Chapter 35: It Must Rain First


¡°Why did I agree to do this in the first place?¡± Sakura despaired, pacing up and down the beach after the 20 couples had finished their introduction. Now, they were waiting for the instructions for the contest to begin. ¡°This will be so humiliating! I can¡¯t do anything in front of hundreds of people, broadcasted on TV, with Syaoran out of all people!¡±

¡°You can quit if you want to,¡± Miho suggested. Linking her arms with Syaoran, she stated, ¡°I¡¯ll take Sakura¡¯s place anytime.¡±

Patting Miho¡¯s head, Syaoran replied kindly, ¡°Sorry, I¡¯m not into this silly contest stuff myself. But if I have to do this with someone, I prefer Sakura.¡±

Tomoyo smothered a smile.

The MC then shouted into the mike, ¡°The Best Couple of Japan Contest is in form of a Pentathlon, (penta=5) meaning five events will determine the best couple! In the next two days will be held the sandcastle building contest, the obstacle course, the talent show, the scavenger hunt, and the questionnaire! The first three contests will be held today, and the last two will be held tomorrow.¡±

¡°And now, presenting Day One¡¯s challenges of the Best Couple of Japan Contest,¡± the MC took a breath. ¡°Today will consist of three contests out of the five in the Couple Pentathlon. First, involving the creativity of the beach is the sandcastle building contest! Second is the thrilling and challenging couple obstacle course! And the third and final contest for today will be held this evening—the talent show! After each contest is completed, each couple will be assessed on a one to five scale, five being the highest and awarded to the best in the category, and 1 being the lowest. Do not be discouraged if you score low on one of the contests held today, for if you do well in the others, it will make up for it. By the end of the day, those with 10 or higher out of 15 points will then pass on to the fourth event, held tomorrow! Good luck to all of you, for by the end of the day, not all of the original twenty competing couples will remain!¡±

Erika snapped. ¡°The first day is simple then! All we have to do is get 10 points out of 15 points by the end of the day and we pass! Of course there is no doubt that we will get much higher than that, right Aki?¡±

¡°Right,¡± Aki replied, smiling.

¡°Well, I won¡¯t say it¡¯s exactly simple,¡± Tomoyo corrected. ¡°I heard from previous contests that hardly half the contestants last by the end of the day. But of course you all will do fine.¡±

¡°This whole thing is like a process of elimination,¡± Eron noted. ¡°The best couple is the one who survives at the end of the five events in the Pentathlon.¡±
Wrinkling her nose, Sakura commented, ¡°That sounds so¡¦ well, like a survival test.¡±

¡°Well, life is about surviving, isn¡¯t it?¡± Eron asked, shrugging.

¡°No. It isn¡¯t,¡± Syaoran replied, shortly.

¡°And, in the 15th Annual Best Couple Contest, awaits the first contest of the Pentathlon: the sandcastle building contest! We thought we might get in the mood for the beach this year!¡± the MC did a ridiculous little hula dance. ¡°Each has exactly one hour to complete a sandcastle! Be original and creative!¡±

¡°The first contest is building a sandcastle?¡± Syaoran asked, rather dumbfounded staring at the buckets and spades in front of them, and the vast stretch of silky white sand. Their ¡°land¡± was marked by cones and a number tag with ¡°20¡± on it. It was high noon and the sun was blazing high above them. No signs of the rain clouds forming earlier that morning during the couple introduction was present.

¡°It¡¯s going to be really hot,¡± Sakura pointed out to Syaoran. She fiddled in her bag and found sun block. ¡°Good. I have sun block, though I don¡¯t remember packing it.¡±

¡°How are we supposed to build anything in one hour,¡± Syaoran asked, poking at the hot sand with a stick. ¡°Oh, did I ever tell you? I never built a sandcastle before.¡±

¡°Great.¡± Sakura sighed. They had a lot of work to do.

¡°Hey, here¡¯s a crab!¡± Syaoran exclaimed. ¡°And a starfish. Remember we disected one during biology.¡±

¡°Syaoran.¡± Sakura pointed to the pile of sand.

¡°Oh. Yeah.¡± This time, Syaoran sighed. ¡°Let¡¯s get to work.¡±

¡°You look like you¡¯re dreading this more than Yue¡¯s Judgement Day,¡± Sakura chuckled. ¡°It can¡¯t be that bad.¡±

From the area marked ¡°18¡± Aki grumbled mimicking the announcer, ¡°¡¯Now, couples, time for you to become creative! Since this year¡¯s contest is being held by the beach, we chose a theme related to the fun of the beach; sandcastle building!¡¯ Sheesh, as we have nothing better to do.¡± He stuck the plastic spade into a little mound of sand. ¡°This is for kids.¡±

¡°You can work on your tan,¡± Erika told him, yawning and rubbing some sunscreen on her legs. ¡°You flunked the easiest class possible in school, art, as well as geometry, so I don¡¯t think you¡¯ll be much help in constructing something.¡±

¡°Well, use one of your ingenious plans then,¡± Aki replied. ¡°I¡¯m certainly not building a sandcastle.¡±

Soon, Sakura and Syaoran were squabbling over whether the castle should have a dome entrance, columns, or a geometrical gateway; whether there should be towers, whether a moat was necessary, whether the castle should spiral up or stack up. Plus, they disputed over to decorating with shells, stones, or intricate carvings with thin sticks. In result, the final castle ended up being a strange combination of all this characteristics. Tomoyo would have been proud of them.

Standing back and examining her work, Sakura said, ¡°We-ell¡¦¡± She looked up innocently with large ocean green eyes. ¡°At least it¡¯s creative!¡±

Sweat-dropping, Syaoran added, ¡°Yeah, a real masterpiece. Well, I¡¯m glad that¡¯s over.¡±

Laughing, Sakura said, ¡°Hey, I thought you enjoyed building it!¡±

Ear turning red, Syaoran muttered, ¡°Why would I enjoy something so pointless as this?¡± Then he frowned. ¡°Hey, what¡¯s the matter with your back?¡±

¡°My back?¡± Sakura asked, swerving around.

¡°Your shoulders, too. It¡¯s all red; it looks sunburned. Here, and here.¡± Syaoran pressed the red spots.

¡°Oww!¡± Sakura cringed. ¡°Is it sunburn? But I put tons of sunscreen on!¡±

¡°Here, we¡¯re finished with our sandcastle early. We can wait inside as they judge, before you¡¯re burnt more,¡± Syaoran advised. ¡°You look like a lobster.¡±

¡°I don¡¯t think that¡¯s a compliment,¡± Sakura said.

Fifteen minutes later, they received their score.

¡°Couple 20—ah, regretfully, one point,¡± a judge announced. From the judging panel, Arima gave a sympathetic look.

¡°You guys got one point for the sandcastle. What happened?¡± Chiharu asked. Off the corner, Takashi had attracted a group of people in awe of his story about sandcastles, mer-people, and fishes.

Sakura exclaimed. ¡°But it can¡¯t be possible; I know our castle wasn¡¯t the best, but it wasn¡¯t that bad! Only one point?¡± She ran outside to the spot where their castle stood. Or had stood. She checked to make sure that the area was marked ¡°No. 20¡± their number. Basically, their sandcastle had been reduced to a big pile of sand in the center. Then she checked ¡°No. 18.¡± Erika and Aki¡¯s sandcastle. It looked awfully familiar. In fact, it looked liked Sakura and Syaoran¡¯s. She muttered, ¡°Now, how did they move that over?¡± Groaning, Sakura told Syaoran, ¡°It¡¯s my fault. If I didn¡¯t get sunburned, we wouldn¡¯t have gone inside and not kept a watch on our castle. I¡¯ve ruined our whole chance for this contest.¡±

¡°Don¡¯t stress over it,¡± Syaoran said.

Sakura nodded. ¡°Well, if we can get 5 on the next two events, we will still be able to receive a total of more than 10 points by the end of the day.¡±

The MC continued, ¡°Good job, all of you in completing the first contest. Now, the fun begins! The second event will be the couple obstacle course! First, each couple will have to pass the guys runs from Point A to Point B. The girl will be waiting at Point B. Then, each couple will have their legs tied for a three legged race to Point C. Then, with their legs still tied, they would have to cross a narrow bridge, then pass a pool of obstacles to point D. Finally, after untying the legs, the boy will carry the girl to the endline. This will certainly be a strenuous activity which challenges each couples ability to coordinate and work together effectively.¡±

¡°WHAT?!¡± Sakura squawked in dismay.

Shaking his head, Syaoran replied, ¡°I lost it somewhere on Point B.¡±

All the guys then gathered in the starting line. The girls stood in a straight line, waiting at Point B. When the whistle blew, Syaoran lost no time in sprinting off to where Sakura waited. He clearly outran everyone by several feet, even Aki who was the basketball captain. Without even panting, he reached Sakura. Well, Sakura had to note that Syaoran had always been one of the best runners of their grade. Quickly, they tied their legs together and lost no time in counting the rhythm and running three-legged to the next point.

Many couples tripped over in the three-legged relay, since they couldn¡¯t get the rhythm right. Aki and Erika stumbled in the beginning, unused to working with each other, but soon caught the rhythm and followed closely behind Syaoran and Sakura. A huge pond of obstacles was ahead of them. But first, they had to cross the ¡°narrow bridge,¡± which was little more than a rotting log placed on the two ends of a ledge. If they happened to fall of the log bridge, they would fall into a muddy puddle four feet below and will have to try to cross the bridge again.

Cautiously, Sakura stepped on the bridge with her outer leg. It trembled under her weight; she stepped back again. ¡°I don¡¯t think it¡¯s going to hold my weight, let alone both of us.¡± she commented. ¡°How are we going to cross it with our legs tied together?¡±

¡°I¡¯ll go first,¡± Syaoran replied, moving ahead of Sakura. ¡°We can try to move along sideways. Wha—Watch out—¡°

He hadn¡¯t gone one step when he slipped right off the bridge and fell into the mud puddle below, dragging Sakura, who¡¯s leg was bound to his, down with him. Groaning, Syaoran picked himself out of the mud puddle and tried to stand up, immediately flipping over again when Sakura landed on top of him; he had forgotten that his leg was tightly tied to Sakura¡¯s.

¡°You know, this kind of reminds me of the time that we were handcuffed together; one person couldn¡¯t move without being in unison with the other,¡± Sakura pointed out.

¡°Don¡¯t remind me,¡± Syaoran groaned. ¡°Here, in the count of three, we¡¯re going to leap out of this pit, okay? One, two, three!¡±

In unison, the two leapt out of the mud pit.

¡°Wow, like in the movies,¡± the MC commented to Syaoran and Sakura¡¯s concurrent agile leap as he watched off a large screen viewed by the audience, zooming to the various couples.

Other couples had caught up by now and quite a few also fell into the pit.

Laughing at them, Erika whispered to Aki, ¡°Oh yeah, watch out not to step on the oil covered parts,¡± Erika warned Aki.

¡°Wha-aaaa!!!¡± Aki barely kept balance on the narrow log, almost dragging Erika down with him.

¡°Ugh! Be careful!¡± Erika snapped, as they carefully crossed the bridge, watching out for the oil covered spots.

Aki grumbled, ¡° What is this? No, let me guess. Another one of your little schemes?¡±

¡°You¡¯re learning.¡± Erika laughed as they stumbled safely onto the other side, awaiting the pool. They were at the head of the relay now.

¡°We¡¯re behind,¡± Sakura said, staring at the narrow bridge once more.

This time, Syaoran was taking no chances. ¡°When I say jump, jump, okay?¡± Deftly he crossed by doing a forehand flip on the narrow bridge and neatly landing on the other side. As Syaoran turned a hand flip (remembering that Sakura¡¯s leg was still tied to his) Sakura was caught in the momentum and simultaneously flipped around midair, nimbly landing on the other side next to Syaoran without touching the bridge at all. Nobody really caught what had happened, not even Sakura who had jumped as Syaoran had told her to and had the odd sensation of being spun around in the air and safely landing on the other side without much effort.

