Mai paged through the newspaper in front of her. She yawned and propped her head up in her hand. Everything was quiet and no one had been in to visit.
It was an act of futility because nothing was jumping out at her. Her eyes skimmed over articles about new businesses that were expected to be popular, events that would be happening, and a theatre that was postponing its opening night for the fifth time.
Really, she was just biding her time. Madoka had called the office and Mai had been the one to pick it up. Happy as ever, Madoka seemed to get some amusement at getting her and not Naru.
Regardless, Mai transferred the call to Naru's office. After a few minutes, Naru summoned Lin in as well. She was just waiting for them to come out so she could ask them what it was about.
"Maybe tea will help him answer me." She laughed to herself. "Who am I kidding? He'll just take it and shut his door again." She got up to make the tea anyway.
By the time she was done, she hadn't heard either of them leave Naru's office. With a bored sigh, she sat back down at her desk and poured a cup for herself. Her motivation to offer tea had disappeared.
She was flipping another page of the newspaper when the phone rang.
"Shibuya Psychic Research. This is Taniyama Mai. How can I help you?" she said cheerfully into the reciever.
"Ah, yes, do you have any openings for today?" A male voice asked.
"Yes, we do. Can I take your name?"
"Ueda Eiji. I'm part of Murakami Theatre. I'd like to come in this afternoon, if possible."
"Of course. We'll be ready for you around two?"
The front door opened then. Zoe rushed past with a stack of manila folders and a frown. Yasu followed behind shortly after and watched her disappear into Naru's office too.
"Yes, that will be fine. Thank you, Taniyama-san."
"We'll see you then." Mai hung up the phone.
"What was that?" Yasu asked. His attention was on the mail in his hands. He stopped on a letter before taking it and putting it in his bag. He handed the rest over.
"Possible client. He's with..." Mai took a moment to consult what she had just written. "Murakami Theatre."
"Ah, there's been something weird going on there, I think. Their lead actor keeps getting injured to the point of needing the hospital. They've gone through five actors, I believe."
"How do you know all that?" Mai asked in awe. She was separating the rest of the mail as she listened.
"I actually read the newspaper," he laughed.
Mai rolled her eyes and threatened to throw a piece of junk mail at him. "Very funny. The point of me looking isn't to read it. I didn't feel anything from the articles though."
"Yes, yes. It's to find possible cases with activity. Regardless, I figured it would only be a matter of time until either Naru gave in or they came to us asking for help," he reasoned.
"Naru? Give in? Yeah, right." She got an idea then. "Speaking of giving in, do you know what they're doing? I was gonna try to ask Naru, but he'd probably ignore me."
Yasu shrugged. "I don't know either. I couldn't get a straight answer myself. It did look like personnel files though."
"I didn't think we needed more people."
Yasu shrugged. "I guess we'll find out eventually."
Much to Mai's disappointment, she didn't get to find out yet. By the time they were done, it was almost time for Ueda-san to arrive. Lin and Naru had to get ready for the meeting and Yasu and Zoe had to go back to campus.
Mai sighed as she prepared more tea for their client. The previous pot had long gone cold.
She came out from the small kitchen when she heard the front door. A man came down the hall and looked around.
"Ah, Ueda-san?" Mai asked.
"Yeah. Am I too early?" he asked. He seemed to be around Lin's age.
"No, no. Please have a seat. The boss will be right out."
As if on cue, Naru and Lin came out and took their seats. Ueda-san looked between the two, not sure which to address.
"I understand you are with Murakami Theatre," Naru began. Mai brought out the tea she had prepared and offered one to Ueda-san before sitting down with them.
He took it, but didn't drink right away. "Yes, that's correct. I know we've been in the news lately. We don't know what else to do."
"What makes you think your problems are paranormal in nature?" Naru asked.
"We've tried everything else. There have been stories for years that the place is haunted. Set pieces or props being lost. Dressing rooms becoming a mess in the morning after they were left clean the day before."
"Perhaps some of the staff have been careless and tried to push off the blame," Naru suggested. Mai held back a frustrated sigh.
Ueda-san shook his head. "We thought of that. We also thought some people may have just been forgetful. Surveillance cameras were installed in those areas. Though they aren't good quality, something would happen during the night while no one was there."
Ueda-san took a sip to bolster himself. "Most concerning though is my actors getting injured. It's not the first time this has happened. It's only ever the men, but it's always enough to take them out of the performance. Broken bones, concussions. One case was sudden delirium that only occurred inside the theatre and he hadn't experienced it since. I'm at my wit's end. I'm on my last reserve actor."
"Have any of these incidents been caught on film?" Naru asked.
"Multiple. They usually look like accidents, but there is nothing that I could see that caused them to fall or have a background fall over onto them."
"Would you be able to supply these for us?"
"Of course. Anything that could help."
Naru made some notes. "I understand you are rather far from here."
Ueda-san nodded. "I was in the area for other things, mainly looking for anyone who might take a chance on us, and thought it best to at least inquire."
"We will need a couple days to prepare," Naru said. Mai tuned out the rest of his spiel. She noticed how Ueda-san relaxed as Naru went on about what they would need.
"What do you think, Mai?" Naru asked after their new client had left.
"Me?" she asked in surprise.
"Is there another Mai here?"
Mai gave him a hard look. "I think he thought something weird has been going on for a while, but no one wanted to believe him. He was much more at ease when he realized you were agreeing for us to check it out."
Naru nodded to himself. Without another word, he got up and returned to his office. Mai rolled her eyes. The newspaper caught her eye. She turned back to the article about the theatre and read it. She wondered why it hadn't popped out at her before. Shrugging, she picked up the phone to call the others.
Mai climbed out of the van and stretched. The time felt like it dragged and she was glad to not be cramped in the front seat anymore.
She looked up at the front of the theatre. Somehow, she hadn't expected for it to feel so tall.
"The second floor was an addition," Yasu said helpfully from behind her. She saw Zoe just behind him shake her head with a knowing look. "Murakami-san had had it specially done when he converted this place to a modern theatre. Of course, it still does kabuki, but it seems he had a passion for western theatre with its props and different form of storytelling."
"You found that out already?" Mai asked.
"Don't let him fool you. He cheated and used the brochure," Monk commented.
"I'm offended, Bou-san."
"You're not denying it."
Ayako came up next to them. "You're the one who gave it to him."
"I'm not going to wait all day," Naru called over his shoulder. Mai hurried to catch up.
Lin was already inside taking a look at the lobby. The doors were open to the theatre. Mai could see people up on the stage.
She was about to follow Naru and Lin through the doors when she felt itchy all over, but particularly her face.
"Mai?" Yasu called. He and Zoe has stopped and gone back to her. Naru and Lin turned around at the question.
Before Mai could say anything, Ueda-san hurried up the aisle to them.
Naru stared a moment longer before turning to address their client.
"Thank you for coming. Please excuse our rehearsal. We wanted to get one more in. After today, the place will be yours," Ueda-san said.
"Of course. It won't be a problem," Naru said. "If possible, I'd like to interview some of the actors present about the activity that's been happening before they leave."
"Yes, I can arrange that with the ones willing to talk about it," Ueda-san assured. He led them down the aisle. "Everything has been focused on the stage here. Onstage, backstage. It never seems to venture into the audience seating, at least that I know of."
"Has anything happened during a performance?" Yasu asked.
Ueda-san nodded. "A few times, but not recently. It was never anything terrible. It could be passed off as part of the performance, really."
A scream resonated through the theatre.
Everyone's attention snapped to the stage.
One of the backdrops was tipping over. There was a flurry of action on stage. There was a loud thud that resounded through the theatre when the backdrop hit the floor.
Everything fell silent.
Ueda-san wasted little time running up to the stage. "Is everyone okay? No one hurt?"
