Chapter 48: The Duel of the Sun and Moon
Mizuki Kai, almost seventeen and former world criminal, was currently in the guise of a junior high student at Seijou Junior High, the most difficult occupation he had undertaken as of late. He sat up in the sofa-bed set up in his apartment living room almost soundlessly. At the moment, Li Meilin, cousin of his next-door neighbor, Li Syaoran, was occupying the only bed in the flat so he was reduced to sleeping in the living room. Of course she locked the bedroom door, because she did not trust him. Not that it would make a difference, for no lock would keep him out of any room, had he desire to enter it. Actually, the only obstacle was the ferocious cousin next-doors.
Marks of his days as a thief still flaunted his daily pattern of life, especially his nighttime activities. He was perpetually a nocturnal animal, not being able to sleep in more than three or four hour blocks, a direct result of his insomniac tendencies due to a former criminal lifestyle. In fact, Meilin, who habitually went to bed at eleven and received at least eight hours of sleep per night, was greatly annoyed by Kai¡¯s restlessness in the nighttime, for he never went to bed before three; usually by the time he fell asleep, it was around four. He barely woke up in time for school the next morning, around seven thirty in the morning. All-nighters were not uncommon either—often, Meilin left him on his computer at his ¡°study¡± desk in the evening, and in the morning, she would wake up to find him still sitting in the same position, typing away gibberish.
Shifting over, Kai saw that the glowing red digits of his alarm clock indicated that it was . He sighed. Had it only been half an hour since he had fallen asleep? How long was it till morning came? He had always been a light sleeper. Usually, he drifted between momentary blankness and a groggy, semi-conscious state, the only manner in which he caught sleep besides the daytime naps he took in class. He rarely recalled dreaming. This time he had awakened because his dreams had been pervaded with the piercing wail of the police sirens and the deafening bang of a gun in the starless night. They would not stop chasing him, and he had been choking for breath, clawing for refuge. An ominous cement wall prevented him from running forward, while the police were inching up on him from behind. He was pinpointed. Trapped. Blood splattered. Unconsciously, he reached for his heart. His hands were stained with blood. His own blood.
He had awakened with a burst of pain in his upper left chest area, near his heart. Minutes after, he was still clutching the spot, the spot where he had been shot that summer. More paralyzing than the actual pain was the fact that his shirt was completely sweat-soaked and clung to his skin like a second skin. Disgusted, he tore it off and flung to the overflowing laundry basket at the far end of room.
Once he gathered his breath and calmed down enough to stumble out of bed, he staggered across the living room to open wide all the windows. The night¡¯s air was bitingly cold, but though he was shirtless, he welcomed the iciness slide over his clammy skin, still burning and prickly from his dream. How he cherished predawn, the hour of silence and solitude, late enough that no one was awake, early enough that the night could officially be called over. Still dark, but not pitch-black, more grayish toned and faded, mellow. Neither sun nor moon were up. The time of tranquil peace and despair. The in-between of two days, the null and void.
Gaining full consciousness, Kai realized that he must have sweated out all the fluid in his body for his throat was completely parched. Without any of his customary grace, he staggered to the kitchen sink, turning on the cold tap and sticking his head underneath the burst of water, cooling his head. Then he fumbled in the cabinet for a clean glass, and filled it with cold tap water. He downed it in one gulp and filled it again before turning around at footsteps and shuffling. His soaked hair dripped water droplets down his neck and shoulders, trickling down to his back.
¡°What are you doing up at this hour?¡± Meilin yawned. Her long black hair hung loose around her tired-looking face, making her almost look like a ghost, especially in her long white nightgown.
¡°Why did you get up?¡± Kai croaked, wiping his wet lips with the back of his hand. He cleared his throat, before continuing, ¡°It¡¯s only five.¡±
¡°I heard noise in the kitchen. What are you doing in the dark?¡± Meilin asked. In her half-awake state she shifted around searching for the light switches.
Alarmed by Kai¡¯s sharpness, Meilin jumped. ¡°I-I¡¯m trying to turn on the lights.¡±
¡°Just let it be,¡± Kai said, setting the glass in the sink, massaging his shoulder with one hand; he realized how tense he had been and struggled to level his voice, to reassure Meilin who stared at him like a scared bunny with those widened red-amber eyes. ¡°That is, unless you enjoy the sight of my naked body so much.¡±
¡°Ugh, you pervert!¡± Meilin scowled, thought relieved because the fact that Kai could joke around proved that he was no different than usual.
¡°Go back to bed,¡± Kai said tiredly.
Meilin walked back to the living room with only a slight limp—her broken leg from weeks ago was almost healed. She turned around to Kai. ¡°I¡¯m sorry.¡±
¡°You can¡¯t fall asleep because I took your bed. I¡¯ll sleep in the sofa-bed; you sleep in your bed. I can fall asleep in any situation.¡±
Half-chuckling, Kai said, ¡°Silly, it doesn¡¯t have anything to do with where I¡¯m sleeping—I¡¯ve always suffered from insomnia, ever since I became a parasite of the night. Besides, the sofa-bed is more comfortable.¡±
Shaking her head, Meilin said, ¡°No, you should sleep in your bedroom—there are less distractions there. You need to sleep; you¡¯re going to fall dead one of these days with lack of sleep—you even sleep less than Syaoran. Syaraon at least compensates for sleep lost—your never do; it¡¯s going to add up one of these days!¡±
¡°Bleh. Syaoran is a growing boy. He needs his beauty sleep. But I¡¯m fine,¡± Kai scoffed. Then he mischievously entwined his arm around Meilin¡¯s waist. ¡°Fine, I¡¯ll sleep in the bedroom but only if you sleep next to me.¡±
¡°Ouch! You¡¯re so violent!¡± Kai grumbled, holding his cheek marked with red.
¡°You¡¯re even more violent!¡± Meilin replied, kicking him in the stomach. ¡°Always getting into fights at school.¡±
¡°Oww¡¦¡± Kai doubled over.
In the early morning, the faint sound of sirens zoomed across the highway in the otherwise silent neighborhood. The sound triggered a sharp pain which jolted through his chest again. He grasped the spot and bit his lips, trying not to groan.
¡°What¡¯s the matter?¡± Meilin bent over, concerned. She shook his bare shoulders. ¡°Kai? I didn¡¯t kick you that hard, did I?¡±
For a moment, he couldn¡¯t muster his voice to come out without shaking, so he remained silent, waiting for the pain to fade.
¡°Kai? Let me turn on the lights—something¡¯s wrong, right?¡± Meilin reached for the lights again.
¡°I¡¯m fine, Mei-chan!¡± Kai said brightly, grabbing Meilin¡¯s uninjured leg.
¡°Wha—¡° Meilin toppled over on top of him.
¡°Oomph!¡± Kai uttered. ¡°Throwing yourself at me, Li Meilin?¡±
//SLAP// ¡°You know I have no balance with this stupid cast! Stupid of me to worry about you, you perverted bastard!¡±
Kai laughed out loud, and Meilin was too busy shrieking to notice that Kai¡¯s laughs came out in short breaths.
From the other side of the wall, Syaoran turned over in his bed. He stroked Wolfie-chan¡¯s head, muttering, ¡°Not again.¡±
Wolfie-chan snuggled up to Syaoran, rubbing its wet nose against Syaoran¡¯s—truthfully, the puppy did not need to sleep, similar to how Kero-chan really did not need to eat, but did so anyway.
¡°Young people these days, don¡¯t you think they lack decency?¡± Syaoran continued, eyes closed, sighing as heard more bickering through the walls. ¡°And respect for the hour.¡± He had completely forgotten of a certain young person who thought nothing wrong of invading a girl¡¯s room in the middle of the night through her window, her older brother right next doors.
¡°The exam results from last week are posted up!¡± Naoko exclaimed, as students flocked around the bulletin board in the hallways to check last week¡¯s exam results for all five third-year classes, from 3-1 to 3-5; it had been a difficult exam and there was tension amongst the students over ranking. For once, everyone seemed to have reverted back to normal junior high students struggling with exams and grades.
¡°Look, Hiiragizawa-kun scored the highest!¡± The first person to reach the bulletin board called out. ¡°No surprise though.¡±
Eriol seemed mildly pleased.
¡°Tomoyo-chan, you¡¯re within top 10 of the entire grade as usual,¡± Chiharu sighed enviously. ¡°You¡¯re lucky you¡¯re so smart!¡±
¡°Who¡¯s second?¡± another voice called out.
¡°Wow, it¡¯s Li-kun! When did he rise so high in ranks? Congratulations, Li-kun,¡± another classmate exclaimed.
Instead of looking happy, Syaoran scowled, glaring at Eriol and muttering, ¡°Cheater.¡± After all, Eriol still retained the knowledge of once the most powerful sorcerer in the world.
¡°How did that happen? Li-kun¡¯s not even a native,¡± Aki grumbled, maybe embarrassed that even as student council president, he was not top. Still he ranked among the coveted top ten, just below Tomoyo.
¡°I didn¡¯t know Akagi-sempai was so smart,¡± Miho commented, who had been walking down the hallway to her classroom. She was glad she was only a second-year junior high student—less pressure with schoolwork. ¡°I thought he was just a dumb athlete.¡±
¡°Who wouldn¡¯t get such high scores with all those private tutors?¡± a classmate grumbled.
¡°Wah~ I¡¯m only 11th,¡± Naoko wailed. ¡°Yamazaki-kun scored higher than me!¡±
¡°Don¡¯t complain,¡± Chiharu muttered, pointing to her own name way down the list. ¡°This is so embarrassing. What will my parents say?¡±
¡°You can do better next time,¡± Rika reassured, though she always scored decently anyway.
¡°Chiharu, your score dropped even lower than last time,¡± Takashi stated in awe. ¡°How do you do that?¡±
¡°Shut up!¡± Chiharu stomped off.
¡°Hoe! I¡¯m scared to look at my score,¡± Sakura wailed in the outskirts of the crowd.
¡°You did fine, Sakura-chan! You¡¯re 23rd in the grade, out of five classes—you went up more than 15 places from last time,¡± Tomoyo said.
For a second Sakura sighed in relief before glaring at Syaoran. How did 23rd in class compare to 2nd place—only one point away from first place. Since when had Syaoran been studying so hard? Then again, she would have surely failed the math portion if it hadn¡¯t been for Syaoran¡¯s tutoring, so she could not hold a grudge against him. He must have wasted so much time explaining with endless patience the simplest of equations that she did not understand.
¡°Oh my gosh, Mizuki-kun dropped down another 20 places,¡± Naoko exclaimed. ¡°He¡¯s nearly last in the list—that¡¯s awful!¡±
¡°He slept through the last exam, remember?¡± another classmate giggled.
¡°That¡¯s an improvement; he never even showed up to the previous one,¡± a fellow student snickered.
¡°Eron, how come we¡¯re twins and you are 40 ranks higher than me?¡± Erika demanded.
¡°Because I study and you don¡¯t,¡± Eron replied flatly.
¡°Don¡¯t gloat.¡± Erika scowled. She wasn¡¯t the type that cared about grades at all, yet her pride was hurt all the same. Studying had never been her strong point; her twin was the genius of the family, not her. Still, she thought that she had scored at least average instead of near the bottom.
Overall, that morning was yet another tense, chaotic one, students in hysteria, students gloating, students bursting out in tears, plaguing the teachers and ready to strangle those in the top ten.
During lunch break, Sakura exclaimed, ¡°I can¡¯t believe you ranked second in the grade in the last exam. You used to be only a couple ranks higher than me in other subjects than math—of course you used to always rank highest in science and math, but still. Japanese is my native language, yet you scored higher in that too.¡± She paused, out of breath.
¡°One-sided rivalry?¡± Syaoran commented, raising an eyebrow. He leaned back on the wooden bench, looking amused.
¡°No!¡± Sakura retorted, before resuming nibbling on the end of her chopstick. Most students preferred to eat indoors now that the weather was colder, but she and Syaoran were seated on the bench outdoors, jackets on, eating their lunches. Now that she thought of it, she seemed to be spending a lot of her lunch breaks alone with Syaoran. Or was it that their friends were intentionally leaving them together alone? Of course, he had been helping her study for the math portion of the exam every break, but the exams were over for the time being. Furthermore
Yet it was during the past days studying beside him at
the desk, patiently solving out the problems set out by Syaoran, that Sakura
had been able to take a step back and observe Syaoran, the changed Syaoran, the
Syaoran who was a student, who was well-liked or at least well-respected among
his peers, the Syaoran who was soccer team captain, leading his team to
National Championships, the Syaoran who won the music award for his violin
recital. This was the boy who had been so awkward and antisocial five years ago
when he first moved from
Lately, Sakura had a feeling that Syaoran was always one step in front of her, that no matter how she tried to reach where he was, he was still a step ahead. And someday, he would be completely out of reach. It wasn¡¯t just in school, it was in discipline, in ability, in power, and in life. When did the distance between them become so distinct?
It was true Syaoran tried that much harder; she admired him for his perseverance. Yet, it wasn¡¯t until lately that Syaoran had a new light shining in his eyes, one of even greater certainty than before. He was no longer shrouded in a cloud of ambiguity and hesitance. There was a new sense of confidence in the way he carried himself, a sense of directness when you met his eyes, a more determine chin, a quicker smile and a greater level of patience. Nobody else would notice it, for people perceived that Syaoran had always been this way, almost forgetting his irritable, stand-offish nature from the previous year. They took the overall improvement in character for granted. Only Sakura noticed. Because she was watching him. She had watched him change, for that was all she could do. At least he seemed a lot happier now than previous months. This made her happy too, though a bit uneasy, ever since the last encounter between Eron and Syaoran, for she had never seen Syaoran bolt like that before.
Yet, did demoting himself from the prestigious position of the Li Clan ¡°Chosen One,¡± disappointing his family and disgracing his name truly make him happier? Sometimes, Li Syaoran puzzled her. Previously, Clan pride had driven him to excel, to work harder, to become more powerful. Yet if anything, he seemed more determined than ever to excel in whatever he undertook. Where did such motivation come from all of a sudden?
¡°Sakura.¡± Syaoran interrupted her train of thoughts.
¡°Hoe?¡± Sakura blinked than looked down at her empty lunchbox. ¡°HOE! You ate it all up! Meanie!¡±
¡°I can¡¯t believe you didn¡¯t notice,¡± Syaoran chuckled. ¡°Right under your nose too.¡±
¡°Doesn¡¯t Meilin pack your bento?¡± Sakura demanded. He laughs so often these days. ¡°Eat your own.¡±
¡°She doesn¡¯t pack enough—because she packs Kai¡¯s lunch too,¡± Syaoran replied. For a second a scowl shaded his face again. He didn¡¯t dislike Kai, in fact, quite the contrary. Yet, neither did he trust the ex-thief, for Kai was another person impossible to decipher.
¡°Then make your own lunch, like you used to,¡± Sakura
retorted, staring at her empty lunch. She sighed. What are we playing at? Sitting side-by-side like this, eating lunch
together, teasing each other like this¡¦ This is not even like during the summer
when I stayed at his house. Because it¡¯s not even teasing anymore but an old
inside-joke between us. It¡¯s as if we are a regular school-couple, the kind I
see everywhere, the kind I envy. Yet, we¡¯re not. We¡¯re simply partners against
a greater enemy, constituents of a
An unwelcome voice interrupted her train of thoughts. ¡°Sakura! Terada-sensei is looking for you,¡± Erika said, shuddering. When had the weather turned so chilly, and how was Sakura and Syaoran able to sit outside in this weather, eating lunch, as if it was the middle of summer? Didn¡¯t they ever get sick of each other?
¡°Why is Terada-sensei looking for me? Did I do something wrong?¡± Sakura asked.
¡°Probably,¡± Erika replied, flipping her hair back.
Quickly gathering her bag, Sakura hurried inside. ¡°See you later guys.¡±
Smiling, Erika took a seat next to Syaoran. He gazed at her warily, suddenly having lost all appetite.
¡°You gave Eron a sound beating last time,¡± Erika commented.
¡°Did I?¡± Syaoran replied blandly.
¡°And you sorely humiliated him in front of everyone,¡± Erika continued. ¡°I did my best to console him, but I don¡¯t think he¡¯s completely over his infuriation yet.¡±
¡°Good.¡± When was this girl going to leave him? Staring straight ahead without looking at Erika, as she wanted him to, Syaoran said, ¡°Tanaka-sensei didn¡¯t really call for Sakura did he?¡±
¡°Oh, was my lie that transparent?¡± Erika giggled. ¡°Sharp and wary as ever, Syao-kun?¡±
¡°You¡¯ve played the same trick over and over again. If you have something to tell me, get over with it now,¡± Syaoran replied curtly. ¡°Class will begin soon.¡±
¡°You¡¯re so impatient,¡± Erika said. ¡°Though you did
really well on the exams. I don¡¯t know when you find time to study. One would
think we¡¯re not sending out enough dark forces for you guys to tackle. I wonder
why you even bother with school, though I guess intelligence is a requirement
for the Li Chosen One. Oh wait, you¡¯re not the Chosen One anymore!¡±
With gritted teeth, Syaoran said, ¡°I don¡¯t know about you and your twin, but unlike you two, I want a future after all this.¡±
¡°Oh, you think you will have a future outside of this, the curse of the Great Five.¡± Erika laughed shrilly. ¡°How idealistic. You think that there will be an afterwards, a future. Sorry to disappoint you, but no such chance.¡±
¡°Well, if you¡¯re so confident about winning over us, you better go and study a whole lot more.¡± Syaoran smiled grimly. ¡°What will you do with your life once you defeat us, if you defeat us? You will have nothing to turn to, no motivation in life, nothing.¡±
¡°Don¡¯t say such idiotic things to me,¡± Erika replied shortly. ¡°If we¡¯ve won, that¡¯s all to it. Isn¡¯t that enough?¡±
¡°Erika,¡± Syaoran began on a new tone, turning to face her. ¡°Reflect upon your own life and tell the worth of it. Is there anything that you truly enjoy, that you have a passion for? A hobby, a talent, a vision, a dream, an ambition or a goal? Or even friends or any person that you want protect, love or cherish?¡±
Nobody saying her name in that low, serious tone had ever had such an effect on her. She couldn¡¯t turn away from him, as she tended to do for people who said words she did not want to hear; his gaze held her gaze. Erika clenched her hands into balls to keep them from shaping. ¡°You don¡¯t make any sense to me.¡±
¡°A simple question, but a philosopher¡¯s question, a universal question among all of human kind: ¡®What is the worth of my life?¡¯ What is the worth of your life, Erika? I don¡¯t mean to sound callous, but your life seems to be an empty one to me, a very meaningless and hollow one. No, don¡¯t glare at me; it¡¯s not going to change the fact that if you take away the revenge factor in your life, there is nothing. You are stripped of everything, and you have nothing left.¡± Syaoran paused and stared at her morosely. Yet that expression stung Erika more than if he had spat on her face.
Tossing her head back, voice brimming with high-strung tension, Erika retorted, ¡°Then tell me, Li Syaoran, what makes you so much better than me? What makes your life so much more meaningful and fuller than mind; what have you got that I don¡¯t?¡±
¡°Don¡¯t get me wrong.¡± Syaoran laughed dryly. ¡°I¡¯m not saying that I am any wiser in finding worth in my own life. In fact, I may be more lost than you are, for it is true. I wasn¡¯t much better than you before. Take away my special powers, and I would have had nothing. I was same as you albeit the revenge factor. It isn¡¯t until recently that I realized how unhappy I was back then. I¡¯ll tell you, it¡¯s hard for me now, piecing together what I¡¯ve been deprived of as a child. I feel compelled to try harder than anyone else to catch up in everything I¡¯ve missed out on. Sometimes, I don¡¯t know what I¡¯m doing, or why I¡¯m doing it. But still¡¦¡±
¡°If it¡¯s a heartthrob story of how Sakura brought light to your life, I don¡¯t want to hear it,¡± Erika interrupted.
¡°You¡¯re right; without Sakura, I would never have known that I was an empty shell. I wouldn¡¯t have known what I was missing out on,¡± Syaoran replied. ¡°It is true that I want to protect her, that she has brought meaning to my life. Back in the Clow Card days, I used to wonder why Sakura¡¯s greatest destruction would be to forget about all her loved once; it made no sense for me. But slowly, I¡¯ve grown to understand her mind, the importance of loved ones in my life. Even so, without Sakura, I still would have more reasons left for my existence, a reason to continue living. There is so much to see and experience in life; by no means are they all positive, fair or rewarding. In fact, quite the contrary. Life is often cruel, unfair and trying. Still, I value my life too much. I would want to continue on living, no matter what. That is why I will never allow myself to be defeated. By you nor your brother, nor anyone else.¡±
¡°You¡¯re lying; you would have no reason to continue living without your powers and without Sakura,¡± Erika scoffed.
¡°Maybe so. Fanciful words always are easier to say than to carry out. But it seems to me very sad to waste away your life missing out on the simply beauties of the world. Because you¡¯re a dreamer at heart too, aren¡¯t you?¡±
¡°Why are you wasting my time with all this nonsense?¡± Erika demanded. Syaoran was a sparse speaker, and never had he held such a long conversation with her before. ¡°Usually, you can¡¯t even stand my presence for over a minute.¡±
¡°I¡¯m near my limit,¡± Syaoran replied bluntly. ¡°But
there are some things I think I should do. Sakura has let me see the world, and
I¡¯m just passing on her legacy.¡±
¡±It always comes back to Sakura, doesn¡¯t it?¡± Erika sneered. ¡°You, my brother, it¡¯s always Sakura this, Sakura that. What¡¯s so great about her? It¡¯s aggravating!¡±
¡°She¡¯s not perfect either,¡± Syaoran said. ¡°She has her weaknesses too. Her idealism, her innocence, her optimism. It¡¯s easier for the likes of us. People like Kai or me, you and your brother, we¡¯ve all seen the darker side of human nature already. She alone can be so strong because of her faith in humankind. When she falls, she¡¯ll fall harder than any one of us.¡±
Gulping, Erika looked up at Syaoran, leaning back against the wooden bench, amber eyes grave. For the first time, she was frightened of the Small Wolf. ¡°Why are you telling me your beloved Sakura¡¯s vulnerable point? I thought you were on her side.¡±
¡°And do you know what your weak point is?¡± Syaoran continued, facing her, eyes looking directly into hers. ¡°You¡¯re merely a shadow of your twin brother, merely half a person, not an individual. You have no substance, no ambition, no interests, nothing. If you take away your twin brother, you are a helpless infant, nowhere to turn to, no future to look forward, no reason to exist.¡±
As Syaoran spoke, Erika had been turning pale and paler, her pupils dilated. She hadn¡¯t realized that she had been holding her breath. The air hurt her lungs. For a moment, she sat completely still, unable to tear her gaze away from Syaoran. Then she bolted up, shaking uncontrollably. ¡°How dare you pretend you know me? You know nothing about me nor my brother. You are nothing!¡± Erika gasped for breath, still trembling.
¡°You¡¯re right. What would I know?¡± Syaoran answered mildly looking up at the clouded sky, without bothering to watch Erika stomp off to the building. Those were words that many uttered, drowned in their own self-pity. He might have said them himself, long ago.
Erika almost knocked over Sakura on the way back inside the building.
¡°Terada-sensei didn¡¯t need me. And I left my lunch box here,¡± Sakura said, panting. ¡°Syaoran? What were you and Erika talking about?¡±
¡°Nothing in particular.¡± Syaoran replied. ¡°Lunch break is over. Let¡¯s head to class.¡±
¡°Oh no¡¦ It¡¯s the dreaded music exam,¡± Sakura groaned. But as they headed into the building, she glanced at Syaoran through the corner of her eyes, wondering what he had told Erika to make her so angry. True, it didn¡¯t take much to make Erika angry, but this time, Erika seemed more hurt than angry.
¡°Mizuki Kai!¡± The principal of Seijou Junior High exhaled deeply, face flushed. His voice resonated in his spacious office, a place Kai frequented at least once every two weeks since he entered the school. The pudgy, balding and bespectacled man sat at the head of the office, in his wide desk, hands folded in front of him while glaring up at Kai who stood with ease near the other end of the room, bored, impudent, often distracted. ¡°I know you are not a dumb boy, and your elementary school records are excellent. However, ever since you have transferred to our school, you have constantly remained bottom of the class. That in itself is understandable, since you have had a disrupted educational background from what I can collect. However your attitude, the people you associate with, the way you talk back to teachers is abominable; in very manner you are the worst student I have seen in years. Over the short several months you¡¯ve been here, you¡¯ve only gotten into five fistfights with some high school students, one involving a knife if I heard correctly, received two suspensions, and had detention almost every other day since you¡¯ve come here. I have only heard criticism about your conduct from every single teacher who teaches you and even those who don¡¯t teach you. You disregard the dress code—yes your hair, your sunglasses, your sloppiness, your earrings—all of it is offensive to us adults. We are your instructors and rule-makers, never forget that. But your appearance is minor to the ruckus you cause in class—your math teacher has told me about all the pranks you play for your amusement. You fail nine out of ten tests, you never complete any homework assignments, and you refuse to heed any of the teachers and be disciplined. I can overlook your other flaws, but your lack of respect for authority is what offends me the most.¡±
Rolling his eyes, Kai muttered, ¡°Yeah, yeah, same old lecture over and over again.¡± Why in the world would he be the notorious Thief of the Night had he any respect for authority?
¡°This is what I mean!¡± the principal snapped. ¡°Your attitude is repulsive! I¡¯ve already warned you last time that one more offense and you really would be expelled; we haven¡¯t expelled a student in years. I trust your good judgment and hope you apply yourself over the next few months. And you must improve your grades—semester finals are coming up; make sure you at least pass those. You¡¯ve already been kept down one grade. Aren¡¯t you ashamed of yourself? Do you want to be kept back another year in junior high, when you should be in high school right now? If you continue at this rate, I¡¯d really have to flunk you again, Mizuki-kun.¡±
Yawning, Kai, slouched against the wall. ¡°Finished? I get your point, so can I go now, sir?¡±
Clucking, the principal slammed the Kai¡¯s profile folder shut and stored it away. ¡°You may leave now, Mizuki-kun. Remember my words.¡±
¡°Mizuki-kun!¡± the principal called out again.
¡°What now?¡± Kai asked, running his fingers through his spiked hair, without bothering to turn around.
¡°Please do something about your hair color,¡± the principal sighed. ¡°Or I¡¯ll get the nurse to shave it all off. And you know I mean it.¡±
He might be a little more impressionable if this wasn¡¯t the tenth time repeating the same old warning over and over again, Kai thought, strolling down the hallway. He was already late for last period, music class, anyway. If only Meilin wasn¡¯t keeping track with Sakura and Syaoran whether he attended all his classes, he would have leaped right out the window at that moment, for it was a glorious, crisp late autumn day. Soon, it would be winter. His time was running out.
¡°You¡¯re late, Mizuki-kun!¡± the music teacher snapped as he entered the classroom. ¡°Since this is not your first offense, you will have to—¡°
¡°I know, I know. After-school cleaning duty,¡± Kai finished for her.
¡°Yes,¡± the teacher said, taken back. ¡°And I do not like that cheeky tone of your voice. Well, Mizuki-kun, you¡¯ve seem to have come back just in time, anyway. It was your turn.¡± She pointed at the piano.
¡°My turn for what?¡± Kai asked sullenly, taking an empty seat by the window and slouching back.
¡°Why surely you haven¡¯t forgotten that today is the piano test?¡± the teacher exclaimed in mock surprise. She turned to the other students. ¡°I announced last week that each student was supposed to prepare a short piece to perform on the piano and be graded to pass the music course this term, didn¡¯t I class?¡± Well, go ahead Mizuki-kun, head towards the piano and play your piece.¡±
The student who had currently finished her piece hurried back to her seat after the class applauded meagerly.
¡°Well, why aren¡¯t you moving? We haven¡¯t got all day,¡± the teacher chided. ¡°Surely you have prepared a piece?¡±
¡°I forgot today was the piano test,¡± Kai replied shortly. ¡°I didn¡¯t prepare.¡±
¡°Oh, didn¡¯t you?¡± the music teacher asked sweetly. ¡°Well then, I would have to fail you in music class again, won¡¯t I? But then, if you fail yet another class, you will have to be held back another year! So, should I give you one more chance?¡±
Luckily, his sunglasses concealed this that he was glaring at the music teacher.
¡°Prepare a piece for next week then,¡± the teacher said. ¡°Of course, I won¡¯t be expecting much—not unless you are another Li Syaoran—but I can guarantee you I will take into account effort, meager as it may be. Though I am not sure one week will be any good for you.¡± She clucked.
¡°Oooh¡¦ I really can¡¯t stand her,¡± Sakura whispered to Tomoyo at the back of the room. She had passed her piano test barely—she had a hard time reaching all the chords with her fingers and missed a couple of notes, but at least she hadn¡¯t been humiliated in front of the class like Kai had been. By now she regretted only practicing the violin and not the piano. Meanwhile, Eriol was the only one who had received a perfect score on the test so far. ¡°Our music teacher used to be like that to Syaoran, too.¡±
¡°Before the Star-Crossed auditions,¡± Tomoyo whispered back. ¡°After that he instantly became her favorite.¡±
¡°Though Syaoran would stand none of that,¡± Sakura giggled, looking back at Syaoran who was looking over the music scores yet again—his turn was soon, and he was peeved that Eriol had received yet another perfect score.
When class ended, Kai was even in a grouchier mood than before.
¡°Don¡¯t worry Kai-kun, I¡¯m sure you¡¯ll be able to improve in a week,¡± Sakura said. ¡°Hey, why don¡¯t you ask Eriol-kun for lessons? He¡¯s an awfully good tutor—he taught me once, though he played all the left hand parts for me.¡±
Glaring at Sakura over the bridge of his glasses, Kai replied, ¡°In my life! I would never ask that creepy four-eyes!¡±
He stomped off.
¡°Sheesh, he¡¯s in a bad mood these days,¡± Syaoran muttered.
¡°Well, he had that whole lecture with the principal again,¡± Sakura replied sympathetically. Unlike Meilin, she always had a sympathetic spot for Mizuki Kai, though lucky for both Li cousins, she regarded Kai as an older brotherly figure more than anything else.
¡°You have to admit it is partly his fault though,¡± Syaoran said. ¡°I mean, I¡¯m not that fond of the music teacher myself, but Kai does have a knack for aggravating people—he¡¯s too laid back, as if he cares for nothing.¡±
¡°The thing is, he probably doesn¡¯t,¡± Sakura replied. ¡°But nothing in this school will daunt him.¡±
¡°Let Meilin deal with him,¡± Syaoran sighed. ¡°She has nothing better to do, anyway.¡±
¡°Kai! I heard you got in trouble again!¡± Meilin exclaimed as Kai entered the apartment.
¡°Bad boy! Bad boy!¡± the parrot squawked.
Kai sighed, flopping onto the couch. ¡°If I hear another lecture from another person, I¡¯m really going to retire from being a student.¡±
¡°Then what will you do? Go back to your former ways?¡± Meilin demanded.
¡±Who knows?¡± Kai said, stripping off the school shirt and throwing it on the floor, knowing it annoyed Meilin. Leaning back on the sofa, he flipped open his laptop on his lap and began typing away, referring to a notebook full of scribbles once in a while.
¡°Don¡¯t tell me you¡¯re doing your homework for a change,¡± Meilin said, peering over his shoulder curiously. ¡°What have you been so absorbed in these days? You¡¯re always on your computer. You¡¯re not playing games again, are you?¡±
¡°There!¡± Kai clicked enter triumphantly. ¡°Actually, it¡¯s a new computer game I¡¯ve been programming for quite a long time now.¡±
¡°Computer game?¡± Meilin asked, raising an eyebrow. Though she wasn¡¯t particular interested in anything computer-related, she scrutinized the computer screen. ¡°What kind of game?¡±
¡°A Card Captor Sakura and Friends PC game!¡± Kai replied.
Kai grinned, clicking on the main menu. ¡°See, how it works is you can choose any of the characters I¡¯ve designed, and then proceed to play the game. So far, there are three levels in the game. Level 1 is the Clow Card stage. Level 2 is the Sakura Card stage. And Level 3—I didn¡¯t finish programming it yet—is the Dark Ones stage, or the Five Force stage—I¡¯m still deciding on the title.¡±
¡°So, what¡¯s the objective of the game?¡± Meilin asked skeptically.
¡°Well, as I told you, you can choose which character you want to play as, and each character has a different objective, different goal. For example, you can choose to be Sakura-chan.¡± Kai clicked on an avatar character with green eyes and short, bouncy light brown hair.
