Chapter 68: Regeneration
Li Syaoran stared at the front door of the Kinomoto house, wondering if it was too early to ring the doorbell—he didn’t want to wake everybody. Before he had the chance to ruminate, the door swung open.
“What’re you doing here so early?” asked Kinomoto Sakura. Instead of being bleary-eyed and barely out of bed as she usually would be at this time, she was fully dressed in her school uniform and held a bouquet of white lilies in her arms. Her loose golden-brown hair framed her pale face.
“We have somewhere to go, don’t we?”
And Sakura’s jade green eyes flickered. “You remembered.”
Sometimes, Sakura thought she had dreamt up that raining night when they had talked together until dawn. It was like misunderstanding after misunderstanding had peeled away. And if there were any left, it didn’t matter. But they had agreed that it was best to pretend to go on as before—as near strangers—at school because Li Leiyun was always watching. Syaoran had returned to live at his apartment, with Meilin. She had no chance to be alone with him throughout the day. Besides school, there was no opportunity to see him. But at unexpected moments like this, Sakura knew that the Li Syaoran was there for her.
As a sure sign that the long winter was coming to an end, little green fuzzes of grass sprouted like moss around the barren graveyard. Little yellow buds peeked through the dried leaves and the musty soil and black ants filed along across the slabs of stone.
“I didn’t think I’ll come together with you here again,” said Sakura, laying the fresh bouquet of white lilies on the graveside. Sakura looked up at the somber, tall boy standing beside her. From the look on Syaoran’s face, he hadn’t either. He looked somber in his Seijou High School Uniform with the sky blue blazer, navy necktie and black pants, a bouquet of pale pink peonies in his arms.
“Su-chan, it’s been a year since you left us. How are you doing? Sakura-nee-chan and Syaoran-nii-chan is here to see you, just like old times. Sorry for making you worry. But we’re friends again. See?” She gave him a little nudge.
Syaoran’s shoulders finally dropped, and he bent down and set the peonies gently down next to the lilies. Shirose Subaru had passed away a year ago at the age of seven from stage 4 brain cancer. Sakura had tried to save him with the Heal, without avail. “Su-chan, I’m sorry I haven’t been able to see you as often. I was away for a while. I’ve made a lot of mistakes too. If you heard about them all, you’d probably get angry, so I won’t tell you that.”
“A lot has happened over the past year,” Sakura said. “Syaoran left, but he’s back now. Kai-kun and Miho-chan found their father, who everybody was dead all these years, but he actually is the great artist Shing-san. Miara-san is much better too—you met her several times at the hospital, right? Nina-chan is actually my aunt—it’s a long story.”
Syaoran almost smiled.
“That’s right, Nina-chan wrote you a letter,” said Sakura. “She wanted to come today, but she’s on a trip Aunt Hisano. But I’ll read it to you. Here I go.
“Dear Su-chan. This is Kinomoto Nina. I have a surprise for you. I do not live in the hospital now. I have a new family. Aunt Hisano and ojii-san. Aunt Hisano buys me lots of pretty dresses and cute toys. I will go to elementary school soon. I am very excited. I wish I can show you my new uniform. But maybe you can see it from when you are. Look for me, okay? But just in case, I also drew a picture of me. And you too.”
Sakura held up a piece of paper portraying two stick figures holding hands and colored in crayons torn from a sketchbook. “I am very happy now. But I think I was happy when I was in the hospital. Because you were my friend. We will always be friends, okay? Promise. I miss you very much. Love, Nina-chan.”
Sakura paused, gulping hard. Then she folded the pink sheet of paper and clumsy sketch back into an envelope with Nina’s large crayoned handwriting addressed “To Subaru.” Then she set the envelope down beneath the flowers.
“Subaru asked me to teach him how to play soccer. I guess I never got a chance to,” said Syaoran softly.
“And I never did grant Su-chan’s third wish.”
“That’s right. You were his fairy godmother.”
Sakura closed her eyes. “I still remember so clearly. He told me he had three wishes before he died. One was to fly. His second was to see his mother once. But his real wish was to live, to grow to be an adult and experience life. I’m sure.”
“Is that really his last wish?” asked Syaoran.
Sakura looked up at Syaoran, puzzled. “He wrote me a letter. He said he couldn’t think of a last wish. That he wanted me to be happy. It was because he knew he was going to die. It’s like he wanted to reassure me.”
“Did anyone tell you of Subaru’s final moments?” he said quietly.
“No. They told me he never woke up from the coma,” she replied. “And I never got to say goodbye.”
He was silent for a moment. “I was there.”
Sakura swallowed hard. “Why didn’t you say anything before? Why did everyone lie to me then?”
“It’s true he fell into a coma,” said Syaoran. “But he woke up one last time. His eyes were bright and clear. As if he understood that it was his time. He was hanging on. It’s because of your efforts to save him he was able to open his eyes that one last time. He said he was waiting for you to wake up. But that he couldn’t wait anymore. He said to give his box of belongings to you. It was already packed. As if he had already known.”
“He had been prepared,” said Sakura, thinking of the letter. “It’s just that we weren’t.”
“‘I wonder why Sakura-nee-chan tried so hard to grant my wishes. I wish I could do the same for someone.’ Those were his last words.” Syaoran paused.
“You didn’t say anything because you thought I would reproach myself for missing a chance to see Subaru one last time.” Tears rolled down Sakura’s cheeks. “Because I wasn’t awake from the Plague then. But I’m glad. That you were able to say goodbye to Su-chan and hear his final words. In the end, you were his fairy godmother.”
At this, Syaoran looked baffled
“The Shirose Subaru Foundation. Founded in order to grant the wishes of children who dream,” Sakura said. “You wanted to grant Su-chan’s last wish, didn’t you?” she said
She hadn’t noticed it at the funeral a year ago, when he had stood in the shadows by the trees during Subaru’s funeral procession, nor that time last Christmas when she had questioned him about the Shirose Subaru Foundation. Not even this morning, when he out of the blue appeared in front of her doorsteps.
Sakura said softly, “I was mistaken. I thought I was the only one grieving. But that wasn’t so. You were hurt as well.”
Syaoran placed a hand on her shoulder. “We all were. But I think we need to carry out the other part of his wish now. He wanted you to find happiness.”
Sakura nodded. When she was young, she believed anything was possible. When Subaru died, she had learned how limited she actually was. But with her limitations, she realized how precious everything in life is.
“Hello, Kinomoto-san,” said Syaoran, after school.
“Oh, it’s you,” said Kinomoto Touya, looking down his nose at the younger boy who had come all the way to his office at the Kinhoshi Hospital—probably coming from visiting Tamemura Asuma, who was currently recovering from a riding accident which had left him paralyzed from waist below.
Syaoran looked at him with staid eyes. “I had a question I wanted to ask you.”
“Why did you tell Sakura. About the power exchange?”
Touya stared at Syaoran. “It was necessary for her to know.”
Touya didn’t know if it was a satisfactory answer, but Syaoran handed him a white envelope. “Here, the last installment for the motorcycle repair costs.”
“Didn’t you hear that Sakura already finished repaying for the reparation costs last week?” said Touya.
“How did she earn so much money so quickly?”
Touya shrugged. They both knew that the wage that La Seine waiters earned was not much—especially after detracting all the dishes that Sakura broke.
“I can’t let her do that for me,” said Syaoran. “Kinomoto-sensei also gave me the bank account with all the money I earned from working at the restaurant. But you let me stay at your house for two months, and it won’t be fair if you don’t take this.”
“I thought you’d say something like that.” Touya peeked into the envelope. “Thanks.” He gazed at Syaoran. “Do you have a motorcycle license?”
“Well get one.” Touya tossed Syaoran a small, metal object.
Syaoran caught it one hand and opened his fingers. It was a key attached a black keychain. “What’s this?”
“With Sakura paying for the repair cost, what you’ve paid me is well beyond what the garage charged for. I have a car now, and that motorcycle is just going to gather dust if someone doesn’t use it. It’s yours now.” Touya smiled.
Touya held up the envelope full of cash. “I’m selling it to you, not giving it away. You’ll find it more useful than me, anyway. You can pick it up from the garage tomorrow—the mechanic changed the engines and said it’s in tiptop shape now.”
Syaoran smiled and slipped the key in his pocket. “Thanks.”
“Oh, by the way, Sakura is not permitted on it,” Touya called out.
Because Tamemura Asuma was a popular person, his hospital room was always bustling with people. Sakura was dismayed to find Syaoran’s cousin and their school doctor, Li Leiyun, seated in Asuma’s room. But she could not turn away because Asuma saw her first and waved.
“Hello, Kinomoto-san,” said Leiyun. “You just missed Syaoran.”
Sakura wished Leiyun would leave, but instead he stayed.
She personally was puzzled by Asuma and Leiyun’s peculiar friendship. It was true the Li Leiyun that Asuma had once described to her was completely different from the one she currently knew. Asuma had once told her. He was straightforward, responsible, and sincere. More mature than any another boy that age…Yet, he had the most caring warmest heart, and a spirit like a horse, always with a bright smile on his face, no matter what. It was true that Leiyun always did have a smile on his face, but it was menacing and cold rather than kind and bright. Nonetheless, even Li Leiyun wouldn’t harm his good friend, would he? She had been suspecting Leiyun to be behind Asuma’s accident, but it appeared he wasn’t involved after all.
“How have you been, Asuma-san?” Sakura asked.
“Oh, you haven’t told her that you’re leaving for the United States soon,” interjected Leiyun.
“What?” Sakura turned to Asuma. “You’re leaving Japan?”
“Yes,” said Asuma.
“But what about Arima-san?” asked Sakura. “Aren’t you going to marry Arima-san soon?”
Asuma laughed. “Maybe someday. I can’t exactly walk down the aisle in this state.”
“But she proposed to you!” exclaimed Sakura.
“I know. But I’ve got to plan ahead. Even if I never gain use of the lower half of my body, it’s not all over. I’ve always been meaning to go back to school at some point and get an MBA, if I want to take over the business from my dad. All I know is horses. And just because I can’t ride anymore doesn’t mean that I can’t be around horses. There are those who rise to the challenge of training horses from wheelchair. It’ll be difficult, but it’s been done before. I’ve been caught up in self-pity, but unfortunately, if I am but a statistic, it’s all happened before and many have dealt with the same problems and overcome them,” Asuma stated, his blue-green eyes level and calm, as if he had come to a quiet resolution.
Sakura couldn’t help feeling that Asuma indeed was an adult when he spoke. “And why can’t you just study in Japan?”
“It’s hard here. People recognize me. People will pity me. I need a fresh start somewhere where I am not jockey Tamemura Asuma, but just a regular student,” Asuma replied.
“You know, I never thought I’d see a day when I agree with you, but in this case, Asuma, Kinomoto-san is right. You’ve got to reconsider,” remarked Leiyun after Sakura left the room quite dejected. “You’re not serious about leaving Japan?”
Asuma smiled. “Have you ever seen me tell a lie?”
“I’ve never seen you run away,” replied Leiyun. “You have someone who accepts you just as you are.”
“I know that. I know Arima will be there for me. Because I know she’ll support me through any hardship, I think I can leave her.”
“Don’t you want to walk again?”
“More than anything. But I’ve got to face reality,” said Asuma. “Some things are just impossible. And the quicker I come to terms with it, the easier it will be for everyone around me.”
Leiyun stared at Asuma. “You realize that Sakura used the Heal on you, she did not simply alleviate the pain, like she thinks she did. You might have not felt the effect right away, but your bones and muscles have healed at an accelerated rate. In fact, physically, you should be all recovered by now.”
“You’re lying,” said Asuma in a hollow voice.
“Why would I lie to you?”
“Why didn’t you tell me sooner then?” demanded Asuma.
“Because I thought you’d realize on your own,” said Leiyun. “The Akagi Asuma I knew ten years ago wouldn’t give up so easily.”
“You’re just trying to encourage me, aren’t you?”
Leiyun grabbed Asuma’s arm and yanked him out of the wheelchair. Asuma immediately toppled over and let out a groan.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Asuma demanded. He clambered on the floor, reaching over to the wheelchair. But Leiyun kicked it away.
“Walk, Asuma. Stand up and start to walk again. Rehab takes time. It’s not going to come all back at once. And I can’t guarantee you it won’t hurt. But feel the pain and walk.”
Placing his hands in front of him, Asuma tried to heave himself up. Then he collapsed on the floor again. From there, Asuma stared up at Leiyun’s inscrutable aqua eyes. “Leiyun, are you my friend? Then tell me, the accident that occurred. It wasn’t chance, was it?”
“There is no such thing as chance,” said Leiyun.
“I’ve been complaining to you a lot lately. But I didn’t really think about what you went through for the past eight years.” Asuma smiled slightly. “I didn’t even think to look for you. Didn’t even imagine you were alive.”
“Nobody did,” said Leiyun. “But here I am.”
“Rider number 7. Kara Reed. I’d like to see her again,” Asuma said.
“She was riding Midnight Star. Good to see the old boy doing well. I thought I’d never seem him in a race again,” Asuma replied.
“She was cheating.”
“Then was I cheating all the times that I rode him in race?” Asuma asked. He slowly dragged himself over to his wheelchair and hoisted himself back up. “Let her know, I’d like to race with her again.”
“Strange, maybe you were right after all. I can feel my toes,” said Asuma. “I never thought that such ripping pain can be welcome.”
Leiyun stared at Asuma strangely. “Pain’s good. It’s a sign that you’re alive.”
During dinner, Tanaka Miho realized that her parents had something to say as they kept glancing at each other. They had been talking hushed in their room at nighttime a lot these days, not very discreetly.
“Miho, Mikai,” said Tanaka Keisuke. “As you know my exhibit at the Guggenheim is coming up, and your mother’s new novel is in talks with an American publisher to be translated and released in the States. I was thinking about moving our family back to New York. For a fresh start.”
“And it’s dangerous here in Tomoeda. Our family has been through too much. All I want is to have a chance to spend with my two children without worrying every night that something might happen to one of you,” said Miara. “I think this will be a great opportunity for our family to grow stronger—a new environment, a new start. And Miho, you had several years of education in England. It’ll be a pity to waste your English skills—you’ve been accepted to a top girls’ prep school in New York. And Mikai, you’ll be applying to colleges next year, and it was always your dream to study abroad, wasn’t it? Why not get a head start”
Miho and Kai were silent for a moment.
“I’ll let you two think about it,” said Keisuke. “We don’t have a lot of time because the exhibition will be happening by this month’s end and your mother has some research to do in the States before she finalizes her book.’
After dinner, Miho stomped into her brother’s room, clutching her bunny doll and flopping on her brother’s bed. “I won’t go. I refuse to go! We can’t leave right now, in the middle of everything!”
“But Mother is right. It’s dangerous her in Tomoeda, in Japan. The farther you are from this, the safer you will be,” said Kai.
“Well, it’s dangerous for everyone too,” retorted Miho.
“You’re still learning your powers—everybody else in the Alliance are already masters.” Kai paused. “You are young. You don’t have to be a part of this.”
“Sakura-senpai and everyone were much younger than me when they started battling the dark forces,” Miho stated. “I am a Mizuki. I have a part in the Circle of the Stars.”
“There are already two Mizuki in the Alliance. You don’t have to stay.”
“You mean you’re planning on staying?” demanded Miho.
“I have to. I have a duty here,” replied Kai. “It’s no longer an option for me to leave, or else I would have taken you and our family away long ago. But even Eriol thinks it might be better for you to be away from this.”
Now, Miho was trembling. “You’re trying to send me away?”
“No, I’m asking you to consider going with our mother and father to America,” said Kai. “They wouldn’t want to part with you.”
“No, I’m not going away!” stated Miho.
“Please, Miho,” Kai said, staring at the ground. “I almost lost my
family once. I can’t bear the thought of losing you ever again.”
“Well, this time, you’re not going to make decisions all by yourself again, onii-chan,” Miho said resolutely.
“Why can’t you be a little more reasonable and think about our father and mother’s feelings?” demanded Kai, hands on hips.
“I’m not a little girl anymore! I can make my own choices!” Miho stood up to her full height, her gray eyes flashing. And this time, it was Kai who looked away first. “You go—I’ll stay.”
For a second, Kai’s inscrutable steel blue eyes were fixed upon his little sister, who was no longer a little girl. “Otou-san and okaa-san especially will be heartbroken,” he sighed.
Miho shook her head. “They have each other. But this time, I want to be by your side, onii-chan. I don’t want you to be alone anymore.”
“Where’s Asuma?” asked Arima, walking into the empty hospital room. She set her bouquet of orchids down on the bed and turned around, running into the hallway. His doctor had been drinking coffee downstairs in the first floor, so he couldn’t be having a checkup.
“Tsukishiro-san, you haven’t seen Asuma by any chance?” she asked in the hallway.
“Sorry, I’m just passing through to the pediatrics department,” replied Yukito. “But maybe you should try checking the rehabilitation center.”
With a frown, Arima walked down the hallway.
There was only one person in the rehabilitation center at this time. A young man with light brown hair was bracing himself on the two waist-high parallel bars and dragging his weight forward. His triceps bulged, and she could see his white and blue hospital shirt was soaked with sweat. She walked closer.
“Asuma!” she exclaimed, her hands flying to her mouth. “But I thought—the doctors said—“
Asuma almost buckled over seeing Arima. “I didn’t want to show you until I could walk without support. But I’ve been practicing every night after you left.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?” Arima smiled.
“I wasn’t sure if I could really do it. I didn’t want to get everyone’s hopes up.” Asuma smiled slightly. But today, I was able to walk the entire length of the bar, back and forth. The doctors said it’s a miracle. Though I know better.”
“Thank goodness.” She wrapped her arms around Asuma’s neck. “I don’t know if it’s a miracle or not, just, I am so happy for your sake.”
“Wait! I can barely balance without support!” protested Asuma.
“But I still don’t understand how you’ve recovered so quickly. Your back—can you feel your legs again?” Arima blinked.
“Yeah, it’s strange. I’ve been feeling a tingling sensation in my toes since last week. I thought it was my imagination, but it’s not. Leiyun was right. I don’t know what Sakura did, but she somehow made my bones mend quicker. The doctors are confused, but luckily Dr. Li Jingmei came over and convinced all the doctors here that they’re all quacks and had misdiagnosed me and made a mountain out of molehill.”
“I don’t really understand it, but does that mean you’re going to get all better now? You’re going to be able to ride again?” Arima blinked.
Asuma was pensive for a moment. “Arima, I need to talk to you about something. Even if I do heal completely, I’m going to retire as a jockey.”
“The fall has made me think about a lot of things. My future. My parents. I had a long discussion with my father. He expects me to take over the business soon. Of course, he was willing to support my career as a jockey so long as I insisted upon it. But with this experience, I’ve come to realize that I can’t be a racer forever. I’ve got to plan ahead.”
“You’re only 24. There’s still plenty of time to plan ahead,” replied Arima.
Asuma smiled tightly. “In a week, I’m leaving for America.”
“I’ll be undergoing further rehabilitation in top medical facilities there. Father arranged it.”
“That’s good. Though I don’t see why you can’t continue rehab here. Kinhoshi facilities are top-notch too.”
“Afterwards, I’m going to study in New York.”
Again, Arima blinked. “For summer school?”
“I’m getting an M.B.A. at Columbia. It’s a two-year program starting fall semester.”
“I’d been thinking about it for a while. I applied last year and deferred because I wasn’t interested in it then. All I cared about was winning the Tokyo Cup at that time.”
“What about me?”
“I love you, Arima. I know it’s selfish of me to ask you to wait. So I won’t. But I would like it if you do. And several years from now, I will propose to you again and it will be your choice to accept me then.”
“You’re not even going to ask me to come with you?”
“Didn’t you want to marry me because you felt sorry for me?” Asuma replied.
“How can you say something like that?”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean it in that way. I know that you really care for me. And I really care for you. But you were trying to shorten your acting career for my sake. And I can’t ask you to make that sacrifice.”
“You idiot, it was never a sacrifice. It was my choice!” exclaimed Arima, before flying out of the room in tears.
“Absolutely not,” said Miara, arms akimbo, staring at her two children. She had been in the middle of some last minute packing, and her large suitcase toppling over in the second-floor hallway. “How can you say something so selfish when everything’s already been decided? You’re coming with us and that’s final!”
Miho, who had inherited her mother’s stubbornness, retorted, “You mean you decided—but you can’t make us go with you!”
“Keisuke, say something. We can’t leave without Miho and Mikai!” exclaimed Miara.
“We just got reunited. We should stick together,” stated Keisuke meekly.
Miho shook her head. “I can’t leave when the battle against the Dark Ones is reaching its climax.”
“Is it really necessary for you to partake in all this, Miho-chan?” Miara asked pleadingly. “Though I understand your loyalty, there’s Eriol-kun, and Kaho—and it seems like Sakura-chan has many strong allies.”
“And that is why my place is by Sakura-senpai as a member of the Alliance of the Stars. Okaa-san, I thought you would understand better than anyone else why I have to a part of this,” said Miho.
“Yes, I do, too well,” said Miara, gray eyes weary. “Of course I do. I watched all my closest friends pass before me, and I was the only one left.” Keisuke pressed his hand over Miara’s and she looked up at him gratefully.
“And do you prefer to stay as well, Mikai?” asked Keisuke.
“Yes I do,” said Kai, staidly. “Miho and my place is here, in Tomoeda, with our friends.”
Miho stared up at Kai, surprised that he had taken her side. She had been so sure her brother would somehow find a way to insist on sending her away from danger.
“Miho is important in this battle because she is Hiiragizawa Eriol’s only disciple and the third wielder of a staff,” said Kai. “If I could, as a brother, I would want her to be on the other side of the world when the day of final judgment comes. But as one of the allies of the Circle of Star, I say that Miho is needed as a fellow ally.”
“Otou-san, okaa-san, don’t worry about us,” said Miho. “Go and do what you planned to do. We don’t have to be physically together; so long as I know we are together in heart, there is no reason for us to try to go back to our old lifestyles.”
Miara dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief. “My daughter has all grown up.”
Keisuke looked Kai in the eye. “You promise to watch over your sister.”
“Don’t worry, Father. I’ll look after Miho,” said Kai.
Miho crossed her arms. “I took good enough care of myself all this while. I don’t need to you to look after me, onii-chan.”
Kai sighed. “Where did I grow wrong? What happened to my cute little Miho-hime who used to cling to my arms and ask me to read her bedtime stories?”
“Well.” Miara glanced at Keisuke and sighed. Somewhere along the way, her two babies had grown up and were young adults who made their own choices. And Miara always felt the nagging guilt that her children were forced to grow up much quicker than they would have if their parents had been by their side all those crucial years they were growing up. But here they were now, and sometimes, it was the parents’ duty to let them go.
“We’ll always be able to call, twice a day,” said Keisuke, putting an arm around his wife. “And now we’ll be able to get some quality time together.”
Miho and Kai made disgusted faces at each other.
Dinner at the Reed mansion was more animated than it had been in months with the addition of the Tanaka siblings.
“So, why did you move back in here again, Miho?” asked Nakuru. She eyed Kai, who sat stiffly in the dining hall chair farthest from Eriol. “And him too?”
“The only reason Miara-san allowed Kai and Miho to stay in Japan is under Eriol and Kaho’s promise that they would be under strict supervision in the Hiiragizawa household,” said Suppi-chan, sipping on black coffee.
“We can just stay at our own house,” grumbled Kai.
“There are probably two ultimate safety zones in Tomoeda. The safest place is Clow Reed’s mansion, which not only has centuries-old protection woven into the very architecture of the house, but currently is the stronghold of Hiiragizawa Eriol, reincarnation of Clow Reed and the strongest barrier-maker in all of Japan. His guardians Ruby Moon and Spinel Sun do well to fortress the house,” said Kaho. “The other safest place is the Kinomoto residence, though the architectural structure doesn’t have the same magical fortification as does the Reed Mansion, it is home to the other half of Clow Reed’s reincarnation, Kinomoto Fujitaka, and the current Card Mistress, Kinomoto Sakura. The presence of the Guardian of the Sun, Cerberus and the constant presence of Yue and Kinomoto Touya only bolsters the stronghold of the Card Mistress. But the strongest protective force may be an intangible angelic force that constantly guards the house from harm, the presence of the Keeper of the Clow, Amamiya Nadeshiko.”
“I always wondered what the reason behind letting Syaoran-kun stay at Sakura’s house,” remarked Kai. Oddly enough, Touya chose to protect Syaoran.
“Eriol-kun, this baumkuchen is delectable!” exclaimed Miho, sitting at the big dining table that Eriol had lavishly set up, complete with the Reed heirloom silverware.
