The New Trials Special:

The New Trials Special:

The Legacy of the Five Forces

Preface

Approximately a century and a half ago, towards the end of the Edo Feudal Era in Japan and long before the age of Clow Reed, five different individuals joined hands to form the legendary Circle of the Five Forces. These five came from varying backgrounds, wielded diverse powers and carried different opinions. Li Shulin from Shanghai, who wielded the power of elements, Landon Reed from England, who wielded the power of contract magic, Mizuki Mayura, from Kyoto, who wielded the power of celestial bodies and Amamiya Hayashi, from Edo (modern-day Tokyo), who wielded the power of the second sight and Chang Ruichi, from unknown origins, who wielded the power of the light and dark, were the five who became the "Great Ones," the most powerful in a time of change and development in the East. Differences set aside and strengths combined, these five joined hands to create a camaraderie of the greatest of the gifted, with desire to maintain peace and harmony in the world and find meaning in their strength. In doing so, the "Great Five" as they were called, created a legend known only to those who were exposed to the Other World, the world of the sixth sense sometimes bestowed upon mankind, the world of the magically gifted. The closest of friends and doers of many good deeds, the Great Five were infallible until the fellowship shattered and the Dark One emerged.

The next reign was that of Clow Reed, the greatest sorcerer of the East and the West, rumored to be the only son of two of the original Great Five, Li Shulin and Landon Reed. Once establishing his status as unrivaled in the world, Clow Reed maintained a relatively peaceful lifestyle though with his own predicaments as well. Decades passed and the details of the Great Five blurred. No one knew exactly the reason of the break of the Circle of the Five Forces, nor the true identity of the Dark One. The five greatest mages of their time faded into a legend, a story of no great consequence, even for those of the original bloodline of the Great Five. Yet the Dark Ones did not forget, for their spirits were reborn generation after generation, surviving through the reformation of Japan and the emergence of modern-day society.

Much time has passed and many events have occurred since the Age of the Five Forces, and the world has reshaped into a new place of modern ideas and conventions. Though the legend of the Great Five has mostly faded into oblivion, their legacy lives on as their descendants struggle in the never-ending feud, for Dark Ones cannot rest in peace until vengeance has been sought. And in modern day, one ordinary Japanese girl, chosen successor of the Clow Cards rumored to be the descendant of none other than Amamiya Hayashi, Ringleader of the Great Five, will once again rebuild the camaraderie that was once broken more than a hundred years ago with the help of her friends, both supporters and enemies. Together, they will uncover the truth of the past to face their future.

Though the world may have changed on the surface through blood-shed, reformation and industrialization and progressed into hopefully more peaceful days, little has changed in human nature and heart. To listen to the echoes of the gone-by days is to see the reality of the present. For the Legacy of the Five Forces is the story of friendship, love, betrayal and salvation. It carries the curse of the Forgotten One, the struggle of pride, hunger for power, and despair, memoirs of golden days and black ones. Yet, it all started with mere youths with different dreams and visions who by fate or by chance had their paths coincide as they established themselves as the greatest magicians of their era, kindling a relationship that will become the pillar of their strength.

The Legend begins in mid-nineteenth century, in Shanghai, China, where one girl of the prominent Li Clan crossed the sea to Japan on a voyage that would change the fate of many, to make acquaintances and choices that would change her and her ancestor's lives forever.

Chapter 1: The Legend BeginsLi Shulin

Shanghai, China…

High on the stone walls which served as fortress to the Li Clan's territory, stood a young girl in red, looking beyond the town and wilderness, to the vast ocean where unknown wonders awaited. All her life she had been bound within these walls, to serve her Clan and specially train under the Great Elder to become strong and undefeatable, to protect her family. She knew someday she would cross the wall and the sea to become the most powerful in the East, for that was her destiny. Yet, till then, she was still caged by the very gates she stood on top of at this moment, and all she could do was persevere and train harder.

She stared at her blister-covered hands. The Great Elder had scolded her again for lack of discipline, even though she had tried her best. The new move he had been teaching her was extremely complex, and she had made no progress in the past few months. Though she had mastered the Fire and Earth Elements easily, she had the most difficulty with controlling the Water Element, let alone the new move. In the village, children ran about laughing and playing tag. Women stood in clusters, gossiping as usual while keeping an eye on their kids. A couple of boys were practicing staff moves with wooden sticks.

A gust of wind blew over the walls. She stared up alert. A figure jumped behind her out of nowhere, sword positioned to strike her down. Automatically, she unsheathed one of her two swords strapped to her back, ducked low and blocked. The impact of the two blades clashing against each other sent another wave of pain down her already sore arm from early morning practice.

The attacker struck down again, but prepared this time, she knocked the sword out of his hands. "Quit joking around, Shenji," she said crossly.

"Good move, Shulin," Li Shenji replied, smiling. "Quite impressive blocking and alertness. All that training with the Dragon Master paid off, I guess."

"Next time, I'm not going to go easy on your just because you are my cousin," Shulin stated, sheathing her sword again. Her cousin had a habit of popping out of nowhere and attacking when she was off-guard. But days of being pinned to the ground, sword knocked away, were over.

Li Shulin, age 13, was a spirited and fearless girl, the greatest prize of an extraordinary household in Shanghai, the Li Clan. It was said that she was born on the night of the full moon, and a celestial radiance had been bestowed upon her as a gift from the gods. Her porcelain white skin, rosebud lips, long-lashed amber eyes, and thick-jet black hair were described by Chinese poets for years to come, and many young men from respectable households sought her hand in marriage, though she was barely a woman and more a child. Yet, few had actually seen her and only heard rumors of her; there was little chance of even catching a glimpse of this fiery girl, for she was the jewel of the Clan and the flower of her many male cousins, each more accomplished than the next. They guarded their precious girl-cousin with a fierceness that would have even amazed the emperor's personal bodyguards.

Yet, by no means was Li Shulin like other young girls, waiting prettily to be married off to a wealthy man. Instead, she was the highest candidate for the honored position of the Li Clan Chosen One. In swordsmanship and magic level, Shulin was unrivaled in her generation, in a family with a long tradition of talented and gifted people.

"What are you doing up here again, on these walls?" Shenji asked. He stood beside her, gazing beyond the horizon. "Did our evil Dragon Master tick you off again?"

Shaking her head, Shulin replied, "Maybe I really am not suited to become the Chosen One. It's useless. No matter what I do, I can't please the Great Elder. Maybe Yinlin's right. There's nothing better to do with myself than to just wait and get married to some rich old man. She said no one decent would want to marry someone as improper and rough as me, that I'll be alone till death."

"Silly, I thought you had more backbone in you than that," Shenji said, flicking Shulin's forehead. But his amber eyes were kind. "Yinlin can go marry the foolish governor's son for all I care. You are going to continue with the Nightmare Training, because you have it in you to become the Li Clan Chosen One. You know the Great Elder is harder on you than anyone else because his expectations from you are that high. And once you become Chosen One, there will be no one prouder than myself."

Li Shenji, four years her elder, was Shulin's favorite cousin and best friend. They were the only two of their generation trained under the Great Elder, nicknamed by Shenji as the Dragon Master, for in his wrath, the Great Elder resembled a fire-breathing dragon. Through the years, Shenji had helped her with training, comforted her when she was down and scolded her when she was being unreasonable. With his long dark brown hair, steady amber eyes and a great talent in martial arts, he had great popularity within the Clan, especially amongst its female members. In fact, the two most likely candidates for the Chosen One was Shenji and Shulin; however Shenji had clearly stated he had no interest in the position. Instead, he passed the tests to become the youngest Protector of the Clan ever.

"Say, Shenji, why did you decline the chance to become the Chosen One, when the Great Elder offered it to you last year?" Shulin asked. "Were you being considerate of me? I wouldn't have minded at all."

"I know how much you've trained for that position," Shenji replied. "Isn't it your greatest dream, to become the Chosen One of the Li Clan?"

"Still, I don't know if I can make it through the tests," Shulin said. "And I wouldn't have minded if you took the honor. You're strong, dependable and talented. You deserve the title."

Shaking his head, Shenji replied, "I'm not suited for the job. I prefer being the Clan Protector, rather than the Chosen One. It is true that the Chosen One receives more honor and glory, for it is the Chosen One's goal is to carry out missions and spread the power of the Li's far and wide, whereas the Protector always remains within the Clan, ready to defend the Clan in time of danger. The Protector will lead a small, focused life, not one where he hunts for power or fame, but one where he can spend his days protecting the ones he love with his own life. That is all I want, really; I don't want to leave my home and see more of the world. I am satisfied and happy here; this is my world. But you are different, Shulin. You have more ambition and vision. You want to travel beyond the Clan and excel not only amongst the ones you know, but amongst strangers and those of greater power than even you. That is why you are more suited to become the Chosen One, the representative of the Li Clan, and the Great Elder recognizes this."

"Shenji…" Shulin's lips trembled.

"Don't get teary-eyed with me, hot-tempered little cousin," Sheji laughed good-naturedly. "You are such a spitfire with everyone else and then become a baby when you are with me."

"It's just dust that blew in my eyes," Shulin replied, scowling again. The Chosen One did not show emotions. She leaped down from the wall, back within the Li Clan territory.

Shenji jumped down beside her and patted her back. "Don't worry, Shulin. If no one marries you because you become too powerful and will most likely beat up your husband, I'll marry you."

"Eh?" Shulin turned red.

Staring at Shulin's bleeding hands, Shenji continued lightly, "Is the Dragon Master teaching you the Shen-lung Tai-feng move?"

"Yes," Shulin replied miserably. "He said I was a failure, not worth teaching."

"Don't listen to our most honorable Training Master," Shenji said, smothering a smile. "I heard he didn't learn that move until he was past twenty. I still haven't mastered that technique properly either—I won't attempt to do so for several more years."

"What?" Shulin exclaimed in indignation. "And after all that scolding I received! It's not fair!"

"Who said the road to becoming the Chosen One is fair?" Shenji smiled at his cousin, stubborn and fiery-tempered, but also sincere and hard working. If anyone, he was certain that Li Shulin would earn the honor for herself.

"Let's see if you've improved at all from yesterday," the Great Elder said dryly.

Training with the Great Elder at the brink of dawn was routine for Shulin. At this hour, most of the Clan was still asleep, and there was a queer silence within the walls of the Li Clan village. Never had she missed training whether it rained or snowed or hailed, and even when the Great Elder was preoccupied by Clan business, she practiced on her own or made one of her cousins help her train. Until Shenji became Clan Protector, he had trained with her in the morning, but now that was rare. Though she missed his company, especially because the Great Elder had grown pickier and harsher on her since their training became one-on-one, Shulin realized that this was an opportunity to concentrate on herself and her flaws in technique rather than compare herself to her cousin, who was considered a genius in hand-to-hand combat.

"You are a girl—you have a smaller frame and less power than a man," the Great Elder had told her many years ago. "When an enemy, most likely a man, attacks you, you have the disadvantage in hand-to-hand combat, because you are lighter and more likely to be crushed under brute force. Having a weapon at your hand is an advantage with your stature, because you can train to be quicker and more agile than your enemy, and with your weapon, you can have additional force in attack. That is why I want to see perfection, not just competence in your swordsmanship."

So, Shulin had trained hard, not only with the sword but with all forms of weapons ranging from every type of staff to hidden daggers. Perfection only came with practice, she knew very well, and she also knew she had a long way to go to reach the Great Elder's level. Yet, the "Nightmare Training," as Shenji labeled it, had its benefits, for now, Shulin was able to put up a good fight with her daunting training master without him using handicaps. By this time, she had beaten all her cousins at least once in sword fighting, and that was with pure technique. If she used her ward papers and numerous spells that the Great Elder had taught her, she would be even more powerful, for despite being a girl, she had the strongest chi in the Clan, aside from the Great Elder.

"Why don't we have a match today. It has been a while since our last one," the Great Elder said. "Open method; your goal is to knock my sword out of my hand."

"Yes sir," Shulin said, stretching her limbs. She hadn't forgotten the humiliation of the last duel, when she had been knocked over flat on her face in view of all her cousins, including Yinlin, her spiteful cousin, who had mentioned the incident over and over again afterwards.

They bowed, and resumed into guard stance. Truthfully, the Great Elder was surprised that Shulin was still able to stand today—yesterday's practice should have worn her out completely; that had been his intention. Then again, his persistent pupil showed up for training even when she was sick with a raging fever. Still, she would be in no condition to be fighting today.

Drawing her sword, Shulin observed the training yard. Trying to draw out the Shen-Lung Tai-Feng yesterday had drained her out completely, and her body had not completely recovered yet. She could barely keep up with the Great Elder when she was in top physical condition, yet alone in her current state. But to protect her dignity, she could not suffer another mortifying defeat like last time—how could she become the Chosen One if she wasn't the strongest in the Clan? Therefore, she had to figure out a way to beat the Dragon Master with minimal unnecessary contact and hopefully in a quick and direct hit manner.

