Mai looked up from the newspaper on her desk when she heard the door open. She smiled brightly when she saw the guest.
"Masako! Oh thank goodness someone showed up today," she said.
"That's a rather unusual greeting," Masako returned.
"Well, uh, you see, I really don't want to be alone in here ever since...you know..."
"Has he really said nothing about the chocolates?" Masako asked, dropping her voice so it was less likely for anyone to overhear.
"Would you believe me if I said I haven't really given him the chance to?" Mai asked sheepishly.
"Yes, I would believe that. Anyway, I came here to see if you have heard anything about the castle that's been in the news."
"Ah, I was just reading about it actually. I've been following it in case someone comes in about it."
"So I'm assuming you haven't gotten to the part about a disappearance yet," Masako said.
"It's in the article. Read it. I'll wait."
Mai went back to the newspaper in front of her and got back to reading. She flew through the article in an attempt to find what Masako was talking about.
"This only mentions that there was a disappearance," Mai said, confused.
"Yes, but security is strict there. Don't you think it's odd that someone could disappear without a trace?" Masako asked.
Mai frowned at the newspaper. She was beginning to get a feeling that something was off. The feeling settled uncomfortably.
They both looked towards the door when they heard it open. An older man walked in and stopped at the end of the short entrance hallway. Before Mai could as much as open her mouth to ask if she could help him, Naru was leaving his office.
"Fujimoto-san. I appreciate your timeliness," Naru said and indicated for him to follow to the sitting area. "Mai, some tea."
"Ah, I should go then," Masako said.
"No, you may stay. It could prove beneficial," Naru answered.
Lin joined them before their guest began to speak.
"As you are already aware, Shibuya-san, I'm looking for assistance with a property I've recently acquired," Fujimoto-san began.
Naru nodded. Mai frowned.
Fujimoto-san took a sip of tea to bolster himself. "It is likely you have already heard of what has happened, though I admit the greatest cause for concern occurred after I reached out to speak with you. I have recently come into possession of the castle that has been in the papers as of late."
Mai shared a look with Masako, but stayed quiet. The same feeling she got when reading the newspaper was a bit stronger and making her nauseous. She drank some tea in the hopes it would settle her.
"I had not been informed about the unpleasant atmosphere or the occasional disappearances prior to owning the place. Naturally, now it is too late to wash my hands of the situation, so I seek to remedy it."
"What exactly do you expect us to do for you," Naru said, deliberately coming off cold and guarded. The possible publicity still set him on edge.
Fujimoto-san looked down at the cup in his hands and sighed. "There is a constant feeling of being watched or that something is just around the corner. As the castle functions as a museum, it has suffered in that respect. Fewer people have been coming to tour. After the disappearance, we felt it safest to close for the time being."
"That hardly seems like something for us to concern ourselves with," Naru stated.
"It was my son who went missing."
Mai held her breath as she anticipated a cold response from Naru. She bit her lip. The uncomfortable feeling wasn't really getting worse, but it also wasn't going away either.
Naru remained quiet as he studied their prospective client.
"He had been helping me make sure everything was in order. He always said there was nothing there to be worried about. He was doing a final check before we closed for the day and was nowhere to be found."
Mai shivered. Something didn't feel right to her with that explanation. She felt like something was missing from it.
"There is the possibility that your son is not with us, so to speak." Naru watched their client carefully.
"I am prepared for any outcome, but I'm still holding out hope," Fujimoto-san answered solemnly.
Naru nodded. "I shall consider the case. Should I accept, would there be a room we could set up that has a significant amount of outlets?"
"Yes, you would have your choice, actually," Fujimoto-san said. He seemed to be trying to not appear disheartened.
"And I would need space for my team to sleep."
"It would be easy enough to arrange."
Naru nodded. "Then I shall have my assistant call you with my verdict by this time tomorrow."
Understanding that he was dismissed, Fujimoto-san bowed and left.
"Mai, you look ill," Masako commented once the door closed.
"Something's wrong. I think he was hiding something," Mai said.
"Why do you say that, Mai?" Naru asked.
"I'm not sure. I had a weird feeling when I read about it in the newspaper too. It got a bit worse as he was talking," Mai said.
"Admittedly, my producer came forward to propose going there. It was quickly turned down. Supposedly by the owner, but I was not directly involved with the decision process to know for sure," Masako agreed.
Naru was silent as he looked to Lin. They almost seemed to have a wordless conversation before Naru turned his attention to Mai. "I'll give you the phone number. Schedule our arrival for two days from now. And inform the others. I want research begun immediately. It shouldn't be hard to acquire a basic history of such a public location."
Naru and Lin both stood to head back to their offices, leaving Mai and Masako on their own.
"Did they really want you to film there?" Mai asked.
Masako nodded. "There have been rumors for a long time that the castle is home to spirits. There are tales of people seeing a black figure darting around corners and feeling like they're being watched, but there's very little that is consistent between each rumor."
Mai started to clean up the teacups on the table. "How often does someone turn down your show filming?"
"Almost never. It's very rare and has only ever been for safety reasons."
"Did Fujimoto-san give a reason why he didn't want you going through?"
"I don't think it was Fujimoto-san at the time. But regardless, he simply declined."
Mai frowned. She thought it over as she washed everything in the sink. The ball of nausea sat in her stomach as she kept thinking about it.
"Do you think Naru is doing the right thing taking this case?" Masako asked from the doorway.
Mai put her hands on the edge of the sink as the water drained. "I don't know. It just really doesn't feel good, but we at least need to see if we can do anything."
Masako nodded. She stayed in the office while Mai made the necessary calls.
The next day
Yasu was standing at the bottom of the stairs outside the office. He kept looking up and down the sidewalk impatiently. He adjusted the roll of papers under his arm a few times as he waited.
Finally, he spotted a blonde head rushing his way. He shook his head as he watched her dodge people to avoid slowing down. She was almost there when she barely missed someone's shoulder and nearly went careening past him. He caught her arm before she could spin past him to catch her balance.
"You didn't have to rush," he said.
"I did when I almost missed the train because a professor wanted to talk," Zoe said after she caught her breath. "Why aren't you inside?"
"Oh, yes. I love showing up with not even half the research Naru asked for." He ushered her up the stairs and followed.
Suffering through the icy glare of a boss who had been made to wait an extra minute, they prepared to present their findings.
"So, I think we're gonna need to start with a history lesson," Yasu said by way of greeting.
Monk groaned. "I thought I was done with classes years ago. Am I gonna need a pencil?"
Ayako smacked him for his trouble.
Once they all had a packet of papers outlining what they had found, Yasu dramatically cleared his throat.
"Are you a professor now?" Monk asked under his breath.
"I like to believe I'd make for an excellent professor some day. Feel free to call me senpai in the meantime."
"Like hell I will," Monk muttered.
Not bothered by the continued glare, Yasu grinned and adjusted his glasses. "Anyway, I'm sure we all know at least a little about the castles we have here. They were all built hundreds of years ago. The earlier ones were built to be defensible. Later on they were meant to be a bit of a status symbol. What may be less known is when they were largely torn down."
"Ah, I think I remember that!" Mai interjected. "The government had commanded for them to be taken down."
"That's right. It was ordered that they be abandoned or burned. In some cases, the sites were repurposed, if possible, to try to preserve history. Others were used as garrisons that America targeted in wartime. This one managed to avoid the worst of the deconstruction and wasn't taken over by the military, probably due to its location being less than optimal."
He watched everyone as they flipped a page in their papers after he did so himself.
"Up until the deconstruction, it had been owned by the Uehara family who had given up possession without much of a fuss. Unfortunately, we have yet to find more on the family than just a family tree, which is rather extensive and comes to a rather abrupt end. That may be part of why it was handed over so easily. Regardless, about thirty-odd years ago, the government began making an effort to reconstruct the castles that were still standing."
"And our client has no relation to the prior owner?" Naru asked. He didn't bother to look up from the page in front of him.
"None whatsoever," Zoe answered. "From what we could find, the deal involving Fujimoto-san was done properly. Since it was already a museum before it changed hands, it had to be clean and aboveboard."
"Yes, it was already reconstructed, actually. The interior is reportedly as authentic as possible to when it had been built and actively used," Yasu added. "There have been multiple different owners since then. On average, it changed hands once every ten years or so."
Naru put the papers aside to examine more closely later. "And what is that?" he asked nodding toward the rolled papers.
"Ah, this!" Yasu said excitedly. He unrolled it on the table in front of everyone. "This is the initial blueprints that were available for educational purposes at the library. They let me make copies after telling them I was an architectural student. Since the reconstruction was intended to be true to the original, this should be the layout we'll be working with."
Everyone leaned closer to get a better look. There were five floors and a small basement outlined and arranged neatly on the paper.
"This looks like a lot of ground to cover," Ayako commented dully.
"What did you expect, exactly?" Masako asked.
"I dunno. Not this."
"Please don't make our base the top floor, Naru-bou," Monk pleaded.
"We'll have to climb them all anyway, Bou-san," John said placatingly.
"But not with all the equipment."
"I don't even wanna think about how drafty it might be." Mai heavily rested her head in her hands. "The temperatures are gonna be all over the place."
"Lin, get these scanned in. We'll make sure of the measurements when we get there to make sure it's accurate and up to date." Naru stood with his copy of the research and headed for his office.
Lin took a copy of the blueprints with him back to his own office.
"This is gonna be a tough case, isn't it," Mai said to no one in particular. She hadn't moved from where she had hunched over.
"Hey, look on the bright side. It could be worse!" Yasu quipped.
"What could be worse than measuring five floors and a basement?" Monk asked. "Actually, don't answer that."
"Acrually, so far, it's better," John offered in an attempt to be optimistic.
"How do you figure that?" Monk asked.
"Well, we only get to see the place when we get there. This is sort of an advantage for us," John explained.
"How about we go eat somewhere instead of talking about all the work we're gonna have to do," Mai suggested.
"Leave it to Jou-chan to want to slack off," Monk said.
"Hmm, she has a point. Who knows when we'll get to eat good food again," Ayako agreed.
"You make it sound like we'll be there for weeks," Masako sniffed. "Whose turn is it to pick?"
Yasu smirked and pushed his glasses up. "I'm glad you asked. It's my turn and I suggest that place with the good sake."
After a chorus of agreements, they filed out of the office together.
<3 Hope yall enjoy
They all met at the office to drive to the location as a group. Mai, knowing she'd be stuck in the van with Naru and Lin for the duration, thought to bring the book her new mentor had recommended to her. Somehow, it hadn't already been in Naru's possession. She managed to convince him to compensate her for it, citing it as a work expense.
She was finishing the first chapter when she looked up at their surroundings. Ahead of them was their destination. The castle towered over them on the hill with its gabled roofs and railings indicating an outer walkway on each floor.
Lin was slowly navigating the winding road that went up the hill. She briefly remembered Yasu rambling on about how they made it that way as a means to slow oncoming enemy forces and pick them off before they could reach the main stronghold. On either side on their way up, there were scattered ruins of what had been the outer buildings. Little was left besides partial walls and battered foundations.
As they drew closer, Mai gradually began to experience a feeling of foreboding that made her feel sick, much like what she had felt at the office with the client. She frowned as she hugged herself.
"Mai?" Naru asked, noticing her increasing distress.
"Something's not right here," she said.
In the car behind the van, Monk was driving carefully with a frown on his face. He wasn't too pleased about the drive up the hill and was constantly checking his side mirrors to make sure he had enough clearance whenever they got close to a protruding wall. Ayako was going on about something that he hadn't been listening to for a little while.
"Masako?" John interrupted from the back seat.
That was enough to make Ayako go quiet and turn around. Monk briefly forgot his worries and looked in the rear view mirror to check on her in the backseat.
"Masako? What's wrong?" Ayako asked. She was practically falling between the front seats as she leaned into the back, instinctually reaching to check her temperature.
"I don't feel well. I think it's because of whatever is here. My head is pounding," Masako said. Her sleeve was covering her mouth as if she was trying to not be sick and her eyes were squeezed shut.
Ayako's gaze was drawn out the back window. "Housho, let me out. John, keep an eye on her."
Monk silently obeyed and Ayako was already out of the car and running back to the tail of their little parade before the car had come to a complete stop.
Zoe had demanded Yasu stop the car. He stared for what felt like minutes before jumping into action. She had jumped out and fallen into the grass on her knees where she threw up her breakfast.
After putting his car in park, he ran around to kneel next to her as she took heaving breaths to try and compose herself. She dry heaved a couple more times, causing him to look away, just in case. He put his hand on her back in what he hoped was a comforting gesture and made sure her hair didn't get in the way. She sagged against him when she had some semblance of control back.
"What's going on?" Ayako said as she knelt down on the other side of her.
"This place," Zoe said, barely more than a whisper. "There's something really bad about it. It's...it's oppressive."
"Alright. You're going back down. Masako too," Ayako said.
"No! No, I'll be fine after a little while. I swear," she pleaded.
"Zoe, you were just sick," Yasu reasoned.
"I just need to get used to the energy of this place. I didn't expect so much at once. Don't make me leave," she pleaded.
Yasu and Ayako shared a look over her.
"We'll see what Naru says then," Ayako said. "Come on, up we go." She helped Zoe to stand up and led her back to the car. She gently pushed her into the backseat and followed her in.
Finally, they had all made it through the entrance to the courtyard at the base of the castle.
Ayako fussed over the nauseous mediums as Naru tried to gather the rest of the team.
"Yasuhara, you're coming with us," Naru said.
"Of course," Yasu replied, though somewhat reluctantly.
Fujimoto-san walked out to them, having seen them drive up. "I'm glad you decided to help us," he said in greeting. He looked around the group. "If some of your team is feeling unwell, they can sit inside," he offered.
Ayako nearly jumped at him for the suggestion, but Naru replied before she could say anything.
"That is appreciated, but they would be better served staying out here for the time being. In the meantime, we can start with a look around."
"Of course," Fujimoto-san nodded. He ushered them through the front door.
The front doors opened directly into a large entrance hall. Glass cases were scattered around the walls. Assorted items from a time long past were on display inside them. The tatami mat floor looked to be in good condition as well. Any patches that may have been needed had been installed seamlessly.
Yasu tried to keep his curiosity to a minimum as he followed Naru. There would likely be time to inspect the displays later.
"How often do guests say they experience something?" Naru asked as he studied the walls as if looking for any imperfection.
"At least one in each tour group. They say they felt like they were being watched," Fujimoto-san said. "I'm afraid that's all they ever really say. They never see or hear anything."