¡°Do you have to do everything so fancy?¡± Sakura grumbled, still staring at the slender log bridge and Syaoran at the other side of it. ¡°Didn¡¯t I tell you I hate it when you do unexpected stunts?¡±

¡°Hmm... I don¡¯t remember. But listen, someone coated several spots on the bridge with oil. That¡¯s why so many people, including us slipped off. So, if you go the normal way, which is walking, it is very likely that you will slip off,¡± Syaoran called out from the other side.

¡°Oh. Thanks for so subtly pointing out that I am clumsy,¡± Sakura said. ¡°Hey, but I improved lately, didn¡¯t I?¡± She looked up hopefully. ¡°I never drop my baton anymore.¡±

¡°I never said you were clumsy,¡± Syaoran corrected her.

¡°Wow! Amazing! A completely new way! After their first mistake, Couple 20 has marked the newest way to cross the bridge! It looks similar to a stunt I¡¯ve seen on Hong Kong action movies,¡± the announcer proclaimed as the audience watched from a huge TV screen reflecting what was happening in the obstacle course. The whole contest was also being broadcasted on TV with hidden cameras everywhere, much to Tomoyo¡¯s delight.

Now facing the large pond, Sakura and Sakura dived in together. Behind them, other couples were catching up, while still other were way ahead. Awaiting them were a set of obstacles inside a huge specialized pool. First, they had to weave in and out of huge moving boulders. Many couples simply could not swim together without crashing into each other. Some guys ended up kicking their girlfriends as they swam with their inner legs tied together or vice versa. Most couples ended up being crushed between the boulders (which were made out of sponge luckily.)

¡°Whew, I¡¯m glad I made it across these awful boulders,¡± Syaoran muttered. ¡°Right? Uh—hey¡¦¡± He swerved around in the water and tugged his leg; he couldn¡¯t move. ¡°Sakura!¡±

¡°HOEEEE!!! I¡¯m stuck between the boulders!¡± Sakura shouted, sputtering water. Two boulders had trapped her in between them and wouldn¡¯t move apart.

¡°Hey, move it!¡± called someone from behind her. ¡°You¡¯re blocking the way.¡±

From the other side of the pool, Erika snickered. Her golden eyes mischievous, she asked Aki, ¡°Funny, I didn¡¯t do that¡¦ Wait, did you do that?¡±

¡°Yup. I¡¯m learning from you,¡± Aki replied smugly. ¡°I got one of the technician men to show me how to operate those boulders. After all, I am the great actress Akagi Arima¡¯s little brother.¡±

Finally, with venom, Sakura punched the boulder with her fist. It didn¡¯t hurt since it was made out of sponge. Giving a creaking noise from the machinery, the boulder moved apart. In fact, a large part of it split open.

¡°You¡¦ broke it,¡± Syaoran murmured in awe. But they lost no time into continuing through the pool.

Then, they had to dive underwater into a small cave in the bottom of the pool and pass through three hoops, and pick up a baton with their corresponding number on it. In Sakura and Syaoran¡¯s case, it was No. 20. Passing through the hoops, Sakura and Syaoran racked for the baton with the No. 20 painted on it. 10, 11, 12. 15, 16¡¦ Yet 20 was not to be found.

When her lungs felt like bursting, Sakura swam to the top of the pool, heaving deep breaths of air. Syaoran followed (he didn¡¯t have much choice, anyway, since if Sakura went up, he went up, if she went down, he went down.)

¡°Where is our baton?¡± Sakura asked.

¡°It¡¯s not with the rest of the batons with the other couple¡¯s numbers,¡± Syaoran replied.

¡°Let¡¯s try again,¡± Sakura said, ducking into the water again, without giving Syaoran anyway warning. This time, she waded into a different section of the pool. Off the corner, she saw a narrow red baton lying around. It had 20 printed on it. She reached out to pick it up. She couldn¡¯t lift it. Then, she tugged with both hands; it didn¡¯t budge. Bracing her legs to the floor of the pool, she grabbed onto the baton and tugged. Her lungs felt like bursting from holding her breath for so long. She sped up to the top of the water again, panting.

¡°Did you find the baton?¡± Syaoran asked, also, emerging to the top of the pool. ¡°You were certainly dragging me around enough.¡±

¡°Yeah¡¦ but it¡¯s stuck,¡± Sakura gasped.


They both dived underwater for the third time. Together, they tried in vain to pull the baton.

Frowning, Syaoran began a spell to blast the area around the baton and free it.

¡°Umgph,¡± Sakura uttered inside the water, grabbing his arm.

Syaoran looked questioningly, then understood. There were hidden cameras everywhere so he couldn¡¯t use magic. He sighed sheepishly. It wasn¡¯t like him to get carried away. Then, with a fierce frown on his face, he raised his arms and slammed it down hard onto the area around the baton.

The tiles in the bottom of the pool cracked; Sakura finished it off, slamming her fist down in the cracking tile floor and the baton came completely loose, though there were chunks of tile and cement still stuck to it.

Popping up above the water again, Sakura exclaimed, ¡°Oh my gosh, Syaoran, is your hand okay? It must hurt¡¦¡±

Syaoran showed her his red knuckles. ¡°It¡¯s all right I¡¯ve smashed stone walls and unbreakable glasses before. But doesn¡¯t your hand hurt? You should have let me finish it. You¡¯re not used to hitting things with hard impact.¡±

Holding out her red, swelling hands, Sakura said proudly, ¡°I¡¯m fine. See? I¡¯ve been practicing.¡±

Gawking, Syaoran muttered, ¡°You call that fine?¡±

¡°Well, what¡¯s important is that we have our batons now,¡± Sakura clapped.

From the audience, all their mouths dropped open. The MC began to choke. ¡°Th-they broke the floor of the pool! With their bare fist!¡±

After what seemed like forever in the icy pool, Sakura and Syaoran finally reached the end. They were both panting heavily, Sakura gripping the No. 20 baton tightly; they had wasted so much time because their baton seemed to be glue to the bottom for some reason. Five couples had already given up the contest.

¡°I¡¯m pooped,¡± Sakura panted, the water dripping from her body as she collapsed onto ground, finally untying their legs.

¡°You¡¯re pooped?¡± Syaoran asked. ¡°Well now I have to carry you all the way to the endline. I can hardly carry myself. But, we have to win, so¡¦¡± Deftly, he swept Sakura up. Only a few couples had reached that point so far, despite the fact that they themselves had run into so many problems, and he began to run for his life, carrying a dripping Sakura.

When he crossed the end line, Syaoran dropped Sakura and rolled over on his back, breathless. The couples clearly believed that this contest was a form of self suicide.

¡°Ouch, you could land me more gently,¡± Sakura said dryly, trying to sit up. At least he dropped her on a patch of grass.

The MC came over to them and congratulated, ¡°Well done! Among the first few couples to complete this difficult relay! Now, tell us something. How would you explain this great coordination and efficiency together?¡±

Grinning slightly, Syaoran looked at Sakura, then shrugged. ¡°I guess we¡¯ve been through a lot together. We¡¯ve done many things with joint effort.¡±

Not for the first time, Sakura was amazed at how well Syaoran was handling things. Well, compared to usual. I always thought he was the type who hated things like this and would be embarrassed. Yet today, he is so much more composed and calm than me, never losing his head for a second. It¡¯s like I¡¯m seeing another face of Syaoran. Well, he¡¯s always like that when he faces the enemies; cool and never losing his head for a moment.

Erika and Aki had come in first. Chiharu and Takashi had come not long after. As everyone was given a short break, Erika fumed, ¡°Grr¡¦ Syaoran and Sakura actually earned four points! How awful! After all the traps I set for them¡¦¡±

¡°Well, we still have more points than them after two events,¡± Aki reassured. ¡°We have 5+5=10. They have 1+4= only 5. They¡¯ll never pass the first day.¡±

In the background, Sakura was energetically holding up her fist and shouting, ¡°We can do it!¡± (Much to Syaoran¡¯s embarrassment.)


The third and final contest for Day One was the talent show. Each couple had to collaborate to display their talent to the audience. They had until after dinner to prepare. Unlike the other contests of the day, there would be only one couple awarded five points for this. Only the best one would receive full marks.

¡°This is it,¡± Sakura said. ¡°If we don¡¯t get a five in this, we¡¯ll be eliminated from the contest.¡± She paced back and forth, panicking. ¡°What shall we do? I mean, what can we do better than anyone else? If we lose¡¦¡±

Chiharu patted her back sympathetically. She and Takashi already had 10 points, so they were safe no matter what they received for the last contest of the day.

¡°What are you guys going to do?¡± Rika asked Takashi and Chiharu.

¡°We¡¯re going to do a little combination of a skit and a funny song,¡± Chiharu replied. ¡°We did the same thing for a school festival several years ago, so I think it will work.¡±

¡°I heard that Erika and Aki are going to do a song from our school musical production, ¡®Star-Crossed,¡¯¡± Eron commented. ¡°After all, they do have leading parts in the musical.¡±

¡°Hey, aren¡¯t you supposed to be their manager?¡± Syaoran asked. ¡°You shouldn¡¯t be reporting it to us.¡±

Shrugging, Eron replied, ¡°Those two will manage fine. Anyway, what are you two hesitating about? There¡¯s not much time left.¡±

¡°You guys have many talents,¡± Tomoyo said. ¡°You can sing a song from the musical also, I mean, you two are the main leads after all¡¦ What¡¯s the matter?¡±

¡°I don¡¯t want to do the same thing as Erika and Aki. I want to do something more unique,¡± Sakura replied, furrowing her brows in deep thought.

¡°Anyway, I don¡¯t want to sing in front of an audience,¡± Syaoran added.

¡°Well, you¡¯re going to have to do plenty of that for the musical production coming up,¡± Tomoyo commented.

¡°That doesn¡¯t mean I like it or I¡¯m comfortable with it,¡± Syaoran replied stubbornly. ¡°In fact, I don¡¯t even remember what I¡¯m doing in the musical in the first place.¡±

¡°It was a bet with me,¡± Sakura mumbled. She still remembered clearly.

¡°Hmm¡¦ how about a gymnastics routine¡¦ You used to win prizes in national school contests,¡± Rika pointed out. ¡°I think you guys¡¯ problem is that you have too many skills,¡±

¡°What kind of problem is that?¡± Miho grumbled as she entered the conversation. She had been feeding Kero some cake.

Then, Tomoyo clapped her hands, with yet another inspiration. She quickly began running through piles of paper. ¡°Hey, have you guys practiced violin lately?¡±

¡°Not since vacation started,¡± Syaoran replied.

¡°Same here,¡± Sakura added.

¡°By any chance, did you happen to practice that piece that Nadeshiko-san composed jointly with Ryuuren-san?¡± Tomoyo asked.

Gazing sideways at each other, they both replied simultaneously, ¡°Kind of. I mean, yes. I have. Well¡¦¡±

¡°I love it when you two say the same thing at once,¡± Tomoyo chuckled.

Syaoran and Sakura glared at her and retorted, ¡°We don¡¯t say the same things. We have nothing similar to each other!¡±

¡°Anyway, why?¡± Sakura asked, suspiciously. Noting from Tomoyo¡¯s sparkling eyes, she had come up with another inspiration.

Tomoyo held out some music compositions. It was the one Nadeshiko had composed. ¡°I want you two to play this piece for the talent show.¡±

¡°Where¡¯d¡¯you get that?¡± Sakura exclaimed.

¡°I¡¦ Err¡¦ picked it up over at Syaoran¡¯s apartment when I went to get your clothes and stuff, few days ago for the contest,¡± Tomoyo replied sheepishly. ¡°I also brought your violins, also. ¡®Cause I knew there will be a talent show.¡±

Fingering the crisp and slightly yellowed music composition, Sakura reminisced the time she saw Nadeshiko explain to Ryuuren that no one was meant for loneliness. Her mother seemed so wise then and so knowing.

