Strange things are happening around Tomoyo...
It was no more beautiful a day than any other to the ordinary citizens of the Tomoeda district of Tokyo. The sun was out, a cool breeze blew wherever the buildings didn't impede it, and the few clouds that dotted the sky were puffy and white and resembled various animals to those who cared to identify them by shape. But to a select few, there was one thing that made it the most beautiful day they had seen in well over a year... the threat of the Clow Cards was finally behind them. The fifty-two spirits, created by a powerful magician centuries in the past, were now a mere deck of magical cards in the possession of fifth-grader Sakura Kinomoto. Aided by the Guardian Beast, Kerberos (called Kero for short, since he spent most of his time in the body of a stuffed animal), Sakura had captured the cards one by one, gaining their power for use in the final test in which she proved once and for all that she was their rightful owner.
Among the precious few who knew of Sakura's magical exploits was her best friend Tomoyo Daidouji, who had been at Sakura's side for nearly every adventure, recording the action with her trusty video camera while Sakura captured each card, usually wearing a costume that Tomoyo herself had made. To Tomoyo, the successful capture of the Clow was a mixed blessing. True, life would be a lot less dangerous, and Sakura wouldn't be risking her life in battles against devastatingly powerful spirits; but all Tomoyo had left of those exciting times were her memories and nearly fifty hours of video. And her ongoing friendship with Sakura, of course. No amount of video could replace the real Sakura, but after so many shared near-death experiences, life just seemed a little boring, even with Sakura around.
But none of that worry touched Tomoyo's smile as she walked through the expansive garden that surrounded her family's mansion. To her, life was a precious thing to be enjoyed no matter how exciting or boring it might seem. All it took was a new outlook - in this case, looking forward to the chance to spend some quality time with Sakura, free of the pressure of capturing Clow Cards. Finally, they could be friends just like in the old days, content with nothing but each other's company. They hadn't seen each other that day because Tomoyo had had a dentist appointment in the morning, and when she'd returned home, no one had been at the Kinomoto residence to answer the phone. But Tomoyo was satisfied spending the day at home, knowing that she and Sakura would have the whole next day to be together.
The breeze blew between the hedges, barely permeating Tomoyo's light polka-dotted sundress. It was a nice sensation, reminding her of the school's trip to the beach the year before. The dress really did feel almost as revealing as a swimsuit, but was far more modest. Tomoyo closed her eyes to picture Sakura wearing it, twirling around to show it from all sides, laughing, wielding the Wand of Clow defiantly in the face of a Clow Card.... She sighed. No more Clow Cards meant no more battle costumes, and she hadn't had the nerve to ask Sakura to model any more clothes since. Yet she still had a closet full of unworn outfits tailored just to Sakura's body, and her fingers itched to make even more. And imagining Sakura wearing each one just wasn't enough. Sure, she felt great whenever Sakura was happy, but it was greater still if Sakura could be happy wearing the clothes that Tomoyo had made for her....
A sudden chill came over Tomoyo, and she pulled her dress tightly around herself, suddenly wishing that it provided a bit more coverage. The weather report that her mother had been watching that morning hadn't called for the temperature to fall so suddenly. Tomoyo felt herself shivering in the cold and cringed, pulling her arms in close to conserve heat. Why was it so cold?
Tomoyo turned toward the house, suddenly wanting more than anything else to be inside where it was warm. She could feel the warmth of a homemade fire, its hot glow pushing the cold away even though it was only her ever-vivid imagination. The cold seemed to drip right off her as she walked through the garden, almost so much that she began to feel uncomfortably hot. Suddenly, the thin sundress seemed confining, and she reached up to loosen the collar, only to find it drenched with her own sweat. Her hair was soaked, too, and the dress was beginning to turn transparent - and to take on an orange glow. That was when she heard the roar of the flames, and spun around to see the hedges that surrounded her ablaze from top to roots. She screamed and shrank from the flames as the automatic sprinklers turned on and began to spray the burning topiaries with water.
A pair of hands grabbed her by the waist and lifted her onto a shoulder, and she was suddenly on her very rapid way back to the house. Looking behind her, she could see the fire that had startled her from a respectable distance. It wasn't nearly as large as it had been at first, and as the sprinklers worked their magic, the flames dwindled and then died completely. Still, they had been high enough for a while that if she hadn't gotten away from them, she might have been badly burned. Tomoyo gave the bodyguard a grateful hug as she was carried through the back door and into the drawing room.
Her mother was upon her the instant she was set back on her feet, hugging her close and crying. "Oh, my dear Tomoyo! Are you all right?" she asked.
"I'm fine, Mother," Tomoyo replied, still shivering even though she was no longer at all cold. "Miss Kazuya got me out of there before I could get hurt." And everything had happened so quickly....
Tomoyo's mother looked up at the bodyguard who had brought Tomoyo in. "Did you see who set the fire?"
"No, ma'am," replied Kazuya. "The rest of the security team is patrolling the perimeter. The second we find anything, you'll be the first to know."
"That's not good enough!" snapped Tomoyo's mother. "That arsonist almost killed my precious daughter! I want him dragged before me on his hands and knees, begging for mercy!"
"It's okay, Mother," whispered Tomoyo. "I wasn't hurt."
Mrs. Daidouji turned her attention back to Tomoyo. "Oh, my dear, sweet, brave daughter! I'll get whoever tried to hurt you and make them suffer for it, I promise you!"
Tomoyo forced a smile, hoping it was warm enough to calm her mother down. "Please don't make a fuss about it, Mother. I'm perfectly all right."
"You are not all right," her mother insisted. "There was a criminal not five meters away from you, in our very own home!" She glared at Kazuya. "What am I paying you people for, anyway?"
"Please don't blame the security team," urged Tomoyo. "I should have been paying attention."
"You shouldn't have to be responsible for your own safety, dear. You're only a child."
Tomoyo sighed. At times like this, there was no reasoning with her mother. The best way to deal with this sort of situation was to get far away and wait for her mother to get a hold of herself. "May I go to Sakura's house, Mother?" she asked.
Tomoyo's mother reeled as if in shock. "You most certainly may not! You're not to leave this house! Who knows what dangers might be lurking out there, waiting to snatch you up?"
"Please, Mother?" Tomoyo begged, glancing imploringly at Kazuya.
Kazuya cleared her throat and adjusted her sunglasses. "Ma'am, it might be best if we get Tomoyo off the premises until we find the culprit. She'll be safest in a public place."
Tomoyo's mother considered this. "Do you really think so?"
"The arsonist hasn't left the grounds yet," Kazuya reported. "If he's still inside the walls, then outside is the safest place for your daughter to be."
"All right," Mrs. Daidouji relented. "But not all the way to Sakura's house. I don't want you going any further than the park. Understand?"
"I won't let her out of my sight," replied Kazuya. "Shall we go, Tomoyo?"
"Yes, let's!" Tomoyo wrapped her arms around Kazuya's waist, and they left the room together.
Kazuya lifted her sunglasses to wink at Tomoyo as they entered the garage and climbed into the nearest car. Three other bodyguards joined them, and the chauffeur climbed into the driver's seat. "You'll have to be careful out there, Tomoyo. I'm sure your mother is overreacting to this incident, but I still think caution is best."
"There will be lots of people in the park," said Tomoyo. "Nothing will happen there."
"I hope not," replied Kazuya. "Your mother would have my head if anything happened to you, especially today. I assured her that you'd be safer outdoors, but I must say that I don't like the idea."
Tomoyo smiled. "I know you'll keep me safe." Kazuya nodded, and the chauffeur backed out of the garage, followed the driveway to the gate, and pulled out onto the road.
It was a short drive to the park, and Tomoyo found herself back in the open air within minutes. The four women surrounded her, eagle-sharp eyes peering through four pairs of sunglasses for the slightest sign of impending danger. However, most of the people in the park stayed far away from the group, leaving Tomoyo isolated and, for all intents and purposes, alone.
Fortunately, there were still a few friendly faces left. Tomoyo smiled as she caught sight of her classmates Chiharu Mihara and Takashi Yamazaki, together as always. "Chiharu! Yamazaki!" she called, waving to them. She started to run toward them, but a strong hand grabbed her shoulder and kept her in the middle of the group of bodyguards.
Seeing Tomoyo's plight, Chiharu ran toward Tomoyo, waving a friendly hello. "Tomoyo! What a surprise to see you here!" she said. "I thought you had a dentist appointment today!" She stared up at Tomoyo's bodyguards uneasily. "Who are these women, Tomoyo? They look like secret agents or something!"
Yamazaki bent down slightly to eye Kazuya's waist. She glared back at him, but remained otherwise as stoic as a British palace guard. "You know, real secret agents carry loaded guns in hip belts everywhere they go," he announced. "It's the law of secret agencies."
"That's not true!" protested Chiharu. "These women aren't wearing hip belts!"
"They're not really secret agents," Tomoyo pointed out. "They're my bodyguards."
"See?" Yamazaki asked triumphantly. "REAL secret agents always carry their guns, even in the shower." He straightened up and pointed a finger into the air as he always did when giving a not-quite-factual lecture. "They have to change out of their pants while wearing them, too, which is why their belt loops are detachable."
"Right, right," sighed Chiharu, realizing that Yamazaki was beginning to spin yet another one of his tall tales. She decided to ignore him and turned back to Tomoyo, the tiny girl in the middle of four towering women. With a glance at the nearest one, who was trying to stifle a laugh at Yamazaki's story, she lowered her voice to a whisper. "Can we get away from them for a minute? They're kind of scary."
"I'm afraid that won't be possible," announced one of the guards behind Tomoyo. "We're responsible for Miss Tomoyo's safety."
Chiharu blinked. "But I've never seen them before... why are they guarding you today?"
"There was a fire at my house earlier today," Tomoyo explained. "My mother wouldn't let me go out alone."
Chiharu gasped. "A fire? How did it happen?"
"I don't know," said Tomoyo. "I was just walking through the garden, and suddenly everything around me was on fire."
"It sounds like aliens!" said Yamazaki. "Their spaceship is in geosynchronous orbit over Tokyo, and they have a laser that fires with an accuracy of three millimeters per mile to the target! I read about it in the newspaper." He winked.
"Right, right," Chiharu sighed, grabbing Yamazaki by the upper arm. One of the guards behind Tomoyo chuckled. Chiharu gave Yamazaki a light, meaningful shove in the opposite direction and turned back to Tomoyo. "Well, I guess we'd better get going. I was going to tell you the incredible news, but I'll let Sakura tell you herself. She just went home, but she said she'd call you tonight to tell you."
"Incredible news?" Tomoyo asked curiously.
"Yep! It's a surprise!" Chiharu replied with a smile. "But you won't want to miss it!"
Yamazaki raised an index finger. "It's nothing special, really. They're just going to build a huge mountain of ice cream in this very park and let you eat all you want for only five hundred yen."
Chiharu openly groaned this time and dragged him roughly away. "You and your lies, Yamazaki...."
Tomoyo sighed happily. "They're so cute together... I wonder what surprise Chiharu was talking about." The guards raised their left hands to their ears, and Kazuya whispered into her wristwatch. Tomoyo's sigh turned melancholy at the reminder of why Chiharu hadn't gotten to tell her the secret. Because of the fire, she couldn't even speak to her friends in private anymore. Her close relationship with Kazuya had gotten her out of the house, but the guards would never leave her alone, even for a few minutes. Their loyalty to her mother would keep them on her like stickers on a -
Kazuya suddenly slumped forward and fell to the ground heavily, and the other three bodyguards quickly followed suit. Tomoyo gasped and knelt at Kazuya's side. "Miss Kazuya!" she shouted, shaking the woman by the shoulders. But Kazuya was sound asleep and didn't stir. "Miss Kazuya, please wake up! What happened to you?" The situation was beginning to remind her of the time that Sakura had fought the SLEEP card, but it was safely in Sakura's possession now, and bound to her will. Which could only mean....
Tomoyo stood up and looked around, hoping to see Sakura hiding behind a tree somewhere, still aglow with the magic of the Clow Cards, but there was no sign of her anywhere. Sakura wouldn't have put the bodyguards to sleep and then run away. That wasn't like her. Besides, Chiharu had said that Sakura had gone home already, so she couldn't possibly have used the SLEEP card. But then... what had put her guards to sleep? Could it have been some other kind of magic?
Tomoyo's nerves froze as a chilling thought occurred to her: Her guards' sudden somnolence and the fire that broke out at her house might be connected. Perhaps some evil entity was trying to get to her! Her head darted from side to side as she tried to watch every direction at once, deathly afraid of letting anything sneak up on her from behind.
Leaves rustled behind her, and she spun around to see what it was, but found herself facing nothing but trees. She didn't realize that she'd stopped breathing until she started again, each breath sounding like a lion's roar in the empty silence. Her heartbeat began to pound in her head, drowning out even her thoughts. But rising above the din of her own fear, she heard a bloodcurdling battle cry from behind and whirled around just in time to watch the sharp edge of a sword swing straight at her head, stopping so close to her face that her eyes crossed as she tried to focus on it. So great was her shock that it took her a full five seconds to fall down, screaming in terror.
"Oh, it's just you," said the sword's wielder, her classmate and Sakura's former rival Card Captor, Shaoran Li. He let the sword fall to his side in disappointment, but his eyes never lowered, even to look at Tomoyo. He scanned the treeline like a predator searching for prey. It wasn't until a sharp sob escaped Tomoyo's lips that he even seemed to realize that he'd surprised her. "Hey... you all right?"
Tomoyo tried to answer him, but she was too short of breath to speak. Li merely stared at her, totally at a loss for what to do. He wasn't very good at calming down hysterical girls - a skill which would have made Sakura much easier to be around whenever ghosts were mentioned. But after a brief pause to weigh priorities, he sat down next to Tomoyo and rubbed her back lightly. "Come on, take it easy. You have to breathe slowly."
Tomoyo did her best to calm down, but she was still shaking from head to toe. She was barely able to breathe in short gasps. But she collected herself as best she could and tried to put her churning thoughts into words. "Li..." she began before running out of breath.
"What happened here?" he asked suddenly. "There was a buildup of magical energy in this area, and all of your bodyguards are asleep." He kicked one of the guards lightly. "Hey, wake up!"
"They won't wake up," said Tomoyo. "I think they've been put to sleep by magic."
Li nodded. "Yeah... I can still feel it. It must have been strong to leave so much residual energy."
Tomoyo shook her head. There was something really bothering her, and as much as she hated to lose her temper, his casual disregard for her safety was inexcusable. "Li, why did you attack me?"
"I ran over here from across the park as soon as I felt the magic, and there was a big concentration of it right where you were standing." His eyes narrowed. "And it hasn't gotten any weaker."
There was something in the tone of his voice that Tomoyo didn't like. "What do you mean?" she asked nervously.
Li shifted his grip on the sword handle, examining the weapon closely. "I didn't stop my sword," he told her.
"I don't understand," said Tomoyo. "It stopped before it could hit me -"
"It stopped on its own," Li interrupted. "I'm not the one who held it back."
Tomoyo's eyes flew wide open. "You mean...?"
Li nodded. "The magic did it. Whatever put these guards to sleep stopped my sword from slicing your head in half."
Tomoyo paled at Li's description, but what worried her most was that he seemed to be implying something. "Do you know what's going on?" she asked him.
"It's very powerful magic," Li said again. "I can't quite tell what it is. My magic sense feels fuzzy... like trying to look through a frosted window. But it's so strong that I should be able to tell where it's coming from." He closed his eyes, and slowly raised an arm. His finger straightened to point right at Tomoyo, who quickly slid to the side and turned to see what he was pointing at. But when she turned back to look at his hand for guidance, she saw it pointing right at her again.
Li opened his eyes. "It's you!" he shouted. "You're not Tomoyo!" He leapt to his feet and brandished his sword. "Whatever you are, show yourself!"
"What are you talking about?" asked Tomoyo, trying to get to her own feet. Her hand came down on the chest of one of the bodyguards, unbalancing her, and she fell onto her back. Li's sword pressed into her throat before she could move again.
"I know Tomoyo doesn't have any magical power," he said as he stood tall over her. "But you can stop my sword and put adults to sleep!"
"I'm not doing this!" Tomoyo whispered, feeling the tip of the sword scratching the skin of her throat even as she tried to keep as still as possible. "I don't know what's happening!"
"You can't fool me with your innocent act," he said coldly. "I'm not going to let my guard down, and I won't show my enemy mercy! So get rid of that disguise and show me your true form!"
Tomoyo closed her eyes to avoid Li's piercing gaze. "Please, don't hurt me! I'm not in disguise and I don't have magical powers!"
"Don't lie to me!" he shouted, dripping flecks of spit onto her face. "I told you, I can feel the evil coming from you! And if I have to kill you, then I will!"
"Please, don't!" she begged again. "Just go away and leave me alone!" She felt the sword press into her throat just a bit harder, and then the pressure was gone, as she heard a metallic clang from the vicinity of her right ear. Her eyes flew open, but Li was no longer standing over her. She sat up, pushing aside the sword that had fallen beside her head, and looked around, but there was no sign of him anywhere. "Li?" she called tentatively. There was no reply.
Still rather stunned at all that had happened to her in such a short time, and yet worried about Li, Tomoyo carefully picked up the sword by its handle to examine it. The tassel attached to the pommel and the dark jewel set into the hilt were unmistakable: it was Li's sword. Tomoyo couldn't imagine that he would have gone anywhere without it. But the only other explanation was... had the evil magic done something to Li as well?
Unsure of what to do, Tomoyo let the sword fall from her fingers. She couldn't very well go home without her bodyguards, but there was no way she could move them by herself. And they wouldn't be of much help anyway, if she was being attacked by magic. There were only two people who could help with that... and Sakura was already on her way home. Now she felt horrible for yelling at Li and chasing him away. Even his threats would be better than being all alone....
A shadow fell on her, and her breath caught in her throat as she looked up to see who or what was coming after her this time. Much to her amazement, it was Shaoran Li, with a wide grin on his face. Tomoyo sighed happily. "Li! I'm so glad to see you!" But even as she said it, she felt that something was wrong with the whole situation. It took a few seconds to put her finger on it, but when Li didn't move at all in response to her statement, she realized what was bothering her about him. She hadn't ever seen a smile like that on Li's face - or any smile at all, for that matter - except for the time when the CHANGE card had put Kero's spirit in Li's body.
Li cocked his head to the side and eyed her expectantly. Tomoyo backed away from his odd gaze, trying to figure out what was so strange about him... and her hand landed on the blade of his sword. Li didn't seem to care that he didn't have it, nor that Tomoyo had her hands on it.... Her eyes reflexively traced their way up his body to the sword sticking out of the scabbard slung over his shoulder. The hilt had a dark jewel set into its handle, and a tassel dangling from the pommel.
"Where did you get that sword?" she asked nervously. "And why are you smiling like that?"
Li's smile vanished, and his eyes darted from side to side. He slowly shook his head, backing away from Tomoyo.
"What's wrong?" she asked, suddenly concerned. She left the sword on the ground and stood up, reaching out toward Li. He cringed away from her hand as if she were holding a burning coal. "Li? Are you still afraid of me?" Something else was wrong.... "Why aren't you saying anything?"
Li's face took on a look of pure panic, and he turned around and ran.
"Li, please wait!" shouted Tomoyo. She took a few running steps after him, but stopped short with a glance at her still-sleeping bodyguards. She couldn't just leave them there... but she couldn't let Li get away, either. He was her best chance of finding out what was happening to her. There was nothing she could do for her bodyguards anyway, but if she could catch Li, she might be able to appeal to what little emotion he had to get some answers. She quickly ran after him before he could get out of her sight.
Li led her through the park, passing a large number of rather astonished people. They all turned to stare at Tomoyo as she passed, but she didn't take her eyes off Li for a second for fear of losing him completely. Her lungs were beginning to ache from the hard work of keeping up with him, but she managed to keep a close distance until Li finally emerged from the park and ran across a street without looking. Tomoyo chased after him without hesitation, not even seeing the car barreling toward her until its horn honked loudly, startling her so badly that she tripped and fell flat on her face. When she looked up, all she could see was the giant fender closing in on her fast. The deafening screech of braking tires filled her ears, but she knew that it was far too late to stop in time. All she could do was scream, cover her face with her arm, and wait for the end.
Suddenly, there was a rumbling sound from the ground as the Earth shook violently beneath Tomoyo. The ground tilted, and she felt herself rolling away from the immense crunch of metal that actually seemed to come from under the street's surface as people screamed and shouted from the sidewalks. The world seemed trapped in slow motion as she was thrown across the road's surface, but even in her diluted perspective, the entire incident was over in seconds. As everything fell still, she could feel the crowd moving toward her, people running to her from all directions. Questions materialized randomly from the incoherent din. "Are you all right?" "Has anybody called an ambulance?" "What happened here?" "Did anyone else feel a quake?" "She's just a little girl!"
A pair of fingers pressed into the side of her throat. "Her pulse is fine," someone announced. "And she's breathing. I think she just passed out from the shock."
Tomoyo sat up and opened her eyes to see what was going on. Concerned people surrounded her on all sides except for where the formerly flat street rose up like a hill in the spot where she had been standing. She got up, ignoring the protests of the people closest to her, and climbed to the top of the asphalt mound. It broke off into a steep dropoff on the far side, and right at the bottom was the car that had almost hit her, its front bumper smashed against the solid stone. Her head swam with confusion. This was clearly a work of magic, like the fire and the sleep spell had been. But this time, the magic had protected her. It just didn't make sense. Was the source of the magic trying to hurt her, or was there some other purpose to it?
"Little girl, do you need a ride home?" asked a man at the bottom of the hill. "If you want, I can call your parents and ask them to pick you up."
Tomoyo turned around. "Oh, no! Please don't! I don't want my mother to worry about me!" She sat down to slide down the hill, brushing off her dress when she reached the ground. "I'll walk home. It's not far from here."
"Are you sure?" the man asked. "You're shaking."
Tomoyo hadn't even noticed the tremors running through her entire body until that point. She did her best to suppress them as she gave the man her warmest smile. "I'll be fine. Thank you for your concern." She bowed in gratitude, then stepped quickly through the crowd to the sidewalk. As soon as she was in the clear, she broke into a quick run, ignoring her fatigue in her haste to be away from those people.
It wasn't long after she'd lost sight of the crowd, however, that she simply couldn't run any further. She slowed to a walk, panting heavily, with her arms across her stomach. She'd lied about how far from home she was in order to get away, but she really wanted to be alone for a while. She needed to gather herself and think of a course of action. The first order of business was to get home and call Sakura. She or Kero would certainly be able to figure out what was going on, not to mention the fact that Tomoyo would feel much safer in the company of Sakura and the Clow Cards. And if there was a battle... it would be an excuse to have Sakura try on another battle costume!
Tomoyo twirled happily, coming to a stop facing a store window. Her eyes fell on a beautiful brooch in the shape of a flower in the display case. The deep blue color and gold trim would make the perfect complement to one of the costumes she had just finished most of the work on. She'd been searching her jewelry collection for just the right piece, but she knew she had nothing as perfect as that brooch. It would make the costume complete. She stepped toward the door, reaching down for her purse... which she belatedly remembered that she'd left at home in her haste to be away from her mother's concern. Her face fell. Without any money, she couldn't possibly pay for the brooch, and this wasn't one of the stores where her mother had credit.
Tomoyo sighed sadly and turned away from the window, looking up at the store's banner - Sunbeam Jewelry - and making a mental note to come back with enough money to buy the brooch... if her mother ever let her leave the house again after she'd run away from her bodyguards and nearly been run over by a car. Knowing her mother, that wasn't a likely scenario. In fact, she'd be lucky to get off with permission to go to school without requiring an armed escort! And she'd be confined to the house for a long while before then... which meant that by the time she had the brooch, the excitement would probably (hopefully!) be over, and with it the chance to have Sakura model the costume. With a heavy heart, she began to shuffle away from the store and the brooch that she would gladly have paid twice the price for, if only she could have bought it right then and there....
She stopped suddenly as she saw a small object floating directly in her path at chest height. It fell to the ground before she could focus on it, but her eyes followed it to the ground, where it landed face down, displaying nothing but a solid gold face. She bent down to pick it up, but somehow, she knew what it was even before she turned it over to look at its blue flower-shaped front. A quick glance at the window confirmed that the brooch in the display was gone. More magic....
She straightened up, curling her fingers uneasily about the brooch, wondering what she should do about it. Obviously, she couldn't keep it; that would be stealing. But what would happen if she walked into the store holding it? She couldn't possibly explain how she'd come to have it! Perhaps it would be best to just drop it outside the store and walk away....
While she pondered her strange windfall, the door of the shop opened and a very tall man stepped out. "Can I help you, miss?" he asked.
Tomoyo quickly hid the brooch behind her back. "Um... I was just looking...."
His eyes narrowed as he stared at her. "What are you hiding behind your back?" he asked.
"It's...." Tomoyo's mind raced as she tried to think of an explanation, but the man grabbed her arm and yanked it to the front of her body, then grabbed her wrist in his other hand and forced her fingers open, revealing the brooch. His eyes widened as he laid eyes on it, and he glanced at the empty spot in his display before turning back to her with fire in his eyes.
"So that's the game, is it? You little thief!" He pulled her arm so hard that her shoulder began to hurt. "I don't know how you did it, but I'm going to call the police!"
Tomoyo panicked. If the police got involved.... It was wrong to run away, but she had to escape! She pulled on her arm, trying to break free of the man's grip, but her movement was a bit more forceful than she'd planned. A very large bit more forceful. The man failed to let go in time, and found himself expertly flipped over Tomoyo's shoulder to land hard on his back. Tomoyo stared at him in shock, even after his hands released their grip. Had she really done that?
But she didn't have long to be surprised. The man recovered quickly and reached for her leg, barely missing as she leapt away. She turned around and ran, clutching the brooch tightly, as the man climbed to his feet. It took a while longer for him to start chasing her, but she heard him start running before she could reach the end of the block. His steps sounded a bit staggered, as if he was limping in pain, but Tomoyo was already tired and had a severe size disadvantage. He was closing the distance quickly. Tomoyo lowered her head and ran as hard as she could, knowing that her course was set and escape was her only option.
The shop owner's footsteps didn't slow down at all, but as Tomoyo continued to run her hardest, he began to fall behind. She began to wonder why he was slowing down... until she looked up and saw the buildings whizzing by at a speed she'd only seen when riding in a car. She slowed down without thinking, coming to a stop at the mouth of an alley. Her pursuer's footsteps were quite distant now, but he was approaching fast. She turned around to see how much time she had... and saw him just a few blocks away. She turned back to start running again, but before she could take a step, her stomach turned over and she nearly vomited. She'd run herself far beyond the point of exhaustion under the influence of the magic, and it was finally catching up to her with a vengeance. She wasn't going to be running anywhere for a while. Leaning against the brick wall for support, she staggered into the alley, searching for a place to hide.
