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Ghost Hunters, Lies, & Money

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Day Five

9:00pm

The Miyuki House

Mai closed the garden gate behind her, her heart beating fast, but her pace finally slowed. It had been a struggle keeping up with her boss’ long hurried strides, but now they were here. Through the peaceful trees that lined the stone path, the Miyuki house loomed in the gathered dark. Some feet ahead, stood Naru, blending with the night around him. Watching. Mai’s breathing was loud in her ears as she paused, watching too.

For the ghost.

The young women they met at the festival grounds had been so sure. They were terrified. Mai narrowed her eyes, staring hard at the windows of the house, searching for what they had seen…

It was Naru’s reaction that she noticed first. His body tensed, and then he was moving again. Mai blinked, jerking her head toward where he had been looking and caught sight of it— a flash of whitish light.

Brushing sticky bangs from her forehead, Mai hurried after her boss, a bit unsteady in her heels. A tremor of excitement coursed through her.

She had done it. Distracted Naru without distracting Naru.

Keeping eyes on her boss, she saw him reach the house. And then it occurred to her. The door. They would need to get in. But no one was home, it would be—

Locked?

Mai blinked in surprise. Without seeming to stop at all, Naru had thrown the door open and disappeared inside. Mai scrambled after him, brow furrowed in confusion.

“Naru?”

She had slipped through the front door, but she could no longer make him out in the complete darkness.

“It went this way.”

Mai felt the air stir at her right, Naru was standing beside her. There was some rustling and then...something new glowed in the dark. His cell phone. Holding it out in front, he used it to light the way.

Just then, as if urging them on— a streak of what they were chasing arched across the hall ahead of them. Naru picked up his pace, Mai trailing close behind.

A mad dash through the house proceeded, with every corner turned the light darted tantalizingly.

“Wait—”

Though disoriented, in an unfamiliar place at night, Mai knew she recognized the door they were fast approaching,

“Isn’t that— doesn’t that lead down to the cellars?”

“Yes,” was Naru’s curt answer, she could hear he was as out of breath as herself.

“Didn’t Miss Miyuki say that it was a hot spot—”

“Stay up here,” Naru spoke over her.

“Stay? No way,” Mai protested, reaching the stairs, “I’m helping you.”

“Not in those heels,” Naru countered, a few steps down already.

With a snort, Mai braced herself on the wall, pulling at her foot. In moment she had both shoes off.

What heels?

Defiantly, she descended into the cellar after him, shivering from the unexpected cold. After what she was sure were hundreds of steps, Mai was startled by a sudden explosion of sound—

Smash!

Smash!

Smash!

Mai gasped, stumbling back. Something was cold and wet. Something stung, sharp and cutting…

More shattering; it filled her ears, a bitter scent filled her nose. She opened her mouth to cry, but the sound of it was knocked from her. She was falling.

A rush of air, fingers in her hair, she was suddenly engulfed by something warm and solid. The foreign smell assaulting her was vanquished by something that reminded her very much of tea.

There was a jarring moment as she hit the ground, but her landing was softer than expected. Someone was cradling her head, holding her against them. With the cold cellar floor at her back, Mai quickly opened her eyes, looking to identify the warmth hovering over her.

It was Naru. Of course.

He stared down at her, breathing hard.

“I’m fine,” Mai spoke automatically, having to pull back a little, her nose pressed into his collar. Was it a lie? She didn’t know. He just looked so worried…

One nod, and he was gone. Chasing the light again. Mai sat up, her breaths coming in shaky gulps. Despite her nerves, she pulled herself to her feet. Somewhere in the back of her mind she filed away how startlingly safe it felt to be held by her boss. She had to keep chasing too.

Disoriented, and even more unsteady than she had been in heels, Mai took off in the direction of the light. It was very dark in the cellar without Naru’s cell phone shining the way. Mai ran, one hand along the wine racks she rushed past, wincing with each step.

It was when she heard footsteps and ragged breaths other than her own that she knew she was close. Naru’s tall figure ducked through a low door just ahead, nearly on top of the ghostly light.

He’s caught it!

With one last push, Mai hurried after him. Panting, she threw herself into the cramped room he had just entered, her eyes darting around, looking for him, the light…

Naru spun around, standing at the back wall.

