The Bureau Files: Series 5
A/N: Hello, it is I, finally back with the (hopefully much-awaited) Series 5 of The Bureau Files! By now you should know the drill – 7 cases, each 2 episodes long (save for Case 6, which is a 3-parter) – which will be posted on a weekly basis every Saturday.
Once again, thank you so much for being so patient with me. I know it's been a long wait, but hopefully it will have been worth it. For those of you stuck inside with the current outbreak of covid19, I hope I can add to the pile of things to enjoy in this difficult time. (And for those of you still at work, like moi, and possibly busier than ever, may this be a welcome relief from the chaos.)
And so, without no more ado, here's Series 5 of The Bureau Files. Enjoy!
Episode 1: One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing (Part 1)
Haru Yoshioka stood before the old brick wall and willed an archway in its place.
She had found herself drawn to the forgotten little alleyway with its unremarkable little wall more times than she cared to count in the last few months, and each time the result was exactly the same. The wall was still a wall, however much she wished otherwise. And it really was unremarkable, save for the one detail that it had once been an archway to another world entirely.
It didn't look like that was about to change.
She groaned and rounded on the dead end.
"Open, you stupid wall! Open sesame! Abracadabra!" Still nothing. She paused, and added, "Mellon!"
The wall didn't change.
"Yeah, well, the Lord of the Rings thing was a long shot anyway," she muttered, and turned away.
Perhaps she should have given up already. The others had. Or, at least, they'd turned their attention onto other things. Was that the same thing? When she had explained to Baron what she had done – how she had shown the Sanctuary the chaos it would cause if it allowed itself to collapse – he theorised that the Sanctuary, being made to save people, had sealed itself off from all other worlds to avoid that same fate.
It would be closed off from all other worlds, he told her. It would be impossible to find.
Like me? she had asked, and he'd given no answer to that.
And yet, here she was again, pacing at the wall that was just a wall and hoping to find an archway instead. What was the definition of insanity? Wasn't it doing the same thing and hoping for different results? If so, she was well past that mark.
She turned and headed back in the direction of home.
Maybe it was a sign of madness, she thought. But it was a sign of hope too. She could live with that.
The world had moved on without her.
Of course it had. It had been a year; things happen in a year.
Hiromi had gotten a new flatmate. She'd had to – she couldn't pay the bills alone. There was slight irony in the way Hiromi had become as elusive round the flat in her year-long search for Haru as Haru had been while with the Bureau. And, if her new flatmate thought it odd the way Hiromi had been forever vanishing at a moment's notice, she probably put it down to grief. The way Hiromi told it, she didn't worry too much what her new flatmate thought.
Michael had hired another shop assistant. Again, out of necessity, but that hadn't lessened the guilt in his voice. He'd thought she was dead, he told her. He hadn't been able to hold out hope for her like the others had, he'd said.
She hadn't held it against him. Nor Hiromi for her new flatmate. In a way, it was a comfort. Whatever happened to her, whatever went wrong, her friends would continue. Life would continue, as so often was its wont.
Her mother had been the most difficult.
What possible reason could Haru give to explain her absence? What lie could she tell to smooth her mother's fears? Was there a lie big or kind enough to calm a mother whose daughter had vanished off the face of the earth for a year?
In the end, she did the only thing she could think of.
She gave the truth.
It wasn't simple, of course. Telling anyone that magic existed and that their daughter had been throwing herself from one reckless world to the other was never going to be. She had sat her mother down in the kitchen, Toto and Baron on the table between them, and gently and calmly told the chaos that had been the last few years of her life.
It was difficult to deny magic when faced with a talking gargoyle and statuette.
She missed out a few details though. Her father, for one. Things were complicated enough without weighing her mother down with the news that her father was alive – alive, possibly insane, and missing. And Muta. She missed out Muta.
The latter had been by request.
Her mother had raged when the truth was revealed.
First it had been at Haru. For being so reckless. For being so stupid. For hiding the truth.
And then it had turned to Toto and Baron for allowing her daughter, her child, to run alongside them in a world that nearly killed her. For not protecting her. For losing her.
Even after Haru managed to soothe her mother, she saw the damage those accusations did to her companions. She had known them for too long to not know that they still held some semblance of guilt for her previous predicament, and Naoko's words had only compounded that. The way they saw it, she knew, they were guilty for losing her. Nothing she said could undo that.
