Chapter 36: For There To Be A Rainbow


¡°There¡¯s something about the ocean, which makes you just forget about everything else and the steady rhythm of the waves crashing upon the shore keeps you calm and serene,¡± Sakura commented, as she sat on the smooth white sand. She had only gotten a few hours of sleep since they came back from the scavenger hunt island for she had been too nervous to sleep. Now, there was only one event left in the Best Couple Contest, to determine the winner. I want to win this so much. At first, I didn¡¯t really care or even want to enter in the first place, but after all Syaoran and I have come through, I really want to win.

¡°Gosh, you should like a grandma,¡± Miho said. ¡°But it is true the ocean is very nice. Now, you better get up and go to the contest ground. It¡¯ll start soon. And I don¡¯t think Tomoyo would be very happy to know that you sat on the ground with her lovely new dress on.¡±

¡°It¡¯s okay,¡± Tomoyo reassured. ¡°I make all my clothes made to last; I learned after all those terrible dark forces, not to mention Clow Cards you faced, Sakura-chan. Look, there¡¯s someone swimming in the ocean! I thought everyone would be at the contest.¡±

¡°That looks familiar¡¦¡± Squinting at the sea, Miho exclaimed, ¡°That¡¯s Syaoran-kun! He must be crazy. The final event, the questionnaire will be starting soon, and he has the leisure to be swimming in the ocean?!¡±

¡±Ah, knowing him, I think it¡¯s his way of calming down,¡± Sakura said, laughing. ¡°Don¡¯t worry.¡±

¡°I¡¯m not worrying¡¦¡± Miho murmured. ¡°I¡¯m more worried for you. Who knows what Erika might do next? I have a feeling she has a soft spot of the Small Wolf, but I¡¯m not sure for you, Sakura.¡±


¡°And now, the final day of the Best Couple Contest awaits! Due to the unexpected delays yesterday, this contest was prolonged, however this last event of the Pentathlon, the questionnaire, will determine the Best Couple of Japan!¡± the MC announced.

¡°This is it,¡± Sakura whispered to Syaoran, who nodded. His hair was still slightly wet from taking a shower after swimming.

When, she was about to walk up the stage, Syaoran called out, ¡°Hey!¡±

Sakura turned around questioningly, tilting her head questioningly.

¡°Umm¡¦ I just wanted to stay. Well, it was nice getting to the finalist stage with you. I never thought we¡¯d come this far in this contest. Yeah, and let¡¯s try our best till the end. But even if we don¡¯t win, let¡¯s remember we tried our best,¡± Syaoran stammered. ¡°Well, let¡¯s strive till the end. It would be cool to win. Not because of the prize money and all, but just because we got this far.¡±

¡°Huh?¡± It wasn¡¯t like Syaoran to say such things like this. His positive words touched something in her heart.  Then, Sakura smiled brightly. "Okay. Let¡¯s try our best!¡±

¡°Now, five finalist couples remain: Couple 5, Couple 7, Couple 18, Couple 19, and last but not least, Couple 20,¡± the MC stated into the microphone. Each couple filed onto the stage.

The large audience had gathered around an outdoor stage set by the beach side, the same stage used for the talent contest. They had either purchased tickets to watch or being friends or relatives of the couple, received special seats. On the side, a whole crowd of the actress Akagi Arima fans gathered. And facing them was a whole crowd of the horse racer, Tamemura Asuma cheered. One of the five judges of the contest had fallen ill, (the one who was supposed to be supervisor on the island during the scavenger hunt,) so Asuma took his place instead as a judge.

¡°How do you think the couples will answer for the first question?¡± Asuma whispered to Arima, who sat beside him in the judging panel.

¡°I¡¯m not sure,¡± she replied. ¡°I guess it depends on the couples. But personally, I think it¡¯s really too difficult. You see, each of the five events of the Pentathlon tested the couples in some way. The castle building contest was for creativity. The couple obstacle course was for coordination and unity. The talent show was basically for the couple¡¯s talent and potential. The scavenger hunt was about persistence and capability. So, this question will be for the intellectual and the depth in thinking.¡±

¡°Oh.¡± Asuma grinned. ¡°Now, how did we ever pass the intellectual part back when we won the ¡®Best Couple of Japan¡¯ title? Didn¡¯t we just fumble through?¡±

¡°Shut up. Now, let¡¯s get back to work. The questionnaire is about to begin,¡± Arima hissed, acting busy organizing piles of paper, but holding back a grin.

¡°How can you work with all that going on?¡± Asuma asked, indicating the stampede of Arima¡¯s male fans, holding up big posters with ¡°I LOVE AKAGI ARIMA!¡± Putting on a slightly angry expression, he said, ¡°I¡¯m jealous, you know.¡±

¡°Well, they can have a screaming contest with your fans, Tamemura-san. Humph, I envy both of you; I don¡¯t know if the size of the contest audience is bigger or your crowd of fans,¡± said another judge, quite dryly, pointing out the flock of girls holding banners with ¡°TAMEMURA ASUMA ROCKS!!!¡±

¡°Why am I more scared about the questionnaire than being stranded on an island with a werewolf, in the middle of a storm?¡± Sakura asked, leaning to Syaoran from his chair.

¡°Maybe because actions comes from instinct, but words come through the mind,¡± Syaoran replied. ¡°It seems like we¡¯re going through an awful amount of trouble to win the prize money.¡± Cracking his knuckles, he said, ¡°Strange, I¡¯d rather face a dark force that answer a few questions. Is it possible a human can be more afraid of words than of power?¡±

¡°Yes. Don¡¯t you know that public speaking is feared more than death according to statistics?¡± Sakura asked. ¡°But then again, it can¡¯t be that bad, can it?¡± She sounded rather uncertain as she gripped her knees tightly with her hands.


¡°Each couple has found a golden music box and has brought it with them, in sign that they have passed the scavenger hunt,¡± the MC began, raising his voice over the crowd. ¡°You may have been asked why you had to find it. Well, the first question is, ¡®What does the golden music box stand for?¡¯ State briefly how you found the music box on the island, also. After the five couples have given their answers, the judges will choose the three best answers for the couples to continue on to the final round of questions. You have five minutes to come up with an answer.¡±

The five remaining couples out of twenty sat in clusters on chairs set on the stage, with the MC in the center. Each couple had a microphone in front of them.

For the first four minutes, Sakura and Syaoran stared at the music box blankly.

¡°Isn¡¯t this unfair?¡± Sakura asked. ¡°What kind of question is ¡®What does the golden music box stand for?¡¯ Is there supposed to be an answer?¡±

¡°I guess, we have to interpret an answer or something,¡± Syaoran mumbled. ¡°Something that this music box can represent. Not literally, but more of applying outside knowledge to answer the question¡¦ I don¡¯t know.¡±

Observantly, Sakura inspected the golden music box for signs of clue. In broad daylight, she noticed that the music box wasn¡¯t all that pretty. Back on the island, it was too hectic to notice the details and she had thought it was just a miracle that they found the gold glimmering treasure. Now, she saw the music box was badly scratched and the golden paint was peeling off the rough wood. Overall, it looked hastily and poorly made. ¡°Well, I admit, I am lost. What in the world could it mean? After all the trouble we went through, it¡¯s a pity that we might be eliminated because we can¡¯t answer this question.¡±

¡°Time!¡± the MC called. ¡°Now, each couple will give a answer. We will go in numerical order. Couple 5!¡±

¡°Oh no,¡± Sakura groaned. They hadn¡¯t come up with an answer yet. At least they were going last. Nervously, fiddling with the golden music box, she opened the lid.

For their answer, Couple 5 muttered something about gold being their favorite color because it was pretty and shiny and all, mumbling something unintelligible. However, Couple 7 gave a decent answer, or so it seemed in Sakura¡¯s ears, though she had no clue what they were talking about.

It came to Erika and Aki¡¯s turn. Clearing his throat and taking the mike, Aki began in a frank voice, shrugging, ¡°Well, honestly, this music box means nothing to Erika and me, besides the fact that it was the means of passing the scavenger hunt. I mean, why should it? It¡¯s just an object that we didn¡¯t even know existed several days ago. But, I guess, if we were to win the contest, it certainly will mean a whole lot to us.¡±

A low murmur ran through the audience. The judges nodded, and scribbled something on their pads. Sakura noted that though she didn¡¯t know whether it was a correct answer or not, at least they had given a truthful, confident answer. It might not have been so good to be last to answer the question, because all the possible answers were being taken.

¡°And, how did you two find the music box?¡± the MC asked.

¡°Uh¡¦¡± Aki turned to Erika. ¡°Well, it was raining and it was truly awful but Erika insisted on finding it¡¦¡±

¡°And somehow we did find it. It was practically lying around,¡± Erika ended. No need to point out that it was lying around and they found it on the ground. It was Takashi¡¯s in the first place, though lucky for them, he had lost it.

Next was Couple 19¡¯s turn. Glancing at Chiharu, Takashi took the mike with his usual Takashi expression, and asked, ¡°Do you know the story of Pandora¡¯s Box?¡± Everyone who knew him dropped head over heels at the beginning of yet another one of Takashi¡¯s stories, including his classmates watching the contest on TV from back at home. ¡°Really, I¡¯m not making it up this time. According to Greek mythology, Pandora, the first woman was created and sent to Earth by Zeus, the king of gods. Pandora, her name meaning ¡®all gifts¡¯ was given many gifts such as beauty and talent and music, and¡¦¡±

Nudging him, Chiharu whispered, ¡°Get on with it.¡±

¡°Pandora was also given a gift of a beautiful box. She was warned not to open it, yet because of her curiosity, she opened it. From inside, all kinds of evils escaped into the world, to plague mankind. However, amidst all the evil, there was one good thing, and that was ¡®Hope.¡¯¡± Takashi paused for a moment. ¡°The reason I¡¯m telling this story is because whenever I see a box, especially one in a sad state as this, I think of that story. I found this box purely by chance when I kicked a shrub because Chiharu got mad at me again. Then I lost by bag with the music box in it, but it was found again. And besides that, I found out that Chiharu didn¡¯t hate me after all. In fact, she might like me more than I ever hoped or deserved. ¡±

¡°Don¡¯t get too hopeful,¡± Chiharu stated.

This produced the intended chuckle from the judges.

Takashi continued, ¡°And that signifies, that no matter how bad things get, there is one good thing, like amidst all the evils in Pandora¡¯s box, there was a ray of Hope. Hope asks for nothing, Hope always shines when all else is dark. Hope is the one thing that keeps us going through all hardships. It is Hope that keeps me after Chiharu.¡±

There was deep comprehending silence among the judges. Sakura noted that Takashi¡¯s answer was clearly the best. Hope. Yet, it was the one thing that always kept her going, no matter what. She marveled at how wise and deep Takashi sounded. Then, she came to the disturbing realization that it was her turn. With trembling hands, she took the microphone. ¡°Ah¡¦ I¡¦¡±

¡°So, where did you two find the music box?¡± the MC prompted.

¡°Umm¡¦ on top of the tree branches,¡± Sakura said.

¡°On the roof of the log cabin,¡± Syaoran said, simultaneously.

They glanced at each other in dismay. Of course, they couldn¡¯t tell the truth about the complicated situation on the island.

Laughing sheepishly, Sakura corrected, ¡°What I meant was, on the roof top which was made out of logs. You know. Kind of like tree branches¡¦ Ah¡¦¡±

The MC tapped his foot impatiently. Crossing her legs, Erika smirked.

Something in Sakura¡¯s mind clicked as she caught Erika¡¯s cool gaze. Taking a deep breath, she spoke into the microphone. ¡°Before the fourth event, the scavenger hunt, I wondered why we were supposed to find the golden music box. Was it a random object or did it have any meaning to it? Back on the island, it didn¡¯t matter to me more or less what the golden music box was or what it looked like. It was part of an obstacle to overcome. As I examined it more carefully in daylight, I found that the gold paint was peeling and it was either badly damaged or poorly made. That was that. And then, I opened the music box. I was surprised, for inside, it was truly beautiful.¡±

Gently opening the lid of the music box, Sakura held it out for the judges and the audience to see. The inside was covered with rich velvet and in the center was a delicate miniature golden ballerina turning to the tinkling music of Tchaikovsky¡¯s  Swan Lake. Then, her voice sounding firmer, Sakura continued, ¡°What I learned long ago was never to judge something by appearance. It is true that first impression can bias your opinion. Yet, it is import to always keep an open mind and see deeper within. There may be things that you might never know if you don¡¯t take the trouble to take one step further and look beneath the icy glacier, beneath the deceiving exterior. Why is this so important to me?¡± Wistfully, Sakura gazed at the graceful ballerina figurine twirling in the music box. ¡°Back in fourth grade, a new exchange student came into my school. And from the beginning, we were¡¦ well we were less than friends.¡±

¡°More like rivals,¡± Syaoran interjected in a mumble.

Laughing, Sakura corrected, ¡°Okay, rivals, though I don¡¯t really like that word. Well, I might have never gotten to know the deep, caring person inside if I had been turned away with one glance. Yet, there was something beneath his harsh words and cold expression, something which made me reach out. And had I walked away without looking deeper, I would never have found a true and dependable friend. I don¡¯t yet know much about the ways of the world. But I know of pain, I know of anger, I know of happiness, I know of sadness. I know the secrets and the inner self each person carries within their hearts. Whoever made this music box must have a reason for making the outside so crude and uncared for, but decorated the inside so elaborately. Because of its design, many people who take one glance at it and scoff it away. I can¡¯t say I know why the music box was made that way other than for the maker to see how many people bother to look inside, to see the true image inside.¡±

Abruptly, Sakura stopped speaking. Her flow of thoughts had ended, and she sat down back on her chair. She felt her face turning furiously red. Had she said the right things? What if she was completely off track? Did she make any sense at all?

But that didn¡¯t matter. What was important was that she actually took the risk of answering and making a fool of herself.

