A/N: And n months later, the prodigal (lazy) son (daughter, actually) returns! It's not that I'm neglecting this story...It's that I'm a lazy bum. Ah well.
No, that wasn't the end at all. -sweatdrop- Please forgive me for sending you into a panic of sorts.
The night was clear and filled to the brim with winking stars, with the occasional deep purple cloud obscuring the light of the moon--- just like any other night in Tomoeda, especially in the spring, when it could rain anytime the skies pleased. Still, the sight was like a vision of peacefulness made especially for her, or at least that was how it felt to Sakura. It was a late Friday night, or perhaps early Saturday morning, three weeks into her sophomore year at Tomoeda High, and for all intents and purposes of the rest the world, she had better things to be doing than stargazing; for instance, practicing for her music practical, because she knew she'd trip up on the violin if she didn't practice the song.
But Kinomoto Sakura wasn't the rest of the world.
A faint smile was steady on the auburn haired girl's lips as she stood atop Tomoeda's highest tower, in the very center of the city, dressed in a pair of sweatpants and a white t-shirt that had once belonged to Touya. Her feet were completely bare, and all but invisible under the baggy gray sweats. Slowly, emerald green eyes wandered from the sky to the the ground, nearly fifty stories below her. Rather than shivering, her smile stretched wider, and in a move that would've frightened anybody if they'd been there to see it, she stepped onto the ledge of the building.
Lately, Sakura had been feeling...Restless. When her mind wasn't stuck on Syaoran and Tomoyo, and her time wasn't occupied with her steadily growing friendship with Eriol, she felt jitters down her spine and a strange need just building up somewhere deep in her body, disquietude disrupting all her private thoughts, until finally, she recognized what was happening; she hadn't used any magic since before her...betrayal. It was only right that the steadily building abilities and energy had to get out somehow.
This was not to say, of course, that having a dream about her cards flying around without pause hadn't given her a clue.
It was for this reason that she'd climbed out of her window at eleven pm, walked all the way to the center of Tomoeda, and began exercising her magic with simple spells Eriol had taught her over the years, such as one to unlock regular doors, and another to make one step carry her along ten--- which all led to her being on top of the fifty story high building. She raised a hand to the necklace that hadn't once left her person in five years, and caressed it, smiling faintly at the warm pulse that came in response.
And then Sakura turned and hopped backwards off the building.
There was panic, for about three seconds, as Sakura watched the sky grow vaster and the buildings taller and her hair all the more dangerous as it whipped at her face. And then, once again, her hand clasped her necklace, and she remembered herself. Her body relaxed as she fell, hearing words on the wind that she wouldn't bother wondering about or even computing, and feeling her own magic growing more and more restless in response to her danger.
Finally, she pulled her staff, and opened her mouth to speak the release--- but then she remembered Eriol telling her about how as his body and magical core grew older and stronger once more, it became easier and easier to simply summon the staff with just 'release'. And so, concentrating, she thought about her staff becoming full-sized, and her powers having a conduit, and how the pink had slowly darkened to a more red color as she grew older--- "Release," she breathed.
The necklace floated up, spinning and flashing moonlight of it's own volition, and then in a burst of unexpected energy, exploded into it's full form--- only, with changes she'd never seen before. But Sakura didn't think about that, because the ground was approaching fast. What would she use? Not something easy, she thought to herself. Not fly...Not jump... "Windy!"
The card flew out of her pocket as she turned sideways in the air, and hovered before her as the ground closed in. With a cry of 'release!', Sakura tapped the card with her staff, and barely five feet off the street, she found herself blown up into the air once more by a huge gust of wind. A laugh bubbled up out of her throat as she was tossed higher into the air, then caught and tossed again. As the Windy exercised by playing with her, she thought of what else to do.
Last time Sakura had checked, she'd been able to summon four cards at once and keep them going for half an hour--- but that had been nearly a year and a half ago, because she didn't make it regular practice to drain herself into an exhaustion that kept her asleep for over twelve hours. But maybe...?
Concentrating, she reached into her pocket despite being in a slow tumble upside down at the moment, and touched her cards as an idea formed in her head. "Mirror, release!" The card flew out and was released by a passing touch as she twirled her staff in one hand. The Windy caught the other card, whose eyes were widened in surprise at being far above ground level, or even sky-scraper level. The tower she'd first jumped from was far below them. "Hello, mirror," she said softly, smiling.
Shyly, the green-haired girl waved back, before releasing a quiet squeak as the Windy turned them over in tumbles before sending them into swirls. Sakura thought that if it were possible, Mirror would be feeling a bit queasy at the moment--- and then she thought that Mirror actually was, because the green tint to her usually pale skin certainly wasn't imagined. So she summoned her next card. "Float, release! Catch Mirror!"
