Chapter 12: Tea Party
A/N: I know, I know, it's been forever since I've updated. I had a massive dry spell of ideas for this- or rather, I had problems with the middle and beginning, the end I already knew... for this chapter, anyways. So to compensate you guys you have an extra long chapter! I certainly hope you enjoy it. I want to thank japanfactcheck on livejournal for answering tedious and strange questions. Second I want to thank my phenomenal beta-reader Cold_Queen_5. The translation for the Norito came from Shadow Dreams translation of the Ghost Hunt anime. Nearing the end of this chapter, it is unbeta-ed simply because I made quite a few changes and wanted to get this up as soon as I could. So if you see mistakes, don't hesitate to PM-me and let me know.
"'Who killed Cock Robin?'
'I, said the sparrow,
'With my little bow and arrow,
I killed Cock Robin.'
'Who saw him die?'
'I,' said the fly,
'With my little eye,
I saw him die…'"
~Who killed Cock Robin, 1744
Thirty years. Thirty years and it was all coming to an end. Everything she'd done, everything she'd accomplished, all ending. The locket had shown up once again, just like that goddess promised it would. And when it did, Hinata would suffer know the goddess's wrath. Shizuka was in the hospital, still. The wound she'd received from one of the students in the Kendo Club wasn't healing at all; the doctors were concerned. Hinata had a feeling that she was next to suffer—more than she already had. She took a deep breath. Well, if everything was going to end, then she was going with a bang, she decided, ritual knife in her hand. The interlopers were in the principal's office. No doubt they'd found Melissa's body—that interfering bitch that once wore the locket that should have been meant for her.
She rounded the corner intending to go to Masaharu's office when Tezuka Eri stumbled into her way. A sadistic smile crossed her face. Oh, perfect. Yes, indeed, she thought, the school's newest failure of a slut would work nicely.
"Well, Tezuka-san, what trouble have you been getting yourself into this time?"
Eri frowned. That was an odd thing for Hirata-sensei to ask her. Barring what she'd tried with Lin-san, she'd always been on her best behavior.
Hinata continued to walk up to her, keeping the knife from view. "First you and your motely friends find the locket. Shizuka and I worked so hard to hide it, you know. Then, you explicitly went against my advice and made a deal with Melissa, who, apparently, despite being dead, still holds a grudge—thanks to you girls, Shizuka was injured. And what about you? Did you make your wish, Eri?"
The way the older woman said her name, without her family name first or any type of honorific, made her back up a step. The look in the woman's eyes made her back up even further; she didn't know why, she just knew that she was inexplicably frightened.
"I don't know what you're talking about, Hirata-sensei. I… left something in the library. I need to go retrieve it. Please excuse me." If Mai and her odd bodyguard who'd sent her to a hall of mirrors were still there, she knew she'd be safe—for the time being, at least.
Hinata grabbed Eri and pressed the tip of the athame into her back, right into her spine. Eri froze and realized what bothered her about the vice-principal's eyes. They were absolutely insane. She wasn't in her right mind and now there was a knife digging into her back.
"Actually, young lady, I think you need to have a chat with the principal about your mistakes—and how you intend to correct them." Eri shivered. She could hear the sadistic smile in Hirata's voice. "Now—move!" she commanded, pushing the girl forward.
The stairs leading up to the principal's office loomed ahead as she herded Eri in that direction. There were policemen in that room, she knew. But she had an ace up her sleeve: she had a hostage and hostages were a sure way of getting things done and the best source of protection.
Michael St. James stepped through the doorway, clipboard and digital thermometer in hand, pencil busy recording the thermometer's readings on a sheet of paper; it hadn't actually caught anything significant and for that he was grateful, he disliked exciting first days for some reason. He glanced at the equipment synchronizing with his computer: nearly complete. He tried to ignore the gorgeous widow—client, he reminded himself—standing to the side, watching him with a million questions in her eyes just waiting to be asked. He tried even more valiantly to ignore the anxious specter of his client's late husband hovering and invading his private bubble—what exactly was it with ghosts that invaded a person's personal space, he wondered grumpily. In the end, he gave in and stole a glance at the ghost and heaved an irritated sigh.
Compassion wasn't always his strong suit, but he understood: the late Takeda Shuuhei-san wanted to talk, but Michael wasn't going to start up a conversation until Takeda Sayuri-san was in another room, or better yet, out of the house. Mentally, he scoffed at himself. Sayuri-san didn't know him from Adam; she wasn't going to leave her house with a stranger there, no matter what the records said. He glanced at the ghost of Takeda Shuuhei again from the corner of his eye and then looked at his equipment that was just beginning to react to his presence; the spirit had gotten even more impatient and his readers were starting to pick up on this.
"Wait just a bit longer," he murmured to the ghost as he ran a final systems check. Technically, everything was set, but he'd learned early on and the hard way that doing a final check was more beneficial than believing everything was set. His client's former spouse wasn't the only problem in this house, he mused, watching the computer screen run through the various checks. There was something else here, darker and more sinister, and the prospect of facing something that wasn't either caused by either a human or something just as mundane was exciting.
Michael started a bit and cursed before turning and smiling at Takeda Sayuri. He'd forgotten that she was in the room. "No, nothing. Nothing at all—I was merely muttering to myself. The equipment has finished synching, Takeda-san, but I'm going to run one more diagnostic just to be sure. After that, all that's left is to wait and see if anything happens." More than what had already happened, he thought, eyeing his instruments again.
"That's it?" she asked, her tone disappointed. "I was expecting a...séance or something."
He raised his brow and worked to keep the incredulity off his face. It was a challenge, however. A séance. Was she serious? Good God. "A séance at this early stage when I have no idea of whom or what is here would be disastrous, Takeda-san. There's a possibility of calling something better left asleep. No, I won't take that risk until I have more information."
Her mouth dropped into a silent 'O.' She clearly hadn't expected that answer. Then again, Dr. St James wasn't what she was expecting, either. He was more attractive than she'd anticpated and she was afraid her grief would let her get… ideas. She hadn't even known he was a doctor. When Sayuri began to search for a credible paranormal researcher, she'd been directed to a Michael St. James, a transplant from Scotland, born, but not raised, in England. She'd found out about the 'doctor' part when she finally screwed up the courage to call him and got him at a retreat where he was the guest speaker; he'd left the room where his credentials were being announced—doctor of archaeology and anthropology. He'd seemed relieved to be called away from the presentation when he'd taken her phone call. She'd also been expecting a dapper, dowager man, not a man her own age and drop dead gorgeous with big, beautiful green eyes that saw everything. "I see," she paused, the silence now awkward. "I'm going to make some tea. Would you care for some, Dr. St. James?"
He wanted to tell her to call him Michael, not Dr. St. James, but that was too personal and he couldn't do that. "Yes, thank you. I'll join you in a moment. I want to make absolutely sure that everything is up and running."
Sayuri smiled faintly, but it was a strained smile: the smile of someone being harassed on a daily basis, which, in a sense, she was. He was here to solve that problem and protect her from whatever was here. "I understand. I'll meet you in the kitchen. You… remember where it is, right?"
"Perfectly," he assured her, his attention focused on his equpiment. He saw her in the reflection of the monitors hesitate, then leave. When he was sure that she was out of the room, he rounded on the hovering ghost, crossed his arms, and frowned. "All right, talk. If you're going to warn me about the other spirit here, save it. I can sense it; it's pretty restless and very angry." He paused and listened. "Why in the world would it want to harm your wife?" he asked, gesticulating. "Did she dig up its grave or something?"
Dr. Michael St. James, Paranormal Investigator, archaeologist and anthropologist, faded as Ren returned to himself a small bout of sadness filling him as he let go of the character he'd invented. Turning towards his manager, he watched Yashiro-san lower his handheld video camera and stop the recording, a small smile on his face. Ren turned to the director and waited. This had been a pre-screening to make absolutely certain that they wanted him for this role. They'd better want him; he would do all within his power to make sure that he was the co-star with Kyouko-chan, especially because it was his chance to be completely honest. He watched stoically as the crew in charge of the drama conversed quietly; he could see an undercurrent of excitement in their actions and that was a good sign as far as he was concerned.
"Tsuruga-san went beyond our expectations," director Konoe said, after consulting with his crew. "Adding in another ghost...legitimized you character, we think. We'll write the add-in if Tsuruga-san wishes."
"I believe it adds a tangible factor. After all in the script, Takeda Sayuri-san contacted Dr. St. James because she believes she's being haunted by her late husband, but it turns out to be something more sinister than just that. Having her husband's ghost there, I thought added another facet to the characters."
They conferred again. "We like that. We'll write it in to the script."
"How long will that take?" Ren asked.
"To change the script?" Takiwasu asked. He shrugged and looked at Ishiwaka, his partner. "Not long. A couple of days. We could start filming inside of week depending on our actors and technicians. Why does Tsuruga-san ask?"
"I have guests I wish to invite to the filming—a few who helped make this role what you saw today. They, however, are on a case currently."
"We understand. We'll take our time and write it thoroughly."
Ren bowed at their understanding. "Thank you."
Day one: official start of the investigation into who killed Melissa and where is her body.
Naru and Ayako gathered in Mai's room, sipping the tea she'd just prepared; Lin's tea sat untouched, waiting for him to get off the phone with the rest of the associates from S.P.R. The books she and Sebastian had purloined sat discarded, having been thoroughly studied by Naru and Lin, and leafed through by Ayako.
"There's nothing important about the books themselves, save for the fact that they belonged to Melissa and were until recently in Amano-san's possession. The question is, why were they in Amano's custody?" Naru asked, looking at Mai expectantly.
"When I was in her room with Sebastian-san, I had a vision of her when she was younger; she purposely hid them because the Principal at the time, Hashimoto-sensei's mother, was asking questions about Melissa's whereabouts." Mai spread her hands in an I-don't-know-gesture. "Beyond that, your guess is as good as mine."
Naru touched his bottom lip in contemplation. "When I was in Hirata's office, she also had some books on the same subject as these," he began, motioning to them. "At the time, I thought it was odd for her to have them—why would she have them when she wasn't a practitioner of magic or a worshiper of The Morrigan? Of course, it could be that she removed them from various students—"
"But why not give them back after the term ends, unless she can't?" Lin finished grimly, returning to the couch and taking his own tea mug.
Lin shrugged and took a healthy swallow of honey-sweetened mint, grateful that Mai had remembered his own personal preference in times of stress. Between being lied to about a case and being plunged into a thirty-year-old murder, and some sort of presence in Mai that felt vaguely familiar, but totally foreign, he wasn't very happy. "They'll come out tomorrow—we're not sure of the times, yet. Yasuhara-san was going to begin making reservations as soon as I got off the phone with him."
"Then that's as far as we go for now. We'll prioritize tomorrow when everyone's here. This case is a bit unusual, so I'll contact Detective Genda and ask him to come out and assist us. We're dealing with an old murder case, not necessarily a haunting or kids practicing black magic. Truthfully, I want to drop this, but I told Hashimoto that we'd find her, so technically, we're still under contract."
"Don't forget The Morrigan," Ayako commented.
Naru ignored the priestess. "For now, we need to know more about Melissa. I'll leave part of that to you, Mai. Whatever you can get her to tell you." He drained the rest of his tea and rose. "Let's also not forget that Chamerberlin-san was going to contact some associates of his in Savannah and see what they have."
"What are you going to do?" Lin asked, watching him.
"I want to know more about the school itself. I have a feeling that Melissa isn't as far away as everyone wants us to think."
Lin nodded and got to his feet. Naru shook his head.
"I'd rather you stay here. I'll have Yasuhara-san assist me when he arrives if need be."
"If you're sure…"
"Positive." He took out his phone and began a text to Yasuhara-san, leaving him instructions to join him at the local library in town, providing he arrived today.
Yasuhara sighed, causing his girlfriend to look up at him. "I take it we're not going to a movie today, either?"
She took a mouthful of ice cream and barely glanced at the bespectacled boy who plopped himself down next to her on the shaded bench as he worked rapidly on his phone. The tiny park they were in was across the street from the movie theater and they were sitting there, biding their time until the movie was starting.
"Shibuya-san wants all hands on deck, to quote Lin-san. I'll start making reservations to get us there, then it'll be going home to grab our stuff." He peered at her with an apologetic frown. "I'm sorry. We haven't had much time for ourselves lately, have we?"
Yuko smiled, leaned forward, and rubbed her lips against his. "It's okay. Sooner or later, business will have to let up. And when it does, we'll take advantage of it."
Yasuhara smiled and kissed her back. "I like the way you think. I'll get started on those reservations."
"What if I could get you there faster?" said a new voice: the voice of the boy who'd taken a seat next to Yuko.
The couple looked over at him, but he didn't look up from what he was doing.
"Excuse me?" Yasuhara asked, wondering who this boy was; he looked oddly familiar. Then he placed him, Ootori Kyouya, Mai's partner on the paper Michinaga-sensei had assigned. He inclined his head to the other youth. "Ootori-san. Nice to see you."
"No need for reservations," Kyouya said, ignoring Yasuhara's greeting. "I can have you and the rest of your team in Hanamaki as early as later this afternoon."
Osamu wet his lips, suddenly unsure. Ootori-san reminded him of a poisonous snake watching its prey, just waiting for it to try and escape before it pounced. "What's the catch?"
"Who said there was one?"
Yasuhara wondered if the other boy thought he was a moron. With people like him there was always a catch. Sighing, Osamu shook his head. "Ootori-san, I didn't graduate from Ouran Academy, but I did graduate the number one student in Ryokuryo High School—valedictorian and student council president, as well. Please don't insult my intelligence."
Kyouya finally looked up at his classmate and nodded with what Osamu thought was approval. "All right, the catch is I go with you."
Yasuhara's brows drew together in a frown while Yuko's mouth dropped in surprise; the ice cream she'd just scooped up fell to the ground with a 'plop;' Kyouya looked at it, slightly disconcerted.
