Greetings, everyone! Yeah, I know, this isn't my
usual pairing, but this ain't my usual fic either. This story was
written as per the requirements for a fan fic challenge involving a
quote from a different series. That quote isn't used in this chapter,
but it will be in the next. Anyway, this is my first attempt with this
pairing, and I hope you enjoy it.
And of course, my usual thank yous. First of all, to ChibiSecchan, obviously. One for making the challenge that brought forth this fic, and also for general inspiration and such. Next to my beta-readers for this one, Spiritmage, Shinmeiryuu, and SilverCat. My grammar appreciates you. ;
The Price of Truth
Kazumi stretched out on her bed, her hands behind her head, eyes trained on the ceiling. She heaved a long sigh into the silent dorm room, noting the echo unconsciously. "Why does today have to seem so…so…slow?"
The room was silent, for there was no-one else present, seemingly. After several seconds, the shadowy figure of a young girl slowly coalesced to the point of nearly being opaque at the end of Asakura Kazumi's bed. The incorporeal girl turned, forming the wisp of her lower body into two long legs and folded them beneath her, resting her hands on her thighs. "I don't know, Asakura-san."
The self-proclaimed "Mahora Paparazzi" sighed again and rolled over onto her side, curling up in the process. "It seems like nothing interesting happens anymore."
After a second of consideration, she laughed softly to herself. Nothing happening. Yeah, right. The biggest two stories of any journalist's career had been presented to her on a silver platter. But she either would not or could not take advantage of them. Her homeroom teacher, one Negi Springfield, had shown himself to be a mage before her on several occasions. Several of his students, her classmates, assisted him regularly in his endeavors to obtain a certain magical rank whose name she couldn't recall, despite her nearly photographic memory. Aside from being able to offer the world definitive proof that magic permeated nearly every facet of the world, one of the red-head's closes friends had been dead for sixty years. It had taken a while to get used to it, but Aisaka Sayo's habit of suddenly appearing behind her to ask an innocent question no longer caused Kazumi's hair to stand on end any more so than it regularly did.
Either of the stories would skyrocket the fifteen year-old to star status within an instant of being reported to the more public press. Despite her general lust for fame and fortune, she refused to make either her teacher or best friend into a proverbial zoo exhibit. Damn my morals. She made a face then chuckled to herself, drawing an interested look from the quiet girl by her feet.
Without a sound, Aisaka Sayo levitated a few inches above the covers, then floated out over the side of the bed to hover beside the red-headed girl at eye level. "What was funny, Asakura-san?"
Once again, Kazumi was struck by the innocence in the girl's voice. Since they were, essentially, the same age, Kazumi attributed the now rare quality to the time period that Sayo had grown up in. "Nothin'. Just thinkin'."
She seemed to consider this, then nodded, a smile gracing her features. The silver-haired girl meandered over the open winder, her attention drawn by the chirping of a young bird.
Kazumi's eyes followed her absently, her thoughts wandering as much as her quiet companion's attention, searching for some topic to investigate, some theory to disprove. She had always been thus, extremely inquisitive, asking why and not being satisfied with adults' vague answers even as a young child.
Sayo giggled and Kazumi focused reflexively on the girl. As usual, one mystery surfaced among her thoughts upon thinking of her. How did she die? She'd researched it already more than most other topics, yet had found only a side-note mentioning her death and a tanka poem by her. She'd been meaning to check a bit deeper, do some cross-analyzing, check police and hospital records and such, but hadn't had the time.
With a grunt, she sat up, her hands automatically setting her hair back into place. Despite outward appearances, it was actually quite a finite arrangement. When she had satisfied her moderate vanity, she pushed herself off the top bunk, landing lightly. "Sayo-chan, wanna visit the library with me? I think I've got time to do some more research on you. Maybe we'll get some results today." She winked at her. "I feel lucky."
Sayo perked up immediately even though they'd done the same many times previously with only disappointment. If there was one thing death had taught her though, it was that there were only so many things you could before getting bored. She's learned that if you're going to be bored, you might as well be doing something useful. "Sure," she chirped, immediately crossing the room effortlessly.
Although not necessary in the least, Kazumi held the dorm's wooden door open for the specter, then stepped outside, closing and locking her room securely. She breathed deeply of the somewhat cooler air in the hallway and bounded after her free-floating friend. "Hey, wait up, Sayo-chan!" She passed a teacher who raised a hand to stop and admonish her for running in the hall, but fell silent as she spoke seemingly to no-one.
For reasons that were beyond either of their understandings, only a select few could see Sayo, and only Kazumi was able to do so at all times. The vast majority was unable to see her at all. Of the faculty, Kazumi only knew of Negi-sensei who knew of the girl so removed from time.
