A bitterly cold wind blew, chilling the silver haired guy standing beneath a cherry blossom tree. Overhead, dark clouds passing through the crescent moon every now and then that made the whole cemetery blemished with shapeless shades. A crow flapped its wings as it landed above an old tombstone, head tilts on the side and looking at the man standing still, looking back at the bird.
He took out his phone, lifting it to cover the moon from his view. The night is peaceful and tonight, he decided that something should be done. His mouth split in a wide grin. It's not hard to explain the reason of his excitement right now. All he knows is that, this night will be more entertaining than the usual.
"I want to teach someone like you the good flavor of a puzzle."
As soon as the red light turns green, Ayako's car whirs when she hit the clutch and stir the wheels, droving off into the busy street of Shibuya. She's already tired but she refused to show it to her co-workers. Displaying any sign of weariness will only make them worry, and she knows that everyone's thinking the same thing. That's why none of them utter even a single complain. Especially after seeing Naru drove himself on the edge.
A sudden ringing cut through the silence inside her car. Ayako jumped up, startled. She reached her phone and picked up the call. "Hello?"
"If you want to see your dear little friend, come to Aoyama Cemetery." A low voice said from the other line. "You have ten minutes."
"Hello? Who is this?!" But the person on the other line is already gone. "Hello? Hello?" She looked at her phone, stunned. Who would joke at a time like this? It's not even funny! But her intuition is telling her otherwise, the man sounded serious and there's not a hint of sham in what he had said.
A loud screeching sound from her car's tires reached Ayako's ears when she did her breaks. It was then followed by a honking from the car behind. But she has no time to deal with them, she needs to hurry. In a quick sure move, she maneuvers the steering wheel and did a U-turn, as her right hand dialed on her phone as she made her way to the cemetery.
"Someone called me!" She said explosively as soon as monk answers her call. "He has Mai!" A loud 'What' echoes in her ear, almost breaking her ear drum. "Can you not shout?! Tell Naru! I'm already heading to Aoyama cemetery."
"You stupid hag! Don't you dare act alone! You know how dangerous it is and Naru wouldn't want to deal with another casualty!" The monk told her but his warning only fell in deaf ears.
"I only have a few minutes!" Her car almost swerves when she tried to overtake on a large container van. "If I don't go there now, something bad might happen to Mai!"
"And you don't care if something bad happen to you!" That's not a question but a statement. Ayako knew that Hoshou is worried but if she just wait their chances of seeing Mai again might get smaller. What if that bastard does something to her? What if ... he kills her if she doesn't get there in time?
"Stop protesting and move you stupid monk!"
Bou-san cursed loudly when Ayako hang up on him. Without wasting any time, he snatched his keys and run outside his apartment while trying to contact Naru.
"Bou-san?" Naru said upon answering the call.
"You have to go to Aoyama cemetery! Someone told Ayako that Mai is there." He growled. He's not mad, he's worried and he's having a hard time containing himself. "I don't trust that! I'm sure is a trap!"
"Calm down." Naru told him. "We're already heading there. Contact John, I'm sure he also received the same call like we did. And you're right. It is a trap, because they don't have Mai."
Bou-san's brows knitted in confusion. "What?"
"It's Hara Masako."
Ayako almost stumbled in front of the large arc of Aoyama cemetery as she rushed to reach her destination, which she didn't know where exactly in this place did the culprit hide Mai. It also didn't help that the pavement has so many brittle stones forcing their way in inside her shoes. Catching her breath, she looks around, searching for someone suspicious. But there was nothing but a bunch of trees and tombstones.
Giving up is not on her list right now, so she decided to venture into the deepest part of the cemetery where the old forgotten corpses reside. Unlike in front, the leaves of the trees were thick and thriving, making the place gloomier and darker.
"Where are you?!" She yelled, head still looking around. "Show yourself!"
A muffled voice coming from not so far away startled Ayako. She stood still and listens to find the exact place where the voice is coming from. 'Straight ahead.' She ran a few meters until she discovered a large oak tree standing near the wall connected to the other side of the cemetery. Her eyes widen in absolute shock upon seeing Masako's small body hanging above. Both hands tied upwards on the large branch of the tree and mouth covered with a white scarf. Her feet keep moving as if pleading to put her down.
"We are almost there." Lin said in a firmed voice.
