Chapter 18: Stalked in New York

New York City, the next morning…


“How can we find the artist Shing? I’m pretty sure he knows something about mother and father.” Sakura paced up and down in the hotel room. With the exception of Tomoyo and Syaoran, everyone had left for shopping in the City.

“I can’t believe Miho is Mizuki-sensei’s cousin!” Tomoyo exclaimed.

“No wonder she knew about everything and had some strange powers.” Sakura sighed, tugging at her golden brown ponytail. “Did you find it yet?”

“Wait.” Syaoran was busily searching for a file in his laptop. “I’m pretty sure Shing’s address will be inputted in here, somewhere. He definitely lives in New York.”

“Hurry. I need to find out today!” Sakura clenched her fist. That disturbing painting. Her confusion was suffocating her. As she gazed at Syaoran, she felt a twang of sadness. Unfortunately, she had happened to see his eyes when he gazed at the painting of Li Ryuuren. Yet, she wasn’t ready for what she saw in his eyes. She saw the sadness, and forlorn yearning of a lost boy who lost his father. At least Sakura could remember and sense the warmth of her mother. Syaoran had nothing, no memories, no connections. He was not the self-assured, confident person he seemed to be on the outside; inside, he was vulnerable like any one else. But he deserved better! If he wasn’t a Li… If his father didn’t die… If he had no magic… If he had no connection to Clow Reed… Would he have been a completely different person now?

Yet… though it was selfish of her, she didn’t want him to be different. If he did not have all the magic and the name to burden him, that would end the one tiny connection he had with her. It would mean no Syaoran in her life at all… That would mean a very empty life.

“Found it!” Syaoran copied down the artist Shing’s address and slammed his laptop shut. “Who knew that Uncle’s data system had so much use?”


Stepping off the taxi, Tomoyo, Syaoran, and Sakura gazed at the immense building in awe. The only word they had for it was…

“Very artistic.”

When they tried to enter the vast gateway, the housekeeper harshly replied, “Sorry, no visitors allowed.”

“But wait! It’s really important. It’s about the people in his paintings!” Sakura said.

“Do you know how many times I hear that in a day?” The housekeeper tried to shut the door.

“Wait!” Bam. The immense gate slammed at their face.

“Great. We’ll have to find another way in.” Sakura gazed up at an open window in the second floor, then at a tall, stable tree beside it. “A ha!” Nimbly, she ran to the foot of the tree. Reaching for a branch, she heaved herself up, gaining balance and footing on the trunk. Syaoran immediately followed her. By the time she was half way up the tree, Sakura was panting. Who knew that climbing that tree would be so difficult? She rested for a moment. Her sea green eyes flickered around, then upwards. For a second, she thought a black shadow was cast over her. Maybe it was just a trick of the light.

“Hey, move it, will you?” Syaoran called from the branch below.

“Wait.” Sakura began to hoist herself up again. “And whatever you do, don’t look up, okay?”

“Why?” Syaoran asked, pulling himself up to the next branch with ease.

“I’m wearing a dress, stupid!”

“Li-kun is a hentai (pervert)!” Tomoyo called from below, with her V8.

“I’M NOT!!!!!!!” Syaoran called panicking, his voice echoing throughout the mansion garden, and his face flushing not only because of the cold.

Finally reaching the top, Sakura tried to swing herself to the second floor window sill. To her surprise, it was much further away from the tree than she had thought it was. With the momentum of the swaying branch, she tried to jump over to the sill. For a moment, she saw a shadow reaching over her. Her boots slipped from the branch. Desperately, she tried to grasp for a branch, but it cracked due to her weight. The next branch didn’t even slow her down, and she crashed faster.

“Sakura-chan!” Tomoyo shrieked.

“FUUKA SHOURAI!” Syaoran whipped out an incantation paper. Immediately, Sakura was enveloped in wind, which landed her gently on the snow blanketed ground.

Moaning slightly, Sakura picked herself up, brushing the snow off her coat. She widened her eyes as she stared at her boots. Why has she slipped? It wasn’t like her to slip in that kind of situation. Maybe for some people, but she hadn’t been a card captor for no reason.

“What’s going out there?” A man opened the window, just in time to see Syaoran take a gigantic leap down from top of the tree, landing beside Sakura with a soft thud.

