Sakura woke up with a start, breathing heavily, as realization dawned upon her…
That book! The only means of her escape was within this castle…and she knew exactly where it was…
Sakura smiled to herself. Now. To start planning…
Chapter 6: Freedom
Syaoran paced the floors of his chamber, thinking hard. He desperately needed to know if…well…she knew about them. He remembered, ever since he was young, his father telling him that he had the power to control them, but he needed to obtain the knowledge. His father had also told him that the one who had both the power and the knowledge could control them, and only one in each generation could control them…most often born to a member of a royal family. Yet, he, Syaoran, had not been the Chosen One. Syaoran's father had continually ordered him to seek out the one with the power, and he had obeyed. He marshalled the armies far and wide, spreading havoc among the other more peaceful kingdoms. While the vast empire of the Li kingdom grew even larger, Syaoran had not found the one chosen to control them.
Then, his thoughts turned toward the peaceful duplicate of his kingdom, the kingdom ruled by the Kinomotos. He weighed his chances. The Lis and the Kinomotos had normally been rather friendly toward each other. But of late, a growing tension had broken the two apart. Syaoran's father, in fact, had not been fond of King Fujitaka. The Kinomotos, as if realizing the oncoming of war, had expanded its own empire, mainly through the use of several treaties. When the Lis had taken over the Kinomoto kingdom, Syaoran had ordered the royal family to be captured, namely the prince and princess. The prince Touya had been seized, and Syaoran knew that he had not been the chosen one. But the princess had escaped…
Yet, when he had captured the princess, he could immediately sense power radiating within her. Something about her clear green eyes was very expressive, they mirrored the intense magic within, the magic she knew nothing of.
Thinking deeply, Syaoran continued his pacing, thoroughly unaware of the commotion outside.
Sakura banged on the bars of her cell, hoping to get heard by one of the Li soldiers…just one. Her arms were getting raw and weary from pounding on the heavy, rough oak door and she could feel a splinter or two digging painfully into her palm, reopening sword wounds that had not healed properly.
"Come on!" she seethed in frustration, her voice hoarse and raspy, and pitiful compared to the commanding general-type tone she had acquired from the past years. "Why won't they come?"
"Hello?!" she shouted down the hall through the bars. "Can somebody hear me?!"
There was no answer. Suddenly, Sakura had an idea, an inspiration…a bluff that just might work.
"I'm ready to tell the king everything!" she shouted. "But I swear I won't if I don't get out of this cell soon!"
Sakura could have sworn she'd heard murmuring and then immediate, brisk footsteps down the hall toward her. Sakura peered through the bars. There was a shadow approaching! Her plan was starting to work!
"Yes?" the soldier said gruffly. Sakura thought there was something odd about the guard's voice, yet she paid no attention to it.
"I – I need to talk to the king," Sakura stammered, and tried to put on a defeated expression. "I – I'm tired of this cell and – and all this torture – a – and I'm ready to tell the king everything."
The soldier seemed to digest this information and then nodded, although his voice sounded rather cold as he replied, "Follow me, please."
As Sakura followed the soldier, she stopped suddenly. The soldier turned around.
"What is it, girlie?"
Sakura took a deep breath. "I know a shortcut," she said finally. "A – a shorter way to the king's chambers…if you could follow me, I could lead you right outside his door."
The soldier eyed her suspiciously. "How would you know a shorter way to the king's chambers?"
Sakura held her head high as she replied, "Those chambers used to belong to my father, and this used to be my castle. I know more about it than you'll ever know."
The soldier shrugged. "Lead me to it, but I'm warning you, I'm holding this spearpoint right between your shoulders; you make one wrong move and you pay for it with your life!"
Sakura gritted her teeth. "I like your bravado, although I don't take false threats very seriously. If you laid a finger on me without your king's command, I think death will be belittled to what he might have in store for you."
She turned on her heel and went the opposite way, back into the dungeons, deeper and deeper into the darkness.
"Hey!" the soldier's voice yelped in the darkness. "Where are you taking me?"
Sakura called back soothingly, "It's not far from here now, it's just that your king kind of killed everyone who knew about this place before they could install lights in here!"
As Sakura led the unfortunate soldier deeper and deeper into the darkness, very soon, she halted. The soldier crashed right into her.
