I've finally finished the chapter... damn, I feel like this has become quite messed up... oh well, it's better than something half-assed. I tried to incorporate some more relationships, and will continue to do so, but for now, I just want to lie down and do nothing...
"I bet I can dunk them in a bucket full of ice cold water and bring them back to their senses!"
"You don't believe me?"
"Indeed, since just looking at you I can deduce the fact that you don't have a brain."
"Now that hurts~"
"Right, so care explaining why you even thought of such an idea?"
"Well, it always worked for me, got too heated up and had someone dunk some ice cold water and I was brought down from my temper,"
"Seesh, you have no enthusiasm!"
"There's a reason for that,"
"What is it?"
"Nothing, just thinking of how you really are a party pooper,"
"Ah, hey! Don't leave me~"
Mai woke up with a groan, yawning and giving a good stretch before she decided to see her surroundings. Blinking the last few tears of sleepiness, Mai took note of the room she was in. "Oh... Someone must have carried me off to the room I share with Matsuzaki-san..."
Giving a sigh, she got out of the bed in order to hurry her way back to the base. She didn't make it far when the door to the room opened revealing Naru.
A frown creased her forehead as she speculated the Naru-imposter. "You're not Naru..."
Naru-imposter's smile grew as his whole face lit up in overjoy. Mai didn't know which was weirder in her opinion, the fact that his face outshone a kid on Christmas morning, or the fact that Naru could actually make that kind of face... if he stopped being serious for a minute or two.
... Okay... Naru not being serious was much weirder...
Mai blinked again as she focused on the hand waving in front of her. Swatting it away in slight irritation, she looked expectantly at the Naru-imposter. "Well?"
"Well, what?" Naru-imposter raised a brow, slightly curious as to what the girl was inferring to.
"Aren't you going to introduce yourself?" Mai crossed her arms, also raising a brow, waiting expectantly.
Instead of answering, Naru-imposter decidedly burst out laughing. Ticking Mai off even further. "What's so funny!?"
It took a few moments for Naru-imposter to regain some of his lost air. "I don't know if it's your animal-like instincts, or you being blunt,"
"You're calling me an animal?" Mai growled, seriously annoyed with that fact.
Naru-imposter continued on. "But it sure is refreshing to have someone to tell us apart!"
This got Mai curious, her frown dissipitated into a curious look. "Tell you apart? From who?"
"You're really asking that?" Naru-imposter's whole face was lit up in amusement. "Then allow me to refresh your memory,"
Mai, at first, was confused with how Naru-imposter stated his sentence, but then the confusion was literally washed away when she saw the all too familiar slightly irritated look on Naru-imposter. Her mouth hung open, amusing her unbelievable companion. It took a while to regain her speech capabilities, and when she did she spoke the first thing on her mind. "Naru has a twin?!"
"Yup~" Naru-imposter nodded, satisfied with the reaction. "I'm Eugene, Gene for short!"
It took Mai to recollect her deliberately scattered thoughts in order to process that Naru had a twin, and the said twin, Gene, had introduced himself. "A-Ah! I'm Mai, Taniyama, Mai!"
She gave a quick bow, still in the process of reorganizing her thoughts. "I-I didn't know that Naru had a twin brother!"
A hand patted her head, making her look up at Gene. She took note of how truly his smile was on borderline enigmatic. "It's alright, I doubt anyone else in Japan knew of it as well,"
Mai gave a small frown at the thought. Why would Naru hide the fact that he had a brother? And a twin at that? The answer was glaringly obvious, Mai came to a suitable conclusion, maybe he wanted to prove his worth that outshone his brother.
It was most definitely plausible, and she often heard stories from those that had siblings, without or being the one who would extensively try to get their parent's attention for themselves.
The more she thought about it, the more it made sense. Satisfied with her thought, while making a mental note to praise Naru and make sure she was rooting for him in the long-run, she turned back to Gene, Naru's twin brother.
The thought still hadn't sunk in yet...
"So..." Mai dragged her syllables. "Where exactly am I?"
