AN: …is anybody still out there? Anyone at all? Hello? Heh, guess the echo's a bad sign, isn't it? That's okay. I know I'm not giving this story a whole lot of attention, but I have every intention of finishing it. I promise you that. Even if it does take me a while. No hurting the lazy author, please!

Anyway, on we go! I don't own Cardcaptor Sakura. I'm just messing with them right now.


Spellcasting

Eriol fastened the last button on his shirt and smiled at the sunlight pouring in through his bedroom window. It was a lovely morning, sunny and bright, and he'd slept surprisingly well, better than he had in quite some time—putting him in an unusually good mood.

Perhaps it has something to do with our little young ones, he thought, and not for the first time. He had been smiling a lot more as well. The entire atmosphere of the Safe House and the moods of everyone in it had seemed to lighten a great deal with the introduction of the two children.

Still smiling to himself, Eriol stepped out of his bedroom, closing the door behind him…and was immediately accosted by two of his very close, very frantic friends, both of whom were demanding some very quick, very specific answers.

So much for a nice morning, he sighed inwardly, and tried to focus on Touya and Tomoyo.

"Are you really going to do it?" Touya demanded.

"Absolutely," Eriol replied. Outwardly, he seemed completely calm, though his stomach had instantly coiled into a tight knot at the topic of conversation.

"But Eriol…" Tomoyo asked, wringing her hands, "…is it really necessary?"

"It is," he nodded firmly. His expression softened at Tomoyo's worry. "I don't really want to do this, Tomoyo-san. You can't even imagine how much I don't want to do this to the kids—I'd rather die then hurt either of them." He reached out and put a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "But it needs to be done. The way things are now, they wouldn't stand a chance against the Slayers. So I'm going to have to do this for their own sake."

"That sounds like an excuse to me," Touya spat angrily, crossing his arms. "Saying it's for their own good so you don't have to feel guilty about what you're going to do to them."

"You know my feelings about this," Eriol said with that same calm. "I have a feeling—a premonition, if you will—that things are going to come to a head very, very soon. They have to be ready if there is to be any hope."

"Will this hurt them?" Touya demanded, then faltered slightly as he backtracked, "…not that I care about Kenji or anything. But will they be harmed? And why can't you tell them?"

"Physically? Not at all, they'll be perfectly fine. I assure you of that," Eriol said flatly. Then his tone softened. "And I won't tell them because I don't want them to have time to be afraid of what is going to happen." He paused, then arched a brow. "Touya-san…are we being a bit overprotective?"

The Resistance Leader said nothing, but merely glared in response.

"We're just concerned about what this will do to them," Tomoyo explained, placating the boys before a real argument broke out. "…what will it do to them mentally and emotionally in the long run?"

Eriol's smile was sad. "I'm afraid there are some things even Clow Reed can't predict." He shook himself then, and smiled at his two friends. "But if you'll excuse me, I have business to attend to." Without waiting for a response or any further discussion, he breezed past them and headed for the stairs. His mood had gone from an unprecedented high to complete tatters in a matter of moments.

He sighed as he walked down the staircase. He knew Touya and Tomoyo meant well, and he completely understood that they were just looking out for the best interest of the two children who had fallen into their midst and who they had all come to love. But at the same time, it was frustrating that he had to continually defend himself and his intentions and justify what he was going to do.

He was right. He knew he was in the right here.

No matter how much he hated it, and hated himself for it.

Nakuru was walking by as he reached the bottom of the stairs. "Hey," he called to her, and she stopped. "Have you seen the children? They're usually up and about by now."

"They're out on the porch," she smiled and pointed towards the front door. "That's usually where the two of them end up." She paused, then added thoughtfully, "They've been spending a good deal of time together lately. I wonder if something's developing?" That last was said with a broad smile.

Eriol's grin was far more mysterious. "Perhaps…thank you." She nodded and continued on her way as he headed out onto the porch in search of his two young charges.

Sure enough, there they were, sitting on the wide banister that ran around the full length of the wide porch; they seemed to be engaged in conversation. It was Kita who spotted him first, though, and her expression brightened. "Eriol-san!" she smiled and waved. Kenji turned to glance over his shoulder; his reaction wasn't hostile, but certainly not as enthusiastic as Kita's welcome.

