Feeling her phone buzz in her skirt pocket, Haruka dug it out, and looked at the caller ID. She felt her face automatically break into a smile. It wasn't often that she got to talk to her these days.
'Hi Mom! How are you?'
'Hi sweetie! I'm doing well. What about you, how is University? Are you handling it all ok?'
'Yeah! The work load is increasing but that's nothing I can't handle if I work hard. Plus, the summer classes are really helpful!'
'I'm glad all is going well for you darling.'
'Thanks mom; is everything ok at home?'
'Yes everything is great – I did need to ask you something though…'
'I was talking to one of my old friends, and she told me that there were…strange things happening at her family home. She sounded very frightened; I couldn't help but mention you and Yakumo…I know you haven't done that kind of thing in a while but she's really very desperate, and I promised I would at least speak with you about it.'
'Mom…I haven't seen Yakumo in a while, he's not even returning my messages, I…I don't know if I'll even be able to get hold of him, let alone convince him to check the place out…'
'Oh? I'm sure he's ok! Don't worry, I understand sweetie…As long as you try, that'll be enough. Anyway, sorry but I have to dash, I'll speak to you very soon! Bye!'
And with that, Keiko hung up. Haruka sighed, thinking back to the last time she had seen Yakumo. It had already been ten days since she had heard from him. It's not like she wasn't used to his frequent disappearances, but those never extended beyond 2 or 3 days. Tucking a stray strand behind her ear, she made her way across the university campus to the Film club. That was her last hope of catching him. Even Goto hadn't seen him recently, which was what worried her the most. Yakumo had gotten into the habit of visiting Nao very regularly since her father had passed away. Something had to be seriously amiss for him to stop visiting. Resolved to find him, Haruka decided that she would sleep in the Club's small room until he turned up. Pushing the door open, she prayed, somewhat half-heartedly, that he would be on the other side of it. Only the emptiness and suffocating silence greeted her. Seeing the sofa empty really bothered her. She never noticed how dull the room was. Everything was dark, lifeless, and most of all, dirty. A thought occurred to her; since she was probably going to spend some time here, she may as well clean up the place. A quick trip to the convenience store, and she was armed with all that she needed to spruce the place up. Though it was hard to admit, the sudden urge to clean was really to take her mind off the possibility that Yakumo may never return.
Right, rubber gloves, check. Disinfectant, check. Bin bags, check. Dusting cloths, check. In her enthusiasm, she had bought more than she needed, but things like that never went to waste anyway. Haruka spent the following 3 hours clearing out, cleaning and rearranging everything. By the time she was done, she was completely worn out. She stretched, arms aching but happy to see that her efforts had paid off. The room felt much more open and clean. No doubt Yakumo would whine about things having being moved about but she didn't care, it was much better this way. Now all that was missing was him. Tired out, she slumped onto the sofa, sliding into the indentation which resulted from Yakumo's numerous naps. Closing her eyes, she let herself drift away.
Her phone's vibrations cut through her sleep. How long had she been out for? Reaching into her pocket to retrieve it, she felt something behind her stir.
'Switch that damn thing off will you. It's a nuisance.'
Hearing his voice so close to her ear made her shiver. How long had he been here? Not daring to turn around, she found her phone, put it on silent and tried to calm down. It definitely was Yakumo, but what was he doing so close to her? And where had he been? Needing an answer to those questions, she plucked up the courage to turn around, and found herself facing his chest. Looking up, she saw that his eyes were closed. He grumbled;
'If you're not gonna sleep, move.'
He flinched slightly at the punch Haruka landed on his chest. Looking at her flushed face and angry expression, he sighed. The last person he wanted to give an explanation to was her.
'How can you act like everything is normal? You went missing for like….ten days! I called you and called you, left messages…'
'Ugh. This is why women are so bothersome.'
She clambered over him, aiming to get off the sofa, almost tripping in the process. Feeling all of the worry which had slowly built up give way to anger, she shouted;
'How dare you?! How could you just ignore me?! No, you know what, forget me, what about Nao? The poor child was worried sick! Aren't you meant to be looking after her? Is this how you repay Isshin for all of the love and kindness he showed you?!'
Scarcely had this last sentence left her mouth that she covered it up with her hands, knowing that she had gone too far. Isshin had been nothing less than a father to Yakumo, and though he never spoke of it, the latter missed him dearly. Fearing that she had upset him, Haruka's anger faded, and she waited for Yakumo's response.
Groggily, he sat up. His hair in a mess, he pulled on his crumpled shirt, his gaze averting hers, looking for all the world like a 10 year old. She had never seen him like this.
'You're right. I shouldn't have gone off like that without telling anyone. I have already gone to see Nao, so there is no need to worry about her.'
He knew that his words were taking her by surprise, and so they should be. It wasn't in his nature to apologise, but seeing Nao's crying face upon his visit to Goto's house really had made him realise that he had people who cared about him. Though he had lost his uncle, he had gained friends. He also hoped that his words would distract her from asking where he had been.
