The Guiding Star

What's Yours is Mine: Chapter Twenty-Seven

By: Sakura Kinomoto

His mission had become a complete failure. Li Yao Liang's betrayal had been a low blow to every one of them. From the moment those rings had been stolen, everything fell apart: the mission, their morale, even their friendship with each other. For whatever reason, Wong Wing Kay never seemed to speak to Kinomoto Sakura unless she had to anymore. And because the older girl never told her why, Sakura assumed she blamed her for having hidden the rings without telling anyone and, by not relinquishing them to Yao Liang right away, had been the indirect cause of Li Xiao Lang injuries.

Xiao Lang had finally regained consciousness many days ago, though his eyesight had not returned. He was having a difficult time coping with it, often drifting in and out of sleep, no longer able to tell whether he was awake or dreaming. Losing his eyesight was not at all like his arm breaking. The pressure around his eyes may have subsided, but the sudden loss of this sense had been damaging to his mind when he found himself surrounded by constant darkness. At the same time, that pain was nowhere near as unbearable as that of his master's betrayal. He clutched at his heart as the ache overwhelmed him again and he quietly succumbed back to sleep.

As if their situation wasn't bad enough, they were now facing monetary concerns. Since Xiao Lang was still recovering from his physical injuries and mental anguish, the girls weren't ready to take him and leave the small room they rented but they knew that with what little money they had left, it was only a matter of time before they were kicked out.

"Miss? Miss?"

Sakura looked up with a start, remembering where she was. "Are you sure you want to sell this?" the merchant asked her, greedily eyeing the extravagantly decorated hair ornament she held out to him. She nodded stiffly, not daring to speak too much in case her accent gave her away. When they had concluded the deal, Sakura hurried away, her hands tightly clutching the string of coins he had given her in exchange of the ornament. It had been more than a year since Sakura had last seen her handmaiden, Daidouji Tomoyo, but she was sure her friend would forgive her for selling the object she made for her. Over the past few months, Sakura had had to sell various things that Tomoyo had packed away for her and she hated to part with any of them unless absolutely necessary. However, by this point she had sold all of them except the one she wore now that kept her hair up. They had to make this money last as long as possible.

At Sakura's return, Wing Kay cast her a rather resentful glance as she got up from where she had been watching over the prince. Wordlessly, Sakura put the string of coins on the table and hung up her cloak. Wing Kay, equally silent, took the coins and went out to pay for their room. Sakura had been hesitant to be near Xiao Lang when Wing Kay was around and hurried to his side now.

Even as he slept, the prince's expression remained troubled as if he was trapped in a bad dream. Other than that, he seemed all right physically. His bandages had long since been removed and those wounds had healed. Sakura leaned in to look at him when his eyelids suddenly opened and she drew back in surprise. His expression seemed blank, his eyes staring at nothing, and Sakura bit her lip. Just as suddenly, he turned his sightless eyes toward her. "Sakura?" he asked, his voice hoarse. He sat up immediately and reached out with one hand to her. Sakura wanted to take his hand in hers but waited instead.

His touch was still clumsy and his hand hit her shoulder. From there, he lightly moved his hand over her shoulder, brushed past her neck, and cradled her cheek with one hand. With his other hand, he suddenly placed it behind her head, pulled her toward him, and kissed her. Sakura sputtered in shock and pushed him away without thinking. He landed hard on the bed, his arms covering his face. Aghast, she stammered out an apology as she started to get up but realized in a moment that his hand was hiding a smile. Sitting up again, he smiled at her for the first time since Yao Liang left. "I knew it; it is Sakura." It was more of a statement than a question.

Still blushing hotly, Sakura began to stand up in a huff. "I hope that's not how you plan to figure out who everyone around you is," she said rather stiffly. Both his hands had found her wrists and held on tight to them, not letting her leave. The smile faded as his expression became serious.

"Of course not. That's only because I knew…somehow…that it was you."

"The whole time someone was here with you?" she asked, thinking of Wing Kay, as he pulled her close to him again.

"No, only just a moment ago," was his muffled response. Sakura's expression brightened and she hugged him back. This was how Wing Kay found both of them when she returned. A scowl marred her features for a moment but she didn't say anything. It was a long time before she spoke to either of them again.

- - - - - - - - - - -

When he held Sakura in his arms, Xiao Lang knew then that being blind didn't make him useless. He could still hear, still speak… He would still be able to protect those in his power to protect. Whenever he remembered his master's words of returning to take things important to him, it only fuelled his determination. He didn't know what interest Yao Liang had for both girls but Xiao Lang refused to lose either of them because he was weak. And his lack of eyesight also wasn't going to stop him.

