It was dark. No light came through the portholes to her side and the hallway was cold, frigid to the point that it felt malicious.
"Mai." She turned to the person that called her, easily gazing into the soft ethereal blue of her boss' twin.
The brunette smiled warmly before taking his offered hand. After nodding in the darkness, she led him lead her down the corridor and down a flight of stairs. Screeching metal could be heard along with the faint sound of a girlish giggle. The light gave way to a room that smelt of oil and steam, light bounced off the metallic surfaces within the room and Mai quickly realised it was the engine room.
"Be careful Charlotte. That's hot!" A baritone voice echoed throughout the room and Mai spotted a man, dressed in the standard issue uniform for ship captains. He stood by a set of valves set in the wall.
"It's alright father. I'm fine." The daughter of the captain was sitting by the edge of a steaming pool of water, the cooling system for old cruise ships. The little girls green eyes widened only seconds before a sharp whistle broke through the air and the captain jumped.
"Gene? What's happening?" Mai's question was nearly drowned out by Charlotte's scream, a horrible sound filled with agony that no little child should have to emit. Small hands clung to a similarly small face as boiling water dripped through her fingers.
"Charlotte!" A woman ran through Mai. The brunette stiffened as emotions ran rampant through her body, despair coursing through her veins like wild fire as the phantoms feelings caused her to drop to her knees and tears streamed down her face.
"I'm sorry Mai. But you have to keep watching." Genes voice did little to sooth her but the authority it held caused her to raise her head and watch the woman, possibly Charlotte's mother, clutched the now still body of the little girl. But something felt... off. From where Mai crouched, she saw blood pool under the small body of the captains daughter and the realisation that she was dead washed over her like a bucket of cold water.
"It's your fault you stupid man! I told you not to bring her here! You fool!" The mother yelled, her tear stained face scrunched up into a look of pure rage. Mai had to blink to make sure she wasn't seeing things, but when she looked closer, she could she faint wisps of black mist float off the mothers body as she turned to look at her husband as he leant against the wall, mouth soundlessly moving. "I'll kill you! I'll kill you!"
Mai's eyes widened as the scene changed to the top deck. The very same deck Mai had nearly been killed on only hours prior. A group of formally dressed people danced about the open floor. Music played from behind the large crowd, supplying the entertainment for the night.
Gene gently helped her stand and whispered an undecipherable warning in her ear only moments before a sharp 'twang' echoed through the night air. Mai froze as Gene quickly wrapped her in his arms, protectively tucking her head in the crook of his neck just as a sharp pain tore a thin line through her neck.
She chocked, an oddly cool line burning it way across her throat.
When she looked up, it was only to see the people, once dancing and enjoying their evening, fall to pieces right before her eyes.
"Oh god..." She whispered, gagging at the bloody sight, "Who... How?"
Gene just shook his head before reaching down to grab her hand and began sprinting across the deck towards the doorway leading into the ship. "I'll explain later. But right now, you have to see something."
They burst into the dining hall, eyes wide after their mad dash through the halls. The metallic scent of blood quickly filled their senses. The scene before them could was nothing less than chaos.
People lay on the ground, each and every single body missing its head. Blood painted the walls and even reached as high as the chandelier as blood dripped onto Mai's cheek and left a bloody trail behind.
"I told you I'd kill you. If I can't have my little girl, I'll have yours. Even if I have to use force!" The captain dropped to the ground, head rolling off a split second later while his wife laughed from atop the stage. She laughed manically before her head snapped to the side and looked right at Mai. She lurched forward, hands outstretched towards the brunette.
"Mai!" The voice broke through the young officers thoughts as her guides hands grabbed her shoulders. She screamed as Gene pushed her backwards, the captains wife narrowly missing the top of her head. Her Spirit Guide tackled the crazed woman, holding her back before pinning Mai with a sharp look. "Mai. You have to go. Tell Naru what you saw. Ask him what a Mara is. Go!" He yelled expecting her to get up when the ground vanished from under her.
Mai's eyes widened as she felt herself fall.
She closed her eyes as a familiar voice called her name and she waited to hit the ground... only for them to snap open when she heard a 'splash' and her head became submerged in a pool of cold water. She sputtered as she rose to the surface. She brushed the water out of her eyes and looked around the dark room.
The engine room.
A small figure crouched by the edge of the pool, hand outstretched towards to soaked brunette.
"It's okay. I'm not as mean as that lady." The little girl said, her long hair dripping with water.
"Charlotte?" Mai asked, wadding through the waist high water. The young girl nodded before grabbing the brunette's hand.
"Please stop her. Stop that lady. I just want to be with my family again." Her plea caused Mai to frown as she was pulled from the cold water before she smile gently at the girl.
"I promise. You'll be together again soon. Will you help us?" Mai's response caused Charlotte to smile and nod, raising her pink-y finger in front of her face.
"Mai! Where are you?"
Taking the offered pink-y, Mai smiled before her world went black.
Her eyes fluttered open, her body shivering from the cold.
'Wait... cold?' She thought, sitting up and looking around. Her eyes widened when she realised that she was soaked through and the room she had been in her dream was the room she was physically in. From what she could make out with the distant shouts was that people were looking for her.
