Tomoyo and Sakura finally come face to face with JOKER in a showdown for Tomoyo's freedom.
Kero slowly pushed himself up on his front paws, groaning with the lingering pain of a colossal headache. "Oh, man.... Did anyone get the number of that cart?" He rubbed his head. "Is this one of those hangovers Clow was always talking about? Feels like it... but I thought you had to get drunk to have one." Suddenly, the real memories flooded back, and he leapt into the air, frantically searching for Sakura and Tomoyo. "Yo, Tomoyo! Are you still alive out there? Did you stop Sakura?"
A faint sob caught his ear, and he zipped off down the path, soon spotting Tomoyo sitting in the middle of the stone walkway with Sakura lying across her lap. "Oh, thank goodness," he sighed.
"It's not right," Tomoyo whined softly, shaking her head and clutching Sakura's head to her chest. "It's just not right!"
Kero swooped down to her level. "Hey, what's the matter? Did you snap Sakura out of that spell yet?"
Tomoyo looked up at him with her eyes full of tears. "Sakura... Sakura is...."
Kero's gaze quickly traced its way down to where Sakura lay, her blood pooling in a large stain on Tomoyo's dress. He gasped in shock. "Oh man! She isn't...."
"It was SHOT," confirmed Tomoyo.
"Ah, what were you thinking?" shouted Kero. "I said knock her out with SHOT, not kill her!"
"It wasn't my fault!" Tomoyo cried. "I used ARROW to pin her down, but once I got the sword out of her hand, SHOT attacked me. Sakura pushed me out of the way, but then she... she...." Her voice gave out as she burst into tears all over again.
Kero patted her on the shoulder. "Hey, don't cry yourself dry, Tomoyo. Sakura didn't give up her life so you could sit here mourning her forever. You've got a job to do, to make her sacrifice worthwhile."
Tomoyo glared at him with all the accusation she could muster. "Don't you care about her at all?"
"Hey, there's not a lot we can do for her right now," Kero shot back. "But you're still alive, and still in danger. I know if Sakura were still alive, she'd ask me to protect you, and that's what I'm going to do. There will be plenty of time to cry later."
"What does it matter now?" asked Tomoyo. "Sakura's dead!"
"You mattered a lot to her," Kero reminded her. "She gave up her life to save you. You were worth everything to her."
"And she meant the same to me!" Tomoyo lowered her head, letting it rest on Sakura's shoulder. "I don't want to be alive if it means Sakura has to die!"
"Hey, watch your language!" warned Kero. "JOKER's still listening!"
"I don't care!" Tomoyo shouted, so forcefully that it drove Kero back several inches. "JOKER's taken away the only thing that matters to me!"
Kero blinked blankly. "You're serious.... But there's really nothing you can do. Not even the power of the Clow Cards can bring someone back to life. No magic can."
Tomoyo looked up at him hopefully. "What about JOKER? It's much more powerful than any other magic!"
Kero shook his head. "If it hasn't granted that wish yet, it must be beyond its power as well."
Tomoyo's heart sank to a new depth at Kero's words. Even while they were in danger, being with Sakura had always made things bearable, even fun. She'd taken for granted the belief that they'd be together forever, and in an instant, JOKER had shattered it. Emotions churned within her heart: confusion, loneliness, fear. But as the shock passed from her system, one emotion surged to the top - anger. She clenched her fists on Sakura's dress and closed her eyes.
"Is this how you try to make me happy?" she asked the air. "Is this how you grant my wishes?"
Kero recoiled. "You don't sound like yourself, Tomoyo...."
"I hate you, JOKER!" she shouted. "I hate everything you've ever done! I don't want your help or your wishes! All the wishes in the world mean nothing to me if I can't be with Sakura!"
Suddenly, Tomoyo felt Sakura grow very warm in her arms, and heard a sharp gasp from Kero. An intense light was radiating from the lifeless body, so brightly that it burned her eyes even though they were screwed tightly closed. The brightness and heat quickly intensified until they were painful, and Tomoyo had to pull her knees out from under the body and crawl in the opposite direction until she was a safe distance away. A few seconds later, the light faded, restoring the cool, dark summer night that it had interrupted.
Timidly, she turned around to see what effect the light had had on Sakura. At first, nothing seemed to have changed, but as she watched, Sakura groaned and sat up, rubbing her chest. "Huh? What's going on?" she asked, looking around. "What happened to me?"
Joy filled Tomoyo until she felt like she would burst. She sprang forward, throwing herself on top of Sakura so violently that they slid across the rough stones. "SAKURA!" she cried. "I thought you were dead!"
Sakura's arms slowly rose, inch by inch, to encircle her. "Tomoyo...."
"I thought you were gone forever!" Tomoyo continued, spilling the words that were inside her without pause. "I thought I would never get to see you again! I didn't know what I was going to do without you!"
"It's okay, Tomoyo," Sakura assured her. "I feel fine now."
"It's not okay!" whined Tomoyo. "It was all my fault! You risked yourself for me, and I would never forgive myself if that happened! I never want to be away from you again!"
Sakura laughed uncomfortably. "Don't worry. I'm not going to leave you again." She pried at Tomoyo's arms, but they held firm. "Um, could you let go of me now?"
"No!" Tomoyo protested, squeezing Sakura even tighter. "I'm never going to let you go again! Never! I'll always hold on to you forever!"