“Why do you look so happy to be back here?” asked Nakuru. “Aren’t you sad to be apart from your parents?”
“Of course I’m going to miss okaa-san and otou-san horribly,” said Miho. “But onii-chan set up the webcam, and we will be able to talk over the internet often. Besides, this house feels more like home now.” She took a big bite out of the meatloaf. “And frankly, Eriol is a far better cook than my mother is.”
Eriol smiled. “Well, it’s good to have you back again, Miho.”
“Eriol moped for weeks after Miho left, after all,” replied Kaho, hiding a smile in the guise of wiping her mouth with a napkin.
“How is the beef stew?” asked Eriol pleasantly to the newcomer.
“It is delicious,” said Kai jerkily. This whole evening, he had been out of his element.
Miho guffawed. “Why in the world are you wearing a suit and a bowtie, ‘nii-chan?”
“Because he is,” replied Kai, pointing at Eriol.
“Eriol-kun dresses like an old man regularly,” said Miho. “Doesn’t mean you have to.”
Kai had even brushed down his hair for a change and wore a navy blazer over a blue cashmere vest and a gray button-down shirt. “I don’t think spent the past five years trying to reunite my family to end up living with Hiiragizawa Eriol,” he muttered darkly.
After dinner, Kai wandered around the Clow mansion. There were a lot of locked rooms and the thief in him itched to break into its nooks and crannies. But they were magically warded, expected of the safest place in Tomoeda. As was Eriol’s room. “I bet he’s hiding a skeleton or two in his closet.”
Suppi-chan remarked wryly, flying out of the library, “You best not snoop around too much. There are a lot of traps set up around the house.”
“I wonder why he came back to live here,” remarked Kai, staring at the Meiji-era paintings on the wall.
“It’s human nature. The inevitability of returning to where the heart is,” replied Suppi-chan. “Now, head on back to the parlor, where everyone is.”
Sighing, realizing his every move was being watched by this quiet black creature, Kai followed behind Spinel Sun, glancing at the rows of shut rooms. “Why isn’t there a single television set found anywhere?” he grumbled.
To his annoyance, he found Eriol and Miho engaged in a game of chess. The pieces were wrought from silver and gold and the board was carved from walnut wood.
“Do you play next?” asked Eriol, glancing up as Miho made a move.
Kai coughed. “No. I play poker though.”
“I see. What is your favorite Shakespearean play? Miho and I like to recite them sometimes after dinner,” Eriol said. “Miho’s favorite is Twelfth Night. Or do you have a favorite poet or sonnet?”
“Umm… I don’t read,” replied Kai. “I have better things to do.”
Miho, aspiring writer, glared at her brother. “Like playing video games?”
“Miho, did you need help on your science project?”
“No, I already finished all my homework with Eriol before dinner,” replied Miho. She brutally knocked over Eriol’s silver bishop with her golden knight. “Yay!”
“And you didn’t see this one coming,” replied Eriol, snatching away the knight with his rook.
Kai stared at the two aghast.
“It’s like I don’t even exist. Am I invisible in this house?” Suppi-chan stated out loud. When Kai glared at him, the creature replied solemnly, “I’m just reading the lines from my book.”
“Bookworms,” mutter Kai.
“You look tired. Maybe you can go upstairs and rest. I hope you find your room to your liking,” suggested Eriol.
“I guess I’ll get some rest. Good night.” Kai escaped from the parlor and found his way to the second floor room. He hated the room—and he knew Eriol knew it too. It was over-ornate and decorated in gold-gilded baroque furniture. The canopied king-sized bed was over the top.
It was the kind of room that many people would suspect the pompous Kaitou Magician to indulge in—but in actuality, he was a minimalist, at least in interior design. And the room bore an odor of stale French cologne laced with musty mothball.
He flopped down into the bed, to be greeted by the unpleasant realization that another person was lying in the bed. “Gah! What are you doing here, Nakuru-san?”
Nakuru, in a lacy black nightgown rolled over and sat up, her long maroon hair tumbling over her bare shoulders. “Hello, Kai-kun.”
“This is my room, right?” croaked Kai.
“Yeah.” She smiled. “But it used to be the master bedroom when Lord Landon Reed first built the house. This was his room.”
“Why doesn’t Eriol use it then?”
“Because Clow hated his father,” replied Nakuru with a smile. “Anyhow, you can join me. Plenty of room for both of us.” She patted the sheets.
Strange, had she left her bedside lamp on all day? Meilin let out a long sigh as she opened her bedroom door and tossed her book bag on the floor next to her bed. Then she jumped as she saw the long pair of crossed tight black-jeaned legs filling up the length of her bed.
Mizuki Kai sat, propped up against by her pillows, a brown leather bound book in his hands. His sunglasses were on her nightstand and he didn’t bother to look up as he flipped another page.
“How dare you break into my room and lie on my bed?” Meilin exclaimed.
He smirked and read out loud from the book. “Dear Diary. Today, Syaoran told me that my crab croquettes were good. If I work a little harder, I might be able to make better croquettes than Syaoran. I saw Syaoran playing soccer today. He was so handsome, nobody in Japan is more wonderful than him. That Sakura girl still annoys me. She was trying to act all cute in front of Syaoran today. Doesn’t she know that she’s really bothersome? She’s so stupid, I don’t accept her as my rival. I will never forgive her for wearing the red shirt that I bought for Syaoran the other day.”
Meilin’s eyes widened as she realized what Kai was reading. “That’s my childhood diary! Why do you have it? Give it back!” She lunged forward but Kai dodged her, and she dived headfirst into the bed.
He rolled over, still holding her diary, keeping a straight face. “I never thought it was possible, but I love Syaoran even more now that I am living with him in Japan. It definitely was the right choice to come here. If I marry Syaoran, will it be like this, waking up every morning to see his sleeping face and coming home and eating dinner with him at night. In seven years, will I be able to be his wife? He would look so handsome in a tuxedo. I wonder what an eighteen-year-old Syaoran will look like. I wish I can grow up fast and have a beautiful wedding and spend the rest of my life with Syaoran—”
“I said stop it!” Meilin grabbed Kai’s wrist, twisting it behind his back in a tight hold, pinning him to the bed by straddling his torso with her legs. She then snatched away her childhood diary and clutched it to her chest. “How dare you take my personal belongings, you lowlife thief?”
“As you said yourself, I’m a thief. I rummage through people’s personal belongings. Either you hide it better, or else, know that I will look,” said Kai. “You didn’t even try to conceal it—it was right in your nightstand. What if Syaoran found it?”
“First of all, I completely trust Syaoran, and at least he has respect for my privacy!” stated Meilin, trembling in fury.
“I kind of like the angry Meilin,” remarked Kai, gazing up from the bed at Meilin atop stomach. His eyes were laughing, not mocking, and she hated him for looking up so innocently, as if she was the one overreacting.
Meilin grabbed the pillow and slammed it into his face. “I’ll never forgive you!”
Just then, Syaoran walked in, ladle in one hand, calling out, “Meilin dinnertime!” Then he spotted Meilin straddling a much disheveled Kai on the bed in the dimly lit room and jaw dropped.
His canine senses ignited. For a second, his cool amber eyes flickered around the room until it landed on the bed. “Mizuki Kai, what did you do to Meilin?” he roared.
“You mean what is she doing to me?” Kai pointed out.
Seeing Kai was the one pinned to the bed, Syaoran blinked.
Meilin blushed as well as she realized what Syaoran was thinking and quickly slipped off the bed.
“Meilin’s so aggressive,” stated Kai, sitting up from the bed and buttoning up his shirt. “Hey, Syaoran, should I tell you something very interesting that I read today?”
Spinning around, Meilin shot him a death glare. “Don’t you dare—”
“Wow, I never knew that you guys looked so similar until now,” murmured Kai, running a hand over his hair.
“I’ll never forgive you,” said Meilin. Suddenly, she blinked and her eyes became glassy. She ran to Syaoran and grabbed his arm. “Syaoran. Syaoran.”
“What is it Meilin?”
Holding a swallow, Meilin looked up at Syaoran, lower lip trembling.
And a scowl came over Syaoran’s brows. “Did that good for nothing Kai do something to you?”
Meilin shook her head. “It’s my fault—I let down my guard, and he…” She trailed off.
“D-did he take advantage of you?” Syaoran demanded, holding Meilin by the shoulder.
Glancing over her shoulder furtively, Meilin murmured, “And I trusted him too. But he said everything of mine belongs to him.”
“That’s it.” Syaoran stomped up to Kai. “Mizuki Kai, friend or not, as a male of the Li Clan, if you their dishonor my relative, you will have to answer to me. I challenge you to a duel.”
Kai, rather than being intimidated, stared up at his friend with a droll expression. “What century are you from?”
“If you’re a man, you will accept my challenge,” said Syaoran.
“Well, if it’s responsibility you want me to take, I’ll take it,” Kai replied, standing up. “Since I took your cousin’s virtue, I’ll marry her.” He looked up at winked at Meilin, who turned crimson.
Perro-chan flapped after her. “Marry me, marry me!”
“I’m starving,” said Kai, ready to weasel out. But he felt Syaoran’s iron grip on his shoulder.
“Oh no you don’t. We’re going to have a talk,” Syaoran said.
“You know, you’re turning more and more like Sakura’s brother after having lived with him for three months,” grumbled Kai as Syaoran shooed him back to his own apartment.
Syaoran’s arms were crossed. “So, don’t you need to tell me what you’re doing here?”
“Mother and father went on a second honeymoon to the States. They’re going spend a week in Hawaii then make their way to the east coast. Okaa-san wants to do some research for her book and otou-san has to tour with his new exhibition. For the time being, Miho will return to living at Eriol’s, and I’ll be hiding out here again.”
“Don’t you want to spend more time with Miho-chan?” asked Meilin.
“I do, but that meant living with Hiiragizawa Eriol.” Kai shuddered. “I lasted 24 hours in that house before that creep and his accomplices drove me up the wall.”
Even after dinner, the leeching thief remained sprawled on the floor, watching anime on the living television, high volume, and loudly chomping on a bag of potato chips, leaving crumbs over the carpet. Syaoran scowled as he flipped through a fragile Chinese book. “Are you going back to your place yet?”
“Why don’t you stop being a meanie and return the necklace to her?” drawled Kai, stretched on the couch, holding the fractured clear gem up to the light.
Syaoran’s hand flew to his jacket pocket. “When did you—”
“The Eye of the Dragon, said to be taken by the greatest warrior in Japan after defeating the Dragon King,” Kai remarked, flinging the two halves of the crystal up in the air and they burst into white petals that showered down upon Syaoran. “You’ll make her cry if you don’t give it back to her.”
“I already did. And she returned it to me,” said Syaoran with irony. “Just for safekeeping though.”
“So you guys did make up?” Kai frowned. “Then why don’t you go back to her place?”
“That’s even stranger,” said Meilin. “Why would he live in the cramped Kinomoto house, sharing rooms with Sakura’s demon-brother, when he has a huge room in this apartment here that’s not being used?”
Kai looked alarmed. “You’re not thinking of staying here, are you?”
“Why, do you have a problem with it?” asked Meilin. “This place is leased under Syaoran’s name you know.”
“Anyway, I don’t like it,” retorted Kai, arms crossed.
Meilin blinked. “We’ve been living together here before you ever came along.” She turned to Syaoran. “In fact, I don’t really understand why you didn’t just come here in the first place instead of staying as the Kinomoto housekeeper.”
“You guys were kids. But now, it’s different. It’s not right for a grown guy and girl to live together. Syaoran, did you get kicked out by the Demon Brother?” Kai asked. “I knew it was a matter of time before you did.”
“You know, at times, you are strangely conservative for a former-criminal.” Meilin rolled her eyes. “Besides, Syaoran and I are cousins.”
“More like second cousins, twice-removed,” said Kai. “Barely related.”
Meilin wrinkled her nose. “Well, if you have such a problem with me staying with Syaoran, you’re welcome to join us.”
“Maybe I will.”
“And why don’t you go back home to Miho-chan?” Meilin asked, amused to find Kai being jealous of Syaoran of all people.
Kai ignored her and swirled the fake diamond halves around in his palm. “I’m surprised you returned her necklace to her in the first place. Weren’t you after it? Though it all seemed to have worked out in your favor.”
Syaoran gave him an ominous glare.
“Any signs of your powers returning?” asked Kai.
Again, Syaoran shook his head. “I never counted on it in the first place.”
“More importantly, Kara was able to open the Clow because she touched Sakura’ s key. The Unicorn was originally under Lord Landon Reed’s direction, so she had no difficulty wielding it.” Kai eyed Syaoran. “But now it’s just a matter of time before they figure out how to use the rest of the Sakura Cards.”
“I know. Time is running out,” said Syaoran.
Kai tossed the cracked diamond back to Syaoran. “Sakura’s going to have to convert them to the power of the moon at this rate. That’s what you were trying to stall by taking them, weren’t you?”
“What?” Meilin jumped up. “That’s why you stole the Cards?”
“Yes, temporarily removing them from her slowed down the process in which they have to be converted to the power of moon. Otherwise, it would take far too much time and effort to change them; remember how long it took to convert the Clow Cards from the power of darkness into Sakura Cards, the power of stars,” said Syaoran.
“So what are you going to do now?” asked Kai. “Disappear from her life?”
“Don’t be silly.” Syaoran looked up with a gleam in his amber eyes. “I wouldn’t have come back in the first place if I were going to disappear again so easily.”
Sakura could not fall asleep that night. It was hard carrying through school pretending not to talk to Syaoran. Because even in tiny conversation, she was afraid she would betray to everybody that she was in fact friendly with Syaoran. It was especially important to hide this fact from Li Leiyun.
The other day when Syaoran and she missed first period after coming back from Subaru’s first year memorial, her classmates had been suspicious that they had both been missing.
“Were you two together?” Naoko had demanded.
“No! I overslept!” Sakura replied—but Tomoyo hadn’t looked convinced at all. She especially hated keeping secrets from Tomoyo, and half suspected she already guessed.
“Where are you going?” asked Kero-chan with a yawn.
“I just need to clear my head.” Sakura pulled on a thick hooded sweater over her t-shirt and leggings.
She walked around her familiar neighborhood. She thought about going to King Penguin Park. Instead, she walked further down towards the winding path leading towards the woods. When she was younger, she would never have dreamt about walking into the forest in the middle of the night. But she was not afraid of the forest. Because she knew he was there as well. And he was. She saw his sword, his father’s first sword, Hien, gleaming in the moonlight like a silver flash of lightening. His silhouette moved about swiftly and gracefully, like a sprite in the woods. He was wearing a loose green Cheongsam and white trousers. It had been a long time since she had seen him wear traditional clothes. They were not the robes of the Chosen One but battle-wear provided by Tomoyo. She had always thought Syaoran looked most dashing in traditional clothes.
He came to a halt and did not turn around, as if he was afraid that she might dissipate into the woods if he did. “How did you know I was here?” he asked, turning around to really check if it was her.
“You don’t give out the aura of moon power anymore,” replied Sakura. “It took me some time to figure out your presence without the moon. But I can still sense ‘Syaoran.’ Because Syaoran-kun feels like Syaoran-kun.”
And Syaoran smiled a half-smile. “You’ve become really good with your sensing skills.”
“I guess I had a good teacher,” she replied.
He set down his sword, and she handed him a bottle of water from her bag. As if she had known he would be exercising in the middle of the night. “Have you heard from your brother any updates on Asuma-san?”
“He told me Asuma’s doing a lot better.” Sakura stared at the ground. She suddenly recalled a conversation she had with Li Leiyun at the hospital. “You took everything away from him. His precious time, his discipline, his name, his heart and even his powers. You are the chain that binds him and keeps him from his destiny.”
Syaoran was quick to notice the change of expression. “What is it?”
“I heard from onii-chan Asuma-san may be able to walk again,” said Sakura. “He probably will not be able to ride professionally again, but he should be able to move around in daily life find if rehab goes right.”
Syaoran placed a hand on Sakura’s shoulder. “That’s great news isn’t it?”
Syaoran said, “You have to learn to stop blaming yourself for everything. Freak accidents like that happen in racing. Horseback riding is the number one riskiest sport. It doesn’t matter if you are a professional rider and one with as much experience as Asuma-san. Accidents will happen.”
Sakura stared at her hand. “You’re right. I just get a little bit paranoid every time something happens, become afraid that one day, because of me, those who are close to me are going to get harmed. I was always afraid since the Clow Card days that I will be powerless to protect those I love and care for. You once told me about the obligations I have as Card Mistress, that magic is not for my own selfish whims but to help people, that it wasn’t up to me to choose who I save, that I must work towards bettering society.”
“Did I say something like that?” Syaoran asked, his hands slipping away from Sakura as he stared up at the turbulent blue-black sky.
“It was shortly after the Plague incident, when I awoke from the coma,” said Sakura. She noticed that Syaoran tensed. “Back then, I vowed I was going to stop being Card Mistress all together. If I did, I thought all the problems will stop all together. But I was running away.” It was after that conversation, Syaoran had begun to avoid her. And then, one day, without a word he disappeared.
“I know what you mean.”
She had not been expecting that response. She turned to him. She really wanted to tell him this for a reason. Because it’s what she would have done. When they had been partners. “Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be Card Mistress. I still have a long way to go, but I’ve been thinking, ever since I lost the Cards, there are going to be many more difficult trials that come along, and there is no room for me to be weak or cowardly. If I make a mistake, I’m endangering not only myself but all those around me, who support me and trust me. There are times I tried to ignore and avoid the fact that I am Card Mistress, but I couldn’t run from it. It is my destiny. Maybe the chosen outcome is inevitable, but I would like to think of the little choices I make along the way are of my own decision. I don’t want to become bitter and angry like Ruichi-sama or disillusioned and weary like Clow Reed-sama or prideful and unyielding like Shulin-sama or regretful and defeated like Hayashi-sama.”
Syaoran didn’t reply, but she knew he was listening. He had always been a good listener.
“Do you remember when you caught the Dash, you were angry at me because I wanted the Dash to continue giving Tachibana-senpai strength to run faster, but you told me it was unfair,” continued Sakura. “But then, you showed the Dash to Tachibana-senpai during the marathon. I was surprised when you did that, and you told me all you did was show the Dash’s form to her, and she won the race by her own strength. That’s what magic should be. Not a crutch, but a means to strengthen what courage you already have.”
“The power of a man is not measured by the strength in the arms but the strength in his heart,” Syaoran murmured half to himself.
“I wanted to show this to you first,” said Sakura. “Key that hides the power of the moon. Show your true self to me. I, Sakura, command you under contract. Release!” The star-moon emblem at the head of her staff gleamed.” She concentrated hard before sending out an electric bolt of thunder into a clearing in the woods. There was something surreal to be bathed under the moonlight in the still of the forest illuminated by electric blue light.
Syaoran stared in silent awe as he watched the last spark fade away. “That’s amazing. How did you do that?”
Sakura peeked up at him sheepishly. “Actually, I was inspired by you when you use your spell, raitei shourai.” She continued, “You told me how the swords and wards acts like a conductor of powers, like my staff. At least with the Elemental Cards, they’re all around nature. So I figured, I should be able to draw upon their powers even though I don’t have the Cards physically with me. At first, I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it, but learning that the power that I use right now is yours, I felt confident I can.”
“Can you do any other?”
“Firey’s a bit harder to draw upon,” admitted Sakura. “I’m still getting the hang of it. Thunder was one of the first Clow Card I captured and was one of my most frequently used Cards.” She looked at him. “It was the first Card we captured together.” That had been more than six years ago.
“You wore that ridiculous pink dress with bells and cat ears,” murmured Syaoran. He didn’t bother to mention he had always been partial to cats.
“And you never failed to remind me, ‘you really don’t know anything, do you?’” she mimicked his words to perfection.
“Did I?” Syaoran said. “I was such a brat—no wonder your brother and Cerberus call’s me ‘Brat’ all the time.”
Sakura hid a smile and focused on her staff. Firey, lend me your powers. A blue flame flickered at the tip of her staff before dissipating again.
“A little bit more,” murmured Syaoran, moving next to her. He placed his hand over hers. “You’re gripping too tightly—the spell’s not going to happen just by your arm strength. Concentrate. Fire is all around you. The Firey Card is not by your side, but its presence surrounds you. Call upon the Goddess of Fire, Kashin, and summon her to you.”
Sakura closed her eyes and focused only on Syaoran’s words. She felt heat whelming from the tip of her fingers and before she knew it, a blast of fire poofed out into the air. She turned to him, jumping up and down. “I did it. I really did it!”
“I guess you had a good teacher,” he said with a boyish grin. When was the last time she had seen him smile like that? “Do you remember the story I told you about the Japanese swordsman and the warrior who challenged him?”
Sakura nodded. It was after Syaoran had fought with Jinyu at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum. He had begun to tell her the legend of a Japanese swordsman, the best swordsman of the East. The swordsman also had the second sight.
“Once, a foolhardy young warrior accused this swordsman of being so strong only because of his special powers. So, the Japanese swordsman challenged that warrior to a duel and replied since he possessed the second sight and could sense his opponent’s moves beforehand, it was only fair that he would be given handicaps. The Japanese swordsman was blindfolded, his ears were plugged with wax so that he could not see or hear, and his arms and legs were tied down with weights to slow his reaction time to match that of a regular person without the second sight. The Japanese swordsman and his challenger had a duel. Of course, the Japanese swordsman, even with all his handicaps, was proclaimed victor by an impartial judge.
“The challenger, after accepting defeat, asked the Japanese swordsman, ‘How is it that you are still so strong? Was it not because of your second sight that you have an advantage over everybody else?’”
Syaoran continued, “I told you when the defeated warrior asked the Japanese swordsman how he could be so strong even with the use of his second sight, the swordsman replied ‘Perhaps my second sight does serve me an advantage. But if I were not already the strongest I could be as a swordsman, that advantage would not be an advantage but merely a crutch. Even if you take away my second sight, I will still be a skillful swordsman with the title of the strongest samurai of Japan.’ ”
“I tried to think about it. What does that mean?” Sakura asked.
“How about I tell you the rest of the story then?” Syaoran smiled slightly. “Hence, Li Shulin from that day forth never challenged Amamiya Hayashi of the Dragon Eye to another duel. Instead, she vowed to become his lifelong ally, and she was, till their dying day.”
“It was the story of Li Shulin-sama and Hayashi Amamiya?” exclaimed Sakura.
Syaoran nodded. “As legends say, they started out as rivals, or more so Li Shulin-sama’s one-sided rivalry against Amamiya Hayashi, by then already established as the strongest swordsman in all of Japan. Amamiya Hayashi and Li Shulin failed as lovers. The Circle eventually fell apart and everybody went on with their own paths, but I still am a firm believer that they remained lifelong friends. For they were the only of the Original Five to live on to ripe old age and had that much more to reflect upon their life.”
“Don’t feel sorry and don’t feel guilty, Sakura,” continued Syaoran. “If there is a reason for everything, then this impediment, if it can be called one, is not really not an impediment but a blessing. It has made an opportunity to prove my skills as a warrior not based on the special powers bestowed upon me because of my lineage but based on my individuals skills as a warrior. It’s all right if I don’t have magic. Because you are strong enough for both are share. Instead, I will train myself to be the best warrior I can be even without powers and protect you with my hands till the very end.”
How Syaoran always had that uncanny knack of knowing what she was worried about? No, she knew that he didn’t blame her for losing his powers.
Sakura stared at the trees around them. When she was young, she was terrified of these woods, of the howling sound that the wind made through the clearing. Now, she found the woods strangely calming. “Syaoran, I’ve been meaning to ask you one more thing. What happened to Wolfie-chan? When you left, the Wolf Card returned into the Clow, without his aura.”
“I’m sorry,” said Syaoran, head cast down. “I’m sorry. He was trying to protect me… In these very woods.”
“I was afraid that you…”
“You didn’t think I would do anything to Wolfie-chan?” Syaoran asked, more sad than indignant.
“No, of course not,” Sakura said “I know now. But I was confused back then. You had left and Wolfie-chan returned as a Card.”
““I couldn’t protect him then. But I promise I’ll bring back Wolfie-chan,” Syaoran said.
“I would have done anything to protect you in that situation, so as Card Mistress, I am glad that Wolfie-chan died while protecting you,” Sakura said. “It’s what he would have wanted most.”
“Thanks, Touya-kun—or should I say Kinomoto-sensei,” said Asuma as Touya helped him adjust his leg braces. It occurred to him that considering they were resident interns in other departments, Touya and Yukito spent an awful lot of time checking up on him.
