I lost by balance and slammed against the ground, my cheek smashing on the cold concrete. My lungs felt crushed by the mass of the thick, heavy spirit that engulfed me. For the first time in a while, I was afraid for my life. Struggling as hard as I could, I attempted to surge upwards, but all I managed was to flail my arms and legs and look like a goldfish without air. Great, I thought to myself, while coughing from the disgusting smell of the spirit, I'm gonna die and look like an idiot doing it. Doesn't help that I'm the only one who can see these stupid things. To any passerby, it would seem like I'm having a violent seizure in the middle of the road… or a hallucination.
Groping forward with my hand, I thrashed helplessly under the weight of the spirit, my chest heaving. In my panic, I knocked my glasses off, leaving me nearly blinded. Helplessly, I felt myself being pulled backwards by the force of the spirit. The horrible stench of the beast overwhelmed me, and I felt my eyes drooping, my arms going limp. My mind swirled; I wasn't even processing that I was seconds away from death.
Suddenly, my mind cleared and I took gulps of fresh air, one after the other. The pressure lifted off my back and I regained my focus. Although I had no idea what just happened – or why I was even still alive for that matter – I was grateful. Coughing slightly, I stood up and brushed myself off, turning around to face my savior.
My face flushed. "Why do you always have to be here at the most embarrassing moments?!"
Standing a few feet away from me, bow in hand, was Domeki, expressionless as ever. "You did look pretty stupid," he said flatly.
"You weren't supposed to agree with me!" I roared.
Domeki was silent for a moment, then he muttered, "….Fool…"
"Who are you calling a fool?!" I spat, then stormed off in the other direction. About halfway back to Yuko's shop, I became aware that there were footsteps behind me, and I swiveled around to see Domeki behind me. "Why the hell are you still following me?!"
"Just making sure you didn't collapse in the road again." I gave him an odd look. "And…you should make sushi rolls tomorrow."
"I'm not here to take your lunch order!" I yelled at him for the millionth time, but he plugged his ears and ignored me. Typical.
By this time, we had reached Yuko's shop, and I stormed in the gate without another word to Domeki. Mokona greeted me by jumping up on my shoulder. Once I entered the house, Maru and Moru spun me around, pinned on my apron and put on my cutsie chef-hat in the usual routine. As if I couldn't do that myself. But I let them; it made them feel useful.
"How was your day?" Yuko drawled. She was lounging in a velvet chair, smoking a silver pipe. The steam clouded the room and swirled all around her, but I was used to it.
"Well… Himawari-chan said 'Hi!' to me when I walked in the door… she's so cute when she smiles…like a sunbeam!" I sighed contentedly at the memory, and Yuko chuckled. "But I got attacked by a spirit on the way home from school," I continued, my voice going sour. "It was a really bad one too. And Domeki had to save my life again. It's so embarrassing! I'm always the damsel in distress when he's around."
There was a silence, and just as I was about to turn away and start my daily chores in the shop, Yuko spoke again. "Did you thank him?"
"Eehh?" I squeaked.
"Come on now," Yuko lectured. "He saved your life. If he hadn't been there, you would be a tasty, dead meal for a spirit right now. Right?"
"Right," I admitted.
"So, you must thank him," Yuko said firmly, then her face suddenly became more alert. "We have visitors."
"Ehhh?" I was even more discombobulated by this statement.
I heard a faint voice outside. "It's Yuko's shop! Yuuukkkooooo!" It sounded like,,, Mokona! But that was impossible; Mokona was on my shoulder. But wait – there were two Mokonas! I groaned, then brightened when I remembered that if the white Mokona was here, Syaoran must be here too.
"The white pork bun is here with Syaoran and the dimension-travelers?!" I asked Yuko.
Yuko smiled but said nothing, but stood up and slid open the shop's door. Maru and Moro stood on either side of her, like statues. I walked forward and peeked over Yuko's shoulder to see something I could only describe as staggering.
