This time the people who came to ask the questions were from the Security Division, and Hisoka could sense the difference at once. Kazuma and Nonomiya were professional fighters, strong enough to keep the peace by force if necessary, and they did not fear the Shinigami.
Yet they also bore considerably less animosity towards the Summons Division. Kazuma's reaction to Watari was wary, as might be expected of someone with the training to recognise a lit fuse, but Nonomiya smiled at him, and Watari didn't try to mess with them the way he had with the first round of investigators.
Though maybe that had more to do with the way Watari had withdrawn into a towering, silent fury since they'd returned from the lost village. Hisoka had only the dimmest idea of what was going on inside that whirlwind; it would have blinded him to look directly at it. He might have expected triumph or at least a bitter satisfaction that Tatsumi had been brought to account for his actions, but what little he could decipher from the storm was a contradictory blend of terror and fury.
It was Kazuma who gestured for Hisoka to follow her after the introductions. Nonomiya stayed with Watari in the conference room they'd commandeered for the purpose. So they were to be questioned separately again? That might work to his advantage. He followed Kazuma warily into the adjoining room.
"So you're the new kid," Kazuma said as she slung herself into one of the chairs. She deliberately avoided sitting behind the desk the way the earlier investigators had. Interesting. "Hell of a way to start out."
He took a seat of his own, studying her cautiously. Her dark, tousled hair and long coat reminded him eerily of Tsuzuki, but the sharpness of her face and the intent look in her eyes ended the resemblance… and he was careful to keep the thought hidden behind every shield he could muster. He hadn't caught any hint that Kazuma had the ability to read his mind, but he couldn't be too careful. He was on a knife-edge right now with what he knew and what he suspected, and he wasn't about to risk jeopardising his ability to investigate his own death.
"Does any Shinigami get an easy start?" he asked after a moment. "It seems like you'd always have to hit the ground running."
Kazuma laughed sharply. "Yeah, that's true. I tried it for all of three weeks before I switched to Security."
"You were a Shinigami?"
"Three weeks, kid. Not my kind of work."
"So you'd rather be doing this?"
She grimaced with more honesty than Hisoka had expected.
"What do you think?"
He couldn't help it; he liked her.
"What's happening to Tatsumi-san?"
At that Kazuma closed up warily. "He's under house arrest while we investigate the Sargatanus case."
"And the fire in Kyoto?"
She looked at him levelly.
"That was before your time, wasn't it, kid?"
"I've heard some things."
"I'm not surprised." Kazuma leaned back in her chair again with a sigh. "Let's cut to the chase. There were holes in your story, about what happened to the demon, and what you knew."
Hisoka nodded. He'd expected this would come back to haunt him ever since Rikugou had restored his memory. They'd only been back in Meifu for three days, but he'd spent as much of that time as possible working out what he was going to say. He was glad that Kazuma hadn't beaten around the bush, and that Watari wasn't here to ask awkward questions.
"Someone tampered with my memory," he said.
Kazuma sat up straight, suddenly alert. "You didn't say that in the initial reports."
"I didn't know. I've only just discovered it myself."
"And how did you--"
"I broke the block eventually." Hisoka felt oddly guilty about taking credit for Rikugou's work, but the story had to hang together. "There was a mortal involved with the violin and the demon. Someone with access to sorcery. I didn't get a good look at him, or a chance to read him - but he must have thought I would recognise him again." Hisoka suppressed a shudder; he would, of course, recognise the pale man in a second… but he needed to be so careful about what he said. "He banished the demon. I think he took Kazusa, too. I don't know why, but I think… she was his goal all along."
Kazuma hissed thoughtfully through her teeth. "A mortal sorcerer? That's rare these days. Most mortals don't believe in it. Do you remember anything that would give a clue to his identity?"
"No. I never saw him. I barely heard his voice and I didn't get any sense of his aura."
She wasn't writing anything down, but Hisoka was sure nonetheless that she'd remember every word. He was glad he'd rehearsed his story so thoroughly.
"And Tatsumi?" Kazuma asked after a moment. "Was he working with this guy?"
Hisoka looked at her in surprise. Was that what they were thinking? Seriously?
"What did he say about it?"
"Uh-uh." Kazuma folded her arms sternly. "I want your version."
Hisoka paused and weighed up his options. He thought Kazuma knew enough about what had been going on in the Summons Division that there was no point in a diplomatic answer. She had to have some idea of the dynamics at play.
"Tatsumi-san lost his temper when Watari-san baited him," Hisoka said at length. "He didn't mean to help the demon and he didn't know about the mortal - I never had a chance to tell him. He destroyed the violin because he wanted to shut us up and send us back to Meifu."
Kazuma gave him a long, measuring look.
"Brutally honest," she said. "I like it. And that's what I figured. And yeah, that's pretty much what Tatsumi said." She stood up and gestured for Hisoka to do the same. "Believe it or not, that'll help him. Lord Enma is more forgiving of, uh, outbursts, than he is of rebellion."
"Who would rebel against the Judges?" Hisoka asked, startled.
"Good question," said Kazuma, as she opened the door. "Though a better one might be--"
She stopped short as Watari's raised voice reached them. Hisoka saw her shift subtly into a defensive stance, and she strode back out into the main room, immediately looking for her partner.
Nonomiya was sitting on the edge of a table, a small woman with long fair hair streaming girlishly down her back, apparently unconcerned by Watari's anger.
"-- my district!" he was not-quite-shouting. "And it's Shinigami work, not Security--"
"We can't rule out the connection," Nonomiya said calmly. Her eyes flicked to Kazuma, who seemed to take it as a signal to stop and wait rather than interfere.
"How was I supposed to know, when none of them died?"
Kazuma stayed where she was, but Hisoka could sense the tension in her, readiness to spring into action if needed. It wasn't hard to guess why. The storm that had been building around Watari was on the cusp of breaking. Hisoka could almost see the lightning.
"Of course you couldn't know," Nonomiya was saying. "No-one is saying you should have. And no-one would have expected you to look into it back then… not while you were recovering."
From anyone else it might have sounded condescending, but there was a gentleness, a genuine sympathy in Nonomiya's voice that seemed to pierce even Watari's anger. He faltered, shrinking in on himself, and Hisoka took the opportunity to intervene.
"Watari-san? What is it?"
"A case in Kyoto," Watari said, like the words hurt him. "One I… didn't know about." He shot a defiant look at Nonomiya. "I have to look into this. I can't just let it--"
"Of course," said Nonomiya gently. "That's why we've brought it to you."
"That, and we aren't getting anywhere," Kazuma put in with carefully calculated bluntness.
Nonomiya shrugged and smiled. "That too. We aren't Shinigami. We were told to investigate, but we don't have your resources."
"But you have a file? Details of what you've found so far?" asked Watari.
Nonomiya picked up a folder from the table next to her and held it out to him. "It isn't a lot. We haven't been able to trace all of them."
Watari snatched the folder from her, opened it, and immediately slammed it closed again like he'd seen something that revolted him. Hisoka didn't miss how pale he went, or the sharp shining agony that struck like a thunderbolt. It was only because he'd been so careful to keep his shields up while talking to Kazuma that he could hide his reaction.
"I'll deal with this," Watari said.
Before anyone else could speak, he left the room so fast it could almost be described as fleeing.
"That went well," Kazuma said after a moment.
"As well as could be expected," Nonomiya replied quietly.
There were depths of communication beneath the simple words, but Hisoka dared not try to read them. He was still reeling from that momentary outburst of emotion from Watari. Pain, grief, guilt, a rage that would not quiet, and beneath it a void of loss...
"Do you need anything else?" he asked Kazuma.
"You remember anything about the mortal, anything we can use to find him?"
"Then nothing else for now."
Hisoka nodded and turned to leave, before a thought stopped him in his tracks.
"What were you going to say, before?"
Kazuma frowned. "When?"
"I asked who would rebel against the Judges. You said, a better question might be... what?"