Kero tapped Tomoyo on the shoulder. "I'm afraid you're going to have to let go of her sooner or later. We can't just lie around here forever, you know."
"I'm scared," Tomoyo whispered through the tears that hadn't ever stopped. "If I let go, anything could happen. Sakura could die again. I want to be like this forever. I want to be with Sakura...."
"All right," agreed Sakura. "I'll hold you a while longer."
Time passed like that, and Tomoyo didn't know or care how long it was. Every moment of it was more precious to her than anything she could imagine.
"Okay, time to get moving," Kero said at last. "We've got to finish here and be back home before your father figures out you're gone."
Tomoyo sat up sheepishly. "I'm sorry, Sakura. I didn't think about that."
"Don't worry about it," replied Sakura. "We'll make it in time." She started to stand up and stumbled slightly.
Tomoyo caught her and helped her up. "Sakura, did it heal you completely?" she asked. "Do you still have any injuries?"
Three pairs of eyes traced up and down Sakura's body. Not only had the gaping hole in her chest vanished as if it had never been, but her burned leg had been healed as well. Even her dress was back to its original condition again, with no sign that it had been burnt, ripped, and torn to make a bandage.
Kero nodded his head in a brand-new sense of admiration. "THAT... is some powerful magic. Not even Clow at his most powerful could heal more than little scratches. And he always said that reviving the dead was impossible."
"Then what card was it that brought me back to life?" asked Sakura.
"There was a bright light," replied Tomoyo. "It must have been the power of LIGHT."
"Is LIGHT a healing card?" asked Sakura.
Kero shook his head. "Not that I know of. LIGHT is just a card that makes light, the same way that DARK makes everything dark. But while Sakura was still capturing cards, LIGHT was inside her the whole time. I suppose you could say that LIGHT is the energy within Sakura. So if anything has the power to heal her, it would be that card... but I don't think it would have enough power to heal physical wounds on its own. It must be because JOKER can use 52 times the original strength of the card."
"But you said JOKER wasn't powerful enough," Tomoyo pointed out.
Kero hummed to himself in thought. "Well, your wish for Sakura to live was pretty strong. Dangerously strong, I would say. The kind of strength that sometimes lets even non-magical people tap into their life energy to do some amazing things. With that much desire backing a wish, I wouldn't be surprised if JOKER really could pull it off." He chuckled. "Of course, that's because I've just seen it happen."
Sakura tried to cover her face to hide her blush. "Um... maybe we should keep going."
Kero saw her discomfort and tactfully agreed. "Yeah, we'd better move it before JOKER does something else."
"What other powers does JOKER have left?" Tomoyo wondered aloud.
Kero shrugged. "No way to get an accurate count of how many cards are left, but there probably aren't many. And most of the dangerous ones have been used up. All four elements, SHOT and ARROW, MIST, TIME, STORM, THUNDER.... Sakura, can you think of any I'm forgetting?"
Sakura pulled out the Clow Deck. "We could look through all of the cards and try to figure out which ones are left..." she suggested.
Tomoyo tugged at Sakura's sleeve. The trees were beginning to feel close, and even though she knew that WOOD had been used up, it still made her feel nervous. "I think we should just go. The shrine is just ahead."
"No sense rushing in when we don't know what we're facing," said Kero. "A little planning goes a long way."
"No, I think she's right," countered Sakura. "I feel something from up ahead. Something bad will happen if we don't hurry!"
Kero sat back and shrugged while the girls raced ahead. "Fine, fine. Nobody listens to my sage advice anymore anyway...." With a heavy sigh, he floated after them, only to bump into Sakura's back as she abruptly stopped at the boundary of the courtyard. "Hey, what gives?"
"Miss Mizuki's house..." replied Sakura breathlessly. "It's buried in snow!"
Kero gaped at the white, rounded house-sized mound at the side of the courtyard. "It's SNOW!"
"How could JOKER attack Miss Mizuki?" asked Sakura.
"I've gotta admit, it's a pretty effective tactic," said Kero. "Getting here doesn't do you much good if you can't get to Miss Mizuki."
"But Miss Mizuki has always been immune to the powers of the Clow Cards," Tomoyo pointed out.
"She just has a great deal of magical power of her own," Kero corrected her. "Competing magics are nothing more than a battle of wills, and hers is more than enough to counter a Clow Card, maybe even two. But JOKER has a lot more power than that. And with enough power, ANY form of protection can be broken."
"That's not what I meant," Sakura cut in, a tear running down her cheek. "Miss Mizuki didn't do anything. Why would JOKER attack her? We're the ones it's after, not her!"
"She's wrapped up in this too, as much as you are," replied Kero. "But I'm sure she can handle herself. Even if she's not as powerful as JOKER is, she's not helpless."
"We still have to do something!" Sakura said determinedly. She ran to the base of the massive snow hill and began to dig at it with her bare hands, hardly making a dent in the huge pile of snow.
"What do you think you're doing?" asked Kero. "You can't tunnel through this much snow!"
"I have to try! There's no way for air to get in! Miss Mizuki could suffocate!"
"You're just going to get frostbite digging like that," said Kero. "You're not dressed for the snow." He sighed. "Too bad there's no Clow Card to summon a steam shovel."
"Help me, Tomoyo!" pleaded Sakura. "We have to hurry!"
Tomoyo looked up at the impossibly grand obstacle and shook her head. "It's too big. There's nothing we can do about it." But even as she finished her sentence, her own words gave her an idea. "Unless.... JOKER! Make Sakura and me big enough to clear away the snow!"
