AN: :stares in awe: Wow…I got reviews…and they're good ones, too! Whee! You guys ROCK!
Well, now that the stage has kind of been set, we can get to the really good part. Heehee. There's a hefty deal of exposition in this chapter, but it's all really important. The real stage of the story is set here, so pay attention! There will be a quiz!
I'm trying for much longer chapters than my average fic, though I'm not sure how that'll go. prays And for those of you who may be new to my stories, I sometimes tend to have quite long author's notes for no real reason. Please bear with me. I sometimes explain important stuff up here. Key word: sometimes :)
I don't own Cardcaptor Sakura. I'm just borrowing these characters. And I'm just borrowing the song from which the title is taken. But the title fits the story, so no worries there. Promise. But the plotline is mine, all mine! You hear me! IT'S MINE!
On we go...
Chapter Two—An Unkind World
It was gray.
That was the simplest way to describe everything. The sky, the buildings, the people. It was all shades of gray. At least, that was how it seemed sometimes.
Amidst this overwhelming grayness, a young man walked alone. He was silent, and seemed completely indifferent to what was going on around him. This was a deceptive appearance, though. A false front. In truth, he was probably more alert and more aware than anyone else out there. His dark eyes shifted back and forth every few seconds, and every sense was on fullest alert.
He had reason to be exceptionally cautious, though. After all, he was a wanted man.
He had been a wanted man for nearly a decade now, and yet he was still free. To many, it would seem a miracle that one with such a reward on his head would still be walking the streets.
But Kinomoto Touya wasn´t free because of luck. He was intelligent, and he was surrounded by people who were for the most part smarter than he was. Protections had been worked out long, long ago.
They could look for him all they wanted. They could search high and low, tearing Heaven and Hell apart in their quest to find him, but even if they stared right at him, they would never see the face of the one they so desperately wanted to destroy. They would see the face of an older man, one who looked absolutely nothing like their quarry. An illusion.
Touya had actually had one of them look him straight in the face, and then walk away, completely oblivious to who he had been looking at. Although relieved that he hadn´t been discovered, it had been one of the most nerve-wracking moments of his life.
Still, it was dangerous to be out and about, in case something should happen. Which was why he was on fullest guard, and in a hurry. The sooner he could return to the relative safety of the hideout, the better. He pulled his dark coat around him a little more tightly and quickened his pace a bit, though he was careful not to start walking too fast. That might draw suspicion, and the Guards were out today. There seemed to be more of them as of late.
The people on the streets gave the Guards plenty of room, steering carefully around them when one had to go anywhere near them. In general, though, it was usually considered prudent not to come within twenty feet of the Guards. Those Guards that walked the streets were especially known for their brutality, and it was best not to draw their attention.
After all, the Guards were a part of them.
They had attacked the day after the deaths of the Cardcaptors. They had no real name, or if they did, they weren't sharing it with people. But their brutality and heartless cruelty had led many to simply dub them the Slayers.
Details had been extremely sketchy at first, but a lot of time and a lot of digging had revealed that they were in fact an organization that spanned the globe. A secretive society of magicians and sorcerors in their own rights, they had been lying in wait for a long time, gathering and consolidating their powers to fuel their mage-born armies. And the rest of the world was blind.
Hell, most of the rest of the world didn't even know that true magic existed.
It was perfect. The plan was simplicity itself—to take over. Perhaps a cliched plan, but the Slayers were dark magicians. They craved power, authority, and domination.
But there had been one—or rather, two—things in their way, that they knew of. The Cardcaptors. The Card Mistress, and her equally powerful partner.
Naturally, they had known of the release of the Clow Cards nearly two decades before. They had been around that long. And they had been monitoring the progress of the young Cardcaptor through the captures, the Final Judgment, and the changing of the Cards.
By the time they had accumulated enough of their power to mount their attack, the two teenagers had almost entirely come into their own magic, and were learning how to use it quite effectively. Their execution had to be carried out carefully. As Clow Reed's heir, the girl was definitely a force to be reckoned with. And her partner was almost as powerful.
The assassination had gone off without a hitch. Divide, and conquer. Even the most powerful sorcerors were not above making mistakes, some more fatal than others.