Gene's eyes lit up. "You're in the spirit realm,"
"The spirit realm?" Mai frowned. That didn't make any sense at all... Gene gave a nod of assurance, making Mai look around at her surroundings. "Noriko-san's house is the spirit realm?"
"Ah, no that's not what I meant," Gene gave a sigh. "the spirit realm is where you'll only find spirits, their backstories and why they still seem to cling onto the living realm,"
Mai was quiet for a while, thinking things over. "So you're saying that there is in fact a spirit haunting Noriko-san's home, and it's by no ordinary means... right?"
Mai didn't think Gene's grin would have become any more wider than it already was, but was sadly proven wrong when just that happened. "That's correct, Mai! This spirit that is haunting is unable to move on, so in order to make them, you'll have to cleanse them!"
"Cleanse?" Mai questioned, utterly confused.
"That's right, you're new to this." Gene laughed sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck. "Cleansing is a way that can make a spirit move on, though how it's done is dependent entirely on the numerous religions that are widespread across the globe,"
"Like how Takigawa-san is a Buddhist monk, and Matsuzaki-san is a Shinto priestess?" Mai asked, slightly sceptical to the new ideas. Other than John, she didn't know what to think of the other two adults who were more childish than children themselves.
Gene nodded. "That's correct, it also depends on their type of beliefs, so the spiritual world isn't as easy as it is said to be."
Mai nodded, both of them basking in the silence that followed. "There's been something bothering me for a while now,"
"Go on," Gene encouraged with one of his many smiles.
"You're that same person when I was hit unconscious with that shoe shelf back then right?" Mai looked at him all serious.
Gene didn't mind. "Yup, that was me,"
"Then doesn't that make you a spirit as well?" Mai inquired, pushing further.
The underlying meaning wasn't all that hard to decode, as Gene gave a wry smile. "For now, I guess."
"The time will come soon when I'll have to explain my situation, but for now," Gene smiled brightly. "I'm going to be your spirit guide!"
Mai blinked. "Spirit guide?"
"Yup!" Gene nodded enthusiastically. "It's when a spirit takes up mentorship with someone who is new to this whole thing, and guides their charge through everything step by step!"
He continued on, not losing his enthusiasm. "They're usually someone that is close to them, or a complete stranger, though the latter isn't the common majority,"
"Slow, slow down! I think I need time to digest." Mai held up her hand, while trying to ease a growing headache.
"Ah, you're right, sorry," Gene apologized. "I didn't mean to dump everything on you so early on,"
"That's ok," Mai sighed. "a good rest would help me ease the information into place."
"True, well it was nice meeting you, Mai, but you better wake up now." Gene grinned. "Lay down and close your eyes and you'll wake up in no time! Take care of that hypocritical teenager for me, bye!"
With that Gene had disappeared, leaving Mai to ease herself into sleep. She had some serious studying to do about this all...
"Eenie meenie minie mo, catch a tiger by the toe,"
"What the heck are singing?"
"Oh you're back! Welcome back!"
"I really thought you'd go away for good, so I decided to make do without your presence,"
"And imagine my surprise when you appear again!"
"You are a depressing person."
"Wha! So mean!"
"I only left you for moment and you take dive in personalities, how could you even survive on your own?"
"Back when I was a good ol' human being, I spoke to everyone! So I obviously filled the huge gaps."
"Speechless at my smartiness?"
"Your vocabulary is still no good."
Naru kept fidgeting, unable to concentrate on his current task of figuring out the ghost that was very damn persistent. The cause of his ungodly behaviour was that Mai was still unconscious. He bit his bottom lip in unsettling anxiety for the safety of the Middle School girl.
"Naru," The said male turned to face his assistant, his face expectant on what he was about to receive. "she'll be fine."
Still, Naru persisted on worrying over the brunette. Fortunately for him, K did not make a reappearance, which saved him quite a bit of pride. His brows furrowed at the distasteful thought and decided to at least look like he was doing work.
At the desk, Lin couldn't help but pamper his growing amusement. It certainly was a good idea to add a small square mirror to the edge of his laptop after Mai was hired.
