A/N: Hello everyone! So, I bet some of you are wondering "Hey! Where'd all the chapters go?" Well, this Fanfiction has been around for a long time… I started this back in 2010, which means I've been dragging this out for pretty much seven years now. Wholly cow, right? I know I lot of you liked this story, and it has honestly been one of my favorites to write. It's also my most popular one! Which is amazing considering it's my first! I want to say a big thank you to the 138 of you who reviewed, the 157 of you who favorited, the 230 of you who followed, and for any of you that I'm missing. It means a lot to me that I have so many people who've enjoyed what I've put out!
That said, due to a change in my writing style and a want to improve this story, I have gone through and edited/added things around (a lot in some places). When I first started this I didn't really have much direction, but now that I'm older I've gone back and decided to structure this a bit better. Well, a lot better (hopefully). Haha. I always knew how I wanted this to end, but I didn't have an idea of how I'd get there. Now that I've given into the wonders of having an outline, I know exactly how I want this to go (for the most part).
I hope you all enjoy it even more than you did before! As I believe this was very necessary! And with any luck, if I have it structured out ahead of time then I'll be able to update properly this time around. For the time being, the updates will bit much more frequent as I go through old chapters and re-do them. I have most of the first case done already, so that may go up all within the next couple of days. Then after I get through all the old chapters, I'm aiming for starting a possible bi-weekly or tri-weekly update… which will definitely be a big leap for me and my once-in-a-blue moon approach to it.
Those of you that have stuck with this for all this time, thank you, and for those of you new to this story, welcome to the new and improved: Ai Obake!
P.S. I've also re-drawn a new cover for this, so be sure to check it out! Also, if anyone frequents tumblr and is interested… I started an ask blog for Mai (and eventually the rest of the SPR Crew) under "sprinquires". It's not connected to this fic, and is really just an excuse to work on my drawing skills (because I'm lacking). Not every answer will be drawn (likely), but feel free to check it out if you'd like! You can think of it as a gift for sticking with this, or an apology for making you go through these cases again. Haha. Whatever the case, I hope you check it out! Could be fun!
Ai Obake: Case 1 - A Sister's Love, Part 1
Panting heavily, she slid open another door.
Cursing under her breath she broke into another run, her lungs getting heavier under the stress. Each time she gasped for air her chest burned, but the adrenaline in her system pushed her forward. There was only one thing on her mind. One worry. One solitary fear. One pleading hope.
'I have to find him… before it's too late.'
As if objecting, her surroundings seemed to warp and close in on her. The lights popped out one by one as she continued down the neverending hall. She tried to outrun the darkness but the last light blew out and she was encased in a shroud of nothing.
And yet, though unable to see, she kept going. She tripped and stumbled, but she pushed on.
'I have to find him!'
Through the sheer willpower of this thought, her body seemed to emit a faint light, a saving grace that gave her the guidance she so desperately needed.
She passed by a mirror in her journey and for a brief moment, she was startled by what flashed by it. She could make out her own features perfectly due to the glow of her skin... More than a little worse for wear, she was dressed in a simple kimono. It was torn, tattered and stained but even then still held a quality of elegance.
Her hair was twisted up into a messy bun, branches sticking out from between her brown strands. The sight made her more aware of the ache in her body. The cuts and bruises on her arms and legs making it hard for her not to want to stop for a moment's rest.
It hurt… but despite this, she kept going.
'I have to find him…. I have to find him…'
It felt as if she had been at this for hours, and she was sure her legs would soon give out regardless of her determination.
As the last door came into view she pleaded with her body to go just a little more. She ran faster, ignoring the scream of pain her nerves made and reached out a hand desperately trying to make her way to it.
This had to be the door.
It had to be.
It felt as if she would never make it there…. It seemed no matter how fast she went the door would tease her by backing up just as far. Her side ached and her chest felt tight, but she didn't stop. She couldn't, she HAD to make it there, before it was too late.
That's when her hand finally touched it. Taking a deep breath, she flung the door open with all her might.
'Please let this be it!'
She stopped, a century passing as she tried to digest the scene before her.
'Too late', something mocked at the back of her mind and she struggled to take a breath.
Her eyes widened at the figure on the floor in front of her. It was a young man. His face pale, and his eyes clouded and blank… It only too one look to know that he was dead. A pool of blood grew from under him as it oozed from the knife wound in his chest.
She dropped to her knees, tears running down her face. 'Sorry… I'm… I'm too late… I couldn't save you….' she thought, her body shaking violently as she silently sobbed.
