Author's Note: While I realize that there are a lot of things in this fic that don't make a great deal of sense to those of you that have seen the entire two seasons of CCS and especially those of you who read the manga I have decided not to revise my fic at this point in time. I have, in fact, finally seen all two seasons of CCS and now I want to go back and change things in my fic…but if it was this difficult for me to finish it how well do you suppose I'm going to fare writing the rest of it AND re-writing it. Not well, I think. So, if I do redo it, it won't be until after this is finito for sure. May I just say that it is extremely hard to write anything when you've lost the desire to DO anything? My creativeness and any spark of imagination I had is gone. All that is left is darkness. And yet…I'm still slowing trying to finish this damn thing. I really want to see it finished, but honestly, I had given up on it ever being finished.
I have also come to the conclusion that I do not know when to end chapters. I should have made this whole fic one big chapter, apparently. :p
Disclaimer: I do not own Cardcaptors, nor do I claim to. I am not getting paid for this so please do not sue me.
Warning: Rage, Love, Famine, War, Disease, Death, Hate, Insanity, Despair, Fear, Betrayal, Dragon, and Magic belong to ME. Do not even THINK about using them without my permission first.
Cardcaptors: And They Cried A Sea of Tears-Ch.30
Sakura sat with her eyes closed, all of her attention on the card she held underneath her fingertips. Well, almost all of her attention. She could feel six pairs of eyes boring into her skull…which made concentrating a little difficult. She knew that so much was riding on whether or not she was able to actually go back in time or not. And, honestly, she really had absolutely no idea what she was doing. Clow was the one who had gotten her through time the first time; he was the one who knew all about magic. She knew, to put it bluntly, jack shit. What would she do if she failed? How could they possibly cure Li? All of this and more ran through her head as she knelt on the ground and tried to remember what the hell she had been doing the last time.
Taking a deep breath as if to draw strength and fortitude from the very air, Sakura concentrated on the Time card. Reaching for the card's energy, Sakura grasped it firmly within psychic hands in her mind. She began concentrating upon the Time card, trying to see if anything appeared to her or jumped out at her, unable to really think of anything else to do. The energy in her hands became almost like a tangible force and the as yet unseen energy seemed to become visible in the form of a transparent green mist. The more Sakura looked at the mist the more solid it appeared to be. Sakura reached for it in her mind and saw herself appear behind her eyelids. She was much smaller than the hands holding the Time card's energy and slightly smaller than the circle of mist coming from the card. Hesitating a moment Sakura wondered whether or not she should continue. Kero said it himself; messing around with magic when you don't know what you're doing is dangerous. Sakura squared her shoulders in determination. Dangerous or not, she had to do this for Li.
Reaching out once again she floated towards Time's energy and her own enormous hands – which she found a bit unnerving. Stopping just in front of it Sakura laid her hand against the green mist and found the surface nearly solid. She tried pushing her hand through and met with resistance. Sakura frowned. Not just resistance from the mist, but resistance from…Time itself. Time wasn't letting her inside that green sphere, and Sakura didn't know why. All she knew was that she had to do this, and whether Time cooperated or not she was going to open this sphere. Pushing with her psychic hands, the force of her mind behind it, Sakura tried to breach the sphere.
"What do you suppose is going on?" Madison whispered urgently to Kero.
Kero looked quickly to Madison then back to Sakura. "Honestly, I have no idea."
Sakura was still kneeling where she had been when she had first put the Time card on the ground. But now, her face was set in a deep frown of concentration and her hand just moments before had seemed to move of its own volition from the Time card to some invisible thing in the air in front of her. Her hand was positioned so that it appeared to be pushing on something.
"I never should have let her try this." Li said morosely, and a bit angrily, his fists clenching on his thighs. "It's too dangerous. She has no idea what she's doing. What if…what if she never wakes up?"
"Li!" Madison exclaimed, aghast.
"Well…aren't you just the epitome of optimism." Rage informed him with only a slight hint of sarcasm lacing the tone of his voice.
Li glared at him. "I didn't ask for your opinion nor do I want it."
Rage narrowed his eyes. "Well that's just too bad. In case you haven't noticed, we're all in this together. So whether you want my opinion or not is of little consequence to me, boy."
Love looked uneasily between Li and Rage. "Gentleman…let's not let things get out of hand, hmm?"
Li ignored him. "In this together! What the hell is that supposed to mean? 'In this together…?' You were fighting against us just a few days ago. What changed? Or do you just change sides that easily?"
Rage made as if to rise then stopped, his body tight as a wire. "Do no imply that my honour is so frivolous, boy. You know full well why it is I was fighting against you to begin with." Glancing at Sakura's still trance-like state his face relaxed a little. "Now is not the time to start a fight - though I would dearly love to bury my sword in your flesh - and if you were not acting so childish you would see that." Looking directly into Li's eyes Rage said firmly, "You're jealously of me is amusing. Are you so insecure that you think she is so easily lost to me?"
Li's jaw dropped and he sat in stunned silence, his face turning an alarming shade of white. Then, snapping his mouth shut, his face flushed with colour until it appeared sun burnt. Rising, he fairly growled, "You…!" Rage made to rise as well.
Yue was suddenly between them. Placing a restraining hand on Li's shoulder he said quietly, "Rage is right about one thing; now is not the time to start a fight. Sakura is facing a difficult trial and you are not making it easier for her. Remember, she is doing this for you." Li glanced at Sakura then looked guiltily down at the floor.
Turning to Rage, who had seated himself again, Yue gave him a long look. Speaking finally he said, "I am sorely disappointed in you, Rage. YOU are the one acting two hundred years younger than you are." Rage remained silent.
Love hugged his knees to his chest, well aware that until this point in time he would have been the one who would have tried to restrain Rage, not the angel. He would have even tried for putting his hand on his shoulder in an excuse to touch him. But now, he felt awkward. With the current mood between them he didn't think Rage would at all appreciate him to interfere, let alone to touch him. God, he couldn't wait until he managed to be alone with Rage. He had to talk to him.
Yue sat back down on air. Kero flew over to him and sat on his shoulder, careful of pulling the silver strands of his hair. "Why is it that you can patronize him and remain intact but when I even look at him he bites my head off?"
Yue eyed him askance. "I don't know, Kero Beros. Might it have something to do with the contempt you've been showing him whenever he is in your presence? Try saying something…halfway decent to him."
Kero crossed his arms. "He's insufferable. Even if I paid him the greatest compliment on earth he'd still shrug his shoulders and act indifferent."
"What you have to understand, Kero Beros, is that that is what Rage is like. He does not act this way to be insulting…most of the time. He acts this way because he does not know how to act any other way. I realized this long ago and accepted it. I think that is why he puts up with me most of the time." Yue confessed thoughtfully.
"Look! I think something's happening!" Madison exclaimed.
Everyone's attention was suddenly back on Sakura and the rise of her second hand.
Sakura now had two hands against the green sphere and was pushing with all her might. She didn't know why, but she had this feeling that she just had to get in there and that if she didn't all was lost. "Come on!" she pleaded, leaning her face against the surface. "Please…" Still, nothing happened. Becoming angry now, Sakura punched the sphere in frustration. "Open up! I don't know what I'm doing but Li's dying. I don't know why you're trying to keep me out but I am your Mistress. I command you to. Open. Up!" she yelled the last and punched the sphere again for good measure. She was so angry she swore she saw a white light behind her metaphysical eyelids before her fist connected with the sphere…and sunk into it. Opening her eyes in surprise Sakura stared at her hand for a moment. Then, hope beginning to blossom in her heart she pushed her hand forward and watched as her arm sank up to the elbow. Taking a deep breath and closing her eyes, Sakura plunged forward into the green sphere.
Opening her eyes Sakura stumbled out into what she could only assume was the other side of the sphere. Looking around Sakura realized with amazement, closely followed by elation, that she was once again in the corridor she had been in when she had first been drawn into the Time card. There was, however, no white light to guide her to where she needed to go.
Time suddenly appeared in front of her and Sakura started in surprise. "Mistress, you should not be here."
Frowning, still upset at the resistance Time had shown to her, Sakura asked, "What's going on? Why did you try to keep me out? I need you to take me to Clow Reed, it's terribly important. We need to hurry."
"I cannot." Time replied solemnly.
Sakura stared at him, hoping she hadn't heard him right. "You can't? What do you mean you can't? Why not?"
There was a pause. Time's gaunt face seemed to become thinner than it already was and he replied finally, "Clow Reed has ordered me not to."
Sakura was struck speechless. She couldn't even blink. "W-what? How…why would he do that?" she whispered.
"I do not know, Mistress. I only know that I was told not to allow you through the corridor of time."
"But…this doesn't make any sense." Sakura didn't know what was going on. Clow Reed knew she was going to come through again? Then…did he know about Li? If so, why had he forbidden her from coming to him? She needed answers, she needed to talk to Clow Reed. This was all a misunderstanding, surely.
Looking back up at Time, Sakura's lips thinned with determination. "Time. I need you to take me through to Clow Reed."
Time gave her a sad look. "I told you I cannot. Clow Reed said…"
"I know what he said!" Sakura interrupted, her voice raised. Calming down, she continued, "But I am your Mistress and I'm ordering you to take me through time to him."
Time hesitated. "You are indeed my Mistress," he agreed, "but he is my Master. I cannot go against his wishes."
Her anger once again rising and coming through in her voice, Sakura said, "Clow Reed has been dead for centuries. I'm your Mistress NOW and you obey ME." Regretting what she was going to say next but unable to get Li's pale face out of her mind, she continued ominously, "If you don't take me to Clow Reed I'll make sure you're erased from existence."
Time looked uneasy. "You cannot destroy time." He said, but he sounded uncertain.
"Wanna make a bet?" Sakura stared hard at Time and put every bit of will behind that stare. For a moment, she could have sworn she heard a peal of thunder and a brief flash of lightening in the blackness of the corridor, but she knew that wasn't possible.
Time's shoulders sagged. "I concede. You are the stronger one." Lifting his right hand his hourglass appeared in it. Lifting his left he pointed into the distance. A door suddenly appeared with a blinding white light coming from it and Sakura realized this was the same door she had stepped through before. "Come. This way."