Houshou had decided to enter the base right then, not noticing the atmosphere in the room. "Has Mai-chan woken up yet?"
Lin's amused smirk went unnoticed as Naru looked up, obviously annoyed, before looking back down at his file. "What does it look like?"
Houshou blinked at the harsh reply, and eventually summed it as an annoyed employer. "Hey, hey, you shouldn't be so harsh on the baby girl of the group, that's not nice,"
Naru looked up and glared at the older male, opening his mouth to throw a smart remark but was interrupted with a loud thump. All present heads turned to the source and found the said 'baby girl' on the floor, weakly getting up from her newfound position on the floor. Even if the sight was amusing, concern flitted through the remaining three.
Naru didn't waste a single moment more in placing the file on the desk and making his way over to the half-asleep brunette. Crouching down beside the girl he helped her up talking softly, but stern, to her. "Mai, are you okay?"
"Naru? That's you, right?" For a second the said teen felt dread seep into stomach, with the odd thought of the girl going blind randomly, but pushed the morbid thought out of his head with more scientific reasoning.
He gave a light sigh, giving an equally soft reply as he set the girl down on the sofa. She was beginning to regain a bit of her surroundings, though his tone was coated with, exasperated, sarcasm. "Who did you expect? The bellboy?"
Mai gave a giggle, still seemingly to be in a slight daze. "Now that's the Naru-chan I know!"
Something warm spread through Naru's chest, making him smile softly. Houshou, who was still present in the room, had become slack jawed at the 180 display of emotion on his young employer's face.
He turned to Lin, to see if the Chinese man had answers to the near unexplainable situation at hand. Sadly, to his disappointment, and growing confusion, Lin had returned back to facing the laptop, typing out whatever he was typing. Houshou turned back to the other two occupants trying to figure out what had gotten into the young male on his own.
Naru, on the other hand, was very pleased with how Mai was beginning to regain her consciousness. Still the small worry hadn't gone from within his chest, much to his chagrin, even though it had shrunk quite considerably. "If you're better now, then I want you to get back to work, you've lost two hours with your nap,"
"Alright, alright, seesh, you're still pretty engaged in your work," Mai rolled her eyes, arms crossed. "it wouldn't come as a surprise if you married the stack of paperwork in your office."
Before a bewildered Naru could retort back, Mai had gotten up and made her way to Houshou, calling behind her shoulder to the still shell shocked teen. "I'm off to getting back to work, boss!"
With that she had dragged a rather amused monk with her out of the base.
Lin turned around in his seat, the amusement on his face getting far too hard to suppress. Naru, who had finally recovered, scowled at the older man, snatching up his notebook from the desk and gave a retort before he stuck his nose into the file. "Don't you even dare talk about this with anyone."
"I said I was sorry~"
"Playing tricks like that isn't nice."
"I was just playing around~"
"Still, it isn't nice to fake your depression."
"Leave me alone, and don't talk to me."
"Nuu~ you're leaving me again~ I can't handle being alone~"
"I never felt this cold before..."
"... Shut up, you're annoying."
"You spoke to me!"
"I'm feeling loved, again~"
"I think he has a thing for you," Mai paused in her work of fixing cameras to give Houshou the blandest look she had in her arsenal. "What?"
She gave a sigh. "Honestly, I don't think he likes me at all, I did throw his actual assistant in the hospital."
She turned back to work on the camera, noting that it was off. "Maybe he has held a grudge on me since then?"
"How is throwing an assistant into the hospital a bad thing?" Houshou muttered. "Liking someone is not dictated by whether or not you threw a guy in the hospital!"
Mai scratched her head, letting out a small breath. "It's kind of... hard to explain..."
"Keep on talking," Houshou stated blandly, already predicting where the conversation was going to go.
Mai gave a shrug, handing a piece of equipment to the monk's outstretched hand. "It's the way he distances himself from people,"
Houshou turned his surprised expression towards the brunette female. "Say what now?"