“You better teach me how to do that,” Sakura commented dryly, indicating Syaoran’s great jump.

“Then again, I better not. I don’t anticipate in accounting for any broken bones,” Syaoran answered. “Don’t you know it’s no safe to climb trees in those kind of boots with slippery heels, not to mention that the trees is coated with ice. And it’s not like you’re a circus girl either. How did you expect you can jump from the tree to the windowsill which is almost 2 meters apart?”

“You were going to do it.”

“I’m different.”

“I know.” She refused Syaoran’s hand and stood up on her own. Her knees buckled, then held. Was it another mere accident? Or was it intentional, also.

“Well, be more careful!” He folded his arms across his chest.

Tomoyo shook her head knowingly. Obviously, Eriol’s Action Plan #2 was “Syaoran’s Secret Concern.”

The housekeeper was about to kick them out again, when a deep voice from the intercom boomed, “Let them in!”


In a room in the Shing Mansion, New York…

Shing, the genius artist of the “Angel and Warrior” series, turned around in his vast armchair. “So, you kids wanted to see me?”

“Umm… I…” Sakura stammered. This was a millionaire artist! To her surprise “Shing” seemed only around her father’s age. He had a deep set scowl as if he was always angry and his voice was clipped. She was starting to regret coming.

“What do you want?”

“Well… Hoe-e…”

Then, Shing broke the tension by suddenly laughing a rich, low laugh. Leaping up, he shouted, “You’re their children, right?”

Syaoran and Sakura nodded eagerly. “Did you know them?” Sakura asked.

Shing’s eyes turned dreamy. “Ah, not really personally. I was studying art in college at that time, in Japan. They may not remember me, but I watched them over for several months. I never saw such a striking twosome. When I first met them, Ryuuren was literally shouting at Nadeshiko. And she was so angry and beautiful. Yet, what was strange was that suddenly she smiled, and all the anger and animosity melted away, and Ryuuren couldn’t help but calming down. That smile haunted me for the rest of my college and adult career. Gradually, I found out that they were wrapped in a serious business. More serious than anyone could imagine.” Shing’s brown eyes clouded.

“You spied on them,” Syaoran accused critically.

“I did,” the artist admitted frankly. “I was always taking pictures of them. After a while, they both grew very annoyed with me. But, I would do anything for the sake of art. I suggested for Nadeshiko to become a model. I remember them both vividly in my mind. Yet, the details are refreshed with photos.” He indicated to his large album stack.

Nadeshiko and Ryuuren fighting off a force, eating, sleeping, smiling, scowling, working, all were compiled into the albums. In some pictures, Ryuuren still had his long horsetail hair, in others, it was similar to Syaoran’s, apparently after it was sliced off. Shing pointed to a picture. “See that star sapphire ring? Ain’t it a beauty? It costs a fortune. I’ve offered to buy it off many times.” In some pictures, the ring hung around Ryuuren’s neck in a chain, and in others, it was on Nadeshiko’s slender finger, probably after the Christmas he gave it to her. “Nadeshiko was literally an angel, on the outside and inside. But Ryuuren was a conceited, little, selfish brat!” Grudgingly, Shing added, “Yet, even if he was only 17 at that time, and I was 20, I admired him and respected him. He had what you call ‘charm.’ And he was very two-faced, too. I hope you’re not like that.” Shing indicated to Syaoran.

Sakura and Syaoran gulped, taking in all the information. Someone outside who had observed their parents…

“After I left Japan, I never saw them again.” Shing ran across his canvas. “So, how are they now? Always arguing as ever? Deeply in love? God, I miss those days, even if painting is my love and life now. But, as you noticed, the so called “Angel and Warrior” is the only series I paint.”

“They’re dead,” Syaoran said shortly.

“DEAD?” Shing turned pale. “Dead? Nadeshiko and Ryuuren dead? Then… it’s true… So, are you two orphans now?”

“No I live with my father,” Sakura said. “And Syaoran-kun lives with his mother.”

Tilting his head confused, Shing asked, “Wait a minute. You two aren’t brother and sister? I thought they married each other!”

“NO!” Syaoran and Sakura exclaimed—if their parent had married, then they wouldn’t even exist.