Kazuma stilled. She glanced almost imperceptibly at the door. A small frown creased Nonomiya's brow, the only outward sign of a surge of alarm. Kazuma seemed to make up her mind, and fixed him with a look that made it very clear that there were to be no further questions.
"A better question might be, what happens to someone who does?" she said. "Thanks for your help, Kurosaki. We'll be in touch if anything comes up."
Hisoka tried to corner Watari before he left for Kyoto, but it was clear that Watari had no intention of letting him - or anyone else - get close enough to ask questions. Hisoka had no doubt that this case, too, was connected with Tsuzuki, and he would have given a lot to read the report Nonomiya had handed over. He half-hoped that Konoe would assign him to work with Watari, but no-one even suggested it. Frustration threatened to choke him when he spotted Watari heading out of the building with his bags later that same day.
There were no new Kyushu cases to investigate. Once Hisoka had written up his part of the report on the village of Kouya, he found himself at a loose end... which suited him just fine. For the first time since he'd joined the Summons Division, neither Tatsumi nor Watari was around. Konoe was preoccupied. Wakaba and Terazuma had immediately been sent on another case. No-one was paying any particular attention to Hisoka - and he was very good at avoiding notice when he wanted to.
Even so, he dared not openly ask questions about Tsuzuki. But as a new Shinigami, of course it made sense for Hisoka to want to read up on past cases. And why wouldn't he start with Kyushu? Moreover, as many of the historical records hadn't been put into the Gushoushin's database yet, the exercise required Hisoka to leave the Summons Office and spend some time in the quiet Archives, where there was no-one to observe which files he chose to focus on.
The Gushoushin were happy to show him to the case archives and leave him to it. Hisoka was taken aback despite himself when he first opened the door. He'd expected a storage closet; what he found was more like a cathedral, at least in terms of size. The Kyushu files went back... well, they probably went back to the dawn of human history. Certainly, he could see scrolls on the further shelves, and even wax tablets. A deep curiosity seized him, a desire to explore those ancient records, peer into history... but they wouldn't help him answer the questions that haunted his afterlife, and so he turned back to the nearest files.
The records from the twentieth century took up shelves upon shelves. Hisoka had already read through a number of case files that Tatsumi had worked on in the last three years, so he picked one at random from earlier - five years before his death. How... disquieting to think that even as he had lain dying, the Shinigami had been here, investigating other souls...
He recognised the handwriting immediately; it was the same as in the original Sargatanas case report. Tsuzuki's handwriting, then: a scrawl of careless characters from the hand of someone with the training to write well when he chose. Hisoka skimmed the file, less interested in the case itself than in any hints he could glean about the writer. At one point, the file referenced another case from nearly fifteen years earlier, so on a whim, Hisoka went looking for that file next.
He was surprised, when he opened it, to see Tsuzuki's handwriting again. Then he realised he'd fallen into an obvious trap: taking Tsuzuki's apparent age at face value, assuming he couldn't have been working for the Summons Division for long. Of course, Tsuzuki would be as ageless as the other Shinigami, as Hisoka himself. He could be ten, twenty years older than he looked, easily.
Out of curiosity, Hisoka pulled out another file, ten years further back again. It too was in Tsuzuki's handwriting. He went back another ten years, this time fully expecting to find someone else's work, but again, he was faced with Tsuzuki's distinctive scrawl.
Another ten years. And still Tsuzuki's writing. In mounting disbelief, Hisoka worked his way back to the start of the century. When he finally found files with different handwriting, he traced forward to pinpoint Tsuzuki's arrival. Finally, he was left with the staggering realisation that the man had served the Summons Division for at least seventy years.
Stunned, Hisoka stared at the shelves and shelves of files. Tsuzuki must have worked on all of them. He picked another file at random, from the 1930s. It was shiveringly strange to read, as passing detail, about Tsuzuki's travels to villages where the water was still pumped by hand, where horses and carts were still used instead of motor cars. He moved on to another file, then another.
It was clear that Tsuzuki had not been the most... committed when it came to paperwork. Sometimes reports would be sparse, or peppered with inconsequential details, more like a journal: I bought lunch at the little noodle cart again, I swear those are the best noodles in Fukuoka, maybe the world! Sometimes they'd talk at great length about the life of the person who was under investigation, but hardly mention the end result of the case.
The day slipped away as Hisoka read file after file. He began to see patterns, coloured threads woven through the words. Tsuzuki's partners came and went; none seemed to stick around for long. The case files strayed often into irrelevant details, but it was in those details that Hisoka began to pick out bright flecks of personality: curiosity, kindness, a sympathy for the souls he took, to the point where Hisoka almost couldn't comprehend it.
He'd spent his whole life bombarded by other people's pain, joy, and sorrow, even before his illness. He'd become as numb as he could force himself to be, shutting himself off, learning not to care even when someone else's soul was crying out in anguish. He'd assumed, since he arrived in Meifu, that such an attitude was an advantage for a Shinigami. Yet in Tsuzuki's words he read compassion, generosity, and humour - not just humour, humanity, in a man who had not been truly human for the better part of a century.
At the same time it was clear that Tsuzuki could be implacable, unshakeable, carrying out his duty even if he didn't want to. He was capable of a great and terrible anger, that fury Hisoka had caught a glimpse of when Tsuzuki had mistaken him for another of Sargatanas's victims. And he was powerful - his own reports glossed over it much of the time, but it was clear that Tsuzuki and his Shikigami had been capable of going toe-to-toe with almost anything - and that the Summons Division had made full use of his power.
Yet somehow he had died - or seemed to die - and his death had affected the whole Judgement Bureau: Tatsumi, Watari, even Hisoka himself was only here because of Tsuzuki...
Why? How? And how had he become the man with the shuttered eyes, so lost inside himself that he was barely there at all?
And yet... even then he'd defended Hisoka when the doctor would have killed him, even knowing that Hisoka worked for the Summons Division...
Maybe the answer lay in another thread in the case files, a grey, subtle thread that was woven more from the absence of certain things than their presence. A thread of silences and sparse notes on some cases, the worst cases; a clipped precision in some reports; the way that every time a partner moved on, Tsuzuki seemed to go quiet on the page for a little while, his words lacklustre, his thoughts opaque.
In a file from the late 1950s Hisoka was startled to recognise Tatsumi's handwriting. He'd been Tsuzuki's partner? The case files from that time were far more precise and detailed. It was clear that he'd taken the lead on the paperwork, with Tsuzuki only adding occasional extra notes... until abruptly Tatsumi's handwriting vanished, and Tsuzuki was alone again. Three months, from the dates on the case files - they'd been partners only that long.
Had Watari also been Tsuzuki's partner at some point? Hisoka hadn't seen his handwriting anywhere. He kept combing forward through the files, but couldn't see Watari's exaggerated, stylised script. Either he'd never worked in Kyushu, or he'd shirked the paperwork, or he'd been there such a short time that Hisoka had missed him as he skipped ahead.
Finally, Hisoka turned his attention to the case files from three years ago. It took some searching to pinpoint when the fire - and Tsuzuki's supposed death - must have occurred. He eventually located the very last file with Tsuzuki's handwriting, followed after a gap of several months by files entirely in Tatsumi's writing. None made any mention of Kyoto. Armed with a range of dates, Hisoka even went next door into the Kansai district archive, but there was nothing there to indicate what had happened, except a similar multi-month gap in Watari's cases.
Hisoka read Tsuzuki's last case file carefully. It was... off, somehow. More disorganised, less detailed even by Tsuzuki's standards; there were gaps in the progress of the investigation, places where he seemed to leap from one supposition to another without explanation. It reminded Hisoka of the notes on the Sargatanas case. He started to work backwards, file by file. They were all like that, these cases from right before the fire; they read as though the writer had changed, even though it was still Tsuzuki's writing. There was a hollowness, and a... sharpness close to bitterness. What had happened to Tsuzuki to work such a transformation?
