Disclaimer: I do not own Detective Conan/Case Closed.


Heart of a Spell

Chapter 5 - Murmur

The serial killer had struck again. The news was splashed across the front page of every paper in the city. The victim this time was a thirty two year old woman who had run her own antiques dealership. Though she sold antiques, she made most of her living by authenticating items that clients brought to her. By all accounts, she was one of the best in the city at spotting fakes and unearthing lost treasures. She was not known to have any enemies, or at least she didn't have any enemies that the newspapers knew of. Her store, however, had been robbed. According to the dealership's records, the thief had taken two antique mirrors, a set of gold goblets and plates, a comb, three swords, and all the jewelry.

With all the missing valuables, the case would have been labeled a robbery and murder if not for one thing. When found, the victim's body had had no visible wounds. Nor had the labs turned up any evidence of poison. Despite that, there was no mystery as to her death. Her hair had all turned white, and her entire body had withered to mere skin and bones. Those who saw the body said that she looked like a ninety year old woman rather than a thirty some year old one when found. It was as though all the life had been sucked right out of her.

Whatever strange misfortune had befallen her, it was the same misfortune that had claimed the lives of the other serial killer victims.

Shinichi frowned as he flipped the pancakes in the pan. They sizzled softly. On the counter beside him, the newspaper's headline continued to glare bold and black and accusing. There had been another death, and here he was cooking pancakes.

He scooped the pancakes onto a plate and poured more batter into the pan.

What were the police doing? Had they made any progress in the case at all? He wished someone would tell him what they'd found. But though he had been sending in his reports as instructed, no one was bothering to tell him anything in return. Hell, he didn't even know if they'd found the real thief yet. Then again, surely they would have called him back if they had caught the thief. They wouldn't just leave him here, right?

"Mmmm, that smells delicious."

Shinichi jumped and nearly flipped the latest pancake right out of the pan. He managed to move the pan just in time to catch it though. He breathed a sigh of relief and shot Kaito a glare. "Don't sneak up on people when they're at a hot stove. It's dangerous."

The sorcerer only laughed. "Sorry. I didn't mean to startle you. I just had to come see what that delicious smell was. Carry on." As he spoke, Kaito reached for one of the plates, but Shinichi smacked his hand away.

"I'm not done yet. Jii told me that no one should be allowed to begin eating until everything is ready and on the table."

"Hey, I'm the master of the house, you know. Not old Jii." Despite his complaint, Kaito didn't try to take the plate again. He looked rather amused, actually. But then again, he always looked like that. Shinichi really wondered sometimes what was going on in the mind behind that easy grin and those sharp, calculating eyes.

The sorcerer moved to lean against the counter, one eye trained on the pancakes like a hungry tiger waiting for the right time to pounce. His gaze grazed over the newspaper as he did so and he whistled.

"Another one, eh? That's a shame. What a terrible way to go."

"Do you think whoever's doing it is using magic?" Shinichi asked. Just because he wasn't assigned to the case didn't mean he couldn't investigate it on his own. And, misplaced as he felt, he'd been given a great opportunity to speak to a real authority on some of his theories. "I read once about a sorcerer a long time ago who created a spell for stealing life energy. The book said it was a myth, but these killings…"

"Ah, yes, I've heard of that guy. Unfortunately, he's not a myth. He developed that spell while trying to find a way to live forever. The problem for him was that it didn't actually work."

"So the man is real but the spell isn't?"

"No, you misunderstand me. The spell really can sap a person of their life force. It just can't give that life force to someone else. All the man really managed to create was a spell for killing people. Which, frankly, is nothing remotely groundbreaking. It's much easier to hurt and destroy things than it is to fix and build."

"But about that spell. Is there anyone around who knows how to use it?"

"I'm not sure. It wasn't an easy spell to cast, from what I've heard. It's possible that there's someone out there who knows it. If there is, it's got to be a very skilled sorcerer."

Shinichi tried not to let his disappointment show. He could have guessed that much without asking. At least he knew more now than he had a few minutes ago. "What about here in Ekoda? Are there any sorcerers who'd be able to use magic like that here?"

"Purely in terms of skill, there're about fifteen."

That was a much larger number that Shinichi would have guessed. It was not a pleasant surprise. "What did you mean by only in terms of skill?" Scooping the last pancakes out of the pan, Shinichi turned off the stove and brought the plates to the table. Kaito dropped into a seat and began happily drowning his pancakes in syrup.

"Multiple reasons," he said, forking a piece of pancake. "Most sorcerers of the necessary level are fairly well to do. The biggest being that I don't know what kind of magical gift you need in order to cast that spell properly. If you knew that, you'd be able to narrow down the list quite a bit. Then there's motive, character, and so forth. There's also supposed to be a magical tool created by that same nutcase that could do roughly the same thing. He created it in the hopes that putting the stolen life energy into a container first would make it easier to transfer it into himself. Didn't work. If someone got a hold of that item though, they'd be able to sap people of life even if they can't cast the original spell. They'd just have to learn how to activate the magic in the item."

