'Ring around the rosy...'
Chanting emanated from behind the hedge of weed and stone. The enclosed area beyond glowing dully, like the dancing flames of the bon fire that flickered just over the edge.
'Pocket full of posies...'
A cold wind blew from nowhere within the dark basement, howling through the dead trees that shouldn't have even been found underground. The dirt caked to her shoes and made it harder for her as she scrambled to reach the top of the wall, digging her fingertips into the top of the wall and pulled herself up. The old concrete and brick crumbled beneath her feet as she crouched low.
Small children, no older than six or seven, held hands around the bon fire right in front of her. Each of their faces was a deathly pale pallor, even in the shifting orange light. It made Mai's stomach churn uneasily from her perch.
They suddenly turned to her, eyes sunken and Cheshire smiles so similar to each others that only their clothing and hair styles separated them from each other. Each smile revealed two rows of uneven, jagged teeth.
'We all... Fall... Down!'
The wall beneath her suddenly gave an ominous crack before it crumbled under her. Sharp nails clawed at her as she fell, a blanketing spiral of white, orange and black combining rapidly enough to make her PK activate subconsciously.
Time froze, a soft blue haze filled the area around her and small spirit orbs bopped in the air around her body, a protective golden light emanated from them before her eyes were drawn to a stronger, warmer source of light. A smile spread on her lips, even as she hung in the air, tilted down just enough for the blood to rush to her head.
Said male didn't smile as he usually did during their greetings. Instead, his brows were furrowed, a dark glint in his eyes that only foretold of inevitable danger. Danger that was just around the metaphoric corner.
"Mai..." His voice faded, almost like a phone losing signal, "Yo-... Naru needs to ru-... Please Mai!"
"Gene! Gene!" She yelled but even though she knew she couldn't move in her PK-LT freeze, she still struggled against her own mind to free herself.
"Ple- Mai! Get away! Hurry!"
The last message came out clearer than any bell chime and shocked her back into focus. The freeze vanished and again, angry snarls invaded her ears, along with her own shout as teeth joined the clawing hands.
She awoke in a state of shock. Her long hair matted and her forehead sweaty with fever. The cold liquid dripped down her face and onto the thin sheet pooled in her lap. Her breaths came in ragged pants as she replayed the dream...No... Nightmare, in her head. The phantom feeling of teeth and nails ripping into her flesh still caused a faint tremor to run through her tired body. Nothing had ever been so bad... So surreal before. No vision had ever been so horribly physical. Never before had she had trouble hearing Gene before. And the thought was more frightening that she ever thought it would be. To know there was a danger and then be left completely in the dark was almost as if she was walking blind in broad daylight. The unknown was a foreign feeling to her and she didn't like it one bit.
With a shaky breathe, Mai wiped the sweat from her brow and stood on unsteady legs. A dull throb drew her attention to her arm as she stretched and noticed white bandages, sloppily done, wrapped around her pale limb. Titling her head in question, as if the offending gauze could answer her unspoken question, she wracked her brain to try remember what happened. But all she could recall were shadows.
"What the hell-" She started, only stopping when she heard the door open.
She jolted at the whispered words, swearing to herself as a chill worked its way up her spine. It had sounded like it had come from right beside her, her ear having felt the brush of a breathe seconds after she heard the sound.
"Mai?" Again, the brunette jumped, but this time at a familiar, comforting voice. Not that she really classified Lin's voice as 'comforting'. But is was someone she knew and that was better than hearing creepy voices.
"Ah! Yes Lin?" She asked, flustering herself more even as she tried to calm down. Her heart was pounding against her rib cage as she was sure her cheeks were flushed a brilliant pink. "Is there something you need?"
She tried to dismiss the unease she got from the calculating look the Chinese man sent her way before letting out a sigh when he shook his head. "Naru has need of you in base. BE forewarned, he is not in the best of moods."
With that, just as quickly as the Omnioji had entered, he was gone. With a quick glance around the room, she decided after her earlier experience that it was too creepier, even after all her paranormal and law enforcing experience, and high tailed it out of the room. Not even noticing she was in her pyjamas from the night before. Minus her gun and holster.
