Chapter 19: Dazzling Countdown

New York… 2 days left till New Year’s Eve… December 29th…

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

Sakura was running down an endless corridor, with deep crevasses and black cracks. The harder she ran, the further away the end became. At the end was Syaoran. If she reached him, she’d be all right. The rhythm of her steps deteriorated. When she reached the end of the hallway, Syaoran was gone. Instead, a cloaked figure stood there, blocking her from reaching Syaoran. The cloaked figure turned around. In one hand was a hangman’s noose, and in the other was a gold hilted knife. Syaoran’s knife covered with blood. Whose blood? Broken flower crimson petals swirled around her, drowning her in the repulsive smell off dried blood, silvery and salty. And instead of gazing up at a cloaked figure, she gazed up into the face of a jeering skeleton.

Crazy. How can you have a nightmare when it’s not even night? Sakura sighed as she gazed outside the window. It would be evening soon. She had wasted a whole day in New York in bed, partly because she had hardly had any sleep since she arrived in New York, partly because of the horror of the rotten wooden box, partly because no one would be able to put up with dragging a zombie around when shopping. I wonder if everyone bought their New Year’s Eve Party dresses. Tomorrow, she would shop for her dress. Have a frightful New Year…

Taking out her cards, she spread them out in front of her, on the carpeted floor. Kero-chan had once taught her how to fortune-tell with them. Using her magical aura, she turned over 5 cards.

“The Shadow. The Haunt. The Mirror. The Illusion. The Erase.” Sighing, Sakura gathered her cards back into the book. Big help that was.

Great. We’re having dinner out with some fancy executives. I better get ready. Mike Kant definitely wouldn’t want me as a model if he sees me right now. I look like I came back from the dead. They had agreed to put off the actual picture taking till after New Year’s Eve.

With pure instincts, she found herself in the guy’s room. Her hand reached out for Syaoran’s khaki coat. He had worn his navy blue sports jacket that day. Thrusting her hand into the pocket, she fuddled for what she was looking for. Why was she snooping into someone else’s stuff? Her hand hit something cold. It was the knife. Then, she found the skeleton badge that he had ripped off from the man’s leather jacket. The skull seemed to stare back at her, leering at her with a wicked grin. Strange… why was it glowing with Syaoran’s power? Dizzily, she dropped everything back into the pocket and stuffed the coat back to where she found it. Her mind was more resolute than ever.

Dragging her body to the bathroom, Sakura looked into the mirror. A distorted, cracked reflection of a grinning skeleton stared back. In a raspy tone, it mouthed, “I’m watching you.” Crumpling to the cold tiled floor, Sakura felt the continuous chill run down her bones. Someone had smashed the bathroom mirror into pieces.


“What’s the matter, Sakura-san?” Eriol shook Sakura, who was still in a dazed state. “I was worried. You didn’t get the phone. Everyone’s waiting downstairs.”

Then, he was the cracked mirror. In a tight voice he said, “I’ll tell the housekeepers to replace it.” Gently, he lifted Sakura to her feet. “Tell me, you’ve been facing some trouble again, haven’t you?”

Sakura nodded.

“Can you tell me about it?”

For a moment, Sakura was taken back. Eriol was so powerful, she had assumed that he would know everything. Then again, he was no longer the most powerful magician in the world. He had clearly stated that he no longer wanted the weight, and he was living the life of a normal boy. She didn’t want to burden him, either. “Thank you, Eriol-kun. But it’s my problem, and I can handle it.” She smiled slightly when Eriol put a supportive arm around her.

In the guy’s room, Syaoran frowned. Someone had been going through his stuff. And how could she run into the arms of any guy… meanwhile not trusting him. She actually raided his stuff, as if he was a suspect. Didn’t she know that he had been searching the skeleton badge to trace down its origin? Didn’t she know that the knife was one of the only remaining gift that his father had given him when he was a child? What was he supposed to do?


Giving Sakura a tight squeeze, Eriol said warmly, “You’ve really become a strong Card Mistress, Sakura. I’m really glad. But remember. You don’t have to bear the burden on you own. I’ll always support you, and so will your friends.”

Sadly, Sakura shook her head. In the end, she was on her own.


December 30th…

“Finally, I bought my dress!” Sakura exclaimed, the next night. With a mixture of sight-seeing, shopping, and eating, the day had almost been perfect. Deep in her heart, she knew the real trouble was stored for the next day, December 31st.

“Oh ho ho! It was fun videotaping you in different dresses!” Tomoyo sighed. This was more of the kind of time she had been expecting to spend in New York.

“I don’t get why we have to get it in black,” Meirin complained. “I wanted to get the red one.”

“Black is the color for New Year’s Eve, especially in elegant parties,” Tomoyo stated. “Anyway, there’s going to be another party before we leave, so you can buy the red one then.”

“Another party?” Erika exclaimed. “Oh dear. What will I ever wear?”

Raising an eyebrow, Sakura commented, “You don’t really have a problem. You bought 2 dresses yesterday, and 3 more today.”

Aghast, Erika said in a comically exaggeration, “Oh no! I still haven’t decided which dress to wear! I heard that there are some gorgeous son’s of wealthy business owners attending the party. Will they like the one with the slits, or long sleeve, or spaghetti strap, or halter neck?”