Picking up his violin which had once belonged to his father, Syaoran began to tune it. He remembered what his father had told Nadeshiko when he and Sakura were caught in a time slip:

¡°Do you know why I like this tune? Because it cries out loneliness, the beauty of the solitude. It fits me well. I accomplish things well on my own. I don¡¯t need anyone else interfering with me.¡±

¡°Wait. I never tried playing this piece with Syaoran, though,¡± Sakura interrupted. ¡°Besides, it¡¯s easy for Syaoran because he already memorized the first part. But I didn¡¯t memorize the harmony that my mother composed.¡±

¡°I¡¯m sure you¡¯ll do fine,¡± Tomoyo reassured. ¡°Oh dear, we¡¯re running out of time. Here, these are new clothes.¡±

After Sakura was dressed in a beautiful lacy dress with thin satin ribbons, she clasped her violin tightly. Wolfie-chan barked and twirled around her feet.

¡°Are you wishing me good luck, Wolfie-chan?¡± Sakura asked, picking up the light golden tan colored puppy.


¡°I wonder why your mother didn¡¯t put a title for this piece,¡± Syaoran commented, staring at the composition. He was also dressed in clothes provided by Tomoyo. By this time, he had learned that it was best to let her have her own way. On the top were two stars intersecting each other, kind of like a broken star symbol. ¡°Ugh, get away from me!¡± Syaoran shoved Wolfie-chan away, who whimpered then clung onto Syaoran¡¯s crisp new pants with its paws.

It was early evening when the couple talent show began on the open stage set on the romantic beach. Sakura and Syaoran, being Contestant 20, were the last ones. They watched from backstage the various couples¡¯ talents. Some sang, some played the piano, some performed skits, some danced, some made fools of themselves.

Pacing up and down the backstage, Sakura worried. ¡°Won¡¯t people be bored by violin music?¡±

¡°Not this piece. Besides, if you carry out my *idea* they definitely won¡¯t be bored,¡± Tomoyo told her with dazzled violet eyes.

¡°My violin¡¯s out of tune since I didn¡¯t play for a month,¡± Syaoran stated.

¡°Then tune it,¡± Tomoyo replied. Sighing, she shook her head. These two.

Somewhere in the middle of Couple No. 15¡¯s act, Sakura heard a distant wailing sound. Her skin prickled. The summer sky had darkened. Without bothering to tell anyone, she slipped off the backstage and ran off to the side, away from the bustling people.

Taking a deep breath, she took in the crashing of the waves on the seashore, the rustling of the branches of the trees, the fluttering of ocean birds. And amidst the rhythm of nature, a disturbing jolting feeling split through her head. A dark force. She had been unwary and incautious for too long. It had been too peaceful lately. A child¡¯s scream echoed through the night.

Quickly, Sakura ran down to beach to the abandoned and less visited area. ¡°Key that hides the power of stars. Show your true self to me. I, Sakura command you! Release!¡± Gripping her staff in her hand, she felt a surge of control. Then, she felt a powerful impact on her back, knocking her onto her knees. Trembling, she spun around. From the shadows, she could only see a pair of glowing red eyes. There was a sound of a child sobbing. Cowering in the corner, a local boy from the Kusakou town trembled on the ground, holding a teddy bear with its arms ripped off. He was whispering, ¡°Wolf¡¦ the legendary werewolf¡¦¡±

The pair of glowing eyes never left Sakura for a moment. ¡°Windy!¡± A hurricane of wind, blew at the outline of a bulky beast. For a second, it was startled. Then, it began to approach her.

 Desperately, she called, ¡°Sword!¡± The staff transformed into a slender rapier in her hands. As the large shadowed figure approached her, she slashed down the sword onto its upraised left arm with all might.

Letting out a horrendous wail, the monster stepped back. Instead of facing her, it gazed at the moon. Then it turned to her, giving a snarl. Its sharp yellow-white fangs were revealed. Without turning back, it ran off into the woods.

¡°Stop! Fight me!¡± Sakura called, in vain. From experience, she knew it was unwise to let a card loose for too long. The longer it roamed around, the stronger and uncontrollable it grew.

¡°Little boy, it¡¯s all right,¡± Sakura murmured, stroking the child¡¯s head. Then, she used the Erase Card to alleviate the boy from the terrible nightmare-like thing he had seen.

With keen green eyes, she scanned the area. No signs of the beast remained. Not until then did she realize that her teeth her clattering and her hands hurt from gripping her staff so tight.


¡°Where were you?¡± Syaoran hissed as Sakura slipped back, straightening the ribbons in her hair, which were pulled up into two elegant buns on each side of her head. ¡°Our turn¡¯s coming up.¡±

¡°Sorry,¡± she replied. She didn¡¯t bother telling him about what had happened.

Erika and Aki (No. 18) had sung one of the songs from ¡°Star-crossed¡± superbly; they certainly had plenty of confidence and no such things as stage right. Chiharu and Takashi¡¯s (No. 19) little skit and song was hilarious and the hit of the night. In the background, the music to ¡°Can You Feel the Love Tonight,¡± (from the Lion King) drifted on, setting a romantic mood unmatching with the droll expressions on Takashi and Chiharu¡¯s faces.

Takashi began in an exaggerated grave tone, ¡°I can see what¡¯s happ¡¯ning.¡±

¡°What?¡± Chiharu asked.

¡°And we don¡¯t have a clue.¡±

¡°Who?¡± She pointed to herself, questioningly.

¡°We¡¯ll fall in love or just hate each other, and that¡¯s the bottom line.¡±

¡°Oh¡¦ Sorry, I already hate you,¡± Chiharu told him, hands on hips.

Takashi sang dramatically, raising his arms up at the moon, ¡°The sweet caress of twilight. There¡¯s magic everywhere.¡±

¡°Oh shut up and get on it with it,¡± Chiharu interrupted.

He sang on, ¡°And with all this unfriendly atmosphere, disaster¡¯s in the air.¡±

He bent down on his knees, raising his arm gallantly at Chiharu. ¡°Can you feel the love tonight? The hurt as she breaks my heart. The world for once, in perfect sympathy, with all my dilemmas.¡±

Then sighing, Chiharu sang, ¡°He¡¯s holding back, he¡¯s hiding. But what I can¡¯t decide. Why won¡¯t he be the man I know he is, the man I see inside.¡± Chiharu then added as a side note, ¡°Well, somewhere there inside if you look hard enough, and I mean hard enough.¡±

Passionately, Takashi sang back, ¡°So many things to tell her. But how to make her see. The truth about myself? Impossible! She¡¯d run away from me.¡± Takashi made a cowering expression. ¡°She¡¯d really turn away from me, if she knows me.¡±

Together in unison, they then sang, ¡°And if we fall in love tonight. We needn¡¯t look too far. It may take an immense, big miracle. But somehow we¡¯ll¡¦ survive¡¦¡±

They gave a fancy bow together.

People were practically rolling off their seats before the song ended.

¡°Wow, they¡¯re great. We can¡¯t match that,¡± Sakura murmured as Chiharu and Takashi bowed and filed off the stage.

¡°Last but not least, Couple Number 20!¡± the MC announced.

Even though Sakura¡¯s heart was thumping, she felt relatively composed as she walked onto the small stage.

When the audience became silent, she began a short dance number. It was a mixture of ballet and gymnastics as Sakura spread her arms and made a series of lithe leaps across the stage. She then bent over gracefully, pirouetted letting her full skirt swirl around her, and snapped out her elegant fan, fluttering it above her head. The choreography was actually part of a gymnastic number that Sakura had performed last year, and won first prize in the national junior high school gymnastic meet. Then, she bent over into a split, touched her toe lightly and smoothly rose up. It had been Tomoyo¡¯s idea to incorporate it in their number. Everyone was mesmerized by the image of a graceful lonely lark.

Aki whistled, which resulted in Erika smacking his head.

With a flick of her wrist, Sakura spread out the elegant lace fan in front of her face, giving Syaoran the signal.

For a second Syaoran gaped. He had never seen Sakura dance on stage before. The musical practices didn¡¯t count. Then he came to his mind and began the violin piece that his father and Sakura¡¯s mother had composed so long ago. He felt his hands shaking, but he tried to keep his bow smooth as it glided over the violin strings. The notes came so naturally to him, and the lonely, tranquil tune drifted smoothly over the ocean and fell in rhythm with the waves.

¡°My heart feels like breaking,¡± Miho sniffled from the audience. ¡°Ah, my love, Syaoran!¡±

After the violin introduction from Syaoran, Sakura picked up her violin, counting the measures. As Syaoran struck a piercing high note, which rang into the evening air, Sakura began the harmony. Her fingers shook slightly, and she was still perspiring from the dance number. It had been Tomoyo¡¯s sudden inspiration; Sakura had quit gymnastic that year because she had been too busy, but she still remembered all her old routines. And Tomoyo still had the notion of ¡°mesmerizing the audience with an image.¡±

Soon, the richness of the two tunes began to interweave with each other, creating the beautiful, serene tune.

Even the slowest person began to feel the change in the atmosphere; the solitude blossoming into an elaborate yet simple sense of belonging. It was as if everyone could understand what Ryuuren once failed to understand when Nadeshiko tried to explain that one didn¡¯t have to live in loneliness:

¡°You still don¡¯t get it? Alone, these to melodies echo yearning and forlorn sadness. It sings the loneliness of a wistful lark. Yet played together, the larks have found each other. They are alone no longer. They are together and happy. That is all I wanted to show. That being alone is not always the best choice. That is the double beauty of this harmony.¡±

Yet, Nadeshiko believed that someday Ryuuren would understand these words. And there came a day he did.


Sakura and Syaoran were the last couple to perform, and the five judges, including Arima had huddled to access the scores.

Finally Arima stood up, then stated into the microphone. ¡°We judges, after reviewing all the excellent talents presented by all of the couples here, have finally come to a conclusion of which one deserves a five the most. Of course, all of you did marvelously, however we believe that this particular couple best expressed what this contest stands for, not in words, but in something even more meaningful that can touch our souls with some new, deep, yet inevitable understanding. I must say, and I stand for all the judges, I¡¯ve never heard a more beautiful violin piece in my life. Actually, it¡¯s the first time I didn¡¯t fall a sleep during a strings instrumental piece, let alone feel tears in my eyes for no reason. That is right, Couple 20 has the honor of receiving five points!¡±

¡°We got 5 points! We got 5 points!¡± Sakura jumped up and down, holding Syaoran¡¯s hand. ¡°I never thought we will!¡±

Seeing Sakura so excited made Syaoran smile slightly. ¡°But we did.¡±

¡°Humph,¡± Erika began to show off. ¡°But you still have a total of only 10 points, barely passing the requirements to escape elimination. Me and Aki got 14 points in total today.¡±

¡°The highest out of all the couples,¡± Aki added smugly.

Takashi tapped Aki¡¯s shoulder. ¡°Sorry to break your ego, but Chiharu and I got 14 points, too.¡±

Aki looked surprised.

Sakura sighed. ¡°Even though we only earned 10 points in total today, the important thing is we passed. We can do better in the remaining 2 events.¡±

¡°You two were great in the talent show,¡± Rika told Sakura and Syaoran, her eyes glistening. ¡°I didn¡¯t know you played violin so well together. It¡¯s so romantic!¡±

Turning red, Syaoran cleared his throat. ¡°Ah, I didn¡¯t play so good. I was really out of practice.¡±

¡°You call that bad?¡± squealed Miho. ¡°It was marvelous. I wish my mother could hear it. She had an obsession with violins, though she couldn¡¯t play herself. She would like the piece.¡±

¡°She probably did hear it before,¡± Sakura murmured quietly. After all, Mizuki Miara, Miho¡¯s mother had been Nadeshiko and Ryuuren¡¯s friend.

