Disclaimer: I'm too evil to own anything as cute as Cardcaptor Sakura.
Author's note: Sorry this chapter has been so long in coming: it's a pretty important one, as you'll soon find out, so I wanted to get it right. Enjoy! *cackles evilly*Whispers in Dark Corners
The clouds had grown much darker as the afternoon drew on, bringing an early twilight to the gloomy, wet day. As the hours slipped slowly by, the sky's darkness was filled with the rumbling of distant thunder, in promise of a storm.
Sakura sat in her room, watching the rain pour steadily outside. She'd already turned her bedroom light on, not in the mood to bother with candles; it had become so murky outside. She wanted the steady, strong light of a proper lamp. The trees that stood in clusters near the house shuddered ominously in a low wind. Sakura could hear their branches creak painfully.
She shivered. She didn't like it when the weather got like this.
She decided to go and find Syaoran. After he had comforted her with a sudden embrace, in the library, earlier in the day, he had told her something she couldn't stop thinking about. As he'd left, he had paused in the doorway long enough to say the simple words, "Whatever happens, or whatever you need, you can come to me. Please remember that." He'd left without turning, Sakura unable to guess the feelings behind his words without being able to see his face. Sakura had only sat frozen, wide-eyed at what he'd said, and listened to his footsteps fade away down the hall.
She would accept his offer. The stormy weather had her feeling jittery and nervous: she would go and see Syaoran. She wouldn't have to tell him why she was there- he wouldn't have to know how silly she was, to be scared of some clouds and rain- she'd just spend some time with him, if she could. Just stay near him, just for a little while.
With that, Sakura rose and slipped outside, leaving the cheery light of her room, and stepping out into the hallway. It was dark there, and full of shadows.
Sakura headed hastily for Syaoran's door. As her fingers reached for the handle, she glanced across the hall, and a bolt of lightning flashed outside, illuminating the landing and the top of the stairs, down the hall from Sakura.
In the split second of almost blinding silver light, Sakura saw someone standing at the top of the stairs. Someone tall, inhumanly pale and graceful, too dazzlingly bright, reflecting the white glare of the lightning.
Someone looking straight at Sakura.
She screamed, but before the sound had even escaped her lips, the moment of the lightning had passed, and Sakura was left in darkness again. Pitch darkness. The mansion's electricity must have been shorted out by the storm.
Sakura screamed again. A ghost, it was a ghost! IT'S RIGHT THERE, WATCHING ME!
The lightning flashed again, and Sakura saw a figure, caught in the glare of brightness, running towards her from the end of the hall.
"NO!" she screamed, trying to run but finding her legs wouldn't move. It's coming for me!
The darkness fell again, like a blanket. Sakura couldn't see a thing, her eyes wouldn't adjust fast enough, but beyond the sound of her racing heartbeat, which pounded in her ears, she could hear the footsteps still running towards her.
Consciousness began to desert her in her fear, and her vision blurred.
Arms reached out and took hold of her, and she found herself being held against a warm and solid surface.
She couldn't even speak, she was so scared. She let out a small, terrified gasp.
"Sakura, it's me! Calm down, it's me!"
Sakura's eyes widened. She knew that voice: it wasn't a ghost!
"Touya!" she cried, looking up through the darkness, her eyes finally adjusted enough for her to see the face of the brother she loved so much- particularly just then.
He was looking down into her frightened face with deep concern.
"Are you okay? I heard you scream, I came running. What happened?" He sighed, a grimace on his face. "You're shaking, you're so scared. Geez, you scared me, too, with those screams," he muttered to himself.
Sakura realised she was, indeed, shaking. Her body was shuddering uncontrollably with fear, and that only made Sakura feel more afraid. She clung to her brother, trying to ignore the darkness that still surrounded her.
"The lightning flashed outside, and I saw… I saw…"
"What did you see?" he asked gently.
Sakura closed her eyes tightly, and nodded her head quickly.
She felt Touya's arms tighten around her briefly in a hug. He let her go. "Well, it might have been me you saw, you know," he said.