The Slayers had been thorough. They knew nearly everything, but even as thorough as they had been, there was one crucial thing that they didn't know of, or understand: Hiiragiziwa Eriol.
They knew he had magic, powerful magic. But nothing suggested that they thought he was anything other than a great sorceror. They didn't know that he was in fact the reincarnation of Clow Reed.
That information was priceless and worthless at the same time. But those who still dared to resist were in no hurry to let the bastards know the truth.
There had been other crises arising in the wake of the takeover. Murder and kidnappings were commonplace events as any and all resistances were crushed. After one particularly bloody massacre two weeks after the takeover, most decided it was best to simply accept the inevitable and try not to attract any attention to themselves. That slaughter had taken place just outside Tomoeda.
That was another thing, a cruel joke. The Slayers had selected Tomoeda as their base. Their Headquarters towered over the rest of the town, as an awful reminder of what had once been there.
A small group, seething over the brutal murder of their friends, had fled. They were hiding out just outside the town, shielded by their own magic, and living by their wits. They were the one resistance the Slayers had failed to quell, mostly because they couldn't find them. And having physical descriptions didn't help much, either. They were rarely seen, opting instead for more invisible attacks.
Life was hard. There was no way around that. Especially for that group of fighters.
The worst and most difficult problem to deal with had been Yue. As the Guardian of the Moon, he needed the power of his Master to survive. But with his Master's death, he had started to fade almost immediately. It would have been a slow process, but the result would have been inevitable. He would have disappeared forever.
In an act of selfless desperation, Yue had agreed to be sealed again. The stoic Judge was sleeping somewhere deep within Yukito's psyche, waiting for the day when there would be someone to support his powers. But until that time came about, Yue would sleep, locked away inside the mind of his own disguise, blissfully unaware of the amount of time that had passed or of the events that had taken place in that time.
Touya paused in front of a shop and glanced in the window. He wasn't really looking for anything in particular, just glancing around. There was nothing really of interest in the shop window except his reflection. And that kept his attention for a moment.
He looked young. It was hard to believe that he was technically thirty five years old. But he had a friend to thank for that as well. He looked exactly as he had ten years before, save for a long scar running down his jaw, and the stress of years written in faint lines on his face.
Eriol's magic was the reason. Right after…they had died and the Slayers had taken over, they had been forced to flee, and the reincarnation of Clow Reed had worked a spell to essentially stop them from aging. Touya, Eriol, and those who fought alongside them had been frozen at the ages they were when…they had died.
Even after all this time, Touya still could barely bring himself to say his sister's name. He couldn't even think of her. Or the kid, for that matter. He didn't know why the brat's death had affected him as much as it had, but the effect was the same.
It had been nearly a decade since that terrible day. And still the nightmares persisted. He couldn't count the number of times he had awoken during the night, drenched in a cold sweat, calling his sister's name. And the nightmare was always the same: she would be lying dead in his arms, but then she would start talking, asking why he hadn't saved her, why he hadn't been there.
Sometimes he wondered if it would be easier to just give in, give up. Surrender. They would be killed. He knew that already, all too well. The Slayers tolerated no one going against them. Death would be the penalty, quite possibly on the spot. But then he could leave, and be free of this once and for all.
Sometimes he wondered if he was losing his mind.
He sighed and shook his head. He couldn't stop until those bastards were gone, a task that could very well take him the rest of his life. But he had to fight. He owed it to them.
Touya stopped and leaned nonchalantly against the wall of a building. The wall was made of bland gray stone, and the cold of it seeped right through his jacket, sending chills up his spine.
He stuffed his hands into his pockets and pretended to look around for a moment. Then he glanced over. There was someone standing just around the corner, mere yards from him. This man was a far cry from Touya; this man was far more dangerous looking, with a filthy brown coat and a lit cigarette held between two fingers in one hand.
"Anything new?" he whispered to a man around the corner.
"The rewards on yer heads are up again. 'bout three times what they were at first," the seedy looking man hissed back; a slight drawl in his voice reflected what was most likely a country heritage. He took a drag on his cigarette and blew the smoke into the air. "They're gettin' desperate. With each thing yer guys pull off, the people get more and more restless. Yah've got the support of the people, and the bastards know it. And they don't like it."