“Arima-san hasn’t stopped by today,” remarked Touya nonchalantly, helping Asuma bend his knees and straighten it. “Good, you’re a lot less stiff now. You’re regaining muscle mass too.”
“I don’t think she’s going to stop by again,” said Arima.
“Are you really leaving for the States?” asked Touya.
“Yeah. I booked the ticket already.”
“It’s probably not my position to say this,” said Touya. “But coming from the perspective of someone who has been left behind, all Arima wanted may have been you to ask her to come with you. Or at least ask her what her thoughts were.”
“I know what she would say. She’d want to come with me.” Asuma shut his eyes. “This accident has got me thinking about a lot of things that I took for granted. Arima’s got talent. She’s meant to be in the spotlight. As a female actress, these are her most important years. But in a year or two, she will regret giving up these vital years if she comes with me. And one day, she might grow to reproach me for robbing her of that time.”
“It’s the same old excuse,” Touya mumbled. “You’re a student, and I am a teacher. You’re still young, and I am an adult. You have school, you have a job, you have duties.”
Asuma thought Touya was lost in memory. That’s right, Touya was rumored to have dated a teacher back in middle school. He had always thought Touya was rather mature for his age.
“The doctors told me that I will probably be able to walk again. But they said that I won’t be able to do strenuous physical activities anymore. That includes riding,” said Asuma. “If I was told a year ago that I will never be able to ride again, I really would have thought everything’s over. But now, I realize I can still love horses. I can be a trainer. I can probably ride casually. I just won’t be able to compete in the professional level anymore. But basically overnight, everything I’ve based my existence on has been overturned. I’m no longer the jockey Tamemura Asuma. So, I need time to figure things out. To see who man Tamemura Asuma is. To see where I go from here.”
“And is Arima not a part of that plan?”
“She is. She always will be,” said Asuma.
“You’re just scared that one day, she’ll blame you if she sacrifices her career for you,” said Touya. “But think if you leave now, will that scar you leave her ever mend?”
“Did it ever mend for you?”
“It did. But it took a long time. And only after I met someone else.” Touya paused. “And I made the mistake again for my little sister.”
Yukito pushed Asuma in his wheelchair through the hospital garden path outside. Many patients were outside enjoying the early spring breeze. Magnolias had bloomed, leaving the air fragrant and musky at dusk.
Clearing his throat, Touya said, “Arima-san, since you are here, why don’t you take a look at the magnolias while I go get some coffee for us?”
“Touya-kun, you’ve always been such a horrible actor. As if you need my advice on how to become a better older brother to Sakura,” Arima said. “I know you brought me here to see Asuma. Where is he?”
Laughing out loud, Yukito waved at his two friends, pushing Asuma along. “Touya is a horrible actor. Remember when he played Cinderella in our school play junior year?”
“I missed out on the play because of a CM shoot,” sighed Arima. “And Yoko-chan got the lead part as the prince. And Yoko-chan confessed to Touya-kun at the cultural festival and even danced with her. I’m so jealous. We were rivals in love for Touya-kun.”
“There were a lot of girls who liked you in high school, Touya,” said Asuma with a tight smile.
“Anyhow, we’ll leave the two of you here, since I’m sure you have a lot to talk about,” said Yukito, turning around and taking Touya by the arm.
“No we don’t!” snapped Arima. “I have nothing to say to a selfish jock who rejected my confession and proposal!”
“Rima, do listen to what I have to say,” said Asuma, standing up from his wheelchair, wavering slightly. Yukito passed to him crutches, and Asuma took them and stepped forward.
Arima’s arms were crossed. “Even if you apologize, I’m not going to forgive you so easily.”
“That’ going to be problematic,” said Asuma.
“Oh?” Her eyebrow was raised, but her interest was piqued.
Asuma cleared his throat and fumbled in his pocket. “This is anything but the ideal location and situation.” He held out the little jewelry box. “I wish I can get down on one knee, but I think I’d topple over if I do that.” His green-blue eyes twinkled.
“Asu-chan, what is this?” Arima blurted out her childhood pet name for him.
“Sorry I can’t do it the proper way,” said Asuma. “I’m not an actor and not much good with words. Heck, this is actually rehearsed, and I already forgot what I wanted to say. But Arima, I love you. You’re my best friend, my first, last and only love. Life without you will mean emptiness, and I don’t want that. So, will you marry me, Akagi Arima?”
“Idiot. I was wondering when you’ll finally ask me.” But Touya and Yukito could see that Arima’s eyes misted and her cheeks were flushed.
Asuma blinked, and turned to Yukito. “Was that a yes?”
Yukito nodded with a huge smile. He and Touya didn’t even try to hide behind a tree.
Arima could only manage to squeak, “You had a ring in your pocket?”
“That day at La Seine, I was going to propose to you.”
Arima covered her face. “I didn’t know. I thought you had no interest in marriage.”
“Can I put it on you?” Asuma asked. He slipped the gleaming diamond heart-cut ring onto her slender fourth finger.
All the nurses, doctors and patients eavesdropping in a circle around the pair in the garden clapped in delight.
“Atta boy, now, that’s more like it. Makes me wish I was fifty years younger,” croaked an old man in a wheelchair. He turned to his son. “Now what’s this about you wanting a divorce? Go back home and get on your knees and beg for your wife to take you back in the house.”
“Mommy, isn’t that woman the pretty actress Akagi Arima?” asked a little girl in a white knit cap, pointing. “I love her movies.”
“Don’t point, dear,” said her mother. “But it looks a lot like her.”
“It’s not—Arima’s filming a movie with Himura Takuya in Mongolia right now,” said Touya extra loudly.
“Of course it’s not the Arima—if a man wants to propose to her, they’d have to take her to book out the fanciest five-star restaurant in Tokyo and shower her with diamonds, rubies and pearls and have a private orchestra to even dream of proposing to such a top actress,” said a middle-aged lady with an arm cast.
But Arima at that moment was oblivious to the crowd that had gathered and held it up to the lamplight. “It’s beautiful. How does it fit so perfectly?”
“Because I’m the kind of perfectionist who would measure your ring finger while you’re sleeping,” said Asuma.
Arima looked thoughtful. “It’s true. You are a perfectionist. That’s why I could never beat you in a race.”
And leaning against a bench, Yukito grinned. “You know you’re so busy playing fairy godmother these days, I think Sakura-chan must have rubbed off on you.”
Touya scowled. “Actually, it’s Sakura who badgered me to intervene after she heard from Arima about her quarrel with Asuma.”
During the school day, Sakura and Syaoran found they didn’t have to even avoid each other—there was simply no opportunity for them to talk even though they were in the same class.
At times like this, she wished that she could still speak mind-to-mind with Syaoran. She was dying to ask if he had heard any updates from Asuma. Syaoran slipped her a note as he walked by her desk. “Let’s have lunch together.” She grinned and caught his eyes during Mizuki-sensei’s homeroom announcements and nodded.
Lunch break could not come soon enough, and Sakura and Syaoran finally snuck into the journalism club room and sighed in relief as they closed the door behind them. They had tried the roof deck and even the music room, but it was impossible to find an unoccupied space.
“Kai-kun was right—nobody uses the journalism club room except Aki-kun,” said Sakura, taking out her lunch box. “And we checked to see that Aki-kun has a basketball meeting, so he won’t be back.” Sakura exchanged her potato croquettes for Syaoran’s triangle-cut egg sandwich.
“Well, did your brother tell you what happened with Arima-san and Asuma-san?” asked Syaoran, munching on the croquette.
“No, do you know something?” asked Sakura, eagerly.
Just then, the door swung open, and in came Aki. He almost jumped to see Sakura and Syaoran seated side by side, looking as if they were sharing their lunches and talking as if they were best friends again.
“W-what are you doing here?” stammered Sakura, dropping her eggroll.
“I’m the editor of the journalism club and this is my club room. What are you doing here?” Aki stared between the two suspiciously. “Are you two secretly dating or something?”
“N-no!” exclaimed Sakura and Syaoran simultaneously. “Of course not!”
“Then what’re you two doing here eating lunch together?” demanded Aki. “You thought nobody would come in because I had a basketball club meeting, didn’t you? Which got canceled last minute because the volleyball team took the gym. But you two wanted to be alone, didn’t you?”
“I-I came here because I had a great idea for an article for the paper,” exclaimed Sakura. “And I was hungry so I began to eat lunch while waiting for you.”
Aki was not the chief editor of the school newspaper for no reason. “If you had a great idea, why didn’t you just tell me in class earlier?”
“I just thought of it during lunch break and came here right away,” said Sakura.
Syaoran nodded, impressed at Sakura’s improvising skills.
“And so, what’s Li-kun doing here?” asked Aki.
“Umm—Li-kun and I were talking together and thought of the idea. So we were waiting for you.”
“Well, let’s hear it. What’s the idea?” Aki crossed his arms.
“Let’s see. It’s a brilliant idea. You see…” Sakura paused, staring at Syaoran.
“It’s an article about…” Syaoran scanned the room and saw an old newspaper clipping on the bulletin board. “Kaitou Magician’s true identity. We think we found out the true identity of Kaitou Magician.”
Sakura shot Syaoran a look of alarm.
Aki leaned over, instantly interested. “No way. Who is it?”
“Hiiragizawa Eriol,” said Syaoran. “Too much evidence points to him being the notorious thief. And remember the rumors that Kaitou Magician is not completely Japanese.”
“It’s as I thought.” Aki frowned. “But it will be difficult to prove that Hiiragizawa-kun indeed is Kaitou Magician. And Miho-chan will be devastated when she hears.”
“When I hear what?” asked Miho, as she walked into the room with a stack of photography books Aki had leant her. “Oh, Sakura-senpai, Syaoran-senpai, you’re here too. Tomoyo-senpai, they’re here!”
Tomoyo followed into the room. She almost giggled to see the half-eaten lunch boxes spread out in front of Sakura and Syaoran. “Did we interrupt something?”
“Miho, you live with Hiiragizawa-kun. Do you see any suspicious behaviors from him?” asked Aki. “For example, does he often disappear in the night?”
“Yes,” replied Miho.
“Does he have black cloaks in his closet? Does he have a lot of priceless valuables in his house? Are there times when he’s secretive and seems like he has a dual identity?” probed Aki.
Miho nodded to each question.
“Then there’s no doubt. Hiiragizawa Eriol indeed is Kaitou Magician,” said Aki.
And Miho burst out laughing. “No, he’s not, but he’s the reincarnation of the greatest sorcerer in the world.”
“Stop joking around. I’m serious,” snapped Aki.
“Oh, I always thought Kai-kun was Kaitou Magician,” said Tomoyo, tilting her head.
“Tomoyo-chan, I understand it must come as a shock to you that someone you trust is such a scrupulous criminal, but it is undoubtedly clear to me the Hiiragizawa-kun is Kaitou Magician,” said Aki. “Anyway, Sakura-chan, Li-kun, get photo evidence. Miho, keep close surveillance at home and see if Hiiragizawa-kun shows any unusual behavior.”
“Bossy as usual, Aki-chan!” said a low female voice. A tall women a beige trench coat, a blue and white scar, and a pair of large sunglasses walked into the room.
“My, I’m getting a lot of unexpected visitors today,” remarked Aki, swinging around his chair in the journalism club room. “Onee-chan, your disguises always make you stand up more.”
“Good afternoon, Arima-san,” said Miho.
Arima took off her beret and sunglasses and plopped down on an empty chair. “The school hasn’t changed a bit since I graduated. It makes me nostalgic coming back here. I wish I spent more time attending classes. I was always away for a race or a film shoot.” She clasped her hands in front of her on the desk. “I used to do a lot of interviews in here for the journalism club.”
“Onee-chan, what is that ring on your finger?” demanded Aki, observing the gleaming gem.
“Oh, Asuma-san finally proposed to you!” squealed Sakura. Nice job, onii-chan, Yukito-san!
“Thank goodness he finally got over with it,” said Syaoran. “Four-carat heart-shaped diamond bought from a boutique in Paris. Grade F quality stone. White-gold band.”
Arima blinked her light brown eyes. “How did you know?”
“Asuma-san showed us the ring, the night he was going to propose to you at La Seine last month. Oops.” Sakura covered her mouth. “I don’t think I was supposed to day that.”
“Why do you know so much about engagement rings, Syaoran-senpai?” demanded Miho.
“I have four unmarried sisters,” Syaoran replied.
“Wait a second, how come they know all about this, and I, your little brother, haven’t heard anything about this yet?” said Aki. “What marriage? When did the engagement happen? How come no one told me?”
“Oh, sorry. I would have told you, but it all happened so suddenly. I guess I need to tell our parents first,” said Arima, holding up her hand so the ring sparkled as it caught the light.
“When’s the wedding?” Sakura asked, eyes sparkling.
“Oh, we’re not going to have a wedding. It’s too cumbersome,” replied Arima. “Asuma’s leaving for New York at the end of the week, and I’m going with him. We’ll just register our marriage with City Hall before we leave.”
“What?” exclaimed Sakura aghast. “You can’t just go and sign the papers at the City Hall.”
“Oh, it’s really not about the ceremony,” said Arima with a shrug. “So long as I can be with Asuma.”
Tomoyo shook her head. “Arima-san, you must have a proper wedding.”
Arima smiled. “I’m going to leave with Asuma on Sunday, so there’s simply no time for a ceremony. Besides, if I try to prepare one last minute, the press is going to find out and cause a great ruckus. I want to escape quietly.”
“But you need to walk down the aisle and have a proper wedding dress!” exclaimed Sakura.
“In this short time? We have less than a week.” Arima hesitated. “Well, truthfully, I would have like a little ceremony, just with family and close friends.”
“Nothing fancy, just a small reception, like you said,” Sakura coaxed. “Even my mom had a wedding, and she eloped.”
“I can probably find a white dress in the back of my closet somewhere,” murmured Arima, warming to the idea. “Heaven knows I’ve played a bride in three movies already and had about six different wedding pictorials for magazines since my debut.”
“You can’t marry in just any old dress!” exclaimed Miho. “It’s your wedding dress, the most special day of your life.”
Arima shrugged. “I might as well make use of what is in my closet instead of wasting money on another store-bought dress. Besides—I don’t have time to go looking for the perfect dress in the next couple days with all the other preparation to leave for the States. Also, if I wanted to keep this wedding a secret from the press, it’ll be impossible to go to wedding boutiques without arousing suspicion.”
“But Arima-san should have the perfect wedding dress,” said Meilin. “It just isn’t right.” She turned to Tomoyo. “Tomoyo-chan, surely you can come up with something!”
“It’ll be impossible to make a wedding dress from scratch in less than a week,” said Sakura, eying Tomoyo who seemed to be deep in thought.
“If you don’t mind, Arima-san,” Tomoyo said, “Please leave the wedding dress to me.”
“If you don’t mind, I think I can prepare a wedding dress,” said Tomoyo.
Now, Arima really was wavering, since she too had dreamed of her wedding since she was seven. “It will be an honor to have you make my wedding dress. I’ve been a fan of your designs since the Tokyo Young Designer’s Showcase. But how—”
Tomoyo’s eyes glinted. “I already have a dozen prototype wedding dresses—all you have to do is choose.”
“And why would you have so many wedding dresses at hand?” Miho coughed.
“Well, it never hurts to be prepared, and I’ve always imagined the grandest day of my life would be to see Sakura-chan as a lovely bride. And I’ve sketched out hundreds of wedding dresses for Sakura-chan.” Tomoyo was absolutely starry-eyed, lost in her own rapture. She whipped out from her bag a large scrapbook labeled “Wedding” and flipped through the pages for Arima to see. There were pages and pages of pencil sketches, colored designs, textile samples and even photographs. “Dresses with yards of imported French lace, or dresses beaded with thousands of clear Swarovski crystals, a dress with a long train, flared petticoats, tiered skirts, Victorian puffed sleeves, halter neck, decorated with white roses or maybe with big satin bows—”
“Arima-san is a little bit taller and curvier,” Miho pointed out.
Tomoyo said, “That will be no problem because I made the dresses slightly larger with the possibility that Sakura-chan might grow over the years. The only thing left is for Arima-san to choose the design she likes—and I have every sort of design available—and for her to request any modifications or adjustments to size.”
“All right it’s all set!” Sakura clapped her hands together. “Leave the wedding to us. You just worry about packing and practicing English.”
“You guys are all so amazing,” said Arima, misty-eyed. “But I need to ask Asuma first.”
Aki reappeared into the room. He had disappeared the moment French lace and petticoats came out. “Called Asu-nii and he gives full support of a grand wedding. He actually gave a sigh of relief—he’s more of a traditionalist than you would expect him to be, you know.”
“I know,” said Arima with a giggle. “He was horrified when I told him I did not want a proper wedding. I told him it’s more common nowadays to just sign the papers and get over it, and he said something about ruining the holy sanctity of marriage.”
“So, I’m the best man, right?” Aki asked. “Asuma-ni-san said I can be.”
“Obviously,” stated Arima. “You know Asuma doesn’t really like Hiroaki-nii-sama.”
“Our parents are going to be relieved,” sighed Aki. “You don’t know how long they’ve been waiting for you to get together with Asu-nii.”
“And I would throw such a big fuss when Asuma’s mother and my mother always teased me about when I’ll marry Asu-chan,” said Arima. “And here I am now. Oh and Sakura-chan, you have to agree to be my bridesmaid then. I can give up on the outdoor beach wedding with thousands of white roses and doves flying around, but I’d like to have a cute bridesmaid in a pastel-tone dress.”
“I-I can’t be your bridesmaid!” exclaimed Sakura.
“You don’t want to?” asked Arima, crestfallen.
“No, I would love to,” stammered Sakura. “But it should be someone important to you.”
“Well, I’m marrying my best friend, so he can’t be my bridesmaid, and my group of close girl friends will have a fit if they find out they weren’t the one picked, so I can’t select any of them. If Asuma or I had a sister, she might have been a suitable choice. But since Aki is going to be best man (because Hiroaki-nii-sama is too busy and doesn’t know I’m getting married), I wanted to pick a bridesmaid that will look cute with him. And you will look so cute in the pink dress design that I just picked out from Tomoyo’s sketch book!”
“Hoe! I’ve never been to a wedding before, so I’m not sure what to do, but I’ll try my best!”
“Well, are you busy right now?” asked Tomoyo. “If not, we can go over to my house right away and begin fitting for the wedding dress.”
“Don’t you guys have school?” asked Arima.
“Blegh, it’s the end of the semester, and we have far more important things to do,” Miho said.
As the members of Star Alliance gathered together in Eriol’s parlor Monday evening, they helped themselves to the platter of peanut butter cookies and buttercream vanilla cupcakes that Eriol had baked up earlier. It was difficult for the entire group to gather, but today, even Touya and Yukito were present, much to the delight of Nakuru. Kai was braiding Meilin’s hair while Miho flipped through a bridal magazine. Kaho, Suppi-chan and Kero-chan were teamed up to play a game of chess against Eriol.
But in the center, Sakura and Tomoyo were in deep conversation. Then, Miho clapped her hands together. “Everybody, Sakura-senpai has an announcement to make!”
“What’s he doing here?” asked Suppi-chan, nodding at Syaoran who was awkwardly standing in one corner of the room. “He’s not a part of the Alliance.”
“Maybe he’s here to spy for Leiyun,” muttered Nakuru.
“Well, get on with it. I’m dying with the suspense,” drawled Kai. “So what is it? Surprise attack on Li Leiyun? Or are we holding Syaoran hostage and threatening the Li Clan?”
“I apologize for calling you all here at such a short notice for an issue not related to the Alliance,” said Sakura, ignoring Kai. “For the next week, we have an ultra important mission: Akagi Arima and Tamemura Asuma’s Wedding.” Then, she turned and gazed around at the group. “I completely understand if you are busy, but those of you who are willing, I will appreciate all the help we can get to prepare for Asuma-san and Arima-san’s wedding.”
“And so, how is Li Syaoran involved?” Eron asked, arms crossed.
“Syaoran-kun is very close with the groom, so his input is vital. Besides, I think he will be of great help to us all,” said Sakura. “We need all the help we can get since we are on a tight schedule.”
“What is the time frame?” asked Nakuru.
“Five days,” replied Sakura.
“That’s crazy; we can’t prepare a wedding in five days,” stated Nakuru, flipping back her long hair.
“Yes we can, with everyone’s help,” stated Sakura. “Because Arima and Asuma are celebrities, they can’t hire professional in fear that the news may leak to the press. They want to keep the wedding as low-profile as possible.”
“Well, if there is anything I can do, I am ready to contribute in anyway I can,” stated Eriol, looking around the room. Everybody else nodded in agreement.
“If we can’t get ready in time, then we can’t call ourselves the greatest alliance of the 21st century,” stated Miho, arms crossed.
Nakuru shrugged. “Well, Asuma-kun and Arima-chan were always nice back in the days of Seijou High. Much nicer than Touya-kun was, in fact.”
Sakura had forgotten that even Nakuru had been classmates with them. “Thank you, everybody. Well then, let’s get started!” She looked around at everyone and smiled, feeling much more confident. “The location will be St. Eligius’ Chapel.” It was a popular wedding location on the outskirts of the town and surrounded by a beautiful garden, giving enough privacy. “The time will be at 11 a.m. sharp, on Sunday. Next, Tomoyo-chan?”
Tomoyo stepped forward, flipping over the white board which nobody else had noticed in the room. She uncapped a violet marker. “First of all, we are going to have to divide up into three committees in order for tasks to be completed in a timely manner. The organizational committee, the entertainment committee, and the dressmaking committee.” She turned around and wrote on the board the committees. “The organizational committee is in charge of the logistics of the wedding. The guest list, the invitations, decorations, the program and the reception afterwards. Tanaka Miho will be the head of the organizational committee.”
“I can’t do such an important task!” exclaimed Miho.
“Yes you can. You’re the editor of the school newspaper, and you’re very detail-oriented and organized,” said Tomoyo with a smile. “Aki-kun will be working with you as well, especially regarding the guest list and the reception.”
“Do we have to invite Li Leiyun?” asked Kai.
Everyone was silent.
“Well, he’s Asuma-san’s best friend,” Sakura said.
“He’ll be a party pooper,” said Kero-chan.
“The entertainment committee, mainly in charge of providing the music during the ceremony, is going to be headed by Touya-san, who has extensive experience performing at wedding receptions,” said Tomoyo, glancing at Sakura’s brother. It had been another one of his part-time jobs. “We will have a strings quartet and a piano. Touya-san will choose the members of the quartet right now since there is little time for rehearsal. Touya-san, do you want to take over?”
Nodding, Touya stepped forward. “Since we only have several days, we’re going to have to settle for the musicians. I nominate Hiiragizawa on the piano.”
“Second,” called out several others. It was a given.
“For the strings quartet, we’re going to need two violins, a viola and cello,” said Touya. “Brat, we’ll need you for violin.”
“Who’ll be first violin?” asked Syaoran.
“I will of course,” replied Touya, arms crossed. “Any problems with that?”
“Technically, we should hold an audition for the position,” remarked Eriol with a shrug.
Syaoran scowled. “It’s fine.”
“We need a cellist,” stated Touya.
“I can play cello,” said Eron.
“Since when did you play cello, Eron-kun?” asked Sakura.
“Well, I got bored with the violin, so I picked up a bit of each stringed instrument,” Eron replied. “I can play the viola and bass too.” He sent a challenging glare at Syaoran.
“Well, do you play any of them well?” muttered Syaoran.
“All right, and Ryoko from high school can play viola—I’ve already asked her,” said Touya. Ryoko was a close friend of Arima and Asuma and played in the Tokyo Philharmonic, so she was a safe choice. “We’re only going to have time practice at ten p.m. on Saturday—it’s the only night I have off, and Ryoko finishes performances at 9, so that’s when she’s free. One rehearsal. And that’s it. Any questions?” There were none. Touya wrote the names on the board. “Lastly, it’s customary for a friend of the bride or groom’s to sing a toast song.”
“Well, Tomoyo-chan’s the best singer, so she should do it,” said Meilin. “I’m sure Arima-san has met many famous and talented singers, but I feel like Tomoyo should still be able to impress any wedding guest.”
“That would be the case, however Tomoyo will be the head of the dressmaking committee and be busy preparing the wedding dress, the groom’s tuxedo and the bridesmaid dress,” stated Touya. “Arima has requested her bridesmaid sing the toast song, and I think it makes sense.”
“Who’s her bridesmaid?” asked Nakuru.
“Me,” squeaked Sakura.
Touya groaned. “Seriously? Will you be able to pull it off in five days, kaijou?”
