This is officially the last chapter of this story. It is also officially the longest chapter I have ever written. I'm actually a little never about it (okay, I'm really nervous) because I'm just not sure how well it will be received. I tried my best to tie up all the lose ends, but at the same time there are little plot holes I left open for anyone looking for a sequel of some sort- or even a prequel. Gah! I just put so much pressure on myself; I made the story too good, now I have to make a good epilogue, too!? I might as well have an aneurysm while I'm at it!!!!!! Please! Please, oh mighty readers do not scorn me! I have tried very, very, very, very hard to make this last chapter good!
I want to thank all the reviewers from the last chapter. Every review I got made my heart flutter a little bit. I want you all to know from the bottom of my heart that the few kind words you gave me made my day:
I LOVE YOU ALL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
And now, the moment you have all been waiting for! The last chapter of Links in a Chain! The epilogue! OMG! Please enjoy!
Links in a Chain
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Normalcy did not return to Tomoeda right away. It trickled in slowly, assuming normalcy in such a discreet manner that no one really noticed when it happened.
It actually took a few weeks for every evacuated citizen to make their ways back to their homes, not one person having the slightest clue why they were half way across Japan (or farther) in the first place. Everyone was finding that they suddenly had a huge memory gap in place of what had happened over the last few days, thanks to Life and Death's last gift of the forgetting rain. Though, the memory loss did cause a slight stir of panic to pass through the mundanes. Eventually though, with the help of well placed humans and disguised spirits who were higher-ups in the media, a subtle explanation filtered out to the people and slowly filled the gaps; "it was an outbreak of some mysterious strain of chicken pox," they were told. "The inhabitants of Tomoeda were evacuated for their own protection" and now that the town was clear, everyone was safe to return to their homes.
Thankful for some sort of explanation, the people took to the story easily and accepted it as fact quickly.
Those who lived beyond Tomoeda, in the larger cities of Tokyo and Hong Kong, even as far as London and Washington, found that their memories of the last couple of days were gone as well, erased of the nightmarish rioting that had plagued the streets for days. Similar excuses of "mysterious amnesiac viruses" had to be delivered to the masses in place of the erased memories. The spirits and sorcerers that had been caught up on the wrong side of the rioting were happy, albeit a tad bit nervous, to be able to return to their homes and not have to utter a word of what really happened.
Luckily, most mundanes accepted the stories of viruses and such as fact very easily. Although, some minor skirmishes broke out here and there due to underground extremist groups believing that the stories were some sort of government cover up to the "supposed" mass testing of an amnesic drug that had been put into the water. Of course, the extremists were dealt with quickly through the combined efforts of various governing magical Clans and allying spirits: the mundanes' memories were swiftly erased again and given a new story to believe. They took to the second story easier.
And, along side the mundanes piecing themselves back together, the magical community as well was slowly getting back on its feet. Every major magical family, and the subsequent magical groups and governments in place to keep order, were out up to their elbows helping with the chaos of dealing with piecing back together the damaged relations between the magical and mundane communities, as well as helping the magical victims of the riots. Everyone was put on high alert for any sign that an anti-human organization was looking for retaliation. Nothing ever came of the threat though.
Thanks to the forgetting rain, no mundane had any memory of any magical goings on; but, unfortunately, the spirits and sorcerers that had been hunted and terrorized for the days that the rioting went on… they unfortunately were able to remember everything; every moment of terror, every detail of their mundane friends suddenly turning on them. They were stuck with the memories of watching the Tomoeda take-over on TV and suddenly finding that their door was being kicked in and mundanes spilling into their homes. People who used to be their friends now becoming a mobbing wave that ripped through houses in search of all things magical. A majority of spirits and sorcerers were able to take refuge in special magical rooms, pocket dimensions; places where mundanes could not reach.
But for those who had been unlucky…
Life and Death had healed any and all physical wounds that had been wrought from the rioting. A light touch, a breath of air, a gentle kiss, and they repaired whatever injury there was. But emotionally, they were unable to help anyone.
Distrust between mundane and magical now ran at an all time high, beating the previous record set during the Salem witch trials. Relations were strained, at best. It would probably be years before the trauma victims of the riots were able to trust a mundane again. Sadly, even those who had been unaffected saw how easily mundanes had turned and were now withdrawing from mundane towns and cities. The Clans and such were doing all they could to assure the denizens of magic that they were still safe among humans, but the assurances meant little to the exodus of creatures making their way back to the safety of the Spirit World.
Pockets of spirits still retained their trust in mortals. Small town residents were comfortable enough to stay where they were. Tomoeda spirits and those of surrounding areas, in fact, had never felt safer. Knowing that they were in close proximity to the two sorcerers who had taken on an essence and defeated it, and then went on to free Life and Death, two of the most powerful and infamous creatures in the world, did wonders to assuage any creature's fears.
But, even through all the chaos, and despite life returning to a hesitant normal, not everything was completely back to the way it had been. There was a new element to air now, making it taste sweeter, purer. Every breath was livelier. There was a new vividness to the colours, even. Grass looked greener, the sky bluer, and the single rainbow that had appeared after a short spring shower appeared in such bright vividness that it stole everyone's breath away. Some people vaguely noticed how everything felt a little cleaner as well, as if someone or something had done a whole scrub down of the entire planet.
Things were definitely… different. But, it was different in a way that no one could explain.And it wasn't just magic users taking notice either; mundanes could sense the strange shift in the air. They were aware of it, but at a loss to describe what it was; it was just a feeling in the air.
Eriol offered the explanation that it was Life and Death's return to their natural states, the 'cosmic balance' being put back into order, that everyone was feeling in the air. No one had been alive before the balance was upset, so all living things had grown accustomed to living under the cursed conditions, and it wasn't until things were fixed that one could tell the difference. So, the magical community simply accepted that as the explanation.
Not to mention, the resurrection of a select number of spirits.
The newly created spirits Nightmare, Lost, Sorrow, Illness, Seduce, Fear, and Pain astounded everyone by their miraculous regaining of their previous incarnations' memories. By some form of magic, or perhaps a miracle, the memories that had once belonged to the original seven spirits had been preserved within Nightmare's robe, Lost's circlet, Sorrow and Illness's flowers, Seduce's obi rope, Fear's banners, and Pain's whip, allowing the new spirits to "reclaim" the memories as soon as they reclaimed their item.
Although, some confusion arose when Sorrow and Illness thought it would be funny to give Nightmare Pain's whip and to give Pain Nightmare's robe, thus transferring the respective memories to the wrong spirit. As hilarious as it was for them, it nearly caused Nightmare to have an aneurism, but it was eventually sorted out with a simple switch of the items. Luckily, there appeared to be no adverse effects from the mix up.
Even better was the fact that there appeared to be no degradation of the spirits' bodies, even though it was Sakura and Syaoran's first attempt at creating spirits. Though not Clow Reed masterpiece, the spirits' new bodies were fine works of magic and as stable as they could be. There didn't appear to be any adverse effects to the transferring of memories to the new bodies, and there most definitely didn't look to be any problems with the spirits assuming their roles as Sakura Cards, shifting to that form easily and able to be summoned with no trouble.
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Of course, relationship wise, things couldn't have been better. For the most part, Sakura and Syaoran were free to pursue their newfound relationship. And pursue they did, but not in the conventional sense. Sure, they tested the waters with each other by holding hands in public and walking with each other in the evenings when the dusk was warm and the sky was clear, sharing chaste kisses sometimes… and then other times kissing with a passion that would rival the heat of the sun. Those were all normal things that any two people in love would do.
But they weren't normal, not in the least; they were bonded by their auras, and they wanted to explore that too with each other.
