Chapter 45: The Silence of Darkness





A remote, run down part of the neighborhood near Tomoeda, approximately eight or nine years ago¡¦


Standing on the tip of his toes to see over the counter at the display doll, the violet haired boy asked, ¡°Sir, how much is that doll over there? The one with golden hair and eyes that blink?¡±


¡°Hmm¡¦ Little boy, it¡¯s quite expensive. It¡¯s 6000 yen,¡± the store clerk replied, peering curiously at the boy with large golden brown eyes set in a girlish face. ¡°Who is it for, boy?¡±


¡°My twin sister. She¡¯s in the hospital, and she¡¯s always wanted one of those princess dolls,¡± young Eron replied, wincing when he heard the price. ¡°I promised her I¡¯d buy her one.¡±


Holding the doll up for the boy to see, the store clerk said, ¡°This doll is a very popular item. There are only a few left in stock. How much money do you have?¡±


¡°1000 yen,¡± the boy replied slowly. ¡°But I¡¯ve been earning money, working at the local convenience store. In two months, I¡¯ll have enough money saved up to buy the doll.¡±


¡°Two months?¡± the store clerk raised a critical eyebrow. ¡°I¡¯m not sure if this particular type of doll will still be in stock then.¡±


¡°Please, save one for me, sir. I promise I¡¯ll come back to buy it,¡± Eron appealed, staring at the blue eyed doll with longing.


¡°Boy, this is business. There are many people who can buy it right away,¡± the man replied, wavering.

¡±Please, it¡¯s for my sister. Every Christmas she has asked for a doll of her own, and every Christmas, she never got one, always having to share toys with the other kids in the orphanage,¡± the boy pleaded.


¡°Orphanage?¡± Finally sighing in relent, the store¡¯s clerk said, ¡°Fine, I¡¯ll hold it for you as long as it takes you to earn your money. I warn you, I won¡¯t hold it for too long though.¡±


¡°Thank you! Thank you!¡± The boy smiled sincerely, the change in his face heart-warming even to a man worn out by business.


The man smiled back at the angel-faced boy, storing the doll underneath the counter desk. ¡°You better come back to buy the doll for your little sister!¡±


¡°Don¡¯t worry!¡± little Eron replied, running out of the door, knowing that he will be punished if he was late for the orphanage curfew.




From then, two months passed and the Chang twin¡¯s seventh birthday approached.


¡°Chang Eron, where did you get all this money?¡± the head of the orphanage demanded, holding up a crumpled envelope filled with 100 yen bills one evening when Eron had been caught sneaking into the orphanage late at night, well after curfew.


¡°I earned in,¡± Eron said sullenly. ¡°Give it back, it¡¯s mine.¡±


¡°Liar! I bet you stole it!¡± one of the older boys sneered.


¡°No he didn¡¯t! He worked every evening to the local convenience for the past eight weeks to earn the money¡¦¡± a mouse-like girl retorted, her voice starting off strong then fading into a whisper when the head glared at her. Yuriko, around the twins¡¯ age, rarely spoke and Eron was surprised by her sudden boldness in defending him.


Frowning, the head of the orphanage said, ¡°Eron-kun, you know it¡¯s against the rules to go out of the orphanage grounds past curfew. As a result of your disobedience, I will confiscate this money.¡±


Staring up with uncanny golden eyes, Eron repeated, ¡°Give it back. It¡¯s my money, not yours.¡±


The fierce glow in the boys¡¯ eyes, just like an angry cat¡¯s, unsettled the head. ¡°Who do you think you¡¯re glaring at, impertinent boy?¡± She slapped the boy¡¯s face sharply. When Eron continued to stare back unfalteringly, the head was even more agitated. ¡°Be grateful that you are in this orphanage, being fed and clothed and sheltered. Otherwise, you and your sister would have been left on the streets to die.¡±


Without even flinching, Eron fingered the redness on his cheek. In a cool voice, with words unlike that of others his age, Eron replied, ¡°I wonder if you feel better about yourself by infringing upon your authority. Is it because we live on charity, because we seem to be dependent on you? Or is it merely because you¡¯re an adult and we¡¯re only children? Just because one looks helpless doesn¡¯t mean that he is stupid. Though you can control our lives for now, you can¡¯t control our minds. And you think you¡¯re doing us a favor by keeping us? Don¡¯t think for a second that we are grateful, not at all. Don¡¯t you know a prisoner of war would rather starve than to be fed the scraps thrown at him by his captivator?¡±


¡°Exactly what are you implying, you intolerable brat? How dare you talk back? Curse the day when you and your twin were brought here,¡± the head snapped, knocking Eron down with a wooden staff and beating him. How could a seven year old talk like an adult? Being humiliated in front of all the children sparked her anger. Yes, despite the red mark streaked across the boy¡¯s cheek and clothes that were faded and overlarge on his slim, light-boned frame, the sweet, girlish face made him look like a dignified and mistreated young aristocrat, unfit for such meager surroundings. This agitated her more; as if this young boy was superior to her! ¡°Now, come over here.¡± Dragging Eron by the arm to the end of the hallway, she flung him into the dark and damp storage room. ¡°Stay in there until you repent your impertinence!¡±


Eron¡¯s shinbone collided into a broken chair. He could hear the lock clicking behind him. Only 1000 more yen to earn, and we would have had enough money to buy the doll. But the head had taken it all away from him, months worth of hard work. What was the use of it all? Yet, he could recall the longing in Erika¡¯s eyes when she saw other girls in the hospital showered with presents, especially beautiful princess dolls dressed in lacy frocks. Erika¡¦ she must be so lonely by herself in the strange hospital¡¦ She hated being alone.


Crawling into his familiar corner, at the far end of the small storage room, Eron sat down and hugged his knees to his chest. It was chilly and the musty smell of the room did not agree with him. His head brushed against something soft and wispy. Cobwebs. A spider, or so he thought because it was too dark to actually see it, scampered up his arm. He brushed it away in disgust. Why was he young and small and helpless? If he were an adult, he would run away far from this miserable place, with Erika. If he were an adult, he would be able to burst open that door. If he were an adult, he would be able to control this indignant anger and hatred burning in his heart.


Whether it was a hallucination or his imagination, Eron was not sure, but at that moment, he heard a deep man¡¯s voice, ¡°You are not powerless, Chang Eron. Look deep inside you and you will find me.¡± Yet there was no other person in the room. Later he would be able to identify the voice of his greatest ancestor, Chang Ruichi-sama.


I am powerless. I hate being powerless. I want to have power. I¡¯ll do anything for more power, Eron thought, clenching his fists tightly. I want to get out of here!  


A dizzy sensation washed over him as he felt a strangling pain in his heart. Then, his breath was taken away as a sudden unseen force seemed to radiate from him. First a shattering sound, then the wooden door burst open on its own though there was no wind, letting in a stream of light. The door was open; all he had to do was walk out. But, his strength had given up and he could not move his limbs. Once more, he was powerless. Eron¡¯s vision blurred and he collapsed onto the ground, inches away from the way out.




Abruptly, Chang Eron, age fifteen, opened his eyes and stared up at the ceiling of his spacious room in the wealthiest area in Tomoeda. For a second, he thought he was back at the orphanage, staring at the ceiling with cracked plaster and old spider webs. It was rare that he dreamed and even rarer that he dreamed about his childhood. Or was it a dream? Shortly after that incident in his dream, Erika had fallen into a coma and the heart surgery had failed. In result, the power within them had awakened, and they were able to leave that wretched orphanage for good. Was he simply remembering past events, reminded of them because of his recent time spent at the children¡¯s orphanage with Sakura? Either way, it left an unpleasant feeling in his stomach, as if he had vomited up some toxic waste. Feeling parched, Eron reached for his water glass on the nightstand with trembling hands. He realized that the glass was empty. Taking it, he slammed it into the wall facing his bed. The glass pieces shattered across the wall. His breath was uneven. Why was he so angry right now? What reason did he have to be? Was it because of the dream? Why would he feel infuriated from that? It was a thing of the past. Or was it because he was reminded that even now, he felt trapped and powerless? Because he realized that there was no change from then or now?


¡°Eron, what¡¯s the matter?¡± Erika asked, bursting into the room, clutching her nightgown around her. By now she was used to her twin¡¯s unpredictable bursts of temper, but every time he did, it frightened her, for it was beyond even her to reach out to him at such times, though he was her other half. ¡°What was that sound?¡±


¡°Don¡¯t come into the room. You might step on a piece of glass,¡± Eron replied, in the tone of the voice one would use to state that the weather was sunny.


¡°Don¡¯t tell me you¡¯ve broken more glasses,¡± Erika said, sighing. ¡°I swear, you better get rid of that nasty habit of yours before all the housemaids quit.¡±


¡°Hey, Erika,¡± Eron called out as his twin was about to return to her room.




With a queer expression of self-justification, Eron said, ¡°Strange¡¦ It¡¯s not as if I don¡¯t understand Miho¡¯s brother¡¯s feelings—yet I loathe him and wish him misery. That family has yet more to suffer.¡±


Shrugging, Erika commented, ¡°Pity they were born into the Mizuki bloodline.¡±


Eron corrected, ¡°Pity all of us born into our bloodlines; it leaves no space to pity others.¡±


¡°That¡¯ true,¡± Erika agreed. ¡°When have we ever been nice? Being cold, calculating, and manipulative; that¡¯s how we have kept up on our feet until now—that¡¯s what you always said.¡±


¡°We survived together this far¡¦ We¡¯ll truly escape some day,¡± Eron said, looking down at the shards of glass on the floor.


Laughing, Erika scoffed, ¡°Escape to where?¡±


¡°Sorry, I¡¯m talking nonsense. Go back to sleep. Sorry to wake you.¡±


After his twin left the room, puzzled at her twin who never apologized, Eron slipped out of his bed and walked towards the balcony extended from his room, ignoring the glass shards which cut his bare foot. The night wind was cold, not that he felt cold. Ever since nine years ago, he never felt hot nor cold, nor sad nor happy. Emotionless.


A figure with a long black cloak stood on top of a nearby tree, and Eron nodded to it. The Magician, sly as a cat and cunning as a mouse. With a magnificent bow to Eron, the Lord of the Dark Forces, the Magician leaped away and evaporated into thin air. The corner of Eron¡¯s lip curving up; inflicting misery upon other people¡¯s lives was what he lived for.   




From another part of the neighborhood, not too far from the Chang estate, Hiiragizawa Eriol, residing in the old Reed mansion, also stared out into the neighborhood, graver than he had been in months. It might have been because he had another flash of fore-vision or maybe because Tanaka Mikai had come to visit Miho again. Even his two most trusted confidants, Ruby Moon and Spinel Sun let him be as Eriol sighed into the velvet darkness.   




¡°It¡¯s a relief that there haven¡¯t been any earthquakes over the past few days,¡± Naoko said, setting down the local newspaper on the table after school, during the journalism club meeting.


¡°The damage caused to buildings is pretty considerable, though,¡± Chiharu said. ¡°And there are still many patients in the hospital being treated.¡±


Holding up a sheet almost full with names of Seijou Junior High Students, Miho said, ¡°The articles covering our first encounter doing volunteer work at Kinhoshi Hospital was a hit. See, these are all the people who signed up for volunteer service hours, inspired by our articles.¡± Setting down the list with a satisfied sighed, she asked, ¡°Well, what hot news is there in the newspaper these days?¡±


¡°Obviously, it¡¯s Kaitou Magician,¡± Naoko said, staring with shining eyes through her glasses at her Kaitou Magician scrapbook, with every single clip about him from the newspaper. ¡°I wonder what he¡¯s up to stealing now. A sapphire ring or a diamond necklace?¡±


¡°I hope he falls down a rooftop and breaks his neck,¡± Meilin said, through clenched teeth, her broken leg placed on a chair in front of her. She had left the hospital because the doctor refused to keep her any longer, despite her protests. For the past few days, she had learned how to hop around on crutches in Syaoran¡¯s apartment, annoying him immensely by knocking over everything and leaving dents in the floor. Today, she was visiting the journalism club—Tomoyo had given her a ride to school in her chauffeured car.


¡°No! He would never make such a stupid mistake,¡± Chiharu exclaimed. Then she blinked. ¡°Meilin-chan, is your leg okay? How did you break it, anyway? I thought you would be back in Hong Kong by now.¡±


¡°Ah, it¡¯s nothing; it¡¯ll be all healed in a month or so, if I¡¯m careful,¡± Meilin waved off. Holding up a pen she said, ¡°Sign my cast.¡± Then she sighed, fingering the first signature on her cast. ¡°My darling Meilin, I have faith in you to have faith in me.¡± Signed in elaborate English letters, ¡°K.M.¡± Her last few days in the hospital had been so boring and tiresome since Kai didn¡¯t come visit anymore. He wasn¡¯t even at school. Where was he, and why did she always feel concerned when he wasn¡¯t around, yet annoyed when he was?


¡°Where are all the journalism club members, anyway?¡± Sakura asked, looking around the vacant room.


¡°Aki-kun is in basketball practice again. Mizuki-kun is absent from school as usual. Eron-kun too. And I don¡¯t know about Syaoran-kun,¡± Takashi said, poking Chiharu¡¯s neck with a pen tip, leaving black dots without her knowledge.


¡°Oh yeah, we have the long awaited field trip to the museum tomorrow,¡± Naoko exclaimed. ¡°We will finally be able to see the ¡°Thief of the Night¡± piece by the artist Shing-sama. It¡¯s gaining great popularity these days because the whole Kaitou Magician crisis is beginning again.¡±


¡°Kaitou Magician crisis?¡± Sakura repeated, thinking she didn¡¯t like the term at all. I wonder why Syaoran didn¡¯t come to school.




The students were very eager the next day to go on the long postponed field trip. After the tedious weeks of studying after the excitement of the Star-Crossed musical, the students needed a diversion. There were students who cared little about art, however were just excited to escape from classes.


The key exhibition in the museum was the renowned artist Shing¡¯s ¡°Thief of the Night¡± piece, currently on loan by the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Arts. It was a fairly large piece set in an intricate rose-design golden frame. The central figure, of course, was the notorious Thief of the Night leaping into the night sky, an indecipherable lean and agile figure, cloaked in ebony and silhouetted by the full moon, tall skyscrapers in the background. Though the facial features was blurred since the thief¡¯s identity was unknown, the distinguishing factor of the painting was the ingenious way in which the paintbrush caught movement, the way the cloak fanned out behind the thief¡¯s straight back, the careless toss of the head, the line from the neck to the shoulder, the grace yet ruthlessness present in his lithe form. It was a painting which captured the shapeless wind.


For what seemed like hours, Sakura stood in front of the painting, marveling at how well it captured the spirit of Kaitou Magician. Once more, Sakura was deeply impressed by Shing-san¡¯s ability to enclose a split second of time into his timeless painting.        


¡°Look, it says in this pamphlet that Shing-san was inspired to paint this piece after seeing Kaitou Magician momentarily through his window in his mansion in New York, last winter,¡± Chiharu said, reading off the museum pamphlet. ¡°Shing-san said that he was so spellbound by the grace, wildness, and loneliness set on the back of one man when he caught a glimpse of the phantom thief, that he lost all reasoning and watched the Thief of the Night run off without even thinking that something important might have been stolen from him.¡±


¡°Hmmm, not bad, not bad,¡± an amused drawling voice came from behind Sakura. ¡°But not as good-looking as its actual model, don¡¯t you agree, Sakura-chan?¡±


¡°Kai-kun!¡± Sakura exclaimed, recognizing the arrogant yet smooth tone at once. ¡°You¡¯re back?¡±


¡°Did I ever go anywhere?¡± Kai asked, raising an eyebrow.


¡°You actually showed up,¡± Sakura awed at Kai¡¯s nonchalance yet relieved. Now if only Syaoran would return; he wouldn¡¯t even answer his cell phone. ¡°I thought you were hiding out or something.¡±


¡°Why do I need to hide out? We have a field trip today, so no school work,¡± Kai said, smiling broadly. ¡°You should by now be used to my momentary disappearances.


Sighing, Sakura thought, What a simplistic guy. One would think that having your name and picture posted up on the front page of national newspaper for the past week is no big deal at all. Well, maybe it isn¡¯t for him. ¡°We¡¯ve all been worrying about you. Oh yeah, and Meilin has been released from the hospital.¡±


¡°I know. I was the one who told the doctor to release her, saying that she¡¯s fine, but she¡¯s just faking her prolonged illness,¡± Kai said. ¡°Oops I wasn¡¯t supposed to say that.¡±


¡°So, do you have any explanations?¡± Sakura said, crossing her arms.


¡°Don¡¯t get all tough and mighty like Syaoran-kun or Meilin-chan,¡± Kai said. ¡°I thought at least Sakura-chan would be sympathetic. Anyway, I haven¡¯t been stealing anything, really.¡±


¡°Then why is your name all over the newspaper?¡± Sakura hissed, careful not let others overhear their conversation.


¡°Beats me,¡± Kai shrugged off, flippant as usual.


¡°Have you even been seeing the news these days?¡± Sakura asked, exasperated.


¡°Another awing piece by Shing-san,¡± Eron mused, walking between Kai and Sakura as he contemplated over the painting. ¡°I marvel the artist for such dramatization of a mere scum. But to an artist, his model is like his own flesh and blood, his masterpiece his very own child. It¡¯s only natural that Shing-san could capture such fire and soul into his painting. As they say, a father is blind to his child¡¯s flaws.¡±


¡°Oh shut up, Eron-kun, pretending to know such much about fine arts,¡± Kai said, shaking his head in disgust. ¡°I hate people who try to sound smart with no clue about what they are truly saying¡±


¡°Better than simply being stupid; after all, the ignorant little black bird who wanted to fly to the moon, attracted by its celestial golden glow, died in attempt,¡± Eron replied with an afflicted smile. ¡°See you around, Sakura-san, Mizuki-kun.¡± He walked off with a wave of his arm.