"Am I interrupting something?" he asked smoothly, stepped up beside them.

"We were just talking," Kita replied cheerily.

"I just wanted to ask if I could borrow a few moments of your time this evening," he asked, showing no sign of his turmoil. "And before you even ask why, it's a surprise." He grinned and threw them both a conspiratorial wink.

"Okay," Kita agreed. Kenji merely nodded.

Eriol swallowed hard and went on. "If you two aren't busy at the moment, actually…I think I'd like to do another lesson now. Do you still have those items I gave you the other day?"

Within a moment, they had produced the treasures of key and cord.

Eriol nodded approvingly. "Very good. Now I'm going to show you how to use them. Kita-chan, you first. Put the key in the palm of your hand and hold it out like this." He held one arm out straight in front of him, his palm up. When she stood up and imitated his posture, he continued. "Good! Now, I want you to close your eyes and focus on the key. Focus on changing it."

She obeyed without a word, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath. Kenji looked on curiously.

"Now repeat after me," Eriol's tone dropped to a whisper. "Key that hides the power of the stars."

Kita hesitated for only a second before she murmured, "Key that hides the power of the stars…"

A small ring of light appeared around her, barely wide enough to circle her feet.

"Show your true form before me."

"Show your true form before me…"

The key lifted from the palm of her hand and began to glow, a round sphere of light.

"I, Kita, command you under our contract."

"I, Kita, command you under our contract…"

Her tone was soft, almost hypnotic. It was as though she was in a trance, unaware of anything.

"Release!"

"Release!"

There was a flare, and the tiny key stretched and reshaped itself into a short staff, crowned at one end with a ring bearing a star in the middle of it. The smooth pink handle landed squarely in the palm of her hand, and the light subsided.

Kita's eyes snapped open and stared in shock at what she had just done. She turned the staff over in her hands, gazing at it in open wonder. "Did…did I do that?" she breathed.

"You did. That's your magic. Kenji-kun," he turned to the boy, who jumped to attention. "Yours is a little different—not so much of an incantation as a visualization. You have the cord? Good. Now hold it up like this," he corrected Kenji's awkward stance to hold it up near his face, "and focus on it and only on it. Focus is key to unlocking it."

Kenji's eyes slid shut.

"Think of it as an extension of your arm," Eriol coached in a soft voice. "You can control it completely. Now imagine it changing shape in your hand. It's growing and shifting…" Before the last word had even left Eriol's mouth, the cord began to glow. The sorcerer fell silent and watched as it did exactly what he'd said: it changed. When the glow faded, Kenji was holding a sword.

Impressive. I didn't even have to tell him what to think of. He just knew. Very interesting… Eriol thought, watching as the young man stared in amazement at the weapon in his hand. But the words Eriol spoke out loud were of encouragement. "Bravo, both of you! I encourage you to practice, as these are tools that will someday save your lives."

"How will this save me?" Kita asked, still regarding her staff with wonder.

"I am going to teach you to harness your magic," Eriol explained. "If all goes well, you will be able to call whatever magic you desire at will. The wand and the sword you hold are channelers. They will allow you to focus your magic to a very special, very specific task. We'll discuss those later. But for today, I want to see if you've been practicing like I told you."

To his surprise, it was Kenji who jumped first. "I have!" he declared. Without waiting for any further instruction, he held his hands out in front of him, cupping his fingers together. His brow furrowed, and in seconds a sizable sphere of light had appeared, hovering just above his palms.

Eriol was suitably impressed. "Excellent."

Kita suddenly looked nervous, but when the attention was turned to her, she stepped right up and did exactly as Kenji had done. Her sphere shone pink, as his had been green. Those seemed to be their colors, somehow.

Eriol was smiling at their progress—it seemed such a little thing to them, yet he was so proud of them both. It was strange to them both…yet they said nothing. The fact that they could do magic seemed incredible in and of itself. And so they listened, and they learned, and they wondered what surprise he had in store for them that evening.

-o-

"You shouldn't be here," Touya commented dryly from the doorway. He had been a tad surprised to walk into Eriol's study and find Yue standing there, staring out the window. But he just couldn't resist an opportunity to heckle the stoic Moon Guardian, especially after so long.