“Where—”

Mai whirled around too, nearly losing her balance, frantically searching for a glow in the black.

Things happened very fast in the next moment. There was a loud triumphant cackle, something bright shown in their faces, blinding them— and then the door to the room slammed shut.

“I warned you, didn’t I? This is for your own good, my chosen.”

Mai stood very still. She knew that voice.

Wise Obasan?

“Wait!” Mai shouted, furiously blinking spots from her eyes. Naru, recovering faster than her, was already at the door.

A few tugs told her what she knew. The door was locked.

Naru persisted. His fingers inspected the hinges, the handle, the keyhole...

Mai saw none of it. Standing in the dark some feet away, a vivid memory danced before her eyes. Outside the Inn that morning, the palm readings, the old woman’s threat—

You know nothing of my demonstrations. You are a match. The  best  match and everyone will know as much tonight...

Mai swallowed. It was everything she didn't want to happen. Wise Obasan had them right where she wanted.

But what is her plan…?

With growing dread, Mai recalled the Nari's warning.

she will try everything to get you to agree to be her chosen. She made Joji believe I was drowning...

Mai shifted nervously, wishing she could see more of her surroundings.

“Where are we?”

The movement by the door paused.

“A storage room.”

“A storage room?” she repeated, squinting through the dark, “How do you know?”

There was a beat, and then a greenish light illuminated Naru’s face. With a steady hand, he passed his phone over the contents of the room. Boxes, crates, and broken wine racks came into view.

“Oh.”

That still doesn’t explain how you  knew

Mai’s eyes drew away from the discarded mess and back to the door.

“We’re stuck in here, aren’t we?”

“The door won’t budge.”

An anxious frown pulled at Mai’s lips. No one knew that they were there.

“She made good on her threat,” Naru remarked, his voice cutting through her pensive silence.

Mai blinked in surprise.

He had heard.

“Yeah…she did,” she answered, her eyes turning toward him. What did he think of all this exactly?

It was then that her attention fell on Naru’s hand, and an idea struck her—

“The phone!”

Mai felt Naru’s gaze lock on her with this outburst and she cleared her throat, lowering her tone, “um, can you call out?”

His stare shifted to the screen, he was shaking his head,

“There’s no signal.”

Mai glared at the walls surrounding her as if they could feel her wrath and let out heavy sigh. She was tired. And something hurt.

Defeated for the moment, and feeling her legs tremble with fatigue beneath her, Mai sank to the earthy floor.

There was an awkward moment when Mai remembered what exactly she was wearing. Hurriedly she attempted to rearrange herself more modestly. She ended up folding her bare legs alongside of her, but not without a hiss of pain. This did not escape Naru’s notice,

“You’re not fine.

Mai blinked, her grimace easing up for an instant,

“Fine? When have I been fine all day?”

“You said you were.”

Naru was suddenly standing in front her, bringing with him the light of his cell phone. Mai’s face colored in the greenish light it cast, as she finally understood him. She had told him she was fine after he had thrown himself over her. Mai cleared her throat. Something like distraction hovered at the edges of her mind.

“Oh…” she murmured belatedly.

“Let me see,” he spoke, kneeling down next to her. Mai’s brow’s furrowed in uncertainty. Was it just her…or was his tone gentler than before?

There was a pause as Mai struggled to understand what he was asking. She cursed her fevered mind. Let him see…what?

“Your feet,” he prompted, reading the confusion on her face, “You were hurt.”

Hurt?

Mai recalled the incident, the breaking glass. Pursing her lips, she firmly kept a lid on any other thoughts that went with it, such as her rescue…

Right, hurt.

Realizing that Naru was waiting, Mai gingerly uncurled her legs, her fingers tugging at the hem of her short dress. In the next instant Naru was holding one of her bare feet, his palm cupping her heel carefully. The expression in the dark eyes that studied her injury was entirely clinical, but Mai still found herself fighting off a blush. At least the sharp stinging she was experiencing helped with this.

Mai spoke into the charged silence.

“So…what was that back there?”

“What do you mean?” Naru’s stare switched from her foot to her face.

