Author's Note: I don't really think this was one of my best, mostly because I think I've lost the voice of the characters, and some of this was written when I wasn't really feeling it (but then, if I hadn't trekked through, I never would have finished at all, so...), still, the story finally reached the conclusion I wanted for it, so I am happy with that. (Honestly, I'm just thrilled I finished it. This is the second chaptered story I have ever finished, and most definitely the longest to date. XD)

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Chapter Ten
And Drawing the Darkness Together
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Shinichi knew the empty spaces in his head weren't from shock (because if he'd ever gone into shock in his life, even for a moment, he would have never been able to crawl back out), but from the patience (or, maybe, impatience?) of knowing he didn't have all the clues and he simply had to wait for the rest to reveal themselves to him.

They hadn't driven very far from where the renegade officers had dumped the bodies of two dead cops. Had only driven as long as it had taken for the last of the purples and blues to fade into black in the sky - no more than an hour, more likely than not - before the car was slowing down again, this time outside a building Shinichi didn't recognize.

To a casual observer, the building would have appeared just as old as the rest of the buildings in the town, but to Shinichi's eyes, little discrepancies gave the building away as being only as old as the viewer wanted it to be. The windows had been treated to look dirty and dimmed, while the wall had too few pieces of paint ripped off to actually be peeling. Someone had wanted the building to be innocuous and Shinichi supposed to most people it was.

Whatever had been going on in that building, the rest of the village would not have approved, if they knew. Shinichi, if he survived, had to admit he was going to a certain amount of pleasure out of revealing it to them and having these two cops and whoever they were with locked up for a good, long time.

Morishige's door opened first. The officer's back was to Shinichi, and as such, he couldn't see the man's expression, but Morishige's shoulders were tensed. More tense than they had been when he shot his fellow officer. From the turn of his head, Shinichi gathered he was looking at the building. There was a certain... reluctance to his actions again. It only served to put the teenage detective on high alert.

Whatever the man's expression might have been, it was gone when he turned to Shinichi's door. The tension smoothing away as he watched, and that horrible look of determination filling the empty spaces behind Morishige's eyes.

"Do you need help with him?" Tozawa. Shinichi heard, more than saw, him opening his door. There was a sound of gravel at his feet when he got out.

Shinichi was fully prepared to put up a fight - but only when the time was right. He was certain that showed perfectly on his face by the way that Morishige's eyes narrowed.

"Nah, I've got him. Stay close, either way." Morishige's lips tightened, before the corners crooked up into a smirk that was mostly for show, but was still a promise. "Shoot if he runs, but make sure not to kill."

Shinichi knew just enough about torture - if that's, in fact, what they wanted to do but if so, what was the point - to know that the more they wanted you alive, the deeper trouble you were in.

He didn't put up a fight as Morishige dragged him from the back of the car. Morishige either didn't care, or notice (which he doubted), that Shinichi was studying the area as the officer marched him towards the building. He couldn't be sure, but if he were to guess, Shinichi would have said they weren't actually all that far from the police station. Far enough away to be from prying eyes, but still close enough that if they ever needed to be back in a hurry, Morishige and Tozawa would never be that far away from the job.

Risky, but he could see it's perks.

The building itself wasn't a warehouse like the other surrounding buildings, but it was definitely of the sort. It looked no more used than any of the others, beyond the fact that the lights were on in this one. Shinichi couldn't see any shadows in the windows, but it left him with the possibility that more people were involved. If there were, then this could be much worse than he feared.

It turned out that it was.

...And it wasn't. Shinichi wasn't sure what he was expecting when Morishige and Tozawa dragged him through the door, but it wasn't this.

People - not a lot, there wasn't more than a dozen of them - stood around whispering and murmuring, until they all fell into silence as they turned to face the door. Shinichi searched their faces, not recognizing any of them; saw their fear, their hesitation, but no surprise. They were expecting someone for this, and if they recognized him for being anything other than just a teenager caught up in their plans, it wasn't going to stop them.

It was because of this that he didn't bother to point out that they could - he was hoping they would - get caught. Barely thought about the tracer he knew was still on him.

It was only relevant if Kaito managed to win back his body, a little voice whispered from the darker parts of him mind.

Tozawa stepped past them, addressing no one in particular as he stated, "They're not here." He didn't sound particularly happy with this observation.

Shinichi glanced at him, curiously. More people were coming? The two officers were enough for making a point, while the others present were more than enough for sport, or torture, or whatever they wanted. Any more and this would begin to feel like a gathering.

Well. More so.

A woman stepped forward. She was young - they all were, he noticed - and she looked liked she had lived a life as precisely as hard as she had. Her dark eyes briefly passed over Shinichi without really seeing him, and she turned her attention on Tozawa. "She called ahead of time. They'll be arriving soon." Her hands twitched, and her lips pursed with an emotion the teenage detective couldn't place. "She warned this might be too soon."

Someone scowled behind her. A third voice rose sharply in response to hush them, but a second woman, older than the one who had responded to Tozawa, stepped forward anyway. "Just how much longer does she really need? We already have everything we need-" At this, she pointed in Shinichi's and the officers' general direction, "-What more does she need?"

The first woman turned on her, but not before Shinichi caught a glimpse of her baring her teeth in anger. "Whatever she needs, Imagawa. She is the one in charge here, not us. Or do you want to do this and it mean nothing?"

Whatever expression had been on her face when she had turned on Imagawa had been enough to make her take a step back. The words were apparently enough to silence her, if only so much. Imagawa glared at the woman, but stepped back into the group.

The turning of her head from one side to the other suggested the woman might be looking them over. It was more the slight ease of the tension of her shoulders than the tone in her voice that gave away the possible softening of her anger. "It's almost time. Soon, it won't matter what the rest of the village thinks - we'll be free." She gestured to the room. "There's much to be done. We should do it."

The group only looked like they might protest, looking between themselves and the woman. In the end, they backed down without a word, moving back and splitting up to the different parts of the room.

The woman herself turned, and when her eyes met his, Shinichi thought it might have been accidentally. She seemed to sort of start, the whites of her eyes clearly visible for a moment, and then she looked to Morishige and Tozawa. Shinichi sacrificed whatever may have passed over her face to get a glimpse of Tozawa's response was: a nod, recognition, like he knew she knew something and when she shook her head, it didn't matter that she did-

She recognized Shinichi. Judging from her initial reaction, she had been surprised that he was there for... whatever this was.

He looked back at her in time to see the horror in her eyes, as she turned away from them, a little too quickly, to attend to her own duties.

Shinichi narrowed his eyes, and he could feel the frown on his face, but it was nothing to the frustration he felt.

Morishige's hands were like a second pair of cuffs, holding him in place, but once again not restricting him from examining his surroundings. Whatever they had planned for him, they were waiting for at least two other people to arrive, and he hoped that maybe something in their tasks would give a clue as to what they were planning.

The building had been hollowed out, sometime in the last decade, and while it hadn't been ever refitted for every day use, it didn't have the look of some place that had been truly abandoned. If Shinichi had to hazard a guess, he'd say that at least some of these people had been using this place for, possibly, meetings of some sort for months, maybe years. The beams were still solid and strong, even if they showed a little age. It was a sturdy building which would continue to be so, in a place where no one would think to look for them. A perfect hiding place.

Shinichi looked to the nearest group of people - they were the only ones moving around. They were bringing in what appeared to be fire wood from outside. He blinked and pondered the action. There weren't any places to contain a fire in the building. No need for the heat, so why the wood? Unless they had other uses for it?

He filed the information away for later, and looked to the group farthest away. Several of the people were crouched, their backs to him, and whispering in voices too low to hear the tone, let alone the words. The woman who had recognized him was amongst this group, and Shinichi could see her hands moving as she talked. As he watched, one of the group said something, and her response, whatever it was, apparently required her to move around enough that Shinichi was able to see what they were crouched around.

It... It was-

Shinichi squinted, committed the image to memory, even as the woman moved back. An alter. That was most definitely an alter. Not the kind for such things like human sacrifices, but a small, genuine stone alter that reminded Shinichi of the ones he'd seen Wiccans and Witches use in their rituals. He had even caught a glance of fresh candles and colored stones adorning it's top.

Shinichi took a deep breath, remembered to breathe, as he realized... He looked at the group again, and remembered his earlier assessment.

This had seemed like a gathering, because it absolutely was a gathering. A cult gathering.

And did that mean, perhaps, their tardy leader was the 'missing' Inaba?

A soft, trilling cut through the dim chatter between the groups, and all of them instantly stopped to look for the source of the noise. The woman who'd reprimanded Imagawa, pulled a cell phone from her pocket and flipped it open.

"Hello?" She paused to listen to the person on the other line. She nodded, once. Shinichi couldn't see her face to gauge her emotional reaction, but he could see the shift in her body language immediately.

Tension releasing as a different, 'better' tension was building. Contained excitement. She was hearing good news.

Something was about to happen.

"Yes, right away." She flipped the phone shut, pausing as she gathered herself. "They're on their way now. The finishing touches must be done. Now." The other members of the group nodded and hurried back to their tasks.

The woman, however, didn't. Instead, she looked clear over Shinichi's head, addressing Morishige. "Directions were given that he be prepared as well. Any of them will do. After tonight, this building isn't important."