“Oh.” The artist cast his keen brown eyes down. “So, the fates didn’t allow it after all. They eventually did break up. Who would have thought? But what do you know?” Seeing Syaoran, Sakura, and Tomoyo’s questioning eyes he quickly stammered, “Ah, don’t mind me. I’m just talking to myself. Of course they wouldn’t have married. Ha ha. I’m such a joker. Imagine them marrying. I should have known. Well, I got a parcel from Hong Kong around 20 years ago. Guess what was in it?” He pointed to a duplicate of “The Smiling Angel” on the immense wall. “The star sapphire ring which I wanted so much!”

“The ring?” They exclaimed.

“Yeah. Ryuuren wrote, ‘Since you wanted it so much. I don’t need it anymore, and I can’t bear having it with me.’ Well, how else would I paint it in so detail?" Staring admiringly at his painting, Shing added, “You do not know what beauty that bright blue stone captures until you see it.”

Sakura sensed that he was trying to change the topic. “Do you have the ring with you now?”

“Ah yes. Here.” Unlocking a drawer, he drew out a small velvet case. Carefully, he opened it. Then his eyes widened. “It’s gone!”


“It’s disappeared! I know I had it just last night. Someone must have taken it. I know I didn’t’ misplace it.” Shing rummaged desperately through his messy desk.

“Are you sure…” Sakura trailed off. I’m watching you in New York.

“I may not know much, but,” Shing stared solemnly at the two teens. “Something has arisen again, hasn’t it?” It didn’t end with Nadeshiko and Ryuuren. And whatever split them apart… will split these two apart, too. He tossed them a small white card. “Do you two know anything about this? I found it in my photo album, yesterday.”

Grabbing it, Sakura read silently,

A hundred steps north from the statue of Alice, 20 steps east, and the fifth tree from the left. Dig a little deeper. I am still watching you, and you’ll never find who I am. There’s no escape.

“What’s the statue of Alice?” Sakura asked, trying to sound steady. On the bottom of the note was a black skeleton mask.

Shing replied, “Probably the one in Central Park. There’s a statue of Alice, you know from Alice in Wonderland.”

Nodding, Sakura slipped the note into her pocket, not bothering to show it to Syaoran.

Boldly, she asked, “I’ve been meaning to ask you this, but… what to you mean by your painting, ‘Destruction?’” And why was the world falling apart, with Ryuuren-san pointing a sword at my mother’s neck? What was the hidden meaning?

Laughing it off, the artist replied, “Ah, just mere creativity. Nothing to take seriously. We all know that Ryuuren was crooked. Don’t be disturbed by it.” Yet, he was unsuccessful in hiding his flickering eyes, overcast in fear. “So, how come you two are in Japan?”

Tomoyo explained her story, and Shing shook his head knowingly. The rest of their visit, he was kept a light, light air. Before they left, he said a strange thing, “Your closest friend may be your worst enemy,” half to himself, half to a painting on the wall. “Well, good luck, Li-san, Kinomoto-san. May the fates be merciful this time.”


That evening…

“I can’t believe we still didn’t find a dress for the New Year’s Eve party!” Erika exclaimed. The girls were walking down the lamp-lit New York street that evening after their shopping spree.

“It’s okay, we can shop again tomorrow,” Sakura reassured. For the moment, she was taking her mind off the stress of the disturbing painting and the mystery of Ryuuren and the sapphire ring. ‘We all know that Ryuuren was crooked.’ What did that mean? Why had Shing commented, ’so, the fates didn’t allow it after all?’ And, what did the new note mean? A cool hand touched her arm. She flinched.

“Earth to it. It’s only me. I was asking, where did you go earlier this day?” Miho asked. “Eriol was worried. And why did Syaoran go with you?”

“Hmm?” Sakura shuddered. There was no one to turn to or confide to. She did not know who was watching her. It could be anyone. Anyone… Her emerald eyes turned round with fear. That person could be following her that moment in her shadows, mocking her for her naïve stupidity. That person could be following her every movement, and she didn’t know it. Who stole the sapphire ring? Was it the same person who stole the Five Force Scroll? Or was the whole world full of unknown, unseen enemies, waiting for the moment to slit her throat.

Suddenly, the gray street around her seemed ghastly, overcast by the dark shadows of the lamps and building, where anyone could be lurking in any corner. The full moon was hidden by the thick clouds. A flutter of pigeons could be heard. They were near the Central Park. Soggy gray snow clumped to her boots as she walked.

