Living and the dead

Chapter 29

Rain makes one senses dull. It also makes you a tad emotional. It was a cold grey afternoon with a dull sky and pouring rain. At a rainy roads with poor visibility, Mai watches as the drops of water slide down the car's window.

She sighed inwardly unaware of the pair of eyes that was observing her from the rearview mirror. Her mind still wanders to Naru who remains silent in the passenger's seat. Although not ignoring her completely, his mood hasn't gotten any better since their conversation in the office, and she's clueless as to what made him lose his good mood.

Seriously, she must have done or said something wrong. But how will she apologize if she doesn't even know what it was? Ah! Mai is slowly getting frustrated. He told her not to hold back yet saying something while giving off that I-don't-want-to-talk-for-a-while aura is something unlikely. She doubts she can get some answers from him. He might eat her alive! He is after all a narcissistic demon vampire.

Okay, thoughts are all messed up! She's supposed to be emotional in this rainy day!

She's allowed to get frustrated right? Right now torturing him is something she wanted to do to ease her frustration a little. She would like to see him dress in pink and dancing to the beat of Back-on or one ok rock. Or maybe sing some songs from les miserables and sounds of music. He will be a sight to see!

An annoyed voice cut her wonderful thoughts. "Mai, if you're thinking rude thoughts I'll throw you out of the van."

Mai's face blush bright red. How the heck did he know?! Can he read minds now? Catching her on the spot even though he's sitting far from her, maybe Naru can read and hear minds.

Her lips quiver a little. Given that Naru talked to her, this might be her chance to inquire.

'Ne, Naru can I torture you?' "Ne, Naru..." She called as she fiddled with her own fingers to reduce her nervousness. However, it's not effective in her fast beating heart.

"Hn?"

"Are ... Are you mad?" She finally asked. "Are you mad at me?"

Silence...

No response...

The Chinese man behind the steering wheel glances at his charge. It's Noll's chance to explain yet he won't say anything. How much longer does he plan to continue that stubborn act? How long will he get mad at himself?

Getting no response from Naru made Mai down. His silence just confirmed her suspicion. Instead of asking 'why' she chose to busy herself by looking at the window, hoping it would kill the heartsick feeling that slowly budding in her chest.

The road started to get foggy because of the heavy rain. Good thing there's no heavy traffic that would keep them on the road for long. Staying inside this van overwhelms by an awkward silence is something she didn't want to prolong. It's making her mind rather hazy.

A sudden blur in her vision made her blink so many times. It didn't end there. The scenery begin to change, as if she had been pushed off a building. First she heard a creaking sound, a pierce creaking sound of the scenery being ripped away. Forcefully, violently, one image after another is thrust into her mind. Over and over, similar piece of scenery appear. She felt as if her consciousness is about to be blown away.

Someone got killed...

Someone died...

Someone left them...

Someone is out for revenge...

Someone is ... ... seeking for help...

Then her thoughts pulled back in a snap. Just as her vision started to get clearer, she was startled by the dark entity sitting beside her. The sight of it sent shudders down her spine while her face turned pale and her skin cold and clammy.

It has black skin that was gradually peeling of especially on its face. Its nose was similar to a skull whereas its teeth are sharp like that of a shark. A black liquid is slowly streaming from its hollow eyes and rolling down to its abnormally thin neck. It opened its mouth, revealing a snake like tongue.

This creature is disgusting and frightening at the same time!

'I have never seen anything like this before! This is not even a ghost!'

Silence abruptly covered her ears and the only thing she could hear was the sound of her own pulse rushing through her ears. Each rhythmic of blood seemed louder than the last.

Meanwhile, Naru's phone vibrated inside his pocket. He took it out and was about to answer Hirota's call when it suddenly ended. He frowned. What is that prosecutor up to?

Mai tried to swallow the lump in her throat so she could scream but all her efforts were to no avail. Fighting back her tears of fear, Mai stared motionless at the approaching danger. She shifted her eyes and saw Naru.

Seem like the two of them can't see the creature. Out of her peripheral vision the monster moved and she immediately inch to the door.

Damn!

"Do-Don't c-come...come near me!" Naru heard Mai's quivering voice. He swiftly turnabout and found her leaning on the door, pale as a corpse and sinking with terror. "Go away!" She cried with a shrill voice. "Don't c-come near me!"