The prince suddenly jumped back as a staff-like object made contact with the ground he had stood over before. The staff then swung over from the right but he caught it with his hand before it hit him. Sakura was about to try to swing it again when a quick "Wait!" from Xiao Lang stopped her. His hand still on the staff, he walked toward Sakura and stepped behind her. "Your hands are too far apart," he said, placing his hands over hers and moving them to an appropriate distance. With his arms right around her and the prince being so close, Sakura couldn't help but turn bright red. Xiao Lang realized it, too, and quickly let go of her hands. However, he didn't move away. Instead he leaned his head against hers.

"Thank you for helping me," he said softly.

Sakura smiled up at him. "Thank you for teaching me. Let's continue practicing."

It was in this way that the days went by. In the beginning, things had been very awkward as Xiao Lang had bumped and crashed into everything in his path. Of course, he was stubborn and rejected staying cooped up in the room so whenever he went out, Sakura always helped guide his way. At the same time, with his independent streak, he refused to let her do more than that and quickly forced himself to find his bearings. He also force-trained his hearing, straining to listen to even the quietest sounds and identifying them as he heard them. As well, he noticed that when he concentrated hard enough, he could sense if something was in his path or not, though he wasn't good enough yet to discern what that something was. Still, it wasn't long before he was able to walk on his own a little more naturally.

Once he was back on his feet, Xiao Lang knew the only way that he could improve was with constant practice. However, neither of the girls were capable of sparring with him in any way as neither could handle a sword or any sort of weapon that wasn't bow and arrows. At Sakura's eagerness to learn, he tried to teach her the basics of using a sword with long tree branches they found. Other times, he practiced defense. The "staff" that Sakura used had been a broken off table leg from the inn they stayed in. And while his hearing had improved as time went on, his senses were still rather dulled as it was exceedingly difficult to concentrate on so much at one time. He also had to admit that Sakura wasn't a very effective training partner as she was sometimes a little too careful, on her own part, not to hurt him, so the pressure to defend was nowhere near as strong.

On Wing Kay's end, she took no part in any of this. Although he couldn't see it, Xiao Lang sensed some disapproval and a great deal of reluctance from the older girl. She never tried to stop him but he knew that if he asked for her help, she wouldn't be particularly willing to give it to him. Also, when she was around, he always kept his eyelids closed around her as it seemed she felt discomfort when she saw his sightless eyes.

Xiao Lang may have only guessed the older girl's opposition, but Sakura was certainly aware of it. After the first time the prince had enlisted Sakura's help, Wing Kay had quietly bereted her after he had gone to sleep, asking the girl how she could listen to his willfulness to train when he wasn't even well enough to do so. As it was, it wasn't like they were in immediate danger so he should just take that time to rest. Sakura had understood Xiao Lang's desperation about his helpless state and not wanting to be coddled, and said she wasn't going to stop him so long as it didn't hurt him. Angry at her defiance, Wing Kay blurted out, "It's your fault he's hurt like this in the first place!" She clamped both hands over her mouth then lowered them and apologized, but the damage was done. The words hung heavily in the air over them. There was no need for her to take it back as both girls knew she had meant what she said. Sakura stood up, wanting to put an end to that conversation.

"It's because it was my fault that I'm taking responsibility." Her voice was rather stiff and she paused for a moment before adding, "And because I could never say no if he asks for my help."

Knowing her own true feelings now, Wing Kay didn't see the need to mince words any longer with the princess. "If anything like this ever happens again," she said coldly, as she also stood up, "I won't forgive you." She had left the room then and Sakura never saw her again until the next day.

"…you all right?" Sakura broke out of her reverie to find Xiao Lang facing her questioningly, his eyebrows creased with concern.

"It's nothing, it's nothing," she replied quickly, annoyed at herself for not paying attention during his training. Xiao Lang took the short staff from her and held her hand in his.

"Let's call it a day and head back," he said, a smile on his face as he squeezed her hand gently. Sakura couldn't help but smile back. She'd do anything to protect that optimistic expression of his. Anything that would help him get better.

You didn't need to tell me that, Sakura addressed Wing Kay silently, thinking back to what the latter had said that night. I'd never forgive myself if anything happened to Xiao Lang again because of me.

