9: Destiny’s Path
What is love?
Madison had thought herself in love with Sakura; Meilin with Li; Li and
Sakura had both fancied themselves in love with Julian; Julian had thought
himself in love with Tory; Tory had known of Julian’s affections, and out of
respect had never dated, but deep inside he had known that sooner or later he
would break his best friend’s heart – it was only a matter of time.
Five years later Madison had discovered her feelings for Sakura ran more
toward sisterhood than romance, she had Eli and was happier than she could have
imagined; Meilin had given up Li for the sake of his happiness; Li and Sakura
had found each other, and in finding that love had found themselves complete. Julian
had found that what he had mistaken for love was actually a deep friendship and
gratitude distorted and misconstrued by the psychological stress of losing his
parents at a young age and then having to care for the aged grandparents who
were supposed to be taking care of him; Tory had been the first person to take
care of him, and for that he would always hold a special place in his heart- but
it wasn’t love, not romantic love
anyway. And Tory was much the same as he had always been; he still didn’t
date, but at least he didn’t have to worry about breaking his best friend’s
heart anymore – that was a relief.
All that having been said…
Madison truly did love Sakura, as surely as she now loved Eli; Meilin
still cared deeply for her cousin; Sakura and Li loved Julian as truly as they
loved one another; Julian loved Tory still; and Tory loved them all – even
Eli, though he thought the young man was a little strange. They all loved each
other deeply in this tightly knit group. It was just that the person each had
once thought of as the ultimate object of their affections was in fact not.
Puppy love, disproportioned gratitude, envy… all had been found to be a
front for kinship, true friendship – the love of kindred spirits, not lovers.
So then, is love truly a matter of semantics – of degree? Does it
change as time passes, or do we merely discover the truth as we grow?
And who is to say what is right and what is wrong in love?
What is real, and what is not?
It is not all real to the lover, even if only for the briefest of
For each brush with love reveals to us some truth and shapes the person
we will become.
Who, then, can legislate love?
For the heart chooses its own, and how it makes its choice is often a
So I ask again: who can legislate love?
For in his infinite wisdom and grace, he alone knows what each encounter,
each experience, will teach us.
He alone knows our ultimate shape.
But none of these lofty and philosophical thoughts could help Tory Avalon now as he studied the sleeping
girl beside him. For it made no difference what love was, or how it might
manifest itself, or shape his future.
The question nagging at his heart was simply this-
Did he love her?
Could he love her?
He hardly knew her! And yet…
She was fiery, outspoken, hot tempered, and often ill mannered.
She irritated him, fought with him, mocked him unmercifully.
She was, in short, everything he had ever accused her of being and more!
She was a gaki – a brat.
But she was also fiercely loyal, determined, strong, and she could be
extremely kind. She made him laugh, think, and she soothed his soul. And
he was beginning to fear that maybe – maybe he needed her.
He was roused from his thoughts by a noise outside.
Moving gently, quietly, so as not to wake the sleeping girl, he
approached the entrance to the shrine.
“Eli!” he breathed in relief.
Madison, Eli, Yue, and Keroberos approached
the shrine. Hearing
his name Eli looked up.
“Tory!” he called loudly.
“Shh!” Tory made a shushing motion casting a quick glance at the girl
still sleeping behind him.
Eli nodded and waited until he was closer to speak again.
“How long have you been here?” he asked quietly, now noticing the
reason for Tory’s command.
“I don’t know, a while.” It was difficult to keep track of time
when it didn’t exist for the rest of the universe. “We started out at the
school, and then we were chased by bikes and ran to the library, but they found
us, so we ended up here.
“I was wondering about the bikes at the temple gateway.” Eli nodded.
“I knew I had seen you!” Madison exclaimed, then clapped a hand over
her mouth. She
had forgotten about Meilin.
Tory eyed her thoughtfully, “So that was you who called my name.
What happened to you? We looked for you.”
“Eli transported up to the park.
We were looking for Sakura.”
Tory stiffened as she mentioned this, “Where is Sakura?” he asked,
his voice low and strained.
“She and Li went to the Radio Tower at lunch.
We don’t know where they are now.”
Tory turned to Yue accusingly, “So why are you
here and not at the tower?”
Yue observed him calmly, “Eli felt that we were needed here.”
“So?” Tory was angry, and his voice was rising unchecked.
Yue seemed unaffected, but Keroberos bristled at the unspoken accusation.
Angrily he moved between Yue and Tory. Right now it didn’t matter that earlier
he had felt the same way. Tory was insulting his partner.
“And what is that supposed to mean?” He roared.
“It means you should be helping my sister not running around with
Eli!” Tory snapped.
“Oh, leave them alone Tory.
It’s not like you’ve spent much time looking for your sister since we
left the school.”
Tory turned to see Meilin behind him, blinking sleepily, but starting to
Tory held her gaze for a moment and then looked away sheepishly.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to wake you.” He apologized.
Madison’s eyebrows flew up at this, but she made no comment.
