“Come on, Kaori, hurry up,” Ryo sighed as he stood next the door to Kaori’s bedroom. “Everyone else is going to start showing up any minute now.”
“Hold on,” Kaori shouted back. “I’m almost ready. Stop being so impatient.”
Ryo let out another sigh and leaned against the wall. Currently, he was dressed in costume reminiscent of aristocrats from Europe from the 1700s complete with a long blue jacket and stockings underneath his pants. As he adjusted his jacket, he thought back to earlier that week when Mick Angel had invited him and Kaori to a Halloween party that was being held by a rich expatriate from the United States.
“An old client of mine from the States introduced me to him,” Mick had explained. “His parties are always a lot of fun and plenty of celebrities and beautiful women will be in attendance. I already invited Umibozu, Miki, Reika and Saeko, so you and Kaori should come too.”
Ryo looked down thoughtfully at the costume he was wearing. He had never celebrated Halloween, even when he was living in the United States, and he wasn’t entirely sure about the idea of having to wear an elaborate costume. But the idea of abundant food, alcohol and beautiful women had been more than enough enticement to get him into the spirit of the idea. After accepting Mick’s invitation, Ryo headed straight for several stores to find the perfect costume before going home to let Kaori know about it.
“Ok, I’m ready,” Kaori said, stepping out from her room. Ryo blinked in surprise as he took in the fact that Kaori was wearing a vest made of chain mail underneath an oversized top with a large cross along with a pair of leggings. In her left hand she carried a shield, and she had a fake sword in a sheath that was attached to her hip.
“Kaori, what’s this?” he asked. “Are you going as King Arthur or something?”
“No, you idiot,” Kaori frowned. “I’m Joan of Arc.”
“Of course,” Ryo nodded. “That is a perfect choice for you.”
“Really?” she smiled and blushed. “You mean because she was so strong and brave?”
“No, because everyone thought that she was a man,” Ryo replied. A hammer appeared in Kaori’s hands, and Ryo instantly dropped down to his knees and held up his hands toward her.
“Sorry, sorry,” he whimpered. “Please don’t use the hammer. I rented this costume and will have to buy it if it gets damaged. Think about our budget.”
Kaori glared at him, her hammer poised to strike, for a full minute before finally lowering it and letting it disappear. Ryo then slumped down onto the floor and let out a sigh of relief.
“And who are you supposed to be?” she frowned at him. Ryo laughed and stood back up.
“Isn’t it obvious?” he said as he brushed off his pants. “I’m Casanova, the greatest lover of all time.”
“The greatest womanizer of all time, you mean,” Kaori said with a huff, crossing her arms over her chest. “That certainly suits you.”
“And with a costume like this, Ryo-chan is sure to attract numerous visions at the party,” Ryo continued, ignoring her. “Mokkori guaranteed.”
Ryo laughed again while Kaori put a hand to her face. She was about to say more when the sound of footsteps on the stairwell caught her attention.
“Kaori-san? Saeba-san? Are you here?”
Kaori and Ryo walked over to the hallway to find Miki walking toward them. She wore a cowboy hat and a suede dress with fringe along with a gun belt around her waist and cowboy boots on her feet.
“Ah Miki-san,” Kaori smiled at her. “Great costume.”
“Thank you,” Miki smiled back. “I decided to go as Annie Oakley, one of the best sharpshooters of the Wild West.” Miki then pulled the gun out of its holster and spun it around in her hand.
“Oh, and what did Umi-chan decide to wear?” Ryo giggled.
“He is going as Annie Oakley’s husband,” Miki replied. “The sharpshooter, Francis Butler.”
“But where is he?” Kaori asked, looking around.
“He was right behind me,” Miki said. “Falcon? Falcon, where did you go?”
“I’m not going up there,” Umibozu’s voice rang out.
“Come on, Falcon,” Miki said. “Show Kaori-san your costume. It is very impressive.”
“Come on, Umi-chan,” Ryo grinned.”Let’s see your costume.”
A giant sigh came from the stairwell. The sound of heavy footfalls then echoed as Umibozu made his way up the stairs. Both Kaori’s and Ryo’s eyes widened as they took in the sight of Umibozu wearing a giant cowboy hat along with a fringed leather vest, shirt and jeans, and black chaps. Large beads of sweat shined on Umibozu’s head, and his face turned bright red.
“Ah, ah, Umibozu-san,” Kaori stammered. “That…that is….” Kaori was interrupted, however, by the sound of Ryo bursting out into laughter.
“Aha, ha ha, I can’t believe it,” Ryo laughed as he collapsed against the wall in a fit of giggles, holding his sides. “That…that outfit….”
“Shut up!” Umibozu yelled at him. “This was all Miki’s idea. I told her that I didn’t want to dress up, but she insisted.”
“Don’t listen to him, Falcon,” Miki frowned. “I think you look great.”
“She’s right, Umibozu-san,” Kaori insisted. “It is an impressive costume. Ignore that idiot over there.”
“Ah, Umibozu-san, Miki-san, you’re already here.”
Everyone turned to see Reika and Saeko walking up the stairs. Saeko wore a vaguely Eastern dress which was blue and similar to a belly-dancing costume along with an elaborate jeweled headdress while Reika wore a low-cut, black gown with a long slit near one leg and a pair of stiletto heels. Ryo’s eyes bulged and his mouth dropped open.
“Wow! Ryo-chan likes these costumes,” Ryo grinned.
“Thank you,” Saeko laughed. “I decided to go as Mata Hari.”
“And I’m going as Fujiko Mine,” Reika smiled. “Ryo, you should have dressed up as Lupin, and then we could have gone as a couple.” Ryo walked over and put an arm around each of the Nogami sisters.
“Ah, but I’m Casanova, which is even better,” he said. “Why bother with being the world’s greatest thief when you can be the world’s greatest lover instead?”
“More like the world’s greatest pervert,” Kaori scowled.
“Did you say something, Kaori-kun?” Ryo said, putting a hand to his ear. Kaori frowned even more, but her frown disappeared as she saw Mick and Kazue walking up the stairs to join them.
“Ah, Mick, Kazue-san, you look great,” she said. The others turned to see Mick dressed in a toga with a breastplate of armor with sandals and a long pair of leather gloves while Kazue wore a white flowing dress.
“Thank you, Kaori-san,” Kazue smiled. “We decided to go as Tristan and Isolde.”
“Kaori, my sweet,” Mick said as he bounded toward her. “Ah, you decided to go as Joan of Arc. Wonderful costume.”
“Thank you Mick,” Kaori replied, making sure to smirk at Ryo. “It’s nice to see that some people actually know what they are talking about.”
“Hmph,” Ryo pouted. “At least I have the sense to not wear a dress, unlike Mick here.”
“It’s not a dress, it’s a toga,” Mick insisted before putting an arm around Kaori. “Kaori, I like this costume, but you should have gone as Venus. It would have suited you even more.”
“Aren’t you forgetting something, Mick?” Kaori frowned. “Or more accurately, someone.”
“Whatever do you mean, Kaori-chan?” Mick asked, leaning even closer to her.
“Mick,” Kazue growled behind him. Mick yelped and let Kaori go. He then made sure to put an arm around Kazue and hold her close to him.
“Sorry, Kazue, my love,” he said. “I didn’t mean anything by that. I swear, you’re the only one for me, my Isolde.”
Kazue turned her head from him and moved to stand next to Kaori. Ryo laughed again at the sight.
“That’s what you get for wearing a dress for a costume,” he said, yanking both Reika and Saeko even closer to him. “You should have gone with something more mokkori-friendly like I did.”
“It’s not a dress, it’s a toga,” Mick repeated, a scowl on his face. Ryo laughed again, but his laughter stopped when both Saeko and Reika shoved his arms away from them and walked off to the side.
“Ha,” Mick grinned. “Some Casanova you are. Looks like the ladies are immune to your charm.”
“Shut up,” Ryo shot back. “Just wait until we get to the party. Then you’ll see my true power as the Shinjuku stallion shine through. Those visions won’t stand a chance against my Casanova persona.”
Ryo grinned again, and put his hands close to his chin while a bit a drool appeared at the corner of his mouth. His mind was filled with dozens of exotic and sexy costume possibilities for the other women at the party, but his fantasies were interrupted by the feeling of a sword poking him in the back.
“And if you’re not careful, you won’t stand a chance against my divine punishment,” Kaori said as she gave him another hard poke with the sword in her hand.
“Ah, ah, Kaori-chan, the coat the coat,” Ryo babbled. “Don’t tear a hole into it. Remember what I said about having to pay if it’s damaged?”
“I remember,” Kaori smirked. “I also know though that you won’t be wearing that costume forever. Make sure that you remember that.”
Ryo laughed nervously as Kaori put the sword back into its sheath.
“The men around here are all the same,” Kazue sighed. Kaori nodded vigorously in agreement.
“Hmph, don’t put me in the same group as those useless perverts,” Umibozu said, turning his head to the side. Both Ryo and Mick turned toward him, grins on their faces.
“Nice chaps,” Mick sniggered. He then leaned against Ryo as they both burst out into laughter.
“And that hat,” Ryo giggled. “Don’t forget the hat.”
“Shut up!” Umibozu shouted again. “I’m going home.” Miki grabbed his arm to stop him.
“Please Falcon, don’t go now,” she said. “Who cares what those two idiots think? I still say that you have the best costume of all the guys here.” She then wrapped both of her arms around his and rested her head against him. Umibozu’s face turned an even deeper shade of red while wisps of steam rose from his head.
“Miki, cut that out,” he said, trying to exact his arm from hers.
“Shouldn’t we be going?” Kazue said with another sigh. “Mick, you said that the party starts at 8 pm. It’s almost that time now.”
“Right,” Mick said, regaining his composure. “And I know for a fact that our host is not a patient man, even if he does throw great parties. Let’s go.”
Everyone headed down the stairs and out the door of the apartment building. As Kaori got into Ryo’s Mini-Cooper, she felt a shiver go down her spine.
“What’s wrong, Kaori?” Ryo said, noting her expression as he slid into the driver’s seat.
“Ah, it’s nothing, nothing,” she said. “I just….I just felt a weird chill is all.”
“Oh, maybe that means you’ll see a ghost tonight,” Ryo grinned. “Mick did say that this guy lives in a mansion that is rumored to be haunted.
“Don’t say that,” Kaori gasped. “I still remember being possessed by Ami-san’s ghost while we were protecting her sister, Mami-san. I never want to go through that again.”
Ryo laughed and started up the car. Kaori gazed out the window as he drove down the road, her expression pensive.
‘That idiot, trying to scare me with all that talk about a haunted mansion…Still…what was that feeling just now? It was like someone was looking over my shoulder, watching me.’
Kaori shivered again and turned her eyes toward the windshield. She decided to try to put any apprehension she had aside and focus on having fun at the party…and on making sure to keep Ryo in line.
“I had no idea that a place like this even existed in Japan,” Kaori gasped.
Ryo couldn’t help but agree as he drove up to their destination, a giant mansion in the outskirts of Tokyo. The building was constructed of brick and stone and was three floors high. Towers and rooftops that spiraled into cones along with a variety of gargoyles sitting on the edges of the grounds only added to the gothic feel of the place.
“Mick said that this guy was from a rich family and that he moved to Japan fifty years ago,” Ryo said. “Apparently, he had this house imported, piece by piece, from the United States and he added onto it over the years.”
“Wow,” Kaori replied as Ryo parked the car. “It really does look like a haunted house. Say, Ryo, you were just kidding, right? About there being ghosts here?”
“Maybe I was,” Ryo smirked at her. “Maybe I wasn’t. Are you scared, Kaori-kun? I could take you home.” Kaori narrowed her eyes at him, and put her hand back on her sword.
“Not a chance, Ryo,” she said. “If I go home there won’t be anyone to keep Casanova in line. I’m not letting you fool me that easily.”
“Well it was worth a try,” Ryo laughed. “Let’s go find the others.”
The two of them got out and handed the paper invitations that Mick had given them over to a butler standing near the door and were escorted in. Once inside, they were surprised by the opulence of the interior. Numerous oil paintings were on the walls and other pieces of art, like vases and statues, were on display on stands and glass cases. The furniture was comprised of wood and leathers, and the floor was tiled with a black and white checkerboard design. Ryo and Kaori looked up to see a domed ceiling with giant crystal chandelier above them.
“So pretty,” Kaori said. “This place doesn’t seem creepy once you go inside.”
“Yes, but it is a little overdone, don’t you think?” Ryo sighed. “I guess some people just enjoy spending money and making sure that everyone knows it.”
Kaori chose to ignore him while exploring her surroundings. Soon, the two of them were guided toward a large ballroom area which was already filled with people in costumes and masks. On one side of the room, tables held a bounty of food and across from them stood a makeshift bar, complete with bartenders. A series of smaller, round tables stretched out from banquet tables.
“Kaori-san, Saeba-san over here.”
Kaori looked over to see Miki standing next to one of the tables of food and waving at them. Kaori and Ryo walked over toward her.
“Ah, Miki-san, there is a lot of food and it all looks so good,” Kaori said. “But where is Umibozu-san?”
“Falcon is here,” Miki said. “He’s sitting at one of the corner tables. I was just getting ready to get some food and some drinks for us before joining him.”
“I can’t really blame him for hiding,” Ryo smirked. “I wouldn’t want to be seen in those chaps either.”
“Let it go, Saeba-san,” Miki said with a glare.
“Where is everyone else?” Kaori asked.
“I saw Saeko-san and Reika-san walk off with a group of men a few moments ago,” Miki replied. “And Mick and Kazue-san are over there, talking to some of the other guests. Hey, Kaori-san, would you and Saeba-san like to join Falcon and me?”
“Sure, we would….” Kaori started. She stopped, however, when she realized that Ryo had disappeared. Both Miki and Kaori turned their heads to search the room.
“I wonder where Saeba-san went,” Miki said. Suddenly, they heard the familiar sound of the shrill screech of a woman, and Kaori gritted her teeth.
“I said no and I mean no!”
“Come on, just one drink.”
