24th February, 9:37 PM
The Chase, Clapham
Obscured through the thick wisps of London mist, a set of shadowy figures congregate. Their arms swing in frenzied labor, grunting and restless.
A deafening blast rips through the road, tearing through the stonework.
A fireball tumbles down the street, roaring and vivid.
A scream rings out, and a frozen figure jerks to life.
A frightened beast escapes its quarters, bound for whereabouts unknown.
And a set of small eyes, wide and terrified, see it all...
25th February, 11:12 AM
Naruhodo Legal Consultancy, 221B Baker Street
The sun had risen on the industrious city of London. Scattered beams of light pierced the fog, spread thin over its many alleys and thoroughfares, and sending a handful of rays through the window of one of the upper floors of 221B Baker Street. The light would come to illuminate a woman sitting at a desk, a calligraphy brush in her hand, dashing out correspondence in lightning-quick strokes--and, a few moments later, a groggy-looking youth stumbling out of his bedroom, buttoning the collar of his student's uniform.
"Good morning, Susato-san." Susato turned around, greeting him with a small smile.
"Good morning, Naruhodo-san. Did you sleep well?"
"Yes, well...sort of." He tilted his head this way and that, easing the knots out of his neck. "All day yesterday, I was looking forward to getting some time to relax...but now that it's here, I don't know what to do with myself at all."
"I understand how you feel. I've been keeping myself occupied by drafting some notes for our monthly report--" Ryunosuke glanced over her shoulder, discovering that what she'd brushed off as 'some notes' was a densely-packed essay of ornate kanji. "--but you do seem to have been able to relax a little bit. It's eleven o'clock, after all."
"W-what!?" He jolted back in shock, prompting her smile to widen slightly. "I didn't think it was that late!"
"Yes...I must admit, I got very concerned when Mr. Sholmes got up before you. But..." She shook her head. "When I went to kick open your door, I could hear you snoring, so it seemed medical assistance wouldn't be necessary."
"A-aha..." He ran one hand through his hair, ruffling it into a cloud of miniature spikes. "That does make sense, though, considering how...ugh. How hungry I am."
Susato nodded, rising from her chair and setting her brush aside. "Iris is still asleep, I believe...she was up until late last night, working on her latest installment." Ryunosuke nodded, then paused, vaguely recalling a mechanical clanging noise from his dreams. ...Maybe her typing was what had kept him up. "But I'll join you for breakfast, Naruhodo-san."
They descended the staircase together, making their way to the flat's main floor and, after a brief and accident-free bout of toast-crafting, settled down to eat. Passing the morning with idle conversation Ryunosuke found himself glancing around the room, and he had to admit...when he first laid eyes on this place, the only impression it left on his mind was that of a nice apartment squandered under clutter and disarray.
...He hadn't been exactly wrong about that, but as he spent more and more time in this place, the eclectic furnishings and scattered knick-knacks had started to grow on him. They'd gone from peculiar to familiar, and while he wasn't quite sure of the story behind each of them quite yet, he'd come to regard their presence as an obligatory part of day-to-day life. The red Persian slipper, for example. The grim-faced marble bust of Napoleon. The deadpan detective, seated in the armchair in front of the fire...
Ryunosuke jolted back, dipping his sleeve in a glop of butter in the process. Sholmes had been so silent and still that he'd nearly blended into the furniture.
"Good morning, Mr. Sholmes!" Susato announced across the room, seemingly having spotted him despite his statuesque demeanor.
"Ah." As the man discovered he wasn't alone, his eyes began to dance with life. "And a very good morning to you, Ms. Susato, Mr. Naruhodo!"
Ryunosuke tilted his head slightly as Susato handed him a napkin, with which he proceeded to de-dairy his uniform. "Is something on your mind, Mr. Sholmes? You seemed lost in thought."
"Well, I'll give you a set of clues!" He rose from his armchair, his slender form unfolding like a marionette being raised to its feet by strings. "The weather's lovely. The rent isn't due for another week at least. I am hearty and well-fed." His shoulders raised lopsidedly in a gangly shrug, and the great detective's great grin beamed out at him. "What else would a master of deductive reasoning be ruminating on?"
Some idle moments of contemplative toast-chewing passed before Ryunosuke realized the question wasn't rhetorical. "Oh. Um...I don't know?"
"..." Sholmes' frozen smile lingered on his face for a few seconds more before his lips curled into a snarl, pressing one hand against his forehead. "At least try, my good fellow! I must say, you'll never become a worthy heir to my mantle of lightning deduction at this rate." His fingers snapped. "A case! What always occupies a great detective's idle moments is a case, isn't it?"