The problem was the Great Elder had no problem reading all her moves, because he had trained her and taught her all she knew. He probably expects me to do a fire attack—that's my favorite move. Yet he can block that easily, and I don't have any strength to spare today. He also knows that I am stubborn, so he will expect me to try out my unperfected state of the Shen-Lung Tai-Feng. It's a fair guess to say that he provoked me so much yesterday and mocked me for incompetence yesterday, so that he can use it against me today. Then he would laugh at me again, which would make me even angrier and waste more energy. I will show him I have mastered it one day, when I really have—I haven't yet, so I won't let my temper get the better of me today. I've fallen into his traps many times before.

Motionless, the Great Elder watched his successor with hard eyes, wondering what move she would choose. Technique and discipline, she had mastered even at that young age. Even he conceded to this fact; being a girl made her train twice as hard as anyone else, yet it paid off. Her mulish persistence and hot-temper had benefited her in that aspect. Now, if she could only acquire one more concept. Was she ready?

Grimly, Shulin struck out her sword and leaped forward. A jet of blazing fire streamed out from her blade.

"Foolish girl, when will you ever learn that trick won't work on me?" The Great Elder said, raising his sword to block the attack with ease.

Grinning, Shulin stated, "You're getting old, Dragon Master!" While she had been attacking with fire with her right sword, in a blink of an eye, she had swept out her second sword from her sheath strapped to her back with her left hand and blasted out wind at the opening the Great Elder had made from blocking the fire attack. "Shulin double-sword attack! Huo he feng!"

Landing perfectly, Shulin balanced herself on her knees then sheathed both swords to her back again and turned around. Did she strike? No, the Great Elder was still standing, unruffled. But she had achieved her purpose; she had caught the Great Elder off-guard, and his sword had been blown away by the wind. It wasn't a great strategy, but it had been effective this once. Too bad she hadn't knocked the Great Elder off his feet—that had been her target.

The Great Elder stared at his pupil, blinked, then picked up his sword from the ground. He was unscathed, but still, Li Shulin had surprised him. When was the last time his sword had been knocked out of his hand? Not since he was a pupil. Dryly, he said, "Heh, a new move, Li Shulin? Double-sword Huo He Feng? Very stupid and childish, as I would expect from someone who hasn't completely mastered the wind technique yet."

Scowling, Shulin replied sullenly, "But it worked. You said I could use any technique, and my goal was to knock your sword out of your hand, if you please, Great Elder."

This girl. She has improved immensely. How did she think of using the fire and wind elements together like that? Using fire to distract me, since that's her usual move, and finishing me off with wind, a technique she rarely uses, therefore catching me off-guard. It's rare for someone to use swords and chi in both hands, simultaneously. It wasn't a great attack, quite clumsy and full of flaws. But it had worked once, and that was enough, even though it wouldn't work again. After all, Shulin's special talent was the double sword technique—no one else could wield two swords with Shulin's deftness and skill. The Great Elder smiled grimly. "I hope you have already figured out by now the purpose of today's exercise. At this point I have nothing more I can teach you in terms of technique or discipline—the rest lies in you, and whether you can exceed your boundaries. Today was to test your strategy-making skills. The Chosen One does not only have to have physical capacity. Intelligence and analytical skills in difficult situations is essential for the survival of the Chosen One. Logical thinking is something you greatly lack in, Li Shulin, with that impossible temper of yours."

Shulin hung her head down, bangs falling over her eyes. The Great Elder never praised her, no matter how she tried. When will he acknowledge her; when could she meet up to his expectations? Sweat trickled down her forehead despite the temperature being quite chilly so early in the morning.

Staring at the girl covered in soot standing in front of him, the Great Elder continued, "But today you have proved that you indeed can think rationally and plan ahead in combat."

Did she hear right? Shulin's face lit up in a slow smile. It was the Great Elder's first compliment to her. "I-is it my victory then?"

Grudgingly, the Great Elder said, "It is your victory, Li Shulin. I warn you, however, that you won't have it so easy next time."

For a second, Shulin blinked blankly, finding it hard to digest the significance of these words. Then she leaped up in joy. "I defeated the Great Elder!" She ran down the street to her cousin's house. "Shenji! Shenji! I defeated the Great Elder! I really did!"

"Li Shulin!" The Great Elder called out. "Practice has not ended yet! Shulin!" Yet, she did not hear him, for she was prancing around in joy, heedless of her aching body. Relenting, the corners of his bright eyes crinkled, and the Great Elder smiled. It's amazing how quickly children grow. It seemed only yesterday that a little girl in pigtails tried to lift a sword longer than her body-length. No doubt, this girl is my successor with the greatest potential out of anyone in a century. She is the one.

A week later, Li Shulin was summoned to the Great Hall in the Main House.

"Li Shulin, you should know why the Council of Elders has gathered here today," the Great Elder said to Shulin, who bowed before the seven robed men seated on the platform at the head of the large hall. Members of the Outer Council stood on either side of the hallway. It was rare that all the adults of both Inner and Outer Councils assembled together in the Great Hall. "Though you are young, the Council has voted you as top candidate to receive the honorable title of the Li Clan Chosen One."

Though her head was bowed down, joy leaped in her chest, and Shulin flushed happily. Finally the moment had come.

"As you know, the Chosen One of the Li Clan is an important position in the Li Clan, which has been left vacant for years, leaving the Clan in a vulnerable position. It is the duty of the Chosen One to uphold honor and dignity of the family, and carry out its missions at the stake of your life. The Chosen One is the representative of the Clan, and the most powerful and gifted of the family. Therefore, before receiving the title, you will have to pass a series of examinations, which deems whether you are capable of upholding the honor of the Clan. I have personally trained your for eight years and believe you are ready to undergo the Test of the Chosen One. By no mean will these tests be easy and to pass, for you should be able to risk your life in order to prove your loyalty to the Clan. Do you understand what I have said thus far, Li Shulin?"

"I do, your honor," Li Shulin replied, her heart skipping a beat. That magnificent sword, the sword of the Chosen One, locked in glass case at the head of the Great Hall would become hers someday. It was no longer a childhood dream—it was within her reach. "I will give everything in order to become the Chosen One and do no fear whatever obstacles await me."

"Good." Though the Great Elder remained expressionless, he was pleased with Shulin's confidence. "To become the Chosen One, you will have to prove your worth to the Clan, for there is controversy within both Councils over the fact that you are a girl and that you are so young. You may easily be the strongest in China, for I have taught you almost all I know as your training master, and I was undefeated in my days as the Chosen One. You are a worthy pupil, and shall honor our Clan."

There was a murmur among the adults. What did the Elders have in mind for the Chosen One's Test? Could this mere girl, more a kid than an adult truly become the greatest one of the Clan?

"Silence," the Great Elder commanded, without taking his eyes of the slight girl of merely thirteen years kneeling before him, face pale, but eyes steady and fierce. "Li Shulin, prove that your strength is unrivaled in all of the East and show the Li Clan your true abilities. Listen carefully now. Your first mission in becoming Chosen One lies further east in Japan, Land of the Rising Sun."

Landon ReedEngland, Great Britain…

The sunrays shone on the lush rose garden, the pride of Lady Eleanor Reed, the centerpiece a large white marble fish fountain spouted water. It was by this fountain that a young couple stood, lovers at first sight but clearly in the middle of a quarrel. They were both of gentry, riches adorning them with an ease that was only natural in such a beautiful garden. The young man was tall and lanky, carrying well the cream silk shirt he wore, which was of finest quality in England, complimenting his pale skin. The crimson sash around his neck imported from Paris and the buckle on his belt and shoes pure gold. His most striking characteristics were his long silver-blond hair tied back with a narrow silk ribbon and keen blue eyes the color of the sapphire brooch he wore on his collar, the only jewelry he wore. Otherwise, he was indistinguishable from the other idle, bored noblemen of his age, spoilt from luxury and with naught better to do than court a lady with flowers and poetry.

"Katherine, I love you, I always have. Why won't you return my feelings?" he pleaded, gazing at the young lady with ardor. Yet, rather than romantic passion, his tone reflected an almost irritable tinge, as if he had been routinely rejected time after time. The equally peeved expression on his lady's face proved that the conversation was customary and a bore to her.

The golden haired angel, as he thought her to be, was indeed a doll-like beauty of golden curls, beseeching violet eyes framed by long lashes and a fair complexion carefully guarded by a sun rose-pink parasol matching her dress. She was a vision in her rose chiffon day-dress adorned with imported lace and pale pink ribbons. Pearl clusters hung on her ivory neck and dangled from her ears. Her pale hands were carefully in mesh gloves also trimmed with rose lace. With a dainty, tingling laugh bordering exasperation, she said, "On don't by silly, Landon. This is getting old."

"I'm serious," Landon replied. "I want you to marry me, Kathy." He reached out and stroked her rosy cheek. "I swore I would marry you since we were children."

Brushing away his hand, Katherine Chatterley sighed and walked over to a rose bush. She bent over and sniffed a crimson rose. "I wish you will grow up, dear Landon. What are you going to do with yourself? You dropped out of university, you disappoint your father and mother, you spend your days doing nothing. Take Laurence as an example."

"Laurence, Laurence, I'm sick of hearing about my older brother," Landon snapped. "Forget him. I love you and that's all that matters."

"Dear, Landon, you don't understand do you?" Katherine said, coaxingly. She walked over to Landon with a swish of her long skirt and carefully reached out and stroked his silky hair. It was true that Landon's Apollonian features made him the more handsome sibling. But that was his only favorable trait. "I'm engaged to Laurence; I'm going to marry him."

For a second, Landon gaped then his fine brows furrowed down. Sarcastically, he stated, "I see your scheme now, darling Katherine. Why marry the younger son, one who won't inherit title and property when you can get the older one?"

"Oh Lan, don't take it so harshly," Katherine said, blinking her violet eyes. "I can't love you Landon. We've practically grown up together. After all, our mother's are best friends, being Frenchwomen together. But I can't see myself seeing you as anything other than a childhood acquaintance."

"What about Laurence—you've seen him since childhood too," Landon retorted, sulkily.

"Laurence is different—I've always looked up to him and respected him ever since I was little. He's a man I can marry," Katherine replied, resolute. "Besides, both our parents approve."

"But I love you," Landon persisted, blue eyes flashing like the clear water of the bubbling fountain. So his father had been plotting behind him again. Time after time, Laurence got what he wanted. He was sick of the favoritism in the family. Yet his father and brother were wrong in thinking they could manipulate him so easily. He simply could not give up on Katherine.

"That's why I can't marry you," Katherine said, twirling her parasol. "You're so hot-headed and selfish. You only think of yourself. Laurence is mature and a true gentleman. He's your brother, but unlike you, he has vision, ambition and stability in the future."

"I can change for you," Landon replied with urgency. "I'll go back to university. I won't disobey Father anymore. If you'll love me, I can do all of these things."

"Stop it, Landon." Katherine looked away. "What can you change by acting so childish? This is what I don't like about you. You have nothing of your own. You always try to compare yourself to Laurence and never try hard on your own for your own dream. You're a childhood friend and nothing more."

There was silence in the garden, the only sound was the trickling of water and the occasional chirp of birds. Katherine bit her scarlet lips, wondering if she had said too much.

Shoulders trembling, Landon asked in a low voice, "Are you serious about that Katherine? Is that all I can be to you, just a childhood friend?"

"I don't love you Landon, and I never will." Katherine stared at the grass. Luckily, Landon was too deeply in a state of shock to hear the tremor in her usually delightful, careless voice. "I-I will marry Laurence Reed, and nothing you do will change that."

"So be it," Landon said, turning away and leaving Katherine in the garden, gaping at him. Never had she seen him so abrupt and curt, so distant as if he was a complete different person. And was it normal for the grass he tread on to whither away like that? Sometimes, Landon quite frightened her when he went into those silent mood swings.

Storming down the hallway in a most undignified manner, Landon Reed, temperamental younger son of Lord Clarence Reed and his Lady Eleanor, reflected his conversation with Katherine. There was no doubt that Laurence was toying with him again. It was something his spiteful older brother would do, marry the only woman his younger brother loved.

"There young master Landon goes away," one of the maids, who had almost been knocked aside by Landon, whispered to the cook. "In one of his tempers again."

"Laurence, I know you're in there! Come out now!" Landon pounded on the bedroom door.

Opening the door halfway, Laurence Reed, still in his morning gown, drawled, "Dear Lan, what is this upheaval so early in the morning?"

