Starlight Starbright

Chapter Fifteen ----Ghosts


Eriol turned to Sakura, "Apparently there's a ghost on your front porch, and she says she has information for us."

Sakura's jaw dropped open. "G-G-Ghost?"

He nodded, no longer looking at her, "It makes sense, actually. Your father has been able to see your mother's spirit, whereas I haven't been able to sense ghosts since you divided my powers. Kinomoto-san cannot see ghosts after giving his power to Yue...Thus Kinomoto Fujitaka is now the only one among us who can see the departed," he quirked an eyebrow at Syaoran, "unless you can?"

Syaoran shook his head, "Not without meditation, or some other sort of help."

"Well if Reynardine's servant wishes to speak to us, we'd best not keep her waiting!" Eriol said with a sunny grin.

"But-but-but..."

Touya gave her a scornful look, "You can't still be afraid of ghosts...I mean, come on. You sense Mom's presence practically every day!"

"That's different!" The teenager said on the verge of tears.

"How is it different!?" Touya threw up his hands in exasperation, "Honestly, you'd think you'd grow out of this by now!"

Sakura shuddered, and looked away sharply. Sometimes her brother was so unbearable...But she wouldn't kick him now. She wouldn't, she wouldn't. Not while everyone was watching. He ought to know by know how much she hated ghosts.

Yukito laid a hand on her shoulder, and his eyes took on that curious look when he was 'talking' to his other half. "I think," he said, "that this is something you have to hear. But don't worry, we'll all be with you."

Biting her lip, Sakura nodded reluctantly.

Eriol smiled brightly, "Well then, we had best be going!"

* * *

Reynardine brooded in his inner room. If it were anyone else, it would have been called sulking. The first flush of anger had faded, and with it the first flash of panic. He held the necklace he'd crafted for the Star, it's black ribbon looping through his fingers. He remembered how good it looked in the hollow of her throat.

It always surprised him, no matter how many Stars he found, how beautiful they were. Their kindness, their love, radiated out from them, attracting everything around them. Watching her from afar was nothing like seeing her in person, the light that seemed to radiate from her.

With her wide green eyes, and hair like pure honey, Sakura Kinomoto could have been the reincarnation of his love lost so long ago...

His hand tightened on the glass star in the necklace. Reynardine knew he wouldn't give up now. Despite the interference of Clow and the Li brat. Despite the suspicion of her guardians. Despite the resistance of the girl herself. He knew that he could convince her if he could only bring her to his domain. A week, an hour, spent in his company, and she would be his.

He put too much effort into this project.

He would not stop now.

He'd watched so long from afar. As galling as it was that Nadeshiko was sealed from his touch, there was always the possibility that that would change. The power of a Star was passed down from generation to generation, so he continued to watch.

Her first offspring was a total disappointment. His powers obviously came from his father's bloodline. It smelt of the powers of Darkness, like Clow's magic. Reynardine's lip curled at the very thought. Of course, the reason for that became apparent soon enough. Everywhere he went Clow was a step ahead of him.

But Nadeshiko's second child, the baby girl with her mother's eyes...She was everything he could have hoped for and more. The Star power shone through her. She seemed to be more powerful and more pure than any Star since the first. He couldn't touch Sakura then. She was too well guarded, far too well loved. But then sickness started eating away at the mother, giving him the opportunity that he needed.

Reynardine visited her once in the hospital when the rest of her family was gone. She didn't seem surprised or frightened by his visit. Not the way she used to be. The Star most likely foresaw his coming and was knew that her safety was assured by the bonds of marriage. She greeted him as an old friend.

"You're dying," he told her.

She looked away, her fingers twisting lightly in the fabric of the bed sheets, but her gentle smile didn't falter. "I know."

He looped a strand of pale violet hair around his fingers. "I could have spared you all this. If you had come with me. I still could, you know. If you came with me now, there would be no pain, no sadness."

She refused.

"I won't abandon my family."

"Not even to protect them?"

Nadeshiko looked startled then.

"I think you know what I'm speaking of." Reynardine moved to a picture resting on the bedside table. Nadeshiko, her husband, her son....and her daughter.

"You can't touch her," her voice was flat.

Reynardine ran a finger across the happy toddler in the picture. "You're right. For now. Eventually the protections of family won't be enough to keep me away. But if I had a different Star I wouldn't need her." He put the photograph down. "If you came with me now..."

The soft, dreamy look returned to her pale face. "I have faith in my daughter," she said, "She won't lead a life without love. For her...everything will be all right."

Back in the present, Reynardine stood, trying to shake himself free of the flood of memory. He needed to concentrate on the task at hand, not the steps that had led him here. But he could not.

Another scene, not long after Nadeshiko's death. He returned to watch the Kinomoto's, to keep an eye on his investment. The little girl played in the sandbox in an isolated section of the park while her brother was off at some sports affair at the other end of the field. The little girl dropped her shovel and pail when he appeared in front of her, looking up at him with impossibly round eyes. "Who are you?"