Ryunosuke paused, receiving a series of split-second flashbacks comprising a catalogue of all the other things that had occupied Sholmes' idle moments since they moved in, namely: Building a scale model of a Luger out of silverware, trying to maneuver into their room via the third-story window and getting stuck on the ledge for two hours, scouring every antiques shop in London for a particular type of rosewood flute, launching an attempt to rob himself, launching an attempt to arrest himself, and licking furniture polish 'to see if it could prove fatal', which it very nearly had. "Yes. Of course." Ryunosuke finally said, diplomatically. "So, um, what kind of case is it?"
"...Hmm. To set the proper mood, I believe it best...to turn out the lights." With one smooth roll of his fingers he twisted the valve on the wall-mounted gas light, which, accordingly, turned on. Susato and Ryunosuke watched him in quiet fascination, like a dog might watch a leaf flitting in the wind, as Sholmes grew increasingly irate, jostling the switches on the lamps to and fro but finding the room still stubbornly wreathed in light. After a few moments of flicking his eyes around the walls he finally turned towards the window, squinted at the source of the unwanted illumination, and clicked his tongue. "Blast that hovering sky-orb! It's ruining my atmosphere!"
"I don't believe you'll be able to extinguish the sun, Mr. Sholmes." Susato said, finishing her toast and wiping her hands off on a nearby kitchen towel. "Could you tell us anyway?"
"The sun...yes, that is what it's called, isn't it?" He attempted to give it a pointed glare, then rapidly whirled away, massaging the dancing spots out of his eyelids. "Argh. Well, the ambience will have to suffer!" One of his gloved hands whirled impatiently around in the air. "It's a supernatural case."
"Supernatural...?" Even near the blazing fire of the hearth, and despite the hearty rays of sunshine coming through the window, Ryunosuke could feel a chill quivering down his spine.
"Really? How so?" Susato paused for a moment, retrieving her trusty reference book from the sleeve of her kimono. "I've read about cases where killers were claimed to come back to life, or ghosts schemed to enact grisly revenge on the living, or murders committed while the accused was possessed, or..."
"U-ugh..." The chill had developed into a full-blown freeze, the icy fingers of the grave beginning to tickle his ribs. Ryunosuke dug into another slice of toast for caloric comfort. "Where have you been reading all this stuff?"
"'Bone-Chillers Monthly--Tales to Numb the Senses'!" Susato announced with a cheery nod. "It's not the most fact-based periodical, I'll admit, but it's certainly vivid."
"Nothing so intriguing, I'm afraid." Pacing a few steps around the room, Sholmes twirled his fingers in small, zipping gestures. "The woman simply wants me to investigate a spate of recent rumors that have cropped up around some spot or other of our fair London town, and see if there's an inkling of truth to them or not."
"Truth to...the supernatural?" Sholmes gave a curt nod. "What sort of rumors?"
"Oh, you know. People being where they shouldn't be, or things disappearing from their places, or..." The already-vague description trailed off. Ryunosuke took an educated guess and presumed that he'd forgotten. "All the sorts of things they typically do." The great detective arched his back and curved sharply forwards, raising his hands in indignant reproach. "Goodness, Mr. Naruhodo, one would think you'd never heard a ghost story in your life!"
Ryunosuke let the buck-shifting roll off of him, focusing on breakfast. He couldn't help but notice Susato raising a finger to her chin, though, as her eyes held focus on a spot in the empty air. "Investigating into supernatural events...it does sound quite interesting, doesn't it, Mr. Naruhodo?"
"...I'm not very good with ghosts, I'm afraid." He shook his head. "But...I have to admit, it does sound intriguing. I wouldn't mind finding out more about it."
"By all means, then!" Sholmes clapped his hands, as if marking the signing of some invisible contract. "Feel free to hear the details yourself from the client in question. She left her card--it should still be on the table somewhere." Sholmes settled back into the comfortable recesses of the armchair, raising his cup of tea. "And be sure to report all your findings back to me."
"..." A familiar sinking feeling had grabbed ahold of Ryunosuke's heart and pulled. He drew a deep breath, keeping his eyes fixed on the lounging figure before him. "Mr. Sholmes. You do actually...intend to investigate this case, don't you?"