"No, we're fine. We all got out in time," one of the actors said.
"What happened!" Monk shouted as he ran through the doors. "We heard yelling!"
"It seems the spirit wanted to put on a show of its own," Naru commented. "Everything is okay. You can go back outside." Monk gave him a skeptical look before doing as he suggested.
"That's enough for today, I think," Ueda-san told the actors. "I'll let you know when everything is resolved."
The stage emptied quickly. Ueda-san walked back to them.
"Would it be okay for us to take a look at it before it's set back up?" Yasu asked.
"Yes, of course." Ueda-san gestured for them to go ahead.
Yasu and Zoe made their way up onto the stage to examine the fallen backdrop.
"What else has happened recently?" Naru asked.
"All four previous actors for this performance have been injured in some way and refused to come back when they recovered. The first was a sprained ankle. The second nearly broke his arm. The third would become delirious after spending a short time inside, but perfectly fine once he was back outside. The most recent has a mild concussion."
"And this all happened within the vicinity of the stage?" Naru asked.
"Some of it. The actor who sprained his ankle was coming back downstairs after helping teach a class upstairs. The actor that suffered deliriousness could barely walk in, let alone get to the stage. The others were during rehearsals. There were plenty of close calls like just now as well."
Naru nodded. Lin was taking notes. Mai made to head towards the stage, but Naru stopped her with a hand on her shoulder. She looked up to see him looking away at the stage, but he didn't release her either.
"The quickest to get upstairs from here is through backstage." Ueda-san led them past the curtains.
"What's behind that door?" Lin asked and gestured toward a door set far back.
"We store the props and costumes we need for our current show back there to have ready access to them," Ueda-san explained. "Nothing has happened in there that I know of, but no one likes being in there long."
Back as a group, they followed their client up the narrow stairs backstage. At the top was an open area with chairs spread in a wide circle. Doors lined the wall behind them.
"These are dressing rooms, but they don't get used as often as the ones downstairs. The other side of this floor is a storage for whatever we're not actively using. There's also access to the stagelights from above." Ueda-san gestured to everything in turn.
"It's usually unnaturally cold up here," he continued unprompted. "We thought it was due to the location in the building, but there's nothing to support that."
"What about the storage room?" Naru asked.
"There have been accidents in there, yes," Ueda-san answered somewhat reluctantly. "Nothing terrible, but the occasional minor injury. It can be rather messy in places, so be careful if you go in there."
Naru nodded and looked around. "We'll set up base in the lobby. It seems to be safest. If you could supply a list of those who have been affected that we could interview, it would be appreciated."
"Of course. I'll get on that while you get settled," Ueda-san said. He bowed before heading back down the stairs.
"I want a minimum of three views of the stage," Naru began.
Lin nodded and Zoe answered. "We can spread them evenly in the seating. If you agree with our plan, we'd get another in the second floor seating."
"We'll discuss that more after base is built," Naru said. He turned to Mai. "What did you feel earlier?"
Mai looked at him in confusion for a moment before she remembered. "Ah, I was itchy all of a sudden. It was all over, but particularly my face."
"Itchy?" Yasu asked to clarify.
"Yeah, like I really needed to scratch everywhere. I don't know what caused it."
"The spirit?" Lin asked the group.
"It's possible. The background did tip over. It looked like it should have been completely stable," Zoe said. "I felt something was there during the incident."
"Let's go. We need the base before we get into all of this," Naru said, already leading the way back to the lobby.
Who knew strict deadlines could help me get a chapter done.
...I did...I'm just surprised it actually worked.
Mai followed after Naru as they headed for an office Ueda-san was letting them borrow for the interviews.
"Naru, I could be helping them set up. Or take temperatures," she complained.
"You're going to complain when you eventually have to take temperatures through the entire theatre. I'm simply buying you some time," he said without looking back. "Besides, your habit of blurting out whatever comes into your head may be useful here."
Mai scoffed and glared at his back as they entered the office. Lin was already there waiting for them.
"Actually, he doesn't want you to be out of sight," Lin said. Naru glared at him as he sat down.
Mai took the seat next to him. A few moments later, Ueda-san led someone in.
Lin began typing as Naru asked the usual questions. He started off with focusing on the events from the morning. The actor said he hadn't felt anything and hadn't even noticed the impending danger until his costar pushed him out of the way.
"It is fair to assume you knew the dangers going into this?" Naru asked.
"I did," the actor answered.
"Why did you go through with it?" Naru continued.
The actor took a deep breath and looked at the table in front of him. Mai thought he almost looked ashamed.
"Ueda-sensei had promised that I'd get a break soon. He says he sees potential in me, but that I'm not quite there. I wanted to prove myself, even if it's a bit sooner than either of us anticipated," the actor explained.
Mai felt a shift in the air. Looking around, she saw and felt nothing else. She looked back at the person in front of them.
"I don't think it's something to feel ashamed about," she said. The actor looked over at her in mild surprise. "It's not like you're behind these things. You're only trying to take advantage of an opportunity."
The actor gave her a small smile. "Thank you."
"Is there anything else you can think of that could be useful to us?" Naru asked.
The actor nodded almost immediately. "I haven't been in this position long, but the dressing room behind the stage that's reserved for the lead always feels unpleasant. And I feel like there's something in the dressing room hallway sometimes as well. It always feels like it's just around the corner."
Naru nodded as Lin kept typing. "Thank you. Your insight has been quite helpful." The actor left quickly, as if he was suddenly uncomfortable in the room, but not because of anyone present. Mai noticed his eyes shifting to the corners before he turned and left.
"He felt something," Mai said. "Just now."
"Something he said caught something’s attention," Naru agreed, but didn't discuss it further.
They talked with more of the people present for the rehearsal.
"You are the female lead?" Naru asked when the last person walked in.
"I am," she answered.
"You seemed quite skilled. Have you had many such parts?" Naru continued.
"I have," the actress nodded. "If your next question is if I have been targeted, the answer is no, I haven't."
"But you've noticed something," he stated.
Mai looked between them. She wasn't sure how to take how well they could read each other. She frowned as she focused on the actress again.
"All the accidents or near accidents have been the men. Actors, stage hands, even a choreographer once. But it's always the men being threatened or hurt," she said.
Naru nodded. "What have you specifically experienced here?"
"Just a sense I'm being watched and a general unpleasant feeling. I've never been hurt, nor have the other girls, at least not directly," she answered.
"Thank you. That is all," Naru dismissed her.
Once the door was closed, Mai turned to him. "How could you read her so well? I thought you weren't capable of that."
Naru gave her a stern look. "Ignoring your insult for the moment, it wasn't a matter of reading her at all. She wanted to tell us what she believed to be true."
"But then why didn't she say something before? And why are they still rehearsing and performing at all if some of them are in danger?" Mai asked.
"It is possible that up until recently, no one believed her. If you recall, she was ready for something to happen. That something being the backdrop falling. Only she would really know how many others she may have saved from injury," Naru surmised.
Mai looked at the table in thought. It made sense and it didn't set off alarm bells in her head. "I suppose that's true then."
"Now, as for your insinuation that I am unable to read people," Naru said.
"Ah, I didn't totally mean that," Mai said. She gave him an embarrassed smile and rubbed the back of her neck.
"Should I need it, I am quite good at it. I can drag out certain emotions from people. Some are easier than others." He leaned closer to Mai. She leaned back in her chair, but couldn't go very far. "You're the easiest of everyone to read."
"Of course. I mean, you're you, after all."
"I simply choose not to as my time and energy could be better used for other things."
Mai could have sworn she saw his gaze shift down for a second.
Lin coughed behind them. Naru backed away to gather his things and left the room.
Mai took a minute to catch her breath as Lin finished typing his notes.