Tomoyo swiftly wrote under “music committee,” Kinomoto Touya, Hiiragizawa Eriol, Li Syaoran, Chang Eron and Kinomoto Sakura. It was going to be quite a combination.
Sakura cleared her throat. “And lastly, obviously, Tomoyo-chan will be head of the dressmaking committee. We will need all the hands we can get. Meilin-chan and I will be helping out. And Rika-chan, Naoko-chan and Chiharu-chan also volunteered to help out beading the dress. We can use all the hands we can get because it will be impossible for Tomoyo-chan to do all the work alone.”
Those remaining were able to sign up for the committee they wanted to join. In organizational committee was Miho, who would work closely with Aki, Kai, Kaho, Nakuru and Suppi-chan.
“Great,” said Miho, beaming. “Onii-chan, you’re in charge of decorations.”
Sakura nodded. “Kai-kun will be in charge of decorations. The decoration subcommittee is in charge of the flowers, balloons, lighting effects and how the wedding will look visually. And I believe there is nobody more knowledgeable in that area than Kai-kun—I think we all learned that during Star-Crossed performance.”
“It’s an honor to be told that you regard my aesthetic sensibility so highly,” said Kai with a bow. “Sounds like an interesting challenge.”
Miho nodded her head. “Onii-chan, you’re also in charge of calligraphy and design of the invitations.” After all, who was better at invitations than Kaitou Magician?
“As if I don’t have enough to do already,” groaned Kai.
Meanwhile, Kaho had volunteered to help out with flower arrangement.
“I think we need to do something impactful,” stated Nakuru. “Arima’s an actress—she wouldn’t want just any old boring ceremony.”
“Well, I think it’s better to stick to traditional,” stated Miho.
“Who’s going to minister the wedding?” asked Suppi-chan.
Touya said, “Yukito was ordained as a wedding minister some years ago. He can minister the wedding.”
“When did he get ordained?” Kero-can questioned.
“I think it was for one of the part time jobs we were doing,” said Touya. “I was hired as the pianist and he was hired as the minister. We made pretty good money.”
“Is there any job you two didn’t do?” said Kero-chan, rolling his eyes.
“Color theme will be violet and white—any objections?” asked Kai.
“Objection!” Meilin said.
Meanwhile, the entertainment committee had somehow morphed into a food subcommittee as Touya, Eriol and Syaoran debated hotly over whether they should have a tall seven-tier grape-flavored wedding cake with lavender roses and violet icing or a three-tier cake with an elaborate horse sculpture on top.
“Why don’t we just have the seven-tier cake with a smaller horse sculpture on top?” suggested Sakura finally.
The three talented patisserieurs glanced at each other and nodded. On the back of the music scores, Eriol quickly sketched out the wedding cake design.
“We need to have two horses,” said Touya, examining the design. “We can model them after Chocolat Maron and Daylight Star, Arima and Asuma’s horses.”
“Do you think we can get a hold of photos to make it accurate?” Syaoran asked.
“I believe we need to change the color theme of the wedding. The purple does not meld with the horse-theme,” Eriol remarked.
“No, it’s going to be purple!” exclaimed Miho.
“I think I can talk with the manager to get food catered from La Seine,” stated Syaoran, diverting the subject.
“Yeah, the manager doesn’t do it often, but I think since this won’t be a huge-scale event, he will agree with the amount of coercion,” said Touya. “Chef Nobuyuki is a sucker for weddings.”
Meanwhile, Eron had been put in charge of beverages. “We simply can’t have Dom Perignon,” he said. “Red wine just isn’t classy for morning receptions. Sparkling champagne or maybe Italian Muscato, fragrant and light. Or if budget allows, I says Louis Roederer Cristal Rose.”
“Are you crazy? Do you know how much thirty bottles of that will cost?” said Kai.
“Well, what’s the point of having a wedding with anything less than the best? It only comes once in your lifetime,” retorted Eron. “Besides, they’re both loaded.”
“For some people,” snorted Nakuru.
“And do you think anyone’s going to remember if they drank regular champagne that you can find at a convenience store or a Cristal Rose?” replied Kai.
“What is Cristal Rose?” Sakura asked, blinking.
“It’s pink and sparkly and delicious,” said Eron, eyes gleaming. “It’s the best of the best.”
“It sounds yummy,” said Sakura. “And the name is pretty. I want to try it.”
“No you don’t,” said Touya sharply.
“Umm… When’s the wedding rehearsals going to be held?” asked Sakura.
“Who needs rehearsals?” said Eron.
“I still think the horses on the cake need to be purple to match the theme,” said Syaoran.
“Have you ever seen purple horses?” Touya replied.
“This wedding’s going to be a disaster,” groaned Miho.
Skipping last period, gym class, Tomoyo, Sakura, Meilin, Chiharu, Rika and Naoko, plus Eriol, gathered in the journalism club room which had been transformed into to a makeshift dressmaking room. They busily embroidered Arima’s wedding dress with thousands of sparkling Swarovski crystals and seed pearls. Sakura’s classmates had sworn to secrecy of the wedding and were eager to help out—and they all had extensive experience sewing for costumes during the Star-Crossed musical thanks to Tomoyo’s ridiculously detailed designs. Meanwhile, Kai was sprawled atop a table and had dozed off with a bridal magazine over his face. Miho joined as well later in the afternoon, having snuck out of study hall.
“I think I’m growing cross-eyed,” Meilin said as she spilled beads on the floor.
Tomoyo turned to Eriol, who was sewing at a faster speed than any of the girls. “Shouldn’t you be rehearsing for the wedding with the music committee?”
“I grew tired of hearing Syaoran and Sakura-san’s brother squabble over whether the wedding cake needs violet icing or lavender icing,” replied Eriol, matter of fact.
“I’m so glad I passed my subjects for final exams,” said Chiharu. Their finals scores had been posted on the bulletin board that morning.
Sakura nodded. She too had done better than she had expected. “I guess we’ll all pass freshman year of high school.”
“I was surprised that Kai-kun didn’t do that great. I mean, he did flunk a grade,” remarked Naoko.
“He didn’t study at all,” said Meilin. Meilin too was relieved that she had come in at least in the top fifty, considering she had transferred in the middle of the school year.
“I was really impressed though. I never knew Li-kun would come in first though,” said Chiharu. “He transferred back here so late in the school year. Though maybe Eitoukou Academny’s curriculum is tougher. But he scored a perfect score on all his subjects—even Japanese language.”
“You know, now that the semester’s coming to an end, it’s odd thinking that Li-kun only joined us several months ago,” Rika remarked.
“And his popularity has skyrocketed ever since everyone found out he was working at La Seine,” stated Chiharu. “I heard he’s especially popular amongst the upperclassmen.”
“Something about the waiter uniform,” sighed Naoko. “Really, I would have paid more attention to him when we were kids if I knew he was going to turn out so handsome. And he’s become much nicer too, compared to then.”
Nodding, Chiharu stated, “The more I look at Li-kun, the more I feel like he’s a charming person. Gruff on the outside, but the more you get to know him, the more you learn about his tender sides.”
“Like how he picks up abandoned kittens that are wet and brings them to school,” Rika added.
Meilin sighed. “That’s why it’s always been my dream to marry Syaoran when I grow up.”
“I wouldn’t mind marrying Syaoran-senpai,” Miho said—after all, she had the hugest crush on him two years ago, ever since she had seen him in Tomoyo’s movie. “He’s my ideal sort of guy. Handsome, strong, a good cook and so caring to boot. And he has an impeccable fashion sense.”
“I thought your ideal guy was your brother,” chuckled Sakura. She didn’t know whether to be amused at Syaoran’s newfound popularity—two months ago, he had been labeled as the Seijou betrayer.
“No way,” said Miho, nose in air. “I would never fall in love with a guy like my brother!”
“Let’s see,” said Meilin, eying a crestfallen Kai, who had been craning his ears from the table at the corner of the room. “Handsome? I guess that’s a matter of opinion, though those sunglasses could be hiding anything. Strong? Perhaps, if he wasn’t busy running the opposite direction with his tail between your legs the moment danger approached. A good cook? Nope. Caring to boot? If you can call creepy obsession caring, maybe. And fashion sense? I guess if you’re into the gothic look and all, but no thank you.”
Sakura and Tomoyo glanced at each other and clasped their hands over their mouths to stifle a giggle at Kai’s aghast expression.
“I wouldn’t mind marrying a chic guy like Li-kun,” remarked Naoko.
Chiharu chuckled. “Naoko-chan has always had a thing for foreign exchange students.”
Naoko pushed her glasses up her nose. “That, and he’s got that mysterious aura about him that I like so much. Like he’s full of surprises.”
“Really?” Rika leaned over chin on hand. “I always thought there was something very steadfast and dependable about Li-kun. Sort of like Terada-sensei.”
Chiharu nodded. “I agree with Rika-chan. Li-kun is the kind of guy as straight as an arrow. Well, that’s what I used to think, though I’m unsure about him these days.”
“You have Yamazaki-kun already!” exclaimed Naoko.
“I know. But Takashi-kun is someone I would like to have as a lifelong friend,” said Chiharu. “Someone I can bicker with to my heart’s content. And Syaoran’s the kind of guy who I would want to have as my guardian.”
“Guardian?” Naoko asked.
“He’s not the flashiest of people, the kind who would be forefront, but rather, the kind of person who would be standing by your side, always watching out for you. The kind of person that would make you feel protected,” said Chiharu.
Naoko’s eyes glistened behind her glasses. “That is so romantic! Chiharu-chan, I never knew you had that sort of fantasy in you.”
“Well Yamazaki-kun is a bit like that too,” remarked Rika. “He’s always joking and acting like he doesn’t care. But when it comes down to it, he’s always got your back, Chiharu-chan.”
“You think so?” Chiharu asked with a faint blush on her cheeks.
“No,” interjected Kai, sitting on the table next to Meilin, atop some expensive lace ribbons. “I’m going to marry Syao-chan. I’m going to have him make me breakfast in bed every morning and bake me apple pie and press my shirts and clean the house.”
“Seems like you want a housekeeper,” remarked Meilin dryly.
Kai pretended to be shocked. “What do you take me for? I will enjoy his companionship in old age. Do you know what a delightful conversationalist Syao-kun is?”
“Syaoran?” Meilin snorted. “Sure, and Sakura-chan is a mathematical genius.”
“Hey! I got 90 percent on my math final,” retorted Sakura. Not that anyone cared.
“And he has a cute smile,” continued Kai.
“True,” said Meilin with another longing sigh.
“He’s really dashing when he gets all sweaty playing soccer,” Kai stated, gazing at Meilin.
“Completely,” Meilin said clasping her hand dreamily. “The way his wet hair hangs in his eyes.”
“And those muscles,” Naoko added. “There must be a reason why Tomoyo-chan always uses Li-kun as her model.”
“Tomoyo-senpai considers Syaoran-senpai’s physique to be the perfect male prototype,” stated Miho, matter of fact.
“You’re awfully fond of Li-kun, Tomoyo-chan,” remarked Naoko suspiciously. “Since Sakura-chan seems to still have something for Eron-kun and Meilin-chan is with Kai-kun, there really is nobody as close to him as Tomoyo-chan.”
Tomoyo looked off towards the benches where Eriol sat conversing with Mizuki-sensei. “Well, he does have the same hobbies as me,” said Tomoyo with a wry smile.
“True,” remarked Kai, nodding. “Cooking, fashion and Sakura.”
Everybody laughed out loud even as their hands were busy sewing.
Daidouji Tomoyo took her daily afternoon stroll around her well-groomed garden, a nice break from all the sewing she had been doing, and admired the first buds of English white roses. She wore a white lace pinafore with a black velvet sash around her waist, and her long violet hair was swept over one shoulder, tied loosely with a white satin ribbon. Today, Miho was supposed to come over to report on the latest updates for wedding planning. Apparently, there was no florist in town able to procure thousands of pink and white roses at such short a notice.
A black car drove up to the sidewalk. Tomoyo glanced up to see if it was Miho, but instead, a man in a fitted off-white suit stepped out of the Mercedes-Benz. His hair was silvery but his eyes were a piercing turquoise.
“Li-sensei, what brings you to this neighborhood?” asked Tomoyo, setting down the watering can.
“What a lovely garden,” remarked Leiyun, peeking through the gates at the lovely white Daidouji mansion.
“Thank you,” said Tomoyo.
“How is Asuma’s wedding plan going?”
Tomoyo knew Leiyun didn’t come all the way to this part of town to ask about Asuma’s wedding. “It’s coming along well.”
“I see you are not with your usual bodyguards.”
“I dismissed them for the day, as I was planning to stay home to work on the wedding dress,” said Tomoyo.
Leiyun’s eyes were a brilliant sky blue as he gazed at the white roses not yet bloomed. “Then I guess there is nobody to stop you from accompanying me to my house.”
Tomoyo narrowed her eyes. “Is it that an invitation or a threat?”
“An invitation. An invitation as pure as the white roses you have over there.”
Even behind the gates of her own house, Tomoyo realized that she was not safe. Either she would follow Li Leiyun voluntarily or he will take her involuntary. She followed Leiyun towards the car. He held the door open for her and motioned her to enter. In the distance, she saw Miho walking down the sidewalk. She shook her head slightly when Miho was about to call out. In the worst case scenario, at least Miho would let the others know where she was.
Sakura and Meilin had been going over wedding details at Eriol’s parlor, which had become headquarters for wedding planning while Tomoyo’s house was headquarters for dressmaking, when the parlor phone rang.
Glancing around, Sakura didn’t see Eriol so she picked up the phone. “Hello, Hiiragizawa residence. Sakura speaking.”
“Sakura-senpai, Tomoyo-senpai’s been taken by Li-sensei,” Miho said in gasps over the phone.
“What do you mean?” asked Sakura.
“I have a bad feeling about this, Sakura-senpai,” said Miho. “Should I go after them?”
“No, it’s too dangerous. I’ll gather everybody together at the Clow Mansion—it’s an emergency,” replied Sakura. “And don’t do anything on your own.”
“What is it?” asked Meilin with a frown, seeing the visible change in Sakura’s pallor.
“Tomoyo-chan’s been taken by Leiyun-san,” said Sakura, clutching the receiver.
“What do you mean taken?” Meilin asked. “What did Miho-chan say? Leiyun must be up to something. He rarely moves by himself. I don’t see why he would have targeted Tomoyo-chan though.”
Some moments later, Miho, arrived into the parlor, out of breath. “H-he took Tomoyo-senpai!” Miho said, red in the face, gasping to take breaths.
The Star Alliance sans Touya, Yukito had already gathered. Her brother had given Miho a ride on his motorcycle. If it was any other situation, she would have been thrilled that her brother had come to pick her up so instantly. Before, he had refused to give her a ride in his car or motorcycle. But she was too worried about Tomoyo to enjoy it.
“Explain things slowly,” said Kai, resting a hand on her heaving shoulder.
“What do you mean taken by Leiyun-san?” Eron said. “You mean, like kidnapped?”
“No, she seemed to enter his car voluntarily, but I don’t know. If it’s Li-sensei, I feel like he’s up to no good,” replied Miho.
Meilin frowned. “There is no reason for Leiyun to need to see Tomoyo.”
“Yes there is,” said Sakura darkly. “It’s because of me. He wants to hurt me.”
“Seems like something he would do, think what would bother the Card Mistress the most. She’s the type who would get upset if those who are close to her are in danger. And who is the person closest to her? That is none other than Daidouji Tomoyo,” Nakuru commented.
Suppi-chan had the courtesy to growl at her, “Not making things better.”
“What I don’t understand is why he chose Tomoyo-chan. Maybe Eron-kun or Kaho-san, but not Tomoyo,” remarked Kai offhandedly.
“What do you mean?” asked Sakura.
“Hmm... You do have a point,” Eron stated. “Leiyun doesn’t like to waste his time.” He eyed Kai carefully. “Though frankly speaking, I would have thought that you would be the most likely candidate to target.”
Kai shrugged nonchalantly. “He already made me an offer, and I refused.”
Meilin frowned. “You never told me about this. When? He’s not the type of person who take no for an answer.”
“I know,” Kai said. “But here I am. And it’s an experience I don’t want to reciprocate.”
“What did he want with you?” Meilin asked.
Kai smiled thinly. “If I were you guys, I’d think it’s a better idea to retrieve Tomoyo as quick as you can though.”
“Leiyun won’t harm her,” Meilin stated. “He’s not that kind of person.”
“Physically, no,” said Kai. “But mentally, I have no guarantees.”
Meilin stared at Kai sharply to figure out what he exactly meant.
“I have to go find her,” said Sakura, clutching her Star Key.
“I’ll go with you!” exclaimed Kero-chan. Eron too, nodded.
“No, wait,” Eriol said, speaking for the first time since they heard the news of Tomoyo been taken by Leiyun. He stood up, his staff in hand. “I’ll go.”
“But—“ Sakura saw the dark glint behind Eriol’s glasses.
“Stay. I move quicker alone,” replied Eriol. And as if to prove his point, he simply vanished from the room.
After Eriol disappeared, there was a still in the room. Miho looked completely relieved because she seemed to trust Eriol. However, Sakura could not see how the rest of the Alliance could be so nonchalant and carry about their daily tasks. Mizuki-sensei and Kai were playing a game of chess, with Miho and Meilin interfering every so often. “No, Kai-kun, pawns are very important too!” scolded Meilin. “No, they’re annoying—they get in the way!” he replied. Suppi-chan and Kero-chan were arguing about the best way to bake a chiffon cake. Nakuru looked rather bemused about the whole situation for some reason.
“For heaven’s sake, Sakura, sit down,” said Eron.
Sakura frowned. “You don’t understand. She was only taken because she is my friend. If anything happens to her—”
Eron stared at her with his piercing golden eyes. “No, I do understand. How to you think everyone felt when you were taken by the Minato-gumi? You think we were sitting around drinking tea?”
“But—” Sakura was silenced.
“There is no denying Hiiragazawa Eriol is undoubtedly the most capable of us to save Tomoyo from harm’s way, if she indeed is in any danger,” said Eron. “Sometimes, the only thing you can do is wait.” Then he sighed. Perhaps Syaoran, in a situation like this, would have let Sakura have her way and accompany her to the Li Mansion as she wanted.
And Sakura finally sat down on the couch. There was no arguing with Eron on that.
“In all my years of knowing Hiiragizawa Eriol, I have never seen him lose his cool like he did today,” remarked Nakuru.
“He looked pretty calm to me,” said Miho.”
“Did he?” Nakuru smirked.
“Well, Tomoyo is the only one of the Alliance who has no special powers to protect herself.” Suppi-chan pointed out.
“Who needs special powers when she can summon the greatest sorcerer of his time to her side in an instant,” remarked Kero-chan.
Keeping all semblance of courtesy, Leiyun invited Tomoyo into the parlor of the Li Estate, and offer her a seat on the bronze and burgundy tanned-leather armchair in the center of the room. Long violet curls swept over one shoulder, Tomoyo sat up back straight, slender white hands folded on her knees like a proper lady.
“Would you like some tea?” asked Leiyun, seated on a sofa facing her.
“No thank you,” she replied.
“Wei would be heartbroken.” Leiyun’s ice blue eyes were inscrutable. “He has always praised your great knowledge of loose leaf teas and you excellent taste in delectable patisseries.”
“Why did you bring me here?” asked Tomoyo. If she was nervous, neither her voice nor poise betrayed it.
“Relax, I have no ill intentions in bringing you here,” replied Leiyun. “I thought it was high time we got more acquainted with each other, since our ancestors once shared a remarkable friendship.”
Tomoyo did not trust Li Leiyun’s words but nonetheless realized that if Leiyun had wanted to harm her, he already had plenty of opportunity to do so without the hassle of bringing her into his house. Her eyes lingered on the portrait of a stunningly beautiful woman with an ivory oval-shaped face, jet-black hair woven into various braids wrapped around her head and pinned with a variety of jade and coral pins wrought in gold flowers and butterflies. Her cat-like eyes were familiar, a brilliant amber, almost ruby color, and though her crimson lips were bow-shaped and slightly vulnerable, there was an undeniable haughty air about her.
“That’s Li Shulin, my most illustrious ancestor,” said Leiyun, pausing in front of the painting set in an elegant gilded frame. “She was around your age when she sat for the portrait.”
“She was very beautiful,” Tomoyo remarked because Leiyun seemed to be waiting for a response. This was the woman that her own ancestor, Amamiya Hayashi, had purportedly once loved. There were traces of Syaoran in her face, especially the eyes, though Meilin had her high brows and fiery spirit. If the portrait was not flattery, Li Shulin had a mesmerizing if not nauseating beauty. More importantly, this was the woman who had abandoned her husband and son, the future Clow Reed, to rejoin her Clan and lead them on an expedition to settle in Hong Kong. She was the woman who had established the Li Clan’s longstanding fame and fortune.
“They say her beauty was cursed; it drove men mad. Many a foolish man fought duels to death or took their own life driven by their obsession with her beauty once she chose to marry the Westerner, Landon Reed,” said Leiyun. “And yet, there was one man whose heart she could never win, but she would love till her own death.”
Tomoyo had been under the impression that Amamiya Hayashi had returned Li Shulin’s feelings, the driving force of the Chang twins’ revenge. Of course, matters of the past could be interpreted in many ways. But she could not figure the reason Leiyun seemed to hold an odd sort of adulation and resentment of his great ancestor. “Why did she marry Landon Reed?” she finally asked.
“Maybe it was to somehow keep him in her life.”
“Amamiya Hayashi. Who had married the one unspoken of, Chang Risa.”
“But she died.”
Leiyun had his hands folded behind his back, still staring at the portrait. “Amamiya Hayashi was forever burdened by her death. After the Great Five gathered one last time which resulted in the fall of Chang Ruichi, they each went their own way. Amamiya Hayashi eventually remarried a normal woman and Li Shulin finally married Landon Reed far from her homeland.”
“Why did Shulin-sama leave Landon-sama then?” Tomoyo asked. It was a question that she had dared not ask Eriol. Why had Li Shulin abandoned her young son and Lord Landon Reed, whom she must have grown to love, or else, why would she have married him?
“Because she was a Li. When the Great Elder fell, and the Li Clan faced persecution in Shanghai because of a political scandal, the family had to relocate to Hong Kong. And there was no other who could take on the helm as the Great Elder except for Shulin-sama. Hence, she abandoned her husband and young son to return to the Li Clan.”
Tomoyo frowned slightly. “Why could they not have joined her then?”
“It is one or the other with the Li Clan. You can never choose both.” Leiyun blinked his long lashes. “But I did not bring you here to bore you with tales of yonder days.”
“Then why did you bring me?” asked Tomoyo. “Surely it’s not because you need a seamstress because frankly, that is the only skills that I can offer.”
He smiled thinly. “I see why Hiiragizawa Eriol is so fascinated by you. You are a paradox. Everything about you resonates the makings of a world-class sorceress. I would daresay were you born in any other dimension you would be a bearer of great powers. Yet, in this lifetime, in this form, you are but a regular girl. It’s a pity, a real pity.” Leiyun did really look sorry for some reason. “More than Kinomoto Sakura, you have the makings to be Amamiya Hayashi’s heir-apparent. Do you not have any regrets that you are not a holder of power?”
“It will be a lie to say it never crossed my mind what I would do if I had such powers you speak of,” replied Tomoyo staidly. “However, I do not envy the position that Sakura is in, as I would have buckled under temptation.”
“And what temptations do you speak of?” asked Leiyun, bemused.
“The temptation of excess, extravagance and the frivolous,” replied Tomoyo with a short laugh. “I have to admit, my penchant for beauty is a character flaw I possess. Hence, I cannot pretend that had I the power, I would waste it on my extravagant hobbies instead of the betterment of society.”
“And where’s the harm in that?” Leiyun laughed. “Well, would you be disappointed if you hear that I did bring you over here for your fashion expertise?”
Tomoyo blinked languidly. “For what?”
“Well, every magician needs a cloak. And you see, I find our Li Clan tailors and seamstresses to lack originality in design. What say you if I commission you for a white cloak in the fashion of Clow Reed, but one to suit me,” said Leiyun.
So, Tomoyo to satisfy Leiyun’s whims drew up several sketches on a notepad he had given her.
“I see, you are indeed you are every bit as talented as rumored,” remarked Li Leiyun, admiring the sketches that Tomoyo had drawn up. “I like this crescent moon decoration in silver around the hems.”
Leiyun had procured bolts of white poplin which had been the spare guestroom’s curtains at one point, and Tomoyo was quickly measure the fabric. Though she hadn’t meant to be, she was very impressed with the quality of the fabric and the sheen of the silvery skeins of thread that Wei had brought for her use. It didn’t help that Leiyun resembled Syaoran a lot, and her artistic eye couldn’t help imagine how eerily romantic he would look in a white ensemble.