A little earlier Yasuhara received a call informing that they have Hara Masako, and if they fail to rescue her in time, she'll die. At first Naru thought that it was just a prank since it's already been months since the perpetrator stopped abducting female mediums. However, he can't guarantee that they entirely stopped. It must be that they lay low for a while after abducting Mai or if not sending him a warning. A warning that he should stop whatever he's doing. But Naru is the type of person who won't listen to anyone unless he has to.
He saw Matzusaki Ayako's car parked near the entrance of the cemetery. Lin stopped and parked the car near Ayako's, the three of them got out just in time to see Bou-san arriving at the same spot.
Ayako was about to climb up when her eyes catches a movement at the rear of a big tombstone. Her eyes squinted, trying to focus her view on that place, but since it's dark she can hardly tell if someone was indeed standing there. Her heart pounded. Strengthening herself as she stared at the spot where she thought she'd seen a movement.
The shadow moved. Someone definitely moved in the darkness and Ayako was convinced that she and Masako are not alone in that place. Something similar to a buzzing sound cross her ears, it was like a bee that flew pass in a lightning speed. She turned around, and then stumbled back.
'Damn it!' She cursed. There's a man, no. She can't say if this thing is a spirit or monster. There's nothing that can tell that this being is still with the living. His skin was burnt, there's hole in his left cheek that made his teeth visible, hollow eyes and almost skeletal body as though could break any time. This thing is creepier than Urado!
Fear pushed up through Ayako's chest and she started to feel cold inside yet sweat beading on her skin as she stared at the creature standing in front of her. In a shaking approach, she raised her hands and started chanting.
"Rin, Pyou, Tou, Sha, Kai, Jin, Retsu, Zai, Zen!" She shouted her words while drawing a diagonal pattern in the wind. The creature promptly vanished, turning itself to a small straw doll. She gasped for breath, fought the sickening feeling inside her chest. When she calmed down, Ayako picked up the straw doll.
'Kushimi Ningyo?' It is a doll that represents a dead person. 'But why is it here?' These dolls are usually skewered in the mountain near the place where the real world connected to the other world ... wait. Is this perhaps a Wara Ningyo not a Kushimi? (A wara ningyo is used to curse someone by nailing it on a tree in a jinja or shrine) But then, this doll was supposed to be nailed in a shrine yet a spirit was inside it and causing harm.
'What's happening here?' Although there're so many questions circling around her head, Ayako dismissed it for a while and turned to help Masako. She climbed up up up up and up, she's almost there but a bloody hand reached, grip and started dragging her down. The miko tightened her grip on the tree branch to prevent herself from falling. Her left foot was locked on the other branch as she's tries her best to shove the bloody freaking hand on her right foot.
"Let go of me!" She yelled while Masako squeal in fright.
"Naumaku san manda basara dan kan!" Bou-san's voice filled the whole place. A surge of relief floods through Ayako, thank kami they arrived in time! The hand vanished and another straw doll appears.
"Matsuzaki-san! Are you alright?" John asked in a panicked stricken voice.
"I'm fine! Help Masako!" She responded.
Yasuhara immediately stood under Masako. "John-san cut the rope! I'll catch her."
"Yes!" John said as he started climbing up.
Naru picked up the straw doll and put it under brief scrutiny. He saw it. The hand that pulling Matsuzaki down, he's positive this doll wasn't the one performing the curse. It's probably the other way around. The curse or whatever it was carried this straw doll. Because if this doll was indeed the one that performing the curse, it should have been destroyed when Bou-san launched an attack. Whoever this perpetrator is, he's trying to confuse them.
Shuffles coming everywhere alerted all of them. The sound increased sharply in volume and one by one, horrible creatures started to crawl, walk, and fly towards them. It was like confronting hordes of dead, fresh from the graves. All of them look hideous. Hollow eyes and decomposing skin, every each of them have few missing limbs.
"Are we having a night party?!" Bou-san shouted in disbelief. "Just what in the world is going on?"
"As much as I want to answer your question, I don't know what to say." Ayako said. "It already attacked me twice and I can say that it's not a pleasant experience!"
Bou-san grins. "Then it's time to wreck a little revenge!" He gets ready and took out his dagger. Left foot in front while right hand forming a sword symbol and utter a chant. "On kiri kiri bazara bajiri hora manda manda un hatta! On sara sara basara hara kyara un hatta! On agya nauei senjikya sowaka!" He tosses the dagger forward to those evil spirits.