Hisoka found the answer, he thought, in a case file from Nagasaki. Pictures of corpses with puncture marks in their necks, the word "vampire" with question marks... and then newspaper clippings. Hisoka read them with mounting horror. Hundreds of people attending a concert had died. The newspapers talked about a gas leak, an explosion, but there were notes in the margins, in an unfamiliar hand, on how the Judgement Bureau had engineered the explosion to cover up the fact that every corpse was drained of blood...
There were no notes written by Tsuzuki, no report beyond the initial findings, only a single typed sheet stating that an investigation had been launched into the circumstances of the massacre. Hisoka wondered where the files on these investigations were kept. Did the Gushoushin have access to them? Did he dare ask?
He read the newspaper reports again. So many people had died... it had been an unthinkable tragedy that had shocked not just the country, but the world. Hisoka struggled to remember if he'd heard about it, but his memory was as foggy as ever. He'd been sixteen at the time... in fact, that was the year he'd grown so sick he'd almost died, so sick his parents had finally sent him to the hospital where he'd spent the next three years. He wasn't surprised that he hadn't known about this disaster.
There was nothing more to gain from the case file. Hisoka closed it and put it back on the shelf. Just to be sure, he checked the file immediately preceding it; Tsuzuki's report seemed normal enough. This had to be important, this awful slaughter of hundreds of people, but he was no closer to understanding how it had led to Kyoto, and the fire. If only he'd managed to get some information out of Watari before he left...
Well, but Watari's absence could be useful in its own right. Hisoka thought about the drawer in the desk next to his. Those were Tsuzuki's belongings, he knew now. Watari had warned him not to interfere with them. Maybe he'd find a clue there.
And if not... Hisoka put his hand into his pocket and curled his fingers around the mirror that Rikugou had given him. If not, perhaps Tsuzuki's Shikigami could shed some light on how Maria Wong's final performance had become a killing ground.
Hisoka waited until everyone else in the Summons Division had left for the day. Even Konoe was absent, in one of his meetings with the Count at the Castle of Candles. The office was oddly eerie without its occupants, despite the banality of its desks, chairs, and paperwork. As soon as Saya and Yuma left, Hisoka opened his senses up so he'd be sure to catch anyone approaching from the corridor outside, then slid his chair sideways and reached for the drawer of Tsuzuki's desk.
He knew as soon as he touched it that something was wrong. He pulled the drawer open, only to be confronted with emptiness. There wasn't so much as a scrap of paper inside. Someone had cleared it out completely since he'd taken the fuda ward.
Except… no. There was almost no residue of emotion on this drawer, nothing like the welter of memory that had flooded Hisoka the first time he'd opened it. On a hunch, he stood up and went around the office, checking the other desks. Sure enough, there was one at the back that was barely used - Chizuru's or her partner's, he thought - that was missing its drawer. Tsuzuki's drawer hadn't been emptied: it had been removed completely, and another substituted in its place, one with no telltale trace of emotions for him to read.
Hisoka went back to Tsuzuki's empty desk. He closed the substitute drawer slowly, searching for any hint of resonance in the wood and metal. There was something… he closed his eyes and tried to open his mind even further. Being so defenceless was terrifying; he was braced to flinch at any second from the contact of someone's mind on his. But under his fingertips…
Hisoka opened his eyes and frowned thoughtfully. It was faint, but a lingering thread of association did cling to the drawer. And that bright, sharp anger, woven through with grief, pain, confusion, and doubt…
Hisoka stood for a few minutes in the office, weighing up his next move. Then, almost without coming to a conscious decision, he headed out of the office and made for Watari's lab.
He'd never been in here without Watari.The lab seemed ominous in the dark, the strange silhouettes of instruments and flasks rearing against the windows, the soft hum of the computer in the corner, but Hisoka didn't like to turn the lights on in case someone saw him from outside. His preternatural eyesight let him navigate between the workbenches and pick out enough detail to know that the drawer wasn't anywhere obvious. That wasn't exactly surprising. And what would have prevented Watari from taking it home with him? Still, a hunch led Hisoka to the supply cupboard at the back of the room.
The door was locked, and touching the handle left him with a rush of impressions; Watari came in and out of here often enough that he couldn't pick out any particular moment. There was a metallic recurring theme, though, the irritation of someone who'd forgotten something, followed by a sense-memory: reaching under one of the workbenches and taking hold of the key attached there with putty...
Hisoka found the key by touch. The closet door opened easily. He stepped inside, pulled the door closed behind him, and then tugged on the light cord that brushed his shoulder, blinking in the sudden illumination.
The closet was bigger than he'd expected. Shelves went right up to the ceiling, and there were boxes stacked on the floor. There was even a folding bed stashed in one corner, ready for overnight experiments. Hisoka stood still and looked from one shelf to another, carefully taking in the contents before he started moving things around.
He found the missing drawer behind a carefully arranged screen of objects on one of the higher shelves. He lifted it out and placed it on top of one of the boxes on the floor, kneeling so he could inspect the contents in detail.
It was much as he remembered it, a clutter of mundane objects in no particular order. For a moment he recalled how Watari had animated the damaged paper crane, and shivered. Then he took a deep breath, opened his mind again, and let his fingertips stir through the jumble of items.
Watari's imprint was the clearest, being more recent. Hisoka could feel the layers of it now. It had been Watari who swept everything off Tsuzuki's desk into this drawer three years ago, torn by such grief and rage that he'd barely been aware of his actions. And more recently, Hisoka sensed confusion and alarm, doubt. Hisoka caught his breath, heart suddenly racing. Watari had taken the drawer after their first trip to Kyoto, after Tsuzuki's fuda had activated to protect them. He knew the ward shouldn't have worked for Hisoka. He'd been poring over this drawer, trying to find some clue as to why it had happened. He wasn't about to let it go, not until he figured it out. That... could be a problem. If Watari even suspected that Tsuzuki was alive...
The colour of Tsuzuki's leftover emotion was a muted violet, some shades dimmer than his eyes. Hisoka started gently picking out individual objects, cradling them in the palm of his hand like a connoisseur of wine might hold a droplet on his tongue. Trinkets, mementos, all with some strand of fondness attached to them; silly little things that had nonetheless meant something to Tsuzuki. Pens and stationery, coated in the dusty boredom of doing paperwork. The lacquer box, and a bright memory of pleasure, not just at the taste of its sweet contents, but because of who'd given it to him.
A folded piece of paper caught Hisoka's eye, but when he opened it, he saw to his disappointment that it was not another fuda. Instead there was a dried flower, pressed flat. Hisoka didn't recognise the type, but Tsuzuki's imprint on this object was very faint. It seemed like something that had been in the drawer for a long, long time.
There was another flower, this one loose among the drawer's clutter - a single, long-stemmed red rose. The petals had dried as black as old blood, and a faint, musty scent still clung to it. As soon as Hisoka touched it, he jerked his hand back as though the thorns had caught him. A sick feeling struck him and he couldn't bring himself to pick it up again. He remembered moonlight and that awful smile, the white coat stained red with Tsuzuki's blood.
He wears white, Rikugou had said, in mockery of his darkness.
Apart from the rose, the only other notable object was the stopped watch. Hisoka picked it up cautiously. Tsuzuki had worn it every day; the strap was frayed in places, and a hundred scraps of mundane experience had sunk into it. But over the top was a black tide of despair, an imprint like a silent scream, like a knife sunk into skin until the blood spurted freely, like the last, smallest nudge against someone teetering on the edge of a cliff.
Hisoka didn't know how long he sat there holding the watch, feeling that utter blackness, that well of pain so deep it might have been bottomless. Finally, he put it back, replaced the drawer in its original spot, locked the closet, returned the key to its hiding place, and left the lab in darkness.
