18 HOURS LATER
Mai released a sigh of utmost pleasure as the hot water of the onsen soaked deeply into her bones. The pain from her pulled muscle in her left leg had numbed from the moment she'd sunk into the hot springs.
This was just what she needed after the hour long staring match she'd had with the children. Rika-san's children had been hospitalised, thankfully amnesiac of the past events, and Ayami had managed trapped Yukito-chan's spirit in a bottle before Octavia had whisked it away. Almost one day and several reassuring conversations later, they'd relocated to another hotel (this one, belonging to the five or six star leagues, according to Ayako) and Naru had promised them a night off before they headed home the following morning.
Their group had split long ago, males heading to the right whilst females were left to move in the opposite direction. Masako had excused herself, opting for the masseuse's services. Ayako had chosen to accompany the medium, rather than Mai and Ayami, and Mai couldn't help but feel a tad bit despondent when she remembered the look both her friends had given her when their group had finally found her with Yukito-chan. Ayami had attempted – in her own way – to comfort Mai, assuring her that everything would be back to normal soon enough, and Mai supposed her cousin was right.
The private onsen that Ayami had been offered was nothing short of heaven. A room had actually been constructed around their corner of the spring, three walls of stone concealing their nude states. Bamboo trees stood tall in her vision, so even though the final wall was made of glass, it was quite obvious that they were quite secluded.
Even the employees had left not long ago, right after receiving affirmation from Ayami that the temperatures were right and offering setting aside an array of kimonos and towels for their eventual use.
Mai had never seen – let alone experienced – such reverence, but Ayami had taken it with casual indifference, as though twenty people bowing respectfully to her was nothing novel. But maybe it wasn't, Mai supposed, watching her cousin's still state.
"Ayami?" Mai called hesitantly, not wishing to interrupt her cousin of the latter was truly resting. The onsen was, after all, where one went when they wanted to relax, but there were a few questions Mai wanted to ask about their latest case. She wasn't even sure when she'd become so dependent of her cousin, relying on her to answer all Mai's queries. Mai supposed, though, that no matter how many questions she asked, Ayami never seemed annoyed – unlike her employer – so Mai's increasing reliance on Ayami wasn't exactly unreasonable.
Mai could almost hear the indulging smile in Ayami's tone as she replied, "Yes, Mai?"
She hesitated, not quite sure how to phrase the question. "What do you intend on doing with Yukito-chan's spirit?"
"What do you think I'm going to do with him?" Ayami countered. Sweat marred her brows, but Mai could tell that her cousin was utterly relaxed. Mai had never seen Ayami so… peaceful.
"Don't worry about him, Mai. I'll help him move along soon enough. You, on the other hand, need to work on those abilities of yours. Daily meditation will ensure that you're not so exhausted the next time you use your powers."
The underlying intonations could be heard, but Mai didn't let it bother her. It wasn't the first time someone had chastised her for not doing homework, and it was hard to feel bad when it was Ayami.
Instead, she moved onto another topic.
"Thank you for buying the inn and finding Rika-san a way out, Ayami. She'll be really happy when she receives the money and gets out of here."
Her cousin shrugged dismissively, her eyes still closed. "Don't thank me – the funds came out of your trust fund, not mine. Though what you plan to do with a run-down, previously-haunted hotel is beyond me."
There was a dismissal in that last statement that undoubtedly hinted that that topic was closed. Unfortunately, Mai wasn't done yet.
"Ayami?" Mai tried again, wincing when she realised she sounded like a broken record.
Again, Ayami graced her with another humouring smile. "Hm?"
"There was someone there when I was taken."
If she hadn't been watching her cousin's face so closely, Mai would have missed the slight slip in her composure. The slight, flicker of change was all Mai needed to know that there was more to the woman than what her cousin was going to let on.
"I'll deal with her," Ayami said calmly.