“We better get Syaoran to choose,” concluded Meirin.

“Does he have good taste?” Miho asked, swinging her legs from the bed.

“Marvelous!” Meirin said.

Sakura grimaced at the mention of his name. She had been trying to avoid him for the past few days.


“Eh?” Syaoran tried to keep his eyes open.

“I said, you’re going to loose her this way,” Eriol repeated patiently for the 3rd time. Mentally, Eriol noted to tell Tomoyo to not make him try to teach Syaoran something when he was sleepy. So much for Eriol Action Plan #3: Syaoran’s inability to express his feelings in words.

“Lose what?” Syaoran stifled a yawn. It was bad enough being under the eyes of Touya all day, let alone Eron and now Eriol. Plus Sakura had been in bed all day. And she had been snooping his stuff. He would never forgive her for that. Not that he was scared that she might damage or take anything, but that she actually suspected him.

“She doesn’t even trust you anymore. You’ve hurt her.”

“Hurt her?” His eyelids felt heavy. What was Eriol talking about? Something about losing and hurting.

“What made you change so much? Get a grip. You’re going to lose her completely if you don’t get a grip of yourself. You should know that by now. She trusts everyone else around her more than she trusts in you. One might think that you are a stupid idiot. You are the most exasperating…” Eriol sweat-dropped. Now, Clow Reed never lost his patience. But Eriol was different. Syaoran was sleeping. Eriol sighed. He’d have to tell Tomoyo that the “talk” had been completely unsuccessful.


Stomp stomp. Bam. BAM. Syaoran stomped down from his room, 801, to Eriol’s room, 805. A bleary eyed Suppi-chan opened the door. “What do you want? It’s midnight.”

“What are you doing here, brat? We’re trying to sleep!” Kero-chan stated, extremely annoyed.

“Hiiragizawa! Come out this instant!” Syaoran demanded.

“What is it now?” Eriol asked, stretching.

“Do you think you can get away with insulting me like that?”

“Yes.” Everyone fell head over heels. Nakuru, alias Ruby Moon and Miho had joined them from the connecting next door room. “Someone needs to knock some sense into your brain, and I can’t see anyone else to do it. We all know something big is going to happen soon.”

“Do you think I’m stupid?” Compared to Eriol’s calmness, Syaoran was practically throwing a tantrum.

Nakuru whispered to Miho, “He woke us all up in the middle of the night, just because he had been sleeping when Eriol tried to talk to him earlier on?”

“I guess.” Miho smiled. Whatever was going to happen, it would be fun.

“Will people just stop interfering with my life and let me be?” Syaoran clenched his fist. Truthfully, half of him felt like he was acting foolishly, trying to challenge Eriol, the king of tranquillity, but the other half of him felt a burning rage, though he didn’t know why.

“You’re going to hurt others if you continue to live so recklessly. And you’ll end up hurting yourself. Sakura-san has always counted on you to support her. Maybe in your heart you still do, but you’re doing your best to make it seem as if you are against her. Someday, she’s going to be so apart from you, you wouldn’t be able to reach her.” Eriol said this all perfectly calmly, as if he was saying, “It’s a nice day.” Yet, Miho knew he was dead serious.

“So, you think you’re so much better than me, and know everything. Well, I challenge you! Let’s see who’s really better!” Syaoran’s amber eyes flickered, faced by Eriol’s mild blue ones.

“Well, that will be interesting. Key that holds the power of darkness. Show your true self to me. I, Eriol command you under contract. Release!” Eriol held his great sun staff in the air. “Seal!” Immediately, the room was sealed from any harm and prevented any noise or outer disturbance.

For a moment, Syaoran wondered what mess he had gotten himself into. Then, grinning recklessly, he whipped out his sword. Let’s see who’s stronger. He had always awaited his chance. Attacking first, he sent out a whirlwind of air. Eriol dodged easily. In return, Eriol blasted out a ball of flame. With a sweep of Syaoran’s sword, it disappeared. Soon, a series of attacks began, both of them deftly coming up with an apt counteract.

“You’ve improved,” Eriol commented, smiling. He sent out a forceful waterspout. “But that doesn’t make you better than me.” With a little struggle, Syaoran managed to engulf it in fire.

“Well, take this!” Syaoran said, sending out bolts of lightening.

“Stop it!” Sakura commanded. The bolts stopped in midair.

Shrugging, Miho said, “I tried to stop her. Who knew she would still be awake and sense the magic?”

“Ah, the brat taught her how to sense it well,” Kero-chan said slyly.

Angrily, Sakura said, “What are you two doing? We’re not enemies. We have greater enemies to fight, and why are you having a “who’s the strongest magician” contest?” Then she broke off, realizing who she was scolding. Gazing disdainfully at Syaoran, Sakura turned to Eriol, “Are you all right, Eriol-kun? I didn’t mean to preach to you. You know more, anyway.” Syaoran felt as if there was a blow in his stomach, as Sakura turned her back to him.

“Don’t worry about me. I may not use that much power any more,” Eriol said smiling. “But that doesn’t mean that I still don’t have it.”

“I always knew that. And you wouldn’t use it for silly reasons, either,” Sakura said, specifically directing it to someone.