Rikugou had not told him how to use the mirror. Hisoka held it in his palm, sitting cross-legged on the bed, and turned it this way and that. His own reflection still unsettled him, too young for all the years of agony he'd lived. He pulled his sweater sleeve up and tilted the mirror so he could see the reflection of his arm, looking for the glowing red lines of the curse Rikugou had shown him.
At first he saw nothing. He focused his mind on the mirror, but all he read from it were his own emotions, and that bright, clear presence that had surrounded Rikugou. He looked at his own face again, studying the way his expression was almost unnaturally blank after so long hiding pain - hiding from other people's pain - except for the faintest quirk of a frown. Maybe he didn't look so young after all, when you looked twice.
And then all at once he found the trick of it, focusing through the mirror instead of on its surface, like a magic eye picture suddenly full of depth, like waking so suddenly that the transition from dream to reality was a sharp shock. Now when he tilted the glass, he saw the faint tracings of red script on his arm. It made a sickness rise in the back of his throat, coupled with an anger that ran deeper than anything he'd ever felt before.
This curse killed you.
And now he knew who had set it on him, even if he couldn't yet put a name to the face that haunted his nightmares.
Hisoka took a deep breath and remembered the brilliance of Rikugou's mind. He reached out... and felt an answer, a moment of recognition, then the sense of being guided forward as his reflection in the mirror wavered and was replaced by another face - human, or human-seeming, apart from the extra pair of eyes on his forehead.
"Hisoka?" said Rikugou. "Are you there?"
"Yes. Why do you look human now?"
"This is my form in Gensoukai," Rikugou replied with a smile. "Many of us take on human guise when we are not in your world. But do you have need of me?"
"I've been trying to find out more about... your master," Hisoka said. He found himself oddly hesitant to say Tsuzuki's name aloud. "I'm hoping you can answer some questions."
"I will do my best."
"Thank you." Hisoka paused, trying to decide where to start. "Do you know what happened in Kyoto? The fire?"
"No. Our master," and it seemed Rikugou was equally reluctant to name him, "had shut us out. Byakko was frantic with worry, Suzaku furious and ready to rend the realms apart to reach him. He had taken up with the man in white, been drawn further and further into his snares, and he would not listen to us, or to his friends in Meifu - though I fear they knew even less than we did, or of what danger he was in."
There was a long pause, in which Rikugou looked away, as if studying something outside the mirror, something Hisoka could not see.
"He is... fragile..." he said at last, "though most would not think it. There are cracks that run deep in him, wounds that, once reopened, could fester and poison him. The man in white... used him, manipulated him. We do not know exactly how, for he shut us out as soon as Suzaku tried to intervene. Then, he summoned Touda... and Touda did not return. A shockwave went through all the realms, and Kyoto burned, and our master vanished into shadows, and we saw that we must close the gate if we were to shield him from Enma's wrath."
Hisoka shivered. "You closed off the whole realm... just for him?"
"For him, and because... we were afraid. Of all of us, Touda was... one of the most powerful, and the most ruthless. He obeyed the orders our master gave him without ever wavering. He could not be lightly defeated... and yet, he is gone, even from our sight."
"Terazuma-san told me that Touda's fire could kill a Shinigami," Hisoka said. "That's why they all think your master is dead. Could it kill a Shikigami too?"
"We do not know," Rikugou said. "Perhaps. But not Touda. His own flame would not harm him."
"Then what would?"
Another long pause.
"Tsuzuki could," Rikugou said, the name, spoken at last, sending a shock through Hisoka's whole body. "He... has more power than even he knows. He could have killed Touda, at the last, if he had chosen to do so."
"But why would he--"
"We do not know. We do not know. And we do not want to believe that he would, if he were in his right mind." Rikugou sighed again, long and weary. "If he were in his right mind... but that is the question."
Hisoka remembered those case reports, and the blackness he had sensed from Tsuzuki's watch. He shivered again.
"Do you know what happened with Maria Wong?" he asked.
"I do not recognise the name."
"It was a case he worked on in Nagasaki, not long before the fire. Something terrible happened, she died along with hundreds of other people, but I can't find any more information about it."
Rikugou frowned, then nodded slowly.
"Yes... that was when it began," he said. "He blamed himself... and the Judgement Bureau concurred... Byakko was with him on that case, and returned in great distress. I do not know exactly what happened. He... always took too much responsibility, felt guilt too keenly, but this was different... this, it was as though he had murdered them with his own hands and he could not find solace."
"Does Byakko know any more about it?"
"A little, perhaps, though no more than the events leading up to the massacre... he was sent back once it had occurred, and none of us were summoned for some time after that. But Byakko is not in Gensoukai at present."
"Then where is he?"
"We do not know. Whatever task he has been set must require him to remain in your world. He has been gone since before I returned. I dare not try to contact him for fear that Enma will follow the trail back to our master."
Hisoka sighed. "Right, it's never that easy. Will you let me know when he returns?"
"Of course. And if there is any other way I can aid you, you only have to ask."
Hisoka hesitated. He was tired, to be honest, both from the day's research and from the emotional toll of trying to read the imprints of other people's emotion. He would have liked to sleep. But there was one other thing...
"You said that you could teach me to defend myself."
"Yes." Suddenly Rikugou's extra pair of eyes opened, so that he was focused on Hisoka with a disconcerting intensity. "I can show you how to shield your mind and how to turn another's attack back on themselves."
"Show me," Hisoka said.
Konoe stared at him as if he had asked for the moon on a stick.
"You want what?"
"A day off," Hisoka replied, fighting the blush that threatened to reveal how nervous he was. "We do have those, don't we?"
"I-- yes, but..." Konoe seemed to gather himself, his surprise turning to indignation. "Kurosaki, this is hardly the time, with Tatsumi out of the office--"
"Are there cases I should be working on in Kyushu?" Hisoka asked curtly. "I haven't seen any."
Konoe scowled. "Just because Kyushu's quiet doesn't mean it'll stay that way, and there's other work you could be doing."
"Like what? Do you want me to go and find Watari-san?"
Konoe flinched. Hisoka pressed the attack. "I already asked around if anyone needed help. I've read more past case files than I can count. I'll be glad to work on anything you give me, but if there's nothing, I want the chance to just... take a day off without being in the infirmary."
He didn't like how much emotion crept into the last part, but perhaps it helped; Konoe's expression eased out of its hard lines, and Hisoka knew he was thinking of all the years in hospital that had preceded Hisoka's death.
"I suppose one day wouldn't hurt," Konoe said begrudgingly. "Where will you go?"
"Tokyo," Hisoka said.
Konoe frowned, an unspoken question in the set of his mouth.
"My shields are much stronger now," Hisoka went on. "And I've never been, not really. By the time they took me to the hospital there, I was too sick to leave my room. I might as well have still been on my family's estate. I want to... see it."
It wasn't entirely a lie. He felt a small pang for playing on Konoe's sympathy, but it was brushed away by relief when he sensed that the explanation had been enough to get him what he wanted.
"Fine," Konoe said with a sigh of resignation. "You can take the day off tomorrow. If," he added with a glare, "no Kyushu cases come in, and nothing else comes up."
"That's fine," said Hisoka, even as he prayed for the fax machine to break and the entire Judgement Bureau to forget the Summons Division existed for one day. "Thank you."
"Just don't spread it around, or I'll have everyone else wanting a holiday too," Konoe muttered.
The first thing Hisoka did after materialising in Tokyo was find a cafe where he could sit with a cup of coffee for a while.
Partly it was to acclimatise himself to the city. Even with the practice he'd had since his death, having this many people around him was... staggering. He felt like he'd stepped out into a typhoon and was being battered on all sides. Sitting quietly at a corner table, running through the techniques Rikugou had taught him, he was able to steady himself and let the gale swirl around him without knocking him down. After a while, he felt confident that he could weather the storm.
The other reason for taking his time over the coffee, even though he was impatient to move on, was to find out if he was being watched. There were entirely too many people who might take an interest in his sudden desire to leave Meifu, and Hisoka didn't want any of them to know what he was up to.
