Chapter 55: Platinum

 

 

 

A world yet unseen...
No matter what awaits me there,
even if it¡¯s not the ideal,
I won¡¯t be afraid.

The birds travel on the wind
on a journey from today into tomorrow.

I want to tell you... I want to shout it...
I am but one entity in this world
But like a prayer, like a star,
even a small light wants to be
stronger and stronger someday.

 

                                       

                                                     — Purachina, Card Captor Sakura Opening 3

 

 

 

******

 

 

Hong Kong¡¦

 

 

 

Li Syaoran spent many hours reflecting upon the decree of the Elders after his judgment in front of the Inner Council. He had expected and had been ready to accept all punishment for his disloyalty to the Clan. Yet, the result had been unexpected. Instead of more stringent incarceration or perhaps corporal punishment, he had simply been released on probation. The aching of his spine was a reminder of what had happened in there. Why had Leiyun protected him? It was his cousin Leiyun who had brought him back to Hong Kong in the first place. Someone¡¯s trying to play me as the fool there¡¦ I won¡¯t stand it. I won¡¯t give up so early on. It¡¯s not over yet. So what if I do not have powers. So what if my right arm is as good amputated in its current condition. So what if I¡¯m back here again? Here I am, back at base one. I¡¯ll just have to work twice as hard and rebuild everything over again. I won¡¯t give in to Uncle Wutai. This is my family. It is my Clan, and I have to set things right.

 

A sharp nock came on the door. It was his cousin, a doctor at the Li Hospital. She had come to examine his arm.

 

¡°Now try bending your arms again, like that,¡± said Li Jingmei. She assisted Syaoran to bend his right arm. ¡°Try moving your fingers. That¡¯s good. Just slowly.¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s never going to come back, is it?¡± said Syaoran, staring hard at his bandaged right arm. ¡°I don¡¯t feel it. I don¡¯t feel the ends of my fingers.¡±

 

Jingmei pressed down with expert fingers on Syaoran¡¯s vital points. ¡°It¡¯s too early to tell. Keep repeating the exercises—don¡¯t miss a day. Don¡¯t give up. Any sensation, even pain, is a good sign. Try this new balm—it should invigorate your nerves.¡±

 

Syaoran nodded.

 

As Jingmei finished rebandaging Syaoran¡¯s arms, she said, ¡°Fanren has sent you some more clothes—I brought them with me. Your sisters are all worried about you.¡±

 

¡°Tell them not to worry, that I¡¯m doing fine,¡± said Syaoran.

 

Jingmei stared at her younger cousin. ¡°You¡¯ve always been a strong boy—I was impressed to see you stand up to Elder Wutai like that the other day, at the General Assembly. No one¡¯s ever defied him like that before. How¡¯s your back? Let me take a look at it—this is in secret. We¡¯re not supposed to lessen punishment blows—but how outdated is that custom?¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s bearable,¡± replied Syaoran shortly, wincing as Jingmei lifted up his shirt to examine his back.

 

¡°Black and blue. Sorry, there¡¯s nothing much I can do about that—this balm with make it less sore though,¡± said Jingmei, smoothing on his back some minty balm which instantly cooled his shoulder blades. She ran a light finger over a long whitish scar on his back. ¡°What¡¯s this from? Looks like you were whipped or something.¡±

 

Syaoran hastily drew his shirt back on. The Whip card—that was when Sakura had first created the Heal. Was it really that long ago?

 

Jingmei wiped her hands and stated, ¡°Well, that¡¯s it for today. I¡¯m coming to check up next week, so make sure you do the arm exercises.¡±

 

As she walked out the door, she caught Jinyu standing outside the hallway. Normally, she would be intimidated by the Clan Protector, whom she barely had exchanged any words with in the past, but this time she couldn¡¯t help asking, ¡°Don¡¯t the Elders have anywhere better to deploy you than to tag along a powerless boy all day long?¡±

 

Jinyu merely stared at her through the sheet of black hair covering one eye.

 

¡°What did you do to that boy¡¯s arm when you broke it?¡± asked Jingmei. ¡°There¡¯s something wrong with it—it¡¯s been healing fine physically, but that partial paralysis of his hands concerns me.¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s not Jin¡¯s fault,¡± remarked Leiyun, who made his way down the hallway to do his routine check up with Syaoran. ¡°There was something wrong with his arm even before then.¡±

 

¡°Right, I saw the scar from being bitten by the Plague, if such a dark force exists,¡± said Jingmei. ¡°The bones on his right had was fractured from hard impact—I think Syaoran mentioned that he hit glass or something. Stupid thing to do. And of course Jinyu so kindly added to the trauma on that arm with some fancy martial arts move to completely break the ulna bone.¡±

 

¡°Oh, you nonfighters don¡¯t understand the art of fighting,¡± Leiyun said. ¡°Jinyu executed a perfect move to prevent further injury that could have been incurred by Syaoran fighting back when we were coercing him to return to Hong Kong.¡±

 

¡°You¡¯re right, I¡¯m a doctor and have no training in martial arts,¡± Jingmei stated. ¡°But what I know is that I¡¯ve done everything to heal that arm, and if it doesn¡¯t return to full function soon, there is some other reason preventing it from healing fully.¡±

 

¡°So, what you¡¯re trying to say is that if Syaoran doesn¡¯t regain control over that arm soon, there is a chance that it might truly be permanently paralyzed?¡± asked Leiyun, raising a silver eyebrow.

 

Jingmei nodded. It was disconcerting to have everyone¡¯s favorite cousin to suddenly return after seven years of believing he was dead. The Elders said nothing, but amongst the younger Li¡¯s, there were whispers that this Leiyun was an imposter, that Cousin Leiyun could not possibly be alive. And why did he choose to show up now? But speaking with him briefly reassured her that this was the very same Leiyun that had disappeared when she was still in med school, keen and observant, kind yet shrewd. Yet, why did he choose to return now, six years after his disappearance, just when the Great Elder was ill and there was unrest and growing tension within the very factions of the Clan?

 

¡°That would be troublesome since he has lost his powers—all he has left for him is his fighting skills,¡± remarked Leiyun.

 

¡°They¡¯re not going to keep him as Chosen One, are they?¡± Jingmei asked. ¡°I thought you returned for that position. It seems only suitable.¡±

 

¡°Do you seriously think I can return to being a simple dog of the Clan after a taste of freedom?¡± Leiyun smiled.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Japan¡¦

 

 

¡°Thank goodness Sakura-senpai¡¯s powers returned,¡± stated Tanaka Miho, who had joined the high schoolers for lunch. They had all laid out their lunches. Miho and Eriol both shared the inedible fried rice that Tanaka Miara had packed them, but Tomoyo and Sakura were generous with sharing their portions.

 

¡°This crab croquette is quite delicious!¡± remarked Eriol to Tomoyo.

 

¡°Thank you! I made five different varieties this morning. Try the curry croquette!¡± stated Tomoyo.

 

Miho nibbled on the pork croquette and turned back to Sakura. ¡°But I don¡¯t understand it. You use the power of the moon now?¡± Tomoyo and Eriol both shot her a poisonous glare and Miho¡¯s head drooped. She made a careless slip again! To make up for her guilt, she stuffed her mouth with the rest of the croquette to shut herself up for the rest of the meal.

 

Sakura continued to Eriol, ¡°Actually, I was confused also. Mizuki-sensei told me back when she first gave the Moon Bell that I had a power of stars, different from the power of the sun, like Clow Reed and Cerberus, or the power of moon, like Mizuki-sensei and Yue. The power of stars would shine in its own way. But why has the power of stars failed me? Why can I not call upon it anymore?¡±

 

There was a prolonged pause as Eriol tried to figure out how to explain to Sakura. Slowly, he began, ¡°Well, when you sealed the Plague and used all your powers with the Heal, you must be aware of what detrimental impact it had on your body. You used up too much of your powers, hence your body had to... recuperate.¡±

 

¡°I see. So it found another energy source because I overused the power of stars.¡± Sakura stared at the Key hanging from her neck. First, it had been the bird-shaped Key of Darkness. It had transformed to the Key of Stars. Now, it was the Key of the Moonstar.

 

¡°That makes perfect sense now!¡± exclaimed Miho. ¡°How fabulous, Card Captor Sakura is back! Tomoyo-senpai can film a whole new arc and enter it as a sequel to the best director¡¯s contest!¡±

 

¡°With Tomoyo-san¡¯s designing talents, I think she should enter her designs into a fashion contest,¡± remarked Eriol, alluding to all the sketches he had seen of dresses Tomoyo had designed for Sakura. Though he knew little about girl¡¯s fashion, he had been thoroughly impressed. Tomoyo¡¯s ears turned red.

 

Miho snickered. ¡°Maybe Clow Reed would have been more popular if he had a personal wardrobe consultant instead of wearing the same darn ugly robe every day. Speaking of popularity, do you know rumors spread even to the junior high level of the new golden-combi of Seijou High, the two beauties who single-handedly conquered all the clubs in high school—choir club, fashion club, film club, theater club, gymnastics club, track team, cheerleading club, cooking club, band club and so on¡¦ They say you two are the new ¡°Yukitoya!¡±

 

¡°Yukitoya?¡± Sakura and Tomoyo blinked at each other.

 

¡°You never heard it before? That¡¯s what they called Yukito-san and Touya-san,¡± replied Miho, giggling. ¡°Now, what can we call you two¡¦¡±  

 

Eriol was relieved that Sakura did not ask for any more explanation. It would have been a problem if Clow¡¯s cute ancestor¡¯s ultimate sacrifice had been revealed. Knowing the Li Clan¡¯s merciless Council, Eriol couldn¡¯t help wondering how Syaoran was faring. In olden days, the Clan would have no qualms about executing traitors, especially traitors with no more use to the Clan.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Hong Kong¡¦

 

 

After an unsuccessful attempt of finger exercises to stimulate blood circulation in his arm, Syaoran walked over to the round window and gazed outside. His room overlooked the south courtyard. Two sentries were stationed at each entrance of the Main House, except for the south gate, where there was only one guard because the back entrance linked to other parts of the Li estate anyway. Armed guards also patrolled each floor of the mansion, and Syaoran knew by now that there were still at least four extra men stationed on his floor even though he was now on ¡°probation¡± as opposed to ¡°imprisonment.¡± Then there was Jinyu, who would have been impossible to get by anyway even if he had the use of both arms. Maybe if he had a sword¡¦ No, Jinyu was an excellent swordsman as well and furthermore, used a different school of training than he and Leiyun had been trained under,  one he was unfamiliar with. Without his magic, there was no getting past the Black Dragon Jinyu. But how else would he find the Great Elder? He could search just the house for days and not find him. The Great Elder could be kept in any of the numerous Li villas scattered in Hong Kong. There was no way he could be able to search for him alone.    

 

¡°Jinyu,¡± Syaoran called out abruptly. There was only one thing he could do. This was his first attempt to make conversation with his jailer. ¡°Where is the Great Elder being kept?¡±

 

There was no response but Syaoran knew that Li Jinyu was there, leaning against the wall outside his open door. Syaoran yanked the door open and faced Jinyu. Jinyu stared at him with marble-like crimson eyes. ¡°As you can see, I¡¯m clearly not going to run away and have no intention or power to tackle the Li guards. You can either tell the Elders that you see no need to follow me around everywhere, or you can at least let me know what¡¯s going around here.¡± Slowly, Syaoran exhaled. Who was he kidding? Why would Jinyu tell him? Jinyu was with the Elders; he was Syaoran¡¯s prison guard.

 

To his surprise, Jinyu pressed a finger to his lip and entered Syaoran¡¯s room, shutting the door behind him. In a voice above a bare whisper, he stated, ¡°Li Shulin¡¯s villa.¡±

 

¡°What?¡±

 

¡°Your mother is taking care of him there.¡±

 

¡°How can I—¡±

 

¡°I¡¯m off duty in five minutes. Wei should be here by now—I wonder where he is.¡± Jinyu looked away. ¡°You have a five minute window to get out of the backdoor.¡± Then, he nonchalantly walked away from the room.

 

For a moment, Syaoran stared at the back of Jinyu¡¯s head with his long thin braids, dumbstruck. He had probably heard Jinyu speak the longest sentence to date. It was not time for him to be ruminating Jinyu¡¯s motives though. This was his chance to speak to the Great Elder. Li Shulin¡¯s villa was located deeper in the hills in the furthest outskirts of the Li Clan territory. It was the villa Shulin had built to reside in her later days till the end of her life. The guards at the end of the hallway could not stop him, and he did not look back to even check if they were chasing after him. There was no pretense of using stealth because every gate of the Clan was heavily guarded—his best luck was the south gate. All he could do was run because there was nobody who could run as fast as he could, except perhaps Jinyu.   

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Japan¡¦

 

 

The weather was rapidly warming up now as the end of April approached, and the spring drizzles and warm humidity seemed to add on to Sakura¡¯s ongoing sleepiness. There was something very relaxing about Mizuki-sensei¡¯s mellow voice and the pitter-patter of raindrops on the window.  

 

In the background, she heard Mizuki-sensei writing on the chalkboard important dates as she lectured about the Spanish colonization and Christopher Columbus. ¡°By the 16th century, the Spanish Empire was at the peak of their prosperity. Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand looked further westward in order to expand the wealth of their empire and commissioned many Spanish conquistadors to colonize new territories in the New World. Such an example is conquistador Hernando Cortés who conquered the Aztec Empire in 1521. The Aztec Empire was known for their wealth in natural resources, namely gold and silver, which was the Spanish royalties¡¯ main objective¡¦¡± But the voice continued to drone off into the background. Even though Mizuki-sensei¡¯s history class was Sakura¡¯s favorite class of the day, she could not help feeling her eyelids droop.

 

Class was over by the time Sakura jolted awake again.

 

¡°You can borrow my notes,¡± sighed Eron, tossing her his notebook.

 

¡°I can¡¯t believe I fell asleep during Mizuki-sensei¡¯s class,¡± stated Sakura aghast. ¡°Did she see me?¡±

 

¡°Yes, we all saw you drooling,¡± replied Eron. ¡°Now, hurry up and copy my notes before Yamaguchi-sensei comes in.¡±

 

Immediately, Sakura began copying out Eron¡¯s notes, neatly organized into headings and numerical bullet points—how could anyone take such detailed notes? There were seven written pages out from an hour-long lecture! She was amused by the notes written in the margins like, ¡°Mizuki-sensei said Treaty of Tordesilla will be in test,¡± or ¡°Refer to Letters from Mexico by Hernando Cortés.¡± 

 

¡°If you don¡¯t have track practice at six A.M. you wouldn¡¯t fall asleep in class,¡± remarked Eron.

 

¡°It¡¯s only until the end of this month, since Tachibana-senpai can walk around now,¡± replied Sakura, taking out a highlighter and underlining the headlines.

 

¡°Well, if you¡¯re not up till late choreographing cheerleading routines when you¡¯re not even in cheerleading anymore—¡±

 

Sakura flipped through her notebook pages proudly—she could ace the midterms studying off of such detailed notes. ¡°But Naoko-chan asked me to give some pointers on a new routine, and since I¡¯ve been doing it since junior high¡¦¡±

 

¡°Pushover,¡± muttered Eron, rolling his eyes. He had quite soccer precisely because the practices were too time consuming and now that his main rival was gone, there was no point in grueling in the dusty fields anymore.  

 

¡°By the way,¡± Sakura said stiffly. ¡°I guess I should thank you for helping me out the other day with sealing the Decay. But also, I don¡¯t expect you to help out any more in the future. If you¡¯re doing this because of the whole Plague incident, you don¡¯t have to.¡±

 

Eron gazed up from his geometry book. ¡°Do you seriously think that I did that just as some sort of repayment to you for saving my life when I was suffering from the Plague?¡±

 

¡°Sakura-chan!¡± Tomoyo popped her head in between the two from her seat behind them. She and Eriol were deskmates, probably the quietest two in the class since they spent majority of their time listening on other people¡¯s conversations. Even now, Eriol pretended to be busy sharpening Tomoyo¡¯s color pencils. ¡°Sakura-chan, do you want to go shopping with me this weekend for summer clothes? We haven¡¯t really hung out in the city since school started.¡±

 

¡°Hoe, I have a lot of homework,¡± said Sakura.

 

Tomoyo blinked her large violet eyes. ¡°Sakura-chan doesn¡¯t want to play with me anymore now that we¡¯re high schoolers? I¡¯m so hurt.¡±

 

¡°All right, let¡¯s go shopping and try out the new berry parfait at Piffle Café,¡± relented Sakura.

 

¡°Hurray! I can finally tape Sakura-chan with short hair!¡± Tomoyo squealed.

 

¡°Definitely a pushover,¡± muttered Eron.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Hong Kong¡¦

 

 

Having safely escaped from the Main House, it was no problem for Syaoran to pass through the rest of the estate to find the villa that the Great Elder was residing in, Li Shulin¡¯s private place. Syaoran saw waiting at the front door a tall, stately woman with long black hair held back by a golden pin. ¡°Mother!¡± Syaoran exclaimed, panting, as he stood at the front gates of the white villa, nowhere near as large as the Main House, but quite spacious and on top of a hill overlooking the entire city. Even though he knew he was still on the Li estate, he felt strangely liberated, being away from the Main House. 

