The sky was dark and covered with thick clouds like blots of ink, blocking what few stars twinkled tonight above the emptying streets as crowds of people hurried home from work or school, keeping their heads down and scarves pulled tightly. The New Year had come and gone yet the snow remained, falling lighter and more infrequent but still blanketing the city in a cold chill that seemed to take pleasure in creeping into your bones and lingering there for hours. However the deary outside was juxtaposed with the cozy atmosphere inside the little tucked-away bar; the air hummed with subdued yet spirited chatter as patrons sipped and socialized, the dim lights reflecting off their glasses and causing the liquids inside to smolder with alluring hues. The darkness of the outside behind the fogging windows only heightened the warm feeling filling out the venue, which was probably one of the reasons people found themselves wandering in from the cold, the sliver bell perched above the door welcoming them with a sharp ring. Speaking of alluring, Mashita focused on the man sitting in front of him - with his dark, kind eyes and almost ghostly pale skin that contrasted perfectly with the silky ebony strands which framed his gentle face he also had an air that seemed to attract and draw people in, somehow appearing approachable yet distant at the same time. Like the apparitions his fate was tied to, he too felt fleeting and elusive, like he could disappear at any moment.
Lamp light glinted off Yashiki's glasses as he turned to look at Mashita.
"Hm? What's wrong?"
Damn, he had been caught staring.
Mashita scanned his eyes over the bar. They were seated near the serving counter yet again, but at least this time they were tucked away near a corner so there was a hint of privacy.
"Hey, why did we have to come to this bar? There's plenty of decent ones throughout the city" Mashita huffed.
"Well, it's nearby and I actually quite like it here, it's relaxing." Yashiki smiled softly, then furrowed his brow a bit. "Do you not like it?"
"It's not that I don't like it... you know, nevermind. So what did you want to talk about?"
He actually did like this bar, and knowing that Yashiki was a fan too was a bonus, but the thing that bothered him was-
"Hello there, may I take your order?"
Ah, there it was. Or more accurately, there he was.
A sleek looking bartender suddenly materialized as if from nowhere beside them, his dyed blonde hair swept back and his light brown eyes fixed on Yashiki.
"Oh, welcome back, Mr Yashiki!" the bartender exclaimed cheerfully then slid his eyes over to Mashita. "And to your associate as well."
Mashita only offered him a glare in return.
"Hello, um, just two whiskies please." Yashiki responded politely to the question. Now either he didn't remember the bartender from the last time they were here (since he had gotten so drunk) or he had no interest in conversing with this man - either way Mashita had to hold back a snort as the bartender's eyebrow twitched ever so slightly. Remaining professional however he gracefully bowed his head and left to make their order.
"Whiskey, huh? Planning to get so drunk I have to carry you home again, Mr lightweight?" Mashita teased with a smirk, resting his head in his hand.
"... Do you have to keep bringing that up?"
Even in the low lighting Yashiki's cheeks were brushed with a visible blush at the mention of his low alcohol tolerance and the first night they had come here.
"Well, it's been a while since then, maybe you've toughened up."
"It has, huh. I've been quite busy these last few weeks so time has just flown by. I'm guessing you've been busy with work, too?"
Mashita nodded. "Mm, been getting a lot of missing persons cases lately. Folks are just up and vanishing from different areas around the city, yet so far there doesn't seem to be a single thing linking them, no common factor. There's currently nothing to go on.
"It sounds like you've got a difficult investigation ahead of you - ah! That reminds me! There was something I wanted to give you." Yashiki quickly changed the subject and began rummaging in his coat pocket before pulling out what looked to be a tightly wrapped rectangular shape, pushing it across the table to him.
"I know Christmas has passed but let's just say it's... a thank you, for the ramen shop incident." He said, sounding a little awkward. "Also I thinking it was about time you got a new one."
Picking up the rectangular object revealed that it was quite light yet thick, with one curved edge which mostly likely meant it was a book of some kind. Without waiting for permission Mashita began to tear the paper away to be greeted with a expensive looking leather notebook, bound with dark brown leather and a thin green ribbon acting as page marker.
"Yeah, for your investigations!"
Ah, now Mashita knew what he was referring to. The well-worn, over stuffed notebook that was currently weighing down his own coat pocket, filled with his thoughts and observations collected through countless cases.
"Huh, I wasn't expecting this. I'm grateful, I guess." He said while raising his eyebrows, flicking through the fresh, crisp pages. It was really good quality, how much did he pay for this? Well, this was strangely convenient.
Placing the notebook into his pocket Mashita's fingers brushed against a soft object stashed away in there - Yashiki wasn't the only one with an ulterior motive for meeting up.
"Well, I guess I can giv-"
"Your drinks, sirs."
The bartender reappeared at their table, interrupting Mashita. He placed two glasses of shimmering amber liquid on the table.
"Ah, thank you." Yashiki nodded at him. However the bartender didn't leave, instead remaining in place with a somewhat nervous expression.
"... Is everything okay?" Yashiki asked after a few seconds.
The bartender replied immediately as if he had been waiting for them to inquire why he was still here.
"Forgive me for prying, Mr Yashiki, and I know this may somewhat strange and intrusive, but by any chance do you know anything about... ghosts?"
Well, that certainly came out of nowhere.
The question was so unprompted that both Yashiki and Mashita were unsure how to answer him. The bartender must have picked up on this as he rushed to explain himself.
"You see, the last time you were here I couldn't help but overhear your conversation and you mentioned something about spirits, so I figured you must have some knowledge of the supernatural."
He wasn't wrong - they had been chatting pretty openly about their past ordeals that night in earshot of this guy without a care about what he thought of their ramblings - but that didn't mean they had to be honest. Mashita watched Yashiki out the corner of his eye, waiting to see what he do.
"... Yeah, you could say that I know quite a bit about them."
The bartender's eyes lit up. "Seriously? Amazing! I knew there was something special about you, Mr Yashiki!"
"Ahaha, so um, what did you want to ask?"
"Hmm, actually..." The bartender glanced around in an uneasy manner as if he suspected someone may be listening in. "I don't think we should talk about it here, it's kind of private. I know! How about I pay a visit to your house? I finish around midnight tonight! You live nearby, right?"
"Y-yeah, at the mansion just up the hill - but tonight's not really good for me."
With force Mashita downed his drink and slammed the glass onto the table with a resounding THUNK.
"Yeah, he's got other plans for tonight." He locked eyes with the bartender, unblinking and stern. "But if it's that important drop by tomorrow, we'll be there."
The bartender stared back for an uncomfortably long moment but gave in with a sharp click of his tongue.
"I see... No worries then, I'll drop by tomorrow afternoon, then."
He produced what looked to be a business card from the breast pocket of his uniform and handed it to the bemused Yashiki. "My information - including my phone number. I'll see you tomorrow, Mr Yashiki! I'm looking forward to it! Ah, you should probably give me your number too, just to be safe."
Yashiki hastily scrawled his phone number into a napkin which the bartender eagerly accepted, then with a cheerful wave for Yashiki and no acknowledgement of Mashita the bartender walked off to serve the bar's other patrons. Still gripping the card Yashiki turned back to Mashita, looking bewildered.
"Well, huh, that was certainly unexpected."
Mashita just scowled and took a swig of his drink, any trace of a good mood now gone.
"Make sure you lock that door."
"I've been getting better at remembering to do that."
Walking into the foyer of the Kujou mansion Mashita's shoes clipped lightly on the cold floor, interrupted by the creak of the front doors closing. The foyer looked the same as the first time he saw it, not that he expected it to change in any way, but it felt a little jarring to walk into; like he was stepping back into the past. Out the corner of his eye he could see the perfectly maintained sofa where 'she' had once sat, prim and proper yet secretly insidious and deceitful. The orchestrator of death and despair who relished getting drunk on the fear and helplessness of her human victims.
"I'm gonna hit the sack. Night."
"You're going to sleep already?"
"Oh...you're welcome to shower before you go to sleep." Yashiki informed him, sliding off his coat and hanging it on the wooden coat stand by the entrance then extended his hand for Mashita's, but he just shook his head.
"I'm good, but I'll take you up on that shower offer."
"Okay, you know which room, right?"
"... What's bothering you?"
Mashita stopped mid stride as he was walking towards the large staircase and looked back over his shoulder.
"What do you mean?"
"Ever since we were at the bar you've been, I don't know, more curt than usual."
"Huh, is that so?"
The expression on Yashiki's face was pitiful, both confused and sad with his eyebrows peaking upwards in a slant and his eyes squinted slightly, resembling a dog who had just been scolded.
God, he hated it when he made that face.
But what he hated even more was when he was so unbelievably oblivious.
"... Have you always been so dense? Or are you perhaps just selfish?"
Yashiki blinked and tilted his head.
Damn, is that what he meant to say?
"... Nevermind. See you in the morning."
Without another word Mashita briskly climbed the stairs and headed for the shower room; keeping his ears alert for the sound of footfalls to hurry after him or perhaps for his name being called and being asked to wait, but nothing of the sort came. Only the faint ticking of the grandfather clock followed him down the still corridor.
"So I'm not worth chasing after, huh?"
Oh, shut up Satoru.
Spending a long time under the rushing hot water did nothing to help ease the irritation lingering in Mashita's chest, if anything having the time to go over his thoughts had only made him feel worse. Turning the shower off he shook his head, glistening water droplets sprinkling through the heavy steam filling the room and dripping down his damp skin. Honestly a lonely and non-relaxing shower hadn't been how he had planned on this night ending. It had been a good few weeks since he and Yashiki had seen each other; the last time being when he dropped by to see how Yashiki was recovering the day after they had dealt with the ramen shop incident but from then on he had been bogged down with case after case, hardly having the time to do anything else. Yashiki's invitation to go out had been totally out of the blue but he had jumped at the chance to see him, pulling an all-nighter to finish a stack of paperwork. It was supposed to be a nice, relaxing night spent talking with him long into the small hours of the morning but that plan had gone awry the minute they stepped foot into that bar.
Walking down the dark hallway Mashita came to a halt outside the room next to the guest room he was using. From the gap at the base of the door a faint light was peeking out - so, he was still awake, even at this time? No wonder he kept sleeping well into the afternoon. He lingered for a moment. Should he check in on Yashiki? Try and explain why he was acting so irritated? Or at least tell him to go to sleep?
