Dimensions: the Quarter Piece

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Chapter 7: What You Can’t See Can Definitely Kill You

Makoto was curled up on her bed two days later, staring at a photo of Takeo when he was eight. He had always been a troublemaker—running off and coming back scratched up and bruised.

When he got older, Makoto assumed he started running off to fight the creatures that came through the weird portals.

He’d always done whatever he could to protect Makoto when he was around. He’d never let anyone hurt her.

Makoto shoved the picture back into her drawer, scrubbing at her teary eyes. She reached into her backpack and pulled out the three glowing coins.

They seemed to glow slightly brighter when they were together. She admired them quietly. They truly were magnificent. She’d never seen such deep colors.

The coins were slender and heavy, feeling good in her palm. She found herself growing more intrigued with the case the more she learned.

She reached for her notebook to further document her progress. She’d have to write a report at the conclusion of her case.

“Makoto,” Sakuza called, poking his head through the door. “Don’t you have to leave?”

She looked up, casually dropping the coins into her backpack. “Yeah. I’m just about ready.”

Sakuza frowned at the glowing coins. “What were those?” He asked as she zipped them into a pocket.

“Souvenirs from Meadows Peak. Apparently there are a lot of buried treasure legends circulating Heilner’s story.” She responded simply, sliding off her bed and into a pair of boots.

Sakuza raised an eyebrow. For a second she thought he was going to get mad and bully her about them, but then he shrugged. “I have no idea who Heilner is.”

He turned and left, no longer interested.

Makoto breathed a sigh of relief. But just as she did, she realized that her vision had gone blurry again and her head was aching. Would it kill her body to function properly for just one day?

She groaned, swaying dizzily and staggered out to her car. Even walking was nauseating. She definitely should not be driving, but she really didn’t care. She had to get to school. Nobody ever accused her of being a good decision-maker.

Makoto somehow made it to the parking lot, but her knees buckled as soon as she got out of the car and she collapsed to the pavement.


She woke up in the medical building, the clock on the wall indicating that she’d been out for two hours. She sat up slowly, looking around her curiously.

A young woman—a student, from the looks of it—came in and crossed her arms. She gave Makoto a stern look. “So,” She started, accusation in her tone. Were medical professionals – or aspiring professionals – supposed to accuse their patients of being sick? Weren’t they supposed to be delicate and sensitive?

“What?” Makoto demanded defensively. “I passed out in the parking lot. Is that a crime?” She reached for her jacket and tugged it around her shoulders. “What was wrong with me, anyway?” She asked.

She needn’t have bothered. There was no way they’d be able to tell her.

She stood up, pulling her hair back.

“I gave you insulin.” The student responded pointedly.

Makoto turned and stared at her. “What?” Insulin? Did she say insulin? No, but she’d had to have found something to be able to administer insulin, right? “What did you say?”

“I have a good eye for catching things that most people miss.” The student responded with a wink. “I gave you insulin because I’m pretty sure you have type 1 diabetes.”

Makoto wavered hesitantly. “Well, don’t sugar coat it.” She mumbled. So she had the ability to make her physical ailments invisible and this student had the ability to see invisible physical ailments?

This lady needed to be her emergency contact.

“Do you get dizzy very often?” The woman asked.

“Yeah. Usually leads to vomiting in gym class or passing out in the parking lot.” Makoto muttered.

“Blurry vision?”

“Frequently.” Makoto accepted the woman’s invitation to sit down.

“You’re going to feel tired and weak.” Alexia, the student, started carefully. “Because your cells don’t have enough glucose. Your body has started to break down stored fat, and it’s causing you to lose weight.”

Makoto raised an eyebrow sarcastically. “What, you mean 97 pounds isn’t healthy?”

Alexia gave her a slow look. “Not for a woman of your height and body type.”

Diabetes.

I have diabetes? Just like that? How could that even be possible?

“I feel inclined to warn you that the breakdown will encourage the production of ketones—acids and other chemicals within your body that can put you in a coma and possibly kill you.”

Makoto’s shoulders sagged. “Oh, that’s considerate of you, thank you.” She watched Alexia struggle to handle her difficult patient with sensitivity.

A little bit of Makoto’s medical terminology course from the year before came to mind. “Doesn’t it take overnight testing to positively determine a case of diabetes?”

Alexia seemed to relax. “Usually, yes. But as I said, I have an eye for things that most people can’t see.”

Makoto stopped her once more before she could finish her spiel. “So you’re not absolutely certain?” There was hope in her voice that gave Alexia pause.

After a slight hesitation, the nursing student met Makoto’s eyes. “If it makes you feel better, yes. I’m not one hundred percent sure. But realistically speaking, I know what I’m doing. Your test results are more than likely to come back positive. May I continue?”