Carefully at first, they began to see what they were capable of with each other. Nothing so intimate as mind reading, but to a lesser degree they could feel each other's presence if they concentrated. Emotions came vaguely. If Sakura were upset about something, Syaoran would know to some degree, and vice versa; as well as the much more intimate access to each other through the astral touching that their connected auras offered. That particular exploration was enjoyable for the most part, but kept as appropriate as possible for the two shy teens. They weren't ready to take it to that level just yet. There appeared to be no true downside to the bond, other than there was no tuning it out, so they were constantly aware of each other.
After a small bit of hesitation at first, Syaoran even opened his Weapons Room to Sakura, demonstrating his sheer trust in her. She had taken the invitation happily, squeaking with delight when Syaoran summoned the door to the Weapons Room through his closet door, the plain wooden door suddenly transforming into a highly polished door of brass inlaid with amazingly detailed wrought iron vines. Beyond the door laid a room that was squarer than Eriol's Looking Room, the ceiling not as high, but very much brighter and far less mysterious. Large, square windows allowed for light to flood in, and despite there being no open doors or windows, a cool breeze seemed able to worm itself continually around the room.
It was very straightforward, organized; along the walls, an array of weapons were hung, some man made, and some so obviously fantastical that it was hard to imagine how any creature could wield it. All of them were polished and well kept. A single, large shelf, opposite of the doorway, laid heavy with collected old scrolls and ancient tomes. Around the edges of the room, a myriad of different armour, as well as traditional clothing passed down through his family, was laid out on mannequins. Amongst that was different sorts of equipment that he would most likely have trained with as a child, and probably still trained with as an adult. The center of the room was completely empty, save for a blue sparring mat. It was obvious that the worn mat had been used often, whether by him or a visiting spirit.
There were a few odd knick-knacks here and there, too; a picture of Sakura and him, a letter from his sisters; small things that held sentimental value, but most of what was gathered in the Weapons Room was devoted to training and such.
Sakura delighted in it all. She loved the weapons, learning the names, learning the enchantments of some, the uses of others. She especially adored the faerie wrought sword of crystal, left behind years ago by a sprite who had used the room for training and left the sword as payment. She loved how light it felt in her hands, and the way light played off the blade and set the room ablaze with rainbows. She loved his Weapons Room more than she had been enchanted with Eriol's Looking Room.
She enjoyed Syaoran's room so much that she begged him to help her form a room of her own. With a bit of Eriol's help in creating the extra pocket dimension, soon a tiny little room was set up for Sakura to work with. It wasn't too big to begin with, only the size of a small walk in closet, but Syaoran assured her that it would grow over time. Eventually, it was named the Star Room, after the smattering of intricately painted stars that had appeared on the walls and ceiling of her room shortly after she had first entered. Golden lines formed constellations to connect some of them, and if one were to stand still long enough staring, they would be able to catch the slow movement of the stars over the walls as if they were staring up at the real night sky.
There was a single window in the room, obscured by a heavy curtain so that the light offered from the magical painted stars glowed throughout the room with a soft, silvery presence. A tiny shelf hung on one wall, where Sakura chose to place the book that held her Sakura Cards, and place a few other objects. Lost was the first spirit to visit the room, and as his gift he proudly left a pair of mismatched, forgotten socks next to the Sakura book. He was quickly followed by the guardians and then the other spirits, all of whom crowded into the room eagerly, intent on leaving a gift for the mistress.
All of this new "bonding" time that Sakura and Syaoran were sharing was quickly becoming an annoyance to both Kero and Toya, who had become quite the duo when it came to picking on Syaoran. Much to the displeasure of both of them, Syaoran was now a very frequent visitor of the Kinomoto residence. He was over in the mornings occasionally, sometimes for lunch, and most often late into the evening, not that Fujitaka minded a bit. But to Toya and Kero's ultimate disgust, Sakura was actually spending an equal amount of time, if not more, at Syaoran's apartment. With Syaoran. Alone.
The possibilities seemed endless for whatever a miscreant like Syaoran could do to someone as innocent and pure as Sakura!
So, Toya was forced to do something drastic- like make a deal with Eriol to insure that Sakura and Syaoran never went out alone together. Every time the poor couple tried to stow away on a date, they'd suddenly found that Eriol and Tomoyo were on a date at the same place, at the same time, as well. Sakura being Sakura, she didn't have the heart to decline their offer of a double date, so Syaoran was forced to double date with a smirking Hiiragisawa.
But, unlike Sakura and Syaoran, Eriol and Tomoyo were far more open with their relationship. Despite the qualms that Tomoyo had had in the beginning, questioning if she even loved the reincarnated sorcerer, she now wholeheartedly believed in the concept of love. And Eriol was absolutely not shy in showing his adoration of Tomoyo, even if he did stretch the boundaries of what was normal and what was over the top; for instance, filling her room with magical violets while she slept, that was a little over the top- and quite a feat to explain to Sonomi how those flowers got there.
In public, they bothered not with being shy. Instead, they had to mind themselves to make sure they didn't indulge a little too much for the sake of propriety. Sakura and Syaoran could content themselves with hand holding in a crowded restaurant, maybe even dare a chaste kiss or two, but with so many eyes around to catch them, they kept an appropriate distance between their lips. A distance that their double date companions did not adhere to; to be honest, it could get down right embarrassing being out on a date with the couple. But, judging by how happy they were with each other, no one would have it any other way.
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Part way through May, when the schools were finally reopened for Tomoeda students, Tomoeda High School students and staff alike were treated to quite the show when Sakura and Syaoran entered the building holding hands. Holding hands! In a non-friendship sort of way; like a going out sort of way!
Sure, they sported the expected red flushes of embarrassment, and they couldn't quite meet anyone else's eyes, but the fact that they were holding hands in public, and that Syaoran even chose to lay a soft (and very embarrassed) kiss on Sakura's cheek before class started made the facts inconsequential. That simple act of holding hands announced something grand and amazing to everyone present; finally, after years of waiting and watching, secretly betting and scheming behind their backs, Sakura and Syaoran- probably the two most clueless teens to ever attend Tomoeda high school- came out as an official couple.
There very nearly was a party. Nearly. If it hadn't been so short notice.
Instead, Eriol convinced the marching band to play "Joy to the World" at lunch.
Tomoyo recorded it.
She also got to record Syaoran bounding out from the bleachers to chase Eriol down to get him to stop the band from playing. Luckily, for Eriol at least, he managed to evade all of Syaoran's grabs. Unfortunately, when Syaoran failed to apprehend Eriol, he went after the marching band instead, scattering the poor musicians quickly to the four corners of the school. Sakura could only stare on in embarrassment from where she was hiding behind Tomoyo. Was it really such a big deal now that she and Syaoran were together, officially?
The next day, a fine picture of them eating lunch together under the trees was presented on the first page of the school newspaper, mainly meant as a joke for everyone. As it turned out, that edition sold so many copies that day that it set a new school record. Not to mention embarrass the hell out of the couple. And get Tomoyo, who had submitted the photo, an honourable mention in the next school paper.
As pay back for the huge embarrassments that both Eriol and Tomoyo had so graciously bestowed on them, Syaoran so kindly let it slip that Tomoyo and Eriol were now together as well. It wasn't the outing that embarrassed them though, it was the friends that flocked to them after to say "finally!" and "I saw it coming from a mile away!" It was enough for Syaoran to feel pretty smug again. Not to mention how particularly proud he was when Sakura snuck Tomoyo's camera away from her to film her friends' being teased and prodded. It was fun being behind the camera for once instead of in front of it, even if it was only for a few minutes.