Immediately, a head-to-toe animated figure dressed in a pink outfit and holding a staff popped up with the caption, ¡°Hello, my name is Card Captor Sakura. My mission is to collect all the scattered Clow Cards and prepare for Yue¡¯s Judgment. My second objective is to confess my feelings to Yukito-san!¡±
Clicking back to the main character menu, Kai said, ¡°If ¡®Sakura¡¯ collects all the Clow Cards, she can move into Level 1.5, where she will face Yue¡¯s Judgment, and if she can defeat Yue using the right combination of cards, support from friends, and of course, self-determination, Yue accepts her as mistress and she can move onto Level 2. Of course, ¡°Sakura¡¯s¡¯ objective in Level 2 differs from Level 1. Now her objective is to convert all the Clow Cards into Sakura Cards—this will prepare her for the final battle against Clow Reed¡¯s reincarnation in Level 2.5 to prevent destruction. This level is more interesting in my opinion because here, she now has the option to discover who her true ¡°first one¡± is. If she makes a series of right choices, she will end up in the arms of the right person.¡±
¡°This one is my favorite ending,¡± Kai said, pressing a series of shortcuts on the keyboard.
Out popped onto the screen a CG animation of a short-haired girl running into the arms of an amber-eyed, chestnut haired boy and hugging him, surrounded by pink sakura petals.
¡°KAWAIIIIII!!!¡± Meilin squealed. ¡°The character designs are so cute! Did you design them yourself?¡±
¡°Ah well,¡± Kai ruffled his hair sheepishly. He pressed another key. ¡°This is one of the sadder endings.¡±
Another CGI of a Sakura, with tears in her eyes came up, behind her an airplane soaring into the sky and leaving Japan.
¡°There are other endings—some with various other people, one where she lost to Eriol too, and darkness is eternal,¡± Kai explained. ¡°And that¡¯s game end—you can¡¯t move on to Level 3 then.¡±
¡°That¡¯s so dismal!¡± Meilin exclaimed. ¡°So, are there other characters too?¡±
¡°Yes,¡± Kai said, returning to the main menu. ¡°For example you can choose to be ¡®Syaoran¡¯—he has even more missions than ¡®Sakura¡¯ as you can figure—in Level 1 it is to capture the Clow Cards—there is the possibility that he can become the Clow Card Master instead of Sakura—in this case, he will become complete enemies with ¡®Sakura.¡¯ In the meanwhile, he has to figure out his true feelings towards Sakura in comparison to his feelings toward ¡®Yukito¡¯ aka ¡®Yue.¡¯ Oh, he can also end up with ¡®Meilin¡¯ if that¡¯s how he chooses his path.¡±
¡°Really?¡± Meilin asked, round-eyed.
¡°Well, that will happen only if the player is really stupid,¡± Kai replied.
¡°Humph! You meanie!¡± Meilin stared at the screen ending which had ¡®Meilin¡¯ with her arms flung around ¡®Syaoran¡¯s¡¯ neck. Not for the first time, Kai had surprised her with his amazing insight and talent.
¡°Then in Level 2, ¡®Syaoran¡¯ can choose to help ¡®Sakura¡¯ or return to Hong Kong—that¡¯ll be a game end for him. And he will have two main battles to fight—one is of course Eriol¡¯s Judgment and the other is to morally support ¡®Sakura.¡¯ There is a chance that she might choose ¡®Yukito¡¯ or ¡®Eriol¡¯ over him, and ¡®Syaoran¡¯ would have the choice over being a passive observer and friend or more actively pursue his love.¡±
¡°What about the ¡®Meilin¡¯ character?¡± Meilin asked. ¡°What¡¯s her goal?¡±
¡°You were too insignificant to include,¡± Kai stated, grinning.
¡°What?¡± Meilin pouted.
¡°Well, actually, ¡®Meilin¡¯s¡¯ mission is the simplest of all the characters,¡± Kai replied. ¡°Being the greatest nuisance possible!¡± Seeing that Meilin was ready to claw him, he quickly corrected, ¡°Ah, I mean, it¡¯s to help Syaoran collect the Clow Cards, and also discover the truth of her heart. ¡®Meilin¡¯ will have the choice between nullifying her engagement with ¡®Syaoran¡¯ or insisting upon becoming a pest. Becoming the villain or the tragic hero.¡±
¡°Humph.¡± Meilin crossed her arms. She had to applaud Kai¡¯s persuasive skills.
Quickly moving on, Kai said, ¡°And one of my favorites is ¡®Tomoyo¡¯—this character can be geared more towards female players (and male) who have little interest in battles and scheming and tiring love-lives.¡± He clicked on the ¡®Tomoyo¡¯ avatar and clicked through the new menu. Then he scrolled through a wardrobe full of outfits of all different colors and shapes, matching hats and shoes, and accessories. ¡°Tomoyo¡¯s mission is also simple in a way—it¡¯s to coordinate the best outfits for her ¡®Sakura¡¯ and video-tape every battle. If Tomoyo chooses the wrong outfit, Sakura might catch fire, freeze to death, or be slowed down by it, so the player has to have insight into the battles also. Furthermore, Tomoyo can have a decisive role in whether ¡®Syaoran¡¯ can muster the courage to confess to ¡®Sakura.¡¯ Or she can complete manipulate the storyline into keeping all pursuers off Sakura to keep her best-friend to herself.¡±
¡°How pretty!¡± Meilin exclaimed, scrolling through the familiar battle costume designs—the pink-and-black cat outfit, the Alice in Wonderland inspired dress, the yellow fairy one—all outfits she had seen in Tomoyo¡¯s actual collection. ¡°Where¡¯d¡¯you get all this information?¡±
¡°Oh, extensive research,¡± Kai replied, smugly. ¡°And a certain video which won the ¡®Best Director¡¯ contest.¡±
¡°No wonder you didn¡¯t have time to do homework,¡± Meilin muttered. ¡°It¡¯s awfully clever and really professional quality, but it must have been time-consuming.¡±
¡°Hehe¡¦ I think ¡®Touya¡¯ is the funniest,¡± Kai continued. He clicked on a scowling dark-haired character icon.
¡°My name is Touya, Kaijou¡¯s older brother. My mission is to get as many after-school jobs as possible in places that Sakura will turn up, so I can watch over her at all times. And also to prevent the Brat from getting within a ten-meter radius of my little sister.¡±
Meiin burst out laughing.
¡°¡¯Touya¡¯s¡¯ mission is also to hand over his special powers to Yue when the times comes, knowing that this will make him helpless,¡± Kai replied. ¡°He can choose either that or to take in his own hands the job of protecting his little sister.¡±
¡°Just a question, Kai-kun,¡± Meilin said, staring at the so-familiar character icons—Kero-chan (whose objective was to eat all the food he can get hands on, pretend to be a stuffed doll, and of course guide Sakura), Yukito, even Nakuru (bother Touya as much as possible and keep him from getting close to Yukito)— were all there. ¡°Why are all the character designs really cute except for ¡®Eriol¡¯s¡¯?¡±
¡°What are you talking about?¡± Kai asked, blinking at the circle for a head with round glasses and the letters ¡®creep¡¯ on his forehead. ¡°Isn¡¯t it true-to-life? It seems so for me.¡±
¡°Ah, never mind.¡± Meilin sweat-dropped—after all, Kai¡¯s dislike for Eriol rivaled with Syaoran¡¯s. ¡°So, Have you finished Level 3 yet?¡±
¡°I¡¯m working on it,¡± Kai replied. ¡°Actually, I can¡¯t really finish it because we¡¯re still in it real life. But I think this will be the most interesting stage—of course, new characters would be introduced, such as the ¡®Dark Ones.¡¯¡±
¡°And of course, a ¡®Kaitou Magician¡¯ too?¡± Meilin asked.
¡°Yup!¡± A black-cloaked figure popped up on the screen.
¡°Ha, you made your character design the best,¡± Meilin accused, marveling it all the same. ¡°So, what is ¡®Kaitou Magician¡¯s¡¯ mission?¡±
¡°Obviously to collect the Five Force Treasures,¡± Kai replied.
¡°Any second motives?¡± Meilin asked.
¡°We¡¯ll see,¡± Kai replied.
¡°Let¡¯s see, did you include Miho-chan yet?¡± Meilin asked.
¡°I guess I will later,¡± Kai said, flipping through a black leather notebook where he had collected all the data and character sketches for his PC game.
¡°With the mission of finding her brother—do make a happy ending for her,¡± Meilin said, fingering the notebook scrawled all over with Kai¡¯s sloppy, bold handwriting and excellent quality sketches—skill probably attained from having been exposed to so many great art pieces in his youth.
¡°Of course,¡± Kai replied. ¡°One for you too, Mei-chan! You actually are a level up in your overall strength in Stage 3.¡±
¡°Do I come out again?¡± Meilin asked, peering into the section in Kai¡¯s notebook entitled Level 3. She was greeted with a clever sketch of her scowling face and reciprocated the scowl. In the blurb next to the caricature, Kai had written, ¡°You thief! You kidnapper! You dirty pervert¡¦¡±
¡°That¡¯s what you looked like whenever you looked at me,¡± Kai laughed. ¡°And this is what I saw inside.¡± He flipped over the page. Meilin was greeted with an ink sketch of her side profile, her black hair loose and her eyes downcast. She barely recognized herself in the picture and gaped. Kai looked up at her. ¡°A little too flattering to the subject of the portrait, isn¡¯t it?¡±
¡°You¡¯re awfully good at drawing,¡± Meilin admitted reluctantly. ¡°Another one of your hidden talents, Kai?¡±
Shaking his head, Kai replied, ¡°I¡¯m no good at drawing—I can only do rough sketches—and only copy off something. Since I have no imagination or creativity. And these are based on real people, so it wasn¡¯t that big of a deal.¡±
¡°But all those character designs in your PC game¡¦¡± Meilin pointed out. ¡°They were really professional quality.¡±
¡°It¡¯s all computer graphics, not skill—anyone who knows a little about computers can do it,¡± Kai replied shortly, shutting his notebook.
Wriggling her right toes, Meilin commented, ¡°You¡¯re awfully clever, Kai. I wonder why you rank so low in class.¡±
¡°Because I am not very intelligent, according to the principal,¡± Kai replied, saving the changes on his laptop.
¡°Did you come up with endings for ¡®Kaitou Magician¡¯?¡± Meilin asked.
¡°Yes, I did,¡± Kai said.
¡°Does Miho-chan finally get united with her brother in anyone of your endings?¡± Meilin asked slyly.
¡°No,¡± Kai replied. ¡°No such chance.¡± Slowly, he stood up, turning off his laptop. Then he walked over to his room. Meilin followed.
¡°Why not?¡± Meilin asked. ¡°Isn¡¯t that the only appropriate ending for the ¡®Miho¡¯ character?¡±
¡°Mei-chan, you know I don¡¯t like annoying girls,¡± Kai said, sticking his head into his closet, fumbling for a fresh shirt.
¡°Why do you bother choosing what to wear?¡± Meilin laughed, undaunted by Kai¡¯s crassness. ¡°Everything¡¯s black, black, and black.¡±
She had discovered over the short while staying with Kai that every item in his closet was the formidable black from socks to shirts to boxers. It was not even funny.
¡°Can¡¯t you wear anything else besides black?¡± Meilin persisted. ¡°It¡¯s so dull—don¡¯t you get sick of wearing the same color every single day? Don¡¯t tell me some former girlfriend or someone told you that you look good in black, so that¡¯s the only color you wear now.¡±
¡°Do you enjoy watching me change that much?¡± Kai asked, starting to unbuckle his belt.
Undaunted, Meilin stepped out of the room and continued, facing the other way, ¡°You have really pretty eyes—I think you¡¯ll look better in light colors, like white or beige. I think blue will suit you really well too—it will bring out the blueness in your eyes.¡±
¡°Mei-chan, have you been talking with Tomoyo lately?¡± Kai asked, emerging from his room dressed in baggy black jeans and a tank top. His locket hung on a new silver ball chain around his neck and he had on his favorite fang earrings in both ears and small hoops in the second holes. Around his head was a black bandana, covering up his bleached hair.
¡°Ah well, yes,¡± Meilin laughed. Tomoyo was busily designing the Card Captor Crew¡¯s winter collection these days. ¡°Don¡¯t tell me you¡¯re going out like that—you¡¯ll freeze to death. It¡¯s practically winter now.¡±
¡°I don¡¯t get cold easily,¡± Kai replied, slipping on square-framed sunglasses.
Raising an eyebrow at Kai¡¯s headwear, Meilin asked, ¡°Tomoyo-inspired?¡±
¡°Ah, no—the principal has been threatening to shave off my hair—just covering it up to be safe,¡± Kai said.
Meilin stifled a giggle—if anything, the black bandana with the dragon print made him more gangster-like than ever.
¡°Why in the world would he be returning to school at this hour?¡± Meilin muttered when Kai had left. Then, she spotted Kai¡¯s notebook lying on the living room couch. Hoping he wouldn¡¯t mind, she flipped through the pages of sketches and notes until she came to the section entitled, ¡°Kaitou Magician.¡±
To her disappointment, there was only a brief sketch without many labels—for other characters, Kai had written in extensive data and personality analysis. She flipped through ¡®Kaitou Magician¡¯s¡¯ game ending pencil sketches. The first one was one with ¡®Kaitou Magician¡¯ with a bullet in his chest, splattered with blood, and cornered by the police. The next page was followed by an equally dismal with ¡®Kaitou Magician¡¯ slumped in on the floor of a grim prison, staring ferociously out the barred windows. If those two had been bleak, the last one was worse, for it was a gray, unmarked tombstone with dry rose petals scattered over it. The most cheerful one amidst them was one with Kaitou Magician, standing on a steep and high clock tower, cloak fanned out, surrounded by pitch darkness, all alone. Meilin noted that Kai hadn¡¯t bothered the draw in a face for any of his ¡®Kaitou Magician¡¯ sketches, which were without doubt done more crudely and roughly than other designs.
¡°What a morbid person,¡± Meilin muttered, her lower lips trembling. Is this all? She flipped through previous pages, then forward, but could find no shred of a happy ending for ¡®Kaitou Magician.¡¯ Not one where he was united with his family, laughing with his friends, or even with a beautiful girl—for all other characters, he had sketched and plotted out happy endings, mixed with a few sadder ones. It wasn¡¯t as if he hadn¡¯t finished his character plotting because the next page moved on to the Dark Ones character sketches. With all her heart, she prayed the game didn¡¯t reflect what Kai truly thought awaited in his future. It was too sad to bear.
Only later did she realize that Kai was making an indirect point to her; he was not the type of person to leave his personal belongings lying around, especially knowing Meilin¡¯s prying nature. He had deliberately left the notebook for her to see, to show her a glimpse of his mind, which was too dismal to express in words. And there was nothing she could do about it.
Despite herself, Erika found it impossible to dismiss Syaoran¡¯s words from earlier. ¡°You¡¯re merely a shadow of your twin brother, merely half a person, not an individual. You have no substance, no ambition, no interests, nothing.¡± Why did it bother her so much? Why did she care about what Li Syaoran said? Was it because this was the first time that someone outside of her brother actually expressed any recognition of the lost girl inside her façade or was it because what he said was true?
No, the Small Wolf spoke nonsense. What did she care about someone who was stupid enough to throw away the title of ¡®Chosen One¡¯ over a silly girl. Yes, she could outwit him easily. She knew the Small Wolf¡¯s weakness for he was very transparent about it. Li Syaoran¡¯s only weakness was the Cherry Blossom.
¡°I¡¯m home,¡± Eron muttered, throwing his duffel bag on the ground.
¡°How was soccer practice?¡± Erika leaned back on the burgundy and gold trimmed sofa.
¡°What do you think?¡± Eron replied. ¡°That Li Syaoran thinks he¡¯s so great just because he¡¯s had some lucky goals in the past.¡±
¡°Why did you join soccer, Eron?¡± Erika asked. ¡°You hate getting hot and sweaty, and you hate team sports.¡±
¡°Well obviously because Li Syaoran is in the soccer team,¡± Eron said.
¡°And why did you take on violin and acting and the journalism club? All because of Syaoran and Sakura?¡± Erika continued.
¡°What a dumb question. We decided that we need to keep an eye on them, don¡¯t you remember? Though you¡¯ve been pretty lazy about it.¡±
¡°Not because you enjoy any of these things? Didn¡¯t you act because you enjoy being on stage and play violin because you like music and write because you¡¯ve always liked poetry?¡± Erika looked up at her twin imploringly. Once long ago, back in the days that she did not like to think about, Eron had been called a child prodigy. Though she had been too weak to go to school, Eron had been the brightest in his class despite the fact that he couldn¡¯t attend school often. Then, she had been too young to comprehend how the older kids in the orphanage disliked Eron because of his cleverness but to the younger ones, he was sort of a hero. Still, he had been a wonder to her, for he had read all the books in the orphanage, not that there were many, and seemed to know everything though he was the same age as her; he would tell her endless stories or interesting facts to keep her amused when she was locked up indoors while everyone else played outside. In those days, Eron seemed to have a thirst for knowledge, maybe in retaliation to the fact that he couldn¡¯t become an adult any sooner.
¡°Do you seriously believe I enjoy any of that stuff?¡± Eron demanded, as if offended by the question.
Erika shook her head. ¡°Well, it¡¯s good to see that the bruise on your face has healed.¡± A victim of vanity, Eron had refused to go to school until the discoloring disappeared from his otherwise flawless face. ¡°I still can¡¯t believe you let your guard down that time, though I admit Syaoran is a ferocious opponent, as one would expect from a fine line of warriors and the only son of Li Ryuuren.¡±
¡°I¡¯ll get him for that,¡± Eron said, golden eyes glimmering like an angered tiger¡¯s in the dimly lit living room.
¡°Don¡¯t worry, I have things under control,¡± Erika said, smiling furtively. ¡°Leave things to me this time.¡±
When Eron raised a questioning eyebrow, she continued, ¡°It¡¯ll be really interesting to see what unfurls, you¡¯ll see. You can give Syaoran what he deserves.¡±
¡°Good practice,¡± Syaoran told the soccer team members in the locker room after they finished changing. ¡°I¡¯ll have the positions for the next game up on the bulletin board by next practice. We¡¯re still weak in defense, but we still have a good chance in the semi-finals if we continue attacking the opponent team nonstop. First-years, stay around and help gather the balls and tidy up the locker room. Remember, we have early morning practice tomorrow at six AM, sharp. Those who are late will receive 10 laps around the soccer field.¡±
The boys groaned. Within the team, Syaoran was earning a reputation as being the strictest, most demanding captain of the Seijou Junior High Soccer Team in years. Yet, his fellow students admired him, because they knew that as captain he always showed up the earliest for practices and was the last to leave. If underclassmen wanted extra training, he was always willing to stay longer and practice shooting drills or dribbling with them. The Captain of the Soccer Team was not like the Captain of the Basketball Team, who was prone to skipping meetings and slacking off in looking after underclassmen. Furthermore, under Syaoran¡¯s leadership and nightmare training sessions, the soccer team had been whipped into shape and was a serious candidate for National Junior High Championship.
¡°Li-sempai, d-do you think I have of being a starter this time?¡± a second year student stammered to Syaoran, after everybody left the locker room. He looked up eagerly. ¡°I¡¯ve practiced really hard on dribbling and passing since the last game.¡±
¡°You have improved a lot; I¡¯ve noticed during practices lately,¡± Syaoran replied. The short but surprising agile boy had been a bencher previously but had trained hard to improve coordination, stamina and speed. Though he wasn¡¯t much of a striker, he still showed promise on the field, especially in defense. ¡°You have a good chance of playing on the field some point during the game. If you aren¡¯t listed as a starter, you¡¯ll probably be alternated in.¡±
The boy smiled widely. ¡°Thank you Li-sempai, thank you! I¡¯ll try hard!¡± He dashed out the door, ears red and flattered that the worshipped team captain praised him.
¡°I see why you became captain, not Eron,¡± Erika commented; she had been leaning against the wall outside the locker room, waiting for Syaoran and slid out at a strategic time. ¡°Eron¡¯s not much help as vice-captain, is he?¡±
¡°Why were you waiting for me?¡± Syaoran asked directly.
¡°Well, we never got around to finishing our conversation yesterday,¡± Erika replied, blinking innocently, failing to mention she had been the one to march off. Today, her hair was carefully curled and arranged in violet ribbons, and she had paid extra attention to her make up. Her eyelashes were curled and separated strand by strand, and her lips were painted a vivid and glossy rose-pink. Yet though all the other guys would stare at her and gape, Syaoran didn¡¯t even glance at her. ¡°I was thinking, I really am ashamed of my scores in the last exams, and I sincerely want to improve.¡±
¡°So?¡± Syaoran eyed her suspiciously. What did this have to do with him?
¡°And I¡¯m going to study harder for the next exams,¡± Erika continued. ¡°But to do so, I need extra help. The teacher said I need to take after-school supplementary lessons because I scored less than 30 on the last exam, but I wouldn¡¯t have to if I found someone who would volunteer to tutor me. So, I was wondering if you could tutor me.¡±
¡°Why don¡¯t you ask your twin then?¡± Syaoran replied. ¡°He scored pretty high.¡±
¡°No, he won¡¯t help me, especially because he doesn¡¯t have the patience to teach anyone anything,¡± Erika said, almost as if knowing all of Syaoran¡¯s responses beforehand.
¡°Ask Hiiragizawa Eriol then; he scored the highest,¡± Syaoran said, frowning.
¡°I thought I would ask you because you¡¯re the one who offered me inspiration,¡± Erika said. ¡°You made me want to try harder. Can you help me?¡±
Syaoran did not like Erika¡¯s meek and docile act at all. What trick did she have up her sleeve now? ¡°I¡¯m sorry, but I¡¯m extremely busy.¡±
¡°You had enough time to tutor Sakura, didn¡¯t you?¡± Erika asked, lashes lowered. ¡°Why can¡¯t you do the same for me?¡±
Sighing, Syaoran replied, ¡°What do you want, Erika? If you want something from me, just state it out right without wasting time with indirectness.¡±
¡°I told you; I want to learn. I want to improve my test scores. You lectured that I need to plan for my future, didn¡¯t you? You can¡¯t back out now.¡± Erika crossed her arms and stared at Syaoran challengingly.
¡°And what do I get in return?¡± Syaoran demanded, meeting her gaze levelly.
¡°Pragmatic as ever, aren¡¯t you, Syaoran?¡± Erika returned. ¡°I don¡¯t know. What do you want from me? You can name your terms, anything you want.¡±
Syaoran stared at her hard. ¡°Promise you¡¯ll never harm Sakura.¡±
Cover her mouth with her hand, Erika hid a snicker. ¡°That¡¯s it? That¡¯s what you would ask if you can have any promise granted from me? Nothing for yourself?¡±
Staring at her with cold amber eyes, Syaoran replied, ¡°Can you grant it or is that too hard of a request for you to keep?¡±
Laughing high-pitched, Erika replied, ¡°Why no, if that¡¯s what your wish, it won¡¯t be too hard of a promise to keep. Well then, deal? When do the tutoring sessions start?¡±
¡°Wait, I don¡¯t trust you,¡± Syaoran said. He slipped an ofuda out of his shirt and held it out to Erika. ¡°This is a sealing ward paper. It binds you to your promise.¡±
¡°Why, you don¡¯t think I¡¯ll keep my word? I¡¯m hurt,¡± Erika said, wrinkling her nose at the sight of the ofuda. Reluctantly, she took the crisp ivory strip of paper with bold Chinese calligraphy and with the sharp edge slit open the edge of her fingertip. Grimacing, she squeezed the tip of her finger until a drop of ruby red blood splattered in the center of the ofuda. For a moment, it stained the creamy paper a brownish tint, then with a glowing lighting, faded. As she handed the ofuda back to Syaoran, stating, ¡°There now, you have my word.¡±
¡°Meet me around this time in the library tomorrow,¡± Syaoran replied, taking the ofuda back. He was taken back by Erika¡¯s act; blood was the most binding of contracts, ¡°After my soccer practice ends.¡±
¡°Deal,¡± Erika replied, sucking on her finger.
¡°Wait a second,¡± Syaoran said, running back to the locker room. He came back out with the first-aid kit.
¡°What are you doing?¡± Erika demanded.
¡°Sterilizing and bandaging, what else?¡± Syaoran replied without looking at her but quickly taking a cotton swab with antibacterial ointment and wiping over the cut, then bandaging her finger in a matter of seconds. And he did this expertly without touching her at all except her one finger as he put the band-aid on.
After putting away the first-aid kit, he turned off all the lights and locked the room. He put on his jacket and slung his duffel bag over his shoulders, ready to leave. ¡°Why are you still there?¡±
¡°Huh? Oh¡¦ See you tomorrow then,¡± Erika stammered, watching Syaoran walk down the hallway, leaving her in the dark building. Face flushed, she held her bandaged finger to her chest. Syaoran was being his thoughtful self as usual—he would have done the same for anyone. Yet did he possibly have remembered that she could not stand the sight and smell of blood? Without doubt, she knew that he despised her. But still, how could he be so calm and considerate?
¡°I almost think you failed the exam to plague me,¡± Syaoran muttered. Erika made a face.
The next day, Erika sat at a corner table in the library, chin rested upon hands, basking in the last crimson sunrays before the sunset. She could probably count with one hand the number of times she¡¯d entered the library, yet here she was.
The sound of sliding chair and shuffling of bag from across the table made her look up.
¡°Sorry I¡¯m late,¡± Syaoran said, taking a seat. ¡°Practice ran longer than I expected.¡±
¡°You did come.¡± Erika smiled. ¡°I thought you chickened out.¡±
¡°I always keep my word,¡± Syaoran replied coldly. ¡°Did you wait a long time?¡±
¡°Yes,¡± Erika replied, yawning.
¡°Well you could have looked over the course material while you were waiting and prepared questions to ask me,¡± Syaoran said, opening up the textbooks.
Within the next hour, Erika was seriously reconsidering the deal. Syaoran was not an easygoing tutor—he shed no pity for absent-minded mistakes, daydreaming or carelessness.
¡°You¡¯re not concentrating! How many times to I have to remind you that in the second quadrant, sine is positive, but cosine and tangent are negative. Only in the first quadrant is everything positive. Look at this exercise—you got all the negative and positive signs wrong.¡± Syaoran viciously crossed out all the answers with a red pen and handed it back to Erika.
¡°They¡¯re only stupid lines in front of the number.¡± Erika scowled.
¡°Well, the ¡®stupid line in front of the number¡¯ completely changes the value of the number—that¡¯s math. Every little detail counts, and the slightest carelessness can completely change the outcome. Attentiveness, coherent and logical thinking and practice is vital in mathematics. You can¡¯t simply skimp out on the basics and expect to advance to higher levels—you need to build a sturdy basic foundation, practice, solve many problems and understand the theory behind the equations in order to apply them in higher math,¡± Syaoran said. ¡°Now, solve these set of problems.¡±
¡°My head hurts. Can¡¯t we continue next time?¡± Erika asked, shifting uncomfortably in the wooden chair.
¡°This is your deal,¡± Syaoran replied. ¡°You wanted to learn. I¡¯m just teaching. And I won¡¯t go back on my words—you¡¯ll learn. But for me to teach, you have to cooperate. Besides, you would rather do this than spend two hours after school for supplementary classes, do you? This was your idea, so I expect you to carry it through so that I can do my part and you can keep your promise. Understood?¡±
Sighing, Erika said meekly, ¡°Yes.¡±
¡°Good, now solve these problems correctly, and we¡¯ll call it quits.¡± Syaoran sighed too. ¡°You¡¯re worse than Sakura, if that¡¯s possible.¡±
At this, Erika smiled, looking up at Syaoran, hair disheveled from soccer practice and looking hot and irritated, but charming all the same as he earnestly explained trigonometry. Of course, all the sines and cosines and tangents flew right over her head, but Syaoran was persistent. She probably learned more today than she had all year, thought that wasn¡¯t saying much. ¡°Are you trying to trigger the jealousy factor in me?¡±
¡°Yes—you work better when powered by rivalry,¡± Syaoran replied with a straight face.
¡°Am I that hopeless in math?¡± Erika complained.
¡°Yes and no,¡± Syaoran answered. ¡°I think you probably need to go back and review your basic multiplication table. Copying homework answers from all your boyfriends and your twin brother hasn¡¯t helped, either. But neither is it too late for you to start doing your own work. You¡¯re not a dumb person—just extremely lazy and spoilt.¡±
¡°Are you usually this direct to everyone?¡± Erika asked, leaning back in her chair, facing Syaoran.
¡±Yes. Now stop trying to sidetrack, and do your problems.¡± Syaoran slid the paper across the table.
¡°Yes, Li-sensei,¡± Erika replied even meeker.
¡°Hey, Sakura-chan,¡± Rika said during lunchtime. ¡°You know, I saw Erika-chan in the library the other day.¡±
¡°That¡¯s new,¡± Naoko laughed. ¡°Does she ever go in the library?¡±
¡°Not out of her own free will,¡± Chiharu added.
¡°That¡¯s not the strange part,¡± Rika said. ¡°The strange part was that she was with Li-kun.¡±
¡°Really? What a strange combination,¡± Tomoyo said. ¡°Maybe they just met in there.¡±
¡°No, they were sitting at a table together, and they looked like they were having fun,¡± Rika said, a little frown on her brows.
¡°Syaoran and Erika?¡± Sakura repeated, raising an eyebrow.
¡°Maybe they just met by coincidence,¡± Rika quickly said.
¡°Wait, I do remember seeing Erika-chan at the library yesterday when I was waiting for Takashi and thinking it was strange,¡± Chiharu said. ¡°But she was sitting across from a guy—I only saw the back of his head, so I assumed it was another one of Erika-chan¡¯s boyfriends. Now that I think about it, he had brown hair like Li-kun¡¯s.¡±
¡°Maybe Syaoran took pity on Erika-chan and is giving her tutoring sessions,¡± Tomoyo said.
Naoko burst out laughing. ¡°No such chance. Erika, receiving tutoring? She¡¯ll never do any supplementary work it she could help it.¡±
¡°Are you worried?¡± Tomoyo asked Sakura as they walked back to class after lunch ended.
¡°No, why should I be?¡± Sakura replied. I know I don¡¯t have to worry about Syaoran.
¡°True. We both know how Syaoran-kun can¡¯t stand Erika-chan¡¯s company. Though they did have to spend a lot of time together from working at the hospital,¡± Tomoyo said, looking reflective.
¡°Meilin-chan, you must be really behind in your classes back in Hong Kong,¡± Sakura commented as she and Meilin entered the school library—Meilin itched to get her cast off—she only had a day left of hopping around with crutches.
¡°Well, that¡¯s why I¡¯m doing make-up work right now,¡± Meilin said. ¡°Besides, I¡¯ll have winter vacation to catch up.¡±
¡°You know, I¡¯ve been really worried about Kai lately,¡± Sakura stated.
¡°Especially with the whole fake Mikai-Miho saga concluding, right?¡± Meilin replied. ¡°He¡¯s been especially tense and fidgety lately. As if he¡¯d bolt any day now. I wish I knew what was going on in his mind.¡±
Furtively, Sakura glanced from one end of the library to the other. Then she ducked behind a bookshelf, dragging Meilin with her. Despite her self-assured words to Tomoyo, she still had to see for herself.
¡°What in the world are you doing?¡± Meilin demanded in her loud voice.
¡°Shh!¡± Sakura nodded her head over to the isolated table at the far end of the library, which was half hidden by the reference section bookshelves.
¡°What?¡± Meilin looked around, oblivious as ever.
¡±Meilin-chan, what time has Syaoran been coming home these days?¡± Sakura asked.
¡°I¡¯m not sure—I¡¯m staying with Kai still, and Syaoran never makes much noise when he goes in and out of the house next-doors,¡± Meilin replied reluctantly. ¡°Kai doesn¡¯t come home until even later, anyway. But that¡¯s expected from him. But Syaoran usually comes over for late dinner, and we eat together¡¦ My goodness, is that Syaoran and Erika over there?¡±
¡°Don¡¯t say it so loudly!¡± Sakura exclaimed, panicking. Did Syaoran hear?
¡°What in the world are they doing together in a place like this?¡± Meilin demanded, tugging on Sakura¡¯s sleeve. ¡°Did you know?¡±
¡°I am not spying on him!¡± Sakura stated definitively. ¡°I just wanted to check if Rika-chan was right.¡±
¡°Did I ever accuse you?¡± Meilin chuckled. ¡°I¡¯m disappointed you have so little faith in Syaoran though. No matter what you hear from other people, you can leave it to Syaoran to handle spiteful little vixens.¡±
¡°It¡¯s not that I didn¡¯t have faith in him,¡± Sakura protested.
¡°But I do wonder what they are doing together,¡± Meilin said. ¡°Let¡¯s go up and ask him.¡±
¡°No!¡± Sakura replied quickly. ¡°He¡¯ll think I was following him around.¡±
¡°And you weren¡¯t?¡± Meilin was clearly amused.
