Ghost of a Chance

Case 1: Evil Spirits All Over!? (Part 9)

"Oh, are you still looking over that stuff, Shibuya-san?" Hitomi asked as she and Mai approached the van, surprised. Naru was sitting in the back with the clipboard, checking something. She thought they had covered everything already, but it seems that wasn't necessarily the case…

"Hello…" Mai greeted him, peeking over Hitomi's shoulder, almost as though she were using the older girl as a human shield. "What are you doing?"

"Reviewing the data we collected yesterday." Naru replied calmly. He was almost finished. Even with Hitomi's help it had taken forever to go through all twenty-four hours' worth of footage and sound for all the different cameras and mikes.

"Did you find anything?" Mai asked curiously.

"Nope. Just several hours of boredom." Hitomi said, sighing regretfully. It had been like Chinese water torture having to watch and listen to so much nothing all at once.

"There was nothing unusual. Either there are no ghosts, or they are hiding for now… So there doesn't appear to be any danger at present." Naru elaborated, for Mai's sake.

"Well, that's some fancy equipment you've got there!" A woman commented loudly from behind, causing the three teens to turn and look to see who was approaching them now. "Those toys seem too high-class for a child to be playing with." The woman added, smirking. She had long, dark-red hair, a sophisticated demeanor, and she was dressed too well to be your average teacher or office lady. And she wasn't alone. Following just on her heels was a tall, handsome, and casually dressed man with pierced ears. He had his bleached hair pulled back in a ponytail.

"And you are?" Naru inquired, unfazed.

"I'm Matsuzaki Ayako. Nice to meet you." She introduced herself smoothly, flashing them a confident and attractive smile.

"I'm not interested in your name." Naru stated bluntly, getting straight to the point. Ayako's face flushed slightly in embarrassment, while the man behind her, Mai, and Hitomi tried not to laugh.

"You're pretty sassy, aren't you, little boy? But handsome." Ayako admitted grudgingly, clearly chagrined.

"Thanks." Naru stated dryly, unfazed by her left-handed compliment.

"But you can't exorcise spirits with your face, you know." She added snarkly .

"Does that mean you're in the same business?" Hitomi asked, raising an eyebrow, while Naru narrowed his eyes slightly, getting a bit more serious. They exchanged a glance. The principal hadn't mentioned anything about this to either one of them.

"You could say that." Ayako replied smugly, smirking at the varying looks of surprise on the three teens' faces. "I'm a miko."

"…" Hitomi deadpanned, allowing her disbelief to show plainly on her face. Seriously? This woman looked old enough to be her mother. And since when did miko go around wearing such heavy makeup and perfume?

"I thought you had to be a pure and innocent young lady in order to become a miko." Naru stated dryly, also deadpanning.

"Pfft!" Mai snickered, covering her mouth with her hand. Hitomi was leaning against the van, holding her sides as she shook. She had skipped right from normal laughter to the stage where one laughs so hard, no sound comes out, and you will look like a retarded clapping seal if you aren't careful. She totally hadn't been expecting that one, even though she probably should have, with Naru being Naru and all…

"Oh…? Is that not how I look to you?" Ayako asked angrily, blushing, as multiple veins throbbed on her forehead.

'No! Don't do it—Don't tempt him!' Hitomi cried internally as tears began to form in her eyes from laughing so much.

"For starters, I'd say you look a bit too old to be 'innocent'." Naru retorted. "And you wear too much makeup to be 'pure'." The man behind the self-proclaimed miko finally burst into laughter out loud, unable to hold back any longer. He was in complete agreement with Naru!

"!" Ayako exclaimed, turning beet red. This brat…!!

"B-Breathe, Hitomi-sempai…!" Mai told the older girl in between snickers, trying to help keep her from falling over. Hitomi's face was starting to change colors from laughing so hard without oxygen.

"And you?" Naru said, turning his attention to laughing man. "You don't appear to be Matsuzaki-san's assistant."

"No kidding." The man said, pulling himself together so he could reply.

"I'm Takigawa Houshou, a monk from the Koyasan sect."

"When did they start allowing long hair on Mt. Koya?" Naru asked skeptically.