¡°Damn, I would love to crush that bastard,¡± Kai said through gritted teeth. ¡°Say, why do you bother being civil to him, Sakura?¡±


¡°He¡¯s not that bad,¡± Sakura replied, staring at Eron¡¯s back. ¡°He even stopped the earthquakes to prevent innocent people from being injured.¡±


¡°That makes him a martyr,¡± Kai said, crossing his arms skeptically. That Chang Eron, who had eyes which stated boldly that he knew everything about Kaitou Magician; those daunting eyes made him feel like a crow with wings clipped. As if reading his thoughts, Eron, from down the exhibition hallway, looked back and smirked in his cat-like way, before walking on. A piercing note sounded in Kai ears, and he grimaced at the throb in his eardrums. Even in the stillness of indoors, an uncanny breeze swept through him. Frowning, Kai asked, ¡°Did you feel it?¡±


¡°Yeah, it feels like the Wave again.¡± Sakura braced herself. Another earthquake? No, the ground was stable. An electrifying aura went through her brain. For a second, everything became silent in the hectic museum, as if all sound was blocked. The sensation cleared in a matter of seconds.




After eating dinner with her father, Sakura unconsciously headed over to Syaoran¡¯s apartment, wondering why he hadn¡¯t been showing up at school. Did he catch a cold, maybe? Or was he simply keeping Meilin company? Though seeing Shing¡¯s latest masterpiece was interesting, she had to admit that the long-awaited field trip had been a disappointment, mainly because Syaoran hadn¡¯t been there with her.


Without much thought, Sakura took out Syaoran¡¯s apartment keys and opened the front door. To Kero-chan, residing in her bag, she warned, ¡°Now behave, okay?¡± There was not a single person in the Li household who Kero-chan got along with, including Syaoran, Meilin, and Wolfie-chan.


¡°Humph. What do you take me for?¡± Kero-chan grumbled, flying into the house.


¡°Gah, you surprised me!¡± Meilin exclaimed, having hobbled over to the front door when she heard it swing open. ¡°How did you get in?¡±


¡°Oh, sorry,¡± Sakura apologized. ¡°I forgot to return the keys, and I just opened the door out of habit. Is Syaoran home? Has he been sick? He hasn¡¯t come to school these past few days.¡±


¡°Well¡¦¡± Meilin hobbled back to the couch. ¡°Actually, he hasn¡¯t been home for the past couple of days, after bringing me back from the hospital. He walked out with a duffel bag and told me that he had an important errand, so he wouldn¡¯t be home for a while—didn¡¯t know it would be this long. How mean! Still, he apologized to me for just leaving me like this and just left.¡± Shaking her head, she muttered, ¡°Learning bad habits from our delinquent next door neighbor.¡±


¡°Kai-kun came to the school field trip today, to see his self-portrait,¡± Sakura said to diverge the subject from Syaoran and hide how shocked she was to hear about Syaoran¡¯s sudden disappearance. Why had Syaoran, out of all people, disappeared so abruptly? A desperate feeling crept down her spine; did something happen? Trying to sound cheerful, she continued, ¡°Now that I think of it, Kai must have gone to the museum to see himself up on the walls.¡±


¡°I¡¯ve washed my hands of that jerk,¡± Meilin said, tilting her chin up haughtily.


¡°I¡¯m hurt that Meilin-chan turned so cold,¡± Kai said, seated on the windowsill and holding his hand to his heart in exaggerated sorrow.


His pet parrot, yellow today, and perched on Kai¡¯s shoulder, echoed, ¡°So cold, so cold.¡±


Bolting up in annoyance, Meilin demanded, hands on hips, ¡°Who made me this way? Oww!!!¡± She put too much pressure on her broken leg and fell over. She muttered, ¡°I¡¯ll never forgive him for abandoning me in the hospital like that.¡±


¡°Oh yeah, Meilin-chan, why were you faking illness to stay in the hospital?¡± Sakura asked.


Glaring at Kai, Meilin demanded, ¡°Did you tell her that? You blabbermouth!¡±


¡°Arf arf!¡± Wolfie-chan leaped towards Kai and began nibbling his ankle.


Without second thought, Kai kicked Wolfie-chan way across the room.


¡°Ho ho¡¦ Serves the annoying pup right,¡± Kero-chan gloated as the puppy whimpered, hurt. ¡°Good. Syaoran-kun¡¯s not even here to scowl at me.¡±


¡°Kai-kun!¡± Sakura exclaimed in horror, running to help Wolfie-chan up. ¡°You¡¯re absolutely horrid.¡±


Grinning without any remorse, Kai replied, ¡°I know.¡±


¡°Kai-kun, help me up!¡± came a voice from the window. With the help of Kai, Tomoyo climbed in through the windowsill, holding yet another new camcorder.  


¡°What are you doing, entering through the window, Tomoyo-chan?¡± Meilin asked, aghast.


Brushing the dust off her dress, Tomoyo shrugged, starry eyed. ¡°So what? It¡¯s fun! Besides, Kai-kun promised me to teach me all the methods of becoming an effective spy, and this is just stage one. Once I master all ten steps, I will be able to videotape everything I want, in secret! I¡¯m not over the disappointment of not being able to record Syaoran-kun and Sakura-chan¡¯s secret first kiss.¡±


¡°W-what first kiss?¡± Sakura stammered, turning red; there was no hiding anything from Tomoyo.


Ignoring Sakura, Tomoyo dabbed her forehead with a handkerchief. ¡°Whew¡¦ But I don¡¯t think I¡¯m not up to the physical stamina yet; I had to use a ladder.¡±


Both Sakura and Meilin sweat-dropped. The ways of a thief simply did not suit Tomoyo¡¯s genteel disposition. Still, the concept of surreptitiousness did.


¡°So, now that everyone, sans Syaoran is gathered, what¡¯s for dinner, Meilin-chan?¡± Kai asked.


Eyes slanted, Meilin said, ¡°Are you even in the state of mind to eat dinner, or is your brain just addled by lack of sleep? Sheesh, I know it all.¡±


¡°What are you talking about?¡± Kai asked in a puzzled tone. ¡°Don¡¯t you even get tired of being mad at me all the time? I certainly do.¡±


¡°Humph, do you need evidence?¡± Meilin asked. ¡°Look at it yourself.¡± She turned on the evening news.


The announcer reported, ¡°Earlier on today, 4:15 PM sharp, Kaitou Magician sent a notification card to the artist Shing-san. Kaitou Magician¡¯s next intended target is none other than Shing-san¡¯s ¡°Thief of the Night¡± piece, currently exhibited in the Tokyo Museum of Fine Arts. He has stated in his notification card that he will come to steal this piece Sunday evening, 10 PM. For the past several months, this notorious thief, once on the International Top 20 Most Wanted Criminals list, has been stagnant and hidden in the shadows. In fact, he has returned many of the items he has stolen over the past year or so though his motives remain questionable. Yet, what is the meaning of this new challenge? We will turn to Chief Inspector on the Kaitou Magician case, Daidouji-san, who will explain to us how the Tokyo Police Forces will handle this matter.¡±


Tomoyo¡¯s father, dark haired and sharp looking flashed onto the TV screen.


¡°Even several days before the day of Kaitou Magician¡¯s appearance, the police forces are heightening security in the museum,¡± Daidouji-san stated. ¡°This time, we will make sure we catch the scoundrel who had plagued police forces all around the world, because now we know Kaitou Magician¡¯s game. We are fully prepared for him. However, some parts about this case are still a mystery to us. Over the past week, the famed phantom thief has been seen in various places in Tokyo; though there have been some accusations of stolen items, no one has formally filed it with the police yet. Furthermore, it has never been in Kaitou Magician¡¯s line to steal paintings, though he will probably stop at nothing. It might have to do with the fact that he is offended with the artist Shing-san for painting him or he may simply be a narcissistic person who wants to keep his own portrait.¡±  


Next, Shing-san flashed on the screen, surrounded by the media and cameras flashing. Stroking his shortly cropped beard, the artist said absentmindedly, ¡°Why do I think Kaitou Magician wants to steal my piece? Ho ho¡¦ Maybe he just appreciates fine arts, who knows? Why did I choose him to be my subject for painting when I knew it will cause chaos? As I stated in previous interviews, I was merely fascinated by the human beauty caught in his movement, as if that young man is one with the wind—oh yes, I¡¯m sure he¡¯s young, no more than 20. Anyway, I wondered if I could capture the wind in my painting, and I think I did, though of course it¡¯s only a painting, therefore only an illusion, though a convincing one indeed.¡±


Picking up the remote control, Kai turned off the television set.


¡°What did you do that for?¡± Meilin demanded. ¡°Why, are you starting to feel guilty now?¡±


Frowning, Kai said, ¡°I didn¡¯t send that notification card.¡±


¡°Oh, I see. I knew not to trust you when you promised not to steal anymore—huh? You didn¡¯t send the notification card?¡± Meilin gaped.


¡°No, I didn¡¯t. Why would I want to steal that painting?¡± Kai asked. Flashing his sexiest grin, he replied for himself, ¡°The actual model outshines the mere replica.¡±

¡°Very funny. You can stop lying now. If you didn¡¯t send the notification card, then who did?¡± Meilin asked. ¡°You¡¯re the only Kaitou Magician that I know of, and it had your key signature on it.¡±


¡°Well, I don¡¯t care if you believe me or not, but I didn¡¯t send that notification card. In fact, neither did I steal anything ever since the Five Force Treasures,¡± Kai stated, leaping out of the window.


Hopping over to the window on one foot, Meilin shouted, ¡°Then what are running away for? And what have you been doing in the nighttime for the past week, with that ridiculous black clock draped around your shoulders?¡±


From the ground floor, Kai shouted back, ¡°Finding out who¡¯s going around, posing as me and dirtying my name, what else?¡± Out of ear shot, he muttered, ¡°And trying to recover something that is very important to me¡¦¡±


Slumping down on the sofa again, Meilin grumbled, ¡°Humph, as if I would believe him again time after time. I wouldn¡¯t be surprised if he does really get caught this time. Just wait till I tell Syaoran about this. Where is Syaoran, anyway?¡± Surely he doesn¡¯t know what kind of critical situation he is in right now, taking such holidays.


¡°I¡¯m going to look for Syaoran,¡± Sakura said abruptly. Truthfully, she was far more concerned about Syaoran than Kai at the moment, though she knew Syaoran could take care of himself. ¡°I think there¡¯s a dark force around, so I better find him.¡± Why hasn¡¯t he been coming to school? Has something happened since I met him on Sunday? Though Kai¡¯s absences seem normal, I¡¯ve always thought Syaoran was more of a responsible person¡¦ Surely he didn¡¯t return to Hong Kong? No, he wouldn¡¯t leave without telling me. ¡°Let¡¯s go, Kero-chan.¡± He wouldn¡¯t, would he?


Since it was already dark outside, Sakura used the Fly card to fly over Tomoeda, searching for Syaoran¡¯s aura. She flew over familiar areas such as King Penguin Park, the school, her neighborhood, and then flew even further. Why did Syaoran always seem to find her so easily, when it was so hard for her to find Syaoran? Then again, when was she ever put in a situation to desperately search for him? He had always been by her side. For an instant, she recalled those endless dreams where she ran and ran, chasing Syaoran¡¯s shadow.


¡°That Brat seems to have hidden himself pretty well,¡± Kero-chan commented blandly.


¡°Why would he hide?¡± Sakura asked, rather snappishly, being convinced that Syaoran certainly didn¡¯t want to be discovered. She hadn¡¯t felt this uneasy since that summer night, when Syaoran and she were being chased by the Tokyo police, and Syaoran left to remove the microchip from Kai¡¯s locket while forcing her to wait in the train. She realized that she was flying over an unfamiliar neighborhood. Flying nearer to the ground, she realized that it was a wealthy neighborhood, nearer to Eitoukou, Miho¡¯s old neighborhood, than Tomoeda. A spark of light caught her eye. Coming even closer to the ground, she realized that she was now over a huge mansion with an extensive garden and backyard, and Syaoran¡¯s aura was distinct. There was another spark of blue light. Now, she could see definitely see Syaoran, standing in the bare backyard of the large estate. He was practicing complex sword swings with his father¡¯s old sword, which was slightly longer and slimmer than the Five Force Sword, currently in Kai¡¯s possession, like all the other Five Force Treasures. A flood of relief rushed through her. Of course Syaoran wouldn¡¯t leave the country so suddenly. Syaoran was so intent in practice that he didn¡¯t even notice Sakura¡¯s presence. First, he took a step back, swinging his sword arm back. Then taking a step forward, he brought his sword arm down at a deadly precise angle, producing a swishing sound. With this powerful movement, a blaze of blue fire slashed out of the blade of his sword, like an electric blue dragon furling out in fury.   


¡°Hoeeeeeeeeee!!!¡± Sakura and Kero-chan leaped out of danger¡¯s way as the blast of electricity struck a nearby tree and rebounded out, splintering the tree trunk. The azure light cast over Syaoran¡¯s face created a rather eerie expression. Sakura hadn¡¯t felt so intimidated by Syaoran since that winter, in New York, when she was being chased by the Stalker.  


Setting down his sword, Syaoran asked into the darkness of the backyard, astounded, ¡°Sakura, is that you? What are you doing here?¡± He held out an ofuda which provided light to see Sakura¡¯s dumbfound face.


¡°Ah—you didn¡¯t come to school for the past few days, so I got worried,¡± Sakura stammered, looking around the backyard, scorched badly, obviously from Syaoran¡¯s hours of practicing. The backyard itself had already been in a rundown condition, apparent from the overgrown weeds and unattended shrubs. Suddenly she felt awfully foolish; of course Syaoran wouldn¡¯t just leave without telling her. He must have simply wanted some privacy, away from bothersome people. ¡°W-were you busy?¡±


¡°You came looking for me?¡± Syaoran inquired instead of listening to Sakura¡¯s words.


¡°What are you doing here?¡± Sakura peered at the ivy and moss covered walls of the mansion, which was obviously at one time beautiful and well-tended. Now, it was neglected and dismal.


¡°This is my family¡¯s property,¡± Syaoran finally answered, realizing that Sakura was more interested in hearing some sort of explanation. ¡°One of the Li Clan¡¯s estates in Japan. My father used to live here a short while when he first moved to Japan, back when he was seventeen, before he moved into an apartment nearer to Seijou High. Perfect because it is large and isolated. Do you want to go in?¡±


¡°Huh? Okay,¡± Sakura stammered, following Syaoran in through the wooden front door.


When the reached the parlor, Syaoran sent out ofudas which stuck themselves to all four walls and lighted the spacious room. He walked up to the fireplace and lighted it with another ofuda. Then he gazed up at the large painting hung up above the fireplace.


In awe, Sakura gazed at the painting of a stately and beautiful woman with long jet black hair which fell straight down to her waist, a pale oval face, and intense, long lashed eyes that looked golden in one light and deep amber in another, like a tiger¡¯s eye and identical to Syaoran¡¯s. The majestic lady was dressed in a deep crimson silk traditional Chinese dress, with the Five Force Sword strapped to her back. Sakura whispered, ¡°Wow, she¡¯s the most beautiful woman I¡¯ve ever seen in my life.¡± Maybe more beautiful than Mother, though this woman¡¯s beauty is different than Mother¡¯s, for this lady¡¯s face has a strong spirit, great pride and dignity. The flickering of the warm fire lighted the haughty and coldly beautiful face in the painting.


Flying up close to the painting, Kero-chan observed, ¡°This is the great Li Shulin-sama, one of the original Five Force Magicians, and also Clow Reed¡¯s mother.¡±


¡°When did this stuff doll come here?¡± Syaoran muttered.


¡°I was here since the beginning, Brat,¡± Kero-chan retorted, eyebrows twitching in annoyance. ¡°They say that Li Shulin-sama was the most beautiful woman in the history of the Li Clan, and was considered the greatest beauty in China, maybe all of the Eastern lands, during her time.¡± Eying Syaoran, he muttered, ¡°Wonder who the Brat takes after.¡±


¡°What?¡± Syaoran began, before Sakura cut him off.


¡°Syaoran has Li Shulin-sama¡¯s eyes,¡± Sakura observed. ¡°The exact shade.¡±


¡°They say that Meilin might resemble Shulin-sama, when she grows older,¡± Syaoran commented. ¡°Though Meilin lacks in the noble, dignified atmosphere department.¡±


¡°Yes, I can see a resemblance,¡± Sakura said, tilting her head.


¡°I don¡¯t see any,¡± Kero-chan stated. ¡°Li Shulin-sama was beautiful while that Meilin kid simply cannot be called stately or beautiful at all.¡±


Staring up at the portrait, Sakura said, ¡°I guess Li Shulin-sama overall ambiance most reminds me of Li Ryuuren-san.¡±


¡°My father?¡± Syaoran asked. Yes, that proud tilt of the stubborn chin, the cool, level gaze of the eye, the arrogant air, and the independent spirit all was a split image of his father in his youth.


¡°Clow-san didn¡¯t look much like his mother,¡± Kero-chan commented. ¡°He took after his English father more. Anyway, this must have been Li Shulin-sama¡¯s residence back in the Five Force Magician days, when they all gathered in Japan. Clow Reed¡¯s old house was not too far from here—that house used to belong to his father, Lord Landon Reed. If Li Shulin-sama was half as beautiful as in this portrait, it is no wonder Amamiya Hayashi-sama and Lord Landon Reed were both head over heels for her.¡±


¡°Huh?¡± Sakura looked questioningly at Kero-chan.


¡°Ah, never mind. Hey, Brat, why don¡¯t you live here too, if this is your family¡¯s estate, instead of moving into that apartment five years ago?¡± Kero-chan asked.


