Everything was quiet. Only his labored breathing echoed in the hallway, and he wondered uneasily what had just happened. Did it work? What was 'it' anyway? What had he done? His foot bumped against something and he looked down to see the book lying innocuously on the floor.
He knelt and opened it hesitantly, but there was nothing inside but the stack of pink cards. Where's Kero? Shouldn't he be here? He was taken along with Sakura and the Cards…but he wouldn't be in the pink book. He would have only been in the Clow book. It doesn't follow.
Li got a little lump in his throat as he closed the book again and stood. Somewhere in the complicated crossover between one reality and another, the little beast had been completely erased. They may have never gotten along, but Li felt pained at his absence. He'd been hoping for advice, but no such luck. He was still on his own.
At least I got the Cards. Now I just have to get her.
Nothing attacked him as he retraced his steps through the house, no one came forth to confront him. Things were different; the mirrors were gone, except for a couple here and there. Touching them produced no sensation, but Li didn't really feel lost. He couldn't quite explain it, he just knew the right path. It didn't occur to him until he'd almost reached the room again that he could sense Sakura.
She's here. I can feel her again! She's in my reality – or I'm in hers. Either one.
He almost smiled as he strode through the doorway but remembered his danger just in time and ducked. Even through closed eyes he could see the burning flash of white light.
"How dare you!" Vispilio screamed. "How dare you invade my stronghold and take those Cards! You had no right!"
Li kept his eyes firmly shut.
"It's not your stronghold – you took it. They're not your Cards, either. You can't do anything on your own, you have to steal everything. You're pathetic!"
He sensed another swelling of power, but he stood his ground. He was beginning to understand, starting to realize the depths of their enemy's power. It was misdirection, deception, and flashy lights. Nothing of real substance. He had to attack Sakura when she was just a nine year-old girl, not even come into her sorcery powers yet. He hadn't even really given Li that head injury - blinded, Li had tripped and hit his head on a sharp rock. He remembered the whole thing. As long as he kept his eyes shut, he would be all right.
"You'll never win just standing there with your eyes closed," the other man sneered. "You're helpless, you don't even know how to attack."
Li took a cautious step forward, then stopped. His senses were deceiving him, he could feel Sakura in two different places. No, no they weren't deceiving him. Vispilio had been stealing her power; magically he would feel like her.
"You don't where I am," the voice taunted. Li gripped his sword handle a little more tightly. "Is it Sakura you feel? Or me? You'll never know until it's too late."
Vispilio allowed himself a small smile as he laid a hand over Sakura's brow. It was an action that most associated with love and concern, something people did for their sick and feverish friends. But he was drawing more power from her, rather more than he would have liked. It was not desirable to deplete her too fast, it was wiser to only draw small amounts in order to keep her alive longer. But if he could gather enough, he would be able to throw a real attack at the invader. The boy would never be able to defend himself.
Li sensed the shift in power and tensed. He was an easy target, he knew, without his eyes open he couldn't even see what was coming. Fear fluttered in his mind, but he forced himself to breathe, to inhale deeply and fall into himself again. If it had worked before, it could work again.
Concentrate. Focus. You're too strong to let this man win, Syaoran. You know you can do it.
He scowled as his senses stretched out. He could sense two auras that felt like hers. They were right next to each other. Identical – almost.
After so many years of fighting by her side, I should know her. I know her better than anyone else. I should know which is hers.
They were both weaker than she normally felt, which was to be expected. Her power had been split between two. But one of them was slightly different. It was twisted, polluted, stained by its new host. It was barely recognizable, but it was enough for Li. Sending a brief mental prayer upwards, he stepped forward and snapped his arm out in a smooth motion. The sword left his hand – he could almost hear it sing as it flew through the air – and then there was a sickening grunt of pain.
Timidly Li opened his eyes. Vispilio had been pinned to the wall behind him with the force of Li's throw. He looked at the sword handle, quivering slightly, and then at Li with a glazed look of disbelief on his face.
"How…how…" he choked and raised his hand as if to throw out one last attack before completely giving up. Li raised his arms in defensive stance, but it was unnecessary. Vispilio's eyes rolled back in his head and his hand dropped to his side. The life had left his body.
But what about his victim? Li rushed to her side and laid a hand on the side of her face.
"Sakura? Sakura, can you hear me? Wake up, please." She stirred slightly under his touch but she did not awaken. There was no telling how much of her power he'd taken, she might be like this for a while. Another memory flashed through his mind. Not one from the past few days, but one from many years before. The roles had been reversed, and it was Sakura that was leaning over him, playing the part of the prince who had come to rescue Sleeping Beauty. The distance between them had been too great then, a kiss was something that was not to be contemplated.