Sakura thought about it for a second.
"No, it couldn't. You came after you heard me screaming, and I screamed after I saw the… you know. So it couldn't have been you."
Touya's face was crossed with a flicker of worry, but it cleared again before Sakura could notice it.
"There might be something about this mansion… It's pretty old. But I wouldn't worry too much."
"Hoe? Not worry, when there could be… those things around?!" cried Sakura.
Touya's mouth twitched in a hint of his usual sardonic smirk.
"Right. 'Cos whatever there might be in this place, the scariest thing around will still be you… kaijuu."
Sakura's face went red with irritation as his words sunk in, and she stamped on her brother's foot, pouting angrily.
"Then don't call me a monster, onii-chan!"
He looked at her quizzically. "Onii-chan? I'm your guardian, not your brother," he said.
Sakura suddenly remembered. She'd completely forgotten about the game, she'd been so scared!
"Oh, yes, of course, I… uh… I want to call you onii-chan from now on, because you're just like a brother to me, taking care of me and everything, is that okay?" she stuttered, with a nervous laugh.
He just shook his head, and started walking off. "Whatever you like. If you get too scared again, you can find me in my study. It's near the library, down the hall from where my room is."
He'd already wandered off.
Sakura pouted again. She hoped he would go and sort out the electricity. Okay, so they used candles a lot to try and recreate the era of the game, but electricity was still important in a practical way!
She shivered, risking another glance at the place where she'd seen that… thing. The hall was dark and empty.
Finally, Sakura knocked on Syaoran's door, and walked inside, closing it softly behind her.
The hall was dark and empty. Or so Sakura had thought.
A pair of bright eyes flashed angrily in the shadows, watching her vanish into Syaoran's room.
"You should not be so comfortable with the Lord of this mansion, little girl. There are many who deserve his attention and friendship more than you!
"…Be careful, little girl," sneered a voice in the darkness. "Your casual, oh-so-cute attitude might get you into trouble someday…"
Tomoyo whispered the name to herself as a knock came at her door. Touya had found her fifteen minutes before, and told her she could retire for the night early, because of the storm and the electricity-outage. She'd just got into the bath, in the lovely little bathroom that linked to her own room, when she'd heard the knock on her door.
"Just a moment!" she cried, rising quickly from the bath, though with a reluctant look on her face. She'd had a tiring day, and had been more than ready for a nice long bath. She sighed, grabbing a bathrobe and tying it deftly around her small waist.
She smoothed her wet hair with a hand, and stepped over to the door.
It opened to reveal Eriol stood waiting.
He stepped in and closed the door behind him before he'd even looked at her.
When he did, his face went a little red, and he bowed. "I apologise for intruding like this, Tomoyo. I just… I wanted to see you… Talk to you…" He stuttered to a halt, his eyes fixed determinedly on her face, and nowhere else.
He couldn't help thinking she looked really nice in that bathrobe, though.
He snapped his thoughts back into line.
She was looking at him, her hair, darkened with water, dripping on her shoulders, damp tendrils clinging to her neck and cheeks. Her lips parted to speak.
She looked down, and her voice sounded small and timid.
He blinked, a grave expression on his face. To the point, he told himself. "I just came to tell you: it will be okay."
She glanced up at him. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, I've thought of how to sort all of this out. Between us. I know that my parents object to my marrying someone who isn't rich, but I've thought of a way to sort it out."
There was something in his tone that Tomoyo really couldn't warm to, but she couldn't put her finger on it. It was the same as when he had spoken to her earlier, and had sounded so ruthless.
"How?" she asked breathlessly.
"I… I don't want to tell you, because I don't think…" He fell silent, his face troubled, but still determined.
He suddenly met her earnest gaze. He stepped across to her, and cupped her face in his hands, a look of intensity in his eyes that Tomoyo had never seen before.
"You used my name… You didn't call me 'sir' or 'master'…"
Tomoyo blushed under his possessive touch on her face. His eyes softened at the sweetness of her sparkling, tentative gaze.