Shinichi could feel the pull in the officer's arms as he nodded. Shinichi frowned as Morishige tugged him further into the room. Prepared him? Prepared him for what? And what did she mean, the building didn't matter? Did they mean that it didn't matter that it would be compromised? It sounded too final a statement to be that simple. It almost sounded like they planned to destroy the building before the night was over.

Shinichi gritted his teeth against Morishige dragging him roughly towards one of the support beams (if he survived the night, his arms were going to be bruised in some interesting ways). It didn't take a genius to figure out that the officer intended to secure him to the beam, even before he started reaching for the keys.

Shinichi weighted the pros and cons of attempting to make a run for it, keeping his face as blank as possible, as Morishige unlocked one of the cuffs, the position becoming prime for an escape attempt.

Cold, hard pressure against the his temple. Tozawa, he could him see out of the corner of his eye, and what could only be the officer's gun. A warning. He had read him easily.

Inwardly, Shinichi contended the man a point.

Morishige tightened the cuffs back around Shinichi's wrists, securing him to the beam. The cuffs were just a tad bit too tight, and Shinichi knew that they were going to leave more marks when they came off.

Both officers backed away, although Tozawa failed holster his gun. He kept it ready, eyes watching Shinichi like a hawk, just waiting for the teen to try anything funny. Although Shinichi was getting the feeling that the man didn't actually intend to kill him, it left little comfort. There were so many ways one could shoot a man, and make it hurt, without even requiring a trip to a hospital for stitches.

Shinichi turned back to the followers, contending himself to be patient. He would have his answers, he knew, and then he'd make his escape.

He didn't have long to wait. As Shinichi was working ways to get to his lock picks, the main door opened and, sure enough, in walked the allegedly missing Inaba Norime. She, he had been expecting, but it was the person who entered behind her that shocked him, even if it really shouldn't have.

Amago Kore, Inaba's fiancé.

Shinichi stared, eyes narrowing. Kore was in on this, too? Although, if he thought about it, he supposed he shouldn't have been shocked. The man would have had to have been blind not to have known what she was into before he proposed to her. It wasn't like she kept it a secret or anything. Everyone in the town knew about it. Even he and Kaito, the two outsiders, knew.

He just wasn't sure whether or not he should admire Kore for standing by her, regardless, especially under the circumstances. If they hadn't kidnapped him for some nefarious purpose, he would have thought this sounded oddly like his own story with Kaito.

The woman who'd answered the phone, stood immediately, and greeted them as they entered. There appeared to be genuine affection on her face, and, Shinichi thought, a little awe and no little amount of devotion. This woman wasn't just a follower, she believed with all her heart in what they was doing.

"Welcome back, Norime-san. We have everything set, and have been waiting for you." She bowed, as she spoke, eyes lowering in respect.

Inaba smiled, eyes soft with mutual affection. "Thank you, Sonoda-san." She looked over all of them, eyes sweeping over Shinichi without stopping to really see him. "Thank you, all of you. Without all of our hard work, we could have never managed this."

She stepped further into the room, her gaze finally coming to a halt on Shinichi. Shinichi was honestly surprised to see not a hint of insanity in her eyes. Only firm determination. He thought he could see a little sorrow. "Just a little longer, everyone, and this will all be over."

Cryptic. And the same words 'Sonoda' had said. Shinichi mind tossed and turned the line around, unable not to wonder what they needed to be freed from, and if kidnapping and murder was worth it.

Inaba followed Sonoda over to the alter, and what Shinichi could hear of their murmuring, they sounded like they were going over the final instructions of a spell. The detective unconsciously licked his lips as a foreboding fell over him, every instinct warning him to flee, his need for answers be damned.

It was all too familiar a feeling, and far too easy to push aside.

Out of the corner of his eye, he could see movement, and for the briefest of moments he thought he saw...

Shinichi froze, the hairs on the back of his neck raising. There was... That wasn't a ghost. It wasn't anything like it. For a moment, he thought he had seen something straight out of a fantasy novel: something inhuman, with fur and honest to god horns. But when Shinichi jerked around to face it, eyes widened, heart pounding from a fear he couldn't name, all he saw was... Kore.

He looked around the room, almost desperate to reassure himself. That he had seen something; that he hadn't, he didn't know, but that couldn't have been a figment of his imagination... could it?

He turned back to Kore, blinking and knowing he was staring, but he didn't really care. He had seen something, he knew it, but where...?

He narrowed his eyes, and concentrated on the spaces around the man, not seeing anything for a beat, two, three-

There. For just a second, a single heart beat, it was like reality had borrowed the special effects right out of a movie. The air seemed to shift and warp until he could see the creature, demonic in nature, with it's black fur and large, thick horns, somehow too big and just the right size to fit into a single human being.

It was real. It was as real as he and everything in the room was.

Then the image was gone and all that was left was just plain, old Kore.

Shinichi shivered, whether from the cool breeze on his skin, or some base level of fear, he didn't know. That was too much. Ghosts were already too much, but that... That wasn't anything he had seen before. Some instinct told him he didn't want to ever see something like that again, for as long as he lived.

"You're..." Shinichi swallowed, not meaning to have said the word aloud, and shifted as Kore's gaze met his. There was nothing unusual in the other man's face, just as there hadn't been in the hotel lobby that morning. The man blinked at him, as if he were surprised that Shinichi had spoken to him, before he seemed to pause. Shinichi could see understanding forming in the man's eyes, and he wondered what was in his own.

Kore approached them, with all the ease of a man who knew that there was something dangerous in the room, but it posed him no threat whatsoever. As he stopped in front of Shinichi, a pleasant had taken the place of confusion in his expression.

"You can see the ghosts like my little Norime-chan can, can't you."

Shinichi frowned, not getting why the man would be interested, let alone talking to him. As he mulled the question over, he realized that it hadn't been posed as a question at all. Kore already knew he could. Had Inaba told him?

Kore stepped closer, looking him up and down, as if sizing him up. It didn't take much to deduct that the man was amused that Shinichi was in such a position - an exact opposite of their little game of question and answering from earlier. Shinichi didn't want to let the man see him as anything other than calm and collected, despite the cuffs, and struggled to regain his composure.

Morishige raised a hand between Shinichi and Kore, as the latter came within arms length of the former. "Careful. He could still to be a problem."

Kore sent the man a side long look. "He poses me no threat. Unless you don't think you can protect me?"

The officer snorted, nearly sneering at the man's arrogance. He still lowered his arm, allowing Kore to take the last few steps until he was bordering on invading Shinichi's personal space.

"What did you see, that scared you a moment ago, Medium-sama?"

Shinichi considered him, noting that Kore had referred to him as a person that could channel spirits. To his understanding, Mediums weren't just people that could see spirits, but call upon them and allow them access to the living world through their own bodies. Did Kore know about Ishimaru and the possessions? Or was he just making a general assumption based on Inaba's own personal experiences?

He searched the man's expression and realized that, yes, somehow, someway, the man did know. Or thought he knew. Either way, Shinichi didn't particularly feel like playing any games with him.

Kore was undeterred by Shinichi's silence. There was a dare in his expression, and Shinichi wondered what the man wanted from him.

"Can you see me, with those eyes of yours?"

Shinichi shook his head, glaring at him. "I don't know what you could be referring to, Amago-san. All I see is you."

Kore tsk'ed, but didn't seem disappointed by his response. If anything, he just seemed a little... bemused. Just another part of the game. "Come, now. Surely the great Kudo Shinichi isn't afraid a little question truefully." He leaned forward until they were almost nose to nose, his breath warm against Shinichi face. "I know you saw it."

Shinichi leaned back, narrowing his eyes, but unconsciously looking again. Looking for that thing he had seen, even when he knew he shouldn't have. Shinichi intended to keep his mouth shut, to tell him again that he didn't have a clue, but...

There it was. Like the after image of staring at the object too long. Again, he could see it, just for a moment.

Shinichi swallowed, and nearly verbally told his heart to stop pounding so hard. "Amago-san..." He shook his head, clearing his mind of the images. He focused on Kore, eyes hard. "You're not Amago-san, are you?"

Kore smiled. A slow, disturbing thing, that curled his lips at the edges. He looked to the two officers and waved them off with a gesture. They appeared as if they wanted to protest, but whatever they saw in Inaba's fiancé's expression was enough to have them biting their tongues and moving out of immediate earshot. Shinichi had no doubt that if Kore called them back, they'd hear him and come running back in an instant.

Kore turned back to Shinichi, and it was easy to see the man- the thing, no, the man - was pleased with him. "When did you figure it out, Medium-sama? That I'm not the real Amago Kore?"

Shinichi shook his head, not getting what was going on at all. "Just a few minutes ago." He didn't feel like beating around the bushes anymore. "What are you?"

Kore chuckled. "Direct, but I can work with that. Come now, little Medium, you're a detective, what do you think I am? I promise to tell you, even if you can't guess."

Shinichi didn't actually roll his eyes, but he certainly wanted to. He supposed he could play this game for a short time. It certainly would keep Kore from noticing he'd managed to get to his lock picks.

"A demon."

Kore snapped his fingers, and whistled. "Oooh, close enough, but it will do. Yes, I'm something like a 'demon', possessing the body of the Amago Kore."

Shinichi blinked, processing the words. Seriously? Kore was actually (something like? What did that even mean?) a demon? Then... demon's were real?

It sent his mind reeling and he wondered what he was more shocked over: the fact that they were real or the fact that there was a real demon in front of him. It seemed unthinkable, that demons could be real, that he had never seen one before, and he it left him wondering what else out there was real.