He swung the door wide opened and stomped in. "I know you did it on purpose. Don't deny it!" Landon replied, trembling with rage. Laurence backed away a couple steps.

"Speak coherently, and then maybe I will be able to comprehend your words," Laurence replied lazily. He had been in the middle of breakfast, but was unsurprised by Landon's random burst of anger. Landon was prone to charging up like that, like a seven-year-old child.

"Don't play innocent. You know what you did. You knew I loved Katherine," Landon said through clenched teeth.

"Oh." Laurence blinked indifferently. "You found out about our engagement. Did Katherine tell you? How convenient. I was wondering how to break the news."

"You're only doing this to get even with me, aren't you? Do you even love her?" Landon demanded.

"As a matter of fact, it is Katherine who suggested to her father a joining of our two households, and it is only expected that the elder son marries first. Of course, the Chatterley household is a notable one, and Katherine a pretty girl. It would be a great loss on my part if I refuse the proposal." Laurence smiled at his younger brother, so easy to irritate and simple-minded like a child.

"Always calculating, aren't you?" Landon asked through clenched teeth. "But don't think you can get away with your back-stabbing ways this time. I will have Katherine."

"My obstinate younger brother, can't you see?" Laurence smirked. "If you really do love Katherine, you should be able to understand that her marrying me is the most sensible choice. What will she gain from joining hands with you? You, the younger son, will have neither land nor title nor societal recognition. After all, you are the black sheep of the family, Landon. You are neither intelligent, nor talented, nor skilled in any area. Furthermore, you are out of Father's grace, and don't expect to be living off my hands for the rest your life. I am not as compassionate as Father. He's only soft on you because Mother takes pity on you. You are quite useless and a disgrace upon the Reeds—"

"Shut up!" Without listening further, Landon lunged forward and punched his older brother in the face. Laurence stumbled back and balanced himself on a table.

Wiping the trickle of blood down his chin with the back of his hand, Laurence smirked. "Resorting to violence, Landon? How unbecoming. We are men of breeding, or supposed to be at least."

The hatred between the two brothers was ominous as they stood glaring at each other, one dark and one fair, the fair one labeled the black sheep of the family.

"Laurence, I'm going to kill you," Landon said through clenched teeth, ready to attack again.

"Master Landon, please stop!" the butler cried out, holding back Landon.

"Let go of me!" Landon struggled, knocking aside the butler.

"What is this upheaval at this time of the day?" came a stern voice from behind them.

"Father!" Laurence exclaimed in relief.

"Landon, what is this behavior? One would think I raised you with the pigs. Stand up straight and act like a gentleman, not a savage beast," Lord Clarence Reed commanded in his deep, crisp voice. With absolute hold over his family, Lord Clarence was a strict and formidable man, used to having his orders obeyed. Considerably older than his wife, his dark hair was silver-streaked, but he still stood proud and straight, his chin tilted up and his eyes keen in his lined face.

His first son, pride of the family, Laurence Reed resembled his father, while his younger son, seven years Laurence's junior at age 17, resembled his mother, Lady Eleanor, with his light hair and pale eyes. Considering the mischief Landon landed himself into in his school years, his placid, marble handsome face had helped him out of trouble in more than one occasion. His childhood governor, who left the estate within a month, unable to bear with Landon's fiendish personality, grieved that the angelic-faced boy of seven had the heart of a devil.

A deep line between his brows, Lord Clarence said, "Lower those insolent eyes of yours, Landon. I am not pleased with your behavior at all, lately. I would have thought that you left university for a good reason. Instead, you spend your days idly, courting your brother's fiancée, useless. Neither do you show any repentance for muckraking our name. Though I have never expected much from, I am thoroughly disappointed."

"I will never consent to Laurence marrying Katherine," Landon retorted. "I would sooner run away with her than hand her over to that pig of a man called my brother."

Laughing scornfully, Laurence said, "I'd sooner you go jump into the sea and leave us in peace. Don't you get it? Katherine doesn't love you. She loves me—she said so. You are ignorant, not to have noticed sooner."

"Liar," Landon said, under strain. It couldn't be true. How could Katherine love Laurence? Couldn't she see his pretentious and conceited nature?

"Get a grip on yourself," Lord Clarence said. "Lord Chatterley and I have already discussed this matter. Katherine and Laurence's wedding will take place next spring, after she turns eighteen. There is nothing you can do but accept this, Landon, and put aside your selfishness for once."

"I love Katherine Chatterley," Landon replied, chin trembling, meeting his father's levelly eyes with his. "I refuse to be ordered around by you forever, Father. You always take Laurence's side because he obeys your biddings like a lamb, but I am different. You won't control my life."

Raising his hand in the air, Lord Clarence slapped his younger son with great force. Landon staggered at the impact, then glared at his father.

"Fool. What do you know about love?" Lord Clarence said brusquely. "Reflect over yourself before you claim that you can protect another person. At your age, Laurence was top of his class at Oxford. He has never disappointed me, and has worked hard to honor our name. He has established his reputation, and therefore deserves Katherine Chatterley. Everyone rejoices of the engagement except yourself. Of course you don't deserve Katherine. Look at the world around you and face reality for once, Landon. What have you accomplished till this day? Nothing. I am ashamed to call you my son."

"Fine then. I will leave this house," Landon said in a strained voice. "What's the point in staying at a place where I am neither loved nor recognized nor welcomed? Rather than disgrace your name anymore, Father, I will disappear from your sight."

"Leave then," Lord Clarence replied coldly. "Leave and don't expect sympathy of a penny from me, either. Once you leave my gates, I shall erase you from my memory, and forget that I ever had a second son. You are right. I do not love you, nor welcome you at my house. So don't think of returning after you set foot out of here."

Biting his lips, Landon turned around. "Well then, Father. I formally bid you farewell right now. I have some preparations to make before departing, but I will keep out of your sight till then."

"Do as you please," Lord Clarence said, turning his head away and walked past Landon, leaving the hallway.

"Good thinking," Laurence sneered, once their father was out of earshot. "Everything will be peaceful once you are gone. Don't worry. Katherine and I will live together happily, and we'll pray that you are safe and healthy somewhere. Hopefully off the face of the earth."

"Shut up," Landon retorted, heading towards the library, still trembling with rage. His left cheek smarted, for his Father's hands were powerful and the hate and scorn behind the hand even harsher.

Having contained most of his anger by now, Landon walked to a remote bookshelf in the library and pressed a secret compartment behind the books. Immediately, the bookshelf swung aside, revealing a hidden passage. Carefully closing the opening behind him, Landon headed down the passage, down a spiral of stairs, until he came to a secret chamber, which he opened with a rusty brass key, which hung on a chain on his neck, hidden beneath his shirt.

The large room was bordered by bookshelves crammed with old texts and documents. Several tapestries hung from the stone walls, some with strange runes, some outlining the mysteries of astrology, alchemy and human anatomy. A large telescope stood at one corner of the room. On the book-stacked large desk in the center of the room was a globe of the world.

Staring at his sanctuary from the outside world in pleasure, Landon Reed smiled. His study, a secret chamber hidden in the depths of the large Reed estate, was the place he stored all his valuable data and research, priceless books and documents of olden days, some more than a thousand years old, revealing secrets of the past and the unknown, enlightening him beyond anything taught at university. Books on runes of olden days, text in languages forgotten today, some written in undecipherable codes, some with seals to protect them. Scrolls outlining mysteries long lost to time, satiating his own hunger to know everything.

Holding out the key in his right palm, Landon commanded, "Key that holds the power within. Reveal thy true form to me. I, Landon, command thee under contract. Release!" With a glow of light, the key elongated into a long black staff, with a crystal ball on one end.

"It's a pity to leave all my research behind," Landon commented, staring at his study fondly. He grinned grimly. But he had read and memorized all the text stored in this room; they were all contained in his head, so he had no further need for the books. "I said I would leave, but where should I go to? I'm tired of Victorian England, Europe in general. The same old people and culture. It's stifling." He held his staff up and pointed at his desk. The globe on his desk spun around rapidly until all the countries and oceans blurred.

"Somewhere new, exotic, more exciting than here," Landon murmured. "Somewhere far away, across the sea, with new resources, where I can learn more and see the world." Pointing his staff at the globe again, he called out, "Cease." The globe halted spinning. "Where can I go?" A single city in the vast globe was lit, and Landon peered closer. Shanghai, China.

There came a hollow nock on the door. Landon jumped back, surprised, quickly dispelling his staff. The door creaked and opened, and he held his breath. No one knew of the hidden passage behind the library.

"Mother," Landon exclaimed in relief as the door swung open. "What are you doing here?"

Lady Eleanor Cleau Reed was a small, frail woman with long pale hair like Landon's, twisted back in a bun. Slowly, Lady Eleanor walked into the chamber up to her tall son. "I was looking for you. I thought you might be here."

"You're the only person who knows of the hidden passage besides me," Landon said. "But you startled me, all the same. I don't know when Laurence or his servants are spying on me or not."

"I heard that you plan on leaving home," Lady Eleanor said.

"Well, yes." Landon shifted his feet uncomfortably. The only person in his family that he loved, that cared for him in return, his mother.

"Did you fight with your father again?" Lady Eleanor questioned, blue eyes watching her son keenly. "You know that whatever your father says, he does care about you. If you go up to him and apologize properly, he will accept you again."

Laughing shortly, Landon replied, "You know Father better than I do, Mother. He does not love me, and it will be doing him a favor to leave this house. I am sorry, Mother, for disappointing you yet again. But I cannot stand it here any longer, especially if Laurence marries Katherine."

"Is that so?" Lady Eleanor looked down. "I already checked your room before coming down here. I noticed that you already packed your things. You seem to have been planning on leaving for some time now."

"True," Landon said. "I was biding for the right time. I knew I would have to get out of here sooner or later. Now is the perfect chance, since Katherine has rejected me and father loathes me. Please Mother, don't hold me back. I don't think I can bear it here any longer, even with you." While he did not care about his father's approval, he desired at least his mother's blessing before leaving.

Slowly, Lady Eleanor replied, "If you are determined to leave, I will not stop you. It might be for the better, a change of environment. Because you are being suffocated here. You have great potential for growth, but you will not grow any further in this surrounding. You have a lot more in the world to see and experience."

"Then you do not oppose to me leaving?" Landon asked, a great burden lifted from his chest. "Father forbade me from ever returning once I set foot outside of this house."

"Your father is a proud, unyielding man," Lady Eleanor said. "But try to understand him more. His only way of showing his love for you is by being harsh. But you resent his harshness. In return, he tries to hold rein over an untamed colt, only to have the young colt bolt and run away. You break his heart, all the same, Landon."

"I don't care," Landon said, scowling. "It will be doing a favor to Father and Laurence for me to conveniently disappear."

"And what can I do between such stubborn men?" Lady Eleanor sighed. "I trust you Landon to make the right decisions, for you are an adult now. But I do hope that you do not let your hot temper get the better of you."

"Don't worry, Mother. I will not disappoint you anymore, once I am out of here. Times are changing—no longer shall the reign of the landed and aristocracy retain its power. A new age of industrialization and expansion awaits, and I'm not going to be left behind. I swear I'll become a son that you can be proud of and make my name famous in the East and West," Landon said, smiling grimly. "I'll show father and Laurence."

Since Landon had been planning on leaving for quite some time, he didn't have much preparation to do. His father and brother were away on a trip to Paris, so he was able to avoid seeing them for the rest of the week. And so the day of his departure arrived as abruptly as he had announced it. As he left his bedroom, he realized he had no regrets. There was no one in the entire house who would regret his leaving, including himself. It was high time to get out of here.

"Oh Landon, is it true?" Katherine asked, running up to Landon, teary eyed. The garden was misty early in the morning, but the dew covered crimson roses were more vivid than ever. "Are you really leaving?"

"Yes," Landon replied briefly, setting down his trunk. He hadn't expected to see her again.

"Is it because of me?" Katherine sniffed. "You really don't have to leave. I want you to stay. Nothing's going to change if I marry Laurence. We can still be friends. Laurence will allow that. I believe he will."

"Katherine, I've already decided that I'm leaving, and I won't change my mind," Landon said. Katherine was lovely in a pale violet dress, bringing out the true shade of her eyes, brimming with tears. He was secretly pleased that the thought of him departing grieved her so. But at this point, even if Katherine begged him to stay, he couldn't, for he would never go back on his words and let his father and brother mock him for cowardice. Truthfully, the notion of leaving his homeland of seventeen years frightened him, though he welcomed the sense of liberation.

"Oh, I hate it when you get stubborn," Katherine said, sobbing into her handkerchief.

"You'll still marry Laurence, whether I leave or stay." Landon stared at Katherine hard.