Sakura chuckled with elation as her body began to grow. "Great idea, Tomoyo!"
As always, Tomoyo couldn't help blushing at Sakura's praise, but this time, there was a job to do. She turned her attention to the mound of snow in front of her and carefully scraped at it with her fingers, well aware that at her increased size, she could easily destroy Miss Mizuki's house if she didn't watch what she was doing.
It didn't take long for the girls to remove most of the snow, leaving little more than a light coat over the entire house. Tomoyo efficiently brushed the front clean with the tail of her bloodstained dress and nodded in satisfaction. "JOKER, return us to our normal size," she commanded.
The front door opened while Tomoyo's head was still as high as the roof, and Miss Mizuki stepped out with a smile on her face. "Hello, Miss Kinomoto, Miss Daidouji. You've grown since I saw you last."
"Are you okay, Miss Mizuki?" asked Sakura. "We dug you out as quickly as we could!"
"I'm fine," she assured them, crossing the courtyard to the place where the girls had ended up after they'd returned to normal size. "It will take more than a little snow to finish me off." She favored Sakura with a wink.
"I'm so glad!" cried Sakura.
"I'm rather surprised to see you girls here," Miss Mizuki continued. "I honestly didn't think you'd be able to reach me. And I thought you'd bring Mr. Li with you if you tried."
"Then you know what's going on?" asked Sakura.
Miss Mizuki shook her head. "I'm afraid I only know what Mr. Li told me earlier today, and he didn't know much at the time. And my own magic has been very weak since yesterday afternoon. I couldn't even feel the presence of JOKER until the snowstorm began."
"Do you know how to defeat JOKER?" asked Sakura.
Miss Mizuki laid a finger across her cheek and thought. "My senses are still weak. I suspect that JOKER is blocking them somehow, just as it's blocking the Clow Cards and Mr. Li's magic. But it might be possible to somehow .............................." Her mouth continued to move, but no sound came out.
"............" said Sakura, equally silently. She clutched her throat and tried again. "..............."
Tomoyo decided to give speaking a try as well. "............................." It was useless; she couldn't make a sound, just like when her voice had been stolen by the VOICE card. But she was sure that JOKER had already used the power of VOICE when it had talked to her before.
She looked at the others for guidance, but Sakura was still vainly flapping her mouth, trying to talk, while Miss Mizuki stood in deep thought. Kero tried to shout to get Sakura's attention, then perched on her shoulder when that failed, tugging on her ear to shut her up and calm her down. As Sakura joined the others in quiet contemplation, Tomoyo realized that their voices weren't the only victims of JOKER's latest effect. There was no sound at all - not even the background of crickets chirping and leaves rustling that the ear tended not to notice until its absence stood out.
Sakura cocked her head as she, too, realized the strangeness of the total silence. She stamped a foot experimentally, producing no sound. She nodded slowly and turned to Tomoyo. "......." she mouthed, still not making a sound, but Tomoyo managed to pick out the word from her lips: SILENT.
Miss Mizuki seemed satisfied with that analysis, and watched the girls expectantly with a new brightness in her eyes. Unfortunately, Tomoyo wasn't any closer to a solution for knowing what had caused the problem. It seemed like Miss Mizuki saw something the others didn't, but if she did, why didn't she offer any help? After they'd fought through so many obstacles to reach her, she seemed surprisingly unhelpful. Then again... JOKER had gone to a lot of trouble to keep them away from Miss Mizuki, and it had finally silenced her just before she could tell them how to defeat it. Clearly, there was SOMETHING she could do that made JOKER afraid... but what?
Miss Mizuki was smiling slyly at Tomoyo now, as if she could read her mind. She was definitely waiting for Tomoyo to do or say something. But even Tomoyo didn't know what that could be. There was only one idea in her mind, and it couldn't possibly be right. Still, at least she could suggest it. Maybe it would give Sakura some inspiration. "......................." she shouted, remembering only afterward that she couldn't speak. Instead, she clenched a fist and waved it up and down in front of her, miming ringing the sacred bell.
Miss Mizuki nodded in recognition and backed into the house, emerging a few seconds later with the familiar D-shaped, ribbon-adorned bell in her hand. Tomoyo gasped inaudibly at the sight of the instrument that had supposedly vanished during Sakura's final judgment, but Sakura was more overjoyed than worried. Miss Mizuki calmly raised the bell over her head and gave it a firm shake. The resulting echoing drone was so thick as to be almost visible as it radiated outward, slowly giving way to the natural background noise.
"Can we talk now?" asked Sakura, answering her own question. "That was scary!"
Kero fluttered over to Miss Mizuki. "Good thing you had that bell. I suspect that's what JOKER was so afraid of all this time."
Miss Mizuki nodded. "This bell holds power over the Clow Cards. It seems that even JOKER is powerless against it."
"But I thought the bell vanished after you used it before," Tomoyo said, voicing her suspicion.
"Yeah, that's right," agreed Sakura. "You said that once its purpose was complete, the bell disappeared."
Miss Mizuki smiled. "That was a different bell, a copy of the one I have now. This bell was an heirloom of my family for centuries before Clow came. When he saw how effective the bell was at subverting the power of his cards, he created a copy of it for the specific purpose of giving Sakura a second chance at Yue's test. This bell, the original, is the one I used to break through MAZE shortly after we first met."
