Miku opened her eyes slowly. Dim light from the sun that entered through a large window at the side of her room welcomed her. She tried to get up slowly, and almost failed when she realized that her muscles were still way too weak to support her weight. Wait... Something was amiss. Where was she? It was not clearly her room, nor it looked like a hospital. Her hazy mind then recalled of the event that took place before she'd blacked out.
That magi! Hadn't he sustained every damage when they were on running to the entrance? Where was he—?
Her head immediately ached a bit, reminding her that her vision was still blurry from the effect of her transfer of spiritual energy. Miku blinked several times to adjust her vision the light, and fought down a shriek when there was a knock on the door.
"Excuse me." It was not Rolve.
The door creaked open, and a familiar figure stepped into the room. It was Ryoji, Rolve's supervisor in Japan. The warm and polite middle aged man was not wearing his usual white coat, and was dressed casually instead. He smiled when Miku blinked at him. "You've been sleeping for almost twenty two hours," he said lightly.
Miku tried to pull her body into a sitting position on her bed. She had to move real slow since her body almost felt like it'd ben electrified. "Where am I?" she managed to speak in a weak, hoarse voice. She cleared her throat and repeated the question once again. Louder and clearer this time. "Where am I?"
Ryoji grabbed a seat and pulled near to her bed, his back against the opened window. "Some inn I've found when travelling here years ago. It's located on the side of the valley not so far from the abandoned site you've visited. I brought you and Rolve here since it was way better than getting you two hospitalized. Avoiding unneccessary suspicion," he added with a grin.
"Shiki-san..." her voice weakly trailed off.
"Oh, he still needs some rest now," said Ryoji calmly. "You should worry about yourself more. Rolve hasn't told me the details of events yet, but I figure that your state now is caused by a powerful resonance or some sort. Oh, I'm sorry, how thoughtless of me," he quickly added when seing Miku's difficulty in speaking. Grabbing a cup of water from a table nearby, the doctor quickly handed it over to Miku, who was beginning to cough.
She drank the warm water slowly, thankful that at least she felt some mud that'd stuck on her dry throat finally cleared out. "Thank you," she murmured.
Ryoji gave a shrug. "You're welcome. By the way, Hinasaki-san, I've already heard of what'd happened yesterday from Rolve, although he could only maintain his consciousness for around five minutes before completely fell asleep again." His expression darkened and became more serious. "Maybe Rolve has already told you this, but aiding our cause in a case like this has its risks. You must be aware now that this is not a job anyone with extraordinary spiritual power could apply for. One mistake, and it may cause death, or even worse, ruin your whole life." She patiently waited for the man to resume his speech. Ryoji eyed her for some seconds without saying anything, as if awaiting her to react. "After talking for several times with Rolve," he continued, "we've found a way to remove you from this case without arousing the client's or our Circle's suspicion."
She had guessed the possibility of this talk coming up again. Maybe Rolve was indeed a great actor, but he could never fool her. He always had this... look of anxiety whenever she was around. He had covered it with a mask of sarcasm, but unfortunately, Miku was not someone he could hope to fall into his play. She had, after all, spent countless of years putting various of masks to hide her sixth sense, fears and insecurities from people around her—including her housemates and close friends—though of course by a different kind of approach. And she had succeeded in doing so.
"So," she began, "you and Rolve want me to step off from this case?"
Ryoji shifted uncomforably on his seat. "Basically, yes. You will still be paid for all the dangerous works you've done in this one month, and then we shall cut all ties with you..."
There was a pause. "Listen, Hinasaki-san," he said softly. "This is not a game. It is a dangerous work that is full of unknown risks. You've seen what kind of creature the Fallen Ones are, and believe me, you will encounter even a greater threat than—"
"I refuse to back down from this case," she interrupted him. Although her voice was soft, it didn't lack any determination. "If there is something I can do to help, I want to."
Sighing heavily, he ran a hand through his gray hair. "Rolve was right... Looks do deceive, I guess." Smiling at Miku's raised eyebrow, the doctor chukled. "He said that despite your looks, your head is made of solid stone."
If she were to react as a person she'd been before meeting the young half, she'd be, at least, tickled in annoyance from the remark. But meeting him had changed her world and herself. So, she simply smiled calmly instead. "And despite his looks, he is quite soft on the inside, isn't he?"
Ryoji laughed. "You're quite sharp and witty for a young lady, aren't you. Now I can see why Rolve is so troubled and restless lately—dealing with someone so stubborn like you sure is a change of pace for him. And do not take me wrong, it is a compliment," he added with a playful smile.
"Don't worry. I've often received such remark."
"Ah, yes. You are studying journalism, aren't you?" asked Ryoji, as if he'd just remembered it. "I suspect that you've handled cases similar to these before, hmm? I wouldn't be surprised if you have—given your... unusual 'gift'."
Smile dissapeared from Miku's pale face, replaced by a tired, and distant look that came into her eyes. "I have," she admitted, a bit surprised that she'd let herself acknowledge the fact to someone she'd barely known. "And which is the very reason I can't trust Shiki-san just yet."
