Chapter 1: Should I Let You Go?
Four Years Earlier:
I watched him walk through the office, collecting his things. Everyone had said goodbye yesterday, we had all came here.
For this last time though, I wanted him to myself.
It was the most surest thing I had felt. Even though, Naru had straight out rejected my confession to him. It was just like him to do that, to make me feel as if I was not in control.
Naru liked control. For the most part.
"Is there something I can help you with?" His voice was clipped. He stood impeccably still as he watched me from the door.
I willed my legs to move. The realization that this could be the last time I saw him was weighing on me. "You'll have some interesting stories for the SPR in London."
He sighed deeply, "I don't find pleasure in discussing work matters." Indigo eyes peered at me. "What do you need, Mai?" impatience tested his tone.
It was probably because his flight would be soon, no doubt. I stepped closer to him and he towered over me. He always had, but this time…it felt different.
"Please, don't leave me."
It has been four years since SPR disbanded. Everyone went their separate ways. I had tried to keep in contact with my old colleague and friends, but we slowly grew more distant.
Last I heard, Ayako became a full-time doctor at the hospital her parents worked at. Bou-san had started to focus on his band, which means that he started travelling more frequently. Yasuhara had been accepted into Law School, so he was fairly busy during the semester season. Masako continued appearing on T.V. and was taking part-time courses in University for Parapsychology and Research. John had an interesting dilemma. He ended up going back to Australia to officially become a full-fledged exorcist. After, he obtained a work visa to come back and do his pastoral work under Father Toujo.
As for myself, things after SPR were...difficult. After High School, I spiraled. Actually, it was more during the last year of High School, soon after everyone started to grow distant. I took a year off when I graduated because I felt utterly...in despair. And lost. Everything I had was gone. My family, friends. Naru. I had suddenly lived in a bleak and dark world that year. It didn't help that my 'gift' was a constant reminder of everything I had lost.
I hated my powers in those years. I wished I didn't have them. They made everything worse, everything was so much more heightened and I thought...maybe I would end up on the other side too one day. My depression was diagnosed after a nightmare, so livid, woke me up and the only escape I thought of was to press a blade into my skin. It helped relieve the physical pain, and made me focus. I wanted so badly to just be the girl I used to be. But I couldn't find her anymore.
Cutting was shameful. Those feelings of hatred and despair were overwhelming.
After being assessed, I was put on heavy medication. Aside from other common side effects, the pills had temporarily blocked my access to astral project. They had pretty much blocked my ability to be a sensitive esper.
But, that's when things started getting better. Shortly after, John reached out to me and had mentioned that Father Toujo needed help at the Church. I accepted the job, since it gave me something to do. Things started to get better, I started to feel better. That girl who had died was slowly coming back.
She would never be the same though. But, at least I no longer lived in that black world.
That fall, I enrolled in school - in the Department of Education at a local University. It had felt like the most right decision I had made in a long time.
Chapter 1: Should I Let You Go?
There was a jarring sensation that startled me in the night. I sat straight up, panting and scanning the dark room for danger. My heart was hammering in my chest and a clammy feeling stuck to my back, slicking down my spine like sweat.
From being tied to a lab table stained in the blood of countless victims.
A small whimper escaped my lips, before it swelled into a full on scream when something grabbed my arm.
I was blind. Frantic and instinctive fear slammed into my gut. Urado's horrible voice was in my head.
'I'm coming for you.'
Light flashed on. Someone's face came into view - Lucien. I gasped a sigh of relief, but it came out a strangled breath.
"You're okay, Mai." He sat back down on the bed, stroking my sweat-laden back. "You're okay."
I shuttered against him, leaning into Lucien's bare and warm chest. My cheek touched his flesh.
Skin on skin.
This was real. Not that horrible nightmare.
Not those horrible memories.
I hadn't had a nightmare of my SPR days for at least a year. It made no sense, why they would be happening now. Was this a relapse? That's impossible...I had been on the pills and they were supposed to numb that side of me.
From beside me, Lucien fell back asleep quickly. He was a former colleague of mine, turned boyfriend just this year. He had known about the depression, helped me through the previous bout of nightmares.
Besides that, with his cropped brown hair, golden skin and hazel eyes, Lucien was the furthest person in appearance from…
I couldn't even say his name. It felt like my flood gates would be ripped open thinking of him.
Slowly, I rose from the bed, trying not to wake the male beside me. Lucien was already graduated with a Physiology Degree. He was currently working at a psychiatrist firm and would stay at my apartment some nights. He worked the early morning shift and my condo was close to his office, which made for an easy commute. Besides that, I didn't mind his company.
I padded to hallway bathroom, and splashed cold water on my face. The water dripped from my bangs and I stared at my reflection. My brown eyes had hallow purple marks smudged under them, probably from the lack of sleep. Usually my eyes were a rich, chocolate brown but tonight they looked black.
My hair had grown, and I liked keeping it shoulder length now. It was enough for me to manage without needing to fuss over it.
From within me there was a...low and painful ache. It felt like something had tied a rope to my spine and pulled. The nightmare was over, but I couldn't shake that feeling of...remembering. I didn't want to remember.
There was a drawer with a blade was around the corner of the vanity. Reaching into it, I grabbed the razor blade.
From beneath my shirt, my waist and hips were scattered with scars. Scars that would forever remind me of the things I lost. Of how broken I was and no matter how many antidepressants I had, I could never stop.
The cutting helped me focus. It had been my only form of release that I found worked to help me focus on the physical. I flinched as I swiped the blade across my skin, over and over. Now, real blood stained my hands as I leaned over the sink when I was done, breathless.
I had felt so lost and broken without SPR. Without...him.
I lost my "family", my job, my friends and my passion.
I had nothing left except all these memories... I hated them. I hated every single second of them.
And, I hated...him for what he took from me. Even if he didn't know it.
I didn't get much sleep so I decided to put my restlessness to use and made breakfast for Lucien.
He strolled into the kitchen, still shirtless from the night before. "How're you feeling?" Lucien went straight for the fresh pot of coffee I had made. I didn't mind coffee, had liked it with some sugar. But, it was too strong for me and I much preferred tea.
"I'm fine," I lifted a cup of green tea to my lips and took a sip. "Must just be feeling off."
Lucien rounded the small table I had, taking the seat beside me. "Want me to spend the night again?" He dug into his eggs and toast I had just prepared.
"I have to work tonight, so I'll be home late."
Hazel eyes met mine. "I'll pick you up, how about that?" Lucien smiled at me, and I thought I would melt. "I'll pick up dinner on the way too."
I felt a smile tug at the corners of my lips. "Thank you."
The children at work were wild. As always. They were unruly but that's what made looking after them so much fun (and sometimes a headache). Luckily, it was summer break for me. This was last summer before school, since I would be graduating next semester. Father Toujo was kind enough to give me as many hours as I needed to help with school, rent and bills.
Even though I worked at the same church as John Brown, I did not get to see him often. He was usually on cases, or doing home visits. The gentle, blue-eyed man was the only connection to the SPR I had left. It was both good and bad that I didn't see him often. It reminded me that I had to live one day at a time.
I finished up cleaning the playroom the children had just left. It was lights out now, and the Sisters of the Church were busy tucking everyone in.
There was a creak in the doorway, and I glanced back to see Father Toujo. "Good evening, Mai."
"Good evening, Father," I bowed to the polite older man, who had speckled grey-brown hair.
"You have a visitor," he smiled at me. "He is waiting in the lounge."
"A visitor?" I asked confused and the Father nodded.
"I can take care of this, my dear. You shouldn't keep him waiting." He insisted.
I thanked him, and immediately began walking towards the lounge. It was strange, since I had told Lucien I wasn't off until after lights out. Maybe he just wanted to let me know he was here. I opened the door of the room.
"Lucien, you didn't have to come so early -"
I hardly expected to see the man who was standing in front of me.
I froze in the doorway. Sound stopped coming out of my mouth as I gazed in shock at my visitor. He stood on the far side of the room, gazing out the window and into the night. Slowly, indigo eyes met mine.
Naru looked exactly the same. His short hair was cropped around his neck, black as a raven's feathers, contrasting his pale skin. And those eyes...how could I ever forget those eyes?
He turned in one fluid motion, his hair shifting. Naru still preferred dark clothing, he wore a black button-up shirt despite the heat. Black pants clung to his legs.
"Hello, Mai." He said as he stuffed his hands in the pockets of his pants. As if it had only been yesterday since we last saw one another and not four. lonely, dark years. Gracefully, he walked towards me.
My tongue was dry and heavy. "What do you need, Davis-san?" I wanted, so badly, to say his old nickname. Had almost let it slip off my tongue. I couldn't though because it was too painful.
He stopped two feet from me. Distaste and surprised flashed through his eyes for a moment before he composed himself again.
"I've taken a special assignment in the area and am looking to get the original Tokyo SPR on the case." He said, his voice deep and concise.
I couldn't believe what he was saying, what he was implying. I found my own voice, "If I may be so bold, Davis-san, but how're you supposed to get six strangers to agree to work together again?" I eyed him. "You can't just come here to toy with everyone."
There was a flicker in his jaw, "Does that mean you will not be joining?"
What an arrogant male. He hadn't even formally asked me. I crossed my arms, "I want the other members to join first. I won't make my decision until they have agreed to do it."
From the sparkle in Naru's eye, I could tell he was mildly intrigued by the challenge. "Duly noted."
Naru would no doubt be able to get the team together. From the glint in his eye, I could tell he found the challenge exciting- thrilling. Just like the old days, where I would always challenge him. If there was anyone who could do it though, bring back the team, it was Naru.
He moved towards me, towards the door. Just as he passed, Naru looked me in the eyes, "I'll keep you updated, Taniyama-san."
The formalities felt distant and strange. I suppose I had started it. But still…
It hurt more it should have.
Chapter 2: You Can't Choose What Stays
Chapter 2 - You Can't Choose What Stays
Lucien was already waiting in the parking lot when I was off at nine o'clock.
"I hope you're hungry," Lucien gave me one of his dazzling smiles once I climbed into the car.
I couldn't help but breath in the deep, delicious smell of food he had picked up. My stomach clenched, yet I couldn't even think about the satisfaction of food, let alone keeping it down. I felt hallow from the encounter with the Englishman. Even Lucien's warm smile couldn't shake these feelings of the deep-rooted anxiety from within me.
He was instantly aware of the shift in my demeanor. "Is everything okay?"
It was suddenly a blur of emotions. My throat tightened.
Lucien reached over the center console, placing his large, warm, hand on my knee and leaned towards me. His hazel eyes were shining, illuminated by the lights within the car as he spoke softly. "Mai, please tell me what's happening."
"Oliver Davis is here." I stared down at his hand on my lap. "He wants the original Tokyo SPR to work on a case with him."
For him, I wanted to say. But, I already knew Lucien's opinion on my former boss. In short: he wasn't a fan of Naru-the-Narcissist.
"Your old boss," Lucien's voice was clipped. "What did you say?"
"That I would make up my mind when he contacted the rest of the group." I said, but somehow it had felt like the wrong answer to Lucien. The wrong decision and he would have preferred if I had told Naru to fuck off.
Lucien felt withdrawn suddenly and he leaned back into his seat. The warmth left my skin, his hand now gripped the top of the steering wheel. He let out a long, deep sigh.
"Maybe I'm being a jealous boyfriend, but I get a bad feeling about this." He stared into the dark night. "What about your health? Or the progress you've made? I don't think it's a coincidence that you had a nightmare last night and now he's suddenly in town."
I know, I wanted to say but couldn't find my voice. I knew he was right because with Naru nothing was a coincidence.
"Is working with him again something that you even want?" Lucien asked and I bit my lip. "After everything that's happened?"
He was right; I didn't know if I could work with SPR again, given that I had no access to my abilities. That and it had been so long since we've seen one another, it would practically be like working with strangers.
"I don't want to sound like a prick," he clarified. "It's just… I want to make that sure you're okay. And this all sounds like a bad idea."
I had to remember that Lucien was there for me when I was fighting this darkness and knew how bad it could get. It was also in his nature to help people, to make sure they were taken care of.
When he realized I wasn't going to say anything, Lucien started the car.
The ride home was quiet and so was dinner. I hated how even the mention of Naru had put a wedge in my relationship, and I had only seen him for maybe five minutes. It wasn't just because he was 'sixteen-year-old' me's crush. No, it was the danger he posed… the unspoken past between us.
I tried not to think about that.
If we did do the case again, it would be strictly professional. That's to say if I still decided to go through with our deal. OIt was contingent on Naru being able to contact everyone and having them all agree. It would be a miracle, completely against the odds, that everyone's life just happen to come back to SPR the moment Naru came back.
Knowing Naru though, he would beat those odds.
The night had been quiet. Lucien and I barely talked at all.
In the morning, we ate breakfast quietly too.
I didn't what to say to him to make him feel better about this. Hadn't known what to do in this kind of situation - something that threatened my entire peaceful facade. I wanted, so badly, to reach across to him and say it would be alright, but he would see right through me because I didn't even believe that it was going to be alright.
Things were different.
Firm knocks on the door jolted us both from our thoughts. Lucien and I exchanged a look before he got up. "I'll see who it is."
Curiously, I padded into the small foyer to see this mystery visitor. With a cup of tea in my hand, I leaned against the wall.
On the other side of the door stood Naru.
I straightened instinctively, there was a glimmer of shock, or maybe confusion, in his eyes as he took in Lucien, then me. I suddenly felt like a deer who stepped out into an onslaught of traffic.
Caught in the headlights. Caught forever in his undertow.
Naru bowed his head politely, speaking fluently in Japanese, as he addressed Lucien. "Good morning, my name is Oliver Davis."
I could feel the thick tension from the two men. It didn't help that Naru had at least half-a-foot of extra height on Lucien. Lucien bowed his head, curtly. "It's good to meet you, Davis-san. I'm Lucien Sora."
"What do you need?" I said, flatly, from the hall.
Both men looked at me and I kept my gaze, firmly, on those indigo-blue eyes. Those would be the eyes that broke me.
"I just wanted to inform you that I've spoken to the SPR members. Everyone has contacted me and agreed to join the case."
I wasn't surprised. Naru loved challenges, just as much as he liked beating them.
"I see," I mused, not sure if I was disappointed or impressed.
Lucien's tension rolled off him in waves. That sensitive part of me, the one that could feel the other world, tingled as I felt it. There was a dull and numb ache from within me and I promptly ignored it.
"When would we start?"
Naru looked at Lucien. "Sora-san, would you mind if I spoke to Mai, privately, regarding the details of the case?"
My brown-haired companion only nodded, a flicker of frustration in his jaw. Maybe it from the lack of formalities. Or, it was just the fact that Naru was standing at my door, asking to speak to me in private.
Or is could have just been because it was Naru.
I didn't comment on the fact that Lucien wasn't my keeper. Not Naru, not anyone, would need to ask for permission to speak to me. I swallowed my frustrations.
"I'll just finish up in the kitchen, Mai." Lucien said as he padded over to me, bracing my waist with a strong hand and dipping low to kiss my cheek. He grabbed the cup from my hand, politely.
Though, nothing about the gesture felt polite. It had felt like I was suddenly an object of their attention.
I felt Naru's gaze on us the entire time until Lucien walked back around the corner. I stepped forward, unsure of what to say or do with my limbs. I folded my arms behind my back. "There's a garden we can talk in, if you want."
I lead the way through the condo corridors. The garden was simple, yet elegant. It wasn't large, but it was elaborate and had many tall, beautiful plants - it was enough to make you think you had stepped into a different world. There was a small fountain, a gazebo and a quiet pond stocked with koi fish deep in the center of the lush space. Often, Lucien and I would come down here and just watch the night sky together, since it was conveniently located in the atrium of the condos, outside.
Naru was hot on my heels and I stopped abruptly in front of the gazebo, turning to face him.
I squared my shoulders, "Is this private enough?"
There was a ghost of a smirk on his lips. "Not exactly private in the middle of a condo where people can over-hear us."
"You're so…" I held my tongue, huffing out a breath. No, I couldn't let him have that affect on me. Crossing my arms, I asked again. "What do you need, Naru?"
The old nickname just slipped off my tongue so easily. So fluently. As if he hadn't been gone for four years.
Naru noticed it too. That condescending smirk was gone and replaced with...content?
"I realize much has changed. This case is going to be quite advanced and I wanted to know where you were with your E.S.P. Can you still conduct astral projection?" He didn't mention the slip of his old nickname. Instead, he went straight to business. Same old, Naru.
But this question…
I averted my eyes, looking down. "Well...no."
"Is that a question, or a statement."
"No, I can't." I snapped, looking back up at him. "I can't do that anymore."
Naru was quiet. Contemplating. I dropped my arms, "so does that mean I can't join anymore, since I'll just be useless?"
Bitter. Resent and laced with venom. That statement was all of those things and I couldn't deny the fact that I was turning into a different person in just a matter of days. It was my coping mechanism, to lash out with my claws and teeth bared because that was better than the utter darkness and despair I often felt like falling into. I don't regret losing my powers. I only regret that it happened the way it did.
"You're still useful with or without those abilities," Naru said. He knew how important they were to me. Back then, it wasn't only about using them to solve the case but helping those who needed it. In fact, he was the one who introduced me to them.
"Is that all you needed?" I squirmed under his penetrating gaze, as if he were remembering the same thing I was.
"I secured a lease at the old office for the time being. We'll be meeting there Friday to go over the case. I'm hoping we can start it by next Friday. Will that be adequate time to give your employer for time off?"
"It'll be fine."
Naru nodded, and pulled on the flap of his dark suit jacket. He handed me a business card. "This is my number. If anything changes, feel free to contact me."
I took the card. It was just like Naru: sophisticated and elegant. Nothing too fancy, though, of course the card was all black. His English name was in solid white, block letters.
"Thank you, Davis-san." I said, and Naru sighed outwardly.
"I would prefer you not use that name."
Those blue eyes hardened. I could tell there was a rebuttal at his lips, but he soon pressed them into a firm line.
"I better go." I said, moving around to pass him.
Naru stepped to the side and as I passed him his hand rested on my elbow. I inhaled sharply, eyes snapping to his as I froze in my spot.
"Mai," he started then closed his mouth. The words on his lips were gone, all that was left was my name - just like the old days. I gulped down a breath and licked my suddenly dry lips.
"It's good to see you are well." He let go of my arm, and I swore he could feel my pulse pounding through my flesh. I nodded in agreement.
"You can see yourself out."
I refused to look into those eyes again as I turned on my heels and walked away as fast as I could. I didn't care that he probably didn't know how to get out. He was smart, he would find a way. Besides, heat stained my cheeks, my arm where he touched. In all my time with him, Naru had never touched me before. Maybe when he was frustrated with me, to pull me out of the room.
But never just for the sake of touching me.
As I retreated, I felt those eyes on me the entire time.
Father Toujo was okay with me being away. Even though, a small part of me wished he wasn't. He understood how much this would mean to John and I - reconnecting with our old colleagues.
On Friday morning, Lucien asked me twice if I wanted a ride to the Shibuya district. I declined both times but assured him everything would be okay. I understood he was worried, though.
Besides as I walked, I was actually thinking about the happy memories from back when I made my way to Shibuya four years ago. It reminded me of the times I looked forward to going to the office. Mostly in hopes to see Naru, who would mostly stay in his office the whole time, ask for tea and be extremely moody.
I smiled at the memory, before I felt my body freeze at the door to the office.
Frowning, I suddenly didn't know who was going to be on the other side. Maybe Naru had lied to me about everyone being on board with this. Somehow, I doubted that.
I took a deep breath and entered the old office.
Ayako, Bou-san and Masako were sitting on the couches. It was so quiet when I entered, not sure what to say or expect.
I smiled kindly, "hello everyone. It's been a long time."
"You look so different," Ayako commented. "Your hair is long now!"
It went to the length of my shoulders now. I didn't feel like it was that long, but it certainly was longer than the short bob I was sporting in high school.
Ayako seemed older now, her face was still youthful but her eyes seemed wiser. She was in her usual attire: some kind of high-end jacket over a pair of equally expensive looking silk black pants. Her long, red-brown hair was left untied and settled down the column of her back.
I noticed Masako next, who didn't seem to change all that much. Her black shiny hair was still perfectly sleek. Her clothes were different, somehow more modern than the usual Japanese style kimonos she loved in high school. Masako was wearing a pair of white jeans that clung to her petite thighs and a black tank-top under a baby blue floral kimono-like cardigan. The material was flowy and feminine.
She was still just as breathtaking.
"Mai, I'm loving the new look," Bou-san chirped in. He was practically still the same. Bou-san had his usual blonde-hair tied back. His outfit was simple: a T-shirt and jeans. It was kind of a relief to see he hadn't changed with all this time.
"It's not really new."
I had felt that my taste in clothes remained relatively the same. I had to give up wearing my skirts since they often showed the deep cuts on my thighs, so I traded them for leggings and jeans.
That was exactly what I wore today, one of my best black-jeans and a simple white T-shirt that I paired with a dark jacket.
"You're right, I kind of miss the short skirts and the cute high school uniform."
Ayako snapped her head towards him, eyes focused.
"I see you're still going after the young ones, you shameless cradle-robbing pervert," she interjected.
Bou-san looked offended. "Mai is all grown up and an adult now. What are you, like, twenty?" he looked at me for confirmation.
"Yeah, twenty on the nose. I guess I am all grown up." I said, feeling a slight flush.
Ayako sighed, "You're still a pervert. If it's been four years that means you're four years older too, you creep."
"Shut up, Ayako!"
She scoffed, "What are you going to do about it, old man?"
The feeling of dread that had been rolling in my gut the past few days started to lessen. I laughed as the two older adults bantered, just like the old days. It felt good to laugh, to see that even though we were so different, some things never changed. It was almost a relief and I was instantly in higher spirits.
That good feeling plummeted when Lin and Naru came out one of the offices. Somehow, both of them looked as if they hadn't aged a day.
Lin was still meticulously dressed in a fine dress shirt and a black tie. His hair still covered most of his devastatingly handsome face. But those eyes remained sharp and I bet he, likely, still had his sharp tongue to go with it.
"Since we're all here, I'd like to start." Naru walked past me and took a seat at the head of the table, Lin stood at his side. He sounded like he was in some kind of mood and Bou-san raised his eyebrows at me, grinning - likely thinking the same thing.
For the first time since I saw her, Masako spoke. "What about John-san?"
"He'll be joining us later, in addition to Yasuhara."
"So what's this big-shot case you're working on?" Ayako leaned back into the couch, crossing her arms.
I took a seat on the farthest couch away from Naru.
"Three months ago, an episode of a popular ghost adventures team investigated an abandoned prison in the area. They caught what was believed to be phenomenal poltergeist activity, and the episode has since then aired multiple times throughout many regions." Naru said.
"Isn't that a good thing then?" Bou-san pointed out. "Let someone else deal with it."
Naru disagreed. "We aren't there for a typical ghost hunt. The SPR in London wants to replicate the evidence. Poltergeist activity of this magnitude has never been captured before from a credible source."
"So we won't be doing any kind of spiritual cleansing?" I asked, a little taken aback.
"No," Naru reached up, gesturing for Lin to hand him his notebook. "This is strictly for research. Though, if anything were to go south, we should have all of our bases covered in terms of protection." He opened his notebook, pulling out a pen. "Each of you had said that you still practiced your spiritual art form, in one way or another. This will be an important component while on the case, so even if we aren't cleaning ghosts we can still protect ourselves."
He made no mention to what I confided in him the other day. Which is likely why he had said I wouldn't be useless on this case because we weren't going in there to find any ghosts or cleanse them.
Masako asked, "Is this prison in the city?"
Lin said, "It's approximately eleven hours by train, in the Kamikawa district."
"Kamikawa," Ayako leaned forward, surprised. "Where on earth are we going to stay?"
"There's a small town an hour away from the location, in Biei. They have accommodations that we'll be staying in." Naru answered. At least it was better than camping.
Ayako scowled, "I suppose we're taking this eleven hour train?"
Naru said, "No, I've arranged a private chartered flight. It should take a little more than an hour to get to the airport in Asahikawa. From there, it's an hour drive to Biei."
Ayako seemed pleased with the answer and leaned back in her seat, "Now that's how I like to travel."
"How long will this whole investigation take, Naru?" Bou-san let out a breath. "No offence, but we all have our own lives now. We can't just up and leave for extended periods of time."
"I'm aware of that. Initially when I had contacted each of you, almost everyone had said a week would be the longest you'll consider, correct?" He asked the group. Everyone nodded, except me. I didn't recall him asking me such a thing. Maybe he just didn't care. "I wouldn't take you away for any longer than that duration."
Now, Naru looked up at me. "How about you, Taniyama-san?"
I could almost feel the questioning looks on everyone's faces at the formalities Naru threw my way.
Heat stained my cheeks and I blocked out everything else. I only concentrated on only those blue eyes - focused on not squirming from under them. "A week should be okay."
It was summer after all and if it were like the other cases then Naru would make sure we were all compensated for. He promptly wrote down my answer, and then continued on to tell us the full extent of the case.
This prison was docile. It has since been closed for almost thirty years, and remains part of the historical site of Biei.
However, there have been reports of groups doing satanic rituals on the location, claiming that it is a natural gateway to the spirit realm because of the types of the dark history in the area. Suicide, murder...anything that could happen, has happened within the past several years. Then, ever since this team of investigators came to the location and caught the poltergeist activity, it has been a major attraction. Hence, why the SPR got involved, since it could move along some of their research of poltergeist and the mechanics. Though, I couldn't understand how they did that exactly - collected the evidence and find something scientific out of it. But Naru was a scientist, he probably had a method.
Something bothered me. This was such a high profile case and was rare for him to take. It didn't quite make sense but I didn't feel confident enough to question it.
"This place is probably crawling with demons," Bou-san had said at one point.
Masako agreed, "yes, it seems irresponsible to send a team of spiritualists to such a dangerous location."
"Jeez, Naru, what games are you trying to play? Most of us have been out of formal practice for at least four years." Ayako said.
He closed his notebook, placing it on his lap. I had a feeling this might have been why Naru was moody when he and Lin walked out of the office. Keeping such a large case from our knowledge before asking for our help was a gamble. No doubt, Lin lectured him about it and the repercussions.
It was exactly like Naru to do that, though.
"I understand you might be concerned about the dynamics of this case. Lin and I have made special preparations for the extreme case of demonic possession," Naru said.
"What kind of preparations?" I asked, looking at Lin specifically.
Lin lifted his hand, pulling out a chain from under his shirt. At the end of the chain was a clear, glass crystal with a gold plate encrusted in the middle. Scattered across the plate was a series of Chinese symbols. "This is a Chinese talisman that can be used to physically and spiritually protect the wearer. When we get to the location, each of you will be given one."
Bou-san leaned in closer, "that's pretty impressive Lin. I didn't know you could make a talisman to do that."
"It doesn't work solely on it's own," Lin said and we all looked at him, confused. "It will only serve to protect you when combined with a small smudging session to prepare using the talisman services."
"So, like voodoo?" I stared at him.
"No," Naru answered. He crossed his arms and his eyes were closed - a common Naru sign that meant he was agitated at my lack of knowledge. "The smudging is a cleansing for our body, mind and soul. Voodoo is the exact opposite."
I mentally stuck my tongue out at him, crossing my arms and pressing back into my seat. It was just like Naru to correct me in a condescending way.
"What is this ritual, uh...I mean, smudging we have to do?" I asked, warily.
"I'll explain more when we are at the location but before we leave for the hotel, each time, you must cleanse yourself with the smudging process." Lin said. At least it wasn't some kind of weird song-and-dance ritual. Though, it would be entertaining if Naru had to preform it.
In spite of myself, I smiled from the thought of that.
"If there are no more questions," Naru said in a hard tone, "I'll make the necessary arrangements for our flight this coming Friday at six in the morning."
In unison, we all dropped our mouths open. "Six in the morning!"
Naru stood up in a fluid motion, obviously annoyed by his entire teams lack of morning-travel enthusiasm "I want to thank you for all of your support during this investigation. I know it was very sudden."
In other words, 'thank you for coming to my beck and call, just like I knew you all would.'
That was Naru's way of thanking us, at least he said the actual words this time. We watched as he and Lin trailed into the office again, closing the door.
Now, there was only silence.
"He sure is the same," Bou-san said, leaning back. "I'd say I'm kind of relieved. But it's a little unnerving."
"He does have that effect on people," Ayako pitched in. She then glanced at me. "Speaking of, are you two fighting? I don't think I've ever heard him call you by your maiden name."
I shrugged. "With him, who knows. Who cares?"
Ayako and Bou-san shared a look and I got out of my chair, stretching my arms over my head. The meeting only took about an hour but I felt like I had been sitting straight-backed for much longer. From the corner of my eye I watched as Masako neared me.
"Mai, are you still practicing?" Her voice was low enough that Bou-san and Ayako hadn't heard, they were deep in a new conversation.
I knew what she was asking.
I shook my head and meet her steely gaze. "No, I can't do that anymore."
Masako only stared at me with a sad expression on her face. "I see. Well, it is good to see you once again." A rare smile graced her lovely features. Masako and I had since settled our differences a long time ago. Maybe this could be the new beginning of our friendship.
I felt my face settle into a smile. "It's good to see you too, Masako."
Chapter 3: Dark Inside of You
Chapter 3 - Dark Inside of You
Lucien was all questions when I returned home from the meeting and I told him everything, even if it should have remained confidential. I didn't tell him specifics, just a general overview.
"So, you'll be gone for a week." Lucien frowned.
"At least that, yeah." I joined him on the couch. "We leave on Friday."
He jerked his head up. "That's soon!"
"Naru doesn't mess around," Without realizing it, I had said his nickname. Again. It was so easy to say that nickname and to pretend things were back to normal. Instantly, I snapped my head up when I realized what I had said. "Lucien, I'm so sorry about this. I know it must be awkward. With Naru - I mean Davis-san..."
He cut me off by lifting his hand. "It's okay Mai. I get it, he was your first love."
He was your first love.
The words hit me hard in the gut and I felt my body stiffen. Tense.
Lucien was unaware of me as he moved closer, bringing our faces together sweetly with a lift of my chin. Slowly, he brought his lips to mine. Hands wrapped around my waist, pulling me into his lap. I made a noise when he deepened the kiss, pressing me harder into him.
We hadn't been physical beyond kissing and touching; Lucien was very, very, patient with me throughout it all. There were times we would almost be at that point, almost commit to do the deed and then I would take two steps backwards.
Perhaps I didn't feel completely ready, or maybe the act had meant something special to me. Something I wasn't completely ready to indulge with anyone yet.
Finally, we pulled away breathless and his lips were at my ear, whispering.
"He may be your first, but I intend to be your last."
The week went by faster than I thought it would and leaving on Friday was hard. This time, Lucien didn't take no for answer and he drove me to the airport. I had only packed a single bag since this case supposed to be long.
The airport we had to meet at was more like an airplane bunker. It was small and intimate. Once we entered the main entrance and checked in my bags, Lucien and I stood before the boarding gates.
"Stay safe," he dipped his head low and captured my lips in a sweet kiss. "Did you bring your medication?"
"I did" I breathed, leaning in and embracing him. "Thank you for driving me."
"Call me if you need anything," Lucien whispered into my ear. "And I mean anything."
"Lucien," I pulled away, placing a hand on his strong jaw. "I will. Try to stay sane for me, okay?"
From under my palm, I felt a smile form on his face. Hazel eyes lifted to something - someone - behind us. I followed his gaze, lowering my hand.
Naru and Lin had stepped into our line of view, walking towards the awaiting lobby. I glanced at Lucien, who looked at me warily.
"I'll miss you," he said.
After some final parting words, I made my way towards the waiting terminal. I had never taken any kind of flight before so I was instantly excited, and nervous. I couldn't help but admit taking a chartered flight was kind of cool.
One point for Naru.
Waiting at the same terminal were Masako and Ayako - the latter was grinning like a cat as I approached.
"You sure have grown up," she noted. "I didn't think I'd ever see such public displays of affection from you. And with such a hottie of a boyfriend." Ayako peeked around me, as if to check out the departing figure of Lucien.
"Shut up, Ayako," I blushed. "It's been four years, of course I would have a boyfriend."
She chuckled, "I wonder how Bou-san will take this rejection."
"Oh stop," I tried to frown, but a smile was tugging at the corners of my lips.
Masako had watched us banter before asking, "Does Naru know?"
I clutched my small carry-on purse. "He doesn't have to know. What I do with whom is none of his business." I didn't want to bother explaining that Naru had paid me a surprise visit and met Lucien first hand.
"Tell me all about your new beau," Bou-san turned the corner. I glared at Ayako, who had grinned at me while she put away her phone. She had likely texted him while I was speaking to Masako.
I groaned out loud, "Is this what the whole trip is going to be like?"
Bou-san grinned, answering for them. "Yep."
The chartered plane wasn't, by any means, high-class. The plane was small, maybe nine or so people could fit into it. But, I had to admit it was nice to have the entire cabin to ourselves. Unlike what I imagined most planes would be like, the interior was cozy. The large reclining chairs were worn, but they were in groups of four and faced one another.
Very intimate, I thought as Ayako, Bou-san, Masako and I took four seats facing each other. Lin and Naru took the furthest away from us. Typical.
My stomach was queasy for the take-off. It was my first time in a plane so I was staring intently out the window, my face pressed against the glass as I watched the world fly from under us.
Bou-san teased me the entire time.
"I'm surprised for your first flight you're not nauseous." He said. "The first time I traveled, I got so sick from the take-off. The worst ones are the longer flights. I once took a twenty-two hour flight and was praying for my life."
"Twnety-two hours," Ayako shook her head. "Where did you go? Canada?"
"Europe, for a tour." said Bou-san.
"You've traveled to Europe?" I blinked at him. He and Ayako sat in front of Masako and I. "For your music, right? I can't believe your band is that that big now."
Ayako agreed in a condescending voice, "It's kind of like we're sitting in the presence of someone who is actually famous."
Masako and I shared a look, half smiling. Bou-san lurched in his seat towards Ayako, who grinned beside him. "That's what I've been telling you all along! We're big now, especially over there. Don't get me wrong, touring Asia has been great. But the sights in the west are spectacular. Canada is on the list too, by the way."
Ayako settled into her seat, crossing her arms. "Travelling the world sounds better than being cooped up in a hospital all day."
Bou-san waved a hand. "Maybe I'll let you ladies tour with us." He grinned, then turned to Ayako. "That's if you can get the time off to travel now-a-days, being a big-shot-Doc, and all."
In retaliation, Ayako did the most adult thing she could have to respond to Bou-san. She stuck her tongue out at him.
I watched the exchange not sure if I would get a headache after too much of this, or if I would thoroughly enjoy myself. A small part of me felt...left out that I didn't know Bou-san was travelling, or where he was going. But seeing as Ayako didn't either I felt a bit better and settled myself.
"Speaking of, you've been travelling overseas too, haven't you Masako?" Ayako looked across the cabin. Masako nodded, politely.
She said to us, "I've been asked to appear on American television shows for the past year."
"Wow," I breathed. "What about school?"
"The Institution has been kind enough to allow me to do online courses, I'll have to finish up some classes during the summer. I plan to live in the States and work there." She explained. I was impressed, and almost awestruck. I made a mental note to try and find these American shows that she was in.
Bou-san gazed at me, "what about you Mai? What kind of things have you been up to?"
Now, all of them focused on me.
A deep-rooted part of me suddenly felt like he was listening too. As if the whole cabin was waiting to hear how I had fared the last four years. I felt that deep anxiety inhibit my speech. Part of me felt like they didn't deserve to know what was happening in my life at all. I wanted to bark at them, to yell, that it didn't matter what I was doing, just like how I reacted to Masako asking about if Naru knew about Lucien.
I had to remind myself of how nice it felt to be with them, to talk with them again. I tried to calm down that relentless fury, in which I had began using as my defense mechanism. I felt my lips tremble as I regained my composure, smiling. "Well, I'm in school now, getting an Education degree. I've been working for Father Toujo at the Church."
I stopped to think of anything exciting that has happened to me within these last four years. I hadn't traveled the world, or worked at a fancy doctors office. I don't even think I've went to a doctor's office in the last four years for any kind of accident… which was kind of a miracle in itself.
The last four years all I did was try and put the pieces of my life back together again. The shattered bits of me that these people didn't even care about. While they were travelling, and making television appearances… I had spiraled deeply into the dark side of despair. Even though it really wasn't their fault... I couldn't see reason though, not when I felt that dark mood threaten to take hold.
Perhaps Bou-san sensed my unease, which is why he changed the subject so abruptly. I didn't know what they were talking about anymore, I only knew that they had stopped asking me questions. Slowly, I got up, excusing myself to the bathroom.
I needed to be alone and with nowhere to go I cooped up in the cramped space.
Beneath my skin, I felt a relenting icy-fire that stormed under my veins. That light feeling I had felt moments ago was gone, as if it were made of dust and mist. That feeling was frozen from the blistering cold now coursing through my body.
All that was left was my broken, black soul.
I was shaking so hard, it took me a while to dig through my purse and find the small razor blade I had brought. Thankfully, the charter had limited security and the metal detector hadn't picked up the fragment of blade.
Lifting my shirt, I inhaled sharply at the first slice of flesh.
Everything disappeared around me, except for the feel of the blade on my skin. I covered my mouth, to stop myself from yelping out loud. I counted in my head, trying to focus my breathing and timed the cutting to my heartbeat.
I don't know how much time had passed, all that mattered was the relentless sting of the blade slicing into my skin. Over, and over, and over.
Someone knocked and I was snapped out of my haze.
"Mai, are you okay in there?" Bou-san asked from the door.
I let out an evaporated breath, not realizing I had started to cry during the carnage.
"I'm fine." I said in a shaky voice, lowering my hand from my mouth and gripping my bleeding waist. "Just a little sick." I lied, evenly.
Ayako was at the door, "I have some meds if you want. It'll make you feel a better."
I held my bleeding side, shaking. "Okay, I'll be right out."
"Take your time," she said in a sweet voice. I stood for ten seconds, controlling my breathing and forcing my shaking shoulders to relax. Luckily, I wore a dark colored shirt so I hoped no blood would show through it. If not, it would have to do until I was at the hotel and could change.
Slowly I started the sink, sticking the blade and my hands under the running water.
I watched the water turn red, washing the shame and guilt down with it.
Ayako gave me some nausea medication to help with my "airsickness". It had been the longest hour of my life but being sick gave me the excuse to stick my face towards the window and just stare out.
When we landed, I remained in that dark mood and unable to shake it.
Waiting at the airport, were two large, black SUV's for the team. Lin, Bou-san and Naru loaded the equipment into one of the SUV's. It was later claimed by Naru and Lin. I thought, coldly, that being in a car with them would probably be better than being with Bou-san, Ayako and Masako. Lin and Naru would not make small talk, and they certainly wouldn't ask me any kind of questions. They would let me relish in their silence.
Uncharacteristically I wandered over to Lin and Naru, who started boarding the vehicle. Naru propped himself against the passenger seat as he watched me approach.
"Can I ride with you?" I looked at the ground. I felt his eyes on me, watching. "I just need to -" I couldn't finish that sentence because I honestly had no idea what to say without confiding too much. I looked up at him, those blue eyes were, coolly, regarding me.
I felt like an injured animal being analyzed for the extent of damage. "Never mind," I said harshly and went to turn away.
"You can sit in the front," he said and he climbed out of the passenger seat. I turned back around and watched him gracefully slide into the tight spot in the back, packed with equipment.
I didn't bother to say anything as I climbed into the SUV and stared out the window. Coming into this vehicle was the only way I felt like I could somehow escape the questions, and the comments. I knew I couldn't hide from the three of them for the whole trip, but after the plane ride…
Later, if they asked, I would tell them that I wanted time alone with Naru. I would tell them that I wanted to talk about Gene, and ask how he was handling things. None of them would have the courage to ask him themselves, so I hoped that it would be a solid plan.
I hadn't said that name in nearly four years.
That was another reason my powers felt like a curse. Once Naru left, so did the visits with Gene.
Maybe I wouldn't have become such a mess if I could have seen him. With a face that was exactly like Naru's, maybe he would soothe something that broke deep within me.
Instead, his absence was suffocating. That darkness that I found myself in every time I tried to contact him swallowed me whole.
And I don't think I ever got out.
Just as I thought, the ride with Lin and Naru was quiet. They didn't speak except for directions. It was kind of unnerving and I wondered how often they would go in each others company without saying a single word to each other. To be frank, it was kind of weird.
We made it to the hotel, which wasn't too out of shape. It was actually quite nice. I found that Biei had so far been beautiful. We rarely had cases in the country side, so it was refreshing to go into the wilderness.
Naru checked us in swiftly, in the lobby he gave us strict instructions: We'll meet in an hour at the back of the hotel. Don't be late.
Ayako, Masako and I shared a room naturally. Bou-san would have his own room until Yasu and John showed up in a couple of days. Lin and Naru shared a room, unsurprisingly.
"Feeling better?" Ayako asked as she set down her bag, claiming one of the beds. Masako claimed the second and I was stuck on the futon. I had just finished coming out of the bathroom where I changed my shirt and rinsed the dried blood off my skin.
"Much better, thank you," I smiled through the rising temper. I dug through my bag, looking for my medication. I wouldn't take it out in front of them, but I wanted to make sure that I had it. Checking my watch, it was almost time to take them anyways. Maybe that's why I had been feeling so...off.
"Good," Ayako said, oblivious to my mood. I watched them from the corner of my eye and when I thought they weren't looking, I hid the pills in my palm. Quietly, I closed the lid on the bottles and stuffed the pills into my pocket.
"I'm going to check out what kind of food they have," I announced when I finished unpacking. "Would you like anything?" I truly hoped that they wouldn't offer to go with me.
"No thanks," Ayako declined.
"I'm alright, Mai. But thank you." Masko said, equally as polite.
I nodded, leaving the room. Once outside, I sighed deeply. I hoped that my bad mood would go away when I took the medication. They were suppose to numb these feelings...not intensify them.
I wandered the halls, staring at the lines of doors and wondered which room he was in.
Just as quickly as the thought hit me, I shoved it away.
Who cares anyways.
I roamed to the very end of the hallway, opening a glass door that I realized was the entrance to the dining area. The restaurant wasn't very big; there was a large bar to the far side and small tables lined the center, booths lined the walls.
Sitting in one of the booths was Naru.
I had hoped he didn't see me. But, I felt his eyes on me the moment I wandered in. I knew he wouldn't have cared if I had turned around and stormed away but my legs moved on their own, and I found myself standing at his table.
He eyed me the entire time, "can I help you?"
I was aware this was the second time I caught him off guard today.
"Mind if I sit?" I grounded out. Naru gestured to the seat across from him and I sat promptly.
I didn't know what to do with my hands. Or what to say. So, I continued looking down at the table, picking up the menu..
"Are you just going to sit there with that stupid look on your face?" Naru's harsh voice cut towards me and I put the menu down, roughly. He was such a jerk.
I glared at him. "Excuse me, I was trying to be considerate. You don't have to be so rude."
Well, there went the attempt at controlling my temper.
"I thought you were trying to avoid me," he wiped his mouth with a napkin, finishing with his meal. I realized that this was the first time I had ever seen Naru eat food, or at least, actually saw the leftover remnants of food in front of him.
I huffed out a breath. "Not everything revolves around you."
Naru smirked at me, but didn't say anything when the waiter came to collect his plates. He was so smug, so damn arrogant. Something inside me swirled at the way he regarded everything, utterly poised and collected. I realized I could never be like that, even if I tried.
"Would you like anything, miss?" The older gentlemen asked. Frantically, I looked at the appetizers.
"Uh, can I get the Miso soup?"
"Right away, miss." He politely collected my menu, and filled my glass with water.
As I drank from it, I noticed Naru watching me.
"You've lost weight."
I put down my glass roughly.
"People tend to do that." I snapped.
What bothered me wasn't Naru pointing out my weight. It bothered me he noticed at all because I had lost weight -a lot of it. When I was first diagnosed, I developed an eating disorder which was another side-effect of the pills. After a while, I started to eat normally again but I still hadn't recovered that lost weight. To hide it I tried to wear jeans and T-shirts because they helped add bulk to my already small figure, and they didn't draw attention to my too-thin arms, legs or waist.
Maybe other people had already guessed, but it bothered me that Naru noticed it - or at least mentioned it.
Naru noticed everything, and that bothered me too.
We remained silent.
Normally, there would be so many things I wanted to ask him, yet I didn't. Who cares anyways? Besides, he was doing a good job at ruining any control I had.
It was even more frustrating, for whatever reason, this feeling of anger was better than the dread and despair. It was easy to be like this to Naru, mostly because he wasn't like the others. He wouldn't take it personally. I couldn't help but think that, maybe, I needed to be with him in order to let this dark mood escape.
That made me wonder why Naru stuck around, maybe he let me lash out at him.
He was your first love.
I pushed those thoughts aside.
Beyond them, there were so many burning questions I had; I wanted to ask him how things were in England. I wanted to ask about Gene, and if he saw him - if he moved on.
As I struggled to find a topic to bring up, my soup came and Naru finished up with the bill - adding my own order to his.
When he was done, Naru stood and collected his elegant jacket.
"Wait," I crooked out. Indigo blue eyes stared at me. I know I had been a jerk to him. But..I didn't want him to leave. It was confusing that the only person who seemed to calm this relentless storm within me… was him.
"Speak English to me," I asked softly. "Please."
Naru stared at me, "You wouldn't be able to understand a word I'm saying."
I just wanted to hear it. It didn't matter that my English sucked, or that I was practically illiterate in the foreign language.
I nodded anyways, aware that this feeling was rejection. That's just what Naru did, I guess. He would always reject me.
"Never mind," I picked up my spoon. "Forget I asked."
From in front of me, Naru leaned down. He placed his hand on the table and my gaze followed his black-clothed arm, up into those beautiful eyes. His beautiful face.
"I should have come back."
The words were so foreign. For a moment, had I not noticed his lips moving, I wouldn't have even thought he said anything. Naru held my stare, and even though I didn't understand the language, the look in his eyes and the sound of his voice, it made my heart ache.
It sounded sad and regretful.
From behind me, I hadn't noticed Lin approach us until he reached the table. The older man looked at Naru, who stood straight again. I gulped at the sudden change in intensity.
"Good afternoon, Mai," Lin greeted me. "Feeling better?" I shyly nodded back. Lin didn't answer me and instead turned to face Naru.
"We'll be meeting soon," he reminded Naru. Though, I'm sure Naru didn't need to be reminded at all. He had an internal clock like that.
Naru looked at his partner. Something unspoken flashed between them and Naru didn't say anything as he turned smoothly. The two of them walked back towards the lobby.
Chapter 4: Never Close Your Eyes
Chapter 4 - Never Close Your Eyes
We met in the back in exactly an hour. After taking my medication and eating something, I had to admit, I felt a little better.
I tried not to think that Naru had anything to do with it.
Naru handed out talisman's, similar to the one Lin showed us at the office, and bundles of sweet grass wrapped beautifully in silk. He also gave us medium sized alcone shells and a lighter.
"This seems very ominous," Bou-san said, looking at each of the items handed to us.
"I take it this is similar to Native American smudging rituals," Ayako said. "They use the same materials."
Lin took the talisman off from around his neck. "Precisely. For those of you not familiar, listen carefully to these instructions because if a step is missed then the talisman cannot protect you from what we might face."
In unison, we all nodded.
Lin continued, "In the morning, you will individually smudge. You cannot wear the talisman when you do."
"Why not?" Ayako asked.
Lin said, "The sweet grass will strengthen and cleanse the talisman's spiritual energy. However, their properties are too different from one another and will nullify the other if the smudging is done incorrectly, or simultaneously."
"Which is exactly why you need to pay close attention." Naru said and I had a feeling those words were directed more towards me. I scowled silently.
Lin lit a corner of sweet-grass with the lighter. We watched as he got it to smoke by fanning it with his hand. When it was sufficiently smoking, he placed the burning end in the shell. "When you get enough smoke you can use the motions similar to as if you were washing your hands and face. Like this."
He demonstrated, wafting the smoke over his arms, shoulders, head and torso as if it were water. The smell of the sweet-grass was beautiful, livid and full of body.
"When you're done, collect the ashes from the shell and bury them in the ground." He gracefully knelt down, and gently stamped out the burning sweet-grass in the earth. He then proceeded to bury the remaining ashes from the alcone shell. Lin stood up, reaching into his pocket. "After you've completed the smudge, put the talisman on immediately."
From beside Lin, Naru said. "Each of us will do one round of smudging, to make sure you completely understand."
The process was not complicated and I placed my talisman into my pocket and worked with the sweet-grass, waiting for it to smoke. Thenl I 'washed' myself with it. Even though it was just a simple ritual I felt… lifted and lighter. My bad mood and negative energy was being lifted into the sky, along with the smoke and buried in the ground.