¡°Let¡¯s go now,¡± Sakura said, quickly turning around before Syaoran noticed her.
¡°Go where? I was trying to study,¡± Meilin protested, limping after Sakura.
¡°It¡¯s too noisy to study in the library,¡± Sakura said, blushing. Any excuse to make Meilin leave with her before attracting attention. This was ridiculous. Why couldn¡¯t she walk up to Syaoran? Was it because he seemed to be intently talking with Erika? Or was it because he didn¡¯t notice her when she walked into the library? She could now sense his presence in a room as strongly as she could sense herself. Yet, he didn¡¯t turn around to look at her. Or maybe he saw her but purposefully ignored her. Why?
¡°How nice of you to walk me home,¡± Erika said, blinking up sweetly at Syaoran as they walked down the pavement. ¡°You really didn¡¯t have to.¡±
¡°No I didn¡¯t,¡± Syaoran replied truthfully.
¡°I¡¯ve improved a lot, haven¡¯t I?¡± Erika asked.
¡°If by improve you mean getting at least half the answers right, yes.¡±
Erika scowled. No matter what she did, Syaoran was always cruelly direct and curt with her.
¡°Why didn¡¯t you greet Sakura when she came to the library earlier on?¡± Erika asked. ¡°You did see her, didn¡¯t you?¡±
¡°I wouldn¡¯t want to interrupt our studies, would I?¡± Syaoran said.
¡°How thoughtful!¡± Erika shifted uncomfortably. It seemed as if things were going too smoothly—it shouldn¡¯t be, not with the Little Wolf¡¯s suspicious nature. ¡°Say, what¡¯s keeping you from going out with Sakura?¡±
¡°I don¡¯t believe that¡¯s any of your business,¡± Syaoran replied.
¡°Oh yes it is. Because technically, if you¡¯re still single that means you¡¯re eligible,¡± Erika said. ¡°Not that I stand any chance. Because you hate me.¡±
Pausing for a moment, Syaoran said, ¡°No, I hate your brother, it¡¯s true, but I don¡¯t particularly hate you. I only pity you once in a while.¡±
Golden eyes flashing, Erika asked in a deadly smooth voice, ¡°Why is it that you hate Eron, but you pity me? Why don¡¯t you hate me too? Is it because you think me stupid? Because you think Eron¡¯s the only dangerous one, the intelligent, the plotter? Because you think I am so incapable that I have to be pitied? Well, you¡¯ll soon learn that you were mistaken.¡±
¡°Oh really?¡± Syaoran questioned mildly. They stood facing each other in the abandoned night street, silhouetted by a lamppost. With a flick of his hand, he drew out his sword and extended it out to Erika, hilt-side. ¡°Take it.¡±
Confused, Erika grasped the hilt with trembling hands. She was surprised by the weight and supported it with both hands. ¡°W-what are you doing?¡±
Carefully, Syaoran took the sword tip and placed it perpendicular to his throat. ¡°There, this is your opportunity. You can end me here, on this spot.¡±
Erika stared hard at Syaoran, shaking so hard that it was more likely that she would more likely cut him unintentionally than if she were aiming for him.
¡°Go ahead, what are you waiting for? Isn¡¯t this what you want? It will make your twin happy,¡± Syaoran said, keeping eye contact with Erika.
For a moment, Erika held the sword tip to Syaoran¡¯s bared neck as if struggling with an inner conscience. Than she dropped the sword with a clatter onto the cement pavement. ¡°I can¡¯t do it.¡±
¡°Why not?¡± Syaoran asked. ¡°Eron would not have hesitated, would he?¡±
Staring at her own hands, Erika replied, ¡°I¡¯m not Eron. I can¡¯t kill anyone. Not with these two hands.¡±
¡°Isn¡¯t that what the Dark Ones want of you?¡± Syaoran stared at her hard.
¡±Killing someone? I¡¯ve wanted to live; I know what it is like to desire life,¡± Erika whispered. ¡°How can I deny someone life when it is human instinct to want to live on?¡±
¡°Then why pursue this futile battle?¡± Syaoran persisted. ¡°For what else awaits but death?¡±
¡°Why pursue this futile battle? Because I wanted to live,¡± Erika said more to herself than Syaoran, crumbling to her knees, clutching her heart. ¡°And the Dark Ones demand that justice be heard.¡±
¡°I look at it this way,¡± Syaoran said. He picked up his sword and drew it away. ¡°I should hate you if I hold grudges. Your father was responsible for my father¡¯s death. Nadeshiko-san¡¯s death too, and Miara-san¡¯s current illness. It would only be natural for me to hate you and seek revenge. But I can¡¯t. You didn¡¯t kill my father. I can¡¯t blame you for the sins of your ancestors. Still, if you were to harm any of the ones I love now, I will truly despise you.¡±
¡°Why are you telling me all this while looking upon me with such malice?¡± Erika demanded angrily. ¡°Don¡¯t look down on me!¡±
¡°I¡¯m in no position to look down on anyone,¡± Syaoran replied. ¡°I wish you will stop being clouded by your own close-mindedness and step out of boundaries for a change. I¡¯m telling you, you don¡¯t have to always follow what your brother says. Follow what you truly believe in, what will make you happy. I know you are not an evil person by nature—you couldn¡¯t even bring the sword to my throat without shaking. It is not your disposition, killing or genuinely evil deeds. Our generation is past the age of violence and bloodshed. Our generation exists to restore peace and equilibrium in the world.¡±
¡°Don¡¯t tell me what to do!¡± Erika snapped. ¡°You think that just because I can flirt with you that I can¡¯t fight against you too? I¡¯ll show you what I can do with my own power, without Eron¡¯s help or guidance. I¡¯ll make you kneel down and beg forgiveness forever thinking that you have the right to pity me. I can attack your weakness. Sakura. I¡¯ll make you attack her with your own hands. That¡¯ll hurt you, won¡¯t it?¡±
Smiling grimly, Syaoran asked, ¡°And how do you expect to do that?¡±
¡°Like this,¡± Erika said. She held out her hand and a black ball formed. ¡°I¡¯ll demonstrate now how you are completely under my power. I¡¯ve arranged this carefully while you were busily tutoring me, so that you wouldn¡¯t notice. And it worked out.¡±
¡°Really?¡± Syaoran remarked. ¡°Wonder what brilliant plan you have this time.¡±
¡°Obedience is a virtue.¡± Erika smirked. ¡°A compliant Wolf-boy. How would you like that?¡± She raised her hand in the air and snapped.
Immediately, Syaoran was clouded by a dark aura.
¡°Now what should I command first?¡± Erika pretended to contemplate. ¡°How about this¡¦ You know that pretty green ribbon that you always carry around? Throw it into the river over there.¡±
Automatically, Syaoran slipped the ribbon out of his pocket, walked over to the river bank and dropped it in the darkness.
Laughing, Erika said. ¡°What a pity. It was you good luck charm too, that Sakura gave you. This is going to be fun. What next?¡± She walked up to Syaoran and boldly wrapped her arms around his neck. ¡°Won¡¯t you date me, Syaoran-kun?¡±
Wrapping his arms around Erika also, Syaoran whispered in her ear, ¡°It would be an honor.¡±
Uncharacteristically, Erika felt a shiver down her spine. When was the last time a boy had made her feel so weak-kneed? It was a lot better when Syaoran reproached her for then, she could do as she pleased.
Still holding Erika in his arms so that she couldn¡¯t see his face, Syaoran smiled grimly. The brief slip in her concentration was all Syaoran needed. The black aura shrouding him shifted to Erika. To her surprise, Erika found an unaccustomed voice in her mind.
¡°Step back,¡± Syaoran commanded.
Unwillingly, Erika felt her arms drop from his neck and her legs move back. What was happening to her? This wasn¡¯t supposed to happen!
Syaoran nodded. ¡°Good. Now, it¡¯s really time to say good night. I¡¯ll see you at the library tomorrow, usual time. Be prepared for studying and no more nasty little tricks on me.¡±
Erika¡¯s jaw dropped. She stared at the boy hard. How did he break free from the dark force so easily? And when did he cast it on me? ¡°How¡¦¡±
¡°I¡¯m not stupid, Chang Erika,¡± Syaoran replied. ¡°You¡¯ve been weaving the spell on me for the past couples of days, and I¡¯ve patiently allowed you to do so, though heaven knows you¡¯re having enough trouble studying without such a side distraction as well.¡±
¡°B-but. You should be under complete control under the ¡®Obedience¡¯ by now. You were abiding by all my orders until a second ago,¡± Erika stammered, pallid. The Obedience was an upper level force; it was extra complicated to weave it, hence the tutoring sessions which allowed her proximity to Syaoran for an extended period of time, enough time to trap him. Therefore, it was a difficult force to overcome. Yet Syaoran had snapped from it in an instance.
¡°Oh you mean this?¡± From his sleeve, he drew out a familiar green ribbon. ¡°I¡¯ve learned quite a few things from having a world-class thief as a friend. No, you never succeeded in casting the Obedience on me in the first place. I pretended to throw this into the river. How many times do I have to tell you guys that you can¡¯t control me by such meager means.¡± Syaoran slipped the ribbon back in his pocket. ¡°I followed your game to amuse you a bit. See how it feels to taste your own medicine.¡±
Staring at her hands, she could see the strings of the Obedience attached to her and Syaoran wielding the end like the master puppeteer. ¡°When did you¡¦¡±
¡°I wouldn¡¯t hug you if I could help it, would I?¡± Syaoran replied.
Erika fumed. While he had embraced her so gently, supposedly under the control of the dark force, he had been attaching the Obedience on her. She had once again underestimated the Small Wolf. ¡°What are you going to do to me now?¡± Erika demanded, staring up ruthlessly. Now that she was under the control of the Obedience, he could get anything out of her that he wanted. If he wanted information, at command she would have to tell him the truth. What would he do?
¡°Nothing.¡± Syaoran stared back at her unfazed.
¡°Nothing?¡± Erika blinked.
¡°Nothing. Go back home and report to your twin that your petty little tricks won¡¯t work on me.¡± With a flick of his hand, he set the Obedience aside. Instantly, Erika felt the strings detach itself from her. She stared at her hands then up at Syaoran, who had already turned away from her.
¡°You¡¯re just leaving things like this?¡± Erika demanded. The Obedience cowered behind her. It didn¡¯t like the Iron One, the one it couldn¡¯t break into.
¡°If Sakura were here, I guess I could get her to seal it. But you see, I don¡¯t have the sealing staff, so I¡¯ll have to leaves this at this tonight.¡± Saying this, Syaoran disappeared down the street.
It was minutes after when Erika came to her senses and realized that Syaoran had already left. When she did, she didn¡¯t know whether to be infuriated by her failure or impressed by Syaoran¡¯s resilience. She should have learned earlier on never to underestimate the Small Wolf. For young he may be, but he was clearly a warrior born in the wrong era.
Then, Erika narrowed her eyes. ¡°You can come out. I know you¡¯re there.¡±
¡°It¡¯s true that no such ¡®petty trick¡¯ will work on the Small Wolf,¡± Eriol said, emerging from the shadows.
¡°Hiiragizawa Eriol.¡± Erika was taken back. The one person she was most intimidated by and avoided at all costs ever since their first meeting in New York City, last winter. The reincarnation of the greatest sorcerer of his generation, Clow Reed, Eriol was one person she did not want to meddle with or anger for he would prove a formidable enemy. ¡°How long have you been standing there?¡±
¡°Not too long, but long enough,¡± Eriol, the master of ambiguous responses, replied.
¡°What do you mean by what you said?¡± Erika asked, tense. What did Eriol want from her? When had he ever sought to talk to her face to face? His carefully monitored expressions revealed little of what was going on in his mind, and his words were always polite and carefully chosen as to never insult anyone directly. Yet, he was dangerous, this Hiiragizawa Eriol, though dormant he seemed at the moment. Though he had aided Sakura and her friends often, he had never openly attacked the Dark Ones and in return, the twins were always careful not to get in his way. The closest encounter was the Miho-Mikai Affair recently, yet even then Eriol proved to watch on the side as events unfolded. The truth was, she and Eron avoided Clow Reed¡¯s reincarnation at all costs.
¡°As you saw for yourself, Li Syaoran is not weak enough to be psychologically controlled by a dark force, or any foe for that matter.¡± Eriol paused for a moment. ¡°Let me rephrase myself. It is not that he isn¡¯t weak, for many who are strong can fall victim to mental pressure; however, Syaoran¡¯s inner will surpasses that of most people. His mind is that strong.¡±
¡°I just realized that,¡± Erika replied nastily.
¡°You chose the wrong tactic; don¡¯t blame yourself. I¡¯ve tried it myself,¡± Eriol said, pleasantly as ever.
¡°I know. The thread tactic. You controlled him with threads, invisible to the naked eye and made him attack Sakura. But he caught on quickly and used his ofuda, even against the controlling threads to make the threads visible for Sakura to cut. And he could even restrain his body from attacking Sakura, though you were the mastermind behind it and it would have been an impossible feat for most.¡±
¡°But not Li Syaoran. Back then, I saw with my own eyes his extraordinary discipline and control over himself. And that was way before his powers were developed and refined—and now he is even higher up in level.¡±
¡°Surely I thought the Obedience would be more powerful
than your little thread play back then,¡± Erika said. ¡°For your thread attack,
which was the inspiration of this battle strategy, was merely controlling the
body, but the Obedience controls the mind. He should have been completely under
my bidding if it were to work. And hurting his beloved Sakura with his own
hands¡¦¡± A smile drew on Erika¡¯s lips. It would have been perfect.
¡±You¡¯ve done your research well if you drew upon my meager battle strategies for your greater plan,¡± Eriol said humbly.
¡°Not research; a stupid video that won the ¡®Best Young Director Contest,¡¯¡± Erika muttered. ¡°The silly New York trip was worthwhile to analyze that tape and Sakura-taichi¡¯s premature fighting techniques.¡±
¡°I see. But you should have realized from when the Phantom couldn¡¯t penetrate into Syaoran-kun¡¯s mind that he would not succumb so easily,¡± Eriol said.
¡°I¡¯m sorry I¡¯m not insightful and experienced as you are,¡± Erika retorted bitterly. She was beginning to feel nervous again; what did Eriol want from her? He was not the type to suddenly appear and reiterate what she already knew.
¡°My pardons, I did not mean to insult you,¡± Eriol said, smiling. ¡°The Obedience is a wonderful force, one that can draw marvelous results if used to its potential.¡±
¡°I thought you were just telling me that I was a dunce for using a clearly fallible battle strategy,¡± Erika replied.
¡°The strategy was indeed faulty,¡± Eriol admitted. ¡°But not the dark force. You simply failed to cast it on the right target. You see, Li Syaoran as of now is infallible. He has never been stronger because of the solidness of his inner belief; he is sure of himself, inside out. There is no way that someone weaker in mind than he can control him. Even last summer, when he was less certain of himself, the Phantom couldn¡¯t draw out his deepest fear because Li Syaoran¡¯s greatest fear was also his greatest strength.¡±
¡°Which is?¡± Erika peered at the strange person standing before her.
¡°Sakura of course.¡± Eriol smiled in his cryptic way. ¡°Oxymoronic, isn¡¯t it?¡±
¡°I already know all of this,¡± Erika stated, wishing the four-eyed creep would stop diverging from his point. Or was this his point?
¡°You¡¯re wondering what I want from you, and whether I pose a threat to you and your twin.¡± Eriol paused expectantly.
Erika felt a shiver. She feared Eriol because he seemed to always know what was going on in everyone¡¯s mind and was amused by it all. ¡°True. So far you have not challenged my brother and me though you clearly know our true identity. I take it you are at least not openly an enemy. Yet.¡±
Bemused, Eriol replied, ¡°That was a strategic ¡®yet.¡¯ Do you want me as an enemy?¡±
¡°No. But I do know you are Sakura¡¯s supporter.¡±
¡°You are honest.¡± Eriol chuckled to himself. ¡°I do not take sides. This is not my fight. I know neither of evil nor good, light nor dark, right nor wrong.¡±
¡°So you¡¯re neutral?¡± Erika raised a skeptical brow.
Smiling again, Eriol replied, ¡°All I like is to be amused once in a while.¡±
¡°I see,¡± Erika said, afraid or saying more; she was still playing with what she could draw out of Eriol. A convoluted, dangerous foe he might be. But if she played the right hand¡¦
¡°Meanwhile, Sakura-san¡¯s weakness is embodied in Syaoran,¡± Eriol continued. ¡°Her strength is in her ideals in contrast to Syaoran¡¯s desire for verity. Both are difficult paths to follow but both bring merit to their battles. Yet while Syaoran gains strength from seeking truth, Sakura-san¡¯s path to enlightenment is more difficult because idealism is not a simple matter of finding an answer but involves unwavering clarity in mind and heart, a moral justice that cannot be explained in words. Being intangible makes idealism all the more frailer.¡±
By now, Eriol had completely lost Erika for pretty language and complex thoughts were more of Eron¡¯s specialty. But one this was clear. ¡°So are you saying that at this point, Syaoran is stronger than Sakura?¡±
Eriol blinked and carefully replied, ¡°Once can¡¯t so easily jump into conclusions. And strength can¡¯t be measured in a comparative sense.¡±
¡°The only way is in a battle,¡± Erika stated. ¡°Yet in terms of power, you, Hiiragizawa Eriol are by far the strongest.¡±
¡°Is that so? We shall see soon,¡± Eriol responded. ¡°He Who Wields the Power of the Moon has been impatient to test his powers for quite a while. An interesting duel will unfold, one which even I do not know the results of.¡±
Interesting duel? Erika took a quick breath in anticipation. ¡°Will you be challenging him?¡±
¡°No, he will challenge me first.¡± Then Eriol smiled the stealthiest smile of the night. ¡°But I shall gladly accept.¡±
No wonder they called Clow Reed the greatest sadist of his time, Erika thought. It¡¯s really a relief that he isn¡¯t our enemy. Yet. Either way, I can use this occasion very well.
There were more patients in the Kinhoshi hospital as the temperature dropped sharply and the common flu spread more quickly. By now, the Seijou Junior High student volunteers were accustomed to their jobs at the hospital and worked efficiently without any supervision, with a few exceptions of course.
Erika was reflective over Eriol¡¯s words yesterday, almost forgetting her earlier humiliation with Syaoran. The fact that Syaoran made no mention of the previous night made things easier. The Small Wolf versus the reincarnation of the Powerful One. It would be an interesting battle. It will also be the perfect opportunity to corner the Cherry Blossom.
¡°Earth to it, Erika. You¡¯re photocopying the wrong book,¡± Syaoran said from the computer, where he was typing up documents. ¡°I really hope your absentmindedness is a result of diligently reviewing math formulas in your head. Instead of crafty scheming.¡±
He¡¯s right on the mark. It¡¯s scary, the way he seems to know what¡¯s going on inside my mind. When Syaoran resumed typing, Erika glanced up from the photocopy machine to stare at the young man whom she had ended up spending more time with than she had expected. He was nasty and blunt towards her but surprisingly truthful and straightforward. She knew from the way he observed her from the corner of his eyes that he was wary of her yet he was still fair towards her. Could this boy possibly win against the once most powerful magician in the world?
¡°It¡¯s really not that hard Erika. Tsukishiro-san has clearly labeled the title of the book and page numbers on that sheet of paper over there. All you have to do is read it and follow instructions,¡± Syaoran called out without looking up from his work. ¡°Please don¡¯t tell me I have to give you reading lessons also. And Japanese isn¡¯t even my first language.¡±
¡°Fine, let¡¯s switch then! You do the photocopying,¡± Erika retorted. ¡°Typing is a lot easier; I¡¯ll do that instead.¡±
And hour later Erika blankly stared at the computer screen. She glanced at the piles of notepads with messy doctors¡¯ writings—she knew as much about computer as she did about mathematics. While Syaoran seemed to have breezed through the pages, she was having enough trouble positioning her fingers on the keyboard correctly. ¡°I¡¯ve never had typing lessons before,¡± she muttered, peering at the labels on the keyboard, typing letters up one by one with her forefinger. ¡°How am I supposed to read this chicken-scratch, and where is the stupid percent key?¡±
¡°Having trouble?¡± Syaoran asked, leaning against the photocopy machine. ¡°I¡¯m finished here, and I¡¯m thinking about taking off early.¡±
¡°You can¡¯t leave me here!¡± Erika exclaimed in despair. ¡°I still have this whole stack to type up!¡±
¡°You¡¯re the one who wanted to switch,¡± Syaoran replied. ¡°Good luck. I don¡¯t want to stay around long enough to have to endure another one of your ploys. Oh, and remember to do your problem sets for tomorrow. Beware of any errors—if you get more than two mistakes, I¡¯ll make you do the whole thing over again twice on top of the new set of problems.¡±
¡°Don¡¯t you dare leave me with all this work! Monster! Sadist!¡± Erika retorted—Syaoran had already left the office. Serves him right to have to battle the only other one as cruel as him. Where¡¯s Eron—he¡¯ll be able to finish this in no time.
¡°These babies are so cute,¡± Miho squealed. ¡°They¡¯re so tiny!¡±
¡°Careful—support the neck when you hold them,¡± Sakura said, rocking the baby in her arms. They were in charge of the infant nursery to day. She stared at the pudgy faced baby in her arms, touching its rosy velvet-soft cheeks, it¡¯s tiny fingers and little feet curled up like dumplings. The baby gurgled happily as Sakura made funny faces for him.
¡°I¡¯ve never held a baby before,¡± Miho exclaimed, poking the baby¡¯s cheek. ¡°Look at how the cheeks jiggle and how small her lips are. She¡¯s so adorable!¡±
¡°By the way, it¡¯s a ¡®he.¡¯ And just wait until they start crying,¡± Eron muttered from the other side of the room. He wasn¡¯t particularly helping, merely sitting and watching the cribs, refusing to touch the ¡°stinky, milk-and-poop smelling little animals.¡±
¡°How can you call them stinky?¡± Miho demanded to Eron. ¡°They smell so sweet and clean. Aren¡¯t you a cutie-pie, little princess?¡± The baby squealed as Miho squeezed it tighter.
¡°I can¡¯t believe they put people like us in charge of the babies,¡± Eron stated, arms folded, shifting in his chair. ¡°You two have never even held babies either. Make that you three.¡± He glanced at Eriol, who was sitting, out of place, on the other chair. ¡°Anyone who is crazy enough to call these little brats cute hasn¡¯t been exposed to babies long enough.¡±
Just then, the baby in Miho¡¯s arms started wailing.
¡°Uh oh,¡± Miho said.
¡°What is it?¡± Sakura exclaimed.
¡°Ewww!!! I think¡¦ She¡¦¡± Miho made a face. ¡°Disgusting.¡± The baby wailed harder.
¡°Don¡¯t drop the baby!¡± Sakura exclaimed, helpless because she was still holding another baby in her arms.
¡°What am I supposed to do?¡± Miho asked, trying to jiggle the baby in her arms. It screamed louder. ¡°Good girl, it¡¯s all right¡¦¡±
Soon enough, other babies began to wail also.
Eron sighed. Miho pranced back and forth holding the baby at an arm¡¯s distance, wailing with the baby in agony. Sakura chased after Miho, trying to calm her down, meanwhile unable to calm the baby in her arms. Eriol, delicately holding his nose, inched towards the door.
¡°Don¡¯t you dare think of escaping,¡± Miho said, turning around just as Eriol reached for the doorknob.
The door swung open, and Syaoran asked, ¡°What is this noise and smell?¡±
¡°Thank goodness.¡± Sakura walked up to Syaoran and shoved her baby into his arms.
¡°What the heck is this?¡± Syaoran demanded. ¡°And what in the world is this place?¡±
¡°Don¡¯t hold the baby upside down!¡± Sakura exclaimed in horror. She scooped up another crying baby from its crib.
¡°Baby?¡± Syaoran turned the bundled mass right side up and stared. The baby took one look of Syaoran¡¯s scowling face and howled. ¡°Whose baby?¡±
¡°Not mine of course!¡± Sakura retorted in indignation. ¡°The infant nursery. How did you end up here, anyway?¡±
¡°I finished early so I came looking for you,¡± Syaoran replied. ¡°Maybe I should have stuck around in the office. At least it was quiet except for Erika¡¯s grumbling.¡±
¡°Do something about this kid,¡± Miho interrupted, half in tears herself. ¡°This is worse than the children¡¯s playroom.¡±
¡°Well, that place has improved since the Kaitou-sama tyranny has taken place,¡± Syaoran said.
Desperately, Sakura had set down the baby again and gingerly undid its diaper.
¡°Ewwww!¡± Miho squealed. Her baby, red in face, started choking.
¡°Syaoran!¡± Sakura stared at Syaoran helplessly.
¡°One thing the Li Clan Chosen One is not expected to do is look after babies,¡± Syaoran retorted.
¡°Couldn¡¯t it have been a part of your special training?¡± Sakura asked helplessly.
¡°In fact, children were encouraged to keep away from me,¡± Syaoran continued, scowling at the baby he was holding. ¡°And I am the youngest in the family, anyway. I did not have to deal with children at all till I began working here.¡±
¡°I¡¯m the youngest too!¡± Sakura stated. Then she blushed. Did her older brother have to change her diaper for her when she was a baby? How humiliating!
¡°This is annoying; I¡¯m leaving,¡± Syaoran said, setting the crying baby back in an empty crib.
¡°How in the world do you plan on having a family if you can¡¯t even take care of one baby?¡± Sakura demanded.
¡°Fine! I won¡¯t have children then,¡± Syaoran stated.
¡°No children?¡± Sakura repeated.
Syaoran turned red. ¡°What will come will come. And it¡¯s not like you¡¯re having any more success than I am. Isn¡¯t this your job anyway?¡±
¡°I¡¯m trying, can¡¯t you see?¡± Sakura tried to rip the diaper off the baby¡¯s legs. ¡°And I don¡¯t expect to have a husband who will just sit around and watch, either. Look at my father. He was better in housework than my mother.¡±
¡°I¡¯m probably better in housework than you are too,¡± Syaoran muttered, awkwardly picking up the baby again and patting its back because it looked so miserable, lying in its crib, helpless.
¡°Oh, shut up you too and decide upon your marital plans later and do something about this monster,¡± Miho intervened again.
¡°M-marital plans?¡± Sakura and Syaoran exclaimed in unison.
¡°WAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!¡± The baby wailed.
At that moment, Eron snapped. He jumped up on his feet, scowling even fiercer than Syaoran, and stated, ¡°This noise and foul smell is revolting. You guys are all hopeless!¡±
¡°What are you to speak?¡± Miho demanded. ¡°You did nothing so far!¡±
Snatching the baby from Miho¡¯s arms, Eron replied, ¡°Now stand back, watch, and learn!¡± He set the baby on the table, snapped open its pants and carefully unfastened the diaper.
¡°W-what is that?¡± Miho stammered pointed, still holding her nose with her other hand and completely red. ¡°S-she¡¯s a boy! He made a royal mess indeed!¡±
¡°Disgusting, isn¡¯t it?¡± Eron said. ¡°So lift up the baby¡¯s legs, take the old one out. Wipe the bottom with the wet napkin. Now it¡¯s nice and clean, isn¡¯t it? Put powder.¡± Eron proceeded with the steps. The baby had stopped crying. ¡°Slide on the new diaper. Fasten. Fold up the old diaper carefully. Discard. Simple and easy, right?¡± He set the baby upright. This time the baby gurgled happily, drooling. ¡°Now, understand?¡±
¡°W-wait¡¦ Can you repeat that one more time?¡± Miho asked.
Sighing, Eron proceeded to the next baby. After he finished, Miho tentatively attempted to change diapers for the third baby.
¡°Don¡¯t clasp the diaper on so tightly—you¡¯ll cut off its circulation in the legs,¡± Eron said.
¡°But what if it falls down?¡± Miho asked, desperately fuddling with the diaper.
¡°Stupid; don¡¯t make it so loose that it¡¯ll fall down,¡± Eron replied. After ferociously scrubbing his hand at the sink for five minutes, he said, ¡°I¡¯m leaving this repulsive place. You guys do what you want.¡±
¡°That attitude,¡± Miho muttered. ¡°As bad as Kai-sempai—no worse.¡±
¡°Still, he saved us,¡± Sakura said, staring at the once more quiet nursery. Those tiny actions could not make her think the worst of Eron, even after last time¡¯s incident which through Syaoran in a fury.
¡°Where in the world did he learn how to handle babies?¡± Miho asked. ¡°He has some queer talents.¡±
The baby made a grab at Syaoran¡¯s brown hair. ¡°Poo-poo!¡±
¡°What?¡± Syaoran demanded.
Everyone laughed. ¡°He likes you,¡± Sakura said. ¡°Hey Syaoran—don¡¯t hold the baby with one hand like that! You¡¯ll drop it. You need to support the head¡¦¡±
¡°He needs to grow up like a man,¡± Syaoran retorted. ¡°A
little hardship will harden him.¡±
¡°These guys are all crazy,¡± Miho said, shaking her head.
¡°I haven¡¯t done anything,¡± Eriol reminded.
¡±You¡¯re the craziest of all,¡± she replied. ¡°A maniacal sadist.¡±
¡°It hurts me, being called a sadist every other second,¡± Eriol said.
The door swung open again.
Sakura looked up to see if Eron had returned. ¡°Meilin-chan!¡±
¡°Look!¡± Meilin stated.
¡°You got your cast off!¡± Sakura exclaimed. ¡°That¡¯s great!¡±
¡°I still need to go to rehab,¡± Meilin replied. ¡°And I can¡¯t walk properly yet because I lost a lot of muscle mass in my leg because of the cast. Otherwise, it feels great to be free again!¡± Then a shadow came over her eyes. She and Syaoran exchanged silent looks.
¡°Meilin—do you know how to change a diaper?¡± Miho asked. ¡°I can show you how!¡±
¡°Miho-chan, you can¡¯t change the diaper again!¡± Sakura exclaimed.
¡°Ah—I¡¯ll pass the opportunity to next time,¡± Meilin replied. ¡°I don¡¯t like babies. Oh, I should go show Kai—he¡¯ll be glad.¡± Then she half hopped, half skipped down the hall to the children¡¯s playroom.
¡°I¡¯m so glad her leg healed well,¡± Sakura said.
¡°Yeah,¡± Syaoran replied, oddly quiet.
¡°Kai! Look, I got my cast off—¡° Meilin trailed off as she was greeted with the sight of Kai, lying on the ground, fast asleep, children around him watching him sleep or playing their own little games, quietly, as not to disturb the Commander. ¡°What are you thinking, sleeping here? You¡¯re supposed to be looking after the children!¡±
Groaning, Kai rolled over on the carpet. He was using a stuffed animal as a pillow.
¡°You¡¯re their supervisor—you have to keep any eye on them at all times! Do you know how important that is? One of them can get hurt or go missing any moment! How can you sleep when on duty?¡± Meilin continued.
¡°It¡¯s you,¡± Kai muttered, rubbing his eyes, sunglasses skewed. ¡°No wonder it¡¯s so noisy.¡±
¡°What were you thinking?¡± Meilin demanded. ¡°You¡¯re such a bad example for the children.¡±
¡°Look, I have things under control,¡± Kai said, sitting up groggily.
¡°I know you had a fight with those high school students again, too, and you have yet another suspension,¡± Meilin rambled on. ¡°You never think ahead, and you never take responsibility over your actions!¡±
¡°I said, I have things under control,¡± Kai snapped, louder this time. The room became silent.
Nina came stomping over, standing in between Meilin and Kai, arms spread out. ¡°Don¡¯t bother Kai-nii-chan! Witch!¡±
¡°Why you¡¦¡± Meilin bit her tongue. Set a good example for the children.
¡°Come here,¡± Kai called out. Nina climbed on Kai¡¯s lap, snuggling her nose in her chest. Looking up to Meilin, he said, ¡°Congratulations on getting your cast off.¡±
¡°Huh? Oh¡¦ Thanks.¡± Meilin shifted uncomfortably. Kai so rarely got angry. She and her tongue. And it was true that Kai had established a reign over the playroom. But still, she was right—he shouldn¡¯t have fallen asleep.
¡°Kai-nii-chan, you promised to tell us a story after napping,¡± Nina said, tugging Kai¡¯s shirt to get his attention back on her.
¡°I did, didn¡¯t I Nina-hime?¡± Kai showed his smiling face to the little girl, but Meilin could see the humorless eyes under his sunglasses, pupils turned in her direction. ¡°Wait for me in the lounge. My shift will be over soon. I¡¯ll drive you home.¡±
¡°Umm¡¦ Actually, we¡¯re having my recovery celebration dinner tonight,¡± Meilin said. ¡°If you want to come¡¦¡±
¡°Story!¡± Nina demanded.
¡°Cheers!¡± The glasses of sodas clinked as the usual crew sat in a long table at a popular family restaurant.