The dagger glow a silver light, surrounding the hordes of spirits with pillars of light. A sudden flashed and the spirits are consumed by a spiritual fire, however not all of them are destroyed.
"Ho ho!" Bou-san shifted his pose, the spirits keep on coming and he trust this is something he can end with a simple attack spell. "On abokya beiroshonou maka bodara mani handoba jin bara hara bari tayaun!" He then sliced downward in front as if slicing in the air, sending a single attack straightforward towards the spirits.
As soon as Lin finished helping Yasuhara to get Masako down, he throws an Ofuda (Paper charm). It stopped and floated not far in front of Bou-san. He then chanted a few words. "Fuku, Ju, Ku, Mu, Ryo!" His right feet trace a big dipper on the ground as he chant, a light glow from the trace, then he chanted again. "Rin, Pyou, To, Sha, Kai, Jin, Retsu, Zen ..." Lin lifted his hand mustering a large amount of energy then slice through the air with absolute power. "Kou!"
With that single blow from Lin's spell, all of the spirits were washed out, even the straw dolls crumbled into ashes leaving black stains all over the place. However ... one survived the attacked. The remaining spirit charge at Naru and sent him flying, his back slammed against the hard body of the oak tree.
A burst of pain exploded around Naru's back, his eyes saw black spots, and gradually the blackness swallowed up the pain. The blackness took all, even his consciousness.
For thirty seconds, the silver haired man stared at the torn pieces of the human shaped papers with pure amusement. After seconds of silence, his laughter filled his whole office.
They were all defeated.
They were all defeated.
They were all defeated.
They were all defeated and he can't stop laughing!
"Chaos excites me!" He exclaimed. "I really like the sound of this. I'm really excited I don't want to stop laughing! I feel wonderful!"
"Kagiri-sama." His assistant called him in an admonishing tone.
The man called Kagiri glared at his assistant. "You do really have a nice timing, Yamaki." He whispered. "Don't interrupt when I'm enjoying myself!"
"Your goal is not to kill them, president so please abstain yourself from doing something unnecessary."
"Tch!" Kagiri aligned his glasses and smiled sweetly at his assistant. At this, Yamaki couldn't help but to look away. "They are ready to kill any spirits, yokai or whatever it is. I'm just wondering if they are not scared of being killed themselves. What do you think Yamaki?"
"I suggest you to retire for the night." He responded. "You have a meeting tomorrow morning."
He scoffed. "You should know how to have fun even just once. Let's have more fun before we reach the climax!" He said in a playful tone. "The only thing that can possibly make me feel happier ... is to kill that thing."
He decided to play with them a little. He's trying to confuse them but he knew that they will find out everything not later but sooner, very soon …
And he is looking forward to their upcoming confrontation.
Naru opened his eyes, only to find himself standing in an isolated footbridge. He frowned, the last time he remembers was being attacked by an evil spirit. Maybe he has loss his consciousness.
He examined his surroundings. Streetlights were all lighted giving a pale orange hue to the place. The sky is covered by a monochromatic shade of black and grey, it's clear yet void of life. There are buildings everywhere and some food stalls nearby. It seems the footbridge is in the middle of a busy street. He leaned forward and felt the cold metal under his hand when he touched the banister. It seems real though he knew that he was only dreaming.
But this is the first time he sees things vividly and all of his senses are aware of what's happening.
A ticking sound coming from a nearby street clock was the only thing can be heard despite the liveliness of the scenery below. Establishments, busy streets and talking people were all voiceless. It felt like watching a muted television. Lights from car's headlights look like dancing fireflies in the middle of a soundless city forest.
He was busy scrutinizing the scenery beneath that he missed the chance to see the brunette girl who ran pass his back. The only thing he saw when he turned was the tip of her short brown hair.
But that was enough for Naru to know who it was. A sudden beat of his heart shake his entire body like an earthquake. Will he see her this time?
"Mai!" He shouted, voice echoing everywhere. "Mai! Come back!" He tried to run towards the direction Mai went but he couldn't move.
Naru's eyes searched everywhere to find her. If this was indeed a dream and Mai is here, perhaps she wanted to tell him something right? He wanted to ask her everything that could lead to where she is right now. He wanted to talk to her...he wanted to see her.
Without disturbing the silence of the place, Mai appeared before his eyes. Standing bare footed at the top of the tall street clock and looking up at the building in front of her with a face that bears the emotion of sadness. Her hair is softly swaying along with the gentle breeze of wind.