The MC continued, ¡°Well, that concludes the first question. Judges have 15 minutes to decide on the three couples who pass.¡±

After a few minutes, the judges finally came to a conclusion. Nodding their heads, the first judge stood up and began, ¡°After a hard decision, the five judges had finally come to a consensus. All five couples did superbly and should congratulate themselves for making it this far through all the challenges presented in the Couple Pentathlon. We do admit that the question ¡®What does the music box symbolize¡¯ was a very difficult question and was more of a test of intellectual than a right or wrong answer. Now, the three finalists of the Best Couple Contest are¡¦¡±

There was a drum roll.

The judge continued, ¡°Couple 18, for the most truthful answer.¡± Erika and Aki gave each other a thumbs up.

¡°Couple 19 for the most creative answer.¡± Chiharu squealed, throwing her arms around Takashi.

¡°And¡¦¡± The three remaining couples crossed their fingers.

Please say couple 20, Sakura prayed, tightly shutting her eyes.

¡°Couple 20 for the most¡¦ insightful answer! In fact, the only couple who actually bothered to open the music box and look inside!¡± the Judge finally answers. ¡°As the pointed out, though the music box may not seem like much, inside it is very beautiful and elaborate. It is no wonder because in fact, it was designed by the famous artist who currently lives in New York, Shing-san. We had the honor of him designing the music box for the contest. It was he who also made the question for his own whim, as he puts it. And, the five couples who found the music box may keep it as a souvenir from the contest. Anything designed by the great Shing-san will be very valuable. In fact, you can auction it off at a high price, but most of you probably will prefer to keep it.¡±

Clapping with joy, Sakura and Syaoran gave each other a high five.

¡°Your answer was really great,¡± Syaoran told her. ¡°I don¡¯t know how you came up with it.¡±

¡°I thought I was making a fool of myself, though,¡± Sakura admitted. ¡°Actually, I had a hint. Long ago, I remember my mother had a music box. I remember it played the tune Swan Lake when I opened it. Most mothers keep jewelry in a treasure box. Yet, she kept nothing inside it, except an old envelope. I never got to see what was inside it¡¦ After all, I was only three then. Yet, she once told me she had kept her most valuable treasure in it. And I asked, what was that most valuable treasure. She replied that it was gone and no longer important. I think I can figure out what is now, as I piece together clues.¡±

¡°Most valuable treasure?¡± Syaoran murmured.

¡°I think it must have been the sapphire ring,¡± Sakura concluded. ¡°The one your father gave her, years ago. She gave it back to him when he left. And I¡¯m pretty sure Shing-san made that beautiful music box for mother, long ago, since they were friends back then. The inside design is similar to this one, also,¡± Sakura said. ¡°Hey, do you mind if I keep the music box?¡±

¡°Sure, keep it. What will I do with a music box?¡±

¡°Keep your most valuable treasure it, maybe,¡± Sakura said, laughing. ¡°What ever it may be.¡±

¡°Nah, don¡¯t think it will fit in it,¡± Syaoran replied. ¡°What ever it may be¡¦¡±


After the dejected Couple 5 and 7 walked off the stage, the MC stated, ¡°How ironical! All three remaining couples come from the same school, same grade! And they are consecutive number of each other. Couple 18, 19, 20. Now, we will head into the final climatic stage of the contest. The intriguing question and answer time! The judges will take turn asking various questions to the three remaining couples, some directed too all of them, some directed to singe couples. So the best to answer the questions honestly and without intimidation. Good luck!¡±

¡°I think I¡¯ll have nightmares with that MC in it,¡± Sakura muttered. To her horror, her voice was caught in the microphone set up in between her and Syaoran, and echoed loudly throughout the stage. Luckily, the MC laughed it off with good humor.

The tension on the stage was evident. Sakura¡¯s eyes flickered from Chiharu to Erika. What were they thinking? What were they feeling at this moment? Were they as nervous as she was?

¡°Well, my question is directed to the guys of each couple,¡± the first judge said. ¡°Actually, it might have been one of your contest application questions. Guys, what do you like best about your girlfriends?¡±

First, it was Aki¡¯s turn. Without any hesitation, he stated, ¡°Well, isn¡¯t it obvious? Erika is just the most beautiful girl ever! Her gorgeous eyes, beautiful smile, glossy hair.¡±

The audience oohed.

Without blinking an eye, (if he opened it in the first place) Takashi answered, ¡°Chiharu¡¯s honesty and ability to say her mind to me directly.¡±

Then, it came to Syaoran turn. He stared blankly at the mike in a pause that the other two guys didn¡¯t have.

Jokingly, the MC asked, ¡°So, Li-san, is it that there¡¯s too many good things about Kinomoto-san to decide from, or is it that you can¡¯t think of any? So, what do you like best about her?¡±

Casting her eyes down, Sakura waited for his answer. Her heart pounded.

Finally, Syaoran looked straight out at the judges and answered in a steady voice, ¡°I don¡¯t know.¡±

Every fell of their seats, Sakura included.

He continued, ¡°I mean really don¡¯t know. I don¡¯t know if it was the smile, the truthful eyes, the determination, the stubbornness, or maybe none of these at all. However, I heard that in real love, there is no reason to love a person. You just do.¡± His amber eyes were bright in the sunlight.

The judges murmured among themselves forever scribbling on their notepads.

Even though she hadn¡¯t answered the question, Sakura¡¯s heart was still fluttering. When Eron has asked her what she liked so much about Syaoran, she had also replied that she didn¡¯t know. Laughing nervously, she murmured to Syaoran when he sat down, ¡°An interesting answer, considering you don¡¯t really like me¡¦ I mean, it¡¯s not exactly lying because you said you don¡¯t know the real reason why you love a person, who ever that is¡¦¡±

¡°What are you trying to say?¡± Syaoran asked, frowning.

¡°Never mind.¡± What¡¯s wrong with me? Sakura asked herself. Why do I have such a fuzzy, happy feeling, as well as a queer sadness?

 After the tension of the first question, the next few questions flowed easily. Some were directed to individual couples, some to all three.

¡°This is directed to all couples, how did you each meet?¡± the next judge questioned. ¡°Couple 20 can start this time.¡±

¡°Well, we met first in 4th grade?¡± Syaoran glanced at Sakura. ¡°I was a new transfer student from Hong Kong. I think we met first when I was introduced to her class and I sat behind her. Or no¡¦ I saw her before my first day in school, but I don¡¯t think she saw me then¡¦¡±

¡°Wait, I think I first saw you in a dream,¡± Sakura murmured. Then she mentally hit herself in the head. There was no need to say that she had prophetic dreams. ¡°No, wait a minute, if we get technical, isn¡¯t it back when we were three, when your father came to visit my mother? You probably don¡¯t remember though¡¦¡± She said this half to herself, and half to Syaoran. Not to the audience.

Laughing, the MC declared, ¡°Couple 20 certainly has trouble getting the details straight. We¡¯ll have to be satisfied that they either met as three year olds, classmates, or maybe in a dream. Couple 18?¡±

¡°We met last year when Aki was in basketball practice and I was in cheerleading. He saved me from being hit be a basketball,¡± Erika stated.

¡°What a romantic beginning,¡± the MC declared.

Sakura mumbled, ¡°She¡¯s making that up. Aki was the one who hit Erika with a basketball.¡±

From the seat across, Chiharu heard this and smothered a giggle.

When Couple 19¡¯s turn came, Takashi said, ¡°Chiharu and I were classmates since kindergarten. But the first time I got to know her was one day when I was five. Everyone was crowded around me, bullying and calling me a liar. I was too cowardly to do anything. Then, one person came to stick up for me. One little girl with pigtails who stamped her foot down hard and defended me. It was a strange feeling. There I was, crouched in a corner, and the friendliest, brightest smiled person bent over me and lent me a hand. And her name was Mihara Chiharu. We became friends ever since then.¡±

From Takashi¡¯s side, Chiharu looked up, slightly surprised. ¡°You mean, you still remember that? I thought you¡¯ve long forgotten it¡¦¡±

¡°Of course I remember, silly. It¡¯s my most cherished memory.¡±

¡°I didn¡¯t know¡¦¡± Chiharu turned slightly misty eyed.

¡°Then, Couple 19, when was your first kiss?¡± a judge asked.

This made Chiharu blush pink and stammer, ¡°Well, umm¡¦ You see¡¦¡±

Takashi interjected, ¡°Does the one back in kindergarten count? It was shortly after I got to know Chiharu. Right away, I proposed to her and kissed her on the cheek. Pretty quick starter, eh?"

The MC chuckled.

¡°Couple 18, what does appearance play in your relationship?¡± the Arima asked from the judging panel.

Smiling prettily, Erika replied, ¡°Why, good appearance does help, but it¡¯s only a minor part. After all, there are more important things besides looks; the inside is more important, as dear Sakura put it.¡±

The judges jotted notes into their pads.

The next judge asked, ¡°This question is directed to Couple 20. You have written in your contest application that you have leading roles in your school¡¯s production, ¡®Star-Crossed,¡¯ an alternate version of Romeo and Juliet. It is known that the theme of fate holds a vital role in this play. What is your perception of fate in life and your relationship?¡±

Everyone winced. It was an awfully difficult question. Arima glared at the judge who asked it.

Syaoran replied gravely, ¡°I don¡¯t want to believe in fate, because as long as I¡¯m alive, I want to believe that I have complete control over my life. I don¡¯t want to be some puppet controlled by destiny; I want to believe that in my life, I make my choices and the things that happen are a consequence of my actions, not because they were meant to be that way. For, my life is my life.¡±

¡°As for me,¡± Sakura began. ¡°I still wonder is something things in life are meant to be. Why did my mother have to die? Was that fate, after all? My brother has a belief that there is no such thing as chance, that everything indeed is already destined. Yet, like Syaoran, I want to have control over my life and make my choices. Were Romeo and Juliet separated because of fate and their destiny written in the stars? Was death really the only choice? Couldn¡¯t there have been another alternative? When I was young, I used to think Romeo and Juliet was a hopelessly romantic tale, as any girl would. Yet, now I want to rebel against it; I hate feeling helpless. I want to have a firm grasp of my own life.¡±

¡°Wow, they answered really well,¡± Rika awed, leaning from her seat in the audience.

¡°Of course I would have expected less no less from them,¡± Tomoyo replied, as she zoomed her videocamera to Sakura¡¯s face, which was red from effort.

¡°All three couples are doing really well,¡± Miho commented. ¡°It¡¯s going to be a really tight call. Hehe¡¦ I think the questionnaire is the most fun part of the contest.¡±

¡°Cruel thing to say,¡± Eron clucked.

Clearing his throat to get attention, the MC stated, ¡°The judges will like a ten minute break. As we can see, all contestants are doing superbly and it will really be a tight call.¡±

The viewers all began to talk at once among themselves.

¡°I¡¯m routing for Couple 18. They looks stunning together, and they sound so confident,¡± one girl stated.

¡°Nah, they seem kinda phony to me. I like Couple 19. I feel like I can relate to them, somehow,¡± her friend replied.

¡°I don¡¯t know. Those two couples are good¡¦ But there¡¯s something about Couple 20¡¦ I can¡¯t name it, but there¡¯s something about those two which just strikes me. I can¡¯t express it in words,¡± a third person commented. ¡°I keep on wishing things work out for them.¡±

Tomoyo, Rika, Miho, and Eron greeted the three contestant couples in backstage.

¡°You guys are all doing great!¡± Tomoyo said.

¡°Yeah, Syaoran, you were marvelous at answering the questions. I loved how you gave that MC a silent but deadly glare, ho ho ho¡¦¡± Miho stated.

¡°Whew, this is more tiring than anything I expected,¡± Sakura said, wiping the sweat off her brows because all the lighting made the summer day even hotter. ¡°This is as bad as when I had that modeling contract back in New York.¡±

¡°Worse,¡± Syaoran mumbled. ¡°At least we didn¡¯t have to talk then. All we had to do was smile when we were told to and remember not to blink at the camera.¡±

From behind them popped out the young, ingenious photographer, Mike Kant, who had traveled all the way from New York to take pictures of Arima and Asuma for the Armani Fall Collection. ¡°You were great!!! I knew I made the right choice when I picked you two out back in New York! Are you sure you don¡¯t want come back and sign another modeling contract?¡±
¡°No thank you,¡± Syaoran and Sakura said, hastily.

¡°Ah, it¡¯s a pity. Well, if you change your mind¡¦¡± Mike sighed.

¡°You don¡¯t look so confident anymore, little sister,¡± Eron murmured to Erika, off at the corner.

Glaring with bright gold-hazel eyes, Erika hissed, ¡°Well, I had been expecting to win much sooner. If you did carry out our plan well enough, the Wolf should have gotten rid of Takashi and Chiharu, not to mention Sakura. Then, the coast would have been clear for me to win. If I had known how poorly you would carry the plan out, I would never have bothered to steal that silly embroidery of the wolf that Sakura made for Syaoran.¡±

Meanwhile, Sakura began to fume as she overheard the conversation. So, the reason why Takashi and Chiharu had been targeted by the Wolf was to eliminate them from the contest! How cheap! There was no way she would ever let Erika win.

¡°Shh¡¦ Speak more quietly,¡± Eron whispered to Erika, pressing his finger to his lips. ¡°The problem was that the Wolf was a creation of Sakura¡¯s pure heart, therefore it would never grow that powerful, no matter how fierce it was. We created a dark force from the embroidery that she made, and even though it had some advantages, Sakura still would have the greatest power over it since she made it. The Phantom is different, because it is a derivation from human fear and loathing,¡± Eron replied. ¡°But, that is that. Well good luck in the contest, Erika. If by any chance you lose, it won¡¯t be because of a lack of trying. But remember, being truthful will get you further towards your goal than lying.¡±

¡°I hate when you talk in riddles,¡± Erika said.

¡°Riddles? Riddles¡¦¡± Eron grinned, fingering a necklace with a black gem, which was shaped like an eye with a red pupil. ¡°I was rather bored...¡±

¡°Break over!!!¡± the MC called, clapping his hands to attract attention back onto the stage. ¡°Now, we shall continue with the couple questionnaire!!!¡±

¡°What has one voice and has four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, three legs in the evening?¡± was the next question from the judge.