Makoto shrank back into her chair, disheartened.

Alexia went on, her tone softening. “Diabetes means that your pancreas is not producing nearly enough insulin, if any at all. Do you know what insulin is?”

Insulin—a hormone that absorbs glucose into liver and fat cells for storage, and other cells for energy.

Makoto nodded glumly. “Yes.”

“Good. This means your blood sugar is extremely high, which will cause excessive thirst and hunger. You’ll need to have sugar with you at all times to regulate your glucose levels. We’ll give you a kit so you can test it, and you’ll receive an insulin pen as well.” Alexia gave Makoto an apologetic look. “You have to take care of yourself.”

Take care of herself?

She could forget to administer insulin for a time and end up dead.

And the nursing student tells her to take care of herself?

An hour later, the student had Makoto thoroughly convinced that she did indeed have diabetes. With her blood sugar levels, she would have to administer insulin multiple times a day.

Nausea and vomiting after physical exertion was normal with diabetes, but was by no means an indication to stop exercising.

Makoto left the office with the supplies that the student gave her. She didn’t even know that Anderson’s had a medical specialty.

More interesting than that was the fact that she ended up in the medical office in the first place. When she asked how she got there, the student merely said, “Some guy.”

It wasn’t very informative, but she didn’t push it.

Makoto stopped at a bench on her way between buildings, feeling far too overwhelmed to jump back into her regular school routine.

She’d already missed three classes, anyway.

Tadashi

“In the parking lot?” Hiroshida’s confused voice repeated quietly.

“Yeah. She was lying beside her car. I took her to the medical building, but I left before she woke up. That was at least three hours ago now.” Tadashi responded, glancing out the window. His gut twisted anxiously. He couldn’t help but feel like it was all his fault.

“You didn’t stick around to see what was wrong?” Hiroshida demanded angrily.

“No. Because according to everyone in the world but you, it’s none of my business. They would have no reason to tell me, and she would have no reason to want me in the room with her. So I left.” Tadashi checked his watch. It had been three hours and forty-five minutes.

She was supposed to be in every class that he was, but that day she hadn’t been in a single one. How bad was it? How bad could it possibly be that she was unconscious or detained for three and a half hours?

“Are you supposed to be in class right now?” Makoto’s father asked, sounding impatient and annoyed.

“No. I have fifteen minutes before my next one.” Tadashi responded grimly.

“Find her, then. Make sure she’s not lying dead somewhere. Call me when you get more information.” Hiroshida’s voice became distant, as though he were already pulling his phone away from his ear.

“Am I supposed to be nice about it or make her wish she were dead?” Tadashi asked darkly, narrowing his eyes even though his mentor wasn’t actually in the room to feel the heat of his glare.

“Be your usual charming self, Tadashi. You know, the one that inspires absolutely zero confidence in anyone around you.” Hiroshida spat, and then the line went dead.

If Tadashi had cared at all about Hiroshida in the moment, the words would have hurt. As it was, though, he couldn’t help but wish he’d never met the old man in the first place.

So that was what it felt like to be on Makoto’s side of things.

Tadashi dropped his phone into his backpack, but stopped as his eyes fell on a nearly invisible zipper in the lining.

I’m not allowed to make Makoto feel like she belongs in the field. Or...anywhere outside of the home, for that matter. He mused, pulling back the zipper and letting his gaze rest on the ebony material that lay beneath the false bottom of his backpack.

But nobody ever said anything about how Hybrid was supposed to treat her.

Tadashi unzipped his sweatshirt and stuffed it into his backpack, quickly leaving the building.


It didn’t take long for Tadashi to catch sight of Makoto from a distance, sitting on a bench with her chin in her hands, her shoulders slumped. She looked very much like she had the day after she’d found out about her brother.

He stopped and changed his clothes discreetly before he came within view of her, hardly remembering to switch on his voice modulator before he deftly climbed the tree above her head.

He moved so silently that he doubt she heard him. Or if she had, she was too immersed in her thoughts to process his presence.

He wasn’t allowed to be nice to her as Tadashi.

At least he could feel better about himself if he treated her like a human being under the guise of Hybrid.

He couldn’t help but feel incredibly guilty every time he treated her cruelly. He had a connection with her that ran deep, even if she couldn’t remember it.

It was like he was bound to protect her, but not in the way that her father intended.

“You might try washing your uniform with baking soda to get that dank, musty caveman smell out of it.”

Her small voice startled him, but not a single leaf rustled as he leaned forward earnestly. So she knew he was there. The last time she had seen Hybrid, he had been in cat-form, fighting Sonic to keep her away from Heilner’s things.

At what point had Makoto become familiar with the smell of his uniform?

