Author's Notes – Alright, the second half is up! Since my internet was cut off ((cries)) I was able to do quite a bit of uninterrupted typing, which is probably why this came out as fast as it did, though still not by the holidays. I also blame that on the dead internet.
This chapter had quite a bit more help than the first one. At least half of the speed of its release can be attributed to ChibiSecchan, as well as a good deal of the inspiration and beta-reading, so give her a hand. I couldn't do it without her. My other two beta-readers were, of course, Spiritmage and Shinmeiryuu, finding and pointing out my ever so few ((cough cough)) mistakes. Thanks a bunch guys, I owe ya!
The Price of Truth
The train ride back to Mahora Academy was uneventful, at least on a physical level. Asakura Kazumi's normally restless mind was in turmoil more than usual though. Moriyama Ichirou, her only suspect in Aisaka Sayo's murder, and seemingly the only one who both knew her and was capable of it didn't seem at all like the kind of person who would ruthlessly strangle a fourteen year-old girl. His personality conflicted with the evidence, and therein lay Kazumi's indecisiveness.
As a journalist, she understood that a person's personality was often critical in anything they've done, sometimes even going against science, mathematics, and evidence. Those three things constituted the rest of her dilemma. Every shred of evidence, and indeed that was all it was, pointed only to him, no-one else was even factoring into the equation. With a defeated sigh, she settled back into her seat to await the train's arrival at Mahora Academy Station.
Aisaka Sayo, Class 3A's only post mortem student, hovered silently atop the crumbling clock tower near the edge of Mahora's campus. Since its erection in her 6th year of grade school, Sayo had unofficially claimed the place as her own. Due to its distance from the campus, few people had frequented it. In the more than six decades since then, the once beautiful Victorian style building with it's small courtyard had fallen into extreme stages of disrepair. Its roof sagged under its own weight, many of its rafters broken.
The foundation had long ago turned from concrete to dust, much of its brick structure doing the same in following decades. In several walls, doors were no longer necessary, the bricks having crumbled and dissolved leaving gaping holes. It was technically condemned, but the school had never elected to actually tear it down. For this, Sayo was glad. It had become her favorite place in all the campus. In part, it was that the small garden of Tsuwabuki she had planted in her first year of middle school had expanded to cover the entire courtyard in the small, bright, yellow blossoms. It was absolutely breathtaking from her place atop the clock tower roof.
Perhaps because its history was as long and lonely as her own, Sayo felt a connection with the dilapidated building. It was the place she felt most comfortable, and where her memories seemed, even if only slightly, less restricted.
Ever since Kazumi had departed Library Island, Sayo had made her way to her perch on the frozen hour hand. It rested at three o'clock, the two hands forming an "L" shape in which one could sit. She leaned back against the minute hand, her gaze cast blankly towards the sky, her eyes cloudier than the atmosphere.
With the assistance of the red-haired Mahora journalist, the dam that held Sayo's memories back had cracked. At first, it had only been a trickle of random, pointless memories. Waking up late for class, finding out she'd neglected to put her laundry out to dry, sitting in the courtyard with her lunch, watching the butterflies, and various moments of little import. They had made way for larger, more coherent memories, some of which involved Aoki Kana or Moriyama Ichirou, two people who had been rather important to her, if newspaper articles and her few memories meant anything.
Following a memory of cooking supper in her dorm room, Sayo was reminded of a late night conversation she and Kana had had, one that had been of special importance to her for a reason she was unable to recall.
She had prepared a simple meal of curry, the radio playing scratchy music in the main part of the dorm room. Grinning, she had brought the two plates into the living area, setting one before Aoki Kana who sat at the utilitarian desk provided them, mathematics books arrayed around her. She looked up at her, her hair messed up from where she'd been running her hand through it in frustration, and smiled thankfully at the brown-haired girl. "Thanks, Sayo-chan."
Sayo smiled broadly. "You're welcome!" She pulled her own chair up next to her friend's and sat lightly. They each muttered the traditional "itadakimasu," their eyes on the mathematical texts, before burrowing their chopsticks into the mass of rice and steaming curry.
They ate in silence, each pouring over their notes and the texts, memorizing formulae and theories for the upcoming exam. Hayashida Nobuhiro was well known among the students for his destructively detail oriented tests. When they had finished their meals, Sayo stood wordlessly and carried their plates back to the kitchenette, setting them down to be washed the next morning.
She returned and seated herself again, pulling another piece of paper from her notebook for the next page of notes. The dorm room was silent for nearly another hour and a half, only the scratch of their pencils and the turning of pages giving testimony that the room was not empty. With an exaggerated sigh, Kana kicked off the wall, her chair sliding back from the desk, and allowed her pen to clatter onto one of the textbooks.
"This is so pointless!" She playfully smacked one of the open books. "I've never yet seen MATHEMATICAL proofs in a newspaper. Not in the production process, editing, page construction, or taking photos!" It was an ages old question of school, when one would use the seemingly useless information being presented.
Sayo giggled. "You never know, Kana-chan." She rested her elbows against the desk, holding her head in her small hands, merely looking at the slightly taller girl.
"Eh, maybe." She fixed a powerful glare on the books, seeming to dismiss the possibility offered by her friend. "I wish I could just take the classes I need, y'know? I know everyone says the same thing, but I'm not gonna be using this stuff…"
She held up her camera, an extremely bulky box with a comically over-sized flash sitting atop it. "This is all I'll be needing. This and a pen." She gazed dreamily at the camera, seeming to see it as a symbol for all she loved. Well, nearly all that she loved.
With another sigh, Kana sat her camera down on the edge of the table near the wall and closed the book before her. "I think I'm done with studying for the night…"
Sayo nodded her agreement, closing her own book after carefully folding her notes and placing them in the middle of the pages as a bookmark of sorts. They watched each other for a moment in silence until Kana yawned, blinking sleepily at her shy friend. "Hey, what'd Moriyama-kun have to talk to you about today? I saw him practically drag you off during lunch. What was that all about?"
"Oh!" Sayo sat up straighter in her chair and cleared her throat. "He wanted to talk to me about the history assignment." She giggled, "he says he just can't seem to stop mixing up the names of the emperors' wives." Aisaka Sayo was well known as being at the top of the history class, seeming to have a knack for remembering names, dates, and other less important information easily.
The reporter girl bobbed her eyebrows suggestively, cracking a grin. "Is that ALL he wanted to talk to you about?"
Frowning in some confusion, Sayo shook her head. "Yeah, that was pretty much it...why?"
Kana threw her arms over the back of the chair and looked about the room with a smirk, though she was obviously trying for a look of innocence. "Oh, nothing, nothing. Just thought he might have something...special to tell you." She winked at Sayo. "Maybe talked to you about someone he likes."
Again, the somewhat slow young woman considered, then shook her head. "No, he didn't say anything about anyone he likes..."
"Did you tell HIM about anyone you like?" Kana asked, leaning forward again, closer to Sayo. She paused, and Kana continued the prompt. "You DO have someone you like, right?"
The quiet girl's eyes widened perceptibly and she turned an even more amusing shade of crimson and sat back. "I…er…that is to say…" She caught Kana's gaze again and flushed anew, nodding slightly. "I…I guess I do, yes."
Kana grinned like a Cheshire cat and advanced slightly on her, applying all her journalistic abilities to pressure Sayo. "You do? Who is it?" Before Sayo could stammer an answer, she again raised a finger to her lips thoughtfully. "Is it Moriyama-kun?" The waiting gaze she aimed at her friend still held an amused glint.
Aisaka blinked in surprise, then shook her head again, her mouth shut. "No, it's not Ichirou-kun; we're just friends."
"Sure you are." The reporter chuckled, bringing another blush and indignant head shake from the girl across from her. "Who is it, then?"
The brown-haired girl was silent for a long moment, her eyes trained on the floor and her hands clasped tightly in her lap. At this, Kana raised an eyebrow, forcing herself to patient. Interesting...maybe...maybe I'm right...
Sayo's head slowly rose and she opened her eyes to meet Kana's gaze, garnet locking with hazel. She managed to hold it for a moment, but her fist clenched harder in her lap and, blushing, she looked away. "T-the person I li-" Without warning, the electric lamps suspended around the room went dark with a low snapping sound.
A muffled "Lights out, girls," filtered through the door as their homeroom teacher flipped the hall's master switch. Kana had cursed softly to herself, hearing Sayo stand and wander over to their shared dresser, stumbling over a stuffed animal in the darkness.