¡°What?¡± Everyone stared with questioning eyes.

¡°Ah!¡± Takashi snapped his fingers. ¡°Men. Crawls on four legs when they are a baby. Walks on two legs as grown men. Three legs when a man grows old and uses a cane.¡±

¡°Very good,¡± the head judge said. ¡°Then, answer the next one. Thirty white horses on a red hill. First they tramp, then they chomp, then they stand still. What is this?¡± the judge said.

There was a complete silence on the stage.

Tilting her head, Chiharu whispered, ¡°Is there something wrong with the judge? The questions are suddenly¡¦ very strange.¡±

¡°I know this riddle, too,¡± Takashi said. ¡°Teeth. The answer¡¯s teeth.¡±

¡°Ah, I guess it is too easy. A harder one, then. ¡°I slay the greatest men, I destroy the tallest mountain, I dry the deepest ocean, no one can fight against me. What am I?¡± the judge said, his voice smooth and hypnotizing.

It seemed as if the rest of the world was blocked off, with only the judge and the three couples on stage existing.

¡°There¡¯s something terribly wrong,¡± Sakura whispered. She focused her eyes. Now that she looked carefully, she could see a dim outline of a sphinx-like figure powering over the judge and asking the riddles. No wonder! ¡°I think it¡¯s another dark force, strange as it is. Is it possible that the Dark Ones sent out a force so soon after the last one?¡±

¡°Yeah. But we can¡¯t do anything ¡®cause we¡¯re on stage. It¡¯s being televised, also. I hate it when such things happen,¡± Syaoran replied. ¡°Just answer the riddle, somehow. We can¡¯t let the audience suspect anything, and continue with the flow of the questionnaire.¡±

¡°Let¡¯s see¡¦ Slay the greatest men, destroy the tallest mountain, dry the deepest ocean¡¦ umm¡¦ I get it! Time!¡± she called out. ¡°Time destroys even the most powerful in the end and nothing can fight against time.¡±

¡°Impressive,¡± the Riddle said, channeling its voice through the judge replied. ¡°How about the next one? Runs all day and never walks. Often murmurs, never talks; it has a bed and never sleeps; it was a mouth and never eats.¡±

¡°What?¡± Aki gawked.

¡°That¡¯s easy,¡± Takashi stated. ¡°It¡¯s river.¡±

¡°Wow, you¡¯re good at this,¡± Chiharu said, admiringly.

¡°Now, a really hard one. Throw a stone into a lake; it never reaches the bottom. Look at your reflection; nothing is seen. Cry your heart out; tears don¡¯t fall. Give your soul; face betrayal.¡±

This one left everyone really blank. The judge said, ¡°Well, if you can¡¯t answer this one, none of you are fit to win this contest.¡±

¡°What?!¡± Erika shrieked. ¡°Aki! Do something! Aren¡¯t you editor of the school newspaper?¡±

¡°Well, journalism has nothing to do with riddles!¡± Aki replied hotly.

Then, Erika stared at the judge and frowned. The gem on her necklace was glowing. Her eyes flickered to Eron, who sat in the front row of the audience, radiating a faint golden aura, only visible to her eyes. ¡®Eron, don¡¯t tell me this is your doing. I can¡¯t believe you sent out a Dark Force when it affects your own twin! You¡¯re jeopardizing my chances of winning.¡¯

¡®Apologies, sister. I completely forgot. I just wanted a little¡¦ amusement,¡¯ Eron replied into her mind. Then, he smiled innocently as he always did when Erika was mad at him. ¡®I¡¯ll tell you the answer to that riddle. It¡¯s ¡°love.¡± ¡¯

¡°How can it be love?¡± Erika muttered out loud.

¡®It¡¯s the pain of love. Love only results in suffering. Love betrays you in the end. Love leaves no tears. Love leaves you empty. Love leads you astray.¡¯ Eron cast his eyes away from the stage.

Simultaneously, Syaoran replied to the Riddler, ¡°I solved the riddle. It¡¯s love. ¡®Throw a stone into a lake; it never reaches the bottom.¡¯ It is love which leads you astray, never reaching your goal. ¡®Look at your reflection; nothing is seen.¡¯ Love ends up leaving you empty, with no more identity. ¡®Cry your heart out; tears don¡¯t fall.¡¯ Love leaves no more tears, no more emotions left. ¡®Give your soul; face betrayal.¡¯ In the end, love betrays you, leaving you with nothing.¡±

¡°Very true, smart one. Very true.¡± The Dark Force in shape of a sphinx grinned.

This left Erika surprised. How could Syaoran figure this out?

¡°How can such a dismal description be love?¡± Sakura exclaimed. ¡°I don¡¯t believe it. Love isn¡¯t something that in the end just leaves you with pain and sorrow. It is a valuable emotion that leaves beautiful memories.¡±

¡°Ah is that so?¡± the Riddle asked. ¡°Your friend doesn¡¯t seem to think so.¡±

¡°You¡¯re mistaken about that,¡± Syaoran replied. ¡°It is only the foolish who loses themselves because of love.¡± Then he muttered, ¡°And only the foolish and inexperienced would come up with such a stupid riddle.¡±

¡°WHAT?!¡± the sphinx like figure contorted in rage. It dropped control over the judge, taking its real form and prepared to leap on the center stage. Then, it restrained itself. ¡°It is not time, yet. I will see you again when the moon has risen.¡±

At that moment, it contorted and then disappeared. Sakura and Syaoran, the only ones who saw it, blinked.

¡°Next time,¡± Eron murmured. ¡°Next time I will use the Riddle. Not right now¡¦ I can¡¯t risk things in front of such a large audience. But am I foolish and inexperienced? I have seen so much, yet seen nothing.¡±

Placing her face close to Eron¡¯s, Miho tilted her head questioningly, her smoke gray eyes bemused.

¡°Eh? What?¡± Eron demanded.

Laughing, Miho asked, ¡°Do you always talk to yourself? If you do, it¡¯s a very strange habit.¡±

¡°No!¡± Eron replied. Then, he gained his composure, putting on his charming grin. ¡°No, Miho-san. You must be mistaken for I never talk to myself.¡±

¡°Liar,¡± Miho said flatly. ¡°You¡¯re a really weird, crooked, and plotting, liar too,¡± Miho pointed out. ¡°No offense, though.¡±

With each weakness, Eron slid further and further off his chair.

Tomoyo giggled. ¡°Eron-kun can¡¯t face the harsh facts.¡±

Eron laughed. ¡°I¡¯m used to being told I¡¯m perfect.¡±

¡°Too much compliments and it will go to your head,¡± Miho said. ¡°My brother used to be perfect to. I used to envy him so much. He used to be class president and head of his grade. Maybe he was too perfect, that¡¯s why he was taken from stupid little me. He must have grown tired of looking after his bratty little sister.¡±

¡°I don¡¯t like anything less than perfect,¡± Eron murmured. He was the careful planner, while Erika went more by impulse. That was the difference between the twins. ¡°Tell me, Miho-san, where is your brother now?¡±

¡°I don¡¯t know,¡± Miho replied softly.

¡°Shouldn¡¯t he have always stayed by you and looked after his little sister? He betrayed you. You must hate him,¡± Eron said softly. ¡°Betrayal is the greatest of sins, and betrayal of friends, let alone blood is the most unforgivable crime. More unforgivable than¡¦¡±

¡°There you go, talking to yourself again,¡± Miho said, forcing a smile. Yet, her hands were trembling.


Meanwhile, the contest continued as if nothing had happened in between when the Riddle took control.

¡°How strange,¡± Sakura murmured. ¡°The Riddle came and disappeared. I¡¯m glad it didn¡¯t cause any trouble to the people, yet I just hate it when I let a force escape. But, I think it was really hurt by your last comment, calling it stupid.¡±

¡°Ah, well, at least it won¡¯t bother us for the time being. Of course, it will come back again, later,¡± Syaoran said.

¡°Finally, we are coming to a close to this thrilling challenge. This will be the last and final question before the judges decide on the Best Couple,¡± the MC stated. ¡°Judge Tamemura Asuma will address the question to the three couples.¡±

¡°Now, the final question is an easy and simple one,¡± Asuma said. ¡°It is simply: Why did you enter this contest and what motivates you to take the challenge to claim the Best Couple of Japan title? Couple 19 may go first this time.¡±

¡°Huh?¡± Chiharu twiddled her fingers together. ¡°Well¡¦ Actually, I was the one who really wanted to enter this contest. I practically forced Takashi to enter with. But, I really wanted to enter, whether we won or not. I never thought we would make it this far, either. The truth is, though Takashi and I might have been going out since kindergarten, technically, I¡¯m not very truthful to him in my feelings. And in return, he doesn¡¯t really show his inner side to me anymore. I thought this might be a chance to make a turning point in our relationship. Somehow, I thought this might bring us closer. We understand everything about each other, except for the matters of the heart. That¡¯s all. I don¡¯t think we are the best couple in Japan. But, I don¡¯t think there is quite another couple who has an unbreakable relationship like us, either.¡±

For a moment, Takashi took in all of Chiharu¡¯s words. He never knew Chiharu¡¯s intentions. Then, taking a deep breath, Takashi began in a grave tone. ¡°I didn¡¯t know of Chiharu¡¯s intentions until now. Had I known, I would have made things easier for both of us. Yet, she is wrong about forcing me to enter this contest. Contrary to that, I was secretly glad. My parents divorced when I was four, and she was the only one who believed in my when I stated that my mother would come back to me someday. When I was lost and lonely, Chiharu was the one who always stood beside me, filling out the missing spot in my life with her openness. And she is all I ever needed. Now that I am older, I know that my mother will not come back to me. I gave away such childish dreams. Yet, when I entered this contest, I knew if there was a chance Chiharu and I won, we would become famous. We would be able to have a part in a big movie production. Plus, this contest is broadcasted in TV. So, I had the faintest hope that my mother might be out in the audience somewhere, maybe catch me on TV, maybe hear about me from others, and I want her to know this. She may have left me, but I¡¯m not lonely or lost anymore, because I have Chiharu. The girl I gave all my heart to when she reached out for me, ten years ago. I may seem impartial on the outside, but inside, I have pain and despair, which was healed by someone as precious as my mother, Chiharu. I¡¯m happy now.¡± Takashi broke off, his face pale, and his hazel eyes glistening. Then, he smiled a tight, but brave smile. It was probably the longest serious speech he had given in a while.

Everyone was staring at him, all feeling something in their hearts stirring. One or two judges dabbed their eyes with handkerchiefs.

Then, Takashi laughed sheepishly. ¡°There, I said it. The first time I ever did something to be proud of.¡±

Chiharu through her arms around his neck, not in the usual throttling position, but squeezed in a tight hug. ¡°Silly, you should have told me before. I would never have been so harsh on you if I had known.¡±

Then, the audience began a thunderous applause and cheering. It took a while for them to quiet down. A certain woman in the back of the audience dabbed her eyes with her handkerchief, smiling with sorrow and pride. Quietly, she left the chair and walked back to her car, unnoticed, except by Takashi who had a clear view of the audience on stage. He stared at the woman with raven hair tied back neatly. For a brief second, their eyes met, across the distance. He smiled. For a second, she stared, before her stiff expression melted into a soft smile.

¡°Okay, Couple 20¡¯s turn,¡± the MC cut in.

Biting her lips, Sakura thought, I never knew. All these years, I¡¯ve been a classmate of Takashi, and I never knew about him¡¦ And I admire those two. They do have a bond stronger than can be expressed. They are different from the average couples walking in the streets, dating, arguing, laughing. Out of all the couples who entered the contest, they really deserve to win. They truly are a good couple.

Standing and taking the mike, Sakura shot a look at Syaoran with bright emerald eyes. Slowly, he nodded, gazing back with solemn amber eyes.

Taking a deep breath, Sakura began, ¡°Some couples entered this contest to prove that they indeed are the best teen couple to the rest of the world. Some entered for the challenge. Some entered because it would be a fun experience in their relationship. However, Syaoran and I entered this contest for no other reason than wanting to win the contest money.¡± A gasp rang through the audience. ¡°Our friends forced us to apply in the first place. That¡¯s it. We entered for the sake of the money, not because we deserve to be the best teen couple. What does the best couple mean? I myself don¡¯t know, so there¡¯s no way that Syaoran and I can actually take that title. Everyone has different standards and expectations. People say love that is hard to get is the most rewarding, others say love is destined for your soul mate. Yet, in our case, Syaoran and I are not even real couples. We just entered the contest together that¡¯s all. Of course, we are really good friends, but other than that, we don¡¯t even deserve to stand against the true couples. Unlike Chiharu and Takashi, we don¡¯t have a real reason to win this contest. We are inferior as a couple in every way. But, one thing that¡¯s true is that this contest has been a valuable experience for both of us, and I think we found out more about each other through this contest, working together, answering truthfully, than ever before. Thank you.¡± Sakura sat, down taking a deep breath, trying to keep her chin up. Syaoran put a reassuring hand on her shoulder.

There was a loud murmur among the audience.

Miho hissed, ¡°How can Sakura reply like that? The only reason she entered the contest was for the money? She and my dear Syaoran aren¡¯t even couples?! That was plain stupid, after all the trouble the went through!¡±

¡°Wow, but they really tricked me throughout the contest¡¦ I still don¡¯t understand. Things were going so well for them, why did they give their chance of winning up? We wouldn¡¯t have known the difference,¡± Rika interjected.

¡°No, don¡¯t you see? She gave up her chance to win for her Chiharu¡¯s sake. For her close friends. It was really noble in her part. I respect her all the more now,¡± Tomoyo stated. ¡°There¡¯s something deeper in their relationship than merely being a ¡®couple¡¯ or ¡®going out with each other.¡¯

¡°I don¡¯t understand what you mean,¡± the Miho replied. ¡°I mean, if she was going to back out when they were this close to winning first prize (she held out her forefinger and thumb) I should have taken her place!¡±

¡°I didn¡¯t think you would understand. It¡¯s hard for most people to grasp,¡± Tomoyo replied Miho who fuming in the seat next to her.