"I don't understand," said Tomoyo. "Why does that bell have power over the Clow Cards if it's not the one that Mr. Clow created?"
"Clow was not a religious man," replied Miss Mizuki. "And since magic relies so heavily on belief, his disbelief in religion makes his magic defenseless against holy relics."
"Then that bell is...?" Sakura began, pointing at the bell.
"It was blessed by the Buddha himself," said Miss Mizuki.
Kero scratched his head. "Call me unenlightened, but I don't recall the Buddha being the type of guy who went around blessing things."
"Indeed," agreed Miss Mizuki. "That's what makes this bell so rare. You see, it was crafted by a master metalsmith who had heard that the Buddha would be passing near his village. The smith put all of his talent into creating the most intricate, beautiful bell he'd ever made, with a sound that would make even the mountains bend down to listen. Or so it was said." She winked. "I've never actually seen a mountain bend to it, but its tone is quite unique."
"Then the bell was a gift for the Buddha?" asked Tomoyo.
"That's right. However, when the smith went to present the bell to the Buddha, he gave it back, saying, 'I have no use for such a thing, even if it is well-crafted. It would go to waste in my possession. Instead, you should keep this bell and ring it outside your shop. Many will hear its beautiful sound and, amazed at your skill, they will commission many jobs from you and you will prosper.'
"After that, the smith returned to his village and, as the Buddha had suggested, rang the bell to attract customers. Sure enough, he soon became so busy that he had to hire a young man from the village to ring the bell for him so that he could spend all of his time working. And the bell eventually passed to my family, although no one remembers how that came to be."
Kero nodded sagely. "When you put it that way, it makes sense."
"But isn't this a Shinto shrine?" asked Sakura. "Why would you have a Buddhist holy relic?"
Miss Mizuki smiled warmly. "Power is power. Sometimes, it's enough to believe in power even if you don't believe in where it came from."
"Personally, I'm not going to question what works," said Kero.
"So, if you've had that bell all this time, why didn't you use it sooner?" asked Sakura.
"If I used my own power whenever you were in trouble, how would your magic ever grow?" replied Miss Mizuki. "There are certainly times when I could have used the bell to help you, but because you solved the problems yourself, you became stronger. You have much more growing to do yet before you can truly become the Master of the Clow."
"But I AM the Master of the Clow!" protested Sakura. "Tell her, Kero!"
"You may hold the Clow Cards," argued Kero, "but your power isn't nearly what Clow's was."
"KERO!" shouted Sakura. "I thought I was supposed to be your master! You're supposed to support me!"
Kero crossed his arms indignantly. "I draw the line at lying just to make you feel important."
Tomoyo chuckled at the always-lively interaction between the two, but her grin vanished as she noticed the wary expression on her former teacher's face. "Miss Mizuki, is something wrong?" she asked.
Miss Mizuki nodded. "I feel a presence. JOKER is still here, and its presence is much stronger than before."
Sakura blinked. "I feel it too. I think my powers have returned."
Kero nodded. "Yeah, my power's returned as well. The bell must have canceled the block that JOKER placed on Clow's magic."
"Then I can capture JOKER?" asked Sakura excitedly.
"It won't be quite as easy as that," said a voice from behind the girls. They spun around to face the small figure dressed in colorful checkered clothes and a floppy hat, reminiscent of the picture on the ERASE card. In one hand, it held a staff topped with several colored feathers. When the girls saw the figure, it hopped into the air, cocked its head, and smiled broadly.
"Are you... JOKER?" asked Tomoyo.
"Correct!" JOKER darted toward Tomoyo, spun around her head, and planted a flower in her hair. "I'm the one who's been causing all your troubles, and once I'm caught, it will all seem like a bad dream."
"All right!" shouted Sakura, pulling the transformed Clow Key from around her neck. "Then I'll capture you!"
JOKER shook its head. "But I can't let it be that easy, can I? You'll have to catch me before you can catch me!" It held the staff above its head horizontally and spun it like a helicopter blade. Before Sakura could even begin the chant to summon the Clow Wand, JOKER soared up into the sky and out of sight.
"We have to go after it!" shouted Tomoyo.
Sakura shook her head. "No, Tomoyo. You should stay here. It will be too dangerous."
"No!" Tomoyo protested. "I'm coming with you! JOKER is my problem, and I'll see it through to the end, no matter what!"
"But I'll need to use the wand to fly, and also to capture JOKER..." began Sakura. A rush of air cut her off, as Kero vanished into a cocoon formed by a pair of giant wings. When the wings opened, Kerberos' original form stood there, in all its lionesque majesty.
Sakura screamed and fell down. "Oh, Kero! It's only you!" she exclaimed as she stood up.
"Get on my back," said Kerberos, his normal Osaka accent sounding rather strange coming from such a regal beast. "I'll take care of the flying."
"Great!" enthused Sakura, leaping onto Kerberos' back. "Your true form is really cool!" She reached down to help Tomoyo climb up, and then they were aloft. Kerberos' powerful wings beat heavily at the air as he chased JOKER into the sky.
"Good luck, you two!" Miss Mizuki called up to them as they flew away. "Don't underestimate your own abilities!"
They finally found JOKER sitting in the air high above the city, reclining comfortably and reading a newspaper. "Took you long enough," it said, tossing the paper aside. "I was beginning to think you'd forgotten about me."
Kerberos growled. "I don't like this card much," he said. "It's an incredible showoff that loves to prove that it's not bound by the power of Clow. Sakura, get ready to capture it!"