But not anymore. He leaned down and pressed his lips against hers, reveling that he could. Maybe she couldn't feel it, but he knew that she would want it. And that felt more wonderful than anything.
After he pulled away, she stirred again and he thought he saw a hint of a smile on her lips.
"Syaoran…" she sighed in her sleep, and he smiled.
"I love you, Sakura."
He scooped her up in his arms to take her home.
He was tired, and although she wasn't particularly heavy, it was a pretty fair distance. Li was ready to drop by the time he reached the Kinomoto home. Impatiently he kicked at the door and moments later, Touya threw it open. It looked as though he hadn't slept very well lately, and he almost collapsed with relief when he saw the two of them.
"Oh thank god," he gasped. "She's okay. She is okay, right?" Li saw him looking at the flecks of blood across her blouse, and he nodded tiredly.
"She's okay. That's my blood. You – you know me?"
"Know you?" Touya gave him a puzzled look, and Li swallowed. He couldn't really be sure…he didn't know exactly what happened when he stabbed that mirror.
"What's the first thing you ever said to me?" Now Touya was looking at him even more strangely.
"Get away from my sister'. Still applies, actually." Anxiously Touya lifted her from Li's arms and carried her into the house. The book was lying on her stomach and he pushed it off onto the floor as he laid her down on the couch. His sister seemed peaceful, as though she was only sleeping, but he couldn't calm the panic that had been building since Saturday. When their father left for his weekend conference, it had been her intention to sleep on the couch at his place, but she'd never come that night. He and Yukito had been crazy with worry all weekend.
"Kero!" he shouted. "Get down here! She's all right, Li's brought her back!"
The little flying bear floated down the stairway and went to examine Sakura, much to Li's relief. Kero was all right. Everything was all right. It was all back to the way it was supposed to be.
He couldn't ever remember being so tired, and he sank into the chair opposite the couch. Touya was glaring at him, of course, but that was to be expected.
"What the hell happened on Saturday, where have the two of you been? We've all been worried sick, you know that?"
"Well, what have you got to say for yourself, huh? What happened?"
Li looked at Touya's angry expression, and Kero's suspicious one. What was the point in trying to explain? What good could come of them knowing of that other hellish place? It had been destroyed, hopefully, with Vispilio's death, all traces of that misery-stricken dimension were wiped out. He was the only one that would ever know.
"Don't just sit there and look at me, gaki, what the hell happened? You can't just disappear with her for three days and not say anything! You know how long that is?"
"Be grateful, Touya," Li said hollowly. "Be grateful that it wasn't any longer than that."
Touya hesitated and exchanged glances with Kero. Already Li was leaning his head back against the chair and falling asleep. In contrast with Sakura's peaceful expression, Li had a haggard look; some kind of horror that he'd seen had been imprinted in his eyes. Suddenly, Touya decided that he didn't really want to know. All that mattered was that she was back, and seemed all right. He should call Yukito and Tomoyo so they could stop worrying.
After asking Kero to stay with Sakura, he stood and began to cross the room. Li was fast asleep, totally succumbed to exhaustion, and for the first time Touya noticed the bandage on his head. It didn't look too serious, but he leaned slightly forward to check anyway, and saw that Li had been clutching something tightly to his chest. As his muscles relaxed in his sleep, it slipped through his grasp and fell onto the chair cushion.
It was a photo. Touya picked it up. He hadn't seen it before, but he knew this must be the photo from her first modeling job last week. It was just an ordinary photo, nothing unusual or special about it, but Touya had to swallow when he looked at it.
It had been years since Touya felt anything like a sensation of magic, but there was an uncomfortable tingling in his mind when he examined the image. Odd and erratic sensations flickered and died: misery, loneliness, uncertainty, grief…
He shivered and dropped the photo back onto the chair, then looked at Sakura to reassure himself that she was still there. He had the strangest feeling that a real tragedy had been avoided, somehow.
I don't understand. And I know that I don't want to. I'm going to go call Yukito now.
Touya turned on his heels and left the room.
The girl in the photo continued to smile.
Disclaimer: I do not own these characters
Sakura: (shivers) Ooh. Creepy. That was really sad.
Li: I think I was a trifle sappy in it. And you promised!
Peacewish: I know, I know. I swear, never again. I just had to do it this time, though; it fit the idea so perfectly.
Li: I did like the scene where I got to throw my sword through him. That was cool.
