"There's no doubt about it now, it's definitely winter."
Sighing to himself Kazuo Yashiki looked out the window at the dark clouds that completely smothered the sky above the bare trees. It would be no surprise if by nightfall their branches were coated with snow. It's not that he disliked the cold but in this large mansion it felt like a haunting chill permeated every room and seeped into his bones no matter where he went. In order to stop goosebumps erupting over his body Yashiki was layered up with a long sleeved shirt, a wool blend jumper and a thick grey knitted cardigan on top yet he still found his hands shaking so today's research was put on hold.
"It still feels like I'm getting nowhere with it, though." He sighed to himself while pouring another cup of coffee - by now he had lost count of how many he cups he had drunk in this day alone - and flopped down into a chair. Researching spirits, curses and the like seemed to be all he did these days. Aside from the weekly shopping trips for supplies he hardly went outside or interacted with anyone; that wasn't to say he was ungrateful for the fact his life had basically returned to normal but it currently felt like he was wasting his days away pouring over all these books yet learning nothing about how to permanently seal the cursed doll Mary and prevent the Mark from hurting anyone else.
"But what else can I do...? It's not like I have any other useful talents..."
Yashiki was so caught up in his thoughts that he didn't notice the loud pounding coming from the entryway. Was someone at the front door? Mug in hand he walked out into the large atrium where he could now hear squabbling voices behind the pounding although it was hard to make out what they were saying.
Pulling the heavy door open ushered in a icy gust of air that was juxtaposed with the bright, cheery voice that accompanied it.
"Ohh! Mister! You are here! Thank God, I thought I was gonna freeze to death!"
"Moe?" Yashiki watched as the schoolgirl scurried past him to escape the cold.
"Yup! Moe Watanabe, checking in!" She grinned with her usual energy. She wore a thick navy coat over her school uniform and a scarf wrapped around her neck and the bottom of her face, leaving her rosy cheeks and bright eyes visible.
"What brings you all the way here? Another interview?"
Moe was about to speak when a different voice cut in, this one deep yet clear.
"Hey, don't shut the door, let me in."
Yashiki turned to be greeted by another familiar face.
"Mashita? You're here, too?"
"Is that a problem?"
The detective raised an eyebrow along with his trademark smirk. He too was geared up for the cold with much warmer (and cleaner) looking coat and a scarf. He eyed Yashiki up and down.
Unsure if he was being sincere or more likely sarcastic Yashiki decided not to reply, shutting the door to keep out the cold.
"Can you believe this guy!?" Moe exclaimed, gesturing to Mashita. "He was about to just walk in here without knocking!
"What?" Mashita shrugged. "This place is massive so there was a good chance he wouldn't hear us - plus the door is never locked." He turned his hard stare on Yashiki. "You really, really need to break out of that habit.'
Yashiki scratched the back of his head and frowned. While the detective wasn't wrong he never felt a need to lock the mansion's front door, it was well out the way of the city, there wasn't really anything of value to steal and he hardly ever had visitors so security wasn't much of an issue - but he knew if he brought this up Mashita would either go off on chiding him or give him such a look it would be physically painful.
"I'm surprised to see you two together. Thinking about joining the private eye business, Moe?" Yashiki decided to change the flow of conversation.
"Oh, no no no! I bumped into Mr Mashita just outside actually! I stopped him from breaking and entering!" She winked, drawing an amused smile from Yashiki. "I actually came here to ask you a favour!"
"For the last time, I don't know how to contact spirits and I really do advise against it."
"Ohh, come on! I'm sure- wait, no! It's not that!" She shook her head and fixed her big eyes on Yashiki intensely. "You see, I need you to accompany me somewhere."
Yashiki tilted his head slightly, showing he was listening and let her continue.
"One of my co-workers at OOParts Monthly overheard a rumour concerning a small ramen shop in K city. The rumour of... The Waxed Faced Boy."
"Hey, have you heard the rumour about that little ramen shop down the street there?"
"Hm? No, I didn't even know there was a ramen shop down there."
"It's closed down now, after what happened!"
"Ohhh, tell me! Tell me!"
"Well, it turns out that it was being run by a Yakuza group, so it was just a front for their sketchy activities. Of course to normal people it was a place to grab some cheap ramen, so to keep up the facade they ended hiring a run-of-the-mill couple as chefs. They had a young son and were just lovely, ordinary people."
"Wait, so they had no idea they were technically working for the Yakuza!?"
"Nope! But apparently one night they stumbled across something that they shouldn't have! So of course their employers had to 'take care' of them and write off the shop. Now, if you enter the shop after 9pm you'll hear a voice call out to you and ask for your order. If you order a normal dish nothing happens but if you order the Manager's Special then..."
"Well, no one's lived to tell the tale!"
