Chapter 47: Shredded Fantasy






Tanaka Miara, age 38, widow and mother of two, lay tossing and turning in her hospital bed in a private suite off in a secluded and quiet wing of the Kinhoshi Hospital. It was in the middle of the night and her fever was running high again and a raspy cough came from her lungs. For the past several days, she had been unable to write or read and her fourteen-year-old daughter didn¡¯t visit anymore. Most of the time, she was either delirious or asleep, so it didn¡¯t matter, especially since she had spent the past five or six years in such a manner. She fell into another fit of coughing, too weak to press the button to call a night shift nurse to her assistance.


Then, she felt something stir by the curtains and wind swept in from the opened window. She peered through the darkness unsuccessfully since it was a moonless light and her own vision was blurred because of her teary eyes. Yet, there definitely was someone standing by the window side.


¡°Mikai, is that you Mikai?¡± Miara finally whispered. There was no answer and the only sound was that of her harsh breathing.    


¡°I know it¡¯s you, Tanaka Mikai. Answer me,¡± she commanded.


Again there was no answer and this time, the figure slipped out of the window and disappeared completely. The only sign of anyone having entered was the flapping of the curtains in the night breeze. Miara sank back down in her bed, sweat-soaked, and wondering how delirious she really was. Eventually, she fell into deep, dreamless sleep.






It was hard for Sakura to go to school Monday morning, for she found that her bruises from yesterday had swollen more overnight, and every movement made her wince in pain. Thank goodness Eron and Erika were both missing from school that day, then for she didn¡¯t have to put on a show of avoiding Eron the entire day; she knew she really couldn¡¯t face him again. And she didn¡¯t want anyone asking awkward questions. Even luckier, Syaoran seemed to be missing again also.


¡°How strange,¡± Sakura commented, as the students sat in class and she peered back at the empty seat behind her. ¡°Kaitou-kun has a higher attendance rate than Syaoran these days.¡±


¡°All Meilin¡¯s influence,¡± Kai said, grinning.





Since it was the day before the Music Festival and Tomoyo still hadn¡¯t regained her singing voice, Eriol, Sakura, and she gathered in the music room during lunch break, wondering what to do.


¡°Aah¡¦¡± Tomoyo tried to sing. ¡°Doe¡¦¡± Yet, it was in vain.


¡°Don¡¯t overwork yourself,¡± Eriol said. ¡°The more you pressure yourself, the less likely it is that your singing voice will return.¡±


¡°Eriol-kun is right,¡± Sakura said. ¡°Even if you don¡¯t regain it, I can let the Voice card sing in your stead, so don¡¯t worry about it.¡±


Shaking her head, Tomoyo said, ¡°No, I can¡¯t do that. It¡¯ll be dishonest. I think I¡¯ll just forfeit the contest. It¡¯s not too late. I-I can¡¯t compete like this.¡±


¡°No! You worked so hard for this,¡± Sakura said, tearfully. ¡°I can¡¯t let you just give up like this.¡±


¡°Tomoyo-san, do you want to compete?¡± Eriol asked gravely.


¡°Yes,¡± Tomoyo replied, sighing. ¡°I do.¡±


¡°Then I¡¯ll try my best to support you. And in return, please try your best too. And together, we will win first place,¡± Eriol said. ¡°I already know you¡¯re not the type of person to give up so easily. So, whatever happens, let¡¯s participate in the contest tomorrow. That¡¯s a promise, okay?¡±


Tomoyo smiled gratefully and nodded.






¡°YIPPEEE!!! I ate lunch with Touya-kun!¡± Nakuru exclaimed, jumping up and down as she entered the Reed estate after school ended; she definitely appreciated the lax schedule of university. ¡°SUPPI-CHANNNNN!!! Where are you?¡±


¡°Shut up, Ruby Moon,¡± Suppi-chan grumbled, flipping the page of a thick Chinese novel. ¡°It¡¯s so quiet and peaceful in the house when you aren¡¯t around.¡±

¡°Where¡¯s Miho-chan? Is she feeling any better?¡± Nakuru demanded. ¡°Didn¡¯t you hear Eriol tell us to keep an eye on her?¡±


¡°I don¡¯t know. She must be in her room,¡± Suppi-chan replied, rolling over on the navy blue sofa, camouflaging perfectly in with it because he was a similar color.


¡°Miho-chan!!! What do you want for dinner?¡± Nakuru called, stomping up to the second floor to Miho¡¯s room.


There came a loud shriek.


Suppi-chan rolled off the sofa, startled. ¡°What¡¯s the matter?¡±


¡°Miho-chan¡¯s gone!¡± Nakuru exclaimed.


Floating up to the second floor, Suppi-chan muttered, ¡°Big deal, she must have gone out.¡±


¡°But look! Here¡¯s a note,¡± Nakuru pointed out, prancing up and down the hallway, waving the note in the air so that Suppi-chan had a difficult time deciphering it.


¡°It¡¯s Miho¡¯s handwriting,¡± Suppi-chan stated, as he grabbed the note away from Nakuru and sat down on the wooden banister to read it.


Dear Eriol,


I¡¯m leaving with onii-chan. I won¡¯t be coming back. Thank you for all you¡¯ve done to me, and send my regards to Kaho-san. I finally have all I have desired, and I don¡¯t want to be a burden to you anymore.


Love Miho






¡°You mean you¡¯re still not able to sing?¡± Syaoran asked in disbelief to Tomoyo later on that day; it turned out that he had been at school, after all, and had just missed his morning classes, doing some errand for the music teacher.


Nudging Syaoran to make him shut up, Sakura reassured, ¡°I¡¯m sure it will come back by tomorrow.¡±


¡°Eriol!¡± A black streak flew in through the music room window.


¡°Suppi-chan?¡± Eriol asked. ¡°What¡¯s the matter?¡±


¡°Miho ran away,¡± Suppi-chan replied in a bored voice, once regaining his composure.  


¡°Miho-chan did what?¡± Sakura exclaimed, rising to her feet then grimacing, having sat up to abruptly.


¡°What¡¯s the matter?¡± Syaoran asked.


¡°Oh¡¦ stomach cramps,¡± Sakura replied, unconvincingly.


To avoid further questioning, she read Miho¡¯s departure note then stated, ¡°Miho-chan¡¯s in danger! She went to that dark force!¡±


¡°She couldn¡¯t have gone far,¡± Syaoran replied. ¡°We¡¯ll be able to find her in no time.¡±


¡°That¡¯s right. Let¡¯s go,¡± Sakura exclaimed, immediately dialing Kero-chan.


¡°School didn¡¯t end yet,¡± Syaoran trailed off.


¡°It doesn¡¯t matter—we can skip journalism meeting today,¡± Sakura stated, already heading out.


¡°Another dark force?¡± Tomoyo asked, excitedly. ¡°Can you change into a new outfit that I made?¡±


¡°This isn¡¯t exactly the time to be thinking of costumes, is it?¡± Syaoran said dryly. ¡°There¡¯s a missing person here.¡±


¡°I know! How exciting,¡± Tomoyo exclaimed, clasping her hand to her heart. ¡°Like a thriller.¡±


Everyone sweat-dropped. Yet, Tomoyo¡¯s brightness cheered all of them up greatly, giving a sense of regularity to the difficult situation.


¡°No, you three stay in school,¡± Eriol said firmly. ¡°It will seem too suspicious if all of us disappeared. I¡¯ll call Ruby Moon and Yue to search for Miho with me. I¡¯ll send you notice when I have her tracked.¡±


¡°But¡¦¡± Sakura gaped. Eriol had vanished.   






Despite the fact that Sakura and the others felt finding Miho was urgent and had counted the minutes till journalism club ended at 5, Tomoyo wouldn¡¯t let them off until her bodyguards with the costume truck arrived, stating, ¡°I¡¯ve made dozens of new costumes for Sakura-chan to wear, yet there haven¡¯t been any dark forces these days, so they¡¯ve been sitting around, gathering dust! Sakura-chan, you¡¯ll wear them, right?¡±


¡°Hoe-e¡¦ Of course, Tomoyo-chan,¡± Sakura replied, praying that Tomoyo¡¯s choice of costume covered her bruised body completely.  


¡°You too, Syaoran-kun!¡± Tomoyo continued, as Syaoran backed off, intimidated.


¡°R-right,¡± he stammered.





¡°Uh¡¦ Very exotic,¡± Syaoran commented when Sakura stepped out of Tomoyo¡¯s costume van in a gypsy-inspired outfit, a white frilly, off shoulder peasant blouse with a black bodice and a deep crimson swishy skirt which came down ankle length. Large golden hoop earrings dangled from her ears and a matching crimson kerchief was tied around her curled hair. Sakura was relieved to find that it had turned too dark for the others to notice the redness on her shoulders and arms.


¡°Your turn next!¡± Tomoyo exclaimed. ¡°You don¡¯t know how much fun I had coordinating your outfit too, Syaoran-kun!¡±


¡°Really, we don¡¯t have time for this; Miho is at risk you know,¡± Syaoran protested, as Tomoyo guided him inside the costume van.


¡°Don¡¯t worry, Ruby Moon, Spinel Sun, Yue, and Eriol are all on her track right now,¡± Kero-chan reassured. ¡°They¡¯ll find her certainly; Yue will contact us when they find her.¡±


When Syaoran emerged from the van, Kero-chan and Sakura smothered giggles. Syaoran¡¯s outfit was pirate-inspired. A coarse white shirt, unlaced in the front to reveal his well toned chest, a crimson sash tied around his waist, and loose navy blue-black trousers tucked into hardy leather boots set off his tall, lean frame, capturing the wild, reckless spirit of a vagabond. He too had a kerchief, his navy blue, tied around his head.


¡°Good to see there¡¯s no eye-patch,¡± Syaoran grumbled, fiddling with the kerchief tied around his head by Tomoyo—better wear what she told him to than to have her stare up at him with large, sorrowful eyes.


¡°Oh I do, but I thought it would hinder your vision when you fight with the dark force so¡¦¡± Tomoyo let out one of her funny little sighs, staring at the black eye-patch in her hand. ¡°But I have this instead!¡± She held up a tiny gold hoop earring.


¡°Oh no you don¡¯t!¡± Syaoran exclaimed. ¡°If you want someone with ears pierced, go to Kai or something. Pirates are just thieves of the sea, anyway.¡±


¡°Actually, that outfit was originally geared for Kai-kun, but he refused to wear it,¡± Tomoyo said. She disappeared into the van and brought out a black Zorro-inspired outfit, complete with a black mask, long cape, and a jaunty black hat. ¡°But see? I made this for him—it¡¯s completely in black, so I¡¯m sure he¡¯ll wear it! Now, if I can only find him¡¦¡±


¡°Uhh¡¦ Wonderful,¡± Syaoran said, edging away from Tomoyo who was aiming to put the earring on his left ear.


¡°Don¡¯t worry, this is only a clip-on. But It doesn¡¯t hurt that much to have your ears pierced, if you¡¯ll ever consider it,¡± Tomoyo said, clipping on the hoop on his ear with satisfaction.


¡°I¡¯m not doing anything that Eron considers fashionable,¡± Syaoran grumbled.


¡°Well, we¡¯re ready then!¡± Kero-chan exclaimed, with a miniature pirate hat and a black eye-patch. He eyed Sakura and Syaoran. ¡°Hmm¡¦ A gypsy-girl and a buccaneer of the sea. Odd, yet striking.¡±


¡°I know—don¡¯t they look so cute together?¡± Tomoyo exclaimed, holding up her camcorder and recording with bliss. ¡°As if they¡¯re out of a storybook.¡±


¡°It¡¯s already dusk. I wonder if Eriol and the others found Miho yet,¡± Sakura commented, twiddling with one of her curls, trying not to stare at Syaoran, who did look like a dashing hero out of a fantasy book. He¡¯s made to look good in whatever he wears—he always looked comfortable in his Romeo costumes, not out of place like some others.


¡°Where can Miho-chan be, that it¡¯s taking Eriol so long to track her?¡± Tomoyo asked.


¡°Pretty impressed that Eriol¡¯s taking it in his hands to do something for a change,¡± Kero-chan commented. ¡°Until now, he¡¯s always sat back and watched.¡±


¡°I say, let¡¯s go find her ourselves,¡± Sakura stated. ¡°Hmm¡¦ Where are places she might go to¡¦¡±

Syaoran looked up. ¡°I have an idea. I heard from Meilin, last time, that she and Kai were visiting Miho¡¯s old school—Eitoukou Elementary, and on their way, they passed by the neighborhood that Miho used to live in. Supposedly, there was a large, empty space where her house used to stand before it burned down. And apparently, they haven¡¯t rebuilt anything over that land yet.¡±


¡°You think she might be there?¡± Sakura asked hopefully.


¡°Well, won¡¯t hurt to try¡¦ I can call Meilin at home to ask her to give directions.¡± Syaoran held out his cell phone. Then he remembered that he had removed its battery to avoid calls from home. ¡°Never mind, can I borrow yours?¡±






¡°Miho-chan, are you sure about this?¡± Tanaka Mikai asked, as Miho trailed behind him, lugging a bulging suitcase.


¡°I¡¯m going with onii-chan from now on,¡± Miho stated determinedly. ¡°I¡¯m not going back and this time you can¡¯t make me.¡±


Turning back to wait for Miho to catch up to him, Mikai smiled, his gray-blue eyes twinkling. ¡°But then, why did you say you wanted to visit our old home again?¡±


¡°I just wanted to see it one more time,¡± Miho stated. She realized that she was walking through achingly familiar streets now. There was the playground she used to ride slides in; there was her fourth grade best friend¡¯s house; there was the ice cream shop that she used to visit daily. Now, there was the path leading to the slightly isolated Tanaka residence. Her friends had always admired her house when she was younger; it was the most beautiful residence in the neighborhood, standing a little more distant from the cluster of other homes.


Mikai followed her as she ran through the overgrown bushes, to where their house used to stand.


¡°It¡¯s the first time I¡¯ve come back here since our house burned down,¡± Miho said, walking wistfully through a large patch of land, unkempt with weeds and shrubbery. It felt oddly empty. In the center of the area where the large Victorian style Tanaka residence used to stand was bare, the ground still scorched from the great fire—otherwise there was no sign of the disastrous fire that had occurred five years ago. The ruins of her house no longer remained and all the burnt household goods had long since been cleared. Even the greenery which had wilted had grown back, fertilized by the ashes.


¡°You know this land has been sold,¡± Eriol said, emerging from between the shadow of two trees. ¡°To another person.¡±


Looking up startled, Miho demanded, ¡°What are you doing here?¡±


¡°I thought you might be here,¡± Eriol replied mildly, despite Miho¡¯s hostility. ¡°As you know, the bank took over this territory after the house burned down. So, I¡¯ve requested about this land to the landowners to see if it was still open for sale. And it seems as if someone¡¯s purchased it from the bank already.¡±


¡°I¡¯m sorry, Miho. I know you dreamed to have our house rebuilt so that we can all live here again,¡± Mikai said.   


¡°Miho, come here,¡± Eriol said, his midnight blue eyes cold behind his black-rimmed glasses as he gazed upon Mikai.


Miho hid behind Mikai¡¯s back, still not over the shock that her house, her land was taken from her, simply snatched away like that. She had always taken if for granted that this was her home, and that someday, she and her mother and brother could live in it again, even if her father was no longer there. ¡°I¡¯m not going with you, Eriol. I told you that already. I¡¯m staying with onii-chan.¡±


¡°Get away from him,¡± Eriol commanded, the authority of his voice echoing through the empty land.


¡°Why should I get away from my own brother?¡± Miho asked indignantly.


¡°Do as I say. You know very well that he is not your real brother. He is dangerous to you,¡± Eriol said staidly.


Shielding Miho away from Eriol with his arm, Mikai asked, smiling a little too amusedly, ¡°Why should I be dangerous? I will never dream of hurting my precious little sister.¡±


¡°That¡¯s right,¡± Miho stated. ¡°Let¡¯s go, ¡®nii-chan, away from here.¡±

¡±No, Miho-chan!¡± Sakura called, out leaping out of a gleaming black car—Kai had offered to drive them over there. She had forgotten all about her aching body. ¡°Eriol-kun¡¯s right. That¡¯s not your brother—he¡¯s only an illusion, a replica.¡±


Meilin, sitting in the front seat next to him, looked smug at remembering the directions to the Tanaka residence correctly and even more smug because Syaoran had asked for her help for the first time. They had been right; Miho, Mikai, and Eriol were all there.


¡°See I told you it¡¯s a right turn, not a left turn,¡± Meilin told Kai. ¡°I remembered from last time when we ate at that expensive Japanese restaurant. We passed by this neighborhood and I pointed out that there was a large, vacant space amidst all the other residences.¡± Her heart lurched when she recalled the strange occurrence by the graveyard, which was also that very day. Never had she felt sorrier for a person, though she knew not why.


¡°Okay, okay,¡± Kai said, hands raised up. ¡°You¡¯re right and I¡¯m wrong.¡±


¡°I wonder how in the world you got to be a world-class thief with such a poor memory,¡± Meilin continued to chide. ¡°Oh wait, unless you¡¯re pretending to not know the place just to prove the point that you¡¯re really not Miho¡¯s older brother.¡±


¡°We¡¯ve already been through that before, why are you bringing it up again?¡± Kai demanded. ¡°How many times do I have to tell you to get it through your obstinate head that¡¦¡±   


¡°Are they worse that the Brat and Sakura-chan or what?¡± Kero-chan muttered as Syaoran, Tomoyo, and Kero-chan, who had also squeezed into the backseat of Kai¡¯s car quietly streamed out after Sakura, leaving Kai and Meilin to squabble in the car.   


