AN: Okay, this is a note to anyone who thinks it's a good idea to write your prologue in 3 hours—in the middle of the night—and then go ahead and post it. Actually, I also find it quite a testament to how much a writer can grow over the course of a fic, and then feel like they have to fix earlier chapters. At any rate, this has been re-written so that it's a bit more up to par with the later chapters. Please enjoy!
Disclaimer: This is a disclaimer. It's a lovely little memento that all of us authors her on FF have to add to the beginning of our fics so that none of you lovely readers out there can be lulled into believing that we own any of the works we base our fics on. Considering that the site is called 'Fanfiction'.net, however, I expect most of you already know that I am not, nor have I ever been (outside my sick, twisted dreams) been a member of CLAMP, and do not own CCS one bit. This has now been a really long (but undoubtedly original!) disclaimer.
Part 1: Clow Reed
Seventeen centuries after the birth of Christ, eight decades after Robert Devereux was beheaded, three hundred years since the birth of Marco Polo, sixteen years after the great plague of London, four months before the year of the rooster was declared in China, came to England a weary traveler, traveling from afar, into a pub on a rainy afternoon, into a desolate bar where a little candle flickered, to change the world thus far.
Chapter 1, the Stranger
In the nowhere town of Fai, China, they still sometimes talked about it when all other gossip is low—occasions when the weather was hot and the citizens had little more to do with themselves than laze around under the shade of the nearest tree. They talked of Li Chen, the little girl who had caused the downfall of her family. They talked of her betrayal with her wretched foreign lover, and sometimes even of her son, who all but hanged himself in the end. It didn't really matter in the grand scheme of things: the Li family had long since moved away from Fai in favor of Hong Kong's much more vibrant streets, but when you've got nothing to talk about and all day to talk, there's nothing like a good scandal to draw up a conversation. It happened many years ago, they said, back in the 17th century, the old trails and traces that Marco Polo had himself walked brought a curious man named Reed to their little town. So the legend said, he had come seeking council form the peculiarly famous Li clan—no doubt from a shared interest in certain illicit affairs which both families were rumored to have delved in. He had been out right refused, the story told, for what reasons no one alive could remember, but had not left the city in dismay as was expected. Instead, he chose to linger, for weeks, months, perhaps even years—the tales exact details had long-since become skewed. The most elaborate of story tellers would here begin winding the tales of a great deception that followed, though the stories are many and diverse, telling of everything from rebel attempts to the slaying of dragons. But there is one man in this nowhere town upon whose porch many a listener will gather to hear what he calls the real story.
"She loved him in secret, little Li Chen." A one Yi Min informs his gathered audience. "She would run to his home by the cover of the night, dressed in black silk she stole from her mother, and knock thrice upon Reed's door: their secret code.
"They were wed in the woods," he tells further when he is satisfied his listeners hang on his every word. "With only the moon and the stars as their whiteness, before Reed's return to England, where he soon after died, it is said that she bore him a son and named him Clow
* * *
"Well now, you look like you've been travilin' quite a ways now, haven't you fella'?"
In his long years of serving up morning beers to busy workmen on their way to their bleak and meaningless jobs, and midnight whiskeys to the widest assortment of lonely and broken-hearted, Tom Withers thought he had seen everything. That is, until one soggy evening in September.
Business had been slow that day, no one wanting to make the trudge in this awful rain, he supposed, down to his little pub. Nice to know he had such loyal customers that wouldn't be bothered by a light little drizzle. But as slow as the day had been, Tom hadn't been entirely without 'customers', if you could call them that. Earlier in the morning he'd had old Elizabeth Rae who lived a block down, (probably stocking up for a 'customer' or two of her own, Tom suspected) and there'd been some young couple in just before noon who sat by the window with some of his cheaper wine, but they'd left when the weather took a turn for the worse. Some drunk who'd wandered in off the streets had been here for quite awhile now too, sitting alone in a dark little corner of the bar, occasionally ordering a glass of whatever alcohol popped into his head at the time. Needless to say, local barman Tom Withers, who had long since given up on selling many drinks today and resorted instead to wiping out glasses and mugs with a little moth-eaten rag, was most certainly not expecting at exactly 5:42 that particular evening to come across the strangest fellow yet to walk into his bar.