"Huh," Touya murmured, allowing himself a tiny smirk.
"They want yah dead," the man continued. "They've been trying to get people to talk, but even if somebody knew where all of yah were hiding, nobody'll betray yah and yer people."
"Good to know we've got fans," Touya jested, though his tone was far from jocular.
"They know why yer doing what yer doing," the dirty man tapped his cigarette with one finger; a small shower of gray-white powder rained from the tip of his cigarette to the ground. "And they're behind yah a hundred percent, even though most of 'em are scared to death to get involved. Yah bring these bastards down, yah might very well be made a king."
"God forbid," Touya rolled his eyes. "I don't want to be a king. I want things the way they were. I'll settle for that. But I'd better get moving before either of us gets in trouble. Arigatou."
"Take care of yerself," the seedy man flicked his smoke to the ground and turned; a moment later, he had disappeared further into the alley.
Touya remained where he was for a moment. So the rewards had tripled. That meant the Slayers were beginning to get worried. Good. They'd have to strike again, and soon, just to make sure things were kept off balance. He would have to bring this up when he returned.
But that would happen later. There were other stops to be made.
Though few were willing to become actively involved in the fight itself, there were many who would put out the smaller risk of gleaning what little information they could and passing it along to those who could make the best use of it.
A certain street vendor relayed the increase in reward as well, and recounted that there were Slayers from all over arriving in Tomoeda for some sort of meeting. A shopkeeper informed him of increasing numbers of kidnappings and disappearances in town, but knew little else about it. However, a schoolteacher Touya knew produced far more information: those who had disappeared were people reputed to have been labeled as having some kind of magic. The Slayers kept very close tabs on any who possessed even magical potential.
The bits and pieces of information that he gathered were small and fairly sparse. But any and every little tidbit could be vital, and was treated as if a holy relic.
After his conversation with the teacher, he returned to the street, senses back on fullest alert for any signs that he was being watched and/or followed.
Touya began walking with renewed purpose. It was time to head back to their hideout, away from the city. They were waiting for him there, and waiting for the information he had gathered while out.
His teammates. His friends. And his fellow fighters. They were all he had in the world.
He hadn't seen his father in years, not since right after…they had died. And he had to desire to. It wasn't that he really didn't want to see his father, but more a matter of necessity. Someone had most likely made the connection between Kinomoto Fujitaka, a respected teacher, and Kinomoto Touya, infamous revolutionary. It was enough for Touya to know that his father was still alive and well, and would most likely remain that way for quite some time.
The Slayers were smart. There were some people within communities such as Tomoeda that commanded a large amount of respect from the people. To kill any of those people would result in severe unrest amongst the people, moreso than there was now. And Kinomoto Fujitaka was one of those people. He had enormous respect for his profession, and the loss of his children, either by death or circumstance.
Touya missed his father dearly, but any contact with him would put them both in severe danger. So he had to make due with simply watching over his father from afar, and doing what little he really could to further ensure his father's safety.
He was so engrossed in his thoughts that he momentarily dropped his guard. In the moment he lapsed, he was run into. Someone collided with him.
He stumbled forward from the force of impact, then spun around; instinct took over, instinct gained over a decade of fighting, and he raised a fist, half dropping into a fighting stance. But he froze when he saw who had rammed into him.
It was a small someone. A child. A girl. Wearing a red cloak with a hood to protect her against the chill. He couldn't see her eyes beneath the shadow of her raised hood though; only her chin and mouth were visible. And her mouth was moving, forming words that he could barely hear.
One of her hands reached up from the scarlet folds of her cape and gripped the sleeve of his jacket as she spoke. "Help me, please. Please. They're after me. Onegai. You have to help me, please." She sounded almost resigned, though, as if certain that nothing and no one would save her from this fate.
Touya froze. He didn't know why, but he felt strangely compelled to help this strange girl. Making a split second decision, he grabbed her hand and dove into a nearby alley, pulling her along behind him.
"Get out of the way and keep quiet," he hissed, shoving her towards the wall. She didn't argue
Touya fell into a fighting stance, silently waiting for what he already knew was coming.