Flustered, Mai abruptly lost her fight and flushed— wait, he doesn’t think I mean

“You know, with the glass…was it paranormal or—”

Naru set down her left foot and slipped his fingers around her right one, his interest apparently recaptured,

“There was nothing paranormal about it. It was that woman. She threw the wine bottles.”

Wise Obasan.

Mai gazed at her feet, watching him. Her blush subsided as her sluggish mind focused on drawing conclusions,

“It was all a set up…she planned this.”

“Yes.”

“The light was created by her, she lured us here…”

There was a murmur of agreement instead of an answer this time. Naru was studying her right foot especially close. As images of Wise Obasan creeping around Miss Miyuki’s empty house flashed before Mai’s eyes, she let out an unexpected gasp of pain.

“Piece of glass,” Naru spoke in way of explanation, holding up a small shard. Mai frowned at him, but bit back the sharp comment she wanted to make. This wasn’t his fault.

He could have given me warning though!

“Are there more?” Mai asked, flinching from the answer. To her great relief Naru shook his head,

“No.”

And just like that, he released her foot. Mai couldn’t help but notice the blood tinting his fingertips.

Reluctantly, she drew her feet back towards herself, looking to resettle without quite so much leg showing, already groaning at the stinging this caused— when a tearing sound distracted her.

Naru’s jacket was on the floor. He had taken off his vest too, and was ripping it. Mai gaped,

“What are you— ?”

“Give me your feet, I wasn’t done,” he instructed, holding out a hand once again.

Dumbfounded, Mai obeyed, barely noticing the pain as she moved again. Catching sight of her open mouth, he continued,

“You’re bleeding, you’ll need to have your feet bandaged. Probably even stitches. This will have to do for now.”

Too stunned to argue this, Mai observed her boss as he tended to her. His ministrations were careful, his work precise.

“There,” Naru announced, tucking in the loose ends of his torn vest, “I think even Ayako would approve.”

Mai shook her head, “Not when she sees me. She warned me to not get hurt again.”

Naru straighten up from his position crouched at her side, “That would be impossible.”

Mai shot him a glare for this remark, but he was already looking away from her, his attention now on the dark storage room that held them captive.

Finally settled and sufficiently bandaged, Mai’s gaze flitted from her boss to the glowing cell phone he left behind. Determinedly, she picked it up. Ignoring the lack of bars, she began to wave it around, hunting for a signal.

“It’s no use.”

The comment came from the shadows. Naru was nearly merged with them some feet away. There was the sound of dirt scraping…

What is he doing? Moving something?

“No one knows we’re here,” Mai replied, sharing the thought nagging at her since the door had swung shut.

“I wouldn’t worry. It will be obvious when we don’t turn up at the Inn. They’ll come looking for us.”

Mai blinked down at the useless cell phone in her hand, it hadn’t occurred to her yet that they would be missing.

Of course. Bou-san will notice I’m not there.

Sounds of boxes being shifted filled the small space. Mai narrowed her eyes, staring beyond the green glow of the cell phone screen, trying to get some hint at what her boss was doing.

Looking for another way out?

Mai shifted where she sat, wishing to help, but the shooting pain through her feet encouraged her to remain where she was. That, and the throbbing in her head. Naru was right: she was not fine.

Mai leaned against the wall behind her, her attention momentarily slipping from the world around her. Her skin felt as if she were being roasted alive, as if she were engulfed in a real fire. A bead of sweat trailed down her temple.

Ugh, why is it so warm? I don’t remember it being humid today…so hot…if I could just—

Then, like an answer to her sufferings, something cool whispered across her brow.

Yes— better…

Not thinking on how it suddenly existed, Mai eagerly reached up to grab the cool compress, crushing it to her forehead with a murmured sigh of relief. What her fingers closed around though, had her pulled from her daze in the next moment.

A hand. Naru’s hand.

Startled, she released him as if his touch now burned, but she couldn’t escape his stare. He was leaned in close, his gaze dark and intent. The way he did not immediately react, his cool palm still pressed against her searing skin, gave Mai the strange feeling that he had also been lost in thought those moments before…

She swallowed and a thick, “ah—” managed to pass her lips. The hand of relief fell away. Without noticing him move, Naru was suddenly much farther away.