Yue made a noise that sounded like irritation.

"It's really not safe for you to be out and about yet. If they see you, it's going to be big trouble," Touya paused, grinned, and went in for the dig. "Although I'm sure Kita-chan wouldn't mind seeing her angel again…" He chuckled at the glare he got in response.

Yue turned his sapphire gaze back to the window for a moment before asking in a flat, emotionless voice, "When will we see our master again?"

Touya's expression softened. "Soon. It's coming soon."

"…Kerberos is worried," Yue said finally. "He does not like this. We fear for our master and our former master. Ruby Moon and Spinel Sun feel the same. And yet there is nothing we can do except wait and watch, is there?"

"No," Touya sighed. "There isn't."

-o-

"Can I ask you a question?"

Kenji glanced up at the intrusion of a voice into his thoughts. "Oh. Sure."

Kita hopped up on the porch railing, sitting so she could face him. They had a sort of unspoken accord, declaring that particular spot as their favorite place to sit if they were going to talk or think or whatnot, be they alone or together. Though they had been spending a great deal of time together…

She took a second to get herself comfortable before asking her question. "Would you tell me about yourself? I mean, where did you come from—your family? Your life?" She knew he had no parents and no family name; he had told her that before. But that didn't mean that he didn't have a story.

He looked at her for a moment, then turned his expressionless gaze away to look out over the green lawn in front of the Safe House. For a moment, Kita was afraid she had done something horribly wrong…but then Kenji began to speak. "I don't remember anything before I was a kid. For some reason, I think I was four. I have no idea who my parents were or what happened to them. Figure it was the Slayers, but I don't worry about it much. Most of what I remember was trying to survive on the streets."

Kita listened quietly, sensing that she was about to learn a great deal.

"I learned to steal when I was still really little," he went on, still looking out towards the horizon. "I had to. It was that or die. I wasn't old enough to really get death yet, but I knew I didn't want it to happen to me for a while. So I stole to stay alive—mostly food, occasionally other little things I could sell to make money. There's a lot of people who'll buy stuff like that. But mostly, I just got enough to keep me going. That was life—that and avoiding the Slayers."

Kita winced. There was very little tolerance for rule-breakers in the Slayers' world.

"When I was around eight or so, I met up with another guy named Mio. He was a couple years older than me, but the story was more or less the same. We became friends, or as much as you can be friends when you don't let yourself trust anyone. He introduced me to Seiichi. Wound up being the best time of my life." His expression had shifted to a smile.

"Who was Seiichi?" Kita prodded carefully.

"He was an old guy," Kenji explained. "He had a little gang of kids like me—street kids who were just in this to survive. He gave us something no one else ever had—someone to look out for us. It was actually a pretty good deal. We stole enough to feed ourselves and him, and he made sure we were taken care of. He's the one who taught me to read. Everyone watched out for each other." His tone was fond. "That was the best time of my life. I had friends—people I could actually trust—and I had the closest thing to a home and a father I've ever had. It was great." Now the look in his eyes grew distant as he paused.

"…there's not a happy ending, is there?" Kita ventured softly.

"No, there isn't," Kenji sighed. "I was out one night, away from the old house where we all stayed. When I came back, the Slayers were there." A moment ago, his voice had been fond with remembrance; now his tone was as warm and friendly as a glacier. "The Guards were standing around the building, watching it burn. They were laughing at it. I could hear the screams inside…" His eyes closed. "I didn't know what to do. I just remember…running. And not stopping for a long time."

He was quiet for a moment. Kita waited silently, shocked at what she was hearing. She felt a newfound respect for her young acquaintance. For all his brashness and anger, there was a great deal of quiet wisdom beneath the surface that only his particular "upbringing" could have wrought. He knew how to stay alive in almost any circumstance—she wouldn't have lasted a week.

Kenji opened his eyes. "Since then, I've really hated the Slayers. I swore I'd get revenge somehow, but I never actually knew how I was going to do it. Not a lot one kid can really do against them. I'd get killed in two seconds flat. But a few months later, I run into some moron on the street, and the next thing I know…I'm here," he turned his head to look back at her. "…why am I telling you this, anyway?"

Kita smiled. "I'm glad you trust me."