With a small blush, Aisaka Sayo held one hand to her chest and looked down at the field of Tsuwabuki. "Kana-chan…"
A breeze blew through the nearly abandoned area, ruffling the flowers like waves upon the ocean. Sayo sighed wistfully at the beautiful sight. The topic had never seemed to come up in conversation again for a long while...Not until an unseasonably cold day in the early spring...
Kazumi popped her head into her relatively Spartan dorm room and looked around. "Sayo-chan? You here?" She waited several seconds, but neither heard nor saw anything. She sighed and stepped quickly in to grab a drink of milk, then immediately rushed back to the hallway, firmly closing the door behind her.
More out of habit than necessity, she pulled her notebook from her pocket once more, flipping it open to her current page of notes. "Aoki Kana-san is just about the only lead I have left," she muttered, doodling along the margin with her pen.
As she retraced her steps from earlier that morning to Library Island's computer facilities, she scoured over her notes again, trying to dredge up all the little bits of info she had learned about Aoki Kana, particularly a current address. There didn't seem to be anything, despite her photographic memory, and as she stepped once more through the towering doors, she resigned herself to another hour or more going back through the links she had just visited.
After the computer and the internet had booted slowly back up, deciding it was time to run routine virus scans and general diagnostics, Kazumi set to work tweaking her keywords for more results. Grumbling darkly under her breath, somewhat surprised at her own impatience, she tapped her pen against the mouse as it processed her requests with agonizing sluggishness. She considered calling one of her classmate librarians over to complain about the now seemingly pathetic equipment but dismissed it as rude.
By the time her first page of results had loaded, the Bagle search engine seemed to have kicked itself out of neutral and regained its normal pace. Address, address, address... She found the address of several Aokis, and several Kanas, but not one to Aoki Kana. Why does she have to have such a darn common name? She straightened her uniform jacket and re-keyed the text in the prompt, this time hoping for information on her employment.
Several untouched links popped up onscreen, all of which appeared promising, and Kazumi immediately got her pen ready to take notes. The first few links seemed to chronicle her early journalism career, starting right after her graduation from Mahora. It seemed she had immediately been accepted at the Asahi Shinbun, an honor for anyone, let alone a mere high school graduate.
Her tenure there had lasted well over twenty years, earning her quite the reputation as a crack reporter who managed to somehow force the information she needed from the culprit. Kazumi chuckled over several mentions of rumors that the police had sought her out for a stint in the interrogation department, but had been declined in favor of keeping her job as a neutral reporter. As she became better known throughout the field, it appeared as if she began to receive offers from other newspapers.
Kazumi found hints that she had a relationship with one of the higher ups in the Asahi Shinbun, and refused to leave the company for another. The other person's name was well covered up, as after an extra 15 minutes of searching, Kazumi was unable to turn up anything substantial on the rumor. With a grunt, she made note of it anyway.
Eventually she did accept an offer from the Yomiuri Shinbun, and was transferred there in her twenty-third year of journalism. Frowning, Kazumi scrolled through the page twice, looking for mention of her supposed lover, but found nothing. "How odd…if they'd died, there would've surely been mention of it…" She shrugged, already knowing how little there was to be found on the subject, and continued to the next link, a record of her articles with the Yomiuri Shinbun.
The page took several moments to load, and Kazumi had opened her mouth to call for Saotome Haruna when she gasped instead, seeing the page load. Listed on it were likely thousands of articles, all authored by Aoki Kana, most of them front-page news at the time. Her jaw hanging slightly, Kazumi began to scroll through the list, noting several of the articles she'd had to study and dissect in her beginners' journalism class so many semesters ago. She scowled and mentally kicked herself for not recognizing the name of one of the class's most celebrated persons of study. After seeing the titles of a few of the articles, she rather suddenly remembered one of her classmates in her freshman year doing a presentation on the woman. With a slight flush, Kazumi also remembered having fallen asleep twenty seconds into it due to the all-nighter she'd pulled the night before in studying for the mathematics test she'd failed the class before.
She flipped the pages of her notebook and jotted down the URL of the collective page for later reference, not in relation to Sayo, but merely to look more in depth into one of the greatest female journalists she could think of. She chuckled as she backed out of the page. "I know we have similar tastes, but this is getting ridiculous. We both love journalism, have a stubborn streak, and we both know Sayo-chan." Her smile softened into one more genuine at the last subject, and she sent a silent thanks to the incorporeal girl. Her company was truly pleasant, and Kazumi was glad for her presence more than anything that dealt with Negi Springfield and the weirdness he'd caused upon his arrival.
The rest of the links were from the same site, a forum by the looks of it, and to Kazumi's surprise, they all seemed to deal with the possibility of her death, which was apparently unannounced. She blinked repeatedly as she read through the rather long thread.
Several users, all rabid fans of hers judging by their user names, were in an uproar over the unconfirmed news. Several expressed a desire to raid the Yomiuri Shinbun's main office to get her address and personally check on her status of life. Another user, a rather high ranking police officer, or so he professed, immediately quashed the idea with his assumed authority, though he too was exceedingly worried about the older woman.
With an increasingly sinking feeling, Kazumi navigated all eight pages of the thread, finding most of it to be useless mourning for Aoki Kana, not information on her address or anything of any real weight. "It definitely seems like she's dead..."
"What was that, Asakura? Who's dead?" A rather loud voice spoke up from behind Kazumi, surprising her nearly enough to drop her pen. She was used to only the soft-spoken Sayo haunting her back, especially in the library.
"Paru!" She raised a hand to her chest in an automatically dramatic fashion. "Don't do that, you loud-mouth." Her tone was a jovial one, as it always was between the two. As their choice of media were similar, the two were on better terms than most within the class, though "close friends" would have been a rather grievous over statement.
Saotome Haruna grinned and pulled a chair noisily over, straddling it shamelessly backward, crossing her arms over the back of it. "Who's dead? Someone you need t'know about?"
The Mahora Paparazzi jerked a thumb at the computer screen as she turned around to converse with the creative girl. "Yeah, I was wanting to go visit Aoki Kana, a journalist who used to be a student here, but I found this thread in a forum about her being dead. There's nothing official, but it's not very reassuring…
The other young woman nodded thoughtfully, mentally going over the woman's name, her mind acting like a filing cabinet, cross-referencing everything she knew about her. Despite her appearance as something of a gossiping air-head, "Paru" as she was known, had an amazing knack for remembering and associating bits of information. This was, perhaps, the reason she so easily created rumors, by assimilating related facts and possibilities with a single fact, and changing it entirely.
"Well…I'm pretty sure we've got a lot of her articles in the physical archives," she looked at Kazumi's notepad, squinting slightly, "and I bet you've already searched the online ones." The red-head nodded. "We might have some stuff where she's mentioned in, like a report about famous Mahora students or something, but nothing that'd have her address, I don't think."
She peered once more at the screen. "Have you checked public records or not to see if she's died?"
"Nah, a few of the users said they'd already done that, so I guess she's either changed her name and dropped from the spotlight, or she died and just….disappeared." Kazumi shrugged, both in sympathy for the woman who was much like herself and for the loss of a lead.
Haruna nodded at that, not finding a reason to recheck the records. "Well, I guess there's really nothin' you can do, right?" She scooted the chair a little closer, a familiar glint taking to her eyes. "What'cha doing all this research on her for anyway?"
Kazumi chuckled and scratched at the back of her neck sheepishly, trying to think of something to get Haruna off the scent and keep her from thinking she was crazy. For some reason even Mahora's born journalist was put slightly on edge by the budding mangaka. "Er…I'm just doing some research on influential students from Mahora Academy who've gone out and done something notable elsewhere."
It wasn't a complete lie, though it didn't matter much to Kazumi whether it was or wasn't. They all came pretty easily to her, regardless. The class gossip raised an eyebrow in a most curious gesture, but thankfully didn't pursue the subject. After a moment's hesitation, she reached out and jovially clapped Kazumi on the shoulder, never one to mind much about other's personal bubbles. "Well, good luck findin' the stuff you need on her. If you need anything let me know. I've got some stuff to file right now…" She grinned apologetically at the reporter and straightened her glasses with her index finger.
The reporter nodded appreciatively, already turning back around in her chair to the computer. "Thanks, Paru." Immediately putting the energetic girl from her thoughts, she brought the Bagle main page back up, backspacing her previous query from existence. "Well, now what?' she muttered, resting her cheek on one hand and staring drearily at the screen.