"Have you had the building's wiring tested?" Naru asked.
"Multiple times. It always comes back with no problems."
Naru frowned. Fujimoto-san led the way into the adjoining rooms. He gently slid the paper door to reveal a relatively formal dining room set with a low table and cushions surrounding it in the center of the room.
"Has anything ever been moved or misplaced when you return to a room?" Naru continued.
"Not that I have seen or been made aware of."
"No noises?" Lin asked.
"The occasional footstep sound, but not anything besides that," Fujimoto-san answered.
"Were pipes retrofitted as well when the electricity was done?" Yasu asked.
Fujimoto-san shook his head. "It seems they felt it was not as necessary as electricity."
They quietly walked through the kitchen before they were led to the central stairs.
"Most of the rooms here aren't shown, so they aren't furnished," Fujimoto-san supplied.
"What's out here?" Naru asked, indicating a sliding door that did not seem to lead to a room.
"That leads to the outer walkway. The stairs in the courtyard hallway lead up to it. They had been used as a quick way to get to the entrance for the servants long ago," Fujimoto-san explained. He opened it to show them. "You can use it as you need. There is another on the other side as well."
They continued to the third floor. "Through there are the archives, though it doesn't contain very much, it has some information about the Uehara family and a little about previous owners."
"We will be able to have access to that?" Naru asked.
"Of course. It actually may be suitable for your needs." He led them through.
There were sparsely scattered shelves throughout the room. Yasu walked up to the closest shelf, but wasn't particularly impressed with what he found there after a quick glance.
"This would be more than enough, Naru," Lin said.
Naru nodded. "We'll set up here."
The fourth floor was more of the same with barely used rooms. The fifth floor was set up to look like a strategy room. A map of the area was spread out and pinned down to a large table set off to one side of the room. The other side had more shelves full of rolls of paper that were likely more maps of varying sizes and more books that looked old and worn.
"This room and the basement get the most complaints from staff and security," Fujimoto-san said. "They say they feel like something is here with them rather than simply watching."
Naru surveyed the room before looking back to the client. "The basement, then."
They followed single-file down the narrow, central stairs to the first floor. Fujimoto-san led them to the kitchen and opened a door in the floor that revealed a set of stone steps. He flicked a nearby lightswitch before descending.
The room was narrow and the air felt damp. Along one of the stone walls was a line of bookshelves, each one stuffed with books that looked as old as the building. There were wooden benches scattered uniformly down the room.
"It was rumored that this was the workshop allotted to one of the last Uehara children who lived here. Despite significant research, we couldn't figure out what they used it for," Fujimoto-san explained.
"If that's everything, we will need to discuss our next step," Naru said.
"I understand. Should you need anything, please let me know," Fujimoto-san said with a bow. He went back up the steps.
"Naru, if you don't mind me asking, why did you accept this case? It doesn't seem like one you'd normally take on," Yasu asked. He crossed his arms as he looked over the room.
"I was going to refuse it between the lack of activity and the press being somewhat involved. Mai had a feeling about the place. Based on how she and the others have reacted to simply being here, I think this will pose an interesting challenge," Naru explained.
Naru turned and walked the length of the room. "Do you have the blueprints with you, Yasuhara?"
"Ah, yeah. Did you want to see them?"
"Mark the cameras on it."
"Yes, yes." Yasu walked over to the nearest workbench where he set down his bag and pulled out a large folded piece of paper. "Where do you want them?" he asked as he spread it out on the surface.
Naru walked back down the room. He studied the plans for a few moments before pointing at different places. Yasu had to quickly make marks on the paper to keep up.
"I want the base set up first. Then we can see who is able to take cameras to these locations," Naru said. "There is a lot of space to cover so we need angles to be precise."
As expected, Monk had complained about carrying everything up to the third floor. Unexpected was that Ayako helped without complaining at all. Mai tried to help, but was denied after her earlier nausea episode.
Ayako finally relented when Mai demanded to help set up the cameras once the base was set up. It wasn't clear if Ayako actually thought Mai was okay to help or if she had gotten tired of listening to Mai's complaints.
"Are you sure you're okay?" John asked for the third time since they started setting up cameras. They were only on their second camera.
"I'm sure! Really!" Mai answered again. "It wasn't even really that bad." She waved off his concerns.
"It's just really worrying that it was all three of you. Not that it wouldn't be if it was only one of you though," John amended.
"But it's not really all that strange though. We're all more susceptible to spirits than everyone else," Mai reasoned. She turned her attention to the camera to make sure it was angled just right.
"I suppose," John said hesitantly. "Masako can't really get a feel on what's here though."
"We just got here!" Mai laughed. "Give her some time to get used to this place."
John tried to smile at Mai's optimism, but it came out more as a grimace. Mai didn't see it as she fiddled with the camera's settings. They headed back to base when they had the all clear that the view they were getting on the monitor was as good as they were going to get of the kitchen.
Mai's own optimism faltered when she wasn't looking at John. She didn't feel ill anymore, but there was a distinct uncomfortable feeling that wouldn't go away, so she did her best to ignore it. All her instincts were telling her something was very wrong, but there was nothing to point to what that something was.
They were up the stairs and nearing the base for further instructions when they heard raised voices inside.
"Masako, I need to be sure that you're okay! I'm concerned about the lot of you after this morning," Ayako was saying.
"I think I know myself well enough to determine if I am in a state to walk around," Masako retorted.
John led the way in quietly. Mai closed the door behind them. Ayako and Masako were standing near the wall of monitors where Zoe and Lin were seated with a radio in between them. Masako wasn't quite facing her and looking slightly bothered with her nose in the air.
"If Masako feels she is better, I think we should let her go," John said hesitantly.
"At least someone here is sensible," Masako sniffed.
"Okay, now I know you're feeling better. Let's go." Ayako stalked out the door with a smug Masako following behind her.
"Well, uh, what's next?" Mai asked, trying not to laugh.
"Bou-san and Yasu have the walkway around the courtyard covered. Start on the second floor hallway," Naru instructed. He was standing next to the table with the blueprints spread out on top, but didn't bother to look over.
John and Mai shared a look before they both shrugged and started rummaging for what they would need.
A groan from across the room caught Mai's attention. Looking up, she saw Zoe reach for the radio.
"Yasuhara, I swear to everything holy, I will come down there myself if you don't situate that camera," she said. The view in question kept turning from side to side. Each adjustment seemed to go just too far to keep part of the hallway out of range.
"It's not my fault it's not sitting properly," Yasu's answer came back.
"It has a wide enough view that we can see enough of both directions. When you finally decide to get out from behind it, just tuck it back in the corner as far as it can go and it'll be fine."
A moment later, the camera view in question was completely blocked by Yasu as he did as he was told. He backed up a little after he set it down to give the camera a smile and a peace sign.
"Yeah, yeah. Just do the same thing on the other side without all the fiddling."
He saluted with a smirk before disappearing with Monk following.
"Come on, Mai. We don't want to waste too much time," John prodded.
She followed him back down the stairs with the equipment and began to set up a tripod in a corner of the hallway. They worked efficiently to get the first camera up and running.
They crossed to the opposite side to start on the second one when John stopped them.
"I think we're gonna need a longer cable for this one," he commented as he looked hard at the cable in his hand.
"Huh? I thought I brought a long one," Mai said.
John unraveled the cable to be sure.
"Ugh, it really is too short," Mai said.
"I'll run back quick and get a longer one," John offered.
"Yeah, no problem."
Mai shrugged as he headed towards the stairs, winding the cable as he walked. She took the time to look around. Immersing herself in her surroundings really made it feel like she had been transported back in time. She got the sense of frequent laughter echoing through the stairwell.
A dark feeling began to penetrate the area. It felt like it was full of resentment towards something or someone. Mai looked around again, but nothing was different. She felt a chill, but she had already determined the place was a bit drafty, so she tried not to think much of it.
Anxiety and nervousness gradually built up within her. She became suspicious of the corners and the closed rooms. She couldn't imagine what could be hiding in them.
She didn't dare turn around when she felt a presence beginning to slowly materialize.
She jumped with a yelp.
"Didn't mean to startle you," John said, mild amusement evident on his face.
Mai looked around, but everything was the same as before. Nothing out of place.
"Mai, are you alright?" John asked seriously.
"Did you feel anything weird when you came back?" Mai asked. She realized how tense she was and hesitantly relaxed her shoulders.
John thought about it for a moment before shaking his head. "No, I don't think so. Notjing more than the usual feelong of this place. You looked a bit distracted though. Did you feel anything?"
"I'm not sure. Maybe? It might have just been my nerves getting the best of me. But I also got the feeling that someone hadn't been happy here."
"Perhaps Masako has felt something like that. It wouldn't hurt to trade notes," John said. He trailed the cable along the wall to the nearest outlet as he talked.
Mai had just gotten done adjusting the camera's angle when they heard a loud thud from the floor above them. They shared a look before running up the stairs to find Monk sprawled on his back on the floor with a camera lying on top of him.
"Bou-san, are you alright?" Mai asked.
"Yeah. Yeah, I'm great," he answered breathlessly. "Just need a minute."
"You were right behind me. What could you have possibly tripped on?" Yasu asked.
"I don't know! It all happened too fast."
"The floors aren't so uneven for someone to trip on them," Yasu stated, arms folded in front of himself.
"Yes, thanks for pointing that out." Monk slowly got to his feet.
"I suppose I'll add checking that the floors are level to my list of things to do," Mai said unhappily.
"Are you sure you're alright?" John asked to make sure.
"Yeah, you're kinda old to be taking falls like that," Yasu quipped.
"Yeah, John, I'm fine." Monk steadfastly ignored Yasu. "Can I change partners now?"
"Well that's rude," Yasu continued anyway.
"Oh, come on, Bou-san. You two make a great team!" Mai said encouragingly.
"Just get back to work," Naru cut in. His posture made it seem like he was standing over them.
Yasu and Bou-san went off to the end of the hall. John nudged Mai to speak up.
"Uh, Naru, do you know where Masako went?" she asked him.
"I trust her to do her job without me looking over her shoulder, unlike some people." At Mai's crestfallen face, he added, "I may have heard her say something about heading upstairs."
"At least take cameras with you!" he shouted before she could get too far up the stairs.
Mai turned around to grab what she could while John grabbed cameras and tried to hurry after her. With a cursory glance around the next floor up, she hurried up to the top floor.
Ayako was standing next to the map table, studying the area shown. Masako was standing nearby and looking around somewhat wistfully without really looking at anything.
"How nice of you to join us," Ayako commented when she looked over at them.
"I'm glad we found you," Mai started. "Have you felt anything yet, Masako?"
Masako frowned, not bothering to hide it. "It's hard to tell. It feels like someone or something wants to tell me something, but it can't get through clearly at the moment."
Mai busied herself with setting up the tripod and laying the cable before continuing. "Can you get some kind of idea how it feels though?"
Masako's frown deepened. "There is some kind of imprint of something if I focus? But most of the feeling is rather dark and overpowering."
"Well, that was a given anyway," Ayako commented.
"Perhaps we just need more time for things to become clearer?" John suggested.
"Just gives more time for things to happen," Ayako muttered. She turned around to look outside.
"When I become more accustomed to this place, things should become clearer. It simply feels like there is a veil obscuring everything I'm trying to see," Masako explained. "I assume you felt something though, Mai. Tell me about it. It might help me."
"I thought I heard laughter first, like there were happy memories left behind. But then this weird, unpleasant feeling pushed its way in. It's poetically the one you were talking about. It was like someone tried to cover up the laughter at first before spreading the dark feeling." Mai felt a twinge that that wasn't exactly right. She grimaced, but couldn't think of another way to phrase it.
Masako took in the information before nodding. "We're heading back downstairs," she said decisively. Ayako huffed as she followed, complaining the entire way.
"Isn't it some kind of medium rule not to get information before you get it yourself?" Ayako asked brusquely.
Masako didn't bother to look back at her. "Mai didn't tell me anything that could alter what I recieve. She didn't say anything about people or things, just what she felt about this place."
"And that translates to us going all the way down to the basement how?"
"Because her telling me what she felt helped me find it myself. It feels like it's coming from the basement right now."
Ayako threw her hands in the air, but kept following.
When they got to the kitchen, the door to the basement was already open. Masako didn't hesitate to descend the stairs.
Lights had been installed during the renovations, but they didn't do much to alleviate the dark atmosphere. The basement was long and narrow. Work tables were set up in the middle in a way someone must have thought they would have been used. Bookshelves lined one of the walls.
"I know it's not pointed right. It's not easy to properly get this room in view," Monk complained from across the room.
"That's why I'm trying to help you," Yasu said placatingly.
Ayako rolled her eyes and ignored them. "So what do you feel down here?" she asked Masako.
Masako was studying the bookshelves intently. "This feels like it's closer. The dark feeling is stronger here."
The two across the room stopped bickering about the camera to listen in.
"It feels vaguely human," Masako continued. "With a lot of dark emotions surrounding it. I can only see what I can describe as a silhouette of this person. I don't think I'll be able to see them clearly yet."
"Do they have anything to do with the books?" Yasu asked. He noticed she hadn't looked away from them.
Masako took a couple steps closer to the shelves. "It's hard to tell, but I don't think this presence is connected to any of the books in particular."
She walked down the line of shelves and came to a stop near the end. She was frowning when she turned back and told Ayako they were leaving.
Yasu went up to the shelves Masako had looked at. He studied the spines closely.
"What are you looking for?" Monk asked him.
"I don't really know. There must be something about them though if Masako was drawn to them. And since books tend to be one of my strengths, I thought I'd have a look before we leave," he answered.
"So is anything jumping out at you?"
Yasu frowned. "No. I'll have to come back later. Let's go see what else needs to be done."
Once everything was in order, Mai began the painstaking process of documenting all the drafty areas while she took temperatures. Monk was accompanying her this time after Yasu requested John to help him examine the basement books.
"What do you think it was like to live here?" Monk asked as he nosed around one of the glass cases in the front entrance. Old weapons that had been found on the grounds were on display.
"Maybe like something out of a fairy tale," Mai said. She noted down the windows on the small floor plan she had on her clipboard. "I mean, have you seen the room with the map?"
"No, if I recall, someone demanded to take that room and didn't give us a chance to say otherwise," Monk said amused.
Mai gave him a sheepish look. "It was a little important though," she defended.
Monk laughed loudly and turned back to the display. "I'm just joking. Masako picked up on something in the basement."
"Ah, so that's why Yasu wanted to go back down there? I'm surprised he didn't take you." She noted down another baseline.