Sayo spun around in place with a grin, waiting for her friend to catch up. She floated out of the way as Kazumi caught up and took the stairs two at a time. With a wry grin, Sayo merely allowed gravity to take it's greatly reduced toll on her and she passed slowly through the floor down tot he first floor. Kazumi cast her a playful glare as she stepped off the last of the steps. "That is so unfair, Sayo-chan."
"I know," she answered simply, drifting towards the door leading to the campus grounds, waving for Kazumi to follow. "C'mon."
Sticking her tongue out at the silver-haired girl, prompting a giggle, she turned her camera on out of habit, checking it's battery and memory levels with a cursory glance. Though they rarely came out, she went ahead and snapped a picture of her spectral classmate, framed by a tree in the courtyard. The camera processed the image with a whir, then displayed it on the digital screen on the back. As she'd expected, it showed only a tree and something of a blurry wisp before it. "Oh well," she muttered, stepping out the door and into the sunlight as she powered down her camera and slipped it into the pocket of her uniform top.
Kazumi squinted around for Sayo. The girl had a tendency to become difficult to see in bright sunlight. She shrugged when she couldn't see the girl and trusted Sayo was either following her or already on her way to the library. With another sigh, she started on the long walk to the floating stronghold of knowledge.
Aisaka Sayo glided through a circular stained glass window, blinking the relatively dark interior of the European made building. In her sixty years since she had discovered she was no longer alive, she had thoroughly explored every square centimeter of the Mahora district. One of her favorite haunts, not that she did so, was the several main floors of Library Island.
She drifted contentedly down among the towering shelves, breathing deeply of the musty scent of books that had been old when she had been alive, ancient now. Not for the first time, she wished desperately that she could interact physically with the world. She had discovered thousands of books who's titles had drawn her interest, but she was ever unable to pull them from their shelves, blow the dust from their leather covers, and open them to their first yellowed page. She was used to it though, and there were much more important things she'd wanted to interact with than books.
The worst part by far was watching her friends grieve over her, then slowly move on, eventually forgetting her entirely. Over her time incommunicado, she had found hundreds of people she would have loved to meet, talk with, and befriend, but each time she tried, ignorance was her only response.
Until this year, that is. With the introduction of Negi Springfield, her life, or after-life rather, had gotten considerably happier. The class he had taken over, middle school group A, had been hers when she still breathed out of necessity, and she had developed a tendency of staying around and observing that particular set of students. It had been an odd group to start with, but the appointment of a mage for a teacher seemed to have acted as a catalyst resulting in a select few learning of Aisaka Sayo's ghostly presence. Of all the 31 students, Asakura Kazumi had become particularly fond of her, and Sayo had obtained, for the first time in six decades, a friend.
The rest of those who could see her rarely interacted with her. Whether because they did not wish to have their sanity questioned publicly for "talking to themselves," or because they simply didn't wish to, Sayo knew not. She didn't let it bother her though. Asakura Kazumi was friends enough for her. That she hadn't already exposed the apparition to the world was proof enough that she was true.
As was usual, the young ghost found her class' Miyazaki Nodoka walking purposefully through the bookshelves, her arms full of books to be restacked. Again, Sayo wished she could help the young librarian, but such was, of course, not possible.
With a wistful sigh, she stuck her head through the wall to see where Kazumi was in relation to the building. With so many students milling around on the bridge connecting the one-building island and the mainland below, Sayo couldn't make out who was who, despite the unique configuration of her friend's hair. She floated back until she was completely in the interior once more, slowly drifting down to ground level, somewhere in the first-floor fiction section, comprising a quarter of the titles who's author's names started with "Ka."
For the next several moments, Sayo floated from one end of the massive bookshelves to the other, committing the titles to memory as she had for every section before that. By doomsday, she planned most cheerfully on having every book's title memorized.
"There you are!" Sayo looked up to find Kazumi at the end of the row, her breathing slightly labored. "I need to get a bike…" she muttered as she walked slowly up to the girl, casting a roving eye over the books. She stepped politely around Sayo, rather than through her, certain the quiet girl was close behind her.
With practiced ease, she slid the hard chair that sat at the computer desk out and plopped down into it, her hand brushing the mouse. The fan in the CPU whirred anew and the screen flickered to life, casting an odd blue glow across both living and un-living faces.
Computers, Sayo found, where absolutely fascinating. She'd marveled over calculators and other electronics as they evolved, however she was unable to learn how to use them as she could not touch them, thus the privilege of seeing them improve over decades was lost upon her. She believed strongly that she would enjoy using a computer though. To be able to look up anything across the planet from your own computer... she sighed wistfully and drifted closer to her friend, peering interestedly at the screen.
Several mouse clicks and a few seconds of typing later, the Mahora Paparazzi had the campus archives online.