Peacewish: I knew you would like that part. But that wasn't the reason I wrote it.
Touya: Uh-oh. She's got that look in her eyes again.
Li: Don't tell me this story was about –
Peacewish: Politics. Sort of. I was inspired to write this the week that Chandra Levy was found. Living in Washington, DC, when they found her body in Rock Creek Park, it was all I heard about for the next couple weeks.
Sakura: That was so sad!
Peacewish: Yes. The coverage got on my nerves, but I couldn't help feeling sorry for the family. I wondered what it would be like to have someone in your life simply disappear – not knowing whether they were alive or dead, or why anyone would want to hurt them. I thought it must have been kind of relief for them to at least know what happened, even if it was still terrible. And then I got the idea for this story.
Tomoyo: I think I'm going to cry. Pass me that kleenex, Sakura.
Peacewish: Along with my sympathy for the family, the whole experience left me with a pronounced distaste for –
Li: And here we go.
Peacewish: Politicians. I have no way of knowing if Condit was connected to her death or not, but the congressmen and bureaucrats of DC tend to get on my nerves anyway. It irks me how they have no real skills of their own, but draw money from taxpayers to 'work' in Washington, with 'work' consisting of nothing but writing inane and irrelevant laws and having affairs with their interns. Their only purpose is to exert control over the rest of us, which is ridiculous. None of the powers they routinely employ are authorized by the Constitution, supposedly the highest law of the land. Rather than restrain themselves, politicians are wont to take control of issues that they don't understand so that they look better to the voting public.
Touya: Note to readers: she's raving. Pay no attention.
Peacewish: A politician can bemoan global warming and start enacting agencies and committees, whereas a real person has to go out and get degrees in geology and meteorology and do actual RESEARCH in order to tackle the problem. And that is exactly what real scientists do, which is when they discover that global warming is an overrated, overhyped threat to the human race. It exists, but its actual effect on the planet is so minimal that it barely registers on the radar.1
Sakura: Really? I didn't know that.
Peacewish: No one does. The media is so biased. And that's just one example. Politicians do this constantly, unconcerned with finding actual solutions, only with gathering power to make more of our decisions for us. Vispilio was the personification of my distaste in this story. He was weak, flashy, deceptive, and utterly dependent on others' abilities for his own survival. Vispilio, by the way, is Latin for 'thief in the night'.
Touya: Fascinating. For those who care. Can we talk about something interesting now?
Peacewish: If you are at all intrigued (or incensed) at what I've written above, then write me for further discussion. You might also check out the website of where I work, www.cato.org, for a better and more detailed explanation of how government does a bad job of running our lives.
Yukito: Is she allowed to do that? Promote her business at the end of a story?
Peacewish: Ah…er…I don't really know. Anyway, hope you all enjoyed the story. This one was more heavily political than any of the others, but with any luck you liked it anyway. Arigatou to all my reviewers out there. You make it worthwhile.
Sakura: What, no plug to the readers about your next story?
Peacewish: I was just getting to that, Sakura. As it happens, I do have another story in the works, and I'm quite pleased with it. But that's just the thing – it's in the works. Unlike all my other stories, written weeks and even months ago, this one is as yet uncompleted. If I start posting next week, I won't be able to put up the chapters quite as fast as I have with my other stories in the past. I'm 12 chapters into it, but there's another 3 or 4 to go at least.
Li: Starring me?
Li: Oh no. You made it all about Touya again, didn't you?
Peacewish: You know it, baby. And Li isn't even going to be in this one.
Touya: All right!
Peacewish: Sorry, Li, but this next story is a prequel. Takes place years before you ever even come to Japan.
Peacewish: This is the story of an angry teenager, haunted by the memory of his dead mother and saddled with his pesky little sister, and how he lashes out at the world.
Touya: Wait a minute…
Peacewish: And the mysterious, red-haired teacher that reaches out to him. A story of what happened long before the book in the basement was ever opened. Title: Scattered Blossoms. And it's all about you, my love.
Touya: Guess I can't argue with that…
Yukito: Are you sure she knows about us?
Touya: Shh. As long as she's giving me starring roles, I'm not going to say anything.
Peacewish: So there's the plug. I'll start posting next week, on Thursday afternoon (10/3) since I leave on Friday to go relax at my grandparent's cabin in Vermont for the weekend. I'm looking forward to the break, but I'll be anxious to see what everyone thinks of my story when I get back. So please review! Sayonora until next time.
1 The Satanic Gases, Michaels, Patrick J. Cato Institute, 1999.