilliant—student council president, athletic, very pretty and very bossy. And she hated anyone that drew near Nadeshiko,” said Shing-san.
“You must have been very close to my mother and everybody if you knew them so well,” Sakura remarked. It was strange that she had not seen Shing-san in any of old pictures or heard about him. Neither had she seen him in any of her flashbacks to the past though she had seen pretty much everybody else. Surely if he had been so close to her mother, she would have encountered him in her visions of the past at one point or another.
“Shing-san,” said Miho, suddenly staring up at the artist. “By any chance, did you go by a different name back then?”
“Why, yes. ‘Shing’ is obviously not my given name,” said the artist with a chuckle. “I’m not even Chinese. I’m Japanese to the bone.”
Sakura blinked. “I did think your Japanese was very fluent. May I ask, what is your real name?”
Shing replied solemnly, “Then I would have to kill you.” Then he burst out laughing his hearty laughter.
“That’s not funny, Shing-san!” Sakura pouted.
At this point, Shing paused and stared out the tinted window. “Well, we’re here.”
They got out of the car—they were in the outskirts of Tomoeda. Sakura followed Shing into a single-room atelier, and Miho, who was oddly silent, followed behind.
Sakura stared up at Shing’s profile as he unlocked the white door. Now that his face was shaved, she could see his chiseled profile very clearly. He had a prominent nose and a squared jaw. When she had first seen him, she had found it hard to believe Shing-san would be around her father’s age, but he had a surprisingly young smile which completely lighted up his face. It was a familiar smile.
this is my art studio in
Miho and Sakura walked into the little, sunny room with whitewashed wooden floors and plastered walls. Large windows let in ample sunlight and there were canvases stacked against every wall, some covered, some not. There was an easel in the center of the room where the most light filtered in from the windows where there was a sketchbook with an unfinished charcoal portrait of a woman with long wavy hair and no face.
Shing gave Sakura a tour of his studio, Miho wondered off, staring at the
unfinished canvases tossed to the side. Like Renoir and Degas, Shing’s capture
of human emotion, expression and movement had an ethereal quality. Though he
was acknowledged as a portrait drawer, he was a good landscape painter as well.
There were scattered watercolors of the Hong Kong harbor, Yokohoma harbor, the
“Miho-san, what are you doing over there—that’s just junk,” called out Shing.
“Ah, sorry!” exclaimed Miho, jumping, and she quickly joined the artist and Sakura.
Sakura leaned over, admiring a wall-sized oil painting of the Swan Princess rising out of the foaming ocean with the Prince. As she tilted over, her chain slipped out from under her blouse.
Shing pointed to the sapphire ring hanging from Sakura’s neck. “That—“
Sakura’s hand flew to her neck. She fingered the ring. “This… Umm… It somehow came into my hands, but it’s really yours, isn’t it—I’ll return it to you!”
The artist shook his head. “It was never really mine. I was just a safeguard for it. Now that I think of it, Ryuuren must have sent it to me at that time because he knew that he was going to die soon.”
“Perhaps,” murmured Sakura. It was strange. So, Li Ryuuren didn’t want the Li Clan to have the sapphire ring, the Five Force Treasure once owned by Landon Reed? Did he have some ulterior motive in sending the ring to an old friend of his? But then, why had Shing-san been so surprised when he learned that her mother and Li Ryuuren were dead? If he had been so close to them, wouldn’t he have known that already?
“Well, here is my latest masterpiece,” said Shing, removing a white cloth from the canvas. “I’m rather proud of if, actually, if I may say so myself.”
Miho watched the cloth slide off from the painting. And Sakura stared at the painting, eyes turning misty. “It’s very beautiful,” she said.
The car pulled up in front of the Hoshi Plaza Hotel driveway. Miho stared at the long list of questions in her notebook. She had barely gotten through the first five and her article was looking remarkably dismal.
Shing turned to the two girls. “I’m sorry I have to leave first—my assistant called, scolding me for not finishing packing.”
“Shing-sensei! Where did you go off to? You know I have to
ship your new paintings to
“Oh dear. Aiba-kun is throwing a fit,” said Shing with a sigh. “I better run off before my assistant starts scolding me.” He turned to the driver. “Please take the young ladies to their homes and make sure they get back in safely.”
“Have a safe flight,” said Sakura to the artist.
feel free to contact me any time you come to
Miho just bowed her head slightly, hands clenched tightly.
The door shut and Shing was escorted back into the hotel by Aiba, who was carrying the painting with the greatest care while pushing the truant artist along.
driver chuckled. “Shing-sensei is quite a character, isn’t he? It was
interesting being his chauffeur while he stayed in
“You can probably auction it off for a couple million yen,” said Sakura off-handedly.
“Oh no, I would never sell it,” said the driver. “It’s a one-in-the-world piece by Shing-sensei that he drew for me. He’s a little crazy though—I guess all genius artists are. I mean, it’s ridiculous the media knows nothing about him, not where he was born, his birthday, his age, not even his real name or family. And he always gives that silly answer, ‘I’m a thousand-year-old vampire’ when asked anything personal on interviews.’”
was not really listening because Miho, who had been sitting next to her quietly
as the car honked through the
“What are you doing?” Sakura exclaimed.
And Miho jumped out of the moving car in the middle of the road.
“Miho-chan!” Sakura called out. She bowed her head to the driver. “I’m sorry, thank you for everything!”
The driver shrugged. He wasn’t particularly surprised that anybody acquainted with the artist was a little bit on the kooky side. “Don’t get run over by a car!” he called out.
As far as Sakura knew, there had been no artists in her mother’s acquaintance. A car whizzed by, and Sakura expertly dodged. No, that was not true. There was somebody talented in art. She remembered the smiling face of a tall man with glasses and short cropped red-brown hair. He had been the student-teacher instructor for the art club. He was the fourth person always with Nadeshiko, Ryuuren and Miara, the quiet presence that had been there those times when Sakura had visions of the past, the man who was always sketching or making a light jest with Miara-san. But he was supposed to have died six years ago.
All Miho felt was a white buzz in her head. She didn’t hear the cars honking at her as she crossed the street. She didn’t even hear Sakura call her name.
“Miho-chan!” Sakura called out again, weaving in and out of the cars that zoomed past. “It’s dangerous!”
Sakura panted as she reached the hotel driveway without being run over. Miho had already slipped through the crowd of tourists in the lobby, towards the elevator well. Since Miho was not much of an athlete, her lungs hurt from all the running. He was still there. Her eyes blurred.
Why did I keep doubting? Miho leaped over a suitcase and ducked a bellboy. Because it defies all logic.
“Shing-sensei, I can’t believe you. You painted only one piece in the past half-year? Please tell me this is only a joke, and you actually have a studio full of pieces that you already sent back home,” rambled Aiba, struggling to hold up the large canvas.
“I thought you told me to take it easy, go out jogging sometimes, meet women and enjoy Japan,” said Shing.
“While you were still painting!” Aiba said in exasperation, as they made their way towards the elevators.
Miho ran down the lobby hallway. Her voice was caught in her chest, and though she wanted to call out, she could not speak. She tripped and fell on the carpet. Her knees stung, but she stood up again.
Aiba glanced around as he pressed the elevator button. “Wait, isn’t that girl—“
“Otou-san!” shouted Miho. “It’s me, your Miho-chan. Don’t you remember me?”
Shing turned around, staring at Miho who was out of breath, her hair mussed and knees bleeding. “I’m sorry, little girl. I think you’re mistaking me for someone else.”
“No, I’m not,” cried out Miho. “You are Tanaka Keisuke. You’re married with two children, me, Tanaka Miho and my brother Mikai. You must remember us. You always loved art. You would draw portraits of us with charcoal and leave black stains on your shirt and okaa-san would always scold you. You would carry me on your shoulders, and you taught onii-chan how to play basketball.”
Shing stared at Miho with hard eyes. “I’m sorry. I do not know what you are talking about.”
remember! You have to remember me.” She grabbed the artist’s arm. “You left on
a business trip to
Aiba tried to draw Miho away. “Girl, don’t be silly. Shing-sensei has never married and doesn’t have any children, let alone a daughter as old as you. Come now. Don’t make a fuss. Shing-sensei has a plane to catch this evening. Sensei, please, this way. The elevator is here. Guards, what are you doing?”
Miho kicked and struggled as two hotel guards tried to restrain her. “Otou-san! Don’t leave! Don’t leave me!” she screamed. “Please remember!”
Shing only shook his head and quickly hurried into the elevator. The elevator door closed.
The guards only released Miho after Shing had left, and she collapsed on the floor, sobbing into her hands. “Otou-san…”
Sakura finally caught up to Miho and hugged her protectively to her chest. “What happened, Miho-chan?”