It took a long time to find the balance between shielding himself from the crowds and scanning for the sensation of a mind focused on him. He had to buy more coffee, and some sort of cake that he didn't think he really wanted, until he tried it and changed his mind. He couldn't remember the last time he'd eaten something so frivolously sweet and pleasurable.
He almost wondered if he never had.
At last, Hisoka was satisfied that no-one was following him, at least not in any way he could detect. He left the cafe, slipped into spirit form, and flew across the city with a speed any mortal commuter would envy. Finally, he spotted the landmarks he was looking for, and slowed to a halt in mid-air.
The Ichii-no-ki Memorial Hospital was built of a stone that was pale in the autumn morning, faintly touched with a golden hue, like pictures Hisoka had seen of cathedrals and churches built in Europe. The ancient yew tree, the ichii that gave the institution its name, stood out dramatically in the midst of the small, carefully tended patch of greenery at the front of the building.
Hisoka looked down silently at the place where he'd spent the last years of his life.
He'd thought he would feel something... more, when he finally saw it, but all Hisoka found himself thinking was that it was smaller than he'd imagined. He'd filled in the blanks outside his room with imagery taken from television shows, of big wards and multiple floors, people rushing everywhere, but he realised now that of course, the kind of private hospital his parents would pay to keep him alive would be a small, select place.
It was here they'd sent him when he went into sharp decline after his sixteenth birthday; here they'd left him with barely a glance while they'd harangued the doctors into trying every medical intervention they could think of; here that Hisoka had lost so much of himself that he had been barely more than a husk, barely able to think or feel beyond the constant tide of other people's minds, beyond pain, beyond despair.
It was here that he'd met Tsuzuki, even though he didn't remember it. And it was here that he'd died, a death recorded as suicide despite the curse that Rikugou had shown him, carved into his skin.
It was as good a place as any to start looking for clues.
Hisoka alighted at the foot of the yew tree, remaining invisible, and slipped ghost-like through the double doors in the wake of a woman walking carefully with a cane. There were a few people around, patients or their families, and a number of immaculately turned-out receptionists who would not have looked out of place in a five star hotel.
Hisoka paused, taking in the understated but opulent foyer, the tasteful and no doubt expensive art hung on the walls, the deference shown by the staff to their clients. His parents hadn't skimped. It would have been nice to think it was because they cared, rather than out of desperation to preserve the Kurosaki bloodline.
He shook the thoughts away. He'd had a lifetime, albeit a short one, to become very good at it.
At one end of the foyer was a door marked 'Employees Only'. Hisoka wait for someone to open it - a nurse frowning at a clipboard - and went through behind her, invisible as a breeze. As he'd expected, the area beyond was an administrative block, where the bureaucratic work of the hospital took place.
Hisoka walked silently down the corridors past various offices, until he found one with a sheet of paper taped to its door, announcing that Doctor Ito would not be back until the afternoon. It was locked with a combination pad, but the code had been entered so often that Hisoka's fingers found the right numbers almost without needing to make a conscious mental effort.
The computer login was even easier; the doctor had taped his password to the side of the monitor, so Hisoka didn't even need to search for the imprint of it on the keyboard. Hisoka shook his head, remembering the Gushoushin telling him not to do that exact thing on his very first day in Meifu.
It took him some time to find his way around the system. There were a number of different databases available, some more specialised than others. Finally, the search function returned results for his name.
Hisoka clicked on the first one, barely breathing.
Information flooded the screen, so much he hardly knew where to start. There were the treatment protocols and surgeries he'd suffered through. There were the lists of diagnoses he'd been handed at various times, each one abandoned in turn. There were comments left by some of the physicians, a startling glimpse of humanity as they expressed their bewilderment, frustration, and concern over his condition. Hisoka felt a twinge of surprised gratitude. The doctors had always seemed so distant and all-knowing; he'd had no idea how many of them had come back again and again to his case, trying to find an answer that would give him his life back.
The answer had eluded them. There was little point in reading about their failures. He scrolled to the end of his record, looking for information about his death. It was recorded in brief, clinical detail; sudden cardiac arrest, unable to resuscitate, autopsy pending due to concerns from the attending physician...
Hisoka hesitated for a moment before clicking on the autopsy report. He didn't relish the prospect of reading about the dissection of his own body... but as it turned out, the report was all in such technical language that he couldn't make much sense of it.
Hisoka sighed, rubbing a hand over his eyes in frustration. As far as he could tell, his cause of death was listed as heart failure - but even he knew that was no real answer. Everyone's heart failed when they died.
As he was about to close the record, he realised that the scroll bar on the side of the window was showing that there was a little more below the autopsy report. When he brought those last few lines into view, his heart jumped and hammered in sudden alertness.
A serious case investigation has been launched into the patient's death. All questions are to be directed to Director Fujisawa. No information is to be provided to the press, patient's family, or other enquirers without the director's express permission.
That was all, but it was enough. Hisoka logged out of the computer and set out looking for the director's office.
He found it on the second floor, a suite of rooms along a corridor that connected the two wings of the hospital and provided access to the entrance hall. There was a secretary typing busily at her desk in the outer office. Hisoka slipped past her invisibly and paused to listen at the inner door. He couldn't hear voices, or sense anyone beyond it.
He looked at the secretary for a long moment, remembering how he'd lashed out at Tsuzuki, and how he'd pushed on Watari's mind to stop him provoking Tatsumi. He probed her thoughts, looking for something he could use. She needed to check some files in the finance department, but she'd been planning to do it later in the day. Hisoka carefully leaned on the idea, pushed it to the forefront of her mind, injected a thread of urgency.
The secretary blinked, finished up her email, then locked her computer and left the office. Hisoka was almost surprised it had worked so well. He retrieved her keys from her desk drawer, and let himself into the inner sanctum.
The director's office was exactly as plush as Hisoka would have expected from this sort of establishment. A number of armchairs were gathered around a sleek coffee table; leather-bound books lined the shelves. There was a laptop folded shut on the solid mahogany desk, but instinct propelled him over to the filing drawers built into one of the bookshelves. These were locked as well, but the spare key was on the secretary's key ring.
It didn't take long to find what he was looking for. He'd been right to think that the director wouldn't trust the computer system with something so scandalous as an investigation into a patient's death. The file that bore his name was eerily similar to the one Watari had shown him in Meifu, but there were considerably more sheets of paper in this one. Hisoka held his breath against the treachery of hope.
He was quickly back to disappointment and frustration. There was a copy of his autopsy report, and a number of memos between the director and various doctors. It was clear that they suspected foul play in his death, but the documents were maddeningly vague on the details. It was as if they were trying their hardest to prevent him finding out the truth.
It's not me they're worried about, Hisoka thought with a sigh. It's the police, the newspapers, their wealthy patrons. They want to find out what happened, but they don't want to commit to anything on paper that might come back to damage them.
He read through the memos again, and then a third time. As he read, he tried to pick up any lingering mental residue on the paper. There wasn't much, but what there was gave him a little more insight into the carefully coded language of the documents. The doctors believed that someone had killed him. It was initially believed to have been an act of euthanasia by one of their staff members, until the toxicology report came back clear of any of the drugs that might have been slipped into his IV. What it did show, however, had disturbed the director enough to leave a clear shaft of alarm through the written words.
... suggestive of alkaloid poisoning, read one excruciatingly careful sentence in a memo from one doctor. However, the patient had no access to any such substance...
And then, a few lines later, stomach contents merit further investigation.
Pushing aside revulsion, Hisoka flipped back to the autopsy report and looked again at the relevant section. It still didn't mean a lot to him, but he saw that one part had been underlined: berries - nuts or seeds? Identification unclear.
Berries, nuts, or seeds... Hisoka closed his eyes and struggled to remember. The phrase struck a chord, but when he reached for it, he struck a black well of sense-memory that he had done his best to forget: pain, terror despite himself, the sensation of his lungs closing and refusing to draw breath, the certainty that he'd felt the moment his heart stopped before losing consciousness...