A rustle could be heard behind the bushes. A scratchy, cruel voice said mockingly, “Well, well, five little rich girls walking down the street, alone. Didn’t your mama’s tell ya it’s dangerous at night in the City?”

Meirin drew back behind Sakura. “Who are they?”

Several more gang men joined the first one who continued, “We’re just poor guys. Perhaps you rich kids can donate us some money.”

“In your dreams!” Sakura said. “C’mon, let’s go.” She grabbed Tomoyo and Meirin, followed by Erika and Miho.

The gangsters moved to the front, blocking their way. “Look, that little rich girl has a video camera! Man, she must have fun with that kinda luxurious toy,” another scruffy man said, reaching for it.

“Don’t touch it!” Sakura slapped the man’s hand. The impact echoed throughout the empty street. Strange. There was no one in the streets. Even though it was in the night, New York was always bustling with people, especially during the Season.

Rubbing his stinging hand, the large man sized up the fierce girl mockingly. His cold, glinting eyes were unnerving. “Looks like they wanna fight back, boys,” said the leader. “C’mon. Give up all your money and valuables, and we’ll do no harm.”

“We don’t have any money or valuables!” Meirin shouted.

“What’s in your purse, then?”

“Nothing.” Meirin said truthfully, sweat-dropping. She had used up all the dollars on her shopping that day.

“She’s right.” One of the men said, peering into the empty wallet in disgust.

Sakura bit her lips. Her wallet was full of money, more than she had ever carried. Not to mention her crystal necklace. Something told her that it was valuable. Her gaze wandered over to the man she was facing. His features were indistinguishable because of the shadow, and he was dressed in black leather, with silver chains around his neck. He definitely didn’t look poor. Anyway, why would anyone try to rob girls, let alone tourists? Something definitely was wrong. Then she was the leather jacket. On one arm was a badge. And on that badge was embroidered a black mask in the shape of a skeleton head. It had been on the threat notes, the same symbol that had recurred several times lately.


Immediately, Syaoran dropped the scowl, which was reserved for the 3 people he disliked the most, Eron, Touya, and Eriol.

“What’s the matter?” Yukito asked. The guys were walking back to the Plaza Hotel after unsuccessfully shopping for “party clothes” mainly because they were not as enthusiastic as the girls, so they ended up in any other place than formal clothes stores.

“It’s my sister. And the others, right?” Touya asked quietly to Syaoran. He nodded.

“What about your sister?” Nakuru asked, leaning against Touya’s broad shoulders. “I thought you would look cute in a tuxedo!”

“Hurry! It’s near Central Park!” Syaoran ran off.

“What?” Eron stared at the long stretch of empty road.

“I guess Eriol’s Action Plan #2 was right,” Nakuru commented. “Whatever it is, Syaoran’s weaknesses is his secret concern for Sakura. Oh ho ho. Right Eriol-kun?”


The man dodged for Sakura. Deftly, she leaped over the man. Now she knew. They were being controlled. That black skull badge. She had no one to depend on. She was on her own. There was no one to trust, no one to rely on. Someone might be watching her that moment. And she wasn’t going to lose till she gave her best. Quickly, the few martial arts training she learned from Syaoran took over. Though she only knew a few basic punches and kicking, she had practiced them every day, even after they no longer had lessons after… after that day. Slamming her hard fist into the man’s gut, she twisted her knuckles, retreated, then returned with a side kick, knocking the big man to the ground.
Erika screamed as another man came forward. Instantaneously, Sakura hurled our her elbow, digging into the soft part of his flesh, and kicked his leg, hard. As Meirin gathered her wits, she finished off with some of her thunder-fist punches.

Panting, Sakura and Meirin looked around warily. They had done a pretty good job in fending themselves off grown men. Tomoyo was calming a blubbering Miho, while Erika was readjusting her shopping bags.

“Watch out!” cried Tomoyo. The fallen men were gradually standing again, and were joined by several more emerging from the dark allies.