For the second time in twenty-four hours, Mai found herself almost sprinting across the main hall of the church towards base, dread building in her stomach. If something upset Naru to the point of Lin giving her warning, it must've been serious.
She gently pushed the door to base open with her uninjured arm, the creak of the old hinges making her cringe before mentally slapping herself for reverting to her teenage behaviour. Once inside, she stood close to the door, hoping that if it got bad enough, she'd be able to make a break for her room and go back to sleep. Fatigue clawed at her and she hardly managed to keep her eyes open. Why, she had no idea. But it was slightly worrying. Hesitantly, she called out to her boss slash partner, hoping beyond hope that his rage wouldn't be directly aimed at her.
"Mai." His voice was cold; icy and oddly out of place. It was too rough, too worried for the normal Naru and it sparked her curiosity. "Do you see this?"
Having the most narcissistic person she knew ask her a simple question boggled her mind and she slowly stepped forward to see what he was on about. Each monitor on the shelves had some form of distortion, each with its own anomaly and each just as chilling as the last. The first one, right at the entrance to the cemetery grounds, was covered in what looked like moss, as if the camera had been on for years and nature had tried to claim it as its own. The other set behind the church, filming the way to the cross-section, which Mai could see recording from the room, was coated in ice, the lens showing every little detail held within the frost. The third, and most important as of the night before was blank. No static, no image, no frost of haze. It was just blank. Like a shroud of darkness so thick that while the camera kept recording, it simply couldn't make anything out in any mode as Naru flicked through everything from night mode to infra-red.
"Um... Nothing?" She asked, her gut instinct kicking in as to the cause of the anomaly.
"Exactly." He said; his voice nearly a snarl as he turned to look at her, his eyes clouded by hidden worry. "And do you know why?"
His question was honest, but also filled with sarcasm, which could only mean he knew the answer, and was solely blaming her for the cause. She wracked her brain in an effort to come up with a somewhat intellectual response in her odd teen reflective time, trying her best to ignore how her younger self from her high school days was somehow resurfacing. 'This is ridiculous! We work together, as equals! What right does he have to treat me like his subordinate?' Mai's eyes narrowed as she glared back, readying her response in her mind so that it involved as much sarcasm as possible to match his. "Oh, I don't know Naru. Why don't you tell me?"
He visibly seemed taken aback by her snappy attitude. While he was used to her sharper come-backs since they had reunited, she had never held such a harsh tone to her words during their banter. Not even when they fought on previous cases had she held such a bite to her quips. Quickly gathering himself, Naru responded the only way he could; By blaming someone.
"The camera, which was set up by you, Mai, has been broken. You can see it from the window if you would care to look." He realised he wouldn't get a response from her when she just blinked at him, eyes blank. "Change your clothing and we'll go change it."
He watched as she turned her back to him and walked out, her steps slightly lagging behind the other, making her move oddly out of the room. He brushed it off as her recovering from heat stroke, realising she didn't remember how he had held her down the night before as she tossed and turned in her sleep before she would wake up only to throw up. Sure, he had to burn two sets of clothing (heaven forbid he did laundry), but he was always there to hold her hair back before giving her a drink and helping her go back to sleep. He fingered the barrel of the dirty gun she had dropped the night before, the holster showing evidence of the tearing claws that had attacked them the night before. Suspicion tore at his gut, but he ignored it, focusing instead on what his logical mind told him and that the spirits were jus angry. But he was wrong...
"Here we are." Mai said, her eyes focusing on the tripod. It stood perfectly still, in line with all the tape she had laid down on the walkthrough before she had gone around to place the equipment. It didn't even had a scratch on it and yet the camera was shattered on the ground beside it, as if someone had gone to the trouble of carefully unscrewing it from the stand and smashing it as hard as they could into the ground. But who would go to that effort? She had no idea. "So, if the camera's here... And the tripod hasn't been touched. Then where's the cable?"