For several moments, she merely looked from her notes to the screen, trying to think of anything that would yield useful results, hopefully another suspect. She groaned at the prospect of building a case on the scrabbled together clues, testimony of a ghost if she was lucky, and very doubtfully a confession from the murderer, and ran her hands over her face. Being a high school student trying to convict a popular charismatic man of a sixty year-old murder was difficult by virtue alone, but with what little she had backing her, it seemed impossible.
Despite her great skill with writing and twisting the words of others, "give up" was not in her vocabulary. She flipped her notebook closed and into her pocket in a single easy motion and navigated quickly through the start menu to the shutdown screen. Her chair once more screeching against the floor, she stood up and, seeing herself in the blackened screen, fixed her hair before heading back down the aisles of books. Maybe Sayo-chan's got something for me by now... Grasping desperately to that one small hope, she pushed open the heavy doors to the outside, blinking in the dieing sunlight.
With a surprised blink, Aisaka Sayo's eyes focused on the reddening disk of the sun. Judging by its current height, it was getting close to dusk. I've been here all day... Despite that, she didn't consider it a waste of her rather infinite time by any means. Her head ached slightly from the enormous amount of memories that had burst through into her consciousness. With a quiet sigh, she allowed herself to slide off the edge of the minute hand, floating slowly down to the field of Tsuwabuki. She formed her legs from the wisp that was her lower body before hitting the ground, though it wasn't necessary, and trotted slowly through the fields of flowers towards the wrought-iron gate inset in the fence that surrounded the clock tower.
The winding path to the dorm room she had decided to stay in, although she needed no protection from the elements, was a long one. Normally such would not have bothered her. The masses of people she passed, all looking through her, unseeing, the familiar areas where she had congregated in her life, and usual emptiness were all more pronounced, and her heart ached because of it. Along with the actual memories of her friends and of Aoki Kana, the memory of the joy of companionship and love and every other feeling associated with being with others were all brought back to her, and she felt their absence like a knife through her soul. Asakura Kazumi was the only one, currently, who could and would fill that void. Of all those who could see her, she was the one who took time from her own schedule to spend time with the deceased girl. She was the one who would be a friend to her.
Unnoticed by its host, a tear rolled down her cheek as the emotions she had been missing stormed back into her heart and mind. It wasn't until she was halfway to the dorm and was all but sobbing that she noticed her own distress, so wrapped up in her thoughts was she. It had been decades since she had cried, proof of how long many of her sadder emotions had been reduced to less than memories. She stopped before a door and wiped at the tears that dropped from her face, hitting the ground with a small sound of raindrops. She choked back a sob, the emotions hitting harder as she recognized their existence, and placed a semi-cloudy hand against the wall for support, not remembering she could simply float.
Mere seconds after the distressed sound of her quiet sob, the wall she was leaning against was suddenly removed, and with a cry, she began to fall forward, instinctively defying gravity as the ground neared her. Startled out of her tears, she righted herself and looked with wide eyes at the wall, now proven to be a door. Class 3A's teacher, Negi Springfield, stood there with a worried expression on his young face, looking as if he wished to say something.
"Aisaka-san?" he asked quietly, one hand reaching out for her comfortingly.
Sayo nodded and hovered a little higher, sniffling and wiping the trails of the tears from her face, trying to force a smile. "Hello, Negi-sensei." She attempted a grin and slowly began to float back down the hallway, still facing him. "I'm sorry for the interruption sensei, I was just on my way to the dorm..."
The small British boy started after her, grabbing his staff from the teachers' lounge quickly. "Wait, Aisaka-san! Where you crying?" He caught up with her, walking expectantly beside the spectral girl.
Again, she shook her head and smiled at him. "Of course not, Sensei. I don't have any reason to be crying." That's not really a lie...I don't think. I really should be happy...thanks to Asakura-san I've got some of my memories and my feelings back. Even if they hurt, they're mine, and I should be happy I have them. She nodded after her own inner commentary, causing Negi to quirk an eyebrow curiously.
"Are you sure, Aisaka-san? 'Cause if you want, I can get Master to see if she knows anything that might...er...make a ghost feel better?" Negi placed a hand to his chin and screwed his face up in thought. "If there's anything that can make you feel better, I guess." He laughed his short laugh and rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. "I guess I really shouldn't ramble about things like that if I don't know the whole problem, huh?"
Sayo waved her hands in front of her, dismissing his self-depreciating comment. "No no, Sensei. It's nice to know you care, really." She smiled that irresistibly cute grin again and bowed to him, clasping her hands before her. "Thank you, sensei. I feel much better." Well...maybe not "much," but a little at least.
"But I-" he was cut off as she bowed again and floated up through the ceiling with the speed of a sparrow, putting her easily and quickly out of earshot. "-didn't really do anything." He looked at the fluorescent light that she'd disappeared through and scratched the top of his head. "I wonder what was wrong..."
The would-be fifth grader shrugged and twirled his staff absently between his fingers. "I guess I'll ask Asakura-san later." Of the handful of students who knew about Aisaka Sayo's half existence, it was well known that the star of the Mahora newspaper was her best friend. The two were rarely parted, unless circumstances prevented it. With a sigh, Negi wished silently that he and Asuna got along as easily. There were times, but others it was so...trying.
He started back towards the teachers' lounge, filing the incident with his ghostly student away for further examination later. When he reached the doorway, the wooden door still standing open, the room thankfully empty, his slipper squeaked on the floor. Negi blinked in surprise and looked down, moving his foot. "Wait a minute...these tears are..." Gleaming on the stone floor were several small circles of water, a couple having run together into something of a puddle. They were the tears of Aisaka Sayo, a girl who no longer existed in the physical world.
Asakura Kazumi slid comfortably into her desk chair in her dorm, its cushioned plush surface noticeably different from the hard chairs at Library Island. As a process of habit, she pulled her camera from her pocket and plugged its charging cable into it, the little red light gleaming to indicate it was storing power.
She sat her pad and pen beside a glass that she'd neglected to clear off the desk and, with a sigh, spun about idly in the chair, feeling her stomach cringe slightly as her equilibrium was thrown off. Despite the disruption to her stomach, she found that the odd spinning sensation actually helped her think. It wasn't something she could explain, and didn't try, but she did use the oddity when it was necessary.
No matter what, there was no getting around the fact that Moriyama Ichirou was the one and only suspect in the murder case of Aisaka Sayo. His feelings for Aoki Kana provided a common motive, making it a crime of passion. He had the physical prowess to strangle the rather meek girl easily. The only conflict was within Kazumi. She massaged roughly at her temples as her momentum in the chair slowed, grinding her teeth.
He just doesn't SEEM like a murderer! He's just too nice...he'd have too much to lose by doing it. Her foot caught one of the legs of the desk and the chair stopped with a jerk. Which isn't to say his feelings weren't strong enough to make him do it...obviously he still cares about her. He's never sought anyone else afterwards, it seems. Kazumi looked bleakly at the ceiling. "Why can't people be more true to their feelings?"
Her question hung in the air ominously, almost mocking her. With a small frown, she noticed the nearly hypocritical tone her words had seemed to take and she kicked off the desk leg, beginning her rotation again to clear the thoughts away.
With a groan of frustration, she kneaded her temples harder. I'm just going over the same pieces of evidence! This isn't getting me anywhere... The red-head rested her arms on the chair's and leaned her head back, looking up at the ceiling as the rest of the room whirled about her. "I guess...I guess it really was him that did it..."
"Who that did what, Asakura-san?"
Asakura Kazumi's hands clutched the corners of the desk, bringing her to an abrupt stop, and she turned on the girl who had entered without her knowledge, only to find the shadowy form of her friend and subject of her investigation. "Sayo-chan..." she broke into a weak grin, "you scared me."
The silver haired girl smiled and blushed a little apologetically, fidgeting with the edge of her outdated uniform shirt. "Sorry Asakura-san. I coughed and stuff but you didn't seem to hear me..."
I was that out of it? "Sorry Sayo-chan. I was just...thinking about things. Y'know, journalist things."
The ghostly girl nodded in confirmation. "I thought so." She floated closer. "Is it anything about me, or Kana-chan, or Ichirou-kun?"
After a moment's hesitation, Kazumi nodded, her hair waving about in the air. "It is, but it's not something I'm really sure about." Before the girl could inquire deeper, she stood and changed the subject, walking towards the stacked beds. "What about you? Did you remember anything important?"
