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Amaranthine

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Saturday - April – Early Evening

The cars idled outside as the group huddled in the small entryway, avoiding the Spring rain as much as possible.

"Mai... Are you sure?" Ayako bit her lip, worrying the pink flesh as she gazed past the glass doorway.

"Yeah. This isn't the first time. And it's my only option. Besides. They know me well enough now. I won't have an issue." A heavy silence followed her explanation and the brunette shrugged, the image of her burnt building superimposed in front of her, overlapping everything she saw in the present.

"If... If you're sure. I'm sorry Mai. It's just-"

"I know Bou-san. You don't need to apologise. I'm an adult now and I can care for myself." Mai withheld her shudder as a whisper reached her, invisible hands clawing at her clothing from beyond the threshold.

"Mai... My offer is still on the table." Shocked that he had even spoken, the young woman just smiled, however strained it was.

"While I appreciate that Oliver, I won't imposed on anyone. Now. It's getting late and I need to register for the evening if I plan on getting a bed. As for you guys. It's been a long day. Go get some rest. Please."

Saying their goodbyes, the group left the young brunette with heavy hearts and Mai turned with her shoulders back and her head held high, her hand hovering for only a moment above the door handle before she twisted the knob and pushed the door open, crossing the threshold into the homeless shelter.

"Ah Taniyama-san. Back so soon? What was it this time? Earthquake? Burglars?" Lit by a single lamp, the front desk was as ominous as ever, illuminating the sole receptionist surrounded by shadows.

"Actually Nobu-san. My building burnt down while I was away for work. I need a room. Hopefully just for a short time." Mai shivered, eyes darting about as the old man went about his paperwork.

"Very well. You're in luck. Your old room is available for you. Same as always. Breakfast is a seven. Like always. And this time Taniyama, no more chances." His warning struck her like a bolt and Mai nodded by default, her feet carrying down the dim halls and the countless closed doors the lined the out edge of the building. The curtains were drawn over the windows, no doubt in a bid to keep whatever water that came in through the cracked and missing glass panes out as much as possible.

'She came back.'

'She's back.'

The whispers grew the closer she came to her old room, the shadows growing darker as she approached. At the end of the hall, Mai took a deep, steadying breath, trying to block out the voices that came to her before she opened the door, taking in the dark, concrete walls and ruined carpet flooring.

A deep cracked ran the length of the wall, all the way around the room, there were burns in the carpet and the small locker was still riddled with dents in on corner of the room. The futon itself still bore the marks of her nails where she had torn at the material in her nightmare fuelled frenzies.

"Good to see old Nobu keeps the place ready for me..." Mai sighed, placing her back pack on the ground. It was a mild relief that she always carried her most vital possessions with her when she went away, a habit she'd never been able to break and something she was now grateful for. She pulled a stack of wards from the bag, having felt Ayako shove them in when no one was looking and she placed them in the corners and above the window and door, providing what little protection this place allowed and Mai set out the futon, dragging her bag close enough to her to grab if something went wrong, "Nothing else to do till morning I guess."

Grabbing the keys that hung around her neck, Mai settled as much as she could, waiting for sleep to claim her.

xXx Amaranthine xXx

"Mai? you didn't tell us you were living here?" The outrage coated his words almost as thickly as the rain did, the storm growing stronger and stronger overhead. The freshly graduated brunette simply shrugged, watching out of the corner of her eye as old Nobu moved away from the desk and into the cafeteria by the entry hall.

  "I was only allowed in the apartments because I was a student and needed support. Now that I've graduated... I had to make do. I came here and I've been trying to find work so I can get another place." Mai rubbed her arm, warding off the chill of the rain.

"But... you could have called us. Or gone to our homes. I don't see-"

  "Because Bou-san. I was kicked out of my home. You were on tour. Ayako was always working. John went home and Masako is always away filming... I just figured... I figured this was the best thing to do until I get on my feet." She could barely suppress the sigh when she saw the gears in his head turning, predicting easily what he was about to say, "Yasu's parents barely excepted that he worked with someone like me, they wouldn't let me live there, especially now."

"But... Mai..." Bou-san paused, his breath stuttering as a cold breeze brushed passed him, "What in-"

Again it came past him, rougher this time, a physical thing that had him stumbling to catch his balance again. He looked at Mai, noticing the way she'd paled and her eyes had blown wide.

"Bou-san. You need to leave. Go before you make it angrier!" Her hands were on him them, trying to push him, to turn him and send him back down the steps the way he'd come.

"Mai. What's going on?!" His worry was all encompassing, his shock allowing him to be maneuverer away from the entrance.

"I can't... Please. Just go. I'll stop them from following you. But please. Just leave here!"

Thunder clapped overhead, drowning out whatever his reply would have been and she took the opportunity to turn on her heels and bolt inside, locking the door as Nobu had told her to when her business was done. And for the first time in a long time, she allowed her control to slip and almost instantly she felt the presence in the darkest corners of the shelter stir and she prayed. Prayed that it would go for her and not Bou-san who pounded on the entry door, begging her to go to him.

xXx Amaranthine xXx

She jolted awake, soaked through with sweat and her clothes stiff with rain. A new crack marred the ceiling above her, close enough to the light that it caused the bulb to flicker, the wiring obviously damaged before the globe finally blew.