"You heard me," Mai scowled, handing him another piece of equipment. "Naru-chan distances himself from everyone, with the exception of Lin,"
She averted her eyes, looking somewhat sulky. "So you can see why I am saying he has no interest in me,"
There was silence between the two, one somewhat sulky and the other, dumbfounded. It was some time later when Houshou had decidedly broken up the silence with laughter. "Hahaha, what's this? So you do like him after all!"
Mai stared at him, clearly unamused.
Unfortunately for her, Houshou wasn't going to let up anytime soon.
"Oho, looks like the degenerate monk is sharp after all,"
"What? Too stunned with my cool looking self?"
"Yes, yes, I know, it's a hard mask to maintain,"
"No, I'm more preoccupied at how dense your sister is,"
"Wha! H-How could you!? I thought your affection was only mine!"
"I-I w-was joking, hehe, s-seriously... can't w-we j-just talk this over? Like p-putting those b-b-brass k-knuckles a-away...?"
"I've let you live far too long,"
Everyone had gathered back at the base, and Naru took the moment to reveal their plans for the day. "I want Matsuzaki-san to perform an exorcism in Ayami's room,"
"About time!" The said woman huffed, crossing her arms.
"I would also like to keep an eye on the rooms that have shown activity yesterday," Naru continued, ignoring the red haired miko's outburst. "That is all,"
Ayako had gotten up to go get ready for her cleansing, while the rest of the group stayed in base. Naru turned to Mai. "Mai, tea,"
Mai blinked, then got up, very much resigned to her fate of brewing the hot beverage for the boss. "Fine, anyone else want it as well?"
Houshou got up from his seat as well. "I'll come with you,"
"Suit yourself," Mai gave a nonchalant shrug, making a note to get everyone a cup.
It was halfway to their destination when Houshou spoke up, his hand rubbing his chin. "I've always wondered, what's with Naru and his obsession with tea?"
Mai gave a snort of laughter, a grin making its way onto her face. "I have no clue,"
"You gotta know something, since you work as his secretary now," Houshou pointed out.
Mai gave a laugh. "Even if I do, I still won't get his obsession with the beverage,"
"You mean you serve him tea every single day?" Houshou replied, surprised at the somewhat extreme notion.
Mai shrugged. "I guess it's part of the job description,"
"Aw man, this is the weirdest I've gone through!" Mai ignored the older male, and had immediately started on the task of brewing tea once they had reached the kitchen. "Tell me again on how you fell for such a guy!"
Mai didn't hesitate in throwing the cup of scalding hot water onto the monk, relishing in his anguish, as she nonchalantly continued her work.
"I told you to sit like a good boy,"
"While you're trying to kill me?! Nu-uh!"
"Come back here!"
"Nay is what the naysayers say!"
"Stop spouting nonsense and come back so I can crumble your soul so you won't come back anymore!"
"I value my soul way too much to cease my existence!"
It had been nearing the thirty minute mark when the third paranormal activity happened.
"Naru, the temperature is starting to decrease," Lin had spoken up, immediately gaining Naru's attention from an unnecessary squabble. If it kept fights to a minimum, it saved the aches for his head.
Albeit, Naru went over to the monitors, giving a short command to his assistant. "Lin, the speaker,"
Lin complied, turning up the volume. Mai went closer to the monitors to see where the noise was coming from, pretty much no surprise when it had been Ayami's empty bedroom. The said girl was moved to Noriko's bedroom for the reassurance of the older woman after the first poltergeist. "There's no one in there..."
"... The temperature is dropping quickly, it's already below freezing," Naru said, mostly to himself. Mai, who just happened to be there, overheard. "It's clearly impossible for a human to do this,"
Mai turned her attention back to the monitor that was showing Ayami's empty room. It seemed that whatever Gene had said seemed to be true... Mai shook her head, eyes shut tight, hyperaware of the shiver running up and down her spine.
Naru stole a glance at the brunette, already finished ogling the screen, and grabbed the case's file folder while making a jab at the girl. "You're welcome to leave if you are scared,"
Mai's eyes snapped open, immediately glaring at male teen. "I'm not scared!"
"Suit yourself," Naru dismissed the topic, unknowingly ticking off Mai.