 

¡°Syaoran,¡± said Ielan, hands folded in front of her. ¡°Follow me. The Great Elder is waiting.¡± 

 

Wiping his sweaty palms on his pants, Syaoran stood at the doorway to the inner chamber. Ielan went forth and pushed back the thin, veil-like curtains draping the large wooden canopy bed, typing it up with cords. She said in a lowered voice, ¡°Uncle, Syaoran¡¯s here.¡±

 

Gulping, Syaoran walked forward to the frail person lying in bed. Without looking up, he kneeled down and bowed down low to the ground. ¡°Forgive me, exalted Great Elder.¡±

 

¡°My boy,¡± said Great Elder Li Renshu. ¡°Lift up your head.¡±

 

Syaoran looked up to see the Great Elder, frailer than ever before. He seemed older and thinner in his white silk robes, his long white beard falling to his waist. The Great Elder he remembered was always active, nimbler than any young man in his twenties, never reliant on any cane even in his old age, the strongest and most fearsome man in all of Hong Kong. Ielan helped prop up the Great Elder into a sitting position.

 

¡°Ielan, you may leave us for now,¡± said Renshu. Syaoran¡¯s mother quietly left the room, closing the door behind her.

 

Syaoran sat fixated on the ground, knees pressed against the cool tile floor; he could feel the Great Elder¡¯s keen eyes looking over him—when he was younger, he used to be terrified that the Great Elder could read his mind. Only as he grew older did Syaoran realize that the Great Elder¡¯s strict disciplinary measures upon him was because he expected more from Syaoran than anyone else. Yet, the frail man sitting before him was not the Demonic Training Master nor the omniscient Head of the Elders. In a gentler tone than he had ever used before, Li Renshu reached out to put a hand on Syaoran¡¯s trembling shoulder and said, ¡°My poor, poor boy.¡±

 

¡°I have disappointed you, Great Elder,¡± said Syaoran in a choked voice. What was that look of sympathy in those weary eyes? Why was the Great Elder not angry at him?

 

¡°Yes, my boy, it disappointed me very much that you took this long to seek me out,¡± replied Renshu.

 

¡°I¡¯ve been kept in the Main House,¡± Syaoran said half-heartedly.

 

¡°As if any lowly guard can keep my own pupil locked in,¡± said the Great Elder. ¡°But I will save my reprimanding for later. Well, now, let me see the rashinban,¡±

 

Syaoran slipped out the palm-sized compass from his pocket and handed it to the Great Elder.

 

The Great Elder held it on his palms and chanted, ¡°Imperial king of gods, your divinity watches over the four corners: metal, wood, water fire, earth, thunder, wind, lightening. Whirling blade of light, I summon thee.¡± Li Renshu¡¯s quietly stared at the released lasin board, the glowing light from it casting a shadow over his lined face.

 

¡°You can take it back, Great Elder, because I am no longer able to use it,¡± said Syaoran.

 

¡°Not able to use it? Explain to me what you mean, Syaoran,¡± Renshu said in a mild tone, not looking up from the board.

 

¡°I do not have powers anymore,¡± replied Syaoran.

 

¡°Oh?¡± Renshu did not look particularly surprised. ¡°How are you dealing with having no powers?¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s difficult. I feel deaf and blind, like I¡¯ve been reborn into a world without light and warmth.¡±

 

¡°And do you regret giving up your powers to the Card Mistress?¡±

 

Syaoran did not question how the Great Elder knew he had transferred his powers to Sakura. ¡°No, definitely not. If I hadn¡¯t done so, she would have died. I would have been ready to give up your life for her if it meant that it could save her.¡±

 

¡°When you took your oath to become the Li Clan¡¯s Chosen One, it was an oath declaring that you would sacrifice your own life for the sake of the Clan,¡± remarked Li Renshu.

 

¡°And I would have gladly given up my life for the sake of the Clan,¡± replied Syaoran.

 

¡°You speak in the past tense.¡±

 

¡°I would have gladly given up my life for the sake of the Clan. But if I died, then I could not have protected Sakura.¡±

 

¡°Again, you speak in the past tense, my boy.¡±

 

¡°I have served my purpose—I have done all that I can for Sakura. Now, my life is forfeit to the Clan,¡± was his solemn reply.

 

¡°So, do you believe that your existence for the Card Mistress was in order to retrieve her from her powerless coma state, meaning that you predetermined that the Card Mistress will undergo a situation in which she will lose her star power?¡± Renshu raised a white eyebrow.

 

¡°Rather, I think I sensed that there would be a day when I, and only I, could help Sakura. And thankfully, I was there when it happened.¡±

 

At this, the Great Elder piercingly stared at his successor. ¡°You have grown, my boy,¡± he said at last. ¡°Your father will be proud of you. But you are yet young and still full of life. You have yet many more paths to tread, many more storms to weather. You must not surrender so soon.¡±

 

Syaoran couldn¡¯t stop himself from answering wearily, ¡°And fight for what?¡± He bowed down his head again. ¡°I apologize for my rashness.¡±

 

Li Renshu could not help wondering why a boy so young spoke like a man his age—life was just beginning for him, yet he had the expression of one who had already finished living. Was it from being cooped up within the confines of the Clan for two months? Or was it because he really had lost the will to fight back. In all these centuries that the Li Clan dated back, Li Syaoran was the only one to voluntarily give up his title and choose to give up his family name. In some strange way, not as the Great Elder but as a grandfatherly figure, he had been somewhat proud that Syaoran had the backbone to stand up against the Clan. But that was treason. ¡°Years of blood and sweat and labor has tied me to the Clan in an unbreakable chain. The crumbling ideals which I have striven to uphold is the result of my narcissism in refusing to recognize the rotting flesh of the Clan in front of my eyes. Syaoran, I am a failed man.¡±

 

¡°No, there is no other person more venerable like you. All my life, I have striven to become even half the man you are,¡± protested Syaoran.

 

¡°Syaoran, look at me.¡± Li Renshu gazed at Syaoran with deep blue eyes that only came once in a generation in the Li Clan. ¡°I am an old, old man. I no longer have the strength to fight, the voice to argue. Stripped of all titles, I am just a man weary of the confines of custom and appearance. In my last days, I just want peace and quiet. The person you see in front of you is just a shadow of his former self. Back then, I was a fierce warrior too, as proud and conceited as you please.

 

¡°Some thirty years I have been the Great Elder of this Clan. It is a lonely position, being the head of such a factional family. Especially after Yunhua passed away, I was alone. It is wearying, it is toilsome. I became the Chosen One in my early twenties, and I served the Clan for more than twenty years till my youth and stamina gave out. I was indicted into the Council of Elders and eventually served as the Great Elder of the Clan after your grandmother passed away. For the sake of the Clan, I have done deeds blacker than the night that I bury deep in my mind to leave to haunt me when I pass into judgment day. For the sake of the Clan, I have made decisions that sacrificed many others in result. For the sake of the Clan, I told myself, but what is the Clan? The Clan is not an entity, it is a group of people of the same bloodline, it consists of individuals with a mind of their own, with dreams of their own. Even now, I love the Li Clan.

 

¡°There was a time when the Li Clan stood as guardians of Hong Kong during the British colonization era. They protected the city and people, and governed it to uphold justice and order. But now, the current Clan is fraught with factionalism and greed, a struggle to increase power for self-benefit. We¡¯ve made deals with the triads, infiltrated the government with corruption and maintain control with underhanded means. For years now, Wutai has been vying for the position of the Great Elder. But I¡¯ve been hanging on longer than he anticipated.¡± Renshu smiled wryly. ¡°The Great Elder nominates his successor from the Council of Elders, and his nomination is passed by majority vote of the General and Inner Councils. Wutai believes himself to be next in line to be the Great Elder of the Clan.¡±

 

¡°If he¡¯s next in line anyway, why is it necessary for him to through such measures as splitting up the Clan?¡± asked Syaoran.

 

¡°Well, because of some personal disputes in the past, Wutai knows that he is not my chosen contender for Great Elder and never has been. Which is why Wutai finds it necessary to get rid of me before I announce my next contender. If in the case the Great Elder passes away without nominating his successor, then the decision goes to the Council of Elders, which Li Wutai wields control over at the moment.¡±

 

¡°Is that the reason why you are here?¡± Syaoran asked in sudden realization. ¡°Uncle Wutai is trying to kill you?¡±

 

¡°I have escaped different attempts of assassination over the many years I¡¯ve served as Great Elder. I no longer have the power I once used to have, but I am safe here, as it used to be the Great Li Shulin¡¯s villa in her last days. It is well warded for protection.¡±

 

¡°What can I do for you, Great-Uncle Renshu?¡± asked Syaoran staidly, reading the Great Elder¡¯s eyes.

 

¡°You have already done enough. Syaoran, I can arrange for you to be taken away from Hong Kong. We can send you somewhere far away, Europe or America, somewhere out of reach of the Li Clan. You can continue on to high school and college abroad and carry on a normal life of a boy your age. You can put the Li Clan behind you. Maybe, some day when this storm is over, you can return to Japan and do as you please.¡± Li Renshu gazed at Syaoran with solemn eyes. He could see the boy¡¯s glazed amber eyes just for a brief second flicker with desperate desire.

 

The voice that answered the Great Elder was devoid of any emotion. ¡°No Elder, my place is with the Clan. I will not run away from it. I will face the consequences here.¡±

 

¡°Then I hope you know what you¡¯re choice signifies,¡± said Li Renshu, sitting up straighter from his bed.

 

¡°I am yours to command, and will support you with my life, as I vowed to do,¡± replied Syaoran, head bowed.

 

¡°I am glad to hear that. Your other choice, if you choose to remain, is to tied yourself to this Clan in an unbreakable bond. Li Syaoran, I will nominate you as my successor, the next Great Elder of the Li Clan,¡± declared Renshu, gazing at the young man kneeling before him with keen steel blue eyes that had seen war and celebration, birth and death, fire and storm.

 

It took a moment for the Great Elder¡¯s words to sink in. ¡°T-that is not possible!¡± Syaoran protested. ¡°First of all, I¡¯m far too young, and I¡¯m currently powerless, and¡¦¡±

 

¡°Nowhere in the Writs of the Li Clan does it mention any age quota for the Great Elder. It only advises that the candidate be chosen from the Council of Elders. And as the Chosen One, you are automatically a member of the Council of Elders. Thus, you meet all qualifications.¡±

 

¡°I¡¯m no longer the Chosen One, and I was stricken from the Book of Li,¡± stammered Syaoran.

 

¡°Li Wutai single-handedly decided to strip you of your title and disown you. But technically, only the Great Elder has the authority to do so. Since I never agreed to any of those actions, by the Writ of the Li Clan, you are still officially a Li and the Chosen One of the Li Clan until the next Chosen One candidate passes the Test to succeed you,¡± declared Renshu.

 

¡°There are many other more suitable candidates—¡±

 

¡°Who—the corrupt Elders bribed by Wutai with promises of greater wealth and prosperity of the Clan? I admit, I would not have burdened you with this task until much later on, when you are a seasoned man with years of training under my guidance to prepare you for the task. We all expected Ryuuren to become the next Great Elders, so that I could spend my days in peace with my wife and take her to see the world. But they are all gone now, and we are the ones still left,¡± Renshu replied. ¡°My health is failing fast, and there is no longer time to stall and deliberate.¡±

 

¡°How about Leiyun—¡°

 

¡°He is not a member of the Council of Elders. Procedures are procedures. Should he pass the Test of the Chosen One, I could then consider him as a candidate. But at the moment, there is only one person who has the interest of the Clan at heart who can restore Li Shulin¡¯s visions to this crumbling debacle the Clan has been reduced to. And that is you, our Chosen One, Li Syaoran.¡±

 

¡°I said I would serve you in any way I can, Great-Uncle Renshu. But in my current state¡¦¡± Syaoran¡¯s head was lowered.

 

¡°I¡¯m not going to die tomorrow—I am ill, but I still have some time left to train my successor. You do not have powers left, but you have good brains, top reflexes and a brave heart. It¡¯s not enough though. Syaoran, do you not want your powers back?¡±

 

¡°When I gave it away, I braced myself with the consequence of living the rest of my life without it,¡± replied Syaoran.

 

¡°What if I tell you, there is a slight chance that it can return to you?¡± Renshu asked. ¡°There was less than 10% chance that your power transfer to the Card Mistress would be successful. But it worked out fine. So, there is also less than a 10% chance that your powers may return to you. Probability is slim, perhaps impossible, but as long as there is 1% of chance left, there is hope.¡±

 

Do not tempt me when I have given up all hope. If there is even 1% chance that I can get my powers back¡¦ Then I can return to her. Then I don¡¯t have to hide from her¡¦ Then I can fight with her again¡¦ No, don¡¯t tempt me. Don¡¯t goad me with impossibilities. I have already chosen this road.

 

¡°The simplest way would be if the Card Mistress is killed. When the power transferee¡¯s lifeline expires prematurely, the powers by default return to the transferor,¡± said Renshu with a grim smile.

 

¡°Never!¡± exclaimed Syaoran. ¡°Something like that should never happen.¡± He shuddered.

 

¡°I said that is one possibility of your powers returning. There should be other options yet. Another method is a power transfer. Like you did for the Card Mistress, another person may be able to transfer their powers into you. However, that is highly unadvisable because chance of rejection of power and backlash on both parties is quite high. It is quite surprising you were able to successfully transfer your powers to the Card Mistress in the first place. The Amamiya and the Li energy force should not be very compatible. Well, that shows that powers change and are reshaped by the environment.¡± The Great Elder paused, giving Syaoran just enough a moment to digest these words. ¡°Of course, there is a tiny chance that the power will just return one day—¡±

¡°That¡¯s impossible. Eriol—Clow Reed¡¯s reincarnation mentioned that once you give up your powers completely, they won¡¯t return,¡± said Syaoran.

 

¡°Then, you may have to find another energy force all together,¡± replied Renshu. ¡°I am not saying that your powers will return to you overnight, and you might somehow have to learn to live without them. What I am doing is giving you an opportunity to consider your future possibilities. Give it some thought, Syaoran. You may give me your answer later.¡± 

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Japan¡¦

 

 

In an attempt to distract Sakura, Tomoyo dragged Sakura out to the shopping district on Sunday, after another grueling week of track meets, gymnastic practice and choir fill-in. Sakura was at first reluctant to go out, since she would much rather sleep in for the day, but who could turn down an over-enthusiastic Tomoyo? Of course, ¡°shopping¡± with Tomoyo consisted mainly of Sakura being forced to try on different outfits while Tomoyo filmed everything. It was after lunch that Sakura realized something.

 

¡°Tomoyo-chan, there¡¯s someone strange following us around¡± whispered Sakura to her best friend.

 

Tomoyo peeped over her shoulder to see a strange man wearing a straw hat, flannel shirt and Bermuda shorts. ¡°A stalker?¡±

 

¡°Let¡¯s run!¡± said Sakura, taking her friends hand and sprinting forward. To her dismay, the strange man started chasing after them.

 

¡°Wait! Sakura-chan!¡± the man called out.

 

Sakura turned to Tomoyo. ¡°He knows my name.¡± Halting, she turned around to face the sketchy person.

 

He panted, taking off his hat and revealing golden curls and a comically smiling face.

 

¡°Mike-san!¡± Sakura and Tomoyo exclaimed simultaneously. ¡°The wacky photographer!¡±

 

¡°Well, it¡¯s been a long time. I haven¡¯t seen you two since¡¦ Oh I remember, the Star-Crossed performance,¡± said Mike Kant.

 

¡°Were you in Japan the whole time since then?¡± asked Sakura.

 

Mike ran a hand over his mussed hair sheepishly. ¡°No—I went back to New York, then went to Munich for a photo shoot, stopped by Shanghai, and now I¡¯m back in Tokyo to photograph Akagi Arima for her new Vogue Japan photo shoot.¡±

 

¡°Wow, you¡¯ve been busy,¡± remarked Tomoyo.

 

¡°Well, that¡¯s always been my lifestyle,¡± said Mike smugly. ¡°Anyway, Sakura-chan, thank goodness I bumped into you. You¡¯re going to have to get me out of this pinch.¡±

 

¡°What¡¯s the matter?¡± Sakura asked skeptically, not liking the glint in Mike¡¯s eyes.

 

¡°Well, the model shooting with Akagi Arima has quit at the last moment, and we need someone to stand in for her. The shoot is in two hours,¡± said Mike.

 

Sakura blinked.

 

¡°And it would be great if you can do it.¡±

 

¡°Hoe—no way. Not again,¡± said Sakura, shaking her head furiously. ¡°There must be so many models in line to get in a photo shoot with Arima-nee-san.¡±

 

¡°Well, it¡¯s impossible to get someone this last minute that actually also will compliment Arima-chan,¡± countered Mike.

 

Sakura stared at her feet. Her first model shoot was in New York City, with Him. They had been tricked into it last time by Mike also. ¡°I really don¡¯t want too¡¦¡±

 

¡°Please, Sakura-chan—it won¡¯t be that bad. Arima-chan¡¯s the primary model, and you just need to pose with her a little. Come on—you like Arima-chan, don¡¯t you? She completely adores you and don¡¯t you want to help her out?¡± Mike cajoled.