She rapidly typed in Sayo's name, the correct kanji instantly leaping into place due to the number of times the search had been run. Every link on the Bagle search engine was displayed in an odd shade of purple that indicated that they'd been previously clicked. Both knew from experience that the three pages of results were the same way, half of which were totally unrelated to the young girl floating behind her friend.
With a resigned sigh, Kazumi pulled a small pad of paper and pen from the same pocket she'd deposited her camera in. She flipped it open to a blank page, sat it by the mouse, and clicked the first link in the list.
With the speed of one used to dissecting a document for only the pertinent information, Kazumi scoured the web page, a scan of a school newspaper at the time, jotting down phrases and names on the pad. The process continued in silence for a long while and Sayo drifted over to Kazumi's side, peering at the pad on which her friend was writing. She squinted in an unintentionally comedic manner and cocked her head, trying to decipher the journalist's hurried notes. Numbers she could make out, as well as a few location names, but other than that it was Greek to the incorporeal girl; a language Mahora hadn't offered when she still took classes.
Kazumi sat back heavily, her chair scraping harshly over the floor. Her pen clattered to the desktop and she craned her neck back to look at Sayo. "Any of these things look familiar?" She held the pad out to her companion who, from her vantage point, floated upside down.
Sayo laughed nervously and shook her head. "It doesn't even look much like Japanese, Asakura-san."
Kazumi rolled her eyes and sat back up. "Yeah, yeah, everyone's a critic..." Her tone softened the blow of her words, and Sayo laughed again, floating behind her once more to watch from over her shoulder, sensing Kazumi was ready to do something they'd not done before.
"Moriyama Ichirou was mentioned four times..." the red-head muttered, tapping at the keyboard then looking at her notes to confirm the kanji for the fellow's name. 3A's ghost blinked, recognizing the name but not associating it with anything.
As Kazumi hit the "Enter" key, Sayo focused her complete attention on the miraculous little screen. From the Mahora archives, ten pages of results registered initially. Both girls let out a soft breath of surprise, and Kazumi clicked the first link.
A sports report from August of 1939 appeared, a black and white picture of a handsome young man in the simply styled soccer uniforms of the day, a ball from his choice sport tucked under one arm. His face nagged at Sayo's memory, and she put a hand to her chin, concentrating with all her might. It had been years, decades, since anything had sparked a memory in her. Ichirou-kun?
"Hmmm...interesting guy...star soccer player during his time at Mahora. Won 5 games nearly single-handedly." She whistled, an odd sound in the otherwise silent atmosphere. Kazumi turned back to Sayo and opened her mouth, but closed it when she saw Sayo's face. "You remember him or something, Sayo-chan?"
"I don't know..." It clearly bothered her that her memory was so fallible. That he was enough to make her try to remember something indicated he was probably of some importance to her.
Asakura grinned and threw an arm over the chair comfortably. "Was he 'special' to you, maybe?"
She had meant it as something of a joke, to lighten the mood; solemnity didn't sit very well with the energetic girl. Sayo blushed darkly and clasped her hands behind her back, not meeting Kazumi's gaze. "I...um...he might have been...I can't really remember."
The living girl raised an eyebrow, her own good mood seeming to evaporate without cause. With a shrug, she turned back to the computer, jotting down a few notes about Moriyama Ichirou on a clean page of her notepad. As Sayo directed half of her attention on the computer and half on her own memories, Kazumi was busy reading between the lines. Good looking and a valued jock might make him slightly conceited. Winning those games no doubt inflated his head at the time. She wrote her guesses of his personality on a separate sheet, her face screwed up in concentration.
The next several web pages were more of the same, although Kazumi noted another connection among her data. The sports editorials had been written by Aoki Kana, a girl whose name was listed in Kazumi's notes to have been mentioned three times in relation to Aisaka Sayo. She circled her name and continued onto the next link, a newspaper scan of a different sort.
After a healthy amount of reading, Kazumi came upon the soccer player, now third in a list within an article entitled "Mahora Academy's Students Rated Highest in Prefecture." Again, Kazumi allowed a low whistle to escaper her lips. "Good student as well..."
Once more, she turned back to the ghost, snapping her fingers to draw her attention. "Sayo-chan, if you were friends with this guy, you must've been a pretty good student as well." At least, that was her guess. His high rating in the school only compounded her generalization that he was likely egotistical, possible even arrogant. She realized it wasn't fair to categorize him as such based on averages, but part of the job of initial investigation was to generalize in order to develop a good picture of the possible happenings of a situation.