'She did it again. She did.' The childlike giggle reached her and Mai glanced at the gap under her door and saw the shadows shifting there, the light of the hallway making them standout against the gloom.

"I didn't mean to. I didn't." Mai whispered, curling in on herself, trying to rein in her emotions. Everything inside her warred, emotions and instinct, consciousness pressing outwards in a bid to protect herself.  The darkness of the room became suffocating, the deep, raspy voice she'd tried to escape echoing in her ears.

'You won't get away this time...'

Screeching, she jumped, her teeth clamping down on her tongue hard enough to draw blood. Desperately, Mai tore into her pack, dragging her phone from the confines of her bag and dialling a number she knew by heart. The ringing echoed in the room, slicing through the whispers the chilled her, claiming her as theirs.

"Come on. Come on." She felt a tug on her leg and even in the darkness she could make out the solid shape of a hand, clawing at her ankle. The more her eyes adjusted to the darkness, the more she saw forming, trying to hold her down.

'Takigawa here. Can't take your call right now-" She hung up the phone, eyes watering as she pulled herself from the sheets, swung her pack over her shoulder and bolted to the door, tearing it almost completely from its hinges, the rusted metal cracking under the sudden stress. Shadow figures shrieked, crawling over the open door and flooding out of the room into the hallway.

"Please. Please pick up." She dialled numbers again and again, Ayako, John, Masako and even Yasu all went to voicemail, and the presence around her was draining her phone faster than her shaking fingers could type. She burst into the entry hall, the front desk long abandoned, Nobu having gone home long before the sun set.

The rain lashed down outside the building, lightning illuminating the hallways, revealing the amount of shadows the festered and teemed within the building, the lost souls that could find no salvation.

She tried to door, feeling the water come through the cracks in the glass but the metal bars were firmly in place and Mai threw down her bag, turning to face the darkness the shrouded the desk she knew had her only means of escape.

'No escape. No escape. One of us. One of us.' The voices chanted, drawing closer to her and Mai lifted her hands, performing the seal that Bou-san had taught her years ago. She mirrored their chant with her own, making her way through the crowd of souls, pushing back the more sinister presence with all her strength. Her hair was pulled, her clothes tugged, and in the dead of night, no living person stirred, their energy drained by the evil the rested near them.

Something wrapped around her throat as she got to the desk, her head cracking as the entity pulled her to the ground, stealing the breath from her as more hands clung to her.

Fingers numb, she wiggled till her phone fell from her pocket, her eyes burning with unshed tears as she glanced down, her fingers pressing the numbers she never thought she'd have to dial again.

A shadow fell over her, the dark depths drawing her in, filling her with the same dread that haunted her in her sleep. Her mind raced, barely registering someone calling her name, her phone crackling and dying as each second passed.

"Mai? Mai? Hello?" His voice was like cold water and she gasped, lurching up and away from the shadow, her hands scrambling for the phone as she hauled herself up onto the desk. The light her only solace in the darkness.

"N-Naru..." She gasped, tears finally falling as she lifted her hand, her chest tight, "Rin, Pyo... t-" Hands wrapped around her mouth, muffling the sounds she made and she dropped her phone in her effort to free herself, her hands clawing at the air around her.

"Mai! Mai answer me damn it!" The phone line dropped, the screen going dark and the brunette closed her eyes as the globe beside her shattered, the sheer negativity of the presence driving her to her knees, the hands around her tightening.

'Finally. We have you. You won't stop us. You can't stop us. You're weak. You're powerless.' The thing hissed in her ear and she felt it's cold hands touch her, caressing her face, it's nails leaving scratches down her cheek.

She could recall her first encounter with the entity that haunted her, the way the glass had cracked, the way the ceiling peppered a fine layer plaster on her. The way she'd stared dead straight at the thing. Defiance had flared and something had imploded in her that evening, sending it away and scaring it enough to leave her alone for the duration of her stay.

Metal rattled as she remembered, the desk she rested on shaking, jostling her from side to side, her body only held in place by the phantom hands that listened only to their master.

Defiance lit a fire in her veins as it did the first time and without thinking she felt a laugh bubble in her throat, an invisible wind picking up various papers and pamphlets from around the room.

The shadow quivered in the onslaught, hissing at her, 'It won't work this time. No one escapes me.'

Despite the threat, her eyes seemed the flash, her own warning to the dark being. But before she could do anything to retaliate, the glass door burst open, a sharp whistle tearing through the room. Shrieks rang out from all around, hands disappearing with each flash of light that shot passed her.

'No! You won't get away!' The entity reached for her, shadow fingers stretching, clawing for her, racking the flesh from her arms moments before she toppled backwards, warmth replacing the chill that had seized her.

"Oliver. Let's go!" Dizzy and in pain, Mai felt herself being hosted up and held tightly against a firm chest, noticing vaguely that her phone had been placed in her lap. She was shocked back to reality when the rain hit her, the freezing bite of the unseasonal monsoon bringing some clarity to her.