The large, winged ball came into appearance directly beneath the regal looking card, who breathed a sigh of relief when Windy returned to simply playing with Sakura, who was somehow even more relaxed mid-air than she was when she skated. Windy, Mirror, and Float have been released. Who else should I let out to play? She thought. "Hm...Glow, release!"
This time, Sakura didn't have to give any orders, and instead watched the almost mystical sight of light green orbs floating around them, sometimes looking like oddly colored stars and other times, like fireflies flying far too high. "There, that makes four," she said to nobody in particular, absently tucking her hair behind her ear, even though it just came out of place the next time that Windy tossed her. I really need a haircut sometime soon, she thought.
And then she noticed that she wasn't feeling the same, inside-out drain she'd felt the first time she summoned four cards, where she felt full and empty at the same time. So maybe, just maybe, she could let out one more card? Thoughtfully, she chewed on her bottom lip. Would it be a good idea to summon one last card? What if I faint while I'm in the air? she wondered. But at the same time, she knew the answer to that. Her cards would let her down as gently as possible, and more likely than not, Cerberus would find his way to her and bring her home before any real damage was done.
It was decided, then. One more card.
"Hope...Release." In a torrent of soft pink light, a joyful looking young girl with a striking resemblance to Sakura's deceased mother appeared, holding a winged heart tightly to her chest as she floated in the air, supported by nothing, not even Windy.
Immediately, a smile bloomed on Sakura's face, even larger than before. It was the effect that seeing the Hope always brought to her. The card had always made her feel good once she began to summon her. Secretly, Sakura thought that bringing hope was exactly what the Hope's special ability was, seeing as she'd never expressed any others. She'd often called the card out just to sit nearby and feel good, especially since she knew that the Hope loved being out and free.
"Hello, Hope. It's good to see you again." Now the tiredness was setting in, and it must've showed in her tone, because Windy slowly began carrying her lower, heading in the direction of her home. Mirror, riding on Float, circled her occasionally, but more often stayed near Hope as they seemed to let silent communication pass between them, with the Glow still falling around them peacefully.
After a few minutes, Sakura finally found herself beind settled down on a bench, where she tiredly leaned back, smiling and holding her hand out as the cards transformed one by one, settling gently on her palm facedown. The last one to go was the Glow, after putting an extra spray of green globes around her. Feeling more than content for the first time in weeks, she silently tucked the cards back in her pocket and closed her eyes. I'll just rest for a little while, she thought.
"Sakura-chan grows more powerful every year, doesn't she, Eriol-sama?" Spinel asked, seated on the navy haired teen's shoulder.
Leaning back against the tree whose branch he sat in, Eriol nodded. "I wouldn't have expected her to be able to control five cards on her own so quickly." He smiled. "But she's always been somewhat surprising, hasn't she?"
Nakuru giggled quietly, laying across the branch above the two. "That's only because you always have expectations and assumptions, Eriol-sama. If you'd just go with the flow, like me and Suppi-chan, you wouldn't always be so surprised!"
"Suppi-chan and I," Spinel corrected automatically, before realizing what he'd said and flying up to yell at her. "And my name is not Suppi! It is Spinel! Spinel!"
Eriol chuckled, and leapt easily from her branch. "Not being surprised would take the fun out of things, Nakuru." He walked over to the bench where Sakura had slipped into sleep, despite her efforts to remain awake, and lightly brushed her hair away from her forehead. "She really needs to stop going so far from home to train herself," he murmured before lifting her into his arms with little effort. "Let's go, you two. I daresay Fujitaka-san will be worried if he finds her missing."
At a leisurely pace, Nakuru followed with Spinel on her shoulder, and a giggle escaped her mouth every few moments. "Eriol-sama's crush on Sakura-chan is so cute," she whispered to Spinel.
This was one point that Spinel actually agreed with her on, even if he wouldn't use 'cute'. "Better Sakura-sama than that Kaho woman who can't make up her mind on getting over Touya."
Blinkingly, Sakura stared at the white ceiling of her room, and wondered when she'd gotten there. A yawn was covered by her hand as she ran through her memories; flying...Glow...A park bench...
She'd fallen asleep on a park bench!? "Hoe!?" The brunette shot up in her bed, the cover almost falling off of her, and staring at Kero's small, agitated form sitting on her legs, she belatedly remembered that she was in her room. "Kero-chan...?" She mumbled, furrowing her brows. How, exactly, had she gotten home?