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What turned out to be even harder than avoiding all the happy students and staff bent on congratulating both new couples, was trying to avoid the various spirits and sorcerers now coming out of the wood work bent on thanking the sorcerers for taking on Evil and saving the world. Those who weren't cowering from mundanes were suddenly coming out of nowhere. There were high school students that Sakura had never even spoken to who were suddenly dragging her aside and spouting horns and wings and insisting on thanking her profusely for saving them and their town by showering her in flowers and jewels and whatever else they could conjure. Even one of the teachers turned out to be a sorcerer who granted her a bouquet of conjured sky blue roses as thanks, and a few teaching assistants popped out of nowhere and turned out to be either spirit or sorcerer, wishing desperately to gift the sorceress with something to show their thanks.
At the end of one particular day, Syaoran came home to the ultimate surprise of finding out that several nymphs who lived in the area had gotten together and covered his entire apartment in peonies as thanks. He also found a number of spirits had chosen to leave messages, or gifts, or both with Nightmare, Seduce, or Fear. Pain had taken refuge in Syaoran's Weapons Room, thoroughly scaring away any other spirit who thought they could leave a gift in there for Syaoran. It didn't stop them though, from getting into Sakura's Star Room and filling that instead.
Several days passed with no end in sight for the steady stream of gifts coming in from the magical community. It got so bad that Sakura's entire basement, and several other rooms in her house, were filled with exotic flowers, treasure chests full of rare jewels and intricately made jewellery, and special magical trinkets made just for her and Syaoran. Lost had accidentally gotten lost in the basement full of flowers when Sorrow and Illness had thought it was a good idea to play hide and seek with him, and then threw him in the basement. It took two whole hours to dig the poor boy out.
There were even some heartfelt gifts given to show the spirits' and sorcerers' condolences upon the magical community's loss of two of the most prominent magical creatures of their world. At the new lake that had been formed from the crater left behind after the battle, Sakura erected four white marble pillars from the center with the help of Earthy to honour Life, Death, Miaka, and Dren. Even though their names had been carved into the pillars, the magic that erased them from the world was still in place and so minutes later the pillars were left blank. Nymphs strung garlands of weaved pond grass on the monumental pillars, and there were a number of creatures that left flowers floating in the lake. Some who had known the immortals left hash browns as a testament to them, and others left bottles of sake. Sometime near the end of the month, Dr Hinomori from the hospital that that Sorrow and Illness had tormented (chapter 21), showed up at the pillars and left a small fruit basket.
When June eventually rolled around and the flow of "thank you" gifts still did not halt, Syaoran was forced to take up his authority as a Li Clan member and pointedly tell a number of graciously thankful magic-users that he and Sakura had received as much thanks as they could possibly handle, and that if anyone still wanted to give a gift Hiiragisawa Eriol would be more than willing to house all the gifts. It was much quieter for everyone as soon as all the gifts had been rerouted to the other sorcerer's. Though, Eriol did leave a pointedly annoyed message on Syaoran's answering machine warning him to pick up the damned gifts before he burnt the lot of them and sent the ashes to him instead.
After that, though, the last few weeks of school slipped by almost too quietly. Classes were suddenly a haze. Exams went by as if they never happened. Everything slipped into a monotonous drone; it became too normal. Days felt as if they slipped by without even living them fully. It felt dull now. Strange and foreign, yet the familiar drone of school held a comforting order to it that lulled them into a dazed form of relaxation.
Graduation came too soon. It loomed over everyone as a terrifyingly real and alien thing. After so many weeks of being under the constant threat of attack and fighting demons endlessly, it seemed impossible that something so normal as "graduation" could exist. But, it did. The date creeping up relentlessly, stalling for no one; a frightening prospect that seemed to over take them before they could even comprehend what was happening.
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Nervous energy thrummed through the shifting rows of students, all clad in their graduation robes, many of them craning their necks to catch a peek at their parents in the crowd. Speeches were being said, but few were really listening. The only important thing to be listening for now was your name being called, and even after that, the only important thing to do was not trip on your way to receive your diploma. Some students were whispering amongst themselves, hoping a teacher would screw up their speech and say something funny instead.
Sakura sat up a little straighter in her seat to see over the head of the boy in front of her. She could just barely make out her dad and brother near the middle of the seats. Along the fringes of the audience, Sonomi had set up an army's worth of a camera crew to capture every moment of the big day, though she herself was sitting next to Fujitaka, glaring at his disposable camera. Squinting a little, the sorceress was just barely able to make out a small group of people standing off to the side at the back of the audience. They waved to her when they caught her looking. Done up in the best illusions their masters could conjure, the seven Sakura Spirits were looking quite fine, and quite human- although Nightmare, Pain, and Sorrow's unnatural hair colours did raise a few eyebrows.
And finally, when the audience, as well as the students, were beginning to fall asleep, the long-winded principal started calling the graduates to come up.
There was barely any time to register that any time went by before it was over. A small, fragile piece of paper was clutched carefully in the hands of students as a vast roar rose up from the ranks and a cheer for the graduates rang out. Soon, there was a mass exodus of the stage as people sought their parents, friends, and old teachers, looking for recognition or congratulations. Sakura was met with an abundance of both when first her father, brother, and Kero crowded in to hug, and then when her Sakura spirits had managed to fight their way through the crowd to congratulate her and Syaoran.
Eventually, Sakura was able to extricate herself from the tangle and sneak away, leaving Syaoran to deal with the excitement.
Beneath the outstretched branches of a shady tree on the front lawn of the high school she had just graduated from, Sakura stared in disbelief at the small roll of paper that was held so gently in her hands. Her hands were still shaking from the few seconds it had taken to get up and walk across the stage to receive her diploma. The blue ribbon tied around the paper was smooth and cool beneath her fingers, the paper dry and sparse. It felt like if she were to hold it any harder than she was it would crumble into dust. It didn't feel real to her. Just like the reality she was living in now didn't feel real to her.
She laid her head back against the rough bark of the tree, not caring how it caught her hair and tangled it. She was hiding from everyone now, though she knew it wouldn't be long before Syaoran found her, or even her overly zealous spirits sensed her and came running. The few minutes laying in the shade, giving refuge from the hot June sun, allowed for her to settle her thoughts and breathe freely for a few moments.
It felt as if it were only her that was still suspicious of anything happening still. It had been nearly two months since Evil's defeat, and still she felt as if there were creatures still lurking in wait, watching from the shadows, stalking her relentlessly. At first, she voiced her concerns to the others, and they listened politely before dismissing the thoughts by simply saying that everything had been dealt with and there was no more to do. Life and Death had done away with everything before they left. Everything was fine now. She was simply imagining things.
Not even Syaoran believed her, which surprised her greatly. Sure, he still listened intently to her, but every time she sought reassurance from him he would repeat the same words he had said to her the day Evil had been destroyed, "It's over, Sakura. He's finished. We're done now; there's no more." Even at the time he had said them, the words had felt hollow and hardly reassuring. Now, after time had passed and she had had time to dwell on her thoughts, the words were even less convincing than ever.
There had to be more. She could feel it. Something just wasn't right, either with her or the rest of the world. Perhaps both… Something inside of her pressed incessantly at her conscious, hissing to let it go, to drop her ridiculous thoughts. But she couldn't.
Tapping her diploma against her chin gently, Sakura closed her eyes and sighed. "Something just feels out of place," she muttered to herself. But she couldn't quite put her finger on why she felt that something was amiss; it wasn't as if she had any good reason for still being unsettled. Her friends had seen to it that she had every reassurance there was that everything was over; she had been shown the shell that remained of Evil, she had taken tours of the restored Tomoeda, she had listened to all the desperately reassuring words that her friends told her, but still… a piece of her was still holding on to the danger. It was twittering feeling in the pit of her stomach, telling her to be on guard, that something was out there, even though common sense was telling her that she was being ridiculous.