"Why would you want to?" she asked, her tone relaying her shock.
Kyouya remained silent for a moment and then said, "Because I find myself curious as to what you all do. I've tried to research your company, you know. There's little for me to find and that's never happened before. It's a legitimate business, of course, but there's nothing that I could dig up beyond that and the customer service ratings—which, given your boss's attitude is atypical because there's a one-hundred percent satisfaction rate. That never happens in business and yet I can't find any evidence that says those reviews were falsified or tampered with. Also, Taniyama-san and I are partners on the same paper and Michinaga-sensei made some… addenda to it that I don't believe she's aware of."
"Let me get this straight," Yasuhara said. "You'll get us there so long as you can tag along to satisfy your curiosity. Does that sound about right?"
"In a nutshell. Do we have a deal?" he asked.
Deal with the devil. Yasuhara looked at his girlfriend; she shrugged in response. It was up to him. He weighed his options briefly: dismiss Ootori-san's offer and get to Hanamaki tomorrow (and Yasuhara was sure that if he did, Ootori-san would meet them there anyways with a telltale smirk on his face) or take him up on the offer, get there this very day, and let him observe—or put him to work, knowing Shibuya-san. Osamu hadn't had the chance to read the text that Naru had sent him, but he was pretty positive that it would include meeting the boss in some sort of research environment—a local library most likely. What the hell, what was the harm? Yasuhara wondered. Worse case scenario, Ootori-san found himself bored; best case scenario, he found himself intrigued and maybe became yet another financial backer (not that they needed it). The bespectacled investigator just hoped that trying to romance Taniyama-san wasn't on the list or another covert reason, but if it was, it was Mai and Lin's problem to deal with.
"All right," he said. "You've got yourself a deal. Where should we meet you?"
"I have a car waiting. I'll help you round everyone up."
Kyouya's mouth quirked into a slight smile and he got up, turned to them, and waited.
As they sped via jet towards Hanamaki an hour later, Osamu said, "I hope you brought comfortable clothes and plenty of them. We have no idea how long we'll be there."
He had come prepared, but why say anything? "Is that customary?"
"Very. Shibuya-san doesn't think much about time when it comes to our investigations. His concern his finding out what the problem is, getting to the root of it, and solving it."
"But surely he can't solve them all," Kyouya commented. Because no one was that good—the reviews he'd seen online must have been edited somehow.
The S.P.R. regulars and irregulars glanced at each other.
"I've never encountered a case that Shibuya-san couldn't solve—even if it wasn't a paranormal case."
"There's never been a case that Naru hasn't been able to solve," Takigawa commented.
"Tell me about a difficult case that he solved," Kyouya commanded, intrigued despite himself.
The group glanced at each other, wondering where to start. All of their cases had been in the realm of difficult—for everyone besides Naru.
"My school's case was definitely a challenge," Yasuhara volunteered. "But then, so was Kasai-san's and Yuko's school case. If I recall correctly, you're brought that one to him, Takigawa-san."
"Actually, the students brought it to him and he refused, originally. He accepted it when I brought it to him, though."
"Let's not forget the help Shibuya-san gave to Father Tojo's Church," John commented.
"And the director whom he helped, Hara-san's director, or something," Takigawa chimed in. "Actually, now that I recall, Mai's friend asked Mai to bring it to S.P.R., but he refused that too. When Hara-san brought the exact same case, he finally accepted it. Ironically, it was Mai who did the work and convinced the spirit to move on—for Hara-san it was an excuse for her to play 'couple' with Naru."
Chiaki rolled her eyes. Yeah, that worked out so well for the medium, she thought, wondering why the other girl had declined to travel with the others. She didn't like Hara-san's character, but couldn't deny that the girl was sometimes useful and Mai counted her as a friend, though why she didn't know. She snapped back to the present as the discussion went on.
"There was the Yoshimi family—when he woke up, that was. Lin told me all about that case," Madoka said, carefully skipping over the case the group had taken at the Prime Minister's house.
"Did Shibuya-san help all of you?" Kyouya asked flabbergasted.
Again they exchanged glances. "With the exception of Ayako, yes, he did."
And you just began working for him, Kyouya thought. It made him wonder what kind of man Shibuya Kazuya was.
For his part, Lee tuned the others out—it was easy, especially because they were conversing in Japanese and he didn't understand a word of it. He rubbed his tired, gritty eyes and peered at the official file in his hands, flipping through it for the umpteenth time. What he'd told Lin had been true: back in 1984 he'd been a rookie cop a year out of the academy. But even he'd heard about the exorcism that Melissa LaQuis had been forced to endure—the video tape that captured it had splashed its terrible recording onto every television in Georgia for months; there was no way to not see it or hear about it.
There was no mention of the exorcism in this file and that baffled Lee. Someone, it seemed, had either looked the other way with it, or worse, had done a half-assed job. He frowned down at the notes from the investigating officer. Jake Bander was a retired detective who'd given Savannah P.D. forty years as a beat cop, general detective, and later, Vice. Lee had contacted him to ask him a few questions, but the man had never mentioned the farce-exorcism—he'd skipped around those questions the way a tap dancer would.
The question remained: why had it been excluded from the investigation? Had it not, he was certain that Jennifer and Devon LaQuis would have been charged with something, probably abuse or thereabouts. More pressing was the question, had Bander been bribed to look the other way? He wanted answers and he felt strongly that some of the answers lay with Devon LaQuis and Jake Bander. He just didn't know how the pieces fit together—yet. He was, however, certain that he'd have plenty of time to look into it.
Naru frowned at the unexpected tag along and leveled a glare at Yasuhara-san who shrugged apologetically as if to say, 'don't look at me; I didn't invite him along.' Naru sighed. "Ootori-san, what are you doing here?"
"I find myself curious, Shibuya-san. And seeing as I'm the one who made it possible for your associates to get here so quickly, you should be able to indulge me, don't you think?"
Naru watched him silently, weighing his options. Certainly Ootori-san had a point. Thanks to him, Chiaki and the rest were already here. The sooner they found Melissa, the sooner they could focus on Annabelle. Besides, he told himself, if Ootori Kyouya-san was truly that curious then he could be put to work; Melissa's body was somewhere in the school, that he was sure of. Finding it, however… he had to wait for Detective Genda anyhow and the other man had responded that he wouldn't be able to arrive until tomorrow afternoon at the latest.
"Then by all means, Ootori-san; I'd be delighted to have you join us." Yasuhara's mouth dropped open in shock, Naru pretended not to notice. Kyouya started to get a bad feeling about this. The young president gestured to the books in front of him: there were about seven in all, maybe eight. "Pick a few books, Ootori-san and start reading. I want to know whatever you can find out about Setsuda Prep School." He gave the other man a smirk and pushed a few books towards him. "You said you were interested, didn't you? You also said I should be able to indulge you, seeing as you made it possible for my staff to arrive so quickly. You might as well experience ghost hunting as a participant, yes?"
That bad feeling blossomed; Kyouya hated being right. Silently, he glowered at the ghost hunter who simply picked up some of the books himself and started reading. Yasuhara-san neglected to mention that his boss would put him to work. Retrospectively, Kyouya should have known that Shibuya-san would do that, if he agreed at all; he was positive that Shibuya-san hated having his hand forced and enacted his own form of revenge when it happened. Sighing, he picked up the books, adjusted his glasses, and started to read. If Shibuya Kazuya-san, or whatever his real name was (because interestingly enough, he'd been unable to find any trace of Shibuya Kazuya) wanted to know about Setsuda, he would find out everything there was to know. Two hours later, Kyouya put down the last book and took off his glasses, rubbing his eyes and the bridge of his nose. He glared at the books blearily. It was all the same, the information. How did Shibuya-san stand this?
"What do we know?" the man in question asked, crossing his arms and sitting back in his chair. His look wasn't cocky, Kyouya realized and it surprised him.
Yasuhara put his book down and consulted his notes. "Well, Setsuda Prep was founded in 1970 by Kaoru and Takuma Hashimoto due to their want for children. It's small, insular, and extremely private; being the fourth best school in Japan, it's in high demand, but because of its size, it turns away more than it accepts because they just don't have the room. The original house was renovated to fit the students and teachers and classrooms." He spread his ands and shrugged. "Unless Ootori-san found something different, that's about all these books have to offer."
"I think Yasuhara-san covered it all," Kyouya said, shoving the books away and running an agitated hand through his hair. For whatever reason, he never actually imagined that 'psychic research' meant actual research.
Naru looked up at the windows decorating the tops of the walls—optimal placing to let light it in at all times until night fell. "According to the local story, Hashimoto Kaoru and Takuma were unable to conceive a child and they decided that the ancestral home they lived in would better serve as a school and they renovated it to accommodate that want—that being the rough and edited version. Like you said, it's fourth in Japan for schooling and is private and insular."
Kyouya sensed a rather sizeable 'but,' coming.
"And yet, Setsuda Prep currently has five hundred and thirty students and eighty staff members that include the Principal and Vice-Principal, teachers, counselors, cooks, cleaners, and a groundskeeper—all of whom live on the grounds themselves."
Yasuhara understood where he was going with this. Where do you house the students, he wondered. A school like that with only one house to put everyone in… no matter how large a space, one house was not enough. He flipped to the book's copyright page: Showa 58: 1983 in Western Years. It was outdated by thirty years at least. He looked around the library seeing for the first time what Shibuya-san was seeing. Out-dated hard-copy reference materials (which surprised him) but current fiction books and what not. This wasn't a researcher' library; this was a reader's library.
"They would have had to renovate again at some point in time," Yasuhara remarked. "How do you house six-hundred and ten people total in one house, plus have classes and meals? It'd be a disaster if they hadn't."
Naru nodded approvingly at his subordinate. "Exactly. As you say, they had to have renovated again, added on with the growing demand of people who wished to send their children to Setsuda Prep. The main staff, those who are willing to pay the fee—and I'm certain they charge teachers a hefty one to boot— live in the main house with the exception of the groundskeeper. Teachers not willing to pay the fee for a room in the main house reside in studio apartments and pay a smaller sum for that space. Classes are conducted in the main house and meals are given there, too. Students live in dorms, however and there's one teacher for each dorm, those teachers are in charge of the residences themselves and students that reside there. The question is when did they add on to the original house and how can we get those blueprints?"
"Won't the school have a copy?" Kyouya asked, impressed despite himself.
"They probably do. Principal Hashimoto, however, has been uncooperative to a fault."
"Then your two options would be try the local ward office and see if they have a copy of them—permits, you understand—or find the builder and see if they have copies," Kyouya said reasonably. He got the feeling that Shibuya-san wasn't interested in the buildings themselves. So if Kyouya was correct, why did the other man need the school's blueprints?
Yasuhara watched Naru, deep in thought. "Shibuya-san… what does the renovation of the school have to do with this case?" he asked, voicing Kyouya's question as well.
"The timing," he answered.
Yasuhara understood: it wasn't the renovations that interested Naru, it was the timing of it, the when and the where Melissa died.
"The 'how' and 'why' are more important than the 'where' at this point—we can figure that out later. Start from the beginning of what we do know, Yasuhara-san."
Is this for my benefit? Kyouya wondered idly.
"Yes, sir. Four days ago, Hashimoto-sensei, current principal and school owner of Setsuda Prep approached Shibuya Psychic Research and pleaded with us to take the case involving black magic at his school. At the time, he'd had three injuries that he attributed to students whom he assumed were practicing black magic: two students and one teacher. That is all the information I was given."
"Let me fill you in, then."
No, Kyouya realized, this was for Yasuhara-san's benefit. He was simply… how did Haruhi always put it? Manual labor and unimportant. The true irony was now that he was deemed as unimportant, he knew how Haruhi felt when she first started to work for the Host Club. Delving into Taniyama-san's life had been an eye-opener; he'd decided that the grass wasn't greener on this side of the fence.
"Since Hashimoto's initial visit and subsequent other visits, there's been no trace of black magic being performed by students, per se. What we did find was a ghost that had a very powerful deity on their side that was causing the ruckus."
"Did the students in question make a deal with this ghost?" Yasuhara asked quietly, his mind returning to Atsuka-san's case.
So blunt, Kyouya thought. Then something came to him. "Wait a moment. A ghost is a ghost—how did they make a deal with a ghost?"
Naru looked at him for a moment before smiling faintly. "Ho… you actually do have a brain. Good to know in case I need you in the future." Kyouya bristled at that, but Naru went on, unaffected. "Melissa has a powerful deity on her side—one that rules over ghosts."
Kyouya got it after a few seconds. "This deity… wouldn't have any problems with the fact that its follower is a ghost—especially if it rules over them. This sounds complicated, Shibuya-san."
"It's not. I have the pieces; I just have to put them together in the right order. Easy."
Easy? Ha! Kyouya thought, wondering what the other pieces were and how they fit together. He wasn't bad at figuring things out, but he was horrible out of his element with this group. He was actually starting to regret poking his nose in.
Naru rose and Osamu scrambled to his feet. They turned their attention to Kyouya. "Are you coming, Ootori-san, or have we scared you away already?"
Narrowing his eyes at the ghost hunter, the bespectacled student climbed to his feet and followed Shibuya-san and Yasuhara-san out of the library. He'd be damned if he was going to run just because he was in unfamiliar territory.
Ootori Kyouya was not a welcome addition, Lee saw. The moment the other young man stepped into the room, an odd silence filled the space, suffocating in its intensity. Lee understood why: it was like the Feds barging into his homicide unit and trying to wrestle power from the local law enforcement when a murderer spanned state lines; it was something he'd dealt with before and disliked immensely because at its most basic form it was a dick-measuring contest. Lee sighed and wondered why he'd been accepted but this young man wasn't. Then he recalled that Madoka had told him that the young man, Kyouya Ootori, was Mai's partner on a school paper. Partner… Lee glanced at Lin and restrained himself from slapping his forehead for not realizing the other obvious fact: Lin. Lin was Mai's significant other; of course he wasn't happy with the other man's presence. Despite that, Lee had to give the man credit: he was putting on an Oscar-worthy performance to show otherwise. Lee shook his head mentally. The man should have been an actor, not a ghost hunter.