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Tadashi responded, propping his elbows up on a limb and dropping his chin into his hands. “How are you doing?”

“What do you care?” She shot back lifelessly, heaving a sigh and continuing to stare at her boots. She hadn’t looked up at him once.

“Caring is what makes me useful.” He responded lightly. “Don’t you have class?”

“Don’t you have all of Coral Cove to keep safe? Why are you here?” She asked in turn, her fists clenching.

Tadashi could hear her heart beat begin to steadily increase. His eyes narrowed in confusion, but he ignored it for the time being.

Meanwhile, he had to figure out how to explain his strange appearance. He felt uncomfortable lying to her, but he couldn’t tell her who he was behind the mask.

Other than that, though, he could tell her as much truth as possible, right?

“Ronin has tasked me to keeping you safe.” He responded easily, reaching out and gently shaking a small branch that hung over her head.

Two leaves fell loose and drifted through the air, one of them landing on her head, the other coming to rest on her shoulder.

She brushed both of them off carelessly. “Because he thinks it’s suspicious that I’ve been kidnapped ten times?”

“Nine times. And no, not suspicious. Concerned.” Tadashi sat up, leaning back against the trunk of the tree and pulling his knife from his boot to flip between his fingers.

“Ten times. Believe it or not, you’re not there every time I’ve been kidnapped. And if I had to save the same kid from eight or nine completely different whack jobs, I’d be suspicious. And by the tenth time, I’d probably just let them take her.” Makoto responded dryly, crossing one knee over the other and playing with the broken zipper on the front of her backpack.

Tadashi raised an eyebrow. Ten times? That was news. It must have been that day that she showed up at Meadow Peak smelling like salt-water and rubber.

Wait, had she said ‘swimming. With shark people’?

Tadashi felt himself shrivel up inside. Of all things that could make a bad day worse—shark people was absolutely one of them.

Before he could make a related comment, he was drawn to the sound of her heart pumping faster. He leaned down again, watching her studiously.

“What’s wrong?” He asked shortly, trying not to sound like he was threatening her—the voice modulator often came off way too gruffly. He probably should adjust it at some point.

“Had a not-too-awesome talk with a medical student. It’s a bad day.” Makoto responded resignedly.

“Prescription glasses kinda bad or coffin kinda bad?” Tadashi glanced at the backpack. It reeked of sterilizers and bleach. But then he stopped and inhaled more deeply.

There was another scent, very faint and completely different. “Diabetes.” He answered his own question, and then looked down again to see her staring upwards, meeting his eyes in confusion.

“How did you know?” She asked, her voice tiny and almost hopeless.

“Blood sugar.” He responded simply. He really had to hand it to his animalistic senses. He’d heard that dogs were far more sensitive to smells and stuff, but he wasn’t afraid to admit that he was pretty attuned, too.

“Oh. The cat thing?” She mumbled, looking back down at her lap.

Yeah, the cat thing. Tadashi smirked slightly.

But that explained the increased heart rate.

He crawled a few inches closer, but didn’t dare move into view of the entire rest of the campus. There would be a riot, for sure. “What do you need?” He asked seriously.

“From you?” Makoto stood and took her backpack into her hands. “Nothing.”

Who wanted to find out that, on top of a difficult family situation, a dead brother, and a bad habit of getting kidnapped, she also had diabetes? How was she supposed to check her blood sugar with her hands cuffed behind her back?

How was she supposed to administer insulin when she was laying paralyzed on a basement floor?

Alexia had said that she was in the early stages of diabetes, the symptoms just starting to show. Within a week it could be so prevalent that she could go through severe episodes if she didn’t stay on top of her insulin intakes.

That was just peachy. What was she supposed to do? Give up being a detective and go home to a quiet life of invisible bruises and washing dishes?

And now, what, she was being babysat by Hybrid?

Any other day of the year, she would feel honored. Giddy and excited, even. But even the personal encounter with a Variant was not enough to lift her spirits.

And what was with Ronin, anyway? Why on earth would he want her looked after?

Maybe he meant investigated.

Hybrid was sent to keep an eye on her, and only told her that it was for the purpose of protection.

Right. Good one. Because she was going to believe that out of everyone in Coral Cove, Oregon, she was worthy of top-notch personal security.

Makoto slammed the door of the sciences building open, banging it against the inside wall. People stared at her, but she didn’t care.

Why would she? What did it matter?

She wasn’t feeling sorry for herself. She wasn’t, was she? She was just having a really hard day. It was collected stress. She was going through a mood, and by the time she’d had something for lunch, she’d have her normal dry-and-witty attitude.

She wasn’t sure if it was just regular exhaustion or diabetes—which was apparently part of her everyday life at that point—but she had to fight to keep from sleeping through her next two classes.

