Chapter 2: Writing on the Wall
Just as Makoto’s eyes locked on the figure, she realized exactly how dark it was. Completely forgetting the dark silhouette, Makoto threw her arms out in front of her. Bruises, all up her arms, began to glow a deep red. Why she had to go out to the cemetery at night, she couldn’t remember.
She hastily drew her sleeves down to her wrists, hoping she had no injuries on her face that would be impossible to hide. Next time she was going full-on burglar and wearing a ski mask.
“Who’s there?” She cried, making her voice tremble weakly in an effort to be able to catch him off-guard.
Instead of answering, the man threw something down into the pit. It wrapped like a rope around her arms and chest, tightening instantly. A second later, her feet left the ground as she was hoisted out of the grave.
Deciding not to struggle, Makoto saved her energy in order to defend herself once she was lifted. The rope burned painfully into her arms, causing more of her skin to glow. She hoped it wouldn’t tear her sleeves, so she could still hide the unusual color. The good news was that zombies probably didn’t rescue their victims with a rope before killing them.
Fake-zombies might, though.
She was released enough to pull herself up over the edge, and then hands grabbed her arms and eased her to her feet. Terrified of the man catching her by surprise, Makoto promptly punched him in the face. Nobody ever accused her of being welcoming.
“Shoot!” A voice whispered, reeling back in pain.
Makoto gaped at her rescuer. “Kido?” Instead of immediately apologizing for caving in his face, she drew back again just in case.
He dropped his hand from his face and glowered at her. “Go home, Hime.”
“No—why are you even here? I’m busy. And thank you for pulling me out, but really I could have managed it on my own if it meant you wouldn’t be here to act like you own this entire cemetery—I don’t care how rich you are; you don’t own this cemetery.” Makoto threw off his rope and stalked away.
He ignored her babbling assault and dropped his end of the rope.
“I can’t even work on my own case without having to rescue you. You’re struggling, Akari. It’s not worth being a woman doing a man’s work. And you ended up in a grave. A fitting place for your efforts, don’t you think? Just back off before you get in too deep.” He spat venomously.
Makoto whipped around, mouth hanging open in outrage. “You think you’re so clever, don’t you? I’ve heard those words before, Kido. They’re not new and shocking. So get out of my way and solve your own stupid case. And I’ll have you know that I don’t appreciate either of those attempts at humor and I think you’re just as capable of accidentally stepping on a land mine as I am, so thank you and goodnight.”
But when Tadashi began to fire back a retort, she didn’t hear it. Dizziness spun in her mind, and then she was falling. Really? After the running and falling that happened ten minutes ago, now I pass out? She smacked once more against her mother’s headstone, snapping it to the side.
Stunned, Makoto lay there, unable to get up. She felt like a bird that just ran into a window and then had to sit where it had landed for a while to figure out what exactly just happened.
She and Tadashi both went quiet as they heard deep, stone rumbling. The ground vibrated beneath her, but all Makoto could think about was the fact that she’d collapsed. Would she never be graceful?
“Makoto.” Tadashi started.
“Zip it.” She grumbled.
He decided to forget vocal communication and instead jumped into the grave that he’d just pulled her out of.
It shocked her out of her dazed state and she eased upright, peering over the edge. What was he doing? It wasn’t like she could pull him up as he had done for her—she wasn’t nearly strong enough.
And even if she were, she wasn’t sure that she wanted to. She even entertained filling the hole back in with him inside.
He was a jerk, after all.
No, that’s not Christian. She chided herself slowly, shaking her head to rid herself of the thoughts that threatened her morality.
But then, as she watched, he took two steps forward and disappeared. Makoto gaped. Had he just found what she was looking for? That wasn’t fair—she was the one who swan dived into a dirt hole and then split her skull open on the secret lever.
There was no way she was letting him go down there without her. She had no idea what case he had that coincided with hers, but it had better not tamper with her findings. Makoto stood, fastening the rope to a different tombstone; a stable one—she checked—that wouldn’t give way under her weight.
It might under Tadashi’s—she’d just have to make sure she went up first. Not Christian. She reminded herself.