Mai blinked a few times as her brain tried to look at the multiple ways in which that sentence could be interpreted. She wasn't quite sure what it was Ayami meant, Mai chose not to respond to the statement.
"Ayami, I've seen her before. Remember, when we were at MimisakiRaidon's mansion? There was a woman there that talked to me – she was asking me about you, remember? And then—"
Her cousin's snort interrupted her tirade. "She wasn't asking about me, I can assure you on that one."
Ayami had opened her eyes at last, but she hadn't bothered looking Mai's way. Instead, she was watching the water cascaded off the rocks to the left.
"Then who is she?" Mai asked, knowing that in this mood, Ayami wouldn't offer any information, but she wouldn't not answer Mai if Mai managed to ask the right questions.
"It's who she was, that's actually of relevance. But I can only tell you what she is now: one of the guardians of the Underworld that have ventured to Earth more times than she's meant to."
Mai frowned, but before she could interrupt, Ayami continued.
"As the Caecilius Clan predominately monitors the elemental nature of supernatural creatures on Earth, yes, I do know all about her. And that's why you don't have to worry. Like I said, cousin – I'll deal with her."
Mai thought back to the expression on the woman's face. There was a bleak, eerie look of yearning that she had set over her features. Her eyes seemed so sad, even when Mai had seen her again. Mai felt as though the woman was waiting - and yearning – for something that she couldn't have. And if she felt that way in death even, then wasn't that incredibly sad?
She voiced her thoughts to her cousin, who merely shrugged.
"It doesn't matter how sad she looks. She doesn't belong here."
"If I were to die without child, you would be the next person to carry on the responsibility of our family line. By all rights, you, as my heiress, should have sent her back then and there. Had your powers been apt and this clan intact, you would have been punished for not doing so."
Mai hadn't known that. She'd always assumed that the Caecilius Clan was, well, more for show than not.
Ayami smiled lightly. "It's a touchy subject, my job. Let's not get into a talk about it, okay?" Ayami swept a look around the room, and Mai felt a touch of guilt when she realised that the repose Ayami should have gained from the hot springs was absent, undoubtedly due to the conversation they'd just had.
"Shall we head out?" Ayami suggested. "I'm due for a meeting with your Naru soon. Impatient as he is on this topic, I wouldn't put it pass him to barge in here while we're bathing. I'm assuming you wouldn't like that?"
Mai almost grimaced. Really, did her cousin even have to ask?
"The case is closed."
The conclusiveness in Naru's tone left no room for misinterpretation, and he stated the fact as soon as Mai poured the tea for them. Naru looked rather out of place, his black suit contrasting to the kimonos worn by everyone else in the room, but that hadn't deterred him from stepping into the resting area. Even Ayami was wearing a kimono (though it was a little different to everyone else's in the room) and Mai could tell by the expression on Ayami's face that she was really enjoying herself.
"That's a nice summarisation," she drawled, "but what's your point?"
Naru's face remained surprisingly stoic despite her deliberate provocation. The words that rolled off his tongue, however, were anything but pleasant.
"I've never thought of you as imbecilic. Please don't try to change my mind."
Rather than be insulted, Ayami snorted. "Such a charming little misanthropist," Ayami murmured. "He really warms the heart, you know?"
Mai shook her head, though she had no idea what a misanthropist was. "Maybe you shouldn't provoke him," Mai chided softly.
"Maybe he should be nicer."
"Ayami," Mai hushed warningly.
Her cousin shrugged uncaringly. Clearly, nothing was going to change between her and Naru and Mai's dread deepened when she saw a slow, vindictive smile slowly edge on the corner of Ayami's lips.
Ayami sipped her tea calmly and she continued, speaking to Mai as though Naru wasn't even there. "I must admit, holding something like this over his head brings me great joy. It makes me more than reluctant to relinquish the information."
If looks could kill, Ayami would have died ten times over now. Mai stifled her nervous giggles, knowing that her cousin was only joking.
Well, hoping, actually.