"He said I complain too much and wanted John to go with him," Monk said and rolled his eyes.
Mai laughed. "If I didn't know better, I'd think you like being partnered with him, Bou-san."
"And miss a chance to protect you? Never."
Mai continued working with a smile. They made their way around the rooms. When they reached the kitchen, they headed down to the basement. They found Yasu standing in front a bookshelf to study them closer. John was seated at one of the tables.
"It's a little surprising that some of these are in Latin," Yasu commented.
"Is it that rare?" Mai asked.
Yasu turned to look at them. "Oh, hey. I would say it's more uncommon than rare. It's not like Latin wasn't taught, but it wasn't widespread at the time either." He turned back to the shelf and took a book down.
"Since when could you read Latin?" Monk asked.
"I can't. But I can recognize it," Yasu answered.
"There's something odd down here," John spoke up.
"Eh? What makes you say that?" Mai asked. The temperatures were consistent so far.
"It's not really anything I can describe. It just feels like there's something not right, especially down here," John said, trying to elaborate.
"Are you developing psychic abilities now, John?" Monk asked, half joking.
"No, nothing like that," John responded. "Perhaps it's something similar to what Mai felt earlier."
"I think you have a point though. The longer we're down here, the more it feels like something is watching us," Yasu said. He flipped a couple pages in the book he was holding.
Monk looked around the narrow room apprehensively. "Maybe we should go then."
The others agreed. Yasu took the book he was paging through with him. They parted ways on the second floor. Mai sighed as she stared at all the doors. It was gonna take a while to get temperatures for all of the rooms, but she knew she needed to be thorough.
Mai was about halfway done when they heard a sound come from another room. They both looked up quickly, almost expecting to hear another sound.
"You okay here if I go see what that was?" Monk asked.
"Yeah, sure. I'll be fine."
Monk left. Mai continued on. The next room she went to wasn't furnished. She figured it wasn't one they showed on tours. Regardless, she set to work.
She wasn't sure how much time had passed, but it felt like Monk should have been back. She started to feel uneasy.
The temperature didn't drop, but the room seemed to get dark. Mai looked toward the window. The sun was still up in the sky.
She turned back to the room. In the corner farthest from her, she was sure the darkness looked thicker, like it was oozing out of the wall.
Slowly, Mai backed towards the door. She was reaching for it when it flew open. She screamed.
"Ow. Geez, Mai. It's just me," Monk said, wincing.
"I-I think it was here. Just now."
"What was here? Jou-chan, what's wrong?" Monk put his hands on her shoulders in an attempt to calm her down and keep her focused on explaining what happened.
"The spirit. It was in the room with me."
Naru appeared from the stairs. "What's going on?"
"I just startled her. We're good," Monk answered.
She shuffled under his stare. "Bou-san went to investigate a sound we heard. When he was gone, I think the spirit tried to appear."
"John said you felt something earlier as well."
"Ah, yeah. I did. But I didn't really see anything that time."
Naru sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Just tell me what else happened."
"Well, I started to feel uneasy after Bou-san left. Then it started to feel dark in the room when it shouldn't be. After that was when I thought I saw something trying to take shape in one of the corners," Mai said.
"No temperature changes?"
"None. There was nothing that would point to a spirit manifesting."
"What does that mean, Naru-bou?"
"It seems this may be stronger than we first anticipated."
Back in base, Yasu had brought the Latin book along with him. Lin was slowly paging through it. He said he wouldn't be able to translate, but offered to look for anything he might recognize.
Yasu sat down after a few minutes of nothing but the sound of pages turning.
"Zoe, perhaps you should take a look at this too," Lin called out a few minutes later.
She came out from behind one of the meager shelves in the base. Lin showed her the page he was on.
"What? But that's..." She trailed off as she moved to where she had set up her things earlier.
"What is it?" Yasu asked. He got up to take a look. John crossed the room as well to see what was so interesting.
On the page was a drawing of a circle. Yasu compared it to kokkuri-san from his school, except the center had very different symbols. In between the concentric circles were what he assumed to be Latin.
"Ah, I have that book translated. It's basically summoning for beginners despite it being rather old," Zoe explained. She turned her laptop so they could see the same circle on the screen.
"Summoning?" John asked.
"This would just be for lesser spirits. Ones that can't really do all that much except maybe be a hindrance."
"How do you know this?" Yasu asked.
"I've studied demonology."
"I'm sorry. You what?!"
"Did I forget to mention that?" Zoe looked up in genuine surprise.
"Yes, as a matter of fact you did."
"It's not like I use it. It's actually more a study of Dante's Inferno and how that changes perceptions of hell and demons than anything else."
John looked between them. "I'd actually like to discuss your thoughts and interpretations sometime," he said.
"Of course! I greatly look forward to it," Zoe replied.
"Just--just to be clear, you've never used a circle?" Yasu asked.
"Never, but I have an understanding of how they work. You know, you're taking this a lot worse than I thought you would."
"It's kind of a big revelation to process when it comes out of nowhere. Yes, let me just immediately accept that someone I thought I knew was studying demons and how to summon them."
Zoe shrugged sheepishly. "It never came up?"
Yasu was about to reply, but stopped himself. "Okay, that is fair. It's just...a lot. And vastly unexpected."
"I'm sorry. It was never really relevant or I would have mentioned it," she said. Yasu put a hand on her shoulder to assure her it was okay.
"So what does it mean to have a book on summoning here?" John asked, bringing them back to the situation.
"Well, it could mean a lot of things. Firstly, that someone who lived here may have dabbled in it, which would be the most concerning for us. Second, it could have just been a gift or something someone had picked up somewhere since it's one that is pretty easy to find," Zoe said. "It could also simply have been a scholarly interest."
"For our purposes, we should hope they were only interested in reading about it," Lin said.
Mai stretched as she walked into the base with Masako. She hadn't received any dreams, but she also hadn't slept very well. Masako hadn't fared much better.
"No, she was sick again this morning. I gave her something to try to help, but there isn't much we can do," Ayako was telling Naru. "Yasu offered to stay with her until she feels she can join us."
Mai and Masako shared a look, but neither said anything.
"We'll have to operate as usual. I trust their abilities enough that a late start shouldn't be much of a hindrance," Naru said.
"I was wondering if I should make charms. Maybe it'll give us some relief?" Ayako offered.
Naru thought for a moment. "I suppose it would be worth a try. Anything to help those of us who are sensitive would be good and it may keep everyone safer."
"I can go with Masako today if you'd like to stay here and do that," John offered.
"It would be prudent," Naru agreed.
"Looks like it's you and me again, Jou-chan," Monk said cheerfully.
Mai waited until they were away from the others to ask the question on her mind.
"Do you think we could really be dealing with a demon?" she asked him.
Monk was quiet for a moment. "I don't think it's entirely out of the question after finding that book," he said slowly. "But I also think we need to know more first."
Mai shuddered as flashes of the Urado case came back to her. She pushed the images away and got back to work.
To his credit, Monk kept himself busy by nosing around the displays in between measuring the rooms. Every so often, he'd read part of the notes out loud for Mai's sake if he found them interesting.
They were in the dining room when Monk commented on one of them.
"Cursed plates? I mean, I guess so, but they'll say anything is cursed to get people interested," Monk said.
"How were they cursed?" Mai asked.
"It says that, supposedly, at least two of the family died while eating from them. So naturally that means they were cursed," Monk said.
Mai laughed at his sarcastic tone. "How would they have known back then? For all they knew, it was a curse placed on them if they couldn't find who did it."
"Yeah, it's just that's always the first thing people assume when they don't know what's going on. They could've been poisoned and not known it. It's not like they had the means to check for that kind of stuff back then," Monk pointed out.
Mai stood completely still and stared through her clipboard. "What was that last part you just said?"
"What, that they could've been poisoned?"
"Something about that...it's causing some kind of itch in the back of my head, but I don't know why."
Monk stared down the plates as he thought about it. "Maybe that's what actually happened and you're picking up on it?"
"I'm not sure. I just feel like there's something about it."
"Make sure you tell Naru later."
John quietly followed Masako around as she tried to feel anything. She felt stronger traces in certain areas. Mainly the top floor and the basement.
"I think I'd like to hear your opinion, John," Masako said as she walked around the table with the map.
"I'm not quite sure what you mean," he said.
"Surely you must have an opinion about the possibility of this being a demon."
John paused before slowly answering. "I think there are multiple things that point in that direction, but without actual confirmation, I don't feel comfortable making that assumption."
"Hmm." She was relatively unsatisfied with his answer. There was something about it that seemed to fit. It wasn't quite like Urado. If anything, it seemed to go further since it's mere presence caused her and the others to feel ill.
She studied the map on the table. It appeared to be an older one that depicted the region over a century ago.
Her vision seemed to tilt. She steadied herself on the table as she cautiously let it take a small amount of control away from her. Her vision darkened at the edges.
A metallic smell wafted around the room.
A drop of red fell from above her onto the map.
The red spread out, gradually moving faster.
With a gasp, Masako forced herself away from the table. John was next to her in seconds.
She took some time to calm her breathing.
"Masako? What happened?"
"I don't know what it was trying to show me. I just saw blood on the map. It started with just one drop and it almost covered the entire thing so quickly."
"Is there anything here right now?"
Masako shook her head. "It went somewhere else. Down."
"Do you want to follow it?"
She shook her head again. "No, I think it would be best not to."
Ayako wandered around in search of the others. She had finished making the charms and wanted to make sure they all had them as soon as possible.
As she walked, she felt an eerie sense of foreboding. The corners of the halls seemed to be darker than usual. Everything was too quiet. She hurried her steps.
With each charm she gave to someone, the closer the darkness in the corners seemed to stretch towards her.
"I'm not going back alone," she said as way of greeting when she found Mai and Monk.
"Well, hello to you too," Monk said, accepting the charm from her.
"It hasn't even been that long since I saw you," Ayako quipped.
"Did something happen?" Mai asked, temperatures temporarily forgotten.
"Well, not really, but I got this weird feeling," Ayako said.
"What kind of weird feeling?" Monk pressed.
"Like there was something in the corners? I don't really know. I'm not used to this kind of thing."
"The corners...did they feel darker? Like unnaturally so?" Mai continued.
Ayako looked at her in mild confusion. "Yeah, how did you know?"
"That sounds like what I felt yesterday. I'm so glad it isn't just me."
"So this thing is strong enough to make its presence felt over this whole building," Monk said.
"I don't like the sound of that at all," Ayako said. "It got worse the fewer charms I had too."
"We can't all carry around a stack of them," Monk said.
Ayako rolled her eyes. "I didn't even suggest that. They'll just be another layer if protection. If nothing happens when we're with someone else, than we just don't go anywhere alone. You hear that, Mai?"
Mai looked up. She had gotten back to work while they bickered. "I don't remember any time recently that I ran off anywhere," she defended herself.
"True, but you are the one most likely to do it," Ayako said. "The least you can do if something comes up is give us enough notice before you run off. Maybe one of us can keep up then."
The radio Monk had been carrying crackled. "I need everyone in base. Now."
"Ordinarily, I wouldn't have called an urgent meeting like this in favor of you all doing your work," Naru said. He gave Mai a pointed look before addressing the room again. "However, there is some information that I felt could not wait for later."
"Keep in mind that this is just preliminary," Zoe began. "We talked with some of the security personnel. Quite frankly, it confirms some things we had already assumed."
"They informed us that the ones who went missing were doing solo rounds, as was customary. They didn't have a partner with them and never made it back. No trace of them and no distress calls," Yasu explained.
"For us, that means no one goes anywhere alone. For the duration of this case, we must move in pairs, at a minimum," Naru said. He looked specifically at Mai who huffed and looked away.
"So they just disappeared?" Monk asked in disbelief.
"It's not all that different from Urado," Yasu stated.
"Perhaps not, but we found those people that disappeared," Masako pointed out.
"There was really no trace? No blood or scraps of cloth or anything?" Ayako asked.
Yasu shook his head. "They claimed to have searched this place from top to bottom, but we can always try asking again later. They may have forgotten and could remember something after having some time to think about it."
"Back to work," Naru interjected. "No one goes anywhere alone."
"You're sure you're okay with this?" Yasu asked as they made their way around to the cameras that needed new tapes.
"We're already halfway through. You can stop asking," Zoe said. "This is the best I've felt since we got here and there wasn't anyone else who could go. I think Ayako's charm is helping."
"Do you think this could be a demon we're dealing with?" Yasu asked bluntly.
"We've barely even seen it yet and there's no evidence that any ritual happened so far. The book you found could just have been a passing interest for some long gone resident."
"They must have wanted to look into it for some reason though. Most people don't just get interested in something like that without a reason."
"That is true, but we don't have evidence of that."
Yasu quietly surveyed the hallway they were in on the second floor as Zoe put in a fresh tape. All the paper doors were completely closed, but he had a feeling there was something lurking nearby.
"You're not developing sensitivities too, are you?" Zoe asked. He jumped a little when he realized she was right next to him.
"Not unless feeling like being watched counts."
"Well that's a relief then. One thing at a time."
"Which ones do we have left?" Yasu asked after a moment.
"Just the ones in that hallway around the courtyard," Zoe answered.
Yasu led the way down the staircase to the hallway. He got increasingly uncomfortable as they walked. Looking over, he couldn't tell if she felt it too.
They stopped at the corner. He looked back down the way they had come from and almost expected to see some kind of dark shape lurking at the top of the staircase, but there was nothing there.
"You might just be worried because of what the others felt earlier," Zoe tried to reason.
"I hope that's it," Yasu agreed.
Zoe struggled briefly with the camera. "I need to remember to fix this after we're done here. It's still sticking."
The hallway wasn't well lit. Yasu was sure the shadows cast by the insufficient lighting were playing tricks on him.
"Ah, finally. One more," Zoe said and started to head further down the hall.
Yasu shivered as they climbed the stairs that went over the main entrance to the courtyard. It seemed colder than usual, but he recalled it was one of the spots Mai determined was drafty.
Zoe had already reached the last camera and put in the fresh tape when their radio crackled.
"That view just went out. Double check it before you go," Lin informed them.
Zoe sighed as she looked over the entire camera, including the cable that went to a nearby outlet.
Yasu looked down the hall one more time. He stilled as he processed the darkness that hung at the top of the stairs. It almost felt like they were in a standoff as he didn't dare to move.
Behind him, he heard Zoe trying to work the radio, but couldn't even get static.
"I think we better leave now," Yasu said. He didn't take his eyes off the dark mass.