'So, what trouble have you brought with you?'
Still slightly taken aback by his sudden openness, Haruka had completely forgotten about her mother's request.
'You must have had something to ask of me, if you were trying to contact me so desperately.'
'Oh right. Well, no, but yes…'
'Start making sense or go home.'
How she had missed his bluntness.
'My mother's friend asked if we could check out her family home for ghosts. Apparently weird things have been happening there.'
'And naturally, you put my name forward.'
'Whatever, tell her I'll check it out. I do owe your mother a few favours after all.'
'Did you touch my stuff?'
Ah. Finally, he had noticed.
'It's called cleaning. Evidently, you've never heard of it.'
Completely ignoring her insult, he asked;
'Where is this place then? I'd like to get it over and done with as soon as possible; I've sleep to catch up on.'
'I'll ring mom and ask her.'
She took out her phone once more and made the call.
'Hi mom, about that case…Yakumo said he's ok with checking it out.'
'Oh that's great; you got hold of him then!'
'Yeah, thankfully…Could you give us the address?'
'Sure. Are planning on leaving now? I'd better ring her to let her know. I'll text you the address.'
'Okay, thanks mom. Bye!'
As they waited for someone to answer the door, Yakumo thought about the situation. Something bothered him slightly. He knew without a doubt that this family was one of the most affluent in Japan. Fingers in every pies, businesses of every nature, they had conquered the industry. Why were they then being so forthright about having problems of a paranormal nature? Frowning, he thought grimly; 'it must be really bad for them to call on outside help'. Perhaps they chose to have him check the place over because of his average status, though a family like this could easily have called a celebrity medium like Masako Hara. Still, wasn't it Haruka's mother who made the link? Ah, who cared, he was going to find out the gravity of the situation soon anyway. There was no point in bothering with the finer details just yet.
'Oh hello, you must be Yakumo and Haruka, right? Come right in!'
The redheaded woman smiled as she ushered both of them into the impressive mansion, speaking in low tones, as if she wanted to keep their arrival a secret.
'My name is Sera, pleased to meet you both. I'll show you to y-'
'Sera? Who are these people?'
Obviously unnerved at having being caught, Sera gestured for the nearby butler to take care of the two guests before turning around to face the man who had called out to her.
Grabbing her arm, he pulled her into a nearby room, and exclaimed;
'Are you going to tell me who they are?'
'That's none of your damn business.'
'Oh I think it very well is, as the head of the family, I demand-'
'Please. Head of the family? Don't be so quick to put father in his grave. As long as he's alive, you remain the overbearing, insensitive and callous man that you always have been, nothing more.'
Sera could see that Katsura's vein was about to pop. He always had that one vein that would start throbbing whenever he was angry. That's how she always knew when her words were doing the desired damage.
'How dare you.'
'These two people are our guests and you will treat them accordingly. They are here to check the house over for any…abnormalities.'
Taking a step back, Sera's brother fought to keep his anger from overflowing.
'I already called people in to do that. Experts. Now we have an extra two people who needlessly know that we might…This is why you need to consult me before you do anything.'
'Should I also consult you when I take a shit, darling brother?'
Fists clenched, he breathed in, counting to ten before slowly exhaling. Sera had the ability to push every single one of his buttons, even the ones he didn't know he had.
'Do you have any idea how much our reputation, our businesses could suffer from this kind of thing?! If rumours start going around that our family is haunted, or cursed, or hexed, whatever it may be…'
'See, this is where we differ. I put my children's safety above our family's reputation without hesitation. You seem to be the opposite. If we are cursed, don't you think it will have severe repercussions on the children?! Curses don't magically spare children you know!'
He could see his sister's disdain for him clear as day. She had never been able to understand the burden of a whole family's legacy, a whole future, being held above your head like a sword of Damocles, ready to strike down at any time. He had to be ready.
'There's not much we can do now that you've invited them in. We may as well make use of their services. Do you think they will all work together?'
'I don't really care, as long as they get to the bottom of all this.'
'Don't play daft, you know what I mean. I don't think three deaths can occur in one house without leaving some sort of aftermath.'
With that, Katsura watched his sister leave, her words ringing in his ears.
Half an hour later, lunch was served. Given the four guests' attendance, great care had been taken to produce an impressive array of dishes. Mai could scarcely believe her eyes. So much to choose from; her eyes sparkled with impatience.
Not even Naru's attempt to rattle her could take her away from the gastronomical euphoria she was experiencing. Still, she was able to take her eyes away from the table long enough to notice that Naru had fixated on someone sitting across from him. A young man, with dark, moppy hair, green eyes, and a fairly surly expression; one that resembled Naru's a great deal actually. Why he was so concerned with him, she wasn't sure.
'Are you part of the Hideyoshi family?'
Though he already knew the answer to that question, Naru asked it anyway. He watched as the man put down his fork, chewed his way through the crab meat he had chosen, before looking directly at him.