For his part, Lin ignored Kyouya to the best of his ability and perused the case file that Lee had brought with him. "This is still open?"
Lee frowned. "Technically. It's a cold case file. Technically still open, but as there are no new leads and it's not expected for there to be any such leads, the police have given up hope of solving it."
"I see. We'll change that," Lin stated, matter-of-factly.
"I imagine so," Lee responded with a faint smile.
Lin continued to read. "There's no record of her forced exorcism."
"Noticed that did you?" Lee looked around for a moment before sighing. "I was thinking about that as we flew over here. Kid has his own jet from what I can tell—crazy, huh? Anyways, I can't understand why it was simply glossed over. From what I found in the short time I had before traveling here the investigating detective Jake Bander had a good reputation in Savannah P.D. It simply doesn't make sense that a man that decorated by his coworkers would do such a half-assed job on this case, but not others—and I checked to be sure. All of his other cases were solid and thorough. This is the one blight."
The sorcerer raised a brow. "Was it monetarily influenced?"
Lee's mouth went flat and his eyes hard and cold—this wasn't the man on vacation, Lin suddenly realized, this was the Lieutenant in charge of a Homicide Unit in Atlanta; the switch was instantaneous and for some reason, it made Lin grateful to see it. "I can't see any other explanation," Lee said finally, his voice as hard and cold as his eyes. "But before I conclude that, let me continue to research it."
"As you wish." Lin closed the file and handed it back to Lee. "We'll leave it to you." Lin gave him a humorless smile. "As you were sure we would." He watched Kyouya chat with Mai from the corner of his eye while waiting for Naru to finish his business on the phone. He imagined several very painful scenes for one Ootori Kyouya if he dared to even think of touching Mai. When did I get so possessive, he wondered. Naru hung up the phone and the sorcerer said, "The exorcism isn't mentioned in Melissa's file."
Naru wasn't surprised, but then, neither was Lin when he'd read that file. "Unofficially, why?"
"Unofficially, it's probably a monetarily influenced overlook. Chamberlin-san, however, is going to look into that for us."
Naru shrugged. "Then we'll leave him to it. That was the local Ward Office. They're checking to see if they have blueprints for the school on file." He shrugged. "They said they'd contact me if they did," he finished, his tone revealing that he wasn't hoping for much. "All that's left to do is wait for Detective Genda."
Lin nodded. "Then we will. Why don't you take Kasai-san down to the ramen stall and talk to her about what's bothering you," the sorcerer suggested.
Naru gave a small jolt. "Nothing's bothering me."
"And I'm the Queen of England," Lin said in English, his voice low. "You're angry about something; I can see it with every step you take." Lin sighed at the look on his charge's face. "I hate to break it to you, Noll, but I've known you for a very long time."
The young scientist huffed in annoyance. Lin was right, though he loathed having to acknowledge it. Maybe talking to Chiaki would help. "If Ootori-san is joining us, then he'll have to bunk with John and Chamberlin-san. I'm going to take my girlfriend out. What are you going to do?" The sorcerer raised a brow and Naru shook his head. "On second thought, I don't want to know."
"Afraid of ideas, Oliver?" Lin asked, aiming a wicked smirk at Mai, who shivered having caught sight of it.
Deciding to ignore the other man, he clapped his hands together to get everyone's attention. Talking ceased immediately. "Ootori-san, if you're going to join us, then I'll have you room with John and Chamberlin-san," he said without preamble. "Hashimoto-sensei said he'd have rooms for the rest of my staff prepared, so be sure to find out where you all will be staying. For now, we're going to put a moratorium on this investigation: technically, we're trying to solve a thirty-year-old murder and while I trust Chamberlin-san to take point on it, he's out of his own jurisdiction. I don't want to do anything more until Genda-san joins us, which should be sometime tomorrow.
"In the meantime, Mai, Takahashi-san, Chiaki, Yasuhara-san, and Ootori-san, if you feel like joining them, I need measurements of the school proper," he dictated, ignoring Mai's scandalized gasp and death glare. "That was the local Ward Office I was talking to. They're checking to see if they have the blueprints, but they may not." He sighed and decided to answer Mai's accusing look; he thought she'd be past this by now. "In the event that I can't locate any blueprints for the school, we'll need to make them," he explained, his tone reasonable. "It's nothing you haven't done before. It also doesn't need to be done right now," he continued, inwardly wincing at his girlfriend's glower. Really, it wasn't like he was asking them to dig something up! "It can be done tomorrow morning before classes begin. If we have to do it that way, it'll go faster if you split the school and work in groups. Lin?"
Lin nodded, keeping a straight face, but laughing inwardly. "My laptop has the software I'll need."
"Matsuzaki-san, Takigawa-san, I'd like for you to visit the hospital where Amano-san is and see what you can find out."
"Okay," Ayako said. Then she tilted her head to the side. "Might I ask why?"
"Because Amano-san's injury is the anomaly in this case."
Ayako blinked and shared a look with Takigawa. "I don't understand."
Naru sighed. "At the time we were contracted, our assignment was to find the kids practicing black magic and prevent more injuries seeing as there'd already been three accidents: two students, one teacher. We now know, thanks to Lin and Mai, that the injuries coincide with the wishes the students made. At the time Amano-san was injured, Tezuka Eri-san who held the locket containing Melissa hadn't yet made her wish. So we're stuck with the question, 'why was Amano-san injured and what part did her injury play in this grand game of deceit?' I don't believe in coincidence so the only thing it can mean is that she was part of Melissa's death in some form or another. That's what I want you two to confirm."
Takigawa nodded. "Then let's get something to eat and get going," he said leading his girlfriend out of the room.
Delineations done, Naru went over to Chiaki and proceeded to guide her out of the room. She waved back cheerily, wondering where he was taking her and more importantly, if he'd tell her what was bothering him.
That left Yasuhara-san, Takahashi-san, John, Madoka, Lee, and Ootori-san.
"I think I want to take a look around the grounds," Madoka announced, taking Lee's arm. "Kindly escort me," she teased the lieutenant, walking out of the room with him.
"I'm bushed!" Yuko stated, her yawn genuine. She smiled at Yasuhara. "Let's find our room and veg! See everyone tomorrow bright and early!"
That left John and Ootori-san to stand in the room awkwardly with Lin and Mai. "We should go, too, Ootori-san. We need to find out where we're staying. And when Takahashi-san said 'bright and early' it wasn't an exaggeration. Lin-san, Mai-san, we'll see you two tomorrow morning."
"Actually, Ootori-san, you and I have work to do," Mai said, peeking at the cheap watch adorning her wrist; it was only two in the afternoon—plenty of time to get some work done. The watch clashed with the gold bracelet she wore, Kyouya noticed, though why it mattered he couldn't say. Mai went on, "That's why you came, right? Michinaga-sensei made an addendum to the paper. So if you don't mind giving me about fifteen minutes, I'll meet you in the library. John, you don't mind, do you? Just text me where your room is and I'll relay it to him."
"I don't mind at all, Mai-san. Ootori-san, I'll be seeing you soon." John left feeling relieved. John had to give credit where credit was due: Lin was one hell of an actor. The tension in that room had been stifling.
"The library is in the main building, third floor. You can't miss it," Mai told Kyouya as John left. "I'll meet you there."
"I'll see you soon," Kyouya responded, taking his leave and following her instructions. Inside the library, the whispers started immediately. With a cocky smirk, he took a table in the middle of the room, brought out his laptop and started to work.
Mai gathered up some items to take with her and felt her breath catch as Lin picked her up and pressed her against the door, sealing his lips to hers and inviting her tongue to dance with his.
"You told him fifteen minutes," he said a few seconds later, his clever fingers roaming under her skirt and teasing sensitive places through her panties. "We have time for a quickie, you know."
Mai laughed, but it was breathy and full of longing; she was already damp—she could feel it through the simple cotton that he caressed and alternately damned him for it; she'd have to change before leaving. He continued to stroke, feather touches, and her head fell back and he took that invitation to slide his tongue down her neck. Gods, he made her feel like a horny pre-teen!
"Why go for a quickie when you can have me all night?" she asked, though it pained her to not reach for that belt buckle that tantalized her.
He smiled rakishly at her dazed expression and kissed her again, removing his hand from under her skirt. "I'll see you later, then."
As she regained her footing she wrapped her arms around him and asked, "Are you going to be here or in your studio?"
Lin glanced at the bedroom that held her bed and aimed a pained look at her; the bed in question was only slightly larger than the one in her apartment. "My bed's bigger. And since I'm going to make love to you all night, I'd rather be comfortable."
She shivered at the declaration, scampered into the bedroom and quickly changed her underwear and into a pair of capris; grabbed her bag, planted a quick kiss on his lips and left. Lin smiled faintly when he saw Sebastian trail after her. He looked around the room that had become their make-shift base room. Time to leave, he decided, no longer needing to sneak about or worry about teaching classes—something he was profoundly grateful for. He looked at the uniform that Mai had worn for a brief time as a "student" and then looked at his first Shiki. "Tear it to shreds," he ordered.
He left the room to the sound of fabric being rent apart, a satisfied smirk on his face.
Mai entered the library and sighed; she could feel Sebastian's lips curl into a mockery of a smirk at the young man sitting at the very center table looking like he had no idea he'd been noticed. Of course Kyouya-kun would choose a table in the very center of the cluster. And of course he would revel in the attention it afforded him, even if he pretended otherwise. Once a host, always a host, she decided, making her way over, setting her stuff down on the floor, and taking a seat opposite him. This started a new wave of whispers that she shook her head at. If he noticed her sudden change in clothing, he didn't remark upon it. The whispers continued and Mai said, "You should never have given up on being a host. I think it's your calling."
She might have been right, he thought. He'd enjoyed his time as a host when he'd been in high school. Kyouya smiled at her charmingly and propped his chin on his fist—in the past it had never failed to entrance the ladies, Haruhi being the exception. "But my charm doesn't faze you, does it, Mai-san?"
She gave him a droll look and shook her head. "Not a bit." She pushed her notebook his way. "This is my initial draft," she began, indicating the typed pages. Kyouya marveled at what she was able to get this done despite being on a case and out of town. His opinion of her was rapidly changing. "According to Michinaga-sensei, we have to switch reports and write a hypothetical: would you do anything differently and if you wouldn't, why not?"
"Tell me about that time in detail," Kyouya said, after reading her draft.
"It's in my report," she replied. Which you just read, she thought, perplexed.
Shrugging, Mai began to tell him about that day over four years ago. The day that she walked to school and as she went up to the old, creepy building, and saw the strangest thing: a camera. Wondering about its purpose, she entered the building and was startled by another person's voice; she bumped into the shoe shelf backing away. A hand shoved her out of harms way and she found that the shelves fell on the assistant to the boy she'd met yesterday. "I tried to help him to the hospital, but he refused. Not that I can blame him, then or now." And now I'm pregnant with his child, she thought, thinking of the life growing inside her. She wasn't about to mention that part, though. "Anyhow, later on, Shibuya-san came back to the school and called me out of class and told me that his assistant Lin was in the hospital with a pretty severe sprain and his camera that was damaged beyond repair—both were my fault. Obviously, I couldn't afford to pay for the camera, so he told me to work it off. And that's how I got my job with S.P.R."
Kyouya had listened avidly to her story but was struck with a very obvious question. "Didn't, rather, doesn't Shibuya-san have insurance for his equipment?" It would be ludicrous if he didn't.
"Of course he does—and did, even when I wrecked that camera."
"Then why did he tell you to pay it off? Did he actually take any money from your pay check for the camera?"
Mai sighed. "That's not relevant to my report, Kyouya-san. If you'd like those details, you'll have to ask Naru."
"Why do you call him that?" he asked, genuinely curious. The other man hadn't seemed to mind the odd moniker, but Kyouya couldn't imagine that Shibuya-san loved it, either.
"Because he's a narcissist," she said bluntly. "That's what I first thought when I started to work for him. So I called him Naru, short for narcissist." She shrugged. "It stuck and all of us, Lin-san included, started to call him that. He got used to it."
Kyouya laughed. Of all the things he'd been expecting, that hadn't been one of them!
"I guess we should talk about my paper, then," he said, handing her a typed draft of his own.
Presently, they exhausted the topic of their papers and Kyouya took his leave to the room that John had texted Mai about. Alone at last, Mai packed up her notebook and pen and made her way to the back of the stacks. She wasn't sure if it was important, but she was curious to know about the hidey-hole that held Melissa's locket for more than twenty years. She encountered a rather nasty surprise there in the stacks. Tezuka Eri sat curled up, soft sobs emitting from her prone form. And she was right where Mai assumed the locket had been found. Her mouth twisted into a severe frown, despite her natural compassion. Tezuka Eri was not a person she felt like dealing with now.
"Tezuka-san," she said cautiously.
Eri looked up to see Mai, dressed casually—then she recalled that Mai had never been a student in the first place. "You!" she snarled.
Chiaki watched Naru, unnerved by his stillness. They were at the ramen shop and waiting for their name to be called. The wonderful scents couldn't distract her from the fact that she knew something was bothering her boyfriend. Making a face, she scratched her ear and asked, "Want to tell me what's bothering you?"
He started, but his lower lip curled into a parody of a smile. She frowned. "What's wrong?" she asked again.
Propping his chin on his fist he sighed. "Everything, I suppose."