Zoe finally looked up then. "Well, I guess you were right after all."
The dark mass moved first.
It darted down the stairs.
Zoe pulled on Yasu's arm and urged him to run.
He easily pulled ahead and quickly reached the stairs. Taking them two at a time, he reached the door quickly and shoved it open. He turned around to see Zoe had lagged slightly.
The dark mass was closing in.
Yasu waved her on.
She reached the stairs and started to hurry up them.
The dark mass reached forward and wound a tendril of its blackness around her ankle and pulled.
With a thud and a groan, Zoe hit the stairs. It started to drag her down. Yasu jumped and just managed to grab her arm. He fought to pull her up the stairs.
She grimaced at the brief tug of war before a bright light came from where the entity was holding onto her. It immediately dissipated.
Yasu helped her up the rest of the stairs where they both collapsed on the floor to catch their breath. After a minute, he sat up. He looked over to find her still trying to catch her breath.
Then, he remembered how she fell. He reached over to pull up the leg of her pants.
"What the hell are you doing?" she asked. He looked up at her for a moment to find her sitting up and looking at him as if he was crazy.
"It grabbed you. I'm checking if there's anything there," Yasu said.
"I think I'd know if--"
She stopped herself when she also saw her ankle. There was a bright red mark, clearly in the shape of a hand wrapped all the way around.
"Does it hurt at all?" Yasu asked, hesitantly poking at it.
"I didn't even know it was there. I mean, I used my PK to shake it off, but I didn't expect anything to come of it like this."
"Ayako is gonna take a look at this."
"It doesn't hurt though."
"Oh well." He stood up then and offered his hand to help her up.
"It looks like it should be some type of burn," Ayako said. She just got done examining the handprint on Zoe's ankle. "The coloration and the reaction to putting pressure on it react like a mild burn, but it should be causing some kind of pain."
"It looks like a typical sunburn," Monk offered.
"Exactly," Ayako said.
"So what do we do about it?" Yasu asked.
"I can try to treat it and see what happens," Ayako said.
"I feel like a test subject " Zoe said dully.
"What does this mean for the case now?" John asked.
"This is the first actual interaction we've seen of it and even that is difficult to determine anything. Currently, it appears to not be following the typical chain of events unless there have been similar things that have occurred that we don't yet know about," Naru said.
"I guess those people had to go missing somehow," Monk commented.
"Except they've always been alone," John reminded him. "Perhaps there was another reason for this."
"We can't be getting close yet. We've barely started!" Mai said.
Yasu started pacing as he thought out loud. "There might be something to that though. We come in and to spirits, this would look like we're quickly taking over the entire place. Some could feel threatened by that. I think we'll need to find out if anything happened during the restorations."
Naru looked at him before turning to the monitors. "That could be a possibility. I will see tomorrow if Fujimoto-san knows of any such documents."
"Actually," Masako spoke up, "they might already be here."
"Why do you say that?" Naru asked.
"I happened to take a closer look at one of the shelves earlier. It seemed like there was information on things that took place here. Both paranormal and otherwise," Masako explained.
Yasu changed course to cross the room to the shelves. "Spending records...newspaper articles...employee records. There may actually be something useful in here after all." He pulled down an album that appeared to be full of newspaper clippings and began to skim through it.
"Ah, I'll help," Zoe said and went to get up.
Ayako pushed her back into her seat. "No, you're going to bed early. Housho and John can stay here and help."
"No, I don't care. You're not having a late night. There will be plenty of time to help later."
She watched on dejectedly as the pile on the table grew with Monk, John, and Mai's help before relenting and allowing Ayako to lead her out of the room.
Mai felt herself gain consciousness. Instead of opening her eyes right away, she took a moment to just feel. Her mentor had advised her to try it, saying that with some practice, she would be able to tell if she was awake or projecting.
She couldn't find it right away, but eventually, she felt a strange sense of not being whole, an odd incorporealness. She assumed that must be it.
A feeling of irritation began to bubble up that she knew didn't belong to her. Before she opened her eyes, she took a moment to try to pull herself away from the feeling and whoever it was. There was a brief tugging before the irritation disappeared completely.
When Mai opened her eyes, she was met with a view of the kitchen. The only person in it was wearing what she assumed were some kind of servant's clothes. They were carrying a tray through the door. She hurried to follow.
In the next room, five people were situated around the low table. They were all wearing much finer clothes, so she determined they were probably the family.
The servant set the tray in the center of the table. None of them looked at him. Mai did her best to try to study all of them.
The older man at the table waved off the servant. "You're dismissed."
The servant bowed. "Very well," he said. He turned to leave. Mai heard him mutter something else, but the vision was fading already. She wasn't sure she heard him properly.
Her surroundings fell away to leave her on the astral plane. She was comforted to see everyone safe.
"That was exceptional, Mai," Gene said from somewhere behind her.
She turned around to greet him cheerfully, but immediately noticed something off. Gene was fainter than usual.
"Gene? Is everything okay?" Mai asked.
Gene smiled, a hint of sadness behind it. "Nothing you need to worry about. How was the vision?"
Mai was hesitant to let him change the topic, but ultimately gave in. "It wasn't really much. I'm not sure I heard everything either. The servant...did he call the man his father?"
"I didn't get to see it. What does your intuition tell you?" Gene said.
Mai was quiet for a moment as she thought it over. There wasn't anything to tell her it was wrong. "But why would he be a servant if that was his family?"
"It's hard to say without knowing more."
Mai nodded. "Perhaps Naru and the others will have ideas."
Gene gave her a smile. "Don't be too afraid to experience a vision through someone. You may find it can give more insight into the situation."
"I'm still a little scared after the last case," Mai admitted. She wrung her hands together.
"And that's okay. I trust your judgment. I just don't want you to limit yourself and your abilities as they keep growing."
"I'll remember that. Thanks, Gene."
"Of course. You better go. They're starting to wake up."
"The servant was part of the family?" Masako asked after Mai told everyone about what she saw.
"I think so. I didn't get anything else though," Mai said. "It was oddly short."
"What we found about the last of the Uehara family was that there were only three children," Yasu said. He was going through papers to check again.
"Maybe the father took a mistress," Monk offered.
"No, I believe it would be much more simple than that," Naru said.
"Isn't it typical to not have many children?" John asked.
Ayako shook her head. "It wasn't always this way. Families used to have more children. I've looked at my own family tree and my great grandfather was one of five."
"Why ignore the fourth child then?" Mai asked.
"Perhaps they were superstitious?" Zoe asked. They all looked to her. "The number four. Isn't it like how some western people view the number thirteen? Bit ridiculous though."
"Actually, that might make sense," Yasu said thoughtfully. "A family that was wealthy and important enough to live in a castle would be likely to have quirks like the number of children they have."
"If they were worried about having four kids, why would they have four?" Monk asked.
"Accidents happen, you know," Ayako pointed out.
"Well, yeah, but still. Anyway, why wouldn't they send him away or something?"
"Maybe they couldn't. We'll spend more time looking through these records here and the ones upstairs. Something might pop up," Yasu said. "Ah, that family tree. Did we bring it?"
Zoe searched through a pile of papers before pulling one out. She gave it a cursory glance. "There was never more than three listed anywhere, but that doesn't mean they didn't omit anyone."
Naru surveyed them all. "Hara-san, I want you to focus on the hallways around the courtyard first. Make sure nothing is lingering there from last night. Mai, go with her. I want to see stable temperatures as well. Take someone with you."
Masako led John and Mai through the steps of what happened the previous night as best as she could. She was quiet as she looked around the hallway. Pausing a few times, they headed down the hall towards the corner and the camera.
Mai turned around to look behind them. "So it hid in the shadows at the top of the stairs," she said more to herself.
"So it would seem," John answered. He looked back as well. "It does seem to naturally be darker."
"Nothing is here now," Masako said.
They continued on once Mai was done. They stopped on the stairs for more temperatures. Masako still felt nothing. They went through the rest of the hallway quickly.
At the stairs, Masako stopped and looked around.
"I feel something residual here," she said. "A fight of some kind? A struggle on the stairs. But I think it ended differently than last night."
"How did it end?" John asked hesitantly. Mai had a feeling she knew what the answer would be.
"I think someone died here," Masako said. "It was painful. A burning kind of pain." She reached out to grab Mai's arm to ground herself with a careful breath.
Mai shuddered and returned the gesture. She felt that Masako was right.
"But it doesn't feel like the spirit is one of them involved. It feels...darker. Even darker than what we're dealing with now. More like Urado."
"But then if that darkness isn't what's here, what is?" John asked.
"Perhaps a remnant of whatever that thing was? It's hard to tell. Neither of them feel human."
John looked from Masako to Mai, who seemed to be lost in thought. "Is something wrong, Mai?"
"I think we'll need to investigate the basement more," Mai said. "If it's not human, there might be more than just a book on summoning."
"Mai, we've all seen the basement. There's barely anything down there," Masako reasoned. She let go of Mai's arm as her senses settled.
"Maybe that's what we're supposed to think."
"Are you sure you're not turning into Naru?"
Mai rolled her eyes as she turned to walk away. "It's like none of you can believe I'm coming up with this on my own."
Masako laughed to herself as she and John followed her.
"So why are we down here again?" Yasu asked Mai as she paced across the room.
"I think there's something we haven't found down here yet," Mai said as she carefully looked at everything.
Yasu shrugged. He crossed the room to the bookshelf he had pulled the book on summoning from to see if there was anything else of use to them.
Mai stopped pacing as she felt a sudden tiredness hit her. She sat on the closest bench.
She didn't fall asleep like she had expected.
She looked down the length of the room in confusion. Did something block her from whatever she had been about to see?
Not wanting to give up on it, she tried to relax and focus. Even after a few minutes, she couldn't get the vision to come back. She sighed in frustration.
"Something wrong?" Yasu asked, not looking away from the books in front of him.
"I thought I was about to see something, but it's like it vanished," Mai complained. "Anyway, what happened with those security guards you were talking to?" She wanted to think about something else for a bit.
Yasu laughed dryly. "Nothing we don't already know, unfortunately. We gave our notes to Lin and Naru to see if they could find anything else, but it doesn't look like it'll be much use to us. Maybe a new lead or two on past happenings, but it's not much."
"There was really nothing?!"
"Just that the ones who went missing were patrolling alone. Except with a few more details here and there." Yasu shrugged.
Mai watched as Yasu reached up for a book and felt a sudden sense of familiarity. She squinted as she tried to figure out why. Yasu continued to make a pile of books on the table behind him.
Finally, Mai got up to stand next to him.
Not entirely sure what she was going to do, she reached out. She skimmed across the spines until she stopped and pulled on a book without taking a moment to read the spine. It tilted outward, but didn't come off the shelf.
There was a loud click.
"What was that?" Yasu asked.
"I'm not sure," Mai admitted.
Yasu looked around. "It doesn't look like anything changed." He paused. "I wonder..."
He pulled out his flashlight and tried looking behind the bookshelf. He held out the flashlight for Mai to take. She watched as he got a grip on the edge and pulled on the bookshelf.
With a grinding sound, the bookshelf swung away from the wall.
Behind it was nothing but darkness.
Yasu took the flashlight back and cautiously led the way through the doorway.
"I must say, your instincts are crazy sometimes," Yasu said.
Just inside, he swept the light across the area. There were walls farther away and what looked like a sloping floor. To their right was a set of stairs heading down. Carefully, so as to not fall, they headed deeper into the room.
A groan came from further in.
Mai inched closer to Yasu as she felt a spike of fear.
"I'm sure there's a reasonable explanation," he said, but didn't sound convincing.
Yasu swept the light towards the sound. It revealed a lump on the floor.
"Is...is that a person?!" Mai asked.
Yasu didn't look away as he pulled out the radio. "We need help in the basement."
The man was helped up and out of the basement. It was revealed he was Fujimoto's missing son. He was weak from having no food and bloodied from wounds he didn't remember getting. He was transported to a nearby hospital.
Everyone had flashlights and was helping scope out the new room. When it was brought up to Fujimoto, he said he hadn't been aware there was a room at all.
From what the team could see, the room was completely bare. The floor was made of packed dirt and the walls were stone.
"I've found something," Lin called to the others.
They all made their way over to him.
"Oh no," Monk said when he saw what Lin was pointing his flashlight at.
Zoe stepped closer and knelt down. There was a large stone pad set into the dirt floor. A circle of white was drawn on it. It was faded in some places. Words were written in concentric circles around a many-pointed star in the center.
"Good news is that the key parts of this circle are missing so nothing can be summoned in its current state," Zoe said.
"The bad news?" Yasu asked.
"The reason those parts are missing is probably because something was summoned at some point. But none of this is fresh," she said.
"It's not chalk," Lin said. He was also kneeling. He wiped at the outermost white line. It didn't budge. "It may be some type of paint or ink."
"What does that mean?" Ayako asked.
"It was meant to be permanent and used multiple times," Zoe answered. "It looks like it may have been generalized to not have to redo the entire thing each time."
"These missing segments would have been written in chalk," Lin explained, pointing to the spot closest to him. "It would be a spot that would specify what would be summoned."
"It's really a rather generic circle, but not a simple one," Zoe continued. "Whoever made this had some experience."
"Does that mean..." Mai started. She couldn't bring herself to finish her question.
"It's not a demon, Mai. We would have known by now," Naru stated.
"It would feel different if it was a demon in this place," Masako agreed. "But that isn't to say it isn't close to being one."
"It doesn't bode well that any had been involved in the past though either," John said seriously.
"So what do we do with this now?" Yasu asked.
Zoe looked up at him briefly. "Well, I can compare it to known circles and see what could have been summoned with it. It could help us figure out what happened."
Lin studied the circle a little longer. "If we need to, we may be able to repurpose this to hold or expel the entity residing here."
"That could be very valuable to us," Naru agreed.
Monk crossed his arms. "I also want to know why the son ended up here."
"The same reason any of us could have ended up here," Ayako said brusquely.
At some point, Naru had turned away and was shining his flashlight into the corners of the room.
"This should answer your question, Bou-san," he said.
His light was trained on what looked like a pile of fabric. The others gathered around him to get a better look. There was a collective gasp as the realization struck them.
"That's the uniform the security guards wear," Mai said.
"And what's left of the recent missing guard," Naru said.
Back at base, Mai sat and stared at nothing. The others tried to cheer her up or even to say anything to get her talking, but nothing roused her.
She focused her eyes and looked up enough to see Naru crouching in front of her. It was all the acknowledgement she felt able to offer.