Not taking time to savour her victory, or to feel guilty about how she had treated Time, Sakura followed the card to the doorway where she left him standing as she stepped through.
There was silence as Sakura suddenly vanished from in front of them.
"So," Madison finally ventured, "I guess this means she made it?"
"Let's hope so." Kero muttered. "She either made it, or she's stuck somewhere else."
"Somewhere else?" Li questioned.
Kero looked at him. "You don't want to know, kid. Believe me, you don't want to know."
"I guess all we can do is wait." Love commented.
No one else spoke, but everyone was staring at the spot where Sakura and the Time card had previously been.
Sakura reappeared in a long hallway. Looking around, she realized that the hallway she was in looked awfully familiar. It took her a second more to realize why. She was in one of the winding corridors of Clow Reed's labyrinth.
Sighing in relief Sakura looked down at the card she held in her hand. "Time…thank you." Sakura placed the card in her back pocket along with the rest of her deck.
Sakura looked left and saw nothing but hallway with occasional breaks in between that branched off into other hallways. She turned her head to the right and was confronted with much the same thing. Neither way looked particularly familiar to her and she determined that while she was able to identify the hallways because she had been here before she had not been in this exact location. She had no idea where Clow Reed was or which way she should go. If she chose the wrong direction she could very well end up wandering the halls for days before she found anyone or anyone stumbled upon her.
"Oh! That's just great!" Sakura muttered, crossing her arms over her chest and kicking the wall beside her lightly. Sighing in frustration she leaned against the offending surface and began thinking.
It wasn't as if she could turn around and go back the way she had come. Even if she succeeded in managing her way through time three times what would she do when she got back? She couldn't look Li in the face and tell him that she made it through only to give up so easily. She could yell for someone but Sakura had the feeling that she could yell herself hoarse and no one would be able to hear her. So what then? Sakura smiled to herself; now would be a great time to be a telepath. She could just send a thought to Clow Reed and he would know she was here. Sakura's smile soon disappeared from her face. It was Clow Reed that had tried to keep her from getting here in the first place, or so she assumed. Even if she could somehow contact him would he even come for her? Or would he ignore her? Suddenly the popular saying adults told their children when they were little came into her head; if you get lost you should stay in one place so that people can find you faster, not wander around in search of others. Sakura thought that was all well and good, but staying in one spot here just might have her starving to death before anyone found her.
Sakura shifted and felt the Clow cards in her back pocket. Sakura's face lit up; the Clow cards! Grabbing them out of her pocket she started rifling through them. There had to be one here she could use to find Clow Reed, there just had to be! Sakura's shuffling stopped abruptly and she stared at the Arrow card. "I could use this…" she murmured to herself.
Undoing the Key of Clow from around her neck she chanted the ritual which unsealed it. Throwing the Arrow card into the air she cried, "Arrow card! Release and dispel! Arrow!" The Arrow card appeared in front of her, bow and arrow held calmly in her hands.
"Arrow, I need you to lead me to Clow Reed. Can you do that?" Arrow nodded and smiled at her. "Great!" Sakura beamed in exhilaration.
Arrow turned from Sakura and fitted an arrow into her bow. Then, drawing back, she quickly fired the arrow down the right hallway. It thunked solidly into the corner of the hallway on the left side where there was a branch that led off into another hallway. Sakura looked silently to Arrow for affirmation and Arrow nodded yes at her.
Holding her staff loosely in her hand Sakura headed for the next hallway. When she reached there Arrow fitted another arrow to her bow and fired off another shot that struck the corner of another hallway that Sakura guessed she had to turn down. This method was repeated many times and Sakura began to wonder just how large Clow Reed's labyrinth was. Had she known she would be walking this much she would have brought a jug of water with her…could you even bring things like that through time with you? She brought the Clow cards but they were magic, Sakura figured that made them an exception.
Sakura rounded the next corner, an arrow sticking out of the wall just above her head, and smacked right into a…chest? "Ow…" Sakura complained. Sakura looked up and her breath caught in her throat. Then, a spectacular smile breaking out on her face, she exclaimed, "Yue!"
Yue looked down at Sakura with an expression more reminiscent of the Yue of the future; sad and regretful. "Mistress." He replied simply.
"I am so happy to see you!" Sakura continued, the smile never dimming. "I know you're probably surprised to see me, and I'll explain everything to you later - it's a long story and I don't have much time – but I need you to take me to Clow Reed."
Something flickered in Yue's eyes. Sakura wasn't quite sure what it was but it made the smile on her face dim just a bit. "I'm sorry Mistress…I cannot take you to him."
Sakura just stared at him for a moment in disbelief. Not Yue too…her eyes narrowed and her hand tightened into a fist around the staff. "Can't…or won't?" Sakura asked softly.
The look in Yue's eyes became an entreaty and he lifted his hands in a helpless gesture. "Both, I suppose. I cannot because I have been ordered to keep you away. I will not because I cannot disobey my Master's orders."
Sakura tried for the same argument she had had with Time. "I am your Mistress, too. Doesn't that count for anything?"
Yue shook his head. "You will be my Mistress in the future, that is true, but right now Clow Reed is my Master and you being here does not change that. His word takes precedence over yours."
Closing her eyes tight in order to keep the tears of frustration that suddenly sprang there from falling to her cheeks in her anger, Sakura said as calmly as she could, "Why? Why won't Clow Reed let me see him? He obviously knew I was coming, so he must also know why I'm here. Why won't he let me see him?"
Yue began to reach out a hand to Sakura but quickly drew it back to his side, not sure how she might welcome his attempt at comfort. "I do not know, Mistress. He did not tell me why. Only that I was to keep you away."
Sakura's eyes popped open in astonishment. She stared at Yue and felt like laughing hysterically. "He…didn't tell you?" Sakura gestured wildly down the hallway. "My friend is dying. He was infected by Betrayal's poison and doesn't have long to live." Sakura was too worked up to get any satisfaction over the widening of Yue's eyes at the mention of Narcisis. "Clow Reed's the only one that can help him. You've got to help me, Yue! You have to take me to Clow Reed!"
Yue slowly shook his head. "I cannot." He said sadly.
His eyes were filled with sympathy, for her no doubt, and pity. For Li. That served to make Sakura even angrier. How dare he feel pity for Li when he wasn't even willing to help him! Sakura glared for a good second before she made to sweep by him. "I'll find him without you."
Moving faster than Sakura could see Yue grabbed her arm. Sakura didn't think she'd ever been more surprised in her life. Yue had actually laid a restraining hand on her! She looked from Yue's hand, so much larger than her own, that gripped her arm so firmly back up into his eyes, her own wide. "I cannot let you pass." Yue reinserted firmly. There was a hint of steel in his voice this time and Sakura realized that he would hold her there indefinitely if he had to.
Desperation was beginning to creep up on her. She couldn't stay here! Not when she was so close. She had to reach Clow Reed; she had to save Li! And nothing, no one, was going to stop her.
Sakura jerked her arm angrily from Yue's grasp. He watched her warily but made no attempt to restrain her again. Rubbing her arm as if he had hurt her more than he actually had Sakura glanced at an anxiously hovering Arrow clutching her bow to her chest out of the corner of her eye. Looking back at Yue she said, "Fine. Obviously there's no way I'm going to be able to get by you. I'll just have to find another way to save my friend."
Sakura began to turn away, covertly watching Yue out of the corner of her eye. She saw him relax marginally in relief. She gripped her staff as hard as she could in her hand and, before she could think twice about it, brought it swinging around in a spurt of adrenaline, and more than a hint of fear, at Yue. It struck him on the side of the head and he went sprawling to the ground. "Arrow!" Sakura cried anxiously. Arrow didn't have to be told twice. She fired another arrow and Sakura began to run with the Arrow card ahead of her.
Yue braced himself upon one arm on the ground and shook his head. Being what he was made him stronger than a normal mortal and what normally might have killed someone merely stunned him. His silver eyes dilated and blazed with more anger than had ever previously been witnessed in the moonlit depths. He surged to his feet, spread his wings as far as the walls of the hallway would let him, and shot off after Sakura as fast as he could.
Sakura heard the wing beats behind her and realized that Yue was up and giving chase already. She ran faster. Panting now, more out of fear than exhaustion, Sakura kept her wide eyes fixed on Arrow and her markers. The wing beats steadily got closer and Sakura couldn't resist a look over her shoulder. One look was enough. Putting on a fresh burst of speed made possible only by the sudden burst of adrenaline brought on by the heightened state of her fear Sakura ran as if demons were after her.
She had never seen Yue look so…frightening. Even in battle there was always a sense of control about him; he never let his emotions get the better of him. That's what made him so lethal. Had that ability only been brought on by the maturity he had gained over centuries? He looked as if he wanted to do her serious harm. She had never seen his eyes that way before; they were practically glowing!
Sakura's silent contemplating was abruptly cut off as Yue rammed into her with more force than a football player. Sakura hit the ground with an oomph, nearly the full weight of a grown man crushing her. She felt one of Yue's hands grip her upper arm and she panicked, thinking he meant to harm her in some way. Bringing her elbow back she got Yue in the ribs and she heard him grunt as his hold loosened marginally on her. Trying to use this opportunity to scramble out from under him she extended her arms and dug her hands into the floor for extra leverage, her fingers turned into claws. She managed to wriggle halfway out before hands gripped her hips and unceremoniously flipped her over, dragging her back underneath Yue. Sakura gazed up at Yue who was now crouched above her, both hands still gripping her hips painfully, his wings spread out gloriously behind him.
Bringing the staff of Clow up again she attempted to hit him once more. He was expecting it this time, however, and grabbed her wrist with one hand. Yue forced the hand that was holding the staff of Clow to the floor and held it there forcefully. "Please, Mistress, I do not wish to hurt you."
"Then let me go!" Sakura cried, arching up suddenly in an attempt to buck Yue off of her.
Yue's eyes widened slightly but Sakura's actions only proved to make him settle more firmly over top of her. "I cannot. Please…" this time it was Yue's voice that held the pleading note in it.