"He's an apostate." Ayako chimed in, taking another drag on the cigarette she had obviously felt she needed after suffering such a huge blow to her ego at the hands of Naru a moment ago. Seriously, there was nothing miko-like about her. Takigawa sweat-dropped.

"I-I've just come down off the mountain for now!" He retorted agitatedly, clearly flustered after being called out. "At any rate, children's playtime is over."

"Ahem. Um, does it look like we're playing around to you?" Hitomi asked rhetorically, clearing her throat, now that she had managed to calm down. "This is some serious equipment here."

"Regardless, we'll take it from here." Takigawa told her before turning back to Naru. "The principal told me he no longer had any confidence in you, and who could blame him? You're only seventeen."

"So what? Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, and he dropped out of school after only three months of formal education." Hitomi retorted. Takigawa was a bit taken aback to have such an obscure fact thrown back him, but he quickly recovered.

"By the way, the principal thought Shibuya-san's company was established and trustworthy because the office was located in a nice, prestigious neighborhood like Shibuya." The monk continued, not one to back down. "But he mistook your name for the location, and once he found out the 'president's' age, he couldn't help but think your business might be a fraud, so he decided to call in the professionals."

'Personally, I think these two are much more suspicious than 'Naru-chan', here…' Hitomi thought, sweat-dropping. What on earth was the principal thinking…? She wasn't sure what she could say at this point that wouldn't just get her into trouble if it got back to the principal. After all, setting up this little three-ringed circus had been his idea.

"Is that so?" Naru asked calmly, flipping to the next page on the clipboard, as though he wasn't even the slightest bit bothered.

'That's all?' Takigawa thought, surprised by their lack of response. Should he be relieved or insulted that they hadn't thought him worth the trouble…?

"But the principal is also overreacting," Ayako cut in casually, running a hand through her hair, "gathering so many people to work on such a crappy building."

"That's right. I would've been enough." Takigawa said, smirking.

"Well, we'll see about that." Ayako replied slyly. "By the way, little boy, what's your name?"

"Shibuya Kazuya." Naru replied simply.

'They're not going to ask about me and Mai? What are we, chopped liver?' Hitomi wondered, slightly chagrined.

"Never heard of you. You must be third-class." Takigawa said.

"I've never heard of Takigawa Houshou, either." Ayako commented.

"Well, you need to study harder. Actually, I've never heard of Matsuzaki whomever, either." He retorted, chagrined.

"Maybe you'd better study harder!" She snapped, vein throbbing on her forehead.

'Hey, hey… are all psychics this twisted…?' Mai wondered, sweat-dropping, as she shared a look with Hitomi, who also seemed dubious of the two arguing 'adults'.

CRUNCH.

"Hm?" Hitomi said, glancing up, when she heard someone approaching.

"Taniyama-san. Matsumoto-sempai." Kuroda called out to the two girls, raising her hand in a weak sort of half-wave.

'Rggh!' Mai thought, reeling back in surprise. Did she follow them there? Was she stalking them now!?

"Oh, hello, Kuroi-san~!" Hitomi greeted the normally antisocial girl, smiling a little too innocently as she waved back.

"Ah, her name is 'Kuroda', Sempai, not 'Kuroi'…" Mai corrected her, sweat-dropping.

"Eh, is that so?" Hitomi asked calmly, still smiling, as she lowered her hand. Oops.

"Ah, thank goodness!' Kuroda exclaimed, sighing with relief, as she approached them, deciding to ignore Hitomi's awkward mistake. "I've been troubled lately because the old school house is such a nest of evil spirits."

"What did you… just say?" Ayako asked, furrowing her brow slightly, as she and Takigawa stared at the bespectacled grandstander.

"I'm very psychic…" Kuroda repeated anxiously, "and I've been having trouble…"

"You crave attention, don't you." Ayako stated bluntly.

"… Huh?" Kuroda said nervously, confused by her confrontational attitude.

"You want to be in the spotlight? Do you want people's attention that badly?" Ayako demanded.

"You—You don't have to say it like that!" Mai shouted defensively, stepping in between them. She might not be Kuroda's biggest fan, but wasn't that a bit too harsh?

"I'm only telling the truth." Ayako stated matter-of-factly. "That girl has no spiritual sensitivity. She just wants to stand out."