"What… What did you do?" she finally asked between breaths, addressing the figure that stepped out of the shadows toward the body.
It was a tall woman with long dark hair. She had a look of elegance, her appearance neat and creased except for the fresh red stains seeping into the fabric of her kimono sleeves. Her stare was heated, her eyes holding a boiling hate that shouldn't have been there. She was her older sister… but the woman before her seemed foreign.
The murderer looked at the dead man, next the newcomer, and then to the bloody knife still in her hand. There was a contemplative silence as if her actions had only just sunk in. The sister that she knew would have been horrified at what she had done, but this… stranger seemed so detached. She held the knife like a toy and twirled it, then grinned.
A laugh, low at first, grew into belly rolling hysteria. It escaped the woman's mouth as her eye twitched and widened, turning back to her younger sister with a twisted smile. She stepped over the dead body in a casual stroll, her steps slow and almost sinister as she came closer, tilting her head to the side. She was almost like a predator who'd found it's next victim.
How could she?
What had she become?
Every bone in the younger woman's body told her to run, but she was frozen stiff. And even if she did, she wouldn't be able to go far… her whole body was numb.
"You did this, you know," the woman hummed, "It's all your fault…." Her words were bitter, every syllable meant to cut like a dull blade. Her tone was calm, but there was an edge to it.
She knelt down in front of her younger sister, still twirling the knife in her hands. There was a hiss of pain as the woman violently grabbed the brunette's hair, forcing her to stare right into a deranged gaze. What she saw in them was not the eyes of her sister. It was a monster.
"I loved him you know. I loved him so much…" the murderer shook her head, letting the blade lightly touch the girl's face. She winced at the chill of the metal on her skin. "…but you, you witch. You charmed him and took him from me, you…. because of you…." she became angrier with every word, her complexion getting redder as the rage in her eyes began to seep onto her face. Her grin cracked into a sneer. "BECAUSE OF YOU!"
Without warning she swiped blade across her little sister's face, leaving a shallow cut on the girl's soft skin. A trail of blood ran down her cheek, and the girl let out a loud whimper.
The tears didn't stop coming.
The younger woman opened her mouth to speak, but there was a lump in her throat. The words wouldn't come out.
What could she possibly say?
The elegant monster clicked her tongue and stood up, dragging the girl by the hair and forcing her to get a closer look at the dead man. "You made me do it," she said matter-of-factly, her voice calm again as if by a switch. "You just wouldn't stay away… you just had to make him fall for you. No matter what I said, his eyes saw only you." There was almost as sadness to her voice, somewhere deep down passed that anger was a sorrow.
The younger sister bit her lip, and whipping her tears away she finally spoke out "I LOVED HIM TOO, YOU KNOW!"
Almost immediately, her words were responded with a sting as she was slapped across the face and sent tumbling onto her back. She grabbed her swollen face and looked up... her elder sister was livid.
"Not the way I did…. NOT THE WAY I DID!"
She started to sob again, "But Onee-san—"
"Shut up! You have no right to call me by that name!" the woman spat, tightening her grip on the knife in her slender fingers.
Having had enough, she jumped on top of her younger sister and slammed her open palm on the floor near her head. In her other hand, she held the blade high with all the intention in the world to stab her.
It was only when their eyes met that the raven haired sister's started to shake, and for the first time since the confrontation her face turned guilty and full of regret.
It was almost as if a light had been turned on inside of her, but the rest of her had yet to follow. The blade still posed at the ready… wanting to take her sister's life. Yet, she couldn't let herself do it. She couldn't kill her younger sibling…
So instead she plunged the knife into her own heart instead.
The young woman's eyes widened as her older sister's blood dripped onto her face. Her mind slow to catch up to what had happened, the body on top of her growing limp as she watched the light leave the woman's eyes.
With a bitter smile plastered on her face, tears fell down the elegant female's cheeks... and for a moment she saw her sister again. The words "I'm sorry…" barely stumbled from her lips before her head hit the floor and her eyes closed forever.
"NO!" Mai screamed as she shot up in bed, sweat rolling down her face as she gasped for air. Hugging herself, it took a few moments to realize that she was in her own bedroom and not in any danger before her body began to calm itself down. The adrenaline in her system started to dissipate the more her heart rate slowed back down into its normal rhythm, and she started into the darkness of her room in silence.
She took a deep breath.
Unable to see herself getting back to sleep anytime soon, Mai pulled her covers back and got up from bed. She winced as her bare feet touched the cold wooden floor, before sliding on her slippers and making her way to the kitchen for some much needed tea.