Weariness and despair over the whole situation finally settled in and Sakura's body went limp under Yue's. "Please, Yue," Sakura whispered, two tears escaping from her eyes to slide down the side of her face and down her ears to fall to the cold floor beneath her. "I have to. Li's dying…he's relying on me. Please! I couldn't live with myself if I let him die!" More tears fell from her eyes and pooled on the floor beside her head.
Yue took his hand from Sakura's hip and moved it towards her face. He hesitated, his hand just above her cheek, and looked into her eyes. Luminous green purer than a glade stared back at him. Yue's hand completed its motion and he cupped her cheek, his thumb brushing away the moisture around her eyes. "Please do not cry." He whispered.
"Yue," Sakura brought her free hand up and brushed it through the silvery strands of Yue's hair. His eyes closed and he turned into the touch much as a cat would. Waiting until he opened his eyes again Sakura continued, "this is much more important than Clow Reed's orders." Yue's face tightened slightly and he made to pull away from her, his hand disappearing from her face, but Sakura tightened hers in his hair. "This is a life we're talking about, a very important one. You may not know him yet, but he's a very close friend of mine and I care for him deeply. He's an important person in the fight against the For…I mean…the new Clow cards, and we need every person we can get." Sakura searched Yue's eyes but saw that, while he sympathized, he was not swayed. Thinking fast, Sakura murmured, "What if it were Clow Reed?"
Yue's gaze faltered for a moment. Looking back at her uncertainly he questioned, "What do you mean?"
"If Clow Reed was dying wouldn't you do anything you could to save him? Even if it meant your life?" Again Yue looked away. "That's how I feel about Li." Sakura finished quietly. "Please, Yue, you've got to help me, if only just this once. You have to agree that this is more important than Clow Reed's orders."
Sakura watched Yue anxiously for any sign of relenting. Aside from the rapid back and forth movement of his eyes as he quickly thought about what she had said and about the consequences of disobeying Clow Reed, there was no other external sign that told Sakura in what direction he was thinking.
Slowly, Yue released Sakura's wrist. Sakura unclenched her fist and released the silver strands of Yue's hair as he made to rise. He rose to his knees, then to his feet, until he stood looming over her. He looked at her for a moment before offering her a hand up from the floor. Eying him cautiously Sakura took the offered hand and winced slightly as he pulled her to her feet. She was going to have a bruise on her shoulder from where she had connected with the floor when Yue tackled her and two more bruises on her wrist and hips where he had gripped her so hard. Flexing the wrist that held the staff of Clow experimentally Sakura noted with relief that it hurt but didn't appear to be sprained or broken.
"I'm sorry." Yue said simply.
Sakura shrugged. "It's okay. You were only following orders."
Yue shook his head. "A convenient excuse. I did not have to handle you so roughly."
Sakura glanced at Yue's temple where a purplish bruise was already beginning to form. "Considering how hard I hit you I'm surprised you didn't hurt me worse; that would have been enough to enrage anyone, I would imagine. I'm sorry about that, by the way."
Yue smiled slightly this time and Sakura returned it. "You were only doing what you felt you had to." He paused, staring at the wall, a small frown coming over his face. After a minute or so of silent contemplation of god knew what he said slowly, "I'll take you to Clow Reed." Before Sakura could jump for joy Yue gave her such a look of resignation that it dispelled any feelings of joy she had.
Turning, Yue headed silently off down the hallway, the tips of his wings trailing along the floor occasionally as he walked. Sakura looked at a much more relaxed Arrow card and brought the staff of Clow around. "Arrow card return!" After Arrow was safely back in her back pocket she ran after Yue.
Sakura didn't dare say a word to him as they walked for two reasons. The first was that she was so guilty over what she had done to him, namely braining him with the staff, that she couldn't bring herself to say anything to him. The second was that there was such an air of melancholy surrounding him now that Sakura was hesitant to breach it. Surely Clow Reed wouldn't be that angry with him for disobeying his orders, would he?
Sakura noticed that the walls began to look more familiar to her, if that was possible, considering how they all basically looked much the same. But they did. Sakura realized she had been in this hallway before, and that they must be getting closer to Clow Reed. Yue stopped abruptly in front of a door that Sakura knew was Clow Reed's. Yue knocked twice before opening the door and going inside.
Clow Reed looked up from the book he was reading and smiled. "Ah, Yue. How did you do with…" Clow Reed's gaze fell upon Sakura as she stepped around the angel's wings and he finished flatly, "…Sakura." Clow Reed's black eyes became chipped like onyx and his steely gaze fixed upon Yue. "I see I should have sent Kero Beros instead."
Yue flinched slightly and lowered his eyes in shame, feeling truly awful for having disappointed Clow Reed. "I'm sorry, Master." He whispered.
Sakura narrowed her eyes at Clow Reed. "No!" She stepped in front of Yue and pointed her finger accusingly at Clow Reed. "It wasn't his fault. I made him take me to you. If you're going to be angry with anyone be angry with me. He didn't do anything wrong!"
Clow Reed smiled again. Closing his book he stood up from his chair and walked over to his bookshelf. "Except for disobeying my orders, you mean?" Placing the book upon the shelf he shook his head. "First Time, and then Yue. Is it perhaps that I need better servants? Or are you more trouble than you appear to be? Well, yes, of course you are. What a silly question." He finished as he faced them, his hands disappearing into the sleeves of his robes.
Dismissing his odd behaviour Sakura demanded, "Why did you try to keep me from coming here?"
The smile disappeared from Clow Reed's face. "That…is a complicated question with an even more complicated answer."
"You must know why I'm here." Sakura said. She was still only guessing on that one but Clow Reed's next words dispelled any doubts she had.
Clow nodded. "I do, and, regrettably, I can't help you." And he turned away.
"What?" Sakura exclaimed in disbelief. "What do you mean you can't help me?" When Clow Reed didn't answer her she stormed over to him until she was standing in front of him. "No! I went through too much to get here just to leave without at least an explanation!"
Clow Reed gazed down at her calmly. "Leave me." He told Yue without looking away from Sakura.
Yue bowed deeply, his hair sweeping the floor. "Yes, Master." And he left, shutting the door behind him.
Sakura glanced from the now closed door to Clow Reed, who was still watching her. "That was cold, don't you think?"
Clow Reed smiled ironically, "I'm rather displeased with him at the moment; I'd say that was downright cheery."
Sakura crossed her arms over her chest, still angry with him but feeling uneasy now. "So why won't you help me?"
Clow Reed was silent for a moment, just watching her. Finally, his eyes moved from her to rest on the bed in the corner. "What exactly did Love tell you about the time he brought Rage to me?"
Sakura frowned. She had been hoping for a straightforward answer. Guess she should have known better. "Not much," she began, "just that he brought Rage here, you took him into your laboratory, and that you eventually rid him of the poison." Sakura frowned again. "Oh, and that he didn't see you at all after that."
Clow Reed went and sat down heavily upon his bed. "And didn't you find that a bit odd? That he did not see me once after I had cured Rage?"
Her brow knit in confusion, Sakura replied, "Well…I don't know. I thought that maybe you just didn't want to see Love, since he was one of the Forgotten."
Clow Reed laughed. "My dear, any chance to see one of my children that do not want to cut my throat is a rare occurance. I would have liked immensely to spend more time with Love if I could have."
Clow Reed leaned against the bedpost and closed his eyes momentarily. Opening them again he gazed tiredly at Sakura as he began to speak. "As you have no doubt surmised, it takes a great deal to undo the magic of one of my children. You would not have come here if you thought someone else could cure Li Syaoran. You were right when you assumed I was the only one who could do it. However, it takes a great deal of effort, even for me."
"Love did indeed bring Rage here, and I did indeed cure him, but it is not so simple as all that. The magic I needed to summon to heal him required time, which I did not have. I placed a spell around the poison coursing through his body to slow it down so that I would have the necessary time I needed."
"How much time…do you need?" Sakura ventured quietly.
Clow Reed's gaze did not meet hers. "Twenty-four hours, at least."
"Twenty-four?" Sakura whispered. "But that…that doesn't leave a lot of time."
"I know." Clow Reed informed her. "After I have summoned the required amount of energy I must then focus on removing the poison. Love has already explained this to you, has he not?" Sakura nodded slightly, not bothering to wonder how Clow Reed knew that. "I must draw the poison out of the victim and into myself where I must then proceed to cleanse it from my own body. If I am not powerful enough then I cannot even draw the poison out of the body. If I succeed in doing that much and am not capable of cleansing myself the poison will eat away at my body until I die."
"But…you healed Rage, right? So there's nothing to worry about. You could do it again."
Clow Reed gave Sakura a look she couldn't quite interpret. Then, standing up, he began to undo the sash on his robe.
"W-what are you doing?" Sakura asked uneasily. Clow Reed lowered the robe so that his shoulders and upper chest were revealed and stopped. Sakura's uneasiness vanished in the wake of her fascination with what was covering Clow Reed's shoulders and parts of his chest.
The skin was…black. Not a normal, African American black, but a charred, corrosive black. It looked like something had eaten away at his flesh. "What…?" Sakura found herself reaching towards the dead skin before she even realized what she was doing. She snatched her hand back guiltily and looked up at Clow Reed.
Clow Reed smiled slightly. "It's alright. It's perfectly safe and I don't mind."
Sakura reached out hesitantly and touched her first three fingers to one of the black patches. It felt completely smooth, no hair grew on the black patches, but hard. It felt almost like a callous, but not quite. Sakura moved to another patch where there were additional marks on top of the black. Frowning, Sakura took a closer look and realized they were the scars from where something had…popped.
"It's the result of drawing the poison into myself." Clow Reed explained. Sakura looked up at him in horror. "This is the damage it did before I was able to cleanse myself of it. Their magic had become powerful since I had last seen them." Was Sakura imagining things, or did Clow Reed seem proud? Stepping away, Clow Reed readjusted his robe so that everything was back in its proper place and not a speck of black showed. Smiling slightly he said, "Neither Kero Beros nor Yue know of this. They don't even know I ever healed Rage."
"But how did you keep them from noticing?"