Voices approached. They were here.
As the first one came into view, he struck, nailing the first soldier right in the back. His hand made contact with a sickening crunch, and the poor dumb bastard fell to the ground where he lay unmoving.
Hands and fists flew. Touya had been through this scenario thousands of times; the kind of soldier that got put onto street guard wasn't the brightest, and they weren't intelligent enough to think through any kind of strategy. So really, it wasn't even much of a challenge, as long as he avoided their weapons. Magical weapons, capable of killing just about anything they hit.
He heard a small scream, and whirled in time to see one of the soldiers hit the girl. Hard. She fell backwards, right into the wall, and slumped into a heap on the ground. She did not move.
"Kuso…" Touya cursed under his breath. Of course, he didn't quite know why he should really be all that concerned. She was the one who had dragged him into this mess. But there was no time to worry about her. He had enough on his plate at that moment as it was.
One of the soldiers charged at him head-on, apparently figuring him for helpless. The idiot. He knew nothing. To think that someone as seasoned as Touya would be defenseless.
And Touya proved it with a deadly accuracy that had made him infamous amongst the Slayers. It was also part of the reason he was a wanted man with a hefty price on his head.
Beneath the sleeves of his jacket were hidden his secret weapons: two small knives in trick release sheaths. A slight hand movement was all it took, and the first knife landed in his palm.
With no betrayal of his intentions, Touya flicked one wrist. He'd had much practice with these, and there were few who could best him at this particular weapon. There was the faintest sound of displaced air as the missile flew; then the Slayer in question let out a yell, jerked backwards, and tumbled to the ground. The small knife was sticking out of his chest, perfectly aimed for a heart shot.
But there wasn't time for victory. He heard a loud yell behind him. Touya whirled as the Slayer's weapon came down, aimed at his head for what would surely be a death blow—
—but it never made contact. It was knocked to the side by another person's staff. That same staff came back up in an arch, catching the offending Slayer right in the jaw; the hapless soldier was sent flying backwards, into one of the buildings flanking this alley. He slid to the ground, and did not move again.
Touya looked up at the staff's wielder. "Were you worried?"
"You're never late," Hiiragiziwa Eriol replied, tossing his famous Sun Staff from one hand to the other. "Naturally, we were concerned. And here, I find you in trouble. How typical."
"Shut up," Touya shot back. It was a good natured banter, though. In the years since the death's of the Cardcaptors, they had all become quite close friends. After all, who else were they going to rely on?
Under his own spell, Hiiragiziwa still looked eighteen years old. But like Touya, there were still visible signs of the pressure of the past decade. All of them had felt the pressure, and all of them were showing it quite clearly, though they remained physically youthful.
And his magic was still as strong as ever, as he was about to prove.
"Move it!" Hiiragiziwa called, raising his staff. Touya leapt back, out of the way.
The soldiers jumped back, and most of them turned to flee. They knew of this man's reputation, and none of them really wanted to see if it was true. But it was too late. The axe fell.
Without another word, flames surged from the sun that topped Eriol's wand. Within an eyeblink, the golden flames surrounded the hapless soldiers, and engulfed them. Seconds later, the fire vanished, revealing no trace that anyone else had been there. The ground itself wasn't even singed by the fire.
"And that's that," Eriol finished, recalling his staff; it seemingly vanished, but in actuality simply went back into its key form, which he prompty returned to the safety of his pocket. It was dangerous to be seen with that thing. The Slayers knew it, and if they saw it, they would undoubtedly try to kill whoever was holding it. Not that Eriol would let them get close enough to try—his magic was as solid as ever—but it was just a hassle he really didn't need at that moment.
"Arigatou," Touya breathed. He moved to the first Slayer he had killed and yanked the blade from the soldier's chest. He casually wiped it on the soldier's clothes, making sure it was spotlessly clean before turning his attention back to Eriol. The other blade remained in its hiding place, on the underside of his wrist, hidden by his sleeve.
Eriol shot a questioning look at his friend. "What were you doing back here, anyway? Did they jump you or something? Surprising. They usually don't notice you. You don't stand out much."