I felt like I might start using sweet-grass on a regular basis.
When Naru was satisfied we all followed the instructions properly, he said. "Good. We'll leave at seven in the morning, as it takes an hour to get to the prison location."
"No one said this was going to be a free vacation," Naru's tone was clipped. "We will be working in groups at all times while at the location. There will be two interviews tomorrow; one with the groundskeeper and another with an eye witness of other poltergeist activity."
Masako brushed off her knees as she stood up from the ground, "will we be doing a walk through?"
"Yes," he said, turning to face her. "Takigawa-san will accompany you so we have an idea where to position the cameras and other equipment. Matsuzaki-san," he looked at Ayako. "You will accompany the grounds-keeper outside, and note any spots that you feel particular interest from."
Bou-san grinned, "And Mai, you'll be our blood hound and sniff out the spirits with your exceptional E.S.P. won't you?"
I stiffened and I felt Naru's gaze slide over to me. Everyone's did.
I shared a look with Masako, gulping. "Yeah, I'll try my best."
From in front of me, Naru only gave me a long stare before he said, "We'll have a portable base in the SUV since I don't fully trust the structure of the building. Taniyama-san, you'll be watching the base with Lin, or myself."
Everyone had their roles. The meeting only lasted a few more minutes, mostly of Lin and Naru reminding us the importance of smudging before and after the investigation.
Then, we all parted ways to begin our new case.
That night, I was surprised that Masako or Naru didn't confront me about lying to the group about my abilities. If it were Masako I may have apologized, but if it were Naru, I would have told him to mind his own business.
Before bed, I went out to the hotel lobby and made a phone call.
"Hey," Lucien answered on the first ring. The sound of his voice, so smooth, made me feel much more relaxed. "How're you?"
"Good," I answered, and I couldn't help the smile blooming on my face. "I got a little sick on the plane, but once we landed I was fine."
"I'm glad to hear you're feeling better," Lucien sounded exhausted and I wondered if he had the chance to relax at all. "Other than airsickness, how're things?"
I considered for a moment, leaning back into the wall in a far corner of the lobby. "I'm fine, I feel okay. Everything is just settling, we don't go to the location until tomorrow."
Lucien said. "I'm relieved you're feeling good. Stay safe when you're out there, you never know what could happen."
From the other line, "I miss you and I'm counting down the days until I can see you again."
"You're so cheesy," I couldn't stop the smile from crawling across my face. "I miss you too."
"I love you."
I hestiated. It was a terrible thing but I always hesitated when Lucien said these words. I didn't know why.
"Have a good night, babe." I whispered into the phone. "Love you."
I hung up the phone with a deep pit in my stomach. Lucien insisted on saying those words nearly three months into our dating and I never told him how uncomfortable it made me feel when it made him so happy. So I said them, even if I didn't know if I meant them like he did.
I did love Lucien, didn't I?
It wasn't the time to think about that. Doubt wasn't going to help me when it came to my relationship with him and so I went to bed feeling refreshed after my phone call with Lucien.
"How long has that been going on for?" Ayako teased when I came back into the room.
"You're easdropping on me." I walked to the futon. "About a year."
"Cute," she said as she settled into bed. "He seems like a good guy and if he makes you happy that's even better."
I went into the restroom to ready myself for bed. When I came out, I heard the soft snores of Ayako.
Slowly, I began settling into bed too.
From the other side of the room, I hadn't known Masako was still awake.
Quietly, she said. "There was blood on your shirt when we got off the plane."
Not a question, but a statement.
I pretended that I didn't hear her, trying to match my breathing to Ayakos: deep and steady.
Masako didn't say anything else, and soon, the heavy breathing put me to sleep very quickly.
Our morning started early, the sun was coming up from over the horizon and it made the smudging even more refreshing. The air felt crisp but the scent from the sweet-grass was calming.
I placed my talisman over my neck immediately when it was over then made my way back inside to continue preparing for our travels.
We packed the equipment into the SUV's again and this time I took the same vehicle as Ayako and Bou-san.
Masako rode with Naru and Lin.
The countryside passed us by in shades of green throughout our drive. It was beautiful and breathtaking. I did not get to experience true country-side often and this felt extraordinary. There was something about these woods, however, that felt old and ancient. It was almost unnerving and I wouldn't want to become lost in the dense trees.
We turned off the main road and onto a small back road that lead deeper into the woods. I started feeling slightly uneasy and watched as the large vehicles barely fit on the road.
Finally, after an hour of driving, we had arrived.
It was one single structure. From the case file I read that the prison only held about seven or eight inmates. The exterior was a dark stone, crumbling in areas. The window were completely open to the elements and there was spray painted graffiti decorating the sides.
Naru was right, this place was in dire need of being demolished.
A man stepped out from the large entrance. He was short, stocky and wore casual clothes. He had short, spiked hair that was black. His face was friendly and bristled with a short beard.
Naru stepped stopped infront of the man, bowing politely. "My name is Kazuya Shibuya."
"Mr. Shibuya, it's good to see you," the man came over, shaking Naru's hand. He regarded us, kindly. "My name is Miki Hikuzaki."
Ayako peered at the crumbling structure, "Hikuzaki-san, if you don't mind me saying, this place is quite off the radar. Is it safe to go inside?"
"Please, call me Miki," he said. "It's completely safe inside. We've had contractors come and test the structures. The outside has been exposed to the elements for too long is all."
Miki lead us into the building and I held my breath waiting for something to fall on us, despite being told it was safe
Inside, it was fairly well taken care of. Once we climbed the elaborate entrance stairs, we were greeted by a large area that Miki had said was an office and reception area.
"It looks creepy. Does anyone come out here?" I asked.
He shook his head, "No one except for me, and urban ghost hunters."
Maskao frowned, "isn't that lonely, being here all by yourself?"
Miki hesitated, "it can be. But, we have to get by somehow. This land has been entrusted to my family for generations. Before the state built the prison, my family used to own the land here, all the way to the cutlines you might have passed on the way in."
"That's an impressive amount of land," Bou-san said. "So when the state built the prison they also left the disaster for your family to clean up."
"Something like that. The government offered us compensation for the land if we sold it to them. Then, when the prison was no longer being used so our family asked for the land back at the same price. The government declined the offer and has since left this place to rot, off the radar."
"That's horrible," I said. "It's not fair, they could have at least sold it back to you. Those jerks."
"As part of an arrangement with the district, I look after the land now."
Miki brought us past the office, down the hall to a large gated portion. "Beyond here are the cells. There are a total of twelve cells in this area."
Confused, I asked, "I thought there were nine."
Naru decided to answer, "The prison had only officially declared having nine cells to the public. In fact, there were an additional three built in the lower part of the prison."
I scowled and Miki nodded, "Correct, the ones in the basement are the cells that were reserved for serial killers, or murderers...or…"
Miki swallowed and Ayako pushed gently. "Miki?"
"Practicing witches." Naru answered. We all snapped our head towards him. "Anyone in the area that had a mental illness, or was condemned for practicing witchcraft or satanic rituals, were thrown into the underground cellars. Then executed."
I felt my throat swell up. "That's horrible."
"There had been some disturbing disappearances around those times, and it was linked to satanic rituals in the area." Miki sad. "Cultists, satanists. That kind of thing."
Bou-san looked at Masako, "That's pretty dark. Do you sense anything, Masako?"
She lifted her hand to her mouth, "I get an odd sensation. There's definitely spirits here. I can't explain why they're here, perhaps they are lost, but there's another presence that seems to be watching us. It is hiding in the shadows, carefully trying to not be noticed by me."
"Is it malicious?" Naru asked.
Masako breathed in, closing her eyes. "I can't say for sure, it doesn't feel like a spirit... it's something else."
Naru looked at all of us, then to Lin. "Let's start our walk through. Remember the positions we talked about yesterday." He looked at me, "We'll prepare a base in the SUV and set up some cameras in the area. I've hired an offsite security for the night portion of our data collection."
Naru hired security? Carefully, I watched him as he continued talking to Ayako, Masako and Bou-san. He seemed a little more on edge than usual, and I couldn't place it. If this case were so dangerous, why did he risk it?
When Naru finished, Bou-san turned to me. "What do you feel, Mai?"
All eyes settled on me and my panic shot up even more. My heart started pounding as I regarded all of them, my eyes finally settling on a pair of indigo-blue ones.
There was...something that was testing me. I felt it just beneath the numbness. It felt odd, like someone was reaching inside my mind.
"I don't feel anything yet," I admitted. "I agree with Masako, there is something...unsettling here."
That seemed to satisfy everyone.
Except Naru who watched me with knowing, or worried, eyes.
The interview with Miki was very quick and Naru held it inside the prison.
"When did the activity start?" He asked.
"I acquired the agreement with the district five years ago, in two-thousand-thirteen. Prior to then, I did not visit the location. It was strictly off limits to the public." Miki stated. Lin wrote everything down.
"Is there anyone that can vouch for any experiences before that?" Naru asked.
"I don't know," an honest answer. "There were records of all the staff and inmates. I believe the district might have those archives. As for other witnesses, they would all be urban hunters that were drawn illegally to the prison. I doubt they would want to step forward and give a statement."
Naru considered this information, "The staff could possibly be long gone by now. There's no way of knowing whether the information is accurate. As for the prisoners, there could have been more than what the archives have since there were undocumented captives."
I tried not to shiver at what he was implying. That countless people could have been taken into those underground cells and executed.
Miki nodded and Bou-san said, "I bet Yasu could dig up some information for us when he gets here."
"You have more investigators coming?" Miki looked at Naru, as if this was new information.
"Yes," He said, almost carefully. "There are two others who will arrive in the next couple of days."
Miki seemed to regard this information. "I see you certainly do not mess around. I've never had such a professional team on the location. Except for the lot that captured the activity."
"Where was that captured, again?"
"In the basement cells."
Naru didn't reply. He simply stared at Miki and I could see the wheels turning in his head.
"Mai," Naru said. "You and Lin should go to the base. I want to walk around the location now, if you don't mind, Hikuzaki-san."
The older man shook his head, "not at all."
We all parted ways, Lin and I walked back to the SUV's together.
As we walked something about the interview didn't feel right. Normally there was more questions and explanations but for this location we almost had next to no information.
I said, "I don't understand why he decided to investigate this place. It seems dodgy and uncertain."
"He knows what he's doing," Lin replied.
"I guess, but it just seems like there is some important information that is missing. There are no other official records except for a television series that claims to have caught something special. And the district has no records either." I observed. "It just seems kind of off to me. Doesn't he normally take cases with more information than this?"
Lin didn't answer me, instead, he just continued being silent even as we were outside.
We set up some monitors in the back seat, using an external power source that they had brought. Naru hadn't taken as much equipment as I knew he would have liked, but we had enough. Thermal cameras, night vision cameras, and voice recorders.
From the radio, Naru's voice came through it. "Lin, can we get some night vision cameras for the basement?"
Lin replied immediately, "I'll be there in a few minutes."
He then grabbed two of our best night vision cameras and tripods. I climbed out expecting to go with him.
"Mai, you stay here." He said. "I'll just be a moment."
I blinked and pointed out. "Naru said we shouldn't be alone."
"I know but you should stay at the base just in case." He regarded me carefully. "You won't be out here for very long, I'll only be a moment."
Like a child, I crossed my arms. "Fine."
Scowling, I watched him retreat before I settled back into the seat. Naru wasn't the only one on edge here, I could sense it; everyone could sense it. Just like he was on edge during the Urado case. I had a feeling there was something about this case he wasn't telling us. Maybe it's because he didn't fully have the answers yet, since I knew he liked to have everything all neatly wrapped in a bow.
Still, he didn't have to leave me cooped up in the car.
Outside and alone I waited. That was when, from the corner of my eye, I saw movement. I snapped my head to look out the window, swearing I had just saw a figure. When I couldn't see anything, I hesitantly stepped out of the SUV to investigate further.
The wind picked up, making the trees sway hypnotically. Leaves fell, blowing idly around and littering the ground. From the base of a large tree, maybe ten feet away, I saw a girl.
She was young, perhaps in her early teens. She was devastatingly beautiful, her hair was golden and thick, parting over her shoulders and trailing down to her waist. She was wearing a dark dress that graced her blooming figure.
Her eyes were covered by shadows and she peered back at me before stepping behind the tree trunk.
"Wait," I blinked.
Suddenly, wondering if this girl was lost, I moved towards the spot I had just saw her. "Wait, where are you?"
It was still within seeing distance of the van, and I swore she tucked herself away behind this tree. "Are you lost? You can come out, I won't hurt you."
When I looked around, I didn't see anyone.
I tried not to let that unsettling feeling settle over me. This wasn't the first time I had mistook a spirit for an actual person. And if spirits could still manifest themselves to me, with my abilities being blocked, that must mean they could be very powerful entities. I tried not to shiver from that thought.
For only a moment, I had turned my back to the van and as I turned around there was nothing but endless rows of trees.
Shakily, I steadied my breath, not remembering when I had walked off so far off the trail. I tried to retrace my steps.
Naru was going to kill me for leaving the van.
The woods seemed to change as I moved. I was aware that my heart was pounding beneath my chest. Being lost in the woods was the last thing I needed. Not to mention this location was completely hostile.
From behind me I heard the snap of a tree branch. As if someone has stepped on it. I spun around, frantically scanning the never-ending forest.
I saw something dark press into the base of a tree, maybe thirty feet away from me. My heart thundered in my ears and I heard more tree branches snapping under an unseen weight. I stilled, completely frozen. The figure I saw did not look like that of a young girl, but of something not entirely human. I didn't have time to look back at it because as soon as I thought this thing wasn't a human I turned and ran.
Something snarled from behind me as I stopped to look back, breathless. I stepped back three paces, shaking so violently I thought my legs would give out and-
A voice reeled me back to reality. "Mai, what on earth are you doing out here?"
Ayako was standing with the groundskeeper to my left, about then paces away. In my panic I hadn't seen them at all. I didn't even know if they had been here the entire time. It felt like I had stepped out of some bubble of reality, as if while in that place in the woods I disappeared from here.
I let out a strangled breath, "I don't know." I looked around, wrapping my torso with my arms.
Miki gazed at me, "it's not unusual for people to get lost in these woods."
I gulped, not needing to be told that. Ayako had motioned me to follow them and I stuck close to their sides. I only glanced back once, to take a peek at the darkening woods.
I swore there was someone, or something, gazing back at me.
When Naru found out I had been lost in the woods, he turned his lethal gaze to Lin. "You were supposed to stay with her. I said no one is to be alone at this location."
Lin was unphased, "It was either that or -"
"Never mind," Naru barked.
He moved back outside, to the van, to gather more equipment. Bou-san was standing at the entrance with us.
"I'll be fine." I think.
"Good, we're leaving here soon. Lucky we found you, or you may have spent a night in these creepy woods."
I shivered as I thought about the thing I saw and hoped I would never have to spend a night in these woods. Ever.
Night was now upon us and we had to use large, industrial lights in order to see. Ayako, Masako and Lin were in the van with me now, sitting in the front seats. Miki had left hours ago.
We were waiting for our second interview who hadn't shown up yet, which could be a contributing factor to Naru's poor mood.
I watched as he and Bou-san continued back inside the building and I let out a little breath.
"He's on edge," I said out loud. "I've never seen him so worked up before."
Lin agreed, "This location is dangerous, he's too arrogant to say it but he's worried."
"Why did he decide to take this case then?"
There was a moment of silence. "Naru has about a dozen motives for anything."
I shrugged, assuming he was right.
Lin and I went back to watching on the screens as Bou-san and Naru had been trying to communicate with the spirits. When nothing seemed to respond, I grabbed the radio.
"In the original video the team used a Ouija board before activity started happening."
I heard my voice echo from the speakers of the monitors.
Naru and Bou-san considered each other, carefully. Then Naru spoke, clearly, into the walkie talkie.
"She's right," he said and I saw Lin tense at that. "Perhaps we should be replicating the original evidence."
Bou-san shook his head, "no way Naru, that's too dangerous. Who knows what kind of demons lurk around here."
It made me think back to the girl and the strange form I saw in the woods.
Lin grabbed the radio from me, "Ouija board is a bad idea, given the fact that this location is already dangerous enough without it."
Naru considered, as I watched him on the screen. He answered back, "Is everyone in favor of not using the Ouija board?"
At the same time, Lin and Bou-san said, "yes."
Masako and Ayako agreed, though I think Naru already knew they would.
"Mai?" Naru called to me, not bothering with the radio. He just looked towards the camera. Now, Lin was giving me a wary look. I had suggested it, not really thinking about how dangerous it could be. I took the radio from Lin.
"I have to agree."
Naru was outwardly frustrated with the lack of approval. He muttered something to Bou-san and I watched on screen as they packed up some hand held equipment and made their way back to base.
"We're leaving the cameras?" I asked Lin.
He nodded, "Since we've hired additional security for the location, they'll keep watch of a wireless camera we brought."
It seemed a little risky, but I didn't question the idea. Especially since Naru seemed like he was in a bad mood.
Before we packed up to leave, Naru setup the wireless camera that would connect via satellite to an Ipad he had. That way, he could keep an eye on it from the hotel.
I had no doubt, he would probably watch that thing all night.
When we drove back to the hotel, it was too late to call Lucien. So I sent him a text before we finished the evening with smudging.
We had came back to the hotel hours ago. Yet, as I opened my eyes I was standing in the woods again.
Confused, I looked around. The woods seemed the same but they felt different, like standing in a different time-era. I recalled thinking that I had stepped into another reality before Ayako and Miki found me.
There was a jarring sensation of someone tugging on a rope tied to my wrist. Suddenly, I was pulled forcibly forward. I noticed that around me, there were four figures clad in red cloaks that started to manifest. Those in front were holding torches, lighting the way.
My heart sped up as they yanked on my makeshift shackles. I tried to scream but soon found that my mouth had something in it. Leather was all I tasted from the gag tied around my jaw. It was caught between my teeth and I made a muffled noise into it as the pain from my wrists intensified.
I suddenly realized this wasn't going to be a regular dream.
Oh no. Not one of these. Please…
Tears pricked at my eyes as the coven lead us deeper into the woods. I had no cognition of where we were, until they stopped.
There were two more dark figures that joined, one of them was small and almost child-sized. They stood on a makeshift dais that was lit with torches. From the shadows I saw what looked like the outline of a house in the background. Then directly in front of me I saw a rope over a large tree branch. One of the cloaked figures tested the weight, pulling on it hard. The branch did not give.
Then they tied a noose at the end of the rope.
I stifled a cry as my captures yanked on my rope, and I fell forward. Blonde hair scattered all around me, my black dress bunched below my knees.
Blonde hair...black dress…
I was tied to a post. My arms were out at my sides and the coven tore at the dress, revealing my flesh. I was naked, and prone to their jabbing of brushes and fingers. They painted my torso, my arms and back. I had a sick sensation that it wasn't paint they were putting on my body. The thick feel of an oozy liquid was fresh. Hot.
Some of the members were chanting, beginning a ritual I was likely about to join. When the painting was done, they untied my hands, only to grip them behind my back. It was so painful, my shoulders bent awkwardly and my wrists were tied tightly together.
I yelp as they pushed and pulled at me, bringing me towards the makeshift noose. Crying into the gag, I begged them not to do this.
No. No. Wake up, you have to wake up.
One of them grabbed my hair, yanking me when I stopped moving. I struggled, trying to fight my way out when I felt a sharp prick in my side.
A knife swiftly stabbed into me.
I lurched. The pain was burning, and I was momentarily stunned. They wrapped the noose around my neck and tightened it.
The chanting grew louder. Just as the atmosphere did. The flames of the torches were brighter. Everything in the woods were heightened and I felt the rope around my neck become like a weight.
Someone pulled on it, tightening it, lifting me off the ground.
I struggled for breath, kicking my legs from under me in an attempt to break free. All air was lost.
Gasping, I threw myself out of bed.
My shoulders were shaking as I reeled back, touching the futon underneath me.
"It was a dream," I said, almost in disbelief. "Just a dream."
Deep down, though, I knew I shouldn't be having these types of dreams. The pills were supposed to be working to block those powers from me. I thought about the talismans and smudging that were also supposed to keep this darkness away.
I ran a hand through my sweat drenched hair. Ayako and Masako were not in the the room and I took the fleeting silence to try to calm myself down. I don't know why I had that dream, and I didn't know what it meant. All I knew, was that something was strong enough to get past my barrier. It could get past the talismans.
It meant that none of us were safe.
When Ayako returned to the room, quickly, I grabbed my smudging tools and left.
I couldn't tell them about it. Not yet. It wasn't because I was confused about the dream itself, or how it happened. But, because I didn't have the answers that Naru would be looking for. All I knew, is that the girl I saw in the woods had been murdered.
No. Not murdered.
I remembered, in vivid detail, the chanting. The rows of people in red hoods and the dais of lit torches.
It wasn't a murder but a sacrifice.
For the rest of the day, my mind whirled with a possible explanation. Could it be, there was a cult that was starting all of these strange poltergeist activities? For some reason, I just couldn't seem to shake the feeling that wasn't the case. The team, also, had no luck on the second day, which meant that Naru was in an even worst mood. Our second interview still had not shown up, they didn't even contact us. It was starting to become a growing concern, and Naru ordered us to not leave anyone alone.
He was even more worked up today than he was yesterday.
Lin and I stayed in the base as the team tried, and failed, to get a rouse out of the spirits. This time, I did not see that girl outside in the woods. Maybe she wouldn't show herself until I was alone.
I thought about that other figure I had seen yesterday as well, and decided that I was not going to go into the woods to search for answers.
It is hiding in the shadows, carefully trying to not be noticed by me
That was what Masako had said yesterday, when she felt a strange presence similar to the one I felt. Whatever was lurking around this place didn't seem to want the others to find it.
Somehow it was targeting me.
I felt a hallow feeling in the pit of my stomach. On the monitors, I watched as Ayako, Masako, Bou-san and even Naru continue in their investigation. I wanted to tell them...but felt like the only way to validate myself was to back up my dream with proof. I had no idea how to go about this alone. It was frightening, and lonely. During most of our investigations, I never had to do this alone. I always had my team to help me through it. For the first time, I realized how much I needed them.
I didn't know what to do, or who to turn to. So, I took a deep breath, excusing myself from the base for a moment to get water from the other vehicle (it was just a couple steps away). I grabbed my purse, looking through it for my afternoon dose.
I hesitated, holding the pill.
To take it, meant to shut off my abilities even more. It meant that I was truly vulnerable here. I knew the consequences of not taking my pills regularly, but I couldn't shake the feeling that the pills were going to hurt me on this case, more than they would help me.
Slowly, I put the pill back.
My heart was pounding at the implication. As if my body were protesting. I stepped back from the SUV, closing my eyes and clearing my head.
There was something going on here, something that was bigger than Naru was letting on.
Or, an even more sinister thought, there was something going on here that even Naru had no idea about.
On the third day, the hired security guards did not report to us in the morning. In fact, there was not any evidence that they were even on the property at all that night, aside from Naru capturing them on camera only for a moment.
That day, we also did not capture anything else remotely paranormal.
Chapter 5: All That You Rely On
Chapter 5 - All That You Rely On
The morning of the fourth day, Lin drove to the airport to pick up Yasu and John Brown. They would drive back to the hotel and stay there for the day. At least, that was the plan. Also that morning, I woke up with a blinding headache. Even though I've never been drunk before, it felt like a massive hangover. The effects of missing two doses (one last night and the one I'll be missing this morning) was very apparent. As I sat for breakfast by myself in the restaurant, I massaged my temples.
It was dangerous to try to stop taking the pills. But, past the headache and nausea, I finally felt more settled. Like I was one step closer to myself - one step closer to getting my abilities back. Though, I had to admit, going to my doctor and doing this the proper way might have been a safer alternative.
I had been nursing my eggs while caught up in my thoughts and my numbing headache that I had not noticed the figure that approached me. I looked through my eyelashes at him.
"Is this our thing now?" I leaned back, trying for a casual tone. My head was spinning. "Meeting each other unexpectedly."
Naru didn't say anything as he gracefully slide into the seat across from me. I scowled at him and closed my eyes to try and dull the sharp pains of the headache. Typical, he just proceeded to do whatever he wanted.
"Have you sensed anything from the location?" Naru asked.
I opened my eyes to see Naru staring at me. "No, I told you I can't do that anymore."
"I know." He didn't say what I thought he would: that he was curious if I had actually sensed anything at all the other day or if I had lied. I decided that since we were being pleasant to one another for once, I wanted to ask something that had been bothering me.
"Why're we here?" I watched him carefully. He knew what I meant. "People have gone missing during this investigation. We don't have any actual proof this location is haunted. I don't understand why you would take a case like this."
"I told you already. The SPR in London wants to replicate the poltergeist evidence."
I huffed a breath out. "But at what cost, your team? Or, are we disposable like those security guards that have gone missing."
There was a flicker in his jaw, and I suddenly knew that I was getting to him. Naru was already frustrated enough with this case. It was probably killing him to have to go back to the SPR in London empty handed. I decided to push my advantage.
"This place is dangerous. Why make us stay here? Is it because you're too proud to say you can't solve it?"
"Let's not pretend that I'm the only person being proud." Naru's eyes narrowed. His voice was low, as if he had repressed any other words that he wanted to say.
The blow was low, though. For a moment, I panicked: did he know about the depression? Was I that terrible at hiding it? My stomach churned and I clicked my jaw shut, breathing out of my nose as I stared at Naru. He kept his gaze calm, but I could see the storm brewing beneath those blue eyes.
"I've come to tell you that you need to stay away from the prison today. Matsuzaki-san and Hara-san already know they are staying behind with you." Naru stood up, then said, "I'm aware of the dangers and have told the rest of the team if we don't get anything by the end of the week, we are done here. You can go back to your life and I'll be going back to England. Maybe you can even pretend that this case never existed."
Then, he was moving quickly out of the restaurant.
My headache felt ten times worst.
My encounter with Naru was unpleasant, and the nagging headache that crushed at my skull didn't help.
In the room, Ayako and Masako were up and talking in hushed voices near my futon when I entered. They looked at me, watching as I moved towards the dresser we had kept all of our smudging tools on.
"Is everything okay?" I asked, nervously looking between the two. They seemed as if they were just caught in the middle of doing something they shouldn't have been.
Masako gave Ayako a nervous look, then they regarded me again when Masako pulled something out from her pocket as she stood up. I heard the tumble of the pills in the bottle before I saw them.
"I think we should be asking you if everything is okay," Ayako said, softly. "Mai, you didn't tell us -" Ayako's voice faded. Everything faded and I was just staring at the pills that Masako was holding. I wasn't an idiot, I knew Ayako would know what those were the moment she read them.
I breathed in, evenly. Or as evenly as I could, but it felt shallow, my skin was suddenly very cold.
"If you need help, Mai, we can help you." Masako said, but she didn't move. Everyone stayed where they were. Like they were afraid I was some kind of wild animal they had trapped and weren't sure if I would submit or attack.
I felt the first crack in my shell as my jaw twitched. My headache was pounding in my skull but the the crumble came after Ayako said, "Mai, I'm so sorry you had to go through this all by yourself."
Everything shattered. I thought that I could use that temper I had to throw it back at them. It would have been so much easier to scream at them and tell them this was none of their business. But, they had caught me completely off guard. And missing two doses of those antidepressants left something vulnerable within me. A broken sound left my mouth and I clenched my hands at my sides, bunching them into my shirt.
I was forced to think about those four years. Even though I had Lucien I was still missing something. Something that, I realized now, I could never find without being in SPR. Being here I truly missed these people. I missed them so much and it hurt that we grew apart.
Dropping my head down, my shoulders began to shake as Masako and Ayako came towards me. The latter drew me into her arms. I flinched from the contact, stiffening when I realized she was holding me.
"I'm so sorry Mai," She was crying too, I could hear it in her voice. "I'm so sorry."
Why did he have to leave? If he had never left, then the rest of us would have never grown apart.
Masako touched my arm, rubbing soothing circles. "We knew how much SPR meant to you. We shouldn't have just disappeared like that."
I missed you guys so much. It hurt that you could move on, as if it all meant nothing to you.
"I think we all thought that someone else would come back."
He never came back. We all knew he wouldn't come back. I was such an idiot to think that he would.
I didn't speak any of my thoughts out loud. I just listened to Ayako and Masako as they talked me through the shattering despair. I stayed in the comforting arms of Ayako and didn't know how much time had passed until I started to feel myself step back into my body. Slowly, I pulled away from the warm arms of Ayakos embrace. Masako was beside us, tears clung to her pretty face. Ayako started to wipe hers away with the back of her hand as I moved back.
It wasn't their fault. They shouldn't feel sorry for the fact that I was weak. They needed to know that at least.
"I couldn't think," I ground out. "When everything started to change, and everyone started to go their separate ways," I took a steadying breath. "I just couldn't think."
Both woman watched me, closely. I struggled to get the other words out. Maybe, I didn't need to as I scanned their faces.
They understood, I realized. I stood still, watching them as they put the pieces together - they put the last four years together in the absence of SPR. I didn't have to say anything else.
It was Ayako who spoke first, "how long have you been taking these?"
"A couple of years." I admitted. "They've gradually started lowering the dose."
"And you've been taking them regularly?" Ayako lifted the bottle, reading the instructions. I nodded. "There will be some nasty side effects if you stop."
"I know." I stayed silent for a moment longer. "I've missed two doses already."
"Mai," Ayako narrowed her eyes. "This is serious, you need to talk to your psychiatrist if you intend on getting off these. They will taper the dose -"
Shaking my head, "I need to get off them. Now. During this case." Then, to Masako. "They're the reason I can't sense anything."
Masako said. "They've blocked you?"
I nodded, "Since starting them, I couldn't astral project anymore. But, as the dose started getting less and less, I started to feel...things. From the other-side."
I didn't say out loud, but things such as deep aches from within my very being. Or, the dreams.
Ayako sighed out loud, "if you're going to try to wean yourself off, then you should at least prepare yourself for the consequences." She lifted her brown eyes to me. "Have the headaches started yet?"
I swallowed hard, nodding slowly. Ayako continued. "There's a drugstore nearby. If there's a pharmacist they should be able to make you Prozac without a prescription. It'll help reduce the effects of antidepressant discontinuation syndrome, at least until you get back home. I would strongly suggest you talk to your doctor when we land, so you can taper off properly."
Ayako grinned, slowly, the mood began to lighten. "I will, personally, be making sure that you're being tapered off accordingly."
Something warm began to ache deep within my chest. Ayako moved, grabbing her purse next to the nightstand and walked back to me. She placed the pills in my hand.
"There's no reason to be ashamed of this. It's normal." She said. "I meant what I said. When we get home I will make sure that you are taken care of. And this time I'm not going anywhere."
"We'll help you through this, Mai." Masako walked over to me, slowly pulling me into a hug. In my ear, she whispered. "I've missed you. I'm glad that you're alright."
Another small piece of me felt warmer. Lighter. I hugged her back, breathing deeply.
"I've missed you all so much."
It might have been the most honest thing I've said this entire trip.
Naru had texted us for a meeting. We returned in time to see the males of the team piling out of the car and we met in the lobby. Yasu and John had stayed at the hotel when Lin dropped them off. Quickly, we all crammed into one of the small meeting rooms for some privacy.
"Where did you ladies go off to?" Bou-san gave us a look. "There's not much shopping to be done in this town."
Indeed, there wasn't much to shop for. We had found the drugstore, a small boutique in a gas station that also served as a family diner. Luckily, the pharmacist could make Prozac. Ayako was firm on the dosage and the amount, even paying for the pills.
"If you wanted to join us, you could have just said something." Ayako said, slyly. "I recall seeing a dirty shop you might have enjoyed."
"We're here to talk about the case," Naru cut off whatever remark Bou-san had started to get worked up about. I clamped my lips shut as I watched him give Ayako a dirty look.
"Did something happen at the location?" John asked, his voice heavily accented.
Bou-san turned ashen. His smile slipping into something more serious. "We've had to report the body of a missing person." He looked like he was about to be sick. "It turns out she was the contact who was supposed to be our second interview."
My stomach dropped and I felt the ripple of tension pass throughout the room. Naru watched us. "Yes, I noticed something on the camera last night. Something knocked the camera down and, when it landed, it had faced a vent that I noticed something strange. I sent the video to the local police."
That was why he had kept us here today. I remembered our brief conversation this morning, how he intended to keep us here until Friday. He seemed off this morning too, more on edge.
Masako asked, "If you caught something move the camera, then you must have captured the poltergeist activity you intended." There was a pause of consideration. "That means we're done here."
Now, we all looked at Naru. "There is something else, another reason I'm here. There might be a link to another case." Naru looked at Yasu, and nodded.
Yasu pulled out a briefcase, laying down documents on the oak table in front of us. We all leaned down to look.
"Naru contacted me about the location and asked me to look into the archives on a different network than this district. It turns out the archives can't actually be found here at all. They are encrypted and based on the location you're trying to access them from, they will only show parts of the information."
I tried not to think of the implication: the district was hiding something very serious.
Yasu continued, "The land around the prison was owned by a family name Ito back in the early nineteen-hundreds. They apparently had a small cabin that was built on a clearing on the land, just past the actual prison structure. The family had a daughter who reportedly went missing in the woods. Later, a family called Hikuzaki claimed the land that year in nineteen-fifteen until very recently, in two thousand-fifteen, when it was sold to the district."
"That's not what Miki told us," I pointed out. "He said that the district bought the land from his family."
Yasu shook his head, "That's what Naru told me too, but it's all right here," he pointed to a letter that was stamped with the official seal of the state. "The buying date is in two thousand-fifteen."
"Why lie then?" Ayako asked. Clearly, something was being covered up. I tried not to think about my dream and if the girl was fourteen or fifteen...that made sense. She looked as if she could have been on the cusp of puberty.
Naru answered. "The prison was built on the Hikuzaki's land prior to it becoming repossessed by the state. That means, there would have been time for a deal to be struck between the family and the district. It is likely that the prison was a cover-up for illegal killings of those practicing satanic rituals and witchcraft. However, I think it's more than that."
I felt the breath get knocked out of me. Satanic rituals. Like the ritual I had dreamt of.
"Back in England, there was talk about an Enchanted Forest in the area. As a scientist, I don't believe in this kind of theory. However, the accounts from other witnesses in the archives have all agreed that they tend to find themselves very lost in these woods." Naru said, looking at me.
He continued, "I think this location is connected to the claims of that Enchanted Forest. We will be leaving on Friday, but before then I want to try and collect data on the possibility of this. I want to find the cabin, which could be the possible source of these disappearances."
For a moment, the room was silent.
There it was. The truth as to why Naru had brought us to such a dangerous location.
He seemed to read my thoughts, "I'm aware that knowing the implications changes what I originally asked all of you to investigate. If you're not willing to continue in the investigation, then it's understandable."
Silence passed over the room. Naru gazed at each of us.
Nervously, I asked. "The other day, you seemed to hesitate on telling Miki that we had two other people coming. Why?"
"I think Miki is casting a curse on people." It was Lin who answered. We all swung our attention to him. "I get a very strong presence that there is a practicing onmyouji in the area."
Suddenly, everything started to make sense. Even past my headache, I understood the blur of signals that could have brought us to that conclusion.
Masako not being able to get a read. Miki knowing that I had become lost in the woods. It was the reason why we wore the talisman, one omnyouji out competing the other.
"He knows the six of us," Naru referred to Ayako, Masako, Bou-san, Lin, myself and him. "But he doesn't know your faces." He looked at John and Yasu.
"The problem is that I need Father Brown to accompany us to the location. His particular skills of exorcism would prove to be useful." Naru said.
"So we're going to keep Yasu cooped up in the hotel?" I questioned, a little sourly.
Yasu answered, "I don't mind. If anything, I could try and pull up more information and dig around the town to see if they know anything."
Naru said," It's settled then, we are going to continue smudging and looking for proof that this is the same Enchanted Forest origin by using resources at the prison. Meanwhile, Yasuhara will find any relevant information on the land."
Bou-san had finally started to look as if he weren't going to get sick anymore. "That's if we still decide to continue this case, right Naru?"
"Yes. All those in favor of dismissing the investigation, raise their hands."
Even in the thick of silence and anxiety, no one raised their hand.
Chapter 6: Walking Through Your Mazes
Chapter 6 - Walking Through Your Mazes
The dynamics of the case were changed. It still startled me that we were risking so much. But, Lin assured us that if we followed our smudging regime there would be nothing to worry about. We were worried though. You could feel it in the air after the meeting subsided. I felt it the next morning as we prepared to go to the prison.
Another thing I felt was the sensation of being, literally, lighter. The counterbalance of serotonin seemed to help with the headaches and the moodiness. I still could not access any of my sensitive-medium abilities but at least some things were better.
"Won't there be forensics on the scene?" I asked. Bou-san, Masako, Ayako, John and I made our way to the vehicle. Lin and Naru were already off to the location. "Or a police investigation?"
Bou-san had been the only one of us yesterday who went to the location.
He shook his head. "The local department did close it yesterday. However, they called Naru last night and said we could continue the investigation."
It sounded strange, and not just to me.
Ayako said, "a dead body, a dodgy maintenance man and a strange little town. This place gives me the creeps. Another couple days and we can finally go home."
Slowly, I nodded in agreement.
Naru had been strict about being with someone at all times because it seemed, at any moment, someone could turn on you - or go missing.
"Will Yasu be okay alone at the hotel?" I wondered as we piled into the SUV.
"He'll be fine. If you ask me, he's probably the safest out of all of us. Lucky dog." Bou-san said.
We climbed into the vehicle, I got to sit in the passenger seat and Bou-san drove. At some point during the drive both Masako and Ayako had fallen asleep in the back.
John was back there too but, if John was awake, he didn't say much.
Twenty minutes into our hour-long ride, Bou-san said quietly. "Hey Mai, there's been something I've wanted to ask you."
Involuntarily, my body stiffened from tension. "What is it?"
Bou-san was visibly struggling for words. His eyebrows furrowed and he glanced to the back to make sure the women were asleep.
"Tell me honestly: when SPR disbanded were you mad at us?" In his voice, I could hear what he actually meant: were you mad at me?
After a moment, he said. "Nevermind, it's insensitive to ask. If you don't want to answer you don't have to, or if it makes you uncomfortable."
I tried to even out my breathing, gripping my hands in my lap. It was uncomfortable since I still didn't feel as though the antidepressants fully left my system. I couldn't be sure if theses feeling's were something else, and behind the numbness there was a real kind of deep-rooted anxiety that existed within me.
The pills were just a crutch for dealing with that darkness and I knew this was going to happen. I should have tried to prepare for this.
"I wasn't mad at you, Bou-san." I said, in a small voice.
"I'm sorry but I just don't believe that you couldn't be mad. Hell, I would be mad at me too. I was supposed to be your big-brother and I just left."
The truth was that I did feel mad at everyone. At the time, it seemed easier to be mad at them than it was to think clearly.
"I was mad at myself," I clarified. "I was mad that I couldn't seem to move on but everyone else could."
Bou-san gripped the wheel. "I want to apologize to you. I shouldn't have cut you off like that. It wasn't fair. And, it wasn't just you I did that too." He looked in the rear-view mirror, and I could see his eyes scanning the back. "I cut them all off. I was just frustrated about what happened and wanted to forget about SPR."
It emulated the thoughts I had in those early days - the thoughts I had very recently until I accepted this case - to forget about the people, the cases and the memories of SPR.
"Why did you decide to join this investigation?" I asked, in part to know why and in part to change the topic.
A breath came out of him and it almost sounded like a laugh. He loosened his grip on the wheel, changing to a more comfortable position and rested his elbow on the armrest.
"I guess I wanted the chance to see all of you again," Bou-san said. "I'll be honest though, I didn't know if I could handle working with Naru again."
I smiled, faintly. "I felt the same way."
My body uncoiled from the tense position, slowly relaxing.
Bou-san said, "I'd like to keep in contact with you Mai. And actually keep it and not just run off." He passed a hand over his face. "Like I said, I was just frustrated. Being back with everyone now, I've realized life is too short to hold grudges and be upset."
He gave me a sideways glance, hazel eyes shining. "It's also too short to push friends away."
Bou-san had always been kind to me, had always known what to say.
I nodded and agreed, wholly. "I would like that."
John and I were instructed to stay at base. It was mildly irritating because I wasn't even given the chance to try my abilities at this location - even though I couldn't use them. I held my tongue and kept that unnecessary anger in check as the rest of the team broke up to search the location.
John said a prayer for the woman who passed before the team broke up to search the location.
In the prison, Masako and Bou-san were working on making contact with spirits, going from cell-block to cell-block.
Naru and Lin were walking around the location doing... I don't know what.
Meanwhile, John and I watched the screens in the back of the SUV.
Mid-day, I stretched my limbs out and yawned loudly. I remember this was the most boring part of these investigations. John watched me.
"Can you still astral project? Do you need to have a nap?" He asked, politely in that thick accent.
I covered my mouth. "N-no I don't have to sleep or anything, I'm fine. Actually, uhm, I can't really tell when I'll do it, it just happens." I realized that I had just lied to a priest. It wasn't fully a lie, in my defense, because I truly couldn't tell when I was going to astral project - it just snuck up on me.
He continued watching me, his bright blue eyes were filled with some kind of dark emotion. He looked down.
I sensed something was off. "Is everything alright, John?
"I may have heard something I wasn't supposed to." He gave a nervous glance my way. "I heard what Takigawa said in the car. I'm sorry that I wasn't there for you. Even though we worked together I should have made more of an effort to visit you. It's sinful to feel spite but I felt the same way Takigawa did - frustrated because everything that happened during SPR had worked out, and suddenly it was taken away. It felt a little unfair that everyone lost so much except - "
John stopped himself and said no more, but I knew exactly what he meant.
Everyone except Naru, and Lin, lost everything.
That statement wasn't exactly true because Naru had lost a lot too. It wasn't comparable to what we lost - not in the way that mattered. The things we lost were part of this world and among the living.
Naru had always been chasing a ghost.
It still didn't mean that Naru did not lose anything. I let out a small breath, slightly annoyed I was giving Naru any kind of benefit. But, past the fuzziness, I could see that he wasn't entirely doing it to be cruel. Naru was alone and hurting the entire time he was looking for Gene.
Blue eyes met mine and slowly, John smiled. "I'm just a Priest tryin' to atone for his sins."
In a sitting position, awkwardly, he bowed his head deeply.
I reached over to touch his hand. In the back of my mind I wanted to block this out, to close my eyes and not deal with any of this. Not only did I have the confrontation with Ayako and Masako yesterday, but now with Bou-san and John. I had to admit it was on a less drastic, and dramatic, of a scale.
Slowly, I realized though, this was a way of healing.
It seemed, not just for me, that we all had struggles after SPR. None of us wanted to drift apart, but at the same time, none of us wanted to have those reminders of being together.
"If it weren't for your generosity and help, I would be in a much worst place I think. The orphanage really helped me." I said, still touching his hand. John smiled, and I felt it radiate at my entire being. I felt it from within me - that I meant what I said. "I should really thank you."
"No, I didn't -"
"It's alright. All of that stuff is in the past. We can make the future much better now that we are all here together. Don't you think?"
John smiled and nodded. "I'd be honored."
In the midst of our tender moment, Naru's voice pragmatic sounded over the radio. We grinned at each other and pulled apart.
"Father Brown, can you bring a microphone inside? In the east wing, second level." His voice conveyed his other message: be quick.
I jumped up at the opportunity. In our moment of talking, I hadn't noticed Naru go back to the prison and I found them on the camera's, marking their location.
Quickly, I opened the SUV door to grab a microphone from the trunk.
"Please let me do it," I said to John as he gave me a confused look. "Naru hasn't let me do any of this in days. I'll just be a moment and they're on the second floor." I pointed to the camera.
John checked, nervously, then turned back to me. He sounded unsure. A-alright, if you insist."
"Thank you!" I beamed at him and grabbed the microphone.
Hastily, I started towards the prison. It would be my second time in the structure this entire week. I hadn't gone further than the main floor so this was going to be a bit of a learning curve for me as I didn't exactly know how to navigate inside.
It was perfect opportunity to see if my powers were back.
Two days of slowly coaxing my body off the antidepressants and I was ready to try. I didn't felt any initial changes in my overall access to those powers, there was still a dark wall blocking me from it. I would have to see if I could, at least, feel anything being inside the structure. I certainly didn't feel anything being outside of it.
Entering the building, I walked down the long, narrow corridors. The old building cooed and sighed with every breath of the wind. It seemed to be a completely different world inside and I tried to keep my mind at ease. In order to get to the level two cell-block I could see that they had to climb a ladder-like staircase as neared the end of the hall.
Hesitantly, I started to climb it. The old metal groaned from beneath me, clattering slightly as I shifted my weight while I climbed.
Don't panic, you're not alone. I can hear them, they can't be far away.
I tried to coax myself as I reached a small landing, the halfway point, of the staircase. My body was shaking and had to stop to a deep breath.
Slowly, I closed my eyes. I tried to push at the mental wall and forced the world around me to shift so I could see the realm beyond - or feel it. But, the wall did not budge. Steadily, I pressed harder into it. A glittering sensation of darkness pulsed around me and the mental shield did not shutter. That meant the drugs were there still, in my system, and there was a chance I would not get to use my powers at all while we were here.
Feeling slightly irritated and upset, I opened my eyes and started to walk up the stair-like ladder again.
My whole body tensed when I went to lift my foot up. Something held me in place, not by holding my limbs but by invading my space. I felt a presence. It pressed down on me and I felt heavier, as if my shoulders were carrying a wight on top of them. The ladder started shaking and shifting weight from beneath my feet. I braced myself on the railings from the sensation of being shaken side-to-side.
I gripped the edge, trying not to drop the microphone and tucking in between my arm and my body. Another clatter, and the ladder shifted again before I felt part of it give away - the portion of the platform I had stopped on moments ago was about to collapse. I panicked and struggled to get myself away from the half that was going to fall.
Managing to grip the railing, I braced myself when the lower portion of the ladder groaned loudly and clattered to the ground. I felt my full weight as I held myself up when my foot had come off the rungs and I was now hanging off the ladder. These damn too-thin arms were useless and buckled from the exertion. I had absolutely no strength, no muscle and I felt my grip slip within seconds. Someone was yelling at my to hold on and I thought I could feel the brush of their hand, but it could not catch me.
I fell and landed, hard, on the concrete floor. Luckily the fall wan't far, maybe six or seven feet. Still, the impact left me jarred and stunned, and I laid flat on the ground, listening to people shouting from around me.
Slowly, my breathing returned to me.
It was Naru who reached me first. I had started to manage to push myself up, trying to connect to my stunned body again. I felt that my clothes had become skewed during my fall, could feel the cold kiss of the concrete, the sharp jabs of the rocks, on my delicate waist.
I looked up at Naru and I noticed his eyes fall to my bare torso.
Those eyes widened.
He stopped in his tracks and, hastily, I yanked down my shirt.
It hadn't lifted enough to see beyond my waist but Naru's eyes were pupil-wide. He was breathing shallowly and, in this lightning, he seemed paler than normal.
I knew what he had caught a glimpse of. My stomach and waist were littered in deep, dark red scars from the excessive cutting that I did. I had new wounds from a couple days ago still fresh and hot on my pale skin.
For someone else to see that... I couldn't imagine what it looked like. When I looked at them in the mirror I felt disgusted. I could only imagine what someone else would think of when they saw it.
"Are you alright?" Naru said as he seemed to collect himself. The rest of the team had finally caught up and were now by our sides.
"Just a bit winded, I'll be fine."
His cool gaze remained on mine and he lowered himself down, kneeling at my side. Naru hesitated on touching me though. I felt his body singing with tension and knew how much he disliked any physical contact. I hadn't expected him to want to help me, or even be next to me, so when he did it came at a surprise.
His hands brushed my shoulders, it was the barest of touch but I suddenly felt a spark of heat that shivered down my spine. It wasn't intimate, but I fluttered my eyes shut trying to regain my breathing and thoughts.
Naru misread my reaction and pulled back. "Does that hurt?"
"N-No, I'm fine," I breathed.
"What on earth happened?" Ayako also knelt beside me now. Naru sat back on his heels and she looked at my arms, checking my legs, head and shoulders. When she was relieved that I wasn't bleeding anywhere she also sat back. "By God, you could have seriously been hurt. How on earth did this happen?"
"I don't know," I tried to move. Ayako lent me a hand as I struggled to stand. I looked at the portion of the ladder that fell, to the microphone I had protected with my body. Other than my back aching, nothing felt broken. "I guess the ladder wasn't stable."
"We had used that ladder before you did," Masako said. She looked at the remnants of the ladder, confused. "I don't understand how it could have fallen like that."