"So what?" Hitomi asked calmly, crossing her arms, as she narrowed her eyes slightly at Ayako. "Regardless of whether she wants attention or not, it has no bearing on her actual ability, does it? Who are you to say she isn't psychic? How would you know?"

"Hitomi-sempai…" Mai said, glad to know the older girl had her kohai's backs.

"If you look at her, it's easy to tell." Ayako huffed stubbornly. "Like I said, she just wants to get attention." She'd run into Kuroda's type time and time again. It was so annoying when fake psychics tried to pass themselves off as the real thing and interfere with her work!

"Matsuzaki-san…" Hitomi said sternly, furrowing her brow as she fixed the older woman with a sharp stare, warning her to back off. But, just then, they heard a low, wicked laugh behind them. It was Kuroda.

"How dare…" She muttered angrily. Her face was cast partially in shadow as she glared eerily at the miko. "—Whatever… But I really do have strong psychic power. I'm going to summon an evil spirit, and have it possess you."

"Kuroda-san…?" Hitomi said, frowning. Oh, great it looks like she was too late stepping in. 'I think Matsuzaki-san just pulled the pin on her crazy grenade…'

"Very strong… really." Kuroda mumbled darkly.

"!" Mai said, flinching. The way Kuroda kept staring so intensely at Ayako sent shivers up her spine. It was as if Kuroda had suddenly become a completely different person…

"You fake miko… You'll soon regret this." Kuroda told the older woman ominously as she turned to leave.

"Kuroda-san!" Mai called out, moving to follow her, but Hitomi placed a hand on Mai's shoulder, stopping her. Hitomi shook her head.

"Just let her go, Mai." Hitomi advised her. Nothing they could say was going to get through to her right now.

"But… that was a seriously scary look in her eyes just now… wasn't it?" Mai asked a little nervously, concerned.

"Yeah. She just earned herself a crazy card, laminated with a gold star and everything." Hitomi agreed bluntly, shattering the tense atmosphere.

"Wha?" Mai exclaimed, shocked to hear such brutal honesty. Hadn't Hitomi-sempai just been defending Kuroda…!?

"But, right now, we've got bigger fish to fry. Right, Mai-chan?" Hitomi said, smiling wryly, as she nodded her head towards their handsome, narcissistic boss.

"R-Right!" Mai said, shaking her head to clear it of any remaining bad thoughts. That's right. Nevermind Kuroda, they still had that Naru to deal with! "Hey, Naru-chan, what do you want us to do today?" She called out to him. Shibuya Kazuya froze, visibly stiffening at the use of the nickname.

"Ah! Mai—!?" Hitomi hissed lowly, her eyes widening in horror and realization, as she did an excellent impression of The Scream by Munch. Crap.

"—What… did you call me…?" He asked, glancing up from his laptop to stare at the girls with wide eyes, stunned. How did she…? Did Hitomi…? But that was impossible…

"Heh…?" Mai said, confused. She had yet to realize her dangerous blunder.

"Did you just call me 'Naru'?" He asked sternly, taking a step towards them.

"Oops! Oh, darn. S-S… Sorry, I…" Mai stammered nervously, taking a step back, while Hitomi sweat-dropped and smiled a little tensely, both preparing to bolt if he were to suddenly turn homicidal…

"Where did you hear that?" He demanded.

"Eh? You mean, other people call you that, too?" Hitomi asked, surprised.

"Hah!" Mai laughed, suddenly regaining her confidence upon realizing they weren't alone. "Just as I thought, other people had the same idea! Naru-cissistic Naru-chan~!" She exclaimed, grinning, as she began repeatedly clapping him on the arm.

"… Huh?" Naru said, feeling slightly chagrined as he furrowed his brow. What was she talking about...?

'Huh? Why do I get the feeling that's not right…?' Hitomi thought, sweat-dropping. If 'Naru-chan' wasn't short for narcissist, then what was it short for…? She figured the nickname was more than likely something English, since it had been used before, and that's where Naru originally hailed from… She shrugged. 'Oh, well. No point in worrying about that now, I guess.' At least it looked like he was going to let them get away with it for now. Besides, she had already promised him she would keep the whole England thing under wraps. "A-Anyway, what are we going to do next today, Naru-chan?" She asked, deciding to change the subject to something less precarious, though she just couldn't resist using his new nickname. It was just too perfect!

