Mai, Yasu, and Zoe were sitting around the table with a large paper spread out on top of it. Naru had given them the task of planning out how they would want to use the office space next door, assuming Naru would approve it. He had managed to lease the office and was working on getting permission to make changes to it.
"So it's like a mirror of this side," Mai said as she studied the blueprints. "There are rooms on the other side just like the offices on this side."
Zoe took a pencil and pointed to the dividing wall. "What if we took down this wall between them. We could make that entire area a file room." She scratched out the wall for emphasis.
"Do we really need all that space for filing cabinets?" Yasu asked.
"If we have all that space for filing cabinets, it'll be more than just case files. There will be personnel files and informational case files that set a precedent that we can reference later or when doing preliminary research. Having physical copies of them here would be helpful," Zoe explained.
"Personnel files? Like on all of us?" Mai asked.
"Naru already has those on all of us anyway," Yasu answered.
"It would expand as we do as well," Zoe added.
"Anyway, are you sure using them is okay? We'd be crossing this entire space to get there whenever we need something," Yasu pointed out.
"Why wouldn't it? It's not like it's gonna be Noll's new office. It's gonna be our tech workshop," Zoe said.
"Your tech workshop," Yasu corrected.
Zoe shrugged. "It's large enough that it could be a practice or meditation space too. Regardless, it won't be a problem to pass through." She continued drawing on the plans. She put boxes for filing cabinets in the proposed file room and more boxes in the large space for shelves and a desk. "That's probably everything I would need."
"Do we really need that many shelves?" Mai asked.
"I have connections that can get us new prototype cameras and devices to test or refurbished cameras that work just as good as new ones, but that will take some time and I don't want to think about the shipping," Zoe said.
Yasu sat back in his seat. "Naru made it sound like this planning would take a lot longer," he commented.
"Don't let him hear you or we'll get more work," Mai warned. "I have homework to catch up on."
"Then shouldn't you be doing that?" Yasu teased.
"I was just about to start!" Mai huffed as she stood. "You just want alone time," she accused.
"Well, I can't deny that," Yasu said with an innocent grin.
"Not at the office," Zoe said with her arms crossed and a stern look.
"You need to not look that way in Naru's chair. It's unnerving," Yasu said with a frown.
Her face broke into a grin. "That's the point." There was a stretch of silence except for Mai's pencil scratching on paper. "So when are you gonna tell Bou-san?" she asked him.
He crossed his arms in front of himself defensively. "I'm getting around to it."
"I can only keep it from Ayako for so long. We all know she'll tell him right away," Zoe reasoned.
Yasu was spared additional pressure when the door to the office burst open. John stumbled in looking worried.
"John?!" Mai exclaimed. "What's wrong?" She immediately stood and crossed the room to him.
"It's urgent. Is Kazuya-san in?" he asked, somewhat breathless.
"Yasu, get him some water," Zoe instructed as she stood as well. He went to the small kitchen without question.
Mai guided him to the closest chair. Naru, hearing the ruckus, came out of his office.
"What's going on?" Naru demanded.
"It's an urgent case. I came here as fast as I could," John said. He accepted the glass of water from Yasu and took a drink.
"Explain," Naru stated.
"We got a call from an orphanage about an hour from here. They needed us to take in a girl until her new parents could pick her up."
"How does this pertain to us?" Naru asked. Mai glared at him.
"It seems the orphanage has a problem with a spirit. Usually, the targeted child can leave as soon as the adoption is finalized, but this situation is different. She was targeted starting a few days ago and things got bad in the last twelve hours. No one knows what will happen now that she's not there now."
"How bad is it?" Naru asked.
"It was threatening her life. We took her in for her own safety, but it's only a matter of time until the spirit chooses another child. There aren't many other orphanages around and no one can take on additional children for more than a day or so."
"Give Lin the address. Can you stay to load the van?" Naru asked.
John nodded. "If you need me here, I'll stay and help."
"Get moving. If it's that unpredictable right now, we need to get there fast in case we need to intervene."
Everyone jumped into action. With the extra hands, they had the van loaded in record time. Naru came out with Lin once they were done.
"Zoe, you're coming with us."
"Me? Why not Mai?" Zoe asked.
"I have other tasks for her and Yasuhara. I need you on location with us." He left no room for debate. "Mai, I need you to go talk to the girl who was targeted. Yasuhara can take you there after he gives a copy of the directions to Takigawa. Be on location by this evening."
Naru headed for the passenger door without letting her say anything.
"Mai," Zoe said and walked over while pulling a key ring out of her pocket, "I need you to get me enough clothes for a week. I don't care what it is as long as it's practical. Whatever you do, don't let him in my bedroom." She took a key off the ring and held it out to Mai.
Mai nodded and accepted the spare key. "Sure thing."
"If you amend that statement, we'll bring dinner with us," Yasu said, leaning into the conversation.
Zoe gave him a deadpan look. "Or you could bring some anyway since you brought it up. Don't go in my room." She turned and jumped into the passenger side and closed the door.
They watched as the van pulled out into traffic and disappeared around the corner.
"Yasu, you should know by now you won't get special privileges yet," Mai said.
Yasu shrugged. "Was worth a try. Let's get going. We've got a lot to do. You coming with us, John?"
"Yeah, I had to leave Masako with the kids. You can leave me there after you talk with the girl and we'll make our own way there," John said.
"Well, let's go. Everybody in."
They made all their trips to give directions and pack before Yasu drove them to the orphanage with some help from John for directions.
"It feels like so long since I've been here," Mai said as they got out and walked up to the front door.
"You've been here?" Yasu asked.
"Oh yeah, I guess you weren't with us yet when we had the case here," Mai said thoughtfully. "I'll tell you about it later."
John led them through the church to a large area serving as a play area for the children. Mai immediately noticed a young girl sitting alone in the corner. She guessed the girl was no older than seven.
"Is that her?" Mai asked John and pointed across the room.
John nodded. "That's her. She hasn't said anything to anyone since she got here," he said. "I'll find Masako and let her know what's going on. Yasu-san, you may have to entertain the kids."
"No problem," Yasu said. "What's the worst that could happen?"
Mai crossed the room and knelt in front of the girl so she could see her face and smiled.
"Hi, I'm Mai. What's your name?" she asked.
For a minute, it appeared that the girl wouldn't talk to her either. "I'm Kaori," she said in a small voice without looking up.
"Why do you look so sad, Kaori? I heard you'll be going to a new home soon. Do you not like your new parents?" Mai asked.
Kaori shook her head. "Kaori likes them very much. Kaori is scared they won't find her."
"I'm sure they know you're here now. They'll definitely be here to pick you up," Mai assured her.
"Kaori is also scared for her friends."
"Your friends at the other orphanage?" Mai asked in concern.
Kaori nodded. "He might hurt them too."
"Who might hurt them?" Mai asked. She frowned in concern.
"Kaori doesn't know. He was nice, but then he turned mean."
"And he tried to hurt you?" Mai asked. Kaori nodded as tears welled up in her eyes. "Well, some of my friends are heading there right now to help your friends. Is there anything else you can tell me about him?"
Kaori was quiet again. "He looked like the older kids. Only Kaori could see him though."
"No one at all?" Mai asked to be sure.
"Kaori doesn't know. She didn't tell anyone until he got mean."
"Alright, thank you, Kaori." Mai didn't want to press her too hard in case she upset her.
"Are you gonna help them too, onee-san?"
Mai nodded and smiled again. "Yep! Once I know you're feeling better I'll head there too. How does that sound, Kaori-chan?"
Kaori nodded, tears falling down her small face. "Kaori likes that." She gave Mai a hug.
Mai returned the hug. "I have to get going now, Kaori-chan. Your new parents will be so happy to see you when they get here."
Kaori waved as Mai walked back to Yasu who was sitting on the floor with some of the younger kids. He looked a little tired.
"Are you done, Mai?" he asked hopefully.
"Hmm, maybe not quite," she teased. She laughed when his look fell in mild distress. "I'm just kidding. Let's go let John know we're leaving."
Yasu went to get up, but the kids latched onto him. Mai knelt down to be eye-level with them. "Onii-san has to go. We've got important stuff to do, okay?" she said kindly.
"Aww, alright," the kids said and let go of him.
"Thanks, Mai. I owe you one," Yasu said as they slipped out into the hallway.
"Yeah, you do." She grinned.
They found John on his way back to find them.
"Did you get her to say anything?" John asked.
"Yep! She was a little scared, but I told her we'll be taking care of it. She couldn't tell me much about what the spirit did though," Mai said.
"It's a start. I sent Masako home to pack and arranged for Bou-san to get us," John said.
"Great, we're heading there now. Naru's orders," Yasu said.
"Be safe, you two," John said as they left.
"Geez, this place is big," Zoe commented as Lin pulled the van onto the long driveway.
The house had a western exterior. The walls were off-white and needed a good cleaning. The house itself had three floors, based on the rows of windows. Each window was flanked by dark brown shutters. Carefully tended bushes sat on either side of the large porch and at even intervals across the front. The property had a lot of yard space for the children to play when they could go outside.
"It's an orphanage. What did you expect?" Naru returned.
"I dunno, just not something that looks like a mansion," she said.
They got out and headed to the front door. Naru rang the doorbell and they waited. He was about to ring it again when a middle-aged woman opened it.
"Are you the people Brown-san told us about?" she asked. She eyed them suspiciously.
"Yes, he came to us saying you needed help. I would like to start with discussing what has been happening," Naru said.
She relaxed in relief. "Please, right this way," she said. They stepped into an entryway with a staircase directly in front of them and doors on either side. There were more doors off to the left. The woman led them down a short hallway to their right and into a small private sitting room. They each took a chair as they took their coats off and Lin prepared to take notes. "I suppose I should introduce myself first. My name is Aomoto Kasumi."
"Aomoto-san, can you describe the kinds of things that happen here?" Naru asked.
"We've noticed a pattern with it," Aomoto-san began. Naru was laser-focused already. "We've dealt with it for quite some time, but it hasn't been much of a problem. It starts off with little tricks here and there. Something goes missing or a toy moves on its own or a tap on the shoulder. It becomes focused on one of the children whenever a prospective family takes an interest. Occasionally, if there haven't been any families to come by, it will focus on one child for a few days before moving on."
"What happens when a child is targeted?" Naru pressed.
"It becomes more harmful towards that child. Toys thrown in their direction, attempts to hurt them with whatever is present. It's very rare for it to get worse after that because the child has left with their new family by that point or it loses interest."
"What happens if it goes past that?" Naru asked.
Aomoto-san clasped her hands in her lap and looked at the floor. "I've only seen it happen one other time while I worked here. A red, bloody handprint showed up on the child's bedspread."
"Is that what happened this time?" Naru asked.
Aomoto-san nodded. "Kaori's prospective parents live far from here. They had to go back home to finalize some things before they could take her with them. We found a handprint yesterday. Today, a plate fell and shattered and the pieces flew at her neck after they had been laying on the floor. She didn't get hurt, but I knew we needed to get her somewhere safe."
"What happened the previous time?" Naru asked.
She took a shaky breath and seemed to curl in on herself. Zoe moved closer to comfort her.
"I hadn't been here for very long at the time. I had heard stories from the older staff members. There was a young boy here who had a scheduled day to go home with his new family, but it also would take a few days. A couple days before he was set to leave, a handprint was on his blanket when he woke up. His life was threatened every day. We didn't have the means to send him anywhere, but we did what we could to keep him safe. The incidents became more forceful and aimed at his neck." Aomoto-san was crying by the time she finished speaking.
"Did he make it?" Zoe asked quietly.
Aomoto-san looked at her with a smile as she wiped her eyes. "Yes, he's very happy with his family. He left with a few scratches though."
"Is there anyone else we can talk to about the stories you mentioned?" Naru asked, appearing unaffected by the story.
Aomoto-san took a moment to compose herself. "I might be able to find addresses or phone numbers for some retired staff members. I'm sure they'd be glad to help. I'm the only person working here left from back then."
"How many children are currently living here?" Naru continued.
"With Kaori gone, there are eighteen," Aomoto-san answered promptly.
Naru nodded as he wrote some notes in his copy of the case file. "Is there a room we can use that has many outlets?"
"Yes, it's on the second floor. The children won't mind giving it up for a few days. I can have my staff set it up as you need," Aomoto-san said.
"We will also require two rooms for my team to sleep."
"Of course, I will have them prepared. We have more than enough futons to offer. If that's it, I'll go gather up some help to get everything ready. How many of you will there be?"
"Nine of us total."
Aomoto-san stood. "I have just the rooms in mind. Feel free to explore while you wait. I imagine you need to get acquainted with the place."
"Thank you, Aomoto-san," Naru said. She excused herself. He continued talking to Lin and Zoe. "We will begin a walkthrough on this floor."
"We? You're going too?" Zoe asked surprised.
"The equipment can wait until the others arrive. We should do as our client said and become acquainted with the building," Naru stated. "I want to hear what you pick up as well."
"I'm not about to make myself the target in the first hour," Zoe said as she fished her contacts out of her bag.
"Lin can make sure that doesn't happen."
Lin sighed. "It was only time sensitive to get here. We can take our time now and we will not do anything to endanger ourselves," he reminded them.
"I like the sound of that better," Zoe said with a bitter smile. She put in her contacts and stood to lead the way through the first floor.
Out in the hallway, Zoe took a closer look at everything. The hall was windowless with doors along both sides. Picture frames were hung on the walls between the doors.
She retraced their path so they were out in the main entrance. She looked around before turning to Naru.
"I really don't know what you expect from me here. A typical medium would be more helpful."
"You've done walkthroughs before," Naru said.
"Sure, to try and find the spirit. Not to get a feel of why they're here or what they feel."
"Consider your task to find out then."
"You should just admit you didn't have time to make up a plan," she muttered under her breath. If he heard, he didn't react.
Zoe led them through the closest door to find the kitchen. It wasn't particularly wide, but the light colors and bright lights made it feel bigger. She shoved her hands in her jacket pockets as she wandered around the island in the middle. The countertops were empty and some of the drawers appeared to be childproofed.
Lin tugged on one of the drawers. "The locks appear secure, Naru."
"Childproof does not equal spirit proof, but it could buy some time in an emergency," Naru stated. He looked over when Zoe stiffened.
"I felt something, but it was fleeting," she said. She purposefully walked down to the other end of the kitchen where the wall gave way to a view into the dining room. "I think it's trying to lead somewhere."
Zoe pushed through the door at the end of the kitchen. Naru and Lin followed. The only sound as they looked around was the door swinging back and forth before settling again.
Lin walked up to one of the tall cabinets. He opened it to find assorted dishware. "This could pose a problem."
"Maybe they have more locks?" Zoe suggested.
"We'll have to be careful here," Naru said.
"Let's be real. We'll have to be careful all over," Zoe said.
They left the room through one of the other doors. To their right was a door that led outside. Across the hall was another door. The sound of children laughing and talking was coming from inside.
Zoe led the way inside. For the most part, the kids didn't pay attention to them. One of the kids looked over. She smiled and waved to the little girl.
The girl got up and walked over. "Do you know if Kaori-chan is alright?" she asked.
Zoe knelt down to be on the girl's level. "I heard she's safe and doing just fine. Are you one of her friends?" she asked.
"Yeah. I'm Mayumi," the girl said.
"It's nice to meet you. I'm Zoe," she introduced with a smile.
"Are you here for one of us?" Mayumi asked.
"I'm afraid not, Mayumi-chan. My friends and I are here to help all of you though."
"Is it the onii-san?" Mayumi asked.
"Well, we're not sure about what it is yet. Could you tell me a bit about this onii-san?" Zoe asked and sat on the floor with her.
She noticed Lin and Naru went off to look around the room themselves.
"He's tall like the older kids. And sometimes he's funny, but he can be scary too."
"When have you seen him?" Zoe continued.
"It was a while ago. Mayumi doesn't know how long."
"That's alright. Have you told anyone else?"
Mayumi nodded. "They said everything would be okay."
"Ah, the people who take care of you here," Zoe said.
Mayumi nodded again. "They keep us safe when Onii-san comes out."
"Did Onii-san do anything to you?"
"He pulled Mayumi's hair really hard and hid Mayumi's favorite toy. Then he went away."
"You make sure you tell us if he does anything else to you, alright?"
Mayumi nodded happily. "Yes, yes!"
Zoe stood and found Naru and Lin studying shelves at the end of the room. She walked over to join the conversation.
"Since they're attached to the wall, something has probably happened in the past with it," Lin was saying.
"Bolted shelves aren't that out of the ordinary. Especially when kids are involved," Zoe commented.
"We'll be able to determine more later when we take measurements," Naru said. He led them back out to the hallway. "What did the girl say?"
"She said she had seen an older boy, though he had been nothing more than a nuisance to her, by the sound of it," Zoe said. She crossed her arms as she looked around again.
"That sounds in line with what Aomoto-san told us," Lin said.
"I think it's in this other room," Zoe said as she headed to another door.
Inside the last room, were a couple of overstuffed chairs and a sofa around a coffee table. There were a couple of bookshelves more for decoration than holding books and a filing cabinet. The floor-length curtains were tied in place and let in plenty of light. A cup of pens was on an end table next to the sofa.
"It's gone again," Zoe said with a frown.
"Naru, these are attached to the wall too," Lin commented.
Naru studied them. "These aren't features of the wall. It seems they have indeed been a problem."