Not only was the traveling group there, but there were also about twenty or thirty others, forming the strangest-looking group I had ever seen. There was a pretty young boy with silvery-blue hair, a brown-haired boy in what looked like a ninja cosplay outfit, and even a dragon! I gasped.
"Mokona!" The black Mokona on my shoulder cried, jumping down to greet the white Mokona.
"Mokona!" The other responded, and they proceeded to hop around each other in glee.
"Why are we here, exactly…?" The silver-haired boy grumbled.
A boy standing next to him, with raven-black hair and sparkling, big brown eyes, cheerfully asked, "Ooh! Who owns the house?"
"Yuko, apparently." My heart leapt – it was the voice of Syaoran! I resisted the urge to call a greeting. He turned to the silver-haired boy. "The girl you saw me talking to from Mokona's forehead. This is Mokona's home."
"I forgot there was a black Mokona!" It was another familiar face – Sakura, the princess who had been unconscious when I had first met her. She laughed at the Mokonas entertaining each other; I found myself thinking that it was a pleasant sound, which embarrassed me.
"Greetings," Yuko said, gracefully descending on the group. "And welcome to my shop. My name is Yuko; Yuko Ichihara. And you are...?"
"It might take a half hour to go through out names," the silver-haired boy grumbled.
Yuko gave him a glare that would have made me quail, and I was used to her. "No matter," she said with a hint of annoyance in her voice. "Come in, make yourselves at home." Then she turned to me. Uh-oh. "Watanuki, prepare something for our guests, won't you?"
I gasped again, this time in dismay. "What, all of them?!" I moaned.
"…Yes." Yuko said, an edge creeping into her voice. "You didn't have a problem earlier, did you?"
I was guessing she was referring to the meal I had been forced to make for Fai, who had visited the shop earlier. "But – that was only one!" I protested.
"Then get Maru and Moro to help you," she replied curtly, and beckoned for the huge party to come into her home.
I sighed and trudged into the kitchen, Maru and Moro at my feet. From the front of the house, I could hear the silver-haired boy say, "I don't need anything, really."
"Me neither," an unfamiliar voice added.
"Do you happen to have any apples?" It was the voice of the boy with the big-brown eyes. This gave me an idea. I shut the kitchen door behind me, muffling out the sounds of conversation outside. Peeking in the fridge, I saw that we did indeed have enough to make a couple giant apple pies – and that's what I would do. Humming to myself, I began to take out flour, water, brown sugar, and a few other ingredients in a huge bowl, while I made the apple pie filling in another. Maru and Moro brought me measuring cups and spatulas when I asked for them. Once the filling was ready, I set it on the stovetop to warm up, and opened the oven – only to find, to my exasperation, that the oven looked like something slimy, and weirdly acidic smelling, had exploded all over the walls of it. Grumbling to myself at Yuko's messiness, I proceeded to scrape all of the "acid" out of the oven, which took far too long. Finally, when I put the apple pie base in the oven, I suddenly remembered the filling.
"Careful!" I yelled to no one – maybe it was to Maru and Moro, because they seemed to listen. "You'll burn it!" I turned the stovetop off, panting in a panic (I always got that way about cooking).
"Burn it! Burn it! " Maru and Moro echoed. I wanted to slap them.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity making pie, I was able to bring it out, finished, on a tray. "This apple pie was all I could make, considering the short notice," I said, shooting an annoyed glance at Yuko.
"Oh, come on now, Watanuki!" Yuko laughed, which irked me. She was back lounging in her chair. "I've seen you make much better on even shorter notice than this!"
I scoffed. "Try having to clean up acid beforehand," I muttered. Trying to shake it off, I went around the table, putting a piece of pie at each place.
As I figured, the brown-eyed boy was ecstatic at the pie. "Wooo!" He yelled. I smiled, amused. The silver-haired boy grumbled something unintelligible under his breath.