Letting out a tired sigh, she ran a hand through her hair. This was the third time she'd had that same dream. At first, she'd thought that perhaps it had just been a nightmare (after all she wasn't on a case or anything), but now she wasn't so sure. Maybe there was a spirit attached to her trying to tell her something? Mai wasn't keen on what that something would be though… and she would have felt it, wouldn't she?
She hadn't told anyone about it and hadn't really planned to either.
It was probably nothing.
She couldn't think of anything it could relate to. Plus, she didn't want to bother anyone and make them worry.
Any time she had a dream they were always worrying, and there wasn't really any need to sound the alarms if it turned out to be nothing. She had weird non-case related dreams all the time, after all. This one was just more… graphic, she guessed.
Using both hands, she drunk from her tea cup and let the warm liquid run down her throat. Almost instantly she felt much better. Calmer. With a clearer mind, she decided that if she had the dream again then maybe she'd tell the others about it. Three times could be just a coincidence… but four times would be a pattern. Wouldn't it?
Or was it three strikes you're out?
When she was finished, she rinsed out her cup and put it away.
As per usual when they weren't working a case, Mai could be found at her desk, head in hands as she stared off at the far wall.
A few papers sat in front of her that needed to be filed away, but she couldn't be bothered to get up and do it.
She was extremely tired. Three nights without a good eight hours of rest was slowly starting to kill her concentration… and her will to do much of anything, really. She was the type that needed a lot of rest to function, which made the fact that she could never seem to get any that much more devastating.
She envied Naru and Lin, who she was sure where inhuman robots who could run on an hour of sleep and still be able to do their jobs with an annoying amount of efficiency.
Who, speaking of, had not shown their faces much at all since she'd entered the building. They were always working on who-knew-what and coming in at who-knew-when… for all Mai knew, they practically lived in the office. It'd make sense. After all, they were usually there before her and were still there when it was time for her to leave.
Later, she'd have to look around later for a human-sized charging station. If she found that, her robot theory would be pretty solid.
Sighing heavily, Mai could feel herself begin to drift off. The silence in the office was not helping in her quest to stay awake. It had been a while since they had taken a case. Almost a month, in fact, since Naru only picked cases that interested him.
That said, it also hadn't been too long since he was released from the hospital… so she supposed she had to give him some slack. She was happy that he was healthy and alive… but just maybe he could be healthy and alive and with a case? That wasn't too much to ask, right? He was being extra picky lately, she'd noticed… but maybe that was just her.
Besides her best efforts to focus on consciousness, Mai's eyelids started to become heavy, 'Gotta… stay… awake…' she thought to herself, not wanting to be reprimanded by a certain someone for sleeping on the job, again.
She could almost hear his voice, actually.
Wow, she really was out of it, wasn't she? It almost sounded like he was calling her name.
"Mai," the voice said firmly, snapping her out of her daze.
She jumped in her seat and turned to the sound. There Naru stood, glaring at her, his body partially sticking out of the doorway.
Straightening, she gulped, "Y-Yes?"
He assessed her for a moment, and then clicked his tongue, not really needing to say anything for her to sense the disapproval at having to stop what he was doing to wake her up.
"Tea," he finally stated, disappearing back into his office with the soft click of his door.
Mai pouted. It was almost as if Naru had a built in radar to tell him exactly when she started dozing off. His timing was just too perfect.
Maybe he really was a robot.
It wasn't long before she was drawn out of her musing by the whistling of the kettle. Absent-mindedly, she poured the tea into a small cup and placed it on a tray before making her way over to her boss's door. Once there, she gave a light knock.
At the command, Mai made her way to the desk and placed the teacup in front of Naru. As always, he was deep into his work, not even bothering to look up at her. She'd let it slide this time since he was looking much healthier lately. Even after having been discharged, Naru had possessed a pale complexion on his face for the better part of a week. Of course, he was already naturally pretty pale, but he'd looked almost ghostly. This was much better. She couldn't help but sigh contently.
"How long are you going to stand there like an idiot? Don't you have work to do?" He asked after a long silence, intelligent blue eyes looking up to meet dazed brown ones. "...Or would you rather stare at my face all day?"
Flushing, Mai scoffed. Of course, he'd automatically assume she was admiring his (begrudgingly) admittedly handsome face. The damn narcissist. "I think the words you're looking for are 'thank you'," she mumbled with a glare, purposely not giving him the satisfaction of a reply to his question. She turned to leave, missing the slightly amused smirk that crossed her boss' lips as she did so.