“Spoil sport. Just when things were about to get fun,” Miho muttered. Grinning lazily, she tiptoed and whispered to Syaoran, “Doesn’t it hurt you when she confides to people who are almost complete strangers, more than you? It must scare you immensely. Who knows what will await tomorrow?”

December 31st…

“Great. How does she expect me to keep an eye on her when she’s bouncing around from her friends, and between Eron and Eriol?” Syaoran swerved around the bookstore to the café. “I don’t care if everyone thinks I’m daft or crazy. I’m not losing sight of her until we safely pass over this year.” He ducked under the clothing rack and emerged in front of the cashier, refusing to let her out of view. Eron leaned over to murmur something in her ear. Laughing her tinkling laugh, Sakura tried on a red beret with a pompom on top, tilting her head in front of the mirror.

“What did you say?” A clear, laughing voice asked. Syaoran found himself staring into the innocent gray eyes of Miho, who stared at him as he was mad, talking to himself.

Well two can play at a game. Smiling his warmest smile, Syaoran said, “You’re exactly who I was looking for, Miho. Come, I’ll buy you anything you want. Didn’t you say you want a new hat? That red one over there looks nice.” Literally, he dragged her to the hat stand.


Biting her lip, Sakura craned her neck over just out of curiosity. For the past 3 days, she’d been trying her best to avoid Syaoran. Looks like I didn’t even need to worry. Throughout the whole day, Syaoran had completely been ignoring her, while being so friendly to all her other friends. Not that she cared. Tonight…

“You’ll save a dance for me tonight, won’t you, Syaoran ‘niichan?” asked Miho.

“If you’re very good, I will,” Syaoran replied lightly.

“But you’re going to dance all the slow ones with me,” Erika claimed, slipping her arms into Syaoran’s.

“Miss, you’re wrinkling the shirt,” the salesperson said.

“Sorry,” Sakura replied automatically dropping the shirt that she was strangling, wishing it was his neck. As if Syaoran would be spending New Years Eve partying and dancing.


“You look fantastic!” Sakura exclaimed as Erika swirled around in her slinky, mature black silk dress with the slits on the side. Definitely, Erika was a knock out. No wonder Syaoran fell for her.

“Of course I do, dear.” Erika piled her glossy violet curls on top of her head and clipped it with a diamond pin. “This is my first real ‘big’ party since the one in Paris, before I came to Tomoeda. I do hope Mike would be there, too. Isn’t he cute?”

“Mike?” Miho asked, bending over to slip into shoes. A key on a chain slipped out from under her dress. It startled Sakura. It was like the one she had. Of course. Eriol gave Miho a staff, too.

“Mike’s only 22, I heard. I can’t believe he’s the best photographer in New York, though,” Meirin said.

“His father is the owner of the top modeling agencies,” Miho added.

Grimly, Sakura secured her hair in a sleek golden-brown bun, simple yet elegant. Also, durable in case of extra trouble. Underneath her long swishy black dress, she wore black tights. Just in case she had to run. Of course, Tomoyo would faint if Sakura wore boots or sneakers. She settled for her lowest-heeled, most comfortable leather shoes. As a final touch, she fastened a single red rose on the strap of her sleeveless dress. Eron had given it to her. Of course, she hadn’t been expecting any from Syaoran. Unlike other’s she was dreading New Year’s Eve.

Finished dressing, they headed for their limousine, to take them to the grand ballroom.


Grudgingly, Sakura had to admit that Syaoran must be the most stunning person that she ever knew. Not a pretty, perfect handsome like Eron, nor the mysterious charm of Eriol, but something that she couldn’t place in that cutting, striking figure. Little did she know that underneath his perfect fitting blazer was a binocular, a knife, ward papers and so forth, and that he had completely warmed up for a night of sprinting and action, swearing that he would never let his sight go off her.

“Hmm?” Sakura turned to face Eron, who was gorgeous in black, setting off his elegant dark hair pulled back. His eyes were a beautiful golden color, like the candlelight. She wondered how she ever thought that they could be mysterious and forbidding.

“Pretty necklace. It’s very… unique.” Eron picked the star crystal necklace off her neck, now revealed by the scoop neck of her dress. “Was it a present?”

“Hmm? I guess.”

“You seem a little distracted. Are you enjoying the party?” Eron asked again, refusing to take his bright gaze off her. Little did she know that her simple black dress and single rose set off her sparkling emerald eyes perfectly.

“The buffet was great, and the different people, as wealthy as they may be are very nice. Also, it was interesting to meet the follow up winners of the Talented Young Director Contest and their crew.” Smiling, she added, “And I can see your sister’s baiting her next victim.”

“Oh, Erika’s always like that. Poor Mike. At least your brother is free for the moment—never mind that.” Nakuru was literally dragging Touya to the dance floor.

“Do you want to?” Eron offered his hand in a charming motion.

“Hmm? Oh sorry. Sure, I’d dance.” Sakura moved towards the floor with Eron, blushing when he put his strong arms around her slim waist. She had to admit Eron was a great dancer, no matter how spaced out she was.

Then she frowned. What was Syaoran doing, dancing with Erika? His head was buried in her luxurious curls, and seemed like a dream couple in advertisements. He never was into social things, was he? Well, he surely looked like he was enjoying it.