Aisaka Sayo watched her, then decided she could return to their earlier conversation later. "Nothing to help figure out who," her voice quieted further, "who killed me, but I remember lots of stuff about school, and Kana-chan, and my friends and my classes, and my family!"
The tone of her voice was infectious and Kazumi smiled broadly at the excitement she exhibited, genuinely happy. "That's great, Sayo-chan!" She pulled herself easily onto the top bunk, the tips of her intentionally messy hair brushing the ceiling as she arranged herself to be more comfortable and patted the bed beside her. "I'm glad all your memories weren't actually lost."
Sayo grinned and floated quickly up to sit beside her friend, looking happily off into the unseen distance. "I remember so much stuff now, and I keep remembering more if I think about any of it. One thing leads to another and soon I'm off on a whole new memory entirely!"
Kazumi's smile became softer and she scooted back across her bed to lean against the wall, pulling a pillow into her lap and wrapping her arms around it, hugging it lightly to her. She watched Sayo ramble on about he memories and her family, the folly during her last summer vacation at Library Island, the Konoe kid who had professed to have a crush on her, and so many of the small things that didn't seem important at the time, but in such retrospect were perhaps some of the greatest of all memories. They provided identity, they made someone who they were. The ghostly girl's eyes were brighter than she'd ever seen them, her voice lighter than she'd ever heard it. Her hands moved animatedly in her descriptions of people and events, drawing a picture of it before them. All of it, Kazumi watched with soft attentive eyes, taking it all in in a way entirely different than when she was compiling details for a story.
For two hours she listened in complete silence to the girl at the edge of her bed. The general comfort she had drawn from Sayo when she had started had waned as she mentioned Moriyama Ichirou with greater and greater frequency until her mood of hours previous had reasserted itself. "Sayo-chan?"
With a blink at the abrupt interruption, the normally quiet girl turned around, crossing her legs beneath her and cocking her head in a cute fashion. "Yes, Asakura-san?"
I shouldn't say it...I don't want to ruin her mood. She's so happy, and this...this will be difficult... Her eyes fell to the pillow in her arms and she recognized somewhere in the back of her mind how vulnerable she must look, curled against the wall hugging a pillow, and marveled at her own duplicity. "I...if I tell you what I think happened, do you think it might trigger your memory of how you died?"
Her face fell at the mention of that particular memory and her quiet reserved-ness of usual reasserted itself. "I don't know…it might..."
Kazumi caught her lower lip between her teeth indecisively, weighing her friend and her story. "If you think it will hurt to much, I won't try. Right now your memories are good, and I don't want to ruin that..."
She shook her head, her long silver hair flipping around and through Kazumi's legs like wisps of smoke. "No, I need to remember. It's as much a part of me as the good things, Asakura-san." Though it contained a worried note, her voice was resolute and strong.
Mahora's Paparazzi drew a slow breath, still debating, then nodded. "Alright, Sayo-chan. I hope it helps…" she winced apologetically in advance and sat up straighter, setting the pillow back where it belonged.
"My theory is that," her eyes softened yet more when Sayo's gaze focused intently on her, curiosity and fear wavering behind them. She looked away, towards the window, and continued, "is that you went up to Aoki Kana-san after a class, maybe after lunch, in the hallway to tell her that you…that you loved her." She paused a moment and cleared her throat. "Moriyama Ichirou-san overheard you tell Aoki-san that, and he immediately got jealous."
She looked back up at Sayo's intent gaze. "He loved Aoki-san too, and I think he called you over to him once Aoki-san had left." Her voice broke again and she fell silent for a moment more. "He called you to him, then led you to an empty classroom. There he..."
Sayo held up her hand to stop her friend, both because shadows of the memory were beginning to surface and because it appeared to be difficult for Kazumi to vocalize. "I...I think I remember, Asakura-san..."
Kazumi nodded and closed her mouth, waiting for Sayo to elaborate on it, praying it wasn't too painful for her.
"I...it was three days after I had tried to tell Kana-chan how I felt in our dorm room..." She looked off into space, losing herself in the memory. "Right after lunch, I asked her to come out into the hallway..."
"Sure, what'cha need, Sayo-chan?" Kana readjusted her glasses as she closed the heavy door from the courtyard behind her.
The brown haired girl, blushing profusely and fidgeting with the edge of her uniform skirt. "I...I need to tell you something, Kana-chan. I tried to tell you a couple days ago, but stuff happened, and I didn't get to."
The slightly older girl crossed her arms over her chest and leaned against the doorframe, training a curious and attentive gaze on her friend. "I'm all ears."
The girl's blush darkened and she looked down both ends of the hallway nervously, not really seeming to be reassured by the lack of people. "I...er...I..." She clasped her hands before her chest and took a deep breath, looking directly at Aoki Kana despite the fiery blush that graced her pale cheeks. "I…I love you, Kana-chan…"
Her voice was hardly more than a whisper, although it held a great deal of emotion. Likely more than Aoki Kana could comprehend. The reporter girl's expression didn't change, and Sayo chewed anxiously at her lower lip, immediately regretting her decisions. "I'm sorry, Kana-cha, I shouldn't've said anything…"
She turned on her heel, her hands moving to her face to wipe away the tears that were already forming. With a gentle laugh, Aoki Kana stepped forward swiftly, softly grabbing hold of Sayo's left elbow, holding her in place more with her "Wait, Sayo-chan," than with her hand.
The gentle girl turned slowly, her hands partially covering her eyes, almost afraid to meet the taller girl's gaze. Kana shook her head and tugged on Sayo's sleeve, pulling her closer. "I don't want you to apologize." She laughed at Sayo's faintly blank look. "I was beginning to give up hope that you'd say anything at all."
At this, Sayo found her voice and dropped her hands back down to her sides, merely looking at Kana. "W-what?"
Her infinitely unplumbable friend laughed again and drew the surprised girl closer, slipping one arm around her waist and smiled at her. "I was giving up hope that you felt the same way, Sayo-chan." Nearly frightening the younger girl, she blushed slightly and gave her a very brief kiss, merely a brush of her lips against Sayo's, then stepped back.
Aisaka Sayo trembled slightly in Kana's loose grip, overcome with several emotions, most prevalent of which were happiness and surprise. Kana-chan doesn't hate me...not only doesn't she hate me, she feels the same way! Her heart all but cried out in joy, even as the fire that seemed to burn on her lips began to fade, leaving only the memory. "K-Kana-chan!" A crimson blush covering her from head to toe, Sayo launched herself bodily at the reporter, latching onto her neck with her arms, burying her face in her shoulder.
Laughing once more, Kana wrapped the girl in a tight hug, swinging her back and forth slowly, and blushed pink as well, thankful for the relative privacy. In the back of her ever-active mind it registered that since things had indeed progressed as she'd hoped, they'd have to maintain a certain level of distance in public. The last thing she wanted was the girl in her arms to be scorned for her emotions. She hugged her tighter and sighed, a smile making its way across her lips. I suppose it's okay just this once.
At the other end of the hallway, behind a door half-opened, the sharp eyes of Moriyama Ichirou peered out in shock from beneath his black bangs. His jaw hung slack at the sight before him. As the initial surprise wore off, a shudder made its way up his spine and his grip on the edge of the door tightened, pain flashing in his knuckles. "No...Kana-chan did NOT just..."
His grip tightened even more on the door as he confirmed to himself that she had indeed just kissed his friend, Aisaka Sayo. With a low crack, he barely forced himself from yelping in pain as the edge of the door shattered in his grasp, the thin wood splintering across and into his hand. He cursed under his breath and ducked back into the room lest the sounds draw the pair's attention.
After a moment he hesitantly slid the door to the side a few inches once more and looked out. The two were no longer wrapped in their hug, but rather they were chatting animatedly, both with wide smiles on their faces. He couldn't hear what they were saying, but after what he had just seen, even the look of pure happiness on Aisaka Sayo's cute features was enough to insight his rage.
He watched the two talk for the next several minutes, thankful the classroom he'd been studying in was empty this early in the day. The homework he'd set out to do when he'd entered was forgotten, and rather than a desire for knowledge a desire to strike out at she who had seemingly stolen the girl he loved from him smoldered in his dark eyes.
With an unsteady grin, he opened wide the door to the classroom when Aoki Kana, his Aoki Kana, gave Sayo a quick kiss on the cheek, a wave, and dashed off down the hallway, presumably late for something. Moriyama drew in a deep breath and straightened his posture, then his uniform and stepped out into the hallway, forcing his face into its usual casual smile.