He didn't want to remember his death. Not when it left him shaking and drenched in sweat, clutching the sheaf of papers like a talisman. It had not been peaceful, that much he was sure of, though it had, he thought, been quick.
There was nothing more to be learned from the file. Hisoka returned the papers to their drawer, locked everything behind him, and left the director's office.
He had more information now, but it still did little to answer his questions. If only he could remember... if only he could understand how Tsuzuki had come to be entangled with his last months in this hospital. If only he could be sure: had he taken his own life? Had he been murdered? And how had he come to be cursed, when he'd spent his whole life secluded in his parents' house, when he'd done only what he was told for so long?
There was one more place he could look, though in his heart of hearts he shrank from it.
His old room was at the east end of the hospital, past a series of private rooms, small wards, and nurses stations. He had some dim memories of being wheeled through here for surgeries, or on the very rare occasions when he'd been taken into the hospital gardens.
He had not remembered, or hadn't noticed at the time, that his room was one of several in a little suite of their own, protected from the rest of the hospital by a door securely locked with a card reader. Hisoka stared at the door. The sign read, Specialist Supportive Care Unit (Private). More private than the rest of the hospital?
A touch on the card reader told him that some of the nurses had access. A trip back to the nearest station, and a quick brush of their minds, led him to a keycard hanging on a coat hook in their break room. The security in this place struck him as absurdly lax, until he realised that most would-be intruders wouldn't have his trick of tracing the right key to the right door, or locating where it was kept.
He remembered the short hallway beyond the door, the big picture window that let in natural light at the end, the four doors, which had always been closed, as they were now. His room had been the first on the left.
Hisoka stood for what felt like a long time in front of the door, before he finally reached out and opened it. The room beyond was empty, tidy, and sterile; there were no signs of the years he'd spent there. Hisoka stayed in the doorway, taking it all in, thinking about how strange and sad it was that he'd left no mark on this place.
Except he had, of course, and as he cautiously lowered his shields, he could feel it: his own memories, experiences, and pain. Even second hand, it was almost too much to bear, but Hisoka persisted. He walked around the room, touching the bed, the chairs, the window, trying to find... something. Some trace of Tsuzuki - some trace of the things Hisoka couldn't remember - some small thread of understanding that would lead him to the answers he craved...
There were too many overlapping impressions, too much that made him feel sick and terrified all over again. He remembered Rikugou in the forest: let the mirrors help.
Hisoka sat down on the bed, cross-legged, and took the mirror out of his pocket. Focusing through it the way he had when contacting Rikugou, this time he reached for the memory he'd seen second-hand, but been unable to recall directly: Tsuzuki wandering into his room in the middle of the night, strange as a dream.
The memory unfolded again in the glass. This time Hisoka bent all his concentration on Tsuzuki as soon as he opened the blinds and let in enough moonlight to make out details. His eyes were... blank, hazy. He moved like a sleepwalker in his hospital gown. He seemed skinnier than Hisoka remembered from Kumamoto, all sharp angles, his skin pale and eerie in the moonlight. He spoke as though he weren't entirely sure Hisoka was really there. Something had indeed happened to him, then, in the fire, or after it: something that had brought him here to this secluded hospital wing, something that had taken such a toll on his mind and spirit that he was little more than this empty shell.
And yet, he'd...
"Will you stay? Until it's over?"
... the memory was clouded and indistinct, the memory of a dream, one he'd barely recalled at the time, but Hisoka clung to it, tried to pull it into the mirror, and after a moment so long it stretched into eternity, he finally felt the fabric of his lost past give beneath his touch, just enough to unfold a different set of images in the glass.
It was dark again, but this time Hisoka knew it would be dawn soon. He knew, because he was waiting for it; waiting to see the sun rise one last time before he died.
"There's a way out. If you want it," the ghostly man had said, when he'd come into the room half an hour ago. This time he was dressed in slacks and a shirt, though there was still a vagueness about him, like he wasn't sure where he was. He'd pressed something into Hisoka's hand, a handful of small objects like beads that gave under his fingertips. "It doesn't work for me."
Relief like a cool breeze had run through Hisoka's body.
"Will it hurt?"
"Yes. But it will be quick."
Hisoka nodded. He looked towards the window.
"Please could you open the blind?"
The man did so, then returned to Hisoka's side. Hisoka was grateful, more grateful than he could put into words, that he hadn't simply left after handing over his offering.
"I want to wait for sunrise," he explained, though the man hadn't asked.
"Yes," was the reply, as though it was obvious. "You've spent too much time in darkness."
And they waited in silence, until the sky outside the window lightened, until the birds and cicadas began to sing, until finally Hisoka saw the golden warmth spill over the walls, the only time of day this room looked soft and comforting.
He lifted himself on his elbow and looked at what was in his hand. The berries were bright red, and strangely cup-like around their seeds. Hisoka didn't recognise them. They looked too perfect to be real, like wax or plastic, but when he marked one with a fingernail, the flesh parted, and a little juice ran over his skin.
"Do they taste bad?" he asked, even though he knew he didn't care.
"No. They taste okay," said the man at his side. "But be sure to crush the seeds between your teeth, to let the poison out."
Hisoka nodded. He was... waiting, he thought. Waiting for some sort of regret, for a change of heart, for a desire to survive.
It didn't come. The golden hue of the walls was fading into another day, the heat of summer already making war on the hospital's air conditioning. The pain was flaring in his bones, and he could feel the rising tide of emotion from the other patients who were waking up, and he was tired. He was so tired.
He had no regrets.
He ate the handful of berries one at a time, like the wineberries he'd gathered as a child. They tasted sweet, with no particular flavour, and a sticky texture that reminded him of jelly. He chewed the seeds as instructed, and made sure to swallow every last one. Then he lay back on the pillow and closed his eyes.
"Will you stay? Until it's over?" he asked, the faintest note of pleading entering his voice.
A hand took his and held it like a guiding line.
"I'll stay," said Tsuzuki.
Hisoka lay on the bed he'd spent three years in, listening to the sounds of the hospital, feeling the ebb and flow of the people going about their day.
How different it was to lie here free of pain, and able to shield himself from the unwanted onslaught of emotion. And to know that he could stand up and leave whenever he wanted, that this room could no longer imprison him. Yet he stayed where he was for long enough to hear a nurse come through the door into the suite, visit one of the other rooms, and then leave again. Long enough to let the memory he'd finally regained settle into its place in his mind.
It had an odd quality to it, a distance; Hisoka wasn't sure if he truly remembered living it, or if he was just remembering what he'd seen in the mirror. It felt like a blend of both. And it gave him the answer he'd searched for. He had, indeed, taken his own life.
But he'd been driven to it by the curse that racked his body with agony. And he'd been given the means by Tsuzuki, lost soul whose disappearance had wreathed the world of the dead in shadow. And then he'd been offered the chance to serve as a Shinigami by Lord Enma, at whose motives he could only guess.
Finally, he sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. He was done here. He might as well go sightseeing after all; at least it would give him plausible details to share if asked. He felt strangely light. For all he'd been horrified when Watari first told him that he was recorded as a suicide, now he'd seen - remembered - the circumstances of his own death, it gave him a sort of peace. In the end, he'd made his own choice, taken control of his own destiny. And he had Tsuzuki to thank for it.
Hisoka started for the door, then paused, frowning as something suddenly struck him. He couldn't sense any other patients in this suite. He'd assumed the other rooms were as empty as his now was. But if that was the case, why had the nurse come in?
And there was something else, something just on the edge of consciousness, the faintest hint of a presence that was both familiar and strange.
The room next to his was empty, as was the one directly across the hall. Hisoka paused by the last door, unaccountably uneasy. His skin itched when he touched the door handle, but he still couldn't sense anyone on the other side. After a long moment, he pushed the door open.