Aomoto-san came into the room in search of the three of them. "We've prepared the rooms for you. If you're not busy, I can show you," she offered.
"Yes, that would be fine," Naru answered.
They followed Aomoto-san up the stairs to the second floor. There was a large window that looked out over the yard. She turned and led them around the railing to a hallway lined with doors on one side.
"These are some of the rooms for the children. There are more upstairs as well." She stopped in front of a door. She opened it to reveal a large room with numerous chairs and bookshelves along the walls. There were two large tables in the middle with chairs around them. In a corner were buckets of assorted art supplies.
"We have this room for the children that want to do something quieter, but it'll work well for what you need," Aomoto-san explained. "I left the doors of two rooms down the hall open. Those are the ones we prepared. We can open up a third if you need it as well."
"Thank you, Aomoto-san," Naru said.
Aomoto-san bowed. "Of course." The sound of the doorbell floated to them. "Ah, is that more of your team?"
"It should be."
"Then I shall bring them right up." She excused herself to answer the door.
"We'll need our table. These are too big to use," Lin commented.
"It's kinda cozy in here," Zoe said. She dropped her coat on one of the chairs as she took a look around.
There was a knock on the already open door. "We're here! We can start the investigation now," Yasu announced.
"You can start by bringing in the shelves and monitors," Naru said.
"Hello to you too, Naru," Mai said sarcastically. She seemed to look around apprehensively.
"Great, let's go," Zoe said as she pulled them out into the hallway with her. "I'll gladly get away from them for a bit."
"I can imagine it was bad with those two," Yasu commented. He fell in step next to her.
"What were you guys doing anyway?" Mai asked, catching up with them. Her eyes were still a little shifty, but she seemed a bit more settled.
"Noll made me lead a walkthrough even though I'm the worst person to do that."
Yasu frowned. "But that doesn't make any sense."
"I said as much. He insisted. I think he was thrown off and didn't have a plan," Zoe said.
"Naru? Not have a plan? I don't believe it," Mai said.
"He's surprisingly bad with snap decisions, especially without information. Usually he has time to think over a case before accepting. He'll plan for a lot of things and make sure everything is ready. Especially if it calls for early research," Zoe explained.
"Don't forget, Mai, he went head-to-head against the Ebisu without a second thought," Yasu pointed out.
"Yeah, after I provoked him!" Mai countered.
"Only proves the point. And there was that time at my school when he jumped to shield you from that ceiling."
"Wow, Noll is surprisingly reckless around you, Mai."
"He probably just didn't want to write up an accident report," Mai said dismissively as she led the way out the front door.
Yasu shook his head and sighed. "Technically, in that sense, he got more work since he got hurt too, but that's neither here nor there," he said flippantly.
They went around to the back of the van. Zoe pulled on the door handle only for it to not budge. "Ugh, did Lin really lock it?" She searched her pants pockets. "I was sure I had a key. I'll have to go back inside and get Lin's."
"I'll go get it!" Mai said cheerily. She was already running back inside.
"Come on, Mai! It's cold out here!" Zoe called after her, but Mai disappeared inside without responding. Zoe crossed her arms with her hands underneath in an attempt to keep them warm.
"You're surprisingly unprepared," Yasu commented.
"Yeah, well, I didn't anticipate not having the key and Mai leaving me stranded out here to wait," Zoe said.
"I can do without my coat." Yasu started to take it off as he spoke.
"Definitely not. Once we get moving, I'll be fine." Zoe tugged it back on him properly. "It's just my hands anyway. I don't wanna drop something if they get too cold."
"Alright, then how about this?" Yasu took a hand in each of his and put them in his coat pockets.
"It's only til Mai gets back. You'll live."
They were quiet for a moment. "I know I've been asking this a lot, but how are you mentally?" Zoe asked. Her voice was barely loud enough for Yasu to hear her.
"You only ask at least twice a week," he laughed.
"It's the same as all the other times you ask," Yasu said. "It comes around sometimes when I'm not doing anything, but it doesn't last."
She looked away towards the house. "I still worry."
"Well, well, well. Look at you two all cozy." Monk led the Irregulars up the driveway with a conniving grin on his face.
"I'd offer to you as well Bou-san, but she was here first and my pockets are only so big," Yasu said.
"We're locked out of the van and Mai didn't let me go in to get the key," Zoe explained unhappily, but she made no move to pull her hands back.
"You know, John, this looks like Shounen here has a story to regale us with later," Monk said.
John laughed. "I suppose he does."
Zoe looked up at Yasu. His cheeks were bright red while he avoided looking at anyone by looking up at the sky.
"Zoe-chan, you have some explaining why you didn't tell us too," Ayako said.
"Actually, she did tell me," Masako commented smugly.
"Oh, well that just makes it even better," Ayako said sarcastically.
"Ayako, if I told you, you'd have told Bou-san right away," Zoe said.
"I'm back! What'd I miss?" Mai asked. The keys were swinging from her hand as she walked over.
"A big reveal is what you missed," Monk said.
"But I already knew?" Mai asked.
Zoe finally escaped and snatched the keys from Mai. With deft movements, she was in the back of the van in moments.
"Everybody line up to take something in. Hope you don't mind stairs," Zoe said brightly to divert everyone's attention. She had a monitor in her arms to hand out.
"We have to climb stairs with all this?" Monk complained.
"Consider it incentive to get done quickly," Zoe said with a smile. "Thanks for volunteering to be first!" She plunked the monitor into his arms.
Despite some grumbling, they managed to get everything inside quickly. They were all in the base awaiting their next instructions.
Naru procured a blueprint of each floor and spread them out on one of the large tables. "I want every main room on the first floor covered and the hall that goes behind the kitchen. The second and third floors will have a camera for the length of the hall and one pointed at the stairs. I want a microphone with each of them. If the storage room on the third floor becomes a problem, we'll put the last one there if possible."
"What do we do about the kids?" Monk asked.
"We don't have to concern ourselves with that. The staff will explain that the equipment should not be touched and will keep them busy. Once everything is in place, I will have someone go around and tape down the cables," Naru explained.
"What do we do if something happens in one of the bedrooms?" John asked.
"We certainly don't have enough cameras for that," Ayako commented.
"We don't. We're going to have to bet on something happening in the communal areas. Eventually someone will be chosen as a target. If that's another child, we'll have to change tactics."
"What if it's one of us?" Mai asked hesitantly.
"I should hope that any of you can handle yourselves if the need arises," Naru said.
"How shrewd," Masako said.
"Hara-san and Matsuzaki-san, take a look around. Cleanse anything that may have a trace of the spirit," Naru said as a response to Masako's comment.
"Aye, aye," Ayako said flatly.
"Mai, I'm sending you to take temperatures on your own. Don't make me regret it."
"Sure thing, Boss! I will cast away anything that tries to hinder me!" Mai said proudly.
Naru ignored her to continue giving out instructions. "The rest of you, pair up and set up the cameras. Report to Lin to make sure they're set properly."
"Well, John, looks like it's you and me," Monk said.
"I really do regret neglecting you, Bou-san. I can't help my prior obligations," Yasu commented with a sly grin.
"For now. You have prior obligations with us too," Monk reminded.
At first, Masako had felt drawn to the third floor. By the time she and Ayako started looking around, the feeling had dissipated. Rather than following right away, Masako decided to have a look around and get acquainted with the place. She smiled and greeted the children they met.
"I noticed it a while ago, but you're surprisingly good with kids," Ayako commented as they headed down the stairs.
"Should I not be?" Masako asked.
"It's not that you shouldn't. More like it's unexpected," Ayako clarified. "You're almost as stoic as Naru sometimes."
"You can be stoic and be good with kids," Masako said.
"I didn't say you couldn't," Ayako said with a frown.
Masako looked at the floor as they wandered towards the back offices on the first floor. "I like being around them. They don't see me as just a TV personality. They just see me as someone who can spend time and play with them."
"What does that make us?" Ayako asked, somewhat offended.
"Well, obviously, I usually consider you my friends," Masako sniffed.
"Of course. I reconsider my decision when some of you become irritating."
"Irritating! Why, you!"
"I'm still here, aren't I?"
Ayako crossed her arms. "I don't know what I expected," she grumbled.
Masako lifted her head and looked around. "I think I found the spirit again." She headed off back towards the entrance. Ayako was close behind.
Masako led the way past the stairs. She pushed open the door to the play room. She smiled absently at the kids laughing on the floor.
Her attention was drawn to a presence towards the far end of the room. It seemed to be hovering around a group of three girls who were playing with a dollhouse. Luckily, someone had already put a camera in the room.
"Is it here?" Ayako whispered.
Masako nodded. She didn't feel any emotions coming from the presence. She carefully stepped closer.
The girls stopped talking when one of the dolls started to levitate. They watched it in shock.
When Masako was close enough, she reached out and took the doll out of the air. It was warm to the touch.
"Did you do that, onee-san?" one of the girls asked.
"No, I didn't, but it's nothing for you to worry about," Masako said kindly. She held out the doll for one of them to take.
"Thank you," the girl said and took the doll. The three went back to playing.
"Was that the spirit?" Ayako asked when she was next to Masako.
Masako put her sleeve in front of her mouth so the children wouldn't hear. "It--he--seems to be staying in this room for now. It's hard to determine his nature though. I don't feel anything negative, but there's nothing positive either," she said.
A staff member walked in then, drawing Ayako's attention. "Hey kids! It's time for snack," the staff member announced.
One by one, the kids stopped what they were doing and went to line up.
"Good timing," Ayako commented. "Do you think I should try a cleansing?"
"Will it hurt?" Masako asked. Ayako huffed at the slight smile she received from Masako.
They began to hear a shaking sound. They looked around the room. Most of the kids were already congregated by the door.
"It's the shelves," Ayako said. "The baskets are shaking."
Masako barely had a moment to look at the girl that was straggling behind. She jumped to shield the girl on instinct when a toy from the shelf flew past her head.
"Masako, where is it?" Ayako demanded.
Masako turned to look. "Right in front of the shelves," she answered. She turned to the girl she protected. "Hurry out to the hall with the others," she said and gave the girl a small push towards the door where the staff member was ushering the others out.
Ayako shouted the Nine Cuts and carved the attack through the air. When she finished, the room was quiet.
"He's gone for now," Masako said.
Lin's voice came over the radio Ayako had been carrying. "We briefly lost the feed. Are you both fine?"
"All taken care of," Ayako answered.
The door burst open. Mai came skidding to a stop. Her clipboard and the digital thermometer were still in her hands. "What's going on? I heard a commotion and saw all the kids. Are you okay?"
"We're fine, Mai," Masako assured immediately.
"It seemed he wanted to pay us a visit already," Ayako added.
"Ayako managed to stop him before he could really do anything," Masako said.
"I'll have you know I was flawless," Ayako said with her nose in the air.
"There was something odd though," Masako said thoughtfully. "There's only the one spirit, but I felt like I needed to hide."
"You felt it too?" Mai asked.
"I think it might be a residual emotion. It's separate from the spirit," Masako said.
"I felt it when I first got here, but the feeling went away eventually." Mai shrugged. "I guess I'll take temperatures while I'm in here."
"He was trying to manipulate the shelves," Masako offered.
Mai walked over to them. She stood in front with a hand on her chin. After a moment, she reached out and tried to move one of them, but it didn't budge. "They seem pretty sturdy." She started emptying the shelf she was examining.
"Mai, aren't you a little old to be making a mess?" Ayako asked.
"Hey, I just wanna see how they're attached! I'm gonna put it all back when I'm done," Mai retorted.
She reached to the back of the shelf to find it flush against the wall. There was no sign of screws or nails. Before she put everything back, she pulled out her level to make sure it wasn't leaning in any direction.
"You're quite thorough, Mai," Masako said with a knowing grin. She had witnessed Naru being similarly thorough before too.
"It feels like you're making fun of me," Mai said as she ducked down to look at the underside of the shelf. She found what she was looking for. At even intervals, screws had been put into the shelf that went into the wall on all three sides. To be sure, she quickly looked at the ones above her to find them all secured in the same way.
"So? What's you're educated deduction, Detective Mai?" Ayako asked.
Mai turned around with her hands proudly on her hips. "I have determined these shelves are completely stable and none of the toys should have moved on their own," she stated.
"We could have told you that when a toy was thrown across the room. He was probably choosing the next one to throw at us," Ayako said snarkily.
Mai's posture deflated. "Well excuse me for doing my job," she said. She looked around the room then. "How much else do you have to do?"
Masako looked around the room, but didn't seem to really see anything. "I think he's hiding for now. I can't feel his presence."
"Maybe we should go take a break," Ayako suggested. "Will you be okay, Mai?"
"Sure will! I think Monk is waiting for you. He got roped into helping the kids out in the hall," Mai said with a laugh.
After Masako and Ayako reported back, Naru arranged for interviews with the staff in one of the back offices. He had them come in based on when they started, with the newest ones first. He didn't expect them to know very much and wanted to get it out of the way. Lin sat off to the side, diligently taking notes of everything that was said.
Naru was growing increasingly bored as he ran through the same questions and received little variation in answers. In theory, he would be glad it was so consistent with what they already knew, but it gave them nothing new to work with.
Having exhausted all the other staff, Aomoto-san came in. She clutched a folder in her hands. She sat down across from Naru and slid the folder across the table. He pulled it closer and flipped it open.
"These are all the people I was able to find that worked with me back then. I'd most recommend my former boss. Togawa-san was very invested in the children's safety. I'm sure she will still remember," Aomoto-san explained.
Naru noted the name she had pointed out was at the top of the list. He briefly glanced through the rest. The amount of people was promising. He would have one of the others sift through for which ones would be most likely to offer information.
"This should prove helpful. Thank you, Aomoto-san."
"Of course. Anything for the children. I thought we could manage with this, but I can't justify it any longer. I appreciate your team's help." She excused herself.
He passed the folder to Lin to hold onto. Lin took a look inside.
"It will take a while to go through these," Lin commented. He set the folder on top of his closed laptop.
"Some of those likely won't be useful," Naru said. He led the way out of the office.
"As with anything."
Naru walked past the stairs and headed towards the play room. Lin followed.
"They told us Mai already examined the shelves in here," Lin pointed out.
Naru wasn't deterred. He crossed the room that was currently quiet while the children played elsewhere. "I'm aware that Mai adequately performed tasks in her job description. However, I would also like to see it for myself."
"She's come quite a way."
"She does what's expected of her."
"It wouldn't kill you to give her a compliment."
Naru said nothing as he stared at the shelves. He crossed his arms in front of him as he stared at them from top to bottom.
"What happened in here was a warning," he stated, effectively ending the previous conversation.
"I thought that was rather obvious," Lin said. "What else are you thinking?"
Naru was silent as he thought some more. "Aomoto-san mentioned a pattern. The others as well."
"I'm surprised you remember. It seemed to me that you weren't paying attention by the fifth interview."
Naru gave him an icy glare before continuing. "It seems we're witnessing an aggravated version of the pattern. They said nothing about the kind of activity Hara-san and Matsuzaki-san described. He picked up a doll. That much we captured on camera. But shaking these shelves is a deviation from the established norm."
"I can only see two possibilities as to why," Lin agreed.
"It was either getting the child to safety or us coming here," Naru said.
"It could be both."
"It could be."
Getting to some action! And it's only the beginning hehehe
Yasu and Zoe had been tasked with going around and taping down the cables to attempt to deter the kids from playing with them or tripping. The first floor had taken a while since most of the cameras were there. The second floor was much quicker.
They were climbing the steps to the third floor. Yasu looked around uneasily.
"Something feels wrong here," Yasu said.
"This whole place feels wrong," Zoe returned.
"Worse than usual." Yasu looked around the hall shiftily.
"The sooner we get this done, the sooner we get back to base."
"That doesn't really help, but thanks, I guess."
They went down to the end of the hall to the camera that pointed down the length of the hallway. They had to figure out where John and Monk plugged in the power for the camera as they hadn't had a chance to find them before they started going around to tape cables down.
They followed the cable under the door to the storage room nearby. Yasu's shoulders sagged. It just kept getting worse.
Zoe opened the door and searched for a light switch. With a flick, a line of bare bulbs lit up down a central aisle. Metal shelves were arranged in rows. The aisles branching away from the center went far enough back that they weren't fully illuminated and cast shadows at odd angles. The shelves were filled with decorations for various holidays and sorted accordingly.
"Could they really not find a closer outlet that isn't across this room?" Yasu complained.
"Could be worse. It could be down an aisle at the back hiding next to some kind of garish decoration from twenty years ago," Zoe said. "Wouldn't it be great to see one of those demonic looking Santa Claus figures?"
"That's not funny."
"I thought it was."
They made quick work of taping the cable down and exited the room. Yasu tried to not let his eyes wander to the decorations. Somehow, they looked dismal and a bit creepy in the light.
"Feeling better now?" she asked when they were back in the hall.
"I thought you weren't sensitive."
"I'm not. I don't know what it is."
"We're almost done. Don't freak out yet."
Yasu gave her an unamused look as he pulled off the end of the tape. He followed her to the second camera that faced the top of the stairs.
They had followed the cable around the corner to the staff bedroom when a door in the ceiling caught Zoe's attention.
"Is something wrong?" Yasu asked.
"It must be the attic. I kinda wanna know what's up there," she said.
Yasu froze and looked around. He wasn't sure if he was imagining it, but he was convinced he felt the temperature drop. His unease grew so much he briefly considered dragging her back to base immediately and damn the consequences from Naru.