Wait, had he said 'possessing', as in Amago Kore wasn't really some demon in disguise and this demon was actually possessing the real Amago's body? Shinichi's mind flashed to the helplessness of knowing that he himself had been possessed, not once, but twice, and the horrible things he had done, and he couldn't imagine what it would be like to be a victim of a real demonic possession.

He bared his teeth in a snarl before he could stop himself. "What's happened to the real Amago Kore?" He couldn't imagine what it would like to be possessed long term.

Kore crossed his arms, actually looking affronted. "Don't pitch me in with a common ghost possession. This is hardly the same. But since you're so worried: the real Amago Kore is dead."

Shinichi's eyes widened, and he stole a glance at Inaba. "Does she know-" He stopped, catching the expression on Not-Kore's face. Something about it, told him, "She already knows." He narrowed his eyes, following the deduction to its next logical point. "She summoned you."

Kore nodded, and clapped his hands twice. "Very good. Can you guess how we came to be like this?"

It was a challenge, but Kore seemed to be genuinely curious if he could guess it. Shinichi searched his mind for anything he knew about summoning demons. He had read about blood sacrifices, just to have the knowledge if it ever came up, and other things like it. But he had never read anything about people calling demons to possess the dead.

Unless... "This wasn't planned?" When Kore nodded his head, Shinichi grasped around for anything else. He didn't like guessing, but there wasn't enough there to be sure of anything. "What went wrong when she summoned you?"

Kore 'hm'ed. "I suppose we have a moment or two for a little story. Three months ago, Amago Kore was killed in a traffic accident. Tragic story, really. He had been on his way to a jewelry store a town over to buy a ring for little Norime-chan. On the way back, he was killed in a hit and run. Driver was never caught." Something dark glinted in the thing's eyes. "By the police, anyway."

Shinichi hissed. "You killed the driver, didn't you?"

"Yes." No shame, but no pleasure either. It was too base for the thing wearing Kore's skin to acknowledge. "But that's skipping a chapter, Medium-sama. Little Norime-chan heard about it, and she went a little insane. Apparently decided when she couldn't find Kore's ghost that she didn't want to see any ghosts. But instead of burying away her gift, she decided to rid Hananomashi of all it's ghosts. Which is where I come into the picture."

Shinichi thought back to the ghosts he and Kaito had seen passing them while looking for Ishimaru. Of the call that had nearly taken Kaito with it. "The disappearing ghosts... that was you."

Kore nodded. "Yes. You see, when Norime-chan summoned me, she nearly botched the ritual. To tell you the truth, I don't think she'd ever done something that high level. Didn't understand summoning me came at a high price."

"And this... 'price', lead to you possessing Amago-san's body."

"Amago Kore was still the person she treasured most, even in death. She nearly backed out of the deal, when she finally understood what the price was, but in the end... she agreed."

So, Inaba had sold out the man she loved, in a way. Shinichi inwardly sneered at the woman. How could she bear to do such a thing, and desecrate Kore's memory in such a degree? It was just... sickening. Absolute madness, and just sickening.

If all this had happened three months ago, then that meant, "You still proposed to her."

"Remembered that, didn't you?" Kore waved a hand. "All an act. I think she's blocked it from her mind what her beloved Amago Kore really is, and personally, I just like messing with her." He laughed, seriously amused. "She's too much fun to play with!"

Shinichi's expression hardened. He didn't feel an ounce of sympathy for Inaba, she had dug her own grave, but while they were telling stories, he had to know the answer to his biggest burning question: "What does this all have to do with me?"

Kore's laughter ended with a startled note. "You... You really don't know?" He blinked at Shinichi. "None of these foolish little people told you?"

The detective didn't react, merely let the thing draw it's own conclusions. Kore placed a hand against his forehead, hand sliding down his face as he chuckled, helplessly. "They really didn't tell you. Well, I'll just have to give you a clue." Kore leaned back in, this time going so far as to whisper in Shinichi's ear.

"The ritual isn't complete."

Shinichi drew back. He looked past Kore to the alter, and then back to Kore, mind mulling over the information. When Kore straightened, his expression was of someone patiently waiting for a child to figure out the question all on their own. He felt Shinichi had all the pieces, now all he had to do was figure them out.

This was all to rid Hananomachi of it's ghost infestation. Inaba had summoned the demon to do so, but something had clearly gone wrong - why else would there still be so many ghosts left in the town? Obviously, this all had something to do with him, although he couldn't quite figure out what-

Wait. The summoning had gone wrong. They had dragged him, Shinichi, out into an abandoned building. They were preparing him for something. Something that-

Shinichi's eyes widened, and all the pieces feel into place. "This is a summoning." This was a summoning and they were going to try the ritual again. The only way to summon a demon was through a blood sacrifice and they were going to use him to do it!

Shinichi glared, hissing in fury at their sheer arrogance. They had murdered two innocent police officers who had nothing to do with this. They had nearly gotten Kaito killed because he was in their way. And now, they intended to kill him all for some woman's demented crusade! What gave them the right to involve and kill innocent people that had nothing to do with any of this?

Shinichi let show how pathetic he thought Kore - all of them - really was. "Why bother, you can already call them to you? Or are you just that pathetic a demon?"

Kore moved so fast, Shinichi didn't even see him move. One moment, he was standing with his arms crossed, the next, Shinichi's head snapped to the side, his cheek and jaw smarting. It took a moment for his to process that Kore had back handed him. "I may not be at my best," Kore warned, "But I'm still powerful enough to kill you."

Kore leaned in again, following when Shinichi tried to back away. "There is one ghost I can not touch at this level. I'm sure you remember him? He seems to like you a lot."

He didn't even need to guess. Shinichi knew who he meant. "Kawaguchi Ishimaru."

"Yes," Kore murmured, lips brushing against the skin of Shinichi's neck. For a moment, Shinichi wondered if this was about to step into some kind of vampire territory, but Kore seemed content to merely ...hover. "Kawaguchi Ishimaru has grown powerful with age, and with repeated exposure to your... energy. It's... quite interesting, I must say so."

Shinichi couldn't stop the flinch as Kore actually licked his neck, like he was some sort of delicacy. His hands jerked to push him away, before he remembered they were restrained. He tried to escape by moving around the beam, but Kore's hand on his hips stopped him cold. In the end, all he could do was turn his head away as Kore continued his assault on his person, the demon running his other hand up the detective's exposed throat. "I would love a little taste of what he finds so addicting that he would risk weakening himself to possess you, but all things taste better with patience."

Shinichi glared at Kore, pressing himself against the beam. "Back. Off." He was proud that his voice held steady, despite the frantic beating of his heart, and his body never once trembled.

Kore laughed softly in his ear, but took a step back, holding up his hands and actually having the audacity to lick his lips as if searching for any lingering taste. "At the moment of your death, all that pretty little power of yours will be mine. Believe me, I can wait."

With that, Kore turned his back on Shinichi and stepped over to talk with Inaba, Sonoda, and the rest of the group. Everything about his stance saying that he had completely put aside ...whatever the fuck that had just been.

Shinichi glanced at the officers to see their reactions, but neither would meet his eyes. He could tell they had found that as disturbing as Shinichi had, but still... they hadn't stopped it. Shinichi realized he had no idea why any of these other people were willing to help Inaba and Kore on their crazed mission.

Something told him, he never would.

Inaba stood from her spot amongst Sonoda's group, four bowls stacked up on each other carefully as to not spill the contents. Shinichi watched her with wary eyes as she approached. Kore, Sonoda and three others of the group followed silently behind her. The remainder of the scattered groups stood also, one person from each presenting either rope, wood, or what was unmistakably lighter fluid.

Shinichi didn't have any doubts what they planned to do with them either.

Inaba came to stand between Shinichi and her followers, leaving Shinichi with her back and only her body language to gauge her intentions. The detective blinked when he spotted an unmistakable bulge sticking out of her shirt, and wondered if she wasn't concealing a weapon of some sort. A knife, perhaps? It would certainly fit the occasion.

"Everyone, the time has finally come. After all our prayers, someone with the power to deliver us from our terror has arrived." She turned to Shinichi and bowed, once to him. When she stood again, he could see her smiling without a single care, as if she wasn't about to ruthlessly kill an innocent man.

Behind her, her followers did the same, each toning their thanks. Whether it was to him for coming to 'deliver' them, or to some deity, he didn't know.

He ignored them, focusing on Inaba. "This won't fix things, Inaba-san." He was trying to appeal to her senses, if she had any left. "The ghosts aren't the source of all this. You have to accept Kore's death and move on."

If Inaba had heard him at all, she didn't falter. She stood and stepped back, nodding permission to the people behind her.

The person, a male in his late teens, with rope came forward first, and Shinichi had decided that he was done playing the willing victim. The moment the teen was close enough, Shinichi braced himself against the wood and delivered a solid kick to the kid's chest. The force of it knocked the air from the teen's lunges, sending him tumbling to the ground and loosing his hold on the rope. The rope itself went skidding across the room, and with it, came the screams of several of the followers.

Shinichi glared a warning to the other members of the group, a promise that if any of them tried to touch him, there would be consequences. They looked at each other, before the first brave one inched close enough to roll a log over to his feet. When he didn't kick it back, the next one and the next one, until a total of eight logs were rolled to his feet.