Covering herself using her hand, Mai continued to scream as if frightened at something. Yet, Naru can't see anything at the back seat. A force yanked her feet, moments more a trace that looks like a hand formed in her legs.

"Mai!" A strong force pushed Naru as he tried to go toward the back-seat. Clutching the upholstered seat really hard, he forced himself to get through once again.

"Damn it!" Lin exclaimed. Turning his head at the back, he saw a dark shadow hovering over Taniyama and pulling her leg. When he turned in front they almost collided in another car. He hastily swerved the van to avoid the collision. However, in doing so it took a drastic turn and the van made a three-hundred-and-eighty-degree spin!

Mai's head hit the window hard causing her to abruptly lost consciousness. Whereas Naru tries his best so he wouldn't be thrown at the front.

Lin has to give all he's got to make it stop from moving toward the wrong direction! He applied his foot brake and pulled the hand brake causing the wheel to screech loudly. They almost got thrown out when the van came skidded into a halt almost crashing on a wall of a nearby tunnel.

"Noll!" Lin called in panic. "Are you hurt in any way?"

"No! But do something about that creature! It's still there!" The unknown being was slowly gaining shape until it became visible as day revealing how unsightly and frightening it was. Naru stared at it with pure shock. "A ghoul?"

With a quick move, Lin put two fingers in his mouth, whistling loudly to call his shiki. Immediately, four white lights started attacking the ghoul, a sharp shrilling cry escape its mouth every time a Shiki hits its body.

He noticed a barrier surrounding the ghoul, probably the reason why it managed to hide its presence from him.

'Blast it! What the hell is happening here?' Lin shouted inside his head out of confusion.

Lin positioned himself and started chanting. "Ban! Un! Taraku! Kiriku! Aku! Akuryou taisan!" Every time he chanted one of those names, he draws a line. And in a matter of seconds, the ghoul vanished in the air, leaving a ghastly wail echoing inside the car.

"How's Taniyama?" The Chinese man asked after.

"She's not fine. She's unconscious." He responded. "How about you?"

He sat behind the steering wheel. "Not hurt." He said as he started the engine. "Let's hurry home. I have a feeling there's more of them."


What was it?

Do you ever have times when something bothers you, even though you can't exactly remember what? She has forgotten something but she can't remember what.

'That sort of thing.'

Most of the time it's nothing special. Even if she remember what it is, it's usually something unremarkable. But if she have actually forgotten something really important, and didn't even realize it ...

Why is she looking for something when she can't even remember what it was?

'It's because it is something important.'

A scene played before her eyes. It was her and Naru. The latter was reaching out to her with a worried expression. She's struggling to climb up at the rustic ladder.

Then the scene shifted. She was with Naru again ... this time they were in a place full of trees. It looks like a back of a school? Just like the usual, he's wearing black clothes, while she's wearing an orange sweater and light blue skirt. The atmosphere is rather awkward.

"I'm sorry." Naru said in a calm voice. "I said some things in a harsh way. Mai, you always get so personally involved with others. It must have been tough. I'm sorry." He then walked pass her.

Her bangs slid down, covering her eyes. Naru's apology sounded so sincere but it felt like...

"Unfair!" She exclaimed. Naru stopped in his tracks and spun around. "I-I was going to apologize, but then you go ahead and do it by yourself. That's not fair! You always end up taking the good moments!"

He remained silent for a while and then, to her astonishment, he showed her a gentle smile. That was the first time she saw him smile like that.

'When on earth did I first fall in love with him?' Mai asked herself.

She couldn't remember...

She couldn't remember...

She couldn't remember...

She couldn't remember when she fell in love with him! Why did she fall in love? Is that scene the trigger? Or was she simply attracted to him right before that scene, even without any special event.

'I should know this; how could I possibly forget?' She loved Naru but since when? ... She love Naru and it doesn't matter when.

A black cloud loom around her and her visions turns completely black. A blow to her cheek temporarily restores her sight. The scenery has changed. Everything starts to get painted in white the light makes her lose sight temporarily. Then each time she blinks things like trees, cemented road, and houses appear, finally revealing another place.

She's now standing in the middle of a road. 'Again?' She dreamt of this scene a long time ago.

The girl with brown locks and brown eyes observed the scenery she was in. She was standing in the middle of the road and watching a woman carrying bags of foods.