A picture frame hanging on the wall started to shake and rattle against the wall. Zoe was reaching for the pull string on the door. He wasn't sure how she didn't notice it as the shaking got worse. He was convinced it was moments from flying off the wall.
Yasu felt his entire being go ice cold. Ignoring it, he dove for Zoe, knocking them both to the floor moments before the frame flew from its hook and smashed against the opposite wall, passing right through where they had been moments before. The broken frame and glass shards dropped to the floor with a clatter.
They pushed themselves up into a sitting position to see the aftermath. They watched as the glass shards floated into the air. Yasu covered her head and leaned over her as he pushed them back down to the floor.
Zoe trembled slightly as she waited for anything. The sting of the glass. Yasu hissing in pain. The only thing she heard was the small sound of glass dropping to the wood floor.
She pushed him away slightly to see what happened. She made an attempt to ignore the arm that stayed around her when he didn't move.
Her mouth fell open in awe as she looked around them. Everything was tinted green to her. The glass was on the floor at their feet in a semi-circle. It took her a moment to realize what she was looking at.
"Yasu," she said excitedly and shook him. "Yasu, look."
When he didn't respond, she looked over. She felt like ice had been dropped on her. "Yasu, this isn't funny. Come on!" She rolled him onto his back.
It was little consolation that he was still breathing.
She fumbled for the radio. With a shaking hand, she pushed the button.
"I need help. Third floor. Yasu's down."
Monk and John had come to the rescue. Monk picked up Yasu and carried him to one of the bedrooms. John led Zoe back to base with a comforting hand. He had excused himself after that to go check on the others once she was safely seated.
Naru demanded an explanation of what happened. Zoe was grateful that no one else except Lin was present. She shakily told him what happened, ignoring his curt tone for once.
"Maybe you manifested something new," Naru said when she quieted.
"I know how it feels to use my abilities. It wasn't me," she said with with a glare. "Yasu manifested an energy shield around us."
"It didn't show up on the camera."
"Oh my god! It's energy! It's not gonna show up on a camera! When either of us physically manifest our PK, it doesn't show up on camera either!" She was standing before she knew what she was doing. She felt a great need to make Naru believe her.
"It doesn't make sense. He hasn't shown any inclination for any type of ability in the past."
"So then something broke or snapped or whatever that unlocked this ability! We should be planning how to help him, not questioning the validity of it just because you didn't see it for yourself."
"There hasn't even been so much as a hint that he had such capabilities," Naru pressed.
"I know what I saw! Or is what I see not good enough anymore?"
Naru was quiet when he turned away.
"There are rare instances of such a thing happening," Lin said. "I've never seen it myself, but it's not unheard of. There is very basic research that has been done on the phenomenon."
Naru turned partially back around. He ignored Zoe, who was grandiosely gesturing at Lin for proving her point.
"It would also explain why he's unconscious," Lin continued. "The energetic expense would be significant. Especially when the user is unprepared for it."
"We'll have to monitor the situation," Naru said.
Zoe sighed. "Guess that's the best we get. I'm going to bed." She left the base and wandered down the hall.
She stopped outside the bedroom Monk had taken Yasu to. Her hand was shaking when she lifted it to knock on the door. John opened it for her with a solemn expression. He let her in without a word.
"How is he?" she asked quietly.
Ayako looked up from where she was kneeling on the floor. Monk was sitting further away with his legs crossed and back against the wall.
"Everything is normal. He's just out cold," Ayako said.
"What did Naru say?" Monk asked.
"I don't think he believes me."
"There was definitely something there," John said.
"Noll didn't see it himself. He doesn't immediately believe what he hasn't seen when all signs point to nothing. Since he hasn't shown any possibility prior to this, he'll be hesitant to believe it until proven otherwise."
"It looked like the floor around you was hot. You know, like when you look at the ground during the summer and it's all wavy," Monk said. He moved a hand in the air in an attempt to mimic what he was talking about.
"His aura is green for me. Everything was tinted that specific green. He manifested a shield. I'm sure of it."
Ayako grimaced. "Then we just show Naru."
"We can't guarantee he'll be able to use it at will right away if he really does have it," Zoe said.
"What do you mean?" Ayako asked.
"He won't know how to use it. He might not even be able to use it much for months. It probably only happened here because it responded to an extreme emotion," Zoe explained.
"And that can make energetic abilities act out," John finished.
Zoe crossed the room and sank to the floor against the wall next to his unconscious form. "If I had been paying attention, he'd be fine." She looked at him for a few moments before reaching over. None of them had bothered to remove his glasses, so she took it upon herself to do it and set them aside.
"You couldn't have known what would happen," John offered.
"But maybe I could have made a difference," Zoe said forcefully.
"Well, what's done is done," Ayako said. "Nothing we can do about it now except wait." Her tone of finality did little to lighten the tension in the air.
"Are Mai and Masako alright? I haven't seen them," Zoe asked, breaking the heavy silence.
"They're in our room. They should be alright until we get there," Ayako said. "Which we should get going. It's getting late."
Ayako stood and offered a hand to Zoe. After staring at it for a moment, she took it and pulled herself up.
"We'll come get you if anything happens," Monk assured her.
"Thanks. I appreciate it," Zoe said. Ayako led her from the room.
I'm not sure if Naru is OOC or not. It's fiiiine. More action! And new abilities!
Mai is not having a good day.
Everyone was still quiet in the morning. With barely a greeting to anyone, Zoe took the van to head to the library on her own with the list of people they had received from Aomoto-san. She had told them not to expect her back for a while. Naru had gone through the usual process of assigning everyone tasks for the morning.
Mai was given the clipboard for the temperatures, as usual. She decided it best to start on the first floor. It was where they were most likely to get activity and she wasn't particularly keen on going to the third floor just yet. So she followed Masako and Ayako as they did their walkthrough.
They headed to the play room first. Mai studied her friends as she worked her way around the room. Normally, Ayako would be making comments, but she was silent as she looked around. She kept looking back at the shelves suspiciously.
Masako seemed to notice as well. "He's not in this room right now. You don't have to worry about anything," she said. She had used her usual haughty tone, but Mai didn't miss the concern in it either.
"I'm not worried about that," Ayako said shortly. She continued before either of them could ask anything else. "Yasu should have woken up by now. Even if it's from some new ability he got, he should be up and moving."
Mai had a feeling Ayako was attempting to shift her concern elsewhere, but figured it best to not comment on it. She could tell Ayako was a little out of her element since Yasu's unconsciousness wasn't for entirely medical reasons.
Masako led them out to the hall. "Using energy isn't so straightforward," she began. "It can vary greatly how taxing it is on a person. Someone new to their abilities, like Yasuhara, will have stronger adverse effects until they get used to using it."
"He must have put out a lot of energy then," Mai said.
"Much like Naru does for you," Masako said with a teasing smile.
Mai's face grew warm at the insinuation. "I can tell you he definitely doesn't."
"I suppose that's partially true. He used too much before when you egged him on. Oh, wait, didn't he use it to cheer you up too?" Ayako commented thoughtfully.
Mai frowned at them. She turned on her heel. "I've got work to do," she said as she walked off to the dining room.
"Come on, Mai. It's all in fun," Ayako said. She and Masako followed Mai into the dining room.
Mai was already setting the thermometer down on the table and used the action to ignore Ayako.
The room was bright in the morning sun. Cupboards were placed along the walls, made of dark wood that contrasted with the pale color of the walls. Some of the cupboards had glass set in the doors to show off the plates and glasses contained inside, though none of it matched. The table spanned the length of the room. Mai wasn't sure how it could fit all the children.
Masako had quieted as she walked around the room. She stopped every so often to look at something or stare out one of the large windows.
"He's coming close again," Masako finally said.
Mai immediately turned to the thermometer in the middle of the table. It was a few degrees below baseline already.
"Masako, I think you should go outside," Mai said as she looked around the room. Her stomach was twisted up in knots. She wanted to hide.
"I can defend myself, Mai," she answered.
"It is way too early in the day for this," Ayako complained.
Confusion spread across Masako's face. "He's here, but he's not doing anything. It feels like he's watching us."
"That's not creepy or anything," Ayako said sarcastically.
A knocking came from the table.
"Okay, I think we all should get out of here," Mai amended. She was tense and itching to leave the room.
As if responding to Mai, the knocking stopped. The door they came through and one of the doors to the hall slammed shut moments later. All three of them jumped. They didn't have to try the doors to know they wouldn't open.
"Okay, what's the plan?" Ayako asked.
"You don't have one?!" Mai exclaimed.
"I don't often get locked in a room with a spirit, so no, I don't!"
A knocking came from one of the doors to the hall, making them jump again.
"You girls okay?" Monk shouted. "I can't get the door open. I'll have to force it."
"We're fine. Don't make him angry," Ayako answered.
"It might be a bit late for that," Masako said. She was inching her way around the table closer to Mai.
Knocking came from the walls. Mai couldn't determine where specifically it was coming from. She was starting to get frustrated. If he didn't do something soon, she would probably just use the Nine Cuts anywhere in the room and hope it pushed him away.
With a cacophonous screech, the chairs around the table were forced backwards. Mai jumped back and pulled Masako with her. Ayako got hit on her side, sending her to the floor.
One of the glass door cupboards shook, rattling the contents with it.
Acting fast, Mai sped through the Nine Cuts, articulating each of them precisely and slashing her fingers through the air.
The cupboard settled. Monk fell through the door a moment later.
The three of them crowded around Ayako on the floor.
"Back off, would you? I'm not hurt that bad," Ayako complained, waving them away. She demonstrated by standing up on her own. "Where to next, Masako?"
Monk watched her with a frown. "No, you're coming to base." He took her arm, but didn't pull her roughly.
"I said I'm fine, you stupid monk!"
"Sorry, Mai, Masako. Can you two handle it on your own?"
"We'll be fine, Bou-san," Masako said.
It quieted quickly once Ayako was gone. Neither of them said anything as they headed to the kitchen. Mai set about taking temperatures. She wasn't sure if Masako would appreciate talking, so she stayed quiet.
The minutes seemed to stretch. Masako decided to break it. She wouldn't admit that it had bothered her.
"Was it really that shocking for you to be so quiet now?"
Mai looked over at her for a moment before turning back to her task. "No, I just had nothing to say."
"Not really though. I can be quiet."
"You just choose not to."
Mai sighed in irritation. "Do you feel anything?"
"No, he's gone right now. Don't change the subject."
Mai paused. "There was nothing to say."
"Something is bothering you."
"Because something just isn't right," Mai said with a shrug.
"Is it your intuition?" Masako asked quietly.
"I guess so? I don't know where it's coming from."
"Are you going to tell Naru?"
Mai looked at her for a moment. "Do you think I should? He'll probably ask me about it. I don't have anything besides this vague feeling. I'm sure he won't like that."
They wandered out of the kitchen and around the hallway. "When did you start feeling it?" Masako asked after a while.
"Yesterday," Mai said immediately. "After our encounter in the play room, but before the...other one."
Mai didn't like thinking about the incident. It was rare that Yasu was affected and it never seemed to be minor when he was.
"Those were the only two things that happened," Masako commented thoughtfully.
Mai nodded. "In between was so...mundane." She frowned as she kept herself busy.
"I think you should tell Naru."
"He'll just be disappointed."
"He'll listen to you."
Mai gave up trying to reason with Masako and led the way to the formal meeting room. Masako followed silently and began looking around.
Mai sat down on the leather sofa in the room as she waited for the thermometer to give her the reading. She started feeling drowsy. Swaying side to side, she almost didn't hear Masako calling out to her or feel her friend's hands on her shoulders to ease her onto the sofa. She was asleep as soon as her head touched the cushion.
The astral plane appeared as she expected. The gaping blackness broken up by the white outline of the house. Kids were scattered around and she easily spotted her friends. A small ball of light flickered nearby. But there was no sign of Gene.
She looked around as she waited, wondering if he was delayed doing some kind of spirit business. Her eyes kept drifting back to the ball of light.
With barely a thought, she drifted closer to it. The speed of the flickering sped up as she approached.
"I'm sorry about earlier," Mai said. She wasn't sure if talking to it would help at all, but she felt like she should.
The flickering dwindled in response, leaving the ball of light somewhat dim.
"I just don't want anyone to get hurt," she continued.
The ball of light flashed bright red for a moment. Mai leaned away, feeling a little put off by the reaction.
"I just want to help. Will you let me?" she asked. She reached out her hand towards it. It seemed to still and then grew. She saw the face of a young child before white light exploded around her.
The white light faded back to black. Mai briefly thought she hadn't done it right. As she looked around, she began to make out the shapes of clothes hanging above her and the dark outline of a small child curled up in a ball on the floor.
Mai shuffled closer to the boy. Sitting next to him she could hear his quiet sobs.
A door nearby slammed open. The boy flinched.
"This is how I find out?! Five years later after thinking he was mine?!" a man shouted.
"I-I didn't know who's it was," a woman answered, fear evident in her voice.
There was a whimper of pain before the man continued. "Oh, and I'm supposed to just forgive you for this? For betraying my trust?"
"I truly believed he was yours," she pleaded.
There was a clatter in the room outside followed by another cry of pain. "Well, that doesn't matter now, does it!" he seethed.
Mai sat with the boy, scared to see what was happening in the room as the sounds of a scuffle met her ears.
"Who was it!" the man shouted. "Whose is he!"
"No, I won't tell you. I know what you'll do!"
"The exact same thing I'm about to do to you!"
Mai winced at the sounds of impacts and the woman crying out in pain again. The cries became strangled and choked off. Something hit the floor with a dull thud.
It was silent.
The boy let out a tiny hiccup.
The closet door was wrenched open.
The man stood over him, face contorted in fury. He reached down and roughly grabbed the boy's arm and pulled him up. He dragged the boy out of the room. Mai rushed to follow. She stopped for a moment to look at the slumped figure of the woman. Red marks were already appearing on her neck.
The man dragged the boy through the house and shoved him down the front steps. He slammed the door and locked it.
The boy sat on the concrete, trying not to cry. His arms and knees were skinned from the fall. Slowly, he stood and started walking away from the house. His walk turned into a run.
Mai's vision faded.
She opened her eyes to a mostly empty base. She heard Lin typing. There weren't any other sounds to determine who else was present.
She started to sit up and found Naru sitting nearby, legs crossed and holding a file open. He looked up at her movement. A second of concern passed through him before his face was controlled neutrality again.
"Mai, what happened?" he asked quietly.
"It's nothing big. Just a dream," she deflected immediately.
"You were crying in your sleep as I brought you up here," he stated flatly.
Mai made a surprised sound. "Wha? You?"
"I was the only other person available. Hara-san was very worried."
Mai crossed her arms. "I'm surprised you know what that is," she muttered.
"Mai, what did you see."
She paused at his quiet tone. Her arms fell to her lap.
"There was a young boy. Very young. Five, maybe? He was hiding in a closet. His parents came in and they were arguing. It sounded like he wasn't the man's son. He was so angry at the woman."
Mai felt tears welling up in her eyes. She wiped at them before she continued.
"I think...I think he hit her and... strangled her with his hands. I didn't see it. Just heard it," Mai said.
Naru reached out to put a hand on her shoulder as if to silently say she could stop.
She pushed on. "He found the boy hiding in the closet. He didn't say anything. Just grabbed him and threw him out of the house. I don't know where he went after that." Her tears were back and falling down her face.
She covered her face with her hands. Naru didn't leave, nor did he remove his hand.
Getting some specifics on deaths up in here.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Everyone was quieter than usual the rest of the day. Naru had relayed what Mai saw to them so she wouldn't have to relive it again.
Naru had tasked the others with their usual jobs. Monk and John took a few minutes before going about their business to confirm the places of activity with Masako. The idea was for John to bless them first with Monk being backup in case they triggered any activity.
"Hey, how is that girl doing? The one your church took in?" Monk asked. They were doing a quick patrol of the first floor in between blessings.
"I haven't been able to find time to call over. She seemed to be alright when Masako and I left though. Her new parents should make it there today or tomorrow," John explained.
"That's good," Monk said. They entered the dining room. He kept quiet as he watched John perform his blessing. He remained tense, almost expecting the spirit to do something.
He didn't quite relax when John was done. They left the room in silence.
"You're unusually quiet. Normally you'd be talking about your bandmates or your next gig," John commented.
"This place gives me a bad feeling. It's never a good sign when Shounen gets hurt," Monk said.
"We've had plenty of cases where everything was fine," John reasoned.
Monk grimaced. "I suppose."
"It has been more active than we typically see though," John continued thoughtfully.
"Don't remind me," Monk said gruffly. "I don't wanna think about what's already happened."
"It's part of the pattern Kazuya-san mentioned to us though. The spirit goes after anyone first."
"That's not very comforting, John."
John shrugged. He took a few minutes to bless the play room before they continued.
"We just have to be prepared for whatever might happen," John said optimistically.
"You make it sound so easy," Monk said unamused.
He laughed to himself. "I suppose it does sound easier than it is."
They trudged up the stairs to the second floor. Stepping out into the hall, they could see two kids coloring on the floor in one of the bedrooms. Monk tried to smile at the sight, but couldn't manage it. He just thought about what danger they could end up in.
He was brought back to reality when a handful of tapes was waved in front of his face.
"Earth to Housho! I bet you didn't hear anything I just said," Ayako said frowning.
"What was that? I don't think you were quite loud enough the first time."