The member holding the lighter fluid seemed uncertain how to approach him without getting a vicious response, and ultimately just opted to splash it from a distance and hope for the best. Shinichi flinched when it hit him, but most of it wound up on the floor than on him or the logs. It seemed enough to please them, though, and Inaba nodded. Shinichi allowed them their ignorance of the weapons they had just given him, prepared for when the moment was right to use them.

"To your places everyone."

Kore stepped forward to join Inaba, while Sonoda and the three other's from that group came to stand at what could only be pre-decided points. Shinichi studied them, realizing that each point was perfectly three meters apart from the next person, leaving them standing in a square like shape around Shinichi, Kore and Inaba. The remainder of the group and the officers, all backed away, Morishige stepping over to stand in front of the door. He would be a tricky target when it was time to take him down, but Shinichi didn't doubt he could hit him.

For a moment, the group stood silent. None of them seemed to breath, and Shinichi realized they were taking a moment to savor this. Their hard work was about to pay off and they wanted to enjoy this.

Too bad Shinichi was going to have to ruin it for them, no?

The moment seemed to end, and Inaba stepped forward. She placed the first of her bowls down, this one containing water and what appeared to be a blue candle. "Spirit of the East, I welcome you into the circle."

Sonoda bent down as Inaba stood, lighting the little floating candle.

As Inaba walked in a curved path to the next person, Shinichi was able to guess what she was doing. She was casting a Magic Circle. He had read about them, but he had never actually thought any one could bring themselves to actually perform such a thing. Were there actually people that believed that an imaginary circle and four points could protect them from 'evil spirits'?

Inaba placed her second, third and fourth bowls down to be lit, calling the spirits of the South, West, and North, respectively into her circle before coming to stand at the first point. Hands free of the bowls, she made a motion as if to close an imaginary wall, saying to the 'Spirits': "I close the circle, and bless it. So mote it be."

Shinichi glanced around, unimpressed. Nothing, as far as he could tell, had changed, and yet, none of the people who'd stood at the four directional points made any move to enter the circle, nor did Inaba or Kore move to exit it. If Shinichi wasn't mistaken, if anyone entered or exited the circle, it would be broken and they would have to start again. A petty part of himself wanted to see what would happen if he kicked something out of the circle and if it counted too, but he refrained.

The young leader took a deep breath. Slowly, she turned and pulled the knife he had only been partially joking about expecting her to be carrying. It was even a ridiculously ornamental one. She adjusted it in her grip, and as she approached Shinichi, he felt the cuff he'd been picking finally give. He barely managed to catch it and keep it from giving him away. Glaring at her, Shinichi dared her to come closer.

"Blood, gives life and energy to all things." Inaba spoke, clear and carefully, as if everything she said were a spell. "When forcefully spilt the chance to steal that energy is made." She paused just out of immediate kicking distance. "Also Fire, to burn away the impurities of the body and to cleanse the spirit. We will not send you tainted with this sacrifice into the next life."

Shinichi wanted to roll his eyes. Did she expect him to thank her for being considerate?

Each movement she made was carefully measured and calculated, and she followed the circle, forcing Shinichi to keep his eyes on her or keep them on Kore, whom had begun to step forward as well. Deciding Inaba was the more dangerous one since she had a lethal weapon, he turned around the beam to keep facing her. She walked until she was standing on the opposite side of where she began, but she still never came any closer.

She didn't have to. What Shinichi hadn't counted on was Kore reaching around the beam and catching him by the throat and shoulders, pinning him to the beam. Startled, the detective gagged as the other man dug his arm in too deep, momentarily cutting off his air supply. Instinctively, Shinichi brought his freed hands up to pull at the arm, giving away that he's gotten them loose. Kore simply shifted his weight to accommodate, the movement allowing Shinichi a much needed breath, but unfortunately leaving him still pinned to the beam.

Inaba took advantage of the distraction, darting in until she was breaching personal space and kicking her away became impossible. Victory shown in her expression, and her eyes went wide, madness showing itself at last, as she raised the knife above her shoulders.

"Thank you for your sacrifice, Kudo-kun. You will not be forgotten."

With those words, she plunged the knife down. Shinichi threw out a hand and braced himself as best he could, knowing this was going to hurt regardless-

Suddenly, Inaba yelped, the heat of her body suddenly gone, and Shinichi hadn't realized he'd closed his eyes until he opened them to the sound of metal clattering on the floor. Startled, he turned as best he could to follow the sound, baffled when he saw the knife laying on the ground and Inaba holding her hand as if something had impaled it.

Behind him, Kore grunted and jerked, arms falling away as he staggered back, and Shinichi turned just in time to see him reach behind his head to his upper back and pull off what was unmistakably...

...A playing card?

Shinichi stared, unable to believe his eyes, let alone allow himself the hope he could already feel bubbling in his chest and threatening to send him to his knees in a near giddy kind of relief. If someone was using playing cards as weapons, then that could only mean that-

"I know they do things differently out here in the country," A familiar voice cheerfully stated, the sound seemingly coming from everywhere at once, "But where I come from flowers and chocolates come before the ropes and blindfolds."

Shinichi snorted. That only made everything he'd been through sound like they were just playing a little game of Court the Detective. Shinichi watched as the group broke out into gasps and shouts, spinning around as they tried futilely to locate the source of the mysterious voice. He wasn't one to waste a distraction, immediately making use of his unintentionally offered weapons to take out the guns in the area.

Without a glance up, even if he knew the Magician was in the rafters somewhere, he called, "You're late."

There was a soft noise, like a scoff, and what sounded like a "So ungrateful," but with all the other noise, Shinichi couldn't be sure. Behind him, Inaba cried out, and a quick glance over his shoulder confirmed that Kaito had deemed them worthy of his actual presence and had dropped down to join them in the circle.

For a moment, Shinichi wanted to ignore every person and thing in the room, save for his partner. It was all he could do not to just run up to him and just... hug him, hold him, touch him; something to affirm that he was real and he couldn't help be drink in the sight of him: whole, healthy and alive.

Kaito had done it. Somehow, that loveable idiot of his had done it, and he didn't know why he'd ever doubted that he could.

Shinichi opened his mouth, to say something, he was sure was just a meaningless jab, when Kaito moved and Shinichi could see a sort of... he wanted to call it another after image, but this one was different from the one he'd seen from Kore. This time there was no mistaking what it was.

Why was he seeing Ishimaru when he looked at Kaito? Unless-

Kaito turned, catching his gaze. The magician smiled, the light that could only be Kaito in his eyes, and Shinichi saw him start to smile, before he spotted something just behind him. Shinichi felt someone behind him, started to turn, even as Kaito shouted out a warning, but it still caught Shinichi off guard when something hard slammed into the back of his head.

Spots flickered across his eyes, and Shinichi didn't even feel himself hit the ground as his legs gave out under him. The pain registered seconds after he realized he was on the ground, his hands flying up to protect his already injured skull. He thought he heard someone, Kaito more than likely, shouting in outrage to the mistreatment, but he could hardly hear a thing through the rush of blood in his hears.

Someone (the person who had hit him?) grabbed hold of his arm and pulled him roughly to his feet, forcing him to stand or topple again.

"ENOUGH! Everyone be quiet!"

The members of the cult abruptly fell silent, freezing wherever they stood. Shinichi scrambled within his own mind to regain his equilibrium, placing his free hand on the person holding him up to stay up right. It took longer than it should have for him to realize that the person was taller than him and longer still that it was Kore.

Kore tightened his grip on Shinichi's arm and took a step back, pulling him with him and forcing the teenager to take a step back himself. "I will not tolerate any more disruptions." Kore sneered in Kaito's direction, displeasure evident on his face. "This ritual continues. The circle has not been broken-" (well, there went the theory about objects being able to break a Magic Circle) "-And nothing is going to stop us from finishing."

Kaito snorted, and Shinichi peered at him from beneath his bangs. The magician had come to rest in a easy-going position, his beloved Card Gun's barrel resting against his shoulder. Everything about him said that he saw no one in this room as a threat. When Kore focused in on him, Kaito smiled pleasantly. "You're going to have to postpone it." He used the Card Gun to gesture to the doors. "You see, I hardly came alone. I'm just a little ahead of schedule."

The followers looked at each other, and then at the doors, each of them trying to see if he was serious or not. One or two of them even looked a little nervous.

Shinichi laughed, softly. "They just can't stop chasing you, can they?" The words weren't that loud, but then, they weren't meant for anyone other than Kaito.

Kaito had the gall to look like he didn't have a clue what he was talking about. "Surely you aren't implying something?" He waved it off, turning back to Kore and Inaba, his smile transforming into a victory smirk.

"Like they say in the movies: 'We've got you surrounded'."

Sure enough, sirens could be heard outside, distant at first, but coming closer with each passing moment. One woman gasped and raced to the door, peering outside before Morishige could pull her back and slam it shut again.

"Police! The police are coming!"

"What?"

"What do we do? We haven't finished the ritual!"

Each member broke out into horrified yelps and cries, and all around them, chaos broke out again. Kore ignored them, keeping his eyes on Kaito. His words were directed at Inaba, though. "We won't get another chance like this."

Inaba, separated from Kore by Kaito, nodded. She, too, only seemed to have eyes for Kaito, although her brow was steadily drawing together. Shinichi wondered if she was seeing the same after image he was.

"Maybe we won't have to."