“I think I just found him,” Kaori said, marching off in the direction of the sound.
“Forget him, Kaori-san,” Miki said, holding out a hand to stop her. “Why don’t we just get some food and join Falcon? We can have fun on our own without him.”
But Kaori did not hear her and continued on her trek toward the source of the screeching. Eventually, she saw a young woman race off as best she could in her long gown and heels with Ryo close behind her. Kaori grabbed the handle of her sword and was ready to chase him when Mick and Kazue appeared behind her, accompanied by an older man with greying hair.
“Ah, Kaori, I’d like you to meet one of my old clients and the reason why we were invited to this party,” Mick said. “Mr. Abernathy, this lovely woman is a friend of mine, Kaori Makimura.”
“A pleasure to meet you,” the man said, holding his hand out to shake one of Kaori’s. “Mick, I see that you haven’t changed. You’ve only been at this party for ten minutes and already you have two beautiful women in your company.”
“Oh, beautiful?” Kaori said, putting her hands to her cheeks and blushing. “Oh no….”
“But it’s true,” Abernathy replied. “You’re a lucky man, Mick.”
“Ah well,” Mick said sheepishly, putting his arm around Kazue. “I’m just fortunate to have a lot of beautiful female friends. But Kazue, here, is my one and only.”
“Mick,” Kazue breathed, her eyes lit up with happiness. She wrapped her arms around one of his and rested her head against his shoulder. Mick responded by smiling back at her and holding her even closer.
Watching this scene between Kazue and Mick produced a twinge of jealousy in Kaori’s heart and she immediately felt guilty for it. Desperate to find something else to think about, she put on her best smile and turned toward Abernathy.
“Abernathy-san,” Kaori said. “Mick said that you know the owner of this mansion who is also hosting this party. What is he like?”
“Yes, I know him. His name is Bruce Tremwell. An interesting man, I can tell you that,” Abernathy replied. “I met him many years ago when I was a teenager. He is polite and friendly even though he is rather reserved and private in regards to his personal affairs. He is also very well read and is knowledgeable on a variety of esoteric subjects including the occult.”
“The occult?” Kaori echoed. “You mean things like ghosts?”
“Yes, an obsession he developed at an early age, from what I understand,” Abernathy continued. “He is an expert on the realm of the supernatural.”
“I wonder what his wife is like,” Kazue mused. “She must be an interesting person herself to put up with a hobby like that.”
“Actually, Mr. Tremwell never married,” Abernathy replied.
“Oh, was he also the philandering, perverted type?” Kaori said, rolling her eyes.
“Also?” Abernathy said, quizzical. “Well, no, Mr. Tremwell was not free and easy with the ladies, if that is what you mean. Everyone I’ve met who has known him has said that he was always a gentleman. But for some reason, he never fell in love with any of the women he courted. I know that there was a rumor once that some woman, who he had met here in Japan, had stolen his heart, but I guess nothing ever came of it because he always remained single.”
“Oh,” Kaori said, lowering her eyes. “I’m sorry, for….”
“Do not worry about it,” Abernathy said with a smile. “No harm done, I say. After all, it’s not as if Mr. Tremwell would have had a chance to hear your words.”
“But isn’t this his party?” Kazue asked. “Isn’t he somewhere around here?”
“No, Mr. Tremwell never attends these galas in person,” Abernathy said.
“So, you’ve never actually met him, Mick?” Kazue asked, turning toward him.
“No,” Mick said. “Not in person. Mr. Abernathy is the only one I know around here who has actually met him.”
“And I must confess that it’s been long time since I’ve seen him in person,” Abernathy added. “We have maintained a correspondence over the years, but I have not laid eyes on him since I was a teenager. Mr. Tremwell became something of a hermit these last couple of decades, and I do not think many people have seen much of him at all. Only a few of his most loyal and trusted servants see him regularly.”
“Really?” Kazue responded. “But you were able to get invitations to this party….”
“Yes, because I asked him for some extra ones in one of my latest letters to him,” Abernathy interrupted. “Not because I asked him in person.”
“How sad,” Kaori murmured. The others looked at her, surprised.
“Kaori-san….?” Kazue said.
“He has all of this money, knowledge and power, but he has spent all of these years alone,” Kaori continued. “He shut himself off from the world and never had the chance to experience love with another person. That is a sad way to live. I doubt that he really deserved that kind of life.”
“Unfortunately, you are correct, Miss Makimura,” Abernathy nodded. “Mr. Tremwell is known to be a generous man and has contributed a great deal of money to charitable causes. To be honest, I have never understood why he never committed to a woman and became a recluse. I know that Mr. Tremwell was considered to be a handsome man, and as I said, he has always been a gentleman. I am sure it would not have been difficult for him to find a woman to love.”
“Maybe…maybe the person he loved did not love him,” Kaori continued, her eyes downcast. “Maybe since he couldn’t be with the love of his life, he couldn’t face living in a world where people all around him were happy with the people they love. I suppose it would be easy to give in to a desire like that, to lock yourself away from everyone in an effort to avoid focusing on that kind of pain.”
Kaori fell silent and continued to keep her eyes planted on the floor. Mick quickly grew concerned at her words and her somber demeanor and reached over to touch Kaori’s arm.
“Kaori,” he said. “Are you….?” Kaori looked up and smiled at him.
“Ah, what am I saying?” she said with a laugh. “It’s not like I ever met Tremwell-san, so I can’t really know the reason behind his decisions. Don’t mind me. Anyway, thank you again, Abernathy-san, for allowing Mick to invite all of us to this party.”
“You are very welcome, Miss Makimura,” Abernathy replied. “I hope that all of you have fun tonight.”
“Go away! Quit following me!”
The four of them looked to see three more women dressed as maids rush by them with Ryo close behind them, his arms outstretched and a grin on his face.
“Don’t go,” Ryo said as he ran. “Your Casanova is waiting for you.”
“Excuse me, Mick, Kazue-san, Abernathy-san,” Kaori said with a scowl, her face turning red. “I need to take care of something.” She then pulled her sword out of its sheath and eyed the blade with a sardonic grin on her face.
“Ah, ah Kaori, that isn’t a real sword, is it?” Mick asked, nervously. Kaori turned to glare at him for second before resuming her quest to catch up with Ryo.
“Mick, I must say, you do know the most…interesting people,” Abernathy said. “Are you sure that nothing serious will happen?”
“Oh, don’t worry, this kind of thing goes on all the time,” Mick laughed again.
“Indeed,” Abernathy replied, raising his eyebrow. He then turned to continue talking to Kazue while Mick watched Kaori stomp away from them.
‘Kaori, those words you spoke just now….’
Mick silently shook his head. He had noticed that Kaori had been subdued and distracted for the last three months, but had not found a way to get her to talk about what was on her mind. He had invited her and Ryo to this party partially as a way to help cheer Kaori up and partially to see if he could finally get her to open up about what was bothering her. As he reflected on what Kaori had just said, Mick was beginning to have an idea of what was going on, and he was worried about the state of Kaori’s heart.
Mick held Kazue a little closer to him as she continued to converse with Abernathy. He decided that he would make sure to have a talk with Ryo at some point during this party.
‘He might be aware of Kaori’s state of mind, but he probably doesn’t understand the real implications of it…But I am going to make sure he does by the end of the night, no matter what.’
In a corner of a room overlooking the ballroom area, a man stood in the shadows, watching the guests below. He had noticed Kaori almost as soon as she arrived, and his eyes and ears had been following her ever since. He had listened to the conversation she had had with Mick, Kazue and Abernathy, and a smile reached his lips.
‘Kaori Makimura, is it? I think you are the one I have been looking for all this time. Yes, in fact I am sure of it.’
His smile melted away as feelings of guilt crept into his heart. He knew that Kaori’s role in his plan would mean the end of her life, and a part of him felt sorrow at having to sacrifice a woman like her in the pursuit of his goal. But despite his regrets he remained determined to go through with his designs for her.
‘Soon…soon I will see you again, my beloved Maiko.’
‘Because Kaori Makimura will be the one to bring you back to me.’
Kaori continued to search the ballroom for Ryo with little success. The maids had eventually met up with their dates for the party, and Ryo managed to disappear a few seconds later. After that, things had quieted down, and that made Kaori even more agitated.
‘Where did that pervert sneak off to?’ she asked herself. ‘Don’t tell me that he’s managed to talk some woman into mokkori.’
Kaori tightened her grip on her sword, but ended up putting it back into its sheath. Even though she usually did not like the idea of wasting money, she had a feeling that she would be needing one of her hammers once she found him.
Meanwhile, on a balcony overlooking the grounds, Ryo stood next to a woman wearing a long sleeved black dress with a witch’s hat on her head.
“So, Casanova, are you here all alone?” the woman asked, a smile on her face. Ryo smiled back and moved closer to her.
“I came with some friends,” he replied. “But truthfully, I was hoping to meet a vision like you at this party.”
“Oh, a vision like me?” the woman laughed. “And do you have any plans for after the party?”
“I might have some plans now,” Ryo smirked, putting his arm around her. “I think you have put a spell on me.”
“Did I? But what about those other girls I saw you chasing earlier?” she asked him. Ryo put his other arm around her and drew her close.
“Well, I am Casanova,” he smiled. “I can’t help but notice all the women around me. But I could be yours alone for this one night.”
The woman smiled again and put a hand to his face, running her fingers along his cheek down toward his chin.
“Hmmm, you are handsome,” she said. “Just my type. I must admit that your offer is a tempting one.”
“Then let’s go somewhere more private,” Ryo said. “And I will show you why I am dressed as the world’s greatest lover.”
The woman’s smile grew and her eyes closed as she tilted her head up toward Ryo. Ryo put his hand under her chin and closed his eyes as he leaned down to kiss her.
The kiss was interrupted, however, by one of Kaori’s hammers smashing him into the floor.
“Ryo!” Kaori yelled at him. “You heartless mokkori maniac.”
“Kaori,” Ryo scowled as he crawled out from under the hammer. “You said that you weren’t going to use one of your hammers.”
“What is all this?” the woman said, crossing her arms over her chest. “I thought you said that you just came with some friends to this party. You didn’t mention that you had brought your wife with you.”
“She’s not my wife!” Ryo protested as he got back onto his feet. “Are you kidding me? What makes you think that I would marry a transvestite like that?”
“Who is a transvestite?!” Kaori growled, as she picked her hammer up for a second strike.
“Kaori, don’t!” Ryo yelped, his hands over his head. “You’ll completely destroy the costume.”
“And it will be your fault,” Kaori said, narrowing her eyes at him as she raised the hammer over her head. “You can just pay for it out of your allowance.”
“Well I am leaving,” the woman said, turning her back toward Ryo and Kaori. “Clearly, there is no place for me here.”
“Wait…wait, don’t go,” Ryo said.
“Oh no,” the woman harrumphed. “I wouldn’t dream of getting between you and your lover.” She then stormed off, and Ryo held out a hand toward her.
“She’s not my lover,” Ryo insisted. “She’s just my assistant.”
“So? Is that all I am?” Kaori said. “Not a woman, not your partner, just your assistant?”
Ryo ignored her and continued to watch the woman walk away. As soon as she was out of sight, he whirled around toward Kaori, an angry look on his face.
“And not a very good assistant either,” he snarled at her. “Idiot, why did you do that? It’s not like she was a client or one of your friends. You had no right to interrupt us.”
“I had no right?” Kaori echoed. “How dare you? How dare you say that to me?”
“Say what?” Ryo frowned. “Say that I’d like to spend some time with a woman who is interested in me for a change? Say that I would like to be with someone who doesn’t yell at me all the time and hit me with a hammer constantly? Say that I would actually enjoy being with a woman who does not always assume the worst of me and call me a pervert?”
Kaori’s mouth dropped open as Ryo said all of this and she lowered her hammer. Ryo brushed off his shirt and coat and moved to stand directly in front of her
“So now you tell me,” he said. “What right exactly do you have to stop me from doing any of that?” Kaori’s face turned red and she began to tremble.
“You,” she stammered. “You said…you said that I was….that I was….”
Kaori’s hammer disappeared as she backed away from him, tears brimming in her eyes, and Ryo’s expression began to soften.
“You said that…that I was the one you love,” Kaori whispered. She then turned and ran away from him as fast as she could.
Several minutes later, Ryo was still on the balcony and was standing near the edge so he could stare into the night sky.
He knew, of course, what Kaori had been talking about. He thought back to Miki’s and Umibozu’s wedding day, Kaori’s abduction, and the battle with General Krutz three months ago.
“I said that I would protect the one I love….”
That was what he had told Krutz when he had finally defeated him and saved Kaori’s life. Kaori had heard all of it, his promise to protect the one he loved and his declaration that nothing, not even death, was as terrible as watching the one he loved sacrifice herself. Kaori had heard all of this, and Ryo knew that she had taken it to heart.
But even though he had meant all of it, after it was over, Ryo was once again filled with doubts. Doubts about their situation and doubts about himself. He wanted to believe that he could have something more with her, some even deeper than the partnership that they had, but his old fears remained.
The confrontation with Shin Kaibara, his father, not long before that, had brought these fears even closer to the surface. Not only was Ryo reminded of the dangers Kaori faced as his partner, the death of his father was another painful reminder of how death seemed to be his constant companion, taking away the people closest to his heart time and time again.
So he held back, unwilling to take the final step of transforming his partnership with Kaori into a complete union of body, mind and soul. Ryo tried to tell himself that it was only because he was worried about her safety and because he didn’t want to take chances with her life.
Anything to avoid facing the other side of the truth: that he was afraid that he wasn’t enough for her.
'What is she thinking, offering her heart to someone like me? The man who has killed hundreds of people and slept with almost as many women. What could I possibly offer someone like her? A peaceful home? A family? A real future? I could never give her any of those things.’
Ryo sighed and leaned against the railing of the balcony while tugging at the ruffles at the ends of his shirtsleeves. He thought about Kaori in her Joan of Arc costume again. He had found it appropriate that she decided on such a tomboyish persona, but he wondered if she realized just how apt her decision was.