"Naru wants fresh tapes in the third floor cameras. He won't let Mai out of the base on her own yet and you two are heading their now," she explained, ignoring his jab.
Monk weighed his options of how to reply. "But you're holding them and you had to pass the stairs."
Ayako glared at him. "Naru wants you and John to do it. If anything happens again, he wants you two to be there. Oh, and try to open the attic."
Monk sighed and snatched the tapes from her hand. "Let's go, John," he said, resigned.
They trudged up the stairs. Skipping over the camera focused on the stairs, they went to the end of the hall where the other camera was. Monk made quick work of putting in the new tape and pocketing the old one.
He looked up to see John had wandered down the hall to look up at the square in the ceiling.
"I suppose that's it," Monk said as he walked down the hall to stand next to him.
"Only thing that looks like it could be an attic," John agreed.
Monk reached up for the short pull cord that was hanging down. He tugged lightly at first, but it didn't move. He tried pulling a little harder. It came loose and started to drop.
He eased it down to find a folded-up ladder. Taking hold of one of the rungs, he unfolded it and set the bottom of it on the floor.
"Doesn't look like anything is happening," Monk said cautiously. He eyed the hole in the ceiling warily.
"Should we take a look?" John asked.
"Yeah, probably." Monk reluctantly climbed the ladder and poked his head into the attic. Despite the fact it wasn't quite night yet, the attic was pitch black except for the few feet around the door where the light reached. Monk was sure he had seen windows for the attic when they were outside.
"Did you bring a light, John?" Monk called down.
"I didn't anticipate needing one. We were only going to do blessings," John answered from below. "What can you see?"
"Not much. Looks like no one has been up here in a while. Lots of dust everywhere," Monk answered. He came back down the ladder to stand next to John. "We should come back later with flashlights and more people."
"Do you think something might be up there?" John asked.
"If the rest of that space is as cluttered with boxes as that small area I saw, we're gonna need a lot of hands and eyes to go through it all to find out," Monk said. He folded up the ladder and tucked it all back into the ceiling.
"Not quite what I meant," John said with a laugh.
"Come on, you know I can't feel anything," Monk complained.
"I know that," John laughed.
"It did seem unnaturally dark though. But it's an attic. I don't know. I'd feel better with more people there."
"Higher chance of the spirit doing something then," John pointed out.
"I thought you were supposed to be the optimist," Monk commented dryly. John just laughed to himself.
John quickly blessed the area. They walked back down the hallway to put a fresh tape in the camera at the top of the stairs.
"We just lost the camera where you two are," Lin said through the radio John had been carrying. "Temperature started to drop right before. Watch out."
"Well, this isn't good," Monk stated.
John shivered as he felt a cold breeze rush by him. It was distinctly not coming from the direction of the window behind him.
"We'd have a better chance at attempting to fight rather than running. He's shown he is resourceful," John said.
Monk was in position seconds later. He was about to start chanting when John stumbled. He spun around towards the wall to see if the spirit manifested behind him. Nothing was there.
Things seemed to slow as Monk watched John start to topple backwards towards the stairs. The back of his shirt was pulled taut, as if someone was trying to pull him down the stairs.
Monk lunged forward and grabbed John's arm. He tried to pull him away from the stairs, but he couldn't pull hard enough to move him. John could feel it too as he tried to use Monk as leverage to pull himself away from the top stair.
Monk motioned for the radio. John fumbled with it, and almost dropped it, before it was safely in Monk's hand. "Lin, we need backup. If I let go, John is gonna get hurt."
They didn't get a verbal response. Instead, they could hear the slam of the door to the base. Moments later, Monk saw Lin stop at the bottom of the stairs and whistled.
The next moment, Monk and John were falling to the floor. John hit the floor with a groan as the wind was briefly knocked out of him. Monk stayed on his back to catch up with what just happened.
"Are you two alright?" Lin asked as he cautiously climbed the stairs.
"We could be worse off. Thanks for the help," Monk said.
"Thought I was a goner there," John said. He had managed to sit up.
"If you were going, I'd be right behind you down those stairs," Monk said dryly.
"I don't know whether to thank you for that or tell you off."
"Thank me. Ayako will do more than enough yelling for everyone."
"It'll be safer to gather yourselves at base," Lin commented.
They cautiously followed Lin down the stairs. They didn't relax until they were in the base with the others. Mai got up from her chair next to Naru to meet them, worried, but also glad they were okay.
"Come on, Mai. We're fine," Monk insisted. He ignored the glare he was receiving from Ayako and found Yasu sitting on the sofa. "Shounen! You're awake!"
"Yes, but not so loud. My head is killing me still," he answered with a wry smile.
Zoe shuffled into the room a few minutes later with a stack of papers in her arms. She nearly dropped them in elation at seeing Yasu awake. She dropped the papers on the table instead to gather him in a hug.
"Careful, I just told them my head still hurts," he said.
"But you're alright otherwise?" she asked as she backed away enough to look him over herself.
"Ayako already looked me over. I'm fine. What did you find?" He nodded to the abandoned papers.
Her face fell at the mention of them. "It wasn't as much as I was hoping to find." She crossed back to the table to sift through the stack of papers. Rather than taking a seat on a chair, she hopped up to sit on the table.
"But you have something," Naru stated.
"Well, I was told at the library that any records of residence before a certain year are more likely to be on location somewhere. What I managed to find is newspaper articles from a regional paper going back since this place became an orphanage," she explained.
"How bad could that be?" Ayako asked.
"Bad. Really bad." She took the first page off the stack. "Death, presumed murder. Boy, age 8." She flipped a page. "Girl, age 11." Another page. "Boy, age 10."
"When did this happen?" Monk dared to ask.
"From about 1903 to 1910. Or, uh, from about Meiji 36 to about Meiji 43?" She glanced at Yasu who gave a nod. "Anyway, every few months was another. They didn't know who or what was killing the children until a staff member was murdered. The police determined that was done by one of the orphans living here. Souta."
"You sound sure he's the one," Naru stated.
"Every murder was accompanied by a bloody handprint somewhere near the body. Each one had their throat cut. It's the same pattern. It was his MO. He said as much himself, according to this." She held out a packet of papers for Naru to take.
No one said anything as Zoe shuffled more papers around.
"I took some time to consult with any of the previous staff who were still alive and willing to chat. It wasn't many. The one at the top of the list though, Togawa-san, was at least able to confirm the pattern. She said it happened with increasing frequency when she ran the place."
"What made it stop?" Yasu asked.
"Increased efficiency in the adoption process. The sooner the children went home, the less likely they were to be threatened that way."
"Is there any mention of motive?" Naru pressed.
"Nothing. He simply admitted to all the murders, but refused to say why. He was given the death penalty at eighteen," Zoe said. She grimaced. "I suppose this wasn't the best discussion to have right before dinner."
"Nah, if anything it's better," Monk said in an attempt to joke. "Lessens the appetite and there's nothing to upset."
There were a couple small laughs around the room. Silence reigned until they slowly filed out to find something to eat.
I really don't remember what I was thinking when I came up with this case. Hope y'all still enjoy anyway.
Difficult situation is shown for a kid in this one.
Mai had fallen asleep easily enough. She had expected the things she had discovered would haunt her, but the events of the day were sufficiently exhausting that they didn't keep her awake.
Still, she ended up in a memory. She frowned to herself when she couldn't move freely, but settled in anyway.
She was holed up in a room. The walls were bare and there was just a bed, a desk, and a closet furnishing the room. The person was sitting on their bed blankly.
The person didn't move as heavy footfalls were heard getting closer. They stopped outside the door moments before it was flung open, slamming against the wall.
An older man was standing in the doorway, face red and splotchy. His breath was heaving from his chest as if it had been difficult for him to get there.
"What th' hell do ya do all day that nothin' was done?" he yelled, his words slurring a little.
There was no response.
"Answer me, boy!"
"I had schoolwork to do." The response was flat. It made it sound like he knew it wasn't a sufficient answer, that it was pointless. The voice she heard sounded like that of a small boy.
"Shouldn' take ya all damn day!"
"It's hard for me."
The man stormed over and pulled him to his feet by the front of his shirt, making him look the man in the face. "An' how are ya gonna make it through school later? Useless." He roughly threw the boy hard enough to collide with the wall. The boy let himself sink to the floor.
"Can't ev'n manage t'do a few simple chores. Make my life a bit easier."
"If I could just get help from a tutor, I'll have more time for chores."
The man turned back around. "No grandson of mine will get help at school!" he roared.
The boy didn't even flinch.
"You will stay up to do your chores until every single one is done!"
"But if I don't sleep--"
He was silenced with a kick to his side and muffled his cry of pain. It wasn't hard enough to break anything, but it would bruise. The man stormed out of the room, not bothering to close the door.
Mai was roughly brought back to consciousness seconds later to a view of a very worried Ayako.
"What? I was sleeping?" Mai complained. She looked around to see most of the team in the room. "What's going on?"
Then she looked down.
A red, glossy handprint was on her blanket.
She shook her head as she sat up and tried to get as far away from it as she could, her body quickly turning cold.
"Mai! Mai, you're alright."
She turned to see Naru on her other side, almost mirroring Ayako. She calmed down as she realized there was no immediate danger.
"What happened?" Mai asked quietly.
"There was a loud bang that woke me up," Ayako said. "I looked over and it was just there. I tried to wake you, but nothing worked. I woke up Masako and Zoe to go get help."
Masako came back with John and a cup of tea. Mai started to sit up when she winced in pain.
"Mai? What's wrong?" Ayako asked.
"I don't know. My side and my back hurt a bit. Maybe I slept bad," she answered.
Ayako looked up at the others. She accepted the tea from Masako and set it aside for later. "Everyone out. I'm looking her over. Zoe, you can stay. If it's not too bad, you might be able to help."
There was shuffling as the others left the room.
"That means you too, Naru."
"I'm not leaving."
Ayako stared at him hard. His jaw was visibly clenched as he stared her down. "At least let the girl have some privacy."
Naru relented and stood to cross the room with his back facing them.
"Okay, Mai, you said it was your side and your back?" Ayako asked.
"Yeah, my left side," Mai confirmed.
Ayako carefully rolled up Mai's shirt. A large spot was already turning red and purple on her skin. "How did you get this, Mai? This doesn't look like you slept bad. It looks fresh too."
"I don't know. I was fine when I went to sleep."
"Did you have a dream?" Naru asked from where he stood, but didn't turn around.
"I did. I saw it from someone's point of view," she answered. "Sorry I didn't mention it sooner."
"You have nothing to be sorry about, Mai. There were other things we were all thinking about," Zoe said placatingly. She knelt down next to Ayako to take a look.
"I'm gonna check your back too, alright?" Ayako said.
Mai nodded and let Ayako take her shirt. She accepted the extra blanket Zoe held out to her to cover her front.
Ayako took a sharp intake of breath. "I'm gonna poke a few places. You need to tell me if it hurts."
Mai nodded mutely. The first few didn't bother her. She winced sharply as Ayako continued towards the middle of her back.
"I know, Mai. I'm trying to be as quick as I can," Ayako said in an attempt to soothe her.
Finally, Ayako handed back her shirt. Mai gratefully put it back on.
"It doesn't appear serious. Just normal bruises."
"Zoe, check them," Naru commanded.
With a grimace, Zoe inched forward and put her hand on Mai's side. Her brow furrowed as she concentrated on the bruise.
"It feels easier to heal somehow? I'm not sure how to describe what I'm feeling," she said.
"Mai, tell us about what you saw," Naru continued.
She picked up the cup that had been nearly forgotten. "I was seeing it through someone. They were in a bedroom. It was pretty empty. A man came in. His grandfather. He was drunk and angry," Mai said, staring at the blanket in front of her. She took a sip of the cool tea and grimaced.
"Did he do anything?" Zoe asked hesitantly.
Mai nodded. "He was upset that the chores weren't done, so he slammed him against a wall. He suggested he might need tutoring at school too and it made the grandfather even angrier. He tried to explain himself and that's when his grandfather kicked him."
The room was silent for a few moments.
"I'll have to discuss this with Lin," Naru stated. He had turned around at some point with a guarded expression. "Mai, your abilities may be getting stronger."
"If those bruises came from a dream, it would explain why they feel different to heal," Zoe agreed.
"Can you lay down alright, Mai?" Ayako asked. "If you think you'll be alright, we can see what they're like in the morning."
Mai nodded, but didn't move. "I don't think I want to go back to sleep."
"You can make some tea then," Naru said.
Ayako shot him a glare. "You're gonna send her off alone?!"
Naru returned her glare. "Of course not."
"Ah, it's fine. I can just stay here," Mai said.
"Tea," Naru stated, "and you will stay in base with me. I won't be going back to sleep either." His tone left no room for anyone to say otherwise. He crossed the room and didn't look back to see if Mai was following. She hurried to stand and went after him so she wouldn't be left too far behind.
It was quiet in the kitchen while Mai worked. Naru stayed nearby and watched her.
"Are you sure it's my abilities and not just something else?" Mai asked. Her voice was stronger than she expected.
"I don't see what else it could be, Mai," Naru said bluntly.
"But maybe I had been sleepwalking or something." She gripped the edge of the counter as if it was a lifeline.
Naru sighed, but his tone wasn't cold when he spoke. "Mai, you remember how your astral projection works?"
"Of course I do. It's my soul temporarily leaving my body."
"Yes. It allows you to see the things you do, past and present. But there's always the risk."
"Yes, yes. That I could get stuck there and all that. What's your point, Naru?"
Naru raised an eyebrow at her. "My point is that, in cases of stronger abilities, injuries you experience while astral projecting can transfer to your physical body. I have text on the phenomenon if you don't believe me."
"No, I believe you," Mai said, defeated. Her grip on the counter loosened. She tried to compose her thoughts as she finished working on the tea. "I just don't want all of that. If that's what I'm facing, I don't want to worry about going to sleep every night."
Naru let her lead the way up to the base. He didn't sit in front of the monitors right away. Instead, he studied her with his arms folded in front of him.
"I can put you in contact with someone at BSPR who could teach you ways to protect yourself. She isn't as strong with astral projection, but she can teach you ways to prevent you getting hurt," Naru said.
"I don't have time to go to England, Naru. The next semester is gonna be starting soon. I can't just pick up and travel."
Naru sighed. "I'm not asking you to travel. Nor can she come here. Until one of you can go, you can hold correspondence through email or the landline at the office."
"And probably take the money for the long distance calls out of my paycheck," Mai grumbled. She poured two cups of tea before dropping into one of the chairs in front of the monitors.
"I won't. I'll pay whatever I have to if it means you'll be safer."
Mai was glad she wasn't facing him in that moment. She was sure her expression was sufficiently embarrassing as she tried to process what he just said. She couldn't be entirely sure she hadn't made it up as part of some long forgotten fantasy.
Slowly, when she was more composed, she turned in her seat. "What did you say?" she asked.
He didn't meet her eyes. "You know I don't repeat myself, Mai."
Mai turned back around. As far as she could tell, that was confirmation she had heard him right.
Mai blinked awake. She didn't remember falling asleep again, but she was leaning on the table and using her arms as a pillow.
"No dreams?" Naru asked from her right.
She picked her head up and stretched. "None, but I'm a bit stiff."
"That's what happens when you sleep on a table."
Mai sighed as she stood and started to cross the room to the door.
"Where do you think you're going?" Naru asked sternly.
"I'm not gonna go investigate in my pajamas. I'm just going to the bedroom," Mai stated. She turned in time to see him standing as well.
"I don't know if you've simply forgotten or if you're not actually thinking, but you've been targeted. You're not going alone."
Something about the entire situation made the fight leave her. She silently allowed him to follow her down the hall. He seemed to wait a few moments before she heard his retreating footsteps through the door.
"There you are, Mai," Ayako said. Mai turned to find her already dressed. She dropped what she was doing to walk over. "Did you get any more sleep?"
"Yeah, a little. I didn't see anything else," Mai said, trying her best to sound normal. Her eyes wandered to the futon she had been using to find the blanket gone.
"You should take it easy today," Ayako insisted. "Go get ready. You can help me with breakfast."
Mai nodded. She missed Ayako's frown as she got herself ready for the day.
Down in the dining room, it seemed everyone was still half asleep. There wasn't much said besides grumbles and complaints about being up. By the time they were done and in the base, they all seemed to be marginally more awake.
Naru stood with his arms crossed as they wandered in. He was quiet as he waited for everyone to get situated.
"I want a team to go into the attic," he stated.
"Naru-bou, that's gonna take forever for two people to go through," Monk complained.
"I can afford to send more than two. Even though Aomoto-san has narrowed down where the old records may be, it may still take a while to find them. More eyes will get it done sooner," Naru stated. "Thank you for volunteering to go."
Monk groaned and dropped his head back on the top of the sofa.
"John, Yasuhara, and Zoe, you will also be going," Naru continued.
"What if something happens somewhere else in the house?" Ayako asked.
"As long as we know where Mai is, we know where activity will be likely to happen."
"What if she went with us?" John asked. "What better way to keep her safe than to have her with us."
Naru seemed ready to immediately decline, but his gaze wandered to Mai briefly. "Fine. However should the slightest thing happen, you all get out."
"Alright, we'll need a bunch of flashlights. One for each of us, at least. It's really dark up there," Monk said.
"I think there's a stash of them somewhere," Zoe said. She got up and rummaged in a box.
"No, they're in the van," Yasu said knowingly.