¡°Well, I think that was so stupid and boring. Violin is so out of date,¡± Erika stated, flipping back her hair. ¡°I mean, what¡¯s the point of it?¡±
Smiling forcibly, Sakura replied, ¡°I didn¡¯t think you would.¡±

Patting his sister¡¯s head, Eron commented, ¡°Well, they got the five points. Too bad you didn¡¯t.¡±

Erika was left gaping. ¡°Exactly who are you routing for, dear brother?¡± she asked, annoyed.

¡°Neither,¡± Eron replied. Though you insist on little frivolous contests and pranks, I¡¯m too busy occupied with other things.

Then, do a better job in the other things. Erika spun around and left her brother to his own musings. And while you¡¯re at it, speed things up a little. I hate how you always draws things out.

The MC ended the day by stating, ¡°Congratulations to the ten contestants out of twenty who passed Day One of Japan¡¯s Best Couple Contest, which are Contestant Numbers 1, 2, 5, 7, 9, 12, 14, 18, 19, and 20! Good job to all those who didn¡¯t pass. Maybe next year you can try again. Remember, all the couples, as well as anyone who watched the contest are invited to the party on the yacht after the contest ends tomorrow evening. And stay in tune for Day Two, tomorrow, as the final two competitions of the Best Couple Contest will be held! The fourth competition of the Couple Pentathlon, the scavenger hunt, will be held tomorrow on the island, which is a 15 minute boat ride from here.¡±


¡°Oh dear, Wolfie-chan, what happened?¡± Sakura picked up her puppy back at the huge Akagi/Tamemura summer estate after Day One of the contest concluded. ¡°Are you hurt?¡±

The puppy whimpered. Sakura examined its left forearm. There was a narrow cut across it, as if a sword had slashed it. She gasped, then bit her lips. Wolfie-chan stared up with large amber eyes and barked.

Smiling, Sakura stroked its fur and said, ¡°Here, I¡¯ll bandage up your leg with my handkerchief. There, it doesn¡¯t hurt anymore, right?¡±

¡°What doesn¡¯t hurt?¡± Miho asked, popping up from behind.

¡°Owww!¡± Sakura shouted as Miho poked her back mischievously.

¡°What happened to you?¡± Miho peered at the burning red on Sakura¡¯s shoulders.

The sunburn from earlier that day began to smart badly, and Sakura¡¯s back and shoulders were tomato red.  ¡°I don¡¯t know. I usually don¡¯t get sunburned,¡± she replied evenly.

Wrinkling her nose, Miho said, ¡°But you do know. If I were you, I¡¯ll go straight up to her and slap her face.¡± She left it at that, a certain golden eyed vixen in her mind.

Sakura sighed and replied gravely, ¡°I don¡¯t want to dislike her. It¡¯s not like I can accuse her of ruining everything I try to do, outright. I can¡¯t. I don¡¯t have proof. Besides, I don¡¯t want to make a big deal out of it, though I want to prove I¡®m not someone who can be pushed around so easily. But I will do so, in my own way, eventually.¡±

¡°You really have a strange philosophy,¡± Miho said. She clearly disliked Erika¡¯s sly ways.

¡°Oh dear! Does your sunburn hurt a lot?¡± Tomoyo asked, walking in the parlor with her videocamera. ¡°Do you think you can handle tomorrow¡¯s competition? It¡¯s probably going to be even more strenuous than today.

Smiling, Sakura replied, ¡°Really, I¡¯m fine by tomorrow morning. Don¡¯t worry.¡±

¡°From experience, sunburns last a week, and it¡¯s very painful,¡± Asuma Arima commented, kicking off her high heeled sandals and plopping onto a couch.

¡°How is your modeling contract going, along side with the Best Couple Contest judging, Arima-san?¡± Sakura asked.

¡°Asuma and I are finished with the Armani line modeling. Once more, I think I definitely prefer acting. I just can¡¯t seem to bear standing still and smiling prettily under lights for hours. Anyway, back to sunburns. I used to get awfully sunburned because I always went horse back riding in the summer time. But then, it was because I didn¡¯t bother with sunblock. Now, I have a permanent tan which won¡¯t fade away.¡± Arima twisted her thick sun-bleached hair into a knot at the top of her head. ¡°My advise is, get plenty of rest for tomorrow¡¯s competition. The scavenger hunt decides the four or five finalists. Each year, they change the location of the contest for variety, but the Second Day is always the couple scavenger hunt, and the hardest event out of the five in the Couple Pentathlon. Last year, the contest was held in Tokyo, so the couple had to find the hidden item in the city. When I entered the contest, around five years ago, it was held in the mountains. It was awful. Asuma and I waded through marshes, climbed trees, tumbled down rocks¡¦ don¡¯t even remind me. Good thing we both were nature people. We were lucky then, because most of the couples detested nature. And it was pure luck when we won.¡±

¡°No, you two are really wonderful together,¡± Sakura said, admiringly.

¡°You think so?¡± Arima asked, smiling crookedly. ¡°I still wonder, why out of all the people out there did Asuma choose me. He¡¯s so perfect, with a good personality, intelligence, good looks, great body¡¦¡±

¡°Because you two are meant to be,¡± Sakura replied.

¡°That¡¯s sweet,¡± Arima said. ¡°There¡¯s something hopelessly romantic about being destined to be together. Sigh. I should stop signing contracts for romantic movies. It¡¯s completely ruining me. Well, Sakura, go and rest now. Tomorrow is going to be a long day. Oh, and aloe vera works best on burns, even though it is slimy and green.¡±

Sakura walked out onto the porch and sat down on the steps. Something hopelessly romantic about being destined to be together¡¦ She had always thought that her mother and her father were perfect with each other. But then, there was the mysteriously handsome and dashing Li Ryuuren, who Nadeshiko had loved with all her heart at one time, before an unknown force separated them. So, was her father, Kinomoto Fujitaka the one her mother had been destined to be with? Or had he been only a second choice after Ryuuren?

¡°Why are you out here, all alone, Sakura?¡± a smooth voice came from behind her.

She jumped. ¡°Oh! Hi Eron-kun¡¦¡±

¡°I¡¯m sorry I¡¯m not the one your were expecting,¡± Eron murmured.

¡°Hoe? What do you mean¡¦¡±

¡°You know who I¡¯m talking about. Never mind¡¦ So, why do you always jump when I come near you?¡± Eron asked, leaning his chin against his hand.

¡°I don¡¯t jump,¡± Sakura protested. Eron reached out to put his hand on her shoulder.

Despite her will, she cringed again.

¡°See, you do jump,¡± Eron told her. ¡°Sorry, I¡¯m not trying to corner you or anything. What are you doing here, all alone?¡±

¡°What are you?¡± Sakura asked.

¡°Admiring the stars,¡± he replied.

A little dryly, she replied, ¡°There are no stars. The sky is overcast.¡±

Chuckling he said, ¡°There¡¯s one shining on the porch.¡± Seeing the surprised expression on Sakura face, he added, ¡°Is what I should say. But, since I didn¡¯t come for romantic reasons, I¡¯ll admit I¡¯m just feeling a little lonely because my little sis is hanging over your boyfriend at this moment.¡±

¡°Syaoran¡¯s nothing like that,¡± Sakura replied.

¡°Well, you two entered the contest together and you act the part,¡± Eron pointed out.

Sighing, Sakura said, ¡°It¡¯s purely for the money prize if we win.¡±

¡°But you like him, don¡¯t you?¡±

Sakura stammered for a denial, but she then sighed heavily, ¡°Yes¡¦ I do.¡±

Eron¡¯s golden eyes glimmered. ¡°Are you so truthful all the time?¡±

¡°Not always,¡± Sakura replied softly.

¡°But if you are, I¡¯d rather you weren¡¯t.¡± Eron changed the subject. ¡°So¡¦ what do you like so much about him?¡±

¡°I don¡¯t know. I really don¡¯t know.¡±

¡°Sorry, I told you I¡¯m not demanding answers or cornering you. Wait, isn¡¯t that them?¡± Eron asked, peering in front of them. Syaoran and Erika were taking a stroll on the path in front of the house.

¡°Wow¡¦ your eyesight is almost as good as my brother¡¯s,¡± Sakura murmured. She frowned. What was Syaoran doing with Erika? She realized that they looked good together. A striking twosome. They were walking towards the house.

The two were within earshot now. Sakura could hear their conversation.

¡°You¡¯re wonderful at playing violin, Syaoran,¡± Erika said. ¡°And you¡¯re so fast at running too! I really regret you didn¡¯t enter the contest with me. We surely would have won if we entered together.¡±

Sakura waited for Syaoran¡¯s answer.

Grimly, Syaoran replied in his calm Syaoran-like voice, ¡°But I wouldn¡¯t consider winning by using cheap, underhand tactics really winning. Such as switching sandcastles, coating log bridges with oil, malfunctioning the boulder mechanics program, gluing batons to the bottom of the pool, and putting suntanning lotion into sunblock bottles.¡± Syaoran tossed the sunblock bottle at Erika, who caught in, shocked.

So that explained the painful sunburn!

¡°Well, guess you¡¯re quicker at figuring plots out than dear Sakura,¡± Erika finally said in a nasty tone.

¡°She does know. She¡¯s just being polite not mentioning it,¡± Syaoran replied.


¡°I¡¯d rather lose fairly and knowing I tried my best. Losing is part of the game¡¦ and sometimes, losing can be winning if you keep an open mind and learn,¡± Syaoran stated. He knew this better than anyone else. Sakura had taught so much to him when he first came to Japan. ¡°For me, winning is not everything¡¦¡± Then, he walked off into the house, leaving Erika with her mouth hanging open.

For the first time, Erika noticed that her twin and Sakura were watching from the porch. ¡°What are you staring at?¡± She flung the sunblock bottle at them and stalked into the house, slamming the door.

Eron caught the bottle with one hand and muttered, ¡°Does she realize this is actually expensive stuff from Paris? Aki will freak out when he finds out.¡± Then to Sakura, he commented, ¡°Well, I¡¯m impressed. Syaoran¡¯s a little faster at catching on then I expected. I have to apologize that my twin sister is a little to used to having her own way.¡±

¡°Aren¡¯t you too?¡± Sakura asked quietly.

Grinning slowly Eron replied, ¡°I am, but I¡¯m a little more subtle about it.¡±

¡°Oh.¡± Sakura got up and said, ¡°Well, I think I better go sleep now. I have a feeling tomorrow will be a long day.¡±

¡°It will be full moon tomorrow,¡± Eron commented, staring at the pale round moon above them.

¡°I can see that.¡±

Then, softly, almost in a whisper, her murmured, ¡°According to legends, werewolves are at their full power under the full moon. But once the moon disappears, they lose their power.¡±

Sakura¡¯s mind clicked.

¡°Kero-chan, you can come out now,¡± Sakura said, as she carried pudding into her private room in the summer estate. Everybody was still lounging, gossiping, and eating downstairs.

¡°Pudding!¡± squealed Kero-chan.

 ¡°Arf! Arf!¡± Wolfie-chan jumped out form under the bed and leaped onto her lap. Wolfie-chan wagged his tail agreeably, cuddling up to Sakura.

¡°You know, that ugly dog really looks like the little wolf you embroidered for the Brat¡¯s Christmas present,¡± Kero-chan observed. ¡°The one you pondered over so hard whether to give him or not, last Christmas.¡±

¡°Wolfie-chan is not an ugly dog,¡± Sakura protested. The puppy jumped up and knocked over Kero-chan, hogging the pudding for itself. This made Sakura chuckle.

Then she heard a knock on the door. When she opened it, there was no one there. But on the floor, was a bottle of greenish gel. She picked it up. There was a little note in scrawly handwriting, which said, ¡°Aloe vera soothes and treats sunburns. It¡¯s supposed to help.¡±

This made her smile. She called down the hallway, ¡°Thanks Syaoran.¡±

¡°Whosaidit¡¯sme,¡± was the muffled answered from Syaoran¡¯s room.