“Ouch, why are you dragging me through the dance crowd? Are we dancing or wrestling?” Erika complained. “My shoes are killing me.”

“Sorry. Err… this music is very upbeat…” Syaoran’s eyes diverted to the dark and golden head swaying to the music. There she went again, disappearing into the crowd. How was he supposed to keep an eye on her when she kept on sticking to slinky Eron, who’s trick of disappearing was killing him? Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to dance with Erika. Who suggested it in the first place? He groaned. It was his own idea. One couldn’t expect him to just stand in the middle of the dance floor looking for Sakura and getting in everyone’s way. So, he hooked up with Erika. Then, his eyes met Sakura’s for a moment, as she looked up from Eron’s shoulder. Smoothly, he led Erika across the floor. Two can play at a game.


It’s there. I knew it. Sakura looked up to see a dark cloaked figure mingled among the fine guests of the New Year’s Eve Ball. Evidently, no one else could see it. And she knew that it would cause trouble. Excusing herself, she followed the cloaked figure, dodging this person and that. No one. She could count on and believe in no one. She was in this on her own. Who knew who the enemy would be? Your closest friend may be your worse enemy. The black shadow slipped out of the ballroom, and she followed.


Where is she going? How in the world am I supposed to watch over her tonight? Going this way, I’m not going to be able to keep up with her till midnight. God, she doesn’t trust anyone. She’s trying to take everything on her own. Quickly Syaoran ditched Erika.

“Hey, this is my favorite song! Where are you going?” Erika called out.

“Sorry. I’ve got urgent business.” Syaoran loosened his tie and slipped through the crowd, following Sakura’s golden-brown head. For a second, it dissolved in to the crowd all dressed in black. Then, she popped out again way across the room.


Gasping at the nipping icy wind as she stepped outside the gateway, Sakura swerved around, examining the bare streets. The black cloaked figure paused, and beckoned at her with a skeletal hand. She followed. Remembering the first day of their trip, in the airport, she recollected the note. Next time… After the false bomb alarm, the note said next time. Which mean that there would be another big explosion, this time. Tonight. And that skeleton head. What was that?

Suddenly, the black shape evaporated into the air, without a trace. Hesitantly, she returned back to the ballroom. No one was there. Or at least, she could see no one. Just a moment ago, it had been bustling with elegant men and women, musicians, and waiters. Then, she gazed down at her body. She could see right through it. She didn’t exist; she was invisible. No one was there. Nobody was there for her. She was all alone, with no control. Bolting out of the building, she walked faster and faster, trying to move further apart from the black figure and put more distance between her and the unknown. She twisted into this corner and that, from alley to alley, moving further and further away from the safe party site.


Sakura had returned to the ballroom for a second, gazed around, then ran out again. She can’t see us, realized Syaoran. She can’t see anyone, including herself. It’s almost as if she’s losing her mind, her existence.

“Damnit. I lost track of her.” Somewhere in the streets, Syaoran had lost her as she slipped into the corners. With his binoculars, he tried to gaze into the distance. Not even a tiny speck. Sakura had sensed that someone had been following her and definitely made sure that she escaped without a trace. She would let no one catch her. Then all would be lost.

Gazing down at the black alley, a sickening sense of reality swept over Syaoran. She was gone. Though he had vowed he would never let go of her for at least that night, he had failed in keeping watch. And an evil was out there to overwhelm her in any moment. Slowly, he walked back where everyone else was partying. Frowning, he made up his mind.

“Can I see you for a moment?” Syaoran tapped Eriol’s shoulder. “Outside?”

“Oh no! He’s playing with me right now. Don’t bother him!” Miho protested innocently, and Syaoran knew it was to exasperate him.

Coolly, Eriol asked, “What’s the matter Li-san? Can’t it wait?”

Struggling with his pride, Syaoran whispered, “Please. It’s important.”

Thoughtfully, Eriol said, “Well, I don’t know. I’m not in the mood to argue with you right now… Oh all right.”

Outside, it was much quieter. Tomoyo had insisted on following, along with Miho and Nakuru. So had Yue, transformed from Yukito. Great, Syaoran thought sarcastically. The more the merrier. Briefly, he explained the situation to them.

Clenching his teeth, Syaoran ended “Sakura’s in danger, and I need help.”

Staring blankly, Miho asked, “So? What does that have to do with Eriol?”

“Don’t make this harder than it already is... I-I can’t manage it all by myself.”

“Oooh~ Are you actually admitting that you need help, that you can’t stand alone?” Ruby Moon chided.

Smiling, Tomoyo murmured, “Eriol’s Action Plan #4, Syaoran’s self dignity and pride.”

“Eh?” Syaoran raised an eyebrow. Great, even Tomoyo was making things worse. He might as well just go on his knees and beg Eriol. What a fall for him! God, he hated Eriol’s guts. But, what else could he do? It was urgent. The things he did for Sakura—and did she know it?

“What good thing have you exactly done this winter, or even since you came here?” Miho challenged, enjoying Syaoran’s serious frown and inner struggle to keep an even temper.


“What makes you deserve any assistance?”

“It’s not for me. It’s for Sakura,” Syaoran replied quietly.

“So?” Tilting her head, Miho’s glossy auburn hair whipped her chin as her sea gray eyes glittered.

“Ha, what a blow for the brat,” Cerberus, who had joined the crowd, mocked.