Her statement earned her a confused gaze from her companion. "And why is that?"
"Compared to him, I may be a novice in this field... But as for me, I thought I've seen and experienced enough for one's life—though of course, it was all just a wishful thinking of mine." A bitter smile came to her lips. "I know exactly what would one feel in front of creatures that don't belong in this realm. I know the fear. I know the temptation to succumb into madness. And I know how to conceal them all."
"Are you saying...?"
"He's hiding too many things from me." Her voice almost fell into a whisper. "I wouldn't be mad if he were to treat me as a mere tool... But he is, how should I put it, hiding things that I know I should've been told of."
At that, Ryoji fell completely silent. Miku glanced at him slowly, but when she didn't receive any reactions from her listener, she continued. "There was a time that I thought of myself as a burden to him. But then he continued to ask for my help. And there was a time when he could've just asked of my help, but he chose not to. I... don't understand him at all. And that's why I can't trust him."
"You don't need to trust him."
Miku threw a confused gaze at Ryoji, and was quite surprised to see how his warm, bright eyes had fallen to cold, expresionless ones. It was as if he'd just removed his mask of kindness and sincerecity that'd fooled her all along.
"You don't need his trust, and he doesn't need yours. As long as you cooperate and aim for the end of this malice, it is more than enough, Hinasaki-san," he explained, as if to a child. "Do remember that we are but pieces of a chess board, the means to win this 'war' against the darkness. As long as you do your job properly and do fulfill your missions, you should let nothing bother you. Rolve does the same by fulfilling his role as a magi and your guardian, doesn't he? We magi don't need trust nor sympathy. Your... thoughts and expectations would only get in the way of this kind of job," he added, this time, although softness had returned to his voice, there was still something that warn Miku not to question further.
She chose to stay silent then, and so did Ryoji. She'd never expected the seemingly kind and caring doctor would be able to advise such a thing. More so the cold look on his face.
But within seconds, Ryoji'd reverted back to his warm and gentle persona, brushing the coldness away as if he'd said nothing worthy of her concern. "Now, Hinasaki-san, I shall not bother you with this old man's ranting any longer. I will be returning to the hospital—there are so many things to attend to." He got up from his seat and was walking halfway to the door before he stopped. "And as for the job, I will consider it as a failure since you two were not able to retrieve any valuable information from the site." Then he walked out of the room.
Letting out the breath she'd been unconsciously holding, Miku leant back with a soft thump. Was she simply a catalyst in their game—whom they could replace once proved useless? Her heart and mind felt heavy: she was unsure whether she should be angry, confused, or relieved. They were using her, she knew. But truth to be told, she didn't mind: rather, she was even fond of the job. It was the first time she'd thought of it: in her life, never she'd been asked such a favor to save people by using her 'gift' before.
People feared what was different to them, and despised the minority who were born or gifted with these... foreign—or 'otherworldly', even—senses. Miku had been taught by her deceased mother that she should conceal her gift should she want to live and enjoy a normal life. It was quite funny, now that she thought of it, to think that so many people wanted to be 'special', while at the same time, those 'special' people ironically strived and longed to be normal.
And now, with this unexpected job turning her life around, she finally felt like she could play the role she'd been given since birth without the need of concealing it. She felt like she finally could do something for those around her with the gift she'd once despised so much. She felt... like it was something she'd meant to do.
Exhaustion attacked her body and mind, reminding her of what she'd passed through in order to be back to the world of the living. Her ears caught the faint sound of soft, refreshing raindrops that'd begun to fall outside.
A subtle smile bloomed on her lips. The rain certainly brought back memories of her younger days... She'd used to play outside when it rained lightly like this in the autumn. The joy of letting the soft, spattering drops of the rain and the gentle breeze that sang along with the falling drops caressing her skin were some amongst the few things she could genuinely embrace. How she wished she could be outside and taste the gift of nature herself; walking beneath the pouring rain and enjoying the sight of red and orange leaves dancing amidst the misty scenery of the valley.
She closed her eyes tiredly, one hand moved slowly to her neck.
There was still the dream. Yes, she still needed to solve the mysteries behind the strange occurance. And the bitter truth of their failure didn't brighten things either. There were also Ryoji's words of warning ringing in her mind, telling her not to step out of the boundaries.
But everything could wait. She could ponder all those things later.
For now, she only wished she could blend in with the calming darkness that crept into her vision. Letting her tired mind be soothed by the sound and scent of the light rain, Miku fell asleep.
Rolve woke up only to find his body aching as if it had been tore apart, just to be reattached again. He growled as he tried to get up. The only comparison to the pain he was feeling now was when he'd been caught in an explosion on a failing mission a year ago, but the injuries were phsycal and not like this: it was as if his soul was the one which had been badly damaged. Then it emerged to his flesh and muscles.
He sat on the edge of his bed and noticed that it had been raining while he was asleep: water drops were still wetting his window, and the dim, orange light carried by the setting sun was covered in gray due to the mist. Inhaling deeply, he fought down the temptation to slumber. He'd rested enough. He would only weaken his already aching muscles if he did not move.