"T-that's true, b-but…" Katherine stared up at Landon, ruby lips trembling. Many times she had felt the gap between them, as she did this morning, in the mist surrounding them. Landon seemed cool and remote, as if he were a person of a different class. Though she had often scorned him for his good-for-nothing nature, today, for the first time, she felt that Landon may be cut out for great power and deeds, in a world completely different and unreachable from hers. For he stood tall and proud, almost a split image of his father in that aspect, blue eyes hard, unfathomable and expressionless. This was not the foolish young man and childhood companion that she bossed around and endlessly used to her pleasing. It was hard to digest the reality that Landon was going far away to the other side of the world, maybe.

"Well, good-bye then, Katherine," Landon said softly. "I loved you."

"Liar!" Katherine exclaimed. "You wouldn't leave like this if you did. You are a coward, running away from life instead of facing it. I reproach you more than anything else, Landon Reed." She ran off, unable to control her tears anymore. This was the last of Landon Reed. Soon, she would become Lord Laurence's wife, and Landon was of no consequence in her life.

Watching his first love fade away, an odd, aching pang inside him, Landon stared around at his mother's garden, the fresh aroma of roses surrounding him. Maybe they weren't fated after all.

"She must have cared for you more than she admitted," a smooth, calm voice came from behind him.

"Mother." Landon turned around. Lady Eleanor had an uncanny way of moving so silently that her presence was not noticed until she spoke. Without meeting her eyes, he asked, "Mother, what should I do with my life now? The only woman I love will marry my brother. My father loves me not, and I can't compete against my older brother. Out of these gates, I will have neither name nor home. What can I do from this point on?"

"That is for you to determine, my son," Lady Eleanor replied quietly. She bent over and cradled a wilted rose in her hands. "Do you remember what I told you when you were a child, in this very garden?"

Landon nodded. How could he forget his mother's rare but valuable words of wisdom?

"You have a great gift, one which sets you aside from the rest of the people. It is your own choice how you make use of it, whether you cast it away or accept it, whether with your powers, you choose destruction or growth." Slowly, the limp rose in Lady Eleanor's hands shed its petals and turned into a new bud.

Landon stared at the pale, dainty and tiny lady in front of him, eyes that were identical to his. Once, she must have been very beautiful, full of color and life, but years under the dominance of Lord Clarence Reed had much subdued her and most of her laughter and dimples had faded away. Born Eleanor Cleau in a tiny province in northwestern France, she was neither of great title nor wealth. Yet, Lord Clarence Reed had been captured by her radiant beauty on a trip to the French countryside, and brought back a young and pretty little wife to his manor in England, much to the horror of his family and friends. Lady Eleanor was no ordinary woman, however, whether it was the lightness in the step she took or the particular gleam of her eye in the moonlight, or the fact that all plants that she touched grew green and fresh, and all the buds that she cared for bloomed the largest, brightest flowers. Though she appeared to be the mouse-like wife of an austere lord, the depth of her deep blue eyes reflected the knowledge of a thousand years and her husband had been held captive to those eyes. For Eleanor of Brittany was said to carry the bloodline of the last of the fairy-folk.

"As I told you before, everything has a reason," Lady Eleanor said after a silence. She knew her son contained an enormous capacity of special powers, more than hers, more than anyone she had ever met. She twisted a ring off her slender

middle finger. "You leaving England too, must have a reason, a minor step towards a greater cause. Take this ring, Landon. It will protect you." Lady Eleanor pressed the ring into Landon's large hands.

"Mother." Landon gripped the sapphire ring, knowing it was priceless to his mother—her last souvenir of her past. "Thank you. I'll treasure it. Farewell Mother. I will miss you. But I will keep my promise to you. I will make my name known to the world," Landon said, a new resolution in his voice.

Smiling one of her rare, warm smiles, Lady Eleanor said, "I give you my blessing, Landon. Don't worry, we will see each other again, someday. Till then, show me what you are capable of with your powers."

It did not surprise Landon when Lady Eleanor disappeared back into the house as furtively as she had appeared in the garden. The ring barely fit his pinky finger, but its strange blue light calmed him and he had more confidence than ever before. Picking up his trunk again, walking towards the carriage awaiting him beyond the iron gates of the Reed estate, he lifted his head and took a last whiff of the peaceful gardens. I will grow, Mother, you will see.

Mizuki Mayura

Kyoto, Japan…

"Onee-san, onee-san!" A young boy tugged on his sister's red hakama. "You promised me that you will practice shooting arrows with me."

"Sorry Keigo," his older sister said, polishing a golden mirror. "Onee-san is expecting a visitor today. Go practice on your own, and I will supervise you tomorrow."

Making a face, Keigo replied, "Onee-san is always too busy to practice with me these days. I'll never be as good as onee-san."

"It's been busier at the temple ever since Uncle's death, since Father is away at Uncle's funeral," Mayura said. Patting her younger brother's coppery auburn hair, Mayura smiled. Why disappoint her eager younger brother? "All right Keigo. I'll practice with you since you want to improve so much. Just for an hour though, okay? Start warming up. Onee-san will be out in a few minutes."

"Really?" Keigo's freckled face lighted up. "I'll be waiting in the courtyard!"

A Shinto priestess-in-training, Mizuki Mayura, age fifteen, was dressed in the white, unadorned kimono and deep red hakama of a miko. Her gray eyes were level and calm, reflecting maturity and insight rare at her age. She stared directly into the mirror she had been polishing, greeted with her own reflection. Taking a piece of white ribbon, she tied back her long auburn hair, which would get in her face during archery. Carefully veiling the mirror and locking it in a wooden chest, Mayura stood up and headed towards the courtyard.

The family temple in the outskirt of Kyoto was spacious and quiet, and no one's voice was ever raised beyond a conversational level. Mayura spent most of her days tending the temple with her father, practicing archery with her brother, preparing meals, or mediating alone. Growing up in such an environment resulted in her being a quiet, reserved person with little contact with the world outside of the Mizuki Temple. She loved her family foremost and was content spending her days in peace, following the same daily routine.

"Onee-san!" Keigo called out. "Look, I shot that apple over there! It's the longest distance I've ever shot!"

Glancing at the arrow embedded in an unripe apple dangling on a tree branch, Mayura smiled, recalling aiming at that tree when she was Keigo's age. The apple tree was one of the largest of the trees on the shrine grounds and had been her favorite target. "Good job, Keigo. Now, can you aim at the same spot again and make the apple fall?"

Wrinkling his nose, Keigo replied, "That's too hard." He tried shooting an arrow and missed. The previous hit had been pure luck. "Onee-san, you try."

Kyujutsu was Mayura's specialty. She had never missed a target since she was twelve. Quickly and deftly, Mayura shot the apple, right in the center. The apple with the weight of two arrows swayed by its stem and then dropped down.

"Wonderful precision, miko-sama," said a light male voice. From behind the shadow of the trees, a young man with light brown hair swaying in the breeze and eyes as green as leaves, walked up. He caught the falling apple with his left hand and examined the arrows embedded in it. One was crooked and loose, while the other had pierced right through its center.

Was it a guest to the temple? Squinting, Mayura stepped forward to see the visitor's face. "Hayashi!" she exclaimed in mild surprise. True, the young man standing before her was taller and his face a lot more mature than she last remembered it to be, but it was definitely Amamiya Hayashi.

"It's been a while, hasn't it, Mayura?" The newcomer smiled warmly.

Sipping the steaming green tea, kneeling on the bamboo mattress in his formal manner, Amamiya Hayashi said, "I see you had been expecting a guest today. You had tea and food ready to be served. Of course, you're preparation skills for any situation have always been impressive, Mayura."

Pouring tea for herself, Mayura said, "What brings you here? I expected you to be quite occupied in Edo."

"I had some business here in the capital," Hayashi replied, still smiling. "And I thought I might stop by an old friend's while I'm in Kyoto. It's too bad that your father is away. I would have liked to send him greetings from my father. After all, they are childhood friends."

Until the Amamiya family moved to Edo, they had lived close to the Mizuki temple. Hayashi and Mayura had also been friends since birth since their families were so close. Even after the Amamiya's, an old samurai family of great reputation in Kyoto, had moved to Edo, they still visited their old home every once in a while. Only a year older than herself, though he often seemed many years older, Hayashi was probably the only outside family friend that Mayura had. With him, she could always relax and speak her mind. Hayashi was more laid-back than anyone she knew, and there was no uncomfortable formality with him though he came from an esteemed samurai family. While they did not see each other often, his visits were always welcome.

"I would have expected you to be very occupied in Edo," Mayura commented dryly. "I bet your father doesn't know that you're relaxing here, drinking tea and idly watching clouds pass by."

Laughing, Hayashi said, "Actually, I was on my way to my family's countryside estate to have some time alone, of course with my father's consent. I like the peace of the countryside so much better than the city. Then I thought while on the road I might as well pay you a visit and prolong vacation for a little longer, so I came to Kyoto."

"Every day is a vacation for you, Hayashi," Mayura said setting down her teacup. "It's not like you do any work, nor do you have any crops to grow or battles to fight."

"You're wrong. I'm very busy in Edo," Hayashi replied lazily and unconvincingly. "Entertaining tea ceremonies for father's guests and reading books in my spare time. Oh, and I mustn't forget the beautiful women there."

"The heartless Hayashi-sama interested in women?" Mayura smiled slightly. "Not very likely."

"You know me too well, Mayura," Hayashi said. "Edo was a bore, so I escaped."

"Still, your father probably wants you by his side. You have your age and duties to consider. How did you receive permission to leave social life to rest in the countryside?" Mayura asked. Her first and only friend was never in a hurry, always light-hearted and easy-going.

"I told father I need a remote, quiet place for my studies—he thinks I'm turning into a scholar now," Hayashi replied.

Mayura chuckled. "You, a scholar?"

"It's a possibility," Hayashi replied blandly. "Samurais are out of fashion these days. I have nothing better to do, anyway. Maybe I should really become an intellectual."

It was true that Hayashi was better read than anyone she knew; he had read not only Japanese books but books from China and even literature from the West. How he got his hands on some of the books, she did not know, but Hayashi seemed to be able to get away with anything.

"Onii-sama!" Keigo called out, running up to Hayashi. He had worshiped Hayashi since he was a baby, and Hayashi treated Keigo like a real brother. "Come to the courtyard! I'll show you how much I improved in archery!"

"Keigo, don't run indoors," Mayura said.

"Sorry," Keigo said, bashfully.

"You will stay at the temple tonight?" Mayura asked Hayashi. "Otou-sama will be returning tomorrow. He will want to see you."

"If it isn't too much of a burden," Hayashi replied.

"I'll set up the futon in the guest room," Mayura said. "Keigo, don't bother Hayashi-onii-san too much, okay? He's tired from the long journey."

"Come, Keigo-kun. Let's go to the courtyard," Hayashi said, putting his arm around Keigo's shoulders. "You've grown so much, I can barely recognize you. Soon, you'll be able to take me down."

"Really, onii-sama?" Keigo asked, excited.

Watching the two leave the room, Mayura smiled softly. It was good to see her old friend again. Yet, why did she have an uneasy feeling this time around? Though they had been friends for years, till this day she had trouble reading his thoughts.

The next morning, Mayura's father, a well-respected Shinto priest in the area, returned from a long journey. He was glad to see his daughter and son waiting at the steps of the temple. They took his luggage to relieve him of the burden.

"Welcome back, outo-sama," Mayura said. "Did you have a safe journey?"

"There were more guards than usual and the roads were more crowded than usual," her father replied. "But otherwise, the weather was fair and no mishaps."

As they headed indoors, Mayura asked, "How was Uncle's funeral?"

"Your uncle passed to the other world safely," her father replied. "And I tended for the Mizuki temple in Eitoukou in his stead for a while. Actually, I have to speak with you on that matter. Let us go inside, and we will discuss about it."

"Oh yes, Hayashi-san is in Kyoto," Mayura said. "He had some business in town and had to leave early this morning, but he sends his greetings to you."

"Hayashi-kun?" the priest asked in pleasure. "How has the boy been doing? It's a pity I missed seeing him. It's been a while since I last saw Amamiya-san and his son. Here, prepare a bath for me, and let us talk after I have eaten and rested."

After finishing the meal, the priest set down his chopsticks. "Keigo, clear the table and wash the dishes."

"What?" Keigo made a face.

"Your sister and I have to discuss something important," his father replied.

"Yes, otou-sama," Keigo said, sulkily, taking the table and leaving the room.

"Mayura," the priest began.

"Yes father." Mayura folded her hands in front of her. It was rare that her father had trouble staring a conversation with her.

"You are fifteen now, and an accomplished young lady. I have taught you all that I know, and you will make a fine priestess," he continued, sipping his tea. "I have great faith in your abilities and dependability, as well as your good judgment."

Mizuki Mayura awaited silently for her father's main point.