She was almost certainly sleepwalking down the sidewalk as she made her way blearily to her last class. She shouldn’t have been so tired. She hadn’t even been to all of her classes.

“Makoto,” A quiet voice startled her out of her daze and a hand caught her elbow.

She faltered, looking back at Chester, who stood behind her. He held out a small black case. She paled.

“You dropped this,” He uttered, watching her in confusion as she took it and stuffed it into her backpack.

“Thank you.” She mumbled.

“Is that an insulin pen?” He asked pointedly.

“Yeah. Why, you need it?” She tossed him a playful grin and stretched her shoulders.

“No, and I don’t need to finger pricking thing, either. Why do you?” He didn’t try to recapture her arm when she shook it loose.

“Because my quack of a doctor thinks I have problems.” Makoto responded, walking alongside him, wishing she didn’t have to say anything. Why did she have to say anything to anyone?

Why couldn’t she deal with her disease by herself?

“They found something? I thought you said that your body is visibly perfect in the light.” He argued, turning her and making her look him in the eyes.

She shrank away from him slightly, not liking the hostility in his gaze. “She has the opposite of my ability. I make flaws invisible. She sees invisible flaws. Don’t look at me like that, it’s not my fault.”

Chester shook his head in disbelief. “In plain English,” He started slowly. “In as few words as possible,” His voice shook. “Tell me what she found.”

He already knew.

Of course he already knew.

You don’t need insulin for cancer, do you? The options were kind of slim, weren’t they?

But she humored him and squared her shoulders to answer him directly. “Diabetes.” She told him firmly.

“Type one.” He said, pained.

“Insulin-dependent.” She confirmed, watching his entire demeanor change. He seemed to shrink entire inches. His head lowered, his hands hung at his sides, his eyelids drooped.

Standing there, looking at him, Makoto realized that she really didn’t have it all that bad. She walked around all day, feeling as though the only people around her were people who wanted her in as much pain as possible.

But she seemed to consistently overlook the relationship she had with Chester. He hated her suffering. He hated her hardship.

She didn’t have a horrible life. What she did have was a good friend who didn’t deserve her feeling sorry for herself. She punched him lightly in the arm. “It’s fine, Chess. It just means I have to be more careful.”

Chester sucked in a deep breath and rolled his eyes at her good-naturedly. “Like that’s gonna happen.” He suddenly glanced over her head. “Here comes trouble.”

Makoto turned slightly as Tadashi approached, an open soda in one hand and a sealed can in the other. He nodded in greeting to Chester and then looked at Makoto. “I got your email. Your part of the presentation looks good.”

Extremely weirded out by his sudden civil behavior, Makoto nodded briefly. “Thank you,” She said quietly.

Tadashi turned his attention on Chester before Makoto could ask him if he was drugged.

She was suddenly very enthralled in watching Tadashi study Chester carefully. He looked the taller man up and down like he was an open book, reading clues.

Makoto glanced at Chester. Since getting to know him, she hadn’t spent much time looking at him through the eyes of a stranger.

She hadn’t tried to figure out who he was in a long time.

But then Tadashi met Chester’s gaze again. “Army?”

Makoto choked on a laugh and looked to Chester to see his reaction. He was almost stunned. Almost. Not like he attended a school of deduction or anything.

“Yeah. How’d you...” He glanced down at himself, wondering what had given him away.

“Hmm,” Tadashi nodded thoughtfully. He angled back to Makoto just slightly and tossed her the unopened can of soda.

She caught it easily, still staring at him in shock.

“Later.” He sent Chester another nod in farewell and walked off as though it was normal for a jerk to walk up, have a polite conversation, give someone a soda, and then leave on a pleasant note.

Makoto looked at the soda. “Am I hallucinating?” She asked carefully, squinting past the blurriness.

“I don’t think so.” Chester faced her, spreading his arms wide. “What makes me look Army?” He demanded incredulously.

Makoto scoffed, walking past him with an amused laugh as she popped open the soda. “Everything but the tie-dye backpack, hippie.”

“But I like tie-dye.” He whined.

“Wrong century, Strapps.” Makoto took a swig of the soda and left him standing on the sidewalk, heartbroken over her hatred of his favorite backpack.

After Makoto’s last class, she went to the library to further her research of the Quarter Piece. Her search filtered to local stories, she looked for any mention of glowing coins.

For almost thirty minutes she had no luck. There was the legend that Angelika Heilner had procured a treasure of magical jewels, but the website went into no further detail.

And then, finally, she found a story from two years before—a team of investigators intercepted a truck carrying a load of stolen pieces from a jewelry store.

