Summer was over, that much was certain. As the sun set, fall had her gaze over the city, waiting as the moon rose in the oddly black sky above. It was as though the stars were afraid to shine, too scared to show themselves that night. But what was worse was the wind, a steady breeze that, as the moon rose, grew stronger, fingers of squalling gusts brushing through tree branches and abandoned swing sets.
Had the citizens of Reidington been awake, they would have noticed the sudden darkness that took over the city as the clock hit midnight. They would have noticed the snap of branches in the rough winds, the starless sky and dark streets. They would however, all share one thing in common as the wind blew. A nightmare, a glimpse into a world not one person wanted to be in.
Sakura Avalon was no exception and she lay in her bed, tossing and turning, the sheets tangled over her body as she tossed and turned. Beads of sweat trickled down her brow and a soft cry escaped her lips as her eyes flickered beneath their lids.
She was running down a hallway, her steps barely audible in the darkness. Clow cards were falling down the walls, each slipping into the floor and disappearing before falling again somewhere further down the hall. Sakura kept running, her breath sharp in her chest. The light at the end of the hall was growing stronger until finally, finally, Sakura was enrobed in the light.
But something was wrong, evil, about the light and as Sakura entered it, she felt the cold prickle her skin. As the light faded so too did the solidity beneath Sakura’s feet and she fell, tumbling forward into open air.
Thousands of feet below was Reidington, the houses small squares and the radio tower a mere smudge in the darkness. Wind blasted past her as Sakura fell , leaving behind the light for the darkness of night. She cried out, flailing her arms for something, anything.
Her chilled fingers brushed something long and cold. It was her staff, falling with her and Sakura took hold of it, clutching it tightly in both hands. Like rain, the Clow cards plummeted to the Earth below, circling Sakura’s falling body.
Panicking, Sakura fumbled for the cards and, just by the tips of her fingers, grabbed a card. Through weeping eyes, Sakura saw the elegant body of a bird, the wings folded and beautiful. Sucking in a sharp breath, Sakura summoned all the strength she had and called for Fly’s power of flight.
“Fly card!” she cried out, her voice a whisper against the howling of the wind, “come to my aid!”
A circle of gold light followed her descent as Sakura threw the card up, making contact with the tip of the wand. For a breaths moment, Sakura felt herself relax as a familiar warmth spread down from her fingertips and the Fly Card began to glow with life.
But like the light she fell through, her fingers went cold and the Clow card quivered and grew dim. Sakura continued to fall and around her the cards began to turn black, charred and burned. Sakura could hear the voices of the cards, their cries of pain and fear as they died. They began to break apart in flakes of ash and Sakura sobbed in desperation and helplessness as, one by one, the cards dissolved into nothing.
She closed her eyes as the ground below barreled closer and the air that rushed through her hair grew hot and the voices of her friends and family filled her ears …
A loud buzz woke Sakura from her troubled sleep. She flailed awake, holding the ringing clock securely in her hands; the sheets wrapped pell-mell round her legs. Sakura’s heart was hammering in her chest, banging against her rib cage like some crazed beast. The last moments of the nightmare lingered in her memory. She could still hear the cries of her friends calling to her.
“Huh?” Sakura blinked back the sleep in her eyes to find herself face to face with her brother, Tori. She jumped in surprise.
“Hey kid,” Tori sat at the edge of her bed, “had a nightmare?”
“What? Oh, yeah, it was nothing,” Sakura said, smiling and rubbing her eyes, “just a dream.”
Tori frowned and got to his feet, “breakfast is ready. Better hurry or you’re going to be late, squirt.”
He left, closing the bedroom door softly behind him. Sakura stretched and, like she did every morning, glanced at the last drawer of her desk, where her companion Kero always slept.
It was, as it had been for the last few weeks, empty.
There was a slight crisp to the air as Sakura skated to school and she noted the browning of the leaves around her. Had fall already arrived? Was it really that time again?
As the smell of the cold air filled her nostrils, Sakura thought back to the nightmare. It was no ordinary nightmare and it nagged at Sakura, but she didn’t know why. She was used to strange dreams that foretold some imminent threat or event. But this, this was different.
Never had she dreamt of the cards falling away from her nor had she ever heard them scream for her.