 Hanging her head, Sakura said, ¡°I¡¯m sorry Syaoran. I ruined all our chances for winning.¡±

Patting her shoulder, Syaoran replied, ¡°No. You did the right thing. It was a courageous and right thing to do. I¡¯m really proud of you.¡±

¡°Are they crazy? How can they give up their chance to win, completely?¡± Aki whispered to Erika. ¡°I mean, it¡¯s good that we have one less rival, but¡¦ Well, we can win now!¡±

Slowly, Erika shook her head. ¡°I know when I am defeated. I don¡¯t want to worm my way into first prize.¡±

¡°What are you talking about? You went through all the trouble; you wanted to win even more than I did!¡± Aki exclaimed. ¡°We can make a touching speech, and we will win!¡± He snapped. ¡°That simple. You know we¡¯re better than Yamazaki and Mihara.¡±

¡°Ahem,¡± the MC cleared his throat to gain attention. ¡°Now, ah, Couple 18, what is your reason in entering this contest?¡±

Flashing a smile, Erika spoke into the mike to the judges, ¡°I never took this contest seriously, and it was all a game for me. A fun game. I¡¯m used to winning. But, once in a while, I accept defeat, and I walk away from it.¡± With a swirl of her skirt, Erika walked off the stage, leaving Aki gaping.

Already, the judges were baffled enough.

¡°I¡¯ve never heard of such a thing,¡± the head judge stated. ¡°I¡¯ve been in this business for fifteen years, and I¡¯ve never seen finalist couples who walk away from first prize!¡±

¡°Well, maybe it¡¯s time for something new,¡± Arima mused.

¡°So, you didn¡¯t win, after all,¡± Eron said, as Erika plopped in the seat next to him, followed by a rather astounded Aki. ¡°And for the first time, you told the truth, and you even accepted defeat.¡±

With bright golden eyes, Erika replied, ¡°Syaoran told me that you can learn more from losing. So, I¡¯m trying it out.¡±

¡°What did you learn?¡± Eron asked, grinning crookedly.

¡°I have no idea,¡± Erika replied, smiling back. ¡°You know me better than I know myself. So, don¡¯t bother asking.¡± Turning to Aki, she said, ¡°Well, I¡¯m sorry you didn¡¯t win the contest. You wanted to star in the movie with your sister and stuff.¡±

¡°I did,¡± Aki replied. ¡°But I don¡¯t think I can stand against Takashi or even Syaoran after all. Somehow, after we walked off the stage, my mind seems clearer. Like you, I¡¯m used to winning. To you it might always be a game. But for me, it is different. In ways, I have to prove myself. My older sister, Arima, was always popular and perfect. She wins trophies in horse riding, she¡¯s an idol in society, a talented, growing movie star. My eldest brother graduated from an Ivy League university in the States—MIT. He¡¯s working for the government right now in a top secret project. Then, there¡¯s me. Akagi Tomaki¡¦ the black sheep of the family, the one who doesn¡¯t take life seriously, plays around, slacks off¡¦ And I try so hard to prove myself, one way or the other.¡± Aki gazed up at the stage. ¡°It was really decent of Sakura to give up her very likely possibility of winning the contest for her friends sake. I really admire her sense of chivalry¡¦ Thinking about it, it was pretty decent of you, too. I never expected you would walk away from first prize like that.¡±

Rather in shock, Erika stated in a careless tone, ¡°What an insult! I didn¡¯t give up my spot to be generous. I just got tired of the contest, that¡¯s all.¡±

Ruffling her hair, Eron smiled. ¡°That¡¯s my little sis. Afraid to show a soft spot.¡±

¡°I mean it!¡± Erika protested.

Soon after the chaos, the MC stated, ¡°Now, the judges will announce the winner of the 15th Annual Best Teen Couple Contest.¡± There was a drum roll. ¡°Couple 19, Yamazaki Takashi and Mihara Chiharu from Tomoeda! Congratulations on earning the ¡°Best Couple of Japan¡± title. You will receive your price money in check, and receive information about the new Akagi Arima movie, soon.¡±

As the spotlight surrounded her, Chiharu¡¯s eyes glistened as she burst into tears. ¡°I—I never even dreamed¡¦¡±

¡°Good job, you two really captured the true spirit of a couple¡¦ Friends before love, lasting through all hardships, understanding each other without words,¡± the MC said, handing them a bouquet and a certificate.

There was a thunderous applause and cameras flashed in all directions. Reporters crowded around them.

¡°And, that could have been me,¡± Erika sighed, half wistfully.

¡°I¡¯m glad, so glad for Chiharu,¡± Sakura said. ¡°I did want to win, but it¡¯s much more meaningful for Chiharu and Yamazaki-kun.¡± Yet behind her hardy words, she reflected slight rue. Though she didn¡¯t regret her actions, a part of her still wondered what it would have been like to win the Best Couple Contest with Syaoran. It was like a dream that she and Syaoran had entered such a contest. It would have been beyond a dream if they had won. But she gave up that dream for a better cause.

¡°One last thing,¡± the MC interrupted. ¡°The judges will also like to give an honorary mention to Couple 20, Li Syaoran and Kinomoto Sakura. Not only have we been awed with them in the talent contest in Event 3, but we have received reports from various people of how these two took responsibility to maintain order in the regretful incident of the scavenger hunt island. This showed impressing leadership and control coming from two teens. These two have also shed an inner light on all of us, though they claim that they are not a couple. If they are not, then in all means, we wish them the best of luck in whatever way in the future and present to them this certificate and honorary mention prize, made on the spot today.¡±

¡°Hoe?¡± Sakura was baffled. The spotlight flashed on her and Syaoran. The sound of the audience whistling and clapping echoed throughout the beach.

Arima, representing the five judges walked up onto the stage and presented a bouquet, and a gift certificate. ¡°You two were really great, also, no matter how you claim that you guys don¡¯t deserve honor.¡±

¡°T-thank you,¡± Sakura stammered, her eyes growing misty.

Chiharu flung her arms around Sakura, half crushing the bouquets. ¡°Thank you Sakura. It was all because of you that all this happened. I would have never won without your support. I was so sure you and Li-kun would win.¡±

¡°No, you and Yamazaki-kun won through your own potential, not any other reason. You two really deserve to be the Best Couple of Japan,¡± Sakura replied.

¡°Wow, can you believe it! Takashi and I will be able to have a short segment in Akagi Arima¡¯s new upcoming movie. Wow! Of course it won¡¯t be big, but it¡¯s amazing! And the prize money! It¡¯s more than all my allowance added up.¡± Chiharu smiled. ¡°But most of all, I¡¯m so glad for Takashi. He said he¡¯s sure his mother is smiling for him at this moment. I never, ever saw him cry since kindergarten, but I swear I saw something glistening in his eyes.¡±

Squeezing her friend¡¯s hand, Sakura smiled a smile worth more than all the words. It was one of the rare, pure smiles, which reflected the innocent good will buried deep in all human heart.

¡°Marvelous shot!¡± Tomoyo stated as she videotaped. ¡°What a beautiful conclusion to the Best Couple Contest!¡± Though she was slightly disappointed that Syaoran and Sakura did not win first prize, that still didn¡¯t crush her spirit. ¡°But there¡¯s still next year, and the year after that to win the contest! Let¡¯s see, next year, we will have to try a different aspect. Design no. 374 will be a nice dress for Sakura-chan, and I can make a matching outfit for Syaoran. A nice green material to bring out her eye color.¡±

¡°Hoe-e!¡± Sakura fell head over heels. ¡°Tomoyo-chan, I don¡¯t think I can go through the chaos all over again.¡±

¡°No way any one¡¯s making me do that again!¡± Syaoran proclaimed. ¡°It¡¯s all over now!¡±

¡°Oh, not quite over yet,¡± Eron said, his honey colored eyes glimmered. ¡°There¡¯s the ending party on the yacht tonight. Lots can happen yet.¡±


That evening, on the yacht¡¦

¡°Wow, I never imagined that the concluding party will be even more hectic than the contest,¡± Tomoyo commented. ¡°Not that I complain. But I can hardly move around with my video camera. Sakura-chan, aren¡¯t you going to come inside, to the party?¡±

¡°In a while,¡± Sakura said, leaning against the railing on deck, staring out into the black sapphire sea. The blasting of music and partying blended with the lapping of the waves on the side of the ship as it slowly cruised around the coast of Kusakou.

¡°Remember that evening party in New York?¡± Miho asked.

¡°There was a party?¡± Sakura asked, blankly. ¡°Oh, there was.¡± Back then, she had been so occupied trying to track down a dark force¡¦ no, three dark forces; the Stalker, the Explosive, and the Invisible, she hardly remembered anything else. Except the fireworks that she watched at the end¡¦ with Syaoran.

¡°You should go inside. They¡¯re gonna call for the Best Couple Contest winner to come up and make a speech,¡± Arima said as she stepped out onto the deck. She was wearing a gorgeous white long dress which fluttered in the sea breeze.

¡°I¡¯m sorry Arima-san. Syaoran and I didn¡¯t win,¡± Sakura said. ¡°You must be disappointed.¡±

¡°Nah. It was the other way around. I¡¯m really proud of you two.¡± Arima cast her luminous violet eyes down. ¡°In ways, seeing you two up on the stage reminded me of myself and Asuma. Did I tell you why we entered the contest? I forced him to, because I wanted to have even a minor in an upcoming movie. Asuma and I weren¡¯t couples then, but I asked him to enter the contest with me because he was my best friend and the only person I would be comfortable with. And he agreed, as long as I did his homework for him for two months.¡±

¡°Two months!¡± Sakura exclaimed. ¡°How harsh!¡±

Laughing, Arima said, ¡°Yeah, but he was impressed with the money we received, so he forgot about the deal. Somehow, we won. We weren¡¯t even true couples. At least you and Syaoran were truthful were about it. At that time, I didn¡¯t even feel guilty. The Best Couple Contest was the launch of my career into the world of the media and cameras. And I don¡¯t regret it. I did what I thought was right, back then.¡±

¡°I¡¯m glad to hear you say that,¡± Sakura said. ¡°I really envy you Arima-san. It¡¯s so strange. In movies, TV shows, and interviews, you seem so beautiful and distant. Yet, in real life, you¡¯re so¡¦ normal, like a mentor or an older sister.¡±

Patting Sakura¡¯s head, Arima said, ¡°I always wanted a little sister, you see. Plus, You¡¯re Kinomoto Nadeshiko¡¯s daughter; my absolute dream model. And you need an older female to give you advise and such. I mean, it¡¯s good you have a cool older brother and all, but there are some things you can only confide to a female.¡±

Sakura nodded knowingly.

¡°I¡¯m sure you would have much preferred a little sister to your bratty little brother,¡± Aki interrupted.

¡°Aww, I love my little brother, too, even if he¡¯s a pain in the neck, sometimes,¡± Arima said, pinching Aki¡¯s cheeks.

¡°Oww¡¦ I¡¯m not a baby any more, you know. Humph, I know you¡¯re secretly ecstatic that I didn¡¯t win the contest,¡± Aki pointed out.

¡°Of course not!¡± Arima blinked innocently, crossing her fingers.

Scanning the deck of the ship, Sakura murmured, ¡°Wow¡¦ This is a nice yacht¡¦ It¡¯ll be fun to travel on it some time¡¦¡±

Taking Sakura¡¯s hand, Aki exclaimed, ¡°You can travel with me any time~ After all, this is my yacht!¡±

Pulling Aki¡¯s ear, Arima corrected, ¡°Wrong, it¡¯s Asuma and my yacht. We bought it together with our own money from horse racing prize money when we graduated high school. But we¡¯re so busy, we don¡¯t have time to ride it often. So, we agreed to hold the Best Couple Contest last party on it.¡±

¡°Same thing,¡± Aki grumbled. ¡°Your money is my money, my family¡¯s money is my money and my money is my money.¡±

¡°You greedy animal,¡± Arima scolded.

¡°Wow¡¦¡± Sakura awed. ¡°Tamemura-san and Arima-san are amazing¡¦ they make enough money to by yachts on their own¡¦ and they¡¯re still in college. They can ride it whenever they want to¡¦¡±

Arima sighed, ¡°Ah, vacation¡¯s going by so fast. Asuma is going to fly to England for the next horse race the day after tomorrow¡¦ I can¡¯t go because I start filming for my next movie in a few days. And then, school¡¯s going to start again¡¦ I didn¡¯t do any summer assignments! Plus, I have tons of make-up work for missing a month of school because of a shooting in Paris.¡±

¡°What a busy life¡¦¡± everyone thought.

¡°Where¡¯s Syaoran?¡± Miho asked, suddenly. ¡°I want to dance with him! He promised me, earlier this evening.¡±

¡°I have no idea,¡± Sakura replied, scanning the deck of the ship. Syaoran agreed to dance with Miho?! That couldn¡¯t be possible¡¦ Syaoran disliked social events¡¦ Yet, then again, he had dance with Erika before, though never with herself.

¡°You know, it¡¯s required for the winning couple of the contest to lead to slow dance,¡± Arima said. Her eyes glinted mischievously. ¡°And the honorary ones should dance, too.¡±

¡°Wha-what?¡± Sakura blushed furiously red¡¦ Dance with Syaoran!

¡°Wow, you¡¯re face us as red as your shoulders from the sunburn,¡± Miho said.

¡°You guys go in, first. I¡¯ll go find Syaoran,¡± Sakura said. Briskly, she walked down the ship; she hoped it would take a long time to find him on the yacht.

Slowly, Sakura leaned against the railing and stared up into the starry night sky. Her few days in the seaside town had been hectic, filled with excitement, and fun for the most part. It would soon come to an end, when they all returned home the day after tomorrow. Besides the few trying moments when she faced the Wolf, she had enjoyed herself in a carefree way; the first time in quite a while. The hectic life during the concert helped her forget about all the stressful problems back at home, and concentrate about becoming more truthful about herself.