The simple interception turned into a fight that ended with the truck being driven through the front doors of a flower shop, into a cloud of red vapor, and disappearing entirely.

The two investigators were found unconscious inside the flower shop, with no sign of the truck or driver.

Red vapor.

It was that red vapor again.

Makoto printed the article, knowing that it was the best lead that she had. After scouring the website for some way to contact the writer of the article, she finally found a phone number hidden elsewhere, possibly unconnected to the article.

When she called it, a man answered, sounding impatient.

“I’m calling about your website,” Makoto started, leaving the library and standing out in the cool air. “Specifically about a story you wrote about two years ago—about the investigators who stopped a truck full of stolen jewels.”

“I didn’t write that story,” The man responded simply. “The guy who did paid me to put it on my website.”

Makoto narrowed her eyes in annoyance. “Can you tell me anything about what happened apart from what’s been written?”

“Sorry, I wasn’t there.” He said gruffly.

“Can you tell me anything about the red vapor that the truck disappeared into?” She asked. She didn’t believe that he was completely ignorant of what happened.

How could he put something on his website unless he knew the ins and outs of it? Wouldn’t that risk his reputation?

“Who did you say you were again?” The guy demanded.

Makoto sighed indecisively, pursing her lips in irritation. She might as well tell him, right? What could it hurt?

“My name is Makoto.” She responded quietly. “Akari Makoto.”

There was a long pause as he either realized that he was talking to the daughter of Hiroshida Akari, or was sitting there having no idea what was going on.

But when he spoke, he sounded quite clued into the situation. “Apologies, Miss Akari. The information you need can be most easily acquired through the investigators who were on the scene. If you’d like me to set up an appointment for you to meet with them, I can do that.”

Makoto suddenly felt very confused. What just happened? Why did he suddenly sound like a secretary? And why in the world was her name enough for him to give her access to the information she wanted?

“Um...yes—yes, please, that would be appreciated.” She stammered, shifting her weight.

After the extremely curious phone call with whoever in the world that guy was, Makoto went looking for Chester again.

She stuck her hand in her pocket, feeling the case for her insulin pen, a vile reminder that she wasn’t who she used to be. What if she went to this interview in—she checked her watch—an hour and thirty minutes and she got grabbed at some point? Would they let her keep the insulin?

Would she be conscious to administer it?

Or would she just slip into a coma and they would let her die?

And, equally importantly, did it matter?

She couldn’t believe she was thinking it, but she couldn’t help but ask. How hard did she need to fight? What was there to lose by losing her? Who needed her?

Who did she need to stay alive for?

She reached the doorway in time to see Chester pass by at a distance, not noticing her presence, with a girl beside him. Makoto recognized the girl to be Tess—one of the members of his team.

She turned away and walked in the opposite direction. She’d just tell Chester what she learned. No need to pull him away from his work to go talk to people.

The drive wasn’t very long, but a man and a woman were waiting in the parking lot as though she were late.

They both approached as she stepped out of her car, her notebook in her hand. She found both of their hands extended, and she shook them, one after another.

“Akari?” The man asked. After she nodded, he finally cracked a smile. “James Archer. Nice to meet you.”

“Pleasure,” Makoto responded politely, glancing at the woman.

“Annabelle Stone,” The woman responded to her expectant gaze. She was clearly not a people person, preferring to remain quiet as was indicated by the way Archer continued to lead the conversation.

“Anderson said you had questions for us. What can we help you with?” James Archer asked, the three of them crossing the parking lot to a small diner.

Public place. For the sake of keeping their location private, as well as, Makoto assumed, for assurance that there would be no attempt at an attack.

Though the protection, she realized, was solely for her sake. There wasn’t much cause for two trained agents to be worried about a single detective.

But he had said Anderson. Had he talked to Savannah? Or was it the name of an unrelated individual? She couldn’t help but ask. “Anderson?”

“Our supervisor. You spoke to him.” James responded, gesturing for her to sit.

She did, with a small smile. “Oh. For a minute I thought you meant—never mind.” She waved it away with a quiet laugh. Like Anderson wasn’t a common name.

“They’re related.” Annabelle said suddenly, sitting across from Makoto.

Makoto looked up sharply. “What?” At the strangely creepy deduction of what Makoto had been thinking, the girl studied the older woman.

She was completely relaxed. Not in a slumped over, slobbish-kind of way, but in a way that lead Makoto to believe that she was confident that no matter what happened, Annabelle would have a handle on the situation.

She was quiet, with nothing to prove, but her body language screamed body guard. She casually took in her surroundings with sharp, intelligent brown eyes and hardly reacted to anything, as though she already knew it was going to happen.

She glanced at a waitress who passed by and then pursed her lips half a second before the waitress dropped her tray of glasses. Glass went crashing and all Annabelle did was move her arm as water splashed the table right where it used to be.