"Everything?" she repeated, a sick fear curling into her gut. Did everything mean 'them,' too? Their name was called and he stood up to retrieve their food, leaving her with that uncertainty and fear that he regretted a relationship with her. Presently, he returned and put her ramen in front of her before taking his own. He set the pot stickers down in the center and handed her a pair of chopsticks. As wonderful as everything smelled, she couldn't eat.
"You might as well tell me," she sighed, breaking apart her chopsticks and stirring the noodle soup for form.
He looked up startled. "I wasn't not going to tell you."
She waited and he sighed. "When Hashimoto-sensei first approached S.P.R., his claim was that kids were practicing black magic and it had resulted in a few injuries. The fact that the injuries corroborated the story… at the time I thought to myself, 'what else could it be?' Black magic being used by students… we've seen the effects of people using magic before, haven't we?"
She shuddered imperceptibly, but he caught it anyways. Yes, they'd seen it before. The results were rarely good. Naru continued, "As you know, we—me, Lin, Matsuzaki-san, and Mai—infiltrated the school with various roles to play. We were expecting to hear whispers, rumors, something—anything at all. We—no, I didn't hear anything—and all of us except for Mai had been at Setsuda for a few days, keeping our ears to the ground in hopes of catching something. But we didn't. Not one thing to suggest that black magic was what was going on. Then Mai arrives and she strikes pay dirt within a few hours, literally. She found a ghost that had magic and a patron goddess on said ghost's side."
"Who's the ghost?"
"Melissa Anne LaQuis, from Savannah, Georgia."
"Georgia must have won the lottery," she commented dryly. "Or Mai did."
The faint chuckle warmed her, but didn't fully convince her that their relationship wasn't also a concern of his.
"I doubt either the state or investigator agrees," he replied, a small smile lingering around his mouth.
"Likely not. So? Is that it? Just a ghost with a patron god?"
"No, that's not it." He sighed and took some broth, noticing that she wasn't eating. Something was bothering her. He didn't know what. He pushed it aside; he would ask soon. First he wanted her opinion. "As I told you back in Mai's room, Amano-san's injury is the anomaly in the this case because, yes, the girls made a deal with Melissa: if she granted their wishes, they'd give the locket back to Hashimoto-sensei."
"Do you think they really would have? Give the locket back, I mean?"
Naru shrugged. "Not at first, I don't." His lip curled. "Girls like those three are selfish and whimsical. Perhaps I'm being judgmental, but from what Lin learned about the attacks on the students in question was caused by petty jealousy and done by kids that expect everything to be handed to them without having to work for it. No, I doubt they'd have kept their promise originally. But do I think that after dealing with The Morrigan for breaking that promise they'd have gladly handed it over just to stop the torment."
"Where in the world did they find that locket?" she wondered.
"Library. Somewhere in the back of the stacks. I might take a stroll there to see what I can 'see.'"
"Can't hurt," Chikai commented, her hand moving restlessly on the table top, her food still untouched. "What's the locket's significance?"
"Besides the fact that it was given to Melissa until Hashimoto-sensei could give her an engagement ring, I don't know."
"All right. So, basically, you were deceived into coming here and given false pretenses to work with—right?"
"I suppose that's a decent jist," he replied carefully.
Her brow crinkled. "So what's bothering you besides that?"
Naru blinked at the astute observation. Was this how Lin felt when Mai could read beyond the façade he presented to the world? Maybe so, but he still had no clue what was bothering Chiaki. "The fact that I was lied to," he said simply. "I'm angry about it and it forced me to give him an ultimatum."
She could see that he was unhappy about it. Even if he regretted them, she would give him what she could. Reaching across the table, she took his hand and gave it a squeeze. "Tell me."
So he did, beginning with the paraphernalia and Book of Shadow's he'd found in Hirata's office; the books and statue of The Morrigan that Mai found in Amano's rooms; Hashimoto lying to Matsuzaki-san; what Lin had overheard; the spell Melissa had given to Tezuka Eri to use on Lin, and The Morrigan visiting the sorcerer around dawn. Chiaki expelled a breath, not expecting all of that. No wonder he was angry!
"I told Hashimoto that he was going to have to pay the price I give him," he finished, wrapping it up.
"And this bothers you?" Chiaki asked.
It does, he thought. But what's bothering you, he wondered, gripping her hand. It came to him suddenly and he withdrew his hand from hers. "You think I regret us?" he asked incredulously.
Chiaki froze. She opened her mouth to refute him, but when she realized how he'd gotten that information… "I hate that you can do that. Read my emotions with just a touch."
"I'm sorry," he said stiffly, gripping his hands together and forgetting his food just as she had.
Hindsight is twenty-twenty, her mother once told her, not foresight. "Sorry. I just…" She sighed. "When I first got here, you wouldn't even look at me; I all but had to smack you to get your attention, and you were all tense and moody. I thought… that you felt regret…over us."
"I'm sorry," he said again, his tone sincere. "Understand this: I do not regret getting into a relationship with you. No matter what happens, I won't ever regret."
Chiaki smiled; his words made her body feel warm and fuzzy. Wiping away the tear that began to form at the corner of her eye, she reached for his hand again, willing her happiness to him so he could feel her profound relief. He gripped her hand tightly, hoping that conveyed how happy she made him.
Presently, she let him go, picked up the spoon, and sampled the broth. Her eyes closed and she sighed. Yum. Pure bliss, she had no other words. She chose a pot sticker and dunked it into the broth. "Why does the ultimatum you gave Hashimoto-sensei bother you?"
He took a sip of tea noticing that they'd used tea bags. The flavor was quite weak. He frowned down at the stuff, wondering when he'd become such a snob with tea—actually, if he were honest, he'd always been a snob when it came to his tea. Putting it down, he took a pot sticker for himself, relieved that Chiaki's appetite had returned. "I've never once put a price on my services, people give what they can afford, I believed. I've never thought that I needed to name prices like other companies because the British Society for Psychical Research gets more out of my research than financial gain. I have always been content with that. But this case… being lied to every step of the way—being forced to contend with a god once again… I got angry, livid, you could say. I told Hashimoto-sensei that he was going to pay the price I put on my services."
Meal forgotten, she caressed his hand. "Hindsight is twenty-twenty; not foresight," she told him, repeating the mantra she'd told herself. "You're human; you can't always rely on ESP for everything. I know you don't," she said, holding up her other hand to stall any retorts on his part. She continued, "You couldn't have known that this case would turn out quite like this. You're allowed to be angry at the deception and you're allowed to do what most people in your situation would—the ultimatum you told me about. I think… what you're really asking me is should you keep with what you told him or not." She frowned. "I wish I could advise you on this matter, but I can't. It's between you and your conscience. In the end, you're the one who has to decide. Shibuya Psychic Research and its employees will stand behind whatever you choose."
All true, he conceded mentally, flipping his hand and gripping hers. He was surprised to realize that he felt better after talking to her. "I don't have to decide now. First thing's first: finding Melissa's body."
"That's why you need a blue print."
"That's why I need a blue print," he agreed.
"What are the odds that she's buried on the school grounds?"
"High. But… I don't think she's in the ground proper."
"I don't understand."
"Don't ask me just yet. I'm still working it out. Really, if I wanted to be a police detective specializing in homicides, I'd do that. I hate solving cases like this. For now, let's just enjoy the time here and now, shall we? Melissa's been dead for nearly thirty years. What's another day or two until Detective Genda arrives?"
"When you put it that way…nothing."
Mai took a cautious step back, not liking Eri's tone or the look in the girl's eyes. That seemed to enrage the young lady even further. She lurched to her feet, her wet eyes angry, desperate, and slightly crazed. Mai shivered and backed away again, wrapping her arms around herself. She was more than certain that Tezuka Eri would get violent. Sadly, she couldn't smell any alcohol on her, so this mad wasn't chemically induced. No, this was pure, spoiled-brat rage from the teenager who'd been put in her place and didn't like it one bit. She stalked closer to Mai.
"Do you know what the Hashimoto-sensei recommended as my punishment for my stunt?" she asked, emphasizing the word 'recommended.'
Mai shook her head, feeling almost like she was back in high school. But you're not in high school anymore. Why should a spoiled child like her scare you? Straightening, she returned Eri's glare.
"I have no idea. Whatever it is, you're probably angry about it."
Eri let out a sharp bark of derisive laughter. "Angry about it she says. Yeah, you could say that. Hashimoto-sensei recommended that I help the groundskeeper for three weeks. My parents however, countered that saying that if I wanted to stay in this school, then I would have to help the groundskeeper for the rest of my time in high school! And its all your fault," she raged. "Do you have any idea how many snickers and whispers I've endured behind my back at my failure to get Lin-sensei? Do you?"
Mai found herself irate; she could see clearly which route Lin's returned curse was taking—snide comments and whispers. "Why is it my fault?" she snapped, her arms dropping to her sides. "You're the one who went over to a temporary teacher's room, undressed herself, and then waited for him, not me." She lowered her voice. "And you were the one stupid enough to make a deal with a ghost in the first place—you and your friends alike. Now that it's caught up to you, isn't karma an awful bitch?"
An enraged screech escaped Eri's mouth as she raised her hand and bunched it into a fist. Mai narrowed her eyes as the punch came her way, gauging just when she'd have to dodge… she never got the chance. Sebastian was suddenly there, holding Eri's fist.
"I wouldn't, if I were you," he said, his silken voice menacing. "My master bade me to protect his lover and so I shall by any means necessary," he warned, his eyes glowing a deadly red.
After a quick lunch, Ayako and Houshou headed to the hospital were Amano was recovering.
"You know," Takigawa commented as they parked and made their way into the hospital, "we should take a vacation when this business with Annabelle is all said and done. Just you and me, no work, nothing."
Ayako smiled, realizing that she'd truly enjoy that. "I think that's a plan."
"Then we'll make it happen." His face went grim. "Let's go talk to an injured teacher who may or may not have been involved in a murder."
At the hospital desk, Ayako inquired if Amano Shizuka could receive visitors and was told by the receptionist that she could. She then handed Ayako a clipboard and asked her to sign in. Taking it, the priestess went to sign her name when she noticed something that made her pause: Hirata was here and visiting the same person. Her lips compressed into a thin line. Back at the school they were trying to solve a thirty-year-old murder and she was dead sure that Hirata and Amano had something to do with it. The last thing Ayako wanted to do was advertise that she was here to see Amano. A name was discreetly called over the PA system and she felt a small smirk tug at her lips. She sent a quick, mental apology to her mother and her mother's friend and gave a name comprised of both. As she signed her false name, she began to chat with the receptionist, asking all sorts of generic and stupid questions that were meant to confuse. As she did that, she made the patient's name incomprehensible before handing the clipboard back, taking the 'visitor' badges, and turning to her date, still chattering.
"Come on honey," she said, giving him an impatient tug. "I want you to meet my friend. She'll be so happy to meet you! Wish I could have brought her cat. Why, poor Misery's just lost without her owner."
With an indulgent look to Ayako and a long suffering sigh to the receptionist, he allowed the priestess to pull him away from the desk as he tried to pin the visitor's badge to his shirt. Picking up the clipboard, the nurse scanned it and frowned trying to read the unintelligible characters of the patient being visited. She shook her head and gave up.
"Horrible handwriting," she muttered. "That poor man to be with such a ditz." She shrugged it off and noticed that she'd put down Hayesgawa. Maybe she was here to Hayesgawa-sensei. That was probably it.
Once they were away from the front desk, Ayako stopped her chattering and heaved a relieved sigh. She knew she was a social creature, but that was ridiculous.
"Matsuri is your mother's name," Houshou commented. "Who is Hayesgawa?"
"Hayesgawa Mayura-sensei, the doctor who stitched up Mai's back. I put down her name and left the name of whom we were visiting unintelligible—hopefully she'll think I'm just another ditz and put me down for Hayesgawa Sentarou-sensei, Mayura's husband. He works at this hospital. Hopefully, the receptionist will think we're here to visit him and that Amano Shizuka was a fluke."
"That's what all the chatter was about. Evade and confuse."
Ayako smirked. "Absolutely."
Thanks to the hospital log, it didn't take them long to find Amano's room. The door was slightly ajar so the pair stopped, listening to the conversation in progress between Hirata and Amano.
The bed creaked, whether Shizuka had shifted, or Hirata sat down, they didn't know.
"Do we have to be worried?" they heard Shizuka ask.
"We don't," Hirata answered. "According to Masaharu, they're waiting for Detective Genda. When he gets here, they'll start investigating what happened to Melissa. But its been thirty years. What's there to find?"
A body, Houshou thought, frowning. Unfortunately, he didn't think that there would be a written confession anywhere for them to find.
"Do you think they'll find Melissa… or…"
"Oh, I doubt it," Hinata said blithely, cutting Shizuka off from what she was going to say. "I doubt it very much."
"But they have the locket."
"And what does that prove?" Hirata asked. "Neither of us had it in our possession."
That was true, Ayako thought, kicking herself for not bringing any sort of recording device. The locket was found in the library and for all we know it was far away from where Melissa was murdered, or it was very close to where she was killed. We just don't know.
"Concentrate on getting better, Shizuka. Your students need you."
"My students hate me."
"Nonsense. I need to return to the school, now. I've been gone far too long and Hashimoto-sensei will surely scold me for it."
Returning to the school… she was leaving… and they were in the hall…. Ayako looked around frantically. There was nowhere to hide… they'd be caught… and Hirata knew that she was part of S.P.R., not a guidance counselor. A radical idea came to her. Pulling on Takigawa's arm, she dragged the surprised man over to a corner and hissed, "Kiss me."
"What?" he asked, startled at the odd request. He wasn't a big fan of public displays of affection and neither was she.
"She's leaving! Kiss me!"