She felt someone tugging at her rose colored, sleeveless dress. Gazing down, Sakura was surprised to see a little boy. ¡°What is it?¡± she asked bending down on her knees.

¡°I was right! It is you! You are my hero,¡± the boy said. ¡°You saved me from the werewolf, few days ago. Remember? I wanted to thank you.¡±

¡°Huh? Oh!¡± Sakura exclaimed, sweat dropping. It must be the boy the Wolf had been attacking during the Talent Show. She was pretty sure that she had used the Erase card on his memory. Yet, he still remembered? ¡°Thank you,¡± she replied. She couldn¡¯t think of anything better to say.

¡°Are you an angel?¡± the boy asked.

¡°No.¡± Smiling, Sakura asked, ¡°What makes you ask that?¡±

¡°I was scared and I prayed for someone to come save me, and you suddenly appeared from nowhere, and saved me from the monster.¡± The boy¡¯s eyes glistened. ¡°It was like a movie! Was it magic? Mommy told me there was no such thing as magic¡¦ but I believe in it now.¡±

¡°Ah¡¦¡± Sakura sweat dropped.
¡°Oh, I remember why I came to find you. Someone told me to find someone wearing a pink dress and tell¡¦ And tell you¡¦¡± the boy stared at his hands, puzzled. ¡°Let¡¯s see¡¦ something about¡¦ dark? Danger? Trouble¡¦ The dark force¡¦ Sorry! I don¡¯t remember. I¡¯m really sorry. He was in a real hurry¡¦¡±

¡°It¡¯s all right. Do you remember what he looked like?¡± Sakura asked gently.

¡°Oh, he was really tall¡¦ brown hair¡¦ the person who was in the contest with you,¡± the boy replied. ¡°You two were great! But why aren¡¯t you going out?¡±

¡°Hahaha¡¦ It¡¯s a complicated story¡¦¡± Sakura placed a hand on the little boy¡¯s shoulder. Kids these days were so advanced. ¡°Thanks for telling me. You should go back inside, where all the people are, okay? It¡¯s safer there.¡±

¡°Yes,¡± the boy replied, still with awe brimming in his voice.

¡°Where in the world is Syaoran?¡± Sakura grumbled as she passed through the various rooms in the ship. ¡°He could have at least told me where he is.¡± From her necklace she slipped out her key.

¡°Key that hides the power of stars. Show your true self to me. I, Sakura command you. Release!¡±

Purely out of instinct, she walked towards the lowest deck of the ship, her staff held out. Absent-mindedly, she entered the first door.

¡°Syaoran?¡± she asked, fumbling for the light switches.

¡°You finally came!¡± Syaoran exclaimed. He was standing against the wall, his finger plugged into a hole.

¡°What are you doing here? ¡°Sakura questioned. ¡°You look awfully uncomfortable.¡±

¡°Blocking the hole in the side of the ship with my finger. I can¡¯t move, or else, the yacht is going to start leaking,¡± Syaoran answered.

Shaking her head, Sakura said, ¡°Wait a minute. I don¡¯t understand.¡±

¡°The ship. There¡¯s a hole in it. The ocean water will start to flow in if I take my finger out,¡± Syaoran explained in plain language. ¡°I knew something bad will happen. Remember the Riddle told us that it will come again ¡®when the moon rises?¡¯ It put a hole in the yacht.¡±

¡°HOE!!! THE SHIP IS GOING TO SINK!!!¡± Sakura shrieked.

¡°Like the Vikings, like the Maine, like Lusitania, like Titanic,¡± the Riddle stated, grinning wickedly.

¡°It was your doing!¡± Sakura exclaimed.

¡°It was a bet. I had to answer the riddle correctly. And I lost.¡± Syaoran hung his head down. ¡°But, I had no idea what: ¡®Ring around the roses, a pocket full of posies, ashes, ashes, we all fall down,¡¯ was!¡±

¡°That¡¯s a nursery rhyme!¡± Sakura stated.

¡°I know! But nobody told me nursery rhymes when I was a kid, nor did they explains its meaning to me.¡± Syaoran sighed.

In a challenging tone, Sakura furrowed her eyebrows down and stated to the Riddle, ¡°I¡¯ll answer your riddle. It¡¯s the plague. The Black Death from the Middle Ages.¡±

¡°Smart, very smart. One may take a lucky road and find the way out of the entangled forest, while the other way and fall into a puddle,¡± the Riddle answered. ¡°The Black Death was merciless, taking one, taking many, without any distinction as to child, woman, man, noble or peasant.¡±

¡°How that nursery rhyme mean the plague?¡± Syaoran asked, puzzled and half in amazement. ¡°You¡¯re really good at this, aren¡¯t you?¡±

¡°No¡¦ I was just lucky,¡± Sakura replied. ¡°Besides, onii-chan is majoring in the medical field (and minoring in chemistry) so I know a little bit about those kinda stuff.¡± To the Riddle, she demanded, ¡°Now, block the hole in the ship up again!¡±

¡°Ah, too late, for time runs only one way. Though you search for the path already taken, it is impossible to undo what is already done,¡± the Riddle replied.

¡°Can¡¯t you talk normally?¡± Sakura asked. ¡°I hate puzzles. I¡¯m going to seal you now, if you don¡¯t mind.¡±

¡°Nobody can seal the great Sphinx, until they have posed an unsolvable riddle from their fruitful minds, that even the ingenious Riddler cannot answer,¡± the Riddle said.

¡°Hoe-e, can you repeat that please?¡± Sakura asked.

¡°Listen carefully the first time, for some words are said only once. Use your five senses wisely, for you will regret it when you can¡¯t,¡± the Riddle said, rather vexed.

Hastily, Syaoran explained, ¡°I think it¡¯s trying to say that you cannot seal the Riddle until you make your own riddle and challenge the Riddle with it. And if the Riddle cannot answer it, you will then be able to seal the Riddle into a card.¡±

¡°I¡¯ve never heard such a strange thing before,¡± Sakura mumbled.

¡°Remember the Clow Cards? Some of them could be sealed in only a special way, for example the Mirror, in which you had to say its name. I guess the Riddle is a special dark force in which you have to outsmart it,¡± Syaoran replied.

Shaking its head, the Riddle said, ¡°Poor Little Wolf¡¯s most valuable treasure, is quite so clueless and all the more unknowing. ¡®Look at your reflection in the mirror,¡¯ says the Wolf. ¡®That is what I want the most.¡¯ And in return, the Cherry Blossom gives him a mirror for a present!¡±

Syaoran glared at the Riddle, clearly understanding its subtle hinting.

¡°Oh ho ho¡¦¡± came a laughter from the door.

Tomoyo entered, followed by Miho.

¡°You took forever so we came to find you,¡± Miho said. ¡°You missed out Mihara-san and Yamazaki-san¡¯s speech.¡±

¡°There¡¯s a dark force?¡± Tomoyo asked. ¡°It¡¯s so soon after the last one; less than 24 hours...¡±

¡°Silly chasers of rainbows, humans are. Always chasing, never finding. What¡¯s the point of following the rainbow¡¯s end, only to fall off a cliff?¡± the Riddle continued. It was one of the few dark forces that could talk, and was very talkative.

¡°Is that another riddle?¡± Sakura asked. ¡°Well, I have to seal the dark force, so I better think of a riddle. Sitting down on a chair, Sakura began to rack her brains for a new riddle to challenge the Dark Force with. ¡°I bet Eriol would be good at this.¡±

¡°I know,¡± Tomoyo replied, laughing. ¡°He and the Riddle will get along fine.¡±

¡°What a funny looking thing,¡± Miho said, examining the new dark force.

A wicked smile curved upon the lion-headed sphinx. The Riddle stated, ¡°The one with a thousand faces, took black wings and left his little sister. Does she feel sorrow or pain? Anger and confusion? Betrayal? Across the widest ocean and beyond the highest mountain, search in vain. Search in vain for her lost brother, for she will never find him by looking. He may be far, he may be near, he may be everywhere. Stare at the mirror to find out the truth. But look for him all she wants, for he will never be her same dear brother again. Doesn¡¯t she know? Things can never return to the way they used to be.¡±

Her heart beating rapidly, Miho demanded, ¡°Do you know where my brother is? Tell me, please!¡±

¡°I may know,¡± the Riddle replied smugly.

Angrily, Miho drew out a key from her pocket. ¡°Key that hides the power of the Earth. Show your true self to me. I, Miho, command you. Release!¡± Immediately, a red staff appeared in her hands.

¡°You have a staff, too?¡± Syaoran exclaimed. ¡°I thought only Eriol and Sakura¡¦¡±

Then, Miho sweat dropped at the mention of Eriol¡¯s name. ¡°Oops¡¦ I promised Eriol not to use any magic while I¡¯m in Japan.¡±

Patting Miho¡¯s shoulder sympathetically, Sakura said, ¡°After I seal the Riddle, I¡¯ll make it tell you where your brother is ¡¦ That is, after I can challenge it with a riddle that it can¡¯t solve.¡± And, she continued to think.

Meanwhile, Syaoran stood waiting, still sticking his finger into the hole in the side of the ship. ¡°I don¡¯t think I can stay in this position for much longer,¡± he mumbled. He sighed. If only he had some more of his powers left. For the moment, his powers were still weak from converting the Wolf from a dark force into a light one. At this rate, it would take at least a few days to return to his original power level, and it didn¡¯t help that the Li clan sword was back in Hong Kong. He wondered what the Elders wanted to do with it. He hated feeling powerless.

¡°What a great way to spend a party,¡± Miho grumbled.

¡°I know, isn¡¯t it?¡± Tomoyo asked. ¡°Video taping Sakura thinking! That¡¯s the best thing I can ask for.¡±


¡°I wonder where Sakura-chan and the others are,¡± Rika pondered.

¡°They¡¯re missing out the great party,¡± Chiharu said, ruefully.

¡°Erika, dance with me!¡± Aki said, escaping the chain of many girls from the contest. Most of their boyfriends were sending poisonous glare at Aki¡¯s direction.

¡°Ah, just wait a second okay?¡± Erika¡¯s keen eyes flitted across the bustling dance floor. She spotted Eron in the corner, sipping a glass of punch in an elegant way only he could achieve.

Stomping up to her twin, Erika hissed, ¡°Why did you send the Riddle to make a hole in this ship?! Are you crazy? We¡¯re in it, if you stopped to think!¡±

Raising an eyebrow, Eron just smiled lazily, infuriating Erika even more.


¡°When one takes too long, I get too bored. Till next time, cherry blossom, if we do meet again,¡± the Riddle said. ¡°Think of a riddle till next time, and I will postpone the date of challenge. Till then, watch out for waves of immense gravity and waves of invisibility, for the tides of the moon are pulling.¡± It then disappeared.

¡°Hoe! Wait! I have to seal you!¡± Sakura exclaimed. Then she sighed. ¡°Well, I¡¯m kinda relieved though. I can¡¯t think of a riddle at all. Well, that¡¯s fine. Let¡¯s go up to the deck now!¡±

¡°Wait!¡± Syaoran interrupted.

¡°I know. It¡¯s not good to leave dark forces unsealed. I still didn¡¯t seal the Phantom.¡±

¡°No, I mean¡¦¡± Syaoran was cut off again.

¡°Okay, I¡¯ll try to think of a riddle. Really. I¡¯m still thinking of one. Then, we will be prepared next time. Come one. I think we spent more than an hour down hear. It¡¯s really stuffy in here. It¡¯s kinda humid too¡¦ the floor seems rather wet.¡± Sakura stared at her feet. Her sandals were being soaked in salty sea water. She stared at Syaoran, whose face was red in effort. The ocean water had started to leak from outside, through the small hole and into the ship. ¡°Oh!¡±

¡°We have to somehow block this hole,¡± Syaoran finally said.

¡°I see¡¦ If we don¡¯t, either you can continue stick your finger in the hole for several more hours until the party ends and everyone is safely off the ship, which won¡¯t work because the ship is leaking all the same through the gaps that your finger doesn¡¯t cover¡¦ or we can try to block the hole.¡± Sakura examined the hole. ¡°Do you think we can meld the steel together to block the hole through fire?¡±

¡°No, you can¡¯t try it with my finger still in it,¡± Syaoran warned.

From her dress pocket, Sakura slipped out her handkerchief and rolled it up. ¡°When I count to three, take your finger out. One, two three!¡± As soon as Syaoran slipped his finger out, Sakura plugged the rolled up handkerchief into the hole. Only a little bit of water leaked in.

¡°Okay, I¡¯ll try Fiery,¡± Sakura stated. ¡°Fiery! Melt the steel together and block the hole!¡±

Nothing happened at first. ¡°I think it needs to be hotter,¡± Syaoran said. He whipped out his ward paper and aimed a streak of fire simultaneously with the Fiery.

It only resulted in burning the handkerchief.

¡°Quick! We have to block the hole again!¡± Sakura said, fumbling around for something more sturdy. ¡°I know!¡± She slipped off a silver ring from her finger and placed it in the hole. ¡°Can you try fire again, one more time, Syaoran?¡±

Both of them shot out a beam of intense flames. It quickly melted the metal of the ring and molded it into the hole, blocking it thoroughly. Though it was crude, at least the ship wasn¡¯t in danger of leaking.

¡°They really know their stuff, don¡¯t they?¡± Miho awed as they walked up onto the deck again.

¡°Of course! They¡¯ve been doing this since age ten, after all,¡± Tomoyo laughed.

¡°Syaoran, are you all right?¡± Sakura asked.

¡°Fine¡¦ I¡¯m fine,¡± Syaoran replied, unbutton several buttons of his shirt and rolling up his sleeves. Every time he used his power, it cost him, but he could manage it. ¡°After all, I am a Level 2 Magician.¡±

¡°What¡¯s that?¡± Sakura questioned.

¡°In the olden days, when magician were more common, there used to be levels for magicians, accordingly to your power¡¦ And talking about power, don¡¯t you feel another dark force?¡± Syaoran asked.