Dazedly, Mai heard words. He was speaking, but she didn’t comprehend at first. The exchange between them just now had been familiar, and she struggled to place why. The answer came like a whisper through her confused thoughts: this is how it used to be…before this case, before Nozomi, before ghosts with secrets…

Partners. Friends. That’s what they were. After the events of the last few days she had almost all but forgotten. Mai blinked, her eyelids hot and scratchy, and decided she missed it. She liked being on Naru’s side.

A murmuring continued to press against Mai’s ears. Naru was still speaking. Mai frowned trying to direct her wandering mind.

“…I’ve discussed things with Lin. There’s been no substantial evidence the entire time we’ve spent here—”

Mai’s mind was suddenly alert and focused. He was talking about the case.

"Mr. Sachi is man desperate to keep his theater open, nothing more, nothing less...unless you have something you want to share?"

Mai swallowed in the heated darkness and felt a sudden shiver run up her spine. This was it, Naru had finally managed to put her in a position where she was forced to answer.

"But there's only four more days to the festival, let's finish the job."

"If you still wish to marry Niko Koku, you may stay behind."

"This is not about Niko Koku!"

"Then what is it about?"

"I don't know— I have...this feeling."

"This is more than just a feeling Mai. You’ve been seeing Mr. Miyuki.”

Unbidden, a flash of the ghostly playwright darted before her eyes. Hurriedly she tried to hide the telling look of guilty surprise on her face, but she knew by Naru’s expression that he had caught a glimpse of it.

Heart pounding, fever forgotten, Mai’s scrambled to salvage her mission. All her hard work, everything she and Bou-san had planned, was riding on keeping the secret.

But…why? A persuasive voice wondered in the back of her mind, why can’t he know? He could help…

Mai felt her resolve waver. Working as a team with Naru the last hour had reminded her of what was missing between them. She was so tired. It took so much energy figuring this all out on her own, lying. Why couldn’t he be in on the secret…?

“Mai?” Naru prompted. He was close again, Mai felt him bent next to her, but she neither saw nor heard him. Almost as if he were standing in the storage room with them, Mr. Miyuki was the only thing filling her vision, his agonized face pleading with her to keep quiet.

The next instant passed in a panicked blur. There was a sudden rattling at the door across the room, someone was coming in—

Mai’s heart turned over in her chest. There could only be one person on the other side of that door: Mr. Miyuki.

She had been about to betray him and his secret. He was here to stop her.

The door swung open and Mai flinched, without thinking she grabbed her boss. There was a terrible moment of silence…then a loud intake of breath followed by a female voice,

Mai? Oh— sorry…um, we didn’t mean to interrupt—”

Mai’s eyes widened: Nari? Quickly she pulled her face from Naru’s shoulder, her head snapping around to face their intruder.

Nari stood in the doorway of the storage room, outlined by the glow of a flashlight, which was carried by none other than Niko Koku. Both sets of their eyes stared back at her, round with surprise.

Naru suddenly stood, “You’re not interrupting,” he corrected. Mai’s hands, which had clutched at him in panic, fell away.

“No really, we can leave— I, we didn’t mean to…” Niko stammered, averting his gaze. Even from where she sat Mai could see the color flooding his cheeks.

It was then that she realized what things must look like. Mai was grateful for the dark to hide the blush that crept over her neck.

That Wise Obasan.

“No, it’s not like that! You’ve— you’ve rescued us!” Mai forced out, desperate to explain the situation. Unfortunately, this explanation was lacking,

“Rescued?” Nari repeated, her own cheeks pink in the gloom, failing to follow Mai’s logic.

“We were lured here by Wise Obasan. We’ve been locked in this storage room for over an hour.”

Naru’s answer was straight to the point. Finally, comprehension replaced the embarrassment on Nari’s face.

“No, she didn’t…?” she gasped, her eyes wider than before, if possible.

Niko, having edged himself very nearly out of the room, now hurried back in. He was at Mai’s side the very next moment, his expression all concern:

“What? Are you alright?”

“I— well,” Mai began, struggling to speak, her throat was so very dry…“mostly.”

“Mostly? Where are you hurt? I can’t believe this—”

Mai frowned down at her feet, smarting quite painfully, and made to answer the rush of questions aimed at her, but she had one of her own to ask. Fortunately, Naru seemed to be thinking along the same lines and spoke for her,

“How did you end up here? Is Miss Miyuki with you?”