- - - - - - - - - - -

The light wind felt nice on his cheek as it slowly breezed by him. He could hear the wind as it moved through the trees and tall grass in that area. For the first time in a long while, he felt a sense of calm and he relaxed a little. Xiao Lang opened his eyelids again, looking at nothing in particular. If the vegetation was anything like what he was used to, he could just imagine what the place looked like. Taking up his sword again, he continued his practice swings and he could hear Sakura doing the same. The biggest regret he had was that, without the rings, he was unable to practice with the powers they lent to his sword.

He could hear footsteps nearby getting louder as they strode purposefully toward them. The prince could tell immediately that whoever it was offered them no harm. The girl stopped near them but not close enough that she could interfere with their practice. "We're not finished yet, Wing Kay," he said, stifling a heavy sigh. He was getting a little tired of her constant admonitions to stop training and to do nothing besides rest.

"I wasn't going to ask you to stop," Wing Kay replied coolly. "I finished my work for the day and I just wanted to be with you two, that's all." Xiao Lang bit his lip at his hasty reproach, thinking he should have known her better than that.

Having replaced his sword with a stick similar to the one Sakura wielded, they both parried for a short while. He could see that Sakura had improved in leaps and bounds, considering the fact that she could barely hold her pseudo-sword properly just three weeks ago. As he admired her strength, he knew he couldn't allow himself to slack off either and he smiled despite himself.

The prince heard them screaming his name before he realized he was lying on the ground. His body suddenly felt like it was on fire and his head pounded like crazy. But as quickly as the attack came, it had subsided, leaving him gasping on the ground, his breathing heavy as he tried to regain his senses. A minute barely passed since his collapse and both girls had already lifted him up together and helped him back toward the inn.

They both half-guided, half-dragged him back into their room, immediately putting him to rest on the bed. Sakura had just pulled the covers over his chest and was about to leave when he reached out and grabbed the back of her skirt. "I'm sorry," he coughed out, his hand shaking a little. "Let's continue again tomorrow." Sakura gently removed his hand and tucked it back under the covers. She kissed him lightly on the forehead, relieved to hear his breathing ease a bit. Wing Kay's eyes greeted her in the hallway as she left the room and she knew they said, without the older girl actually saying it. "I told you so."

This wasn't the first time this sort of attack had happened, but Xiao Lang reassured them each time that it was just a passing thing. Even so, both girls felt frustrated at not being able to help him more. Sakura picked up Xiao Lang's dragon sword and walked off. Wing Kay followed her out.

Stepping to a secluded area behind the inn, Sakura continued her practice, only using the sword this time. On the occasions Xiao Lang was resting, she used it instead, getting a feel for the more substantial object. The more she practiced with it, the more she noticed the sword no longer felt as heavy as the day she first borrowed it and she maintained a firm grip on the hilt with each swing. Wing Kay had been watching her silently for a while before she finally spoke.

"You should just stop doing this already," she began. "All this constant training is causing him a lot of stress. It's not like even you can improve that much more with all this extra practice. At the very least, go look for a job and make yourself useful this time so that we can provide him with some financial support." Sakura didn't say anything in response and, without another word, Wing Kay turned on her heel to leave.

"Thank you." The practice swings halted as Sakura stabbed the sword into the ground. Wing Kay stopped without turning around. "It's all been so hard for you. I know you're working at the inn as a waitress because we have no money," the princess continued, her grip tightening on the hilt. "I know you're still with us because you also can't leave him alone. The me right now…I can't do any of those things like getting a job. This is the only way I can help him. So…we're truly grateful that you're here."

"I can't be here forever," Wing Kay said, still not looking at her.

"I know," Sakura replied evenly. "Whenever you decide to go, I'll be ready to be his sole support. Even if that day's tomorrow."

There was a pause. "Of course it won't be tomorrow," scoffed the older girl and Sakura knew their truce could last a little longer.

- - - - - - - - - - -

"Hey, you're really pretty. How about joining us later when you're done?"

The intentions behind the innocent-sounding comment were immediately given away by the expectant smirk on the man's face, and the equally wide grin on his friend's. Wing Kay unceremoniously collected their plates and quickly moved on. "Sorry," she said coolly, "my hands are already full."

The innkeeper's wife took the pile of plates from Wing Kay's hands and clasped the younger girl's hands in her work-hardened ones. "Thank you for everything today," the elderly lady said with a gentle smile. She let go of the younger girl's hands for a moment to pass her a tray laden with food. "Why don't you finish up early today and share this with your friends?" With a grateful smile, Wing Kay accepted the tray and hurried to the inn side of the building.