That was even worse news. "So it wouldn't even have to be a sorcerer?"

"Most magical tools still need you to use some magic of your own to activate them. It just means that what kind of magic you're good at won't matter." Kaito ate another piece of pancake. "You seem unusually interested in all this. Why's that?"

Shinichi froze for a moment before he managed to force himself to continue eating. "I guess it's been on my mind because it bothers me," he said. It was the truth, though not all of it. "Whoever it is, they need to be stopped."

"Very true," Kaito agreed. Shinichi was stunned to see that the sorcerer was already on his last piece of pancake. "The city isn't as safe as it used to be, that's for sure. I'm sure the police are looking into it though. No point in you worrying about it. While you live under my roof, I'll protect you."

Shinichi blinked, startled but touched by the reassurance that the sorcerer so casually offered. Not that he was actually afraid of being attacked—he didn't have any valuables to steal, and he'd been in the city so briefly that he was pretty sure he didn't have any enemies. But he appreciated the gesture nonetheless.

"Jii tells me you're learning quickly," Kaito said as he finished his pancakes. Then he snapped his fingers, and a thick folder appeared on the table beside Shinichi. "Go through that. I've agreed to speak at a sorcery seminar next week. You'll be assisting me in my presentation. Everything you need to know about your part in it are in there. I'll be quizzing you on it at the end of the week," he added, rising from his seat and sending Shinichi a toothy grin. "There will be consequences if you don't pass~"

Shinichi gaped as the sorcerer left the dining area whistling a cheery tune. Consequences? What was that supposed to mean?

-0-

Shinichi had fully intended to start reviewing the presentation materials that afternoon. It was one of the first days in what felt like forever that he had had any free time. But then he'd pulled out his assignment card just as he was sitting down in the library to see that the formerly blank card now had four new items on it. These items included picking up a package from the tailors, making two more deliveries, and baking Kaito an apple pie as an impromptu midday snack. When he finally finished and got back to the library, it was to hear a resounding boom. The entire house shook. Letting out an exasperated sigh, he hurried to Kaito's workroom. There, he discovered the door lying in the hallway and a strange, greenish blue powder smeared all over the floor and walls.

Kaito, who had been standing over the mess, had only laughed. "Oops. Get the mops, will you?"

Once the mess had been cleaned up, Shinichi had had to go make dinner. Luckily, Jii returned just as they were finishing dinner. He and Kaito retreated to another room in the house to discuss whatever it was the old man had been up to. Left to his own devices, Shinichi quickly washed up the dishes then made a beeline back to the library. He looked at the as yet untouched folder and sighed. Picking it up, he headed back to his own room. He would study it there.

The material was a great deal more complex than he had anticipated. With his minimal knowledge of magic, even reading the stuff once was slow going. It was like being asked to help give a presentation in a foreign language when you'd only just learned how to say hello. The instructions about his part in the presentation informed him that he didn't actually need to fully understand it all, but since the material had been given to him, he was sure that Kaito was expecting him to at least try to understand it.

Buried in arcane diagrams and long passages on the technical side of magic use, Shinichi didn't notice as the night grew darker and the city quieted. Finally, with his vision starting to blur from exhaustion, he sat back and looked at the clock. It took a moment for him to read the time because his eyes were having trouble refocusing. When he could read it, he grimaced. It was already half past two in the morning. If he didn't get some sleep now, he wasn't going to be able to function tomorrow.

He stood up and stretched. His entire body was aching from sitting in the same position for the last several hours. He was really looking forward to going to sleep.

He moved to pull the curtains across the window. As he did so, he happened to glance outside.

Someone was down there.

Hesitating, he leaned closer to the glass and peered into the darkness outside.

Though it was dark, there was a small scattering of street lights in the distance that somewhat ameliorated the gloom. It was because of that that Shinichi could just barely make out a person making his way down the path away from the house. The shadow was too tall to be old Jii. Kaito? The longer he watched it, the surer he was. That had to be Kaito. But what was he doing leaving the house at this hour? And why wasn't he carrying a light? Most people who ventured out at such late hours knew better than to do so without some kind of light source.

Seriously though, where could Kaito be going at this strange hour?

Looking outside again, Shinichi found that there was no longer any sign of anyone outside. Had his tired eyes been playing tricks on him? But no, he was pretty sure he'd seen someone.

Well, there wasn't any point standing around speculating about it. He'd just ask Kaito about it tomorrow.

Stifling a yawn, he drew the curtains, blocking out the night.


-TBC-