Nari’s worried stare, focused on Mai, switched to Naru.

“Oh, no— she’s not actually. It’s kind of a long story, but while helping backstage at the festival, there was a little issue with the props. I felt bad for the set designer, I know how Joji can get…I told her we would help,” and here she gestured towards Niko, “I remembered from back when Mr. Miyuki was alive he used to keep some extra props in his cellar, so we hurried over. Of course we didn’t expect to find you…stuck here.”

“It’s lucky you did,” Mai responded with a slight relieved smile. She shared this smile with Niko too, but it was a beat before he noticed, his gaze directed at Nari.

“I didn’t know you were interested in theater,” Naru spoke, his attention also on Niko.

Mai frowned at the back of her boss' head.

What’s with that question? He should be thanking him!

“I’m not, not exactly. But it’s traditional to be with your partner at the festival, and I didn’t mind helping Nari…”

Mai leered more sharply at Naru following Niko’s simple answer, confusion trickling into her fevered mind.

They’re partners. What is he so accusing for? What is he trying to get at…?

“None of that matters now, though. We should get you two out of here. Mai, did I hear Niko say you were hurt?” Nari prompted, her gaze back on Mai. A knowing gaze...thinking of when she and Sachi had been caught in a similar matchmaking trap?

That Wise Obasan.

Naru, looming in shadow next to Nari a few feet away, countered her suggestion,

“Mai will be okay. We’ll gather your props and then leave, what are you looking for?”

“Really? Um— if you’re sure…” Nari murmured with more than a touch of uncertainty to her voice, but she let herself drift with her flashlight deeper into the storage room, its beam gliding over derelict wine racks.

It was as Mai watched the dark figures of Naru and Nari move about, light bouncing along the walls, that she was reminded of Niko’s presence.

“So, it’s your feet then…?” the young heir spoke, referring to how she was hurt.

Mai nodded, “Wise Obasan threw wine bottles at me,” and then seeing his face morph into a look of alarm, she quickly added, “but I guess it could have been worse, from what I’ve heard. At least Naru was there to help.”

Mai couldn’t tell if her attempt at reassuring him was successful or not, but they lapsed into a pleasant enough silence, Niko kneeling beside her, his eyes carefully inspecting her injury, the sound of boxes and shelves being shifted in the background, until…

“Mai, I know it’s none of my business,” he suddenly spoke, his tone low, “but I’ve been wondering why you and Shibuya-san weren’t partners today?”

Oh no, not you too…Mai thought, cursing the effect of Wise Obasan’s big mouth.

“Niko, just because we were chosen—”

“Oh, not because of that,” he quickly interrupted, vehemently shaking his head, “I know how it feels to be pressured into a relationship, even if you like the person, it can be hard to endure the scrutiny…”

Niko offered up a sheepish smile, which Mai matched, their cheeks tinting pink in the gloom of the cellar,

“So, no— that wasn’t why I wondered,” he continued, clearing his throat, pulling himself together, “I thought because of the moon lily…but maybe in the chaos of this morning you couldn’t get there in time…you know, never mind, this really is none of my business...”

Mai blinked— jolted. Her mind was suddenly cleared of all previous thought and feeling.

Wait, did he just—

An image of the luminous flower lying on her bed loomed before her eyes.

“Moon lily?” Mai repeated, making sure she had heard him right. The mystery of the moon lily she had found in her room was one that was second only to the Miyuki mystery. She was starving for answers, and here Niko was offering some?

The heir was stopped mid-ramble and then nodded with a slight smile,

“You know…” he prompted, his gentle eyes meeting hers meaningfully.

Her heart pounding with confusion and wonder, Mai shook her head, and his smile fell. An expression of horror spread over his features,

“Oh, no. My grandma. Don’t tell me she removed it—”

Startled by this, Mai reached out for Niko's arm, looking to urge a proper answer out of him: “Removed?”

“I'm so sorry, really. I don't know what's gotten into her—”

A white halo suddenly surrounded the apologetic heir. Naru and Nari had returned, bringing with them the flashlight. Mai winced, not from the sharp brightness, but from her lost opportunity. What did Niko know about her moon lily?