“Sakura-senpai, what am I going to do? Otou-san doesn’t remember me,” said Miho sobbing into Sakura’s chest.
“Are you really sure Shing-san is your father?” asked Sakura. “I thought he was… I thought your father was… dead.”
“I don’t know how,” said Miho. “But I know it’s him—how can I not? I always got this weird feeling around him, and at first, I couldn’t believe it—I mean, he was supposed to dead. I thought it was another illusion like when the Fantasy showed me onii-chan. But he’s my father—there’s no mistake. But then, onii-chan’s message—and the Riddle… I finally found him, and he doesn’t remember me or our family at all. I was so happy, it was like a dream come true. But now, it’s the same as if he wasn’t alive.”
“Shush…” Sakura stroked Miho’s hair. “He’s going to remember you. I’m sure he would.”
wiped the tears from her eyes with the back of her sleeves. “But he’s leaving
Sitting in the hotel lobby, ignoring the stares of the people, Sakura patted Miho’s back, holding the sobbing girl tightly. Why, why did people have to undergo so much pain and hurt?
That’s why she had thought Shing-san’s smile was familiar. It had reminded Sakura of Kai’s smile. The reason why she hadn’t caught a glimpse of Shing-san in her visions was because he had been there all along without her noticing. Sakura recalled the first time she had seen Tanaka Keisuke in one of her visions. It had been during the Star-Crossed performance, when she had faced the Fates. She had seen a girl with long auburn hair, her mother by the piano, Syaoran’s father with the violin and a man sitting at the table, sketching. They had been in the process of writing the Star-Crossed musical.
“You guys can’t compose the music for the finale of this musical, when I haven’t even figure how to end it! This is impossible!” Miara had stated.
“Whose idea was it to write the script and lyrics, compose the music, and put together a whole musical production all by ourselves, Mizuki Miara?” said a man, slightly older than high school age, looking up from his sketches of stage plans. He had been a man with short dark brown-red hair and glasses.
“Mine, Tanaka-senpai,” Miara grumbled. “Well, I’m going to be a great writer when I grow up, so I was trying to get an early start. And Nadeshiko and Ryuuren are composing great tunes to go with the lyrics I write out, when they are not arguing, and you are helping out with the stage designs, editing, giving creative ideas once in a while and stuff, so, I was pretty sure this will become a masterpiece.” On a dark note, she added, “If I figure out an ending, which will do credit to all the effort so far.”
Sakura blinked. Yes, no wonder the face looked familiar. She had seen it in the old Seijou Yearbook. Tanaka Keisuke, instructor of the art club. It was so blatantly obvious—how could she have missed it… Why didn’t I realize earlier? Last New Year’s, I even saw the vision inside the Fantasy of my mother’s fantasy world. She was an international model, Li Ryuuren was a famous violinist, Miara-san was a journalist and there had been a man called Tanaka Keisuke, an artist.
Chang Erika had been surprised that her boyfriend, Mike Kant, called her out. It was usually she who had to nag Mike to go out on dates with her. His silhouette was lit by the lamppost, the light glistening off his wavy sandy-gold hair. He was perhaps her best looking boyfriend to date, with his prominent features, tall stature and green-blue eyes accented by his blue jacket. She had dated him for less than half a year, yet he might have been her longest-term boyfriend thus far.
“I’m going back to
“The flight’s tonight.”
“You never told me.”
“Well, yeah, things wrapped up here quicker than I thought it would,” replied Mike. “And I wanted to return home before Christmas next week.”
“What about us?”
Mike stared at her without any expression. “I guess it’s over.”
“Are you telling me you want to break up with me?” demanded Erika.
“I don’t believe in long distance relationships. You’re young and pretty. You’ll find someone quick enough.”
“How can decide that on your own? How can you arbitrarily decide to end something without even asking me first? You have no right to break up with me! Do you know who I am? I’m Chang Erika. No one breaks up with me first.”
Mike stared at her with an almost condescending smile, as if he was watching a little girl throw a tantrum. For the first time, Erika acutely felt the six year age gap that she had never paid attention to before. He finally remarked, “Come on, Erika. It’s not like you were madly in love with me or anything in the first place. We had a fun time together, but I don’t like dragging out something that has already ended.”
“It’s not up to you to say whether I love you or not and whether it has ended or not,” stated Erika.
“Well, did you ever love me, Erika?” asked Mike.
At this, Erika stared up at Mike, her golden eyes turning hard. “No. I liked you because you’re handsome, rich and nice to me,” she replied glumly.
Mike smiled. “I
always found your bluntness refreshing Erika after all the two-faced women I’ve
dated in my life. You kept me amused through my stay here in
“What is it you don’t like about me?” Erika asked sulkily. “Why can’t you love me?”
"Some people live for fame. Some for wealth. Some live to find true love. I live for my art." Mike held up his camera. “My first and one true love is my camera. I love to photograph beautiful things, and I want to become a better photographer than my father. Some people aren’t so lucky; they aren’t born knowing exactly what they want to do. Some spend a life time chasing a nebulous white whale while others find solace closer to home with a family with kindred spirits. But for me, I don’t have any time to waste. I have a goal.”
Erika stared hard at Michael Kant, the tall blonde stranger with teal-blue eyes standing in front of her. “What does that have to do with me?”
“Tell me, Erika, what is it that you want from your life? To have people adore you and shower you with gifts? To marry rich? Or is that all just a façade?”
“I don’t know,” stated Erika, bottom lips trembling. “How should I know? I’m only sixteen.” No, she did know exactly what she wanted and had since the age of seven.
And a gentler look came over Mike’s eyes for the first time that evening. “It’s all right, Erika. I know. You’re a strong girl, stronger than anyone gives your credit for. I wouldn’t have gone out with you if I knew you were just another silly sixteen year old girl looking for a boyfriend to flatter you and pamper you. You may be self-centered, but you don’t let people get to your head.”
“What do you know about me?” demanded Erika, arms crossed. “Maybe I just want someone to dote upon me and spoil me. Maybe I’m just shallow like that and have no dreams nor aspirations nor objectives in life. So, am I not good enough for you?”
“It’s not like that, Erika,” Mike said softly, his golden hair back blowing in the wind. “I know about the orphanage. I know about your heart condition. I know you’ve been on the waiting list for a transplant for ten years.”
Erika’s eyes widened and she stepped back as if she had been slapped on the face. “How did you find out…”
“I didn’t mean to
intrude on your private affairs. But because I started out in photojournalism
rather than fashion photography, I have a prying nature. I wanted to find out
more about Kinomoto Sakura and her friends, and I managed to dig up files about
you and your twin after I met you all in
A wary look washed over Erika’s face. She had once told Mike that her father had been the descendent of a Chinese Ming imperial court and that her mother was a famous model. “So you knew all along? You knew I was just some poor abandoned girl from the orphanage? Why didn’t you say anything?”
Mike shrugged. “I thought it might make you react the way that you are reacting right now. But it doesn’t matter now, does it?”
Erika clenched her fist. “Then tell me, is that why you went out with me? Because you felt pity for me? Because I’m some sort of a charity case?
“You know that’s not true.”
“If not, why? Why did you agree to go out with me in the first place? You don’t love me and we have nothing in common at all.”
Mike Kant turned around and grinned slightly. “Isn’t that obvious? It’s because you’re pretty. I have an artistic sentiment; I’m attracted to beauty.” From his pocket he slipped out a large manila envelope and tossed it at Erika.
“What is this?” she demanded.
“Farewell gift.” Mike’s eyes twinkled. “Love is the greatest gift one can give another person. I’m sorry but I’m an egocentric narcissist, and my heart is not for loving. But I can give you the greatest gift a photographer can give, and that is my art as a testament that our time together did exist.”
“You’re really leaving me?” squeaked Erika, clutching the manila envelope.
“Good bye, Erika.”
Erika watched Michael Kant walk away then flung the manila envelope on the floor and stamped her heel down on it, letting out a shriek of fury. She then picked it up again, brushed the dust off, and hurried off down the other direction, without turning back. It was not her style to cling to a leaving man, just like it was beneath her pride to spill tears for someone who had already left. Too bad Mike became so vocal of his true thoughts only at the very end. All this while, she had not known him at all. He was a far crueler, cold-hearted man than she had ever met before. But if he had been this frank from the beginning, maybe she would have cared for him a little more.
Eron sat on the couch in the living room, holding up a small jewelry box. “Do you think Sakura would like it?”
“Of course she would,” said a little voice from beside him.
And Eron kissed the silver wrapping paper. “I hope she does. I want us to have an unforgettable Christmas.”