In the hallway, she was met unexpectedly by the same two guys from the restaurant. It wasn't the first time people had tried to ask her out, but these two were the first to persist this far. Ignoring them, she continued walking until one of them blocked her way with his arm. "We heard your boss say you're finished now. So how about it?" Wing Kay moved away but backed into his friend instead. His companion was behind her and he casually placed his arm around her shoulders and tried to make her walk with them.

"No," she protested, the tray still clenched tight in her hands, "I have to-" The tray was wrenched from her and the man dropped it on the floor, the food spilling onto the tray as the bowls were overturned. He grinned at her as he dusted off his hands.

"Now you're free. Let's go."

Turning around, the man bumped into someone else in the hallway. "Watch it!" he shouted with an angry scowl at the younger man in the hallway. He raised his hand to push him out of the way, but the other person caught his arm before he could lower it.

"Xiao Lang," Wing Kay murmured, surprised to see him.

"Stop it," Xiao Lang said sharply, still facing the taller man as he released the man's arm. "Don't bother her."

"And who's going to stop us?" the man sneered, after looking him up and down to size him up. "You?" His friend let go of Wing Kay as they both moved toward the prince.

"No!" Wing Kay cried, grabbing the back of the shirts of one of them. He easily brushed her aside. Both of them loomed over the prince but before either of them could lay a hand on him, he had dealt each of them a swift punch to the gut, instantly dropping them both to their knees. Xiao Lang walked past them and stood by Wing Kay.

"If you still really want to fight, we can," he told them calmly. "I'll even go easy on you." Clutching their stomachs, both of them glared menacingly at Xiao Lang as they stood up, but he faced them unflinchingly. Scowls on both their faces, they stood up and left without causing more trouble. Before Xiao Lang could turn around, Wing Kay suddenly hugged him from behind. It was as if nothing had changed. Xiao Lang was still Xiao Lang.

Xiao Lang turned around in her arms and lightly patted her head. "Are you all right?" he asked softly. Wing Kay looked up and met his sightless eyes. He smiled at her. "Thank you for all your hard work." The spell was broken. Wing Kay immediately let go and stepped back.

"I-I'm fine," she said, regaining her composure, going to retrieve the tray. The prince beat her to it and had already picked it up for her. Taking it from him, Wing Kay paused before leaving. "Xiao Lang, thank you. But please don't spoil me anymore." As the sound of her footsteps rescinded down the hall, Xiao Lang could only wonder what she had meant by that.

- - - - - - - - - - -

Leaning the staff against the wall, Sakura wiped the sweat from her brow with her sleeve. Although the temperature had generally turned cooler the last few days, the sun was currently at its zenith and she had become quite warm. Shedding her outer tunic, she tossed it aside before resuming her practice.

I wish there was some other way I could be of help to him, Sakura thought wistfully, as she mulled over everything they had done together so far in terms of training. She stopped again, her hand moving to touch her pendant instead. If only she could help him with his magic. Did she not often hear from so many different people about how powerful her magic was? But very rarely had her magic appeared because she had made it to. Her fingers tightened on the pendant. It couldn't have just been a fluke. After all, the Li masters had accepted her, hadn't they? That's why she was allowed to be by Xiao Lang's side now.

Sakura thought hard, trying to remember every instance she had used her magic. There was that time she had faced Chi Yuen. She knew she had used it then. Her body had felt so warm, slightly overwhelmed by the power coursing through her. That was what she had to achieve again.

Recalling what the prince had done when he was practicing, she closed her eyes, cupped her hands together, and concentrated, trying to call on that magic. Nothing. Ignoring how silly she knew she looked standing still there, she tried again, her hands pressed hard together. Still nothing.

Maybe she was just hopeless. With a small sigh, Sakura was about to give up when she heard the words Try again. She did so and when she felt a sudden spark, she jumped back in surprise. Was that her that did this? That's it. Pull that power out. With her hands cupped together and her brow furrowed in concentration, she tried once more. This time, she felt an explosion of warmth in the palm of her hands, slowly spreading to the rest of her body. It felt quite similar to the warmth she felt before when she last had her power in her grasp.

"It worked!" she whispered aloud. A tiny turquoise orb floated between the palms of her hands, little jolts running around it. She was so excited by this that it was a moment before she noticed that her body was beginning to feel a little too warm and it was starting to hurt. She gasped when one of the jolts from the arm snaked up her arm, leave singe marks on her skin in its wake. The orb was growing in the meantime, feeding on her power, stray bolts striking out randomly. Something had gone completely wrong yet Sakura could only watch helplessly as it grew out of her control.