“Should we wait for you upstairs?”

Uncomprehending, Mai squinted up at Naru who was staring down at them.

“Upstairs..?”

In the next moment Niko shot up,

“No, we're not— it's fine, we're ready if you are, did you uh...find things?”

Mai adjusted herself, having fallen forward after the abrupt loss of Niko's arm which she had been leaning on, her eyes taking in the strange amount of space the heir had put between them.

Nari stepped in just then, waving her hand dismissively, “No, nothing. Miss Miyuki must have thrown everything away, really I should have known...”

Niko met Nari's eye's with a questioning look. Nari gave a delicate shrug in response,

“We'll figure something out. Right now I think the priority is getting Mai and Shibuya-san out of here.”

Mai's shoulders sagged with relief. Finally, something said that made sense.

Yes, get me out of here.

“Can you walk Mai?” Nari asked, approaching her, “Oh, you don't have shoes...”

Mai was halfway to standing, grimacing with the pain. She paused, glancing down at her feet, bare except for the strips of Naru's vest bandaging them.

“Oh, it's alright...I got here this way—”

The words had barely had a chance to pass her lips before she felt her legs swept out from under her. Taken by surprise, Mai gasped, breathing in the scent of tea.

Naru.

This was the third time she had found herself in her boss' arms that day. Flustered, catching sight of Nari and Niko's averted gazes and pink cheeks, she opened her mouth to protest (I still have legs!), but Naru spoke first,

“It'll take you the rest of the night to get any where like that. I'm not spending another minute down here.”

Mai pursed her lips and swallowed her argument. He was right. The climb upstairs would be slow and painful in her state.

Still, he didn't have to scoop me up like that...

Mai fought the urge to tug down the hem of her dress, which had defiantly rode up. Naru's arm cradling her legs was warm against her bare skin. She pointedly faced away from her boss, unable to met his eyes.

That Wise Obasan.

“Um, Shibuya-san...are these yours?”

Naru, who had reached the open door, paused to consider Nari. The actress still stood at the back of the room, in one hand she held his discarded jacket, and in the other what remained of his vest.

“It must have gotten warm in this small room,” she mused in a small voice, carefully folding the garments over her arm.

With dread, Mai's gaze shifted to Niko. He looked every kind of uncomfortable, studying the floor.

“Bandages,” Mai explained hastily, “we needed something to bandage my feet with and all we had was...Naru's vest.”

“Oh, I see.”

“Thank you Miss Motoshi, I'll take them back when I can.”

“Certainly.”

The group moved on. Once again, Mai was grateful for the dark to hide her flushing cheeks, she only hoped Naru couldn't feel the heat radiating off her skin.

No one spoke as they past the rows of shadowy empty wine racks. When they reached the bottom of the stairs, Naru made a warning comment about the glass. There was the sound of crunching shards under foot. Nari murmured something about Wise Obasan's tactics, and the four of them carried on.

Mai barely noticed this exchange, her mind was spiraling much like the steps they ascended.

Bou-san.

Had he been successful in his mission?

Mai chanced a look at her boss out of the corner of her eye, marveling at the night's turn of events.

Naru was plenty distracted. That monk better have answers.

A change in temperature drew Mai from her muddled thoughts. They had reached the top of the staircase. Gone was the cold damp of the cellar, replaced with the stuffy interior or the Miyuki house.

Mai turned her head, searching the gloom for her discarded high heels. Spotting them near Nari, who had just emerged into the hall, Mai shifted in her boss' arms, fully expecting to be put down...but her feet never touched the ground.

Naru kept walking. Mai opened her mouth to protest, “hey—” waving back at the shoes she was quickly leaving behind. Noticing Mai's distress, Nari followed her gaze to the heels. Swiftly, she bent down and picked them up, adding them to the jacket and vest she was carrying.

Mai managed a thank you before turning around, she didn't miss the rosy tint to the actress' face. No doubt she was wondering at their state of undress.

We were ghost hunting!

Flustered, and feeling warmer than ever, Mai attempted to collect herself...but something distracted her.

Why is  Naru still carrying me?

There was a rush of fresh air, and Mai felt herself startled to find that her boss had just pushed through the front door and out into the moonlit garden, nearly colliding with—

Miss Miyuki?