"It's an old building," said Lin. He had been examining the portion of the ladder. "The structure is not sound, any one of us could have taken that fall. This was probably going to happen any day now."
Typical, I was the one who managed to make this fall.
Naru's cold, precise, voice said, "What were you doing here in the first place? I had asked Father Brown to bring me the equipment."
"I wanted to bring it."
I'm just as much of this team, I wanted to say but instead I just looked at him. He had regained his cool expression at some point. "I just wanted to help."
We stared at each other and I could see the swirl of emotions behind those indigo eyes. Something passed between us: it's not safe for you, I can't protect you.
Naru strived for control and I was, always, the one testing that carefully cultivated authority. I couldn't figure out if that was a good or a bad thing. From the look in his eyes, and the countless times I received this look in the past, he wasn't sure either.
Naru didn't say anything and Ayako continued to help me walk back towards the entrance. "Let's get you out of here."
As we walked outside, I couldn't help but wonder if that was a spirit somehow. I recalled not being able to move before the ladder started to fall. Or, was it just a strange back-fire of spiritual energy from not being able to break past that wall. I had never been able to physically alter the things around me, maybe… I had accessed something darker when I was inside this place.
Outside John came up to us, worried.
"Is she alright?" He asked, thickly accented. Pale blue eyes looked over me, then he sharply looked behind us at the owner of that cool, calculated voice.
"Father Brown," Naru said. "Can you conduct a blessing in cell block two." It wasn't a question, but a firm order. I almost protested that we didn't need to, that there was some misunderstanding because there weren't any spirits here. I shut myself up, instantly. We had no proof there were no spirits here, just as we had no proof there were spirits here. It was a frustrating scenario.
"Sure, of course." John answered, then to me he said. "I hope you're not hurt."
I smiled at him. "I'm alright, I'm more shocked than hurt. This kind of stuff always seems to happen to me."
"Aiy, that's true." John looked uneasy, but he smiled in a friendly manner.
It was Ayako, backed by Bou-san, who both said: "I guess some things never change."
I turned to disagree with them but was stopped when I saw Naru assessing me again. He looked as if he had just encountered a problem he couldn't quite understand. An apostrophe formed between his brows as he regarded me, deepening when we made eye contact. I couldn't say for sure why he looked the way he did.
I had seen a look like that on him. It was on the case where we battled a God and I provoked him into using his powers.
Naru didn't say anything else as he stalked back into the prison.
That night, Yasu suggested we all got together in his, John and Bou-san's room to watch a movie. He even ordered massive plates of snack food from the restaurant that he placed on a low coffee table. Each of our rooms were similar, in that they had a futon area in front of a T.V.
We all decided to join, a much needed break from the hectic case.
However, the movie we decided on was a thriller. I tended to not enjoy these types of movies because they were so predictable but I couldn't help jumping at the scary parts. John had looked uneasy at some of the more gruesome parts of the move, when body parts were ripped from people and fake blood squirted out.
Just as the movie ended, I got a phone call. I had been in the middle of debating a pivotal scene with Ayako and Bou-san when I looked at the call display. It was Lucien.
"I have to take this." I told them, leaving the room.
It had been days since I had last talked to Lucien. I had texted him and gave him daily updates, but did not feel it necessary to call him everyday.
"Hey," I sounded exactly as I felt, sated and happy. "How're you?"
"I'm good!" Lucien was grinning - I could tell from his voice. "How is everything going?"
"Everything's fine." It was better than fine, I thought as I leaned against the wall. I was actually enjoying myself. "It's been an interesting few days."
"Well I stopped -" I immediately shut myself up.
"Mai? I lost you there. Did you say you stopped something?"
Oh no. I hadn't told Lucien about not taking the pills.
I knew it wasn't a matter of him being mad that I did it. It's was that Lucien like taking care of me. For a while, I hadn't known there was much of a difference between taking care of someone for the sake of their well-being, or taking care of someone who is supposed to be your equal.
Most times Lucien took care of me as if I were some kind of child, and not his girlfriend.
He said in a worried tone, "I hope you're keeping up with your doses. I know being out there is hard for you, and I wish I would take care of you instead of worrying so much."
"I - uh," I had to say something. Think...think..
"I'm excited to come back home. I really miss you."
Lucien sighed into the phone. "Another couple days and you will be. It'll go back to the way it was and you won't have to feel anxious or scared anymore."
There was an ache in my chest as I thought about what 'before' was. It was miserable days, with no friends and being afraid of every shadow of my past. I didn't want to go back.
"Yeah." I said simply. "I have to go Lucien, it's been a long day." It had been a long day, at least that wasn't a lie.
"Alright. Good-night, Mai."
Glancing up I saw Masako staring at me when I put my phone down.
"Is he a good guy?"
I smiled sadly, "he's almost too good."
I hated that I was starting to see just how ugly I am. Back then I had gladly clung to Lucien and allowed him to take care of me because I couldn't do that myself - was too weak. I was such a pathetic person that I used him for his ability to make me feel less alone.
It wasn't that I didn't truly have feelings for him, they were just deeply overlooked by my need to rely on crutches like antidepressants and Lucien.
Lucien was too good for me.
She didn't say anything else, likely not knowing what the conversation was about, and simply told me. "They're putting in another movie."
I didn't want to think about this, not right now.
I moved off the wall to go back into the room full of laughter and friendly bickering.
I don't remember what time it was when we had forced ourselves out of the room and walked down the hall to our own rooms. I didn't even wash my face, I just fell into my futon and drifted to sleep.
But this wasn't a dream. I suddenly felt a very familiar feeling about this place. Like Deja Vu, I could remember it, but couldn't quite place it. The plane itself was a swirling black entity, there was not a single structure or living being in sight.
Until I saw a person standing in front of me, the only glimmer of light on this dark world. I felt my whole body tense. For a moment, it was just my chest rising and falling and my heart racing through my veins. I hadn't seen him since Naru left overseas - hadn't been able to access this world since then either.
The dark plane enveloped us and Gene casually strolled over to me.
His face was exactly the same, young and eternal, and I felt sad to see him here. "Why haven't you passed on?" I said, as a way of greeting. Surely, he should have been able to find peace since we found his body. I assumed he was put to rest back home, in England.
Gene stopped in front of me, "it seems I can't passover until the idiot-scientist loses his power. And, for him to do that means…"
He didn't finish because he didn't have to. I knew what he meant if Naru had lost his powers.
Instead, Gene continued. "I've tried contacting you and I could never get through. I wondered if you found a way to thoroughly block me, or something...worse."
Dark blue eyes, like Naru's, peered at me. Unlike his brother though, Gene's were not a barrier to his thoughts and emotions.
"I was blocked," I said slowly, looking down. "I-I started taking antidepressants and they seemed to have numbed this." I looked around the dark plane. It was my astral plane, the one that Gene usually brought me too. Instead of any given structure, this one was simply darkness. Or maybe I wasn't strong enough yet to fully dream of any location.
Anger passed over Gene's face as he frowned. "I'm sorry this happened to you, Mai."
"It's alright." I wasn't alright though. "Do you think he knows?"
If Naru had known it could be why he was acting strange around me. As if he were walking on eggshells and hadn't known how to handle it. I recalled his face yesterday when he looked at me as if he had just encountered a problem he couldn't understand.
Gene looked a little nervous when he said, "I couldn't tell you."
"Right, sorry. Well, I've stopped taking them which is why I can be here now." I looked up at him, answering what he was likely thinking. "What's happening here, Gene? Have you been able to figure anything out about this location?"
Gene looked like he was going to keep pressing the topic of me and his brother. Soon, though, that look dissolved and he said, "There are no ghosts here. At least none that I've come into contact with."
"How? There was a person who died here, surely they would still be on the other-side." I thought, aloud.
"No, I've tried to provoke the spirit realm and I sense nothing." His eyes narrowed. "There is a presence though that I can't quite get a sense for. It's likely you have felt it too."
"A young girl?"
The girl in the black dress. Gene probably already knew about her past. "She isn't a spirit, she's something else. I think that dying changed her. The spirits that should be in the area seem to instantly disappear when she is around, and only she remains."
I thought about the fox fires, in a case at Yasu's school. There were so many curses set that the spirits had started devouring each other until the strongest remain. "Could she be the one taking the spirits and gaining strength, like the koduku curse?"
"No," Gene answered firmly. "There needs to have been a curse established and, from what I've gathered, there's no implications of a curse being on these lands."
"That doesn't make any sense."
Gene frowned and I thought about what he was saying very carefully.
This girl wasn't part of a curse to kill any single person or spirit and could take any soul she wished.
Just what was she?
I remembered my dream, and instantly realized something. "She died in a sacrifice. Do you think that was some kind of initiation for a curse? Maybe she was supposed to curse the landowners who lived there before."
No, that still didn't sound right. Gene considered it though, before he inhaled sharply.
"She must be some kind of anchor to a curse, not on any one or thing in specific, but the land itself. It might explain why she can take any soul."
I nodded in agreement, "It would make even more sense if, somehow she was connected to the land, being the bloodline that owned it originally. Right?"
It sounded as horrible as I imagined.
Another thought hit me, "could it have been Miki Hikuzaki? Lin thinks he's the omnyouji that set the curse. If the sacrifice started it, then he would have been older by now." I did the mental math. In nineteen-fifteen, Miki would be over one hundred-years old now. He looked like he could be in his late fifties at most.
"He's not an omnyouji." Gene said. "There is something about this though... I don't quite understand it."
Neither did any of us, I wanted to say but didn't.
Gene continued. "I'll try to figure out more about that girl. I can't get too close to her or she will sense me. I'm not certain what will happen if she does."
"Please, be careful, Gene." I looked up at him.
Gene had never shied away from physical touch the way Naru did. Still, it surprised me when he lifted his hand and his long fingers gently touched my cheek, brushing softly. I felt my eyes flutter close at the sensation along my jawline.
To feel him was like everything and nothing all at once.
"I'll be careful," he said and I could find no where else to look but his eyes as I slowly opened my own. "I'm sorry that he did that to you."
I took a shaky breath. I didn't want to talk about this. Not here, when I was finally with Gene after so long.
"I wish that I could have -" he cut himself off abruptly as he dropped his hand. He looked at a loss of words, something passing over his face, flashing in his eyes, before he dismissed all of it and simply smiled.
Gene smiling was the most beautiful thing I would ever remember.
"Don't tell him just yet," he said. "I want to make sure I have more information for him. He'll get cranky when he realizes we only did half the work."
I smiled at him, and at the statement because it was true. "Yeah. He will."
I watched Gene fade into the darkness, slowly, as the world disappeared from around us and real sleep took hold of my dreams.
Chapter 7: The Worst in Me
Chapter 7 -The Worst In Me
I hardly slept at all from the excitement of seeing Gene again and with all the new information I had to think about for this case.
First, there was a curse and it was likely started when the girl from my dreams (and in the woods) was sacrificed by a a cult. Were they hired from the Hikuzaras'? Or worse, was it the Hikuzaras'? There still wasn't enough proof on this.
Which brought me to the next thing: Miki wasn't an onmyouji. It was important because that meant Lin's onmyouji skills would be much more effective, especially against...that thing.
I hadn't brought up what I thought I saw in the woods... which wasn't anything at all but it felt like something inhuman. I shivered at the thought of it, which could have been my imagination - I didn't want to find out though because no where did anyone explain we would encounter that kind of creature.
Next, there were no spirits at the location - at least not actively. This was confirmed by Masako who hasn't had much luck locating any. That, and Gene also voiced similar findings last night. My theory is, the spirit Masako had contacted was, likely, the lingering spirit of the woman found dead on this location.
I didn't bother to include the ladder-accident as paranormal. It was just my luck to happen upon a faulty ladder mere seconds after the group.
Besides, Gene had said spirits were instantly devoured by that girl in the black dress. Who was she? It reminded me that I needed to ask Yasu if he found any history on the original family, or some kind of explanation for these woods.
Since I didn't sleep, I was up early and decided to smudge before Masako and Ayako woke up. The process didn't take very long and as I walked back to the room, more questions plagued my mind.
I paused with my hand on the doorknob of my hotel room.
It was strange because the more I thought about that entity, the more I remember I felt that it didn't belong on this earth. The feel of that strange enveloped world, an exact plane of this world, was also strange. I couldn't place it. Was it because of the curse? Was it something else we were missing?
"Are you okay, Mai?" Someone asked from behind me. Startled, I spun around and saw Yasu's tall, lean figure standing behind me in the hallway. He was wearing a grey shirt with jeans.
"Oh! You scared me. I'm sorry, I didn't notice you were behind me."
He put his hands up, "You're right, I should know better than to sneak up on you when you're in such deep thought. Anything I can help you with?"
I noticed Yasu was holding bottles of pop in his hands and he offered one to me. I shook my head for the pop. "I'm just thinking about this case. There's so much happening and a lot of it doesn't make sense."
"Tell me about it," Yasu sighed. He leaned against the wall, "This case gets weirder and weirder the more I look into it."
I had to ask Yasu if he had come across some kind of history from the locals, but I also had to make sure I didn't give away how much information I knew because Yasu would report back to Naru. I had specific instructions from Gene not to involve Naru just yet.
"Have you found much on the original family?" I asked, carefully.
"Oh?" Yasu smirked, deviously. Then, after a moment, he grinned. "Am I confirming a vision?"
Damnit - wasn't as subtle as I wanted to be.
Slowly, I nodded.
Yasu said, "I knew it! They told me your abilities were latent here but I knew you were just keeping all the information to yourself."
I panicked and looked down the empty corridors. In a hushed voice I said, "This has to stay between us. I need to know if there is any information on the original family's daughter. Her name, her age - or the reason she died."
Yasu leaned back on the wall. "That's the weird thing, she was like a Jane Doe. There's no mention of her name or confirmed death, only that she had reported to have gone missing."
"What about the parents?"
"After the report there was nothing on them either."
That wasn't what I had been hoping for, and the disappointment showed on my face.
Yasu said, "I don't think I've found anything that we don't already know. Naru might have more information than I would to be honest."
And that was true but I was too stubborn to involve him yet. Everything we knew about the case had already been told to us. I was just trying to confirm the extra information I had found out from Gene - with instructions not to tell Naru.
I sighed, "I'm just overthinking this." It was true, I felt a slow headache begin to start at the base of my skull and it wasn't even seven in the morning yet.
Yasu stared at me as I rubbed my temples, "By the way, Mai I wanted to apologize for not staying in contact. I had meant to ask if you changed your number."
The question caught me off guard, "no, why?"
He pulled out his phone with one hand, unlocking it and searching for something before he showed me a series of text messages. They were all from one person - himself - being sent to a number that had not replied. The texts were mostly polite greetings and questions. I looked at the dates: the oldest one was four years ago.
"I thought I found your phone number and had tried texting you. Since I didn't know your address, I couldn't get a hold of you any other way. I just assumed this was a wrong number."
I looked at the contact: indeed, the number was identical to mine but it was off by one number, a five instead of a seven at the end.
I felt myself flush and looked back up at Yasu, who was also flushed. "I thought that maybe you didn't want to talk to any of us anymore, especially me, since I just kind of...left."
"You didn't," I said out loud, emotions lodged in my throat. He had tried contacting me, sending message after message of greetings to a number that didn't exist. I don't know why but I was stupidly grateful for that. "Yasu, I'm so sorry." I didn't know that he had been trying to contact me.
Yet, all this time I had felt scornful towards each of them. I realized this case was slowly making us all closer in a way that we couldn't have otherwise. There were so many miscommunications to sort through.
Yasu smiled. "No, it's my fault. I should have asked you before we all went our separate ways. I was just too caught up in school the last time we spoke."
The last time we spoke had been a chance occurrence. We met at the train station, and he was rushing to catch his train that was leaving. I remember he had briefly told me about his acceptance into Law School.
I politely reached out for his phone. "May I?"
He handed it to me and I corrected the number, with my contact name in big capital letters.
Teasingly, I said. "I hope this saves some poor, unfortunate soul you've been creeping on."
"I am a wounded soul," Yasu nudged me with his elbow as I handed him his phone. "A man who has been stood up for four years!"
"Oh please," I grinned. "I'm sure you've made out just fine." I elbowed him back.
From behind me, the door opened to my room, Ayako and Masako had come out.
Both ladies were dressed in familiar traditional clothes: Masako in a fitted, red kimono and Ayako in her red and white robes. It gave me a sense of what we were to expect while at the prison today.
They took us in, Ayako saying. "We've found the early riser. We weren't sure we would be able to find where you ran off to before we left."
"Bou-san just text us, we're going to smudge really quick and leave." Masako informed us. Shyly, she glanced up at Yasu. "Good morning," She said.
I peered sideways at his face. He smiled broadly, "Good morning, ladies."
"You look fresh for someone who stayed up all night," Ayako observed Yasu. Indeed, our young male friend did appear to have slept well. Ayako's grin turned feline. "You must be used to entertaining woman in your room late at night -"
"Ayako!" I faced her, blushing. "That is so inappropriate and not even true. Bou-san and John were in there too!"
"Ah, yes," Yasu said in a mischievous tone. "How could we forget about they boys who, so rudely, fell asleep on my carefully hand-chosen movies? Once you ladies left, I was glad to finally have those two to myself for a while. I felt that a debt was owed."
Masako's mouth slacked, "What did you do to them?" She was dead serious.
"Masako, he didn't do anything." I groaned, looking back at the wide grin Yasu was giving us. Instantly I regretting saying that. "You didn't, did you?"
The grin broadened. "You'll see later."
Oh brother, I thought. Yasu parted ways with us while Ayako and Masako smudged quickly, then we climbed into the SUV. Bou-san and John were waiting, and we had to clap our mouths shut seeing them.
Well, Masako and I did. Ayako straight out began laughing. "You look ridiculous!"
Both men looked rugged, hair out of place and completely tired. Not to mention, each had a small cross drawn on their foreheads in a black marker. Bou-san's looked as if he had tried wiping it off. John didn't even look phased by it - in fact he seemed to beam.
"I'm going to get Yasu back for this," Bou-san declared, jokingly. "We should be sleeping and not staying up into the late hours of the morning. Plus, we shouldn't have to fear for our faces being defiled."
John disagreed, "It really could have been far worst, mate."
Masako and I laughed again because he was right, Yasu drew a cross on their face instead of...something else.
When the amusement of those drawings began to wear off during the drive, we started to fall into a familiar, friendly conversation. There was no particular subject, we just..talked. And I thoroughly enjoyed it.
At the location I was surprised to find Lin staying back with me as John began blessing the outside of the prison. I wanted to tell them that this wasn't going to work, that this was something beyond the prison lands itself.
Suddenly, something clicked into place that I hadn't thought about before.
In my dream there was a cottage where the sacrifice happened. Maybe that's where the curse originated too. Perhaps, that's where we needed to be and the prison - which could have been a decoy this entire time.
Stunned by this revelation, I didn't see Lin leave. I only felt the presence of a new person near me. I didn't have to turn to see who it was, Naru gracefully slid into the seat beside me.
Everything slowed. My revelation did not seem as important with him beside me now. I recalled the last couple of times we had been alone together and each had not been pleasant. Then, there was yesterday when he was the first to come down to my aid. He had seen my shirt, what lay under it.
I turned to see him watching me, his eyes seemed to pass over me as if he couldn't quite make sense of something. I realized he had been watching me the whole time.
"What's wrong?" I asked, evenly.
Or as evenly as I could under my shallow breathing and thunderous heartbeat.
Naru waited, his blue gaze still regarding me coolly. He turned to the monitors. "We're going to use a Ouija board like you suggested the other day."
I didn't want to point out that everyone in the team had originally denied that idea. Seeing as I've been allowed nowhere else but the SUV, I decided it wasn't unlike Naru to change their opinion.
"So why're you in here?" I asked, since it was unusual. He liked being in the thick of the action.
"Lin thought it would be best if I stayed out of the vicinity of the se'ance. Given the obvious." He meant his powers that had the ability to create poltergeist-like activity around him.
"Given the obvious," I snorted. I knew the other reason: he was here to keep me out of the prison.
Keeping my eyes on the screen, I watched as the entire team set up in the basement. Lin was the one on the board, behind him was Bou-san and John, who were also dressed in their spiritualist robes.
It was about to begin and I leaned in, intent to watch. There was a strange feeling of being watched and I glanced beside me at Naru, who was gazing at me. He was, I realized, still fixated on some unknown problem.
"What?" I asked, slightly irritated.
Waiting patiently, I watched the hesitation and, most surprising, uncertainty cross his features. His eyes remained entirely passive but his voice was honed, as if cut by glass. "Were those marks done by Sora-san?"
I almost felt shock, or mild amusement. I couldn't decide: but I wanted to laugh. Had Naru really thought those cuts could be done by Lucien? Or, had he convinced himself of that. I realized that Naru had no social skills - had not been able to communicate to someone properly.
In other words: his etiquette sucked.
Or, was this something else? Why bother bringing it up? This must have been what he had been contemplating: how to bring this topic up.
I huffed out a breath, "do you really think Lucien would do that?" I didn't know what he thought about him, other than the fact that he was the man I was, supposedly, sleeping with.
"No," Naru said. "There's no way another person could have done that to you. Those are self inflicted."
Then why did you ask, I wanted to say. Instead, I settled with, "It's none of your business."
Because he was too close to the truth: that he had done this. He did all of this. Naru left, broke my heart, took my away my job and cleaved apart our group of friends. He had done it all without so much of a flicker of emotion in his eyes. He just watched, as he always did, with that detached, cool expression.
Except, I had broken some kind of restraint on that control he continuously exerted upon himself. His eyes narrowed, "I think if it has to do with me, it is my business."
I felt hot. And, not the kind of heat that made you flush from being in close proximity to a person you were attracted to. I felt rage, like fire cracking through my veins and running, hot, over my skin.
In spite of that, I laughed, hoarsely. "You're unbelievable. You think you can come back here and I'll spill my secrets to you?" In the next moments, I leaned forward and was fueled by scorn and anger. All I wanted to do was hurt him, to have this moment and hurt him like he hurt me. "The sick thing is that you don't even really care, do you?"
Naru's breathing was rapid and shallow. Beneath his harsh, black clothing I could see his pale throat pulsing. There was a warning in his voice, "Are you suggesting that I don't care about you? Is that why you did that to yourself?"
Anger, like I've never felt before, exploded from within me.
The cracking in my ears turned into a shattering sound as those layers upon layers of walls I constructed throughout the years fell apart. In a span of a week, Naru had come into my life and unwound all of my pent up frustration within the last four years. I had turned into a person who lost her spunk and he knew it.
I became a person of submission and crutches. The pills, Lucien, the mental barriers - all of them were just crutches for me to forget this one, single, person and his deeds.
"You are the most selfish person I have ever met." I said each word deliberately slow and let them puncture the air. I had never wanted to hurt somebody, so badly, in my entire life.
We were close now, the tension was thick between us - I felt it on my skin like a coating.
Naru tried to act casual, as if he weren't rigid, but I could see it in his every muscle.
"I have always been the same person," He said. "Whether that be selfish or a narcissist. I have never hid behind some mask."
Once the words were out, he couldn't take them back.
I snapped back towards the seat, as if he had just hit me. I felt the deep reverb in my bones and my breathing became sporadic. Past the tears, past the overwhelming shock and shame, I clamped down on that anger one last time.
"I can't believe I ever thought I loved you." I hissed through my teeth.
His pupils flared and his lips curled back, words rising on his mouth just before something, physically, shook the SUV and I yelped. We braced ourselves from the impact, the two of us being shifted closer together as the SUV bounced back and forth violently.
Something with immense power had shoved the vehicle! Momentarily being caught off guard, I had instinctively gripped Naru's arm. His hands braced my shoulders and I had shifted, being nearly in his lap.
Then, something started banging on the vehicle. It was loud, making the equipment clatter and the walls of the interior shake again. Naru gripped my wrist, reaching for the door, trying to open it when he swore under his breath and I realized it was locked. I wondered if he had been doing this. If, somehow, his cool and calculated control had snapped during our argument. Had he, unknowingly, tapped into that infinite power he housed?
From the shocked and confused look in his eyes when he scanned the monitors, I became aware that this wasn't caused by Naru.
I looked outside, to see if I could find anyone, perhaps Miki, causing this. I did not see any living person but I did see someone familiar.
The girl in the black dress.
She stood closer than she had the last time and I could make out the freckles that were scattered across her face. From behind her, something stepped out, unfolding its tall, spindly limbs and the world shifted. It felt like my stomach had hallowed out. All I saw was the creatures ribbed, grey body and his milky white eyes. The beast leaned back on its hind legs that tapered into black, thick claws. I saw the muscles flicker in those bulky haunches when it moved, fast, before it was a swirl of skin, claws and teeth as I screamed.
A flurry of activity happened in front of me as I shoved myself backwards from the window.
A burst of ghostly faces began to swarm my vision. Shadows darted from across my face at the same time a headache ripped through my skull. It began at the base of my neck and moved to the top of my temples. It felt like my entire skull was being ripped open and I gripped my head, trying to relieve the pressure there.
"Make it stop," I whimpered. "Make them go away."
Skeletal, ghostly faces sprung from the earth, I didn't recognize any of the them and - oh God - they were everywhere! I couldn't see the SUV interior anymore, everything had disappeared. Pale, shining hands reached for me and I felt my body jerk back once again, hitting something hard. Mouths opened, all of those faces trying to speak but no sound came out. Cold shock shuddered through my body as those hands gripped me this time, tightly.
"Make them go away!"
Distantly, I heard someone talking to me. But I couldn't be sure, not when all of those faces had been trying, so desperately, to speak - to scream.
"MAKE THEM GO AWAY!" I screamed, jerking back and this time clutched a warm body that I realized was Naru. Hard, taut muscle under my fingers made me realize that we were still trapped in the SUV and that thing couldn't hurt us. Tremors passed through my body and I shook violently. I felt him respond, unsure at what was startling me but, as always, he tried to take control of the situation. He held me close, so close I felt his own heartbeat pulsing like a rabbit's under his skin.
"It'll be okay," He whispered in a thick voice. His hand smoothed over my hair and he was close enough that I could feel his hot breath on my ear, my neck. I took several, long, seconds to focus on his body beneath my fingers. Tried to focus on breathing evenly, and settling my muscles to relax.
"It'll be okay, Mai."
In one moment, Naru was holding me - whispering that it was going to be okay.
Then the next, the window I had been staring out of shattered. Over the sound of breaking glass, I was screaming again. Naru covered the scattering shards with his body, pulling me closer across his lap and shielding me. Finally the door, that was stuck, had swung open. With the both of us leaning against it, we didn't have time to adjust ourselves as we toppled out of the vehicle and I landed on Naru's chest on the ground.
"What the hell happened?" Lin looked at us, up to the shattered window. "Are you two alright?" The entire team had been running towards us. I saw a sheen of sweat on Lin's forehead, suggesting he must have sprinted like a mad-man to get here before anyone else.
Bou-san was next, screeching to a stop. He looked at the mess of the SUV and swore. "Jesus, are you two alright?"
John, Masako and Ayako were right behind him. "Oh my -"
I pushed off Naru, leaning up onto my knees. He slowly pushed himself up too, pressing a hand to his head.
"Did you make contact with the Ouija board?" His voice was hoarse. Bou-san looked as if he almost couldn't believe Naru was asking that question just now. Before he could say anything, Lin's voice was sharp.
"No," Lin said. "I heard your call on the radio and came as soon as I could."
I was sweating, breathing heavily when I jerked my head towards Lin. "What call?"
"I called him," Naru said and I did not hear him use the radio at all. But I remembered the moment I had become so overwhelmed by those glittering shadows and pale faces that I hadn't even known what world I was on.
Naru knew this too. "What did you see?"
"I-" What did I see? I couldn't explain it, not just what I saw but what I had felt. The feeling of tremendous fear, angst and anger. Those faces that had wanted, so badly, to say something but could not. And then, the creature that had stepped forward, summoning an relentless fear within me.
I gulped and Naru pressed on. "You saw something out the window. What was it?"
There were some things on this case that I could no longer hide. "Outside, there was -" I searched for the words, but I couldn't get Gene out of my mind when he asked me to keep this between us until we figured more out. I clamped down on my lips, blowing out of my nose. I hated lying to my friends, but I couldn't betray Gene.
"Ghosts," I said. "I saw ghosts."
Chapter 8: Trying Not to Miss You
Chapter 8 - Trying Not to Miss You
No one bought my explanation even though it was, still technically, the truth. I had seen a flurry of ghosts shoot around the vehicle before the glass shattered. I didn't extend that truth to include the creature or the girl. Besides, I still couldn't make out what that horrible thing was doing here.
After they heped us to our feet, the team asked me questions over and over until Naru had thought of more important things to talk about.
"There was no activity inside during the session at all?" He looked to his right hand man, Lin.
The Chinese man nodded. "Nothing unusual happened. No temperature drops, or anomalies on the cameras." Lin said.
Masako added, "I felt no presence of spirits or demons during the session either. Usually when we conduct such se'ances, there will be an immediate flood of spirits. That was not the case here. All I sensed was static."
Naru looked back up at the structure, his brows dropped. "It's not ghosts, or poltergeist. Nothing has happened inside, only on the outside. Miki had said most of those who disappear do so in the woods. We saw that with the missing security guards." Naru said.
"What about that girl we found shoved into the vents?" Bou-san asked, clearly still disturbed about that horrific ordeal.
"Her cause of death is still unknown. It could be that she got lost and then dragged here. Possibly to keep us off the property during the investigation. We can't rule out anything because we don't have that information." Naru said.
I listened, feeling uneasy about withholding information. I could tell Naru was frustrated, not only with the case but with the fact that he was aware I knew more than I was letting on.
"Yasu did mention the daughter who got lost in the woods around the same time the original family died." Masko said.
Naru narrowed his eyes. "Yes, that is true. We haven't find out the whereabouts of the daughter, and the reasoning behind her disappearance."
They were so close to the truth - so close, yet not close enough. I knew they would figure it out once they found out a cult was involved. In fact, I wouldn't put it past Naru not to be considering that now.
The team discussed things a little bit more before we heard Miki's car start to pull up the driveway. We all looked in the direction of the oncoming vehicle, but it was Naru that said. "I think that's enough excitement for one day. Let's pack up and go back to the hotel."
"What about the window?" Ayako asked, looking at the extent of damage done to the cargo window.
"Leave it," Naru said. "We'll exchange it in town." He didn't elaborate anymore as he stalked off towards the prison.
A dismissal, I realized. Everyone else started to move out and I stayed put by the SUV since that's the only place I was allowed.
"Hello," The middle-aged man greeted me as he exited his car. "I just wanted to come down and see how your case is going."
"Fine," I said, not taking my eyes off him. "We're just leaving for the day."
He looked towards the shattered glass and I added, "Just some technical difficulties."
"Ah," he said. "I couldn't help but notice the ladder was also dismantled on the second cell block. Did anyone get hurt? Some of these structures can be dodgy at times."
"It must have happened when we weren't here," I lied, cooly. That's what Naru would have wanted - to keep Miki as far away from the case as possible. "We'll be sure to keep that in mind when inside."
I couldn't help but feel the tension in the air. It was different than the tension between Naru and myself. This was unnerving and I suddenly wished I had something to do. Instead, I stared awkwardly at the ground.
Miki had continued staring at me. "So what kind of special abilities do you have?"
To lie, or not to lie…
I remembered Gene's warning, 'I don't trust him.'
"I'm in charge of the administration and camera work." I smiled, nervously. "You know, behind the scenes stuff. It's not very exciting, or interesting."
"Every job is needed," he said. "Look at me, I'm a maintenance man for an unused property! We all have a place."
Lamely, I said. "Yeah, I guess you're right."
There was another awkward silence and I desperately wished to be doing something, anything, else inside the prison. I felt Miki staring at me while I kept my eyes somewhere else. I sucked at that and ended up just staring back at him.
"I'm sorry about what happened to that girl." I decided to say after a while of searching his blank stare. "It must have been a shock."
Miki dropped his eyebrows in confusion. "Which girl?"
That very odd. Did he think I meant another girl?
"The one the police found on the property."
"Oh," he suddenly looked like he was about to get sick. "Yes, that girl. It is tragic. I hope they find whoever is responsible."
"Did you think I meant a different girl?" I asked, very bluntly.
"No, no," he shook his head. "I didn't hear you properly. I'm getting old, and my hearing is giving me away."
Miki laughed but it didn't sound jolly. It sounded nervous, like he made a blunder and was now trying to cover it up. I decided to continue this for what it was: a chance to get some answers.
"I heard about a young girl who also died on this property," I pitched my voice low enough so it wouldn't carry around us. "It was awful the way she was murdered."
Normally, I wasn't the type to be cruel like this. But the anger from my fight with Naru gave my voice an extra edge.
Immediately, Miki's snapped his head in my direction, eyes wide. "Where did you hear that? There's been no such stories of another girl."
"Hasn't there?" I eyed him and his reactions were no longer calculated, like before. Instead, he seemed more withdrawn. "I thought you said that a young girl went missing on the property."
"Yes," he clarified. "She went missing. There was no such talk about her being found dead on the property, let alone what you suggested of foul play."
"I'm sorry," I said. "I must have my facts confused." I bowed my head to him and Miki didn't take his eyes off me.
It was Masako that saved me when she stepped out of the building and Miki decided that returning to his car was far more important that talking to me any longer. He didn't say anything as he took his leave.
We both watched him retreat, then she turned to me and placed a firm hand on my arm. I hadn't noticed that I was shaking until I felt her steadying touch. I glanced at Masako, meeting her dark grey stare. It was welcoming, friendly - comforting and I let out a steadying breath as she lead me to the entrance of the prison to help load the equipment.
Back in town, Naru exchanged the SUV for another one, to which he agreed to pay for all the damages on the last one. We stayed outside to help unload and reload the equipment into the new vehicle. It was John, Bou-san, Yasu and myself that did the work of said task.
"I can't believe we didn't contact anything," Bou-san said. "I can't help but feel like we may have opened some kind of portal. Ouija boards always make me nervous."
"You didn't open a portal. There's already something weird about this area." Yasu said. He dusted off this hands as he finished placing the last set of monitors into the back seat of the new rental SUV. "By the way, I hear you had quite the day."
Yasu looked at me. "I can't give you an explanation other than it was the most scariest thing I have ever experienced." That was the truth,iIt had been a long time since I had encountered such tremendous paranormal energy.
Bou-san said softly, "You said you saw ghosts?"
I nodded tightly, trying not to recall those faces. Hoping they wouldn't press the topic, I asked, "And nothing happened inside at all?"
"Not a damn thing. I'm no longer convinced that we are dealing with a spirit here. This is something else." Bou-san said, closing the doors to the SUV when the last of the equipment was safely inside.
"Aye, I agree." John chipped in, "During my blessing, I couldn't help but have a strange sensation that outside of the prison was far more dangerous than inside. Haven't you felt that the entire time we've been here?" John asked Bou-san and I.
Bou-san's hazel eyes narrowed. "I have. I'm almost convinced the land is cursed or something. Like that case at your school, Yasu."
I was starting to get a headache again. They were so close to the truth - asking the same questions I had and I couldn't tell them. Not yet.
John said, "We're lucky Lin made these for extra protection. I don't know how well they are working but I wouldn't want something that evil following us back here."
Bou-san shivered. "I don't want to know what happens if we stopped doing the cleansing - not willing to find out either."
"Let me see what it looks like again," Yasu leaned forward into Bou-san. The blonde-haired musician held it up for him to see.
I politely took my leave at that point, heading back towards the hotel lobby. Maybe now would be a good time to try and get some rest since it has now been an extra long day with no sleep. It also meant that I could maybe see Gene, hopefully he had some answers about what happened.
As I walked into the room, Masako was sitting on her bed. She was wearing a loose fitting shirt and pants that usually meant she was relaxing, or ready for bed.
I strode to my futon and plopped down into it, covering my eyes with my arm. I heard the shower in the bathroom, which meant Ayako would be an hour at least. I could probably catch some sleep in that time, wake up, shower, and then head to bed. I settled into my pillows but felt a weight at the end of my mattress.
Slowly opened my eyes to see Masako sitting there.
"What's up?" I lowered my arm to lean on my elbow.
"Did… did something happen between you and Naru?" She asked, almost shyly. I was instantly pulled back into the memory of this conversation from nearly five years ago during the Urado case. It felt so similar - Masako asking about Naru and I because she was jealous. Her and I both had a crush on him in those days. However, that time, she had left upset and was taken by Urado.
Somehow, this felt different. She wasn't asking me out of jealousy but out of actual concern. I almost didn't know how to answer. It had been a long, long, time since I had a friend to talk to about this kind of stuff.
I leaned up a little more. "Is it that obvious?"
Masako nodded. "You two have always been like this. Either you're going at one another's throats, or you're very in-tune with each other."
We were definitely going at one another's throats this time around - trying to see who would break first. So far both of us had kept our cool, even though I had felt so close to snapping in the car. I probably would have if we weren't interrupted. In fact, I would dare say that even Naru was close to loosing his cool too.
"What happened?" Masako asked. Her voice was very gentle and coaxing.
"Things got heated in the SUV," I said, slowly. "He knows about the cutting, possibly about the depression. I kind of lashed out at him."
Masako had already known about the depression and she may have suspected the cutting since she had noticed my bloodied shirt. If she did know, she never mentioned anything. However, Masako was very in-tune with people and hiding it from the clairvoyant was harder said than done.
"I don't think he's angry," said Masako.
"Me either." I sighed. "Which makes it even worst because then I start to... never mind."
"Do you still love him?" she asked, bluntly.
The question left me speechless and I hesitated on my answer. It was a dangerous question because I wasn't even supposed to have any kind of emotions for Naru. It was wrong because I was with Lucien and this was all temporary.
I don't know when I had started feeling attracted to him again, or when this thing between us started. All I knew was that whatever was broken between Naru and I was starting to heal itself. I didn't know if it was because Naru was allowing me the opportunity to vent out my frustrations, or if it was because of those lingering looks he constantly gave me.
It didn't matter because when this was all said and done, Naru was going to leave again.
This was all so wrong. Why did I even have to care about him?
He was your first love, Lucien had told me once before.
"Masako," I groaned. "I have a boyfriend."
"You can love two people."
"I love Lucien." I declared, trying to get her off my back about the subject. "And I only love him."
"Have you told him that?"
"Why does it matter? Why do you keep pushing?"
Masako was about the only other person I would have this conversation with. I was starting to feel that anger bubble up, it wasn't as intense as it was with Naru but it was certainly there.
"Why is it so hard for you to admit things to yourself?" Her tone was edged. "If you feel something for him, you should be honest with yourself. I want to be your friend and tell you the hard truth when you need it, and also be there when you want to talk -"
"You can't just push that onto someone," I snapped. "You can't expect me to magically trust you when you were the one absent for four years. It doesn't work like that."
The words just came out and I was mad enough to say them. I clenched my jaw tightly as I stared at Masako, who stared back with a narrowed gaze. "Your feelings matter, Mai. You should be able to discuss them, free of judgement, shame or guilt."
"I can't love him," the air hissed out of my teeth. "I can't because this is all just temporary. By the end of this, he'll be in England again and I'll be back in Tokyo. I just have to deal with it until then."
She knew I was dodging the real problem here. Masako stood up and walked over to her bed.
I felt so embarrassed with myself. Anytime someone tried to have a real conversation with me I just lashed out at them like a child. That's what I did to Naru, flawlessly. And now I was doing it to Masako.
"I-I'm sorry. I didn't mean to say those things." I sat up. "It's just... anything to do with him I get so angry and mad at everything. I felt so angry when he left, and when I told him I liked him he made me feel so stupid. I was angry at that too."
Masako sat down on her bed. "I'm sorry I pushed too hard."
Her voice was sad and I tried not to feel like such a jerk by resisting her friendship. I knew Masako was more of a pushy and blunt person. It was better to have someone like that in your life than someone who was mundane and say the things you wanted to hear. Masako pushed me to think clearly and not emotionally.
"You didn't push too hard. I'm just a mess."
"You're not a mess."
Feeling bad about the situation I asked, "What about you, do you feel anything for him? Back then, You liked him just as much as I did, how did you feel when he left?"
It was a long, drawn out moment before she finally answered.
"I felt...betrayed." She said, softly. "It's a horrible thing to say because, unlike you, I knew who he really was. I knew he had an agenda and yet I still hoped he would stay."
The room became awkward again and Masako said, in a light and friendly tone, "I also knew when to back down when I wasn't a consideration for his affection."
I reeled back. "You think Naru liked me? Masako, he straight up told me I was in love with Gene, not him! To add salt to the wound, he rejected me a second time too."
Yeah, Naru was a jerk.
Masako remained utterly quiet. As if she knew about the rejections, and perhaps about all of these past encounters with the man in question. She was too quiet, I realized and took in a sharp breath.
"You haven't...talked to him about me, have you?"
"He asked about you." Masako said carefully. "Relax, I didn't say anything and told him that if he wanted to know how you're feeling then he should ask himself."
"He's unbelievable," I mumbled under my breath as Masako spoke again. Even though I said that, I couldn't help but feel..flattered that Naru had asked about me. He had so much pride to begin with, and just the thought of him asking for help on something was impossible.
"I think he's... confused. Naru lacks the kind of easy mannerisms that come naturally for most."
"Naru lacks the easy mannerisms to anything," I grumbled.
A slow smile. "I think he was really worried about you." She said, warily.
Worried enough that he asked Masako to see how I was feeling. There really was something wrong. If he was really worried, he would have asked himself but seeing as every time we were in the same room together I wanted to scream at him that was probably not going to happen. Masako was the next best person.
Masako said, "I'm telling you this, hopefully as your friend - and if not, as some mean bitch. I hope that, when the time comes, you can tell him what's wrong. I don't know what's happening between you two but I certainly know it'll make you feel better to just let it out. And not for his satisfaction either. You do this for you, and only you. I think you deserve peace, Mai."
You deserve peace. To finally face some of these demons head on and continue down a road of healing. Healing, not with aids or crutches but by burying my problems once they have been solved -to put them to rest.
I sighed and it came out as a shaky.
I knew that I would try because what she was saying was true - even though I didn't want it to be. I had made amends with everyone on the team except for Lin and Naru. In order to truly move on maybe that's what I needed.
I wanted to lighten the mood. Plus, I did want to know if she was over Naru - maybe she could tell me how to get over him too. Help a girl out, and all.
"If I didn't know any better, I would say you're over the famous Oliver Davis."
"I suppose," she said. "I've found my attention to be elsewhere."
I grinned widely at the flush that covered Masako's face - why did she have to be so cute!
"Masako, who is it!" I wanted to know and it was a good way to distract myself from my own drama.
Masako didn't delve into it, which infuriated me but made me laugh all the same. Though, she did drop some interesting hints that I knew this, said, person. It made the list more easier to choose from.
Besides, I already knew she preferred her men tall, dark and handsome. So, out of all the people we both knew, there was only one other man who would fit that bill.
I tossed and turned in bed. It was still early, maybe nine, but I could no longer wait to ask Gene questions and I forced myself to sleep. I hoped that Gene would be waiting to see me on the other side, since I still couldn't pull my own consciousness from the real world. That was if he wanted to see me because I wanted to see him. I was excited to see Gene because the last encounter felt different. I was starting to enjoy his company again and felt like I was connecting with Gene on a different level.
In my heart, I think I had always known Gene was a different person than Naru.
It made me think about all those years ago, when Naru thought that I had confused my feelings for him with Gene. At first, it was absurd.
It was simpler to pretend it was Naru. I had always thought it could be the Naru that I could dream of, and fantasize about being with. Dream Naru was everything I wanted in real-life Naru, and I found myself deeply attracted to him. He was smart, handsome and even funny at times - though it was at the cost of my humiliation.
When I found out about Gene, I was confused. They were twins and I hadn't been dreaming of Naru. Instead, Gene had been showing me how to navigate my powers.
Back then, what Naru had said about me being in love with Gene, he was wrong.
I was never in love with Gene. I was never dreaming about Gene, I had been always dreaming about Naru.
A familiar sensation tingled in my spine as my thoughts shifted into a different kind of night substance.
Gene was standing in front of me.
I approached him.
"Are you hurt?" He said, referring to the incident in the SUV earlier today.
"I'm fine. But I did see something I want to ask you about."
"The girl?" said Gene.
"No, something else." I watch his eyebrows raise. "Is it possible that there is a demon on the land?"
Gene shook his head. "I haven't come across anything evil. The only evil thing is the curse. Perhaps, what you saw is connected to the curse. I don't know the details, but I can find out more. I called you here because I want to tell you what I found on that girl."
I listened as he continued. "Her name is Sara Ito, and was young, fourteen or fifteen, when she died. I found the location of her family's old home and am certain that's where the curse is being anchored."
"Anchored?" I still did not understand the meaning to some of these terms.
Gene nodded. "It means that the remains of the girl are there, possibly keeping the curse in place. I think if you can go there and remove the remnants, it might end the curse on the land."
What Gene was asking… was that even possible? What if Miki was waiting for us to go to that location. Or, if that old creature was there?
"Is it safe?"
"Yes," Gene said. "The cabin belonged to the Ito's, deep in the forest behind the prison. When I was looking for it I sensed some kind of protective barrier around it. If you happen to run into any kind of trouble, I suggest you go to the cabin."
"Go to the cabin, got it. Anything else I should know about?" I asked and became instantly distracted when Gene touched a loose strand of hair.
Something around us shifted, and I sensed we were no longer going to be talking about the case.
"You've changed." He said, looking at the longer brown lock. He let the hair slide through his pale fingers, then reached towards my jaw. Smooth skin touched me gently and I inhaled sharply. His long finger slide to the collar bone that jutted out of my skin.
A flush of embarrassment touch my cheeks as Gene beheld me, sadly, and I suddenly knew what he meant.
I had lost so much weight, and it was very noticeable how thin I was.
"Do you hate him?" Gene asked, his voice deep with some kind of emotion as he dropped his hand.
I opened my mouth to answer, then immediately closed it when I realized I didn't have an answer. I hated Naru when he left and didn't come back. I hated him when he decided to show up after four years of silence. I hated him when he refused to listen to my feelings.
But, did I hate him? Truly hate him?
My heart was pounding. I could never hate Naru, I realized.
He was dislikable at times, and at others completely difficult. Somehow I was still lost in him. There was something about Naru that stirred feelings in me that I didn't understand. Even Lucien couldn't make me feel the way Naru did, and I knew it was wrong. I shouldn't have feelings for another man when I was with someone else.
Yet, these feelings weren't new. I had always felt this way towards Naru.
"Oliver is just Oliver," I said after a long hesitation. Saying his name, his real name, was intimate in a different way - especially talking about it with Gene.
"My brother is pretty clueless when it comes to anything with woman." Gene huffed, he sounded exactly like Masako had this afternoon. "When we were young Noll was always stuck in his books, chasing some kind of theory. He used to tell me that I could date the girls and he would read. We were twelve? Thirteen?" Gene chuckled.
"We thought we had everything figured out. Oh, the dangers of overconfidence!"
I smiled, it was unlike Gene to talk in such a lighthearted way - largely because he was talking about his younger brother in such a… normal way. I enjoyed listening to him though.
"I wish you could have met me." Gene said, completely serious. "You might have liked me." Blue-grey eyes looked at me, shining. If you knew the twins, those blue-grey eyes were the only tell-tale sign that this was the older, sweeter brother.
"I do like you," I told him, confidently. Then, a little more quieter. "I like both of you."
I hadn't admitted that to anyone. Not even myself, I realized. The truth hit me hard and I flushed again.
Gene may not be alive, but Naru certainly was and he was completely untouchable. He had always been untouchable… and I was with Lucien, I shouldn't even be thinking about Naru that way. Yet, I found comfort in Lucien because he was the exact opposite of Naru. He kept me distracted from thinking about Naru.
Gene watched me, his hands at his sides now. "Noll is confused about his feelings for you, and he's an idiot. Don't give up on him yet."
I stared at him, completely caught off guard.
Was somehow able to talk to Naru? And what he was saying...Naru liked me too?
I tried not to think about it too much but my thoughts were tangled with Naru and Lucien. And Gene.
When Gene didn't immediately send me back to sleep we took the time to just sit and enjoy one another's company.
Chapter 9: Shadow Preachers
Chapter 9 - Shadow Preachers
I was dreaming.
I knew because I was standing in the middle of the woods. The sharp, cold air bite at my skin and I had nearly forgotten how real these dreams felt. I looked around to get a sense of my bearings but nothing looked familiar. The trees were old, and tall - nearly blocking out the light entirely. Something about these woods felt familiar, I recognized.
There was movement in my peripherals and I spun around, only to be standing in front of Sara Ito gazing at me.