“Just leave him alone,” Yue said quietly, his silvery eyes flashing, the first nice thing he had done in quite a while. He tossed back his flowing silver hair and arrogantly stared down at the rest of the crew. “Sakura’s my mistress after all.”

Pausing, Syaoran looked down and added slowly, “Please.”

Grinning, Miho looked sideways at Eriol, who was smiling gradually.

Finally, Eriol spoke, “If you insist.”

Secretly sighing in relief, Syaoran muttered, “So that’s that. And don’t expect me to go on my knees with gratitude.”

“Brat! Wait till I see your plea to Eriol on Tomoyo’s video,” Cerberus mocked.

“Don’t you have anything better to do?” asked Spinel Sun.

“Now, down to business.” Syaoran looked straight into everyone’s eyes, his amber eyes cool and level again.


Where was she right now? Rubbing her bare arms, Sakura wished for the hundredth time that she had brought her coat with her. Not that it mattered. She couldn’t even see herself, or anyone else. The Erase. Her fortune had predicted Invisibility.

Suddenly, she became aware that someone was trailing her. There was no escape. I am watching you in New York. Tumbling over the stairs, Sakura grabbed up her long black dress and began to run away from the mocking grinning skull who was holding a noose with one hand.


Eriol and Miho were in charge of stopping time for the moment. It was especially most difficult in the turn of the year. Ruby Moon and Yue were in charge of putting everyone to sleep and to protect them. Cerberus and Spinel Sun were in charge of tracing down the Invisible (without any disturbances.) After their tasks, they had to grasp an understanding of what the “big explosion” that would occur might be. Meanwhile, Tomoyo would be videotaping, no matter how many times people told her it was dangerous.

And he, Syaoran, was to find Sakura in the meantime.


“Sakura, stop!”

She refused to listen to the voice. Who knew what it was, who knew what illusion it may be? Sprinting faster, Sakura ran further and further away from the urgent voice. Her calves ached and her soft leather shoes pinched at her toes. At last, like after a game of tag, Sakura slowed down, out of breath.

“Baka! Are you stupid or what? What good is this game of chase going to do us? Get a grip. This is Li Syaoran, you’re Kinomoto Sakura. Calm down and let’s think through this step by step.” With a leap, Syaoran grabbed Sakura’s wrist.

“Let go of me!” Sakura commanded, trying to snatch out her wrist. She no longer had the endurance to run on.

With a sick realization, Syaoran knew that Sakura could not see him, nor see herself, even if he could see the her outlines and features perfectly clearly, down to the fear and dread in her clouded emerald eyes. She was under complete control of the Invisible. Realizing that the black cloaked skeleton was aiming for Sakura, Syaoran quickly dragged her and ran to another abandoned street in New York. Though she struggled, Syaoran made sure that Sakura could not escape from him, and be devoured by the evil force. Finally, he stopped in a relatively undisturbed area and let got of Sakura, who no longer had the strength to run off again.

Desperately, Syaoran said in a cracked voice, “Why won’t you trust me?”

Angrily, she retorted between breaths, “Trust you? What have you ever done to let me trust you? Anyway, I don’t even know who you are. How can I trust a stranger?”

“I’ve been with you all through. I’m was your rival, you said you hated me. We’ve been through a lot. Get it?”

Ruefully, she asked, “How can I believe you?” Yet, something in her eyes flickered. Could she actually she a faint outline of a tall boy now? Her own hands started to appear again. Was she not going blind or crazy after all?

Suddenly, she realized that Syaoran was standing right behind her. She could feel his gentle breath on her neck. He was the real Syaoran, after all.  Unable to hold back any longer, Syaoran hugged her from the back and whispered in a broken voice into her ear, “Trust me, Sakura. God, I don’t know how things got so crazy, but believe in me once more.” Drawing her tighter to him, he continued, “I’m tired of playing tag with you and chasing you blindly. I don’t know if this makes a difference anymore but you asked me once, ‘what of the lone wolf?’ You’re right. I’m not gonna let you fight this alone. I don’t care what happens afterwards, but don’t think of escaping from me, Sakura.”

Syaoran realized that Sakura had been trembling. Who ever told her to run out in the middle of a New York winter in a sleeveless summer dress? “You’re cold.”

“No,” she replied softly. Evergreen eyes were glistening.

“Liar. You’re shivering as if you’re getting electrocuted or something.” Ignoring her retorts, he continued, “I wish I had the warmest fur coat to wrap around you but—“ he broke off. He had nothing to offer. “I don’t have anything, Sakura.” But me. Instinctively, he refused to let his arms drop from around her.

Relaxing, Sakura leaned back against Syaoran’s firm chest. No one could exactly call her name in that same way. And no one had the same effect in rousing her anger, and calming her down so easily. The tenderness in his voice was rich with emotion that she thought was incapable of him having. No longer did she have any doubt or suspicion. Syaoran’s warm, strong arms wrapped around her quenched the shivering. I don’t care if it’s a dream or an illusion… I wish this moment can last forever… His outline was as clear and bright as the day. No longer did the Invisible hold its ghostly power over her. The real Sakura was back. How could she ever go so crazy and suspect Syaoran out of all people? That skull. It had that much dominance over her sensibility and mind. How could she suspect Syaoran when she—

“Sakura? I—“

“What are you doing?” Miho asked, walking into the dark alley of New York, holding out her staff for light.