"Mai!" A beam of light shone into her eyes and she cringed, hand shooting up to shield her vision from the harsh beam of the flashlight. The figure ran towards her, the dark silhouette becoming blurry as her head swam with the effects of her fever. It was only when warm arms enveloped her in a protective hug that she realised who it was.
"Naru?" She whispered. Head resting heavily on his chest as more footstep sounded from the hallway.
"Mai!" Monk called, dropping to the ground beside her and placing a hand on her back, only to pull it away quickly. "What the hell Mai? You're soaked!"
She mumbled into Naru's jacket as she shivered. Too cold to smile when she felt the narcissists arms tighten around her.
"What?" The blonde asked, his torch clunking against the metal floor as he struggled to get his jacket off and placed it over her shivering form. The brunette answered when Naru pushed her away slightly so that Monk could tuck his jacket around her.
"I had a dream."
The statement caused Naru to stiffen as she fell back into his embrace. Her eyes drooped as he picked her up. With the utmost care, Monk led the way back through the corridors. Mai winced when they reached the dining hall. The base quickly filled with yells as Ayako and John threw things from the couch to make room for Mai. Naru laid the brunette down gently before grabbed a chair and his notebook and sat beside her.
"Now Mai. I need you to tell us what you saw..."
With that, Mai retold her dream, from the engine problem to the daughters' death to the murders and the confrontations with Charlotte's mother and Charlotte herself.
"Also... Naru?" Mai asked quietly, waiting until he looked at her to continue, "What's a Mara?"
Naru blinked before his eyebrows creased. His eyes pierced through her before he sighed, "To be completely honest, I'm not sure. Lin?"
The Chinese man looked away from his laptop and placed a hand to his chin as he thought. Silence dominated the room as the team waited for a response. They didn't wait long.
"Not much is known about Mara's. They do, however appear in multiple myths around the world. Commonly described as 'wraith-like' entities, they are the twisted souls of women who died while experiencing an extreme emotion. They also have a tendency to take advantage of a woman's weaknesses. So..." Lin's explanation trailed off as Naru surveyed to room.
"Mai. Stay with me. Monk, Lin – you two will stay with Miss Matsuzaki and Miss Hara. John and Yasu, you will make another team. No one is to go off on their own." Naru glared pointedly at Mai, silently telling her that she would not leave his sight for the rest of the case.
"Geez Naru, why so serious?" Monk joked, his smile dropping when the dark haired man turned his glare on him. Before Naru could retort, Masako cut him off.
"It's a little before lunch. Why don't we walk around a little?" She suggested, kimono sleeve resting gently over her mouth.
"Good idea! Monk, John! Let's go!" Yasu yelled quickly, the atmosphere in the room becoming tense enough to suffocate anyone who dared anger Naru more. Monk easily stood while grabbing hold of Ayako's hand and Yasu grabbed Masako, before they practically ran from the room.
Naru's eye twitched as he sat in his seat, hands clenched tightly around the spine of his note book. Mai's own hand quickly dropped onto his clenched fist – his reaction was instantaneous. Dark hair swayed as his head snapped up, never ending pits of blue gazing into the calm chocolate of the woman who had managed to worm her way into his heart. He let go of the notebook with his free hand and placed it over hers and sighed.
Her skin was still chilled with fever but he couldn't help the small smile that made its way to his face. 'No matter how sick she is, she still cares about others more than herself.' He thought, noting with no small about of humour that her cheeks were dusted with a light blush.
"Let's go too, Naru." She said gently, sitting up from her position on the couch. A surprised gasp left her mouth when he shot up from his seat, swiftly pulling her with him. The force behind the pull carried her into his chest and her face glowed red when she heard him chuckle. Later, she would blame her red face on her fever, but she wouldn't fool him.
"How are you feeling Mai?" He asked, wrapping his arm over her shoulders and pulling her from the room. She was going to make a comment about his concern when she saw the worry in his eyes.
"I... got a headache... and I don't think my early morning dip helped my fever much. But I'll be fine." The smile on his face made her blush a whole new shade of red. 'It's just the fever. I'm not a teenager anymore!'
They reached the deck easily and Mai tensed, her experience the day prior still fresh in her mind.
"It's okay Mai. I'm with you this time." His reassurance helped her ease up and they stepped onto the once bloody flooring.
"She's looking for a crew to help her get her daughter back." Mai told him, stepping up to the railing of the deck.
"But Charlotte wants her father?" A nod was all he got as he stepped up beside Mai and lent against the railing.
"Yes. But her mother... Something seemed off." Chilled by her own words, she turned to Naru, eyes pleading with him. "Please Naru! I promised her I'd get her back with her father!"
He turned to her fully, back leaving the railing as he squeezed her shoulder before nodding. Smiling, she hugged him.
"I sense a great evil here." Was the first thing Masako said when Naru and Mai walked into base, easily drawing the pair's attention. "It's very malicious and not something we should play with."
"Well, if this... Mara-thing, then of course it's going to be malicious. I mean, seriously, you saw what happened yesterday! It's definitely not happy." Monk said coolly.