He leaned close, bringing his face down to hers until their noses touched, bringing a further blush to Tomoyo's cheeks. Her pale forehead felt warm against his, her dripping fringe a soft cushion between them. He wanted so much to hold her this way every time he was near her. It was so hard to keep himself distant from her when others were there, watching. Eriol closed his eyes with a smile. He could hold her now, just for a moment. "I'm glad…"
Tomoyo closed her eyes as well, letting the smile within her heart reach her mouth. To feel him so close like this…
He pulled gently away again, and his fingers slipped slowly, regretfully, from her cheeks.
"I will return when it is done, Tomoyo. I will return, and ask you to stay with me, to be with me forever."
The recklessly determined look had returned. Tomoyo found her brows coming together worriedly.
Before she could say anything, he had gone. The door closed with a quiet click behind him.
Tomoyo stood, hair dripping slowly on the floor, a hand clasped at her heart, eyes full of anxiety.
What was Eriol planning to do?
The two figures were stood by the window again, watching the rain still pouring in the darkness outside.
"She's still jealous, isn't she?" A sigh.
"Yes. More so, in fact."
"Will she ever learn to accept me? Accept the way things are?"
A pause. The rain pattered against the windowpanes, a tinkling, tiny sound.
"I don't think she will. It's already been a long time, and it's only grown worse. I think…"
"What?" The question was nervous.
"I think I'll have to deal with this. Deal with her, once and for all."
"But… How? I…"
A slow, resigned shake of the head. "It can't go on like this. I will act. I promised I'd stand by you, and that includes stopping what she's doing to you- and doing to me, through you.
"Enough is enough."
A jagged line of lightning broke from the sky, and thunder rolled in a lazy rhythm around the floors of heaven.
Mei-Ling sat with Syaoran in one of the reception rooms, surrounded by some candles they'd found in a drawer of one of the cabinets there.
The soft glow played on Mei-Ling's angry features warmly as she spoke to Syaoran of what had happened with Ruby.
"She has no respect for me, for our mother, or for any of our family, Syaoran! She's acting like… Like…"
"Don't say anything harsh that you'll regret, Mei-Ling," said Syaoran quietly.
Mei-Ling looked up at him in surprise.
"I am angry about the way her mother treated our mother as well, and her father, for that matter. You shouldn't let her provoke you like this, though. You're just playing into her hands." Syaoran kept his voice soft and reasonable.
"I can't believe we're twins, Syaoran. You seem to feel so differently about things sometimes."
Syaoran smiled at her tiredly. Yes, in the game, she was his twin. They were very different: but then, real twins often were.
The important thing was, they stuck together when it counted, like he and Mei-Ling would now.
Sakura's voice sounded small in the empty room. Syaoran wasn't there.
Sakura didn't want to leave, though. Somehow, just being there in his room, where it smelt of him, and in the hope that he would enter any moment, made her feel better.
She wandered over to the little desk opposite his bed.
It was covered in papers, and a couple of pens lay there among some newspaper clippings.
Sakura bent closer, suddenly caught by something. "What does this mean?" A deeply anxious look flooded her pretty face.
"Ruby is still the most manipulative, horrible person I've ever met, Syaoran. I won't change my opinion of her, not when she's always just proving how nasty she is."
"I understand that, Mei-Ling."
The girl sat, her hands clutching angrily at the cloth of her skirt. She couldn't seem to make the anger go away… It was consuming her. She had a fiery temper, and she knew that wasn't a good thing, but she just couldn't seem to help it. Especially not just then. Privately, she was thinking, This is just a game: it shouldn't matter so much. But somehow… Somehow, its just does. I'm getting too deeply into my character…
Just then, Mei-Ling felt a hand touch hers, drawing her away from her worried thoughts.
"Don't worry, sister. Things will get better. I promise."
Syaoran's eyes were bright in the low orange light of the candles.
"He's a reporter?"