Sayo sighed heavily and shook her head. "I don't remember, Asakura-san I just don't." Her eyes held a pleading look. "And I don't know why I don't remember." She drifted away a little bit as she spoke, seeming to be trying to talk herself through it logically. "I remember Ichirou-kun," Kazumi instantly took note of Sayo's familiarity with the boy, "and I suppose we were friends, but I can't think of anything we did, or any conversation, or even what he sounds like. I just remember…I'm missing something."
Kazumi sighed in response to the girl's rambling explanation. From most, such would have sounded melodramatic, but from Aisaka Sayo, the words were pure and genuine. "He does sound important to you..."
The ghost didn't respond her observation, so Kazumi turned her attention back to the computer, a sudden small feeling of despondence making its presence felt. I wonder what it's like to be missing an entire portion of your life... it suddenly occurred to the journalist that such a condition was not unheard of. Amnesia was a human malady and she had always recognized Sayo as having it. However the ramifications of that hadn't occurred her. If a ghost can get amnesia, what else can they get? Are they only affected by mental conditions?
As she usually did when she was struck by something particularly interesting, Kazumi absently chewed on the back end of her pen. This opens an entire new branch of medical study. A long sigh escaped her once more. And I can't do anything with the information. I can't decide if I'm blessed or cursed... Deciding to think more on it later, she made a note of it a few pages further in her pad, then flipped to where she had been.
The remainder of the links were either unrelated or more articles about his exploits in soccer or academic accomplishments. "Why isn't there anything current?" she muttered rhetorically as she browsed another article by Aoki Kana, this one rather scathing, about a soccer game he'd participated in, winning the game for the team in the latter half.
She bit down hard on the end of her pen, looking determinedly at the reporter girl's name. I wonder why she's so much harsher now. Kazumi chuckled. Maybe they'd been going out, then broke up. It seemed like the kind of petty thing most people would do.
Kazumi's constantly wandering mind was sparked off by the possibility, starting down another path. Perhaps they were going out, and Sayo-chan was jealous of Aoki...No! He might have broken up with Sayo-chan to be with her, and Sayo-chan committed suicide as a result of extreme depression! Although the timid spectral girl certainly didn't seem the suicidal sort, she was much too gentle and caring, it was a possibility that couldn't be dismissed.
"Hey Sayo-chan, do you know an Aoki Kana?" The kanji for the name replaced the hiragana in the Bagle text box as she said the name.
Sayo turned back around to face Kazumi and nodded ferverently. I do remember her!" Her innocent face broke into a broad smile. "She was...in the same homeroom as me." She grinned at Kazumi, her voice rising in the excitement of memory. "She worked on the paper, just like you!"
The smile was infectious, and the journalist nodded. "She was indeed. Pretty high on the ladder too, by the looks of it." The number of returns for the reporter girl were twice as numerous as Moriyama Ichirou's had been. Kazumi perused the brief description of the web sites on the links, comparing dates, and found that Aoki Kana had gone on into professional journalism, finally ending up in Kyoto as one of their larger newspaper's highest level reporters.
Kazumi grinned, sharing in the girl's success. Their ambitions seemed much alike. She began methodically clicking the blue highlighted text and threw a question over her shoulder to Sayo. "What else do you remember about her?"
"Well…" her voice trailed off in thought, then the ghost of a blush swept over her cheeks. "She was very pretty. Everyone was so jealous of her." She giggled at some memory or another, not sharing it aloud, but taking pleasure in it nonetheless. "Her dad worked in the military as a radio operator, I think." She went silent, thinking for a bit. "She was always really energetic, ready to do just about anything, and always tryin' to get me to do stuff."
She made a face jokingly. "We were roommates and she'd always drag me along with her when she went places. 'You have to be more social, Sayo-chan!' she'd say." The ghost paused again and smiled contentedly. "She was my best friend."
Mahora's resident paparazzi nodded, hearing the smile in her voice and allowing one to cross her own lips. She opened her mouth to say something as she made a note of Aoki's increasing dislike of Moriyama as time seemed to progress, but was stopped short.
"Thank you so much, Asakura-san!" Nearly scaring the living girl off her chair, Sayo's ghostly arms surrounded her in the closest thing to a hug manageable, bits of her uniform sleeves disappearing into Kazumi's arms and shoulders as the specter floated to and fro slightly. "Thank you thank you thank you!"
Kazumi spun around, a slightly confused grin focused on Sayo. "Uh…what for, Sayo-chan?"
The long-deceased girl smiled widely, a tear coalescing in her right eye. "For Aoki. Because of you, I remember my best friend. I remember." She stressed the word happily and the tear rolled down her cheek, then fell into the air, seeming to dissolve.
Understanding dawned on the red-head and she grinned cockily at her friend. "You ain't seen nothin' yet." Cracking her knuckles theatrically, she returned to the keyboard with renewed fervor. Sayo settled down into the air behind her, already quite satisfied with the day.