¡°Congratulations Meilin on your recovery!¡± Sakura exclaimed.
¡°Say something for the camera!¡± Tomoyo said, holding up the camcorder.
¡°Ah¡¦¡± Meilin sweat-dropped. ¡°It feels great to be able to scratch my leg again.¡±
¡°Can¡¯t you think of anything better to say?¡± Miho demanded. She pushed Meilin out of the way and hogged up the camera. ¡°I learned how to change babies¡¯ diapers today!¡± Her gray eyes shot towards Kai, sitting on the far side of the table, looking out the window absentmindedly. ¡°Kai-sempai! Do you know how to change diapers? I can show you next time!¡±
¡°Kai is too busy sleeping while on duty to do anything else,¡± Meilin said, eyes slanted.
¡°That¡¯s awful!¡± Miho exclaimed. ¡°Those horrible children need an eye kept on them 24/7! Or else they get into so much mischief.¡±
¡°Someone needs to keep an eye on Kai 24/7 or else he¡¯ll be the one to get into mischief,¡± Syaoran corrected.
Taking a sip of her orange soda, Miho sighed, ¡°I can¡¯t even write a hot article on ¡®Delinquent Student: Record Number of Suspensions in the History of Seijou Junior High.¡¯ It will be a disgrace to the journalism club since it¡¯s about one of our members.¡±
¡°Guys, let¡¯s stop badgering Kai-kun—after all, this is Meilin-chan¡¯s celebration dinner,¡± Sakura pleaded.
¡°Don¡¯t bother standing up for me, Sakura,¡± Kai cut off, standing up, ¡°I have something to do. I¡¯ll leave your dinner in peace. Tomoyo, please give Meilin a ride back home.¡± Picking up his bag, he slung it over his shoulders and left the table.
¡°What crude manners to leave in the middle of dinner!¡± Miho exclaimed in indignation.
¡°He didn¡¯t even touch his food,¡± Sakura said.
¡°Mizuki-san doesn¡¯t look too well,¡± Eriol commented for the first time.
¡°Eriol-kun¡¯s right. He looks really worn out,¡± Tomoyo said.
¡°It¡¯s true. He doesn¡¯t sleep at night.¡± Meilin frowned slightly. ¡°Insomnia he says.¡±
¡°By the way, is it true that Kai-sempai received another suspension?¡± Miho asked.
Sakura replied, ¡°I heard from Rika-chan—she overheard in the teacher¡¯s office,¡±
¡°What reason this time?¡± Syaoran asked, disgusted.
¡°He can¡¯t keep his fists under control, that¡¯s the problem,¡± Meilin said.
¡°That¡¯s not it,¡± Sakura said. ¡°He¡¯s not stupid, Kai-kun. He doesn¡¯t act without a reason, and he always has everything calculated.¡±
¡°Oh that,¡± Syaoran said. ¡°Kai told me. Those high-schoolers were taking money from elementary kids—he was just ¡®teaching those bullies a lesson.¡±
¡°Why didn¡¯t he tell the principal that story?¡± Sakura asked.
¡°It¡¯s almost as if he wants to get expelled.¡± Meilin rolled her eyes. ¡°Idiot.¡± What will he do when I leave in a couple of days? Who¡¯ll look after him?
After dinner, as they were about to pay the check, they were surprised to find that the dinner had already been paid for by ¡°the young man with spiky hair and sunglasses.¡±
¡°That was a good meal!¡± Miho exclaimed, patting her stomach as they walked out to the streets.
¡°We should do this more often, eat out together,¡± Meilin said. She laughed. ¡°Oh yeah, I¡¯m leaving soon, so never mind that.¡±
¡°You¡¯re really leaving, Meilin-chan?¡± Sakura asked. ¡°Can¡¯t you stay a little longer?¡±
¡°You already know I¡¯ve been putting it off for weeks. I was originally supposed to stay for two weeks, but I ruined everything by breaking my leg and having to stay on an extra month,¡± Meilin replied sheepishly. Her smile fell as she looked at Syaoran.
From behind, Eriol said so lowly that no one else could hear, ¡°I wonder if it¡¯s okay for you to not return even though the Great Elder is gravely ill.¡±
Syaoran spun around, eyebrows furrowed down as he glared at Eriol.
¡°Uh oh,¡± Tomoyo said, glancing between Syaoran and Eriol and the brimming tension which had been boiling over the brim for the past weeks.
¡°What¡¯s the matter?¡± Sakura asked.
¡°Nothing, Sakura-chan.¡± Tomoyo smiled. I think there will be a showdown between the Wolf and the Fox soon. She stopped walking for a second and frowned slightly.
Sakura tilted her head questioningly. ¡°Tomoyo-chan?¡±
¡°I just though of something,¡± Tomoyo replied. Who will I route for if those two fought? Of course, I¡¯ve known Syaoran longer, and he¡¯s one of my closest friends. Plus, he¡¯s the only one I could entrust Sakura to. She sighed. But still¡¦ She gazed up at Eriol, his eyes as mysterious as the Sphinx. He caught her eyes and smiled. It was evident he was more amused than he had been for the past months. There definitely will be a duel soon.
¡°What are you sighing for?¡± Syaoran asked on that evening to Meilin, who was gathering up her stuff from her room. She paused packing and sat on the sofa across from Syaoran.
¡°I wanted to stay a little longer in Japan, but it seems as if the Great Elder¡¯s condition is critical at this point,¡± Meilin said. ¡°His life might be in danger.¡±
The Great Elder had been like a father to Syaoran,
overseen his training, taught him all he knew. As his Training Master, Syaoran
regarded him with great respect and admiration, as the Head of the Elders, he
vowed loyalty and devotion to the Great Elder. It was hard to believe this
stern, tough man was greatly reduced in health and near his deathbed, for
Syaoran couldn¡¯t imagine the Li Clan without the current Great Elder, his
Great-Uncle and previously his father and Leiyun¡¯s Training Master. ¡°I know¡¦
Mother called me too. I had to once again tell her I¡¯m not returning. She
¡±No, I think she does,¡± Meilin said softly. ¡°She probably understands better than anyone else. She¡¯s already experienced it before.¡±
¡±But father returned to her eventually.¡± Syaoran folded his hands together. ¡°I have no intention of giving in to Clan pressure. I heard they¡¯ve already stricken me off the Book of the Inner Council and the List of the Chosen Ones.¡±
¡°You knew it was coming, Syaoran. At least Aunt Ieran has prevented them from disowning you from the family.¡± This was actually shocking news to Meilin, but she didn¡¯t express it—she thought the Council would wait at least until her return. She would have pleaded one last time to reconsider their decision, not that her say mattered in the Clan.
¡°Let Uncle disown me for all I care,¡± Syaoran retorted. ¡°If I¡¯m out of grace with the Li Clan, let it be.¡±
¡°You do care Syaoran,¡± Meilin said. ¡°For your father¡¯s sake, Leiyun¡¯s sake¡¦ your mother and sister¡¯s sake. The Great Elder is still on your side; he would have prevented all this from happening were he in the condition to. Yet his life is at stake now.¡± The Great Elder, the man whom Syaoran respected and honored the most. Yet, Syaoran had forsaken the Clan for his sense of duty.
¡°I¡¯m sorry Meilin.¡± Syaoran looked down at his feet where Wolfie-chan lay silently.
¡°What for?¡± Syaoran was apologizing? Meilin stared hard at Syaoran.
¡°For disappointing you. You and the rest of the Clan. I have done what no man should do,¡± Syaoran continued, looking up at Meilin. ¡°I¡¯ve given up family honor for the sake of pure selfishness and indulgence. I¡¯ve failed you all.¡±
Sitting up from the sofa and rushing over to Syaoran, wrapping her arms around him, she whispered, ¡°Don¡¯t say that, Syaoran. You¡¯ve done a brave deed. You¡¯re needed here. Japan needs you. You¡¯re so strong, Syaoran. I envy you sometimes. No, I¡¯ve always envied you and tried to follow you.¡± Hot, heavy tears dropped into his hair. If he knew she was crying, he said nothing.
¡°Be strong, Meilin,¡± Syaoran said, resting a hand on his cousin¡¯s shoulder. ¡°I¡¯ll try my best to be strong too. That¡¯s all I have left now, my inner strength. Though I don¡¯t have my family¡¯s support anymore, I still have a mission left to accomplish. It¡¯ll be harder from now on for difficult times await the Li Clan.¡±
¡°I know. When I return to Hong Kong, I probably won¡¯t be able to contact you anymore.¡± Meilin wiped her face with the back of her hands. ¡°But I¡¯ll be strong there. So you do your best too, okay?¡±
¡°I will.¡± Syaoran smiled. ¡°Once again, thank you Meilin.¡±
Sniffling, Meilin said reproachfully, ¡°Now, you better have made some progress with Sakura next time I see you!¡±
¡°Say, Meilin, won¡¯t you come back and live here for the remaining couple of days?¡± Syaoran asked, crossing his arms. ¡°And prove to me that I am indeed a better housemate than that thief?¡±
Sticking out her tongue, Meilin replied, ¡°No thank you. I¡¯ll be keeping an eye on ¡®that thief¡¯ for a little longer. Thinking about it, he¡¯s still not back since he left from the restaurant earlier this evening. Wonder what he¡¯s up to now.¡±
Leaning his forehead in his hands, Syaoran sighed. ¡°Couldn¡¯t you have at least chosen a respectable man?¡±
¡°LI SYAORAN! I told you it¡¯s nothing like that!¡±
Grinning, Meilin said, ¡°Well, after I leave, it¡¯s up to you to watch out for him.¡±
¡°What do you have for this ruthless, shady guy?¡±
Smiling lopsided, Meilin replied, ¡°Well, he once told me that we are very similar. And I am yet trying to find out how we are so similar.¡±
The journalism club meeting the next day was adjourned early because Kai was missing, and he was supposed to have brought the layout that they were going to edit in that meeting. Syaoran and Eriol were assigned to tidy up the clubroom that day, much to Syaoran¡¯s disdain.
¡°You have more guts than I expected,¡± Eriol commented, stacking the books.
¡°What?¡± Syaoran slammed the chairs as he stacked them up.
¡°Disobeying the Elders,¡± Eriol said. ¡°To protect your loved one.¡±
If he didn¡¯t dislike Eriol so much, Syaoran would have easily sensed that Eriol was intentionally provoking him.
Eyes darkened, Eriol said quietly, ¡°In the olden days, they would have hired an assassin to finish you off. Most likely one of your own blood too. For betrayers of the Clan were not regarded lightly. ¡±
Syaoran swerved around.
Smiling, Eriol continued, ¡°Luckily, things have changed since then.¡±
¡°Why did you return to Japan?¡± Syaoran demanded. ¡°I¡¯ll laugh if you tell me it¡¯s to chaperone Miho.¡±
¡°You know me too well, relative,¡± Eriol replied. ¡°Maybe I wanted a little amusement.¡±
¡°Maybe for you, all this is a matter of amusement but more so lately, the battle against the Dark Ones has turned into a matter of life and death for us,¡± Syaoran said coldly.
¡°It¡¯s still funny what old family disputes and the road to retribution has brought us all to,¡± Eriol said. ¡°Have you ever stopped to ponder why you¡¯re fighting and what you¡¯re fighting against?¡±
¡°Many times,¡± Syaoran replied. ¡°But the only answer I could come up with is for whom I¡¯m fighting for.¡±
¡°Indeed? And that may be Sakura, I suppose.¡±
Eyes looking directly up at Eriol, Syaoran said, ¡°No, I can¡¯t be so selfish as to say I¡¯m fighting for another person, to protect her. In the end, it comes down to the fact that I¡¯m fighting for myself. That¡¯s the extent of my strength at this point. I can¡¯t fight in the name of someone else when I don¡¯t have the capabilities of protecting myself.¡±
His answer might have taken Eriol off guard for he remained silent for a moment. ¡°I wonder how Sakura-san would have responded to my question.¡±
¡°Obviously that she is fighting for her friends, the network of relationships she has established, even for the Dark Ones, for everyone else except herself,¡± Syaoran replied dryly. ¡°She¡¯s more self-sacrificing than I can ever be.¡±
¡°Then, what are your reasons for staying behind in Japan when it is your duty to return to Hong Kong, where your family needs you?¡± Eriol questioned calmly.
¡°I can¡¯t grow if I return to Hong Kong,¡± Syaoran replied. ¡°I¡¯ll be trapped in a cage all my life, and I will always be a puppet of the Elders.¡±
¡°But one day, you will become the most powerful in your Clan, the Head, and you will be able to wield great power within you family and all of Hong Kong for the Li Household is well known and respected.¡±
¡°That¡¯s what¡¯s expected of me,¡± Syaoran said. ¡°But I won¡¯t fall into the same trap that my ancestors have been victim to. I think I will follow what my heart tells me is right rather than what centuries of duty and family obligations demands of me.
¡°And what makes you think that staying in Japan is the right choice?¡± Eriol asked. ¡°Do you truly think that Card Mistress Sakura needs you?¡±
Syaoran was stumped. Slowly, he answered, ¡°No, probably not. She¡¯s strong and capable of fighting off the enemy. And she has powerful friends surrounding her, who would protect her and be her strength.¡±
¡°True indeed. First layer of defense are Cerberus and Yue, her guardians. Their sole existence is to protect their Mistress. Not to mention her family, her friends and myself will always be at her side come the worst.¡± Eriol paused deliberately, pushing up his glasses with his forefinger. ¡°Have you ever reflected, that your presence might actually be preventing her from growing as a Card Mistress?¡±
Staring hard at Eriol, Syaoran said slowly, ¡°Are you saying that I am a hindrance to Sakura?¡±
¡°Of course, your intentions are pure and your heart is noble and commendable. Yet in the end, she has come to rely on you, and one day, she¡¯ll find you are not by her side to protect her as always. Your existence is making her dependent and impedes upon her growing to her fullest potential.¡±
¡°You are not serious, are you Hiiragizawa Eriol?¡± Syaoran asked through gritted teeth. ¡°Saying that I shouldn¡¯t protect Sakura?¡±
¡°Look at that scar on your back from the Whip. That should be the scar on Sakura¡¯s back,¡± Eriol said coolly.
¡°You mean, allow Sakura¡¯s back to be scarred?¡± Syaoran¡¯s fists were clenched, and his voice trembled. ¡°Allow her to get whipped, allow her to have endless nightmares, allow her to drown, allow her to fall off the cliff, allow her to face the Dark Ones alone? Just watch her being torn apart? NEVER!¡±
¡°That¡¯s you being selfish,¡± Eriol replied, unfazed by Syaoran¡¯s fervor. ¡°Just because you can¡¯t stand Sakura being hurt doesn¡¯t mean that she can¡¯t endure it. Pain strengthens a person.¡±
¡°I don¡¯t believe that!¡± Syaoran exclaimed. ¡°Sakura¡¯s strength is in her happiness and the happiness she gives others. And I will protect her dream with the last drop of blood I have left in my body.¡±
¡°If you know what is best for her, you will board the plane departing Japan with Li Meilin on Sunday. Not that you would ever take me advise,¡± Eriol said. ¡°You are strong, Li Syaoran—you have grown greatly since I first met you, all on your own too. You are an embodiment of strength gained through pain—you cannot call my philosophy wrong. I admit, you too are right about Sakura¡¯s strength. However, we face darker times and with darker times comes darker deeds and thoughts. If there were time, I would have taken Sakura¡¯s training another step higher after the Sakura Cards were created. But the Dark Ones appeared, and she was thrust into the full-fledged battle that the Sakura Card days were only a prologue to.¡±
It was late afternoon and the chatter of students leaving the building was but background noise to the otherwise silent classroom.
Glasses glimmering in the unlighted room, Eriol continued, ¡°You too noticed a change in tides which will bring eviler days ahead of us whether we are prepared for it or not.¡±
¡°Don¡¯t worry, Hiiragizawa Eriol,¡± Syaoran said. ¡°I have confidence in my abilities to uphold what I believe in, though you remain faithless in your successors.¡±
¡°On the contrary, I have great faith in Sakura and your abilities,¡± Eriol replied. ¡°You two make wonderful partners. But in the end, your reliance on each other will be used against you by your enemies.¡±
¡°I already know that.¡± Syaoran stared past Eriol, outside the window which was illuminated by the orange sky.
¡°That is why you stand on the cliff¡¯s edge, not being able to move ahead, but not being able to turn back,¡± Eriol said. ¡°That is your weakness and the source of your doubts. If I were your enemy, I would play on that fact very well. Though in the end, it will be Sakura who takes the blow hardest. For as you¡¯ve said, when she falls, if she falls, she¡¯ll fall harder than anyone else.¡±
At that moment, something in Syaoran¡¯s mind snapped like a rubber band stretched until it could stretch no further. He whipped out his sword and brought it down in Eriol¡¯s direction. Without blinking and eye, Eriol¡¯s staff materialized and blocked the strike with ease. Eriol¡¯s quick reflexes were no surprise to Syaoran but the willingness to accept the challenge puzzled him.
¡°Too slow, Small Wolf.¡± Eriol smiled.
Syaoran stared hard at Eriol, grip on sword-hilt so tight that his knuckle turned white.
¡°It won¡¯t be wise to carry on a fight here,¡± Eriol commented.
¡°In three days then. In the clearing behind King Penguin Park,¡± Syaoran said. ¡°We should finish off the battle that was never finished last winter in New York.¡±
¡°A duel—that will be interesting. And we can make sure Sakura-san doesn¡¯t interrupt this time.¡± Eriol grinned. ¡°But why in three days?¡±
¡°It¡¯s after Meilin leaves.¡±
Simple-minded boy. Eriol nodded. ¡°Set.¡±
¡°Did you ever get around to asking Syaoran what he was doing with Erika in the library?¡± Meilin asked, doodling on a piece of paper. Sakura had agreed to study with her in the library to make up for last time. Tomoyo and Miho had joined them also. Yet, Meilin found she simply could not concentrate on the piles of makeup work she had to do, especially on the last couple of days she had left in Japan. Besides, Kai had been missing since he left the restaurant last night.
¡°No, that¡¯s Syaoran¡¯s business,¡± Sakura replied.
¡°Syaoran really was with Erika?¡± Tomoyo asked, blinking.
¡°Aren¡¯t you in the least bit jealous or at least curious?¡± Meilin demanded. ¡°It would drive me crazy—it¡¯s driving me crazy right now, and I¡¯m not even his girlfriend!¡±
¡°I¡¯m not his girlfriend either,¡± Sakura reminded. She leaned her chin on her arms. What was she supposed to do? Get mad at Syaoran?
¡°Isn¡¯t that Syaoran-kun?¡± Tomoyo asked as they saw someone rush into the library.
¡°Syaoran!¡± Meilin exclaimed.
Syaoran looked around.
¡°Over here!¡± Meilin called out. The librarian glared at her.
¡°Meilin?¡± Syaoran walked over. ¡°What are you guys doing here?¡±
¡°Studying,¡± Meilin replied. ¡°What are you doing in the library at this hour?¡±
¡°Oh¡¦ It¡¯s kind of a long story,¡± Syaoran muttered.
¡°Syaoran-kun!¡± A shrill voice from another table called out. ¡°You¡¯re late!¡±
¡°Sorry, got to go guys,¡± Syaoran said.
¡°Erika? Again?¡± Meilin uttered in disbelief.
¡°Syaoran—I finished all the problems; I¡¯ve been waiting for half an hour. Hurry!¡± Erika called again, running up to Syaoran and grabbing his arm.
¡°Why do you need him to do your work?¡± Meilin demanded.
¡°He¡¯s been tutoring me,¡± Erika replied smugly.
¡°Syaoran tutor you?¡± Meilin repeated dumbfounded. ¡°What kind of trick did you use on him to get him to consent to that?¡±
¡°No wonder Erika-chan has been doing well in class for the past week,¡± Tomoyo commented.
¡°Yeah, it some how turned out that way,¡± Syaoran said. ¡°I¡¯m tutoring Erika in math.¡±
Erika and Syaoran walked over to their table on the other side of the study carrels and soon made a good pretense of working.
¡°Unbelievable,¡± Miho said. She had been dozing until Syaoran appeared.
¡°Sakura, say something,¡± Meilin said, shaking Sakura. ¡°Why is he tutoring Erika? He can¡¯t be serious! They¡¯re studying! Look!¡± She pointed wildly. ¡°What¡¯s wrong with him? She must have cast a spell on him or some weird controlling dark force or something.¡±
¡°How can you not get distracted by them,¡± Erika asked, looking up from her textbook.
¡°Ignore them and do the problems,¡± Syaoran said, eyes closed, sweat-dropping.
¡°I can¡¯t. They¡¯re calling me names,¡± Erika replied crossly.
¡°You do things that make you deserve the names you¡¯re called.¡±
Wrinkling her nose, Erika said, ¡°You don¡¯t have to put things so bluntly.¡± She was a little hurt by his words, which were indeed true.
¡°Why don¡¯t we call it quits today?¡± Syaoran asked, closing the book. ¡°You got 85% on these problems—a great improvement.¡±
For the first time, Erika realized that Syaoran was distracted. Not because of the girls sitting at the table across the library but another matter. She smiled furtively. The battle between the Power of the Moon and the Power of the Sun would take its course.
¡°Nee, Miho-chan,¡± Meilin said, looking up from her book. ¡°Are you not going to look for your brother anymore?¡±
¡°Onii-chan?¡± Miho grinned wistfully, setting her pencil. ¡°Onii-chan is not an irresponsible person. He probably has his own reasons for disappearing.¡±
¡°You¡¯re an understanding sister,¡± Meilin said. ¡°I couldn¡¯t contain my wrath when my cousin disappeared from Hong Kong. So I traced him all the way over to Tomoeda. But you are so patient and forgiving.¡±
¡°Forgiving?¡± Miho laughed shortly. ¡°I¡¯m mad, furious at him right now. For leaving mother and me, for not returning, for breaking my heart over and over again, for not caring.¡± Her smoky gray eyes softened. ¡°But what else can I do? If he returned, I would forgive him right away, any time.¡°
Sakura and Meilin glanced at each other briefly, guilt shadowing their eyes.
¡°I¡¯ve searched, I¡¯ve dreamed, I¡¯ve gone half-insane,¡± Miho continued. ¡°Now all I can do is pray and leave the rest to him.¡±
¡°Miho-chan, I¡¯m sure he¡¯ll return, one day,¡± Meilin said, sniffling.
¡°Why are you getting more emotional than me?¡± Miho laughed. ¡°As long as he is safe and health somewhere, I¡¯m fine. And as long as he remembers me and thinks of me once in a while.¡±
¡°He¡¯s probably thinking about you all the time,¡± Tomoyo said softly.
¡°I doubt it,¡± Miho said bitterly. ¡°If he did, he would return sooner. But it¡¯s all right. I can stand it.¡±
¡°Look, they¡¯re leaving the library,¡± Meilin hissed, nodding towards Erika and Syaoran.
¡°I guess the ¡®tutoring session¡¯ is finished,¡± Sakura said crankily. ¡°I left my book in the classroom at school. I¡¯ll see you guys tomorrow then!¡± Sliding off her chair, Sakura took her bag, jacket and walked out.
¡°Wait! Sakura-chan!¡± Meilin called out. ¡°I¡¯m coming too!¡±
¡°Where are we going?¡± Meilin asked as they entered the school. ¡°Syaoran went that way.¡±
¡°I¡¯m getting my book,¡± Sakura replied, blinking.
¡°You¡¯re not following Syaoran?¡± Meilin demanded.
¡°Why would I do that?¡± Sakura blinked again.
¡°You impossible girl!¡± Meilin laughed. Good thing she¡¯s so trusting in Syaoran to leave him like that with that horrid girl.
The school building was completely empty and was dark except for the emergency light. Yet, Sakura knew the school so well that she did not need much light. As Meilin and Sakura walked down the corridors, they heard the faint melody of piano.
¡°W-what was that?¡± Sakura turned to Meilin. ¡°Did you hear something?¡±
¡°I think someone¡¯s playing the piano,¡± Meilin replied calmly, though she was just as uneasy as Sakura.
¡°But no one should be in the building right now,¡± Sakura said, trembling. ¡°D-do you think it¡¯s a g-gh-gho—¡°
¡°Ghost?¡± Meilin finished off. ¡°Maybe. Isn¡¯t it one of the Seven Mysteries of Seijou Junior High? The bloody hands that play the grand piano in the music room, after dark?¡±
¡°HOE!¡± Sakura threw her arms around Meilin¡¯s arm.
¡°Well, hurry. Let¡¯s go to the classroom and get your book so we can leave,¡± Meilin said. Then she looked up. The music was a lot more distinct now that they were near the music room. Through the door slightly cracked open, bright light streamed into the dark hallway.
Now they could recognize the nerve-wrecking tune as a few measures of Beethoven¡¯s Piano Sonata 7, marred by a discordant key, an exasperated sigh, and then a repetition of the same bar from ¡®The Tempest¡¯, followed by another clunking of an off-tune note.
Sakura and Meilin looked at each other and peaked into the music room. Unexpectedly they found Kai, frowning as he started over again, his fingers at least moving nimbly and gracefully as expected from an aspiring magician. But his lack of concentration added with frustration got the better of him, making him stumble more frequently. He clearly had the basics down and could even read the music scores without any problem. It was obvious that with more patience and perseverance, Kai could easily master the piece, for without doubt he was a quick learner and talented in many aspects, but he lacked that fine thread of effort and whole-hearted practice. Finally, on another ill-sprung sound, he jammed all ten fingers down onto the keys, then slammed the piano lid shut, sending all the music scores flying over the¡©¡©¡©¡©¡© piano from the impact.
At this, Sakura and Meilin winced.
¡°Maybe it would be easier to distinguish whether you¡¯re playing the white or black keys if you didn¡¯t have your sunglasses on,¡± Meilin commented dryly.
¡°What are you doing here?¡± Kai demanded, turning around.
¡°We saw that the lights were on,¡± Sakura replied. ¡°We didn¡¯t know you¡¯d be here. I didn¡¯t know you were practicing so hard. In fact, I thought you were suspended from school.¡±
¡°Little good it does, doesn¡¯t it? Practicing,¡± Kai remarked, already standing by the doorway, trying to hide the fact that he had been embarrassed by being cranky. ¡°And no, Sakura, I¡¯m not going to get lessons from anyone, definitely not Eriol.¡±
¡°I bet Syaoran is willing to help you,¡± Sakura suggested.
¡°No, I don¡¯t care about the stupid piano test,¡± Kai said. ¡°Another ¡®fail¡¯ doesn¡¯t matter for me, you know.¡±
¡°But it¡¯s not like you¡¯re bad at playing—you don¡¯t even need help at the stage you¡¯re in, not that I know much about music,¡± Meilin said. ¡°You just need more practice—and also, maybe you should try a simpler piece than Beethoven, you know. Beethoven¡¯s for more advanced pianists.¡±
¡°That¡¯s where I last left off—I should be able to play at least that much,¡± Kai replied with an odd look on his face, almost like a sullen boy¡¯s. He turned off the lights in the room and they were standing in darkness again.
¡°You¡¯re too ambitious,¡± Meilin scoffed.
¡°Wrong,¡± Kai said, as he slipped between the two girls and escaped from the music room. ¡°I have no ambition what so ever.¡±
Once Kai was out of view, Meilin commented, ¡°He¡¯s really been acting strange since the Transformation and Fantasy Card incident. It might help if he¡¯s more honest with himself.¡±
¡°Well, he¡¯s trying,¡± Sakura said.
¡°Is he?¡± Meilin smiled slightly. ¡°I don¡¯t know. Somehow I believe him to be capable of much more if only he applies himself.¡±
¡°Why are you always so hard on him?¡± Sakura asked, staring at her friend hard. ¡°He¡¯s a good person. And he tries in his own way. You know that too.¡±
¡°Why am I so hard on him?¡± Meilin replied, half-laughing. ¡°I don¡¯t know. His business does not concern me, does it? Maybe I¡¯m just jealous. Jealous because he has so many talents, and he will be able to get so far if he tries, but he doesn¡¯t. If I had all the talents that he does, I wonder where I¡¯ll be now. Yet instead I am just me, powerless, weak, useless Meilin, a good-for-nothing in the Li Clan, a hindrance to Syaoran and useless in the battle against the Dark Ones. An annoying pest, that¡¯s what I am, as Kai said.¡±
Turning around to face Meilin, Sakura took both her hands in her own and said in a soft, earnest voice, ¡°Don¡¯t ever say such things, Meilin. You have more worth in you than you are aware of. You don¡¯t know how much you are a strength for Syaoran and me, and Kai-kun. Especially Kai-kun. And you must continue to have faith in yourself, because your moral strength will become the strength of all of us in the future, even if you leave us.¡±
For a moment, Meilin felt her eyes become teary. She was thankful it was too dark for Sakura to see. Meilin who was one of the few who were born without any powers, a great disappointment to her clannish parents. Meilin who tagged along Syaoran, the only Li who paid any attention to her, though she was just a nuisance. Meilin who was hated at school, called a snob. Meilin who was just in everyone¡¯s way. Never did she think that her existence made a difference to anyone.
Sometimes, she wondered how this pure and sincere girl standing in front of her could always just say the words to give her the tiniest more confidence in herself. What was so special about this girl, the Chosen Card Mistress? Meilin found Sakura to be neither very bright nor intelligent, powerful nor ambitious, no distinctive trait to make her stand out. In fact, she thought Sakura a very ordinary girl, a little too optimistic but disagreeably likeable at the same time. Yet, if anything else, she knew that Sakura would be the pillar, the strength of the side of the Light. Her strength would be the strength of her supporters. Her collapse will lead to the demise of everyone else. Because Sakura was the connecting bond of the New Circle of their generation.
Kai returned home sometime past midnight and before dawn.
¡°You¡¯re back,¡± Meilin said shortly.
Kai jumped. He hadn¡¯t expected Meilin to be up still, sitting motionlessly with only a dim lamp lighting the living room, waiting for his return. That was something he would do.
¡°Why aren¡¯t you in bed yet?¡± Kai asked.
¡°I was waiting for you,¡± Meilin replied. ¡°I didn¡¯t expect to see you at school, in the music room, earlier on.¡±
¡°What, are you going to laugh at me?¡± Kai asked. He stumbled towards the sofa and sank down. Though he couldn¡¯t admit it, he had been embarrassed to be caught in the piano room by Sakura and Meilin.
¡°Goodness, you look exhausted,¡± Meilin said, drawing nearer. ¡°Have you slept in the past two days?¡±
¡°I don¡¯t really remember.¡±
¡°What are you going to do without me around to look after you?¡± Meilin asked, sighing.
¡°I¡¯ve managed fine before I ever met you, and I¡¯ll manage fine after,¡± Kai replied brusquely.
Biting her lower lip, Meilin said, ¡°But you¡¯ve broken
your all promises to bettering your lifestyle—you haven¡¯t improved at all.¡±
¡°It¡¯s stupid of you to believe me time after time again, even though I¡¯ve never kept promise,¡± Kai replied. ¡°Why do you keep your faith in me still?¡±
¡°I don¡¯t know why!¡± Meilin retorted, jumping to her feet. ¡°I don¡¯t know what I¡¯m doing, here, living with such a dishonorable criminal such as you when I have so much more important worries! I don¡¯t know why I¡¯m wasting my time on one such as you!¡±
¡°Maybe you like me.¡± Kai grinned crookedly.
Meilin stood still, an electric shock jolting through her heart. ¡°It¡¯s just, I never thought that I might be able to make a difference in someone¡¯s life. And foolishly, I thought that I might be able to change something in you.¡±
¡°Heh, did you catch the pick-up-a-stray-puppy strategy from Sakura?¡± Kai mocked. ¡°I can¡¯t fail to reiterate that I don¡¯t desire to change, and I¡¯m about at the point where I can¡¯t stand your nagging and whining anymore, Li Meilin.¡±
¡°Good! I¡¯m leaving in a day, anyway. You¡¯ll be glad to see me gone.¡± Meilin turned away and walked towards her room. No, Kai¡¯s room. Why was she staying here? Why didn¡¯t she spend the remaining time with Syaoran? Wasn¡¯t Li Clan matters far more important than Kaitou Magician? ¡°But you said we have a lot in similar. I can¡¯t see what resembles we have at all! I may not be talented, but I try hard in everything I do. That¡¯s all I can do. Why can¡¯t you set aside your pride and return to your mother and sister?¡±
¡°You think this is pride?¡± Kai laughed shortly and resentfully. ¡°Li Meilin, you still have a long way to go if you think you actually understand me.¡±
Spinning around, Meilin faced Kai again. ¡°Do you know what Miho-chan said today? She said, ¡®I¡¯ve searched, I¡¯ve dreamed, I¡¯ve gone half-insane. Now all I can do is pray and leave the rest to him.¡¯ She has that much faith in you. What are you doing? You¡¯re right here, by her side! How can you stand watching her suffer the agony of not knowing if you are even alive? Why can¡¯t you save her from all this pain? Isn¡¯t that plain selfishness?¡±
Sitting up from the sofa, Kai replied in his low, dangerous voice, ¡°You¡¯re right; it is plain selfishness. But what do you want me to do? Go up to her and give her a big hug and tell her ¡®onii-chan is back! I¡¯m sorry I¡¯m not really the person that you are looking for, and I¡¯m wanted by the police force of at least six major cities because I became a thief in the last five years since I left home?¡¯¡±
Meilin was taken back. This might have been the first time Kai had been this frank with her, and she actually heard a fragment of his deepest insecurities. And this was definitely the first time Kai outright acknowledged that one time or another, he had been Tanaka Mikai.