“Don’t think you’ll get rid of us so easily, my dear,” the leader said to Sakura. The black skeleton embroidered on the leather jacket gleamed in the darkness. His eyes glowed slightly reddish. “We always get what we want.” He grabbed her arm. With agility, Sakura did a backward flip, pinning the man to the ground. With all her might, she kicked out her leg, feeling her calve muscles strain as she struck the man’s stomach.

Even though her stomach felt queasy at the work she was doing, Sakura said calmly, “Don’t you know that I never lose? Not the new me. I’m not a puppet to be played into the hands of the enemy. ‘Cuz I’m all on my own, and I’m going to fight with all that I’ve got. Who sent you? Who?”

The leader tried to say something, then fell heavily to the floor, as if someone had cast a sleeping spell on him. A ghostly skeletal figure seemed to evaporate from him. Sakura backed away.

For a moment as Syaoran ran down the ally to the fighting spot, he had a rueful hooked smile, which Tomoyo and Eriol didn’t fail to notice. So, she’s been practicing. Even after I stopped giving her fighting lessons, she struggled and practiced on her own. And she beat those gangster men.

Briefly, Syaoran knocked out the few remaining men, and by the time Touya, Yukito, and Eron caught up, a dozen gang men were sprawled across the street.

Readjusting her coat, Sakura was breathing heavily as her limp hair hung into her eyes, full of hatred and confusion. Why was someone doing this to her? Yet, she felt sorry for all the men that she knocked out. They couldn’t help being controlled by the enemy.

Examining the men on the floor Syaoran looked up to see if Sakura was all right.

With deeply concerned golden eyes, Eron quickly ran over to Sakura. “Are you all right, Sakura-san? I can’t believe you were all attacked by muggers.”

“Thank you. I’m all right, Eron-san.” Sakura gazed into his beautiful golden eyes, like the bright sunlight on a dark night as her bright emerald ones shone back.

“Here, you must be cold.” Eron unwrapped a blue scarf off his neck and wrapped it around her neck. She blushed, smiling sweetly.

Wistfully, Syaoran turned aside again. So much for that.

Off the side, Eriol murmured to Tomoyo, “Looks like I don’t need to help out in this situation, adding oil to already burning fire.”

“Yeah, Eron’s absolutely perfect,” Tomoyo said.

“Too smooth and perfect.” Eriol cast his midnight blue eyes down.

Smiling softly at Eriol, Tomoyo commented, “Look who’s talking. But you are right. What more can you ask from a guy? Li-kun has things tough.”

“Don’t tell me you knocked out all these big men,” Touya said dryly to Sakura.

“Hoe…” Sakura started sweat-dropping.

“Don’t take all the credit, Sakura-chan,” Meirin said, rubbing her hands together.

“Wai! I was soo scared,” Miho cried, sniffling on Eriol’s handkerchief.

“Don’t cry, it’s all over. See? They’re all knocked out.” Syaoran indicated to the men.

“Okay,” Miho said meekly.

“At least I have all my money safe,” Erika commented. “Syaoran-kun, thank you for saving us! You were marvelous. My hero!"

Sakura and Meirin glared at Erika. They had done all the dirty work, and what thanks they received! Sadly, Sakura cast her eyes down. There was a time when Syaoran comforted her when she cried. Yet, he didn’t even ask if she was all right. He said he hated seeing someone cry. It was nothing special. A dry humor in her told her that Syaoran would make a great older brother if he had any younger siblings. After all, Miho was younger, so she must have been scared. More scared that Sakura was. At least Eron-kun and Eriol…

As they were about to leave, Syaoran lurked behind and bent over the gang leader. To Sakura’s surprise, Syaoran slipped out his elegant pocketknife with the golden dragon carving. With the gleaming blade, he sliced off the badge on the muscular man’s black leather jacket. The embroidered skull seemed to grin wickedly at her, and she shivered, frozen to the spot. What was that for? The knife. And hadn’t Syaoran said that the knife blade was so blunt that it couldn’t cut anything? Yet, it cut the leather jacket with perfect ease. Why had he lied to her? And why did he cut out that skeleton badge?

But he’s always helped you and stood by your side. How can you even think such a thing? Another dark voice told her, but not for a long time. He’s always been secretive and dark. Even more these days. You don’t really know him, but he knows everything about you. And in that painting. “The Destruction.” Why had Ryuuren-san pointed a sword at Nadeshiko’s neck? Who knew what their real relationship was? All reason and sensibility washed out of her, along with all the time that Syaoran had been with her and saved her. Hadn’t someone said, ‘your closest friend may be your worst enemy?’ Sakura stumbled as she tried to walk faster towards the endless road of the city night.