"Sayo-san, could you come here for a moment? I have a question about this history paper I'm writing."
At the other end of the hallway, Sayo jumped in surprise, her fading blush reasserting itself with a vengeance as she turned to face the boy she hadn't known was there. "Ichirou-kun! You startled me." She smiled at him and he smiled back, malevolence boiling beneath the surface of the gesture. "Sure, I'll help."
She started down the hallway at a jaunty pace, and Moriyama smiled to himself as he stepped back into the room, immediately sidestepping away from the doorway.
"What do you need help with, Ichirou-kun," Sayo asked as she pushed the door all the way open and stepped inside, looking towards the front of the classroom instinctively.
Snarling, the soccer star's hands flashed out, wrapping themselves around Sayo's delicate throat, applying only enough force to hold her still. "I saw you, Aisaka. I saw you and my Kana-chan," he hissed in her ear.
The brown-haired girl yelped in surprise and immediately brought her small hands to his, prying at his fingers to no avail. She turned her head as much as she could and squeaked, "What, Ichirou-kun?"
Ichirou squeezed his fingers slightly tighter, feeling her two jugular veins and her windpipe move beneath his grip. "I saw you and Kana-chan kiss in the hallway, you little wench." His voice, cold as steel, never rose above a whisper.
Sayo's eyes widened as her feet left the floor and his hands tightened yet more around her throat. She kicked behind her, feeling her heels hit his legs to no effect; his years of soccer practice hardening them as small trees. She tried to articulate a response to his accusation but found that she couldn't force the breath up through her throat.
Her heart beat quickening more, she tried desperately to draw in air, her eyes beginning to water in fear when she found she couldn't. The boy she had considered one of her friends spoke no more, his mouth contorted into a grim smile watching the panic course through her body. Her kicking began to weaken even as her attempts to break his grip did. Sayo's field of vision seemed to narrow as shadows began to overtake the classroom.
It was when she could no longer see at all that the realization that she was going to die finally hit her. Her heart, lacking its oxygen fuel, slowed to a dull, remote thumping, sounding as if it were at a distance. As Sayo's body and mind began to systematically shut down, she struggled to conjure an image of the bespectacled girl that had just moments ago accepted her love more than willingly. A final tear coalesced when her last thought was one of her inability to picture her love before death claimed her.
Moriyama Ichirou held his iron grip on the young girl's throat for nearly a minute after the long sigh signaling her death had passed her lips, relishing the moment. A smile still on his lips, he allowed her body to fall to the floor with a thud. He stood over her, the expression on his face rather like that of a wolf's, for several minutes more, his mind catching up with and evaluating his bloodthirsty actions.
Slowly it dawned on him that her body would be discovered, the cause of death placed as strangulation, the location traced to this classroom, and its usage traced to him. He opened his mouth to curse his own stupidity and blinked in surprise when "Sayo-chan? Is that you?" penetrated the silence instead.
His eyes went wide and his heart leapt to a speed rivaling that of his panicked victim's as he heard the familiar sound of Aoki Kana's footsteps at the far end of the hallway. Curses spewing from his mouth like water from a faucet, he scooped his books into his arms and jumped over the body of Aisaka Sayo, easily clearing her and the doorway. His gaze swept for a few seconds over the girl he loved, dashing down the hallway, before it swung around to the empty hall to his left. With another muttered curse at being so careless, he sprinted as fast as his legs would carry him down the hall, hopefully towards safety.
Kazumi blinked away the tears that threatened to overcome her at the sight before her. Aisaka Sayo lay at the foot of her bed, curled into a ball as a child does, hugging her knees to her chest, tears streaming down her cheeks. She opened her mouth to continue, but merely sobbed, and Kazumi held a hand out to motion that it was enough. She didn't need to continue.
Kazumi leaned back against the wall again, her arms limply at her sides, feeling empty. It pained her that Sayo had such a terrible past, and had died at the hands of one of her best friends, but it pained her more that, as the situation was, she was unable to even wrap a comforting arm around her. She had no way to sooth the girl when she so wanted to be there for her. She could only sit in silent sympathy.
The ghostly figure of Sayo was wracked with silent sobs as the pain of treachery picked up where it had left off that day, returning in full force. Regardless of what he had done, she couldn't bring herself to hate Moriyama Ichirou. He had taken her life and taken her happiness with Kana-chan, but he was her friend. The fact of his kindness before was proof that he wasn't a bad person, just weak.
At least, such were Sayo's thoughts. Kazumi was quite the opposite. Even while tears of sympathy finally flowed down her cheeks, a burning hatred for the Mahora soccer star flared within her. Without a word, she blinked the tears from her eyes and slid to the edge of the bed. Landing on the floor with a grunt, she slipped the heavier coat of the school uniform on and nearly stalked to the door. Why the hell wasn't he convicted on the spot? She jerked the door open and stepped out into the hallway, unnoticed by the girl who was so thoroughly awash with emotion.
Her walk to the headmaster's office seemed short despite its actual length. No one spoke to the normally talkative and outgoing girl, preferring to step out of the way of her and her burning, unseeing gaze. Her fist landed heavily on the oaken door to the headmaster's chamber three times, merely to announce her presence and not to ask permission, before she pushed the tall doors open and walked inside purposefully.
The elderly man had fallen asleep at his desk atop what appeared to be stack of disciplinary forms, a thin line of drool giving evidence to the extended length of his nap.
Kazumi stepped up to the wide desk and stared at the frail figure for a moment, then slammed her hands down onto the hard surface. Aged eyes flew open and elongated head snapped up in surprise as Konoe Konoemon was rudely awakened from what had been a very pleasant dream of the past. After a moment, his bleary gaze settled on the journalist and he blinked the sleep away. "I don't recall asking you to my office, Asakura-kun..." His tone was clearly disapproving, but he was indeed intrigued by her disregard of protocol. Although that was perhaps not so odd from a reporter.
She ignored the question entirely, instead gesturing vaguely in the direction of the dorms. "Why wasn't Moriyama Ichirou convicted for the murder of Aisaka Sayo?" Her voice was higher pitched than normal, and threatened to break. The powerful exterior her anger had asserted fell completely, leaving a confused and hurt adolescent in its place.
Konoemon's eyes widened slightly at her directness and sat back in his high-backed chair, steepling his fingers thoughtfully. "I see..." He fell silent, watching the girl before him for several moments. "Were all the records of the case not destroyed as I had hoped?"
Kazumi blinked repeatedly, the words slowly forming an unspoken statement. "Why was he not convicted? Why are you trying to cover for a murderer?" Her voice rang echoed through the chamber, and the elder of the Kantou Magic Association winced.
He looked at the door and muttered something unintelligible. Seconds later, it closed with a soft thud. Closing his eyes, he muttered what Asakura could now ascertain as being a very old form of Japanese and the pressure in the room seemed to increase, causing her ears to pop. He turned back to look at her and gestured at one of the padded chairs before the desk with a withered hand.
"There's a lot more to Aisaka-san's murder than you seem to realize, Asakura-kun..." Even as he spoke, he doubted the wisdom of telling her such things. "There are...higher powers involved in the decision to allow him to go free."
Kazumi didn't sit, and instead gestured about wildly again. "But how can you just let him go free after what he did to Sayo-chan? What power is strong enough to let such a killer free?"
"The power than holds the governments of the world intact, Asakura-kun." His voice, though old, sharpened terribly, making the fiery reporter pause in her motions and nearly step back from the desk. "If his case had been allowed to be investigated by the police, a thorough investigation, Mahora Academy's true nature would have been at risk of exposure."
She didn't comment, and so he decided to continue. "You don't honestly think the rest of the world is entirely clueless to the existence of Magi, do you? Do you think a world within a world could remain secret forever when such a power difference is held?" He gestured at the offices beyond his own's walls. "Not all Magi are good people. You saw that in Kyoto. Those rogues represent an infinitely frightening power to the rest of the world's governments; a power they can not combat."
Kazumi was beginning to see where the now one-sided conversation was heading, and sat down in some shock, both at what was being imparted to her, and at not having already realized it on her own.
"Mahora Academy is recognized by the Japanese government as a defensive point against those Magi malevolent to the rest of the unenlightened masses. They keep our existence a secret as long as we keep magic under control. If the world were suddenly alerted to our existence, entire countries would be thrown into chaos!" His voice rose ever higher, booming throughout the room, but echoing back quickly. The spell he had cast earlier reflecting the sounds so they never even met the walls, a perfectly soundproof room.