Sakura laughed. ¡°Just an instinct.¡±

Then, Syaoran opened his room door. His amber eyes were serious. ¡°One thing. You should tell me when you¡¯re going off to fight a dark force.¡±

¡°Ah! You¡¦ noticed¡¦¡± Sakura sweat-dropped. She thought she slipped off discreetly before the talent show. So much for secrecy.

¡°Of course I noticed. Do you take me for a fool? You promised that you¡¯ll always tell me when you¡¯re going to put yourself in danger. I can help, you know, because the dark forces are dangerous. Sometimes too dangerous for one person to handle.¡±

¡°Sorry¡¦¡± Sakura murmured, blushing at Syaoran¡¯s sincerity. ¡°Ah, and thanks for the aloe gel.¡±


The next day¡¦

¡°Wow, this is the first time I¡¯ve been on a yacht,¡± Sakura said, leaning over the railings of the boat, her wispy golden brown hair blowing in the morning breeze.

The 10 couples who had passed Day One of the Pentathlon milled around on the sailing yacht, prepared for Day Two of the Best Couple Contest. The fourth event of the Pentathlon was the scavenger hunt. The scavenger hunt was to be held on a little island that was a 15 minute boat ride from the coast of Kusakou town. The goal of the scavenger hunt was to find a golden music box. There were five music boxes spread throughout the island, so technically, five couples could pass this event. However, it wouldn¡¯t be so easy because the music boxes were expertly hidden. So, only the couples who had the most skills, coordination, and ability to work together would be able to find it.

Each couple had a map of the island with the approximate location where the five music boxes were hidden. They were assured that it was impossible to get lost on the island, since it was so small. Just in case, however, each couple was given a small firecracker to set off if something went wrong.

¡°What an adorable island!¡± Chiharu exclaimed as they landed.

¡°I hate nature,¡± Erika mumbled for the thousandth time. She kicked her huge bag off the yacht.

The MC stated from the deck of the boat, ¡°Now, remember, you have until four¡¯o¡¯clock to find the golden box. The yacht will come pick you all up at this spot then. Again, I emphasize that it is impossible to get lost on this island; if you feel lost, you can walk in any direction and in a little while, you¡¯ll come to the shore. There is nothing dangerous on this island such as wild beasts or snakes. If you run into any problems, though you shouldn¡¯t have to, there is a supervisor from the Best Couple Contest, who is in the log cabin over there. (He pointed to the cabin a little way off from where the yacht had landed.) Well, good luck then! Keep an eye on the time and we will come pick you all up at four! When we return, we will have the finalists and the final event, the questionnaire will be held.¡± With this, the yacht slowly sailed away.

For a while, the ten couples stared blankly at the yacht fading into a distant speck across the ocean. Then, they lost no time in gathering their bags and clambering to find the music box.

¡°So, where do you want to start?¡± Sakura asked, heaving up her bag full of utensils such as spades, shovels, the firecracker, water, sandwiches for lunch, and insect repellent. She had on a pretty rose pink swimming suit with jean shorts, and her hair was clipped up with a pin in the shape of a butterfly.

¡°How exciting!¡± Tomoyo exclaimed, holding up her videocamera. Wolfie-chan jumped out of her arms and began to pull at Syaoran¡¯s shoelace. Syaoran kicked away the puppy, though quite gently. Tomoyo had received special permission to come on the island by saying that she had a special ¡°project¡± where she had to videotape Sakura. But it helped that Tomoyo¡¯s mother¡¯s company was one of the sponsors of the Best Couple Contest, so she was allowed to go as long as she ¡°made no interference.¡±

Examining the map carefully, Sakura traced the roads then stated, ¡°Why don¡¯t we go to the opposite end of the island, where there won¡¯t be much people. There¡¯s a music box hidden somewhere around a big oak tree in the south of the island.

¡°Let¡¯s go!¡± Tomoyo exclaimed.

¡°Now, what are you doing here again?¡± Syaoran asked, staring blankly at the videocamera aimed towards him.


Wiping the sweat from her brows, Chiharu said, slumping to the ground, ¡°We¡¯ll never find the music box. It¡¯s already three.¡±

¡°Haha¡¦ maybe the music boxes ran away when they realized you were coming to hunt them down,¡± Takashi commented.

¡°How can you joke at a time like this?¡± Chiharu snapped. ¡°You never take anything seriously. You¡¯re just a lazy, unmotivated, lying jerk! I¡¯m tired of always having to look after you! You¡¯re going to get nowhere like that!¡± Angrily, she yanked herself up. ¡°Forget this contest. Stupid of me to convince you to enter it in the first place.¡± She stomped off.


¡°Don¡¯t follow me. Go your own way. I¡¯m sure you¡¯ll be much happier without stupid me tagging around and nagging and scolding you all the time.¡±

¡°Fine. Who said I¡¯ll follow you?¡± Takashi retorted. ¡°I¡¯m fed up with you; you and your constant nagging. I¡¯ve had enough.¡±

For a moment, Chiharu halted. It was the first time Takashi had argued back. Then she continued to walk down the trail, without looking back.

Frowning, Takashi kicked a tiny shrub. The whole shrub was knocked aside. There was a small hollow underneath. Something shiny caught his eyes. It was a golden music box.


¡°How can it be so hard to find a single music box?¡± Sakura despaired, wiping the sweat from her forehead. Her hands were sore from shoveling a hole I meter deep into the ground. ¡°I swear, the map marks that a music box should be near this oak tree.¡±

¡°Look up,¡± Syaoran murmured.

¡°Eh?¡± Slowly, Sakura stared up. For the first time, she noticed how tall the oak tree was. There something glimmering caught between the branches. ¡°That¡¯s it! Syaoran, you¡¯re a genius! The music box was not hidden under the oak tree, it was hidden above it.¡±

¡°Uh¡¦ that¡¯s not what I meant, but¡¦ Well, we found it! I¡¯ll got up and get it,¡± Syaoran said.

¡°No, I¡¯ll get it.¡± Sakura tossed her bag to the ground and took a firm grasp of the thick tree trunks then patiently began to climb to the top. Though she would never be an expert at it like Syaoran, she certainly had improved. When she reached the branch that the music box was perched on, she looked down at Syaoran. ¡°Wait, you mean, you didn¡¯t see this? Then what did you mean by look up?¡±

¡°I meant the sky. It looks like a storm¡¯s coming up,¡± Syaoran called from below.

¡°Hoe?¡± Sakura stared up at the sky from her high position. For the first time, she noticed the thick gray clouds which covered the sky. A water droplet plopped down on her nose. ¡°Oh. Well, we found the music box. Let¡¯s go back to where the yacht will pick us up.¡±

Then, she heard a distant shattering scream. Quickly, she shimmied down the tree after tossing down the music box to Syaoran.

¡°I¡¯ll go check it out,¡± Sakura exclaimed, running into the woods, leaving Tomoyo still videotaping and Syaoran gaping. It was beginning to drizzle.

¡°Since when did she become like that?¡± Syaoran asked.

¡°There are certain times when Sakura has to have things done according to her way,¡± Tomoyo replied calmly.


Takashi frowned. He could have sworn he heard Chiharu¡¯s scream. Dropping his bag, he ran to the direction he heard it.

¡°Ouch!¡± From the other direction, Sakura bumped into him. ¡°Hoe! Oh! Sorry Yamazaki-kun!¡±

¡°No, I¡¯m sorry. I wasn¡¯t looking.¡± Taking Sakura¡¯s hand urgently, Takashi asked, ¡°Did you see Chiharu by any chance?¡±

¡°No. Isn¡¯t she with you?¡± Sakura asked.

¡°Well¡¦ She got angry with me and walked off by herself, again. I should have stopped her. I just let her go. It¡¯s my fault.¡±

¡°It¡¯s all right. We¡¯ll find her. This is a small island, after all,¡± Sakura reassured. It began to pour now, as if a hole had opened in the sky. ¡°I¡¯ll go find her, okay?¡±

¡°I¡¯ll go with you,¡± Takashi said.

¡°No, you should go to the log cabin. It¡¯s raining hard. And she might be there, you know,¡± Sakura comforted, though she knew very well that it was not likely.

¡°Sakura! Finally found you,¡± Syaoran said, running up to her, his shirt pasted to his back, and his hair sopping with rain. ¡°What were you thinking when you ran off like that? It¡¯s quarter to four now. Almost time to leave.¡±

¡°I¡¯m so glad my videocamera is waterproof,¡± Tomoyo murmured. ¡°Wait, in this weather, I don¡¯t think it will be easy for the yacht to come pick us up.¡±

As if to back up her statement, a distant rumble of thunder echoed throughout the island. The dark, overcast sky zigzagged with bolts of lightening. Now, the thunder sounded nearer than ever.

¡°Okay, Tomoyo-chan go check if the yacht has arrived, which is pretty unlikely, Yamazaki-kun go to the log cabin and ask the supervisor what¡¯s going to happen due to the weather if the yacht hasn¡¯t arrived, and Syaoran go around and try to gather the couples into the log cabin and make sure no one¡¯s missing,¡± Sakura said, pushing away her wet bang from her eyes. ¡°I¡¯ll go find Chiharu-chan and also tell any couples I bump into to go to the cabin.¡±

¡°I¡¯ll go with you,¡± Syaoran said.

¡°No, it¡¯s all right. There¡¯s no need for more than one person to have to go search; your job is to gather everyone into the log cabin.¡± Sakura said in a reassuring, yet commanding air that everyone felt inclined to listen to.

¡°Wait, take this,¡± Tomoyo said, handing her a rose pink waterproof cloak with a hood. Then she whispered in her ear, ¡°There¡¯s hidden camera¡¯s installed everywhere on this island. It¡¯s not a good idea to use any magic and stuff.¡±

Taking the cloak gratefully and putting it on, Sakura smiled and thanked her. Then she ran off.

The rain was so thick, Sakura could hardly see one inch in front of her. The muddy ground made her slip more than once. It was impossible to feel for the dark force because the feeling of uneasiness cloaked the whole island since it was so small. Several times she bumped into various couples. They were worried that they missed the yacht back to Kusakou, and she told all of them to go to the cabin in the center of the island. She was pretty sure that he yacht couldn¡¯t pick them up due to the huge thunderstorm. Though she didn¡¯t know much about storms, she knew it was most dangerous to be in water if there was lightening. For the time being, it was best to at least have shelter from the rain.

After circling the island for 30 minutes, she saw a blurry figure run towards her. It stopped in front of her.

¡°Sakura-chan?¡± It was Chiharu. ¡°Thank goodness¡¦ I thought¡¦¡±

¡°Chiharu-chan? You¡¯re safe,¡± Sakura greeted. ¡°Where were you? Takashi-kun was so worried.¡±

¡°Oh.¡± Chiharu began to shiver. Her braids had unraveled and she was soaked. Sakura took off her cloak and gave it to her. Chiharu then said, ¡°I thought you were a monster at first.¡±


¡°Didn¡¯t you see? There¡¯s something really unearthly on this island. A huge beast in the shape of a wolf,¡± Chiharu whispered.

¡°The Kusakou legendary werewolf?¡± Sakura questioned.

Shaking her head, she replied, ¡°I don¡¯t know. All I know is that I saw it few days ago, back in Kusakou. But it disappeared without doing much, when the Kaitou Magician saved me. But this time, it¡¯s in a mood for destruction.¡± Chiharu fingered a long scratch mark on her arm.

¡°Did you get hurt right now?¡± Sakura asked.

¡°No. This is from a few days ago, when I got lost on the beach, back at Kusakou.¡±

¡°Well, come, let¡¯s go to the cabin and get shelter while it rains. I don¡¯t think the yacht will be able to pick us up anytime soon.¡± Taking Chiharu¡¯s arm, she led her towards the shore, where the cabin was. Slowly, Chiharu began to relax. Sakura was pretty sure that the Dark Force had been targeting Chiharu for one reason or the other, and probably made her get in an argument with Takashi to single her out.