 

¡°It sounds like a splendid idea!¡± stated Tomoyo, the old sparkle coming back to her eyes. ¡°And look at poor Mike-san, begging you like this.¡±

 

¡°Fine, kust this once,¡± Sakura relented.

 

Mike took Sakura¡¯s hands exuberantly. ¡°Thank you, Sakura-chan! You¡¯re an angel. By the way, I love your new hairstyle. Where did you get it cut?¡±

 

¡°Oh, Yukito-san cut it for me at home¡¦¡±

 

¡°You mean the Snow Bunny?¡± Mike grinned. ¡°How talented. Anyway, come along. We need to get you ready in less than two hours. So much to do.¡±

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Hong Kong¡¦

 

 

When Syaoran snuck back into his bedroom in the Main House, he was startled to find Leiyun sitting on his bed, holding up a wrinkled pale blue stationary.

 

¡°Welcome back, cousin. How did your talk with the Great Elder go? I trust he is doing well?¡±

 

Syaoran realized what Leiyun was holding and lunged forward. ¡°Give that back to me.¡±

 

¡°What this?¡± Holding up the letter, Leiyun read out loud, ¡°Syaoran, I will wait¡¦ How sweet—nothing to be ashamed of. It is natural for boys of your age to have girlfriends.¡±

 

Snatching away the sheet of paper, Syaoran crammed it into his pocket.

 

¡°So, did the Great Elder propose to nominate you as his successor?¡± asked Leiyun with a lazy grin.

 

¡°H-how did you know?¡± demanded Syaoran.

 

¡°There are no secrets in the Clan,¡± Leiyun replied. ¡°Why do you think Jinyu let you out, anyway?¡±

 

¡°Are you going to tell Uncle Wutai?¡±

 

¡°Why should I?¡± Leiyun gazed at Syaoran with penetrating aqua eyes. ¡°My loyalty does not lie with him.¡±

 

¡°He¡¯s the Head of the Clan. And your own father.¡±

 

¡°The father who had his own son sent away to get rid of a potential threat?¡± Leiyun smiled. ¡°If the Great Elder nominates you as his successor, I support you with all my heart, cousin.¡±

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Japan¡¦

 

 

¡°This is such a bad idea,¡± Sakura said to Tomoyo in a lowered voice as they entered the studio, following photographer Mike Kant. But her best friend was not listening, raptly videotaping everything. They were quickly ushered to the makeup room where actress Akagi Arima, older sister to their classmate Akagi Aki, was sitting with rollers in her hairs.

 

¡°Sakura-chan!¡± Arima glomped Sakura. ¡°Ooh, you cut your hair—how cute. I haven¡¯t seen you since Christmas! Or was it New Year¡¯s? You¡¯re in high school now, aren¡¯t you? I heard you¡¯re in the same class of my worthless little brother again.¡±

 

¡°Arima-chan be careful with your make-up,¡± scolded the make-up artist.

 

¡°Sorry!¡± Arima said, releasing Sakura. ¡°I¡¯m so excited that you¡¯re going to model with me.¡±

 

¡°Arima-chan threw a fit earlier on and the other model walked out on her,¡± stated the make-up artist rolling her eyes. ¡°I don¡¯t know what¡¯s wrong with you Arima-chan lately. I know that new model did have an attitude, but that doesn¡¯t mean you should have gone off on her like that. You¡¯ve been so tense lately.¡±

 

Shrugging, Arima replied, ¡°That girl was getting on my nerves.¡± She swung around to Sakura and stated, ¡°Ah, don¡¯t let my grumpiness scare you, Sakura-chan. I don¡¯t want to show such a side of me to you.¡±

 

The makeup artist seated Sakura and began dabbing primer onto her face. ¡°Right, don¡¯t mind Arima-chan—she¡¯s just peeved because her boyfriend¡¯s not been calling her lately.¡±

 

¡°Asuma-san?¡± Sakura looked up at Arima.

 

¡°He¡¯s away in Australia for the Melbourne Cup,¡± replied Arima as the hairstylist began tugging at her hair. ¡°Ouch¡±

 

Dabbing glittery powder over Sakura¡¯s lids, the makeup artist stated, ¡°Ah, you have very nice bone structure. Now, where have I seen your face before? Which agency are you with?¡±

 

¡°Hoe—I¡¯m actually not a model,¡± said Sakura.

 

Arima looked up from her magazine, patiently letting the hairstylist weave in long extensions matching her corn-color hair. ¡°Sakura-chan¡¯s Amamiya Nadeshiko¡¯s daughter.¡±

 

¡°You mean that Amamiya Nadeshiko, Nihon no Tenshi (Japan¡¯s Angel)?¡± asked the makeup artist, scrutinizing Sakura¡¯s face. ¡°Ah, the eyes are the same. What an honor to work with Amamiya Nadeshiko¡¯s daughter—she was my idol growing up.¡±

 

¡°Was okaa-san that famous?¡± asked Sakura timidly. Though her father had numerous pictures of her mother at home, she never really got the sense that her mother had been such a public figure. Only in recent years did she begin to have an inkling of her mother¡¯s model side.

 

¡°Of course—well, it was many years ago and she was active for only a couple years. But her face graced the covers of all the top fashion magazines. And she inspired a whole generation of photographers,¡± stated the makeup artist. ¡°How should I put it—she was everyone¡¯s ideal woman.¡±

 

¡°That¡¯s right.¡± Mike had returned to the makeup room to check with the makeup process. ¡°Actually, my father got his big break as a photographer when he ¡®discovered¡¯ Amamiya Nadeshiko, back when she was still in junior high. And he never got over his obsession with photographing her—after she quit modeling, he lost purpose in photography and opened up a modeling agency instead.¡±

 

¡°Don¡¯t tell me your father was the photographer Mark Kant,¡± stated the hairstylist, clipping golden brown extensions to Sakura¡¯s hair. ¡°I was such a big fan or his works.¡±

 

¡°I want lots of tendrils flowing down and let¡¯s weave in ribbons and daisies into the braids,¡± directed Mike. ¡°Yup, my father¡¯s that Mark Kant.¡±

 

¡°Didn¡¯t you state before that your father was opposed to you becoming a photographer?¡± asked Arima.

 

¡°Well, that¡¯s the parental instinct, to prevent your child from enduring the same difficulties that you¡¯ve endured. It¡¯s tough work and very difficult to make a breakthrough in this industry,¡± stated Mike. ¡°I wouldn¡¯t even have gotten this far without my father¡¯s connections.¡±

 

¡°But you¡¯re an excellent photographer, Mike-san!¡± exclaimed Sakura in earnest.

 

¡°You think so?¡± Mike grinned. ¡°Thank you. Hey, do you want to see your mother¡¯s first photo shoot?¡±

 

¡°Yes please!¡± Sakura stated. Most of the pictures that her father had were the modeling pictures that her mother had taken after marrying him.

 

Fumbling in his bag, Mike took out a vintage magazine wrapped in a plastic bag. ¡°I always carry the magazine around for inspiration.¡± He flipped the pages gently and handed it to Sakura.

 

Carefully, Sakura took the magazine and stared at the spread of fifteen year old Amamiya Nadeshiko in a simple white dress, standing in the midst of a shower of cherry blossom petals. Her long violet curls caught a gentle breeze that one could almost feel just from staring at the picture, and her eyes stared off into the distance in a dreamy jade gaze. It was only a couple seconds later that Sakura could take her eyes of her mother, her mother who was younger than she was in this picture, and follow her eyes to the out of focus figure down the path covered with cherry blossoms, a young man with dark hair. Even though his figure was blurred, she could see that his eyes were a deep azure. She gasped and quickly turned to the next page. There he was again, this time in focus. Tousled brown-black hair and eyes a deeper blue than the sky. He was leaning against a tree, staring straight into the camera, holding Nadeshiko wispy frame against him. She was so slight that it seemed as if she would evaporate in his hands. Unlike her later pictures which exuded maturity and poise, there was an air of timidity around her, like a leaf petal quivering on a branch.

 

¡°The shoot was her first, so it¡¯s probably not as refined as her later pictures. But I love the natural expression and the subtle chemistry she has with that male model,¡± remarked Mike, looking over Sakura¡¯s shoulder.

 

¡°Wait this is¡¦¡± Sakura looked up at Mike questioningly.

 

¡°He wanted his name to be anonymous. And outo-san never found him again even though he wanted to photograph him.¡± Mike squinted his eyes. ¡°But without a doubt, it¡¯s Ryuuren-san of the Shing¡¯s Angel and Warrior Collection. Now that I think of it, I never noticed before how much he rather resembles your friend, Syaoran. What¡¯s he up to these days, anyway?¡±

 

¡°He¡¯s¡¦ no longer in Japan,¡± said Sakura stiffly.

 

¡°Oh? That¡¯s too bad. I wanted to do a photo shoot with him for Comme de Garcon men¡¯s casual wear.¡± Mike sighed.

 

Sakura stared at the last photo of Nadeshiko smiling ever so gently with lowered lashes at Ryuuren, whose head lay rested on her lap. If she squinted her eyes enough, she could almost see Syaoran¡¯s face in Ryuuren¡¯s, especially with his eyes closed like that. So, her mother¡¯s modeling breakthrough was with Li Ryuuren.

 

 

 

The photo shoot theme was ¡°elven, fairy-like and ethereal,¡± quoting Mike¡¯s words, on a Grecian ruin-like set covered with artificial ivy. Following the elven theme, their attire consisted of a long, draping dress in pale green for Sakura and lavender for Arima. Their curled tendrils of hair was gathered into a loose braid woven in with fresh flowers and ribbons over one shoulder, reaching clear past their waists. Since they were show casing Tasaki jewelry, the accessories consultant fastened an elaborate aquamarine and diamond lace necklace around Arima¡¯s long, white neck with matching drop earrings. Sakura was provided a simpler gold and peridot ensemble shaped like leaves curling around her throat. For a final touch, the makeup artist dusted shimmery powder over Arima and Sakura¡¯s cheeks and bare arms.

 

As Sakura was pushed onto the blinding light of the set, she gulped hard.

 

¡°Ganbare, Sakura-chan!¡± called out Tomoyo from the sidelines.

 

Mike ran a couple test shots. ¡°Sakura-chan, relax a bit. We just need some natural-looking shots.¡±

 

Sakura nodded woodenly. It had been much easier to do the New York shoots, because she had been to busy reacting off of him, trying not to make a fool of himself in front of him. This was more difficult because she had to focus on trying to look fairylike and elegant, something she was sure she couldn¡¯t pull off like her mother did so effortlessly.

 

¡°Don¡¯t be nervous,¡± whispered Arima. ¡°When I¡¯m nervous in front of the camera, I always just think of Asuma. And then my expressions come out all right.¡±

 

¡°All right, I¡¯m starting shooting. Just change your poses and expression little by little. Sakura-chan, I want you sitting by the fountain and Arima up front, leaning against the pillar. That¡¯s right. Wonderful.¡± Mike called out, snapping away. After a while, he called out, ¡°Sakura, you still look stiff. Shake up your shoulders. Pull off your Juliet look—that would work. Think of your Romeo, look yearning, wistful. You¡¯re a fairy-princess, forbidden to love a human. There, Arima, beautiful. You move my heart, you¡¯re Aragorn¡¯s Arwen, Orpheus¡¯ Eurydice, fantastical, serene.¡± Mike¡¯s direction only distracted Sakura even more as she scrunched her face in concentration trying to make out what Mike was saying.

 

¡°Ah, the difference between a professional and an amateur is so apparent,¡± remarked the accessories consultant from Tasaki. ¡°Really, why are we using that talentless no-name girl?¡±

 

Tomoyo, standing behind the man, stuck out her tongue at him.

 

¡°Break!¡± Mike called out. ¡°Sakura-chan, come here for a second.¡±

 

Sakura walked up, almost tripping on the long train of her dress. ¡°Sorry, Mike-san. I just can¡¯t do it.¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s all right. This is your first shoot in a set like this—I know it¡¯s intimidating. I like nature shots better too—it¡¯s easier to relax when you¡¯re not surrounded by all these people. But I just need you to forget about everything. Watch Arima—she¡¯s an actress. Modeling is just an extension of acting for her.¡±

 

¡°Okaa-san probably never got stage fright on a shoot,¡± Sakura said, playing with the ends of her long braid. Mike couldn¡¯t help thinking that with the long, wavy hair and the princess-like dress, Sakura looked quite like a brunette version of her mother.

 

¡°You probably never knew that in Amamiya Nadeshiko¡¯s first photo shoot, her knees were shaking so badly that my father went through three rolls of films before the real quality material came out—and back then, they didn¡¯t even have digital cameras so that they would delete them. I saw the negatives of the first rolls—they were horrible, even it being Nadeshiko-san,¡± Mike grinned, patting Sakura¡¯s shoulders. ¡°You were fine when you were shooting with Syaoran-kun. And acting on stage as Juliet with your Romeo. Bring some of that spunk back for me?¡±

 

Sakura nodded. ¡°I¡¯ll try my best.¡± The heat of the lighting was forming a pool of sweat down her back and the hair extensions pulled at her scalp. Her first photo shoot had been in the capital of fashion, New York City. She still remembered standing on top of the Empire State Building, shivering in the cold. He had been there too, scowling at everyone. And somehow he tripped over the lighting chords and fell off the edge of the building and she had jumped after him. Why hadn¡¯t she used the Fly first? They both had been so silly on that trip, her suspecting him because of the Stalker, him being intentionally sulky. And she remembered how safe she had felt enveloped in his strong arms when he caught her in the sky.

 

¡°Good job, Sakura-chan!¡± Arima stated. They had changed out of their photo shoot outfits, and Arima was dressed in a simple khaki dress with a belt cinching her narrow waist. ¡°We should hang out some time, when I finish shooting for my new movie.¡±

 

Sakura had washed all the makeup from her face and Tomoyo helped her to take out the extensions from her hair. She bowed her head down. ¡°Sorry for causing so much trouble today, Arima-san.¡±

 

¡°No, today was fun,¡± Arima said. ¡°I work much better with people I like. And thanks to you, I think our photo shoot went well—I¡¯m looking forward to the June issue. So, is my little brother being a nag as usual even though he¡¯s a high schooler?¡±

¡°Aki-kun¡¯s doing well,¡± replied Sakura, wording it carefully.

 

Turning to Tomoyo, Arima remarked, ¡°I heard you have quite an amazing voice, Tomoyo-chan.¡±

 

¡°Ah, no—¡° Tomoyo set down her video camera.

 

¡°You know my darling brother has had the hugest crush on you since like last Christmas, Tomoyo-chan? He calls you his muse, his Madonna, his angel of music.¡± Arima chuckled. ¡°You¡¯re too good for him. Don¡¯t pay any attention to him and tell me if he gets too pesky. I¡¯ll beat him up.¡±

 

¡°Eh?¡± Tomoyo and Sakura glanced at each other.

 

¡°But he has a good heart. It¡¯s amazing that such a loser like him has gotten such a big head over the years.¡± Arima sighed. ¡°Asuma says we¡¯re the same though. Asuma is so mean sometimes. He¡¯s always jealous of my co-actors when I never say anything about all those models that hang around jockeys.¡±

 

¡°You miss him, don¡¯t you?¡± Sakura said softly.

 

¡°Yes, I do,¡± Arima stared at her cellphone. ¡°I feel like going crazy when I don¡¯t hear his voice for a day. In my interviews, I state that because we trust each other, everything is fine. But in reality, even if I trust him and love him, every day, I feel nervous and anxious. Because I can¡¯t see him, I start imaging all sorts of horrid things.¡±

 

¡°But it must be the same for Asuma,¡± said Sakura. ¡°Because you two care about each other, though it¡¯s painful while you¡¯re apart, you know you will see each other again and the time that you will spend together becomes even more precious and joyous.¡±

 

¡°Wow, you sound like the older sister,¡± remarked Arima, dabbing the corners of her eyes. ¡°I¡¯m sorry, telling you all this. It¡¯s just¡¦ I have no one to talk to, no one to trust in this industry. It¡¯s so hard, being on model behavior for the public. Sometimes, I think I wouldn¡¯t mind just giving up this whole acting gig and just settle down and become a regular housewife. Then I can stay with Asuma and travel with him. We can have beautiful children that have Asuma¡¯s eyes and my hair. And I¡¯ll never be separated from him.¡±

 

¡°You love acting though,¡± Sakura reminded her. ¡°And people love your movies.¡±


¡±That¡¯s right. It¡¯s always been my dream to act,¡± said Arima. ¡°I gave up riding to act. I loved riding so much, and I loved riding even more because I could race beside Asuma. But I haven¡¯t been on a horse since last summer. Why is it necessary in life to sacrifice something in order to gain something else?¡±

 

¡°I don¡¯t know,¡± replied Sakura.

 

Their conversation was interrupted by a shriek from outside.

 

¡°What¡¯s the matter?¡± called out the makeup artist.

 

¡°The jewelry is missing!¡± exclaimed the Tasaki representative.