"It's you're own fault for antagonizing him," Lin commented.
"I didn't even do it on purpose this time," Mai said and crossed her arms.
Lin laughed quietly to himself. He gathered his own materials and gestured for her to leave the office first.
"For the future, I suggest not letting your jealousy get the best of you," Lin advised.
"Who's jealous?" Mai asked. She tried to put a lightness in her tone that said she definitely had not been jealous. Certainly not.
Lim shook his head. "Let's go. I'm sure they are in need of help setting things up." Raised voices echoed down the hall as they got closer to the lobby. "Or perhaps settling arguments."
Naru was already there. For a moment, he let the argument continue before cutting in.
"I need research started immediately. They are exempt this time from putting up cameras." Yasu and Zoe were out the door moments later.
"Hara-san and Matsuzaki-san, I have a list of locations. Please evaluate all of them and report back later." He handed a piece of paper to Masako. She quickly glanced down the list before passing it to Ayako.
"Bou-san, you and John will start on the upper floor according to the established plan," he said. John's shoulder sagged slightly. Monk groaned.
"Mai and myself will start in the theatre. Once that is done, we will regroup to determine our next move." As way of dismissal, Naru grabbed a camera and headed through the door into the theatre. Mai hurried to grab a microphone and cables to not be left behind.
Naru has so many new ways to make fun of Mai now.
Also, since I kept forgetting, I never did theatre. I just had theatre friends, so forgive me if I get anything wrong.
So I was gonna wait for these two to have this conversation later (read: I almost forgot about it), but Mai had other ideas and Naru went along with it.
Mai tried to run after Naru through the rows of seats, but he was far more agile about it than she was.
"Geez, Naru! Will you wait a minute?" she called after him.
Naru finally stopped when he reached the back corner. A moment later, Mai managed to catch up. He gently took the tripod from her hands and set to work.
"Naru, are you sure about this?" Mai asked.
"About what, Mai?"
"We just got done talking to that actress about how it's only ever men that are targeted and your sending Bou-san and John off on their own!"
"I'm aware of what I did," Naru answered. At first, it seemed like he wouldn't continue. "They are fully capable of protecting themselves. Besides, without rehearsals, we need to draw out activity another way."
"You did not just say you're using them as bait."
"Actually, I didn't. You did."
Mai groaned as she set up the microphone next to the camera.
"Something could happen to any of us, including Lin back at base. It seemed whatever caused the backdrop to fall didn't care who else was around. Separating them would make no difference," Naru explained.
Mai took it in and thought about it. Of course, as usual, he was right. The spirit didn't care who else was on the stage when it happened.
"Have you felt anything since we came in?" Naru asked.
Taken slightly off-guard, Mai took a moment to answer. "Not really. Just that everyone we talked to was being honest, I guess."
Naru acknowledged her before walking off. She hurried to catch up and got a feeling something was off with him. "Naru, wait up! We aren't in a rush!"
Without responding, he handed her more equipment before heading off again.
He was already setting up the next camera while she traversed through the seats.
"Naru, what's going on all of a sudden?" He didn't respond. "Does this have something to do with that discussion you said we'd have and never did?"
Naru didn't look at her.
"It is, isn't it."
Naru sighed. "This isn't something I can just talk about, Mai. Besides, we're on a case and should be focused on that."
"Not that there was time. Except for White Day, it almost seemed like you made sure we were never alone, or if we were, you were busy."
She didn't let him finish. "Yes, yes, on a case. This is the first we've actually really talked since then. We've been around each other, but it's like you've been distant. And you're being weird. More than usual."
"We're really doing this now?" Naru asked and folded his arms.
"I don't see a better time, do you?" Mai challenged.
Naru relented after a moment. "This isn't something easy for me."
Mai thought about goading a reaction, but thought better of it. "It seems important though."
He looked away, not that Mai could read his expression to begin with. "You shouldn't feel forced into sticking around just because of what happened last case."
"I'm still here, even after you went back to England. Multiple times. If you want to get rid of me so badly, you'll have to try harder."
"I never said I wanted to get rid of you."
"You're really making it sound that way."
Naru looked at her briefly before looking away again. "I don't mean to sound that way."
Mai hesitantly took a step forward. "What is it that you want?" she asked quietly.
"I want to know you're safe. You being the other half to my PK can't guarantee that." Mai was about to reply, but he kept talking. "But something about it brought me some kind of joy."
Mai's face turned to one of confusion.
"I think for some time, I've sought connections in any way I could. And that is one of the strongest we could have. Something my brother couldn't give you."
Mai was momentarily stunned. She tried to search his face as she answered. "I won't lie and say I didn't entertain the idea I got it wrong when you asked me that. If anything, it made me think more about it, but I still came to the same conclusion."
She took another step forward.
"For once, you were wrong. It wasn't Gene. I only ever wanted the person in my projections and dreams to be you. Even when I knew who it really was. And I know there are the good parts in you too. I've seen them every time you've been there to help me or rescue me, even if you don't think they're there."
She took another step to be right in front of him. She started to reach out her hand towards his, but stopped. He hadn't shied away, but she didn't want to push her luck or scare him off.
He answered the silent question by taking her hand in his. He looked down at their entwined hands almost in fascination.
"I wanted to be wrong that day."
He said it quietly. She almost didn't hear it. The admission made her feel warm inside. It was probably the closest thing she was going to get to a confession from him. The lightness and warmth it brought made her smile and hold his hand just a little tighter.
"If I had met him first, maybe things would have been different, but that's not what happened."
Naru sighed. "This is new territory for me, Mai. When it comes to any of this, I don't know what I'm doing."
Mai could almost see the vulnerability deep inside of him. "That's okay. I don't know either. So we can just do things our own way."
The tension that had left Naru's shoulders was back when they heard chatter floating from the backstage area. Mai was glad he didn't let go of her hand though.
"Mai! Naru-bou! I thought you'd be done by now!" Monk called across the theatre. "Take any longer and we'll be done first!"
Mai took the bait. "No, you won't! We're the experts!" She let go of his hand before running off down the row of seats to try to beat Monk back to the lobby.
"Actually, I'm the expert. You're an investigator," Naru called behind her before following at a normal pace.
She turned back to stick her tongue out at him before she disappeared through the doors to the lobby.
Naru suppressed a small smile as he followed her at a normal pace. Taking his time, he stopped her before she could run past him again.
"Mai, they might have speed, but we have efficiency. We don't need to rush," he reasoned.
"But Naru--" She cut herself off when his words registered. "Wait, are you okay?"
"Of course I'm fine."
"But you're suggesting we actually compete with them."
"I know what I'm doing."
Mai gave him an odd look, but didn't question him further.
All the cameras were set up in record time.
"We have returned with food. And information," Yasu announced as he and Zoe walked in the front door.
"It's about time," Monk complained. "We've been waiting so long."
"Oh stop. It hasn't been that long," Ayako reprimanded.
Mai got up to pass around tea while everyone got settled.
"Hara-san, what have you felt so far?" Naru began.
"It feels like two spirits are here. I think they are both men, but it was hard to tell, nor could I really tell what they are feeling," Masako said.
"Ah, wasn't that dressing room odd for you?" Ayako prompted.
Masako nodded. "It was oddly oppressive, but I couldn't determine why. Ayako did a quick cleansing that alleviated it a little, but it didn't offer anything else."
"They need to sort their prop storage too. The one upstairs is such a mess in places," Ayako added.
"I didn't like being in there," John said. "Something about it felt wrong."
"The whole upstairs actually," Monk agreed. "Like it's out of place."
"It was colder upstairs when we checked the temperatures," Mai confirmed.
"I didn't feel anything out of the ordinary up there. It may take me some time," Masako said.