The room beyond was dim, the blinds down, but Hisoka could see at once that it was larger than the others, big enough for two beds. A curtain was pulled across where one of the beds would be, but the other was occupied. A man lay still and silent in the bed, hooked up to various IV lines and support machines. He did not react to Hisoka's entrance, and Hisoka couldn't sense him, even though his eyes told him the man was right there.
Hisoka made to step forward, but stopped, brought up short by a flicker of warning from his empathy. At the same time, there was a stirring in the shadows behind the curtain. Hisoka froze as he saw a large form unfurl itself, eyes flashing open and teeth bared.
And then he felt it, a cool breeze on his mind, and recognition hit him like a gale.
The great eyes blinked, the teeth vanished, the posture softened.
The sound of the Shikigami's voice in his mind brought another wave of familiarity. This was who had been calling to him as he slept in the lost village - can you hear me? Can I help you?
But if Byakko was here, then Tsuzuki...
The flare of alarm was interrupted before it could fully blossom.
"Hisoka!" Byakko bounded forward, and before Hisoka could react, he found himself encircled by enormous paws, a big, fuzzy face pushed close to his. "I found you!"
"I'm pretty sure I found you," Hisoka protested, startled by the sudden pounce. "You were calling me, weren't you?"
"Yes!" Byakko's tail lashed excitedly, setting the curtain behind him swaying. "But I didn't know if you could hear me in Meifu."
"I couldn't," Hisoka said, then paused, remembering something. "Except once, when Wakaba-san was nearby. But I heard you in my dreams when I was in Rikugou's village."
"You've met Rikugou? What did he say to you?"
"He asked me to help Tsuzuki."
"I don't know," Hisoka said. He looked over Byakko's shoulder at the man in the bed. "What are you doing here? Rikugou said you haven't been back to Gensoukai for a while."
"I'm supposed to guard them," Byakko said. "My master has set me to the task before, but not for such a long stretch."
Byakko swished his tail hard enough to move the curtain a few inches to one side. When Hisoka saw the occupant of the other bed, he dodged around Byakko and rushed to her side.
She looked even more frail and fragile than she'd appeared in the village, her eyes closed, her face still. Unlike the man in the other bed, she wasn't wired up to any machines or tubes, but just like him, Hisoka couldn't sense her presence at all.
He took her hand. There was nothing. It was as if he was looking at a doll, one that breathed slowly and softly, its flesh warm but unmoving. Of Kazusa's clear-water soul, Hisoka could find no trace, save the imprints she had left on the room in the past.
"What's wrong with her?"
"I do not know." Hisoka could hear the unhappiness in Byakko's voice. "Sometimes she wakes. She often cries, and begs to be released, but once he's finished questioning her, that man uses some foul blend of magic and mesmerism, and she falls back into slumber."
"She isn't asleep," Hisoka said, profoundly disturbed. "It's like she isn't... here." He couldn't bring himself to let go of Kazusa's hand, even though he was sure she couldn't feel it. "That man," he said after a moment. "The man in white?"
"Yes," replied Byakko with a growl that sounded loud in the quiet room. "I don't understand what power he has, to turn our Tsuzuki away from us. He won't listen to me. And he won't let me get my claws into the bastard like he deserves!"
"Tsuzuki's been here?" Hisoka glanced nervously at the door. The last thing he'd expected on coming to the hospital was to find Tsuzuki still present. "Do you know when he'll come back?"
"Not for some time. They come at night."
"And Tsuzuki hasn't told you what they want with Kazusa?"
"He doesn't talk to me any more." Byakko's sadness was palpable. "Not the way he used to. He gives me orders but he won't tell me why. He has closed himself off to everyone but that man."
Hisoka hesitated, unsure if he was taking a liberty, but Byakko seemed so unhappy that he couldn't help himself; he reached out to pet the great tiger's drooping head. Byakko made a chuffing noise and nudged Hisoka's hand, his bright eyes regarding Hisoka closely.
"You have regained your memories," he said, with some satisfaction. "I hoped you'd find a way."
"Rikugou broke the spell for me." Hisoka shuddered. "He said that... the person who did it was the same person who cursed me to die."
Byakko growled again.
"Then you and I have a common foe."
Hisoka hesitated, almost afraid to ask. "Do you know who he is?"
"I know that he is a healer - one with great skill, from the talk of the mortals who work here. He has the power to stave off death, in himself and in his patients, even when it appears certain. It seems that he chooses to balance the scales by also exercising his power to kill."
"The nurses call him Doctor. My master calls him Muraki. I call him a monster. If Tsuzuki would only give me the word..."
"Muraki?" Hisoka said aloud, the name bringing a terrible wave of familiarity with it.
He swallowed hard, then released Kazusa's hand and walked over to the other patient. There were care sheets on the clipboard at the foot of the bed; sure enough, the name of the attending physician was printed clearly: Muraki Kazutaka.
Seeing the written characters brought full recognition. He'd seen that name recently: on his own medical record. Muraki Kazutaka had been his primary care physician for the three years he'd been in the hospital, the doctor who'd brought that endless train of specialists in to study Hisoka, the one who'd signed off on every fruitless procedure and treatment.
Why? Why curse me to death, and then work to keep me alive?
"Who is this man?" Hisoka asked, even as his eyes went to the line for the patient's name.
"I do not know," Byakko replied thoughtfully. "I was left to guard him sometimes before they brought the girl. He has been here for a long time."
"Mibu Oriya," Hisoka read aloud. "It doesn't mean anything to you?"
Hisoka scanned the notes quickly. He was hardly qualified to assess the man's condition, but the impression he had was that nothing was being done to try and cure him, just to keep him alive and as physically healthy as possible.
He studied the man's face. It had the gaunt appearance of someone who had been fed through tubes for a long time. The body under the sheets had similarly wasted outlines. His hair was startlingly long, longer than any woman's Hisoka had ever seen, and meticulously arranged to keep it out of the way. Surely it would be simpler to cut it off? It wasn't like the man cared in his current state.
Like Kazusa, Hisoka could sense nothing from him; unlike Kazusa, there were no imprints left on the room or even the bed, at least not that Hisoka could detect. Were it not for the steady rise and fall of his chest, the hum of the life-support equipment that registered vital signs, Hisoka would have been sure that this was merely a very lifelike waxwork.
He walked back over to Kazusa's bed, looking down at her face. Even though she was so still, there was a tension in her that prevented the appearance of peace. Hisoka thought he could see the tracks of tears on her pale cheeks. His heart ached.
Without even realising he was doing it, he took the mirror out of his pocket, bending his mind through the glass as he cast his memory back to meeting Kazusa's ghostly form in the forest.
"He makes me sleep," she'd said, the words tumbling over themselves like a waterfall, "and then I fall out of myself and go to so many places, and he won't let me wake up, not until I find it..."
And later, Rikugou: "He has her body in his keeping, and though she can walk the worlds outside it, she is still mortal and must return."
"She isn't here," Hisoka said aloud. "She's... somewhere else. Muraki has her looking for something."
"Looking for what?" Byakko asked, as earnestly as if he expected Hisoka to know the answer.
"I don't know." Hisoka turned the mirror over and over in his hand, trying to think. "And I don't know what to do now. If I take her back to Meifu, there'll be questions--"
"If her soul has been sent from her body, it would be unwise to move her," Byakko warned. "She could become lost. And I... have orders to protect her, to prevent anyone from harming her or taking her from this place. I... do not want to hinder you, but what my master has commanded, I must fulfil..."
Hisoka nodded. There was no hint of threat in Byakko's voice, only reluctance, but Hisoka wouldn't dare force the Shikigami to choose between his conscience and his orders. Much though he hated the idea of leaving Kazusa here, he couldn't see any way to rescue her right now.
But at least he knew where she was. And where Muraki was. And where Tsuzuki was, and oh, weren't there so many people who'd like to know about that...