Lifting his fist up to the door Mashita felt himself hesitate. All he had to do was knock and surely the conversation would flow freely, as he had never been one to be at a loss for words. However, he could not bring himself to knock on that door, instead letting his hand fall limply back to his side. No, while it was shameful to admit, he couldn't do it. Instead he continued on into the guest room, chucking his coat onto the end of the bed which caused the notebook he had been gifted earlier to slip out and fall on the floor. He picked it up and once again looked it over front and back before slipping it back into his coat pocket, then sat himself down and pulled out his old notebook, flicking through the pages. It really had seen plenty of use, the stiffened pages practically aching as they turned. Words and thoughts careened across the paper in both shorthand and longhand, with certain phrases circled deftly and arrows conjoining several lines of thought. The occasional inkblot was dabbled among the neat lines and the odd tear from hasty thumbing could be seen.
Looking through the pages he came to somewhat of a realization: yes, he was never at a loss for words but how often did he speak his thoughts and feelings aloud? Hardly ever. It was easier for him to go over everything in his head and only say what was relevant, yet Yashiki wasn't like that; while not extroverted he could be quite vocal at times, and would take care when choosing his words in case they caused any harm or upset. Yet even still he was pretty bad at communicating his honest feelings - in fact, they both were.
If it were with anyone else Mashita would easily shrug off this case of miscommunication and carry on, but when it came to Yashiki his mouth would move before his brain had time to catch up and rationalize his words, making him sound like an emotional fool.
With a groan Mashita stashed the book away and flopped down on the soft bed, retreating under the covers for the night. He wasn't particularly looking forward to tomorrow, but there was nothing he could do to stop it coming. That bartender was undoubtedly untrustworthy - what the hell could he want from Yashiki?
The breaking of dawn came, followed by the gentle caress of the sun slowly spreading its rays across the grounds and through the bare forest surrounding the Kujou mansion. The first light shining in his room awoke Yashiki, who promptly turned his back to to the window and burrowed his head deeper into his pillow as he was accustomed to doing. The sweet embrace of sleep started to welcome him again until he remembered that he wasn't alone this morning, Mashita had spent the night here with him. Quickly he sat up, before swinging his feet out from under the heavy sheets and grabbing his wristwatch to check the time. It was approaching 10am - an earlier time than what he usually found himself sleeping in until - so surely Mashita would be awake by now.
"At least this time I didn't have any weird dreams... probably because I didn't drink as much." Yashiki mumbled aloud, remembering the dream he had the last time alcohol had been involved and Mashita spent the night; it had taken place right here in this bed, his rough touch had felt too real, the way his hands gently held the back of his head and his fingers worked their way through his hair, the way his lips had connected with his own and kissed him so desperately, the way-
"No, Kazuo! Calm down!" He muttered to himself before his thoughts had a chance to run back to that amazing yet awkward dream. Briskly he got up, feeling no ramifications from drinking the night before and began dressing himself in a clean plain shirt, a cozy grey cardigan and dark comfortable trousers. While brushing his hair he caught sight of the piles of thick books covering his desk, a few of them scattered on the floor. Lately he would stay up into small hours reading and researching whatever he could find on the subject of spirits and rituals from the books already filling the mansion and from ones he had procured from occult specialists; he still had his duty to find some method that could fully seal Mary away but he also wanted to broaden his knowledge on helping trapped and hostile spirits find peace so they could move on - not only did that course of action seem logical for someone in the Kujou family but he had a feeling Saya would be proud of his choice.
Thinking of his late sister no longer hurt as much as it used to yet at night when Yashiki was alone with his thoughts a pang of loneliness would sometimes echo through him. This house was too large for one person, her company would have been a welcome relief.
There's no point moping about, you just woke up." Yashiki sighed to himself with a shake of his head. Turning his back to the book pile he when to exit his room when heard a dull vibration. On the bedside table sat his phone, buzzing away. Who would be calling him this early in the morning? Perplexed he accepted the call.
"Hello! Mr Yashiki! Sorry to call you so early, but you hadn't contacted me so I thought I should call ahead to let you know that I'm on my way!"
Who was this? His mind drew a blank.
"Um, I'm sorry, who's calling?"
The person on the other end was quiet for a moment. "Eh? Mr Yashiki, don't tell me you forgot...? It's me, the bartender from last night - Yuu Nanamura!"
"...Oh! Yes, I'm sorry. I remember now." Yashiki nodded. "So you're, er, on the way to the mansion now?"
"Yup! It'll probably be around half and hour before I get there! Hehe, I'm excited to see you again! Anyways, bye bye!"
That guy really was strange, being so energetic in the morning.
"Speaking of energy, I really need some coffee."
With that goal in mind Yashiki left his room and walked down to the kitchen.
"Oh! Mashita! You're awake."
Upon entering the kitchen Yashiki was greeted by the sight of Mashita leaning against one of the counters drinking from a steaming mug.
"... 'course I am. Unlike someone I'm not the type to waste the day in bed."
His eyes didn't meet Yashiki's as he spoke, instead they remained staring off at nothing in particular. It was hard to tell but the shadows under his eyes looked darker than before.
"What can I say? I'm more of a night person." Yashiki shrugged, preparing himself some coffee to shake off the lingering lethargy. It was obvious the air between them was tense and awkward from the blunt exchange last night. Yashiki wasn't sure what to say to ease it - should he ask if Mashita slept well? What his plans were for today? Why he had been so irritated last night? No, he could already predict the answers:
More or less.
A dismissive snort. Or something.
The rich hot liquid warmed his throat, helping it relax. Well, no harm in trying.
"Did you sleep well?'
"More or less."
Ah. Disappointing but not surprising.
Yashiki leaned back against a counter too, cupping the ceramic mug in his hands and biting his lip. Hesitantly he glanced up at the other man, scanning his face. He was never an easy person to read, with his steady, steely eyes and his firm, well-set jawline he looked as impenetrable as he was. The dark circles under his eyes seemed to heighten the glint that accompanied his usual witty and sarcastic comments which others unaccustomed to his personality would find unpleasant yet it didn't bother Yashiki as he knew there was more to him than he let show on the surface; even with his worn-out visage he was still handsome - or at least Yashiki thought he was.
"Why are you staring at me? It's creepy."
Casting his eyes downwards Yashiki berated himself, feeling stupid and embarrassed for being caught gawking.
He heard Mashita heave a sigh.
"I don't think you should listen to that bartender's request, whatever it is."
"It's not like you're running some business here and it's not like you know him, so you owe him nothing. No point getting caught up in a stranger's mess."
"I can see where you're coming from, but we don't even know what kind of request it is. It might something completely mundane." Yashiki tried to reason. "Maybe he just wants some advice on, I don't know, dealing with spirits? Exorcising them from his home?"
"Tch, no, you don't see where I'm coming from. What if he has an ulterior motive?"
Mashita looked at him with an exasperated expression, like he couldn't believe Yashiki wasn't following with his thoughts. That made him feel a little... frustrated.
"Look, if you're trying to say something then just say it outri-"
Yashiki's outburst was shut down by series of deafening knocks on the front door. At first he wondered who on Earth that could be but then he remembered the call he received only moments ago.
He was here early.
Shooting a glance at Mashita - who's eyes had narrowed in the direction of the entrance way - Yashiki placed his mug down and hurried to the door, pulling it open.
"Mr Yashiki! Sorry for showing up so soon! I got here quicker than expected!"
Bustling into the mansion without waiting for an invitation came Yuu Nanamura, turning to face Yashiki with a bright smile. "I hope you don't mind, but I have an evening shift today so an earlier meeting works out better for me!"
"No, don't worry about it, Nanamura." Yashiki nodded, pushing the door shut and keeping out the biting cold.
"Aw, just Yuu is fine!"
"R-right, well, um, please take a seat over there. Would you like something to drink?" Yashiki gestured to one of the sofas. In the meanwhile Mashita had quietly entered the room, attracting Nanamura's attention yet he kept his words directed at Yashiki.
"Wow, I gotta say Kazou, this place is huge!" He exclaimed, his head turning in every direction as he admired the large entrance way and sat himself down. "Do you live here all by yourself? Surely you must get lonely?"
Kazou? Just how laid-back was this guy? Or was he perhaps more rude? And that kind of information wasn't really something you should willingly give out to a stranger.
"That's none of your concern."
Mashita's cold voice answered for him. Nanamura looked over at him.
"Ah, you're the one who was at the bar with Kazou, right? What's your name? I'm Yuu Nanamura!"
"That's also none of your concern."
"Hey, Mashita, there's-"
"Ohhh, so you're Mashita, huh?" He grinned and rested his chin in his hands, repeating Mashita's name and sounding it out like he was seeing how it tasted on his tongue. "Ma-shi-ta. Ma-shi-ta! Haha, good to know! Do you live here with Kazou, or are you a work colleague? Oh, or maybe you two are dating? If so, I gotta say Yashiki, you have terrible taste! Hahaha! I'm sorry, just joking! I have a habit of prattling on when I'm nervous! Hahaha!" Nanamura waved his hands playfully.
Rude, laid-back or strange? Maybe a mixture of all three?
"Anyway, Nanamura!" Yashiki quickly interjected before he found himself wading through a tension as thick as molasses. "How can I help you?"
Turning his brown eyes back to Yashiki Nanamura's grin faltered and his brow knotted slightly. He cleared his throat.
"Well, have you heard of the T hiking trail? It's a hidden gem that not many people know about - perfect for dates, I might add! - yet lately..." He shifted, looking uncomfortable. "... Things have been happening there and it's gotten dangerous."
Yashiki tilted his head. He hadn't actually heard of this area, but that wasn't what piqued his curiosity.
"What kind of things?"
"Well, there's been talk of an urban legend about... The Canyon Caller."
"Are you planning on going to the T hiking trail again?"
"Yeah! You wanna tag along?"
"No way! Not after the tales I've heard about that place!"
"Of course you don't know, geez! Listen! I've heard that anyone who hikes on that trail at night will hear someone calling out to them for help! Like, the voice of a loved one, so they follow it. Deeper and deeper into the woods until they reach the large canyon that splits the woods! The voice is still calling out to them from the depths of the canyon, getting more and desperate and if you get too close to the edge... a swarm of long ghostly arm's reach up and pull you to your death! They say they're the spirits of those who killed themselves by jumping into the canyon"
"Whaaaat?! That's so creepy!"
"You're damn right! And I also heard that if you reply to the ghostly voice then something even worse happens!"