Makoto clambered down the rope, finding a stone doorway in one of the walls of the empty grave.
Hold on, empty grave?
That was her mother’s plot.
Where was her mother?
As she was standing there, pondering the strange disappearance of her mother’s urn, a prick stabbed her shoulder and she jumped. There was no point in looking to see if she was bleeding—it wouldn’t show without glowing anyway. She’d probably been bit by a spider. Please don’t be a black widow...
Makoto found Tadashi just inside, hiding behind a wall. He was used to melting into the shadows. He crouched far enough around the corner that no one on the other side would see him, but not so far that he could do a little investigating to make sure the coast was clear.
Nevertheless, she felt the need to express herself. Makoto punched him in the shoulder, causing him to silently draw a knife that he held to her throat. “Hit me again,” He breathed loudly. “And I’ll kill you.”
“You don’t have the guts.” Makoto hissed.
“You won’t have any guts when I’m done with you.” Tadashi whispered forcefully.
“What is your problem?” Makoto demanded.
“Shh.” Tadashi responded.
“Don’t—” A hand over her mouth cut her off and she scowled as Tadashi’s face hovered just above hers. Who did he think he was? Did he think that just because he saved her from the dark or whatever that he was automatically in charge of the situation?
“Shut up.” He hissed.
That’s when she heard it. Voices. The reason Tadashi was trying to make her swallow her own tongue. Okay, fine, maybe his behavior was somewhat excused. Not at all entirely, but somewhat. She smacked his hand away, silently promising to keep her trap shut.
Makoto didn’t like feeling like she had something to prove to him.
But she did.
And she was bound and determined to prove it.
Tadashi turned to her with a deadly glare. “Go back up.”
Right. Nice try, Baka. She shook her head. “Absolutely not.”
He gave her a look. “You’re scared.”
There was a difference between being scared and going through green tea withdrawals. Makoto refused to look at her shaking hands. “Fear only controls me if I let it.” She was definitely scared.
He regarded her for a second with an expression that almost looked respectful before he seemed to remember that he hated her for some reason. Tadashi rolled his eyes. “Then shut up and follow me.”
For some reason, Makoto did follow him.
She followed him down a dark, dank, winding tunnel. She followed him down four sets of stairs. Each step made the voices louder.
He snuck through the cavern like a cat, silent and nimble. At last he stopped when the tunnel began to grow brighter. Makoto could see that they were in a cave-like room, lit only by a large fire.
She couldn’t see the center of the room very well, as she and Tadashi were behind a set of boxes. But she could see the source of the voices: encircling the fire was a ring of people, dressed in dark clothes and chanting in a foreign language.
Did we just walk in a cult or a prayer meeting? Makoto thought to herself. This is some serious Nancy Drew. Her eyes strayed to the walls—they were covered in various markings.
She had no idea what any of it meant, and it was kind of creeping her out, but her case led her there so she couldn’t dismiss it. Pulling out her phone, Makoto made quick work of photographing everything in sight.
She was snapping a picture of the boxes when she accidentally hit the volume button. A loud, echoing click sounded as the picture took.
All the chanting stopped.
All eyes turned to Makoto and Tadashi.
A single voice spoke. “Kill them.”
Makoto suddenly realized that while being put in the spotlight in any situation was uncomfortable, it was infinitely more stressful to be put in the spotlight by a bunch of would-be assassins.
About that time, Tadashi decided it was time to tuck-tail, and he snatched up her hand, jerking her back down the wretchedly dark tunnel, not caring at all that he had more than likely dislocated her shoulder.
Shouting voices filled the cavernous space behind them, but Tadashi only pulled her faster. She tripped over her feet going up the stairs, and hit her head on the rock wall of the narrow passageway. He still didn’t slow down, seeming to know exactly when to lift his knees or duck.
They screeched to a stop when they got to the grave, and Tadashi promptly pushed her up the wall without use of the rope. Again without rope, he vaulted eight feet up, kicked the tombstone upright, and lay panting as both doors grated shut.
Makoto crawled to her hands and knees, lungs aching and mind racing. There was dirt down her shirt, in her hair, and she thought she felt some in her mouth. She chose to avoid asking where all that strength came from on account of the fact that they were both running on adrenaline.