 

¡°What?¡± Mike Kant walked over to the opened jewelry case. ¡°I thought you put them right back after the photo shoot.¡±

 

¡°I did!¡± retorted the jewelry consultant. ¡°And the case was locked too.¡±

 

Examining the case, Mike remarked, ¡°It¡¯s strange. The thief left the most valuable jewelry—the diamonds and pearls are still here. It¡¯s only the gold and silver jewelry that seems to be missing. The gold chainmail choker¡¯s gone, as is the silver engraved armlet and rings.¡±

 

¡°The thief must have been someone on the set,¡± declared the Tasaki representative.

 

¡°Well, before making us all criminals, are you sure you haven¡¯t misplaced them?¡± questioned Mike.

 

¡°Of course I have. I guard these jewelry with my life—Tasaki-san would be furious if he find out they¡¯re missing. Who¡¯s going to be liable for them?¡± stated the representative.

 

A crowd had gathered by now. ¡°Wow, the last time this sort of mass jewelry theft occurred when Kaitou Magician was on the loose,¡± remarked the makeup artist.

 

¡°Do you think Kaitou Magician did this?¡± asked Arima. ¡°I haven¡¯t heard about him recently. It sounds like something he would do.¡±

 

¡°Oh, Arima-chan is a Kaitou Magician fan too?¡± Mike grinned.

 

¡°Who isn¡¯t?¡± Arima asked, shrugging. ¡°I told the producers that if there¡¯s a role for Kaitou Magician¡¯s girlfriend or maybe a fellow female accomplice thief in the Kaitou Magician movie in production, I would gladly play that part.¡±

 

Mike chuckled. ¡°I think I¡¯d like to get a good shot of this Kaitou Magician with my camera. I wonder what ever happened to the brilliant painting Shing made of ¡°The Thief of the Night?¡±

 

¡°Oh, it never was found after it got stolen from the museum. It¡¯s a pity—I never got to see it. Asuma promised to take me to see the exhibition some time, but we both got so busy.¡± Arima smirked. ¡°By the way, Mike-san, I heard you had a new girlfriend.¡±

 

¡°Ah, well, you see¡¦¡± Mike stammered, turning red.

 

The studio door opened and a girl wearing an oversized burgundy sweaterdress over leggings entered. ¡°Mike-san! Look, I brought you sushi bento!¡±

 

Sakura and Tomoyo turned around at the familiar voice. ¡°Erika-chan?¡±

 

¡°Eh, what are you two doing here?¡± demanded Erika.

 

¡°What are you doing here?¡± asked Sakura.

 

¡°I¡¯m here to see Mike-san of course,¡± replied Erika, throwing her arms around Mike. ¡°Are you finished with work today?¡±

 

¡°Y-yes,¡± replied Mike, perspiring heavily under the heavy stares of the crewman.

 

Arima crossed her arms and muttered, ¡°Cradle-robber.¡±

 

¡°How did you end up dating Erika-chan?¡± asked Sakura in disbelief.

 

Mike ran a hand over his mussed blonde curls. ¡°I wonder myself.¡±

 

¡°We first all met in New York,¡± Sakura recollected. ¡°How long have you two been dating?¡±

 

Mike shrugged. ¡°How should I put it¡¦I wouldn¡¯t exactly call it dating.¡±

 

¡°Anyhow, if we¡¯re done with all the personal talk, can someone tell me what you are going to do about the missing jewelry?¡± demanded the jewelry representative. ¡°Who¡¯s going to take responsibility? You, photographer. Are you going to take responsibility?¡±

 

Scowling, Arima stated, ¡°Why should Mike-san take responsibility for carelessness on your part.¡±

 

¡°Fine then, Miss high and mighty actress, are you going to take responsibility then?¡± returned the jewelry representative.

 

¡°I will then,¡± Arima declared and took out from her wallet a metallic credit card and shoved it into the man¡¯s hand. ¡°You can charge the cost on my card. I¡¯ll take responsibility. And if the jewelry reappears, I will own them.¡±

 

¡°Humph, do you even have an idea how much these jewelry costs?¡± Then, the representative saw the card in his hand and stammered, ¡°A p-platinum Visa card? You¡¯re just a mere actress. Even presidents and millionaires use just gold credit cards.¡±

 

Smiling sweetly, the makeup artist said, ¡°Don¡¯t you know Arima-chan is heiress to the Tamemura & Akagi, Inc. fortune? She¡¯s not just another actress. Not to mention she¡¯s made billions from her box-office films and advertising campaigns.¡±

 

¡°It doesn¡¯t make sense that any of has to take responsibility for this theft.¡± Arms crossed in, Sakura stated, ¡°Don¡¯t worry—we¡¯ll find the jewelry thief!¡±

 

¡°That¡¯s sweet, Sakura-chan,¡± Arima said. ¡°But it seems that the jewelry has vanished into thin air.¡±

 

¡°If we¡¯re done with all the boring talk, can we leave now, Mike-san?¡± demanded Erika, dragging Mike by the arm.

 

¡°I¡¯m sorry to leave you in the middle of all this,¡± said Mike.

 

¡°Go ahead on your date,¡± Sakura replied sweetly.

 

¡°Sakura-chan, don¡¯t misunderstand. I—¡°

 

¡°Hurry up, Mike-san!¡± Erika smiled at Sakura and Tomoyo before disappearing out with Mike.

 

¡°Gosh, I¡¯m disappointed in Mike-san¡¯s taste in women,¡± remarked Arima. ¡°Isn¡¯t that girl a high schooler? Though she does look old for her age.¡±

 

Tomoyo stated, ¡°Well, it doesn¡¯t seem like Mike-san had much choice in the matter.¡±

 

¡°Well, let¡¯s go and try to figure out what happened with the jewelry,¡± said Sakura, lips set in a determined line.

 

¡°I¡¯ll help too!¡± stated Arima.

 

Shaking her head, Sakura said, ¡°You¡¯re too recognizable, Arima-san. Leave it to us.¡±

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Hong Kong¡¦

 

 

Mizuki Kai flicked through the television channels, bored out of mind in the hospital room. Since Meilin¡¯s school had started again, she had not been able to visit as frequently. And when she did, she continued to badger him about completing his ¡°homework.¡± Kai glared at the textbooks stacked up on his nightstand. If he wasn¡¯t afraid that the stitches on the long scar on his chest from the incision for the surgery would pop open, he would have been half tempted to jump out the window this moment. He switched off the TV.  

 

Even a month of recovery had not dulled his keen awareness of his surroundings however. At the slight sound by the doorway, he sat up straight on his bed and demanded, ¡°Who¡¯s there?¡± If he thought it would have helped the situation, he would have flung out the knives he kept hidden under his pillows and by his nightstand. He thought all this was going to smoothly—he hadn¡¯t really expected the Li¡¯s to honor their promise to make sure he healed properly in exchange for the Li Clan sword. It could be assassins—but why the bother now? They could have just slit his throat during the surgery. Or slipped in some poison into his medication.

 

¡°Kai, it¡¯s me,¡± hissed the voice in the dark.

 

¡°I know.¡± Kai narrowed his blue-gray eyes. ¡°And what do you want from me?¡±

 

Shutting the door carefully behind him, Syaoran entered the room, looking around surreptitiously. ¡°They gave you a good room.¡±

 

¡°Oh ho¡¦ And now, am I supposed to feel honored that the high and mighty Li Syaoran-sama has graced his presence upon me? What are you doing here, Li Syaoran? I doubt you came here to do a courtesy call on how I¡¯ve been doing post-surgery.¡±

 

¡°Looks like you¡¯re tongue at least is as well as ever,¡± returned Syaoran.

 

¡°So, do you care to explain to me why you¡¯re sneaking around patients¡¯ rooms in the middle of the night like some organ-stealer?¡± Kai grinned. ¡°Or did you decide to change occupation and join my profession after all?¡±

 

¡°I come to the hospital at odd hours when people aren¡¯t about for rehab for my arm,¡± replied Syaoran. ¡°And I heard that some strange Japanese reformed delinquent was staying on this floor, so I decided to drop by.¡±

 

¡°I¡¯m assuming you¡¯re free to move about as you please then?¡± Kai raised an eyebrow. He had not been expected this at all. At least, at least Syaoran should have been chained into some dungeon in the Li main house. That would have been the only excuse not to see Sakura when she had come to visit.

 

¡°Free as long as I am on Li property,¡± replied Syaoran in a sardonic tone.

 

¡°What¡¯s wrong with your arm, anyway?¡±

 

¡°I don¡¯t know,¡± replied Syaoran. ¡°A bunch of things, I guess.¡±

 

¡°Serves you right. Traitor,¡± muttered Kai.

 

Syaoran blinked at Kai. ¡°Are you calling me a traitor, the spineless coward who ditched his little sister?¡±

 

¡°Oh, resorted to name calling, have we?¡± Kai grinned. ¡°Well, considering that¡¯s all you have left now. No magic. No title. No use of arm. No Sakura—you¡¯re really nothing now, Li Syaoran.¡±

 

But Syaoran did not even flinch even as Kai flung his most callous words at him. Instead, he remarked woodenly, ¡°I got the letter from Sakura.¡±

 

¡°Too bad—we would never have bothered with the hassle to get it to you if we knew what a jerk you would be when she came to visit you. You knew we came to visit you that day, in the Main House. You had to. Sakura stood up to your Uncle—she begged him to her see you. And he sent her away, coldly. Did you know that?¡±

 

¡°She—stood up to Uncle Wutai?¡± Syaoran repeated incredulously.

 

¡°She got down on her knees for your sake,¡± Kai stated. ¡°And what did you do for her? You didn¡¯t even see her.¡±

 

¡°I did see her,¡± said Syaoran quietly.

 

¡°When?¡± Kai said, sitting up from bed.

 

¡°The next day.¡± Syaoran shut his eyes, the last image he had of Sakura, in her pale pink coat and her long golden-brown hair coming loose from her hair-tie, clearly imprinted on the back of his lids.

 

¡°What happened? It was clear to Kai that whatever had passed between the two hadn¡¯t gone well. He had never seen this kind of expression on Syaoran¡¯s face. Now that he had gotten over his initial irritation towards his friend, he couldn¡¯t help pity Syaoran. Syaoran had paid a toll for the past two months in Hong Kong—he looked more burdened than Atlas carrying the world on his back. The expression on Syaoran¡¯s face was not of pain or sadness. No, there was some sort of pathetic, quiet desperation that he was trying to mask behind his cool demeanor. But Kai could see it, because he realized it was the face that he must have been wearing just a couple months ago. When Syaoran didn¡¯t reply for the longest time, Kai said, a little kinder, ¡°I hope she gave you a good beating for leaving Japan all of a sudden like that.¡±

 

Shaking his head slowly, Syaoran replied, ¡°I hurt her¡¦ I hurt her so badly this time, I would never even be able to ask her for forgiveness. But it¡¯s for the better.¡±

 

¡°And are you the one who always tell me that I¡¯m the idiot?¡± Kai sighed. ¡°I won¡¯t ask for details. But nonetheless, you should know you¡¯re an idiot. After giving up all your powers to save her. You never told her, did you?¡±

 

¡°She should never know,¡± said Syaoran in a threatening tone.

 

¡°Well, I¡¯m not there, so I won¡¯t be the one telling her,¡± replied Kai flippantly. ¡°Beats me how everything turned out this way, but it¡¯s not my position to question the events planned by the Fates. So, are you going to tell me why you risk your neck sneaking around to speak to me in the dead of the night?¡± He drew his blanket closer to him. ¡°You¡¯re not here to do anything funny, are you? I don¡¯t have an interest in men, you know.¡±

 

Scowling, Syaoran said, ¡°I don¡¯t have much time before they start looking for me. Just tell me, where is the sapphire ring?¡±

 

¡°The Five Force treasure?¡± Kai peered at Syaoran¡¯s face shadowed by the moonlight. ¡°In a safe place.¡± He didn¡¯t mistake a sigh of relief.

 

¡°Didn¡¯t the Clan ask for it?¡± asked Syaoran in a hushed tone.

 

¡°Perhaps. But I¡¯m not stupid enough to hand over both treasures. The exchange was the treatment and discretion on their part for my stay in the hospital for the Five Force Sword. I kept the ring in a hiding place that only I know of, so that if anything should happen to me, the Clan would have no means of ever regaining the ring.¡±

 

Syaoran couldn¡¯t help admiring Kai¡¯s foresight. Indeed, if Kai had handed over both treasures, he wouldn¡¯t be able to sleep so peacefully during nighttime on Li turf. ¡°What about afterwards. Will you be returning the ring to the Clan?¡±

 

Kai scoffed. ¡°If I remember correctly remember, the ring doesn¡¯t belong to the Li Clan, at least not anymore.¡±

 

¡°Then who does it belong to?¡±

 

¡°The person I stole it from,¡± replied Kai, matter of fact.

 

The two heard footsteps outside, and Syaoran frowned. ¡°They¡¯ve come to look for me. I probably won¡¯t see you again—it¡¯ll be dangerous for you if they caught me talking to you. Try to recover and leave Hong Kong as quickly as you can.¡±

 

¡°I rather like it here,¡± said Kai. ¡°And Meilin¡¯s nice to me because I¡¯m all bandaged up.¡±

 

¡°Keep an eye on Meilin for me, will you... I can¡¯t protect anyone anymore, in my current state,¡± said Syaoran soberly. ¡°Best wishes for you, Kai—get well soon, because Miho¡¯s waiting for you.¡± He disappeared from the room as if he had never entered in the first place.

 

Kai lay back down in bed. Somehow, the boy that he had loved to tease and irritate as his next-door neighbor seemed to have crossed over to another place, a place that none of his old friends could follow him to. What surprised Kai most was how complacent Syaoran was about his current situation. He was being held captive, wasn¡¯t he? Or was he there by choice? Kai couldn¡¯t tell.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Japan¡¦

 

 

By the time Tomoyo and Sakura escaped from all the squabbling in the studio and walked out of the building, they found it was almost evening. So much for a relaxing Sunday.

 

¡°Well, I guess we should first scout the area for any suspicious people,¡± stated Tomoyo.

 

¡°Maybe we should split up,¡± said Sakura, realizing what an impossible task it would be to find the possible jewelry thief. But she couldn¡¯t stand thinking that Arima had to take the blame.

 

¡°All right,¡± said Tomoyo, glad to be of some use for once. ¡°Call my cellphone if you find any lead.¡±

 

Sakura nodded, and they took separate directions. Sakura glanced around the building first. The studio had been windowless, and the jewelry had only left the safe when Sakura and Arima had worn it for the shoot. Right after the shoot had finished, the jewelry had been returned to the steel safe and locked away by the Tasaki representative. In other words, it would have been physically impossible for even a thief like Kaitou Magician to have stolen it within the past hour. The only other option was¡¦ It couldn¡¯t possibly be a dark force, could it? But what kind of dark force stole jewelry?

 

She was so intent in thought that she ran straight into a pole. ¡°Ouch!¡± She rubbed her forehead and glared at the metal pole. She muttered, ¡°Stupid pole.¡±

 

From behind her, she heard a smothered chuckle.

 

¡°Talking to inanimate objects again?¡± asked a smirking Eron. Eron was in casual wear, a white t-shirt over khaki pants and looked quite bemused.

 

¡°What are you doing here?¡± demanded Sakura. ¡°Have you been following me?¡±

 

¡°Well, I was as first shadowing Erika, but you rushed out of the building that she entered, and you seemed so deep in thought that I didn¡¯t quite get an opportunity to make my presence aware,¡± Eron replied.

 

¡°The older guy that your sister is dating that you don¡¯t approve of, is it Mike Kant?¡± asked Sakura.

 

¡°Oh, you found out.¡± Eron snorted. ¡°A good for nothing American photographer.¡±

 

¡°Why is she dating him?¡± asked Sakura.

 

¡°So you were thinking you¡¯ve never seen a more mismatched couple also?¡± Eron smirked. ¡°Well, he¡¯s rich, good looking and talented. Simple qualities that Erika looks for in the guys she choose.¡±

 

¡°Then she doesn¡¯t love him?¡± asked Sakura.

 

Eron stared at Sakura curiously. ¡°Most people don¡¯t date or marry for love you know.¡±

 

¡°My father and mother—¡±

 

¡°Perhaps they are the exception,¡± cut off Eron. ¡°But I wonder if Nadeshiko-san ever grew to love Kinomoto Fujitaka as much as she loved Li Ryuuren.¡±

 

She began indignantly, ¡°Of course—¡± Then she stopped. Could the heart once broken ever fully love again? A little less¡¦ each time it was a little harder for the heart to heal, a little less easy for the heart to give and trust. Some day, it might never heal or love again. Should I not ask myself, can I not love again? Right now, not right now. But someday in the future, perhaps? But why ask meaningless questions when there is a dark force loose? This is what is most important in my life now.