"As you know, your uncle's death has left the Mizuki temple in Eitoukou untended for. Eitoukou is a small, rural village near Edo, with few inhabitants. It's an isolated area, which has potential for growth. However, the temple was very precious to my brother, and he devoted his body and soul to it. It is a pity there is nobody to tend to it, now that your uncle has passed away. I would have liked to take his place, however I am old, and I am needed here, in Kyoto. This temple is where I have grown up, and I wish to die in. I cannot leave it. Meanwhile Keigo is too young, and is still in need of training."

"I understand, otou-sama," Mayura said quietly. She could clearly perceive what her father expected of her. "I will go to the Eitoukou Mizuki Temple as priestess there."

Her father's face lighted up, as if a great burden had been taken off his shoulders. At the same time, he looked troubled. "It will be lonely and new, being away from your family. Are you sure you can manage this? I do not want you to be unhappy, Mayura. You should choose what is best suited for you."

"Do not worry, father," Mayura replied. It was true that she had never considered leaving the security and familiarity of her home, for she had always thought that she would also devote her life to this temple, like her father. Yet, her uncle's death and the vacancy of his temple must be a sign. Slowly, the stars were shifting in a different direction. She must go where she was needed, and she wouldn't dream of disappointing her father. "I will go to Eitoukou; I desire to do so."

"You are my precious daughter, Mayura, and I am proud of how well you've grown. Your mother would have been proud as well. As a father, I want to keep you by my side and always watch over you. But you are an adult now, and I cannot shelter you forever. Your mother believed when you were born, that you were born to do great deeds. I see this opportunity as a sign from the stars. I know you are quite capable of setting off on your own, and your powers as a priestess exceed that of mine. It's only an old father's heart, afraid of giving up his first child that prevents me."

Taking her father's hands, Mayura said, "You need not be concerned about me, Father, because I will be strong. I will try my best."

"Thank you, Mayura," her father replied, squeezing his daughter's hands. It grieved him to think of the temple without her. Yet, everything had a reason. He knew his daughter was special, and Mayura leaving to Eitoukou must be towards a greater cause, one that even his powers as a priest could not foresee.

"Onee-san, are you really leaving?" Keigo sniffed. "You never did help me in training."

"A man does not cry," Mayura said, wiping her younger brother's cheek with her sleeve. "I'm not going that far away, Keigo. Once I've settle in and everything's running smoothly at the temple, I can come visit again. Meanwhile, I'll send letters."

"Well, it's about time," their father said. Even his eyes were slightly glassy. He guided a small brown mare with packages attached strapped to its back.

"Outo-sama, I won't disappoint your expectations," Mayura said, taking the reins to guide the mare. "I will become a great priestess."

"I trust you will," her father replied, smiling. "Good-bye, Mayura. I wish you the best of luck."

"I'll become better in kyudo than onee-san," Keigo said, determinedly gripping his bow. "I'll practice hard."

"Good-bye outo-sama! Good-bye Keigo! Listen well to father, and continue practicing—you will be able to master archery in no time." With a final wave, Mayura, brown mare trotting beside her, headed down the dirt road, a path of uncertainty and ambiguity, but her chosen path.

Amamiya Hayashi

"What do you mean you have to leave right away? You didn't mention having to leave so soon yesterday," Mizuki Mayura said. "Do stay a little longer—outo-sama will be back any time soon.

"Sorry Mayura." Hayashi smiled apologetically. "I forgot that I had some urgent business. Thank you for letting me sleep here last night."

"Come visit again, whenever you feel like it," Mayura said, sighing. Hayashi's unpredictable nature was notorious.

"Don't worry, we'll see each other soon again," Hayashi said, waving and walked down the stairs of the temple.

It had been a couple days since he left the Mizuki temple. Amamiya Hayashi, age sixteen, walked the outskirts of Kyoto, watching occasional wagons pass by, farmers working in the fields, and dragonflies hover around. His zori sandals, though of the best quality in the country, were starting to fall apart.

A young boy with a bamboo stick shouted, "Not fair, onii-chan! I'm sick of playing the evil daimyo. Let me play the samurai for once!"

Hayashi looked up to see two village boys, obviously siblings. The older brother said, "No! I'm going to beat you up if you don't listen! Here, pretend to fall and cry out in pain."

"I don't want to!" The young boy through down his bamboo stick, lower lips trembling. "I don't want to play this game anymore! Onii-chan, play by yourself." He ran off.

"Wait!" the boy chased after his younger brother. "Watch out!" He reached for the younger boy, but it was too late. Both of them slipped on a mud puddle and landed on their bottoms. "Now look what you did. Okaa-san's going to get mad at us for getting all dirty."

"I'm sorry, onii-chan," the younger brother sobbed.

"Silly, that's why I won't let you play the samurai—you'll mess up the heroic part," his brother replied, helping him out of the mud. "How about next time, we can play ninja, and you can be the ninja, and I'll be the evil daimyo."

"Really!" the younger brother, with front teeth missing, grinned widely. Then he looked up to see a man watching them. "Onii-chan, isn't that man a samurai?"

"Heh, he looks weak. He probably can't even beat me in a swordfight," the older boy replied, chin tilted up. "Come, let's go—we have to wash up in the river before okaa-san sees us."

"Wait, onii-chan!" The younger boy scrambled to chase after his older brother, picking up the discarded bamboo sticks serving as sword.

Smiling lopsided, Hayashi continued on his way.

Soon, he had walked past the village and reached a secluded forest. He halted. Blandly, he stated, "You can come out now." There was no response. "I know you're there. Let's see. One. Two. Six of you in total, I presume. You've been following me since Edo."

"Well then, since we've been discovered," a masked man said, coming out from behind a tree. His comrades appeared from various hiding locations, from behind branches and shrubs.

"State your business with me," Hayashi stated, as pleasantly as if he was asking for the time of the day. "You see, I'm rather busy and have to be on my way soon."

"Feh. Busy? You've been wondering around aimlessly for days, Samurai-san," another masked man scoffed. "Too wealthy for your own good, aren't you? Don't you have anything better to do?"

"Look at his clothes," a third man stated. "Pure silk. It'll sell for quite a sum in the market. So will his sword. Let's strip him."

"Is he wearing a sword?" the fourth man asked.

"Probably it's hidden under his haori. Who cares? Samurais don't know how to wield swords anymore—it's there for accessory and status enforcement. Look at him—do you think he will lift a finger on his own? There's a complete pushover standing there. Pathetic fool." The fifth man smirked, cracking his neck. "It'll be fun taking him down."

"Don't act rashly," said the sixth, their leader. "Remember our boss wants him alive."

"Boring," said the fifth man. "Well, shall we start?" He leaped down from his branch to where Hayashi was standing. "Draw your sword and get it over with."

"Six on one man," Hayashi commented. "That's quite overwhelming, isn't it?"

"I could easily take you down on my own, but our boss sent us out in a group," the masked man replied.

"And what does your boss want from me?" Hayashi asked mildly. The sky was crimson now and birds were chirping their last songs of the day.

"Like we would know," the leader of the group said. "It's not our position to ask, but to obey."

"I see," Hayashi replied. "Then there is no reason for us to fight."

"Heh, coward. Of course, it'll save us some trouble if you follow us obediently," the first man spoke. "Otherwise, we'll take you down by force."

"That doesn't seem too pleasant," Hayashi said, chuckling.

"Doesn't it?" another brawny masked man asked, swinging his axe.

Stepping back, Hayashi asked, "So why don't we… negotiate in a peaceful manner?"

"Negotiate?" the axe-wielding man asked. To his comrades, he asked, "Did I hear right? Did he just say negotiate?" The other five burst out laughing. "I'm sorry, Samurai-san, but the word negotiate is not within our vocabulary, let alone peaceful."

"Now stop stalling for time and fight, us," growled the leader. "Or else we'll take it that you surrender."

"What if I refuse to surrender?" Hayashi questioned. His stomach rumbled. Thinking about it, it was dinnertime. Mayura was an excellent cook. Maybe he should have stayed at the temple a little longer.

"Ha, do you expect us to negotiate with you then?" another masked man asked.

"No?" Hayashi blinked. "That's a pity. I guess I'll have to take my other option then."

Crossing his arms, the leader demanded, "What, are you planning to run then? No such chance."

Hayashi smiled. "How did you guess? Then, if you please." Hayashi bowed his head and then took off at the speed of wind.

"What? He really ran off! What are you guys doing? Catch him!"

It was too late. The samurai had already disappeared into the woods. If good at nothing else, he was quick at running away.

"We were caught off guard," the leader said, shaking his head. "What an embarrassment."

"What an idiotic boy, thinking he can run from us," another masked man said.

"He's pretty quick though, to be able to run from us," said the third, who returned panting. "Couldn't follow his movement with my eyes—and poof. He disappeared."

"Well, despite how stupid he looks, that's no ordinary man," said the leader. "We went too easy on him."

"Whew, I think they lost track of me," Hayashi sighed in relief, fanning himself with a bamboo fan. "Persistent guys. Well then, the run has made me quite hungry. Let's see… there must be somewhere to eat."

"Hayashi-kun! It's Hayashi-kun, isn't it?" a loud voice called out.

Hayashi's green eyes widened and he walked ahead faster. A man chased up after him and gripped him tightly on the shoulder. "Don't even think of running away, Hayashi-kun. You thought I wouldn't recognize you just because I'm drunk, didn't you?" He hiccupped.

Beads of perspiration rolling down his forehead, Hayashi slowly turned around. "M-mizuki-sama. I wouldn't have expected you to be at a place like this."

"I wouldn't have expected you to be here in Kyoto, Hayashi-kun. Come now, let us sit down and talk."

Soon, they were seated at a restaurant and the priest was dowsing in sake.

"Err… Mizuki-sama." Hayashi gulped as the priest slammed his cup down, demanding for more drink.

"What? I can't drink because I'm a priest?" He sighed, red in face. "My daughter, my poor daughter. How could I have sent her away, my precious daughter?"

And so, Hayashi learned that Mayura was heading towards a temple in Eitoukou, all on her own. "Don't worry, she'll manage fine one her own," he reassured. "After all, she's Mayura."

"You become a father and say that," the priest gulped down another drink. His eyes glinted as he stared at Hayashi. "You were trying to run away from me earlier, weren't you, boy?"

"Of course not!" Hayashi denied quickly.

"I know you, Hayashi-kun. You left the temple before I returned home, and you tried to run away again tonight. You haven't changed a bit—just grew a bit taller, that's all. Heh, children grow so fast. I can't even whip you anymore, like I did when you were a wee little thing. You're too big now."

Swallowing hard at unpleasant memories, Hayashi said, "You're the same as ever, Mizuki-sama."

"Ah, my dear Mayura. Is she safe?" the priest began sobbing again. "For fifteen years, she has never left home."

"Here, have another drink," Hayashi said, pouring the priest another cupful. Probably this man had scolded him in his childhood more than his real father. Whipped him, lectured him and laughed with him. Like a real father.

"I'll pour you a drink, Hayashi—you're a big boy now. Drink up," the priest said.

"No thank you," Hayashi said, smiling. "I don't drink."

"And you call yourself a true samurai?" the priest snorted. "Impertinence." He reached for the bottle.

Taking the bottle from the priest's hands, Hayashi shook his head. "You've had enough tonight, Mizuki-sama. Mayura will get mad if she hears that you've been drinking again."

"That's right," the priest said. "Mayura will be angry if she finds out. I haven't touched alcohol since her mother died."

"Here now. I'll take you back to the temple—Keigo-kun will be worried," Hayashi said, supporting the priest's weight on his shoulders and helping him up.

"You're a good boy, Hayashi-kun," the priest muttered. "You've grown well." Then he passed out.

Shanghai, China…

Hot and irritated, Landon Reed leaned back on the couch in a western-style furnished room in the middle of a thriving Eastern city. It had been several months since he had left England, and he had settled down in Shanghai in no time, made new friends, learned a new language and found new hobbies to pass time.

"Japan?" demanded a sandy-haired man in his twenties, dressed in fine silk like Landon, sitting up from the sofa. "Why Japan?"

"Don't act so surprised, Edward," Landon replied, yawning. "I've been in Shanghai for months and seen all that I could. Personally, I'm bored. I'll like to visit some new places, and I have interest in Japan."

"Lan, be serious," Edward said, loosening his collar button. "You can't go to Japan. They're a hermit country and don't allow visitors, especially foreigners like yourself. What would you do there, anyway?"

"I'm going to Japan," Landon said firmly, leaning up and looking more alert than he had in the past few weeks.

Though he had been friends with Landon only for the past few months as fellow Englishmen in a foreign country, Edward already knew Landon Reed's famed obstinacy and tendency to carry out whatever he said he would do. Who could convince Landon otherwise? "How are you going to get there? They don't have passenger ships to Japan."