And the Bureau.
The Bureau was… the Bureau. Only now, without its Sanctuary. Without its Refuge. Homeless.
There were some losses that were felt more keenly than others. Toto was restless; he had taken to sitting atop the Yoshioka roof, but his eyes never stopped moving. The rest of the Bureau were in the house and so he would stand guard – protecting, like he always did, like he had been made to – and yet the house was so much more vulnerable than the self-contained world of the Sanctuary had been. He didn't say anything, but Haru could sense it.
He had lost her once before. He wasn't going to lose anyone else.
Muta was quiet around the house. He never spoke when Naoko was around, but otherwise, he seemed almost normal. He still lingered at the Crossroads. He still begged food off strangers. He was still the same, grumpy cat as always. If there were any worries about his lifespan dramatically shortening now he was beyond the Sanctuary's influence, he never mentioned them. Haru watched him as the months passed, but he didn't seem to age significantly. Time had yet to catch up with him.
And then there was Baron.
He had said he loved her.
She had known long before then, of course. There are a million different ways to show love, and she wasn't blind to the looks, the smiles, the self-sacrificing protectiveness and mutual trust. She wasn't immune to the way her own heart betrayed her either.
But still, he had said it.
And then just before Christmas…
She blushed and tried not to think about it too much. Even though she really, really wanted to.
Things were strange now. Well. Stranger. Without the Sanctuary's size-altering magic or the privacy of another world, it wasn't so easy to spend the casual time with one another that she had taken for granted. And she missed it. She missed the way that in their mundane moments in the Bureau – the chatting, the research, the cups of tea – it could almost feel ordinary. She missed how, in those brief, fleeting moments, they weren't a living cat figurine and the daughter of a magician, but just two people.
How strange; that in all the magic and mystery of the last few years, she should fall in love with someone over cups of tea.
And a whole lot of running and monsters too, but mostly cups of tea.
"It's not all bad." Haru swung the stick idly at her side as they walked along the outskirts of town. Here, cityscape yielded to forest, broken only by the occasionally building squirming its way between the trees and the rare car trundling along the half-forgotten road.
Hiromi hurried alongside her, looking none too convinced. "Oh, sure. Between the maniac who tried to take my head and the ghost monster that tried to eat us on our holidays, I can tell the Bureau's a laugh a minute."
"You remember Oz?"
"You try forgetting losing your head. And that's not taking into account all the near-death experiences I had just trying to get you back." Too late, Hiromi noticed Haru flinch. "Hey, none of that was your fault. Baron said it was your mind just subconsciously trying to protect you."
"You shouldn't have had to put your life on the line to save mine," Haru said.
"Kinda did. Best friends, remember?" Hiromi tilted her head Haru's way, smirking until she prompted a small smile from the other woman. "And before you start feeling guilty about anything, it was my decision to help."
Haru's smile widened a fraction. "That sounds like a similar argument I once made."
"Let me guess: to the Bureau?"
"To Baron, more specifically." Haru hesitated, and made a face. "Of course, shortly after that, I did end up getting lost between dimensions, so I suppose I ended up putting my money where my mouth was. Still, my life. My decisions. My mistakes." Haru felt a stillness fall across her friend, and she glanced over to Hiromi as they passed under the Torii gate. "Hey. What is it?"
Hiromi slowed, and then halted. "Baron."
A few steps above Hiromi, Haru stopped also. "Yeah?" When Hiromi didn't add anything, Haru took the conversation into her own hands. "Is this about him losing me? Because we've already covered this – I don't blame him for what happened, and as the person who was lost, I think I get to decide who's to blame. Like I said, my life. My mistakes."
"No, it's not that…"
"Oh." Haru waited, perplexed, and even more so as she stared at her friend. "Hiromi… are you… blushing?"
"Oh, shut up."
"My God, you're not blushing because of him, are you? I mean, I know he's smooth and all, but I was hoping that the great Hiromi could resist his charms. Trust me; he's awful at responding to confessions. Usually he ends up jumping off the nearest building. Worryingly so, actually. I think he might be allergic…"
Hiromi reddened further and batted furiously at Haru. "Oh, shut up. I'm blushing for you, you idiot! How on Earth am I meant to ask my best friend if she's in love with some foot-high cat doll?"
Haru dropped her grin. "Oh."