Shinichi felt Kore shift beside him, but he couldn't spare the moment to see his expression. Inaba was still rubbing her arm, although it seemed she was just doing it subconsciously. Shinichi suspected she had forgotten all about the injury as she continued to stare. "I think the last ghost is here."

Kaito's face was blank. To Inaba it wouldn't give a thing away, but Shinichi had long since learned to read the magician, even like this. Kaito knew exactly what she was talking about, and Shinichi was beginning to get an idea of what might have happened.

Ishimaru was still in Kaito's body. How they were both there was beyond him, but he could almost see the killer in the spaces behind Kaito, like a shadow that didn't obey any form of light. Shinichi fought to keep his mouth shut, even as his curiosity begged him to ask what had happened.

Kore raised an eyebrow, looking from Kaito to Inaba, and then back to Kaito. Shinichi couldn't tell if he could see the image or not. Either way, Kore seemed amused. "Very impressive. There aren't many human's that can turn the tables on a ghost powerful enough to possess them."

Kaito gave a mock bow, taking the compliment. "Thank you very much, Amago-san."

The sound Kore made sounded like a laugh he hadn't actually meant to make out loud. "A polite one. How about this, Magician-san? I want to make you a deal."

Kaito narrowed his eyes as he straightened, but other wise seemed bored. "Oh? And why should I make a deal, when I'm holding all the cards?"

The demon smiled, and Shinichi could almost feel the temperature of the room dropping. He opened his mouth to warn Kaito about what Kore really was, but Kore was already a step ahead of him, jerking him to the side and wrapping a hand around Shinichi's throat. The detective gasped in surprise before the hand cut off his air completely, and his free hand flew up to dig into Kore's to try and pry it loose.

Kaito's hand tightened on the grip of the Card Gun, but otherwise he kept his Poker Face intact. Shinichi might have praised him if he could form words.

"All I want is Ishimaru's soul. Hand it over, and I'll give you back your friend." Kore's voice sounded pleasant on the surface, but Shinichi could hear the promise of violence underneath, and he knew Kaito could too.

Kaito hummed to himself, keeping his eyes on Kore's, although Shinichi could see his worry in the way he held himself tense.

The demon leaned forward over Shinichi's shoulder, the hot breath of his exhaling almost lost in the detective's dimming consciousness. Kore loosened his hold enough for Shinichi to take a desperately needed breath. "Tell him what I really am."

Shinichi didn't feel like taking orders. Didn't even like the idea of being a hostage. Able to breath, he drove his elbow back into Kore's stomach, and was dismayed when Kore completely failed to react. The demon merely tapped a finger against his chin, and murmured, "That won't help at all."

Shinichi grit his teeth, knowing he had no choice but to comply. "He's not human. He's some sort of demon Inaba summoned." Trying to ignore the fact that Kore was still breathing on his neck like some sort of demented dog, he added, "They're behind the ghosts acting weird."

Kore tapped his fingers again, only this time it felt more like being petted. Shinichi tried to free himself, but it proved to be just as futile an attempt as the first as Kore, once again, failed to react to any sort of pain. The detective had to concede that there was a very real possibility the demon couldn't feel any.

Outside, the dim sound of someone shouting through, what was more than likely a blow horn, warned the people inside to surrender. Although he couldn't see them, Shinichi doubted a single member of the cult had moved towards the doors.

Inaba stepped to her right; one step, two steps, until she was standing to Kaito's left and no longer directly behind him. Kaito spared her a glance, to see what she was doing. When she failed to make any sort of threatening move against him, he ignored her in favor of Kore and Shinichi.

The witch sneered. "Why don't we just take it back? You've never had any trouble taking the ghosts."

Kore gave her a look, that because she was looking at Kaito, she completely missed. "Now, now, little Norime-chan, it's hardly that simple. It seems our little magician has learned some real magic." The hand that was still holding tight to Shinichi's arm let go, the detective swallowing a protest as Kore wrapped an arm around him to pull him tighter to the demon's own body. "Did you have that shield before Norime-chan tried to kill you?"

Kaito blinked, real confusion crossing his face. "Shield? I'm afraid I don't know what you're refering to, Amago-san."

Shinichi could feel Kore's smile against his skin, and it made him want to shove a hand in the thing's face, dignity be damned. The pounding "in his head had already worn his patience thin and he was quickly growing tired of this little game.

"Interesting, but it hardly changes anything. Tick, tock, Magician-san. Your friend or the ghost?"

Kaito tilted his head to the side, endlessly patient. "How do I know you'll keep your end of the bargain? It's hard to trust someone holding a hostage."

Kore made a pleased sound, the rumble of it deep in his chest and Shinichi was uncomfortable with how well he could feel it against his back. "Smart one, your boy is, Medium-sama." Shinichi glared at him as best he could in his position, although Kore didn't seem to care. "Whether you believe me or not, a demon's word is a binding contract. If I get Kawaguchi Ishimaru's soul, as part of my contract with Norime-chan over there, then I have no more reason to remain in this plane of existence, and I just poof right out without another word."

"And what happens to Ghost-san after I hand him over to you?"

Shinichi found that he was actually rather curious about that, too, now that he thought about it. He hadn't seen a single one of the ghosts that had vanished anywhere in the building, and something told him that what ever Kore was doing, it wasn't as nice as sending them on to the next life.

"Last freebie, Magician-san. Anymore questions after this will cost you." Kore tsked. "Souls are a dime a dozen, these days, but they're still infinitely precious." He gripped Shinichi's chin, forcing him to tilt his head to the side and bear his neck to the demon's ...nuzzling. "I prefer pure souls, like your's, Medium-sama, but there is still something to be had for old souls, like Kawaguchi's."

Out of the corner of his eye, Shinichi saw Kore look up and could only guess that he had meet Kaito's eyes, his smile sinister. He liked his lips, like a pleased cat that was about to be handed a tasty meal.

"I devour them. They're food for my kind." He shrugged. "After that... there's only oblivion."

Shinichi and Kaito looked at each other, and not even Kaito's Poker Face could hide how disturbed he was with the revelation. They would be condemning a man's soul to... oblivion?

Shinichi couldn't imagine it. It wasn't as if he was an aethist or anything, even if he wasn't sure what he believed waited for him after he died. He had taken it for granted that he knew that all living creatures had a soul, but he had never pondered, in any real depth, what happened when someone passed over. All he knew, because he had seen it with his own eyes, was that something was waiting.

To think of everything just... ending, just like that, was too much. He had absolutely no love for Ishimaru, and wished he would get what he deserved, even if it was only in death. Some part of himself wished him to whatever form of hell that may or may not exist, and that he'd remain there for all of eternity. To suffer as all those women had suffered.

To just cease to exist... No, in the end, he didn't wish Kawaguchi Ishimaru oblivion.

That was too easy.

Shinichi searched his partner's face for any clue what Kaito was thinking, and the magician must have seen his decision in his eyes, because Kaito's own expression darkened.

Shinichi knew what he was going to choose, and while he couldn't say he was surprised, he couldn't help but feel ...disappointed. He knew that Kaito could see this too, and what little remained of his expressions blanked completely. Not even Shinichi could read what he was thinking.

Damn it. "Kaito, don-nhg!" Shinichi choked around the hand squeezing his throat, twisting and struggling despite Kore's seemingly unbreakable hold. He couldn't let Kaito do this, he couldn't! Not even for him!

"Now, now, Medium-sama, I wasn't talking to you." Kore jerked Shinichi, once, trying to get him to hold still, and Shinichi was forced to either stop or suffocate. "Let Magician-san make his own decisions. He's a big boy."

Kaito was silent a moment more, the only sound in the building that of Shinichi harsh gasps around Kore's hand and the sirens outside. Everything else was silent, as if none of the members of the cult were even breathing.

"...Alright. You can have Kawaguchi Ishimaru."

Shinichi's eyes widened, and he could feel his lips forming the "No!" even if he couldn't voice it.

Kaito, very pointedly, wasn't looking at him.

Kore patted Shinichi's cheek and then pulled his hand away completely, although he didn't remove the arm around his middle. "Good choice, Magician-san." He made a come-hither gesture to Inaba. "Norime-chan should know a way to rid yourself of that pesky ghost."

Inaba stepped forward. She didn't seem particularly fond of the idea of going anywhere near Kaito, and despite the fact that Kaito was politely acknowledging her approach, he didn't appear any more happy with it than she was. "The magic in the circle hasn't been used, so it doesn't have to be cast again. We can skip that part."

She drew a tiny green pouch from her pocket, pulling it open and emptying the contents into her hand before stuffing it partially back into her pocket. "Sage is universal enough that it will serve for this." She closed her hand and held it out for Kaito to accept. The magician allowed her to dump the plant into his hand, and Inaba dusted the remains from her hands.

Neither of them seemed to notice the bag drop from her pocket. Kore tensed in anticipation, just slightly, and Shinichi blinked. He had the feeling, just a nagging thing, really, that Kore was more interested in the pouch that had just hit the floor than he was in this whole 'exorcism' business, although he couldn't guess why.

"Take the sage and burn it. As you breath in the smoke, imagine the spirit being forced from your body. You can do it with a chant if you need to."

Kaito glanced up at her. "A chant?"

She shrugged. "Any will do, just as long as you believe it will work. The sage will do the rest." She stepped back, allowing him whatever room he needed.

Kaito stared down at the dried leaves in his hands, an eye brow raising, and Shinichi wondered if he even believed in this stuff. After a moment's pause, Kaito shrugged and with a flick of his hand a match appeared seemingly from no where. A lit match, even. When he'd found the moment to light it was beyond Shinichi.