"What is this…" With a puzzled expression, she opened a link different from all the others. Most had been archived scans of the girl's articles, but this one was from a personal web page, not school or public records. An image and several following paragraphs of text appeared onscreen, and Kazumi immediately enlarged the poor quality picture. Like others, it was a newspaper scan, but one that Kazumi had seen in no official records anywhere.
It displayed the now familiar visage of Moriyama Ichirou and in bold letters "Academy Star Murders Fellow Student!" Directly below the headline was "By Aoki Kana." Kazumi's eyebrows both shot up in surprise and she folded her hands thoughtfully before her. In what was a clearly emotional editorial, Aoki Kana made claim that the soccer champ had cruelly murdered a mutual friend, although she seemed too caught up in her anger and sadness to explain the motive of the alleged killer.
Luckily, she had kept her wits about her enough to explain that the girl had been strangled brutally, leaving ugly bruises along her throat, and shoved into an empty classroom carelessly. The time of death had been proclaimed as eleven thirty five that morning, and Aoki stated that she had met with the murdered girl not ten minutes before that.
A gasp drew the attention of the nearby ghost as Kazumi finally found mention of the murdered girl's name. "I thought so!" Kazumi hunched over slightly in her seat, browsing the newer text below the scan of the paper. The floating girl near her looked excitedly over her shoulder, waiting patiently for the reporter girl to fill her in on her findings.
Kazumi was silent as she read, though her heart began to beat with progressive speed. When she had finished, she sat back, grinning triumphantly despite the nature of what she had discovered.
"What'd you find out, Asakura-san?" Sayo peered closely at the screen in a vain attempt to uncover what her friend had.
"Well, in short," she paused for effect, a bad habit of hers, "I think you were murdered by the soccer champ."
Sayo flicked her gaze from Kazumi to the screen, then back again. "Ichirou-kun murdered me?"
The Paparazzi nodded. "Not only did he murder you, but when your friend tried to expose it, the school and government covered it up. That's why there are so few references to you online. Most of the stuff must've alluded to Aoki-san's incriminating little article here."
She again raised her pen to lips thoughtfully as Sayo processed the girl's spoken train of thought. "His parents, according to what I found, where in the government, but it's ridiculous to think they'd be able to cover up a murder." She bit down on the pen and focused her sharp eyes on Sayo. "Dis bringin' back'ny mem'ries?"
The girl's mind was working at a furious pace as it was assimilating what Kazumi was telling her with her of own fractured memories.
Perhaps she was simply overwhelmed by the already powerful influx of memories. Since Kazumi had broken the dam, in the few minutes in which she had been reading, Sayo had been slowly piecing things together in her mind to form coherent memories. There wasn't much, but she'd only just begun to sort through the flood.
After a little consideration, she hesitantly shook her head, casting an apologetic glance at Kazumi. "Some memories, yeah, but nothing bad like that." She raised her hands in a gesture of futility and shrugged.
Kazumi sighed and bit down hard on the pen, turning back to the computer. "I'd be' no f'rmal in'estigation was e'er made if dis was such'n immediate co'er up." The observation hung undisputed in the air while she typed at the keyboard once again. Before Sayo had a chance to look at what she was researching, Kazumi hummed a triumphant noise and scribbled a bit more in her pad. "I think," she began closing her various internet windows, "I'd like to meet this Moriyama Ichirou."
Sayo frowned a little bit, concerned if Kazumi's evaluation of her once friend were correct. "Does he still live nearby?"
"Well, not really close, but not too far by train."
The ghost chewed her lower lip nervously. "But you said Ichirou-kun was dangerous..."
"Ah, don't worry 'bout me, Sayo-chan." Kazumi flashed the girl a toothy grin as she stood and slid her chair back under the computer desk. She ripped the page with what Sayo assumed was the man's address from her notebook, then slipped the pad into her pocket.
"Why don't you go back to the room or somewhere nice and see if you can remember anything? You've got quite a bit of catching up to do, after all." The red-head nodded knowledgably, although she didn't' know the depth to which she was correct.
Sayo was still hesitant, and her voice reflected that. "Well, if you're sure..."
Mahora's Paparazzi split her index and middle fingers in a "v" symbol. "I'm sure. Besides, if you remember it all without me, I won't have to bother with Moriyama."
The wispy girl seemed to consider this, then nodded energetically. "I'll try my best then, Asakura-san!"
Kazumi glanced at her watch. "Meet back at the dorm at...5?" Sayo nodded in confirmation. "See you in a few hours, Sayo-chan!" Breaking rules both with her voice level and the excessive speed with which she moved, Kazumi dashed down the rows of books and out the vaulted doorway of the library.
Despite all her reassurances, Sayo had an unfounded nagging feeling that meeting the man she'd known during her life would ultimately end badly.