He heard a thud of footsteps at the front door. “Erika, are you back already— What’s wrong?” demanded Eron as Erika burst into the living room in tears. “Why are you crying?”
“Mike broke up with me!” stated Erika, collapsing on the sofa. “Wahhh!”
“He broke up with YOU?” asked Eron.
“Yes. He had the nerve to break up with me, Chang Erika. No one breaks up with me,” Erika beat her fists into the sofa cushion in fury.
“How dare that scum of the earth hurt my little sister?” Eron rolled his sleeves up. “I’m going to go beat him up.”
“Can’t. He’s already left
“So suddenly?” Eron frowned. “I can hop on the next plane and catch up with him and smash his heavy Canon camera over his head for making my sister cry.”
“Don’t bother,” said Erika, blowing her nose into a Kleenex. “It’s my pride that’s hurt more than anything else. I’ve never been dumped before. And Mike’s been nothing but so sweet and patient with me, I never thought he would backstab me and dump me right before the holidays. I should have listened to you all along. He’s nothing but a two-faced, conniving playboy!”
Eron didn’t have the heart to say, ‘I told you so.’ Instead, he patted his sister’s back sympathetically. “It’s all right. There are many other guys hundred times better than him out there.”
“I’m not dating anyone again,” stated Erika gloomily.
“Don’t be silly,” said Eron, alarmed. “You’ll find somebody else.”
At this, Erika almost smiled. “I thought you would be ecstatic to hear that news. Maybe having a girlfriend has lightened you up a bit?”
“No, I mean, I would rather you not date someone you don’t really care about in the first place. But some day, I’m sure you’ll find someone that you truly do care for and want to spend time with. And then, if that person gets my permission first, I would let him possible be a prospective suitor for you,” replied Eron.
“Oh ‘nii-chan, you’re so old-fashioned.” Erika laughed, snuggling her head onto her twin’s shoulder. “I hope someday, I’ll find a guy just like onii-chan.”
At this, the corner of Eron’s eyes twinkled. “Remember he’ll need my okay first to date you.”
“All right.” Erika sighed and tossed on the table the rumpled envelope.
“What’s that?” asked Eron.
“I don’t know. Some farewell gift or something. Snaky bastard,” grumbled Erika, sulking on the sofa.
Eron flipped through the photos of Erika. Erika scowling, Erika smiling, Erika eating ice cream, Erika glaring at the camera lens, more photos of Erika frowning, and a photo of Erika laughing out loud, head thrown back, wind blowing through her hair. Whether or not Mike understood the complexities of a woman’s heart, Mike certainly had captured ever side of Erika possible on film. It really seemed to be the greatest compliment that a photographer could give someone. “Did you take a look at these?”
“No.” Erika pouted. “He’s loaded. He could have given me a Louis Vuitton bag or maybe a Tiffany’s necklace. Maybe then I could forgive him a little bit. He spent all our dates taking photographs, and he ends up dumping a bunch of photographs on me in the end. I don’t care about his stupid photos.”
“I think you should take a look,” said Eron, gently setting the photos next Erika on the sofa. Quietly, he left the living room.
After Eron left, Erika turned over and picked up the photos. Silently, she flipped through the still frames, one by one. All pictures of her. For some of them, she could remember the exact day and the conversation they were having, usually along the lines of “you’re so embarrassing—can’t you put away your camera for one second?” When had be taken so many pictures of her? There must be hundreds of photos in this envelope. Finally, she reached the last photo of the bunch. It was a photo of her laughing out loud, hair flying out everywhere. She remembered that day vividly—it had been one of their first dates, when he had taken her to the amusement park. When she flipped the photo over, she realized he had written something in the back in English.
“It doesn’t matter now, but for this brief second, I think I was in love with you. While an emotion is a fleeting state of being, a picture freezes that moment in time for eternity. In the future, find a man who will make you smile like this again.” – Mike
And for the first time that day, reality sank in, and Erika buried her head into her knees and wailed out loud not because of humiliation or infuriation but because of a churning sense of loss stirring within her stomach. Mike had been right; she had never loved him, not for a moment. In fact, she had never loved anyone except herself and Eron. But for this brief moment, she imagined herself to be in love with Mike Kant even if it was only because she had already lost him and the human heart always covets what it cannot have. She doubted she would miss him tomorrow, or even remember his phone number the week after, or recall the color of his eyes on a sunny day in another month. But today, she felt an abyss of emptiness.
man in glasses stared out the airplane window, watching
“Are you sad to be leaving, Shing-sensei?” asked Mike Kant in the seat next to him.
little, I suppose. It feels more like home here, for some reason, though I’ve
been living in
Mike shrugged. “Jessica and Annabel are waiting for me when I get back.”
Clucking, Shing said, “Poor Erika-chan. She must be heartbroken.”
“She never loved me. If I didn’t leave her, she eventually would have dumped me anyway,” replied Mike.
“Were you always so cold-hearted?
“I guess you just grow a little bit jaded in this industry,” said Mike as the city lights grew distant. “Trying to capture a fleeting moment of beauty until all the sparkle in life seems to fade away. I have a motto, end it while it’s still beautiful.”
“You’re young still; don’t speak as if you’re my age,” said Shing, knuckling Mike in the head. “You remind me of myself when I was younger. Thinking I knew everything about the world, so earnestly chasing after the rainbow’s end.”
Mike rubbed his forehead. “Is everything all right, Shing-sensei?” The absentminded artist seemed unlike his usual jovial self.
“It’s nothing, really. Quite silly, actually,” Shing said slowly. “This girl—she mistook me for her father today.”
Mike grinned slyly. “Shing-san, and you’re lecturing me? Who’s the mother? When did this happen? How old is your daughter? Is she cute?”
“Michael,” said Shing sternly. “You would think I would know if I had a teenage daughter.”
“Are you sure she’s not just a fraud—I mean, you’re pretty famous and rich; she probably thought that she could scam you,” Mike remarked.
Shing recalled the tears streaming down Miho’s face. “No, I don’t think she was like that.”
“Or I guess you have a doppelganger that looks just like her real father,” remarked Mike. “I heard from Erika-chan that Japanese think if you see your own doppelganger, it means you’re going to die.”
Shing made a sour face. “I would think if I had a wife and two children, I would remember, right? I should just know. I mean, it’s one thing to forget what I had for dinner two nights ago or that I had an important meeting at the White House. But to forget that I had a family…”
“That whole amnesia story wasn’t just a farce to create a media personality?” asked Mike, surprised. “I always thought you invented that story because you were just a really private person, Shing-sensei.”
shook his head. “That part’s true. I woke up in a hospital in
“Retrograde amnesia?” asked Mike with raised brows. Because Shing had joked so much in the past, he was still skeptical of anything that came out of the artist’s mouth.
“Something like that.”
Then, the seatbelt lights began blinking. The stewardess announced on the speaker, “We will be passing through turbulence. Please return to your seats and fasten your seatbelts.”
Mike fumbled to pull his on his seatbelt and hugged his camera to his lap—even if his memories failed him, his camera will have evidence of the people he had met and the places he had been. And Mike realized that perhaps the reason that Shing’s painting had such a surreal, fantastical quality was because he had no memories to ground him in this world.
To Eron, it still felt surreal that Sakura was dating him. When he had first asked her out, he had said that it was okay if she didn’t love him yet. But as the days passed by, he grew greedier. He wanted her full attention, for her to look at him and only him. But Sakura was a dreamer. Her dazzling emerald eyes always held a far-off look as if she was gazing past him, seeing wonders that were not visible to his own eyes clouded by a dark curtain. And thought it was aggravating, that was a part of her that he loved.
Eron had finally ventured to hold Sakura’s hand as they walked down the street together on their way to school in the morning. He thought she might pull back, but she didn’t. Her hand felt so small and fragile in his hand, like he could crush it if he applied to much pressure.
“Sorry, I’m going to have to cancel our Christmas date,” said Eron. “It seems like Erika broke up with Mike, and she has no one to spend the day with anymore.”
“Heh, so she finally dumped Mike-san?” asked Sakura, mildly bemused.
it’s seems like he dumped her. He’s returned to
Sakura raised an eyebrow. “How is Erika taking it?”
“Not very well. She’s never been dumped before,” replied Eron with a little chuckle. “But she’ll survive.”
“Mike-san is a lot more coldhearted than I thought,” remarked Sakura.
an adult and has priorities. He finished his business in
“You actually sound like you admire him a bit,” Sakura commented wryly. “I thought you hated him.”
“Well, now that he’s not dating my sister, I can admit that despite his rotten personality and Casanova antics, he’s a damn good photographer,” replied Eron.
“You’re right,” replied Sakura with a snicker. “You remind me a little bit of onii-chan, sometimes.”