"Ah! Is that you, girlie?"
Sakura's voice froze water as she replied. "My name is not girlie, boy. My name is Sakura, but don't mire it by speaking it."
"So what do we do now?" the soldier asked.
Sakura shrugged. "There's a wall right in front of me; eighteen feet thick and solid rock all throughout. It's filled with tiny holes, but one of them will lead us through the wall. Only one. If you get the wrong hole, the whole place gets rigged into an ambush and would turn the pair of us into pincushions."
The soldier gulped audibly. "S – so do you know which hole it is?"
Sakura snorted. "What do you think me to be? Of course I know which hole it is! I just need something that would fit the hole perfectly…may I use your spearhaft?"
The soldier snorted. "What do you think me to be? A fool? I won't give you a weapon in this darkness; I'd rather find the hole myself…"
"There are exactly five thousand, three hundred and seventy-eight holes," Sakura informed him, "and five thousand, three hundred and seventy-seven of them will lead you to your death. The odds on your finding the proper hole is slim. Also, even if you did get the proper hole, the wall stays open for twenty seconds only. And the space is tiny; someone your size would have difficulty getting through."
"Then why'd you lead me here?" the soldier demanded.
"Because I have a way of keeping the space open for as long as we need it open," Sakura said.
"Because I'm a Kinomoto," Sakura said reasonably.
The soldier's resolve was not strong, and finally, he gave in. "Okay," he said, handing her the spear, "but be very careful, and also…get there fast."
"No problem," Sakura said, as she felt the stout stick of hardened oak with the dangerously sharp flint tip. Her hand found the soldier's hand and gripped it surprisingly hard for a starved, beaten eighteen-year-old girl.
"Sorry," Sakura said. "Just wanted to make sure you're there. Er – you don't happen to have a match with you, do you?"
The soldier's entire demeanour brightened. "A match? Of course, I've got it right here, just hold on for a second!"
The soldier fumbled through his pockets and soon came up with a match, or rather, Sakura thought, a piece of wood tipped with flint and soaked with oil.
The soldier passed it to Sakura, who still hadn't let go of the soldier's wrist.
"Okay…" Sakura said and started counting holes. "One up…two across…three diagonally…"
It seemed to go on forever, before Sakura announced her decision. "This is it!" she announced triumphantly to the bewildered soldier.
"B-but what did you need the match for?" the soldier asked.
"Never you mind. Now, hold on, and don't move," Sakura ordered as she raised the spear.
The soldier obeyed, much to his misfortune, as Sakura turned on her heel and whacked the spearhaft over his head. There was a sickening crunching sound as the soldier's knees gave way, and he slumped to the ground, unconscious. Sakura could feel something dripping onto her arm and instinctively knew it was blood.
"Sorry," Sakura said to the soldier, "but you knew too much."
She struck the match against the cold stone ground. The bright yellowish flame was a dazzling sight after such pitch blackness, and illuminated even the darkest corners. Sakura smiled slyly to herself as she looked ahead of her. There had been no wall, no holes in any wall, nor had there been any secret passageway leading to the king's chambers.
It had all been a bluff, and Sakura silently congratulated herself.
But time was running out! Someone would be sure to realize that this soldier had not reported to duty in a while, and it wouldn't be long before search patrols were sent to scour the entire castle for one missing soldier.
Sakura spied an unlit torch in a bracket on the stone wall. She retrieved it and lit the hardened, hefty piece of wood with the match. The light was bright and Sakura could see very well. She made her way back to the dead soldier. She pulled the spear out from his body and wiped it clean of his bloodstained uniform. Then, she searched him for any weapons she could use. Her search didn't go entirely in vain, for she found two good swords, a deadly-looking rapier, and a short dagger. Sakura, knowing where the most deadly weapons were hidden, stripped him of his boots and found a tiny box, containing a tiny, pressurized dart, the point smeared with poisonous chemicals and toxins, along with a blowpipe, to propel the dart.
She sat down beside the soldier, thinking. If she could disguise herself as the soldier, her chances of getting into the library would be greater…but…
She looked despairingly at her womanly figure. A hobo with half an eye would be able to notice that she was a girl trying to be a man as opposed to a man. And even if that racist king Syaoran had female soldiers, she was positive they'd have a different uniform.