"Hey, Naru-bou?" Monk began. "What if one of us guys walked around with Masako tomorrow? Men are targeted, so maybe she'll feel something with one of us around."
Naru was quiet for a moment. "I'll consider it."
"Did you feel anything else, Mai?" Lin prompted.
"Anything else?" Ayako asked, looking between the two.
"Ah, right before the backdrop fell, I got really itchy all over, but especially my face," Mai explained. "I haven't felt anything besides that though."
"Can you describe the itching at all?" Ayako asked.
Mai thought hard for a moment. "I just remember it was really itchy and I felt like I needed to scratch it. It went away just as fast."
Ayako frowned, but conceded.
"What did you find while you guys were out?"John asked.
"Well," Yasu began and pulled out a reasonable stack of papers, "Murakami-san was employed as an actor here before he took over and bought the place himself. It seems he started out doing kabuki, as was typical. It seems he had some western visitors at one point who showed him their variety of acting and he took to it right away."
"He must have been pretty popular to be able to make enough money to buy this place," Monk commented.
"He was considered the top talent in this area," Zoe explained. "He was much sought after to travel around as well if he wasn't busy here. He waited a few years after buying this place to renovate it. He wanted to be one of the first in the country to transition to a more western style of acting."
"The entire second floor was added as part of the renovation," Yasu added. "He did a lot of traveling during the time it took to make that happen."
"I imagine it cost quite a bit," John commented.
"We didn't get numbers, but he managed well enough. There may have been help from outside the country as well," Yasu said.
"Did you find anything that could help us determine what is here?" Naru asked.
"Unfortunately, no. We heard a myth that Murakami-san had died here, but we haven't found anything saying one way or another," Zoe said.
"If Murakami-san loved this place so much, why would he still be here trying to hurt people?" Mai asked.
"Well, the first western-style performance they did was Shakespeare and that doesn't exactly translate well, regardless of how good the performers are," Yasu pointed out.
"Do we know how that was recieved?" John asked.
"Brief clip of a newspaper we found was rather critical of it," Zoe said. "So probably didn't go over well, but it seems Murakami-san was passionate enough about it to keep going despite the criticism."
"I think it would have gone better if they kept doing kabuki while occasionally doing these western performances. He can't have been able to keep it up for long," Ayako said.
"If it didn't work, I doubt we would be here right now," Masako said primly.
Ayako stopped and frowned. "He could have sought out help if it got bad."
"We would have to find financial records for that which might take some time," Yasu said.
"So where does that leave us? Murakami-san is the only one so far who could be here and Masako said she felt two presences here," Monk said.
"We'll have to be thorough when going over any data we catch overnight and during the day tomorrow," Naru said. "I will agree for Bou-san or John to accompany Hara-san during the day. If that doesn't help, we'll go back to normal."
"We're waiting to hear back about some information. What should we do?" Yasu asked.
"I want you both to thoroughly go through the auditorium and stage for anything that could explain any of the activity," Naru said.
"So," Ayako started when it seemed everyone was done, "Since we're stuck out here in the lobby, does this mean we get to stay in a hotel this time?"
"Ueda-san has generously offered some of the offices for our use as their does not seem to be activity there, it should be safe enough for us," Naru stated.
Ayako sighed heavily as she and some of the others got up from the table. Naru caught Mai gently by the arm to get her attention.
"I want to try something tomorrow," he said.
Mai looked at him in confusion. "What do you mean?"
"I want you to try to deliberately astral project tomorrow."
Mai froze. She shakily sat back down.
"I don't know..."
"I understand last case was difficult. Even though the chances of something like that happening again are very low, you won't be alone. I'll make sure of that."
Mai didn't respond right away and stared at the table. She was vaguely aware Naru was still holding onto her arm.
"Of course, you can say no if you don't feel ready for something like that."
"It's not that. I'm just nervous and kinda scared."
"Have you been sleeping since then?"
Mai looked away and scratched the back of her neck. "Ah, well, at first, not really. Even though I knew he was gone, I still panicked a bit, but it got better. I'm basically back to normal now!" She tried to offer a smile.
"You don't have to act tough, Mai."
"I'm not!" she said indignantly. "I really am sleeping fine now. I just haven't been back to the astral plane at all."
"That's why I'd be with you. It may be that what Gene did to connect us last case that allowed you to refine my PK may have some effect that goes the other way in keeping you safer on the astral plane or even bringing you back."
"Like an anchor?" Mai asked. She had heard her mentor mention it before.
"Something like that."
Mai was quiet as she weighed the possibilities.
"I think I want to try it."
Mai nodded, feeling confident in her decision. Surely, Naru wouldn't let her fall if he could help it.
"Yeah, I'm sure."
Naru studied her a moment to try and find even a shred of doubt. He nodded when he was satisfied. "Tomorrow evening. It'll give you time to become more attuned to the energy here."
He released her then. She started to turn away.
"Please let me know if you have trouble sleeping tonight."
Mai turned back with a grin. "What could you possibly do?" she laughed.
That gave him pause. "I...don't know."
She laughed again. "Don't worry. I'll let you know." She turned and followed the others down the hall.
I definitely cut it a bit close this week. But I made it! Hope yall enjoy!
It seems I didn't learn my lesson about procrastinating. In my defense, my week was rough with my work schedule. So I apologize if this chapter feels rushed or weird or anything.
Also, I really like the ways the friendship between Yasu and Monk can be interpreted and I'm not sorry.
Yasu was staring between two of the monitors in front of him, not really thinking of anything. He stopped idly tapping his fingers on the table when he heard something nearby. He heard it again and determined it was footsteps.
"You're up early," Monk commented.
Yasu relaxed. "Could say the same for you."
"Woke up early and couldn't go back to sleep. What's your excuse?"
"The same." The half truth weighed heavily on him.
"Uh huh." He could tell Monk didn't believe him. "Anything happen?"
"Nothing that I've seen."
"You know that's not what I meant." Monk took a seat next to him.
Yasu shrugged. "Just had a hard time sleeping."
"That's not common for you." Monk paused. "And you're fidgeting."
"Fine," Yasu sighed. "It feels like everything lately has been about waiting. Waiting for research. Waiting to heal enough to get back to training this ability I desperately want to use, but can't."
Monk thought for a moment. "Your stitches have been out for a while though, right? What has Lin said?"
"He wants to wait until it's as healed as it can be. A couple more weeks at most. I understand it, but I don't want to agree with it. I can do everything else, so why can't I do that."
"Has Zoe tried to help at all?"
"I won't let her heal it anymore, if that's what you're asking."
"I mean, good to know so I don't suggest that myself, but not what I was going for."
"She already knows how Lin operates. She thinks that since I'm medically cleared, I should be fine, but she also knows Lin won't change his mind no matter what we say."
Monk was about to ask something else, when Zoe came into the room.
"Your usual?" she asked Yasu casually. She put her hand on his shoulder as she passed behind them.
"What about me?" Monk asked.
"What about you?" she asked with a grin.
She busied herself across the room. Monk looked back at Yasu who was fondly watching her.
"Well, that answers my next question," Monk joked.
Yasu turned his attention back. "What?"
"I can see everything is perfectly fine."
"You're just jealous. I can always give you more of my attention, dear Bou-san."
Monk rolled his eyes and distracted himself with the monitors.
"It does feel a bit colder up here," John commented.
"Really? I think it's fine. And the temperature readings look normal," Mai commented. She squinted at the numbers she wrote down before as if they would change on the page.
"Well, I'm almost done here. We can head downstairs," she continued.
John nodded in agreement. He rubbed his arms to warm up a bit and looked around the practice area.
"I actually took a couple acting classes before. I was told l needed to learn how to project my voice more," John said.