Sakura skidded to a halt, an image stuck in her mind. The cards, they were Clow cards, not her own star cards. The scarlet and gold tones filled her memory. What was the dream trying to tell her?
“What do you mean, they died?”
Sakura sat at a bench by the back of the school with her best friend, Madison, who stared at her with a mixture of concern and wonder.
“I don’t know,” Sakura said, “but it was like they were burning and all I could hear was them crying. It was horrible.”
“That sounds scary,” Madison said softly.
Sakura nodded her head, “I wish Kero was here. He might know what it was about.”
“Did you sense anything in the dream?”
Sakura thought about the idea for a moment, racking her brain but couldn’t recall feeling anything but fear and pain. She shook her head.
“I don’t know Madison, but something’s happening.”
The nightmare returned two days later but that night it was different, darker. Sakura ran down the same hall, into the same pool of light and fell from the same place. The cards still showered down around her and still cried out. But this time, Sakura felt a presence with her, a deep power that resonated in her chest.
Sakura awoke with a start, tears pricking the corners of her eyes, the heavy sun casting rays against her skin. She wiped the tears from her cheeks and slowly got up from bed. She had a sick feeling in her stomach as she approached her desk, where her Cards slept.
Slowly, Sakura opened the drawer. The book was there, sealed with her name on it. But there was no warmth when Sakura laid her hand on the seal and when she opened it her stomach lurched. The Windy card lay on the top of the pile and in the corner it was beginning to blacken, as though it was burning.
Just like in her dream.
Sakura sucked in a sob and slammed the desk shut, sitting on the edge of her bed, her eyes watering at the edges. What was going on? A feeling of dread filled her belly.
Sakura felt, no, she knew, something was happening, something beyond anything she had ever encountered before.
Night fell over Reidington, cloaking the town in a crawling darkness that was unlike anything seen before. It was as though light itself was suctioned into nothingness, leaving behind a waking, breathing dark.
Sakura awoke at half past one, as the last of the light on her street went out with a soft pop. She sat up to the stifling dark, blinking her eyes against it.
Even her voice was muffled and the dread in her belly intensified tenfold. She got up from bed, holding her hands out as she took a few steps forward. Her room was pitch dark. Sakura felt the hard wood of her desk beneath her fingers. Carefully, she found the top drawer and pulled it open.
The book was still there and Sakura let out a heavy sigh as she picked it up. The weight of it in her hands was comforting. She opened the book and a soft, gold light struck her eyes. Blinking against the sudden brightness, Sakura felt the cards hum in the stillness, their warmth heavy against her fingers.
Slowly, Sakura’s eyes adjusted to the sudden light and she looked down the book in her hands. A cry ripped from her throat. The cards were burning.
Pieces of ash fluttered into the air as the cards blackened at the edges, burning in the soft glow. Sakura dropped the book and the cards were strewn across her floor. Sakura sobbed as each card cried for her as the faint glow chewed away at their edges.
“No, no, no!” Sakura cried, fumbling for the key round her neck. “Help me!”
The key glowed, elongating into the staff that Sakura knew so well. She held it in her sweating palms, tears streaming down her cheeks and summoned the first card that came to mind.
The card, buried beneath its brothers and sisters, shivered and shook into the air, its edges crisp and black. Sakura touched the card with her staff and a blast of air rocketed through the dense glow. Wisps of pale mist and cool air tickled Sakura’s skin as windy burst from the card. Relief, warm and electric, flooded Sakura from head to toe at the sight of the card’s true form.
But her relief was short lived as Sakura watched in stunned horror as Windy began to convulse. Sakura cried out and got to her feet, running for the card. In only moments, a second’s breath, Windy grew faint and, in Sakura’s arms, faded into nothingness, leaving behind only a small pile of black ash in her hands.
Sakura sobbed and began summoning any and every card she could think of.
“Firey! Sword, Jump, Fly! Someone! Help me!”
Like Windy, each card summoned fell to the same fate, dying before their master’s eyes. Sakura fell to her knees, surrounded by ash and death and cried into her hands. Why was this happening? What did she do to deserve such pain and horror?
The last of the soft glow of the cards grew faint as they died out, leaving Sakura in the darkness once more. She could still hear their cries, calling out her name.
“Sa—k—ura. W—ake up!”