They got out in time to hear Mikai defend himself by asking, ¡°If I am as you say, only a replica, can you explain to me why is it that you can¡¯t sense any dark aura from me? You¡¯ve left me alone for almost a month.¡±


¡°That¡¯s because you are the result of two dark forces—one which gave you your form as the exact replica of Tanaka Mikai, age sixteen, and the other which gave you a soul, which gave you the knowledge, the personality, and the ambiance of Miho¡¯s older brother—it was created from Miho¡¯s own personal fantasy of what her brother would be like, were he to return,¡± Sakura stated, before Eriol could speak. ¡°Am I right, Eriol-kun?¡±


¡°I¡¯m impressed,¡± Eriol said, bemused. ¡°Clow Reed did choose the right successor.¡±


¡°What are you talking about?¡± Miho demanded, gray eyes flashing as darkness crept over the sky. ¡°Are you telling me that everything is just the result of my imagination? As if I won¡¯t be able to distinguish my own brother from my fantasy! I told you this before, to both of you, but why do you keep bringing it up?¡±


¡°Miho, don¡¯t heed to what they¡¯re saying,¡± Mikai said gently, leaning over and stroking Miho¡¯s hair. As he leaned over, a silver locket hanging from a thick chain tumbled out from under his shirt. ¡°I am your brother and as long as you know it, that¡¯s the only thing that matters.¡±


¡°I believe you¡¦ I believe ¡®nii-chan. Take me away,¡± Miho whispered, tearfully. ¡°I can¡¯t stand this anymore. Take me away.¡±


¡°As you wish, Miho,¡± Mikai said, placing a hand over Miho¡¯s forehead. Rays of rainbow light streamed out and rippled over Miho¡¯s body and suddenly, Miho¡¯s body dissolved into thin air.


¡°MIHO-CHAN!¡± Sakura exclaimed. ¡°What have you done to her?¡±


¡°Don¡¯t worry, she¡¯s safe,¡± Mikai said, smiling sadly. ¡°I told you before I wouldn¡¯t hurt my own sister.¡±


¡°Then where have you transported her to?¡± Syaoran demanded.


¡°She¡¯s gone to a place where she can be really happy and carefree,¡± Mikai replied. ¡°The place where all her fantasies will come true.¡±


¡°Oh no!¡± Sakura exclaimed. ¡°That means she¡¯s fallen right into the Fantasy¡¯s trap, the ultimate pitfall.¡±


¡°What does that mean?¡± Syaoran asked.


¡°It means that she¡¯s been transported into the Fantasy Kingdom, which exists inside the Fantasy—it¡¯s where all dreams come true and can be shaped into the victim¡¯s desires,¡± Eriol replied.


¡°How do you know that?¡± Sakura asked, dumbfounded, holding up her Five Force Scroll and reading what it had to say about the Fantasy.


¡°That Scroll was passed down to your parents from Clow Reed, remember?¡± Eriol said, smiling.


¡°Oh. Of course,¡± Sakura said. Then she glared at Mikai. ¡°I thought you said that you wouldn¡¯t harm Miho.¡±


¡°I haven¡¯t, have I?¡± Mikai replied lazily. ¡°She¡¯s happy now, and that¡¯s more than any of you could do for her.¡±


¡°I don¡¯t think bliss gained by turning a blind eye to reality can really be called ¡®happiness,¡¯¡± Sakura retorted. ¡°Well, show your true form then; I can¡¯t fight you when you take the shape of my friend¡¯s older brother.¡± Whipping out her key, she commanded, ¡°Key that hides the power of the stars. Show your true self to me. I, Sakura, command you under contract. RELEASE!¡±


¡°Separate the two forces first,¡± Eriol advised. ¡°If you seal away the Fantasy before we retrieve Miho-chan first, she¡¯ll be trapped inside it forever.¡±


¡°What?¡± Sakura exclaimed as she was about to call out the Windy.


Simultaneously, Syaoran had sent out a swirl of thunder from his sword—the new technique that he had been practicing—but Mikai dodged easily. However, the tree standing behind him was not so fortunate and received the direct blast of Syaoran¡¯s sword, splintering down the center.


All of them gaped at this. Tomoyo who was recording every moment with her camcorder pondered what background music she should insert to that particular scene later on.


¡°Sudden boost in power, Syaoran-kun?¡± Eriol asked hiding his annoyance, since he had happened to be standing very near to splintered tree.       


¡°Dangerous boy,¡± Mikai stated, shaking his head. ¡°I¡¯m rather not of a fighting force—don¡¯t bother with any of those fancy attacks on me; I won¡¯t even fight back. I¡¯ll just dodge all of them and escape.¡±


¡°He¡¯s right,¡± Eriol said, when Syaoran decided not to heed the Fantasy¡¯s words and held up his sword again. ¡°This will be a mental battle, not a battle of physical strength.¡±


Sighing, Syaoran sheathed his sword again into the leather sheath belted around his waist, a part of his pirate get-up. He fingered its smooth, well-worn hilt, glad that it was his father¡¯s sword, not the Li Clan Sword. No longer was he going to wear his traditional Chinese battle outfit of the Chosen One. All his ties with the Li Clan were severed.   


Perhaps the expression on his face was exceptionally fierce that night, for Tomoyo was taping him instead of Sakura for a change.


What am I supposed to do? Sakura asked herself, glancing at Eriol, who looked calm in spite of the perilous situation. Should I be relieved that he is here? Or is this my job? After all, this is my battle against the Dark Ones, not Eriol¡¯s, though it is reassuring to have him here.


¡°Don¡¯t be silly,¡± Syaoran said, stepping up beside her. ¡°It¡¯s my battle too. It¡¯s our battle against the Dark Ones.¡±


Sakura stared up at Syaoran gratefully. By now, she was used to the fact that Syaoran often could read her thoughts. Once more, she felt relieved that he wasn¡¯t returning to Hong Kong, her greatest dread set aside.


¡°So, tell us Eriol, how do we separate the two forces to get the Fantasy on its own since you are oh so smart and probably have figured everything out?¡± Syaoran asked, unable to keep the sarcasm from his words, maybe annoyed because Sakura¡¯s mind was so full of Eriol at that moment. Why does she have so much faith in this coward whose hobby is to watch others¡¯ misfortune and struggle?


¡°The second dark force is the Transform,¡± Eriol replied. ¡°It can take the form of whatever it chooses, withstanding that it has to transform something to take another image, not create an image out of scratch.¡±


¡°So, the Transform transformed the Fantasy into Miho¡¯s older brother?¡± Sakura asked.

¡±No, the Fantasy does not have a form so it cannot be transformed,¡± Eriol said. ¡°It had to transform another item—preferably an item which is related to Tanaka Mikai, so that the Fantasy could feed off the memory of that item and become a more convincing human.¡±


¡°If you knew all this, why didn¡¯t you do something about it before things got this serious?¡± Syaoran demanded.


¡°Truthfully, I have figured out these fine details myself only recently,¡± Eriol replied. ¡°However even knowing them, there was nothing I could do about it. The only thing to do was to wait until Tanaka Mikai decided to show his real face or until her real brother showed up. Since the former happened first, I am now trying my best to assist the Card Mistress to seal the Fantasy and the Transform and bring Miho back to safety.¡±


¡°Well, since you seem to have everything cracked, do you know how to seal my visage?¡± Mikai asked, fiddling with the silver locket around his neck.


¡°Oooh! I bet it¡¯s written in here,¡± Sakura said, scanning the text of the Five Force Scroll. ¡°The Transform¡¦ Hmm¡¦¡±


¡°If the sealer can correctly name the object the original object that was transformed, the Transform will have to forgo its current shape and return to its original form,¡± Eriol said, saving Sakura the trouble.


¡°What? How are we supposed to know what object was used to be transformed into that bastard?¡± Syaoran demanded. ¡°For all we know, he can actually be a piece of log!¡±


¡°Didn¡¯t you listen to Eriol-kun?¡± Sakura asked, staring at Mikai¡¯s handsome face with those cloudless gray eyes, eyes that lacked soul. ¡°It probably had to be an object which had association with the original Tanaka Mikai.¡±


¡°Fine, it can be a piece of sock that belonged to him or something!¡± Syaoran exclaimed.  


An idea occurred to Sakura. ¡°Hey Syaoran,¡± Sakura said quietly. ¡°Can you get that locket from his neck?¡±


¡°Sure, no problem. But what do you want with it?¡± Syaoran asked, raising an eyebrow. ¡°Wait, have I seen that locket before?¡±


¡°You¡¯ll see,¡± Sakura replied mysteriously.


Without hesitation, Syaoran leaped forward and slashed down his sword with the speed of lightening. Sakura, expecting bloodshed, clenched her eyes shut. When she opened her eyes again, she found that Syaoran had merely sliced through the silver chain that the locket had hung from, and he now held the oval locket with the ruby in the center in his hands. The dark force Mikai was clearly startled, for he had doubled back, pupils dilated, as everyone awed at the deadly precision of Syaoran¡¯s sword skills.


¡°Here you go,¡± Syaoran said, tossing Sakura, who was still dazed, the locket.


With trembling hands, Sakura opened the locket klatch, greeted with her reflection in the tiny oval mirror attached to the inner left face. A triumphant smile came over her face. The right side was empty. ¡°I know. I know what object was used to be transformed into Tanaka Mikai.¡±


¡°What is it, Sakura-chan?¡± Tomoyo asked. ¡°How did you figure it out?¡±


¡°It¡¯s the photo of Miho and her brother that was inserted inside the right side of this locket, isn¡¯t it?¡± Sakura asserted, staring at the replica of Mikai straight in the eye.


¡°I¡¯m surprised that you figured out so easily,¡± the Mikai drawled, sighing. His form rippled, then dissolved, and a tiny photo the size of Sakura¡¯s thumb floated down to the ground.


Hesitantly, Sakura brushed the dust off it and stared at the miniature portrait of the two siblings. Mikai, who seemed twelve or so, and Miho, who seemed around nine, stared out of the picture with genuinely bright smiles. Carefully she inserted the photo back into the frame inside the locket and held her staff up. An amorphous jelly-like creature without a clear color materialized in front of her.   


¡°Spirit of the dark forces. I, Sakura, command you. Return to a new shape of contract!¡± Swirling her staff around her fingers once, Sakura struck down her staff. ¡°Sakura Card!¡±


Staring at the new card that had formed, Sakura smiled grimly and stated as she tucked it into her pocket, ¡°One down and one more to go.¡±


¡°Where did the Fantasy go?¡± Syaoran asked. ¡°Once it lost its form, it seems to have disappeared.


¡°I¡¯m still around,¡± a silvery whisper said, different from the charming, light tenor voice of Mikai. The Fantasy was another force with a voice, like the Riddle, the Phantom, and the Mirror. ¡°The Card Mistress is as clever as the Dark One said.¡±


¡°As to be expected since she is Clow Reed¡¯s Chosen One,¡± Eriol said proudly.


¡°Now isn¡¯t the time to be gloating over choosing your successor well,¡± Syaoran said, scowling because Sakura was blushing happily.   


¡°Did I forget to mention that the longer one is drawn into the Fantasy Land, the harder it is to return?¡± the Fantasy asked.


¡°What do you want us to do then?¡± Syaoran demanded, looking around to see where the aura of the dark force was concentrated.


¡°Oh, I don¡¯t know,¡± the Fantasy said, laughing high-pitched. ¡°I know! Should I let you guys into the Realm of Fantasy? You guys can search her yourself then and bring her back.¡±


¡°Are you serious? You¡¯ll let us do that?¡± Sakura asked, hopefully.


¡°Sure,¡± the Fantasy replied. Immediately, a long, oval shimmering rainbow colored entrance formed, the most definite form that the Fantasy could take. ¡°Here¡¯s the entrance to Miho¡¯s Fantasy Kingdom. Feel free to find her inside.¡±


Slanting his eyes, Syaoran asked suspiciously, ¡°Why are you just letting us enter like this? There must be some catch to it. You¡¯re trying to trap us in there forever, aren¡¯t you?¡±


¡°The Miho inside will be convinced that everything around her is reality—but once she snaps out of her illusion, you will all be able to return,¡± the Fantasy replied.


¡°What are you waiting for?¡± Sakura asked, already with one foot inside.


¡°Then any time limit?¡± Syaoran questioned, still not appeased.

¡±No time limit; you can stay in there as long as you like—while you¡¯re in there time in the non-magical world will be temporarily frozen,¡± the Fantasy replied.


¡°Ha! Stay in there as long as you like? You said that the longer we stay in there, the harder it is to come back,¡± Syaoran stated.


¡°I did, didn¡¯t I?¡± The Fantasy let out another tingling laughter. ¡°So off you go now. Your girlfriend already went in.¡±


¡°What?¡± Syaoran exclaimed, discovering that Sakura had already disappeared into the brilliant, many colored entrance. He dashed in after her.






Syaoran was greeted by the strong rays of the afternoon sun. Blinking, he gazed around at the vibrant and unfamiliar land. ¡°Where in the world am I?¡±


Surrounding him were verdant trees and flowers of every color of the rainbow. He could hear the merrily bubbling trickle of the river and in the distance, through the mists, he could see a glimmering white palace, it¡¯s towers reaching to the heights of the massive white clouds amidst the vivid cerulean blue sky. Off to the opposite end of the gleaming palace was a gloomy, gray tower, its height lost in hazy fog, set aside from the rest of the splendor. Just the air of this unknown place refreshed him and all his worries from back at home flushed out his mind.


¡°Seems like this is Miho¡¯s fantasy world,¡± Sakura said, stepping up beside him—she too had gotten over the initial shock of the dazzling beauty of the place. ¡°Fairytale-like, isn¡¯t it?¡±  


While Sakura had seemed strangely out of place dressed in her fancy attire with her swishy scarlet skirt back at the remains of the Tanaka residence, here she blended right into the mystical setting, like a gypsy queen or an exotic little princess of stories long lost to childhood. Smiling at Sakura fondly, Syaoran said, ¡°Well, seems like it¡¯s the two of us again, Sakura.¡±


Blushing the color of the kerchief around her head, Sakura said, ¡°Ah, I guess so¡¦¡± Why is my silly heart pounding against my chest again? We¡¯re here on a mission. But I feel so happy to be here in this glorious place, standing by Syaoran.


¡°Ahem,¡± came a voice from behind them. ¡°Sorry to disappoint you, but I¡¯m here too.¡±


¡°Eriol-kun!¡± Sakura exclaimed, clearly dismayed.


¡°Don¡¯t forget me too,¡± Kero-chan added, popping up from behind Eriol¡¯s back.


¡°Oh.¡± Syaoran heaved a sigh, refusing to meet anyone¡¯s eyes. ¡°Great. Just wonderful.¡±


¡°Come on, don¡¯t look so disappointed,¡± Kero-chan said, pirate hat crooked on his head. ¡°The more the merrier!¡±


¡°Yeah, yeah,¡± Syaoran grumbled. Damn, it would have been perfect without those two.


Immediately, Kero-chan and Eriol disappeared.


¡°Hoe? What just happened?¡± Sakura asked, blinking as two of her comrades vanished into thin air.


Oops¡¦ Better not make stupid wishes anymore. Didn¡¯t realize that they¡¯ll actually disappear. Well, this is Fantasy Land, after all. Clearing his throat, Syaoran said, ¡°Now it really seems to be the two of us.¡±


¡°So it seems,¡± Sakura said, blushing again. ¡°Now we just need to find Miho-chan.¡±


¡°Shall we take off then?¡± Syaoran asked, smiling.





¡°What are we doing here?¡± Kero-chan asked, staring around at the dense forest surrounding him and Eriol. ¡°We weren¡¯t here a few seconds ago. Where are Sakura-chan and the Brat?¡±


¡°We¡¯ll bump into them eventually,¡± Eriol replied, gazing at the distant castle where he presumed Miho to reside in. ¡°That should be our destination point.¡±


¡°I¡¯m so hungry,¡± Kero-chan grumbled, cross at missing dinner time in the real world. ¡°I wish those trees sprouted cupcakes and chocolates instead of leaves, and that river flowed pink lemonade.¡±


No sooner had he stated this, the sweet, rich aroma of baked goods and cocoa drifted with the warm drift wind. Sniffing, Kero-chan floated up to one of the trees before exclaiming, ¡°Chocolate cupcakes! Lemon cupcakes! Sugar-icing cupcakes! Take a look at this Eriol!¡±


Without wasting another second, Kero-chan plucked the cupcakes off the branch, which now that he looked closer was dark chocolate resembling tree bark, stuffing them as quickly into his mouth as he could swallow


Bending over the river, which had turned a pretty cotton candy pink shade, Eriol said, ¡°Seems like all our fantasies do come true here.¡±


Jamming his mouth full of sweet cake and caramel toffees from another tree, Kero-chan stated in garbled words, ¡°Ithinkthisplaceiswonderful.¡± Brushing the crumbs of his face and licking the icing from his paws, Kero-chan dunked his head in the lemonade river, gulping down heartily and exclaiming, ¡°Dee—licious! It¡¯s just the right blend of the sweet and the pungent citric taste. Try some, Eriol!¡±


¡°Hmm¡¦ Tomoyo-san would love this place,¡± Eriol said, staring at the palace one more time.


¡°Yeah, I wish Tomoyo-chan was here—she¡¯d die of rapture!¡± Kero-chan stated. ¡°I mean, this kind of place is straight out of all those wacky screenplays she can come up with.¡±   


¡°Do be careful what you wish for here,¡± Eriol said, but it was too late. Someone dropped out of the sky and landed on top of him.


Brushing back her long violet hair from her face, Tomoyo looked around, clearly dazed. ¡°Kero-chan!¡± she exclaimed in mild pleasure. ¡°Is this inside the Fantasy? What am I doing here?¡±


¡°Ah—beneath you,¡± was all Kero-chan could manage, before returning to nibbling on the strawberry flavored flower he had picked off the ground.


¡°Oh, so sorry Eriol-kun!¡± Tomoyo said, standing up in a flurry and straightening the skirt of her lavender dress with purple trims.


Readjusting his glasses, Eriol replied, ¡°I¡¯m fine.¡±


¡°Where¡¯s Sakura-chan and Syaoran-kun?¡± Tomoyo asked. Then she shrieked in horror. ¡°My camcorder! I didn¡¯t bring it with me! Though I didn¡¯t know I was going to come here in the first place.¡±


¡°Don¡¯t worry—I don¡¯t think electronics work in here, anyway,¡± Eriol said.


¡°Anyway, since it seems like all our wishes can come true in here, can¡¯t we just wish Miho-chan back?¡± Kero-chan asked, unable to fly properly now because his belly was bulging by now.


¡°No, since this is Miho¡¯s kingdom, anything that contradicts with her wishes will be nullified,¡± Eriol replied. ¡°That¡¯s why we can¡¯t just simply wish ourselves inside her palace or anything, because it has a protective barrier, blocking any intruders.