Perhaps if she separated her hands… The orb began to warp when she did, bigger bolts striking out so she kept them close together again. One of those bolts leapt out and Sakura stumbled backward to avoid it. However, she didn't fall. A pair of strong arms caught and supported her, ignoring the cut on his cheek that the jolt had made after it had swept past her. There was no time to ask Xiao Lang why he was here, though she half expected him to reprimand her for her stupidity. "Let it go!" he was saying instead.

"I can't!" she cried. "It gets worse when I do!"

"It's okay! It'll definitely be all right," he said, using her own words, his arms wrapped tight around her waist. Her eyes were wide with fear, knowing the enormity of the situation and what she had tried to done. As her eyes met his, he nodded reassuringly at her. Seeing the steadfastness of his gaze, she pulled her hands apart.

The orb contorted for just a moment. Then that overwhelming power spiraled out of her reach, blasting everything around her away, including Xiao Lang. As he was pushed away, the prince grasped at empty air, unable to maintain his grip, and fell back against something. It was a few moments before everything settled and the power completely dissipated into the air. Wing Kay helped to steady him as he picked himself up, his hands pressed against both ears. There was an intense ringing in them that didn't seem to stop and it hurt immensely. It took a little longer for that to finally stop yet the silence after it was equally eerie.

"Sakura? Wing Kay?" he called out tentatively.

He heard nothing.

Xiao Lang could still feel Wing Kay by his side, her hand still pressed worriedly on his shoulder. "Sakura, Wing Kay," he called again, a little louder this time.

Once again there was no response.

A feeling of dread sank in his stomach. "Wing Kay," he said, turning to face the girl beside him, "if you can hear me, squeeze my shoulder." There was a moment's hesitation but he could feel a slight squeeze on his shoulder. Trying to ignore the lump forming in his throat, he then asked her, "Please say something. Anything."

Absolute silence.

Realization set in, but Xiao Lang still couldn't believe it. Rather, he didn't want to believe it. He only had to suffer for a few more seconds of this deafening silence before he lost himself to merciful unconsciousness. It was a long time before he could wake up again.

- - - - - - - - - - -

The hallway was cold as what few candles used to light the way gave off little heat though it went unnoticed by the girl curled up outside the doors of one of the inn's rooms. Sakura pulled her legs closer to her body, ignoring the sting of her still red cheek. After what happened, Wing Kay was finally unable to contain her emotions and slapped the younger girl, angry tears coursing down her cheeks. But Sakura wished that something like this could take away the pain Xiao Lang felt. She was equally mortified and angry with herself for letting her own powers get out of control and hurting him like this. Instead of being the indirect cause, there was no doubt that she was the reason he was hurt this time. Wing Kay had then kicked her out of the room, not wanting to let Sakura near the prince anymore. Whether or not the princess was caught by the imperial guards now meant nothing to the older girl.

Sitting on the side of the bed, Wing Kay watched over the sleeping Xiao Lang, both of her hands clasped tightly around his. Never, in all the time she had known him, had she ever seen him in such bad shape. He had also been working so hard these past few weeks to not allow his blindness to hinder him that it was so disheartening to see this happen to him now. Earlier, she had just gone outside after work to look for them when she saw the strange light in Sakura's hands warping out of control and Xiao Lang getting caught up in the blast. And after his strange, frantic questions and his lack of response when they had answered him, it was immediately apparent what had happened. Wing Kay knew exactly how it happened this time, too. It was all Kinomoto Sakura's fault, she thought angrily, for fooling around with her powers and not being able to keep them under control. Luckily for all of them, this had happened far enough from the inn that no one else had been affected by the blast nor could anyone connect them to it, though they certainly distanced themselves from that place as quickly as they could.

Feeling Xiao Lang's hand twitching in her hands, Wing Kay turned her attention back to the prince. It would be the first time he had regained consciousness since the incident. He moved his head groggily, trying to shake off sleep and opened his eyes. Before she could say anything, the first thing out of his mouth was, "Where's Sakura?"

Wing Kay hesitated for a second, wondering if he was serious. He was about to repeat his question when she suddenly turned his hand palm side up. Slowly and deliberately, she wrote on his palm using her index finger. "She's not h-" was all she had managed before he pulled his hand away from her. She stared at him but not for very long.