Sakura examined the fitting of the soldier's uniform. It was baggy and armoured. Sakura noted that they were weak at the neck and at the joints as a future reference. Sakura thought…if she could put on the uniform and pose as a guard…and then silence anyone who asked…
Sakura ripped off the soldiers uniform and put it on herself, and armed herself. She examined the fitting and was grateful it didn't show off her curves too much…in fact, she was positive now that she was entering the easiest phase in her plan.
"Oy! Where ya been?" the other guard waiting asked her.
"The Kinomoto wench was bluffing," Sakura said stiffly, adopting a rough male voice. "I had a struggle with her. But don't worry, she's back where she belongs."
The soldier paused.
"Something wrong with yer voice?" he asked quizzically.
"Sore throat," Sakura said quickly.
"I don't wonder, we freeze in these dungeons! Ah well, better join 'em than leave 'em."
Sakura rolled her eyes.
"Hey! Why'd you have your hood up…"
Sakura's scream rent the air.
"Wha – what happened?" The other guard's voice was scared.
"A – a rock…hit me…" Sakura choked.
"Hit you? Where?!"
"Right in the neck…I think I need to tell Hiriigiwaza about it…"
"Let me see it!" the guard said.
"No…" Sakura couldn't risk the guard seeing her face…it was hidden underneath her hood.
"Take off your hood!" The guard demanded.
"No!" Sakura said.
"Now!" The guard demanded. Sakura was stubborn, but the guard reached out a mailed hand and lifted the hood, and gasped as he saw her face. Sakura winced; this had not been part of her plan. She awaited the blow…and the scream.
But it was not to be.
"Your Highness!" the soldier gasped. "What – what are you doing here?"
Sakura looked up. The other soldier removed his hood…and then…
"Yamazaki! What are you doing here?"
"Sh!" the former Resistance member put a finger to his lips. "Not so loud!"
"It's the plan the Resistance put together. There isn't a single Li soldier left in this palace. All Kinomotos."
Sakura's sharp intake of breath let out slowly. "What about Hirigiwaza?"
"Hypnotized," Yamazaki said proudly. "One look into Lady Tomoyo's eyes solved it all. Can't tell black from white now."
"Tomoyo!" Sakura said joyfully. "She's alive! You all made it out of the ambush alive, didn't you?"
"Hardly matters. We lost a leader…" Yamazaki looked at Sakura seriously. "Never go against such odds again. We were all so worried…"
"So, what happened to young Hiiro?" Yamazaki asked Sakura.
"Hiiro?" Sakura asked, puzzled.
"The lad I sent down to check on you!" Yamazaki said exasperatedly.
"Oh…" Sakura felt realisation dawning upon her, and immediately felt so stupid. "He's unconscious, back in the dungeons. I hit him over the head with his spear. I didn't know it was him! I didn't know any of you were here!" Sakura threw her arms in front of her defensively.
"What – what do you mean, Your Highness?"
"I had no idea you all were here!" Sakura explained.
The confusion in Yamazaki's eyes was building. "But…but you did everything according to plan! You called surrender and…and everything! It was all part of the plan! Didn't…didn't someone come by and drop a letter by your door?"
"No," Sakura said. "I made the entire thing up myself!"
Realisation dawned upon Yamazaki. "Of course," he breathed. "Yuri was injured! While guarding the dungeons! She said rock crumbled from the ceiling and fell on her head…but it must have been a trap! Because she couldn't remember if she'd delivered it or not, but the letter was missing, so…"
He looked into Sakura's eyes, panicked.
"The letter…" Sakura said thoughtfully. "Of course! That's what they meant! Syaoran Li's cronies were cackling about double-crossing a double-crossing letter-deliverer! It must have been Yuri!"
They looked at each other. "Li must have the letter! He probably knows everything now!"
"Come, Milady!" Yamazaki cried. "We must report to the Resistance headquarters and warn them – now!"
"It will be futile!" Sakura said.
"Because the very reason Li captured the Kinomoto kingdom lies in the castle library, and it is there where he will be waiting! I must go there!"
"What do you mean?!" Yamazaki yelped. But then he looked at the light of determination in her eyes and knew argument was useless.
"Very well, Milady. We must hasten, though!"
And with that, both ran to the library.