She slumped forward, laying her forehead against her knees and hugging her legs to her chest. "I suppose I'll never find out what's wrong… missing," she muttered, resigning herself to just hanging on to the anxiousness because she could not let go.
"If something's missing… maybe I can find it for you," a small voice spoke up from her side.
Startled, Sakura jumped a bit and turned her head to the small boy sitting to her right. Lost looked back at her with bright eyes, his spirit-nature disguised under a human guise that made his pointed ears less prominent and subdued the light blue glow to his skin. He was dressed in his green overalls and wearing a crown of weaved dandy lions, made undoubtedly by Sorrow and Illness.
"How long have you been there, Lost?" she asked.
Lost scrunched his face up cutely, placing a small finger to his lips and shushing her quietly. "Miss Sakura, what if someone hears you!" he reprimanded with exaggerated scolding in his voice. "I'm Shieng around mundanes, remember?"
She laughed lightly. "Right, my mistake. I'm sorry, Lo- Shieng," she replied. "But, how long have you been there?"
The boy shrugged, scooting closer to his mistress to lean against her side. "Since you got here," he said quietly. "You wanted to get away from the others. I knew you wanted to be lost." He looked up at her, sunlight catching in his eyes and making her wonder if he still had his illusion on. There was a certain shimmer about him that was unnatural to a "human". "I could sense it." He whispered.
Sakura let her fingers fall to the boy's soft hair, running through the silky tresses slowly. "You did?"
"Uh-huh, so I made you lost," he replied, his little hands coming up to grip the fabric of her graduation robe. "They won't be able to find you for a while, not until I let them."
Gratitude for the spirit's thoughtful gesture flooded the sorceress. She leaned down and placed a gentle kiss to the boy's cheek. "Thank you, Shieng." Lost nodded against her side, sighing contentedly as Sakura scratched his back through his overalls, relieving the annoying itch that wearing a human illusion always gave him. They sat like that for a long while, enjoying the silence and the shade before Lost spoke up again.
"Why do you think something's wrong, Miss Sakura?" he asked. "I can't sense anything lost around you…"
Taken aback by the question, Sakura had to pause for a second before she realized what he was asking about. "I don't know, Shieng," she replied softly. "I think, maybe…something could be wrong with me… Everyone tells me that it is all over, but something in my chest- my heart- tells me that- that there is something more out there. This isn't the end."
Unlike the adults who had simply smiled politely and denied her claims subtly, Lost nodded softly. "I believe you, Miss Sakura."
Surprised and curious, the sorceress stared down at the little boy. "You do?" she wondered.
He nodded again. "If you say that the battle isn't over, then it isn't over." He replied, speaking softly. His voice sounded uncommonly mature for the small boy- perhaps a holdover from his time in an adult body? He looked up to his mistress with a small shrug. "Not me or Nightmare or Pain or Seduce can say if the battle is over- that's not for us to say. It is only over when you or Syaoran tell us that it is over." He paused to smile up at her, probably to reassure her. "As long as you say there is still a fight, Miss Sakura, then we will all be ready to fight."
"Lost…" Sakura sighed, saying his name low enough so that no one nearby would hear. She didn't know if his words made her feel better or not. On one hand, it meant that she had seven people who would believe her and back her up when she told others that things didn't feel right… but on the other hand, if it was just her feeling insecure about things, it would only mean that she was dragging them down with her.
After a second, he pushed himself away from her side and crawled around to her front so he could face her, and then took her face in his small hands and just stared up at her with big blue eyes. "Can I tell you a story, Miss Sakura?" he asked.
Slowly, she nodded her consent, placing her hands over his small ones and pressing his soft palms to her cheeks.
He bit his bottom lip, trying to think of the right words. "…A long time ago, years and years and years ago, before anyone was a demon, Mistress Life used tell me and Sorrow and Illness stories when Nightmare was too busy looking after the others. She once told us a story of powerful sorcerer who, throughout his entire life, lived one adventure after another, until the day he died. At first, he didn't look for the challenges, they just came to him because he was strong, and problems only arise to test ones strength. But, soon, he became so consumed with the constant adventures that he could no longer be content with sitting still, so he made his own adventures instead. He created problems to be fixed and challenges to be dealt with… He did that until the day he died…" His voice trialed off, blue eyes wandering down to the ground as he pulled his hands away. "Master Death told us after that that was the fate Clow Reed had sealed himself to, always taking on grander plans until he- well- he…" his eyes peered up into her shining emerald eyes. "Maybe you're like the story, Miss Sakura, maybe all you're doing is waiting for the next challenge to come."
A soft huff of a laugh escaped her mouth. "Or maybe I'm just making challenges for myself…"
Lost leaned in to hug his mistress. "…I can't say," he whispered, hugging her tighter.
A half smile crept across her lips. "Neither can I,' she whispered back. "But thanks for cheering me up."
"You're welcome," he replied, a sincere smile breaking his face brightly. "Are you good to come with me now? I know Mr Syaoran and the others are looking for you. They are worried."
"I'm fine now. Take me to the others." She allowed her hand to be taken in the warm grasp of Lost's and tugged back into the throng of near-by students and parents. Never once seeming lost in the crowd of towering people, Lost easily slipped passed the legs of men and women, tugging his mistress after him until he came upon a pair of preteen twins, one blond the other lavender haired, dressed in identical sun dresses of the respective colours of yellow and lavender. With one look at Lost and Sakura, they bounded over joyously and wrapped their skinny arms tightly around the pair.
"We found you!" "We found you!" They chanted happily. "Syaoran has been very, very, very worried!" "He ordered all of us to look and look and look but-," "-we couldn't find…" They joined hands around Sakura and Lost and danced in a dizzying circle. "But now we found you!" "We found you!" "We found you!" "We found you!" "We found you!" "We found you!"
Their high-pitched voices were beginning to draw a couple of amused onlookers, as well as begin to make Sakura a bit dizzy.
"Su-yin-! Su-yang-!" Sakura called out, not sure which spirit had taken which name. They were spinning too fast around to tell if they even heard her say anything. She closed her eyes against the spinning and shouted a little louder. "Su-yin! Su-yang! Could you please slow down-!"
There was a flash of pumpkin orange through the crowd as Pain emerged from the fringes, his wild hair shining flame bright in the sun. He looked his normal, apathetic self, only devoid of his usual adornment of horns and jutting spikes, the orange-ness of his skin muted to a golden tan and the feline touch to his eyes toned down. He still looked intimidating though, clad in an illusion of ripped jeans, dark t-shirt, and black leather jacket. Sorrow and Illness froze when they saw him approach, and then scattered fearfully when he sent them a warning glare. Nodding once to Sakura and Lost, who returned with nods of thanks, Pain turned back to the crowd and sent up a near invisible orange flare, and then slipped away again.
Soon after, Syaoran pressed through the crowd, panting and with his graduation robe slung over his shoulder- the slacks and button-up he had been wearing underneath looking slightly dishevelled. Nightmare followed quickly, looking particularly frazzled with his curly hair sticking up and the black tie he had been illusioned to wear over a dark blue work shirt dangling untied from his neck. They both sighed in relief when they caught sight of Sakura and Lost.
Seduce, with a small white ferret Fear draped around her neck, walked up from behind them, appearing far more collected than the boys, but just as relieved. She looked quite elegant with her hair drawn back in a braid, her kimono replaced by a stylish red shirt and a pair of tight black pants. With a nod from Syaoran, she flicked her hands in the air, coaxing the bemused onlookers away with her magic.