¡°I see,¡± Tomoyo mused. ¡°But that doesn¡¯t prevent us from being calling up something to help us get to the palace where Miho-chan is, quicker, does it? Like wishing for a winged beast or something.¡±


Immediately a majestic scaly green winged creature which gently blew smoke from its nostrils appeared from behind the chocolate trees.


¡°As one would expect from Tomoyo-chan¡¯s imagination,¡± Kero-chan muttered. ¡°A great, huge, dragon. Why couldn¡¯t you have called up a gentle unicorn or something? That thing sprouts fire from its breath. It¡¯s dangerous. Though I am a beast of the fire myself, being the great Cerberus-sama¡¦¡± Kero-chan dodged the jet of fire sprouted as the dragon yawned.


Mounting the dragon first, Eriol helped Tomoyo get on behind him. ¡°Well, should be take off now?¡±


¡°Well, it¡¯s a good thing I called up Tomoyo-chan, who is capable of thinking of such things—I wouldn¡¯t have been able to fly anyway because I¡¯m so full,¡± Kero-chan said, finally approaching the dragon and settling on its reptilian head.


¡°How exciting!¡± Tomoyo exclaimed as the dragon soared into the sky. ¡°I¡¯ve always wanted to ride a dragon before. Oh, don¡¯t you think this dragon would look nice with a big, satin bow tied around its tail?¡±


¡°Maybe,¡± Eriol said, smiling, tilting his head to catch a glimpse of Tomoyo in rapture, holding onto his shirt with one hand to keep balance and using the other hand to gather her long hair to keep it from being blown into her face.





¡°Did you just see that?¡± Syaoran asked, gazing up at the sky. ¡°I swear I saw a huge winged creature with a ridiculous polka dot ribbon streaming from its rear end.¡±


¡°Ha ha¡¦ You must be seeing things,¡± Sakura laughed, bending over the pink river, which they had been following since it seemed to lead towards the palace. She found conveniently found a large, surprisingly stiff leaf which resembled the shape of a bowl, and used it as a cup to dip up the pink water and sipped it. ¡°Lemonade!¡±


¡°Really?¡± Syaoran asked, taking the bowl-shaped leaf that Sakura had drank from and took another dip. He downed the lemonade in one shot. ¡°Refreshing! Just hope it¡¯s not toxic or anything.¡±     


¡°And look at this—the trees are growing cupcakes and toffees! That¡¯s where this sweet scent was coming from.¡± Sakura tiptoed to reach for a chocolate cupcake, reaching for it and missing.


¡°Here.¡± Syaoran plucked two ¡°ripe¡± ones from the branches with ease due to his long limbs, and handed one to Sakura, biting into the other.


For a second, Sakura stared at Syaoran, wondering when he had grown so tall. Of course, he had been tall when he had first come back to Japan, more than a year ago now, but it seemed that he had done his share of growing more over these past months. Back in elementary school days, he was only and inch or two taller than her. Soon, he really would be as tall as her brother.


¡°Hurry and eat—we need our strength to journey on,¡± Syaoran said, already having devoured his first cupcake and now helping himself to a cinnamon roll. ¡°Still warm as if from the oven! Here, eat!¡±


He held out an apple strudel. ¡°Bite.¡±


Sakura hesitated for a second before, biting in, the crisp crust of the strudel and the juicy tartness of the apple melding in her mouth. ¡°Mmm¡¦ Delicious!¡±


¡°Is it?¡± Syaoran asked, munching on the rest of the apple strudel, heedless that Sakura had already bitten into it. ¡°Hehe¡¦ I was making you taste it first to see if it was good.¡±


¡°Hey, give it back!¡± Sakura exclaimed.


¡°No, there was only one strudel growing on the tree,¡± Syaoran replied, finishing off the last crumb.


¡°Pig!¡± Sakura squealed as Syaoran shoved another entire strudel into her wide-open month. ¡°Oomph!¡± Her eyes watered.


Syaoran laughed at Sakura¡¯s crumb-smeared cheeks, bulging out on each side like a chipmunk¡¯s.


Finally choking down the pastry, Sakura glared at Syaoran, who in return, plucked a huge caramel daisy from the ground and thrust it into Sakura¡¯s mouth, making her teeth stick together so that she couldn¡¯t talk for the next hour, as she busily sucked away at the sweet. All the while, Syaoran was laughing at her heartily.





Soon, they resumed their journey, following the grassy bank of the lemonade river, having half-forgotten their initial quest to retrieve Miho. Neither of them had the sense to call for some mystical creature to speed their way like Tomoyo¡¯s part did, or maybe Syaoran did since he had figured out from earlier on that most wishes seemed to be granted automatically in the Fantasy Kingdom, yet he was enjoying the peaceful walk with Sakura too much. Even Sakura didn¡¯t bother calling up the Fly or the Unicorn, for she was still absorbed in chewing the caramel which didn¡¯t seem to disappear. However, by and by, they reached a fork in the river, which divided into two directions, one leading to the white palace and the other to the dark tower.


¡°So, which way should we go?¡± Syaoran asked, peering at the dismal, lone tower protruding into the sky in an isolated, barren patch of land.


¡°I don¡¯t know¡¦ Seems a little fishy, that place,¡± Sakura replied, swallowing the last of the daisy caramel.




¡°Halt! Who goes there?¡± A young man riding a white horse and in a blue tunic with silver trimmings and a coat of arms with a mirror crossed by a bow, stared down at them. His reddish-gold hair tumbled into his gray-blue eyes in a dashing way. In his hand was a golden bow and he slinging an arrow a golden tip to it.


¡°Mikai!¡± Sakura exclaimed, taken back.


¡°That is my name,¡± Mikai said, rearing his horse back.


¡°Then you must know Miho?¡± Sakura asked, hopefully.


¡°Yes, she is my sister and the Princess of Kingdom Fantasia,¡± Mikai replied. ¡°And I am the Prince of this realm and the princess¡¯ knight protector. If you two are evil-doers, you shall meet the justice of Court.¡±    


¡°Ah, all we want to do is just meet—err Princess Miho,¡± Sakura said, glancing sideways at Syaoran helplessly.


¡°Well, at the moment she is busy preparing for battle with the Earl,¡± Mikai said. ¡°She won¡¯t have time to meet with anyone.¡±


¡°The Earl?¡± Syaoran repeated.


¡°Yes, the Earl of darkness,¡± Mikai replied impatiently. ¡°Where are you two from? A foreign kingdom maybe?¡±


¡°Ah, something like that,¡± Sakura replied.


Syaoran whispered to Sakura, ¡°If you were creating your own fantasy world, would you create villains also and prepare to war with them?¡±


¡°Of course not—everyone will live in harmony and all get along,¡± Sakura whispered back. ¡°But this is Miho¡¯s world, not ours, and if she wants villains, she can have them.¡±


¡°Either way, I¡¯ll have to get the two of you arrested for trespassing our kingdom,¡± Mikai stated. ¡°And the Princess can deal with you later.¡±


¡°What? Arrested?¡± Sakura and Syaoran gazed at each other, horrified.


¡°Guards, bind these two!¡± Mikai called out, and immediately, four armed guards, all with the royal coat of arms, came forth with ropes.


¡°Say Sakura,¡± Syaoran called, as the guards struggled to bind him down, which was an impossible feat since Syaoran slipped through their arms like a snake. ¡°Do you want to make a run for it?¡±


¡°Great idea!¡± Sakura exclaimed, ducking under the arms of one guard as Syaoran tackled the other one.


As the other two guards collided into each other, Sakura called out, ¡°Towards the Dark Tower!¡±


And the two of them sprinted with all their might, wading through the pink river which only came knee length, and upon reaching the opposite bank, followed the second river path which led to the tower of the Earl of darkness.






Meanwhile as Syaoran and Sakura were being chased by the Royal Guard, Tomoyo, Eriol and Kero-chan had arrived by the gates of the palace, their dragon disappearing as soon as they arrived.


¡°So, you figure Miho-chan would be in here?¡± Kero-chan asked, marveling at the huge palace which seemed to be built out of moonstone or some luminescent white marble.


¡°How do we get in?¡± Tomoyo asked, looking around for a doorbell. Yet that was not needed for immediately a guard stepped up to them, pointing a spear at Eriol.


¡°What is your business here?¡± the guard in blue and silver demanded.


Carefully removing the point of the spear from his neck, Eriol replied, ¡°We would like to see Miho.¡±


¡°You mean the princess?¡± the guard asked. ¡°You three must be spies from the E.o.d. intruders will not be tolerated. Guards, escort these three espionages to the dungeons!¡±


¡°What kind of logic is that?¡± Kero-chan exclaimed, furiously. ¡°Who in the world is the E.o.d., anyway?¡±


¡°Silence, stuffed doll,¡± the guard said. ¡°E.o.d. Short for the Earl of darkness, our kingdom¡¯s most evil and villainous magician.¡±


¡°See, how can we be spies for something we¡¯ve never heard before in our lives?¡± Tomoyo reasoned. Then she exclaimed, ¡°Though that kinds of sounds thrilling too! Condemned to the dungeons because of being caught spying!¡±


¡°Don¡¯t give them the wrong idea,¡± Kero-chan muttered.


¡°Lead them away,¡± the head guard shouted and the wooden main gate was lowered.


¡°I¡¯m not going to the dungeon!¡± Kero-chan bit the guard¡¯s arm, who yelped.


At that moment, a hushed silence came over the guards, who all bowed lowly.


The herald announced, ¡°Princess Miho!¡±


The guard, flustered, said, ¡°Your highness, there were intruders and we were about to take them to the dungeons.¡±


¡°Miho,¡± Eriol said, staring at Miho in the eye. This was clearly Miho but yet not Miho. Her eyes widened, as if recognizing him or at least finding him vaguely familiar. Eriol was faintly relieved. Good, we¡¯re not too late.


¡°Wow, beautiful dress,¡± Tomoyo commented on Miho¡¯s attire—a deep sapphire blue dress with pale blue ribbon lacings and white foam lace which peeped from the squared neck, sleeves, and long skirt. Her sleet gray eyes were somber and merry at the same time. What made Miho less recognizable was that her rich auburn hair was still long and curly, like she was an exact older version of the young Miho of the pictures, the one with braided hair. Setting off the royal attire was a bejeweled tiara set on her brows.


¡°Bring the strangers to the throne room,¡± Miho commanded, turning back with a swish of her long train.


¡°As you wish, your Highness,¡± the guard replied, bowing again.





The throne room was grandeur of gold, the thrones being of solid gold embedded with sapphires and rubies and emeralds. Two large thrones were side by side and two smaller ones were one each side of the center ones. In the center sat the king and queen—Miho¡¯s mother and father.


Unlike the Miara from the hospital whose beauty and health had wasted away, the queen seated on the throne was still at the peak of her beauty, her long wavy auburn hair so like her daughter¡¯s braided and woven with rubies. The king also looked vaguely familiar, a dignified, quiet man with a beard and broad shoulders. Seated to his other side was Miho while the remaining smaller throne, next to the queen, was clearly meant for Mikai but was currently empty.


The four thrones were on top of an elevated platform, behind which hung a large blue banner with the royal emblem of the mirror crossed by the bow stitched to it. Tomoyo, Eriol, and Kero-chan were brought to the foot of the platform, accompanied by two guards.


At that moment, Prince Mikai, puffing from the unsuccessful chasing of  the trespassers, entered the throne room. He smiled warmly at his father, mother, and little sister, and then took the last seat.


¡°Onii-chan!¡± Miho greeted brightly. ¡°You¡¯re back just in time!¡±


¡°That¡¯s him!¡± Kero-chan exclaimed, pointing at Mikai with his paw.  


¡°State your names and occupation,¡± Miho said.


¡°Who does that snot think she¡¯s bossing around?¡± Kero-chan muttered.


¡°My name is Eriol and I am a¡¦ err¡¦ a fortune-teller,¡± Eriol said.


¡°My name is Tomoyo and I¡¯m a designer,¡± Tomoyo said, eying the queen¡¯s velvet dress.


¡°I¡¯m Cerberus and I¡¯m a guardian,¡± Kero-chan muttered.


Yawning, Miho said, ¡°Boring. Guards, lead them away to the dungeon.¡±


¡°What?¡± Kero-chan exclaimed.


Eriol realized that Miho was not pretending not to know them—she truly had partly forgotten about them all, being wrapped in this fantasy world. He had to change his strategy. Glancing over the throne room, he spotted a grand piano by the window side. A faint conversation replayed in his mind.



¡°Eriol, play the piano for me!¡±


¡°No, Miho, I¡¯m tired. Later.¡±


¡°Humph. You always say that. You never play for me. I¡¯m not talking to you anymore, Eriol!¡±



Miho had always loved music, probably inherited from her music-loving mother. Yet, he had never played for her as much as she would have liked, because he wasn¡¯t too fond of performing.


¡°Wait!¡± Eriol exclaimed. ¡°Actually, we also are court musicians.¡±


¡°Musicians?¡± Miho asked, raising an eyebrow. ¡°And your specialty is¡¦¡±


¡°The piano,¡± Eriol replied calmly. ¡°And this lady is a singer.¡± He brought Tomoyo forth who seemed astounded.


¡°Is that true?¡± Miho reflected over this. ¡°Well, play something for me then.¡±


¡°As you please, Princess Miho,¡± Eriol said, bowing in style—Clow Reed had not been part British aristocrat for no reason—and heading over to the piano.


Tomoyo followed him, whispering, ¡°Eriol-kun, I can¡¯t sing, you know that.¡±


¡°You forget, we¡¯re inside the Fantasy. Anything is possible here,¡± Eriol replied. Placing a reassuring hand on Tomoyo¡¯s shoulder, he said, ¡°Sing your best. I think it¡¯s dawned upon all us that we might really end up in the dungeons if we can¡¯t impress her right now. You will do fine, Tomoyo.¡±


Taking a deep breath, Tomoyo nodded. Her left shoulder tingled, the spot where Eriol¡¯s hand had touched. The opening notes of her contest piece floated through the large, airy throne room, the mystical tune more tangent then ever. All her fears of not being able to sing vanished, as her voice carried the melody across the palace, mingling with the magical air of the place. She felt a swelling in her heart, different from ever before, as she poured her soul into her singing. Whether it was the enchantment of the place or whether it was Eriol¡¯s accompaniment which was more sensual than back in the music room, Tomoyo did not know, but all she knew was that she was producing the highest quality of singing she had ever produced.


The royal family clapped heartily as the song came to an end, and Miho dabbed the corner of her eyes with a lace handkerchief embroidered with her initials M.T. ¡°That was so beautiful. I changed my mind. You can stay here. Guards, you may leave and keep usual post. These people are my guests from now on.¡±


The three of them heaved a sigh of relief. Now that the immediate danger of being condemned to imprisonment was over, they were all filled with doubt of whether they could convince Miho that this palace was not truly her home and that she had to return to the bleak, miserable real world.


¡°Oh, I forgot. Did I tell you that we are in the middle of preparing for war with the E.o.d.?¡± Miho asked. ¡°We¡¯re invading the evil magician¡¯s tower tomorrow, right onii-chan?¡±


¡°Yes, all preparations are finally ready,¡± Mikai replied.


¡°Eh? A war?¡± Kero-chan squeaked. One more unexpected trouble to deal with.






After what seemed like hours of being chased by the royal guard, Sakura and Syaoran realized that they had thrown them off track, and paused, panting.


¡°Whew—they¡¯re persistent,¡± Syaoran said, wiping the sweat of his brow with his sleeve.


¡°We¡¯ve run far—I can¡¯t believe we¡¯re so near the tower,¡± Sakura gasped, as they came to the base of a bleak, steep and jagged rock mountain, at the top of which the tower was located. The lair of the Earl of darkness. ¡°It was only a speck when we first arrived here.¡± Her curled hair had come loose during the long run, the kerchief probably having blown off. She saw that Syaoran had also ditched his bandana and golden hoop earring, as well as the red sash around his waist. Simplicity suited him too—rumpled white shirt, sword slung from around his waist, wind-tussled brown hair.    


¡°I think we were both wishing in our minds very hard that we could get as far away from those guards as possible,¡± Syaoran pointed out.


¡°Well, what do we do now?¡± Sakura asked. ¡°I still think Miho would be at the palace, but something about this place struck me. It¡¯s worth checking out, I think.¡±


¡°I think Eriol and the stuffed animal probably have reached the castle by now,¡± Syaoran said, peering at the direction of the palace—it was getting too dark to see anything but its dim outline. ¡°And you remember Mikai saying that there¡¯ll be a battle soon—I have a feeling that we¡¯re stuck here in this world until that battle is over.¡±


¡°It¡¯s getting dark,¡± Sakura said. ¡°Do you think we can make it up to the tower today?¡±


Shaking his head, Syaoran replied, ¡°It¡¯s too dangerous. Even if we fly up, there¡¯s no knowing what awaits us up there. I think the best thing is to wait until morning at the base of the mountain. Now, if only there was a comfortable bed and hot dinner¡¦¡±


¡°Look! There¡¯s a cottage over there? Want to try it?¡± Sakura ran to the lighted hut and opened the door. ¡°It¡¯s empty.¡±


True enough, it seemed as if the hut was especially prepared for the two, since there were two beds side by side in one corner of the room, and a table with two chairs, laden with steaming porridge, roasted chicken, baked potatoes, meat pies, and pudding and fresh fruits for dessert, complete with utensils for two—two cups, two forks, two knives, two spoons. A pitcher full of water—they had been getting sick of pink lemonade—was placed at the center of the table, along with a pot of hot tea.


It didn¡¯t surprise them that after filling themselves to their hearts content, the table cleared itself on its own. Kicking off his boots, Syaoran lay down on the crisp sheets of one of the beds. Never had lying down after an exhausting day felt so good. He found that he was now wearing loose cotton green-and-white plaid pajamas—matching with Sakura¡¯s pink-and-white ones, which were very Tomoyo-like in design, being a sleeveless top with a narrow pink ribbon bow in the front and a matching bottom, which flared out at the ankles, bows attached to each side; was there anything that this house didn¡¯t provide? The candlelight blew out automatically, and Sakura crawled into the bed opposite of his.    


¡°Hey Syaoran,¡± Sakura said.