"Right!" Sakura held the Clow Key in her outstretched palm. "Key which hides the powers of darkness, return to your true form. I, Sakura, command you under our contract. RELEASE!" She waited expectantly for the key to become the Clow Wand, but as before, nothing happened. "It still doesn't work!" she whined.
"What could be wrong with it?" asked Tomoyo. "Kero's power was unsealed, so the Clow Wand should also work, shouldn't it?"
JOKER cocked its head to the side and chuckled. "Having a little trouble there, Sakura?" It shook its head sadly. "That won't do. Your battle will be over before it's started if you can't use your magic."
"Try it again!" urged Kerberos. "It's the only way you'll be able to stop JOKER!"
Sakura focused all of her energy on the Clow Key, straining until she felt a bit of life flowing through it. With much relief, she concentrated on that power. "RELEASE!"
This time, the key transformed successfully, expanding in Sakura's hand to become the relatively familiar form of the Clow Wand - "relatively" due to the transformation that had turned the bird's head ornament into a ringed star when Sakura had completed the final judgment. "I did it!" she shouted.
"Hurry up and use a Clow Card!" shouted Kerberos.
Sakura drew a Clow Card from the folds of her clothing. "Wind, become a binding chain!" she chanted, hurling the card into the air. She swung her wand down to strike the card's face. "WINDY!" Suddenly, from where the card had been, the spirit of wind emerged, surrounded by gusts of air so thick that they were visible to the naked eye. WINDY quickly set its sights on JOKER and flew at top speed, sending its ropes of air ahead of itself.
JOKER laughed gleefully. "It begins!" It lowered its staff and pointed it at the approaching wind spirit. Lightning leapt from the tip of the staff, forming a cage around WINDY for a split second before the cage contracted, binding WINDY helplessly.
"No good!" cried Kerberos as WINDY returned to its card form and flew back to Sakura's hand.
"But that was THUNDER!" protested Sakura. "You already used THUNDER before!"
"And I used FLY as well," JOKER replied calmly. "But once my hold on Tomoyo was broken, I was freed from the constraints that bound me before. There is no limit to my power now."
"Don't give up, Sakura," urged Tomoyo. "You can do it!"
Sakura returned WINDY to the Clow Deck and pulled out another card. "I'll try an attack card this time!" she declared. "WATERY!"
JOKER stood firm in the face of the advancing water spirit. It raised its free hand, pointing the index finger and thumb to form a mock handgun. With a fake sound like a bullet leaving the gun's barrel, it snapped its thumb down, pretending to recoil from the bullet's force. Instantly, WATERY became a sculpture of ice mere inches away from JOKER. JOKER tapped WATERY's face with its staff, shattering it into hundreds of pieces which quickly returned to card form.
Kerberos snarled in frustration. "WATERY should be stronger than FREEZE... but then, JOKER's magic is more powerful than any Clow Card."
"I can't give up!" shouted Sakura, selecting another card. "FIREY!"
JOKER yawned, then sent a gushing torrent of water from the tip of its staff before FIREY could even get close. FIREY vanished into a cloud of steam with a cry of pain, then turned tail and returned to Sakura's hand.
"Those were three of the elemental cards - the most powerful cards in the deck - but JOKER handled them like they were nothing!" announced Kerberos. "And EARTHY won't do you any good up here!"
"I just need to try something different," said Sakura. She replaced FIREY with another card and called upon its magic. "Pierce my opponent with magical shafts! ARROW!"
JOKER took a deep breath and exhaled sharply, sending a gust of wind that scattered the arrows before they could get close.
"That won't work either," said Kerberos. "When you attack from a distance, JOKER has plenty of time to counter."
"Then I'll just have to get closer." Sakura slipped ARROW back into the deck and drew two more cards. "Kero, get ready."
"What are you -" Kerberos began, before Sakura lowered the cards so that he could see their faces. "Don't worry," he assured her. "You can count on me."
Sakura nodded and tossed one of the cards into the air. "JUMP!" A pair of wings sprouted from each of her heels, and she leapt toward JOKER in a graceful arc.
JOKER simply sat back and waited expectantly to see what Sakura was planning.
At the top of her leap, Sakura threw the other card and struck it with the wand. "SWORD!" As the SWORD card vanished, the Clow Wand turned into the sword pictured on the card. She swung it downward with her descent, aiming for JOKER's head.
JOKER simply blinked, and in the next instant, Sakura was falling past it empty-handed. She caught a momentary glimpse of the goofy grin on its face before she passed it, only just remembering to get her legs under her before she landed on Kerberos' back. "What happened?" she whined.
"Mmrph," replied Kerberos.
"The sword jumped out of your hands and appeared next to you," explained Tomoyo. "Kero caught it in his mouth."
Sakura reached down and retrieved the wand from Kerberos' mouth. "Thanks, Kero."
"I think it knocked a tooth loose," he moaned.
"Even a sword is subject to JOKER's power," said Sakura, setting her sights on JOKER again. She shoved the SWORD card roughly into the deck and extracted a different card. "I just won't use a sword this time."
"What are you planning now?" asked Kerberos. "Don't tell me you're going to try -"
"FIGHT!" shouted Sakura, activating the power of the card. Still under JUMP's power, she leapt from Kerberos' back, raising her fists in preparation to fight hand-to-hand with JOKER.
"Is she crazy?" asked Kerberos, swinging around to get into position to catch her when she fell. "This isn't Dragonball! She can't fight in midair!"