"With quite a lot of effort." Clow Reed replied with humour. Sobering, he replied, "I suddenly had quite a lot of errands I needed them to run. Also, I stayed out of sight for a while. That was why I could not see Love afterwards," he added as an afterthought, "I could not risk having Kero Beros or Yue running across me. I looked…well…let us just say I was not looking my best and they would have noticed."
Sakura stared at the place where the black scarring had been for a moment more before looking up at Clow Reed and asking, "What does this have to do with trying to keep me from seeing you? Why won't you help me?"
Clow Reed looked away. Sakura peered into what she could see of his eyes and determined he was thinking very deeply. When he looked back up at her he had sort of a resigned look on his face. "Don't you understand?"
Sakura frowned. "Understand what? I'm not a mind reader, and even if I was I don't think it would help me much with you; I don't think anyone would ever really be able to understand how you think. I'm sorry for the trouble it caused you in the past, but don't you think saving Li's life is more important than any reluctance you might have because of any pain this will cause?" Sakura gripped her arms as she folded her arms across her chest. "I know that sounds terribly selfish and uncaring, but I don't care. Li means a lot to me. I'd do anything to save him."
Clow Reed shook his head and laughed; Sakura flinched at the sound, not used to hearing something so bitter sounding coming out of his mouth. "Despite what you may seem to think I am not entirely noble." Clow Reed informed her. "I have my own selfish wishes and desires. I cannot simply go save every helpless child or injured kitten that comes across my path. There is no one on this planet that is that pure, and if there was they would eventually go mad from the amount of time and stress it would take to save everyone."
Clow Reed stood up and walked to the door. Standing there he looked across the room at Sakura and said steadily, "I cannot save Li Syaoran. It is time for you to go."
Sakura stood in silence for a moment. She felt nothing at first and she suspected that was because she was too shocked to react. She knew all the resistance in getting here had been caused by Clow Reed, but somehow she assumed that once she saw him everything would be alright. She would tell him the problem and he would agree to help her. It was naïve, she knew, but she still couldn't believe he was refusing to help her.
Silent tears began behind Sakura's eyes and they alarmed her. Somehow, she couldn't let him see her cry. Not now, not after everything that had just happened. She gazed back at Clow Reed her eyes glistening with unshed tears and her hands still gripping her arms fiercely. "Can't help him? Can't or won't?"
His gaze never wavering with hers, he replied, "Won't."
Sakura lashed out suddenly and knocked the numerous candles and tomes off the old table. Her fists clenched tightly together on the table and she demanded, "Why! Why! Just tell me why! Give me some answer that makes sense, because I don't understand! Fine, I know no one can save everyone, and I didn't think you could, but I KNOW you can save Li. I looked up to you, I thought you were wise and knowledgeable, and, from everything I've seen, kind. Now I know I was mistaken! You're nothing but a cruel, selfish bastard!"
Clow Reed's own fist suddenly connected with the door and he yelled, "Do not think you know everything! You have no idea what you ask!"
Both sorcerer and cardcaptor froze. The sheer surprise of Clow Reed's outburst held them both immobile. Sakura never thought she'd live to see Clow Reed with his voice raised, let alone live to see him committing acts of violence. He was the most soft-spoken person she knew aside from Julian.
There was a knock on the door that startled them both into action. Clow Reed stepped away from the door and Sakura straightened up from her bent over position on the table. Clearing his throat, Clow Reed said, "Come in."
Yue opened the door and stood in the doorway uncertainly, as if he expected another reproach from Clow Reed. Looking from Clow Reed to Sakura and back again he asked, "Is everything alright, Master?"
Clow Reed waved him away without looking at him. "Yes. Yes, everything is fine. Please shut the door."
With one final glance at Sakura Yue left and shut the door behind him.
There was another awkward silence before Clow Reed said suddenly, "I'm sorry. I did not mean to lash out as I did."
Sakura stared silently at the sorcerer. After he had apologized it kind of seemed like she should, too. But she couldn't bring herself to do so with the matter of Li's life still between them. "It doesn't matter." She finally said.
There was a lengthy silence before Clow Reed's shoulders suddenly slumped. "Why can you not accept what I have told you? Why can't you just leave?"
Sakura surprised herself by laughing. "Why can't I accept this? If you have to ask that…well…you're not quite as smart as I thought you were." Clow Reed raised one eyebrow but said nothing. Sakura gestured around her exaggeratingly with one arm, "Accept what you've TOLD me? You haven't really told me anything, aside from making it clear that you won't help me. If I went back, if I accepted Li's death then I might as well accept my own because I wouldn't be able to live with myself knowing that my decision to give up caused the death of my best friend. Can you say any different?"
Clow Reed shook his head. "I can't help you. I wish I could." He said softly.
"No," Sakura countered, "you said you won't help me, which is something entirely different from can't. You just gave me that little speech about no one being able to save everyone. Well…that's just fine and hunky-dory, but what about the ones you can save? If you could save that one stray kitten as you passed it by wouldn't you?"
Clow Reed remained silent and Sakura, sensing that she just might be getting the upper hand for the first time since she got here pressed, "You brought me back in time before to seal the War card. You did that in order to save me in the future and, on a larger note, the world. YOU did that. You realized what had to be done in order to keep the Forgotten from running rampant on innocent people. This is no different. We need Li in the future. We need every able bodied person with magical talent that we can get. Unless you plan on coming to the future yourself to fight there is no one else besides him that can do a better job. If you don't save him then what was the point?" Sakura demanded, her emotions getting the best of her once more, "What was the point of having me seal War only to turn around and do this? If that's the case then you never should have brought me back at all. You should have let me die, let us all die, when War came for us."
Sakura stood as rigidly as possible, her muscles so tight they were screaming with tension. It was so quiet she was surprised she didn't hear Clow Reed's heartbeat along with her own that was thrumming in her ears. She stood this way for so long she thought that when she finally did move her muscles would protest.
"You really know how to wear someone down, don't you?"
It took Sakura a moment to realize Clow Reed had said anything. Shrugging she replied tiredly, "So my brother tells me."
Clow Reed stared hard at the door and another lengthy silence ensued before he continued, "Do you realize when you are?"
The question surprised Sakura. Again she had expected a 'yes, I will help you' or a 'no, I still won't help you. Now leave'. She should have known better, she supposed. "I'm in the past. I'm when I was the first time."
Clow Reed slowly shook his head. After another minute hesitation he said, "No…you're several months ahead of the last time you were here."
Sakura only stared at him in silence. It was a surprise to her that she hadn't just come back around the same time she had left…that had kind of been her goal. Although, if she was truthful, she really hadn't thought much about the actual time except that she would arrive around the same time as last time. Okay, so she had arrived a few months in the future. Sakura didn't really see the big deal; it's not like she had arrived years from when she was last here. She knew that while she didn't see a problem there obviously was one, or Clow Reed wouldn't have mentioned it.
"Okay." Sakura replied, unable to think of anything else to say.
Clow Reed smiled slightly. "Something large has happened since you were here last. This something would account for Yue's new found fierceness in the halls and my exhaustion."
Sakura frowned in confusion, but then she looked, really looked at Clow Reed. She had already witnessed a weariness of the soul about him when they were arguing, but she had been so caught up in proving her point that she had failed to notice any details about him physically other than those black marks on his chest and…now that she thought about it…god knew where else.
There were bags under his eyes and the skin around the eyes seemed darker than the rest of his face. The hollows in his cheekbones seemed more pronounced and he looked thinner than he did the last time she had seen him. Finished her perusal Sakura looked back up into his eyes. "What's happened?"
Taking a deep breath he answered, "I've sealed them."
It only took a moment to realize what he meant. "You sealed the Forgotten? When?" Sakura exclaimed, her eyes wide.
Clow Reed ran a hand over his face. "Two days ago."
Sakura stood stock-still. "Rage…Love…" Somehow Sakura thought she should have been surprised that they were the first things she thought of, but somehow, she wasn't. And why should she be? The time that she had spent together with Rage and Love had created a…a friendship, Forgotten or not. She was worried about them, worried about them like she would be worried about Madison or Kero if something ever happened to them.
"Yes. Rage and Love." Sakura looked up at Clow Reed sharply. He hadn't said either of their names in a way that would suggest he felt anything strong towards their present predicament. In fact, the way he had said it he could have been talking about them at any other time over a splendid cup of tea. But, there was something in the tone, maybe it was that his facial expression was so carefully blank – a tactic employed by a certain other someone that was being discussed at the moment – that led Sakura to believe that there was so much more behind that simple sentence.
"Clow Reed?" Sakura ventured hesitantly, unsure of how to console him or whether he even wanted or needed her comfort.
He brushed her concern away with a brisk movement of his hand. "What's done is done and there is no point in worrying about it now." But his voice was strained as though he was putting great effort into controlling it. He turned away from her and was silent.
Sakura was faced with an awkward dilemma. He had obviously turned away in order to hide the strong emotions that were no doubt playing across his face at this very moment. It was apparent that he needed to be comforted, someone to tell him that he had done everything that he could and that Rage and Love would eventually get out again and that they would come to forgive him in time. He needed to be told that, but he had turned from her. He might need the comfort she had to offer but he didn't want it. Sakura stood there silently and waited for Clow Reed to compose himself.
Clow Reed turned back to face her suddenly and Sakura was surprised that, again, there was no outside trace of the chaos that must be going on inside of him at this very moment. His face was the same slightly cheery mask that it always was. Sakura started as she suddenly realized that that was what it was. A mask. One that he wore twenty-four seven since the cards first rebelled against him. Did he ever even let that mask drop, even when he was alone? Sakura thought about that and couldn't understand how he did it, how exhausting it must be.
"It is an enormous coincidence that you have come back at this exact time…but since I don't believe it coincidences I can only assume it was the work of a higher power. If you had come back before I had sealed my children then no amount of arguments, no matter how well constructed, would have been able to convince me to go forward in time to complete this venture as the results would be catastrophic. That was not a hyperbole."
Clow Reed walked to the door and jerked it open causing Yue to visibly jump out in the corrider. Saying nothing and leaving Sakura to follow as she would he exited the room and started down the hallway. Exchanging a glance with Yue, Sakura followed quickly behind the sorcerer, Yue right beside her.