Mai lifted her hand towards the building, it seems like she's reaching something. Naru followed her line of sight and froze when he saw another Mai standing at the edge of the building's rooftop. Her eyes were expressionless but tears were streaming down from it.
"Mai!" He shouted.
The Mai standing above the street clock turned and looked at him with a questioning look.
"Mai!" He called again.
Mai jumped and flew in the air, she landed on a post and jump again until she get to where he was. She reached out her hands to him. He took it, gripped it tight and pulled her closer to him until she's standing face to face with him.
They looked at each other for a moment. Naru knew that this girl is indeed Mai but he felt that there's something missing.
"Naru." She uttered his name smiling.
"Idiot. What took you so long to show yourself to me?" He said with a passive voice. "Is it so hard for your brain to find the way back home?"
Yeah, this is a dream. For sure, everything would collapse and fade beneath his feet sooner or later. Though he was happy to see Mai again, he shouldn't forget that this is only something that his mind created. None of this is true and when he woke up from his slumber, he is going back to search for her once again.
"Well I'm sorry for being an idiot! Mister know it all! It's not that I don't know how to get back." She sighed. "It's just that I can't."
"What do you mean you can't?" He asked.
Mai pointed at the other Mai standing on top of the building. "I know how to get back but she doesn't. That's the real Mai standing over there. I am merely a fraction of her memories. I am the past and she holds the present but it was sealed by someone. She needs to remember me in order for her to break the seal. It's hard to get close to her and I'm trying for almost I couldn't remember."
The real Mai suddenly shattered in to lights and vanished. Leaving a few sparkling lights from where she disappears.
"What happened?" He asked worriedly.
"She woke up." She sighed. "This is her dream world and she always stood there whenever she visits."
"She's not always in this place isn't she?"
Mai nodded. "Sometimes she's here and sometimes she's in now. You see, this place is another fragment of her memories. Look over there." She pointed at a family restaurant. There are so many customers but his attention was caught by a certain family. There's a mother, father and a brown haired girl, with big brown eyes. He figured that it was Mai when she was three or four years of old. Her face was a mess. Full of icing from the cake she was eating. Though the picture was lack of sounds, he can clearly tell that they're happy. "She stares at that scene over and over again while crying. She wants to remember but the seal prevents her from remembering any of her memories."
Naru frown when he realized something. He should have known from the start. The vividness and the mysterious atmosphere of this place is not something that he could see as a dream.
"How can I break the seal?"
Mai shook her head. "Only she could do it. The only thing you could do is to help her in the now. The now is the present in your waking world."
"She's an astral projector Noll." Say's someone from his back.
He turned to see his twin sitting on the banister and smiling at him. "It's been a while brother." He said.
"I knew it. And here I thought you already moved on." Noll said.
"Believe it or not, I did. But someone asked for my help and that someone is looking for your Mai. He even says please, and being the kind person that I am I decided to go back and help."
He glared at Gene. Expect this from Gene. He's the only one who can joke around even if his head is on the chopping board. "And what may I asked made you think that I own Mai?"
"I wonder..." Gene said with a playful smile on his lips. "Ah! Maybe because of your hand locked in hers."
Naru froze and let Mai's hand go quickly. "Believing that this was only a dream, I acted in advance to what I really intended to do. She's the one who reached out to me, not the other way around."
"Defensive." Gene laughed. "What do you intend to do then?" Oh boy! He's not going to let the opportunity to taunt his brother slide that easily. "Do you intend to run to her and hug her? Or kiss her perhaps?"
Noll give Gene a pointed glare. "That's you, not me."
'He admits it' Gene thought. 'So Noll already realized his feelings for Mai huh? Interesting' "But you did thought of that anyway. What else could it be? Order her to make tea?"
Naru is already close at daggers drawn. He felt a slight urge to murder his brother just to silence his mouth. "Stop your jabber Gene. You didn't bring me here to listen to your useless teasing. Just tell me what you have to say."
"Ara~I've been find out."
"Why didn't you contact me using a mirror instead?" Noll asked.
"Yeah? Say's someone who's so busy to even glance at a mirror. Besides, with so much spiritual energy I'm using right now, I won't be able to contact you using a mirror."
"Tell me what you know Gene."
"Patience is a virtue Noll."
"Too bad, I don't have that kind of virtue."
Gene sighed. "Noll, no matter how much effort you put in, you should also at least have some time to take a breath." Gene jump off his feet. "If you continue to push yourself on the edge, you might put everyone at risk."