“Well, it looks like it’s a good thing you did.
Stop badgering the stuffed bear!” her eyes were sparkling now.
Kero growled, but Yue restrained him.
She was defending them after all.
Tory kept his gaze averted.
“Now,” she smiled brightly, pleased with his obedience, “Did
someone say something about bikes?
Let me tell you about bikes!”
“And THEN,” Meilin was still going on about their adventures, leaving
out all the personal moments between herself and Tory.
She still wasn’t sure exactly what had happened between them, if
must have shot through the glass doors.”
“Shot?” Eli asked, curious.
“Yes,” she nodded, “they shot at us, we don’t know how.”
“Interesting,” he mused.
“What’s on your mind Eli.” His girlfriend prodded.
He was about to deny that anything was on his mind, but the look she shot
him, hands on hips, told him she wasn’t buying any of it.
He sighed in defeat.
“It’s just that the incidents seem to occur in sets of two.
First Fog and Silent, then Storm and Sand.
In the park we were attacked by Arrow and Thunder.
And Meilin and Tory seemed to have been attacked by Dash and Shot.”
“But Sakura would never allow her cards to behave in such ways.” Yue
pointed out, “Even if they desired to.”
“Yes,” Eli smiled mysteriously, fingering his book beneath his coat.
He had a feeling he knew about that, but it would wait until the others
Madison eyed her boyfriend suspiciously.
He was hiding something, but for now she would let it go.
“Quiet.” Kero’s low voice stopped them all, he slunk low to the
ground, his hair standing on end. “Something is coming.” He said in response
to their inquisitive stares.
Tory motioned for them all to stay low as a crept toward the door.
“Dad!” He exclaimed in shock, “Ms. Mackenzie!” came quickly
“The shrine lady and Sakura’s father?” Kero echoed in confusion.
Eli was the only one who didn’t seem confused.
“Tory!” Aiden resisted the urge to run to his son.
At least one of his children was still safe.
Ms. Mackenzie smiled in amusement at their faces.
Pleasant surprises were truly a gift.
Her eyes locked with Eli’s and a message was exchanged.
It was nearly time.
Almost all the players had gathered.
“There it is!” Sakura’s cry brought Li out of his thoughts.
Forcing his thoughts aside he struggled to focus.
Like it or not, Sakura would need him for this battle.
Especially now that he had realized the attacks came in pairs.
Sakura gently lowered them to the ground in the gardens surrounding the
cast a glance toward the archway that formed the entrance to the shrine grounds.
<Bikes?> That was going to need explaining.
Looking toward the shrine itself she gasped.
In the doorway were three familiar figures.
Tory was facing her, and she was almost certain the other two figures
were Ms. Mackenzie and…
“Dad!” she gasped.
Li’s head shot up and he stared at the figures at the shrine.
Why were they all still awake?
“Sakura!” Her father cried joyfully running to her and hugging her
“I-I don’t understand.” She stammered, pulling back.
The others had left the shrine, surrounding them, “How are you all
still able to move?”
“We are not certain, but we believe it has something to do with their
connection to you.” A calm voice answered.
Sakura looked up into the serene, otherworldly, countenance of Yue,
“YUE!” she cried, emerald eyes sparkling with happiness.
She launched herself at the tall guardian wrapping her arms around him in
a tight hug. His eyes widened slightly and he stiffened for a moment, but then
he wrapped his arms around her.
“He always gets all the attention.” A familiar voice groused.
“Kero!” Sakura pulled away from Yue and buried her face in
Keroberos’ fur, “I missed you both!” she saw the sorrow in their eyes and
decided not to press this issue further.
They were all together now.
She smiled at them all, “Madison, Meilin, Eli, Ms. Mackenzie, Tory,”
she held each person’s gaze briefly, “I’m so glad you’re alright!”
“Hn” Tory snorted, “We almost weren’t.”
“Oh,” Aiden studied his son curiously, “Did you have some
trouble?” None of the young people answered him, and only Yue didn’t look
Yue rarely looked anything but emotionless.
“Never mind.” He said slowly.
But he made a mental note to ask them later.
“Oh!” Meilin startled them out of their thoughts, “I have to get
something.” She ran back into the shrine, Tory followed her, curious.
“I want to get a look at those bikes,” Eli said, moving toward the
large red arch at the end of the garden.
Uncertainly Madison followed him.
She cast a worried glance at Li and Sakura, something was different.
“Um, come on Yue, Kero, I think we’ll need you.”
Ms. Mackenzie caught on to what the others were doing and asked Aiden
to accompany her to a large tree in the center of the garden.
He followed, not really understanding why a tree was so important right
Sakura and Li shifted uncertainly.
Sakura truly didn’t know what was wrong, and Li didn’t know were to
Unfortunately they didn’t have time to sort it out.
Sensing that they were alone the enemy chose this moment to attack.
Two figures appeared in the garden, they took up fighting stances.
Eli sensed the disturbance and turned. “SAKURA! LI!” he called.