Instead, she stood. “They’ve probably got multiple entrances.” She wanted to go back and investigate, but there was no way she was walking back in there with fifteen people in there waiting to kill her.
Ignoring her, Tadashi got to his feet and began to walk away.
“Wait, that’s it?” Makoto called after him, waving away the projection of a ghost. She instantly regretted raising her voice, glancing back at the gravestone and wondering if they’d be poking through the earth.
Tadashi half-turned back to her. “Find your own way home. I’ve done enough for you tonight.”
Makoto stared at his retreating figure, unbelieving that he could just flit in and out of her life like he both belonged there and didn’t care about her simultaneously.
Whatever. It didn’t matter. She didn’t actually care about what he contributed to her life. She had enough problems without him. Some of them were his fault, too, so that was another reason to ignore him.
Makoto zipped her jacket up to her chin and pulled her hood over her face before starting her hike home. She pulled her phone from her pocket, dialing Chester’s number.
“Did you find anything?” He asked, without wasting time on a greeting. “You realize it’s one-thirty, right?”
“Uh...” Makoto checked her watch. It was indeed one-thirty. Oops. “Yeah. Hey, listen, did you send Tadashi after me?”
There was a pause. Weird background noise reached her ears that she didn’t know how to identify.
Makoto bit her lip. “Did you send anyone after me?”
“No, Mako, you told me not to.” Chester broke off with a grunt, followed by multiple strange, stressed exclamations.
“Chess...what are you doing?” Makoto demanded, pausing at a street to let cars cross.
“I, uh...” He broke off again, and Makoto heard a horrible squawk. “I’m kinda busy. My friend’s goose got loose and we’re trying to catch it. I’ll have to call you back.”
And then, just before the call ended, Makoto heard something that sounded suspiciously like gunfire.
She stared at her phone, utterly lost. “Okay...”
Makoto put the device away and continued on her way. People were beyond weird. She had no idea how to deal with people. She connected better with the ‘ghosts’ than she did most of the people in her life.
For the next week, Makoto struggled to pick her case up where she had left it. But when she went back to the cave, opening the entrance and following the tunnels, the cavernous space was completely empty. No boxes, nothing on the walls, no people, no signs of life.
She wanted to blame Tadashi for his disruption and interference, but she knew that without him, she’d still be there in the bottom of the grave.
She’d spent a few days going over the picture she had taken, studying them until she had them imprinted behind her eyelids.
“It’s cold.” Makoto said into her phone one day, staring at a picture. “My trail is cold and I don’t know where to go next.”
“Have you gotten anything from the pictures?” Chester wondered from the other end.
“No, it’s just a cave. I don’t even have faces—they’re all wearing masks.” Makoto muttered, leaning back against her bedroom wall in frustration.
“I’m sorry, Makoto, I wasn’t there. I don’t know what to tell you.” Chester responded resentfully.
“Well, you should have been. Where are you, anyway? Why are you always gone?” She mumbled glumly.
He stuttered in protest. “Excuse me, I have a life, you know, unlike some people.”
Makoto rolled her eyes. “I have a life, Chess. Mine’s just smaller than yours.”
“Some cases you just can’t crack, Mako. Maybe this is the writing on the wall—you just gotta hand it to the next student.”
“Writing on the wall.” Makoto repeated blankly.
“Yeah, you know—”
“No. Shut up.” She whispered, flicking through her pictures until she found the one she was looking for.
It was the clearest shot of some distinguishing marks on the wall of the cave. They were so dark and blotchy that she had thought they were burn marks, but in the light of certain off-handed remarks, she was no longer very sure.
Suddenly, she heard a distant scream from Chester’s end. “Oh. Gotta go.” He muttered.
Was he dying or killing someone?
Makoto dropped her phone onto her lap. “Stupid video games.” She mused to herself, studying each picture in a new light.
At last, after nearly an hour, she made out a whole sentence—or what she hoped was a whole sentence. Piecing together a few photographs, she deciphered the words: “Last voyage lost—red cliffs remember the fallen—blue meadows hide the found.”