"Where have you been?" Syaoran asked, his voice a little higher than normal. Sakura turned to him, a little surprised, and saw that he had gone a little pale underneath his tan. "We've been looking for you. I- I could sense you near by, but not where-."
Sakura coloured a bit from his concern, but silenced him with a quick peck on the lips. "I was just off, thinking," She explained softly. "Lost was with me." Lost, who had only a short moment to smile up at Syaoran, was suddenly grabbed by the back of his overalls and hauled up to eye level by Nightmare.
"Pip-squeak!" The nightmare spirit hissed angrily, but the anger in his voice was not enough to cover the relief he felt at finally finding the small spirit. "Do you have any idea how worried I was about you?!"
"Uh-." Before the boy could say anything, he was caught off by the bigger spirit's rant. "You know better than that! It was irresponsible to use your powers here- what if there'd been an emergency? Huh? What if one of our illusions malfunctioned and we needed Miss Sakura to reset it-!"
"Mr Syaoran could have-."
"That's not the point! The point is, we've been looking all over for Miss Sakura! I've been looking everywhere for you. You shouldn't use your powers like that without telling anyone! For all I knew, you could have gotten stepped on, or trapped under a table, or worse-! You should have told me where you were going-! Or you should have told Syaoran-! Anyone-!"
Lost whined and clapped his little hands over Nightmare's mouth, first muffling the older spirit, and then silencing him. "Feishing," he whined, stressing the name liberally. "Don't be such a big jerk, I was only with Miss Sakura! Nothing bad happened! I didn't lose her! I didn't get stepped on! Nobody's hurt! You're just being a worry-wart!"
Nightmare jerked his head back and opened his mouth to retort, but was cut off when Syaoran plucked Lost from Nightmare's grasp.
"Shieng has a point," he said soothingly. "You and I shouldn't have gotten so worried over not being able to find him and Sakura. We're in a public place full of mundanes, after all, no magic-user would try anything big here." Syaoran set Lost down with a pat on the head. He then turned to Sakura and leaned in close, looking to her eyes sincerely. "Sorry I went a little over board, but you worried me when you went off the map."
Sakura giggle a bit. "I think it's cute that you were worried," she said, tapping her diploma against his chest. Syaoran coloured a little in the face. "It shows that you care… a little too much."
Instantly, Syaoran melted into her, taking hold of the hand holding her diploma and drawing her closer. "Shall I show you how much I care," he asked in a low, sensual voice.
A shiver of delight ran down Sakura's spine. "We're in pub-!" He kissed the objections from her mouth, smoothing his warm lips over hers, stealing her breath away. On their own accord, her arms snaked up around his neck, drawing him closer. Suddenly, being in public didn't mean so much anymore.
Lost wrinkled his nose, hopping over to Sorrow and Illness and taking their outstretched hands. "It's strange when they kiss," he said in a low voice. "I don't get it." The twins glanced at each other and giggled in unison.
"How do-," "They breathe?" They asked in gossipy whispers.
Nightmare, Seduce, and Fear turned their heads respectfully from their masters to allow them a little more privacy. Fujitaka pressed through the crowd, looking intent to speak with his daughter, but upon seeing that she was preoccupied, he turned instead to the three small spirits taking turns giggling and making faces. He kneeled down to their level and gave them a broad smile.
"It looks like she's busy, doesn't it?" he asked genially. They nodded, wrinkling their noses to show their annoyance- nowadays, almost every time Sakura and Syaoran were together there was kissing, lots of it. Seeing the little ones' impatience, Fujitaka laughed. "Would you three like to get an ice cream with me, then?" he asked kindly. "It's hot out today, and there's an ice cream shop nearby. I know those illusions you wear are like a second skin, so you must be boiling in them-."
"Itchy!" Lost exclaimed, scratching his leg, and then his arm. Sorrow and Illness cooed sadly, scratching Lost's back pityingly.
"Illusions are… difficult to wear." "They're not natural- too confining." They pouted, continuing to scratch Lost's back as he hummed with relief. "But, we wear them because we have to." "Mundanes aren't supposed to know we exist."
"But ice cream would be nice," Lost chirped. He turned slightly to look to Nightmare. "Mr Kinomoto is taking us for ice cream!" he called. Nightmare glanced over at his charges, then to Fujitaka.
"All right, be careful," he sighed. As soon as the three spirits disappeared with Fujitaka into the crowd, Sakura and Syaoran parted, slightly breathless. They smiled at each other, light blushes painting their cheeks, and they quickly ducked to peck each other's lips again. Sakura's hand kept a hold of the front of Syaoran's shirt, keeping him close.
From out of his pocket, the warrior withdrew a small slip of pink paper, written on in fancy black writing. "Here, I forgot to give you this- it's an invitation to Tomoyo's graduation party tonight…. She told me to give this to you when I found you."
Plucking the invitation from his hand, Sakura turned it over and examined it. A giddy feeling rose in her at the thought of going to a party, but as quickly as it came, the feeling faded as soon as she remembered her prior engagements. "Oh no… tonight I was going to visit the lake… I had something I wanted to leave for Miaka and Dren, they would have graduated today, too..."
Understanding immediately, Syaoran dropped his eyes to the ground. "Of course, you don't have to go if you don't want to. I just thought- it's Tomoyo's party… I thought you'd be interested to know it is magic-users only, with the exception of Takashi, Chiharu and the others."
Sakura perked up a bit. "Well, I guess I can go for a little while…" She glanced over at the three remaining spirits who were lingering close by, pretending not to be listening. "You can come too, if you want," she said loudly enough for them to hear clearly. "Without your illusions." They had the decency to look sheepish, knowing they had been caught listening.
"We would be delighted, Miss Sakura," Nightmare replied, bowing politely.
"Count me in, it's been a while since I crashed a party." Fear laughed, sneering at the humans surrounding him. "No mundanes, no problems, I say; I can't stand one more human girl calling me "adorable"! Damn the lot of the of them!"
Seduce soothed him with a gentle hand. "There there, sweetie. I think you make a magnificent ferret," she whispered, and then kissed him fully on his tiny fuzzy lips. Nightmare looked away pointedly. Sakura peeked over at Syaoran and giggled.
"So… you'll be my date?" she asked cheekily, bumping him with her hip.
Syaoran risked her a smile and swept her up into a tight embrace. "Of course."
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Daidouji Tomoyo's Residence: Roughly Around Mid-Night
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"You… Look… Amazing…" Eriol managed to murmur out against Tomoyo's skin as he kissed her. He grazed his mouth along her jaw, blazing a trail down her neck, suckling the sensitive hollow where her neck met her shoulder. She made an enchanting mewling sound as he did.
"Eriol," she groaned, trying futilely to push him off. "You've already told me that- five times tonight." Her breath hitched as a hand came up to run along her side, eliciting a gasp from her before she melted to the touch. The sorcerer only paused long enough to look her in the eyes before going back to his work on her neck.
"Then I… haven't said it… enough," he whispered sincerely, sensually, his speech broken by feathered kisses. Never had he felt such an intense passion burn within him; by only a simple glance at Tomoyo, he felt as if a fire had been lit inside him and was simmering there with a lust that could only be quenched by the fire-starter herself. From the moment he had seen her walk from her room donning her hand-made sorceress robes of the riches violets for the party, Eriol had found his hands, as well as his lips, were having the hardest time keeping off of her.
Tomoyo gave a small laugh before realizing that it was futile to try and budge the sorcerer when he was so enraptured. It was best to simply give in and enjoy. She let her hands wander from where they were keeping him at bay to encircle his neck and draw him closer. A part of her robe slipped from her shoulder, revealing a smooth expanse of skin that Eriol immediately was drawn to. His hot mouth danced over her flesh, stirring something within her. She groaned her appreciation for his adoration. His response was to press her more firmly into the over-stuffed, gigantic cushion they both occupied, hidden away behind a thick outgrowth of lilac bushes.