‘Joan of Arc…strong, brave, a pure heart willing to sacrifice herself for righteousness…the very essence of Kaori…’
Ryo closed his eyes. He knew that Kaori had been waiting these past three months for him to make the next move in their relationship, and she had suffered in silence the entire time. She continued to take care of him, his home and his work, as she had done for years. She continued to give him so much, and Ryo knew that she only wanted one thing in return…and it was the one thing he simply could not give her.
“Ryo, what are you doing?”
Ryo looked around to see Mick walking up behind him. He then turned back toward the outside as Mick stood beside him.
“I could ask you the same question,” Ryo sighed. “Why aren’t you with Kazue-chan? I’m sure she misses you.”
“Kazue is visiting with Miki and Falcon,” Mick answered. “What about you? Why aren’t you spending time with Kaori?”
“I thought that I was invited here to have fun tonight,” Ryo pouted. “How am I supposed to have fun if I’m being chased by a woman with a hammer?”
Ryo glanced over to see a frown on Mick’s face and his blue eyes narrowed at him.
“Why are you treating Kaori this way?” Mick continued. “I know that she loves you, and you’ve already admitted to me that you care for her. So why are you continuing to play this game with her?”
“You know better than anyone why,” Ryo replied, turning his gaze toward the sky again. “You know how dangerous it is to get too close to a woman while working in this profession. Why don’t you ask Umibozu some time how he felt about watching Miki-chan get shot on their wedding day?”
“Ryo, that’s just an excuse and you know it,” Mick shot back. “Falcon hasn’t walked away from Miki, and I am not walking away from Kazue. And I know that both Miki and Kazue do not regret the choices they made to stay with the men they love. Kaori is just as committed to you and the life she would have to lead….the life she has already led for the past six years.”
“Or maybe it’s possible that I’m not that committed to her,” Ryo retorted. “Maybe she is my partner in City Hunter and nothing more. You’ve known me for years, Mick. Have I ever been able to commit to just one woman? Do you honestly think I could now?”
“I know that you have been with numerous women,” Mick responded. “But I am also certain that you haven’t been with one like Kaori before. She is worth more than all of those women combined. Quite frankly, I don’t think you really have a choice when it comes to whether or not you should commit to her. Why not just admit that you already have?”
Ryo let out a long sigh and turned away from Mick.
“Ryo, please think of Kaori,” Mick continued. “Haven’t you seen how much she had suffered these last few months? A few words from you could take all that sadness away. Don’t you think Kaori deserves that much?”
“She does,” Ryo said, his back still turned toward him. “In fact she deserves far more than that….far more than I could ever give her.”
Ryo shoved his hands into his coat pockets and swiftly walked away before Mick could say another word. Mick clenched his hands in frustration, but did not follow him.
‘You’re an idiot, Ryo,’ he thought to himself. ‘A woman like Kaori…she does not fall in love with just any man. She fell in love with you precisely because you could give her everything she wanted. Why can’t you see that?’
Kaori continued to run away from Ryo, the party and all the people who watched her rush by. Eventually, she found herself along in a dim hallway, and she sank down onto the floor. Once there she pulled her knees toward her chest and hugged them close to her.
Her mind went back to three months previous. She had been shocked to hear Ryo refer to her as the one he loved and her heart had nearly burst with happiness. After he had rescued her, and as he held her tight against him, Kaori was convinced that the last barrier had been broken and that Ryo was finally ready to open his heart to her.
But then time passed and nothing changed. Life went on as before, and Ryo never said another word about what had had happened or the things he said that day.
‘Did he regret the things he said?’ she mused. ‘Or perhaps he never truly meant them. Perhaps they were simply words spoken in the heat of battle. Words to mock and unsettle his opponent.’
Kaori put her arms onto her knees and rested her chin in her hands. She when she thought about it objectively, she had to admit that she hadn’t really know what she should expect after that day. Ryo was Ryo and it was not as if she could expect him to change just for her.
‘I’ve been with him for six years. I should know by now what I am choosing by staying with him.’
‘But…will that be enough? Can I be happy with just…this? This partnership we have now? Now and for the rest of my life?’
Kaori sighed and shook her head. She knew that this was far from a simple question with easy answers. A part of her knew that her heart would continue to wither if she continued to try to live without love, without even the hope of love. But an even larger part of her knew that she could never leave Ryo. Not willingly. Her life, her heart were already his. There was no way she could ever take them back, no matter how much she might want to.
“Excuse me miss, are you all right?”
Kaori looked up to see a tall man with light brown hair with streaks of grey at the temples and silver eyes looking down at her. He wore a jet black tuxedo and a black mask that framed his eyes.
“I…I’m fine,” Kaori said. “Sorry, I didn’t mean….” The man held a hand out to her and Kaori took it. She then blushed as he helped her to her feet.
“Are you alone at this party, Joan of Arc?” the man smiled at her. Kaori’s blush increased in its intensity.
“Ah, I came with some friends,” she said. “I’m afraid I got a little lost. This mansion is so big….” The man laughed and held out an arm to her.
“You’re right, it is an enormous place, isn’t it?” he said. “Well then, if you did not come with a date, will you do me the pleasure of offering me your company for a while, Miss….?”
“Kaori,” Kaori replied. “Kaori Makimura. And I would like that very much.”
“Kaori, what a lovely name,” the man nodded as she put an arm around his. “You can call me Bruce.”
“Bruce?” Kaori said. “What a coincidence. Apparently the man who is throwing this party and who owns this mansion is also named Bruce. But I thought that….”
“Yes?” Bruce said. Kaori blushed again and then shook her head.
“Oh never mind, it’s silly,” Kaori laughed nervously. “I was thinking for a moment that you could be Bruce Tremwell, the man who lives here. But that’s ridiculous. Tremwell-san moved here fifty years ago, and you don’t look like you’re a day over thirty. There’s no way you could be him.”
“It is pretty unlikely, isn’t it?” Bruce chuckled. “Are you disappointed?”
“Not at all,” Kaori said. “And I’d…I would really like to go back to the party with you.”
“Then let’s go,” Bruce said, guiding her along. “The evening is still young, and I have a feeling that it’s about to get a whole lot better.”
Kaori stood near a large picture window with Bruce standing next to her, and the two of them watched the moonlight cast a pale glow onto the gardens outside while the distant strains of music played on in the background. They stayed that way silently for several minutes until Bruce cleared his throat.
“Would you like to return to the party and dance with me, Kaori-san?” he asked her. She blushed again both at his request and the way he smiled at her.
“Um, yes…no….I don’t know,” she stammered. “Sorry, I….”
“It’s all right,” Bruce nodded. “We don’t have to dance right away. We can just stay here for a while longer if you would like.”
Kaori nodded and smiled. Unsure of what do next, she fidgeted in place for a moment before speaking.
“Bruce-san,” she said. “Did you come here alone? Or is there someone here with you?”
“No, there’s no one,” Bruce replied. “I am alone. That is why I am glad to have met someone like you this evening.” Kaori turned an even brighter shade of red, and Bruce looked over at her with concern etched into his features.
“What’s wrong?” he asked. “Do you think that I am lying?”
“Ah no, it’s not that,” Kaori said. “It’s just…I’m not used to…to hearing things like that.”
“Why not?” Bruce asked, astonished. “A beautiful woman like you probably receives compliments like this all the time. To be honest, I was shocked when you told me that you did not have a date for this party.”
“Ah, Bruce-san,” Kaori murmured. “I, um, no I don’t hear things like that so often, no, so I am just not used to them is all.”
“Does this, by any chance, have anything to do with the man I saw you with earlier?” he asked. Kaori gasped, and Bruce shook his head.
“I apologize,” he said. “I must confess that I was privy to pieces of your conversation with him. I was appalled at the cruel way he was treating you and when you ran away, I ended up searching the mansion for you to see if you were all right. Tell me, is it true that you work with him or….?”
“He’s my partner. We work together, yes,” Kaori said. “And I’m sorry if you were worried, but it was nothing. We have arguments like that all the time, so it’s no big deal. Really.”
“Nothing? How can you say that?” Bruce replied. “After the things he said to you? Is he always so unkind to you? ”
“That is not how it always is,” Kaori said. “Sometimes Ryo is rude and selfish, but he can also be a gentle and generous person. And…and the fact is, sometimes I’m not all that nice to him either.”
As the words left her mouth, Kaori contemplated the truth behind them. She thought more about what Ryo had said to her earlier, and she had to admit that she could not remember the last time she had said something nice about him to his face or had complimented him in his presence. She could, however, think of many times recently when she had called him a pervert or had hit him with a hammer. Kaori was still convinced that some, if not most, of those incidents were well deserved, but the more she thought about it, the more she began to wonder if she overreacted at times or was perhaps a little too thoughtless in regards to his feelings.
“Ryo? Is that his name?” Bruce asked with a snort. “I have had the misfortune to observe his antics at this party. From what I have seen, I doubt that he deserves any sort of kindness from you.”
“You’re wrong,” Kaori said, her eyes flickering with defiance. “Ryo’s not perfect. He does have plenty of flaws. But underneath it all, he is a good man with a strong, caring heart.”
Kaori blushed again at the shock written on Bruce’s face at her vehemence, and she immediately looked down at the floor.
‘Why am I so willing to say all this to a stranger, but never to Ryo?’ she asked herself. ‘I have been waiting and longing for Ryo to open his heart to me, and yet I haven’t been willing to tell him the things I think and feel about him. Sometimes yes, when we were in danger, but never in the quiet moments and never about the little things. Never about the day to day reasons why he has my life and my heart.’
“You’re in love with him,” Bruce said, breaking her reverie. Kaori bowed her head even more. She usually tried to deny it, but right now, she couldn’t think of a good reason to do so.
“Your feelings and your defense of him are very admirable,” Bruce said. “As befitting a fine woman like you. But I am afraid that this man, Ryo, does not share your feelings.” Kaori trembled at her words.
‘Could he be right? Could I just be seeing what I want to see in Ryo’s actions and words?’ she wondered. ‘No, the kiss, the things he said to Mick that one time…I know he feels something for me. But…is it just a bond that grew from our partnership or….?’
“Kaori-san, I may be being bold here,” Bruce continued. “But I cannot help but express how I feel. Love, true love, cannot thrive in a vacuum. It will simply wither away if there is no reciprocation. In cases like this, it is better to let the flame of love and romance die out and find a way to rekindle it with someone else. Someone who is capable of giving as well as receiving love.”
Kaori continued to shake slightly and held her arms close to her chest. She could not deny the wisdom behind his words, but the idea of giving up and allowing her love for Ryo to be snuffed out felt…wrong and horrific to her. She felt Bruce put a hand on her shoulder, and she shivered at how cold she suddenly felt.
“True love, true romance, they are worth any sacrifice,” Bruce continued, his voice low and hypnotic. “No matter how unfortunate or sorrowful those sacrifices might be.” Something in his tone made Kaori uneasy and she looked up at him.
“Bruce-san?” she whispered. Bruce looked at her with a sad smile on his face before tightening his grip on her and placing his other hand onto her forehead. As soon as he did so, her entire body was chilled and her mind was filled with a pale fog. Soon her eyes rolled back and she felt as if her breath was being taken away. Kaori fainted and started to slide down toward the floor, but Bruce caught her in his arms and fluidly swept her off her feet before carrying her to another part of the mansion.
“I regret forcing you into this role, Miss Makimura,” he said as he carried her. “But I am afraid that I have no choice. Besides, in the end, it will be better for you this way. Better for you to dream your romantic dream with a prince that only exists in your mind for a while longer before slipping into eternal sleep.”
He eventually took her into one of his private rooms, intent on beginning the first part of his plan.
Ryo leaned against a wall in the ballroom, watching the people dance around him. After leaving Mick, he returned to the party and tried to find the woman he was talking to earlier. He soon gave up on that and searched for some other woman to spend some time with. But every time he spied a woman he was interested in, hesitation gripped him and he could not bring himself to approach her. A couple of times, a woman would try to approach him, but Ryo found that he could not work up the energy to stay engaged with them, and soon she would leave him alone. Eventually, he decided to get himself a drink and was now sipping at it while silently observing the festivities.
‘If I can’t find a woman, then the next best thing to do is to get drunk,’ he told himself. ‘So much for having fun at this party. Just what was Mick thinking inviting me and Kaori to something like this anyway?’
Ryo continued to brood and was about to refill his drink when another woman caught his eye and he nearly dropped the glass in his hand.
A tall man in an all-black tuxedo and black mask was walking into the room with a woman on his arm. The woman wore a wig of long black hair and her makeup was tinged with blue with blue lipstick on her lips. She wore a long white kimono with accents of pale blue and an obi of royal blue. The two of them walked slowly onto the dance floor and then began a languid waltz together.
Ryo continued to stare at the woman. It was not just because she was beautiful and wore a striking costume…it was because he recognized her instantly being as she was the woman who was closest to his heart.
‘Kaori? What is she doing in that outfit? And for that matter what is she doing with that man?’
Ryo felt a dull flame of some unknown emotion begin to burn inside him. He could not discern what it was, but he was certain that he did not like what he was seeing. He put the glass down onto a nearby stand and marched over toward Kaori and the man she was dancing with. Ryo put himself directly in their path, causing the man to frown and glower at him.
“Excuse me,” the man said. “But I am trying to enjoy a dance with this lovely lady.”
“I do not know who you are,” Ryo said, his tone cold. “Nor do I care. But the woman you are dancing with is my partner. And I am telling you to let her go.”
“Oh, your partner?” the man said with a smirk. “Well if you ask me, I think she prefers my company over yours. If you don’t believe me, why not ask her?”
The man then took Kaori by the shoulders and turned her toward Ryo. Ryo blinked hard at the vacant stare that greeted him, and his agitation grew.
“Kaori, what is going on?” he asked. “What happened to your Joan of Arc costume?” Kaori stared at him for several seconds before finally opening her mouth to answer.
“I...I am Yukionna now,” she said. “Not Joan of Arc.”
“Yukionna?” Ryo replied. “Well I admit that it is a nice look, but that is not you. Your Joan of Arc costume was far better suited for you. At any rate, let’s go. Mick, Kazue-chan, Miki-chan and Umi-chan are probably wondering where we are.”