 

¡°Earth to it, Sakura,¡± said Eron, sighing. He hated that anguished look that washed over Sakura¡¯s face whenever she thought of Him. But Eron could not help reminding her, throwing salt over her wounds. He despised the fact that she still could not forget but did his very best to remind her of her hurt, so that she would not forget who had hurt her. It was a strange paradox. ¡°I figure you¡¯re in the middle of dark force hunting.¡±

 

¡°So, it is a dark force.¡± Sakura gazed around her, feeling for the energy. ¡°It doesn¡¯t feel like other dark forces. What sort of dark forces steal jewelry?¡±

 

Eron looked down the lane of iron lanterns lighting the evening street. One by one the, light disappeared, leaving the street dark. There was a murmur amongst the people on the street.

 

¡°What¡¯s happening?¡± Sakura hurried down the path as she could see the most distant lanterns vanishing.

 

¡°Look.¡± Slowly, Eron extended a hand and lit a glowing orb of light. The street was dimply lit again.

 

¡°The lanterns—they¡¯ve disappeared.¡± Sakura frowned. ¡°Why lanterns and jewelry?¡±

 

¡°What are they all made of?¡± asked Eron.

 

¡°What are they made of?¡± Sakura repeated. ¡°The lanterns are made out of iron¡¦ The jewelry was gold and silver¡¦¡±

 

¡°I¡¯ll give you a hint,¡± Eron said. ¡°This one might a little tricky to seal as is with all the elements.¡±

 

¡°I have already long since sealed all the elemental cards,¡± declared Sakura.

 

¡°What are the four classical elemental cards?¡± Eron prodded.

 

¡°Windy, Watery, Firey and Earthy.¡±

 

¡°Correct. Do you know what the five Chinese elements, Wu Xing, are though?¡± Eron questioned.

 

¡°Wait, I know!¡± Sakura said. Her brows creased, deep in thought. Someone had taught this to her before. ¡°It¡¯s earth, water, fire¡¦not wind but wood¡¦ and¡¦ metal. Metal! No way¡¦¡±

 

Eron nodded. ¡°That¡¯s right. The one element card you do not posses. The Metal.¡±

 

¡°I always thought I¡¯ve captured all the elementals. I never really realized that the Clow Cards never included the Metal Card. Now, how can I capture the Metal.¡± Sakura folded her arms, brows wrinkled in thought.

 

¡°First, think what will draw it out,¡± said Eron.

 

¡°Well, the Sweet is drawn to sweet things. The Voice is drawn to the prettiest voice. So the Metal can be lured out by metal. But there¡¯s so much metal everywhere,¡± murmured Sakura. ¡°How can I get the Metal to come to me, so that I can seal it before it causes more damage?¡±

 

Eron reached for his neck and drew out the golden Gemini charm that he wore around his neck. There was a metallic sliver flashing out from the pitch dark and it engulfed the golden necklace.

 

¡°I saw it!¡± exclaimed Sakura. But before she could even release her staff, it had already disappeared. ¡°Eron-kun, it took your necklace!¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s all right,¡± Eron said wearily. ¡°I was just testing it out—I¡¯ve never directly dealt with the Metal before myself. It¡¯s clear that it¡¯s drawn to metallic objects and even more, it¡¯s drawn to precious metals more than the common metals like steel or iron.¡±

 

¡°I see—that¡¯s why it shot out when it sensed the gold. Now, what metal is even more precious than silver and gold?¡± Sakura asked herself. Out of habit, she reached for her neck, where she usually wore her diamond pendant. It helped her to think calmly when she held it in her hands. Ah, but it was no longer around her neck. It had cracked in half when she sealed the Plague.

 

¡°You have an idea?¡± Eron asked with a raised eyebrow.

 

¡°Come—I know how to lure it,¡± said Sakura. She turned to Eron. ¡°And I¡¯ll get back your necklace—I know how important it is to you.¡±

 

At this, Eron remained silent. Sakura had already forgotten about him, however, as she drew out her cellphone and dialed home. ¡°Pick up, Kero-chan.¡±

 

 

 

Sakura and Eron were shortly after joined by Tomoyo with Kero-chan in her arms. Tomoyo glanced at Eron questioningly. ¡°Hello Eron-kun—I didn¡¯t expect to find you here. Sakura-chan, I got in touch with Kero-chan. Is it a dark force after all?¡±

 

¡°What do you need this for?¡± asked Kero-chan, flying towards Sakura and dropping a round object wrapped in cloth. ¡°I sense a very strong dark force—it¡¯s¡¦¡±

 

Sakura nodded. ¡°I know, Eron-kun told me. It¡¯s the Metal.

 

¡°Humph, I was going tell you that myself,¡± declared Kero-chan, glaring at Eron. ¡°What are you doing here, Dark One?¡±

 

Eron countered Kero-chan¡¯s attack by simply remaining silent. Kero-chan blinked at his mistress, knowing that she was already lost in deep thought. He certainly had not expected to encounter the Metal, the last of the Elements.

 

¡°Anyhow, I think I can lure it into a trap,¡± declared Sakura.

 

¡°Can you change into a battle costume for me?¡± asked Tomoyo with sparkling amethyst eyes.

 

¡°Hoe-e¡¦ Sure, Tomoyo-chan.¡±

 

 

 

A little while later, Sakura was dressed in an Arabian-inspired costume of a deep bittersweet orange color with golden embroideries at the hems of her belly-baring top and air-light layers of sheer fabric for the sleeves. Her neck and wrists were covered with golden bangles that jingled when she moved. Kero-chan had a little sultan¡¯s turban on his head and a golden armlet.

 

Eron smiled a little when he saw Sakura awkwardly step out of the van. She looked like an exotic princess out of the Arabian Nights. ¡°Do you seriously go through this every time you capture a dark force?¡±

 

¡°Sakura does it for me, because it makes me happy to see her wear my designs,¡± stated Tomoyo, filming Sakura up close.

 

¡°You put a lot of thought into choosing the outfits too,¡± remarked Eron to the intriguing girl who always insisted on videotaping and dressing up Sakura no matter how dire the situation. ¡°Since we¡¯re trying to lure the Metal out, you¡¯ve chosen an outfit for her that has a lot of metal. Don¡¯t tell me that¡¯s real gold though—¡±

 

¡°Maybe.¡± Tomoyo smiled, zooming away the camcorder for a pan-up shot of the pretty golden snake anklets clanging on Sakura¡¯s slender ankles.

 

Oblivious, Sakura had already begun her scheme. She pranced forward and flung out one of her bangles into the air, almost as if she was weaving an intricate dance, Eron noted. There was a sliver of silver light that flashed out in the dark. Quickly, she drew out her key. ¡°Key that hides the power of the moon. Show your true self to me. I, Sakura, command you under contract. Release!¡± With ease, she twirled the staff of the moon and star intertwined and then leaped up onto a tree branch with the Jump. She took off another one of her golden bangles and another and flung them up in the air. Now, she could definitely see the Metal streaking back and forth to gobble up the bracelets. Finally, she slipped her fingers into her pocket and drew out the round object wrapped in a handkerchief that she had asked Kero-chan to bring.

 

Kero-chan frowned, watching Sakura finger the splintered crystal of Amamiya Hayashi¡¯s Five Force Treasure. She had locked it away in the jewelry box last month when she returned from Hong Kong and hadn¡¯t taken it out since then. What could she possibly do with the broken jewel now? No, she was not using the cracked diamond. The unadorned oval stone had been rather heavy, but somehow, the thin chain that it had hung from bore it well. At first, Sakura had thought the chain was silver, based on its whitish metallic color, but later, she learned it was actually a precious metal called platinum. It looked like white-gold but was rarer and stronger than gold and shinier than silver. Carefully, she had pulled out the silvery chain that the crystal had hung from before and wrapped the jewel back into the handkerchief.

 

¡°What is Sakura-chan doing?¡± asked Tomoyo.

 

Staring up at the darkness in confidence, Sakura dangled the platinum chain midair, letting it sway back and forth like a writhing thread-like snake. ¡°That¡¯s right, more precious than gold and silver, the most precious of metals. Platinum.¡±

 

The Metal was a liquid, gleaming creature. It eyed the platinum chain that Sakura held up with eager shiny eyes. Plan successful—the trap was set.

 

¡°Sakura-chan¡¯s amazing,¡± sighed Tomoyo, marveling at how the sheer veil covering Sakura¡¯s hair fluttered so prettily whenever she moved.

 

¡°I lured it out. Now what?¡± said Sakura murmured to herself. She dodged the Metal which lurched forward with open mouth to gobble up the gleaming platinum.

 

¡°The Metal is one of the five elements. The beauty of the elements is that each balances out the other. If you follow the rules of the universe, you will be able to seal the Metal,¡± called out Eron

 

With arms crossed, Kero-chan declared, ¡°I was going to say that!¡±

 

¡°I know this,¡± Sakura said, closing her eyes. ¡°Wu xing¡¦ Wood parts earth, earth absorbs water, water quenches fire, fire melts metal and metal chops wood. I can capture the Metal with the Firey.¡±  

 

¡°Your knowledge of the elements is impressive, Card Mistress¡± remarked Eron.  

 

¡°Of course; Syaoran taught me about them long ago,¡± she said automatically. Then she stopped track. To continue as if she hadn¡¯t said what she just did, she corrected, ¡°Kero-chan did too. Kero-chan taught me all about the Chinese elements.

 

Slowly, Kero-chan shook his head. He knew how difficult it was to get Sakura to study about I Ching and Wu Xing. She would simply dose off if Kero-chan tried to teach Sakura anything about ancient magic of the East or the West for that matter. But somewhere along the day, she became thirsty for knowledge, eager to learn all that she could. It was ever since the Brat belittled her about her lack of knowledge about the history of Clow. Ever since then, Sakura had striven to catch up with Him.

 

Without wasting a moment, Sakura proceeded. ¡°I know you want it,¡± said Sakura, waving the shimmering chain in front of her. ¡°Come and get it.¡± She leaped down from the branch onto the ground.

 

In response, the Metal¡¯s arm morphed into a long slinky chain and slinked up towards Sakura¡¯s feet. Sakura gracefully leaped back with the aid of the Jump. ¡°Come on.¡±

 

Immediately, the Metal shot up into its solid form again, reaching out with greedy hands for the gleaming platinum.

 

¡°Oh no you don¡¯t!¡± Sakura exclaimed, flipping out two cards. ¡°Earthy, Stone—entrap that of thine soil.¡± The land around the Metal hollowed out and trapped the Metal into a stone-lined bowl.

 

Hissing at Sakura, the Metal spun around and shot out an extended rod at Sakura. But Sakura raised her staff and cried out, ¡°Firey! Melt the product of the earth to its origins!¡±

 

And the Firey, hot-tempered and brazen as always, flashed out towards the stone pot entrapping the Metal and set it ablaze. At first the Metal struggled to retain shape but it could not withstand the full heat of the Firey for long. It turned red, than white from the heat and finally gave under and melted into a pool of liquid metal in the Stone basin.

 

¡°That¡¯s it, Sakura-chan~¡± cried Kero-chan gleefully.

 

She was sweating with the roaring heat of the fire, blazing so hotly that its flames were blue. ¡°Spirit of the dark forces. I, Sakura command you. Return to a new shape under contract. Sakura Card!¡± With trembling arms, Sakura held out her Star-Moon Staff as a new card materialized.

 

¡°That was easy,¡± Kero-chan gloated, arms crossed. ¡°Humph, as if a mere Elemental force like the Metal can outsmart our Card Mistress Sakura.¡±

 

¡°Says the stuffed animal that did nothing,¡± muttered Eron under his breath. It astounded him that Sakura had been able to put up with such a distracting entourage all this while.

 

Holding up her new card, Sakura commanded, ¡°Metal, return all that you have taken to where it belongs!¡±

 

To his surprise, Eron found his golden charm necklace shaped like an ¡°I¡± plop on top of his head. He picked it up at fastened it around his neck again. Glancing down the street, they could see the lantern posts had also returned.

 

¡°Look, it¡¯s all back to normal!¡± Tomoyo exclaimed enthusiastically as she saw the lanterns, the mail box, the trash cans and the fire hydrant all in its respective places. ¡°Oh, we should check with Arima-san if the Tasaki jewelry has returned.¡±

 

¡°Yes!¡± Sakura sighed in relief. She had sealed the last of the elements.

 

Eron stared at Sakura, who held the new card in her hand triumphantly, and commented, ¡°You¡¯re awfully good at this card capturing business.¡±

 

¡°Of course. I¡¯m a pro now, with all the training the Dark Ones put me under,¡± replied Sakura, flushed from the thrill that she had long since forgotten, the adrenalin she rush after a successful battle.

 

At this, Eron¡¯s eyes crinkled. Sakura was joking again. ¡°Well, I¡¯m glad I was of some use to you. I must say, it¡¯s very different watching things from this end.¡±

 

¡°Which end?¡±

 

¡°By your side,¡± replied Eron shortly.

 

¡°Hurry, Sakura-chan, aren¡¯t you coming?¡± called out Kero-chan from Tomoyo¡¯s pocket.

 

¡°C-coming!¡± called out Sakura, taking once last glance at Eron before turning around and running towards Tomoyo.

 

Frowning, Eron turned around to catch a glimpse of a blonde head disappear into the shadows before following the two girls. Her again.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

By the time Tomoyo, Sakura and Eron returned to the studio, they found that a crowd of people were still gathered around squabbling as loudly as before. Arima waved when she saw Sakura and exclaimed, ¡°Look, we found the missing jewelry!¡±

 

¡°It was in the jewelry box all along!¡± declared the makeup artist indignantly. ¡°You drew up a big fuss when it was just hidden underneath the cloth. You should have paid more attention before you went around accusing all of us.¡±

 

¡°I-I swear it wasn¡¯t there when I checked,¡± stammered the Tasaki jewelry representative.

 

¡°Nonsense,¡± declared Mike, who had returned upon the phone call that the jewelry had been found.

 

¡°Well, thank goodness it has been found,¡± stated the jewelry representative, wiping the sweat off his wrinkled brows. ¡°I can take it back to Tasaki-san now and not be scolded.¡±

 

¡°Wait, what are you doing?¡± asked Mike. ¡°The jewelry belongs to Arima-san now. She paid for it.¡±

 

¡°B-but—¡± The man¡¯s beady eyes widened.

 

¡°How pretty,¡± remarked Arima holding up a silver-wrought bracelet. ¡°I might keep one and auction the rest off for charity.¡±

 

¡°You c-can¡¯t!¡± declared the jewelry representative.

 

¡°Why not? I bought them from you,¡± replied Arima.

 

¡°They¡¯re one of a kind pieces from the master jeweler Tasaki-san,¡± protested the representative.

 

Erika, who had been using the restroom, came out and exclaimed, ¡°What a pretty bracelet! I want one, Mike-san.¡±

 

Mike sighed.

 

¡°Poor Mike-san,¡± murmured Sakura. What had he done to deserve the fox-like girl on himself.

 

¡°Humph, this is Erika being sweet—wait till she loses her temper,¡± remarked Eron with a sinister smile.

 

Erika narrowed her eyes and swirled around to notice her twin brother for the first time. ¡°What are you doing here, Eron? Are you following me around again? Or were you simply on a date with Sakura-chan?¡±

 

¡°Oh¡¦ So the twin is Sakura-chan¡¯s new boyfriend?¡± Mike remarked, peering at Eron closely. ¡°Ah, looks so similar to Erika-chan.¡±

 

¡°W-we w-weren¡¯t on a date!¡± protested Sakura, furiously waving her hands in front of her.

 

Eron gave a poisonous glare at Mike.

 

¡°Ah, brother-complex,¡± Tomoyo chuckled to herself. It never failed to amuse her how protective siblings could be of each other. Oftentimes, she wished she was not an only child. But she had Sakura, who was like the sister she never had.

 

¡°You, know, I noticed something strange about Sakura,¡± remarked Eron to Tomoyo, watching Sakura chattering with Arima. Arima was petting Sakura¡¯s head and Sakura looked a lot happier than she had in weeks. ¡°Why does she release the staff with the power of the moon now?¡±

 

Frowning, Tomoyo turned around. ¡°You mean you don¡¯t know why?¡±

 

Shaking his head, Eron replied, ¡°It irritates me. She feels like the Little Wolf.¡±

 

¡°You¡¯re the one who caused this upon her,¡± said Tomoyo. ¡°She used up all her powers trying to seal the Plague and heal everyone. You too. And she almost died. Syaoran saved her by giving up his powers to her.¡±

 

¡°What?¡± Eron spun around to face Tomoyo who gazed at him with serious violet eyes.