"Man, that's weak as hell! If you're gonna tell me a scary story at least make it good!"
After recounting the rumour Moe continued to stare at Yashiki expectantly.
"Oh. Well, that's-
The pair snapped their heads around to look at Mashita, who had sat himself down on one of the sofas at the edge of the entryway. Moe looked like she was about to protest but Mashita continued in his usual dry tone.
"There's hardly any substance to that story and the fact that there isn't a confirmed conclusion to this so-called 'rumour' just shows that it's just a ghost story blown out of proportion. Sounds more like a test of courage only high school students would buy into."
Finishing his analysis Mashita leaned back into the sofa casually and folded his arms. Yashiki glanced down at Moe. He had expected her to protest or at least try and argue that the tale was real but instead she appeared to be hesitant, biting her lip. It was strange to see her so reserved.
"Hey, Moe? What made you want to look into this rumour?" Yashiki asked her gently. If she had gone through the effort to bring this to his attention then clearly there was more to this than just general curiousity.
"Well... I..." Moe took a deep breath. "When I heard the rumour I was curious, of course, but the main thing that stuck with me was... the fact that the couple had a young son."
Moe clenched her fists.
"When I heard that I... I couldn't help but think of him - of... Hanahiko..."
Yashiki felt a chill travel down his spine and from the soft sound of indrawn breath it appeared Mashita hadn't been expecting this parallel.
Hearing that name brought back a flood of nostalgia for the group.
The very first spirit they had faced when dealing with the Mark. It had been the spirit of a mere child subjected to horrendous abuse that had eventually taken his young life. It was through that spirit they - along with Tsukasa - had met. The starting point of the battle against the mark.
"My editor looked deeper into this rumour and from what he could gather their son went missing around the same time as them!"
Moe's voice was cracking as if she could burst into tears at any moment. "Hanahiko was an innocent child who suffered at the hands of adults! And... And...!"
Automatically Yashiki reached out and softly petted Moe's head. He knew what line of thought she was following.
While they hadn't been able to do anything for Hanahiko during his life, they were able to help him find peace after death and now there was another child spirit they could potentially help.
He wasn't sure how much stock he put into this rumour but if he could help Moe expel any worries she had he was willing to at least try.
"Give me the address and we'll go check it out tomorrow night, okay?" He smiled at her comfortingly, not aware of the look Mashita was giving him.
"Yeah?!" Moe practically jumped at his response. She quickly jotted down the address of the Ramen shop and her phone number. "Text me when you're ready to head out, okay?!"
"I promise." Yashiki nodded.
Moe gave him a grateful smile before heading towards the door, glancing back at him. "Thank you, mister..." And then she was gone.
"... don't you know when to stop?" Mashita sighed loudly, rolling his eyes.
"Well, what was I supposed to do?"
"Tell her it's a load of bull."
"We don't know that, it might have some credibility."
Shaking his head Mashita stood up and walked towards the door.
"You're leaving already?" Yashiki asked him, feeling confused and a little disappointed. Actually, why had Mashita come here in the first place?
"What? You want me to stay?" The detective turned to look at him with his usual smirk yet his eyes were unreadable.
"... I mean, you can if you want..." Yashiki mumbled, glancing downwards.
Mashita seemed to hesitate. He looked like he was about to say something but then he shook his head.
"Sadly, unlike someone I've actually got work to do."
"Well, if you're so busy then why did you waste time coming here?"
Yashiki blinked. He was surprised by the edge and tone of his voice.
Mashita stopped in his tracks, hand clutching the door handle. He remained silent for an awfully long time.
"... I just felt like I should check up on you. Your lifestyle isn't exactly the healthiest."
Yashiki was a little taken aback. Mashita had came all this way just to see how he was coping? He didn't know how to reply so just remained silent.
"... Well, you're still alive so that's good." Mashita said, pulling the large oak door open to expose the encroaching night. Before he stepped outside he paused for a moment, but then turned to look at Yashiki.
"Listen, I know what you're like, but don't go to that shop. It's just a stupid ghost story, turn her down or something."
Then just like that he was gone.
Yashiki let out a sigh he didn't even know he was holding back. Well, that had been unexpected. He scratched his head. Honestly, he could understand where Mashita was coming from - with his cool and rational approach it was obvious he would regard this rumour as a basic ghost story - yet Yashiki himself couldn't shake the strange feeling that there was more to this rumour. Perhaps it was just the expression Moe had been wearing but he felt the need to investigate this further.
"... Well, it wouldn't hurt to take a look, plus it's not like Mashita would know."
Yashiki decided that he would go with Moe to the specified location, if only to comfort her fears. Again he glanced out the window that faced out to the now bare forest that surrounded the Kujou mansion.
"Well, it looks like I'll have something interesting to do tomorrow night.