"Oh, of course! In fact, I'm so devoted to uncovering the truth, I'm sending my most trusted associates to do it!" Sholmes thrust one finger triumphantly aloft, before going back to stirring his tea. "After all, it'd be terribly selfish of me to hoard all the fun to myself, wouldn't it? An intriguing mystery is a thing to be shared! So go, ruminate to your heart's content! I shall support you every step of the way...while contemplating the puzzle of what Iris has used for her latest blend." And, with that, the great detective took a contended sip, settling back into his statuesque pose in front of the fire.
Susato must've noticed the blank stare he was drilling into the back of Sholmes' neck, because she put one hand to her cheek. "Naruhodo-san, they do say there are certain people who predict the future from tea leaves." She smiled, taking the optimistic route. "Perhaps there are similar rituals for tracing the spirits of the departed?"
"Perhaps..." He sighed. "Although, the only future I predict is one of us doing all the work."
"That does seem likely, yes." She nodded. As ever, her optimism never eclipsed her pragmaticism. "Still...you said you were looking for something to do, didn't you? A mystery like this seems like just the thing to get the heart racing and start the day off right!"
"...Mhm. I suppose so." He couldn't help but crack a smile as he took the visiting card from its position, precariously balanced on the rim of a saucer. "Well then, let's head off!"
25th February, 11:41 AM
Though they'd only spent a few months in London so far, Susato seemed to take pleasure in studying the various maps and guidebooks to the expansive town, giving her a fairly good inkling of how its various boroughs crossed and intersected. As such, she recognized the address as being relatively close by; this, combined with their efforts to save as much as they could of their limited monthly stipend, led them to opt for walking through the bustling streets rather than hail a cab. After only about ten minutes of trudging through the snow-blanketed roads, making light conversation as they went, they turned the corner onto another unassuming boulevard.
"Ah, there--" Susato quickly rifled through the pages of her guidebook, cross-referencing a small square grid of map with the modest building before her. "That's it, isn't it? It's the right number."
"Looks like it. Alright, then--let's introduce ourselves." As he knocked on the door, Ryunosuke couldn't help but feel a touch of apprehension. It was the same every time he first visited a client, that thin sheet of ice layered on his nerves. All his small concerns--whether he'd be able to live up to his ideals, whether he'd be able to do right by his client, whether he'd find himself capable of discovering the truth at all--crystallized in the moment just before introducing himself, before he knew what he was dealing with. As the door creaked open slowly he tried to swallow his fears, taking a deep breath.
"Hel--uh..." He found himself freezing mid-sentence as he laid eyes on the person opening the door. It was, probably, a woman, and if so possibly an older woman; clad head to toe in black, a thick criss-crossing veil covering the figure's face and a long dress trailing on the floor by its feet.
"Can I help you?" Ryunosuke gulped; the voice was breezily ethereal, like a wisp of a breath. For some reason, he got the mental image of a cobweb stretching across a tombstone.
"Ah. G-good morning. We're here to...ah..."
Susato, ever-unflappable, stepped in with a gentle bow. "We're here to investigate your case, ma'am."
"Are you really...?" The apparition's voice wavered then rallied, striking Ryunosuke as simultaneously brittle and firm. "I believe I sent that request to Mr. Sholmes."
"Correct. He sent us on his behalf; we're his most trusted associates." Ryunosuke felt himself sink into a mix of relief and awe as he saw her commandeer the conversation. Her steady eyes, her calm voice...all things he admired, and hoped to be able to emulate one day. "We'd like to make some inquires, if you don't mind."
The figure paused at the door before its head bobbed slightly in what Ryunosuke assumed was a small nod. "Come in, then."
The door was pulled open further, and the figure turned and receded into the house. With the way its long dress draped along the floor, shifting forward steadily inch by inch, it almost seemed like their client was floating rather than walking.
Evidence of the supernatural, Sholmes had said. Ryunosuke found himself wondering if their client had tried a mirror.
Susato was first into the house, with Ryunosuke following shortly after, removing their shoes and coats at the entrance and following the figure inside. The interior of the house was slightly at odds with what Ryunosuke might've expected from the occupant; the wallpaper was slightly florid, the couches and chairs seemed comfortable enough, and there were touches of color amid the furniture. That said, as they moved from the entryway into the drawing room, they found the room within plunged into darkness. Every window within had been blocked by thick curtains that let nary a single ray of light into the confines of the house, and there was a thick musty scent in the air from dust. Ryunosuke squinted, his eyes adjusting from the noontime sun, trying to see the contours within...
