A few days ago.
Mai sighed, her head sinking to rest on her arms on the desk. Somehow, she thought that taking a dual degree in Philosophy and Religion and History would be easier, especially since she was surrounded by fine representatives from most of the major religions in Japan. Now she was stuck with an essay to write on Karma as the law of cause and effect due in a week's time, and she had no idea where to start.
Truth be told, it was Yasuhara's idea that she do it. She'd managed to get by and even pulled decent grades mostly thanks to him (though Bou-san turned out to be quite a genius in biology and chemistry), and she had appreciated the help because as much as she hated to admit it she knew that Naru was right. Her part time job had taken precious time away from her studying hours. But after graduating and finding out she had been up to par with the university's standards she was at a loss on what to do next.
"What would you like to do?" Yasuhara asked as they both sat down at a table facing the window and the quiet street where the café was located. It was her treat as a thank you gesture for all of his help and patience.
Mai shrugged, looking on the menu for some jasmine tea she had heard was brewed nicely at that café. "I don't really know. I've never given it much thought, and now all that I'm interested in is hunting ghosts…" She trailed off, smiling awkwardly. "But I guess that there's no university here that teaches that," she hastened to say.
Yasuhara looked contemplative. "No, there isn't. But you could study history and theology and it might just come close," he said, settling for ordinary coffee and, after the disappointed look Mai sent him, a plate of cocoa cookies.
Mai looked at him dubiously. "Would it?" she asked, unsure.
Yasuhara laughed. "Isn't it what we're doing for Shibuya-san all the time? Researching history and religious rituals in order to dispel spirits," he explained.
It was meant to be a surprise. The fact that Mai had passed the entrance exams and that she got the acceptance letter was something only Yasuhara knew about, and Mai was planning on telling everyone else after they were finished with the Yoshimi case. But then Naru had collapsed and was rushed to the hospital, his incredible powers were revealed and during the ride home he had found his brother's body and the truth came out.
Mai sighed, now miserable.
Naru was Professor Oliver Davis.
She knew that Bou-san knew. He wasn't surprised when Naru told them, and his admiration for the British professor began to dim slightly during the two cases they worked on before Naru's return to England. Lin knew, of course, and Masako told Mai that she had figured it out because she was in a convention of the American branch of SPR where the demonstration of Naru smashing the 50 kilogram aluminum brick into a wall using his PK was screened. Even Ayako admitted that it answered a lot of questions and John revealed that he had asked his friends to ask around about Shibuya Kazuya as he hadn't believed that such a brilliant researcher was still so anonymous and found out through that.
Only Mai, stupid, stupid Mai, had never thought to question Naru's sharp intellect, the strange power he had shown or the way he seemed to know things he shouldn't have merely from strolling in a room with his hand outstretched to touch things. Sure, she knew that Naru wasn't completely Japanese, his eye color gave him away if nothing else, but she had never thought to connect the dots. There were many other clues, like Naru's inability to read Kanji, the fact that Lin always wrote in English and Naru had numerous books in that language yet very few in Japanese, his apparent rudeness as he didn't follow Japanese customs like bowing, his dislike of the media. The biggest giveaway was probably Madoka sending Naru to uncover the fake professor Davis in the Miyama case, which brought forth the question: why would they both care so much?
And only stupid, stupid Mai had her awkward love confession thrown back in her face with all the patient and care Mai knew Naru possessed and had always hoped he would display more often. She was in love with his brother? Mai huffed in irritation. She didn't even know Naru's brother. And to top it off, he was a terrible workaholic. It was fine as long as she thought that it was Naru who was visiting her dreams, but how sad was it to keep working even after you're dead!?
After that, Naru returned home and the team disbanded. Mai never got the chance to tell Naru that she was going to university and after the way he patiently assured her that she would see his brother again in an answer to her feelings, she didn't particularly want to. And after he was gone, Mai knew that Bou-san was wrong when he said that she was the ribbon to tie them all together.
In truth, it was Naru.
Sure, she still saw them all. Bou-san always picked her up to drive her to his concerts, Ayako came once in a while to take Mai shopping (Mai never bought anything in the stores Ayako favored because she couldn't afford it) and even Masako found a way to visit her. Masako would always come with John, who she claimed was the single person other than Naru she could stand, and always found an excuse to join him on his weekly visits of Mai. Yasuhara met with her several times a week since they both attended the Hongo campus of the University of Tokyo, and in fact, it was with him that Mai had met Naru again upon his return to Japan.