He cottoned on when she said that. Grabbing her, he slanted his mouth over hers and ran his tongue along her lips slipping his tongue into her mouth when it opened. Her hands snaked into his hair; tugging it free from the band he'd gathered it in. She loved his hair—soft and silky and long enough for her to tug on; it always got a reaction. Growling, he pulled her closer and backed their bodies into the wall, enjoying the sound that she made in the back of her throat—he had to hear it again, it felt like his sanity depended on it. He remembered meeting her all those years ago when a kid that called himself Shibuya Kazuya called asking them to meet at a school for an exorcism. She'd been someone fun to annoy. As time went on and they worked more and more together, she became an obsession of his. Now, he just couldn't get enough of her. His kiss became desperate and his hand worked its way underneath her prim top to the skin beneath.
His hand. Large, warm, calluses on his fingertips from the guitar; the other hand was in her hair… she felt like she was burning up. Of their own accord her hands slipped beneath his shirt to the muscles on his back. He was trembling, she noticed and it was exhilarating to be the cause.
Hinata left Shizuka's room and heaved a sigh when she spotted the amorous couple. "Get a room," she muttered, not seeing Ayako at all. She didn't think anything more of the couple or their location to Shizuka's room or that the door had been left slightly open for eavesdroppers. Down at the desk, she picked up the clipboard, trying to find herself in the myriad of names already there. The entry below hers caught her eye briefly. "What horrible penmanship. Handwriting is truly a lost art."
The nurse at the desk made a non-committal agreement having not been at the desk when Ayako first arrived. Hinata sighed and signed herself out, handing the pass back. As she left the hospital, she decided to put the athame in a more secure location… just to be on the safe side. She didn't actually believe they'd find the body, but she didn't need them finding anything more than the locket.
Back in the hallway, a passing nurse broke the couple apart. "This is not a love hotel," he informed them.
Takigawa blew out a breath, smiled down at Ayako, and moved away from her, foolishly pleased to see her so mussed up. He watched as she fixed her clothing. "Are you sure we can't just say we talked to her?"
With a small smile and equally short, but humorous chuckle, Ayako shook her head. "Afraid not. Let's go talk to a murderer."
She stepped into the hospital room and froze, feeling Houshou do the same. There was a murderous presence in the room. Looking, she saw the odd crow sitting on the window-sill watching the new arrivals avidly. She clenched her fist and took a breath. Goddess or not, she had a job to do. Nodding in polite acknowledgement, she moved into the room proper. Shizuka looked up and Ayako could tell immediately that she'd had better days and that her wound was not healing well at all. The priestess made a mental note to ask Sebastian or Mai if there had been any wards in Amano's room.
"Umm… who are you?"
So this was Amano Shizuka, Takigawa thought to himself. She didn't look good, he thought critically, surveying her limp, stringy hair. Her skin was sallow and there were dark circles underneath her eyes. He didn't have to be a doctor to know that something with her condition wasn't right. He looked at the remnants of her meal—only half of it was gone and he was willing to bet that the lady they'd just heard inside had bullied her into eating some of it. She wasn't eating, she wasn't sleeping. He felt pity stir his heart. It was truly terrible to be on the wrong side of a god.
Ayako didn't answer. She stepped over to the chart sitting in a metal basket and plucked it out, surveying it quickly. The chart confirmed what Houshou had already deduced: she'd lost weight and she wasn't sleeping. A vengeful goddess called The Morrigan was only half way responsible for this. The other half? Guilt, pure and simple. She recalled meeting the Ishihara Yuko and could only imagine what that lady would have to say about this condition.
"I'm sorry… do I know you?" Shizuka asked again. Who was this strange woman who looked like she'd just been kissed senseless that reviewed her chart?
"You don't know me," the auburn-haired woman responded, looking up from her chart at last. "But you are going to tell us why you helped murder Melissa LaQuis."
Shizuka flinched. That name. She'd been hearing it too often as of late, dreamed too much of her lately—when she'd been able to sleep. That name… it scared her now. The auburn-haired lady was still waiting expectantly. What had she asked again? Why did she help… that's right. "Murder? No. You've got the wrong person."
Her words were hollow, wooden, and indecisive; a lie that had never quite become truth no matter how many times she told it. Ayako went over to the door and closed it deliberately. She didn't need anyone coming in for this. Catching on, Houshou leaned against it to bar anyone from opening it. Ayako picked up the chart again because it contained plenty of information that she could use. Pills to sleep, one-hundred and fifty micrograms of Xanax, she should look better than she did, the priestess thought still looking over the chart…oh, now that was interesting: why was she on Decadron? This lady was a regular basket case, it seemed. She eyed the half-full plate and realized why she was on Decadron: it helped to stimulate her appetite. Well, it was supposed to. It didn't quite do the job, it seemed. Ayako frowned. Thirty years of this; she should have been in a mental hospital. There had to be some sort of ward in her room.
"That's a nasty wound you received," Ayako commented, her tone light and conversational. "You were lucky. Why, if had gotten any close to your heart…" she shrugged and her tone changed, becoming sinister. "You'd be in the morgue. Must also hurt like a bitch," she continued. "And the pain medication isn't working very well, is it? That's really odd for Percocet because it's even stronger than Vicodin. I see they tried that, too and it didn't work." She looked up from the chart now. "Either way you look at it, they're barely managing to taking the edge off of the pain, aren't they? Doctors are pretty puzzled." She looked at the half-full plate and nodded to herself, feeling self-loathing coat her heart. Despite that, she pressed onwards and leaned forwards into Shizuka's space, watching the other woman shrink back from her knowing eyes. "Then again, that's what happens when you help murder a person that has a foreign deity on their side. Murder itself is bad enough, but when there's a foreign god involved? That's way worse, right, Shizuka?
She continued, "First, whichever deity you pray to turns its back because you're just one devotee and once you've committed a cardinal sin like murder, there's no reason to listen to you, anymore. Without your god listening the foreign one you insulted pretty much has free reign to torture you whenever it feels like it." She looked at the crow watching placidly, but with intense enjoyment. Yes, she was right on the money. As she'd been talking, she noticed that Shizuka was shaking her head frantically, as if she could dispel what the other priestess was saying.
"No?" Ayako asked. "I'm wrong?" She gestured to the chart she still held. "But, Amano-san, the facts don't lie. You haven't been sleeping and the medicine they've got you on should not only suppress the pain, it should also help you sleep, but none of them are doing that. It doesn't help that you've been taking sleep medication every night just to get four or five hours of sleep, because that's all you've been getting, according to your chart. In fact, the nurses and doctors are quite concerned about your lack of sleep, because sleeping is what helps your body heal. They've gone so far as to recommend that you speak to a therapist about…" she consulted the chart again, this time for show. She looked up again, "Your night terrors, right? Nightmares, every night, probably with the same theme, and no real variation. Pretty soon, they'll put you on medication for that, too. But you know what, Shizuka? It won't help. Because your nightmares are courtesy of The Morrigan—the goddess you infuriated. Oh, maybe The Morrigan takes pity on you every so often and you get a solid eight or nine hours, but not often. And the worst of it is that you're the by-stander. You're really too weak mentally and emotionally to have murdered Melissa on your own. No, you were just the helper. I can't imagine what it's like for Hirata, but I can tell you that Hirata's doing better than you are. She's got ice in her veins, so she's able to ignore the Morrigan to a degree." She smiled pleasantly but from the way Amano blanched, it was anything but. "But that won't last long, will it? Because once the Morrigan's done with you—and believe me, you'd better wish you were dead because if not, you'll be insane— She'll start on Hirata and that ice I told you about won't take long to melt."
Ayako shook her head and gestured to the chart, the half-full plate, and then the teacher herself. "It's been thirty years, Shizuka-san, aren't you tired of drugging yourself to sleep and not being able to eat? What do you see whenever you try to eat without your medicine? Melissa? Her death? The locket around her throat as Hashimoto's chosen bride?" Ayako shook her head. "Well, it doesn't really matter, does it? But tell me, aren't you tired of seeing yourself worn out whenever you look in the mirror?"
It was like a dam broke. Shizuka lost her battle with the brave front and started to cry. "It's… been getting worse, recently. I don't always have to take the medicine. But lately, I've needed it." She groped for a tissue and blew long and hard into the thin paper. "I can't sleep; I can't eat. I don't know what to do."
She knew more than they'd originally thought, Ayako realized. Sitting down on the bed she said, "Why do you start by telling me about the locket and its significance?"
Her eyes went glassy. "It's a historical piece, I was told. Goes back to the Edo Period, when a famous sword smith made it for his bride-to-be. It's gone to every female in the line since to signify a chosen bride."
And when Hirata saw it on Melissa's neck she blew a gasket, Ayako thought, thinking of the silver piece made of delicate filigree twirls and swirls that created a frame for a silver disc holding the kanji phrase 'my bride.' There had to have been a legion of photographs and other small paraphernalia that had adorned the inside of that locket as it passed from bride to bride.
Ayako started to ask what happened when Hirata saw the locket, but stopped herself. She was a priestess, not the police. This was something that she needed to leave to Detective Hirota or Genda when they arrived. It would be up to them. She dared not look to the window where The Morrigan sat, watching the conversation avidly.
Shizuka spoke suddenly, as if she's been spelled to. "Hinata wanted it—the locket. She loves Masaharu so much. But Melissa got in the way and she couldn't have that." She looked up at Ayako in earnest and grabbed her hand. "She couldn't. Melissa didn't deserve him. So Hinata made sure that she didn't have him." She flinched. "We made sure. I didn't really do anything you know," she babbled. "I just… watched as she was…stabbed and pushed."
Stabbed and pushed. A stairwell, then. "You helped hide her stuff. You helped conceal her body."
"Kaoru was coming! She was asking where Melissa was! She'd only been gone for two days, but Kaoru was trying to find her! I had to—we had to hide her stuff. Kaoru would have known something was up."
"You think she didn't know when she saw Melissa's room practically empty?" the priestess asked, revolted and incredulous.
"We didn't think. We didn't think!" she repeated. "We thought… that everyone would have assumed that she ran away. Yes, she ran away, that's what we said. We hid her stuff and said that she ran away," she said in an almost sing-song voice. "Ran away, ran away, run away student."
The aura that Ayako had encountered when she first stepped into the room intensified and she flinched. So did Shizuka, who stared babbling even more. The poor woman's mind was nearly to the breaking point, the priestess realized. She needed to try and placate The Morrigan with her terrible gaze and vengeful demeanor. Compressing her lips into a thin line, she looked at Houshou, trying to convey what she needed. She needn't have bothered. Sometime during her questioning Shizuka and Shizuka's story, he'd slipped out and gotten her Onusa. He couldn't see The Morrigan, but he could certainly feel the goddess's anger. Disengaging her hand, she took the tool from him.
"What are you going to do?" she asked, shrinking away from it.
"Try to pacify a god," Ayako told her quietly. "I don't know if it'll work. This particular god is quite vengeful and incredibly livid at you for what you did, but regardless, I'm going to try."
"Why would you do that for me."
The priestess shook her head. "I'm not doing it for you. I'm doing it out of mercy."
Taking a deep breath, she calmed her mind and centered herself. The Morrigan's anger made it hard—it was so deep and her power was so terrifying that Ayako nearly lost her composure twice. Morrigan-sama, she thought, directing her thoughts towards the crow on the sill, I understand your anger and frustrations at this pitiful person. Please be patient just a bit longer. We will find Melissa's body. In the meantime, please let my words calm your anger to this person.
The Morrigan's voice came through like a dull roar and her she nearly dropped her Onusa and crumpled to her knees to clutch her suddenly aching head.
If you say it in English The Morrigan will consider your plea.
English. Ayako had never recited the Norito in English before; she wasn't sure it would actually translate to something that made sense in English. She spent a few minutes translating it from its native Japanese. Finally, she nodded and raised the Onusa.
"We humbly beseech you, come forth and be enshrined in this place with no shrine," she intoned. This was the first time that she'd said the Norito with a trembling voice. "Purify with all the holy treasures, we beseech you for peace and tranquility, hear us and grant us this wish: the offering here to the gods of the Plains of Heaven, gather here, gods of all directions." She shook the Onusa and said, "Rin, Pyou, Tou, Sha, Kai, Jin, Retsu, Zai, Zen!"
The painful miasma and anger dissipated and the air cleared; Ayako she felt peace settle in the room. Well done, priestess of a foreign god. I accept this prayer and will grant clemency. But relay to this creature that The Morrigan's anger is far from appeased. If she will not repent, then this will be meaningless! The voice took on a more foreboding tone and continued: her friend, however, shall not be so fortunate!
With a disturbing caw that made all of them jump, the crow vanished into the shadows, with The Morrigan's geas upon her.
"The room feels…lighter," Amano whispered, looking at Ayako in awe. "How did you do that?"
"Training," the priestess responded, frowning. She had to do this; she couldn't get away from it. The compulsion settled around her like a snake, squeezing until she met its demand. "Amano-san, there's something you need to keep in mind."
"The Morrigan was lenient to you because you were only an accomplice." She grasped the hospital gown and brought herself down to where they were eye-to-eye. "Amano-san, if you don't regret for every moment for the rest of your life what harm you helped to bring, this plea of mine will become meaningless and you'll be right back where you were: drugging yourself for a measly four hours of sleep; medicine to help you eat. Western magic and karma operate on the same principles, whatever you throw out there, whatever you do comes back to you, be it negative or positive. Never forget that you helped murder someone who was innocent. And tomorrow, you're going to go through it all again with the detective or detectives that come to see you. You're going to tell them how it all happened, beginning to end. Do we have an understanding?"
Shizuka nodded, too terrified to do otherwise.
"Good." Ayako released her and nodded, the gaes disappearing upon its completion. "You look tired, Amano-san. Why don't you get some sleep?" she suggested. "I'll wager that you'll sleep well for a change and sleep's the best thing for you right now."
Mai stepped over Eri's inert body and shot Sebastian a nasty look. "You didn't have to show her your eyes, you know." Or touch her forehead. She couldn't figure out why he'd done that, but the second he had Eri dropped like a stone.