His voice quieted as he returned to the point. "If Moriyama Ichirou's murder of Aisaka-san had been thoroughly investigated, there is a good chance that Mahora Academy's true nature and it's connection to the Japanese government would have come to light and thrown Japan, and perhaps the world, into a state of unrest. That could NOT have been allowed to happen."
The old man, suddenly seeming much more powerful than ever Asakura Kazumi had seen him, fell silent, his sharp eyes resting on her, waiting on her. She suddenly felt very small, almost insignificant. Not so very long ago she had nearly caused the very disaster that the headmaster had just described in pursuit of a mere scoop. Had it not been for the destruction of her cell phone, Negi Springfield's existence and nature would have turned the world on its side.
When she spoke, her voice reflected her meekness, seeming as a whisper compared to the booming explanations of her superior. "I...I see..."
Konoemon remained silent still, and after looking down at her hands, steadying herself, Kazumi looked back up at him. "Still, is there no way he can face his proper punishment? What he did was...was..."
"Unforgivable." The headmaster's eyes were infinitely softer than they had been before, and Kazumi sensed an immense change in his mood. "He took the life of one of Mahora Academy's most beautiful, kind-hearted, giving girls..." the faraway tone in his voice suggested something deeper than even what he said, but the red-haired girl's mind was too inundated with emotion to even notice, let alone explore its possibilities.
The both of them went completely quiet, staring into times and places long forgotten, until Konoemon nodded in a sage fashion, as one who has come to a heavy decision. "It has been long enough now, I suppose Mahora Academy would receive little investigation..."
The uncertain tone of his voice didn't register with the young journalist. She heard only his words and their meaning. "He can be convicted now?"
He winced at the hope shining in the girl's bright eyes; a hope stemming from a desire for vengeance. It was the same desire that drove the man in question to the murderous creature he had shown himself to be. He prayed silently that Asakura Kazumi was stronger by far. "Yes, I think it would be safe to bring the true nature of his past to light now, Asakura-kun." He rested his elbows on the table and looked at her with a strange expression. "But do you have enough evidence so as not to ruin your career if he decides not to go quietly?
At this, Kazumi again quieted, her own misgivings being hit on the head of the figurative nail. "I don't honestly know..." She fidgeted with the hem of her skirt, not meeting his gaze. "I have one old newspaper article and the exact happenings of the murder...but that's it..."
Although she didn't see the smile, she heard it in his voice, "Then I think a confession will complete the ensemble nicely."
Kazumi looked up at the old man, her eyes clearing slightly with hope. "Do...do you think so? Do you think it will be enough?"
At his nod, Asakura stood, making a triumphant fist with one hand, her usual fervor returning. "Alright!" She turned to leave, then stopped when a small cough, obviously intended to grab her attention, came from behind. She turned slowly to face the headmaster of Mahora Academy.
"You realize that what we spoke of shouldn't even be told to Negi-kun, let alone another student." It wasn't intended as a question, and Kazumi nodded firmly.
"Yes, sir." As an afterthought, she turned entirely around and cracked her usual grin. "Thank you for telling me what you have, sir," she bowed quickly before turning and rushing out the room, seeking vindication for perhaps her closest friend, and the rush that came with cracking a case wide open.
As Konoe Konoemon uttered the basic dispelling incantation, he sent a silent prayer after the strong-spirited and risk-taking girl. The murder of Aisaka Sayo had left a grievous wound upon him, and he was nearly as anxious as her for the man who committed such a crime to receive his penance.
"It's you again, is it, miss?" The same woman stood behind the check-in counter of Moriyama Ichirou's residence. She regarded Kazumi with something of a suspicious gaze, beginning to doubt the sincerity of her claim that she was merely gathering data for the school newspaper.
Kazumi grinned in a friendly fashion, feeling her chances slowly dropping, and tried to turn on all of her journalist's persuasion abilities. "I didn't realize until I started writing the story that I'd missed an entire page of questions." She bowed repeatedly at the woman, keeping a faux apologetic look on her face. "If Moriyama-san is still here, may I please go back up to see him?" She still looked skeptical, and Kazumi hastily added, "It won't take long, I promise!"
The clerks eyes traveled from the pleading expression of Mahora's Paparazzi to the elevator shaft, weighing the decision. With a sigh, she looked back at Kazumi. "Moriyama-san returned from dinner almost an hour ago. I suppose you can see him. As long as you're quick about it."
"Thank you, ma'am," Kazumi bowed again, smiling brightly as most school girls would, trying to keep the triumphant smirk from her lips. Bingo... She briskly stepped up to the elevator, tapping the up button as she had several hours earlier. She could feel the still un-appeased eyes of the clerk on her as she waited with growing impatience for the elevator car to descend from the penthouse.
With a stereotypical "ding" the door slid open and Kazumi fled the aged paintings that decorated the walls and the stare of the woman, turning to face the control panel near the door of the car. Her slim hand hit the door closing switch and the button for her target's floor in swift succession, though the doors still seemed to take an agonizingly long time to close.
Once the double doors had come together with a click, Kazumi pulled the small cassette recorder from her notorious pocket, triple-checking that the tape was rewound and that the sound sensitivity was set to maximum. Satisfied, she tucked it away once more and took a steadying breath. Dang, it's finally coming down to the deciding moments and I'm getting nervous? Asakura, you're losin' your touch...
With a small jolt, the elevator came to a rest and the doors slid open. As she retraced her steps of earlier that day to the soccer star's room, she again went over her plan for the fifth time just since leaving the train station. I have to come right out and ask him, be direct about. That should be enough to catch him off guard and he might say something incriminating. She nodded to herself. It wasn't much of a plan, but there weren't a lot of choices in how to extract a willing confession to murder from a person.
Taking another steeling breath, she knocked with illusory confidence on Moriyama's door. She began to doubt the clerk's claim that he was in when she couldn't hear any sound from within the room for several moments. Finally, her ears picked up the faint sound of the man's footsteps and she hit the record button on her small cassette recorder.
The lock clicked to the side and a tremble of excitement and anticipation wormed its way up through her spine as the door opened, revealing the somewhat tired face of Moriyama Ichirou, murderer. "Ah, Asakura-san!" He stepped back, opening the door wider, and motioned her into his rooms. "I didn't expect to see you back so soon. Do come in."
He smiled cordially at her as she nodded and stepped through with a polite bow, pulling her pen from her pocket to keep up her guise of journalism business. Not quite trusting her voice just yet, she stood in the middle of the room, waiting for him to direct her to a seat as he had before. The bathrobed man closed the door and, making Kazumi distinctly uncomfortable, relocked it, probably out of habit.
Still smiling that charismatic smile of his, he turned to her. "What can I do for you, Asakura-san?"
She cleared her throat and nervously began clicking her pen open and closed, finding it a decently non-disruptive way to work out her excitement. "I have a couple more questions for you, Moriyama-san."
The tall man motioned her as she had expected to the two chairs that sat opposite each other near the room's main window. "Well, have a seat." He plucked a small glass bowl filled with paper-wrapped chocolates from his kitchen table and returned to sit opposite the uniformed girl. He held the bowl out to her and with a thankful nod she took one of the chocolates from the collection and unwrapped it slowly, biding her time.
Moriyama waited patiently for her to pop the sweet into her mouth and swallow it before he prodded her to continue. "What do you need to know, Asakura-san?" Despite his niceties, he hoped she would be quick with her questions so he could return to his bath. He had been ready to fill the rather luxurious tub when the faint sound of her knocking had interrupted him.
Kazumi coughed into her hand and sat ramrod straight in her seat. Well, here goes... "Is it true that you strangled Aisaka Sayo in an empty classroom 60 years ago at Mahora Academy?" The question sounded strange when put into words, somehow, although she felt a great weight lifted from her now that the difficult part was done. Now she had only to wait for an answer.
Unbidden, Moriyama Ichirou's still tan skin drained of color and his mouth worked wordlessly for half a second. "T-that's...how did you..." he blinked, realizing his error. "Of course I didn't! What a ridiculous thing to suggest!"