Snatching Eriol's head away from her shoulder, only to bring him back to her mouth, Tomoyo allowed herself to kiss him soundly and breathlessly. His tongue swept her mouth, bringing with it the taste of tea and pure Eriol. She vaguely remembered her duties as hostess to the party, but every reason she should have had to objecting to this tryst were rapidly disappearing. Even as their legs tangled, and their breaths came in short pants, nothing but this seemed more important.
It had been quite a fiasco setting up this "magic only" party in the first place. It probably had been more hassle than it was worth harassing Syaoran and Eriol to divulge the names of the magically inclined students of the school, as well as a number of other creatures that lived in the area, but Tomoyo had done it anyways. She had done it out of her own curiosity to know the creatures that she had been surrounded by since birth and unaware of until now, and the burning desire to surround herself with the magic that she so recently acquired. Syaoran proved reluctant to give away the identities of any sorcerer or creature in the area, knowing that security for such things was now placed at an all time high due to recent events. Eriol, on the other hand, gladly began introducing her to several sorcerers in the school after she had "coerced" him in the most delightful of ways.
From there, it was the scheming and planning that nearly drove her crazy. Decorations, on top of sewing her own costume together, on top of buying all the sweets she could get her hands on to keep her spirit guests happy, on top of music, lights, invitations, not to mention coming up with a good excuse to get Sonomi out of the house for the entire night. But, as if someone of a higher power was pulling the strings, the pieces of the party puzzle fell into place with amazing grace.
On the designated night of the party, Eriol threw up a barrier around the Daidouji Mansion so that no outsiders would be alerted to the magic that was going on. Guests arrived just as the sun began to kiss the horizon; first was Takashi with a magic-phobic Chiharu clutching to his arm fretfully. Behind them, Rika and Naoko looked dazzled and excited. All four had come in their best "sorcerer" get-ups, dressed to the hilt in dazzling costumes purchased directly from Tomoyo, coming complete with different wands, staffs, and weapons, and all the desired accessories the modern day sorcerer would want. Soon after came the real sorcerers, boys and girls that Tomoyo had only met in passing, dressed in authentic robes of velvet and silk, adorned in charms and amulets of gold and silver, showing off their new or antique clothes to anyone who would look. Despite herself, Tomoyo eyed each piece of clothing closely, memorising each for future reference.
The spirits that came arrived in such fantastical manners that it was obvious they were trying to show off to the others spirits. Some arrived by way of giant bird, or droves of butterflies, some glided in on the wind, or formed from the trees. Fountains that gurgled streams of water in Tomoyo's yard would glitter every now and again, announcing the arrival of another water sprite or nymph. Out of season flowers would bloom and bring forth a number of little pixies. Some spirits just popped out of nowhere, one moment not being there, and the next they filled the air with colour and laughter and a unique sense of magic.
Naturally, when Sakura and Syaoran arrived, flanked by their overly zealous spirits, they instantly became the guests of honour. Syaoran wore his traditional battle outfit, complete with weaponry and ofudas, while Sakura came in the outfit Tomoyo had kindly designed and given to her, which was a mix of pinks and whites and embroidered hems with bells and charms and bangles. The music that had been lofting about the yard was easily drown out by the joyous uproar as humans and spirits surged forward to welcome the sorcerers, who were in shock at the instant celebrity status they had been awarded for their appearance. They were pulled into the ruckus before they even knew what was happening.
The night from then on was a flamboyant gathering filled with laughter and dancing. Attending spirits and sorcerers felt quite at ease in the presences of Eriol, Syaoran, and Sakura, although a tad wary of the four mundanes wandering about. Tomoyo was giddy with glee as she watched her guests gambolling about her yard happily, enjoying themselves. She watched with amusement as a cheque formed before Sakura to invite her to dance, the first in line being a handsome goblin who only came up to her waist. Syaoran, too, was being accosted by a number of flighty faeries and besotted spirits- although he looked a little too much like a cornered animal to be enjoying himself too greatly. His rescue, and humiliation, came when a slow song came drifting through the air and Eriol came out of nowhere to capture the poor warrior to dance together.
So quickly did the night lead up to Eriol coming up behind her and dragging her off to the bushes, that everything else was all a blur.
The lilac bush rustled loudly as Eriol's heavy outer robes landed on it, leaving him in the much lighter and less decorative black robe he wore beneath. His nimble hands went to work on the clasps that held Tomoyo's own robes in place. Her mind hazed with only thoughts of Eriol's lips, Tomoyo let the first couple of layers peel back from her body, leaving her in a thin white yukata, her lips still groping from Eriol's. Her hands were on him, roaming beneath his robes, exploring the taut, hot skin beneath. Muscles trembled under her caresses, earning a deep groan from Eriol, arching over Tomoyo as if lost in her very touch. A cool breeze filtered through the leaves of the lilac bush, brushing through Tomoyo's yukata and stroking more bared skin than what she was comfortable with in public; instantly snapped back to reality, she gasped and skittered back a bit.
"Eriol- you- Oh, there's a party still going on!" she exclaimed, grabbing at her open clasps with trembling fingers. Eriol, still looking quite lustful, did his best to regain his air of elegance and drew off of his girlfriend reluctantly.
"So?" he asked, reigning in his disgruntled look. "We were celebrating just fine right here." He plucked his robe from the lilacs and slid it back on.
Tomoyo rolled her eyes, allowing him to help her with straightening her own clothes. "We were getting a little too carried away," she chided. "I expect my first time to be a little more romantic than behind a bush in my own back yard."
Eriol gave her a smouldering look that sent shivers running down her spine. He reached out a hand and took hers, lifting her up and bringing her close to put his mouth to her ear.
"Perhaps we'll finish this later, then" he murmured sensually before letting her go and sliding into a throng of laughing sorcerers who stood just beyond the lilacs. Tomoyo was left flushed, flustered, and feeling just a little unsatisfied that she had ended the heated session so soon. Quickly, she composed herself and wandered off to be the proper hostess of the party. Not a minute after she began walking did she spot Sakura and Syaoran dancing together slowly, arms wrapped around the other, completely oblivious to the rest of the world. They seemed to be enjoying themselves.
A warm smile slipped across Sakura's lips as she leaned closer into Syaoran's chest, enjoying the feeling of being safe and warm. She drew in a deep breath, allowing herself to be intoxicated by Syaoran's scent, feeling more and more light-headed the more they danced together in slow circles. For a moment, she closed her eyes and rested her forehead against the firm expanse of Syaoran's chest, cushioned by the silky softness of his outfit. His arms held her tighter to him, like he could have held her forever and never cared to let her go.
"Do you really have to go back to China?" she asked quietly, peering up into Syaoran's amber eyes with a hint of pleading.
"I do," he replied regretfully. "I don't know for how long, though. Mother only said that I am to leave tomorrow for intensive training and Clan business…"
"I can still write you, though, right?" Sakura pressed. Her aura automatically sought the comfort of Syaoran's, entwining itself tightly to the other. Syaoran chuckled deeply so that it resonated in his chest.
"You can write, but you don't have to," he said in a low voice. "At least, not right away."
Sakura pulled away a bit to look into Syaoran's face, seeing the humour there and not understanding. "W-why?" she squeaked. Syaoran smirked, an amazing imitation of Eriol's mischievous grins, and leaned close to Sakura's ear.