Some time had passed since the recent activity, and Mai had found herself in Noriko's room, alongside the said woman and her niece. "Ayami-chan is quiet,"
"Yeah, until recently she was more playful and talkative," Noriko agreed, watching the small girl play with her doll. She gave a sigh. "But she's been this way since my brother remarried and we moved into this house,"
"I see," Mai nodded in understanding. She knew first hand how hard it was to get used to a much newer environment, but for it to be this long... she shook her head to clear the thought.
Noriko then spoke up, questioning Mai in curiosity. "Your boss does seem to be quite young, far from what I was expecting in actuality,"
"Ah, yeah, he does look suspicious no matter how you look at it..." Mai muttered, frowning in thought.
Noriko chuckled at the display of thought the brunette girl was showing. "How did you come to work for him, Mai-chan?"
"It wasn't all too long ago," Mai said, her expression smoothened as she recounted a brief tale of her meeting with Naru. "all in all, it just comes down to me throwing his actual assistant into the hospital..."
Noriko laughed in mirth, imagining how the younger girl could throw an older person into the hospital was certainly entertaining. A knock resounded from the door, revealing Kana with a tray of refreshments. She settled down on the floor near Ayami, offering her the plate of cookies towards the younger girl. "I've brought some freshly baked cookies for you, Ayami-chan,"
Mai, alongside Noriko, watched how the younger girl refused to even reciprocate the action of the older woman, who, inevitably, was angered with how she was treated. Finally being fed up with Ayami's actions, Kana stood up and verbally lashed out before storming off. "Fine, then do as you wish,"
For a while, the room was left in silence, uncomfortably filled with apprehension, when Noriko decided to break it again. "Ayami, would you mind if I ate a cookie?"
To Mai's surprise, the once quiet girl gave the biggest outburst. "No! There's poison in them!"
Genuine worry and concern, Mai couldn't figure out why she thought like that.
Ayami continued on with her explanation for her behaviour, explaining how her doll, Minnie, told her everything. "All this, because we're in her way!"
Mai, decidedly, had enough of this strained atmosphere. She got off her seat and kneeled down in front of Ayami, she brought her index finger to her lips in a secret motion. "Hey, Ayami-chan, you want to know a secret?"
Ayami looked up at Mai, her worry ebbing into genuine curiosity. "Secret?"
Mai nodded, internally cheering at catching her attention. "Yeah, only you and Noriko-san can know of it,"
Gradually, Ayami's expression grew in eager excitement as she nodded for Mai to continue. "I want to know! I want to know Mai's secret!"
Mai picked up a cookie from the tray and brought it between them, her eyes didn't miss the confusion and flicker of fear in her eyes. "I can see the truth in everything, even this cookie here,"
Ayami's expression was torn between being awed and denial. Mai continued, bringing the cookie to her ear with a thoughtful expression. "What was that?"
She gave a few nods, contorting her expression into one of surprise. "Really? Oh my!"
Noriko watched on in amusement, and in slight relief, at the small show Mai had on for Ayami. The younger girl's expression was clearly being taken in awe as Mai continued her small show. "Ah, is that so? I see... ok, I'll tell her, yes, it's a promise,"
Mai brought the cookie down from her ear and gave a slightly dramatic huff. Ayami couldn't keep quiet for much longer, and eagerly shot her questions. "What did the cookie say? Was it a he? Or a she? Did it want anything?"
Mai smiled. "Haha, give me a second, it's a bit tiring to hear a small object's truth,"
She took a moment to recollect her thoughts before starting, much to an impatient child's eagerness. "The cookie was sad, it said that Kana-san had baked it with lots of love,"
Mai continued, smiling at how taken Ayami looked with the story. "It only wanted to show you Kana-san's love, but looks like jealousy can ruin that love,"
Here she sighed. Ayami was shocked. "Jealousy? Someone was jealous of the cookie?"
Mai nodded. "Yeah, cookies are for a purpose, Ayami-chan, they have to be eaten to complete their role, but someone's jealousy can ruin their mission,"
Ayami's eyes grew wider in surprise. "Who was jealous of the cookie?"
Mai looked at Ayami, staying silent for a few minutes. "Do you want to know?"