Two months after Naru had left, Mai and Yasuhara were celebrating Mai's first week as a university student. Yasuhara treated Mai to a cup of coffee to celebrate her first week of university, both their budgets tight, and they were lounging in their favorite café in Dougen Zaka in the Shibuya district when a car pulled to the curb next to where they were sitting. Out came Naru, smirking, and while they were both busy gaping offered them both a job.
Mai sighed, regretful. If Naru had given her words any thought, it didn't show. He was still the ice prince and still traded barbed remarks with Mai, almost as if his being Oliver Davis, brother of the dead person who frequent Mai's dreams, had not turned Mai's life upside down.
Naru had come purely for scientific reasons this time. He wanted to hunt ghosts in Japan, he said, and he needed his team back. Lin came with him, even though Naru was no longer a minor. If it wasn't for Lin, Mai would have thought that she was offered her job back solely because she was with Yasuhara when Naru offered him his.
Unlike Naru, Lin had brought both Yasuhara and Mai a humble present, a sign that he expected to see both of them again and not just Yasuhara. Mai fingered the thin leather bracelet on her left wrist absently as she thought about it. It was a simple braided bracelet which had a protection charm woven into it. Lin had made one for each of them, saying that if they were going to work as ghost hunters they would need every protection they could get.
So she was hired back to work for SPR, who she now knew was the Society for Paranormal Research. She still clipped articles with potential for having a connection to something supernatural every day, and still made Naru about ten cups of tea a day. And while it was a relief to know that she had a steady source of income, she was still at a loss on what to write for her essay.
"Another one, Taniyama-san," Yasuhara interrupted Mai's wandering thoughts.
"Huh?" Mai replied unintelligently.
"You've just sighed five times, and that's an odd number. Don't you know it's unlucky?" Yasuhara wore his best self-important expression and his tone was serious, but Mai could see the amusement dancing in his eyes.
Mai smiled. "It's fine. It's just that I have an essay to write about Karma for my Buddhism course that I have no idea how to begin," she complained good-naturedly.
"Then why don't you ask Takigawa-san for help?" Yasuhara sounded genuinely interested, and Mai bolted from her chair with a gasp.
"That's right! Bou-san's a monk!" she exclaimed, and then smiled, embarrassed, at Yasuhara. "I guess I forgot that," she said, laughing nervously.
"I fail to see how, seeing as we have all started calling him 'Bou-san' because of you," a calm voice came from the other end of the office, and Mai turned to see Naru standing at the entrance to the reception area, looking at the both of them. "Did you find anything interesting in the papers today?" he asked, looking at the paper clippings neatly arranged on both their desks.
"Nothing, boss," Yasuhara answered cheerfully, seemingly forgetting Naru's stern speech about the importance of the task. 'Good cases can't be trusted to come into the office via the front door,' he had told them both when he had returned.
Mai also shook her head, watching bemusedly as Naru bent down and retrieved the topmost half-cut paper from her waste basket. Slowly, he spread the paper on her desk and turned it towards her so that she could read the letters that had not fallen pray to her scissors.
"Then what would you call that?" Naru asked, and Mai bent down to read the article his finger had tapped. The headline read: 'Mansion stays unsold, buyers are all fleeing'. The sub headline added: 'Fear of vengeful spirits chase away potential buyers. So far sixteen people were killed due to undetermined circumstances'.
Mai looked up at Naru, confused. She remembered that page, remembered that article. It even had a picture of a lovely ancient Japanese mansion attached to it. There was no need for them to try and guess where the supernatural link was, the headline was practically screaming it. She had no idea why she hadn't clipped the article, and swiftly took her scissors in her hand and reached for the paper…
Her hand stopped before the scissors could touch the paper itself. A cold sweat broke on her forehead and she felt like her lungs were being squeezed. She was frozen on the spot and she didn't want to move any closer to the article Naru had indicated.
Mai frowned. It was absurd. Pulling her hand back and stealing a glance at Naru's stoic face, Mai once again tried to reach for the paper and once again found that she would rather write an entire encyclopedia about every Buddhism concept there ever was rather than clip that particular article.
"Mai," Naru's voice cut calmly through her anxiousness. "Bring me the clippings to your left," he instructed, and Mai was more than happy to do as he asked, reaching for the requested clippings. As she made to hand them over to Naru she noticed that both him and Yasuhara were looking at her strangely, and that Naru's hand wasn't outstretched to receive what he had asked for.