“What? That I think nobody will ever be good enough for my little sister?” Eron said, raising an eyebrow.
“You know there’s a term for that,” remarked Sakura coyly, hands crossed behind her back. “Yukito-san calls it ‘sister-complex.’ “
“I-I don’t have a sis-con!” shouted Eron, ears turning red.
Sakura burst out laughing, “Eron-kun, I’ve never seen you blush before!”
“So, are you going ahead with this?” asked Eron, changing the topic, holding up a white card with a golden seal engraved on the front.
Nodding, Sakura replied, “Yup—tomorrow night at Eriol’s house.” She muttered, “sis-con,” once again before running up to the school gates.
And Eron smiled as the pale morning sunlight caught Sakura’s short golden-brown hair and her skirt fanned around her as she skipped off to say hello to her friends.
“You get along well with Eron-kun,” remarked Meilin wryly during PE class, as she tied her shoelace. “I saw you two holding hands in the morning.”
“Well, we’ve been together several months,” replied Sakura, blushing.
“What do you guys do?” Meilin asked. Even now, she did not know what to make of Chang Eron. While she could not help being drawn to his handsome face, Syaoran’s negative feelings towards that particular Chang twin might have rubbed off on her.
Sakura shrugged, ears pink. “I don’t know. We walk around and talk. We study. We watch movies and go to cafes and have tea and cake.”
“How far have you gone with him?” asked Naoko with a mischievous twinkle in her eye.
“W-what do you mean?” Sakura stammered, fiddling with the zipper of her navy blue jersey.
“How was your first kiss with him?” Naoko said, leaning her face straight in front of Sakura. “Eron-kun is so dashingly romantic, I can only imagine how wonderful of a boyfriend he would be.”
“Dashingly romantic?” Sakura snickered.
“What are you laughing about?” asked Meilin.
“I don’t know. Our relationship really isn’t like that. We just hang out, and not even that much because we’re both busy with school activities and stuff,” replied Sakura.
“Wait, you don’t mean to tell me he’s never kissed you!” Chiharu explained, leaning over the desk.
“Nooo…” replied Sakura slowly.
“And how long have you been dating him?” Naoko said.
“We’re just high schoolers—” Sakura’s ears turned red and she stared down at her desk.
“Oh, Sakura-chan is so naïve,” said Naoko. “I mean, he’s a guy after all. And you’re already sixteen. What do you do with him? Play videogames?”
“Hey!” said Meilin with a scowl.
“Oh, Meilin-chan. Kai-kun perhaps might be one of the most thrilling guys to date. You have nothing to complain about. He’s the sort of guy every girl dreams of dating. Someone dashing and able to take the lead.” Naoko blushed and sighed happily.
“Ha ha ha…” Meilin only could let out a dry laughter. If only they knew.
“Anyhow, Christmas is coming up,” stated Naoko, hands on desk. “It’s that wonderful time of the year for couples. It is your chance, Sakura-chan!”
“Hoe!” Sakura leaned back in her chair.
“You’re going on a Christmas Eve date with Eron-kun, aren’t you?” Naoko asked.
“No, he’s going to be away—we’ll be meeting the day before.”
“Either way, you must take your relationship to the next level!” stated Naoko.
“Why?” Sakura said, tugging on the side of her bangs. “Why can’t I just go at my own pace?”
Naoko’s jaw dropped. Her eyes grew misty under her glasses. “Poor Eron-kun. What he must have to put up with. Are you two even dating? It’s like you guys are just two classmates who hang out together.”
“But we are like that,” Sakura said. “I mean, Chiharu-chan and Yamazaki-kun are the same…”
“No, they’re not. They’re like this at school, but they’re romantic and cuddly and hold hands when they walk down the streets and stuff when they’re out of school,” said Naoko.
Chiharu blushed and smacked Naoko on the arms.
“Well, I guess it can’t be helped. Eron-kun is Sakura-chan’s first real boyfriend after all,” Rika said.
Sakura pouted. Even kindhearted Rika said something like that.
“Wait, so you never were going out with Li-kun then?” asked Naoko.
Both Chiharu and Meilin kicked Naoko under the chair.
Naoko scowled. “What? I mean, how long are we never going to talk about him again? Time has passed and Sakura-chan is going out with Eron-kun now, anyway. Is it wrong to ask?”
“No, we were not like that. Li-kun and me,” said Sakura.
The three girls turned and stared at Sakura.
“You called him ‘Li-kun,’” said Chiharu. “You’ve called him ‘Syaoran-kun’ ever since elementary school.” She mumbled under her breath, “Or are we still playing the let’s pretend we don’t know Li-kun game? And here I thought you were all made up by now because of the fashion show.”
“Is that weird?” Sakura said with a forcedly pleasant smile. “We’re not exactly classmates anymore, and it’s sort of rude to call someone that you are not so close with by their first name, don’t you think?”
“I guess you are right, Sakura-chan,” said Rika, not sounding very convinced at all.
Syaoran opened his eyes to find a pair of golden eyes peering at him like a pair of cat eyes in the dark. Instinctively, he reached for his sword. “What do you want?”
“Where did you learn to model?” asked Erika, bending over Syaoran’s bed. She was still in her Seijou uniform with the sky blue blazer and black skirt and black thigh-high socks.
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m waiting for Leiyun,” said Erika, observing Syaoran’s room. It was a large room and remarkably bare. The large queen-sized bed was placed at the far end of the room. The windows were ceiling-high and let in ample sunlight but the dark green velvet curtains were drawn and only a line of natural light filtered into the room. Stacks of books on Syaoran’s desk indicated that they had not been opened and there was little decoration in the room, giving little indication of what sort of person lived in it except for the crisp black Eitoukou blazer hanging by the closet.
“Don’t you know how to knock?” Syaoran asked crankily.
“I did knock. What are you doing, taking a nap at this time of the day?” asked Erika.
Syaoran was still wearing his white uniform shirt, a loosened black tie with golden lining and creased black pants. He sat up on his bed, smoothing his hand over his hair. If he had his powers, he would never had let a Dark One get so near him, even in his sleep.
Suddenly, Erika leaned nearer to Syaoran, blinking her long lashes up at him. “Say, do you want to go out with me?”
Syaoran blinked. “Tell me I’m having a horrible dream, and you’re just a part of it. What happened to Mike-san?”
“We broke up. Well, what don’t you like about me? I’m pretty, I’m popular and I’m powerful,” Erika demanded
“I envy your self-assuredness sometimes,” remarked Syaoran. “But no thanks, I’m not interested.”
“So crass, as usual.” Erika scowled. “Why, is it because I’m the Dark One? That didn’t really stop darling Sakura from dating my brother, did it? Besides, you’re not on Sakura’s side anymore, so that technically puts you on the same side as me.”
“Does it? I didn’t realize the world had only two sides.” Syaoran crossed his arms. “By the way, who were the Dark Ones more angered towards, Amamiya Hayashi-sama or Li Shulin?”
“That stuff.” Erika shrugged. “I never really cared about it as much as Eron did.”
“Then what do you care about? What is most important to you, Erika?” Syaoran said.
Something about the way Syaoran said her name made Erika squirm a bit. It felt uncomfortable because he seemed to be too comfortable calling her by her first name whereas he was very courteous to other girls. “Living. The now. Spending each day without thought pain, without stress, full of pleasure and pretty things,” replied Erika without an expression.
“Hmm… You might have chosen the wrong occupation becoming the Dark One then,” said Syaoran solemnly.
Erika narrowed her eyes. Was Syaoran actually joking with her?
He then looked straight into her eyes, with his clear amber eyes, which made her squirm uneasily, and said, “Perhaps then, instead of dating someone you do not particularly care about and being involved in relationships that at the end of the day do not amount much to you, why don’t you sit back and try to find a person you really do find makes you happy and makes you feel like you are living each day to its fullest? Since time is finite, don’t you want to make each moment meaningful?”
Erika scowled. “Why does everybody keep telling me stuff like that?”
“Maybe they care about your well-being,” he replied with a careless shrug.
“Is this your way of rejecting me too?” demanded Erika, arms crossed. “You really should reconsider. I will be more useful to you as your ally than enemy.”
Syaoran sighed—Erika had not listened at all. How like her.
you want to make Sakura jealous?” Erika continued. “After what she did to you?
She started dating my brother—the Dark One. She couldn’t forgive you for going
Syaoran gently pushed Erika’s shoulders away. “Are you sure you just don’t want to punish your twin for being in a relationship? There probably is nobody he dislikes more than me.”
“And you hate Eron too?” asked Erika.
“Liar,” said Erika.
A somber look came over Syaoran’s eyes. “Those were the good days when you twins aggravated me. Is it funny for me to say, I miss those days.”
