Disclaimer: Neither Gosho's works nor Echo Bazaar are mine. Read and enjoy, delicious friend.
"I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams." - Hamlet
The night brings dreams.
One might say everyone dreams, but these are different. Strange, even for wisps of fantasy. They fade, less than half-remembered, upon waking, but there are... remnants.
(Faded does not mean gone.)
Strange, unconscious habits keep company with senseless associations. Peculiar flashes, scraps of inexplicable thought or instinct spun fragile as cobweb are just as quick to dissolve under the faintest scrutiny.
Such nonsense has no place in the clear light of day, not when there is always so much that needs proper attending to. So it is simply disregarded, brushed aside for (reality) more important things.
Hakuba is acting oddly.
Kaito's noticed this because, well, it's a good idea to keep an eye on a detective bent on catching your alter ego. Especially when said detective is stymied only by lack of definitive proof and a sense of honor of tungsten steel. (The fact that he's brilliant and snarky and far too easy to poke at and pokes back is irrelevant.)
So when new patterns begin creeping into Hakuba's behavior, he pays attention.
For now, it's been little things. Things that might be easily overlooked, or dismissed as part of his collection of foreign quirks and eccentricities - by those who do not pay enough attention to realize they don't fit the habits the detective arrived with.
Like the bag of striped oval peppermints that has suddenly found a permanent home in Hakuba's briefcase, offered freely to anyone who seems in need of charming or cheering. Or the slowing of habitually clockwork-precise footsteps to linger for just a moment longer outside the school doors, head turned toward the far side of the grounds where flowers are blooming in the sun. And the slight, courteous nods in passing toward the cats that consider Ekoda High their territory, as though from one professional to another.
He doesn't realize he's doing it.
The one time Kaito asks, after Hakuba acknowledges a scruffy calico by the school gate, the detective blinks in genuine surprise. Several moments pass while Hakuba looks back at the cat, mouth opening and closing a few times. When he finally turns again, the typical confidence in his gaze has been superseded by a glimmer that is not quite bewilderment, not quite unease, and entirely pensive.
The night brings dreams.
In the city of perpetual night, the bright, too-orderly, daylight place-that-isn't is the dream, nonsensical fantasy for all its improbable illusion of internal logic. Whatever subconscious knowledge or instinct it offers must be dismissed because the world doesn't work that way, especially not down here.
And while the universities have whole departments to contemplate and study things that don't (may not) exist, the city proper doesn't afford such luxury. Not unless one is looking to wake up in one of the morgues with no possessions, or to have a friendly chat with the ferryman.
But that wouldn't be wise. No.
Stay the course that led to here and now. Follow the paths that lead to secrets sometimes better left unknown and discoveries better left not found and choices better left unmade. The world above does not house the quarry that will provide satisfaction, and beneath does not allow for cowardice or second thoughts.
There will be a reckoning.
(Justice, to sate the howling anguish that never fades, not since the loss of half-of-self to the cold and the pitiless dark.)
Keep to the familiar safety of the shadows, lurking in the spaces between the candle-lights and the moonless dark. Follow the whispers. Find the people, find the coins, gather the stake to earn a place in the game. The opportunity was not available, before, but now...
There is a chance.
(The gamble of a lifetime. Of a life. Because the promised prize is worth any risk, when all other ways to find what went missing have failed.)
There are whispers circling the school. No one is quite sure what to make of this new strangeness - not Keiko, not Akako, not even Aoko.
Because while ignoring the occasional foreign quirk in Hakuba is easy, it becomes much more difficult when echoes start turning up in Kuroba. It's almost like they're moving in step to some beat no one else can hear.
Now it's not only Hakuba who bows slightly to cats and gestures like a gentleman for them to pass first. Or who inexplicably stares up at blue skies like they're among the most beautiful sights he's ever seen.
Of course, Kuroba's always had his own quirks and clowning. It would be just like him to decide to join the game, wouldn't it? See whether he can out-perform the other center of attention?
It would be easier to think so if either of them seemed to even be aware they were doing it at all.
It's happening again, Hakuba stilling during lunch to stare, blank-faced, at his bento box's contents. Which are perfectly ordinary fare, the sliced shiitake mushroom even arranged in an aesthetically pleasing pattern over the rice.
When he moves again, it is to slowly, methodically, pick the mushroom slices off and pile them in the box's lid.
This in itself would only be mildly odd - the Hakuba Saguru Fanclub's records having never noted an aversion before - except that when Kuroba leans over out of curiosity, he promptly winces in apparent sympathy. Without a word he offers Hakuba a few pieces of his own tempura, and after a moment's surprise Hakuba quirks a wry smile of unspoken understanding and accepts with a grateful nod.
But when they've nearly finished eating, Hakuba pauses and blinks, then glances between the mushroom and Kuroba with an expression that clearly (according to Akako, who is the official interpreter of the silent and subtle methods of communication that these two have turned nearly into an art form) asks, 'Wait, why did we just do that'?
When he meets Kuroba's gaze, the reply is equally silent. It runs something along the lines of, 'I haven't a clue.'
Echo Bazaar/Fallen London is a browser-based game better experienced than described, so check out echobazaar. failbettergames. com. Join us in the Neath, or follow the forgotten dreams at echobazaar. failbettergames. com/Profile/MeijiHolmes.