"Mara are the twisted souls of women," Lin stated, turning to look at them when he had their attention, "I took the liberty of doing some research while you were all out. A Mara, like stated before, is a woman's' soul, tainted by hate, greed or sorrow. It takes years for a Mara to gain so much power however, so the reason for her to have so much strength... I'm not certain, but I think it's more than just the child's mother at play."
"Then... what if Charlotte's mother was 'possessed' before she died?" Mai said, shocking everyone, "I mean... You saw the demon. It was evil. I've never seen... No. I've never even heard of a demon with four eyes either. Something had to have gone wrong with the spirit or she was possessed. It's the only thing I can think of."
Naru pondered the theory for a few seconds, chin resting in his hand while he held his notebook open in the other. "That's not such a bad theory."
The lights suddenly flickered and blood once again seeped through the floor.
"Looks like my crew is too smart for their own good." The hissing that underlined the demons sentence chilled everyone in the room. The following seconds were a blur of motion...
Someone splashed through the blood as a sharp whistling sound cut through the air. A scream perforated the silent room before warm blood splattered onto Naru's back and his neck and cheek.
Charlotte's mother cackled loudly from the stage when Monk started chanting, rage making his eyes practically glow in the dark as Naru stood from his seat. The only light he had to go by came from the murky sky lights above him as he dropped to his knees by the still body lying in the blood that covered the floor. Brunette hair met his searching fingers as he pushed it out of her pale face. The blood drained from his face.
"Mai!" he yelled, bending forward and pulling the injured woman into his lap. "Mai! Look at me!"
By this point, John had begun his own chant, bible in hand while he stood protectively in front of Naru and Mai. Unfortunately, the demon had other plans.
Monk flew backwards, colliding painfully with the wall only seconds before John slammed to the ground beside him. Multiple objects flew towards the pair on the ground, Naru cradling Mai protectively to minimise any further injury. They were seconds away from being hit when a blinding flash of light filled the room.
"Stop it!" Floating before Naru, with tears streaming down her cheeks with her arms outstretched, was Charlotte. "Stop hurting them! Stop using my mommy!"
Naru's eyes widened at the statement just as Mai stirred in his arms, head lolling to the side to look at the small spirit protecting them, "Charlotte..."
The dark haired boss quickly shifted Mai upright so that she could rest against his chest, carefully adjusting her to take the pressure off her back where her wound was still bleeding.
"I'm sorry Mai. You're hurt because of me. But you kept your promise." Noticing the puzzled look on the brunettes face, the little girl let a watery smile cross her face, her grief giving way to solemn hope. "If I free mommy, I get to see daddy again. I know it!"
"John! Hurry!" Naru yelled, his eyes shifting from the blonde priest to the demon still hunched on the stage. He could see the black mist that encased the demon waver. Charlotte's mother was fighting, trying to break free... and she was winning.
"Our father, who art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy name." John's words were drowned out as the demon screamed, a golden silhouette of a woman splitting from the dark cavity it had been trapped in. It took only seconds for the separation to be complete and once the trapped mother was free, she appeared next to Charlotte and embraced her daughter.
"Oh Charlotte! My baby. Please forgive me." She cried, the response, however, was muffled. "What?"
"She said she forgives you. Charlotte never held you responsible." Masako answered for the small girl, tears silently streaming down her face as she leant against a similarly crying Ayako.
"This changes nothing!" The demon screeched, mist bristling like cats fur, "If I can't have my daughter, then I-"
A sharp whistle broke through the demons tirade. The bright lights of Lin's shiki piercing the darkness with ease and the proceeding scream from the demon lasted only seconds. The lights flickered back on and there was no trace of the demon or any of the blood that had only seconds ago flooded the floor. Now, the only red liquid in the room was pooled under Naru as he held Mai.
"We're sorry." A deep baritone voice whispered in Naru's ear. The dark haired boy looked up to see a man wearing a captains uniform stand over him.
"Daddy!" Charlotte cried. Lunging forward and into her fathers awaiting arms.
"Thank you." The mother told them softly, crouching infront of Mai, "I can only stop the bleeding, so you'll have to get her to a doctor."
Naru couldn't stop the stunned look that passed over his face when the woman smiled warmly at him and placed her glowing hand on Mai's forehead. The brunettes eyes cracked open, a smile forming on her lips when Charlottes mother and father floated to the middle of the room and began the shimmer a dazzling gold. Charlotte did too when she turned to look at Mai while taking hold of her parents hands.
"Thank you... Mai. Mister!" Naru looked up at the grinning girl, "Take good care of her!"
Neither Naru, nor Mai, could keep the blushes from their faces as Charlotte vanished and SPR took their cue to laughed at the two on the ground.
Naru looked at the brunette in his arms, who had evidently, in all Mai fashion, fallen asleep. A small smile tugged on his lips as Ayako yelled at Monk behind him.
"I promise... I'll always look after you Mai. I swear..."
'No! Stop! Get away from me!'
Her hands shook, gun rattling dangerously as her tears blurred her vision.
'No! Get away! Naru!' Her thoughts didn't reach her mouth. It was only when her finger pressed the trigger was she able to vocalise her warning... But it was too late...