"Does this mean…are you going to help me?" Sakura didn't want to let hope blossom but the stubborn thing had already taken root.
"I must admit my dear," he began, not slowing his pace for a moment as he continued on to wherever it was he was going, "you are very good at proving a point until it has been driven between the person's eyebrows. You were correct when you said that it was rather pointless of me to have brought you back the first time if I was only going to allow the people who fight with you to die in the future if I could have prevented it. You DO need Li, and I cannot let my selfish reasons deter me from saving his life when it could mean that my children would be allowed to run amok with no one left who was capable of stopping them." Clow Reed stopped abruptly in front of two large double doors. Smiling slightly he said, "I admit, I was…afraid."
Before Sakura could ask why Yue said instead, "Master…why are we…?"
Turning with a sunny smile on his face that succeeded in stopping Yue better mid sentence than a reprimand would have, Clow Reed asked politely, "Yue, would you mind finding Kero Beros for me? Ask him to come back here along with yourself, of course. I need you both. Thank you."
Yue was silent for a moment, but then he replied, "Of course, Master," and vanished.
Clow Reed turned back to look at the double doors. Sakura continued to study him rather than the doors. After a moment she ventured, "Where are we?"
There was that smile again. "We are…at the entrance to my laboratory."
Now why did that sentence seem to echo with foreboding? Sakura looked back up at the impossibly tall doors with a new respect and a hint of suspicion for the unknown. "Why are we here?" she asked finally.
Turning to her, Clow Reed said, "I need to summon some strong magic and I don't want to do that outside of an area that isn't protected by a barrier."
"…Barrier?" Sakura asked, not sure what he meant exactly.
Clow Reed gestured to the doors and stepped aside. Staring at him for a moment Sakura didn't move. It wasn't that she didn't trust him…exactly…but how did she know that something wasn't going to happen to her when she stepped up to those doors? The magic could react badly to her presence and it might set off some sort of booby trap; poisonous gas could leak out the mouths of the miniature lion carvings on either side of the door, a trap door could open beneath her feet and she could fall into a pit of snakes! Or part of the wall behind her could fall away to reveal a giant boulder which would start rolling towards her, intending to crush her, while she fled for her life down the hallway…
Sakura shook her head. Apparently her imagination was on overdrive…not to mention that the Indiana Jones movies she'd watched that weekend might…just might…have influenced her a bit. Besides, if there were any booby traps to worry about they'd most likely be magical in nature. When she touched the door she'd probably get electrocuted or something. Oh yeah…that sounded much better than snakes.
Taking a deep breath Sakura reached forward towards the door. As soon as her hand neared the door her hand touched something sticky and suddenly there was a wall of purple over the doors. Giving out an involuntary yip Sakura jerked her hand back and wiped it on her pants. She stopped her nervous actions, however, when she heard quiet laughter off to her side. Shooting an annoyed glance Clow Reed's way she demanded, "What's so funny?"
Clow Reed gestured toward the doors and the still visible mass of see-through purple. "Did you think it would dissolve the skin from your bones?"
Sakura stiffened, embarrassed. "It could have." she replied tightly.
Clow Reed laughed again. Reaching into his sleeve he retrieved a coin. He held it up for Sakura to see and then proceeded to hurl it at the doors with all his might. As soon as it connected with the purple mass there was kind of a…high pitched shrieking sound before parts of the purple substance convulsed around the coin. The purple wall slowly subsided back to its smooth, unmarked surface much as water does after it's been disturbed. Sakura looked at the spot where the coin was swallowed, but she couldn't see it. Looking in other places, thinking maybe it was moved along with the purple…ness…when the wall settled, Sakura could find no trace of the gold coin anywhere. "Where did it go?" she finally had to ask, looking back to Clow Reed.
Clow Reed quickly ran his gaze over the double doors and, when his fast scan came up with no coin he said amiably, "Well, I would imagine it's completely dissolved by now. It dissolves smaller things faster, you know." he said as if this was a well known fact that anybody would have known.
Sakura just stared at him. Slowly she looked back down at her hand and a look of horror came over her face. "Why…how? Why wasn't my hand dissolved?" she asked in a kind of breathless voice. Then, her expression becoming outraged she finished, "I can't believe you let me touch that thing!"
"It is perfectly safe." Clow Reed admonished and proceeded to walk up to the door and lay his own palm against it. Nothing happened. Sakura met his eyes, her own puzzled. "It is based on force." he explained, and proceeded to push very slightly against the wall of purple. The surface began rippling slightly but that was it. Removing his hand he held it up for her to see. There wasn't a mark on it.
"I don't understand." Sakura confessed, wondering why his hand - her hand - hadn't been dissolved along with the coin.
"This is a barrier. It is one of the rarer ones because it keeps out physical penetration as well as magical penetration. Nothing can get in or out of this once it is created. It is there for the protection of, well, this very labyrinth. Some of the magic summoned here is rather dangerous and would, I fear, crumble the very walls around me did I not erect this barrier when I am in there. Of course," he went on, "it is also good for keeping out…those who are not welcome. To answer your question, your hand was not dissolved because the barrier reacts to force. The more force that is put against it, magic or otherwise, the more violent the reaction. When that force reaches a certain point the barrier will absorb whatever is causing the disturbance-quite handy for spells, that-and will absorb the violent force into itself, which is what resulted in the ripples you saw after the coin disappeared. The more violent the pressure exuded against it the more violent the ripples become. Believe me, I have seen this barrier shake with the force of thunder. That is how the barrier gets rid of the energy it absorbs."
"Oh." was all Sakura could manage to get out. She looked back at the doors. Well, she did have to admit that it was a rather useful spell.
Clow Reed stepped forward and raised his left hand with his index and middle fingers extended and pointing upwards towards his forehead. He began speaking in whispers and Sakura had to strain to hear what he was saying. Even when she managed to catch some of it, it didn't sound like any Japanese, or even English, that she had ever heard before. When Clow Reed was finished the chant he stepped back and the doors swung inward. Sakura looked into the opened corridor and saw only blackness. She couldn't even make out the sides of the walls after the first couple feet it was so dark in there. She looked up at Clow Reed and he gave her a reassuring smile that somehow wasn't so reassuring.
Clow turned and walked confidently into the pitch black. As soon as he cleared the archway of the door two torches hanging highly, previously unseen, on both sides of the walls sprang to life. Sakura blinked and exhaled slowly. Well, at least she wouldn't be walking in without light now. Heaven forbid…she could have stubbed a toe or something. Sakura snorted at her poor attempt at humour and followed Clow Reed into the laboratory.
At certain intervals when they were just far enough away from the last torches that the darkness began to encroach upon them again Clow Reed would pass another set and light would blaze forth once more. Sakura followed quietly behind the sorcerer, staring at his red and purple robed back as they went. She noticed that as they walked the floor began to tilt slightly and she realized they weren't walking on level ground anymore but were going down. The walls were dank and bare and the silence was absolute save for the soft sounds of their footsteps. She could have said something, she supposed, but she honestly couldn't think of a single thing that needed to be said. The only question she wanted to ask was if Clow had meant it when he said he wouldn't let Li die. She didn't want any misunderstandings where this was concerned. However, she was afraid that if she asked he might reveal his earlier change of heart to be merely a mind game to drive her mad. If such was the case Sakura was afraid she might kick him or burst into angry tears. She wasn't sure which.
Another set of torches went off and Sakura could see a turn in the previously straight arrow passage just beyond them. Clow Reed entered the new opening and Sakura followed closely behind him. She had not walked more than a few steps before the passage opened up into a moderately sized room. Sakura stopped walking and had to raise her hand to shield her eyes as a fire suddenly blazed to life. Lowering her hand Sakura saw that the fire had sprung up in what looked to be some sort of marble bowl on legs near the right wall. Sakura let her eyes wander and saw a small, quite uncomfortable looking bed in the corner not far from the fire. Was that straw peeking out of the mattress? Her eyes shifted back to Clow Reed to see that he wasn't paying any attention to her, but was walking toward a table at the other end of the room. There was a shelf above the table that housed quite a few glass jars and vials upon it. The table had what looked like a few books, one open, a mortar and pestle, some candlesticks, sheets of parchment, and some quills and inkpots. There might have been more, but Sakura couldn't quite make everything out from the doorway.
She moved forward a few steps but stopped again, frowning. Had she imagined it? No, she could have sworn she had felt a slight breeze upon her face. She raised her head and looked around the room but found no windows, merely stone, though, considering how far underground they must be, she didn't know why she had expected to find any. She became claustrophobic for a moment, wondering how anyone could spend so much time down here without the benefit of daylight and fresh air. Shrugging it off, Sakura determined that the slight rush of air she had felt must have been from some cracks in the stones as there were no windows or vents of any kind.
She started walking again and as she neared the center of the room something shone in the flickering of the firelight. As she drew nearer her eyes widened and she finally stopped beside a pair of manacles. But, surely, they couldn't be…manacles. But they were. There was a chain with some length that was linked to them that ran to what looked like the exact middle of the floor where a lock secured them to the floor. There was something else, too. She hadn't been able to discern this from the doorway, but there were lines drawn onto the stone with what looked something like white chalk. The lines formed into a large circle which she was currently standing inside. There was an outer ring and then a smaller inner ring – though not by much - inside that one. The small space left between the two circles had symbols drawn all around the circumference. Sakura could only describe them as being slender and wavy; she did not recognize them and they did not look familiar to her. The only other thing drawn inside the inner ring was a large pentagram whose center was where the manacles were situated.
Sakura drew her arms up unconsciously until she was rubbing them uneasily. A shiver ran down her spine but she couldn't say why. She narrowed her eyes slightly as something else caught her attention. In the center of the pentagram near the manacles there was a dark patch of…something. Moving hesitantly, not really wanting to move to the center of that design, Sakura stepped forward. Stopping again directly in front of the dark patch and almost directly in front of the shackles she bent down to get a better look at the patch.