Sakura drew a startled breath. "A newspaper reporter?" she said, as if saying it again would change it.
There, on his desk, were a couple of notepads, covered in writing about everything that had been happening at the mansion since they'd all arrived. No one could have mistaken these notes for a diary: they were factual, unbiased. And near the top of one page, the words 'Must investigate plausibility of this for article' were plainly written.
Sakura sank down into the chair in front of the desk. She hadn't known…
But how could she have? And why would she have? It must be a part of the game; something like this must be a clue of some kind. But what was the clue about? What was the mystery it related to?
The memory of the pale, glowing figure flashed through her mind.
"No!" She closed her eyes, willing the scary image away. She didn't want to remember that at all.
She opened her eyes again, slowly, and looked at all the things on the desk again. Had this all been left here, waiting to be found? What was going on?
What is Eriol going to do? Why was he so serious?
Tomoyo walked over to the window. The night outside was wild, dark and menacing. She shivered a little.
She wanted to be with him. More than anything, she wanted to be able to be with Eriol. He was only being honest about his parent's views.
She suddenly recalled his words from earlier that day.
"I'm sure she must have something in her will for you."
Ruby probably would leave some money to Tomoyo; she'd been her maidservant for so long. If only there was some way she could have that inheritance now, instead of years away, in the distant, unknowable future…
A foreign sensation rose in Tomoyo's heart.
She rose, wringing her wet hair with a sharp turn of her wrist. Drops of water fell silently to the wooden floor.
She reached for the door handle.
"Does that mean you have a story, Syaoran?" Mei-Ling was suddenly excited, anger put aside for a moment.
"I might… That story Eriol told the other night. Something tells me that wasn't just a normal urban legend. I have a weird feeling that it did happen, though it was probably exaggerated, 'Chinese whispers' style." Syaoran looked thoughtful.
"I'm sure you'll work it out," Mei-Ling said confidently.
"Hm," said Syaoran absently. I don't know why, but something tells me all of this connects to Ruby. But how? I have to unravel this mystery. And no matter what it takes, I have to get a story.
Syaoran suddenly rose from his seat.
"Where are you going?" asked Mei-Ling in surprise.
"I have business to take care of," said Syaoran, in an unusually dark, serious tone.
Mei-Ling stared after him as he left the room with a slow, measured stride, vanishing into the darkness of the main hall.
I have to do something about this. It can't go on this way. I made a promise: I will keep it. I have to take responsibility, and put a stop to it all, before it gets really out of hand.
Touya took a deep breath, and stepped out into the hall. He knew exactly where he was going, and this time, he would go there. He would finish what he set out to do.
"Don't you know how jealous Ruby is of you?"
Sakura spun round.
The small creature flew towards her with a sigh. "Yes. And I'm being serious, not rhyming. She's jealous of you, Sakura. Incredibly so. And angry."
Sakura swallowed nervously.
"What are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about the way you've suddenly become a main feature around here, the way Touya's now taking care of you, the way he actually does care about you, not just as a responsibility he has to live up to, but in a real way: he treats you like the little sister he never had. Is it so hard to understand how jealous that makes Ruby, the cousin who dotes on him and always wished she were more important to him?"
Kero gazed earnestly into Sakura's face.
She looked away. "I never thought about it that way. She's been really nice to me since she got here."
"It's an act, Sakura. And besides, guess who would be next in line for the family fortune, if you were to stand aside… or be pushed aside?"
Sakura stared at Kero in shock.
"Do you think she would hurt me?" Beware the Red Moon… Sakura gasped as the memory of the note flickered through her mind.
When she looked up again, Kero was already vanishing into the shadows.
She suddenly remembered something else.
"Kero, wait! Before, you and Suppi said that one of you always tells the truth and one of you always lies… Are you the liar or the one who tells the truth?" she asked urgently.
Kero had already melted into the darkness, but his voice carried to her ears across the dark room. "You'll have to figure that out for yourself…"
Mei-Ling got up. She'd had enough. Ruby was just too much to bear!