The log cabin was quite small and could hardly fit all the people. The various couples lounged around on the couches, wooden stools, floor, and tables, lightly gossiping and munching on chips and snacks. Chiharu and Sakura were both greeted with towels to dry up with and hot chocolate in paper cups.

¡°You¡¯re back,¡± Tomoyo said, relieved.

¡°Wait, where¡¯s Takashi?¡± Chiharu asked.

¡°He went out again, in search for you,¡± Tomoyo relied.

¡°Why would he do something like that? That was stupid,¡± Chiharu said, not because she was annoyed, but because she was touched.

¡°Don¡¯t worry. He¡¯ll come back soon,¡± Tomoyo reassured.

¡°The yacht hasn¡¯t arrived yet?¡± Sakura asked.

¡°Yeah. There was no supervisor waiting here, either. There was just an empty log cabin with no one in it. I called the coast a while ago, and they replied they¡¯ll send a yacht over to pick us up as soon as the storm ceases,¡± Syaoran replied. ¡°Though we don¡¯t know when that will be.¡±

¡°There¡¯s no supervisor, then?¡± Sakura said in dismay.

¡°No. Apparently, there was a misunderstanding among the Contest board members, and the person who was supposed to wait here backed out at the last moment,¡± Tomoyo answered.

¡°So, is everyone here now?¡± Sakura began to count the various couples. Since there were 10 couples, there should be 20 people excluding Tomoyo. Counting herself, there was 17 in the cabin. ¡°Wait. Three people are missing.¡±

¡°That must be Aki, Erika, and Takashi, who will be coming back soon,¡± Tomoyo stated.

They all waited in the cabin for half an hour. It was almost six. One of the girls began to sniffle.

Her boyfriend asked her in exasperation, ¡°What¡¯s the matter?¡±

¡°W-what if we¡¯re stranded here forever?¡± she sobbed.

¡°Don¡¯t be silly. The boat will come pick us up soon. Right?¡± the boy asked, uncertainly.

Smiling reassuringly, Sakura replied, ¡°Don¡¯t worry. It will come as soon as the storm stops. The raindrops pattered on the wooden rooftop. Someone had placed a bucket in one of the leaking places. There was no sign of the storm ceasing. In fact, there were sounds of crashing trees, signaling that a tree had been struck by lightening. Quite often, there were ghostly wailing sounds, sending shudders up everyone¡¯s spines.

¡°I-I thought there were no wild animals or anything on this island,¡± another girl cried.

¡°Maybe it¡¯s a ghost,¡± a boy suggested eerily.

¡°I¡¯ll call the shore again,¡± Syaoran said, walking to the telephone. He dialed the number and waited. After a while, he stated, ¡°The line is dead.¡±

¡°What?¡± Sakura frowned, staring out the window. The gray waves were choppy and uneven, as if the ocean was raising a fury. If a boat were to come, which was unlikely, it would likely be tossed around and crash into the rocks on one side of the shore.

¡°I¡¯ll try my cellphone.¡± After trying, Syaoran shook his head, ¡°I can¡¯t establish a connection.¡±

¡°Then we¡¯ve lost all contact with people!¡± Chiharu exclaimed. For the first time, everyone was quiet, worry reflected in their various faces. There was a variety of adolescents there, ranging from 13 to 18 years old, coming from various districts of Japan, and having nothing in common except for the fact that they entered the same contest, competing for which one of them was the best teen couple of Japan.

¡°Maybe we can signal with our firecrackers,¡± someone suggested.

¡°No, it won¡¯t be possible to see it through the clouds,¡± Sakura reasoned.

Everyone gazed up at Sakura, Syaoran, and Tomoyo to take charge. Putting on a bright, encouraging smile, Sakura told them, ¡°It¡¯s nothing to worry about, you guys. They¡¯ll send a boat over as soon as the thunderstorm stops, and it¡¯s quite safe here in this cabin. There¡¯s some food and drink here, and we can have cups of ramen if we get hungry.¡± At that moment, the lights began to flicker on and off. The tenseness was thick in the room. But, the lights stayed on, to their relief.

Sakura continued in a calm voice, ¡°Hey, isn¡¯t it kind of like camping trip? I remember back in elementary, we had a trip by the beach side and had a courage test. The courage test was held in a cave, and there was a scary story about how years before, the students went inside the cave¡¦ but no one came out again. I was terrified of ghosts and such—but later on guess why no one who went in came out? It turned out there was another exit to the cave.¡±

They let out laughter at Sakura¡¯s sheepish story. Someone else began, ¡°Hey, that reminds me of my school¡¯s courage testing trip. Ours was held in the mountains¡¦¡±

Soon, people began to relax and a bond began to form among all of them as they told various stories about themselves. Chiharu noted that if Takashi had been there, he would be in the center of the story telling. Relieved that everyone had forgotten the fact that they were stranded on a deserted island in the middle of nowhere for the moment, Sakura slipped out from the circle and walked to Syaoran who was fiddling with the radio.

¡°The weather forecaster said that it is likely that this unusual storm will continue throughout the evening,¡± Syaoran said, frowning. ¡°Couldn¡¯t hear much before it tuned out.¡±

¡°Do you think we¡¯ll end up having to spend the night here?¡± Sakura asked quiety.

¡°It¡¯s very probable.¡±

Biting her lips, Sakura continued to stare out the window. She didn¡¯t want to think how awful the situation truly was.

¡°Sakura-chan,¡± Chiharu murmured. ¡°Takashi still didn¡¯t come back. He was gone for an hour now. Could something have happened to him?¡±

¡°Thinking about it, Aki-kun and Erika-chan still didn¡¯t come here, either,¡± Tomoyo commented.

¡°I¡¯ll go find them,¡± Sakura stated.

¡°Let me go with you. It¡¯s because of me Takashi is in the rain,¡± Chiharu pleaded.

¡°No, Chiharu-chan. You should stay here. He might still come back any moment, and he¡¯ll be worried if you¡¯re not here, safe,¡± Sakura said. ¡°Trust me, I¡¯ll find him for you.¡± If indeed her theory was right, it was definitely safer for Chiharu to stay with a large group of people.

Finally, Chiharu relented. Slipping on her cloak, Sakura opened the cabin door. A blast of wind and rain greeted her. She slammed the door shut again; Sakura hadn¡¯t realized how bad the weather had gotten since she had been safe indoors.

¡°I¡¯ll go,¡± Syaoran said. ¡°I don¡¯t mind thunderstorms. You stay here.¡±

At that moment the lights, which had been flicking on and off for the past hour completely turned off.

Several girls screamed.

¡°Wait, calm down. It¡¯s just a power failure,¡± Syaoran shouted over the clamor. ¡°Here, it¡¯s fine. There are candles here. We still can have light.¡± He fumbled in the dark for candles inside the cabinet, thanking his powers which gave him extra sharp night vision. Finding several stumps of white candles, he quickly lighted them with and ofuda. No on could see him use one, anyway.

Carefully, Sakura posted the candles in several places in the small cabin. Now, they could see each other with the merry little flickering of the candlelight. ¡°See, it¡¯s kind of cozy, isn¡¯t it?¡± she pointed out. ¡°I mean, how long has it been since we used candles? I¡¯m sure the lights will come on in a little while. Till then, we can just pretend that it¡¯s like in the olden days, before electricity.¡±

People were soon absorbed in creating shadows on the wall with their fingers. While everyone was occupied, Sakura quietly slipped out the door, bracing for the ferocious storm.


¡°Erika, I bet we¡¯re the only ones left on the island now,¡± Aki complained, trudging wearily besides her.

¡°How many times do I have to tell you? Boats can¡¯t go on water when there¡¯s a thunderstorm. Everyone probably will be waiting in the log cabin or something. And we¡¯re not going back until we find the music box. You want to win this contest or not?¡± Erika snapped.

¡°As you want,¡± Aki mumbled. ¡°At least you have an umbrella. It was stupid of me to laugh when you packed one. Didn¡¯t know it will rain then.¡± As he shuffled along in the mud, he stumbled over something. ¡°Damn! Who left their bag in the middle of the road!¡±

¡°Wait!¡± Erika peered over, pawing through the things in it.

¡°Hey, that¡¯s Yamazaki-kun¡¯s bag. His name tag is on it,¡± Aki pointed out.

¡°That doesn¡¯t matter! He left the golden music box in it! How marvelous!¡± Erika slipped the music box out of the bag and tossed into her positions. ¡°See! I was right in staying out here to find it!¡±

¡°Hey, but we didn¡¯t find it. That¡¯s Yamazaki-kun¡¯s. We should return it to him,¡± Aki protested. ¡°That¡¯s really cheating.¡±

¡°Haven¡¯t we been cheating all the way?¡± Erika asked. ¡°You wanna back out now?¡±

Jogging down the road, Sakura spotted to figures. She called out, ¡°Hey, you guys!¡±

Peering through the pouring rain, Aki shouted upon recognition, ¡°Sakura!¡± He ran to her so glad to see her. ¡°You¡¯re still here? You didn¡¯t leave?¡±

¡°The boat got delayed. We¡¯re all waiting in the log cabin,¡± Sakura explained.

¡°See, I told you,¡± Erika muttered.

¡°Y-you came out to find me?¡± Aki asked, with glistening eyes. ¡°Sakura-chan!!!¡±

¡°Hoe-e¡¦¡± He he, I guess even Aki-kun has enough of Erika, she thought. ¡°Now, you and Erika go back to the cabin and dry up. Everyone will be waiting there.¡±

¡°How about you?¡± Aki asked.

¡°I need to find Yamazaki-kun, then I¡¯ll go back, too. Just follow this road, then you¡¯ll reach the cabin.¡± Then, Sakura continued to walk through the rain.

Again, she felt an irking sensation. The island was mostly wilderness and the trees cast ghastly shadows in the dark.

¡°I am not afraid of ghosts anymore,¡± she stated out loud. Her voice echoed into the emptiness, casting eerie sounds. There was a rustling to her left. For a second, she could have seen two slit eyes glowing red, staring straight at her. When she looked again, it disappeared. Stifling a scream, she forced herself to continue deeper into the heart of the island where the trees were densest. She had the creepiest notion that she was being followed. Halting, she spun around in an attack position, trying to blink the rain out of her eyes. Being soaked in the cold rain, she was shivering uncontrollably. ¡°Who¡¯s there?!¡±

¡°Wait! Sakura, it¡¯s me,¡± Chiharu stated.

¡°Chiharu-chan? I thought¡¦¡± Sakura trailed off.

¡°I couldn¡¯t just wait back in the cabin¡¦ I said so many harsh things to Takashi. I felt so bad. So, I came to find him with you,¡± Chiharu explained.

¡°And I followed her ¡®cause it¡¯s dangerous for her to go by herself,¡± Syaoran added.

¡°You came here too?¡± Sakura demanded. Then she sighed. ¡°Oh, all right.¡±

Again, the rustling of leaves came more distinct then ever. They ran to the direction.

A large hunched over figure stared at them with crimson eyes, then fled from sight. They could now see someone lying on the ground. Sakura¡¯s hand flew to her mouth. She had been too late! Maybe the target had been Takashi!

Chiharu screamed. ¡°TAKASHI!!!¡± Takashi lay unconscious on the floor, a pool of water forming around him. His face was smeared with blood. ¡°Oh my gosh, what happened. Takashi!¡± She bent down on the soaked dirt ground, kneeling over Takashi, sobbing hard. ¡°I¡¯m sorry, I didn¡¯t mean all the bad things I said to you. I¡¯m so sorry. Don¡¯t die! Please don¡¯t die. Takashi, I care for you. Don¡¯t die.¡± She placed a hand on his cold, wet face. ¡°I love you, Takashi, I don¡¯t know what you think of me, and no matter what I¡¯ve said or done, I still care for you¡¦ I always have. Did I ever tell you that?¡± Her teardrops, mixed with the rain fell onto his face. ¡°Please, wake up. Tell me that you don¡¯t hate me.¡±

Takashi opened his bright hazels. ¡°You really mean it?¡±

For a moment, Chiharu stared, astounded. ¡°Yes¡¦ Wait a minute¡¦ you¡¯re alive?¡±

Laughing, Takashi sat up, his back dripping with dirt. ¡°You really thought I was dead?¡±

¡°B-but¡¦ You were lying so motionless¡¦ and blood everywhere¡¦¡± Chiharu gaped.