Hurt at this sort of rejection, she stood up abruptly and walked out. Sakura looked up in surprise when the door opened and her eyes met Wing Kay's briefly before the latter stalked out of the room and disappeared down the stairs. She had left the door open and, despite the fact that she warned Sakura to stay away from Xiao Lang, Sakura peered inside. Xiao Lang was sitting up in the bed, one hand holding his head. It hurt her to see him looking so forlorn. She knew she had no qualifications to be with him, after giving him so many problems. Xiao Lang lifted his head then and got out of bed, groping about in desperation. "Saku…ra…" she heard him say.

She was by his side in an instant, pushing him to sit back on the bed before he walked into the chair. Feeling her at his side, his hand clamped onto her wrist. "I found you," he said with a smile, the cheerfulness in his tone unmistakable. Sakura choked back her tears, wondering how it could be possible that he didn't hate her. But she had to tell him, that she was sorry. Looking around, she wondered how she could communicate with him when he held his palm out to her and pointed at it with his other hand. Understanding what she meant, she tried, a little shakily to write "sorry". Glancing up, she could see his eyebrows knit together in confusion, not recognizing what she had wrote. She tried again. His confusion was still apparent.

Sakura's heart sank as she realized that, as similar as their writing was for the most part, there were some words that could be written differently. For most of the time she had been in this country, she had little reason to read anything and there was even less meaning in writing. She had always assumed that just being able to speak would be enough.

Her fingers suddenly tightened on Xiao Lang's hand and they were trembling slightly. Something wet also landed on his outstretched palm, followed by another drop, then another. Was she…crying? Even if he couldn't see her or hear her, Xiao Lang figured out immediately what she was trying to say. "No!" he cried intensely. Sakura was startled to hear his voice and the tears stopped in an instant. "It's not your fault this happened! You're not responsible so don't you dare think it," he admonished her. "It's just me that needs to be stronger. That way, something like this won't happen again." It wasn't like he could see how his situation could be any worse than it currently was.

As she wiped her eyes clear with the back of her hand, Sakura could see that it wasn't just naïve optimism but what he really believed. "No," she told him, knowing full well that he couldn't hear her, "we both need to be stronger." Xiao Lang looked up at her, his eyes searching for a face he couldn't see.

"Will you still help me with my training?"

"Yes," she wrote on the palm of his hand.

- - - - - - - - - - -

"I-I'm sorry, Your Highness! Please don't have me killed!"

The guard quailed under the younger man's gaze, a man known for his ruthlessness, especially as of late. He had been increasingly restless since his return from Chengkou several months ago.

Li Shui Ken waved him off with a huff, dismissing the guard immediately. The man was only happy to still make it out in one piece and removed himself from the prince's sight immediately, lest he changed his mind.

After the doors closed behind the retreating guard, Shui Ken stood up from his seat and walked to the window. He looked out at nothing in particular for a short while before closing the shutters, the bright light outside annoying him. Staring at his hand for a moment, the ninth prince was thinking of when he had last touched that girl's soft hair. His hand suddenly clenched tight, he punched the wall in frustration. After losing Sakura to those two strangers, he had never been able to find her again. What was even weirder was that many of the guards he had sent were winding up dead. He doubted that his younger half-brother was the cause of this as he would never have the guts to kill another person. Maybe the one killing them were those two masked men but, instinctively, Shui Ken didn't think so. Still, there was someone else out there trying to stop him from finding them.

While guards were easily disposable, Shui Ken didn't exactly want all of them dead either when they could still be useful. Perhaps instead of chasing after her, he could make it so that the princess would want to return to him.

There was a light knock on the door. "Yes?" answered Shui Ken, walking back to his seat.

"Your Highness," the guard said through the door, "your twin cousins, the ones you had asked us to monitor, the one named Li Mei Ling has returned to her home just recently."

Shui Ken's mouth curled up with a smile. He had found his new starting point.

- - - - - - - - - - -

It was when he was in the dark that he was able to be himself again. Shadows danced on the wall opposite him, a wildly flickering candle the only light available. He didn't need to chase them any longer since he knew exactly where the trio was: they had let themselves remain stationary for a few months now. It was a wonder that they hadn't been caught by any of Shui Ken's guards at this point. After all, he could easily point the guards in the right direction…

Well, he could have, but of course there was no way he'd do that, he thought, poking vaguely at the dormant elemental rings sitting on the table beside him. He still wasn't finished with the brat prince, after all. There was still more he wanted to take from him, wanted to see him completely broken. Thus, he had taken care of the ninth prince's guards himself, using them to pass the time.