 

¡°You really didn¡¯t know? Well, don¡¯t let her find out.¡±

 

Eron demanded, ¡°You mean she doesn¡¯t know about this power transfer?¡±

 

¡°No, she doesn¡¯t,¡± Tomoyo said in a cool voice. ¡°And it would devastate her if she found out about it. Knowing her personality, she would blame herself and become very sad. Another point I want to make clear with you, Eron-kun, is that I don¡¯t know what your ulterior motives are. But Sakura is hurting very much right now. And if you do anything to hurt her anymore, I will never forgive you.¡±

 

Eron smiled crookedly. ¡°Frightening words coming out of such a sweet person. Why should I hurt someone that I want to protect?¡±

 

At this, Tomoyo looked down at the floor. ¡°Sometimes, you have to hurt someone in order to protect that person.¡±

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Hong Kong¡¦

 

 

 

Li Leiyun clapped as he watched Syaoran complete a complex sword drill with a blunt practice jian. In fact, quite a little crowd had gathered to watch Syaoran¡¯s training sessions. Of course, Syaoran now had to use his left arm to lift his sword. But he had not lost his speed, precision and grace. He had been training every day for a month now, and his body had returned to the rigorous routine. At first, everyone was cautious to avoid the ex-Chosen One. It was the children who opened up first—all their lives, they had grown up looking upon the youngest Chosen One as their hero. And Syaoran was no longer the inapproachable, stoic person he used to be. Since he had not much to do locked up in the Main Estate all day long, after he finished his training, when the little ones lingered on, he corrected their stances and supervised their staff training. Just like the Great Elder and Wei had for him when he was young. Then, the younger Li¡¯s, Syaoran¡¯s generation started to watch him. Most of the boys in the age group had grown up resentful but in awe of Syaoran¡¯s powers. When he had been disgraced, they had secretly gloated. But watching Syaoran training, even with an injured arm, they realized that if naught else, Syaoran was a determined and expert fighter—most of them never even had real combat outside of training grounds before. But Syaoran had been fighting real battles since age ten. He had fought for his life, fought to protect, fought for pride. He had even beaten Clow Reed¡¯s reincarnation in combat. The mothers loved him as a son, and now, the various female Clan members who had been fond of little Syaoran, no longer found a sulky boy but a handsome, brooding young man they could swoon over.

 

¡°You can clearly see,¡± Leiyun told Jinyu, ¡°Whatever decision the Elders make, Syaoran still holds undeniable popularity with the General Council. I wonder what charm it is that boy holds.¡±

 

¡°I see it,¡± said Kara, joining the two, still wearing her Seijou school uniform since she had returned for the weekend for her monthly report. ¡°I couldn¡¯t understand at first, but I can see now why he was the Chosen One of the high and mighty Li Clan.¡±

 

¡°Good, you¡¯re back.¡± Leiyun turned to Kara with twinkling sky-blue eyes. ¡°So, I heard you flunked your midterms?¡±

 

¡°Oh shush—I never thought I¡¯d be going back to school in the first place.¡± Kara pouted. ¡°Well, the Card Mistress is making a move again. She uses the power of the moon now, however.¡±

 

¡°Interesting. Anything else?¡±

 

¡°She¡¯s sealed the Decay and the Metal.¡±

 

Leiyun glanced at Syaoran, now practicing his kicks. ¡°I see.¡±

 

Kara played with her rings. ¡°The Little Wolf looks a lot more energetic.¡±

 

¡°There is no doubt, his martial arts skills may be unrivaled in the Clan—don¡¯t you agree, Jin? He might be as good as you now that he¡¯s been practicing again.¡±

 

¡°That doesn¡¯t change the fact that he can¡¯t use his right arm still,¡± remarked Kara, watching Syaoran maneuver without the use of his right arm to balance him. Which was all the more remarkable that he could maintain grace, posture and strength even with an obvious handicap. Not that she knew much about martial arts, but she knew enough to recognize genuine skill.

 

¡°I¡¯m still impressed that he has that much fire left inside him after all he¡¯s been through in the past few months,¡± remarked Leiyun. ¡°Despite his other deficiencies, you can¡¯t deny he has a strong will.¡±

 

¡°You seem awfully fond of the boy,¡± stated Kara, rolling her eyes.

 

Smiling crookedly, Leiyun replied, ¡°I half-raised that boy who was merely seven years my junior. How should I put it—seeing him taller than me and all rebellious is like a father seeing his son all grown up.¡±

 

Kara patted Leiyun on the back. ¡°Comes from the boy himself. Right, Papa?¡± She grinned at Jinyu. Jinyu was the youngest of the three since her birthday was slightly earlier than Jin¡¯s. And Leiyun was their senior by a couple years. That didn¡¯t change the fact that Jinyu looked and acted like the eldest of the three. Maybe it was his dealings with the mafia that prematurely aged him.

 

¡°What to do with our Little Wolf,¡± sighed Leiyun.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Japan¡¦

 

 

 

¡°I wonder why Clow Reed has never sealed the Metal—he has all the other elements. It¡¯s almost surprising, actually,¡± Sakura commented to Eron at school the next day. 

 

¡°It¡¯s more complicated than that. The Metal is a bit more temperamental,¡± Eron replied. ¡°Actually, there¡¯s a pretty obvious reason why the Metal was never sealed. I don¡¯t know how much you are familiar with ancient alchemical studies.¡±

 

¡°Otou-san used to talk about relics and the precursor to modern science and stuff,¡± Sakura commented. ¡°I wasn¡¯t really paying attention though. I think there was talk about how alchemists wanted to achieve the physically impossible.¡± That she had learned from Eriol.

 

¡°You can say, a major preoccupation of the alchemists was the transmutation of ordinary metal to gold. The Metal is the dark force which wields control over all forms of metal, transmuting it in shape and type.¡± Eron paused to check if Sakura was following. ¡°So the Master of the Metal Card could have the potential to abuse the card and upset the flow of nature by creating a limitless supply of gold or other precious metals.¡±

 

¡°Temptation to create gold?¡± Sakura raised an eyebrow.

 

¡°Yes, mankind is always fascinated by what is tabooed to them. Thus, the alchemists were obsessed with the idea of producing gold. Now, the Metal, being a force that has control over all sorts of metals, including gold and silver, should theoretically have the ability to do so. Clow did not seal the Metal in order to resist temptation. For he was only a man.¡± 

 

¡°Ah¡¦ I see.¡± Sakura blinked. ¡°But what would you do with all the gold then?¡±

 

Staring at Sakura for a second, Eron then chuckled. No, she did not see at all.

 

¡°What¡¯s funny?¡±

 

¡°No, I just thought you are quite an interesting Card Mistress,¡± replied Eron. Of course Sakura wouldn¡¯t understand. ¡°When mankind is given a set of rules, natural instincts tell us to rebel against it. When we are told that we cannot do the tabooed, such as create gold out of nothing, then we want to create it. The sorcerer Clow Reed was a wise man in that he learned not to covet what is not granted upon mankind. With his powers, he could have continued living on and on; though not forever, he could have lived for a long time yet. Instead, he chose to die a mortal death and reincarnate himself.¡±

 

¡°You know an awful lot about Clow Reed,¡± remarked Sakura. ¡°More than I would ever understand about him.¡± 

 

¡°Well, I spent many years studying every aspect about him, in the hopes of being able to challenge his chosen successor.¡± Eron smiled wryly. ¡°Little good that has done me—you are nothing like I would have expected from a Card Mistress. Careless, clumsy, uncalculating and simpleminded.¡±

 

Sakura glared at Eron. ¡°Sorry for disappointing your expectations.¡±

 

¡°Then again, when I was little, I always imagined the new Master of the Clow to be old and ugly,¡± added Eron. ¡°And sadistic.¡±

 

Mizuki Kaho called out, ¡°Class is starting!¡±

 

Sakura leaned her chin against her hand, opening up her textbook. Well, Eron, I never expected the Dark Ones to be my classmates, one of them actually someone I might have been close friends with were circumstances different.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

¡°Thanks for taking up this offer,¡± said Tsukishiro Yukito, bowing politely to Mizuki Kaho. ¡°I really appreciate it.¡±

 

¡°It¡¯s my pleasure,¡± replied Kaho, following Yukito to a hospital room at the end of the hallway. ¡°I was really surprised when you contacted me, though, Tsukishiro-san.¡±

 

¡°Touya gave me your number,¡± replied Yukito, knocking on the door. ¡°She should be entering first grade this, but she hasn¡¯t been allowed to go to school because of her health. All her other tutors have quit, and it¡¯s been quite difficult to find a replacement at such a short notice. She may be a little willful, but she¡¯s a sweet child inside—¡± He popped his head into the door. ¡°Nina-chan, look who¡¯s here for you.¡±

 

Little Nina looked up from the doll that she was playing with—or pulling out the hair of. ¡°Yuki-nii-chan! Come fix Annie-chan—she¡¯s ugly now.¡± She flung the doll on the floor and kicked off the stacks of torn frilly doll dresses, a larger collection than most girls owned for themselves, off of the bed. Then, she noticed the tall woman with long auburn hair and demanded, ¡°Who¡¯s that?¡±

 

¡°Look, this is Mizuki-sensei, your new tutor.¡± Yukito picked up the wrecked Annie-doll and sighed. Maybe he could get Touya to fix her up later on.

 

¡°I don¡¯t want another tutor,¡± replied Nina, burrowing her head into the pillow.

 

Gently, Yukito pried away the pillow and said, ¡°She¡¯s Kai-nii-chan¡¯s cousin. And she¡¯s very nice—she¡¯ll even take you to visit Sakura-nee-chan¡¯s high school class if you¡¯re really good. Mizuki-sensei is Sakura-nee-chan¡¯s homeroom teacher.¡±

 

¡°Really?¡± Nina plopped back up on her bed. ¡°You¡¯re a high school teacher?¡±

 

Mizuki Kaho petted the little girl¡¯s head and smiled. ¡°You¡¯ll be my special Seijou High School Classroom 1-2 special plus one student!¡±

 

At this, Nina grinned with her missing front tooth.

 

 

 

¡°What are you doing here again?¡± demanded Touya when he saw Kaho walking out of a room. ¡°Isn¡¯t teaching high school keeping you busy enough?¡±

 

¡°Actually, Tsukishiro-san asked me a favor—to tutor one of his patients, Nina-chan,¡± Kaho replied cordially.

 

¡°So that¡¯s why he asked me for your number,¡± muttered Touya. ¡°Well, how did it go? She¡¯s quite a little monster, that one, despite her angelic face.¡±

 

¡°She¡¯s no worse than some older students I¡¯ve had in the past,¡± said Kaho, smiling. ¡°We get along very well. It¡¯s obvious she¡¯s missing parental love. All she wants is to have someone pay attention to her. And she¡¯s quite a bright girl—she¡¯s behind in school, but children are quick learns and it would be no time before she catches up with her age group.¡±

 

Touya his a small smile behind the files that he was holding. ¡°Expected from the marvelous Mizuki-sensei.¡±

 

¡°What I don¡¯t understand is why you¡¯re letting a perfectly healthy girl stay cooped up in the hospital—she should be out with children her age, going to school,¡± said Kaho.

 

¡°Kaho, do you know of the platinum rule?¡± asked Touya slowly.

 

¡°I¡¯ve heard of the golden rule of ¡®do unto other as you would have them do unto you,¡± replied Kaho.

 

¡°Well, in this hospital, we are trained to practice the platinum rule of ¡®treat others as they would want you to treat them.¡¯¡±

 

¡°I see. It¡¯s a rule in order to encompass the emotion of the patients, so that instead of doctors selfishly imposing what they want upon the patient like with the golden rule, the doctor has to consider what the patient wants.¡± Kaho paused. ¡°An interesting concept. Nonetheless, humoring Nina-chan¡¯s tantrums all these years and giving her what ever she wants will only backfire when she grows older into a callous and selfish girl who knows not how to give or be grateful.¡± 

 

¡°Well, the parents are to blame,¡± said Touya shortly.

 

¡°So, tell me more about this ¡®Su-chan¡¯ person,¡± Kaho said quietly.

 

At this, Touya looked down at his feet. ¡°He was a young boy, a patient of this hospital until two months ago.¡±

 

¡°That¡¯s when the plague epidemic was going around,¡± remarked Kaho.

 

¡°The boy was suffering from brain tumor. Ever since the first time I met him, I could see the shadow of a shinigami follow him around. That¡¯s why I didn¡¯t want Sakura to get close to that boy. But in the end, the death god did come take such a young, innocent boy away.¡±

 

Kaho patted Touya¡¯s back. ¡°The ways of the death god are unknown to us.¡±

 

¡°But if everything has a reason, as you said, what was the reason for Shirose Subaru entering our life and leaving?¡± demanded Touya.

 

¡°Touya, why do you think your sister became the new Card Mistress?¡± asked Kaho.

 

¡°I don¡¯t know,¡± replied Touya.

 

Turning around to face Kaho, she began slowly, ¡°Think of it this way. Her special powers were the means and the Clow Cards became her resources. Precisely, everything that happened five years ago was merely a training field in order for Kinomoto Sakura to face the Dark Ones.¡± 

 

¡°I thought it was to prevent destruction in the world,¡± stated Touya.

 

¡°That too. Though ¡®destruction¡¯ for Sakura would have been for her and all those linked to the Clow Cards to loose the memory of their loved ones.¡± Kaho paused. ¡°Think about it this way. Up till now, Sakura has been battling because she was provided the means and the resources to become the next Card Mistress. What she lacked was the motivation.¡±

 

¡°Motivation?¡±

 

¡°With the Plague and the passing of Shirose Subaru, Sakura has realized for the first time that the battle against the Dark Ones is not a simple personal matter, not something that affects a few people linked back to Clow Reed and the Great Five. It¡¯s a larger matter, a matter which can truly cause the destruction of the whole society should she make the slightest mistake. Traditionally, magicians existed in order to keep order and balance in society. That is why Clow Reed was considered a great sorcerer—not only because of his sheer power, but because of his ability to curtail misuse of power and maintain harmony in society.¡±

 

¡°That is too much responsibility for one person to bear!¡± burst out Touya, gripping Kaho by the shoulders. ¡°You can¡¯t possibly expect one human to be able to try to keep order and balance in the world!¡± 

 

¡°It was too much of a burden for one man to bear,¡± replied Kaho quietly. ¡°Clow Reed was but one man that tried to salvage what unbalance had ensued when the Circle of the Great Five was shattered. It took most of his life time to bring back order to the world in which the Dark One had caused havoc and turmoil.¡±

 

¡°So, you¡¯re saying that Sakura, with the Plague incident has realized what her role in society is?¡± asked Touya.

 

At this, Kaho tilted her head, ¡°Perhaps. What I think is more important is that with the brief scare when we truly thought we might lose Sakura, we realized more acutely what our role is.¡±

 

¡°We?¡±

 

¡°Yes, you, me, Yue, Cerberus, Eriol—all of us who have watched Sakura grow over these past years as well as those who have come across her path more recently.¡±

 

¡°And what is our role?¡± demanded Touya.

 

Kaho smiled, pressing her hands upon Touya¡¯s large ones. ¡°You¡¯re already doing it. Being by Sakura¡¯s side and supporting her.¡±

 

At that moment, Yukito popped out of a patient¡¯s room, preventing Touya from bombarding Kaho with more questions. Seeing Kaho holding Touya¡¯s hands, Yukito¡¯s eyes turned into dots as he asked pleasantly, ¡°What are you two doing?¡±

 

Startled, Touya released Kaho¡¯s hands and turned beet red. ¡°It¡¯s not what you¡¯re thinking. I was just getting Kaho—Kaho-san¡¦Mizuki-san¡¦¡±

 

Yukito adjusted his glasses up his nose. ¡°Why are you turning red, To-ya? You never blush.¡±

 

¡°Ah, these white coats are very stuffy,¡± said Touya, fanning his coat. ¡°It¡¯s hot in here, isn¡¯t it?¡± And he dashed away from the children¡¯s ward back to the neurology department.

 

Yukito smiled sweetly at Kaho, and Kaho mirrored the smile.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Later on, Sakura relayed what Eron had told her to Kero-chan, Eriol and Tomoyo as Tomoyo aired for them the latest episode of ¡°Card Captor Sakura, the Moon Power Arc!¡± at Eriol¡¯s house. They had all been invited over for a big dinner by Miara-san. Sakura took a bite of Eriol¡¯s delicious strawberry shortcake. Eriol was such a superb cook. ¡°But I still don¡¯t understand what Eron was talking about Clow Reed trying to resist temptation.¡±

 

Kero-chan had already finished his cake and was attacking Tomoyo¡¯s untouched plate.

 

¡°Correct. There are three universal taboos for sorcerers,¡± said Kero-chan. ¡°First, you can¡¯t bring back the dead. Second, you can¡¯t eternal life. Lastly, you can¡¯t break the rules of a contract with a dark force. What made Clow Reed the greatest sorcerer of his generation was not because he had most power, but because he had the magnitude of power to overthrow these three laws, but he didn¡¯t.¡±

 

¡°Clow Reed was a great person, wasn¡¯t he?¡± Sakura sighed. ¡°I wonder when I can ever catch up to him.¡± She was surprised when she felt a gentle paw rest upon her head.