“You’ve changed, Li Syaoran,” remarked Erika, finally withdrawing in defeat. “How boring.” She missed the old Syaoran who would get flustered and embarrassed.
“Do you think so?” he replied with a half-smile.
And Erika scowled and left Syaoran’s room, slamming the door behind her. “Well, if you won’t go out with me, there is a line of guys just dying to date me!”
Erika stormed down the hallway, towards the stairwell. She nearly jumped when a black-haired man in a sleeveless black cheongsam appeared in front of her like a silent black panther. Had he been listening to the conversation? She’d been humiliated too many times this week to even care.
“Leiyun is ready to see you,” said Jinyu with his expressionless red-amber eyes.
She followed Jinyu down the hallway, feeling blood rush to her head again because Jinyu’s face reminded her of Syaoran’s. “What is wrong with Syaoran? How dare he refuse me?” demanded Erika. “All the guys want to date me, and yet, here I almost throw myself at him, and he didn’t respond at all! It’s not like Sakura is available anyway.” She scowled. “Those rumors about him and Kai must be true.”
Jinyu walked on ahead, wordless, leading her down the stairwell, the thin black braids swaying behind him like tassels.
“I mean, is there anything wrong with me? Am I not attractive or something?” Erika continued. “First I got dumped by Mike—Mike Kant out of all people. He was the most boring guy I have been with to date—all he did was take pictures all the time and take me on inexpensive dinners at trashy touristy locations. And Li Syaoran is really the last type of guy I would want to date—he’s always serious, doesn’t flatter me, is mean and under house arrest on top of that. He’s an idiot who couldn’t even keep Sakura from dating my brother out of all people. I mean, what kind of knucklehead loses his girl to the mortal enemy?”
Li Jinyu paused for a second and looked back, Erika shut her mouth and found
herself turning slightly red. Who was she venting to? The Black Dragon out of
all people. Like he cared about some teenage girl’s guy problems. Li Jinyu,
Protector of the Li Clan and boss of the
“You know, I know you don’t care one tiny bit about my trivial concerns—I mean why should you? But don’t you think it’s sort of rude to ignore me completely?” Erika demanded, hands on hips. “I’m not asking for sympathy or anything, but at least pretend to listen or something—”
Without any expression, Li Jinyu opened the door which creaked. With a scowl, Erika walked through the door to face the only man who terrified her, and perhaps the only person she felt she could sort of relate with.
“This is for me?” asked Yukito, a brown teddy-bear peaking out his white coat pocket. He examined a white card with golden etching from Sakura. “And the other for Touya?”
Sakura nodded, and handed Yukito-san a large five-tier bento box. “Have this with my brother for dinner.”
“Thank you!” said Yukito, eyes shining as it always did when he saw food. “Just when we were getting sick of the cafeteria food at the hospital.”
“Tsukishiro-sensei, Fukada-sensei is looking for you,” said a nurse.
“Well, then, have a good evening,” said Sakura, bowing her head.
“Leaving already?” asked Yukito, balancing the bento and the teddy bear.
“Yes, exams are coming up, and I need every minute to study,” replied Sakura. Because she had been slacking off for the past month.
“Oh, by the way, can you take this teddy bear to the lost and found on your way out?” asked Yukito, taking the stuffed animal out of his pocket. “I was on my way there, but I think I need to go find Fukada-sensei. It makes me sad thinking there might be a child crying over this lost doll.”
“No problem!” said Sakura, taking the teddy bear. She stared at its black button eyes. “Who is your owner, poor little bear?”
“Thanks, Sakura-chan,” said Yukito. “And thanks for the bento… and this.” He held up the two white cards with a golden star seal.
Hugging the brown teddy bear to her chest, Sakura made her way back down to the information desk area. Now, where was the lost and found? The receptionist was missing from the lost and found, but she saw shelves of items that patients and visitors had left behind. Scarves, mittens, hats. One side of a shoe, socks, quite a few books, MP3 players and cellphones.
There was somebody shuffling through a box of knickknacks ranging from sticks of gum to jewelry, watches and sunglasses.
“Excuse me, where should I put this?” asked Sakura, holding up the bear.
The brown-haired young man turned around rapidly, almost hitting his head on the teddy bear.
“You!” exclaimed Sakura. “What are you doing here?”
Syaoran quickly shoved the box back into the shelf. “N-nothing!”
“Did you lose something?” asked Sakura curiously.
“No,” replied Syaoran, standing up.
Before Syaoran could sneak away, Sakura demanded, “Did you know that Shing-san is Tanaka Keisuke-san?”
“We’ve seen him in our visions of the past several times—there was only one artist friend close to my father and your mother.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Well, I figured that Kai had his reasons he’s keeping quiet,” said Syaoran. “And that he would speak up in his own time.”
“And did you not stop to think about how Miho-chan might feel? That she has a right to know if her father is alive or not?”
“Does Shing-san remember her or not?” Syaoran said slowly. “Don’t you think that Kai had a reason why he could not tell Miho sooner their father is alive? That he wanted to protect Miho from the shock of learning her father doesn’t remember her?”
“What do you know of how Miho would react?” said Sakura.
“Well, I’m not the one who completely forgot your existence,” said Syaoran, unable to hold the slight bitterness in his voice.
The tabooed subject had resurfaced, and Sakura trembled, feeling like she had been doused in ice cold water. “Excuse me. Do you think I enjoyed being controlled by a dark force?”
“I never said it was your fault.”
“Then why are you taking that tone with me?” demanded Sakura. “You’re making it sound like I had some choice over what the Memory erased from my mind or not.”
“I’m just saying, it’s not a good feeling being the forgotten one,” said Syaoran.
the one who left me after Su-chan died, and I couldn’t even use my powers. I
was frightened. I was scared of all the dark forces, because I felt so
helpless,” burst out Sakura. “You said you were going to stay in
“Because the Memory gives you a choice. And you chose to forget,” replied Syaoran staidly. Because, when the Memory gave me the choice, I chose to remember you still.
Syaoran’s words echoed in Sakura’s ears still. “Why can you forgive him for being the Dark One, our enemy, yet can’t forgive me for being a Li?” he had asked her. Why was it that she could accept Eron as he was, yet felt this bitter anger towards Syaoran after all these months.
For the first time, it occurred to Sakura that she too might have betrayed Syaoran because she had chosen to forget him to alleviate all the pain she had been feeling back then. “Why don’t you remember me, Sakura? Did I hurt you so much that you had to erase me from your mind? Is this my punishment?” he had asked.
Is that true? Was it my fault? Taking a deep breath, Sakura gripped her Star-Moon Key in her hand, trying to stay calm. No, I cannot let my resolve shake now. “Syaoran-kun, do you remember one time, you told me an analogy of the twelve points of my star mandala being a spot for each of my twelve allies, creating an alliance to restore equilibrium in this world, a new order.”
“I used to think a lot about it,” said Sakura. “It gave me a sort of incredulous, giddy feeling that we might be able to create a powerful bond, something that can connect us all. But all this while, I always took for granted that you would be there, a part of the star circle. Yet, your spot is empty now. ”
Syaoran looked at Sakura with sad amber-brown eyes.
“I guess that space will always remain empty,” said Sakura, gazing into the distance. “Syaoran-kun, for old time’s sake, I won’t ever be able to expunge the memories I do have for our old selves. Because I won’t be the Card Mistress I am today without you. Numerous times that I cannot even begin to count, you have been there by my side. Capturing Clow Cards, during Yue’s Judgment, while facing Eriol’s scheme for me to convert the power of darkness into star power, when fighting against the dark forces, you have always been there. And I admit, over the past months, I felt a little bit at loss without you.”
“But I’m stronger now. If you need me to listen, I will listen.” Sakura paused, looking up at Syaoran with an intense sense of purpose behind her jade green eyes. “I realize I haven’t really given you a chance to explain. So, if you do have a reason, tell me. Explain to me what is going on in words I can understand.”
And Syaoran stared at Sakura, still silent.
“I thought so,” said Sakura with a sad smile. “You can’t tell me, even now. I told you I do understand why you made your decision. But your choice to deliberately contravene with my mission to defeat the dark ones is a decision that infringes upon the interest of myself and my friends. Thus, this is a decision I made not as Kinomoto Sakura, but as Card Mistress. I cannot live each day wondering if you would be friend or foe tomorrow. That was a decision that you had to make, and I believe you have made your choice. So, I have made mine. ”
“Is that your final answer?” asked Syaoran.
“My priority right now is getting the Sakura Cards back,” said Sakura. “Tell your cousin Leiyun I challenge him to a duel. The strongest will be rightful master of Clow’s Cards. That should be fair and square.”