Up close she appeared much more delicate than I had originally thought. She was nearly half my height and far more petite. From this close, I could see that she was not Japanese. Sara's face was lovely and had sharp, exotic features such as her jawline and her chin. She was only fifteen or so, I recalled from the history on her family. There was no hiding her adolescence from her face, except her eyes…
I had never seen eyes like that before. They were large and exotically framed with long, dark eyelashes but the color was breathtaking - swirling silver and grey, as if dark storm clouds had been captured in glass.
"Sara," I said, carefully hiding the fear in my voice. "Let me help you."
Sara didn't say anything, she only gazed at me with that detached look and I suddenly felt very uncomfortable. Her expressionless face, though beautiful, gave nothing away and made her look even more sinister.
"Sara I can help you -"
I stopped immediately when she stepped to the side, allowing me to see what was directly behind her. My heart slammed into my stomach and I suddenly couldn't think.
Ten feet away from us, Gene was kneeling on the ground. He was holding his side, panting heavily and, instinctively, I stepped forward - but found that my entire body was rigid. No, it wasn't that.. I felt some kind of invisible bond gripping at me, keeping me in place.
"Gene!" I got his attention, blue-grey eyes looked up at me, shocked, from a distance.
His lips curled back. "Mai, get out of here. Wake up!"
If I did wake up, then what would happen to him? A cold sweat ran down my spine and I looked at Sara, who was still watching me.
"Please, don't hurt him. He was only trying to help me." I pleaded.
"Get out of here!"
From beyond my own voice, I heard Gene yelling at me to wake up. A small part of me knew that this wasn't just a dream. It was occurring while I was asleep, an astral projection of what might be happening in the spirit world right now - which meant...Gene was in very big trouble.
I recalled what he told me about the possibility of Sara finding him and my bowels liquefied. I realized, Sara had the power to take Gene away from this spiritual world to something much more sinister.
"Please," this time, I didn't hide the tremble that shook my voice. "Don't hurt him!"
"Mai!" Gene growled and I dared another look at him as he struggled to get up. I didn't know how long he had been here, how much time had passed since our peaceful meeting - now he was hurt in some unknown way. I tried, and failed, to step forward.
Something else caught my eye in the dark to Gene's left, the trees seemed to shift and night glittered across them, morphing the shapes. Until I realized, that it wasn't the trees moving - but something lurking within the shadows of them.
"TO YOUR LEFT!" I screamed.
Gene had barely enough time pivot and hurtle himself out of distance from the attack of claws and talons.
I trashed against those invisible bonds that held me in place.
"Stop it!" I glared at Sara, panting. "I swear if you hurt him I'll -"
"You'll what?" She said in an, alarmingly, high-pitched voice.
I swallowed, hard - nervously. Her voice was, perfectly, cut like glass and still had some remnants of childhood in it. Slowly a sinister smile, too sinister for a young girl, spread across her features.
Sara continued. "You'll kill me? I'm already dead. Besides you have no powers, which means no control in this world. You can't stop me."
I wanted to tell her that she was wrong, that I had control. I heard a groan from Gene and snapped my head in the direction as he dodged another attack from the large, spindly creature.
"I'm begging you," I cried, looking back at Sara. "Please stop, I'll do anything."
"I wouldn't dream of stopping this," Sara said and turned to gaze at the creature.
As if being called it halted its attack, the creature lifted its oval head at her and a horrible sound coming from its mouth as it beheld her. I looked back and forth from her to the creature. Was she, somehow, the master of this horrible thing? Was she the one who controlled it, or the other way around? Sara did not seemed frightened by the creature, instead she seemed to be...admiring it. Fascinated by it, even.
"Isn't it beautiful?" Sara said. "It was created the night of my sacrifice. It's called a Pishacha."
The Pishacha was anything but beautiful. Its slender frame was covered in a thick grey hide and armed with talons and rows of flesh tearing teeth. Its face resembled the shape of a human head but the large, oval white-milky eyes on the top of it made the Pishacha all the more sinister. The creature leaned back on its large haunches, making another horrible and ear-piercing cry into the night.
"Why are you doing this to him?" I whimpered. "He hasn't done anything. If you want to hurt somebody, hurt me! I'm the one who has dodged your attacks. I'm the one you wanted to take, but couldn't."
Sara regarded me, lifting a hand gently. The snarling creature, who had managed to swipe a massive clawed arm towards Gene, had halted.
I grounded my feet, it felt like my knees were buckling so much I would topple over. Digging deep, I pushed on the invisible wall that I had been blocked by again and again. Blackness glittered over my vision as I continued to mentally slam into that barricade. Frantically, I was searching for a way to break through my powers. Any kind of control or leverage because if I couldn't...Gene would be gone.
"You tried to take me the first day I was here." I had to keep talking, had to keep pushing through the block.
I watched Sara now regarding me, as if I weren't just a trembling pile of flesh for her pet. She looked at me and something changed in her stare, she knew I was right - and I was. I had escaped her attempt not once but twice now and I didn't want to know if those had been intentional or some kind of accident.
"Is that what it is? You tried and failed twice, then - when you couldn't take me - you go after my friend. I am stronger than you."
"Shut up!" Sara growled.
My vision danced with darkness and suddenly, past the throbbing in my head, something...opened. Floodgates burst wide open and I was suddenly over-exposed to those sensitive abilities I had long forgotten. I felt everything and nothing all at once. One moment, I could feel the the sickening satisfaction of devouring the flesh and souls of the living. The next, I felt a whimper of fear and pain. I couldn't pin-point whose emotions I was feeling, just that they existed all around me. I also remembered that this world was not the human world. Things here did not have substance, did not have to follow the laws of nature. I just had to...remember how to use it.
That power arched into my touch, as if waking from a long slumber - perhaps it was. Everything within this world changed. It was no longer a dark, unfamiliar part of the woods. I could see clearly, we were on a plane of black substance which was a pocket of world within the actual one. I checked the ground and could now see the binds which had wrapped around my ankles, up to my shins. I allowed my eyesight to adjust to my new surrounds.
And they weren't binds at all holding me down. They were long, white-misty hands that sprung from the ground.
She was not the master of this world. I was able to control this world too. It was my astral plane and my unconsciousness that was drawn here. Sara would not hurt Gene, not if I had anything to do with it.
"Mai! Get out of here," Gene shouted again and I realized Sara had made up her mind. She needed to get rid of me.
Sara grinned like a canary. Without a word, the Pishacha hurtled towards me.
I slammed back my instincts to run and focused that spiritual energy. Clumsily, I sharpened that quiet magic. I had to think, fast, how to get out of these damned binds.
The idea hit me and I acted. It was insane, and impossible - but it could possibly work.
My spirit body is not solid, my spirit body is not solid... I repeated this over again in my head because I had to believe it. I had to will my, suddenly, foreign body to remember that this was not the human world.
This world, and the substance within it, did not follow the same laws as the real world.
It felt like my nightmare with Urado all over again - being stuck in that vision, with no way out. Except unlike then... I could get out.
I would will my way out.
In a moment of sheer impossibility, I felt myself become free of those bonds.
I turned into mist.
One moment, I was standing within seconds of having my body brutally mutilated by those sharp talons. The next, I misted myself towards the last person I saw - Gene.
In those seconds, I became something made out entirely out of wind and shadows. Untouchable, untraceable.
Just like a ghost.
Or at least I tried to. The bond between myself and this power was still fragile, and the world flickered when I was stood on my own two feet, solid, again. I hadn't managed to go all the way towards Gene, only a mere two steps behind the Pishacha. It was enough because when I heard it growl from behind me I didn't give Sara, or the Pishacha, the gratification of seeing me panic. Instead I ran towards Gene, using those precious seconds of surprise. He reached a hand out for me and I could see that, whatever pain he was in didn't matter, he was willing to run.
Hand in hand, we made a sprint towards the woods.
"I told you to wake up," Gene growled as we ran. He was breathing heavily, still clutching his side. In all my time of knowing him, I had never seen Gene so disheveled. "How did you do that?"
"I couldn't leave you here," I said through my panting. "And I just... moved. I don't know."
I only hoped that I could do it again if I needed to.
We narrowly dodged a tree and had to slow our pace, the moon was the only source of light guiding us through these thick woods. We couldn't stay at this pace for long because somewhere behind us I heard the beating of flesh hit the ground, the sounds of running - the Pishacha was not far. I didn't know where Sara was, maybe she was near by too.
We couldn't just keep running in these woods, we were at a disadvantage. I doubted there was anywhere safe enough to hide from -
'Go to the cabin…'
I remembered what Gene had told me and when I glanced at him, he nodded in agreeance.
Suddenly I saw a flash of grey and barely had enough time to yank Gene's arm, forcing him to the right instead of continuing straight. The beast, with that lethal body, missed us and flew by in a snarl of teeth and claws.
Gene grunted as I gripped his hand and began running again. There was a sensation in my gut, in my veins, that pulsed yes, yes, yes. The cabin was this way.
My legs started to burn and I didn't think my lungs would be able to handle anymore exertion. There was a coppery taste in my mouth but we did not slow.
"You're sure this is the way?" Gene said and I was surprised he didn't know the way. Perhaps that was how he ended up in this awful place - he had been lost.
And, worst, he was about to be Sara's next victim.
"It's the way," I said firmly. I was always told my intuition was sharp and I felt it, deep in my very core, that this was the way.
Directly in front of us I saw a clearing, followed by a snarl behind us. I didn't care to look back to see how far we had distanced ourselves, but the snarl sounded far enough away.
I almost sighed a breath of relief when the small single-level cabin stood, nearly, untouched in the center of the clearing. Nature had long taken hold of the home, vines and shrubs grew through the windows and up the walls. There was no way of telling that these ruins were once a lively home, not with with the thick bush that now grew around it.
There was a narrow path that lead to the door and I prayed that, somehow, it would be open because we would not have time to break it. There was a nagging sensation in my gut that suggested the door was going to be locked - even to spirits.
The same crazy, stupid idea from before hit me. I halted two feet before the door, spinning around to face the Pishacha who was still quite far behind us. We panted and I immediately felt the panic hit my system from my misguided plan. If I made a single mistake... there would be no helping me.
Gene looked at me, then back at were the Pishacha would likely exit from the forest. He looked back at the door, judging the distance and I knew he had figure out what I was going to do.
"You can't be serious," his eyes were wide. "Mai, you got lucky - do you hear me? You can't do that again, there's a possibility it won't work."
I stopped listening to him, focusing on the distance between us and Pishacha. We had to hold our positions because the Pishacha was lethally fast and could turn on a hair. We couldn't let it deter until it was closer. I squeezed his hand.
"Get inside that cabin and stay there," I said under my breath, watching the creature bound across the clearing as if it were only going for a stroll. It was devastatingly graceful and had halted for a moment before catching our scents again, then continuing its deadly charge. "I'll come back for you."
Timing was everything and I held my breath as I waited five more seconds, not listening to Gene as he whispered something back to me.
The Pishacha was five feet in front of us, and it was either move now or we would be ripped to ribbons. I shoved Gene, hard, in his side. He took a staggering couple of steps, a cry on his lips.
I summoned that power from deep within me, the one that connected me to this world, and felt my body become mist once again.
It filled me up with such a tremendous feeling and I radiated from it, feeling alive and light.
Something went wrong. That good feeling instantly dissipated. My timing was slow, too slow, and I felt a searing, hot pain slicing through my forearm - those sharp talons swiped at and got me.
I screamed in agony at the burning sensation now coursing, hot, through my body. Blood oozed out of the three, long, jagged, cuts in my arm and the world grew dizzy. In the chaos, there was a crashing sound as the Pishacha went through me and into the door - just as I had planned. It cried out in when it was within the threshold, as if whatever protective barrier were here had physically hurt it. I staggered to the ground, watching the monster bound back and away, into the forest again. There was a horrible cry as it disappeared and I knew it was calling to Sara.
I felt the world flicker one last time and I shoved against that barrier which kept my unconscious mind here. My arm was burning and limp at my side, gushing blood.
I needed to wake up.
Exhausted, I thrashed at that dampening presence that I knew was my unconsciousness, pushing and pushing.
This is a dream Mai, you need to wake up.
Gene was beside me, shouting and swearing. He checked over my ruined arm and looked like he was about to be sick.
Wake up, Mai!
I ground my teeth, sucking in air and panting. I couldn't think past the blinding pain in my arm and the rush of blood in my ears.
This isn't real. Damnit, wake up, Mai!
My vision became spotted, glittering shadows darted around me, I felt my eyelids get heavy but I slammed on the door to my unconsciousness. Slammed and slammed until -
My spirit tumble back into my physical body.
I distinctly heard the echoes of my screaming and sat up quickly, wiping sweat from my brow. Sweat and blood -
In a fast movement, I lifted my arm out and in front of me. There was no blood, my flesh was not cut...but I felt that burning sensation as if it were under my skin, festering. Everything became a blur around me, dizziness from my sudden movements now catching up.
I began shaking, frightened that I had made a grave mistake in leaving Gene there without me. He was hurt too...and the cabin may have kept the Pishacha out, but what about Sara? A cold sweat broke out on my body as I tried to reel myself into reality. I had pushed myself out of that world too fast, the line between them were blurred and I suddenly felt like I wasn't' completely in control.
"Breath." Naru said, in a single note. The word was a pure command. There was only one person who could wield so much power over my body. I had no idea how he was here, what he was doing in my room.
Slowly my eyes focused, my chest expanded and I slipped a bit further back into my body.
I did it again, and again and again. The soft lights of the hotel room did nothing to illuminate Naru's black hair, it only seemed to further frame his pale face. And his eyes - oh yes, those eyes of violet-blue… I remembered where I was.
As I breathed in again, my bones began to feel brittle. My stomach rolled with nausea and I closed my eyes, fighting the urge to kneel over and vomit.
The dream that felt too real began to settle over me.
No, it was real. It may not be happening on this realm but it was certainly happening where Gene was.
Panicking, I gripped Naru's arm and my breathing started to become heavy again.
"Gene," I rasped. "He's not safe."
Gene was in danger. We all were.
Chapter 10: Fight the Shadows
Chapter 10 - Fight The Shadows
"Gene." I rasped, "he's not safe."
I watched Naru's pupil flare. "What do you mean?"
"In my dream he was in danger, we were..." I had to stop myself as I reeled back into reality. Naru was in my room, for some unexplained reason. This, suddenly, very odd. "Wait, why are you here?"
Naru said, like it was the most simplest thing, "I asked Hara-san and Matuzaki-san to leave you sleep."
Naru seemed annoyed at my change in topic but he answered anyway. "I'm not so blinded by pride to notice that sleeping gives you better access to your abilities." His eyes narrowed as he brought me back to the topic at hand. "Now, about Gene, what exactly did you see?"
I knew I shouldn't tell him but it was no longer safe to hide this information.
To start from the beginning was going to take too much time so I had to summarize. I told him about the visions that I had about Sara Ito, and everything everything Gene told me, trying to remain concise. I ended with my last dream about how Gene who was moments away from being taken by the Pishacha, and how Sara would devour his soul.
At the end of it, Naru stood up with his hands clenched at his sides. "Why didn't you tell anyone about this?"
The edge in his voice...I've heard this before, and remembered what it felt to be on the receiving end of it.
I flinched. Not only was it the disappointment in his tone but it was the slip of control he had momentarily lost. My body felt the air snap, as if charged by electricity, and my skin was being poked by tiny needles. My hairs stood on end as I watched Naru hold back that endless amount of power by sheer will, alone.
I took a shaky breath. "Gene asked me not to say anything until we knew for sure."
"That," Naru hissed, "was not his decision to make."
"I'm sorry," and I truly was. I looked down at the blanket which I had bunched into my hands. I thought back to the last moment I saw Gene. His eyes were wide, concerned, and on his knees as he assessed the damage done to my ruined arm. Instinctively, I reached to grab my forearm, rubbing the skin that felt..strange.
I hadn't noticed a tear slid down my face, and I brushed it back with my hand.
"I didn't mean for this to happen."
"There's nothing to be done now." Naru said, his voice still hard and hinged on something else.
"How can you say that?" I looked up at him. "We have to do something, this is your brother! Why aren't you more concerned? You don't know what it was like in there."
Naru gave me a firm look. "Gene was more than aware of the consequences. And now he's become a nuisance."
I thought my mouth was hanging open and I snapped my jaw tight, huffing out a breath. "I'm just as much to blame. I didn't argue with Gene when he suggested to keep this from you. I guess that makes me a nuisance too."
"I guess it does." Naru said coolly and that irritated me even more. As we were arguing, Gene was...Gods knows. I just hoped he was alive.
"We have to go help him." I said, firmly.
Naru countered, "He's a spirit. We can't help him."
"Why are you being like this? Are you pissed because we kept a secret from you?" I threw the covers off me and stood. Once again, I felt more anger and pent up frustration surging in my veins.
He gave me a sharp look, "is there anything else you've, conveniently, kept?"
It sounded like a rhetorical question, and maybe it wasn't but Masako's words flooded my mind at this opportunity.
You do this for you, and only you. I think you deserve peace, Mai.
I didn't know exactly how much Naru knew about the depression, or if he knew at all. I thought maybe he had guessed. Part of me didn't want to tell him because he would think less of me. Then, I wondered if he had thought of me at all during the time we were apart.
"This isn't about the case," I warned him. "This is about you and me."
To my surprise, Naru didn't say anything. He only stared at me with cool, indifferent eyes.
I took a deep breath in. "Four years ago you left, which is fine. You didn't owe us anything but you took something away from everyone when you did. Especially from me. You took away my job, which I truly loved, and my sense of family. It wasn't that you left, because we knew you would, it was that you...didn't come back."
Under my skin, I felt my heart pounding. It has been nearly a week since I touched those pills, to which I've felt a little more in-tune with my emotions and feelings.
What I was feeling wasn't sadness.
It was frustration. Anger, specifically.
Everything that Naru had stirred within me this last week was finally able to break past those barriers.
I clamped down on my jaw, clenching it tightly.
"I hated you for it." I pushed air past my teeth. "I hated that you were so selfish and just left without even considering us, or calling anyone to stay in contact. Even after you left I still had feelings for you and I never understood why I loved you, or could continue believing in you. You're the most self-centered person I have ever met, and you're too-damned proud to notice anything beyond your stupid ego when you're wrong or make mistakes."
"As much as I enjoy my shortcomings being drawn on," There was something strained in Naru's voice when he spoke, "Are you done yet?"
"No." I seethed. "This entire trip you've given me nothing but headaches, and I've probably done the same to you. If we aren't arguing or fighting, we're ignoring each other. It's made me realize that even when I thought I hated you... it was actually me that I hated. I became this useless, hollow person who needed crutches to get by, like the pills and the cutting. Then, you all-of-a-sudden showed up out of the blue and I felt everything again. Only, this time it wasn't the blackness of despair. It was years of pent up frustration."
I took an unsteady breath, "why was it always you that saved me? Or, you that could make me feel anything beyond that depression? Anytime I needed help you were always the one there, and that frustrated me too."
It took me a long time to fully understand that, whether Naru knew it or not, he had effectively kept me from shattering completely - by giving me an outlet for this frustration.
Air hissed out of my teeth as I pushed out the words, "why is it always you?"
We stood still with the minutes passing by in silence. I tried to regain my composure, my breathing was rapid and I had to calm myself down or I would start crying. I didn't want to cry anymore, and I still had one last thing to say...something that I hadn't told anyone. Something that I had only just started to realize recently.
Quietly, I said. "This trip made me realize that there's still a part of me that wants to love you."
The dangerous truth - my feelings were out in the open.
It was dangerous to be emotionally vulnerable to Naru. He didn't understand how to separate his mind from his own emotions and ended up making your vulnerability for what it was - a weakness.
Naru stared at me for a long moment and I dared a glance at him. "Maybe it's for the best not to love someone who is such a bad person, like me."
From the look on my face, Naru clarified. "I was under the impression that you didn't want anything to do with me."
'You're the most selfish person I have ever met.'
'I can't believe I ever thought I loved you.'
Was he upset? Those words that I spat at him yesterday.. did they hurt him?
"Naru, I was just...mad. I don't think you're an awful person or -"
I was silenced by Naru, who moved and closed the small gap of space between us. My pulse quickened.
Something intense passed through the room as I felt my heart slamming into my chest. Naru's eyes didn't change and whatever control he exerted upon himself was visible in the tense way he held his shoulders.
I closed my eyes and imagined a Naru who could freely act on those emotions and natural tendencies - the way Gene could.
I imagined him reaching out, touching my face with his hands...
He was your first love, Lucien had told me. Only, he was wrong. Naru wasn't just my first love.
I was still in love with Naru - despite...everything.
Naru did not do anything, he only stood very still in front of me as if struggling internally.
Finally he spoke and there was a heaviness to his voice that I did not understand. "I'm not upset that you said those things. You have every right to look at me and see the worst, possible, human. I did something terrible to you and I will not insult you further by righting my past wrongs with words. There is something you need to know, however. It's something I should have told you a long time ago. While I was away, I was -"
A sharp, loud ringtone sang in the room and we both looked towards the source of the sound. It was my phone. Naru stepped back gracefully and I cursed at whoever's wrenched timing.
"Answer it," he said, coolly.
Whatever spell that was between us was suddenly broken. It had sounded like he was about to say something… intimate. Maybe it was something that would change the entire dynamics of our relationship.
No, I thought firmly.
This is Naru. He wouldn't say anything about his feelings. I doubt he even understood what he felt in times like these.
I turned and went to dig my out the phone from under my pillow. Masako's name flashed across the screen.
Reluctantly, I answered.
"Hi, Masako," I greeted, albeit was a bit forced. "Is everything okay?"
There was screaming on the other line, and - maybe my cheek had pushed the button by mistake - the call was suddenly on speaker. The loud screaming filled the room.
"MAI! Please, help us!" It was Masako.
"What's happening?" I said into the phone, pulling it away from my ear. Naru stalked over too.
On the other line, Masako began crying.
"Hara-san, what's wrong?" Naru said, urgently.
She panted, "She's here and - Oh God, I think she's going to kill us. Please, we need help. There's...this thing.. it's going to AHH-"
A shrill scream ended her sentence and the phone clicked off.
"Masako!" I yelled into the empty line.
I looked up at Naru and he was already at the door. "We have to go. Get dressed."
Quickly, I threw on a pair of jeans, a shirt and a sweater.
I didn't have time to comprehend anything other than the fact that Masako, and the team, were in trouble. Masako had sounded as if she were being chased.
Instantly, I was thrown back into my dream where Gene had been attacked by the Pishacha and we had to run for our lives. It was even more terrifying that this was reality.
That scared me even more.
I met Naru outside and he pulled up in a black sedan that Yasu had been using. I climbed in and Naru pulled off onto the road in a series of sharp turns.
"I couldn't get through to the police station," he said through gritted teeth. "I'll try again in a bit."
"I'm going to call her again," I took out my phone but I was shaking so much I couldn't properly unlock the phone. "I have to make sure she's okay."
Finally, I unlocked the screen and dialed Masako's number. She answered on the first ring.
"Hello, Mai. I hope you got enough sleep."
Her voice was soft, sweet and friendly. Pleasant, even.
I jerked my head back and looked at Naru. I put the phone on speaker.
I asked, in an unsteady voice, "M-Masako? Are you...alright?"
"I'm fine," She sounded confused. "Are you and Naru on your way? There was some interesting activity that happened. I'm sure he would be like to see it."
Masako sounded like she was fine. In fact, she sounded more than fine - she sounded at ease. Not the way she had been screaming into the phone no less than, maybe, five minutes ago.
"Did you see a little girl?" I asked, warily. "A spirit girl."
She hesitated on the other line. "No, there are no spirits here. Is everything okay, Mai?"
"Do you remember calling me? You said something was going to kill you. You sounded really scared."
Masako paused on the other line, "I didn't call you at all."
I watched Naru give me a sidelong glance.
He answered. "Hara-san, tell Lin we're on our way there."
Masako sounded confused on the other line but did not question Naru. She said, "I'll let him know, see you soon."
The call ended and something wasn't right, I felt it deep within my bones. There was something very wrong, my skin was covered in a thick layer of oil and grease.
"What's happening?" Naru asked, impatience testing his tone.
"I don't understand," I said - confused and shocked, still trying to figure out this feeling. "She had called me begging for her life, saying that someone was there and was going to hurt them. But, from what she sounded like just now, everything was normal. Maybe I had imagined that phone-call..."
"That's unlikely," said Naru. "Since I also heard her on the phone."
"Then I don't know."
I watched the twining road pass by us. I didn't think we were already so close to the turn off we needed to take to get to the back-road of the prison. The small highway we were driving, soon, curved sharply to the right, indicating that our turn was on the left immediately after -
"Hey!" I said as he sped past the turn that would take us to the prison. "You just missed the turn."
He looked at the in-dash GPS, which was telling us we still had another forty minutes of a long, straight highway ahead.
"No, I didn't."
Naru's voice a a mixture of annoyance and impatience. He hated being told he was doing something wrong.
From outside, I - again - watched as we approached that sharp right curve. Again, Naru did not make the immediate left turn. This time I watched the turn fly by us and kept an eye on the GPS. Normally, it would show the oncoming turn however this time I didn't see the curve shown at all on the screen.
I knew something was wrong.
"Stop the car," I said loudly. "Pull over, something's not right."
"Mai," he said under his breath as he slowed and pulled off to the side of the road. Naru leaned over, re-inputting the coordinates for the prison into the unit. "I didn't miss the turn. We aren't close yet."
To try and prove this, he pressed enter - except the GPS indicated that we were still over an hour away. It also told us that we needed to turn around and go the opposite direction.
Naru's eyes narrowed.
In reality, we should be closer to forty minutes away, or thirty kilometers, since we have been travelling for half an hour (Naru may have been speeding).
I tried to piece together these strange events: first, we had a terrifying phone call from Masako that didn't actually happen (even though both Naru and I heard her). Then, Naru couldn't get through to the police station, and now we kept passing the same curve in the road, even though the GPS indicated that we were nowhere near a curve. In fact, it had said we had gone in the completely wrong direction, which was really uncommon for Naru.
Something, startling, jarred my thoughts as my fingers touched my throat.
I realized what was missing from there.
"Oh my God," I breathed, my heart rate accelerated.
The talisman was missing.
"I didn't smudge this morning because I woke up late, then you were there - and Masako called so we just left."
I stared at Naru the entire time I spoke.
"I didn't smudge." I repeated and felt the devastation as true fear passed through me in a horrible wave of panic.
His eyes mirrored the same horror as mine.
"Neither did I," he admitted.
Suddenly, the engine that had been sitting idly gurgled to a stop. Both of our heads snapped to the front of the car as Naru tried turning the key. Over and over, we heard the dead sound of the transmission.
Naru swore under his breath and the radio flickered on. The car was dead and there was no way, or explanation, for the radio being on. It scanned through various stations, creating a frequency of white noise and from behind the static I heard a voice.
Someone began giggling.
However, it was anything other than a sweet, playful sound. It turned my blood cold. The demonic sound of it was something you could have nightmares about.
It was a familiar voice.
"Mai Taniyama and Oliver Davis," said the high-pitched voice. "What a pleasant surprise."
"Sara," my own voice was shaky but I was confident that was who was speaking over the radio.
She giggled again, another horrible sound. "I've been waiting for you."
Then, the static stopped. I looked back at Naru, whose eyebrows had furrowed as he gazed at the radio.
My sight slipped behind him, to the edge of the tree-line on the other side of the highway.
Tears pricked at my eyes at the sight I saw there.
"Naru," I slowly reached over to him, not daring to look away.
I had never felt fear so intense before.
In my dreams, facing this entity was..different.
On that spirit realm I was able to force my body to become mist and shadow, something like a ghost or a phantom wind.
However here there would be no tricks to escape.
From across the road, the Pishacha lurked behind the bushes, its spindly form was a mere shadow in the dark forest.
Those terrifying white eyes were shining.
I didn't know if Naru saw what I had, but I felt him stiffen from under my hands. I started shaking, and my stomach dropped as I felt my entire body react to that rising fear from within. If that creature was to attack us now...there was no way we could escape. It was built for chasing and hunting - built for speed and stamina. It was agile, whereas, we were not.
We would not survive if it attacked us. I suddenly realized that maybe this was how it worked - how it contributed to the curse.
The Pishacha confused and disorientated the living before attacking them and destroying the physical body. After, Sara would swiftly take the souls.
No wonder she was so fond of the creature, since it, literally, gave her the life substance she needed to live.
My insides hallowed out.
Fear, relentless and raw, slammed into me as those white eyes watched us from across the road.
This was not a dream.
This was real.
Chapter 11 - Labyrinth of Dreams
"This must be the Pishacha," Naru said in an extraordinary moment of self-control. Whereas I felt my bones were shaking within my skin and I was absolutely positive I could not form a proper sentence.
If Naru was scared, or surprised, he didn't show it at all. He just passed his steady blue gaze, calmly, over the inside of the car then stared out the window again. He was not completely unnerved by the pair of milky eyes that watched us from across the road.
On the other hand, I was visibly (and rightfully) terrified.
I knew Naru underestimated the creatures abilities, seeing as he rarely believed in anything he did not have evidence for.
Somewhere in the moment, Naru had said something quietly to me but I couldn't hear him past the roaring of my blood in my ears. Or the constant drumming of my heartbeat.
"Mai." Naru said, placing a firm hand on my wrist. The feel of his skin on mine brought me back and I blinked, slowly.
"Listen to me very carefully." Naru's voice was quiet and smooth as silk. "Push your seat all the way back and move to the edge of it. We have to get out of the car."
"What?" I jerked back slightly, the shakiness not leaving my tone. "T-that thing will kill us. You don't know how fast it is."
Or how lethal it could be with those claws that I knew, first-hand, were razor sharp. My arm instinctively burned at the memory.
"Our chances are even worst if we are caught sitting in here," Naru growled. "Gene had mentioned the cabin was safe. Can you find it?"
"I-I don't know." It was possible...but in the condition I was in now, it was very unlikely. "I could try."
"Alright," Naru said, "Now, move the seat back and shift over."
I obeyed, clumsily hitting the motion controller for the seat until I heard a soft thud. Slowly, I shifted over and began to realize what Naru was doing as he swung one of his lean legs over the middle counsel that separated us.
He was going to position us in the best escape route possible - which was on my side of the car.
The Pishacha was on the driver side and there would be no feasible way to go out through those doors. Moving to the back would be risky, it could cause too much motion and the Pishacha could attack or corner us.
The best way out was through the passenger side.
Naru swung his long legs over the counsel, and I had to crane my neck, awkwardly, to perch myself on the edge of the seat. Instead I mostly ended up sitting on his thighs.
I shifted uncomfortably to get off his lap but felt Naru shake his head as he put a firm hand on my waist that kept me still.
"You're creating too much movement," He said, firmly.
I tried to relax my shoulders and neck as I leaned into Naru. In this position, my back was almost completely facing in the direction of the Pishacha. It was intentional by Naru, I realized because now I couldn't see it. That meant, if it had attacked I had to fully trust that he would warn us in advance, or that my nerves wouldn't stop me from being able to move.
For some reason, that made me even more nervous.
I felt my body tense as Naru's hand inched towards the door handle.
Then, we waited.
The silence that stretched felt like the depth of an ocean, continually being crushed by an immense pressure. I was acutely aware that my heart was pounding through my chest and that Naru could probably hear, or feel, my rapid breathing.
I didn't count the minutes that passed by us. It felt like we had been sitting straight-backed for hours. From under me, Naru did not move an inch. I knew that in this waiting game the Pishacha was going to grow very bored, very soon. Naru was a very patient man.
In order to keep my body from seizing up, I squirmed and tried braced my muscles for take off.
The only indication that I felt Naru was about to move was a brief flicker in his muscles.
I was ready for it and the door flew open at the same time a horrible noise pierced through the silence.
We both jumped out of the car and Naru caught me as I fell in a tangle of limbs, then yanked me, roughly, out of the way.
I was thankful that he did because the car flew up and over us, into the thick bushes and trees off the road. A crashing sound boomed from behind us, followed by a skin-crawling roar.
Naru pulled on my wrist again. Then, we were running along the road as fast as we could.
"Where is the cabin?" He said in between breaths. I don't think I had ever seen Naru run or exert himself. Even considering Naru to be, slightly, athletic was an impossible feat for me. I could tell he was already feeling the strains of the sprint in his legs and lungs.
I couldn't answer because the Pishacha was suddenly in front of us.
I saw a swirl of teeth snapping towards me -
Naru pulled me sharply to the left. It was a halting maneuver that left us skidding but he recovered, forcing me back up to my feet too. We continued running again and I looked back to see the Pishacha heading into the forest, where it could hunt us at the advantage point of being concealed.
However, staying on the open road had its own advantage. We could clearly see every side, up and down the road - even a couple of meters on the sides, which could buy us precious seconds with a creature that could turn on a hair.
"The cabin," Naru said in between breathes. "Where is it?"
"I don't know if I can do it," I panted. "I don't know if -"
"You have to try." He snapped. "Just try."
I took a deep and steadying breath as focused on my thin connection to my esper abilities.
In this realm I couldn't touch them, or connect to them, as I had on that spiritual plane. It was as if I was grasping at water that slipped through my splayed fingers. I tried again, and the same thing happened.
I realized I that I would have to, wholly, rely on those gut instincts - that had not been trained in over four years.
"Do you see anything?"
Delving into that shimmering veil of power was not an option right now, so I focused on what I could do. My whole body felt awake as I imagined the cottage the fist time I had saw it. The first time I found it, I hadn't known what it looked like - I only had a feeling of it. This time, with the image in my mind, I focused hard on the visual. There was a pulling sensation in my gut that suggested we needed to stay on the road.
"Keep going straight," I blurted. "Stay on the road."
I didn't know if this was correct, just that I desperately needed it to be. We both did if we intended on surviving.
It didn't take us long to completely tire out. Both of us were panting as we slowed to a walk, Naru was shoring up my left side and kept an eye on the road ahead. I continually checked the right and behind us.
There was no noise beyond our breathing. Naru had let go of my hand, but stayed within an arm's distance should he need to grab me again. He was taller, faster and, dare I say, stronger than I was. If there was something he could pull me out of the way of, then that was my saving grace.
We walked and walked and walked.
It was impossible to know if we were just walking blindly in circles. This world had been a fabrication of the real one. Or, maybe it was more accurate to say that this was the real world, only your mind was so morphed by the presence of the Pishacha you were made to believe that it wasn't.
Either way, there was no indication that the Pishacha chasing us. There was a sharp feeling in my body, in the very foundation of my bones, that suggested we needed to turn off the safety of the road and into the woods very soon.
The rational part of me wanted to ignore it. It was dangerous to leave the road now because at least this way we had a chance of survival Or, maybe in some bizarre coincidence, a car could pull up and help us. I knew that if I listened to my head we might, very well, end up killed.
I had to listen to my gut.
"We need to to into the woods," I said, pointing to the left. "That way."
Naru stopped and followed my gesture, blue eyes looked into mine. "You're sure?"
Firmly, confidently, I nodded.
Naru assessed me once more, and I held my chin high. Even if I didn't know the exact way, I needed to pretend that I did. Naru had always been wise enough to trust my instincts before and I hoped that after four long years at least that hadn't changed.
"Stay close then," was all he said.
We left the safeguard of the road and went into the woods.
Everything seemed heightened in here. The tree's blocked out most of the sunlight and we were lucky if we could see more than five feet ahead of us with the thick canopy of bush and shrubs. The footing was rough, the terrain uneven - this was not ideal conditions for sprinting if we were ambushed.
These were ideal conditions for hunting.
I stumbled along the littered ground, trying to listen for any tell-tale signs that we would be Pishacha food. It was impossible to hear beyond our moving feet. Or the ancient wind that seemed to move through the trees.
"Do we keep going straight?" Naru would ask every now and then, in a hushed voice.
"Yes," I said, guiding us from the rear. "In this direction."
Naru listened to my brief, and flanty, answers. I knew he wanted concrete evidence that we were heading in the right direction. Don't worry, I did too. But, this was as good as we were going to get.
There was a quick noise from behind us, not the Pishacha it was something else.
I felt a hand tug on my arm, it wasn't very hard but it was enough for me to halt in my steps. I turned to see what it was and saw nothing except the slight slope of a hill we had just began to crest.
I stumbled from the second tug, it was harder and rougher than the first. I recovered by stepping backwards and Naru turned to me, eyes narrowed.
"Something -" I felt another tug, this time pulling on the back of my shirt. "Something's pulling me."
"What?" His eyes scanned around behind me. No one was around us.
Again, something grabbed me, squaring my shoulders this time - as if positioning me in the spot I needed to be in to see a flash of grey flesh moving silently through the space behind Naru.
"Naru, behind you!" I shouted as my eyes caught the quick motion of the trees moving. This time, I was the one who gripped his wrist and pulled as hard as I could.
We stumbled onto that short, steep hill that had us falling even more backwards.
Naru had his fall broken by a pile of leaves, and I continued to tumble down the slope. I was only slightly aware that the Pishacha was cresting the top of the hill, most likely it was going to come down here and then it would kill us.
I wasn't aware of anything else as I felt the back of my head hit something hard and blackness glittered across my vision.
I awoke to my head throbbing and groaned as I felt my senses slowly return to me, each one more dizzy than the last.
My eyes truly came open when I had remembered what happened. I had pulled Naru out of the way of the Pishacha but in doing so I had thrown us backwards down a steep hill - right into the trunk of a large tree. Or, at least I had landed - head first - into the tree.
I was unconscious, which is the only explanation for how my mind found its way here. The world I was sitting on was only slightly the same as how I remembered it. This time, the trees seemed to be morphed into dark shadows of grey hues.
Another indication that I was back on the astral plane was my arm had began throbbing. I looked down at it, and there were three long claw marks that were still dripping with blood.
I could only imagine what it meant if the wound had not healed yet, fearing infection or worst. I gripped my arm tenderly, and looked up to see that Sara was standing in front of me, her lips were parted in a cruel smile. I pushed myself up.
"You won't be able to take my soul." I told her in a feeble attempt to scare her away. Or to make myself sound brave. "We are going to find you and we are going to destroy you -"
She moved so quickly I didn't register it until she was leaning down in front of me.
I jerked backwards, pressing myself even tighter into the bark of the tree that dug into my back.
"I really should thank you for teaching me that little trick," Sara said when she leaned closer to me. In those seconds when she vanished her body had disappeared, as mine had, into shadows.
"Get away from me," I growled. "you can't hurt me, this world is an illusion - a fake, you're not real -"
Her fingers grasped my wrist before they pressed firmly into the wide cuts on my forearm.
My vision exploded.
Pain, as I had never experienced before, flooded me. There was a sharp burning before liquid fire spread across my arm, up to my neck.
I screamed as she switched her grip and pressed harder.
"You are refreshingly artless," she cooed, sounding pleased by my screaming.
She kept applying pressure to those wounds and I would scream louder. Some wicked part of her delighted in this.
My vision swarm with spots as I tried to keep myself from passing out. My throat was raw and a coppery taste coated my mouth.
She released the firm hold at some point when I was in and out of consciousness. It had felt like I was in this realm, living through this unbearable pain for days.
I was panting, lying on the ground.
Sara stood up. "You sure do have a pair of pipes on you. I enjoy the sound of it."
Slowly, she lifted her bloodied fingers to her mouth and licked them, savoring the taste of my blood.
In a voice that was almost sweet, she said. "I'll let you in on a secret. If your soul is hurt on this side it will soon catch up to the physical body. You can, and will, die here."
Her red lips spread larger.
I gritted my teeth, in between pants and I willed myself to get up.
My body was so weak, I couldn't feel my legs but I pushed passed the numbness and lifted myself up with my good arm.
My arm, my ruined arm, was completely useless. I couldn't feel anything beyond my shoulder except for a burning. I didn't want to think that maybe she was right. I didn't have a chance.
"You're a tough one." She lowered herself closer again, crouching. "It'll be fun breaking that spirit of yours."
I anticipated her touch and I whimpered out loud before I felt her fingers graze my burning arm.
I let out another pain filled cry.
Over my screaming, she taunted me. "That's right, scream because you are weak and worthless. Beg me to stop."
I wouldn't beg, not to the likes of her.
When I didn't, she dug her nails in.
"I said beg!"
My screams were no longer screams, instead they were rasped and thick-sounding groans.
"Pain doesn't work for you, huh? Maybe I have to hurt someone you care about. What's that one's name - Oliver? Gene?"
I tried to speak. "N-no."
"Oh dear," Sara said. "That's it, isn't it? I'll have to kill them to truly make you suffer."
"Please? Please, what? You don't want me to kill them? Then scream and beg when I tell you to, you useless, coward -"
There was a sickening sound of impact. Sara's blonde hair flew around her as she fell sideways from the back-blow delivered to her by a black-clothed twin I knew very well.
Gene was panting, glaring at Sara as he watched her fall to the ground.
Grey-blue eyes swung to me.
I felt as horrified as I looked. Gene, who should be staying safe within the cabin, was here.
"Wake up, Mai," He said. "I've distracted the Pishacha, but not for long. You need to wake up."
Sara groaned, moving back onto her feet.
My eyes came open in the midst of a calm chaos. Naru was standing over me, his hands on my shoulders. He must have been shaking me, must have dragged me back.
There was a throbbing pain in my arm from under his touch and I flinched. I remembered what Gene had told me, about what he had done.
"Are you alright?" Naru lowered his hands.
"Yes," I said, breathless, and pushed away from the tree. I pushed past the dizziness. "We need to leave. Now."
I couldn't believe how foolish I felt, how naive I was to think that the Pishacha wasn't attacking us because it was hiding. That was not the case, not at all. It was Gene, in that pocket of world, who was distracting the creature long enough for us to find safety. It was also Gene that had been pulling on me before, to stop us from moving closer into the Pishacha that was waiting for us.
Stupid, courage, foolish Gene...
Gripping Naru's hand I lifted myself up. "Gene is distracting the Pishacha. He says we are close to the cabin, we need to move fast."
This time, Naru kept close to my heels as we weaved through the forest. Now that I knew why we hadn't been pursued, it made finding the cabin even more urgent. I didn't want to think about what would happen to Gene if he was caught by that thing. My gut began throbbing after a long time of stumbling through the forest.
Yes, this was the way.
It was Naru who first saw the tell-tale signs of the forgotten cabin.
"I see it." He said as it appeared in the distance, I recalled the clearing of land that was just ahead of us.
The cabin was exactly as it was in my dream. Forgotten. Ancient. Naru didn't bother with the door that I noticed had been crashed in due to my brilliant scheming. He simply grabbed a piece of fallen foundation that he found on the ground and smashed the window. He cleared the glass from around the edges, then motioned for me to step on his hands.
Naru lifted me up and into the window, before he climbed up.
Inside was the exact opposite of the exterior. Instead of looking as if it was run down, the interior was completely frozen in time. The old furniture was still arranged as if the family would return and, casually, sit to eat or simply lounge in the room after a long day of work.
"Check all of the rooms," Naru said and we moved through the single story family home.
The home was indeed small and could only hold, maybe, four people at the most. We ended back in the living room, where Naru thought it was the best position to take watch. It was away from the doors and there was still an immediate exit in the form of three windows if we needed it.
"It's safe here," I assured Naru when he wouldn't leave my side. "There's a protective barrier around it. That thing can't get in."
"What about Sara?"
"I don't think she can either." I didn't think there was a reason she could if the Pishacha couldn't come in.
"I'm going to look around and find something we can use as a weapon. I assume the Pischacha can be hurt. Just call out if you need anything."
I nodded and continued back around the living room. On top of the mantle of a fireplace, was a photo that was framed.
"Hey," I called out. I could hear him moving around somewhere in the kitchen. "There's a photo of the original family here."
I grabbed the frame and wiped off the dust.
The picture was old, the quality of it reminded me of the early eighteenth-hundreds - black and white, and extremely grainy. I noticed a very tall man who was well dressed, but the photo was so faded that I couldn't make out his face. There was a small lithe figure that he had in front of him and I knew immediately that it was Sara.
The photo wasn't complete and I noticed the edges appeared to be folded inwards, cutting off the remaining three-quarters of the whole picture. I checked the back and found that this picture frame was fastened in a permanent binding. With no other option, I smashed the glass on the mantle, slowly taking out the photo.
"What's wrong?" I heard Naru's voice from the kitchen. He rounded the corner immediately after, holding what I thought was a cast iron frying-pan.
It was just as I thought - the photo was folded.
"This photo is folded. There's a picture of man with Sara and a ... girl -"
Sounds stopped coming out of my mouth as I stared at the full picture.
It was a family of four standing in front of the cottage.
The first two figures were of Sara and that tall, dark man I had originally seen from the first folded portion of the photo.
However, there was an identical girl to Sara who was gagged and bound on the ground. Next to her was the mutilated body of a woman.
They were both dead.
"Twins." I said out loud. "They're twins."
Suddenly, I was pulled into a vision I wasn't, ever, prepared to see.
Chapter 12: Nighttime Creatures
They screamed like she knew they would.
They always screamed when they saw her.
Such useless, cowards - worms. That's what humans were.
But, those ones from the other night were different, they had not seemed afraid. No, they had felt... Determined.
It had been over a hundred years since she felt anything, the demon-creature that was now using her body had thoroughly blocked her any access of control. The darkness that had, at first, been an ancient and cruel thing was now the only comfort she found. It leashed her mind, separating it from her body.
She could not remember her name. She only knew that once, long ago, she was human.
Her name had been the first thing she had forgotten when the darkness enveloped her. Then, she had forgotten the names of all of those close to her. All she knew was the demon that had broken through, showing her it's cruel tendencies.
That demon enjoyed when the humans suffered, all while she watched through eyes that were no longer her own. For a while, she enjoyed it too.
It was rare souls escaped her... yet those two somehow broke through. Gene Davis and Mai Taniyama - those were their names.
"I can help you," Mai had told them.
No one had ever said that before. No one had actually begged on behalf of someone else like Mai did for Gene. And now she was with Oliver, and that same determination did not fade. How was Mai willing to give up everything for someone else?
"Please don't hurt him. He was only trying to help me."
The memory washed through her and, when it had happened, something snapped the demons leash, as if a door were open just wide enough for her to sneak in and take control for a moment. It had been so long since she looked through her own eyes. Blinded by the light of freedom, she blinked through the fog and looked at the girl named Mai Taniyama - truly looked at her.
She could hear the girls' name echoing in her head.
Do not say that name, do not think about that one. The demon hated that name, hated her spirit.
There was a feeling that swelled up within her at the sound of Mai's name - something that she did not understand.
Mai gave her hope that there was, indeed, a light beyond this darkness.
Enough, do not think of her, The demon hissed. She is hurt. Soon, we will kill her and feed on her flesh and soul.
Perhaps the part of her that had been, thoroughly, devoured by that thing agreed. The hope Mai offered was useless, and it was a traitorous thought to believe in such a false and cowardly thing.
So, she was forced to remain in that darkness - in her own personal hell - as she shared her eyes with something from another realm.
Chapter 13: Caged Soul
WARNING: This chapter contains MATURE scenes. Please be advised.
I was pulled into a vision. A dark wind clawed at me as I fell in a tumble of mist before a scene unfolded from around me.
The first thing my senses picked up was the sound of a woman screaming.
I was standing in a small bedroom in the corner. On the other side there was a bed and, lying on the bed, was a blonde woman. Her stained ivory dress was pushed up to reveal her swollen belly. She was thrashing around on the bed.
I watched the sweat dripping from her brow as she spread her legs and pushed hard, panting.
She screamed again, lifting her head and then tipping it back in agony. A few more seconds of heavy breathing passed before another sound filled the room.
It was the sound of a baby crying.
The woman lifted herself up onto her elbows, shaking and panting as she grabbed the young and bloodied infant.
There was a broken sound that came out of her throat. It filled the room as she held the little baby close to her. The tender moment only lasted another second or so when a man entered the vision.
His footsteps were loud and ominous. He stopped at the end of the bed and I couldn't breathe anymore.
The man standing there was the same one from the picture. Except, now I could see his scarred and burnt face. The skin was a swirl of pink and red that extended from his left side to most of his right side. He had no hair, and his head was also thoroughly burned, perhaps even worst than his face was. There were also scars that had been scattered around his head. Scars that looked suspiciously like knife wounds. What on earth had happened to this man?
He didn't say anything to the woman as he leaned over the bed and, to my utter shock, he grabbed the baby roughly from her.
"NO!" The woman screamed before her cries turned into something more intense. Labor, once again, took hold as her swollen belly surged and she threw her head back.
The scarred man turned to leave and she began delivering another baby - a set of twins I realized.
The pains of labor trembled on her face as she shattered. With a final push, another set of cries filled the room.
A silent tear slid down my cheek as I watched the exhausted woman lift herself up. The second, even smaller, baby was still covered in birth but the mother held it tightly to her chest.