¡°Hoe¡¦ Yes, I do. I didn¡¯t notice it. Is it the Riddle again?¡± Sakura said. Somehow, she was slightly trifled that Syaoran was still quicker at spotting magic quicker than herself. But, he had been doing this longer than her, so that was explainable. And whatever a Level 2 magician was, she wanted to be one too.

¡°No, I don¡¯t think it¡¯s the Riddle. It feels different.¡± Frowning, Syaoran ran up the stairs to the deck.

¡°Wait, didn¡¯t the Riddle warn us something up bewaring waves because of tides of moon or something?¡± Sakura asked. ¡°If that¡¯s true¡¦¡± She gazed out at the ocean, which seemed so peaceful. Yet, she could sense the power stronger than ever. ¡°I think I¡¯ll go see. You have binoculars, right?¡±

¡°Eh?¡± Reluctantly, Syaoran slipped out handy collapsible binoculars from his pocket.

¡°Invisible! Fly!¡± Using the two cards, she flew up into the night sky without being seen by anyone. When she was a fair distance above the ship, she had a clear view of Japan¡¯s coast, and the wide ocean below. Squinting her eyes, she could see a row of white birds flying slowly over the sea¡¦ No. She looked into the binoculars. They were huge rows of waves. But they were far away and moving at a slow speed, and wouldn¡¯t come anywhere near the town of Kusakou that night. Yet¡¦


¡°That was an amazing party!¡± Chiharu exclaimed. ¡°I loved the music, the decoration, and the great good.¡±

¡°Best party since the New York one, isn¡¯t it Syaoran?¡± Erika asked.

¡°Eh? Yes. Best party,¡± Syaoran replied, rather flatly as they walked back into the Tanemura/Akagi summer estate. His mind was still in a haze, while his index finger was still swollen from holding it into a hole for so long.

¡°Akagi-san, I didn¡¯t know you were such a great dancer!¡± Miho exclaimed, who had for the most part still enjoyed the party.

Akagi Aki said, ¡°Just call me ¡®Aki¡¯ like everyone else. And of course I¡¯m a great dancer!¡±

¡°He took ballroom dancing lessons when he was seven,¡± Arima whispered to them loudly.

¡°DID NOT!¡± Aki retorted. ¡°Well, okay, I did, but I quit after one week!¡±

¡°I can¡¯t believe tomorrow is the last day here,¡± Tomoyo sighed ruefully. ¡°And I can¡¯t believe the contest is finally over. Well, I have a full length video of it so I can watch it at home.¡±

 ¡°Oh yeah, Tanemura-san, Akagi-san¡¦¡± Sakura said, who had been nodding for quite a while now, explaining her long silence. ¡°Check out the side of the yacht in the lowest deck, later.¡± She shut her eyes again. For a moment it occurred to her that she had wanted to dance with Syaoran, but once again, missed the opportunity.

¡°Okay, but why?¡± Arima asked.

¡°Ah, you just should,¡± Syaoran interrupted, sweat-dropping. ¡°Sakura, fall asleep when you get to your room.¡±

Shaking her head, Sakura curled into the nearest couch to her. She mumbled, ¡°I never get any sleep when I¡¯m with you. At your apartment, in Tokyo, where ever we are. And there¡¯s another dark force¡¦ don¡¯t know what do with it. Need to think of a riddle and how to capture the Phantom, not to mention the Wave¡¦¡±

¡°She¡¯s sleep talking!¡± Syaoran explained loudly to everyone. Sighing he thought, It must have been a long day for her. Like every day, these days. And it doesn¡¯t help that my powers seem to be not in its best state these days.


Next day¡¦

¡°Yippee! Let¡¯s have fun on the last day!!!¡± Miho shouted, dashing out of the estate in her new swimming suit, followed by the rest of the crew.

Soon, they had set sun parasol up in the sand, and ice boxes with popsicles, cool drinks, and a huge watermelon. Some of them splashed around in the water, some, namely Erika lazed around lying on a beach chair, under the parasol. Rika was quietly sewing under the second parasol, while Chiharu and Takashi were having a water fight. Aki was surfing and his sister and Asuma were cramming in their college text book readings while lying on a huge beach towel together and sipping on ice tea.

Everyone was enjoying themselves immensely. Sakura looked around the beach. She spotted somewhat with brown hair, sitting off the side, by himself. Silently, she walked over to him and bent over his shoulders. ¡°What are you doing?¡±

Startled, Syaoran looked up, greeted by Sakura¡¯s bright emerald eyes. Her silky golden brown hair was twisted in a loose braid with several wisps of hair that escaped the ribbon waving in the breeze. She sat down beside him on the sand.

¡°Watching the clouds,¡± Syaoran replied, staring at the immense gray cumulous clouds spread across the blue sky.

¡°You like watching clouds too?¡± Sakura asked, excited. ¡°When I was little, I used to stare at clouds for hours. They look like things, you know. Some of them look like angels, some like birds. And sometimes I watched if my mother was looking down at me from a cloud. My childhood fantasy was to be able to fly up on a cloud and sit on it. Of course, I learned that clouds were only gas, so you can¡¯t touch it, but still, it was a childhood fantasy. Ah, you must think me silly.¡±

Syaoran didn¡¯t have the heart to tell her that he was watching the clouds because he thought another storm might be approaching. Instead, he said, ¡°No, no. I understand you completely. Why, that cloud over there looks like a¡¦ an angel with white wings!¡±

¡°No it doesn¡¯t.  It looks like an elephant or a huge beast,¡± Sakura replied. She sighed. ¡°You¡¯re watching the clouds because you think a storm is coming up again, and you have no idea what I was talking about.¡±

Wincing, Syaoran said, ¡°I did think there was a storm, but I do know what you¡¯re talking about. I always do. It requires a second thought sometimes, but I always can understand.¡±

This produced a smile from Sakura, but it quickly faded. ¡°There is a dark force heading this way, isn¡¯t there? Three in a matter of two days is too much. First the Wolf, then the Riddle which I didn¡¯t even seal, now, the Wave.¡±

¡°You managed to handle the Stalker, the Explosive, and the Invisible back in New York,¡± Syaoran pointed out.

¡°That was different. I was prepared for it, plus, I had help from you, and everyone else, including Eriol-kun,¡± Sakura replied.

Even now, hearing Eriol¡¯s name made Syaoran cringe. ¡°You¡¯re strong, Sakura. It¡¯s in you to become powerful. More powerful than even Eriol and powerful enough to stand on your own, without anyone¡¯s help at all.¡±

They stayed silent for a while, gazing at the blue-gray ocean which was growing slightly more choppy.

¡°It¡¯s raining,¡± Sakura suddenly exclaimed, as a raindrop plopped on her nose.

¡°Gather the towels! Here, take the ice box, and the parasols¡¦ It¡¯s going to rain hard, I think. Hurry back to our estate!¡± Asuma stated, gathering everything in no time.

¡°Drat. On the last day, too,¡± Miho complained. ¡°How can it rain today?¡±

¡°I was looking forward to spending a day on the beach in the sun,¡± Aki grumbled.

¡°It rained the day before yesterday, too,¡± Tomoyo said. ¡°I guess it¡¯s just our luck.¡±

¡°Here, let¡¯s see the weather forecast,¡± Rika suggested.

They turned on the TV. The weather girl was saying. ¡°It is raining now in Kusakou and a ferocious storm may be expected. Also, approaching the town of Kusakou is a series of very high waves, which is quite unexpected. It doesn¡¯t seem like a tsunami, or any regular storm at all. This was unpredicted and unnoticed until several minutes ago. So, it is advised everyone stay away from the sea shore¡¦¡±

¡°Great,¡± Chiharu said. ¡°We can spend our last day in Kusakou, indoors.¡±

¡°Well, we can do some fun things indoors. We have a warm, cozy fireplace, hot chocolate, and heaps of snacks to eat up. Let¡¯s see, and there¡¯s a cupboard full of games,¡± Takashi pointed out.

¡°Well, what are we waiting for. Let¡¯s have fun!¡± Aki said. ¡°Do you guys play poker? How about the winner takes a kiss from the person of their choice?¡±

¡°That sounds fun,¡± Erika said. ¡°Here, you deal the cards, Eron.¡±

¡°Where¡¯s Sakura-chan?¡± Tomoyo asked.

They all looked around the room.

¡°Sheesh, I hate it when she disappears like that.¡± Syaoran threw his hand of cards on the floor and stood up. ¡°You guys play without me, all right?¡±

¡°No!¡± whined Erika and Miho.

When Syaoran was greeted by a pelting of rain, he sighed. He just remembered. Even if there was a dark force, he couldn¡¯t do anything about it. Just this morning, he found that his powers were completely used up. Of course, he shouldn¡¯t have used any powers yesterday, when he was already weak from converting the Wolf into a light force, yet, something was just not right.

¡°Another dark force?¡± Kero-chan asked, popping out from Sakura¡¯s room window in the second floor and flying down to Syaoran.

¡°I guess,¡± Syaoran replied. ¡°Hey, where have you been all this time? Lounging around in the room, eating like a pig I bet.¡±

¡°Brat. You haven¡¯t changed at all, have you? Thought few months of living with Sakura-chan would cure your bad temper,¡± Kero grumbled.


¡°Brr¡¦ I hate rain,¡± Sakura muttered for the tenth time, her soaked clothes clinging to her skin. ¡°I just love how the weather always matches the dark force.¡±

To her horror, she could sea that the shore level had risen considerably over the past hour, and the waves had become uneven and violent. There was no one left on the beach, not even the lifeguard, and the footprints on the sand were washed away. Kicking off her sandals, she walked closer to the water. The sand felt soggy and cold at her feet and the water which lapped her toes were icy. Surely, the Dark Ones wouldn¡¯t flood the town or harm any of the citizens.

The frequency of waves had increased and they had grown twice their usual size. A wave came up to her waist. Now she was wetter than before. Then, she noticed something bobbing up and down in the water. No¡¦ it was a person! That person was waving his arms frantically.

Without any hesitation, Sakura waded into the ocean as far as her toes would reach the bottom, than began to swim to the person in powerful, swift strokes. The salt water stung her eyes and the water was freezing, yet it didn¡¯t matter. A huge wave swept her off course, and the small person, who seemed like a child floated further away.

With even more determination, she made her way to the person, trying to call out, ¡°Hey there, it will be okay. I¡¯ll save you!¡±

Fighting against the fierce flow of the ocean, she reached out her hands. It was a little boy, frantically trying to keep his head above water. Finally, she was able to take a firm grip of him. ¡°It¡¯s all right, I got you. You¡¯re safe now,¡± she reassured.

The little boy, who looked no more than four of five coughed up water. ¡°I—I can¡¯t swim. Help me! I don¡¯t to die!¡±

¡°Here, I won¡¯t let go of you. You¡¯re not going to die,¡± Sakura murmured, treading in the water while trying to keep them both afloat. She realized that the boy was holding tightly onto a red ball, which had also kept him from sinking. He looked quite familiar. ¡°Why, you¡¯re the boy who I saved from the werewolf and that I met yesterday on the ship, aren¡¯t you?¡±

The boy, staring at Sakura with round eyes nodded.

¡°Where are your parents? Why are you out here, by yourself?¡± Sakura asked, concerned.

¡°They¡¯re not here¡¦ My aunt, uncle and cousins brought me here for a trip. My parents are on a business trip,¡± the boy replied in gasps, still catching his breath.

¡°Why aren¡¯t you with you aunt and uncle?¡± Sakura asked, as she tried to swim towards the shore. She found it harder than she expected, especially with carrying the boy.

¡°My cousins threw my ball into the ocean. The ball my daddy bought for me,¡± the little boy replied, obstinately. ¡°I had to find it.¡±

Noting how the child clung onto the red ball, Sakura made sure to keep the ball from floating away. How awful could this little boy¡¯s relatives me? How could they let him anywhere near the beach in this weather?! This made her head for the shore even more stubbornly. Yet, she could use only one arm to swim since she was holding the boy with the other, and the waves continuously swept her further away from the shore. By now, her legs were ready to give out on her and she was fatigued, despite that she was an excellent swimmer. Now she understood the horrors of people who were good swimmers drowning in the sea. It was impossible to fight against the tide. Another huge wave crashed over her head, submerging her underwater for a moment. She made sure that the boy didn¡¯t choke. Her arms felt limp. This wouldn¡¯t do.

¡°Now, I¡¯ll get you safely to the shore okay? And when I do, get away as far as you can from the beach and return to your family,¡± Sakura croaked, her throat dry.

The little boy nodded obediently.

Fumbling for the magic key with her free hand, Sakura chanted, ¡°Key that hides power of the stars. Show your true self to me. I, Sakura command you. Release.¡±

Still struggling to keep above water with the boy, she ordered, ¡°Float! Take the boy safely to the shore!¡±

A white glow enveloped the boy, and Sakura let go of him, making sure to place the red ball in his hands. ¡°Trust me, and you¡¯ll be safe.¡±

She watched the boy being carried safely to the shore by the Float.

Then, another huge wave, the size of three times her height approached, engulfing her. She took one last desperate breath before being emerged into the salty sea water.


¡°There¡¯s someone on the beach!¡± Kero-chan exclaimed, hovering over Syaoran¡¯s head.

Syaoran saw a little boy run past him as he walked approached the beach. What was that little boy doing out here? He was sopping wet and holding onto a bright red ball.

Then, Syaoran saw an immense wave three times his height ready to crash down onto the shore. Instantaneously, grabbing the boy, he jumped out of the way, barely missing being drawn into the ocean by the ferocious wave.

¡°Unfair!!!¡± Kero-chan wailed as he was dragged down by the wave.

Panting, Syaoran told the boy, ¡°It¡¯s not safe here. Your family will be looking for you and worrying. You should go back quickly.¡±

¡°They won¡¯t care,¡± the boy said, sniffling.