She must have been a detective as well—and a good one—to be able to calculate things in her head so quickly.

In response to Makoto’s question, Annabelle nodded to the Japanese girl’s notebook. “That’s the emblem of Anderson’s School of Deduction. Savannah Anderson is our supervisor’s niece.”

Makoto looked down at her notepad. Faintly visible, hardly noticeable, were indents in the paper where Makoto had doodled the emblem and then erased it for the sake of clean-paged, neat professionalism.

But Annabelle had caught it, identified it upside down, and practically read Makoto’s mind. She was good.

“Ah,” Makoto responded with a slight grin. She hated dealing with people she didn’t know—she had to be sweet and polite and overly smiley and it kind of drove her batty.

“You have questions for us?” James asked, pulling the young woman’s attention away from his partner.

“Yes, sir.” Makoto clicked her pen readily. “I read the story that was written on your supervisor’s website that was about one of the cases that the two of you took. You intercepted a truck of stolen jewels—about two years ago?”

“And it disappeared into the smoke, yes.” James nodded in recognition of her description. “I’d say it was a hard case to forget, but I’d be lying to you.”

“Because you have a lot like it?” She guessed.

James glanced at her paper hesitantly.

“I’m a detective, Mr. Archer, not a journalist. I don’t need any information that doesn’t relate to my case, and the information I gather does not go to the public except by permission.” Makoto informed him carefully.

He shrugged like it didn’t matter. “It’s fine,” He said. “But yes, we do have many unusual cases.”

“Can you tell me what you know about the red smoke?” She asked, her pen ready.

“It’s caused by a person—specifically, the driver of the truck.” James responded, watching her hastily write his words onto her paper. “This person has the ability to create portals in space. The truck drove through the portal—the red smoke—and was relocated.”

Makoto looked up from her pad in shock, her mouth falling open slightly. She shouldn’t have been so surprised. Chester had already told her that the dinosaurs came through the portals.

But she hadn’t known that they were caused by people. She hadn’t known that that was possible. But if what he was saying was true, then what he was telling her was irrelevant to her case as a whole.

The red vapor she had seen apart from the case, not as part of it.

“Is that all?” She asked, scooting her chair back and getting ready to leave. If it didn’t relate to her assignment, then she couldn’t afford to be wasting time on it.

She had to find a new lead or she would be behind.

“Not quite.” James responded, making Makoto pause. Her gaze flicked between him and Annabelle, who was looking at her with a scarily amused glint in her eyes.

“The portal creators only have enough power within themselves to generate portals from and to any place on earth.” Archer continued.

Makoto raised an eyebrow. “Only?”

“Yeah. If they want to stretch their powers interdimensionally, they’re going to need a booster.” He tapped his fingers on the table as she scribbled hastily in shorthand.

“Dimensions? What in the world are you talking about?” She demanded.

“Where’d you think the dinosaurs in the library came from? Arkansas?” Annabelle quipped dryly, crossing her arms comfortably.

Makoto’s breath caught, and she felt dizziness strike her suddenly. Her mind flashed to the insulin in her pocket, but she ignored it and slogged through her foggy brain. “Okay. Fine. Dimensions. What about the booster? What is it?” She heard her voice drift off and she quickly shook herself.

“Makoto, you okay?” James asked, concerned.

“Yeah, I’m okay. I just need water—” Makoto stared at Annabelle, who had already flagged down the waiter before she had even started to reply.

“Water, please.” Annabelle ordered quietly, and then gestured for James to go on.

“Yeah, the booster,” He stammered, equally as confused as Makoto. “Put together it’s kind of a key to the other dimension, which we’ve been calling Dimension X, since we’ve never been there and don’t know what they call it. But the key is called—”

“The Quarter Piece.” Makoto finished quietly, discreetly taking deep breaths. Her blood sugar was high. She didn’t even need to check it to know. She’d had more severe reactions to high blood sugar over the past two weeks, which meant it wasn’t really bad yet.

If she drank water, she might be able to stall long enough to get out to her car and administer insulin without making a scene. And then she could pick up something to eat on the way home.

“That’s right. Four coins that glow from the core, joined to their casing become the key to Dimension X—but only in the hands of someone who has the ability to generate portals. If you can’t create portals, then it does nothing for you.” James said.

Makoto received her water and drank slowly, aware of them watching her. “Angelika Heilner had them, but she disappeared.”

“Heilner had the ability to create the portals. How do you think she was such an amazing sailor? She wanted to go somewhere—she opened a portal and sailed her ship through it. She didn’t go missing. She found the pieces and went to Dimension X.”

“No, but—shouldn’t she have the Quarter Piece there with her?” Makoto asked, lost.