¡°Is that what you want me to do?¡± Kai asked, taking a step towards her. ¡°You want me to crush all her precious memories of her older brother? You want me to bring her down because of my dirty past? I¡¯ve seen things and done things that no person should have seen or done; I¡¯ve been to hell and returned. No, I¡¯m still living in a hell, and I am condemned to hell. I have no regrets, for this is my life, the one I chose.¡± He took another step forward. ¡°And how do you expect me to return to her after all these years, after abandoning her and Mother? It¡¯s not a matter of ¡®would I¡¯ but ¡®can I.¡¯ I can¡¯t anymore!¡±
¡°She wouldn¡¯t care about all of that!¡± Meilin responded.
¡°Be realistic—that¡¯s not true, and you know it.¡± Kai smiled crookedly. ¡°There I¡¯ve done it again. I blab more when I¡¯m around you than when I¡¯m with anyone else.¡±
¡°What did you see when you looked into the Mirror of Truth back when you were stealing it from the museum?¡± Meilin demanded, knowing she was losing in the battle of words with Kai. By now, she knew it was impossible to argue with him.
¡°That¡¯s none of your business,¡± Kai replied, turning his face away. He had been so careful to avoid looking into the Mirror, but he had been careless that fatal spring night and saw his reflection.
Heedless, Meilin continued, ¡°You probably saw Tanaka Mikai, age 12, reflected, didn¡¯t you?¡±
Staring at Meilin, Kai was speechless.
¡°I thought so. You may change your appearance, and you may change your name. You may be a criminal and a delinquent, but that doesn¡¯t change the fact that inside, you are that same twelve year old boy who ran away from home five years ago, for what reason I do not know.¡± Meilin paused, finding it difficult to read Kai¡¯s expression. She was never good at reading people, anyway. ¡°You¡¯re still Tanaka Mikai, whether you acknowledge it or not!¡±
The poised Kai was standing directly in front of her now, his trembling shoulders the only external sign of the composure that had finally shattered. Carefully, he removed his sunglasses and slipped them in his pocket. ¡°You said you wanted to see my eyes when speaking to me, didn¡¯t you? Well, look at me now, and read what I¡¯m telling you, for I¡¯m warning you; you¡¯re testing it, Li Meilin.¡±
¡°Well if you are scared¡¦¡± Meilin was cut off.
¡°I¡¯ve warned you once,¡± Kai whispered lowly, a breath away from her. His blue-gray eyes gleamed icily. Yet beneath the anger, Meilin could still see traces of sadness.
¡°If you¡¯re scared,¡± Meilin continued, eyes blazing like two orbs of fire in the near-dark. ¡°Why don¡¯t you correct your way of life and return to the honorable, hard-working person you were before? Is it that hard?¡±
¡°There¡¯s no point!¡± Kai exclaimed, slamming his hand on the wall. Meilin caught her breath at the impact and attempted to step back, to realize that Kai had trapped her in between him and the wall. He continued, more stirred than usual, ¡°Don¡¯t you see there¡¯s no use? I¡¯ve fallen too far—I¡¯ve come this far knowing there will be no point of return. I was prepared for it since the beginning.¡±
¡°There is a point!¡± Meilin¡¯s chin trembled. ¡°Nothing is too futile. I—¡°
Kai stopped her short, grabbing her wrists and pinning her against the wall. Taken off guard, she squirmed against his force.
He bent over and kissed her mouth, stifling all her reproachful words.
¡°Mmmm!¡± She struggled against his iron grasp and his burning lips. It was not a romantic, warm, gentle kiss like in movies, but a hard, unrelenting one. He was being cruel, intentionally. At last, she was still.
¡±Finally you¡¯ve shut up,¡± Kai whispered as he let go of her wrists.
¡°H-how dare you?¡± Meilin gasped, short of breath. She raised her hands in the air and brought it down hard on Kai¡¯s face. With ease, he blocked her arm and carefully set it down by her side.
¡°You said yourself to abstain from violence, dear Meilin,¡± Kai said smiling cruelly in Meilin¡¯s perspective. ¡°You still have a long way to go if you think you can have the upper hand of the situation with me.¡± His hand still leaned against the wall, and he refused to let her move away. ¡°Lesson Number One: Don¡¯t meddle with my life.¡±
¡°I hate you Mizuki Kai!¡± Meilin shouted, struggling to escape from her cornered position.
Gently lifting her chin with his other hand, he said, ¡°Lesson Number Two: Don¡¯t trust men when you¡¯re alone in the dark with them. Simple enough for even you to understand, isn¡¯t it?¡±
She stood, glaring at him for what seemed like minutes. He gazed back at her with cool, unrelenting eyes. Wordless, Meilin leaned against the wall and slid down onto the floor. Back against the wall, she hugged her knees in a fetal position. She didn¡¯t want him to see her crying face yet again. At this moment, she felt foolish, taken advantage of and even more stupid because her heart was racing and her lips yet tingled. She could taste saltiness on her lips. Blood. And she had lost track of all thought, her tears were not stopping, and her heavy hair was in her face.
¡°Are you crying?¡± Kai quietly asked after a while when he regained control over his temper. Having a girl crying at your feet would move the coldest of hearts, let alone the lady¡¯s man Kaitou Magician.
¡°I¡¯m not,¡± Meilin replied, head buried in her knees.
Kai knelt down to see her face. ¡°You are crying.¡±
¡°I¡¯m not crying!¡± Meilin snapped, turning her head away. ¡°I¡¯m not, I¡¯m not!¡±
¡°If you say so¡¦ I thought you were crying over a stolen first kiss or something sentimental like that.¡± Kai chuckled.
¡°This wasn¡¯t my first kiss, so there!¡± Meilin retorted, voice muffled, resenting him for laughing at her.
¡°Oh?¡± Kai blinked. He carefully brushed back her dark hair with his hand. ¡°Show me your face, Meilin.¡±
¡°Just leave me alone!¡± Meilin sniffled and stared up at Kai, tears glistening on her flushed cheeks. ¡°Don¡¯t think I¡¯m crying because of something stupid like that, either. I¡¯m crying for you, Mizuki Kai, no Tanaka Mikai!¡±
Kai reached out for her.
Meilin flinched. ¡°Don¡¯t touch me!¡±
¡°Sorry.¡± Kai withdrew his hands and stared at her.
¡°Just answer one question for me,¡± Meilin said when she could trust her voice to be steady again.
¡°What do you want me to answer?¡± Kai patiently asked.
Meilin looked into Kai¡¯s beautiful eyes the color of a rainy day. The eyes that beckoned to her and at the same time told her to keep her distance. ¡°Why do you have such sad eyes, Mizuki Kai?¡±
For a moment, Kai remained silent, eyes lowered. Finally he answered slowly, ¡°Do I have sad eyes? No one¡¯s ever told me that before.¡±
¡°That¡¯s because you always hid behind those black shades,¡± Meilin replied.
¡°Maybe I¡¯m a sad person inside,¡± Kai said, chuckling.
¡°Don¡¯t be silly,¡± Meilin said, wiping her face with her sleeves. ¡°I have another question¡¦¡± She stared at him directly. ¡°Why did you kiss me?¡±
Kai bent closer to her, so that she could catch a whiff of his faint cologne on his neck. ¡°Because I¡¯ve wanted to do this for a long time.¡± His eyes were a lot gentler than before. He tilted her chin up again and drew her nearer. The periwinkle stud in his left ear twinkled. ¡°Kiss you.¡± This time, he kissed her softer and more tenderly. The large hand laced in hers was warm and soothing. A faint voice in the back of her mind reminded her that someone once told her not to trust the words of a thief. Yet, she could barely breathe let alone think.
Why couldn¡¯t I have chosen a ¡®respectable¡¯ man instead of this firebrand?
The first thought on Meilin¡¯s mind the next day was, he took advantage of me. She did not know why she had allowed Kai to kiss her and reproached herself for giving in too easily to moonlight and those lonely, appealing clear blue-gray eyes. It was obvious he had again slipped out of talking about anything serious to her. He¡¯s so sly and unfair. I¡¯ll never fall for his tricks again! She was not surprised that Kai was gone for the entire next day. Kai was still Kai, and nothing had changed since last night.
All the same, she was hurt when he did not return for the morning of her departure.
¡°Stop here please,¡± Meilin told the taxi driver. She paid him and lugged her suitcase out onto the sidewalk. The graveyard was eerier early in the morning when the sun had not yet risen and a white fog had set across the tombstones. The faint light of dusk guided her through the dense mist surrounding her towards the hunched figure by the small, unmarked tombstone.
¡°I thought you might be here,¡± Meilin said, crouching beside him and setting a small bouquet of lilies down on the grave.
Kai looked up in surprise for the second time in that location.
¡°I was worried you know. And a little hurt. You weren¡¯t even going to see me off,¡± Meilin said.
¡°What are you doing here?¡± Kai asked, tired gray eyes staring at the fresh flowers.
¡°I don¡¯t know anything about microchip devises, so I had a harder time finding you. Lucky guess, wasn¡¯t it?¡± Meilin smiled. ¡°I already said good-bye to Syaoran and Sakura and the others. I thought about leaving without seeing you, but I couldn¡¯t bring myself to do that.¡±
¡°I¡¯m touched.¡± Kai grinned meagerly.
¡°You should be.¡± Then she bowed in front of the grave. ¡°Whoever this person is, it must be a person who you respect very much.¡±
Kai didn¡¯t reply.
¡°Perro-chan is mad because you left him alone,¡± Meilin stated, standing up again.
¡°Eh? Perro-chan?¡± Kai repeated.
¡°Perro-chan. Short for Perroquet. Your parrot. You never told me its name,¡± Meiin said.
¡°It doesn¡¯t have a name.¡±
¡°Why, because you have some stupid notion that if you name your pet, you¡¯ll get too attached to it? Well now it has a name, poor thing,¡± Meilin stated, hands on hips. And that was that.
¡°I¡¯ll drive you to the airport,¡± Kai said, about to get up. Then he grimaced, bending over, hand over his upper left chest.
¡°What¡¯s the matter?¡± Meilin knelt down in the dirt to support him. This wasn¡¯t the first time she had seen Kai double over in pain like this. She was right—he was not only extra worn out these days, but he was actually in physical pain. That explained his slower movements, the way he stayed up in the nighttime with sweaty brows, the weariness in eyes. ¡°Are you injured? Why won¡¯t you tell me?¡±
¡°I¡¯m fine. Give me a moment.¡± Kai breathed hard for a few minutes. His muscles relaxed.
At first, Meilin didn¡¯t notice because Kai was wearing a dark button-down shirt as usual, but she soon realized that he was bleeding, for his hand was covered in blood. Her eyes widened. ¡°What¡¦¡±
¡°It¡¯s nothing.¡± Kai tried to get up again and doubled over. He clutched his chest. ¡°Damn.¡±
¡°What do mean it¡¯s fine? You¡¯re bleeding!¡± Meilin exclaimed. ¡°Where¡¯s the blood coming from?¡± She bent over and reached for Kai¡¯s shirt, unbuttoning the top few buttons to see where the injury was.
Pushing her away, Kai joked weakly, ¡°How indecent. Are you trying to strip me in broad daylight?¡±
¡°Don¡¯t joke around!¡± Meilin exclaimed, having revealed a white scar on his upper left chest. Carefully, she dabbed at the blood with her handkerchief. ¡°Kai, tell me, what is this injury?¡±
¡°You¡¯ll be late. My car¡¯s parked over there,¡± Kai said, finally standing up and buttoning his shirt again. He slipped on his sunglasses again and smiled forcedly. ¡°I¡¯ll make sure you get to the airport safely this time.¡±
¡°So Meilin departed safely?¡± Syaoran asked at dinner that night.
¡°Safe and sound,¡± Kai replied. He still blamed himself for Meilin¡¯s accident last time she was on her way to the airport. ¡°This is a rarity, you inviting me over to dinner.¡±
¡°I cooked too much,¡± Syaoran said. He stared at the table laden with food.
¡°That¡¯s an understatement.¡± Kai eyed the steaming dishes enough to feed a whole family. ¡°Isn¡¯t it better to invite over your darling Sakura-chan?¡±
¡°I challenged Eriol the other day,¡± Syaoran said.
¡°What?¡± Kai dropped all the food from his chopsticks. ¡°You¡¯re crazy, aren¡¯t you?¡±
¡°Maybe,¡± Syaoran replied.
¡°You better not tell Sakura about it,¡± Kai said. ¡°She¡¯ll throw a fit if she hears.¡±
¡°Probably.¡± Syaoran grinned slightly. ¡°Either way, I¡¯ve done something rash.¡±
¡°It¡¯s not like you to jump into something like this without thought,¡± Kai commented.
¡°Baka inu! Baka inu!¡± His parrot chimed.
¡°Grrr¡¦¡± Wolfie-chan growled at the mocking pale blue parrot that flew over his head, right out of reach.
¡°Leave that poor pup alone, Perro-chan,¡± Kai said.
The parrot repeated, ¡°Perro-chan! Perro-chan!¡±
¡°Perro-chan? Funny name,¡± Syaoran sniggered. He couldn¡¯t quite recall if Kai¡¯s parrot had a name previously.
¡°How is that any funnier than Vega of Lyra Eagle Wolfie-chan?¡± Kai demanded.
¡°Anyway, this battle was bound to come sooner or later, and sooner is better than later,¡± Syaoran said. ¡°I¡¯ve been waiting for this day. This is my final chance to prove myself.¡±
¡°You get demoted as Chosen One so you choose to go out and pick a fight with the most reputable Hiiragizawa Eriol, reincarnation of the most powerful of magicians, Clow Reed. Very smart,¡± Kai remarked sarcastically. ¡°What, a last statement to the Elders?¡±
Syaoran glanced at Kai sharply, who was nonchalantly eating dinner without looking up. The Kaitou Magician¡¯s analytical skills were not to be regarded lightly.
¡°Actually, it¡¯s more of a self-imposed training examination,¡± Syaoran replied flatly. ¡°I need some measure of how much I have improved in strength.¡±
¡°Smart, waiting after Meilin has departed,¡± Kai commented. ¡°She wouldn¡¯t have left you alone.¡±
¡°Exactly,¡± Syaoran replied, sipping his tea.
¡°So, when is the battle taking place?¡± Kai asked.
¡°Tomorrow. That¡¯s why I have a favor to ask you, Kai.¡±
Shaking his head, Kai said, ¡°You guys are all so annoying, thinking you can make me do you favors. I¡¯m not as idle as that, to go around doing your bidding.¡±
¡°Ahem. Who saved you when you dropped in, bleeding, chased by the police? Who almost risked his neck for you last summer, over some locket or something? Who feeds you at this moment?¡±
¡°All right, all right¡± Kai raised his hands in truce. ¡°So what do you want me to do?¡±
¡°Nothing much. Just keep Sakura distracted tomorrow. I don¡¯t want to get involved, or intervene this time,¡± Syaoran said. ¡°This is my matter. Mine and Eriol¡¯s.¡±
¡°That¡¯s simple enough,¡± Kai said. ¡°Though I don¡¯t see why you can¡¯t get Tomoyo or something. Does she know?¡±
¡°Probably. She always knows everything. But you know her strange hobby of wanting to videotape everything.¡± Syaoran shuddered at the thought of Tomoyo being present at the battle tomorrow, and forcing Eriol and him to wear special matching battle costumes.
¡°Well then, best of luck tomorrow,¡± Kai said. ¡°I¡¯m routing for you. Crush that creepy bastard!¡±
¡°Don¡¯t worry—that¡¯s what I plan to do even without you telling me,¡± Syaoran replied, eyes gleaming dangerously.
Kai shuddered. Thank goodness I¡¯m not his enemy.
¡°Syaoran!¡± Sakura called out during break, the next day.
¡°Saku-chan!¡± Kai interrupted. ¡°Your skirt is tucked into your underwear.¡±
¡°What?¡± Sakura exclaimed, turning around, red in embarrassment.
¡°It¡¯s not,¡± Tomoyo reassured.
¡°That¡¯s a mean joke, Kaitou-kun!¡± Sakura exclaimed, still beet red. ¡°Just ¡®cause you don¡¯t have Meilin-chan to tease anymore!¡±
Meanwhile, Syaoran had inched out of the classroom. He knew that if he were alone with Sakura, she would sense that something was amiss today.
¡°It will be today,¡± Eriol said quietly so that only Erika could hear as he passed by.
Erika¡¯s golden eyes widened. The duel was finally taking place!
¡°Syaoran¡¯s been deliberately ignoring me for the past three days!¡± Sakura exclaimed in infuriation after school. ¡°I hate it when he does that.¡±
¡°Maybe he has more important matters in hand,¡± Kai commented looking up innocently.
Swerving around suspiciously, Sakura said, ¡°You know what it is, don¡¯t you Kai-kun? Don¡¯t pretend you don¡¯t know! It¡¯s strange that you¡¯ve been following me around all day, too. You haven¡¯t been in school for the past week!¡±
¡°I¡¯m just being the good student Mei-chan wishes me to be,¡± Kai replied. ¡°I¡¯m hurt, Saku-chan, that you out of all people are suspicious of me.¡±
¡°Well, it¡¯s just that it feels like Syaoran sent you to distract me or something,¡± Sakura said. Then she laughed out loud. ¡°Nah, he won¡¯t do something as underhanded as that.¡±
Kai and Tomoyo exchanged looks and laughed feebly.
A little while later, Sakura sighed and turned around. ¡°Are you still following me, Kaitou-kun?¡±
¡°Of course not,¡± Kai lied glibly.
¡°With Syaoran ignoring me and everything, I¡¯m not in a good mood,¡± Sakura stated flatly. She was a little peeved that Kai was keeping a secret from her. ¡°So leave me alone. I want to study.¡±
¡°I¡¯m not stopping you,¡± Kai said.
¡°Well, I¡¯m going into the library now,¡± Sakura said, raising an eyebrow.
¡°Go ahead.¡± Kai followed her in.
Sitting in a remote corner, Sakura unpacked her textbooks and arranged them in front of her. To her annoyance, Kai took the seat next to her and took out his textbooks from his black shoulder bag. She hadn¡¯t realized that Kai even owned textbooks.
¡°I¡¯m studying,¡± Sakura stated, opening her textbook.
¡°Don¡¯t mind me,¡± Kai replied. ¡°I¡¯m studying too.¡±
¡°Hoe?¡± Sakura blinked. Since when did Kai study?
Sakura solved six math problems before she got stuck. Finding Kai too quiet, she took a peek to her side, expecting him to be fast asleep over his books. To her surprise, he had already finished a neat page of sums and was working his way into the next day¡¯s homework.
¡°Need any help?¡± Kai asked, still solving sums mechanically. ¡°I¡¯m not second-ranked in grade like Syaoran, but this really is grade school math for me.¡±
Pouting, Sakura replied, ¡°I¡¯m sorry I can¡¯t even solve grade school math. I don¡¯t see why you don¡¯t bother to do your homework when it takes so little time for you, anyway.¡±
¡°It¡¯s not worth the trouble,¡± Kai yawned, slamming the textbook shut. ¡±Finished!¡±
¡°Eh?¡± Sakura exclaimed, ¡°Already?¡± I can barely solve these problems when I¡¯m concentrating on them fully. How can he talk and work at the same time? He has good brains—there¡¯s no reason why he should be so near the bottom of the class.
¡°Why Sakura, how unexpected to see you in the library again!¡± Erika stated, taking the seat across from Sakura. ¡°Are you studying on your own? Or waiting for Syaoran-kun?¡±
¡°Erika-chan.¡± Sakura sat tensely on the edge of her chair. She knew Erika was trying to get on her nerves with her ¡°I know something you don¡¯t know¡± smile. Trying to force a smile, Sakura asked, ¡°Are you here to study too?¡±
¡°Nah, I don¡¯t study unless Syaoran-kun makes me,¡± Erika replied. She leaned her chin against her hand. ¡°Too bad he won¡¯t be coming to tutor me today.¡±
¡°What do you mean?¡± Sakura asked sharply.
¡°Oh, I don¡¯t know. He¡¯s a rather busy person, not that you would know,¡± Erika replied, looking at Sakura through lowered lashes. Good. Sakura was clearly irritated.
¡°Hey, Saku-chan, why don¡¯t we go somewhere else to study?¡± Kai said, gathering his textbooks. ¡°I suddenly don¡¯t feel like studying here because a poisonous vixen is contaminating the air.¡±
¡°I beg your pardon,¡± Erika replied shrewdly. ¡°I thought it was a filthy prison scum reeking up the peaceful, scholarly library atmosphere.¡±
¡°Ha,¡± Kai said. ¡°Well¡¦¡±
¡°Stop it Kai-kun,¡± Sakura interrupted.
Folding her hands out in front of her, Erika stated, ¡°Really, we should be bickering when poor Syaoran-kun is¡¦¡± She paused intentionally.
¡°Syaoran is what?¡± Sakura demanded.
¡°I really shouldn¡¯t be saying this,¡± Erika said, laughing prettily.
¡°Don¡¯t listen to her,¡± Kai stated. ¡°She¡¯s making up nonsense.¡±
¡°You know I¡¯m not, Mizuki-kun,¡± Erika said. ¡°You know I can¡¯t lie as well as you can.¡±
¡°Well, either of you, tell me.¡± Sakura¡¯s lips were set in a tight line. Why do I have to hear from these two? Why couldn¡¯t have Syaoran told me himself? ¡°What is Syaoran up to now, that I can¡¯t know?¡±
¡°You really didn¡¯t know?¡± Erika said in pretended surprise. ¡°If Syaoran-kun didn¡¯t tell you, then maybe I shouldn¡¯t say it.¡± She glanced at her watch. ¡°I didn¡¯t realize it was already so late. It¡¯s already time! I better get going.¡± Flicking back her violet curls, she stood up. ¡°Well see you later.¡±
Leaving all her books behind, Sakura followed Erika out of the library. ¡°Wait, what is it, Erika? Please tell me.¡±
¡°Should I really tell you?¡± Erika said, enjoying the suspense.
¡°Sakura, it¡¯s not that big of a deal.¡± Kai had followed after Sakura. ¡°Really.¡±
¡°If it¡¯s not that big of a deal, why can¡¯t you tell me?¡± Sakura asked reproachfully. ¡°I really don¡¯t mind Syaoran having secrets from me; I understand. But why does everyone else except me seem to know about it?¡±
¡°Maybe he wanted to protect you,¡± Kai muttered quietly. Then he demanded suspiciously, ¡°How do you know about this, Erika?¡±
¡°Syaoran-kun told me,¡± Erika stated, crossing her arms.
¡°No way.¡± Kai frowned. Something didn¡¯t sound right.
¡°He told me a lot of things.¡± Erika continued mirthfully. ¡°Such as your weakness, Sakura-chan. He said that you alone can be strong because of your faith in humankind. And when you fall, you¡¯ll fall harder than any one of us.¡±
¡°Syaoran told you that?¡± Kai asked in disbelief.
¡°Why would I make up something like that?¡± Erika responded.
It was true. Both Kai and Sakura knew that despite Erika¡¯s spite and malice, she was telling the truth.
Golden eyes twinkling, Erika said, ¡°He even hugged me last time. His chest was so warm, and his arms so strong. And I thought, how I would love to have these strong arms to always protect me.¡±
¡°You must be making that up,¡± Kai stated, glancing at
Sakura¡¯s pallid face quickly. ¡°He would never do something like that in his
¡°Ask him if you want,¡± Erika replied. ¡°He did embrace me under the moonlight, and he won¡¯t be able to deny it. If you don¡¯t believe me, I¡¯m not talking to you guys anymore.¡± Tossing her head up, Erika walked down the street.
For a moment, Sakura stood still, trembling. Then she ran after Erika again, throwing aside her pride. ¡°Syaoran¡¯s in some trouble, isn¡¯t he? Can¡¯t you tell me what it is?¡±
¡°Why should I do you a favor?¡± Erika asked, glossy lips curving into a malicious smile. ¡°What can you do for me?¡±
¡°What do you want me to do?¡± Sakura replied. ¡°Please, Erika-chan, tell me what Syaoran is up to, or at least where he is right now.¡±
¡°All right then,¡± Erika said. ¡°Follow me.¡±
¡°Stop, Sakura,¡± Kai called out. ¡°Can¡¯t you see she¡¯s playing with you and scheming something?¡±
¡°I need to know,¡± Sakura replied softly. ¡°And you and everyone else won¡¯t tell me.¡±
¡°Fine, I¡¯ll tell you,¡± Kai snapped. Sorry Syaoran. ¡°I¡¯ll tell you then, okay? It¡¯s no big deal. Syaoran just has some business with Eriol, that¡¯s all.¡±
¡°Syaoran¡¦ and Eriol-kun?¡± Sakura repeated, turning pale.
¡°That¡¯s rather an understatement, Mizuki-kun,¡± Erika stated, laughing light-heartedly. ¡°To be more precise, dear Syaoran-kun challenged Clow Reed reincarnation to a duel of power. They¡¯re probably fighting at this very moment.¡±
¡°No way,¡± Sakura said, stepping backwards, colliding into Kai. ¡°Why would he do something like that? Syaoran and Eriol are fighting each other?¡±
Still laughing, Erika stated, ¡°Darling Syaoran-kun, I don¡¯t know what he was thinking when challenging the once most powerful sorcerer in the world. I would be very worried for his welfare if I were you, Sakura-chan.¡±
¡°Not fair—Eriol promised to teach me new spells but he won¡¯t play with me today,¡± Miho grumbled to Suppi-chan who lay legs crossed on a stack of books. She sat at Eriol¡¯s grand desk, editing her article submission while sipping on a glass of orange juice, freshly squeezed by Eriol.
¡°He has special plans today,¡± Suppi-chan replied.
¡°What plans?¡± Miho demanded. ¡°He didn¡¯t tell me. Do you know Nakuru?¡±
¡°Ooh, here comes Eriol-kun,¡± Nakuru said.
¡°Where are you going dressed like that?¡± Miho asked. It wasn¡¯t often that Eriol dressed in traditional Japanese apparel. The navy blue keikogi and black hakama suited Eriol¡¯s dark hair very well, and he looked a lot sharper than usual.
¡°A duel.¡± Eriol replied straightforwardly.
¡°A what?¡± Miho blinked.
¡°Li Syaoran challenged me to a one-on-one match—I couldn¡¯t refuse,¡± Eriol said.
Spurting out her orange juice all over Eriol¡¯s mahogany wood desk, Miho coughed. ¡°I think I heard wrong. Did you just say you¡¯re going to duel with Syaoran right now?¡±
¡°You heard him,¡± Nakuru said, rolling her eyes. ¡°As if they have nothing better to do. But it will be awfully interesting, don¡¯t you think, Suppi-chan? Playing with the prey before eating it.¡±
¡°But I thought we¡¯re on Syaoran and Sakura¡¯s side!¡± Miho exclaimed.
¡°Dear Miho-chan, Clow Reed is never on anyone¡¯s side,¡± Nakuru stated, wiping the desk with a rag.
¡°He only acts upon what will entertain him the most,¡± Suppi-chan added.
¡°I don¡¯t know what time I¡¯ll be back so go ahead and eat dinner first,¡± Eriol said as he left. The door swung shut, and Nakuru and Spinel Sun followed him, waving goodbye to Miho.
¡°Leaving me home alone?¡± Miho said out loud. She stuck out her tongue at the door. ¡°No such chance!¡± Quickly grabbing a jacket and a hat, she ran out after them, careful to keep some distance.
¡°Miho-chan¡¯s following us,¡± Nakuru whispered to Eriol, who pretended not to notice.
¡°It will be a good visual learning experience.¡±
¡°Where in the world is Syaoran-kun?¡± Miho muttered as she peered through the bushes at one end of the clearing where the battle was to take place. Nakuru and Suppi-chan had transformed into their real forms, verifying that this was indeed an important occasion. To her surprise, Yue and Cerberus appeared shortly after. As Yue floated over to where Eriol stood, he glanced at Miho for a second before looking ahead again.
Out of the five standing before her, Yue was the only one who really impressed her—she was still rather in awe of the quiet, cold Yue with the long silvery hair, sharp features and calm disposition. The five looked up as the last person arrived in his usual traditional green Chinese battle apparel, the crimson tassel from his sheathed sword strapped to his back blowing in the wind.
¡°Good. You showed up. I was afraid you might have chickened out at the last moment,¡± Eriol said.
¡°The same goes to you,¡± Syaoran retorted, voice slightly strained but otherwise calm.
¡°I was looking forward to today.¡± Eriol smiled extra nicely.
¡°Who wouldn¡¯t say he¡¯s Clow Reed¡¯s reincarnation?¡± Cerberus muttered. ¡°Say Yue, who are you routing for? I guess the winner should be obvious, but¡¦¡±
Yue, silver eyes emotionless as always, glanced back between Eriol and Syaoran, face to face, one smiling, one frowning. He replied in his soft, cold voice, ¡°Is it so obvious?¡±
¡°By all means, Eriol is the more powerful, knowledgeable and experienced one. Every aspect in unfavorable to Syaoran in this situation—I say this is a really biased, unfair battle, overall,¡± Cerberus said. ¡°Though I must say it will do some good to crush the Brat¡¯s confidence a bit.¡±
¡°But the ¡®Brat¡¯ has grown,¡± Spinel Sun commented, stalking up beside Cerberus.
¡°Yes, he looks yummy!¡± Ruby Moon declared. ¡°Though not as yummy as Touya-kun.¡±
¡°What are you two doing here, anyway?¡± Cerberus demanded.
¡°Well, since everyone else is routing for Syaoran, we need to give our Master some moral support,¡± Ruby Moon replied. Waving her hand, she called out, ¡°Go Eriol-kun!¡±
Clearing his throat, Eriol stated, ¡°First of all, I have pre-set the boundaries of the battle, as to prevent disturbances during the battle. You will probably have sense it when you walked into this clearing.¡±
Syaoran nodded, sending out his aura to define his parameter. Good. Eriol, talented at creating barriers, had given them plenty of battle space and made sure no outsider was near by.
¡°The judge shall be Yue, a fair and impartial arbitrator. Do you have any objections?¡± Eriol asked.
¡°No,¡± Syaoran replied, glancing at Yue, who looked slightly bored and indifferent, slightly bemused.
¡°Why can¡¯t I be judge?¡± Ruby Moon demanded. ¡°Eriol-kun¡¯s so biased, choosing his favorite Yu-e-chan.¡±
Yue shot her a freezing glance that immediately shut her up.
¡°Didn¡¯t you hear? Eriol said impartial arbitrator,¡± Spinel Sun said.
¡°But I would choose whoever fights more scrumptiously,¡± Ruby Moon stated.
¡°Exactly,¡± Spinel Sun replied, sighing.
¡°Cold-hearted Yue is perfect for this job,¡± Cerberus declared. ¡°He really doesn¡¯t care who wins at all.¡±
¡°Yue¡¯s the only one of us with common sense,¡± Spinel Sun said, staring at Cerberus distastefully. ¡°Besides myself, of course.¡±
¡°Suppi-chan is taking Yue¡¯s side too,¡± Ruby Moon whined. ¡°You¡¯re supposed to be my partner, not his! It¡¯s not fair! Everyone loves Yue more than me. Just because he has long silver hair and doesn¡¯t smile and act cute like I do.¡±
¡°I leave you to choose the battle weapon, Syaoran-kun,¡± Eriol continued ignoring the onlookers. ¡°I advise you choose the devise in which you are most comfortable with.¡±
Syaoran gripped his sword in its scabbard strapped to his back. Swordmanship was his true area of expertise. However, it was a disadvantage to Eriol, who did not wield sharp-edged weapons.