"I had hoped you hadn't noticed."
"I wish I hadn't."
The two women stared at each other, both waiting for the other to add something. In the end, Haru said, "In my defence, there's usually less of a height difference when we're in the Sanctuary. Or other worlds."
"Oh, great, so that just leaves solving the figurine and cat part of the equation."
"And immortal," Haru added.
Hiromi stared, and Haru suspected she was just doing it to drive her point home. "Immortal?"
"How old is he?"
Haru bit her lip. "Well, he was created during the Second World War–"
"–so about… eighty?" she finished. She grinned weakly. "The heart wants what the heart wants?"
"The heart wants a foot-high, immortal, eighty-year-old cat doll?"
"He is really charming," Haru offered. "And kind. And brave. And it's not as if he ages like humans do…" She trailed off and tried to reclaim some sanity in the conversation with, "How long have you known?"
"You? About a month. Him? Since about halfway through trying to save you. You know, at first I was a little wary…" Haru gave her a look, and Hiromi grinned and amended it with, "Okay, very wary. But come on, Haru; some freaky cat guy was obviously in love with you and I had no idea if you felt the same way back or if he was some sort of unwanted cat suitor."
Haru grinned back, and decided against saying that it wouldn't have been the first time if so. "Oh, he's wanted."
"Well, I see that now."
"I can't convince you to give up the Bureau, can I?"
"Sorry. Even if I wasn't madly in love with Baron, I still wouldn't. It's… It's amazing, Hiromi. The places I go, the things I see…"
"The monsters and killers, yes."
"It's more than that." Now continuing up the ancient stone steps, they came into view of the Shinto shrine, and Haru reclaimed another stick from the forest's edge. "Hiromi, I've been to Wonderland and Oz and Never Never Land. Granted, most of those places had things that wanted to eat me, but… it's magic. I've been in paintings and books; I've met kitsunes and sirens, and there's so much more out there..."
"And?" Hiromi gently prompted.
"And… I've helped. Hiromi, I've helped so many people over the last few years. And, true, it hasn't always worked out, and there have been people we've… we've failed, but… it's what I want to do. It's all I've ever wanted to do with my life." She snorted softly. "I suppose I am just a busybody who likes to stick her nose in other people's business."
"You're only realising that now?"
Haru laughed, and suddenly the tension lifted and they were back to their normal selves. "Hey, you want to see one of the best perks of the Bureau?" she asked, her eyes glinting conspiringly. "The dog-sitting duty." She grabbed Hiromi's sleeve and dragged her the last few steps into the courtyard of the shrine. "Mamoru!"
Hiromi's jaw dropped when a huge lion-dog statue rippled to life and came bounding towards them.
Haru threw the stick and watched with satisfaction as the komainu went running to fetch it. "Isn't he lovely?"
"I want to pet it."
"You can, if you want."
Several belly rubs later, Hiromi glanced up from the giant lion-dog and smirked at Haru.
"What?" she asked immediately. "What have you just thought?"
"It's an immortal, catlike statue," Hiromi whispered. "Should Baron be worried about competition?"
Haru made a face. "I don't crush on every Creation I meet, Hiromi. That'd be weird." She decided against mentioning her apparent relationships in the parallel worlds. There was no need to fuel that particular fire.
"So it's only Creations in dapper suits? Got it."
"And with that comment, I know you're almost over this Baron issue."
"Not exactly. But it's far too much fun to pass up on."
"But I have to admit, he does have one dapper suit."
"Mum, it's fine." Haru swung the phone to her other hand while she rummaged through her bag for her purse. She gave an apologetic smile to the woman at the desk. "Look, we're just at the museum; no biggie."
She eventually located her purse and ran a card over the machine, mouthing, "Sorry" as the lady passed her ticket across.
"Haru, you vanish for a year, and then return with crazy stories about monsters and magic–"
"Crazy, true stories," Haru added. She wasn't sure if that made it better or worse.
"–and not expect me to worry?" her mother finished. "From the sound of things, you've been putting your life in danger for the past few years even before you vanished – it's a wonder nothing happened to you sooner."
This topic again. Haru paused to the side of the museum's entrance, which opened up to a large, high-ceiling room. There was a conspicuous gap in the middle where an exhibit was lacking, and Haru noted taped barriers around the space. "I know. Trust me, I know. I'm sorry."