"Where's your husband?" A middle-aged woman asked another young woman, confused. "You're always walking with your husband, are you not?" The young woman shook her head. "I don't know." She responded, looking away.

The woman tilted her head and the young woman hurriedly walked away, eager to get home as soon as possible. It would be night soon and she had to get home or else...

Reaching the key inside her pocket, the woman stood anxiously in front of their house's door. With a shaky hand, she inserted the key into the keyhole and opened the door. The tapping of her feet echoed in the narrow hall as she walked inside. She sighed upon reaching the kitchen.

He wasn't there.

A loud shattering sound came from the outside caught her attention. She hurriedly ran towards the door and found her husband staring blankly at an unconscious man lying on the cemented floor. Blood continuously dripping from his head, his face was getting paler, bluish.

She noticed two boys standing in front of the gate. They stood there, motionless with horror and couldn't believe the scene lay in front of them.

The scene got blown away and was replaced by another new place. This time she was standing in front of a temple. There's a torii gate, a large three with shimenawa rope tied around it on her side and a pair of lion dogs in her front.

Mai frown. She saw this place from her another dream. She step forward and enter the main regalia of the temple.

Four priest were seated on the wooden floor and having a gathering. In-citation was visible in their faces for the whole world to see, yet Mai felt off.

The atrocious grin in their faces gives distinct ill aura. It's sickening and Mai couldn't help but to lift a hand to cover her mouth, her stomach churning.

She was about to go back when suddenly, shadows gather beneath her feet and coil around her legs, weakening her stance and gradually pulling her down. Mai gasped and tried to struggle. But it was too late. She already shrunk on the floor.

Another scene yet again. This time the whole place was covered in crimson light coming from the read eerily big red moon that seems to be staring down at her. It felt as if any moment now, the red moon will go down and crash her.

She started to look around. There were trees and a big metal gate. She wheeled and in doing so, she saw the most horrifying scene in her whole life.

Her friends.

Each of them was tied upside down on a wooden cross entrenched deeply on the ground. Red liquid is flowing continuously from their chest, making a pool of crimson blood beneath the cross.

Mai stood motionless, staring wide eye at their lifeless body. They can't be dead! This is just another nightmare!

"Are you sure?" A voice said, coming beside the seven wooden cross. "Or ... you're only think that this is a dream because you can't accept the reality. They are already dead Mai."

Mai clenched her fist, her teeth gritted as she recognized the voice. "Are you going to kill them?" She asked.

"Asking me a stupid question, when you already know the answer." He said. "So, what answer do you want to hear?"

"I'm the one you need! You don't have to lay a finger on them!"

"What will you do if I did?"

Mai's eyes darkened in anger, sending death glares at the man standing on the side. "I wouldn't be satisfied even if I ripped you to pieces."

"Then, you know where to find me."

...

Her body rapidly became cold and then empty. Mai opened her eyes like normal. Unable to endure the freezing cold that should have gone she embraced herself on the bed and tremble.

But she will not cry over this even if she felt the hope was already dissipated. She needs to be strong to protect them and showing tears is the last thing she ever wanted while in this situation.

She has to go no matter what. She has to go back to the mansion!

The rain lashed down on the rooftops. Sounding like a television with nothing but statics every time rain drops hits on the galvanized iron sheets. Lin's heels tapped on the floor as he made his way on the study room where Naru is.

Lin's brow moved a little in concern while looking at his charge that was seriously looking at his book. The dim light from the antique silver table lamp made Naru's expression more overcast. And surely enough, he didn't understand a thing about the book he was holding. Naru was just staring blankly at it and Lin knew exactly why.

"Are you sure it's going to be alright?" Lin asked, stopping a few steps from the table.

Naru closed his book then turned to Lin. "The situation hasn't change. Kurogane Kagiri is still going to find Mai whatever the circumstances might be." Naru tapped his index finger on the desk as he think. "You know running away is pointless, it will just tired everyone out."

"But using Taniyama as bait ..." Lin hanged his word. It was unlikely of Naru to decide like that and to say surprised is an understatement when he said he will let Mai go.

"A bait huh? It's unfortunate that you mistook my words like that." He sighed. "But no matter, I can also view it that way. I'm putting all my personal feelings aside to end this. Right now, Kurogane is expecting this. But even if he can predict his opponent moves, he can't possibly know everything."