"Yup! Everyone knows you should never respond to the voices of the dead!"
Finishing up his tale Nanamura leaned forward and stared intently at Yashiki as if to see his reaction to this ghost story.
"What the hell are you-"
"I'm not finished yet! Rude!" Nanamura cut off Mashita with a slight yell. "A few days ago I went hiking on T trail with a close friend who's into the paranormal and stuff - he wanted to check out the canyon for research or something - and around the halfway point he started acting strange, telling me to be quiet and that he could hear someone, then suddenly he took off towards the canyon! I tried to follow but couldn't keep up! When I got to the canyon he was gone... I searched everywhere but..."
Nanamura trailed off, falling silent as he stared down at his clasped hands and swallowed. He seemed genuinely distraught through recounting his experience; this didn't appear to be a prank or the ramblings of madman. All three men remained quiet.
"So, what is it you want me to do?" Yashiki asked him gently, taking care to keep his voice level and kind. "I'm not a psychic and if you're wanting to find his body then you should call mountain rescue. I'm not sure what you're expecting of me."
"No, it's- I... I could accept the fact that he may be... dead, but what I can't accept is that his life was taken by some nonsense ghost story!" Nanamura's raised his quaking voice. "He wasn't some loon who believed wholeheartedly in urban legends! He studied them! He knew all the dangers! He was smart, reasonable and-!" Nanamura bit his lip, his eyes glistening slightly. His demeanor was a complete 180° from his prior professional and upbeat attitude, which gave some credence to his plight.
"Please, Kazou... All I want from you... is to see if you can communicate with his spirit. I need to know what happened, I need to know if he died with any regrets!"
Yashiki was a little taken aback by the sudden tonal shift, yet he found himself empathizing with the bartender - to suddenly lose a loved one under such strange circumstances with no way to know if they're at peace now, it hurt.
Out the corner of his eye he saw Mashita uncross his arms, presumably about to go off on how stupid this sounded when a muffled yet shrill ringing made itself heard. Digging through his coat the detective pulled out his phone and grimaced. Sensing it was probably a call concerning one of his cases Yashiki nodded to signal that he could go and deal with it in private. Mashita huffed and left the entrance hall but not before giving the hysterical Nanamura one more searching glare.
"... What's his problem? Is he always such a jerk?" Nanamura asked quietly, balling up his hands into fists.
"He's just... pragmatic. Now, Nanamura-" Yashiki quickly glossed over his friend's unfriendly attitude and instead got the bartender to focus on him and made direct eye contact. "I am... willing to try and assist you with your request-"
"Really?! Oh, Kaz-"
"But! I can't promise anything. The paranormal world is anything but predictable so you may not get the results you want, if any at all. And our safety is top priority, meaning the moment either of us is in danger we both fall back. Is that clear?"
What? This didn't sound like him at all! Never had he spoken with such a business-like tone when discussing dealing with spirits! Was this him trying to sound professional, like Saya? He knew his words held practically no weight; he was terrible at keeping out of trouble. Yet it seemed he had installed more confidence in Nanamura, who was now bobbing his head enthusiastically and gazing at him in awe.
"Yes! Of course! I-I understand! Wow Kazou, you're so cool! I'm relieved to have an expert on this sorta stuff by my side!"
The over-the-top praise made Yashiki wince a little but he kept his demeanor serious.
"So, we need to decide a time and-"
"Tonight! How about tonight?" Nanamura exclaimed. "My shift is only four hours so I'll be ready by 8pm!"
"That's... pretty sudden." However, it wasn't like he was doing much else. "Alright, tonight. Should I meet you there?"
"Yeah, but I hiiiighly recommend coming by foot because the trail is far off the main road and there's no suitable ground to drive on. Honestly bringing your car would just be more hassle."
He sounded so matter of fact, he must really be knowledgeable about this hiking trail.
With their meeting arranged and rules set it was time for Nanamura to depart for his work. While Yashiki opened the door he couldn't stop expressing how grateful he was for Yashiki's assistance.
"I honestly thought you turn me down and think I was crazy!"
"I've seen plenty of crazy things myself."
"Ohhh, sounds interesting! Maybe you could tell me about them some time? Over drinks, perhaps? My treat, for helping me." Nanamura narrowed his eyes and smiled coyly before waving his hand. "See you tonight! And remember - don't bring your car! Just walk!"
And with that he was off down the winding path which connected the Kujou mansion to the outside world. Pushing the door shut a sigh escaped Yashiki's lips. Had he done the right thing, accepting this request? Would it have been better to decline? No, that wouldn't do. If there was the possibility of wayward spirits out there who were luring innocent people to their deaths then as someone with a connection to that world he had an obligation to stop them.
It's not like he had any other skills.
"So, what happened?"
A sudden voice jumped Yashiki out of his mental debate and he turned to see Mashita standing behind him. His jaw was pulled taut and his stare piercing.
"Oh, hey. Uh, I'm guessing that call was for a case? You really are busy!"
"Don't change the subject."
His default settings made him automatically scratch the back of his head and glance away.
"I... I decided to agree to Nanamura's request."
It felt as though he had to force those words from his throat, nervousness pushing them back down in worry of their impact; sure enough Mashita's eyes darkened and jaw somehow clenched harder. A lesser man's teeth would have been grounded to dust by now.
"You agreed to go to some remote hiking trail with a complete stranger at night so you can potentially talk to his apparently dead friend? You seriously thought that was a grand idea?"
The words left his lips and pricked at Yashiki's heart. Hearing it from another's perspective did make it sound like a fool's errand, yet...
"Look, Mashita! Hear me out! What if this is all true? Say there is a spirit calling out to people and killing them? Shouldn't we stop it? The police can't do anything, the fact that there's an urban legend about the place will only draw more people in so I think that if we have the chance to help then we should take it!"
"It's got nothing to do with you!"
"Weren't you always going on about how you only wanted to 'sate your curiosity' about the Mark even though you weren't Marked anymore? That's the only reason you stuck around after Hanahiko, wasn't it?"
Mashita visually tensed up. "That wasn't the only reason!" He growled.
Yashiki took a deep breath in attempt to try and rein in this uncharacteristic irritation he felt blooming in his chest. "Look, I just- I feel like this path - investigating ghost stories, helping spirits - is the path that's meant for me, and it's one Saya would approve of as well."
"You're jumping into danger against the unknown just to appease a dead woman? That's idiotic."
Yashiki bit his lip, then glared up at Mashita. A shift his eyes hinted that he had only just realized what he had said but Yashiki was done.
"If I bring you so much hassle, then you're free to walk away."
Spitting those biting words out he briskly walked past Mashita and headed up the stairs. He thought he heard his name being called but his head was too heated to register it. No specific destination in mind his feet instinctively carried him to his bedroom where all the pent up emotions drained out and he collapsed into the bed.
Why were they fighting like this? It all felt so petty and childish, angling words they knew would hurt at one another then feeling horrid about it but refusing to clarify their meaning.
"We're both grown men... how stupid..."
Laying on his bed, exhausted, Yashiki felt his heavy eyelids start to close, urged on by his irregular sleeping schedule and the fatigue of emotion. Helpless to its call he fell back into a troubled slumber.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
Overhead the almost empty city dark, heavy clouds loomed ominously, bringing with them the threat of torrential rain; already droplets were speeding down onto the concrete streets, their residue smearing on the idle car's windshield and blurring the stark glow of the traffic lights in the distance. The abysmal weather acted as a mirror to the sour mood Mashita was in. Staring out at nothing in particular he finished off the dregs of his coffee and continued to wait. He just wanted this to be over, sitting around only gave him more time to replay his interaction with Yashiki. He went too far this time, didn't he? Yashiki was a patient man but talking about his late sister like that crossed the line. In the end Mashita wasn't able to chase after him when he stormed off, a part of him assuming Yashiki wouldn't want to listen to him but the main reason was that he couldn't bear to have him look at him with that hateful expression again. How hostile his usually warm eyes had been was a shock, but that shock had quickly been replaced by pain as hidden behind the anger was hurt.
"Haaaaah... God, this sucks." He muttered aloud and rubbed his temple. Opening his eyes he spotted a figure exiting the building he had been staking out and entering a vehicle. From what could be seen of the person's appearance they looked to be the one his client wanted tabs kept on. Making a mental note of the time Mashita kicked himself into gear and began tailing them.
Finally, he was done for today. The person he was following had returned to their place of residence, meaning he had to pull back for now but he already had all the information he needed. Better note it down for safe measure.
Reaching into his pocket he went to pull out his trusty notebook but instead he found himself holding a small cloth pouch with protective sutras carefully embroidered in shimmering sliver thread on the dark purple fabric. He grimaced, then suddenly remembered:
"Damnit, I have to pay a visit to her..."
Great, more work.
Begrudgingly he started his car and drove through the light rainfall towards his new destination. Drawing to a stop outside a beautiful yet odd building Mashita pulled his coat tightly shut, concealing a bundle of files and rushed through the glass pane door into a spacious dim room. The strong smell of incense hit him and caught in his throat which made him cough. The room was furnished with exotic antiques and strange relics yet it held an air of refinement and elegance that would not go amiss in a western style mansion. Located in the centre of the room was a sizable round table covered in velvet sheet on which there was sun, moon and star decals. For all the planned mystique the place just looked like another fortune teller shop to him.
"Oi! Yasuoka! You here?" Mashita called out.
From the back of the room a mature older woman quietly stepped into view. Her sharp face was layered in make-up and her long slender frame was draped in fabrics of ethereal blues.
"Ah, dear Mashita! How nice of you to stop by on this dreary night. Would you like some tea?"
Shaking his head to decline Mashita unceremoniously chucked the files onto the table.
"There, I've done your leg work. That's all the information I could find."
Yasuoka ran her fingers over the pile and flicked through it, seemingly pleased with what it's pages offered.
"My, what a collection! You really do live up to your reputation!"
Mashita clicked his tongue in response but remained cordial. She was a paying client, after all.
"Now, I actually have another job for you, basically what you previously did but for a new location."
"Hey, if this does turn out to be some sort of supernatural business...are you planning to get Yashiki involved?"
Yasuoka looked up him. "Hm? ... What if I said I was?"
"I would prefer it if you didn't. Actually, don't. Don't even mention it to him. Make that my compensation for this job."
The woman scanned his face, her wise eyes shining with hues of intrigue.