“After I finish this, will you let me leave?” said Tomoyo. It was not the best strategy, but perhaps humoring Leiyun was the best way to escape the mansion safely. But first, she had to figure out his next plan of action.
“What makes you think that you are prisoner here?” asked Leiyun.
“By this time, I think you can have concluded that I do not have any latent magical powers and never will,” said Tomoyo. “Hence, I won’t be any use for you in your Circle of the descendants of the Great Five.”
“What makes you think that I am trying to replicate the Great One’s Circle of Five?” asked Leiyun.
“You must be waiting for something, else you would have tried to challenge Sakura already,” replied Tomoyo.
“Impressive deduction,” said Leiyun. “Though I cannot ascertain if your assumptions are indeed correct. However, I can tell you now that it might serve to your benefit if you do reconsider where you alliance should lie. For example, you might recall a certain challenge the Card Mistress sent me last Christmas. I can mostly gladly take upon the offer.”
“No thank you, I am happy where I am at. And if you were to accept Sakura’s challenge, you would have done so already.”
“Again with your boding for time theory?” Leiyun smiled. “Well, again, I will tell you that you are mistaken and you are still my guest, not a prisoner.”
Tomoyo silently continued to embroider the fabric with the silver thread. It was hard being observed by those pale blue eyes, but sewing gave her a chance to think about an escape strategy. She knew all the windows and doors were bolted. Wei might let her leave—but Wei was no longer under Syaoran’s command, and he was now under obligations to follow his new master. She knew it would be easy to enter but hard to leave; it was well worth the risk in order to have an opportunity to analyze Li Leiyun.
“You know you are wrong about something else. You seem to believe you have absolutely no magical powers, and that you never will.” Leiyun hands were folded on his lap. “But you are the descendent of Amamiya Hayashi. There is latent power within you and means for you to gain power and wield it. Do you not want to experience that?”
“No, I’ve read about spells like that. Spells where you can kill another magician and rob them of their power. Black magic,” said Tomoyo. “Though I don’t have magic, I’ve studied a lot about it.” There were plenty of ancient spell books in the Clow Mansion and she had researched thoroughly back when Sakura had lost her powers to find any means of recovering them. At least the ones that Eriol had not locked up in his private bookshelf that not even Suppi-chan had access to.
“My cousin was foolish and gave up his powers to the Card Mistress,” said Leiyun. “But I believe he will find a means to regain use of magic, whatever it takes.”
Tomoyo narrowed her eyes. “And do you know a way for one to regain powers?”
“Kill the person who took it,” replied Leiyun with a thin smile.
A chill washed over Tomoyo as she pricked her finger with the needle. A drop of red blood fell on the white fabric.
“And why does it not surprise to find you all the way over here, sewing with the enemy,” came a sardonic voice from the doorway.
Tomoyo looked up to see the last person she would have expected to see at the parlor of the Li Mansion. Eriol hated this very house, but he was standing there, staring up at the portrait of Clow Reed’s mother, in his navy-black cloak and his pale face in contrast to the black frame of his glasses. She had not noticed before that Eriol resembled the Li side of the family before.
Leiyun turned around. He too was surprised—for he had not even sensed Eriol’s arrival— and he paused before remarking, “My, to what special occasion do I hold the honor to have the reincarnation of the mighty Clow Reed visit our humble dwelling?”
“Tomoyo, let’s go,” Eriol said in a low voice.
“Sorry, I said you were a guest. But I had a sudden change of heart.” Leiyun smiled, turning back to Tomoyo. “You see, this changes everything.” He waved his fingers.
The silvery metallic threads twister, and clamped her wrists to the bronze armrest tightly. Tomoyo glanced at Eriol and was unable to utter a word as suddenly the floor beneath her gave away and she dropped down into a black pit.
The black aura emitted by Hiiragizawa Eriol was enough to shaken many accomplished magicians. “Where did you take her?”
“I don’t know,” Leiyun replied. “What Dark Forces do with their prey is not to my control. But you are welcome to search for her—”
Without further ado, Eriol pointed the head of his staff to the floor and blast a whole right through the center of the Persian rug. Then he jumped right in.
When Tomoyo opened her eyes, she was greeted by complete darkness until her pupils adjusted to the dim lighting and she could make out the outlines of iron bars. So the rumors of the Li dungeon were not completely unfounded, if she was indeed still in the Li Mansion. She was suspended midair on a pole, her arms stretched out and chained to a horizontal plank. Her ankles were also chained to the vertical pole, and though she was not yet in a state of discomfort, if she twisted her body the slightest bit, she found that the chains cinched her wrist and ankles. If she pointed her toes a little and used her arms to hoist her weight up a little, she might be able to slip off the chains around her ankles. Beads of sweat rolled down her forehead as she squirmed. In the process, she found the metal twist around her ankles more tightly and one shoe slipped off from her foot and tumbled into the abyss below. Judged by the sound of the plop, she was quite a distance from the ground, and a fall could prove fatal.
For a moment, she was pensive. “Am I supposed to call for help? Or do I just wait. And I so needed to finish the embroidery on Arima-san’s wedding dress bodice by today.” She didn’t know if it was just her imagination, but the chains seemed to cinch her wrists and ankles more than before.
She didn’t have long to brood before she heard a loud explosion above her. Then she heard another bang, and then yet another bang. The final bang, nearer than ever, and she was blinded by a blazing orange light. She blinked up to see a smoke of dust and debris and the silhouette of a black cloaked figure and a gleaming staff with a large sun emblem. He jumped down from the hole in the ceiling with a panther-like grace. “I’m sorry I kept you waiting. I didn’t realize there would be so many layers to the dungeon.”
Tomoyo smiled weakly. “It makes me wonder for what reason Shulin-sama had to build such deep dungeons beneath her house.”
“And I always wondered where Clow got his sadistic streak from.” Eriol frowned as he sized up the metal cross-shaped fixture which Tomoyo was bound to. “I’ll get you down in an instant,” he called out. “So hang in there even if it may be a little uncomfortable.”
“I’m all right,” said Tomoyo, wiggling her bare toes. “I’m thinking of a new dress I will be making for Sakura-chan. I think I’ll make it black with silver chain accents, sort of punk Goth. Everyone in the Alliance looks good in black, and it would make Kai-kun ecstatic. I think I will make everyone matching black cloaks with a metallic gray lining.”
Eriol had to smile. “I’m beginning to wonder, maybe I interrupted you in the middle of your great creations?” He drew nearer to the silver pole. “But I think I’ve figured a way to get you down. I can try to blast the chains off, but I might hurt you.”
“You’re precaution is well-advised,” stated Kara Reed, stepping out from the shadows. “If you try to force the chains off her, it will only strangle her.”
“Daughter of Leon Reed,” said Eriol, staring at the blonde girl with violet eyes.
“Reincarnation of Clow,” replied Kara, staring at him, unfazed.
Eriol stared at the girl with the slanted violet eyes and long pale lashes. “What do you want from me?”
“Your keen intuitions do not fail to impress me,” stated Kara. “Well, I won’t waste words then. You are the creator of the Clow. You alone will know. How do you open the Book of Clow?”
Eriol’s jet-black hair covered his glasses. “It’s not up to you to open the Book. The Book chooses you.”
“Wrong answer,” said Kara.
A chain lashed out and looped around Tomoyo’s slender, white neck.
“I’ll give you another try,” Kara stated. “You are the creator of the Clow. You know the seals which bind the cards in the Book and also keep others out. You say the book chooses you. It was foreordained that the Book—or can I be more direct and say Clow Reed himself—chose Sakura as successor of the Clow. But there are other methods. Or else, how was Syaoran able to use the Clow Cards?”
“Those were ones he sealed, when Sakura had not been formally ruled as Card Mistress by Yue,” said Eriol. “And he was able to continue to use Sakura Cards afterwards because Sakura, once Card Mistress, allowed him to do so.”
“So you can use the Cards if you are its master or if their master allows you to,” said Kara. Which was nothing she did not know before. Or, if the Card allows it. But that was leaving things to chance, and no Reed leaves things to chance. “What is the loophole?”
“There are no loopholes,” Eriol replied.
Several more heavy chains snaked around Tomoyo’s arms, legs and waist, and this time, Tomoyo let out a slight gasp. She did not want to distract Eriol, for she was sure he was planning something, but it had not been her imagination as each second passed, the chains roped around her limbs tighter. But Eriol did not look up.
Kara stepped closer to Eriol, finally able to see his midnight-blue eyes, and her throat clamped. He was furious, his pale face even paler and his dark brows cutting his forehead into a deep frown. Someone as poised as calculating as Eriol should be able to rein his emotions under than usual calm, insipid mask of his—that was only expected of him. He could—but he didn’t bother to. Though she felt a chill in her blood, she did not recoil. “Let me rephrase my question. You are the reincarnation of Clow Reed. You have not yet, but should you wish to, can you wield the Cards?”
For a second, Eriol looked pensive. “Yes, I can, at least for the ones that I sealed. The original Clow Cards.”
“Which is why Syaoran is better at wielding some Cards than Sakura is, like the Time,” murmured Kara.
“I have answered all your questions. Now let her go.”
“Who?” Kara blinked.
“Daidouji Tomoyo. She has nothing to do with this,” said Eriol in a quiet, low voice.
“Oh, I had almost forgotten about her,” said Kara, glancing up at the pale girl who had not voiced a single word of protest thus far even though she was near suffocation as the chains had enshrouded her almost completely. They could hear the clinking and clanking of the chains as they coiled up her waist, her chest, her neck, tightly, more tightly.
“Your Key of Darkness,” stated Kara with a smile. “Your key in exchange for her returning in one piece.”
“No, Eriol-kun!” exclaimed Tomoyo, her voice cut short the broad linked metal chains looped around her throat, cutting her breath short. Maybe it was the smell of rust, or of her own blood as the chain links cinched the skin around her throat, arms and legs as she thrashed about, trying to free herself. She was not scared—why would she be when Eriol was there.
“Really, this dark force is quite uncontrollable—any tighter and she’ll be dismembered if she doesn’t suffocate first. Either way, that will tear the poor Card Mistress’ heart into two.” She gazed at Eriol’s unflinching visage. “Or maybe not just her.”
“Place out your hand,” said Eriol.
“What are you planning to do?” Kara demanded, tentatively extending her hand out.
He grasped it. “Sealing the deal. If I give you the Key, you will let Daidouji Tomoyo free, unharmed, and promise never to pursue her again.”
Kara looked bemused for a second. “Deal.” And she realized in one handshake that a spoken deal with Hiiragizawa Eriol was binding, and she dared not think of the consequences of breaking such a powerful contract.
He yanked the key from the chain around his neck and flung it at her.
For a second, Kara stared at the strange black key with a golden sun emblem on top, before, nodding.
The metal chains recoiled, and Tomoyo found herself gasping for air, suddenly feeling quite bare and lightheaded.
And without them holding her in place, she lurched forward and would have dropped straight down if a gentle gust of wind helped her land on her feet. She found her legs wobbly as one foot hit the ground, and to her own chagrin, she collapsed onto her knees.
Instead, Eriol stood still, motionless, as Tomoyo steadied herself. Her white dress was in tatters, and her long violet hair hung around her face in loose curls since she had lost her white ribbon somewhere along the way. But there was a strange sort of defiance in Tomoyo’s eyes as she brushed the dust off her skirt and ran a hand over her hair then stood up again, slowly. He could see the welts across her ankles, wrists and neck, and he grimaced, but didn’t say anything.
Kara murmured, stepping towards the back doors, “If it was Sakura, he would have caught her in his arms in a princess’ embrace.”
“If it was Sakura, would he have even intervened in the first place?” was Chang Erika’s placid reply.
“You don’t look so good,” said Kara, as Erika leaned against the stone wall, clutching her chest.
“As expected, it’s difficult to wield one of the elements,” Erika said.
“You were trying too hard not to let it crush her. It’s difficult fighting against the will of such a temperamental, powerful dark force,” Kara replied, helping to steady Erika. “I knew it’s too early for you to handle a Sakura Card.”
“I can handle it—it just requires a lot of concentration,” snapped Erika before storming out.
Left in the underground dungeon of the Li mansion, the Tomoyo stared up at the shafts of light from the hole Eriol had blasted in the ceiling.
“What happened to your other shoe?”’ asked Eriol, slightly bemused by the sight of one bare foot. He caught sight of the white slipper and dusted it off with the edge of his cloak. He bent over and carefully placed her foot in it.
“What are you going to do?” she said To Eriol. “You should go get your key back. It’s important, isn’t it?”
“It’s important,” said Eriol.
Tomoyo frowned. “So, your key—”
“’Was a mere decoration. I’m allegedly the reincarnation of the most powerful sorcerer of the East and West. Do you really think that the source of my power was from a flimsy staff?” Eriol smiled. He took off his heavy black mantle and draped it over Tomoyo’s shoulders, and as he did so looked straight into her eyes. “It wasn’t even a source of amplification, like Sakura and Miho’s staff. It’s literally a key that can turn into staff.”
Though Tomoyo wasn’t convinced, it took every ounce of her remaining strength to keep her knees from wobbling and collapsing.
“Well, now, should be go, Cinderella?” Eriol held out his arms. This time, she was grateful to take it. “The bell tower is tolling is twelve ‘o’clock, and I think you have twelve anxious friends waiting for you.”
“I hope Leiyun-san doesn’t mind I didn’t finish his cloak,” remarked Tomoyo as they walked through the rubble. “I do hate leaving projects unfinished.”
Leiyun was quietly seated in his armchair, fingering the silver embroidery hemming an ivory white cloak, when Kara returned to the parlor.
“Are you going to just let them go?” she asked.
“I never intended to keep them,” replied Leiyun
Kara narrowed his eyes. “You just wanted to see Hiiragizawa Eriol lose his cool.”
“I am glad I was not disappointed by Clow Reed’s reincarnation,” said Leiyun, pressing his lips to the crescent moon embroidery.
“They say, like mother, like son,” said Kara. “Too bad I went too easy on him. When again will we have the upper hand like this?”
“Don’t worry. There will be more opportunities. Did you get it?” asked Leiyun.
“Boring,” said Kara, tossing the key up in the air and catching it one hand.
“Careful,” said Leiyun. “Just because you don’t know how to use it doesn’t mean it’s any less valuable.”
“I was surprised. He didn’t hesitate for one second.”
“Because he knew it was of no use to us.”
“I don’t get it. With his powers, he could have fought back against the dark force and rescued Tomoyo easily.”
Leiyun replied, “But it was quicker to hand over the Key and not take any risks. After all, it’s a dark force that even he didn’t seal before. Even I admit this dark force is a rather fluid one. I try not to meddle too much or else Erika gets touchy.”
“She just is not as accomplished as her twin. I still don’t see why we couldn’t have taken up the boy,” said Kara.
“But Erika’s gotten better, hasn’t she?” said Leiyun. “As I mentioned, there is no better way to improve your skills as a time limit.”
“Erika went easy on Tomoyo because they’ve been classmates for too long,” said Kara. “Wouldn’t it have made more sense to take Mizuki Kaho? Or are you too intimidated by her?”
“Did you see the look on Eriol’s face when he saw his precious little goddess chained up and being suffocated?” asked Leiyun. “I think I made the right choice.”
“True. I never knew Eriol could make such an expression. Well, I guess Tomoyo’s the one without powers and all.” For a second, she watched Leiyun’s content expression. “You don’t think he actually loves her.”
“No, he doesn’t,” said Leiyun. “He can’t. But she is a special existence to him. I just didn’t know how special until now.”
“I thought he loves Kaho. I think we could have seen him completely lose it if we took her,” said Kara.
“But we can’t do anything to Kaho that can outdo the horror of what that person did to Mizuki Mika,” said Leiyun. “It’s all about novelty, the freshness of the situation. A murder scene in a horror movie doesn’t have the same impact on second viewing, does it?”
Kara stated, yawning, picking up the white cloak with her thumb and forefinger. “Did the otaku-girl make this?”
“Quite impressive, in a few hours.” Kara swung the cape around her shoulders. “I like it. I wish it’s a different color though.”
“Hey, that’s mine. Give it!” exclaimed Leiyun.
Kara stuck out her tongue. With a poof, the cloak turned midnight black, with half-finished silvery crescent moon embroidery, and she draped it around her shoulders. “We should have tortured Tomoyo a little longer. I wanted to see Eriol grovel at his knees for a change.”
“Well, I have some serious reparation work to do,” said Leiyun staring at the pitch black hole in the middle of the parlor floor.
“And that was my favorite rug,” lamented Kara. “But doesn’t the Greatest Sorcerer of the East and West to everything with style?”
“I am rather appalled by his lack of manners,” drawled Leiyun. “I thought Englishmen are taught proper etiquette from birth, are they not? Or is it because he’s only half. First, coming into the house without at least first knocking and next, burning holes straight through the floor. I hope he can’t find the way out of the dungeon.”
Just then, they heard a loud explosion downstairs.
“Too late, they’re gone,” said Kara, peeking out the heavy velvet curtains out the window. Meanwhile, the house began to tremble.
Leiyun frowned. “Wei, Jinyu! Emergency!”
“Thank goodness you’re all right, Tomoyo-chan,” said Sakura, throwing her arms around her best friend’s neck. She examined Tomoyo from head to toe before she was satisfied that Tomoyo was unharmed. “What happened? Did Leiyun hurt you?”
“No, we just had tea and talked a little bit. He’s very interested in fashion,” said Tomoyo with a smile. She had already changed out of her torn white pinafore into a high-collared, long-sleeved dress.
Sakura blinked in disbelief. “But Eriol-kun was really worried—”
“There was nothing to be worried about,” said Tomoyo. “But it created a good opportunity for me to leave without offending Li-sensei.”
“So nothing happened?” Sakura stared into her friend’s eyes.
Tomoyo nodded. “It’s not like he forced me to his house. I went there. I even found out some interesting things about Shulin-sama.”
Nakuru yawned. “See, I told you all the fuss was over nothing.”
Miho sighed, “I’m so glad Tomoyo-senpai is all right. I felt so guilty because I wasn’t able to do anything even when I saw Li-sensei.”
Patting Miho’s head, Tomoyo said, “Sorry for making you worry. I promise I won’t go off like that again.”
Eriol poured Tomoyo a cup of hot rose hip tea after the others had left. Though nobody else had noticed, he knew that Tomoyo had been shaken. “What did Leiyun say anything to you?”
Tomoyo shook his head, breathing in the fragrant tea. “Nothing much I really didn’t already know.” She stirred milk into the tea, staring at the creamy white swirls into the golden-brown liquid. “He’s not like anyone I’ve ever seen. I don’t know what he’s thinking or what he wants. But he terrifies me like nobody has before.”
“It’s because mere insanity is pitiable, but calculated insanity is horrifying,” remarked Eriol. “I can’t help thinking he doesn’t seem to have turned out the person he could have been.”
“But he’s Syaoran’s cousin. The very cousin who looked after him like an older brother and was good friends with Asuma-san. How could someone have changed so much?” Tomoyo asked.
“There is no rhyme or reason for why some people are strengthened by adversity or why some crack. It is not like I do not understand the factors which led to Li Leiyun being who he is today.” And Eriol took off his glasses to drink his cup of steaming tea. When he set down the cup again, he looked up at Tomoyo. “But you have to be wary of him. I want you to avoid contact with him at all costs.”
“I never wanted to be a burden on the Alliance,” said Tomoyo. “But I didn’t think I was putting myself in any danger when I went with Leiyun-san.”
“But you did put yourself in danger. In terrible, danger,” said Eriol. “You might have pretended in front of Sakura that everything was fine, but today, you had a very close scrape. Next time, I might not be there. Next time, Sakura or Syaoran might not get there in time.”
Tomoyo looked up at Eriol, his face partly hidden by a shadow. If she hadn’t been so shaken, she would have noticed that he was angry. Very angry. Even though his voice was gentle.
His blue eyes were grave. “At least from you, I would have expected more caution. If Leiyun singled you out, you could have easily contacted Sakura, Meilin or me. What would you have done if Miho hadn’t seen you get into Leiyun’s car?”
“I didn’t think Leiyun would harm me. And I wished I could be of help in some way,” said Tomoyo softly.
“Do you not make beautiful clothes for everyone to wear? Your support alone is half of what made Sakura the strong Card Mistress she is today.” Eriol smiled for the first time. “And truthfully, I’m glad to have met you. I probably would have taken a different approach when I first came to Tomoeda to trigger Sakura into transforming the Clow Cards into the power of the stars if it weren’t for you.”
“What did I do?” asked Tomoyo.
“Well, for one, you were always holding me in scrutiny and watching, always watching. And I realized I had to tread carefully because Sakura was so loved by her close ones. Hence, she was successful from stage one in taking a different route than Clow Reed.” Eriol looked peeved momentarily. “Is that what you were doing? Keeping an eye on me? Like you’re keeping an eye on Li Leiyun?”
Tomoyo smiled slightly. “I knew you weren’t evil from the beginning.”
‘You watched over her with kind eyes. Like you were testing her without wanting hurting her,” Tomoyo said. “You and Leiyun-san are completely different.”
Eriol looked into her eyes. “How so? Truthfully seeing him is like seeing a mirror of Clow’s youth.”
“For one thing, Li Leiyun is someone who wants to destroy. And you are someone who wants to create.” Tomoyo paused. “You are someone who has learned to let go. Leiyun-san is someone who can’t let go. And most importantly, perhaps, Leiyun-san in his own way thinks he is protecting the person he cares for very much—Syaoran-kun. But in the end, I wonder if he truly wishes for Syaoran’s happiness.”
“And you got all of this from talking him for two hours?” Eriol asked.
“Oh no, I talked to him for only thirty minutes. The rest of the time, I was sewing,” said Tomoyo with a smile. “But I have been observing him for the past half year, ever since he set foot in Tomoeda.”
Eriol pushed his glasses up his nose, in cold sweat. “Frightening woman.” He did not fail to notice a triumphant gleam in Tomoyo’s violet eyes. What was she up to now?
“Strangely enough, though, I can’t bring myself to dislike him. I should. But there’s something about him that intrigues me.”
“You would find him intriguing,” murmured Eriol.
“But not enough to meddle anymore. Eriol-kun. I couldn’t tell you earlier, but thank you,” said Tomoyo in the dim candlelit study. “Thank you for coming for me.”
“I’m sure if it were you, you would have come out fine, even without me coming along and blundering,” replied Eriol with a thin smile.
At the break of dawn, Kai crawled into the window of the second-floor master bedroom of the Reed mansion, only to find that Miho, already dressed in her Seijou Junior High uniform, seat on the bed with cushions stuffed under the blankets to resemble a body.
“Umm… I went out for a morning jog,” said Kai.
“Onii-chan, I know you’ve been sleeping in your apartment for days. I don’t know why you feel obligated to stay here. You don’t have to live here, at Eriol-kun’s house, if you don’t want to,” said Miho. He had barely felt comfortable living with his own family; of course she didn’t expect him to feel comfortable living with Eriol. She left the room and walked down the hall outside, down the stairs.
“W-what! You prefer to live with Eriol over me?” demanded Kai, trailing after her.
Miho paused on the stairs. “No, I’m saying, if it’s uncomfortable for you to stay here, don’t force yourself.”
“But our mother and father—”
Miho’s brows were furrowed. “Their condition is that I live here, and I will be safe here. We’ll see each other every day, anyway, at school, and you can come over for dinner. I know now how much you worry about me, and I am grateful. So, we can just go back to living our life the way we used to, all right?”
Kai was flabbergasted and turned to Eriol downstairs to see what his reaction was.
Eriol merely smiled, as if he could read the thoughts flashing through Kai’s brain at that instant.
“Miho-chan will be in safe hands here,” said Eriol. “And your room will always be left empty for you to use whenever you want.”
And Miho winked. “And meanwhile, you can go check upon Meilin-nee-chan, whom you are so worried about ever since Syaoran-senpai is back to living in the same apartment as her.”
“Well, no sane man will allow his girlfriend to live with her first love, ex-fiancé though he may be,” muttered Eriol demurely.
“Hiiragizawa-san,” said Kai.
“Call me Eriol.”
“I’d rather not. If you need to know, my favorite Shakespearean is Hamlet, and it’s not because I sympathize with the titular character but rather with Ophelia’s brother Laertes. Your baumkuchen was dry, no my room was not to my satisfaction as it is garish and reeks of mothballs. And… thank you.” Kai looked into Eriol’s eyes, finding this harder than he expected. “I don’t think I ever did properly thank you for looking after Miho and letting her grow up to be such a bright, smart and strong kid. I will probably always be in your debt.”