Mai laughed. "I can see that. It's pretty rare that you ever raise your voice."
John nodded in agreement. "I may not have a sound system all the time if I preach somewhere, so it's helpful if I need to reach a large room. Or if the kids are especially rowdy," he laughed.
They went down the stairs to head for the dressing rooms when they heard a commotion from the direction of the stage. They exchanged a look before heading out.
Mai laughed some more before stepping out onto the stage.
Monk was making extravagant gestures and reciting lines from a play in the middle of the stage as if he was performing for an audience. Masako was shaking with silent laughter off to the side. Ayako was standing next to her with her arms crossed and fighting off a smile as well.
Monk looked over and gestured for Mai to go out to center stage. She didn't know what he was performing from, but she tried to play off his words.
Cheering came from the audience. Mai looked out and saw Yasu and Zoe sitting in the middle of the audience. With the additional motivation, Mai really played into her improvised role.
After a few minutes, Mai felt a chill. She looked up and her smile fell as she felt like everything went into slow motion. One of the hanging props was swaying. She was sure she hadn't noted any drafts in the stage area.
"Mai! Bou-san!" Masako yelled.
"Bou-san, move!" Mai shouted.
"Huh?" Monk stopped mid-sentence and turned around at what she was looking at.
One of the cables holding up the prop snapped and the sound echoed throughout the room. Mai felt frozen in place until she felt a hand on her back and saw a flash of blonde hair.
The next moment, she was on the floor next to John and Monk.
The prop hung harmlessly still not far from where they had been standing.
"You guys alright?" John asked.
"Yeah. Thanks for that," Monk said, still in a bit of shock. Ayako was already next to them making sure they were in tact
"Something was here. If Murakami-san is here, I don't think this was his doing," Masako said.
"Whoever it is did not like us messing around," Monk commented.
Mai watched as Zoe and Yasu got up on the stage to take a look at the prop.
She spoke up with an idea. "What if it's because we were playing around like we were actors too?" Mai asked.
"That's true," Masako agreed. "We already know whoever it is doesn't like actors very much."
"Maybe we can do more of that to get some activity going. It might help us find out what's going on," Monk suggested.
"Are you crazy?!" Mai exclaimed. "We just had a close call and you wanna do it again?"
Monk shrugged and at least had the decency to look embarrassed under Ayako's glare.
"Well, it shouldn't have fallen," Yasu called from across the stage. "It's a thick cable that would take a lot to make it snap."
"And the prop itself isn't unreasonably heavy. Certainly not enough to swing as fast as it did," Zoe added.
"So what do we do now?" Mai asked.
Masako lifted her sleeve to cover her mouth. "I feel something somewhere backstage or in the dressing rooms. The location is difficult to determine right now."
"Let's go then," Monk said. He stood up and brushed off his jeans as if they were dirty.
"Are you sure? You almost got hurt just now," Mai said.
"I'll be fine. What's a little danger to keep you on your toes?" Monk said with a grin.
"I'm going to give you a chance to rethink what you just said and try again," Ayako said.
"Um, we'll be careful while trying to draw out the spirits?" Monk tried. Ayako glared at him. "We won't do anything to intentionally cause activity," he relented.
"Better. Masako, you said it went backstage, right?" Ayako said, turning her attention away from him.
Masako nodded. "It hasn't really moved since it left the stage."
"Then let's take this big oaf and see if we can't find it. Maybe we can calm it down for a bit before it tries to hurt someone else," Ayako said. They disappeared behind the curtains.
"We should get back to work too," Zoe said. She hopped down off the stage with Yasu right behind her.
"Well...," John said.
"I guess these temperatures won't take themselves. We can continue here," Mai said in an attempt to keep it light. She still had an uneasy feeling as she got back to work.
John looked around the stage as Mai worked her way around, especially around the prop that had almost hit them.
"Have you ever thought about doing acting, Mai? Even just on the side?" John asked.
Mai set down the thermometer as she thought about it. "I don't know. I never really explored it in school. I didn't really have the chance get into a club since I was on my own. I'm not sure I have time now either."
"If you did have time though, would you?"
"I don't know. Probably not, I think. It can take a lot of talent to act that I don't think I have. I'm not even a good liar," she laughed. "What about you? If you didn't want to be a priest, would you have tried?"
"No, I'd rather watch a performance and appreciate everything as a whole than to be a part of it," John answered.
There was a clatter behind them.
Mai whipped around to look. She went to walk towards the sound, but John put a hand on her shoulder to keep her there.
He picked up the item that had fallen to the floor.
"It's warm," he commented.
Mai took that as a sign it was safe. She pulled out her level and set it on the table alongside the thermometer. The table was level and the temperature was a little below baseline, but still within range.
"It shouldn't have moved on its own," she said.
A prop on the opposite side of the stage fell to the floor.
Mai reached for the radio she was carrying. Without looking away from the second fallen prop, she pushed the button to talk.
"Is anyone back at base?" she asked. She wasn't sure if Naru and Lin were done with further interviews.
"What is it, Mai?" Naru's voice came back.
Mai relaxed slightly. "We have a thermal view of the stage, right? We've got stuff moving."
"Were you fooling around again?" he accused.
"We were getting work done!" Mai returned.
"Lin pulled up the view. The thermal view reads the entire stage is a few degrees cooler. What's going on?" Naru asked seriously.
"Some little props fell to the floor."
Another one in the back fell as she spoke.
"Let's get off the stage," John suggested.
Mai nodded and led the way down.
"The first table was stable," Mai continued into the radio. "It shouldn't have fallen off like that."
"Stay and observe as long as that's all that is happening. Come back here if it gets worse. We'll keep watch from here too," Naru said.
John and Mai waited in silence as a few more things fell to the floor. After a while, it finally stopped. Naru came over the radio again to tell them the temperature on the stage had returned to normal.
Mai made sure all the surfaces were level and double checked the temperatures.
"Do you think it was because of our conversation?" Mai asked him as they finished up.
"It seems reasonable. We got a much larger reaction when Bou-san was messing around."
Mai nodded. "And everything that happened before during rehearsals the actors told us about. That would mean anything we say about the theatre and acting could coincide with something happening."
John nodded. "Let's go back for now before we push our luck too far," he suggested. Mai agreed and followed.
"Mai," Naru called. She turned away from the conversation around her. "Come here."
Confused, she did as he requested.
"If you're okay with it, I'd like to have you try deliberately astral projecting," Naru said.
Mai tensed up and started to wring her hands together. "I guess so, yeah."
Naru gently pulled her to the side out of view of the others. He looked her in the eye then. She was taken aback when she could plainly see the uncertainty he was feeling.
"I want you to be absolutely sure about this because I will not pressure you to do it."
Mai found comfort and resolve in his sincerity and nodded. "I'll do it. You said before you'd stay there, so it'll be alright."
Naru looked up and nodded to Lin before leading the way into the main room. Once the doors closed behind them, he stopped.
"Just take your time and feel the place out. Knowing you, you'll know where to go with your intuition."
Mai faced the room. She looked at the backs of the seats. She frowned when she didn't feel anything.
Hesitantly, she took a step. Slowly, she made her way down the aisle. She was halfway to the front when she realized she kept looking at the center of the front row of seats, so she purposefully headed towards it.
She sat down and watched as Naru knelt in front of her. He held out his hands to her.
She looked between his waiting hands and his face in confusion. He returned a dry look. "I don't know what it's like to project, but perhaps I can serve as an anchor to this world for you," he said, much gentler than his expression would suggest.
Mai blushed as she took his hands in hers.
"Close your eyes and take deep controlled breaths. Then, gradually relax."
"I've done this before, Naru."
"Not like this, you haven't. Humor me."