"Well…" Naru began, deciding to let it go for now. At least they weren't questioning him about his little slip-up. For a minute, he had honestly thought they might have figured out the truth about him, but it looked like their new nickname for him was just yet another uncanny coincidence. "Because there has been no reaction from the spirits, there's not much we can do at the moment… but Mai's sempai…"

"Hm?" Hitomi said, perking up instinctively upon hearing the word 'sempai'.

"Not you, Hitomi. I was referring to the other third-year student, who supposedly saw a ghost in the window." Naru explained, wondering how she could alternate so freely between being sharp as a tack one minute, and then begin acting like a natural space-case the next.

"Ah, you just dropped honorifics with us!" Mai protested.

"The two of you did it earlier yourselves, didn't you?" Naru pointed out.

'Well, actually a nickname with an honorific attached is a bit different than completely dropping an honorific attached to someone's name...' Hitomi thought, smiling wryly, as she sweat-dropped. Maybe, he just felt more comfortable not having to use honorifics since he wasn't used to them?

"Uh…" Mai grimaced, trying to think of a good comeback. "But… aren't you upset, Sempai?" She asked, turning to Hitomi for support.

"No, not really." Hitomi replied, smiling pleasantly, completely nonplussed now that she was over the initial feeling of surprise. Actually, it felt a bit nostalgic to be called the same way she used to be while growing up in America...

"O-Oh, is that so…?" Mai asked, sweat-dropping. Hitomi-sempai was a little too tolerant sometimes…

"So, do you happen to know which classroom your sempai saw the human silhouette in?" Naru asked Mai, pressing the girls to get back on track.

"Well… I think it was in the far west corner of the building, on the second floor." Mai said thoughtfully, hoping she was remembering correctly.

"Okay, let's set the equipment up in there." Naru said decisively. He was about to pull some of the necessary equipment out and hand it to them, when the monk spoke up.

"Oh. Hey, that's…" Takigawa trailed off, puzzled, when he realized the principal was walking towards them, and he wasn't alone. Was the principal bringing yet another person into this…?

'Huh…?' Mai thought, glancing over her shoulder to see what he was talking about. 'That's the principal… and… huh? A foreigner!?' Mai stared at the blonde, blue-eyed boy, just as stunned as the miko and monk. It wasn't everyday you saw a bonafide foreigner! While the others were getting all worked up, the two transplants from less homogenous countries, Naru and Hitomi, were both cool as cucumbers.

'I wonder what this one is supposed to be…?' Hitomi thought curiously. Didn't they have more than enough people already?

"Hello, everyone." The principal greeted them. "How are things coming along? We have one more guest joining us. I'd like you to meet John Brown-san." The handsome blonde smiled kindly.

"Hello." He greeted them with a heavy Kansai accent, bowing deeply at a full 45° angle. For a moment, they all just stared at poor John, speechless and flabbergasted by the odd display. They clearly had not been expecting that. "I'm John Brown. It's a pleasure to meet you." John continued brightly, giving them all another sunny smile as he straightened up again, completely oblivious to how odd he looked and sounded to the average Tokyoite.

"Ah, uh, you see… Apparently, Brown-san learned Japanese down in the Kansai area…" The principal explained, feeling sorry for the young man when he noticed the others were struggling to hold in their laughter. Even Hitomi had to bite her lip to keep from cracking. Only Naru was unaffected.

"I-I see… Nice to meet you, Brown-san." Hitomi said politely and returned his bow, remembering her manners. The principal smiled slightly at her, glad that she was behaving appropriately as a student of his school.

"Ah, that reminds me, Matsumoto-kun… I'd like to have a word with you." He said suddenly, startling her. Hitomi flinched guiltily.

'Eh!? He's not going to yell at me for skipping class, is he…?' She wondered, nervously. "Uh, sure… I mean, yes, sir…" She replied dutifully, drooping slightly, as she followed after him so they could chat a short distance away, preparing herself for the worst. Naru shook his head as he watched her go. He had a feeling this would happen.

"Uwah! Poor Hitomi-sempai…" Mai said sympathetically, quickly sobering up.

"She should have seen this coming." Naru remarked stoically, as though it had nothing to do with him. Mai sweat-dropped.