With a scowl on his face, Syaoran said, ¡°Can you imagine cleaning this place, even with magic and a butler? Besides, it was too far from Tomoeda Elementary School— from here it¡¯s closer to go to Eitoukou Elementary.¡±  


¡°Why didn¡¯t you just go to Eitoukou Elementary School then? Supposedly, it¡¯s a more posh and elite school,¡± Kero-chan questioned.


¡°Baka, I had to go to the school where Sakura was attending to be near her and collect the Clow Cards,¡± Syaoran replied.


Staring around the dust-covered room, Sakura commented, ¡°I think it must be very lonely to live in this huge house all alone. I wonder if Li Shulin-sama lived here all alone or with other relatives.¡±


¡°She lived here all alone, just with the servants,¡± Syaoran answered. ¡°Father used to live here alone, too, without any servants. Before he moved to an apartment closer to Seijou High.¡±


Placing her hand on the dusty mantle place, Sakura said, ¡°No wonder this house has such a still and lonesome atmosphere to it.¡±


¡°Wait—don¡¯t touch anything in this house; it¡¯s brimming with old magic—¡° Syaoran began, but it was too late.


First came the customary blinding light followed by the darkness which engulfed them.


¡°Not another flashback,¡± Kero-chan groaned. ¡°How many times do I have to warn you, Sakura-chan, not to recklessly touch portals to the past?¡±


¡°Hoe-e! How was I supposed to know?¡± Sakura cried. Yet by now, she had figured that these time-slips were especially arranged to convey important information from the past.  




Some twenty four years ago¡¦


¡°Whew, why is the house so far from school?¡± fourteen year old Nadeshiko puffed, walking down the street with directions written on paper in one hand and Moonstone-chan, a white dumpling shaped rabbit with oversized ears and wings, in her other.


She stopped in front of a huge gate, the entrance way to the intimidating mansion. ¡°Wow!!! What a huge mansion!¡± Nadeshiko squealed. ¡°How do I get in?¡±


Flopping its bunny ears, Moonstone replied, ¡°Nade-chan, you live in a huge house too.¡±


¡°This is even larger though,¡± Nadeshiko replied, scrambling over the ivy covered wall. ¡°HOEEE!¡± She fell over inside the estate grounds. ¡°Ouch, my knee.¡± Then, her ears pricked at the sound of a violin tune drifting through the garden. By now, she had learned to associate the music with Ryuuren. Limping slightly, she walked towards the direction of the music.


¡°Is it okay to just invade private property like this?¡± Moonstone whispered, thwarted by the stifling silence of the garden.


¡°Shh¡¦¡± Nadeshiko crept up towards the house, craning her neck to get a better view. Her heart thumped as she caught a glimpse of the strange young man she had met a week ago at Clow Reed¡¯s mansion and had a secret, mysterious attraction to.


Li Ryuuren, three years older than Nadeshiko, was seated on the banister of the balcony extending out from his room in the second floor, with a thick, leather-bound book on his lap and a violin propped against the banister. He wasn¡¯t reading, but staring off into space, a wistful expression on his face, which always appeared when he thought he was alone. His glossy dark brown hair was pulled back in a slender midnight blue ribbon that set off his eyes and stirred with the slight breeze.


Without looking up from the text, Ryuuren demanded, ¡°How¡¯d¡¯you get in here?¡±


¡°I climbed over the gate,¡± Nadeshiko called out, standing straight beneath the balcony.


¡°Don¡¯t you know that¡¯s illegal?¡±


¡°Do you live here all by yourself?¡± Nadeshiko asked.

Ignoring her, he turned the page of the book, rather violently. Curiosity overcoming irritation, he demanded, ¡±How¡¯d¡¯you find your way here, anyway?¡±


¡°I asked the high school administration office,¡± Nadeshiko said, smugly. ¡°After all, we must work together from now on, so it makes sense that I come visit you.¡±


¡°How does that make any logical sense?¡± Ryuuren demanded. Finally sighing in exasperation, Ryuuren set down his book next to his violin case. Then, he swung his legs over the banister and jumped off the second floor balcony, neatly landing in front of Nadeshiko. Jabbing her forehead with his finger, he said, ¡°Good day, nice to see you. Now go away, okay? You¡¯re invading privacy.¡±


Bending over to examine the overgrown weed and the tangled greenery, Nadeshiko commented, ¡°The garden needs some pruning. The weed is choking out all the pretty flowers.¡±


¡°Like I care,¡± Ryuuren muttered, rolling his eyes. Then, staring straight at Nadeshiko with his piercing blue eyes, he said, ¡°Go away; I¡¯m busy. Leave while I¡¯m asking you nicely. Don¡¯t you get it?¡± He deliberately pronounced the words slower and distinctly. ¡°You¡¯re annoying. I can¡¯t stand the sight of you. I¡¯m not going to work with you to find the Clow Book.¡± When he saw Nadeshiko¡¯s crumpled face, he paused, as if regretting his rash words.


Then, Nadeshiko smiled brightly, stating, ¡°I was really happy at the thought that we might be able to work together to find the Clow Book, containing the Clow Cards. Since we ripped the Five Force Scroll, I feel it is my duty to work with you. Yet, more than a duty, I see it as an opportunity.¡±


Heaving a sigh, Ryuuren said, ¡°This is what I don¡¯t like about you, Amamiya Nadeshiko. So ignorantly optimistic and bright-eyed, thinking everything is all fun and games, taking nothing seriously.¡±


Shaking her head ruefully, Nadeshiko replied, ¡°This is what I don¡¯t like about you, Li Ryuuren. San. You think everything is a matter of life or death. Come Moonie-chan, let¡¯s go inside.¡±  


¡°Hey, hey, wait, where are you going? I didn¡¯t give you permission to enter!¡± Ryuuren protested in vain.


Disregarding him, Nadeshiko walked down the hallway, into the parlor and stared, spellbound, at the portrait of Li Shulin. ¡°She¡¯s beautiful, like a goddess. You look a bit like her,¡± she commented after a while.


¡°Li Shulin-sama?¡± Ryuuren asked. ¡°Not really.¡±


¡°It¡¯s not like I can pinpoint a certain feature and say that you resemble her, but I guess something overall¡¦¡± Nadeshiko trailed off, swiping the dust-covered parlor with one finger. ¡°Don¡¯t you ever clean this place?¡±


¡°No, I never come in here, unless some intruder comes and comments on the cleanliness of my house,¡± Ryuuren replied, agitated. ¡°I just use my room in the second floor and the kitchen, so those are the only ones I bother to keep clean.¡±


¡°Can I see your room? I¡¯ve never been in a guy¡¯s room before,¡± Nadeshiko asked, without knowing that it was indecent to be so nosy. With a skip, she ran up to the second floor, finding her way to Ryuuren¡¯s room with ease. As expected, it was extravagantly spacious and somewhat cleaner than the rest of the house. The floor length windows opened to the balcony which overlooked the garden.  


¡°What¡¯s the point of living in such a large house all by yourself?¡± Nadeshiko questioned when Ryuuren finally caught up with her. ¡°I would get so lonely, just by the idea that there are so many empty rooms in the house and that I am all by myself in this huge estate.¡± Then she smiled sadly. ¡°And the great Li Ryuuren-sama will reply, ¡®I never get lonely, because I am so brave and mighty.¡¯¡±


¡°It¡¯s true. Don¡¯t get such silly notions about my living style,¡± Ryuuren asserted. ¡°I¡¯m perfectly fine on my own.¡±


At the defiant response, Nadeshiko stared up at Ryuuren¡¯s discontent face with sympathetic eyes. ¡°Is that so? But I think it¡¯s impossible not to get lonely around two or three in the morning, when you lie awake in your bed in the silence of the night, and you think, all around you are empty rooms, not another living being near you. And around two or three in the morning, when you feel all alone, you will want someone to be near you, maybe your mother to embrace you tightly in her arms; or you may ache to just feel the presence of another human being, the comforting sound of another steady breath besides your own, or yearn for the warmth of touch, of a comforting hand holding yours.¡±


With these words, Nadeshiko came to a pause, realizing that she had been babbling on again and stared at the floor, red in the face. At first, Ryuuren was wordless, staring at her dumbfounded. ¡°What nonsense are you talking about?¡± Ryuuren finally scoffed, his words coming out even more crude than usual.


Without asking Ryuuren¡¯s permission, Nadeshiko sat on his desk chair, leaning her head against the desk. All the happenings these days had left her awfully tired. Trying to warm Ryuuren tired her too. ¡°Did the lady in the painting, Li Shulin-sama, live here too?¡±


¡°Yes,¡± Ryuuren replied, sitting on his bed, heaving a sigh. It seemed as if this exasperating girl had no intention of leaving any time soon. ¡°She was one of the Great Five Sorcerers of the olden days. Shulin-sama was also at one time the Chosen One of the Li Clan.¡±


¡°Like you? I remember she was holding the sword that you wield,¡± Nadeshiko commented, stifling a yawn. ¡°Wait, she must be Clow Reed-san¡¯s mother then, right?¡±


¡°Yes. She gave up the title of the Chosen One once she chose to marry Lord Landon Reed of England, another one of the Great Five.¡±


¡°If Li Shulin-sama was anything like you, she must have sacrificed many things for the sake of love,¡± Nadeshiko said, eyelids heavy with sleepiness after days of using her Sight to look into the past and decipher vital information. ¡°After all, being the Chosen One of the Li Clan is supposed to be the greatest honor possible, isn¡¯t it?¡±


With a cruel smile, Ryuuren said, ¡°Well, darling little romantist, they say that Shulin-sama regretted marrying the aristocratic bastard, Landon Reed-sama, Clow Reed¡¯s haughty and proud father. Betraying the Clan is no simple matter, you know. And you know what the more ironic thing is? It is said that Li Shulin-sama didn¡¯t even love Reed-sama in the first place; she only married him for the sake of defying the Clan. Or maybe it is for revenge on her first love, Amamiya Hayashi-sama of Japan, yet another one of the Great Five.¡±  


¡°She¡¯s not listening at all,¡± Moonstone muttered. ¡°She fell asleep.¡±


¡°Great,¡± Ryuuren said, poking Nadeshiko¡¯s side. ¡°Just wonderful. Hey, Thief-girl, wake up.¡±


¡°Let her be. Unlike someone, she¡¯s been working hard each night, researching about the Dark Ones,¡± Moonstone chided. ¡°She¡¯s really been trying her best, cooperating with a grouchy, unsupportive, and selfish partner.¡±


¡°Why do you always stick up for her, Bunny-head?¡± Ryuuren grumbled. ¡°Making me the bad one.¡±


¡°Well, you only slapped her and sprained her wrist and¡¦¡± Moonstone jabbered on.


¡°Shut up,¡± Ryuuren snapped, staring at Nadeshiko¡¯s tranquil sleeping face. ¡°Only someone as ignorant as her can have such a dumb sleeping expression.¡±


¡°Humph, and inside, you¡¯re thinking, has an angel fallen in through the window, aren¡¯t you?¡± Moonstone said slyly. ¡°Anyway, Nade-chan and I found out something interesting about the Dark Ones.¡±


¡°What?¡± Ryuuren asked, clearly uninterested.


¡°The Dark Ones are descendents of one of the Great Five, Chang Ruichi-sama, who had a Chinese father and Japanese mother. Supposedly he had a twin sister, Chang Risa who also had the Gift but had poor health so never grew to reach her full potential power. Not much was known about her, at all, since she was her twin¡¯s shadow—her name rarely comes up in the magic world¡¯s history since she was not one of the Great Five. One way or another, Chang Ruichi-sama eventually turned against the other members of the Circle of the Five Force Treasures, and broke the bond of the Great Five, sinking deeper and deeper into black magic, supposedly because he was betrayed by the other Great Four. After death, Ruichi-sama and his twin sister¡¯s vengeful spirit possessed the souls of each twin born in the Chang line, hungry for revenge, finishing unfinished business.¡±   


¡°Twins of the Chang line?¡± Ryuuren repeated blankly. ¡°Thinking about it, there¡¯s a guy with the sir name Chang in my class. He transferred from Shanghai or something. But as far as I am concerned, he doesn¡¯t have a twin.¡±


¡°Trust me, there must be a twin hiding somewhere, or else the Dark Ones wouldn¡¯t have been able to regain power,¡± Moonstone said.


¡°Until now, I¡¯ve always thought that the Dark Ones had reincarnated themselves. Instead, they revive themselves and develop their powers through possessing the souls of the twins of their blood. Hmm¡¦Interesting. So, it was a curse in the Chang bloodline.¡± Ryuuren was left to ruminate.


¡°Well, Nade-chan has spent the past couple of days trying to dig up information from the past with her special powers, so she must be exhausted by now, and she came all the way here to tell you this, but you were so supportive of her,¡± Moonstone scolded. ¡°So you better leave her alone while I go out and check if the Dark Ones are up to anything.¡± Saying this, Moonstone flew out of the room, snickering, ¡°He he¡¦ Perfect love-love atmosphere for them without my presence.¡±  


Staring at Nadeshiko¡¯s placid face, Ryuuren muttered, ¡°Such an idiot. Doesn¡¯t she know better than to fall asleep in a stranger¡¯s bedroom? She¡¯s lucky that I¡¯m a decent guy.¡± Roughly, he nudged her shoulder. ¡°Hey, Thief-girl, go home and sleep; it¡¯s evening already. You¡¯re parents must be worrying about you, hmm?¡±


Half opening her ocean green eyes, Nadeshiko murmured in a sleepy voice, ¡°Don¡¯t have parents. And Grandfather¡¯s away on a business trip, anyway.¡±


¡°So no ones home for you either, eh?¡± Ryuuren asked, quietly hiding his shock at learning that Nadeshiko was an orphan. How was she so bubbly and happy then? It made no sense to him. Could it be that she too was lonely and lost deep inside, yet managed to fool everyone with that cheerful smile? ¡°Hey, if you sleep here, you¡¯re going to get a backache. Here, sleep on the bed.¡± Gently, Ryuuren helped her up.


¡°Hmm?¡± Obediently, Nadeshiko stood and sleepwalked as Ryuuren guided her by holding onto her hand and walking her slowly towards the bed. Collapsing onto the bed without protest, Nadeshiko continued to sleep without any awareness of where she was. Neither did she let go of Ryuuren¡¯s large hand.


¡°Hey, let go,¡± Ryuuren said, half-heartedly, staring at Nadeshiko¡¯s slender white hands grabbing onto his single forefinger with surprising insistence.


¡°Don¡¯t leave me alone,¡± Nadeshiko murmured. ¡°I don¡¯t want to be left all alone again.¡±


¡°Shh¡¦ I won¡¯t leave you, all right? See, you are a little girl, after all.¡± With his free hand, Ryuuren drew the blanket over Nadeshiko, still in her school uniform. She did not stir, for she was now in deep sleep, her closed eyes fluttering ever so slightly. He bent over her head, so close that his lips could almost touch her cheek. Her steady, soft breath blew on his cheek and her chest heaved up and down in a content sigh. The hand grabbing his own were warm and somewhat comforting, like a baby¡¯s hand. Carefully, Ryuuren stroked Nadeshiko¡¯s cheek which were flushed. Until now, he had not known how soft a person¡¯s skin could be, like the skin of a golden-pink peach. Yes, this was the feeling of having another living being next to you, this safe, reassuring, and soothing feeling.    


Until now, Ryuuren had not known what it meant to be lonely. Ever since he was a child, he had lived alone in one of the many large houses in the Li Clan grounds, with some servants, near the House of the Great Elder. Yet, having this girl sleeping so peacefully on his bed made him realize how forlorn he had been until now, how after she left, he would lie awake at three in the morning, listening to the stillness of the night without hearing another single human breath besides his own jagged breathing or the comforting warmth of touch; and he would have the dreadful awareness that all around him were empty rooms, without another living soul near, that he was alone in that huge house, left to smother in the silence.


¡°Such a dumb girl, thinking that someone as I would know what loneliness is,¡± he muttered, taking a strand of her long glossy curl and bringing it to his lips. ¡°I hate simplistic, stupid girls like you,¡± he continued, half-heartedly.

I have to get out of this huge house, he thought to himself, before his eyes started growing heavy also, in his kneeled position on the floor next to the bed. Her hair smelled of sweet spring flowers glazed in morning dew.




¡°Hey, Syaoran,¡± Sakura said, cheeks pink, when they found they had returned to their time, in front of Li Shulin¡¯s portrait. ¡°Why do we always run into our parents¡¯ mushy mushy scenes?¡±


With slanted eyes, Syaoran heaved a sigh. ¡°Beats me. Maybe that¡¯s all they did; have lovey-dovey moments.¡±


¡°Humph, you have no right to say anything,¡± Kero-chan muttered, recalling several distinct incidents. Realizing that he was likely to earn a blow on the head by Syaoran¡¯s thunder fist, Kero-chan quickly added, ¡°Anyway, we seemed to have learned some valuable information.¡±


¡°Yes, I didn¡¯t realize that there was a curse on all the twins born in the Chang bloodline,¡± Sakura said, carefully thinking things out. ¡°Which means that Eron and Erika¡¯s souls must be possessed by the original Legendary Dark Ones, Chang Ruichi-sama and Chang Risa-sama; they are bound by blood to carry out the revenge of their ancestors, though they have their own mind. I figured out some time ago, that they probably weren¡¯t mere reincarnations of the original Dark Ones, like Clow-san and Eriol-kun, neither were they merely Chosen Ones of their family. That¡¯s it! I¡¯m sure Eron-kun and Erika-chan want to escape from the curse, but can¡¯t because of the family honor and revenge business. That¡¯s why we must save them! Then, everything will be okay.¡± Sakura clapped her hands together in excitement.