"Are you sure?" Zoe asked over her shoulder. "I was certain we brought them in."
"They were left behind on one of the monitor shelves," he said confidently.
"Why would they be on a monitor shelf?"
"Hey, keep me out of this!" Monk exclaimed.
"I wouldn't dream of keeping you out of anything, my dear Bou-san." Yasu was grinning widely.
"Well you're obviously feeling better," Monk grumbled.
Mai giggled to herself as she watched them.
"It's always something with you," Ayako said, shaking her head at Monk.
"More like always giving me more work," Zoe complained. She took the van keys from Lin before leaving.
"I can't wait to see her reaction to the rest of how you left the van," Yasu commented.
"It was never a problem before," Monk defended weakly.
"Because no one bothered to call you out on it. I just couldn't bring myself to do that to you," Yasu said.
"You do get a bit defensive sometimes, Bou-san," Mai agreed.
"I do--" He cut himself off. "Point taken."
"What did you see when you looked in the attic before?" John asked to diffuse the discussion a bit.
"Well, it looked like no one had been up there in a while. The dust was thick and untouched. I couldn't see far though. It was like the darkness was dense and constricting?" He phrased it like a question as he tried to find the right words to describe it.
"Impenetrable?" Masako offered.
"Yeah, I guess. It was like the darkness was a thing itself."
The door opened abruptly as Zoe came back in the base with a box under one arm. "You're not allowed in the back of the van until you learn organizational skills. I don't understand how Ayako puts up with it." She held out a flashlight to him.
Monk didn't take it right away. "That's the bad one!"
"Glad you noticed! Deal with it."
Stifled snickers were heard around the room. Monk frowned, but took it anyway.
Zoe continued around the room, passing out more flashlights. "I found an electric lantern we can bring too."
Equipped with light, the five headed to the attic door. They stared at it for a few moments apprehensively.
"Someone's gonna have to open it," Yasu said.
"You can do the honors if you're so eager," Mai said. She had a feeling of dread just from looking at it.
Monk stepped forward and pulled the string. After unfolding the ladder and setting it on the floor, he stepped back again.
"Don't wanna go first?" Yasu asked.
"Not with a temperamental flashlight."
John flicked on his flashlight and held his hand out for the lantern. Zoe switched it on and handed it to him. He ascended the ladder until he disappeared into the darkness.
They all followed him up. They spread out and swept their lights around the space.
"You weren't kidding about this darkness," Yasu said. His previous joking demeanor had disappeared.
"There should be documents stored somewhere. As long as we stay close to each other, we should be alright," Zoe said.
At the direction, they began to sort through boxes while not straying far from each other. The only sound for a while was shuffling cardboard and creaking floorboards.
"They should probably go through these. I can't imagine these clothes and toys are usable anymore," Monk commented.
"They didn't really label anything either," Mai said.
"It kinda feels like they put things up here to forget about them," Yasu said thoughtfully.
"I should probably clean the church's attic later," John said sheepishly. A round of nervous laughter came from the others.
Slowly, they made their way further into the attic. They didn't find much of use as they worked. There was no sign of documents or anything.
They were still sifting when Ayako poked her head in to tell them lunch was ready. They climbed back over boxes to get to the ladder. There was a collective sigh of relief when they had closed the attic again.
"What have you found?" Naru asked when everyone was seated.
"Nothing of use," Zoe muttered.
"We haven't gotten far," Yasu said. "There's a lot to go through up there. Even with the five of us, it'll take a bit longer to find anything."
Naru frowned at the news, but didn't say anything else.
"I don't usually get only feelings, but it felt like something dark came over the building. I'm assuming that is when you opened the attic?" Masako asked.
"You too?" Mai asked surprised.
"You didn't mention anything, Mai," John said.
"This whole place has a feeling of unpleasantness. It wouldn't have really been anything new, so I thought it better not to say anything," Mai said sheepishly.
"Mai, if you were uncomfortable, you should have said something!" Ayako admonished.
"But I wanted to help! And I didn't feel it til we were at the door."
"What did you feel in the attic?" Naru asked, diverting everyone's attention.
Mai shrugged. "I suppose not really anything. Like a suggestion. It might have not been as strong because I don't remember feeling it after a while when we were busy."
"We've been here a while. Mai probably just got used to the feeling. I know I have," Zoe offered. Masako also nodded solemnly.
Naru frowned. "Don't get too used to it."
"It's normal to get desensitized to something so constant," Ayako defended them.
"If anything, it will actually be somewhat beneficial," Lin added. "They will be able to notice a change quickly."
Naru relented by staying quiet.
"Lin, do you think we could move a camera up to the attic?" Zoe asked, changing the conversation.
"I would have to look at the door. If it's too snug in the frame, we won't be able to run a cable and we can't leave it open."
"We could make a little notch for a cable in it," Monk suggested. "I'd feel better having one up there with us."
"We are not going to damage anything, no matter how little," Ayako reprimanded.
"At least someone is somewhat sensible," Naru commented.
The discussion devolved into arguments and laughter as they finished eating.
Guess I'm channeling Urado a little
The five climbed back into the attic after lunch. Lin had gone with them to determine the practicality of putting a camera up there, but quickly determined it would be unwise. Not only was there not enough room to fit a cable through it, there also was the problem of leaving it hanging in the middle of the hall with curious children around.
In the attic, they picked up where they left off. It was easy to find as there was a noticeable border between disturbed and untouched dust. It was mostly quiet as they worked. There was an occasional comment or a yelp upon Mai finding a cobweb with her face.
"Whoa," John said in awe at one point.
Monk walked over to stand next to him. John jumped to the side and almost fell, but Monk caught his arm and kept him upright.
"Didn't mean to scare you," Monk laughed.
"I didn't expect you to be there so quickly," John admitted.
Monk turned his attention to what John had found. "That's a lot of newspapers," Monk said.
The others wandered over to survey the find. Yasu picked up the top of one of the closest piles and shined a light on it. "They must have stopped collecting them a while ago. This one dates back about fifty years," he commented.
"It looks like they saved them every day for years," Mai said.
Zoe was looking over Yasu's shoulder at the paper. "Just every week. This isn't a daily paper."
Yasu hummed in agreement. "A town this small wouldn't be able to put out a daily paper, even as recent as these."
Zoe dropped her forehead to his shoulder. "It's gonna take forever to get to when we need."
"These aren't the ones you found before?" Yasu asked. He turned his head slightly to look at the top of her head.
"No, it was a daily paper that covered a much wider area. This is a local one. I don't remember it being at the library," she answered.
"We still have a few hours. What if we split the task?" John suggested. "Some of us keep searching elsewhere while the others go through the newspapers."
"Good idea," Monk agreed. "Yasu and Mai, stay here and try to find the years we need. The rest of us will keep searching for anything else that might be helpful."
They tried to keep the work fun by joking around as they searched, but the task felt more and more futile as the sun began to set. They grew quiet and anxious, but none of them felt able to break the quiet.
Some of the tension ebbed when Ayako called them to eat again. They all trudged to the door with nothing to show for their day of searching.
"I still wish we could get a camera up there," Zoe muttered as they headed for the dining room. "But we can't be changing batteries every hour."
"We'd probably get thermal readings too," Yasu lamented.
"We haven't been told of any activity coming from the attic though," Monk commented. "How can you be sure?"
"Why else would it feel so suffocatingly dark? He probably hides there since no one goes up there," Zoe answered.
Entering the dining room seemed to make them temporarily forget their discussion. Once they were done eating, they started discussing with everyone again.
"So you have nothing to show from the attic," Naru said accusingly.
"Not for lack of trying," Mai said defensively.
Yasu attempted to be more placating. "There are a lot of newspapers and they're not sorted at all. Mai and I have been trying to find any that could be relevant based on years. It's slow going though."
Naru seemed to accept that. "And the rest of the attic?"
"Is a mess," Monk complained. "Nothing is labeled and while some things are packed nicely, other things are haphazardly tossed about."
"We're about halfway through, but there's nothing useful so far," John offered.
"And the house has been quiet all day?" Zoe queried.
"Occasional fluctuations on the thermals. Measurements came up normal," Naru stated succinctly.
Mai excused herself to go make tea in the kitchen as Lin picked up the conversation.
"I took some time to analyze the details of the murders. It seemed he carried them out identically. There was no notable pattern for any variable criteria," he explained.
"He was methodical then," Monk said.
"But it doesn't tell us why he picked his victims," Naru said. His voice was distant. Mai figured he was trying to piece together the details.
She shivered as she stood at the stove, waiting for the water to heat. The kitchen got a little drafty if the wind was blowing outside, so she shrugged it off.
Mai shivered again before her vision was taken over by images she wasn't controlling. She heard children laughing. She saw moments of a boy being crowded into a corner by other kids, but no emotions on his face.
The same boy was sitting alone in what looked like the activity room they were using as their base and she heard kids whispering, but couldn't make out what they were saying.
The boy again, slightly older, fighting someone in the yard. He was clearly in control as he looked over the boy in front of him before feinting a punch to the front so he could make hard contact from the side. The punches came faster until the fight was broken up. The defender was lying in the grass, face bloodied. He would probably have bruises everywhere later.
An image of an open window above the still body of a child took over her vision. Blood had pooled around the body and there was a handprint on the wall. The child's own hand was covered in it.
Mai came back to the present to shouts of her name. She didn't remember falling to the floor. She sat up to find the tea kettle hovering over her. It was slowly tipping.
There was a thump to her right, but the island obscured her view. Before she could think to scramble backwards, there were hands pulling her up and back. More thumps were followed by Monk's mantras.
The hands helping her disappeared with a cold blast. She turned to find John sprawled across the floor.
Masako had shouted at her.
There was a flurry of more movement, but Mai couldn't keep up with the action. Monk's voice cut off abruptly before starting again.
Mai finally managed to get her bearings. Hot water covered the floor where she had been. Now, knives were levitating and pointed at her.
Monk got louder. Mai ran for the door. Before she could reach it, another hand grabbed her and pulled her down. She looked over to find Naru peering over the island countertop.
Monk ended his mantra with a final shout. There was nothing after except the sound of metal clattering on tile.
"Mai, what the hell was that?" Naru asked angrily. She was sure she saw the briefest amount of concern and fear flash in his eyes before he glared at her.
"I don't know," she answered honestly. Monk helped John up before going to help her too. "I think Souta wanted to answer our questions."
"Why do you think that, Mai?" John asked.
She tried not to think about Naru standing so close to her before continuing. "I think he was picked on a lot here. And excluded by the other kids. And then he was fighting a boy. He hit him really hard, like he really wanted to hurt him."
"His answer to bullying was to seriously hurt them?" Ayako's voice drifted to them from the dining room.
John led the way back to the others. Everyone sat back down around the table.
"Maybe he didn't know what he was doing?" Yasu asked.
Mai frowned. "I don't think that's it."
"So he knew, but he did it anyway," Ayako summarized.
"There was something else..." Mai started. Masako put a hand on her shoulder. "I saw a child...lying under an open window. There was a handprint on the wall. I don't think it was Souta's."
Everyone was silent as they took in the information.
"Mai, what happened after what you saw? You weren't reacting like you usually would," Naru said after a few moments.
Mai stared at the table. She was still a little numb from everything, but she tried to think about the incident.
"It felt different than when I usually see things," she began slowly.
"Different how?" Naru continued.
"I've had memories forced on me before, but this felt different. It was like a part of him wanted me to see the answer, but there was something else."
"Perhaps he wanted you to be distracted," Masako said.
"There might be something to that," Monk agreed seriously. "You looked really dazed, Mai."
"You would be too if you were standing one second and lying on the floor the next," Mai said defensively.
"You said it was different," Naru stated to get back on track.
Mai calmed down. "It wasn't like a full memory. The sounds I heard didn't exactly match up with what I saw."
"What did you hear?"
"First it was kids laughing, but not a fun kind of laughter. And then they were whispering in a way that sounded gossipy."
"Gossipy?" Naru asked unamused.
"I don't know how else to describe it!"
"I think I know what you mean, Mai," Ayako cut in. "It's like it's loud enough to be conspicuous."
"Conspiratorial?" Yasu offered.
"Show off," Mai muttered. "But yeah."
"And the fight?" Naru continued.
Mai looked at the table as she tried to remember it. "I think I was more focused on what was happening to hear anything."
"If he wanted to show her the answers, why would he attack her then?" Monk asked.
"We had been discussing what his reasons could have been. It may have just been that was the easiest thing for him to conjure for her," Masako said. "As for the unusual presentation, he likely didn't have time to properly put it together. It merely presented as an opportunity to attempt to hurt her."
"You seem rather sure," Ayako commented skeptically.
"I discussed it with another medium years ago." Masako turned away haughtily.
"That is an odd form of sentience," Lin commented. "It's difficult to research and document."
"I think there is merit to what Masako said though. Even coming down to them not having enough energy to manifest, which obviously wasn't the case here, it likely takes time to put something cohesive together," Zoe affirmed.
"So he wanted to attack Mai-chan," Yasu said.
"The door was stuck and he was manipulating things in the kitchen. She has chased him off before and knows she can be a threat to him. This doesn't seem like a spirit calling for help," Naru said.
"So what happens now?" Mai asked hesitantly.
Naru looked over at her. "You're sleeping in the base tonight where someone can keep an eye on you."
Mai struggled for a while with the thought of going to sleep and experiencing another vision. Ayako and Monk did their best to reassure her, but it didn't help much. She managed to at least somewhat ease their worry to get them to go to bed themselves.
Naru had dismissed Lin not long ago, leaving just himself and Mai in the base. After fiddling with her blanket for a while, she sat in front of the monitors next to Naru.
"Mai, you're supposed to be sleeping," Naru stated.
"It's only one in the morning. I tried, but I couldn't fall asleep," Mai admitted.
"Couldn't or don't want to?"
"As if that matters."
"Not counting the fact you need to be asleep to receive proper dreams, you need more sleep than most of us to be rested. And you haven't had difficulty falling asleep before."
"Yeah, well, sometimes I stay up late to study. I can stay awake if I want."
"And I'm sure you're even more irritable in the mornings when you do that."
"And you don't need to be woken up to be that way. You just are."
Naru sighed. "You make it very hard to be serious."
"Never stopped you before."
"I can only assume your defensiveness is to try to take away from the fact you don't want to sleep."
Mai stared at the monitors and stayed quiet.
"Mai, you had a difficult day. If anyone needs proper rest, it's you."
She was still quiet. Naru sighed quietly, figuring he was getting the silent treatment.
"I'm scared," she said softly.
He looked over to find her staring at her hands. She briefly looked in his direction before looking forward again.
"People are at their most vulnerable in their sleep and I suppose that means even more for me. Up until that last dream, I felt comfortable with using my astral projection. But now I don't feel okay using it if I'll get hurt in my sleep."
"That's why I want you to learn from others. It won't be immediate. It will take time. I know how impatient you can be. With help, you should be able to astral project better and safer than before."
"That makes it sound like there's something wrong with it now."
Naru audibly sighed. "You have Gene. He won't let anything happen to your spirit."
"That doesn't help the physical me. He can't do anything about that."
But I can, Naru wanted to say. "Do you know meditation techniques?"
"To help you sleep," Naru stated bluntly.
Mai pouted. "I don't need to sleep."
"Mai, I'm not going to argue about this all night. You're going to sleep and I will be here if anything happens." His words came out more forcefully than he intended.
Hearing how serious he was, Mai nodded. "I haven't gotten the chance to do meditation properly," she admitted.
Naru stood and crossed to the sofa. He turned to find Mai hadn't moved. He gave her a look with a silent question until she got up to join him. He indicated for her to lie down and sat on the floor next to her.
"I'm going to talk you through relaxing from your feet to your head."
Mai abruptly sat up. "But that's like how I projected during the forgotten children case!"
"Mai, lay down." He tried to sound less terse. "Your intent will be different from that. As long as you know your goal is to sleep, it'll help sleep come easier. Start by relaxing your feet and toes."
Mai did as he instructed. She felt a calm tiredness slowly coming over her as she listened to him. She thought she mumbled something before falling properly asleep.
By the time she turned up on the astral plane, she got the feeling that some time had passed. She sighed, resigned to her fate.
"I didn't think you'd make it tonight," Gene said, appearing beside her.
"I didn't want to," Mai admitted. "After the last one, I don't want to get hurt from my dreams again. You wouldn't happen to have anything that could help me, would you?"
Gene smiled sadly. "I'm sorry. My current state doesn't allow for much more than what I usually do. I can't even always pull your spirit out anymore."
Mai sighed. "It's alright. Everyone is doing what they can. Naru wants me to talk with somebody about my abilities. He says she should be able to help me."
"Hmm," Gene hummed thoughtfully. "If that's who I think it is, she should be able to help you quite a lot."
"That's about what Naru said too. But we don't know how long it'll take to help. And it doesn't even sound like it'll prevent any injuries."
"Some smaller ones maybe, but I believe it's very difficult to keep all of it at bay. Not that you shouldn't try, of course. Why don't we try something basic? There's another memory for you to see that we can try it on."
Mai looked at him apprehensively, but nodded. "I suppose I can't just ignore this. What do I do?"
Gene faced her fully. "I want you to try to center yourself. Like you're trying to deliberately astral project, but not really."
"How does that make sense when I already am?" Mai asked, trying to fight back a laugh.
"It should make you more aware of yourself and your emotions. It'll help you determine where your emotions end and where those of the person you inhabit begin."