Makoto dropped her notebook, where she’d copied the passage. “Well, that’s rubbish. What does that mean?” She reached for her phone again, but stopped herself.
Chester wouldn’t want to talk if he was so enthralled in his video games. She crawled across her floor and dragged her laptop out from under her bed, quickly typing in the strange, riddle-like verse.
“Makoto!” The angry voice of her brother hollered through the house.
Makoto hastily scrolled through the list of results. Nothing. Nothing at all. Red cliffs in Arizona and Mexico. Blue wildflowers in Texas and Virginia and half a dozen other states. Old shipwrecks found on the coast of Spain.
Nothing connecting anything together.
“Makoto!” Sakuza appeared in her doorway, holding a large cardboard box.
She squelched her rising anger towards her brother and looked up, shutting her laptop. “Yes?”
He scowled at her. “This box was in my room.”
He was so observant. She shrugged. “Yeah. It’s your old paintball guns.”
“It doesn’t go in my room.” Sakuza snapped.
She felt like getting up and hitting him over the head with the box. Instead, she picked up the pictures of the cave off the floor. “Yes it does—they belong to you.”
“No, they had a place elsewhere.” Sakuza said sharply.
“You mean on Dad’s desk in the library? That’s not where they go.” Makoto responded, facing him challengingly.
“I had them where I wanted them.” He uttered, like it was a warning.
“Where you wanted them was someone else’s workspace. Put them in your own area.” Makoto said carefully, but remaining firm on her position.
“Don’t touch my stuff and don’t for one second think you have the right to tell me what to do.” Sakuza spat, hurling the box at her.
Makoto caught it with a breathless grunt, the corners digging into her stomach. She stabbed her fingernails into the cardboard, glaring heatedly as Sakuza left. Honestly, it was getting old. He was so pathetic—it was like he was trying to be some cheesy maniac in a movie whose only job in life was to be hateful.
“I don’t understand why I have to do it.” The young man said darkly.
“Yes you do. I picked you because you were smart, not because I like having you around.” The older man teased.
“No, you picked me because of my brother.” Tadashi shot back, not even cracking a smile. He was beyond unamused.
Akari Hiroshida looked up at the twenty-three-year-old boy who had been training under him for the past four years. “What do you want to know, Tadashi?”
Tadashi knelt next to Hiroshida, joining him in cleaning the blades. “She’s your daughter, Hiroshida. How can you treat her like she’s inferior? How can you make it come from me, too?”
Hiroshida didn’t look at the man. “You know why.”
“You sent me to Anderson’s to keep an eye on her. No, to protect her. And you make me treat her like dirt. You know what happened?” Tadashi demanded, suddenly realizing that he probably shouldn’t be holding a sword in that moment.
Hiroshida’s eyes snapped up, searching Tadashi’s expression for any news of harm coming to his daughter. “What? What happened?”
Tadashi scowled. “All of this mistreatment has caused her to separate herself from others in order to be able to prove her worth. I found her in Rockwell Cemetery. I had to pull her out of a grave.”
Hiroshida stood sharply, towering nearly half a foot over the young man. “Why was she there? Was she hurt?”
Tadashi shook his head. “A case. It was another case. And no. She’s not hurt. Not that I could tell. She looked fine.”
Hiroshida turned away. “This is why, Tadashi. The point is to make her feel inferior. The point is to keep her out of trouble.”
“The point is to emotionally cripple her to the point where she doesn’t even want to leave the house anymore.” Tadashi corrected.
“Yes!” Hiroshida snapped, enraged. “If that’s what it takes. She’s just like her mother. This is the same way—” He broke off, rubbing his hands over his face.
“There’s another way to deal with this that doesn’t involve crushing her.” Tadashi interjected slowly.
“No.” Hiroshida shook his head.
“Tell her the truth. Train her. Teach her to handle herself rather than lose herself.”
“No. No, Tadashi. It’s far, far too dangerous.” Hiroshida picked up the pair of swords and left the room.
Makoto groaned, stretching her arms over her head. Sharp, stabbing pain shot through her head.
“Makoto, wake up.”