¡°I feel guilty because we haven¡¯t found Miho yet, but I have to say, this place is kind of nice.¡±


¡°It is,¡± Syaoran replied. ¡°To escape from all the headaches of real life—we all could use this break.¡±


¡°It just made me realize that it might be kind of hard to get Miho-chan to return, leaving such a splendid place behind,¡± Sakura said.


¡°We¡¯re bound to have to return to reality though,¡± Syaoran said. ¡°After all, this is all just the result of someone¡¯s imagination.¡±


¡°I think my fantasy world would be similar to Miho-chan¡¯s,¡± Sakura commented, snuggling under her blanket. It felt so natural to have Syaoran across from her, talking to her in the dark before falling asleep. ¡°What will yours be like, I wonder.¡±


If you¡¯re there, that¡¯s all I need. Syaoran grinned in the dark. All of a sudden, his worries from the other world evaporated completely and seemed so trivial. Who cared about no longer being the Li Chosen One? That title couldn¡¯t matter to him less now.


¡°Why are you smiling, Syaoran?¡± Sakura asked, leaning to her side to face Syaoran¡¯s bed.


¡°How did you know I¡¯m smiling?¡± Syaoran wondered if Sakura was smiling too. ¡°Isn¡¯t it too dark to see?¡±


¡°Oh, I don¡¯t know¡¦ I just sensed it.¡± Sakura laughed. ¡°You know, I feel bad because we¡¯re having such a good time, when we¡¯re supposed to be gravely on a mission. I have a feeling we¡¯re falling into the Fantasy¡¯s trap, but I couldn¡¯t care less.¡±


¡°Well said,¡± Syaoran said. ¡°Hey, why did you suggest we head for the tower, anyway?¡±


¡°I had an idea,¡± Sakura replied. ¡°Though I don¡¯t know if it¡¯ll work.¡±


¡°Ah, I see. Another one of your brilliant ideas.¡± Syaoran then mentally scolded himself for his sarcasm, for Sakura didn¡¯t respond.


Finally, her breathing slowed into the breath of deep slumber. Syaoran could tell Sakura was not having any nightmares for a change. He himself was still wide awake.


¡°Sakura, are you sleeping now?¡± Syaoran already knew the answer. He turned over to his side to gaze Sakura¡¯s sleeping profile. Their beds were close enough that if he stretched out his arm completely, he could reach Sakura¡¯s hand, which dangled off the side of her bed.


¡°Guess what, Sakura. I¡¯m no longer the Chosen One. And the funny thing is, I don¡¯t even care.¡± Her hand felt so warm against his palm. ¡°I used to think it was a matter of life and death for me. But I guess that was before I fell in love with you. Did you know that Sakura? I love you.¡±


Sakura stirred in her sleep. Casting aside his blanket, Syaoran knelt by Sakura¡¯s bed and peered at her face lighted by the moonlight—the moon here was about four times the size of the moon back at home. Is she awake? No, Sakura was still sound a sleep. Carefully, he brushed a lock of soft hair covering her cheek. She flinched under his touch and opened her eyes, looking quite startled to see Syaoran¡¯s face so close over her own. Even in the dim moonlight, Syaoran could see the confusion and questioning in Sakura¡¯s deep emerald eyes which reflected his own face. She had heard everything he had said after all, about him being demoted as the Chosen One and him loving her.


Before she could question him, he bent over and kissed her mouth, his fingers tangled in her soft hair.


When their lips parted, Syaoran continued to stare into Sakura¡¯s moonlit face and said, ¡°I wish you forget everything I¡¯ve said just now. This isn¡¯t the way I want to tell you, in here, in this surrounding—inside the Fantasy.¡±


Sakura¡¯s eyes turned glassy and then shut, and her head turned limp as she returned to sleep; Syaoran knew she would not remember anything the next morning. Was it better that she knew, after all? But it was too late.


Straightening the blanket over her, he rolled back into his bed, shutting his eyes. How foolish of me. I find myself wishing that we didn¡¯t have to return home any time soon. I wish I can stay here by Sakura¡¯s side a little longer.      






Meanwhile, Eriol¡¯s party was also at a dead end, and they had resided in the bedrooms prepared on Miho¡¯s orders for the night.


Hugging a frilly cushion to her chest, Tomoyo said, ¡°I guess trying to have a talk with Miho-chan wasn¡¯t successful.¡±


¡°She¡¯s too busy preparing for that battle with E.g.o or something,¡± Kero-chan grumbled, seated on another cushion and helping himself to the assorted chocolates placed on a silver platter before him. ¡°Or was it E.o.g.?¡±


¡°E.o.d.,¡± Tomoyo corrected. ¡°The most sinister, evil magician in the kingdom. The Earl of darkness.¡±


Eriol entered through the door adjoining his suite and Tomoyo¡¯s, dressed in satin blue with white polka-dot pajamas with a matching nightcap that Tomoyo had chosen for him to wear and not looking too happy about it but being too polite to disagree with her. ¡°It seemed as if using music to trigger Miho¡¯s memory was slightly successful, since she mentioned that she seems to have heard the song before. Of course, I¡¯ve practiced ¡®Scarlet¡¯ quite frequently at home over the past few weeks and it probably was imprinted into her mind then.¡±


Ignoring Kero-chan who was guffawing at Eriol¡¯s nightwear, Eriol continued, ¡°I think it will be best to follow her to the battle grounds tomorrow and¡¦¡± He stared stonily at Kero-chan. ¡°Cerberus.¡±


Kero-chan immediately stopped laughing for Eriol yet remained an unpleasantly intimidating person, nightcap or no nightcap. ¡°Anyway, I wonder what ever happened to Sakura-chan and the Brat.¡±


¡°I¡¯ve been wondering too ever since I first came here,¡± Tomoyo said. ¡°Where are they? Are they inside the Fantasy too?¡±


¡°We came with them initially, however were separated. Actually, I¡¯ve been hoping to meet them here,¡± Eriol admitted, slipping the ridiculous nightcap with a white pompom on its end off his head. ¡°But seeing as they have not arrived at the palace¡¦¡±


¡°You don¡¯t think anything¡¯s happened to them?¡± Tomoyo asked, concerned.   


¡°Hopefully they¡¯ve decided to take a different path,¡± Eriol replied, staring out the window. It was too dark to see the tower across the opposite end of the kingdom.


¡°Don¡¯t worry, those two know how to manage on their own—they¡¯ve been partners for ages,¡± Kero-chan reassured. ¡°Though now that they¡¯re older, I¡¯m starting to wonder if it¡¯s safe to allow them to leave them alone together like that. That Wolf-boy is turning really problematic—do you know what he did last time? He sneaked into Sakura-chan¡¯s room through the window and stayed there overnight!¡±


¡°What?¡± Tomoyo exclaimed, clasping her hand together. ¡°And Sakura-chan didn¡¯t tell me?¡±


¡°Tomoyo,¡± Eriol said. ¡°Are you really okay with that boy taking away your best friend like that?¡±


Tomoyo looked down at her feet. ¡°Yes, since Syaoran makes Sakura happy, I¡¯m in full support of the two. And in a way, Syaoran-kun is the best guy friend I have, for I¡¯ve been supporting their relationship for five years now.¡±


¡°I can never stop marveling your self-sacrificing ways,¡± Eriol commented. ¡°I think if our forerunners, the Great Five were as selfless as yourself, many conflicts would never have occurred.¡±


¡°Oh don¡¯t get mistaken,¡± Tomoyo said. ¡°I get jealous and resentful too. But I guess my problem is that I¡¯ve never loved anyone so deeply, and therefore I am immune to strong emotions weighing on both positive and negative ends. I¡¯ve never felt extreme love, so I¡¯ve never felt extreme envy.¡±


¡°That always confused me,¡± Kero-chan said, finishing the last chocolate covered orange. ¡°Tomoyo-chan is so pretty and well-rounded, but you¡¯ve never had any boyfriends or anything. I mean, truthfully I think you¡¯re prettier than Sakura and Meilin too, but they still seem to have more of a love life than you. Sakura has Syaoran and that freak, Eron, and Meilin seems to have Kai devoted to her lately. The closest thing you had probably was Eron last winter, but¡¦¡±


¡°But obviously he was only using me to get closer to Sakura-chan,¡± Tomoyo finished, smiling. ¡°I¡¯m a little eccentric you know—people come to me with problems but it is rare that anyone wants to approach any further, as I told Sakura-chan. Besides, I¡¯m not seeking for a love life, anyway.¡±


¡°Ooh, unless¡¦¡± Kero-chan raised an eyebrow at Eriol, seated in the armchair and looking cool and distinguished as usual in his polka-dot pajamas.


¡°Okay, now let¡¯s stop talking about me and go to sleep now,¡± Tomoyo said, standing up and heading to the king-size four-posted bed. ¡°Good night, Kero-chan. Good night, Eriol-kun.¡±


Ruffled at being cut off just when the conversation was about to get juicy, Kero-chan stated, ¡°I¡¯ll go sleep in Eriol¡¯s room. Humph.¡± Then he flew over through the door to Eriol¡¯s suite and snuggled inside a baby cradle.


¡°I take the hint that you¡¯re requesting for me to leave,¡± Eriol said, his eyes twinkling.


¡°Oh no, I didn¡¯t mean it that way,¡± Tomoyo stammered. ¡°I¡¦¡±


¡°Good night and sweet dreams, Tomoyo-san,¡± Eriol said, smiling and closing the door behind him.


Falling back into the luxuriously cushioned bed, Tomoyo felt her heart fluttering in an unfamiliar way. I¡¯m just excited after a hectic day, she told herself. Hope I see Sakura and Syaoran tomorrow.






It was Syaoran who awoke first the next day and hopped out of bed, refreshed and strangely energized. Sakura was still asleep and having kicked off her covers, lay sprawled with her mouth slightly parted, a strap of her pajama top sliding off one shoulder. He chuckled; she still slept like a baby. Then, he narrowed his eyes, as he caught glimpse in the broad daylight the strangely shaped purple bruises covering Sakura¡¯s upper arm, wrist, and collarbone area. Did she have them previously? First, she had been wearing the long-sleeved, collared uniform, so he couldn¡¯t see the bruises at school, and it had been too dark to see them when they were back in the real world and she changed into the queer gypsy costume. And when they had first arrived inside the Fantasy Kingdom, he had been too overwhelmed by the setting and then running away from the guards to notice Sakura¡¯s bare, bruise-covered shoulders. Now that he looked again, they seemed awfully like finger marks—the type of bruise formed from pressing into the flesh and into the bone.


¡°Wake up Sakura!¡± Syaoran shook Sakura, who muttered something and turned over on her side, then rolled onto her stomach.


Syaoran¡¯s eyes widened. He brushed aside her long hair to reveal the nape of her neck and her upper back. There were more bruises on her backside—surely it didn¡¯t cover her entire back also? Carefully, he lifted up her top enough to see two or three broad, swollen red streaks striping her back, as if she had been whacked my a metal rod.


¡°What are you doing?¡± Sakura asked, startled out of sleep, pushing aside Syaoran¡¯s hand, her heart pounding. She straightened her pajama top nervously.


¡°Sakura, where did you get those bruises?¡± Syaoran demanded.


Sakura bolted up, moving away from Syaoran and trying to use the blanket to cover herself. She had completely forgotten about the bruises once she came to the Fantasy Kingdom. Maybe the magic of the air had made them cease aching. Now, Syaoran had just triggered unpleasant memories.


¡°Answer me Sakura,¡± Syaoran said, gravely.


¡°Nowhere—cheerleading practice. I fell down from the top of the pyramid,¡± Sakura lied glibly.


¡°Cheerleading season didn¡¯t start yet,¡± Syaoran reminded. ¡°Here, let me take a closer look.¡±


¡°NO!¡± Sakura slapped away Syaoran¡¯s hand, astounding him with her quick retreat. ¡°I mean¡¦ It¡¯s nothing. It doesn¡¯t hurt or anything.¡± That was true, but only because they were inside the Fantasy.¡±


¡°What are you talking about? These are fresh bruises, a day old at the most,¡± Syaoran said, frustrated. ¡°Who did this to you?¡±


¡°I told you it¡¯s nothing!¡± Sakura snapped, afraid that Syaoran might figure out with his probing mind. She had been trying so hard to forget about it. Eron¡¯s cruel words echoed in her ears. ¡®Well, it¡¯s about time that you get the notion out of your head that I am a nice guy, that you can befriend me by throwing bones at a stray puppy. I¡¯m not as simple as Li Syaoran.¡¯


¡°Then why are you backing off like that?¡± Syaoran snatched away the pillow she was hiding behind. ¡°Sakura, look at me!¡±


¡°No!¡± I can never let Syaoran know! But it was too late—Sakura realized that she was recalling Sunday¡¯s incident so vividly when she had vowed to delete it from her memory.


Breaking into Sakura¡¯s mind, Syaoran suddenly caught glimpses of Eron grabbing Sakura¡¯s arm and then thrusting her back onto a lamppost, him grinding his fingers into Sakura¡¯s tender skin, hurting her, him trying to kiss her ¡¦ his words, ¡®If I were you, I would be more on guard. There¡¯s no knowing what I might do from now on.¡¯ Sakura¡¯s terror-stricken eyes¡¦


¡°Stop it!¡± Sakura exclaimed, clenching her eyes shut. ¡°Stop looking into my mind!¡±


The flashes of image were cut off, and Syaoran stared at Sakura, breathing hard, trembling in fury. Never did he think that the simple ability to mind-read could hurt him so much. His teeth were clenched as he uttered vehemently, ¡°That bastard¡¦ That son of a beast¡¦ Wait till I get my hands on him¡¦¡±


¡°No, Syaoran, you¡¯re wrong—Eron didn¡¯t do this,¡± Sakura said, shaking her head rapidly.


¡°Didn¡¯t I tell you to be cautious of that guy?¡± Syaoran demanded. ¡°And yet, you¡¯d never listen to me. Oh, just wait till we get back¡¦¡±


¡°No, Syaoran, it¡¯s not that big of a deal,¡± Sakura protested, wary that Syaoran would be likely to scold her as she fully deserved for failing to heed his warnings.


Instead, he had an extremely pained, sad expression. ¡°He dared do this to you?¡± Syaoran whispered, reaching out and gently touching the bruise over her collarbone. Sakura winced. The swollen red streaks on her back pained him the most—it reminded him of the encounter with the Whip for some reason. He knew what it was like, not being able to lie down properly, sit up straight, having to be careful not to bump into anything. Eron. Never had he felt such a strong urge to punch someone¡¯s face and smash out his brains.


At this, Sakura remained silent, secretly touched at the plain concern written over Syaoran¡¯s face, and forgave him for intruding into her mind.





The day was as sunny as the day before, and Sakura and Syaoran, dressed in gypsy and pirate attire again, laundered and mended, embarked on a fresh start after finishing the scrumptious breakfast of hotcakes and fresh maple syrup and fresh berries. It was impossible to stay too angry or argue with each other in the Fantasy Kingdom, and Sakura and Syaoran simply didn¡¯t mention the early morning row to each other.  


Syaoran was at least relieved to find that Sakura seemed to possess no memory of the incident that happened in the middle of the previous night; she proclaimed, ¡°I think I slept like a log last night—I don¡¯t think I even stirred in my sleep.¡±


¡°Except for the fact that you were snoring,¡± Syaoran said, glad that they resolved their morning dispute before it evolved into a full-fledged argument. He was just careful not to look at Sakura¡¯s shoulders, or else he would start feeling murderous again.

¡±I do not snore!¡± Sakura retorted, cheeks flushing red.


¡°Really? I thought the roof would fall over us. You talk in your sleep too,¡± Syaoran continued to tease.


¡°Humph! You¡¯re so mean—worse than ¡®nii-chan!¡±





They reached the top of the mountain with the help the Unicorn, pure white in broad daylight and with magnificent feathered wings, who appeared even before Sakura had to go through the trouble of releasing her staff.  


¡°What a frightening place,¡± Sakura mused, staring up at the creepy, crumbling tower of gray stone. Hesitantly, they climbed up the winding steps which supposedly led to the top of the tower.


When they were around halfway up the tower, Syaoran peaked out one of the small holes in the wall which served as windows and said, ¡°There¡¯s someone coming from the east.¡±


Peaking through another opening, Sakura said, ¡°Seems like a bunch of riders on white horses. And they¡¯re carrying the royal banner¡¦ See? It¡¯s blue and silver like we saw on Prince Mikai and the guards. Let¡¯s hurry up, before they arrive.¡±


As if the tower itself had a different idea, at that moment, the stairs ahead suddenly crumbled under Sakura¡¯s feet. Quickly, Syaoran pulled her back to his chest and Sakura collided into him, her nose jamming into his chest. Her crimson skirt was tangled in his legs, and Syaoran held her close to him, as if afraid to let go of her.


¡°I¡¯m okay now,¡± Sakura whispered, looking up at Syaoran¡¯s solemn face, lit by a stream of light which came through the narrow cracks in the stone wall. ¡°You can let me go now.¡±


Realizing that his face was as close Sakura¡¯s as the previous night, then realizing that it might be dangerous because he might kiss her again, Syaoran loosened his grip on Sakura. It wouldn¡¯t do for her to remember. He grimaced as he gazed at her bruised collarbone.    


¡°That was close,¡± Sakura laughed weakly, staring at the gaping gap in the middle of the stairway, through which she could see the distant bottom of the tower. Her heart was pounding less from the shock of almost falling through the stairs and more from a certain pair of amber eyes glazed with passion and sincerity.  


Fortunately, they reached the top of the tower without any more mishaps, and approached a rotten wooden door. Syaoran kicked it open with ease. The room inside was bare of any furniture or decoration and resembled a dungeon more than anything else.


¡°There¡¯s no one here,¡± Sakura said, stepping into the room. She found she was mistaken.


¡°You¡¯ve finally come,¡± came a voice other than Syaoran¡¯s. ¡°I was afraid you weren¡¯t because it took you two so long.¡±


¡°Mikai?¡± Syaoran asked in disbelief, unable to recognize him because he was dressed in stark black. ¡°What are you doing here?¡±


Unlike his haughty image of earlier, Mikai was greatly humbled as he said, ¡°I¡¯ve got a favor to ask you two.¡±


¡°What is it?¡± Syaoran asked warily.