Tiny arms crossed over his chest, Kero floated up before her face and glowered. "You should've told me you were leaving to train! Just imagine if that creepy kid hadn't brought you back home? Somebody could've kidnapped you right off that park bench! I'd never get to eat your pancakes again!"
"Eriol-kun brought me home?" She asked, confused and embarrassed all at once. Her face was tinted pink; he'd seen her in her most casual set of pajamas! Then, a second later, she wondered why that mattered; he'd also seen her in every embarrassing outfit Tomoyo had ever placed her in, courtesy of her cousin's video diaries. She was actually rather sure that he'd even seen her in her bathing suit back when she was ten, and if that wasn't embarrassing, she didn't know what was.
Perhaps something more pressing to worry about was how, exactly, he'd chanced upon her. Why hadn't she sensed him? Even exhaustion couldn't hide how powerful his aura always seemed to her, at least when he wasn't actively suppressing it. But then... Why would he be suppressing it?
Shaking her head slightly to clear her mind, she decided to think on it later, mainly because her breath stunk, her stomach was grumbling, and she had the pressing need in the back of her mind to practice that song on her violin, as she had nearly every day for three weeks. Something about playing the violin just soothed her, ever since her first year in middle school, when they finally got to choose their own instruments. With a quiet 'oomph', she rolled off her bed and barely managed to stand before walking to the bathroom to get ready for the day.
"So, what did happen when you went to train?" Kero asked, floating slightly above her as she soaked in the bath. She'd stopped getting angry about this a while ago; he just came in anyways, usually to talk or ask how long before she could come out and make him food.
"Well, I managed to hold five cards at once yesterday," she stated with a shy but proud smile spreading across her face.
Kero began clapping and bobbing in the air excitedly. "Really? Wow, Sakura! That's great! Which five?"
"Windy, Mirror, Float, Glow, and the Hope. It was fun, until I started to get tired." She turned over, folding her arms on the edge of the bath and looking at him curiously. "I think that if I hadn't used so many small spells on the way there, I might've actually managed to bring out another card, Keroberos... Is that normal?" Sakura rested her head on her arms, allowing her damp hair to fall before her eyes. "Eriol-kun said that he expected me to control five by this winter, not now... And that's without spells beforehand."
"Hmm..." The yellow plushie floated lower to look her in the face. "I'm not sure, Sakura. When Clow was your age, he hadn't even created the cards yet, and I think I was only in the beginning stages of my growth, so I barely remember it. From what I know, though, between thirteen and eighteen, a lot of young sorcerers go through their magical majority, which might have something to do with it."
"Magical majority?" She asked, green eyes wide with curiosity. "What's that?"
"Well..." He looked slightly uncomfortable, all of a sudden. "It's kinda like puberty, I guess. When you're young, you have a certain amount of power that tends to grow, or really, make itself accessible as you exercise your abilities more. When you turn thirteen, or about that age, the growth of a human's magical core suddenly jump starts for some reason, and they gain more magic, and occasionally more powers. Like your dream visions; they might develop into controllable seer talent, and you could gain any other ability, too, depending on your core. Your magic and aura fluctuate a lot, and your emotions too, so a lot of you act pretty strange around now..."
"Wow..." Sakura slipped lower into the bath as she contemplated this. Maybe her magic had been at a high point last night, and that's why she was doing so well? Maybe...Maybe Eriol-kun was acting even stranger because of it! But then, he was reincarnated, wasn't he? Did he go through it again, or did he already have everything from his first life?
Suddenly, she remembered something from the night before, and Sakura turned to Kero with wide eyes. "Kero-chan! Is that the reason my staff changed again?" She'd completely forgotten it last night, caught up in the adrenaline of flying with Windy's help.
"What?! It changed again? But... Show me!" Kero all but commanded, suddenly looking serious.
Biting her lip, Sakura grasped the chain she never removed from her neck, concentrated on her staff and then--- "Release," she whispered.
In her hand the staff grew to it's full size, it's new size, which happened to be nearly six feet long, rather than the four feet she'd gotten used to. The staff had been pink, when she was first using the Star Staff, but it wasn't long after the final judgment that it began turning darker. Three months ago, it was nearly crimson. Now, however, it really was crimson, like red carnations. At the very top of the staff, the star had almost doubled in size, with a strange glitter to it, and now, a large golden crescent moon was around it, rather than the simple circle from before.
"What the hell...?" It was a very rare time when Kero swore.
"Keroberos?" Sakura asked, immediately worried.
"Sakura, this shouldn't be possible. I've never heard of anyone's staff changing once, let alone twice." He floated down to the edge of the tub, staring at the weapon with furrowed brows. "The first time, your staff changed because you finally began using your own magic rather than Clow's, but this time..." He frowned. "I think we should go over to the Hiiragizawa brat's place. Quickly."