"So kinda like the meditation Naru just showed me to help me sleep?"
Gene smirked. "Yes, it's similar to that. It's a lot to do with your intention." He paused as Mai closed her eyes. "When you're ready, reach for the memory."
Mai took slow deep breaths as she settled herself. A growing calm seemed to gradually flow over her. Without opening her eyes, she reached out to where she sensed the ball of light was floating. She knew before she opened her eyes that she was seeing a memory.
She stumbled through a door. The sitting room she was in was small and relatively clean save for a pile of clothes and other belongings.
A small woman emerged from a hallway to see the commotion. She had more items in her hands that she added to the pile.
"Where have you been? Got in another fight, did you? And how do you expect to do your homework with no books?"
Somehow, Mai could tell that despite her words of supposed concern, she didn't mean them kindly.
"Suppose it wouldn't do much good anyway if you had those books. No matter what anyone does, you're barely passing."
"What are you doing with my stuff?"
"Until you can bring your grades up, you will ask me for anything."
Mai felt anger boiling up inside her that wasn't her own.
"If I could just have a tutor," the boy's voice seethed.
The woman crossed the room and backhanded him across the face hard enough to turn his head. "How dare you use that tone with me after I so generously opened my home to you. It's no wonder why my brother got rid of you."
Mai was shocked at the impact, though it reminded her to try to distance herself from the memory. She almost managed to separate herself before she was sucked back in as the boy charged the woman.
The woman let out a cry of surprise when her back collided with the wall behind her. The boy's hands closed around her neck and stayed there. She tried to push him off.
Mai tried again to separate herself. The anger threatened to overpower everything.
She managed to keep herself separated emotionally from the boy, but she could still feel what he felt.
"They come after me because I don't know anything! They don't do that to the others who get help!"
Her struggling grew weaker as he kept her pinned to the wall. Minutes passed and she finally grew still. He released her and she fell to the floor in a heap. He stared at his hands and Mai felt waves of euphoria wash over her that scared her more than anything else.
She closed her eyes and shook her head. She heard someone calling to her and chased the sound. When she opened her eyes, she was awake again. Naru was with her. She threw her arms around him and almost expected him to throw her off, but he kept her there.
She shook as sobs tried to take over. "He killed his aunt. He killed her and he wasn't upset about it. I couldn't get away from his emotions."
"Mai, it's alright. You're awake now," Naru said.
"I can still feel it," Mai said tearfully. She could feel hysteria wanting to overtake her.
"Mai," Naru called. She didn't seem to hear him. "Mai, who am I?" he tried.
After a few seconds, her breathing began to slow slightly. "Naru," she answered weakly.
"That's right. Good. And where are we?"
Mai cautiously opened her eyes, almost expecting to still see the small living room. She calmed a little more as she recognized their surroundings.
"We're in the base. At the orphanage."
"Good. Very good, Mai. What are you feeling?"
She was quiet for a moment. "I'm scared."
"Of what, Mai?" His tone wasn't condescending. He sounded like he genuinely wanted to know.
She found it comforting enough to continue. "I'm scared of him and what he felt. I'm scared of what he can do. And I'm scared of going back to sleep."
"What he felt isn't what you feel," Naru said calmly. "I won't let anything happen."
When everyone was awake and gathered in the base, they all had the same question, but no one dared to ask it.
Mai and Naru were sitting quietly in front of the monitors with a pot of tea between them.
No one could think of anything to say about it. Naru seemed to expect them to make a comment. He turned around to look at them.
"Finish going through the attic. Hara-san and Matsuzaki-san, determine where he resides most often," Naru ordered. Lin silently pulled up a chair on the other side of Naru.
"Do you need us to do the temperatures again?" Ayako asked.
"No, I'll handle it." He turned back to the monitors, effectively ending any discussions.
"Well, let's get breakfast first," Monk said as he ushered everyone out.
"What do you think happened?" Yasu asked.
"I think you might be looking too much into it," John reasoned.
"She didn't even turn around though," Yasu pressed. "Something must have happened overnight."
"It's possible she was sleeping sitting up," Ayako said.
"She'd be slumped on the table if she was asleep," Monk stated. "You've shared a room enough that you should know she wouldn't be able to sit up like that while asleep."
"She probably saw something bad and we'll get filled in later," Zoe said.
"Mai does get a bit reserved sometimes after the darker visions," Yasu agreed.
"If we give her time, she'll come back around," Masako said definitively.
"Let's just eat for now and worry about it later. Mai is with Naru and Lin. She'll be alright," Monk said in an attempt to lighten the mood.
"This place is no better than yesterday," Yasu commented sullenly. The attic was just as dark as the previous day.
"You expected it to be?" Monk asked.
Yasu shrugged. "Maybe he'd surprise us and give us a little space."
"How should we split up?" John asked, getting them on track.
"You and Shounen can continue looking through the newspapers. Zoe-chan and I will work through the rest of this mess," Monk advised.
"Bold of you to assume we'll find anything in all of this," Zoe said, looking dully out over the piles of boxes.
"Naru-bou would say we need to be thorough," Monk reminded her.
"I'd say that too. I just don't like it," Zoe agreed. She started picking her way through the boxes, flashlight guiding the way.
"I hope you know I'm not climbing back there if something falls on you," Bou-san said as he started on the other side.
"Of course you won't, you're probably too old to climb back there," Yasu quipped.
"I'm going to imagine you didn't just say that."
They searched in silence with just the rustle of newspaper to break up the monotony.
"Aha!" Monk shouted triumphantly from somewhere in the depths of the attic.
There was a shuffling, followed by a disgusted noise, and then a series of thuds.
"Zoe, are you alright over there?" Monk called.
"No, I'm not bloody alright when you make a sound like that and I half expect something to have happened and then get a face full of cobwebs for my efforts," she ranted in irritation.
Yasu left the newspapers to help dig her out of the boxes. John went to see what Monk had found.
"Is that the records we heard about?" John asked as he got a look at the book Monk was holding.
"Looks like it. Names and dates and all that," Monk said. He paged through as everyone crowded around.
"Are there more or did they only have one book?" Zoe asked.
"Let me look," Monk said. He held out the book he was holding.
Yasu took it from him and carefully looked over the cover and spine. "This spans three years if the dates are to be believed," he commented, shining his flashlight on the numbers.
Monk stood back up with a few more similar looking books. "These are probably the ones we'd need then," he said.
"They must have had a lot of kids come through," John said.
"It looks like they just used standard ledger-style books. They listed names, ages, amount of education, a reason for why they were here, and anything else deemed important. Allergies are a common one. All that takes up some space." Yasu didn't look up as he paged through the book.
"Knowing all of that would help them better take care of the kids," John said nodding.
"We should keep the books we need separate from the others," Zoe said.
"I'll watch them," Yasu offered. "I think we're getting close to useful newspapers too."
"Great. Maybe we can help with that," Monk said.
"We could still find something else if we keep searching boxes," Zoe reminded him.
"Aw, come on. We've been going through this stuff for a day and a half."
"A little more won't hurt."
Monk sighed as he followed her deeper into the attic.
After a little while, Yasu called out to them. "I think I found one."
"What's it say?" Monk called back.
"Well, there's a headline about the trial, but it's not on the frontpage," Yasu answered.
"Keep it off to the side and keeping looking. I want as much as we can find," Zoe instructed.
"How far should we go back?" John asked.
"At least a couple years. More if there's time. We'll take them with us so don't worry about going through them thoroughly yet," Zoe answered. She frowned into the box she had opened, finding nothing of use and carrying on to the next one.
"I think you like making more work for everyone," Monk accused lightly.
"It's more work for me too. I don't see why you're complaining," she shot back.
He shrugged and grinned. The grin vanished when he tripped on a box and almost hit the floor.
"This is why you should watch where you're going, Bou-san," Zoe laughed.
"Says the one who walked into a cobweb," Monk returned. "What did I kick?"
"I couldn't tell."
Zoe was kneeling next to the box Monk's foot had found. The lid was slightly dislodged.
"It's not like the other boxes," Monk commented. "And was kinda hidden. How'd I even kick it?"
Cautiously, Zoe lifted the lid. Inside was a stack of papers. Drawings.
"Oh no. I think I'm gonna be sick," Zoe said, but couldn't bring herself to put the lid back on.
The drawing on top was a detailed drawing in dark pencil of a young girl. She was lying on the ground with her eyes wide open and a gash across her neck. There was the outline of a puddle around her.
A swirl of dust blew up around them. Coughing, Zoe slammed the lid back on. Monk grabbed the box and they started to hurry back towards the others and the door.
"Grab the stuff. We need to leave!" Monk shouted.
Yasu hurriedly gathered up everything they had managed to separate and followed them to the door.
They stopped when they heard a thud and turned back. John was sprawled on the floor. The dust swirling around him.
"Give me everything!" Zoe commanded. "I'll get it out. Go help him!"
Monk practically threw the box at her. She disappeared momentarily before coming back for the books and newspapers. She shoved Yasu after him once she had everything.
She stood on the ladder as she watched them haul John to his feet and run for the door. She dropped down to the landing to wait for them.
John was all but falling down the ladder moments later.
Zoe steadied him as she waited for the other two. She wanted to berate them for taking so long, but couldn't find her voice.
Finally, Monk appeared on the ladder, followed by Yasu. He was almost on the floor when the ladder quickly flipped up on itself, sending Yasu flying forward. Between John and Monk, they managed to catch him before he collided with the floor.
The door to the attic slammed shut. The windows rattled in their frames. The four of them barely got to catch their breath before they heard a scream echo through the house.
"Mai!" Monk said.
"You two go. You'll be more help. We'll make sure the others are safe," Zoe said, pushing them towards the stairs.
That was all Monk and John needed to start running.
Naru had ushered Mai out of the base shortly after the others had left to go up to the attic. Thermometer and clipboard in hand, Mai led the way around the common areas.
While Mai was thankful the kids were out of the house, she found it far too quiet to be comfortable.
"I don't think Matsuzaki-san would appreciate picking splinters out of your fingers."
Naru's voice startled her back to attention. She looked down at the thermometer to see it had been trying to tell her the reading. Her pencil was still in tact, but she was holding it like she wanted to snap it in two.
She laughed humorlessly. "I guess I just kinda zoned out."
Naru studied her before replying. "You can go back if that would make you feel better." His tone was gentler than she would have expected.
"No, I'm alright. I want to still help."
"Well, the temperatures won't take themselves."
Mai smiled to herself as she continued, glad to hear him back to normal. She continued to take her time to thoroughly check over the play room. She nodded to herself as she looked over the readings on her clipboard. They were all close enough to baseline to not be a concern.
She headed for the door, but turned back when she didn't hear Naru following her. She looked back to see him staring at the shelves.
"Naru? I'm done. Aren't you coming?" Mai asked.
He looked over at her before looking at the shelves one more time. He followed her out and across the hall to the dining room.
"You know, it's not very like you to stare into space like that," Mai said with a small laugh.
"You're right. That's more your thing," Naru replied.
Choosing to ignore the jab, she continued. "Is something on your mind then?"
"We're on a case, Mai. There should be nothing else to think about except the case."
"Yeah, well, it's still not like you to be out of it like that. What if something happened?"
Naru stared hard at her. "I would greatly prefer you don't insinuate such things."
"Then what was on your mind?" Mai said, trying to bargain for his thoughts.
He turned to look at the cupboards with a grimace. "He hasn't attacked in the same place twice. Every incident has been unique."
"Has it? There have been so many, I guess I lost track," Mai said.
"I wouldn't expect you to notice," Naru said, but there was no bite to his words.
"Hey, a lot has happened since we got here! It's not my fault if I don't know."
"I've kept a notated plan in the base. Not to mention there is the digital version. Both are available for anyone to examine."
Mai frowned as she kept working, deliberately turning away from him. "I hadn't heard of those."
She missed the slightly shocked expression on Naru's face.
"My apologies. I thought I had made it clear to everyone."
"It feels like we've been a step behind ever since we got here."
"It was abrupt. We had to react fast. It's not my optimal way to take a case, but we couldn't risk another child being targeted without us being here."
Mai smiled to herself. Naru almost sounded human. He followed her into the kitchen.
"So it looks like he can go wherever he wants in the house," Mai commented.
"That's not unnatural. The problem is he doesn't seem to frequent one place over any others. Nowhere that he goes back to."
"Well, what about the attic? If we consider the picture frame incident, he was trying to keep us out then."
Naru stood in thought for a moment. "There could be...some merit to that. Or he was protecting something up there."
Mai nodded. Neither statement caused her to doubt them as possibilities. She took a breath to refocus when she smelled something off. She turned to try and find the source, but it was gone before she could properly search.
"Mai? What is it?" Naru asked.
"I thought I smelled something. Something...metallic-y."
"Yes, that's very descriptive," Naru drawled.
"It was only for a moment. It was gone as soon as I turned around," Mai said, irritated.
Naru was looking in the direction Mai thought the smell had come from when she turned back around. She did her best to not think about it as she continued working.
They were quiet as Mai finished checking over the kitchen. They went out into the front entry. Mai stopped when she smelled it again.
She looked around the area. "It smells like..." Her vision went red for a moment. "Blood." She held the clipboard close to her chest as she shivered. "And that feeling like I need to hide."
"The residual one Hara-san mentioned?"
"Where is the smell coming from?" Naru pressed.
Mai shook her head. "I can't tell. It's already gone again. But it didn't really come from anywhere. It was just here."
She looked over at Naru to find him watching her. His mouth was a thin line as he studied her face. She wasn't sure if he found what he was looking for. He guided her towards the last room they needed to check.
With a deep breath, she followed Naru through the door. Inside, the room looked just as it had all the other times she had been in it. Somehow, it seemed too still and quiet.
Mai kept looking at the shelves along the wall as she worked. "Naru, did we ever check if these shelves are level?"
"There hasn't been activity in this room. We've been dealing with everywhere else," he answered bitterly.
"Ah, I'll do it now then," Mai said cheerfully. She pulled the level from her pocket and stepped up to the nearest shelf.
"Shouldn't you take everything off the shelf first," Naru asked in a condescending tone.
"I will! I think it's important to know if it's level with the books on it already."
Naru allowed himself a small smile while her back was turned. "It builds character to take them off first."
Mai glared at him over her shoulder. "I don't have to do this."
"We won't leave until you do now. Don't forget, Mai, you're the one who offered."
Mai pouted as she turned back. She could hear him walking around the room. When he stopped next to her, she looked at him.
Naru was looking at something on a higher shelf. Reaching up, he grabbed a picture frame.
"Focus, Mai. I'm going to try something while you do that," he said absently. He crossed to the sofa and sat down with the picture.
She grumbled a little to herself, but looked over at him when he didn't comment on it. He had slumped against the back of the sofa, the picture in his hands held dangerously loose.
Mai stepped over to get a look at it. Under the glass was a handdrawn picture of the house. The paper was yellowed, implying it was somewhat old. Shrugging to herself, she got back to taking temperatures as she waited for Naru to come back from his psychometric vision.
She was examining the books on the shelves when she heard Naru shifting. Before she could ask him what he saw, loud footsteps resounded through the house. They sounded as if they were pounding down the stairs.
"We need to go," Naru said urgently, dropping the picture on the table in front of him. He grabbed her arm to pull her behind him as he made for the door. He turned the knob to open it, but it didn't budge.
The footsteps stopped. The house fell eerily quiet.
Naru turned to survey the room quickly. "Behind the sofa," he instructed.
Mai didn't move right away. He pushed her forward as the picture Naru had been holding was pushed to the floor. Luckily, the glass remained in tact.
She dropped behind the sofa. He followed and crouched next to her. They both ducked and Mai screamed when a vase from the shelves was thrown across the room and shattered against the wall.
The shards barely hit the floor before they were in the air again. Mai stared in fear. Naru pulled her to him and rolled them underneath the shards that tore threw the fabric of the sofa where they had just been.
Someone pounded on the door.
"Bou-san! We're okay!" Mai called back.
"This isn't okay, Mai," Naru ground out.
There were shouted chants and someone slammed into the door. It flew inward and stopped on nothing. Monk was visibly straining to keep it open.
Naru stood and pulled Mai by the hand. He had just crossed the threshold when Mai slipped from his grasp.
She dashed back to grab the picture that was left abandoned on the floor. She nearly fell as she tried to backpedal for the door with it clutched to her chest.
Naru was waiting. He grabbed her again and pulled her out of the room. She chanced a look over her shoulder to see the cup of pens start to levitate. Monk shut the door with a slam.
"You idiot! What were you doing?!"
"I felt like I needed to keep this with us."
"That doesn't mean you run back into an active room when you're the target!"
"We might not have gotten a second chance!"
"I don't care! You're not replaceable!"
Mai stared at him in shock, momentarily lost for words.
Coming to his senses, he realized what he said and turned to head for the stairs.
"Oh, so you're just gonna leave?!"
He stopped and glared over his shoulder. "What do you expect me to do?" The ice in his voice immediately cooled her temper. "Bou-san and John are right there. They are more than capable of keeping you safe."
None of them moved as he continued up the stairs and disappeared.
After a minute of silence, Monk decided to break the tension.
"What's that you have, Mai?" he asked conversationally.
Mai held out the picture. "Naru used it for his psychometry. I wouldn't have noticed it if he hadn't taken it in the first place."
Monk took it and paled slightly. He passed it to John.