For one fleeting moment, a chalk-white human skull flashed in the darkness. With a gasp Ryunosuke stumbled back, fumbling around for anything to hold onto and winding up clutching Susato's arm. As the light settled, he realized what he'd seen had simply been the face of their client from under the veil, starkly illuminated as she turned on the wall-mounted gaslight; turning to Susato he murmured an apology and pulled his hand away, and she gave him a smile and a nod. He couldn't have mistaken it, though--despite her iron smile and her steady posture, her arm had been noticeably rigid.
The figure seated itself on an armchair, motioning for them to do the same. While decently comfortable, Ryunosuke noted that the sofa was slightly resistant, as if it hadn't been well-used. Still, the sight of a ghostly apparition occupying an armchair seemed to humanize her a little. "My name is Vivian Wraithe. I enlisted your help to aid me in the pursuit of a series of rumors." She let a moment of silence pass before she continued. "Has Mr. Sholmes informed you of their nature?"
"Um--" Ryunosuke started, already mentally constructing apologies for not sorting out preparations before leaving.
"We'd like to hear them in your own words, Mrs. Wraithe." Susato intercepted him expertly.
"...very well." She nodded, again. "There are four...events, perhaps, or occurrences, that I'd like you to look into. From what I've heard, they all occurred in Clapham; three in the Chase, one across Northcote. The first...concerns that of a shriek in the night." As he did his best to make eye contact with their enigmatic client through the gaps in her veil, Ryunosuke tried to force himself to relax. This was, after all, just a regular house, belonging to a probably-only-slightly irregular woman. Still...even in a fully-lit drawing room in the middle of the day, he'd never been good with ghost stories.
Though her voice was frail, it seemed to swallow up the silence of the room. "They say that, on a dark and cloudless night, the street began to shriek. All the--"
"I'm sorry--did you say 'the street'?"
"..." Even without seeing her eyes behind the veil, the sudden chill that clutched at Ryunosuke's heart made him certain she was glaring directly at him. "Yes. I believe I enunciated clearly. Please, don't interrupt." She leaned back, regathering her composure. "...All the street lights dimmed for just a moment. And, an instant later, a deafening blast blew a hole clear through the road. Some claim that anyone who gazed into that hole grew faint and fell in, never to be seen again; some say that if you squint, you can see clear through to the underworld." She paused. Perhaps noticing the way Ryunosuke's face had gone rigid, she continued: "Rumors do grow in re-telling, though."
She drew one long, rattling breath, and continued. "The second concerns that of a blazing phantom. They say that, when no sound could be heard but the wailing of the wind, a vivid fire danced from one side of the street to the other..."
"But couldn't that just be a regular fire?" Ryunosuke pressed.
"...hovering in mid-air, leaving no ashes, and disappearing without a trace." She continued, undaunted. Ryunosuke made a mental note to keep his objections to the courtroom in the future. "Some claim they could see a demon's haggard face within; some claim it was a hellhound, chasing its prey through the streets. The third...concerns what seems to be a poltergeist. They say that, in the dead of night at an abandoned storefront, a mannequin--" She suddenly halted herself, turning to face Ryunosuke. "A mannequin is a sort of life-sized doll, for the purpose of showcasing clothing for sale."
"Th-thank you." He murmured, feeling moderately sheepish that she'd guessed his next interruption.
"--a mannequin let out a blood-curdling scream and, moving as if it had a will of its own, escaped into the night. Some say that it's stalking the back alleys, waiting to get its hands on a human body...although, I believe that part of the story originated from some of the more vivid imaginations of the area." She shook her head, seemingly distraught that the purity of these ghost stories had been interfered in by sensationalism. "And the fourth concerns a strange, demonic being that appeared in the night. A hovering, grimacing, fanged face, surrounded by a halo of light...and wreathed entirely in shadow."
She took a deep breath. "That about sums it up, I believe." The silent pall that had been cast over the room lightened just slightly. "As I said, all of these incidents are reported as occurring somewhere in Clapham."
"Thank you very much, Mrs. Wraithe." Susato gave her a gentle nod. "We'll look into the matter immediately. But, if we may ask...why are you interested in these events, in particular?"
"Not in particular, not quite." Mrs. Wraithe let a small silence pass for a few moments, pressing the tips of her fingers closer together. "For several years now, I have been searching for evidence of the supernatural. These events are merely another step on a long road. The road has been fruitless so far, but...I hold out hope."
For a moment, Ryunosuke thought he could sense a note of melancholy in her brittle voice. It was only a momentary feeling, but it bolstered his courage enough to ask a question of his own. "But...London must be full of ghost stories like this, surely. Is there anything in particular that makes you think these will be a promising lead?"