She flinched. She had been on the floor. She’d fallen asleep on the floor during her research. But, wait, wherever she was seemed to be a lot more comfortable than the floor.
Her eyes shot open, leading her to ignore the screaming pain it caused in order to realize that she was on her bed.
Savannah Anderson was leaning over her, her hand on the young woman’s shoulder.
Makoto jerked backwards, deeper into her pillows. “What? How did I get here?”
Savannah blinked. “I assume you went to bed last night. Theoretically, that would be why I found you in bed asleep.”
Makoto relaxed a little bit. She must have put herself in bed. She just didn’t remember. That was possible, right? “Ah. Yeah. You should be a detective or something.”
Savannah dismissed the idea with a wave of her hand. “Haven’t got the time. I’m the president of a Christian School of Deduction, you know.”
Makoto blinked slowly. “Which leads me to my next questions—why are you in my house?”
Savannah straightened slowly. “I can’t believe you’re a detective. Are you alright? Your memory’s...okay?”
Makoto blinked again. Had the woman lost her marbles?
“Chester Strapps called me last night. Said you were hoping I could swing by and pick you up this morning. Because your car needs an oil change?” Savannah looked suddenly like she suspected a form of foul play.
Foul play indeed. Makoto was absolutely certain she’d never asked Chess to call Savannah.
Because her car didn’t need an oil change. And if it did, she could do it herself. In fact, she had done it herself. Two weeks ago.
“Thank you, but—” Makoto broke off, seeing her notebook lying innocently on her desk. It wouldn’t hurt to talk to her for a bit about the case. “...But I need a few minutes to get ready.”
Savannah shrugged. “No problem. I need to make a phone call. One of my exchange students broke her collarbone this morning and I need to call her parents. Thank goodness I speak Chinese.”
Quirking an eyebrow at the interesting task, Makoto gathered her clothes and left the room.
The moment she passed the doorway, she froze mid-step. Swirling in the air in front of her was the same red misty thing. But instead of a small orb, it was much bigger. At least the size of her doorway.
Makoto stared at it. She pinched herself. No, it was definitely there. But what was it?
She reached out a hand to touch it, but was startled by Savannah’s loud coughing.
Makoto jerked her hand back, spinning around to see if Savannah had witnessed the strange mist.
She hadn’t—she was still on the phone.
Relieved, Makoto turned back to the red mist.
Only it wasn’t there.
Her doorway was free and clear of any strange, glowing disturbances.
More than a little freaked out, Makoto stepped into the bathroom and shut off the light.
Staring at herself in the mirror, she watched as various portions of her body began to glow a vivid red.
She inspected her now-visible wounds carefully. She detected muscle inflammation, vein breakage where she was bruised, and slight tearing of the skin.
No fractures that time, at least.
Having the freakish ability to hide the fact that she was injured was useful, despite the weirdness. It allowed her to escape the questions she’d face had every injury shown up regularly.
She’d managed to keep it a secret for all of her twenty years, too afraid of what people might say if they knew she was one of the Powered People.
Makoto turned the light back on and proceeded to get dressed.
“So I’m assuming you didn’t actually want me to pick you up?” Savannah guessed correctly once they were in the car.
Makoto tapped her bottom lip thoughtfully and shook her head. “No. No, I don’t know what Chester’s playing at. I never asked him anything about this.”
Savannah shrugged. “Oh well. I hope you don’t mind.”
Makoto shook her head, pulling out her notebook. “Not at all. I was actually hoping you might provide some information for me. You know, as long as you don’t like to drive in silence. Or if you’re not allowed to help students with cases...” At the weird look she was receiving, Makoto shut up, opened the pages to the riddle and read it aloud.
Savannah’s eyebrows rose slowly. “The riddle must be related to the case, which means it pertains to the local legend. It’s local, Makoto. This one little town holds all the answers. I don’t know the riddle, but you might try narrowing your search pattern down to just Coral Cove Oregon.”
“I feel like we would know it, then.” Makoto murmured. “Coral Cove isn’t actually that big.”
Savannah shrugged. “The riddle is likely decades old. You never know if what it refers to is even still there.”
Makoto desperately hoped that time had not destroyed key pieces of her latest puzzle.