"At least she's not possessed, boss," Yasuhara said thoughtfully.
"Which was exactly why I asked her to do something else," Naru agreed, and Mai threw him a resentful glare. Sure, she had acted strange, but if he thought she was possessed he could have at least pretended to be worried.
Naru paid her no mind. "It makes me wonder how many other potential cases we have missed because of Mai's animalistic instincts to shy away from danger," Naru said thoughtfully, but before Mai could even start getting indignant about his choice of words he continued. "Mai, from now on you will clip all papers by yourself. Yasuhara-san will go over your waste and see if there was anything you might have skipped over."
Mai gaped at him. First he thought she was possessed, then he insulted her and now he was doubling her workload? How was that fair!?
Once again, she was not given a chance to open her mouth. Yasuhara cut in quickly, sending Naru his most brilliant smile. "Ah, but boss, I would be bored to tears," he claimed, taking the paper Mai had been unable to touch and swiftly clipping the small article. "Would you like me to investigate further?" he asked Naru with a winning smile.
The sound of the bell chiming as the door opened interrupted whatever it was that Naru was about to say, and in came two visitors, a man and a young woman around Mai's age. The man was probably in his mid-fifties yet had deep creases on his face that made him look older. His hair was graying and his eyes were sad. The woman next to him had to be his daughter, there were similarities between them, but she was delicate and elegant, with hair dyed a deep chestnut color. She wore no makeup on her face.
Mai got up and swiftly sidestepped Naru to welcome the guests, sending him one last glare as she went pass him. She was not going to have her workload doubled because of one mistake.
"Welcome to Shibuya Psychic Research, I'm Taniyama. How may we be of assistance?" she asked, bowing respectfully.
The man and woman bowed back. "Sorry to intrude. I'm Toyama Shoutaro and this is my daughter, Toyama Himiko," he introduced them both. His eyes strayed over to where Naru and Yasuhara were still standing, and then widened. "We actually came to ask for your help regarding that," he said, pointing at the clipping Yasuhara still had in his hand.
"Really!?" Mai asked, awed by the coincidence.
"Then please be seated. I'm Shibuya, the president of the company," Naru introduced himself without bowing, and then turned to his assistants. "Mai, tea. Yasuhara-san, please take notes," he instructed, seating himself elegantly on the sofa while Mai directed both daughter and father to the couch opposite him.
Mai went to the kitchenette and brewed the tea in silence, listening to the story their visitors had to tell.
"Our family first bought the mansion seven months ago. My wife always wanted to design and direct weddings, and she had good taste and a good eye. People always came to her for consultations and eventually we decided to buy a romantic place and open a business of our own. When we were offered the resort on Mt. Myoujin we eagerly bought it as it answered all of our prayers, but soon strange things started happening. People started turning up dead in the valley below the house, all having apparently fallen or been pushed or jumped from our yard.
"We investigated a little, and found that it was not the first time this has happened, and that it was well known that something paranormal is responsible for it. We tried to sell the mansion, but no one wanted to buy it from us, and two more people were found dead in the meantime.
"A number of purifications were conducted in the mansion, but nothing helped and in the meantime the business' reputation was ruined and no one would come to us anymore. The next body to be found was my wife's, and that was when we decided to come to you," Toyama-san finished just as Mai came out with the tea, and Mai felt a pang of sadness for him.
"I'm sorry for your loss," she told Toyama-san sincerely, and handed him his tea. She said the same thing to his daughter, understanding now why she wasn't wearing any makeup and why she was dressed in a plain black afternoon dress. They were still mourning.
"So far I have heard nothing to convince me that there's a paranormal power responsible for the occurrences," Naru stated mildly, accepting his tea and drinking without saying the traditional 'itadakimasu'(1) like their guests had done.
Mai knew that he was trying to be cautious. Their last three cases were disastrous, to say the least. The first case after Naru came back took place in a haunted house where the police was after Naru, suspecting him for having murdered his own twin. The second one after that was of yet another haunted house, which was haunted by the family's teenage fostered child. Their last was what had Naru so on edge, since a string of apparent supernatural killings turned out to be a ruthless serial killer who almost had a go at Ayako and John before being caught. Needless to say, the police weren't happy that Naru was involved yet again.
"What do you mean?" asked Toyama Himiko, her eyes widening in surprise. It was clear that she had never expected him not to believe their story.