James shook his head. “She went to Dimension X long enough to discover that she was okay with spending the rest of her life there. She gave her crew the choice to come with her if they liked, and most of them did. Later, she reopened a portal and tossed the five pieces through to her remaining shipmates, ordering them to hide or protect the pieces.”

“She may have cheated the map,” Annabelle put in softly. “But she wasn’t selfish. Angelika never kept anything beneficial to herself. She went to Dimension X for her own pleasure, but even that couldn’t convince her to keep the pieces solely for her own use. She sacrificed the gateway for the sake of giving others a chance to use them.”

“She left her family,” Makoto murmured in argument. “They think she died or was killed. That sounds kind of selfish to me.”

Annabelle’s eyes fell on her, and for a minute, Makoto was terrified. But then the investigator lifted her chin and responded with a small smile. “A grown woman has the right to leave her family. And, true, it would be selfish to leave them to grieve while she enjoyed a happy life.”

“But they’ve only ever grieved the absence of her company.” James finished. “She never let them think she was dead.”

Makoto’s mouth fell open. “But—but we spoke to them...” She realized they had deceived her to protect their daughter, and she shook her head in disbelief. “This is just nutty.”

“Yeah?” James smirked and stood. “Welcome to our world.”

Makoto shook his hand first, and then Annabelle’s. While her hand was firmly clasped between the other woman’s fingers, Agent Stone nodded toward Makoto’s car. “You’d better hurry. You shouldn’t have waited this long.”

Makoto shuffled backwards, holding her notepad to her chest in unease. “I’m fine, thank you.” She mumbled.

James glanced at his partner in confusion. “Is she not fine?” He muttered.

“None of your business.” Annabelle responded simply, turning on her heel and leaving the diner. James shot a puzzled look back at Makoto and shrugged. “Nice to meet you, Miss Akari.”

She nodded, almost timidly, and then stumbled out to her car to administer insulin before she furthered the effects of hyperglycemia.

“Hold still or I’ll leave it in.” Hiroshida’s voice was harsh and cold but his hands were gentle as he pushed Tadashi’s shoulders back.

“What’s the faster option?” Tadashi grunted, forcing himself to lay back on the cold table, ignoring the blood spilling over his stomach.

“Faster healing or faster death?” Hiroshida shot back with a grim smile.

Tadashi looked completely unappreciative of the question as he slammed his head back against the table in pain while Hiroshida moved quickly around the room, gathering supplies.

They had been fighting a couple of amateurs who managed to shove a splintered tent peg through Tadashi’s abdomen before they were quickly overtaken.

Hiroshida returned to Tadashi’s side, his hands hovering over the wooden stake, glancing down at the younger man. “You sure you don’t want an anesthetic?”

“No.” Tadashi growled, pain lacing his voice.

“There’ll come a time, kid, when you’ll learn that being macho really isn’t worth it.” Hiroshida responded with a laughing grin.

“I can’t be out.” Tadashi responded, reaching for his belt and clamping it between his teeth.

Hiroshida raised an eyebrow, but carried on no further conversation. He could only stall for so long before Tadashi eventually died of blood loss.

He wrapped his gloved hand gingerly around the stake. “If you say so.” He moved to pull out it, but then paused as Tadashi braced for it. “Oh, wait, would you like me to tie you down?”

Tadashi breathed out a laugh that sent another trickle of blood dripping down his side. He removed the belt slowly so he could answer. “Actually, yeah, that would—”

Before he could finish, Hiroshida yanked the stake out and pressed a roll of bandages to the open wound.

Tadashi’s back arched as a loud growl that sounded kind of like a cat’s yowl passed his clenched teeth. “I’ll kill you,” He uttered lowly, collapsing against the table as Hiroshida just smirked and began pulling splinters from the wound.

Three hours later, Tadashi found Makoto hunched over a library computer, scrolling through pages of information. She was the only one in the room, but definitely not the only one in the library.

Tadashi was about to go about his own investigation and find some books on poisonous plants for one of his cases when a particular smell stopped him in his tracks.

Or a conglomeration of smells.

Gunmetal. Dirt—no, clay. Blackberry bush. Raw hamburger.

That last one kind of threw him for a loop, but the conclusion was undeniable—someone in the library was up to no good.

And he was pretty sure they were after Makoto.

Lifting his hand from his stomach to have the appearance of full health, Tadashi strolled casually into the study room where Makoto was.

“That’s my usual computer,” He called, sitting across from her at a different monitor.

“You have three reasons for being here, Kido, and I’m well aware of all of them so you might as well leave now.” She grumbled distractedly, still reading.

“Enlighten me, Sherlock.”