'This jerk… isn't he even the slightest bit worried about Sempai!?' Mai thought, chagrined.

—∞—

"Matsumoto-kun." The principal said, stopping once they had reached a suitable distance. "I'm glad to see you taking the duty I assigned you so seriously, but don't forget to check in with your homeroom teacher first. We're expecting to get the results back from the second round of exams you and the other students just completed any day now." He chided her patiently. Hitomi blinked.

'Eh…? Was that all he wanted to say? I thought I was actually in trouble for a moment…' She thought, sweat-dropping as she released a small sigh of relief. "O-Oh… is that all? Thank you for warning me…" She said, smiling wryly. However, there was something else that was still bothering her… "But, um… may I ask you a question, sir?"

"Yes?" He asked pleasantly.

"Uh, I don't mean to sound impertinent, but is it really okay to hire so many people to investigate the old school building? Isn't Shibuya-san enough?" She asked cautiously. "… Won't this put a bit of a strain on the school budget?" The principal's eyes widened slightly in surprise for a moment, but then he smiled and laughed, as though he found something about her questions amusing.

"Haha! I see, so that's what you were concerned about!" He said carelessly, patting her on the shoulder. "Matsumoto-sensei must be proud to have such a conscientious granddaughter! No, no. Don't worry about that. Actually, thanks to your high scores on the first round of testing for Todai, our budget has been greatly increased! Haha! You should have seen the look on the face of Hibiya's Ueda-sensei when I told him the news! Keep up the good work, Matsumoto-kun." He explained, winking conspiratorially at her, before finally heading back to his office, leaving behind a dumbfounded Hitomi.

"Eh… So, it's my fault…!?" She exclaimed, sweat-dropping. Is that why the principal had been so lenient with her? She glanced back in the direction of Naru and the others. Perhaps, she would keep that particular detail to herself…

—∞—

"Pfft! Hey, hey… you shouldn't laugh at him…" Ayako admonished Takigawa in between giggles.

"Ku-ku-kuh! You're laughing, too!" Takigawa reminded her as they huddled together by the van, trying to get ahold of themselves, while Naru and Mai talked to the funny foreigner.

"Brown-san? Where are you from?" Naru asked curiously, wondering how careful he was going to have to be around John, since it had been so easy for Hitomi to (partially) figure him out. There was also a strange lilt to John's Japanese, in addition to the Kansai accent.

"I'm from Australia." John replied pleasantly.

"Hey, dude! I'm begging you. Please don't speak in such a weird Kyoto dialect!!" Takigawa exclaimed as his laughter increased in volume. "Kukuku! Heehee!" This guy was killing him!

"Y-You don't have to laugh so hard…" Mai told him, sweat-dropping, smiling wryly. To be honest, she was having trouble not laughing, as well.

"But, if I want to speak politely, shouldn't I speak in a Kyoto dialect?" John asked politely, confused.

"Dahahaha! The Kyoto dialect is just one of many! Trust me on this, you need to stop, okay?" Takigawa laughed, holding his sides while he leaned against the van for support.

"Okay…" John said, sounding a little uncertain. "Then, I'll try to speak a more casually. Are all of you psychics?" He asked, changing the cadence of his speech. It only made things worse.

"Heeeh! I told you man, you gotta stop it!" Takigawa shouted, nearly bowled over with laughter. He was doing this on purpose…! He had to be!!

"You might say that…" Naru replied, deciding to ignore the laughing 'adults'. "How about you?"

"I see. I'm an Exorcist." John said, smiling.

'Ah…' Mai thought, surprised, when Takigawa and Ayako abruptly froze, looking completely serious again.

"In Catholicism, I believe you have to be ranked higher than a priest to become an Exorcist. You're very young, even to be a priest." Naru remarked. One had to be at least eighteen in order to become ordained.

"You are very knowledgeable." John complimented him. "You're right, I'm nineteen-years-old. I just look young for my age." He was delighted to discover they were familiar with his religion. "It's a pleasure to meet you." He said, bowing to Naru again out of respect.

'Nineteen!?' Mai mentally exclaimed, sweat-dropping. 'You mean, he's older than both Naru and Hitomi-sempai!?' Although, come to think of it, Hitomi also looked younger than her actual age… was it maybe because both she and John had bigger, rounder eyes…?

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