“No,” Kaori murmured. “I…I want…I want to be with Bruce. Leave.”
Ryo’s eyes widened as his confusion grew. Even though it was definitely Kaori speaking those words, Ryo did not recognize the cold, emotionless voice that emanated from her lips.
“I think the young lady has spoken Mister…Saeba, is it?” Bruce said. “I’d ask that you leave us now.” Bruce’s tone was somewhat polite if a touch haughty and that only served to intensify the anger that was started to creep into Ryo’s soul.
“Kaori,” he said, making sure to keep a soft tone with her. “Let’s go and I will get you a drink. I have something I need to say to you.”
“I’m sure whatever you need to discuss can wait,” Bruce said, putting his arm around Kaori’s waist and pulling her close to his chest. The gesture was a gentle, but a deliberate act of ownership in Ryo’s eyes and in that moment, Ryo felt his anger morph into hatred for the man who dared to try to claim Kaori like she was some kind of shiny trinket.
“Leave,” she repeated. “I want to stay here.”
Ryo clenched his hands but remained silent and still. At that moment he wanted to grab Kaori and drag her away from Bruce, but he also did not want to cause a scene or upset Kaori if she truly did want to stay. He struggled to regain a more relaxed air and put forth a hint of a smile.
“You’re right, it can wait,” he said. “I will let the others know and I will catch up with you later.” He started to walk away, but Ryo stopped when he saw Kaori’s eyes become shiny and wet.
“Ryo,” she whispered. Ryo started slightly, startled to hear her say his name in the warm voice he was familiar with.
“Come now,” Bruce said, putting a hand on her chin and turning her face toward him. “Mr. Saeba can wait for us to finish our dance.” She robotically nodded and turned back toward him, letting her arms fall limply against Bruce’s sides while Bruce held her close to him and guided her to waltz with him.
As he watched the two of them resume their dance, Ryo was filled with disgust. His instincts had continued to tell him that something was wrong the moment he saw Kaori with this man and now he was completely certain that they were right. Still, he was unsure of the correct way to proceed and decided that the best thing to do for now was to wait and continue to keep a close eye on them. He retreated from the dance floor and proceeded to disappear into the crowd.
Once Ryo was gone, Bruce grinned and held Kaori even closer to him.
‘Soon, not much longer now. Soon my Maiko, you will come back and I will finally have the chance to love you the way I should have before.’
"Yukionna" is literally "snow woman" and is a reference to an old legend in Japan about a wandering spirit who was made of snow.
A couple hours later, Mick, Kazue, Miki, and Umibozu were searching the ballroom for both Ryo and Kaori. The party was winding down, and many of the guests had left, but none of them had seen either Ryo or Kaori for hours.
“What about Saeko-san and Reika-san?” Kazue asked. “Maybe they left with them?”
“No,” Mick said. “Last I heard, the two of them were invited to yet another party by a pair of twins from some powerful family in Osaka. I don’t think we’ll be seeing the Nogami sisters until at least tomorrow.”
“Ryo’s car is still outside,” Umibozu added. “So I am certain that he did not leave.”
“Unless Saeba-san found someone to take him to another party as well,” Kazue said with a huff.
“Kazue, Ryo wouldn’t have left Kaori behind,” Mick said. “I’m sure of that.”
“And Kaori-san would not have gone off with someone else,” Miki insisted. “So they both must be here somewhere.”
“I tried asking some of the staff who I’ve met before,” Mick said. “None of them have seen them, but I was able to convince a couple of them to let us stay until we meet up with them. So I guess we’ll have to start looking around the mansion.”
“But this place is huge,” Kazue said. “Where do we start?”
“Miki and I will start on the left wing of the mansion,” Umibozu announced. “Mick, you and Kazue go to the right. Mick, are you armed?”
“Umibozu-san? Do you really think that they are in that kind of trouble?” Kazue asked.
“Saeba-san has many enemies,” Miki replied. “Enemies who would take any opportunity they could to get to him directly or try to use Kaori-san to get to him.”
“I don’t have a gun, but I’m not defenseless,” Mick replied, pulling a fold aside of his toga to reveal a stash of small knives. “I will be all right.”
“Good, then we will meet back in this area in an hour,” Umibozu continued.
“Better make it closer to two,” Mick said. “This is a big place, and I suspect that there could be a lot of hidden passages and rooms.”
“Agreed. Miki, let’s go,” Umibozu said. Miki nodded, and she and Umibozu rushed off down one of the hallways. Mick then turned and put his hands on Kazue’s shoulders.
“I want you to take my car and go to the professor’s, just in case,” he said.
“No, I’m staying with you,” Kazue insisted.
“What is it?” she asked.
“If you come with me, I don’t know if I can protect you,” Mick replied, his eyes downcast. “I’ve lost my skills as a sweeper. Even Falcon, with his blindness, still has an advantage since he can still fire a gun. If anything were to happen….”
Kazue stopped him by placing her hands onto his.
“You may not be a sweeper anymore, but I still believe in you, Mick,” she said. “I believe that if something were to happen, you would find a way to protect me. Just like Kaori-san and Miki-san, I knew what I was getting myself into when I fell in love with you, and I am not going to back away the moment things get a little hazardous.”
Kazue raised Mick’s gloved hands toward her cheek and rested it against them.
“Let me show you,” she said. “Let me show you that I am ready to face all the challenges and dangers of being a part of your life.” Mick removed his hands from hers and embraced her.
“Kazue,” he whispered. They stayed that way for a moment before Mick finally let her go.
“All right,” he said. “But make sure to stay a step behind me. No matter what happens, I want to be sure that I’ll be the one to encounter it first.”
Deep within a cloistered section of the basement, Tremwell smiled as he thought about how well his plan was moving along.
After meeting Kaori and placing a sleeping spell upon her, he did worry that her strong will would make it difficult to hypnotize her sufficiently to bend her to his demands. He discovered, however, that the conflict currently raging in her heart made her vulnerable to his enchantment. He had even tested the strength of his work by getting her to change costumes so she would become Yukionna, a character that was a part of one of his beloved Maiko’s favorite folk tales.
‘You see now, Kaori Makimura, don’t you? Your attempts to love a man like Ryo Saeba lead to nothing but folly for you. It was that misguided love that made you fall prey to my trap.’
What Tremwell had not expected, however, was the reaction Ryo had had upon seeing the two of them together. He had thought that Ryo would show the same careless indifference he had displayed earlier in his argument with Kaori. Instead, there was clear menace in Ryo’s tone when he had ordered him to let go of his partner. Tremwell admitted to himself that, for the first time in a long time, he was actually intimidated by the aura Ryo projected, but it had still not been enough to break Tremwell’s determination.
Once Ryo had left them and disappeared in the crowd, Tremwell had thought that he had won and celebrated his victory by continuing to dance with Kaori in his arms while imagining his upcoming reunion with Maiko.
As the party reached its end and the last of the guests began to leave, Tremwell began to formulate the next stage of his plan and was guiding Kaori toward one of the secret passages in the mansion when he felt a presence lingering around him. He glanced around was eventually able to find its source.
‘Ryo Saeba….you’re still here after all. Watching me. Watching your partner.’
Tremwell was concerned, but still confident. Continuing to use his knowledge of arcane powers, that he had spend years acquiring, he managed to conceal his and Kaori’s presence and sneak away down into a hidden corridor in the mansion. As he made his way down the stairwell, Tremwell smiled as he realized that Ryo had not been able to follow them.
All of this led to where he was now, in a chamber in the very bowels of the mansion. He had released Kaori from her hypnotic state, but had also taken the time to restrain her using a circle of enchantment on the floor. He then removed his mask and continued to make preparations and chant spells to prepare for the final stage of his plan.
As he continued to recite incantations, Kaori slowly awoke from her unconscious state. She realized that she was lying on a circle in the middle of the floor and tried to lift herself to her feet. She was startled to discover, however, that she could not move beyond a sitting position.
“What…what is going on?” Kaori asked. “Why can’t I move?” Tremwell completed reciting the latest series of spells and turned to face her.
“You’re awake,” he said. “I am impressed. I thought that that spell would have kept you unconscious for far longer than that.”
Kaori blinked a couple of times and then looked down at the outfit she was wearing, a blush and an angry scowl reaching her face at the same time.
“You pervert!” she spat at him. “Did you change me into this costume?” A small one ton mallet appeared in her grasp, and Tremwell was not able to stop himself from raising an eyebrow and gasping in surprise.
“Calm down, Miss Makimura,” he said, holding his hands up at her. “I may be many things, but I am still a gentleman, first and foremost. I assure you that it was you who put on this guise and that I was out of the room while you changed.”
“What did you do to me?” she asked her anger not abating in the least. “Where is Ryo?”
“Oh, are you really so confident that Saeba is still here at the mansion?” Tremwell smiled at her. “Perhaps he is elsewhere finding pleasure in the arms of another woman.”
“He’s here,” she replied, narrowing her eyes at him. “He never would have left me alone like this.”
“Your continued faith in your partner is touching, but it hardly matters,” Tremwell replied. “But there is no way for him to find us here, and even if by some faint chance he eventually stumbles upon this room, it will be too late for him to do anything to stop me.” Tremwell moved closer to her and watched as Kaori suddenly shuddered and shivered.
“You were wondering what I have done to you,” he added. “Merely a couple of simple enchantments, designed to make you more…pliable and manageable so to ensure that you will not disrupt my plan.”
“Enchantments?” Kaori said. “Do you magic?”
“Something like that,” Tremwell nodded. “Although these are not the vulgar parlor tricks meant to amuse gullible audiences looking for a cheap thrill. I have devoted years of my life to the study of supernatural forces that exist around us and have learned to harness their power.” Tremwell then leaned down toward her, a smile on his face.
“You have seen numerous demonstrations of this power first-hand,” he said. “For example, I imagine that you had no idea how correct you were in thinking that I could be the Bruce Tremwell, the one who owns this mansion…because I am indeed that man.”
“That’s…not possible,” Kaori stuttered. “You’re lying. Tremwell-san is an old man.”
“Do not let my youthful appearance deceive you,” Tremwell said, standing back upright. “The fact is, I am actually over eighty years old.”
“Eighty years?” Kaori echoed. “But how….?”
“It was not easy, but I discovered a way to maintain my physical youth some decades ago,” Tremwell replied. “Granted, it does come with some costs, but they are nothing that cannot be negated with a few well placed sacrifices of people who would not be missed in this world.”
“You’re a monster,” Kaori gasped, her eyes gleaming with rage.
“Not so,” Tremwell said. “I am simply a man with one mission, one need in my life. And that is to find a way to reunite with the love of my life, Maiko.”
“Maiko?” Kaori said. “So…so what Abernathy-san said was true? You did fall in love with someone once?”
“I did,” Tremwell said. “But then fate was cruel and took her away from me. Ever since that day, I have spent every waking moment looking for a way to bring her back into my life. And after years of searching, I found a series of enchantments that will draw her soul back into this world. There was, however, one thing that was missing from my plan, and that was the perfect woman to offer as a sacrifice to complete the spell and make available a body for my Maiko to inhabit.” Tremwell reached down and put a hand under Kaori’s chin and tilted her face toward him.
“That is where you come in, Miss Makimura,” he said. “After years of waiting, I finally found the woman I need.”
Tremwell removed his hand and Kaori huddled down onto the floor, shivering again. Tremwell watched her for a moment before nodding and turning away.
“You feel it, don’t you?” he said. “My spells have created a portal for spirits to return to this world. You see, there are spirits who continue to walk closely beside those among the living, consumed by a desire to protect and watch over the people dearest to their hearts. My spells have made it possible for them to move even closer to the people they still love. Even as we speak, the spirit of my Maiko is drawing closer to me and to our plane of existence.”
“Please, let me go,” Kaori murmured. Tremwell looked back over as she lifted her head, her eyes pleading and filled with tears.
“I am sorry that you lost the woman you love,” she said. “But this isn’t the answer. Please.”
“I am sorry,” Tremwell said, regret lacing his tone. “But I have spent too many years waiting, longing for even one more moment with my Maiko. I cannot bear it any longer.” Tremwell then turned away and walked toward the exit.
“Apparently your friends are very determined to find you,” he said. “But I can assure that they will not succeed in their quest. And as for your partner…he will not leave this mansion alive. I will make sure of that.”
Tremwell paused and turned toward her.
“You might as well end your struggles to escape that circle,” he said. “Soon it will drain your willpower and you will become little more than a shell, ready to accept Maiko’s spirit.”
Tremwell then opened a door and left, locking it behind him. Kaori slumped back downward and crossed her arms over her chest, hugging herself tightly. The idea of ghosts surrounding her had filled her with terror and she continued to shake while a pair of tears slipped out of her eyes.
‘Ryo, where are you? Please hurry up and find me.’
She then remembered what Tremwell had said to her and felt her tears increase.
‘No…no, Ryo. Stay away. Forget about me. Don’t throw your life away for my sake.’
Kaori wiped her face with a trembling hand. She was already beginning to feel weak and tired and her fear increased as she sank further down onto the floor.
‘Please…someone help me….’
“Hold on. I am here.”
Kaori’s head shot up and she managed to push herself into a sitting position again. The voice she had heard had sounded so warm, so familiar.
“Who’s there?” she stammered. She saw movement in the shadows at a corner of the room, and she felt her heart leap into her throat.
“No…stay away,” she said.
As soon as she heard her name, Kaori became still, her heart beginning to pound. She knew that voice. She had heard it say her name countless times growing up and when she realized who it was, her eyes filled with tears again…but this time they were tears of joy.
“Aniki!” she cried out. Seconds later, she watched in awe as her brother stepped out of the shadows, a smile on his face.
“Aniki,” Kaori cried again as Makimura crouched down beside the circle. “I can’t believe you’re here. I thought…I thought you were….”
“I still am, Kaori,” he said, his tone sad despite his smile. “Tremwell’s spells have just made it possible for you to see me. And I want to make sure you know that I am always with you and am always thinking about you.”