As if Sakura was a hot iron, Syaoran dropped his arms from around her shoulders, and Sakura bolted up straight, turning a furious pink color.

“Uh—I found her… So, how’s things goin’?” Syaoran asked casually, trying not to stammer or turn a tomato red.

“We’re finished. Time’s stopped and everyone’s asleep and doubly protected. We just need to figure out whatever the ‘big explosion,’ might be,” Eriol contributed, holding up his staff. Eriol Action Plan #5, Syaoran’s inability to restrain his true heart and emotions for too long. “I’m glad you’re all right, Sakura-san. Li-san was really worried. I was worried too. It seems like you’re safe, though.”

“The big explosion…” Furrowing his dark eyebrows, Syaoran thought deeply, trying to ignore Eriol’s immediate charm taking effect over Sakura. When this is over…  beware Hiiragizawa.

In an exaggerated shocked tone, Sakura exclaimed, “Syaoran-kun, you mean you still didn’t figure out what the big explosion would be?

“Well sorry,” he sarcastically replied. “As if you know, either.”

“Of course I do.” Grinning Sakura replied. “What is the biggest event on New Year’s Eve? I’ll give a hint: it’s very pretty and we like to watch it in the sky.”

“Fireworks!” Miho, Tomoyo, and Cerberus shouted.

“Fireworks?” Syaoran asked, clearly puzzled.

“Right.” Counting off her fingers, Sakura stated in an orderly fashion, “Currently, there are 3 main problems to deal with. First, is the Invisible, which is practically conquered and probably was used for a diversion. Second, is the Explosive, which may cause permanent damage, and is also a big disaster. Intentionally, it is meant for midnight, when the fireworks go off, but since time is stopped, we can deal with that too. Lastly is the unknown. It is the black cloaked skeleton stalker who is causing all the problem ever since the Tokyo Airport. Hoe-e! I hope it’s not a ghost—“ Darkly, she added, “And behind all this is the actual plotter, but I guess some day I’d find out, when the right time comes. So, here we go!”

Groaning, Syaoran thought, Sakura is back.

At that moment, loud fireworks went off in the air, one by one.

“Pretty!” exclaimed Sakura.

“Stupid! That means the big explosion’s coming soon and we’re gonna get blasted off.” Syaoran swept out his sword.

From another explosion, a note floated down,

So, the show’s about to begin. Pity, it will only end in ashes. I’m watching you all through the night.

Like always, it was only signed by a black skeleton mask. Sakura swerved around. The black cloaked skeleton was heading towards her. However, no on else could see it but her.

Whipping out cards, she called out, “Sword! Fly” With wings sprouting from her shoulders and the narrow sword, Sakura jumped up to meet the black frame. Using full force, Sakura slashed the sword down. It evaporated into air again.

“Behind you!” called Cerberus.

Before Sakura could swerve around, Syaoran stabbed the thing with his sword. Giving a piercing wail, the skeleton vanished into air again.

“Where did it go?” He asked. Before he could collect his head, the form slashed down on Sakura once more, full speed. Sweeping in front of her, Yue sent out a hail of ice bolts. The black skeleton disappeared again.

Meanwhile, the fireworks were exploding more rapidly than every, flooding the starless night with blinding light.

“You’ve got to do something about that!” Cerberus shouted.

“I know but—“ Sakura dodged from the cloaked skeleton, shivering as it brushed her side. “STONE!” She aimed one of her newer cards at it. For a moment, the skeleton turned to stone. Immediately, it cracked open again. Hit by a shower of fire drops, Sakura flew over to the sky, barely missing being hit by another firecracker, and drew out “Shadow!” If she couldn’t see the dark force when it turned invisible, she could watch the shadow move. And then, she wouldn’t be taken unexpectedly.

“Look! The sky looks like it’s exploding!” Miho shouted.

“You and Spinel Sun! Look after all the other people! My spell won’t hold off much longer, I’m sad to say, since the changing of the year makes it difficult to hold time.” Eriol stated. Nodding, Miho and Spinel Sun went off to ensure the other’s safety. With a swirl of his staff, Eriol ensured double safety over the buildings and themselves with a stronger shield than before.

At that moment, the night sky was a magnificent blaze of white light. Keeping an eye on the Sakura, the next time cloaked skeleton approached, she managed to slice it’s shoulder. Yet, the light and noise was blinding and deafening her. And some inner voice told her that she could not handle the explosions and the stalker together. And it seemed as if the fireworks wouldn’t last much longer, before the big bang.

A slow, cunning smile spread of Eriol’s face. Syaoran noted that was when Eriol found the situation the most amusing.

“You can do something, easily I bet,” Syaoran muttered.

Raising his sun staff high above his head, Eriol began to focus his power. Clow’s magic circle glowed around him.