The child would never be able to grasp who and what he was, so he tried to answer her in a way that she would understand. "I am....a ghost."

Her eyes grew even rounder. She took a few baby steps away from him. "G-g-g-g-g-ghost?"

"A ghost of your future."

"Oniichan said ghosts have to do something, and that's why they don't go away."

"Your brother is correct." He knelt and touched her cheek, "Someday I will come for you, and take you to live with me. Doesn't that sound nice?"

She considered it. "Can Otousan and Oniichan come too?"

"No."

The Star frowned. "Then I don't want to."

He smiled, but there was nothing happy in it. "You don't have any choice. You'll have to."

Even without the slightest bit of training, without hardly any of the powers she'd have as an adult, she could still feel the power that radiated from him. Dark powers founded in blood and pain. And she began to cry, fisting her hands up against her eyes and bawling for all her lungs were worth.

People would come looking in a moment. Her father or her brother. Reynardine shook her roughly by the shoulders. "I will come for you! Remember that!"

As he vanished her brother ran up to her. "Sakura! What's wrong?"

"A G-G-G-GHOST!!" She sobbed throwing herself at him.

* * *

But now Sakura had to face a real ghost. The fruit of that meeting so long ago, even if she didn't remember it clearly. She took a deep gulp of breath as they reached her house. Yukito patted her hand as they walked up the front steps. Her mouth was dry and her heart hammered in her throat. She remembered the dark and sharp feeling around the fox-woman's body before she passed out, and could feel the same aura close around her again now. And every time she closed her eyes she saw the body sprawled out, and Reynardine's warning.

//But if I run away from this now, I can never come home again, because it will always be here.// She let go of Yukito's arm and squared her shoulders, took a deep breath and started marching.

Syaoran gave her a *look* "You sure you're okay? Your arms and legs are moving together."

"Hoe!" Sakura jumped and turned bright red with embarrassment. "I-I-I-I'm fine! Honest!"

Her father was waiting for her at the front door. He pulled her into a tight hug as soon as she got to him. It surprised her, as much as Fujitaka showed how much he loved both of his children, they'd never been a very touchy family. "I'm so glad you're safe! Nadeshiko-san said you were in trouble, so I rushed home as fast as I could."

"I'm okay," she said softly into the sleeve of his shirt.

"I know I don't know how to use them properly or anything," Fujitaka said stepping backwards, "But I'll use my powers any way I can to help."

Eriol stepped forward wearing the odd warm expression he always had when talking to his other self. "Actually your powers will be invaluable now. Since Kinomoto-kun gave up his powers, and my own power is split....you are the only one here able to see and hear the ghost properly."

"Really?" Fujitaka blinked.

Eriol smiled, "Really."

Sakura hugged her arms across her chest as they talked. The aura was stronger no. This was why she hated ghosts so much. Her mother's presence was warm, and felt like springtime and flowers. It was because she stayed on earth to watch over her family out of love. Most ghosts weren't like that, and the ties that bound them on earth were darker and more violent. They were angry, bitter or afraid. And those negative emotions buffeted up against her painfully.

It was ten times worse knowing that it was because of her. Yue told her that it wasn't her fault, but she knew that Madreen Rua wouldn't have died if it hadn't been for her. Even if it wasn't her fault, it was still bound to her. She rubbed her eyes, feeling tired and sad. Even if it wasn't her fault, it was still her responsibility. All her work with magic, from the Cards on down, taught her that taking responsibility, whosever fault it was, made all the difference in the end.

"I'm so sorry Rua-san, I never meant for something like this to happen."

Fujitaka blinked at the open air, "She says it's not your fault. She said that Reynardine is a ......bastard, and she wasn't surprised he did something like it. It was bound to happen sooner or later." He blushed a little at swearing in front of his children, quotations or not. "She wants to help if she can, she says. But the binding he put on her won't let her do much, or say much against him. But whatever she can..."

Eriol frowned, "Binding? So she was a slave, not a creation, or serving him out of free will."

"Of course not. She was trying to undercut him and find a way for both Sakura-san and herself to get away from him." Fujitaka adjusted his glasses, "she's quit vehement about it."

Sakura wrung her hands, "Rua-san...What should I do now? I know we've got to stop hi before he can do this again...I don't want anyone else to get hurt, but I don't know *how*."

Fujitaka looked at the air with wide eyes. "I..." his eyes shifted so that he wasn't quite looking at anyone, avoiding all their eyes. "She says the only way to stop him for good is to kill him."

Sakura bit her lip, she was afraid of that. After Transforming the Cards she'd run up against all sorts of magical troubles and all kinds of tasks. But it never came down to something so serious before. She wasn't sure she had it in her. "There's no other way?"

"If-If there is, she doesn't know it."

Syaoran was leaning up against a post, his arms folded. There was a coldness to his eyes and voice that reminded Sakura that he'd been training as a warrior as long as she knew him. "How do we find him then? Where is he now?"