The patch, it turned out, happened to be a stain in the stone. It was black and Sakura's heart missed a beat as she realized what she was looking at. Indeed, how could she not, from all of her recent encounters with the Forgotten, recognize dried blood when she saw it? There wasn't too much, but there was enough to make anyone uncomfortable. Sakura crouched there, staring at the spot, and wondered why there would be dried blood in Clow Reed's laboratory. Why did he need to have shackles down here?
Straightening finally, her arms still clutched tightly together, Sakura turned to find Clow Reed staring at her from the side of the table. She stared back and suddenly the shadows from the fire made him look just a bit sinister, and the fire shining in his eyes looked just a bit like madness. Sakura mentally shook herself. This was ridiculous, absurd! She had no reason to be afraid of Clow Reed; he was her friend, her ancestor, a good guy. But she continued to stare at him, waiting for him to say something, anything.
After what seemed like years, Clow Reed blinked. His eyes shifted to the left and he looked down slightly, no longer meeting hard, green eyes but staring at a point just below them. "I do dangerous things here, Sakura, things that I cannot do elsewhere for fear of damaging…certain aspects of the real world. Sometimes I must summon dangerous creatures, creatures that are not bound by rules or law and would seek to do me serious harm if not restrained." His eyes focused on hers again. "Do you understand?"
After a short silence, Sakura murmured, "Not really. But, then again, I don't really think I want to know."
Clow Reed gave her a level look. "No, I suppose maybe it's better that you don't." Turning away he reached up and removed several vials and two glass jars from the shelf. Working up a significant amount of courage Sakura stepped over the ominous circle on the ground and moved to the sorcerer's side.
"Narcisis," he began, "is actually a combination of two types of poison." Leaning slightly forward he grabbed the mortar and pestle in the far corner of the table. "The first type is entirely natural, just a simple mixture of common, and a few not so common, herbs and liquids that produce a rather nasty effect on anyone who happens to be exposed to them. Luckily, I have all of the ingredients necessary here from the last time this happened in order to reproduce the antidote. Also, none of these ingredients need be fresh, so we don't have to waste time trying to find them all in a certain span of time. It will, however, take time to make sure everything is prepared properly."
"The second type is of a magical nature. Betrayel's knowledge of the dark arts and her level of power has ensured that an added 'kick', if you will, was added to the concoction. If you were intending to poison a mortal with just the herbs then they would indeed be dead before the day was out. However, if you planned on poisoning someone with a much stronger immune system who is not entirely say, mortal, the regular effects of the poison most likely would not be sufficient enough to kill him. Knowing the type of opponents she was bound to face when she chose to openly go against me she took the initiative."
Finished his explanation Clow began very carefully to unscrew one of the lids of the jars. Sakura's attention drifted from what he was doing down to the contents of the table. Her eyebrows raised in surprise when her eyes came to rest on the open book in front of Clow Reed and what was inside. "The book of Clow and the Clow cards." She whispered.
Distracted from the task at hand Clow Reed looked down at the book on the table. A sorrowful look came to his face and his eyes took on a far away look. When he finally spoke his voice seemed equally far away. "Yes. The book of Clow." He then proceeded to continue with the current task at hand.
Left to her own devices, Sakura wandered around the room for a bit. Avoiding the pentagram in the middle of the floor she went around and examined the marble bowl in which the fire was situated. After she had thoroughly examined all aspects of the bowl she grew very bored, there being practically nothing to do in the drab room. Eventually she was reduced to standing and listening to Clow Reed grinding whatever mixture of ingredients he had just put into the mixing bowl.
A short time later footsteps could be heard coming down the passage that led out of the laboratory. Sakura turned in time to see Yue and Kero Beros round the corner and step into the room. Yue's expression was nearly blank and Sakura couldn't tell the thoughts whirling behind the inky, liquid silver pools of moonlight. Sakura looked down and nearly gasped, taken aback by the look of hot rage simmering in Kero Beros' eyes. He was so furious he was nearly snarling, his lips starting to curl over his huge, razor-sharp teeth.
"Master," his low boom of a voice growled, "you cannot mean to do this."
With his back turned to his two companions Clow Reed continued to work silently, replying calmly, "Kero Beros, we have already discussed this."
Actually snarling this time Kero Beros moved further into the room, his stride taking him to the pentagram in the middle of the floor where he proceeded to turn and start pacing in a short, angry line back and forth. "We did not discuss anything. You simply told us you were leaving, you did not say why or when. And you most certainly did NOT," he growled, voice rising in volume, "explain why we cannot accompany you!"
His angry gaze settled on Sakura who stood frozen, her fingers gripping her arms tightly, her unblinking gaze never wavering from his in her shock and confusion. Growling, Kero Beros continued to pace, his attention now centered solely upon her. "I do not care if you are our future Mistress. I know this has something to do with you. You are the reason our Master is leaving us! You will leave now, and you will not return. Tell our Master that you do not require his help."
Stunned, Sakura could only stare, not understanding what was going on. She was only taking Clow Reed into the future with her. He was coming back. What was wrong with Kero? "I…I…" she stammered. Her gaze flew to Yue's.
He was gazing at her from the other end of the room, not having moved since he and Kero Beros had walked in. His arms were held loosely at his sides and his eyes as well as his face still held that empty look that made it impossible to guess what he was thinking or even feeling. But even though he was doing his best to give nothing of himself away at this moment his shoulders were slumped and his back was not quite straight, his wings trailing the floor seemingly dejectedly. His entire posture seemed to scream defeated and Sakura didn't know why. "Kero Beros." He whispered, a note of resignation in his voice. And weariness, so much weariness, as if it had taken a great deal of effort to simply whisper his friend's name.
"TELL HIM!" Kero Beros roared, startling Sakura so badly she jumped, her eyes going wide.
"KERO BEROS!" Clow Reed's voice boomed through the small space, the volume of it drowning out Kero's outburst a moment before, making it seem like the roar of a small kitten. This time everyone in the room jumped as Clow Reed spun around, his one hand gripping the pestle he had been using so tightly his fingers were white. "You will cease this unseemly behaviour immediately. It does not become you and portrays you as lower than you are. You are capable of more than this. I taught you better than this." His swirling onyx eyes switched to Sakura and he smiled, tight-lipped. "I am sorry Sakura. I apologize most profusely for Kero Beros' behaviour. He is not himself."
He switched his attention back to Kero Beros and then to Yue, before settling once more on Sakura. "I am also sorry that I must ask you to leave now." Shaking herself out of her stupor, Sakura opened her mouth to protest, thinking he meant to send her back. Clow Reed shook his head. "No, I am not sending you away. I only mean for you to wait outside this room. It will not be safe for you in here for what I must do next. I need only Yue and Kero Beros here with me for this. After I have finished making the physical portion of the antidote I shall attend to this last matter, and then we may go. I must warn you, however, this will take some time. A good portion of the day will come and go as I make the preparations. Will you wait outside, please?"
Sakura stared uncertainly at Clow Reed for a moment before her gaze moved uneasily to Kero Beros, and then finally to Yue. Deciding she could ask Clow Reed what was going on later and that she was wasting valuable time while Li suffered in the future Sakura nodded slowly. "Okay," she finally answered, her voice coming out small. She cleared her throat. "I'll wait out in the hall."
Taking one last look at everyone she began walking forward. She passed Kero Beros first. He was sitting on his haunches now, his head hanging down as he stared at the floor, his body tense. She felt she should say something, but she had no idea what. Inwardly sighing she left him behind and approached Yue. She slowed as she drew near, searching his face again for any hint as to what, exactly, was wrong with them. But again, as before, there was nothing. Making a disgusted noise, Sakura stomped passed him, becoming angry as she decided whatever was going on was stupid, and why the hell couldn't they just tell her what was wrong?
As she drew alongside the winged guardian his hand shot out and gripped her elbow. Startled, Sakura froze in place, her gaze flying to meet his. His eyes open to her now he looked down at her with uncertainty and vulnerability shining brightly from them. Licking his lips Yue hesitated, then said, "Treat us well in the future, Mistress." And abruptly let go of her elbow.
Sakura stumbled and caught herself before she managed to trip. Straightening, she turned to look back at everyone. Yue was no longer facing her, his head turned down and away, his hair hiding his face. His arms were hugging his lean form and his wings were half closed protectively around him. She looked at Kero Beros to see that he hadn't moved and was still staring at the floor as if there were something there. Lastly, she looked to Clow Reed to find him watching her, his eyes remarkably calm.
A feeling of doom suddenly and unexpectedly crashed down upon Sakura, making her breath catch. Feeling claustrophobic all of a sudden she nearly ran from the small room, slowing once she turned the corner into the corridor to regain her breath before she left entirely. What the hell? She wondered silently to herself. Just…what the hell?
Things in the future were not looking bright. Seven hours had elapsed since Sakura disappeared back into the past and Li had begun to feel the effects of the poison coursing through his system.
"It itches." He complained to no one in particular. He was now lying flat on his back, sitting becoming too much work about an hour ago. He was feeling warm, a little too warm, and fidgety. Things all around him, including the people who were sitting by his side, somehow seemed a little hazy around the edges and Li found himself squinting now and then in annoyance to make the feeling go away. But worst of all…was the unbearable itching that seemed to start from just under his skin and had spread everywhere. It wasn't painful yet, though Rage had assured him it would progress to that level eventually, but it was so damn annoying! It was like when you had a normal itch that you had to scratch, but couldn't for some reason and the not scratching just seemed to make it worse. And why the hell was it so damn warm in here? He couldn't take it anymore! His left hand twitched and then he made to move it to his other arm to scratch, finally, and get rid of the awful pinpricks all over his body.
A pale hand gripped his wrist. Li's surprised gaze darted up and met the calm yet serious winter blue of Rage's eyes. Knowing that it was Rage who was touching him was probably the most surprising thing of all. He tried to tug his hand away but the card tightened his hold around him. Speaking calmly and matter-of-factly Rage commented, "Scratching won't help. In fact, it'll probably make it worse. And once you start you won't be able to stop and you'll end up scratching yourself bloody."
Li's hands curled into fists and tears of frustration pricked his eyes. "I can't help it. It's…maddening."