“Miho is like a precious younger sister that I never had,” said Eriol. “It was only natural.”
Kai’s eyes narrowed. “Never mind. I don’t think I can like you, after all. Miho-chan only has one onii-chan, and that’s me.”
“Why isn’t Meilin picking up her phone?” Kai whined, hurling his cellphone over onto the dusty carpet of his apartment. He knew very well Meilin was doing evening martial arts exercises with Syaoran, so she very well couldn’t pick up the phone.
“Freedom. After all these months, complete freedom.” Kai rolled over in his black satin sheeted bed. “Perro-chan, is this what freedom tasted like? I’m bored. I’m hungry. And I feel this roaring sense of loneliness.”
Perro-chan clucked and shook his little bird head. “You have me. You have me.”
“Oddly enough, having a bird tell me that doesn’t exactly reassure me.” Kai kicked up his blankets and wailed, “Miho-chan, why did you exile me?”
Miho sneezed. “I wonder if I should bring some lasagna over for onii-chan. He really doesn’t eat anything healthy when he’s alone.”
“Doesn’t he live next to Meilin and Syaoran? They’ll feed him,” Nakuru replied, painting her long nails a bright fuchsia. “If you’re so worried about him, you should have convinced him to stay here.” Too bad. Kai was very cute and would have kept her amused at least for a while.
“But onii-chan and Meilin-nee-chan haven’t been getting along lately, and I think it’s because he’s been spending too much time fussing over me.” Miho blew her orange-painted nails. “I’m a big girl now, so I can take care of myself, but onii-chan’s so single-minded, and it’s his first time having a proper girlfriend.”
“What about Kara Reed?”
Miho stared at Nakuru meaningfully. “I don’t acknowledge Kara Reed.”
“You just were a jealous little thing, and you’re afraid Kai’s going back to Kara if things don’t work out with Meilin.”
“No! I think Meilin-nee-chan is a thousand times cooler than that conniving, catlike, evil purple-eyed girl.” Miho smiled. “Besides, Meilin-nee-chan said she’ll introduce me to her male Li cousins back in Hong Kong who are each more handsome than the next.”
“Those Lis do have good looking men. Any extras for me?”
Li Meilin sat in front of the vanity table, checking her reflection in the mirror, fresh out of the shower. She had sweating heavily her routine drill with Syaoran and a warm shower made her feel drowsy. She brushed her long jet-black hair out steadily with an ivory comb said to have one belonged to her ancestor, Li Shulin.
She had counted to a hundred strokes when she was interrupted by a suave male voice from behind her, “And you call me vain about my hair.”
She didn’t have to look in the mirror to know it was Mizuki Kai, and he walked up behind and took the comb from her hand and seemed to admire its craftsmanship. “What are you doing?” she protested. He expertly began brushing out her hair for her, his strong fingers working through the wet tangles. His strong yet delicate touch oddly soothed her. For a second, she closed her eyes feeling relaxed and drowsy. Then, she was brought back to her senses. Somehow, this intimate gesture made her squirm in discomfort as a tingly sensation ran from her scalp down to the small of her back, and she jerked her head back.
“How beautiful. So shiny and black as the night,” remarked Kai as he ran his fingers through her glossy strands of hair, letting it ripple down like a waterfall. “You know, I do have somewhat of a hair fetish.”
“So I noticed,” replied Meilin, feeling heat reluctantly creep to her cheeks.
“I think I fell in love with you because of your hair, you know,” Kai stated, bringing a tress of lilac-scented hair to his lips.
“Gee, should I take that as a compliment?” Meilin said, yanking her hair away and quickly securing it into a loose bun with two pins.
“Why don’t you ever wear your hair down?” asked Kai, sitting on the floor next to her vanity stand.
“It gets in the way,” said Meilin curtly.
“No.” She knew she was being extra brusque with him. It would be so much easier to say yes to him and indulge his whims.
Kai wondered out into the hallway to see if there was any food cooking up, and Meilin pulled the pins from her hair and her dark tresses tumbled down with a swoosh. Kai had called her hair beautiful. She examined her reflection in the mirror. She was still flushed in the face, but her eyes sparkled a deep ruby-amber and her hair was shiny and straight. Back home, each of her cousins were more beautiful than the next, so it was hard to stand out amidst them with their soft ivory skin and gentile ambience, for they didn’t train long harsh hours in the sunlight. Kai was the first person who had really called any part of her beautiful. While she didn’t particularly trust the glib words of the former thief, she still enjoyed being complimented. Someone like Kara Reed would be considered indisputably beautiful, and Meilin still wondered why Kai claimed he loved her instead of Kara.
“Mirror’s going to crack,” remarked Syaoran from the doorway.
“As if you don’t admire yourself for hours on end in front of that mirror Sakura bought you for your birthday,” retorted Meilin.
“I wasn’t looking at myself, I was staring at it in wonder of how she thought of buying me a mirror,” retorted Syaoran.
Kai chuckled. “Poor Syaoran.”
And Syaoran stood to his full height. “Mizuki Kai so long as I am here, I expect that you don’t enter Meilin’s room at this time of the night. And if you want to come to this house, use the front door like a civilized person.”
Kai looked mildly amused to be bossed around by the younger of the two.
“What have you been doing at the Kinomoto house? Taking lessons from the ogre-brother?” Meilin muttered under her breath. “What’s the point anyway? It’s not like it’s the first time Kai’s here at this time?”
Syaoran narrowed his eyes.
Kai shrugged. “He’s right, Mei-chan. As an older brother, I can’t protest against Syaoran’s words.”
“Excuse me, I’m older than him,” stated Meilin, arms crossed. “My birthday comes first.”
“I know. It’s coming up soon. March 25. Exactly 19 days after mine.” Kai smiled.
For a second, Meilin looked aghast. “What, your birthday passed already? Why didn’t you tell me? I didn’t know!”
“It’s all right. I’m not a big birthday person.”
“If I knew you would make a fuss, I wouldn’t have mentioned it,” mumbled Kai. “And if it bothers you so much, we had a quiet family celebration before my parents left for the States. Mother baked her signature citrus cake again.”
“I’m a horrible person,” said Meilin. “I can’t believe I’ve known you for two years, and I’ve never even asked you for your birthday.”
Syaoran nodded solemnly.
Kai smiled. “And you know what? I have good news for you.” He held up a card.
“What is it?” Meilin snatched the card and stared the photo of the handsome boy with a cocky grin staring out from the identification card. An international driver’s license.
His periwinkle eyes gleamed. “It’s legal for me to drive now.”
It seemed to Syaoran that Touya had sold him his motorcycle to make him run odd errands—which was what he had been doing all week. Going to fetch the printed invitations, running from florist to florist to order the freshest roses for the wedding, picking up 3 millimeter imported Swarovski crystals only found in Tokyo. And today, Tomoyo had called him with yet another urgent request. “We need feathers, bagfuls of feathers, right away,” she had told him.
“Where the heck is this?” grumbled Syaoran, parking his motorcycle at the curb and hoisting an oversized garbage bag over his shoulder. He checked the address he had written down on a notepaper. It surprised him to find Tomoyo in Tokyo at this time—he would have thought she would be busily sewing away at her home. Luckily, he had already been in Tokyo running an errand for Touya: “Go drop of the music scores for Ryoko-san at the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra.” Of course, he had no clue what Ryoko looked like and had lost his way around Shibuya to find Orchard Hall. And people had given him funny looks when he finally bought two down pillows and ripped them open for Tomoyo’s odd request.
“I brought it,” Syaoran called out as he stepped into a shady building at the heart of Tokyo facing Shiba Park. Then, he blinked. “Where the heck is this?” He squinted as he saw the silhouette of a gray Gothic ruins and rubbles in what seemed to be a large, high-ceiling abandoned wareroom. Except, there were cords and lights everywhere.
Tomoyo walked up to him, camcorder in hand. As if she could blend in right with the set, she wore a black swallowtail blouse frilled trimmed with white ribbons, a black lace collar, and a full jacquard navy skirt that came to her knees. She wore black and white diamond-print stockings and black leather lace-up ankle boots. Her long violet curls were tied back into two high pigtails with navy and white checkered ribbons.
“Let’s turn up the key light just a little bit. Great!” called out a scruffy man in faded jeans and a flannel shirt.
“Wait, you didn’t need feathers for the wedding?” asked Syaoran, holding up a clear plastic garbage bag full to the brim with white feathers.
“Oh no. It was for the photo shoot,” replied Tomoyo, giggling to see a feather stuck in Syaoran’s ruffled brown hair. “Sorry, I didn’t specify. Thanks for coming so quickly.”
Syaoran said dryly, “And what’s this set exactly supposed to represent?”
“Neo-Tokyo,” replied Tomoyo, straight-faced. “It’s supposed to depict sort of a post-apocalyptic world.”
“Let me guess. Did they let you be creative director of this photo shoot?” asked Syaoran, watching Tomoyo bend over, shaking a spray can then proceeding to shoot black paint over the white feathers laid out on the ground with black.
“All right, Sakura-chan, look this way. You look great! Tilt your head up a bit. Look a bit more irritated. Right. Great, put your hand on the column.”
And Syaoran stepped forward towards the light, nearer to the crewmen. He hadn’t recognized her earlier. It really was Sakura. She wore a long-sleeved deep maroon pinafore dress that was near black. The dress had a square neck with a boned waist and the gathered shirring skirt stopped short of her knees over a frilly pannier lined with antique white torchon lace. She wore black rose-pattern lace stockings under black leather lace-up boots that came to her knees. Her left hair was clipped with a thin black ribbon with three maroon rosettes in the center of pleated white raschel lace. It wasn’t that he hadn’t seen her in a share of very bizarre outfits. But the distance from the shadows to the spotlight seemed to mark an invisible barrier between him and her.
Despite the flashing of lights, she was unblinking. She tilted her head a slight different angle each time the camera clicked and shifted positions every several shots, sometimes resting her hand on the column, sometimes behind over slightly, sometimes leaning her back against the crumbled column which looked like marble but was actually Styrofoam. Someone had turned on the smoke machine to create a foggy ambiance over the set. He looked over the cameraman’s shoulder and saw the eerie, unearthly photos. This was not the bright, bubbly Sakura he knew at all. She looked doll-like, intangible. Her emerald eyes, larger than ever lined with black liner and lashes lengthened with mascara, were the only shot of color, mesmerizing in the otherwise monochrome set. She was unsmiling, and yet, sometimes she looked wistful, sometimes she looked angry, sometimes she look haughty, simply by the way she blinked at the camera, the way she parted her soft lips slightly, the way she glanced down, her long lashes casting a shadow over her cheeks.
“Amazing, isn’t she?” said Tomoyo, stepping up beside Syaoran.
Sakura had not noticed him yet, and now was being directed to step up onto a column and a staff turned on the fan and let loose the black feathers.
“Awesome shot, Sakura! We need some more light on the face!” called out the photographer. A staff held a white light board closer to Sakura’s face. And despite all the distractions, she didn’t flinch.
“She’s a natural,” Tomoyo commented to Syaoran. “I guess it was good practice because I was filming her all the time. But it’s amazing how much she’s learned over the past month.”
“How—” Syaoran glanced at Tomoyo.
“There was a lot of interest in Sakura-chan ever since the Young Designer Fashion Show, and I received a lot of inquiries about her. Actually, she got a lot of popularity after the Vogue Nippon shoot with Arima-san last summer. Did you see it?” Tomoyo paused. “Sakura-chan wasn’t really interested in modeling, but ever since the Vogue Nippon reception, she’s been receiving a lot of calls. And she needed to earn money, so took some odd jobs doing high school fashion shoots for teen magazines.”
“So that’s how she managed to earn back money to pay back for the motorcycle reparations so quickly,” muttered Syaoran.
“And then I got a call from Gothic Lolita Bible who wanted to use my designs for their next issue, and requested Sakura-chan as their main model for the shoot because they were impressed with her from the fashion show,” said Tomoyo. “Though I like her best in pink, doesn’t she just look darling in Gothic clothes? Dark Sakura is so appealing.”
“Great, let’s bring in the male model,” called out the photographer.
“Male model?” Syaoran narrowed his eyes and saw several tall scantily-clad young men waiting towards the sidelines, along with some girls also dressed in frilly black garbs.
The photographer glanced around the set. “Where’s Kawachi-kun?”
“Kawachi-kun hasn’t arrived yet. His shoot isn’t scheduled until an hour later,” called out the makeup artist. “We sped through Sakura’s shoot much quicker than expected.”
“Well, we just need to do a back shot—bring someone else,” said the photographer. “You there.”
Syaoran blinked, looking around to see if he was talking to someone else. “Me?”
“You have a good build and are about the same height as Kawachi-kun. Get dressed and back on the set in ten minutes while I take a cigarette break,” the photographer said.
Sakura for the first time noticed Syaoran on the set. Suddenly, she turned beet red and almost fell of the column before regaining her balance. But she couldn’t say anything as the make-up artist fussed with powdering her face and fixing ever strand of hair ruffled from the fan. Syaoran almost chuckled—it was like having the Sakura he knew back.
“Um, Masato-sensei, that’s not one of the models,” stated a crewman. “He’s the feather delivery-boy.”
“No, I’ve seen you before—I never forget faces. Now I remember. Weren’t you in the Young Design Fashion Show? You modeled with Sakura-chan.” The photographer clapped his hands together. “Great. That settles it.”
“N-no—I can’t!” exclaimed Syaoran.
“T-that’s right! He can’t!” echoed Sakura.
“What, you have camera-phobia or something?” The photographer looked peeved. “Well, that’s too bad. All right, one of you boys standing there, come in. This shot’s going to take a dark, provocative theme, and Sakura-chan will place a hand around your back and look over your shoulder—”
“Aw, am I lucky or not. I get to shoot with cutie Sakura-chan?” said a skinny, leggy male model with a pale face and black-lined eyes and long fuchsia hair. “Hey, Sakura-chan, how old are you? Which high school do you go to?”
“Oh dear,” murmured Tomoyo under her breath. “Wataru-san is known to be a lady-killer. And he’s very touchy with female models.”
And Syaoran’s eyes darted back and forth between the male model and “W-wait, I’ll do it!” he blurted out, almost pushing past the other model.
“Great, even better,” replied the photographer. “Let’s get the boy changed!”
“Leave it to me!” exclaimed Tomoyo.
Ten minutes later, Syaoran emerged from the dressing room in a black mesh lace overlay turtleneck lined with leather strips and metal studs, jingling with stands of entwined antique silver metal chains links. His tight black leather pants were studded with metal buckles and tucked into bronze buckled motorcycle boots. Ever step he took, he jingled. A silver cuff with chain links was fastened to his left ear. Tomoyo had even run mousse through his hair for added texture. As he gazed into the mirror at the perfectly fitted clothes, he couldn’t help the nagging thought that he had been played by Tomoyo again.
“Wow, you look a complete different person,” said the photographer. “Li-kun, did you say your name was?”
Sakura made a face and mouthed, “What are you doing here?” Syaoran merely shrugged.
“Now, Sakura, stand right there—let’s adjust the back lights. Li, let’s stand right there, careful not to cover Sakura’s face. She’s going to look over your shoulder—get a bit closer.” The photographer shoved Sakura forward, and her nose collided with his collarbone.
“S-sorry,” she murmured.
“All right, Sakura, put your right hand around him, let your finger’s rest on the nape of his neck, just like that. Use your other hand and place it gently on his right arm. Relax. Didn’t you to do a fashion show together?” The photographer tried some test shots and called out, “Turn down the back lights!”
“You can touch me you know,” said Syaoran, as Sakura’s hands lingered limply, barely brushing his shirt. “And you were okay doing this with a complete stranger?”
“It’s less embarrassing with someone I know I won’t see again,” mumbled Sakura. Syaoran was facing her, but she was careful to avoid meeting his eyes. If she was let out her breath, she would be completely pressed against him.
“Why didn’t you tell me you started modeling?” he asked. He wasn’t the one facing the cameras, so he seemed quite relaxed.
“I didn’t think it was a big deal,” she replied.
“All right, we’re going to start shooting. Sakura, use your hands to express that you possess him. You’re an angel of death. He is your prisoner. Look over his shoulders straight at the camera. Li-kun, good. Just stay completely still like that.”
“My face won’t show, right?” Syaoran asked.
“Yes, yes. Now, good. Sakura, a bit more passion. Let’s try spreading your fingers out and digging them slightly into his back. Li-kun, can you tilt your head slightly this way and look over your shoulders. Don’t worry, we’re just capturing your side profile, and with the lighting, only your silhouette will show. A little more. Sakura, keep looking this way. More! And great! That’s a wrap!” The photographer nodded and the lights in the studio came back on. “Magnificent.” He walked over to the computer and began checking the shots. “Hmm…” He frowned. Li-kun, Sakura-chan, were you by any chance the Empire State Valentine’s Day photo shoot models two years ago? It was a shoot by American photographer Mike Kant.”
“Yes, it’s them,” said Tomoyo.
“I see.” The photographer looked grave. “Well, we’ve wrapped up Sakura’s shoot. You should stick around—after we finish up the other models, we’re going out for dinner and karaoke. You said you’re not seeing anyone, right Sakura-chan? I’ll introduce you to the hottest fashion shoot male models. How about it?”
“Yeah, Sakura-chan! You have to come out with us! My bandmates saw you in a magazine and have been begging me to introduce you to them,” called out the fuchsia-hair model who apparently played bass in a Visual Kei band.
Suddenly, Syaoran took Sakura’s wrist. “Sorry, we actually had plans for tonight. Thank you.” He bowed and then dragged Sakura along.
“I thought Sakura was single. Are those two dating or something?” the photographer asked Tomoyo.
“It’s a bit more complicated than that,” replied Tomoyo. Since Tomoyo’s clothes were being feature in the photo shoot, she had to stay on. It took all her composure since she was in public to keep from jumping up and down during the photo shoot and squealing. Gothic architecture (Styrofoam though it may be), plenty of lace, ribbons, feathers, Sakura and Syaoran all gathered into one picture-perfect opportunity was the best thing that had happened since the Star-Crossed musical in her humble opinion.
“Syaoran, where are we going?” asked Sakura as they walked out into the Tokyo streets.
“Hmm?” Syaoran finally paused in the sidewalk dropping her hand.
“You said we have plans. Is it for the wedding? Is there a problem?”
Syaoran stared at Sakura in her dark maroon frilled dress and dark make-up. “Actually no. Everything’s in perfect order. There’s pretty much nothing more we need to except some last minute phone calls.”
“Then why did you drag me out in such a hurry? I didn’t even get to change out of my clothes. And I left my cell phone and wallet in the dressing room,” she said.
Syaoran realized he too had left his clothes back in the dressing room. Luckily, he had his wallet in his pocket. “We’ll ask Tomoyo to bring our stuff later. Aren’t you hungry? I’m hungry. Let’s go eat. My treat.”
Because her stomach also rumbled, Sakura nodded. It always amused her when Syaoran started to babble, an indication that he was nerve. “Can we eat at WacDonald’s? I want to eat a double cheeseburger and fries and an ice cream sundae!”
“Where do you get your huge appetite from? We’re going to stand out in these clothes,” warned Syaoran. He had hoped for a nice, quiet booth in some little café.
The two indeed attracted a lot of glances at the restaurant.
“Look, are those two models?” asked one middle school girl.
“They must be. The boy’s so tall and has really long legs. Is his face handsome too? I can only see his back.”
“I feel like I’ve seen the girl somewhere in a magazine.”
“Maybe they’re just cosplayers,” said a scowling boy. “Why would models eat at a fast food joint?”
The two ordered and sat down in a booth. “Thanks for the meal! I’ll treat you next time!” exclaimed Sakura as she dug into a juicy burger with oozing cheese. “I don’t even remember the last time we came to a fast food restaurant together.”
“Hmm… Not bad considering the meat’s a mystery,” remarked Syaoran. He had ordered the same set as Sakura. He rarely had fast food. He chewed on three French fries dunked in ketchup.
“Eron-kun said the same thing last time we went to Burger Heaven,” said Sakura with a chuckle.
“Oh did he?” There was no mistaking the dark cloud that instantly appeared above his head.
Sakura chugged down her Coke, desperate to change the topic.
After finishing eating, the two walked out into the bustling Shiba Park.
“Look, I didn’t realize we were so near Tokyo Tower!” exclaimed Sakura, pointing and the orange-lit night tower. Syaoran had been sulking ever since she had brought up Eron’s name. “Do you want to go up?”
“Right now?” asked Syaoran. “Shouldn’t we be getting back? We have school tomorrow, you know.”
“The Tokyo cityscape is especially dazzling at nighttime. Besides, you said you’ve never been up on the observation deck. Right? Let’s go!” Sakura grabbed Syaoran’s arm and dragged him along.
But when they reached the ticket booth, the lady said, “Sorry, the last elevator already went up.”
“But we have to go up today!” exclaimed Sakura, leaning over the booth. “Please, can’t you let us go up?”
“Sorry, but it’s time to close soon,” the booth lady replied, pointing to the clock. It was near ten p.m.
Sakura hung her head down. “Well, I guess we can come back another time. Sorry Syaoran, I should have checked the hours.”
And though Syaoran was not particularly dying to go up the Tower, he hated seeing Sakura so dejected. He fished out from his pocket 2,000 yen and slipped it to the booth lady and shot her a brilliant smile. “Please, let us go up. We’ll come down quickly.”
“Thank you!” Syaoran grabbed Sakura’s hand and headed towards the elevators before the ticket lady could change her mind.
They got on the elevator, and Sakura stared out the glass window at the city moving further and further below them. Syaoran laced his hands behind the back of his head, embarrassed at the whole ordeal.
“I think the ticket lady was quite scared of us,” Sakura remarked. “You look menacing with all the metal chains clinking. I’m sorry—I should have known the Tower closes down at ten. Last time we couldn’t come in because I collapsed from the Dream Card. This time, it’s because I was so careless.”
“Well, thanks to your carelessness, we’ll have the whole observatory deck to ourselves. You know I hate crowded places.”
“Sorry, Syaoran. I didn’t really think about your thoughts at all. I brought you here without even asking your opinion. Onii-chan always tells me I’m always to distracted for my own good,” said Sakura.
“Nah, you’re pretty level-headed when it comes to the important things,” replied Syaoran. “And I did want to come here. With you because the first time I could come, I missed out because of you.”
Sakura suddenly giggled.
“What?” asked Syaoran crossly.
“I feel like I’m getting a déjà-vu hearing you compliment me while going up Tokyo Tower,” said Sakura.
“Are you sure that’s me, not Eron,” remarked Syaoran dryly.
Sakura blushed. “Of course it’s you. Dream Card Syaoran-kun. He’s so much nicer than you too.”
Suddenly, the elevator lights flickered and came to a halt. They heard a horrible clapping sound outside, as if a crane had snapped into two.
“I think I’m getting a déjà-vu,” mumbled Syaoran.
Sakura frowned, standing up after she regained her balance. “It’s a dark force.”
“Hopefully, or else I don’t know what to say about the architect of the tower,” he said wryly. It was too good to be true to have one quiet evening alone with Sakura in Tokyo. They felt the whole tower creak. “Shoot, I hope this elevator doesn’t free fall.” He glanced around the compartment. He slammed the emergency button.
A guard answered. “Is there someone stuck in the elevator? We have called for assistance immediately.”
“Is there anyone left up on the observation deck?” Syaoran demanded.
“Yes, the last group hasn’t come down yet!” replied the guard. “We’re checking to see if there was an earthquake—”
But Syaoran wasn’t listening. The elevator creaked and then lurched. He glanced around the elevator, swaying back and forth, then murmured, “We’ve got to get out of here—we’re almost at the observation deck level. This elevator might drop us.” He wedged his fingers in between the crack of the door. It didn’t budge. Then, he tried again.
Sakura released her staff. “Key that hides the power of the moon. Show your true self to me. For one time I seal the power of the moon with you. I, Syaoran, command you under Sakura’s name! Release!” She jammed the tip of her staff into the crack. “Try again.”
Bracing his feet on the floor, Syaoran shoved with all his might and the doors slowly opened. They were stuck in between two floors, with a narrow crack above their height, but Syaoran hoisted himself up and then helped Sakura climb out of the elevator.
The lights were off, and they realized to their dismay that the shudders came more frequently.
“I think Tokyo Tower’s tilting over,” Sakura said abruptly.