Kindly, Syaoran picked up the red ball that had rolled off to the side. ¡°Here¡¯s your ball. Now, get some shelter and change into dry clothes so you don¡¯t catch a cold.¡±

¡°T-thank you,¡± the boy said through chattering teeth. Then he smiled. ¡°You and Angel-san are my hero.¡±

The boy quickly trotted back towards the town center.

¡°Angel-san?¡± Syaoran murmured, confused. ¡°Who is he talking about? Surely not¡¦ Sakura—¡°

¡°You brat, get me out of here!¡± Kero-chan squealed, embedded in a muddy puddle.

Sighing, Syaoran grabbed Kero¡¯s tail and pulled him out of the mess. ¡°What a pain. You¡¯re not help at all.¡±

To Syaoran¡¯s dismay the sea level had risen considerably, and the sand bank was completely covered by water. The houses near the beach would surely be flooded if the sea level continued to rise. As another wave which would certainly reach the outskirts of the beach houses approached, Syaoran whipped out his ofuda and slammed the flat of his sword against it, shouting, ¡°Fuuka shou rai!¡±

To his dismay, only a weak gust of wind was produced. He tried again. Yet, his powers were faint and useless. What was wrong? Never had he been so weak. Furrowing his eyebrows, he glared at the turbulent gray ocean, its waves choppy and uneven. Thinking about it, he couldn¡¯t even sense Sakura¡¯s powers. She should be around here, somewhere.

¡°Ha, is that all your powers?¡± Kero mocked. But when Kero noticed the paleness in Syaoran¡¯s face, he grew worried. ¡°Surely¡¦ that¡¯s not all you can do? Good riddance! What happened to you?¡±

Glaring fiercely at Kero-chan, Syaoran retorted, ¡°I wouldn¡¯t be worrying if I knew! My powers! This is it! I don¡¯t know what happened!¡± He tried to produced a fire flame. Instead, a tiny flame flickered, quickly put out by a gust of wind.

¡°Ha ha ha!!!¡± Kero-chan clutched his belly, rolling over. ¡°Talk about who¡¯s no help!¡±

¡°Shut up!¡± Syaoran slashed at Kero-chan with his sword, of course not striking him but barely missing his tail, intentionally.

¡°Wait, there¡¯s someone on the beach!¡± Kero pointed out.

They saw a figure being washed on shore. Quickly, Syaoran ran to the spot.

Coughing, up sea water, Sakura gasped for breath, trying to stand up on the moist sand. Her arms and legs were fatigued from fighting against the waves for so long. It was merely chance that she had been safely washed on shore. She had been certain that she would sink to the bottom of the ocean. Her lungs felt like bursting, yet she was now on solid ground. She was still gripping tightly onto her staff, luckily.

¡°Sakura-chan!¡± Kero exclaimed, hovering over her face. ¡°What happened?¡±

When she gathered her breath, Sakura croaked, ¡°Long story.¡±

Folding his arms across his chest, Syaoran scolded, ¡°Look at you. What ever you do, you always put yourself into danger. Whether it is to protect a werewolf or save a boy, you never think of your safety first. You should be more careful!¡±

Smiling weakly, Sakura asked, ¡°Is that your way of telling me that your glad that I didn¡¯t drown to death?¡±

¡°Eh?¡± Syaoran turned red. His damp chestnut brown hair hung into his eyes. ¡°Think what you want to. Well, what should we do about this force?¡± He held out his hand.

For a second, Sakura stared at it. Then she took it and stood up up.

Trying to squeeze some water out of her hopelessly wet shirt, she stated, ¡°No way I¡¯ll let the Wave flood Kusakou, a harmless town. But¡¦¡±

¡°Ha ha¡¦ Do you know the Brat¡¯s lost all his powers?¡± Kero asked.

¡°Hoe? What do you mean?¡± Sakura asked, looking questioningly at Syaoran.

¡°I¡¯m not exactly sure right now. You know how I told you my powers were weak ever since the Wolf incident? I can¡¯t seem to use any power at all right now. I don¡¯t know why,¡± Syaoran explained.

¡°What?¡± Sakura exclaimed. Shrugging, she said, ¡°I¡¯m sure it will come back in a few days or so.¡± Then she stared at the sea. A huge whirlpool had formed in the ocean. A stray boat that had been anchored near the shore was swept into and sank deep into the ocean. Then, the whirlpool grew larger, funneling up into the air. And it headed towards them.

¡°Fly!¡± White wings sprouted form Sakura¡¯s back, and she flew safely over the whirlpool which had funneled up into the sky like a tornado. ¡°Twister!¡± Sakura sent out the card which she had sealed last winter. Immediately, the Twister twisted in the counter direction to the whirlpool. Sprays of salty ocean water splashed Sakura¡¯s face, yet she took no notice. Though she and Syaoran hadn¡¯t moved a spot from before, the water came up to their waist now, showing how much the sea level had risen. Any time now, it would flood to where the people lived. It had already covered the spot that the stage had been set up for the best couple contest.

The ravenous waves rebelled against the Twister. A splash of water sprouted into the air and sent Sakura down. Luckily, she landed in the water, and used the Jump to land on the shore again. As Sakura forced her power into the card, the Twister gradually dissolved the whirlpool.

¡°Above you!¡± Syaoran shouted, as another towering wave sailed towards them. Desperately, he commanded, ¡°Fuuka shou rai!¡± Yet, it was useless. The wave crashed down on them, dragging them in with the tide.

Sakura¡¯s eyes stung from all the salt water, and her bones felt chilled. She spit out a mouthful of bitter sea water. The several cuts that she had on her legs hurt from the salt. It was impossible to keep balance as the tide dragged her in and the sand shifted beneath her feet.

Kero curled out his wings and transformed into the great Cerberus. Quickly, he mounted Sakura on his back and landed her a safe distance away from the ocean. On a second thought, he returned to drag Syaoran out, who was struggling against the waves which tossed him around like a doll.

Both of them collapsed on their backs, completely worn out. ¡°That force is endless,¡± Sakura stated. ¡°Syaoran¡¦ I didn¡¯t know¡¦¡±

¡°Yeah, I know. You thought I was exaggerating when I said my powers don¡¯t work. Well, you saw for yourself my pathetic state.¡± Syaoran rolled over onto his back, facing the sky. It didn¡¯t matter that the continuous rain, which they had grown used to since they were completely wet anyway, pelted his face.

¡°I¡¯m sorry.¡±

¡°What are you sorry for? It¡¯s not your fault.¡±

Even as they spoke, the water crept up nearer to their spot.

A wave lapped at Sakura¡¯s feet. The next time it came, it knocked her off balance. Yet, that didn¡¯t matter. Her brains were furiously at work. ¡°Syaoran? You use the power of the moon, don¡¯t you?¡±

¡°Yeah. Why?¡±

¡°I¡¯ve been thinking, everything the Riddle so far said are true. And remember? It gave us a foreshadowing of the Wave. Plus it said something about the Wave being powered by the moon.¡±

¡°So¡¦¡± Syaoran¡¯s mind clicked. ¡°You mean¡¦¡±

¡°I¡¯ve been thinking, it¡¯s strange how you can¡¯t use your power properly. I know it must have cost a lot to convert the light force into a dark force, yet it wouldn¡¯t leave you so weak. And then, I remembered what the Riddle said¡¦ about the Wave using the power of the moon. And you¡¯re the strongest holder of the power of moon around here.¡±

¡°And it is known that waves are related to the tides of the moon! So, the Wave is robbing me of my power to become stronger!¡± Syaoran snapped his finger. ¡°You¡¯re a genius!¡±

¡°Ah it was just logic,¡± Sakura explained, bashfully.

¡°Sakura-chan~ I knew you were smarter than him!¡± Cerberus applauded.

¡°But it still leaves us with the problem¡¦ What are we going to do about the Wave. If it uses Syaoran¡¯s powers, explaining why it seems as if his powers are weak, what are we supposed to do?¡± Sakura paced up and down the beach.

Meanwhile, the Wave uncurled a monstrous hand in liquid form and reached out for Sakura. Quickly, she used the Fly to reach above its height. Yet, the Wave stretched out and wound its watery arm around Sakura, dragging her down into the ocean. Sakura struggled to free herself in vain; she couldn¡¯t overpower the strength of the Wave.

¡°Sakura!¡± Syaoran whipped out an ofuda. Then he remembered he couldn¡¯t use his powers. In disgust, he tossed it away. Slowly, he recalled his lessons from the Li Master. There were ways to move water without magic, but through ki and intricate martial arts moves. He headed towards the water.

¡°No, you stay here. Don¡¯t do anything stupid,¡± Cerberus warned. ¡°If indeed the Wave is funneling its strength through your power, you shouldn¡¯t do anything. Who knows what will make the situation worse. Sakura is the Card Mistress. She knows what she¡¯s doing.¡±

For the first time, Syaoran was entirely helpless and merely and observer with no control. It was same as when he had watched Sakura in Yue¡¯s Final Judgement. He was powerless.


¡°Wow, look at the level of the ocean,¡± Miho pointed out. All of them were safe inside the Tamemura/Akagi summer estate. They had long since tired of Poker and went through as series of other card games, then board games, then eventually resorted to eating everything in the house.

¡°Good thing this estate is on a high elevation,¡± Asuma said. ¡°Remember how our parents wanted to buy the one right on the beach?¡±

¡°Look, some beach houses down there are practically submerged in water! This truly is a strange phenomena. I never heard anything like this before. Good thing the Best Couple Contest ended yesterday,¡± Arima stated, as she watched down on the beach from the window.

¡°I bet this town would be flooded and in the future be haunted by ghosts of drowned people,¡± Takashi said.

¡°Don¡¯t say scary stuff like that!¡± Chiharu snapped.

¡°Where¡¯s Li-kun and Sakura-chan?¡± Rika asked, worriedly. ¡°Surely they¡¯re not outside in this kind of condition.¡±

¡°Don¡¯t worry, they¡¯ll turn up fine,¡± Tomoyo reassured.

¡°You don¡¯t really intend to flood this town, do you?¡± Erika asked, as she walked silently up to Eron, who was watching the beach out the window from his room. She noticed in the past few days, Eron had been more subdued and quiet than usual.

¡°It depends,¡± Eron shrugged. ¡°It depends how long the Card Mistress takes to seal the force. I¡¯m disappointed that the Cherry Blossom is taking so long, though. Maybe it¡¯s ¡®cause the Little Wolf isn¡¯t able to help?¡±

¡°Or maybe are powers are indeed returning to its original strength,¡± Erika replied. Then she stared at Eron, who was silent and pensive. ¡°What¡¯s the matter, onii-chan?¡±

¡°What then?¡± Eron asked, gripping his hands tightly. ¡°What then, if we gain full power?¡±

¡°Why, overpower the Chosen Ones and¡¦¡± Erika was baffled. ¡°Well, you¡¯re the decision maker. What¡¯s wrong with you all of a sudden? You were the confident, self-assured one.¡±

¡°You know¡¦ we keep on saying ¡®when we return to our full powers.¡¯ What does that mean? It¡¯s not even our own power. It¡¯s the power of our ancestors,¡± Eron stated bitterly, kneeling down on the floor.

¡°Ancestor¡¯s power, our power, what¡¯s the difference?¡± Erika questioned. She placed her hand on her twin¡¯s shoulder. ¡°Something is wrong with you. I¡¯ve never heard you talk like this before.¡± Gently, she knelt down beside Eron and patted his shoulder¡¯s sympathetically. ¡°I guess it must have been hard for you, taking care of everything all at once. From now on, your little sis, Erika will take of everything for you. Onii-chan doesn¡¯t have to worry about anything at all or have any stress.¡±

This produced a crooked grin from Eron. Then, his golden eyes narrowed again. He remembered overhearing a certain conversation several days ago. They know. They know we are their enemy. Yet neither of them are doing anything about it. Why?

Sakura, in her earnest manner had said, ¡°Because they are still only humans before they are my enemies. I want to know the reason why they are doing this. I want to get to know them not as someone to be cautious of and to distance myself from, but as someone who I can discover different sides of. The good and bad sides.¡±

Erika and he were still humans, before anything else. With good sides and bad, despite all the trouble they caused. Sakura didn¡¯t condemn them for being her enemy; instead, she wanted to know the reason why she had earned their enmity. Eron fingered the ruby stud earring in his left ear; the main focus in his power. I want to be perfect. I live to be perfect. But, why, why do I struggle like this? For the first time, he doubted all he had lived for. He despised himself in his scheming, complicated world. Why did he and Erika have to be wrapped up in a business from their ancestors¡¯ time? Was it fate? But he, like Sakura and Syaoran didn¡¯t want to be a puppet of the thing called Fate. I want to have control over my own life.

Unconsciously, Eron grabbed the black gem that hung around his neck. All he could think of was that we wanted to take it off. But against his will, the necklace grew tighter around his neck and stone felt heavier.

¡°Don¡¯t bother. You know very well we can¡¯t take it off,¡± Erika said, catching onto Eron¡¯s intent. ¡°We both tried, many times. And I¡¯m used to it now. It¡¯s harmless, though, and it¡¯s powerful, too. It keeps our ancestors power stored in it.¡±

¡°Don¡¯t you feel trapped, though? Why is this necklace necessary?¡± Eron snapped. ¡°Can¡¯t we even put it on and take it off on our own will? Don¡¯t we have any control?¡±

 He tried to yank if off, but instead it resulted in the stone radiating an eery black glow. Muffling a scream, Eron let go of the necklace, clutching his right hand in pain. It was paralyzed by the immense power radiated from the black gem. As he bent over trembling, his face was pale and sweat-soaked.

¡°Eron! Are you okay!¡± Erika bent over, concerned.

Trying to hold back a groan, Eron replied in a reassuring but cracking voice, ¡°I¡¯m¡¦ fine¡¦ just a little stunned.¡±

¡°Silly, I told you it was useless!¡± Erika showed her rare, concerned and worried face. ¡°Here, let me see your hand. Look, it¡¯s burnt. You should have known better.¡±

Shaking his head, Eron murmured, ¡°It was stupid of me. Great, now I¡¯ve lost control over the Wave.¡± He sighed. Wasn¡¯t there anything he could do right these days? What was coming over him?