Tom thought for a moment that he had imagined it when he heard the little bell above his door ring. In fact, if it hadn't been accompanied by the sudden thunderous sound of the pouring rain outside and quickly followed by the creak of the old rickety door sliding shut again, he may not have even looked up from his glasses at all. Unbelievingly, the tired barman glanced up from his work—he just had to get a look at what kind of nutcase had walked into his bar this time (for truth be told, that was the sort he'd seemed to get all day). It was quite a sight that met old Tom's eyes. Just inside the squeaky wooden door stood the most peculiar looking fellow the stunned barman had ever seen –or at least the most peculiar he'd seen in a very long time—dripping on his floor.
He wore a big, black, furry traveling coat that went, it seemed, all the way up to his ears; beneath this mass of fur, Tom could sees at least three other layers of mismatched clothing including a standard brown gentleman's coat that was splotched with stains and filled with holes, a semi-sheer, ratty grey cloak (for lack of a better word), and on the bottom a silk shirt of pure white. His pants were a worn and faded brown with the pockets turned inside out. The gentleman wore no hat, but rather left his long black mane of hair dripping as it fell about his face from its messy ponytail. The loose strands lay strewn across his shoulders from the torrential winds outside, and, in the chaos, it was difficult to determine where man ended and dark fuzzy coat began. Out from this mass of black, could be seen a pair of wire-rimmed glasses, a few drops of rain (which hadn't yet grown too heavy and fallen from their perch) were still visible on the foggy glass surface. The heavy, though worn, boots on the chap's feet, and the many straps of numerous different leather bags, running across the man's chest, gave every impression of his obvious long journey to get not only to Tom's bar, but probably to this town in general. Indeed, Tom thought to himself as the gentleman paused momentarily to wipe his glasses, revealing a pair of dark blue, almond-shaped eyes, he hardly seemed from this country at all!
This was a time long before the invention of cruise ships or aeroplanes which could link together the wide and diverse world. It was only a few centuries in fact since trade roots had been established to the exotic lands of India and the Far East, and likewise as long since European explorers had dared to explore the depths of Africa. Even shorter was the time since the Americas, the farthest of the eastern lands yet, had been stumbled upon by 'civilized' man. It was a tricky age in which the distant cultures, resources, and peoples of the rest of the diverse world were only beginning to be discovered, and the established societal rules on how precisely to regard their fellow races had not yet entirely occurred to the budding British Empire. All the same, it was quite apart from the usual to have a gentleman of such clearly Eastern influence wander into your bar in the late evening—most especially for Tom Whithers who had long-since accepted that nothing interesting could ever come to this, his tiny village home.
Possibly the oddest thing about Tom's new customer, however, was not his hair or his shoes, his furry coat or inside out-pockets, his inky oriental hair or his slanted eyes, but the smile he wore on his face. A soft and yet evilly maniacal smile which still hung about his lips even as he shook his hair like a soggy old dog in a pointless attempt to clear it of water. It was an almost comical expression—as though it had been permanently painted on by da Vinci, or Botticelli, or some other of the great masters of the past few decades—for it seemed that neither the horrid weather, nor the gloom of Tom's bar could stop this stranger's immovable grin.
After his pitiful attempt to rid his long black hair of the rain outside, Tom's strange visitor made his way to the bar and sat down on the nearest stool: one a few seats down from the drunk in the corner who had been Old Tom's primary customer all day. It took the barman a few moments before he realized this motion; he'd been so busy contemplating the fellow's odd appearance!
"Oh… uhh…good afternoon to ya'!" Tom managed to blurt out, finally coming back to his senses.