"We're not going to be able to save everyone all the time," he said so only she could hear him.
"I know," she whispered. She thought of the Urado case.
"I wish you hadn't seen it," he admitted.
Mai shrugged and looked at the floor. "Sometimes it's part of the job."
"That doesn't mean it should be part of yours."
She looked back up at him upon hearing his definitive tone. She wasn't sure what she was seeing on his face. "I don't think I'll be able to completely avoid it."
"I'll make sure you can. You already get in enough trouble to need rescuing. I'll do anything I can to keep something like this from happening again."
Mai tried to smile, but she knew she wasn't convincing. "I'm not staying in base all the time."
"I wouldn't do that to you. I'll go with you from now on."
Mai could tell there would be no fighting that, so she just nodded her understanding.
The morning sun shined in on piles of books and albums on a table in the base. The researchers were buried somewhere underneath despite just having started. The material hadn't looked to be very much on the shelves, but amounted to much more than they anticipated upon opening the first few volumes.
"Finances can wait until there's nothing else or something strange comes up," Yasu said more to himself as he attempted to sort the piles into some semblance of order.
"Because summoning dark beings isn't strange enough to begin with," Zoe commented from where she was paging through one of the books that had come from the basement.
"You know what I mean," Yasu said. He ultimately decided to start with the albums of newspaper clippings. Pulling the oldest one closer, he got to work. "Is there anything useful in there?"
Zoe shrugged. "Some notes here and there. Seems like whoever got into this tried bringing in a bunch of lesser beings that wouldn't be all that much trouble to handle and send back."
Yasu hummed in acknowledgement that was followed by a noise of complaint. "These don't go back nearly as far as I was hoping."
"There's more upstairs, but we did already establish this place stood empty for a while," Zoe pointed out.
"No, I mean that it doesn't even go back to the person who originally restored this place," Yasu clarified. He flipped another page and skimmed more articles.
They both looked up when Lin walked in, the last bits of Naru's words following him in. Mai's reaction was cut off by the closing door. Lin looked over the table before taking the untouched pile of ledgers with him to his seat in front of the monitors.
"Lin?" Yasu asked.
"I have caught up with case notes. These won't affect my ability to monitor activity," Lin answered.
They worked in silence for a while with nothing but the sound of pages turning to fill the room.
After a while, Lin stood and brought one of the ledgers over. "Tell me what you make of this," he stated after setting it down between the two.
Carefully looking through the entries, everything seemed to be normal for a functioning museum. Expenses and profits were listed meticulously.
"What's this 'visits' entry?" Zoe asked.
"Whatever it was turned a good profit. Relatively frequently too," Yasu said. He looked over at the date the first one was entered before going back to the newspaper clippings. "It must have been some kind of event. Maybe we'll get lucky and someone wrote about it."
"It also tapers off," Lin commented. "It doesn't look like it was from not being profitable."
Yasu skipped ahead in the newspapers. His face fell when he found a particular article.
"What's wrong?" Zoe asked, pushing aside the book she was paging through.
"Seances. That's what they started doing here," Yasu said. "This article talks about how they were intending to channel the spirits of the families that had lived here and were inviting people to join them."
"They must not have been successful or we would be dealing with more than one spirit," Lin said.
"What about when it gets less frequent?" Zoe asked.
Yasu flipped through until he found something else related to the topic. He read through it quickly before paraphrasing to them. "There were rumors that the owner was faking the experiences. Someone claimed to have seen a person making the answering sounds during a seance. So the owner cut back on the frequency of them to lower suspicions."
"You'd think that would raise suspicions instead," Zoe said.
Yasu kept flipping pages. He stopped on another one that caught his eye. "There was at least one that was real. Someone got hurt. This might line up with the last entry for these events."
Lin found the last one and they confirmed their assumption.
"So what now? They were holding seances and manifested something, but how does that help us? We don't know what they brought in," Zoe said.
"We already know the disappearances were covered up. While we don't currently know when they started, it could have all been triggered by this," Yasu reasoned.
"Where's Mai when we need her intuition," Zoe complained.
"I think," Lin said slowly, "this would have been the catalyst that started the disappearances. There is no indication anywhere that the restorations encountered trouble. That would be the only other event that would have brought something out."
Zoe frowned and looked back down at the book in front of her. She flipped a few more pages, not really looking at them. The page she landed on gave her pause.
Notes littered the page. Just to be sure, she quickly checked the next few pages, but there wasn't much left.
"What did you find?" Lin asked.
"I think it's what was summoned. It's not a being I'm familiar with, but the main text says it can bring misfortune and illness to people for a price. Whoever did this had a plan for it," Zoe said. She turned the book around to show them.
"So what does this mean?" Yasu asked.
"Well, either this is what's here, or it made the summoner pay a price for performing what was requested and we're dealing with the summoner. The first option would still technically be a demon. There would be a contract of some kind that would be agreed on and if this demon collected, that means what's here is the summoner. It would be the better option since it would be more of what we're used to," Zoe explained.
"Hara-san and Mai both don't think we're dealing with a demon," Lin said.
"I don't think so either," Zoe agreed.
"This spirit may be close to being one though," Lin continued.
"That is unfortunately likely. Taking souls, or in this case lives, can be a way to fuel it."
"So let me get this straight," Yasu began. "This thing we're dealing with is really the person who summoned a demon, failed to keep their side of the contract, so now they're cursed to be here or something?"
"Not cursed, but yes, that's about it," Zoe said. "Whatever was agreed upon in the contract almost seemed to make the summoner take the demon's place here. Whether as punishment or simply not keeping up their end of the contract is relatively moot at the moment."
Yasu took a breath to try to steady himself. "I think we better start making notes for Naru. This is gonna a be a lot to show him later."
"And we haven't even gone through the top floor yet."
Yasu rubbed his face in mild frustration and slightly dislodged his glasses in the process. "Yes, thank you very much for reminding me of that."
Zoe shrugged. "Just trying to help."
"Mai, I would appreciate it if you focus on what you're doing."
Mai shook her head to come back to the present. She looked down at the thermometer to find it was trying to tell her the reading. She noted it down and moved on.
Naru watched her progress with a frown. He would never admit it, but he always found it disconcerting when she took longer to bounce back to normal.
She distractedly made her way around the room.
"There isn't anything more we could have done," Naru said.
"I know that," Mai said flatly. "You'll have to excuse me if I find what was left of that guard to be a bit shocking."
"You said yourself, it's part of the job sometimes."
"That doesn't mean I can't react to it."
"I'm aware you feel things differently, however if you let these things affect you, you're going to get burned out."
Mai turned around then. "I'm not going to end up as jaded as you."
"Who says I am? Rather than lingering on what we found, my concern is with this team and their safety. Just because I don't have my feelings on my sleeve doesn't mean I'm not affected either."
Mai sighed in frustration. "That would be easier if the answers we need weren't buried under a mountain of history."
"Then maybe you should go and talk to Gene," Naru said bitterly. "He seems to have everything you're looking for." This was further than he wanted to push her, but he couldn't help himself.
Mai stared at him in shock. "He's your brother! So what if he helps me? Would you rather I wander the astral plane alone before I'm ready?"
"That's not the point, Mai!"
"Then what is?! Because last time I saw him, he was starting to fade."
Naru glared at her. "And when were you planning on telling me that?"
"I haven't had a chance to! It's not like I willingly keep these things from you!"
"Really? You've done it before."
"Because I didn't know better then!"
Naru turned away. Mai nearly yelled in frustration. Instead, she stormed down the stairs, leaving behind the thermometer, clipboard, and Naru.
She was almost down to the next floor when she realized what she had done. Nearly tripping, she spun around and ran back up the steps.
"Forgive me," a voice said in her head, "or thank me. Your choice."
A warmth emanated out from her chest as she continued up the stairs, but she didn't dare to stop.
Back at the top, Mai found Naru facing the table with the map. On the other side was a shifting darkness that seemed to float in the air. It didn't shy away at her presence, but rather seemed focused on Naru.
Mai could immediately feel the electricity in the air. She felt panic set in as her memory was sent back to the cave.
She reached out towards him. Her panic was cut by confusion when she didn't get shocked by Naru's palpable aura like before. She pushed forward until she felt something pushing back against her, though there was nothing visibly there.
Instinctually, she pulled on it and drew it inside herself. She felt it grow.
"Mai! Let it go!"
She felt it leave her rapidly.
Energy coalesced in Naru's hand. He took a brief moment to aim.
The explosion of energy only met the wall. Not even a scorch mark was left behind.
The darkness had escaped.
Mai fell to her knees, suddenly exhausted.
Naru dropped down in front of her. "What the hell was that?!" His harsh tone was tempered by his gentleness to steady her as she wavered where she knelt. He used one of the support pillars to rest her against and keep her sitting up.
"I don't know. I heard a voice when I was running back...it asked for forgiveness and thanks...and there was a weird sensation."
Mai hesitated before nodding. "I'm sorry, Naru."
"What are you sorry for?" He looked at her properly. She was sad, but not as sad as he would have expected.
"He was your brother."
"He was your..." Naru couldn't find a word to use.
"Spirit guide. A person I mistook to be you for a long time."
Naru studied her face before holding her close in an embrace she reciprocated.
"This isn't the time or place to discuss this. I promise after this case."
"What do you mean you used your PK?" Lin asked.
"I used it in self defense. I believe Gene used the last of his presence to gift his refining ability to Mai. She is untrained and completely new to it, but was able to take the energy and send it back in a form I could safely use. I don't feel any of the usual effects," Naru explained.
"And what about Mai?"
"Exhausted and shocked, but fine. Some rest and she'll be better."
"This could have been just a fluke."
"It didn't feel like a fluke. It felt the same, yet different from what I can remember. Comparing the two, I could feel the difference her energy made on it. Like a signature."
Lin sighed, but accepted it. "She will have to practice and train to be sure she doesn't get hurt in the future."
Naru shook his head immediately. "I don't want her involved like that."
"You're going to give up a chance to use your PK safely," Lin stated in disbelief.
"This isn't just about me."
"She can handle it. I imagine she wants to do it and she should have that choice."
Naru remembered his promise to talk to Mai after the case. "Withhold judgment until after we're done here. She may not want to speak to me after this case."
"Let her make her own decision."
"I don't intend to sway her decision. There are things I want to clear up first that are unrelated to that problem. But I won't do it here."
"And when she agrees?"
"If she agrees, we will determine what to do from there."
Lin shook his head and turned back to the monitors. "Where is she now?"
"Hara-san is sitting with her in their room while she recovers from the exhaustion. Is any of the encounter on the footage?"
"None. It cut out while the two of you were arguing."
Naru was quiet for a moment. "She wasn't herself. I felt that I needed to do something."
Lin smiled to himself.
I have nothing to say for myself with this one except "Enjoy?".
Mai made a conscious effort to reach the astral plane. She had to find out for sure. There was nothing but empty blackness. It felt cold and empty.
She tried to call out for him, maybe get his attention. Her calls didn't even echo back to her.
She sank to the ground, completely at a loss of what to do.
She felt tears in her eyes, but they wouldn't fall.
A glow gradually caught her eye as it grew stronger. A ball of white light was hovering in front of her. She reached out to it.
She saw Gene's smiling face before the warm light enveloped her.
"I don't really know if any of this is going to work, but I'm going to try it anyway," Gene's voice drifted to her.
"If you're hearing or seeing this, Mai, I did what I did to help the two of you. The fact that we were close enough in energetic wavelengths to have stayed in communication for this long should mean that I could give you one last gift."
Mai felt her tears start to fall.
"I could practically hear you arguing with my dear brother. Don't be too sore with him. His intentions were good and he doesn't know how else to show his concern."
Mai laughed a little at that.
"But I could also feel the spirit closing in. I had been meaning to talk to you about becoming Naru's PK conduit in my place. My only regret is we couldn't discuss it. I know you'll be good for him in every way."
Mai wanted to say something. To assure him it was okay. But she knew it wouldn't do any good.
"This is taking the last of my energy. I feel it's time to finally move on. You're both on the right track now. I will see you both again one day. Hopefully you'll be my sister by then."
The white light dissipated back to the blackness from before. Mai cried.
She wasn't sure how long she sat there for, but when she managed to calm down, she was still on the astral plane. Now, she could see the outline of the building again. She settled a little at seeing everyone safe and most of them getting ready for bed.
Everyone was safe, even if Naru and Lin weren't going to sleep.
Mai's attention was drawn to a white light floating on the top floor. She willed herself closer to it, wanting to briefly forget what had juat happened. As it expanded, all she could see was darkness. After a moment of hesitation, she let herself in.
It wasn't entirely dark. The room was lit by small candles on the floor. Mai felt queasy when she noticed the placement of the candles.
The man, she recognized him as the servant from before, was speaking in a language she didn't recognize as he knelt in front of the circle drawn on the floor.
He painted a symbol in the circle with something red. Mai shuddered at the possibility of what it might have been.
When he finished speaking, the candles flared high, illuminating more of the room for a moment before settling back down.
Hovering over the center of the circle was a dark cloud that seemed content to not form into a cohesive shape. The only thing Mai could definitively make out were what she assumed were a pair of yellow eyes.
"What is it you ask of me, mortal?" The voice was low and gravelly.
"I wish to bring ruin to my family for the hardship they have caused me," the servant stated, voice clear and decisive.
"That is a large request for one so small." There was amusement evident in the voice.
The servant visibly bristled.
"And what can I expect in return?"
There was a heavy silence.
"I would have them already by doing your bidding. Surely you have something else."
The servant looked around. It was clear he hadn't anticipated such a response.
"This place then? You could come and go as you wish once it's done," the servant offered.
A low rumbling laugh filled the room. "Takeshi Uehara, your desperation will be your downfall. It is delicious. I accept."
Mai shook her head in fear and appall. She squeezed her eyes shut and focused on waking up.
Relief washed over her when she opened her eyes to the room she was sharing with Masako.
"Masako," Mai called out, trying to wake her up.
She didn't even shift.
Mai got up to get closer and shake her shoulder. "Masako, please. I need to get to the base," she said.
Masako finally rolled over to look up at her. "Mai..." Masako was about to complain when she saw Mai's expression. "Alright, hold on. Naru insisted on having a radio in case anything happened."
Masako rummaged around until she found it and handed it over to Mai.
"Naru?" Mai said through the radio. "Naru, I've got things I need to tell you."
There was a buzzing static for a moment. "We'll be right there."
After they settled Masako in another room, they headed to the base. "What's going on, Mai?" Naru asked once she was seated.