¡°Do no hesitate for my sake,¡± Eriol replied. ¡°I am a lot more deft in other areas than you would think, and my victory is assured one way or another. Choose the weapon with which your are most confident in.¡±
Then there was no reason to hesitate. Unsheathing his sword with a swish, Syaoran declared, ¡°Fine, I choose sword.¡±
¡°As expected.¡± Eriol smiled. ¡°We shall now decide upon the rules, and what defines victory. Of course, if this were in the olden days, the death of one opponent clearly marks the victory of the defeater. A duel to death.¡±
Yue stated, ¡°However, as this is a new era of modern notions, I, Yue, will declare the winner as the last to remain standing.¡±
¡°That sounds fair,¡± Syaoran replied glancing at Yue. Did Sakura know that Yue was here? Probably not. Yue was an inscrutable figure till this day, yet a just one for all that mattered. But what in the world was Cerberus doing here, not to mention the others? ¡°Well, what else?¡±
¡°There are no other rules,¡± Yue continued. ¡°Except, if ones leaves in the midst of a battle—this includes for reasons such as injury or second-thoughts, this will be admitting forfeit and the remaining person shall be declared winner.¡±
¡°Any questions?¡± Eriol asked.
¡°Let¡¯s get to it,¡± Syaoran replied, moving into battles position, crouched down low, sword hand back, and left arm forward in guard stance.
¡°Makes this worthwhile, and do not disappoint me,¡± Eriol said. ¡°Though I plan on winning.¡±
¡°Don¡¯t worry—I don¡¯t plan on losing,¡± Syaoran stated.
¡°Self-assured words, Li Syaoran.¡± Eriol extended his hand out and chanted, ¡°Key that hides the power of darkness. Show your true self to me. I, Eriol, command you under contract. Release!¡± His key extended into Clow Reed¡¯s trade mark tall, sun staff. He held his staff out horizontally. ¡°Staff of darkness, transform into a sword of the sun.¡± Consequently, the staff shrank into the form a sword. Eriol gripped the hilt and moved into an unrecognizable battle stance.
¡°What is that?¡± Cerberus demanded.
Syaoran gazed in surprise as he examined his opponent. Eriol¡¯s sword blade was thinner than his and curved—the Japanese katana. No wonder. The stance Eriol took was typical kenjutsu style, perfect in balance, relaxed enough to move into any other position in response to his attack. Even with sword, Eriol was not an enemy to regard lightly.
¡°Feeling any hesitance?¡± Eriol asked, midnight blue eyes twinkling.
¡°No way!¡± Syaoran replied, taking a deep breath.
¡±Then Yue shall call the beginning,¡± Eriol stated.
¡°Such tension—haven¡¯t felt this since Clow Reed¡¯s Golden Years,¡± Cerberus commented, watching Eriol keenly.
Things were about to really get interesting. Miho¡¯s legs felt cramped from kneeling so long behind the bushes and she shifted over to get a better view, now that the others were occupied by the two on the battlefield. ¡°Ouch!¡± She banged heads with someone. Scowling, she looked up then gaped. ¡°Tomoyo-chan?¡±
¡°Miho-chan?¡± Tomoyo exclaimed, almost dropping her camcorder. ¡°What are you doing here?¡±
¡°Same goes to you.¡± Miho gulped. ¡°Shh¡¦ If we get caught, Eriol¡¯s not going to let us watch. Anyway, how long have you been hiding here?¡±
¡°For hours—I didn¡¯t know what time the battle was to begin,¡± Tomoyo sighed. Her eyes sparkled. ¡°But I couldn¡¯t miss this fight.¡±
¡°I hope you didn¡¯t tell Sakura-chan about it,¡± Miho said. ¡°If she did, she¡¯ll come and throw a fit and ruin all the fun.¡±
¡°Poor Sakura-chan. I do hate keeping secrets from her. But you¡¯re right—I simply cannot have her ruin this anticipation, this thrill, this¡¦¡±
Tugging Tomoyo¡¯s sleeve, Miho interrupted. ¡°They¡¯re starting.¡±
Extending out his wings, Yue levitated above the battlefield. Raising his arm, Yue stated, ¡°Without further ado, I, Yue, proclaim:¡± With a magnificent swoop of his arms, a flare of light streamed in all directions and a popping sound was heard. ¡±Battle start!¡±
¡°Humph, have to do everything with style, do you?¡± Cerberus grumbled as Yue floated back down, white clothing blowing in the breeze.
Minutes after Yue called battle start, Syaoran and Eriol stood motionless in start position. They stood about six meters apart, out of striking range from each other, swords gleaming in the afternoon sunlight. Syaoran was in dark green Chinese apparel, his traditional Li Clan Chosen One apparel, and Eriol was in navy blue Japanese samurai attire, providing a sharp contrast.
¡°Why aren¡¯t they moving?¡± Cerberus demanded impatiently.
¡°They¡¯re each waiting for the other to move,¡± Spinel Sun replied. ¡°Measuring each other¡¯s range and potential.¡±
¡°Well, I didn¡¯t exactly expect the battle to be decided by swordsmanship,¡± Cerberus stated. ¡°In this situation, Eriol does have a disadvantage for Syaoran was the Chosen One—he had to undergo the highest level of training under the Dragon Master, as they call the Great Elder. At least with sword, Syaoran should be unbeatable in the Eastern World.¡±
¡°Have you ever seen Li Syaoran in combat?¡± Spinel Sun asked. ¡°I¡¯ve always thought the boy¡¯s sword was more for ornamental reasons than as a weapon.¡±
¡±Actually no, I¡¯ve never seen the Brat use the sword against another person,¡± Cerberus replied. ¡°I¡¯m just assuming the perfection of his skills based on what I know about the requirements of the Li Clan Chosen One.¡±
¡°It is said that one of the Tests of the Chosen One, after he is initiated, is to undergo a duel with every one of the Elders,¡± Yue said, gazing at Syaoran¡¯s meticulous stance and overwhelming fighting ki. ¡°So that boy should have beaten every single sword-wielding person in the Li Clan to be in the position he is today.¡±
The other three¡¯s jaws dropped. They all knew great swordsmen resided in the Li Clan, ones who would have been victors of battlefields had they been born in wartime.
¡°That boy?¡± Ruby Moon gaped. ¡°No way. He¡¯s so young. Wait, but when he was first initiated, he was only ten!¡±
¡°I don¡¯t think they made him undergo the Test of the Elders until he returned from Japan,¡± Yue replied. ¡°All the same, the Li Clan prides itself in passing down the finest techniques developed since the Warring Era and whereas swordsmanship is merely considered a form of art in most of the world today, the Li Clan still holds it as a determining factor in battle—meaning they train with sword not for defense but for striking down the enemy.¡±
¡°Well, we¡¯ll see with our own eyes today the skills that the Li Clan prides itself in,¡± Spinel Sun said. ¡°No wonder Eriol¡¯s eyes are so animated today.¡±
¡°Look!¡± Cerberus exclaimed. ¡°The Brat¡¯s making the first move.¡±
Sure enough, Syaoran, bent low, came running forward at super speed, sword extended back. As he approached Eriol, he leaped in the air, and struck down with both hands gripping the sword hilt. There was a loud clang.
Eriol blocked easily with his katana. Without faltering, Syaoran swerved around and struck low. Again, Eriol blocked. Not allowing a single break, Syaoran continued thrusts and slashes, which Eriol expertly stopped. The clashing of steel echoed through the forest.
¡°I see why that boy has survived as Li Clan Chosen One for so long,¡± Cerberus muttered dryly. The power behind his strokes, the lightning speed, the precise movements all contributed to the skills of a master swordsman. If fighting was an art, Syaoran clearly portrayed this as he moved fluidly without hesitation, grace complementing force. ¡°He¡¯s not allowing an opening.¡±
¡°The boy truly is amazing,¡± Spinel Sun replied. ¡°But we must not underestimate Eriol¡¯s skills.¡±
True enough, Syaoran struck down rapidly, however Eriol was just as quick in blocking. Though he had not made a single attack yet, neither had Eriol slipped in defense. With minimal wasted moves, Eriol was saving his own strength while scrutinizing all aspects of Syaoran¡¯s attacks and waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike. The moment appeared. Quicker than the eye could follow, Eriol ducked Syaoran¡¯s attack and lashed out at Syaoran¡¯s legs, unprotected at that moment.
Barely in time, Syaoran jumped up in the air, flipped over Eriol¡¯s head, and landed on the other side. He resumed guard stance, panting. Syaoran too had been analyzing Eriol in the series of lighting attacks. Without surprise, Eriol proved a menacing foe; Eriol had countered every single one of his attacks without flinching. And that last strike—Syaoran was ashamed to admit that had he jumped a fraction of a second later, it would have been too late.
¡°What was that just now?¡± Ruby Moon demanded as Eriol faced Syaoran from the other end of the clearing, sword tilted in an attack pose.
¡°I don¡¯t know,¡± Spinel Sun replied. ¡°But what we do know is that Eriol is just as talented a swordsman as Syaoran is, if not more. Despite his looks.¡±
¡°True,¡± Ruby Moon replied. ¡°Eriol always had a gift for sports—he¡¯s quick and unrelenting. And right now, he is in better condition because that boy used up a great deal of stamina in that long series of attacks, whereas Eriol kept his motion minimal, therefore he is better rested.¡±
¡°Well, neither of them can be worn out yet,¡± Cerberus said. ¡°This is just the beginning.¡±
This time, Eriol made the first move. He lunged forward and began running towards Syaoran, sword extended out.
¡°He¡¯s fast,¡± Ruby Moon gasped as Eriol charged forward, dust flying up from his feet. He was so quick that his outline became blurry. Then with the cloud of dust from the ground, Eriol disappeared.
All four of the guardians blinked. What just happened? Eriol had vanished!
Despite his alarm, Syaoran maintained guard stance, amber eyes darting right and left across the dusty battlefield. Where was Eriol? It was no use searching for him with vision. I can¡¯t see him, but I can still sense him. Where? From the back! Thanks to his sharp instincts, Syaoran spun around just as Eriol slashed his katana down, blocking with the bottom of his blade with a hollow clunk.
The onlookers jumped. When had Eriol reappeared? After Syaoran¡¯s expert block, Eriol leaped back again.
¡°Look, Eriol disappeared again!¡± Cerberus exclaimed. ¡°Which direction is he coming from this time?¡±
Again, Syaoran stood motionless, listening for Eriol¡¯s footsteps. No, he was neither to his right nor left, front nor back. Where was he? Directly overhead! Syaoran looked up to see Eriol above him, sword in a thrust stance. Shinchoku giri—a downward vertical cut!
¡°I¡¯ve got you this time, Li Syaoran!¡± Eriol shouted.
No way! This time, Syaoran was not even able to block and desperately flung his body to the side, rolling over in the gravel.
Eriol¡¯s sword pierced the soil, just where Syaoran had been standing a few seconds ago.
As Syaoran picked himself up, Eriol had already resumed attack, giving Syaoran no chance to recover.
That was too close, Syaoran thought, eyes flickering to trace the quick swords movement. I can¡¯t lose sight of him again. What¡¯s the trick? All of his moves or foreign to me—yet he seems to be able to predict all my moves with great ease. There is no way he¡¯s a better swordsman than I am—I refuse to admit it. I know myself that there is no one else who could have trained as much as I have. When could Eriol have time to master all these moves? I must be letting a slip. What is my mistake?
¡°They¡¯re serious about this duel,¡± Spinel Sun commented, actually taking interest in the battle now.
¡°Eriol-kun has an upper-hand now,¡± Ruby Moon stated. ¡°Look, Syaoran-kun is sweating hard and you can see he is under strain— he can barely counter Eriol-kun¡¯s moves.¡±
¡°Eriol-kun¡¯s too quick and unpredictable,¡± Cerberus replied, humor lost in his voice as he watched the intensity in the field. ¡°The massive attacks in the beginning exhausted the Brat¡¯s physical stamina and Eriol-kun¡¯s invisible attacks strained his mental strength. And it doesn¡¯t help that Eriol-kun seems to be able to accurately guess all of Syaoran¡¯s next moves. I don¡¯t know if kendo is another one of the many talents handed down by Clow Reed, but at this rate, Syaoran has things very bleak—he¡¯s really no match for Eriol¡¯s skill and speed.¡±
Narrowing his pale eyes, Yue said, ¡°No. That¡¯s not right. Li Syaoran¡¯s swordsmanship is truly amazing.¡±
¡°Eh?¡± The other three turned to Yue.
¡°Watch Eriol¡¯s fighting style,¡± Yue continued.
At this point, Syaoran was breathing heavily as Eriol slashed his blade down towards Syaoran¡¯s left shoulder. Hidari kesa giri, the left downward diagonal cut. The dull clash of metal sounded as Syaoran blocked the movement with his double-edged sword. Before Syaoran was able to withdraw, Eriol was already attacking Syaoran¡¯s right arm. Migi mayoko giri, right horizontal cut. Again, Syaoran had blocked but this time Eriol was attacking again from his left.
¡°Hidari gyaku kesa giri, the left upward diagonal cut,¡± Yue stated. ¡°Eriol¡¯s changing attack directions every single time, so that Syaoran does not know which direction he will be attacking from, and just when Syaoran is vulnerable from blocking the previous attack, Eriol other has moved on to his next attack from another angle. There are eight different cuts that Eriol can perform to strike his opponent, and Syaoran has to guess out of eight—luck won¡¯t do him any good. His successful blocks are pure skill.¡±
True enough, Eriol was now attacking from the lower right. Migi gyaku kesa giri, the right upward diagonal cut.
¡°The eight different direction cuts that Eriol can perform,¡± Spinel Sun said. ¡°A double-handed thrust, a downward vertical cut, a left downward diagonal cut, a right upward diagonal cut, a right downward diagonal cut, a left upward diagonal cut, a right horizontal cut, and a left horizontal cut. Very effective, swift and precise. However, these eight different attacks are what Eriol is limited to in kenjustu, the art of Japanese swordsmanship—yet he has mastered these and cannot be beaten easily.¡±
¡°Li Syaoran is trained for more complex sword play,¡± Yue said. ¡°He was taught under the school of Li Clan Masters, skills perfected and honed since Li Shulin-sama¡¯s legendary days. He fights with the Chinese taiji jian, the double edged sword, in contrast to Eriol¡¯s Japanese katana, singled-edged, curved tip and lighter-weight. They¡¯re fighting two different styles, but Syaoran has been forced to adapt to the Japanese style due to Eriol¡¯s consecutive and unpredictable attacks. The reason why Syaoran¡¯s skill is so amazing is that he simply has no means of reading which direction Eriol will attack him next—he¡¯s used to being in specific guard stances to counter his attack before the actual attack. Previously, this has worked because he is able to read his opponent¡¯s movements before they actually strike him. Yet, this does not work with Eriol, who fights in a different style, and also because he is Eriol.¡±
¡°I don¡¯t get it—if Syaoran isn¡¯t able to read Eriol¡¯s movements beforehand, how is he able to block them all?¡± Ruby Moon demanded.
¡°Look at the boy,¡± Yue stated.
Every time Syaoran blocked, he returned to the same guard stance, legs apart shoulder-length, sword extended forward and awaited Eriol¡¯s next movement.
¡°Chudan no kamae, the middle guard stance,¡± Yue explained.
¡°Like in tennis!¡± Ruby Moon exclaimed. The other glared at her.
¡°Wait, that¡¯s not a part of the Li Clan¡¯s usual guard stances,¡± Cerberus interrupted.
¡°Exactly—Syaoran is adapting to Eriol¡¯s fighting spuriously. He¡¯s taking a more neutral stance in which he can move quickly into any other guard stance depending on Eriol¡¯s direction of slashing. Though at this point it seems like Syaoran is slower than Eriol, actually he is twice as fast because he has to wait to see Eriol¡¯s movement and catch up with the time lost.¡± Not once did Yue take his eyes off the battlefield as he spoke.
¡°And so the attacks continue until Syaoran slips,¡± Spinel Sun commented in his feline satisfaction. ¡°For Eriol cannot lose.¡±
From the bottom left Syaoran told himself. He quickly moved from middle guard stance to lower left guard stance. Then he realized Eriol had withdrawn and changed directions. No! He¡¯s attacking from the upper right! How did I fail to see that? Syaoran ducked a second to late and Eriol¡¯s sharp katakana had left a long gash in his battle costume¡¯s right sleeve. Before Syaoran was able to stand up again, Eriol brought down his katana again and in his kneeling position, Syaoran forced Eriol back with both hands on his sword, extended horizontally.
This time was really too close. With several flips, Syaoran backed away to the other side of the field for downtime. Li Syaoran, think clearly! He was breathing heavily, and he realized that the battle could not be drawn out much longer for those consecutive blocks were a lot more exhausting than he had counted on.
¡°Oh my gosh—the boy¡¯s bleeding!¡± Ruby Moon exclaimed, pointing.
Through the rip in his sleeves, they could see a long cut on his right biceps welling with blood.
¡°You¡¯re bleeding—do you want to call it quits?¡± Eriol asked, withdrawing.
Not even feeling the pain from the cut, Syaoran replied, ¡°And declare defeat? Don¡¯t even dream of it. You said that the last one to stand will be the winner—and I am still standing yet, aren¡¯t I?
¡°I¡¯m glad to hear that. Then I shall show you no mercy and strike you till you fall.¡± Eriol smiled. ¡°Persistent one.¡±
¡°The Brat¡¯s crazy,¡± Cerberus growled. ¡°He doesn¡¯t know when enough is enough—this could get really serious.¡±
¡°Dear Cerberus,¡± Spinel Sun said. ¡°A little bloodshed does not matter—this was expected from the beginning. Look at their eyes. They¡¯re both crazy.¡±
Indeed both Syaoran and Eriol¡¯s eyes had an intensity and fierceness rivaled by a warrior fighting for his life.
¡°You¡¯re curious where they are fighting, aren¡¯t you Sakura-chan?¡± Erika asked, crossing her arms.
¡°Why didn¡¯t anyone tell me?¡± Sakura said quietly. She looked up at Kai imploringly. ¡°I would have stopped them.¡±
¡°Exactly why no one told you,¡± Kai muttered. ¡°Syaoran didn¡¯t want you to come and interfere, that¡¯s why.¡±
¡°Always a pacifist, aren¡¯t you Sakura-chan?¡± Erika mocked. ¡°Spoiling all the fun. Well, you won¡¯t be able to do so this time.¡±
¡°I¡¯m going to find them,¡± Sakura exclaimed, turning around.
¡°Wait, Sakura—¡° Kai called out. ¡°You can¡¯t interrupt them!¡±
¡°They¡¯re my friends! They have no reason to be fighting!¡± Sakura exclaimed. ¡°I¡¯m going, and you can¡¯t stop me Mizuki Kai!¡±
¡°Stay!¡± Erika commanded. Instantly, Sakura¡¯s feet froze on spot.
What¡¯s happening to me? Though she wanted to go forward, a voice in her mind told her to stay. I need to go find Syaoran and Eriol!
¡°You can¡¯t go,¡± Erika stated. ¡°I won¡¯t let you go.¡±
¡°You can¡¯t stop me Erika!¡± Sakura stated. She whipped out her key. ¡°Key that hides the power of stars! Show your true self to me. I, Sakura, command you under contract. Release!¡± She held out her staff.
¡°What, now you want to fight me?¡± Erika scoffed. ¡°You haven¡¯t learned your lesson yet, have you? Well, I¡¯m not letting you leave, so feel the anguish of not knowing whether dear Syaoran is safe or not. Though there is no way he¡¯ll be safe, facing such a dangerous foe.¡±
Stepping in front of Sakura, Kai stated, ¡°Let Sakura go—does it matter to you?¡±
¡°My business is with Sakura, not you,¡± Erika replied curtly. ¡°Stay out of my way today, and I won¡¯t hurt you.¡±
Kai trembled under tension, glaring at Erika. ¡°Is that so, you little¡¦¡±
Gently pushing aside Kai, Sakura said, ¡°Erika-chan¡¯s right. You don¡¯t have to get involved Kai-kun.¡±
¡°Enough fooling around,¡± Erika said. ¡°I¡¯ll get revenge for Eron¡¯s injuries last time, and I¡¯ll make you regret that you ever became Card Mistress, Kinomoto Sakura.¡±
¡°Big words,¡± Kai muttered. ¡°Have you ever carried out a mission successfully? You and your twin are always beaten by Sakura and Syaoran.¡±
¡±I would not speak if I were you, Kaitou Magician,¡± Erika sneered. ¡°Pathetic, pitiable, despicable being.¡±
¡°Too bad you can¡¯t see the Mirror of Truth,¡± Kai responded wryly.
Shaking in wrath, Erika flailed out her hand, and almost invisible strings extended out to Kai. Nimble as ever, Kai quickly leaped up to a treetop, out of Erika¡¯s reach. She took her wrath out on Sakura instead.
¡°You think you are so great, preaching about justice and loyalty and such nonsense, don¡¯t you Sakura?¡± Erika asked, stepping forward. ¡°What good will it be when you are so weak, unable to protect your loved ones?¡±
¡°I¡¯ll still try my best,¡± Sakura replied, clutching her cherry pink staff. It was a relief not to have to pretend to like Erika anymore, for Erika made clear that she despised her.
¡°From what I perceive, Clow Reed chose the wrong successor,¡± Erika stated, lips curving into a cruel smile. ¡°In comparison, Syaoran¡¯s powers are far superior to yours. You just know a few pretty tricks, and that¡¯s about it. You couldn¡¯t even resist the Obedience. You¡¯re weak and worthless.¡±
¡°The Obedience?¡± Sakura blinked. Yes, the awful voice in her head. The Obedience. She could feel it¡¯s black aura in her veins. Distracted by thoughts of Syaoran, she had been vulnerable to this mind-controlling dark force.
¡°I couldn¡¯t even set in on Syaoran-kun,¡± Erika continued. ¡°But you, you didn¡¯t even notice the dark force until too late. You¡¯re a failure as a Card Mistress.¡±
¡°I¡¯m not!¡± Sakura retorted. I¡¯m not. It¡¯s just that I was worrying about Syaoran, searching for his aura, that I didn¡¯t notice the Dark Force that was right next to me. If my mind hadn¡¯t slipped.
¡°You are a weak Card Mistress!¡± Erika restated.
A dull pain throbbed at the back of her head. ¡°I am a weak Card Mistress,¡± Sakura repeated. Her eyebrows furrowed down. No, I¡¯ve come so far. I¡¯ve improved—even Kero-chan said so. I¡¯ve tried so hard over the years. There are many more powerful than me, but I¡¯m not weak.
¡°You are not deserving of the Star Staff,¡± Erika continued. ¡°Give it to me.¡±
¡°No, this is my staff!¡± Sakura clutched her staff tightly. ¡°Clow Reed gave this to me. It¡¯s for me.¡±
¡°You are not deserving of the Star Staff.¡± Erika extended her hand out. ¡°Give it to me.¡±
Give it to her. I have to give it to her. ¡°No!¡± Sakura uttered, but despite herself, her feet moved forward, and she handed the staff to Erika. It turned back to a key in Erika¡¯s hand.
¡°What are you doing, Sakura?¡± Kai demanded, jumping down from the treetop. To his surprise, Sakura rushed out to him and threw out a kick. He leaped back.
With each kick, Sakura shouted, ¡°Thief! Scoundrel! Delinquent!¡±
¡°Calm down for heaven¡¯s sake,¡± Kai said, grabbing a hold of Sakura. He took one look at her eyes and realized that she must be possessed.
She shoved him back and turned several back-flips, surpassing those she did in gym. What am I doing? Why am I attacking Kai? What am I saying? Another voice sounded in her head. Attack the thief. He¡¯s the Kaitou Magician. He can¡¯t be trusted. He¡¯s your enemy. ¡°NOOO!!!¡± Sakura shrieked, crouching down.
¡°What are you doing?¡± Erika demanded. ¡°Attack the Kaitou Magician.¡±
Kai was faced with a dilemma. This was not a matter he could solve with his own hands. He needed Syaoran. Yet, he didn¡¯t¡¯ want to leave Sakura alone. ¡°Sakura, hang on a bit. I¡¯m getting Syaoran for you.¡±
¡°Do,¡± Erika laughed. ¡°I don¡¯t think he¡¯ll have the freedom to come save anyone right now.¡±
¡°You shut up,¡± Kai said, glaring at Erika. ¡°If you hurt Sakura in between¡¦¡±
¡°Don¡¯t worry. The worst I¡¯ll do is make her jump off a building with her own two feet.¡± Erika laughed.
¡°I don¡¯t think so,¡± Sakura replied through clenched teeth. Her head was splitting in two. Her key! She had to get her key back!
¡°Wait a little, Sakura,¡± Kai called racing away before Erika could stop him. He was relieved to see that Sakura seemed to be herself again for a split moment. Leaving Sakura behind was not the best of ideas, but he knew Erika was waiting to hurt Sakura in the presence of Syaoran; she was that kind of person. She was probably expecting Syaoran to be defeated in the battle with Eriol and powerless to aid Sakura afterwards. But if he stopped the battle now, Syaoran would still have energy left. Hopefully, they weren¡¯t too far into fighting yet.
Meanwhile, the battle between Syaoran and Eriol raged on.
¡°They¡¯re resuming attack!¡± Ruby Moon exclaimed. ¡°Eriol-kun¡¯s doing the disappearing act again. How does he do that? Using a spell maybe?
¡°No, it¡¯s not a spell,¡± Yue replied.
Where did Eriol disappear to again? This time, one tiny mistake would be fatal. Syaoran peered through the dusty clearing. How could Eriol vanish like that? He could not be so quick that he disappeared from the eye. Though he knew Eriol¡¯s athletic skills were top notch, he believed there must be a trick. If it weren¡¯t for the wretched dust in his eyes!
Dust. Syaoran looked up. That¡¯s it! I finally understand how Eriol has managed to disappear. It was an illusion, a clever one indeed—but he would not fall for the same trick twice. Instead of waiting for Eriol to reappear, Syaoran darted forwards too, dust kicked up from his heels.
¡°Eh?¡± Ruby Moon blinked. ¡°Syaoran disappeared too!¡±
¡°It¡¯s not disappearing,¡± Yue said. ¡°They¡¯re merely kicking up the dust to create a distraction—meanwhile, they¡¯re able to sneak upon the opponent without being sensed beforehand—the dirt obstructs the fighter¡¯s ki, the ability to sense the opponent approaching. That¡¯s why Syaoran couldn¡¯t sense Eriol approaching until he was right before him. Of course, this technique only works because those two have natural super-speed.¡±
¡°I see,¡± Cerberus commented. Yue always had understood Clow Reed better than anyone else.
This time, Eriol was caught off-guard as Syaoran appeared from nowhere, and struck down in a vertical slash. Barely avoiding getting splintered in half like a bamboo, Eriol ducked to the side. Once again, they resumed battle position, both panting hard now.
¡°I guess Eriol realized the disappearing act won¡¯t work anymore,¡± Spinel Sun commented. ¡°Now comes the last quarter of the battle. They are on equal grounds again. All previous attacks and blocks are void—they¡¯ve tested each other¡¯s range and limits. They know their opponent now. The decisive factor awaits from now on.¡±
¡°True—every little detail will count from this point,¡± Cerberus stated, tense in anticipation. Li Syaoran had surprised him on various accounts, numerous times. But today, Cerberus was seeing him for the first time as a warrior worthy of honor instead of merely the ¡®Brat.¡¯ ¡°I can¡¯t believe that boy has lasted this long. Can it be, he actually has a chance against the great Eriol-sama?¡±
¡°No,¡± Yue said, shaking his head. ¡°That¡¯s not possible.¡±
¡°But everything you¡¯ve said has been in support of Li Syaoran,¡± Cerberus exclaimed. ¡°You¡¯re contradicting yourself, Yue.¡±
¡°There are two decisive factors that are in favor of Hiiragizawa Eriol. First of all is his sword,¡± Yue stated.
¡°Are you saying that the katana is a more effective weapon than the taiji jian?¡± Cerberus demanded.
¡°No, in terms of weapon quality and value, I think Syaoran might have the slight upper hand—that sword was created by a great Li swordsman, the greatest swords-maker in all of China during his time, a worthy sword only rivaled by the Five Force Sword, also welded by the same swords-maker. It was his father¡¯s blade, so it has that much more meaning and significance to him. The difference is in the blade.¡±
¡°I don¡¯t get it,¡± Ruby Moon stated. ¡°What does that have anything to do with skill?¡±
¡°We are no longer discussing skills here,¡± Yue said coolly. ¡°For they are evenly matched. Therefore, other factors will determine the victor.¡±
¡°I see what you mean now, Yue,¡± Cerberus said as he watched Syaoran strike forward—indeed his sword brushed the sash around Eriol¡¯s waist, but made no cut. ¡°That idiot of a boy did no sharpen his blade—that fine blade, double-edged or whatever is blunt!¡±
¡°Exactly,¡± Yue replied. ¡°It was carelessness on Syaoran¡¯s part—firstly, he trained too hard, wearing down the edge over the past months, and secondly, he did not see any reason to carry a sharpened jian—he had no reason to kill nor hurt anyone with a sword.¡±
¡°Well now he has,¡± Cerberus muttered. ¡°And look at that sharp edge of Eriol¡¯s katana—it¡¯ll probably slice a hair. That¡¯s completely unfair.¡±
¡°Yue never bothers to make any sense.¡± Ruby Moon sighed in exasperation. ¡°Well, this battle has dragged out long enough. Eriol should end it quickly.¡±
¡°So what¡¯s the second decisive factor?¡± Spinel Sun asked Yue, looking up at Yue with its feline eyes—it was rare that Yue cared enough about anything to provide his opinion or expertise.
Why? Syaoran swooped low and slashed his sword diagonally upwards, rotated his body, brought the sword down from the side, leaped up and struck down from above for the final blow, all systematically and with perfected technique—these sharp and complex swords moves were practiced and drilled so much that they natural instinct to him. They were meant to throw the opponent into confusion and intimidation. Yet, Eriol blocked them even before Syaoran struck down. How does Eriol seem to know all of my moves even before I strike?
¡°Eriol-kun is psychic,¡± Ruby Moon squealed. ¡°Syaoran¡¯s a ferocious fighter, yet Eriol can see right through him—I thought only really talented swordsman can read the opponent¡¯s moves before they actually strike. When did Eriol gain such experience in kendo?¡±
Golden eyes somber, Cerberus watched Syaoran¡¯s blatant frustration as attack after attack failed—there was no flaw in his technique, timing, or speed. It was Eriol that was the problem. Eriol always threw Syaoran off before he could finish a move. Neither of them were in top shape anymore; they were both exhausted, not just because of the mere physical activity, which was usual for them, but the mental aspect, the extended use of ki and guesswork.
¡°Really, how does Eriol seem to know all of Syaoran¡¯s moves beforehand?¡± Miho asked. She and Tomoyo were not even pretending to hide anymore and had stepped forward to where Yue and the others watched. No one was paying any attention to them, anyway—they were too enrapture by the battle. ¡°It seems to me that Syaoran is the more experience swordsman—it¡¯s inlaid in his movements and his style. Yet Eriol seems to have to move a lot less yet find all of Syaoran¡¯s weak spots, not that he has many.¡±
¡°I¡¯m worried for Syaoran-kun,¡± Tomoyo said, watching Syaoran struggle in an area that he had been completely confident in. Long ago she had learned not to be surprised by Eriol¡¯s unpredictable aptitude in everything. The only thing that would surprise her was if Eriol one day revealed that he had no more secrets to uncover in the endless well of mysteries that his heart was.
Raising his sword, Eriol stoke. ¡°This has been dragging on a tad bit too long. How about we wrap things up?¡± All in a flurry, he ducked Syaoran¡¯s sword and slashed out his katana, cutting across Syaoran¡¯s left calf. Everyone stared, breathless.
Quickly blood soaked through Syaoran¡¯s white undergarments leaving a crimson stain, the color of his red tassel on his sword hilt. With the excruciating pain, Syaoran staggered.
¡°Stop Eriol!¡± Miho exclaimed tearfully. ¡°This is going to far!¡±
¡°Hush Miho-chan,¡± Ruby Moon said. ¡°Can¡¯t you tell they can¡¯t even hear us or see us anymore? They¡¯re lost in their own world and nothing will stop them until one falls.¡±
Worry written over her forehead, Tomoyo said, ¡°But Syaoran can¡¯t continue fighting like that. He¡¯s injured! Eriol knows that—he won¡¯t continue fighting when Syaoran is in that condition.¡±
¡°Well, if Syaoran is foolish enough to keep standing, nothing can be done than to continue fighting,¡± Cerberus stated. ¡°That idiot, what is he thinking? They can stop now. It¡¯s clear who the winner is—it was from the beginning.¡±
¡°Li Syaoran,¡± Eriol called out. ¡°You¡¯re bleeding—forfeit now and let¡¯s leave it at this. I have no desire or reason to injure you any further.¡±
Scowling fiercely, Syaoran replied, ¡°Don¡¯t worry about me. It¡¯s just a scratch.¡± Scratch or not, his leg was throbbing now—this gash was a lot deeper than the one on his arm. Great, now I¡¯ve probably lost half my speed with my leg like that. I can stand on it a little longer, before I lose any more blood. I¡¯ve dealt with worse before, but Eriol has strategically maimed me—first my arm so that I lose power, now my leg so that I lose agility. What is his weakness? He doesn¡¯t have any weaknesses at all! And how does he know all my moves? Without showing any sign of pain, Syaoran charged forward in full speed. I can¡¯t lose to him!