'I don't see why you're asking. After all, you already know what I'm going to say.'
'Then who are you?'
It was clear that he didn't want to provide Naru with any more information than necessary. Before the latter could pursue his line of questioning, Mai, her mouth full, jumped in.
'Ah! I think I've heard of you! Aren't you that…psycho detective person?!'
On his right, Yakumo saw Haruka's shoulders shake in silent laughter. Not deigning to pick up on the mistake that girl had made, he carried on with his lunch. Sure enough, a few seconds later, Haruka piped up.
'Hi! Pleased to meet you both; my name is Haruka Ozawa. Yakumo and I are here to help the family with…an issue they're having.'
'Oh! Haruka! What a pretty name! Mine is Mai Taniyama, this is Naru Shibuya; we're actually here for the same reason, I hope we can work together!'
Casting a glance to her left, Mai checked Naru's reaction to what she had just said. She didn't much see the point of having two different teams working on the same thing. They may as well team up and help one another.
'Unlike these two interesting specimens sitting across from us, Mai, we are professionals from an actual agency. They are…well…the word amateurs springs to mind.'
Haruka could not believe what that insufferable man had just termed them; specimen? Amateurs?! Well, he clearly had a pole stuck up there somewhere; though lucky for her, it was nothing which couldn't be fixed by an amateur's foot being shoved up his –
'WHO LET THESE STRANGERS INTO MY HOME?!'
The table froze. Silence fell. All eyes were on the man who had just walked in. His greying hair slicked back, dark eyes ablaze, he looked absolutely furious.
Akin to a frightened soldier, Sera stood up, back straight, hands at her side, not daring to look at him.
'Did you let them in? You did, didn't you? Of course you did. This is why I despise women, this is wh-'
Katsura, who had also stood up, looked at the man almost defiantly.
'Sera had nothing to do with this. I'm the one who called them.'
'You better explain yourself quickly, boy.'
'Father, I'm sure you've noticed it too. This house, there's something here, something abnormal. Between things going missing, the whispers, the lights going off…Even you, father…'
'What's that about me, boy?'
'Well, you haven't really been yourself lately, and-'
'I have heard enough. Get these charlatans out of my house. I will hear no more of this stupidity.'
With that, the head of the family left the room, leaving behind him shocked faces. Sera was the first to speak.
'Sorry you had to see that. Our father isn't normally like this…It's like this house has made him angry. I don't understand what happened to him, he was the sweetest, kindest man, I…'
Haruka could see that her bright blue eyes were brimming; she was fighting tears. Without thinking, she left her chair, and went to comfort her. With one arm around the woman's shoulders, she handed her a napkin.
'Don't worry, it will be alright. We will fix whatever awful thing has befallen your family. I promise.'
Yakumo didn't much like it when Haruka made promises in both of their names, but he admired her ability to sympathise so readily with people. She really was a stupidly kind soul.
When all had finished their lunch, the table was cleared, and everyone was invited on a tour of the house. Sera had recovered, and was now animatedly talking about the house's history. Naru watched her, without really paying much attention to what she was saying. The father, whose name he had learnt was Katsurou, had really grabbed his attention. More specifically, it was the look in his eyes which had piqued his interest. He had seen that same look before. He was almost certain that some horrid tragedy must have tainted that man. Perhaps a tragedy which had happened in this very mansion, connected to the three deaths he had read about. All this was mostly conjecture of course, but his gut was never wrong. That Yakumo and his pretty sidekick were not going to get a chance to investigate. He would close this case in less than two days; he could feel it.
Sera, who had just opened her father's study, fell to the ground.
Mai, who had been directly behind her, fell to her knees, calling out her name and tapping her pale cheeks slightly. Meanwhile, Yakumo stepped over both of them in order to see what had cause such a reaction. He stopped dead in his tracks. Haruka helped Mai roll Sera onto her side, as Naru joined Yakumo.
Both men stood, surveying the scene that lay before them. Yakumo removed his contact, checking for any ghosts, but saw nothing other than the grizzly view. Naru, who had watched him silently, said;
'So, you can see them then?'
Yakumo nodded silently, before asking;
'In any case, whoever did this is no longer here.'
'Well of course not. Who stays at the scene of their own crime?'
'You would be surprised.'
The butler and several other employees arrived, carrying Sera away to her room. Haruka stood up, and pushed both men aside, wanting to see what all the commotion was about. She gasped, her hand flying to her mouth.
Dozens of savage, jagged gashes littered Katsurou's body. The poor man was still sat at his desk, his chair having been turned around to face the door, as if to surprise the first person that walked in. His arms, limp, dangled on either side of his body, and his legs were stretched out. Bizarrely enough, the wounds were only located on his chest and legs. Streaks of his blood had been drawn all over the walls, furniture and even ceiling, though none appeared to spell out anything. The horrific scene begged the question, who hated the man enough to inflict such pain and barbaric damage? Was the culprit even human?
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