"Takeshi Uehara. He summoned a demon in the basement and made a deal to kill his family in exchange for having this place as his own," Mai said in a rush.
"Was he the servant you saw before?" Naru asked.
Mai nodded. "I'm sure it's him."
"Lin, has that name come up at all?" Naru asked.
A moment of typing. "Not that I can find. We may not have found it yet."
"We can at least focus our search." He turned back to Mai. "Was there anything else?"
"Nothing too important. It was too dark to see the symbols on the floor and I didn't know what he was saying," Mai said.
Naru nodded and didn't press further. "You're doing well, Mai."
She fidgeted as she looked at the floor. "There's something else...it's about Gene."
Naru was quiet as he processed what she said. "Tell me." He studied her as she quickly looked over at Lin. "It's okay if he hears too."
Mai nodded. "He found a way to leave me a message on the astral plane."
"What did he say?"
"He had been planning on talking to me about giving his ability to me to help you, but he never got the chance," Mai said. "He said our wavelengths were similar enough that it would be possible."
Naru nodded to himself. "It makes sense. The fact you were able to see him for so long supports that. But to think it could translate to the physical world..."
"We already know it does though," Mai pointed out.
"Yes, I'm well aware of that. Was there anything else?"
"Not really. Nothing important anyway. But Naru..." Mai felt tears coming back. "He's gone. I couldn't feel him at all. He's really gone."
Naru sat down next to her in an attempt to comfort her. He couldn't deny there was a sense of emptiness that he felt too. "It was for the best. He couldn't stay around forever and remain as he was."
"I know. I just miss him already."
Naru hesitated a moment before pulling her close. "So do I, Mai. So do I."
"We could still be eating breakfast," Monk complained.
"And it took us this long to be able to even look at these," Yasu said. He was paging through a book amongst a pile he had made on the map table. "We're not even asking you to help."
"I think I almost wish you were," Monk grumbled.
Yasu looked up with a smirk. "You finally want to help me? How kind of you, Bou-san!"
Monk cringed. "And I take it back now."
By mid morning, the table was covered with open books and scattered papers. Only a small dent had been made. Monk and John had spent the time chatting while Yasu and Zoe worked in silence.
"I think these notes on the reconstruction aren't going to help us at all," Zoe said, a little defeated. "There's nothing out of the ordinary here. How are those journals?"
"Dull and painfully boring. Bou-san, are you sure you don't want to help?" Yasu called out.
He was met with laughter.
"So cruel," Yasu lamented. "Regardless, I'm holding out hope for this. Takeshi should be mentioned at some point."
"I'll see what else I can find then," Zoe said and stepped away from the table.
Yasu sat and watched her for a moment before looking back down at the journal and lazily turning another page. He had already passed by two of the births that were listed on the family tree and was coming up on the third. He continued skimming the pages to try to make it go faster.
After about two more years and a new journal, he perked up. He found the first mention of a fourth child. He started to read more thoroughly.
"They were excited for his birth," Yasu said to the room.
"But then why isn't he on that family tree you found?" Monk asked.
Yasu ignored him in favor of reading on. "They had names picked out for a boy or a girl. It looks like they were highly anticipating his arrival." He turned pages quicker as he sped through the journal. "They treated his birth as a happy occasion."
"So then something happened later on," John commented.
"Would certainly explain his disdain for his family," Zoe said. "Knowing what it's like to have a family and then have it taken from you doesn't exactly foster good feelings."
"Don't wait for me to find more. This is still probably gonna take a while," Yasu warned.
He continued reading, not wanting to risk missing anything. There were accounts of Takeshi's firsts and as he grew and began talking, there was mention of how he told them he wanted to be a samurai.
It was close to midday when he finally came across something.
"A family friend came to visit and brought a fortune reader along," Yasu summarized. "This says they claimed to have received a divine message regarding Takeshi and wanted to relay it in person."
"How do we know that family friend was actually a friend? They could have planned it," Zoe said.
"We don't have any way of knowing that. Just what happened from the Uehara family's perspective," Yasu pointed out.
"We could dig it up if we had the time," she grumbled.
Yasu chose to ignore the comment. "The reader said he was cursed due to being the fourth child and that he would cause great misfortune to the family. So they disowned him, but didn't want to send him out on his own," he continued.
"So they made him a servant?" John asked.
"That seems worse than being kicked out," Monk said.
"It looks like that's what they did. He was only seven," Yasu confirmed.
"How could he even get access to books on summoning if he was a servant for the rest of his life?" Monk asked.
"Servants were able to do quite a bit without being acknowledged," Yasu explained. "It may be possible that someone visiting had the books and didn't realize they had gone missing. They may have even been trying to sell them."
"Sounds rather careless to me," Zoe said. John made a sound of agreement.
Yasu flipped through more of the journals. Lunch has been brought up to them, but it was largely left untouched. At one point, Zoe had come back to the table with a stack that she quickly discarded as useless.
"The mother tried to find a way to reverse the supposed curse, but kept it quiet from the rest of the family," Yasu said finally.
"So she turned to dark dealings," Monk elaborated.
"Except she couldn't get them to work," Yasu added. "She tried many times, but nothing came through for her. So she gave up."
"And then Takeshi took the books," John said.
"Hey, Bou-san?" Zoe called from the far shelf. "There's something stuck in this top shelf that I can't reach. Can you give me a hand?"
Monk got up to help. "Geez, that's really stuck," he said as he tugged on it. "Aha, there it is! Hope this is helpful."
"Another journal?" Yasu asked when she came back to the table.
"I guess? It must be something if it was hidden like it was," she said.
"Well, I'm skipping ahead in these until closer to the deaths of the family. I doubt anything in between would be very useful at this point," Yasu explained.
Everything was quiet for a few moments.
"This is a record of the seances!" Zoe said in shock. "Someone transcribed what happened. They really were faking a lot of it."
"But then why keep a record of it?" John asked.
"Probably so they didn't repeat things too frequently," Monk offered. "That way, they can keep track of what they've done so they can continue to make it seem real. Especially since they had them so often."
"They list the mediums they invited. Those are real. I recognize a lot of these names as being significant in the field. I'm sure Masako would know too," Zoe said.
For another short while, there was only the sound of pages turning again. They both tried to speak at the same time. Yasu gestured for Zoe to go first.
"The last seance was real," she said. "This is what called whatever this thing is back. Someone got hurt like the article said, but it wasn't because of anything they did to manufacture activity. This medium swore off doing anything public around this time. This is probably why."
"Why would he do that though?" Monk asked.
"I don't think it was intentional, but we have no way of finding out. He passed away years ago," Zoe said.
"Well..." Yasu said, hesitating. "The family experienced the same things we have been. The eerie quietness and the uncomfortable feeling about the place. They all felt it. One of the daughters and the other son both died of presumed poison."
"The plates on display..." Monk said.
"It could be assumed," Yasu said. "The other daughter fell over the fourth floor railing. The father had a large splintered piece of wood pierce his skull over this table."
Zoe immediately backed away from the table.
"And the mother?" John asked cautiously.
"In her sleep on the second floor."
They were all quiet for a moment.
"So he got what he wanted. They all died," Monk said quietly.
"I wonder if he knew what his mother was trying to do," John mused.
"I'm not sure it would have made a difference," Zoe said.
"It's true. He was so angry at them for so long, it wouldn't have mattered to him if she disproved it or not," Yasu reasoned.
The room shook. They all grabbed onto something to stay standing. The shaking stopped as abruptly as it had started.
The radio crackled as Naru called everyone back to base.
Everyone was present and accounted for after the sudden shaking had stopped. The information that had been found before the incident happened was presented to everyone.
"It was lying dormant until whatever was said at this seance," Naru concluded. "How reckless of them. Lin, can you tell anything from the latest activity?"
"I was unable to pinpoint where it started, but it is likely only the surrounding grounds were also affected," Lin said.
"Maybe we're close to something?" Monk asked.
"Why else would a spirit throw a tantrum?" Ayako asked.
"To show us how much power it has?" Yasu answered.
Ayako frowned and crossed her arms. "I suppose."
"We were talking about the seance though," John said.
"That leads me to believe something that occurred directly related to the spirit. Were there disappearances before this?" Naru asked.
Yasu flipped a few pages. "Nothing before, but there was one a few days after, and only one. It doesn't look like they were directly connected to this place."
"Can we track down anyone who would have been there?" Monk asked.
"I doubt it. Something as seemingly controversial as this wouldn't have a guest list," Zoe said.
"The medium refused to discuss what happened with anyone as well. Not even his family," Masako offered.
"So where does that leave us?" Ayako asked.
"Speculating," Yasu quipped. Ayako glared at him.
"Knowing he wasn't deliberately summoned is still helpful," John offered.
"It lends credibility to the theory it was lying dormant here. It was called or pulled to what serves as consciousness," Naru agreed. "We should start discussing how to deal with it. It's strong, but not yet a demon. If it were, we would need much more drastic measures."
"So you're saying we'll need to join forces in a joint effort," Monk clarified.
"What if that doesn't work?" Ayako asked.
"We better hope it does then," Naru said.
"Actually," Lin spoke up, "we may have something else that may help us. Or rather, someone."
"Do you know someone, Lin?" Mai asked. "What if something happens and they don't have to get here?"
"No need to worry. I think Zoe may prove crucial," Lin said.
"No!" Yasu and Zoe said at the same time.
"Just listen for a moment," Lin chided. "I was discussing the previous events with Madoka. She thinks your PK may be a natural deterrent to demons and other dark spirits."
"Lin, that's based off of nothing except one incident that hasn't since been recreated. It could have been a fluke for all we know," Zoe reasoned. She held her hands tightly in her lap in an effort to not crumple any notes.
"Ideally, it would be something we would try to test in advance, but there haven't been any further situations it would be pertinent. Likely because this spirit is intelligent enough to learn to avoid it," Lin explained.
"It'll be too dangerous. Even to test it," Yasu said.
"No, I agree with Lin in that it should be tested," Zoe said. "There's no other way to do that except out in the field. It's not possible to manufacture such an evil presence in a lab."
"This is too much though," Ayako said.
"I know. But I think it will have to at least be considered," Zoe said quietly.
"It may be all we have," Lin said.
Naru nodded. "Even together, we may not have enough to send it away. Assuming it would work, it would almost guarantee success."
"No, Yasu's right. It's too dangerous!" Mai exclaimed and jumped up.
"No one's saying it isnt, Mai. Besides, it ultimately isn't a decision for any of us to make," Naru said in an attempt to redirect her.
"But..." Mai's energy faded slightly.
"Sit back down, Jou-chan. It'll be alright," Monk said calmly.
Zoe shrugged and sighed. "There isn't really any other option."
"Of course there is!" Ayako countered. "Who knows what this could do? We haven't even tried our first option yet."
"Ayako, what do the trees feel like here?" Masako asked.
Ayako faltered. "They're not in the greatest shape, but I think I can get some help from them."
"You know as well as the rest of us that we need to be sure," Monk reasoned. Ayako finally deflated in defeat without another word. She quietly sat back down.
The room was quiet for a moment.
"That is your consent then?" Lin asked quietly.
Zoe nodded. "It is."
Lin nodded in return. "If we can afford it, I would like to have some time to discuss it further with Madoka so we can be as prepared as possible."
"I agree. There should be enough time to put something together," Naru said. "We can't be too careful with this."
Mai sat and watched as the team broke off to discuss their course of action. They all had similar looks of resignation on their faces.
An idea came to her. Perhaps they had missed something. Maybe a book upstairs or something in the basement.
Before she knew what she was doing, she was standing and heading for the door.
"Mai!" Masako called out, but she sounded distant.
She could see her vision tunneling as she reached for the door.
As it flung itself open, she felt herself falling.
She never felt the floor underneath her.
Actually, she felt nothing. She simply knew that she was on the astral plane.
She struggled to open her eyes. When she did, she was lying on the ground.
She pushed herself to a sitting position as she looked around. Dread washed over her as she looked up.
A dark red lattice covered everything above her and the white outline of the building.
Regardless, she closed her eyes and tried to send herself back to her body. A wave of nauseousness washed over her.
She took a a breath and tried again. This time, a spike of pain shot through her head.
"What do I do?" She asked the void around her. She could see everyone, but not her own body. They were all quiet and spread around the room, but all of them were focused on the point in front of Naru.
"Naru, help me," Mai pleaded quietly, even though she knew it wouldn't reach him.
A slap resounded through the otherwise silent base.
"She won't come out of it," Ayako said. She was struggling to keep the panic from her voice. "It's been so long since something like this has happened with her."
Mai's unconscious form was laid out on a futon that was brought from one of the bedrooms. There was no sign she was doing anything other than sleeping.
"We'll have to wait for her to wake up," Naru stated.
"Maybe she's seeing something that will help us," Monk offered. He didn't quite believe it himself.
"Should we keep preparing to face the spirit?" John asked.
"We don't know if that would negatively affect Mai in her current state. He is probably the one that pulled her onto the astral plane," Naru said.
"Assuming he's even still present here," Ayako said.
"Something this strong would likely be able to split some of its power between here and the astral plane," Lin said. "If it wasn't for Mai's safety, this would be a good time for us to act."
"Then we should take this time to be as prepared as possible first," Naru said. "Have we explored turning the circle against him?"
"Not completely. I don't when know if it will be possible with the parts that are permanent. I'd need to make a copy and examine it closer," Zoe explained.
Naru nodded. "Take someone and do that. Even if we can use it to restrict his movement during the exorcism would be beneficial." Yasu followed her out the door to get started.
"So how are we going to support Zo-chan in an exorcism?" Monk asked.
"I don't anticipate anything else we have to be strong enough, even in a combined effort," Naru said.
"Assuming anything else will work anyway," Monk said.
"We don't have much choice. It's either we try this and it works or we have this place destroyed," Naru replied. "I'd rather exhaust our options first."
"It's not much different from Urado though," Ayako said.
"We didn't have resources back then to handle Urado," Lin pointed out.
"I think it's something we can rely on," Masako offered. "There is promise and I believe a brief shift I felt the other night was due to her repeling the spirit. I didn't think much of it until later."
"So should we do what we normally would?" John asked.
Naru nodded. "I believe that would be best. Having multiple people to split his attention may weaken him. Adding both of your prayers to that should do so further and make it easier to exorcise him."
"That just makes us sound like bait," Monk commented dryly.
"You don't complain other times when people are used as bait," Ayako pointed out.
"Aside from the fact it is still morally gray when it's other people, I don't exactly like it when it's me," Monk answered.