"Be careful, Sakura!" Tomoyo called after her.
JOKER hunkered down as Sakura approached and met her charge with its arms over its face, blocking her initial flurry of punches. With each attack, Sakura struck downward, using the force of her own attacks to remain airborne as JOKER remained in place with its magic.
"Man, that's some skill," said Kerberos, impressed. "You show that card who's boss, Sakura!"
Just as Sakura seemed to be gaining the upper hand, JOKER spun around her attack and dealt her a fierce chop in the side, following up with a series of kicks. Sakura grabbed its shoulder for support while she blocked with one leg, raising the Clow Wand to use it as a club. JOKER blocked with its own staff and kicked Sakura in the stomach, nearly breaking her grip. Gritting her teeth, Sakura kicked back with full force, hitting one of JOKER's thighs. Finally back in control of the fight, she pulled both legs to her chest and kicked at JOKER's lower half over and over.
JOKER swung its arm at Sakura's head, but she easily blocked it with her wand, thrilled that she was finally winning the battle. However, when she looked back into JOKER's face, it was still wearing that same confident, cocky grin, showing no sign of pain or worry. She had only seconds to think about what that meant before she felt an impact on the back of her head. While her vision swam in stars, she spun around to face an identical copy of JOKER and raised her arm just in time to block a second punch aimed at her face.
"Sakura, watch out!" Kerberos shouted unnecessarily. "There are two JOKERs!"
"Don't let them gang up on you, Sakura!" added Tomoyo.
Sakura did her best to take Tomoyo's advice, but quickly found it impossible to keep up with the attacks coming from both sides at once. She was pounded by fists and feet again and again, helplessly bouncing back and forth between the copies until one of them moved aside to let her fall onto Kerberos' back. Tomoyo pushed her into a sitting position. "Sakura, are you okay?" she asked.
Sakura rubbed her chest and tightened her grip on the wand. "Two against one... no fair!"
Kerberos grinned slyly. "Then why don't you even things up?"
"Yeah, good idea!" agreed Sakura. She pulled out another card. "Make a copy of me to fight our enemy," she chanted. "MIRROR!" The card shone brightly and expanded into a full-length mirror that contained not a reflection of Sakura, but the image of the MIRROR spirit. The spirit within the mirror quickly moved toward the glass, changing into Sakura's form as it passed the plane of the mirror. The copy-Sakura opened her eyes and nodded to the original.
"Can you use the power of FIGHT?" asked Sakura, swaying slightly with the effort of sustaining three cards' effects at once.
"I'm pretty sure I can," replied Copy-Sakura.
"All right, then!" shouted Sakura, pointing at JOKER. "Let's go!"
One of the JOKERs casually formed a finger-gun and pretended to shoot the copy, shattering it into dust. Tomoyo quickly covered her eyes and suppressed a sob.
Sakura gaped at the space where her twin had been. "Kero, what just happened?" she asked.
"It felt like ERASE to me," replied Kerberos. "Looks like a fair fight is out of the question."
Sakura sat down and clutched the wand tightly. "What can I do? I'm all out of ideas!"
Tomoyo opened her eyes and glanced at JOKER, which had returned to one body and looked ready to pounce. "Sakura, watch out!" she shouted, as JOKER closed the distance with lightning speed, stopping just short of Sakura as she cringed in fear. As Sakura relaxed, confused, JOKER gave her a wave and a smile before curling its middle finger and plucking Sakura sharply on the forehead. The tiny blow sent Sakura flying out of sight.
"Sakura!" shouted Kerberos. "Man, there's no way I'll be able to catch her!"
"I wouldn't worry about her right now," said JOKER. "She'll be fine." It turned to Tomoyo with a look of disappointment on its face. "Tomoyo, are you just going to sit there and let Sakura do all the work?" it asked. "If she's your friend, you should at least try to think of a way to help her."
"But I don't have any magic," Tomoyo argued, wondering why JOKER was suddenly taking such an interest in her again.
"That didn't stop you before," JOKER reminded her, floating back to its previous position.
Sakura soon emerged from the clouds below, riding on her giant-winged wand with her eyes spiraling dizzily. "I almost forgot I had the FLY card," she explained as she shook off her dizziness and set her sights on JOKER again. "I'll be able to get close now, for sure!"
JOKER smoothly swung its staff in a circle, sending the air around Sakura swirling into a thick tornado. She screamed as she was buffeted from side to side within the spinning storm, attacked anew each time she tried to move toward the center. Fortunately, she was familiar with how to defeat the power of STORM after having watched Li capture the card so long ago. She closed her eyes and tried to ignore the sound of the whistling wind, instead trying to feel where the magic was weakest. As the wind tore at her face, she started to move back before she felt the depression just to her right. She leaned in that direction, steering herself into the eye of the storm, and readied her attack as the wind died down around her. She pulled the wand from between her legs, threw the card downward into the heart of the storm, and activated it. "THUNDER!" Lightning shot from the card in all directions, scattering the spiral of air.
"Way to go, Sakura!" cheered Kerberos. "That's the Card Captor I chose!"
JOKER nodded its approval. "Well done," it agreed. "Next time, I'll have to trap you inside something a bit more fiendish." It stretched out its arms as if preparing to launch something at Sakura from its palms. What emerged, though, were large green ropes that expanded into blocks, forming right angles and staircases as they snaked their way around JOKER and toward Sakura.