Ayami nodded her head. Mai smiled, and pointed to the doll in Ayami's hold. "Turns out the culprit was Minnie,"
"B-But," Ayami started, frowning. "Minnie speaks the truth!"
Noriko looked on in worry, but Mai shrugged. "Minnie can't eat the cookie, so she's jealous that only you can receive Kana-san's love through her cookies,"
Ayami's expression couldn't have surpassed extreme shock, as her mouth was left open. She regained her worry and gave a feeble defense. "But, Minnie said, they had poison in them,"
Mai shook her head. "The cookie was very sad to hear that, and it said that it's siblings we're sad as well. The youngest one cried at not being able to do its first job properly,"
Noriko was clearly amused, and tried very hard to contain her laughter in. Ayami looked down, slightly disheartened at rejecting the cookies' wishes. Mai smiled gently at the younger girl. "Why don't we eat the cookies in secret?"
Ayami looked back up at Mai, confusion evident on her features. "In secret?"
Mai nodded. "That way, Minnie wouldn't feel as jealous while we are enjoying them,"
It was a while before Ayami agreed, getting up to place Minnie in a far corner, barricaded so she couldn't see what they were going to do, and came back to sit with Mai. Still, Ayami was hesitant in eating. Mai knew the cure for that one easily, she picked one up from the tray and quickly took a bite out of it in case Ayami tried to stop her. Finishing it off quickly, Mai smiled at the younger girl. "See? I'm perfectly fine, would you like to have one?"
This time, though hesitant, Ayami picked up a cookie and cautiously bit into it. Assured that she wasn't going to die at any second, Ayami continued eating happily. "Wow, these are good!"
"I told you, they have Kana-san's love," Mai claimed her ego, smiling smugly. "I'll also tell you another secret,"
Knowing that she had Ayami's undivided attention, she continued. "Kana-san told me this one, and I asked your dad about it too,"
"My dad?" Ayami's interest skyrocketed.
Mai nodded, and Noriko couldn't help but smile broadly at what was going on. "They both like each other very much, and Kana-san would love to get to know you some more, so she could pamper you like her own child,"
"S-She said that?" Ayami's expression was what a proper child should be, sparkly admiration.
Mai nodded. "So be sure you say thanks to her for the cookies, and sorry for your behaviour towards her, she must be really sad that she can't love her husband's child like her own."
Ayami looked down at the cookie, a determined expression dominating it. She got up, taking the plate of cookies with her, as she went out of the room to find Kana. Once Ayami was out of range, Noriko laughed. "That was some splendid performance, Mai-chan,"
"Haha, my brother would do that often for me when we were younger, always getting me to do something I was reluctant on," Mai ended in a nostalgic tone.
"You have a brother?" Noriko asked, curious.
"Yeah, but I have no idea where on Earth he is at the moment," Mai huffed, annoyed at her lack of knowledge of his whereabouts. She shrugged. "well, I can't do much reminiscing about it so I may as well wait for him to return,"
For the rest of the moment, Mai and Noriko chatted idly.
"Where are you?"
"I'm not telling!"
Ayami trotted over to Kana's room, doing her best in balancing the plate full of cookies. She knocked on the door, doing her best in not spilling the scrumptious cookies, and waited.
Ayami brightened in hearing the older woman's voice, and entered the room. "I'm here to say sorry and thanks,"
Kana looked at the girl, puzzled in her behaviour change. "What for?"
Ayami looked down at the plate of cookies in her hands. "Sorry for being mean to you, and thanks for these yummy cookies,"
For a moment, Kana felt her heart being stabbed at the cuteness coming from the younger girl, and it only doubled at the puppy eyes she was given. "Ah, don't mention it, I made those cookies for you after all,"
Ayami brightened and came over to the woman, plopping beside her on the bed. "I want to eat these with you!"
Kana thought she was dying from cuteness overload, and had barely managed to agree to the notion. Her motherly instincts immediately showing affection to the child before her.
Looks like it wasn't completely hopeless in becoming a mother figure after all.
"Come back here!"
"God save my soul!"