The presence around him, felt but unseen rippled with frustration. "She says she can't tell us, the binding won't let her." Fujitaka said apologetically.

He snorted, "If he was controlling her ghost with a binding, this would be an excellent way to get at us."

Touya snorted back at him, "If she was still working for him she'd tell us a place just to lure us into a trap. Use your head Brat." They glared at each other for a moment before Touya continued, "So...what *can* you tell us?"

Fujitaka stood in a listening stance for a moment. "His lair isn't here...it's not on this plane, but in a pocket realm. But it...wait, could you say that again please? Ah. It has a physical entrance here in Tomoeda, and you'll know it because it reeks of his presence."

Kero-chan popped his head up from where he'd been hidden in Sakura's bag. "Don't worry Sakura, it'll just be like that time back in Hong Kong. You did really well there after all."

"Is there anything else?" Syaoran asked Sakura's father.

"Uh...yes...but she only wants to tell it to Sakura. She says for you to close your eyes."

Syaoran and Touya both tensed, about to protest, but Sakura complied without a thought. She decided to trust the fox-woman before she came. And nothing she said made her feel any differently. There was a flare of power around her and Sakura was thrown into a light trance.

She was standing in a small clearing, surrounded by oak trees. It was cool, lush and green with a carpet of moss cushioning the earth. The fox-woman was lounging in the curl of a tree branch, looking whole and healthy.

"I'm so sorry!" Sakura said, lurching forward, her hands spread wide.

Madreen Rua shrugged, "You'll find that once you're dead you don't mind it as much as you thought you would."

"But...but..."

"No mistaking it, I didn't want to, and I'm not glad that I have...but I hardly blame you." Her eyes narrowed. "I blame Reynardine, and I want you to promise me that I'll have my vengeance."

Sakura hesitated, then said. "I know that we have to stop him, and we will. I promise you as much revenge as I'm willing to deliver. But I don't know how we're going to handle this yet."

The fox-woman looked sour for a moment, "I suppose that's as much as I can ask from you," she brightened a little and jumped off her branch to stand across from her. "Now...as to what I needed to tell you. Much easier this way, there were too many pesky males swarming around you, and this is girl talk."

"Hoe?"

"The most important thing for you to do, little one, is find love. Find the person that's most important to you." She cupped Sakura's chin in her hand, "The bastard has done his best to make a ruin of your love life, I know, but all you need to do now is follow your heart."

Sakura was bewildered, "What does that have to do with anything?"

Madreen Rua shook her hair in a shower of copper curls. "I can't tell you. Reynardine's bindings restrict me even in death....But just remember what I told you. The simplest thing can be the most important, you know."

She sighed, " I have to go now...but I promise that I too will do what little I can to help you...just like all your friends."

And just like that the world snapped back into place. She was home, with her friends and family around her.

"What did she say?" Eriol wanted to know.

So Sakura told them.

* * *

Reynardine held his staff before him, the power he stole from his servant pulsing in him. It was not Star magic, but it was more than enough to keep him going. It was enough even to allow him certain luxuries. New tools to use against the Card Captor to make her his own once and forever.

His magic circle, cobbled together out of different kinds of magics like a patchwork quilt, flared beneath his feet. He closed his eyes in concentration. This was no easy task, even at the best of times. There was a reason that creating one's own servants from sheer magic was considered such a show of power and control. Any mistake he made now would bring it all tumbling to the ground and leave his resources more drained than ever.

But it was worth it. He would show them both. Clow and his little successor. He would defeat them with exact copies of their own tools. But loyal to him and him alone.

Two columns of light rose from the circle and slowly melted into something more solid, their shape hard to see in the radiance. But as they solidified their light dimmed, becoming more real than imaginary.

One was as tall as a human, exactly the same build and shape, except for dark sweeping wings that stretched out behind him. The skin was pale like fine parchment, and he knew that the eyes beneath the closed lids were as violet as his own. The hair was a surprise though. He'd planned it to touch the being's shoulders. But it was cropped short on the right, and sweeping longer like a blue wave on the left.

He considered trying to go back and change it, but decided that he liked the unexpected development.

The other creation was as large as a great cat, or a mastiff. There were elements of the feline, but overall it leaned towards a more canine look with a thick brushy tail tipped in blue. It too had the same bat wings as the other emerging from it's back.

Reynardine was pleased with his work. Just like Clow's only different. Now he only had to give them alternate forms, and set their personalities in place. And, of course, to give them appropriate names.

Then he could set his plan in motion.

Author's Notes:

1. I don't think it really worked right, but the idea in my head was that it was all Reynardine's fault that Sakura is so afraid of ghosts, and not what Touya thinks at all. I mean, if you were threatened as a little kid like that, you'd get paranoid too, right?

2. I hope that the bit with Madreen Rua turned out appropriately CLAMP-ish. It was certainly that way in my head.

3. And the creation of the new characters is so totally stolen from Mercedes Lackey.