While walking around the table, I caught little snippets of conversation that made no sense to me. "I was just kidding," a black-haired boy was saying. "True, I was serious about him being a snob, but I was only meaning to kid…" Then he turned to me when he saw the pie. "Mmm! Thanks!"
Baffled, I proceeded to give out pie. The ninja-boy who I had seen at the door earlier, turned to me – ignoring the pie – and asked sheepishly, "Er, not to burden you, but, do you have any, um, normal-ish clothes I could wear? If not, that's okay," he added in a hurry. "I just…" He trailed off, but I knew what he was thinking; he probably felt pretty silly wearing what he was.
I blinked. "No, I don't have anything else here with me," I apologized. "You could ask Yuko, but she'd probably demand something in return…"
"Err, that's okay," the ninja boy muttered. "I don't really have anything to give…" I noticed he gripped a sword on his belt protectively when he said that, and I almost laughed.
"Give her your 'charming' personality," the black-haired kid intervened, muffled by a mouthful of pie. Suddenly I could see why he was apologizing for offending someone earlier.
The ninja just glared at him darkly.
Smiling, I walked away, wanting to hear more conversation from different parts of the room. "I remember seeing you with a bear claw earlier." I heard Sakura say. I turned around to see that she was talking to a tall, stony-faced youth with grayish hair. Then she looked at the apple-obsessed boy I had seen earlier, and another girl with long blond hair who I hadn't noticed. And you two have wings? That's really cool." she said, smiling.
Wow! I thought to myself. Wings? This really isn't an ordinary group!
The young man with the bear claw who Sakura had talked to earlier stood up from his chair, his hand morphing to form a fearsome claw. I half gasped, half hiccupped. Incredulously, I watched as he charged at Sakura, but I was frozen in place.
"Senri!" The blond girl with wings yelled as Senri tore into Sakura's arm. I felt sick.
"What's Senri doing now?" It was the voice of the silver-haired boy, who I just now noticed wasn't in the room. "Don't tell me his eyepatch came off?"
"I don't know!" The blond girl yelled tearfully. "He's gone insane!"
Senri turned away from Sakura, who was shivering in pain, and instead attacked the ninja-boy, aiming blows to his head. The boy fell backwards in his chair, then jumped to his feet. "X.A.N.A.!" he announced, but I had no idea what that meant, and no one else seemed to pay attention. The ninja-boy grabbed at the sword in his belt, whipped it out, and slashed at Senri. I could tell that his arm was causing him a lot of pain, though from what I couldn't imagine. Senri dodged the sword, which only grazed him, and raised his hand once again to strike him.
The black-haired boy had stood up too… except he didn't have black hair anymore. It was solid white, and his previously blue eyes were green. That's a spirit! I didn't know how I knew this; I just did. The boy was shooting something out of his hand which I could make out to be ice, but he was obviously panicked, because the shots were haphazard. I don't think even one hit Senri.
"Sakura!" Syaoran yelled, drawing my attention back to him, his arm bursting into flames. I was completely dumbfounded, especially when Syaoran began shooting fire at Senri. Am I the only one here who doesn't have a superpower…? One of the fire blasts caught Senri in the shoulder, and the other burned away an eye patch that was wrapped around the bear-kid's eye.
"No!!!" The blond girl cried.
Senri then underwent a horrible transformation. His other arm also morphed into a bear arm, and his face became beastly. In other words, he was a monster. But there was also some kind of black fog swirling around him that suddenly intensified, something I couldn't dwell on, because – to my horror – he threw himself on the ninja-boy with much more strength then before. Some of the people were screaming at each other, but I didn't hear them. I was too transfixed on the fight in front of me.
Suddenly, a different kind of power began snaking around Senri, and the ninja-boy too. I whipped around to see Yuko chanting one of her incantations, and for a moment, thought Senri was falling asleep because of it. Unfortunately, it didn't last long, and he used his rage and anger to strike the ninja-boy, who thus crashed against the wall, bleeding and asleep. I winced.