"I'm trying hard." He said.
"You're still scared, dear brother. You're scared that something might happen to Mai and it will be too late for you to save her. I'll give you a little assurance, Noll, as long as I am here and that other ghost. No harm will come to Mai. The culprit is keeping her and for some unknown reason, he couldn't get near her."
"Couldn't get near her?" He asked, confused.
"That's right. Seems that something is protecting her, I don't know what it is but it's keeping her safe."
"For how long can you be with her Gene?" Naru's feeling a little envious of his brother. He should be the one protecting Mai, not Gene.
"I have enough time for you to search for her without pushing yourself on the limit."
Naru sighed and glance at Mai then back at Gene. "Anything else?"
"As I was previously saying, Mai is an astral projector. Most of the time her spirit wanders here, and whenever she's nowhere in here, her spirit certainly stays at the now which is the present. She roams around without any specific place to go. Her spirit jumps from places to places and these only happen whenever she sleeps." Gene explained.
"Is she alright?"
"Certainly, her abductor couldn't touch her. It puzzles me yes, though I admit that somehow it was a good thing. No one can touch her while she's astral projecting. My job is to protect her in the astral plane but it's difficult, sometimes I lose her."
"Then the thing that's protects her is also keeping you from getting close to her?"
"Yes, listen carefully Noll. You knew that when astral projecting, the spirits leaves the body yes?"
Naru responded with a nod.
"Mai spiritual strength is higher than a normal psychic that can do the act of astral projecting. This strong spiritual strength is enough for her spirit to materialize in the real world."
"You mean to say, Mai could show herself but in ghostly form?"
Naru never thought that Mai's ability would elevate to that extent. The first time he saw it was in the Miyama case. She managed to teleport her key to Hara-san without even knowing. And now materializing?
"You want me to find her in the waking world." Naru said.
"Yes, protecting her in the astral plane is not a problem but I'm worried whenever Mai travels in the waking world. Even though she has a strong spiritual strength-"
"There's still this chance that she might get spirited away." Noll finished Gene's words. "It wouldn't be that easy Gene. Mai here," He pointed at Mai standing confused beside him. "Told me about the real Mai's situation. Her memories were sealed. I'm sure she won't recognize me."
"I know Noll, that's why I want you to find her. Help her remember everything so she could break the seal. None of us know where exactly she is and this is the only way to find her."
Noll agreed. As for him, whatever he's doing right now takes time. Yet he thought about what Gene said. Mai has no specific place to go so where should he look?
"It's not easy yes, but we have to keep on trying." Gene said. "I promise Mai I'll protect her, it's your turn Noll. Promise me you'll find her and protect her from those people who would harm her."
Oliver looked at Gene's eyes. He saw a raw of emotion and hoped that he will promise him. Mai is Gene's friend and he have to protect what was precious to Gene, most of all what's precious to him.
"I promise you Gene. I'll find Mai even if it takes forever."
"It's a promise." Gene smiled. "We mustn't keep you here for long Noll. You should go now, they're worried to death and Lin is closed at going bald."
"What do you-" Noll didn't finish his words because suddenly the whole place begun to fade leaving it void and dark. The floor started to melt opening a large hole beneath him. He was about to run when he fell deep into nothingness.
"Do you really have to do that?" Mai asked Gene. She saw how Naru fell in that hole.
"That's the fastest way of putting his soul back." Gene said.
"I don't believe you."
He smiled at her and pats her head. "Okay, okay, partly it was for fun! Did you see his face? It was priceless!"
"Too bad we don't have a camera." Mai said grinning.
Gene laugh and wrapped his arms around Mai's shoulder. "Come on thou, we have work to do."
"Why didn't you tell him about 'that someone'?" Mai asked in plain curiosity.
"No need, he will find out eventually though." He answered, smiling.
Then Gene looked up the dead sky. 'I have no intention to go back but when I saw the desperate look on his face I couldn't just sit back and watch.'
Gene glanced at Mai. 'Don't worry Mai, he will be there for you and you will be there for him in return.'
"Gene?" He heard Mai.
"What are you thinking?"
"Nothing important." He said "I was just thinking how Noll would react if he finds out about that someone."
"Aaaah.." She said nodding. "He wouldn't be surprised."
Unknown to the two of them, a black void is beginning to form inside that small world. A black void is threatening to ruin everything, even a life.