Her talk with Syaoran had helped a little, but just thinking about Ruby made her own anger blaze up inside her again. She would sort this out, right now. She was sick of playing Ruby's game.
I swore that my mother's sadness would not be left without revenge. Ruby will suffer for what her mother did to my family, and for what she has said to me!
Mei-Ling swept from the room.
Sakura had to talk to Ruby. She couldn't leave it like this. If Kero was telling the truth, she had to try and make things right between herself and Ruby. Who knew what could happen if she left things like this?
She fled from Syaoran's room, all thought of talking to him gone for the time being. All she could think of was how to make things right with Ruby. It didn't occur to her that Ruby might not want to hear what Sakura had to say.
The young girl vanished silently into the darkness of the hallway.
The rain fell heavily outside, a moaning, whistling wind buffeting against the walls of the grand house. Leaves were torn from creaking branches, and swept off into the darkness on the wild breeze. Night had set in, and the hour was beginning to grow late.
Another bolt of lightning flickered among the clouds with an odd shade of purple that made the sky look bruised.
Ominous, angry thunder rumbled overhead as those within the mansion moved with each of their own dark thoughts in their minds.
I have to stop this now.
I must do what I can to be with the one I love.
I will not back down on my oath!
I will do anything to make my parents see…
I have to make it right.
I will get my story!
A sharp, painful clap of thunder rang out directly over the mansion. Footsteps trod urgently along its floors.
A flash of lightning broke the gloom, and the thunder rolled on. The hush that followed would not last.
"What are you doing? STOP!
The pleading shriek was followed by a high-pitched scream, which rang out through every corner of the building, a bloodcurdling, soul-chilling sound.
Footsteps paused in shock and footsteps ran in horror, worry and fear.
Shadows darted. Lightning flashed and as the loudest rumble of thunder yet rolled around the sky and finally faded away, the comparative silence that fell was appalling.
A body hit the rain-soaked earth with a deadened thud.
The wind howled on.
Author's note: *breathes a huge sigh* That took ages. But I'm pretty satisfied! *evil grin* Looks like the murder mystery weekend has really got into full swing… Hope you enjoyed it! More will come when I get around to writing it- exam time makes that harder. But I'll do my best, in light of the horrendous cliff hanger I've left you with. ^_^
Notes to reviewers:
Thank you to Silva Sun (*laughs* Yep, Eriol is sounding a little too possessive to be a feminist… but then,, that would be weird if he was one. *looks confused* Oops, I've confused myself again! ^_^ Thank you for your good wishes, as well. ^_^), sourmuggie (Thank you! Er, not for the comment on other bad fanfics… tho I have to say, some fics I've stumbled across have been shockingly bad, though most are very readable! Thank you anyway! *rambling again… rolls eyes at self* ^_^ Sorry I took a while to update!), TroubleMaker (Nope, it's not AU, though I suppose it could be. And I guess you could call it Kinomoto Castle, though I see it as more of a country manor house- Touya being 'Lord of the Manor'- gotta love that phrase! ^_^ And no worries- I'm really clueless most of the time. *giggle*), Feathers (Thank you! I took a while to update this time… I have weirdly fluctuating levels of enthusiasm for this fic, but I'll continue it anway. ^_^), Sakuya Sakura Tsuki (Hello! Er.. not quite sure what to make of the reviews, but they made me giggle anyway! ^_^ And you shouldn't have to review if you don't feel like saying anything. Sometimes I just don't have anything to say when I review a fic!) and Pnaixr0se8 (Thanks for your enthusiasm, it's very infectious! *bounce bounce bounce* ^_^ I'm glad you like the story, and there will always be fluff because fluff makes the world go round! *Einstein pops up to raise an eyebrow* Oh, go away Einstein, fluff does make the world go round, I don't care what you say! ^_^).
Please leave your thoughts- I admit it, I'm shallow and get bored with my fics when I get no reviews. *shrugs* Just the way it is! ^_^ See you soon hopefully with the next chapter!