Forgetting his own trepidations, Syaoran stared at Sakura in disbelief. “Are you crazy? Do you even know what you are saying?”
“I don’t know. It’s the best plan I could come up with,” said Sakura snappily.
“Do you know any martial arts or anything about physical combat?”
“No.” Well, besides the little that Syaoran had taught her.
“Do you know how to wield any sort of weapon?” asked Syaoran.
“Does a cheerleading baton count?”
Syaoran’s right brow twitched. “Can you do any magic without your Cards? Do you have summoning magic? Do you know words of power? Can you use ofuda or onmyouji powers or even basic telekinesis?”
“No…” Sakura said meekly.
“Leiyun is powerful—more powerful than any of the other Li’s,” said Syaoran.
“More powerful than you?” asked Sakura.
“I was never able to beat him,” Syaoran said with a long sigh. “And it is in your best interest to stay out of his radar as long as possible.”
“Then why is it that he can’t wield the Sakura Cards?” asked Sakura.
Syaoran paused. “I suppose it’s because those cards are by contract bound to you.”
“And yet, why were you able to use them?”
“Because you allowed me to, I suppose,” replied Syaoran. “I was involved in the process of capturing the Clow Cards as well and was at one time master of certain cards, so the Cards to a certain extent recognize me as a secondary master. I would assume that Eriol would be able to wield the Cards with no problem either, since Clow Reed was the original creator.”
“So, being able to use the Cards has nothing to do with how powerful you are. It’s whether the Cards recognize you and agree to work with you,” said Sakura.
“Yes, that’s always the way it has been. That’s why there is a contract between the Master and the Cards,” said Syaoran.
Sakura ruminated over this. He stole the Sakura Cards knowing that nobody from his family would be able to use it?
Their conversation was interrupted by the sound of a little girl crying. “Kumo-chan! My Kumo-chan. I want my Kumo-chan back!”
“Ayu-chan, I’ll buy you a new bear—a whole bear family. We have to leave now,” said her mother. “How will we ever find Kumo-chan in this big hospital?”
“No!” screamed the little girl. “I don’t want any other bear. I want my Kumo-chan! Otou-chan gave me Kumo-chan.”
The mother sighed in exasperation. “Come, we’ll check in the lost and found one last time, and if Kumo-chan is not there, we’re going to leave, all right?”
Sakura walked up to the little girl and knelt down, holding out the brown teddy bear with a red ribbon around his neck. “Is this your Kumo-chan?”
The little girl’s eyes lit up. “Eung! It’s Kumo-chan!” She hugged the bear tightly to her chest. “Okaa-chan, look! Kumo-chan came back!”
And her mother sighed in relief. “Thank you. Ever since her father has become ill and admitted to the hospital, she’s grown very attached to the bear.” She bowed her head to Sakura.
Sakura and Syaoran watched the mother, daughter and teddy bear disappear into the crowd of visitors in the lobby. They almost turned to each other and smiled before realizing they were in the midst of a tiff.
An elderly woman came walking towards the lost and found counter. “Excuse me, I lost a watch in the restroom. I know it’s not likely, but by any chance, is it in the lost and found?”
“Ah, we don’t work here—“ began Sakura.
But Syaoran looked at the old woman. “Is it by any chance a golden watch with an engraving on the side?”
“Yes, yes,” said the woman. “My grandson gave it to me, and he engraved on it, To my loving obaa-san. He was such a sweet boy. He passed away in a car accident, recently. But he is survived by my daughter-in-law and their son.”
Syaoran knelt down and fumbled through the cardboard box, taking out a heavy golden watch. “Is this it?”
“Yes! I thought I would never find it.” Her eyes were misty as she pressed the watch to her heart. “Thank you, young man.”
“Obaa-sama, did you find it?” said a young woman dressed in black. “You did! I wonder who the kindhearted soul that returned it to the lost and found was—it’s gold; they could easily have taken it.”
“I told you there are many well-meaning beings in this world,” said the grandmother, bowing her head to Sakura and Syaoran, and then walking away, watch gleaming from her bony wrist.
“How did you know that watch was that grandmother’s?” asked Sakura curiously.
“Just,” replied Syaoran. “The time had stopped, so I thought the owner of the watch might have worn it for sentimental value rather than functional.”
“I see.” Sakura stared at the shelves full of items that people had lost by accident, through carelessness, because of absentmindedness or distractions, and somehow, they had all gathered up at this spot because of the good will of another person who realized that these items had owners that would want them back. Teddy bears, watches, objects could be replaced easily. But they would not hold the same sentimental value.
“Either way, I’m serious about what I was saying earlier. From now on, I’m going to protect the people I love,” said Sakura, holding out her Star Key. “If the Li Clan strikes again, I won’t just watch. I won’t ever let you guys hurt my friends or my family again.” She scowled. “What are you smiling about? Are you not taking me seriously?”
“No, I am,” said Syaoran.
“No,” said Syaoran shaking his head. I never thought I’d be arguing with you like this again. And I never realized I’d still rather that you hate me like this than not know my existence. “It’s just good seeing you back to your old energetic self, that’s all. I’ve always admired that sheer determination which seemed to stem from nowhere.”
“Are you making fun of me?” demanded Sakura. Here she was infuriated, and he was smirking at her—it was even more frustrating.
Sakura could not figure out if it was a compliment or a really warped insult, so instead, she turned around and walked off, nose in the air. Good riddance to Li Syaoran, once and for all. Only when she had left the hospital did she realize that she had forgotten to return the watch once again. Could Syaoran possibly have been looking for that in the lost and found?
Let the hour be stuck at midnight, in between the end of the past day and the beginning of a new one. My heart will always be stuck in a limbo between yesterday and tomorrow. The words I could not say to you, yes I will wait. Let those words not be heard but in the sigh of the hour that does not exist.
Holding up a white card printed with a golden twelve-pointed star, Eriol asked, “Is this your design, Tomoyo-san?”
“Yes,” replied Tomoyo. “I thought it makes things more…official.”
“Impressive,” said Eriol, letting the gold ink catch the sunlight and project the mandala onto the ground.
gazed out the town of
“Yes, Tomoyo-san.” Eriol stood by her side, looking out the rooftop. When she did not speak, he leaned against the barbwire fence and remarked, “It’s a pity you didn’t win the contest. The judges have no eyes.”
“It’s all right,” said Tomoyo. “I had fun… Except when that happened...” But Sakura’s father was all right now, and Sakura said furthermore, because of that incident, he and Kinomoto Fujishinto were semi-reconciled.
“You knew you wouldn’t win in the first place,” remarked Eriol. “Aoyama-san and Watanabe-san were already pinpointed as the finalists from the very beginning, and I’m sure you would already knew that. But why did you compete anyway, when you knew you were going to lose?”
Tomoyo tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear and looked up at Eriol with a smile. “Why do I fight a losing battle, you ask. Maybe it’s because I am still naïve and have hope. That there might still be a 1% possibility even if it’s against all odds. But also, maybe it’s not about winning. Maybe it’s the process that is meaningful me and I enjoy myself.”
“It’s for the journey, not the destination, huh,” Eriol said with a far-off look.
“Yes. Something like that,” replied Tomoyo.
“So, what is it you wanted to tell me?” asked Eriol.
“Oh.” Tomoyo stared down at her feet. Why do I fight a losing battle? Can this feeling really be love when from the beginning I knew the result, when I know that I have already lost? If it is love, shouldn’t I fight harder for it? I once told Syaoran that the greatest happiness is watching the person you love be happy. This person standing in front of me right now, there is nothing I can give him, nothing I can do for him. This person already has everything he wants. “I was just wondering if you can accompany me on the piano for the Christmas concert. Our pianist had a family emergency, and you’re the only one who knows the score already because you’ve helped me with rehearsals so many times.”
“Of course, it will be my pleasure,” said Eriol. “Is that all you wanted to ask me?”
Tomoyo’s lips parted. This is the moment. It is now or never. If I pass this chance, I will never have the opportunity again. And she stared up into the horizon. “Yes, that’s all.”
After Eriol left, Tomoyo let out a long sigh, turning to the door. “You guys can come out now.”
Sakura, Meilin and Miho tumbled out from behind the roof exit guiltily.
“Did you do it?” asked Sakura.
Tomoyo slowly shook her head.
“Why? You waited so long for the moment,” Sakura said tearfully. “It’s not right. Isn’t it worth giving a shot? How can you give up before you even take a chance?”
Tomoyo smiled. “It’s all right. I’m okay like this. I think I like it better like this.”
“But it’s painful loving someone without knowing what their answer would be,” said Sakura.
“It’s more painful to hear a rejection in words and ending the dream,” stated Tomoyo.