¡°Take my sister out of this world,¡± Mikai replied head down, his eyes hidden behind his hair.


¡°Eh?¡± That had been completely unexpected.


¡°Please, save Miho before it is too late—get her to realize this is a world she created only in her imagination, that she has a real life to return to,¡± Mikai continued desperately.


¡°Wait, I don¡¯t understand what¡¯s going on,¡± Syaoran said slowly. ¡°That¡¯s what we are here to do anyway, but why are you asking us to that? Aren¡¯t you part of Miho¡¯s fantasy? Why would you¡¦¡±


¡°I am the core of her fantasy; that¡¯s why if I¡¯m destroyed in front of her eyes, she¡¯ll snap back into reality,¡± Mikai said. ¡°If I¡¯m destroyed¡¦¡±


¡°You can¡¯t be destroyed,¡± Syaoran said. ¡°This is Miho¡¯s fantasy world. You can¡¯t die unless Miho desires you to be eliminated and that will never occur.¡±


Mikai nodded. ¡°That¡¯s true¡¦ But there¡¯s an exception.¡± He looked up at Sakura who seemed to have dawned upon the same conclusion as him.


¡°I know. I get it. The Earl of darkness,¡± Sakura rambled on.


¡°What do you mean by ¡®Earl of darkness,¡¯¡± Syaoran asked frustrated by the ambiguity of the situation.


¡°If this fantasy world is going according to the story, the one person that the princess, Miho, has to overthrow is the Earl of darkness. So, in the end, Miho will come to the tower and destroy the Earl. However, if Mikai, her precious brother, happened to be the Earl,¡± Sakura explained rapidly. ¡°Then that is the one way her fantasy will shatter.¡±


¡°And we will be able to take her back to the real world,¡± Syaoran finished off. To Mikai, he questioned, ¡°And you are willing to cooperate with your own demise to help Miho?¡±


Smiling sadly, Mikai sad, ¡°It was a mistake for Miho to love me too much when spinning off her fantasy story—in doing so she has brought my own downfall because I care for her safety just as much in return.¡±


Realizing how tragic the whole situation was, even after being excited that she had come up with a tangible plot, Sakura said, ¡°You do know that it will hurt Miho terribly don¡¯t you? When she realizes¡¦¡±


¡°Even if it hurts her, it¡¯s more important that she lives,¡± Mikai replied quietly. ¡°Living in bliss here in this rose-colored world is not really living. It¡¯s only an illusion, an illusion of happiness.¡± He slipped over his head a black mask. ¡°She will learn to live on with out me.¡±





Early that morning, Miho and the Royal Guards had set off from the palace on white winged steeds, directly to the dark tower. Eriol, Tomoyo, and Kero-chan, despite Miho¡¯s unwillingness for them to follow, had been included in the procession.


¡°Where¡¯s Prince Mikai?¡± Tomoyo asked Miho, searching the proceedings.


¡°He¡¯s went off first, as a lookout,¡± Miho replied.


¡°A gallant knight protector,¡± Kero-chan muttered. ¡°Goody two-shoes Mikai.¡±


Having reached the foot of the tower, Miho commanded, ¡°Guards, wait out here. I shall enter alone.¡±


¡°We¡¯ll go with you,¡± Eriol said.


¡°Do as you please; just don¡¯t interfere,¡± Miho replied, tossing back her hair and gathering her long skirt in one hand as she headed up the stairs.


¡°Where is your brother, anyway?¡± Kero-chan asked. ¡°He was missing in the throne room yesterday, too.¡±


¡°Prince Mikai, my brother, will come along,¡± Miho replied, huffing and puffing up the endless steps. ¡°Anyway, it¡¯s me who has to face E.o.d.¡±


¡°I can feel Sakura and Syaoran near by,¡± Eriol told Tomoyo quietly, following Miho shortly behind.


¡°What are they doing here?¡± Tomoyo questioned.


¡°Do we really have to see what¡¯s at the top of the tower?¡± Kero-chan grumbled, having an easier time than the rest because he was flying. ¡°Can¡¯t we get Miho to realize this is all dream-world and that we need to return now?¡±


Finally reaching the top of the stairs, Miho, panting, gazed around. ¡°Who¡¯s there?¡± she demanded.


¡°Miho-chan!¡± Sakura exclaimed. ¡°Wow, you look unrecognizable.¡±


¡°Who are you?¡± Miho asked coldly. ¡°Are you one of the Earl¡¯s minions? Step out of the way.¡±


¡°Sakura-chan!¡± Tomoyo called out, reaching the top also.


¡°Tomoyo-chan, what are you doing here?¡± Sakura asked.


¡°I called her up by mistake,¡± Kero-chan replied, flying to his mistress fondly.


¡°Kero-chan!¡± Sakura shook Kero-chan¡¯s paws heartily.


¡°I see, you all are allies,¡± Miho said. ¡°I should¡¯ve seen from the beginning that you were plotting against. I should have you all arrested as soon as I deal with the Earl of darkness.¡±


¡°Miho-chan, there is no earl,¡± Sakura tried desperately. ¡°Let¡¯s just leave this off and return to our world now. You¡¯re needed there more than here.¡±


¡°Silence!¡± Miho commanded.


Sakura opened her mouth to speak but it was in vain, her eyes tearing in attempt to make a sound. Was this how Tomoyo felt went she had her voice taken away back in fifth grade? ¡°Mmm¡¦ mmm¡¦¡± Sakura gasped.

¡±Miho, everyone¡¯s waiting for you back at home,¡± Syaoran said, stepping out from behind Sakura, blocking the entrance to the inner room. ¡°Your mother, all your friends, not to mention the journalism club—you love to write, don¡¯t you? And all of us, too, are waiting for you.¡±


¡°This is my home, where I belong, where I am happiest,¡± Miho replied. ¡°Step aside before I hurt you. You¡¯re rather my ideal type of guy, so I wouldn¡¯t want any harm to fall upon you.¡±


That too was a command, and Syaoran felt his feet move away from the door, unwillingly.


Swinging the door open, Miho entered, followed by Sakura, Syaoran, Tomoyo, Kero-chan and lastly Eriol. She stated boldly, ¡°I have come to challenge you, Earl of darkness. Show your face to me.¡±


¡°Do you wish to destroy me?¡± came a voice from behind a cracked, full-length mirror near the back of the room. It echoed so much due to the structure of the room that the voice was unrecognizable as Mikai¡¯s.


¡°Yes I do,¡± Miho replied, whipping out her bow and arrow.

¡±Seems like she can wield those weapons properly in this world,¡± Syaoran whispered to Sakura, who nodded, still not being able to speak since Miho hadn¡¯t lifted her command yet.   


¡°Can I ask you the reason why you want to destroy me?¡± the mysterious voice continued to prod.


¡°Because light must claim victory over dark, and those who have sinned must come to a fall,¡± Miho replied. ¡°That is what my brother always taught me. And so, it has come to be the time of your decline, Earl of Darkness.¡±


¡°Yet, sometimes things aren¡¯t so easily defined as black or white,¡± the Earl said softly. ¡°There are gray spots too.¡±


¡°But you are tainted black, and therefore you must be destroyed,¡± Miho said.


¡°And is there no room for redemption?¡± he asked.


¡°No. Not for the likes of you,¡± Miho replied firmly.


¡°Very well then,¡± the Earl said. ¡°So be it, Princess Miho. Destroy me as you please. If this is a world where the soiled can¡¯t coexist with the pure, then the likes of me is doomed to hell. For what right do I have to seek for paradise?¡±


Sakura tried to utter a sound. Syaoran shook his head. The due action had to take place.


¡°Good; this will be the last of you, Earl of darkness!¡± Without mercy, Miho shot with dead accuracy through the long oval mirror, which shattered, and pierced through the figure standing behind it. ¡°Bull¡¯s eye!¡±


The clattering of glass shards to the ground startled the onlookers more than the actually thud of a person collapsing.


All of them except Eriol and Kero-chan ran up to behind the mirror, crowding around the fallen figure.


With trembling hands, Miho removed the black mask from his face, though she had already begun suspecting who it was from the shock of auburn hair matted against his forehead, striking against his black apparel.


¡°Caught, my little princess,¡± Mikai said, plucking the arrow from his heart, letting the blood gush out and drip on to the ground.

¡±Onii-chan¡¦ No¡¦ This is a lie,¡± Miho said, stepping back. ¡°What are you doing here? Why?¡±


¡°Miho, you said there is no gray, that all is black and white. If I am either black or white, I am black. Therefore I am unredeemable, and you have done right in conquering me, for I am the Earl that you have been dreaming of conquering all your life,¡± Mikai said calmly as a scarlet pool formed around him. ¡°You¡¯ve done well.¡±


¡°No, this is all a dream¡¦¡± Miho said, covering her eyes and sobbing. ¡°This can¡¯t be real.¡±


¡°It isn¡¯t real,¡± Mikai said, his voice strained. ¡°This is just the result of your fantasy. This is all a bad dream. So go back, go back to your real world, where you are needed.¡±


Bending over Mikai, Miho clasped her hand. ¡°I don¡¯t care! I don¡¯t care if you are stained, I don¡¯t care if you are evil, which I know you are not. I just want to be with you. If I return, you won¡¯t bet there¡¦ You¡¯ll be gone, as only a part of my fantasy dissolved into air. It¡¯s my dream. How can it go wrong?¡±


¡°It¡¯s already too late,¡± Mikai said, gasping. ¡°Your path is¡¦ already chosen. You must go on. It is time to leave silly childhood fantasies behind¡¦ and carry on your own life.¡±


¡°Miho, come back with us,¡± Eriol spoke for the first time, approaching Miho. ¡°You¡¯ve remembered everything now, haven¡¯t you? Having done so, it isn¡¯t possible for you to stay in here any longer. You¡¯ve already realized that this world was only the result of your imagination and childhood dreams. But back at home, we¡¯re all waiting for you. We all love you and need you. And your brother will thank you for treasuring your memory of him so dearly but will wish you to be able to pull through and become a woman. You can¡¯t be a child clinging on to your brother¡¯s shadows forever.¡±


¡°That is right,¡± Mikai whispered, smiling. ¡°But don¡¯t worry, even if you don¡¯t have your own kingdom, you¡¯ll always be my little princess.¡±


¡°Onii-chan! No!¡± Miho exclaimed as Mikai shut his eyes.


Slowly, Mikai¡¯s form dissolved into thin air, ripping with the rainbow light of the Fantasy.


¡°¡®NII-CHAN!!!¡± Miho shouted, tears splashing down her cheeks.


Nobody said anything as Miho crouched on her knees, sobbing into her hands. They didn¡¯t even notice when her hair grew short again, and her long gown changed to her school uniform.


¡°Miho, let¡¯s go home,¡± Eriol said, patting Miho¡¯s shoulders awkwardly.


You must go on. It is time to leave silly childhood fantasies behind and carry on your own life.


Miho had been so happy for the past few weeks, spending time with Mikai, dark force he may have been. If only she could return back to that short but blissful period. No¡¦ What had been the result of them? She had grown distant from all her friends, fought with Eriol, her true savior, slacked off on her school work, set aside her journalism club duties, stopped visiting her mother, her only mother, and worst of all, had become a dependent. Eriol¡¯s words echoed in her ear. You can¡¯t be a child clinging on to your brother¡¯s shadows forever.


Everyone gazed at each other uneasily, not knowing how to handle the situation. They were all startled when Miho, giving a final sniff and using Eriol¡¯s handkerchief blow her nose, stood up firmly—eyes bloodshot and her face flushed— but voice firm despite it quavering as she stated, ¡°I¡¯m okay. Thank you for worry everyone, but I¡¯ll be okay.¡±


¡°Miho-chan¡¦¡± Tomoyo sighed in relief.


¡°Mmm¡¦ hmm¡¦¡± Sakura attempted to say.


¡°You can speak now, Sakura,¡± Miho said, laughing. ¡°Thanks all of you, coming on a rescue mission for me. It was hilarious—¡®You bore me. I¡¯ll send you to the dungeon!¡¯ Ha ha ha¡¦ You guys looked so dismayed. And Eriol the fortune-teller!¡±

¡±Wait a minute, you recognized us but was pretending not to know us?¡± Kero-chan demanded. Then he realized that if Miho had truly forgotten them, they would have been trapped there forever, inside the Fantasy.


¡°But that song was truly beautiful, Tomoyo,¡± Miho added. ¡°If you sing like that tomorrow, at the concert, first place is guaranteed.¡±


¡°Thank you, Miho-chan,¡± Tomoyo said, smiling. ¡°You really are strong.¡±


¡°You know, this tower is so ugly, not my taste,¡± Miho stated. ¡°All gray and crumbling.¡± The tower disappeared and they all standing by the banks of the pink lemonade river. In the distance, the white palace could be seen, raising a white flag of victory and peace from its highest tower, and the heralds blowing trumpets of victory.     


¡°Well, the Earl of darkness was rather the Earl of gray, wasn¡¯t he? E.o.g.,¡± Kero-chan stated.


Everyone groaned at the bad joke.  


¡°You know, I think that Fantasy lied to us,¡± Sakura said. ¡°Didn¡¯t it say that as soon as Miho acknowledged that this is all her own imagination and that she wants to go back, we will all be able to return to the real world. Yet, we¡¯re still here.¡±


Everyone turned silent, realizing the significance of Sakura¡¯s words.


¡°Oh dear, does that mean we¡¯re stuck here?¡± Tomoyo asked, then realizing that she didn¡¯t mind too terribly; she would like to meet the Queen of Fairies next and maybe an elf with pointed ears.


¡°Well, there¡¯s always food and drink, so¡¦¡± Kero-chan said, helping himself to a cherry pie that grew on one of the trees.


¡°Miho, you¡¯ve wished yourself that you want to return, haven¡¯t you?¡± Eriol asked gravely.


¡°Of course I have,¡± Miho replied, indignant. Then she glared at the others. ¡°Unless one you were foolish enough to have wished to stay here longer¡¦ Now that the pillar of my fantasy is gone, all of you probably have equal ground in overthrowing my wishes.¡±

Syaoran stared at the ground guiltily. He hadn¡¯t meant to, yet he realized that he had wished to stay on a little longer.


¡°Who would be foolish enough to do that?¡± Kero-chan demanded.


¡°Umm¡¦¡± Syaoran stammered, before he was broken off by another speaker.


¡°Actually, I think I might have by mistake, wished to stay on a little longer and enjoy the splendid magic of this place,¡± Tomoyo admitted guiltily. ¡°Sorry.¡±


¡°I might have done that too,¡± Sakura said quickly. ¡°I really wasn¡¯t thinking I guess.¡±


Rubbing his head sheepishly, Kero-chan said, ¡°I guess I did too. It was so wonderful eating all the food I could and have it conjured up at my command.¡±


¡°Well, I guess we were all at fault then,¡± Eriol chuckled. ¡°I must say I too have been tempted.¡±


¡°Wow, only Syaoran was able to resist the temptation,¡± Tomoyo exclaimed.


¡°I¡¯m impressed, boy,¡± Kero-chan said grudgingly.


Sakura clapped her hands together. ¡°Syaoran-kun is always so disciplined, unlike the rest of us!¡±


¡°Err¡¦ yeah,¡± Syaoran said, deciding to remain silent after all.


¡°I guess we all want to return then?¡± Eriol asked, smiling.


Tomoyo squeezed Miho¡¯s shoulder reassuringly.  


¡°Yup!¡± Everyone echoed back.





Back through the ripple of rainbow light, the six of them were transported back to the old Tanaka Residence.


They all gazed around the bleak, barren space of land, dark except for the light from the lampposts on the main street, all the glory and beauty of the Fantasy Kingdom stripped away. No time had passed, and Sakura found that her gypsy costume which had been soiled and torn during the two-day adventure in the Fantasy world, was still brand new and Syaoran still had his bandana around his head and that silly golden pirate earring fastened to his left ear. Tomoyo was holding up her camcorder, filming.


From above the trees, Yue came rushing down, his long silver hair fanning out behind him. ¡°You¡¯ve returned,¡± he said, observing the group with keen silver eyes. ¡°Mikai?¡¯


¡°Disappeared,¡± Sakura replied. Then she sought for the aura of the Fantasy; it had clearly been defeated—she had to seal it now. She raised her staff.


¡°Don¡¯t bother, Card Mistress,¡± came the tingling, ethereal voice of the Fantasy. ¡°You haven¡¯t defeated me yet.¡±


¡°What?¡± Syaoran¡¯s eyes flashed from one corner of the trees to the other, sword out, searching for the Fantasy.


¡°As long as you have the faintest gleam of hope in your heart, as long as you have dreams and fantasies and the desire for them to come true, you won¡¯t be able to seal me,¡± the Fantasy laughed.


¡°Then how can I seal you?¡± Sakura demanded.

¡±Only when you are in true despair and have given up all your dreams, all your hope, and accept the cold injustice of reality will I be sealed,¡± the Fantasy replied. ¡°And I know you are far from that state of mind, Card Mistress. So farewell for now.¡± There was a poof of many colored bubbles popping and the aura of the Fantasy at the site disappeared.


¡°You mean we went through all that trouble, and poof, the Fantasy can simply escape like that?¡± Syaoran demanded. ¡°It¡¯ll be harder to seal the Fantasy than the Riddle!¡±

¡±Don¡¯t be silly. At least we brought back Miho-chan safely,¡± Sakura said. She sighed. Another card in addition to the Riddle that remained to be captured. Every time she had one sealed, another one appeared. How long could this cycle last?


¡°Miho-chan is back?¡± Meilin exclaimed, limping to them on her crutches, having left Kai in the car. ¡°Thank goodness you¡¯re okay.¡±


Giving a weak smile, Miho said, ¡°Of course I¡¯m fine. I¡¯m the great Mikai-sama¡¯s little sister, after all.¡±


¡°Welcome back, Miho,¡± Eriol said, smiling warmly.


Miho gazed up at Eriol with her shining coal gray eyes. ¡°Eriol, I¡¯m so sorry. I¡¯m sorry.¡±


Nobody heard what Eriol replied to her, but whatever he said, Miho flung her arms around Eriol and sobbed into his chest, hard. Sakura felt tears at the corner of her eyes and Kero-chan sniffled. Even Syaoran felt rather mellow—only Yue remained indifferent.


