A/N: Sorry, again, for taking such a long time with updating. I have nothing to excuse myself with, so I hope that you will all forgive me. eventually. :D
Thanks for my beta, Dark Akuma Hunter, for the patience :)
Even though it was the middle of the day, the room was dim. The curtains were drawn across the windows, blocking out the sunlight and warming the room. Other than the muffled sound of voices from downstairs, it was quiet.
Kyoko stood in her room, looking at the large mirror which hung on the wardrobe door in her soon-to-be old bedroom. She was dressed in a long, black dress, her hair pulled back into a high ponytail, tied with a black ribbon.
She stared at her reflection thoughtfully, before turning her back to the mirror. She didn't want to go; she wanted to stay here. And more than anything she wanted to have her parents back. She wanted them to play with her like they used to, hug her before she went to bed, praise her when she did something good, and even scold her when she misbehaved! She didn't want them to be gone from her life. Her aunt had tried to explain that they had gone to a better place and that they would watch over her from the heavens, but Kyoko didn't want that! They ought to have been down on the Earth with her. They couldn't cuddle her if they weren't there.
A knock on the door interrupted her musings as she moved to check that she had packed everything. It swung open, revealing her aunt, dressed from head to toe in black, her eyes red and swollen from her tears during the ceremony for her sister.
"Are you ready to go sweetie?" She asked quietly, kneeling down in front of the little girl.
Kyoko looked so much like the woman's sister that she sometimes found it painful to look at her, but it didn't mean she loved the child any less. It was why she had agreed to adopt her and take her in. She and her husband didn't have any children of their own, so her niece would be an important addition to their family, filling the hole that sometimes pained them.
"I don't want to go, Aunty," Kyoko said sadly.
"I know Kyoko-chan, but I'm afraid you have to."
She took the girl's hand in her own and grabbed Kyoko's bag before leading her out of the room. Kyoko glanced back. Before she left, a voice floated through her head, one that sounded so much like her mother. It whispered to her.
'Don't worry sweetheart, you'll be back here very soon.'
Mai woke with a start, blinking rapidly against the sudden darkness. The dream she'd had surely had to be about the daughter of the murdered couple. There was something about her that felt familiar…
Something was wrong, she could feel it. There was a strange sensation settled deep within her which was beginning to make her nervous.
Her immediate reaction was to turn to the bed beside her own and wake Cat, but then reality sunk back in and she remembered that Cat wasn't there. She clenched the covers tightly, as though hoping they could protect her. Martin's words from yesterday echoed in her head. She'd been trying so hard not to think about them.
"We should contact their families."
"If we don't find any leads as to their whereabouts by the end of the week, I'm afraid we're simply going to have to accept the fact that they're gone."
She didn't want to accept it – they were her friends damn it. But one traitorous part of her mind whispered its agreement. It had been five days already. That was an awfully long time for someone who had been abducted. And she wasn't completely clueless. She had heard Lin and Martin talking about statistics when they thought no one was listening. The sixth day was the end of the line. That meant that they only had one more day to find Ayako, Takigawa and Cat. Given that they had no leads, the task might even prove to be impossible.
Mai tensed suddenly when she heard something outside her window. The undeniable nervousness was back again and she took a deep breath to try and calm herself down.
She glanced over at Luella through the dark, who was sleeping in Cat's bed, but ultimately decided not to disturb the older woman. She wouldn't know how to go about explaining her worry to her anyway.
Slowly she climbed out of her bed, moving closer to the window. She peered out through the glass, squinting into the darkness. With the moon hidden behind the clouds it was difficult to see, but she was certain that something was out there. She had heard the rustling of leaves. Then again, it could have been her imagination. Late at night, as stressed as she was, it wouldn't be surprising if she was hearing things. But she had learnt from experience that her intuition was right more often than not.
The moon reached out from behind the cover of clouds, lighting the grounds in a dull silvery glow. Mai gasped. There was a figure standing next to the massive tree situated beside the garden.
Mai moved closer to the glass, straining her eyes, trying her best to at least gather a bit of insight into the figure. She swore the figure was staring straight at the house, or at least that's what its body language suggested. It was almost as though it were hiding behind the tree. The figure had a rather petite form, suggesting that it was a child. That's when it dawned on her. She knew that figure. Wasn't it Kyoko, the girl from down the street whom she had seen when they first arrived? But what could she possibly be doing there in the middle of the night? Surely her parents must have been worried about her by now.
Luella sighed in her sleep and Mai spun reflexively to check on her. Assured that she was fine she turned back to the window, and screamed in surprise. She stumbled backwards, hip knocking into the bedside table.
"What's wrong?" Luella asked, jolted awake by her cry and sitting up in bed. She turned on the lamp and faced Mai. "What happened?"
Mai ignored her question for a moment, still staring out the window. It was so strange. No longer was there a young girl standing next to the tree; in her place was an older woman with unnaturally bright eyes. She seemed to be staring straight into Mai's own eyes, and with a start she realised she could somehow hear her voice, whispering in her ear.
'Please help me.'
Takigawa blinked slowly, lifting a hand to rub his eyes. He wasn't sure when he had dozed off, but it didn't surprise him that he had, considering he was still exhausted. Energy was hard to come by when surviving off a measly diet of sweets. If they ever made it out he knew he would never look at chocolate the same way ever again. When he made it back to his apartment he would have to throw out his sweet stash.
He glanced down at Ayako, who was resting with her head on his shoulder. There were dark bags under her eyes and her skin was unnaturally pale. Out of the three of them she had been hit the hardest by the stressful situation. Perhaps it was simply because she had been forced to endure it for longer than the other two had. Either way she was obviously at her wits end, strung out from the mind games the demon kept throwing at them, acting as though they were a loving family. Takigawa worried about her. It was only a matter of time before she lost her temper, and his gut told him it would bring unpleasant consequences.