"No one likes it. It's not like you're gonna be sple damsel on distress," Ayako continued.
"Not what it sounds like," Monk said and crossed his arms.
"Hara-san, take a walk around and see if you can feel the spirit at all," Naru said, cutting them off. "We may have some room to work if he's less prevalent here to prepare."
"And if he's not what is keeping Mai on the astral plane?" Ayako asked.
"Then we have a much bigger problem than we thought," Naru said.
Naru and Lin were the only conscious ones left in the base. The others wanted to feel useful and paired off to try to be productive.
"I want to know what she's seeing," Naru said to the room. Lin didn't respond.
"Anything could be happening. Especially now with Gene being permanently gone, even as her guide. She has no one with her. For all we know, she could be stuck there."
"She's smart. She'll make it back," Lin said in an attempt to reassure him.
Naru shook his head and began to pace. He couldn't bring himself to look at her still form. "There's no telling that that's true. Something could happen. The connection between her soul and her body could get severed."
"Naru, you know that even a demon is very unlikely to do that," Lin reasoned.
"This is a highly unusual case. We don't know what all this entity can do," Naru shot back. "I should have sent her back at the start when she was ill."
"By that logic, you should have sent all our mediums back on the first day," Lin said, continuing to be logical for him.
Naru stopped for a moment before turning to stand in front of the monitors. His eyes flicked between each screen that had his team on them. So far, they were still all safe and accounted for. He took a breath.
"It's been hours, Lin. Whenever it takes this long for her to come back, it's never good for her," Naru said, calm once again. He put his hands on the table and hung his head.
"She'll be fine. We'll all be here when she comes back."
"I see your optimism, Lin, but one day, she's going to come back from seeing something that's going to change her. Worse than when I saw and felt Gene's murder. Worse than we can probably imagine. And she won't be the same. She won't be the Mai we know and rely on because it will have affected her too much for her to bounce back from. And I fear that day she comes back as a shell of who she is and I won't be able to put her back together."
Lin was quiet for a while. It was rare to get something so raw from Naru, but he also should have expected as much when it came to Mai. It was something he worried about as well. They all did. All the preparation in the world wouldn't be able to fully prepare her for some of the atrocities she would likely have to witness.
Finally, Lin found his voice again. "We'll just have to try then."
"I will. We can't lose her," Naru said. "I can't lose her," he said to himself.
Mai wandered around the castle on the astral plane. She thought that perhaps she could find something they didn't know about yet. A big break or a weakness of the spirit.
Instead, she was met with only her friends as they walked the halls in pairs.
She lost count of how many times she had tried to travel back to her body. They gradually became less jarring and painful to her, but it was still futile.
She floated down to the ground floor and sat down. Hopelessness welled up inside her.
"What do you want me to do here?" she asked and stared up at the dark red lattice above her.
As she expected, she received no answer. She sighed and let her shoulders sag. She willed away the tears that burned the corners of her eyes. They wouldn't do much good.
She couldn't determine how much time had passed. When she looked up, two balls of light were slowly descending towards her. The closer they got to her, the closer they also got to each other.
As they got closer, they seemed to merge together into one ball of light. Mai watched on in wonder until it settled in front of her.
"Is this what you wanted? To show me something?" she asked the surrounding void.
The light pulsed once, as if in answer.
Hesitantly, she reached out to it. The light quickly enveloped her. When her surroundings settled once again, she found herself in the dining room. The family was kneeling around the table. Takeshi came through the adjoining door with two other servants, all laden with plates. He set both of his down in front of his brother and one of his sisters. They barely acknowledged him as they waited for the others to be served as well.
Once the table was set, the servants were dismissed. Mai paid close attention to Takeshi as he crossed the room. Nothing seemed amiss until Mai felt a pull. Before she could tell where it was pulling her to, her vision lurched and she found herself looking across the table at the mother and father.
It was silent as they ate. Mai could feel the daughter's indifference and kept it separate from her confusion and discomfort.
As the meal ended, Mai could feel a foreign feeling welling up inside the daughter. A hand came up to her chest as her breaths became shorter and more panicked.
She turned her head to either side. Her brother looked similarly confused.
Mai felt the panic bubbling over the barrier she put up between them. Hurriedly, she extricated herself.
She floated backwards, away from the scene and the panic ebbed away.
She watched on as the rest of the family stood and hurried for help.
The pair, gasping helplessly for air, fell on their sides where they lay still.
Servants flooded the room and removed them. Mai had a feeling they were beyond help.
"Cook! Where are you?" The father bellowed.
A small, portly man came hurrying into the room.
"What happened? My son and daughter have been poisoned! I expected better of you!"
The man bowed low before responding. "I do not know, sir. The meal was completely under my supervision as it always is. There was no chance for anyone to tamper with it and it was all cooked together."
"Figure it out! I want answers!" The father whirled away and stormed out of the room.
Mai hurried to follow after him as he stormed through the castle until he came to a bedroom. He opened the door quietly, in stark contrast to his anger.
Inside, Mai could see the daughter lying on a futon. The mother was standing off to the side with fear and worry written all over her face. A person Mai assumed to be a doctor was kneeling next to the daughter.
"I'm afraid there's nothing I can do," the man said. He gently placed down the limp hand he was holding. "Whatever it was worked quickly."
"You don't know what was used?" the father asked.
The doctor shook his head. "No poison I know of works so fast. The symptoms themselves are so vague that I cannot pinpoint the cause on it alone."
"Perhaps you can check the remaining food then? I must know what it was."
The doctor agreed to look and followed the father from the room. The scene started to fade.
"It was no poison." A disembodied, gravelly voice spoke to Mai.
"Then what was it?" she asked as she looked around. There was nothing to see except the black void.
The voice laughed as it dissipated.
Mai shivered as the castle's outline came back.
She sat down and began focusing on returning to her body. Her brow scrunched as she struggled more and more, thinking about how she needed to tell Naru and the others about what she saw.
When she opened her eyes, she was still there. The white outline almost seemed to taunt her.
She looked up as the red lattice flared bright before returning to its dark red shade. She couldn't tell if it had closed on since she last saw it. It was feeling more and more like a cage the more she looked at it.
As she sat, she almost thought she could feel a warmth on her hand.
"What do we do?" Ayako asked the room.
"There's nothing we can do. We've tried everything we know and some new ideas. Nothing is working," Monk said.
"She's having trouble breathing!" Ayako stressed. "What if she needs serious medical attention?!"
"We can't take her from the property. It would be too much of a risk," Masako said.
"Hara-san is right. There is a chance Mai could get lost on her way back. It wouldn't sever her connection to her body, but it would be significantly more difficult," Lin agreed.
"So we just sit and wait?" Yasu asked with a frown.
"Wait," Naru said to silence the room. He was sitting next to Mai and holding her hand. He kept telling himself it was to check her pulse. "She's breathing normally again."
Everyone let out a collective sigh of relief.
"What could she be seeing?" John asked, but didn't really expect an answer.
"Whatever this thing wants her to see," Naru said bitterly.
So I've caught up to everything I have. Hopefully this will give me the kick to write more...
Yasu pulled a sheet of paper from under Zoe's arm where she slept on the table. He examined it carefully.
"This seems well done for someone who hasn't done this before," Yasu commented. He tried to not sound bitter.
"Following a diagram doesn't take much effort," Lin answered from where he was skimming through a book. Yasu looked up at him to give his full attention. "Understanding how each piece works with the others is where it gets difficult. She was only doing the former."
"It's just a shock still," Yasu said by way of explanation. "Bou-san made a big deal of kokkuri-san before. It's a bit jarring to think of a circle as something we can use to help us. And for it to be something she knows and has studied."
"We rarely have a circle like this one and in such good condition that it's usable," Lin said. "It would be foolish to not consider using it to aid us."
Yasu nodded in understanding.
"A sudden change in persective will do that. She did intend to tell you about it," Lin continued.
"Putting theory into practical use isn't easy," Yasu said, looking back at the paper in his hand.
"She has always had a way with doing that," Naru said, joining the conversation. "What has she gotten done?"
Yasu handed over the paper for Naru to see. "I don't know if it's finished. I'm not entirely sure what I'm even looking at."
"What we have downstairs is written in black," Naru began. "The red is probably what her best guess is to successfully turn it into a trap of sorts for us. The notes to the side are going to be other alternatives."
"Are we even going to be able to do this without the spirit trying to stop us?" Yasu asked.
"Hara-san said she has felt its presence very minimally in the past few hours. We may be able to use that to our advantage," Lin said.
"We can't do that too far in advance," Zoe said. She lifted her head up and adjusted her glasses. "It has to be used shortly after it's written into the circle."
"If it doesn't come back on its own, would it be possible to add in something to pull it back without risking Mai's safety?" Naru asked.
Zoe frowned. "It should be? It will take very specific wording though and there's not a lot of space."
"How long will it take?" Naru pressed.
"I know you're worried, but it may take a few hours and we cant even test it in advance. If John isn't busy, he might be able to help me," Zoe answered.
Naru nodded. "Lin, call John and Hara-san back here. I want this to be our priority."
Mai despondently floated around the castle. She could see her friends walking the halls and working in the base and wished she could go back. She wasn't even sure how much time had passed. Usually when she projected, it would last a large part of the night. She didn't remember seeing any of them go to sleep.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a small light that slowly grew in size. It was up on the fourth floor. She didn't recall anything happening up there, but she went to investigate anyway.
The room was illuminated by the moonlight filtering through the window. She saw the remaining daughter trying to sleep. She tossed and turned for a few minutes before sitting up.
"Three days," she said to herself and frowned. Mai could only assume she meant the number of nights she has had trouble sleeping.
She crossed her arms to keep warm as she got up and walked over to the door that led to the balcony. She slowly opened the door and stepped out. Mai followed her.
Mai watched as the daughter stopped at the railing and looked down for a moment. She shivered before walking further down.
She stopped outside the door to another room. She brought her hand up to knock on the wood.
She hesitated before slowly bringing her hand back down to her side.
When she turned, Mai noticed her eyes were unfocused, as if she was staring at nothing.
Mai felt her stomach drop as she realized what was about to happen. She ran up to her as she looked over the side again.
Mai's hand went through her.
The daughter climbed onto the railing.
Mai couldn't watch. She turned away and closed her eyes. She tried to not hear the sound when she hit the ground. She cried as laughing could be heard amongst the screams of the people who found her.
She opened her eyes. She expected to be back on the astral plane.
In front of her was the twisted, broken body of the daughter.
Mai sank to the floor as she devolved into heaving sobs.
She wasn't sure how long she sat for, but she was back in the white outlined landscape. The red above her taunted her even more.
"Why? Why are you showing me all this? Why can't I wake up?" Mai cried. She didn't bother trying to stop the tears that still fell. She didn't expect a reply.
"You must see all of it. Every. Last. One." The voice that spoke wasn't gravely like the demon from before. It was more human and a little familiar.
"Takeshi?" Mai asked hesitantly. "We only want to help you."
His laugh seemed to echo around her. "There's no helping me. You think they didn't try to get rid of me before? I am a part of this place now."
"But we can! We'll find a way. This isn't you!"
"Isn't it?" A misty form began to take shape in front of Mai. "I purposely summoned that demon. I wanted to set it on my family. I made a mistake along the way, but everything I did after they threw me away was to show them what I could have been. What I could have achieved for them."
"It still wasn't right!"
"I don't care!" he roared. Mai could clearly see him now with his face contorted in anger. "Was it right for them to abandon me and leave me as a servant?! To have no family at all?! Not even the other servants could look at me!"
Mai couldn't think of anything to say to him. He was right that they mistreated him. However he could have responded differently, but he wouldn't be swayed.
"I'm sorry for what they did to you," Mai finally said.
"Your sorry means nothing," Takeshi spat and disappeared.
Mai cried quietly until she fell into what she hoped was sleep.
My brain came through! I'm thinking it'll be 2 more chapters? Maybe? Enjoy!
"We should make our move now."
The room was silent for a few moments.
"Mai isn't awake yet," Monk said.
"I know," Naru said. He had been unwilling to come to the decision, but his inaction was getting the best of him. "We're as ready as we can be. We may not be able to wait any longer."
It was quiet again.
"What if I take one person with me to the basement. We'll have at least a couple more hours once the circle is filled in," Zoe suggested.
"He's not fully here. We should be ready for anything," Masako agreed.
Naru stared at the floor as he thought. "All of you head down now. We take care of it tonight."
Mai wiped her eyes. She wasn't sure what Takeshi really wanted from her to let her leave. He seemed so unreasonable.
She took a steadying breath. She just wanted to go back.
Another ball of light floated toward her. She envisioned it being on Takeshi's hand as it came closer. She figured if she thought about it hard enough, she could actually see it.
She didn't want to reach out for it.
She assumed Takeshi wouldn't have it any other way.
Still, she waited. The light bobbed insistently in front of her.
With a defeated sigh, she reached out.
She looked around. The top floor looked much the same as it did in the present. Takeshi's father was standing with a group of people around the table. It was covered with pieces of paper and parchment rather than the map.
"She was of sound mind. Someone must have pushed her," he insisted.
"No one saw what happened, sir. There is no way for us to know for sure."
"There must be something! I need to know it wasn't her own decision!" he exclaimed.
"I'm not sure if we can do that, sir."
Takeshi's father took a deep breath in an attempt to calm down. "No, no. I get it. All my children so soon...it's not supposed to happen like this. I just want answers, but everyone has already been questioned."
"What about the serving boy, Takeshi?"
The attendant cowered under the glare he recieved for his comment.
"What would he know? His connections are the only thing keeping him here as a servant. And he can barely do that on a good day."
The attendants all gave each other glances before any of them dared to speak.
"He does a perfectly fine job, sir. Perhaps you're being harsh."
"Harsh!" he seethed. "What would be harsh would be to throw him out! However, I have been forbidden of doing that."
A loud crack resounded through the room.
A part of one of the beams above their heads splintered off and crashed onto his head. He stood frozen for a moment as blood began to flow from his hair down his face where it briefly collected at the tip of his nose before it began to drip onto the papers on the table.
No one moved or said a word as they waited to see what would happen.
The attendants watched as his eyes gradually lost focus and he fell forward. Blood splattered across the table.
Mai felt numb as the scene faded. She figured she was becoming desensitized to everything after being stuck there so long.
She wasn't back on the astral plane like she expected though. She was in one of the hallways. It was dark, so it took her a moment to see Takeshi standing in the hallway and even longer to see the dark mass in front of him.