“First reason is that you’re actually here researching something. Unlikely, considering the computer you’re sitting at is broken and has been for the past three and a half weeks.” She said, pausing to scribble something down in her notebook.

Tadashi glanced at the ‘out of order’ sign that was posted on the monitor. So it was.

“Second reason is that you’re just here to make me despise the fact that I’m living, and congratulations, the world seems to be on your side on that one—” she took her eyes off of her screen long enough to look him in the eyes and smile. “Except that I don’t care, so you might as well stop wasting your time and scurry along.”

“And the third reason?” Tadashi prompted, leaning back and crossing his arms. Since his face was hidden from her by the monitor, he took the opportunity to glance around searchingly.

He couldn’t see whoever it was that was in there, but they were coming closer—they reeked.

“The third and most unlikely reason is that you’ve got possibly one kind bone hidden somewhere in your loathsome body and you’re here to warn me that there are three gunmen in the history section waiting for me to leave so they can kill me or kidnap me. Thank you, I know.” She said softly, not bothering to look at him.

Unbeknownst to her, his mouth fell open in shock.

She knew? She knew that she was sitting in the middle of the line of fire and she didn’t care? She knew where they were, how many there were, and that they were armed and she was just sitting there.

“You’re bleeding.” She added. “Did you trip over your pride or something?”

Tadashi glanced down at his stomach and found just a hint of red permeating his shirt. “Drove a stake through my kidney.” He responded simply, sitting up and looking at her. “What makes you think there are people here to kill you?”

She looked over her screen at him. “Because I already spoke to them. Obviously.”

He gave her a withering, demeaning stare until she shrugged and said, “I saw them watching me and went over to them, told them I appreciated their interest in me as a celebrity, and gave them my autograph.”

“So obviously that means they’re a threat to you.” Tadashi reasoned.

“Call it experience.” Makoto responded. “You’ve warned me. Please go.”

Tadashi shrugged and stood, walking away from the computer station. “I’d be careful with that attitude, Makoto.” He called, despising the words as they left his mouth. “It’s not very attractive.”

Before he left, he swung by the history section and relieved the three men of their weapons before showing them the door.

The day after Makoto interviewed Investigators Stone and Archer, she showed up at school with fierce determination in her eyes and a storm of confusion in her brain.

She had to ask President Anderson what on earth she was thinking, assigning this fairy tale case, and why these people seemed to know Makoto better than she knew herself.

But before she could get up to Savannah’s office, Chester came around the corner with a candy bar from the vending machine.

“Chess?” She faltered, stalling. It was difficult to admit, but she was almost scared of the answers that Savannah could provide.

She wanted life to go back to when supernatural things only happened to people on the news.

“What are you doing in here?” She finished.

Not many students wandered the halls of the Administration Building unless they were in trouble.

He nodded at the candy bar. “The vending machine in here is broken. Everything’s a dollar. Why are you here?”

Makoto rolled her eyes at him. Vending machine?

“I’m getting answers. This is a stupid fantasy case and I want to know why we have it.” She said seriously.

“Hmm.” Chester nodded noncommittally. “While you chase that rabbit, I’m going to follow a lead I found from those links you emailed me last night. It’s a hospital on Airport Road.”

She patted his arm as she strolled past. “Good luck with that. Let me know if you find anything.”

Savannah admitted her into her office after a single knock. Makoto slipped inside and stood before the president of the college, waiting for an indication to speak.

“How may I help you today, Miss Akari?” Savannah asked calmingly.

“With all due respect, I’d like to know why my partner and I have been assigned to such a fanciful case.” Makoto responded boldly.

Savannah’s eyes lifted without a single head movement. “Because a fanciful case is a case nonetheless.”

Makoto narrowed her eyes. “I called a man who runs a news site yesterday. I asked him about a story following a cloud of red vapor. He was completely uncooperative until I gave him my name. And then I got the feeling that I could have asked him for the clothes off his back, the food off his plate, and his home’s WiFi password and he would have given them to me.”

Mrs. Anderson turned to her filing cabinet and began rifling through packets of paper. “I’m not sure I’m hearing a question in there.” She responded distractedly.

Of course she heard a question in there. She was a detective. And a fabulous one at that.

“My question is why did you assign this case to me? And why is everyone else on the planet of the mindset that the information regarding this case has been mine to access since the dawn of time?”

Savannah put down the file and spun her chair back around to face Makoto. She crossed her arms and gave the student a studious look. “I gave you the case because, a long time ago, a friend of mine told me to.”

Not at all expecting that answer, Makoto rocked back on her heels and slowly processed this information. After a few long seconds of studying the fibers in the carpet, she turned her gaze back to Savannah.

“There any chance you might explain that?” She asked carefully, wary of overstepping her line.

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