Mai frowned and closed her eyes. As she began taking steady breaths, she felt the frown fall away. She leaned further back into the seat.
Within moments, she found herself on the astral plane. Everything appeared as it usually did with the white outline. The exception was that everything felt warmer. Her hands especially so. She looked down and found only her own.
"That must be the anchor he mentioned," Mai said to herself.
Mai looked around then, ready to get to work with added confidence. A few seats down was a glowing light. Without a second thought, she entered the memory.
The stage in front of her was a flurry of action. When she looked to either side, she saw two men, both relatively young. They didn't talk to each other. Just sat in the front row.
"Haruto-sensei! We're ready to start," someone called from the stage.
The man on her left got up and climbed up onto the stage. The one on her right remained sitting and frowning.
Mai reached out towards him.
Before she could touch him, she could feel the negative emotions radiating off of him. It was a coldness that tried to threaten the warmth that surrounded her.
Regardless, she pushed forward and found herself seeing the scene through the man's point of view.
"I should be up there."
The thought wasn't hers. She was sure of that.
"It's always Haruto. When does anyone else get a chance to shine. What about me?"
The thoughts continued unabated. They almost seemed to flood her mind with anger and frustration. She remembered the warmth and pushed back on the tidal wave of emotions.
"Not a single important role since his ridiculous transition to this farce of a production style."
"Katashi!" a man shouted. She realized that was who this was when he looked over. "You want to keep up? Pay attention."
"Yes, director," Katashi answered formally.
Katashi looked back at the stage. Mai could feel his resentment. He glared at the lead actor.
His anger rose as the rehearsal paused and Haruto changed places with someone else before running the scene again.
"It should've been me!"
The thought was so loud to Mai that it jarred her out of the memory.
On the astral plane, the warmth radiating from her hands comforted her. She felt she was done for the time being and focused on the feeling.
She opened her eyes to Naru, exactly as he had been when they started. She wouldn't have been surprised if he had the discipline to not move the entire time.
"What did you see?" he asked.
He kept holding her hands. She didn't let go as she started talking.
"I felt someone's thoughts and feelings. His name was Katashi," Mai started.
"That's not a name we've come across yet."
Mai shook her head. "It seems he was angry with someone they called Haruto-sensei. It looked like he had the leading role and Katashi wanted it."
"Haruto-sensei is Murakami-san."
Naru nodded. "We already know he's a top talent. It wouldn't be surprising for him to get plenty of leading roles. It also wouldn't be surprising for other actors to be unhappy about that."
"This felt...extreme. Katashi was so angry. He thought it wasn't fair and that he should be up there when someone else traded places with Murakami-san."
"What do you feel when I say Katashi is the second presence here?"
"Does that mean it feels wrong?" Naru asked.
"No?" Mai said. Naru was about to comment when she continued with more surety. "No, it doesn't feel wrong. It's just unpleasant. It's hard to describe."
"Don't push yourself too hard. You need your brain cells."
Mai glared at him and tried to take her hands back, but he wouldn't let go. "And to think I thought you'd start being nicer."
"You would think something was wrong if I didn't live up to the reputation you've given me."
Mai huffed and looked away.
"Come on. I'm sure they'll be just about ready ready come after us if we don't head back soon," he said as he stood and pulled her up with him. He finally let go of her hands as he started to head back the way they came.
"No, they'll just be after you," Mai quipped as she hurried to keep up.
More bits of info. And Naru just has to insert himself now. It's like the floodgates opened, but it still feels like only a trickle anyway lol
So it's mostly filler, but I also didn't want to jump into the next day in the middle of a chapter. Hope you enjoy!
"Katashi?" Zoe asked. "I don't recall coming across anyone by that name, but I can look again."
Mai had just gotten done telling her and Masako about what she saw. Masako was quietly thoughtful.
"I wish I could have gotten more," Mai said.
"Hey, a name is a lot to go off of," Zoe said in an attempt to placate Mai.
"You said resentment was something he felt?" Masako cut in.
"Yeah, why? Do you feel something?" Mai asked.
"I think that puts a name to one of the emotions I feel here. It was hard to pinpoint at first," Masako said. "I can use that tomorrow."
Mai nodded. She yawned before she could say anything else.
"It is rather late. Let's go to bed," Masako suggested.
"Good idea," Mai agreed.
Zoe looked between them and the desk where Yasu was sitting. "I'll catch up later. I want to get a head start on this."
When the others left, she picked up her research materials and put a chair next to where Yasu sat at the monitors. He seemed to be idly going through thermal footage.
"You've been quiet," Zoe said. She didn't look over. It would be easier for him to talk that way.
"Just been keeping busy," he commented.
"I think I know when you're fidgety," she returned.
He was quiet. The clicking of the keyboard filled the silence.
"I know you're interested in the thermal footage and how it can help explain activity, but you usually don't do it during a case," she continued.
Yasu sighed. "Yeah, I know."
"Is it the same thing as before?" Zoe pulled out her ponytail and pulled some of her hair to her left side as she asked.
"Yeah. It's discouraging." She felt him weave a piece of hair around his fingers.
"That you can't train or that you can't use it?"
Yasu thought for a moment. "Both." He paused. "But maybe more that I can't use it."
Zoe put down her pen and watched as he rewound the thermal footage with his free hand.
"You saw Mai grow into her abilities, right?" she asked.
"She had to take time to learn how to use them. She's still learning, actually. It's not always something you can study. It's more that you have to learn by doing and building it up and that takes time."
"I know. I want to put in the work, but I also want to be useful," Yasu said.
"You're plenty useful already."
"Did you ever have to stop training?" he asked after a moment.
"Yeah, I broke my arm once, years ago. It was the worst couple months until Lin let me start again," she answered honestly.
She watched as he paused the footage. She was about to ask if he found something when she felt a weight on her shoulder.
"It all feels more believable coming from you."
Zoe finally looked over, but only really saw black hair.
"That's just one of the privileges I get," she laughed.
They sat in silence for a little while.
"Give me some of that. I'll help you go through it," he said, already reaching for a packet of papers without lifting his head.
"What happened with your project?" Yasu asked after a while.
Zoe sighed. "I wasn't happy with it."
"But it worked, didn't it?"
"It did, but not the way I wanted it to. It feels like the technology isn't advanced enough for what I want it to do."
"I don't think you should give up on it."
"I'm not. I'm just taking some time away from it. If I get fresh eyes on it after a while, I might be able to figure it out."
She felt him nod as they kept working.
"Mai! Mai, wake up!" Ayako called. She got up when she heard Mai rolling around in her sleep. Masako woke as well and went to get Naru.
After a moment, Mai roused. She blinked confusedly before focusing on Ayako.
"What's wrong? Did something happen?" Mai asked.
"I should be asking you that. You were the one making a fuss in your sleep!" Ayako said.
Mai sat up with a frown. "But I wasn't..."
Masako came back with Naru then.
"You weren't what?" Naru asked.
"I wasn't on the astral plane. It was just a normal dream. Maybe a bit of a bad one, but it was one of the few normal ones I've had since realizing my abilities," Mai explained.
"You're sure it didn't relate to the case?" Masako asked.
"It was just a bunch of disjointed scenes that didn't really make sense, but none of it had anything to do with the case," Mai said.
"Sorry, Naru. False alarm," Ayako said.
"No, I appreciate knowing," he said. He gave Mai another look, as if to make sure she was being honest, before disappearing back down the hall.
Masako turned back to Mai with a grin. "He's so concerned."
Mai rolled her eyes and waved it away. "It's nothing. He probably just thought I might have seen something."
"He doesn't look at anyone that way. Except you, obviously," Ayako said.
"It's really nothing."
"Just like it was nothing when you two went into the auditorium together?" Masako teased.