Her musing was cut short when she heard a twig snap to her side and she quickly move to the side and stared into the dark surrounding forest that lined either side of the brick path. A faint scarping sound reached her ears, but she shook it off as her overactive imagination. Ever since she started specifically ghost hunting again, her mind had been in overdrive on the paranormal.
"That is what I would like to know. Start looking over there. I'll search over here." Was all Naru said, turning to check the other side of the path, the nagging feeling that the cabled shouldn't have been completely moved off the path bugging the both of them. But before Mai could start looking, she noticed how Naru's jacket was lifted slightly on one side, a small crinkle showing an outline she was all too familiar with having had worked under cover for years with Akito.
"Naru?" She called, waiting for him to turn to her before she continued, "Do you have my gun?"
Even though she knew the answer, she wanted to see whether or not he would be honest with her. She watched as his stoic expression dropped, for only a split second, to show a moment of unguarded hesitation before it was gone. His face once again void of emotion as he reached behind him and pulled her gun from his belt. He held the grip of the gun to her and waited for her to reach for it. When she touched the cold metal, a spark shot through their arms. Naru tried his best to hide the warmth that blossomed in his chest while Mai's eyes widened, only instinct stopping her from dropping the lethal weapon. But the warmth was smothered by something cold in her and she turned quickly, avoiding his curious stare as she rushed into the bushes, tucking her gun into her belt.
They searched in tense silence for nearly ten minutes before Mai let out a joy filled shout, her arm lifting out of the bushes with something long in her hand. "I found it." Upon closer inspection, Naru saw that it was the missing camera cable, covered in dirt and other substances that he couldn't distinguish from a distance.
"now that you have found it, you can fix your mistake." His voice was filled with accusation, his glare firm as he watched her jaw drop.
Mai stared at him from her spot on the ground, camera cable falling to rest in her lap as her hand dropped. The brunette stood, ignoring the eerie way the thorn bushes seemed to claw at her jean clad legs. Her disbelief at his attitude quickly turning to rage as her cheeks puffed as she stomped onto the brick path and snatched the new camera from Naru. 'How dare he try blame me!' She thought.
"I wasn't even outside when it broke Naru! How could it have even been my mistake?" Through her yelling, she could have sworn she heard someone echo the word broken, but she passed it off as her rage and continued, "Well Naru? Can you explain that?"
"Perhaps how you set it was unbalanced. It would have only been a matter of time before it fell over." His explanation was so obnoxious Mai had to refrain from snorting, her fear from earlier striking her like a lightning bolt as she heard a twig snap from behind her. Deciding it would be better to get her mind off the darker thoughts racing through her head, she chose to confront him more on his decision to accuse her of foul play.
"Really Naru? Do you see that?" She pointed down to the outline around the tripod, her arm stiff as she waited for him to look down, "Does that look like it 'fell'? I don't think so. Someone or something, grabbed the camera and broke it. It could have happened last night during the attack for all we know!"
"An attack that wouldn't have happened in the first place if you hadn't run out in the first place! Which you still haven't explained as to why you did so and endangered us all." His voice was cold, calculating as he waited for her come back.
"I never asked you two to run after me!" For some reason, that response angered him, rage bubbling so quickly in his gut he didn't have time to reign in his temper before he blew.
"Then you would have died with how careless you always are. You're a hazard to everyone with how thick headed you can be Mai! How many people have to get hurt for you to see that? Your bull headed actions could have hurt us... You could have lost an arm even if we hadn't acted so quickly! Do you even use your brain or am I right to presume there really is only air in the skull of yours?"
A heavy silence fell between them, Naru only having realised he was yelling when he stopped and his voice reverberated through the forest. He focused on the brunette before him, sudden regret flooding through him as her face shadowed.
"I see." Dread shot down his spine as he watched as she attached the camera to the tripod and re-hooked it to the cable. With hunched shoulders, Mai walked away, not noticing how the dark haired male flinched as he silently berated himself.
Mai's reclusive behaviour continued to worsen throughout the day, avoiding both Naru and Lin until lunch where she refused to speak to them despite their subtle prodding. After hardly eating, the excused herself wordlessly, ignoring the concerned looks they sent her as she walked out of the room, the door to base closing with what seem like a giant boom that echoed through the quiet room.