Thinking of Tsuzuki reminded him that he had other questions for Byakko, though he'd had no expectation of getting to ask them so soon.
"Do you remember Maria Wong?"
"The singer?" Byakko replied. "Yes, I remember... how could I forget?"
"Rikugou said you were with Tsuzuki on that case. Do you know what happened?"
"I was not with him when I should have been," Byakko said with a groan of sadness. "By the time he called for me, it was already too late - she had already struck so many down."
"Maria Wong. I don't know what manner of demon she was, but she fed on blood. Tsuzuki summoned me into a scene straight from Jigoku. The woman was a woman no longer, but instead a thing of great and terrible hunger. She held the people under her sway with the power of her music, and she moved among them like a butcher, drinking them dry one after another, her form growing more monstrous as she consumed more life force. When Tsuzuki called me, their bodies were strewn about like the empty rinds of fruit, and she lapped at the blood that had become a red sea within the building."
Hisoka shivered. Byakko's memories were vivid; he could smell the charnel scent of the killing grounds.
"We destroyed her, but it was a struggle. Tsuzuki had been weakened terribly, in what way I do not know. Some of the mortals lived... but so many died. He wept on his knees as their blood dried on his face and hands. He sent me away, and did not call on any of us again for some time."
"And after that, he was different?"
"Yes. He became entangled with that man, fell further and further into his shadow, and when we tried to intervene, he shut us out. And then he summoned Touda..."
"And we're back to Kyoto, and the fire."
"We don't know what happened," Byakko said. "We don't know why Touda didn't come back, or where he is now."
Hisoka shot him a surprised look. "Rikugou thought Touda was dead."
Byakko snorted hard enough to blow Hisoka's hair into his eyes.
"I don't believe it," he said. "Touda is... even chained, his power is immense. He could not have died so easily."
"Rikugou... said that Tsuzuki could have--"
"He would never," Byakko retorted fiercely. "Not even lost as he is."
"So then what do you think happened?"
"I do not know. I just cannot accept that Touda could be dead."
"You said he was chained?"
"It was a condition of his service under Tsuzuki, that his power should be kept in check. There are many in Gensoukai who do not trust him."
Hisoka looked thoughtfully at Byakko. "Do you?"
Byakko was silent for a long moment.
"I have seen what he can do... and I have seen what he will do... but Tsuzuki trusts him. Tsuzuki believes he is worthy of friendship. And I trust Tsuzuki."
"Until the sun burns cold."
Hisoka felt a small surge of... envy, perhaps? The unwavering certainty in Byakko's voice conveyed his loyalty even more clearly than the words themselves. Hisoka wondered what it was like, either to trust or be trusted so absolutely.
He moved back over to look down at Mibu Oriya.
"Is he like Kazusa, do you think?" he asked. "Are they sending him out of his body as well?"
"I have never seen him wake," Byakko said. "The nurses tend to his needs. And... when the doctor is done with the girl, he often sends us away and remains here alone for a time."
Hisoka tried one last time to brush the man's mind. Still nothing. Had he been Muraki's first attempt at finding whatever he was looking for? And had he become 'lost', as Byakko had warned could happen?
"I'll look up his record in the hospital system before I leave," Hisoka said. "And perhaps there's some information about him in Meifu."
"You... will not give Tsuzuki away, will you? To the Judges?"
"No," Hisoka said without even stopping to think about the answer. "I'll keep it secret as long as I can." He frowned as a thought suddenly occurred to him. "What about you? Will you tell Tsuzuki I was here?"
"I was not given any instructions about that," Byakko said cheerfully. "Only to guard these two and prevent anyone disturbing them."
Hisoka smiled despite himself. Byakko ducked his head and looked at Hisoka exactly like a cat asking to be petted, so Hisoka obliged. Byakko made a rumbling noise that was too harsh to be a purr, but had much the same intent.
"I'd better get out of here, then."
"It's probably for the best."
Hisoka took one last look around the room, brushing through the emotional impressions left on its surface. He could sense Tsuzuki, barely; the man was as closed off as ever in here. There were the traces of the nurses, and Kazusa. Byakko's imprint was different from the human minds, more like a bright treble note sustained across the rest of the chaotic melody. And finally, there it was: the coppery, sharp afterimage of the mind that had forced its way into Hisoka's and spoken so gloatingly of the killing of gods...
Muraki Kazutaka. The dark shape in his mind had a name now, though it did nothing to diminsh its menace.
He slipped back into the administrative block before he left the hospital. The offices were much busier now, and Hisoka needed access to a computer used by someone with the authority to view staff records as well as patients. He eventually found an executive assistant to one of the senior doctors, and persuaded her to step out of her office, but the window of opportunity was very short.
Hisoka quickly pulled up Mibu Oriya's patient record and printed a copy without stopping to read it. He searched for Tsuzuki as well, but wasn't surprised nothing came up under that name. If he'd been a patient here, he'd probably been entered under an alias - but Hisoka didn't have the time or the expertise to comb through the whole database looking for him. Then, keeping his mind half on the door in anticipation of the assistant's return, he found his way into the staff records, retrieved Muraki's information, and printed it in turn.
The printer had barely finished with the last page when Hisoka sensed the assistant coming back. He quickly folded the papers into his jacket pocket, slipped back into spirit form, and dodged past her as he left the office.
His head was spinning as he made his way out of the main entrance. He'd found some answers about his death, and stumbled unexpectedly onto a better lead on Tsuzuki than he could have hoped for, but he felt as though he'd ended up with more questions than he'd started with.
Still, questions were better than the helpless feeling of stumbling through darkened rooms--
Hisoka stopped short a few paces from the hospital entrance. Before him, the yew tree rose as high as the roof of the building, but its branches, like all yews, swung very low to the ground. Hisoka walked slowly over to one of these, took hold of it, bent it lower so he could look more closely at the splashes of colour that had caught his eye.
There could be no doubt. There were only a few of the bright red, cup-like berries left, but Hisoka recognised their waxy perfection, nestled among the vibrant green needles of the tree. He picked one and rolled it between his fingers, remembering the sweet, sticky taste.
"Thank you," he whispered. Then he dropped the berry, wiped his hand on his jeans, and set out to go sightseeing for the first time in his life.
It was late by the time Hisoka got back to Meifu. He'd decided he might as well make the most of his day off, and there was no shortage of things to see in the capital.
He'd also taken some time, in a nice restaurant in Shinjuku, to read through the records he'd printed. Muraki's had told him little except the mundane details of the man's medical career and qualifications, but at least Hisoka had half a dozen names and places to tie him to, and some evidence that Muraki really was mortal - at least, he'd attended schools as a child.
Mibu Oriya's was no more enlightening as to the man's condition - it was listed simply as coma, cause unknown - but it did tell Hisoka that he'd been in the hospital for three years, and that Muraki was the only doctor who had attended to him.
That, and a small detail Hisoka almost missed, mentioned in passing in the initial admission notes: a home address in the heart of Kyoto.
The notes made no mention of the fire, but then, if Muraki had been involved in that incident, as Hisoka suspected, he might have had reason to hide the connection. That a connection existed, Hisoka had no doubt at all.
He was sufficiently absorbed in his thoughts that it was only as he mounted the last set of stairs leading to his apartment that he registered the shadow - and the presence - of someone sitting on the bottom step of the next flight. He froze, heart racing, as the person stirred at his approach. A moment later, he made out the long hair and lab coat, and recognised the colour of Watari's thoughts.
"Hey, Bon," Watari said.
"What are you doing here?" Hisoka asked, both relieved and wary. Had Watari somehow found out where he'd been? Or that he'd gone into the lab and found Tsuzuki's desk drawer?
Watari was silent for a moment.
"I... need your help," he said finally. "With this case."
Hisoka took a deep breath to keep any hint of triumph out of his voice.
"The one in Kyoto?"
"Yeah." Watari sounded weary and strained. "There's some things I need to tell you."
"You'd better come in."