"Same goes for you." Lin commented. "I'm asking you to be more careful in your actions, if you're planning to turn the situation to the other side."

At these words, Naru can't help but smirk. "Worrying so much for a lad like me shows how old you are. I'm sure you're going to be a good father in the future."

Lin raised a brow. Is he trying to crack a joke? He's not succeeding.

"To cool the water down, we must take it off from the fire first." Naru said. "Since we have Mai, that place us in the defensive side and you know very well how difficult it is."

"And by letting her go back to Kurogane, you're planning to be at the offensive, is that it?" Lin queried.

Naru nodded in response. "That is to say, we must do something in return. It was like chasing someone, the one who's being chased is the one who feels the gravity of apprehension the most. You will never win if you're always at the defensive, to win you must attack."

Lin bit his inside cheeks. Earlier, Oliver decided that they will let Mai go. The demon and Kurogane Kagiri wants Mai. And Naru resolved on using her as a bait to corner both of them in one place.

He knew that Noll's plan is risky and might put their lives on the rim. However, Lin agreed that this is the only choice they have at hand in their current situation. Delaying things any further will only put Taniyama's life in danger. Mainly when they have no idea what her current condition is given that the curse is not showing any signs of further harm.

And it made Naru anxious. He felt like he was dealing with the calm before the storm. Mai doesn't need to tell her anything for him to know that she's planning to take it all by herself. He can see right through her still, he's waiting for her to tell him personally.

"I will let her go." Naru said in a firm voice.

A ring made out of red paper catch Naru's attention when Lin opened his hand. "Noll, hold onto this. I figured you will not let Taniyama-san go alone. We have to be cautious in any way." Naru took and scrutinized it. "No matter what happens, do not talk or move when it's not necessary."

He then shifted his gaze at the slightly ajar door and saw half of Mai's face peering at the aperture, glint of uncertainty visible in her eyes. "Mai, why don't you come in?" He called out to her.

Mai flinched and stood frozen at the door. She was startled when Naru called her name. She didn't expect that he will see her when she only stopped to take a peek inside a room with a slightly open door. It's just curiosity, really.

She sighed, releasing the sudden tension that rise inside her body and enter the study room. She glanced at Naru and immediately, her heart begun to race, her hands cold because of anxiety. It felt like confiding to your father that you've done something wrong.

"Lin, leave us for a while." The tall Chinese man nodded and exited the room. When he's left Naru told Mai to seat on the single sofa near the study table. "Was that an escape attempt?" He asked Mai when she's already seated on the sofa.

Mai's eyes stared at Naru with glint of bewilderment. Not knowing what to say, she just gawks at him like a complete idiot who heard something shocking for the first time.

"It's not hard to tell that you're planning to leave the house." He said, crossing his legs and placing an arm on the table.

"N-No!" She said with a shaky voice. "I, I'm not planning to escape. I won't escape."

"Mai. Don't lie to me."

She shook her head rather harshly. "I am not Naru! I'm planning to leave yes, but, but I will tell you."

Naru sighed. "Do you think I will let you?" He leaned on his chair and closed his eyes. 'Do you think after all I've done I'll let you off that easily? "I'm not stupid to let you go there alone."

Mai stood up in shock after hearing what he had said. "No! I'll go there alone! No one should come with me. I am what they want and I don't want any other people to get involve!" She's probably shaking however not in anger but fear. Fear that her dream might truly happen in reality. Just by the thought of seeing their bodies hanging on the wooden cross makes her knees tremble.

She wanted to go back to the place where she called home. That place where she can see her friends happily waiting for her to come back. But how can she come back to that place when the people she wanted to be there were already gone? She won't let that happen! Even if she can't come back, even if she died, she won't let anyone get harmed by that demon because of her!

Cold as ice and piercing with anger, that's how Mai described the look Naru is giving her at the moment. It made her step back a little.

"Do you really want to carry that burden alone?" He said. "Are you that eager to give yourself to that demon just because you thought you can save everyone? Then how foolish of you for deciding like that." Even though already angry, Naru's expression remains passive. "You've already suffered enough!"

Mai's brows deepen as her annoyance started to turn into anger admixed with fear. "Is it wrong to think that way? Is it wrong to protect those I want to protect?"

Rage flared suddenly in Naru's icy eyes. "Choosing death is no different from running!"

"I have to do what I can to save them!" She cried. "This is the only way, I have no other choice!"