“You’re right,” said Syaoran. “First, we’ve got to go up to the observation deck and make sure everyone’s safe. Let’s take the emergency stairs.”
Sakura nodded, and they followed the exit sign till they came out into the emergency stairs lacing up the exterior of the Tokyo Tower. They were greeted by a blast of wind. Sakura stared down below at the distant streets and the cars that seemed like miniature toys.
“Don’t look down!” called out Syaoran, swallowing hard as their thick boot soles made a hollow echo on the metal steps.
Once more, the metal structure shuddered. They were now near enough the observation deck that they heard the screams of people. They quickly entered into the observation deck. There were only a dozen or so people left including an elderly couple, a family with two young children and some middle schoolers.
“Everyone, stay calm!” Sakura said. Even as she said so, the tower began to tilt over again. They heard a thunderclap-like ripping sound outside. Syaoran glimpsed through the window and saw a metal frame yank away from the structure and curve around the tower.
She held out the Memory and Fantasy Card. “Everybody will forget the incidents of tonight—it’s all a bad dream. Please walk down the emergency stairs—there is no emergency. You’re just going down for exercise. When you get to the bottom, Please leave this area quickly and go back home. When you go back home, you’ll remember you had a lovely evening with your friend or family, nothing more.”
The look of panic disappeared from the people’s face and they started filing towards the emergency stairs.
“We’ve got to distract the dark force till everybody gets down safely,” said Sakura. She took to the stairs and started climbing up again. “If only I knew what dark force we’re up against. I remember Tomoyo said something about metal chains at the Li Mansion.”
“That is such a classless move, taking down Tokyo Tower,” stated Kara to Leiyun in their fixed-up parlor.
Leiyun still was fingering the white cloak, wondering how he could coerce Tomoyo into finishing it for him. “I’m not interested in that ugly modernist steel structure.”
“Then what are you interested in?”
“Why you failed to get into a single university, for instance,” said Leiyun.
“Shut up,” said Kara with a deep scowl.
“And as to why Clow Reed never sealed the Metal. Why Tomoyo was not born with powers. Why the Clow Book won’t open for me. Those are the things that interest me.”
“Do you think Erika’s going to be all right?” asked Kara.
“She’ll manage the Metal fine.” He fingered the cloak then frowned ever so slightly.
“What is it, Lei?” Kara asked.
Leiyun stared at the metal nodule sewn so cleverly into the silver moon embroidery on the cloak. “Nothing. It’s nothing. Clever, clever little seamstress.” He snapped the nodule off and crushed it in his fist.
The photo shoot had wrapped up without much ado, and Tomoyo packed her handmade outfits. Her bodyguards carried the garments back to the van. Meanwhile, Tomoyo adjusted an earpiece and suddenly was quiet.
“What is it?” asked Kero-chan. He too had followed along to the photo shoot and had been hiding in Tomoyo’s bag.
“Tokyo Tower. They’re attacking Tokyo Tower right now!” she said.
Kero-chan bolted up. “What? How do you know that? Never mind, we need to let everyone know then.”
Tomoyo called Eriol. “Eriol-kun, there’s going to be a dark force attacking Tokyo Tower.”
“And what is your source of this information?”
“I bugged the cloak I made for Leiyun-san last time I was at the Li mansion. I’ve been listening on to Leiyun’s conversations in the parlor all week long. So far, I haven’t heard anything interesting. But I just heard Kara tell Leiyun that the Metal will take down Tokyo Tower.”
For a moment, Eriol was silent over the phone. “You bugged the Li mansion? Why didn’t you say anything?”
“I was going to, if I found out anything interesting. Oh, I better warn Sakura and Syaoran. They’re probably still in Tokyo.” Then, Tomoyo realized that both of them had left their cell phones in their hurry to leave the set.
“No, I didn’t.” Eriol sighed. “What if Leiyun found out you bugged him?”
“I’m not the daughter of the chief inspector of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police for no reason—I know how to hide microchip recorders,” said Tomoyo with a small smile. “Though I think I’ve already been caught. Oh well. It took much longer for him to notice than I thought. Did you know that Leiyun-san apparently likes to read out loud his Shounen Jump manga to Jinyu-san and Kara-san at nighttime? And that it took them three days to fix up the Li mansion after you blasted holes through the various floors?”
Eriol was not the scolding type, and he found himself stating mildly, “Well, don’t do anything—just try to notify Sakura, though she might already have noticed herself. I’ll get to Tokyo as soon as possible.” After all, who could beat Tomoyo in a battle of wits? “I thought it would have taken a week to fix up the place.”
As the skeletal metal latticework of Tokyo Tower rippled and contorted, Sakura rapped her metal staff on the side of the railings and called out, “I’m here. Come follow me.” She ran up the stairs which rippled behind her.
“Don’t tell me this is your game plan!” called out Syaoran, shortly behind her. “How much further can we go up before we reach the top?” And there was the daunting underlying question—what happened when they did reach the top? There was no way back down. Even as they spoke, stairs buckled under their feet.
They were both out of breath and it was impossible to balance because the steps kept shifting beneath them, but they stumbled on upwards to distract the dark force.
Sakura missed a step but luckily clung onto the railing. She looked over down below at the streets. “Thank goodness—everybody made it down safely.”
Just then, Tokyo Tower reverberated then trembled. Then, its tip twisted and snapped, flinging Sakura clear over the railing before Syaoran, who had grabbed onto a railing with his right arm, knew what happened.
“SAAKKUUURRRAAA!” His voice was drowned by the creaking of the metal structure as the railing he had grabbed onto ripped off, and he was lurched into the air.
He didn’t have time to think, to plan. Twice before, he had been helpless. There was no Fly, no Float, no Cerberus, no Eriol to save them. Only him and her. And some 250 meters before they reached the concrete ground below. He was utterly powerless. No.
Inside the Fantasy, he had been able to call upon the dragon.
I’ve been tricked all this time. What happened in the Fantasy was not fake. I was able to summon the dragon with my own powers—it was not all an illusion. I need to recall that feeling.
Clutching a cracked stone in his pocket, he cried out to the heaven above him, “Shenlung Taifeng!”
Through the overcast sky, an electric blue light pierced through the clouds, shrouding the falling figures with that sparkling light, fizzling and crackling, and lighting the grotesquely warped Tokyo Tower with an eerie glow. The antenna tip bent and two figures were hurled out into the air.
And Tomoyo, watching from the ground, witnessed the most beautiful and terrifying scene she had ever seen. From the boy’s back sprouted black webbed wings. They were not angel wings. It was like a portrait she had once seen of Lucifer falling from the heavens. The gray clouds cleared. Now, she could see the wings spread to their full length silhouetted by the moonlight. Dragon wings. He swerved down and held out his arms, catching the girl in his arms.
When she realized she wasn’t falling, Sakura was enveloped tightly in a pair of strong arms. It was as if the wind was blasting down from the sky above, and her hair whipped about in all directions, some strands getting caught in the metallic chains off of the sleeves of the arms holding her.
“Wings,” murmured Sakura. Majestic black wings. Like a demon soaring through the sky, Syaoran’s eyes were like two flames, brighter than any of the stars sparkling around them. For a second, they were no longer falling but rising up, higher and higher till they seemed to be as high as the crimson-hued large full moon overhead.
Sakura whispered, “Syaoran, your powers are coming back.”
Syaoran gave her an odd look. “No… I think your powers are coming back.”
They gently floated down. As soon as they were on ground again, the black wings collapsed and dissipated.
She glanced at Syaoran, who was sweating heavily and leaned against a tree. “Just what was that?”
“It’s the Dragon. He couldn’t manifest himself physically like when we were in the Fantasy. But with the limited powers I have right now, he was able to use my body as a vessel.”
“What did you mean that my powers were coming back?” asked Sakura.
“I don’t have any power of the moon left,” said Syaoran. “It means there must be another power in me. I think it’s yours. I don’t know how, but I think it’s regenerating.”
Sakura looked up at him. “D-do you think it’s really possible?”
“Who knows? But you’ve got to promise me something.” Syaoran glanced around. “Don’t say anything about this to anyone yet.”
“Why?” Sakura blinked. “If we tell Eriol-kun, he might be able to figure out for sure.”
“Shh—There’s Miho and Meilin.” Syaoran stared up at Sakura with imploring amber eyes.
She nodded then ran up to the Star Alliance. “How did you guys get here so quickly?”
“Tomoyo-senpai called us all,” said Miho. “She apparently bugged the Li Mansion last time and found out about Leiyun’s plan. It’s the Metal!”
“The Metal.” Syaoran nodded. It all made sense.
“First the Unicorn with Kara Reed, next the Metal with Erika. What are you going to do Sakura-senpai?” Miho asked.
But Sakura was more impressed with Tomoyo’s recklessness rivaling that of Kaitou Magician. “Tomoyo-chan bugged Li Leiyun-san?”
“It’s like a post-apocalyptic movie!” exclaimed Meilin, pointing at the Tokyo Tower. “It’s completely bent over.”
“That’s not even the Leaning Tower of Pisa, it’s bent almost 90 degrees!” exclaimed Miho.
“And I never did get to go up!” wailed Meilin. “I’ll never get to see Tokyo Tower! The only time I’ve been to Tokyo Tower is that day we captured the Dream Card. And I never did get to go up at all. Sakura-chan collapsed at the front door, and we never did get to go up.”
As the others stared in dismay at the swaying tower, Sakura said quietly to Syaoran. “Is it what you said about the Sakura Card being unstable because I now use the power of the moon while the cards draw their energy from the power of the star?” Yue had told her it was likely Syaoran took the Sakura Cards from her because being out of direct contact with their master, the Sakura Cards were likely to be able to retain their form longer. Just like the Clow Cards managed to use the power of darkness until Sakura became their official mistress because they had been sealed in the Book for a long time.
Syaoran nodded. “Probably the old Sakura Cards that were converted from Clow Cards are safe. But with the newer cards, they have been exposed to the power of the stars for that long. In fact, when you sealed the Metal—” he hadn’t been there. So it must have been when he was in Hong Kong.
“I sealed it using the power of the moon. But it was still a Sakura Card,” said Sakura.
“Hence it’s in a state of unbalance because it’s never been exposed to the power of the stars. Just like any of the cards you sealed using the power of the moon. If you don’t convert them to the power of the moon, eventually the contract will break,” Syaoran said.
“Erika’s wielding the Metal,” interjected Tomoyo. “She’s the one who called the dark force in the first place, so it’s probably easier for her to command. But I think Leiyun doesn’t have access to the core Sakura Cards yet. He’s still finding ways to break into the cards.”
“Is that your deduction or actual information from eavesdropping on them?” asked Syaoran wryly.
“Both.” What Eriol had told Kara had indeed been very informative. Then she glanced between Sakura and Syaoran. “Did anything else happen before we arrive?”
“No—we got everyone to evacuate safely,” replied Sakura, not meeting Tomoyo’s eyes. “And we escaped too, barely.”
“What happened to Tokyo Tower? Some earthquake? I didn’t feel the ground tremor,” remarked Eron, who finally arrived since everybody had forgotten to call him until last minute.
Sakura replied, “It’s the Metal, Tomoyo found out from Leiyun-san.”
“So Erika’s found a way to control the Sakura Cards,” murmured Eron, looking grave.
“How are we supposed to take back the Metal?” asked Miho.
“You remember Wu Xing, the Chinese Five Elements; Wood, Fire, Earth, Water. And Metal,” said Syaoran.
Sakura glanced up at him. “I have Woody, Firey, Earthy and Watery. And Metal.”
“And you recall how each element is overcome.”
“Wood parts earth; earth absorbs water; water quenches fire; fire melts metal; and metal chops wood,” recited Sakura. “Fire. We need the Firey.”
And Eron remarked, “Because someone’s been studying up their Chinese Five Elements.”
“Why do you think the Metal not included in the Original Clow? If it’s one of the Chinese Five Elements, I would have thought that Clow Reed would have long since sealed it,” said Sakura.
“It is a mystery. Perhaps, he had no need for the card. Or perhaps, he didn’t want to be master of the Five Elements, hence have perfect balance and equilibrium.” Syaoran stared up at the full moon overhead.
“Intentionally including a weakness. That sounds like something Clow would do,” said Sakura.
“We very well can’t melt down Tokyo Tower to reseal the Metal,” stated Cerberus, who had also joined them. Only Touya was missing because of work.
“Does Eriol have a suggestion?” asked Yue.
“Eriol’s busy setting up a barrier around the tower,” said Ruby Moon. “You can’t break his concentration.”
“We can’t cause any more damage to the Tokyo Tower!” exclaimed Miho. “It’s a—it’s a national monument!”
“I know,” Sakura said, brows furrowed down. “But how are we going to make the Metal leave the tower?”
“Magnet. Magnets lure metal,” Eron interjected.
“Where are we going to find the Magnet?” asked Sakura, blinking.
Eron looked over with a condescending shake of his head. “Dear Sakura, I don’t see how you managed to be Card Captor all these years when you don’t understand even the most fundamental of physics. Magnet is attracted to metal, especially steel. It’s already here.”
“Here?” Sakura spun around. “Where? Can I seal it?”
“It doesn’t work like that. You need to seal the Metal first, and you will easily be able to seal the Magnet. Because the Metal us an Elemental Card, it’s far more powerful, just like how the other elements like Firey, Windy, Watery can easily beat most of the other forces,” said Syaoran without a single crass side remark that he was usually so prone too.
“Looks like someone’s done their homework,” Eron said. “I don’t understand, if you spent that many years catching Clow Cards with her, you might as well have shared some of your great knowledge. Oh wait. I forgot. You guys were rivals.”
“Then, if you are oh-so-knowledgeable, explain how we are going to use the Magnet to lure out the Metal from Tokyo Tower,” Syaoran retorted, crankier than usual because he was completely drained, forgetting he had once made similar remarks to Sakura before.
“We aren’t, I am,” replied Eron. He walked around the tower, hands out.
“What are you doing?” asked Meilin.
“Magnetic fields. We need to create magnetic fields. Magnetic fields are created by electric charges. I need a conductor that electrons can flow through.” Eron paused as he felt an electric shock from the metal frame of the tower. An electric fuse had snapped and set sparks out. He grabbed the fuse and stripped out the wires inside.
“That’s dangerous, you’re going to get electrocuted,” called out Kai.
“Sakura, hold out your staff.” Eron walked over and took the wire strip than loped it around the length of Sakura’s staff.
“He’s gone bonkers. What is he doing?” muttered Miho.
Eron sighed. “You can produce electricity, right, Sakura?”
“I see. That’s a good idea,” Syaoran said grudgingly. “Maxwell’s law.”
“What?” Sakura asked.
“Weren’t you paying attention during Physics class at all? Maxwell’s equation—a magnetic field is created by a current and a changing electric field,” Syaoran replied. “The wire coils will concentrate the magnetic field and magnify it by several thousand times since your staff will act as a ferromagnetic core.”
Sakura blinked. “Hoe?”
Syaoran said, “Ampere’s force law. There is an attractive or repulsive force between two parallel wires carrying an electric current.”
“What’s an ampere?” asked Sakura.
Biting his tongue to keep from reminding her that they learned about this in physics class the other day, Syaoran replied, “One amp is equivalent to 6.241 times ten to the 18th power electron charges moving past a point in an electric circuit in a second.”
Eron sighed. “Don’t listen to him—he’ll just make you more confused.
Here, just focus on drawing electric currents to your staff, until I’ll tell
you to stop.”
“Okay.” Sakura held up her staff high. The air around her crackled. Sparks flew from the head of her staff and off the wire coil. Her grip on her staff tightened and her hands tingled. Beads of sweat rolled down her forehead.
“You can’t hold back—you’re going to need a lot more electricity than that,” Eron called out.
“I’m trying my best!” Sakura protested. “It’s difficult to control the amount without the Thunder.”
“Raitei shourei,” whispered Syaoran, slamming an ofuda onto Sakura’s staff.
And Sakura’s staff sparked and crackled blue currents. “It’s working!” Sakura exclaimed.
Meilin’s eyes rounded. “Wait, Syaoran, why is your spell working?”
“It’s just the ofuda—it works well with the power of the moon, when it’s full moon. It’s reacting to Sakura,” replied Syaoran tiredly.
Regardless, Sakura smiled and looked up. A dark force in the shape of a red u-shaped magnet with white ends appeared in front of them.
Eron said, “Now, let’s lure out the Metal from Tokyo Tower.”
Sakura nodded. She waved her magnetically charged staff in a large circle in front of the tower. “W-wait! It’s pulling me forward,” she exclaimed, bracing her feet on the pavement as the Metal drew her forward.
Eron grabbed her waist as Sakura slid forward. Only Meilin noticed Syaoran’s brows crease. “You can’t get pulled into the Metal—it’ll dissolve your staff. Pull back. Increase the electric currents,” said Eron.
“Thunder, lend me your power,” murmured Sakura, feeling her skin prickle. She opened her eyes. “Thanks for coming.” A magnificent bluish beat with crimson eyes stared at her, waving his tail shaped like a lightning bolt. Her hair fanned out around her because of static. She began to step back, and she could feel the Magnet pulling her back.
The whole Tokyo Tower structure trembled and creaked as it contorted yet again. Sakura yanked her staff back further, and they saw steel chains flay out of the structure.
“Watch out!” called out Kai. He leaped forward then dodged the chains snaking out at him. One of the chains wrapped around his ankle and yanked him into the air.
Miho yanked out a key hanging from a chain around her neck. “Key that hides the power of the Earth. Show your true self to me. I, Miho, command you. Release!” She pointed her crimson staff and flamed jetted out at the chain, melting the link and dropping Kai on the ground.
“Thanks,” called out Kai to his little sister, slightly in awe. She grinned at him.
“We’ll, we’ve lured out the Metal now,” said Syaoran. “Now you know what you have to do.”
Sakura nodded. “I need the Firey.” She closed her eyes. “Firey, I know you’re there. I need your help. Please come to me.” She raised her staff high above her head.
A cherubim-like creature with orange wings appeared overhead.
“Thank you for coming,” said Sakura, staring up at the Firey. “Tell the others, sorry for keeping you all waiting.” The Firey nodded before flying out chasing after the steels chains snaking around the sidewalk, bending lampposts, knocking over traffic lights and flipping up cars and buses.
“We’ve got to block the Metal from spreading any further and causing any more damage!” exclaimed Cerberus.
“Don’t worry, I’ve gotten it under control.” Sakura glanced at Syaoran. “Wu xing. Metal chops wood, wood parts earth; earth absorbs water; water quenches fire; fire melts metal. Firey, melt the Metal.” She saw his lips turn up slightly even in the darkness of the streets.
“Just a little more,” said Eron.
Cerberus flew out and blasted out flame from his mouth, trapping in the metal chains from the west. Miho netted in the Metal from the east, and Kai spread her flames far with wind.
“Fire melts metal,” repeated Sakura quietly. “Fire melts metal.” The metal chains turned a blazing orange-white as the Firey caught up to it. It writhed and clinked before shuddering. Then, it melted into a pool of metallic liquid at her feet. She held her staff up high. “Card created by power of the stars, discard your old form and be reborn under the name of Sakura. Moon Card!”
Her hands were blistered from the heat, but she held up with the image of steel chains crossing the front of the card. The Metal. The last of the Chinese elements, the one unsealed by Clow Reed.
“Good job, Sakura-chan!” exclaimed Kero-chan. “I can’t believe you still remember the spell from converting the Clow Cards.”
“It’s thanks to Tomoyo-chan that we confirmed it’s the Metal, and all of you came here so quickly,” said Sakura.
“That’s all good that we caught the Metal,” interjected Kai dryly. “But what are you going to do about that mess. I don’t know a lot about law, but I’m sure destruction of national monuments is a criminal offense.”
The Alliance stared up at the dissembled Tokyo Tower aghast. The top antenna was warped and strips of the steel structure were bent or dangling off.
“Hoe, we just destroyed a national monument,” Sakura cried out.
“We have the Metal; we can fix it,” said pragmatic Miho.
“You’re right.” Sakura held up the Metal. “Metal, fix the Tokyo Tower to how it was before.”
The Metal, swinging its steel chains, folded his arms and stared at her.
“Well, you’ve got to give it better guidance,” Syaoran said. “Imagine how the Tower looked before.”
Sakura blinked. “Okay.”
“Sakura-chan the Tower was not pink and white, and I think it was nowhere near as chunky,” said Tomoyo. “Though I personally think it’s an improvement.”
Sakura broke her concentration and opened her eyes again. “Hoe! This is not it! Kai-kun, you must have stolen something from the Tokyo Tower before.”
“As a matter of fact, I haven’t. There’s nothing to steal here. But I have investigated before nonetheless.” Kai sighed, whipping out his laptop, and typing in some data. He swerved around his laptop for the others to see. They were immediately greeted by a 3-D model of the structure of the tower.
“The height of the Tokyo Tower is 333 meters. Taller than the Eiffel Tower by 13 meters, though you would think the Eiffel Tower is taller. The main observatory is at 150 meters, the special observatory at 250 meters, as you can see in the model. The structures weights 4,000 tons. We have all the scraps here, so reconstructing it shouldn’t be a problem,” said Kai. “There are 176 floodlights installed in the tower—I think they’re all broken, but leave that part to me.”
Sakura poured over the 3-D model on Kai’s sleek black laptop. “Hoe—it’s helpful but I’m not sure I can replicate this.”
“You built an ice palace before,” pointed out Meilin, recalling their episode with the Snow Queen.
“With the help up everyone,” said Sakura. “Miho-chan, can you help this time again? Or Tomoyo-chan?”
Tomoyo shook her head. “Unless you want a Rococo-style version of Tokyo Tower. Truthfully, I’m not really into any of the architectural movements since Neo-Gothicism.”
“You need an architect, someone who understands the structure of the tower and how to construct it,” said Miho.
“How about Kai-kun?” Sakura asked.
Kai shook his head. “Heck, I know how to program the computer to build me the tallest tower in Japan that is indestructible even under a 9.0 magnitude earthquake but that doesn’t mean I understand how it’s built.”
Sakura finally turned around to face Eron. “Reiji-san, your uncle, was an architect.”
From the corner, Syaoran, glanced between the two. Reiji. Chang Reiji, the Dark One of his father’s time. How did Sakura know that?
Eron smiled. “You’re right. Our house is full of books on architecture and design—though they’re all outdated now since everything is done digitally. But you’re in luck because I read up on them out of sheer boredom.”
“Outdated or not, it’s more helpful to know the basics instead of relying on a computer program,” said Eriol, as he decreased the strength of the barrier. The dangerous period was over, and he was rather fascinated by the partnership between Card Mistress and Dark One—and the Chosen One’s incessant scowl.
Eron placed his hands over Sakura’s as she gripped her staff. “Luckily, it’s mostly external damage,” said Eron, examining the 3D model of the tower on Kai’s computer, zooming in, then spinning around the model 360 degrees to examine in it from all directions. “I haven’t been inside the Tokyo Tower since I was six.” He closed his eyes and pictured Tokyo Tower.
“The Metal is a tricky card—it’s fluid and temperamental,” murmured Eron. “You’ve got to coax it, humor it.”
“How do you know about the personality of dark forces so well?” Sakura asked.
“It’s the first things I learned when I began to use dark magic. To listen, to understand,” said Eron. “Without understanding the most fundamental essence of the dark force, there is no means to control it.”
Eron’s hand over hers was warm, and he was more focused than she had
ever seen him before. Sakura watched in
wonder as the steel warped and wove together to reform the intricate red and
white lattice work of the tower. “You’re amazing,” she exclaimed. The rest of
the neighborhood was also restored to its proper form as bent lampposts and
traffic lights straightened themselves out and toppled cars and postboxes were
“It’s not a big deal. I didn’t realize how much easier it is with our powers combined,” he said. Then, he collapsed on the floor.
“Eron-kun!” Sakura knelt down and braced him up on a bench.
“I’m all right. Just feeling a bit lightheaded,” said Eron, loosening his shirt collar.
Meilin said under her breath, though loudly enough for Syaoran to hear him, “See, if you haven’t made a big blunder of things, you would have been a part of the Alliance, not him.”
And Syaoran was silent.
The Tokyo Tower stood erect in its former red and white glory, silhouetted by the full moon gleaming overhead.
“Three, two, one.” Kai snapped his fingers, and the entire tower twinkled in orange and white lights once more, illuminating the Tokyo night, and Sakura and her friends exclaimed in awe.
“Looks better than before,” said Eriol, who finally released the barrier around the neighborhood.
“You know, I came to an unexpected realization today,” said Miho with newfound admiration for the golden-eyed twin. “Eron-senpai is really smart.” And this came from someone with a genius brother and spent time with Eriol.