Smiling slyly at his friend, Landon replied, "You're a merchant, Ed. You can manage finding a way to get me there—specifically Edo."

"Even so, you known that Nagasaki is the only port they accept limited trading ships from China, once a year," Edward protested. "That's an impossible request, Lan."

Eyes narrowed, Landon stated, "I know you're involved in black-market trading between Japan and China. I'm sure with your power and connections here, you can arrange to smuggle me on a merchant ship to Japan, can't you? I'm not very patient, so I'm not going to wait around for unnecessary extra months, either."

Sighing, Edward knew he was beaten. Though at first glance, Landon carried the appearance of a spoiled and thoughtless aristocrat, Edward was constantly shocked by the surprising cleverness and shrewdness behind those droopy disinterested blue eyes, when Landon did have something up his sleeves. After all, Landon was already fluent in Chinese, while Edward, who had resided in Shanghai for almost two years, still struggled with the foreign language and its queer intonations. Similarly, with his statue-perfect handsome face and charming "gentlemanly" manners, Landon easily made acquaintances with the "right" people and managed business negotiations that Edward would otherwise have made great losses in. A couple of months ago, Landon had dropped off on the shores of Shanghai with practically nothing, but now, he was leading a luxurious lifestyle in the center of the largest portal city in China. Even now, Edward could swear that Landon was cut out to be a fine lord in the courts of Buckingham Palace, for Landon could slay anyone with just a look from those slanted eyes of his, and his crisp voice carried the authority of one who was used to being obeyed. Yet, his discreet, manipulative ways rivaled that of a pirate.

"You do owe me big time," Landon continued, sipping red wine imported from France. "Didn't I help you out with that fuss over textile exports involving that swindler Butler? And that time when that old geezer Dao-ping accused you of being involved with drug dealing, who scraped you out of trouble with the officials? Not to mention that incident where…"

"Okay, okay, I get your point," Edward said, raising his hands in surrender. "I'll help you out, okay? Give me a week."

"Thank you Edward." Landon smiled at his friend. Even his smile was frightening to Edward, because the younger man was as hard as the Sphinx and as unyielding as a mountain. "I appreciate your help."

Exactly a week, later, as Edward had promised, Landon was introduced to a captain of a merchant ship, which had illegal trading arrangements between Shanghai and Edo.

"Well then, Landon Reed," Edward said on the Shanghai harbor. "I don't know why you would want to go to Japan, but I wish you the best of luck there. Knowing you, you probably won't have any problem surviving, but be careful all the same. I heard there are many ruthless, blood-hungry maniacs there."

Landon laughed, clapping his older friend on the back. "Thanks Ed, for everything."

Shaking his head, Edward said, "I do owe you, Lan, for you've saved my neck more than once. I won't forget you—you're the best bargainer I have ever met. You'll be a great loss to me. To tell you the truth, I might not have liked you so much if we met on different boats." Edward stared at his friend fondly—despite his crassness and manipulative ways, Landon was of a good sort, rare even back in his homeland. "Say, I've always been meaning to ask you, Landon. Since it really doesn't matter here in the East, you can tell me truthfully."

"What now?" Landon asked, eyes slanted.

"Your true identity. Are you an escaped convict?" Edward blurted out loud. "Or maybe an exiled general being hunted down by the Royal Army? Or just a black-listed pirate?"

Chuckling, Landon replied, "No, nothing as exciting as that."

"Then an espionage agent of Her Royal Majesty?" Edward gulped.

"I told you I'm not that interesting of a person," Landon said, waving his hand dismissively as he boarded the ship anchored on the harbor.

"Then what exactly are you, Landon Reed?" Edward stared hard at Landon's back, long golden hair blowing back in the wind.

"Just the good-for-nothing second son of Lord Clarence Reed," he replied dismissively, before disappearing into his cabin in the ship.

Edward stood on the dock, still gaping at his friend. Landon was a noble, a real, pureblood nobleman! He knew it! But what in the world was a true aristocrat doing in the Eastern shores?

"Well, everything is set," Li Shenji said, setting down his cousin Shulin's trunk on the dock. "Are you ready?"

Li Shulin nodded. She could barely speak. Finally the day of her departure to Japan had arrived. This was the first Test to become the Chosen One, her greatest dream. She didn't know how long she would be away, or whether she would live to come back. But if she succeeded, the Li Clan Sword, currently locked in a glass display case back in the Great Elder's private chambers, would become hers.

"You remember everything the Great Elder told you, right?" Shenji asked, patting Shulin's back. "The Great Elder believes in you. So do I. You are going to come back and become the Chosen One, okay?"

Again, Shulin nodded. Though she wanted to be brave in front of her cousin, her knees were trembling against her will.

Sighing, Shenji said, "I wish you didn't have to travel alone. There will be servants arranged to wait on you once you reach Edo. And the captain of the ship will look after you during the voyage—he's a family friend. All you have to do is remain alert and motivated, and you will do fine."

"You don't have to force yourself to go if you are too scared," a sweetly malicious voice came from behind them.

"Yinlin. What are you doing here?" Shulin demanded. Li Yinlin, a year older than herself, considered Shulin her greatest rival, though she had no interest in combat or becoming the Chosen One. Considering herself the Clan beauty, Yinlin felt threatened by her female cousin, though Shulin cared little about anything except training.

"I had to buy some goods at the marketplace, and I thought I might bid my favorite cousin farewell," Yinlin said, smiling innocently. "My, don't tell me you will be riding that ship over there? How can you bear it? It looks awfully cramped."

"It's a merchant ship, not a passenger ship," Shulin replied coolly. "And who said I'm scared? Surviving a boat ride is nothing compared to what I need to do once I reach Japan."

"Of course," Yinlin said snidely. "You have some crazy notion in your head that you can actually become the Chosen One. As if the Elders will pick a mere girl like you to become the Clan Representative."

Blinking prettily, Shulin replied, "Well the governor's son is a pig and a fool. You can have him, dear Yinlin. I'm going to become famous by my own right, not by my husband's name."

Turning purple, Yinlin declared, fanning herself with a delicately painted silk fan. "I don't see how you can slave away in the sun like that day after day. Your complexion will be ruined, and your figure will become as stout as a man's. And look at your hands! Are those lady's hands?"

Ashamed, Shulin stared down at her bandaged hands. Scowling, she stated, "Well, I won't live to please any man. I will live for myself."

"That's what you want to believe," Yinlin retorted. "You'll probably scar your face for life during one of your combats, and no one will want you then. That is, if you can stay alive through the Test of the Chosen One."

"I—" Shulin was cut off.

"Shulin, Yinlin. Stop it the both of you," Shenji interrupted, stepping in between the two vicious girls. "Shulin, the boat will depart soon. Board now, and I'll get one of the sailors to load your luggage. Yinlin, you skipped calligraphy lesson again, didn't you? This is the third time in a month."

"You always take Shulin's side," Yinlin grumbled.

"Thanks Shenji, for coming to see me off, even though you're busy," Shulin said, giving her favorite cousin a tight hug.

Stroking Shulin's glossy black hair, Shenji said, "You better finish your mission and come back quickly. Or else I'm going to become the Chosen One in your stead."

"No way! I'll come back!" Shulin replied, smiling.

"Do, I don't want to become the Chosen One." Shenji grinned.

Glancing at Yinlin, Shulin said brusquely, "Good bye, Yinlin. I'm sure you're glad to see me off. But I'm sorry, I can't do you the pleasure of sinking to the bottom of the ocean, because I swear I'll return, victorious."

"Humph." Crossing her arms, Yinlin looked away. How could her cousin be excited about leaving the country and going somewhere far away where unknown dangers awaited? Then again, she had very little similarities with Shulin, though they had grown up together.

Having boarded the ship, Shulin turned to face the harbor. The ship had lifted anchor and was slowly drifting away. Shulin waved frantically to Shenji. "Good bye! Wish me luck!"

"Do your best, Li Shulin!" Shenji called out. "I'll look after the Clan while you're gone."

Still pouting, Yinlin stared at the departing ship. Having a change in heart, she frantically ran up to the end of the dock, shouting, "Li Shulin! You better return home safely! We'll see who marries the greater man then! If you don't return, I'll take it that you admit defeat!"

"Bye Cousin Yinlin!" Shulin waved. "Don't spend too much time brushing your hair or else you'll become bald!"

"Bye Shulin! Don't be killed by those crazy Japanese samurais!" Yinlin called out in return.

Smiling wistfully, Shulin watched her two cousins fade away into the distance as the ship cut across the ocean, heading towards the Land of the Rising Sun.

"Strange girl," Landon muttered to himself, watching the queer Chinese girl crouched on one end of the ship deck, head buried in her knees. He hadn't expected company on this trip, especially not some girl who seemed to be around ten or so. Was she a stowaway? What was she doing on a boat to Japan? What business would she have there at that age? The girl had seemed in such high-spirits when the ship had set sail a couple hours ago, but now she seemed deeply depressed and gloomy. She hadn't even noticed there was another person on the merchant ship besides the crew of sailors and their captain.

Finally having noticed another presence nearby, Shulin looked up alert, greeted by the sight of a tall, formidable foreigner with long golden hair tied back with a ribbon as blue as the ocean and his eyes. Like the angels in the rare European paintings she had seen. How long had he been standing there? Ashamed to have been caught off guard, she glared at the passenger.

Though Landon had met many women both in the West and the East, at that moment he was mesmerized by the angry girl's face, for he had never seen such a vivid and fiery expression before. The girl's undaunted amber eyes blazed in the sunlight and her long shiny dark hair, sections of it braided and pinned up elaborately and the rest blowing out freely in the wind like black silk, accented a perfectly formed face, an unforgettable face.

"Who are you? What do you want?" she demanded in Chinese. Then she slowly stood up, still glaring at him again.

That's right, she doesn't think I can understand her, that I'm a stupid foreigner. Landon realized. He smiled, grasping he had found a source of amusement on a voyage he had anticipated to be dreary.

Carefully putting distance between herself and the foreigner, Shulin observed the fair man from head to toe. He was a Westerner, and apparently a wealthy one judging by the quality of the clothes he wore. Yet what was he doing on a boat to Japan? Was he a spy, maybe set out by the Elders? Or was him being on the boat a mere coincidence? He had no weapon him, but he could carry hidden weapons. One thing she knew was that she definitely didn't like the condescending smirk he wore on his face, which ruined his good features.

Watching the girl's eyes flit back and forth, Landon a smile with his hand. She feels threatened by me. She's probably measuring my capacity right now. But I wonder if she knows how to use that large sword strapped to her back, or if it's merely an ornament. What a dangerous weapon for such a slight girl. "State your name and business here," Shulin said in Chinese. Then she bit her lips. She wished she had taken some English lessons back at home. What other languages did Westerners speak? Certainly not Chinese.

The ship rocked back and forth. Shulin stumbled forward and leaned against the railing. If only she could decide if this man was an enemy or just a random passenger. It didn't help that her stomach churned, and she felt nauseous. What was this sickening sensation? She couldn't think straight. One of the Great Elder's first lessons was to trust no one and never let down your guard. And never let your foe see a weakness. Gripping the railing tightly till her knuckles turned white, Shulin continued to stare at the golden-haired man, waiting for him to make the first move.

"I'm no one of your concern," Landon replied in English, knowing it would aggravate the girl. Strange, the girl was having trouble standing straight. Her face was rather pale and eyes dilated. Was she that intimidated by him?

What was the man saying in his foreign tongue? It didn't sound like his name and occupation. Shulin took a deep breath, trying to gulp down her desire to vomit. Even though he wouldn't understand him, she said in a strained voice, "Please leave me alone, and I won't bother you through this voyage."

Landon grinned. I see now. The girl is seasick! How unsightly with her rash temper.

Why was the foreigner laughing at her? Shulin did not like him one bit, for she did not know what he was thinking with that haughty expression of his. And why did the boat rock so? If she could, she would go into the cabin, but she felt as if she would pass out if she moved from the spot.

She's miserable. I guess she's never been on a boat before. I think she's embarrassed too. What a proud thing, still glaring at me even though she's so sick. She clearly wants me to go away. "No thank you," Landon drawled in English in his best imitation of Laurence. "I think I'll torment you a little more."

Though she did not understand what he was saying, he was clearly mocking her. Shulin's hands inched towards her sword hilt. Then she sighed again. It was her policy not to fight those weaker than her. "Ignorant foreigner thinks he can get the best of me," she muttered underneath her breath. "He should be thankful than I am so benevolent. What does he think he is? He probably thinks there's gold in Japan or something. Even if I don't get him, he'll probably be killed once he reaches Japan."