The shop was chaos. People were yelling at each other, and there was fire and destruction everywhere. It was the most interesting thing that ever happened at the shop – if I could even call it "interesting". And I was completely helpless, just standing there in the middle of it.
Suddenly, a pale blue fog engulfed Senri, driving the black fog away from his body. I turned around to see Fai, and figured that he must be using magic… but wait, hadn't Fai given up his magical powers? I was more baffled than ever.
Senri collapsed to the ground, calm at last. The silver-haired boy leaped forward and tied the eye patch back around Senri's eye. Whatever it was, it must be important, I thought, as Senri's face and arms returned to normal.
I heard heavy, angry footsteps behind me, and turned around to see Yuko, her eyes blazing and her expression one of pure fury. I was more scared by this than by Senri, and I ran for the kitchen right before Yuko exploded.
"OUT!" I heard her roar. "DESTROYING MY SHOP – WHAT DO I LOOK LIKE TO YOU? SOMEONE WHO'S GOING TO CLEAN UP THIS MESS?! OUT!!!"
I did a double take at those words, and realized with some misery that I was the one who was going to be stuck with the task of cleaning the shop.
DON'T COME BACK!" she snarled, slamming the door.
I was afraid to face Yuko in this mood, and gulped when I heard her coming. Then I heard something that surprised me – Sakura!
"May I help you clean up?" She asked tentatively.
I heard Yuko huff. "Go ask Watanuki; he'll be the one cleaning up this mess."
I knew it! I thought to myself, dreading the chore.
"Can I help you clean up this mess?" Sakura asked, poking me on the shoulder. I whipped around, then softened at her genuine expression. "That would be great, thanks." I handed her an apron and scarf from the kitchen drawer. "Yuko's gonna want this room cleaned up first; it's usually where she meets all her customers. Not that there's any left since the monster attack..."
Sakura nodded and tied her hair back. I found myself thinking that she was genuinely cute and sweet like Himawari-chan, and smiled. "Do you know what's up with the monsters anyway?"
"No, not really," I sighed. "Suddenly, they all came and attacked the city; the only safe place was Yuko's shop because of the wards she set up. It fends off pretty much all of the monsters." I thought back to my encounter with the spirit just earlier that day, and shuddered.
She then gave a sideways glance at the doorway. "How are we supposed to fix that?"
"I haven't got a clue!" I moaned. "She gives me the most impossible jobs ever…"
I heard the brown-eyed boy call, "Hey, Sakura! I think Syaoran wants to leave!"
Sakura looked at him apologetically. "Oh, hello, Cooro. I'm aware the group wants to get going, but we messed this place up, and I really feel like we should help." She sighed. "Besides, I'd feel bad leaving Watanuki doing this by himself."
"Help clean up?" The boy, who I now knew was Cooro, said cheerily. "What can I do to help?"
"It's fine, really…" I said, feeling my face flush. "I've done worse things for Yuko before; I'll be fine if you want to leave…" But Cooro and Sakura just smiled at me and started picking up broken pieces of the door and walls.
we rebuild that wall, too?" Sakura asked, pointing to the doorway.
As if in response, the dragon touched the broken pieces with her nose, and the wall seemed to repair itself. Some kind of magic? I wondered.
"There we go! Thank you, Saphira!" Sakura smiled and turned to me "I think we've done what we can here. Ready to go?" She asked Cooro.
"I'm good," Cooro replied.
The two rejoined the group, and I watched out the window as the white Mokona swallowed them in a swirl of magic. ("Mokona Modoki, ready to go!")
I watched them go with some regrets. They surely were a mysterious group, to say the least. Would I ever see them again…?
"Watanuki!" Yuko barked. "Finish cleaning up this mess!"
I sighed and walked inside.