"How is Yashiki doing these days? He can be such a hermit, I do worry for him." She straightened herself and pressed a hand lightly against her cheek. "And since he's so sensitive to the spirit world it would not be unheard for entities to try and attack him, even within the walls of the Kujou mansion."
Mashita scowled and adverted his eyes. "He's alright, just doing what he normally does."
Like getting himself into ridiculous situations.
"Have you given him your gift yet?"
"Anyways, what's this new job?" Mashita dodged her question with one of his own.
"And after I went through all that trouble making it for you..." Sensing that he wouldn't go into detail about his feelings Yasuoka shook her head and sighed, the large earrings dangling from her lobes clinking. Producing a slip of paper and pushing it towards Mashita she explained.
"Again, thank you for compiling all the data on the disappearances around H hospital, that should help me narrow down my search. However there is a new point of interest I need you to scope out."
As she spoke Mashita inspected the paper slip. When he read what was written on it a chill rippled down his spine.
"You see, recently several disappearances have occurred there over an abnormally short period of time." Yasuoka continued on. "It's quite the remote area, but with the frequency some are starting to suspect it's the work of a serial killer. What I'm more curious about is if its connected to our current investigation. So, if you- Mashita? Dear, are you listening?"
He was listening.
He heard every word but his body remained rigid. The location on the slip of paper, where there was an usually high rate of recent disappearances, where there may be a serial killer, a place he had only learned of today:
T hiking trail.
"And then I take a right up this path here... or is it the next path...?
Reading the scrap piece of paper gripped between his shuddering fingers Yashiki looked around. He was standing on a thin dirt path that was fenced by tall trees on both sides which made it hard to gauge if he was actually going the right way. Around two hours before he was scheduled to meet up with Yuu Nanamura at T hiking trail it suddenly occurred to him that he had no idea where the trail was! Luckily he was able to find the area on a map and jotted down directions to follow but the location seemed to elude him; with no distinguishing signage to help he was reduced to following a man-made path which may lead him to the main hiking trail. The Winter sun had set behind the mountain range hours ago and any natural light was smothered by the blanket of clouds so Yashiki had to rely on his old faithful flashlight to avoid tripping over the rocks that jutted out from the mud. Keeping up a good pace despite his confusion Yashiki eventually made it to what one could assume to be a signpost, although it had definitely seen better days. The rotting and weathered post had a single slab of thin wood nailed to it on which the words 'hiking trail' were crudely painted in dull white. Beyond it there was a more established path leading off into the dense forest. This was probably - hopefully - the right place, so now all he had to do was wait for Nanamura to show up. Surveying this new area Yashiki noted that it really was remote out here, he hadn't seen another person or any service buildings for a good while and from what he had seen walking up there was no public roads leading to it. Was this really a hiking spot?
Nanamura did describe it as a 'hidden gem' so it made sense that it was off the beaten path. Currently it's appearance was nothing special, with its bare trees, trampled, muddied grass and sparse foliage but perhaps when Winter's ravaging was over and Spring breathed new life back into the greenery it could be a work of natural art. Perhaps he would come back here another time, during the day of course in order to avoid any unwanted tag along entities.
Yashiki jumped in surprise at the sound of his name, turning to see a slightly breathless, red cheeked Nanamura rushing up to him.
"I thought it was you standing here so I started running! I'm glad it wasn't some stranger! That would have been embarrassing!"
He adjusted the rucksack on his back then looked Yashiki up and down.
"You really came here dressed like that?" He asked, referring to the other man's lack of appropriate attire for this trip. He was certainly dressed for hiking, wearing strong outdoor boots, durable, waterproof clothing and on his hands were a pair of thick yet tight fitting gloves whereas Yashiki had stuck to his usual outfit complete with unsuitable footwear.
"I don't have any clothes for hiking. It's not an activity I do, so no need to buy them." Yashiki brushed off Nanamura's judgement.
"Ah, because you don't really leave the house, right?" Nanamura narrowed his eyes and smiled playfully. His words sounded like a question but their undertone was that of a statement, like he somehow knew he was right.
"I'm not some shut-away..." Yashiki mumbled and turned his attention to the path behind him. "So, I'm assuming this is the hiking trail in question?"
Nanamura nodded. "Yup! This is the one! If we follow it up I can lead you to the canyon."
"Right. We should get going, then."
Bracing himself Yashiki started up the larger dirt path, making sure to aim his flashlight at an angle where he could see the ground but also keep an eye on the dense forest around them - it would be all too easy for someone (or something) to take them by surprise if they didn't stay alert. His beam was soon joined by another one. Nanamura tapped the compact headlamp resting across his forehead and flashed a grin. They continued deeper into the trees, gnarled branches from the dead foliage reaching out to snag against their arms.
"...So your companion didn't want to join us?" Nanamura spoke up.
"Companion?" It took Yashiki a second to realise who he was referring to. "Oh, no. Mashita... had other business to attend to." He kept it vague, not wanting to talk about the real reason why Mashita wasn't here.
Because he's tired of me.
"Oh? I'm surprised he let you come here alone, considering how against it he was." Nanamura laughed and gave Yashiki a sidelong grin. "He seemed very - how do I say it without being rude? - Strict? Controlling? Well I don't mind! It's nice that we can spend some together! Oh- Kazuo! We have to take a left here to reach the canyon!"
"Mashita isn't either of those things." the words left his mouth almost automatically to defend his friend. "He's just more of a realist and methodical in his his actions... sometimes."
Nanamura rasied his eyebrows in surprise, then furrowed them a little.
"I don't want to upset you, Kazuo, but I've seen plenty of guys like him before - they hang around someone and take pleasure in controlling and influencing their decisions but when they start to lose dominance they drift away. Do you even know how he feels?" Nanamura shook his head, then paused, turning to face Yashiki. "I know you said you aren't one for hiking, but are you one for dating?" Nanamura leaned forward, his inquisitive brown eyes boring into Yashiki's.
"T-that's a very personal question!" Yashiki in turn leaned himself away. "And it's got nothing to do with this trip!"
"I'm just curious, that's all. Are you dating that Mashita guy? 'Cuz I think you could do way better."
Yashiki opened his mouth to say something, to tell Nanamura to stop messing around with this strange interrogation when a cold shudder rattled his spine.
What was that?
It felt like someone was watching them.
His flashlight glided across the wall of trees, in the distance he was sure he saw something, a shape of some kind; straining his eyes against the dark Yashiki tried to focus his sight to see if- there!
A person, half hidden behind a tree trunk.
Yet It was blurry, almost like mist but it was there.
From what he could tell it was an adult female, her long dark hair fell just past her shoulders, obscuring a portion of her face. She wore a bright but stained red jumper, a colourful garment which had caught Yashiki's eye. She appeared to be watching them and from the sudden thickening chill that layered the area and the way her body seemed to glow there was a high chance she wasn't of this world.
"Kazuo? Hey Kazuo! What's wrong?"
Yashiki looked to the perplexed Nanamura then quickly back to where the woman had been.
She was gone.
"You were staring off into space, are you okay?" Nanamura walked up close to him, lifting up the front of his hair and pressing their foreheads together.
He was way too close! Uncomfortably so.
"Hmmm, I don't feel a temperature, actually you're pretty cold!" Nanamura said then smiled. "You had me worried for a second there! I don't know much about ghosts or the like, but remember what you said? If we feel in danger we book it? You gotta tell me if you're uneasy, okay. Come on, we're close to the canyon!"
He pulled his head and hand back, adjusting Yashiki's hair gently before spinning around and continuing up the steadily steepening path. Rubbing his forehead Yashiki started following behind but couldn't help but glance back to the now empty treeline, the intrusive conversation forgotton. Who was that woman?
Was she just the spirit of someone who died in these woods? Something told him it was more than that, some small niggle at the back of his mind yet he thought it wise to keep the sighting to himself.
Eventually as they climbed they left behind the scent of subdued greenery and emerged into an area that was more rock than dirt. The ground was more level than the ascending path they had walked up but further ahead - presumably where the canyon was - it was evident even in the gloom that sharp rocks were nestled among the larger ones, meaning they would have to take extra care not to lose their footing if they went closer. Yashiki shined his flashlight over the the environment, taking note of what appeared to be a small hut tucked away at the far right. It sounded rather rude but he couldn't find any visual appeal in this place that would be worth trekking all the way out here for. As if he was a mind-reader Nanamura spoke up.
"It may not look too impressive right now, but on summer nights when it's warm you can get a beautiful view of the night sky! It's very romantic! Like I said before, it's a great date spot!"
"I'm sure it is." Yashiki nodded with an awkward chuckle.
"Maybe I can bring you back in here in the spring? I'm sure you'd appreciate how lovely it is." Nanamura suggested, yet his playful tone had deflated.
The blonde no longer seemed as peppy as he had been on the trail; his expressions became harder to decipher and the overall energy he was emitting was... strange.
Without any warning Nanamura began walking over to the mouth of the canyon, each step confident and strong.
"Nanamura! Where are you-"
"I told you, Kazuo - Yuu is fine! Call me Yuu." Nanamura looked back over his shoulder with a small sad smile. "Tell me the truth, Kazuo. Do you truly believe in ghosts? Do you truly believe the spirits of the dead roam the world?"
What? Why was he asking such questions now? Yashiki swallowed and looked him dead in the eye.
"I do. I've seen them... plenty of times."
Nanamura hummed in response. Coming to an abrupt halt at the edge of the canyon he spun around on his heels and stroked his chin in thought.
"Perhaps my friend really was onto something when he said this place was haunted." a pang of what appeared to be pain flashed across his face. "Well? Do you hear anyone, Kazuo? Is anyone calling out to you from the canyon?"
Hesitantly Yashiki let his focus shift a little from the man in front of him to the canyon so he could listen for anything.
Yet only the crescendo of the howling wind whipped his ears.
"... Aw- .... now..."
Yashiki quickly shushed Nanamura.
"Hur- ... -n away... Now..."
There. On the wind. It was hard to pick out but there was unmistakably a voice.
"Nanamura, you said people reported hearing the voices of people they knew, right?"
"Y-yeah, that's right. Why? Do you hear something, Kazuo?!"
Yashiki didn't answer him, instead he began taking careful steps towards the opening of the abyss. With each step the voice grew in clarity; it sounded faintly like a singular female at first but gradually other voices joined in, creating a myriad of noise.
"Hurry! Run away, now!"