"What are you doing at the museum anyway? Is this more magic business?"
"I – no. No, Mum, it's just, you know, visiting the museum. Like ordinary people do. Michael mentioned that they'd brought in a new dinosaur exhibit since… um, well, in the last year, and it'd be a nice day out." Haru grimaced at her friend and passed the phone across. "Here. Michael, convince my mother that I'm not doing undercover Bureau work at our totally-ordinary and non-magical outing to a museum."
Michael didn't look too pleased, but he forced on extra cheer as he raised the phone to his ear. "Hey, Mrs Yoshioka."
Haru couldn't hear her mother's exact response, but she heard the general tone of it and saw Michael wince at the onslaught. When it waned, he started again. "Yes, I… I know. But, in this case, we really are just visiting the museum. I don't do the Bureau stuff."
Her mother's response was significantly calmer this time around.
"Yes, we'll be back long before it gets dark. Thank you. Have a good afternoon." He flipped the phone shut and looked to Haru. "What was that for?"
"She'll believe you over me."
"Because I'm not her daughter who lied to her for years on end."
Haru made a face at that. "Or maybe it's because you 'don't do the Bureau stuff' and that means you're probably not dragging me into magic and mayhem. Anyway, where's the new dinosaur?"
Michael sighed and pointed to the hall's empty centre. "Over there."
"Did they, um, did they invent invisible dinosaurs in the last year?"
Michael paced over to the empty exhibit. Haru followed, and now it was clear that the barrier was police tape.
"No," he said. "Just missing ones."
Haru took stock of the intended space. It was mostly just a raised platform at the moment, no taller than a foot or so, but the width and breadth of the plinth – and the ensuing barrier – indicated something that could have been 100 feet. "How can you lose something that size?" she whispered. She wasn't quite sure why she was whispering, except that they were at the edge of a crime scene and sound carried easily in the expansive hall. "I mean, it must have been huge."
"Diplodocus," Michael said, reading from one of the stands set before it. "105 feet, a replica cast from the skeleton at Carnagie Museum of National History, lent from the National Science Museum in Spain."
"And missing," he agreed. He sighed. "Sorry for bringing you out here to see a dinosaur that's not here–"
"It's a hundred feet long," Haru said. "How on earth could you lose it? How could you steal it?" she said, louder than intended, and she gained a few strange looks from other visitors. A mother snorted, and wheeled away her five-year-old daughter who was far more interested in her toy dinosaur anyway. "It's a dinosaur," she continued, undaunted, "not a Ford Fiesta; you can't just wheel it out. The front doors wouldn't even squeeze it out, I don't…"
"You're really getting hung up on this, aren't you?"
"I'm horrified that someone would do this, but I'm… a little impressed as well? I mean, if you can manage to steal and hide something like that, you almost deserve to keep it."
Haru gave a breathy laugh and turned away. "Okay, so even if the super-duper new dino has gone walkies, we still have a museum to explore. I'm up for a bit of totally-ordinary, non-magical outing."
"I know you mean the 'non-magical' part in a literal sense, but I still feel slightly insulted that you keep saying that."
"Duly noted and filed." She turned to leave, but a spark of something almost electrical flickered up her arm as her hand brushed the edge of the exhibit.
She halted, and the look on her face must have given away her thoughts, because Michael's own expression faltered.
"What is it?"
"You know what? I take back the non-magical part."
"I'll just call the Bureau and let them know that something off is happening here."
"It might be nothing–"
"A hundred-foot dinosaur goes missing right where there's magic, and that counts as 'nothing'? Michael, I appreciate the concern, but this is what the Bureau does." She offered a weak grin, and raised the phone to her ear. Her mother was out, so the only ones to answer it would be the Bureau, if they were in. In all her time at the Bureau, she was beginning to wish that Baron had refined a communication spell, but all his notes had vanished with the Sanctuary. The phone rang and eventually ran on to voicemail. "Hey, this is Haru, if you're in, pick up the phone–"
She hadn't got any further than that when there was the click of the other line being picked up.
"–sure that's even how it works?" she heard through the other end. Muta.
"Haru explained it all quite clearly," said someone else. Baron. "When it's removed from the cradle, it should automatically respond–"
"I hear you loud and clear, guys."
She was rewarded with the sound of the landline phone being dropped. There was some mild muttering gradually growing louder until Baron had retrieved the phone. Technology wasn't the Bureau's forte. "Haru? Can you hear me?"