In disgust, Syaoran said, ¡°As if it¡¯s as simple as a matter of saving someone.¡±


¡°What?¡± Sakura¡¯s eyebrows furrowed down in deep frustration; she hadn¡¯t been this irritated by Syaoran¡¯s words since her encounter with the Fate.


¡°Eron and Erika are not so stupid as to be controlled by their ancestors because of a curse,¡± Syaoran continued. ¡°They are clearly aware of their own actions and the fact that they are borrowing power from Ruichi-sama and Risa-sama doesn¡¯t change the fact that those two are the ones plotting and taking action against us and those two are the modern worlds¡¯ Dark Ones. Their souls are being controlled, not their minds or hearts.¡±


¡°Why would Eron and Erika want to attack us, unless they are being controlled by the original Dark Ones?¡± Sakura asked. ¡°If we remove the ancestors spirits controlling the Eron and Erika, then we won¡¯t even have to harm them, and everything will be resolved. Though that itself of course is not that easy.¡±


Shaking his head, Syaoran muttered, ¡°What will you do when you no longer have me around to look over you and warn you of all the wolves in sheep¡¯s clothing out there? Can¡¯t you tell those two are acting of their own accord? They¡¯re the ones scheming, plotting, and manipulating us.¡±


Agreeing with Syaoran for a change, Kero-chan added, ¡°Really, the Wolf kid has a point there. What will you ever do without him around?¡±


Ignoring both Syaoran and Kero-chan, Sakura pointed up at the tree tops, where a figure in a long black cloak was jumping from tree to tree, quick as the wind. ¡°Look, isn¡¯t that Kaitou Magician?¡±


¡°What is he doing?¡± Syaoran asked, peering up.


¡°Looks like the rumors must have been true,¡± Sakura said, ruefully. ¡°And I wanted to trust Kai-kun so much. It¡¯s said on the news that his next target is the ¡°Thief of the Night¡± piece by Shing-san.¡±


¡°What ever does that guy have in mind?¡± Syaoran asked. ¡°Hey, we better start heading back; it¡¯s getting really late.¡±


¡°You still didn¡¯t tell me why you didn¡¯t come to school for the past few days,¡± Sakura reminded, as they walked out the house and Syaoran carefully locked the front door.


¡°Oh. I was simply meditating,¡± Syaoran said. ¡°And thinking things over.¡±


¡°What for?¡±


¡°To become a wiser person,¡± Syaoran said flatly. ¡°Though I realized that the more one seeks for wisdom, the more foolish one becomes.¡±


¡°Hahaha! That¡¯s funny. Doesn¡¯t sound like something that will come from you,¡± Sakura chuckled.


¡°Also, I was training for a higher level sword wielding technique that my cousin Leiyun had been teaching me, before he¡¦ before he disappeared,¡± Syaoran continued. ¡°Though I learned many things over the past six years after his disappearance, I could never bring myself to master that technique. Recently, I had the inspiration to resume training, kind of a self-test to see how far I have come in terms of my powers.¡±


¡°And did you master the technique now?¡±


¡°I guess. It¡¯s supposed to work better with the Five Force Sword though,¡± Syaoran said, gazing sheepishly at the scorched garden.


¡°Amazing!¡± Sakura clapped. ¡°Syaoran was in an extensive training session! But still, you shouldn¡¯t skip school like that.¡±


¡°Did I make you worry?¡± Syaoran asked, raising a dark eyebrow.


Looking down at her feet, Sakrua replied frankly, ¡°Well¡¦ yes.¡± For some, Syaoran looked satisfied. Then she blurted out, ¡°I thought you suddenly were called back to Hong Kong again or something.¡±


With one of his rare heart-warming smiles, Syaoran said, ¡°As if such a thing would happen. I¡¯m sorry. I promise I won¡¯t disappear without warning you first.¡±


¡°I would rather that you promise that you simply won¡¯t disappear,¡± Sakura returned in a lightly joking manner. ¡°You¡¯re quite prone to do so without any notice.¡± Inside her heart, Sakura sighed in relief. Truthfully, she really had worried when Syaoran had disappeared for the past few days; she had thought something had happened. Yet, all her worries evaporated with Syaoran¡¯s warm smile.


Syaoran was thoroughly relieved that Sakura didn¡¯t ask any further questions. As they walked out of the gates, he commented, ¡°I must say, your mother¡¯s sixth sense was amazing—she could find out everything about the past with her powers. In that aspect, she must be almost on par with the great Clow Reed. Speaking of Clow Reed, doesn¡¯t that person look familiar?¡±


Hovering to the person pacing down the street in a listless, un-Eriol like manner, Kero-chan asked, ¡°What are you doing here?¡±


¡°Eriol-kun; is that you?¡± Sakura called, into the dark streets.


¡°Sakura-san?¡± Eriol stared up, startled.


¡°What are you doing here, at this time?¡± Sakura asked. ¡°Is there a dark force near here?¡±


Regaining composure, Eriol replied, ¡°I was just taking a walk.¡±

¡±Is Miho-chan with you?¡± Sakura looked around to find that Eriol was alone.


¡°She¡¯s out with Tanaka Mikai-san,¡± Eriol said in a tired voice. ¡°And by the way, you probably know it too, but there are at least five dark forces hovering around simultaneously for the past few weeks, though they have been somewhat latent.¡±


¡°Eh? Five?¡± Sakura counted off. ¡°Let¡¯s see¡¦ The Wave, the Riddle, and¡¦¡±


¡°Well then, see you at school tomorrow.¡± Eriol walked off, muttering, ¡°Li Syaoran¡¯s getting stronger and stronger¡¦ Better watch him.¡±


Sakura and Syaoran gazed at each other quizzically. For a split second, Sakura felt a popping sensation in her ears and the aura of the Wave.


¡°Something¡¯s wrong with Eriol these days,¡± Kero-chan commented, circling over Eriol¡¯s head and returning. ¡°He looks really down for some reason, not at all like his usual self.¡±


Shrugging, Syaoran said, ¡°Who cares about that eccentric freak? Well, I¡¯m finished training and meditating, so we can return now. Let¡¯s go, Sakura.¡± Sakura stared off into the shrubs, blankly. ¡°Sakura? Let¡¯s go.¡± There was no response for her. Stomping in front of her, he repeated, ¡°Don¡¯t you want to return now? Your brother must be worrying again.¡±


Staring at him blankly, Sakura asked, ¡°Did you just say something?¡±


¡°Don¡¯t joke around. Come on, let¡¯s go,¡± Syaoran said impatiently.


Blinking, Sakura said, ¡°Your mouth is moving, but I can¡¯t seem to hear a single word you¡¯re saying.¡±


¡°I SAID, LET¡¯S GO BACK NOW!¡± Syaoran shouted into Sakura¡¯s ears.


¡°Hehe¡¦ That tickles,¡± Sakura said, rubbing her ear.


¡°STOP PLAYING GAMES! STUPID! UGLY! SILLY CRY-BABY!¡± Syaoran shouted once more. Then, it dawned over him. His eyes slanted and he gazed around. Definitely the aura of the Wave. Then, he stared at Sakura. ¡°Sakura, can you hear any sound at all?¡±


Sakura stared at him questioningly, tilting her head. ¡°I feel like you¡¯re talking to me Syaoran. But strange, I can¡¯t seem to hear anything at all.¡±


¡°Sakura, can¡¯t you even hear me?¡± Kero-chan asked, floating onto her shoulder. He then screamed into her ear, ¡°WAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!! SAKURA BAKA!!!¡±


Syaoran grimaced at the loudness, though Sakura simply giggled, ¡°That tickles even more.¡±


Shaking his head, Syaoran said, ¡°She can¡¯t hear anything. The Wave has struck again, this time manipulating sound waves.¡±


Having no idea what Syaoran was saying, Sakura asked, ¡°It¡¯s a dark force again, isn¡¯t it? This happened earlier on today, in the museum, also, though it got better in a few minutes. But now, I can¡¯t hear a single sound. Is this what it feels like to be deaf?¡±


Patting Sakura¡¯s head, Kero-chan said, ¡°Poor Sakura-chan. We don¡¯t even know where the Wave is, so who knows how long you won¡¯t be able to hear any sound?¡±  


Staring helplessly at Syaoran, Sakura collapsed onto her knees. ¡°Hoe-e!!! This is so frustrating, not being able to hear anything! What am I going to do at school tomorrow?¡±




Heedless of her affliction, Sakura went to school the next day. Tomoyo learned about Sakura¡¯s situation at once and tried her best to help Sakura during all conversations by always answering for Sakura to any questions directed to her. However, class times were a huge problem.


¡°Florence was the center of the glory and flowering of culture and art during the Renaissance and therefore...¡± the teacher trailed off, agitated by the fact that Kinomoto Sakura was staring off into space. ¡°Kinomoto-san, can you stand up and read out page 156?¡±


Without paying any heed, Sakura continued to stare out into space.


¡°Kinomoto-san! Are you deaf? Stand and read the passage!¡± the teacher repeated, as the classmates giggled.


Nudging Sakura, Tomoyo showed the edge of her notebook oh which she had written, ¡®Stand up and read p.156.¡¯


Snapping back into reality, Sakura bolted up from her desk. ¡°S-sorry sensei!¡±


The class laughed harder, though Sakura couldn¡¯t hear their laughter. She fumbled to find her place in the history book.


¡°Kinomoto-san, if you don¡¯t pay attention during lessons, there is no need for you to be here. Go stand in the hallways!¡± the teacher snapped. ¡°Daidouji-san! Stop writing notes to Kinomoto-san; it is distracting. Now, Kinomoto-san, do you think I am joking? Go stand in the hallways!¡±


Still, Sakura paid no heed to her, flipping through the pages of the textbook, and Tomoyo, with the watchful eyes of the teacher on her, couldn¡¯t pass any more notes to Sakura.


Finally, Sakura looked up at the front of the room, confused, to see the teacher red in the face and ready to explode. Helplessly, she stared around, searching for some indication as to what the teacher had been saying. Though she could see the teacher¡¯s lips moving, she had no clue what was being said. Never did she know how helpless one could feel without any sound at all. Now, the teacher was pointing at her and shaking her finger furiously.


Sakura. Sakura, listen to me, a gentle voice, or was it a voice, sounded in her mind. Yes, she was hearing a voice but not exactly hearing it because her ears caught no sound. Yet, the words were distinctly Syaoran¡¯s. How could she hear him?


Sakura, the teacher¡¯s really mad right now because you¡¯ve been ignoring her words for the past half hour. She got mad at Tomoyo for writing you notes, and now, she¡¯s telling you to go stand in the hallway, Syaoran¡¯s mind voice continued.


¡°Stand in the hallway?¡± Sakura repeated, out loud.


Shush. Hurry and apologize or else she¡¯s going to fail you on the history exam next week, Syaoran warned her.


¡°Hoe? O-okay. Sensei, I¡¯m really sorry for not listening in class,¡± Sakura said—since she couldn¡¯t hear her own voice, she talked unnecessarily loudly. ¡°I was distracted because of lack of sleep.¡±


Thinking the girl was being impertinent now, the teacher placed her hands on her lips and stated, ¡°Do you think that is a valid reason? Humph. Students these days; they have no respect for their studies. Probably likely that you were out late at night with your boyfriend.¡±


¡°Hoe?¡± Sakura tilted her head, wondering what her teacher was saying so rapidly. Concentrating in her mind, she asked, Syaoran, what is the teacher saying now?¡±


Huh? Umm¡¦ Syaoran turned red. Nothing important. I think the teacher¡¯s not in a very good mood today¡¦ Maybe you better just skip this lesson and go stand outside.


No, onii-chan is going to kill me if he finds out that I got in trouble during school, Sakura returned. Why was the teacher picking on only her? She sighed. There, the teacher went off again, talking rapidly and making drastic hand movements.   


¡°Hmm¡¦¡± Kai, who was sitting at his desk beside Syaoran for the first time in a long while, snapped his finger underneath the desk. ¡°Little present for poor little Sakura-chan.¡±


¡°KYAAAAAAAAAAA!!! Sensei! There¡¯s a snake on the floor!¡± one the students shrieked.


The teacher leaped away, to find a skinny black snake hissing as it slithered towards her. ¡°AHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!¡±


At first, Sakura stared around confused, as the attention seemed to be taken away from her and the teacher supposedly seemed to be dancing on the desk. Then, she spotted the snake on the floor. She turned to stare at Kai, who nodded and grinned. ¡°Whew, saved for the time being,¡± Sakura murmured, sitting down again.


Whew¡¦ Syaoran wiped the sweat off his brows; he felt even more relieved that Sakura, since unlike her, he and the rest of the students could hear what the teacher had been saying to Sakura. Having an amateur magician, professional thief as a classmate comes handy, doesn¡¯t it?


Yup. I will eternally be grateful to Kai-kun. Sakura smiled weakly when Tomoyo shot her an apologetic look for not being able to help out.


Once more, Kai snapped his finger, and the snake turned into a long black silk scarf which exploded into a shower of glitter of black and silver confetti. The girls who had been screaming squealed with excitement.


¡°Humph. Always with useless tricks and full of an inflated ego,¡± Eron commented snidely from several seats away.


¡°Poor puppet of Chang Ruichi-sama,¡± Kai muttered with equal spite. Out of the corner of his eyes, he caught Eron¡¯s poisonous glare, followed by a threatening grin and shrugged it off. Yet, that smile caught him. Eron meant no good with that smile. A piercingly high note sounded in his ears, and Kai tumbled forward onto his desk, clutching his ears. In the current chaos of the class, nobody noticed.




¡°Yummy! Lunch never tasted better,¡± Sakura stated out loud, stuffing her mouth with goodies made by her father. ¡°Thanks Syaoran, for coming here and eating with me.¡±


They were eating lunch on the roof of the school building, away from the crowd of people to avoid the chance that someone might try to initiate a conversation with Sakura. Tomoyo had lunchtime choir practice, so Syaoran was accompanying her.


No problem. I like it better up here, away from all the noise, Syaoran answered through telepathy, carefully sneaking away one of Sakura¡¯s fried shrimps with a graceful swish of his chopsticks, when she wasn¡¯t looking.


Munching on her egg-rolls, Sakura commented through mind-talk, Hmm¡¦ This way of conversation is pretty convenient, also. I can talk while eating without having to worry about etiquette, since I don¡¯t even need to open my mouth.


You chew with your mouth open, so I can see everything that¡¯s in your mouth, anyway, Syaoran replied, snaking his chopstick back to Sakura¡¯s bento to sneak out another fried shrimp.


I do not! Sakura retorted, turning red. Then, she slammed her chopstick in front of her bento before Syaoran could snatch another shrimp.


Cheap! Who fed you and housed you for months? I even cooked for you! Syaoran knocked aside Sakura¡¯s chopstick, victoriously.


Lashing back, fencing style with her chopstick, she retorted, Humph! These shrimps are my favorite! Besides, who did you laundry and cleaned the house and taught you how to roller blade?


Eww~ You have food smeared all over your face, Sakura.


Where? Sakura touched her face, frantically, turning red. Had she made a mess?


Using her distraction as an opportunity, Syaoran speared his chopstick through the last fried shrimp and popped it into his mouth. Haha~ Just kidding.


What? You tricked me! Ooh~ Syaoran, I¡¯ll get you back; you¡¯re worse than onii-chan.


Yum! Too bad you didn¡¯t get too eat any shrimps; they were the best yet, and even better because they are stolen from you. I kind of understand why Kai takes pleasure in stealing goods.


Initially, Sakura pouted. Then she burst out laughing; for a change, she hadn¡¯t burnt the fried shrimps while making them that morning. In ways, she should feel flattered that Syaoran was eating them so happily after complaining day after day that they were burnt. To herself, she thought, It¡¯s almost as if we¡¯re a couple, eating lunch together on the rooftop, him eating the shrimps that I made, bickering, reading each other¡¯s mind, laughing together so carelessly.


Did you just say something? Syaoran asked, staring at her curiously.


H-hoe? I didn¡¯t say anything!  Sakura shifted a few seats back. Telepathy was a bit unnerving at times, too. Who knew which parts of her mind Syaoran could read. Come to think of it, how could they use telepathy?


Silly, we¡¯ve been using this method of communication unconsciously for a long time. It¡¯s just that you¡¯ve learned how to control it today.


Yes, it was true that at certain times, she seemed to know exactly what Syaoran was thinking, without any words, especially in time of emergencies. Even more often, he seemed to be able to read her mind so easily. She told him, Well, either way, thanks for helping me out today during history class. I was really surprised when I could hear your voice in my mind, however. It was distinctly yours, yet I knew I couldn¡¯t hear anything, so I was very confused. Yet now that I think of it, I may have heard your voice in my mind, many times before. Telepathy is one of the rarer abilities, even in those with the sixth sense, after all.      


¡°I probably was able to hear your mind long before you could hear mine,¡± Syaoran stated out loud. ¡°It¡¯s because I understand you better than you can understand me.¡±


¡°Humph, as if you can understand things about me so easily,¡± Sakura scoffed, rather aggravated but flattered.


¡°You¡¯re rather a transparent and simplistic person, Sakura. That¡¯s not an insult, either,¡± Sakura said. Then he frowned. ¡°You heard what I said.¡±


¡°Obviously,¡± Sakura said, crossing her arms. ¡°You want me to repeat it for you? You said that I was transparent and simplistic. A more polite form of telling me I¡¯m dense and naïve, isn¡¯t it?¡±


¡°No, I mean, I just said it out loud and you heard it. It means your regained your hearing again.¡±


¡°Wow! You¡¯re right! I can hear your voice!¡± Sakura exclaimed, clapping in joy. ¡°And I can hear the school bell chime and the birds chirp. It feels like a new world, having my auditory sense back. Funny, I was getting so used to mind-talk, that I didn¡¯t realize I had my hearing back for a while.¡±


Silly Sakura, so easy to please. Syaoran chuckled to himself.