"And the same I might offer to you," the stranger in the furry coat replied. "Although the weather is hardly what I'd call good, this storm's been following me ever since I lay foot on Bristol, by now I'll be surprised if I ever dry back out again." He laughed. He spoke with an accent that was not quite like anything Tom had heard before all across the isles—but of course, that really wasn't at all where he suspected this man to be from, was it? His voice danced upon the syllables with an almost musical quality which the old barman was sure he had never heard before even on foreigners. But despite this peculiarity, there was nothing about the fellow's speech which he could call incorrect. He had the distinct sound of someone trying very hard to pretend as if he'd been living in southern England his entire life, but that wasn't all that unusual in a small village like this even with domestic strangers from the north (where, if Tom was to be honest, they spoke something which not quite what he would call 'English' anyway). Indeed, of all the learned London-area accents the old man had heard in his days, he had to admit that this odd foreign fellow had one of the best. Clearly, he had been well educated before he came here. And just as clearly, Tom mused, he must have known that it was here in the southern country that he wanted to make his business (though indeed, he thought, who wouldn't).
The man ordered himself a glass of brandy and let his gaze wander off in the direction by the happily dancing flame of the candle that Tom had been cleaning his glasses by only minutes before. Still curious about this stranger, Tom peered carefully over his shoulder at the fellow as he filled one of his recently wiped cups with deep amber liquid. He watched how the little flame glimmered in the stranger's eyes, how it seemed to entice and hypnotize him as he stared off into its blazing depths. Tom passed his new customer his glass of brandy, not letting his gaze drift from the gentleman's face. The man passed Tom a few coins which the barman was too distracted to pay much attention to, and all was silent for a few moments. Both the strange traveler and Tom stared, each locked in their gazing and wondering, with the only sound a few whispered grunts from the drunk in the corner. With the force of a canon, both men's trances were broken as an enormous clap of thunder sounded from the raging storm outside. The walls shook with the impact, and the little bottles on their walls clinked and shivered. The drunk in the corner looked haphazardly around with his sunken, stupid eyes. Tom blinked a few times confusedly, and the fellow sitting before him seemed to shake his gaze from the candle on the bar.
As though he had just awakened from a deep sleep, Tom suddenly realized that he finally had his first real customer of the day, and hadn't even broken conversation yet! He felt hotly embarrassed with himself; what could he have been thinking? Didn't he have a reputation to uphold? As the first and only barman of this eastern edge of Surrey (well, unless you counted those two lunatics up in Bagshot)? The time was ripe to make merry, after all, it wasn't every day this little town got visitors! What on earth could he have been thinking of? Truth be told, Tom couldn't remember one bit about what he had found so important a moment ago… perhaps it would come back to him later. The hypnotic state of mind the fire had brought a few moments ago seemed to be instantly forgotten, and in years to come, Old Tom Withers would never be able to remember any of the events past or to come on this night as anything more than perhaps a fond nighttime dream. Now, it seemed his only focus was finding out more about this oddly dressed stranger who'd wandered into his pub. Bristol…he'd said something about Bristol…Tom glanced from the fellow's traveling bags to his long draping cloak and his big fuzzy jacket, and at last spoke.
"Well now, you look like you've been travilin' quite a ways now, haven't you fella'?"
The man smiled over his glass of brandy, as though the strange haze of the moment before had vanished for him too. "Is it that obvious?" he chuckled good-naturedly. Tom laughed too, and it seemed as if the both Tom's peculiar curiosity as well as the stranger's own distraction had never occurred. Why, Tom had even momentarily forgotten about the wretched storm outside which had kept away a day's worth of potential customers.
"So where you commin' from?" the old barman asked, his voice casual and merry as it boomed from his large chest.
"China." Came the reply.
Even the drunk, who had sat quietly in the dark corner all day, looked up at this comment. Apparently, against all odds, he was sober enough to register that it wasn't every day that you met a man from exotic China, especially not if you lived in this little nothing of a town.
"China?!" Tom echoed, astounded. Of course, he had suspected something of that sort… at least, he thought he had… "You're Chinese?!"
The traveler chuckled. "Well, sort of." He remarked. The gentleman sighed, and leaned back a little on his bar stool as if he were a great poet about to unveil a wondrous story to all around. "My mother's family is Chinese. She was supposed to be their heir in fact, not that any of that matters now. I was supposed to take her place. Raised from birth to be a great head of family, can you imagine that? But personally," he admitted more seriously, eyeing the glass in his hand as if to divine the future from its amber depths. "Personally I couldn't stand the lot of them. Such tradition-centered, narrow-minded fools. You see, when my mother was young, she fell in love with my father, Xavier, an Englishman, so I suppose I'm as untraditional and mixed up as can be."