"Is everything okay? Are you hurt? What's happening?"
"I'm fine. Everything's fine," Haru was quick to assure. Aside, she muttered, "Could everyone stop being so worried all the time?" Louder, she continued with, "Well, I say everything's fine, but we've got one missing dinosaur and remnant magic."
There was a long pause at the other end, and Haru could only imagine the looks being exchanged. She decided not to elaborate, not just yet anyway.
Eventually, Baron was the first one to chance a reply. "Miss Haru, the last dinosaur died out–"
"At the museum, Baron. I'm at the museum and one of the exhibits has vanished."
"That… makes considerably more sense."
"Eh, well you'd think it would until you realise that a hundred-foot diplosaurus–"
"Diplodocus," Michael amended.
"That a hundred-foot diplodocus has somehow vanished without anyone seeing a thing."
"And you think magic is involved."
"If you want to suggest another alternative to the facts at hand, be my guest."
"Could be students," Muta said. "What? Students do all kinds of pranks."
"He does actually have a valid point," Michael said.
"Alright fine. Magic and students are the two possibilities we have at hand. All I'm saying is, it's worth taking a look, right?"
The rest of the Bureau considered this. Haru could hear the edge of muttered conversation, but couldn't quite make out the words. Then, "We'll drop by," Baron said. "Meet us outside the museum in ten minutes?"
"Sure." Haru offered that same apologetic smile to Michael as she flipped her phone closed. "Sorry, Michael, but if there's anything the Bureau can do to help, then they need to be here."
"Yeah. I get it."
"I'll be back in a bit," she promised, and vanished back outside. She grinned to the woman at the desk, waving her ticket and saying, "Left my camera in the car," as she passed.
Once she had been joined by the Bureau, she quickly found a flaw in her plan.
"I can't smuggle Muta in." They were standing along the wide front of the museum, which was decorated with several large, faux columns which were perfect to hide her strange companions. Haru waved her bag for emphasis. "Baron, definitely, and Toto in a pinch, but there's no way I can hide Muta too."
"Should've brought a bigger bag then, Chicky."
"Wow, Muta. Thanks for the advice."
"Maybe if we can–"
"Eh, it's fine," Muta said, verbally steamrolling over Baron. "I'll just search for clues out here."
"You mean, search for scraps," Toto said.
"If some stray humans want to feed me, who am I to refuse?"
"Another alternative would be to wait until the museum has closed and investigate then," Baron said.
"Uh-uh," Haru vetoed. "No way. I've had enough of spooky museums to last me a lifetime."
"Technically speaking," Toto said, "the art gallery wasn't a museum."
"I don't care; we were almost killed by a creepy Creation girl. We're doing this in the daytime."
Baron nodded. "Understandable. Do you think you can fit Toto and me into your bag?"
"Just about. Just don't, you know, sneeze or anything." Haru knelt down and opened her satchel to allow the Creations to climb inside. She gave Muta one last pat on the head as she straightened.
"You got a plan, Chicky?"
Haru scoffed. "Please. A plan would indicate that we had any idea what was going on. You just keep an eye out for anything suspicious."
"So… yell if I see any hundred-foot dinosaurs wandering about? Got it."
"Something like that." She grinned and returned to the museum, waving at the receptionist again who only motioned for her to pass with a tired nod. Haru hadn't really thought this through, but there really wouldn't be any subtle way to bring Baron or Toto out into the open, at least without raising a few questions, so she gently propped her bag down against the corner of the barricade and hoped they could sense the magic from there. She dropped her jacket on top of it anyway, to hide their heads if they decided to take a peek, and leant against the barricade to pretend to examine one of the exhibits lining the hall.
Michael joined her, and offered a hardboiled sweet. "Got everything sorted?" he asked hopefully.
"Waiting for the verdict," she replied.
"What did they do before they had a tame human to sneak them in to places like this?"
"I appreciate you calling me tame as if they have any control over what I do," Haru said.
"Okay, but still…"
"A lot of breaking and entering, I believe." Haru popped the sweet into her mouth, and subconsciously fiddled with the wrapper. "Well, entering. Breaking usually only happens when a case goes south." She paused, and then added, "So, I guess entering and breaking would be more accurate." She stared at the exhibit she was feigning interest in, which happened to be an old taxidermy display of birds.