"Sakura, watch out!" shouted Kerberos. "That's MAZE! It's trying to trap you inside!"
Sakura shrieked and pulled back, out of reach of the expanding green corridors. When they finally stopped moving, the green walls had formed a giant box around JOKER with many entrances, like a giant Menger sponge. She stared up at the impossibly huge wall and groaned. "How am I supposed to get to JOKER now?"
"Only one of those entrances will lead to JOKER," said Kerberos. "And even if you choose the right one, you could still get lost trying to find your way through."
"At least you know where JOKER is, and that it can't attack you while it's inside the maze," Tomoyo pointed out.
Sakura perked up. "That's right!" she realized, pulling a card out of the Clow Deck. She held it in front of her face and chanted. "Trap JOKER within this mazelike prison!" She leapt off the wand just long enough to tap the card. "LOCK!" With a loud CLANG!, the nearest entrance snapped shut. The adjacent entrances slammed closed one by one, faster and faster, until the entire outer wall of the maze had become a single solid face.
"There, that should do it!" Kerberos shouted excitedly. "Now you've got it cornered!"
"Has she?" asked JOKER as it popped its head through the wall. "You didn't think I'd be stupid enough to lay a trap for MYSELF, did you?"
"Waaaaaaaaa!" cried Sakura. "I forgot about THROUGH!"
JOKER shook its head and clicked its tongue disapprovingly. "You'll never defeat me with such a limited knowledge of your powers. I can only be beaten by someone who knows EVERY SINGLE POWER." Stressing these last words, it winked at Tomoyo.
Suddenly remembering what she was supposed to be doing, Sakura made a grab at JOKER, but it leapt nimbly out of reach, sticking out its tongue and pulling down an eyelid. She flew after it, but it sped away so quickly that she couldn't keep up, leaving an ephemeral trail of stars in its wake, then came back to race circles around her as if she were standing still. Sakura quickly ducked below JOKER's path and flew back to Kerberos' side. "It's too powerful!" she whined. "I can't beat it!"
"Have a seat and rest for a while," Kerberos suggested. "You've been using a lot of magic."
Sakura gratefully collapsed onto his back and let the wings on her wand return to their normal size. As she leaned back into Tomoyo, she noticed how heavily she was breathing. "Whew! I didn't realize I was so tired!"
Suspecting that something was up, Tomoyo glanced over at JOKER again. It was taking aim with its finger-gun again. "It's going to attack!" she warned, pushing Sakura up.
Sakura didn't hesitate to pull yet another card from the deck. "SHIELD!" she shouted, erecting the barrier just in time to block the first shot. More projectiles followed at machinegun pace, hitting every part of the shield so that its outline stood out clearly. The air seemed to be a solid mass of sparks as sweat started to pour down Sakura's face.
"Sakura, are you okay?" called Kerberos. "I can try to block with my wings if you need a rest."
"No, I'm fine," said Sakura, as a spark penetrated the shield, scratching her cheek as it passed.
Tomoyo gasped. "Sakura!"
Sakura put her hand to her cheek and pulled it back with blood on her fingers. "I'm trying, Tomoyo. I don't know how much longer I can keep this shield up. It's really late, and I haven't gotten any sleep...." Three more shots passed through the shield, two going over Sakura's head while the third took off the ends of a few strands of Tomoyo's hair. Kerberos' wing quickly rose to block any more shots that might make it past Sakura's defense, but he winced at each impact.
"Sakura!" Tomoyo cried again.
"Tomoyo... I'm sorry. I can't protect you any longer." Sakura slumped and nearly let the wand slip from her fingers. Tomoyo grabbed her by the shoulders to support her as the shield vanished. The barrage of shots from JOKER ceased at the same moment, leaving the battlefield eerily calm.
"Sakura," Tomoyo whispered to the girl in her arms. "I can't let you do this alone. There must be some way I can help you."
"You've already done enough," replied Sakura. "It's my magic we're fighting. I have to beat it."
"I'm sure there's something I can do," Tomoyo insisted. "I've helped you before."
"We couldn't have captured SONG without you," agreed Kerberos.
SONG.... The card flashed in Tomoyo's head. It had been the final card in her reading; the card that indicated her best course of action. And JOKER hadn't used its power yet either, not that it mattered now... but maybe there was still some part of it that wanted to make her happy. And if it would give Sakura time to recover, she would try anything. "Hold on, Sakura," she said. "I think I know what to do." She looked at JOKER, which was sitting in the air expectantly, and let the words and tune come to her as she stroked her hand through Sakura's hair, singing encouragement to her best friend.
"My friend, flying in the sky/If you fly very high, you could touch the sun./Won't you bring a little bit back with you?/I want to hold the warm sunlight in my hand."
She paused to see how JOKER was reacting, and noticed that it was standing up straight in the air, puffing out its chest like an opera singer. She suppressed a chuckle at the comical sight and launched into another verse, mimicking the tune of the first verse but changing the words just a bit. JOKER flawlessly added its harmony in Tomoyo's voice without missing a note.
"My friend, flying in the sky/If you fly very high, you could touch the stars./Won't you bring a little bit back with you?/I want to hold the beautiful starlight in my hand."
Sakura's eyes were open now, and she seemed rapt in the spectacular duet. Kerberos also was flapping his wings as quietly as he could, allowing the powerful song to flow over him. Tomoyo decided on a final verse and launched into it.