The voices, they were different. They were growing louder, clearer in the looming dark. The dread that filled her belly was dissipating as the voices grew louder, more distinct.
“Wake up! Wake up, Sakura!”
The word was barely spoken when a beam of light fell on Sakura’s shaking body. Madison, Kero, Li and Yue emerged from the dark.
“I don’t—I don’t understand,” Sakura whispered, shaking uncontrollably. “They’re gone.”
“Who is?” Li knelt beside the shaking girl, “what happened?”
“Are you real?” Sakura stared at Li, at the face she had grown to love and couldn’t understand why he was there. He had moved back home. He wasn’t real. “Go away. Go away! You’re not Li!”
Sakura pushed the boy away, maddened look in her eyes.
“What happened to her?” Li looked up to Kero and Yue.
“Sakura,” Yue, his white clothes oddly bright in the dimness, “try and focus.”
Sakura shook her head violently. It was all a lie. The cards, now a pile of ash, smothered her hands and clothes.
“Sakura! Focus! This is magic!”
Kero’s voice was loud and strong, like that of a booming bell in the stillness of a lazy summer day. Sakura stared at him, her friend and mentor, to Yue and Madison and Li.
“Magic?” The words felt strange on her lips but even as she spoke them a familiar prickle crawled across her skin, a feeling she knew all too well. Magic. “Kero. Kero, is this real?”
“Listen to me, Sakura. This is a card. You need to focus and figure out what card it is.”
“A card. Card … cards,” Sakura’s eyes watered at the sight of the ash on her hands, “they’re all gone, Kero.”
Sakura shook her head, as though doing so would ease the pain and fear in her chest. Fear. The cards.
It was like she had found the final piece of the puzzle. It all seemed to click together. The dreams, the feeling of dread, the cards. This was Sakura’s greatest fear, to lose everything she loved, to watch them all die and fade away from her.
Sakura stood on shaking feet, holding the star staff firmly in her hands. She raised it over her head.
“Fear card, show yourself!” she cried out, her voice strong and clear in the stillness.
A wind, at first faint and cool, picked up, swirling until it became a heavy gust. Sakura shielded her eyes against the sudden gusts and the black ash of the cards burst into nothingness. Sakura lowered her hands and found herself almost nose to nose with a woman, her bright blue eyes sparkling.
She was only a foot or so taller than Sakura but seemed to tower over the girl, her curled silver hair draped over bare shoulders. Small horns poked out from her forehead and wings, long and black, sprouted from her back. A small, almost sad, smile spread across her lips. She reached out and stroked Sakura’s cheek.
She whispered something, almost too soft to hear, before stepping back, hands folded in front of her. Sakura raised the wand in front of her, pointing it toward the newly found card.
“Abandon your form and reincarnate! Under the name of your new master, Sakura—Fear card!”
The woman bowed her head as a gust of wind and strings of light enveloped her body, pulling her toward the wand. She smiled softly as, finally, she disappeared in a swirl of black and silver tendrils. A card shivered in the air, glowing a soft gold and silver. It shuddered then fell down into Sakura’s outstretched hand.
The blackness that had consumed the small town of Reidington lifted as the night wore on. Stars popped back into the sky, the moon showed herself and the streetlamps flickered to life once more. The heavy feeling of dread that Sakura had felt for the last several days vanished as suddenly as it had come.
She was in her bedroom, the Star Cards stacked neatly in their book waiting for her. In her hand was the Fear Card. Sakura stared at it for some time before a soft, cool breeze touched her cheek. Her window was open to the night sky above, letting the fall breeze.
Sakura looked around her and realized then that she was completely and entirely alone. Li, Kero, Madison, Yue, none of them were there. Sakura held the new card against her chest and a small smile touched her lips.
Had she imagined her friends being with her in that suffocating darkness? Was it another dream, a hallucination even? No, it felt too real, too familiar to be a dream.
Sakura leaned out of her window and breathed in the night air. Whether a dream or hallucination, it didn’t matter. Sakura had her friends by her side and it was them she conquered her greatest fear.
Holding the card in her hands, Sakura opened the Book on her desk and, with another look at the card that nearly took everything from her, placed it with its brothers and sisters.
As Sakura closed the cover, she swore she could hear a soft thank you from within.