¡°I¡¯m not silly,¡± Sakura scowled.


¡°I didn¡¯t mean for you to hear that,¡± Syaoran said, dismayed. ¡°Whew, there¡¯s going to be problems with telepathy.¡±


¡°Why, do you often insult me in your mind?¡± Sakura asked suspiciously.


¡°Not often,¡± Syaoran replied.


¡°That means you do, occasionally!¡±


¡°Never said that!¡± Syaoran protested. Then he grinned lopsidedly, making Sakura even more suspicious, as he thought, But you¡¯ll never be able to listen to my innermost heart, Sakura, did you know that? The one I am thinking in right now, wishing that I can just stay like this forever, ignoring the idiotic Li Clan, not caring if I am a disgrace to my family. Wishing that I didn¡¯t feel uneasy and guilty, despising myself for feeling ashamed of myself for betraying my family.




After school ended, Sakura caught up with Kai. ¡°Kai-kun! Kai-kun!¡± He didn¡¯t turn around—as usual, he had on headphones. Jumping in front of Kai, Sakura repeated, ¡°Kai, thanks during class time.¡±


¡°Hmm?¡± Kai turned around and stared into Sakura¡¯s face. ¡°Hey, Sakura-chan. What¡¯d¡¯you say?¡±


¡°I said thanks. For that snake thingy in class,¡± Sakura repeated, patiently.


¡°Oh, no problem,¡± Kai replied, slowly. The rock music was clearly heard from the headphones.


¡°Wow, you listen to music very loudly,¡± Sakura commented. ¡°Doesn¡¯t it hurt your eardrum?¡±


¡°Huh¡¦ No¡¦Not really,¡± Kai replied, reaching for the volume control and decreasing it. ¡°Well, see you around.¡± Waving, Kai walked off quickly.


¡°Strange,¡± Sakura murmured.


¡°Why?¡± Tomoyo asked.


¡°Another one of her epiphanies, I guess,¡± Syaoran muttered.


¡°Ah, I get it now,¡± Sakura said. ¡°KAI!!! Kai, wait up!¡±


Sprinting, Sakura caught up to Kai again. He didn¡¯t stop until she blocked his path. ¡°Kai-kun take off your headphones for a moment.¡±


¡°Eh? Okay.¡± Kai took of his headphones.


Syaoran, say something from behind there, Sakura told him in her mind.


¡°Hey, Kai. What do you want for dinner tonight?¡± Syaoran asked, dumbfounded, standing directly behind Kai.


Kai didn¡¯t answer.


¡°Kai, why aren¡¯t you answering Syaoran¡¯s question?¡± Sakura asked slyly.


¡°Huh? Oh, sorry. Didn¡¯t quite catch it,¡± Kai replied, turning around to see Syaoran standing directly behind him.


Sakura frowned. ¡°Hmm¡¦ I don¡¯t get it. I¡¯m pretty sure the Wave is blocking out Kai-kun¡¯s hearing—probably went to him after it left me—yet how does he reply to all my questions?¡± Staring at Kai suspiciously, she demanded, ¡°Do you have telepathy, also?¡±


¡°Eh? Empathy? No¡¦ I¡¯m not an empathetic person,¡± Kai replied dumbly.


¡°I said, ¡®telepathy;¡¯ do you have telepathic skills?¡° Sakura repeated slowly.


¡°Oh¡¦ Telepathy? No¡¦ Why?¡±


¡°Then how are you answering to my questions when you can¡¯t hear anything,¡± Sakura demanded.


¡°What makes you so convinced that I¡¯ve lost my hearing skills,¡± Kai laughed, heading towards him motorcycle, starting the engine, and roaring off.


¡°Strange¡¦¡± Sakura murmured. ¡°Very strange.¡±


Slanting his eyes, Syaoran asked, ¡°Why do you always pay so much attention to that rascal?¡±


¡°Haha¡¦ Why, are you jealous?¡± Sakura laughed.


¡°Of course not!¡± Syaoran retorted, much too quickly. ¡°He¡¯s not worth wasting your brain cells on, that¡¯s all.¡±




Meilin was surprised when Miho and her older brother, visited her at the apartment in the afternoon.


¡°I thought that you might be bored by yourself since Syaoran-kun has after school soccer practice today,¡± Miho said. ¡°Since I didn¡¯t have journalism club meeting, I came to visit you with onii-chan. You haven¡¯t met ¡®nii-chan yet, right?¡± To Meilin, she introduced, ¡°This is my brother, Tanaka Mikai.¡± To the lean boy with a pleasant expression standing next to her, she said, ¡°This is Syaoran-kun¡¯s cousin from Hong Kong, Li Meilin.¡±


¡°Nice to meet you,¡± Mikai said, nodding his head and smiling warmly.


Meilin blushed. This handsome young man standing in front of her was a split image of an older version of the twelve year old boy in Miho¡¯s picture, the clean, preppy, mature atmosphere made a complete combination of her complete ideal guy—well aside from Syaoran, who was her ultimate ideal guy.


¡°Ah, nice to meet you. I¡¯ve heard a lot about you from Miho-chan,¡± Meilin stammered.  


Over the next hour or so, Meilin discovered that indeed, Tanaka Mikai was not only nice to look at, but had perfect manners with the right amount of attentiveness, a calm, charming voice, and a melting smile; he was too good to be true. Now she could understand why Miho idolized her brother so much.


By late afternoon, Syaoran with Sakura and Tomoyo returned to the apartment; they were surprised to see Miho and her brother there already.


¡°Li-san, Kinomoto-san, Daidouji-san,¡± Mikai recollected, greeting them.


Grouchily, Syaoran headed off to the kitchen, realizing that he had to prepare dinner for a large company that night.


¡°Tanaka-san, where have you spent your time for the past few years?¡± Tomoyo asked, sipping a cup of tea set by Syaoran.


Taking a sip of his cup, Mikai replied, ¡°Various places. England, the United States, and even China. Actually, I heard news that my little sister was staying with a relative in England, I went there, only to find that she was away in New York, so I went there. Finally, I learned that she was back in Japan, and so I finally came here to meet here after more than four years.¡±


¡°Have you visited your mother yet?¡± Sakura asked.


Nodding his head ruefully, Mikai answered, ¡°Briefly, but unfortunately she wasn¡¯t in the state to recognize me. Mother¡¯s sickness took another turn lately, so she might have been shocked to see me after such a long disappearance. I haven¡¯t realized how serious her illness was. We haven¡¯t been able to visit her ever since.¡± He looked down at his hands pitifully. ¡°I¡¯ve always thought that Miho was with Mother, not all on her own, and I realize what an incompetent son and brother I have been.¡±


¡°¡¯Nii-chan, we¡¯ve been through this before. I was okay. Mother too. At least we can all be together, very soon,¡± Miho said, squeezing her brother¡¯s hand. ¡°And we can sort everything out with Mother, too.¡±


Mikai smiled, though the guilt and rue on his face didn¡¯t disappear.


Sakura was rather surprised that they had finally went to meet their mother. Then she noticed that Tomoyo was videotaping Mikai, raptly. ¡°Tomoyo-chan, what are you doing?¡±


¡°Tanaka-san looks even better on screen.¡± Tomoyo stated. ¡°His hair is absolutely amazing.¡±


Mikai laughed good-naturedly at the camcorder pointed at his direction.     


¡°Dinner is ready!¡± Syaoran called from the dining room. To his annoyance, he heard loud music booming from next doors. ¡°Meilin, go get Kai also. I have enough servings for one more person. Oh yeah¡¦ You¡¯re leg¡¦ I better go¡¦¡±


¡°No, it¡¯s fine,¡± Meilin said. ¡°I¡¯m an expert on crutches now.¡±


Without bothering to knock, Meilin swung open Kai¡¯s front door. ¡°KAI!!!¡± Her voice was drowned in the music.


She hobbled right in front of Kai, leaning back on the sofa and poked him with her crutch; he looked up, startled.


¡°Come eat dinner,¡± Meilin said. ¡°Oh yeah, Miho-chan and her brother is over. Mikai-san¡¯s simply awesome. Oh yeah¡¦ you saw him last time, right? Isn¡¯t he marvelous? He¡¯s just my ideal type of guy.¡±


¡°I thought Syaoran was,¡± Kai said, darkly. ¡°Girls are such unfaithful creatures.¡±


¡°Oh shut up,¡± Meilin said.


Still, Kai followed her to Syaoran¡¯s apartment for dinner. However, unlike his usual talkative self, he did not speak a single word throughout the meal, and people soon gave up trying to initiate conversations and left him to brood on his own.


Miho and Mikai left early, after thanking Syaoran for the delicious meal.


Still eating desert of apple pie with vanilla ice cream, Sakura commented, ¡°I wonder how Miho was so certain that Mikai-san really is her brother.¡±


¡°Oh, I asked her a while ago,¡± Tomoyo said. ¡°And she said that there is no doubt about it; Mikai-san had a certain token which proves that he is the real Tanaka Mikai.¡±


¡°Besides, how can there be any doubt?¡± Meilin asked. ¡°He looks exactly like the Tanaka Mikai in Miho¡¯s old photograph.¡±


¡°That¡¯s true. But I wonder why Mikai-san left his family in the first place,¡± Sakura commented. She looked up as Kai walked towards the window. ¡°Kai-kun, where are you going?¡±


Without looking back, Kai leaped out the window and in a matter of seconds, was leaping across the rooftop of the adjacent building.


¡°Into criminal activities again,¡± Meilin said. ¡°God, what an idiot he is.¡±


¡°He really is an idiot,¡± Sakura repeated, sadly. The next evening was the appointed day that the ¡°Thief of the Night¡± piece was to be stolen. ¡°Something smell¡¯s fishy, doesn¡¯t it?¡±


¡°What does?¡± Meilin asked.


¡°We¡¯ve got to help out Kai-kun,¡± Sakura stated resolutely.


¡°But he doesn¡¯t want any help,¡± Meilin protested, suddenly recalling that one rainy day at the grave side, when Kai had leaned his head against her shoulder as if weary of the world, weary of the show.




At school the next day, everyone was brimming with tension because the next day was the anticipated day of Kaitou Magician¡¯s appearance to steal the ¡°Thief of the Night¡± piece.


After classes ended, Sakura waited in front of the school gate for Kai to come out; she had noticed that Kai was distracted throughout the entire day—though he usually didn¡¯t pay attention to the happenings of school anyway, he did seem slightly precarious because he couldn¡¯t hear anything, or so she believed. Kai was surprised to see Sakura standing around for him.


¡°Are you waiting for the right person?¡± Kai asked, raising an eyebrow. ¡°Syaoran¡¯s still at soccer practice.¡±


Head turned away from Kai, Sakura commented, ¡°I want to offer you help.¡±


There was no response from Kai.


Facing Kai, Sakura asked, ¡°Hey, Kai, one question I¡¯ve been meaning to ask you. Tell me, how could you communicate with me and other people for the past few days, even if the Wave blocked out your hearing senses? I certainly couldn¡¯t hear anything when I was being affected.¡±


Sighing, Kai said, ¡°Persistent, aren¡¯t you? I¡¯ll tell you, it¡¯s true that I can¡¯t hear a single word you¡¯re saying.¡±


¡°Then how¡¦¡± Sakura was cut off.


¡°But I learned how to read lips during my days in the streets. Though I¡¯m not particularly good at it, I can still make out what people are saying.¡±


¡°Oh!¡± That explained why Kai could answer all her questions when she faced him, but couldn¡¯t when the speaker was not in front of him so that he could read the lips. ¡°But I wonder why you¡¯re being affected by the Wave. What can the Dark Ones want out of you?¡±


¡°Revenge for stealing the Chang¡¯s Treasure, maybe,¡± Kai said. ¡°Don¡¯t you know, I¡¯ve been their target for the last several dark forces, ever since the Age?¡±


¡°But why? Ah, maybe¡¦ That must be so¡¦¡± Sakura murmured on her own. ¡°I just have one question to ask you, Mizuki Kai. What do you think about Miho¡¯s older brother?¡±


¡°Tanaka Mikai?¡± Kai asked, quirking an eyebrow over his blue shaded glasses. Without much hesitation: ¡°A coward, a fraud, a boneless piece of scum.¡±


¡°I¡¯m talking about the real one,¡± Sakura said quietly.


¡°So am I,¡± Kai replied.


¡°Not the one that Miho-chan met at the archery contest,¡± Sakura said. ¡°I don¡¯t think he¡¯s the real one.¡±


¡°Why? Miho seems convinced that he¡¯s the real one,¡± Kai said indifferently.


¡°That¡¯s because he had some sort of token or proof that he was Tanaka Mikai,¡± Sakura said. ¡°But something smells fishy about him; he¡¯s too perfect to be true.¡±


¡°That¡¯s wonderful, but it doesn¡¯t concern me,¡± Kai said shortly.


¡°I thought you might know who Miho¡¯s real brother is,¡± Sakura continued.


¡°I¡¯m sorry, but I don¡¯t. As far as I¡¯m concerned, the one that she¡¯s going around with is her brother, and I see know reason to suspect him,¡± Kai said firmly.


¡°Oh. Is that so?¡± Sakura replied, disappointed, watching Kai walk off. In the distance, she could see Tanaka Mikai waiting for Miho as he did every day after school.


From behind her came a quiet voice. ¡°Are you suspicious of Tanaka Mikai also?¡±


Sakura spun around to face Eriol, his glasses shimmering in the bright hospital light.


¡°That one, he feels like a human, not a dark force, yet something¡¯s not quite right,¡± Eriol continued, indicating his head towards the young man greeting Miho—who had walked past Sakura and Eriol without a greeting. ¡°I¡¯ve been watching ¡®Tanaka Mikai¡¯ for days, but I haven¡¯t figured out what he¡¯s up to yet. As of yet, he hasn¡¯t laid a finger on Miho.¡±


¡°And you didn¡¯t speak to Miho-chan about it?¡± Sakura asked, surprised.


¡°No. How can I? How can I crush her ecstatic happiness?¡± Eriol asked, rather ruefully. ¡°I know better than anyone else how miserable she had been and how rapturous she is now. I may be a coward because I certainly didn¡¯t have the guts to tell her the truth; even if I told her, she wouldn¡¯t believe me.¡±


¡°I thought he must be a dark force,¡± Sakura ruminated. ¡°But I was put off because he doesn¡¯t radiate any abnormal aura at all. In fact, he just feels like a normal human.¡±


Turning to Sakura in surprise, Eriol asked, ¡°Then why do you figure that he might not be Miho¡¯s real brother?¡±


¡°It¡¯s just my suspicions from the beginning, Eriol-kun,¡± Sakura replied, smiling sadly.




It was Sunday, and the day of Kaitou Magician¡¯s supposed appearance to steal the ¡°Thief of the Night¡± piece from the Tokyo Art Museum. From early on in the morning, police officers were stationed at all exits and entrances to the museum, and streets were blocked off.


Zooming into the anticipated crime scene with her camcorder, Tomoyo commented, ¡°Security¡¯s very tight—no space to slip in at all. How are you going to get anywhere near that museum, Kai-kun?¡±


¡°I don¡¯t think getting in would be much of a problem, but getting out will be difficult, with all the media people roaming around,¡± Syaoran added.


¡°I¡¯m sure Kai-kun has it all planned out,¡± Sakura reassured. ¡°But Kai, last time you were almost caught¡¦ You do know you might get a life sentence in jail if you¡¯re caught, don¡¯t you?¡±


¡°Wow, that¡¯s harsh,¡± Tomoyo murmured.


¡°Will you three quit following me around?¡± Kai, in his usual disguise, finally snapped. ¡°I¡¯m doing business here, and you guys are getting in my way.¡±


Sakura, Syaoran, and Tomoyo glanced at each other and shrugged their shoulders.


¡°Oh, don¡¯t worry about us and continue on with your business. We won¡¯t get in your way,¡± Sakura waved off. ¡°Hey, isn¡¯t that your father, Tomoyo-chan? Should we go greet him?¡±


¡°He seems busy¡¦ Next time,¡± Tomoyo said, gazing at her father proudly; he looked well. Looking sharp in his blue uniform, Chief Inspector Daidouji was calling out commands to the officers—this was the father who had abandoned the prosperous Daidouji Enterprise and only daughter to her mother, in order to pursue his own dreams.   


Crossing his arms, Kai demanded slyly, ¡°Is it okay to be helping me? You are the daughter of the man set on putting me behind bars, Tomo-chan.¡±


¡°It¡¯s okay,¡± Tomoyo replied. ¡°As long as there¡¯s action, I don¡¯t care which side I am on.¡±


¡°Unfaithful daughter,¡± Kai muttered. His parrot—looking like a crow since it was black today, shook its head disdainfully. Kai continued, ¡°Your father would cry if he knew you were fraternizing with his nemesis.¡±


¡°Hey, Kai, about sealing the Wave,¡± Sakura began.


¡°Later, I¡¯m busy, okay?¡± Kai said, typing things into his palm-sized pocket computer and mapping out the positions of the guards onto a digital blueprint of the building.


¡°Well¡¦ it¡¯s for your own benefit,¡± Sakura trailed off. ¡°How¡¯re you going to cautious tonight, when you can¡¯t even hear anything? You can¡¯t exactly read lips to hear footsteps or alarms, can you? Plus, you have to check out who the fake Kaitou Magician.¡±


¡°While I¡¯m at it, I¡¯m going to steal the ¡®Thief of the Night¡¯ piece before the fake Kaitou Magician does,¡± Kai replied, heaving a sigh. ¡°And don¡¯t you three try to interfere or anything, tonight. I can¡¯t take the risk of anybody slowing me down, like you guys are doing right now. Those idiotic cops have gotten a little bit less idiotic these days and have come up with all sorts of fancy gadgets to capture me.¡±


Syaoran, who had been silent for a while, stated abruptly, ¡°Let¡¯s go eat lunch now.¡±


¡°Yeah, you won¡¯t be able to have energy tonight with food, Kaitou-kun, ¡± Sakura said. ¡°Kaitou-kun?¡±


¡°He disappeared¡¦¡± Tomoyo awed. ¡°Right under our noses.¡±


¡°He must have been really fed up with us,¡± Syaoran said. All they could do now was wait until evening.