Inaba, despite her displeasure, seemed impressed, and Kore hummed a noncommittal noise.

The magician knelt down, pressing the plant leaves to the ground and dropping the match onto the little pile. The dried leaves caught fire easily, and a thin line of smoke trailed up from it. Kaito looked to Shinichi, his Poker Face falling just long enough for Shinichi to see something like an apology in his eyes. Shinichi shook his head, even though he knew Kaito wouldn't change his mind.

Without looking away, Kaito leaned in and took a deep wif of the smoke.

Shinichi watched as Kaito's eyes closed, his mouth parted just slightly. His lips didn't move, apparently confident in his ability to do the chant in his head, even as his brows drew together in concentration. Shinichi could only imagine what was going on below the surface, and whether or not the sage was indeed having any effect.

It seemed that nothing was happening, and after a few minutes, the pile burned out, the smoke died off with the fire. Kaito, however, remained still, all of his attention diverted inward. Shinichi found himself hoping this worked, regardless of whatever happened to Ishimaru's soul.

He just wanted Ishimaru out.

Finally, just as it had begun to seem like this wasn't going to work, and they would have to think of something else, a white, wispy like shape began to rise from Kaito's kneeling form. Kaito dropped forward, gasping and barely catching himself with his hands. Sweat glistened on his skin in the artifical light and he appeared to have exhausted himself with whatever he had done.

Shinichi struggled with Kore's grip on him, and nearly stumbled when he found himself free. He didn't waste any time wondering what Kore was going to do next, his attention only on checking on his partner. He dropped to his knees beside Kaito, hands coming to rest on the magician's shoulders. "Are you alright?"

Kaito didn't answer, and his body felt feverish to the touch. He still managed to hold a thumb up in a manner that Shinichi gathered was meant to be reassuring, and the detective allowed him to lean on him as they got back to their feet. Shinichi pressed his hands to Kaito's face, forcing him to look at him properly for a moment. He only released him when Kaito pulled his hands away, nodding and muttering, "I'm fine. Ghost-san just put up more of a fight than I thought he would. I had to call for Imposter-san's help."

Shinichi gave him an odd look. Should he have been worried?

Beside them, the white, wispy thing hardened and spread, until it was the correct height and width to be a human's. It seemed to be having trouble keeping its form, but there was enough there for Shinichi to identify it as Ishimaru. The nearly formless face appeared to be furious, and it's anger was more than likely with the ghost's situation.

Inwardly, Shinichi braced himself for the chill that always came with a ghost's appearance. While it might do Kaito a little good, the detective wasn't particularly looking forward to it. He just hoped that it didn't come with that horrible new draining effect that Ishimaru had inflicted on him back at the barn that very same morning.

He was so caught up in bracing himself for the effects, that he almost missed the fact that despite the fact that the temperature had dropped some, sure, there wasn't really all that much of a drop. He blinked in confusion, glancing at Inaba to see if she was noticing the same thing.

He blinked again when Inaba actually swayed, her hand coming to rest on her chest and she winced like she was in actual physical pain.

Shinichi frowned, baffled as to what had just happened. Ishimaru was obviously growing powerful enough to solidify it's form, but it obviously wasn't getting the energy from him and it appeared it was feeding off Inaba. That didn't make any sense, though, unless the sage pouch had been her only protection. If so, that still didn't explain why he wasn't affected.

Surely, this so called 'shield' of Kaito's they had mentioned, if it even existed, wouldn't protect him, too, would it?

Whatever was going on, Ishimaru didn't seem to particularly care. The ghost took one look at Kore, and a look of pure, unadulterated fear passed over his face. Frantically, the ghost searched for a way out, but it seemed that this 'magic circle' was at least good for keeping things in as it was supposedly to keep things out.

Kore held out a hand, eyes boring into Ishimaru's. When he spoke, there seemed to be something... inhuman to it. "Kawaguchi Ishimaru, I command thee, as owner of your name. Come to me."

Ishimaru stilled. The ghost turned it's head, eyes wide and oddly blank. Slowly, as if by someone else's power, it approached Kore. Shinichi twitched with the need to stop the ghost, but Kaito's grip on his shoulders tightened, and the detective knew he was the only thing keeping the magician on his feet.

Ishimaru stopped in front of Kore, reaching out a hand to touch Kore's. As it did so, its form dispersed and reformed itself as a tiny ball of light, looking, for once, like a traditional spirit. Kore took hold of the little ball, and proceeded to pop it into his mouth like most people ate popcorn.

Kore didn't even bother to chew, swallowing Ishimaru whole.

For a moment, no one moved. Inaba stared, wide eyed at Kore, like she couldn't believe what she had just seen. Then, like the spell had been broken, she sank to her knees, tears gathering in her too wide eyes.

"It's over. It's... finally over."

Around them, the members of the cult glanced at each other, blinking themselves out of a daze. Each one of them had some form of triumph or relief in their expression and two of them actually cheered.

"Inaba-san, is he really gone?"

Shinichi eyed the speaker, Sonoda, and Inaba nodded. She still appeared to be a little out of it. "Yes. Yes, he's gone. They're all gone." As she looked up to meet Sonoda's eyes, a smile spread across her face. Shinichi thought it looked too ...pure, to belong to someone who had just condemned the souls of countless people to oblivion.

She pointed to the door with one hand, and used the other to lift herself back onto her feet. "Let the police in, please, while I open and disperse the circle. We have no more reason to keep them waiting."

Sonoda nodded, a matching smile on her face. Morishige exchanged looks with Tozawa over by the door, and moved to unlock the doors. Over all, everyone appeared to be celebrating their accomplishment.

Shinichi didn't even bother to hide his scoff at the whole lot of them.

Kaito pushed at him, gently, having recovered enough to stand on his own. Shinichi gave him a questioning look, and Kaito nodded his reassurance. The detective wanted to inspect him further, but instead contended with the mere fact that he could actually touch Kaito and feel the warmth of his skin, even through his shirt.

Movement caught his eye, and Shinichi turned to see Kore approaching Inaba, who didn't notice as she dispelled the first of the 'spirits' she'd 'welcomed' to take part in this madness. Shinichi's eyes narrowed, and there was something... something about the way that Kore was moving. His body language practically screamed intent. He didn't think he liked the way the demon was looking at her, either.

Every instinct in his body promptly stood up and said, 'This is bad. This is very bad.'

Shinichi took a step forward, without thinking, not paying much attention to the feel of something hitting his shoe, nor to the sound of something wooden skating across the floor. He must have hit one of the bowls, shattering the proper dispelling ritual, but he couldn't care.

Beside him, Kaito glanced between him and the other two, trying to see what had the detective transfixed. "Shinichi?"

Shinichi took another step forward. "Something's wrong."

But what? What was Kore doing?

Inaba noticed Kore, turning to give him her full attention. It took a moment to identify the way she was looking at Kore, and Shinichi almost had to pity her. That was love in her eyes, and he realized that she must see this Kore as if he was the real Kore. He didn't know if she had forgotten what that thing really was, or if she was so delusional at this point that she just didn't care.

Kore reached up to run the back of his hand down her cheek, and she leaned into the touch. She blinked up at him, confused at the sudden affection. "Kore?"

"It's time, Norime-chan. It was fun, while it lasted."

Shinichi couldn't see Kore's face, but whatever crossed it seemed to caused Inaba to tense. What was Kore doing?

The demon raised his other hand to rest it on her other cheek. With careless abandon, he stroked down either side of her face, hands coming to rest half on her jaw, half on her neck. As they came to a stop, Shinichi knew, with horrifying clarity, what Kore was about to do. Inwardly, Shinichi cursed his own stupidity.

How could he think this was over?

How could she have?

"Kore, what are you-"

Shinichi was already throwing himself forward, shoving past Kaito and knowing it was too late, but he still had to try. He had to try and stop him, because if he didn't he'd never be able to live with himself-

Inaba's eyes widened the moment the demon's hands tightened around her jaw; her head, her mouth dropping open to say something that was lost forever, as the demon in one, fluid motion snapped her neck.

If she's made a sound, it was lost in the crash of the doors bursting open as Ishida's men charged in. The shouts for every one to freeze might as well have been redundant, as not a single member of the cult had moved an inch since Kore had broken Inaba's neck.

Shinichi ignored them, catching Inaba's body as Kore released it. He checked for a pulse, even though it was obvious she was dead. Her weight dragged him down with her, and Shinichi glared up at Kore, furious. "Why did you kill her? You had what you wanted!"

Kore knelt down, reaching over to close her eyes as if he were sending her off to sleep. Patting her cheek, Kore responded, his tone flippant and mild. "She forgot the price of our deal. Her soul, for her wish."

The detective pressed his lips together to stop himself from gritting his teeth, unable to articulate a single response.

Kore rose back to his feet, turning to the police. "Well, that's a wrap folks! Thank you so much for your participation."

Ishida, standing at the front of the group, pointed his gun at Kore. "What are you doing, Kore? What the hell is going on here?"

Kore didn't answer. Shinichi doubted he'd believe him if the demon did explain. The demon pressed a finger to his lips, as if telling them all to keep a secret. He waved to the group, before, all at once, he too crumpled to the floor.

He didn't get back up.