"Actually, no. They were after someone else," Touya suddenly remembered the girl that had unwittingly dragged him into this unnecessary fight. "Speaking of which—"
He stopped as he saw the small figure crumpled on the ground, several feet away. It was hard to miss her, actually; that vibrant crimson cloak was impossible not to notice.
And in this world, ruled by monsters, getting noticed was not a good thing.
"You got dragged into a fight by a kid?" Eriol said. "Not like you."
"She was running, rammed into me on the street, and begged me for help. I didn't have time to really make a decision. They were already there," Touya shrugged.
"Well, we'd better get going," Eriol nodded, letting the subject go. "They'll be here soon."
Kinomoto started to follow the reincarnation towards the back of the alley, but stopped. He didn't know why, but something was compelling him to go back.
"What's wrong?" Eriol was asking.
Making another decision, Touya turned and walked back over to the unmoving form on the cold, hard ground. She hadn't even twitched. They must have thrown her into that wall with a lot of force to knock her out like that.
"Kinomoto, come on!"
Touya ignored him and grabbed the child's shoulder with one hand; he rolled the kid over onto her back and onto his other arm, pulling her up a little closer. She was freezing.
But as he did that, her hood fell back.
A strangled gasp reached Eriol's ears; it sounded like a half sob, half scream, torn forcefully from a masculine throat. He spun and ran back over to where his friend was hunched over the unconscious girl.
"Nani—" Eriol stopped in midsentence as he stepped behind Touya and looked down at the girl's face. The reincarnation let out a gasp and stumbled backwards a step. "It can't be—"
When Touya said nothing, Eriol leaned forward again and took a second look. If anything, it was more frightening then the first. It confirmed what he had originally thought.
The face was pale and delicate. She was quite pretty, though adorable was probably a much better word to describe it. Long lashes rested against the pink cheeks; she was probably a little flushed from exhertion. Her face was framed by a few long locks of auburn hair, while the rest was much shorter. If her eyes were open, both men had the feeling that they would be a heavenly shade of green.
Eriol was the one who said it, as Touya's ability to speak had temporarily been taken from him.
As if hearing the word had brought her back to herself, the girl's face contorted for a moment as she seemed to struggle with the idea of consciousness. But finally, her eyes opened.
They were bottomless pools of emerald.
And right now, they were staring up at Touya and Eriol with a mixture of confusion and fear. "What…" she pushed herself into a sitting position and looked around. "What happened?"
"The Slayers were after you," Touya said softly; he was only now finding his abilities of speech. "You took a pretty hard blow to the head. Do you remember anything?"
She frowned in thought for a minute, then slowly shook her head. "Iie…I think I remember running, but the last hour or so is a blank." She looked more confused now than ever. Then she apparently noticed that the two of them were staring at her, wide eyed and slack jawed. Her eyes narrowed. "Nani?"
"Sakura…" Eriol murmured, not taking his eyes from the girl.
Her eyes nearly doubled in size, and she pushed herself to her feet, pushing away from them. She gaped at them both with a horrified look on her face. She pointed at them with one trembling hand. "You—you said the Forbidden Name! That's a Forbidden Name!"
"Don't call me that!" she screamed, taking another two steps back, moving further away from them. "They'll kill me! Don't ever call me that!"
Touya stared in shock at this girl—she looked exactly like his sister had when she was ten years old, so he figured that's how old she was. She looked identical to Sakura. But the way she was acting…his sister had never behaved like this. So frightened, suspicious, apprehensive. Untrusting. And the emerald eyes were dimmer than her's had been. They lacked that innocent light, but they had something there. Something familiar…but it was faint, like the last dying ember of a once-roaring fire.
Suddenly, she turned and bolted, heading for the exit to the alley.
But though Eriol was old in mind and experience, his reflexes were sharper than nails. A quick flare of magic was all it took to place himself in the girl's path. She stumbled backwards in shock, opening her mouth with the obvious intent to scream.
But Touya acted first. He clapped a hand over her mouth, and grabbed one of her arms to stop her from fleeing. If she made too much noise or got out of the alley onto the street, the Guards would come faster. Undoubtedly, they were already on their way.
Suddenly, Eriol's snapped around. "They're coming. I sense them." Sure enough, Touya could hear the all too familiar clattering of Guards coming their way.