Meanwhile, Sakura swept into the air with agility. After all that she’d been through, the new force shouldn’t take her lightly. Centering all her power onto the tip of the Sword, Sakura slashed down mercilessly at the grinning skull. Before she could draw the Sword out, the black form looped the noose around her neck. Immediately, Syaoran slashed the noose off, as Sakura regained her breath. Blasting a stream of fire, Cereberus leaped over the figure, while Yue flung out razor sharp icicles, his silvery eyes gleaming mercilessly. As it tried to dissolve into air, Syaoran pierced his Five Force Sword into its back, pinning it clearly down. The swords red tassel swung victoriously. With a final touch, Sakura jumped down, slicing the skull head into two. With a rattle, the skeleton dropped to the floor. Immediately, a black cloud formed around it.

At the time, Eriol drew all the powers and exotic sparks of light into a condensed ball over his head, in front of his majestic staff.

“What’s happening?” Sakura asked as the black fog grew denser around the split skull.

Fumbling from his pocket, Syaoran drew out the embroidered skeleton mask badge that he had ripped off from the person being controlled. Throwing it to ground, he thrust his sword into it. With a final shrieking moan that rang through the night, the darkly cloaked skeleton wailed and materialized.

“Sakura!” Everyone called.

Taking a deep breath, Sakura concentrated the condensed explosive ball in front of her. If she let it escape, it would cause an eruption ten times as large as the one it would have created since the power was rippling to escape. Focusing, she concentrated the evil cloud of the skull along with it. Feeling a ripping pain rivet through her body, she ignored the bursting in her head.

“Spirit of the dark forces!” Sakura shouted. “I, Sakura, command you.” Stronger than ever, she commanded, “Return to a new shape under contract!” The mixture of different forces struggled to escape. With a new resoluteness, Sakura declared, striking down her star staff, “SAKURA CARD!”

Immediately, the blaze of light extracted into 3 different direction, swirling and twisting dizzily. In front of her, 3 new cards appeared. The Invisible. It had “nothing” for its picture. The Explosive with a fiery explosion. And the Stalker, with a cloaked skeleton leering out at the world.

Rightfully, the Explosive belonged to Eriol, who offered it to Sakura, who then gave it to Syaoran. “I don’t want it. Err—I might be tempted to misuse it.” Sakura said.

“And what exactly do you plan to do with that card if you kept it?” Syaoran asked sourly.

A little too sweetly, Sakura replied, “Blow up your house when I get mad.”

“You!” Then he trailed off.

Sakura was already lost in deep thought at the card that had caused so much trouble over the past few days. The Stalker. It had stalked her all the way from Japan. Now, it was over. Sighing, she shoved it to the back of the cards, adding it to the list of cards that she would never use. Yet, the Invisible had many possibilities.

“Sakura-chan was soooooo kawaii!!!” Tomoyo screeched. “Now, I can add it to the new video I’m making!”

“Another video?” Sakura squeaked.

“Oh no,” groaned Syaoran in unison with her.

“Wait, it’s almost midnight! We’ve got to go to Times Square with the rest of the guests to see the fireworks at 12!” Tomoyo exclaimed in horror. Time had started to click away again.

“Fireworks?” Sakura asked in dismay.

“I don’t think there’s any left…” Ruby Moon commented dryly. “Nooo! I was gonna watch it with Touya-kun!”

“Just imagine New Year’s Eve with no fireworks!” Miho burst out, aghast.

“Wait, I have an idea!” Syaoran said.

“Wow! Listen everyone! The brat has an idea!” Kero-chan said sarcastically.

“Shut up!”


11:55 PM, December 31st, New Year’s Eve at Times Square…

“I think I’m going to get trampled alive by all the people,” Meirin complained as she shoved her way through the crowds in Times Square.

“Where’s Syaoran-kun?” Erika asked, extremely annoyed. “Great! My hair’s getting messed up because of all these people.”

“Get off, Nakuru!” Touya found it impossible to push away Nakuru, since everyone else seemed to have their minds set up to shove her against him. “I just hate crowds!”

“By the way, where’s your little sister?” Yukito asked, unruffled by the stampede of people in Times Square.

A little loudly, Miho said, “Gee, I wonder where Sakura and Syaoran are. Of course they would not be anywhere TOGETHER. I mean, why would the want PRIVACY in the middle of NEW YEARS EVE.”

“What?” Touya gawked at Miho, speechless.

Tomoyo murmured, “Eriol’s Action Plan #6. Brotherly protection gets in the way.”

“Kaho-san was right. You are very funny, Kinomoto-san,” Miho commented.

“Kaho said that about me? Grr…” Touya started to smoke.

Yukito tried to calm him, in vain.

 “Wee! I can’t wait till the fireworks!” Miho clapped like an innocent child, her chin length reddish auburn hair tousled prettily. Several people glared at her sourly. Some had enough fireworks for the whole New Year to come.


“How come you’re not joining the rest of the crowd in Times Square?” Sakura asked, joining beside Syaoran on the roof of a tall building overlooking the Square.

“Eh?” Syaoran replied, “I don’t want to be trampled by the crowd. Plus, there’s a better view from here.”

“Same here. Anyway, what did you do about the fireworks? Are you sure you could replace them after all those that went off?” Sakura could feel the cool wind at the roof top brush against her face.

“You’ll see. But how come you’re not down there with the rest?” Syaoran motioned his head, down into the crowd. Somewhere lost in the millions of people were their friends.

Hugging her arms, Sakura thought, I think he’d laugh if I say that I would rather be here with him. Overlooking a New Year with Syaoran…

“TEN!” Millions of people started to shout.