Run away? Why? What were they trying to warn him about?
If he got closer would he hear more? Just a little... closer...
A hand tightly grabbed his own and yanked him backwards. Nanamura placed his other hand on Yashiki's shoulder and began shaking him.
"Hey! C'mon! Snap out of it!"
"I'm fine! I'm fine." Yashiki pushed the hand clutching his shoulder off.
"Hoooo, please don't scare me like that! You kept walking towards that edge and I... I don't want to lose anyone else." Nanamura mumbled, casting his eyes downwards. Yashiki could see that he was shaking slightly and suddenly felt guilty. True, he had been quite rude and very nosy regarding Yashiki's personal life, yet he hadn't really taken Nanamura's feelings on this whole matter into consideration. He had lost a friend here and yet Yashiki had been to worked up over his own problems to be fully sympathetic. There was a chance that his erratic behavior was his own way of dealing with fear or grief.
"Nanamura... I'm sorry, I didn't mean to worry you." He said sincerely, gingerly patting him on the shoulder while at the same time trying to pull his hand from his grasp. Nanamura's eyes widened slightly but then they narrowed as he smiled.
"Ahh, Kazuo, you're really kind, aren't you? But wait-" his expression shifted. "-does that mean... you actually heard a voice?!"
Yashiki nodded and for a second the colour drained from the bartender's face. He continued.
"There were many though so I'm not sure if I can reach your friend..."
Following the urban legend of this trail the victim was meant to hear the voice of a loved one, so why had he heard the call of multiple strangers? A knot of dread was beginning to weave together in his stomach; there was more to this than he had previously assumed.
"Nanamura, I'm going to go a little closer to the canyon. That way I may be able to hear more. So... could you please let go of my hand?"
He had expected Nanamura to either protest the idea or quickly release him and apologize, yet he kept a hold on Yashiki's cold hand for a long moment before slowly uncoiling his fingers and giving a sharp bob of his head.
"Alright. Heh, man, you're so brave. I can't believe you're doing all this for a total stranger. Y'know, you really are my type." He laughed quietly. "I'll be right behind you, Kazuo. I won't let them drag you off."
Yashiki just shook his head slightly at the random compliments and set his sights on the beckoning black maw. With each step he took his heart pounded faster, images of long white ghostly hands springing forth from the shadows below and wrapping around his body, dragging him down to splatter and snap against the stones shot through his mind.
"Hurry... -un away..."
Again the screaming wind carried that cryptic warning to his ears. Was it a warning to stay away from the canyon? Despite that he pressed on, holding back a gasp as his shoe scuffed a protruding rock and nearly caused him to stumble. Just a little closer. Carefully... Carefully...
The screech in his ears stalled his legs. At the same time the heavens opened, sending a cascade of raging rain down into the earth, the pelting drops drowning out so much noise.
Who was coming?!
His brain screamed at him to turn around! To run! To do something! But he was clueless to the apparent encroaching danger. He felt stuck in place, unsure whether to keep going or turn back. The decision was made for him when amid the downpour Yashiki could make out what sounded like a beloved, familiar voice yelling. He whirled around and saw a silhouette he knew so well.
Was it really him?! Why was he here?!
The rain muffled all sound and the creeping fog partially concealed what was happening before him. Mashita's figure looked to be struggling in a fight against an unusual figure.
"S-stop! What are you doing?!"
Nanamura's loud cry resounded from the fog. It all seemed to happen so fast - the figure pulled their fist back and struck Mashita in the stomach, causing him to double over. Then they raised their arm, a metal object glinting in their hand and brought it down with no hesitation, piercing the detective.
No no no!
Yashiki screamed as loud as he could, attracting Mashita's unfocused gaze. Through the onslaught of rain the pair locked eyes for a second, a multitude of emotions running through both of them, before Yashiki froze in place.
Someone, no something, was touching him. Holding onto him.
It couldn't be... It couldn't be.
Wrapping painfully tight around his shaking legs and hips, unnaturally long fingers digging into him, were several long, ghostly pale arms.
He lost his ability to scream, he lost his footing and he lost his view of Mashita as he was dragged down into the maw of the cursed canyon.
Why did I set this story in the woods? I'm running out of ways to describe dead trees! (^_^)"
Also, chapter 2 in Death Mark mainly creeped me out because being in the woods at night has always scared me since playing Silent Hill: Shattered memories! Soldier Kanon is still the scariest tho!! (>_<)
The rainfall continued on. The drops diving down from the dark, overcast sky lashed the large rocks. A low roar from the contact resounded throughout the canyon, accompanied by the wild howl of the wind whipping between the aching branches of the skeletal trees. Even at the bottom of the canyon the rain found its way there and invaded every small crook and crevice it could, creating the beginnings of small streams and pools. Everything became drenched from this unstoppable force of nature.
When his eyes first slowly peeled open his vision was blurred by the drops on his glasses and even if he had been able to see there wasn't anything to see; from where he was laying sprawled out pitifully he faced up at the sky which was just a black void stretching over the top of the canyon. Blinking to correct his vision it took Yashiki a few moments to figure out where he was and why he was there, but the memories soon came flooding back:
The warning he had heard.
The mysterious figure.
The hands dragging him down.
"Mash- ugh! Gah..."
In his frenzy Yashiki attempted to spring to his feet but falling from a height onto a bed of rocks wasn't something you would walk away unharmed from. A throbbing pain coated his ankle and his arms ached terribly, it took so much effort to even move them. Yet it was impossible for him to just lie here when he had to get back to Mashita! Recalling the sight of that metallic glint piercing him caused chaotic bile to bubble in Yas stomach. He had no idea if Mashita was safe or if he was still in danger or even still... alive...
No, now wasn't the time to let his imagination run wild with panicked, negative thoughts. Carefully and steadily Yashiki began to adjust his body into a position to push himself up on his elbows, gritting his teeth as his arms screamed at the applied pressure but at least now he could get a view of where he was. He seemed to have landed on a raised outcrop of the canyon wall - which was probably the only reason he survived the fall. There wasn't much space on the outcrop but at least it was wide enough for Yashiki to delicately maneuver himself until he eased his battered body up onto his knees; from there it was a troublesome task to stand given the state of his ankle - it hurt but thankfully it didn't appear to be sprained. Using a small cluster of rocks as support and taking care not to put too much weight on his ankle immediately Yashiki steadily rose to his feet. A spell of light-headedness struck him and he froze in place and waited for it to pass before he even thought of moving, lest he found himself tumbling down further into the canyon. Although saying that, where did he have to go? The obvious choice would be up so he could rejoin Mashita and Nanamura, so with that as his goal Yashiki hobbled over to the canyon wall and started inspecting it for any footholds. Running his scuffed hands over the cold, smooth stone revealed there were in a fact a few bumps that could provide him with the opportunity to climb out of here. No doubt it would be difficult with his injuries but there was no point worrying about that! He should have worried about it, though, as he had only pulled himself a few inches off the ground when his shaking arms gave up and sent him stumbling back over the outcrop, to which his ankle did not respond positively. Yashiki lost his balance, his vision swirling as he rolled down the slanted rocks along with the gushes of water. Eventually he came to a halt when his body collided against a solid object, knocking the air out of him.
Amazing. Two falls in such a short period of time, if he hadn't broken something the first time then he surely had now, however this time his back suffered most of the damage so Yashiki was able to clamber to his feet without too much issue. Looking to see what he had crashed into Yashiki found a large tree looming over him, its thick roots erupted and knotted around the rocks and a bush of dark green leaves crowning its branches. It seemed to give off an ethereal glow that beckoned to him- either that or Yashiki had taken a bigger knock to the head than he thought. Hobbling over to the wide trunk with its multiple deep grooves running up and down it was a relief to find that the thick umbrella of leaves provided shelter from the relentless rain. Yashiki leaned against the tree for support, placing his hand on its cold trunk.
"My legs... My legs...!"
Yashiki tore his hand away from the trunk and the second he did the phantom voices echoing in his skull died down.
What the hell?
Okay, surely he must be hallucinating now. Hesitantly he reached out, letting his fingers connect with the aged wood again and closed his eyes.
"Am I going to die here...?"
"Please, someone! I-I can't feel my legs...!"
"...why did... you push me...?"
He hadn't imagined them - those pained cries were very much real. Needing to take a few deep, shaking breaths to calm himself he tried to process what he was hearing. These voices... must belong to the victims of the Canyon Caller urban legend. Their last terrified thoughts before they died down here. Yet that last one stood out from the others.
They were pushed? Not grabbed? That went completely against what the urban legend warned but it may be the case that they weren't connected? People accidentally losing their footing and falling to their deaths was sadly not unheard of in rugged areas like this, yet that conclusion just didn't sit right with him though, for some odd reason. Taking a few steps back from the tree Yashiki observed the cracked ground around it where the roots slept peacefully. Water filled the crevices and overflowed like miniature rivers. Suddenly Yashiki spotted something glinting in one of the currents. Hurrying over he managed to grab it before it was carried out of sight. The object appeared to be a small sliver locket on a delicate chain that was coated with rust but an etching on the back could still be made out: To Yuta.
Upon running his fingertip over the engraving a strange sensation pulsed through his body. This locket was important somehow.
"I'm sorry, I know this is very invasive, I hope you don't mind." Yashiki apologized out loud as if the owner of the locket would hear him. Jamming his thumbnail between the metal lips he carefully eased it open. Staring back at him was a young woman with a melancholic look about her; she was smiling but somehow tinged with sadness. The photo was worn and faded yet Yashiki felt like he had seen this girl before...
"Here..." Whispered a voice from behind. He spun around quickly and at the same time a bolt of lightning lit up the sky and canyon. It was only for a second but the sight was unmistakable.
Littering the canyon floor in a macabre spectacle, it was as if they had just materialized in that instance. For some their skin was rotting and decaying, the pressure of the rain and other elements turning it to a stomach churning mush while for others they were reduced to bare bones, with mainly fractured legs and arms from what he could see. Among the garden of skeletons a familiar garment stood out. Yashiki squinted his eyes and moved forward to get a better view. While it was drenched, faded and splattered with mud it was there, that bright red jumper. The woman it belonged to lay with her head on its side with one festering half visible, her legs twisted in an unnatural direction, yet Yashiki didn't have to see her full face to recognize her - he had seen her twice already after all.
"This is belongs to you, doesn't it?" He asked the corpse and held up the locket. "I'm sorry for opening it... are you... Yuta?"