Kazumi sighed and grabbed hold of one of the white rings suspended from the luggage rack. She'd really hoped for a seat, seeing as how the ride would last a little longer than thirty minutes. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed an extremely short man of about fifty, his eyes resting intently on her. With a grimace, she tugged the plaid uniform skirt required of all Mahora's female students down a little further, guessing that the man had probably seen more than an eyeful from his point of view. Damn perverted old man...
The train lurched to motion, causing the reporter to sway abruptly as a voice over the inter-train communication system stated what anyone would notice: they had departed Mahora Station. She quickly attuned herself to the movements of the train and tried to ignore the old man whose attempts to veil his efforts to peek beneath her skirt as being mere jostling of the train were easily seen through.
I wonder why a guy so prominent in high school would virtually drop out of the spotlight after graduation. Most try to at least maintain the level of public exposure they had during the school year, but most try to get more. It really seemed rather illogical, unless she had evaluated his personality wrong. I suppose he could be just the type to shine naturally in academics, but whatever he did afterward didn't go so well.
She sighed. That didn't seem to fit either. Obviously he knew both her classmate, Aisaka Sayo, and the original Mahora Paparazzi, Aoki Kana. The connection was undeniable, and likely integral to Sayo's death, but Kazumi was unsure as to how. Aoki definitely believed him to be the killer, but had provided no proof and had been easily silenced. If it had been provable in the least, the case would've been picked up again by now. That it hasn't might mean there's no support to her accusation.
She was sure such a thing happened normally among detectives and others involved in law enforcement, but it seemed rather staggering to one about to enter high school. She shook her head in an attempt to clear her thoughts. Things shouldn't be as muddled after I talk to the guy.
Her thoughts occupied her active mind for the entire trip, only becoming distracted long enough for her to grab a seat when the perverted old man thank god, got off the train. She settled deep into the seat, her blank gaze trained out the window.
When the conductor announced her stop, she was immediately on her feet and pushing insistently through the rather tight crowd toward the doors, slightly surprised at her own deep interest in case she had decided to investigate freelance. She stepped off the marginally higher floor of the train onto the concrete surface of the station, bringing one hand up to her eyes to shade them from the sun that had decided to make its way to that height in the sky that was only bothersome to drivers and pedestrians alike.
Despite the relative size of the city, the station was small, almost quaint with its old wooden benches in the middle. A fair number of people milled about, but not nearly what Kazumi had expected. Shrugging the inconsistency away, she made her way to the ticket-taking machine, then outside onto the more modern looking street.
She pulled the slip of paper bearing Moriyama's address from her pocket and compared it to a map that had been folded up in a compartmentalized box at the station's entrance. "Ooh, great. It's within walking distance." She breathed a sigh of relief, happy to not have to lighten her wallet more than for the train ticket.
Slipping the paper back into her pocket, she set off at a jaunty pace. As was normal when she was nearing what she expected to be some crucial part of a news story, her heart began to beat slightly faster. The fact that the man she was to meet was a potential murdered didn't seem to bother the red-head as much as it would most people.
After the events revolving around Negi-sensei, she felt empowered, regardless of the fact that she was not in any way at all. Besides, she grinned, he's old now. If he tried anything, it'd likely be strangulation again, and at his age... She managed to mostly contain a small chuckle at the prospect.
As Kazumi tapped at her foot at a traffic light, it occurred to her that even if she couldn't expose Sayo-chan to the press, apprehending the murderer from a sixty year-old case would certainly earn her some prestige, even among the professionals. Thoughts of spots on talk shows, interviews with local news channels, and a report about her rather than by her in the paper brought a painfully wide grin to her face. As she strode down the street, the crowd gave her a wide berth.
Her eyes scanned the buildings, and when they fell upon the apartment registered to Moriyama Ichirou, her grin dropped and her demeanor became serious once more. She fingered the camera in her pocket unconsciously, powering it up for use if necessary.
Kazumi pulled open the thick glass door with a grunt, finding that once it began to swing, it was quite easily moved. She stepped inside and looked around curiously. The plush carpet seemed relatively new, and the smell of fresh paint was evident, although barely, in the air. Replicas of famous pieces of artwork tastefully decorated the lobby area's pristine white walls. A single gold chandelier cast a soft light throughout the room even during the day. Behind the oak reception desk, a middle-aged woman cast her a gaze somewhere between bored and annoyed. I don't imagine it's very exciting working here...
Mahora's Paparazzi stepped up to the counter with a cheerful smile, resting her hands on the glossy top. "Afternoon, ma'am."
The woman nodded but refrained from replying.
"I'm here to see Moriyama Ichirou-san, if he's in."