"We have to get out of here!" Touya hissed over the girl's head. She was screaming against his hand, but the sound was severely muffled; she was struggling. He pulled her a little tighter against him to try and keep her still for a minute. "Do something!"
"Hang on," Eriol growled back. He closed his eyes, and the magic circle flared around the two men, plus the girl in Touya's grasp. Though neither of them saw it, her eyes grew to the size of dinner plates at the sight of it.
A bubble of power enveloped them, and in a blink, they were gone. A few seconds after they vanished, half a dozen Guards came thundering into the alley, only to find it empty.
By Eriol's magic, they were outside of town in an eyeblink. Their feet touched down on hard packed soil, rather than concrete.
Once they were safely outside the city limits, and for the most part safe from the watchful eyes of the Guard, Touya let the girl go. She stumbled to the ground and immediately spun around to stare at them as she continued to move backwards, putting more space between them.
"Who are you?" she demanded, clutching both hands together in front of her heart; she was shaking violently from head to toe. Her eyes darted back and forth between them, wide with obvious fear. "What do you want from me?"
"We—" Eriol started to say, but stopped. She wasn't really listening. She was too frightened to listen. And to make it worse, tears were streaming down her face. It was heartbreaking.
Making a quick decision, Eriol sighed. This wasn't something he would normally do—one did not just go poking into other people's minds without permission—but at the moment, it was the only option he saw. He reached out not physically, but with magic. The girl's mind was completely unshielded, and she was too scared to notice anything amiss. It made it incredibly simple to touch her mind, harmlessly putting her into a deep slumber.
She felt it at the last second, but it was too late; it wasn't like there was much she could do about it at that point. Her eyes widened even more for a split second. Then they fell closed as she swayed back and forth for a few seconds before just falling over.
She would have hit the ground if Eriol hadn't caught her.
"What did you do?" Touya demanded quietly. He wasn't angry just yet; he was confused.
"She's sleeping. That's all," Eriol replied, looking down at the small figure slumped against him. Her face was still flushed and tear streaked, but her breathing had already evened out, and she looked far more peaceful than she had been a moment ago. "Nothing we can say would have calmed her down. This was the only way."
Touya was silent for a moment, then sighed and nodded. "Are we taking her back?"
"That was my plan."
Silence fell for another long minute. Then Touya broke the silence again. "Eriol, is she—I mean, she looks just like—could it be?"
"I don't know the answer to that. Not yet," the reincarnation said softly. "That's why we're bringing her with us. The part that has me the most confused is that she doesn't know who we are. I am Clow Reed's reincarnation, and I have many of the memories of his past life. But she doesn't have a clue. If it was really her, I'd think she would at the very least remember you, or feel some connection to you."
Touya looked as though he was going to say something, but Eriol cut him off. "I know what you want to think. I know. I want to believe it too. But we can't. Not yet." He looked down again at the unconscious girl leaning peacefully against him. "Patience, my friend. We all have to be patient."
To his surprise, Kinomoto smiled. "Maybe our patience is finally paying off. Maybe this means it'll all be over soon."
"Could be. Could very well be," the reincarnation smiled back. "We should get going."
"Give her to me," Touya stepped forward. "I'll carry her."
He easily scooped the small, still form up into his arms. She weighed next to nothing! He looked down at her for a moment; then, to Eriol's surprise, he actually chuckled, though it was a chuckle without mirth or even good humor.
"Has it been ten years already?"
AN: Whew. Another chapter done. There. The stage has officially been set. Now we get to go to the really fun stuff. Whee!
I'm usually a pretty fast updater. I've been told that by many a person. But this fic is taking longer than most of my others. The first chapter alone took me over two weeks. So I'm not going to make any promises about how often I'll update. Gomen nasai, but it's finals week, and Candy-chan is ready to collapse because she has a total of five papers, three presentations, and five tests in the space of two weeks. So…yeah. groan complain Is it Christmas yet? :puppy dog eyes:
Actually, I probably won't post again before we leave for winter break—i.e., next week. And while I will hopefully get some writing done over break, I most likely will not update again before I come back to school. Gomen ne, but that's the way it'll probably be :sniff: