Yamazaki invites his friends to watch him fly a model plane. In a moment of excitement, Tomoyo makes a wish that JOKER can't undo.
Tomoyo looked up at the torii that framed the walkway at the entrance to the Mizuki Shrine. "I never thought I would be so glad to be here," she announced.
"I hope Miss Mizuki can figure out a way to get rid of JOKER," said Sakura. "If she can't, then I don't know what else we can do."
"Let's just ask her first, before we start assuming the worst," suggested Kero. "We'll cross that bridge if and when we come to it."
Sakura eagerly climbed the steps and set out along the stone walkway that led into the shrine grounds. Tomoyo followed timidly, a feeling of unease setting over her as she drew closer and closer to the archway. Suddenly, something felt very wrong with the place, as if she were no longer welcome there.
"Come on!" called Sakura. "We're almost there! Don't you want to be rid of JOKER forever?"
Tomoyo nodded. "Yes," she replied. It was a silly feeling, really, she told herself. There was nothing keeping her back but her own nervousness. She straightened her back and calmly strode through the arch.
In that instant, the world went dark.
Tomoyo's heart raced as she turned around, searching for a hint of light, but she could see nothing. Even her own body was invisible in the total darkness. Just like her dream.... "Sakura!" she cried frantically. "Where are you?"
"Tomoyo?" The reply seemed to come from miles away, but Tomoyo pointed herself in the direction it had come from and started running, wanting desperately to be with Sakura, even if it would mean having to watch her die as in the dream. The loneliness of the darkness was overwhelming. She needed to throw her arms around Sakura and feel her friend's embrace in return, and then everything would be okay.
She smacked into the form of a person in the darkness, and they both fell to the ground. "Tomoyo, is that you?" asked Sakura.
"Sakura!" Tomoyo cried gratefully, pulling Sakura into a tight hug. "Don't let go of me, whatever you do!"
"I won't let you go," Sakura assured her. She sat up, pulling Tomoyo with her. "This is the power of DARK," she said with certainty. "You should be able to use LIGHT to get rid of it."
Tomoyo nodded, even though she knew that Sakura couldn't see it. "JOKER, use LIGHT to banish the darkness," she commanded.
The two girls waited in the darkness, but not a speck of light appeared.
Sakura's arms tightened around Tomoyo. "It didn't work..." she said, her voice trembling.
Tomoyo's heartbeat jumped again as Sakura's body pressed close against her, and she realized that she didn't care whether or not she could see. True, JOKER could use the power of LIGHT, and then they'd be able to see again. But then Sakura would let go of her, and they'd go see Miss Mizuki, and the moment would be forever lost. She squeezed Sakura tighter, enjoying the warmth they were sharing. She couldn't let it end just yet. "I can't," she sighed. "I'm not scared of the dark. Not when I have you with me."
"But we'll never find Miss Mizuki if we can't see," Sakura reminded her.
"Just hold me a while longer," said Tomoyo. "Until I can use the power of LIGHT. Then we can go."
"But we have to be at the park soon!" argued Sakura. "If you can't use JOKER's power, then we'll have to find a way out of this darkness ourselves." She started to stand up, but Tomoyo pulled her back to the ground.
"Don't go, please!" Tomoyo begged, holding Sakura so tightly that the older girl could barely breathe. "I don't want to lose you again!"
"I'm not going anywhere!" said Sakura, pushing Tomoyo's arms away just a bit. "I just want us both to stand up and move somewhere, preferably somewhere where there's light."
Tomoyo felt her face burn with a blush as the girls stood up together, their arms never leaving each other. She was embarrassing herself again, as surely as she had with the flowers, but the darkness was giving her an excuse this time. She couldn't wish for it to go away and let Sakura see her flushed face.
"Hey, is Tomoyo there?" asked a voice a few inches in front of her face. Tomoyo screamed and jumped back, nearly pulling herself and Sakura to the ground again. "I'll take that as a yes," the voice continued.
"It's Li!" Sakura cried excitedly, stretching out an arm to pull him into the group hug. "How did you find us?"
"I felt Tomoyo's presence when she got close to the shrine," he replied. "I went to go catch her before she got there, but then this darkness came over me and I couldn't sense her presence anymore."
"I was trying to feel for Sakura, but found the kid instead," said Kero's voice from the vicinity of Li's head. "It took both of us together to find you girls."
"Tomoyo can't use the power of LIGHT to get us out of this," Sakura told them. "I don't know how we can escape."
"Just head for the street," said Li. "That should be enough."
"Which way is the street?" asked Sakura.
"Pick a direction," replied Li. "And you might want to let go of me and just hold my hand. Or my sleeve, or something," he added hastily, as if trying to cover up an embarrassing statement. "We can't walk around all bunched up like this."
Tomoyo felt Li move away from her as Sakura grabbed his hand, and reluctantly released her own hug and took Sakura's other hand.
"Lead the way, Tomoyo," commanded Li. "You're the one JOKER's interested in."
"Any way will work?" Tomoyo repeated. Li favored her with an affirmative grunt. "Then we'll go this way." She started to walk straight forward, letting Sakura and Li fall into step behind her. Four steps later, the trio found themselves standing under the entryway arch of the Mizuki Shrine.
Sakura collapsed into a sitting position on the steps, letting go of the others' hands. "That was scary!" she exclaimed.
Kero fluttered over to Tomoyo's shoulder. "First SAND, now DARK... what's gotten into your head, kid? How come you're wishing all this bad stuff on yourself all of a sudden?"
Tomoyo shuddered, a result of residual fear from the darkness as well as the slight shock of Kero's touch. "I don't know," she replied. "I don't remember wishing for darkness."
"Well, you must have," retorted Kero. "Because that darkness sure wasn't natural."
"I don't think she wished for the darkness at all," announced Li. "That was JOKER's doing, completely on its own."
Kero darted up to Li's face. "What makes you so sure of that?" he asked. "And how come you suddenly became the expert on how JOKER works, anyway?"
Li casually batted Kero aside. "I had the same idea you three did, and came to see Miss Mizuki earlier this morning. She said that she didn't know exactly what was going on, but that she was sorry that she wouldn't get to see Tomoyo again until the problem was resolved."
"I don't understand," said Sakura.
"She knew that this was going to happen," explained Li. "She knew that JOKER wouldn't let Tomoyo approach the shrine."
"But why not?" asked Sakura. "I thought JOKER was supposed to be helping Tomoyo!"
"But you want to stop it, don't you?" Li asked rhetorically. "That's why you want to see Miss Mizuki. I think JOKER's afraid that if Tomoyo makes it to the shrine, then Miss Mizuki will separate it from her and it won't be able to help her any more. So it's using its power to stop her from getting there."
"It can't do that!" Sakura protested.
Li shrugged. "It's got magic power, and we don't. I'd say it can pretty well do whatever it wants."
"But we escaped from the darkness," Sakura shot back. "It can't use that power again, can it?"
"No, it can't," Li agreed.
"Then maybe we can get to the shrine now," suggested Sakura. She took Tomoyo's hand. "Come on, let's try."
Tomoyo pulled back. "I'm scared!"
"Don't be scared," Sakura cooed reassuringly. "Everything will be fine. Li and I are both here, and we'll keep you safe."
"I don't want to go back in there," Li said flatly, crossing his arms. "JOKER's got a lot of power left, and I don't feel like getting killed over somebody else's problem."
"She's your friend too!" snapped Sakura. "We have to help her get rid of JOKER!"
"Fine, go get killed if you want," said Li. He sat down heavily on the steps and faced away. "Just leave me out of it."
"Come on," urged Sakura, tugging on Tomoyo's arm. "We don't need his help anyway."
Tomoyo swallowed nervously and peered up at the archway. It loomed intimidatingly over her, daring her to cross into the holy ground where JOKER waited to attack her with another power. She squeezed Sakura's hand, and felt a warm pressure in return. Yes, everything would be okay as long as she was with Sakura. "All right," she acquiesced, walking up the stairs.
As they approached the torii, Tomoyo again began to have second thoughts. That was the line; once they stepped through the structure, they would be in JOKER's territory. Tomoyo planted her feet firmly at the base of the arch and stopped. "No! I won't go!"
"We have to!" said Sakura, pulling mightily on Tomoyo's arm. Tomoyo lost her balance and fell across the threshold, landing on her face in the shrine grounds. Sakura gasped and helped her up. "I'm sorry, Tomoyo!" she apologized, brushing some of the dust off Tomoyo's clothes. "Are you hurt?"
"No, I'm fine," replied Tomoyo, looking around for any signs of JOKER's presence. Nothing out of the ordinary caught her eye immediately, giving her a bit of time to calm down. Perhaps Sakura was right, and the darkness had been the extent of JOKER's disobedience. "Let's keep going."
"Hey, watch out!" Li shouted from the torii. "At your feet!"
Tomoyo felt something like a feather brush her ankle and jumped back, looking down at the ground to see what had touched her. Wisps of green mist were swirling up from the cracks between the paving stones, forming tendrils that were reaching for her and Sakura. In a flash of sickly green and red, a scene from her dream passed before her eyes. "Sakura, look out!" she shouted. "It's MIST!"
"Where?" asked Sakura, spinning around to search for it while oblivious of the death reaching for her legs. Without stopping to think, Tomoyo tackled Sakura, pushing her away from the deadly vapor. Her momentum sent the two girls rolling through the arch and down the steps to land in a heap at the bottom.
"Told you so," Li said without moving to offer any help.
Sakura peeled herself away from Tomoyo and turned to look up at the torii. The shrine grounds were covered in six feet of acidic mist that ended at the torii as if against an invisible wall. She stood up and pushed a pair of imaginary sleeves up her arms. "All right!" she said boldly, pointing toward the arch. "This is what we'll do! Tomoyo, have JOKER use WINDY to blow the mist away, and then we'll -"
"NO!" Tomoyo screamed more forcefully than she'd intended. "No more!"
Sakura turned to argue, but froze in place when she laid eyes on Tomoyo.
"I don't want to fight JOKER any more," Tomoyo continued, choking back tears. "It's too powerful, and I'm scared of what it will do next."
"Tomoyo, your ankle!" cried Sakura, pointing to the place where the mist had touched Tomoyo. The younger girl looked down to see a stream of blood running from the wound, pooling on the sidewalk under her foot. She gasped at the sight and felt faint, but Li was kneeling beside her and rested his hand on her back to keep her upright. With his other hand, he deftly removed his cloth belt and wound it around her ankle several times, pulling it as tight as possible before tying it off.
Sakura's fingers clenched tightly around the handkerchief that she'd only halfway pulled out of her own pocket. She let it go, then sat down beside Tomoyo to hug her. "I'm so sorry," she whispered. "You were right all along. I should have listened to you. But I didn't even think about how you felt. I was pretending that it was my own quest and dragging you into danger."
"It's all right, Sakura," Tomoyo whispered back, patting her friend on the back. "I understand. I, too, was excited about getting to see Miss Mizuki and being free of JOKER's power. But I have to accept that it can't happen and just move on."
"Speaking of moving on," Li put in as he stood up, "we'd better get moving if we don't want to miss seeing Yamazaki's model plane."
"We can't go anywhere!" Sakura protested. "You saw Tomoyo's ankle! How do you expect her to walk?"
"Is she just going to sit there all day?" he shot back.
Tomoyo waved off Sakura's retort and got painfully to her feet. "I'm fine," she said, intending it as a white lie until she realized that there was actually very little pain. She took a few steps without stumbling and turned back to her friends. "I'll be able to walk."
"Is that a surprise?" asked Kero as he floated over the torii and came to rest on Sakura's backpack. "I take it the mist kept you guys out?"
"Where were you when it almost killed us, Kero?" demanded Sakura.
"I flew on ahead to the shrine," he replied. "Didn't see any influence from JOKER until I got back. So, what happened to Tomoyo?"
Tomoyo extended her leg to show Kero the bloody bandage. "MIST got me."
Kero swooped down for a closer look. "Ew... that looks pretty nasty. Are you sure you should be walking around?"
"It doesn't hurt much," she replied. "I don't think it's as serious as it looks."
"For your sake, I hope not," said Kero. "Looks like JOKER's really pulling out all the stops here."
"It could have killed both of you if it wanted to," Li said darkly. "The darkness was meant to be a warning, but the mist was its way of showing you it means business. I don't think it will hesitate to use something even more deadly if you try again."
"I don't want to try again," Tomoyo said firmly. "I just want to go see Yamazaki's plane and -"
"What's wrong?" Sakura asked after Tomoyo broke off.
"What if JOKER does something around Yamazaki and his friends?" Tomoyo asked worriedly.
"I wouldn't be too worried about that," replied Kero. "You'll be having fun, right?"
"From what I've seen, JOKER never does anything when you're having a good time," Kero continued. "If you like things the way they are, you don't wish for anything, so JOKER doesn't act up."
"I wish I could believe that," said Tomoyo.
Kero smiled dryly. "Do you think I'm lying?" he asked.
Tomoyo shook her head. "Why would you lie to me?"
"Then that proves I'm not lying," he concluded. "After that wish, if I hadn't been telling the truth, the power of LIBRA would have told you I was lying."
"LIBRA?" repeated Tomoyo. "But I -" She quickly stopped before she could embarrass herself yet again by alluding to the effects of LIBRA that Sakura had forgotten. "Yes, you're right," she agreed meekly. "I would have known."
Li turned away from the girls. "We're going to be late if we don't get moving now. I'm going, whether you want to come or not."
"Wait, Li!" pleaded Sakura. "We're coming! Right, Tomoyo?" She extended a hand to Tomoyo, who grasped it with some reservation and allowed herself to be led away from the shrine where she had staked her last, failed hope.
Tomoyo looked forward to the park during the entire trip, hoping that Kero had been right in supposing that JOKER would behave once she was happy; but as they approached their destination, it became clear that happiness was beyond her grasp. Even after they'd arrived, the lively yet peaceful atmosphere did little to brighten Tomoyo's mood. The knowledge that JOKER would strike at her directly if it felt threatened took precedence over any elation that the setting might have brought her.
Yet all was forgotten when they finally arrived at lakeside, where Yamazaki was getting his model plane ready for takeoff. All of their friends were already gathered around the plane: Chiharu and Yamazaki were attaching tubes to the front of the fuselage; Rika Sasaki and Naoko Yanagisawa, good friends of Chiharu, were watching the procedure with interest; and Mikado Hayashi and Jono Sunamori, two boys from the class who were probably friends of Yamazaki's, were eagerly exchanging facts about the real-life counterpart that the model was based on.
Naoko was the first to spot the new arrivals. "Hey, everyone!" she called, waving with one hand while she pushed her glasses up with the other. "The plane's almost ready to launch!"
"It's a Cessna Caravan!" Hayashi explained as Tomoyo and her friends joined the group. "It's amphibious, so it can take off and land in the water!"
"Wow!" exclaimed Sakura. "But wouldn't it sink?"
"See the special pontoons?" asked Sunamori, pointing to the large canoe-like legs that surrounded the plane's wheels. "Those float, just like boats, and hold the plane up."
Rika nudged Naoko with her elbow. "And I thought Yamazaki made up stories that were hard to believe," she whispered.
"Actually, I think they're telling the truth," Naoko whispered back. "I've seen these amphibious planes on television."
"I saw this exact type of plane used in a spy movie," Hayashi pointed out.
Yamazaki pulled the tubes free and packed them into the wooden box that they were connected to. "True, the Cessna is one of the greatest planes in the world, but it still owes its existence to the Wright Brothers of America, who built the first airplane out of aluminum cans and turtle wax. It was so big and heavy that it took five propellers to get it off the ground. In fact, they couldn't carry enough fuel to operate it, so they had to redesign the engines to run on nothing but air."
Chiharu shook her head sadly. "That's ridiculous. If that type of engine existed, why wouldn't we still be using it today?"
Yamazaki held up a finger. "It overheated easily, and that would set the entire plane on fire."
Chiharu sighed and handed the remote to Yamazaki. "Right, right."
"Just fly the plane already!" said Hayashi. "I want to see it in the air!"
"Yes, I'd like to see it fly as well," agreed Naoko.
Yamazaki pulled a metal object that resembled a corkscrew out of the wooden box and inserted the protruding end into an outlet at the front of the plane. As he pressed a button on the lighter, the propeller leapt to life with a loud hum. Sakura screamed and jumped backwards.
Sunamori chuckled. "It's not going to bite you," he assured her.
"I thought I was going to get sucked into the propeller," Sakura whined.
Chiharu lightly smacked Yamazaki's shoulder. "Now see what your stories have done?"
Hayashi reached down and ran his hand across the plane's back, as if he were petting a cat. "You don't have to worry, Sakura. Planes like this one only attack people they don't like. And it's not smart enough to figure out that I'm really a AAAAAAAAH!" He screamed and leapt back, holding the empty long sleeve of his windbreaker in the only hand he had left.
"WAAAAAAAAAAH!" Sakura screamed, burying her face in Tomoyo's chest. "The propeller cut off Hayashi's hand!"
Hayashi laughed and pulled his sleeve down, exposing the untouched hand within. "You're so easy to tease, Sakura," he said jovially.
"Knock it off, jerk," snapped Li. "That wasn't funny."
Tomoyo rubbed Sakura's head gently and cooed, "It's all right, Sakura. He's not hurt. He was only playing a trick on you."
Sakura turned around to examine Hayashi through tear-filled eyes. "He was?" When she saw the amused expression on his face, she leapt at him, beating him playfully with her fists. "That was really rotten, Hayashi! I thought you were really hurt!"
Hayashi cowered from Sakura's mock fury. "Okay, okay! I'm sorry! It was a joke!"
Sunamori clicked his tongue disapprovingly. "You just lost a lot of compatibility points, dude."
Chiharu groaned. "Your friends are weird, Yamazaki. Now I remember why we don't hang out with them very often."
Undaunted, Yamazaki manipulated the remote control, and the plane slowly turned to face the lake. "It's too dangerous to fly where there are people," he explained, "but Chiharu's father knows someone on the city council who got me a license to fly over the lake."
Hayashi nodded. "That's why you've got to use the amphibious plane, right?"
Yamazaki nodded. "I've got a few other planes at home, including trick planes, but I can only fly them at the airfield outside the city."
As the propeller turned away from her, Sakura gathered her courage and stepped closer to watch the plane take off. Tomoyo also moved closer, wishing she'd thought to bring her video camera with her. Everyone else had to back out of the way as Yamazaki maneuvered the plane into the water, then flipped a switch on the remote. The propeller instantly picked up speed, doubling in volume and startling Sakura again. However, nobody paid her any mind, because they were fixated on the plane as it smoothly accelerated, skimming across the surface of the lake. Three quarters of the way to the far shore, the plane rose from the water and soared into the sky, sailing over the heads of the people below. Everyone within sight of the lake looked up in awe as the plane flew higher and higher, circling over the lake.
"Wow!" the group surrounding Yamazaki enthused in unison, except Li.
"That's nothing," said Yamazaki. "Even though it's not really suited for tricks, this plane can do a bit more than just fly around." As he finished his sentence, the plane turned a perfect barrel roll, then performed a half-loop and flipped over so that it was flying in the opposite direction.
Everyone applauded, although Li didn't seem to put much heart into it. "That's incredible!" Sakura congratulated Yamazaki.
Yamazaki shrugged. "It just takes a bit of practice. I've only been flying for a year. There are some pilots in Europe who can actually work the controls with only their toes."
"Don't they use special controllers for that?" asked Rika. Hayashi and Sunamori grinned knowingly.
"Sometimes they do," Yamazaki conceded. "And then there's an air troupe in Germany made up of animal trainers. They trained mice to walk on the wings while the planes were in the air."
"Did any of the mice get sucked into the propellers?" asked Sakura.
"A few did," Yamazaki admitted as he brought the plane around for another pass. "Then they started a more meticulous training program, and gave the mice tiny parachutes in case of trouble. After that, they never had any accidents."
Sakura sighed with relief. "That's good news. Those poor mice...."
Li shook his head disdainfully. "What a bunch of lies," he said. "Mice don't have hands to pull the ripcords on the parachutes."
"Perhaps they used their tails," Naoko suggested.
Chiharu sighed. "No, I'm pretty sure it's another lie." She tugged on Yamazaki's ear. "You're going to stop lying one of these days, right?"
Yamazaki pulled the plane through another loop. "Just be glad I didn't bring my authentic World War I fighter plane, or I'd have to strafe all of you with gunfire."
"He doesn't really have a plane that shoots," Chiharu advised the others before anyone could take him seriously again.
Tomoyo just stood back and took it all in. Kero had been right; being with friends and enjoying herself had pushed all of her troublesome desires from her mind. It felt good to live in the moment, when that moment wasn't full of danger for herself and Sakura. And she really was enjoying watching Yamazaki's plane carve its way through the lower atmosphere with its total disregard for gravity, as utterly carefree as its pilot. Yamazaki was so lucky to have a model plane of his own, and the skill to fly it so adeptly. She would give anything to be able to fly a plane like that....
There was something in her hands. Something slightly heavy, and rather box-shaped. She tilted her head down to look at it, but a sudden wave of dizziness came over her, and her eyes couldn't focus on the object. The kids behind her were cheering excitedly, begging Yamazaki to do another trick... but wasn't everyone in front of her?
"Hey, what happened to the remote?" asked Tomoyo's voice from behind her. She spun around to see an exact copy of herself standing next to Li, staring back at her with a puzzled look on her face, complete with a somehow familiar squint.
"What do you mean?" Chiharu asked the other Tomoyo. "Yamazaki's still holding it. Where else would it be?"
"I'm not -" the other Tomoyo began, trailing off as she followed Chiharu's finger, which was pointing at the real Tomoyo. "What am I doing over there?" She cocked her head as if hearing something strange. "And what's with my voice?"
"It sounds perfectly fine to me," said Rika. "Is something wrong?"
Confused, Tomoyo tried to ask what was going on. "I - " That was all she could get out before her throat seized up. Her voice was a lot deeper than she was used to. What was happening to her?
A hand clapped her on the shoulder. "Hey, dude, should the plane be doing that?" asked Hayashi, pointing into the sky where the Cessna was wobbling unsteadily and careening to the left. Tomoyo jerked at his touch, and her thumb pressed a lever on the box in her hands. The plane suddenly spun wildly to the right and plunged toward the trees below.
"Oh no! The plane!" the other Tomoyo screamed, lunging toward the real Tomoyo.
"Watch out!" shouted Chiharu, pushing the impostor away. "Don't distract him while he's flying the plane! He knows what he's doing!"
At that moment, the pieces clicked together in Tomoyo's mind. A quick glance down at her body confirmed it; she had turned into Yamazaki. And presumably, the "other Tomoyo" was in fact Yamazaki in her own body. And the box in her hand was.... She frantically pushed at the controls on the remote, hoping to wrestle the plane under control, but it was diving fast, seconds away from crashing into a thick copse of trees. The people walking near its path screamed and dove out of the way.
Yamazaki gave up trying to fight his way past Chiharu and gestured wildly at Tomoyo. "The left lever! Pull it toward you!"
Tomoyo followed his instruction as quickly as she could, but it was far too late. She watched in horror as the plane started to arc gently away from the ground and flew right into the trees. "Don't crash!" she begged it aloud. "Please don't crash!"
Yamazaki covered his - her? - eyes as the plane vanished below the treeline. However, the anticipated crash never came. Instead, the motor hummed steadily as the plane continued its uninterrupted flight through the trees and rose into the sky again, completely intact.
"Wow, that was amazing!" cheered Naoko. "I thought it was going to hit the trees!"
Chiharu's jaw dropped in shock, and her grip loosened enough to allow Yamazaki to wiggle past her. "What's going on?" he demanded of Tomoyo. "Who are you?"
"Please, don't let anyone else hear you," Tomoyo whispered. "Take the controls and I'll explain." Pushing the remote toward him, she raised her voice for everyone else's benefit. "Here, Tomoyo, would you like to try it?"
"Hey, what's the big idea?" Chiharu fumed as Yamazaki took the controls. "You don't even let ME fly your plane!"
"Just pretend to be Tomoyo," Tomoyo whispered to Yamazaki. "Your mind has been put in Tomoyo's body, but we can't let anyone else find out."
"Then... you're Tomoyo?" he whispered back. "What the heck's going on?"
"I really can't explain right now," she replied. "Can you please trust me and pretend to be me until I figure out what to do?"
Yamazaki sighed. "This has got to be some kind of dream... but I guess I have to go along with it."
"I need to pretend to teach you how to fly the plane," said Tomoyo. She raised her voice again as she pointed vaguely toward the remote. "You have to use that one there," she announced.
"Call it the throttle," Yamazaki hissed. "Tell me to pull it back."
"Pull back the throttle," Tomoyo repeated, pointing to the control that Yamazaki was already manipulating. "Try to keep the plane steady as you bring it around for a landing."
"No problem," replied Yamazaki. The plane circled the lake smoothly and began its landing approach.
"You have to talk like Tomoyo too," she whispered. "Don't say 'No problem,' say 'Okay.'"
"I can't believe I'm doing this," he groaned.
Everyone held their breath until the plane had touched down and slowed to a stop at the lake shore. Tomoyo carefully reached down to fish the plane out of the water, but froze as she saw her reflection on the water's surface. It was her own face, not Yamazaki's, that was looking back at her. She quickly scooped up the plane before anyone could notice the oddity, keeping her hand well clear of the propeller. "Good job, Tomoyo," she congratulated Yamazaki.
"That was amazing!" cheered Sakura. "I didn't know you could fly a model plane, Tomoyo!"
"I thought it took years of practice," said Naoko.
Tomoyo decided to intervene in the interest of keeping the secret safe. "It usually does," she explained, "but there are some people who have the Knack for it."
"The Knack?" asked Hayashi. "Isn't that an American rock group?"
"That's right," Tomoyo agreed, doing her best to stay true to Yamazaki's character. "But they got their name from a word that means 'unexplainable skill.' In this case, it means that Tomoyo had the inborn ability to pilot a plane just as well as I can."
"No fooling?" said Sunamori as he gazed inquisitively at Yamazaki. "Who would have pictured her as an ace pilot?"
"I could see it in her eyes," Tomoyo boasted. "They were just like the eyes of Attila the Hun, the first person ever known to have the Knack. His Knack, of course, was for the yo-yo. He invented more than twenty tricks that nobody since then has ever been able to duplicate."
"Not a bad story," said Sunamori. "I honestly have no idea whether you're lying or not."
"Okay, that's enough of that," Chiharu admonished Tomoyo, removing the remote from Yamazaki's hands and returning it to the person who looked like its rightful owner. "Let's just refuel the plane and get it back in the air."
"No, we can't do that!" Yamazaki protested. "She - I mean, he...."
"It's going to rain soon," Tomoyo said quickly, silently begging JOKER to make it happen. "I picked a bad day for flying."
"What are you talking about?" asked Rika. "There's not a cloud in the sky." She peered upwards to see huge, dark clouds rolling toward the park from all directions. "Well, there wasn't," she corrected herself.
"The weather report didn't say anything about rain," said Naoko.
"Then of course it's going to rain," said Sunamori. "The weather report's never right."
Li strode through the crowd to stand next to Tomoyo. "Tomoyo, we need to talk," he whispered.
She nearly jumped at the sound of her own name. "How did you know it was me?" she asked.
"I'm not stupid," he replied. "I'm not going to ask why you used CHANGE, or why you picked Yamazaki to switch bodies with, but we have to get you back to normal in a hurry."
"What can we do?" she asked. A drop of water landed on her nose.
"We have to get away from everyone first," he advised. "I told Sakura what's going on, and Kero's thinking of a way to change you back in the meantime."
Tomoyo started to ask what he meant by that when it hit her. JOKER could only use the power of CHANGE once, and the only way to reverse the effect would be to use the same power again... a feat which JOKER was incapable of. "What are we going to do?" she asked worriedly.
"Get Yamazaki and make some excuse to get away from everybody else. Sakura and I will be waiting out of sight in the trees." He pointed toward the treeline. "We'll figure something out."
Sakura patted Tomoyo on the shoulder reassuringly. "Don't worry. It'll be okay."
Li motioned to Sakura, and the pair quietly excused themselves from the crowd and made their way into the forest to wait for Tomoyo.
Tomoyo took a deep breath and tapped Yamazaki on the shoulder. "May I talk to you in private?" she whispered.
"Are you finally going to tell me what's going on?" he groused.
She nodded. "We have to get away from everyone else first."
Yamazaki sighed. "All right. Get Chiharu to siphon out the fuel and get us back to normal."
"Siphon out the fuel?"
He pointed to where Chiharu was already positioning the wooden box with the fuel bottle and tubes next to the plane, shielding it from the increasingly frequent raindrops with her body. "The fuel's flammable, so it can't sit in the plane."
Tomoyo stepped forward and cleared her throat, once again nearly jumping at the unusually deep sound. "Say, Chiharu," she began, trying to remember Yamazaki's speech pattern. "Think you can handle the cleanup for me?"
Chiharu looked up. "Why? What are you going to do?"
The idea came to her much more quickly than she'd expected. "I need to talk to Tomoyo about flying the model plane."
Chiharu's face darkened. "What's so special about HER all of a sudden?"
"Wait, don't get mad at me!" Yamazaki protested.
Chiharu's attention turned to Yamazaki. "What does he see in you, anyway?"
"Nothing!" Tomoyo protested a bit too quickly. "It's really not like that!"
Sunamori faked a sad sigh. "And I was going to ask Tomoyo out when we got to middle school...."
Tomoyo blushed. "I...." There was no pause between the raindrops now, and the water was beginning to drip off the edge of Yamazaki's hat and soak her shoulders. But she barely noticed the wetness as she tried to figure out whether Sunamori was telling the truth or not.
"Hey, I think Takashi's embarrassed," teased Hayashi. "He really DOES have something going on with Tomoyo!"
"You jerks!" shouted Yamazaki. "Don't even joke about that!"
Everyone took a careful step back as what appeared to be mild-mannered Tomoyo exploded in fury. "Geez, we're sorry, Tomoyo," said Hayashi. "We were just playing around."
"What's wrong, Tomoyo?" Naoko asked with genuine concern. "I've never seen you this upset."
"I bet she's just had a bad day since her dentist appointment yesterday," Tomoyo explained quickly. "Did you know that dentistry began in -"
"Now's not the time for your stories," Chiharu interrupted. She hunched her shoulders and pulled her shirt up to keep the rain from falling on the back of her neck. "I want to get inside before this rain gets any worse."
Hayashi jerked a thumb in the direction of the path. "My dad drove me and Jono here... can we offer any of you girls a ride?" He smiled slyly.
Naoko started to accept, but Rika quickly pushed her aside. "Thanks, but our parents are expecting us. They'll be worried if we ride home with strangers."
"Your mother knows us," Hayashi reminded her. "She was at our play last year and you introduced us."
"Trust me, you guys are strange enough to be strangers," Rika countered. She quickly walked away, pushing Naoko in front of her, before Hayashi could respond.
Sunamori shook his head. "Dude.... Burned."
Hayashi sighed. "Chiharu, how about you?"
"She's got a boyfriend," Sunamori reminded him.
"Yeah, leave her alone!" snapped Yamazaki.
Hayashi chuckled. "Looks like Takashi's got girls fighting over him now."
"I do not!" shouted Yamazaki. Then, remembering his situation, he quickly corrected himself. "I mean, I'm not fighting over him! There's just something we need to talk about, that's all!"
Chiharu sighed. "Fine. Go. I'll be waiting here when you get back."
"Thanks, Chiharu," said Tomoyo. "You're a peach."
Chiharu blushed. "Just go, Yamazaki. And don't take too long."
Tomoyo chuckled nervously. "Don't worry. We'll be right back." She beckoned to Yamazaki and led the way toward where Sakura and Li were waiting. "I'm really sorry about this," she apologized.
"Can you tell me now what's going on?" asked Yamazaki, once they were out of Chiharu's hearing and deep enough in the trees that the leaves blocked most of the rain. "Why am I in your body?"
"It's magic," said Li, as he stepped into view with Sakura. "Ancient, very powerful magic."
Yamazaki turned to face Li and crossed his arms in disbelief. "There's no such thing as magic."
"Then explain why you're in Tomoyo's body," challenged Li.
"Well...." Yamazaki scratched his chin. "I don't know how you did it. But I'm sure this is just a trick, with a simple explanation."
"It's not a trick," said Sakura. "You and Tomoyo have really swapped bodies, and we have to figure out a way to change you back before anyone else finds out!"
"Well, assuming you're telling the truth, which I doubt," said Yamazaki, "why not use whatever swapped us in the first place to swap us back?"
"It's not that simple," explained Li. "The entity that's controlling the magic can only use each power once. Now that it's used the power of CHANGE, it can't be undone so easily."
Kero popped his head out of Sakura's pack. "Our only hope at this point would be to figure out a way to use other powers to recreate the effect of CHANGE."
Yamazaki gaped. "Did that toy just... talk?"
"Hey! Who are you calling a toy?" demanded Kero. He leapt at Yamazaki and hovered right in front of his face. "I'm Kerberos, Guardian Beast of the Clow!"
Yamazaki's eyes rolled, and he fainted dead away.
Kero shook his head sadly. "I guess he just wasn't ready to see a real live Guardian Beast. Not to mention the shock of being in a girl's body."
"He'll wake up soon enough," said Li.
"And when he does, he'll know all about the magic of Clow," Kero pointed out. "In retrospect, maybe showing myself wasn't such a good idea. I don't think we'll be able to explain away a flying, talking stuffed animal."
"Like we could explain away CHANGE," replied Li. "The secret's blown, plain and simple. He knows magic is real, and there's nothing we can do about it."
"I'm sorry," Tomoyo apologized. "It's my fault."
"Don't worry about it," said Kero. "When you're dealing with this level of magic, things are bound to get out of hand sooner or later. We can worry about trying to contain the secret when we've dealt with the bigger problem at hand." He assumed a Thinker pose and sat down in midair to consider the options. "Ah, got it!" he announced at last. "Have you tried just wishing to be back in your own body?"
Tomoyo closed her eyes. "JOKER, please put Yamazaki and me back into our own bodies!"
"Did it work?" asked Sakura.
Tomoyo looked down to where her unconscious body still lay. "No. I'm still Yamazaki."
Kero's expression darkened. "Then we're in a pretty rotten spot. If JOKER couldn't grant your wish, it must not have the power to do it at all."
"Why don't we just wait until JOKER's used up all its power, and use the real CHANGE card to swap them back?" suggested Li.
"That could take weeks!" countered Sakura. "We can't leave them like this for that long!"
"It's not quite that simple," put in Kero.
"What do you mean?" Tomoyo asked nervously.
"Remember that if people switched by the CHANGE card remain in the wrong bodies for more than a day, they're stuck forever," Kero reminded them.
Tomoyo paled. "Then if we don't return to our own bodies by tomorrow...."
Kero nodded. "You'll be going home to the Yamazaki residence from now on."
Tomoyo's knees buckled, dumping her on the ground. She could feel something squeezing within her chest, until her heart felt like it was about to burst. "And Yamazaki too...?"
"He'll be eating your mother's delicious breakfasts for the rest of his life," Kero said regretfully.
"No!" shouted Sakura. "We can't let that happen! We have to think of something!"
"We'll do what we can," said Kero. "But JOKER plays by a whole different set of rules. There's no guarantee a solution even exists."
"It has to!" Sakura insisted. "And we'll find it! Right, Tomoyo?"
Tomoyo nodded noncommittally, certain that some of the water running down her cheeks wasn't from the rain. Despite Sakura's reassurance, she couldn't get rid of the awful feeling inside her. She'd known coming to the park was a bad idea, but she'd come anyway. And now, what she'd been afraid of had happened. One of her friends had been dragged into JOKER's tangled web because of her selfish wish.
Li bent down to look into Tomoyo's face. "You look hurt," he announced.
"Don't feel bad," Kero urged amicably. "The situation's not as horrible as you think. I'm sure we'll find a way to get you back to normal."
Tomoyo shook her head. "It's not that..." she began, but couldn't bring herself to finish. As it happened, there was more than emotions hurting her, but her other problem seemed so petty compared to the big one facing her....
"What's wrong?" asked Sakura. "I'm sure we can help you, whatever it is."
Tomoyo blushed. "I really have to go to the bathroom."
Kero nodded sagely. "Now, THAT," he agreed, "is a conundrum."