He stood angrily, and as her heart began to beat faster, Kazumi realized the rather great error in her planning. If he had killed once, what would stop him from killing again? She shrank back in her seat and wished she didn't have to continue, but she knew that if she didn't finish the job now, the truth would never be accepted, he'd never be brought to justice, and she'd never get another chance. "Is it true that you became enraged after seeing Aisaka Sayo and Aoki Kana, the girl you loved, make out in the hallway?" The incorrect wording, attributed to her slightly panicked mind, was ultimately what proved to be Moriyama Ichirou's undoing.
"They were not making out!" he screamed, rage swelling in his voice as he stood; the bowl of chocolates dropping from his lap to roll across the floor, spilling its contents along the way. "That abomination forced Kana-chan into a kiss; she forced herself upon her!"
His eyes widened in recognition and his mouth clamped shut. He had recognized his slip up. The tall man settled further into his seat and student and adult stared at each other for a moment, neither moving, locked in some sort of silent competition. With slow deliberateness, Moriyama reached inside his bathrobe and produced a pack of cigarettes along with a thin yellow lighter. Without asking Kazumi if she minded, he pulled one of the tobacco filled cylinders from the package and placed it between his pursed lips, lighting it without ever removing his gaze from hers.
He puffed thoughtfully on it, sending smoke out of the corner of his mouth every third or fourth breath. After several moments of tense silence, he spoke, still not breaking their locked gaze. "How did you know that they were kissing, Asakura-san?"
Privately, Kazumi wondered at the fact that despite the gravity of the situation he was still completely polite. Then she grasped the weight of his question and began to sweat more. "I…"
"Kana-chan was the only one to ever write anything about the occurrences of the day that Aisaka Sayo died, and she did not include such…trivial details." Moriyama's voice was level. Level and supremely calculating. "Thus the only way you could know about it is by speaking with one of the three who were present that day. By speaking with myself, Kana-chan, or Aisaka-san."
His eyes narrowed at her, and she shrunk back into her chair involuntarily. "I obviously did not tell you anything of it, nor did Aisaka-san. Kana-chan, also, has regrettably passed on."
Kazumi remained silent and chewed slightly on her lower lip, feeling her face flush as she realized she was caught in her own plan. Damn, I shouldn't've lead with my trump card..."Er...I managed to find a…well…" The man across from her nodded, his countenance taking on the pleased look of a hunter knowing he had trapped his prey, rather as she had looked moments prior.
"Was there another witness who had not previously spoke up?" It seemed unlikely, but if there were another loose end…it would be unhealthy to leave it untied. Kazumi silently shook her head, and Moriyama frowned. If there's not another, then where did she learn what she appears to know? It doesn't make any sense...
"I…I've spoken with Sayo-chan…" It wasn't something shed wanted to divulge, but at this point, there seemed to be no other choice. The look in his eyes had been positively murderous as his questioning had gone on.
At this unlikely bit of information, he blinked several times and was tempted to clean out his ears. Finally, a chuckle overtook him and he had to pull his cigarette from his mouth or risk choking on it. "I'm afraid that's entirely impossible, Asakura-san, she's-"
"Dead, I know. But…how else could I know how it happened?"
Silence fell again as he mulled over the point she'd made. It was true that he was the only surviving possessor of the knowledge of that day's events, but here this girl knew, to some extent, what had happened. Of course, she could just be a good guesser... "What happened, exactly, Asakura-san? To your knowledge, that is?"
Well, crap...if I don't tell him the truth, he'll just dismiss me and the chance WILL be lost...She cleared her throat uncomfortably and squirmed around in her seat a bit more, averting her gaze from his eyes. "Well...my understanding of it is that you accidentally saw Sayo-chan and Aoki-san kiss in the hallway, and then hug." She tried to reassert her normal controlling presence by shaking an accusing finger at him. "And Sayo-chan hardly forced herself on Aoki-san. In actuality, it was Aoki-san who hugged Sayo-chan."
Moriyama's left eye twitched slightly, but he didn't interrupt. "After they hugged, Aoki-san ran off to do something and you called Sayo-chan over, asking something about a problem you were having." She paused briefly for an interruption, beginning to feel that she was regaining her control. None came, and she continued, "when she got to the room you were in, you strangled her. Didn't really give her a reason she could understand at the time, either. Just killed her."
H-how could she know that...how could she know what only I know... His face remained blank as he somehow managed to retain his surprise. He puffed silently on his cigarette and watched the girl before him squirm anxiously as she saw that her story didn't apparently have any effect on him. It was several uncomfortable moments until Moriyama cleared his throat and tapped the ashes off of his cigarette into an ashtray at his side. "And how did you come to know these things, Asakura-san?"
Damn him. He's still not actually confessed anything..."Well...this is where I doubt you'll believe me..." He remained quiet, still watching her in that eerily calculating way he had taken to. He looked evil, she decided. The kindly man from earlier that day had melted away leaving a creature as cold as the body of Aisaka Sayo and as calculating as Mahora's science lab's most advanced computers. She no longer doubted in the least that the man was capable of murder.
"Er...Sayo-chan told me, actually..." She looked him bravely in the eyes, daring him to defy her statement. His mask remained in place, though, and he merely continued to puff on his cigarette.
Beneath the mask, his state of affairs was quite different. How the hell did she learn all of that? She can't have spoken to Aisaka; she's dead for god's sake! There's no way she could have found that out EXCEPT from either myself or Aisaka! He tried to recall as best he could earlier that day, just to reaffirm his belief that he had said nothing of the sort in some brief moment of senility, and confirmed that he did indeed not. But she can't have spoken to Aisaka either! This doesn't make any sense!
As the world of logic seemed to break down within Moriyama Ichirou's now panicking mind, his carefully constructed mask began to slip. Kazumi grew worried as she saw him grip the arm of his chair hard with his left hand, digging his thick fingers into the fabric. His left eye twitched more insistently, and his eyes held a note of dire fear, a fear shared by all murderers.
Moriyama opened his mouth to reply somehow, feeling a need to keep his hold on the situation, but didn't manage to say anything. Instead, he ground, with more force than was necessary, his cigarette into the ashtray and stood, slightly unsteadily. Asakura's muscles burst to life. Her hands slammed onto the arms of her chair, pushing her to a standing position easily.
As her legs tensed in preparation for her dash to the door, the room's older occupant's hands found their way with age-defying speed to her neck in a frightening mockery of the very incident she had come to force him to confess to. Her eyes met his and widened in fear at the rage and fear of his own that shone within his dark pupils.
Well, isn't this ironic... her mind noted analytically as the rest of her senses decided it was the proper time to enter panic mode. Her hands rose, like Sayo's had, to his, finding the grip that he flexed on her to be as unbreakable now as it had been six decades ago. "Do you...do you really want to kill again, Moriyama?" she rasped, trying to maintain control of the situation.
The tall man shook his head slowly, his grip tightening despite his motions. "I don't want to, of course." His voice was unsteady, belying his position of power, "but you leave me little choice Asakura-san..."
He began to squeeze her neck, only a little, as if to emphasize his statement. "At my age, I can't afford to go to prison...when I was younger, maybe, but now...his eyes became more focused and his voiced hardened as he watched the life drain for her eyes as he had another girl, so many years ago. "Now I'm far too used to luxury and amenities. I couldn't stand to live in prison."
Kazumi gasped for air as a fish did after being torn from its watery habitat, drawing none through her slowly closing throat. So this...this is how Sayo-chan felt... She tried to glare at the man before her, but her eyes wouldn't quite focus, instead alighting on her hands on his wrists. A ray of hope seemed to break through her darkening vision at what she saw.
Her mouth forming a grim smile, casting a glint of confusion in the eyes of her attacker, Kazumi released his wrists. For a brief moment her arms fell limply to her sides as his fingers tightened painfully on her throat. With a literally strangled cry, she forced what little energy she still had into her left arm. With speed born of determination, hate, and desperation, her hand bearing her pen, tip extended, flew with unerring accuracy for Moriyama's own throat.
His cry of pain and the feeling of a warm liquid gushing along her hand and arm were the final things she felt as her world finally turned black entirely, her mind beginning its final shutdown sequence from lack of oxygen.
That night, sirens rang across the prefecture, signaling the death of an individual, the vindication of a girl, and the barest shred of life for another. The sirens converged on the apartment of Moriyama Ichirou. When the police force burst through the front door of the establishment, a medical team behind them, the confused clerk immediately pointed them to the room they inquired of, deciding with finality that she would be working a different job this time the following week.
The elevator ride was quiet but for the crackle of the lead officer's radio unit as orders were relayed across frequencies. The three medical personnel fidgeted anxiously with the supplies they carried with them, all eyes on the counter showing the floor they were on.