Miho sobbed her heart out, and Eriol occasionally patted her back, so cordially that they were all surprised at how brotherly Eriol could seem despite having been an only child all his life. She hiccupped. ¡°I¡¯m¡¦ really grateful¡¦ that I have such wonderful friends.¡± Her words were muffled in Eriol¡¯s chest.


Then, Miho faltered, collapsing into Eriol¡¯s supporting arms. The Fantasy had been sapping energy from her for weeks, and she had finally buckled under the strain.


¡°Miho-chan!¡± Sakura rushed up to Miho, whose face was eerily pale in the dark, the dark smudges underneath her eyes more distinct.


¡°Don¡¯t worry, she¡¯s fine,¡± Eriol reassured, heaving Miho on his back. ¡°She¡¯ll just need sleep and nutrition—the first thing is to recover her physical strength, and then her mental trauma would slowly heal.


¡°How surprising, to see you so concerned over a mere girl who has no use to you,¡± Yue commented blandly.


¡°What do you mean has no use to me, Yue?¡± Eriol asked smoothly without and any offense taken.


¡°All I know is that Clow Reed had a habit of showing kindness to only those who had some use to him, most often as a source of amusement,¡± Yue replied. As an after thought, he added, ¡°Well, maybe with an exception.


Even with the poor lighting, Tomoyo noticed Eriol¡¯s expression stiffen then relaxing into his usual smile. ¡°It is only natural for me to concerned for her, Yue, for Miho is the only family I¡¯ve ever had, the only person who has ever really needed me.¡±


At this, Tomoyo felt that strange quirk in her stomach. Eriol¡¯s eyes, all the humor gone from it, was the same color as the current night sky and graver than ever before.  


¡°Are you talking about Clow Reed included or just yourself,¡± Yue asked, cool and distant as always.

¡±Myself. Me,¡± Eriol replied, giving a short laughter. ¡°I¡¯m not Clow Reed, and he is not me as I never fail to reiterate.¡±


¡°Either way, it seems like Miho will be under your care a little longer, until her mother¡¯s health improves and her real brother shows up, if he is alive,¡± Kero-chan commented. ¡°And Kaho-san would be relieved that the ordeal that she had been most worrying about has safely passed over for Miho-chan.¡±


¡°Well, it won¡¯t be easy for her,¡± Eriol said. ¡°But after tonight, I can say I am a little relieved. I think we can have faith in Miho¡¯s resilience.¡±


¡°You know, I think we had things easier in the Fantasy than we should have,¡± Sakura said. ¡°Though obviously it must have been very painful for Miho.¡±


¡°Yeah¡¦ Her brother, though he was the core of the Fantasy, cared more for Miho¡¯s salvation than the objectives of the Dark Ones,¡± Syaoran said. ¡°He was his own independent spirit.¡±


Their conversation was interrupted by the honking of the car. Sticking his head out the window, Kai shouted, ¡°Are you guys coming or what?¡±


¡°Ooh! Sorry, completely forgot that you were there!¡± Sakura exclaimed. ¡°Well, we better get back home¡¦ Tomoyo-chan has the contest tomorrow.¡± She played with her hoop earring. Why did she feel like she had forgotten something very important back inside the Fantasy Kingdom?





Kai drove Meilin, Eriol, and Miho home, while Tomoyo¡¯s bodyguards came to pick her up. Tomoyo also gave Sakura and Kero-chan, tucked away in her pocket, a ride. Yue flew away as abruptly as he had arrived.


¡°Are you sure you don¡¯t want a ride, Syaoran?¡± Kai asked, before driving off. ¡°I mean, we do live in the same apartment building.¡±


¡°No thanks,¡± Syaoran said coldly, still not over the fact that Meilin was staying at the thief¡¯s place. ¡°Go ahead.¡±


¡°Fine!¡± Kai zoomed off, startling Meilin and Eriol in the backseat. Miho was too deep asleep to notice.


¡°He really left,¡± Syaoran muttered, realizing that by now, the last bus to Tomoeda probably had left, and he could only walk home, which might take at least two or three hours from Eitoukou. He kicked a stone on the sidewalk. From the bushes, he heard a cat yelp.


After walking for half an hour or so, he realized that he was passing by the Li Estate. Standing in front of the gates, he stared up at the dismally lonely house. Then his breath stopped short. A sudden icy sensation arrested him and he stumbled forward, gripping on to the iron post for support. A vision of a pair of icy blue eyes flashed through his mind.


When he could finally muster the strength to continue walking on home, Syaoran realized that his knees had gone numb for kneeling on the ground so long and his breathing was still irregular.






The next day, the students of Seijou Junior High were more excited than they had been since the ¡°Star-Crossed¡± production since the annual Junior High Music Festival was being sponsored by Seijou Junior High that year. The auditorium was gleaming and the students had painted large banners and posters for the Festival. All morning, buses from different schools had been arriving with contestants for the performance that afternoon. It was always exciting to have students in different uniforms mingled in with the crowd. Classes had been cancelled for the day and the various students had organized snack, drink, and souvenir stands all over the school grounds. Contestants that ranged from pianists to singers to acoustic guitarists were gathered into the various music rooms, all busy introducing each other to different school students of the opposite sex.    


¡°Aren¡¯t you nervous?¡± Rika asked Tomoyo, who was calmly eating her lunch, unruffled as usual. Most of the other musicians were feeling too queasy to eat. ¡°I¡¯m so sorry I couldn¡¯t play the piano for you ¡®cause of my wrist. But I heard that Eriol-kun¡¯s your accompanist, so that¡¯s a relief. With his skill, he probably could have entered the pianist section of the contest.¡±


¡°Speaking of Eriol-kun, I haven¡¯t seen him at school today,¡± Sakura said, biting into her sandwich. ¡°Did he come?¡±


¡°Oh no! I heard Terada-sensei say that he¡¯s absent today,¡± Rika exclaimed.


¡°Miho-chan isn¡¯t here today, either,¡± Chiharu said. ¡°Aki-kun is fuming because Miho was supposed to cover the Music Festival as a feature story.¡±


Tomoyo and Sakura exchanged uneasy looks. Clearly Eriol was looking after Miho, who must be suffering from the aftershock of all the happenings yesterday. It was only natural.


¡°Tomoyo-chan, what are you doing here?¡± Naoko exclaimed from amidst the crowd upon finding Tomoyo tucking away on her lunch when all other contestants were all preparing the materials for their performances. ¡°The contest will begin at one—all contestants have to up at the music room right now.¡±


As Tomoyo hurried to pack up her lunch box and head to the music room, Sakura whispered, forehead crinkled in concern, ¡°What are you doing to do if Eriol-kun doesn¡¯t come? I—I think it might be difficult for him to come today because of what happened yesterday. He probably has to look after Miho-chan.¡±


Managing a confident smile, Tomoyo replied, ¡°Don¡¯t worry. I can sing to a background music recording. It won¡¯t make that much of difference.¡±


¡°Oh yeah¡¦¡± Sakura stammered for the right words. ¡°Can you sing now, Tomoyo-chan? That time¡¦¡±


¡°Hopefully I will be able to now,¡± Tomoyo said. Inside the Fantasy Kingdom, she had been able to sing with the greatest ease. Truthfully, she hadn¡¯t sang since she had returned and didn¡¯t know if she could sing like she had in the Fantasy in the real world. She would be able to find out if her voice had returned when she did a voice warm up exercise later on, before the contest began. Never had she dreaded singing like this before, however.





When Tomoyo, changed into her recital dress, entered the bustling music classroom full of Seijou students—rooms were divided off by different schools—the music teacher came up to her, looking relieved. ¡°Thank goodness you are here, Daidouji-san. But I¡¯ve heard your accompanist isn¡¯t at school today.¡±


¡°It is okay—there¡¯s a recording of the piano accompaniment and I can sing to that,¡± Tomoyo said.


¡°Well then, you can go to one of the private music rooms and start warming up your voice,¡± the music teacher said, handing Tomoyo the keys to the room. ¡°You¡¯re number is one of the last, so you have plenty of time to prepare yourself. Do your best today—we¡¯re all counting on you!¡±


¡°Thank you, sensei.¡± Tomoyo stared at the door, suddenly wishing that Eriol was there, reassuring her that she would be able to do fine. With heavy feet she entered the small, soundproof music room.


Playing a key on the keyboard, Tomoyo tried to sing ¡°Doe¡¦¡± Her voice failed her once again. ¡°Ahhh¡¦¡± She sang again. It came out as a faint croak.


Tomoyo gasped, clutching her throat. She couldn¡¯t sing; what was she to do? The contest was only a few hours away! Suddenly, she had a horrible vision of herself standing on the stage alone, all her friends, Sakura, Meilin, Chiharu, Rika, Naoko, Syaoran, Kai, and her mother, her father, and her music teacher staring at her, pointing at her and laughing. No matter how hard she tried to sing, no voice came out.


An echo of the Phantom¡¯s voice sounded in her mind. ¡°Do you think that you can try to step up into spotlight, seeking for attention? Do you know how pathetic it is? Can¡¯t you accept that you are only the shadow of everyone around you? Do you seek for people to look at you? Your mother? Your father? Do you want someone to love you? Do you think you are capable of being loved? No one will love you. You are doomed to be alone.


Knocking aside the stool, Tomoyo burst out from the music room and ran out to the hallway, startling the students standing around.


There must have been a time when singing had been a pleasure to her. Now, it was a source of dread.





The minutes approached one and the students slowly filed into the auditorium to obtain good seats for the Music Festival.


¡°Hurry, Sakura-chan, let¡¯s go in,¡± Chiharu called out, grabbing on to Takashi who was trying to stray to one of the souvenir stands. ¡°Naoko-chan said that she¡¯s saved good seats for us up in the front. Rika-chan, Meilin-chan, and Kai-kun are there too.¡±


¡°Have any of you guys seen Syaoran?¡± Sakura asked absentmindedly, peering through the crowds of students.     


¡°No, haven¡¯t seen him all day,¡± Chiharu replied.


¡°Oh, I think I saw him in the morning—he was in an awful rush,¡± Takashi replied. ¡°Didn¡¯t even say hi.¡±

¡±You guys go in first,¡± Sakura said, half listening. Was Miho still unconscious and Eriol really not planning to come? ¡°I¡¯ll be there shortly.¡±


¡°Okay, hurry up! The concert is starting any minute now!¡± Chiharu called out.


¡°Chiharu-chan!¡± Takashi said.


¡°What?¡± Chiharu asked shortly. ¡°Hurry, let¡¯s go in.¡±


¡°Hold out your hand,¡± Takashi said, slipping something out of his pocket.


¡°Why?¡± Chiharu held up her hand obediently.


Around her wrist, Takashi fastened a turquoise and white bead bracelet shaped in a daisy pattern. ¡°Mystery of the beads disappearing from the art room solved?¡±


Eyes turning misty, Chiharu said, ¡°Yamazaki Takashi! You remembered me saying that I wanted a bead bracelet and made this for me?¡±


¡°Now will you finish listening to my bead story?¡± Takashi asked, grinning.


¡°Thank you so much!¡± Chiharu cried, throwing her arms around Takashi. ¡°You know, this is the first time you¡¯ve given something to me?¡±


Off to the corner, Sakura smiled fondly over her two childhood friends. She envied how they got along so well. And on a side note, she was relieved that the source of the missing beads was Takashi, not some ghost or a dark force.


Before long, the hallways were empty. From the sounds of it, the teacher was making introductory remarks in the auditorium.


Then, she felt the urge to gaze out the window. Sakura thought she saw two figures streaking across the field. Flinging open the window, she stuck her head out and looked closer. She wasn¡¯t mistaken—it was Eriol and Miho, sprinting across to the school entrance with amazing agility after such a tiring night!


In a few minutes, she saw Eriol and Miho approaching from down the hallway.


¡°Miho-chan! Eriol-kun!¡± Sakura called, waving her hand. ¡°You¡¯re here after all!¡±


¡°Of course,¡± Miho stated, holding up her notepad and sticking a pen behind her ear. ¡°I have an article to cover. I can¡¯t shirk my duties, can I, or face the rage of Aki-sempai. I can¡¯t believe I slept till noon today, though—I almost missed the Music Festival!¡±


¡°Sakura-san, where is Tomoyo-san?¡± Eriol asked, catching his breath, his glossy blue-black hair out of place for a change. ¡°Did it¡¦ start yet?¡±


Had Sakura ever seen him so disheveled before? Smiling in relief, she replied, ¡°Tomoyo-chan is in the second floor music room—her numbers one of the last; you¡¯re just on time.¡±





From the sudden quiet of the hallways, Tomoyo realized that the Music Festival must have begun. She could hear the faint sound of flutes drift from auditorium. The awaiting contestants in the classroom were now hearing encouragements and last minute pointers from their school peers and music instructor. She wondered if her mother came—Daidouji Sonomi was very occupied her enterprise these days, something about starting a new line abroad. All Tomoyo knew at that moment was that she couldn¡¯t sing and that she had to run away from this place. Something she never did. She always believed in hanging on waiting out, whatever the dilemma may be. But now, she felt like fleeing.


Then, she heard the soothing voice which had calmed and reassured her so many times before call out, ¡°Tomoyo-san.¡±


Hiiragizawa Eriol was standing before her, staring at her as if questioning whether she was running away.


¡°Eriol-kun.¡± Tomoyo was speechless as a flood of relief rushed through her.


Bowing his head, Eriol said, ¡°I¡¯m so sorry Tomoyo-san for being late.¡±


¡°No, no.¡± Tomoyo shook her head, her eyes feeling teary all of a sudden, out of pure joy. ¡°I thought you weren¡¯t coming at all.¡±


¡°I promised you we would win first place together,¡± Eriol replied solemnly. ¡°I keep my promises. I will try my best for you today. And I hope you will do the same for me. ¡±


¡°Thank you, Eriol-kun,¡± Tomoyo said, smiling. ¡°Thank you.¡±


¡°Well, have you started warming up yet?¡± Eriol asked, heading into the music room. ¡°You haven¡¯t? Let¡¯s get started then.¡±


For some reason, Tomoyo knew that she would now be able to sing perfectly fine.





Having seen Eriol head off to Tomoyo, Sakura, followed by Miho, quietly crept in to the auditorium through the back door. She saw Meilin wave to them from near the center of the first row.


As Miho and Sakura took the two empty seats, Meilin hissed, ¡°Where have you been? You¡¯ve missed the piano and the flute performances. They¡¯re doing violin performances right now—they¡¯re all excellent, really professional level.¡±


¡°Ooh, have I missed out a lot?¡± Miho ranted, furiously scribbling down notes on her notepad. ¡°I better catch up with the beginning through the video recording of the contest. I really can¡¯t believe I slept in today till noon.¡±


Meilin and Sakura glanced at each other happily. They had been worried about Miho, yet she had recovered fine on her own. Well, Eriol¡¯s support probably played a big part also.


As the current violist from Eitoukou Junior High finished his number and bowed, the audience burst into applause.  


¡°The last contestant on the violin is¡¦¡± the teacher announced. ¡°Li Syaoran, in his third year at Seijou Junior High, who will be playing his own alteration of Pachabel¡¯s Canon.¡±  


There came a loud scream from the female audience members—half of them from rival schools also—for Syaoran¡¯s fame had spread since the ¡°Star-Crossed¡± production.


Dropping her program, Sakura, jaws dropped, asked, ¡°Did anyone know that Syaoran was participating in the contest?¡± Suddenly, it became clear why Syaoran so often disappeared in between breaks and missed journalism club meetings.


¡°Look, his name is printed in the program list of contestants,¡± Naoko pointed out, holding out the program cover. ¡°Li Syaoran, Seijou Junior High, Class 3-2, Violin¡¦ Canon Alteration.¡±


¡°You didn¡¯t know?¡± Sakura asked, Meilin, who looked equally as clueless to Sakura¡¯s secret satisfaction.


¡°No¡¦ I was staying at Kai¡¯s and also, he was rarely home,¡± Meilin said, staring at Syaoran calmly standing on the stage, violin and bow in one hand and extending the microphone to his height, looking tall and handsome in the Seijou Junior High uniform, a split image of his father.  


¡°How come he didn¡¯t tell anyone?¡± Chiharu asked. ¡°We were only cheering for Tomoyo-chan, but I guess we should be cheering for Li-kun too; he¡¯s our classmate, after all.¡±


The students had finally hushed and Syaoran stepped up to the microphone and said, ¡°I would like to dedicate this performance to one who I have hurt terribly almost a year ago and apologize to her for saying words that I did not truly mean. For those of you who wonder why we live, I ask, don¡¯t we live to create memories, for memories are the only lasting gift bestowed upon the humankind, and when all else fails, we can look back to our favorite memories fondly.¡± Syaoran paused, looking through the audience straight at Sakura, who was sitting in the center front row.


Everyone was taken back since no on else had given such an introductory comment before.


Syaoran continued, ¡°For this person I have chosen this song to ask for forgiveness so that we can look back at yesteryears without any grudge. So that I can seek redemption for past mistakes.¡±


A fleeting image of snow fluttering down and a bitter, mocking, hurting voice replayed in Sakura¡¯s mind as vivid as it really was yesterday. Funny how we can look back to yesterday and realize how silly it was. It seems like another lifetime.


Yes, despite it all, the mere memory still hurt like an icicle embedded deep in her heart, unbeknownst to her. She looked up to see Syaoran was still looking at her as he adjusted his father¡¯s violin to his chin. This was the second time she saw Syaoran on stage and watched him as an audience—the first time was back during the Star-Crossed auditions, when he had sang ¡°It¡¯s So Hard to Say Good-bye to Yesterday.¡±


¡°Oh, he¡¯s talking to me,¡± said one girl, blushing. ¡°How sweet of Li-kun. He didn¡¯t have to.¡±


¡°Don¡¯t be an idiot¡¦¡± her friend scoffed. ¡°He¡¯s referring to me!¡±


Sakura did not know how the next few minutes were spent, as the familiar chords of Canon in an unfamiliar rhythm and variation caressed her body and whispered the song of a distant day to her soul. It was not a piece which could sound complete with just a single violin, but Syaoran pulled it off. The tune started slowly, yearning, the sound of loneliness common in all of Syaoran and Ryuuren¡¯s performances. Then, the rhythm grew faster and faster, till Sakura felt exhilarated, lifted up to golden clouds, and when Syaoran ended on a long, lingering note, Sakura found herself trembling, tears in her eyes. It was not the tune—though it had always been one of her favorites—it was the soul which Syaoran put into his performance, for as he brought his bow down, his head was damp from being drenched in sweat, his breath like that of someone who ran a marathon, his face flushed. And he was still staring only at Sakura. Sakura was staring straight back half up from her seat—luckily she didn¡¯t stand out because the rest of the audience was standing, applauding like they had during the Star-Crossed performance.