"Is that so?" The clerk tapped at her computer for a second, then turned back. "Moriyama-san is currently in, but I'm afraid he doesn't have much to do with guests."
This is more like a hotel than any apartment... Kazumi shook her head. The rich are so odd. "I'm Mahora Academy Girls' Middle School's lead reporter, and I'm here to do an article on him for a special edition of the paper focusing on influential students from Mahora's past." The lie came easily to the born embellisher, so much so that she hardly had to think about it, knowing she wouldn't slip up on it later.
"In that case...Moriyama-san may see you, miss."
Kazumi grunted quietly in affirmation. I figured he was the type to like media coverage. She waited with feigned patience for the clerk to dial Moriyama's room. The older woman spoke in hushed tones with one Kazumi could only assume to be her target, then nodded and hung the phone up with a click.
"Moriyama-san says he will see you." She pointed at the elevator. "His room is on the third floor, number 3-2."
The red-head nodded and grinned appreciatively. "Thank you, ma'am." With an excited bounce in her step, Kazumi tapped the "Up" button on the wall, and a short moment later, the wood paneled doors before her slid open with a quiet "ding." She walked in and spun on her heel, finding and hitting the button for the third floor quickly.
Being in a higher class apartment area, the elevator was slow, as was the music gently flowing from its hidden speakers. As soon as it came to a rest and it's doors slid open once more, Kazumi exited into a hallway much like the lobby, although it lacked the faux artwork. The door directly before her bore a gold plate marking at as 3-5, and a quick scan of the hallway pointed her to the wall the elevator was on and to her right.
One hand on her camera, she knocked lightly on the door several yards down the hall labeled 3-2. The lock clicked after several moments of silence, and Kazumi sensed it was up to her to open the door.
She pushed it open and stuck her head in curiously, her gaze swinging around the room until it came to rest on the tall figure of Moriyama Ichirou. She blinked in some surprise at his appearance. The years had been quite good to one of Mahora's original soccer stars. She knew him to be in his mid seventies, but he looked like a man just entering his fifties, if even that. His hair was snow white and cropped relatively short in the contemporary fashion. He wore a pair of khaki shorts and a plain white polo shirt, both of which made it quite clear that he hadn't let his physique slip in old age as so many did.
He nodded. "Yes indeed. May I ask who you are?" His voice was something of a baritone, but not quite, perhaps a decibel or two higher.
Kazumi blinked at the vigor in his voice, then bowed as was customary. "My name is Asakura Kazumi. I'm a graduating third year middle schooler from Mahora Academy, and the lead journalist for the school paper." She straightened and looked at him, waiting for a comment.
Moriyama smiled cordially at her. "I once knew a person much like yourself, Asakura-san. You remind me a lot about her."
Kazumi returned the smile with practiced ease, slipping seamlessly into reporter mode. "Then it should make my interview go all the smoother, yes?"
He nodded and motioned at a set of chairs near the picture window on the other side of the room. "Indeed. Have a seat, Asakura-san. Would you like anything to drink?"
"No thank you," she declined as she settled into the seat, although she didn't allow herself to relax to the extent that was probably expected. After all, he was still a suspected murderer in her eyes.
He looked up from the drink he was mixing. "What, precisely, am I being interviewed about, Asakura-san?"
She shrugged and looked out the window. "General things, really. Some of it's indiscriminate, some pertaining particularly to you."
Kazumi returned her gaze to Moriyama as he sat across from her, his knees popping protest as much as the springs squeaked for the same reason. He chuckled and sipped at his drink. "Never direct, you reporters, eh?"
She grinned and shook her head, drawing her pen and pad from her pocket. Time to get the basic happy-crappy out of the way... Kazumi launched herself into a host of questions all journalists had as default, simple, very general questions over broad topics. They were usually used to help the subject relax until they got to the difficult questions, but Kazumi was using it merely as a pretense.
A tribute to his age, Moriyama answered with the slow steadiness of one choosing words and experiences from a vast store. He was easy enough to talk to, and Kazumi surmised that his current charisma was still more than that of many, and that in his youth he must have been popular as much for his personality as for his academic and physical accomplishments.
A small surge of excitement gripped her as she began to tighten the rope of questions. "Considering your accomplishments, would it be safe to assume you also had an active social life?"
Moriyama seemed to consider the question, falling silent and swirling the ice within his glass around. "I…yes, I think you can say that."
She grinned at him with a faux coy note in her voice, "Popular with the ladies, sir?"
He laughed again and a very faint blush colored his cheeks, "That may be something of an overstatement, but I had a few girlfriends, yes." He became marginally more serious. "As you can see, I never married though."
Kazumi nodded. "If you don't mind, who were your girlfriends? I may have already interviewed one or two of them."