This feeling in my heart.


Just as long as he’s here, I’m happy, because…


What is this feeling?


I don’t care what he thinks.


I can’t help this tingling inside me.


Will he think I’m crazy if I shout “I love you Syaoran” on top of this roof?


What an insane impulse.


I’m glad that I’m too much of a coward.


Syaoran, why you out of all people?


“HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!” There was a roar of shouting ringing across New York and Times Square.

BAM! BAMBAMBAM! BAM! BOOM! Consecutive star-bursts of fantastic fireworks illuminated the night sky, flooding the world with beautiful electric colors. For half an hour, breath taking explosions of magnificent light enthralled viewer of all age, from toddlers to elderly couples. Some fireworks spun in spirals, zigzagging through the sky, others burst like sunflowers, some started small then grew gigantic, still others showered twinkling light. Rainbow colors filled the endless sky, raining down its glorious drizzle of brightness.

After a breath taking moment of silence, Sakura asked in awe, “How’d’you manage all this, Syaoran?”

Grinning, he held up the Explosive card with two fingers. “Anything is possible. For me, for you, for the whole world. Now don’t you regret giving away this card? Not that you would have thought about how to use it, if you kept it.”

“YOU! I hate you!” Sakura exclaimed, yet laughed silently because Syaoran looked so pleased at his handiwork. Little did they know that the firecracker programmers were puzzled, asking how fireworks that weren’t planned ended up in the sky.

“But isn’t it nice?” Syaoran asked, gazing up into the shining sky.

“It’s very pretty. In fact, the best that I’ve ever seen.”



“That at least you’re not scared of firecrackers.”

“Why—“ Suddenly, there was a loud popping noise right beside her. Jumping she cried, “HOE-EEEEEEE!”

“Never mind,” Syaoran restated. Before Sakura could pelt him with reproach, he pointed up at the sky. “Look, that’s the last one for the New Year. See, it’s for you.”

Calming down, Sakura stared at the firecracker, which started as a small glowing light ball, which then blossomed into the brilliant magnificence of a rosy pink colored cherry blossom, slowly blooming into the stark black night sky. Gradually, it showered down as little sprinkles of cherry pink light, like sakura petals floating down the night sky to bless all people with its beauty. People oohed and aahed.

With shining emerald eyes, reflecting the dazzling lights of the fireworks, Sakura clapped her hands in pure joy and childish delight. “It’s beautiful Syaoran… I don’t know whether to be mad at you for scaring me, or admire you for your—creativity.”

“Right?” Syaoran seemed genuinely excited for the New Year… The first time in 15 years. His wind tossed chestnut brown hair emphasized the glow in his warm amber eyes. Instead of staring at the fireworks, Sakura gazed contentedly at him.

Meanwhile, the Times Square fireworks programmers were even more confused about where the last firecracker had come from. They had never even dreamed up such an idea. Yet, internationally, that celebration had been remembered as the most outrageously extreme and stunning light show, ever.


“Eriol’s Action Plan #7. When those two are alone, they can be capable of anything,” Tomoyo concluded, capturing the whole episode into her V8.

“How did you know what I was thinking?” Eriol asked, puzzled.

“I always do, don’t I, Eriol-kun? Hmm. I wonder if Sakura-chan would be touched if she sees the recording of Li-kun begging you to help him save her.”

“Ahh, but he wouldn’t like it.” Eriol pictured a bursting Syaoran when he would see the video.

"Oh ho ho... But everyone else would!" Tomoyo gazed at the new year with a satisfied sigh. "I just hope we can have a nice, pleasant, peaceful time for the rest of our trip."

"So that you can videotape Sakura-san for the remaining 2 days?" Eriol questioned.

Looking straight into each other's eyes, they said together, "And on with the next Eriol's Action Plan!" Then, they broke out grinning.


 Wish-chan: All right, first off, this is my New Year's present to all my readers who have supported me all through... Thank you to all those who e-mailed me! I've done my best to reply all but these days, I was bogged down by exams, sorry. Sorry for all the waiting-- but hey, it's now been over one year since I started New Trials. Umm, next chapter would just be fluff, the kinda stuff that Tomoyo would plan for the New York trip... "No more talk of darkness," (Phanton of the Opera, "Say You Love Me.") And it will be the concluding chapter of the New York trip. Then, I can move on to the fun stuff. (Grins.) D'you know how long I've been waiting to get over this stuff? No, I guess not... Sigh... Oh, and I know that there lotsa confusing things and unanswered things, but eventually, they'll come clear. And as we all now, how could Sakura ever have suspected Syaoran? C'mon, we all knew that he's still good old Syaoran who wouldn't even think of harming Sakura, rite? But, we must remember "the Stalker" card had that powerful effect. And Eriol's still the most powerful, I think. Not that Sakura and Syaoran aren't, but you know. Eriol's Eriol. Don't you think Eriol and Tomoyo match each other perfectly. Brr... don't wanna even think of Kaho and Eriol. Oh, and how'd'you like S+S's New Year's Eve countdown... Took long enough? They never seem to learn. I just love fireworks... Wouldn't a Sakura firecracker be pretty? Oh and New York is the bomb place for Christmas and New Year's Eve, there's no denying that. That is, if you can stand the cold.