“Oh! You were in the house— but what..?”

Mai adjusted herself in Naru's arms, sure that her boss would put her down now, his bewildered partner standing before him. Mai glanced around, looking for Nari and her shoes. But there was no need. Naru kept walking.

Mai watched over her boss' shoulder as she was being carried away. Directly behind them was Nari. Apparently she felt no need to fill in Miss Miyuki.

Before the path turned and the surprised heiress disappeared from sight, Mai glimpsed Niko stepping out of the house, doing what the others neglected to do, stopping to speak with Miss Miyuki.

As they reached the garden gate, Mai's heart began to race. Realization dawned on her.

If Miss Miyuki's here, that means...

Over the fence surrounding the house, a dusty Nozomi lane ran past, and that night it was filled. Lantern light mixing with starlight, Mai could see a throng of people outside the gate, their worried voices broke over her as Naru joined them.

“There, it's them!”

“Tell us what was in there!”

“Was it a ghost?”

“Look she's hurt!”

“A dangerous ghost!”

It was then that Mai's attention was caught by a shock of color, cranberry, powder blue, crimson, and black and white. It was the rest of SPR, and Mr. Sachi.

Bou-san!

Standing just outside those clustered around the garden gate, was her partner. Mai waved hurriedly, practically leaning out of Naru's hold to get the monk's attention.

“Mai!” he called, spotting her. She just had time to glimpse the confusion growing on his face, before he was blocked out entirely. Lin approached.

“What's happened?”

Mai braced herself. Now she would be put down.

Where's Nari and my heels...?

“Nothing serious. Take care of things here, we'll talk at the Inn.”

The Chinese man gave an expressionless nod and turned toward the crowd packed around them, all alarmed faces and hysterical questions. Naru kept walking.

Mai blinked, dumbfounded.

He's not going to put me down?

The cool night air dancing through her hair was doing nothing to help clear her head. Her skin seared and her head spun as she watched the Miyuki house shrink behind them.

We're...leaving?!

No wait, Bou-san's answers!

With a jolt of panic, Mai snapped around to face the lane. She was immediately gratified by the sight of her partner. The monk and the rest of SPR (excepting Lin), had separated themselves from the pandemonium of the townspeople.

Through the gathering dark, she met her partner's eyes. His surprise was evident. And he wasn't the only one. Beside him, wearing matching looks of shock, were Masako and Ayako.

Mai began to struggle against the arms holding her.

He has the wrong idea! This isn't apart of the distraction! Bou-san, I want answers!

“Stop, let me down—”

There was no response and no release.

“Naru, I need to go back!”

Still no answer, his grasp held firm.

Angry and flustered, watching the answers she worked so hard for disappear on the horizon, Mai struggled to get free, but failed at each attempt.

They continued on this way, Mai protesting and Naru carrying her, across the Nozomi town square, through the halls of the Koku Inn, straight to Mai's room, attracting curious looks in their wake.

Mai heard her door swing open, and with no time to contemplate if she had locked it or not, she felt herself deposited upon her bed. There was the squeak of mattress springs, and heavy breathing. With the last of her energy Mai raised her head to face her boss, the indignation she had been kindling in her chest, erupted.

“What are you doing?!”

“If you think you'll need Matsuzaki-san, I'll send her over.”

“What about the festival, the others?!”

“Forget the festival.”

Naru turned his back on her. Mai's pulse spiked.

He's leaving?

“I'm not done!”

“I am.”

Did you give me this?”

Naru paused. A beat past. He faced her. Glowing in the dim of the room, Mai held a moon lily.

“Who told you that?”

“You can't answer a question with a question!”

“Stay in this room. Matsuzaki-san will be in later.”

Naru was moving towards the door, finished with the conversation.

“You didn't answer me!”

“Rest Mai.”

“I'm not staying here, I need to see Bou-san—”

Naru halted at her door, bracing himself against the frame, he locked eyes with her across the room,

“You will stay or as the president of SPR, I will take you off this case and send you back to Tokyo.”

For a moment Mai only heard the pounding of her heart in her ears.

He's serious.

Naru broke his gaze, he opened the door.

“And the answer is yes.”

The door closed.