"I know." Rage replied calmly. Two sets of eyes, one brown one blue, met and held. A sense of sharing seemed to pass between the two rivals as Li remembered that the card did indeed know, for he had survived through much worse than this for much longer. A moment more of silence passed where Rage searched Li's eyes to make sure he wouldn't scratch and then he let go of his wrist.
Li reluctantly let his arm settle back down to his side, though his hand did bunch around the fabric of his shirt to prevent it from doing anything else. "How? How did you survive that?"
Rage shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know." Then he laughed suddenly, no real mirth emerging in the sound. "Maybe I didn't. I don't really remember that time, but I think I went a little mad." His arctic eyes flashed to Love for a moment before moving back to the prone cardcaptor. He shrugged again and said nothing more suddenly feeling a little uncomfortable. What was he doing trying to be kind to this rude and disrespectful boy? He didn't even like him; in fact, he didn't really even tolerate him. And yet, somehow he didn't want someone else to experience the pain he had when Betrayel had poisoned him. Well…not unless they deserved it anyway.
Love, who was sitting on the opposite side of Li that Rage was sitting on, cleared his throat hesitantly. "I could try to lessen the side effects. Most of my magic deals with healing and I think I might, for a time, be able to make it feel not quite so bad."
Kero raised an eyebrow. "Oh really? And how do we know you're telling the truth?"
"Kero Beros." Yue admonished.
"Kero!" Madison responded angrily.
Staring at him with a guarded look, Love said, "What, exactly, are you implying? What would I have to gain by harming him anymore than he already is?"
Kero crossed his arms over his chest and glowered for all he was worth. "Is that so? Well, that's not what happened a little while ago, is it? If I remember correctly, you tried to kill us all. In fact, this whole situation the Kid's in now could be labeled as being your fault." He accused.
Though his face remained emotionless something in Love's eyes flinched. "It wasn't my fault. I was being controlled. I didn't mean…I didn't want…" he trailed off into silence, guilt plaguing him despite what he had just denied.
"It's no one's fault." Yue tried placatingly. "It is only Betrayel's, and she is sealed."
"I bet it was surprisingly easy to turn you, wasn't it?" Kero went on, relentless, "After all, once you betray one person it isn't so hard to betray another and another, is it?" he taunted.
Love's arms tightened around his knees but he said nothing to defend himself. Kero opened his mouth to say something else but was interrupted vehemently by someone else.
"Shut up! Just Shut. Up!" Rage snarled, coming to his knees in his anger. Eyes blazing he continued, "Everything is so black and white to you, is it not? There can only be a good guy and a bad guy. There can be no in between and once you choose one side you can never go back. Don't you dare sit there and have the audacity to preach to him, to us, when you can't even begin to imagine the sorts of things we have been through! You sit there all high and mighty and think you're better than us because you have never strayed from the righteous path. Well, not all of us have it so easy as you! In my opinion, those of us who have strayed yet managed to find our way back are far wiser than creatures who have never seen into the line that separates good from evil, white from black; that line is gray and you cannot even fathom what it must be like!" Breathing a little heavily, he sat back onto his haunches, glaring at the Guardian Beast.
"Rage." Love murmured, surprised and a little touched at the outburst. Kero's jibes must have bothered him a lot more than he had let on. But then, that whole misunderstanding where Clow Reed was concerned in the past had put a gaping hole into his soul.
Kero looked shocked and even a little chastised. He kept his eyes on the floor, not able to raise them to look at anyone, as he felt a little ashamed of himself.
"You go Rage." Madison intoned quietly, smiling slightly to herself. Yue just shook his head.
There was an awkward silence where no one knew exactly what to say. Then Li cleared his throat and said, "If…if you could help me, in any way, that would be much appreciated, Love."
Love looked at him with serious eyes. A moment later he broke out into a huge grin. Still smiling he scooted closer to the prone form and began to roll up his sleeves. "Don't worry, I'll be gentle." And he winked at him.
Leaning down slightly Love began to pull up Li's shirt. Li gripped Love's hands tightly, his eyes wide, "What are you doing?"
Still smiling, Love replied, "My magic works better skin to skin; there's a closer connection that way. I don't need the connection, but having it will probably ensure a stronger response and I'll be able to keep up the spell for a longer period of time." When Li still didn't release his hands Love's smile turned wicked. "Don't worry, I won't molest you. Don't be offended, but, you're not exactly my type. Sorry."
Li hesitated then let go. Love pulled Li's shirt up to his armpits then let it be. Leaning back down he put one hand in the center of his chest and then put the other over top of it, crossing it the other way. That pink glow that they had seen before began to emanate from them, but tinged this time with a yellowish cast. Li let out a relieved breath. "It feels better already."
Love let out a short, surprised laugh, "I feel so confident in my abilities when you all doubt me so much." His brow furrowed then and the looked like he was having trouble with something. "Damn, this is harder than I thought it'd be. The magic is strong." And then he was silent for a long time.
Sakura jerked awake when she heard the sound of footsteps coming towards her. Shit, how long had she been asleep for? Where was Clow Reed? The answer to her question was the one causing the soft sound as he walked towards her, a small smile on his face. "It is finally done. I am sorry it took so long but I could not rush anything."
Sakura rushed to her feet from where she had been sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall. She brushed herself off absently. "Are you ready? Is everything done? How much time do we have left?"
Clow Reed shook his head. "Not much. Just enough, maybe." He looked at her earnestly and asked, "Would you like to do the honours?"
Sakura blinked up at him cluelessly. "Huh?" she inquired.
The sorcerer smiled. "The Time Card. Would you like to take us forward? I can't…I can't use them now." He said quietly, his smile fading.
"Oh. Sure." Sakura said hastily, reaching into her back pocket and pulling out her cards, frowning slightly. Once the Time Card was in her hands she looked at Clow Reed hesitantly. "Umm…I'm not really very good at this, and I've never transported anyone besides myself through time. Maybe…you should use my card and do it? It'll go faster, for one, and we won't end up anywhere we're not supposed to."
"Practice makes perfect. As for transporting multiple people through time all you have to do is be touching that person and they are transported with you. Though," he cautioned, "each additional person you take along with you requires that much more energy, so be careful. But," and the smile was back, "I don't think you'll have any trouble with just me."
Nodding, Sakura prepared herself. Reaching out she grasped Clow Reed's sleeve with one hand, but was startled when he transferred her hand from his sleeve to his own hand. She looked down at their held hands then up into his bottomless eyes. He merely continued to smile.
Nodding again Sakura swallowed nervously then concentrated. Both cardcaptor and sorcerer disappeared into thin air.
"Are you sure you're alright?" Madison asked again.
Love glowered at her. "I told you, I'm fine." He replied sweat glistening on suddenly pale skin that was usually bronzed. Half sitting, half lying down he looked over to Li. "Besides, it's not me you should be asking that of. I…I'm sorry I couldn't do more." The attempt to ease the symptoms had taken a lot more out of him then he'd like to admit, but he'd be fine. The kid on the other hand…His eyes strayed back to him guiltily.
Li was still lying prone on his back, but his breathing was rapid and coming in short, gulping bursts causing everyone to fear he'd hyperventilate if he didn't stop. His shirt had been completely removed along with his shoes and socks. The itching had progressed to burning and he couldn't stand for that much clothing to be on him, complaining they were too hot. He had begun to twitch constantly and his skin had a reddish tint to it and his veins looked more purple then blue, which disturbed Madison who was now sitting off to the side wringing her hands anxiously. He had begun to thrash earlier, and he could no longer keep himself from scratching. Afraid he would hurt himself Yue had grabbed hold of his feet and Rage had moved to his head and pinned his wrists to the floor. Love didn't think he had enough strength left to hold down a kitten otherwise he would've helped. Kero kept pacing back and forth on the floor, his face a mask of worry.
Li twitched again and moaned, the sound long, drawn out and tormented. He tried to free himself from the people restraining him, his eyes screwed tightly shut, but he couldn't. Oh, he was burning! Burning…he was being boiled alive!
Rage met Yue's eyes over Li's thrashing and shook his head, a grim look on his face. "It won't be much longer now. Soon, he'll begin to scream."
Madison shook her head vehemently back and forth. "No. No, I can't take much more of this."
Rage shot her a glare. "Oh, you can't. How do you think he feels?" Seeing the stricken look bloom on her face Rage winced slightly. "I didn't mean for that to be as harsh as it was."
Madison smiled, but there were tears glistening in her eyes. "No, it's okay. I said something stupid, I deserved that. It's just, it's hard. I've known Li for so long, and to see him in so much pain…" she shook her head again, "It's just so hard. I wish Sakura was here."
As if the gods had heard and granted her wish Sakura and Clow Reed appeared out of nowhere, suddenly just there. Madison jumped up and cried happily, "Sakura!"
Kero flew straight up into the air and stared at his former master. "Clow Reed." Yue and Rage nearly came up off the floor before they realized there was a reason they were there and sat back down, both extremely tense. Love sat up straight but did not rise.
Sakura rushed over to Li and fell to her knees, her eyes roaming over him with trepidation. "Li."
She looked to Yue and Rage but neither one was looking at her. It was Love who answered, "He doesn't have much time left, but he can still be saved, if you're quick." Sakura nodded her thanks to him and turned to look at Clow Reed begging him with her eyes to hurry.
Clow Reed walked over to Li quickly and knelt down beside Sakura. Looking at her apologetically he said, "I need more room. Would you mind moving a little?"
Scrambling over towards Rage she settled herself beside Li's head. "Sorry." Madison sat down beside her and they gripped each other's hands tightly, feeling once more as if they were in high school and just by touching each other things would get better.
Reaching into his robes Clow Reed retrieved a small vial. Pausing, he looked up and met four pairs of eyes that were staring directly at him rather than Li. He smiled at them all a bit sadly then reached out to prop Li's head up. He unstoppered the vial and poured the green liquid into Li's mouth. Li fought him and Clow had to hold a hand over his mouth to make him swallow. Tossing the vial aside he pushed his sleeves back. Looking once more at the two Guardian Beasts and the two Forgotten he said quietly, "I have so much I would like to say to you all, but there is no time." He smiled brightly at them. "But I am so happy to see you all again, my children. Know that I missed you."