Then she began sobbing and rocked her baby back and forth. I feared the man was, again, going to take away this sweet, innocent child.
It seems i wasn't the only one with that fear.
I watched as the mother fumbled with the bottom drawer of the nightstand near the bed, then gently placed the tiny baby in it.
She was trying to hide it.
The mother murmured something in a foreign language, one that I had never heard before but if I had to place it maybe some kind of eastern dialect.
From down the hall, I heard footsteps when the man entered the room.
However, as if cut by scissors, the scene before me was cut short. The floor disappeared and I fell through darkness as another scene appeared before me.
I wondered what had happened to those children and the woman. Little did I know, the second vision was going to answer those questions.
The scene unraveled before me and his time I was in a basement.
It was dark and damp, with no windows - no walls. It was a little more than just a dirt pit dug into the ground, with stairs leading to the structure above. At the very bottom was a large steel cage.
A girl, maybe fourteen or fifteen of age, was at the top of the stairs suddenly. Quickly, she ran down and towards the cage.
The cage was no taller than me in height and three feet in length. It could fit a large dog but what was in the cage was not an animal.
It was a human.
It was the mother. She did not look as she had the last I saw her.
Her wrists were shackled to the cage walls. Her wrists...they so so thin. I swear that was the same dress she had given birth in last I saw her, still stained and filthy. The gown had ripped near the shoulders and the back where I could see her spine peek out beneath her skin. The woman leaned against the steel frame, crumpled on the ground. Her once lively and beautiful face was completely hollowed out. There was no life in those eyes as she stared outside of her empty cell. I noticed her body was deformed, her legs seemed stiffened in place, as if being locked in this tiny cell had permanently left its mark on her body.
A sick thought hit me and I staggered, dizzily. She must have been in here for a very long time.
Spending years in this tiny cage… I shook violently. This poor woman. Every fibre in my body wanted to reach out and help her.
I couldn't, though. This was in the past and what's done is done.
"Mamma?" A girl peered into the cell, reaching in. I wiped my face and watched as a withered small hand slowly, and shakily, reached back.
The mother did not speak. I don't think she had the energy to speak or move. It would have been a feat for her to have even reach out and lift her arm. The young girl and the mother held each other through the bars in the dark.
"Hana," Another voice said. It sounded alarmingly like the first girl. "What are you doing down here?"
I looked at the door, another lithe girl with blonde hair was standing at the top of the stairs. She was the exact replica of the first girl and I knew this face all too well.
Twins, I remembered.
"Sara," Hana said as she looked back to her mother. "Mama is sick, we have to help her."
Sara scoffed. "Papa says the Devil doesn't want her, that's why she's sick. She's not good enough."
My heart slammed into my gut.
Did she just say...the Devil? What was going on here?
Hana stepped away from the cage and faced her sister.
The twins were similar in height but there were stark differences I noticed immediately, such as Sara seemed healthiar - her face was filled out whereas Hana looked as if she had been missing meals. Hana's blonde hair was also dark and limp on her head, suggesting the youngest sister hadn't seen a wash either. I couldn't help but notice that Sara seemed, overall, much more cared for compared to Hana.
"The Devil is not good," Hana's voice had sounded so young and innocent. Unlike Sara, who had held a dark undertone to her not-yet broken voice. "Don't you understand? The only person who can help us is God, or Jesus -"
There was a hard sound of impact as Sara's hand struck Hana, hard, across the face. Hana staggered back, holding her reddening cheek. Bright blue eyes were wide on her sister.
It was Sara who looked as if she had seen a ghost. She was shaking her head erratically, her breathing was rapid. "Don't say that name! Don't ever say that name to me!"
Hana whimpered. "The Devil is evil, Sara -"
"SHUT UP!" Sara screamed. "Shut your filthy mouth. The Devil said you would do this. He told me that you were jealous because he didn't choose you. You are worthless and you are going to be the next one in that cage."
"Mama needs our help." Hana said. "We need to get her to a doctor."
Sara regarded the woman in the cage and regained some of her arrogant composure, breathing deeply in through her nose. I could see her heart beat rapidly through her chest. Those cold blue eyes turned back to her sister.
"I'm telling Papa you were down here. He'll punish you so that you can sit in the cage next to that thing and rot."
I realized there was something fundamentally wrong with Sara. Something evil had festered in her whereas it had faltered in Hana. Whatever abuse happened to these children for the past years...this was the outcome.
"No, no, please!" Hana reached out and grabbed her sisters wrist. "Sara, please don't tell Papa -"
Sara spun around, her eyes were wild and she forcefully threw herself into her sister. The twins tumbled, Sara was on top with her hands on Hana's throat, squeezing.
"Stop!" I yelled as I watched Hana struggle for air under her sister. It would do not good, but I still tried. "Don't hurt her!"
The scene continued.
"When Satan gives me powers, I'm going to kill you." Sara whispered into her sisters ear. "And I'm going to enjoy doing it."
Violently, the scene flashed to an end. So far, all the other visions were new to me.
This one was not.
I watched a familiar scene unfold in front of me. It was the first dream I had while on this case, the first piece of this puzzle that I was given. However, instead of looking through the eyes of the captive, I was now standing in a crowd of red robes. The girl that screamed and prayed for her life was not the girl who I originally thought was Sara.
It wasn't who the vision was about.
This was Hana.
In the vision, I also hadn't noticed the second body already hanging next to Hana - her mother. She was dead.
I watched the horror again as Hana was painted in blood (I now knew it was her mother's blood), then had that noose tied around her neck. A rope was swung over a tree branch and a large male yanked on it at the same time members started violently stabbing Hana.
I couldn't look. My knees were so weak that I dropped to the ground, crying.
This was too cruel - only a monster could do this to other humans.
There was a face I recognized in the hoods, a soft feminine face that watched on with an unreadable expression. Maybe my eyes had deceived me, but I thought I saw tears falling from Sara's eyes as she watched her sister being hung.
"Sara," The tall, scarred man said as he approached her. She composed her face once again, blinking away whatever emotion I thought I had seen. "You've done everything Satan has asked. He is very proud of you."
"Thank you, Papa." said Sara.
The man regarded her and my skin shivered at the touch that seemed too intimate - too possessive. It seemed to suggest that Sara was the favorite in more ways than one.
"Now the Devil will give me power."
"Yes." He knelt down to her, once again gently touching her face. Sara winced.
I glared at the satanic man. He was the one who caused all this suffering - he was the monster. Sara was just a girl who was wrongly misguided and Hana… I couldn't look at her dangling body because I felt like I would be violently ill.
"Satan needs you to do one last thing." The man said.
"Oh, of course. He is my master. I live to serve Satan, just like you taught me."
"Good." He leaned in closer. Too close. "Close your eyes."
Sara closed her eyes and there was a delighted smile on her face. I watched as the man pulled out a sharp, crooked blade from his belt. There was still blood that gleamed on it and I realized it was the same blade that struck Hana.
"RUN!" I screamed, "Run!"
Nothing I could say could stop the vision. He stabbed it through Sara's chest in one motion. Her eyes came open and she gasped when she fell to the ground. There was shock in her blue eyes as they snapped to his. She clutched the blade and looked up at the man, who was smiling darkly at her.
"Satan has another role in mind for you," he said. "You've shown such promise to follow orders. He'll be pleased with you."
"But...t-the...p-powers..." Sara was gasping in between breaths and she never finished her sentence before she died.
I gripped the earth, digging my finger nails into the ground, crying and wishing that this vision would just end...and if it didn't..I wish that they would just kill me too.
I didn't want to watch what else unfolded from this horrible night.
The man didn't say anything as the ceremony continued, all the woman were now dead. The cloaked figures brought down Hana's and placed it next to her sister. They didn't even regard the third body that was left on the tree. Then, they made more strange drawings on the ground where the twins were and the coven formed a circle. They began chanting loudly, the air was...intense. Ancient.
Then, something truly terrifying happened.
Dark magic pulled at me. It ripped around me like wind and the body of Hana began to...transform.
Her spine lengthened, her skin became grey and ribbed. Large talons grew from her fingers.
I knew the creature all too well.
After the ritual, they left Sara's body on the ground and took the creature - Hana - back into the house of horrors.
I didn't follow and instead knelt beside Sara, who had only been down this road because of the person she believed loved her.
Based on the ritual, I understood now that Sara and Hana were linked.
Reality gripped me and my eyes came open.
I was once again in that house, except I remembered that I was here with Naru, and the house was now forgotten in the middle of the woods.
I felt...warm, despite the dark dream. I looked at my shoulders and realized there was a black coat draped across them. I also noticed that my 'pillow' felt muscular and firm from under my head.
From above me, indigo eyes peered down at me.
It occurred to me at some point while I was unconscious Naru had placed himself beside me. Not only was he looking down at me as I got my bearings...I was laying in his lap.
"Awake now?" Naru said. I craned my neck to look up at him, he was leaned against the wall. "You fell unconscious."
Slowly, I pushed myself up and onto on my knees. My body felt stiff, my eyes felt heavy.
"Thank you," I said with a dry tongue. I gripped the picture I was still holding but didn't look at it. I couldn't risk looking at it again and being thrown back into those visions...not again. "I saw it. I saw what happened here."
Naru listened quietly as I explained, in the briefest details, what happened to the people in the picture. I explained the man who had cultured the girls into worshiping the Devil and how he betrayed them.
Naru didn't say anything the entire time I spoke. He simply sat and listened to me.
I ran my hand over the picture. "Sara wasn't evil. She wasn't a bad person - it was all she knew because of how long she was in that mans' clutches. I don't blame her. She must have been so scared. And then… Hana…"
Hana. She was the kind one - the concerned one. The one that believed in a greater good beyond the evil she was forced to grow up in.
I remembered she was the Pishacha, that she was trapped in the body of the Pishacha. I wondered how scared she must be.
"What did she mean by 'powers'?" Naru asked. "The ritual sounds like he created some type of guardians or a portal."
"I don't know." I just wanted to forget.
I leaned against the wall and I felt Naru stiffen from beside me. It was then that I noticed our shoulders had touched.
I knew how much he hated that so I tried to make sure I didn't overstep those boundaries and subtly shifted over. It still blew my mind that Naru had me lying in his lap. The thought was unbelievable, almost as if I had dreamed that part too.
"You should get some sleep," I said, rolling my head to look at Naru. I was surprised to find he was already looking at me.
The signs of fatigue were evident on his beautiful face. I didn't know how long I had been unconscious for, or how long had Naru stayed up to watch over me.
Dark smudges were under those intense, blue eyes and lines were strewn across his face. Even his hair was out of place and I resisted the urge to reach out and touch a raven's lock, to push it back and feel how smooth it was. Instead, I leaned my tired head on the wall, Naru continued watching me.
His jacket smelt like him and I held it tighter around my shoulders. Naru hadn't looked at me like that in a long time. The look in his eyes were...as if he were seeing me for the first time.
For Naru, if he knew it or not, the look was intense.
It occurred to me that this could be one of our last moment together. Who knew what waited for us when we left this cabin. What if we never made it back? We wouldn't be able to survive here forever, eventually we would have to try and leave. Besides, the pangs of hunger would soon hit and then we would be forced to find food.
I thought about our chances of survival. The thought occurred to me that Naru would ensure we made it even if he had to use his extraordinary PK. But, I knew how much using that power drained him. It was such a dangerous power and if left unchecked it could be harm Naru. I hoped that he wouldn't use it because without Lin here I wouldn't be able to help him and I couldn't stand the thought of anything happening to him.
Maybe I was reading something in Naru's silence, so I said. "I know you're probably worried we won't be safe here if you sleep but there's something protecting this cabin. It's safe for now and you should use the time to rest - whether you believe me or not."
"I believe you," Naru said.
I had found that my gaze drifted from his eyes, down to his hand that was so close to my own. If I moved it an inch over, they would be touching. Quickly, I looked back at him.
His blue eyes were soft. "I've always trusted you, Mai."
My heart was pounding through my skin.
I felt my throat pulsing and tried to keep my breathing neutral. Naru leaned his head back on the wall, facing forward. That earlier thought clouded my mind, about how this could be the last time and if it were...there had been so many questions I wanted to ask, so many things that I wanted to know.
"When you say those things... it makes me wonder why didn't you come back." I whispered as Naru stared out at the lonely family room. This room, like this pocket of world, was a facade. There was never a family that lived here.
Painfully, I admitted the truth. "I really needed you to come back."
Slowly, Naru looked back at me. I took a deep breath as I moved my hand just a fraction towards him.
It was a bold move because he could easily rip his hand further away. Just like he had moved to England when I confessed my feelings to him. The distance felt endless before our hands finally touched. It was just a brief and fleeting sensation but it sent fireworks throughout my spine.
That old pull tugged at me as I was swept up into that old current of first love.
It had never left, I realized.
Naru still took my breath away, just being near him. I had been lying to myself, thinking that I could be free. Thinking that I could I could let him go.
I would always come back to him.
My tongue felt so heavy when I realized that Naru didn't pull his hand away like I thought he would. Instead, his fingers seemed to respond to me. Outside, it had turned into night and the only source of light we had was the illumination from the moon. It lit Naru's features up in a way that made him look truly immortal.
As if he were made from the moon, the stars and the sky.
I felt his body singing with tension. He seemed to repress whatever flight or fight urge resided within him because he pressed his palm into mine. Our fingers slowly interlocked. We were stuck in this cabin, without food or water - all I could think of was that I was sitting here with Naru and that he was holding my hand.
Naru pressed his lips into a line, as if on the verge of speaking. I had a feeling this was going to be something I wasn't ready for - something Naru wasn't ready for either. I stayed completely still, afraid any sudden movements would break the spell between us.
There was that natural gravitational pull from within me, the overwhelming desire to be with him because no matter what happened between us I would always come back.
I would always come back to him.
Chapter 14: Blood Water
We waited in silence, our hands still linked and Naru was still looking at me like he was about to say something.
Instead, Naru let go of my hand and rested a wrist on his knee.
I clenched my hand, missing lack of warmth there.
My throat tightened, and I kept talking. "Did you ever think about us?"
'About me' I wanted to say but didn't. I knew better than to be too honest and open about my feelings with Naru. They were a weakness that he knew how to exploit.
"I thought about Japan often." He said, "and that I wanted to come back."
I pressed my lips into a tight line as I stared into dark blue eyes. It felt like there was more to that explanation but the logical part of me remembered that this was Naru - he wouldn't give explanations.
"Did you finish school?" I tried to change the topic to stop myself from becoming selfish and asking too many questions about why he didn't come back.
"Are you still working on school stuff?"
"Naru," I groaned. "A real answer would be nice. I'm trying to talk to you."
"Maybe if you asked the right question, I would give you the right answer."
I groaned again. Ugh. And there he was, our favorite narcissist. I tried to resist tipping my head back and chuckling. Despite our situation, there were pleasant times to be had.
"You've been saying my name again," Naru said after a moment. "I thought you wouldn't say it ever again when I first came back."
I hadn't thought about that - the beginning of this case I didn't wanted anything to do with him. I wanted everything to be as formal as possible between us.
"I am," I smiled. This felt better than pretending what we had didn't exist. We were on the road to healing from the past.
Naru said, "Feeling better?"
"A little," I answered honestly. "How long do you think we can stay here for?"
"Who knows when we'll have to use some kind of energy again." Naru gave me a sidelong glance. He said, "Maybe they will just wait for us to starve to death."
"Way to lighten to the mood," I rolled my head on the wall and looked at him - truly looked at him. I hadn't noticed the signs of fatigue and exhaustion on his face. Dark smudges were under his eyes from the lack of sleep and his face seemed paler than usual. "Are you going to be okay?"
"I'll be fine." He said, "I have a plan."
I tried to will my face into something neutral - and failed. Panic hit my features. "If it's running, I'm not faster than you. We can't outrun that thing."
"I know you're not faster than me," Naru said, matter-of-fact. "We don't have to outrun it. We just have to out think it."
Naru rose, albeit took some effort. I followed as he walked to one of the windows facing the woods. He stared out of it, as if expecting Sara or the Pishacha to come out.
"What are you planning?" I peered over him and tightened his jacket on my shoulders. Without his jacket, I would have been freezing in the jeans and shirt I wore, which did not offer any warmth.
Naru turned back to me. "We need to get someone's attention."
"How are we going to do that?"
"You need to go into a trance so your spirit can communicate with a medium - specifically, Hara-san."
My eyes snapped up to Naru's - was he serious?
I couldn't put myself into a trance, or find Masako, even if I wanted to. I had been so out of practice that I could barely make those dreams with Gene.
Correction, I had never made those dreams because Gene did. He was the one that sent me to that world. Never once had I been able to consciously.
"Mai?" Naru asked when I started breathing shallowly.
"I-I can't. I've never done that before."
"We have to try," Naru retorted.
No, no. Please - I didn't want to go into that other world.
"What if I get lost?" It was a weak excuse.
"I'll guide you. You won't get lost." Naru stepped closer to me, maybe to try and calm me down. "We have to try. I can't project, only Gene was able to, but I could put him into the trance that allowed his spirit to project. With some practice, I can do the same to you."
I realized that Naru trusted my abilities more than I did. He trusted them enough that he was willing to try this even though it might not work.
He said, "You are stronger than you think, Mai."
Slowly, I let out a deep breath. "Why can't you just ask for a normal favor once in a while?"
My body relaxed but I could see from Naru's eyes that he knew my statement was half true.
He gestured for us to go back into the center of the living room and retrieved two wooden chairs. Naru placed them in front of one another - facing each other. His lean frame sat in one and I slowly perched myself on the other.
We were close but we didn't touch. Naru's knees were still an inch or so away from mine and I tried to stop my own legs from bouncing up and down due to the nerves.
I was about to use my powers. It would be the first time in four years since I had exercised them. Now, with no pills in my system, I had never felt so close to them.
Naru watched me, "We need to meditate first in order to prepare your mind for the trance."
"I've never meditated before," I answered honestly and Naru smirked at this.
"Yes, I'm aware."
I rolled my eyes, "shut it, Naru -"
"Concentrate," Naru said. His voice stopped whatever retort I had on my lips and I settled into my chair. "Close your eyes."
I did as he said while he continued. "Breathe in deeply through your nose and out through your mouth." I remember him using this slow deep voice the one other time he had put me into a hypnotic state one our first case.
The voice was the same - slow, methodical and sensual. It was the most sensual I had ever heard and I realized how much I liked listening to it.
He gave me what felt like hours to continue breathing, until I found myself in a steady rhythm of deep breaths, my chest rising and falling rhythmically.
"Remember the room we are in. Imagine it but do not focus on it, instead think of it as an object in the distance. This will be your anchor to the physical world."
I took a mental note of everything around me. Directly in front of me, there was Naru. To my left was the fireplace mantle, and to my right there was a sofa. I recalled the entire cabin, the size of it and the color - cataloging the details for when I needed to return.
"Acknowledge what stress you have in your life. Acknowledge that they exist, but do not dwell on them. One by one, list them and then place them in the back of your mind. This will be a reminder of reality for you to return to."
I did as Naru said and mentally listed and placed all of that in the very back of my mind. He left me alone with silence and I truly focused on my breathing to the point that I could see my exhale in the dark space of my mind.
"Open your eyes, Mai."
I was not met by the handsome blue-eyed hypnotist.
Instead, I was met by a world of darkness.
I blinked a few times, unsure if I had fallen asleep but the hot pain surging through my arm told me enough. I certainly was not dreaming.
The only reason I would feel this pain was if my spirit were - oh my God.
I was in trance - it had worked, and this was my spiritual body.
Looking down at my arm, the wounds gleamed. They had stopped bleeding and now the sliced skin was turned upwards, a white oozy layer was mixed into the dark bits of jelly-looking flesh. My entire arm was still tender up to my shoulder and I wondered if it were true about my spirit body being able to die here.
A deep, sensual voice echoed throughout this world.
"Nod your head if you can hear me," Naru said. I looked around for him and did not see anything beyond the blackness. I nodded, not sure if he could see it.
"In order for a medium to make contact with you, you must push on this realm. It's the same when a medium wants to make contact with a spirit. They push past the barrier that blocks them. Picture Hara-san in your mind and push through to contact her."
It had been a long time since I touched the power. Slowly, I pushed on that veil of darkness and I felt it melt into my touch. It was such an extraordinary feeling - a feeling that my skin remembered from years ago.
There was a warming sensation, as if I had just stepped into a hot bath on a cold day. I felt my muscles relax, being unlocked by a sequence that unraveled my soul. All around me, balls of light began to fill this dark void.
There was one that was different.
It was a blue, flickering light that seemed to call me - beckoning for me to follow. I moved, weaving through a world of darkness that was unfamiliar to me.
Was this how Gene had went into trance? I remember Naru mentioned that Gene would see a translucent world filled with white orbs.
Soon I saw a figure come into my world of darkness. Masako was lying on the ground, looking very content. If I had to guess, she could be sleeping in a bed from the relaxed positioning.
I approached her quietly and gently rubbed her shoulder.
"Masako, wake up." I shook her, lightly. "It's Mai."
"Mai?" Masako groaned, her eyes coming open slowly. She must have realized what was happening because she shot up. "Mai!"
"Masako!" I hugged the petite girl. "I'm so happy to see you."
"Where's Naru?" Masako looked around, confused. "How are you..here? Are you dead?"
"No, no. We're okay. He put me into a trance state and I found my way to you."
Her eyes were wide, "You..projected? That's incredibly difficult to do."
"I know," I said. "Listen, Masako I don't have much time. We need help."
And, so I told her everything. I told her about my dream with Gene, how he was in trouble. Then about how Naru and I got lost (I left out the details on why we weren't focused to begin with). And then, I told her about the cabin and what happened on those lands.
She listened with a look of horror on her face. "That's awful."
"Naru and I need help. We know that we aren't far away from the prison, but we aren't sure where."
"I-I can try locating you with your things...but I'm not formally practiced like Naru was."
"I believe in you Masako. Just make sure to stay away from the prison and do not leave the hotel until you do the smudge because they really does make a difference. It's as if they filter out this world."
I also remembered the difference of strength in the curse now. Even when I was blocked by the antidepressants and I was smudging Sara still found a way to contact me.
Masako nodded. "Is there anything else - Mai your arm!"
She looked me over, her eyes dropping and her face turned pale.
It must have looked worse than I thought if the look on Masako's face suggested anything.
"I'll be fine," I lied. "I fell trying to escape. Masako please get help."
She only covered her mouth with her hand, pale in the darkness and her eyes filled with horror.
My world started fading.
Slowly, I remembered how to get back to my physical body and imagined the around me. I paid attention to the details, such as the chairs and the carpet. I did not want to be stuck in this world with no way out.
In that black world, the little cabin came into view. I noticed the strange energy that surrounded the structure. It gave off an iridescent aura that was almost pure gold in color. I watched the shimmering gold edges fade into the black, as if glittering.
Then, a strange sensation welled up within me. It was as if I was standing upside down for a long time. My head swarm and the beautiful, brilliant gold of the cabin was gone. I blinked, focusing my eyes but I did not see that gold anymore.
Maybe I was imagining it because in the next moments I was staring into deep blue eyes.
"I did it," I breathed. "I told her to where we were."
"Good," Naru stood up. "Now we just have to wait."
"I did it." I could hardly believe that I just...projected myself. It was such an intense feeling.
Even now, my body still felt half somewhere else. I remained sitting, not sure if I could control my movements just yet. My skin still felt tingly, like my senses were still slowly returning to me.
"Mind if I join you two?" A soft, feminine voice said from the door. My heart sunk and Naru turned sharply. From the broken threshold, Sara leaned on it.
Naru reached back to grip my wrist. Only, the moment his hand touched my skin I felt an awful burning sensation flood my body. It was the same pain I had felt in the spirit world because of my ruined arm.
I ripped my arm away, whimpering. Naru dared a glance back. "What's wrong?"
"Oh," Sara said. "I see you haven't told him that little tidbit." She smirked like a cat.
"Shut up," I snarled through the burning pain that was so intense it made my knees buckle.
"What is she talking about?" Naru looked back to Sara.
Sara watched us with those frosty white eyes. "Yes, please tell us, Mai."
I was aware that I had started panting, the burning pain unlike anything I've ever felt. "I think something really bad is happening to me."
"What happened?" He growled.
To show him, I removed his jacket.
I scanned his face and Naru, with that monumental control, repressed all of his emotions into a single breath.
He gazed at the long marks down my arm. In the physical world the marks appeared different. They were not the open wounds they had been with my spiritual body, but were instead purple and dark red marks - as if an infection was festering somewhere beneath my skin. I supposed that was exactly what it was.
I felt my chest heaving with every breath.
"Tragic, " Sara said. "I'd bargain you only have a couple of days left to live with an infection like that."
I lowered my arm and Naru had lifted a gaze of pure hatred to the girl smirking in the doorway. I had never, ever, seen him look like that. I felt the energy change, maybe a slights slip of control that he leashed instantly because suddenly, the energy was gone.
"You're out maneuvered. You can't come in here, and we aren't going out there. You can't hurt us in here." I said with every ounce of courage I had.
Her grin spread wider, "you think so?"
Something chilling climbed up my spine. Her threat sparked a memory in me, of when I saw the cabin in the spirit world - when that wonderful golden aura had disappeared.
"I'll give you a five second head start," Sara straightened from the door. "Because I do enjoy the chase."
Naru didn't move. "She's bluffing."
"Am I? Five," Sara said. "Four."
"I don't think she's lying," I whimpered, that awful sensation of truth echoed in my head. It signaled every red flag in my nerves. "Naru, she can really get in here. I don't know how - I just feel it."
Oh no. If she came in here, she was going to kill Naru. Or, worst - Naru would try to use his PK energy.
"Please," I said as a feeble attempt to stall her. "Sara, you don't have to keep doing this. We can help you and Hana escape that man forever."
She stopped counting and I didn't know if that was a blessing or a curse. What really shocked us was how she casually stepped through the threshold of the door.
I was right - whatever was protecting this place had vanished. That beautiful golden glow was gone. I felt Naru go completely still beside me.
"You're quite the esper," she approached me and my heart felt like it was pounding in my gut. "Did you learn that from just being in this house? That's fascinating."
She looked at me - an assessing quality lingered in her frosty eyes.
The energy around us changed in quality too, the room growing heavy and from my side, Naru's lethal gaze was on Sara.
"Naru, don't -" I reached for him but a spark of electricity zapped my hand away. I yelped from the shock and watched as Sara faced him.
My insides hallowed out.
Sara smiled, a cruel thing, and lifted her fine wrists - flicking them once. Dark shadow hands sprung from the earth, in between Naru and I. We jumped apart and those hands grabbed Naru's legs.
"Maybe I'll pity you for having to go though such a gruelling death," Sara stalked closer to me and I felt Naru struggling in his hold. "And I'll end it now. In front of the great Oliver Davis - he can watch as I rip you to shreds and give your soul to Hana."
So she knew Hana was trapped in the Pishacha. Knew, but did she care? Maybe she also enjoyed the irony of her gentle sister being the victim within a cruel being.
"She's your sister," I said, breathlessly. "She fought for you, and your mother, while you stood by and did nothing! You became that monster he wanted you to because you were weak. Hana was stronger than you ever were because she believed in something that you could never understand."
"Love. She understood how to love someone."
For a second, Sara stopped. She swayed, as if hit by nausea but the reaction was only temporary. She regained some of her composure. "You believe that I didn't fight for her? That I did nothing?"
"You didn't," I said. "Not from what I saw."
"MAI!" Naru yelled.
In a blink of an eye, Sara appeared in front of me. I screamed, staggering backwards but her hands gripped my forearms. Then, I truly screamed from the pain of her fingers digging into my arm. Blackness danced a crossed my vision and I felt my blood rushing to my head.
The world blurred and I couldn't hear anything, couldn't say anything. My eyes become heavy and it was like I was drowning.
The staggering pain was the last thing I remembered from the physical world.
Chapter 15: Standing In The Fire
When Sara touched me she had unconsciously pulled me into her memories. Maybe that sensitive side of me latched onto her spirit and allowed me into her head, I couldn't say for sure.
It wasn't a full vision. This was a swirl of memories, thoughts and emotions on a plane of darkness.
One thought, in particular, I remembered. It was closely tied to the vision I saw with Hana when she was caught going into the basement to see her mother. I was seeing it through Sara's consciousness this time.
Sara knew that Hana shouldn't be down there - it would only lead to more misery for her. For all of them.
The Dark man, who claimed to be their father was named Izanagi. Sara also knew that he was saving them for something horrible. While she hadn't known the details, she knew it involved satanic rituals and demonic possessions.
Hurting the family also fueled a dark cruelness from deep within him.
Sara didn't know why he was doing this to them, for what reason, but she knew that they would have been all dead a long time ago if she hadn't committed herself to him. She had dredged up enough will-power to play the part she had been pretending for years. She knew it meant her sister and mother would hater her but it was all she knew how to do in order to keep everyone alive until the time was right. Then maybe, just maybe, they could run away.
In the memory, Sara had to drudge up the will from deep within her to go into that basement. She hated this basement, hated what cruel secrets were kept down there.
I learned, from Sara's thoughts, she was doing it to protect them. She wanted to have Hana's strength to believe in a greater good but Sara had to believe in the hard reality that they lived in. The truth was there was no greater good that would protect them. So, Sara pretended to be what the dark man wanted. She burdened the horrible deeds he forced her to do with hope that she could see her sister and mother leave this place.
A flash and another thought trickled in - an angry thought.
From what Sara was told by Izanagi, she was supposed to allow a demon to use her body as a vessel. That way it could live and breath on this physical plane.
However, he didn't use her as a vessel, as he had intended. Instead he used Hana, and killed their mother.
Instead, Sara was left to bleed out, until she woke up on the other side, with that...thing by her side. She knew it was Hana but it had a mind of its own. It had desires. There was no breaking through to it, she had tried and failed. Eventually, she gave up hope that Hana was truly inside. It made her feel sick that her sweet Hana could be stuck inside that horrible creature.
Sara learned, throughout centuries, that the creature listened to her. She was the master of it and both of them were stuck in this eternal purgatory in which they fed off the souls of recently passed people in the area.
For the rest of her years Sara endured it. She had been stuck here for so long that she began to feel herself change. There was an relentless need to be cruel and continue to be what that man was looking for - if not for his sake than for her sanity.
If she had any hope of ever leaving this place, Sara couldn't remember it. She had nothing and she simply just existed. Until the curse was over, this was her personal hell.
I awoke to chaos.
The throbbing in my head told me I must have hit it. My back was pressed against a wall and I, shakily, pushed myself into a sitting position.
Sounds came back in waves - I didn't know how long I was out for but at some critical point the Pishacha came into the cabin. The last I remembered was the room we were in had been mostly intact. Now, furniture had been thrown around and the entire room was in a dismay. My eyes came to settle on Naru, who was standing beside me.
I don't know what happened during the time I was unconscious but now it looked like Naru was squaring off with the Pishacha. I looked closer to see a long kitchen blade lodged in the creatures shoulder.
Sara was nowhere in sight, which must have been how Naru escaped those dark bonds I last saw him in.
I tried to get up and the movement caught the attention of the Pishacha. It whirled, that grey body twisting and those long canines exposed as it growled at me.
"Mai," Naru's voice sounded so raw. "Get out of here."
"I know what we have to do." I shakily tried to stand. "Hana, can you hear me? We can help you. Please, hear us!"
"No, I'm not leaving. We have to get through to her!" I panted through the exhaustion, determined to break through to Hana. That was our only way to survive. "Hana, please, if you can hear me you have to break through."
The Pishacha growled at me.
"You are strong enough to do it. I know you can. Follow my voice, Hana. You are not this monster, you are not lost to it. You can break through."
This time the Pishacha jerked backwards, its eyes were pupil wide as it stared at me - half in understanding and half in complete surprise.
I thought I saw a flicker of...human in those white-eyes. "That's it! Keep going!"
Naru's hand was on my shoulder suddenly and I snapped my head to look at him. He placed an arm around my waist to help me stand. The gesture was unlike Naru and I gripped his black shirt, pressing my fingers into his arm. His heart was racing like a rabbit's but, being Naru, he did not show any of this on his face.
"I know what we have to do: we need to find Sara's body to break the curse."
Sara hadn't realized what she had shown and revealed by allowing me into her mind. I connected what Gene had told me all that time ago with what I remembered now. Then, everything just made sense.
Sara was the anchor to this curse. But it was not her soul that was anchored, nor was it an artifact which Gene originally thought. No, it was her body - her physical body. And, she was still on this property.
To break the curse we needed to find her remains and destroy them.
The Pishacha crouched onto all fours, snarling at us. It broke my train of thought and my head snapped to it.
Milky eyes stared back at me and my body froze. The distance between us and the creature was nearly five feet. There was no possible way of escaping those talons and teeth - no feasible maneuver that wouldn't end with us impaled on the end of those sharp claws. I kept my breathing very still but I felt my heart slamming into my gut with dread.
We were going to die.
Then, I realized why Naru had moved to me. He realized we were cornered and had no way out.
We were going to die.
Under normal circumstances, he would have never held me. He would have barked orders at me to get out of here.
Together, I realized. He wanted us to go together.
I gripped him tighter and in a moment of sheer confidence I tore my gaze from the creature in front of us to look at Naru.
Beautiful indigo-blue eyes were already staring at me. He knew that this could be our last breathing moments together.
Our last moments together and I was staring into those deep blue eyes, drowning.
My eyes dropped to his mouth that I knew was his main weapon. He repressed the lush shape of his lips by constantly pressing them into a hard line.
I couldn't resist the urge to know how soft they felt under mine.
My body move on its own and, slowly, I lifted myself onto my tiptoes. Naru stilled under me when my lips touched his.
The kiss was merely a suggestion, just a brush of lips. I felt my body warm when he gripped my waist tighter and he pressed me harder into him. It was just a subtle movement against me but I was so hyper-aware of Naru that I felt everything. I felt the tension in his body as he fought back the urge to desperately take flight. I felt the sweet, subtle recoil of muscles when he gave himself to the kiss. I knew I shouldn't be kissing him but if I we were going to die there was no point in hiding it.
I wanted Naru and only Naru.
I would always come back to him.
It was crazy and bizarre moment, we were going to die and all I could think about was that I was kissing Naru, and he was kissing me back!
Naru pulled back, ending the kiss and I was breathless. I saw a flash of grey in my peripherals when the Pishacha moved and I tensed, readying for the impact.
For the first time, in a long time, I was completely content. I was ready and prepared to die - prepared for that final blow.
I close my eyes and a tear I hadn't noticed slipped down my cheek. I tasted the saltiness on my mouth as I waited for the pain.
My heart was beating hard, black panic threatened to crush me. I forced myself to calm down and remember my last moments were with Naru. I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.
Suddenly, the warmth of Naru against me was gone. I snapped my eyes open and noticed the Pishacha was gone too.
"What -" I breathed, hardly able to form a sentence. Naru was already moving and pulling me along.
"It left," he said. "We need to get out of here. I don't know if you broke through to it or how long it will stay gone for."
Naru lead the way to the door that lead outside. I cradled my arm for support, winching with every movement that caused my shoulder to tense. I had nearly forgotten about it when we were cornered. I silently thanked what ever God was looking down upon us because somehow we were still alive. The Pishacha, with some change of heart, decided not to kill us.
Maybe it wasn't the Pishacha at all - perhaps Hana had broken through, if only for a split second.
It still would give us time to escape, I thought, as we reached the wide yard. Then, I felt something pull at me, like a tug on my spine.
I remembered what I told Hana when I begged her to break through. This moment, even a couple of minutes, could help us search.
I stopped, putting my heels into the ground. "Wait, we can't leave. The curse can be broken, we have to find Sara's body."
It was the reason Hana broke through. She believed that we could break the curse. We must have been close.
"You've just learnt, now, how to break the curse?" Naru said in a rough voice.
"Sara showed me," I squinted into the night. "When she touched me...I connected with her thoughts. She showed me that her body, not her soul, was the anchor to the curse. I only just figured it out now."
"And you believe her?" Naru asked, skeptically.
Naru quieted, absorbing the information I gave him. I tried to make out the obscure surroundings in the night.
Suddenly, there was one detail that jumped out at me - a tree. A tree that I had witnessed two bodies being hung on in a vision.
"There," I said, pointing towards the tree. "Sara's body was there the night she was murdered."
We were going to end this. They had given us a chance, had put their hope in me that I could end all their suffering and I couldn't disappoint them. I had to end this - for Sara and Hana.
I didn't know how far Hana had taken that creature before it fought back to the surface. We had mere minutes at the most and I was going to make every second count.
Naru and I moved towards the tree until I felt a hard tug on my spiritual bond. It was like standing in an electric field, an ancient and horrible sensation buzzed around me. I dropped to my knees, Naru did the same and we used our hands to begin digging into the earth. I made sure to protect my left arm, which was throbbing.
The ground was hard and compacted when we finally broke through the surface layer. My fingers and arms were singing with pain but I kept digging.
"She's here," I told Naru as we continued to dig deeper. "She has to be."
My blood roared in my ears and pure panic controlled me now. Dig, dig, dig…
Then, I hit something hard.
"Here!" I cried. "Naru, there's something here!"
I worked fast to uncover it, carefully working around the large, solid mass.
After what felt like hours of digging, I pulled out a human skull.
The woods around us were so quiet that I could hear my ragged breathing. It was almost impossible that we were sitting here with this object, especially when it was so important. I expected someone, or something, to come and try to attack me. I expected Sara to come out from shadows and laugh in my face as she took the artifact.
But none of that happened. There was only silence in the night and, slowly, I stood up.
"This is it." I looked at Naru. "Now we just have to break it."
I turned it over in my hands and I noticed how old and small it was. I felt queasy when I pressed my thumbs into the eye sockets and with as much strength as I could muster I pushed down - hard.
I pushed and pushed but it wouldn't give.
"I can't break it." I breathed, looking up at Naru. He beckoned for it, also trying to push into the eye sockets. Not even a crack sounded in the air.
Neither of us could break this with physical strength and even though it looked fragile, it was as tough as concrete.
Maybe only a spiritual power could break it. We didn't have the time (or the convenience) to put me into a trance again so I could try in the spirit realm.
We were running out of options and had the key to the curse in our hands.
I thought back to all this time that I had restricted my powers and regretted it. If I had just been strong enough I could have beat the depression. I wouldn't have had to resort to using pills and I would have been able to practice using my gifts. We wouldn't be in this situation right now.
Instead, I was weak. And now, because of my weakness, I was hurting all those that had believed in me.
Naru, Gene, Hana and Sara. All of our friends that were worried.
They believed in me and I wasn't able to help them.
Feeling frustrated, I felt my cheeks flare with the heat of embarrassment, shame and guilt. I felt my body go numb.
If Sara and Hana had to live another day in this curse, it was because of me.
I was so fixated on my thoughts that when a familiar voice said, "Noll" I didn't comprehend it.
Naru stood up and that broke me out of my trance. I hadn't sensed Gene's entrance, who was standing in front of us.
I looked back and forth from the twins.
For a moment I thought I had taken myself onto that spiritual plane during those intense emotions I had felt. However, the pale look on Naru's face told me that this was, indeed, happening right now.
Naru stood very still. "Eugene."
My heart sunk. This was real - this was real and Naru could see Gene.
"It's Gene to you, little brother." Gene said with a sad smile.
"H-how can you...be here right now?" I asked, confused and dumbfounded.
"This spot has a high amount of residual energy. You feel it don't you?" Gene asked me and I nodded, still in awe that he was actually here.
"I don't have much time though." Gene looked back to his brother.
Something fundamentally important hit me - Naru has not seen Gene for who knows how many years. Who knew how shocked he was to see his older brother.
I saw the reels of control he exerted on himself. He kept his hands still even though I could see them twitching to move. His shoulders were straight and his cool gaze was on Gene - pupils flared. As if he couldn't quite believe it himself.
"Mai can't break the skull on her own," Gene said, speaking to Naru. "But we can if we do it together."
Naru was breathing very carefully. "That's not possible."
"The bond isn't broken," Gene said in a different tone. As if there were conversations, or arguments, they had frequently. "It will work, you just have to try."
"And when the Pishacha, or Sara, come running back the second we attempt to destroy that thing? Who will protect Mai if I can't control -" Naru clenched down on his jaw, air hissing out of his teeth. His hands had turned into fists by his sides. He didn't need to finish because Gene and I knew exactly what he meant.
Naru liked control, and the last time he used those powers he had lost that control on himself.
"Mai won't be protected unless this thing is dead. The infection can't hurt her if the curse doesn't exist." Gene walked over to his brother and I could hardly believe that I was seeing the twins at the same time.
I could hear the frustration in Gene's voice, a tone I had never heard him use before. "We're running out of time, Noll."
They looked completely identical, especially now that Naru opted to wear black clothing. It was amazing and I realized this might be the only time I would ever see them together again.
Gene held out his hand and waited for Naru. He was teetering on the decision as he made it, turned it over, made it again.
His breath was unsteady when he reached out and took Gene's hands.
A beautiful white light began glowing from their linked hands. It was such a wonderful light, full of joy and happiness and content. Naru closed his eyes and then I felt the air changed. Wind whipped around us, grabbing at my clothes and hair. It so was strong and this feeling that was pressing down on me was so intense. I remember feeling this once before, the one time Naru had used this power on a God during a case.
I could feel the power almost reach it's potential, but a glimmer of dark movement from behind the twins caught my attention. I moved on my own, only half thinking. I had to protect Naru no matter what. No one would disrupt them.
Both of the twins now had their eyes closed and they were close to being ready to use that power. Lin had told me how it worked once, how Naru would harbor the power and bounce it back to Gene multiple times until Naru could amplify it into a precise energy.
I didn't know how long that amplification process took but I knew one thing - I couldn't let anything, or anyone, bother them. I wanted to be the one to do that for them.
So, I forced my tired legs to move and I went beyond that light of goodness into the night. The Pishacha and Sara rounded the house. It was the first time I had seen them together and not trying to kill me.
They watched the light growing behind me.
"It's over," I told them. "No one is going to hurt you anymore."
I looked at Hana who was still in the form of that horrible creature. "I knew you were strong enough. Thank you, you gave us enough time to find it."
The Pshacha stood, unmoving at Sara's side. Sara didn't say anything either, but she turned her attention on it.
Their eyes met and it was like...they understood.
They were waiting for it to end.
"And thank you. You showed me how to break it." I said, shifting my gaze to Sara.
A tear slipped down Sara's face, "it won't work."
"The curse can't be broken."
I blinked, confused. "Why?"
She gulped and for the first time in a long time she looked like a vulnerable fourteen year old girl. She let out an unsteady breath.
"It'll only be stalled until you find the -"
The warning that Sara was on the verge of finished was abruptly stopped when Naru and Gene exploded with power.
They used that powerful, beautiful light and blasted a clearing through the trees - destroying the skull. Destroying that horrible, awful tree too. There was a blinding light in the area, creating a glow all around me. In the moment the light exploded around us, I saw nothing at all and squinted my eyes to look for the figures that had been in front of me moments ago - they were gone.
I didn't know where they went, or what to make of Sara's final words...but I hoped that this was what we needed to do regardless of Sara's final warning about the curse.
I hoped it was over.
However, when the light faded, I felt a horrible wave of nausea pass through me. My head felt like it was going to explode, the world tilting, and I fell to my knees and vomited on the ground.
It was as if something were passing through me. I couldn't stop the retching and I gripped the dirt when it slowed, panting for breath.
My insides felt like they were being ripped out. And my head...oh God, my head felt like it was being pressed into the concrete by a semi-truck.
I dropped my head and hunched my shoulders, waiting for the pain to pass. Soon, a strong and cool hand pressed into my back.
"Are you alright?" Naru said. "It's over."
"I-I'm fine... where's Gene?" I tried looking around the clearing.
"He's gone. Can you stand?"
"I don't know."
I didn't feel okay, something felt very wrong and my body was responding. As Naru tried to help me stand, I felt that buildup in my throat and retched again. Naru did not balk away. Instead, he stayed sitting with me, with a hand on my back until the last of the sickness passed.
I leaned back on my knees, breathing hard. Nausea slowly started to rise in my gut again and I forced it down.
"Mai, what happened -"
"Naru!" A distant voice said, interrupting Naru. "Mai!"
Our heads both snapped in the direction of a voice, where we saw figures begin to take shape and we saw flashlights shine from through the trees.
There was no way no way the team could have found us. No way, and yet the voices grew louder.
"Can you hear that too?" I whispered, hardly believing it.
If the curse was broken maybe it wasn't so impossible. I had found Masako using trance. Perhaps without the curse blocking us from the physical world, we could be found similarly. "Is it really them?"
"We're here over here," Naru said into the darkness.
I watched, hardly breathing, as those lights came closer to us and began shining in our faces.
"Are you two okay?" The voice said, it was Bou-san.
I felt tears rising as I nodded my head, feeling relieved and finally safe. For a moment recalled how close Naru and I came to dying. How close we had come to being lost in these woods forever.
I couldn't stop the tears from falling when I saw Bou-sans face. "You found us."
Bou-san smiled, "we wouldn't have been able to if you hadn't told Masako where you were."
"Where's Lin?" Naru asked.
Another voice answered, "right here. What happened to -" Lin couldn't stop the shakiness from entering his voice. "Naru did you use -"
"It doesn't matter," Naru said. "We need to get Mai medical attention, now."
Naru stood up, his warm handing leaving my back.
It was Bou-san who took off his jacket and swung it around me. I had lost Naru's sometime during the fray.
"You must be freezing. Where are you hurt?" he whispered when he knelt down beside me.
"My arm." I said, stretching it out. "My arm is -"
I stopped and stared at my skin in confusion.
"What the hell," Bou-san jerked back to see the full extent of my arm too. "What is that?"
"What's wrong?" Naru moved back over. He had grabbed a flashlight and shone it onto me.
No one said anything as we stared.
My arm was no longer on the verge of some kind of infection. Instead, there were swirls of black ink where the cuts were. Not a design, I realized. There was a square outline and three lines of an ancient looking text now occupying the place where the three cuts would have been.
"We need to get out of here," Lin was the voice of reason. "Hara-san and Matsuzaki-san are waiting in the car. I've arranged a flight for us tonight."
Slowly, I looked up at Naru who looked pale. His eyes met mine and he didn't say anything when he turned his back and began walking away. Lin followed.
"Come on," Bou-san used an arm to help lift me up. "Don't worry, you're going to be okay."
Bou-san carried me back. From behind us, I watched the cabin disappear in the darkness.
I recalled what Sara was trying to tell me. Or rather, what she did not finish telling me.
The curse can't be broken. It'll only be stalled until you find the -
As we left that cabin, and the horrors there, I knew that it would never disappear from my memories.
We waited at the airport for our flight. The team had decided not to heed my message to Masako and instead tried to find us. Lin had said that since the two spirits seemed so fixated on us, they could find us with his Shiki. They packed up all of the stuff, leaving most of the equipment at the prison because they deemed it too dangerous to try and go back. Then, they came to get us.
We were now on a flight out of this horrible place and I hoped we would never come back.
This wasn't the first case we had left unsolved. This certainly wasn't going to be the last time we heard about this case.
I opted to sit in a cluster of chairs alone on the private plane. I needed the rest and just wanted some time to think about everything that happened on this case.
The biggest thing was this mark. We didn't know what it meant, or why it was there. And, it was written in a language none of us (even the all-knowing Naru) could understand. Plus, Lin suspected it might be written in cipher.
I was determined to figure out exactly what it meant but in the meantime I tried not to worry about it and other thoughts drifted into my mind about that night.
I kissed Naru. It was when I thought we were going to die, but a kiss is still a kiss. Especially for a girl who has a boyfriend waiting for her back at home. Sure, maybe I kissed Naru because a selfish part of me has always wanted to kiss Naru. It was still not fair.
It wasn't fair to feel like this for someone else when I was with Lucien.
I hadn't even given him much thought in all of this.
What would he say when he found out I kissed another guy? Not just any guy, but Naru. He has been very patient with me through this. I could keep it a secret but I felt sick at the very thought of that. I couldn't keep this secret from him.
I also couldn't keep him hanging on when I was not fully committed to him. That was one thing I learned from this trip.
I wasn't ready to let go of Naru.
What a mess.
I hadn't noticed Naru come up to me until he sat in the seat across from me.
Had this been in the beginning of the case I would have let all those frustrated feelings become unleashed on him and tell him to get away from me. But, his presence was welcoming...soothing even. Naru and I looked worse for wear, neither of us had slept, or bathed, for almost two days. We were still covered in dirt from digging for Sara's remains, and I could, literally, smell our stench from the other side of the plane. Naru did not seem to care as he remained seated across from me.
"When we get back to Tokyo I want to have everyone write a full report on what happened here." He said, not looking at me but gazing outside. The sun was just beginning to rise and we were nearly home.