"Mt. Myoujin is an isolated place. The nearest town is an hour's ride and the next village is pretty small. People tend to get bored, and so far from what I've heard we could be looking at suicides or a serial killer on the loose," Naru stated bluntly.
Toyama-san's creases deepened when his brow crinkled. "There's also this," he said somberly, pulling out a simple tape recorder and hitting the play button.
It was hideous.
From the speaker rose the sound of many woman crying, wailing in deep anguish, their sounds overlapping and on occasion, tuning together to produce a horrid, ear piercing sob. Mai's eyes went wide and her hands shot up to cover her ears, stumbling as a sense of dread shot up her back. She collapsed on the sofa next to Naru, who was clearly surprised to hear the cries, and she turned away into the soft cushions in a feeble attempt to escape.
"Those women…" Mai mumbled as she uncovered her ears in order to clutch at her aching stomach. There was something inside her that screamed at her to run. Her animal instinct, she knew. Black spots were dancing in front of her eyes. "They're suffering… so much…"
Naru turned his head towards her worriedly, one hand grasping her shoulder to keep her from falling off the sofa. "Stop it," Naru ordered sharply. Toyama-san pressed the stop button and the silence was even more piercing, but also comforting and peaceful. He looked expectantly at Naru.
"Are you alright, Taniyama-san?" Yasuhara hurried to her, concerned, and served her a cup of lukewarm tea which Mai gulped with relief. Once Toyama-san had stopped the tape recorder she felt much better, and even managed to smile weakly in response to both him and Lin, who came rushing from his office ready to fight at hearing the horrible sounds.
Naru's hand left her shoulder and he returned to being all business-like, not even acknowledging Lin's presence. "When did you record this, and where?" Naru asked, curious. Mai was recovered but still a little shaky, and wondered if he wasn't at all affected by the horrible sounds. Of course not, that workaholic, she thought disdainfully.
"After the cremation of my wife's body I went for a midnight stroll in the garden. I wanted to speak to her but felt silly talking to the empty air, so I took the recorder with me. Just as I was passing the place where she had allegedly fallen it got really cold and those wails started. I didn't know what to do, so I stood there and waited for it to stop," Toyama-san shivered, his face paling. His daughter held his arm tightly, and he sent her a grateful look. "It's not something I ever want to experience again," he told them candidly.
"There's more," Toyama Himiko said, speaking in the unsteady voice of someone whose nerves were wrecked and who was on the verge of collapsing. "Sometimes we can hear knocking sounds on the screen doors coming from outside, but when we open the doors there's nobody there. Also there's a desk in one of the rooms that we keep in the corner, but sometimes it moves to stand next to the window on its own. One time it got so cold in the garden that the water in the pond started to freeze, even though it was late March, and one time all the furniture was arranged in identical right angels. And then… sometimes I think I can see people walking in the house at night!" she told them, anxious and on the verge of hysterics. It must be hard to live for so long in a haunted house, Mai reflected.
"And now it's getting worse. One night the entire house shook from the loud banging, and the lights went off. When the lights came on again there were deep scratches on all of the doors. Please, we can't go on like this!" Himiko-san cried. Her father patted her on the shoulder to calm her, but she stared at Naru imploringly.
Mai looked at Naru, sitting beside her, curious. It was a classic case, she knew it, but she had mixed feelings about him taking it. The Toyama family was nice, and certainly in need of their help, but those cries were horrid. And Mai's uneasiness still lingered from when Naru wanted her to clip the article about them being unable to sell their mansion.
"We'll take it," Naru said, predictably. "We will need three rooms at our disposal, two for sleeping and one for our equipment. It needs to have several electric sockets as we would be bringing in computers and cameras. We would also require the blueprints of the house, if you have any. You may expect us in two days," he told the Toyama family, who looked gratefully at him.
"Whatever you need," Toyama-san said, getting up and bowing deeply. "Thank you!"
After they left, Mai looked at Naru. "We're really going?" she asked quietly, unable to ignore her intuition.
Naru looked at her solemnly for a long time, almost as if considering it and debating with himself. "You could always stay home," he informed her eventually, completely serious, before turning away.
Mai folded her arms on her chest defiantly. "Like I would do that," she replied morosely as Naru returned to his office and left her alone with Yasuhara-san.
Yasuhara-san looked at the article in his hand. "Well, I hear that the Nagano prefecture is lovely this time of year," he told Mai cheerfully, clapping her on the shoulder. Mai simply sighed.
"Good, Taniyama-san! Now it's even!"