"Didn't I mention? You're coming with me for two weeks, so that the Clan can meet you… only if you want to, though," he said, noting how wide Sakura's eyes got. Without reply, she threw her arms tighter around Syaoran and hugged him happily, laughing.
"I would love to come!" she cheered.
Syaoran let out a sigh of relief. "Good, because I already spoke with your father about it, and he's already packing your things…" his only reply was Sakura's continued happy laughter as she clung to him.
And then the song changed to something blaring and fast, causing a surge of creatures to rush forward, yipping and howling to dance. It was then that Sakura seemed to realize how late it was and what she had wanted to do that night. With an important glance at Syaoran, nodding her head toward Tomoyo's backdoor, she pressed her way through the frolicking, dancing crowd. Along the way, she picked up Fear and Nightmare, both surrounded by a gaggle of enchanted females, and then caught up with Seduce, who was encircled by an even larger group of men. Pain was standing by the door waiting for them by the time they had gotten there, Lost hanging by the back of his robes in Pain's right hand- the poor little guy looked exhausted.
Pain regarded them disinterestedly. "The twins are inside," he said, marching into the house without further explanation.
Indeed, the Twins of Misery were surprisingly inside instead of outside running wild and raising hell. By the looks of the destroyed living room, they had been in there all night. Currently, they were huddled in front of the large windows, their faces pressed against the glass in apparent rapt fascination. Fear snaked his head into the room and stared at them as they shoved each other to get a better look at whatever it was they saw.
"Oi! Retards! What'cha looking at?" he barked. They jumped away from the window in unison, turning their heads to face Fear at the exact same time."Our evil twins," They replied together, creating a haunting echo. Fear growled in annoyance, lacking the patience that Nightmare had when he dealt with the twins, and glanced out the window. All he saw was his own reflection staring back at him in the dark glass.
"It was your damn reflections, idiots," he growled. "Come on, Miss Sakura and Syaoran are leaving now. Hurry up. We'll leave you behind if you don't pick it up!" He snapped at their heels to hurry them along. Ominously, the pair stopped on their way out and looked once more out the window, apparently staring at themselves in the glass and shuddering.
"They told us to be good." "Be good forevermore." "Because, if we were bad-," "They'd nail us to a door."
Fear stared at them incredulously. "This is why I like you better separate," he hissed, grabbing one by the back of the dress and throwing her out of the room before taking the other and tossing her unceremoniously after her sister. "Damn your little rhymes-! I don't care if I'm a fear spirit, they still freak me out!"
Out on the front step, Syaoran scanned the sky for good cloud cover. There wasn't much, which meant they would have to be flying high in hopes that anyone below may mistake them for a flock of birds. Taking Sakura's hand, both of them leapt into the air at once, beating their summoned wings quickly against the cool night air and climbing rapidly into the night sky.
Pain watched them for a moment before taking off as well, flying by their side nonchalantly. Once Seduce was seated on his back comfortably, Fear took to the air as well, gliding up effortlessly. Nightmare sighed, hitching Lost up further in his arms.
"I can still fly…" Lost murmured tiredly, pulling away slightly.
"No you can't, pip-squeak. You're wiped- change back into your Card for now." Nightmare said, watching as the others grew into small specks in the night. Obviously, it was his job once again to care for the young ones and carry them along as it appeared that everyone else conveniently forgot.
"No, I wanna see the Mistress and Master's graves!" the little spirit pouted. "Please!"
"Oh- fine. Be that way," Nightmare relented. He looked down at Sorrow and Illness, who were both busy with drawing monsters in the dirt; they looked a little peculiar tonight, not well enough for flying, at least. "Sorrow, Illness, you're going to have to hold on to my shoulders." They nodded absently while clapping their hands over their dirt monsters and sending up a cloud of dust. As soon as they were sorted out, Nightmare took off to try and catch up to everyone, a difficult feat when the twins decided to play "Guess Who" and cover his eyes every once in a while, shouting "guess who!"
Approaching the Clearing
The white marble pillars that rose from the center of the lake glistened magically in the soft light of the risen moon, the lapping of the water against the smooth towers creating a soothing rhythm in the clearing.
Sakura was the first to land in the clearing, her shoes making nothing more than a whisper on the sodden moss that grew on the edges of the lake. She breathed in deep, taking in the lingering smells of earth and water gently mixed with the fragrance of distant flowers brought by the wind. Syaoran landed behind her, just as quietly as she, so that she only knew he was behind her when his strong arms wrapped around her and held her to his chest.
"This place looks amazing," she whispered, leaning into Syaoran's warmth. "Magical." Her eyes continued to roam the place, taking the details that she never caught before. She had only been here twice before, the night that the lake was created and the night that she raised the pillars. Somehow, it appeared the lake had taken on a life of its own in the short time between Sakura's visits. Along the edges of the lapping water, long, wet grass was now growing at a surprising rate, creating a weaved wall of swaying green, teaming with singing crickets and frogs. The surface of the lake, made indigo by the dark of night, was dotted with lilies and water hyacinths, left there by spirits and sorcerers as an offering to whom the pillars were dedicated.
For a second, Sakura thought she caught a glimpse of a paled skinned creature watching them from the other side of the lake, but reasoned that it was a nymph or sprite spying on them, knowing that this lake had become a home to some.
"Come on, let's go," Syaoran whispered, his head resting against hers. From nowhere, he produced the Float card and summoned the spirit, enabling them to cross the water without sinking. It was only the two of them that crossed to the middle; the Sakura Spirits remained behind to allow their masters a private moment.
When Sakura took up Syaoran's hand for support, she found that her hand was not the only one that was shaking. She peered up at him curiously, but his face gave nothing away, set determinedly in a hard neutral expression. There were emotions reflected in his amber eye though, and she could feel the vague ghosts of them echoing to her; there was remorse and a slight bit of apprehension, lingering annoyance and the slight light of a lingering spark of anger. She squeezed his hand, looking to him with a soft smile. His eyes softened a little more after that.
As they came upon the first of the pillars, Sakura reached out her free hand, running it down the smooth, cool surface of the marble. The tower was as thick as a full-grown tree trunk and rose to a height well above the surrounding treetops.
"Miaka," Sakura whispered, running her fingertips over the place she had tried to carve the dead girl's name, even though it was only moments after that old magic swept in and eroded the name from the pillar. "I- I hope you're doing well in… um, heaven. I hope it's nice there… I never got there, but I saw a bit of it and it looked nice…" she took a breath and looked to the next marble tower, the one she had made for Dren. "You two missed graduation, you know. I suppose it was nice- even if it was a little boring… But, I guess, you wouldn't have had to attend anyways, would you? You've probably graduated from everywhere- or maybe not. Uh-." Quickly, she looked to Syaoran, and he nodded softly to her. From a pocket hidden in her costume, Sakura procured two small rolls of paper, one tied with a white ribbon and the other tied with a black ribbon. "I made these for you, I mean- I tried to. Your names wouldn't stay though, so I hope you don't mind that there's a blank space at the bottom… I tried." Her voice wavered dangerously, emotion choking her out. "This is the least I could do- I couldn't think of anything else… I wanted to give you something special, you were our friends after all, but I- I couldn't… couldn't…"
"Sakura," Syaoran sighed, rubbing her back in slow circles as she slowly broke down. A few tears fell from her eyes and splashed on the diplomas she held. Sniffing back her shuddering sobs, Sakura kneeled between the first two of the monuments and laid down her gifts. They bobbed in the water for a while, and then became water logged, tipping up to one end and slowing being swallowed by the water. She cried a little as she watched her gifts disappear.