His eyes widened…but all he said was, "What about your family?"

"The Slayers killed my parents," she said. "At least, we're pretty sure they did—I never met them. I was adopted by the Hikari family after they found me wandering around when I was four years old. They had two boys of their own—my older brothers, I guess. I never thought of them as my real brothers, though, even though that's what I called them. They called me their sister. The parents…well, I called them my parents, okaasan and otousan, and they said I was their daughter, but…same thing." She shrugged. "I'm like you. I don't really know where I came from."

"It's tough," he replied softly.

"It is," she agreed. She leaned her head back against the pillar behind her and closed her eyes. "I just realized that I miss them. It's been a while since I saw them, and I don't think they know what happened to me. They probably figured the Slayers got me, and they're almost right." She sighed—family or not, she was ten years old, and this was the first time she'd been away from the only home she'd ever known for any length of time. "I wonder if they miss me."

Kenji's expression had gone unreadable once again. "They do. I know it."

-o-

The sun was setting just as they finished dinner. As soon as the last dish had been washed, dried, and put away, Eriol gathered the two children in the main entryway. "Do you both have your treasures?" he asked amiably. One hand, stuffed casually in his pocket, closed into a tight fist around his own treasure. When they both eagerly displayed the magical items he had given them, he grinned and started towards the front door. "Excellent. We're going out to the woods for this, so stay close. We don't want you to get lost!"

Kita scurried after him, all wide-eyed curiosity and innocence. Kenji didn't so much scurry as meander, but the questions were no less present for his feigned lack of interest in the proceedings. Neither asked questions—they trusted Eriol (more or less), and trusted that there would soon be an explanation for this strange activity.

Neither child was aware of the quiet tension they left behind.

The instant the front door was closed, Yukito and Nakuru had reverted to their true forms of Yue and Ruby Moon respectively. In a flutter of feathers, Kero-chan and Suppi did the same, transforming to Kerberos and Spinel Sun. It didn't really help much, but it at least made them feel like they were doing something other than just standing around. They joined the rest of the Safe House inhabitants in Eriol's study to wait. Kerberos seemed especially determined to pace a track in the carpet.

And Touya kept staring out the window towards the woods, his eyes scanning the night for a target that he knew he would never see. The darkness was just too heavy.

-o-

"Eriol-san? Where are we going?" Kita finally asked. She and Kenji had followed the sorcerer down the path into the forest and through the trees, but it seemed to her child's mind that they were going an awfully long ways into the woods. She really hated to ask him for fear of bothering him, but her curiosity was overwhelming.

She could see his silhouette turn, as if to look over his shoulder, and nod. "Don't worry, we're almost there," he said, his tone reflecting a smile. The shadow that was Eriol turned back to the front. "There's a little clearing up ahead that's the perfect place for magic. We won't be disturbed." A short distance ahead, he pushed a branch aside, stepped past, and gestured for them to pass. "As I said, it wasn't too far. This is the place."

It was as he had said: a small clearing amidst the trees, vaguely circular in shape, and with an opening in the treetops that allowed for a perfect view of the sky and plenty of natural illumination, courtesy of the moonlight. It seemed very calm.

"We're going to practice magic here?" Kita asked cheerfully.

"Yes," Eriol nodded. With the aide of the moon's glow, they could see his face. "Please, have a seat over there. Sit side by side, if you will." He pointed to a spot on the ground, and waited while they obligingly sat down on the ground, ignoring the dirt and leaves. "Please close your eyes."

It was at this point that Kenji spoke up. "What are we going to do?" He sounded suspicious.

"Actually, it's something I'm going to do first," Eriol replied easily.

"What?" Kenji prodded.

Well, it's not like they haven't seen this before… Eriol decided, withdrawing the Sun Key from his pocket. "I have a treasure too, you know. Observe." He held it out and watched as it began to glow and hover above his palm. "Key that hides the power of the Sun, show your true form before me. I, Eriol, command you under our contract. RELEASE!" There was a flash, and his infamous Sun Staff appeared.

"WHOA!" Kenji actually yelped.

"You had that before!" Kita exclaimed. "When you and Touya-san saved me!"