"Be glad I didn't do something worse. I could have shown her my true form and driven her mad," the demon responded his tone ruthless.
She didn't doubt him. "What, exactly, did you do to her?"
Sebastian smiled, cold, vicious, and amused, his eyes looked absolutely ecstatic and that scared her quite a lot. "I showed her a dream, Mai-sama. A wonderful dream that she'll remember for the rest of her life—if she ever wakes up."
Now she understood why he touched her forehead. She sighed and crouched down to get a better look at the shelf. There wasn't much she could do about Tezuka-san and she wasn't in any state of mind to help the acerbic girl. Her concern was the shelf. "How the hell did they get that box in there?"
Sebastian knelt, too. "Likely they jimmied it. It was probably easy for two desperate girls."
Her mouth flattened. She understood what he was saying: he should know better than anyone the true depth of human nature and its depravity. Taking a deep breath, she reached out and settled three fingers in the groove. The images started immediately. Mai turned her head and watched as the space around her inverted and she became a spectator with Eugene at her side. She watched two girls frantically trying lift an already unstable shelf and shove a cheap cardboard box beneath it—the kind that would come from a department store, hastily replacing the books that had fallen off in their frantic endeavor. It was evidence, Mai knew. Evidence against them. Or at the time, it was. Now, if a person discounted the fact that there was a ghost attached to it, it was just an old locket.
Mai came to and saw Sebastian hovering over her, a worried expression on his face. Somehow… she didn't think it was a farce—he seemed genuinely worried. But again, he might just be showing what he thought he wanted her and Koujo to see. It was hard to say with this particular creature. Still, she thought it was nice that he was a bit rattled, if he truly was. Gingerly, she levered herself into a sitting position and put her hand to her head and fought down the nausea.
"Mai-sama, you must stop doing that. It's not good for you or the baby at this point."
"I wish it worked that way, Sebastian-san. I think Naru calls it Astral Walking or Dream Walking?" she commented.
"Whatever it is, it could have serious ramifications on your child."
Mai nodded, but said nothing. Sebastian might be right; she would ask Ayako when she saw her again. She frowned.
"Mai-sama?" Sebastian asked.
"This particular dream was strange," she mused. "Usually, I see it as if I were watching a film in real time. This felt more like a synopsis." She looked back at the hidey-hole thoughtfully. "I need the locket." She sighed and looked over to see Tezuka Eri crumpled on the ground with a multitude of horrifying expressions crossing her face as she struggled in the world Sebastian sent her to. Mai could only imagine what the poor girl was seeing. She looked up at the crow demon. "All right, get her out wherever she is; I think she's suffered enough of your torture."
"But Mai-sama, why? She deserved what she got. You won't be the last person she tries to take her temper out on, you know."
"No, Sebastian, she didn't deserve wherever she went, and whether she decides to take her frustrations out on another person or not, its not up to you or me to decide her fate. Besides, she'll learn from this experience, trust me. Now let her loose."
With an aggrieved sigh, the demon gently flicked the girl's forehead. The medium guessed that the nightmare ended when her features smoothed out. Mai leaned over and shook Eri's shoulder gently. "Tezuka-san. Tezuka-san!"
With a start, Eri's eyes snapped open to see Mai and her frightening—demonic—bodyguard leaning over her. Her eyes went wide upon seeing Sebastian and she scooted up and away, backing painfully into the bookshelf. Several large tomes fell and landed on her head making her yelp, before they bounced harmlessly to the floor; her hand flew up to the crown of her head. Sebastian chuckled and Mai merely sighed.
"Tezuka-san, you might want to reconsider where you decide to take a nap. The floor looks most uncomfortable," Mai said.
Eri kept her arms over her head and peered up at Mai as if she wasn't sure if Mai was real or not. "I had the most horrible dream."
"Oh, of that I'm sure," the clairvoyant responded.
She looked at Sebastian and then said, "What is he, Taniyama-san?"
Mai titled her head to the side. "What do you think he is, Tezuka-san?"
Eri shuddered and shook her head. "Demon," she whispered.
"Bravo, Tezuka-san," Sebastian said, smiling kindly. It was scarier than looking into his eyes. Squeaking, Eri buried her head in her knees. Mai climbed to her feet and cast one more pitying look towards Eri.
"Let's go, Sebastian-san, there's one more thing I need to check."
Mai debated with herself for a moment, then she sighed and turned back to the girl. "Tezuka-san, helping the groundskeeper won't be as bad as you think. You might find it satisfying if you give it a chance."
Lin glanced up from his computer and smiled. Mai was back. Getting up, he went over to the door and opened it, pulling her into the room, and shut the door in Sebastian's face. The demon eyed the closed door in amusement.
"My," he said, morphing into a crow and rejoining his comrades in their nether world.
By the time they got to the bed, his shirt had lost its buttons and was dropped to floor; her top was in tatters and scattered everywhere. Shoes were gone—he hadn't been wearing any, and hers had gone to opposite ends of the studio apartment. She was busy undoing his belt and pants and he flung her capris and underwear away before helping her divest himself of all remaining clothing. When they reached the bed, her body clamped around him making him groan. Even after making love to her so many times, she was still so tight. Her legs wound around his hips pulling him deeper into her body and he nearly lost himself right then. He had such a need when he was with her—it was like he couldn't breathe without her. Her hands threaded into his hair and yanked a bit, making him growl. He broke the kiss and trailed his lips down her body as he thrust forward. Her back arched and she gasped, her nails biting into his back, exciting him even more. He thrust again, relishing that he had all night and he intended to use his time wisely in the most wanton way possible.
The orgasm sparkled through her. She couldn't remember which number it was—she'd stopped counting. All she knew was that everything leading up to and including this latest release were phenomenal. Making love was tiring work though. With a smile, she decided to drop off for a catnap before their next round. Curling into Lin's solid presence, Mai rested her head in the crook of his shoulder and drifted off to sleep. When she woke, an opulent tea party was spread out before her, the kind that Naru might like. The room was empty save for herself, but probably not for much longer. She raised a brow and looked down at her undressed state, deciding that her attire wasn't appropriate for a high tea. She willed a sundress to morph around her and felt her hostess arrive. She turned and smiled.
"This looks lovely," Mai commented in English.
"I'm glad you think so." Melissa gestured to the decorative tea pot and said, "I don't know what type of tea you'd care for."
"At this point anything decaf." Mai laughed and rubbed her still flat stomach lovingly. She fancied that soon she'd be able to feel a small bump.
"I have mint tea."
"That works," Mai agreed taking a seat.
Melissa considered her, but Mai beat her to the punch. "I don't want to know. If you were going to tell me the baby's sex, then please don't. I want to be surprised."
Melissa nodded and poured fragrant mint into Mai's cup. "It wouldn't do any good. The baby's being shrewd and will enjoy making you guess about many things."
"Thank you. That sounds about right; the baby is very much like its father." She stirred in some honey and blew on the tea before taking a small sip.
"And its mother. I loved my parents," Melissa said, her voice sad. "Even if they didn't particularly love me back."
Feeling tears prickling her eyes, Mai reached out and gripped Melissa's hand. "Of course you did. If nothing else they were your parents."
"Maybe so," she murmured. Her eyes met Mai's, brown clashing with brown. "You asked me a question the other day- why I didn't tell Kaoru about Hirata and Amano."
Mai nodded and took another sip before contemplating and selecting a petit four and popping it into her mouth. Delicious. She took another and a few finger sandwiches.
"Have you ever been bullied before?" Melissa asked suddenly.
Startled, Mai shook her head. Too many people felt sorry for poor little orphan Mai to pick on her, she thought with some resentment. It was why she rarely ever told people that she was an orphan. She hated that 'different' quality that was attributed to her when people learned she was an orphan. Then again, she should count that as a blessing. Some bullying ended in the person on the receiving end committing suicide.
"Trust me when I say that tattling makes it worse. And if I'd told Masaharu, things would have become even worse than tattling to the principal.
"Because Hashimoto-sensei would have told his mother regardless," Mai surmised.
She did, to an extent.
"I have no idea where my body is so don't ask. What I showed you is the extent of my knowledge. Touching the locket might help, too. You didn't learn much from where it was stashed, did you?"
"No, I certainly didn't," Mai responded.
"The locket probably knows more."
Not sure what to make of that odd comment, Mai smiled in consternation and raised the cup to her lips for another sip. The stench was horrendous and she put it down, bile rising into her mouth. Blood sloshed over the rims and flowed down the sides and she shoved away from the table, noticing that her stomach had a sizeable hole in it and was bleeding.
The pain followed- first in her stomach, then radiating outwards, like a clawed critter trying to dig its way out. Mai looked across the table to see Hirata, with a chilling smile of pure enjoyment stretched across her generous lips. From one bloody hand hung a ritual knife. She tried to speak, but blood bubbled forth and she couldn't seem to form the necessary words. Hirata's mouth stretched even wider as she watched her die. The last thing she recalled was Hinata reaching forward and snatching the locket from her neck, her eyes cold and merciless before she shoved her body down a flight of stairs.
She fell down, a scream finally making its way past- a scream that reached her patron goddess that promised her in that pain-filled instance that it might be slow in coming, but she would receive vengeance and peace.
"Girl," Mai heard as she fell away from the dream, "If you are able to get a confession of murder and find my devotee's body, I will give you a boon!"
A boon? Mai wondered. Why? She didn't need a boon—she would do this anyways because she wanted to put Melissa at rest.
A boon if you complete this task!
There was no sense in arguing.
Her eyes flew open and closed again, warding off the soft light coming from the lamp on the night table. When she felt that her eyes had adjusted, she opened them slowly and took stock. Lin was holding her down. Why was he holding her down? Ah, she must have been flailing; she hoped she hadn't hurt him. Lin gauged her reactions carefully. When he saw that she was no longer struggling, he gathered her in his arms and held her tightly. She'd almost upended herself head first onto the floor. He sighed. He wanted this case over with already.
"What happened?" she croaked.
"That's what I want to know," he told her.
She looked around blearily. Her gaze fell on the clock that sat underneath the lamp. Four a.m. She blinked. Had she really only been asleep for twenty minutes? She didn't think the clock was lying, however. "I… fell asleep." Her brow crinkled and she ran a hand through her hair. "I woke in an extravagant room… it was just me and Melissa and a high tea. We… chatted for a bit before Melissa was gone and Hirata was in her place. I was Melissa and I'd just been stabbed. Hirata took my locket before pushing me down a flight of stairs. Insult to injury, I suppose." She fell silent before saying, "Koujo, The Morrigan spoke to me just before I woke up."
He held her tighter. "What did she tell you?"
"That she would grant me a boon if I'm able to get a confession of murder from Hirata and find Melissa's body."
He said nothing in response to that. He didn't need to tell her that a boon could go both ways.
She hugged him tightly. "I don't want or need a boon, Koujo. I…really just want to help Melissa. She's the one suffering. I don't care what pretense brought us here, she needs our help."
"She does, yes. But don't empathize too strongly with this, Mai," Lin warned, his tone gentle. "You'll never be able to let go when we're done. After we find Melissa and get that confession, take the boon, whatever it is, and don't worry about the rest."
Mai opened her mouth to refute him, but realized with a shock that he was right: she was getting too involved—she was too upset about what happened to the principal and his dead lover. She sighed. "I know. Just as I know that you and Naru are angry about being deceived about the real purpose for being here."
He eased down onto the mattress with her, enjoying the feeling of her being in his arms. Odd, he'd never been into cuddling, but then, he'd never been in love, either. He frowned when he felt that… stirring of strange chi. It wasn't Annabelle—he knew what that one felt like: insanity and desperation. This… was familiar, strangely, but totally foreign. Like… he knew it from somewhere, but didn't know it at all. His eyes narrowed, was Mai possessed by something other than Annabelle? He sat up and looked down at her, wondering if he should or shouldn't say anything. He didn't want her to panic, but…
"Mai… there's something… an energy I've been sensing for a while; it's coming from you and it's not Annabelle."
Oh, dear gods, she thought, sitting up slowly. He could sense the baby. Of course he could. She should have anticipated that he'd be able to sense their child.
Tell him? The question was so hopeful.
I guess so, she thought, wondering how powerful this child would be to be able to contact her at just a few weeks and being a mass of cells.
"Mai?" Lin asked, noting the solemn look on her face.
"I should have anticipated this," she said, running her hands through her hair again.
"Mai? Anticipated what? Is something wrong?"
Wrong. Ha. "No, not at all. I just… I wanted to tell you when we had some peace and quiet, but… like I said, I should have anticipated that you'd be able to sense something. Stupid of me, really."
"Mai, what are you talking about? What did I sense?"
"Our child," she said succinctly.
Our child. The words slammed into him and he stared at her completely at a loss. He thought he might have blinked a few times, but wasn't sure. Their child. Ever since he'd waited for her to wake in the infirmary, there'd been a strange presence with her that wasn't the Southern Bell. He'd wondered what it was—now he knew: Mai was pregnant. "You're pregnant."
"Yes," she responded, watching him closely.
"How long have you known?"
"A week, week and a half?"
Something clicked. Of course Matsuzaki-san's friend would run a quick blood test to check for Tetanus and other things. And a blood test would reveal elevated levels of HCG in her system.
"Matsuzaki-san's friend who stitched your back ran a blood test."
She nodded almost afraid to speak. She still wasn't sure how he felt. His lips twitched into a smile and he put one hand on her still-flat stomach.
"Did you know," he asked, "that when Madoka and I were together, I always used a condom?"
"I didn't know you two had ever been together," she hazarded.
He rubbed her belly lovingly; he couldn't wait to start feeling the baby kick. A small smile spread on his face as he thought of it. "Liar," he told her. "You knew that we'd been something at one point in time. It was more like mutual needs, Madoka and me. I enjoyed her company and her body, but I never made love to her without protection."
"Why tell me that?" Mai asked. "Are you trying to make me jealous?"