He also had to admit that he hadn't counted on the Japanese princess' recent stupidity, trying to use a power that she had no control over. Without any sort of training, how did she expect to be able to use it? But with his furtive suggestions that she had been on the right track, she had naively believed him. Instead of being of help to Xiao Lang as she had hoped, she had instead been an added catalyst to the prince's eventual complete ruin.

The candle went out and out of the shadows emerged one that called himself Li Yao Liang. It was time to pay a certain someone another visit.

- - - - - - - - - - -

Sakura suddenly shuddered as a cold breeze wafted through the room. That was strange; she was certain that the window shutters had been closed but the distinct smell of the outside night air reached her nose. Hearing something rustling some feet away from her, she sat up and looked around. What met her eyes was the last thing she had expected to see that night. Yao Liang was half-kneeling, half-standing over Xiao Lang, his hand pushing the latter's shoulder down as the prince struggled to remove the older man's grip. She could clearly see Xiao Lang's angry, tearstained face from the moonlight that streamed in through the open window and Sakura was startled to see his tears.

Before she could react, someone clamped their hand over her mouth and quickly tied her arms and legs. She stared up at Wing Kay in surprise, who refused to return her gaze as she covered Sakura's mouth with a cloth to keep her quiet.

"Sakura is in our hands right now." Sakura looked back and her eyes met Yao Liang's. He smirked at her before turning back to the prince. "So you had just better relinquish the dragon sword." She could see Xiao Lang's mouth moving but she didn't hear him utter a single word. What had happened to him now?

See how weak and powerless you have become? Even your voice can't reach her now.

Shut up! Xiao Lang cried out silently. After hearing nothing for so long, his mind was now filled with Yao Liang's constant goading and taunting. He knew that the only reason he could hear Yao Liang speaking to him was through magic and it was through that same magic that Yao Liang could also hear him.

With both sight and sound stripped from him, the only reason Xiao Lang could even tell what time of day it was, was when Sakura wished him good morning and good night everyday. As dull as his senses had become, Xiao Lang had distinctly felt something was wrong that night and had woken up, only to be roughly shoved back down by Yao Liang. He had been about to call out to Sakura and Wing Kay for help when his master told him not to bother.

"After all," Xiao Lang heard him say, Yao Liang's hand wrapped around his neck as a way of keeping him down, "she has been working for me for far longer than you could ever guess. She wouldn't bother lifting a finger for the helpless you anymore."

The moment those words were said, Xiao Lang could feel his heart thud heavily in his chest. "Wing…" he started to say but his throat suddenly closed up. He knew that even if he tried to speak anymore, no words would come out. Shoulders sagging, his grip weakening, it seemed as if he had taken the news particularly hard. However, Xiao Lang had only acted as if he had been completely defeated for that moment and immediately pulled a small blade hidden under his pillow. Yao Liang easily moved away as it slashed past him, wondering what this weak motion was supposed to do to him. But attacking the older man was not his intention. He used the blade to cut his arm, the pain jolting him awake. There was no way he would allow himself to lose consciousness like the other times, to leave himself at Yao Liang's complete mercy.

His master swiped at the prince's hand, knocking the blade away, and it landed uselessly on the ground. As the older man shifted positions just then, with his hand pushing down Xiao Lang's shoulder instead, Sakura had awoken at that very moment. "Let her go," Xiao Lang mouthed to him. He stopped struggling and cursed him, more concerned about her safety than his own. "Get off me and I'll give you the damn sword." Yao Liang sat back for a moment and watched as the younger man wiped his eyes angrily before groping around the side of the bed nearest to the wall. Reaching down himself, Yao Liang pulled the sword from the bed's side, a little surprised that it had been sitting in a niche made just for it and completely hidden away from sight.

Sword in hand, Yao Liang got up and held his hand out to Wing Kay. The hand she gave him was cold, but she moved to his side, her eyes fixed on the ground, not looking at either Sakura or Xiao Lang. Sakura tried to call her back but her voice was completely muffled by the cloth. In an instant, they both vanished from the room.

Xiao Lang had sat up on his bed, not moving, his head lowered and hidden by the shadows. Unable to shake off the bounds, Sakura shimmied across the room as quickly as she could move, pausing to sneeze because of the dust on the floor every once and a while. When she reached the bed, she placed her arms on the side and hoisted herself up beside him. His expression was a mixed one of shock, desolation, and anger. With her hands still tied together, Sakura placed her arms around his neck so that she could hold him to her.