I nodded, too tired to say anything else.
Naru's gaze shifted, looking down at my arm that was now covered with a sweater.
"We'll figure out what that is," said Naru.
When he looked at me, I knew that he meant it. Naru always had a deep loyalty that lied within him. I had full confidence that if anyone could figure this out, it would be him.
"I know we will," I said.
Naru did not move to get up and leave like he normally would. He just sat there, staring out of the window. I wondered if he was thinking about anything else beyond the mark on my arm. Perhaps he was thinking about Gene.
Then, it occurred to me he saw Gene. It was only for a moment while they used their power to break the skull but still...that was big. Huge. I made a note to talk to him about it when we landed. I also made a note to talk to Gene about it too, since the Davis brother's seemed to suck at conveying their emotions and feelings to anyone.
There were so many questions, so many things that I needed to figure out.
Exhaustion hit me when I leaned my head back and sleep fully, and soundly, took me under.
The end of our most deadliest case was over.
I had a strange feeling we weren't quite done here yet.
Chapter 16: To Dream A Dream
My first order of business when we were home was to bathe.
Goodbye's were brief since we were seeing each other tomorrow. Yasu opted to drive me home, which I accepted because I was so exhausted and I hadn't called Lucien yet.
Yasu parked in front of my apartment complex.
"How're you feeling?" He asked when the engine shut off.
Tired, confused. Guilty about kissing, and having feelings, for Naru. I said none of that. "I'm alright."
"Naru probably said the same thing to you, but I'm making my oath as well," Yasu declared. "We're going to figure this out. And, I'm not going anywhere so if you ever need anything just give me a call, alright?"
"I don't want to be a burden -"
He reached across to put a finger on my lips and shut me up.
"You're not a burden at all, trust me. I want you to call, even if it's just to come pick you up, or to talk. I'm here for you, remember that okay?"
I nodded, "okay, Yasu."
"Alright, that's a good answer." He leaned back and smiled. "We should take the train together to the meeting tomorrow. Big boss wants us there at eight sharp and we know how he feels about tardiness."
I chuckled, "that sounds really nice. Thank you Yasu. Get home safe."
I climbed out of the vehicle and made my way upstairs. It felt like it had been a long time since I was inside my own home, even though it was only a little over a week. The furniture sat unused, and the lights were all out. I didn't even have any kind of pet, like a cat, to come and greet me.
It felt lonely.
I moved through the utilitarian task of bathing, then fixed myself something to eat and a cup of tea. It was around this time I heard shuffling at the door and a key clicked it open.
I knew of one person with a key.
Lucien sauntered in, holding a pile of envelopes and flyers.
He saw me in the kitchen and stopped. I haven't called him when we landed, hadn't wanted to deal with this right now, but it looks like I was about to.
"You're back!" His face turned into a grin and my heart broke a little more. Lucien held out the envelopes, "Weekly mail boy at your service. This stuff really piles up, you should get a 'no-junk' sign or something."
He came over to sit across from me at the table. "When did you get in? I'm so happy you're okay!"
My throat felt raw. "This morning, I just got home and needed some time to myself for a while. I'm sorry I didn't call you."
Lucien shook his head. "Don't be, I'm just glad you got back safe and you're finally home. Do you want me to leave?" He asked, completely concerned. Lucien was such a kind man, and he was a genuine kind of person. Why couldn't I have fallen head-over-heels for him the way I had with Naru?
I shook my head, putting down my tea cup and folding my hands on the table. I wore an extra long, baggy, sweatshirt that had sleeves which covered my hands. It was intended for me not to stare at the tattoo, but now I'm glad it was one less thing I had to tell Lucien.
"No, you don't need to go. I uh...I need to talk to you about something, actually," I said.
Lucien's smile slowly faded as he leaned back. "Are you alright, Mai? Did you take your pills?"
I took a big breath of air in, "I stopped taking the pills, Lucien."
His eyebrows knitted together, "what?" Then realization. "Mai, you know how dangerous that is? You should have -"
"I needed to stop taking them." I interrupted him. "Honestly, I've never felt better. I finally feel like I'm in control of my feelings and my emotions. Being off them has made think clearly, and I've had time to really go over some...things."
Lucien waited patiently for me to continue.
"I've thought about how unfair it was to rely on those pills for so long. Then, when I felt like I had a void in my life, you were there. My feelings for you were true, but I think that I relied on you for... something else. It wasn't just because you supported me through those dark times. It was that you were the furthest man, in every aspect, from Naru and you distracted me from him. You kept my mind off him and I didn't feel so lonely. I've realized that doing that, even unintentionally, isn't fair to you.
"I used you and I feel awful because I never realized it before. I was so trapped in that depression I couldn't think clearly. And now... I can understand why I did what I did. And it wasn't fair to do that to you: to jump into a relationship with you like that."
When I finished, I was breathing heavier and Lucien was visibly breathing harder. "You didn't have feelings for me at all?"
"No, I did." I said. "But, not in the way that was pure, or honest. Not in the way you deserve."
Lucien thought about his response. He was visibly emotional but he kept them in check with his breathing and I remained still. I also tried to control my breathing and my cheeks burned from holding back the tears, but I knew once they started they wouldn't stop. I felt like such a selfish person, and I supposed that I was being selfish. I really wanted someone to help me through that darkness and by dong that I pulled someone else to into my mess.
He said, "did something happen between you two on this trip? Please, be honest."
He deserves the truth, I thought. Even though there was something in me that begged me to lie so that this would be a little easier.
Lucien deserves to know the truth, though.
My voice lowered, "we...kissed."
Lucien inhaled sharply, running a hand over his face and hair in frustration as he leaned back into the chair. I didn't bother to explain that the kiss happened when we thought we were going to die. A kiss is a kiss, no matter what the circumstances.
"I knew...that you still had feelings for him. Even though you thought you didn't. I still tried to pursue a relationship with you. I guess that makes me the fool, doesn't it?" His voice sounded like he was on the edge of something dark. It was that tone that drew me in.
"Lucien, I -"
"No," he shook his head and a tear streamed down his cheek. He breathed in deeply and wiped it with the back of his hand. That broke something in me and my breathing shattered. The tears I had been holding fell onto my cheeks.
I sobbed, "I'm so sorry."
Lucien stood up. "I think it's best if I...If I go. It's not fair to you to make you choose like this, and I want you to be happy."
"I was happy," I said. Tears flowed down my face. "You made me happy, being with you...it's just...I can't keep you like this if I don't know what I want." I had to sort out four years of pushed aside feelings and it wasn't fair to bring Lucien into that mess.
None of this was fair.
My voice shook, "we can still be friends -"
"Don't," Lucien said. "Please, don't say it. I need...I need some time to be away from you. Actually. It might be best if we stay away from each other for a while."
I nodded, thinking it was stupid to even suggest we could be friends. I doubt Lucien would ever want to see me again.
He pulled the apartment key from out of his pocket. It was still on a simple, yellow key chain lanyard I had left it on. Lucien placed it gently on the table. "I want you to be happy, Mai. Never forget that...and I wish you the best."
It felt like my heart was cracking and I held my breath as I watched him leave, then heard the door close behind him.
It hurt because I didn't hate Lucien. I actually really liked him and I believed he was such a great man. But now, with my feelings for Naru still not sorted out, I felt confused. I think Lucien understood and because he was such an understanding person he would leave so I could sort this out.
It didn't make this hurt any less. Lucien was there for me and was kind to me. That's what I latched onto, that kindness he showed me. Naru could never love a person like Lucien could. Naru was a completely different kind of person. He was moody, egotistical, and...stubborn.
But, I still had feelings for him.
Maybe one day, I thought, Lucien and I could find our way back to one another. Maybe not as lovers but as friends.
I didn't want to promise myself that, though. It wasn't fair to me or to Lucien.
So I hung my head and I didn't hide my sobs as I wept at the table.
The next day, Yasu made good on his promise to pick me up and we could train together to the office. He took one look at my puffy eyes and demanded to know what happened. I couldn't hide the facts anymore. So I told him - all of it.
It felt good to have someone to talk about everything building up on me. I would have preferred to talk to Masako but I found out that she was on a plane back to the United States this morning. She would be back in a month, but still...it hurt that she wasn't going to be here for a while.
Yasu was an attentive listener though, and he was not a judgmental person.
"Wow," Yasu said when I finished by talking about the break up I had with Lucien last night, where I stayed up all night crying - wondering if I had made a mistake. Lucien was a good man, and such a kind-hearted soul. Naru was...well, Naru was Naru. "So, you and Naru really kissed?"
"It wasn't a kiss like that," I said, trying to make sense of it. "It was more like a 'we're dying and this might be the last time I tell you about my feelings' kind of kiss."
"But you didn't die," Yasu noted. "So it was just a kiss."
I sighed, not thinking about it like that.
Yasu asked, "Now what? Big boss might be going back to England again."
"I don't know," I said honestly. "I just want to forget about it. Naru hasn't even brought it up, so until he does, then I won't."
"You should talk about it at some point before then, though. Clear the air in case he goes back." Yasu said and I knew he was right.
"He will go back to England," I corrected him. Then sighed, "and when he does, I'll talk to him about it before he leaves. It won't be like the last time."
"Good!" Yasu patted me on the back. "I'm proud of you."
I felt a smile touch the corners of my lips, "thanks."
We made it to Shibuya station with less than a minute to spare when we finally got into the office, giggling about a story Yasu had launched into.
It felt good to have someone to laugh with.
"You're late," Naru said from the furthest sofa. Naturally, everyone was already here.
"Sorry," I took off my coat. "We got held up at the train station because Yasu couldn't find his pass."
Bou-san turned to us, grinning. "Don't tell me they let you off with good behavior?"
Yasu walked over to him, casually sitting in the seat next to Bou-san. He purred, "I don't think you even know what good behavior is."
Before Bou-san could defend himself, Naru started speaking. "I've called you all here for a direct report to add to this case file. I got one from Hara-san before she left and all of you still need to do one."
"Then, are we going to start working out that thing on Mai's arm?" Bou-san asked.
"Yes," Ayako agreed. "It's quite concerning. We don't know what kind of language it's written in and we can't decipher it."
"Lin and I have agreed to stay and try to figure this out. However, I know you all have your own lives. You're more than welcome to help the investigation along, however you will not be part of the case."
Everyone stared at him and received an icy blue gaze.
It was John that spoke, "that doesn't sound like a bad thing. Davis-san is just is still suggesting that we can help with the case."
"Why would I not want to dedicate my time to solve this?" Bou-san argued. The good Priest did not answer him, not with the tone that threatened his voice.
Naru said, "I recall you had mentioned, in the beginning in of this case, that you all had your own lives now."
Bou-san stared straight at the investigator. "You know what I meant, don't take it out of context. I want to help Mai."
"We are helping her. However, we need to research what the mark means. I don't need you to do what I've dedicated my life to be more than competent at." Naru cut him off and I could see the tension rolling off the men. There was too much testosterone in this room and I felt like I was choking on it.
"I think," I stepped forward into the group after watching this argument (on my behalf) go on for too long. "What Naru is trying to say is that you don't have to spend your time dedicated to looking for answers cause he will do that. Just do what you can with the time you have."
"I don't like it," Bou-san complained. "Ayako, what do you think of all of this?'
Ayako said, "I think it works for me. No offence but my job does take a lot of time during the day. If I can focus on this after work, than it really helps me out."
John nodded in agreement, then looked over to me. "I hope you don't think any less of me, but I do want to help you."
"Me too," Yasu chipped in.
It was Bou-san that said, "We're here for you, kiddo."
And I was smiling at all of them - for giving up their spare time to help me when they really didn't have to. I gripped the sleeve on my sweater (to hide the mark).
"Thank you everyone. Thank you."
Naru took us one at a time into his office. I had a feeling that mine would take the longest so I would probably be last.
Ayako went first and came out, hugging me and flipping off Bou-san, then rushed to work. John did something similar, with a wave goodbye to all of us.
Yasu offered to wait for me but I argued that it could take a while so it was best if he left.
Then there was just my report left to do. I stepped into the office and Naru sat at his desk, ready.
I remembered this office from the last time and tried not to let those overwhelming feelings flood me. I stepped forward and sat on the seat across from the oak desk.
"My report was about fifteen pages," Naru warned. "I expect yours will be something similar."
"Let's get started." I said and then went into the case from the beginning. I tried to leave my emotions out of it as Naru typed away.
I did try to go over as many details as possible, not leaving anything out. When we were finished, the report was roughly twenty pages. I considered it because I had to include my visions and any other relevant information I was given. It also helped clear up a lot of the misunderstanding and confusion we had on this case. Things such as clearing up the holes in the districts story about the family.
The parents did not hang themselves from grief. It made me realize just how false that little town was, and possibly how close we could have been to being in even more danger.
"So, we're all done here?" I asked when I was finished.
Naru packed away his laptop, then turned back to me. "There's one more thing I wanted to talk about with you."
I felt my breathing get very shallow as I nodded, nervously. "Okay."
Naru continued. "Since we don't know anything about this mark and what it could do Lin and I think it's best if you are under surveillance, or something similar."
I blinked, "you mean...like a supernatural witness protection plan?"
The corners of his lips curled, "yes, you can call it that."
"So I'll be watched on like..a camera? By you guys?" Naru made a face at that, and I continued. "No offence, but that's really weird. I would rather not."
"No not cameras. If something were to happen, and it is supernatural, then a frequency on a camera may not capture it. We were thinking more along the lines of one of us keeping an eye on you. Or, if Sora-San would be able to stay with you and report to us if anything -"
I was so dumbfounded that I couldn't register what Naru was saying.
My lips shook, "Lucien and I...we broke up. He won't be staying with me anymore."
There was an awkward silence that hung in the air and I didn't meet Naru's stare as I looked down at my hands folded in my lap.
Naru broke the silence first. "It would either be Lin or myself, whoever you feel more comfortable with. Lin has accommodations with Takigawa-san if you would be more comfortable to stay there. The other option is Lin or myself can stay with you in your apartment."
Honestly, I was so lucky that I was sitting down because I thought I would fall over. This had to be a dream, there was no way we were having this type of conversation.
"Let me get this straight: you're going to live with me until we figure out what this thing on my arm means?"
"Yes. It's not ideal, but I could offer payment for the stay to help you financially. If that's what you choose: that I stay instead of Lin." Naru said and I leaned back, running a hand through my hair. I couldn't believe that this was happening.
Naru asked, impatiently, "well?"
"I don't really have a choice," I raised an eyebrow at him, sighing. "I want this figured out just as much as you. And Lin intimidates me, so...if I have to choose I would rather it be you."
"I'll break the news to Lin." Naru said, as if he already knew the answer. He stood and moved towards the door, stopping in the threshold. He turned back to me, his face remained unreadable.
"I'm sorry to hear about Sora-san."
I twisted in the seat to look at him. "It's okay."
We held each others stare for a moment longer than necessary. Naru's cool gaze never gave anything away and I struggled to find a hint of emotion behind them. I could feel that his apology was genuine.
It reminded me of what I gave up with Lucien to figure out what I had with Naru.
Naru turned back and left while I stayed in the office, not quite believing what had happened. Thinking I had dreamed all of this I pinched myself. Nope, this was real and definitely happening.
For the good of science, I thought.
Naru was going to be living with me.
Chapter 17: Safe and Sound
It had been a couple of days since Naru moved in and it was still bizarre to turn the corner of my living room to see him sitting there.
He had opted to stay on the couch since I only had one bedroom. There was no way he was going to be sleeping in there with me, plus he had brought along boxes from his office. There were papers now scattered over the coffee table as Naru sat on the couch feverishly typing away on his laptop when I turned the corner.
It didn't surprise me that he was already dressed in black slacks and button down shirt as per usual. Actually, it didn't surprise me that Naru wouldn't let me see him in anything other than a perfect image of control.
Or that he was already up and working at 6:30a.m.
"Morning," I greeted him and he looked up from the screen at me. "Want some tea?"
"Yes please," he said, then looked down and continued working.
That was usually how our conversations had gone these last two days because after I made myself breakfast and cleaned up, I immediately left for work.
I often found myself thinking about the implications of this situation: I had just broken up with Lucien literally the night before and now I had another man shacked up in my apartment.
It was still so surreal to me.
At the church, I was glad to be thrown into the tasks of work again. It felt good to be back and I missed the kids. It was a great feeling that they missed me too. While I was cleaning the dinner hall, I noticed a group of three girls who had stayed inside during free-time. They were crowded around a bench and had a chair just outside of the bathroom.
I had known this young, sweet girl to have loved practicing hair-cutting. Her name was Yuki and she had taken to cutting some of the younger girls' hair at the orphanage. She was even gifted with a pair of hair cutting shears and other hair cutting accessories for Christmas. However, Yuki had also began cutting other girls' hair without their consent. Once, in the middle of the night, Yuki had chopped off an older girls long ponytail. That girl cried for days and one of the Sisters had bought her a fake-hair ponytail to make her feel better.
"Yuki," I approached the black-haired teen as she worked around a girl sitting in the chair. "You have a lot of customers today. I hope you got permission to cut their hair this time."
I looked at the girl who had wet hair sitting in the chair and was wrapped with towels.
Yuki smiled, "the girls' asked me to cut it this time, I promise!"
"Miss Mai," another girl, Miri, said. "Are you going to get a haircut too?"
"Well, I wasn't thinking of it." I looked back at Yuki, who was beaming at the suggestion.
Yuki was grinning from ear to ear. "Oh please, Miss Mai!"
"Well....I guess I could. I only want it up to my chin, though. No shorter."
"Done!" Yuki said, excitedly.
She finished up with her current haircut before starting me.
I had to admit but she did a surprisingly nice job on the layers of her first 'client' and I trusted she wouldn't damage my hair more than it already was. I hadn't been able to afford a proper haircut and though my hair was long...it was tangled, dry and full of split ends. I usually didn't know what to do with it so I pulled it back into a pony tail and secretly wished for short hair again.
I never did get short hair because it reminded me of my SPR days.
Waiting patiently as Yuki worked, I continued cleaning and was called over when she was ready.
Yuki worked methodically, wetting and soaping my hair, then cutting it. She had been watching a lot of YouTube videos that she learned different techniques from, talking about them as she showed me in the bathroom mirror. The other girls gawked in amazement.
When it was done she handed me a small hand-held mirror.
My reflection looked back at me and it was like seeing a ghost.
It still wasn't as short as it was in high school, but was the same length before Naru had left Japan, slightly past my chin. I touched the ends, now soft from the shampoo and the dead ends being cut off.
"Miss Mai?" Yuki asked, nervously, when I didn't say anything. "Do you like it?"
I nodded, looking away from my reflection. There was a hard and burning emotion in the back of my throat and I swallowed it down. "It's beautiful. Thank you, Yuki."
Feeling bad about receiving a free (and surprisingly beautiful) haircut, I gave Yuki the money I had in my wallet. It was going to go towards buying myself some new clothes but somehow a new haircut was even better.
When I got home, Naru was still sitting on the couch with no indication that he had moved at all.
I didn't announce my entrance, nor did I try for small talk.
The pleasantries didn't seem to matter to Naru so I didn't bother with them either.
I moved to the kitchen and started grilling some chicken I had left to defrost in the sink. It was probably the only thing I preferred to eat: chicken, rice and green beans. It also helped that all of those were relatively cheap to buy.
When supper was done I rounded the corner of the living room with two plates, putting them on the table and I opted to sit on the floor, stretching my legs out. Then, I grabbed the remote for the T.V.
"You cut your hair," Naru said from behind me on the couch. Of course he would notice - Naru noticed everything.
"Mhm," I murmured, half distracted by the piece of food in my mouth and trying to find my favorite Taiwanese Drama: Smiling Pasta.
Naru continued to type away on his laptop, not particularly paying attention to the show until he said half way through the episode: "Watching television is proven to make you less intelligent."
I groaned. "Is that a 'thank-you for dinner' I hear?" Then, I turned down the volume. "Besides, this couldn't possibly make me even stupider. It's actually teaching me a different language."
"Is this bothering you?" I looked over at him. He seemed mildly displeased, probably because of the noise of the T.V. and the fact that it was a corny Taiwanese Drama. I didn't care - this was my apartment, so my rules.
Naru hesitated on an answer. "Do you not have a T.V. somewhere else in the apartment?"
"No," I said. "I don't believe in television being in a bedroom."
"I'm going to regret asking," Naru sighed deeply. "Why do you believe there should not be a television in the bedroom?"
"Because, the bedroom is a private place." I turned off the T.V. with the remote, then collected mine and Naru's empty plates. "I feel like it could take away the intimacy. Something that you probably wouldn't understand."
Naru didn't defend this statement. I took it as a relatively good sign that he had even less experience than me when it came to being intimate. I stood with the dishes and made my way to the kitchen when his voice caught me.
"Did you," he struggled for the words. "Break up with Sora-san because of what happened between us?"
I stopped just short of the threshold, looking back at him. Naru watched me as he normally did, with an icy gaze.
This gaze was different - it was assessing. His mouth was pressed into a hard line.
"What do you think happened between us?" Because I had a feeling we had two very different views on the matter. The matter of which we still hadn't talked about in nearly a week.
Naru said, quietly. "I could tell him that there was nothing between us."
I snorted. Of course Naru would refuse to answer that. Oh Heavens, no. To talk about it would mean he would actually have to think about his feelings for once. God forbid he did that.
"I can't be in a relationship when I have feelings for someone else." I said it in simple terms because it was the truth.
I didn't let Naru say anything else, not that he would have anyway, and I quickly moved out of the room.
"Yasu," I groaned, "why are we here?"
By 'here' I meant standing in front of a lingerie store in the shopping district.
I decided that I needed to desperately get out of the house and have a distraction from the tall-handsome, brooding man currently living there. Yasu was happy to help be, said, distraction and decided to come shopping with me. It also meant that Naru wouldn't have had to tag along since he was keeping an eye on this stupid mark on my arm.
Yasu smiled at me when he answered. "We're here because you're home alone with our handsome, mysterious boss. Why wouldn't you want to shop for some appropriate clothing?"
"This is definitely not appropriate clothing!" I eyed the store mannequins which had their 'goods' barely covered. Then, more timidly. "Especially...with Naru."
"Well," Yasu said. "We don't know for sure what makes him tick: think of this as a science experiment. Big Boss can be tough to read, maybe he has a freaky-side in the bedroom."
I choked. "I can't believe you just said that!"
We looked at each other before falling into a fit of laughter about the subject.
No way could Naru be some crazy bedroom freak that Yasu suggested. I doubt Naru even watched any type of indecent shows or movies like that. He was immune to sexuality and pleasure, his pulse probably wouldn't even flicker at the idea of it. He was so jaded by sex that I doubted he would find anyone, let alone me, attractive in this type of stuff.
Not that I was ever thinking about the topic while Naru was living with me - especially since Naru was living with me. It just wasn't right.
When Yasu put his hands on my shoulders, steering me into the store, I groaned again. "Please, let's not do this."
"Oh, just pick one. Then I'll leave you alone. You don't even have to wear it."
I made a face. "Then why pick one at all?"
"To know that you have it. Maybe not to wear, but to know that you have the courage to think about your desires and be honest with your feelings."
Yasu said it in a serious voice, his eyes settling on me and I knew, in his odd way, that he was right. I also didn't want to argue with him.
Nor did I want to admit he was right.
I felt my face get red with the idea of it. No way would anything ever happen between Naru and I like that, not even in my wildest dreams. I ran a hand through my hair as I looked back at Yasu.
"Fine." I said, begrudgingly. His smile returned.
I looked around at all the pretty little lacy things in the store. I couldn't possibly pick anyone of these to walk around the house in. It would be like walking around nude.
Although, I had to admit some of the designs were simply amazing. I certainly did not have the body to strut around in these teeny outfits ...I quietly wished I did.
I also wished Masako was here too. Not that I didn't mind Yasu's company, but I felt like I needed a girlfriend when it came to things like this.
Without putting much thought into it, I grab a tiny baby-blue piece that was on a sale rack and in my size. It was made out of fine silk and white lace decorated the front of the little tank top. Thankfully, the bottoms seemed to be a pair of brief shorts, which would cover a whole lot more than anything else in this store. I didn't try them on. I just walked awkwardly up to the cashier and put them on the counter.
The cashier, who was big-busted and clearly a pro in these kinds of things, looked at me skeptically. "Not going to try it on? It's a final sale."
"No," I replied, reaching for my wallet. "I'll take my chances."
When it was done, and my purchase was wrapped in hot pink wrapping paper and placed in a fancy lace bag, Yasu and I left the store.
There was a moment of silence as we looked at each other before bursting out and laughing.
"I can't believe you did that!" Yasu grinned at me as we walked away from the store.
"I can't believe I did that!" I laughed too.
We continued window-shopping until we grew bored and went for a walk outside of the shopping district. There was a small, manicured park that we weaved through. Eventually, we found a large, elevated concrete slab to sit on and continued talking.
Yasu talked about Law School and the challenges he faced, though I could hardly think of any type of challenge that phased him. He asked me simple questions about what happened on the case, my visions and how I felt about the curse mark. All of which I was honest about. As the evening started to grow chiller, I tightened my jacket around myself.
Yasu's phone chimed and he checked the message, a deep frown setting on his face.
"What's wrong?" I watched as he typed a response then put his phone back down.
"It's just...Masako has been acting strange."
I remember she admitted to liking Yasu to me and I wondered if she was making her move. I didn't say any of this, "What do you mean?"
"Well, she's been really clingy lately. We were hanging out a lot, which is cool, but she...asked me out." Yasu leaned back on his hands. His face was scrunched as if he was thinking about a serious problem. I didn't see the problem with my two friends dating at all, in fact I would be happy for them.
Slowly, I said. "She's kind of into you." I looked over him, his lean frame and handsome face. Yasu was a kind and considerate man. "Can you blame her?"
I really didn't mean to throw my friend under the bus, but he already knew and I figured I wasn't hurting anyone to help edge things along.
"I don't like her like that." He leaned up, wrapping his arms around himself. He closed his eyes, digging his fingertips into his skin. I knew it wasn't because of the cold. "Correction: I can't like her like that."
"Because I prefer men."
For a heartbeat, only silence echoed through me. "Oh! I had no idea! I-I'm curious..all this time, you haven't been into woman at all?"
"I try to keep it to myself." He said, a shy smile on his mouth but it felt sad. "I do find pleasure in both to be honest but I've known since I was little that I preferred men. That I'm...attracted to them more than women." He looked me over once. "I'll spare you the details of it, but woman just don't excite me the same way that a good-looking guy does."
"Yasu.." I reached for his hand, prying it off his arm. I squeezed gently.
He continued. "Masako believes that I've taken other lovers before, and it became a way to keep girls from wondering why - why wouldn't I choose them. I think Masako is wonderful, marvelous. You see - it's me. Somethings wrong with me."
I swallowed hard. "Nothing is wrong with you! Masako may be a little hurt that you didn't trust her enough but she would never judge you. None of us would, especially me."
A nod and then a sad, hallow, smile. "You're the first person to ever tell me that."
I felt suddenly very sad and lonely for Yasu. "I'm sorry."
"It's not you. it's just... been hard. I've never had someone to talk freely about it. My family never really understood. They couldn't even handle hearing about a gay man when it was on a drama-show they watched, what would they think if it were their son? Real old school, my parents. They want a son who will become a big name doctor or lawyer, who will get married to a woman and leave them with a legacy of grandchildren. My parents don't understand that we live in a different time now." He tilted his head back, looking skyward.
"I know you're scared Yasu, but I think that no matter what they will always love you for who you are. You are their son, and a damn good one at that. I think you should give them more credit."
Yasu smiled an empty smile. "Maybe you're right."
I squeezed his hand once more. "You tell them when you're ready. And I'll stand by your side no matter what. Until then your secret is safe with me. I won't tell anyone."
There was a pleasant silence before Yasu said, "Thank you."
"I'm happy we can talk like this. It's been a while since I've felt like...I can just sit and talk with a friend." I admitted quietly.
"I don't know the details but I know you fell down a dark path. I could see it in your eyes."
His fingers tightened around mine this time.
This wasn't the time, or the place. Yasu could know my story another time, when I was still certain that darkness wasn't going to come back and swallow me whole.
"I'm back now." I said, looking at him. A smile bloomed on my face as we sat comfortably together.
Friends...this is what having a friend felt like, I realized.
"What?" He asked when I couldn't stop the smile from growing wider.
"I was just thinking," I said as I tilted my head towards him. "That whenever you're ready...I was thinking about how much fun I was going to have playing matchmaker for you."
Yasu's answering grin turned almost as bright as the lights in the entirety of Tokyo.
A/C: I've always wondered what Yasu's sexual orientation might be. Although lots of stories implied it, I had to come to a conclusion myself! I can see him being thrown more to guys over girls. What do you think? Could Yasu be more into guys than girls? I can kinda see him being a little swayed: a little into both but more into guys.
I also wanted to pop on quick and say thank you for all the great reviews! I read them and they make me smile so much!
Chapter 18: Chapter 18 - Handle With Care
A few more days was all it took for some semblance of order to take place. It seemed like Naru and I had been living together for years the way we moved through the day with one another.
In the morning, I would make breakfast (coffee, eggs and toast for me, just eggs and tea for him). Naru would do the dishes while I got ready for work and Lin would pick us up at the apartment, then drive me to the Church before driving to the office with Naru. After work, they would pick me up, and once we got home I would make dinner for Naru and I.
We had some compromises such as I would only watch my drama's once a night, and for only two episodes while Naru worked. I had started wearing headphones and using my laptop most times now.
While I watched T.V. he would try to pick apart the show and I dutifully ignored him until I got tired and went to sleep.
On this night though, my dream started to take a different turn.
Someone was talking to me.
The voice was distant but I could hear the words faintly.
When I opened my eyes, I knew this was a dream unlike any other. I was sitting at a round table with six figures whom I had remembered from the fables of Japanese Spirit guides.
Hanataka-Tengu, the red-faced-warrior spirit, sat at the head of the table. To his left was Kappa, a green reptilian-looking humanoid with scales that glistened in the dream light. On Hanataka-Tengu's right was Kitzune, a fox spirit known for mischief and trickery. Kejoro was at the table too, she was a well-known spirit who had mangled hair whose image was the base for horror characters from movies like The Ring. She was a spirit guide that I was absolutely terrified of when I was younger. Even now to this day, as I sat in front of her, she still terrified me. The last two female spirits were the sisters Yuki and Ame Onna.
I looked around and I was all alone. When I opened my mouth to speak a familiar voice filled my mind.
'If you speak you will disrupt the memory and I can't show you again,' Gene warned. I looked at my hands and black-clad arm that I realized were Gene's hands and arms. I was Gene...or recalling his memory through Gene's eyes. I had only a couple of out of body experiences - and each time they ended terribly.
"This cannot continue," Hanataka-Tengu said to the group. "We do not know how this will affect the Dark Lands. It's unacceptable."
Kejoro disagreed. "It has happened. There's nothing to be done."
Hanataka-Tengu said, "We are Spirit Guides to the Dark Lands. We cannot simply let this curse ruin the fragile system of Death and Life. Nor can we sit back and let the realms become a living portal."
"Oh, give it a break, Hanataka. Do you ever get tired of hearing yourself worry?" Kitzune said, leaning his furry-elbow on the table and resting his head on it. I raked through Gene's mind and found that they had been here arguing for a while now.
The fox spirit continued. "This girl could be the start of something different."
"We don't need different," Hanataka-Tengu grumbled. "We need stability. Besides, it's not natural for the anchor to be bound to a soul."
"What do you suppose we do?" Kitzune pressed. "Kill the girl? And who, at this table, will allow their own spirit to perish if that were to happen? Certainly not I."
"You are the girls spirit guide, what do you make of this?," Kejoro looked directly at Gene - at me. I tried not to let that hair-covered face and those dark eyes scare me. Gene was alert but I could sense the signs of fatigue in him. How long he had been here? Is this why he hasn't contacted me yet?
Kejoro continued. "Is she aware exactly what she is?"
Gene, for the first time since I have been here, spoke. "No, I haven't seen her for days since she returned to Tokyo." There was an irritation in his voice and I could feel his frustration with the situation. He didn't want to be brought to council, all he wanted to do was rush back to Mai (me).
"Very well," Kejoro looked back at the counsel. "Kitzune is right, I'm certainly not going to offer my immortal soul for that of one girl. I doubt you will either Hanataka."
Everyone nodded an agreement to this, even, begrudgingly, Hanataka-Tengu.
Kejoro stood, "Then it is decided. The girl is to continue being the anchor until -"
The dream dissolved into something far worse. I was once again in that cabin.
In the dark, I saw a large figure in the corner.
"You're so far away," he purred. "Hello little anchor. I've been waiting for you."
He moved towards me, his footsteps were the only sound as he came closer and the light of moon lit up his scarred face. I felt my legs shake at the realization of who this man.
He was The Dark Man. The man who murdered Hana, Sara and their mother. The man who did those horrible things to them.
He smiled at me and I could make out his black eyes, plain face and dark clothes. I also noticed a strange amulet hanging loosely around his neck, it was hidden by shadows but I got a familiar, yet foreign, sensation looking at it.
There was only the two of us in the cabin. He pressed himself closer to me and all I could do was stand there shaking, with my head pounding and screaming at me to run.
Yet, I couldn't will my legs to move.
He leaned down and I could feel his breath on my skin as if this were really happening. As if he was right in front of me. It sent goosebumps throughout my body.
"Where is my new, pretty little anchor hiding?" He whispered into my ear and my entire body started to shake. His fingertips grazed the tips of my hair, then my collarbone and I was frozen to that spot. If I could speak, I would beg him to stop and to leave me alone. I would thrash and fight him off.
I could not speak. I could not move.
This is a dream. It's not real, I coached myself. Not real.
Then, I felt his hands grab my arms roughly. They were so warm I could almost feel the realness of it. His frustration rolled off him in waves as he yelled, "WHERE ARE YOU HIDING YOU LITTLE BITCH!"
He yelled in my face and it broke through to some intrinsic part of me.
I was able to move and tried to jerk backwards and away from those hands that gripped me roughly.
"NO!" I screamed, "LEAVE ME ALONE!"
"Mai," A deep voice said.
It brought me back and my limbs flailed as I shot upright in bed, yanking against invisible hands that held my wrists.
I would have lurched for the bathroom if my legs and arms were not shaking so badly, had I been able to breath.
I scanned the bedroom, shuddering.
Real - this was real. Not those horrors, those were nightmares. I was out, I was alive, I was safe. I repeated this in my head when a familiar face filled my sight.
"Are you alright?" Naru asked, leaning over my bed.
"I-" I didn't know how to answer him. Should I tell him about those dreams that haunted me? "It was just a nightmare."
'Just a nightmare' played it off as if it weren't the most terrifying thing I had seen. I could still feel that man's breath on my skin...those hands on my flesh...
"I heard you screaming," Naru said.
"Sometimes I can't...tell what's real and what's not real."
Naru didn't say anything as he straightened. "You seem better now. I'll give you some space."
He made his way to the door however I wasn't ready for him to leave yet.
Quietly, I said. "I liked the pills because they stopped the dreams - they stopped the nightmares. I guess I liked that I couldn't feel anything when I was on them."
I didn't expect Naru to reply, but he did. His voice was seldom. "I have nightmares too."
He didn't have to say about what, or who. I just knew.
Naru said, "goodnight Mai." and reached over for the light switch.
"Leave the light on, please." I blurted and watched as he pulled back his hand. He turned and closed the bedroom door.
The spirits had said that word, and so did that man. What did it mean?
I recalled what the anchor of the curse was. Hana and Sara had been anchors for the curse. But..the curse was broken, or it should have been. How could there still be an anchor?
Sleep eluded me. When my alarm went off, I threw my pink robe over my night clothes and went to the kitchen to begin making breakfast for Naru and I.
It was an unexpected surprise to see that breakfast was already made and on the table. Naru had brewed tea (green for me, black for him) and it was still hot from the steam escaping the cups.
Naru was sitting at the table, already dressed in a pair of black slacks and a button up black shirt.
"This is different," I took a seat across from him.
Naru looked up from his book he had been reading. "I thought I would change things up a bit."
What he didn't say was that he thought this would make me feel better - in his own Naru way. I smiled at that as I went to put jelly on my toast. I couldn't even imagine Naru standing at the skillet, making me fried eggs. The thought was too much.
"I found something regarding the mark." He said as I tried to imagine Naru cooking and failed horribly.
"Really?" My head snapped up to him.
Naru nodded, putting down his book to also begin eating his eggs. "My research suggests that the scripture on your arm is written in a language called the Holy Tongue."
"What is this 'Holy Tongue'?"
"It's an ancient kind of Hebrew. Some say that it was the original language of the Holy Tongue."
"That means John should be able to read it," I bit into my toast. "I mean, he's a Priest and all. Isn't that what they practice?"
"It doesn't work like that," Naru reached for his tea. "The language is extinct and has gone through so many evolutions that it is hardly distinguishable anymore."
I felt like I was going to get a lecture by asking this, but I did anyway. "Language can evolve?"
"Yes," Naru eyed my tattoo as I continued to eat. "They can go through phases. Think of it as fashion: fashion evolves over the years and so can words. Some words and phrases, or even letters, don't exist anymore because they have changed. That is what happened with the Holy Tongue."
I checked the clock hanging on the wall: 7:45 A.M. This early and Naru was already giving me a lecture, and a headache, about something. I realized I might need something a little stronger than tea.
"If we can't read it, what's the point of knowing the language it's written in?" That part didn't make sense to me.
He was still for a moment before lifting the cup to his mouth and took a sip. "That is what I'm troubled by. In learning what the mark means, it could lead us having to trust an..unreliable source."
"What kind of source?"
"Witches," Naru said. "White Witches to be exact. It's been documented that they still use the Holy Tongue for many of their rituals. My research suggests that they might be able to translate it."
I took a sip of my tea. Yep, it was way too early to be having this kind of conversation. It was even more of a surprise that Naru was in fact, truly, troubled by this.
"We'll do whatever we need to," I reassured him. "Even if it means going to see, said, Witch."
Naru looked at me, completely serious. "I already have a flight booked for us."
And, that was how we ended up on a plane nearly twenty-hours away from Tokyo, at a little town in Israel called Trubah. I had called Father Toujo and said it was an emergency, to which the Priest was happy to excuse me from work. God bless the kind Father.
Naturally, Lin accompanied us.
We were to meet with this White Witch and then learn what the mark meant, and maybe they could tell us how to get rid of it.
I also didn't bother to tell Naru about my dream because I wasn't sure of it yet. I knew I would have to eventually, but I wanted to hear what the White Witch said first.
Naru brought along an Arabic translation dictionary and was able to speak broken Arabic in order to find out where this Witch lived and to get us transportation there. She had a well-known residence in the far eastern part of town that a driver was willing to take us to for an unfair amount of money.
The three of us stood in front of the small shack, Naru told the driver we would only be half an hour at the most.
"Witches have been known to lie," Naru had told me on the flight here. "Do not answer any of her questions with the truth."
For some reason that made it seem like we were the liars, but I didn't question him.
Lin was in front and he strode to the door, knocking on it firmly.
An elderly lady with long white hair answered. "You must be the eager young scientist who called me."
She said this in, almost perfect, Japanese. From the shocked look on my face, she clarified. "My former husband used to be Japanese. I took it upon myself to learn the language, though not well."
She did have a slight accent of someone who did not grow up with the language did. Sometimes, dare I say it, I even caught that accent in Naru's Japanese.
Naru stepped to the side of Lin's towering figure. "Thank you for agreeing to see us on such short notice." There was tension in his voice and I wondered if Naru had ever seen himself seeking the help of a Witch before.
The woman scowled at Naru. "Your type don't usually call the likes of me."
"This is an emergency."
She snorted. "Well, come in."
Inside, this small house was a single floor. Cluttered bookshelves lined the walls, along with nick-nacks and sculptures. I wondered if she had read all of those books on her shelves. As we moved through the small room, I was pleased that my overactive imagination was not met to expectations. I guess, since this was the home of a witch, I was expecting a cauldron sitting somewhere, with strange ingredients lined up in a row of jars. We didn't see any of this.
The Witch pointed us into a tight room that had a small table in the center of it. Various throws and pillows were arranged around the table and the Witch beckoned for us to sit.
"My name is Adina." She reached for a stack of tarot cards, shuffling them. "I don't get many folk around here now a days."
"We have a problem," Naru said carefully. "And we think you can help us."
Adina waited and Naru nodded at me. Slowly, I lifted my sleeve and revealed the tattoo. I placed my arm on the table.
"We need to find out what this means." I said and Adina lowered the cards, leaning towards my outstretched arm.
"This is fascinating," she murmured, looking up at me for only a moment. "May I?" She meant can she touch it and I nodded.
Her fingers were cold on my skin and I flinched. Naru reacted to that, moving slightly and then settled again.
Adina moved her fingers across the makeshift board with the strange text on it. "You've found quite the trouble, haven't you?"
I suppressed my shiver as I ignored the confused looks of Lin and Naru. The dream clattered through my mind, the counsel of Spirit Guardians and how they were discussing what to do with me.
I remembered what Naru had told me and instead of answering, I asked. "Can you read it?"
"Very plainly," she answered. Then, she picked up her tarot cards again, shuffling them once and handed them to me. "Cut please."
Nervously, I did. She shuffled a second round before placing three cards on the table.
"Are you a real witch?"
She made a face, "You can call me that."
I watched as she flipped the cards over as I tried to read her essence. Indeed, I sensed something strong within her. I pulled back on my powers when her blue eyes flickered back up to me. I leaned over the table, glancing at the three cards that were face up. I had never seen tarot cards before, not sure if I believed in the practice but I was still eager to see.
One of the cards was ten swords stabbed into the back of a man, lying in a pool of his own blood. Adina pointed to that one first, "The Ten of Swords suggests that you have failed plans. You are working towards something and you're holding onto disappointment from a past life. This card is a sign that you are the one who needs to let go."
"We're not here to read some cards -"
"Sh," I shushed Naru, briefly lifting my eyes to his then back down to the cards. Naru, dutifully, took hint and shut up.
Adnia continued, pointing to a card with a woman clad in black climbing a set of stone stairs. Behind her were eight stacked cups. "The Eight of Cups gives you permission to walk away from the challenges you have found in your life." Lastly, she lifted the last card - which was the most sinister looking of them all.
The Ace of Swords was face down.
"You will destroy the undead and find yourself free." Adina said simply, then pulled the cards together.
"Shouldn't that be right-side up?"
"No, you have come here to seek the answers for that mark and the cards have given them to you."
Naru huffed out a breath. "As much as we would enjoy another tarot reading, we do have some formal questions about the mark."
"I was indeed surprised when my cards told me a highly talented mind like yours couldn't figure it out, Oliver Davis."
The room shifted. I was acutely aware of Naru's surprise before he clamped down on it with cool control. He didn't answer her, instead he asked, "What does the mark mean?"
Adina clicked her tongue at him. "You haven't listened to the cards"
"Just read the tattoo."
They stared at each other, one pair of unlikeable blue eyes gazing into another. It was like watching a conversation between stones.
"I haven't seen words like this for a long time," Adina finally withdrew her gaze, beckoning for my arm which I placed across the table. She passed her fingers over the first line of letters. "This line roughly translates to 'this vessel'." Adina passed her fingers along the last two lines of text. "'Here belongs this vessel', that is what the text translates to, very roughly."
Here belongs this vessel.
There was no way that was what it translated to because it didn't make any sense. I worked the phrase around in my head until a more sinister one took its place.
'This vessel belongs here.'
And 'here' was that cabin back in Biei. I thought of that man's possessive grip on me...as if he owned me.
My breathing stopped. I looked at Naru to see if he had put it together as I had. His face, those dark eyes, expressed nothing.
"Here belongs this vessel," Lin repeated. "You're positive that is what the text says?"
"There is no doubt," Adina said but her blue eyes were on me. "You feel it too, don't you girl? I would advise you be very careful with whom you deal with with such a troublesome mark."
Whom you deal with.
There was a hidden message behind those words too - something only I understood because she didn't mean the people I talked to, but the spirits I communicated with. For the second time I was reminded of the Spirit Guardians from my dream.
Could going to the Spirit Lands cause trouble? I hadn't tried to contact Gene since I oversaw his memories. And he hadn't contacted me for days. Perhaps there was more to that as well.
"We'll be cautious," Naru said. "We must get going, we are on a very tight schedule. I have one last question before we leave: is there any way of removing the mark?"
"Of course," said Adina. "The mark is a formal contract between soul and magic." Her eyes turned dark as she gazed at me. "If you want to get rid of the mark, she must give up her soul."
I tried to keep my breathing normal. She must have just said that to scare me...right? Something about those dark eyes told me that she was not making that part up.
"That's not an option," Naru interjected. "We'll find another way."
"Your type always do, Oliver." She leaned back, grinning a toothy grin and taking her eyes off me. I finally let let out a breath as she regarded Naru. "You probably don't believe a word I'm saying to begin with."
"Your kind," Naru was as polite as possible. "Are known to be an unreliable sort."
"And your kind aren't?"
"We should leave now if we want to catch our flight," Lin said in the midst of the tension.
I realized something fundamental at that moment as Adina and Naru, once again, began staring at one another. Naru had used his real name in order to meet with her. He did not hide behind that fake mask as he always did.
Deeper than that, Adina somehow knew Oliver's real identity. She knew and I wasn't entirely sure if Naru had withheld that information or not. Maybe she was some kind of clairvoyant.
Adina watched as Lin and I stood first. Naru was the last to rise.
Adina said, "You know the way out. It's hard for an old woman to get back up once she has sat down. You'll understand when you're older."
"I understand," Naru said. He faced the woman, now towering over her with his height (not that her standing would have made much of a difference) and bowed at the waist.
Adina nodded her head at the gesture. Then her eyes settled on me again. There was a sad, frosty look in them as her gaze was drawn, instinctively, down to the mark. The swirls of dark ink covering my hand felt stark in this lightning.
"Is there nothing else you can tell us?" I asked quietly as Lin bowed and began to move to the door. I lowered my voice, "Anything you can tell me?"
"I fear I do not know exactly what this means," she said but I couldn't help to think Adina was keeping something from me. "I would advise you to listen to the cards."
I felt reluctant to leave, and maybe Naru and Lin had too, because she might be the only person who could have helped us. The only person and yet she wasn't going to. It wasn't like she had any need to help, but I thought she would have at least put an effort.
I kept my frustrations off my face. "Thank you," I bowed. "It was a pleasure meeting you."
Adina stared at me quietly as I straightened, then turned my back to leave.
From behind me I heard her small voice. I wasn't sure if I had imagined it, or if it had really been said out loud.
"We'll see one another again."
Isreal was beautiful.
I had never left Tokyo, had never enough money to leave, and this was my first trip out of the country.
Trubah was a small desert town that was ticked away to the east. It was hot and dry, but the surroundings were so beautiful. I had never seen temples beyond those of a Buddhist temple. To see the beautiful golden-globe temples that dominated most of the country were breathtaking.
"I want to come back here," I said out loud as I watched the beautiful scenery below us as we took of. We took an Economy flight back and Naru sat in the middle, Lin sat in the aisle seat. "I've never traveled before. I think, if I ever get enough money, I would love to visit Israel again. Or Europe and the United Kingdom."
"You'd have to learn English," Naru said from behind a book he was reading. "Most countries accept English as a universal language. It's also easier to translate."
"Not everyone can learn two languages as efficiently as you," I glared at him.
"Five." Naru corrected, "I speak fluent English, Japanese, French, Spanish and Mandarin."
"Show off," I mumbled but deep down I was incredibly impressed. Learning one language was hard enough. Naru knew five. Then again, Naru was some kind of genius.
I turned back to the window, which was covered with grey clouds now as we reached the peak height of our journey. The three of us settled in for our grueling flight.
"The SPR must be extremely curious about this mark if they paid for us to go all the way to Israel," I mused at one point.
Naru said, very precisely. "The SPR in London does not fund individual research projects."
It took a few seconds longer than it should have to completely absorb that. "Wait, who paid for this trip then?"
"Lin paid for his own ticket. I paid for yours and mine -"
"What!" I felt the entire cabin quiet down as I shouted. I twisted in my seat and unbuckled my seat belt. My gaze was fully on Naru who was giving me a displeased look.
"YOU PAID FOR MY TRIP TO ISRAEL?!"
He sighed, "It's fine Mai. You're causing a scene"
"I-I'll pay you back, I swear."
"I don't want your money," Naru said. "Now, will you sit back down and be quiet?"
In my outburst I did, indeed, stand up. Blushing, I quickly sat back down and buckled up my seat belt again.
In a hushed voice I hissed, "When were you going to tell me that this isn't being funded by the SPR?"
"It doesn't concern you."