Sakura stood, framed by the doorway. It was pitch black. A nerve was tingling in her neck. Meaning danger lurked nearby. But she knew where she needed to go. She could feel the magic tingling in the air.
There was magic here…
Welcoming the familiar wave of déjà vu, Sakura threw caution to the winds and raced into the library, dark shelves and foreboding books all blurring into one whir that flew out of focus in her eyes. She could only see the oncoming shelf, the one which would contain the mysterious red book…her Sun…her only light in this darkness…
She could feel her moonlit ring growing brighter, glowing a brilliant white as she neared the shelf. She slowed down, and looked into the spot where the book should have been…
It wasn't there…
Sakura just stood there, disappointment seeping in through her veins. All her efforts were in vain. She had endangered the lives of her Resistance – again! She had probably unwittingly fallen right into Syaoran Li's trap – again! And this probably meant that this time, he would execute her Resistance – one by one….and this time, he would mean it too.
And then, she would be back to the cell…
"So…I see you have counteracted a few plans yourself," a voice came through the bookshelves.
Sakura whirled around at the sound of the voice.
"…but nevertheless, anything you do is futile. Do not forget who I am, nor the capacity of my mind!"
"Quite the egocentric freak, aren't you?" Sakura muttered sarcastically.
He then came into view, evil smirk hitched into place and all.
Sakura's mouth was set into a grim line.
"So, you got me here, and trapped me along with everyone else. Clever."
He tilted his head cockily to the side.
"Just another day in my life. Another prisoner is captured, stays alive for a few days and then believes they can topple my reign with a few run-of-the-mill acquaintances. Quite amusing if you think about it."
Sakura's mind was buzzing; and she was not in a good mood after her failure at discovering what the red book really was.
"All right, Li. Where are all your men? It's not like you to bide your time like so. Why aren't you taking the first offence, like you always do? Because a break in tradition is very unlike your kind."
Syaoran's smirk grew, if possibly, even more evil.
"My men?" he asked casually, eyebrow raising fractionally. "I don't know about my men. I only know that your pathetic Resistance is here – every last member. I took the liberty of identifying every single one of them…including Tomoyo Daidouji…"
Sakura's heart skipped a beat.
"Show them to me," she breathed.
Syaoran snapped his fingers. A split-second later, the dull dimness of the room was lifted as dozens of men leapt out, each with a prisoner to themselves. Sakura stood horrified, as six guards struggled bringing in the last remaining member of the Resistance, who would not give in without a fight.
Tears came to Sakura's eyes as they took in every member of the Resistance: once the pride of the kingdom, now, lower than the dirt, royal gowns torn and ragged, bound and gagged, each with a sword or spearpoint at their necks. And, the one captured by Eriol Hirigiwaza was none other than…
"Tomoyo!" Sakura cried out, shocked to see her dearest friend in such a state. Her blue dress was torn, the wide neck ripped at the shoulders, exposing more than necessary of a high-ranking lady of court. Her hands were tied behind her back. Eriol held them in place.
"Shall I give them the command to strike?" Syaoran asked quietly.
"You will do them no harm!" Sakura cried out loud. "Your quarrel is with me, so leave them alone!"
His eyebrow raised slightly, as he opened his mouth to give the command.
"I know what it is you seek!" Sakura cried out desperately. "I've come here to find it!"
The expression on Syaoran's face froze, save a gleam in his amber eyes.
"I know why you took over our country," Sakura continued, stalling for her Resistance's life. Every word she spoke meant another minute longer for them to live, and for that, she was willing to talk to her own grave.
"You wanted access to something which only I have the power to," Sakura continued. "But you cannot take it from me outright; I can only give it you at the time of my passing. But for that, you have be a man of your word, because I don't like liars." She finished coldly.
"Very well," Syaoran said honestly. "What do you want?"
"The Resistance members go free," Sakura said clearly. "They will have an equal part in society, an indiscriminate people, to live in peace among your people, in safety. This was the goal of the Resistance," she added quickly, watching Tomoyo's mouth drop open in protest, "and if this be the only way to achieve it, then by God let it be so."
Sakura shot Tomoyo a look, telling her to keep her mouth shut and obey her for this very last time.