A young man with dark brown hair pointed a long gleaming sword at a slender girl who was trembling. Both their faces were blurred. “But I thought you were my friend! How can you betray me?” The girl said, sobbing. “Why?”

“This is the way it was meant to be,” he replied calmly. “This is our fate.”

The image shattered into a million pieces, and the spidery cracks filled with bright ruby blood. There was a blue, flickering light in the distance, she reached for the sparkling star sapphire ring. If she caught it, everything would be all right. She would catch it! Just as she grasped it, it fell through the crack lost forever. Its mocking, flickering azure light faded. NOOOOOOOOOOOooo!!!

Muffling a scream, Sakura bolted up from her bed. The spotless white sheets of her bed, in the Plaza Hotel were tangled around her legs. Tomoyo, Meirin, and Erika were sleeping soundly on the beds beside her. Gazing at the digital clock, she found that it was 2 in the morning.

Quickly, she slipped into black clothes and tucked her tightly braided golden mahogany hair into a black hat. She slipped the note, “A hundred steps north from the statue of Alice, 20 steps east, and the fifth tree from the left. Dig a little deeper. I am still watching you, and you’ll never find who I am. There’s no escape,” into her pocket. Releasing her staff and drawing out the Fly card, she opened the living room window and flung one leg out.

“Where do you thing you’re going?” a light tenor voice asked from behind her in the dark shadows of the adjoining living room. Sakura jumped and started to tremble uncontrollably.

“N-nowhere. What are you doing up at this hour?”

“What are you doing with one leg out the window?” Syaoran folded his arms across his chest, as if he was challenging her. He was dressed completely in black, also, blending in with the dark room. His keen amber eyes gazed at her, without flickering. “You’re going to the statue of Alice in Central Park, aren’t you? All by yourself.”

“H-how’d’you know?” Sakura asked. She hadn’t even show him the note.

“I have my methods.”

Right. He is always capable of anything. Since when have I been so scared of Syaoran? He’s in with me on this, remember? He’s always helped me when there’s danger. Yet… why is everything happening when we’re far away, in New York? It must be someone who can have close watch over me. Yet, he helped me all through capturing and mastering the Clow Cards. But that was years ago. He had been my rival for some time, too. He must have hated my guts.

Then a dreadful truth dawned upon her. When did all the trouble start?

On the exact day that Syaoran returned to Japan. As suspicion kissed her, all common sense and reality swept away, like the candle light blown out by the night gust.


“I guess this must be the statue of Alice,” Sakura said, gazing up at the statue of “Alice in Wonderland.” She had liked the story when she was younger. So had Eriol. Gradually, she started to relax, and made sure that her suspicion didn’t leak out. There was no way that she was going to let Syaoran know.

“So, it’s a hundred steps north from here?” Syaoran asked. God, why was he in such a scrape? He had been planning to sneak out secretly, but Sakura had the same thing on her mind. Sakura. What did she mean by trying to manage everything on her own? Was she going to a place where even he couldn’t reach? If she didn’t trust, him, then—

“Which way is north?” Sakura interrupted.

Taking out his lasin board, Syaoran indicated the direction. He felt like bashing his over-fueled head against a tree. It didn’t help that they were hardly on speaking terms. He’d even forgotten why they were mad at each other in the first place. What a great way to start out a trip, he thought sarcastically. She refused to tell him anything, and he was left all alone to figure out the background work. Not that he wasn’t used to working alone. That wasn’t a problem, but when she insisted on being so separated and self-relying, what was he supposed to do? Sit back and watch? He couldn’t just leave her. Anyway, if she didn’t trust him, then who else would she trust? “Now, wait!” Syaoran caught up.


“Hundred!” Sakura exclaimed, reaching a gathering of trees.

“No it’s not!”

“Yes it is! I counted.”

Without protesting further, they took 20 steps east.

“Okay, the fifth tree from the left. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5! This must be it!” Sakura stared triumphantly at the firm tree. Then she shuddered. Crookedly, with a knife, someone had carved in it an outline of a skull and an arrow pointing down. Its empty eyes seemed to gaze directly at her.