The sudden touch was an added shock for the one who felt completely and utterly alone, unable to see or hear even strangers. He felt as if he had been dead for a long time. The arms that held him felt warm and alive, and her scent was sweet. Xiao Lang reached out and hugged her back hard, so fiercely that it hurt. Sakura, protested for a moment, wincing in pain. But she didn't pull away and bore it for his sake. He wanted to just stay like this forever, holding this girl. However…

Xiao Lang couldn't forget it. He couldn't forget the taunts master had cast at him, he couldn't forget the pain in his heart at Wing Kay's added betrayal… Xiao Lang lifted Sakura's arms up from around his neck, his hands over the ties on her wrists as he lowered her arms. He stared at her. At least, he wanted to. When he had his sight, he drank in every sight of her, sometimes even stealing glances at her during the times he thought he wasn't allowed to love this girl. But after not being able to see her for so long, it was like he was starting to forget what she looked like.

Would she do the same thing they had done? It wasn't entirely improbable. After all, the two people he had trusted the most in the world had both already betrayed him. If she was also going to leave him, he thought, anger flooding him once more, then he didn't want to loosen those bounds. He wanted to keep her tied to him, even if she eventually came to hate him for trapping her.

Without thinking, he had already begun to untie her hands and he let go as the binds dropped onto the bed. Her hands now free, it only took Sakura a moment to remove the ties on her ankles and around her mouth. She was about to move closer to him when he suddenly pushed her away and then recoiled back as if he had been burned by touching her. Xiao Lang tried to say something but remembered then that he no longer could. Frustration welled up again and he pulled away from Sakura. He couldn't see the look of surprise and hurt on her face but he wouldn't have done anything even if he had. Until he squelched his desire to completely monopolize her, regardless of her feelings, whether they were love or hate of him, Xiao Lang resolved never to touch her again.

Not until the doubt clouding his heart disappeared.

Author's Note: And so ends the worst school semester in history. Wait, I lied. It hasn't ended yet. D: I still have a giant paper to write and one exam left. It has been a terribly hectic term these past four months because a certain dummy thought it'd be a great idea to take on a courseload that exceeded 100 percent. :P The majority of my exams are behind me, though, so I tried to finish up this chapter sooner than later. To be honest, a lot of it still dissatisfies me. Likely much of it is due to the fact that I'm still annoyed with the slow pacing of the story for the first ten-odd chapters (because, back then, I thought shorter chapters would induce me to update faster…it didn't make any difference).

I'll be out of town during winter break and I hope I'll be able to write when I'm onboard the plane. But I say that every time and I really need a computer to be able to write anything substantial. I guess we'll see what happens. The next chapter is one of the last few that I have a concrete outline for though that actually rarely helps (sometimes it's more of a hindrance).

Comments and criticisms on writing style and structure would be greatly appreciated. After all, there's always room for improvement. :)

For non FF.N members, if you wish to be alerted when there's a new chapter and/or added to the mailing list, please mention it here.

Author's Note to Light in the Darkness: "I didn't expect him to take Syaoran's eye sight too! (he took it, right? hahaha imagine if I'm wrong and I'm getting all worked out for nothing XP sigh the random thoughts that float in my head ...)"
While he didn't exactly "take" it, Syaoran losing his sight was certainly because of him. As with the other times in this chapter, you might have noticed it was only after a particular bad shock that caused Syaoran's condition to deteriorate further. Syaoran's kind of unlucky here, ne? -sweats-

Author's Note to afsdferythjyhg: "Truth be told, I kinda forgot about this story. I had to read the last chapter over again, and things are still kinda hazy."
And I haven't been helping by posting the chapters so far apart. -3- You'd think that since I already know what's going to happen (mostly) that they'd be a breeze to write, but, nooooooo… By the way, excellent user name. :D

Author's Note to Papayas: "I heard they're not continuing the anime and only the manga is to go on TT. I don't know why, I loved the anime too."
Most likely because it wasn't overly popular with most fans in general? However, at this point, they have released the OVA Tokyo Revelations for Tsubasa that was very nicely done…from the bits I skimmed of it (I haven't even had time to watch one episode of anything lately).

Author's Note to rosedreamer101: "is there going to be clow card??"
Although this fic is an AU of the CCS-verse, it's more due to the characters than the plot. While Clow Cards haven't appeared in that exact way, elemental spirits are the same as that of the Clow Cards, i.e. Water ring's spirit is the same as the card Watery in terms of appearance and temperament.

And thank you FuyuSarah, -Kori Kage Tenshi-, SakuraAyanami, icyblossom3, RedWingedAngel002 x6, Cherrysinger, and Lovewish for your reviews!!

-The Animé Archives