It wouldn't make sense for her to have a locket with her own picture but he didn't have much to go on. Closing his eyes he waited and listened.
... ... ...
The wind whipped by his ears.
... ... ... ... ... ...
It carried a voice.
Yashiki opened his eyes and held back a gasp. The girl stared back at him. She stood where her body lay. When she had been watching him and Nanamura from the treeline he hadn't been able to tell but her face had not been covered by hair, it was caved in.
Yashiki swallowed. "So your name is... Fuyumi."
The spirit seemed to give the slightest nod
It was hard to tell with the current weather but the telltale drop of temperature had settled in yet she didn't appear to be a hostile entity. If he wanted to get to bottom of this mystery then perhaps she could help him, although it meant asking some uncomfortable questions. No sense in tiptoeing around the subject. Yashiki took a deep breath, there was no way of knowing how she would react.
"Fuyumi, were you murdered here?"
Again she was silent but answered with a clear nod.
"I see... Were you pushed in or dragged in?"
A hesitant silence.
"... He brought me here... ... He pushed me in... Why? I thought... We were in love... ... Yuta, Why?"
Her voice was being directed into Yashiki's head, her melancholic tone chiming in his ears as she said more than expected. She was pushed by her partner? How horrible!
"...we tried to save you... ... so he wouldn't get you... We tried..."
"You tried to save me?"
Then, when the hands grabbed him...!
Another lighting bolt flashed, followed by a loud rumble of thunder. A strange moaning noise caused Yashiki to look behind him, and in between the cracks caused by the strange tree's roots he could see... eyes?!
Glowing, blinking circles peered up at him from the dark, ghostly white fingers clutching the rock edges, a swirl of voices moaning. The spirits of the canyon's victims, they were all trapped here...
"He pushed me!"
"Why... Yusuke...? Why...?"
"Yuki... ... pushed me... But we were in love..."
"I'll never forgive you, Yuuya!... NEVER!"
The voices that had just been muffled had now began to scream and cry, the volume reaching a pitch that made Yashiki's teeth chatter. He slapped his hands over his ears and turned back to Fuyumi, who still hovered there over her corpse. She gazed down at her rotting form vacantly then pointed at it before looking back up at Yashiki. Fuyumi's spirit wavered then she began to dissipate, her final words carried on the wind.
"He didn't take everything..."
Yashiki only just made out her words as the screaming died along with Fuyumi's departure, the hands pulling back into the underground and the glow of the eyes turning off like popped bulbs. He looked down at the rancid smelling pile of flesh and bone - was she seriously suggesting...?
This was no time to complain! Even about something this gross and unsanitary! Taking a few unwilling and squishy steps into the mass he steeled himself, held his breath and dug in. It might not have been so bad, desecrating the dead, if Fuyumi had been easier to reach but since she had mostly likely been one of the first victims more than half of her lower body was hidden under several more unfortunate souls. Lifting and moving them was not really an option given how rotted they were, more parts would fall off and just make it harder for Yashiki to find whatever it was he was meant to be looking for. His hand worked its way through the cold and the wet meat while he tried his best not to think about what fluids were coating his fingers until at last they brushed against something hard that wasn't bone. Gripping the object tightly Yashiki carefully pulled it free from Fuyumi's back trouser pocket. Between his grisly, glistening fingers he held a very small notepad, akin to one that you would use to write down phone numbers or dates. The pages were obviously damp and stuck together but with care he was able to pry a couple apart - hopefully they held some useful information.
I met a boy called Yuta today at a bar. He said I looked lonely so he wanted to talk to me. What a weirdo. We exchanged numbers, though.
That boy called me, and we spoke for a couple of hours. It turns out we actually have a lot in common. He asked to meet up tomorrow, isn't that like a date?
I've really warmed up to Yuta. He doesn't seem to mind how boring and negative I can be. He's really kind. It feels like I'm moving too fast but maybe I could ask him out? What if he says no? I don't have any other friends so if he left me...
Yuta said he likes me, too! I can't believe it! I got him a special locket as a gift and he looked so touch! He invited me out to a hiking trail tomorrow as a first date! He says it really romantic, I can't wait!
That's all the notepad pages offered him, but it felt like more than enough. He couldn't help but feel a large pang of sympathy for Fuyumi; such a lonely girl finally finds someone who wants to be with her, she falls for them and then they betray her in such an awful manner. It was so cruel. Grimacing he placed the notepad in his coat pocket. It would be vital, that much he was certain. His brain whirled, piecing together what he knew. This was nothing like his previous investigations, there was hardly any clues to find and follow up, but he where all the answers would be. Now, he just had to make his back there, back to Mashita and Nanamura.
The sky flashed dangerously with powerful lightening bolts chased only seconds after by indignant booms of thunder. It felt like the storm was circling above him yet he paid it no mind. What he did have to focus on was keeping his footing on this uneven slope as he ran blindly up it, the bright bursts of light warning him of any stray rock that would trip him as he was without his flashlight. There were heart stopping moments were his ankle would give out and he'd scramble to regain his footing. It was a wonder that Yashiki had found this slope, in fact it was more like a miracle. Attempting to climb up the canyon walls had naturally proved fruitless what with the rain making any handholds too slippery to grasp and him being devoid of any surplus strength so Yashiki changed his plan and began walking along the canyon bottom in hopes of finding some means of escape. That's when he happened across this strange slope consisting of heavily packed in dirt and stone, which somehow the sky sent torrent hadn't washed away - not that he was complaining.
Yashiki's heart pounded in his tightening chest, not just from the impromptu exercise but from fear and uncertainty. His brain grasped desperately at the threads of information he had acquired, so close to tying them together but some vital clue was missing, he was sure of it! Like all urban legends the Canyon Caller carried kernels of truth, but instead of hearing the voice of someone important to them the victims were instead hearing the lamenting cries of those who had perished in the canyon, those who they were soon to join. Half of the corpses in that forgotten graveyard had been such unlucky people yet the others... from what he had heard were pushed.
Someone was behind this senseless killing.
Human or spirit, he had no way of knowing but right now the thought at the forefront of his mind was that he had to regroup with Mashita and Nanamura, to see if they were safe. He prayed to whatever higher beings continued to allow these situations to happen to him that the mysterious figure hadn't harmed them
"Mashita, please, please hold on! I'm on my way!"
Panic and concern fueled his body, urging him on through the rain and wind. Ignoring the pain in his ankle and chest Yashiki ran.
The loud drumming of the heavy rain banging on the roof above him filled his ears before he even opened his eyes. Blinking back into consciousness he was met by a dim room, with only a sliver of outside light creeping in through a tiny window located high up on the wall opposite. Outside the storm was still rampaging, lightening snaking across the clouds and lighting up the inside of the small shack temporarily. His body felt like lead, his head like it was stuffed with cotton and his memory was a little sketchy. He could vaguely remember who brought him here, but where exactly was 'here'?
From what he could make out the building he woke up in was small, made of wood and reeked something awful. In the back right corner there was a table with several outlines of items on it, like backpacks and wallets along with a few metal looking ones he couldn't identify from down on the floor. Coiled up on the floor around the legs of the table were long lengths of rope. There was a peculiar air about this shack, one that one that told him he was not welcome here. Well, that suited him just fine, he had no plans on hanging around. The sluggish weight in his legs was easing away so he went to stand up.
That's when he finally noticed. His hands were bound behind his back with course, rough rope that scraped his skin, however the knot didn't feel too tight. By instinct he began to wiggle his hands in an attempt to loosen the knot even more. He had to hurry before that guy came back, being in such a vulnerable position almost guaranteed it wouldn't end well for him. He could feel a bead of sweat running down his forehead, he was getting himself worked up with worry but how could he not? The frantic movements of his hands seemed to be working to separate the rope but he froze when suddenly the door of the shack slowly swung open with an drawn out creak, followed by calm, steady footfalls. A figure sauntered through the doorway, dripping from head to toe and slammed the door behind them, choking out the excess light the open door had brought. He could no longer make out the shape of this person, his ears straining to pick out any hint of their approach.
He held his breath, waiting.
"Riiiiiiiise and shiiiiine, Sa-to-ru Ma-shi-ta!" A playful voice sang to him from the darkness. The sounding out of his full name made Mashita shudder in disgust.
"You woke up way faster than I thought you would! And here I was worrying that the dosage I gave you was too strong!' the figure continued as they walked over to the table and placed something on top of it; from the hostile glint he recognized it as the syringe that had pierced his neck. Whatever had been in it was damn strong, it had messed with his head. He remembered he had came here to find Yashiki and he had seen him by the canyon edge, heard him scream his name... He tried to recall what happened after but the figure began talking again.
"Ah well, it wasn't even meant for you but I had to improvise."
The figure turned and leaned against the table, crossing their feet and picked up an object.
"I'm guessing you wouldn't know but let me tell you what a thrill it is, taking things that don't belong to you. The guy this belonged to... he really loved hiking."
They flicked on the object, its bright light revealing it to be a compact headlamp and aimed the beam right in Mashita's face. He shut his eyes in reflex which drew an amused chuckle from the figure.
"So, you're a private eye, huh? Impressive, Satoru."
Mashita felt something hit his chest, opening his eyes a crack he saw his ID laying in his lap. That explains how this guy knew his name.
"I guess with such a career it only makes sense that you would be good at butting into the lives of others." The playful tone held a hint of irritation. The figure flicked the headlamp on and off for a while, seemingly enjoying the discomfort it brought to his captive. "I'm surprised you found this place, not many know which paths to follow to get to the canyon. Was it your 'detective's' instinct? Pfft, haha!"
Mashita remained silent, keeping his eyes lowered. The last thing he need was for his sight to blurred and hazy.
"What's wrong? You feeling shy now?" The figure sneered, pushing themselves off the table and walking over to Mashita, making sure to keep the light on his face.
He felt the kick to his stomach, the spot where he had previously been struck aching anew.
"You might not be able to tell, but I'm really, really pissed off right now... It's not an exaggeration to say you ruined EVERYTHING!"
Their voice cracked as they yelled, delivering another blow to Mashita's stomach. He gritted his teeth and swallowed the pain, not wanting to give this bastard any satisfaction.
"Because I had to deal with YOU I didn't see where he went!"
Another strong kick.