Just as the brunette closed the door, her attention was brought to the front entrance as a head poked in. A woman in her mid-twenties with long black hair and reddish-brown eyes looked around timidly in hesitation, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth. She was modestly, but fashionably dressed, and could likely rival Masako in the Japanese beauty department.
A small, frail smile crossed the woman's face when she spotted Mai and she fidgeted the rest of the way inside the office before giving a polite bow. "U-um, excuse me…. This is Shibuya Psychic Research, c-correct?"
Mai gave the woman a warm smile, hoping to ease her nervousness a little. "Yep! Can I help you?"
"Ah…" The woman nodded, her head lowering slightly as a worried look spread across her face. "W-Well… I have reason to believe my house may be… ummm…. h-haunted."
Mai could tell just by looking at her that she felt a bit silly coming to ask for ghost help, and honestly, she couldn't blame her.
While the younger woman had been a lover of ghost stories for ages, she hadn't actually known they existed herself until she'd met Lin and Naru. Before all this, if someone had told her that spirits existed, she probably would have been a little skeptical of their claims. That said if someone as hesitant as this woman was looking for help… her case might be a serious one.
Giving her a reassuring look, Mai took the woman by the hand and guided her toward the couch. "Please sit here. I'll get my boss and then you can tell us all about it."
After having made the nervous woman some tea to calm her nerves, Mai stood behind Naru's chair, hugging the tea tray, as her boss' observant blue eyes scanned the newcomer sitting across from them.
Anzai, Yuri, as she had introduced herself, clutched the teacup in her hands with such a grip that Mai was sure it would crack. Her eyes shifted from side to side, and she seemed to second guess herself coming in, to begin with, which only made the high schooler's heart go out to her even more than it already had.
Once Lin had come out of his office and taken the opposite chair with his laptop at the ready, it was time to begin.
Closing his eyes, Naru spoke, his voice gentle with a fakeness that Mai remembered from her first encounter with him. "Please explain your situation, Anzai-san."
"R-Right," the young woman said with a nod, "You see, it all started after my wedding... My husband and I decided to keep the home that my mother had left for me, seeing as I've lived in it all of my life…" she explained shifting in her seat a bit, "I never had a problem with it before, but now… s-strange things have been happening."
"Strange things, as in?" he pushed, encouraging her to get more specific. From behind him, Mai caught the woman's eye and nodded for her to continue.
Yuri took a shaky breath. "The first night there were whispers... followed by the sound of running feet. My husband, Hiro, got up out of bed and took a look… but he couldn't see anything." Her brows furrowed and she swallowed hard. "As the days turned into weeks more things started to happen: b-books being thrown off of shelves... doors s-slamming on their own… and then…"
She paused, squeezing her eyes shut briefly as she sipped some of her tea. "Just the other day I believe I saw something… I was in the living room when the door slammed shut, I ran over to it t-to try and open it but it was locked." She grew noticeably paler. "That's when the room got cold... it was just… so c-c-cold…" her voice started to get even shakier as her story when on, the cup in her hand clattered lightly against the saucer despite her best efforts to still it. "And that's when I saw… her."
"Her?" Mai questioned.
Yuri nodded, "She had long straw long black hair that fell to her waist and her skin was pale, almost like she hadn't been out in the sun in years. I couldn't see her face, her hair was in the way… but she had... the wickedest smiled in the world. I-It sent s-s-shivers down my s-s-sp-sp-spine."
The tea cup began clattering even louder to the point where she had to place it down or risk spilling her tea on herself. Feeling for the woman, Mai set her tray down on the coffee table and went to sit with her on the couch. She pulled Yuri's hands into her own and gave her a look that said she was here for her. The older woman stiffened at first, but the warmth in Mai's gaze relaxed her and she took a deep breath.
Everyone stayed patient as she calmed down enough to continue.
"The woman got closer, I-I was so s-scared that I let out a scream. The door was stuck momentarily, so Hiro has to knock on the door to ask if I was alright. I looked away for only a second, but when I looked back… she was gone."
Yuri let out a shaky breath, completely at a loss. Tears gathered in her eyes. "I'm not sure if… if what I saw… if it was really a ghost… but p-please… please say you'll help me," she asked, bowing lowly in her seat. "I-I don't know what t-to do…"
Putting a comforting arm around the woman's shoulder and passing her a tissue, Mai glanced at Naru. He stared at them in silence, giving nothing away as she tried to pull herself together.
"...We'll take the case," he said after a few moments and stood up from his seat.
At his words, Yuri looked instantly more relieved. "T-Thank you… Thank you…"