They made their way down the hall within seconds, the lead officer laying a burst of staccato knocks on the surface of the door. Nobody answered and no sounds were made, so with little ado he stepped back and slammed his heel against the door directly next to the doorknob, breaking the mechanism within. The door creaked open and the medical personnel took the chance to rush in, even before the police, to survey the damage to the room's occupants. Two of the white-clad men rushed to the girl who lay near the set of chairs while the third crossed the room to the side of the man who lay in a pool of blood, still holding the telephone receiver.
In his final moments, Moriyama Ichirou, fearing for his life and not caring whether the body of Asakura Kazumi was found or not, had called the emergency line and summoned the police and medical teams. Before he had been able to hang up, the blood loss he suffered from the puncture wound in his right jugular became more than he was able to handle. Like Aisaka Sayo, his brain starved for oxygen and he died on his floor, his lifeless eyes staring at the ceiling.
"Hey, the girl's still breathing!" One of the technicians, a scrawny young man who'd just graduated from medical school, called across the room to his superior. "She's havin' a real hard time breathing, but she IS breathing!"
With a quick pulse check, more as a formality than for any hope of finding one, the senior medic nodded and joined his two charges at the female student's side. Sure enough, her chest heaved at irregular intervals and her pulse beat with a fluttering insistence at remaining alive. He examined the darkening bruises on her throat and winced as he imagined the difficulty she must have had in making it this long. "She's either one tenacious young woman, or she has a hell of a reason to live..." he muttered to himself as he opened the little black bag that was so characteristic of his job, pulling a hypodermic needle and a bottle of muscle relaxants from it.
The steady drone of the machine that monitored Asakura Kazumi's pulse provided an otherworldly atmosphere for the infirmary. The reddish light of the sunrise reflected off the stark white walls, turning nearly everything inside a muted shade of pink. Aisaka Sayo didn't notice anything except the still body of the girl laying on the bunk before her. The girl's normally intentionally messy hair was in a state of disarray that was excessive even for her, splayed out on her pillow. Her arms rested at her sides and her eyes were still beneath her eyelids, indicating a sleep that was less than deep but more than restless. Almost a sleep of death, Sayo found herself thinking as she watched her friend's chest rise and fall ever so slowly.
It had been less than a half hour that Kazumi had been left unattended at Mahora Academy's infirmary. Earlier that morning she had arrived in an ambulance, accompanied by the medical team that had discovered her nearly dead body within the late Moriyama Ichirou's apartment. For hours before that, Sayo had been traversing the campus as fast as she was able, searching for her missing friend. Kazumi was known for staying out late if she were onto something, but she was absent from Library Island, the smaller library within the academy, their dorm room, the fountain in the courtyard, and numerous other places she was known to loiter around.
When the ambulance had arrived at the academy, a feeling of dread that Sayo had never felt an equal to surfaced in her gut and she made for the infirmary. As she had feared, upon her arrival, it was Kazumi that was being unloaded from the less than spacious back of the white vehicle. Minamoto Shizuna stood at the side of the stretcher, talking animatedly with one of the medical technicians, worry in her eyes.
Since then, Sayo had not left her side for even the smallest fraction of a moment. Due to her irregular existence the busied frenzy with which Kazumi was situated into the infirmary meant little. It wasn't necessary for her to step out of the way of medics or equipment or anything of the sort; she was free to hover beside her unconscious friend.
It wasn't until the two were alone, Shizuna having gone off to attend to other work, that Aisaka Sayo spoke. She hovered closer to the unmoving body of her friend, peering at her with something between pain and happiness in her eyes. "Why? Why did you do...why did you do that, Asakura-san?" Tears appeared at the edges of her eyes seemingly instantaneously as she allowed thoughts of what could have happened surface.
"Something even worse could have happened! What if Ichirou-kun really had killed you, what if he didn't die, what if I lost my best friend again!" She clenched her fists to no avail and closed her eyes tightly, forcing the tears to let loose their hold and slide down her cheeks and towards the ground, soaking into the blanket on Asakura' Kazumi's chest.
"Why did you do something so stupid, Kazumi?" She shook her head in anger and fear, her emotions reaching a high that she'd never experienced before. Never had she insulted a person as she had, but she had never nearly lost someone so dear either.
Although her eyes didn't open and the steady movement of her chest didn't change, the red-headed girl's lips moved. "You finally called me by my first name, Sayo-chan..."
Sayo's eyes immediately opened and focused on her friend's peaceful face. "Kazumi!" Tears streaming ever faster, she cut her hovering and all but fell, still weightless, atop her, wrapping her normally insubstantial arms around her.
Kazumi responded on instinct and opened her own eyes to see her friend descend upon her. Before logic could tell her the uselessness in the motion, she wrapped her arms around the out-datedly clothed girl. Even as the impossible feeling of the material of Sayo's shirt against her arm registered to Kazumi, her body continued in what felt like a natural procession, drawing the weightless girl close to her, her eyes locking with those of Sayo.
Time came to a halt, seemingly, as neither seemed to know what was going on, both knowing what would happen, and neither caring. Sayo's hands came to rest not through, but on, her friend's shoulders. As Kazumi's gentle hold on her tightened, she bowed her head toward hers, their gazes never breaking.
Electricity and emotion such that Sayo had not felt in six decade's time ran through her like wildfire as her lips met Kazumi's, although only briefly. With a shock, the both of them recognized her corporealness, and the damnable logic that so totally ruled humans broke through the instinct that had taken control and they parted.
The color of the rising sun was paled in comparison to the blush that stained the cheeks of both girls, and Kazumi gasped both in delight and pain as her chest heaved for breath, trying to catch up to her insanely beating heart.
For several moments more, both girls sat in comfortable silence, each watching the other, content in not speaking, recovering from their shared experience. After a time, Sayo spoke again, her voice a shadow of its former self, still effected by the emotion of the moment. "Why did you do all that, Kazumi? I'm not worth your life, not by far..."
The cocky grin that she loved so much reappeared on the journalist's face and she looked out the window to nearly risen sun. "Because life has its limits," she turned and looked back pointedly at Sayo, "we would work our best to live it." The red-head grunted and sat up in her bed, then turned her strong smile back on the ghostly girl. "You've reached your limit, Sayo-chan, so I'll live it for both of us."
Emotions once again took control of Sayo at the meaning behind Kazumi's words, and she flung her arms around her neck, nearly breaking into disappointed tears when, as was usual, she felt nothing at the apparent contact. Still she kept her symbolic hold as happy tears rolled down her cheeks, dissolving into nothing. "Kazumi..." she choked back a sob. "Thank you, Kazumi..."
Mahora's Paparazzi again turned her gaze to the rising sun, although she looked beyond it to the future. She had thought that, for all time, she'd be unable to feel anything more of the girl who hovered before than what she could imagine, and in a series of inexplicable events, they had shared the very spark of emotion that could return, in one semblance or another, the deceased to the world of the living. Her smile changed slightly to a difference sort. Could be returned to the world of the living, even if only long enough for a kiss...
To me, emotions are the purest and most powerful form of energy in the universe. Emotions defy logic and science, the supposed laws and final decision makers of our existence. Love and sadness, two sides of the same coin, are, to me, the most powerful of all emotions. They hold more energy at their extremes than anything in existence.
In my opinion, ghosts are nothing but a concentration of the emotions of one who was once alive. When those emotions are stronger, the ghost is less and less unreal, and more and more corporeal. When those emotions are as strong as love or sadness, the ghost is nearly indistinguishable from the living. Even with these immense emotions, the spike in energy is short, and for such a reason, ghosts are rarely felt, more often heard and seen.
This, of course, is merely my opinion and reasoning behind the reality of Aisaka Sayo's tears and her short but powerful kiss with Asakura Kazumi.
Author's Notes – Just to make things clear, this IS based off of the manga, but I really liked the setting from the anime with the flowers and the clock tower, so I included it. I kind of integrated the two. This is also my first time attempting to write such a cold-blooded murder, so if it's not that good, please forgive my inexperience.
The quote used in this fic, as per the requirements of ChibiSecchan's challenge, was "Because life has its limits, we would work our best to live it." The rather moving quote was taken from Aoyama Gosho's wildly popular "Meitantei Conan," or "Detective Conan/Case Closed." I only hope I've lived up to the grandeur of the words themselves.
Other than that, just review and critique please. Any and all criticism is welcomed.