“Took you long enough to figure out,” drawled Eron.
“I always wondered, how do you and Erika control the dark forces?” asked Miho.
Eron said, “You can’t say we really control them—dark forces cannot be controlled by anyone unless they have an agreement, a contract. But we have dark powers that can lure the dark forces to us, the energy that they feed on. In exchange for using our bodies as a vessel, we can manipulated them to a certain extent.”
“That’s such a dangerous process!” explained Miho. “I read about it in Clow Reed’s study. It’s very likely that the magician can be consumed by the dark force.”
“True, it is a dangerous process, and it requires great control and concentration,” Eron said. “That’s why I didn’t allow Erika to be the vessel—it was always me. I’m worried about her. The only reason I was okay was because my body was already a vessel to the Dark One, and He of course wouldn’t want to give me up.”
Sakura shuddered slightly. Facts about Eron that she almost wouldn’t want to know, that he hadn’t told her before.
“Don’t look so concerned,” said Eron. “I lost control once, but you saved me. And now, I’m a free body. I’ll save Erika too, you’ll see.”
Was Erika, too, suffering, as Eron had been? Sakura put her hand on his arm. “Eron-kun, don’t ever try to control a dark force like that again. It’s too dangerous.”
“Magic is dangerous. That’s why we have to become even more powerful so that we can protect ourselves from it.” Eron smiled wryly. “And if it makes you worry for me, I’d do it all over again.”
Kai turned to Syaoran, hands tucked into pocket, turning away. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“Home,” replied Syaoran wearily. Once more, he realized he was the outsider now. “I’m not needed anymore.”
Only Meilin noticed from his side that Kai’s gray eyes behind his black sunglasses were mischievous.
Kai cackled evilly. “Look, Eron’s trying to kiss Sakura!”
Syaoran dashed forward, and Kai gave him an extra shove from the back. He toppled over on top of Eron.
“Watch where you’re stepping, dufus,” snapped Eron.
“Are you two okay?” asked Sakura, leaning over.
Syaoran tried to sit up, then turned around to glare at Kai. “Why the heck did you push me?”
And Eron said, “Get off of me. I’m feeling very violated.”
“Stop grabbing my arm,” retorted Syaoran, pushing away Eron.
“What’re you talking about? You stop holding onto me, it’s grossing me out,” replied Eron.
“Oh dear. I forgot that the Magnet is still around,” stated Kai, clasping his hands together. “Syaoran-kun is currently full of electric charge. And Eron is still under the influence of the Metal from rebuilding the Tokyo Tower. And the magnetic charge between the two is attracting them together.”
Syaoran and Eron stared at each other aghast. “EH?” They both sat up and tried to pull away from each other. They braced their feet on the concrete pavement and yanked their arms in opposite directions. But their arms were joined together as if they were glued. At the very best, they could pull away till only their pink fingers were connected, before being snapped back together like a paperclip flying to a magnet.
And Kai cackled to himself.
“You’re awful,” muttered Meilin, smothering a giggle into her fist.
“No worries,” said Sakura with a weak smile. “I have the Metal. We can seal the Magnet now.” She lifted up her staff. “Metal.” A tiny fizzling sound evaporated into the air. “Oh?”
“You’ve exhausted your powers for the night, with sealing the Metal and restoring the Tower,” said Eriol. “It’ll come back soon enough, but you need to sleep it off and get rest.”
“I see.” Sakura smiled blissfully. “So that means Eron and Syaoran are stuck together for the night?”
“Don’t look so happy about it!” exclaimed Kero-chan.
“Why does this always happen to me?” groaned Syaoran, collapsing on his knees, dragging Eron down with him. “As if it wasn’t bad enough getting my body changed with the stuffed animal.”
“That was quite fun,” Kero-chan remarked, recalling the Change Card.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” said Eron, shaking his left arm, joined to Syaoran’s right arm. He glared at Kai. “Couldn’t you have at least stuck me with Sakura?”
“Don’t look so down, you two,” Sakura said. “We’ve got to finish up wedding planning. Let’s go to Syaoran’s house—”
“Excuse me, why my house?” demanded Syaoran.
“I suppose we can go to Tomoyo’s place, but she should be busy with finalization of Arima-sans’ dress,” said Sakura. “And I don’t want to risk the Magnet messing up all the needles and pins there.”
Syaoran stared up at the sky. “Tell me this isn’t happening to me.”
And Sakura peered closer at Syaoran’s hand. “Syaoran, you’ve got a scratch on your palm. I think it’s from earlier, when the metal chains sliced at your hand. You’ve got to disinfect it and bandage it.”
“It’s nothing,” said Syaoran, trying to clench his left hand into a fist.
“Let me take a look at it!” exclaimed Sakura, trying to reach out. An electric shock sparked from her fingertips, and she found his hands slipping away from hers as if an invisible layer of ice separated them.
Kai beamed gleefully. “North pole and north pole. Opposite poles attract, same poles repel. Sakura is also electrically charged and has the same magnetic field as you, Syaoran. You guys can’t touch each other until the charges wear out.”
If possible, Syaoran looked more dismayed than when he had been told he was stuck with Eron.
“Eriol-kun, did you know this will happen?” asked Tomoyo.
“If I did, would I be so amused right now?” But he looked smug.
“I still find it strange that Clow Reed didn’t seal the Metal as one of the original Clow Cards,” Tomoyo said to him.
“Some call it Midas’ touch. It’s tabooed. Transmutation of common metals into gold was every alchemist’s desire. The Metal is the dark force which enables that,” Eriol paused. “Clow Reed had not interest in gold are riches. But he was but a man and a proud one. If he had the power to, I cannot say he would have had the restraint to stop himself.”
“I wonder if the Metal can make all the needles go quicker so we can finish sewing on all the beads for Arima-san’s wedding dress,” Sakura said to herself. “We’ve just lost a whole evening of sewing time.”
Erika watched from the rooftop of a building overlooking Tokyo Tower, restored to its former glory. She leaned against the ledge, unable to move, barely able to keep her eyes open. Even the moon was too glaring bright. She clutched her heart. It was painful to breath. “Eron… Eron…” she whispered. But her twin brother did not come. Of course he wouldn’t. He was a part of Sakura’s Alliance now.
Beads of perspiration rolled down her forehead, and she tried to reach into her pocket to call Leiyun. The crystal eye-like gem on her throat was scalding hot. “Risa-sama, you wouldn’t leave me as well?” she murmured.
It seemed like no one else had seen it, but she had. The fantastical yet horrific sight of dragon wings sprouting from the Little Wolf’s back. His powers couldn’t have returned, could it? She probably should tell Leiyun. Or maybe not.
Then, she heard footsteps and the rooftop door swung open. A figure in a black cheongsam, with two narrow thin long braids fanned out behind him like black ribbons appeared through the door. The other dragon, this one the human kind.
She hoisted herself up and said nastily, “You’re late.”
“Sorry. I couldn’t find you,” Li Jinyu said.
“Great. What a great excuse,” said Erika, trying to stand up.
He tried to help her up, but she brushed him off. “I can walk by myself, thank you. I’m just lightheaded because I didn’t have dinner.”
His reddish-amber eyes were inscrutable, but he followed after her.
When she returned to the Li mansion, Leiyun was up, waiting for her. It didn’t surprise Erika that he was up at this hour. She had never seen him sleep till date though sometimes he pretended to be napping to avoid people. Dr. Li Jingmei said it was chronic insomnia.
“Took you long enough to come find me,” said Erika. “But you won’t care if I rot to death or not. Can’t you at least send someone more competent to accompany me.”
“Don’t blame Jinyu. He went up every single building in the area before stumbling upon you, you know. There’s a reason why I gave you the cellphone. Answer it.”
And Erika remained silent. She checked her phone long. Li Jinyu. 47 Missed Calls.
“Anything out of the usual today?” asked Leiyun.
For a second, Erika gazed at him with her hazel-gold eyes. Finally, she replied, “No.”
“Well, goodnight you two! I’ll come by tomorrow and see if I can seal the Magnet,” said Sakura.
“No, you can’t leave!” exclaimed Syaoran and Eron simultaneously. There were seated side by side on Syaoran’s living room coach, and Meilin watched them with great humor.
“Syaoran, why in the world are you wearing an outfit that makes you look like you stepped out from a vampire movie?” asked Meilin. “Did you go out dressed like that?”
“No, it’s Tomoyo’s outfit,” snapped Syaoran.
“Matching with Sakura-chan?” Meilin blinked. “So, you two did make up after all.”
“Sakura, you have something on your face. Let me get it off,” said Eron.
“Hoe?” Sakura blinked and touched her face. “Where?”
And Syaoran yanked back Eron with the arm that he was joined to him with. “Don’t let him touch you. You want to get stuck too?”
Eron sighed. “You’re no fun. I think you’re just jealous because you can’t touch her at all.”
“I do hope you two get separated before Arima-san’s wedding,” remarked Kai before he left to his apartment. “Otherwise, it will be difficult for you two to play the violin and cello, stuck together like that.”
But the two boys dropped off into deep slumber despite their disdain for each other because it had been a long day for both of them. Syaoran’s arm was skewed in a strange angle because Eron had rolled over to one edge of the couch while Syaoran was sprawled on the rug on the floor.
With a soft smile, Sakura drew out her staff and whispered, “Spirit of the dark forces. I, Sakura command you. Return to a new shape under contract. Sakura Card!” A new card, with a red magnet with white tips, appeared on her lap. “You’re one troublemaker, aren’t you?” The Magnet.
For a while, she watched the two sleeping boys, two people she wished with all her heart could become friends. They were both very important people to her. If she could only protect these two in the days to come.
She had a dream the other day. She was walking down a blindingly white chapel, walking staidly, forward. Because a veil covered her face, she could not see the person walking down the aisle beside her. “Who are you?” she whispered. But he never responded, never stopped, and she continued walking with him, ahead, ahead, no looking back.
She wanted to dismiss the dream as being due to all the wedding planning. But it was more terrifying dreaming of the unknown than the known. In dreams where she was being chased, in dreams where he appeared, even though he was leaving her, she could at least see him. But in this dream, he was nowhere to be found.
Sakura peered at Syaoran’s sleeping face. Last year, because of a certain mischievous thief, she was handcuffed to Syaoran and had ended up in his apartment. They had sat together in this very living room working on homework, bickering a little bit and then chatting. Though he was usually sullen, Syaoran became very talkative late at night, especially after a shot of hot chocolate. Very few people knew that side of Syaoran, the Syaoran who spoke genuinely, the Syaoran who would get a little flustered, the Syaoran who even joked and teased. Eventually he had dozed off.
But she had sat paralyzed, unable to move because her arm was chained to Syaoran’s and unable to fall asleep because he was so near. Her heart was beating so rapidly, she was afraid that he would be able to hear it. So she tried to hold her breath and recite math formulas in her mind. And in his sleep, he collapsed onto her knees. At first she sat stiffly, for fear she would wake him. But his breath had been so soft and warm, and his sleeping face so peaceful and surprisingly childlike. She had ventured to stroke his thick chestnut hair with her free hand.
Today, she had seen yet another Syaoran that she had never seen before. With the black dragon wings, he had seemed noble, distant, perhaps frightening. And his powers were coming back. She reached out to touch his hair and stopped an inch short. She felt a static on her fingers and pulled her hand back.
“Gross, I never thought I’d wake up to hear you grinding your teeth,” grumbled Eron, giving Syaoran, who was on the floor, a kick early in the morning the next day.
“Look, we’re separated,” said Syaoran, too exhilarated to find his right arm freed to mind Eron’s morning temper. “Sakura must have sealed the Magnet.”
“Where did she go?” Eron asked, looking around. A fuzzy green blanket slipped off his lap.
“Are you two up?” Sakura walked over with a green and white checkered apron. “I made rice porridge and squeezed fresh orange juice.”
“You’re still here?” Syaoran asked.
“Onii-chan thinks I’m at Tomoyo-chan’s,” said Sakura. “Meilin and I are going over to her place after breakfast to finish up the wedding dress.”
Eron blinked and stared at Syaoran of the bed-tousled brown hair and droopy eyes. He remarked dryly, “I can see why the girls adore the sleepy you so much.”
Syaoran inched away from Eron. “Get away from me—you creep me out. I’m going to take a bath—I feel disgusting, like I slept in a pigsty with swine.”
“Should we take a bath together then?” snapped Eron. “I feel like I rolled in the caves with a bunch of wild wolves.”
“Mmm… I smell something delicious,” said Kai as he entered Syaoran’s apartment with a replicated key. He wore an oversized, soft black knit sweater and faded gray-black jeans, and his hair had not been gelled yet and fell into his eyes. “Sakura-chan, you stayed here overnight? So, who did you sleep with? Syaoran or Eron?”
And Syaoran clapped Kai on the shoulder. “You know this is all your fault, right?”
“Oww!” groaned Kai, rubbing his shoulder.
Sakura smiled as she stirred the porridge pot with a wooden spoon. “But I think Eron and Syaoran became closer.”
Syaoran walked up to the kitchen. “Can you pass me a glass of water?”
“Sure.” Sakura took out Syaoran’s cup from the cupboard and filled it with distilled tap water. Syaoran reached over to take the class. Their fingers sparked and Sakura dropped the glass. It shattered on the floor. “I’m sorry!” she exclaimed, trying to gather the pieces.
“Don’t, it’s dangerous,” said Syaoran. “I’ll bring a mop—go and check the pot, it smells like it’s burning.”
Eron snickered. “Looks like she’s still repelling you.”
“She sealed the Magnet already. Why can’t I touch her?” demanded Syaoran to Kai.
“Because you two are still electrically charged to the thousandth degree. It takes time for the magnetic field to fade away,” replied Kai. “Or maybe, she simply doesn’t want you touching her and is repelling you on purpose.”
“Hopefully forever,” muttered Eron.
“You should have touched her all you can while you had the chance to,” said Kai.
Meilin, who had come out of the shower, dripping hair over a toweled shoulder, remarked, “Why is it that whatever comes out of your mouth always sounds utterly inappropriate.”
“Because it is meant to be utterly inappropriate,” replied the thief, his arm snaking around her waist. “You smell like orange blossom.”
Syaoran slapped Kai’s wrist with the wood spatula. “Watch your hand.”
“That’s hilarious. You still can’t touch Syaoran-senpai?” Miho guffawed as she steamed the groom’s tuxedo in Tomoyo’s dressmaking room. “But you sealed the Magnet already. Is it a side effect? Or are you doing it on purpose, Sakura-senpai?”
“Hoe, I’m not!” protested Sakura.
“Well, it doesn’t really matter, I guess,” said Miho dismissively. “Hopefully he won’t take it personally.”
Tomoyo giggled. “But isn’t Syaoran-kun devastated? He’s the type who would take it personally.”
“Well, I have more important things to worry about with the wedding tomorrow,” said Sakura.
“I can’t believe we finished making the dress,” said Meilin, clasping her hands together. “It’s so beautiful, I’m afraid to even touch it.” The white wedding dress gleamed on the dummy in the center of the room.
“It’s thanks to you guys helping out with all the beading,” said Tomoyo, primping the ribbons. “And the final touches have not been made yet.”
“Arima-san will look so lovely in it,” sighed Sakura.
Tomoyo said, “Sakura-chan, can you do be try on the dress for me? I’ve got to adjust the hems a little, so it’ll be helpful to see it first on a live model.”
“Hoe, me?” said Sakura.
The billowy dress was impossible to wear by herself, and Tomoyo and Meilin helped zip up Sakura. They fussed with the laces, the flounces and ribbons.
“Well?” asked Sakura, face flushed. “Say something.”
“Step up on the pedestal, so I can adjust the train,” said Tomoyo. She let the long white skirt fan out behind Sakura.
“What is it?” asked Sakura, glancing between Miho and Meilin, who stared up at her wordlessly.
“Look in the mirror. What do you think?” asked Tomoyo, lacing the bodice of the dress tighter to fit Sakura’s slender frame better.
And Sakura gazed at the full-length mirror, barely recognizing her reflection. She looked older, like a different person.
“Though Arima-san’s much better endowed than you are, it still fits okay,” Meilin remarked as she carefully placed a sheer Venetian lace veil over her head.
Tomoyo examined how the skirt fell and said, “I think if I add some more beading to the hem, it’ll catch the light well.
From outside the dressing room, a voice was heard. “Tomoyo, I brought down the bolts of lace that you ordered.”
And Sakura paled upon recognizing the voice. “I’ve got to change out of the dress—don’t let anyone in!”
It was too late. The door opened, and Syaoran walked in, his view obstructed by a huge bolt of lace. “What’re you guys doing in here with the door shut…”
His voice trailed off as he saw Sakura, glance over her shoulder at him, unable to move from the pedestal because the heavy petticoats weighing her down. It was a simple yet elaborate halter- neck dress which dipped low-cut in the back and cinched at the waist, revealing her slender shoulder blades. Intricate beadwork and embroidery lined the tight bodice which gathered together with lacing down the small of her back then fanned out into masses of lace and silk that trailed down her backside like waterfall.
And the bolt of expensive lace dropped down—rolled over more than being set down gently—as Syaoran gaped at Sakura. She quickly faced the front of the room again, back to him, head down, and wisps of her golden-brown hair fell over her rosy cheeks. Why didn’t he say anything or leave?
“Well?” said Tomoyo.
“Well…” Syaoran cleared his throat. “It’s amazing you finished the wedding dress in time. I—I think the design will suit Arima-san well.”
Meilin rolled her eyes. “Seriously? That’s it?” She sighed shaking her head. No wonder Sakura was repelling him. “Well, it’s true. The design is gorgeous, Tomoyo-chan, and it’s not even completed yet.”
There were more footsteps down the hall, and Eron and Eriol’s voices could be heard.
“Tomoyo-san, we bought every assortment of satin ribbons we could find at the fabric store,” stated Eriol from outside.
“Got the Swarovski crystals and the seed pearls,” Eron called out, “Can someone get the door—our hands our full. Who knew something this tiny can be so heavy.”
And Syaoran glanced at Sakura in the wedding dress, then at the door. In a loud voice he stated, “Tomoyo said she wants them in the storage room, colored-coded and filed.” He cracked the door open the slightest bit so that he could barely squeeze out of it, and the other two could not glimpse inside.
“Here, let me give you guys a hand, and we’ll set the boxes in the storage room down the hall,” Syaoran said, pushing Eriol and Eron along down the hall.
“Hey—you’re acting strangely—like you’re hiding something in there,” said Eron.
“It’s a mess inside—the supplies will get mixed up. Now, hurry along,” said Syaoran.
The girls sighed as the boys’ voices faded into the storage room.
“What a silly boy he is,” said Meilin with a shrug. “Wouldn’t hurt to be honest sometimes and tell you that you look pretty, even if you don’t, but you actually do.”
Tomoyo giggled slightly. “But I find his fumbling clumsiness rather endearing.”
“You would.” Meilin helped unzip Sakura. She wondered if she would one day be able to wear such a lovely dress. The image of a cackling sunglassed face was conjured in her mind. “Fat chance.”
Even though Syaoran had said nothing, Sakura found she was the tiniest bit reluctant to take off such a lovely dress.
“STOP!” cried out Syaoran, reaching his hand out. He jolted up, awake, to a pair of red-amber eyes.
“What is it Syaoran, did you have a nightmare?” asked Meilin, peering over Syaoran’s face.
He sat up, blinking, adjusting to the fact that he really was back in his room in the apartment in Tomoeda. “It’s nothing.”
“But you looked like you were in real pain,” said Meilin. “If it’s a prophetic dream, maybe you need to talk about it with Eriol-kun!”
“No!” exclaimed Syaoran abruptly.
Meilin kneeled down by his bed, chin rested on hands. “Well, you can talk about it with me.”
“No—it’s so stupid, I don’t even want to talk about it,” Syaoran said.
“It can’t be that stupid if it gets your heart beating this rapidly even though you were asleep,” said Meilin, placing a hand over Syaoran’s left chest. His cotton pajamas were damp even though it was cold in his room because the heater was off.
“It’s the same dream again,” he mumbled into his pillow. “It’s so pathetic I can’t say it out loud.”
“What, it’s not like you had a dream about Sakura-chan getting married with Eron-kun or something,” said Meilin, laughing out loud. Then, she saw the alarmed expression on Syaoran’s face. “Wha—No way!” She grabbed Syaoran’s arm. “Seriously?” She let go abruptly, rolled over on her back and started to laugh out loud. She kicked her legs out and tears streamed down her cheeks. “This is priceless.”
Beet red, Syaoran covered his face with his hands and groaned. “I told you I don’t want to tell you.”
“You idiot, if you don’t want something like that to happen in real life, you simply just got to man up and not let him take her from you,” said Meilin.
“It’s just, I guess it must have been too presumptuous of me to think so, but I truly thought that I knew Sakura pretty well. But lately, I’ve been seeing sides of her that keep surprising me. That there are sides of her that she keeps hidden to me.” Like during the magazine photo shoot. And that afternoon, wearing a white wedding dress. Until that moment, he had not really thought that someday, someday she might wear one for real. And he might not be the one standing beside her.
“That’s only natural. You spent that much time apart as well, you know.”
“But when I saw her in the photo shoot yesterday, there was a Sakura I didn’t know.”
“You mean a Sakura with a future without you in it,” murmured Meilin. “You’re probably worried because of what happened with the Magnet and you not being able to get close to her. You know, what if you never can tough her again?” She cackled to see Syaoran’s dismayed expression.
It was finally the day everybody had been preparing with full force all week long.
“I can’t believe it! Everything’s ready!” squealed Miho. “Cake, perfect. Flowers, perfect. Music perfect!” Miho was dressed in a crisp white blouse, a no-nonsense black blazer and matching skirt, holding a clipboard with the wedding itinerary in one hand and a walkie-talkie in the other and was busy directing guests to the right side of the aisle. The chapel was ethereal with roses of all shades of purple, ranging from a deep violet to the palest lavender, courtesy of Kaitou magician.
Eriol, splendid in a black matching tuxedo with the other musicians, played Vivaldi on the piano.
And Syaoran, who never ended up going back to bed, drifted around the chapel, not quite sure of what to do with himself.
“You looked spaced out,” remarked Kai.
“I didn’t get any sleep last night. We spent hours piping purple roses onto the wedding cake at dawn,” said Syaoran.
“Have you seen Sakura yet?” Kai asked.
“You know Eron wouldn’t be the one walking down the aisle with her if you hadn’t made such an ass of yourself ever since you came back,” said Kai, slinging an arm around Syaoran’s shoulder. “Can’t let dream become reality now, can you?”
“I can’t believe Meilin told you!” exclaimed Syaoran, glaring at the former thief.
“There are no secrets between us,” Kai replied with a wink. “If you have enough time to spend studying to graduate from first year of high school top of the year, then you’re not spending enough time working things out with Sakura. I mean, doesn’t the fact that you can’t touch her say something about how she feels about your?”
“Well, do you know what a hard time Leiyun will give me if I get anything less than 100 on my finals?” replied Syaoran. “Leiyun never got less than 100 in any test all his life.”
“And yet, the Li Clan would never accept him as the Chosen One,” said Kai.
Syaoran frowned. “Leiyun never wanted to be the Chosen One.”
“I don’t really care about what Leiyun wants,” said Kai. “So, have you even confessed to Sakura yet?”
Syaoran stared at Kai. “Have you caught wedding fever too, or why are you spouting out such nonsense today?”
“If you don’t speed up, some other guy’s simply going to snatch her away from you. She’s a semi-celebrity now that she’s been modeling in magazines.” Kai primped his shoulders. “As a minor celebrity myself, I can assure you she’s going to have many admirers from now on.”
“Though the main enemy is always closer home. I wonder what your reaction would be when you learn that Eron kissed her. On the day that they broke up.”
From the look on Syaoran’s face, it was news to him.
“But it might in the end be for the better,” said Kai. “When girls kiss someone, they know if that person is right for them.”
“I don’t know what shoujo manga you’ve been reading, but no they don’t,” snapped Syaoran. “I have four older sisters, so I should know.”
“Have you even kissed Sakura-chan yet? And don’t tell me the Star-Crossed musical production—that doesn’t count. It was a play.” Kai sighed. “And I spent a whole summer trying to get you guys closer. I mean, if you don’t do it after I handcuffed you guys together, you guys stayed in the same hotel room together, lived together—then it’s just hopeless.”
Syaoran just smiled.
“What is that snort for—wait.” Kai leaned over and peered at his friend’s inscrutable face. “So you did do it that summer. I always thought so.”
“If I did, I would never tell you.”
“You know, you look so innocent and all, but I