He smiled and began rattling off a list of names. He stopped, and Kazumi thought, rather disappointedly, that he was done, but he continued in a somewhat sad voice, "and Aoki Kana."
Mahora's Paparazzi underlined the name with a smug grin. Got'cha. She looked up at him with a puzzled expression. "Not Aisaka Sayo? Her name was mentioned several times in school records near yours. I thought maybe…"
Moriyama Ichirou grimaced and tightened his grip on the glass. "Her? Gods no, never that…never her." His eyes were as icy as the cubes in the glass he held.
Kazumi blinked in surprise at the energy behind his apparent hatred. She hadn't expected him to be so strongly against her after this many years. "Er…why not sir? You seem to have something against her…"
He cast what he hoped was a kind smile at her. "I suppose I do have something of a grudge against the girl. You see, she…" he looked about the room conspiratorially, "is the one who took Aoki Kana from me."
Again, the red-head blinked in genuine surprise. "She and Aisaka-san were a couple?"
The man seemed to flinch at that. "They were not, but the girl seduced Kana-chan away from me. I had asked her to park with me the day before. I had a picnic planned for the two of us. I had come to the library to pick her up as we were going to take a carriage to the park, and I saw her and Aisaka…"
Asakura looked up from the notes she was jotting furiously. "What were they doing, sir?"
He remained silent, then smiled at her. "I'm sorry, I seem to be rambling. And it's most disrespectful for Aisaka-san as well."
Damn, he's avoiding it. Kazumi narrowed her eyes. "I'm sure she wouldn't mind, nor would Aoki-san for that matter. This is, after all, in the pursuit of a good story."
Moriyama shook his head, his face darkening. "No, I'd rather not. Such things are better left forgotten." He fell silent as Kazumi searched around for another question, one that wouldn't arouse suspicion.
Well, it's better than nothing, she decided. "What did you mean when you said that Aisaka-san seduced Kana-san from you, sir?" Her expression was innocent.
He grunted and was silent for a moment longer. "It's unkind to speak ill of the dead." Kazumi raised a curious eyebrow, obviously wanting him to continue. His eyes darted around the room, making sure it was secure as if he were about to digress a government secret.
"Aisaka Sayo claimed to be in love with Kana-chan." His voice retained its kind lilt, but it was noticeably harder, and Kazumi saw his hand clench around his glass. His gaze flicked up to her and his tone changed slightly. "In this day and age, such a thing isn't exactly unheard of, but at the time, Aisaka-san was considered an," he fell silent, his upbringing trying its hardest to make him choose his words with grace, "atrocity."
She...she was in love with Aoki Kana? That would explain why she seemed so important to Sayo-chan... Kazumi tried to ignore the slightly increased pounding in her chest, and wiped her now slightly sweaty palm against her skirt. If both of them were in love with Aoki Kana, her heart quickened in agitation at the thought, although she was unsure why, then Sayo-chan taking her away would give Moriyama motive to kill her... She made a slightly unsteady note to that effect, circling it with her pen.
"I...I see, sir." He seemed to appreciate the unease with which she responded, though his reasoning behind it was misinterpreted.
After a steadying breath, Kazumi clicked her pen closed and looked up at the clock. With a mock surprised gasp, she smiled her journalist's smile at the man. "I'm sorry, Moriyama-san. I've taken a lot of your time, and uninvited at that."
She stood and slipped her pan and pen into her pocket. The ex-soccer star rose as well, setting his glass on the arm of his chair. "Not at all, Asakura-san." He bowed to her as she did him, then continued when he had straightened. "It was a pleasure. It's not often I get interviewed anymore, and by my old school no less."
Kazumi grinned at him. "I may need to come back if they want a follow up article." She tapped her pocket with the pad. "Would that be okay, sir?"
He nodded in a grandfatherly fashion. "It would be my pleasure." The older man smiled congenially, "but please try to make an appointment next time. It was rare that you caught me while I was here."
The reporter nodded vigorously and scratched the back of her neck in an apologetic manner. "Yeah, sorry about that. I kinda missed your name on my list this morning when I was making those calls."
Moriyama waved it off easily. "Have a nice day, Kazumi-san."
Yup, the interview's over. "You too, Moriyama-san." With a final bow, she stepped out of the room, closing the door firmly behind her, hearing the lock click shortly afterwards.
As she proceeded down the hallway, she chewed thoughtfully on the tip of her pen, creating yet more small dents in it. "So far, he's the only suspect, and now he has a motive...But my observations about his personality seem off. He didn't seem egotistical or anything at all..." She shook her head. "Damn. It's gonna be hard to tell Sayo-chan..."
The next chapter will be out...relatively soon. ; I've got lots of other stories planned, so I need to get this one finished up, at LEAST before the holidays.