Kaori reached a hand toward him and watched as it went through one of Makimura’s hands. His form flickered as he shook his head.
“No, I’m afraid I won’t be able to stay for long. Nor will you be able to touch me,” he said. Kaori wiped her eyes, and settled back onto the floor.
“It’s all right,” she said. “I…I’m just glad that I got to see you again. Even if it’s only for a little while.” She then paused and cleared her throat.
“Aniki,” she continued. “There is something I need to say to you.”
“You are in love with Ryo,” Makimura said. Kaori gasped and slowly nodded her head. “Do not worry, Kaori. I have known for a long time now. Even before my death, I knew that you were in love with him. That is part of the reason why I asked him to take care of you…because I knew that he had captured your heart.”
“You knew?” Kaori said.
“It’s not as if you could really hide it,” Makimura smiled at her. Kaori laughed slightly and swiped away some more tears.
“You said that was part of the reason,” Kaori said. “What was the rest of it?”
“Well part of it was a suspicion I had about Ryo,” he continued. “One that I am happy to say has been proven right. But another part of it was because I had a feeling that this work, the work of City Hunter, was best suited for you. Kaori, I am proud of what you have done as Ryo’s partner, both for him and for all the people you have helped.”
“Aniki…thank you,” Kaori said. “For what you just said and for everything you did for me.”
Kaori suddenly felt light-headed and put a hand to her face.
“I feel…so weak,” she murmured. She was about slide back down onto the floor, when she felt a warm sensation inside of her give her strength. She looked up to see Makimura holding a hand out toward her.
“Hold on, Kaori,” he said. “And do not worry. I will give you my strength, the strength to fight this spell that Tremwell has placed on you. Just hold on and fight with me.”
“No,” she protested. “No, you should forget about me. Tremwell…he said that he was going to kill Ryo. Hurry and go to him. Aniki, protect him, not me.”
“Do not worry, Kaori,” Makimura repeated. “Ryo is fine. The fact is, there is already someone watching over him…Someone far more powerful than me. I am certain that he will not let anything happen to Ryo.”
“Someone watching over Ryo?” Kaori asked. “But who….?” She then fell down to her side and closed her eyes.
“Save your strength,” Makimura told her. “Just relax and concentrate on my voice. I won’t let Tremwell’s spell overtake you. We will fight together until Ryo gets here.”
Kaori nodded and focused her mind on her brother’s voice, secure that she would be safe until Ryo came for her.
As he continued to search the mansion for Kaori, Ryo could not shake the sense that he was being followed.
After the confrontation with Bruce during the party, Ryo had made sure to maintain surveillance on him and Kaori while keeping his presence hidden. Even though he continued to fume at how Bruce held Kaori in his arms and at the way that he touched her, he remained outwardly impassive and continued to formulate various plans of action so as to be prepared for whatever happened next.
Eventually the guests began to leave, and Ryo was determined to remove Kaori from Bruce’s embrace, by force if necessary. When he realized that Bruce was guiding Kaori away from everyone else, Ryo followed them. He had tried to make sure to be as covert as possible and was shocked when he saw Bruce look around with a knowing expression on his face.
Ryo opened the door next to him and began to search yet another room. He ground his jaw as he thought about how Bruce was able to suddenly vanish with Kaori and was still trying to understand how Bruce had accomplished it.
‘It wasn’t just that he disappeared from my line of sight,’ he pondered. ‘If was as if he was able to make his and Kaori’s presence disappear as well.’
Ryo shook his head as he examined both the floor and the walls of the room he was in. Over the years, he had met a couple of people who possessed skills comparable to his own who were also able to conceal their presence from him. This was the first time, however, that Ryo had run across someone who could not only hide their own aura, but the aura of a person accompanying them as well.
A chill suddenly filled the room, and Ryo shivered in response. He had noticed this chill a couple of other times recently and was somewhat disturbed that these incidents were increasing in frequency. If he were to try to put a name to it, Ryo could only describe it as the aura of darkness and death. It was an aura that Ryo knew existed within himself to a certain extent, but this was different. This was much more generalized and omnipresent as well as far more insatiable. It was a lust to extinguish any and all life in its path, not just the life of a given target.
The chill soon became an oppressive cold, and Ryo started to reach for his gun when just as suddenly as it appeared, the venomous atmosphere seemed to retreat from him. It was then that the sense of someone traveling close to him renewed its intensity. It was a pattern that had repeated itself more than once by now, and it mystified Ryo.
Ryo looked around him, his hand still hovering near the gun in his holster. This other presence was also a powerful one, one tainted with darkness, but it was different in that it held no malice toward him. Ryo was also confounded by the realization that this presence was a familiar one even though he could not place it.
Ryo moved his hand away from his holster and frowned. He wasn’t entirely sure if he believed in the notion of an afterlife, but he had also seen and experienced too many things to completely dismiss the possibility.
‘Perhaps the rumors about this place being haunted are true,’ he mused. ‘So, do I have a ghost following me?’ This idea brought the hint of a smile to his face, and Ryo immediately thought of one person who he could envision guarding him as a specter.
‘Makimura? No…not Makimura. Maki-chan never had an aura like this, the aura of a killer. So who…?’
As Ryo walked out of the room, he felt this presence continue to shadow him, carefully and with plenty of stealth. He felt something stir in the depths of his heart, and Ryo was surprised to feel a surge of courage and confidence fill him; courage and confidence that were rooted in the encouragement from someone who believed in him and in the knowledge that there was someone supporting him in the background.
Ryo closed the door behind him and looked to see that he was at a crossroads of passageways. He studied each one, trying figure out the best path when he was suddenly struck by inspiration that guided him toward the right. He did not entirely understand what was compelling him to make this choice, but Ryo had long since learned to trust his own instincts in situations like this.
He stepped toward the right, and as he did, Ryo let out another smile, his eyes glancing around for any sign of a spirit who could be following him.
‘Right it is then. Whoever you are, I hope you plan on accompanying me to the end. I have a feeling I will need your help before this is all over.’
“Falcon! Will you stop hiding back there,” Miki said, exasperated. “The cat is gone, I promise.”
Miki crossed her arms over her chest and tapped her foot as Umibozu slowly inched out from behind a suit of armor that did little to conceal him.
“Hmph, this is the second black cat that has run across our path,” Umibozu said, trying to regain a detached air. “No one mentioned that there would be any cats here. And just how many are there in this place anyway?”
The two of them resumed their search, annoyance still visible on Miki’s face.
“You know, Falcon, you still have not told me why you have this exaggerated phobia of cats,” she said. “I know that Saeba-san knows, so why won’t you tell me?”
“It’s not something you need to know or that I want to talk about,” Umibozu frowned. “And trust me, if I had my way, Ryo wouldn’t know about it either. Fortunately for him, he hasn’t told anyone else about it because if he ever tried, I would have to kill him.”
“Have you ever thought about how ridiculous this is?” Miki countered. “A professional with the reputation like yours being afraid of cats?”
“I am not the only one with aversions like this,” Umibozu replied. “Why is it that you don’t seem fazed by the fact that Ryo is terrified of flying? Have you seen his reactions to the very thought of traveling by plane? Completely undignified.”
“Saeba-san has a good reason to be afraid of flying, given his childhood,” Miki said. “And I do not think it’s the same as being frightened of kittens. At least there is the possibility of getting hurt or even dying if something were to happen while on a plane. How could a tiny cat present any real threat to someone like you?”
Umibozu did not reply and continued to search silently while Miki let out a sigh. Several minutes passed without incident, and Miki was about to propose searching in another direction when something caught her eye.
“Falcon, does this statue seem strange to you?” she asked.
Umibozu raised an eyebrow as she approached it. It was marble statue of a man in ninja attire holding a katana made of iron in one hand. He continued to reach out with his senses from a distance while Miki moved even closer to it.
“The area around the joints of the arms looks worn,” she said. “As if the arms move on a regular basis. I wonder if there is some kind of trigger mechanism here.” Miki started to reach for one of the arms and Umibozu suddenly felt his nerves tense in alarm.
“Miki! Don’t touch the statue!” he yelled.
Umibozu had spoken one second too late, however, and Miki gasped as the statue moved and the katana began to fall toward her head. Before it could reach her, Umibozu grabbed her waist and lifted her away from the danger. The two of them fell backward onto the floor as the sword landed on the floor with a thud.
“That was close,” Umibozu said. Miki was about to respond when she spied a flicker of movement in a corner of the room.
Umibozu immediately jumped away from Miki and yelped.
“Cat! Not another cat!” he nearly screamed. He was so desperate to get away from the cat that had appeared that he did not notice it when another statue that was holding an axe started to move.
“Falcon! Watch out,” Miki yelled, leaping toward him. Umibozu responded to her yell by jumping to the side and pulling her along as she ran into him, narrowly missing the axe which fell harmlessly to the floor.
“Falcon, are you….?”
“The cat! The cat! Where is it?” Umibozu bellowed. “Is it still here?”
“No it’s gone,” Miki said as the two of them sat up. “Falcon, this is exactly what I was talking about. Your phobia of cats almost got you hurt or worse.”
“Hmph, I’m not worried,” he said as he got to his feet and brushed himself off.
“How could you not be?” Miki said as she got off the floor. “What if something happens the next time?”
“It won’t,” Umibozu insisted. “It won’t because I always have my partner by my side. The best partner for me.” Miki immediately smiled and her eyes sparkled with happiness.
“Falcon,” she said, wrapping her arms around his waist. Umibozu rested his hands on her arms for a second before coughing loudly.
“We need to keep searching,” he said. “Kaori could be in trouble. So could Ryo for that matter.”
“You’re right,” Miki nodded, letting him go. “And don’t worry, I’ll make sure to keep an eye out for any more cats.”
“And that is one of the things that troubles me,” Umibozu said. “Only someone with the most diabolical of minds could think to keep so many cats in a place like this.”
Miki put a hand over her mouth to suppress a laugh as they walked down the hallway.
“Mick, I hope that Miki-san and Umibozu-san are having more luck than us,” Kazue sighed. “We’ve searched at least a dozen rooms with no success.”
“I know,” Mick sighed. “Just how many rooms does this place have anyway?”
“I thought you might know,” Kazue replied. “After all, you’ve been here before, right?”
“Yes, but it’s not like I spent my time exploring the mansion during those parties,” he said. “I was too busy.”
“Doing what, might I ask?” Kazue said, glaring at him. A giant drop of sweat appeared on the back of Mick’s head.
“Ha ha, I don’t remember really,” Mick laughed. “I’m sure it was nothing important.” Kazue sighed and put a hand to her face.
“Honestly, why do I keep ending up around perverts?” she asked herself. “The Kitagawa family, the professor, not to mention Saeba-san and now you.” Mick grinned and put an arm around her.
“Maybe in my case, it’s my undeniable charm,” he said.
“Or maybe I’m just the unluckiest woman in Japan,” Kazue sighed again. Mick pouted, but maintained his cool as he led her out of the room they were in and back into the hallway.
“So where should we go next?” Kazue asked.
Mick glanced around the passageway and opened his mouth to speak when a faint sound reached his ears. He held up a hand to Kazue and slowly advanced toward the source of the noise.
Mick blinked as he heard another sound come from above and looked up to see a chandelier falling down toward them. He grabbed Kazue and threw himself toward the side of the hallway. They landed inches from where the chandelier hit the floor. Mick was about to ask Kazue if she was all right when the faint sound from earlier grew louder. He whirled around to see a mace on a rope swinging toward Kazue’s head.
“Mick!” she gasped. Mick grabbed one of the knives from his toga and threw it at the rope, severing it and causing the mace to drop harmlessly to the floor in front of them.
“That was close,” he said, letting out a breath. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” Kazue answered. “Mick, what you did with that knife…that was….”
“It was nothing,” Mick smiled. “But I guess those lessons I got from Saeko recently were useful after all.”
“You’ve been getting lessons on handling knives from Saeko-san?” Kazue said. “You didn’t tell me. Could it be because you’re picking up more of Saeba-san’s bad habits and are letting yourself get manipulated by her too?”
“Ah no, I wouldn’t do that,” Mick said, holding up his hands at her. “I’m not an idiot like Ryo. I’d make sure that any and all debts with her were promptly paid off.”
“Oh and how would you make sure of that?” Kazue asked. Mick laughed even as beads of sweat fell off his forehead.
“It’s not what you think, I swear,” he said. He let out one last laugh before slumping down as his expression grew more somber.
“The truth is I, I didn’t want you to worry,” Mick said. “I’m still trying to figure out how to live without the abilities I used to have with guns. And you already did so much for me while I was recovering from the angel dust, I didn’t….”
“Mick,” Kazue said. “Please don’t think you have to hide things like this from me. Instead let’s face them together.”
“You’re right,” Mick said, shaking his head. “Sorry, Kazue.”
“It’s ok,” she said. “We’ll figure things out eventually. Now, we should probably keep looking for Saeba-san and Kaori-san.”
“Right,” Mick said, rising to his feet and helping Kazue up as well. “We might as well start with this next room.” He started to reach for the handle when Kazue grabbed his hand at the last second.
“Mick, don’t,” she said. She then picked up a piece of the chandelier and threw it at the door. As soon as the glass touched the handle, sparks of electricity danced all around.
“Kazue, thank you,” Mick said. “But how did you know?” Kazue said nothing, pointing instead to something behind him. Mick turned to see the shadow of a man walking away and disappearing into the darkness.
“It was my fiancé,” she answered. “He warned me to stop you.”
“Your fiancé?” Mick said. “You mean the one who was killed by the Kitagawa family?”
“Yes,” Kazue said. “It was him. Or I guess you could say it was his spirit. Trust me, I can hardly believe it myself, but I know it was him.” Mick put his arm back around her and stared off at the direction the shadow had disappeared in.
“Do you think he’s angry to see you with me?” Mick asked.
“No,” Kazue said, tears shining in her eyes. “No, just before he walked away, I could hear him whisper something to me. Just four words: farewell and be happy.”
Mick nodded and held Kazue closer to him while she leaned her head against his shoulder.