"I'll give you a call next week."
Naru wasn't impressed. "Don't speak in riddles. Domjouji-san, we had an agreement. In exchange for the completion of this case-"
"I believe I was the one that captured Yukito in the end, not you, which means you received aid from me. That means that the conditions of our contract were not fully met."
The look on Naru's face told Mai that he was exceptionally unamused by her comment. "You are the one that wanted that spirit."
"Did I?" Ayami mused, a thoughtful finger pressed against her lip. "Nah, I don't think I did."
"Ayami," Mai pressed.
Mai looked towards Ayami and Naru again. Both of them were always so perfect, so brilliant, and so knowledgeable. The only thing they had against them, really, was their way with people. Mai really did feel as though she was continuously surrounded by extraordinary people. Why then, were they so incredibly anti-social that others actually grimaced in their presence? Naru, at least, was more diplomatic than Ayami at times, but his way with people was still a little lacking.
"Fine," her cousin conceded, sparing Mai a complaisant smile, only to have it turn wry when she turned to Naru.
"From what I know, your brother was involved in a car accident when he came to Japan to study Shinto-styled exorcisms. He was run over by a woman driving a red car. Then, she ran over him again for good measure to make sure that he wouldn't survive."
Mai's eyes widened in horror. What?
Naru, however, seemed unimpressed by Ayami's dialogue. "You're not telling me anything I don't already know," Naru intoned with a touch of impatience.
Mai's eyes turned over to Naru this time. Again, what?!
Ayami, though, seemed completely unaffected by the information she had to deliver, and merely shrugged. "I tracked down your brother's murderer and she is currently in my possession. From there, I had my people follow the breadcrumbs and we've been able to locate his body. It's at a hospital somewhere – I've forgotten the location, unfortunately."
"Why would his body be left in a morgue for so long?" Naru asked the question so matter-of-factly that Mai never would have believed that he was speaking about his brother's murder if she hadn't been here for the entire conversation. Like Ayami, he spoke as though it were just any other case. It was perturbing, she noted warily, how placid he was at the moment.
"If I told you, that'd ruin all the surprises now, wouldn't it?"
Mai groaned loudly. Even now, her cousin's mischief knew no bounds.
Before Mai had a chance to voice her censure, Ayami's face sobered, losing its sardonic smile. "I'm heading home tomorrow morning. After I find wherever it is I left the files, I'll fax them to you. Your brother's physical location will be available to you within the next three days. You can easily explore the hospital under pretence of working a case. It seems your brother's presence has affected the balance of supernatural entities within that hospital."
"Until then," Ayami continued, this time turning to Mai, "you should probably try to get in as much rest as possible."
Ayami picked up the tea pot herself this time before Mai had a chance to help her and poured her own tea. She clasped both hands against the warm cup and closed her eyes, clearly in attempt to relax.
Naru, on the other had, appeared lost in his own thoughts and Mai figured that he was probably thinking about his brother. While she was happy that Naru would finally get his answers, she wondered, really, as to what would happen after Naru found his brother? She'd be lying if she said she'd never thought of what would follow.
Would Naru return to England after it was all over? But surely not. He'd founded SPR, after all. If he really did return to Europe, he'd come back to Japan again, wouldn't he? Naru wouldn't migrate all together – if he did, it Mai might never see him again.
That wasn't exactly a prospect that she welcomed.
Ayami's eyes opened. Her cousin's mouth formed a perfect 'o', drawing everyone's attention back to her. "Oh - there is one other thing I forgot to mention. That hospital you're heading to?A member of its board is part of the Miharu Family."
Her cousin tsked with a roll of eyes. "Have fun dealing with another family of the Five."
September 9th, 2013: Okay, this is obviously not the chapter you were quite expecting, but honestly - I am SO sick of Mirror. I really, REALLY want to move on to Cursed. So yeah, I'm sorry that this one was a bit of a disappointment.