"Yes, I did," Eriol chuckled. "I'm sure there are quite a few Slayers who would love to have this little trophy on their wall. But for now, it remains mine. As I'm sure you've guessed, I use it for magic. What I'm going to do is cast a spell that will help you two with your magic. The power is there, but it's not emerging as fast as we'd like. So I'm going to try and unlock a part of it."

"Will it hurt?" Kita asked, her voice timid.

"…I don't believe it will," Eriol said kindly after a moment's thought. "You might feel a bit uncomfortable or strange, but I don't think it will hurt. This will help you in the long run, though. You'll be able to learn a great deal faster after this is over. I promise. All right?"

Two nods of assent.

"Thank you. Please close your eyes."

They obeyed.

Immediately, Eriol began working his magic, dipping into his considerable power and molding the magic to his will, bending it to accommodate what he needed done. It was a large spell; preparing to cast it took a bit longer than some others he had done in the past, but in short order he was ready.

He did, however, spare a moment to look down at Kita and Kenji, sitting before him.

Young.

Innocent.

And so trusting.

Eriol closed his eyes and offered a silent prayer. Forgive me…forgive me for what I must do… Taking a deep breath to steady his jangling nerves, he opened his eyes, and released the magic to do what he had melded it to accomplish.

Two pillars of light flared around the children: Kita was enveloped in pink, and Kenji in green. The colors of their auras, Eriol had told them—the colors of their magic. His own magic was dark blue, though now it melded with theirs to power the spell. This would take everything he and they had.

Eriol saw their eyes snap open at the last possible moment.

He heard Kita scream and Kenji shout.

And then the light exploded, swallowing the children up inside of it.

That was all that Eriol knew, as his knees gave out and the ground quickly introduced itself.

-o-

The assembly of those 'in the know' was growing restless.

It hadn't been that long since Eriol had taken the children into the woods to do what he said needed to be done…but it felt like an eternity. Still, they respected Eriol's wishes, and remained in the house. Still, that didn't stop them from preparing as much as they could under the circumstances.

When they saw the flare of light that meant the spell was being cast, they all flocked around the windows and watched in frightened anticipation. But as per the instructions, they still waited for the light to vanish—that would mean the spell was over.

As soon as the darkness fell again, there was a flurry of commotion, and a whole group of people spilled out into the night, heading into the forest. They finally reached the appointed clearing and skidded to a stop, tripping all over each other in the process.

Hiiragizawa Eriol lay sprawled on the ground. The Sun Key was in the leaves beside him, where it had most likely fallen from his hand and reverted from its staff form with the absence of his magic.

"Eriol?" Ruby Moon fell to her knees beside her master. "Eriol?" Still no response. Panic set in, and she grabbed his shoulders and gave him a frightened shake while Spinel Sun looked on anxiously. "ERIOL!" Finally, he groaned out loud. His head lulled back as she lowered him back to the ground, but otherwise he did not move. But it was enough for them: he was alive.

The rest of them—Kerberos and Yue in particular—were far more concerned and bewildered by the other two forms lying, unmoving, on the ground. They were a short distance away, side by side on the leaves, both lying prone on their backs. There was no immediate fear for these two, though, as they were clearly breathing.

"Kita-chan…" Tomoyo started to call, but stopped as she actually took a look at them, and realized that Eriol had actually done it; Touya stumbled up behind her, and the cry that tore from his throat was a sound she had never thought possible from a human voice. The spell-casting had been successful, and the proof was right there before them, unconscious on the ground before them.

Kita and Kenji.

But they were no longer children. They were now young adults, perhaps seventeen years of age.

And they looked exactly as the Cardcaptors had on the night they had died.


PS. AHA! So that's what Eriol had up his sleeve! Cackle cackle cackle…ahem. I promise there's a reason for this, and it will be explained in the next chapter…whenever that gets done. I make no promises. So yay! But would you believe we're actually nearing the end? Like, maybe three more chapters to this story, the last one of which will definitely be insanely long? Hard to believe, yes…

Parts of Kenji's back-story were inspired by Skif's tale in Take a Thief, by Mercedes Lackey.

Anyhoo, thanks for reading, everyone. Hope you liked it, hope you'll stick with it, and hopefully I will get this updated again sooner this time around. Ciao, all. Much love!