Tremwell frowned as he gazed at the array of monitors in front of him.
So far, none of the traps he had set for any intruders had managed to stop the people currently searching his home. Even worse, he could see that Ryo was getting closer to the secret passageway to the basement.
“Odd,” he mused out loud. “I sent some powerful phantoms after Saeba and yet they keep retreating when they get too close to him. Is Saeba’s presence that overwhelming?”
“Or…is there someone guarding him who is actually able to repel them?”
Tremwell’s frown deepened and he closed his eyes so he could concentrate. He did not like the progress Ryo was making in his search, and he decided to put an end to this game. He murmured an incantation and soon a black fog of energy swirled down the corridor, gaining speed and power as it moved.
“That gun you are carrying will not help against this phantom, nor will this one retreat so easily,” Tremwell said. “Prepare to meet your end, Ryo Saeba.”
Ryo continued to walk silently down the hallway, pausing once in a while to check his bearings and get a sense of the energy in his surroundings. He had felt that chill a couple more times as he walked, but as always, it never got very close to him before it fell back. He stopped in front of another door and was about to open it when his heart suddenly started to race in alarm.
He grabbed his gun and moved against the wall, scanning the room for any sign of life. Seconds later, he felt something coming up from the side and whirled toward it. His eyes widened as he saw a black cloud slithering toward him, a cloud that had the same icy atmosphere as the chills from before.
Ryo fired a couple of shots, but to no effect. It continued to move closer, and Ryo leapt away from it before it could envelop him. Waves of blackness that had a vague resemblance to claws reached for him, and Ryo continued to weave and dodge away from them. He started to turn to run, but the claws swiped at him again, and his foot slipped as he tried to dodge it. He landed onto his back on the floor.
The fog reached toward him, and Ryo flinched as he realized that he would not be able to escape the claws that advanced toward him this time. Darkness swiftly surrounded him and he closed his eyes as he felt the cold overtake him and steal his breath away.
Ryo was close to passing out when the sound of bullets rang in his ears. He gasped loudly as the blackness dissipated, taking the cold with it and enabling him to breathe. He heard another gunshot, and his mind quickly identified the sound.
‘Colt Anaconda, .44 Magnum. There is no mistaking it. I’ve heard that sound many times before.’
Ryo took a deep breath and struggled to re-open his eyes. He could tell that the darkness was gone and his mind started to relax and clear in relief. As it did, the implications of his previous thought sunk in.
‘Wait…that gun…there’s only one person I know who uses that gun.’
‘No…it’s not possible….’
Ryo opened his eyes and his mouth fell open in shock at what he saw. There in front of him stood a tall man with short dark hair, holding the gun in question in his right hand, smoke rising from the barrel. He was wearing a uniform which Ryo recognized from his guerilla days, and his back was to him.
But Ryo did not need to see his face to know who it was.
“This isn’t like you, Ryo,” the man said, his voice a rich baritone. “Normally, you are not so sloppy and careless.” The man turned toward him, and Ryo felt his insides twist.
“I know that I trained you better than that,” the man said with a hint of a smile. “Wouldn’t you agree…musuko?”
“Kaibara?” Ryo whispered.
Ryo froze for a long moment, struggling to process what he was seeing. His eyes told him that Shin Kaibara was standing in front of him, but his brain reminded him that Kaibara was dead. Even more troubling was the fact that, instead of appearing as a man in his fifties as he did the last time Ryo saw him, his father looked just as he did when Ryo was still a child.
Ryo sat up and moved into a kneeling position. He was still shocked to see his father, but then his memories of what Kaibara had done to him re-surfaced and his instincts began to take over. He reached into his holster and yanked out his gun, pointing it straight at Kaibara’s heart.
“Ryo, is there really any point to that?” Kaibara said with a laugh. “I’m dead already, remember? You were the one who shot me. So there is no use in trying to kill me again.” Ryo scowled at him for a full minute before finally starting to lower his gun.
“What are you doing here?” Ryo asked, narrowing his eyes.
“I told you the last time that that is no way to greet your father,” Kaibara frowned. “Still as rude as ever, I see…But it is a good question. I am somewhat surprised at it myself. It seems, however, that your adversary has opened a doorway, making it so I can move closer to the world of the living. Not a very elegant strategy, but this man does not strike me as much of a strategist.”
Ryo put his gun away and rose to his feet.
“You’re the one who has been following me this whole time, aren’t you?” he asked.
“Correct,” Kaibara said, putting his own gun into its holster. “I am disappointed though that it took you this long to figure it out. As I said earlier, you do not seem like yourself.”
Ryo let out a sigh and fell back to lean against a wall. Truthfully, he did not know what to think or feel at this point. He was still worried about Kaori, and he was angry at Tremwell, but now he was also confused and conflicted at the idea of seeing Kaibara again. His memories of his father were both affectionate and terrifying in equal measure, and right now, Ryo was not entirely sure which emotion would win out.
“Kaibara,” Ryo said, his head down. “As strange and impossible as it should be, I understand how you are here. What I want to know is why you are here. Why are you following me?”
“Do I really need to answer that question?” Kaibara replied. “I think you already know.” Kaibara moved closer to him, and Ryo flinched at the action.
“I’m here to protect you, musuko,” he continued. “The man you are looking for is determined to kill you. I am here to make sure that does not happen.”
“You? You also tried to kill me, remember?” Ryo said, his tone incredulous and his eyes defiant. Kaibara shook his head in response and took a step back.
“I cannot change what happened,” he said. “But I had hoped that you understood things after that last conversation we had.”
Ryo let out another sigh and nodded his head. He thought back to the last words he had shared with Kaibara…which occurred after Ryo had already killed him. It had been painful to listen to, but Ryo had eventually understood that Kaibara had been desperate to escape his own insanity for years, and that his actions as the head of Union Teope were actually a plea to Ryo to give him the release only death could provide. Ryo had understood all of it, but he was still uncertain if this explanation was enough to erase the anger and sorrow he still carried as a result of his father’s decisions.
“I understand,” Kaibara said. “You cannot forget what happened before, nor can you forgive me for it. I expected it, and I accept it. But for now, I ask that you put your hatred of me aside and let me support you. The fact is, you are powerless against the forces that Tremwell is sending against you. I, however, am not.”
Ryo frowned and looked down at the floor. No matter what he might be feeling, he knew that Kaibara was right. The incident a few moments previous was proof enough of that.
“All right,” Ryo said. “Since I am pretty sure that you have been the one guiding me along in this mansion, where should we go next?” Kaibara smiled and nodded toward the left side of the hallway.
“That’s the most direct path,” he said. “It’s also the one filled with more traps. But I don’t foresee that being a problem for you.”
Tremwell scowled again and pounded a fist against a nearby desk as he watched Ryo continue to work his way through the mansion. He had fully expected that last phantom to finish Ryo off and was currently at a loss as to what he could do next.
‘That spirit, the one accompanying Saeba, is a powerful one indeed. And an odd one. He has the same darkness surrounding him as many of these phantoms, and yet he is guarding Saeba. Why? What is their bond exactly?’
Tremwell paused and closed his eyes. He could detect the faint smell of jasmine and he knew that Maiko was close by. He knew that he would have to implement the final stages of his plan soon and could not afford to let Ryo distract him for much longer.
Tremwell reached into his pocket and pulled out an old talisman. He did not want to resort to such tactics, but he also did not see any other choices available to him. He closed his eyes, said a few words in an ancient language and then threw the talisman onto the ground, shattering it. From the shards on the floor flew several wisps of shadows which scattered in all directions. Once they had all left the room, Tremwell walked away from the monitors and headed back toward the basement.
‘Saeba, you and that spirit may be powerful, but let’s see how you two manage against an indentured demon.’
Tremwell was so lost in his own thoughts, he was not able to hear the faint sound of tears echoing in the room.
“This guy really is an amateur,” Ryo said, as he looked back at the spent traps in the hallway he had just walked through. “Or, more likely, he hired amateurs to set up those traps.”
“Heavy-handed tactics appear to be the only thing he knows,” Kaibara scoffed. “Still even simplistic traps like these could get the best of you if you leave yourself open. You still seem distracted. Why? What is on your mind?”
Ryo scowled and continued down the hallway while shoving his hands into his pockets. He hoped that if he remained silent, Kaibara would eventually get the hint and leave him alone.
“Is it about that girl, Kaori Makimura?” Kaibara continued. “She said that she was your partner, and I understand being concerned for your partner…but I suspect that she is much more than that to you. Am I wrong?”
Ryo’s scowl deepened and his shoulders slumped downward. He knew his father well enough to know that once he set out on a course of action, he stuck to it, thus there was little chance that Kaibara would halt this discussion any time soon. Ryo understood that he would have to respond to him eventually, but was determined to not let Kaori become the topic of conversation between them.
“She is a good fit for you,” Kaibara said. “In fact, she reminds me a lot of you.”
Ryo lifted his head, surprised at this comment. Part of the reason why Ryo was so reluctant to deepen his relationship with Kaori was because he thought that she was very different from him, because she had a light and innocence that he could not imagine possessing himself. Thus, he wondered what Kaibara could possibly think they had in common.
“She’s stubborn, she’s impulsive, and I have a feeling that she was indulged as a child,” Kaibara replied. “But…she is also strong, insightful, and appears to have a generous heart. I can understand why you care so much about her.” Ryo chuckled in response.
“You’re making a lot of assumptions,” he said. “Kaori is my partner, nothing more. Besides, aren’t you the one who taught me to avoid strong attachments to other people? Attachments that could get me or some other person killed?”
“I did teach you that,” Kaibara nodded with a trace of a smile. “And yet, apparently I chose to ignore my own advice when I decided to raise a little boy found wandering in the jungle after a plane crash killed his parents. So I suppose you could say that that just proves that there are no absolute rules.”
The two of them walked for several more minutes before Kaibara paused and crouched down to stare at the floor. Ryo immediately joined him.
“Scuff marks,” Ryo said. “Kaori was dragged along here, and it looks like it was getting harder for Tremwell to pull her along.”
“Exactly,” Kaibara replied. “We are getting close.”
They stood back up and walked for another moment in silence before Ryo paused and bowed his head.
“I do not hate you,” he murmured. Kaibara turned toward him, his eyes registering his surprise at Ryo’s statement.
“I think it would be easier if I did,” Ryo continued as he resumed his pace. “Then I could think of you as just another enemy who I had to kill in self-defense. There would be the usual burden that comes with taking a life, but after acknowledging that, I could put it aside and move on. But it’s not that simple with you. No matter how much I wish it was. What I said on your boat, about the love and respect I still have for you as my father, I meant every word.”
“You’re right, I can’t forget what you did,” Ryo added. “How you experimented on me with angel dust, how you had Makimura killed and then tried to kill Mick, how you tried to kill me…And I’m not entirely sure if I can forgive you, but I…I also know that I can’t erase the fact that you are my father and that I owe my life to you. You raised me as your son, gave me a name, and trained me to survive no matter what the situation. You risked your life countless times to protect me, and not once did you make me feel indebted to you. Even on that day when you lost your leg while rescuing me from the enemy, you were more concerned about my life and my welfare than your own, despite the fact that it was my fault that you were injured that way.”
Ryo finally raised his head and made sure to look Kaibara in the eye as he took a step toward him.
“I may not be able to forgive or forget the terrible things you did,” he said. “But I will also always remember the man you were before your madness, the man I think you always were at the core. And I will carry that love and respect for the rest of my life…oyaji.”
“Ryo,” Kaibara murmured, his eyes bright. He then smiled and shook his head before turning and moving to walk ahead of Ryo.
Ryo nodded and fell in step behind him. They walked that way for several minutes until Kaibara stopped and held out his hand toward a door in front of him.
“The scuff marks stop here,” he said. Ryo opened the door and walked inside while flipping a light switch. As the lights turned on, Ryo and Kaibara looked around and saw that they were in the middle of a library.
“Hmmm, dead end?”
“No, more likely there’s a secret passage here somewhere,” Ryo said. “That certainly seems like this guy’s style. We just need to find the switch.” They scanned their surroundings for a few minutes until Kaibara pointed at one of the bookcases.
“Those two books toward the center,” he said. “It seems odd that he would have the exact same two books on the shelf above it as well….and it looks as if those two have been moved recently.”
“Yes,” Ryo smirked. “This guy is pretty obvious most of the time.” He started to walk toward the bookcase, but then Kaibara held out his arm, stopping him.
“Something is wrong,” he said. “There is something stalking us. Do you sense it?”
Ryo was about to shake his head when he suddenly felt a spike of murderous intent all around him. Kaibara pulled out his gun and studied his surroundings while Ryo stood closer to him and did the same.
“Stay behind me,” Kaibara said. “As I said before, you are not able to handle the forces Tremwell has set against you whereas I can.”
Ryo opened his mouth to protest when a large shadow crept mutely into the room from under the door. The shadow slithered along the floor toward them and then rose upward for several feet before finally taking form. The shadow sprouted wings along with arms, legs and a head, and a pair of scarlet eyes glittered with malice.
“Die…Ryo Saeba,” the thing spat before lunging toward them. Kaibara leapt directly in front of Ryo and took aim before firing a couple of shots. The demon screamed in rage and pain, and swiped at Kaibara, knocking him to the ground and making him skid along the floor across the room.
“Oyaji!” Ryo yelled pointing his own gun at the thing and firing. The thing turned its eyes toward him and grinned.
“Ryo, I told you to stay back,” Kaibara barked at him.
Ryo was only able to focus on what his father said to him for a second before he felt the demon slam him into a wall. He groaned at the impact and slid down toward the carpet. Dizzy and disoriented, Ryo shook his head and started to get back up, but the thing immediately threw him back onto the floor. It then cackled and moved its claws over Ryo’s nose and mouth, suffocating him. Ryo struggled against its grip, but to no avail.
“Die!” it yelled again at him. The thing increased the pressure of its grip, but then it jumped away when another shot rang out. It grabbed its side and screamed again while Ryo sat up and coughed violently. It turned and snarled at Kaibara, who was now standing behind it, his gun still raised.