"What? Is something wrong with it?"
"No, not with this specifically. It's about something we found in the attic. Maybe it would be better to see for yourself," Monk said.
"You want her to see those?" John asked. "I didn't even see them, but I know they're not good."
"We're gonna need all the eyes on this we can get. Let's go back to base."
Back in base, everyone was standing around one of the tables. Mai couldn't quite see what they were looking at except that there were many pieces of paper covering the surface.
Upon approaching the table, she could see they were drawings, similarly yellowed to the one she held.
She felt sick when she saw the contents of the pictures.
On each piece of paper was a different person, all young kids. Their eyes were realistically lifeless. Each one sported a gash across their neck. None of them were colored, but it could be assumed they were lying in pools of blood.
With shaking hands, she passed the picture she was holding over to Lin who accepted it without question. He set it on the table with the rest. All eyes went to it, but no one dared say anything.
They could all see the similar techniques used. They could all infer the artist was the same.
"Was his childhood bad enough to do this?" Masako asked quietly.
"While it is a factor, people have other predispositions for things to this extent," Yasu answered just as quietly. "It doesn't excuse it."
"Nothing could excuse this," Monk said.
"Naru, we need to do something," Ayako said, looking up at him.
Naru's eyes never left the table. "I don't know that we can help him pass on. We will have to forcefully exorcise him."
Mai and Masako shuddered.
"We can suggest he use the Demon Gate, but I doubt he will. Perhaps we can use it to help corner him."
"It is for the best," Masako said. "The soul will be lost, but it will be just."
They were quiet again.
"Naru, what did you see earlier?" Mai asked after a few moments.
"He was drawing the house and was interrupted by some of the other children. The anger he was feeling was enormous as they made fun of him. His thoughts were murderous. He thought of many gruesome ways to 'deal' with them. Given some time, I could likely find those children in these drawings."
"He killed them for bullying him?" John asked.
"I had a feeling..." Mai started, but felt her voice leave her.
"What is it, Mai?" Monk prompted.
"With his aunt, I started to get the feeling he enjoyed what he did. I think she was the first..."
"It was likely that she was the last family he had. Once that happened, he would have been brought here as an orphan," Yasu offered.
"How can you talk about it like that?" Monk asked.
"Sometimes, you have to distance yourself from the emotions surrounding the facts," Yasu answered.
"He's right. He would have been brought here after that if that was his last available family. Whatever led him to all of this is still somewhat a mystery," Naru said.
"Is that really something we want to uncover?" Ayako asked skeptically.
"I don't think it matters what we want here," Zoe said.
"Lin, if you summon him, can you keep him from harming anyone?" Naru asked.
"It's not a guarantee. Summoning a dangerous spirit always poses risks."
"And if you're the only one present?"
"It would be less likely to hurt anyone else during that time. My shiki would be able to restrict his movement during the ritual. I would need the questions you want to ask in advance."
"No, I will be there as well. It's a chance I'm willing to take."
Everyone was looking at him with varying degrees of shock and appall.
"Naru, I can't guarantee safety for both of us."
Zoe laughed darkly. "You've actually gone mad."
"Naru, you don't have to do this," Monk said.
"Naru, please," Mai said.
"I'm going. That's final. I expect all of you to stay here. We are quickly running out of options." He was addressing everyone, but only looking at Mai. Finally, he turned away. "Lin, how long do you need?"
"An hour at most. Everything should already be here that I need."
"We will start in one hour."
"Mai, sit still. You're making me nervous," Ayako chided.
They were gathered around the monitors as they waited for Lin to summon the spirit. He had set everything up in the sitting room they had found the picture in since it was the last place anything had happened. Naru had demanded a second camera to provide a different angle in the event it should pick up anything. The camera from the hallway behind the kitchens was moved to accommodate the need.
Mai looked between the two views. Naru was conveniently standing so that he wasn't facing either of them. She continued to fidget in her seat.
"But what if something happens?" Mai asked.
"This ritual won't allow for much of anything to happen," Monk said. "It kinda ties it to the spot to allow for communication."
"So why don't we exorcise it after asking our questions?" Yasu asked.
"That could potentially cause harm to the summoner. Lin holds the spirit there. It's not strong, but they're briefly connected. Severing that with an exorcism could be bad for the summoner," Monk answered. Yasu nodded in understanding.
They quieted when Lin's low whistle came through the speakers. Mai was struck by how haunting and eerie it sounded, just like the Urado case. He continued on to the strange song she still couldn't understand.
He fell silent.
"Naru. The connection is strong."
A shadow could barely be seen. Mai could faintly see something detach from the wall. The ambiguous form stopped a few feet in front of Lin. There was a suggestion of arms and legs as it floated in place.
They watched as Naru stood straighter. "Are you Souta?"
A simple answer. "Yes."
"Why did you kill the children you lived with?"
"Because they deserved it."
"They were children. What could they have done to deserve that fate?"
"I was the topic of their jokes. They tormented me! They hit me!"
Briefly, the shadowy form became more defined. It settled back moments later. Mai got the feeling he didn't want to fully form himself in front of them.
"You hit back. You hurt them worse than they could have imagined."
"And I enjoyed it! When my art was ridiculed, I saw red! It was the one thing that brought me happiness and they tried to take it from me!"
Mai felt tears well up and sting at her eyes.
"Why do you target the living now?"
"I don't want them to have what I could not. This form doesn't allow me to act quickly. I often need to bide my time. But you! You brought me one I would love to get my hands on! So bright! It would bring me great joy to snuff it out."
The shadow dissipated as Naru sprang forward from where he stood. He slammed his fist against the wall after going through where the shadow had been. He turned around, visibly angry.
"I dismissed him myself," Lin said evenly. "We heard enough."
"I want him gone before the end of the day."
If anyone finds my motivation lying around, please send it back. I'm so behind on the next case.
Hope you enjoy!
Mai was quietly crying when Naru and Lin came back to the base. Masako was sitting next to her on the sofa with an arm around her shoulders, trying to comfort her. No one else dared say a word.
Naru stopped when he saw her, causing Lin to have to walk around him to get to the monitors and his computer.
"Mai," he called. She looked up at him with a tear-stained face. "I believe it would be best for you to go somewhere off premises until this is resolved."
"No! No, I'm staying!"
"He's looking to kill you. I'm thinking of your safety."
Mai got up and stood in front of him. "If I leave, he'll pick someone else! I won't go."
"I knew your self-preservation was bad before, but I thought it would have somewhat developed while I was gone. I see it hasn't. He is attached to your energy. It will take him time to get to this level with anyone else."
She did her best to look determined and wiped the remaining tears from her face. "Can you say that for sure."
He studied her after she declared her challenge.
"No. I can't."
His voice was quiet.
Her voice dropped as well. "Then I'm not going anywhere."
Naru narrowed his eyes at her. "You are to stay in here unless I tell you otherwise." He turned away to address the others. "Matsuzaki-san, prepare charms to push him towards the northeast corner of the house."
"I already made them. I'll start putting them up," she said.
"Take whoever you need to help you." He turned back to the others. "I want the footage from the summoning isolated in preparation for analysis as well. Everyone else, be at the ready for whatever he might try."
Ayako left with Monk. Mai watched the monitors to observe their progress. Naru disappeared outside, likely going to the van.
"Mai, what's on your mind?" Masako asked.
Mai turned to face her. She hadn't even heard Masako cross the room to stand behind her chair.
"I just don't understand how someone could think the way he does," Mai said.
"Sadly, that isn't something anyone can easily answer," Masako said with a sad smile.
"It can be a lot of things," Lin said.
Mai turned to look at him. He was still typing.
"We don't know what happened in the rest of his childhood. We only have the few snippets you gave us. However, if Madoka were here, she would say it most likely started with his father," he elaborated.
"His father?" Mai questioned.
"I think I see," John said thoughtfully. "His father committed an act of violence against his mother in front of him."
"The first memory..." Mai trailed off, piecing things together.
"He may have done more that we don't know of. It may have included experimenting on animals and insects," Lin agreed.
"And it got worse as he was moved between homes. They were all rather awful," John said.
"This is when Madoka would go on about modeling behavior in front of children and how much they can actually pick up. It would have set a precedent, an example, of how to react to someone committing a wrong against him."
"But what about the nature and nurture discussion?" Yasu asked, looking up from some scattered pages on the table in front of him.
"Never ask Madoka that in person," Zoe quipped from beside him and turned a page on the ledger she was skimming. "Unless wasting three days is your thing."
Lin largely ignored the comment to answer the question. "It could be that he was predisposed to such behavior as well, but without hearing about all aspects of his life, we have no way of knowing."
"But what about those pictures he drew?" Mai asked quietly. Masako almost seemed to turn green as she covered her mouth with her sleeve.
"Likely a way of reliving the act. A lack of remorse and a disturbing amount of joy are not uncommon with people like that," Lin answered solemnly.
"I found his entry," Zoe said. "Souta. No last name. Aged eleven. Reportedly passed through multiple family homes before arriving here. Guarded and appearing shy on arrival."
"They must not have known what happened to his aunt," Yasu commented.
"There's a lot written for his entry. A lot of it doesn't help us." She frowned as she looked through the Kanji. "Aunt recently deceased. Unknown cause. Father unable to be reached. Mother deceased. Grandfather recently deceased. Natural causes."
"How could he have covered up his aunt's death when he's the one who killed her?" Yasu asked.
"I don't think that's something we'll ever be able to answer," John said.
"I suppose not, but--"
Banging and heavy footfalls came from the room above them.
"The storage room? I thought no one was going in there," John said.
"There was no one," Lin said. He rewound the third floor hallway footage multiple times. "No one went in or out."
"We should send someone to check it out," Yasu said apprehensively.
"Come with me," Zoe said as she stood up from the table. "No one should be going anywhere alone as it is."
"I'm not pulling you out from under toppled shelves."
"You'll be filling out the incident report by yourself then." She was already grabbing a flashlight, a radio, and the thermometer. "Give us thirty, maybe forty, minutes to check it out and come back. It's not easy to move around in there."
The base fell quiet again when the door closed after them.
"Perhaps we should stop talking about him," John suggested after a few moments.
"I agree. That may have been his response to what we were talking about," Masako said.
"Well, then Mai, are you ready for school to start again?" John asked.
"I'm more interested if you'll be making chocolate for Valentine's Day," Masako said, a smile reaching her eyes.
Mai laughed, feeling a little lighter. "Actually, I am looking forward to classes. I enjoy most of them. And yes, Masako, I always make friend chocolates."
"You know that's not what I mean," Masako pressed knowingly.
"I don't have a reason to make any others," Mai said, not looking at her.
Masako smirked at her. "I'm not so sure. It's been a while. Maybe things have changed."
Mai rolled her eyes. "Come on, Masako. What could have changed?"
Masako turned thoughtful. "I wonder."
Mai rolled her eyes. She stood and wandered over to the table covered in papers and books. They hadn't gotten to the stack of newspapers yet. Mai picked up the top one and looked through the headlines.
"It's not nice to avoid your friends, Mai," Masako chirped.
"It's not avoiding if I'm working." She didn't look up as she picked up the next one.
"Of course it is. Naru is a terrible influence on you."
Mai started a second pile of newspapers when she found one that had information on the trial. The next one had other information about Souta too.
A quick movement from Masako drew Mai's attention away from her task.
Masako had crossed the room to look at the monitors. Her brow was furrowed as she looked between the views.
"Hara-san?" Lin asked.
"John, I want to check on Ayako and Bou-san."
"Of course. Is something wrong?"
"I sense him downstairs and I'm concerned."
"Lead the way." John ushered her out and followed her.
Mai frowned. Her instincts were almost yelling at her that something was wrong.
"They're fine, right?" Mai asked. She didn't trust her legs to support her, so she stayed seated.
"I'm watching over all of them. Try not to worry," Lin said.
Mai nodded with a grimace as she went back to the newspapers. It didn't take long to sort them, so she began to read.
The articles described the circumstances that led to Souta admitting to the murders. They didn't go into detail, but the writers made it clear he knew everything about the crime scenes. He had even offered to sketch it for the arresting officers.
From there, the articles described the court proceedings. What they wrote would have ordinarily been a quick case that turned into something bigger after he claimed to have killed the orphans.
She found quotes they took from him.
"They hurt me so I hurt them. They deserved what they got."
"I could name them all if you would like. I wanted to remember each of them as I last saw them. I made sure to remember their names."
"I enjoyed being my own bringer of justice. When all others fail you, you have to take matters into your own hands."
Mai threw down the newspaper. She was terrified by the things Souta had reportedly said. Someone had painstakingly written down word for word his descriptions of the things he did. She took deep breaths in an attempt to settle her stomach.
"The kids..." Mai said, realization hitting her.
"Mai?" Lin asked.
"The kids didn't know who it was either. The open window I saw made it seem like it was someone outside. That's why they wanted to hide. That's why Masako and I felt like we should hide too."
Mai realized she was shaking. She struggled to refocus on the present.
Bringing herself back under control, she looked over at Lin. She wanted a distraction from her revelation. "How are they? Shouldn't they be done by now?"
"Yes, they should," Lin agreed. He felt it unnecessary to comment on the abrupt change of topic.
"We should go make sure they're okay."
"Mai, you need to stay here where it's safe," Lin implored her. He turned in his chair to face her.
"But everyone else? What if he does something?"
"He's after you. He won't harm any of them."
Mai felt frustration starting to build. She took a few deep breaths. "You don't know that, Lin. He could do something to anyone to try to get to me if he really wanted."
Lin sighed. "While that is possible, we have no evidence to say he will."
"I don't wanna wait to see if he will or not!"
"Mai, if we go out there, something will happen and it will happen to you."
She looked at the table. He had a point. "I know, but I'm worried about the others."
"They can radio in if something happens," Lin said in an attempt to be reassuring.
"It could be too late by then."
The monitors flickered before going dark. Someone screamed somewhere in the house.
"Masako!" Mai exclaimed. She jumped to her feet and raced for the door.
"Mai! No!" Lin shouted as he gave chase.
She was out the door before he could reach her. The door slammed shut in front of him.
Mai turned back at the slam. It shook in the frame.
"Mai! Don't go anywhere!" Lin called from behind the door.
She wanted to help him, but she feared for Masako. She ran for the stairs.
She stopped at the railing and looked down. No one was nearby. Everything was quiet. Too quiet.
The sound of cracking wood met her ears before she started tipping forward. Something shoved her from behind, sending her farther over the stairs.
She never hit the floor.
Something caught her and was holding her over the stairs. She could hear running feet all around her as she hung in the air.
She looked to the front door where she saw Naru standing frozen. He had a grimace on his face. It looked like he wanted to move, but couldn't.
A pressure gradually made its presence known around her neck. Her hands flew up, but she felt nothing there except her own neck. Panic began to set in as she was lifted higher into the air.
Mai looked up as much as she could when she heard footsteps above her on the stairs. Zoe skidded to a stop along the railing that hadn't broken. Mai had the feeling she wasn't actually looking at her as her eyes flitted around the empty air.
Mai watched helplessly as a mist gathered around her and obscured her vision. Zoe reached out and seemed to lose focus. The pressure continued to increase. She tried to gasp for breath. None entered her lungs. She kicked the air frantically in her struggle.
Her vision began to turn spotty. She fought harder as she hung in the air.
She was falling. She could breathe, but she was falling. She wanted to scream, but she couldn't make a sound.
She was expecting to feel the hard stairs underneath her, but she collided with something softer. She looked up at the railing above her, but no one was there now.
"You idiot! What were you thinking?" Naru asked.
Mai turned to his voice. Somehow, the usual hard tone he would have used wasn't there.
Naru was so close. She thought she could see fear on his face. But that wasn't right. Naru didn't show fear. It probably wasn't even something he knew.
She tried to say something, anything, but she couldn't make her voice work. Instead, she reached up to his face in an attempt to comfort him. He held her closer.
Everything was a blur to her after that when everyone came to help. Even after getting back to to safety of the base, Naru didn't let go.
"I think now is a good time to tell us what happened and why we only found out a few days ago, Shounen."
Yasu gave Monk an unamused look over the top of the pile of toys he was carrying.
"Shouldn't you be focusing on the exorcism you're gonna be performing?" Yasu asked him.
"Actually, it'll keep me at ease for when we go in there. Right, John?" Monk said.
"You're only speaking for yourself there, mate. But I am interested to hear it," John answered truthfully.
Yasu just shook his head as he led the way down the back hall to drop off their cargo.
"There isn't much to tell. We just kinda agreed," Yasu said without looking at them.
"And you didn't tell me sooner?" Monk said, feigning hurt.
Yasu scoffed a laugh. "When have we even crossed paths in the last couple weeks?"
"Okay, that's fair. But there are phones."
"You wouldn't have been satisfied over the phone," John commented. Yasu nodded as he pushed a door open with his foot.
Monk was quiet for a moment as he set down what he was carrying. "Okay, you have a point."
"Anyway, while I wanted to tell you in person, I don't have an overly romantic story for you," Yasu said.
"Sometimes I wonder if you can be at all," Monk laughed.
"I'd be more than happy to show you personally, Bou-san," Yasu said with a grin. He led them back out to the hall.
"When did it happen?" John intercepted before they could get going.
"Couple weeks ago. Not long after New Year's."
"I still think you should've done it there," Monk said.
"I am not going to have an anniversary on a holiday," Yasu said.
"Thinking ahead already," John teased lightly.