“Eriol-kun is a nice person,” Sakura said.
“True,” Tomoyo said. “That’s why I’m a little afraid that he’ll say something along the lines of, ‘are you sure I don’t remind you of someone? Maybe you like me because I resemble your father?’ Or something like that.”
Sakura pouted. “That’s not nice.”
“Oh, I didn’t mean it in that way!” exclaimed Tomoyo—she had truly forgotten about Sakura’s sore spot. “But I heard from Nakuru-san that it was the prime way Clow Reed used to reject people. That and ‘I appreciate your feelings and let us stay very good friends from now on.’”
“It’s true,” said Miho, closing her eyes and recalling an incident that she had banished from her mind because it was too embarrassing to recall. “I confessed to Eriol, years ago, and he completely trampled on my poor innocent heart and scarred me for life—he refused to take me seriously at all.”
I like you!” she had said, a naïve little girl at the age of eleven, about a
year after she had begun living in
Eriol smiled his misleading smile and said, “I appreciate your feelings, Miho-san. However, are you sure you are not reminded of somebody in me?”
“No, Eriol, I like you because you are you,” she had insisted.
“And it is not because actually, I remind you of your brother?” Eriol had replied with that same infuriating smile. “You miss your brother, and because I am here, I think you are projecting the feelings that you have for your brother into special feelings for me, because I am here.”
Miho turned to the other three girls. “Anyhow, that is how my first love ended abruptly before it even blossomed. Of course, soon enough I figured out how messed up Eriol really is, and I could not imagine what in the world I was thinking when I said I liked him.”
Sakura and Tomoyo chuckled, and Sakura remarked, “So that’s where Yukito-san picked it up that response line. Or maybe vice versa.”
“You’re too good for him, Tomoyo-senpai,” Miho said with conviction. “He’s just a creepy old grandfather at heart.”
“Now that I think of it, I don’t even know how old Eriol-kun really is,” remarked Tomoyo.
“Well, you have a pretty old soul yourself, Tomoyo-chan,” said Sakura. “I won’t be surprised if you’re the reincarnation of somebody really great.”
have a feeling it might be King Louis XVI,” remarked Tomoyo with a worried
The girls laughed. Sakura gave Tomoyo a pat on the back. Someday, there was going to be a person who would cherish Tomoyo and protect her with his body and soul. And it would be someone who needed Tomoyo and only Tomoyo. Sakura truly believed that for her friend.
girls stood atop the Seijou High rooftop, overlooking the soccer field and in
the distance, the town of
“Meilin-senpai, have you heard from onii-chan lately?” asked Miho.
Meilin shook her head. “It’s pretty sad, I know. I always felt useless to Syaoran. However, with Kai, it’s different. I sometimes feel like he’s a complete mess and that he needs to keep him from going astray. I want to be there for him; I feel like he needs me, and I can be of some help to him,” said Meilin. “But lately, I’ve begun to suspect, maybe that is only my own ego. It’s what I want to believe. Even without me in his life, Kai would do fine—he has up till now.”
Miho looked up at Meilin. “Onii-chan is not as strong as you think he is. I understand that now. If it’s anybody, I’m glad you are the person by his side now. It made me sad thinking that all this while, I had Eriol, Nakuru, Suppi-chan and Kaho-san always cheering on me. And then, I thought how lonely onii-chan must have been all this while. But he had someone like you, and I am very grateful to know that. So, please don’t leave onii-chan. Because I’ll feel sorry for him then.”
“Miho-chan…” Sakura smiled slightly. Perhaps even Miho was ready to forgive her brother now.
As if reading Sakura’s mind, Miho scowled. “I haven’t forgiven onii-chan yet. But I don’t want him to be unhappy, that’s all.”
“Are you okay about your father?” asked Sakura.
Miho nodded. “I didn’t even suspect he’s alive, all these years. I shouldn’t have taken things just by appearance—that was going against all my principles as a journalist. I just need to start from scratch. It’s short of a miracle that otou-san is alive. If someone who is dead can be alive, then there must be a way for memories forgotten to be recovered.”
Sakura wrapped her arm around the younger girl’s shoulder. “I’m sure your father’s memories will return to him, and he will come back.”
“I hope so,” said Miho, watching the black crows flying across the sky.
“Sakura-chan.” Tomoyo tucked her long hair behind ears. “Are you really going to fight the Li Clan?”
“Yes,” replied Sakura, looking straight towards the western horizon.
“Well, let’s head to Sakura-senpai’s meeting,” said Miho, clutching a white card to her chest, feeling slightly giddy to thinking that this was the beginning of a new generation of the Circle of the Stars.
Meilin and Tomoyo, the only two non-magic users present, stood on Sakura’s right side. And to her left stood Chang Eron, former Dark One and representative of the Chang line, wearing white from head to toe.
“Everybody is here,” said Sakura, glancing around the room. As soon as she spoke, there was complete silence in the room. “Except for Kai-kun and onii-chan, who is on duty at the hospital. But Yue-san will relay to him the contents of this meeting. I know all of you are busy, so thank you for gathering here today. And thank you to Eriol-kun for lending us this room, Clow Reed’s old study where the Clow Cards first were formed.”
Slowly, Sakura extended out her arms and a white light enshrouded the room. A golden mandala appeared at her feet consisting of a five-pointed star overlaying another five-pointed star encircled in a crescent moon, which was contained within in a twelve-pointed star. In the center of the star-moon stood Sakura. Yue and Cerberus respectively took their positions on the moon and sun end of the magic circle, facing opposite of each other as Sakura’s Guardians.
Sakura looked up at those in the room. She glanced nervously at Eron, who nodded encouragingly. While most people here already knew why they had been called, she felt compelled to say something. She cleared her throat. “There are twelve points here on this star circle. Twelve for the twelve pillars that will restore the equilibrium of the world that has been lost since the golden age of the Great Five. These twelve spots are for those who believe that we are stronger united than separated. Thus, today, I will like to open up a pact to those who would like to join in this alliance to defeat the dark forces and keep the world from falling into chaos and destruction. Together, we would be allies and more importantly, friends.” Sakura paused, embarrassed because everybody was watching her now. She had never hosted such a meeting before and glanced helplessly at Tomoyo and Meilin who gave her an encouraging nod.
Eron stepped forward. “As the direct descendent of Chang Ruichi, I, Chang Eron offer you, Card Mistress and descendent of Amamiya Hayashi of the Great Five, my power of light.”
“Thank you, Eron-kun,” said Sakura with a smile. She doubted she would have had the courage to muster together this meeting if it weren’t for Eron’s support. Because even if everything was falling apart, somehow this person she had once believed to be her enemy was by her side. If a Dark One had been won over to be an ally, then anything could be possible.
For a second, Eron was afraid that the magnetic field would reject him because he was who he was, but Eron entered the star mandala and found a place on the spoke directly facing Sakura. He looked up to her with a nod.
Feeling a little more confidant, Sakura took a deep breath. “Hiiragizawa Eriol-kun, I ask you to join in this circle not as the reincarnation of Clow Reed but as my greatest advisor and one who is most knowledgeable in the dark arts, with Spinel Sun and Ruby Moon, counterparts to Cerberus and Yue, Guardians of the Sun and Moon.”
“It is my honor,” replied Eriol, holding his sun staff. Eriol took a spot on one spoke of the dodecogram star. Spinel Sun joined Cerberus on the sun end and Ruby Moon stood to right of Yue on the Moon end.
Ruby Moon, flicking back her long magenta hair, pointed at Eron. “Excuse me, question. How can we trust him? He’s a Dark One, after all. He’s the one who sent all the dark forces in the first place. How do you know he’s not a spy?”
looked up. “Everybody here in this room are people I trust with my life. I will
not have suspicion of anybody within the
Eron, slightly awkwardly looked around. Nobody met his eyes, but nobody objected either.
Next, Sakura turned to the woman with long auburn hair and a gentle smile. “Mizuki-sensei, you were the person who enabled me to have faith in myself and pass Yue’s Judgment to become Card Mistress. If you can lend your insight and foresight to the group once more, we would greatly appreciate it.”
Mizuki Kaho smiled. “It will always be my pleasure, Sakura. I, Mizuki Kaho, Miko of the Tsukimine Shrine, offer you my assistance.” She took a spot across from Eriol.
Thus far, six seats had been filled.
“Tanaka Miho,” Sakura called out next.
“Y-yes!” exclaimed Miho, jumping to her feet.
“Dangerous times are ahead of us, but as the third wielder of a staff of power, I ask you to join this circle upon recommendation from two other members of the Circle,” said Sakura, glancing at Eriol and Kaho.