He shook his head. "Because the first time I made love to you, I didn't use any protection and that was deliberate on my part."
Mai sucked in a breath. "Can you clarify?"
"I wanted you. I didn't care about protection at all. I just wanted you." He fell silent for a few minutes before saying, "After I bound Sebastian, I pretty much passed out. You came to the hotel and picked up the mess—my fourth Shiki told me as much. Then you left—later you told me it was because it was uncomfortable for you because of Sebastian's rage. At the time that I woke up and asked my fourth Shiki where you were, she simply shrugged and said to me, 'home.' But where was home, I wondered. Wasn't it with me? And then I had to laugh at myself. Of course home wasn't with me. You and me, we were simply lovers. Why should where I was be 'home' because of that?"
"Koujo," she said alarmed. She took the hand on her stomach and held it close. What was wrong with him? Normally, news of pregnancy didn't send people into a depressed funk!
"You mistake me, Mai. I'm not upset—or depressed," he told her, a small smile decorating his mouth. "I'm simply clarifying as you asked me to. There's a jewelry shop about a block away from the office—do you know of it?"
Jewelry shop… she nodded. "Takeshii & Takeshii Jewelry or something like that. I went in once and nearly fainted. Why do you ask?"
"I went in there after my coffee date with Tsuruga-san." He climbed out of the bed and searched in the coat he'd worn to the café. Finding it, he walked back to the bed and found Mai smiling at him. "What?"
"Has anyone ever told you that you're a mind-gasm, too?"
He chuckled. "A mind-gasm, eh? No, no one's told me that because you are the only one to ever see me walk in the nude."
Her smile widened. "Well lucky me."
He smirked again, but sobered and sat down on the bed again. "I ask that you bear in mind that I bought this before I knew you were pregnant."
"You still haven't told me how you feel about me being… pregnant."
"Really?" he asked her.
She looked at him strangely and thought back. No… he hadn't said anything… she realized suddenly that he hadn't said anything directly. He hadn't needed to—his roundabout story that Mai thought was supposed to make her jealous started to make sense; he was happy, she realized. She grinned at him. "My mistake."
Another smile crossed his face before he opened the box to show her the contents. Her breath left her in whoosh and tears sprang to her eyes, slipping down her cheeks. The dainty ring sat nestled in black velvet, stunning in it. A light purple stone sat in the center of a simple, white gold setting; nestled on either side of the stone were two smaller stones that were blue one minute and purple the next.
Deftly, he plucked it out. "It's a purple diamond," he told her. "A white diamond wouldn't have suited you—it's too cold and impersonal. This color is warm and loving, it reminded me of you the moment I saw it. The two stones on either side are color-change sapphires."
She smiled tremulously. "Do they tell you my mood, too?"
"When you wear the ring it will," he said matter-of-factly.
He'd spelled it. She laughed and looked at him, not thinking about the absurdity of them being completely naked or the news that had just had just been shared or the question that hadn't been asked dangling in the air. "You know the answer is 'yes,' right? You don't even have to ask."
"Would it make you feel better if I do?"
For an answer, she held out her left hand and waited impatiently, wriggling her fingers a few times for emphasis. He slid the ring onto her finger and admired it there. It looked…right. He looked up at her again. For the choice that was going to affect him for the rest of his life, it was the best one he could have made.
"Thank you," he told her, easing her down to the mattress again and putting his hand on her stomach. That tiny spark was there and it felt… content. He wondered if the baby was already talking to its mother, so-to-speak. "Mai?"
"What will it be?"
"It won't tell me," she said drowsily, confirming his suspicion. "I asked and the baby stayed silent."
"What?" Mai asked.
"According to my mother, I was able to talk to her at a few weeks—while I was still in the womb. But when she asked me that same question, I stayed silent, also."
"Great," she complained. "It's already like you. What else do I need to know?"
He pulled her even closer, admiring the ring on her finger. "In due time. Sleep now. You need to be up in a few hours. I think my mother was hoping for a girl," he told her contemplatively.
"Well thankfully you're not or this would be very awkward."
Lin laughed; Mai smiled and laid her head on his shoulder. "It fits just right. Did you do that, too?"
"No. That I guessed, but I'm glad we don't have to get it sized."
"I'm going to put it on a necklace of sorts, just to be safe."
Mai didn't think she'd sleep. But the moment her eyes closed, she fell into slumber where there were no dreams waiting for her.
Day two: seven a.m…
"I'm going to kill him," Chiaki muttered for the twentieth time in the space of fifteen minutes; Mai had been counting, so she knew. "Forty-five by fifty."
"I'm going to help you kill him," Kyouya snarled, his voice low and menacing. Apparently, Ootori-san wasn't a morning person, either.
Mai sighed. She'd had less sleep than both of them and she wasn't nearly as grouchy. Of course the benefits of mind-blowing sex at its best, she thought smugly, as she wrote down the measurements Chiaki dictated and moved into the next room.
"I'm going to kill him," she said again.
"I'm going to help you kill him."
"I had a dream last night," Mai said, no longer able to stand their griping. Really, they'd only been up since seven. She and Lin had been up since six and Naru since five. Mai also knew that Lin had gotten less sleep than she had—the ring on her bracelet proved that he'd stayed awake to make sure nothing else happened while she slept.
Kyouya spat out a measurement and Mai jotted it down, unsurprised. The classrooms had all been the same—she was expecting that they wouldn't change, but still, they needed to be sure. The former host muttered something nasty under his breath in response to her comment about a dream. Chiaki by contrast, regarded her curiously, all traces of sleep having disappeared.
"A dream-dream?" she asked, following the clairvoyant into the next room, taking the laser measure from Kyouya as soon as she got in the door.
"Mmm," Mai affirmed, writing down the measurements for this room and moving onto the next. "I woke up in an elegant room set for high tea. Melissa was there." She wrote down the next set of measurements and followed Kyouya into the next room. "She told me to touch the locket."
By now, she had both Chiaki and Kyouya's attention and they weren't muttering about Naru's death.
"Naru was thinking about trying to 'read' the locket's hiding spot," Chiaki commented, reading off a set of numbers to Mai.
"Tell him not to bother. There's nothing there anymore. The locket holds the memories we need."
"I see," Chiaki commented. "What happened next?"
"I was Melissa and I'd just been stabbed," she told them, absently writing down the next set Kyouya told her. "Insult to injury, I was shoved down a flight of stairs after the locket was taken."
Kyouya shivered. Did that mean she'd been injured? Creepy. How did she stand it? "That's quite chilling Mai-san. Does this happen often?" he asked, handing Chiaki the laser.
"Just about every case," Chiaki told him. "You didn't tell Naru this," she accused Mai.
"But I did. You were still trying to move out of bed. I've been up since six and I told Naru when we…I got to the base room."
We? Kyouya wondered.
"Last room!" Mai announced.
"Last room…" Chiaki stared at Mai as understanding crept into her eyes. "Mai, I love you!" the other girl gushed, glomping her and hugging her hard.
"Ack!" The bracelet and its accompanying ring slipped out as Mai awkwardly returned the other girl's embrace. The sun caught the diamond and drew Chiaki's gaze to it. She stared at it and then opened her mouth to say something, but Mai was faster. She slapped her palm across Chiaki's mouth. "Quiet!" she hissed. "Don't tell anyone!"
"Why not?" the other girl asked, shoving the laser into Kyouya's hands who looked at them strangely, wondering what that had been about. Deciding it was one of those things that he just didn't want to know, he measured the last room and gave the dimensions to Mai who jotted them down after straightening her sleeve with meticulous care. Funny, he never would have pegged her for being that neat.
"Because we are on the clock, that's why," Mai said.
Day two: 9:30 a.m...
"Naru, we should both read the locket," Mai announced, handing Lin the clipboard with the measurements. The sorcerer nodded his acknowledgement, but paused upon hearing her proclamation.
Naru regarded her seriously. "Did Gene suggest that to you?" he asked carefully.
Kyouya started. Mai had said that Gene or Eugene was her spirit guide; how did Shibuya-san know about her spiritual guide. "How does Shibuya-san know about Mai-san's spirit guide?"
Naru ignored him, waiting for Mai's answer.
Mai shook her head. "Melissa suggested it, actually. Well, not you and me, but she did say that the locket had the memories that she didn't."
The young president watched her as he considered her suggestion. "Interesting," he declared. "I'm curious to know if we'd encounter the same memories. Lin."
"Yes," the sorcerer said, standing. He was intimidating in his three-piece suit and six-foot-four frame, Kyouya thought, watching the taller man stride over to their supplies and selecting something from it. Chalk, Kyouya noted incredulously. He hoped that Lin-san wasn't going to draw with it. That was precisely what he did. "Yasuhara-san, the camera, please. Let's take no chances," Lin remarked, tapping out a stick of black colored chalk, crouching down, and drawing a circle. "The best I can do is make sure that outside negativity doesn't affect you two while you attempt this," he told them, carefully inscribing some runes at the cardinal points. Lin inspected the symbols and after deciding that they'd do the job he wanted them to; he nodded to Naru and then after a brief hesitation, he nodded to Mai, as well. To Kyouya, it seemed that the Chinese man had reservations about Mai doing this, but that didn't make sense—this was part of Mai's job, wasn't it?
Carefully, Mai stepped into the circle, using a point away from the runes and waited for Naru, who joined her a second later. Lin stepped out, retrieved the locket, and nodded to Yasuhara-san to start filming. He stepped back into the circle, holding the necklace by the chain only. Looking down at the shape he'd drawn, he directed some energy into and held out the locket. Mai looked at Naru who looked back at her. He nodded and simultaneously they each grabbed the charm. Lin let it go and stepped out to observe.
The synch started immediately.
Mai stared at the note in her hand suspiciously. It was unlike Masaharu to ask for a midnight rendezvous. Especially where the construction was going on. He'd normally ask her to meet him outside the building. Then again, she thought, this might be the only way for him to meet her. Kaoru liked her, she knew, but she was also old-fashioned. The last thing she wanted was for her son to get married solely because he'd gotten a girl pregnant. She stifled a giggle at the thought and started to climb the stairs, watching her every move. The stairs had just been finished and they were still slippery with the substance the builders put on them to complete them.
"Masaharu-kun," she called softly.
Naru paced agitatedly. He hoped that Mai hadn't looked to closely at the letter or cast a spell to read its intent. If she did, he'd have to find another way. He'd be damned if he let her have him. He stopped pacing and hid when he heard her alight on the top step and call for him quietly. He almost laughed at how pathetically easy it had been. Instead, he gripped the athame that he'd nicked from her room and made his way into her line of sight.
Mai frowned at him. "What are you doing here? It's after curfew."
"I might ask you the same thing," he told her.
She shook her head. "Forget it. I'm not doing anything except going back to my room and sleeping. Maybe he couldn't get out of the house. Guess I'll have to talk to him tomorrow."
Now before she turns away, he thought, rushing forward and ramming the ritual knife into her. The sharp blade slid in easily with little to no resistance; it was so easy! He thought it would be difficult! She froze in shock and looked up at him, angry and betrayed. Bitch, he thought her heard her say. He didn't care. It was only a name and she was the one who'd betrayed him. Cruelly, he reached out and tore the locket from her neck. It belonged around his throat, anyhow. She wasn't dead yet, however. Pulling the knife out, he gave her one hard shove, sending her body tumbling down the stairs; he thought he was smiling, but he wasn't sure. Still, seeing his nemesis tumble down the stairs and landing with a sickening 'crack,' he felt nothing but joy. He tossed the locket and the athame away to clean up. He'd retrieve them later and hide them.
Naru tore himself free of the memories and dropped the locket, holding up his hands. They should have been stained with blood, he thought, looking at them. But it wasn't his hands that had killed. Mai picked the locket up and looked at it thoughtfully. She was pale, he noticed, but steady. He gave a soundless sigh and drew strength from that. If she could be steady, then he could as well.
"We got two different perspectives there," she told him. "I was Melissa. I had a note from Hashimoto about a rendezvous and I was on my way to meet him. You were Hirata, right?" she asked.
Naru nodded not quite ready to speak. "I was Hirata," he said finally. "I was thinking about how easy it had been to lure you out of your room. Later after I'd stabbed you, I was…praising myself and thinking about how easy it had been." He nodded to Lin who approached the circle and smudged some of the lines after dismissing the energies.
"But it still didn't give us an exact location," Mai said. "All I knew was that the stairwell had just been finished. I don't know where it was leading to or what they did after that. How about you?" she asked, stepping out of the destroyed circle.
"All I knew was that as Hirata I was waiting for Melissa. I'm curious to know how we got two different points of view from the locket."
"I believe there was a third party involved in that," Lin said quietly.
Naru, Mai, and Lin shared a look. They didn't need to say whom that third party had been.
"You kids look like you went to hell in a hand basket."
Naru sighed. "Tactful as ever, Detective Hirota."
He turned to face the new additions to their party. It didn't surprise Naru that Detective Hirota had accompanied Detective Genda. Lately, whenever Naru and the police were concerned, it was a safe bet that Hirota would somehow be involved. Neither Lin or Naru begrudged this; Oliver in particular didn't care so long as the detective didn't interfere. For their benefits and for the group, Mai and Naru recounted what they'd experienced with the locket; Madoka translated for Lee. Afterwards, Lee grouped together with the two detectives and they poured over the information that the S.P.R. team had assembled assessing what they had and what to do next. Genda shook his head. Cases like this weren't his specialty nor were they Hirota's.
"So... basically we're talking about a murder that's thirty years old, or thereabouts," Genda said.
Lee nodded. "That's right. As of now it's a cold case—or so we call them in America."
"A cold case. Man, you know how to pick them," Hirota remarked, glancing at Naru.
Naru shrugged. "I didn't pick this. Personally, I'd rather not work on it at all, but we we're contracted."