"Naru..." She mumbled, blinking up at the face that did little to block out the rain.

"You idiot. You knew. You knew and you still turned us down." His voice rumbled in his chest, his body vibrating with the anger she knew he was suppressing and yet he laugh, a dry bark and yet a laugh none the less, "You wouldn't be Mai if you didn't do something like this though. Let's get you home."

His words mingled with the already confused thoughts in her head and she only blinked when she was placed in the back of a familiar black van, the engine already running and Lin in the driver seat. Nothing was said as everyone buckled in, unsure where to start or when to try break the silence. It was only when they pulled up at the old SPR office that Mai finaly whispered, drawing the attention of the young male beside her, "Why are we at the office?"

He chuckled, reaching out to undo her seatbelt, "We purchased it and the floor above it so we had a place to live. It saved BSPR a lot more money considering we were having the office become a permanent branch to the one back home."

Nodding numbly, she allowed herself to be guided from the car and up the stairs. There was another stairwell that they helped her up and then she was hit by warmth, the smell of spice and wood overtaking her and she sighed, jumping only slightly when something settled on her shoulders. Turning, she found Lin staring at her with a gentle smile on his face, a glint of worry showing in his visible eye.

"You're frozen, injured and everything in your bag is soaked. It's the best we can do for the time being." He pulled the blanket tighter around her shivering frame, prying the phone from her came next before he forced her to the couches with the promise of warm the to follow, "I'll get this charged. No doubt you'll have some missed calls to tend to."

She could only watch as the tall man, who she had thought once hated her, walked away, ignorant to the fact that he, too, was soaked with rain.

"Mai?" She turned to face Oliver, his face stoic. But she noticed the worried glint to his blue eyes, the way they darkened when he took at the scratches on her face, "Are you... would you be okay with telling me what happened back there?"

A part of her was shocked that he even bothered asking as opposed to his usual demands, but she nodded, wincing when she opened her mouth.

"I think, tea is first. Then some first aid. At which point she can choose the best point to start telling us what happened." Lin came back with a steaming cup of tea and a small box with a red cross on it, obviously well stocked knowing how the Chinese man prepped for all occasions.

He handed the warm drink to her and passed the box to Oliver who instantly began working, setting out various amounts of ointment, gauze and implements.

"This might sting." His words were his only warning before he grabbed her free arm and placed it on a towel in his lap, disinfectant bubbling over the scratches on her skin. She barely even hissed, her eyes misting with unshed tears.

"I..." She croaked, staring at the green liquid in her teacup, "I'm sorry." Her pride stung more than her wounds and she looked up when she felt Naru pause, his eyes on her, "I didn't... I didn't know who else to call."

The two men in the room shared a look before Lin took a seat opposite the pair, his hands folded in front of his mouth, his ever-critical eye looking over her while his shiki's took in any spiritual damage she may have endured.

"You have nothing to apologise for Mai-san. That... Entity... Was drawn to your spiritual power. It has obviously festered in the building for some time." He couldn't help his smile when she blushed, her eyes once more averted.

"It... It came after me... Before my power grew. I think... I think because it knew I wasn't trained. But I could see it. And I could see her other spirits, the ones she keeps trapped there. She almost went after Bou-san... Because he found out I was staying at the shelter. I forced her-"

"You forced her to focus on you instead of him." Oliver finished, a knowing glint in his eyes, "Typical. How do you know it's a she?"

His hands worked meticulously, his mind focusing on the task at hand and her story.

"The shelter used to be an orphanage. The headmistress was a known criminal, selling children as slaves years ago... While the buildings been done up, they kept the basement the same. I found the old records. Some of the spirits are still... Okay." Mai's mouth pinched, a bitter taste in her mouth, "they told me where to find the information. They lost their souls for their trouble."

Lin's visible eye widened, "She's feeding on the souls she traps there?"

Mai nodded, a tear dropping from her eye, "She's the closest thing to a demon I've seen since Urado. And she's stealing the energy from the people that stay there. She knows... She knows that most of them won't leave."

"And I'm assuming you've told the shelter workers?" Naru moved to her other arm, taking her empty cup.

"Yeah. Old Nobu... He just laughed. He said I should do better things with my time than doing drugs." She frowned, her bandaged hand clenched, "That night... That night I told him was the first night she attacked me directly. Something… Something happened and she fled and left me alone until I left. Tonight was my first time back there since."

"Honestly Mai... You knew she'd be waiting and you still stayed there." Oliver rolled his eyes, carefully wrapping her arm with gauze before gazing at her neck, "Sadly there's nothing we can do about your neck except apply some ointment for the bruising."

Mai's cheeks went red as he tilted her face up, his fingers dancing gingerly across the purple and green flesh and just as their eyes connected a cracked echoed through the room, all eyes being drawn to the glass table between them all.

"Oliver?" Lin admonished, hesitating only when he saw the shock in his boss’s eyes.

"Um... Sorry?"

The men couldn't believe their ears when they turned to see the sheepish look on the brunette's face.