¡°It¡¯s rare for you to call us out,¡± Yue said, standing at Eriol¡¯s doorway with Cerberus behind him. It was evening and Eriol¡¯s profile was lit by the moonbeams seeping in through the wide windows. ¡°Especially since you pointed out so clearly that you are no longer our master.¡±


Looking up from his armchair, Eriol said, ¡°Thank you for coming, Yue, Cerberus.¡±


¡°You don¡¯t look like your normal self at all,¡± Cerberus commented.


¡°Something¡¯s been on Eriol-kun¡¯s mind for weeks,¡± Ruby Moon replied, flicking away her fuchsia hair and leaning against Eriol¡¯s armchair. ¡°What to do, what do say to prevent his little trustee from becoming too hurt.¡±


¡°You mean Miho still hasn¡¯t figured out that the force parading around as Tanaka Mikai might not be her real brother?¡± Yue asked bluntly. ¡°And Clow Reed¡¯s reincarnation is too kind to tell her that?¡±


¡°What a laugh,¡± Spinel Sun commented. ¡°And he¡¯s seeking condolence from his four creations.¡±


¡°What is Eriol hesitating for?¡± Cerberus asked, peering with golden brown eyes at Eriol¡¯s brooding, pallid face.


¡°I¡¯m home!¡± Miho called out, stomping up the stairs to Eriol¡¯s sitting room. ¡°Wow, everyone¡¯s gathered here?¡±


¡°You¡¯re home late, Miho-chan,¡± Ruby Moon said.


¡°Oh ¡®nii-chan and I were walking in the park,¡± Miho stated.


¡°It¡¯s not too safe to wonder around at this hour,¡± Eriol said quietly.


Ruby Moon snickered at Eriol¡¯s grandfatherly words, and Cerberus shot her a warning look.


¡°Oh for heavens sake, I¡¯m fourteen now, and also, I was with my older brother,¡± Miho retorted. ¡°When I¡¯m with him, I¡¯m perfectly safe.¡±


¡°Are you sure?¡± Eriol questioned.


¡°Yes, who can be safer than my older brother?¡± Miho asked. ¡°You¡¯re so overprotective, Eriol, it¡¯s stifling at times. I¡¯m not a baby; I can look after myself.¡±


¡°But you are under my protection for now,¡± Eriol replied forcefully. ¡°Therefore, it is my responsibility to make sure you come to no harm, for the sake of your mother and your cousin Kaho.¡±


¡°Only because I¡¯m your responsibility, isn¡¯t it, Eriol? Clow never did anything without a reason, I know. Onii-chan never saw me as a duty. I¡¯d rather be under his protection than under yours. When I¡¯m with you, I feel like I can never be old enough or independent enough to do anything!¡± Miho exclaimed.


¡°What, the brother who abandoned you for almost five years without any valid reason given?¡± Eriol asked, without a trace of temper but a cruelly factual tone.


¡°H-he said he was looking for me for years,¡± Miho replied, falteringly.


¡°The brother who won¡¯t go see his own mother, the brother who suddenly appeared out of nowhere, as if nothing at all happened, even after abandoning an ill mother and fatherless, helpless little sister?¡±


¡°W-we did go see Mother a couple days ago,¡± Miho retorted.


¡°And?¡± Eriol waited purposefully.


¡°Well¡¦ We¡¯ll go back again in a few days and try again. That¡¯s beside the point. Onii-chan came back, that¡¯s what¡¯s important,¡± Miho said, clear gray eyes thwarted. The calm, gentle Eriol never spoke to her in this manner. He was always smiling and kind to her, and never spoke to her with this harsh cynicism and indifference. Yes, this might have been the expression the greatest sorcerer in the world, Clow Reed, might have worn in foregone years. ¡°What do you know about having a family, anyway?¡±


Smiling sadly, Eriol said, ¡°I don¡¯t¡¦ I am without any family in this life, and I was as good as an orphan in my other lifetime.¡±


¡°So don¡¯t interfere with my life then,¡± Miho said. ¡°Thank you for looking after me until now, but now, I have my mother and brother. I won¡¯t have to be under your protection, intruding upon your privacy anymore. Onii-chan will be there for me now.¡±


¡°And are you so sure that he is truly your brother?¡± Eriol asked.

¡±What are you talking about?¡± Miho asked. ¡°Of course he is. Do you think that I won¡¯t know the difference?¡±


¡°Or maybe you simply accept him because he fits all of your fantasies and you are content with that. Though in your heart you sense that everything is going too smoothly to be true.¡±


¡°I don¡¯t understand you. Onii-chan is onii-chan,¡± Miho retorted, stepping backwards. ¡°You¡¯re mean, Eriol, plain cruel and mean. You don¡¯t want me to be happy at all, don¡¯t you? Have you ever truly loved before? You¡¯re not different from the sadistic, crooked Clow Reed; you have no heart. I know that for sure!¡±


¡°Is that so?¡± Eriol said, his bitter smile lost in the shadow of the unlit room.


¡°I don¡¯t want to stay with you anymore!¡± Miho exclaimed, bolting down the hallway and out of the house. ¡°I¡¯m sick and tired of being trapped by you.¡± The door slammed shut.


¡°There is no doubt you are Clow Reed¡¯s reincarnation, after all,¡± Cerberus commented. ¡°Though I admit, even Clow Reed didn¡¯t have an heinous nature; weren¡¯t you a little harsh to Miho?¡±


¡°It was inevitable,¡± Eriol replied, suddenly sounding very tired. ¡°She must hear the harsh facts and accept them.¡±


¡°You could have been more gentle about it,¡± Yue said quietly. ¡°You¡¯re not truly a cruel or malicious person.¡±


¡°Either way, I¡¯ve done what I had to do,¡± Eriol said. ¡°Now, it¡¯s up to you four to chase her and keep an eye on her until Sakura gets everything under control. Don¡¯t interfere with anything; just make sure that Miho is unharmed. Then, everything will fall into place.¡±


¡°So that is why you summoned Yue and me,¡± Cerberus said. ¡°Because you thought four pairs of eyes were better than two. ¡°Worrywart. If you just admitted to Miho that you love her like a younger sister also, and you¡¯re worried for her, how much easier things might be.¡±


Frowning, Eriol said, ¡°Just go now.¡±


¡°Don¡¯t you know that things might not fall right into place, as you expect to, and that Miho might really be in danger?¡± Yue asked Eriol, being last to leave. ¡°You should remember that while she might be hurt physically by the dark force, you have hurt her mentally and emotionally—like many before her. The latter leaves behind a longer lasting scar.¡±


Then Yue swooped out in his magnificent white wings, without waiting for Eriol¡¯s reply. Leaning back against the grand armchair, Eriol took of his glasses and closed his eyes.




¡°What is it Kero-chan?¡± Sakura asked, when Kero-chan, in his small form, came flying at her in full speed. She was already dressed in Tomoyo¡¯s new battle costumes, this time a rich dark navy blue dress with a matching cloak, the hems decorated with white beads, creating the effect of faint stars scattered across the fabric. Her hair was pulled into pigtails with matching navy blue ties.


¡°Miho-chan ran away from home—Eriol aggravated her—and now, she might be in danger,¡± Kero-chan panted, as Tomoyo tied a navy blue cloak around his neck.


¡°What kind of danger?¡± Sakura demanded.


¡°I don¡¯t know—Eriol was being vague as usual. But I think he was hinting that Tanaka Mikai might take his real form tonight. Or else, Eriol wouldn¡¯t have sent us out all of a sudden, would he?¡± Kero-chan said. ¡°Yue is keeping an eye on Miho with Spinel Sun and Ruby Moon.¡±


¡°Now tell me, why am I wearing this ridiculous replica of Kaitou Magician¡¯s outfit?¡± Syaoran demanded, stepping out of the costume van and spinning around once. The outfit had slightly been modified by Tomoyo from his Circus Carnival ¡°Magician¡± outfit. Dressed from head to toe in black, complete with a cloak and leather gloves, Syaoran could easily be mistaken for Kaitou Magician from a distance.


¡°It¡¯s all part of our plan, remember?¡± Sakura explained for the third time, hands on hips. ¡°Distract the police while Kai escapes! And I take on the fake Kaitou Magician.¡±


¡°Wait, that¡¯s not the problem right now,¡± Kero-chan interrupted. ¡°Miho-chan is in danger—she might have headed towards a trap.¡±


¡°Wait then, there is a possibility that the dark force who is going to steal the ¡°Thief of the Night¡± piece is the same force that¡¯s posing as her brother then, isn¡¯t it?¡± Sakura asked.


¡°Well then, they won¡¯t be able to bet at two places at once then, so what¡¯s the problem?¡± Syaoran asked, kicking at his long cloak in annoyance.


Frowning, Sakura said, ¡°Strange though¡¦ Why is Miho-chan being targeted, and is she being targeted?¡±


¡°That¡¯s not important right now,¡± Syaoran said. ¡°If Yue is keeping an eye on Miho, she must be safe—our immediate worry lies in capturing the Wave and the fake Kaitou Magician—and if he be Miho¡¯s brother also, we have caught two birds with one stone.¡±




¡°Whew, that girl is quite fast,¡± Ruby Moon commented, landing on top of tree, her black butterfly wings spread out. ¡°Eriol always sends out un useless errands. Yue, too bad your old master can still boss you around so easily. Then again, you must be bored because your little mistress doesn¡¯t need you often, anyway.¡±


In his small form to attract less attraction, Spinel Sun said, ¡°Just keep an eye on things; she¡¯s heading into the Kinhoshi Hospital.¡±




Panting, Miho found herself in the Kinhoshi Hospital. She hadn¡¯t realized how far she had run. Though she had meant to run straight to her brother, instead, she had come to her mother. Her mother had fallen ill again recently, so no visitors had been allowed, not even her daughter and son.


¡°Girl, visiting hours are over,¡± said the night shift nurse, coming out of the hospital room that Miho¡¯s mother resided in. ¡°Please come back tomorrow.¡±


¡°I have to see my mother,¡± Miho said.


¡°No, Mizuki-san is very ill—she cannot be overexcited by any visitor,¡± the nurse said, gently pushing Miho away from the door.


¡°Mother!¡± Miho shouted. ¡°Please let me see you!¡±


¡°Hush, you¡¯re disturbing all the patients,¡± the nurse scolded.


¡°I want to just ask okaa-san one question,¡± Miho whispered, sinking to her knees.


She recalled a week ago, when she went to meet her mother with Mikai. Her mother had looked much paler and weaker than on her first visit. And Miho had been exceedingly disappointed in her mother¡¯s reaction upon seeing Mikai; she had expected her mother to be overjoyed. Instead¡¦




¡°Mother, it¡¯s Miho. I have a surprise,¡± Miho said, eagerly, taking Mikai¡¯s hand from behind the doorway and bringing him into the room. Look, onii-chan has come back.¡±


A little hesitantly, Mikai stepped into the room and bowed his head. Then he looked up and said, ¡°Okaa-san, I have come back.¡±


For a second, Mizuki Miara coolly gazed at him. Then she crossed her arms, looking away. ¡°I don¡¯t recall having such a son.¡±


¡°Mother!¡± Miho exclaimed in shock. ¡°Mikai ¡®nii-chan has finally returned!¡±


¡°Please take him and leave the room, Miho. Mother has a headache,¡± her mother replied, leaning back on her pillow, her dark shadows under her eyes.


Turning to her brother, Miho didn¡¯t know what to say, her mouth opening then closing.


Patting her shoulder, Mikai smiled crookedly. ¡°It¡¯s okay Miho. It¡¯s only expected that Mother is mad at me for leaving without a word. Let¡¯s give her more time, and everything will turn out fine. It¡¯s all my fault for showing up so suddenly.¡±




A trickle of tear fell down Miho¡¯s cheek. Why weren¡¯t things working out the way she wanted them to? She had to find her brother; she knew Eriol was wrong about him. On her feet again, she rushed out of the hospital.




¡°Look, she¡¯s coming out of the hospital,¡± Spinel Sun said.


¡°I wonder why we¡¯re just supposed to keep an eye on her without doing anything,¡± Ruby Moon yawned. ¡°This is boring.¡±


¡°There¡¯s that ¡®Tanaka Mikai,¡¯¡± Spinel Sun pointed out to a figure walking towards Miho.


Yue just watched silently.




¡°Miho! What are you doing out here at this hour?¡± Mikai exclaimed.


¡°Onii-chan!¡± Miho stared up, relieved, and sniffed.


¡°Why, did Hiiragizawa-san make you cry?¡± Mikai demanded, outraged. ¡°Here now, Miho, don¡¯t cry. Onii-chan is here.¡±


Sniffling into her brother¡¯s shirt, Miho nodded. Yes, this was her brother. Who else could he be? Everyone around her was just mistaken.


Steel gray eyes glimmering, Mikai took Miho¡¯s hands and said, ¡°You can stay with me. I¡¯ll protect you Miho.¡±




¡°Tread carefully,¡± Syaoran whispered, as Tomoyo, Sakura, and he crept across the bushes encircling the museum.


¡°Strange, it¡¯s awfully quiet here,¡± Sakura said. ¡°Are all the guards hiding? It¡¯s five to ten, and yet there¡¯s no sign of reporters and the police.¡±


¡°Look!¡± Tomoyo pointed. There were guards sprawled across the museum lawn, unconscious.


Looking through his binoculars to inside the building, Syaoran said, ¡°Yes, I can see there are guards sleeping, leaning against the windows.¡±


¡°So this place is completely unprotected right now?¡± Sakura asked.


Whistling, Syaoran commented, ¡°That Kaitou Magician really knows his stuff.¡± Then he scowled tugging at his cloak. ¡°Then there was no point in getting dressed up like this, right?¡±


¡°But it looks nice,¡± Tomoyo stated, videotaping Syaoran from head to toe. ¡°And a nice diversion from your usual Chinese battle outfit.¡±   


¡°Shh¡¦ Look, someone landed on the roof!¡± Kero-chan exclaimed.


¡°I can¡¯t tell if it¡¯s Kaitou Magician or the replica,¡± Sakura said, creeping forward towards the building. ¡°Let¡¯s get closer.¡±




A figure dressed completely in black stepped out from the shadow as another figure also dressed in black stepped into the room containing the targeted piece.


¡°A few minutes late, aren¡¯t you?¡± said Kaitou Magician, with a crooked grin, to the imposter. ¡°Would have expected you to be more punctual.


Kai¡¯s duplicate, dressed in the traditional elegance of a magician, returned the grin, twirling a top hat around its finger. It headed towards the wall where the painting of Kaitou Magician was hung. There was no evident protection around it.


¡°Stupid, there¡¯s a laser protective system,¡± Kai began, then frowned. The imposter walked straight through the protective system without any harm. Kai held his hand forward, cautiously. A neon red thread flashed across the top of his wrist, cutting through his leather glove. ¡°Shoot,¡± Kai muttered. Yes, the Kaitou Magician replica was not a human, but a dark force. An alarm began ringing across the building, but Kai was unaware of this since the Wave prevented all sonar waves from reaching his ears.


Without paying any heed to the alarm, the Magician removed the painting canvas from its frame and rolled it up carefully. Then, Kai caught a glimpse of a silvery locket hanging form a chain around the Magician¡¯s neck. When the Magician noticed that Kai had caught sight of the locket, it shot an assertive, challenging look.


Struggling to keep his voice from faltering, Kai drawled, ¡°So it was you who captured Meilin, set those pick-pockets on me, ordered them to steal that item from me, not to mention dirtied my name! Well, it¡¯s time to pay due debt.¡±


The Magician merely smiled idly as it slipped the rolled canvas into a cylindrical protective case. Within a blink of an eye, Kai sent out a brilliant shower of light with at a top hat conjured up from the air and snatched away the rolled up canvas; he was really angry this time.  




¡°What¡¯s Kaitou-kun planning to do?¡± Sakura whispered to Syaoran and Tomoyo; they had been able to sneak into the building easily because of the lax security. Kero-chan hovered above their heads to keep guard. All they could see were flashes of blinding light and occasional clanging and popping noises from across the room. The two Kaitou Magicians were moving so fast that they were merely dark blurs; it was impossible to distinguish who was who.


From the corridors, they heard the chaotic echoing of footsteps and shouts of, ¡°The alarm went off! What are the guards doing? What? Kaitou Magician has entered the exhibition room containing Shing¡¯s masterpiece? Get up—this is not time to be sleeping! Hurry, gather the reinforcements!¡±


¡°Oh no! The police and the guards have awakened!¡± Sakura exclaimed. ¡°We have to warn Kai-kun—he won¡¯t be able to hear them; he probably hasn¡¯t heard the alarm yet, either!¡±


Chief Inspector Daidouji¡¯s voice boomed from outside the door. ¡°In here! Kaitou Magician must be in here! Hurry, officers, take your positions—at the count of three, enter!¡±


¡°Shoot,¡± Syaoran muttered, as Sakura waved her hand to attract Kai¡¯s attention. Frustrated, she rushed forward to warn Kai—despite his warning to her to stay out of his business; he was to intent in fighting to notice them anyway. In return, she bumped into some sort of invisible barrier and rebounded backwards.