“Stay away from him,” Kaibara said, his voice cold and venomous. The thing flinched for a second at Kaibara’s tone, but then it responded with a menacing grin of its own.
“Shin Kaibara…you will pay for interfering,” the demon growled.
The demon jumped toward him, but Kaibara dodged and landed a kick against the demon’s side, causing it to howl again in pain. It then struck again, this time successfully, and Kaibara was once again swept off his feet. The thing then thrust its claws into Kaibara’s shoulder, causing him to let out a grunt of pain and drop his gun.
“Pitiful,” the monster chortled. It shoved more claws into Kaibara’s other shoulder, and Kaibara was not able to stop himself from letting out an agonized cry.
Ryo got back to his feet, his hands clenched into fists. Logically, he knew that he had no way of attacking that thing, but he found that he could not simply stand by and watch this demon torture his father. His mind desperately searched for some way to help when he noticed a faint glow in the demon’s chest, and an idea came to him.
“Kaibara, the heart,” he shouted as he picked up a paperweight from the desk in the room and threw it at the demon. The paperweight sailed harmlessly past the thing, but it instantly turned its attention back toward Ryo, who turned and ran. The demon ran after him and swiftly had him in his grasp again. It raised its hand to strike him while Ryo crouched down as best he could in its hold.
A second after he did so, one more shot rang out and the demon gasped as the bullet pierced the glow in its chest. The thing let Ryo go and let out a long scream before dissolving into a black mist and disappearing. Ryo looked over to see Kaibara kneeling on the ground, a trail of smoke drifting away from his gun. Kaibara then gasped and fell back onto the floor, and Ryo rushed over and sat down next to him.
“Strange,” Kaibara said. “I thought that death meant that you would no longer be able to feel pain. The afterlife is as mysterious as life itself.”
“Kaibara….” Ryo started as his eyes flickered with sadness. Kaibara looked over at him and smiled.
“Do not worry. I am already dead, remember?” he said. “This is nothing serious. I just need a moment to recover. You should go on ahead. Tremwell will try to strike again as soon as he finds out that this did not work. Stop him and save your partner…I will be along soon enough.”
“I’m sorry, oyaji,” Ryo said, his tone somber. “I keep causing you pain.” Kaibara’s smile became wistful and his shook his head.
“No,” he said. “No, you were the one thing in my life that brought me joy, musuko….Now go. Stop Tremwell before it’s too late.”
Ryo nodded and rose to his feet. He then activated the switch and glanced back at Kaibara one last time before making his way down the passage that appeared.
‘Tremwell, you are going to pay for what you’ve done,’ Ryo said, his expression grim. ‘I promise.’
Tremwell walked back into his basement sanctum and was shocked at what he saw.
In the middle of the enchantment circle he had created, Kaori was sitting upright, glaring at him. He was about to ask how she was still conscious and aware when the caught sight of Makimura standing next to the circle, a scowl on his face.
“I see,” he smirked. “Apparently Saeba is not the only one with someone watching over him. The two of you are a fascinating pair. What is it about the both of you that inspires such devotion from those who have departed?”
“Let my sister go,” Makimura ordered.
“Sister? Ah, so that explains it,” Tremwell nodded. “And yet…not quite your sister, is she? I sense no blood tie.”
Makimura gritted his teeth in frustration, but movement from Kaori caused him to look over at her.
“Aniki, it doesn’t matter,” she said.
“You knew?” Makimura replied. “How long have you known?”
“Since I was a teenager,” Kaori said. “But I don’t care. I don’t care about the past or about the fact that I was adopted. You’re my family, aniki. You always were and always will be.”
“Touching,” Tremwell said as he approached them. “But I am afraid I need to put an end to this. It’s time for me to reunite with my Maiko.”
“Tremwell-san, think about what you are doing,” Kaori said. “Are you sure that this is what Maiko wants? If she is the beautiful person you say she is, don’t you think that she wouldn’t want to come back if it meant sacrificing other people?”
“If she is beautiful? You have no idea,” Tremwell said. “Maiko is a woman beyond compare. If anyone deserves to exist in this world, it is her….Enough of this. It’s time for me to finally realize my dream, my one desire for all these years.”
Tremwell waved his hand, and the circle underneath Kaori disappeared. As soon as it vanished, she fainted onto the floor.
“Kaori!” Makimura shouted. “Kaori, wake up.” Tremwell walked over and bent down to pick Kaori up. Makimura tried to lunge for him, but his form only drifted by Tremwell harmlessly.
“I’m afraid you cannot stop me,” Tremwell told him. “Your abilities have no effect on someone like me with my knowledge of the supernatural.”
Tremwell carried Kaori over to an altar and laid her down onto it. He then pulled out a knife from his jacket that was inscribed with an arcane script on the blade. Makimura ran over to Kaori and held up his hands.
“Stop this,” he said. “I can’t let you hurt her.” Tremwell scowled and snapped his fingers. Kaori’s eyes immediately opened and she looked up to see Makimura and Tremwell standing over her.
“Miss Makimura, your brother is certainly determined to interfere,” Tremwell said. “Sadly, his determination is useless, but he should not worry. After all, you will be joining him very soon.”
Tremwell was about to interrupt them when the sound of footsteps caught his attention. He then heard the sound of a gun being cocked and immediately ducked into the shadows, narrowly missing a bullet that embedded itself into the nearby wall.
“Ryo!” Kaori cried as Ryo stepped into the room.
“Kaori, are you all right?” Ryo asked. Kaori nodded and then Ryo smiled as he saw Makimura standing next to her.
“Maki-chan,” he said. “I knew you’d be here. I’ve missed you.”
“Ryo,” Makimura said with a smile of his own. “Thank you. Thank you for keeping your promise to me.”
Ryo looked around for the source of the voice and was startled when Tremwell suddenly appeared behind Kaori, grabbing her and holding her close to him. He tapped Kaori’s neck, and Kaori found herself unable to move.
“Ryo….” she whispered.
“You’ve lost, Tremwell,” Ryo said, pointing his gun at Tremwell’s head. “Let her go and I will let you live.”
“You think you can stop me with that gun?” Tremwell scoffed. “Go ahead, try to shoot me.”
Ryo frowned and pulled the trigger. He was shocked, however to see the bullet run into a pinpoint burst of energy and fall to ground before it could reach Tremwell. He fired again, but received an identical result.
“You see, Saeba,” Tremwell said, laughing. “Your skills are useless here. You did well to get to this point, but I will win in the end. Maiko will come back to me. All I have to do is offer up a life in order to give her a gateway back into this world. I only have to draw one drop of blood with this knife. One drop of blood will be enough to extinguish this woman’s life and then the sacrifice will be complete.”
Ryo fumed as he searched his mind for a way out of this situation, frustrated at his own helplessness. He suspected that Makimura had already tried to stop Tremwell and had failed, and he was certain Kaibara would not be able to help either. He then looked into Kaori’s eyes and saw that they were filling with tears. His own eyes dimmed in response.
‘Kaori, I’m sorry,’ he thought to himself. ‘For failing to protect you…and for everything else I’ve done.’
“You say that you are doing this because you love someone,” Ryo said. “But how can love exist in the midst of so much evil? If you go through with this, there is no way that your love will survive.”
“Silence,” Tremwell growled. “What would someone like you know about love? A man who spends his days chasing countless women and who is only concerned with physical pleasures. Someone as shallow and selfish as you could not possibly understand the love I shared with Maiko.”
Ryo said nothing as he watched the knife continue to hover near Kaori’s throat. He knew that he was running out of options and could only see one last course of action.
“You said that you need a life in order to bring your beloved back into this world,” he said, kneeling down and bowing his head. “So let me offer you my own. Let Kaori go and take my life instead.”
“Ryo,” Kaori said, tears sliding down her face. “No….”
“Bah, how simple-minded do you think I am?” Tremwell replied. “Did you think that I would actually fall for a trick like that?”
“It’s not a trick,” Ryo said, his head still down. “I’m offering you a trade, my life for hers. Let my partner go, and I will do nothing to stop you. Then you can be reunited with your beloved Maiko.”
“You’re serious,” Tremwell said, shocked. “You really would give your life for hers? But why? Why would you do that?”
Ryo said nothing and closed his eyes, waiting for the killing blow. Tremwell moved his knife close to the back of Ryo’s head and gaped at the passive stance Ryo continued to have.
“You love her,” Tremwell said. “You truly love this woman. I didn’t think it was possible, but I can actually see the love you have for her radiating from your aura.” Tremwell pulled back and put the knife back at Kaori’s throat, and Ryo lifted his head.
“I’m sorry, but I’m afraid it won’t work,” Tremwell said. “I not only need a life, I need a body for Maiko to inhabit. Your life simply won’t be enough. Plus, once this knife tastes blood, it will become inert and useless on anyone else. Despite the nobility of your offer, I cannot waste my one chance on you.”
Ryo remained silent, his eyes fixated on the knife. Tremwell’s words echoed in his brain and soon his eyes became set and determined.
‘All I have to do is grab that knife by the blade,’ he thought to himself. ‘The edge is sharp….it won’t take much to cut my hand. Then Tremwell’s plan will fall apart and Kaori will be safe.’
‘I need to be careful…I will only have one shot at this….’
Kaori continued to shed tears as she watched the scene in front of her. She was stunned that Ryo was willing to offer his life this way and then she was ashamed that she was so surprised.
‘All these years…all these years that he has protected me,’ she thought. ‘He’s put himself in harm’s way, risked his life for me so many times…And all this time, I convinced myself that it was just because of his promise to aniki or just because I am his partner in City Hunter. I was too blind to see the truth behind his feelings.’
She then noticed the way that Ryo was staring at Tremwell and at the knife in his hand, and her eyes widened as her partner’s intentions became clear to her.
‘Ryo…he’s going to grab that knife…But if he does that, he’ll die. No, Ryo. Don’t die for me.’
Kaori’s tears increased as she looked into Ryo’s eyes. She had long held an unspoken fear that, one day, Ryo would end up losing his life in an effort to protect her. It had been the drive behind her continued efforts to improve her skills within City Hunter. It had been the inspiration for an endless string of nightmares that had haunted her sleep for years. Now she was seeing this fear come to life, and she felt her heart start to break.
‘All the times he’s protected me…Now it’s time for me to protect him.’
Kaori focused all her strength and pushed herself to move her neck slightly closer to the blade. Ryo’s eyes widened as he realized what she was doing.
“Ryo….I’m sorry,” she whispered.
Kaori then closed her eyes and started to press her neck against the blade, the edge sliding against her skin. Ryo leapt to his feet and reached out toward Tremwell straining to snatch the blade before Kaori could cut herself.
The scent of jasmine filled the room, and there was a flash of light before everything went dark.
A few moments later, Ryo slowly opened his eyes and sat up. He didn’t remember passing out and put a hand to his head in an effort to clear it. He blinked and noticed that the room was now lit with the soft glow of numerous candles that had been lit. As he took in a breath, he could still smell the fragrance of jasmine.
‘What happened? I was reaching for the knife and….’
Ryo looked down at his hand and saw that there was a cut on his hand, but the skin had not been broken.
‘How is that possible?’ he wondered. ‘I know that I wrapped my hand around the blade. As sharp as that edge was, it should have sliced right into my palm.’
“That was close…but you are safe now.”
Ryo looked around to see Kaibara kneeling next to him. His form was swiftly fading and becoming transparent.
“Kaibara,” he said. “That knife…did you…?” Kaibara nodded and smiled at him.
“Ryo, my time here is at an end,” he said. “But know that I always have been and always will be proud to have been your father. And know that you will never be alone. I will always be watching over you.”
“Oyaji,” Ryo murmured, his voice catching. “I….” Kaibara held up his hand.
“It’s all right,” he interrupted. “I know….Ryo, listen to me. If there is one thing that I want you to remember it is this: do not allow your fears to control your life. You deserve far more than an existence like that.”
Kaibara stood up, and Ryo watched as he faded away.
Kaibara disappeared and Ryo stared at the space left behind for several moments. He then swallowed down the lump in his throat and got up to his feet.
“Kaori?” he called. “Are you all right?”
Ryo looked around and then gasped when he saw Kaori lying on the ground, silent and unmoving. He ran over to her and knelt down, lifting her into his arms. Panic spiked inside him as he felt how stiff and cold she was. Ryo heard the sound of metal hitting the floor and he looked down to see the knife lying on the ground next to them. He then looked back down at Kaori and the realization of what she had done sank in.
“Kaori,” he murmured as he held her closer to him. “Idiot, why did you do that? Don’t you remember that I made a promise to your brother? I promised to protect you. I promised….”
Ryo stopped, unable to speak another word, and buried his face against Kaori’s neck. Despite Kaibara’s assurances, Ryo felt more alone in this moment than he had in his entire life.
Kaori felt herself drifting in a sea of warmth. She opened her eyes and could perceive nothing but a light surrounding her. She was unsure of what to do next when a voice broke her out of her trance.
Kaori smiled and turned to see Makimura standing behind her again. She rushed over to him and was thrilled when she was able to throw herself into his arms.
“Aniki,” she said. “I’m so glad that you’re here. But, what is going on? Where are we?”
“Think of it as a portal between life and death,” he said. “Right now, you have a choice as to which way to go.”
Kaori let Makimura go and looked around her to see two doorways: one that infused with light and another one that acted as a window back to Tremwell’s basement. Kaori opened her mouth to speak, but was startled by a drop of moisture landing on her cheek and then on her neck. She reached up to touch them and then looked down at the drops sticking to her fingers.
‘Tears?’ she thought to herself. ‘But when did I start to cry? No…these aren’t my tears….’
Kaori turned toward the door leading back to the mansion, her mouth slightly open and her eyes becoming moist again.
“Ryo….” she murmured. She had recognized his voice, but was saddened to hear his voice resonate with so much pain and sorrow. She then turned back toward Makimura.
“I’m sorry, aniki,” she said. “I wish I could stay with you. But Ryo…he’s lost so many people in his life...he’s suffered so much. I…I can’t….”