“M-me?” Miho had not been expecting she would be included. “Yes!” she exclaimed, holding out her red flame staff. She might not be able to take the Mizuki successor spot, but she took her spot next to her cousin Kaho, who turned to her and smiled.
“Though I have no doubt that Tanaka Miho is very talented and intelligent, this battle is not a child’s play. I think it is too dangerous for her,” Yue stated, his silver-blue eyes narrowed.
Sakura stated, “I too was concerned that this might be too dangerous for Miho-chan, but we can’t forget that Tanaka Miho is Hiiragizawa Eriol’s protégé. I think we can trust Eriol-kun’s judgment.”
Kaho spoke up, turning to Yue. “It is true. Eriol has been training Miho’s power of the earth for the past five years, and I believe she would be a valuable asset to the group.
Miho nodded, glancing at Eriol—she couldn’t disappoint her teacher. “Sakura-senpai had already passed Yue’s Judgment and was fighting dark forces by my age. Just because I am the youngest, I won’t be the weakest link.”
Yue finally nodded. “I trust the judgment of Hiiragizawa Eriol and Mizuki Kaho. And you will be protected by us, and without a doubt, you brother.”
Suddenly, Miho stared at the empty spot in between her and Cerberus. “Is that spot for onii-chan?”
Spinel Sun stretched out his long black limbs. “Is Mizuki Kai the Wind Shaper, chosen successor to Mizuki Mayura, on our side?”
There was a silence in the room. Sakura spoke up again. “Due to certain circumstances, Mizuki Kai could not be present tonight. But when he is ready to join us, he will come, I believe.”
“Well, we still have four empty seats,” said Ruby Moon. She licked her lips. “Who’s next?”
“Sorry I’m late!” said Touya, bursting into the room, a gray wool coat thrown over his white coat.
“Onii-chan!” exclaimed Sakura. “How were you able to break through all the seals on the room?”
Touya smirked. “Well, since I can break seals set by Clow Reed’s reincarnation, is that not enough to grant me a spot on this star of yours?”
Touya took the ninth spot next to Eriol, directly across from Kaho. “Looks like you have quite a gathering here. Representatives of Amamiya, Mizuki and Chang. I know this seat must be reserved for a Reed, but till then, I’ll fill it as the son of half the reincarnation of Clow Reed.”
Kaho smiled. “I think we have the half reincarnation of Clow Reed himself to fill that role for the time being.”
“Well, I’m supposedly an Amamiya as well,” replied Touya, arms crossed. “And there are two Mizukis represented, three if this Kai returns, so we can have two descendents of Hayashi-sama.”
While Sakura knew that her brother knew about everything and had from nearly the beginning, it was still unsettling to have him in the presence of everybody in their true forms, talking about the Great Fives and openly acknowledging her as Card Mistress. But she also felt very sturdy having her dependable brother in the circle, like she had an unwavering guardian by her side.
“Touya-san is right. We have represented in us the different bloods of the Great Five and magic covering the powers of elements, the heavenly bodies, contract magic, sixth sense and the powers of light and darkness. Between us, we can cover land and sky, mountain and forests, water and fire, physical and metaphysical,” said Eriol.
“But there is still one family completely not represented,” said Miho.
And eyes turned to the twelfth spot, directly behind Sakura’s back, empty. They all knew whose spot it was.
“Supposing that Mizuki Kai does join the Circle, he will take the tenth seat. There still are two empty seats,” said Spinel Sun. “One seat is for the true successor of the Reed family. And the other is the seat for a Li.”
“Nine out of twelve gathered today,” remarked Cerberus. “Not bad.”
“Who would have thought out of all the direct descendents of the Great Five, the Dark One’s successor is the only one that would be present today,” remarked Eriol, staring at the three empty seats of Li Syaoran, Mizuki Kai and Kara Reed. Unfortunately, without those three, the Sakura’s Circle would not work.
Meilin looked up at the eleven other people in the room. “I know I do not have any magical ability. But as I am the only Li present here, I will represent the line of Li until a more suitable candidate comes to us, and either way, I will fight by your side, Sakura-chan, with everything I have.”
“Thank you, Meilin-chan,” said Sakura with a wide smile. “It means a lot to me.”
Meilin stepped forward filling the tenth spot on the circle. She knew it was not her place, but at last, she was doing something for Syaoran. This spot is for you, so please don’t keep me waiting too long.
“Excuse me, what is she doing here?” asked Ruby Moon, pointing to Tomoyo with her long finger.
“Tomoyo-chan is the manager,” replied Sakura, straight-faced.
“And what does that entail?” said Nakuru, raising an eyebrow.
“Tomoyo-san is second in charge after Sakura,” stated Eriol with a smile. “After all, she is not only a descendent of Amamiya but the person who essentially made ‘Card Captor Sakura.’”
Cerberus nodded. “Completely true. Without Tomoyo-chan, Card Captor Sakura would not have become an icon.”
“Should anything happen to Sakura, heaven forbid, decision making would immediately fall to Tomoyo. And in the meantime, she would be chief wardrobe coordinator, historian, catchy phrase and moves generator, gadgets provider and special effects manager,” said Eriol, his glasses glinting. “Probably the most important role in fact. If Tomoyo-san was not already so experienced in that arena, I might have vied for that role.”
“Oh ho ho—designing twelve matching costumes. I think I’m in heaven,” said Tomoyo, eyes sparkling at the mere thought of everybody wearing her designs. Color schemes, fabrics and design ideas flew threw her mind.
“Matching costumes my butt,” grumbled Touya. “Can we quit joking around and get serious here? What is the next course of action, exactly what sort of enemies are we facing and what role will each of us have to play?”
Miho raised her hand. “If Eron-senpai was the Dark One, and he is on our side, then why are dark forces still attacking?”
Eron stepped forward. “When the power of light awakened in me, I lost control of the dark forces, and they are no longer under Erika or my command. Of the remaining dark forces, the Emotions are currently the most volatile. Sakura has already sealed most of the dark forces covered in the Five Force Scroll, hence even I could not exactly anticipate what dark forces are actually remaining, and they will most definitely be more difficult to seal.”
“I’m sorry, but because you are twins with Erika, how are we to know that you will not repeat what ever we discuss to her?” asked Meilin. “No offense or anything.”
“You are cousins with Li Syaoran,” replied Eron. “And his ex-fiancée. Do we not stand here today not because of our bloodlines but because of our conscious choice?”
Meilin met Eron’s eyes. “I apologize, Eron-kun. I didn’t mean to accuse you of anything.”
Kaho stated, “The tides have changed and we are in the brink of something. We cannot be internally spit, because once we begin suspecting our own, then we will become vulnerable to the dark forces.”
“Kaho-san is right,” said Eriol looking up from his spot. “We are all gathered here today because of one common thread between us. And that is our belief in the vision of Card Mistress Sakura. That sole belief is what will keep us united.”
Sakura turned around and gazed at everybody. Starting clockwise from twelve o’clock of the circle stood Li Meilin, Spinel Sun and Cerberus. Kai’s spot at three o’clock was empty, followed by Tanaka Miho, Mizuki Kaho and Chang Eron. Ruby Moon and Yue occupied the Moon end of the magic circle, and the nine o’clock was empty, followed Hiiragizawa Eriol and finally her older brother, Kinomoto Touya. She caught Tomoyo’s eyes, who gave her a little nod.
Sakura raised her star-moon staff, showering the room with a golden light on
the eleven other people standing, and the twelve-pointed star from her mandala
blazed before fading away. “The eleven of you present are entering a pact for
the new order, a world of light and hope. I, Kinomoto Sakura, Successor to Clow
Reed and Mistress of the Sakura Cards, hereby commence the
Wish-chan: Happy Halloween 2009 (I know it’s late)!!! 11/11/09
Please refer to the Sakura’s
Star Circle Chart Version 1 for a visual representation of
Also, merci beaucoup to Rikku-chan and her awesome team who is translating New Trials into French. If you are interested in helping out, you can contact her at: email@example.com. They have already translated six chapters, and you can find the French translation of New Trials at : http://www.fanfic-fr.net/fanfics/Animes-Mangas/C/Card-Captor-Sakura/The-New-Trials/20758.html Despite my limited French, I think she’s doing a great job, and I am very thankful for her contribution to spread New Trials to a wider audience.
If you haven’t already, please watch my Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle AMV: This is My Road that I made to commemorate the TRC manga coming to an end. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2mHDwlPqapk. You can find out more about how I feel about the TRC ending at my blog http://wishluv.blogspot.com and emails always cherished since 1999 at firstname.lastname@example.org. The latest CCS and other artwork can be found at http://wishluv.deviantart.com/ and please join the Yahoo Group at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/newtrialsring/ if you haven’t already for the quickest New Trials news, updates and other things related to CLAMP.