Sakura wondered what had possessed her to parley with Li for her peoples' freedom. She had meant to go down fighting, but what was she doing here, talking as though she was about to surrender her life in exchange for the people of her Resistance?
Because that's exactly what it is, a voice in her head told her firmly. It's either your life or everyone else's. You promised him a power which you don't even know about! You couldn't even find the book…
Something stirred in the bookshelf. Sakura's eyes flitted over to a golden sparkle in the empty spot where the book should have lain. Excitement seeped through her veins. This was it!
"Your wishes will be obeyed," Syaoran said, almost hesitantly. He turned to Eriol. "Make sure you command the stonemasons to start building. Shelters, for them…"
Eriol bowed and left.
Sakura didn't take her eyes off the golden glitter on the bookshelf. It was glowing brighter, taking a rectangular form.
"Just another question," she said slowly, stalling for more time, to stop anyone noticed the golden glitter. "Who was it that intercepted the letter?"
"Meaning?" Syaoran was confused.
Sakura let out a breath through her teeth. "The letter-deliverer," she said coldly. "Who ambushed Yuri?"
Realisation dawned across Syaoran's face. "Ah…" he said. "A familiar face to all…" he said, and clapped his hands three times.
A veiled girl with a royal kimono, adorned with gold jewellery and her face covered with a fan, entered. Her catlike stance seemed very familiar to Sakura…
"Yes, Your Majesty?" the girl bowed.
Syaoran let out a mirthless chuckle. "You need not hide your face any longer, dear cousin."
Sakura stood motionless as the girl slowly removed her veil and moved the fan away from her face, revealing a fine-featured girl with long black hair and red-brown eyes, which were shining with fear and worry, not to mention guilt.
"Rei!" Sakura cried, recognising a member missing in action from the Resistance shortly before her capture.
"Not quite," Syaoran said, his lip curling. "My cousin, Meiling Rae."
"What?" Sakura asked disbelievingly, staring hard at Rei's face for confirmation. She noticed that Rei was deliberately staring at the ground, avoiding Sakura's gaze. "It's not true!"
Syaoran let out another chuckle. "Tell her Meiling. What have you to be afraid of? A caged-in pussycat? A princess with no kingdom? A warrior with no sword?"
Sakura could feel the fury pumping through her veins, although she strained her voice, keeping it calm.
"Look at me Rei. Tell me you're not a Li," Sakura said.
Rei continued to look down.
"A fine agent in terms of espionage," Syaoran said. "Although she has difficulties remembering where her loyalties lie. What do you think, Meiling?"
His voice had a cutting edge to it.
"N – never, Your Majesty," Rei stammered weakly. "My loyalties have always remained with you…Your Highness," she added hastily at a hard glance from Syaoran.
Sakura felt ice-cold at the statement.
"So," she said coldly. "You were the cause, weren't you, Meiling? It was because of you that the Resistance was nearly jeopardised!"
Meiling nodded fearfully.
"Because of you, innocent lives were almost lost! You betrayed us! You betrayed us all!" Sakura accused.
Tears ran down Meiling's cheeks as she nodded quickly.
Sakura's eyes were icy as she spat out the last words. "Why?!"
Meiling turned to her cousin. "Permission to leave, Your Majesty?"
Syaoran gave her a withering look. "Permission denied, incompetent, you worthless, pathetic excuse for a human being!"
Meiling turned respectfully away, the red in her eyes beginning to spread across her face.
Sakura could feel a tinge of sympathy for Meiling. "Why, Meiling?" she repeated, her voice softer.
"Let me answer that," Syaoran cut in smoothly. "You remember that day, when I told you that I had caught Tomoyo Daidouji and the rest of your pathetic Resistance?"
"Whom you promised to live in peace," Sakura said, her voice flat.
"Yes, yes. Them. You remember that day? I did have a faithful spy with me…my cousin Meiling. She told me everything. Or rather, I had to bargain with her until she agreed. But no matter. I knew exactly where the Resistnce was. But I did not strike. I wanted to see for myself the potential of these Kinomotos. I'm afraid I was alightly disappointed," he concluded.
"What do you mean, you had to bargain until you agreed?" Sakura asked slowly.
"Quite simple really. I told her she'd be able to live longer if she told," Syaoran said carelessly.
"That's what you told me!" Sakura said, enraged.