Syaoran closed his eyes lightly, not able to look at the huddled form of his love without feeling his own heart break. Through their connection, he felt her helpless sadness and knew that there was nothing he could do to make her feel better. Even as he reached out with astral fingers to her shuddering aura, he knew that she would accept his comfort but at the same time would refuse to be consoled. He wasn't alone in his endeavour, either. From the shore, the Sakura Spirits were also trying their hand at comforting their mistress, from comforting her sorrows to soothing her fears. It broke his heart even more knowing that making the others worry was distressing Sakura, but the more she tried to hold it in the more she broke down.
"I- I know that I shouldn't be sad… this is what you wanted-! You wanted to die! You were alive for so long- but… but…" a suffering sob she had been holding in for a while escaped her. "I still miss you- we didn't know each other for long, but I thought we were good enough friends… I wish we had more time to be friends- that would have been nice…" She felt tiny thread of magic brushing around her, worried little tendrils that crept around her invisibly and prodded at her gently. Syaoran's soothing green aura wrapping around her as a blanket, while her spirits worriedly caressed her and did what they thought would best help consol her. It didn't feel right to be consoled at the moment though; this was the first time since the night they left that she cried for them and she wanted to let all the tears out.
Breaking away from the overwhelming cascade of magical support, Sakura crawled to the center of the four pillars so that she was able to sit and stare up at the two columns that represented Life and Death's grave markers. Their names had been also carved into the pillars, but again the magic that erased them from everything remained in tact to take the names away. Around the bases of these ones, wreathes of ivy and clover had been woven with threads of gold and silver, decorated with red clover flowers and tiny white strawberry flowers. Laughing weakly, tears leaking from her eyes, she touched the soft petals of the strawberry blossoms; they were the colour of Life's hair.
"I don't know what to say to you two," she murmured, looking up again to squint at the top of the towers, jutting up so high they appeared to scrape the sky. "I don't think I knew you that well- not as well as I would have liked, but I guess people could know you two for a long time and not even be able to scratch the surface- a hazard of being an- um… essence, wasn't it?" Her finger slowly traced over the ivy. "I really want to thank you for all the times you saved Syaoran and I… I don't think I actually thanked you for any of it…not properly anyways."
She withdrew a small wrapped package from somewhere in her robes but did not put it down. Her eyes wandered around the clearing once more, taking in her surroundings again. "From the first time that we were attacked, you saved us… and you offered us help when we needed it. When we were hurt, you came and healed us-," Sakura laughed a little, lifting her fingers to brush over her lips in remembrance of Life's favourite way to heal. "Even after our battles, you cleaned up after us. I don't know where Syaoran and I would be if you hadn't always been looking after us. I hope you know that I'm grateful, and so is Syaoran."
Syaoran snorted discreetly behind her. "We wouldn't have needed you two to look after us in the first place, though, if you had never screwed up in the first place." He said to the pillars, looking them up and down with an appraising eye. His eyes stopped on Life's monument and narrowed slightly. "And you- you mauled Sakura far too much for my liking."
"Syaoran!" Sakura gasped, shooting him an exasperated look over her shoulder. "They're dead! Don't say mean things about dead people!" Having the decency to look a little flustered at being reprimanded, even if he was expecting to be chastised, Syaoran turned his head to that he didn't have to look at the marble towers.
Sakura turned back to the pillars with a sheepish expression. "Well, maybe I'm a bit more grateful than Syaoran is, but he is thankful in his own way, deep, deep, deep, deep down in his heart. So many things never would have happened to us if it weren't for you guys coming along- who knows how long it would have taken Syaoran and I to work up the courage to admit we loved each other if our lives weren't on the line. We never would have gotten to know seven wonderful spirits. I know there's more, but I can't think of it… I just want to give you this-." She set down the little wrapped package on the tiny island made of ivy and clover. "They're hash browns I made, you see… I hope they're okay…"
From the shore, Sakura could vaguely hear Sorrow and Illness proudly proclaiming, "We spit in the batter for Miss Sakura." "Mistress Life would have wanted it that way." At the time, it seemed appropriate to let them spit in the batter- it was better than letting them put a whole box of tacks in it like they were planning to. Life would have been proud.
She pushed herself up from the surface of the water, turning one full circle to look around again. A white dove was startled from its nest nearby and fluttered to the top of Miaka's tower, staring down at Sakura with curious eyes. The tar-black crow that had startled the dove cawed loudly from its hiding place in the trees. Sakura couldn't help the gentle smile that broke her face; white and black, what a coincidence that those colours would show up here.
Maybe it was a sign that everything was going to be okay now. That this adventure was over now, but there was still many more out there waiting for her. Like Lost's story, one adventure after the other, whether she sought them or they found her. Or even like a chain, one event acting as a link that lead to the next, which lead to the next, which would lead to the next, never ending, always continuing on with the next link so that things could move forward.
A chilled night breeze swept through the clearing, cutting through Sakura's clothes and making her shiver lightly. She caught Syaoran's warm hand and gripped it, smiling up at him with the warmest smile she could muster. At first, he looked puzzled, and then tentatively he offered her his own rare, dazzling smile that warmed her from the inside. On impulse, not caring that they were being watched or that they were standing in the middle of peoples' 'graves', Sakura turned quickly and slipped her free hand around the back of Syaoran's neck and brought him down for a kiss. The response was immediate and toe curling, him sensing the unusual flame that had been lit in her and feeding off it. He engulfed her in an embrace and lifted her off the lake, her legs wrapping around his waist. A laugh was startled from her as he swung around, still kissing her.
The kiss tasted like love.
The two teens only drew away from each other when Syaoran's foot caught on a rope of weaved pond grass and he stumbled. There was a light in his amber eyes when he looked into Sakura's eyes.
"What was that for?" he asked playfully, sneaking another kiss before she could answer, knowing that he could never get enough of the feel of her lips on his. Nor could she get enough of his lips.
She thought for moment before answering. "For them, I guess," she answered, motioning her hand to Life and Death's pillars. Syaoran made a face and groaned, hitching Sakura's up higher in his arms. She hit him lightly. "I'm serious. They never got to feel love, did they? The least we could do is show them a little love."
Syaoran glared playfully over Sakura's shoulder. "Voyeurs," he muttered to the pillars.
Sakura laughed again, feeling warm in Syaoran's arms. Her eyes alighted on her seven spirit friends waiting for their masters. She grinned at them and waved. They stared back, wondering how she had gone from sad to so happy in such a short amount of time. When she waved, they waved back happily.
Syaoran held Sakura tighter to his chest, breathing in her scent deeply, memorizing the feel of her body flush against his. There never was any other angel more beautiful then the one he held in his arms. He had never felt a love so great burn in his chest until he had fallen in love with her.
Watching their masters, Seduce felt the overwhelming need to hug Fear. She wrapped her arms around his thick neck and cuddled his soft head to her chest. Nightmare sighed and hugged Lost closer to his chest, the little cooing softly and hugging back. Sorrow and Illness hugged themselves until they were blue in the face, and then turned to hug Nightmare, who couldn't get any bluer. Pain even spared them a glance, nodding to them as an acknowledgement before his eyes slipped over the lake to watch the lone dove flutter from one pillar to the other, still watching them. Soon after, the hug fest couldn't be contained any longer and it had to turn into a group hug, one in which a very faintly blushing Syaoran, a reluctant Fear, and a very surly looking Pain were dragging into.
No one noticed that the gift of the hash browns was no longer sitting in its nest of ivy and clover.
But, even if she did notice, Sakura could have cared less at the moment.
Everything was okay now. She had her love, her life, and her friends; everything she needed. It didn't matter what came next; another adventure; another challenge to rise to, as long as they were together, Sakura with Syaoran, Syaoran with Sakura, the Sakura Cards nearby to fight for them, the next link in the chain didn't frighten her at all.