"Yes," I tried to keep my voice down. "It does. You can't just keep something like that a secret from me. Naru, we're talking about, possibly, thousands of dollars!"
I did the mental math in my head, estimating the price of a single ticket to be anywhere between two thousand to three thousand dollars. I thought I was going to pass out and the plane started to become very small. Everything started to get dizzy.
"I'll pay you back -" I tried again and couldn't hide the tremble in my voice. I felt like I was such a nuisance and I hated feeling like a burden. Hated feeling like I couldn't do anything for myself because I was poor.
"Listen to me, Mai." Naru had twisted in his seat to face me. He didn't dare try to touch me but the tone in his voice was soothing. "I didn't tell you because I knew you did not have the money for this. I have enough funds to cover the cost and I don't need, or want, you to pay me back."
His voice was the same wondrous lowness that I could listen to over and over again. Like a deep melody that was calming and soothing.
I blushed again, it took on a different feel than it had before. This feeling of shame for being broke felt embarrassing.
Turning away, I was breathing deeply trying to calm myself down.
Naru said, "I never traveled either, other than to Japan. I had never found it interesting and didn't think I would enjoy it."
I listened, half aware that Naru was...talking. He was trying to make me feel better.
Just like he had after that nightmare.
"Travelling was more Gene's thing. He was the one who enjoyed it."
Hearing him say his late brother's name pulled at something deep within me and I looked back at the indigo-eyed brother. He was staring at me.
More than words passed between us as Naru settled back into his chair. I stared out the window again, trying not to think of the devastatingly handsome man in black who sat beside me.
The man who had, suddenly, felt even closer to me now than he had ever before.
I was, once again, reminded that having feelings for Naru had left me knee-deep in trouble.
Chapter 19: The Iron Gates
I was tired and jet-lagged when we returned to Tokyo, so was Naru and his only show of it was being crankier than usual. There was a moment on the drive home where Naru wanted to stop in the office to pick something up. Apparently (even jet-legged) he wasn't planning to rest anytime soon.
When Lin dropped us off at my apartment, without thinking much, I showered, changed and climbed into bed. Naru had walked straight into the living room, turned on the light and booted up his computers. Typical.
What wasn't typical was that the moment I laid down a sweet, sleepy darkness found me. Most nights I tossed and turned before finding some semblance of peace.
Tonight was different and this darkness had never taken this form before - had never felt so ancient and utterly alive.
From within the dream I opened my eyes and I was met by large Iron Gates on a black plane within a dark land.
This was a place I had never been before. It felt cold and dark with a strange thrumming of power that was terrifying, alive and ancient. As if this place had existed for millennia of centuries.
Some intrinsic part of me knew that this place was not bad, this place was not to cause fear, and perhaps that's why I did not feel afraid to be here. Instead I felt a deep sense of belonging and curiosity as I gazed at the large Iron Gates. They were pitch black like this world but I could see them glistening.
I was instantly curious at what could be beyond those gates.
A form began to materialize from the darkness in front of me and I hoped it was Gene so I could finally ask him what was going on. It began to take a familiar shape but the face was far from the handsome blue-eyed brother.
"Adina," I whispered as her blue eyes opened to look at me. A small distance separated us but I could recognize those wise eyes anywhere.
She gave me a toothy grin that felt hallow and sad, "I told you we would see one another again."
I looked around the darkness, then at the Iron Gates. "Where are we?"
"These are the gates to the afterlife. Some may call it Heaven or Hell but none know for sure what lies beyond."
My core went cold. "A-are we...dead?"
Blue eyes gazed into mine. "One of us is."
I felt my throat close up.
Was this the fate of Sara's warning? Something pulled within me when Adina spoke again. "You are the anchor, Mai."
"I don't know what that is," I said honestly and in a shaking voice. This was now the second time I heard that term. Being in this place of such ancient power that felt so alive began to dawn on me that perhaps what they were saying was true.
"A living portal," said Adina. She move her gaze to the Iron Gates and stared at them. There was a deep and satisfied quality to her stare when she beheld them. I realized she was not afraid. "I don't, exactly, know what that means either. All I can tell you is whatever trouble you found by obtaining that mark, it now connects your soul to this world."
"I have a spirit guide," I blurted. Gene might have answers, especially since he had been in the council with the Spirit Guides. "Maybe he can tell us what's happening."
She laughed hoarsely at this, "I doubt any soul will be found within a hundred meter radius of this place. This is where souls are taken. If your spirit friend has any mind of not crossing over, he'll stay well away from here."
Deep down, I knew she was right. Gene would find me if I was sleeping, or in a trance - but he would not step foot on this realm to find me. I looked at Adina's small, aged form before settling on her blue eyes. There was a look of sadness that crossed her features as she smiled kindly at me.
"I can see your heart. You are a kind person," She said. "I'm sorry this has happened to you. I couldn't live with myself for not telling you."
"How did you die? We were just there not long ago."
It had only been a couple of hours, had it not? Maybe a day at the most.
"I am an old woman," Adina said, answering my question. "It was finally my turn pass on. Soon, you'll know how because, as the anchor, this is your destiny."
She was careful, I noticed, about not touching me until she said that because when she stepped towards me and her her fingers grazed the skin on my arm, the air around us changed.
My throat felt swollen and suddenly I couldn't breath.
The Iron Gates burst open and I felt my body twist with pain. Black shadow hands reached for me from beyond the depths.
I tried to scream, tried to fight them off, but I couldn't do any of that. I couldn't move. It was utterly terrifying.
I couldn't fight off those shadow hands as they gripped me tightly and pulled me beyond the Iron Gates.
Beyond the Gates was life.
Beyond the Gates was an eternalness that felt too real to comprehend.
I blinked at my surroundings - I was in a gurney. There were tubes in my nose and the air blasting into my nostrils felt dry. I felt the various needles in my arms, a cold wet feeling tingled through my veins.
There was a buzzing of machines and a flurry of activity occurring around me and I was vaguely aware that I was in the hospital.
Only, to Adina, it was a little more than a blur of sounds and colors. I felt the weakness in her breathing and how hard it was to consciously keep her breathing steady. It was even harder to keep her tired eyes open when all she wanted to do was to sleep.
She knew that this was going to be an eternal sleep.
At least until she met her (me) again - the anchor. It was true Adina felt sad that I hadn't understood exactly what the mark meant, or the curse.
Soon, her thoughts were unfocused and she tried to settle them. Adina couldn't find the strength to speak to me out loud however her thoughts did.
She knew that I was going to witness her death.
Adina voiced filled my mind. "Being the anchor is not only a gate to the afterlife. You will experience the death of every soul who passes through you."
Every soul...was that what happened to Sara and Hana? Did they feel the deaths of all their victims too? I couldn't imagine what that could do to their soul, or what it would to do my soul - how it would change it.
Adina continued, "I do not know the means of this curse but you are now an anchor to both worlds, living and dead. The dead can pass through you and onto eternal life."
Suddenly, I recalled the horrible moment Sara had said that the curse could not be broken and I understood what the mark had been.
It was a mark that I had become the anchor, that I would relive their last moments of death - over and over and over again.
It was as horrible as I had imagined.
Adina thought nothing else. Her mind turned into a haze, her eyes clouding over. I could not longer hear the sounds of the outside world through her ears. Her lungs no longer eased up and panic set in when her throat closed up. She couldn't breath, couldn't scream or move - Adina laid there as a hard darkness settled upon her.
The darkness that enveloped her felt lonely and sad. I could feel the sheer fear in Adina as she tried to comprehend what was happening to her. This did not feel like the world with the Iron Gates - this felt like despair. Eternal sadness and grief existed on this darkness with a constant fear. Fear that I might never find my way to an afterlife, or fear that I will not see my family again...
I gasped, sitting straight up in my bed.
It was dark and I was alone - or so I thought.
"I wanted to tell you before," Gene said from the corner of my room. I tried controlling my breathing - it felt so heavy and ragged.
He continued, "Sara might be the only one who knows what's happening. She has to be around still - I'm positive of it and I'm going to find her."
It sounded like a promise but I couldn't tell for sure because I just couldn't think. Gene didn't say anything else as nausea crept up into my throat and I bolted for the bathroom. I barely had enough time as I fell on my knees in front of the toilet and I yielded into it.
The sickness passed through me in horrible waves. Each time, I was forced to remember Adina's death - how lonely and scared she felt. When she died she had no one with her. No one except me in her thoughts.
I was sick to my stomach.
Nausea in horrible and crashing waves shuddered through my body. I had never felt sickness like this before and I was vaguely aware that Naru had come into the bathroom.
"Go away," I hissed - it was a bad decision and I threw up into the toilet again.
I heard the water from the sink begin to run before large hands gently pulled back my hair a moment later.
"You'll be okay," he said and I felt instantly sick again. I yielded myself some more, air hissing through my teeth until I felt like my body was finally done. I tried to calm my breathing, sucking in a glorious amount of air and then holding it from three long seconds before releasing it shakily. I repeated this over and over again.
I continued to breath until I could no longer feel the eternal darkness that threatened to take me. I still saw the horrors of Adina's death - still felt that sticky feeling pass over my skin and my bones, through the very foundation of my core.
I heaved into the toilet again, shuddering as a cool release now began to replace the heavy pool of darkness that had sunk to my gut.
Throughout it all, Naru did not say anything. He stayed with me, holding back my hair and placing a wet face clothe onto my neck. When the nausea finally subsided, I reached up and flushed, watching the water swirl away completely.
"Another nightmare?" Naru asked as he released my hair and I stood up to make my way to the sink.
"Something like that." I fulled up a glass of water and swirled it around in my foul-tasting mouth. I spat it out and did it again before grabbing my toothbrush.
"I still have nightmares about it," Naru said from the silence as I brushed my teeth. "About Gene."
I knew what he meant - who he was talking about. After I rinsed my mouth, I turned to face him. Naru stood perfectly still against the wall behind me, he was wearing a casual light blue pair of pants and a plain black shirt. It was stark against his pale skin, his eyes were dark.
"You don't have to talk about it," My voice felt raw. "But if you do... I'm always here to listen."
His voice was almost inaudible when he whispered, "Thank you."
Naru was an intensely private person and for him to admit this out loud… I felt my heart pounding hard beneath my skin. We walked quietly out of the bathroom, stopping in front of my bedroom door.
When Naru went to move to the living room, I blurted. "Can you stay with me?'
It was stupid to ask because I knew what Naru would say: he would say that they were just nightmares and there was nothing to be afraid of. He would chide me in believing in such things, or that I was being an inconvenience to him.
I was expecting some kind of dismissal when he gestured into the room, "After you."
I moved past the door and Naru waited for me to reach the bed before flicking off the lights in the room. Then, he made his own way to the bed.
"Move over," he said as I squirmed to the very end and felt the pressure where Naru sat on the mattress. He pulled the blankets back and over himself as he laid down on his back, facing upwards.
I turned on my side to stare at Naru. It almost didn't feel real that he was laying next to me. If I moved closer, we would be touching. I wouldn't move though because I knew the boundaries that I could not cross with Naru.
This was almost as unbelievable as him living with me was - or that I had kissed him (we still hadn't talked about that one yet).
He didn't turn to me when he said, "You should get some sleep."
I was tired, beyond tired, but past my wariness I asked, "Does this make you uncomfortable?"
"You staring at me?" He twisted his head to the side and I couldn't help but think there was amusement in his tone. "I'm quite used to it. I'm incredibly handsome, you know. I get stared at often. You should get some sleep."
My admiring gaze turned into a scowl as I huffed out a breath and turned around with my back facing him. Sure he was handsome, but did he have to be so narcissistic? I smiled at that - Naru wouldn't be Naru if he wasn't and I wouldn't want him any other way.
"Thank you for looking after me," I said into the darkness. Naru grunted - acceptance or a dismissal, I didn't know.
From behind my eyes, sleep tugged on me and dragged me into oblivion.
Chapter 20: Take Every Moment
It has been two weeks since I found out about being the anchor, and three weeks since we returned from the prison case. Gene still had not contacted me since he started his impossible mission of tracking down Sara.
I still hadn't been to the Iron Gates since Adina.
I also haven't told Naru yet and maybe it was selfish because I didn't want him to leave. I just didn't have anything to tell him until Gene got more answers.
In the meantime things haven't really changed. I've meet up with Yasu and Bou-san for lunches, have seen Ayako about possible prescriptions (because even though I was off the anti-depressants she was concerned about the lasting effects of not weaning off properly). Masako had finally flown back to Tokyo last night so I had yet to see her but I desperately wanted to.
Things were starting to look up and they were becoming really good.
Things with Naru were good too - better than good, in fact.
It was like living in a dream.
The biggest change was Naru insisted on staying with me through the night.
As I was putting toys away at work I thought of about our brief conversation the night after he first stayed with me.
'It'll help with the nightmares,' Naru had said, leaning casually on the door frame to my bedroom. I was sitting on the bed. 'You're not the only one who has their beauty sleep disturbed when you're screaming and throwing up in the middle of the night -"'
'Shut it,' I growled. 'If you're doing this out of pity, get out. I can sleep on my own, thank you very much.'
'Not from what I've witnessed,' said Naru. He unfolded himself, walking over until he stood at the end of the bed.
His blue eyes were intense, like a blue flame.
'I'm not doing it out of pity, either.'
Whoa. Had Naru known he could look at someone like that?
My heart had been pounding so hard I thought he could hear it echoing throughout the room that night. I was stunned and all I could do was nod my head.
Work went by rather quickly as I was lost in my thoughts. Most nights I found the late shift was long but I had a lot on my mind tonight. At the end of my shift I made my way out of the Church and passed John Brown in the hall. It was a rare sight to see the smiling blonde-haired priest as he was rarely around doing house visits and community work. I had seen him the least out of all the SPR members.
"Hey John," I greeted him. "How are you?"
"Hello, Mai." He smiled at me. "I'm doin' well. Oh, by the way I saw Naru waiting outside for you."
"Naru? You mean Lin, right?" Usually they picked me up together.
John shook his head, "No I didn't see anyone, he asked me to let you know that he was waiting for you."
"Oh," I said. "Well, thank you John. Have a good night."
"You as well."
I walked out of the Church and indeed the Priest was right - Naru was standing at the gates of the Church entrance. He was alone too.
"This is unexpected," I said as I approached him. Expecting the unexpected with Naru was never a good thing. Instantly, I felt anxious.
"I thought we could walk tonight." Naru said. "Lin had personal matters to take care of."
"Oh." This was new. "Well...thank you. You didn't have to."
Naru didn't acknowledge that with any kind of response and he turned towards the street to start walking. I kept pace beside him.
I knew I shouldn't ask but did anyways. "What is Lin doing tonight?"
"My parents were curious as to what has kept me away from London for so long," Naru said. "They took it upon themselves to fly here. Lin is picking them up at the airport now."
Naru's parents, Luella and Martin Davis. "Shouldn't you have gone with him to see them?"
"They made a reservation for dinner tomorrow night," Naru explained. "I'll see them then."
"Oh." I didn't quite know what to say. "That must be exciting for you. I guess I can finally make myself something with fish in it tomorrow, since you don't like seafood."
That was one of Naru's little secrets that I would probably remember for the rest of my life.
There was a brief silence before Naru said, "My parents are aware of our current living situation and asked if you would join us."
I stopped dead in my tracks and Naru turned to look at me.
"I don't want to impose -"
"They asked for you," Naru corrected. "That makes it an invitation."
"Oh," I said, nervously. "W-well then I guess I can't argue with that."
We started moving forward again as Naru spoke.
"My parents are staying at the Aman Hotel in Tokyo, and the reservations are at restaurant there -"
I stopped walking, again. "Aman Tokyo? Oh my God, Naru that's one of the most expensive hotels in all of Tokyo!"
Naru stopped once again, a deep frown settling on his features. "Yes, they tend to overdo things." Then, bluntly. "Are you going to stop after everything thing I say? If you're concerned then I can tell them you're not interested -"
"Sheesh, I'm sorry," I said and jogged up to Naru when he turned around to start walking forward again. "I would love to go. I've just...never mind." I wanted to tell him that I had never met any of my friends' (or boyfriends) parents before. Lucien had known about the fate of my parents but I never knew anything about his. Maybe that was the first sign we were not going to last.
"I'll let them know your decision then," Naru said.
I realized if it was a fancy dinner, I didn't have anything to wear. Quickly, I took out my phone and texted Masako.
..::I know you must be tired, but I would love to get together with you tonight. Need to go shopping ASAP. Naru's parents are in town and want to do dinner::..
Her reply was instant and I smiled at the response.
..::Meet me at the Shopping District in an hour::..
I guess Naru would be eating dinner by himself tonight.
"Mr. and Mrs. Davis are very kind," Masako assured me as walked into a small dress boutique in the Shopping District. "Kind of intense, very easy to talk to though."
"Do you think this would be too much?" I looked at a beautiful black jumpsuit, reaching for it instantly. I held it up to my waist.
"Try it on," Masako urged. "You'll never know until you've tried."
"Okay," I walked to a change room.
Masako talked to me through the thin fabric door. "Yasu told me...about he being...well, you know."
I stopped mid-motion of taking off my shirt and looked at the fabric, as if I could see Masako sitting on the other side. "I'm sorry. I should have told you but I didn't feel like it was my place."
"It's alright," she said after a moment. "I have to admit I was hurt when I found out. It seems that every man I like doesn't share the same interest in me. I'm also glad that he feels like he could trust me with that."
"I know what you mean," I smiled faintly. "And, you'll find someone Masako."
"Oh, I know." I could imagine her pushing back her sleek black hair. "I think I'm content with just focusing on me right now."
I finally pulled the one-piece on, zipping up the back. The jumpsuit was beautiful and absolutely fit like a dream. It was gorgeous, the fabric was buttery soft against my skin. The neckline swept just below my collar bone and the bodice hugged my waist before bellowing into elegant panels down my legs. This jumpsuit had gossamer sleeves that were flowey and attached to elegant wrist cuffs.
Best of all it had pockets!
I stepped out of the dressing room and Masako looked up at me.
"Mai, you look stunning."
"Do you think it's too much?" I turned around to look at it again in the mirror. This gown was definitely too much for a formal dinner. Maybe if it were a banquet.
Masako nodded, "Absolutely not, it is gorgeous."
"It is," I agreed.
"And it's Naru's favorite color," Masako winked.
I was beyond nervous as I got ready for dinner the next night, slipping into my new jumpsuit I bought yesterday.
Correction, it was a beautiful black jumpsuit.
I paired the black suit with a simple pair of gold-dangling earrings and a pair of black kitten-heeled shoes. I decided to keep my hair down for the evening and applied a small amount of eye shadow to deepen the crease in my eyes, then finished the look off with eyeliner, mascara and a smudge of blush.
I stashed my lip-gloss, deodorant and wallet into a small black purse then checked my reflection one last time.
I hardly recognized the person who looked back at me in the mirror. I watched my reflection take a deep breath before I turned around to leave the room.
Naru was waiting for me in the living room and I was glad I went with black because, as per usual, he opted for a black suit with a matching black tie.
"Lin will be here to pick us up in ten minutes." Naru informed me as he turned, adjusting his tie.
I stood awkwardly in the doorway, "okay."
Naru dropped his arms as his gaze turned into something different.
I blushed from the look, suddenly feeling like I overdid it. "Is it too much?"
"No, it's -" there was a furrow in his brow as he searched for the word. "You look different."
I couldn't look into those blue eyes much longer and when my gaze found his throat I felt myself smile at the crooked tie.
"Naru, who taught you how to tie a tie?"
Slowly, I stepped towards him. I felt him tense as I reached out my hands to his collar. My knuckles brushed the soft skin on his throat as my hands worked on the knot.
"It's been a long time since I wore such things," Naru answered stiffly. I felt his eyes on me as I worked swiftly. "Who taught you?"
"Before dad died my mom used to pick me up and let me practice tying his ties. It was so long ago now and feels like I might have dreamed the whole thing up."
When I was finished, I stepped back. Naru touched his throat, feeling the knot before straightening his jacket. "Thank you." He said.
I turned back towards the door just as Naru's phone started ringing. "Lin's here."
When we reached the car, Lin was dressed up formally too. But Lin was always in formal wear, I reminded myself.
Who I wasn't expecting to be in the car was Madoka.
The magenta-haired woman took one look and me, squealed and then squeezed me the moment I slid into the back seat.
"Mai! It's so good to see you again!" She pulled away, grinning from ear to ear. I was too stunned to do anything but grin back at her. "I hope you've been well all this time."
"I've been great," I said and it sounded as breathless as I felt. "I hope you've been alright too. I had no idea you were you as well! What a wonderful surprise."
"Well," Madoka leaned back in her seat crossing her legs. She was wearing a lovely light pink cocktail dress with elegant lace trims. "I'm disappointed that a certain someone never revealed the fact that we are engaged."
To further prove her point, she showed me the beautiful rock on her finger. I gasped, looking at the huge ring. "Congratulations, Madoka!"
From the driver seat, Lin said. "Madoka, you know I don't like making a spectacle about everything."
Madoka dutifully ignored him, "Honestly, these men of ours, what are we going to do with them?" She winked at me. I was too shy to say that there was nothing going on between Naru and I.
At least the drive to dinner was pleasant. Madoka told me all about her and the Davis's adventure here. She also filled me in on some of Naru's latest research. It was a lot of technical theories that I didn't quite understand, but I was still intrigued. Under any other circumstances, Naru would never tell me this on his own. It was like a little window into his life back home.
"Noll has been using statistical inferences to interpret biological systems being inflicted by a anomalous effect." Madoka said at one point. "It's quite fascinating, really. Noll, have you told Mai about the controls you have used in the experiments?"
Naru sighed, "Mai really doesn't care about parapsychology."
"Nonsense," She rebutted. "Mai, hunny tell me, can you still project?"
"Uh, well, sometimes."
"What about the other stuff? Precognitive visions, do you still have those?"
"Madoka," Naru warned. "Please don't interrogate her."
"It's fine," I smiled. "I still have the visions. Not all the time, just when I concentrate really hard."
"Fascinating," Madoka stared at me. "Absolutely fascinating. Noll has never told his parents about his adventures in Japan. Mai, you must indulge us. We would love to hear all about your abilities."
This time it was Lin who warned her. Sheepishly, she grinned at me, winking again. I got the feeling this conversation was far from over yet.
When we arrived at the hotel, Lin gave the keys to the valet and the four of us walked up the grand staircase of the hotel. I was in absolute awe of the beautiful lights and shimmering crystals of the chandeliers.
Madoka strung her arm through Lin's and walked beside him. That, itself, was a sight to behold. I had never seen Lin be physical with anyone. I guess anything could happen to anyone.
Naru and I stayed a few paces behind them, walking side by side.
Quietly, he said, "I understand if you don't want to meet them." There was a faint tone of humor in his voice when he continued. "If we turn around now, I recall the valet having another car before ours."
I whispered back, "If I didn't know any better, I would say you were trying to avoid your parents Doctor Oliver Davis."
"You do know better." He gave me a sidelong glance. "And don't call me that. It doesn't sound right coming from you."
"It'll be fine," I said, smiling through the nerves that made my heart pound. I also ignored the comment. "It'll be a good dinner."
Before we reached the elevator up to the restaurant, Naru stopped.
From the elevator, Madoka held the door open and said, "Hurry up, Noll!"
"Go on without us," Naru said. I saw Lin nod at him, then whisper something to Madoka who simply let the door go and smiled at us.
I turned back to Naru.
"Is everything okay, Naru?"
He was standing perfectly still and if you didn't know Naru you would think the calm demeanor was control.
It was not control though. Not as I watched him move to the far side of the lobby where there was a large-paned window overlooking the garden outside. I slowly walked over to him.
After all this time, I had come to know Naru. I knew that he held all his tension in his shoulders. I had learned the crease in his brows when he was frustrated. I understood the still way he held himself when he was nervous or extremely stressed.
I stepped towards him, not pressuring Naru to talk if he didn't want to. I just stood next to him, to be with him as this passed.
After a few moments, Naru pocketed his hands and a small release of that tension left his shoulders.
I waited patiently, knowing exactly what it was like to just want someone to be there when I returned from being so deep in my mind and thoughts - so deep in that darkness.
When Naru spoke, his voice was quiet. "You look beautiful."
My head snapped up to him and those intelligent, cool eyes were staring at me as they always do.
They were so intense - a flaming blue and I knew if I got too caught up in them I might very well burn. I could look nowhere else because it was that rare moment where Naru's control was down and he let his emotions show through his eyes the way Gene could.
"I didn't tell you before," he said, almost shyly.
My face heated as I thought about him standing in the living room, struggling to find a word for what he was seeing when I stepped out of the bedroom.
'You look different.'
I dropped my gaze to the ground, out the window...anywhere but those beautiful blue eyes that were suddenly too intense - too dangerous - to look at. "Thank you."
Naru slowly closed the distance between us.
"Are you ready?" He said, sounding a little more composed. He presented his arm, hand still in his pocket - I realized he was waiting for me to take it.
Slowly, I slid my arm through his as I had saw Madoka do with Lin.
"Together," I said echoing the words that I had thought the moment when we could have died in that cabin during the prison case.
I felt his arm flex, then relax under my touch.
"We'll do this together."
Chapter 21: Quite Heartbeats
We didn't say anything while we walked to the restaurant and were directed to the table where Luella, Martin, Lin and Madoka were waiting.
Madoka waved to us and I felt the nerves start to rise, my heart was pounding in my head. This was really happening.
It didn't help me feel any less nervous that Naru had already seemed to be anxious about this dinner - now I started to feel uneasy too.
A steady hand on my the back of my waist brought me back. Gingerly, I looked up at Naru who nodded.
It'll be okay.
"Mai," Luella greeted me in Japanese when we approached the table. "How wonderful to see you, dear."
Naru's mom looked regal in a simple dark blue gown. She left her silver hair styled in a bun atop her head. Martin was next to her in a grey suit and bowed to me.
"It's so good to see you again as well. Thank you for inviting me to dinner." I said, returning the bow.
"The pleasure is ours. Please, sit." Luella gestured for me to sit in the seat next to her.
Luella sat at at the head of the table with Martin to her left and I sat on her right. Beside Martin was Lin then Madoka. I was surprised Naru insisted to sit beside me.
Martin spoke in a rough voice, his Japanese was not fluent like Luella's or Naru's. "I've waited weeks to hear from you. How did the Kamikawa District case go?"
Naru answered smoothly. "It went well, I left reports on the case."
"Yes, we read them."
"If you've read the report you must have known everything that we experienced." Naru questioned.
"Noll!" Madoka snapped at him. "That is incredibly rude."
Naru gave her an blank stare, then set his eyes back down on the menu. "Forgive me, Father."
"Oliver, darling, your father and I miss you dearly." Luella gazed at her son.
Naru was still eyeing the menu. "I have business here, mother."
"If it's parapsychology, you know your father would be interested to know." She chided him.
"It's personal," Naru dodged. "I don't ask questions about your personal research. You shouldn't find the need to question mine."
"What your mother is trying to say: when are you going to come home?" Madoka interjected. "You've been away for nearly a month. You barely gave us any notice before you up and left on a plane and took one of the most unusual cases in Japan without even a goodbye -"
"Madoka," there was a warning in Naru's voice. "I suggest we find a dinner appropriate conversation so we don't bore Mai."
There was an awkward tension at the table, and thankfully the server arrived to take our orders.
Madoka was the first to break the silence when the server left. "I'm sorry Mai, please tell us how you've been all this time. Have you finished school?"
"This is my last year," I fiddled with my fingers on the table, not sure what to do with my hands. "I've been taking courses for an Education Degree at a local college. I'm planning to be an elementary school teacher and we have a practicum next term."
"That sounds wonderful," Luella said. "Do you like children?"
"Yes," I smiled a little thinking about all of the kids at the Orphanage. I loved all of those crazy, silly children. "I work part time at an orphanage and I adore teaching the kids there. It's one of my favorite things to do."
"That's absolutely beautiful. I think you'll be a wonderful school teacher, Mai." Luella looked lovingly at her son when she said this. "Oliver hates children. It's probably because he has no patience. I hope your gentle nature will rub off on him one day."
"Mother -" Naru started and I felt my face heat again, turning red.
"Oh shush," Luella took a drink from her water. "I'm only stating the truth."
I said, "T-Thank you, Mrs. Davis for your kind words."
"Please," She reached across the small distance on the table to touch my hand. "Call me Luella."
Her warm smile filled me with so much joy and I couldn't help but smile back. "Thank you, Luella."
"Mai, when you are graduated you must come to London," Madoka grinned eagerly. "For the wedding of course."
"I-I don't know English very well," I stammered, still blushing. "And, I wouldn't want to impose -"
"You won't be imposing, silly," Madoka waved her finger at me. "It's an invitation! Noll could teach you English, easily!"
Naru let out a small, amused breath. "English is a difficult language, I would hardly call it easy to learn."
I shot him a glare. "Well I could probably learn it if I had the chance."
Madoka seemed oblivious to our banter. "Oh, and of course you could bring your friends from the SPR. How are those guys?" She asked Naru, directly.
"SPR in Tokyo was only temporarily reinstated," Naru said.
"That's the other reason we're here," said Martin. "Do you intend on taking any clients while you are in Japan?"
"No, I'm not ghost hunting. As I've said, I'm looking into a personal matter."
Luella pressed her lips in a tight line. "We read the report you sent to the SPR and there was something that concerned us about the case."
"The SPR in London gave me permission to take it."
"Yes, we are aware of that. However, this mark on Mai's arm seems to have brought some attention among the Board of Directors," said Martin.
"Before you even say anything Oliver, I want you to hear us out." Luella declared when Naru had, indeed, opened his mouth to argue with them.
I heard Naru take a deep, unsteady breath in and out as he waited.
"One of the Board Members seemed very intrigued about what was learned on the Kamikawa District case." Martin said and he looked directly at me. "They were very interested in you specifically."
I suddenly felt a chill run down my spine.
Martin continued, "I realize that's probably why you've stayed in Tokyo however they may be interested in you bringing Mai back to London and continuing there."
Naru was quiet for a very long time, giving the servers time to hand out each of our dinners and refill our glasses. When they left, Naru spoke and it wasn't what I expected him to say. "I've requested that the SPR in London not be involved in this part of the case."
For the first time it sounded as if Naru was...unsure. As if his trust in the SPR was enough to believe them. It was naive thinking coming from Naru.
It was Madoka who clarified. "This is still, technically, an SPR case. You can't continue to investigate it on your own without approval from the Board of Directors."
Slowly, I was began to realize why Naru was anxious about this dinner. Maybe Naru knew the evidence we found would lead the SPR to us. Especially when the SPR was now set on making me a test subject. Or, if they had something else planned with what we found.
And this member who was interested in me... I got flashes from the man in the cabin and repressed the goosebumps that began on my forearms.
No, it couldn't be him. I refused to believe this world was that small - or there were that many coincidences.
"Then I'll abandon the case," Naru said irritably. "Is that what you want?"
Luella sighed, "Oliver, we just want you to be careful."
"The SPR wants Mai to go to London so they can investigate her." Naru said, plainly. "If this is part of the case than I don't want to continue looking into it."
The table once again went quiet. I felt out of place to say anything even though they were discussing my fate, so instead I reached for my water to cool my dry throat.
Madoka, for once, was not smiling.
She looked directly at me. "I'm sorry, this must sound very insensitive to you Mai. Of course we want to help you but in doing so it means the SPR controls the investigation and could use it for their own purposes."
"This is ridiculous," Lin spoke for the first time. "Luella, Martin - you can't be serious in suggesting that Mai leave her home to become a test subject."
"We're not," Luella corrected in a hard tone. "We want Oliver to be aware that there are dangers to him continuing this investigation as part of an SPR case."
Mdoka said in a low voice, "I've heard rumors that the member who was interested in Mai may come to Tokyo if you don't agree to bring her to London."
"You think they would come here?" I asked, now feeling completely stunned.
"It's possible," Luella confirmed. "I worry about what they will request when they are here."
From beside me I could feel pricks of electricity nipping at my arms through the gossamer sleeves. The air turned cold and I could practically feel the weight of power pressing firmly on my back.
Naru sat perfectly still and this time nobody breathed.
The control that had slipped briefly took seconds to be put firmly in place. Naru leashed his control over that mighty (and dangerous) power.
My glass cup of water slowly began to frost over.
I was pulled into the dark aura that was emitting out of Naru and I reached under the table to find his fingers were in a fist, fingers digging into his palm. His skin was clammy and cold to the touch. My hand was shaking when I touched him and he flinched outwardly as if I had struck him.
Blue eyes swung to mine and I suddenly felt like I had over stepped a line. I yanked my hand back.
"Naru," Lin warned.
Never had I seen Naru so out sorts. His eyes snapped to Lin now and he gave the Chinese man a feral look.
"Oliver, please calm down." Luella said in a sweet voice. It was so sweet I could almost imagine her using the lull of this tone to sing to the twins to sleep - to comfort them.
Naru seemed to have responded to it and some of that tension in his shoulders seemed to be released.
I was even more surprised when I felt his hand reach for mine on my lap. I accepted his touch (where he didn't accept mine) and threaded my fingers into his until our palms pressed together.
In a tight voice, Naru finally spoke. "They are aware I'm currently in Japan and should be expecting someone from the Board?"
"Yes." Martin said. "However we believe that if we persuade the SPR you are back in London they may not to come here."
"You would lie to your Board of Directors?" I asked, hesitantly.
Martin nodded. "Of course. We dislike the thought of our son and you being used for personal gain within the Board."
"Thank you," I said. "I truly appreciate that you would go to such lengths for us."
Naru said, "Thank you Mother, Father. I realize the position this puts you in."
"You don't worry about us, darling. Just do what you came here to do." Luella urged her son. Martin looked at Naru, then to me and smiled briefly.
As our food arrived, Madoka reached across the table and grabbed the bottle of wine that had been left in the center. She opened it, smiling widely and poured her own and Lin's wine glass up to the rim.
Then she leaned across the table to fill up mine and Naru's.
"If we plan on getting any kind of decent conversation tonight I think we'll need a second bottle," she winked.
"So dinner went well. I really enjoyed myself." I said when Naru and I were finally inside the apartment. Naru took off his black blazer and walked into the living room.
Madoka wasn't joking about the second bottle of wine for the table. It was so good, I had never tasted anything so good before and hardly realized how much I had drank until my first glass was empty.
Lin, Naru and his parents had slowly drank each of theirs. By the time dessert arrived, Madoka had filled my glass a second time.
"They certainly were talkative tonight," Naru mused. "Mai, tea please."
"Well, of course they would be - they're worried about you. Parents and all, I hate to break it to you but that's what parents do." I walked into the kitchen to prepare the tea. I think I was going to need it too since my head was still spinning from the alcohol.
From the other room, Naru didn't answer. Still feeling the buzz of alcohol I couldn't keep my words in check and continued talking.
"Is it true what Madoka said - that you just up and left for Japan? I thought you said you were looking into that Enchanted Forest theory and you were trying to link it to the prison case in Biei."
Actually, the more I thought about it, the less sense it made.
His parents obviously missed him, he had left abruptly and it seemed like he had just taken any case he could have that was in Japan. Thinking back to it, the case was sloppy and it was not a case I expected Naru to take.
It was all very unlike Naru.
Things weren't making much sense, even in my slightly drunken state.
Naru emerged from the living room now wearing a simple black shirt and a pair of loose slacks.
Bluntly he said, "what is your point?"
I reached into the cupboard for cups. "It seems strange. You just came here and took a high profile case that you didn't have a whole lot of information on."
When I turned back around, intelligent blue eyes staring at me. From the table, Naru watched me. "And?"
I didn't want to say it. Not when I wasn't sure of what 'it' was. Naru had told me once before that he wanted to come back to Japan and maybe this was the only way he could.
When the kettle started to go off, I grabbed it from the stove. "Never mind, it's nothing."
Maybe I was thinking about it too much. Maybe, my mind was too fogged over from the wine and I wasn't thinking clearly.
Or, maybe I was thinking too clearly.
As I prepared the tea, I didn't see the figure that began to materialize in the corner of the room. It wasn't until I turned when I saw those striking blue eyes and exotic facial features.
I stopped mid motion as Sara gave me a lazy grin, "How's being the anchor?"
My eyes must have been saucer wide because I heard Naru calling out my name. Sara didn't move, she just remained in the doorway smiling at me.
"Oh don't just stand there. i thought you wanted to talk to me."
She turned, disappearing in the hallway.
I blinked, looking at Naru.
"Sorry, I just -" What was a good lie? Something believable. "I'm going to change first. I'll - uh, be right back."
Naru gave me a strange look, but he didn't try to stop me as I walked down the hall and into my bedroom. I closed the door softly, then turned to the dark figure standing in the middle of the room.
"What do you want?" I kept my voice low as I stared at Sara, not forgetting the games she used to play.
"Gene is waiting for us," she said.
I remembered what she had tried to do to him and hissed at her, "I swear if you hurt him I'm going to -"
"Kill me?" She offered, amused. "I'm already dead."
There was a headache forming in the front of my head that I wanted to massage out. The room started , slightly, spinning. "Where is Gene?"
Sara grinned, taking in my flushed cheeks and slightly parted lips. "Can't the great anchor take a little jaunt to the Spirit Land?"
"It's not that easy."
"Sure it is." Sara crossed her arms, challenging me.
I loosened a long sigh and closed my eyes. Concentrating past the headache I tried to reach for that feeling from within me. The veil that seemed to exist just beyond my skin. The power glittered at my touch and then opened.
When I opened my eyes, I was not standing in my room anymore. Instead, I was standing on the spirit world which seems to have been molded before me. I was standing near the cabin back in Biei.
Gene and Sara were there. I noticed Hana was missing.
"Where is Hana?"
"She's gone," Sara said, her voice sounded detached and cold. "Hana's soul passed through me when I was still the anchor."
"What is this?" I didn't need to show her my tattoo for her to understand what I was talking about. "Why did this happen?"
"Don't you remember? I told you the curse cannot be broken."
"You didn't destroy the Xipherian Amulet." Sara said this as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. "You left it half done."
Gene stepped forward, "It's an amulet that was created before the curse. It apparently had special properties for the wearer. Things that shouldn't be possible."
Sara snorted at this, "It is possible. Hana and I were used as anchors. That thing possessed Hana and came from the other world as way to keep the portal open - a bridge. The souls we consumed didn't come to us, instead they were absorbed into the amulet."
"What does the amulet do?" I asked.
"In exchange for souls a wearer could live indefinitely."
The world flickered from my lack of concentration and Sara snickered at this.
Gene shook his head, "It can't be true. There's no such thing as an amulet that could give someone eternal life."
"Not eternal life but long life." Sara countered, "They age slower and can eventually die."
My throat felt raw, "who is wearing this amulet now?"
Sara shifted her weight uncomfortably, "You saw him, didn't you? It's the same man."
I knew who she meant and could still feel his fingers grasping around my throat, Could hear him screaming in my face. I could still see the amulet hanging from his neck, hidden in a mass of shadows.
The Xipherian Amulet.
"What about Miki?" I said, because at this moment it felt important. All this time, I thought Miki had been the one who started all of this.
"No," Sara frowned. "He's been one of the men in charge of dragging people to the prison so they can die. In fact most of that town was under some contract because a 'haunted' prison would attract a lot of inexperienced tourist. They didn't bother to investigate when so many people went missing. Not when it meant that people were coming back to the town again."
Gene asked, "Why the prison?"
"It was within range of the cabin where my body was. He couldn't risk someone actually finding the portal. The Xipherian Amulet also controlled the curse to an extent. When Hana and I were bound to that land he could ensure that souls were being consumed because if they weren't...well you can gather what would happen."
"He wouldn't be able to stop the aging." Gene guessed.
Sara nodded. "Exactly, the curse affects him like how it affects us. If souls are not absorbed by the anchors and the amulet than the aging progresses steadily."
It sounded horrible. He had done all of these awful things just so that he could remain young. It made sense why he wanted to know where I was, why he couldn't find me.
"You have to tell Noll," There was urgency in Gene's voice. "If this man is after you it's too dangerous for Noll to not be aware of it."
"That won't stop him," Sara said darkly. "That man will still find you, even if he has to kill the ones you love. I bet you haven't even collected one, yet. You probably haven't been through the Gates."
Gene hissed defensively, "Be quiet."
My silence gave away the truth - that I had been to those Gates.
Sara's eyes lit up, knowingly. "You have crossed through them."
"It was awful," I recalled my only time through when I witnessed Adina's death from her eyes. Even though the memory of it was horrible, being beyond the Gates felt...amazing. Surreal.
"You get used to it. I didn't have a physical body when I was the anchor so I don't know what it would do a physical mind," Sara noted.
"To destroy the curse we need to get the amulet - this Xipherian Amulet. With whatever time we have and wherever it may be." Gene concluded.
"Then we'll have to just do it," I declared. "I'll tell Naru about the Amulet, maybe he can find more information on the origins of it."
Sara's mouth tightened. "There's one more thing you'll need to know about destroying it."
I waited for her to explain but he said nothing.
My patience was being tested and I snapped, "well?"
Sara stood very still when she finally spoke. "Do you not understand what the anchor is - to be the anchor means that your soul is now attached to the Xipherian Amulet and to destroy it mean you must destroy your soul, and since you are still alive, well - "
I stopped hearing any words and the world had slipped out from under me.
Everything flickered as I stepped backwards with shaking legs and a hard weight seemed to sit on my hollow chest.
The world rippled and a tremor shuttered through it as if some piece of the world shifted. As if some part of the world was falling apart.
If my soul was to be destroyed...that means that I...
"I have to to die?"
Chapter 22: Give Me All of You
My heart slammed into my gut. "I- I need to die for this to be stopped."
Saying the words out loud gave them a new sense of realness. I wasn't alright, none of this was alright - none of this was supposed to happen.
"Did you think this wouldn't have a price? That you could live happily ever after when you destroyed the curse?" Sara laughed bitterly, "You're an even bigger airhead than I thought."
"That's enough." Gene snapped at her then stepped towards me. He gently put a hand on my arm he, steering me back from my suddenly dark thoughts. "Mai, are you alright?"
Gene didn't try to tell me it was going to be okay, nor did he try to cover up the devastating truth with words.
I was breathing heavily.
Sara's voice found it's way to me. There was a sense of desperation behind it that I had never heard. "If you leave the anchor in the state it's in now...then that bastard wins."
I was lulled in by the emotion behind her voice. Sara was fourteen when she became the anchor, even younger when she learned of those horrible things her father taught her.
She clenched her hands, fighting whatever emotions were overpowering her. "I can't let him him. I want to watch him suffer - I want to watch him die." Sara hissed.
In the quietness of the moment, a question sprang to my mind. "How come your soul didn't pass on like Hana?"
"Isn't that the question of the century?" Sara answered in an emotionless tone, which was unlike her usual, sassy, quips. She gave us an empty stare, "I've told you everything and since I don't plan on passing on anytime soon, I'll be around."
Sara turned around with her back to us. Indeed, something dark was pressing on her and she seemed so off - it was unlike her.
Soon, Sara disappeared so it was only Gene and I left.
I knew I was running out of time to be here, I could feel the fatigue deep in my bones now. I had spent a lot of time on this side and time wasn't measured the same in this world as it was in the mortal world. You could spend minutes here and end up having spent hours instead.
Gene looked at me with a sad expression on his face. I didn't want to talk about it anymore. Didn't want to be reminded that I -
I needed to die.
"I met your parents tonight," I said by way of distraction. "They really love you and Naru, don't they?"
He nodded. "They do."
"You two are lucky."
"We are." Gene agreed and stepped towards me, his finger lightly tracing my jaw. It was a moment that wasn't rare with Gene - the brother who wasn't afraid of touch. He said in a quiet voice, "We'll find a way to fix this, Mai."
I remained silent, my heartbeat pounding through my skin. I couldn't talk about it, didn't want to think about it.
Gene stilled from beside me, a frown deepening on his face. "Are you still going to tell him?"
I wasn't ready for that question, either. There was too much to process, too much to understand and I couldn't answer. Gene continued carefully, "He'll be devastated if you don't. If one day you were to just disappear...I couldn't imagine what he would do."
He was right. I didn't want to address what, exactly, was happening between Naru and I. Not when things were so unclear and with Naru being a known flight risk… it was safer to assume nothing was going on. At the same time, it was so hard when things between him and I were intense. It was starting to feel like something was pulling us together, connecting us on a deeper level.
And it was scary as all hell.
"I'll figure it out," I said, answering Gene finally. I placed my hand on top of his, looking up at him. "Thank you for finding her. I know it probably wasn't easy...and as for all of this, I need to sleep on it. I just can't...think right now."
"I understand," said Gene.
He dropped his hand and I stepped back, closing my eyes. I felt this world melt under me. Felt it dissolve as my spirit found its way back to my physical body. When I opened my eyes, I was on my knees and alone in the dark room.
Shakily, I rose and turned on the light. Then, I rummaged in my drawer for something to wear other than my fancy jumpsuit.
When I opened my door, I was greeted by more darkness.
The lights in the kitchen had been turned off and I padded down the hall into the living room. Sleeping on the couch was Naru.
I didn't know how long I was in that other realm for but I could smell the scent of his soap and shampoo from his shower. I looked into the kitchen and saw that the cups had been washed and put away.
Slowly, I walked over to Naru's sleeping figure. I was stupidly grateful that he left me alone, not probing my space and forcing me to talk. It was something that Lucien did constantly, he just had to make sure I was okay all the time - had to try and fix everything.
Sometimes, it was fine to not be okay. Some things couldn't be fixed.
I knelt by his head carefully looking at his face. Naru sleeping was almost as unbelievable as Naru living with me. I never thought I would experience this. His skin was so smooth that I wanted to trace my finger over his jaw just to feel it.
Then, my gaze dropped to his lips.
My heart fluttered as I thought about the only time those lips were on mine. The way they felt so soft. I knew Naru's mouth was his main weapon, his source of protection. That night in the cabin I felt his lips on mine and it relayed the desperation he must have felt when we were a moment away from death.
I realized Naru would never be the type of person who hovered. He would always let me deal with whatever I needed to on my own so I could sort it out.
A little more sadly I also realized Naru could never be mine. Whatever was happening between us was an illusion that I was beginning to believe.
The thought hurt me more than I could have imagined.
Naru would never be mine.
Slowly I rose.
In the morning I will tell Naru about the amulet, about the meeting with Gene and Sara.
For now I needed sleep.
This night was very far from over.
My dreams had been interrupted by a strange sensation. I had felt this presence once before in a memory.
I wasn't quite sure I was ready to see the Legendary Spirit Guide in front of me. His furry fox head startled me, his body was completely covered by robes that looked as if they were made of the darkness around us.
"Kitzune," I watched him approach, his golden eyes bright in the dark.
"Hello, little anchor." He greeted me in a rough voice laced with a mischievous hint. As if he were always smirking. "You've caused quite a commotion."
I realized we were standing at the Iron Gates.
"A-are you here to pass on?" I asked, confused.
He grinned at this, "I couldn't pass on even if I tried. It's a gift as much as it is a curse."
"Are you here to kill me?" I recalled from the conversation I overheard that the leader, Hanataka-Tengu, wanted to kill me to re-balance the cycle of life and death.
Those lips pulled at the corners. "Yes, Hanataka would certainly enjoy that, wouldn't he? However, I'm here on a solo errand."
I tried to settle my pounding heartbeat as Kitzune watched me with stealthy eyes. "I heard you found out about the Xipherian Amulet."
"Yes, I did."
Kitzune continued to watch me. "The others would prefer to not intervene, since it would only cause further problems to such a fragile state of affairs. I, on the other hand, think it would be wise for you to know the exact entity you are up against because I sense that you are different from the last. You intend to fight."
I was going to fight - I wasn't sure how yet but I remember Gene telling me he would find a way. And, if I dare tell Naru, he would certainly make sure to find a way as well. Even if I couldn't save my life, maybe I could save the future of someone else's fate from becoming like mine, Hana's or Sara's.
What Kitzune was offering me, I realized, was a chance at that success.
The spirit guardian noticed my change in attitude towards him - no longer was I seeing him as a threat, but as an ally.
"There is a mirror," he said. "The Lasser Glass they called it. It was old even when we were young. It is said that a young Deity descended to earth using the Lasser Glass and became trapped within the mirror. Living on earth forced the Deity to change, and they had to become something else - had to become different."
The story was taking a terrifying turn.
"Before entering the mirror, they were immortal. Being here, on this realm, forced them to eat life, itself, and remain forever. Here, they have become a Death God." Kitzune said.
"You mean he can consume souls? That sounds...like the anchor." I pointed out.
Kitzune smiled, "precisely." His eyes were shimmering with amusement.
"If the Lasser Glass has a Death God inhabiting... what is the anchor and the Xhiperian Amulet?"