“Let’s just go back. Why do we have to follow the instructions of a stupid note? It can be dangerous.”

Stubbornly, Sakura persisted, “No. I’m gonna find out what’s here.”

“But what about this tree? The note didn’t say what to do with it.”

“It said dig a little deeper.”

“But that’s just a saying, meaning to look deeper into the facts.”

“Well, take it literally. See this arrow on the tree trunk. It’s indicating to dig down here.” Whipping out a shovel, Sakura struck the frozen soil beneath the tree.

“Where’d’you get that?” Syaoran asked in awe, indicating the shovel.

Shrugging her shoulders Sakura replied, “I err—borrowed it from the hotel gardener.


“Tell me, why do I have to do the digging?” Syaoran grumbled, trying to shovel into the rock hard dirt.

With her previous fear melted away, Sakura giggled, “Silly, what else did you come for?”

Turning serious, Syaoran said, “Look, let’s go back. This is just a silly prank. We’re just wasting our time. See, there’s nothing here, anyway. I’ve already dug a meter deep and nothing’s here. It was just a mistake. Forget this.”

Sakura narrowed her forest green eyes. Since when was Syaoran so eager to back out? First he said it may be too dangerous, now he’s trying to say that it was a silly prank, that it was nothing. Was he trying to hide something? Did he actually know more than he acted like he did? Was he trying to keep her from knowing something? “No. You can go back if you want to. I’m not.”

“You know I can’t just leave you,” Syaoran grumbled. Just then, the spade struck something hard in the ground. Sakura bent down on the ground, and peered into the hole. Together, they wriggled out a small rotting wooden chest.  Brushing away the crumbs of dirt, Sakura struggled to open it.

“Stand back. I think I can pry the rotten wooden lid away.” Syaoran sawed at the crumbling lid with his pocketknife. He seemed to have forgotten completely that he had stated at the airport that the knife was blunt and useless. “There, I think we can yank it open now.”

Gently, Sakura opened the wooden lid. The moment she opened it, a disgusting, pungent smell reached her nose, slightly salty and like rotten fish. For a moment, her emerald eyes widened with unimaginable horror as she gazed in terror. Since her hands were soiled, she couldn’t cover her eyes, and she couldn’t shut them, either. Syaoran stared in dismay.

Inside was a trampled, ripped branch of sakura blossom, bent beyond recognition and tied with a hangman’s noose. Sakura could almost feel the noose tighten around her neck. Above it lay a small replica of the painting “The Destruction,” except that the young man was holding a knife to the girl’s throat, and the knife was golden hilted with dragon carvings. The same that Syaoran carried. The tiny replica had been also shredded to pieces.

And splattered everywhere in the wooden chest, along its sides, the broken blossom, and the shredded painting, was splashes of a dark scarlet red, dried to almost brownish-black.

That was where the repulsive rotting smell had been coming from.

As Sakura opened her mouth to scream, no sound came out. Finally, she gagged then croaked, “W-what…”

In a matter of fact way, Syaoran replied, “Blood. Dried, old blood.”

Sakura shuddered again. How could he be so calm? Her stomach rebelled and lurched and she bent over to throw up. But she couldn’t. Droplets of crimson blood danced in front of her eyes.

There was a note stained with scarlet blood in the chest, which simply stated,

A dazzling night that you can’t see, that you can’t face. A marvelous explosion. Have a frightful New Year.

Without wasting another moment, Syaoran shut the lid of the chest and placed an ofuda on it to set it on fire.

“Erase!” Sakura used the card to erase all signs of disruption to the park, including the hole in the ground, burnt ashes, and the carving on the fifth tree. Yet, the morbid image would never be erased from her mind. She felt as if her hands were dripping with fresh, silvery blood.

New Year’s Eve was 2 days away. And there was no one she could trust. Not even her friends, not even… Syaoran.

Have a frightful New Year…

Wish-chan: Oh my! How did things get so skrewed? I don't know how the plot got so dark and twisting... Poor Sakura... Hmm, strange about the artist Shing, ne? Keep in mind... what happened between Nadeshiko and Ryuuren... It will be one of those unsolved mysteries... Won't say anymore... afraid of spoilers... Next chapter... New Year's Eve...