Mashita held back his gagging as the figure took a few steps back and began muttering to themselves. "If he fell into the canyon- no, I don't accept that! He must have tried to run away! Yes, that makes sense but no doubt he'll get lost in those woods, maybe he'll get turned around and end up back here? Or he might be seeking shelter because of the storm... Maybe I should go looking again?"
The figure paced swiftly back and forth as they mumbled, the headlamp now resembling some sort of lighthouse beacon. Lightening illuminated the shack and light up the face of his assailant, their once lively brown eyes now flat and void of any life. Mashita gritted his teeth and glared up at him, to which Nanamura smirked down at him.
"Heh, is that the only face you can make, Satoru? That's pretty sad, I dunno what Kazuo sees in you."
Nanamura squatted down to a level where he would have been able to stare Mashita right in the eyes if the headlamp hadn't been back to blinding him.
"Don't you worry, Sa-to-ru, I'm not planning on killing you - even though I kinda reeeeally want to, haha! No no, I just need you to keep out of my way, so be good and wait in here."
"... Out of the way, huh? Out of the way of what?"
Nanamura cocked his head and looked up thoughtfully like he was debating whether or not to answer the question, then a cruel grin split his face.
"I guess I can tell you, I mean it's not like you'll be able to do anything about it. Basically, I'm planning on jumping into the canyon... and I'll be taking Kazou with me.
The surprise-turned-confusion must have been written across Mashita's face which made Nanamura chuckle with malicious glee before he continued talking.
"Some time ago I decided I don't want to stay in this horrible world any longer... but I get lonely soooo easily so I was searching for someone to take to the afterlife with me and after going through so many people I finally found the perfect candidate!"
What the hell?
This guy was clearly insane!
Mashita felt a crown of cold sweat pearling on his forehead. Yashiki's whereabouts were currently unknown to the both of them - and goddamn it he'd better be safe - but obviously he had to find him before this nutcase did.
Escape would be risky, but he had to try.
Subtly he began wriggling his hands again.
"... That's stupid."
Nanamura's grin froze in place, his eye twitching.
"Come again? I didn't hear that."
"I said that's stupid."
Mashita kept his voice at just the right level.
"Speak. Up. Satoru."
Nanamura moved closer to him, remaining at eye level.
Mashita's hands moved desperately.
The rope tore at his skin.
Nanamura's gaze burrowed right into his skull.
But now, he was in the perfect position.
Quickly and recklessly Mashita jerked his head up, catching Nanamura's nose in the lucky strike. He heard a sickening crunch followed by a yelp of pain but he didn't have the time to check the state his captor was in nor did he care. With his now raw skinned wrists free from the rope he took off, sprinting towards the shack door.
A cry of anguish pursued him but he ignored it and tore open the weak wooden door, inviting the torrent of rain and screaming wind inside.
The immediate exposure to the outside chaos stunned him for a few seconds yet he pushed through it, stumbling through the dark into cover behind a nearby cluster of trees. Pressing himself against the trunks Mashita tried to calm his breathing, there was no chance Nanamura would be able to hear him over the storm yet the action was ingrained in him. Of course, the volume of the rainfall was a double-edged sword - yes, Nanamura wouldn't be able to hear him, but he wouldn't be able to hear Nanamura. Exercising as much caution as he could Mashita peeked around his cover and looked back in the direction he had came from, not sure what he was expecting to see. The area around the shack was empty. The door still lay open. There was no sign of Nanamura. He hadn't struck him that hard so it was impossible he would have fallen unconscious, perhaps he wasn't interested in chasing after him and would instead just double his efforts in hunting down Yashiki? Or perhaps he was looking for something, like a stronger light source or maybe even a weapon-
A projectile flew past him and hit a tree not too far away.
That was a familiar sound.
This guy had a gun?!
"Saaaaa-to-ruuuu! Where are yooooou!?"
Nanamura stomped out of the shack roaring, his posture all over the place and a glinting pistol in his hand. The beam of the headlamp cut through the night as it hunted for him in an erratic and unpredictable manner, reflecting uncomfortably off the wet trees and causing Mashita to shield his eyes. Whipping his hand up to block the harsh light a hiss of surprised pain escaped Mashita. Even in this poor light he caught sight of his previously bound wrists; his skin ached in the cold air as thin dark streams of blood trickled down onto his softly shaking hands. In his fevered escape he hadn't noticed how much damage his wrists had taken. How course had that rope been?
Not good. Had this situation been less obscene he would have had a good chance at taking Nanamura down in hand-to-hand combat but he was completely disadvantaged: Nanamura was brandishing a firearm, he knew this area better, had a light source and was undeniably unstable. His brain ran through options and scenarios but each one ended in his death. For now he went with the easiest yet most basic plan of putting a good distance between them, using the thunder to cover him.
Heart pounding and body fueled with a cocktail of fear and adrenaline Mashita slinked through the trees, scurrying in short bursts every time the deafening boom of thunder muted his soggy squelching footfalls then ducking back into whatever cover was on offer before the lightening betrayed his position.
"SA-TO-RU! QUIT HIDING, YOU COWARD!"
The unhinged scream of Nanamura chased him, bouncing off the trees and echoing in his ears. At any moment Mashita was anticipating a metal slug to rupture his guts or chest and leave him to bleed out like an animal in this damn forest yet his pursuer hadn't fired another shot since his haphazard first two. That probably meant he didn't have any excess ammo! Finally, some damn form of good news! That flicker of hope was suddenly extinguished as Mashita's worn-out, smooth shoe sole slipped on the wet grass, sending him crashing painfully down, his left knee taking most of the brunt. Fresh pain flared up in his wrists as his arms reached out to stop the fall. Shit! How much noise had that made?
He held his breath and listened.
It felt like the cold air had frozen time itself.
All the sounds were muddled together along with the screaming of his injuries and the furious drumbeat of his heart.
He kept listening.
Something cold touched the side of his head.
"Hahaha... Found ya, Satoru."
Was he even going the right way? Yashiki couldn't help but second guess the direction his tired legs were carrying him yet that doubt was short-lived. It was hard to explain but it felt like he was being guided along this muddy path, like an unseen force was pushing him forward impatiently. Letting it guide him Yashiki stumbled and slipped through groping mud and meddling rocks, the rain droplets smearing on his lenses occasionally blinding him.
What? That sound, it couldn't be... a gunshot? Out here?
It definitely wasn't thunder.
Normally he probably would have clumsily skidded to a halt and turned on his heels to run in the opposite direction of the dangerous sound but this time it acted as a lure. He sped up as much as he could force his body to, eventually a shape came into view on the murky horizon. Ah! It was the shack he had seen near the canyon maw! He was back at the site where he had fallen - or more accurately, been dragged down - and where Mashita had been attacked!
Yashiki couldn't keep the panicked yell from tumbling up out his parched throat. "Mashita!"
Slowly to a halt in the middle of the clearing he scanned the area for any sign of his friend.
Snapping his head around to the source of the voice he saw a confused Nanamura stepping out from behind a tree. He was injured, his nose crushed at an odd angle and dried blood caked his mouth which broke into a deranged grin when they locked eyes.
"Kazuo! Kazuo! You're okay! Oh, thank god you're safe!" He gushed, running forward and clamping his arms around Yashiki. "I knew you would come back to me! I knew it!"
Yashiki tensed up in response to the sudden forceful embrace yet the blonde didn't seem to notice, delirious with joy. In one of his hands there was something hard.
"... Nanamura, where is-"
His question trailed off as he picked up on stalled movement from the direction Nanamura had appeared from. He felt his eyes widened and some of the pent up tension leave his body.
He was alive! Looking worse for wear and bearing an expression that he couldn't decipher but he was alive!
"Yashiki! Get away from him!"
His brain didn't process the warning in time. Nanamura had already whirled around, one of his hands now gripping Yashiki's wrist like a vice and the other stretched out towards Mashita, cocking a gun right at him.
"Shut the hell up, Satoru! It's too late now! You can't stop us! He's coming with me!"
His voice was cracked and heated. An expression of pure rage was etched onto his face. Keeping the gun aimed at Mashita for a few more agonizing seconds where it was unclear if he would pull the trigger or not Nanamura turned around without a word and began marching towards the canyon, dragging the bewildered Yashiki along with him.
"Nanamura! Stop, what are you doing!" Yashiki struggled and twisted his arm in an attempt to break out of the iron grip crushing his wrist. A loud crack rattled through his skull as his glasses shattered on the ground followed by a searing heat at the side of his head.
"I don't want to hurt you, Kazou, so just come along quietly." Nanamura breathed erratically while winding back his hand holding the gun, threatening to strike him again. "We're going to leave this cruel world! We won't be lonely anymore!"
"What? What are you talking about?"
Nanamura started pulling him closer to the deathly drop, still rambling away.
"This world doesn't want us! It hates us! So let's leave it behind! You feel the same, right?"
He would have shaken his head rapidly if he had any idea what Nanamura was babbling on about but instead he could only let his weak body be lead towards their apparently matched doom. In the back of his mind there was a flash of red and one melancholic eye in a mangled skull.
The words came out awkwardly and sounded forced, but they had their desired affect for Nanamura stopped in his tracks, turning his shocked gaze to Yashiki.
Swallowing, he pressed on.
"I-if we're going to go together, then I want to know..."
He had to think on how to follow this up, think about what words would get Nanamura to open up and not send him into a fatal frenzy. What words would save his life?
"...Why you think I'm worthy to go with you."
"Why? Why? Oh Kazou, it's because you're perfect!" Nanamura's voice reached a giddy pitch, a manic grin stretching to his ears. "Why, when I first laid eyes on you that faithful night I just knew, I just knew you were the one! That sad, lonely look in your eyes resonated with me so strongly! You were someone else who this world had hurt and trampled. I had searched for so long to find another person who was outcast from 'normal' society, someone who wouldn't mind leaving their earthly life behind and out of everyone... You were the best. Even in the company of others you still looked so isolated... so strangely unique."
That faithful night? He must be referring to the night Mashita had first taken him to that bar. To have him selfishly smear such a pleasant memory, it was distasteful to say the least.
"If you had been alone that night I would have made my move, but someone kept butting in-" he tossed a dark glare in Mashita's direction. "-so I had to wait, and finally you came back to me! Now, you can join me in the afterlife! We won't be alone anymore! We'll have each other..."
Yashiki felt absolutely sick to the deepest pits of his stomach. The fact that some stranger had grossly modeled him into their ideal partner despite knowing nothing about him and constructed such an insane and vulgar suicide plan which involuntarily included him made his skin crawl. Perhaps somewhere in his heart he could have felt sympathy for someone so lost and broken, but not Nanamura.