¡°Oh. This?¡± Takashi wiped his forehead. ¡°It¡¯s the juice form some berries I found in the forest. Not real blood.¡±

Chiharu sniffled. ¡°Then¡¦ You¡¯re fine?¡±

Smiling teasingly, Takashi replied, ¡°Of course I¡¯m fine! I was just playing dead because this huge beast or monster of some sort was following me. It always works in the stories you know, and¡¦¡±

¡°You mean, you were just faking being dead when I was so worried? You just watched me blabbering nonsense?¡± Chiharu began to throttle Takashi again.

¡°Ow! Ow!¡± Takashi protested. ¡°Okay, okay, I¡¯m sorry, I¡¯m sorry! I really didn¡¯t mean to make you worried.¡±

Chiharu bit her lip. ¡°—pid¡¦ Stupid! You know how much I worry! I—I thought you were dead! That was the meanest trick you ever played on me! I-I¡¦¡± Chiharu¡¯s eyes streamed with tears.

Staring in surprise, Takashi reached out and touched her face. ¡°Did you really care this much for me?¡± He squeezed her into a tight hug. ¡°I¡¯m sorry. I¡¯m sorry to make you worry¡¦ but do you know how much your words meant to me? Even if I were really dead, I would have woken up, just to see your face when I heard the words. They meant all the world for me¡¦ Because I love you Chiharu. Did I ever say those words to you? I¡¯m sorry to be such a disappointment. I¡¯ll try hard to become someone you can be proud of. I really will. I try, every day but it¡¯s so hard.¡±

¡°Idiot. I like you just the way you are,¡± Chiharu murmured, pressing Takashi¡¯s hand to her cheek.

Watching with misty eyes, Sakura sighed in relief. She smiled in genuine happiness for her two close friends.

¡°Well, let¡¯s go back to the cabin now,¡± Chiharu said. Glaring at Takashi, she said, ¡°I still haven¡¯t forgiven you.¡± Then she smiled. ¡°But I¡¯m not mad at you though.¡±

¡°Aren¡¯t you two coming back also?¡± Takashi asked as Sakura and Syaoran didn¡¯t follow them.

¡°Ah—no¡¦ I have to take care of something¡¦¡± Sakura said.

¡°But it¡¯s not exactly safe out here,¡± Takashi warned. Sakura could see that he was slightly limping. And the sleeves of his shirt had tears in it, and he had several nasty wounds in various places. She realized that he had been lying when he said that he was fine; he had been wounded by a dark force. But this time, he told a lie so that Chiharu wouldn¡¯t worry about him. For the first time, Sakura realized to what extent Takashi cared for Chiharu; he even endured the chance of anger, reproach, and throttling, just to keep Chiharu from worrying for him.

¡°Come with us. It¡¯s better to travel in a big group,¡± Chiharu said.

¡°Well¡¦ you see¡¦ I¡¦¡± Sakura stammered. She couldn¡¯t exactly tell her friend that she the important task of capturing a dark force.

Then, Chiharu smiled. ¡°It¡¯s okay. You don¡¯t have to explain to me. I know that you are not quite the same as the rest of us.¡±

¡°Y-you mean you know?¡± Sakura asked in surprise.

¡°Just enough as a friend can observe. But it¡¯s okay. I won¡¯t ask anything more about it or try to find out. I¡¯ll just accept that you¡¯re different from the average person,¡± Chiharu replied.

¡°How long have you noticed?¡± Sakura questioned.

¡°Let¡¯s see¡¦¡± Chiharu glanced at Takashi, who nodded. ¡°Around elementary school¡¦ When weird things happened in our neighborhoods.¡±

¡°Oh,¡± Sakura murmured. And she had always tried to keep so discreet about things. It showed how clever she had been.

¡°Well, stay safe and cautious. See you in a little while,¡± Chiharu said, hooking arms with Takashi and walking away. Soon, those two faded off down the rainy road.

¡°You can go back, too,¡± Sakura told Syaoran.

¡°I wouldn¡¯t go back, even if you asked me to,¡± Syaoran replied.

Sighing, Sakura stated, ¡°How can I face the dark force when I can¡¯t even use any powers? Tomoyo told me that there¡¯s hidden cameras installed everywhere.¡±

Grinning grimly, Syaoran asked, ¡°Have you forgotten that there was a power failure on this island? It is probable that the video camera system also went out along with the electricity and telephone.¡±

¡°Oh! Why didn¡¯t I think of that?¡± Sakura smacked her forehead. ¡°So I worried for no reason.¡± She held out the key that hung from her necklace. ¡°Key that hides the power of stars. Show your true self to me. I, Sakura command you! Release!¡±

Warily, she spun around. Syaoran was on her backside, keeping an eye out.

¡°Come out and face us! Don¡¯t hurt anymore people!¡± Sakura demanded.

Snarling, a bulky for emerged from the tree. At that moment, a lightening crashed and the creature¡¯s features were highlighted.

Sakura gasped as she saw the sharp, hooked fangs and its claws spread out. As it slashed down its immense forearm at her, she ducked out of the way. The beast¡¯s teeth caught the hem of her cloak. When Sakura tugged, it ripped half of the cloak clean off.

Quickly, it brought down its left forearm at her; she blocked with her staff, her arms trembling under the impact. Then, she noticed a now dirty and wrinkled light pink handkerchief knotted around its left leg. The neat bandage now cut tightly into its leg because it was meant for a smaller leg. Embroidered on it was S.K. Her initials. As she lost her grip on the staff, the monster knocked her aside, sending her sprawling in the mud. Its eyes blazed viciously.

¡°No¡¦¡± Sakura whispered in a cracked voice. ¡°No¡¦ It can¡¯t be. Please, tell me it¡¯s no true¡¦¡± She picked herself up from the puddle.

¡°But you knew from before,¡± Syaoran told her softly.

Staring at her hands, she replied, ¡°But I hoped with all my heart that I was mistaken. I hoped that it was just a coincidence that Wolfie-chan appeared in the town around the same time the ¡®legendary werewolf¡¯ did, and that it was just a coincidence that he had an injury on his leg in the same spot that the wolf was injured by me.¡±

¡°Deep in your heart, you still knew. And you still held out your hands to the stray puppy, when you knew it will turn on you eventually.¡±

The Wolf, growled, and prepared to leap on her, fangs bared. She remained completely still and beckoned, ¡°Wolfie-chan.¡±

It seemed almost momentarily that the craziness escaped from its eyes, but the beast leaped at her all the same.

¡°Shield!¡± Sakura called. A shield formed around her, preventing the Wolf from jumping on her. This continued for a while; the werewolf attacking her and Sakura dodging are using non-attack cards to avoid contact.

Watching from the side, frustrated, Syaoran shouted, ¡°You can¡¯t just continue this game of escaping. You won¡¯t get anywhere. Use an attack card!¡± He held out an ofuda.

¡°No! Don¡¯t hurt him!¡± Sakura pleaded. At that moment, the Wolf managed to plunge its sharp claws into Sakura¡¯s shoulder. Pain was written on her pale face, yet she didn¡¯t conjure an attacking card to fight off.

Heedless to Sakura¡¯s words, Syaoran slammed the flat of his sword onto a fire ofuda and sent it towards the beast¡¯s eyes.

Howling, the Wolf backed up, glaring with hatred in its eyes. Behind him was lit the full moon, behind veils of rain clouds.

¡°Are you all right?¡± Syaoran asked, grimacing at the sight of the red claw marks on her shoulder.

¡°I told you not to hurt him,¡± Sakura said. ¡°Promise me you won¡¯t do anything!¡±

¡°I can¡¯t promise that,¡± Syaoran replied. Then he braced himself, holding out his sword. The Wolf renewed its attack, spreading its ferocious jaws. Clenching his sword hilt till his knuckle turned white, he took a deep breath.

Catching onto his actions, Sakura shouted, ¡°NO!¡±

Heedless, as the vicious Wolf stood on its hind legs ready to tear its victim into shreds, Syaoran leaped up and plunged his sword into its heart. The Wolf let out a long, mournful wail. No blood streamed out. Instead, a black mist evaporated from the wound. For a second, the Wolf¡¯s eyes lost its fiery glow and reverted back into Wolfie-chan¡¯s soulful amber eyes, pained and sad.

Sakura fell to her knees. ¡°No¡¦ Why did you do that? Why? If we waited, if we waited until dawn, when the moon disappears, he would revert back to Wolfie-chan, and we could have found another way.¡±

¡°There was no other choice,¡± Syaoran replied, strained. ¡°You wouldn¡¯t have done it. So I had to.¡±

¡°There are many choices. There could have been many other ways,¡± Sakura whispered, her hands trembling.

¡°It¡¯s too late now. Seal it.¡±

Gently, Sakura reached up to stroke the beast¡¯s fur. It tried to snarl at her, yet had no more strength left. Holding out a card, she said, ¡°Dream. Give Wolfie-chan dreams of happiness, love, and sunlight.¡± At last, the Wolf shut its eyes. The black mist continued to evaporate from him. Finally, she held out her staff and commanded in a broken voice, ¡°Spirit of the dark forces. I, Sakura, command you. Return to a new shape of contract! Sakura Card!¡±

Slowly, the figure dissolved into the shape of a card. The Wolf Card drifted over and landed in Syaoran¡¯s hand, because he had destroyed it.

In place of where the werewolf had stood, a piece of cloth drifted onto the mud. It had several rips in it. Gingerly, Sakura picked it up. She gasped. It was the wolf embroidery that she had given Syaoran for Christmas. The Dark Ones had used something of her own creation to turn against her in the form of a Dark Force, the Wolf. How had they gotten hands on it though? She remembered the endless hours of the night she had spent, toiling to finish it by Christmas. It was in a miserable state now.

Dropping it to the ground, Sakura stepped on it and without looking back, Sakura walked away from the spot, back to the cabin. Her hair hung limply from the rain, and she tossed off the remains of her rose pink cloak.

¡°I did what I had to do,¡± Syaoran said, after her. He stared at the embroidery. The Dark Ones had used it against them. And that embroidery had been one of his most treasured possessions, since Sakura made it for him for Christmas. Now, it was hardly recognizable, smeared with mud and with several rips in it, the colorful floss of the embroidery coming undone.

¡°I know,¡± Sakura replied, without turning back. ¡°But there could have been other ways. Now, Wolfie-chan is sealed forever as a monster. Werewolves lose their power without the moon. It might have taken more effort and chances, but if we waited until sunlight, things could have worked out. True, you did what you thought had to do. But with your mindset, you¡¯ll always be stuck between your mission and what is morally right. You can choose to always be dutifully accomplishing your mission.¡± Sakura spun around and faced Syaoran with angry eyes, which flashed like green gems in the dark. ¡°But I want to choose what is right! I wanted to save Wolfie-chan, but you destroyed him!"

Syaoran watched Sakura walk away swiftly, fading into the bleary rain. It hurt him. It hurt him to have Sakura reproach him so. Yet, there was nothing he could do. Nothing but just watch her walk away.


Biting her quivering lips, Sakura held back tears. She didn¡¯t want to be so harsh on Syaoran. He did what he had been inclined to do¡¦ Because she, herself, would never be able to destroy the werewolf, knowing it was Wolfie-chan.

¡°You shouldn¡¯t have been so harsh on Syaoran,¡± Tomoyo said as Sakura entered the cabin. The thunder had finally ceased, though rain was still pouring heavily.