¡°They¡¯re completely insane!¡± Miho cried out, throwing up her hands in despair. She tugged at Yue¡¯s sleeve. ¡°Please, you can stop them.¡±
¡°The rule was decreed as ¡®last one standing,¡¯¡± Yue replied. ¡°Until one falls or voluntarily leaves the battlefield, I cannot stop them.¡±
¡°Then we¡¯re supposed to just watch?¡± Miho demanded, infuriated. She rushed forward, only to be repelled by the barrier. She pounded on the invisible wall. ¡°Eriol! Syaoran!¡±
¡°It¡¯s no use,¡± Spinel Sun said.
¡°There¡¯s only one person who can stop them,¡± Tomoyo said slowly.
Miho and Tomoyo looked up at each other. ¡°Sakura-chan!¡±
¡°I¡¯ll go find Sakura-chan quickly—just wait,¡± Miho said.
¡°Miho-chan—you don¡¯t even know where she is!¡± Tomoyo called out—but Miho had already disappeared in between the trees.
I have to find Sakura before Syaoran gets anymore injured. Miho continued running. I said I¡¯ll find her, but where possible can she be?
Lost in her thought, she collided into someone as she came out into the sidewalk.
¡°Watch it!¡± The person grabbed her arm to keep her from falling.
¡°Kai-sempai?¡± Miho snatched her hand away.
¡°Miho? What are you doing here?¡± Kai asked, readjusting his skewed sunglasses.
¡°I don¡¯t have time to explain,¡± Miho said, jogging in the same spot. ¡°I¡¯ve got to find Sakura-chan!¡± She shot off again.
¡°Hold it!¡± Kai grabbed the neck of her shirt. ¡°Explain yourself.¡±
¡°Ouch! Let go of me!¡± Miho wriggled. ¡°Fine—Eriol and Syaoran—they¡¯re having a match¡¦ but it¡¯s getting out of hand. Sakura-chan¡¯s the only one who can stop them.¡±
¡°Great, the match still isn¡¯t over?¡± Kai sighed.
¡°You knew about it?¡± Miho asked in shock.
¡°Sakura knows about it too. And she isn¡¯t in any situation to save anyone right now,¡± Kai said.
¡°I don¡¯t care!¡± Miho stated. ¡°Syaoran is in awful condition right now. She has to stop him before he does something more reckless.¡±
¡°You¡¯ve got it all wrong—Syaoran needs to come save Sakura before anything really bad happens to her. She¡¯s being controlled by some weird dark force, and if she doesn¡¯t snap out of it soon¡¦¡± Kai paused. ¡°Come, lead to me to where the battleground is.¡±
Shaking her head, Miho replied, ¡°It¡¯ll be no use—the battle is not going to end any time soon, and even if it does, Syaoran will be in no condition to save Sakura afterwards.¡±
¡°What is going on?¡± Kai demanded. ¡°I¡¯ll have to see with my own eyes. Let¡¯s go.¡±
¡°No, I¡¯m still going to try warning Sakura-chan,¡± Miho said. ¡°Just follow this street down and take a left—you¡¯ll find them easily. Sakura¡¯s not far off from here, is she?¡±
¡°You¡¯ll find her and the Dark Ones straight ahead,¡± Kai replied slowly. ¡°I can go back with you. It¡¯s dangerous to face the Dark Ones alone.¡±
¡°No, you go ahead and try to knock some sense into Syaoran¡¯s head. I¡¯ll try my luck with Sakura-chan. We have nothing to lose, do we?¡± Miho smiled. ¡°Don¡¯t worry about me. I can take care of myself.¡±
¡°Are you sure?¡±
¡°Yup!¡± Miho stated. ¡°After all, I am Eriol¡¯s second successor!¡±
Smiling a bittersweet half-smile, Kai said, ¡°You¡¯ve grown, Miho. Now, remember, run for your life if you are in any danger, all right? You¡¯re there just to convey a message; that is your job. Leave the rest to your elders.¡±
¡°Don¡¯t worry—I¡¯ll tell Sakura and come straight back,¡± Miho stated. ¡°I won¡¯t get into trouble.¡±
¡°That¡¯s a good girl.¡± Kai smiled, patting Miho¡¯s head.
¡°Oh, I¡¯ve always been meaning to ask you Kai-sempai—how do you know about the Dark Ones and everything?¡± Miho stroked her chin thoughtfully. ¡°I mean, one day you just popped out of nowhere and started hanging around with Sakura and Syaoran and the others.¡±
¡°We¡¯re wasting time. Hurry ahead, Miho-hime—be of use for a change,¡± Kai said, laughing.
¡°I¡¯m always useful!¡± Miho retorted running ahead. Please Sakura, be able to help Syaoran and Eriol.
Watching Miho disappear down the street, Kai hurried in the opposite direction. The immense aura of two different powers being blasted at each other left no question where the battle was occurring.
As he emerged into the clearing, Kai gaped.
¡°HYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!¡± Syaraon let out a fierce battle cry, striking down at Eriol, who dodged with the greatest ease, leaped to Syaraon¡¯s backside and struck down on Syaroan¡¯s shoulder with his gleaming blade.
¡°What the hell does that idiot think he¡¯s doing?¡± Kai demanded. He ran up to the barrier. ¡°Don¡¯t you dare tell me you¡¯re going to lose to that four-eyed bastard Li Syaoran!¡±
¡°Kai-kun!¡± Tomoyo exclaimed. ¡°Weren¡¯t you supposed to be with Sakura-chan?¡±
¡°I see what Miho was talking about now.¡± Kai demanded to Tomoyo, ¡°How long has this been going on? Syaoran is in a complete mess! Even I could have fared better against Hiiragizawa Eriol—he hasn¡¯t even made a scratch on Eriol yet.¡±
¡°You wouldn¡¯t have lasted even five minutes against Eriol,¡± Cerberus sneered.
Kai shrugged carelessly. ¡°You¡¯re right—I know when to run. Unlike that stupid senseless guy who is just as stubborn as his cousin. Tomoyo, I thought you were his friend. I¡¯m surprised you¡¯re letting him go on like this.¡±
¡°Don¡¯t say anything to us,¡± Cerberus said, shaking his head. ¡°We¡¯ve tried our best to knock some sense into that boy—he doesn¡¯t even hear our voices. There¡¯s only one person he¡¯ll listen to you know. Besides his mother and cousin.¡±
¡°I wonder if Miho found Sakura-chan yet,¡± Tomoyo murmured.
¡°Sakura-chan?¡± Kai blinked. ¡°That¡¯s it, I came here for a reason.¡± He ran up to the barrier. ¡°Yo, Wolf-boy! I don¡¯t care if you¡¯re preoccupied, I have something important to tell you!¡±
Syaoran paid no heed to Kai as he jumped up high, flipped mid-air and sunk his sword down towards Eriol at a speed quicker than eyes could trace, ignoring the ripping pain on his right shoulder. He had lost so much blood over the past half-hour that he was feeling lightheaded, yet he couldn¡¯t stop now, not before striking Eriol. Even as these resolutions flitted through his mind, Eriol had already countered his attack by jumping up behind him, even higher, and slashing down his sword diagonally across Syaoran¡¯s back, opening up a new wound. Syaoran collapsed on the ground. He coughed, the wind knocked out of his stomach.
Ruby Moon gasped. Tomoyo covered her eyes. Cerberus shook his head and looked away. Only Yue watched without flinching.
¡°Stop it now Eriol-kun!¡± Tomoyo exclaimed, knowing it was not her place to interfere but felt the need to protect her longtime friend in Sakura¡¯s stead. ¡°You¡¯ve proved your point—don¡¯t injure Syaoran-kun anymore. Please.¡±
¡°That¡¯s right,¡± Kai shouted. ¡°You have somewhere more important to be at this moment, Li Syaoran. Sakura needs you! She¡¯s in danger right now!¡±
At the mention of Sakura¡¯s name, Syaoran responded by looking up at Kai for the first time, finally noticing him. He tried to stand up but collapsed again, feeling the burning cuts all over his body for the first time.
¡°Erika set some weird dark force on Sakura—right now she¡¯s helpless! You need to go save her!¡± Kai continued. ¡°You can¡¯t waste your time and energy here.¡±
Leaning against his sword, Syaoran drew himself up, staggering but retaining his balance. ¡°Sakura,¡± he croaked, throat parched.
¡°Hurry. Get out of that barrier and go find Sakura,¡± Kai urged.
¡°Sakura,¡± Syaoran repeated. His mind felt a lot clearer all of a sudden. Why had he been so stupid? Of course when Erika failed with him, she would set that dark force on Sakura. That¡¯s why he had stayed by Erika¡¯s side with the excuse of tutoring to watch over her. Yet, Erika had taken the first opportunity that he was occupied to attack Sakura. He had been stupid to believe that she would keep her pact with him. Not that he hadn¡¯t been suspicious, but he had thought Erika might have a little more honor than that, for she agreed not to harm Sakura. Still leaning on his sword, he headed towards Kai—he had to get to Sakura.
¡°Running away?¡± Eriol asked.
At these words, Syaoran stopped short.
¡°You¡¯re not running away—you¡¯re doing your duty,¡± Kai said. ¡°You can fight Eriol any time.¡±
Regardless, Eriol continued, ¡°If you leave the barrier now, that is admitting defeating and by default, I a winner.¡±
Trembling, Syaoran turned around to face Eriol again. How did Erika know that I¡¯m fighting against Eron? Nobody else knew. Unless¡¦
¡°Don¡¯t listen to him,¡± Cerberus called out. Glaring at Eriol he said, ¡°Didn¡¯t you hear what Kai just said? Sakura-chan¡¯s in danger. Let the boy go fight against the Dark Ones, the real enemies.¡±
¡°It¡¯s Syaoran¡¯s choice,¡± Eriol replied with a pleasant smile. ¡°Whether he wants to fight or escape. If he wants to run, that¡¯s fine with me.¡±
¡°Who said I¡¯m running away?¡± Syaoran demanded, voice dangerously low.
¡°Syaoran, no!¡± Tomoyo exclaimed. ¡°Please, go to Sakura.¡±
Shaking his head, Kai held Tomoyo back. ¡°It¡¯s no use. I can see that now. Let him fight till the end—Sakura can wait a little longer. Besides, I don¡¯t think the Dark Ones will harm her till Syaoran shows up. From the way everything¡¯s arranged, it¡¯s plain to see he¡¯s the real target this time.¡±
¡°That¡¯s right. How did the Dark Ones cleverly arrange attacking when Syaoran-kun is occupied in a duel with Eriol-kun?¡± Cerberus said.
¡°Well then, Syaoran, are you staying or are you leaving?¡± Eriol asked, twirling his katana around and placing it out in front.
¡°Sorry to disappoint you yet the battle has just begun for me!¡± Syaoran replied, fiercer than ever. Sorry Sakura, but I¡¯ll have to keep you waiting just a little longer. How can I save you against the Dark Ones if I can¡¯t even save myself against Eriol?
¡°I¡¯ve always admired your resilience,¡± Eriol said.
¡°And I¡¯ve always admired your crookedness,¡± Syaoran returned, rushing forward in a renewed attack.
¡°But I¡¯m sorry to say, at this rate you won¡¯t be able to rescue Sakura-san!¡± Eriol raised his sword into the air and suddenly, the air around them was still. Not a single breeze stirred the leaves. As Syaoran leaped forward, Eriol swung his sword out and blast of wind flung Syaoran back and the force dragged his body across the other side of the field. ¡°I¡¯ll show you what was meant by the skills of the ¡®Greatest One.¡¯¡±
¡°That¡¯s not fair!¡± Cerberus exclaimed. ¡°Eriol suddenly used magic in the middle of a swordfight. Yue, isn¡¯t that a foul?¡±
¡°No,¡± Yue replied. ¡°Syaoran chose the weapon to be sword—but the use of the sword was never determined. There are no rules in the battle method, so Eriol¡¯s move was perfectly legitimate.¡±
¡°Then why was he wasting all that time with the fancy swordplay?¡± Cerberus demanded.
¡°You forget who Eriol is the reincarnation of,¡± Spinel Sun said demurely. ¡°Clow Reed¡¯s life was ruled by only two rules. Firstly, there is a reason for everything. And secondly, there is nothing better than a good source of amusement.¡±
¡°No matter how Eriol denies it, he is an exact replica of Clow Reed¡¯s crookedness,¡± Cerberus commented.
Eriol¡¯s glasses gleamed in the low crimson sun. Expression impossible to decipher, he watched Syaoran struggle to stand once again.
¡°Get up you idiot! You still have somewhere to go,¡± Kai shouted, throwing aside his usual pretenses.
Groaning, Syaoran shifted slightly. The force of Eriol¡¯s windblast had knocked him down against a small boulder and his head pounded in a burst of pain. He felt a wetness on his temple trickle down to his chin. With the back of his hand, he wiped his cheek.
¡°That boy¡¯s head is bleeding now!¡± Ruby Moon exclaimed. ¡°What is Eriol thinking? He usually doesn¡¯t go this far with anyone—he¡¯s sadistic but physical torture is not his thing, Clow Reed or not.¡±
¡°It don¡¯t think Syaoran will be getting up again,¡± Spinel Sun stated. ¡°Eriol ended this fight once and for all. The result is not unexpected, but¡¦¡±
¡°Wait, Syaoran¡¯s stirring,¡± Tomoyo said, holding her breath anxiously.
Along with the skull-splitting headache that Syaoran was rewarded from the blow in the head, a sudden realization washed over him. He stood up without even needing his sword for support. Of course, how couldn¡¯t he have seen sooner? Eriol hadn¡¯t been using any tricks in figuring out all of his moves. Indeed, Syaoran had completely forgotten who his opponent was. He was not merely Hiiragizawa Eriol but the reincarnation of Clow Reed. Not that this made any difference to Syaoran, but he realized that Clow Reed had been the only son of Li Shulin, the most revered in the Li Clan and the one who had perfected sword-fighting techniques passed down from generation to generation.
¡°Syaoran¡¯s up again,¡± Cerberus said. He was taken back by the new determination radiating from the boy¡¯s amber eyes, righter than the setting sun.
¡°You don¡¯t know when to give up, do you?¡± Eriol asked, clearly amused but beneath his smile, thoroughly impressed that Syaoran still had the strength to be standing.
¡°That was a cheap method to bring me down,¡± Syaoran said through gritted teeth. ¡°Not that I care what method you use in attempt to defeat me. They won¡¯t work against me—even if you are strong, the strongest I have met and may encounter in my lifetime.¡±
¡°The light of the sun is always more brilliant than the light of the moon,¡± Eriol replied. The golden sun pattern on his katana hilt gleamed.
¡°All the same, there are always exceptions,¡± Yue murmured. ¡°During a solar eclipse, the moon covers the light of the sun. And despite all the favors are against him, the boy might prove an exception.¡±
¡°True you are more powerful than me, I admit it,¡± Syaoran stated, wiping the trickle of blood from his temple that might drip into his eyes while in combat with his sleeves. His battle apparel was a bloody mess now. It didn¡¯t matter. He wouldn¡¯t be wearing it again since he was no longer the Chosen One. ¡°But I don¡¯t believe you to be any stronger than me.¡± He rushed forward yet again, a new vigilance in his figure.
¡°What is with his form?¡± Cerberus demanded. ¡°It¡¯s quite different from before; really unstructured and not Syaoran¡¯s style at all.¡±
¡°Syaoran¡¯s finally figure out his flaw,¡± Yue said, smiling so slightly that only Tomoyo noticed. Her eyes lighted up in hope.
Even as Yue said this, Syaoran had landed his first successful blow on Eriol—it didn¡¯t do much except stun Eriol a bit since the taiji jian blade was so dull. Eriol¡¯s glasses cracked and shattered, sending out shards everywhere. A piece sliced Eriol¡¯s pale cheek. Syaoran landed on the other side, low in defense position. He was unsmiling but confident.
¡°Amazing—he¡¯s like a different person,¡± Ruby Moon said.
¡°Maybe this will bring about a change in tides,¡± Cerberus murmured. Why he had so much concern for that rude, obnoxious boy, he did not know. Maybe along the years, without realizing it, he had grown fond Li Syaoran, the number one in his Card Mistress¡¯ heart.
¡°You can¡¯t be Card Captor Sakura without your sealing key,¡± Erika stated, flinging the key into the stream.
¡°NOOO!¡± Sakura screamed, watching the key sink water and get carried away the current. She tried to rush forward to the riverbank, but her feet remained rooted to the ground. ¡°No, don¡¯t do this Erika.¡±
¡°Shut up, Sakura,¡± Erika said. ¡°You don¡¯t deserve to talk. Your whiny voice gets on my nerves. How can you say you love Syaoran, when you made him lose the most valuable part of his life, the position of a Chosen One? No, don¡¯t answer.¡±
Sakura watched Erika walk up from the riverbank to her side. ¡°Now give me the Clow Book.¡±
I can¡¯t give up my Cards. I won¡¯t give it up to her.
¡°Don¡¯t you hear me? Give me the Sakura Cards,¡± Erika reiterated.
¡°They are mine—I¡¯ll protect them¡¦ I won¡¯t give them to you,¡± Sakura stated through clenched teeth. Give it to her. I have to give it to her. No, I don¡¯t. I can¡¯t give the Cards to the Dark One.
¡°Fine, if you won¡¯t give it to me, go up on the bridge over there and throw all the Cards into the stream,¡± Erika stated. With satisfaction, she watched Sakura follow her orders, emptying all the cards out into the stream below. Some remained floating stationary, most flowed downstream.
A drop of tear fell from Sakura¡¯s eyes. No. I must protect my Cards, all of them. The last of her cards were emptied into the stream, and the Clow Book was empty. I have to resist the Obedience. Yet why doesn¡¯t my body obey my thoughts? Is this what Tomoyo had to endure when the Phantom possessed her? Was it worse? How did Syaoran resist? Why am I so powerless at this moment, without my staff, without my cards?
¡°Good.¡± Erika laughed. ¡°Now you are no longer Card Mistress. You are powerless without your staff and cards, can¡¯t you see? You have nothing.¡±
At that moment, Miho appeared. She was surprised to see Sakura standing on the bridge, holding the empty Clow Book in her hands.
¡°Sakura, what are you doing there?¡± Miho demanded. ¡°There¡¯s no time to waste! Syaoran and Eriol are fighting, and Syaoran¡¯s losing badly. He¡¯s bleeding, but he won¡¯t stop. They¡¯re both crazy—only you can stop them!¡±
¡°Syaoran,¡± Sakura said slowly, her green eyes becoming focused. ¡°Syaoran¡¯s injured?¡±
¡°Yes,¡± Miho said impatiently. ¡°Now hurry.¡±
I have to go stop Syaoran! I have to leave this place. I can¡¯t listen to the Obedience any longer! Sakura asked, ¡°Where are they fighting Miho-chan?¡± Why can¡¯t I feel the aura? It¡¯s the Obedience, hindering all my senses.
¡°You can¡¯t leave.¡± Erika smiled. Turning to Miho, she said, ¡°Sakura¡¯s no longer Card Mistress. She doesn¡¯t have staff nor cards. She¡¯s nothing now.¡±
¡°What are you talking about?¡± Miho demanded, looking up at Sakura on the bridge. ¡°Sakura, hurry! What are you waiting for? Eriol might really kill Syaoran at this rate!¡±
They were interrupted by another voice, ¡°Erika. What in the world is going on right now?¡± It was Eron. ¡°I felt an overwhelming aura of the power of the sun and moon deeper in the forest, and I find you here out of all places.¡±
Turning pallid at the sight of her twin, Erika stammered, ¡°Ah, well¡¦¡± She had not told her twin of the latest occurrences.
¡°Sakura?¡± Eron blinked. Then he saw the Cards floating down the stream.
¡°Sakura-chan!¡± Miho called out again. ¡°Let¡¯s go!¡±
Sakura got up on top of the bridge rails, wobbling a bit.
¡°You¡¯re going to fall!¡± Miho shrieked.
Instead, Sakura jumped down into the stream, which wasn¡¯t too far down. She began collecting her Sakura Cards frantically.
¡°Stop, Sakura!¡± Erika said. ¡°Let the Cards go.¡±
¡°No, I won¡¯t,¡± Sakura replied, completely soaking wet, gathering her soggy Cards to her chest.
¡°You can¡¯t even use the Sakura Card without your staff, anyway,¡± Erika said, clenching her fists. Sakura was proving a lot more resilient than she had expected.
¡°Let go of them, now,¡± Erika repeated.
A booming sound exploded in Sakura¡¯s eardrums. Sakura dropped all the Cards she had gathered.
¡°Come out of the water,¡± Erika commanded.
¡°NO!¡± A glowing light surrounded Sakura. One by one, her cards that had been drifting off floated, dripping water and started collecting together, around Sakura.
Shaking in rage, Erika shouted, ¡°Obedience, teach that fool a lesson!¡±
Sakura shrieked as something inside her brain ruptured. It was the dreaded voice again. Follow my orders. You can¡¯t disobey me. You are helpless.
The Cards fell apart again, sinking into the stream. Sakura¡¯s knees buckled, she collapsed into the water.
A mocking voice was heard, spinning round and round her:
¡° Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the King's horses, And all the King's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again!¡±
¡°Go away Riddle,¡± Sakura whispered. ¡°Go away everyone. Leave me alone.¡±
¡°Get out of the water now,¡± Erika said.
Lifelessly, Sakura trudged out of the water. Her damp hair hung in her face, and she was trembling from cold because of her wet clothes.
¡°What have you done to her?¡± Eron asked Erika. ¡°Sakura?¡± Never before had he seen Sakura in such a state. It was as if she was a lifeless doll.
No good, Miho thought. Kai-sempai might be right. Bringing Syaoran here might be a better idea. I can¡¯t deal with Eron and Erika together. Before the Dark Ones took notice of her, she slipped off, returning to the battlefield. All the powerful ones are gathered there. Surely one of them can bring Sakura back from whatever trance she¡¯s in.
Carefully removing his damaged glass frames, Eriol tossed them aside. He turned and faced Syaoran. This was the final act in the long drawn out battle. The youngest-ever Chosen One of the Clan had not disappointed him in any aspect. Li Syaoran was indeed a son that Li Ryuuren would have been very proud of, a student that the Great Elder would have prized and a successor that Li Shulin would have blessed. Yet it was enough playing with the mouse.
¡°Wow, Syaoran struck Eron. So what was Syaoran¡¯s mistake before?¡± Cerberus asked Yue.
¡°It was not a mistake,¡± Yue replied. ¡°But a miscalculation. Syaoran didn¡¯t realize that Eriol had prior knowledge of every single one of the Li Clan sword techniques, so no matter what move he took, Eriol already knew what the resulting direction of the final strike would be just by looking at the starting stance.¡±
¡°And where did Eriol get all this knowledge about sword fighting?¡± Cerberus stared at Yue skeptically. ¡°We know Clow Reed. He had little interest in weaponry or kenjutsu.¡±
¡°Yes, we know Clow Reed; that¡¯s why you should have remembered, Cerberus,¡± Yue said. ¡°Who was Clow¡¯s mother?¡±
¡°Li Shulin-sama,¡± Cerberus replied. ¡°You don¡¯t mean¡¦¡±
¡°Yes, whether Clow Reed cared or not, he had still seen all of his mother¡¯ sword techniques before, and Eriol retains that memory. So though he probably can¡¯t perform all of them, he still recalls the forms, so therefore Syaoran¡¯s moves were child¡¯s play to him. Eriol¡¯s prediction of all of Syaoran¡¯s moves wasn¡¯t any genius intuition or real swordsman¡¯s skill at all.¡±
¡°It was like having a cheat sheet with all the answers on it,¡± Cerberus grumbled.
¡°Except Eriol doesn¡¯t have to cheat to win,¡± Spinel Sun said. ¡°He did all this to waste time and aggravate Syaoran.¡±
¡°No way,¡± Tomoyo murmured, watching Eriol, glassless, but evidently able to see well enough to continue the battle.
Once more raising his sword in the air with both hands grasped on the hilt, Eriol gathered his ki and struck the tip of the sword down on the earth. The impact had an earthquake like impact, shaking the ground around the forest and knocking Syaoran off balance. Then, the ground trembled and split open, right to where Syaoran had been standing. Syaoran jumped up to the other side of the crevasses. Yet, the ground was uneven now, chunks of land sinking and rising, all within the barrier so that those standing outside were unaffected. It took all of Syaoran¡¯s concentration to keep from sinking into a black pit as the uneven ground created an obstacle to get anywhere near Eriol who was standing on the only stationary patch of land within the barrier.
¡°It¡¯s impossible to get near him,¡± Syaoran muttered. ¡°Fine, if he goes about like that, I have no choice.¡± He raised his sword in the air, the tip of his sword started sparkling. A jet of thunder from the sky absorbed into the sword. He swung the sword down shouting, ¡°Raitei shourai!¡± Barbs of thunder shot out in every direction towards Eriol.
¡°When did he learn how to do that?¡± Ruby Moon
demanded, sparks lighting the battlefield like fireworks. ¡°That¡¯s cool!¡±
¡±It¡¯s twice as powerful as the thunder he drew up from his ofuda,¡± Cerberus commented. He half wished Sakura was here to see this battle, one of the most outstanding he had seen, and he had seen many in Clow Reed¡¯s days.
¡°Weak,¡± Eriol said, slashing down the thunderbolts with his sword. ¡°This is how it really should be done.¡± He halted all the thunderbolts in the air than with a flick of his sword reversed them all in Syaoran¡¯s direction.
Not only did he have to jump from shifting boulders but now he had to dodge thunderbolts. Sakura—how are you doing right now? Can you hear me? Why wasn¡¯t there any response? He couldn¡¯t reach to her at all. Sakura, please answer.
¡°Don¡¯t let your mind wonder in the middle of battle,¡± Eriol said a stream of water shooting out from his sword, knocking Syaoran off balance so that he almost fell into a crack in the ground. Luckily, Syaoran caught on to the edge and flung himself up with ease. Mastering of the parallel bars helped.
Syaoran sputtered, drenched from head to toe, and glared at Eriol. His eyes stung and his cuts stung even more. Salt water! Plus the sogginess dragged down his clothes, obstructing his movement.
¡°How do you think you can win me when your mind is already elsewhere?¡± Eriol asked. ¡°You had enough trouble even when you were fighting me with all you had. It¡¯s a pity that Sakura-san is under the control of Obedience, but that is a force that she has to defy herself, and there¡¯s nothing you can do about it.¡±
Tapping his foot impatiently, Kai muttered, ¡°At this rate, I think Miho has better luck trying to save Sakura and miraculously bring her back. Then maybe it can be Sakura who saves Syaoran.¡±
Wait a second. Syaoran shook the water from his hair and stared up at Eriol. How does Eriol know about the Obedience? True, he knows everything, but the incident with the Obedience was kept to Erika and myself. He just gave himself away. He dodged a flood of water showering from the sky entwined with more thunderbolts. Is he trying to electrocute me now? How can I fight him when I can¡¯t even reach him? Syaoran knew when his strength was coming to its end. Maybe he had enough power for one really good attack, but after that, he would maybe have barely enough to face the Dark Ones. Otherwise, if he wasted anymore power here, he wouldn¡¯t be able to save Sakura. That¡¯s it. Eriol, that bastard! He deliberately accepted my challenge to keep me from saving Sakura. To prove his point the other day. It¡¯s no coincidence that the Dark Ones attacked Sakura today, at this hour. By fighting Eriol, I¡¯ve used up almost all my energy and strength—I might not be able to save Sakura. Damn! If I had any sense, I would leave now, when I still have some drops of magic left in me. But I can¡¯t admit that Eriol was right—I have to win him!
The sun was setting, an indicator of how much time had passed. I have one chance, Syaoran told himself. But life is a once chance opportunity—I¡¯ve got to make the best use of it!
¡°Time to end it now,¡± Eriol called out drawing his sword in the air. The ground trembled from the amount of energy Eriol was absorbing.
¡°Uh oh,¡± Ruby Moons said, hiding behind Spinel Sun.
¡°That doesn¡¯t look too good,¡± Kai commented, able to feel the immense aura that Eriol was radiating—once that was released¡¦
A whirlwind of power blasted out at Syaoran, sending debris and peaces of rock flying out in every direction. Yet, Syaoran was well prepared for this attack. He had already leaped up into the air, higher than he had jumped before and swerved his body around 180 degrees, sword extended out behind him. I can feel it, the perfect harmony of the five elements, metal, water, wood, fire and earth. He took a deep breath in, mind feeling more alert than it had during any point in the battle. With grace, he positioned his sword in an attack stance form mid-air. Spiritual dragon, lend the power of wind and water to me.
At this climatic moment, his heart suddenly felt calm and peaceful, and the warm, familiar voice of his cousin Leiyun echoed in his ear, ¡°One more time Syaoran; you can do it. You¡¯re to be the Li Clan Chosen One—you should be able to master this if you practice hard enough. You can become strong, Syaoran.¡± But he never returned to see him become stronger.
I promised him that I would master this move so long ago. Now, I will prove to him that I did. Just a little more. The amount of energy concentrated in his blade was overwhelming and made Syaoran¡¯s hands tingle. Now¡¯s the chance! Sakura, I¡¯ll be coming soon.
Commanding voice sonorous within the barrier, Syaoran shouted, ¡°Shen-Lung Tai-Feng (Spiritual Dragon Typhoon)!¡± With meticulous precision, Syaoran slashed down his sword just as he was about to sink down to the ground again. A blinding ball of light sprung from his sword tip. Shielding his face from the brilliance, Eriol stepped back, midnight blue eyes narrowed. For the first time since the battle began, he lost confidence.
All the onlookers eyes widened. Even Yue stepped forward in spite of himself. The attack was unlike anything they¡¯ve seen before.
Thoroughly engrossed by the spectacle that lay before his eyes, Kai lowered his sunglasses to properly catch the magnificent sight that unfolded in front of them. The barrier was illuminated by an electric blue light, and the wind that had been entwining with the bright light at the tip of Syaoran¡¯s sword had elongated and transformed into a majestic blue dragon which roared out in full speed.
Nobody quite saw what happened next—they were overwhelmed by the mere sight of the splendid and ferocious dragon with gleaming silvery scales filling the sky. Next thing they knew, the great fog cleared away and the battlefield was completely still, not a breeze in the air, the dragon nowhere in sight. Slowly, the land rumbled and leveled out again and the barrier disappeared with a pop. There was no sign that a battle had taken place in the clearings, except the two opponents in the circle, one laying on the ground and one still standing. And Syaoran remained standing, staring at Eriol who had collapsed by the force of the typhoon, sword knocked aside.
Tomoyo gasped, unexpected tears brimming in her eyes.
¡°Sheng-lung, the legendary dragon of wind and rain in Chinese mythology,¡± Yue murmured in a tone that in anyone else would have been awe. ¡°Syaoran summoned a dragon.¡±
¡°I can¡¯t believe it. He¡¯s merely a boy! Only a Level One magician is capable of doing that command spell,¡± Spinel Sun stated in disbelief.
Yet, as Syaoran landed on his feet again, ragged dark green battle outfit billowing out and eyes blazing with an intensity rivaled by a burning fire, an odd sort of maturity rested over his shoulders.
¡°He¡¯s no longer the brat anymore,¡± Cerberus murmured grudgingly. ¡°But a man.¡±
Blinking, Ruby Moon demanded, ¡°Wait, it¡¯s over? What just happened?¡±
¡°The barrier broke—that means one must have been defeated,¡± Spinel Sun. ¡°And I only see only person remaining standing.¡±
¡±I don¡¯t believe it,¡± Ruby Moon gaped, staring at Syaoran, who was trembling to stand, leaning his weight on his soot-covered sword. ¡°You certainly don¡¯t mean that Eriol¡¦ lost?¡±
¡°Move aside so Yue can conclude the match,¡± Cerberus said, tilting his head to Yue, who probably was as stunned as the rest of them at Eriol¡¯s defeat though he didn¡¯t express it so blatantly.
Stepping forward, Yue declared clearly, ¡°Under the witness of Spinel Sun, Ruby Moon, Cerberus Daidouji Tomoyo and Mizuki Kai, I, Yue, decree Li Syaoran the winner of the Duel of the Sun and Moon, as this battle shall henceforth be called.¡±
¡°Syaoran won?¡± Kai said slowly turning to Tomoyo in sudden comprehension.
¡°Oh my goodness Syaoran won!¡± Tomoyo exclaimed in ecstasy, grabbing Kai¡¯s hand. Together, they danced a little jig of celebration.