Unfortunately, the alley was bare except for a large dumpster, and the three tall walls offered no alternate exits. The two doors, one on either side of the alley, both lacked doorknobs. There was no way to climb out, either: the shortest wall, opposite the mouth of the alley, looked to be about three stories tall. But if she left the alley now, she'd be running right into the man's arms. She walked deeper into the alley, wrinkling her nose at the smell. Breathing through her mouth hurt, but it was the only way to keep her lunch down as she crouched behind the dumpster and hoped he would pass her by.
No such luck. His shadow crept along the opposite wall as he strode boldly into the alley. "I saw you come in here, you little brat!" he hissed. "You can't hide from me!" Tomoyo's breath caught in her throat as he approached her hiding place. Her aching legs, curled under her in her haste to hide, were beginning to feel the pins and needles of numbness, but she was too petrified to move them for fear of being heard and discovered. Still, the feeling was quite uncomfortable, and it didn't take long before she was forced to shift her position despite her fear. As she swung her legs out from under her body, the numbness gave way to an entirely different sensation - a very powerful sensation. Something was coiled inside her hips and knees like a spring, throbbing with unbelievable potential.
Tomoyo put her feet on the ground and rose to a squatting position, barely able to keep her knees bent against the force within them. She felt something like a kangaroo, poised to leap in ways that humans could only dream of. Of course, it was difficult to believe that it was more than just her imagination, but with all the unbelievable things that had been happening recently, why wouldn't it work?
"Ha! Got you!" the man shouted as he lunged around the corner of the dumpster, grabbing at the space where Tomoyo had been mere moments before. He looked up just in time to see her clear the three-story high wall and land on the roof of the building that formed the back of the alley. He rubbed his eyes in disbelief, then shook his head and began the long walk back to his store. Some things just weren't worth the trouble....
Tomoyo, on the other hand, was in a very bad position, even though she was out of the man's reach at last. The roof access door was locked, leaving her no way to get back to the ground. She leaned over the opposite wall to peer down the front face of the building, but it was a long drop with no handholds other than the window ledges. Still, she couldn't sit around on the roof waiting to be rescued. She took a deep breath and swung her legs over the edge, then slowly lowered herself down toward one of the windows. With any luck, it would be unlocked, and she might be able to make her way to the ground floor from inside the building.
Her fingers slipped, and she felt herself tumbling to the ground below. But before she could scream, she felt a mysterious calmness, like being wrapped in a warm embrace, and she opened her eyes to look around. She was still even with the third story window and falling at a feather's pace, as if she were sinking to the bottom of a pool of water rather than plunging from ten meters in the air. Her mind, however, was racing, as she tried to figure out what was happening. Everything still felt real, but Tomoyo was beginning to feel like the entire day was nothing more than a dream. It would certainly explain a great deal. She reached up - well, down, since her head was pointed toward the ground - and pinched her cheek as a test. The slight pain she felt was enough to convince her that she was not dreaming. It wouldn't have been much of a relief if it had turned out to be a dream, anyway... she would have had to seriously doubt her sanity if she was having dreams about magic with no Sakura in sight!
But the fact that she wasn't dreaming made her situation all the more critical. According to Li, she was the target - and possibly the source - of very powerful magic. But that magic seemed to be protecting her as much as it was causing trouble and trying to hurt her. What was the connection? Or was it all just a random sequence of events? Who was causing it? And what could she do about it?
Well, there was one person who might be able to answer at least that last question - or rather, one flying stuffed animal who occasionally doubled as the lionesque Guardian of the Seal. When Sakura called later that evening to tell her about Chiharu's mysterious surprise, she'd be getting an even bigger surprise of her own....
Tomoyo's feet lightly came to rest on the ground, bringing her to her senses. She looked around, counting herself fortunate that no one had seen her unusual fall. There wasn't even any need to brush off her dress, although she did that anyway out of habit. A loud scratching sound as her fingers slid across the fabric reminded her that she was still holding the beautiful brooch from the jewelry store. She opened her hand and looked down at it, with its blue petals and gold trim that now seemed to be mocking her, as if it knew how much trouble it had caused her. She threw it into the gutter, wiping her hand on her dress to get rid of the gritty feeling it had left behind, before turning toward the early evening sun and beginning the long walk home.