It was the same tune they had played last winter for the Winter Concert, yet Syaoran seemed to be playing a different piece, for he spoke to her through the music. It was as if he was saying, I am sorry for hurting you and abandoning you. Can you give me another chance?


¡°Ahem.¡± The MC teacher cleared his throat, as he glanced at his watch, knowing he had to move on. ¡°The next genre¡¦¡±


The applause hadn¡¯t ceased yet, and was followed by immense chattering.


¡°Wow, Romeo plays the violin!¡±


¡°Oh, I remember him playing that piece in a trio last year—but this is amazing; did he rewrite Canon himself? I¡¯ve never heard that version before.¡±


¡°I do wonder who that girl he¡¯s referring to is. Lucky her. My heart will melt if my boyfriend did something like that for me.¡±


¡°God, he¡¯s sooooooo hot!!!¡± was the rest of the female audience¡¯s reaction.


¡°Eron, what can I do?¡± Erika squealed, near the back of the audience. ¡°He¡¯s just too wonderful to destroy.¡±


¡°Humph.¡± Eron crossed his arms and looked away.


In the front row, staring at Chiharu ogling Syaoran, Takashi scowled.


Laughing, Chiharu said, ¡°Don¡¯t worry—I¡¯m just impressed by Li-kun, that¡¯s all. He¡¯s always surprising us, don¡¯t think you think? First during the Best Couple Contest, then the Star-Crossed production, and now this. I remember when he first transferred to Tomoeda Elementary from Hong Kong, he was such a sullen, lone-wolf kind of boy, yet he¡¯s come this far. It¡¯s really amazing.¡±


¡°Yeah, I guess,¡± Takashi conceded. ¡°He¡¯s worked hard, I can say.¡±


From the seat across, Meilin—who had nearly been as spellbound as Sakura— said, ¡°Syaoran has worked hard. He¡¯s improved on the violin immensely. He couldn¡¯t play like that last year, or back in Hong Kong either.¡±


¡°When did he have the time to practice, I wonder,¡± Miho mused, her gray eyes glittering with the prospects of a new angle to the article she was going to write. ¡°Kai-sempai, you¡¯ve taken pictures, right?¡±


¡°Yeah yeah,¡± Kai replied, holding up his digital camera lazily. ¡°Thinking about it, over the past month I do recall hearing violin music often in the middle of the night which I drowned out with rock music. Didn¡¯t know that was Syao-kun¡¦ thought it was the radio or something.¡±


¡°Why didn¡¯t Syaoran tell any of us he was entering?¡± Meilin asked, indignant.


¡°Well, obviously you weren¡¯t on speaking terms with him and he knew I wouldn¡¯t care, and it was supposed to be a surprise for Sakura-chan. And does he have any other friends? No, I don¡¯t think so,¡± Kai reasoned. ¡°Tomoyo-chan probably knew—she always know everything and she¡¯s another Seijou contestant anyway, but being her, she probably kept quiet.¡±   


¡°Sakura-chan, earth to it,¡± Meilin said, waving her hand in front of Sakura¡¯s face. ¡°Syaoran¡¯s long since left the stage.¡±


¡°Hoe?¡± Sakura was startled to find that the next contestant playing the cello was on the stage now. Really, when did Syaoran improve this much? Up till that summer, she had thought their violin skills were pretty much on par. Maybe Syaoran was a little better because he had started learning earlier than her. Of course, Syaoran was the quicker leaner, but Sakura had always practiced twice as hard as he did. Yet, now she felt that Syaoran had left her behind, exceeding anyone¡¯s expectations. There was no question who was the better violinist now. Yes, this performance was as good as any of Li Ryuuren¡¯s performances, and that was saying a lot.





¡°I wonder what that great noise coming from the auditorium is,¡± Eriol said, looking around.


¡°Hmm¡¦ I think Syaoran-kun¡¯s number just ended,¡± Tomoyo replied, flipping through the program listing.


¡°Oh, he entered the contest too?¡± Eriol asked, surprised.


¡°I suppose so,¡± Tomoyo replied. ¡°You never heard him play, did you? He¡¯s surprisingly good—I think he¡¯s as good on the violin you are on piano. He seems to possess some natural talent, inherited from his musically talented father, but most of it seems to come with a burst of effort over the past couple of years.¡± She was too prudent to mention that Eriol being musically talented probably had triggered the jealousy cells inside Syaoran, making him practice harder.


¡°It seems as if you¡¯re hinting at something,¡± Eriol commented mildly.


¡°Well, you have to admit that you play the piano with inane ability, without much effort or thought,¡± Tomoyo said truthfully. ¡°With your ability, you could easily have entered the piano soloist category.¡±

¡±Actually, the music teacher did offer me that option, but I told her that I wanted to devoted all my efforts to Tomoyo-san¡¯s piece,¡± Eriol replied.


At these words, a pleasant tingle ran down Tomoyo¡¯s spine. She shook her head, wondering why she was acting so strangely these days. Already she knew that Eriol was a pro at meaningless compliments and flattery. Yet why did his words alone make her heart race in such a way?





After waiting three more long hours which didn¡¯t seem long at all because Eriol was a pleasant conversationalist, someone who could put you in ease when you should be tense and nervous, one of the teachers finally called the contestants who were performing in the vocalist category to the back stage.


Swallowing hard, Tomoyo saw each singer walk on stage, perform his or her number, and receive a hearty applause—after all the instrumentals, the diversion of the vocal performances were welcomed.


¡°They¡¯re good,¡± Eriol said quietly, listening to the singers ranging from age 12 to age 15, from schools all over the district. ¡°But I know we will be the best if we just perform as we performed yesterday.¡±


¡°You mean in the Fantasyland?¡± Tomoyo laughed, though feeling more confident anyway.


¡°Well, yes,¡± Eriol replied. ¡°I think both of us like being the best, anyway, without trying to show it.¡±


¡°Yes, we both do,¡± Tomoyo replied. ¡°I¡¯ll do my best, Eriol-kun. I think for all you¡¯ve done for me, I¡¯ll try my best.¡±


¡°The next contestant is Daidouji Tomoyo, third grader from Seijou Junior High, singing ¡®Scarlet,¡¯ and accompanied on the piano by Hiiragizawa Eriol, also a third year Seijou Junior High Schooler,¡± the teacher announced.


Taking a deep breath, Tomoyo, the skirt of her blue velvet recital dress swishing, walked even-paced onto the stage with Eriol beside her, not even seeing her friends cheering frantically from the first row, or her mother and great-grandfather, and Uncle Fujitaka off to the corner. She didn¡¯t even care that her father was on another project and was missing yet another one of her performances.


The shiny black grand piano was located in one corner of the stage, and Eriol sat down on the piano bench, fingers posed over the keys with natural ease as usual. He stared up at Tomoyo, waiting for the cue. The stage was darkened except for two spotlights on each of them.


Tomoyo looked at Eriol, and he nodded back. The hauntingly beautiful piano melody trickled through the stage. Tomoyo joined in perfectly on cue this time, singing with the greatest ease so that anyone who heard that only a couple hours ago, she was unable to produce any sound would have laughed. She became not only a Voice, but a heavenly maiden, scarred, hoping, despairing, as she sang the melancholy lyrics:        


Can you still see your dreams in the distant, starry sky?
Are they more vivid than they were when you were little?
When one forgets to put the emotion that overflows in her heart to rest
It burns the color of passion.
Dreams are more fragile and fleeting than a glass rose,
So then why are we destined to dream?
Sometimes two dreams can turn into love,
But there are also times when they can't.
Even when alone, people want to share their feelings,
But it can be so hard;
Words are powerless to express one's feelings
And sometimes can become a silver knife.
I used to believe without a doubt that I could reach my dreams,
No matter how far off they were.
But that me from long ago now sleeps inside my heart.
As the last note of the piano faded, Tomoyo turned to Eriol, who looked up and smiled warmly and Tomoyo beamed back, deaf to the thundering applause.



Receiving the solid gold Annual Music Festival Vocalist First Place trophy and a handshake from both the school principal and the mayor, not to mention Sakura, Miho, Meilin, and her classmates congratulating her and her mother squeezing her into a tight hug, all didn¡¯t matter to Tomoyo. Such trivialities, once her greatest joy, passed by in a flurry.


As soon as she could escape from the crowd, Tomoyo rushed to the backstage, eager just to hear from one person. And he was waiting for her, handsome in his crisp black recital suit and maroon tie, and holding in his hands a single red rose, petals just beginning to bloom.


¡°Good job, Tomoyo-san,¡± Eriol said. ¡°I¡¯m really proud of you.¡±


Half-submerged in bliss, amethyst eyes shining, Tomoyo said, ¡°We did it together, Eriol-kun, we really did it! It¡¯s all thanks to you.¡±


¡°No, you even exceeded my expectations, if that is something possible,¡± Eriol replied, holding out the ruby red rose to her. No more words were needed from him than a simple but significant, ¡°Congratulations Tomoyo-san.¡±


Wordlessly, Tomoyo took the rose from Eriol¡¯s hand, flushing when her fingertips touched his. What is this prickling sensation? Can it be?


Momentarily, she recalled Sakura¡¯s words describing love. ¡®For some people I hear that realizing that they love someone is like a lightening striking them, but for others, it¡¯s a gradual thing that deepens with time. For me, I think it¡¯s inconsistent because even now, some days I question what I truly feel for him, while others, I reflect that it must have been love, after all.¡¯


Tomoyo¡¯s violet eyes widened with a certain realization as she clasped the rose to her heart.


No¡¦ It can¡¯t be¡¦ But it is, after all. I think I¡¯ve fallen in love with Hiiragizawa Eriol.




The students and parents streamed out of the auditorium, surprised to find that it was already evening—the contest had lasted for six hours, with two twenty minute intermissions. Some had been bored to tears in between the two standout performances in the contest, others had savored each minute.


Sakura pushed through the crowd, looking for Tomoyo and Syaoran, wishing to congratulate them properly for receiving first places in their category. Tomoyo had disappeared in the midst of all her friends crowding around her, and Syaoran hadn¡¯t been seen since he received the trophy. She left the school building and walked out to the bench area behind the building, tugging at her school tie.


Kai was lounging on one of the school benches, away from the crowd, tie gone and white uniform shirt unbuttoned all the way down to reveal a black t-shirt underneath.


¡°Why are you sitting out here all alone?¡± Sakura asked.


¡°Man, classical music just doesn¡¯t suit me,¡± Kai replied, yawning. ¡°Would have ditched the entire day if Meilin hadn¡¯t been guarding. Oh, and I had to take those stupid pictures of all the contestants.¡± He tossed his slim silver digital camera into the air and caught it, heedless that if he dropped it, it would crack the lens.    


¡°When did you learn photography, Kai-kun?¡± Sakura asked, standing beside the bench. ¡°You have so many nifty skills.¡±


¡°It¡¯s not that big of a deal,¡± Kai replied, playing with the camera shutter. ¡°I just happen to have the best and newest model available in the camera market. It¡¯s not that hard to press a button, and click. Anyone can do it. And also, having a steady pair of hands helps so that the picture doesn¡¯t shake.¡± He stared at his hands, long-fingered and sinuous. ¡°Well, my life has depended on this pair of hands, so that¡¯s where my expertise lies.¡±  


¡°Still, being able to adjust the frame and everything—your pictures always do come out nicely,¡± Sakura said. ¡°Sometimes, I wonder what you¡¯re doing, idling in Seijou Junior High. You¡¯ve seen so much of the world, know so much, have so many talents.¡±


¡°I sometimes wonder what I¡¯m doing here, too.¡± Kai laughed jokingly. ¡°Decaying in the midst of little junior high students whose greatest worry is passing high school entrance exams.¡±


¡°Oh yeah. Kai-kun,¡± Sakura said, fumbling to take something out of her pocket. ¡°Here.¡±


It was the silver locket with its intricate engravings leading to the round ruby jewel in the center.


¡°Sorry, Syaoran broke the chain when he took it from the Fantasy/Transform,¡± Sakura said, holding out the locket to Kai.


Hesitantly, Kai picked it off the Sakura¡¯s palm. ¡°Did you see inside?¡± he asked slowly, swinging open the catch and staring at the picture of two siblings inserted in the inner right frame.


¡°I did. Back in the summer when we were keeping it for you. Sorry,¡± Sakura said, looking down at her feet.


¡°Why are you sorry?¡± Kai asked, grinning forcedly. He fingered the locket—he thought he had seen the last of it when it disappeared with those street thieves that night he rescued Meilin.


¡°Because¡¦¡± Sakura shrugged helplessly. Then, she asked, ¡°But Kai-kun¡¦ Why are you¡¦ Are you really who I think you are?¡±


Kai looked up, smiling sadly. ¡°No, I¡¯m no longer Tanaka Mikai, if that¡¯s what you¡¯re wondering.¡± He leaped up to his feet. ¡°Well, I better see if Meilin is coming—need to go home and finish programming the computer game that I¡¯m making these days. So long, Sakura—thanks for picking up the locket for me, thought it was somewhat unnecessary.¡±


By now, Sakura wasn¡¯t surprised when Kai simply vanished from view—thankfully, no other students were near by.





¡°Where in the world is Kai?¡± Meilin grumbled, hobbling out the almost-empty auditorium—she only needed one crutch now, and could apply slight pressure on her right leg.


¡°Looking for me?¡± Kai asked, turning up next to her.


¡°Mizuki-kun, there you are!¡± Aki exclaimed, coming up from the stage after an interview with the school principal. ¡°The focus on the music festival will be Li-kun and Tomoyo-chan, so pick out several pictures of them tonight and bring them to journalism meeting tomorrow.¡±


¡°What ever you wish,¡± Kai muttered, taking Meilin¡¯s arm to depart before Aki could come up with a longer list of things for him to do.


Spotting a redhead, Aki waved to Miho to come over to him. ¡°Oh, Miho-chan, did you have ideas on which angle to approach the contest? I thought we might like to focus on Li-kun and Tomoyo-chan, since those two are the only students from our school who won first place—ooh, I¡¯m so mad that Eitoukou had three first-place winners—for flute, piano, and clarinet—anyway, do you think that you can finish the articles by the end of this week, so we can have the paper out by next Monday?¡±


¡°Don¡¯t worry, I have everything under control,¡± Miho replied, holding her thumb up. ¡°Just leave it to me—the Music Festival special be as much of a success as the Star-Crossed edition.¡±


¡°I know—you are my hand-chosen successor,¡± Aki said, flipping back his long bleached bangs back. ¡°You¡¯ll be editor-in-chief starting from next spring, after all.¡±


¡°Umm¡¦ I was the only one who applied for editorship,¡± Miho reminded, grinning nonetheless.  


¡°And uh¡¦¡± Aki stammered, rubbing his head. ¡°About last time¡¦ Umm¡¦ I¡¯m sorry for losing my temper on you. I was being a little immature on my part and didn¡¯t set a good example as the editor and the school president.¡±


¡°Oh no! That was my fault,¡± Miho exclaimed, taken back by the unexpected apology. ¡°I was neglecting my duties. And I do have the horrible flaw of being a hypocrite, also. I¡¯m really sorry, Aki-sempai; I won¡¯t slack off again. You have the word of Reporter Miho!¡± She smiled brightly—she should be honored to be the first to hear an apology from the spoiled, high and mighty Akagi Aki.





Sakura, passing by the open-door auditorium in her search for Syaoran, heard Aki¡¯s apology to Miho and grinned also. She didn¡¯t know Aki had such a sweet side to him. It was a relief to find that everything was back to normal now. For some reason, she knew that not much could hinder Miho now. Some people whose fantasies were stripped away from them, who were disillusioned, found nothing left to them in reality, just emptiness and futility. But Miho luckily had many things to return to—her mother, her friends, her writing, and Eriol. She knew that Miho would do fine from now on.


¡°It¡¯s a relief to see that she recovered quicker than any of us expected, isn¡¯t it?¡± Eron asked, coming from the opposite end of the hallway.


Jumping back, Sakura stared warily at Eron—only two days had passed since Sunday; she could have done without facing him for the next couple of weeks. Quickly, she spun around and tried to walk away.


¡°Look, Sakura,¡± Eron called out, grabbing her wrist. ¡°I know you¡¯re trying to avoid me, but I have something to say.¡±


¡°I¡¯m sorry, I don¡¯t have anything to say to you,¡± Sakura said, shaking away Eron¡¯s grasp, wincing from the sharp movement—her bruised body, though better than yesterday—still would take another week or two to heal completely. Probably the ones across her back, longer. Yet, more than the hurt of her body, her dignity was hurt; she felt so stupid for so blindly trusting Eron, thinking he might be a decent person after all.


¡°I¡¯m really sorry about Sunday,¡± Eron continued. ¡°I don¡¯t know what came over me then—I didn¡¯t mean to hurt you at all.¡±

¡±It¡¯s okay,¡± Sakura said, wishing that someone would appear and interrupt the conversation.


¡°I¡¯m not just saying this for the sake of it,¡± Eron said. ¡°I wish you would give me a chance to show that I am truly regretful—¡°


¡°I said it¡¯s okay,¡± Sakura repeated, in short of snapping at Eron.


¡°You¡¯re still angry, and you have every right to be,¡± Eron said. ¡°But—¡°


¡°Don¡¯t you dare get near Sakura,¡± Syaoran called out, coming down the stairway to see Eron grabbing onto Sakura¡¯s wrist, and Sakura trying to squirm away. A terrible fury crept over Syaoran once again, the blood rushing to his brains so that he saw white spots in front of his eyes.  


¡°It¡¯s none of your business, Li Syaoran,¡± Eron retorted, seconds before Syaoran, setting his golden trophy and violin case on the floor, leaped off the steps and knocked Eron over to the ground.