Yue's lavender eyes were glistening with tears and he was smiling a wavering smile. Love's expression was calm and serene and his smile was much more solid. Rage had such a tortured look upon his face it was hard to look upon. He looked as if he wanted to say something so badly but could not bring himself to open his mouth. Kero, however, had no such problem. "Clow Reed! It's been so long! I didn't think I'd ever see you again! How could you leave us? Why…?"
Clow Reed cut him off with a smile. "Oh dear…is that the form my spell took when you were confined? I'm sorry, Kero Beros, I did not know." His expression sobered and he finished with, "I would love to talk with you more Kero Beros, and you Yue, and explain all, but I have very little time."
His two former guardians nodded and Kero managed to settle himself back onto Yue's shoulder, but his little paws clutched at strands of the angel's hair frantically as if he needed something to hold onto.
Clow looked down at Li and let out a long breath. Placing both hands over his heart Clow closed his eyes and began the healing process.
Sakura watched Clow Reed save Li her body tense. It didn't look much different from what she had seen Love do twice except that the light around his hands was a light blue, and not pink. She wondered idly if the colour depended on the person and differed with who used it. He would do it, he would surely save Li. He had to, he was her last hope. He would save him and then everything would be fine; Clow Reed would go back to the past and they'd finish off the rest of the Forgotten. And then maybe, just maybe she'd be able to tell Li how she really felt about him.
The group sat in tense silence for about ten minutes. The only thing that changed was Li's rapid breathing; it seemed to ease a little. But he still twitched convulsively and his skin was still burningly hot. Another five minutes after that Li inhaled so suddenly and deeply that everyone jumped. If everyone hadn't been watching so closely they might not have noticed how the light blue glow was beginning to darken into a purer, deeper blue. But they did. They also noticed the sweat that suddenly broke out on Clow Reed's skin. It started as a mere shine then turned into little droplets that ran in lines down the sorcerers pinched face. Another five minutes after that Li appeared to be breathing normally and he even looked a little better. Clow Reed's breathing however was laboured now and his eyebrows were drawn together in such a fierce frown Sakura wondered if frowning that hard hurt a person's face.
It went on like that for another half hour or so. Li slowly began to look normal again though Clow Reed continued to look as if he was having a difficult time. The blue of his magic was now so dark that it could be mistaken for black though Sakura knew it was still blue.
Suddenly Li went completely limp and his head rolled slightly to the side. Sakura gasped in fear and let go of one of Madison's hands to reach out to see if he still had a pulse, but Clow's voice stopped her. "He is only sleeping." Came his voice, almost too raspy to make out what he was saying.
Rage and Yue slowly let go of Li's hands and feet and Sakura saw that he was indeed breathing evenly as a sleeper would. She could feel tears welling up behind her eyes and try as she might to stop them they seeped out past her rapidly blinking eyelids. Breathing in shakily, her voice cracking, she said, "Thank you. Thank you so much, Clow Reed. I'm so happy, I can't believe he's okay. I'll never…" with tears streaming down her face she looked up at Clow Reed and what she had been about to say next slipped from her mind.
Clow Reed was gazing upon her face with a peaceful expression on his face. There was a smile on his face but it was probably the saddest smile Sakura had ever seen on a person's face. And while his expression was nearly serene his eyes were glassy and unfocused. The way he was slumped into himself seemed to scream boneless to Sakura and he looked so exhausted, so very, very tired. "Clow Reed?" she ventured.
His eyes focused for a moment and he looked into her own eyes. His smile brightened, but now it seemed as if it was for her peace of mind more than anything else. "He'll be fine." He rasped out in that same small voice as before. "I'm glad…" his eyes lost focus again, "glad I could…save him." And then his eyes closed and he began to fall.
Giving an exclamation of surprise Sakura lunged forward at the same time Yue and Rage lunged for the sorcerer, but she was closer and she managed to catch him before he hit the floor. Love scrambled out from the other side of Li and ran to him as Kero flew anxiously above his head. Everyone crowded around in a circle as Sakura sank to the ground with Clow Reed in her arms.
"What's the matter?"
"Is he alright?"
"Is he injured?"
Love pushed Rage and Yue out of the way and laid his hand upon Clow Reed's chest. After a moment he snatched his hand back as if burned and clutched it to his own chest. "What! What is it! Love, what's the matter with him!" Rage demanded grabbing the shocked cards shoulders and shaking him. Love looked at him with wide eyes and shook his head.
Sakura had a sudden, horrible thought. Making sure his head was secure on her lap she used both hands to rip open the front of Clow Reed's robes and gasped in horror. She dimly heard Madison say faintly, "What…?" and she heard Kero gasp by her ear as well.
Clow Reed's entire chest and most of his stomach looked as if it was being slowly eaten away by acid. The black markings were moving up his neck and creeping down his arms like some slithering snake trying to bind him and crush him to death. She heard someone repeat Madison'd earlier question but didn't know who it was.
Clow Reed's eyes opened and he blinked once, twice, then managed to focus his eyes and looked around at everyone. He tried to smile reassuringly at everyone, but the smile turned into a wince. Looking back at all the worried faces, only two of them knowing what was happening, Clow Reed cleared his throat and managed, "I'm being eaten alive by the poison. I'm dying."
"No!" Kero exclaimed at the same moment Yue said, "There must be something that can be done."
Clow Reed shook his head. He could feel his energy leaving his body; it was becoming difficult to keep his eyes open. "There is nothing that can be done. It has progressed beyond anything that can be cured. There is too much poison coursing through my body to be removed. It is too late."
"It can't be." Rage whispered, his eyes fierce. "Not when I finally…get to see you again. You healed me before, and you were fine. Why? This must be a lie. It isn't true. It can't be."
Clow Reed smiled a small smile. "I was not, in actuality, fine after healing you the first time. The poison had eaten away at me a little even then." Kero and Yue made sounds of surprise and denial. How could they not have known, they wondered. "At the time Betrayel, all of you, were less than you are now. Even then you were all strong, but now…now, you are stronger. I could not…could not destroy it this time. I am dying." His eyes closed again against his will.
Rage's fist slammed into the floor. He yelled out his pain for all to hear and slammed his fist into the floor again leaving bloody imprints this time. "No! This isn't right! This isn't how it's supposed to be!"
Clow Reed chuckled, but the laugh turned into a hacking cough that racked his lungs. Sakura saw blood speckle his lips and she began to tremble. Clow Reed opened his eyes again and looked at the two Forgotten who were both kneeling side by side, one gripping his arms around himself so tightly it would probably leave bruises and the other with his arms hanging limping by his side, the one leaving a bloody trail along the floor. "You two…I was always so proud of you. You showed the most potential to be human than any of the others did. I always regarded you fondly, my students, my children."
Making a choked sound, Rage exclaimed, "I'm so sorry! I'm sorry, Master! I doubted you, I hated you for so long after I was imprisoned! I wanted revenge, I wanted you to pay. I thought you had betrayed me. I never should have doubted you! I should have known, known you never would have done that. I am ashamed, ashamed that I so readily thought so lowly of you! I'm sorry. Sorrysorrysorry…"
Rage trailed off as he felt a warm hand on his clenched fist on the floor. Clow Reed was looking up at him with a fierce expression, tears leaking from his eyes. "I am so sorry Rage, Love. I couldn't save you. I tried, god damnit, I tried. I couldn't find a way to separate you all in the spell; couldn't find a way to keep you. But I had to save everyone, I had to lock them away to save humanity. I tried to find a way to release you, but I failed. I couldn't save you, I'm sorry."
Rage hesitantly took hold of the sorcerer's hand, but once he had it he gripped it firmly. There were tears in his eyes but they did not fall, held captive by sheer force of will. "Do not be sorry. You did the right thing. You have nothing to apologize for. You saved everyone. I forgive you. I forgive you."
Clow's gaze moved to Love who looked lost and abandoned. Love gave him a shaky smile and shook his head. "I forgive you. How could I not?"
Clow Reed smiled at that. "Be true to yourself, Love, no matter what happens. You will be happy eventually, I know you will. Listen to your heart." Love's eyes closed and he hunched in on himself even more.
The sorcerer's eyes moved to Kero and Yue next. He reached out his other hand for Yue who quickly took it, openly crying, crystalline tears making his eyes beautiful. Kero flew into Yue's lap. "And I'm sorry to you as well, my friends."
"Why didn't you tell us why you were leaving!" Kero demanded angrily, but there were tears coursing down his cheeks as well.
Clow chuckled softly. "Would you have let me go had I told you I was going to die?"
"No!" Kero yelled, a surprising burst of volume. "That's the whole point!"
"I had to come here, Kero Beros. If I had not, this fight might truly be lost. I am sorry that I left you. I hope you can one day forgive me for abandoning you. I will cherish the two of you always, even after death."
"Don't leave us again, Master." Yue begged quietly. "You're here now, don't go. Please. I don't think I can…"
With much effort Clow managed to lift his hand enough to cup the side of Yue's face and the grief-stricken angel closed his eyes. "You don't need me anymore, Yue. You're all grown up now, you don't need me. You have a new master now, and your own life to lead. Stand up and walk. I'll always be watching over you, no matter where I end up in the end."
Finally Clow Reed let his head rest back and looked up into Sakura's liquid green eyes. "Have faith in your abilities, Sakura. You are far more talented than you know, and stronger than me." Sakura shook her head in protest but Clow cut her protest off. "No, it is true. Your potential for greatness is astonishing. You only have to believe in yourself. You can do it Sakura, you can seal the rest of my children."
Wincing, Clow Reed shut his eyes again momentarily before blinking them back open again by sheer force of will alone. "And, I want you to know, that I'm sorry. For trying to keep you from taking me back with you, for trying to avoid what I know I needed to do." The coughing started up again and this time the blood flowed freely down his chin. Smiling up at the fresh tears coursing down her distraught face his eyes began to lose their bright glimmer. "I think…I think I was afraid to die. After living so long you'd think…I'm afraid." He whispered as the light went out in his eyes.
Clow Reed was dead.
To be continued…