Hirota raised an eyebrow. "Why are you and your team here? This doesn't have a ghost hunt attached to it; as you've established, it's a murder case."
"It's both," Naru responded, crossing his arms. "The victim in question had a god on her side and that god wants her devotee's body found."
Naru shrugged. "I don't know. And frankly I'm not that curious to know, either."
Genda sighed. "Are your cases always this complicated?"
A fleeting smile ghosted on his lips. "Fortunately not. But the fact remains that we're dealing with a human crime. That's why we've involved you, Detective Genda."
"And me?" Hirota asked.
"You tagged along of your own free will. You weren't actively called by us." Naru frowned at Genda. "Neither were you, actually. As I understand it, Takigawa-san's friend contacted you about Mai being harassed by McLaughlin."
"Regardless," Lin said, cutting in before the violence could actually escalate. Really, the boy had no concept of authority. "We need them, Naru and you know it. Point of fact, you did contact Detective Genda this time. Were you two able to talk Amano-san, Detective Genda?" he asked, quickly changing the subject.
"Yeah." He shook his head still speaking in English. "I think she's almost unhinged. She must have just tried to go through the motions day after day, trying to forget; she just never managed it, hence all the medicine. For now, we've got a police officer on her and as soon as she's well, we're taking her down to the station." He sighed. "Hell of a thing—murdering a foreign student just because you think you're in love with him." Genda aimed a smile at Ayako. "I must compliment you, miko-san: I've never felt a hospital room so pure and clean."
Ayako smiled. "Thank you, detective."
"Now… let's get to work. There's only one thing I can see to do." He turned to Lee. "Where do we go from here?" Genda asked. "You're the homicide detective, murders are your bailiwick. Where do we find a body in a school and its grounds this size?"
"We start with assumptions, unfortunately," Lee said, grateful that they were speaking in English. "Lin...san?" he asked. "Did I get that right?"
Lin gave him a small smile. "You can call me Lin, Lieutenant."
"How are the blueprints coming, Lin?"
"Nearly done." He typed the last sequence and watched the program do its work. "Finished," Lin said, turning on the printer and watching it form a complex building. He handed over the blueprint to Lee, who took it.
"I don't like assumptions, but for now, it's all we have. Ms. Shizuka might need a mental evaluation and probably lot's of therapy; she's hardly an ideal witness, but she's all we have at this moment. Think The Black Cat. If, if Shizuka and Hinata murdered Melissa then it's a safe bet that it would have been in a place where they could easily conceal the body, especially if we go by what Mai and Naru have told us thus far."
"They could have buried her somewhere on the grounds," Hirota objected.
Lee shrugged, "Maybe, but it's unlikely. When Mai and Oliver touched the locket, they got the same images at the end: a body tumbling down a flight of newly finished stairs. Likely that killed her before the knife wound could. It's the recently finished stairs that tells me something crucial: it was inside a building where the construction was underway." He consulted the original blueprints and the new ones for a few minutes, weighing each option and discarding the ones that didn't work. Taking a pencil he made various markings on the original and then on the computer generated one that Lin had created.
"Where do you actually bury a body when you have a groundskeeper who's going to notice something that was disturbed?" he mused. "Its hard to dig a grave and even harder to do it silently without anyone noticing. Then there's the stench. Bodies stink when they start to decompose and that would be noticed, too. Plus the flies and other vermin that gather. No, it's more likely that Melissa's body is somewhere in the building."
"But if she's buried in a wall, wouldn't the stench be noticed?" Genda asked.
"Probably was," Lee said, nodding. "But it takes a few days for a stench like that to be noticed. Wherever she was buried was likely a wall that was finished the next day and by the time it was noticeable that something smelled, the people who were working likely thought it was a rat and simply decided not to look, especially if they had to tear down walls they'd just built."
Naru nodded. "That fits with what I'd been thinking."
Lee continued. "Then there's the assumption that the girls carried the body somewhere themselves. They couldn't have risked asking a male student for help. Biologically, girls aren't as strong as boys— even if we factor in adrenaline, it's still hard to transport a body a great distance, so it would have to be relatively close."
"Like up the stairs," Hirota commented, cottoning on. "And into whichever wall wasn't finished completely."
"Is it possible that the girls themselves finished the wall?" Mai asked. All eyes turned to her and she flushed.
"What do you mean?" Lin asked.
She scratched her cheek before answering. "Chamberlin-san said to think The Black Cat. I had to read it for my English class back in high school and one of the things I remember is that the man in question buried his wife in the wall with a cat—the cat was there by mistake and was ultimately the man's undoing, but… he buried her in a wall and finished the wall. What if they finished the wall themselves?"
Lee considered. "They might have. It might make sense. After all, desperate people can do just about anything. And if it's incorrect, who's going to notice with a coat of paint to cover the mistakes?"
They all fell silent, looking at the blue prints. All eyes focused on one place in particular. "We need to talk to the principal," Genda said.
The group traversed up the stairs and walked down the short hallway to the principal's office, the man himself in tow.
"What is this all about?" Masaharu asked eyeing the tools they carried warily.
"It's about Melissa," Naru said. "We know where she is."
Masaharu faltered for a moment and felt his throat seize up with emotions; Mai reached out, taking his hand and giving it an encouraging squeeze.
"Really?" he asked hoarsely.
"Yes," Naru responded, entering the spacious office. "I've been wondering… why is the Vice-Principal's office so far away from the Principal's?"
Masaharu smiled a bit. "My parents needed to keep up appearances."
"I see. Your father was the Vice-Principal." Naru nodded. "That makes sense." Without further ado, he went to work until he found what he needed and then nodded to his team. They set to work removing books and objects from shelves; they shifted file cabinets, but under Lin's and Ayako's stern gazes, Mai desisted from that task with Takigawa and went to help John and Chiaki empty more shelves.
"What are you doing?" Hashimoto asked exasperated. Surely this couldn't have anything to do with Melissa!
They ignored him, intent on clearing a space so they could demo out the wall. It reminded the group strongly of their case at the Prime Minister's house. For Lee it reminded him of his very first case as a homicide detective. A man had killed his wife and kid because she was going to leave him and take the child with her. He'd buried the two of them inside a closet and slapped some dry wall to hide her body. He'd hoped to never again encounter a case like that. But… best laid plans and all that. Producing a crowbar, Lin proceeded to tear the now empty shelves off the wall. The three detectives took over after that, hefting sledgehammers and beginning to break down the wall. It took some doing, but finally they'd cleared enough of a space.
Solemnly, Naru poked his head into the hole. The look on his face when he emerged said it all: they'd found her body. "Her neck was broken and, I can't be sure, but I'm pretty positive she was also stabbed. An autopsy will have to confirm that, however."
Tears ran down Hashimoto's face as he peeked into the wall. The clothing, he recognized the garments. "Melissa," he sighed brokenly. He looked at Naru and his group. "You know who did this, don't you?"
"Suspicions only," Naru told him, crossing his arms.
Hashimoto's face became a mask of rage. "Who?"
Instead of naming the culprits, Naru looked at the principal and said, "You've known for all this time. Maybe you couldn't prove it, but you knew. Don't waste my time otherwise."
"Tell me your suspicions," Genda commanded, looking at the Principal.
"Hirata Hinata-san was always... clingy. She hated Melissa with a passion that bordered obsessive. The night that Melissa died, I was visited by The Morrigan. In the background of that scene was Hinata-san and she was gloating. I couldn't prove it, but I knew she'd killed Melissa. Shizuka-san was her sidekick and whatever Hinata did, she was sure to follow and help with."
Hirota looked at Naru. "Can you find the dagger?"
"That won't be necessary," Mai said suddenly, her eyes glassy and unfocused; Hirota frowned he knew that look. "She has it on her and she's heading this way." The Morrigan was pleased, she thought dully.
Tilting his head to the side, Genda grabbed the crowbar from Lee who looked startled, and tested it. It wasn't ideal, but it would do and do a lot of damage to boot. He wasn't Hijikata Mamoru, but he wasn't a slouch, either. And he wasn't going to let a homicidal vice principal do anymore damage than she'd already done.
Mai gave a gasp of dismay that had Genda staring at her. "What?" he asked.
"Tezuka-san. She has Tezuka-san with her," she whispered.
Genda bit back an oath and tucked the crowbar away. Perfect. Of course she'd have a hostage with her. To quote his daughter: fan-freaking-tastic. He moved until he was out of sight with the door and motioned for the group to pay him no mind. He wasn't there and the person entering the door wouldn't see him either if they didn't look his way. They understood immediately and waited with baited breath for Hirata to appear. An odd crow alighted on the windowsill and looked down at the room.
Hirata appeared few moments later, roughly pushing a terrified Eri in front of her, knife digging into the girl's back, but not break the skin… yet. There was a terrible, insane light in Hinata's eyes. She looked at the gathered group in front of her.
You found her body, now get me that confession, girl! Mai winced at the command.
"Where's the other detective? There were three detectives. I see only two."
"Detective Genda had to leave," Hirota answered, keeping his eyes on the vice-principal. It wasn't the entire truth, but it wasn't completely a lie, either. "He got a call that one of his cases had gotten a break-through and left. This was just a way of killing time for him."
Genda had gotten a call, but he hadn't left completely. His fib seemed to satisfy Hirata who pushed Eri further into the room.
"Why did you kill Melissa?" Mai asked. Lin looked over at her sharply before peeking up to see The Morrigan in her crow's avatar.
"Oh, you figured that out, did you?"
Ayako rolled her eyes. "Didn't take us long, you know. But the kids practicing black magic was a nice touch."
Hinata smiled. "These stupid girls." She laughed. "They brought the locket to my attention when they knocked the shelf over and found it. I bet what Tezuka-chan here didn't tell you when you questioned her was who told her about the ghost with magic. I even warned them not to make a deal with her, knowing they wouldn't listen." Her eyes darkened. "I never expected Shizuka to get hurt, however. Melissa holds a grudge, doesn't she?"
"Why did you kill her?" Masaharu asked, looking at Eri and trying to convey for her to be ready soon. Genda was starting to make his move—inching slowly away from his hiding spot.
"Trying to encourage Tezuka-chan? She got what she deserved with that botched spell of hers, Masaharu."
His eyes narrowed. "I never gave you permission to use my given name, Hirata-sensei."
Hinata reeled back as if she'd been slapped. "No, you didn't," she murmured. "In fact, you wouldn't give me the time of day. It was always Melissa this, Melissa that. Made me sick, especially to see your mother's locket around her throat. A filthy foreigner marrying you, whose family went back to the Edo era; it was… pathetic, really."
"You killed her for that?" Mai asked incredulously.
She bared her teeth at Mai and this time, the knife found purchase in Eri's skin. The girl cried out. She merely shook Eri and sunk the blade deeper until the girl's cries became whimpers. "I did. I loved you, Masaharu. I knew that if I didn't get rid of Melissa, you'd make a mistake that you'd regret for the rest of your life. So we—no, here I'll take full credit— I stabbed her and pushed her down the stairs that lead up to this very office. It was ridiculously easy, you see. Shizuka planted a note from Masaharu—back in her younger days, she was quite good at forging signatures and what not—and lured Melissa to the unfinished principal's office. Our argument commenced and I stabbed her with the very ritual knife that she used in her magic mumbo-jumbo. I danced when I saw that she was dead.
"After that, Shizuka and I carted her up the stairs, stuffed her into the wall and completed the wall. It was easy. My father had been in construction for years before starting his own business, so I knew quite a lot about building materials and how to use them. I'm not shabby with tools, either. The one problem was that Kaoru suspected Shizuka and me. She made it a point to dog our very steps, interfering bitch. It made hiding Melissa's stuff and spreading the rumor of her running away very difficult. But in the end, we managed. And you, Masaharu, you never suspected."
"No, I wouldn't say I never suspected," the principal responded quietly, surreptitiously watching Genda sidle closer and closer. "The night Melissa died, I was visited by The Morrigan. I saw Melissa die," he said embellishing the story he'd told Naru and the others earlier. "I couldn't prove it, but I knew it was you who'd killed my beloved."
A loud, disturbing caw sounded in the room, startling Hinata. Genda took that chance and swung the crowbar at the arm controlling the knife. With a sickening 'crack,' Hinata dropped the knife and screeched in pain, reeling away from Eri. Lin grabbed the student and hauled her away from crazed vice-principal.
No! It couldn't be over so easily! she thought. In a frenzy, Hinata dove for the knife as it clattered to the floor. Genda kicked it away from the grasping fingers of her unbroken arm and settled one booted foot on her good hand; she looked up and saw him glaring down ruthlessly at her, crowbar hanging over his shoulder like a sword. It was over, she knew.
"Hirata Hinata-san, I arrest you," he said.
Hirota sprang to help, pulling handcuffs from his belt. "Don't move," he told her when she started to struggle. It was awkward and painful, but Genda and Hirota managed to get her hands together and cuffed.
"Leave the rest to us," Hirota told Naru. "We'll take it from here. You did good, Davis- Hakase."
Naru's lips twitched into a grin before he turned to his team. "Let's get out of here. We have a Southern Belle to get rid of. No more cases until Annabelle's gone."
Mai smiled and then looked up at where The Morrigan sat. She closed her eyes and projected her thoughts. We found her and got your confession, Morrigan-sama. I hope that helps Melissa. I truly don't need a boon. Knowing that she'll be at peace now is enough for me.
I will still reward you, child. The Morrigan keeps Her promises.
As you wish, Mai thought. "Yeah, let's go. I'm tired of having Annabelle in my body. It's time to get rid of her once and for all."
A/N: We're getting down to the wire. In the next chapter, McLaughlin is back on American soil once again and in deep trouble. The unresolved conflict between Naru and Hashimoto will end, and I can't give the rest away.
Hope you enjoyed and I'm sorry it took me so long. I had a severe drought for ideas. That darn Charlie. I actually need him back! *sigh*