Michael didn't miss the look of distain cross her features. "Not a fan?"
"Of taxidermy? Not particularly."
"I suppose it is kind of morbid–"
"Well, sure, there's that." She continued to twist the sweet wrapper between her fingers. "I also nearly got killed by one."
"Not to put a damper on that very valid reason, but you seem to get nearly killed by a lot of things."
"There are many things I'm no longer a fan of. Taxidermy is one of them." Her jacket rustled at her feet and she hastily retrieved it before anyone else could notice her animated bag. She slung it over one shoulder and murmured, "So? Conclusion?"
There was a slight kerfuffle from her bag as the occupants righted themselves after being picked up. Baron's top hat, followed by his ears and eyes, peeked out of the top of the bag. "It's magic."
"See? I told you–"
Haru nearly dropped the bag. "Creation…? Are you telling me a Creation stole the dinosaur?"
"Not exactly," Toto said. "Try the dinosaur is a Creation."
"But… but the dinosaur wasn't made; it's a skeleton. It's not even like the mananana… mananang…"
"Manananggal," Baron and Toto chorused.
"That," Haru said. "It's not something made up from other previously-living parts – it's a corpse. Creations can't be corpses, otherwise we'd have zombies..." She trailed off with dawning horror. "Don't tell me zombies are real and they're actually Creations."
"Zombies aren't Creations."
"Good." Haru paused. "You didn't tell me zombies aren't real."
"And that's a discussion for another day," Toto prompted.
"I'm not sure I follow what's going on," Michael interrupted, "and, frankly, I'm too scared to ask about the zombies, but the dinosaur isn't a real skeleton, if that helps?" He motioned to the information stand he had read from earlier. "It's a plaster-cast replica. It's not an actual dinosaur fossil."
Toto's beak just about appeared from the depths of her bag to give a short nod. "Indeed. The Creation magic is raw; it recently awoke, and yet I suspect the replica itself is far older."
"About a hundred years," Michael said.
"How do you–?" Haru started.
"I actually read the signs."
"So we have a hundred-year-old replica," Baron summarised, "that has only become a Creation in the last few days."
"So it's an almost Creation," Haru said.
"It was an almost Creation."
"Okay, so it was an almost Creation," she amended. "We've had almost Creations waking up in the past, but that was because there was a sudden expulsion of Creation magic flying around anyway." She hesitated. "You don't think this is because of the Sanctuary, do you? In one of the parallel worlds I visited…"
"No. The Sanctuary sealed itself off to prevent that from happening," Toto interjected. "No, what I believe we've come across is someone with a lot of imagination and heart pouring their interest into our missing dinosaur to the point that they have bridged the gap between almost Creation and Creation."
"Someone else finished the job the artisan started."
"Possibly another artisan. Or just someone with a lot of imagination – a child, for instance."
Haru made a face and shifted her grip on her bag. "So, what I'm understanding here – and correct me if I'm wrong – is we're still no closer to finding a missing, hundred-foot dinosaur."
"Not… necessarily. It might be still in the museum. If we find any traces of more Creation magic in the area, it might lead us to it."
Haru was about to point out that the curators or police would probably have noticed if the dinosaur had only walked off into the Deep Sea corridor, but realised that firstly, they had no leads apart from this and, secondly, that it would enable her to still look round the museum. She smiled to Michael. "I think we're up for a little museum exploration."
"This is still a little weird," Michael muttered.
"What is?" Haru was beginning to wish she'd brought some water with her. She had once been so organised, but that had all been scattered after the events of last year. It would be a while before she had stocked up again on her usual assortment of first aid and light and suchlike.
Anyway, her own bag was mostly occupied with Creations at the moment.
Michael, who hadn't been prepared for their museum visit being hijacked by a Bureau case, had nonetheless actually brought drinks, but not necessarily the first aid or torch. He passed across a bottle of tap water to Haru.
"I feel like we're being chaperoned by the Bureau," he answered.
"They're just keeping an eye out for any remnant Creation magic," Haru said.
There came a whisper of, "Left here," from the recesses of her bag.
"Okay," she admitted. "It is a little weird." Regardless, she took the desired left turning and found herself in a room coloured a muted blue, which was probably due to the glass tanks holding preserved fish findings. The liquid looked a little too blue to be simply water, and she didn't peer too closely.