"To try something different to get information. He wanted to see if someone physically there could be an anchor for me so I can come back easier," Mai said, skirting around the topic.
"Uh huh. So he chose himself? Based on what you said, it could be any of us," Ayako said skeptically.
"I mean, it probably could, but he wanted to have some control of the experiment," Mai said.
"It's okay to say he wanted it to be him you came back to," Masako said.
"We're not blind, you know," Ayako added. "Perhaps something happened that we don't know," she said to Masako.
"I also recall hearing how his PK responded to Mai," Masako continued, ignoring Mai.
"Oh, that's true," Ayako said.
"Fine!" Mai exclaimed. "He wanted to see if our new connection with his PK would help me too." She covered her face in embarrassment.
"And?" Ayako pressed.
"What do you mean, and?" Mai said, peeking through her fingers.
"He just seems a little different around you now," Ayako said and looked at her nails.
"I don't think he's any different than before." Mai backpedaled at the looks she got. "Not that anything happened!"
"You're a terrible liar," Masako said.
"It's alright. We can infer what happened," Ayako said. "It only makes sense, after all this time."
Mai was glad she at least didn't have to say anything, but also cursed that her friends were so observant.
"Did it work though?" Masako asked seriously.
Mai nodded, more comfortable with the safer topic. "It did. Maybe it was knowing I had a way back or just something with our abilities being linked, but I had more control during the memory I saw. It was like I had more freedom to move rather than feeling like I was only being shown the memory."
"And what about getting back?" Ayako asked.
"That was easier too. As if it led me back to the physical world. It used be that I'd almost fall back into my body before," Mai said.
"Wow, that sounds like a good deal. On top of keeping Naru for yourself," Ayako said.
Mai squeaked in surprise at the comment. "I--that's--"
"It's okay, Mai. We get it," Masako laughed.
"We should be going back to sleep. The case won't solve itself," Mai said. She quickly laid down and pulled the cover over her head. She heard her friends laugh a little to themselves before they went back to bed too.
Everyone was back at the stage after breakfast. Mai watched as Masako stood in the aisle and faced the stage with a look of concentration.
"Mai, do you know around where Katashi was sitting in your vision?" Masako asked.
"Ah, in the front row. Maybe around here." Mai walked to the end of the stage and pointed to where she thought he had been sitting.
Masako walked over and sat down. Mai sat down on the edge of the stage with her legs hanging off. She idly kicked them as she waited.
"Hey, Mai. Didn't Naru give you stuff to do?" Monk asked with a grin.
"Yeah, but it won't take me that long. Besides, Masako might have more questions," Mai answered.
After a few minutes, they watched as Masako's calm face gradually changed to a frown.
"Are you guys alright up there?" John called behind her. She looked over her shoulder to see him looking up at the catwalk above the stage.
Yasu and Zoe were up there taking a closer look at the lights and other things attached to the ceiling. "Yeah, can one of you find the switch for the lights backstage?" Zoe called down.
"Not too soon though," Yasu added. He laughed right before the sound of a short scuffle echoed down. "At least this is stable," he laughed.
Mai smiled to herself and turned back to Masako. She was still frowning, but also appeared to be focused.
"I think..." Masako began slowly, "this was where he usually sat. There's a very strong negative feeling. I can feel his resentment and anger and frustration. It's all directed towards the stage."
Mai stilled and leaned forward. A shadow seemed to fall over Masako's face. Mai watched carefully as Masako got up and slowly walked toward the stage. Her head was tilted down so her hair obscured her face. Something about it put Mai on edge.
"Ayako?" Mai called without looking away.
"What's up?" Ayako asked as she walked over from where she was looking at one of the backdrops. "Oh no." She took one look at Masako and hopped down off the stage.
Ayako stepped in front of Masako and tried to get her attention.
"Come on, Masako. Snap out of it," Ayako said and reached for her shoulders.
Masako easily batted Ayako's hands away. She kept moving towards the stage.
Mai jumped down to try and help. "Masako, come back," she said. After seeing how she reacted to Ayako, Mai didn't want to get too close.
"Let me," John said. He already had his holy water out and ready. He jumped down from the stage too. He put on a serious face as he put a couple drops of holy water on his fingers.
He said a brief prayer and drew a cross on her forehead. "Katashi, she no longer welcomes you," he finished.
A cold breeze whipped past Mai, John, and Ayako, making them all shiver. Masako wavered where she stood. Ayako and Mai each took a side and guided her to a different seat.
Masako focused on keeping her breathing even as she calmed down.
"His anger is so deep," Masako said once she felt better. "It's so much and he held it for so long that it began to poison him. And..."
"You headed towards the stage," Ayako said, silently asking why.
"Murakami was there, but he also wasn't. I think it was something residual. That may have been his seat," Masako said.
"When he was made to sit and watch the rehearsals," Mai finished. Masako nodded.
"It would explain why there was such a strong reaction," John offered.
Masako was about to say something else when there was the sound of clanging metal.
Followed by the screech of metal tearing.
They all faced the stage as a chunk of the catwalk came crashing to the stage floor in a twisted pile of metal.
Up above, Yasu was hanging in the air with only his hold on Zoe to keep him from falling.
John leapt into action. Monk was already underneath. Ayako turned to Mai and Masako.
"You two, stay here," she said, leaving no room for debate.
Without a fight, Mai sat down. She nervously reached for Masako who offered her hand.
"I think I can pull you up. Just hold on."
"You're gonna get cut up."
"I don't care!"
Zoe tried to maneuver so she could pull him up onto the rest of the catwalk by putting her hand on the edge and trying to push herself up.
His gripped slipped.
There was a flurry of action. The entire scene ended within the blink of an eye.
Rather than land on his feet, Yasu somehow turned on his back as he fell. Monk and John were underneath to soften his landing a little and they all ended in a heap.
Back up on the catwalk, Zoe was laying face down on it, not really moving. Ayako was already running to help.
The doors behind her slammed open as Naru and Lin rushed in.
With the commotion calming down, Mai tried to calm herself down too. Her heart was racing. She guessed Masako's was too, based on how tight she was squeezing Mai's hand.
"We're going to the hospital," Yasu called to Naru. "And we're going to do some research after. She pushed her PK too much."
Naru nodded. "Understood." He glanced over at Mai and Masako before surveying the rest of the situation.
The handkerchief that had already been wrapped around Zoe's left hand was bright red across the palm. She looked exhausted as she leaned into Yasu. Ayako was just behind them, having gotten to her first.
"You get checked out too," Ayako scolded. She offered another handkerchief for the trip.
"I'm fine," he insisted.
"Now you are. The pain could set in later. I want to hear you both got seen," Ayako demanded.
"It's okay. We will," Zoe said quietly.
"Fine. Let's go." They slowly walked up the aisle before Yasu stopped and picked Zoe up to carry her out.
Monk drew Mai's attention when he dropped a hand on her head.
"You girls alright?" he asked.
"Yeah, I think we're okay. It was just a lot."
Monk nodded. "I think all of us deserve a good, long break before getting back to work. Come on."
He ushered them back to base. Masako stayed close to Mai. Even back in base, they sat next to each other.
"I could feel Katashi wanted to kill Murakami. And possibly some of the others actors. It was so strong. I'm not sure if we'll be able to cleanse his spirit," Masako said quietly.
"We'll find a way. I know we will." Mai tried to reassure Masako and also herself. She couldn't help but feel a small seed of doubt that she would be wrong.
I was a bit unsure about this one just because of how chaotic it felt, even after some editing. I think I'm okay with it though because it was a lot at once with a lot of moving people. Hopefully it's okay for yall too. Enjoy!
Wanting to stay away from the stage, Mai, John, and Monk, went upstairs later on. Masako and Ayako stayed behind.