“I understand,” Makimura said. “And I agree. You should go to him. Go to him and be happy together. And Kaori, you should know that Ryo….”
“I know,” she said. “Thank you for everything, aniki.” She then hugged him again, squeezing as tight as she could.
“Ah…ah Kaori, not so hard,” Makimura laughed. “And listen, don’t think that this is the end. I’m always walking alongside you and Ryo. So I will never be far away.”
Kaori nodded and let her brother go. She stared at him for one more moment before turning and heading back toward the portal to the mansion.
Ryo continued to hold Kaori close to him locked in his loneliness and grief. The outside world ceased to have meaning for him, and his entire being was consumed with despair.
As a result, he didn’t notice at first when Kaori stirred and let out a sigh.
“Ryo…” she whispered. Ryo started and his head shot back up.
“Kaori!” Kaori opened her eyes and beamed at him.
“Ryo, I’m so happy that you’re safe,” she said. “I thought for a moment that you had….” Ryo laughed and grinned at her.
“I had some help,” he said. Kaori smiled again and nodded.
“I did too,” she said. “Aniki, he….But Ryo, that voice from before, who was she? The one who cried out before the lights went out?”
“I don’t know,” Ryo said. It was then that Kaori noticed that Ryo was continuing to cradle her close to him, and she blushed at the intimate gesture.
Ryo and Kaori looked over to see a young woman with a long ponytail and who was wearing a kimono standing across from them.
“Are…are you…?” Kaori said.
“My name is Maiko Tomomura…and I am sorry for everything that has happened.”
Ryo and Kaori both stared at Maiko for a couple of seconds, stunned to see her standing there.
“You’re the one Tremwell-san is in love with,” Kaori said. “The one he did all this for.”
“Yes, and again, I am sorry,” Maiko said sadly. “I never wanted any of this to happen. I know that the both of you have good reason to be angry at him, but I ask that you not hate Bruce for what he did.”
Maiko walked slowly toward the side of the room and eventually knelt down beside a body on the floor. Ryo and Kaori were shocked to see that it was the corpse of an elderly man with numerous wrinkles and white hair on his head. The outfit he was wearing, however, told both of them who it was.
“Tremwell-san?” Kaori said, pointing at the body. “Ryo, is that….?”
“I think so,” Ryo said, awe filling his tone as well.
“You are both correct,” Maiko nodded, looking back up at them. “You see, while your brother was protecting you, Makimura-san, and while your father was protecting you, Saeba-san, I was the one who intervened.” Maiko then looked back down at the body on the floor.
“A long time ago, I lived all alone here in Tokyo,” she continued. “My parents died when I was very young, and I was raised in an orphanage. Growing up in an environment like that, I saw firsthand how easy it was for people to forget about and neglect children without parents. As I got older, I wanted to do more to help other children. I worked for a charity whose purpose was to raise money for orphans. One day, Bruce came to our office to offer his support, and it was then that I met him.”
Maiko looked back over at Ryo and Kaori, a smile on her face.
“Bruce…he was so kind, so handsome, and such a gentleman. He was genuinely interested in the work that I did and we spent many happy afternoons meeting for tea which soon turned into romantic evenings where we had dinner together. The more I got to know him, the more I realized that he was actually a lot like me: alone in the world and searching for a soul mate. I fell in love with him and I suspected that at some point, he might ask me to marry him.”
“Might?” Kaori said. “You didn’t know for sure if he would propose?”
“Even though we had shared many happy times together and I told him that I was in love with him, Bruce never told me about his feelings,” Maiko answered. “I suspected that he loved me, but I never knew for sure. Also, I knew that if he were to marry me, he might encounter some difficulties. Bruce had associates and distant family members who disapproved of his courting a Japanese woman. I knew that he might suffer some consequences if he were to say that he loved me.”
“So he never told you?” Kaori said, her voice sad. “He never told you how he felt?”
“He only told me once…and that was on the day I died. I was supposed to meet him at our favorite restaurant to celebrate his birthday. On the way there, however, a car veered off the road and it hit me. Bruce…he showed up just as I was breathing my last breath. He begged me to live because he loved me and needed me. It was in that moment that I knew how much he loved me.”
Maiko’s hands hovered over Tremwell’s withered body, tracing her fingers along the lines on his face.
“Bruce…his sorrow was so great. He could not move past his grief. He became obsessed with finding some way for us to be together again. I could only watch as he continued to spiral downward into darkness and loneliness. I longed for a chance to comfort him, to beg him to abandon his ambitions, but I could do nothing.”
Maiko let her hands fall back to her sides and she raised her head. When she looked at Ryo and Kaori, they could see tears in her eyes.
“When I saw what he planned to do to you, Makimura-san and to you Saeba-san, I felt my heart break. It was as if the sweet, gentle man I knew before had vanished, leaving behind this shell that was filled with evil. And then…when I saw the love that you two have for each other, I knew that I had to do something. I did not want either of you to suffer the same sad fate that Bruce and I did.”
Tears slid out of Maiko’s eyes and Kaori felt her own eyes well up in response.
“I used all of my power to push the knife into Bruce’s hand,” she cried. “That is why he is dead and why appears to you as he does now. Death took away all of his supernatural powers and he became as he would have been without such supports.”
Maiko’s tears increased and her head drooped down.
“Please believe me, I did not want to hurt him…but I did not want him to continue to suffer either. I loved him. With all my heart, I loved him, but I….”
“I understand,” Ryo nodded. “You loved him so you ended his suffering by taking his life; because that was the only way to release the person you loved from the evil that had enveloped him. Still…even though you know that you acted out of love, you still feel grief and guilt over taking his life.” Maiko raised her head and gazed into Ryo’s eyes.
“Saeba-san….you do understand. You really do,” she said. “And a part of me is sad about that because it is a pain I would not wish upon anyone.”
Ryo nodded in response, and Kaori slipped her arms around his waist. After thinking for a moment, she had realized that she also knew that Ryo knew much about what Maiko had gone through because it was similar to what he had faced with Kaibara. Kaori still remembered the desolate look in Ryo’s eyes after he had shot his father and the brief moment when he appeared to give up on his own life. Kaori had never seen Ryo endure so much sorrow and pain, and she hoped to never see him in that state again.
“I…I only hope Bruce will understand why I had to act as I did,” Maiko said mournfully. “I hope that his spirit can forgive me.”
“He will understand,” Ryo assured her. “And he will forgive you. In fact, I imagine that he still loves you.”
“Saeba-san…thank you,” Maiko said. “Thank you both for your kindness.”
The three of them turned their heads to see another figure walk out of the shadows. They all gasped when the saw that it was Tremwell. This time, however, he appeared to be even younger than he was before, and his eyes sparkled with happiness instead of malice.
“Bruce,” Maiko wept. “I’m sorry. I am so sorry for what I did. I….”
“Maiko, don’t cry,” Tremwell said, holding out his arms to her. “Do you not see? You saved me. I had become a twisted, embittered, lonely man, too wrapped up in my own pain to even realize what I had become. You saved me from that, and I cannot thank you enough for your courage and your willingness to give me this release.”
“Bruce,” Maiko said as she stood and walked toward him. She then threw himself into his open arms, and he responded by wrapping his arms around her.
“Maiko, I’ve missed you so much,” Tremwell said, his voice cracking. “How I’ve longed for even one moment in your arms.” They held each other silently for several moments before Tremwell finally raised his head.
“Mister Saeba, Miss Makimura,” he said. “I am truly sorry for what I did and for what I tried to do to the both of you. I have no right to ask for your forgiveness, so let me just say again that I deeply regret my actions against you.”
“It’s all right,” Kaori said. “I think we both understand.”
“Miss Makimura….you are indeed a beautiful woman,” Tremwell said. “In every sense. Mister Saeba, you are very fortunate to have a woman like her in your life. I know of what I speak because I also was very fortunate to find a woman like Maiko. But I was afraid and hesitant to give my heart to her and by the time I found my courage, it was too late. Mister Saeba, do not make the same mistakes I did.”
Maiko and Bruce gazed into each other’s eyes and held each other even closer together. As they did so, their forms began to fade.
“Farewell, Mister Saeba, Miss Makimura,” Tremwell said.
“And please, be happy,” Maiko added.
Ryo and Kaori then watched as Tremwell and Maiko disappeared. The two of them continued to sit there silently, gazing at the spot where they had last seen Tremwell and Maiko.
“Ryo…I need to tell you something,” Kaori said. Ryo looked down at her and was surprised to see a tense, serious expression on his partner’s face.
“I…I wanted to tell you…” Kaori murmured. “I want to tell you that I admire you.” Ryo blinked in surprise and Kaori began to blush.
“I know,” she said. “I know that I don’t usually say things like this, but I…Ryo, you are strong, one of the strongest people I have ever met…and brave and kind. And I….”
“Kaori, you don’t have to….” Kaori put a finger to Ryo’s lips to silence him.
“Please, let me say this,” she said. “I know that aniki was always proud to have you as his partner and his friend, and I just wanted to say that I am too. I am proud to be your partner.”
Kaori continued to blush, but then she beamed at him as she embraced him again. Ryo returned the embrace, stunned at the things that she said. As he held her, he thought again about the things that both Kaibara and Tremwell had said to him. He then thought about the moment when he had thought that he had lost her, and he realized that he could not afford to hold back any longer.
Ryo reached down and put his hand under Kaori’s chin, tilting her face toward his.
Ryo swallowed hard. His mind was filled with things he wanted to say, feelings he wanted to express, but he could not find the words for any of them.
Instead he leaned down and kissed her.
It started as a gentle kiss, hesitant and questioning, but then Kaori began to respond to it and it grew into something far more intense. Soon the two of them were embracing each other tightly, their single kiss turning into a series of kisses that were enflamed by a long suppressed passion and a long realized love.
Eventually they both pulled back, the two of them resting their foreheads together with their eyes still closed.
“Ryo,” Kaori whispered.
“I…I…What happens now?”
“What happens?” Ryo asked, his eyes opening.
“What happens to us?” Kaori said. “Between us? What happens now, Ryo?” Ryo sighed and embraced her again as she laid her head against his chest and caressed him.
“What happens…I don’t know,” Ryo said. “Honestly, I have no idea, Kaori. This is all new to me. I don’t really know what to do now.”
“That’s all right,” Kaori said. “It’s new to me too. I just…I just don’t want this moment to pass us by and then we go back to how it was before.”
“No,” Ryo said, squeezing her close to him. “I promise that we are not going to go back to that.”
“Then I am happy with whatever comes next,” Kaori said.
“Are you sure?” Ryo asked. “As I said, I am new at this…this having one and only love. I am sure that I will make plenty of mistakes and there will be times when you’ll regret having this kind of a relationship with me. Not to mention the fact that I can’t see myself ever becoming some kind of prince who will sweep you off your feet and give you a beautiful life.”
“I was never looking for a prince from a fairy-tale who would whisk me off to his castle,” Kaori said. “That is not the life I pined for. And mistakes, regrets and flaws are part of every partnership. I understand that and accept it. Ryo, all I wanted, all I ever wanted, was your heart, your love and the chance to give you mine. If I have that, I am happy.”
Ryo smiled and kissed her again and then the two of them held each other close, savoring each other’s presence. Their peace was soon interrupted, however, by the faint sound of voices.
“Kaori-san, Saeba-san, are you down there?”
“Maybe they can’t answer us. Maybe they need help.”
“Hmph, I’m not going down there. There are probably even more cats down there and I am not dealing with any more of them.”
Both Ryo and Kaori smiled and laughed as they loosened their embrace.
“We’re down here,” Ryo shouted back. “We will meet you up there.”
“Ryo, is Kaori all right?”
“She’s fine, Mick,” Ryo answered. “We’re coming up now.”
Ryo and Kaori got to their feet and each of them put an arm around each other as they ascended the stairs.
“There’s no way you’re going to be able to return that costume,” Kaori smirked. “You’ve ruined it. It’s just as well though. The world did not need another Casanova.”
“Oh, and what about your costume?” Ryo smirked. “I’m pretty sure that you didn’t come here as Yukionna.”
“Ah, my Joan of Arc costume!”Kaori gasped. “Tremwell must have taken it away somewhere. Ryo, we have to find it.”
“And spend more time wandering around this mansion?” Ryo replied. “Forget it. You will just have to pay for yours too…And at least now you won’t be able to stab me with that sword.”
“Don’t forget that I can still use my hammer,” Kaori frowned. “And now I don’t need to worry about ruining your costume since you’ve already destroyed it.”
“Kaori, you are a cruel woman,” Ryo pouted.
Kaori stuck out her tongue at him, and then the two of them burst into laughter and tightened their hold on each other.
“Ryo, just like with Ami-san and Mami-san, this all feels like a dream,” Kaori said. “But I am glad it’s not. Not just because of this, with us, but because I got to see aniki again. I still miss him, but I’m also grateful that I was able to get a chance to say some things I needed to say to him. And now I know for sure that he’s still with me...and with you….” Kaori watched Ryo smile and nod in agreement, and she was ready to let the matter go, but found that she had one last thing she needed to ask him.
“Ryo…I was thinking about what Maiko-san said,” she said. “And then I remembered that aniki said that someone was protecting you from Tremwell-san. Ryo…was it him? Was it Kaibara?” Ryo let out a long sigh.
“It was,” Ryo said. “I guess he felt that he had some unfinished business with me.”
“Ryo, I’m sorry. I know that you….”
“It’s all right,” Ryo interrupted. “Just like you with your brother, we were also given another chance. And I am also very grateful for it and do not regret it in the least.”
Kaori saw Ryo’s eyes glow with happiness as he said this, and she was certain that Ryo had been able to mend his relationship with his father to some extent. She soon found that she even more thankful that Ryo had been given this opportunity and that she was happy for the serenity it clearly had given him.
As they drew close to the top, Ryo and Kaori let each other go, both of them silently deciding to not alert their friends for now about the change in their relationship. The lack of physical contact, however, did not change the fact that they both knew that their minds and hearts were still focused on each other and on what had just happened. Neither of them was sure about where they would go from here.
But both of them were secure in the knowledge that, whatever happened next, they would be together.