Everyone in the room stared, too far beyond their limits to be moved by surprises anymore. One of the officers stepped forward, cautiously, reaching down and pressing two fingers to Kore's pulse when the demon failed to move. Frowning, the officer shook his head and pulled his hand away.

Kore was dead; the demon finally gone.

Shinichi stared blankly at the corpse, some part of himself feeling gipped. He and Kaito had survived, and there was no doubt ever single member of the cult would be arrested, but in the end...

It felt like the only person that had won was the demon.

Ishida stepped forward, looking over the group. Disbelief shown clearly in every inch of his body language, even if none of it was on his face, when he spotted Tozawa and Morishige. "So, the kid was telling the truth." He marched over to the officers, both of whom kept their hands up. Their guns lay harmlessly on the floor at their feet. They must have put them down in when the officers came in. "What the hell is going on here? Tell me you weren't in on this."

Morishige glanced once at his chief, but Tozawa just looked straight ahead, resolve never faultering. Neither of them answered.

Shinichi gently laid Inaba on the floor, letting her limbs fall as they would. Rubbing his hands against his pants, he got to his feet, mindful of the way the room swayed. He had pushed himself too hard. "Tozawa-keiji and Morishige-keiji were the ones that brought me here. You're going to want to comb the river up the road. The bodies of Tsunemasa-keiji and Mizuguchi-keiji should still near by. You'll find the bullets that killed them match the bullets in Tozawa-keiji's and Morishige-keiji's guns."

Several of the officers looked at each other in horror, and grief flashed across Ishida's face. "Fukui-kun and Sada-kun are dead?" He turned on his officers, boring down onto them, his fury unmistakable. "Did you really kill Tsunemasa and Mizuguchi?"

Morishige didn't look at Ishida again, but he did nod. Tozawa's lips thinned, and he nodded as well.

Ishida-keibu balled his hands into fists. He probably wanted to punch both of the officers, but he had too much control for something that stupid. Releasing the tension in his body, or perhaps just burying it for the moment, Ishida pointed at the door. "Toshiya, get on the radio. I want those bodies found."

Toshiya nodded, and quickly moved out the door.

Ishida looked past Shinichi, shaking his head when he spotted Inaba. "Oh, Norime, you foolish girl..." The words weren't meant for anyone in the room, and everyone at least had the grace to politely pretended they hadn't heard.

Ishida turned to Shinichi, eyes dark with a mixture of emotions. "Explain to me what happened here, Kudo. And how did Kore and..." He ran a hand down his face. "Inaba die?"

Shinichi considered his options. He hadn't forgotten what had landed him in this position to begin with: a warrant for his arrest for double homicide. Telling the truth here - the whole truth would land him in the funny farm, even with a second witness. One look at the followers of the cult proved that they were going to be useless in this.

Might as well start with the arrest. "Your officers approached me on the street. They arrested me on the grounds that I had murdered Akimoto Haruko and Amago Tadae."

Ishida actually blinked. "We have no suspects on the murder of Amago Tadae or Akimoto Haruko. I never warranted any arrest, let alone one against you, Kudo-kun." He pointed a finger at Morishige and Tozawa, and demanded, "Is that how you lured Tsunemasa and Mizuguchi into helping you? By falsifying an arrest warrant?"

Morishige nodded. Ishida's patience appeared to be wearing thin with the silent treatment. To Shinichi, he said, "Continue."

Shinichi gestured to the bowls on the floor with one hand, and held up the other wrist to show the cuff still hanging off it. "They brought me here because they were in on a plan with Inaba and Amago, both of whom believed, along with Inaba's cult, that they could summon a demon to rid Inaba of her... delusions."

"'Delusions'?" Ishida put the hand still holding his gun to his hip, and put a hand to his mouth. There wasn't much of a problem in figuring out what Inaba's 'delusions' were. "Those ghosts she claimed to see."

Shinichi nodded. "She believed that the demon would get rid of them. Kore believed that he was possessed by that demon, and that a blood sacrifice would free him completely, so that he could rid the town of any remaining ghosts."

Ishida looked Shinichi up and down, noting his disheveled appearance. He raised an eyebrow at him. "You're still alive."

Shinichi inwardly grimaced. "They were interrupted."

Kaito stepped up to stand by Shinichi and the Inspector noted his presence perhaps for the first time. He didn't look very surprised to see him. "I told you to stay out of this, kid."

The magician grinned at the Inspector, completely unrepentant. "We both know my partner would be dead if I had, Keibu."

Ishida's narrowed eyes said that he didn't doubt it, but he wasn't happy with it. "Alright, so there was an interruption. And?"

"For some reason, they believed they had gotten what they wanted and let me go. Kore turned on Inaba and killed her. You saw everything else." While he talked, Shinichi brought his free hand up to the cuff, and managed to lock pick it open. The cuffs fell to the floor with a soft chink. Ishida gave it a minute look, but didn't say a word.

Ishida took in the cult, turning his attention onto them. "Does anyone have anything different to say about what happened here?"

Not a single word. Each stood perfectly still, hands held up for all to see. Ishida took a deep breath to calm himself. "Very well, officers, arrest everyone here but Kudo and Kuroba and get them down to the precinct. I want them talking and I want confessions." He glanced at the bodies, and added, "And somebody remove the bodies. I want to know what Kore did to himself."

Shinichi glanced at him, a part of him wishing he could get his hands on the autopsy report. He was sure it would be... a very thrilling read.

The officers toned the rights of each of the cult, their words just slightly off unison. Since there wasn't, quite, enough officers to arrest everyone, several more officers were called in from outside. Judging from the number of people at the building, Shinichi was suspicious that just about every officer on duty from the station was there. One-by-one, the officers lead the followers out, until the only people left in the building were Shinichi, Kaito, Ishida and an officer Shinichi recognized from that morning. Kyogoku, he believed.

"I want you both to come down to the office to write out a testimony." Ishida waved a hand in Kyogoku's direction. "Kyogoku-keiji and I will escort you down there." To the officer, he added, "We'll take the back roads. I don't want any one to know where these two are until I can be sure that all of Inaba's little 'cult' has been found."

Both teens and the officer nodded. By the time they got outside, themselves, the other officers had all but left with their charges, the last of the cars pulling out onto the side street as they watched. Kyogoku opened the back door to his and Ishida's squad car, holding his hand to the top edge to make sure the boys didn't hit their heads.

Once settled, and the car on it's way, Shinichi finally allowed himself a moment to breathe and cope. He slumped against Kaito, not caring if the officers saw the open show of affection. Reaching across Kaito's lap, his hand sought out Kaito's and he wrapped it loosely around Kaito's wrist, some part desperately searching for a pulse.

A steady beat greeted his inquiry, and he sunk further onto his partner's side. He hadn't realized how exhausted he was, and sleep clawed at his consciousness, even as he pushed it away. There would be time for sleep later.

Kaito shifted, reaching up with his free hand to prod gently against Shinichi's injury and check for any blood. Shinichi felt the magician bury his face in his hair, his breath hot against his scalp, and the slightest of tremors shuddering through him. Shinichi wanted to comfort him, right then, but he knew that until this case was finally closed, he wouldn't be emotionally all there. It wouldn't be fair to Kaito or himself to do it then.

Later though... they would have a lot to talk about.

The trip was blessedly mundane and they slipped into Ishida's office with no trouble. The Inspector waved for them to take a seat as he sought out the proper papers.

"I'm going to have to leave for a bit to check on the progress of the arrests." He pulled open his drawer, and then paused as he seemed to remember something. Reaching out, he lifted up the same pile of termination and vacation papers. He sighed as he found what he wanted, and pulled a few sheets loose.

Ichibachi had apparently not cleaned up, yet.

Ishida separated the papers and handed them to the boys. "I put in a call to the staff down in forensics. Fusae isn't a legal doctor, but she came very close to being one." He eyed Shinichi. "I asked for her to look at that injury, since I somehow had a feeling you'd refuse to go back to the hospital."

Shinichi knew a jab when he heard one, and merely hummed softly in response.

Ishida grunted, but let it go. He threw a look at Kaito as he paused in the door way. "And I don't want to hear that you've been hitting on any more of my staff, boy. Especially not this one."

Shinichi glanced at Kaito. The magician had stopped what he was doing to look curiously over his shoulder at the Inspector. "Oh? Come, now, keibu, she can't be that bad looking."

Ishida snorted. "That's the problem: she's isn't. And she knows it. Flirt with her and it'll go straight to her head."

Kaito gave the man an odd look, but didn't say anything else. Ishida took that as his cue to run, and was out of sight in no time.

Shinichi turned back to his papers. "He's got a point."

The magician pointed his pen at Shinichi. "So does he. You should be back in the hospital."

The detective waved it off. "Only if you'd contend to go too. I can see how tired you are, and who knows what else Ishida's little visit may have done."

Kaito made a noncommittal noise, but let it drop.

They were just finishing their reports, when Yamane - as her badge read - Fusae entered the room. She was every bit as lovely as described, and confidence shown in every move she made. Both of the teens looked up as she entered, and for a moment Fusae seemed unsure who she'd been called up to look at.

She took one look at Shinichi, though, and all of her confusion vanished in an instant. This was probably a testament to how bad he looked.

Fusae smiled, her pretty white teeth showing. "Good evening. You must be Kudo-kun." She turned to Kaito. "And you Kuroba-kun. How are you both feeling?"