Helping Sakura, who looked stunned, to her feet, Syaoran asked, ¡°What¡¯s the matter?¡± Stretching out his hands forward, he felt some sort of solid wall in front of them though it could not be seen. ¡°An invisible barrier?¡±


From outside, they heard the call of, ¡°One, two¡¦¡±


¡°Sakura-chan! They¡¯re going to enter¡± Tomoyo exclaimed, rushing to the bolted door, about to burst open any moment.


¡°I¡¯ll take care of the door,¡± Sakura asserted, whipping out her staff key. ¡°Key that hides the power of the stars. Show your true self to me. I, Sakura, command you under contract. RELEASE!¡± Quickly, she flipped out a Sakura card and ordered, ¡°LOCK! Guard the door and keep it from opening!¡±


Immediately, the door was firmly sealed and as the police called out ¡°THREE!¡± they were met by a surprisingly resistant door and they all collapsed backwards by the force of the Lock card. No matter how they pounded on the door, it wouldn¡¯t open.


¡°Whew, safe for the moment,¡± Sakura said, wiping the sweat off her brows; her last encounter with the persistent Tokyo police force in the summer was enough to last for a long time yet.


Meanwhile, Syaoran had been observing the invisible barrier. ¡°I got it,¡± he finally said. ¡°This barrier is another by-product of the Wave.¡± He whipped out his lasin board and chanted a few words. The lasin board let out a powerful ray of light onto the barrier. In result the barrier could now be seen as some sort of translucent interwoven net of neon wires fluctuating up and down, left and right, diagonally and erratically. ¡°See how the barrier is not a distinct wall, but consists of some sort of substance constantly in wave motion, networked from one end of the wall to the other, therefore repelling us and keeping us from getting through? It¡¯s the result of high frequency wave movement.¡±


There came another pounding on the door. Sakura winced. Even with the protection of the Lock, the wooden door was bound to burst with the force of at least two dozen full-grown men.


¡°Oh dear,¡± Tomoyo murmured. She didn¡¯t like the thought of her father catching her in such a place.


¡°We have to warn Kai-kun,¡± Sakura said, banging on the barrier with her hands, not quite understanding Syaoran¡¯s explanation of how it worked—science had never been her strong subject—however clearly understanding that it was the Wave at work again. It was surprisingly solid considering it looked transparent. ¡°KAI! Listen to me, the police will enter any moment now! You have to escape!¡±


¡°He can¡¯t hear you ¡®cause of the Wave,¡± Syaoran muttered. Then he snapped his finger. ¡°I know how to capture the Wave!¡±


¡°What?¡± Sakura asked. She cast a worried glance at the door, the hinges creaking. A few minutes more at the most, and the door would open before the power of the Lock would give in.


¡°The Wave¡¦ the barrier it¡¯s creating¡¦ it can only exist because of a medium¡¦ such waves cannot exist without a medium, a substance to travel through. It cannot exist in a vacuumed area,¡± Syaoran said rapidly, processing the idea in his head.


¡°So, if we can somehow vacuum this room, the Wave will not be able to exist, and I¡¯ll be able to seal it?¡± Sakura repeated, trying to grasp what Syaoran was saying. ¡°How can I get a vacuum large enough to empty this room? And I don¡¯t have a Vacuum card, either.¡±


Kero-chan and Tomoyo snickered together at the thought of the ¡°Vacuum¡± card.


¡°It doesn¡¯t literally have to be a vacuum, you know. Something that will have the same effect, a substitute of some sort, it doesn¡¯t matter,¡± Syaoran said, eying the door nervously. ¡°Hey, you think of something—I¡¯ll go out and masquerade as Kaitou Magician to draw the police away from this room. They¡¯re going to burst into this room any second now.¡±


¡°Huh? No, don¡¯t go out there—it¡¯s dangerous,¡± Sakura protested; she clearly remembered the long hours of anguish on the train as she had waited for Syaoran to return after dislocating the microchip on Kai¡¯s locket. ¡°They¡¯re armed and numerous.¡±


¡°Don¡¯t worry, I¡¯ve a good size of them after last summer,¡± Syaoran reassured wholeheartedly. ¡°And truthfully, none of them are half as scary as my training masters back in Hong Kong. Well, I¡¯m going now.¡± In a flit second, he disappeared from the room.


¡°Wow—he just disappeared. Did he even open the door?¡± Tomoyo awed. ¡°Syaoran-kun¡¯s becoming a pro at this—maybe he and Kaitou-kun can become partners.¡±


¡°I doubt Syaoran would consent to that,¡± Sakura chuckled.


From outside, they heard footsteps moving away from the door and voices shouting, ¡°Wait, the Kaitou Magician has been spotted in the East Wing! Everyone, head over towards the East Wing!¡± The clamber of the police officers became more disant.


Surveying the barrier, Sakura now could fully concentrate on how to eliminate the Wave. She racked her brains to recall anything she learned about how waves were transmitted back in science class. ¡°Hmm¡¦ Let¡¯s see¡¦ We¡¯ve faced waves traveling through three different types of mediums¡¦ First, back at the Kusakou beach, it used water. Over the past few weeks, the semantic waves traveled through the ground to create earthquakes, and for the past couple days, it manipulated sound waves which traveled through air. Let¡¯s see¡¦ There is no sound out there in space because the space is like a whole large vacuumed space... Sound waves cannot travel without a medium¡¦ I know! The Silent Card!¡±


Tomoyo hid a smile behind her camcorder. Sakura had such a cute habit of thinking out loud.


¡°The Silent can¡¯t stand any sort of disturbance at all, so in away, it forms sort of a vacuum in the room—remember back at the museum long ago when we were trying to capture it, right? We couldn¡¯t get near it because the Silent disliked any sort of noise—we couldn¡¯t even sneeze. So I had to seal it with the Shadow Card because I couldn¡¯t approach it myself. I think this might be what Syaoran had in mind¡¦ a substitute for a vacuum.¡± Twirling her pink staff around her fingers twice, she flung up the Silent card and commanded, ¡°Silent! Vacuum this room with silence!¡±


Immediately, a serene faced, rather stately force swept out and pressed its finger to its lips. Though it was a card rarely called out—because it didn¡¯t like to be disturbed from its peace—it did its duty faithfully. Sakura, Tomoyo, and Kero-chan felt disturbingly ¡°empty¡± as the room turned completely silent and was in a sense vacuumed of all matter. Sakura almost felt like she did when the Wave had stopped transmitting sound waves to her ears. The barrier flickered and they could see the frequency of the interwoven waves decreasing and gradually becoming slightly fluttering lines, then becoming wispy and hard to distinguish. Kero-chan was now able to fly right through it. A whimper sounded, and all the vanishing waves became a condensed ball, which materialized into a short, elfish creature which held in its hand a narrow blue staff with a long ribbon attached to it, resembling a gymnast¡¯s ribbon and with which it created varying wavelengths.    


¡°So, that little thing has caused all those problems for us over these past several months,¡± Kero-chan scoffed. ¡°Sakura-chan, seal it now!¡±


¡°Okay!¡± Sakura held out her staff over the cowering dark force. ¡°Spirit of the dark forces. I, Sakura, command you. Return to a new shape of contract! Sakura Card!¡±


The Wave evaporated and a new card floated down into Sakura¡¯s hand. She smiled. The Wave—another troublesome card conquered and mastered; one step closer to reaching the secret whispers of her ancestors, shrouded in mystery and convoluted clues.


They had no chance to gloat because now they were facing the Magician, who looked up at surprise to see that the Wave had been sealed. For the first time, Kai turned their direction, annoyed to see Sakura, Tomoyo, and Kero-chan, all dressed in matching navy blue outfits. (For fun, Tomoyo had made herself a corresponding outfit to Sakura¡¯s, since she now had more time at hand now that the Star-Crossed production was over.) He almost smiled at the funny combination they made, before frowning.


¡°You guys! What are you doing here?¡± Kai demanded, leaping back onto the glass case of a priceless vase, away from the Magician¡¯s reach. ¡°I told you not to butt into my business.¡± For the first time, he realized that the alarm bell was ringing loudly. He blinked fingering his ears; he had an earache. His ears were sensitive to the pressure from sound, after not being able to hear for a couple of days. ¡°Am I hallucinating or can I seem to hear again.¡±


¡°Sakura-chan just sealed the Wave,¡± Tomoyo stated proudly. ¡°Wearing my outfit!¡±


¡°Well then, good job—I¡¯m a little relieved I can hear again—I missed listening to rock music,¡± Kai said. ¡°So, bye-bye now. Leave the rest to me.¡± Jumping down from the vase exhibition with sharp daggers placed between each finger, Kai flung them out and neatly pinned the Magician by its cloak to the wall within a blink of an eye. ¡°Humph, the Magician, master of illusions, trickery, and deception, can¡¯t win against me, the master of all masters.¡±


¡°Umm¡¦ Kaitou-kun?¡± Sakura said, tapping Kai¡¯s shoulder.


¡°What, you¡¯re still here?¡± Kai asked, hands on hips. ¡°Shoo.¡±


¡°I¡¯m sorry but I kind of have to seal it, so¡¦¡± Sakura trailed off, rather frightened by Kai, who seemed especially fierce and ruthless that night.


Jabbing his paw onto Kai¡¯s temple, Kero-chan interpreted, ¡°Her point is, Brat Number Two, that she¡¯s the only one who can seal the dark force, despite your big words, and you¡¯re of no more use, so get out of the way.¡± Kero-chan was always quick in defending his mistress.


Scowling, Kai said, ¡°Fine, fine. Just one second.¡± He stepped up closely to the Magician, removing its top hat and peered at its face. It was wearing a mask which covered the upper portion of its face. ¡°As if the Dark Ones thought that they could conquer me with this useless dummy.¡±


Quietly, so that Kai could only hear, the Magician murmured, ¡°If you seal me, you seal your pretty chain with me.¡± It let Kai get a glimpse of his locket, which it had been clasping its gloved hand. Kai¡¯s eyes widened. The Magician struggled a little, shifting the daggers holding it down in place; just a little more time and it would be free.


¡°Hey, what are you waiting for? Get out of the way,¡± Kero-chan said. ¡°It¡¯ll escape any minute.¡±


Staring hard at the locket clasped in the Magician¡¯s hand, Kai leaped out of the way with carefree ease. ¡°Seal it away, Sakura-chan.¡± Once it becomes a card, there will be no means of retrieving it¡¦ The locket that I once thought my life depended upon.


¡°Okay! Spirit of the dark forces. I, Sakura, command you. Return to a new shape of contract! Sakura Card!¡± The Magician Card floated down towards Kai who observed it carefully. On its face was a tall, stately magician, cloaked in black and uncannily similar to Kaitou Magician.


He handed the card over to Sakura. ¡°I have not use for Sakura cards,¡± he stated, as he tucked the rolled up ¡®Thief of the Night¡¯ piece underneath his cloak.


¡°You¡¯re not really planning to steal that, are you?¡± Sakura asked, horrified, but more horrified at what she thought Meilin¡¯s reaction would be like.


¡°Well, I don¡¯t want to be known as a thief who breaks his words, do I?¡± Kai stated. ¡°Don¡¯t worry, after all the fuss is over, I¡¯ll by and by return it personally to Shing-san.¡±


Before any more words of reproach could be said, there came Chief Inspectors Daidouji¡¯s booming shout, ¡°Kaitou Magician¡¯s on the rooftop!¡±


¡°What? There¡¯s yet another person masquerading around as me?¡± Kai cracked his knuckles. ¡°Wait till I get my hands on that bastard. I won¡¯t go easy this time.¡±


¡°No, no!¡± Sakura quickly explained. ¡°It¡¯s Syaoran¡¦ He¡¯s out there as a decoy, to help you escape.¡± Syaoran! Sakura had completely forgotten about him. Syaoran, can you hear me?


Sakura? Came Syaoran¡¯s voice in her mind, sounding rather distant, but still distinct. Did things work out?


Yeah, I capture the Wave by using the Silent.


Good thinking! I haven¡¯t even thought about the Silent, was Syaoran¡¯s response.


Anyway, everything¡¯s under control here. Are you safe? Should we go help you? Sakura asked.


Don¡¯t bother. I have everything under control too. In a few minutes, I¡¯m going to stage ¡®Kaitou Magician¡¯s¡¯ disappearance, and you guys use that chance to escape. Let¡¯s meet up at King Penguin Park, okay?


O-okay, Sakura consented, hesitantly. Be quick, okay?


Don¡¯t worry, Syaoran reassured. This is kind of fun, watching these foolish police officers make a mess; I kind of understand what amusement Kaitou Magician must have had at times—though my family would be distraught at the very idea that I¡¯m breaking every single code they taught me, especially, the one that states that the Chosen One must be discreet and humble, and should always try to stay out of sight.


¡°Sheesh, what is she all smiling about, with her eyes closed?¡± Kai muttered to Tomoyo, indicating Sakura. ¡°Freaky.¡±


¡°They seem to have learned how to do telepathy,¡± Tomoyo replied, head drooped. One couldn¡¯t record telepathy.


Opening her eyes, Sakura said, ¡°Syaoran has everything under control—we just have to escape.¡±


¡°What are you talking about?¡± Kai demanded. ¡°Why is he taking all the glory of the hour? I should be out there, parading as the invincible ¡®Phantom Thief of the Night,¡¯ not retreating with two girls and a stuffed animal!¡±


¡°Just shut up and follow,¡± Kero-chan said, as Sakura cast the Invisible upon all four of them to escape the building without being seen.




At the King Penguin Park, they met Syaoran, chestnut brown hair tousled and cloak crooked, but looking rather proud and excited for a change. ¡°What took you guys so long?¡± he asked. ¡°I was starting to get worried.¡±


Pointing to Kai, Sakura said, ¡°He was creating a fuss about not being able to shine in the spotlight and such nonsense, and we had to drag him all the way here.¡±


Kai grumbled, ¡°Humph, I retire. You can be the new Kaitou Magician. I¡¯m not appreciated around here anymore.¡±


¡°No thank you,¡± Syaoran said a little too sweetly. ¡°It¡¯s rather a boring and tedious occupation.¡±


Shrugging, Kai replied, ¡°Well, better than being the lap-dog of my family, going when commanded, returning at a single beckoning.¡± On a side note, he muttered, ¡°Causing people unnecessary headache.¡±  


Syaoran frowned. ¡°You¡¦¡± How did Kai know about the Li Clan decision? Surely Meilin¡¦ Did Meilin tell that bastard and not me?


At that moment, Sakura exclaimed, ¡°What about Miho-chan? Could the Magician have been the force posing as Miho¡¯s brother? Or¡¦¡±


As if on cue, Yue swept down and landed beside Sakura.


¡°So, what happened?¡± Kero-chan demanded, realizing he had completely forgotten about Miho. ¡°Is Miho safe?¡±


¡°Nothing happened,¡± Yue replied briskly. ¡°Miho met up with her brother, they talked for a while, and Miho returned home a couple of minutes ago. Ruby Moon and Spinel Sun accompanied her. Seems like her brother scolded her for running away from home, and made her go back and apologize to Eriol.¡±


¡°What?¡± Sakura and Kero-chan exclaimed. ¡°That¡¯s it?¡±


One thing for sure was that Tanaka Mikai and the Magician couldn¡¯t have been the same personage because during the time they were challenging the Magician, Miho had been with her brother.  


¡°Well, it seems to me that Eriol has been overly cautious,¡± Kero-chan commented, only to be interrupted by another fight that had been sparked up between Sakura and Syaoran at the blink of an eye.


¡°When did they start fighting?¡± Kai whispered to Tomoyo, raptly videotaping.


¡°Those two can brew up a fight out of nothing,¡± Tomoyo replied, rather startled that Syaoran and Sakura were arguing; they had been getting along beautifully for the past weeks. ¡°And they take the longest time to make up because each are to stubborn to apologize.¡±


¡°Well, what is it that you¡¯re so worried about?¡± Sakura demanded, hands on hips. She was unable to contain herself any longer. ¡°You seem so distracted these days—and that time you went off to the Li estate for a couple of days—you said it¡¯s for training, but I bet that¡¯s a lie. You¡¯re keeping something to yourself, aren¡¯t you?¡±


¡°I told you, it¡¯s nothing!¡± Syaoran snapped.


¡°I could hear it in your mind. You were worried about something for the past week, though you refuse to tell me what,¡± Sakura replied. ¡°Do I mean only that much to you as a friend? You still won¡¯t tell me the things that truly matter to you when I¡¯ve always trusted you in a manner which I could confided to you about everything that¡¯s on my mind.¡±


¡°It¡¯s not about trusting or mistrusting,¡± Syaoran said, aggravated, and surprised that Sakura could have intruded upon his innermost mind; he thought he was hiding his worry so well. ¡°It¡¯s something you won¡¯t understand, anyway, so there¡¯s no point in trying to tell you.¡±


¡°Oh, so now you do admit that there is something on your mind,¡± Sakura retorted. ¡°And you¡¯re hinting that I won¡¯t be able to help, anyway, so you won¡¯t even bother to confide to me about your problems. Don¡¯t you remember this summer? You¡¯re the one who asked me to trust you. So I did. Now you¡¯re saying trust doesn¡¯t matter?¡±

¡±That¡¯s not the point,¡± Syaoran said, almost shouting now. ¡°I—¡°


¡°Well, you told me you had ¡®something¡¯ to tell me, next Sunday, which happens to be today,¡± Sakura said. ¡°What is it? Do you care to enlighten me?¡±


Syaoran stopped mid-track. Realizing that Tomoyo, Kai, Kero-chan, and even Yue were listening intently. ¡°Never mind,¡± he said. ¡°Just forget it. You¡¯re impossible to talk to when you¡¯re like this. The one who doesn¡¯t trust is you. You still don¡¯t trust me, that¡¯s why you¡¯re always reproaching me.¡±


¡°It¡¯s true; I¡¯ve just realized it now that you¡¯ve said it,¡± Sakura said, equally coolly. ¡°I don¡¯t trust you as far as tomorrow. Even after all we¡¯ve been through, I yet believe it¡¯s capable of you to walk away without second thought, leave all this behind if it is for your dignity¡¯s sake¡¦Just like Ryuuren-san.¡±


Those words speared through Syaoran¡¯s heart more cruelly than a razor.




