Disclaimer: I don't own DCMK.
The Show Goes On
2: Suspension of Disbelief
"Maybe it was something in the food," Shinichi muttered as he paced back and forth before the end of the bed. He had been doing so since Kaito had finally let him go. The magician was mildly surprised that he hadn't worn a furrow into the carpet yet.
"You honestly think it could've been something we ate?" Kaito asked skeptically from where he was still seated at the foot of the bed. His eyes kept flickering between the tail trailing behind Shinichi and the detective's new ears—which, he couldn't help but notice, swiveled towards him when he spoke. It made his fingers itch. Despite having already confirmed it for himself, he still couldn't quite believe that they were real. Absently, he ran his tongue over his own teeth. The only change he'd found in his own physique so far was the fangs, and he forgot about them most of the time as it just felt like he'd put his costume fangs back in. That and he was really much more interested in examining Shinichi.
"Well what else could it be? I mean, I suppose we could be hallucinating, but this all seems a little too real for that." Not to mention his thoughts were much clearer than he'd expect them to be if he'd ingested a hallucinogen.
"But it doesn't seem very…" The magician trailed off as he waved a hand at their reflections. "Feasible? After all, why would anything we ate react to the costumes we were wearing?"
That particular detail had been nagging at Shinichi too. It was a valid hole in his theory. Considering past experiences, he had very little trouble believing that a chemical could—mutate their physical appearances, but in accordance to the clothes they'd been wearing at the time? How would it even know? It wasn't like their clothes were in any way a part of them.
"Maybe it was something that could be affected by our thoughts…?" He shook his head, realizing just how weak a hypothesis that was. "It has to have been something in the food," he reiterated instead, sounding to Kaito like he was trying to make it true through repetition. "I just can't think of any other explanations."
Kaito could think of a few, but he kept them to himself for the time being. His poor detective looked like he was trying so hard not to think about them after all. Instead he turned his gaze once more to the window. They had opened the curtains earlier to let in the moonlight and check that it really wasn't morning yet.
"I would suggest we just go ask the chefs about it, but I doubt they'd appreciate a wake up call just yet."
Shinichi sighed, shoulders slumping ever so slightly as he followed the magician's gaze to the velvet sky outside. It had turned out that the clock was broken. The time was stuck on midnight, but it was pretty obvious that it was still far too late (or was that early?) to go question people.
A sense of wrongness nibbled at the back of his mind. But there was so very much wrong with the situation that he wasn't quite sure which aspect this particular feeling was being caused by.
"We could go take a look around the kitchens," the magician offered. "No need to wait for the staff to let us in. The locks around this place are nothing."
"I suppose it's better than having to wait another few hours," Shinichi grumbled. Falling silent, he returned to the window yet again. It was definitely something about the view. The way the shadows fell and the round, white face of the moon…
"It's the moon!" he said suddenly, eyes widening. "It hasn't moved at all!"
"What?" Hopping off the bed, Kaito strode over to stand beside him. He too stared at the moon where it hung high over the silent sea of shadows that lay beneath the night sky. He hadn't really thought about it until Shinichi had brought it up, but the detective was right. The moon hadn't moved at all since they had opened the curtains over an hour ago. "I wonder," he said slowly. "If perhaps our clock isn't actually broken."
"Let's go search the kitchens." Turning abruptly from the view of the unmoving moon, Shinichi headed for the door.
Kaito gave the moon one last, long look before following.
They got about as far as the threshold of the front door before they discovered that their bodies weren't the only things that had transformed overnight. The hallway outside their hotel room had also mutated, going from the long, carpeted hall plastered with fake, black tree shadows to a narrow, spiral staircase walled by cold, gray blocks. A cold draft wafted up from below, filling their nostrils with the scent of stale stone like the breath of a cave that had gone for centuries untouched by the light of day. The steps themselves descended into a thick, inky blackness.
"I know you don't want to hear this, Shin-chan," Kaito said finally, breaking the silence. "But I really don't think the food had anything to do with this. Unless you want to try and argue that the hotel staff did some major remodeling while we were asleep. Although I suspect it would make a weak argument."
"It's the only logical explanation. Or, well, reasonable explanation, I suppose might be a better turn of phrase."
Shinichi sat in silence for a long moment as he mulled this over. Part of him was still more inclined to think it was a dream, but it certainly didn't feel like any dream he'd ever had. But…magic? He remembered Kaito saying he had had a witch in his class back in high school, but Shinichi himself had never really believed in such things before. Even his stint back through elementary school had had a scientific explanation, even if he didn't understand it.