"Please! She tried to help me! I didn't want her to be hurt in all of this," Takeshi pleaded quietly.
"You said you wanted your family to suffer. I'm fulfilling our contract," it said.
"She's my mother! She tried to protect me! The books were all hers first!"
"You assume that means anything to me. My existence is beyond your understanding. Continue to get in my way and I will consider our contract broken."
Takeshi looked around frantically as he was faced with the choice. The hallway was quiet and empty.
"I can't let you."
"Then your life is forfeit to me and you will remain here. Every soul you take will bring you further to being what I am."
With a flick of its hand, Takeshi dropped to the ground and stopped moving.
"Fool. You can't stop me and have given me the taste of taking human life. I'll fulfill it anyway."
Mai watched just inside the room where Takeshi's mother was sleeping. A moment later, the rise and fall of her chest came to a stop.
Mai blinked and was once more back on the astral plane.
"You've seen everything now." Takeshi was a vague form in front of her. "It is not long before I will be like that thing. I don't know if I'll still be stuck here."
"We still have time though. Please believe me," Mai pleaded.
"Even as we speak, your friends are coming to me."
Mai's attention was drawn to where she saw them setting up in the basement.
"We're doing this to help you."
"Do you know how much pain it will cause me?" Takeshi was starting to get angry again.
"Of course I know. It's not easy for me either, but you're not making it easy for us. We want you to be at peace and move on."
"There is no peace left for me anymore. But I may get some freedom with the help of your friends."
"No! You can't!" Mai pushed against his presence. The red lattice above her shattered and disappeared.
Trying not to rush, she closed her eyes and put her everything into trying to wake up.
This time, she felt the shift and knew she had succeeded.
She opened her eyes slowly. Thankfully, the light was already dim. The first thing she saw was Naru sitting next to her watching the monitors from where he sat. She looked around the room. Masako, Ayako, and Yasu were scattered throughout the room, but all watching the same image.
She shifted so she could sit up. Naru whipped around at the sudden movement.
Almost instinctively, he began to reach out before putting his hand back down. He looked like he couldn't decide on what to say.
"Did you see anything?"
"I think they're in danger," Mai blurted out. Her voice sounded a bit rough. Masako began pouring tea.
"What do you mean?" Ayako asked.
"Takeshi wants freedom and he thinks he'll get it from us."
A beat of silence.
Yasu ran for the door. Ayako and Naru called after him.
"Follow him. Make sure nothing happens," Naru said to Ayako. She nodded once before rushing out the door too.
Naru took hold of her hand to being her attention back. "Is there anything that you can think of that would be immediately helpful."
She stared at him as she went through the memories of everything she saw. She barely felt the tears welling up before they started to fall. Naru noticed her increased dismay and was about to tell her to not worry about it.
"I can't think of anything. He's not a demon, but he could be soon," she answered.
"Then we won't fail," Naru stated decisively.
Masako offered Mai the cup of tea. She took it with her free hand. She grimaced a little at the first sip, but continued to drink it.
"I can feel him coming back, but everyone will be fine," Masako said.
Mai nodded, but felt skeptical. "I hope so."
This one gets a bit rough. Some blood, but not too graphic. And Mai needed a bit of a rest. Enjoy!
Also, I apologize for odd phrasing. Been playing Baldur's Gate 3 and Astarion is living in my head now.
They were quiet as Zoe filled in the circle. She stepped back into the semi-circle they had formed when she was done.
"Are we ready?" she asked them.
John, Monk, and Lin all gave her nods.
"It's been a while since I had to speak Latin, so I might be a little rusty," she tried to joke. "Anyway, it should call him here and mostly keep him inside the circle."
"What do you mean by 'mostly'?" Monk asked.
"Well, I don't think he'll be able to step out of it, but he might be able to reach us still. I don't know what his reach is like."
"That's comforting," Monk said uneasily.
"If I could produce a cylinder to contain him, I would," Zoe replied honestly.
"Leave that part to me," Lin said. "My shiki should be able to contain the rest of him."
"And then as long as we actually are able to weaken him, we can send him away," John finished.
"Let's just start before I lose my nerve," Zoe said.
"Yeah, me too," Monk agreed.
Zoe began reciting the Latin verses.
At first, nothing seemed to happen.
Monk and John exchanged looks uneasily.
Gradually, they began to feel as if gravity was becoming stronger. The weight grew heavier until the dark form of Takeshi was hovering in front of them, still largely incorporeal.
"You think you can take me on?" Takeshi said to them. "This is but a slight delay. I can taste my freedom already."
Part of the dark mass swung out and materialized into a clawed hand. Lin whistled. The hand stopped just short of Monk. He let out a breath of relief, but didn't falter. He wouldn't have been fast enough to throw up a seal.
John began by throwing holy water.
Takeshi hissed. "I see you come with silly toys. You'll need far more than that to best me."
Monk and Lin joined in as well. The chants from Monk and prayers from John seemed to meld together while Takeshi laughed. Lin kept directing his shiki to block attacks and keep Takeshi's reach in check. For the few he couldn't quite get to, Zoe reached out to help.
The four of them dropped with him as the weight became oppressive to the point they couldn't stay standing. Zoe gritted her teeth as she reached out with her PK. She used her hand to help envision what she wanted it to do.
She could feel the energy extending outward and making its way toward Takeshi in an attempt to wrap around him and back off.
"It seems another is approaching. How exciting!"
The four of them heard the door slam open. The other three watched as Lin's eyes grew wide.
"Yasu! Stay back!"
They heard his feet hit the dirt floor. The oppressive atmosphere didn't seem to be affecting him yet.
He ran in front of Monk, who was the latest target.
At the last moment, Takeshi changed his attack. He swiped across Yasu's side, sending him across the room until he collided with the wall where he fell to the floor in a heap.
A shout echoed through the room.
The oppressive gravity lifted.
Zoe rushed to her feet and ran to his side. Blood was flowing from three deep gashes.
"Lin, I need sixty--no, thirty seconds!" she shouted.
The only response she got was a whistle.
"Just end it. I'll be fine," Yasu said with a grimace. He held a hand to the wounds as if it would stem the flow.
"If I do that first, you'll bleed out for sure and there's no way I'll just let that happen."
Zoe hovered her hands over his and the gashes. Yasu tried to weakly push them away. She grabbed his wrist with one hand to keep it out of the way.
She concentrated and a dim white light began to encompass her hand. Hearing John and Monk continuing on behind her bolstered her resolve. She pressed her hand lightly to his side. Slowly, the gashes stopped bleeding.
He winced before she was done. His face looked pained as he looked past her. She looked around to see everything tinted green once again.
"Yasu, stop! I'm not going to lose you!"
"It's cowardly to attack someone when their back is turned," he said with all the authority he could muster. He looked at her then. "I'll be fine. Especially now."
With a squeeze to his hand, she stood and faced Takeshi once again. She took her place between John and Monk once again.
"He's as weak as we're going to get him!" Lin shouted. "Finish it!"
She would do much more than that.
She started reciting the final lines as she slowly took steps towards Takeshi. John and Monk didn't falter, but looked on in fear for her.
"This wasn't the plan!" Lin shouted as the light around Zoe's bloodied hand grew brighter.
Her voice grew louder as she neared the top edge of the slope. Yasu struggled to sit up and reached out, trying to think of anything he could do.
They fell silent except for the last of her words. They looked on in fear as she planted her foot and leaped forward, glowing hand stretched out in front of her.
She made contact with the final word before tumbling to the floor, unmoving.
She was the only thing left on the floor.
Takeshi appeared to be gone. As did the circle.
There was a flurry of movement. Monk and Ayako, who had been watching in horror from the top of the stairs, ran to Yasu. John and Lin ran to Zoe.
"The gashes are cauterized," Ayako said in shock. "But all this..." She couldn't bring herself to mention the blood surrounding them on the floor.
"Zoe did it. Before she took him on," Yasu said. He couldn't tear his eyes from where she was lying.
"She's alive. Just unconscious," Lin called out.
"Will she react like Kazuya-san does?" John asked.
"I don't know. This hasn't happened like this before," Lin answered truthfully.
"Keep an eye on her for any signs of distress. I need someone to call an ambulance," Ayako instructed. John got up quickly and ran for the stairs. She noticed Yasu getting drowsy. "Don't you dare go to sleep on me, young man. You've lost too much blood and you're going to give me a heart attack."
"I'm trying. And I need to know she's safe..." He slumped forward onto Monk.
"Shounen, come on," Monk said as he shook him gently. "This isn't funny. You need to stay awake. For all of us."
Monk gave Ayako a panicked look.
She felt for a pulse in his wrist. "It's weak, but it's there. As long as they get here quickly, he'll be okay. She did most of the work anyway."
"More like too much," Lin said.
"What do you mean?" Ayako asked.
"There are stains on her shirt. She healed him so much she took it on herself."
Ayako tutted. "Is it bad?"
"She'll live. It's not very much."
The three sighed in relief when they heard extra footsteps hurrying down the stairs. They'd all be okay.
Yasu grimaced when he woke up. At least his breathing wasn't painful this time. But something tugged in his side when he tried to shift even slightly.
He opened his eyes to a dimly lit room. He couldn't make out much without his glasses. He really hoped they didn't break somehow.
He sufficed to feel around and see what happened. Through the thin hospital gown, blanket, and a layer of bandages, he could just feel stitches all across his side. He let his hand fall, still across himself perhaps to keep himself together, as he recalled how they got there in the first place.
Deciding he wanted to see, he tried to make out where the side table was. He tried to reach to his left, but got a little tangled in an IV tube. He had gingerly extricated himself and was reaching again to search for his glasses when he heard the door open.
"Shounen?" A hesitant voice called.
"Bou--" He was cut off by his own coughs. He hadn't realized how thirsty he was at first. Then came the realization that he didn't know how long he had been out. The fact he could move without too much trouble was a good sign though.
"Hey now. Don't push yourself." Monk came closer and put a cup of water in Yasu's hand. He helped him to sit up as well.
"Didn't think you'd be my first visitor," Yasu said honestly once he'd had enough. "My glasses? I'd love to be able to see my dear Bou-san."
"Just for that, I might not give them to you," Monk said as he handed them over.
Yasu carefully put them on, not quite sure of his range of motion with the stitches. He sighed a little when he could see again. Though he didn't appreciate the worried look he was receiving.
"You know, the doctor said it was a miracle you survived."
"That miracle has a name," he replied lightly.
"She's also tending to Mai right now. Poor thing has been attached to Naru and only really answering her and Masako."
"Mediums," Yasu said and shrugged his good shoulder.
"They'll know how to help her best. I can send her in later though."
"I'd appreciate that."
Yasu took another sip in the silence.
"You were out for a few days. If she wasn't with Mai, she was here." Monk nodded towards the empty chair next to him. "I think she met your mother too."
"Thanks for ruining the moment." Yasu looked up at the ceiling. "I would much rather have been present for that."
"She did fine though. Your mother took it as well as last time you ended up in a hospital bed."
"Comforting," he said dryly. "Still, would rather be able to be there when it comes out to my mother, who was none to pleased at my change in major, that my girlfriend has insane abilities bordering on superhuman and is firmly embedded in the subject that took me away from law."
Monk laughed a little. "Point taken."
"How did everyone else do?" Yasu asked.
"You had the worst of it," Monk answered. "Zoe was in only for a day for observation. And Mai...they can't do much for what she went through here."
"Was it that bad? Whatever she saw?"
"Must be. I've never seen her like this. She hasn't told anyone yet. Zoe...well..."
"What is she trying to do now?"
"Save the world?" Monk tried. Yasu gave him an unamused look. Monk sighed. "She'd be better to explain it, but the gist is that Mai would astral project and she would connect with her spirit to see it for herself."
Yasu sighed in exasperation. "At least this is mostly familiar territory this time."
"Mai won't do it though. She's adamantly refusing."
"It must be really bad then. What about Naru?"
"If she tells him, I doubt he'll tell us unless it's absolutely necessary, but the case is already over. Masako cleared us."
"A mystery for another time. Once Mai heals."
Monk hummed in agreement. They were interrupted by a light knock on the door.
"Sorry, I heard voices. I know how worried you were though, Bou-san."
"Aww, I knew you cared!" Yasu exclaimed.
Monk sighed and dropped his shoulders. "Why'd you have to go and say that?"
"Because you beat me to it," Zoe said with a too sweet smile.
"Well, my cue to leave," Monk said and headed for the door. "How's Mai?" he asked quietly.
"The same. Maybe the news will perk her up."
Monk nodded and wandered off down the hall. Ayako cut him off before he could reach the elevators.
"How is he?" she asked.
"Finally awake. Might be best to give them some time," he suggested.
"She was rather irritated yesterday."
Monk looked at her in shock. "Really?"
Ayako nodded. A grin spread across her face. "It's actually a cute picture. Come on."
Monk followed her to the lobby. He stopped and laughed to himself. Side by side were Mai and Naru with her head on his shoulder as he flipped through a book.
"I think that's the most peaceful she's looked in days," Monk commented.
Naru looked up from his book. "She told me what happened."
"And?" Ayako pressed.
"She asked me to not discuss it with anyone, but it pertained to the case. Takeshi put her through...a lot on the astral plane."
"If it was part of the case, can't we read about it later?" Monk asked.
Naru looked back down at his book. "There's a higher level of confidentiality for things like this. After hearing what happened, I agreed. If she chooses to tell you later, that's her business."
A tense silence followed.
"She hasn't slept well the past few days. Unfortunately, it would be rather unbecoming for me to stay with her," Naru said.
"Well, that's hardly a problem. I can stay with her. She can even stay at my place if it would help," Ayako said.
"Your place? It looks like a jungle in there. She'll get lost for sure," Monk said.
Ayako huffed. "It's not like she can stay with you."
"Actually," Naru cut in, "you were my first choice."
Ayako looked away and tried to hide her satisfied smile. "Well, if you insist."
"Just until she's mostly back to normal."
She nodded in understanding. "Yes, of course. I'll do whatever I can to help. Should I wake her to head out now? I imagine the good news about Yasu will help her too."
"No, we're fine for now. Let her wake up on her own."
Naru ignored the knowing smirk he recieved from Monk to go back to reading. Ayako led him away while they waited.
"It's a good thing Takeshi is already gone or I'd have dealt with him myself," Naru said quietly to himself. He found he didn't mind how long he would have to sit there as long as Mai slept. She definitely deserved it.
Aaaaand case 4 is done! One shot next week and I've already started on case 5. Hope you enjoyed!