With multiple tools at the ready, Mai was hoping to get to the bottom of some of the reports they had about the rooms.
Short of bringing out the radar to see inside the walls, there appeared to be no electric field emanating from anywhere from the wiring in the walls. Based on the dull sound, the air was running as well, and while the second floor was a bit drafty, it probably wasn't enough to make much of a difference in overall temperature.
Mai looked up at the ceiling. There were a couple of vents up there. She decided she wanted to take temperatures as close to them as possible. She just didn't know how.
"Something catch your eye, Jou-chan?" Monk asked. He stood next to her and looked up as well.
"Ah! You're tall! You can help me," Mai said cheerfully.
"What am I gonna be doing?" Monk asked, immediately on guard.
"I want to get temperatures under the vents, but I can't reach. But we have to figure out a way we can get it up there without you holding it," Mai explained.
"Why can't I just hold it?"
"Your body heat would affect the reading."
"It's just my hand though."
"I wouldn't set it down all the time if I could walk around with it and get accurate readings."
"Could we tie it up there?" John asked from across the room.
"I guess so, but with what?" Monk asked.
"There must be something we can borrow," John said.
Mai thought a moment with her hand on her chin. "What about something in the prop storage? I need to check things in there again anyway. I can do that while we look for something" Mai said.
Monk shrugged and led the way to the storage room. Mai had been in before, but she was still struck by how cluttered and claustrophobic it felt.
"Are you sure we can find anything in here?" Monk asked skeptically.
"Maybe? There's no short supply of things," John said.
"Stay close, Mai. We don't need you getting lost. Naru would probably murder us with his glare alone," Monk said.
"Maybe he would you," John said.
"What are you suggesting?" Monk asked and narrowed his eyes suspiciously.
John just shrugged and led the way down the narrow hallway, picture of innocence.
After a short while of searching, Mai found a long piece of ribbon in among a costume rack.
"This should do," she said and showed them.
"That should be plenty long enough," John agreed.
After a few more temperature checks, they headed back. Mai fastened the ribbon securely around the thermometer and handed it to Monk to find a way to attach it to the ceiling.
Monk brought a chair over underneath the vent and fiddled with the ceiling tiles. Finally, he got the end of the ribbon under one of the tiles closest to the vent.
"Now just push the red button and we wait," Mai directed.
After a few minutes, they repeated it next to the other vent in the ceiling.
"So what do you think, Mai?" John asked.
Mai sighed as she looked at her clipboard. "Nothing significant."
"At least it points to something paranormal," Monk said in an attempt to be optimistic.
"Wow, as if we didn't already know!" Mai said and rolled her eyes.
There was another sigh from behind them. They turned to find Naru and Masako entering the room. Naru was pinching the bridge of his nose.
"I'm not going to ask," Naru said.
"Hey, I had an idea and had to get creative! It didn't really pan out, but it did work," Mai defended.
"Is something wrong, Naru-bou?" Monk asked.
"We were discussing in base that we may have better results if we try focusing on Murakami instead," Naru explained. "Hara-san agreed to walk around with that in mind. I want you two to stay with her. Mai, I'd like to try astral projecting again with Murakami in mind this time."
"Sure, just let me get the thermometer," Mai said. She jumped and was just able to grab it and pull it free.
"Are you sure this isn't gonna bring about something like what we've already seen? Aside from this morning, we have no way of knowing most of this has actually been Katashi's doing," Monk pointed out.
"It's a reasonable enough assumption that I think it would be safer to try a different angle," Naru said. "Watch yourselves anyway though."
Mai followed Naru down the narrow stairs. He held out his hand for the thermometer and other things she was carrying. She handed them over with a huff.
"Just follow your intuition," Naru said.
Mai looked around the backstage area with a frown. For a few minutes, she couldn't determine anything.
She looked towards the hallway that led to the other dressing rooms. Something wriggled in the back of her mind.
She followed it.
Mai stopped outside the first dressing room door. A name placard was on it. For a moment, she saw 'Murakami Haruto' in its place before it went back to normal.
"I think this was usually Murakami-san's dressing room," Mai said. She put her hand on the knob and opened the door.
Inside, it was set up for the lead of the current production. Mai was drawn toward the mirror and the chair sitting in front of it.
Mai sat down.
"Do you want to try here?" Naru asked.
Mai was slightly taken aback, but nodded. She was accustomed to being told, not asked.
Naru pulled up a chair to sit in front of her and held out his hands. Mai looked at them for a moment before gingerly placing her hands in his.
"Remember, just relax. I'll be here."
Mai nodded and closed her eyes. She gradually relaxed and slumped in the chair.
On the astral plane, her attention was immediately drawn to two bright orbs spinning around each other. After a minute, they flew apart. One stayed near her. The other flew off towards the second floor.
Mai moved up to the orb. She saw the same room in it before pushing into the memory.
"Hino-san, I understand your frustration, but there's nothing I can do. I'm not the director." The man looked apologetic as he stood and tried to placate the other man. Mai recognized Katashi right away.
"It's not fair! You know my skills with kabuki! How many times have we performed together?" Katashi asked.
Mai felt the urge to enter the mind of the other man. Fluidly, she stepped inside.
"I know how skilled you are and how much work you put in, but the world will move on. This is the future. There will always be a niche for kabuki, but I need to think of the future of this place." She could feel the regret and the wish to give Katashi what he wanted.
"Murakami-san, you must see reason. Why not have both? Would that not please everyone? There are still quite a few people who want to watch kabuki," Katashi reasoned.
Murakami sighed. "I'm sorry. My mind is made up. If you will excuse me, I must get ready." He turned away from Katashi and sat in the chair.
Katashi left the room with a scowl.
Murakami picked up a tin of stage makeup. When he opened it, he found it empty. He tsked and rang a bell that was sitting nearby.
"Yes, sir?" a man asked behind him. Murakami looked at him in the mirror.
"It seems I am out of my foundation. Could you bring me a fresh one? The special kind," Murakami asked.
The man bowed and disappeared.
Ten minutes later, the man returned with a new tin in hand.
"Hino-san had this and offers his apologies for earlier," the man said.
Murakami gave him a pinched smile and nodded to dismiss him.
He set to work putting on the stage makeup. As he methodically applied it, Mai felt his mind wander. He really did want to find a way to accommodate Katashi, but it wasn't easy. He just didn't have the knack for western theatre.
Gradually, Mai started to feel like it was difficult to breathe. It set in so slowly, it took her a bit to notice. It seemed Murakami didn't notice right away either until his breaths became shallow.
Panic began to fill his mind and seeped into Mai's. He put down the brush and tin and grabbed for his throat.
He stood from the chair and tried to open the door, but it wouldn't budge. He slammed a fist against it to try and get someone's attention. Anyone.
Naru sounded so distant.
"Mai! Come back!"
He was closer now.
"Come back to me!"
Mai was leaning forward in the chair. She came back to reality so harshly that she fell forward.
Naru dropped her hands to catch her and ease her to the floor. Her breathing was still difficult.
"Mai, you're right here. This is all real," Naru said. He held her face in his hands and made her look at him. "Come back to me."
Mai's eyes finally refocused and she could breathe normally again. She fell forward into Naru and held on tight.
"You're alright. You're safe." He held her just as tight as he tried to comfort her.
"I couldn't breathe. It was something in the makeup, I think," Mai said quietly.
"It may have been a severe allergic reaction," Naru said.
Mai nodded. "Katashi did it. I know he did."
Naru nodded. "Let's go back to base where it's safer."
Mai began to nod, but stopped. "No, I think there's something wrong." She pulled away to lead him out the door and up the stairs.
So this and most of the next chapter were fueled by a lack of sleep. Gotta love the delirious writing, but at least I'm ahead for once! Enjoy!