"I wondered that too until I realized the truth about the Xipherian Amulet. How, do you suppose, can an amulet have such power? There has never been such an artifact before." Kitzune said.
I waited and waited and waited, picking apart his words like crumbs of bread. The spirit waited too.
The answer came to me in a shocking jolt. "The Lasser Glass is in the Xipherian Amulet."
He fell silent, toying with his delicately long and sharp claws, tapping them against each other. I resisted the urge to shiver at the thought of what those talons could do to me.
"You're a clever one, aren't you?" Kitzune smiled. "There is no doubt about it, the Lasser Glass is missing a piece that I now believe is within the Xipherian Amulet. Thus, the mirror does not have its full potential."
"That means we're up against an actual God? A Death God." My body tensed. A war with another God. The last time, on a case, we went up against a God it almost cost Naru his life.
A second thing I realized was that there was no benefit to help me.
Kitzune, a Spirit Guardian, did not trouble himself with the lives of mortals on a daily basis. Clearly, there was something very important on the line for him to even bother with this little trip.
"Why help me?" I asked, carefully as his gaze took on a different quality. "What's in it for you?"
Kitzune purred pleasantly. "There is one thing I would like in exchange for my help, of course."
All the red flags were going off in my mind. Surely, Kitzune did not mean my anymore harm than this curse. I was more disposable than he, I knew that much.
I had to proceed very cautiously. He was an ancient spirit, a mischievous spirit no doubt. He could easily trick me into making a ridiculous deal, or if I wasn't careful, I could fall into a carefully crafted loop-hole.
"Within reason," I countered.
He exchanged a glance with me. "There are legends that say all can be seen within the Lasser Glass. I have been on this God-forsaken place for millennia. What better entertainment would provide me with more joy? That is my price - restore and bring me the Lasser Glass. In return, I will continue to help you break this curse. Naturally, the anchor should be returned to its rightful origins at some point."
I paused, weighing his words. Kitzune, an immortal Spirit Guardian wanted the Lasser Glass to satisfy his infinite boredom of living as an immortal spirit. I also realized Kitzune was very careful with his words. Not once did he mention that he was going to save me from my fate.
"Will I still need to die?"
He huffed out a breath, "You humans fear death so much. It's a shame."
It was a foolish thing to ask him that. I already knew my answer, so instead I thought of something else I wanted to, desperately, fix if I couldn't save my life in the end. I knew what the legends had depicted of the great Kitzune spirit, that he could alter realities and memories.
I said, carefully. "I want to add one more thing onto that deal."
Kitzune raised a furry eyebrow, golden eyes shimmering like a flame. "I'm listening."
"If I am to die with this curse, I want you to erase any memories of me from my friends. Promise me that and I will make sure you get the Lasser Glass in is full form."
The fox spirit grinned, and it was a wicked thing. "When this is all said and done, little human, I will erase your memory from each of their minds. It'll be as if you were just a dream, a fragment of reality they never knew existed."
A fragment of reality. I supposed that was better than having them completely forget about me.
He stepped towards me, extending a claw-tipped paw. "Do we have a deal?"
It was too easy - too easy indeed. Everything in my being was warning me to step back but my body moved on its own. I stepped into that outstretched claw, grasping it with my hand and confirming the deal.
"There is one more, itsy, little thing," Kitzune's eyes shone down at me as his grip tightened.
I tried to jerk my hand back, my voice shuttering, "what?"
"It is customary to bear the mark of a deal, you see." He said. Then, Kitzune slowly brought his mouth to my hand and I went completely still. I felt his breath on my wrist as he changed his grip in a sharp movement. "Unless you no longer wish for me to help you, little human."
I went rigid under his touch. "Do it," I said in a hard tone.
Kitzune's laugh sounded breathless - then he brought those teeth, those very sharp teeth, down onto my flesh. He bit into my palm and I yelped out at the pain as a strange magic swirled from around us. It felt familiar, so familiar, as it whipped at my skin and hair. I tried to jerk my hand back but Kitzune tightened his grip, digging deeper into my flesh. A pain like pin-pricks running down my wrist turned into a burning sensation.
Hot, then cold, I shivered as the magic affected me. It seemed to dig deeper than flesh, deeper than blood, as it penetrated through me.
When it was over, I gasped awake in my dark room. It was quiet except for my heavy breathing.
I lifted my left arm towards my face, turning it over - examining it.
There was nothing. Only the stark tattoos from the curse on my forearm remained. Maybe Kitzune didn't mark me as I thought he intended to do.
Slowly, I settled back into my bed as a thought nagged at me.
Nothing was as it seemed anymore.
Chapter 23: Hearts Exposed
Naru was gone by the time I woke up the next day and it gave me much needed time to think.
What I was going to do about this?
My deal with Kitzune was still vivid in my mind and I decided to do some quick research on the fox spirit. My research was probably not as sophisticated as Naru's would have been since I relied on the search engines 'Google' and 'Bing'. After a quick name search, the results were everything I had already known; Kitzune was a trickster and not to be trusted - least of all with any sort of dying wish.
I sighed, it didn't make anything better when I felt a presence near me. Suddenly, I could sense Gene hovering on that realm close by. He wasn't strong enough to appear on this world but he could certainly pull my consciousness from here if I wasn't careful. No doubt he had questions or maybe he just wanted to comfort me.
I ignored the sensation and knew Gene would understand. I focused my search on another matter that had began to plague my mind and began typing keywords relating to the Lasser Glass. I found archives of various stories on the ancient mirror.
I clicked on the first achieve which was a brief retelling of the original history on the Lasser Glass.
The elusive glass definitely had a bloody and horrifying past. I doubted the list of deaths and accidents I had come across were anywhere near the real number however, I had to caution myself on believing the things I found on the internet.
It did confirm some of my suspicions - the Lasser Glass was an old and ancient artifact that was made probably before this world even existed.
When Naru returned home later in the afternoon I had still had no more knowledge about the mirror than when I started my search. I didn't know what I was looking for, or where to find any reliable sources so searching took longer than I would have liked to admit. That department was all Naru.
With him being back, it reminded me that I still had to find a way to break the news to him.
It was not an ideal situation.
Earlier, I decided I was going to cook him dinner but I didn't expect him to be home so early. I had taken residency in the living room with printed papers spilled around me.
Naru gave me a confused look when he entered the room, "searching for something?"
"I didn't touch your stuff, I swear." I frantically tried to collect all of my loose papers, closing the lid of my laptop and unfolding my sore legs from their crossed position. I stretched my arms over my head and stood up, "How was your day?"
I moved past him and into the kitchen. Naru followed quietly, "It was fine. Lin and I packed the office away once again." Then, "Are you busy on Friday night?"
I stammered, not expecting that from Naru. Friday was two days from now. "No, what's up?"
"My parents are leaving for London. My mother is particularly fond of you and wants to know if you will see them off."
I fought the urge to squirm, instead I turned to the cabinets to begin grabbing supplies for dinner. "That's very nice of her. I would love to see them off, if you wanted to that is."
"I don't have much choice in the matter," Naru said. "I'll have to rent a car since Lin will be occupied showing them around and driving everywhere."
I smiled thinking of Lin, ever the gentlemen, and chauffeuring his fiancee around Japan.
Then, Naru left the kitchen and walked into the living room, probably making preparations for said car right now since he liked things to be punctual. I stayed in the kitchen, continuing with dinner preparations and chopping vegetables.
Since I was low on ingredients, and shopping day wasn't until Saturday, I was going to make a simple satay.
Methodically, I worked as my mind was swimming with ways to bring up the topic to Naru. It wasn't exactly a light topic to bestow on someone: oh, by the way the curse we thought was broken? Well, it's not and now I'm bound to it and I'm going to die with it. Not to mention we need to restore the Lasser Glass and give it to a fox spirit that I bargained with to help me break the curse so you lose your memories of me.
Even though that was the simplest way to explain the situation, it probably wasn't the most sensitive.
When dinner was done, I plated it and brought it to Naru in the living room.
He had taken his usual spot on the couch and was rapidly typing away at something. I placed the plate on the table and it gently clattered.
"Thank you," he said, looking over at the food. "You were researching something earlier, what was it?"
I swallowed hard. Leave it to Naru to bring up awkward topics almost on cue.
"I, uh, was looking for an artifact." My hands were shaking so badly that I had hold my fingers to stop them from twitching.
Naru gently closed the lid on his laptop. "An artifact? That's a sophisticated term for you."
He meant it to be lighthearted but my heart was pounding in my ears. My chest rising and falling in tandem with my heavy breathing. "Last night, Gene found Sara and they paid me a visit."
Now, Naru's blue eyes darkened - no doubt realizing what, or where, I was last night.
I didn't give him time to speak though. "Sara was the only person we could ask and get answers about this mark. We thought that she had passed on but she hasn't."
Urgently, he asked. "Did you learn anything?"
Slowly, I nodded and the words caught in my throat. "It wasn't great news. Sara said that the curse isn't broken, that we left it half done when we didn't destroy an amulet - something called the Xipherian Amulet."
"Xipherian Amulet," Naru repeated it, as if it was the first time he heard the term.
Once again, I nodded. "According to Sara, the Xipherian Amulet was a key part of the curse. Without destroying it the curse was transferred to me."
I didn't have to explain how. Naru had seen my arm, had seen the early signs of infection growing deep within my flesh. It was my soul that was infected and then my physical body started to respond. In a twisted way, becoming the anchor had saved my life - I probably was going to die anyway.
Perhaps it was more of a gift than a curse, giving me a second chance.
I didn't voice any of this to Naru. Instead, I waited for him to speak.
"Is that what you were researching? The Xipherian Amulet." Naru said.
"Well, kind of." I heard the tremor in my own voice. "I was looking up something else. Something known as the Lasser Glass."
In a single, fluid motion, Naru stood up.
I instinctively jerked backwards. His eyes were pupil wide and from beneath his dark clothing, I could see the rise and fall of his chest. I watched as he brought his breathing under that tight control once again.
"Why would you be looking for such a thing?" Naru said precisely. Darkly.
I didn't answer his question because I was shocked he had known of it in the first place.
"You know of the Lasser Glass?"
"Of course." He answered. "The Lasser Glass has an infamous history among parapsychology researchers."
"All I could find out about it was that people died when it was in their possession," I said.
"Exactly," said Naru. "Many people have died with direct links to the mirror. Every family who has owned it has had misfortune brought to them and died a gruesome death. It is said that to gaze within the Lasser Glass one would have gone mad, or become broken beyond repair."
The Lasser Glass would make me go insane if I looked into it?
Conveniently, Kitzune had not mentioned that tidbit.
It was something which was partially my fault. Our deal was flimsy, full of loopholes and this was very possibly just one of them. I was starting to regret my decision of working with the fox spirit more than I already had. This was how the Lasser Glass was capable of killing so many people. Some of the stories I read still haunted my mind and I thought I was going to be sick.
Naru elaborated, "One of the first legends of the Lasser Glass started in the early sixteenth century. A man gifted the Lasser Glass to his young, vain daughter for her wedding day. However, once she received it , the woman claimed to see an old hag staring back at her from within the glass surface. She had insisted it was cursed but still kept the mirror. One day while combing her hair the young woman did not realize that she had actually grabbed a knife instead. She nearly skinned herself to death before slitting her throat."
I covered my mouth in horror. "That's... awful."
"Similar events have happened to families that owned the Lasser Glass. Each one ended in an unfortunate accident and then the mirror just disappeared. Or is given away to another family. It would be nearly impossible to track, let alone find."
In the silence, Naru's voice was tight, as if he was holding back some kind of strained emotion. "Did Gene put you up to this - to search for the Lasser Glass?"
I understood the emotion in his tone. It was anger at his brother for putting me in danger - or so he thought.
"No," I said, confidently. "He didn't. I'm looking for it because it's connected to the curse." Then, a little more honestly. "Gene doesn't know that part yet."
"What do you mean it's connected to the curse?"
I lowered myself down to the coffee table, grabbing a pen and a blank piece of paper to show him the dynamics of this curse.
I drew a square on the center of the paper, representing the Lasser Glass.
"This is going to sound crazy, but according to older spirits on the Dark Lands the Lasser Glass is missing a piece. This missing piece is bound to the Xipherian Amulet."
I drew a circle inside the square. Then inside the circle I drew three lines to represent the Iron Gates.
In a very clear voice, I said. "Together they have created an artificial anchor, or gate, to the otherworld."
Together my little drawings formed a familiar symbol. The exact symbol that was etched onto my arm in black ink beyond the swirl of words from a foreign tongue.
I put the pen down and pulled back my sleeve, revealing the tattoo to confirm the mark. Naru rounded the table to stand beside me.
I looked up at him, letting out an unsteady breath. "I'm the anchor. I experience the death of every spirit who passes through the gates."
An apostrophe formed in between Naru's brows. "What do you mean?"
This time, tears pricked at my eyes and I couldn't hold back the one that slipped free as I thought about Adina.
In a shaky voice, "Do you remember Adina? Well she passed away when we left and that's when I learned about being the anchor and what it meant. Souls that pass through the gates do not go to an afterlife. Instead, they are absorbed by the Xipherian Amulet, giving the wearer a longer life."
Naru, to his credit, did not look stunned or shocked. He gave me an emotionless expression. His blue eyes were unreadable in this dim light. I rose to stand in front of his unmoving figure.
"I know it sounds impossible but that's what we are up against. Sara's father, Izanagi, is drawing power from the Lasser Glass that is bound to the Xipherian Amulet. By doing so: he's been able to live all these years. We need to restore the missing piece of the Lasser Glass which is in Xipherian Amulet. Then, we put an end to this curse for good."
In the silence that rippled over us, the devastating truth lingered.
And when the curse is broken, I will die with it.
Beneath my skin, my heart was beating rapidly.
I almost thought that I had spoken those words out loud.
The air took on a new quality, heightened in static that I could feel like pinpricks on my skin. His eyes were dark as if he were on the edge of something sinister. I had seen that look in his eyes once when I had provoked him into using those abilities of his.
"Naru," I breathed and stepped towards him. He was significantly taller than me. Slowly, I lifted my hand to his face. My fingers trembled on his skin when he seemed to come out of his trance.
His eyes snapped to mine - pupil wide and I felt him jerk away from my touch. It was a keen breach of contact, bordering on something I was not allowed. However, I did not retract my hand and I once again closed the space between us, reaching out my hand as an offering - not a threat.
"I'm here," I whispered, heart pounding. It was a daring thing to say to anyone, least of all to Naru.
The second touch was accepted as the first had not been. In the moments before flight, Naru closed his eyes and let out an unsteady breath. I knew I should step back, give him space but I felt like he needed this.
Or maybe, more selfishly, I needed this. The truth was so close between us and yet I could not tell him. Not when it meant that I couldn't be with him in a more permanent way that I could have ever thought possible.
"I'm here," I said again and this time the distance between us was only inches.
His skin was so smooth and soft, it felt warm under my fingers. In a moment of boldness I slowly moved my thumb along his jaw, tracing the taut line of it. Naru's breath seemed to be shaken and I felt the desperate urge of flight once again become suppressed from beneath my trembling hand.
Our breaths tangled and the first wave of desire hit me hard. I shifted closer, my heart pounding now because of an entirely different reason.
What are you thinking? I wanted to say but it was a foolish thing to ask him. He would never let you inside his carefully built walls.
It was difficult to read Naru, his cool gaze gave nothing away and I sensed his need for comfort. His need for someone to bring him back from those dark thoughts that turned into dark emotions. Even though he would never allow himself to admit that to anyone, least of all himself.
He did not push me away and I took that as a good sign.
There was more I needed to tell him, I couldn't find the words. Not when all of this was already so much to take in. Not when the truth was going to be so much harder to hear and I wondered if it were possible to take away someone's pain with a kiss.
My gaze dropped to Naru's sensual lips. I brought my other hand up, my fingers passing over the back of his neck, into his soft black hair. His eyebrows furrowed together, perhaps confused about this sudden detour of touch that he had been allowing me.
I gently drew his head down and kissed him.
It wasn't how our first kiss had been; tentative and soft.
Naru kissed me with a slight parting of his lips, as if unsure of what he was suggesting. My whole body felt light, I couldn't believe I was kissing Oliver Davis.
I had kissed other people. Lucien and I shared intimate kisses before, with hopes that it would ease my tension in bed. It never did though.
I didn't know if Naru had kissed anyone, ever. A part of me felt satisfied with that: that I was the only one to kiss these lips. But, even now I could feel that never-ending tension in Naru, who couldn't seem to relax. I pressed myself into him and his hands were a gentle pressure on my hips. Not to push me away but to steady me.
I didn't want gentle. I wanted him to submit to the passion I knew he felt towards me. There was no denying it anymore, not when our hearts were so exposed. I grew lightheaded with the idea: did Naru want me as much as I wanted him?
Our kiss had taken on a new passionate intensity. I groaned into his mouth, wrapping my arms around his shoulders.
The sound snapped whatever leash of control Naru exerted upon himself at all times; had broken some tether deep within.
His hands gripped my waist, grounding me. Then they slide down the curve of my back. The kiss deepend at Naru's bidding as he leaned over me, pressing us closer. Those tight, tense, lines in his body disappeared after every sweep of tongue, caressing my own. I pressed myself completely against him, feeling every hard line on his body and it was impossible to identify where one began and one ended.
I poured everything into that kiss. My frustrations; my guilt; my desire and my ultimate passion for this man. It had an echoed remnant what our first kiss in the cabin had been. That kiss had been soft, tentative and exploratory; a need to get out feelings that we kept from each other.
This kiss was different. This kiss was everything that, all at once, hit me like a train.
I could never have Naru, this was all just temporary. He would never be mine just as I would never be able to outlive my fate but I still found myself with sudden enlightenment.
I didn't just want Naru. I couldn't imagine only having him for a moment, or for a night. I wanted to be with him for the rest of my days and nights, however short that was.
I loved Naru.
That was dangerous. Reckless.
It was Naru who ended it the kiss, abruptly. He jerked back, his hands on my body ripped away. I was breathless, shocked and I stumbled back, placing the back of my fingers over my lips. As if to chase the ghost of his lips on mine. There were four paces between the two of us now, when moments ago we had been pressed against one another closer than ever possible.
We stared at each other, wide-eyed. My eyes were burning with so many emotions still swirling within my body. Why did he pull away? Did he not like it? Was I not good enough?
Naru's hair was mused from where I had, gloriously, ran my hands through it; his breathing uneven.
"I'm sorry," Naru said, his voice was raw and rough; stripped of its usual tone.
"For what?" My own voice was trembling. I couldn't seem to catch my breath.
"It can't happen like this," he said and paused, pondering his next words. "I want - " Naru bit off his words with a jagged breath. "Can you just be here with me?"
I nodded, too afraid to open my mouth. It was Naru, though, who moved. He stepped towards me, taking me into his arms easily - although coming from Naru, it was a bit awkward. I hadn't expected it, hadn't expected the feel of him against me as he leaned down and into me, resting his head on mine; one hand on my waist, the other sliding into my hair.
"Just be here with me," he whispered into my ear.
I held onto those words almost as tightly as held onto him. The raw desperation in his voice was something I had never heard before, and yet I yearned for it - responded to it wholly.
I slid my arms around his lean waist and it felt like the most right thing I had done in a long time. We stood there, holding one another like it was something we had been doing all along.
Chapter 24: Only A Dream
I've been a little quiet and I don't mean to be! I'm so happy to read all of the awesome comments. This story is one of my favourites and I love coming back to it as it was in need of some fine tuning and revising!
Thank you to everyone that takes the time to comment/review and read my work! I hope you enjoy because I seriously love this couple.
We did not share a room that night.
It was the first night of many and my bed suddenly felt big and lonely. Since Naru was much bigger than I was, in order to avoid bumping into him at night, I often clung to the edge of the bed while sleeping. Now, this mattress just seemed too big on my own.
Naru was the one who suggested it would be best to sleep separately and I didn't disagree. We both needed time to sort through what had happened. For Naru that took longer than most.
I showered and readied for myself for sleep, still dizzy with the thought that I kissed Naru.
Not only did he kiss me back but he had confessed to thinking about me.
Despite the hollow feeling in my gut, I couldn't stop smiling like an idiot. That smile stayed glued to my face until I slowly dozed off.
I wasn't quite dreaming when I felt the lingering of a visitor on the edge of my sleep.
Gene materialized, then frowned at me upon arrival. "Did you tell him?"
Seeing Gene, everything hit me like being run over by a freight train. I felt the intensified guilt for not telling the truth; the despair of what the truth would mean; and the devastation that I could never be with Naru.
I felt my voice shake as I stared into a face that was identical to Naru's. "I couldn't."
"Mai," Gene warned in a tone he never used with me. "I know you don't want to hurt him but he deserves to know the truth."
"He won't be hurt," I said confidently. "He won't be hurt because he won't remember."
Eyebrows furrowed, "What do you mean?"
I flipped my wrist over and saw Gene's eyes drop to the tiny tattoo of a fox mask.
My deal with Kitzune.
Gene's eyes were pupil wide, he breathed. "What did you do?"
"I don't know why you wanted me to see that meeting with the Spirit Guardians, but it brought me to Kitzune who made me a deal. I find the Lasser Glass and he'll take away any memories of me from Naru and the others when I die -"
"The Lasser Glass!" Gene looked horrified and I realized that I didn't tell him that tidbit yet.
Gene stepped back as if I had struck him, flashing in those blue-grey eyes was undeniable anger. "I showed you that because I wanted you to understand how dangerous this situation is! Kitzune is a spiritual entity that is a thousand years old! He doesn't want to help you, he would rather see you suffer. How could you be so reckless?"
I had never heard Gene sound so upset before. There was a part of me that was scared of this side Gene because I had never encountered anything but a smiling and supportive Gene. I did not know this resistance.
"I know he will keep his promise," I raised my voice even though it shook. "I trust him."
Gene growled, "He's using you because he can't find the Lasser Glass himself."
"No, he's not," I gritted my teeth. Gene's tone reminded me of all the times that Naru would speak condescendingly to me. It was infuriating and I felt my blood boil in reaction to it.
"Why do you think he wants to help you?" Gene argued, "And how do you know he won't screw you over when he's found the mirror?"
"Because," I hissed, gripping my hands into fists. "I'm the only one who has a direct connection to it. There is a piece of the Lasser Glass in the Xipherian Amulet and I am linked to both of them. He wouldn't betray me when I'm the only way he can restore the mirror in the first place."
Gene huffed out a breath as if he had heard the most ridiculous thing in the entire world.
Something within me broke at the sound of it.
"Do you think I enjoy this?" I snapped. "I'm not some heartless, soulless monster. I never asked for this to happen and I'm doing the best I can to fix this! It may not have been the smartest decision but I had no other choice."
"I could have helped you," Gene snarled. "Noll could have helped if you had just thought things through. So, yes - you did have a choice."
He sounded frustrated and in the next moment, his voice was dark. "You're not trying to find answers because you've already given up."
I jerked backwards.
I had never argued with Gene before and he never had used this tone with me. Our relationship was built on those initial happy meetings and a mutual benefit to one another. Now it was starting to feel real. I was beginning to see Gene as someone I could trust, someone I could lean on. Maybe in a way I saw him as a brother figure, as a friend.
It hurt to know that he thought I was giving up. It hurt to see that he thought I was taking the easy way out. The disappointment in his voice rang clear to me and I hated it.
Neither one of us spoke over the tension. Both of us were usually cool-headed, we were lovers not fighters. It spoke worlds to me that Gene was so upset over this.
"I haven't given up," I told him as he watched me on the swirling, dark plane. "I am going to find the Lasser Glass."
"Then you will die," said Gene in a cruel voice. "Don't count on Kitzune to uphold any bargain between the two of you either."
I had enough of this and Gene was fully aware that I could end this anytime I wished. Without much of a second though, I lowered the veil between this world. The channel, when it was open, felt like a static charge across my skin. Now it was like a dull ache.
Gene's words resonated in my mind as I lay alone in my room.
'You've given up.'
So what if I had. There wasn't much of a hope to ending this damned curse. It wasn't like I was asking for this to happen. If this didn't end with me then someone else would become the anchor. It was a vicious cycle that had been going on for long enough.
So what if it did mean I've given up? This horrible deed needed to end.
The blue eyed control was firmly back in place the next day. Naru didn't say a word about my bad mood, or the clear signs of my sleepless night.
When I arrived in the kitchen, I noticed Naru was on his way out. He hadn't cooked breakfast or made any tea for himself. It was unlike Naru since I had started to get used to our morning conversations over breakfast.
"I'll be out for the day," he informed me as he grabbed his jacket and went to the door. "I'll also be away for dinner so feel free to start without me."
I didn't even get the chance to open my mouth and reply. Naru was already out the door and I heard it close behind him.
I sat alone in my apartment with the rising guilt heavy as lead in my stomach.
I screwed up.
I had work at noon, so I decided to have a productive day and go shopping for groceries. I invited Masako and Yasu, the latter had said he would make it up to me with a movie at a later date.
We were in the supermarket, slowly going through my list of food when I finished telling Masako what had happened this morning.
"I wouldn't worry, I'm sure he just needs a little more time," Masako said after I told her how he acted this morning. "What were the two of you fighting about to begin with?"
"It's really silly," I said vaguely, and changed the topic. "Do you think I overstepped my boundaries? What if he doesn't even like me like that." I had already screwed up by telling Naru too much of the truth. I wasn't about to have the same thing happen with Masako.
Besides, I trusted in Kitzune's promise to me.
"You know Naru better than anyone else." Masako said after a moment. "If he didn't want to be with you then he would have made his feelings known."
"I think I really screwed up this time." I looked down, that heavy feeling remained in the pit of my gut all through the morning.
I felt her hand on my shoulder. "Don't be too concerned. Naru is a very private person and he's not a very social. Things like this tend to elude him."
That sounded remarkably similar to what Gene once told me. It was such a long time ago now I couldn't believe I was hearing those words again. Thinking about Gene and I fighting put another damper on my mood.
Masako didn't pick up on this though, her hand lingered on my shoulder. She mused, quietly, "I do wonder what bothered him enough to push even you away."
"Who knows," I said, echoing words I had said once that felt like a long time ago now. "With him, who cares."
My friend gave me a sad look as she lowered her hand. "Well, whatever is it I don't think you should wait. I think you should talk to him when you get the chance. You'll be seeing off his parents tomorrow evening, right?"
In order to avoid being anymore of the topic, I simply nodded. The conversation had begun to make me feel very anxious.
"You should try to speak with him as soon as you can."
Maybe when she touched me, I realized, Masako could have picked up on some of my lingering emotions. Maybe she was very aware of the situation - or at least vaguely aware of it. I wasn't sure how sensitive she was to things like that, but the last thing I wanted was to hurt Masako too.
"I will, thank you Masako."
We parted ways shortly after I finished paying, then I went to my apartment, dropped off my groceries and left straight for work.
Things were not going as I expected. It made sense that I would feel guilty keeping such a big secret from my friends. I never expected to have to push them away entirely, not when I needed them the most.
I decided to cut through a park that I had known well.
It was called Curry Park, and it was a park Lucien and I came to often. We had nicknamed it to 'our' park because this was were we had our first kiss.
I stopped near the bench where it happened. Lucien had been courting me for nearly a year. We met at school in the library (of all places). Lucien wasn't really an academic but he didn't have to study very hard to get his good grades. I can't even remember why he was in the library to begin with or why I was. I hated the library because it was a place I thought Naru would love. It was full of books and knowledge.
Back then, I had been on the antidepressants. They had numbed so much of me that when Lucien had come up to me that day in the library I couldn't fathom why. I was a plain girl compared to others in our school, I had lost my sense of self and I felt like a hollowed, soulless doll.
Lucien was very patient with me. He offered to meet me for lunches, study sessions which it turned into after school outings. It was around that time I had let the depression slip to Lucien. He was attentive, listening to me as I tried to relay what I was feeling.
I didn't realize how much I needed that. Lucien gave me an outlet and acted as my caregiver. Something that I relied on, heavily, during those years.
When Lucien kissed me, he was the only boy I had ever kissed. He was gentle and patient, but assertive.
That was the beginning of our love story.
I felt a strange breeze touch my skin and I glanced behind me at the direction of the phantom wind. It moved my hair across my neck and sent a flurry of shivers down my spine.
Standing there was a man, I got a strange sense he wasn't entirely...human.
His skin was an off-greyish color, and his eyes were black pits. The man had no facial expressions, only a blank look as he stared at me.
"Can I help you, sir?" I asked, forcing back the tremble in my voice and trying for a polite tone.
In a blink of an eye the man was gone and I stepped back, once. Twice.
My heart was racing when I spun around and he reappeared again, standing in front of me. My breath was caught in my throat and I narrowed my eyes at the sudden threat he posed.
This time, his head tilted to the side, "Are you are the anchor?"
Breathing got harder when he started to step towards me.
I stumbled back, holding out my hands in front of me. "Don't come any closer!"
The spirit man halted.
Instinctively, I had already drawn a portion of the technique Bou-san taught me years ago. I didn't even feel my arm move yet I had somehow remembered the incantation.
Just as quickly as the last time, the man vanished.
I didn't wait to see if he had appeared anywhere else because I started running. I was not athletic so I didn't know how to pace myself and got out of breath near the end of the park.
The man never showed up again and I made it to work faster because of my increased pace.
With all this doubt surrounding me I had one last thing to do before heading into the orphanage.
Quickly, I slipped out to the back of the church and lifted the sleeve of my jacket. I didn't know what I was doing, if it would work but I was going to try anyway.
I touched the inside of my wrist, where Kitzune's mark was. Closing my eyes, I let those floodgates open within me and I focused hard on Kitzune's presence. I recalled those shining gold eyes, and that face which was not at all human.
It was not a full manifestation. I was standing at the Iron Gates when I saw those bright eyes. "Using my mark to call on me. You're either very brave or very foolish, I can't yet decide."
I lowered my arms to my sides, "A deal is a deal. You said there is a way to break the curse? I want to know what it is."
Kitzune did not take his furry form as he had last time. Instead, he was a mass of darkness wearing a red, white and black fox mask.
Those eyes, however, were like molten gold. "Are you truly ready to hear it?"
"How do you break it?" I snapped.
"It's very simple: the Lasser Glass is the only thing keeping everything in place. When it is restored and I have taken it away from the human realm, the curse cannot exist any longer."
It was simple - so simple I almost laughed.
"There has to be more," I said, skeptical. "It's never that easy. What about the anchor?"
"You never asked about the anchor."
I clenched my jaw - he was right. "Fine. What about the maker of this? What happens to him?"
Kitzune asked in a delighted tone, "What do you want to happen to him? Do you wish for him to die?"
A cruel voice within me said, "yes."
It took me a moment to realize I had said that out loud.
The fox-spirit did not answer my question, instead he looked at the gates. "They are marvelous, are they not?"
I looked at them too, not revealing that I had found the sensation of passing through them to be one of the most high's I had ever experienced before. Being within the gates was breath-taking.
"They are also a beacon." Kitsune said, "A beacon that leads straight to you."
Not exactly following what he was saying, I said. "What do you mean?"
Kitzune seemed to enjoy toying with me because those golden eyes were the last thing I saw when the world dissolved. I swore under my breath and the dismissal was well timed, one of my students had found me.
"Miss Mai, are you okay?" The young girl asked.
"Yes, Torhu, let's head inside now." I picked up my bag and lead us towards the front of the building.
I recalled the spirit asking if I was the anchor. Maybe he was a lost soul that wanted to pass on. I felt bad that I couldn't offer his spirit the peace he sought, but it was better this way. Sara had warned me about the souls I took beyond the gates and how they ended up being used for her father.
Then what Kitzune had said... did he mean that going to the gates meant Izanagi was able to find me?
That wasn't good news at all.
If having spirits go through the gates not only added to his life but allowed him to find where I was than the solution was simple: I would no longer allow spirits to cross over.
I had to keep myself away from the gates and away from any souls looking to cross over.
It would be impossible to track down a single person if you knew nothing about them.
And I intended on keeping him as far away from me as I could.
Friday night crept upon us quicker than it should have. Naru still did not sleep in the same room as me, needing more time than any other person might have. In fact, Naru seemed to be keen on not spending any time with me at all, even keeping our conversations to a bare minimum. To make things worst, Gene had not visited me since our fight either.
Our ride to the airport that night was quiet, and goodbye's were brief.
From father to son, Martin simply shook Naru's hand in a formal gesture.
"Take care of yourself, Oliver." Martin said and Naru nodded.
Naru said, "Have a safe flight."
Thenhe turned to Luella who stepped towards him. Naru braced himself for the stiff hug she gave him.
It was a lovely sight. Naru was significantly taller than she, her small arms wrapped around him, gently drawing his shoulders down and Naru had to bend at the waist. His own arms slowly wrapped around her.
"Be safe, my boy." She pulled away, teary eyed. "Please, come home soon."
"I'll be fine, Mother."
Luella turned to me next. She gave me a tight-lipped smile and beckoned for me to step into her for a hug. It felt warm and lovely. I couldn't remember the last time I received a hug like this and if I did...maybe I imagined it.
Luella's hand ran over my hair, cupping the back of my head.
She whispered, "Promise me you'll take care of him."
Her voice was pitched low enough for just the two of us.
I squeezed her tighter. "Of course."
Luella pulled away and her smile crinkled her cheeks. "It was lovely to see you again, Mai."
"it was lovely seeing you all as well," I agreed.
"Don't be a stranger now, Mai." Madoka said, squeezing her way to me. "You'll be in London after you're done school, right?"
She winked while saying this before stepping in to hug me too. "I'll think about it."
Madoka pulled away with a smirk, and I knew that if it were up to her she would have her way. Then, she turned to Lin and without a word she raised on her tiptoes to kiss him. I tried not to gawk but the sight had me absolutely floored.
Lin seemed to have a more successful love life than I did. Great.
"Come home to me safely. And keep these two in check," She giggled.
Lin looked as if he were in heaven when he stared at his fiancée. He raised a hand and cupped her face. "You know I will. Have a safe flight back."
The three of us watched as Martin, Madoka and Luella went into the terminal. When they were safely across the screening, we turned to leave. Lin had drove the Davis' and Madoka so he was able to go straight to Bou-san's from the airport.
Naru still had the rental until tomorrow which we took back to the apartment. The ride was quiet, any small talk I attempted Naru seemed to shut down immediately. Besides, neither of us wanted to bring up the awkward topic of the kiss that happened two nights ago.
When we got home, I opted to shower first. I didn't know about Naru but I certainly had an accumulated filth from my long day.
As I emerged out of the shower in my usual night attire, a tank top and a pair of shorts, I saw Naru sitting on the edge of the bed.
I had a towel wrapped around my neck to catch any remaining wetness from my hair. Slowly I slid it off trying to hide the nervousness in my voice.
"What's up, Naru?"
I walked to my dresser, reaching for my brush and running it through my hair. I watched Naru in the vanity mirror.
In the quiet room, Naru finally spoke.
"You must think I'm pretty pathetic," Naru said in the darkness. I tried to stay very still but instead, I turned to watch him. The dim lightning hit him in a hard and beautiful way.
"I don't know what you mean," It was a lie - something I was starting to get very good at. I knew what he meant, and was a little shocked he was the one wanting to talk about it.
Naru said, very precisely, "About what happened between us the other night."
I watched him carefully and he kept his eyes on his hands clasped in front of him on his knees. I didn't want to push Naru, didn't want to make him feel uncomfortable. His face seemed at ease but I could tell from his body language that this was a very sensitive topic. His knuckles were white as he gripped his hands.
"I find it difficult to...let go of the control." Naru said in a moment of painful honesty. I knew it was hard for him to admit that out loud.
"No kidding," I lowered the brush, placing it back on the dresser. "You said that you think about me."
I couldn't look at him when he answered me from across the room, "I do."
I swallowed hard and leaned on the dresser. This must be painful for Naru and it shouldn't be one-sided.
"I think about you too." I confessed, nervously.
My voice was barely a whisper. Saying the words out loud gave them an entirely different feeling.
Naru looked up at me and gave me a little smile. "I know you do."
That smile was cocky and narcissistic but I felt so helplessly charmed by it and I smiled too.
Something changed and Naru stand up, then walked towards me until he had closed the distance between us.
"Naru?" I pressed myself into the dresser, felt the handles dig into my skin. I stayed perfectly still as he stepped closer.
"I may be bad at it," Naru said and for a moment I thought I had missed something he had could have mentioned before. It occurred to me that it was a confession. "At letting you in."
"It's okay," my voice trembled. "I might be bad at it too. We can teach each other."
Now he was in front of me and was so close that I could smell his scent off his clothes. I let the airy smell fill my nostrils, breathing in slowly.
I looked up at him, helplessly. "Please kiss me."
Naru leaned down, his arms at his sides and I felt his lips on mine.
Maybe Naru was expecting me to take charge, to lead the way. I forced myself to stay very still and allow my lips to move with Naru's. At his bidding, Naru stepped closer and the gap between us was closed. His hands were braced on each side of me and I was caught between his body and the dresser behind me.
He pulled away gently, just enough to look at me. There was a fire in his eyes that I had never experienced before. A passion burning in a violet-blue flame.
Naru leaned down and placed a chaste kiss on my forehead, I felt his breath trembling.
"We don't have to rush anything," said Naru as he stepped back. "We have time."
The words were like an arrow straight to my heart. I let out a deep, shuddering breath I hadn't noticed I was holding.
I pushed down the guilt that threatened my willing tongue.
"You're right," I nodded, not wanting to admit that my time was slowly coming to and end.
Suddenly, something bumped me in the physical world and then Naru vanished.
Everything vanished, like scissors cutting through a taut ribbon and I sat straight up in my seat - I was still in the car.
It was dark and Naru was shifting the vehicle into park. That's what must have jolted me awake.
"We're home." He said, then proceeded to slide out of the car.
My heart was pounding as the hard realization set in.
Naru hadn't kissed me, or confessed to me.
It was only a dream.
Chapter 25: I Hate This Part Right Here
Naru did not join me for breakfast the next morning, or dinner that evening. He was gone before I even woke up the next day too. He hadn't come home at all.
So, I had written him a note on a piece of paper before I left for work.
I want to talk to you.
It was still sitting on the table next day - until I threw it in the garbage.
I was pissed enough that I stalked into the streets, barely remarking on how sunny the day was since it had been raining for two days straight.
I was starting to enjoy our closeness and he was letting me see that side of him I knew Naru kept hidden from others. I was starting to feel happy again, something that I hadn't felt for a very long time.
When Naru left, I had been so profoundly unhappy because I'd wanted things to stay the same. Maybe some part of me had hoped if we stayed together long enough things would naturally happen between us. I had held onto that hope so much that I was devastated when he actually left and did not come back.
I knew it was wrong but... I wanted us to try to be something together - even if it were just friends.
I was healed - or healing - enough to want to that.
I wanted to try.
So I waited for him in moonlit living room hoping that he would come home soon.
He never did.
"Ah, the reason we've had our heads bitten off the past couple of days," Bou-san said by way of greeting.
Bou-san's arm was draped lazily over the back of Yasu's section of the booth. He and Yasu were the first to show for our planned lunch with Masako, they were at one of our favorite cafe's we all used to visit when SPR was still running.
I frowned and Yasu explained, "Naru has been staying at Bou-san's. He and Lin have been wrapped up in some kind of project. Probably involving you, and he certainly hasn't been very happy."
Bou-san interjected, "Is he ever in a good mood though? He's been hunting for answers on that damned mark. I bet he's been hitting dead end after dead end."
I tried for a casual tone as I took off my jacket and slid into the booth across from them. "Did he say anything about it?"
"Not really," Yasu said. "You know the big boss, he's relatively quiet about these matters."
I didn't want to talk about Naru. So, instead I asked, "What's been up with you guys?"
There was a long, stretched out silence as the two guys gazed at one another. It was Bou-san who broke away first and Yasu's smile grew broad, without restraint. He remained, uncharacteristically, quiet.
It was Bou-san who excused himself, "I'm going to see how our drinks are coming along."
I raised an eyebrow at Yasu when Bou-san scooted out of the booth.
Yasu leaned back in his chair, his face turning bright red. "We might be some-what seeing each other."
"What?" This was big news. Probably bigger than anything between Naru and I. "You and Bou-san? I would have never guessed."
"Me either," Yasu said. "Until I went to one of his band practices and his mates may have slipped the secret of our monk friend. I suppose the signs were there but I couldn't figure out if he wanted to just toy with me or if he wanted me."
"Couldn't it be both?"
Yasu's eyes sparkled. "Yes, indeed. Well, now the secret's out he wants to keep it on the down low. So, please don't tell Masako yet. I want to tell her."
"I can't believe this!" I tried to think back to any signs that it could be true: some of them in our early times were there. "I'm really happy for you Yasu. I won't tell anyone until you two are ready."
He gave me a smile. "You're amazing! And don't worry, your dark handsome knight will come back, Mai."
I waited for him to come home the next night. I had enough of him pushing me away and I needed to tell him that, even if it didn't fix anything.
I just needed to talk to him and tell him that there would be nothing between us. That I was wrong and it was a mistake for me to think we could be anything.
It made me realize that I wasn't just unhappy. I was lonely without Naru.
And I thought Naru was just as lonely as I was.
Maybe that's why I kissed him, I thought we were the same.
I had been sitting and waiting every single night now, hoping that he would come home eventually.
Tonight was finally the night.
Naru turned on the lamp near the living room entrance and I knew I had caught him by surprise when he didn't notice me after his initial glance in the room.
When his placid eyes met mine the reaction was subtle but with him most were. I could tell he was a little taken back.
"Why are you still up?" He asked, cooly. Those were the first words he had said to me in days. Naru walked to the table in the middle of the room, placing down a heavy looking computer bag.
Blandly I said, "This seems to be the only way I can get your attention now."
He didn't answer as he proceeded to take off his jacket, placing it on the back of a chair where most of his clothes were currently occupying.
"I know I overstepped my boundaries," I blurted. "I'm sorry for what happened the other night."
Slowly, I stood up and Naru noticed as I bowed deeply at the waist.
I tried to resist the burning of my cheeks that I knew would only trigger my tears and clenched my jaw tightly. The harsh expanding of my lungs from humiliation, shame and guilt made it difficult to keep my breathing steady.
"Why are you apologizing?" Naru asked. As if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
I straightened in time to watch Naru undo a single button from the very top of his black dress shirt. Watched him roll his shoulder once as though releasing some tension.
"Because I can't stand it when you're mad at me, or when you don't talk to me."
In that moment of honesty, I looked away from him. "I liked it when you opened up to me."
Naru sighed, then moved towards the table in between us and reached into his bag. He pulled out a stack of papers.
"I haven't been ignoring you because of that. I've been researching the Lasser Glass. I think I know where to find it now."
I wasn't expecting that. Not at all.
"I'm pleased that my ignoring you felt like a punishment." Naru said with dark amusement.
"You found the Lasser Glass?" I tried to regain my composure. "You actually know where to find the Lasser Glass?"
"Not exactly," he clarified. "I found the last family who last owned it. It's very unlikely they have the mirror in their possession but we have a starting point."
My mind was spinning, I couldn't fathom how Naru had found that information, let alone how he could track it down to a single family. He was brilliant, absolutely brilliant.
"So you stayed away...to find the Lasser Glass?" I tried to wrap my head around this. "You weren't mad at me?"
It took Naru longer to answer that. "I thought about it."
"You thought about it," I repeated.
"When you kissed me," Naru clarified, and he said with such a straight face. Never in a million years had I imagined those words ever coming out of his mouth. "I thought about it."
Color rushed to my face. This wasn't real. I had dreams about this moment and I knew for a fact that they were not real.
"I'm sorry I... know better than to do things like that. I understand if you don't want anything to do with me. I think... I better leave you to your work."
Hurriedly, I went to the hallway. I had said everything I needed to say. Naru's voice caught me when I reached the threshold.
"No," his voice was strained, as if he were fighting with something internally. "Wait. I...wait. You don't need to leave."
I shifted on my feet, turning back around and suddenly feeling nervous. Anxious.
Naru's gaze was edged with indecipherable emotion, his jaw was set in a new angle. He struggled for the words, a calm storm took over his features and turned them to stone.
The silence stretched out for a long time that the words, when they came, were a shock.
"What you said about me not wanting anything to do with you… it isn't true."
"Then why stay away?" I asked uneasily.
"Whatever is happening between us, I haven't been able to come up with an explanation for it," Naru reasoned.
"Does it need an explanation?"
Naru said, steadily. "Every kind of energy has an explanation. There is an explanation for where it goes and what happens when it is presumed gone. The kind of energy we have is different. I've never felt this before with anyone. You had once told me that you couldn't understand why you had feelings for me. I sometimes find myself wondering the same about you and not because I harbour any ill-feelings towards you. I just am unfamiliar with this."
I stared at him and felt a strange pressure on my chest. The lamplight appeared to wave and flicker.
"You're very," said Naru, his voice dropping low, "attractive."
Had that been the first time Naru called me attractive?
I felt my blush expand to the rest of my body. I felt hot and curled my toes in my slippers at the way he stared at me. Naru was not an affectionate person, not in the least, but I wondered if he knew he could make his voice sound like that, as if it were velvet stroking my spine.
It caressed my skin, awakening my soul.
"I have never been good at this sort of thing - feeling attracted to someone, or having the necessary emotions to process it." Naru continued, not noticing the change in the air suddenly. This room was small, too small, even when though we were several feet apart.
There was no hesitation, or any sense of it, and he gazed at me calmly. His blue eyes were burning with an intensity I had only started to realize Naru was capable of.
Even if he didn't know it.
"I think you're better than you give yourself credit for." I found myself watching him the same way he would watch me sometimes. "What's that look for? Tell me what you're thinking."
My heart was pounding through my skin and I knew I should stop. I should stop and turn around, head to my room and call it a night. I needed to close the door on whatever was happening here.
I couldn't seem to force myself to move.
"I'm thinking that it would be very easy to allow myself to love you."
It wasn't what I was expecting from Naru - not at all. I was slowly starting to become used to these deep moments, starting to become less and less surprised by them.
"Do you," My voice shook. "Do you love me?"
Everything I love eventually gets taken away from me, he had once told me that. It was so long ago now and I remembered Naru had thought himself as a mess, someone who was unworthy of love.
Is that how he felt? That he couldn't possibly be allowed to love, or be loved, by another person?
Or was he afraid to love again? Gene was his brother, an unconditional love would have existed between them no matter what the the relationship was. Did that break something within him?
Perhaps Naru has been hurting all this time. More than anybody. He loved Gene and was hurt that Gene had been killed. Then, he built up these walls around himself so he would never be hurt again.
I should have said: You shouldn't love me. I should have told him that he and I could never be since I would only end up hurting him too.
"Back then, I did have feelings for you." Naru confessed. "I thought going back to England would make it easier but I realize that leaving you did more harm than good."
There it was - the truth. It was everything I had dreamed about, yet somehow this felt wrong. I shouldn't have feelings for Naru, not when I could very possibly be taken away from him the way Gene was. Even though Naru was cold-hearted, he was still human.
"I had feelings for you too," I admitted. "You knew that already but you made me think that it was Gene. It never was though, it was always you."
Naru's voice found it's way back to me. "Do you remember that you thought he was kind and considerate. That it was easy to call him a friend, easier to call him a lover when you thought it was me."
Suddenly my heart dropped to my gut.
"So?" It was the only thing I could think to say. I didn't know where he was going with this.
"It's still the same, I can't be that person for you. Gene was always the one people liked and naturally tended to levitate to. He was good with people and better at these kinds of things."
"Naru, what are you saying?"
Violet-blue eyes looked at me from across the room. "That I can't love anyone because I am not like Gene."
"What's so wrong with that?" I heard the shakiness in my voice and forced it down, forced myself to swallow and relieve my dry throat. "Because I happen to like you just the way you are."
Naru laughed, it was bitter and soft. "I'm still not fully confident I can ever believe that. I'm not a good man. I'm the dark brother, the one with a bad personality. I will meet a bad end."
"No, you won't." I huffed and stepped towards him. The open emotion on his face was enough to tell me that he believed every single word he just said. "You're a man who is afraid of love because it's something you don't understand."
Naru's jaw clenched as he stepped back, swaying slightly. "I don't think I'm particularly ready for your brand of honesty at this moment."
"You'll never know if you don't try. Loving someone in any capacity is better than feeling nothing and pushing them away. Let's just...stay this way." I said quietly as I moved to the edge of the threshold once again, Naru's contemplating face was the last thing I had seen as I trailed out of the living room.
His voice was faint, so quiet I thought I had imagined it at first. I realized after that I hadn't.
"Is that what you want?"
Honestly, I said. "I don't know. I just know it's better than not being with you at all."
Then, I truly walked away this time and did not stop until my bedroom door was closed firmly behind me.