She collapsed down onto one of the rare benches, only vaguely noting that the other side was occupied by the same mother she'd spotted earlier. Her daughter, of about five, sat in one corner with the same dinosaur toy from before.
Michael sat down beside Haru and retrieved the water bottle, swapping it round and offering another hardboiled sweet. "Tired?"
Haru groaned for an answer, and took the proffered sweet. "I really need to get back into shape after last year." She stared at the exhibit in front of her, which was a tank with a creature professing to be a deep-sea squid, but not a giant squid, which unsettled her because it still looked uncomfortably large. Her attention drifted to the workings of the other visitor on the bench and then to the sketchbook she had in hand.
The woman flipped through the earlier pages to check something, and Haru caught sight of a sketch of a very distinctive long-necked dinosaur skeleton.
Before she could fully compute what she was doing, Haru was turning in her seat and staring over the woman's shoulder. "That's really good."
The woman, not unreasonably, jolted, and her head shot up to stare at the intrusion. "Excuse you?"
"That picture – the one of the missing dinosaur? It's really good." Haru was regretting the hardboiled sweet now, but it was too late to undo that. She shoved the sweet into a corner of her mouth and hoped she wouldn't accidentally swallow it while talking. "You must have been working quite hard on that one, huh?"
The woman glanced across the room. Michael was doing his best to be very interested in the information on the not-giant squid and pretend he wasn't affiliated with the crazy young woman who had started talking to complete strangers. Haru could sense his British sensibilities oozing off the scale.
"Well, I suppose I did," the artist said eventually. Evidently sensing that Haru wasn't dangerous, just a little mad, she smiled belatedly at the praise. "It took several visits to get that one right – I'm hoping to use it as reference for a larger piece. I'm just lucky I finished it before it was stolen… and that I have such a patient niece," she added, nodding to the girl who was moving her toy dinosaur around with all the purpose a five-year-old in the middle of an epic imaginary world.
The artist dug out a business card from her bulky canvas bag and handed Haru a business card. "Ursula Takayama," she introduced. "Look up some of my works online, if you have time. I've actually had a few pieces included in a temporary exhibition that is opening at the Guertena Art Gallery tomorrow."
Haru tried not to make a face, but she suspected she didn't entirely succeed. She plastered a smile on after the bitter memory had passed. "You're a professional artist? That's amazing! I always think it's great how artists seem to bring paper and pencil to life."
"That's what we try to do." Ursula returned her attention to the skeletal angler fish she was sketching out. "The diplodocus was such an iconic creature that I knew I had to get it right. That's why it took me so long to finish the initial sketch. It's a bummer about it vanishing, isn't it?"
"Yeah. It's crazy to think anyone could sneak it out without being noticed."
"Tell me about it."
"How do you think they managed it?"
"I dunno. Perhaps they carried out the individual pieces?" Ursula's nose was two inches from the paper, and little flecks of charcoal were dotting her cheeks like dark freckles. "And… I'm done." She sat back, brushing her wild brown hair out of her face, and tucking a few stray strands back into the ponytail. "Well, it's been… interesting talking, but I have some art to finish and an adorable niece to return to her mother. Have a good day."
"You too." Haru watched the artist and her niece gather their things and head out, leaving just Haru and Michael and the faint smell of charcoal. She opened her bag and let the two Creations lean out. "So?" she prompted. "Do you think she could be the one?"
"There was definite Creation magic loose," Toto said, "but it's… strange."
"She had a drawing of the diplodocus in her sketchbook – do you think it's possible she accidentally trapped the replica in her book?"
"I've never heard of it happening, personally, but Creation magic can react in all sorts of ways, depending on the artisan at hand," Baron replied.
"Do you think she knows?" Haru asked.
"It's hard to tell," Baron said. "However, there is one way to find out if she has the Creation."
"We need to get that sketchbook."
Teaser: "We've just set a dinosaur loose in modern-day Japan." "Not one of the Bureau's shiniest moments, true." / "Gist," Toto said. "It's a Gist Creation." / "This isn't your world – talking animals and living dolls and now, this… dinosaur ghost – these aren't problems you should have to face. Why does it have to be you?" / The air rushed out of her in one pained gasp and she watched as one giant skeletal foot came down. / "Toto," Baron said, and distantly he noted that his voice had gone deathly calm, "get me to Haru."