Chapter One

They hated him.

As Syaoran wound the bandages around his calf, he contemplated that. After two weeks in Infinity, he'd gotten used to treating the little nicks and scrapes left from the chess matches, unwilling to trouble the others after everything that had happened in Tokyo. The constant reminders of their disdain gnawed at him: the way they averted their eyes whenever he was forced into their presence, or how the room would go silent if he lingered too long.

A jolt of pain shot through his leg as he pulled the bandage tight. His teeth buried themselves in his lip, almost drawing blood. He tied off the ends as quick as his fingers could move, then picked up the bottle of antiseptic and went to work tending to his other leg. Since his primary fighting style revolved around kicks, his legs took the brunt of the injuries.

Once that leg was patched up, he picked the first-aid kit up from the end table and opened the door. Kurogane glanced up from the couch at the sound of the door swinging open, then returned his attention to the book in his hand. Fai tensed at the sink, the dishtowel in his hand freezing for a moment on the plate he was washing. Syaoran moved quickly through the room, not wanting to disrupt their activities any more than he already had.

Naturally, that was when Sakura swept out of the bathroom, her dark dress trailing behind her like a pair of broken butterfly wings. As she caught sight of him, her head whipped around and her eyes froze on his figure. Syaoran felt his body go still under her gaze, something deep inside him silencing the instinct to flee. For a long moment, she stared at him, the ceiling lights glinting off her eyes and making them look like rounded emeralds. Her lips parted slightly, as if she were about to speak to him at last.

Her head turned away, and she walked past him.

Something shifted in his chest, as if he'd been held underwater too long and finally lost his ability to hold his breath. He hurried into the bathroom, remembering the first-aid supplies in his hands. Once inside, he deposited the healing supplies in the medicine cabinet, making sure everything was in order.

As he closed the medicine cabinet, the mirror reflected his face back at him. He saw the white square of the bandage across his cheek, and the tiny, untreated cut a few inches below. He examined his matching eyes, wondering how, after his clone had betrayed everyone, he had become the bad guy. Do they resent me because I wear the same face? he wondered, resting a finger on the shadowed bags under his eyes. Or because they think I'm trying to replace the one they knew?

He looked away after a moment, then opened the door and shut the light off. Fai and Kurogane reacted to his entrance as they had before, but said nothing as he passed.

The door to his room had a lock. He turned it until it clicked, then walked over to the single bed pushed up against the wall. He laid down, hearing the squeal of the springs in the mattress as he moved, and closed his eyes.

He dreamed of the Other.

It was raining, in that world. From the sheer abundance of greenery and striking emerald color to the trees, Syaoran guessed in rained often in this world. The Other—his clone, the monster who had ruined everything in one fell swoop—hacked through a cluster of hanging vines, burning them in the process.

He still has my sword, Syaoran thought, a coil of anger forming somewhere deep inside him. Of course, it wasn't his sword. By all rights, it still belonged to his clone.

Perhaps it wasn't the sword itself that bothered him. Perhaps it was the knowledge that his clone had stolen away years of his life, cultivating and destroying these friendships, and left nothing for him to salvage.

The Other hacked through an inconvenient branch and continued weaving through the jungle. His black clothes still hung in tatters from the fight in Tokyo. Wherever he was, he hadn't been able to find anyone to lend him new clothes.

As Syaoran watched, the Other paused and glanced back. His mismatched eyes were devoid of all emotion except the frigid demeanor he had displayed in the reservoir, and when they looked directly at where he would've been standing if he'd had a physical form, a chill ran down Syaoran's spine.

The Other stared a moment more, the barest hint of a challenge glinting in his unnatural eyes, then turned away.

The blood dripped down his wrist in a thin line. "Get to it," Kurogane grumbled, holding his arm out. From the corner of his eye, he saw Fai's remaining eye turn gold.

The vampire sighed faintly and craned his neck so his lips touched the sticky fluid. Kurogane returned his attention to the book he'd picked up, glad he'd found something he was able to read in this world. It distracted him from the more pressing issues.

Minutes passed, and Fai lifted his head. "Something troubling you, Kuro-pon?"

The ninja withdrew his arm. "Quit calling me that."

Fai stood up, frowning. The expression that had once looked so unnatural on his face had become familiar enough since he'd become a vampire. Kurogane supposed there was no point in faking smiles when neither of the kids ever left their rooms anymore. After a moment, Fai spoke. "Is it Sakura-chan, or . . ."

"They both went through a lot of shit in the last world we went to; I can't imagine they'd be acting normal under the circumstances, but even so . . ."

"Sakura-chan may just be staying in her room for convenience. It's probably not easy for her to walk on that leg."

Kurogane nodded, though he thought it would've been more convenient for her to stay in the living room, if it bothered her. The wound she'd given herself in Tokyo had crippled her, at least until they reached a world with more advanced medical care. And even then, some things can't be fixed. "The boy's avoiding us."

Fai had no comment on that.

"If it were just avoidance, he would probably go somewhere outside, looking for the princess's feathers, or doing some training. It would be easier for him to evade us if he was somewhere else, but instead, he's been staying in his room as often as possible. Now, even taking into account that this kid isn't the same as the one we knew, that doesn't make any sense unless he's afraid of leaving."

Fai nodded. "You think he's afraid we'll leave him behind?"

"I think he's afraid of his clone coming back."

Silence stretched out across the living room, extending eerily to the rest of the apartment. The cramped little box they lived in was smaller than any place Kurogane had ever stayed in, even smaller than the place they'd stayed in the country with the kudan. The other rooms were just as silent.

"Well, that's only natural, I suppose," Fai said, faking a smile. The ninja frowned, annoyed by the transparent attempt at good cheer.

"We've got another fight tomorrow," he said, standing up. "It's time for bed."

The thorns rose out of the ground on spindly vines.

"Looks like we could get cut if we're not careful," Fai remarked, expression shifting into an easy smile. Syaoran watched more vines sprout from the ground, only partially paying attention to the announcer calling out their names.

His body was not as strong as the Other's body. While his clone had trained for months, developing his muscles, he'd been sealed in a tube. It had preserved what physical abilities he'd been capable of before, but without having received any actual training since the day he'd been sealed away, he was worried about not having the muscle memory to fight.

The others showed no sign of worry, though, so as long as he kept his head, he'd probably still be alive after this. Bruised and cut up, but alive.

The announcer gave the call to begin, and the three of them lurched forward, the chains wrapped around each of them jingling as they moved. The other team charged for them, eager to win the prize money. On the right was a blond man with half a dozen daggers secured to his belt. Two more occupied his hands, shining silver spikes capable of killing with one well-placed hit. When he lifted his hands to throw them, Syaoran ducked.

The man in the middle, bearing a sword, ran up to face Kurogane. From the way he carried himself, Syaoran could tell this one was not nearly as skilled as the ninja. That part of the fight would be over soon enough.

The blond drew another dagger from his belt and darted forward, light on his feet. Instead of throwing this one, he tried to bury it in Syaoran's heart. He narrowly avoided the blade, his reaction time slower than the Other's. He lifted a foot to kick, being careful to angle it correctly to maximize the impact.

The blond caught hold of his ankle and twisted, as if snapping a chicken's neck. Pain jolted through his leg, sharp and stunning, and in the next second, he was facedown on the ground.

Fights could turn lethal in a second, even in supervised tournaments like this. He managed to roll out of the path of a flying dagger, but the next caught the fabric of his shirt an pinned him down. He struggled to rip free, but by the time the blade tore through the cloth, another dagger had stuck itself deep in his shoulder.