With a sense of urgency from Kero's words, Sakura had gotten out of the bath, dried off, and tugged on the first set of clothes she could grab; coincidentally, it was an outfit she'd gotten the year before in China, with a short sleeved red gi lined in yellow, white pants that cut off at her ankles, and a pair of traditional white slippers. She tugged her hair, which was getting far too long, into twin buns with red ribbons, and then disappeared from the house on her skates.
As the trip to Eriol's house was made, she wondered: why her?
"Eriol-sama! You have visitors!" Nakuru all but sang as she danced through the mansion to Eriol's bedroom. "Wake up, Eriol-sama!"
As the door creaked open, shedding afternoon light onto his completely darkened bedroom, Eriol sat up groggily, his eyes still closed. "Nakuru," he mumbled, "Close the door."
"Nuh-uh, Eriol-sama!" The energetic brunette exclaimed, waving a finger at him, even though he couldn't see it. "You wouldn't want to keep Sakura-sama waiting, now would you? She's been here two minutes already!"
That woke him up. He opened one eye to look at the feminine being -he said this because none of the guardians had been created male or female- standing in the doorway. "...Nakuru. Close the door." After a second, he added, "I'll be there shortly." The moment the door closed, he flopped back into bed, keeping his eyes closed for another minute while he tried to make himself get out of bed. Reincarnation of the greatest sorcerer in the world or not, he was still a teenager.
Ten minutes later, freshly showered and dressed, Eriol attempted to get rid of all his yawns before he made it to the sitting room. However, he stopped just before entering, immediately noticing three things. First of all, Sakura looked very, very cute the way she was dressed. He couldn't remember the last time her hair had been long enough to be pulled into buns -actually, he could; seventh grade-, but he hoped she'd keep it longer this time, just to keep seeing her hair like this.
The second thing he noticed was that Kero wasn't eating the cookies on the table, which was a very, very bad sign. It meant something was serious.
The last thing he noticed was that Nakuru had his photo album from England open on the table, and it contained his baby pictures. This spurred him into movement. Somehow maintaining his composure at a photo of his birth parents giving him his first real bath -he was never so happy for the invention of bubble bath-, Eriol slid into the room and sat down across from Sakura and Nakuru before gently reaching out and taking the album, closing it at the very first opportunity. Those weren't pictures he'd ever wanted anyone to see.
"Hello, Sakura. How might I help you today?" He asked, setting the album down next to him.
"Ano..." Sakura glanced to the frowning Kero, who caught her look, and took over: "Sakura's staff changed. Could it be because of her majority coming?"
Eriol appeared thoughtful for a moment, but strangely, not as bothered as Kero appeared. "That's rather unexpected, but certainly not impossible. She gained her true staff at age ten, which is late, compared to traditional sorcerer's apprentices. That is, however, because she was unaware of her abilities before releasing the Clow Cards. In general, apprentices usually get their staffs around age seven or eight, and it grows with them. Because Sakura was drawing from Clow Reed's residual magic at first, that was even more delayed..." He paused.
"Another thing to consider is that she is rather rare, receiving magic from both sides of her lineage, rather than just one parent." He caught Sakura's confused look and smiled, explaining, "Fujitaka-san, as the other reincarnation of Clow Reed, passed some magic onto you at birth. But your mother Nadeshiko-sama was likely magical as well, because it takes quite some talent to see ghosts or receive natural precognitive powers, like Touya-san and yourself. Clow Reed was one of the most poweful sorcerer's in the world, and it's rare that sorcerers manage to have children with other sorcerers, because the magic clashes in the womb and aborts the child. So it's understandable that you're becoming more powerful, which is causing your staff to change and accommodate you."
Sakura had only caught some of that, but based on Kero's expression, the proverbial light bulb had just turned on his head. By his relaxed state, that also meant that her staff changing was not, in fact, something bad. Which was good for her. "Arigatou, Eriol-kun," she said gratefully relaxing. "I was worried that something was wrong."
He smiled. "I assure you, in these circumstances, it's completely normal." He was amused to note that Kero and Nakuru had discreetly slipped out with the cookie tray. He hoped they weren't trying to give Spinel sweets again...
"Ne...Eriol-kun," Sakura said, gaining his attention with the tiny grin on her face. "You were a very cute baby."
He managed to keep the blush from his face, but her could feel his ears getting hot. He resorted to thanking her and looking away from the mirth in her eyes in the hopes of calming himself down. Did she have to look so cute as she was teasing him?