"Tired, but I'm starting to feel much better." Kaito presented her with an equally pleasant smile. Where he'd mustered the energy from was beyond Shinichi. The magician, ever the charmer, produced a rose, holding it up for Fusae. "The keibu said you were pretty, but he didn't give you credit."

Something seemed to warm in Fusae's eyes as she took the rose, a mischievous look on her face. "Ishida-keibu was talking about me?"

Shinichi wondered if he should warn Ishida now, while he had a chance. It was the least he could do, right?

Kaito gave her a tilt of the head, in leeway to a bow. "Oh, yes. You should have heard the things he was saying."

The teenage detective decided it would be a good time to intervene. "You must be feeling better, if you're already flirting with people."

The magician gave him a cheeky smile, but even Fusae had to have seen the exhaustion in it.

Fusae chuckled at the scene, and tucked her new rose into the pocket of her coat, mindful not to crush it. Turning to Shinichi, she stepped up beside him, and explained what she was going to do. "I'm just going to check to see if there's any swelling. I'm not a licensed doctor, so you should see a real one if you fear there may be something wrong."

Shinichi saw Kaito glance at him out of the corner of his eye. It was probably that kind of sever, but Shinichi wasn't going to be the one to tell her.

Shinichi nodded his permission, and nearly bit his tongue at even the slightest pressure. The whole back of his head was probably bruised black and blue under his hair.

"Hmm, I don't feel any damage, although the fact that you took a blow to the head while you obviously have a previous injury worries me." She prodded a little higher, coming just below the bandages. "The bone doesn't feel cracked, but you'll have a nasty bump for a while. It looks like your neck took most of this current blow."

Shinichi nodded as she pulled her hands away. When she didn't back off, he realized she was expecting a response from him. "I'll be careful."

It clearly wasn't the response she wanted, but she couldn't force him to do anything. She looked to Kaito, who held both hands up. "I promise I'm just tired, ojousan. But your concern is appreciated."

She 'hm'ed in amusement, and started out the door. "You're cute, kid. You'd be just my type, but I don't think you swing my way."

Kaito gave her a bewildered look, and Shinichi nearly choked on his own tongue. When Kaito looked at him, concerned, Shinichi had to cover his mouth, and he waved him off with his other hand.

Fusae was probably the first person to ever figure out Kaito was gay. The fact that Shinichi could see that just dawning on Kaito's face was something he'd treasure for a long time to come.

It was another twenty minutes before Ishida returned to take their papers. Shinichi promised to keep in contact as the case continued, and his cell phone was always on if they needed anything. Both were released without further complications, although Ishida refused to allow them to leave without an escort. Kyogoku volunteered to take them back to the hotel and it was approaching midnight by the time Shinichi opened the door to their hotel room.

Shinichi paused just inside the door way, the hotel room like something out of another life. So much had happened since they had arrived. It was almost unthinkable that they had only been there for three, going on four, days.

Part of him was already moving on. Part of him wanted to head straight for the shower, and scrub himself clean until he couldn't remember what the demon, Kore's touch felt like.

The rest of him...

Movement behind him, and Shinichi didn't move as Kaito wrapped his arms around him from behind, his chin coming to rest on the detective's shoulder. Shinichi leaned back into him, hands reaching up to cover his partner's.

The rest of Shinichi just wanted this. The steady beat of Kaito's heart reassuring him that he was alive. The privacy to just bask in this openly without worrying about anything else. Both of them were battered and bruised, but they had survived, entirely intact.

Kaito murmured something against his shoulder, Shinichi only catching part of it. Tilting his head slightly to see Kaito's face as best he could in this position, he hummed inquisitively.

The magician placed a kiss to his shoulder. Although his words were still muffed, Shinichi was able to understand him this time.

"I'm so sorry."

Shinichi frowned, twisting around in Kaito's arms to look at him. Kaito let him, placing his hands on Shinichi's hips where he pushed up the fabric of Shinichi's shirt a little to press his hands against summer-warm skin. The muscles twitched as the light touch nearly tickled, but Shinichi didn't try to pull them off. Shinichi himself pressed his hands to either side of Kaito's neck, resting them there.

"Why?" If anyone should have been apologizing, it should have been him. His secrets had dragged the other teen into this and they could have cost Kaito his life.

Kaito gave him a look of disbelief, as if he couldn't comprehend why Shinichi didn't get it. "Shinichi, I promised I'd help keep Kawaguchi from hurting anyone else. I didn't get there in time to save Amago-chan. I... I couldn't save either of you, not then, and not when the officers took you." Kaito bit his lower lip, hands tightening slightly. "I couldn't do anything." He looked away, ashamed.

Shinichi stared, unable to believe what he was hearing. Kaito blamed himself for Tadae's death? For Shinichi's kidnapping?

No. No, this wasn't right at all. This certainly couldn't be left like this.

Shinichi slid his hands up, trying to force the magician to look at him. "Kaito, look at me."

Kaito pulled a face, but when Shinichi added a small, "Please?" he complied. Shinichi wanted to shake him when he saw the fear in his eyes under his worry and shame. Did Kaito really believe that he'd blame him for all of this?

Shinichi shook his head. "None of this is your fault. Kawaguchi made those decisions and hurt me and those women. If you hadn't been there, who knows who else he would have killed?" He leaned forward pressing thier foreheads together, trying to will some sense into his partner. "Inaba and Kore would have gotten me for sure." He bumped their foreheads, once, to make sure Kaito was still listening. "You saved my life. Over and over again."

And you came back to me. Shinichi didn't say it out loud, but it sat there, in his mind, in his heart, like a life line. He had only felt like this once before, and he knew the only way to ease this knot in his chest was time and Kaito's continued presence.

Kaito leaned in and pressed a dry kiss to his lips, Shinichi responding by running his hands into Kaito's hair and pulling him into a deeper one. Neither of them had the energy for more, but they were more than happy to have this. When they broke apart, Kaito kissed his way down to Shinichi's shoulder, where he murmured, "I love you," into the crook of his neck and shoulder.

Shinichi laughed, the noise soft in the near silence of the room. "Then stop doing stuff to scare me."

Kaito scoffed. "Shouldn't I be saying that to you, Meitantei-kun?" He slid his hands around to Shinichi's back and pulled him into a proper hug. "You're the one that was in the most trouble." The tone was light, but there was still something very real under the tone.

Shinichi returned the hug, knowing, that like him, Kaito needed time. He was strong, and he would move on when he was ready. Shinichi would just have to be there to make sure it didn't take too long.

Neither was sure how long they stayed there. Even after they slipped to the floor, Shinichi half in Kaito's lap, and exhaustion pulling at the detective's eye lids, neither seemed inclined to move. A slight breeze wafted through the door way, and the first drops of the oncoming storm were already falling.

"We should move to the bed." The magician sounded like he was fully ready to just lay down right on the floor and go to sleep, the door could worry about shutting itself, thank you very much.

As Kaito shifted into a more comfortable position, Shinichi blinked himself back to something like wakefulness. He pulled away, slightly. "I think we should leave."

Kaito opened a single eye half way to peer at him. "Are you worried they'll try to accuse you of killing them, for real?"

Shinichi shook his head. If that were the case, he wouldn't be able to go far anyway. The police would catch up to them eventually. "No. I just think it's best we leave while everything's calmed down. If there's any more trouble, Ishida-keibu and his crew will be able to handle it."

Kaito remained silent for a moment, mulling their options over. Slowly, he nodded, apparently coming to the same conclusion. "Alright, but I drive first while you get some sleep." When Shinichi opened his mouth to protest, he added, "You can drive after." Kaito smiled, easy going and amicable, and Shinichi already knew he would agree. "I promise to wake you up if I start having problems."

Shinichi hm'ed in agreement, knowing he couldn't win. He also knew that Kaito would know that he'd give him hell if he didn't wake him up later. In agreement, the boys helped each other to their feet and set to the task of getting their stuff together.

When dawn came the next day, the hotel was empty and not a trace of Kudo Shinichi or Kuroba Kaito would be found. Their room key would be safe and sound in the hotel drop box.

Over the following months, the Sweet Tart hotel would hire new help to replace the workers it lost. Rumors about Room 131 would persist for years to come, but no further psychic activity would ever be found, causing new rumors to arise about what may or may not have happened there.

Inaba Norime and Amago Kore would eventually be charged with the murders of Akimoto Haruko and Amago Tadae, although no definite evidence would ever appear. Each member of the cult was charged with kidnapping and abiding in an attempted murder, making it the largest arrest in the history of Hananomachi. Tozawa Ikitoki and Morishige Nagasaki were both stripped of their rank, and charged, each, with two counts murder of the first degree, with a second charge of kidnapping and assisting in an attempted murder. They would both serve double life sentences, and never be free men as long as they lived.

Although they all pleaded guilty, and were charged successfully, the full story never came out. To this day, no one but the people inside the building would ever really knew what happened.

It was very likely, they never would.

-
The End
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Well, this has been a fun ride, no? I'm sad to see it end, but in a lot of ways I'm glad it's over, if only to prove that I can still finish things (according to , I haven't finished a story since Jan 2001. o_o;).

HOPE YOU ENJOYED THIS STORY. MAY THERE BE MANY FUN RETURNS. :)

Possible Sequel: I and a co-writer did, at one point, have a kind of AU/Possible!Canon sequel in the works, however with how much time and trouble it took to get this out and the fact that my co-writer is no longer interested in the series, I don't think it's going to be coming anytime soon.