Monk laughed as they made one last trip to fully empty the play room. As they were coming back to the entranceway, Ayako was coming down the stairs.
"They're ready upstairs if you are," she said as she met them at the bottom of the stairs.
"Just finished," John answered.
"That's my cue to leave," Yasu said. "Be careful in there. And maybe do something about him?" Yasu said and pointed at Monk.
"What did you do this time, stupid monk?" Ayako asked.
Yasu laughed to himself as he climbed the stairs and disappeared around the corner. Monk turned to the business at hand.
"So how are we going about this? Masako won't be there to tell us his location," Monk said.
"I should have enough charms put up that will leave him no choice but to go to the play room," Ayako said.
"But what if he goes to the attic? We haven't been able to open it since he ran us out," John pointed out.
"Best I could do was put one on the door. It'll have to do. Anyway, Masako will talk to me over the radio about his location. If summoning him to the play room doesn't work, I'll block him off as he makes his way to the room with more charms," Ayako explained.
Monk nodded. "It'll have to do. You've always been successful before, John. I just hope I can meet your standard."
"Surely you've exorcised spirits before," Ayako said dumbfounded.
"Well, yeah, but it's been a while since I needed anything besides defensive mantras. Naru-bou has tried to harmlessly move them along whenever he can. And then the one big spirit he exorcised himself. If exorcism was all I could do, he would have put me out of business," Monk explained.
"I can provide back up too, if that will help," John said.
"I'd really appreciate that," Monk said gratefully.
"Let's go before we get yelled at for wasting time," Ayako said.
In the play room, Monk leaned against the far wall across from the door. Ayako stayed near the door with a radio ready. John took his position in the center of the room and prepared himself.
Monk always felt immense respect for him. Even moreso when he got to witness him work. It always seemed like John shed his innocent demeanor and gained a few inches when he was staring down a difficult spirit.
He studied the room carefully as John began his prayer. The radio Ayako was holding crackled for a moment.
"Temperature very slowly dropping," Lin informed them. "Likely not him, but be aware."
"I don't feel him in that room, but he's on the first floor," Masako took over.
Ayako frowned. "He shouldn't be able to get into any of the rooms down here," she said to the room.
"What about that hall that goes to the offices?" Monk asked. John was continuing with his prayers.
"We haven't had activity there, but I'll go block them off."
"Do the stairs too."
Ayako nodded. "I'm putting up more charms to try to force him in here," she said into the radio. She crossed the room to hand it to Monk before leaving.
Monk clipped it to the sash of his robes. He refocused on John who was getting to the end of his part.
"Matsuzaki-san has blocked off the offices. Blocking the stairs now," Lin said through the radio. "Temperature stable."
Ayako slipped back into the room with barely a swish of her robes. John fell silent and bowed his head.
"I hate the waiting," Monk said quietly. The room didn't seem to get colder or feel any different. Waiting for something to happen always made him nervous.
"It feels like he's trying to avoid going in," Masako informed them.
"There's nothing else I can charm," Ayako said in growing frustration.
"Then we'll keep waiting," Monk said.
"There's not much else we can do," John said. "I can try again, but if it didn't fully succeed the first time, it might make him more difficult."
The three of them were quiet for a few minutes. No one came through the radio.
"Try again. We can handle it," Monk said decisively.
"What if one of us tried?" Ayako asked. "It may be he doesn't respond to Christianity."
"It's a good point," John agreed. "It worked with Rei though."
"I don't really have a means to call forth spirits," Monk said.
"Let me try then. Perhaps he'll respond to me," Ayako reasoned.
Monk looked between them. It hadn't been the plan, but he felt the need to try something else. He nodded without a word. He watched as John and Ayako switched places.
Ayako pulled her onusa from the folds of her robes. She closed her eyes as she began reciting her ritual prayers. She shook the onusa at specific points of the prayers, causing the paper cascading off the end to rustle lightly.
"Temperature dropping. Down four degrees and falling," Lin said calmly through the radio.
Ayako opened her eyes, but didn't move. The three watched as the paper shifted and fluttered as if there was a breeze.
"He's there," Masako called through.
Ayako jumped for the door to slap a charm on it to prevent him from escaping. John pulled out his holy water and held it at the ready. Monk assumed his position in anticipation of starting his part of the exorcism.
"Thermal is picking him up. Appears to be trying to manifest physically. You have the all clear to start," Lin said.
Monk wasted no time. He pulled out his tokkosho and began. As he stared down the empty space, a mist began to materialize in front of him.
"Housho?" Ayako asked, looking for permission to help.
Monk nodded without dropping a word.
Ayako started reciting the prayer that would keep him place.
Monk steadied his feet as he felt Souta fighting back. He glared as the mist became more solid and defined. John flung drops of holy water without needing prompting.
Monk was getting ready to finish it when all three of them were thrown back against the walls behind them. All actions and prayers ceased as they tried to get their breath back.
Monk slowly got to his feet. He looked over to see John was up too.
His head whipped around when he heard Ayako gasping for breath. The mist was hovering over her as she grabbed at the air around her neck.
He jumped forward and shouted the same mantra. He charged forward, not even thinking of the words he needed. He felt more than saw John closing in as well, holy water at the ready.
With the final word, he thrust his tokkosho through the mist with so much force it embedded in the wall.
Everything was quiet as they waited to hear if they were successful and caught their breath.
"He's gone. I don't feel him."
They sighed in relief at Masako's words. Monk sat heavily on the floor next to Ayako before pulling her into a sitting position and holding her to him. John leaned back against the wall.
"You're not doing any more exorcisms," Monk said once he had calmed down.
"Like hell I'm not," Ayako retorted. Her disapproval came out less forcefully due to her voice being hoarse.
"Will you be alright?" John asked her.
Ayako waved him off. "Just some bruising. You two were fast."
"Let's go find somewhere comfortable to decompress, yeah?" Monk suggested.
After debriefing in the base, and Naru commending Monk, Ayako, and John for their fast action, everyone was dismissed to do what they wanted for the rest of the night.
With Naru close behind, Mai had gone to get something to eat that Ayako had cleared for her and her throat. When she walked back in the base, her attention was drawn to the busy table and monitors. She crossed the room and looked over Lin's shoulder.
"What are you doing?" Mai asked. Her voice was still hoarse, but it didn't hurt as much to use it.
Yasu swore under his breath before answering. "We're getting a head start on isolating the activity we caught."
"Not going well?" she continued.
"We all saw the heat signature on the thermal during the exorcism, but it's not on the recording now. Just the temperature drop for the entire room." Yasu ran a hand through his hair in frustration.
"It's the same with the standard camera," Lin said, calm as ever.
"This is always a problem. It comes up as it's happening, but it's never on the tapes. If the tapes are the problem, we need a different way of directly recording footage," Zoe said.
"There are advancements, but they don't have large enough storage for our purposes yet," Lin said.
"Not advancing fast enough," Yasu complained.
"Let's stop here for tonight. You look as tired as I feel and we won't be very productive like this," Zoe said as she pushed away from the table. Yasu nodded and followed her out the door.
"Sit down, Mai," Naru directed once they had left.
Mai glared at him as she took one of the vacated seats. She turned so she could see him properly.
"I want to start sorting out some details for the training I want you to do. To start with, do you have an email address?" Naru asked.
"No, not yet. They're supposed to be giving us one through school soon," Mai answered.
Naru handed her a glass of water before continuing. "I would prefer it be something more permanent than a school one. Lin?"
"I can get her set up tomorrow when we're back at the office. Yasuhara is going to need one as well," Lin answered.
Naru nodded and turned back to Mai. "I will give you Danielle's information when we get back to the office."
Mai scrunched up her face in concentration as she tried to properly pronounce the name.
"I expect you to cooperate with her."
"Of course I will!" she exclaimed, offended he would think she wouldn't. "I don't want to be afraid to use my abilities."
She was looking at the floor, so she didn't see Naru's face soften at her honesty.
"I'm sure she'll inform you of the same, but I want you to be aware that it could take some time for what you work on to be properly effective. It will likely take some trial and error to find something that works."
"I understand," Mai said seriously. She was still looking down.
"I will also be in contact with her for how we can help you while you improve."
She finally looked up at that. "Wouldn't it make more sense for the others to be in on that?"
"Not when I intend to be around."
Mai opened and closed her mouth a couple times, unable to form words. She ultimately decided to ignore what he said. "Can I sleep in here tonight?"
Naru simply gestured towards the sofa. He stayed in place as he listened to her getting comfortable under the blanket. When she finally fell silent, he sighed and took the chair next to Lin.
"She's not going to say it again," Lin said. He didn't look away from the footage he was analyzing.
"I don't know what you mean," Naru answered immediately.
"I know what happened at the lake, just like I know why you thought we could hop between countries for years."
"Then there's nothing to discuss."
"You don't just sit by when there's something you want."
"I can live with the way things are."
"You say that now."
"You sound as if you have experience."
"Madoka may have been patient, but she wouldn't have been able to wait forever. Mai won't either. She was rejected once. She won't want to repeat that."
"She never responded."
"You didn't give her a chance to."
Naru sighed. He knew Lin was speaking the truth. Such a matter, unlike science or the paranormal, was far beyond what he was comfortable thinking about. The times over the last three years when he had had a few too many moments to himself, he would think back to that day at the lake.
Even in the moment, he had cursed himself for saying it. He would tell himself he wanted to be sure. To know she had the right twin. He had taken her silence as the easier of the two answers, though also the more painful. Mai always had a ready retort to everything.
Though he also knew now that wasn't true. Whenever she was thrown off kilter, she'd be quiet and lost for words. It had been unfair of him to put an answer on her like that. But he was still at a loss of how to fix it.
Until he could figure that out, he decided he'd stick close. There would certainly always be a reason to.
The next day
Naru determined in the morning that Souta was indeed gone after Masako had walked around and felt nothing. They made quick work of packing everything into the van. Aomoto-san saw them out and thanked them profusely.
Back at the office, they brought some of the equipment back inside. Some of the cameras needed to be looked over after being subjected to so much activity and possible damage.
"It's still early. How about we get something to eat?" Monk suggested.
"I can't," Mai said sadly. "Naru wants me to do some things. Let me know where you're going and I'll try to catch up."
"Alright. Yasu?" Monk said, changing focus.
"Yeah, just give me--"
"Yasuhara, we have things to discuss," Lin said from his office.
"Guess I'll have to take a rain check," Yasu said sheepishly. He crossed the room and followed Lin into his office. Zoe was already waiting, perched on a table with her legs crossed. "This feels a bit like an intervention."
"Take a seat. We have things to discuss about your new ability," Lin said.
Hesitantly, Yasu sat in the only other chair in the small room. "I'm not sure what there is to say. I was only able to do it that one time."
"If you manifested it once, in theory, you should be able to manifest it again," Lin said.
Yasu looked off to the side with a frown. "I haven't been able to though."
"You've been trying?" Lin asked. Yasu nodded. "You're only starting. It may take some time to manifest it at will."
"And there could be an emotional aspect," Zoe added quietly.
"Yes," Lin agreed. "Emotions can play a significant part for any energetic or psychic abilities."
"What, so this thing is gonna be dependent on how I'm feeling?" Yasu asked.
"It's always gonna play a factor in it. Believe me, it gets old really fast," Zoe said sympathetically.
"Start there. What can you remember feeling?" Lin continued.
Yasu sat silently for a few moments. He stared at his hands in his lap. His brow furrowed in concentration.
"It started with that picture," Yasu said slowly. "I had a bad feeling about it. I--" He grimaced.
Zoe unfolded her legs to stand up. "I can step out if it'll help," she said.
Yasu reached out quickly to catch her wrist. "No. Please stay." His hand fell as she sat back on the table.
He took a steadying breath. "I didn't know what else to do, so I jumped and pushed us out of the way. I guess we overbalanced and fell."
"But that wasn't when it happened," Lin said.
Yasu shook his head. Zoe put a hand on his shoulder when he was silent. He took another breath. "And then the glass. I felt fear that we weren't going to get out of it safely. A lot of fear."
He frowned and covered her hand with his. "And a great need to protect. It almost became overwhelming. And then...nothing."
Lin nodded as he studied Yasu and took in everything he said. "The 'overwhelming need to protect', as you put it, is likely what triggered the shield. Until you are more used to manifesting the shield, you'll need to find that feeling."
"For how long?" Yasu asked.
"It's hard to tell. Practice and a training regimen focused on improving your endurance will help. We can try now, if you feel up to it," Lin said.
"What? But what if he passes out again?" Zoe interjected.
"Lin's right. This is a safe environment. If I can do it here, then maybe there's hope." Yasu squeezed her hand before taking it off his shoulder.
He sat up straighter and closed his eyes. He started to feel awkward when he didn't feel anything happening, so he tried to focus harder. With a frustrated sigh, he opened his eyes and looked at Lin.
"I don't know why I can't get it to work."
"Perhaps I could try something?" Zoe asked. Lin simply nodded. She approached Yasu and knelt in front of him. In nearly any other situation, he would have cracked a joke. She gave him a guilty smile. "I hope you'll forgive me for this."
"How bad could it be?" he joked halfheartedly.
"Close your eyes. All you have to do is listen." She took both of his hands in hers. He did as she asked. "Put yourself back on the third floor. Think of it as if it's happening now. I'm distracted with the door to the attic." He frowned as he listened.
"It's shaking. It flies off the wall. You jump and we're on the floor." He squeezed her hands instinctively as the memories play out. He relaxed slightly when she squeezed back.
"Then it's calm for a moment. We take stock and see the glass floating in the air. You move on instinct--"
Yasu leaned forward as he pulled their hands closer to his chest. It felt like something shifted inside of him, but it wasn't unpleasant. His breathing was heavy, but he couldn't manage to gain control of it properly.
"Come on. Focus back here. Deep breaths. You can open your eyes."
He did. For a moment, he could see a pale transulence surrounding them. Then, it disappeared.
"You did it!" Zoe said proudly with a bright smile. She surged up to hug him. It almost felt as if she was holding him together.
"It was impressive," Lin admitted honestly. "You have a good foundation for us to work from, based on the appearance of it. Head home for the day. I'll let you know when I have a preliminary training schedule for you."
At the dismissal, Yasu practically ran from the room. He grabbed his coat out of habit and shrugged it on as he left the office.
"Oi! Wait up!" Zoe called from behind him. He didn't stop, but he at least slowed his pace so she could catch up. "Yasu, what's wrong? Is it because of what I did?"
The worry in her voice pained him. "No, it's not that."
"Then what is it?"
He kept walking, not saying anything..
"Yasu, what is it?" She had stepped in front of him, making him stop before he collided with her. Her forceful tone implied she wasn't about to let it go.
In the back of his mind, Yasu was still somewhat aware they were on the sidewalk of a busy street. People were passing them and he was only partially aware of the looks they were getting for standing in the middle of the walkway.
He couldn't bring himself to care.
"What's the point of having this ability if I can't properly use it?"
Zoe's expression softened. "It's going to take time. It's the same with anyone who can do something extraordinary."
"And what if there isn't time?" He looked up at the tall buildings as he searched for the words he wanted. "What if, on the next case, you, or Monk, or Mai, or someone else gets attacked and the one thing that could save the day is this stupid ability that won't work on command for me? I don't know if I would be able to live with that."
"Look, it's not going to be quick and easy. It took me months to gain complete control over my PK. It took Noll months to recover from losing Gene and he still can't even fully use his PK."
"So, what? I'm gonna be useless for months until I can control this better?"
She stepped closer to him and reached up to make him look at her properly.
"You're not useless now. You won't be useless tomorrow, or the day after, or on the next case. You're exactly where you need to be right now with your brain and your resourcefulness and your determination."
After a few moments, Yasu finally deflated. He leaned forward to wrap her in a hug that she returned immediately.
"Let's go find Mai and the others," Zoe suggested, stepping back.
"They're probably way ahead. Let's go. Just us. I'm tired anyway."
"There you are, Mai! What took so long?" Ayako called out, already tipsy.
"Naru needed me to take care of something," Mai said apologetically as she sat down next to Masako.
"What was it?" John asked. He passed her a cup of water.
"It wasn't much. He wanted me to get in contact with somone in the main SPR branch in England," Mai explained, skirting around the actual reason.
"It must have been something important if you were to get in touch with them," Masako said, deliberately pressing for information.
"Well, uh, Naru wants me to get more training. After what happened on the case, he thinks I'm getting stronger."
"That's a little odd, isn't it?" John asked.
Monk nodded. "Normally, you'd be reaching your peak abilities around your age. But you're still getting stronger. Though I guess Naru-bou is similar."
"If anything, Naru has been maintaining his level for a few years already," Masako said.
"So what are they gonna have you do, Mai?" Ayako asked, bringing the conversation back around.
"I don't actually know yet," Mai said sheepishly.
"What do you mean you don't know?" Monk asked in shock.
"Well, she's supposed to teach me how to safely astral project. So I can escape from a first person vision and not get hurt," Mai explained.
"That's great to hear, Mai," John commended.
"Maybe they'll find your self-preservation too," Masako teased.
Mai glared at her. "You know, I don't have to invite you over to make chocolate."
The table was quiet for a moment before Mai and Masako started laughing. The others joined in as well.
"Come on, another round of drinks!" Ayako said as she summoned the waiter.
And that's it! Gonna be posting a one shot next week because I need a break too lol. (And maybe buy some time on getting progress on the next case). Hope you enjoyed.