Sakura realized that her friend had been spying and videotaping again. Sighing, she replied, ¡°I don¡¯t want to be harsh on him¡¦ I know he didn¡¯t mean harm. Half of me wants to forgive him and accept things just as it is. But the other half, the other half can¡¯t forgive him for not heeding my words and being so systematic and uncaring. So cold and harsh.¡±

¡°You¡¯re wrong about him being uncaring,¡± Tomoyo said. ¡°I don¡¯t know if you noticed, but I think he cared for Wolfie-chan even more than you did, though he didn¡¯t show it.¡±

¡°I guess, he remembered his dog from childhood,¡± Sakura murmured. Then, she brightened. ¡°Well, don¡¯t worry to much over it. It¡¯s over now, and there¡¯s nothing I can do about it. Seems like the electricity¡¯s back on!¡±

¡°Yeah, it came on as soon as the thunderstorm ceased,¡± Tomoyo replied.

Yawning, Sakura asked, ¡°What time is it?¡± There were people sprawled all over the floor and couches, fast asleep.

¡°It¡¯s two AM now,¡± Tomoyo replied. ¡°Oh, I called the coast. They said that they tried sending a boat over earlier today, but it got damaged because of the storm. I told them that all of us are safe and here in the log cabin, and that we have enough food to go around. So, they said that they¡¯ll send another boat over as soon as the heavy rain ceases and it¡¯s safe for traveling. Mostly likely in one or two hours.¡±

¡°That¡¯s good,¡± Sakura said.

¡°And the final event of the contest will be delayed until tomorrow afternoon¡¦ wait a minute, I mean today. It¡¯s past midnight now, so¡¦¡± Tomoyo trailed off. ¡°Basically, there are four couples who found the music box, including you and Syaoran, and Erika and Aki, so you guys will be left for the final stage and compete to the end.¡±

Hearing this, Takashi turned to Chiharu and said, ¡°I¡¯m sorry. I found the music box, but then, I lost my bag which where I put it in.¡±

¡°It¡¯s all right,¡± Chiharu replied. ¡°I¡¯ll just glad that you¡¯re safe. The contest isn¡¯t that important to me anymore. There are other chances, as well.¡±

Then, Sakura¡¯s mind clicked. ¡°Aha! I think I saw your bag, Yamazaki-kun! I didn¡¯t know it was yours then. Wait a second, okay?¡±

She ran outside, down the road. Lying in a heap off the corner was a bag. Checking the bag tag, she made sure that it was Takashi¡¯s. It was. Then, she rummaged in the bag. As she guessed, the golden music box was gone. And she could guess who took it. Then, from her bag, she slipped out the music box she and Syaoran had found after such an exhausting search. Without a second thought, she tucked their music box into Takashi¡¯s bag, and smiled. Takashi wouldn¡¯t have to know, and Chiharu would be very happy to have the golden music box. Anyway, she couldn¡¯t continue the Best Couple Contest, not when she was so angry at Syaoran. Good-bye to all chances of winning the contest.

¡°Exasperating, but I still can¡¯t help admiring your nobleness and loyalty to your friends,¡± Syaoran commented.

Gazing around, she searched for where he was. ¡°Where are you?¡±

¡°Look up,¡± he replied.

When she looked up, Sakura could see that Syaoran was way up in the tree branches. He was luminated by a pale aura.

¡°What are you doing up there, when it¡¯s all wet?¡± Sakura asked in disbelief.

¡°This.¡± From his position way up in the tree, he dropped something down to her.

Reaching out her hands, she caught it. She examined the intricate star design on a Sakura Card. Carefully, she turned it over and stared hard. ¡°What is this?¡±

¡°Can¡¯t you be more appreciative? Don¡¯t expect me to use any power for several days; I used it completely up for now, trying to convert that card.¡±

¡°Huh?¡± The image on the Wolf Card had changed from one of a ferocious werewolf into a wolf puppy very similar to Wolfie-chan. ¡°What did you do?¡±

¡°I converted it from being a card that uses the dark forces into a light force card,¡± Syaroan replied. ¡°It¡¯s no longer a ¡°bad¡± card as you call it. Wolfie-chan is saved, in a sense. And I¡¯m sure, you¡¯ll have more use for that card now.¡±

Sakura stared up at him. Though the tree branches cast a shadow over his face, Sakura could tell how tired and strained he was through his posture. She could also sense his aura was weaker than usual. Yet, he was smiling.

¡°You went through all this trouble, just because of what I said?¡± she demanded. ¡°I didn¡¯t mean for you to take it so literally. You can¡¯t change who you are.¡±

¡°Well, as long as you won¡¯t reproach me anymore, I¡¯m satisfied,¡± Syaoran replied.

Her forest green eyes softened. ¡°Thank you Syaoran¡¦ Can¡¯t you come down?¡±

With an elaborate flip, Syaoran landed right in front of Sakura.

¡°You¡¯re going to break you neck one day, doing that,¡± Sakura scolded, picking up Takashi¡¯s bag. ¡°And I still haven¡¯t forgiven you for you.¡±

¡°Well, I won¡¯t ask to be forgiven,¡± Syaoran replied.

Chiharu was delighted that Takashi had found the music box and thanked Sakura deeply for finding the Takashi¡¯s bag.

¡°I¡¯m surprised that no one stole the music box,¡± Takashi commented.

¡°He he¡¦ me too,¡± Sakura said, sweat-dropping. Someone actually had, but no need for them to know. They would never know she had replaced their stolen one with hers.

¡°What? You gave up your chances to win in the contest?!¡± Tomoyo hissed when Sakura told her what she did.

Shaking her head, Sakura replied, ¡°It¡¯s okay.¡±

Frowning, Syaoran said, ¡°We can¡¯t just end things this way.¡±

Smiling, Sakura stated, ¡°You¡¯re right. We can¡¯t just end things this way. There are other choices.¡± With a new burst of energy, she exclaimed, ¡°We can find the remaining one music box on this island!¡±

¡°I called the coast again, a little while ago, and they said that they¡¯ll send a boat over by 4 AM,¡± Tomoyo said. ¡°Funny. They were supposed to pick us up at 4 PM, yesterday.¡±

¡°So, that gives us one hour to find the remaining music box,¡± Sakura concluded.

Quickly, Sakura crossed out all the places marked on the map, where the various couples had found the music box. The last one was hidden somewhere in the North side of the island, where the log cabin was. Lucky it was so near by.

¡°I have a feeling this one will be the hardest on to find,¡± Syaoran commented.

Yawning, Sakura blinked around. ¡°I¡¯m really getting used to having sleepless nights.¡±

Since it was almost dawn, there was faint light, making it easier for them to see.

¡°We don¡¯t have much time left,¡± Sakura panicked. Then she had an inspiration. Glancing around her to make sure that there were no hidden cameras, she drew out a card. ¡°Wolfie!¡±

A light tan color puppy materialized in front of her. It barked joyously, and leaped into her arms.

¡°You know, I always thought Wolfie-chan wasn¡¯t that good of a name,¡± Sakura commented. ¡°I¡¯ll name him Eagle.¡±

¡°Eh?¡± Syaoran muttered, ¡°I don¡¯t think that¡¯s much better of a name.¡±

¡°Of course, his real name will be Vega, but his nickname will be Eagle-chan,¡± Sakura concluded.

Again, Syaoran grinned crookedly. ¡°Eagle¡¦¡± He patted the puppy¡¯s head. His eyes seemed to reflect on his past experience with that name. Sternly, he told the puppy, ¡°Just because I converted you doesn¡¯t mean I like you.¡±

¡°Come on; you love Eagle-chan as much as I do!¡± Sakura teased. ¡°Oh, and what I was trying to do. Eagle-chan, do you think it¡¯s possible to smell out the music box, somehow? I know it¡¯s a difficult task, but¡¦¡±

Wagging his tail, Eagle, began to sniff the ground. The two of them followed. They reached the shore of the island, and the puppy continued to sniff ahead. Finally, Eagle stopped, and began to bark. They were in front of log cabin once more.

¡°No, Eagle-chan. I know there¡¯s four music boxes belonging to people inside, but the one remaining music box is the one we¡¯re looking for,¡± Sakura explained gently.

Taking her arm, Syaoran pointed up the log cabin.

Her eyes followed to the rooftop. There, perched as bright as the sun on top of the log cabin was the fifth golden music box. Sakura slapped her forehead in disbelief. ¡°It was there all along and no one bothered to take it? We went in and out of this house dozens of times. I can¡¯t believe it.¡±

¡°Well, there¡¯s a saying that the hardest thing to find is the one in the most obvious place,¡± Syaoran replied.

¡°Do we have to climb the roof?¡± Sakura asked hesitantly. ¡°I don¡¯t think it will be able to hold our weight.¡±

¡°Maybe since it¡¯s so hard to get, is it called the most difficult to find,¡± Syaoran replied.¡± Then glancing around to see if no one was looking, he said quietly and inconspicuously, ¡°Fuuka shou rai!¡± A gust of wind blew, knocking the music box off the roof and landing it safely into Sakura¡¯s hands. It was wet, yet still pretty. It had finally stopped raining then, and the sun had begun to rise.

Raptured at the beauty of the island at done, Sakura stared up at the clearness of the sky. Then, she saw a beautiful double rainbow arch across the sky. Crimson, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet colors vibrated beautifully. ¡°Look!¡± Sakura exclaimed, tugging at Syaoran¡¯s sleeve.

¡°Wow,¡± Syaoran murmured.

¡°Isn¡¯t it so beautiful?¡± Sakura asked, happily. ¡°I better tell everyone.¡± Bursting into the cabin, where most people were sleeping, she exclaimed, ¡°Everyone, wake up! Wake up! There¡¯s a double rainbow!¡±

¡°What¡¯s all the racket?¡± Erika asked crossly.

¡°You guys, come outside. There¡¯s a rainbow¡¦No two rainbows! It¡¯s so beautiful!¡±

The groggy girls and boys stumbled outside and blinked at the radiant and colorful beauty that greeted them.

¡°Wow¡¦ It really is beautiful,¡± Chiharu murmured.

The yacht had arrived and the twenty-one tired, yet cheerful teens filed on.

When they reached back to Kusakou, it was obvious that all of them would take a nice, long nap. And then, in the afternoon, the fifth and final event of the Couple Pentathlon would be held. The final contest to determine who the best teen couple of Japan was out of the five couples who had found the golden music box.

¡°Did you know that if you find the end of a rainbow, you will be able to find your greatest treasure?¡± Takashi asked, leaning against the railing of the boat.

¡°Really?¡± Chiharu asked.

¡°I wonder what my greatest treasure will be,¡± Sakura pondered, staring at the rainbow wistfully.

Wish-chan: Hehe... Sorry it took me so long to write this chapter. First of all, I had so many essays to write, second of all, I rewrote this chapter over again, so... Hmm, bet you're disappointed that I held who the winner of the contest will be until next chapter. I decided, I'll like to nicely expand things out instead of cramming too many things into one chapter... And then, the story plot will move along. So, as many people predicted, Wolfie-chan was the Wolf card. And he was made from Sakura's embroidery of a wolf, for Christmas. How did Eron and Erika get their hands on it? When Tomoyo stopped by Syaoran's apartment to pick up clothes and stuff, they saw it and smuggled it. Because they knew Sakura made it for Syaoran and it was very precious. He he... it's a long contest, huh? A Pentathlon. I like the sound of it. That's why I had to rack my brain for five contests. Actually, I had more, but I cut them out... Let's see... I also elaborated on Chiharu and Takashi, also... Hehe... Oh, and didnt' you just know that the violin piece Nadeshiko composed will come up again? It's just my personal thought, but though Sakura is portrayed sometimes as dense and slow, I still think she is a really intelligent person. ^_^. Hmm, what a coincidence. S+S, Chiharu and Takashi, and Erika and Aki are all finalists... Hehe... The Best Couple Of Japan. 'BCOJ' will be determined through the last event, the questionaire. And, guess what the first question will be? It is "What does the golden music box symbolize?"
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Below is the outfits S+S wear for the talent show. Actually, I drew this before I wrote the chapter. Months before...