 

¡°Clow is Clow. And you are you. We, both Yue and I, accept you as separate entities. We acknowledge you as our Mistress because there is nobody who can love the Cards as much as you, but not only that, we can also trust you to be a Mistress that will not abuse the Cards. There are two instances where disaster can occur with the Clow Cards. One is if they are all unsealed and released. Or the other is if the master abuses the Card¡¯s powers. That is why, Sakura, you are not only the Captor of the Cards but also their guardian. And we are your guardians.¡±

 

¡°Well said, Cerberus.¡± Eriol shut his eyes. ¡°But Clow Reed was not as strong of a man as people thought him to him. There were certain dark forces that he did not seal, could not seal because he did not venture near them, because he was afraid of temptation. He was afraid that his willpower would crumble under the temptation of the forbidden powers to mankind. But Sakura-san is different. Temptation to abuse her contract as Card Mistress does not taunt her, entrance her. She is stronger than that and can deal with dark forces in her frank manner in a away Clow Reed would never have been able to in a thousand years.¡±

 

¡°And our Card Mistress Sakura will only continue to get stronger,¡± said Cerberus with a fierce pride, looking up at Sakura.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Quite a buzz was generated that following month when the June issue of Vogue Japan hit the stands. Much news was generated over the identity of the mysterious green-eyed girl who modeled with actress Tamemura Arima. At school, Sakura became an instant celebrity and those who did not already know her as Kinomoto Touya¡¯s little sister now definitely knew her face.

 

Akagi Aki waved the magazine, spread to the Akagi Arima interview article, and demanded, ¡°When did you take this photo shoot—even I haven¡¯t seen onee-chan in months.¡±

 

¡°Humph, it¡¯s because Mike-san¡¯s such a talented photographer that this picture looks half-decent,¡± declared Erika. ¡°The model herself is rather plain you know.¡±

 

¡°Sakura-chan, don¡¯t ignore us when you become famous,¡± lamented Naoko.

 

¡°Hoe-e¡¦ This was just a one-time thing,¡± protested Sakura. If she knew what a fuss it would generate, she would never had done it.

 

Even Touya came home fuming the day that the magazine came out, holding up the magazine spread. ¡°Sakura, what is this? I saw it pinned up on a patient¡¯s room. When did you take this picture?¡±

 

Sakura looked up from her chocolate pudding. ¡°Mike-san took the picture—I had to fill in for a model who quit last minute.¡±

 

¡°You¡¯re a high schooler now. You should be studying hard, not gadding about taking these kind of glamour shots,¡± chided Touya.

 

Yukito patted his friend on the back. ¡°Just admit it—you¡¯re just scared that even more boys will have discovered how cute Sakura-chan is. You won¡¯t be able to hide your sister away forever.¡±

 

¡°Okaa-san was a model from junior high. I don¡¯t see what¡¯s wrong with it,¡± declared Sakura. ¡°Besides, it¡¯s a one time thing. I won¡¯t be doing it again.¡±

 

Touya sighed in relief. Then he peered at the glossy photo spread again. ¡°Lots of digital editing on this picture, eh? There¡¯s no way my kaijou can look so elegant as this.¡±

 

Scowling, Sakura replied, ¡°Mike-san doesn¡¯t believe in digital editing.¡±

 

¡°Ah, the wonders of makeup and lighting,¡± concluded Touya.

 

¡°Just admit you think Sakura-chan looks beautiful,¡± said Yukito, shaking his head.

 

Meanwhile, her father did not say anything, but the next morning, Sakura¡¯s page from the magazine had been clipped and framed and set on the table next to a picture of Nadeshiko in a Grecian-style dress.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Hong Kong¡¦

 

 

 

¡°Still no progress with your arm? It¡¯s been almost three months.¡± said Li Jingmei to her patient.

 

Syaoran shook his head, fanning himself irritably. Was summer already nearing? He had forgotten how Hong Kong¡¯s climate was so much hotter and more humid than Japanese weather.

 

From a manila folder, Jingmei took out a the latest x-ray scan. ¡°This is your right arm. Here, you can see your bone—the fracture has completely healed, not even a fissure. As far as I can tell, the ligaments are fine and the nerves are fine too. In other words, there seems to be nothing physically wrong with your arm.¡±

 

¡°Are you telling me it¡¯s a psychological condition then?¡± demanded Syaoran.

 

¡°Try making a fist,¡± said Jingmei impatiently

 

¡°I told you, I can¡¯t.¡± Syaoran stared at his right hand. ¡°I¡¯m trying right now. It doesn¡¯t move.¡±

 

Sighing, Jingmei said, ¡°Well, we¡¯ll give it a little more time. Maybe we can look into some alternative treatments such as acupuncture.¡±

 

¡°I¡¯m sorry—I know you must be busy enough at the hospital,¡± sighed Syaoran. His eyes flitted over to a Japanese fashion magazine which was peeping out from under the stack of Jingmei¡¯s folders. He remarked, ¡°I didn¡¯t know you read this kind of magazines.¡±

 

¡°What, you think I only read medical journals?¡± asked Jingmei, slightly embarrassed, taking out the magazine from under the files. ¡°Actually, one of my patients gave it to me when I mentioned I¡¯m a fan of Tasaki jewelry—they have a new spring/summer collection.¡±

 

Staring at the cover of the magazine, Syaoran remarked, ¡°Ah, this is—¡°

 

¡°She¡¯s that cute Japanese actress, right? I¡¯ve seen some of her movies subtitled,¡± stated Jingmei. ¡°What¡¯s her name again? Akagi Arima? I heard she¡¯s Asuma¡¯s girlfriend. Did you see Asuma while you were in Japan?¡±

 

Syaoran had almost forgotten that Asuma had been close with his older cousins back when he lived in Hong Kong for a couple years. ¡°Yeah—he¡¯s doing well,¡± said Syaoran, staring at the blurbs on the magazine cover. Vogue Japan. 10 fashion tips for the summer. Quiz—Is it true love? 25 yukata designs to capture your boyfriend¡¯s heart. Akagi Arima special interview: secrets to a successful long-distance relationship. It was so long since he had read anything in Japanese, he didn¡¯t even feel shame that it was a girl¡¯s magazine.

 

¡°Right, don¡¯t you read Japanese fluently?¡± Jingmei flipped over the magazine pages. ¡°Translate this article for me—it¡¯s an interview with my favorite actor Kimura Takuya.¡±

 

Syaoran sighed—some how, he was always wound up in this trap. After all, Jingmei had been close friends with his sisters growing up and was one of his childhood tormentors. They had dragged him around the Hong Kong night markets, making him carry all the shopping bags. He had ironed their clothes, coifed their hair for parties, learned how to expertly hem their skirts in five minutes, manicure nails, all on top of his other concerns such as training with the Great Elder, known as the demon dragon master back then.

 

Suddenly, out of the pages shot out a familiar face, snapping him back into the moment. ¡±Wait stop!¡± He grabbed the magazine from Jingmei¡¯s hands, greeted by the sight of Sakura¡¯s radiant face staring out of the two page spread. This was a complete different Sakura than the one he remembered in tears with strands of hair astray. This Sakura was ethereal and divine, like some sort of unearthly fairy creature. They had done something with her hair, as it tumbled over one shoulder in long, braided curls that reached clear down to her waist, and she was draped in some sort of soft satin pink material which set off her slim frame. Adorned like that, she seemed so intangible, a little wisp of his imagination. He rubbed his eyes, wondering if he was now seeing things—maybe he did have a psychological problem and he was finally losing his mind. No, this was real. At least the picture was real. ¡°She seems to be doing fine,¡± he whispered. ¡°Thank goodness.¡±

 

¡°I see now. You¡¯re an Arima fan too,¡± Jingmei remarked, trying to pry away her magazine again. Syaoran had missed that on the other side of the page was Arima, decked out in even more splendid jewelry and shining under even brighter lighting. ¡°Aw, you¡¯re at that age too, after all. I¡¯ve always worried with you, growing up with Fanren and the rest of them. Japanese girls are very cute, huh?¡±

 

But Syaoran was not listening. He quickly flipped the page over and found another picture of Sakura, a close up of her face. Her eyes were diverted from the camera and seemed pensive. And just when I forget what a brilliant emerald your eyes are, as if to taunt me, you appear before me. When I can¡¯t reach you, talk to you, hold you. When all I can do is yearn after a picture of you. But why is your smile so sad?

 

¡°Fine, you can have the magazine if you want,¡± Jingmei finally relented. What a peculiar boy Fanren¡¯s little brother had grown into. Within a second, his eyes went from inert and uncaring to flashing and animated.

 

¡°I don¡¯t particularly need it,¡± Syaoran stated crassly. But when Jingmei tried to grab the magazine, he snatched it back hastily.

 

¡°Do you want me to get a copy of next month¡¯s issues as well? I think it just came out.¡± goaded Jingmei.

 

¡°No thank you.¡± Syaoran added, ¡°Now don¡¯t go blabbing to my sisters that I stole a girl¡¯s magazine from you.¡±

 

Giggling, Jingmei asked, ¡°How did you know?¡±

 

He left the hospital with the magazine tucked underneath his jacket, escorted back to the Main House by a chauffeur. I was worried that you were still hurting¡¦ But you seem to be doing all right. After all, you are surrounded by those who love and support you.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Li Fanren rarely met with her best friend and cousin, Jingmei, who was a couple years older than her but grew up closely with the four sisters. Sometimes, she made lunch trips to visit Jingmei when no outside time could be made. ¡°Jingmei, it¡¯s been a long time!¡±

 

Jingmei adjusted the stethoscope around her neck. Her best friend looked so pretty in a tight blue qipao and her long auburn hair down her back. In contrast, Jingmei had dark circles underneath her eyes covered by the frame of her glasses, and her hair was always kept in a tight bun to adhere to hospital dress code. ¡°Fanren! What brings you here? I thought you were chasing after that British businessman these days?¡±

 

¡°That was so last month, my dear.¡± Taking Jingmei by the arm, Fanren said, ¡°I heard you get to see my cute brother often. How¡¯s he doing?¡±

 

¡°His arm¡¯s acting up. And he seems to be brooding. Typical teenage boy angst.¡±

 

Fanren sighed. ¡°My little Syaoran is going through puberty. How uncute.¡±

 

¡°Oh, and he grabbed a fashion magazine from me. He must have really been bored,¡± remarked Jingmei. She stopped by the hospital bookstore and pointed to the international magazines stand. ¡°Ah, it¡¯s that one—Vogue Japan.¡± She fished out money and paid for the magazine.

 

¡°Well, he is our little brother after all,¡± Fanren said proudly. ¡°He was the best-dressed Li boy. I guess he¡¯s keeping up with the latest trends.¡±

 

¡°No, no, he saw this page and he whisked away the magazine from me,¡± stated Jingmei. ¡°Here, this one—was he an Akagi Arima fan? I would NEVER have guessed her to be his type.¡±

 

Fanren grabbed the magazine from Jingmei, staring at the green-eyed girl who had captured her little brother¡¯s heart. ¡°This is Sakura!¡±

 

¡°Sakura?¡±

 

¡°Syaoran¡¯s girlfriend!¡± exclaimed Fanren, flipping through the pages. ¡°Look how pretty she¡¯s gotten and how much she grew. She was just a little girl when she visited Hong Kong—wow, that was almost six years ago.¡± She put a hand over her youthful face and lamented, ¡°That means I¡¯m getting old and wrinkly.¡±

 

¡°This is Syaoran¡¯s girlfriend?¡± Jingmei tugged back the magazine from her cousin. ¡°Wait, then she¡¯s that Card Mistress, isn¡¯t she? Wow, no wonder he couldn¡¯t concentrate on capturing the cards. I didn¡¯t know she was a model.¡±

 

¡°Her mother was a model too.¡± Fanren lowered her voice and told her best friend, ¡°And I heard she was my father¡¯s lover at one time.¡±

 

¡°What?¡± Jingmei squeaked. ¡°No way. How did you find out?¡±

 

¡°I haven¡¯t told anyone else—I don¡¯t think Syaoran even knows. But I once caught my father staring at this huge perfume ad billboard, back when I was a seven or eight, and she was the model. And my mother told me later when I asked about it that it was my father¡¯s first love. Shocking, isn¡¯t it?¡±

 

¡°How bizarre! Then you¡¯re meaning to tell me that this Card Mistress is the daughter of our Chosen One Li Ryuuren¡¯s first love?¡± Jingmei shook her head. ¡°Speaking of all coincidences.¡±

 

¡°There¡¯s no such thing as coincidence,¡± responded Fanren in a vague tone.

 

¡°How did you know that Sakura was this person¡¯s daughter?¡±

 

¡°You can tell, can¡¯t you?¡± Fanren stared at the picture. ¡°I knew it when I first met Kinomoto Sakura. Of course, I later confirmed it in an old interview article I dug up of ¡®Kinomoto Nadeshiko¡¯ and deciphered with my lousy Japanese skills. Sakura¡¯s brother is so hot too you know, tall with broad shoulders. Such a blessed family.¡±

 

¡°I wonder how your mother must have felt, meeting the daughter of the woman that her husband loved,¡± remarked Jingmei.

 

¡°You know Mother. She doesn¡¯t care about that kind of thing. All she cares about is the smooth functioning of the Clan. After all, she¡¯s the woman who had four daughters, until she got on the fifth try the son she had desired to train into the next Chosen One to follow our father¡¯s footsteps,¡± stated Fanren.

 

¡°You mustn¡¯t speak of Aunt Ielan like that,¡± chided Jingmei.

 

¡°You know I¡¯m bitter about Mother letting the Head of the Clan lock up Syaoran like that and forbidding us to help him, even see him,¡± retorted Fanren.

 

A formidable-looking gray-haired man in a white doctor¡¯s coat walked past the bookstore. He cleared his throat loudly. ¡°Shame on two fully grown woman gossiping and gadding around like some pubescent schoolgirls. Doctor Li, haven¡¯t you taken a long enough break—hurry and return to post. Fanren, the hospital is not some playground. Go and do something useful.¡±

 

¡°Pardon us, Elder Ganliu,¡± the two women echoed and hurried out of the store.

 

¡°And look, he¡¯s reading comics in his spare time,¡± whispered Fanren. Jingmei stifled a giggle and resumed her doctor¡¯s face and straightened her lab coat. Now, she had to go check on that cute Japanese boy with such charming manners, her little cousin Meilin¡¯s boyfriend. Kids these days advanced so fast.

 

 

 

 

*******

 

 

 

Japan¡¦

 

 

When Sakura came home from school one afternoon, she found her father home early and cooking curry. ¡°Sakura-san,¡± called out Fujitaka. ¡°There¡¯s a letter addressed to you on the kitchen counter.¡±

 

Sakura found on top of a stack of bills an envelope without a return address and her name printed on it. She checked the postage. It was from Hong Kong. It couldn¡¯t be¡¦ Heart pounding, she ran up the stairs and locked herself in her room. With trembling hands, she ripped open the envelope, wrestling out a single sheet of paper.

 

 

Sakura,

 

It¡¯s been a while. I saw your spread in the magazine. I think Meilin was jealous when I commented that you¡¯re the prettiest girl in that magazine. I figure you might be wondering how the operation turned out. I survived, surprisingly. It hurt like heck afterwards, but they say I¡¯ll be recovering. I¡¯m still in the hospital, and Meilin visits me every day. Don¡¯t you think she¡¯s fallen for me by now? Her mother likes me too. She thinks I¡¯m a Japanese exchange student with some sort of incurable disease. Meilin¡¯s mother is a wonderful cook also—the Li men are blessed in their wives it seems.

 

Enough about me—I know you don¡¯t really care about what I¡¯m up to. What you probably want to hear about is news of Him. Well, here it is. I had a chance to see him, just once. He seems to be doing fine. In fact, I don¡¯t even think he¡¯s particularly being restrained or punished by the Clan at all. We can scrap the locked in the dungeon theory as well as the chained to the walls one. He¡¯s still the high and mighty Li-sama as usual. If you can ¡®t tell, I¡¯m quite disgusted with him at the moment. When he finally came to see me the other day, it was not to ask about you but to ask me what I¡¯ve done with the sapphire ring. Since I¡¯m staying at the Li Hospital, I have some inside sources. And rumors are, he¡¯s planning something hand-in -and with the Great Elder so that he can regain his title of Chosen One. In the end, he has chosen the Clan over you. Forget about a guy like that—you deserve better, someone who would not abandon you and break your poor  little heart. Anyhow, to keep the Li¡¯s greedy paws of the sapphire ring, I¡¯m sending it to you for safekeeping. It¡¯s just temporarily, remember.

 

Is okaa-san doing well? Miho¡¯s birthday¡¯s coming up soon, the third of June. I wish I can be there—is she still mad at me? Strange as it may sound, I sort of miss going to school and hanging out with you guys. The hours are long till the school day ends and Mei-chan comes to visit me. My best wishes for you, Card Mistress.

 

-          Kai

 

No, it was not Him. It was just Kai. Kai sounded the same as ever. For some reason, Sakura never really doubted Kai¡¯s survivalist instincts, and it did not surprise her that Kai had finally undergone the surgery and came out fine. Besides, it sounded like Meilin was constantly by his side, so there was no need to worry about his recovery process. Sakura shook out the envelope and out dropped the star-sapphire ring. She stroked the beautiful blue stone, from which flashed a twelve-pointed star shape depending on the angle of the light.

 

So, Syaoran was all right. And he had been the one who had chosen the Clan. It¡¯s all right, she told herself. You knew how important the Clan is too him. He was born to be the Chosen One. How can you deny this of him and be so selfish as to believe that he would stay for you, that you could keep him by your side?

 

Nonetheless, a lump formed in her throat as she fell over onto her bed. Even Kero-chan remained silent as to not disturb her.