Her response was to fall into an unearthly silence, and tilt her head just slightly in his direction.
"Um--" The atmosphere in the drawing room had seemed to darken into that of a midnight cemetary. Ryunosuke slammed his foot firmly down on the backtracking pedal. "That is--sorry, I didn't mean to doubt--"
"...Forgive me. I must've omitted a vital detail." She shook her head slowly, then leaned forwards. "According to the rumors, you see, these events all took place on the same day." Her hands, concealed by jet-black gloves, clasped in front of her. "Yesterday, in fact."
"W-what?!" Despite the stifling sombreness of the room, Ryunosuke couldn't conceal his shock. "All this happened just the other day?"
"...According to the rumors, yes." She repeated, leaning back once more. "Do remember that as an investigator, it doesn't serve you to be too credulous."
"R-Right. Yes, of course." Ryunosuke nodded, then paused for a moment. The formality of the atmosphere was overbearing, and though there didn't seem to be much left to say, he wasn't quite sure how to draw the conversation to a close. "Um, so...well...I suppose that means we..."
"The fee has already been discussed with Mr. Sholmes, and will be delivered upon a satisfying explanation." She rose to her feet, the folds of her long dress slipping back behind her. "Good day, and..." There was a momentary pause as her veiled face turned away. "I bid you the best of luck."
Susato took that as her cue to rise to her feet, giving another gentle bow. "We'll bring you answers as soon as we have them, Mrs. Wraithe." As Ryunosuke followed suit towards the exit, Susato turned around, continuing in firm tones: "Rest assured, we will uncover the truth."
Their client, returning to silence and wreathed in the thick dust of the surrounding air, merely gave them one long look, then nodded.
Ryunosuke drew in a deep huff of London's chilly winter air as soon as they returned to the street outside. Freezing air rattled down his throat, but any sensation, no matter how unpleasant, made him feel more alive than the mausoleum stillness of that building. He went to button his coat, having draped it around him in haste as they left, and turned to Susato. "The truth...Ms. Susato, wasn't that a bit much to promise? I mean, those rumors seemed rather vague."
"Oh dear..." She raised one finger to her chin, eyes wandering across the bustling streets. "Do you think so? With Mr. Sholmes' investigative reputation to uphold, I may have acted slightly rashly."
"N-no, it's okay! It's a good goal to set, after all. I'm sure we'll find out the truth, one way or another." The two of them exchanged a quick smile as they paced on, a tense silence growing between them as they unpacked what they'd just been told. Ryunosuke was the first to break it, turning back to face Susato after a stint of staring into space. "She seemed..." He paused for a moment, tilting his head, polishing his words. "You know, once I got over the first impression...she wasn't at all what I expected."
"Yes...I agree." Susato's gaze trailed a jumbled set of pedestrians heading across the street, before she shook her head. "I don't want to cast aspersions, but when I'd heard she was looking for evidence on the existence of ghosts, I thought she'd be a bit more..." She put her hand to her cheek, seeming to struggle for a polite way to put it. "Rash, perhaps. Impulsive."
"I thought so, too." His eyes scanned the cobbles for a moment, before he raised them to meet hers. "That woman...what she was wearing, that was traditional British mourning garb, wasn't it?"
A few more seconds passed. The clatter of cabwheels and the ever-present crunch of footsteps on snow filled the silence.
"I think so." For a couple of moments she averted her eyes and said nothing, letting the noontime bustle surround them. "And I also think...it's not our place to pry, Mr. Naruhodo."
"No...I wouldn't like to." He shook his head, raising his eyes to pay closer attention to the surrounding streets. Their wandering as they exited her house had been relatively aimless, more a brief promenade to sort their thoughts out than with any destination in mind. "Mrs. Wraithe said 'the Chase', didn't she? Is that close enough to walk?"
"Technically, yes, but practically, in this weather..." Susato fished her all-purpose reference book from the sleeve of her kimono, eyeing through its pages until she laid eyes on a heavily-compressed miniature map. She scanned it for a moment, glanced around her at the piled-up snow lining the streets, and nodded. "I believe it may be better to hail a cab."
Ryunosuke nodded, then paused for a moment, furrowing his brow. "...You don't suppose Mr. Sholmes is going to cover the cost of that, do you?"
"I believe that, as the heirs to his mantle of lightning deduction..." A gentle smile washed over her face as she shut the book's covers. "We can figure that out for ourselves."