His cry caught the attention of the others and they started to run back
toward the center of the garden.
A force field flickered into existence between them and the two card
“Sakura!” Aiden cried, standing just outside the invisible wall.
Meilin and Tory stood in the shrine entrance, they couldn’t even leave
the building, the shield was too close.
Eli summoned his staff and pointed it at the field, but in a flash his
staff was in a startled Tory’s hand, the bag he had been holding in Eli’s.
Eli blinked in surprise, then remembered that the attackers worked in
pairs. <Shield and Change> he thought ruefully.
It would be pointless to try to break through the barrier.
Yue shot a barrage of crystal at the shield, but they became flowers and
when Kero opened his mouth to send an energy shot he was encased in a bubble.
He now floated harmlessly a few inches above the ground.
<Flower and Bubble> Eli automatically catalogued.
Soon his attention was drawn back to the scene inside the shield.
Sakura and Li were now standing back to back, facing off against the two
women just inside the barrier.
The first woman looked very much like Fight.
Her long hair pulled up in two looped ponytails.
But the Fight card he was accustomed to seeing wore a light blue fighting
one wore an almost black costume, slashed with red.
Her hair was black as well and her skin was a pale white.
The second woman was clearly Power. But, like Fight, there were obvious
differences between this Power and Sakura’s.
The small girl was clothed in a deep red, not the gentle pink of the one
Clow Reed had created.
Her hair was dark and her skin pale, her normally calm face etched with
There was no denying it any more, these were definitely replicas of the
As one the two women charged.
With graceful skill Sakura and Li dodged the blows intended to knock them
to the ground.
Silently each teen righted themselves and took a fighting stance.
Power launched herself at Li, the ground splitting as the punch intended
for Li hit it full force.
Power righted herself angrily and charged again.
Sakura was dodging the incredibly quick Fight look a like.
She remembered when she had tried to capture that card.
She had known nothing of fighting then.
But that was then.
She had learned much since that time.
With a grunt she pushed off the ground, dodging Fight’s punch and
landing a kick of her own.
The card grunted.
The battle that ensued was fast paced and brutal.
There was no time to think and precious little time to attack, only to
Backpedaling, Li and Sakura were reminded of one another’s presence as
they nearly collided.
Catching one another’s eye a plan began to form.
Li turned, gripping Sakura’s arms and flipping her over his head.
She landed gracefully on the ground behind him.
The two cards stared in question, wondering what good that had done,
until they noticed that Sakura now held a sword in her hand. She rushed Power
and, in that distracted moment, Li summoned his own sword.
Now the teen magicians had the advantage.
Tory smiled as he saw his sister get the upper hand.
They were going to win, he was certain.
He caught his breath as Meilin brushed against him, leaning to see the
battle more clearly. Now was as good a time as any he supposed. The worse she
could do was kill him, and that might happen anyway.
“Meilin.” Meilin looked up at Tory. What
could he possibly want now in the middle of the most important battle ever?!
“What?” she snapped.
He hid a smile, “if we live through this – will you go out with me
Friday? There’s this movie I’ve been wanting to see.” She stared at him
You’re asking me NOW!?” couldn’t he see there was a battle going
He nodded, forcing her to look at him, “I may never get another
chance.” He spoke softly now, “Will you?” her eyes widened as she saw the
tenderness and sincerity in his own eyes.
“Um,” she gulped, “Yeah.
Yeah I will.”
He smiled and tapped her nose lightly, “Good!”
She narrowed her gaze at him, “Now can I watch the battle?” she asked
laughed and let her go.
The truth was, he was a little anxious as well, but he knew that in the
end it would come down to his sister and Li. There was really nothing they could
do – just be here for support.
As they advanced on the cards Li realized that even with their swords
they were outmatched.
They had very little room to maneuver.
He knew which of Sakura’s cards could help, but she had said she wanted
to do things on her own.
This was her chance.
He cast a glance at her; he could tell she was thinking.
Probably trying to decide which card to use.
He had just about given up when her expression cleared.
Withdrawing a card she summoned it.
“Twin!” she called.
Two identical fighters appeared.
This was how the card manifested itself when not given a specific task.
It could also be used to create a duplicate of an already existing
right now they needed more fighters.
Li squelched the sorrow in his heart.
It appeared she didn’t need him after all.
“Twin!” Sakura ordered, “Attack Power.” Twin looked at each other
confused, but nodded and obeyed.
They attacked the Power look alike in perfect synch.
Sakura remembered this from her card capturing days as well. Leaving
power to the Twins she performed a flawless back flip and landed beside Li.
“Let’s do this.” She said and he nodded.
Together they advanced on Fight, and she was no match for their combined
moved in perfect harmony, playing off each others’ strengths and weaknesses.
Soon Power and Fight were defeated.
Sakura recalled Twin and Sword and turned toward her friends.
But the barrier had not fallen.
“I don’t understand, we won.” She looked to Li, who shrugged, he
had no answer.
Eli held his book closer. If what he suspected were true this was only the beginning.