"Warm sunlight, beautiful starlight/Twin lights of day and night./If I hold these two lights in my hands/I can make the whole world shine."
As the echoes of the final chord died away, Tomoyo gave Sakura a light shove. "Now's your chance, while it's still distracted," she whispered.
Sakura sleepily stood up and raised the Clow Wand, pointing it at JOKER with a vengeance. "Card created by Clow, return to the form in which you were meant to be! CLOW CARD!" A rectangular slit of light appeared at the wand's tip, and tendrils of spirit energy flowed smoothly from JOKER's body into the forming card.
Tomoyo leaned down close to Kerberos' head and whispered so that Sakura couldn't hear. "Isn't there supposed to be a magic circle at Sakura's feet?" she asked.
"They haven't appeared at all during this entire battle," replied Kerberos. "I think it has something to do with JOKER's influence, even now. I'm sure it's only allowing itself to be captured."
"Why would it do that?" asked Tomoyo.
"Like I said, it likes to show off."
As Tomoyo straightened up, JOKER swooped in close, still trailing ropes of spirit energy. "By the way, Tomoyo," it said, "there's one more thing I have to ask you before I'm sealed away."
Tomoyo shivered involuntarily. "What is it?"
JOKER smiled. "Now that your troubles are all over... how do you feel?"
"I'm not sure what you mean," said Tomoyo.
"Think about all the time you got to spend with Sakura," JOKER clarified. "Think about the adventures you got to have, and the danger you lived through, and the thrill of being able to capture your very own Clow Card. Now that the danger is over, and all you have left are your memories, did you have a good time?"
The question gave Tomoyo pause. She'd considered the entire ordeal to be miserable until that very moment, but as she thought back over the previous days, it was the happy moments, the hugs and thrills of small victories, that stood out in her mind. And Sakura seemed to be relishing the capture, even as tired as she was. "I suppose I did," she admitted.
JOKER twirled happily in the air. "Then my job is done. I've granted your one wish!"
"One wish?" Tomoyo asked, confused. "But you've been granting all of my wishes all along!"
"That was just the method I chose to grant your deepest wish," replied JOKER. "There was one thing you truly wanted all along, and that is what I gave you: an adventure!"
"An adventure?" Tomoyo repeated incredulously.
JOKER nodded. "Yep. You used to enjoy going on adventures with Sakura while she captured Clow Cards, and you wanted to have the chance to do it again. So I gave you that chance." It crossed its arms and frowned. "Although this would all have been a lot simpler if you'd just used the power of SONG to cancel the power of SILENT."
Tomoyo blushed. "I didn't think of that."
JOKER shrugged. "This ending was more exciting anyway. And I enjoyed having the chance to stretch my legs after being cooped up for so many years." It demonstratively stretched its limbs, incidentally letting its nearest arm be drawn completely into the card. "So, I bid you adieu. Perhaps, one day, we'll have another adventure together." With that, it tipped its hat with a bow and leapt into the card.
Sakura gratefully took the card, sat down on Kerberos' back, and sighed. "At last."
Tomoyo patted her shoulder. "Well done, Sakura! We won!"
Suddenly, the card leapt out of Sakura's hand and JOKER reappeared. "Oh, one more thing. I nearly forgot the most important part!"
Sakura groaned in exasperation. "What now?"
JOKER reached behind its back and produced a video camera. "I thought you might like a record of your adventure together. It's not the same quality work as Tomoyo's, but it's got all your best moments."
Tomoyo accepted the camera and slid the strap over her shoulder. "Thank you, JOKER!" On impulse, she stretched out her arms to give the tamed card a hug.
JOKER slid right through her arms and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. "Keep your innocent spirit, Tomoyo," it whispered. "As long as you have that, I'll always be with you." With a POP!, it returned to card form and flew right into Tomoyo's hand.
Kerberos snorted. "Showoff."
"Tomoyo, you're blushing," Sakura alerted her friend.
Tomoyo's hand rose to her cheek, which was unusually warm. "JOKER...." she whispered.
"I think that was her first kiss," said Kerberos with a wink.
"Oh," said Sakura, turning away from Tomoyo. "Then I'd better not say anything about it."
"That might be best," agreed Kerberos. "She's been through quite a bit over these past few days. I'm sure she has a lot to think about."
Sakura nodded, then yawned. "Sleepy..." she mumbled as she leaned back. Tomoyo cradled her and pulled her into a horizontal position, letting her fall asleep.
"We'd better take her home," said Kerberos. "She'll be back to normal after a few days' rest."
Tomoyo nodded, studying Sakura's sleeping face. "She's so cute. I can't let this moment go to waste." She lifted the camera to her eye and aimed it at Sakura, filming Sakura in all her slumbering glory.
A giant bead of sweat ran down the back of Kerberos' head. "You can't be serious."
"Sakura's sleeping face will make a wonderful addition to my collection," said Tomoyo. "It's too bad Li isn't here to see it. I'm sure he would enjoy it."
Kerberos chuckled. "The kid's gonna be pretty miffed that we went and captured JOKER without him. Oh well. He'll live."
Tomoyo echoed Kerberos' chuckle, finishing with a wide yawn. "I'd forgotten how late it was." Turning the camera off, she curled up, lying across Sakura with the JOKER card clutched to her chest, and immediately fell asleep.
Kerberos grinned to himself. "They've both had a long day," he whispered. "They've earned a nice long nap." With that, he banked in his flight and set a course for the Kinomoto house.