 

 

 

*******

 

 

 

The most difficult experience is to watch a person you love suffer and not be able to do anything about it. For Daidouji Tomoyo, these past months had been the most difficult period in her life, because she could clearly see Sakura was degenerating. Ever since Subaru passed away, Sakura had been struggling to maintain composure. She was bright and enthusiastic and might have seemed to be a cheerful sixteen year old to any one who didn¡¯t know her better. But Tomoyo has been Sakura¡¯s best friend for nine years. She knew that the smile on Sakura¡¯s face never reached her eyes anymore, and there was no mistaking the hollowness behind her voice when one listened carefully enough. Tomoyo could tell something was not right when Sakura came running into the classroom late that morning, but since class had already started, she did not even get to talk to her. If they were sitting next to each other, Tomoyo could have risked passing a note but Yamaguchi-sensei was in a particularly wrathful mood that day.

 

First, Sakura was assigned extra cleaning duty when she hadn¡¯t completed the math homework for the day. Evidently, she forgot to attend a lunchtime drama club rehearsal and was confronted by ticked-off seniors. She was even gently scolded by Mizuki-sensei for forgetting her textbook yet again.

 

¡°God you¡¯re such an idiot,¡± said Eron, shoving Sakura his textbook so that she could look up the passage that she was supposed to have read from and mark the page so that she could review it for homework. ¡°I told you to just take my book from the beginning.¡±

 

¡°But I¡¯m always borrowing from you,¡± replied Sakura, relieved as the school bell rang to end the day. She gathered up her textbooks and stuffed it into her book bag.

 

¡°Look at you, you¡¯re falling apart,¡± stated Eron, slamming his notebook into her hands. ¡°I know you didn¡¯t take a word of notes today so just copy it and give it back to me tomorrow.¡±

 

She stared at the neat stack of notebooks blankly.

 

¡°I know you¡¯re usually spacey, but what is the matter with you today?¡± Eron demanded. ¡°Your eyes are puffy like you did not sleep at all last night. You¡¯re like a walking zombie. If you have any sense, you would realize that you¡¯re overcommitted with school activities. You shouldn¡¯t forget your priority is to keep track of the dark forces. If you burn yourself out like this during the day, you¡¯re going to be pretty useless when you actually face the dark forces, and you don¡¯t know when they will be popping out either.¡± Realizing that none of his words were registering in with Sakura, Eron sighed.

 

¡°I won¡¯t slack off with capturing all the dark forces,¡± said Sakura. ¡°And I¡¯m fine—I just didn¡¯t get a lot of sleep last night, that¡¯s all. I¡¯ll be fine tomorrow.¡±

 

¡°Sakura, it¡¯s okay. You don¡¯t have to pretend with me,¡± said Eron.

 

Sakura blinked back at him blankly. She had cleaning duty after school. What an unlucky day—everyone seemed to be ticked off at her for one reason or another. But why was Eron scolding her too. That¡¯s right. She was always borrowing his textbook and notes. No, she wasn¡¯t. He was always forcing her to take his things. She never even asked him for it.

 

¡°You don¡¯t have to pretend everything¡¯s all right. I can see right through it. And what ever strange friendship, if we can call it that, we¡¯ve developed in the past year and a half, you have to admit we¡¯ve been pretty blunt with each other.¡± Eron smiled grimly. ¡°After all, what idiotic enemy villain comes forth and admits his identity and announces what dark forces are lurking about? And what an even more idiotic victim tried to befriend that idiotic villain? If anything, I think we have had at least a level of honesty with each other.¡±

 

This almost drew a smile from Sakura. ¡°That¡¯s right, Eron-kun. You¡¯re not a particularly good villain. Nor are you a particularly good friend—at one point, you¡¯ve made me angrier at you than I¡¯ve ever been at Meilin-chan, onii-chan and Erika-chan combined. But at least I know that if I ask you to tell you the truth, you won¡¯t lie to me. Do you really think there¡¯s something wrong with me?¡±

 

¡°Yes. That¡¯s why, instead of driving everyone around you crazy, why don¡¯t you at least tell me what the matter is?¡± said Eron.

 

¡°I got a letter from Hong Kong,¡± said Sakura in a sing-songy voice.

 

¡°From him?¡± demanded Eron.

 

¡°No, from Kai-kun.¡± Sakura stared out the sunny window. ¡°He¡¯s doing fine.¡±

 

Eron could not tell if the ¡°he¡± signified Kai or Syaoran. He presumed the latter.

 

¡°Now, if you¡¯ll excuse me,¡± said Sakura, standing up. ¡°I have cleaning duty.¡±

 

Swerving around, Eron found that Tomoyo had been watching with worried eyes—it was quite unnerving, actually, always having Tomyo watch him now that he sat in front of her. ¡°You know. You must know what happened between the two,¡± he accused. ¡°With Sakura and Li Syaoran.¡±

 

Slowly, Tomoyo stared at Eron as if she was seeing him for the first time. ¡°I did go to Hong Kong with her. But I don¡¯t know how Sakura and Syaoran exactly parted.¡±

 

¡°She went to Hong Kong to see him?¡± asked Eron.

 

¡°Yes, during spring break,¡± replied Tomoyo.

 

¡°And what happened?¡±

 

Tomoyo short reply was, ¡°I would tell you if I knew.¡±

 

So, there were things that Sakura kept even from Tomoyo. At this, Eron felt a little triumphant. Then, watching the sorrowful look in Tomoyo¡¯s eyes, Eron realized for the first time that while Sakura had inherited Amamiya Hayashi¡¯s magical lineage, his other heir had inherited his ancient soul. In Daidouji Tomoyo, Sakura had her first and most powerful ally. He scoffed at himself. At this rate, he had little chance of being Sakura¡¯s first, second, or third most important person. He would just be lucky enough to have Sakura not hate him. 

 

 

 

On her way to choir practice, Tomoyo saw Sakura mopping the girls¡¯ bathroom as punishment from Yamagachi-sensei. Two upperclassman were in the bathroom, fixing up their hair when they spotted Sakura trying to mop around them.

 

One of the girls turned to Sakura and said, ¡°Humph, aren¡¯t you that girl who that girl who modeled in the Vogue magazine with Akagi Arima? You¡¯re not pretty at all in real life.¡±

 

The other girl kicked over the bucket. ¡°Hey, if an upperclassman is talking to you, look at her. You think you¡¯re all that just because you were in some magazine and you¡¯re Kinomoto Touya¡¯s little sister, don¡¯t you?¡±

 

Sakura kept her head lowered and continued mopping.

 

¡°Why you little—¡° The older girl stamped down a foot on the mop to keep Sakura from cleaning. ¡°I¡¯ll teach you how to respect your senpai.¡±

 

Tomoyo was about to rush forward to intervene when at that moment, a golden-haired girl stepped out of the stall. She pushed in between the two girls and washed her hands in the sink. Through the reflection of the mirror, she glared at them with icy lavender eyes. Turning off the tap, she shook her wet hands, splashing water droplets on the girls, then wiped them on her skirt.

 

¡°Let¡¯s get out of here,¡± said the first girl. The two girls sort of cowered around the golden-haired girl then fled from the bathroom. Tomoyo quietly slipped away to the music room before Sakura noticed her.

 

 

 

After Sakura finished cleaning all the bathrooms she wearily returned the mop to the supply closet. After she went to her locker and put on her shoes and slung her book-bag over her shoulder, she trudged out the school gates to find Tomoyo waiting for her.

 

Trying to cover the tiredness in her face, Sakura said brightly, ¡°Tomoyo-chan! Did choir practice just end?¡±

 

Tomoyo nodded.

 

¡°I heard the choir club is preparing something for the cultural festival—you have a solo in it, right?¡± Sakura pounded her aching shoulder with a fist. ¡°I can¡¯t believe I forgot my homework and textbook today. How clumsy of me. If onii-chan found out, he¡¯d scold me.¡± Sakura stopped her senseless chatter when she found that Tomoyo was just staring back with solemn violet eyes. ¡°What¡¯s the matter, Tomoyo-chan?¡± 

 

¡°Sakura-chan, it¡¯s okay,¡± Tomoyo said. ¡°You don¡¯t have to try so hard.¡±

 

Sakura looked up, the smile dropping from her face. ¡°I don¡¯t understand what you mean.¡±

 

¡°You can just be yourself,¡± Tomoyo burst out. ¡°If you don¡¯t want to smile, don¡¯t smile. If you feel like crying, cry. It¡¯s all right. You don¡¯t have to try to forget him. Think about him if you want to. Reproach him if you want to. Just don¡¯t try to keep everything to yourself anymore. I¡¯m here, Sakura-chan. You can tell me everything.¡±

 

¡°I—¡° Sakura¡¯s voice wavered. First Eron, now Tomoyo. At this moment, she did not know whether to cry or laugh. Laugh at herself for being so foolish. She thought she was putting on a good act but in the end, she had been fooling no one. Everyone could see through her pitiful masquerade. Why couldn¡¯t everyone just leave her alone, pretend that everything was all right along with her. If everyone pretended, then she could perhaps believe things were all right. ¡°I¡¯m sorry Tomoyo-chan. I can¡¯t talk about him. It hurts too much. If I speak his name, I think I will crumble. If I start crying, I don¡¯t think I¡¯ll be able to stop again. If I think of him, I won¡¯t be able to forget him. And that¡¯s all I can do now—try not to remember him.¡±

 

¡°You¡¯re not ready to tell me about what happened back in Hong Kong yet, are you?¡± Tomoyo asked softly. It had been two months already.

 

Sakura shook her head slowly. ¡°Sorry.¡± Instead, she gave her friend a tight hug of appreciation, burying away her silent tears.

 

Tomoyo could only pat her friend¡¯s back. Such was the position she was in, that she had no words of reassurance for her friend—to love was to put aside pride and caution, to risk it all and put yourself in the most vulnerable position. In this situation, Tomoyo could not pretend to understand. She couldn¡¯t tell Sakura as usual, ¡°everything¡¯s going to turn out fine,¡± because Tomoyo had never put herself in the position where she would actually risk all for love. She was afraid of being hurt, being vulnerable like Sakura had been.

 

Stay still, Tomoyo, don¡¯t take a step forward¡¦ Don¡¯t let your heart move, and you won¡¯t get hurt. Stay where you are, and you¡¯ll be safe.  

 

¡°Nee, Tomoyo-chan?¡±

 

¡°Yes Sakura-chan?¡±

 

Sakura swallowed hard. ¡°When I am truly over him, I¡¯ll tell you about it. Someday, when it no longer hurts to speak his name, let us laugh and talk of old days. Right now, just for now, let me just not to remember.¡±

 

¡°All right, Sakura-chan. I¡¯ll always be here, ready to listen,¡± replied Tomoyo softly.

 

¡°Thanks.¡± Sakura gave Tomoyo a smile, a small smile, but a genuine one.

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Every night, I have a dream, a haunting dream that leaves me drenched in cold sweat. It is a dream of you walking off, fading into the distance. I run faster and faster towards you, but I can never catch up.

 

 

 

Ah, so this was love¡¦ I can¡¯t breathe, I can¡¯t sleep. My heart feels like bricks are weighing it down.

 

The past months, I have been trying my best not to think of him. But what¡¯s the use? Just a moment¡¯s relapse, and everything comes back more vividly than if he were standing right in front of me this moment.

 

I loved the way he called my name, slightly lower than his usual speaking voice, the way it rolled off the tip of his tongue, ¡°Sakura.¡± I ache to smoothen that one unruly lock of hair that always curled out of his chestnut brown hair, and still feel the touch of his long, lean hands, the back of them smooth and tanned, but his palms slightly hard from training with the sword. I miss his smile, rare, but completely genuine when he did. Some people have nice smiles or mean smiles, charming smiles or beautiful smiles. But his smile, which started slowly from the corner of his lips, slowly spreads, till his eyes gently laughed at me. Only his smile reached out to me, like a calm current rippling through my body, making me feel so warm inside. So compelled and drawn to that smile I was. And never will I see it again, or so I believed then.

 

Tomoyo, next time I fall in love, I won¡¯t give all of me to anyone. It hurts too much, as if a part of me is missing, and I want it back. Next time, let it be light-hearted and sporadic, without the sore void in my heart. But I don¡¯t think there would be a next time. 

 

Because my heart has burned up¡¦ Nothing but embers are left where my heart once was, in this hollow, empty shell.
 
I have been told time and distance can heal. But I said good-bye to him back in March, and here I am now in June, forever trapped in a single moment in time, unable to move on, unable to forget. I can¡¯t wait, I can¡¯t hope, I can¡¯t dream. I can¡¯t do anything. I can¡¯t even move on. Tell me Syaoran, what can I do? 
 
If only I can forget¡¦

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

Wish-chan (4/1/2008): How many of you wondered what the meaning of Card Captor Sakura¡¯s third opening ¡°Purachina/Platinum¡± was? As that song is one of my all-time favorite anime openings, I always pondered. I mean, ¡°Catch me, Catch you,¡± or ¡°Groovy,¡± is pretty self explanatory, but I always seek for deeper meaning at least with the Maaya Sakamoto and Yoko Kanno combi. Lyrics by Iwasato Hiroko. Anyhow, the last element card, The Metal, has finally been sealed. I¡¯m surprised it hasn¡¯t been earlier. ^_^;

 

See Sakura¡¯s Vogue Nippon model shoot: http://wishluv.deviantart.com/art/Sakura-Modeling-Age-16-81753177 She wasn¡¯t actually on the cover but oh well. : ) And here is a picture of S+S in Seijou High uniforms. http://wishluv.deviantart.com/art/Sakura-and-Syaoran-Seijou-High-81844134  It¡¯s a hypothetical fanart, because I¡¯ve been dying to draw Sakura and Syaoran in Seijou High uniforms ever since they were in elementary school. Lol¡¦ Poor Syaoran didn¡¯t even graduate from Seijou Junior High. Oh well, he¡¯s smart anyway, and he gets home tutored in Hong Kong.

 

I mentioned before that if New Trials was an anime, Utada Hikaru¡¯s Sakura Drops would be the opening and Maaya Sakamoto¡¯s Strobe no Sora would be the ending. A couple month ago, I was relistening to Lucy, the album that Strobe no Sora was from and I rediscovered Maaya¡¯s Koucha. Just listening to the opening bars gave me chills, and I was like, wait, how can I not remember hearing this before? This is perfect as the ending for New Trials season four. Even the lyrics match well. (Maaya wrote them herself.) That¡¯s the beauty of the album Lucy—the lyrics sort of tell you a story as the tracks progress. And it¡¯s composed by Yoko Kanno.) Completely random but I¡¯ve had Toto¡¯s Africa stuck in my head for two weeks straight now. It¡¯s such an annoying addictive 80¡¯s song.

 

I¡¯m going off on a different tangent. I was trying to figure out who would have graduated ranking #1 out of Seijou Junior High. There are lots of smart people in New Trials, I believe, but many different sorts of smarts. Obviously, Eriol would be the smartest for he¡¯s what I¡¯d call a ¡°genius.¡± Then again, he has like a century years worth of knowledge to his advantage. But young Clow was the same. Then there¡¯s book-smart like Eron, hardworking-smart like Syaoran and street-smart like Kai. I think Sakura-chan might not do the best at school but she has great analytical thinking as you can tell in her strategies to seal Clow Cards and later dark forces, not to mention a great imagination. Tomoyo of course is the most well-rounded person whereas someone like Aki only gets good grades in school because of all the private tutoring... So who graduated with top honors from junior high¡¦. bbambbarrabbam¡¦ (Obviously not Kai, Syaoran or Eron¡¦ nor Eriol, who because he¡¯s so smart is exceedingly lazy and does minimal work to pass.) Hmm¡¦  Who do you think did?

 

Well, the plot thickens. ^_^ If you¡¯re having a hard time keeping track of the Li¡¯s, I made up the promised version 2 of the Li Clan Hierarchy at http://www.wishluv.com/liclan2.htm.  It was constructed mainly for me to reference because the Li Clan has such a complicated structure. Poor Syao-chan. Also, refer to the new  Characters List (illustrated with chibis of all the main characters in Seijou Junior High uniforms and also the Nadeshiko crew pic ) ¡¦

 

Please email me at hopeluvpeace@hotmail.com with comments because they are the fuel which keeps me churning out chapters. I had a sort of mini heart attack yesterday when I couldn¡¯t access my site last night but it was just down for maintenance. : ) Ah, the scariness of the digital world. Poof, my nine years of work can disappear just like that overnight. Like Syaoran did. Lol¡¦ If you haven¡¯t already, check out the Yahoo New Trials Ring at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/newtrialsring/ And of course, visit my website at http://www.wishluv.com/ (thanks to Bilal-san for the bandwidth) and check out the latest Arc Four fanart at http://wishluv.deviantart.com/ including Sakura¡¯s model shoot picture and Seijou High Uniform fanart. ^o^ Now on to writing Chapter 56. I really can¡¯t say much about the chapters themselves in fear of giving away spoilers. Sigh¡¦ Please join the CCS New Trials forum http://s1.zetaboards.com/CCS_New_Trials/index/ created by am361992 (many thanks!) to discuss about latest chapters, meet cool ppl, discuss about CCS or Tsusbasa.