Damn, he mentally cursed.
For a moment there, he'd forgotten about her at all. How were she doing, he wondered. Although she was an adept radar, Rolve could not had asked for more: she was still a normal human whose sense was a bit extraordinary compared to commoners. Well, she had indeed special powers, but her body was sure as weak and fragile to any spiritual beings as any untrained 'radar' was. He didn't know how she'd managed to whistand them up until now.
He stood up, feeling his muscles flexing in pain, and carried his numb feet to the door. Ryoji must had left a while ago, he noted, and he could only hope that the doctor hadn't told anything stupid to Miku. It was a tendency of him that Rolve despised the most: his mouth tended to baffle informations unneccessary to anyone he met. Carefree and talkative, people would say, but annoying and unpredictable in Rolve's eyes. He hadn't been very keen on the old man.
Opening the door leading to a hallway, he made a turn to his left and was about to knock on the door next to his before he decided against the idea. He chose to listen first—an old habit of his. There was almost no sound from inside apart from flipping curtains blown by the autumn wind. Then a soft 'thud'.
She was awake, then. Rolve knocked twice on the door.
Her voice was too soft—weak—and that was to be expected.
"It's me." He almost cursed when he'd heard how his own voice sounded: Hoarse, and much like Miku's, weak.
"You can come in," was her reply. "The door's not locked."
He pushed it open in a slow motion, and stepped into the dimly lighted room. The room was a bit cold, filled with fresh air from outside, since the large window was opened wide. The young woman, clothed in white turtleneck and matching short pants, was sitting on the side, her dark hair flapping around her shoulders, framing her pretty East Asian face perfectly—a sight foreign to Rolve that he'd almost failed to recognized her since she'd never let her comb off her hair. He mused inwardly how women could easily change their appearances just by playing with their hair.
"It's quite surprising to see you're awake and well," he said carefully as he got near to her. "Most people usually unconscious for, at least, two days after their first transfer of spiritual energy." Not to mention overpowering the item used as the medium. Her being able to survive was already a remarkable thing indeed.
She looked thoughtful for a second and then her dark eyes gleamed in a way Rolve'd not seen before. There were no resentmen nor annoyance in her gaze and he could not interpret what it meant. "And you look quite healthy for someone who has taken such damage from malicious spirits."
He raised an eyebrow, shrugging, and he leant back on the wall. His hands buried in his black jeans. "I'm used to this kind of job. It's part of the daily consequences."
"If you're checking up on me, I'm quite fine," she said flatly without eyeing him. Her gaze returned to the scenery behind the window, her expression unreadable.
"Good to know."
And for some seconds, they just stood there in silence, as if in lost of words. Miku had not been a very talkative person, but as far as he'd known her, she had been warm and also considerate as to never letting a situation gone in silent awkward. But she seemed different now. She was s more distant, quiet, and notably cold. Whether he'd done something wrong or she had just gone tired of playing the good, friendly girl...
Rolve sighed. He was not a man fond of social life to begin with, so this kind of situation demanding his speech or reaction to break the tension sure was torture. "Ryoji came to you today?" he guessed aloud.
"That old man often speaks nonsense and blabbers about things in his own light. Whatever he tells you, don't mind it."
She turned her attention towards him, fixing him with a stare that was devoid of any feelings. If there was anything in her gaze, it was only a faint curiosity tickled by the sudden talk of the doctor. "How come you tell me of this?"
"I'm just being informative, that's all."
A move of her head towards the outside world sent her hair astray in a manner of elegance. "Fair enough."
He eyed her for some seconds, waiting for more words but to no avail. "Tell me if you feel anything strange—transfer of spiritual energy tends to bring some unwanted side effects to the body."
She simply nodded in reply.
Rolve hesitated for a moment. "I suggest you don't leave the room until tomorrow," he added, suspiciously eyeing her now.
Another nod. "I will not. Please don't worry."
He couldn't read her expression and that was frustating. Her demeanor and lack of speech didn't help him to understand the mood she was in either. Rolve was never used of people relying on him in conversations, so he chose to shrug it off. "I'll see you tomorrow," he said as he motioned his way to the door, planning to leave and rest as soon as possible. "Rest for now. I'll figure out a way to infiltrate the site in a better way."
There was no reply, so he didn't stop walking and made a way out of the cold room. Once the door was shut, he let out a heavy sigh he'd supressed since he was inside. How he wished it wouldn't budge him... Just what was wrong with her? But then again, Rolve reminded himself that people are just... people. They change, they lie and some of them are obviously good actors. He hadn't known her for more than a month, so he decided that it was futile to be worried of her change in her attitude.
For now, if he got any time worrying about his partner's psychological state and change of behaviour, then he'd better use it for framing some strategy to make up for the failed mission. His hirer and the Circle were not very keen on failures, after all.
Forcing his brain into gear, Rolve walked slowly to his room, his mind was already occupied in battle tactics and imaginaire maps of the area.