"True. Then I promised Meiling her virginity."
Sakura looked horrified. Rei had not been a traitor. Moreover a poor girl caught up in the ramble and corruption of power.
She shifted her eyes slightly to the appearing golden form on the bookshelf, and was shocked to see that it had begun to solidify, still retaining its golden colour.
Her moonlit ring and sunlit necklace were beginning to light up too, as Sakura felt the power rise in her chest. It felt good: warming yet cooling at the same time; healing and rejuvenating; healing wounds both mental and physical.
The tattoo of the Lis washed off, leaving skin as porcelain white as the rest of her skin…
The part that Sakura found the oddest, was that though all eyes were on her, it was as though nobody could see the magic rising here: a dormant magic unseen for the past two thousand years…
It was as though…
Time had frozen…
Sakura's sunlit necklace began to heat up with such extraordinary warmth, that she could no longer leave it hidden underneath her bodice. She pulled it out and stared at the back. A shining metallic outline of a key was shining on the back.
She touched it, and at once, both her ring, and her necklace disappeared, whirling away in a mass of molten gold, silver and magic, all blending together until they molded together in a perfect, harmonized sculpture. A circle with a golden star inside it. It was a key! A key to wield the immense power: a power only she could wield. A power in her bloodline, a power none in her family had wielded since…
"Kinomoto…" she breathed, staring at the key suspended about her neck.
She turned back to the shelf, and in a wave of bright golden light, the book turned red! Cautiously, Sakura picked up the book and examined it.
It was the book from her dreams! And this…this was her Sun! A red book, with the words SAKURA inscribed in gold near the top, together with a lion and a sun drawn in gold on the red book. On the back was the moon. And on the front cover, was a keyhole, the slot that perfectly matched the key around her neck.
As though by instinct, she fitted the key into the lock, and unlocked the book.
Inside, was a stack of cards, each labelled with a different element: The Windy, the Fly, the Shadow. It went on…
What overwhelmed her was the intense flow of magic in each Card.
"The Clow Cards," Sakura breathed. "The magic to wield these comes only once in a lifetime. Clow Reed created them. But now their magic needs renewing!"
She extracted the Windy Card from the Book, and immediately, the time-stop was broken.
Sakura eyed the Li king warily before he realised what he was seeing.
"Hey!" he bellowed. "What are you doing with those?!"
"I'm checking if they're fakes," Sakura replied sarcastically.
Syaoran was getting angry. "You promised you'd show me the power, girl!"
Sakura whirled on him. "And I will, once I learn!"
As if on cue, the palace started to quake. Havoc broke loose as a sheet of blinding white light bathed the palace. She shielded her face with one arm, the other clutched protectively around the Book as a dangerously powerful wind threatened to take it from her. She held on tight. When the wind had stopped, she looked around curiously.
There was no damage. But then, what had happened?
"The Cards!" Sakura gasped to herself. "They're gone!"
Indeed, the Cards had disappeared, taken by the wind, or rather, escaped from the sinister king's presence.
Sakura faced Syaoran. "You will let me go find them!" she commanded him.
"And why would I do that?" he sneered.
"Because already, they have started to create havoc among your people as well as around the world!" she cried.
"I don't care. You're not leaving!"
"Oh yes she is!"
And with that, Meiling overcame her silence and slapped Syaoran across the face. Before it could register on Li's face, Meiling had toppled him over and had started beating the living daylights out of him.
"Go now!" Meiling cried, one hand clutching both of his in a deathly vicegrip, her knee dealing swift blows to the king's abdomen. "Go now, Princess Sakura of the Kinomotos, and good luck on your journey! Be careful!"
Sakura smiled gratefully at the once-subdued young girl who had finally risen to her level and given the king what he deserved. "Thank you…Rei," she said.
As she stepped out the door, she looked back at Syaoran. "We are not through yet," she said coldly. "One day, I will be back, and when I do, there will be hell to pay!"
Saying so, she broke into a dash, arms clutched around the book. She ran.
Away from the palace.
Freedom was hers!
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
A/N: I am quite sorry for the lengthy update time, but I just had so much to do, and then this is probably the turning-point of the entire story!
So, please, spare the flames and reviews accepted quite willingly.
I wuv my reviewers!
R&R please! The amount depends on the continuation of this story!