¡°Oh is it not?¡± Syaoran demanded.


Sakura and Miho, who had come out of the auditorium with Aki, shrieked.


¡°How can you even think of approaching Sakura after what you did to her?¡± Syaoran hissed, his hands strangling Eron¡¯s throat.


Eron knocked Syaoran aside and rolled on top of him. ¡°I was apologizing, if that means anything to you.¡±


With his hands clenched into a tight fist, Syaoran asked, ¡°You think it¡¯s just a simple matter of apologizing?¡± before punching Eron¡¯s cheek with full force.


Glaring at Syaoran vehemently and wiping the trickle of blood from his lips, Eron replied, ¡°Better than you; when have you ever apologized on you own impulse, you who¡¯s full of too much stinking Li Clan pride and so little common sense.¡± Eron ducked when Syaoran sent off another full-blown punch.


Once more, they struggled on the floor and Syaoran, having more body mass, pinned Eron down again.


A student passing down the hallway saw the two wrestling on the floor and shouted, ¡°FIGHT!!! FIGHT IN THE FIRST FLOOR HALLWAY!¡± Immediately, a large group of spectators gathered from each end of the hallway and from the stairway also.


¡°I¡¦ should¡¦ have¡¦ done this the first time¡¦ I set eyes on you,¡± Syaoran uttered, words broken with each punch. He clearly had the advantage now, and was beating Eron to pulp.


Miho covered her eyes at the bloodshed—but couldn¡¯t resist saying, ¡°Kai-sempai, remember to take pictures.¡±


¡°Oh, Kai, don¡¯t,¡± Meilin said, horrified at the savagery in Syaoran¡¯s eyes as he continued to punch Eron over and over again—Eron, clearly overpowered, his lips bleeding profusely and his left eye swollen, only sent out occasional thrusts at Syaraon. ¡°Someone stop them!¡±


¡°Syaoran, stop it now!¡± Sakura exclaimed.


¡°I¡¯m¡¦ going¡¦ to kill him,¡± Syaoran said, teeth clenched.


¡°No! You¡¯re really going to kill him if you continue,¡± Sakura shouted, kneeling and throwing her body in between Eron and Syaoran.


Syaoran held back his fist, narrowly missing hitting Sakura. With all her might, Sakura tried to force Syaoran off Eron. ¡°Stop it.¡±


¡°Get out of the way, Sakura,¡± Syaoran said through gritted teeth. ¡°I¡¯m going to beat the living light out of him as I¡¯ve always intended to do.¡±


¡°Someone come help me!¡± Sakura exclaimed, pushing Syaoran back before he could lunge at Eron again.


Kai, probably the strongest in the school aside from Syaoran, came forward and grabbed Syaoran¡¯s arms from behind, dragging him off Eron. ¡°Don¡¯t be such an ass,¡± Kai said as Syaoran struggled to lunge forward again. His sunglasses were knocked askew. ¡°Calm down, Li Syaoran, everyone¡¯s watching.¡±


A frantic Erika rushed forward also, bending over to her twin brother and helping him sit up. ¡°Eron, what¡¯s happened to you? Oh Eron.¡± She wiped the sweat and blood smeared over his forehead with his sleeve, not very successfully.


¡°Here,¡± Sakura said, handing Erika a clean handkerchief.


For a second, Erika stared at Sakura fiercely, as if questioning who did she think she was when she was the cause of the fight. Her lower lips trembled when she saw her twin brother cough up spit and blood.


Sighing, Sakura kneeled and carefully wiped away the trickled of blood flowing from the corner of Eron¡¯s lips. Eron had told her that Erika always felt nauseous at the sight of blood.


Despite Kai¡¯s efforts to hold him back, Syaoran was still frantically squirming, ready to leap on Eron again the moment he was released. When she saw Sakura gently wipe Eron¡¯s fast, he let out a rude noise and gaped.


When most of the flowing blood had been cleaned, Sakura handed the handkerchief to Erika. ¡°Here, hold it to his lips—it¡¯s still bleeding.¡±


Wordlessly, Erika took soiled handkerchief and held it to Eron¡¯s mouth. Eron, through his swollen eyelid—the first time anyone had seen his beautiful face disfigured—called out, ¡°Thank you¡¦ Sakura.¡±


Sakura turned around with a tiny smile. Eron had taken her action as a sign of forgiveness, and she let him think that way.


A voice boomed above the loud chattering of the students, and the stairway cleared as the large, hefty principal of Seijou Junior High came down, demanding, ¡°What is this commotion?¡± His small, beady eyes, flickered from Syaoran, held back by Kai, to Eron, propped up by Erika.


¡°A fight,¡± a student explained. ¡°Li-kun jumped on top of Chang-kun and started beating him up. Then, Mizuki-kun went in to intervene.¡±


He continued, ¡°Li Syaoran, much as I hate to punish someone who has just won first prize, I will have to suspend you if you continue this inappropriate behavior. Get a grip on yourself. Mizuki-kun, you may let Li-kun go; I trust he will behave now. Now, you two come up to the office.¡±


¡°What?¡± Kai exclaimed. ¡°Me too? I was just¡¦¡±


¡°Do as the principal says,¡± one of the teachers snapped.


Abruptly, Kai let Syaoran go. Chest heaving up and down, Syaoran continued to glare at Eron so that the whites of his eyes showed, though he seemed to be able to restrain himself now.


Most of the girls swooned; two different images of Romeo in one day—this one was fierce. Who ever knew the quiet, introverted Li Syaoran could be this violent—if it was Mizuki Kai, that might have been a different story. Meanwhile, Eron¡¯s fans were weeping, distressed at the blood-soaked handkerchief and the purple bruise forming on the flawless face, looking tragically heroic at the same time. Yet, Syaoran didn¡¯t fare much better; most of the buttons had been ripped off of his light blue dress shirt, which was smeared with Eron¡¯s blood, and his brown hair was matted on his forehead from all the sweat. He too had a bruise forming on his right cheek—one of Eron¡¯s lucky punches.


The principal continued, ¡°Chang Erika, please take your brother to the nurse and get his wounds treated—do something about the bleeding.¡± He turned to face the crowd. ¡°The rest of you, school¡¯s been dismissed; what are you standing around for? Head off.¡±  


Immediately, the crowd dissolved; the principal¡¯s words were always consequential.






¡°Stop pacing up and down like that, Sakura,¡± Meilin snapped, though if her right leg wasn¡¯t in a cast, she probably would have been pacing too. Instead, she was biting her nails.


Sakura and Meilin were waiting for Syaoran and Kai to return from the principal¡¯s office.


¡°What do you think is taking them so long?¡± Sakura asked. Everyone had long since left the school.


¡°I don¡¯t think they cane students anymore,¡± Meilin replied. ¡°But the principal seemed so furious—after all, Syaoran did put down the entire school in front of all those other schools.¡±


¡°I¡¯ve never seen Syaoran lose his temper like that,¡± Sakura said. ¡°He¡¯s always so reasonable.¡±


¡°Oh I don¡¯t know,¡± Meiin replied, shivering. ¡°There are times when he suddenly¡¦ snaps. Like that time when he found kids beating up his dog—you know, the golden retriever he used to have. And today is nothing compared to that time¡¦ When he heard that our cousin wouldn¡¯t come back anymore. I¡¯ve never seen him lose control like that before.¡±


At this, Sakura recalled the stormy night that Syaoran had sat up, telling her about his cousin Leiyun, how he had smashed all the windows in the Li main house when he heard the tragic news, how all his hand joints had been broken. But he had resumed training the next week to become the Chosen One.


¡°I wonder what made him loose it today,¡± Meilin said. ¡°I know he was never fond of Eron, but he¡¯s put up him Eron till now. And Syaoran doesn¡¯t lose his temper like that unless something makes him really mad.¡±


Though Sakura knew what made Syaoran lose his temper at Eron, she kept silent. If Syaoran was punished by the principal, it would be all her fault; yet she had to admit that Syaoran had completely lost control today.


¡°Kai! Syaoran!¡± Meilin exclaimed, when she saw Syaoran and Kai come out from the principal¡¯s office, looking sullen. ¡°What happened? You stayed in there for an hour!¡±


¡°The old bat just lectured on and on about how we let down our school¡¯s image in front of guests and stuff,¡± Kai said, cracking his neck. ¡°And he warned me that one more offense and I would really be expelled.¡±


¡°Expelled?¡± Meilin demanded. ¡°Ooh¡¦ Mizuki Kai! I will never forgive you if you get yourself expelled.¡±


¡°Kai, I¡¯m sorry,¡± Syaoran said, shaking his head. He had started to feel extremely stupid over the past hour, wondering why he had carried on a fight at school, like some kind of kindergartner. ¡°You¡¯re not even involved in this and the principal was blaming you.¡±


¡°Of course it¡¯s more reasonable to blame me, bottom of the class, twice suspended, and school disgrace, than Syaoran, top fifth of the class, soccer captain, Romeo, and first place violinist,¡± Kai replied, laughing. ¡°And I must have been a bad influence on you Syaoran-kun; I mean, we all know Eron is a bastard, but I never thought I would see you lose it like that. Remind me never to get into a fistfight with you.¡±


¡°Why did you get in trouble, Kai?¡± Meilin asked. ¡°You were stopping the fight and everything.¡±


¡°Well, you know I¡¯m on all the teachers¡¯ blacklist. If anything goes wrong, blame it on Mizuki Kai, that¡¯s the school policy!¡± Kai stated with a crooked grin. ¡°Truthfully, I was hoping for another suspension, but instead, they assigned us two extra cleaning duty. What a drag.¡±


¡°When will you ever come to your senses?¡± Meilin scolded. ¡°You were wishing for another suspension? Don¡¯t you know that three suspensions leads to expulsion?¡±


¡°Do leave Kai alone, Meilin,¡± Sakura intervened. ¡°I mean, he did a good thing, stopping the fight and all.¡± Turning to Syaoran, she said, ¡°How could you do something so stupid?¡±


¡°I know, I¡¯m feeling terribly foolish right now,¡± Syaoran replied, slinging his school bag over his back. He had changed out of his shredded shirt into his uniform. Then he scowled. ¡°But compared to what he did to you, I could have continued pounding him until he was unconscious.¡±


Meilin and Kai stared at each other questioningly.


¡°Anyway, whose side were you on?¡± Syaoran demanded, fingering the bruise on his cheek ruefully—at least it was nothing compared to the one he gave Eron. ¡°How could you defend Eron after what he did?¡±


¡°What do you mean whose side am I on?¡± Sakura asked, hands on hips. ¡°Do you know how worried I was?¡±


¡°Is that for Eron?¡± Kai muttered. ¡°Clearly, Syaoran showed he could fend for himself.¡±


¡°Let¡¯s go,¡± Meilin stated, slinging her arm into Kai¡¯s. Slightly limping, she dragged him away.


¡°Sure, if that¡¯s what you want,¡± Kai replied, happily. ¡°Is Meilin-chan wanting to spend some quality time alone with me?¡±


¡°Oh shut up,¡± Meilin muttered, glancing over her shoulder. Perfect opportunity for Sakura and Syaoran!





¡°Umm¡¦ Congratulations on winning first place for the violinist category,¡± Sakura said, finding they were alone in the school hallway. ¡°It was really beautiful, your version of Canon.¡±


¡°You¡¯re the one who made me like that tune in the first place,¡± Syaoran replied, smiling.


¡°I didn¡¯t know you were entering. Why didn¡¯t you tell any of us?¡± Sakura asked, as they slowly walked out of the school gates.


¡°Didn¡¯t I? Nobody asked, so¡¦¡± Syaoran smoothed his rumpled hair sheepishly. Actually, it had just been on his list of things to accomplish over the past month—master the Tai-feng dragon sword technique as he had promised Leiyun, improve his violin skills to surpass his father (which he knew was near impossible but worth attempt), and one more thing, for himself.


¡°Your piece, and Tomoyo-chan¡¯s song was the best,¡± Sakura said. ¡°Tomoyo was so good at singing—it¡¯s been a long time since I last heard her perform, I guess, but I think she improved drastically. Maybe it was because Eriol-kun was accompanying her.¡±


¡°Oh, before I forget,¡± Syaoran stated, taking out a package from his bag. ¡°This is for you. It¡¯s balm for your back. It soothes bruises and makes it heal faster—it¡¯s my uncle¡¯s special formula—the uncle who¡¯s a healer—so use it well.¡±


¡°Thank you,¡± Sakura said, taking the package and clutching it to her chest. Last time she had been bruised from the camping trip, Syaoran had brought over a similar balm—only that time, he had said Meilin had forced him to. ¡°But you know, Syaoran?¡±




¡°It was really indecent of you to lift up my pajama top like that when I was sleeping,¡± Sakura said, looking away and blushing.


¡°W-what?¡± Turning red also, Syaoran stammered, ¡°I-I was just checking the bruises on your back and I swear I didn¡¯t see anything else, so¡¦¡±


Changing the subject before things got anymore awkward, Sakura asked, ¡°Is it really okay that you¡¯re not returning to Hong Kong? If your mother called you back—¡°


¡°It¡¯s really okay, ¡± Syaoran replied, firmly. ¡°Don¡¯t worry about it, okay? It¡¯s not that big of a deal. Nothing¡¯s going to make me return¡¦ I¡¯ll be here by your side to face the ever-plotting Dark Ones. We¡¯re in this together, as I¡¯ve told you before.¡±


Though Sakura remained skeptical, she said, ¡°I do wish you are a little nicer to Eron-kun.¡±


Feeling his blood boil again at the mention of Eron¡¯s name, Syaoran muttered, ¡°You may ask the cow to fly over the moon. Even after what he did to you, you¡¯re like this. When will you ever learn? Hey, let¡¯s leave this off and go eat dinner.¡±


¡°But we have school tomorrow,¡± Sakura protested. ¡°And piles of homework to do.¡±


¡°I¡¯ll let you copy my math homework,¡± Syaoran replied.


¡°No—I¡¯m not going to copy any more of your work,¡± Sakura said. ¡°It doesn¡¯t help when we take exams.¡±


¡°Fine, let¡¯s go grab a sandwich and go to the library and do our homework together,¡± Syaoran sighed. ¡°And I¡¯ll teach you how to solve the problems.¡±


¡°Really?¡± Sakura exclaimed. ¡°Whew, I¡¯m saved. I was wondering how I would I ever study for the math text next week—I¡¯ve been so distracted by the dark forces these days, I haven¡¯t been studying. Midterm exams will be coming up, and I really need to start cramming.¡±


¡°Great,¡± Syaoran muttered. ¡°We finally conquered a dark force and now, we get to study.¡±


But hey, it¡¯s an improvement, he told himself. It wasn¡¯t too long ago that I was actually losing sleep over the Li Clan¡¯s threat to forfeit my title, both Sakura and Meilin weren¡¯t talking to me, and Eron and Sakura were getting closer. Now, not only am I staying on in Japan, but there are no more stressing ties with the stupid Li Clan, Sakura is on speaking terms with me, plus she¡¯s not getting along with Eron, Miho is recovering fast, Meilin seems to have stopped bothering me, Tomoyo seems lovey-dovey so she doesn¡¯t interrupt me and Sakura anymore, and, I have a date with Sakura, though it¡¯s merely a study date.


¡°So, the formula is x equals negative b, plus or minus square root of b squared minus 4 times a times c, all over 2 times a?¡± Sakura squinted her eyes, recalling the quadratic formula.


Maybe not exactly a date, Syaoran thought. Then he took a deep breath in. Only one more thing on my long list of things to do¡¦


¡°Ahem. Sakura?¡±


¡°Oh! I did it! I memorized the formula!¡± Sakura exclaimed, clapping her hands together. ¡°Let me see if I can do it again; so x equals¡¦¡±


Well, I have all the time in the world. Maybe later¡¦ Syaoran grinned; so is this what it felt like to be a free body, someone who lived for himself, not his family?


¡°Syaoran! Hurry up!¡± Sakura exclaimed waving her hand from down the road. ¡°I¡¯m starving!¡±


"I'm coming!" he called back.  Who needed the fantasy world, when his life right now in itself was a fantasy?






Wish-chan: Well, the second part of the Mikai-Miho confrontation chapter done. I¡¯ve been wondering why it was so harder to write chapters these days (though I really enjoyed writing this Fantasy stuff), and I realized it¡¯s because there are so many characters to handle, so many scenes to switch back and forth from, that it gets confusing for me. Hehe¡¦The Fantasy was another one of those cards that I wanted to do since the beginning. More romance in the air for various couples, eh? We¡¯ll see¡¦


Please see the picture of Mikai and Miho in the locket—I¡¯ve had it for ages but couldn¡¯t post it up until it corresponded with the storyline.


As Tomoyo¡¯s song ¡°Scarlet,¡± it was merely chosen for several reasons—first of all, it is sang by Tomoyo¡¯s seiyuu, Iwao Junko, for the anime opening of Ayashi No Ceres. It is a beautiful, sad song, and also, it does have a pretty piano accompaniment. It used to be pretty popular, and it probably isn¡¯t too hard to find it to download it, those of you who are curious. And it just happened the lyrics corresponded with the chapter¡¯s theme very well. ^_^. The lyrics are credited to      


On a side note, please remind me not to work on two chapters simultaneously from now on; but Chapter 46 and 47 are meant to be seen as Part A and Part B, and I had to make things correspond, so I¡¯m releasing them together. Anyway, it was horrible for editing. ^_^. 100 pages, size ten font¡¦  Oh yeah.. the  Chapter 46 and 47 titles are supposed to kind of connect with each other.


All comments welcome and cherished at I read and savor each e-mail I receive—I mean, how else would I have sustained this massive novel I¡¯m writing? And thank you for those who sign my guestbook, even those disgusted by how long I take to write, and thank you even more for those who are patient and understanding. ^.^. Also, I enjoy all the reviews at—those of you who have trouble with Geocities: ¡°Sorry but this page is temporarily¡¦ blah blah blah¡± can view my fanfic there—I¡¯m Wish-chan there, too. Thank you once again for Digidynasty, who posted up my fics there initially, and Amethyst Beloved who¡¯s posting up the rest.


Visit my homepage at -- my newest chapters would always be up at my page first. If you want to hear the latest news about why I haven¡¯t been posting new chapters, go to