¡°Now Syaoran can finally go save Sakura!¡± Kai stated happily. ¡°And Mei-chan won¡¯t get mad at me.¡±
¡°And I just made the coolest action video ever!¡± Tomoyo uttered excitedly.
¡°Eh?¡± Kai stopped dancing. ¡°So you wouldn¡¯t care who would have won just as long as you go the video?¡±
¡°Hmm¡¦¡± Tomoyo paused to think. ¡°That¡¯s a tough question.¡± I should have more loyalty to Syaoran. But truthfully, I was expecting Eriol to win also.
¡°Psycho,¡± Kai muttered. ¡°You and the four-eyed bastard will make a perfect couple.¡±
¡°Oh ho ho! Do you really think so?¡± Tomoyo asked, starry-eyed. ¡°Thank you!¡±
They were both knocked aside by Miho, who had just returned. Shocked by the sight awaiting her, she burst through them and ran to Eriol¡¯s side. Nobody had thought about going up check up on him. ¡°Eriol! Eriol? What happened?¡±
Groaning, Eriol turned his head to Miho who was blurry for a second. ¡°I think¡¦ I made a little mistake,¡± he croaked.
¡°Oh Eriol, how did you end up like this?¡± Miho asked tearfully. ¡°Do you know how pathetic you look right now, sprawled on ground with dirt all over you?¡±
¡°Thanks for making defeat so much sweeter,¡± Eriol replied, short of breath.
Taking her handkerchief out, Miho carefully wisped Eriol¡¯s sweat and dust-streaked face. ¡°How badly are you injured? Can you stand?¡±
¡°I¡¯m fine, Miho—I¡¯m more stunned than anything else. I¡¯ll be able to stand in a few minutes.¡± Eriol stared up at Syaoran who had staggered towards Kai and Tomoyo. He smiled crookedly. That impossible boy. When would he learn not to underestimate Li Syaoran?
¡°Syaoran-kun, where are you going?¡± Tomoyo asked.
¡°Kai, quick¡¦ where is Sakura?¡± Syaoran demanded, barely able to stand straight. He was one bloody mess, his clothes stained and torn beyond repair, and his voice was barely above a whisper.
¡°Wait, Syaoran-kun, let me treat your wounds first,¡± Tomoyo said, holding up a first-aid kit—she was always ready with everything.
¡°No time,¡± Syaoran said, pushing Kai away and already ready to leave.
¡°Don¡¯t be silly—you¡¯ve lost a lot of blood during battle. You won¡¯t be able to save Sakura in that condition,¡± Kai snapped. ¡°Bandage your head at least. Whether you won or not, you look worse off than that loser.¡±
¡°Just give me some water,¡± Syaoran croaked.
Readily, Tomoyo handed Syaoran a bottle of water. Quickly, he gulped down half the bottle, spilling most of it anyway, and the rest he dumped over his head.
¡°Yue and I¡¯ll go with you,¡± Cerberus stated. ¡°Sakura is our Card Mistress, and we are her guardians.¡±
¡°No,¡± Syaoran said, shaking his head. ¡°The less people, the better. I¡¯ll send a signal if we need help, but otherwise, it will be better if you don¡¯t show up. Well, I¡¯m on my way now.¡± He took off, running full-speed.
¡°Yessir,¡± Cerberus squeaked. Since when did the Brat give the great Cerberus-sama orders?
¡°Where does he get the energy to run like that after such a grueling battle?¡± Kai asked, sighing.
¡°You forget,¡± Tomoyo said, smiling softly. ¡°He¡¯s going after Sakura right now. That¡¯s his priority, and nothing¡¯s going to stop him, certainly not any physical limitations. Even if he had no more strength left in his body, he would exceed physics for love.¡± Slowly, she turned her head towards Eriol who was gradually recovering. Carefully, Miho helped him to sit up.
¡°Seriously Eriol?¡± Miho said, supporting Eriol¡¯s back. ¡°You lost?¡±
Eriol looked down.
¡°You lost to Li Syaoran?¡± Miho repeated. ¡°No kidding? You lost?¡±
¡°Don¡¯t rub it in, Miho-chan,¡± Ruby Moon said, nudging her side. ¡°He probably is ashamed enough already, losing to a mere boy like that.
¡°It¡¯s all right. You were probably going easy on him,¡± Miho said, patting Eriol¡¯s back heartily, a tad bit too hard for Eriol looked purple for a second. ¡°But then again, I can¡¯t believe Syaoran brought you down in one blow, for Syaoran had far more injuries than you did.¡±
¡°It wasn¡¯t exactly all in one blow,¡± Eriol said. He opened up the front of his keijoji, his sash half undone already, to reveal bruises all over his body. ¡°Syaoran had a lot more successful strokes than he had anticipated—there just weren¡¯t any external signs since his sword was blunt.¡±
¡°This is quite a sight to see, Eriol-kun sprawled on the ground in defeat,¡± Ruby Moon whistled. ¡°Oops... No offense to you Eriol-kun—everyone makes mistakes and miscalculations.¡±
¡°Though Li Syaoran is strong, he probably wouldn¡¯t have been able to bring me down with that last attack, weren¡¯t his mind so resolute to go save Sakura afterwards,¡± Eriol commented recalling Sakura Card days, when Syaoran had many times interfered with his attacks on Sakura. That last battle when everyone was supposed to be asleep, he had still managed to stay awake to stay by Sakura¡¯s side. ¡°It¡¯s amazing what impossibilities he can achieve when his mind is set on protecting Sakura.¡±
¡°Excuses, excuses,¡± Miho brushed off. ¡°It¡¯s all right. I won¡¯t make fun of you when we go back home. Oh, I can¡¯t wait till we see the video of it that Tomoyo-chan taped.¡± She clapped her hands together in excitement.
¡°Miho, you¡¯re testing it,¡± Eriol said, pretending to be peeved. Then smiled up at Tomoyo who had unwillingly been caught staring.
From the shadows of the trees, Yue watched with keen eyes Kai and Tomoyo¡¯s expression as they each watched over Miho and Eriol, respectively. It was queer, the note of envy and sadness reflected in those two self-confident, usually reserved people.
¡°I can¡¯t believe I missed the glorious moment of Eriol¡¯s first defeat,¡± Miho continued, gray eyes twinkling in mirth. She was only able to tease him after confirming that Eriol was not seriously injured.
¡°Miho,¡± Eriol said dangerously pleasantly. ¡°If you don¡¯t want cold rice and stale pickled radishes for your lunch for the rest of the year, I would lay off mentioning anything of that sort again.¡±
¡°Nooo,¡± Miho wailed. ¡°That¡¯s cruel—you know I can¡¯t write good articles unless I have a good bento. You¡¯re such a sore loser Eriol.¡±
Ruby Moon and Spinel Sun snickered. Life with Eriol might be a little unbearable for the next few days, but the situation was certainly comical.
In return, Eriol glared at them with dignity, but all the same glared.
¡°You¡¯re mad, Eriol-kun?¡± Miho asked, peering at Eriol. ¡°We¡¯re just teasing.¡± Out of the blue, she squeezed Eriol into a tight hug. ¡°Bear hug time!¡± she exclaimed.
Eriol looked quite started. ¡°Bear hug¡± was certainly not in his vocabulary. He was half smothered by Miho¡¯s tight hug. Yet though his limbs creaked and his bruises ached from the impact, he felt an unfamiliar tug somewhere deep within.
¡°This is for support,¡± Miho stated smiling brightly at Eriol. ¡°Eriol is still number one for me even if you lose a battle, because Eriol-sama is my one and only Eriol-sama!¡± She added on a second thought, ¡°Warped and twisted you may be.¡±
¡°Only someone as senseless as Miho-chan would think of giving Eriol a ¡®bear hug,¡¯¡± Cerberus snickered.
¡°I don¡¯t think he dislikes it,¡± Yue commented softly. ¡°One may call it ¡®familial love¡¯ that Clow Reed had been so deprived of.¡±
Up till now, Kai had been holding up well but his face crumpled as he watched Miho¡¯s blithe face. Thankfully nobody took any notice of him. Meilin¡¯s angry words. ¡°You may change your appearance, and you may change your name. You may be a criminal and a delinquent, but that doesn¡¯t change the fact that inside, you are that same twelve year old boy who ran away from home five years ago.¡± His humiliating first defeat in an archery match when he was eight. The chubby arms of a six-year-old that had wrapped tightly around his neck. ¡°For me, onii-chan is still the best, because onii-chan is my one and only onii-chan!¡± Warmth. Belief. Love. The sensations that he had left behind five years ago rushed back to him at this unexpected moment.
Only Yue had caught the strange expression on Kai¡¯s face before he slipped off into the woods, off on his own dark business again.
¡°Where¡¯s that thief-boy going?¡± Cerberus asked. ¡°Always slipping in and out—I don¡¯t trust him.¡±
Tomoyo hadn¡¯t even noticed that Kai had disappeared, partly because Kai was so discreet and panther-like and partly because she was struck with a sudden apprehension. No matter how hard she tried, there was a bridge between her and Eriol¡¯s world. Though she wanted to be the one by his side, her position was to stand watching, for there were many others closer to him. And though he had aided her numerous times, there was nothing she could do for him that others couldn¡¯t better. He had no use for her, and in Eriol¡¯s world, those who were of no use nor importance to him were easily dismissible.
¡°You look smug, Eriol,¡± Miho said.
¡°Leave him alone,¡± Ruby Moon stated. ¡°Can¡¯t you see he¡¯s planning revenge?
¡°Poor Syaoran-kun,¡± Tomoyo laughed. ¡°Should we give him a warning?¡±
¡°Nah—nothing can save the Wolf-boy from Eriol¡¯s wrath,¡± Spinel Sun replied.
¡°Isn¡¯t everyone enjoying my one-time defeat a little too much?¡± Eriol asked, extra-nicely. He cracked his knuckles. ¡°Maybe if someone else challenges me, I will be able to show my true skills.¡±
¡°No thank you,¡± everyone replied, shuddering. Eriol was still the scariest magician of the East and the West.
Hand on the windowsill, Meilin stared out her window at her familiar house garden. The trees were bare and dry leaves were scattered across the ground. Hard to believe after the chaos of the past several weeks, starting from the Star-Crossed production to Syaoran no longer being the Chosen One, to Kai¡¯s real identity being revealed, she was back in Hong Kong. It was only yesterday morning that she was still in Japan, with all her friends. So far since she had come back, her family, except Wei, had been ignoring her. Hopefully, it would stay this way.
She wondered what everybody was doing back in Japan. Probably up to no good as usual. What was Kai doing right now? It was time for dinner—hopefully he¡¯d eat regular meals with Syaoran. She stared at the pretty slender silver bracelet on her left wrist. By now, she had realized that it wasn¡¯t silver but platinum, and the inner side of the bracelet was lined with tiny diamonds, more like dust specks and amidst the row of jewels was a microscopic chip which Kai used to track her down anytime, anywhere.
There was a nock on her door. ¡°Meilin, aren¡¯t you eating dinner?¡±
¡°No mother, I¡¯m not hungry,¡± Meilin replied.
Her mother sighed, shutting the door behind her. What¡¯s wrong with my daughter? I know she cares for Syaoran a lot, and the news must have been a great shock to her. But what can she do?
Her mother¡¯s thoughts weren¡¯t completely accurate. Kai confused Meilin more than anyone else, all the more because she could understand his thought process, at the same time not understand the course of action he took. Thoughts of him filled her mind throughout the entire dreary plane flight and consumed her completely. And I wonder why I¡¯m thinking of him when there are many more important things to worry about right now. I¡¯m in no position to worry about Kai. Sooner or late, the Head will call me up to the Main House, and I¡¯ll have to defend Syaoran. What am I going to tell Aunt Ieran and Syaoran¡¯s sisters? And the Great Elder, he was like a grandfather to me. He never looked down on me because I was powerless. I can¡¯t imagine the Clan functioning without him. Aunt Ieran is looking after his health right now, but everything is looking bleak for the future of the Li Clan, especially without a Chosen One. Yet even now, I¡¯m more worried for Kai, for he really had no one else to worry for him.
It¡¯s because of what he told me at the airport. I can¡¯t forget it. It¡¯s worse now, because I can see pieces of his mind. We must be really similar after all.
The previous day, at the airport¡¦
¡°Well then, I¡¯m leaving,¡± Meilin said standing at the airport terminal. ¡°Thanks for driving me to the airport. Send my regards to Sakura and the others.¡± She picked up her suitcase and turned around.
¡°Wait Meilin!¡± Kai called out, almost desperately.
¡°What?¡± Meilin stared blatantly at Kai. She set her suitcase down again. ¡°Oh yeah. Thank you for your hospitality, letting me stay at your place when I fought with Syaoran.¡±
¡°Huh? Oh, no problem.¡± Kai ran his finger through his hair sheepishly. ¡°I was the one who benefited, gaining an excellent cook, anyway. And I think you kept me from completely losing it this past month. You¡¯re the only one who can keep me sane, Li Meilin.¡±
¡°Really?¡± Meilin smiled crookedly. ¡°You¡¯re the only one who really drives me insane, Mizuki Kai.¡±
¡°I¡¯m sorry,¡± Kai said quietly.
¡°Eh?¡± Meilin blinked. Did Kai just apologize?
¡°I¡¯m sorry for all the problems and worries I¡¯ve caused you,¡± Kai said, staring at his feet. ¡°I didn¡¯t mean to bring you, or anyone else, into my business. And I¡¯m really a failure as a man, disappointing you so many times and taking your forgiveness for granted. I know, I¡¯ve tried your patience numerous times, and you¡¯ve been more understanding than anyone who have asked for. But I¡¯ve taken advantage of your kindness, and I¡¯ll probably never be able to meet up with your expectations. I can¡¯t even promise to try harder, as Syaoran probably can, nor can I change the way I am.¡±
This was the second time in a matter of days that she had heard and apology of failing to be a man in two quite different circumstances. Taking a deep breath, Meilin replied, ¡°I¡¯m not as generous as you make me out to be. You don¡¯t know how many times I¡¯ve lost patience with you.¡±
¡°Please don¡¯t think the worst of me,¡± Kai said, head still down. ¡°I don¡¯t think I can bare it, having you reproach me, not that I deserve any compassion.¡±
¡°Don¡¯t be silly,¡± Meilin said, biting her lips. ¡°I don¡¯t think the worst of you. You must have your reasons for everything.¡± She smiled. ¡°Do remember, Kai-kun, that what ever you reasons may be, Miho-chan will be understanding and forgiving—the problem with you is that you¡¯re too hard on yourself. You and Syaoran, I don¡¯t know what it is with guys, struggling on their own for no reason.¡±
Smiling, Kai said, ¡°That¡¯s what I like about you, Meilin. You¡¯re so straightforward and single-minded.¡±
¡°Is that supposed to be a compliment?¡± Meilin asked. I simply must make one more attempt. I know it¡¯s in vain, but who else would be able to say this to Kai. Sighing, she said, ¡°I know you don¡¯t like it when I nag. But I really don¡¯t think deceiving Miho like this will bring about any good. That¡¯s why I don¡¯t think we¡¯re similar at all, Kai. With my personality, I¡¯m really obstinate and pig-headed, I know. But when there is something I need to get done, I can¡¯t rest until I have sorted it out. I¡¯m very one-tracked but that¡¯s the way I live my life—it¡¯s a lot less complex that way. I don¡¯t know what¡¯s holding you back—sure you¡¯ve run away from home, engaged in criminal activities and changed your identity.¡±
¡°That is a lot of misdeeds,¡± Kai muttered under his breath.
Meilin continued, ¡°Bet, surely you had a good reason to do all this. And knowing Miho and your mother and their love for you, don¡¯t you think they¡¯ll understand if you come forth truthfully?¡±
¡°If it were that easy,¡± Kai said.
¡°Aren¡¯t you making the situation over-complicated?¡± Meilin returned. ¡°You¡¯ve done a lot more good than evil in your lifetime. Even now, your delinquency is just an act. You get into fights to protect the weak. You steal for a greater good. You¡¯ve saved me from dark forces, aided Syaoran and Sakura numerous times and watch over Miho from the side. You pretend you don¡¯t care about school, but you stay after-school to practice on the piano. You sneak out in the middle of the night and bring fresh flowers to your mother¡¯s bedside in the middle of the night, though you refuse to talk to her.¡±
¡°How—¡° Kai trailed off. When had Meilin been observing him this closely?
¡°And I simply can¡¯t believe you can leave behind your past so easily,¡± Meilin said, her eyes glassy. ¡°You talk of crimes committed against others, but you¡¯re committing a crime against yourself, you¡¯re not just hurting Miho and your mother—you¡¯re hurting yourself as well, Kai.¡±
¡°What would you do if you were me, Meilin?¡±
¡°I¡¯ll go back to my mother, bow down and beg forgiveness,¡± Meilin replied shortly.
Kai let out a short, cynical laugh. ¡°You ask why we are similar Meilin. Don¡¯t you get it? We¡¯re similar because of our damned simplicity in matter of life and thoughts. It¡¯s people like Syaoran and Sakura who try to make sense of life and ponder over salvation and the distinction between right and wrong, light and dark. But people like us, we¡¯re simple. We have one goal, and know naught else but to simply work towards it. We¡¯re single-minded and no-nonsense, we wouldn¡¯t know what to do with ourselves were our objective taken away. Like shooting a target—our lives are merely taking an arrow and shooting it towards the bull¡¯s-eye or failing in attempt.¡±
¡°If you are so like me, why are you hesitating?¡± Meilin asked.
¡°I have a goal,¡± Kai said. ¡°And I haven¡¯t achieved it yet. I¡¯m going to restore all that I can to Miho, before my time here runs out.¡±
¡°What do you mean ¡®before your time here runs out?¡±
¡°You can¡¯t possibly think that I¡¯m going to reside here for much longer,¡± Kai said. ¡°Everything is for a reason, and my stay in Tomoeda is limited to how long it takes to achieve my goal, the reason I set out on my journey five years ago.¡±
Shaking her head, Meilin replied, ¡°You¡¯re making no sense to me. If you want to restore everything for her, shouldn¡¯t her brother be restored to her as well?¡±
¡°Everything within my power,¡± Kai corrected. ¡°I¡¯m running out of time, and I haven¡¯t accomplished anything yet. But I will. I have to even if it takes the last of me. My last wager, my last arrow towards the bull¡¯s-eye that I¡¯m counting on.¡±
¡°What about you?¡± Meilin asked. ¡°What will happen to you afterwards?¡±
¡°Do you know why I liked archery?¡± Kai smiled bitterly. ¡°All you have to do is practice shooting forward over and over again, and the goal is in you hands. What¡¯s the merit once you strike bull¡¯s eye or the next objective? Nothing. You¡¯ve shot your best and you¡¯ve achieved your goal.¡±
Meilin stared at Kai. ¡°Aren¡¯t you eventually going to return to your family once your goal is accomplished? Isn¡¯t that your goal?¡±
¡°Do you remember last spring, when I was chased by the Hong Kong Police Force?¡± Kai said quietly.
¡°How can I not remember?¡± Meilin replied, shivering, recalling one of the most horrific nights in her memory, Kai wounded by a gunshot and seeking her aid. Her brows furrowed down. Oh my goodness. Meilin reached her hand out to above Kai¡¯s chest. ¡°The wound¡¦¡±
¡°You remember I was shot by the Hong Kong Police, right?¡± Kai continued, removing Meilin¡¯s hand. ¡°You helped me escape that night, and I returned to Japan, where Sakura and Syaoran helped me out by taking my locket.¡±
¡°And you went to the hospital to treat your injury,¡± Meilin said. ¡°Kinhoshi Hospital, wasn¡¯t it?¡±
¡°While I was at the hospital to treat my injury, the doctor found out my real identity through blood tests—the police had distributed samples of Kaitou Magician¡¯s blood throughout all the hospitals in Japan. I was a fool to think I would be safe in the hospital. Before they could arrest me, I escaped.¡±
¡°Then it turned out okay,¡± Meilin began, sighing in relief.
¡°I left before they could perform the surgery to remove the bullet from by chest,¡± Kai ended.
Meilin¡¯s eyes widened. ¡°What?¡±
¡°The doctors figured I had around half a year at the most, walking around with a bullet embedded in my chest, before the infection spread. The police are pretty smug I bet, because they know I can go to no hospital to have the bullet removed in fear of my identity being uncovered.¡±
¡°Then you¡¯ve been walking around for the past months with a bullet buried beneath your skin, as if nothing¡¯s wrong?¡± Meilin demanded, suddenly feeling faint. Just when she thought that nothing Kai did could surprise her. ¡°Are you crazy? Do you have a death wish or something? How can you do something so stupid?¡±
¡°That¡¯s why I don¡¯t tell you anything—I knew you¡¯d over react,¡± Kai said. ¡°There, you¡¯ve turned on the water-tap again.¡±
¡°But you¡¯re okay?¡± Meilin asked, feeling a lump in her throat. Silly, how can he be okay with a bullet in his chest for all these months? That explains why he looks so tired lately. It must be so painful—yet I¡¯ve just scolded him and kicked and mistreated him all along, when he must have been struggling.
¡°I¡¯m fine,¡± Kai replied lightly. ¡°Don¡¯t worry about it.¡±
Meilin questioned nervously, ¡°I-it¡¯s nothing fatal or anything, is it?¡±
¡°Of course not,¡± Kai said. ¡°But I still have some more time left to be moving around like this, so let me be. I have unfinished business.¡±
¡°But you have to go the hospital.¡± Meilin gulped. How could he have lasted for months with such an injury? ¡°If you¡¯re scared of being caught, there¡¯s underground doctors for mafia, or I can talk to my uncle—he runs a hospital in Hong Kong.¡±
¡°The surgery and the recovery process will take at least half a year,¡± Kai replied. ¡°I don¡¯t have time for it.¡±
¡°Idiot! There¡¯s nothing more important than physical health!¡± Meilin exclaimed angrily. ¡°You have to do something about it before infection spreads!¡±
Laying a steady hand on Meilin¡¯s shoulder, Kai said, ¡°The external wound healed, so I can move around fine. I need to accomplish my goals first, while I can.¡±
¡°You can¡¯t just leave the bullet and go around as if nothing¡¯s wrong,¡± Meilin said. ¡°You were bleeding earlier on!¡±
¡°Meilin. Say your leg was broken again, and you were on the sidewalk, when you happened to see Syaoran in the street, about to get run over by a truck,¡± Kai said. ¡°What would you do?¡±
¡°I¡¯ll run forward and save him,¡± Meilin replied flatly.
¡°Even if your leg is broken, and you can¡¯t run?¡± Kai asked.
¡°Even so,¡± Meilin replied. ¡°What does that have to do anything?¡±
¡°It¡¯s the same thing. A minor injury is not going to prevent me from achieving what I have set out to do,¡± Kai stated. ¡°You should be able to see that.¡±
¡°How is a broken leg equivalent to a gun-shot?¡± Meilin muttered, scowling.
¡°Anyway, don¡¯t tell Sakura or Syaoran about this—they¡¯ll throw a fit,¡± Kai said, smiling lopsided. ¡°I thought you would too, but I know you¡¯d get over it. After all, you don¡¯t care about wretched thieves like me.¡±
¡°I won¡¯t tell them,¡± Meilin said; it took all of her
to sound level-minded. ¡°But promise me you¡¯ll get a surgery as soon as you¡¯re
¡®business¡¯ here is finished.¡±
Kai smiled. ¡°I don¡¯t make promises, Li Meilin. I only end up breaking them all and disappointing everyone.¡±
¡°Do what you will,¡± Meilin replied, sighing. You idiot. If you were a man, you would promise me right now, and make me feel better. Why do you insist upon making me feel horrid and helpless? ¡°You told me not to meddle with your life.¡±
¡°Don¡¯t be so disapproving of me, Meilin.¡± Kai fumbled in his pocket and drew out something long and shiny. He reached out and took her left hand. Carefully, Kai fastened the silver bracelet on her wrist.
Meilin stared at it, trying hard to contain her tears. ¡°I thought I lost it last time¡¦¡±
¡°If the Clan members give you a hard time back in Hong Kong, holler, and I¡¯ll coming running and whisk you away, wherever you are.¡± Kai grinned.
¡°Is that a polite way of saying you¡¯ll kidnap me again?¡± Meilin asked skeptically, face flushed. She fiddled with her pretty bracelet, then exclaimed, ¡°Hey I can¡¯t take it off!¡±
¡°What, you¡¯re trying to take it off?¡± Kai demanded in offense.
¡°You locked it on again, like I¡¯m some kind of pet!¡± Meilin stuck out her tongue at Kai. ¡°Take it off, now!¡±
¡°No,¡± Kai replied, arms crossed. ¡°The Kaitou Magician never lets go of his property.¡±
Meilin shrieked, ¡°Now you¡¯re treating me as if I¡¯m some kind of thing?¡±
¡°Who knows when you¡¯re going to find some respectable Hong Kong boy for yourself?¡± Kai said.
My obsession with Syaoran had been a standing joke in my family for years. After all, Syaoran was my only friend at school. But I know for sure that I¡¯m over him now. I became certain the first time I saw Kai¡¯s eyes by that graveside.
¡°There, you¡¯re always thinking of him,¡± Kai said. ¡°You¡¯ll never learn; you have that far off look whenever you¡¯re thinking of that undeserving boy. Look at me sometimes, will you?¡±
¡°I¡¯ve gotten over him,¡± Meilin stated defiantly.
¡°You say that every single time you go back to Hong Kong and come back ten times worse,¡± Kai replied, chuckling. ¡°Ha, let me say things that you don¡¯t like to hear, once in a while.¡±
For a second, Meilin looked peeved, then she laughed. ¡°Kai, I could have really hated you.¡±
¡°Same goes to you,¡± Kai said. ¡°You¡¯ve insulted me more than everyone else in my life put together.¡±
Looking reflective for a moment, Meilin said, ¡°Well, it¡¯s almost boarding time.¡± She picked up her suitcase then looked up at Kai. ¡°I know you don¡¯t promise anything, and you don¡¯t have to. But if nothing else, I really wish you would value yourself more.¡±
¡°I¡¯ll try Meilin, if it¡¯ll please you.¡± Then in his usual joking self, he asked, ¡°So, don¡¯t I get a good-bye kiss?¡±
¡°In your dreams,¡± Meilin replied, turning around and stomping off. The people in the airport stared at her.
¡°Don¡¯t miss me too much Mei-chan!¡± Kai called out, waving. ¡°I¡¯m sure you¡¯ll see me soon enough!¡±
End of Flashback¡¦
Yesterday, I found at that Kai still had the bullet
buried above his left heart, skin having long since healed over it leaving a white
scar. He said infection hasn¡¯t spread yet, and he has time left to accomplish
his goals. One of them has already been accomplished—collecting the Five Force
Treasures. But though he¡¯s bold and daring, the greatest phantom thief of the
night, he¡¯s afraid to go back to Miho. He¡¯s afraid of getting a surgery and
healing—he wants to remain scarred for the rest of his life. He thinks it¡¯s his
only redemption for the lifestyle he¡¯s lead.
Carefully, Meilin fingered a brown stain on the wallpaper of her room, near the window. It was a souvenir of that spring night when Kai had collapsed into her room. A warm spring night when she had been lying in her bed in this very room.
The unsettling wail or sirens outside in the streets. With a nock on her window, a figure cloaked in black stumbled into her room, bringing in the sweet smell of spring flowers and the salty smell of blood. Her heart had almost stopped at the sight of the Kaitou Magician, barely able to call out her name, short of breath.
¡°Meilin,¡± he croaked in barely above a whisper, grasping his chest.
¡±Kaitou Magician! What happened to you? Why is the police chasing you?¡±
¡°You have to¡¦ get me out of the country¡¦ tonight,¡± Kaitou Magician said in gasps.
¡°You¡¯re in no condition to travel,¡± Meilin replied. ¡°You¡¯re bleeding.¡±
¡°I was shot. Carelessness—¡° Kaitou Magician replied, trying to smile but was unable to because of the piercing pain in his chest.
¡°Shot?¡± Meilin exclaimed, horrified.
Somehow, Meilin had managed to smuggle Kaitou Magician to the airport that night. ¡°I am forever in your debt,¡± he had whispered to her before leaving.
He had left her room bloodstained; her nightgown was covered in the blood of an almost stranger, who she had felt compelled to help. Many washings did not remove the stain of blood from her favorite nightgown. Little did she know then that he would become so integrated into her life that it was impossible to remember what her life was like before she met him.
This isn¡¯t love, Meilin told herself. It¡¯s something more dangerous, like a gamble. If I draw the right card, I win all. If I draw the wrong one...
Kai¡¯s bitter laughter. ¡°Don¡¯t you get it? We¡¯re similar because of our damned simplicity in matter of life and thoughts¡¦ We have one goal, and know naught else but to simply work towards it¡¦ Our lives are merely taking an arrow and shooting it towards the bull¡¯s-eye or failing in attempt.¡±
Gently, Meilin fingered the bracelet on her wrist.
If I draw the wrong card, I lose all.
It was dark now and Syaoran had to jump several times to avoid being whacked by tree branches. The speed he ran at was equivalent to someone fresh and energetic, not one who had finished a grueling match with only the once greatest sorcerer in the world. If his body ached, he ignored, for there was only one thought on his mind.
Hang on Sakura!
Wish-chan: Is this another horribly long chapter? No wonder it took me so long to write! Sorry for the long wait! It¡¯s been almost a year since the last ¡°real¡± chapter, nee? But the plot will pick up and perhaps get darker in the latter of the third arc. Lot¡¯s of dialogue in the beginning, and then sudden action in this chapter. Believe it or not, this chapter was supposed to be even longer but I had to cut it off at a certain point with a cliffhanger. Hehe¡¦ I don¡¯t like cliffhangers either. I¡¯ll speedily write the next chapter. Sigh. We all now that Wish-chan¡¯s sense of time is different from the regular world. Take what ever date I state and multiply that by four. Haha¡¦
Finally, the long awaited (?) battle between Eriol and Syaoran! I still think Eriol is the strongest. But certain circumstances call for certain measures. And this time, Syaoran had the stronger incentive to win. Well, I thought it was high time that Syaoran came up with new battle attacks. Hehe¡¦ For the sword-fighting scene, I realized I needed more knowledge. I looked upon Rurouni Kenshin for some inspiration and researched a bit more so I had a better idea of what I was dealing with. I thought of giving Eriol a rapier, and make him fence, Western style, but I thought he¡¯d look cooler with a katana, dressed up traditional Japanese style. A hakama, by the way, is that Japanese trouser-looking thing; can¡¯t quite explain it. If you watch Japanese anime, ie. Rurouni, or Inuyasha or something, you¡¯ll know what I mean.
The Obedience, now that I think of it, reminds me of the curse in Harry Potter¡¦ Forgot what it was called. Actually, I was going to have it called the ¡°Control.¡± I think I got ¡°Obedience¡± from Ella Enchanted, which I read long ago in gradeschool. Wish I could have seen the movie. Wish Harry Potter was out where I live.
Once more, I send my deepest thanks to everybody over the past year, for support New Trials, even through the authors struggles in her first year of college. Thanks everyone for joining the Yahoo New Trials Group: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/newtrialsring/ and thanks especially to Kirei Blossom and dear Amythyst Beloved for becoming the new moderator as well as still posting up my fic at fanfiction.net. Divya, said I should put up a disclaimer. I do that once in a while. Thank you everybody who posted messages (even once) in the Yahoo group, who¡¯s written reviews at fanfiction.net and my guestbook, and written me person e-mails. I haven¡¯t checked any thing for around two weeks because I¡¯ve been in writing seclusion~ I¡¯m surprise I don¡¯t get flamed.
Please visit my site at http://wishluv.revolutionhosting.net Are people tired of my layout yet? Because I¡¯m not. Hehe¡¦ E-mails ever cherished at firstname.lastname@example.org. It¡¯s easier for me to respond at the New Trials Yahoo Group though. Answers several questions at once for more people. I¡¯ll post when I update there, also. I think my comments are going to get as long as my chapter.
Disclaimer: Card Captor Sakura and its characters and original plot is not mine but CLAMP¡¯s. Long live CLAMP! But the original characters are mine and New Trials is a trademark of Wish-chan.
Origins of Humpty Dumpty: Humpty Dumpty was in fact an unusually large canon which was mounted on the protective wall of "St. Mary's Wall Church" in Colchester, England. It was intended to protect the Parliamentarian stronghold of Colchester which was in the temporarily in control of the Royalists during the period of English history, described as the English Civil War ( 1642 - 1649). A shot from a Parliamentary canon succeeded in damaging the wall underneath Humpty Dumpty causing the canon to fall to the ground. The Royalists 'all the King's men' attempted to raise Humpty Dumpty on to another part of the wall but even with the help of ' all the King's horses' failed in their task and Colchester fell to the Parliamentarians after a siege lasting eleven weeks.