"Stop neglecting the choices you have! Don't be foolish and chose death!" He did his best to mask his anger but he couldn't contain it any longer. "Protecting them using your own life? Do you seriously believe that it is something they want? Do you think they will be happy to live their life when someone died for them?"

Her knuckles tightened. Naru has a point but she won't waver just because of this. "You don't know how I feel!" She said, voice shaking. "I've already become accustomed to different level of pain, of dying so many times. Compared to those who really felt it in real life, this is nothing!"

"You shouldn't have accustomed to something like that!" Naru stiffened when a sobbed escaped Mai's throat. She groans in frustration and wipe her tears using the back of her hand.

"I'm scared Naru ... "

"..." He sighed, calming himself as he stared at her crying face. He hated the sight. No. He hated all of these.

With a shaking voice and denoting sob, Mai said. "I'm not scared to die, but when the thought of the possibility of my friends dying, I can't help but to be shaken. Please ... please don't hate me for this. I don't know what to do anymore!"

Naru stood on his feet and with heavy steps, he walks toward Mai. His face was grave, abstracted, almost could have fancied sad. "One cannot gain something without sacrificing something in return, but I won't let you give your own life." He reached Mai's arm and tucked her small frame in his arms, hugging her really tight. "I won't let you."

Mai's heart came thumping in her chest. She didn't expect Naru to go so far as to hug her simply to console her. But moments later, she realized the gravity of her situation. Hot tears pour down her cheeks as she closed her eyes and let herself cry. Holding it all in while acting like it was nothing is really painful. But what's really painful is when you tried to cry but you can't. The lump in her chest gets bigger and heavier every time she fakes everything. Smiling, thinking everything is normal, living the reality as if it was a dream and you'll soon end up in a nightmare.

"You've always annoyed me. You keep on spouting selfish things." Naru whispered, his voice was now gentle, as if comforting. "You're easy to read yet hard to understand. You and him are always like that. Thinking about others before yourself... With the way you do things when you meet someone you really want to help, you won't be able to."

"E?"

"You think that if you're the only one who will get hurt you won't hurt anyone. But it's impossible not to hurt anyone. No matter what you do, there will always be that someone who will get hurt while seeing you get hurt. The only thing to do is to protect each other isn't that right? If you can't avoid hurting anyone then you must do something to lessen the pain."

"Naru…"

"But you don't have to force yourself anymore. I … you can rely on me."

Why her of all people? Why did she have to suffer like this? Why Mai? She's always trying her best for the people around her and pushing herself just to make sure they're alright.

'Why? Kurogane Kagiri ... why did you chose a girl like this as a sacrifice?' He thought. 'I don't want to lose her like I lose Gene. I won't permit that to happen.'

"Please Naru ... I know I'm not as strong like you. But for once I want to do something on my own." Mai said. "That's why I have decided to go alone."

Naru's arms tightened around her body and she felt his body tense. She can't see his face and she has no idea what kind of face he's making right now. She's curious! She wants to see it!

"Alright ..." He said after a few moments of silence. "Then if you really wanted to, I wouldn't be able to stop you." He pulled away from the hug, immediately turning his back to her and started walking to the door.

"H-Ha?" Mai was now gaping in confusion.

As he grips the doorknob, Naru appended. "But, I've decided to follow you. That's what I really want, so you wouldn't be able to stop me." He said. "It only means that it's not your fault if I die. It's my own decision and you can do nothing about it." And then he left.

If there's one word to describe Naru, Mai will pick the word stubborn. Aside from being a complete narcissist, his stubbornness issue is beyond what she could imagine. Why does he even care for her a lot? She's just nothing but a stranger in his life. But then again, what are those scenes she just dreamt about earlier? Is it simply a random dream or is it one of her memories? Ah...she doesn't know anymore.

Nevertheless, she can't hide the fact that she was indeed in love with him for a long time now. Mai closed her eyes and cupped her own face as heat flared up in her cheeks. The heat of his warm body is still fresh in her senses, making her head swirl a bit. But she knew that Naru only did that to stopped her from crying, to comfort her but her heart hoped for something more.

'Ne, Naru ... you know me right? I can feel it, because ... every time I see you in my dreams, the feeling of longing just increase to the point that it already hurts. You're there but you're so far away ... Is it really okay for me to live and call out to you in a way that I wouldn't have any regrets?'

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