"So the reason you brought me here, was that a lie?" Yashiki struggled to keep his voice gentle and docile. "Did your friend really disappear here?"
Nanamura's head tilted at an uncomfortable angle.
"Ahh, Kazuo, I'm sorry. I wasn't completely honest with you. That guy did perish here, but how else was I to catch your attention then with a ghost story? But that's not important right now! Come on, we have to jump before dawn break or our souls won't pass over together! That's what the Father told me!"
The Father? What was he rambling about now? No, focus. One thing at a time.
Throughout his jumbled exposition Nanamura's grip on Yashiki's wrist had began to loosen.
"...How many people did you lure here? How many other innocent people did you offer companionship to?"
"... W-what? Kazuo-"
"You targeted those who had nothing to lose, made them feel like they had finally found someone who understood their troubles only to betray them in the end. Just like you did to Fuyumi - right, Yuta?"
With uncharacteristic finesse Yashiki tore his wrist from Nanamura's grasp and stepped back before chucking the small metal object he had concealed forward; in confusion Nanamura luckily scrambled to catch it instead of firing his gun. He stared down at locket with complete disbelief.
"Wh- but, how, I-I..."
As Nanamura stammered Yashiki felt a calming presence rush to his side.
"Seems you missed at least one souvenir." Mashita growled.
"... ... ..."
Hunched over and ominously silent the broken man's frame began to shudder.
"... Why? I tried so hard to find happiness in this life... I found people just like me and I thought that I could keep them with me forever..." Ugly sobs interrupted his speech. "But the longer we spent together the happier they would become while I only got more miserable... Why should only they get to be happy?! WHY SHOULD THEY GET TO LIVE?! THEY ALL DESERVED TO DIE!"
Nanamura snapped his head up and glared furiously with tear-stung, despair filled eyes, thrusting the pistol up and aiming at Yashiki.
"AND SO CAN BOTH OF YOU-"
The indignant screaming cut off abruptly. Nanamura's feral gaze was no longer slicing into the confused pair in front of him - it was fixated on something just behind them.
"H-how... Why are you here?!"
Spluttering and shaking, taking small, unsteady steps backwards Nanamura's face lost any of its remaining colour.
One bullet zipped past Yashiki's face, then another.
"Y-you shouldn't be here! Get away from me!"
Like a startled animal Nanamura scampered backwards but kept his bulging eyes locked on whatever was approaching him. If he kept going...!
Mashita somehow sensed Yashiki's thoughts and grabbed his shoulder, shaking his head as if to say "don't bother, it's too dangerous."
"Get away! Get away! F-Fuyumi!"
On her broken, mangled legs she stalked forward from behind them, each step of her unsteady gait getting her closer to Nanamura. Hyperventilating madly he aimed at the spirit again but this time Yashiki would be on the receiving end of the bullet if he pulled that trigger again.
But he didn't have time to fire.
"Come, Yuta... Everyone's waiting..."
Up from the depths of the canyon - or possibly the underworld itself - erupted a chorus of screams and cries loud enough to rival the storm.
Nanamura's own incoherent screams joined them as long, pale hands clamped and crushed his arms, his legs, his face; they all fought to hold a part of him, the sharp fingers digging into whatever section of skin they could find, some settling in his mouth and eye sockets.
And then he was gone.
Pulled down to the canyon floor to join the countless corpses he had amassed there. Fuyumi stared down after him for a few seconds before turning to Yashiki and Mashita, a satisfied yet relieved smile on what was left of her face.
Her spirit shimmered and slowly faded away, hopefully moving on to her eternal rest. The pair stood there, dumbfounded for a long moment before Yashiki noticed the state of Mashita's wrists in his impaired vision.
"Mashita! You're wounded!" He exclaimed, grabbing the hand that was still lingering on his shoulder.
"You're not looking much better either." Mashita sighed. "Come on, let's get away from this place. Let's go home."
By the time they had finished at the canyon site the storm had died down to just light splatters of rain which made it easier for the battered pair to fumble their way through the forest and back to the main hiking trail that had led them to that terrible place. Luckily Mashita - the example of logic and rationality - had came here by car so they didn't have to painfully hobble all the way back to the Kujou mansion, only to a rundown looking parking lot nearby. Due to the state of Mashita's hands Yashiki had offered to drive them but Mashita had shot him down with "Seriously? Look at your own hands, you're shaking like a leaf - plus you're half blind without your glasses. Just shut up and get in."
Unable to deny that observation Yashiki had conceded, falling into the passenger seat and feeling a colossal weight detach itself from his tired shoulders. Staring out at the fleeting bleak scenery the recent incident replayed in Yashiki's head.
After Nanamura had been dragged down the canyon by the spirits of his victims the pair had planned to leave the area immediately but Mashita had quickly changed his mind.
"I'm going to check out that shack first. You wait here."
Yashiki shook his head and hardened his voice. "I'm not letting you go in there alone."
He must have sensed Yashiki wouldn't budge on this for Mashita merely sighed and started trudging over to the shack. Inside they had uncovered a collection of souvenirs Nanamura had kept from his victims, ranging from pieces of jewelry and ID cards to flashlights and backpacks. It felt oddly morbid to rifle through the belongings of the dead but Mashita stated he was collecting some form of ID in order to establish evidence for the victim's missing person cases for those who Nanamura had killed.
At last, they would have some kind of closure.
Exiting the shack they started towards the trail to leave when an unexpected almighty crack of lightning shot down into the canyon. It made the pair jump and they turned around as a strong updraft whooshed skywards. Edging as close as he dared to the canyon's edge Yashiki saw what looked to be something burning in the abyss. The faint fire surged on despite the continuing rainfall.
"What the hell? What's burning down there?" Mashita asked out loud.
The only thing that could have caught fire was...
"That tree..." Yashiki mumbled to himself, recalling the unnatural evergreen where the canyon's victims slept.
Maybe with the anchor point gone and revenge enacted they could all find peace at last.
Back at the mansion they had changed out of their soaked, ripped and dirty clothing, Mashita having to make do with Yashiki's slightly smaller shirt and trousers. Thankfully both of them weren't too badly injured, the wound on Yashiki's head was light and his sprained ankle was swollen but functional whereas Mashita's knee was just scraped and his wrists had now been cleaned and bandaged; in the end the only causality that mattered was Yashiki's glasses yet he swore he had a spare pair laying around his room somewhere.
"Are you sure you don't want anything to drink?"
Yashiki's voice called to him from the other side of the room. Mashita was sprawled in front of the large fireplace located in a back room of the mansion in an attempt to warm up, his back leaning against a plush chair.
Honestly he wouldn't have minded a glass of bourbon or whiskey but given what a lightweight Yashiki was he doubted there was even any alcohol in this mansion.
"Well, you can at least have this."
As if to contradict his thoughts Yashiki appeared beside him offering a glass of whiskey minus any ice.
He accepted the drink, not quite what to say. With a gentle smile Yashiki sat down next to him. Out the corner of his eye he noticed Yashiki had practically downed his own drink already; it was a repeat of their first time drinking together and again Mashita decided not to say anything. It had been a long night for the both of them so cutting loose in his own home wasn't out of line. The pair were silent for a drawn out moment; it was obvious the events of that night weighed heavily on Yashiki's mind.
"... You know, when I saw you at the canyon before I got pulled into it, when I saw you getting attacked... I felt so scared." Yashiki mumbled. "All I could focus on at first when I regained consciousness was your safety. I kept wondering 'is he okay?' and 'please, let him be safe.' I didn't care about my own wellbeing! As long as you were safe I...!"
Yashiki trailed off weakly although his sentiments were obvious.
Because that's how Mashita felt.
'As long as you were safe I didn't care what happened to me'
Mashita clicked his tongue, taking a swig of his drink.
"If that's the case then maybe you finally understand how I feel every time you rush into danger."
He could feel Yashiki looking at him but he kept his cool, continuing to stare at the flickering flames. If he locked eyes with him now there was no guarantee he could prevent himself from acting on lustful impulse.
Yashiki just nodded and finished his whiskey, setting down the glass. Mashita expected him to bid him goodnight and head off to the sanctuary that was his bedroom but his heart nearly stopped when he felt Yashiki lean against him, nestling his head into his shoulder.
"... Are you drunk again?"
Yashiki just laughed softly in reply, keeping his head where it was. When he spoke his voice was slightly slurred yet completely sincere.
"Nanamura seemed to assume that I was lonely and that I had nothing to live for... but he was wrong... I have people I care about, people I couldn't bear to leave behind..."
Yashiki closed his eyes.
"I'm sorry... for not realizing how you felt... And, when you called this mansion 'home'... I was so happy..."
"What's with the gross sappy talk? You really are drunk, huh? Lightweight."
The other man didn't respond. His eyes were now fully closed and his chest rose and fell in a steady rhythm, signaling that he had fallen into a deep sleep.
"Oh, so now you can fall asleep at a reasonable time, huh?"
To be fair it made complete sense that Yashiki would pass out so quickly after the night he had experienced. Mashita watched him for a few more moments before wrapping his arm around Yashiki's shoulder, his hand gently playing with his hair. Without his glasses in the way he could see how long his eyelashes were, casting soft shadows over his cheeks.
"... it's about time you realized your worth. If I were to lose you... Fuck, I can't even begin to imagine how I'd cope..."
Mashita sighed. There he was, spouting emotional nonsense again, all because of this guy. Finishing his drink he set down his own glass and leaned his head against the top of Yashiki's. The flames in front of them danced gracefully as they began to die down into a gentle smolder.
"When you wake up I'm going to make you promise- no, I'll make you swear that you won't put your life in danger again, okay... Kazuo?"
That hushed name felt so sweet on his lips. Next time he wanted to whisper it into Yashiki's ear as he held him close, where he could see how those pallid cheeks would heat up from his voice and he could feel his heart beat wildly but for now this secret moment would have to do.
Whaaaa-shooo!~ Story 2 finished! Hehe! As always, thank you so so so much to everyone who read this, gave kudos and commented!!<3
It totally means a lot to me!!~
I'm currently brainstorming for the next short story, but I promise the first chapter will come soon and that... Mashita and Yashiki are gonna kiss! (//>w<\\)
(And they're gonna go further in the final story, fufufu~)