What a morbid kid, Landon thought. Maybe Chinese girls have more sinister and bloodthirsty dispositions than British ones. Or maybe this brat is an exception. The waves were more violent than before and the ship rocked up and down. There were shouts from the sailors. Both Landon and Shulin stared up at the sky covered with dark clouds. When had it gotten so dark? It had been so sunny and clear in the morning. A heavy drop of rain landed on Shulin's nose. She groaned. The sailors were frantic now. "Storm! Everyone to your positions." There were shouts of "Lift the sails! Row! Starboard? Check! Steer right!"

A sailor carrying a rope stopped to call out to Shulin and Landon, "You two, get in your cabins! There's a big storm coming up! Stay there until it's over; it's not safe up on the deck!" He hurried off to the galley, where all hands were needed.

Still gripping the railings, Shulin held on desperately as the ships tilted dangerously forward.

Retaining his balance, Landon wondered why the girl wasn't moving. Was she so terrified? Or was she too sick to move? The raindrops came down harder now, and it was hard to see in front of him. Yet, he couldn't leave the girl and go inside by himself.

"Let's go inside," he said, switching to Chinese.

Shulin shook her head, not even noticing that the stranger was speaking her native tongue to her.

"What a stubborn little thing," Landon muttered, grabbing Shulin's arms.

"What are you doing?" she demanded, clutching the railings.

"Just come here. It's not safe on the deck with a sea storm like this. You're so small, you'll be blown right off into the ocean, with no one to save you except me. And that will be a problem and inconvenience on my part." With the greatest ease, he picked her up and flung her over his shoulders and carried her back to his cabin.

"Let go of me!" she screamed in indignation, kicking at Landon's back, but he retained his balance until he reached his cabin and set her on the bed. They were both soaking wet by this time and the ocean was more tumultuous than before.

Teeth chattering and drenched black hair in her eyes, Shulin stared venomously at Landon who was wringing out his sleeves. The girl looked even more miserable before, and Landon couldn't help but laugh out loud.

"What are you laughing at, you barbaric, conceited pig?" Shulin sneezed. Her stomach felt worse than before. Why did she have to get sick at this moment? "I'm… going to throw up."

"Not in here!" Landon exclaimed.

"I can't help it," Shulin groaned. "I can't hold it down."

"Well, go out and vomit on the deck then," Landon said, crossing his arms.

Tottering, Shulin headed towards the cabin door. She was absolutely green in the face.

"Where do you think you're going?" Landon demanded, alarmed. Surely the girl wasn't planning to go out in the ferocious storm again? "Sit down."

"I'm really… going to be sick," Shulin gasped.

"I know. Sit down, okay? You're seasick, aren't you?" Landon asked, more kindly than before. He handed her a glass of water. "Here, drink some water. And take these pills."

"What are these?" Shulin stared at the white pills; she hadn't yet noticed that she could understand what Landon was saying now. "You're trying to poison me, aren't you?"

"Poisoning is too kind a method of killing," Landon replied impatiently. "I wouldn't bother saving you from a storm at the risk of being kicked black and blue, only to poison you would I? Now swallow it; you'll feel better."

"I don't take any medicine except that prescribed by the Clan Healer," Shulin said sullenly.

"Well, you have no choice, do you?" Landon asked, his patience at an end. "Trust me, Western physicians know what they're doing."

At this point, Shulin was too sick to even care. She gulped down the pills with water. At that moment, the ship lurched and she dropped the glass on the floor with a clash. All the lanterns in the cabin blew out.

"Great," Landon muttered. "The lights are out and there are glass pieces all over the floor. What an idiot of a girl."

"It's not my fault!" Shulin retorted. Maybe she was feeling a little better from the medicine for there was more fire in her voice than before.

"I hope you aren't scared of the dark," Landon said. "Most girls are, and we'll be stuck here for a while."

"Why should I be afraid of the dark?" Shulin demanded. "There's nothing I'm scared of, so there. I bet you're scared of the dark."

"Maybe I should have poisoned her after all," Landon muttered. This girl was really nothing like he had ever seen. He recalled Katherine. What would she do in this situation? She would cry and cling to his arms. Not that he would have minded. That's what girls were supposed to do. Let men protect them and cherish them. But not this Chinese brat.

They sat in the stuff silence of the dark cabin for what seemed like hours as the storm raged on outside.

"Hey you," Landon said, at the brink of boredom. "What are you going to Japan for?"

"To complete my mission," Shulin replied. She was feeling a lot better now; if only she had a change of clothes, she would be fine. Still, she hoped that the blue-eyed man didn't mind she was dripping water all over his sheets.

"Mission?" Landon repeated. What does the girl think she is? Some kind of government emissary? "How old are you kid?"

"I'm not a kid. I'm thirteen," Shulin replied, scowling in dark.

"No way. You look eleven at the most," Landon said. "Where I come from, young women are like this." He made an hourglass motion with his hands, not that Shulin could see in the pitch-blackness.

"So why don't you back where you're from then," Shulin said, figuring that Landon was definitely not complimenting her.

"Nay, I have business in Japan," Landon replied.

"Oh."

Didn't the girl have any curiosity in her? She didn't ask him what his business in Japan was, nor did she seem to care. "Aren't you scared, traveling alone to a new country?"

"Not particularly," Shulin replied. "Why, are you scared?"

"No!" Landon retorted. What was wrong with this girl? He had never met anything like her before. "I guess that sword you carry isn't just an ornament."

"Do you want me to demonstrate?" Shulin asked. "I can slice the bedpost in half in the dark, though you probably won't be able to see it."

"That's all right," Landon said, sweat-dropping. She was quite an intimidating girl despite her age. Really, it was a lot more fun watching her seasick.

"By the way," Shulin began, grudgingly. "Thanks for the medicine. It was quite effective."

"Eh? Oh, no problem. I just didn't want you to vomit in my cabin," Landon replied.

"And how did you end up on this ship anyway?" Shulin asked.

"What about you?"

"This is my family's ship," Shulin replied coolly.

"Oh?" Landon blinked. So this girl was pretty rich. What would a girl from a wealthy family be doing on such a journey? Then again, what would an English gentleman be doing in the middle of the ocean in the East in a black-market merchant ship?

"Who are you?" Shulin demanded. "Are you a spy? Or are you related to the Elders in any way?"

"Spy? Who's a spy?" Landon blinked again. Why did everyone presume that he was up to no good? Was it the way he wore his hair?

"I don't know. Maybe you're from a rival clan. Or gathering information for the British Empire." Shulin sighed. How troublesome. "Then does the name 'Li' ring a familiar bell to you?'

"No," Landon said flatly.

"I don't believe you," Shulin retorted. "There wasn't any arrangement for another passenger to be on this ship. This was a secret mission. It can't be just coincidence that you are here. Someone must have sent you. Who was it, answer me!"

"Eh, I guess you are a pretty important person if you deserve such attention," Landon said. He grinned evilly. "Say, this great family of yours with pay a handsome sum of money for their precious little daughter to come home safely from a treacherous sea journey, won't they?"

"Are you threatening me?" Shulin demanded.

"Maybe," Landon replied blandly. "I could be a kidnapper or a serial killer for all you know."

Darkly, Shulin said, "I could be an assassin for all you know."

Landon coughed. "Eh? Surely not." Then again, Easterners had strange notions and customs, one never knew.

"Besides, it doesn't matter." Shulin smiled wistfully. "If I don't return alive, it's a sign that I am not worthy of becoming the Chosen One. They won't save me. I'm the only one who can save myself. So, I'm not afraid. I'll prove to them that I am worthy; I will complete my mission. And I won't let any obstacles block my way."

"Heh, such confidence from a helpless girl who get seasick so easily and couldn't move from the decks because she was too scared," Landon said mockingly.

"That's not true!" Shulin retorted, standing up. "I—"

"Do as you please. For your information, I am neither a kidnapper nor a serial killer, and I don't need money either." Landon grinned. "I'm just proving my way, also, though in a different manner. You have people who expect something from you. Well, no one expects anything from me."

"I knew you weren't that impressive of a person in the first place," Shulin scoffed. "All boast and little substance."

"Why, you—" Landon pointed his finger helplessly in the dark. Not that they could even see each other.

"By the way," Shulin began, puzzled as a new thought struck her after she had finally regained composure. "You speak Chinese?"

"Are you stupid? How do you think we've been conversing till now?" Landon smirked. "You certainly don't speak English."

"Then… you understood everything I said in the beginning?" Shulin continued slowly.

"Eh?" Landon laughed nervously. "You can say that."

Shulin scowled. "I see now. You were making fun of me then."

"Maybe," Landon replied carelessly.

"Another thing. I'm sorry to say," Shulin said extra-sweetly. Her blood was boiling by now. Horrible man! How dare he mock her? "But I wasn't lying. I am actually trained to be an assassin."

Landon turned pale and gulped. She didn't seem to be pulling his leg.

"But I've never killed anyone and don't plan to unless duty calls," Shulin continued. "So you don't have to be scared."

"W-why would I be scared of a kid like you?" Landon demanded. This was no ordinary girl.

"That's a relief," Shulin said. "I thought your blood temperature dropped considerably just now. I can sense those kind of things, you know."

"I can't wait till I get off this boat," Landon muttered, reverting back to English. "I can't stand this girl."

"Look, I can see land!" Shulin exclaimed, leaning over the boat rails at the starboard deck, the head of the ship. It was the break of dawn and both the sea and sky were a deep crimson as the sun began to rise. "We're finally here!" Her long hair whipped back and her eyes were radiant. This is it. I'm here. No more hesitating!

Stepping up from his cabin, yawning, Landon walked up beside the Chinese girl. Finally. The long sea voyage was over after a rocky beginning. After the storm incident, the two passengers had avoided each other when they could, but sometimes exchanged words out of sheer boredom. They maintained a stormy relationship, only bearing each others' company due to confined space and lack of other entertainment. They still hadn't exchanged names, though by now, Landon had figured out that this girl's name was Shulin, since that was what the crew and Captain addressed her in a respectful tone. It was a pretty name with a soft tone to it, unlike her fiery disposition.

Closing her eyes and breathing in the salty, tangy sea air, Shulin recollected the Great Elder's words in the Great Hall. "Li Shulin, to prove your strength to our Clan, your first test as the Chosen One candidate is to find the greatest swordsman in Japan and bring back his sword in sign that you have defeated him. Prove that you are the greatest in the East to become the Chosen One."

"It's a simple task," Shulin said, stretching out her hand toward the horizon, then making a tight fist. "I'll defeat him, no doubt. No swordsman will stop me, so beware, Greatest Swordsman of Japan! I'll become the Chosen One so just wait, I'm coming!"

Sighing, Landon muttered, "What in the world is that girl talking about? Hey, don't lean over so far! You'll fall overboard."

"We're reaching the harbor!" Shulin exclaimed, heedless. "Edo Bay. Look!"

The Eastern Islands were lit by the morning glow, and Landon stepped up to catch full view also. His blue eyes rounded and for once Shulin and he were in concordance. In awe, he murmured, "So this is the Land of the Rising Sun."

Japan, somewhere between Kyoto and Edo…

Though leaving home had been a sudden decision, Mizuki Mayura now had plenty of time to reflect over what awaited her in the future. She had been on the road for several days, and the furthest away from home ever. Truthfully, she had little sense of direction, since had never traveled beyond Kyoto and every bone was aching tired. Not that she showed her weariness to anyone. Her clothes were neither wrinkled nor stained, and her eyes were watchful of her surroundings. Up till yesterday, she had been able to stop by villages for meals and sleeping places, but now she was traveling through woods and wilderness. Her brown mare, trotting beside her obediently, was her only companion.

She heard a rustling in the bushes. Her gray eyes narrowed and automatically, she reached for an arrow. "Who's there?" she demanded, without a tremor in her voice—it was dangerous in the woods, she knew, especially for a young woman. She must not let down her guard. Without waiting, she shot her arrow off. Then, she waited for the sound of her pray falling. Strange, there was no reaction—she never missed a target.

"That's quite dangerous, miko-sama," said Hayashi, walking up from behind the tree, an arrow neatly caught between his forefinger and middle finger. His emerald eyes were twinkling, nonetheless. "You almost shot me, right through my throat."

"What are you doing here?" Mayura demanded, half in dismay at almost having shot a friend, half in relief. "You're always catching me by surprise, aren't you? I thought you were back in Kyoto."

"I met your father back in Kyoto," Hayashi said, walking up to his priestess friend. "He was worried about a pretty young lady traveling alone in this scary, frightening world, so I volunteered to accompany you."

Raising an eyebrow, Mayura asked, "Do you seriously think I need any sort of protection?"

"Of course not; quite the contrary," Hayashi replied, smiling. "But at least it reassured your heart-broken father. And anyway, I heard you were on your way to Eitoukou. I think I failed to tell you before. Our family summer estate is in Eitoukou."