He shifted his attention to Cat, who sat next to him on the floor, legs crossed and head against the wall. She was staring tiredly up at the ceiling rather than sleeping. Takigawa knew she hadn't slept at all for some time now (exactly how long was difficult to discern, given they had no indicators of the passing of time in their little room). It was a worrying prospect, because up till now Cat had proven to them that she was capable of sleeping just about anywhere, whenever she pleased. This was a different sort of stress to what she was used to dealing with. The girl sought Cat out most often as a companion, begging for braided hair and painted nails. Takigawa was immeasurably proud of her. So far she had managed to keep a tight rein on her temper and refrained from lashing out at the girl. It was an impressive feat in his eyes, considering how fiery she appeared when forced into close quarters with Gene.
"You awake?" Cat asked suddenly, glancing at him out of the corner of her eye.
"Yeah. I couldn't keep sleeping. It seems like only Ayako can manage that these days." He tried to smile, but it was tight and strained, coming across as more of a grimace.
Cat scrutinised the older woman.
"She's not well."
Takigawa stared down at her once more.
"She's a strong woman. I'm sure she'll pull through." At least he hoped so. Without thinking he reached over and brushed several strands of red away from her eyes. "Was everything okay?"
"She didn't show up again while you were sleeping, if that's what you're asking." Cat replied, shrugging her shoulders.
"And how are you holding up?" He asked again, watching her closely.
"Fine, I think. I'm just tired." She rubbed her eyes exhaustedly. "I'm not confident I'll be able to hold on to that stupid older sister façade for much longer. All I can think about is how simple it would be for her to kill us at any given moment. Of course, I know deep down that Mai will never give up on finding us. It's a shallow hope, but it helps."
Takigawa smiled faintly. Yes, Mai's naïve dedication tended to have that effect on people.
"Would you mind calmly explaining why you felt the need to wake me up in the middle of the night, mother?" Naru asked, a dull throb erupting behind his eyes.
Not only had he been having trouble sleeping – his irritation at being unable to do anything plaguing his mind – but almost the moment he did manage to fall asleep, his mother burst into his room, babbling some nonsense about a young girl who changed into an old woman in the blink of an eye. Don't get him wrong, he loved his mother, but sometimes he really wished she was back in London.
"Actually, I think it might be better if I do it," Mai offered hesitantly from where she stood behind his mother, seemingly confused by her behaviour.
And so she did. Once she had explained the dream and the figure to him, Naru felt he could at least understand their frantic actions. At a time like this it was unsurprising that they would react as such. However that didn't mean he believed their theory that it was another ghost.
Without a word Naru swept from the room, marching straight down to the base, where Lin and Gene were watching the monitors, and his father was speaking with someone on the phone.
"Lin, check the cameras outside the house," he instructed. "See if they detected any presences in the last thirty minutes. If they did, find out who it was and where they went. This is crucial. Gene, have you felt anything in the last half hour?" He turned to his brother, who blinked up at him in confusion.
"No, everything seemed pretty normal." He said, before pausing and thinking about it. "Wait. Actually… I thought I felt something, but it was just a flicker, just for a moment. I figured it was just some sort of disturbance, you know? I said the prayer and the feeling was gone."
"Disturbance?" Mai repeated, confused by his wording.
"It doesn't happen often, but occasionally a ghost requires a prayer in order for its soul to pass through the border between the living and the dead. When this happens they usually pester a person with high spiritual awareness. They move on as soon as the prayer is completed. Since they don't have strong levels of energy they are generally called disturbances in paranormal circles." Martin elaborated, closing his phone.
Mai nodded thoughtfully.
"Anyway, son, what is all this about?"
Naru briefly relayed what Mai had witnessed.
"Well then, we ought to visit the neighbours and ask them why their daughter was wandering around the haunted house in the middle of the night." Martin decided.
"Don't you think it's a little late for that?" Luella hedged, "It's the middle of the night."
"Since it's apparently not too late for their daughter to be out and about, I hardly think time is a problem."
In the end Naru and Mai found themselves standing behind Martin as he knocked on the wooden door of the next house over. It appeared as though the residents were all asleep, with not a single light on in the house. Considering that it was, indeed, the middle of the night, that fact was unsurprising.
After a few moments a light flickered on inside, and the door swung open, revealing a young woman who had clearly just woken up.
"Can I help you?" She asked sleepily, rubbing her eyes and covering a yawn.
"Good evening. Listen, we're very sorry to disturb you so late at night. Only, we just moved in to the house on the other side of the forest, and we were a little concerned to see your daughter wandering around the garden just now." Martin explained politely, hoping beyond hope that there would be a simple answer for everything.
The woman stared at him silently, blinking in confusion as she processed and tried to understand what he was saying through her sleep addled mind.
"I'm sorry, you must be mistaken. We don't have any kids." She replied eventually, leaning heavily against the doorframe, clearly wishing she hadn't had to get up. "The only kids in the area, as far as I know, are a couple of boys who live some distance from here. There aren't any girls."
"… I made a picture of our family!"
Takigawa raised his eyes to examine the picture that was being shoved in his face. The culprit stood before him with a self-satisfied grin on her face.
The artist in him had to admit that it was fairly good for someone her age, seeing as the characters actually bore some resemblance to the four of them. That didn't mean he liked the picture though. Still, he forced a smile for her.
"It's lovely, Kyoko-chan," he praised. Truthfully he wanted to tear it to pieces, for it perfectly portrayed the nightmare he was currently in.
He really, really wanted to get out of that damned cell.