¡°It¡¯s all right. Forget about the dark forces for now, and just rest a bit,¡± Erika reassured, leaning Eron against a chair and bandaging his right hand.


¡°Hoe?¡± Sakura¡¯s eyes turned round. Suddenly the wave that had been plummeting Sakura ceased and slowly sank back to the rhythm of the ocean. Blinking, Sakura stared at the ocean. The tide gradually went out again and the sea level returned to its original position.

¡°My power returned!¡± Syaoran exclaimed. ¡°I can feel it.¡± He sent out a fireball very carelessly into Cerberus¡¯ direction, who dodged clumsily. ¡°I¡¯m back to normal!¡±

¡°Watch it!¡± Kero-chan snapped, returning to his little form. Turning to Sakura¡¯s direction, he said, ¡°Great job, Sakura! You conquered the Wave!¡±

Baffled, Sakura stated, ¡°But I didn¡¯t do anything! The Wave just disappeared on its own."

¡°Eh? You mean you didn¡¯t seal it?¡± Syaoran asked.

 Sakura nodded. ¡°Nothing like this has ever happened before. The powerful cards have escaped before in the middle of battle, but never have they just disappeared when I didn¡¯t even do anything.¡±

¡°Which may mean something must have happened on the other side, to the ones controlling the dark force,¡± Kero concluded.

¡°To the Dark Ones?¡± Sakura asked. ¡°But what?¡±

Shrugging, Kero-chan replied, ¡°How should I know? But then, the Dark Ones are Level 1 magicians¡¦ Not much should get in their way.¡±
¡°You and Syaoran keep on talking about Level something magicians. What is that?¡± Sakura demanded.

¡°I¡¯ll explain later on, when we get back home,¡± Syaoran said. ¡°Well, let¡¯s go back to Aki¡¯s estate. I don¡¯t think anymore Dark Forces will bother us today.¡±


¡°We wasted our whole day indoors,¡± Chiharu sighed.

¡°It stopped raining and the sun¡¯s appearing again. The water will get warm in no time. There¡¯s still several hours of daylight left, and if we¡¯re lucky, we can still go out and enjoy the beach,¡± Tomoyo pointed out.

¡°Great idea!¡± they all exclaimed, jumping up to get their beach equipment.

¡°Achoo!¡± Sakura and Syaoran sneezed together. They had long since changed into dry clothes and had no desire to become wet for a long time.

¡°So, the Wave, which was using Syaoran¡¯s power, the power of the moon, just disappeared?¡± Miho asked. ¡°Cool!¡± Then she frowned. ¡°You know, thinking about it, everything that the Riddle said was true so far. Queer force.¡±

¡°Yeah.¡± Sakura stared at the clear blue sky. ¡°Wish there is a rainbow again. It was so pretty last time. You know, one of my silly childish desires is to actually try finding the rainbow¡¯s end. My mother used to love rainbows also.¡±

Even as Sakura said this, a grand rainbow formed in the sky, arching its colorful hues against the sky blue background.

Miho stared at Sakura observantly with clear gray eyes. ¡°You really are special, you know. Many people want to be powerful and use their magic for their own purpose and produce all sorts of dark magic. But your powers try to make beautiful things. Maybe its because your heart is pure. Unlike most people, you have your eyes set on a distant star, which seems unreachable but you still reach for it. And with hard effort and unfailing determination, you will reach it. I¡¯m different. I¡¯m selfish and think of only my needs. I don¡¯t want to have to suffer or face pain. I just want to be happy, together with my family again, and not have any worries or hurt.¡±

Raising her eyebrows, Sakura stared at Miho, blinking several times. Then smiling brightly, Sakura replied, ¡°All humans are like that, though. I¡¯m no different from you. I want to be loved and have people to love. I don¡¯t want to face any pain.¡± She stared directly at Miho, her sea green eyes bright. ¡°But, it must rain first for there to be a rainbow.¡±

A gust of sea breeze swept over them, tangling Miho¡¯s short auburn hair. It must rain first for there to be a rainbow.

Staring at the rainbow above them, Sakura said, ¡°Despite all the hardships that occur in life and the pessimistic views I begin to form, I¡¯m still a hopelessly old-fashioned optimist. I believe, if I bear through the obstacles in my life, everything will turn out all right.¡±

If I bear through the hardships a little longer, I will eventually find my brother, Tanaka Mikai, Miho thought hopefully gazing at the rainbow's end, enveloped in mist.


¡°What are you doing, wandering around the beach aimlessly?¡± Syaoran asked, popping out of the beach after he had beat a swimming race against Aki, which secretly left him very pleased.

¡°Huh?¡± Sakura jumped. ¡°Well¡¦ I¡¯m¡¦¡± She blushed. She didn¡¯t want to tell him that she was trying to see if she could indeed find the end of the rainbow. It would sound silly.

¡°She¡¯s trying to find the rainbow¡¯s end,¡± Tomoyo explained, much to Sakura¡¯s horror. ¡°A little whim, she calls it. After all, she won¡¯t get such an opportunity again.¡±

Arching his dark eyebrow, Syaoran repeating, ¡°Searching the rainbow¡¯s end?¡±

¡°Shut up!¡± Sakura said, hotly.

¡°I didn¡¯t say anything!¡± Syaoran retorted. ¡°Good luck on the impossible. But then, all the rainbow chasing stuff is only a fairytale. You should be able to know exactly what you want to get to it, not follow some ambiguous path to eventually stumble on it and then not be even sure it that was what your searching for.¡± He broke off. ¡°Sorry. I don¡¯t think I have any right to say these kind of things.¡±

Before Sakura could reply, he dived back into the ocean.

¡°Humph. He has no sense of imagination or adventure,¡± Sakura grumbled, knowing it was quite untrue. The rainbow was starting to fade now.

¡°You look quite lost, Sakura-san,¡± Eron commented smoothly, walking up to her.

¡°I¡¯m just thinking,¡± Sakura replied. Squinting her eyes, she stared at Eron. His face was cool and slightly reserved like useful, but his golden flecked hazel eyes seemed to have an unusual glow to it. Eron¡¯s glossy dark hair was neatly tied back at the nape of his neck and blew gently in the breeze. She noticed that his right hand was bandaged. ¡°What happened to your hand?¡±

¡°I hurt it,¡± Eron said. ¡°Through carelessness. Nothing too important. So, why are you wandering around the beach with such a pensive expression when everyone¡¯s enjoying themselves?¡±

¡°Eron-kun, it its nothing to private, what is your greatest treasure or desire? Something you believe will wait for you at the rainbow¡¯s end?¡±

This clearly wasn¡¯t what Eron was expecting, and his honey gold eyes reflected surprise. Slowly, he sat on a bench that was set up at the rear of the beach. ¡°I wonder, also.¡±

Sakura sat down next to him on bench. ¡°I don¡¯t really know much about you, huh? You know pretty much everything about me. But I don¡¯t know anything about you like where were you born, who is your family, and all the basic things friends know about each other.¡±

¡°Am I your friend?¡± Eron asked, raising an elegant eyebrow.

¡°That depends on you,¡± Sakura replied. ¡°But I would prefer to have you as a friend.¡±

¡°Oh,¡± Eron said softly. ¡°Well, if you want to know the truth, I have no family except Erika. Our father was from Hong Kong, explaining our Chinese surname, Chang, our mother was from Japan; they¡¯re both dead and that matters little to me since I don¡¯t even remember them. I don¡¯t even have a picture of them, or know how they died, can you believe it? Erika and I had only each other since we were babies. And all my desires as a child was to be safe and happy with Erika and live like a normal child. That¡¯s it. Not too much to ask, is it?¡±

Sakura brought herself to look at Eron in a new light. Why did he sound so bitter and rueful?

¡°Of course, my motives of life have changed since then,¡± Eron added after a while.

¡°It¡¯s strange. So many people in this world hide pain and hurt buried deep in their bosoms, but on the outside, have a bright expression,¡± Sakura said. ¡°Each one of us feel lonely and forlorn at times but we all hide it and show a brave, uncaring face on the outside. Wouldn¡¯t it be so much easier if we can share our burdens with everyone else openly?¡± Then, Sakura smiled. ¡°Sorry, that was more of a rhetorical statement. Don¡¯t mind me.¡±

¡°You know, it was decent of you to give up your chance to win in the Best Couple Contest. How you actually opened the music box was interesting. The odds of winning were in your favor, too,¡± Eron commented. ¡°Don¡¯t you feel regretful?¡±

Shaking her head, Sakura replied, ¡°Though I do feel slight rue, I know Chiharu and Takashi really deserved to win. One can¡¯t have everything you know. I¡¯m willing to make some sacrifices for things to work out in the end.¡±

Stretching, she stood up. ¡°Let¡¯s go eat dinner!¡±

By now, the rainbow had disappeared, and it was evening. Then she grinned, running to the spot everyone was preparing a cook out in.

¡°I think I made up my mind!¡± Sakura exclaimed. ¡°I want to enter the Best Couple Contest again next year!¡±

A look of horror came over Syaoran¡¯s face. ¡°You do? Well if you¡¯re determined to, good luck then. Hope you win next time.¡±

¡°What are you talking about?¡± Tomoyo squealed. ¡°If Sakura-chan¡¯s entering, you¡¯re entering to, Syaoran-kun!¡±

¡°What?!¡± Syaoran exclaimed. ¡°No way!¡±

¡°You and Sakura-chan must win next year!¡± Chiharu backed up. ¡°After all, you two had honorary mention this year!¡±

¡°Oh, I can always enter with Sakura-chan instead,¡± Aki stated, slinging his arm around Sakura¡¯s shoulder.

¡°It¡¯s okay. I¡¯d rather enter myself than watch you enter with Sakura,¡± Syaoran interrupted.

¡°Which is Syaoran¡¯s way of saying that we wants to enter the contest with Sakura and that he is jealous of anyone else who might become Sakura¡¯s boyfriend in one year,¡± Miho whispered loudly to Tomoyo.

Syaoran retorted, ¡°It¡¯s not that! I only want the—¡°

¡°Contest money!¡± Everyone finished. ¡°Yeah, yeah, yeah. We believe you!¡±

"Actually, now that I think of it, the contest was pretty interesting," Syaoran commented.

"Promise to enter with me again, next year, then," Sakura said, holding out her pinkie.

¡°Do you think you can win if you tried again next year?" Syaoran asked.

"If I enter with you, I'll be pretty confident," Sakura replied.

"I don't know what I'm getting myself into, but..." Syaoran firmly hooked his pink with Sakura's. "May we never give up!"

After everyone resumed to eating again Syaoran asked Sakura, "So did you your rainbow¡¯s end?¡±

¡°Of course I did!¡± Sakura replied.

¡°Really?¡± Syaoran was surprised. ¡°So, what did you find?¡±

¡°It¡¯s a secret!¡± Sakura stated, pressing her finger to her lip and winking.

¡°Hey, that¡¯s cheap!¡± Syaoran exclaimed.

¡°Arf arf arf!¡±

¡°Ugh! What¡¯s this dog doing here?!¡± Syaoran kicked at the puppy and glared at Sakura.

¡°Wolfie-chan says I'm not cheap and it serves you right,¡± Sakura replied.

¡°I told you not to call that thing ¡®Wolfie-chan!¡±

¡°Too bad. It¡¯s my puppy, so I can call it what ever I want to.¡±

¡°I was the one who captured it and converted it!¡±

¡°Well, he likes me better, right Wolfie-chan?¡±

¡°Woof woof!¡±

¡°What have I gained from summer vacation?! No contest money but an annoying dog and three uncaptured dark forces!¡± Syaoran despaired. ¡°Get this beast to stop slobbering over my shoes!¡±

¡°Grrr¡¦ woof! Woof!¡± The puppy bared his teeth and gently bit into Syaoran¡¯s ankle.


"Stop acting like a spoilsport! I know you love Wolfie-chan... I mean Eagle-chan (after all, I renamed him because you hate the other name.) I'm going to keep him in the house, so you better get used to it!"

Aiming the video camera at herself, Tomoyo spoke into the microphone, ¡°And so concludes the 15th Annual Best Couple Contest and the Sakura and Co.¡¯s summer vacation trip to the seaside town of Kusakou. May we face the thrilling challenges of the Contest again next year! And may Sakura and Syaoran truly be a couple by then and win!¡±

¡°And may there be no more dark forces to deal with!¡± Kero-chan added as a post-script. ¡°I¡¯m cuter than the Wolf! What¡¯s the big fuss over the bratty puppy? For once I agree with Syaoran. That dog is a pain!¡±

¡°No! Syaoran-chan (I mean the puppy, not the human) is the most adorable and cutest thing!¡± Sakura replied, tearfully.

¡°Are you implying that I¡¯m not cute?¡± Syaoran asked, blinking with a hurt expression.

"Arf arf!" The puppy replied.

Wish-chan: Apologies for taking so long to write this chapter... Busy with school, that's why. Let's see... another LONG chapter, huh. I think I could have fitted this into two. Next chapter will move into a new season, probably. And the long waited for musical is approaching. Hehe.. disappointed that S+S didn't win the Best Couple contest? Well, there's always next year. ^_^. And I feel satisfied that I did my part in focusing on Chiharu and Takashi for a while. There's so little fics out there about them. So ends the summer vacation adventure! You may notice its a lot lighter than the winter one. I guess its cuz of the setting. Hehe...  Oh, and I hope you noticed that this Ch 35 and 36 had connecting titles. "It must rain first for there to be a rainbow." Hehe... A cliche, but I nice one.

Some things I put in this chapter may seem random... but everything will connect in future chapters. Haha. After all the trouble Sakura went through this chatper, she captured 0 cards this chapter!!! The forces will reappear, you'll see. Oh, and does Eron seem to be actually turning more soft? You may have noticed that I tied the three Special Stories into this chapter, thus explaining why I wrote them in the first place.

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