"Is that what you're doing here?" Tom asked, leaning lazily on his bar as he listened to the pleasant rise and fall of the man's deep sing-song voice. "Come to seek your father's roots instead?"
The gentleman on the stool didn't answer right away. His gaze fell, and his smile which Tom had so admired earlier slipped ever so slightly. He looked in all good judgment as if he were in pain from something burning deep within him, and Tom at once felt ashamed for speaking so rashly. What was wrong with him tonight? The silence echoed across the bar, and Tom feared that this time it might be endless…
"What kind of bloke was he?"
Both Tom and the stranger jumped, the latter nearly losing his balance and falling to the floor. The drunk in the corner turned to face them more directly. His ever wrinkle glowing in the faint candle light, and his wild grey hair flying. "Well, what kind of damn bloke was he?" he repeated.
Another clap of thunder sounded. Tom and his customer broke out laughing at not only the impeccable timing of the old drunken man (whom neither had heard speak all day), but at the fact that he was sober enough to comprehend the world around him—something that both men had been silently doubting considering his generally glazed-over appearance and the amount of alcohol he had consumed. The lightness of the mood in the little bar didn't last long, however, as the strange man in the furry coat let his gaze drift gloomily once again in the direction of Tom's lit candle.
"I never knew my father." He said slowly. "The first I heard of the man was that he'd died."
The firelight's faint glow seemed to descend upon the whole room, and the storm outside seemed suddenly more looming. Neither the drunk nor Tom spoke, but rather sat in their thick, dense silence as they watched their companion finish off the last of his brandy, staring off into the candle, as though he could see something beyond just the physical flame itself.
"So fascinating, fire." The strange traveler whispered. "The child of sunlight. How wonderful it would be if we could truly harness it; if we could take the very spirit of that sun, and bring it down into our own flesh and blood, could perhaps it bring it's flame with it too?"
Even the thunder seemed to silence, and the darkness of the room seemed to take on a life of its own. Tom was beginning to feel a might uncomfortable now. As interesting as this odd visitor of his bar was, he was starting to get an odd feeling off the bloke. There was something about this man that just wasn't normal!
The Stranger laughed silently to himself. "If only my father knew what he was truly giving his son: a final chance of freedom from those bigoted relatives of my mother's. " The fellow seemed to be talking for himself alone; it was as though, in their silence, he had forgotten completely of Tom, the tired barman, and the old drunk in the dark corner, speaking merely for his thoughts to be voiced. "Those damn Chinese." He muttered. "I love them, but there must be change, a break in tradition." The strange gentlemen slowly stood from his stool and, with a last look at the candle on the bar, muttered "I know that I can do what has never been done. I can bend the rules of what they say is possible, and bring down those powers that both the easterners and the westerners alone have failed to capture." He whispered one thing more, so silent that the other two men, standing dumbfounded on either side of him, could scarcely have heard it. "The sun and the moon. I will make them live."
He then strode easily across the room, not even so much as glancing in the direction of the two other men. As he opened the door, however, the stranger stopped, and called in a way that was unfittingly merry: "Good evening to you, gentlemen."
Tom seemed to snap, for a moment, back to his senses. "Hey, wait!" he called, though not entirely sure why. There was one thing he needed to ask. "What's your name?"
The stranger at the door turned his head over his shoulder to look the barman in the eye. As he did so, a brilliant flash of lightning ignited the sky. "Clow…" the stranger replied darkly, his face horribly half-illuminated in the sudden light. "Clow Reed." And he walked away.
A roaring clap of thunder masked the sound of the door's little bell as it closed behind him.
So, what did you think of it? Tell me your opinions! Review, I'm begging you! Cerberus will join us in chapter 3, and Yue will come along in chapter 5. Now, go on…press the little review button, you know you want to. Go on, press it!