There came a sulky nock on the door to Eriol¡¯s study. The grandfather clock in the hallway read 2¡¯o¡¯clock in the morning. Miho stepped into the room, pouting, and said flatly, ¡°I¡¯m back.¡±


Eriol looked up, startled; he hadn¡¯t expected to see Miho back that night.


¡°¡¯Nii-chan made me come back and apologize. He said I behaved inappropriately, and that I should be more grateful for all you¡¯ve done for me,¡± Miho said sullenly.


¡°Oh¡¦¡± Eriol was speechless.


¡°Anyway, I¡¯m sorry for acting inappropriately and rudely; I¡¯ve been a disgrace to my family. There, I¡¯ve said it.¡± Scowling, Miho said, ¡°I¡¯m only doing this because onii-chan told me that I have to stay here a little longer, until okaa-san regains her health; once she gets better, we will be able to live together again, and I can move out. Well, I¡¯m going to my room then.¡±


Not having said a single word, Eriol stared at the doorway. Ruby Moon and Spinel Sun entered.


Collapsing onto the couch, Ruby Moon, having transformed back into Nakuru, stated, ¡°All that fuss for nothing!¡±


¡°I say, you¡¯re losing your old touch,¡± Spinel Sun said. ¡°There was nothing abnormal about Tanaka Mikai¡¯s behavior. And if he planned to harm Miho, today would have been the perfect day, with Sakura & co. all occupied with the other dark forces.¡±


¡°Besides, since Tanaka Mikai smells like a human, he must be a human, not another dark force,¡± Nakuru continued. ¡°And he¡¯s everything I would expect from a brother—I mean, if he was a dark force or at least a fake, why would he have sent Miho back to apologize to you? Seems to me, you¡¯ve been on the wrong trail; he¡¯s definitely an innocent person.¡±


Without bothering to reply to those two, Eriol ruminated quietly. Everything they said was true—it had completely been unexpected to him that Tanaka Mikai reaction upon Miho¡¯s running away from home, would be to send her back promptly to apologize. Maybe he had been overly precautious and suspicious. Could it be, could it possibly be that this one was the real Tanaka Mikai?




The company returned to Syaoran¡¯s apartment, which was nearest to King Penguin Park. Meilin greeted them from the couch, where she had aimlessly been turning the channels with her remote control, keen on any update about Kaitou Magician. ¡°You guys are back! How did things go? Did Kai steal again? Oh, I wanted to go to if it weren¡¯t for this leg¡¦¡± Then she felt the icy, hostile breeze sweep in as Sakura and Syaoran entered.


¡°What¡¦is¡¦this¡¦uncomfortable atmosphere?¡± Meilin demanded.


¡°Those two fought again, heaven knows why,¡± Kai said, yawning. ¡°Well, I¡¯m going to bed now.¡± He headed off next doors to his own apartment.


¡°You two fought, again?¡± Meilin asked, astounded. She glared at Syaoran accusingly.


¡°What, it wasn¡¯t me!¡± Syaoran defended. ¡°She (pointing at Sakura) got mad by herself for no reason.¡± Then he paused, looking pensive. ¡°Maybe for a reason.¡±


¡°You two! This is not the time for you two to be arguing when time is precious. Especially not you¢¬ Syaoran when¡¦¡± Meilin trailed off, discontinuing her sentence before she said too much.


¡°When?¡± Syaoran prodded.


¡°N-nothing,¡± Meilin stammered. Then she frowned. ¡°You too Sakura, you should appreciated Syaoran more especially when you know¡¦ when you know that¡¦¡± Again she paused. ¡°I¡¯ve told you before how hard it is—¡°


¡°Meilin,¡± Syaoran interrupted abruptly. ¡°We need to have a talk.¡± His grave amber eyes met hers, and in an instant, Meilin got the sense that Syaoran already knew.


¡°I-I¡¦¡± Meilin was at loss of words. Panicking, she hobbled over to the table and retrieved a thick Chinese book and flipped through the pages. Her heart sank. The letter from Li Ieran was gone.


Turning to Sakura and Tomoyo, Syaoran said pronouncedly, ¡°It¡¯s past two in the morning; you guys better be getting home, especially you, Sakura.¡±


At this, Sakura, Tomoyo, and even Kero-chan, scurried out the door, with rapid ¡°good-byes¡± and ¡°see you tomorrows.¡±


Now, Meilin was left alone to face the most solemn Syaoran she had ever seen in her life, and she felt intimidated by him. Before he could say anything, Meilin blurted out, ¡°I¡¯m sorry for not telling you before; I¡¯ve got something really important to tell you too. About the Li Clan decision¡¦¡±


Syaoran finished off, ¡°Yes, I already know. I read mother¡¯s letter. I found it in that book by mistake.¡±


¡°Oh¡¦¡± Meilin set the book down and hung her head down. ¡°I-I¡¯m really sorry; I meant to tell you before, through my own lips. But I couldn¡¯t.¡± Then, she stared up at Syaoran, imploringly. How could I, when you are finally settling down here? The news would have thrown you into turmoil, for until now, you have lived for you family.¡±  


¡°You mean you thought that I couldn¡¯t handle the news that I might be removed as the Li Clan Chosen One, isn¡¯t that it? I¡¯m sure your intentions are good; you thought you could shelter me or however your mind worked. It didn¡¯t occur to you that I too have a right to know, that I¡¯m not stupid, that I know what I¡¯m doing.¡±


¡°No, Syaoran, it¡¯s not that,¡± Meilin stammered, her throat choking up. ¡°I only¡¦¡± Yet she had no words to say. This was what Kai had been trying to tell her all along, but she had not heeded his words, and now it turned to this.


¡°Even Kai knew,¡± Syaoran said sorrowfully. ¡°You told Kai about it before you even thought about telling me, when it¡¯s concerning me, personally?¡±    


¡°H-he forced me to tell him,¡± Meilin said, knowing that it sounded like a petty excuse.


¡°I thought it was strange when you turned up in Japan, a couple of weeks ago; you pretended you were here for fun, but in fact, you were sent by mother to convey the news. But you were never planning to tell me in the first place, weren¡¯t you?¡±


¡°No¡¦¡± Meilin replied miserably. ¡°I thought that upon hearing the news, you would immediately return to the Clan, as ordered. Then you¡¯d never be able to come back. So I thought it best not to burden you with such news and go back myself and tell the Clan that you wouldn¡¯t return.¡±


¡°And they say ignorance is bliss,¡± Syaoran murmured. Then, he said, softly, ¡°So you immediately just assumed that I am a lapdog, ready to return home at a single beckoning. That¡¯s all you thought I was capable of.¡±


¡°I¡¯m sorry, Syaoran, I¡¯m so sorry. I should have told you as soon as I came; it¡¯s all my fault,¡± Meilin sobbed, crouching down.


¡°No, Meilin, I¡¯m not mad at you; it¡¯s not your fault. You¡¯re just a messenger, that¡¯s all. I¡¯m just a little disappointed in my cousin for claiming to be the one who knows me best, yet only being able to see me as an incompetent underling of the Li Clan, that¡¯s all.¡±


Syaoran didn¡¯t know that mild, calm tone conveying his disappointment hurt Meilin more than words of anger and reproach.


¡°S-so, I guess you¡¯ll return, at least briefly, to clear things up with the Clan?¡± Meilin asked timidly, not looking up at her cousin in fear that she might burst into hysterical tears.


¡°What do you take me for?¡± Syaoran asked. ¡°I¡¯m going nowhere. You were mentally struggling for no reason. Well, I¡¯m going to bed now; I have school tomorrow.¡± He entered his room and shut the door.


A cold wind blew over Meilin¡¯s heart, as if the blissful childhood friendship between the two cousins had shut its door on her face forever.




Kai was surprised, when a pounding on his door sounded, well past three in the morning. Groggy from been awoken from light sleep, he opened the door, even more surprised to find Meilin with red rimmed eyes, asking quietly, ¡°Can I stay with you a couple of days?¡±


He didn¡¯t ask any questions, was sensitive enough not to, and carried her duffel bag into his room, while Meilin hopped in on her crutches.


¡°Ah, I¡¯m sorry—the house is a mess. You can use my room; I¡¯ll sleep on the living room couch,¡± Kai said, hurriedly picking laundry, empty soda cans, and video games from off the ground.


¡°No, I¡¯m sorry for intruding in the middle of the night like this,¡± said a much subdued Meilin. ¡°I-I kind of fought with Syaoran¡¦ more like, he¡¯s really mad at me right now.¡±


¡°He kicked you out of his house?¡± Kai demanded, indignant.


¡°N-no, nothing like that,¡± came the rushed response. ¡°I just felt too ashamed to show him my face. I¡¦¡± Meilin sniffled. Kai¡¯s parrot flew out and landed on her shoulder, rubbing its head against her cheek, cooing in condolence.


¡°Care to talk about it?¡± Kai asked.


Meilin shook her head. ¡°It¡¯s okay. You must be tired. I probably waked you up.¡±


¡°I¡¯m fine; I¡¯m a night owl, anyway,¡± Kai reassured. ¡°Well then, tell me if you need anything, all right? I¡¯m ready to listen, any time.¡± He led her to his room. ¡°Should I leave the nightstand on?¡±


Meilin nodded. ¡°I¡¯m sorry for bothering you,¡± she said again, as Kai helped her settle in. Her injured leg aching again, she sat down on the bed.


¡°I told you, don¡¯t worry about it,¡± Kai scolded lightly, sitting down next to her. ¡°You lent me a shoulder once; isn¡¯t it my turn?¡±


At this, Meilin¡¯s eyes brimmed with tears again as she leaned her forehead against Kai¡¯s broad shoulder. ¡°H-he found the letter, and now he knows everything,¡± she said. ¡°You were right Kai, I should have told him from the beginning; he does have a right to know while I had no right to interfere with that right.¡±


Patting her back awkwardly, Kai reassured, ¡°There now, what¡¯s the trouble? He knows now, though he found out the hard way. So, does he plan on returning?¡±


¡°N-no¡¦ I was so sure that the title of Chosen One was most important to him, but he stared at me with those hard eyes, as if I was stupid to think so. He stated so assuredly that he has no intention of returning to Hong Kong.¡± Meilin gulped. ¡°But what bothers me is that I think deep inside the darkest corners of my heart, I was hoping that he would return to Hong Kong to fulfill his duty as the Chosen One and choose his family honor over love. I still remember the anguish I felt when I saw Syaoran go through that nightmare training to become the Chosen One, separating him from me, taking him farther and farther away. The wicked me was hoping that Sakura too would have to feel that anguish when Syaoran chooses to return to Hong Kong for the sake of the Clan. That way, he would be unattainable for anyone; he would belong to the family, not to another girl. And I felt guilty for thinking such horrible thoughts, when I said myself that I gave up on him long ago.¡±


With gentle fingers, deft at card tricks and quick to comfort a crying girl, Kai carefully wiped away Meilin¡¯s tears, listening intently.


Meilin continued, her voice trembling, ¡°I think the reason why I didn¡¯t tell Syaoran about the Li Clan decision is because I figured if I didn¡¯t tell him the news and prevented him from returning to Hong Kong, I would not be the reason for their relationship to go bad, and I will be doing a good, unselfish deed. I was trying to redeem myself for thinking such sinful thoughts.¡±


¡°I don¡¯t see what¡¯s so wicked about your secret heart¡¯s desire,¡± Kai spoke finally, in a tender and caring voice. ¡°Everybody, as self-sacrificing as they may be, has an unspoken greed for self happiness, assisted by a poisonous sister called envy. It¡¯s only human nature. There¡¯s nothing wrong with your thoughts at all, and I can¡¯t help thinking though your methods may not have been the wisest, nonetheless your intentions were pure. I bet even Syaoran couldn¡¯t have gotten mad for that, could he?¡±    


¡°No,¡± Meilin replied. ¡°He just said he was disappointed in me.¡±


¡°As would any man who feels as if he has been slighted,¡± Kai said. ¡°You have injured his pride. He wants to make his own decisions. You made him feel like since he wasn¡¯t capable of making his own decision, you made it for him.¡±


¡°I can see that now,¡± Meilin said. Strangely, Kai explaining to her about Syaoran in this kind of manner soothed her greatly. Yes, Kai had a knack with words; he didn¡¯t flatter her nor reproach her, but just objectively stated the facts.  


¡°I know your feeling pretty foolish right now and probably want to stick your head into the toilet and drown yourself, but I say, haven¡¯t things worked out fine, anyway?¡± Kai continued, glad to see Meilin smile a little. ¡°He¡¯s made his decision; he probably thought it over carefully and of the consequences, but he¡¯s not returning to Hong Kong, either way. You don¡¯t have to feel bad because you certainly are not the cause of his return to Hong Kong, and furthermore, now a great big burden is off your shoulders; the worst is over.¡±


Sniffling, Meilin smiled for real this time.


On a side note, he added in his usual flirtatious air, ¡°And Meilin on her own feet¡¦ more like on one foot came willingly to my arms; how can I be any happier?¡±


Funny how calming and kind Kai could be, Meilin thought. Though that last comment ruined it. I was so sure that he was rotten to the core. No, that¡¯s not true; somewhere deep in my heart, I felt attracted to him in the sense that I might have met him somewhere before, anywhere, though that¡¯s ridiculous because I¡¯ve never seen him before that fatal spring night when he ¡®kidnapped¡¯ me. But when I¡¯m with him, when I talk to him, for the first time in my life, I feel like I have someone who understands; he somehow knows me better than I know myself.


Expecting the usual answer of, ¡®Oh, a gentleman must never let a damsel in distress cry, Meilin asked more jokingly than before to lighten the mood, ¡°So, why are you being so nice to me today after I shunned you so?¡±  


Stroking her jet black hair, which hung loosely down her back, Kai said, the corners of his lips curved up in a whimsical way, ¡°Didn¡¯t I say before that we two have a lot in common?¡±


A tingling shiver went down Meilin¡¯s spine; she wondered it was because of Kai¡¯s touch or his words. But it wasn¡¯t all together an unpleasant tingle.




The few hours that she had left to sleep till morning, Sakura tossed and turned in bed. What did Syaoran have to talk about with Meilin? She had never heard him use such a solemn tone on his cousin. And the manner in which he sent the rest of them away! It was positively rude but daunting. Oh, but why did she have to pick a fight with Syaoran? When they finally were getting along, too. Plus, that whole business about Miho¡¯s brother confused her terribly—yet she could manage to think about one thing at a time.  


¡°Still not sleeping?¡± Kero-chan asked, slipping into Sakura¡¯s blanket. ¡°Don¡¯t fret because of that Brat.¡±


¡°Why should I fret over him?¡± Sakura murmured, closing her eyes and drifting into slumber.




¡°SYAORAN!!!¡± A girl with long brown-gold hair was running towards Sakura with desperate tears in her green eyes. How familiar¡¦ Like a déjà vu, Sakura thought. I¡¯ve seen that girl before and those streets, and heard that name. Sakura then realized she was watching herself run blindly down the familiar streets of her neighborhood, calling, ¡°SYAORAN!¡± This time she knew she was dreaming, which was maybe why she felt so much more alert, since she was detached from her dream-self. It was like watching a movie with ¡®Sakura¡¯ as the main character from a third person point of view, as if it weren¡¯t herself. Even the surroundings seemed so real whereas in previous dreams, it had seemed surreal. It had been a while since she had this recurring dream, the dream which always left her tense and apprehensive in the morning.


Sakura watched herself approach a young man, only his back seen. It was someone with long violet-blue hair tied back with a slender white ribbon. She watched ¡®Sakura,¡¯ who was no longer calling out Syaoran¡¯s name, fall into the safety of his arms.


No, what am I doing? Not him¡¦ Sakura clenched her eyes shut, hardly knowing whether it was possible to close your eyes in a dream.


When she opened her eyes again, it was no longer the safe, familiar neighborhood. She was now alone. All around her was pitch black—she didn¡¯t know what she was doing there. Every single name, face, fact she knew had fled from her mind. She had only the faintest memory of frantically searching for someone. Then, she saw a pair of unfamiliar icy blue eyes emerge from the pitch black, cold, inhuman eyes, which gazed straight at her piercingly, mercilessly.






Wish-chan: Finally Chapter 45 up. Building up in tension, more things happening at once, foreshadowing¡¦ and suspension? I want to write a Kaitou Magician side story pretty soon¡¦ seems like a popular character among fans. ^_^. I¡¯m glad. I think I got over my writer¡¯s block, too. Yay~ And thank you once again for sending encouraging e-mails, posting up reviews up on, and those who attempt to talk to me online, though I¡¯m not the best person to talk online because I¡¯m often busy. I finally graduated high school, and now I¡¯m on my carefree summer vacation.


Posted up a new sketch of Meilin and Kai.


Comments cherished and cherished over again at! Visit my page I¡¯m pretty good with responding to e-mails these days, since I have more time at hand—sorry to those who I never responded to during those hectic, busy days¡¦ I still felt encouraged by them, and this chapter is the result. ^_^. More updates on it coming up, such as Q&A page.


Thank you to Amethyst Beloved for posting up the rest of New Trials on, carrying on after Digidynasty; I¡¯m real grateful to both of them.


On a side note, I finally switched to ¡°Meilin¡±—just felt like it for some reason. No, I¡¯m not going back to re-edit every ¡°Meirin¡± into ¡°Meilin.¡± Just from now on, it¡¯s Meilin. I don¡¯t think it really matters, anyway. There¡¯s no ¡°l¡± sound in Japanese, just ¡°r.¡±