"I warned you Naru. You should have been more careful." Lin said. Placing down his chopsticks as worry showed through his only visible eye. "Those were Shadow Spirits last night, those deceased turned demonic through time. Should Mai undergo too much stress, physical or otherwise, those demons may attain the means to achieve a spiritual link with her. If she isn't already possessed…" He let his façade slip, showing how truly worried he was for the brunette they both cared about.
"Impossible! She couldn't… Cannot be susceptible to possession. Her spiritual ability is too strong for them to do that! To get past her powers!" Naru's voice was firm, defensive… And bordering on dangerous. Something, his rage mixed with something else shone through is stormy eyes and Lin knew he had to calm the young man. And quickly.
"You were." Lin said, levelling Naru with an even stare.
"That was because-"
"It does not matter Oliver!" For the first time in a long time, Lin raised his voice at his charge. Naru's eyes widened, shocked that his friend and co-worker would show his frustration in shut a verbal way. "Anyone can be possessed by anything should the circumstances leading to it be right. Something you know very well Naru. Very well. Demons are not to be toyed with. Action must be dealt swiftly and with precision, least we wish to harm the one possessed by the foul things."
His statement was punctuated by the door opening with an eerie creak, the room instantly chilling and sending thrills of terror down their spines. Both males spun around, ignoring the way most of their food toppled over on the table top as an unnatural wind blew through the room. The chapel was dark, and from within it, they saw a shadow move towards the doorway, their movements jagged as if they were fighting with themselves about where they wanted to go. Naru felt as if an ice bucket had been dumped on him as he started to make out the feminine figure, and when he saw what she was holding, he couldn't help but watch as she lifted her arms, as if pointing straight at him…
Mai could hear them. The way Lin and Naru fought. But barely, through the yelling and crying in her head that is. Demonic laughter boomed through her skull as she lay curled up on the bed. She couldn't – wouldn't- give in. She refused!
But she felt it was a losing battle. Her vision kept blacking out and it kept getting worse and worse. The feeling of claws ripping at her flesh only left her numb, no fear or unsettling thoughts raced through her head at the sensation and she didn't have the strength to care. IT was almost as if someone had sucked out her ability to feel emotion. She knew she should have been furious with Naru for his accusations in the morning, she should have been livid with rage. But all she felt was sadness. A deep saddens that continued to sink its teeth further and further inside of her. She rolled over as a particularly loud scream filled her head and she felt something cold dig into her back. Lazily, she reached for it, and the familiar grip of her gun fell comfortably into the palm of her hand.
'His fault. His punishment!'
A voice hissed sharply in her head and she winced, eyes widening moments later when she realised who it was referring to.
'Penance! Retribution! Make it all go away! Make amends!'
Suddenly, she felt herself moving. Her limbs acting of their own accord. She tried to resist, tried to imagine she was only dreaming. But she knew she wasn't. She couldn't have been because the terror that shot through her like lightning was far too real to have been made up. She tried to find her voice, to call for help from anyone that would hear her, but her throat closed. She was a puppet on invisible strings as her vision narrowed, watching from within her mind as she moved from her room to the chapel, the dust on the ground being stirred by a supernatural wind that slowly opened the door to base. From the light that streamed out, she could vaguely make out the shapes of the two males within the room and she renewed her struggle to regain control of her body. She willed with everything she had that she could stop. TO change fate in a way that would avoid what she knew as inevitable. The yelling grew to unimaginable levels, each and every one screaming for penance. For blood.
'Kill! Repent! Kill! Repent! Kill! Repent!'
'No!' Mai tried to scream, hers eyes watering as she watched him move closer to her. 'No. Stop! Get away from me!'
Her hands shook violently as her arms lifting, the first lock on her trigger pulled easily into place as a tear ran down her face.
"Mai!" His voice sounded as if through water. 'No! Get away! Naru!' Her thoughts didn't reach her mouth. It was only when her finger pressed the trigger all the way was she able to vocalise her warning... But it was too late...