"What a coincidence!" Mayura exclaimed.

"Do you think it's a coincidence?" Hayashi yawned. "Anyway, now I have someone to protect me on this journey."

"How did you find me, anyway?" Mayura asked. Till this day, she could not understand the thought process of her childhood friend.

"I have a knack for those kinds of things," Hayashi replied. "By the way, I wasn't kidding about needing someone to protect me." He lowered his voice. "Six to the right. Four more to the left. Ten in total—there might be some reinforcement nearby as well."

"What?" Mayura narrowed her steel gray eyes, drawing out an arrow. "That many? What have you been doing this time around, Hayashi-kun?"

"Nothing!" Hayashi replied. "Besides, only six of them are after me—the other four are different."

"Different?" Mayura repeated.

"They're after you—and they're trained assassins. I can tell by their evil ki. The ones after me are only third-rate." Hayashi smiled. "I leave it in your hands, miko-sama—now I think I'll step back."

"Hey, didn't you promise outo-sama that you'll protect me?" Mayura demanded. "And why are there assassins after me?"

"I don't know," Hayashi replied. "Are you carrying the Mirror of the Truth in your pack?"

Mayura glanced at the package bundled on top of the mare's back. "Yes."

"That explains it," Hayashi said, voice barely above a whisper. "They're approaching."

"I know," Mayura said, having already shot off a first arrow. There was a thud and someone fell to the ground.

"Wonderful shot!" Hayashi clapped. "Clean, swift and precise!"

"Stay silent if you're not going to help," Mayura said coldly, another arrow already stringed to her bow.

"Heh, nobody told us the miko-sama is skilled in kyujutsu," one of the assassins, dressed in maroon, stated, coming out of his hiding place, plucking an arrow out of his arm. Three others, also in maroon, appeared.

"Who's that girl?" a masked man demanded to his other five teammates, the ones that Hayashi had encountered earlier that week, from the other side of the maroon-clothed assassins. "When did that good-for-nothing Samurai-san get a bodyguard?"

"She's not my bodyguard," Hayashi said meekly. Mayura stepping away from Hayashi, who was using her as cover.

"Well, we'll take both of them down," the masked man with the axe stated.

"Wait a minute; the girl's ours," the assassin in red stated. "You can't touch her."

"Who are you guys?" the leaders of the masked men demanded. "Don't interrupt our project."

"Same goes to you guys," the leader of the men in maroon stated. "We don't have time to waste with the likes of you."

The masked men hissed. "Let's take them down as well!"

"Calm down," their leader said. "We'll deal with them later." He narrowed his eyes and stared at Hayashi again. "Don't think of escaping again." Deftly, he threw out a hidden dagger.

Without blinking an eye, Hayashi dodged. Several more flew his direction, and he dodged them all.

"You can't continue to escape forever," the leader stated. "Best you surrender, or the lady with be in danger."

"I don't think so," Mayura stated, shooting at the masked man.

Barely dodging, the masked leader scowled. "Aren't you ashamed to have a woman protect you, Samurai-san?"

"That's true, Hayashi," Mayura said dryly. "Why don't you go take down those men instead of leaving everything to me?"

"But you're better at long-distance fighting than I am," Hayashi replied, stepping aside as another dagger hurdled his way.

"Stop with your feeble excuses!" the axe-man shouted, hurling his axe at the two.

"Watch out!" Hayashi grabbed Mayura and ducked, his body covering Mayura's. The axe swooped over their heads and embedded itself in the tree trunk behind them. "Are you okay, Mayura?"

"I'm fine," Mayura panted. A round, crystal-like jewel on a golden chain had escaped from underneath Hayashi's kimono and glimmered on his chest, like a star trapped within a glass ball. Though she had heard of it, she had never seen it before.

"Eh, what's that?" one of the masked men demanded. "It looks quite pricey—it'll sell well with the rest of his clothes."

"Boss, isn't that..." the assassin in maroon trailed off.

"The Dragon's Eye," the second assassin finished, staring at the un-faceted diamond jewel. "That must mean that man is…"

"Surely not," said the first.

"He must be. Amamiya Hayashi of the Third Eye," the boss of the men in maroon gulped.

"Huh, who's that?" a masked man demanded.

"Surely even idiots such as yourselves have heard of the Dragon's Eye and the one who carries it," the assassin replied.

"Wait, I think I heard of it before," the masked man stroked his chin. Then he blinked. "Don't tell me that blathering fool is that Amamiya Hayashi-sama. I thought it was all stories."

"Heh, comes a day when a swordsman doesn't wield a sword and hides behind the back of a woman," said another masked man. "I refuse to believe he is that Samurai of the Dragon's Eye."

"Fool, believe what you will," said the assassin. "Well, it ruins our plans—we'll have to leave off taking the Mirror of Truth for now. We hadn't been planning to deal with that man." He stared at the green-eyed man hard. "We'll retreat for today. You guys with he mask—I advise you do the same whatever your business with him is."

"We're not cowards like you," said the leader of the masked men.

"Ignorant being, do you know who you're speaking to?" The assassin in maroon bared an arm, revealing an eye-shaped symbol, tattooed on his skin.

The masked men stared and gasped.

"Beware—we won't go easy on you next time," the man with the tattoo said, before leaping into the woods after his comrades.

"Let's retreat for today also," said the leader of the masked men. "If they can't deal with that samurai…"

"But we're greater in number," his comrade protested.

"Silence." The leader nodded. "Let's go."

"How boring." Grinning, the masked man reached under his sleeve, staring at the young priestess. A log came hurdling his way and knocked the poisoned dagger out of hand. Startled, the man looked down from his position up in the branches.

"Don't even think of it," Hayashi said, looking up and smiling.

"Bastard," the masked man muttered, cradling his numb hand, still trembling, before catching up with the other five.

After watching the last of the assaulters leave, Hayashi sighed in relief. "They're finally all gone thanks to your marvelous archery skills."

Frowning, Mayura replied, "I would have expected someone who came all the way here promising father to protect me would at least draw his sword instead of leaving me to fight ten men all alone."

"But you managed fine on your own," Hayashi stated straightforwardly.

Sighing, Mayura stared up at her friend of fifteen years. With calm green eyes the color of summer leaves and soft, windblown golden brown hair, he always had a relaxed smile and a carefree ambiance. His fine clothing, from the navy blue keikogi and dark gray hakama, was fine-woven silk, and his manner of speech and courteous conduct, formal despite his easy-going nature, suggested he came from an old, wealthy family. Beneath his navy blue haori overcoat, he hid the hilts of two sheathed swords, the daisho, slung by the sash around his waist, a sign that he was of the samurai class. Though many of the samurai class nowadays carried the daisho, consisting of two swords, the katana, the long, curved blade,and the wakizashi, the short blade, merely as an ornament of their rank, Amamiya Hayashi knew how to wield them and wield them well. His broad shoulders, sinuous hands, quick reflexes and keen eyes were signs that he wasn't simply another samurai gone to seed at this age during the Tokugawa Era.

"You're probably the only swordsman in Japan, who can beat enemies without even drawing your sword, Hayashi," Mayura commented wryly.

"That's because I have a wonderfully skilled priestess with me." Hayashi replied. "Well, shall we continue towards Eitoukou? I have a feeling my vacation in my summer estate will be prolonged due to a fellow neighbor moving in."

It was impossible not to smile along with Hayashi, for he managed to have his own way without ever showing his true intention. "Thank you, Hayashi," she said softly. "It's kind of you to accompany me."

"The pleasure is mine," Hayashi replied. "Now that I think of it, I'm hungry. I hope there's a village we can stop by for the night."

"Well, I don't think those men will attack us again, at least for the moment," Mayura stated, leading her mare down the path.

"You scared them off properly," Hayashi conceded. "I knew it was a good idea to seek you to protect me."

"You're as silly as ever, Hayashi-kun," Mayura stated. "I remember outo-sama used to whip you well when you were younger."

Laughing, Hayashi said, "He threatened to whip me again, but I got smart and ran for my life."

"Your sword will rust in its sheath with you always running away in face of confrontation." Even so, Mayura felt greatly relieved to have Amamiya Hayashi, with his light-hearted jokes and quick on his feet to flee tendency, beside her.

"I don't think so," Hayashi replied, patting his swords at his left waist.

"Say, Hayashi, can it be that you being here right now is a sign of changing tides—what you've told me about before, the beginning of a new era?" Mayura asked in a more serious tone.

Cool green eyes met Mayura's gray ones. "The oceans waves are crashing upon the shores and the dragon rises from the mist. The woods are still, and the eye opens."

"I don't understand your meaning when you get all poetic," Mayura said.

"I told you that I'm thinking of becoming a scholar," Hayashi replied sincerely.

"Come let's go." Mayura walked ahead. "You're never serious when I talk to you."

"Meanwhile, you're always serious, miko-sama," Hayashi replied.

"I can't help it," Mayura said. "It's my training."

"And I am also the result of my training." Hayashi looked up at the dusky sky. A breeze swept over the two. True, he could see it. A new era was awaiting them, a merging of the East and the West. He could see the ocean, the fields, the mountain, the river and the woods. He could see the stars shift and the change in the direction of the wind. For he possessed the Third Eye, the second sight so it was called.

"Those men were smart, to run off while you were still 'negotiating,'" Mayura murmured, staring up at the man beside her, who despite his cheerful disposition, sometimes unsettled her by the intensity of his undecipherable eyes when in deep thought. "And there is no way that you'll throw aside your years of kenjutsu training to become a scholar."

After all, contradictory to his appearance and actions, Amamiya Hayashi was the greatest swordsman in all of Japan.

Watching Hayashi trying to pet the mare and almost getting his fingers bitten off in result, Mayura sighed. "But who would believe it, just taking one look at your face?"

"Hoe? Did you say something?" Hayashi asked.

And so, the legend of the Five Forces begins as each individual heads towards their fated meeting day.

Wish-chan: Well, Preface and Chapter one of New Trials Special: "Legacy of the Five Forces" is out! Hope you enjoyed reading a bit more about how it all began, lacking better terms to put it. Meet the ancestors of Sakura, Syaoran, Clow, etc. and their adventures and trials. Hehe… I think I have enough material to make a whole series on them, but I won't for the moment. I kind of like how the Great Five's character designs came out. Oh wait, I didn't introduce the fifth one yet, on purpose. I wrote this chapter with the intention of just giving everyone just a glimpse of what the Great Five were like, such as their personalities and appearances and such. And this is when they are young, before they all meet each other. Of course they change and evolve as they grow older. Oh, and in one of my chapters, I messed up by switching Mayura and Landon's powers, but what I have written here is correct—Landon wields the power of contract and Mayura, the heavenly bodies. I'm not sure when the next chapters coming along—I need to hurry and return to writing Chapter 49 and my other character special. This was a nice diversion—I've been really thinking out the era of the Five Forces, and I found it very fascinating. I've always been interested in historical fiction, after all. I got pretty interested in Japanese history from my comparative politics class, where we studied a bit about how modern day Japan came to be, and found it fascinating. Hurrah for college. Haha. Anyway, that doesn't pertain to this story that much, but I did have to research a bit, because it's harder to write out of the current time period.

Also, I've been calculating when the era of the Five Forces would have occurred. I mentioned in a Yahoo group post that I originally intended for this to occur around 500 years ago, or so, however I did the calculations (wondering what CLAMP intended), and I figured, Clow Reed's reign couldn't have been over a 100 years, probably much less, despite the fact he was the Greatest Magician in the world. I figure he reincarnated himself immediately upon death, into Kinomoto Fujitaka and Eriol—which would be subtracted 40-50 years from current time. So in fact, Clow Reed's era wasn't too long ago—it probably lasted from near the end of the 19th century towards mid-20th century. He's so wise because he's seen many wars (both World Wars), industrialization, the turn of the century, etc, etc. Anyway, so I set the time period this story to be around mid-19th century, before the Meiji Restoration and towards the end of the Edo Feudal Period (before the four class-system disappeared, so that samurais still existed.) Hmm… out of my characters, I think Hayashi is the most complex. Either way, their story gets quite interesting, but I probably won't have time to write about it for now (unless people want to hear more.)

I think this can be a stand alone fic, especially since it discusses how Clow Reed's parents meet, but of course it will make more sense having read New Trials. Well, New Trials will make more sense having read this, in the future.

Do see the sketch of the Great Five I drew (I'll have better colored sketches some times in the future).

Comments welcome at . Also, in my guestbooks and the Yahoo Group. Please join it if you haven't already, thank you and post messages if you haven't! Thanks for everyone's support, and I'll continue producing more in the world of New Trials and CCS (which isn't mine, but CLAMP's. Long live CLAMP!)