Then he looked at himself in the mirror again before his gaze trailed over to the moonlit landscape outside.
Eventually, he relented, ears drooping a little. "I guess that's all we can think right now, isn't it? So let's say it really was some kind of magic spell that did this to us. What now? How do we get back to normal?"
Kaito's eyebrows rose. "What makes you think I'd know?"
"You're the magician."
Chuckling, the magician in question reached out on impulse and patted Shinichi on the head. "Now, now, Shin-chan, no need to sulk."
"I'm not sulking," the detective grumbled. "I just wish this wasn't happening…" He trailed off, eyes sliding shut as he leaned unconsciously towards Kaito. Fingers were now rubbing right behind his ears. It felt…rather nice…
"Shin-chan," Kaito's voice broke into the strange, contented haze that had taken over his mind. He sounded amused. "Your tail is wagging."
Starting out of his stupor, Shinichi realized that he was sprawled across the magician's lap. And, as he'd said, his tail was swishing through the air very much like that of a happy puppy. Blushing, he scrambled off the bed and pulled open the room's small fridge.
"We need to go look around," he said, the words spilling out maybe a little too quickly. "See what else has changed. Though I think we should bring whatever supplies we can find with us, just in case."
"So we're going on an expedition," Kaito concluded. "Good idea. There should be an empty backpack in the suitcase."
Fifteen minutes later, they had packed all the water and soda they could find as well as what little there was in the way of snacks. Fortunately, they'd both eaten quite a lot the night before. Pausing at the sight of his phone, Shinichi frowned.
"Do you think any of the others came?"
Kaito shrugged. "I'm not sure. You could try calling them."
"There's no signal."
"Then we'll just have to find out the old fashioned way. So you ready?"
Pocketing his phone, Shinichi gave the room one last look over then nodded. "Let's go."
The narrow staircase beyond their door spiraled downward in tight loops with narrow steps. Some of those steps were slightly tilted forward, giving Shinichi the disturbing impression that he was about to go tumbling down them any moment. There were no windows or lights of any kind, but they had both found to their surprise that they didn't need light. Whatever had changed them had also given them both excellent night vision.
Round and round they went, step after step, until Shinichi started to wonder if there was no end after all, and they were just going to spend the rest of their lives walking down those cold, stone stairs. The already close walls seemed to grow closer with each passing moment. Seconds blurred into minutes into a timeless, endless now that neither of them could begin to quantify. If they didn't get out of here soon, Shinichi thought, he was going to develop a serious case of claustrophobia.
Then suddenly the walls opened out and they were standing in an equally cold and dingy hallway. Heavy, wooden doors with brass knobs were spaced along the hallway. The knobs themselves were adorned with brass lizards with glittering, glass eyes the color of blood. They stared blankly at the two explorers as they passed. Most of the doors opened into elegantly furnished rooms—bedrooms, sitting rooms, workrooms, and studies, but every last one was empty.
Some of the rooms had windows, but they all looked out on the same, bleak landscape that their own had shown them. A few had analog clocks on the walls, but none of them were ticking. Instead, every clock hand pointed straight up at the twelve.
As they moved on down another floor, the halls grew wider and the ceilings much higher. The place had to be some kind of mansion or castle. The latter would explain that endless spiral staircase. Their hotel room must have somehow migrated to the top of a tower. Torch brackets shaped like gargoyle heads began to appear on the walls here. Orange flames danced above each bracket, casting flickering shapes over the walls and floors and making the shadows overhead appear even darker than they had before.
"I can't say I think much of the décor," Kaito murmured as he paused to examine one of the gargoyle torch brackets. "Although I must admit that the craftsmanship is pretty good."
"Hey, do you smell that?"
Puzzled, Kaito turned to his companion to find that Shinichi was standing in the middle of the hallway with his eyes closed, sniffing. He inhaled deeply as well, but all he could smell was the stale cave odor the entire place was filled with.
"What exactly are you smelling?" he asked finally.
Shinichi sniffed a moment longer before answering. "I'm not sure. It's—kind of metallic."
The word had no sooner left his mouth then they both heard a distant clang. Shinichi's eyes flew open as his ears swiveled in the direction of the noise. Another clang echoed down the hall. It was getting closer. Silently, Kaito moved to stand beside and slightly ahead of Shinichi.
"It sounds like footsteps," Shinichi whispered.
"From feet in metal boots," the magician agreed.
As if to prove his point, a large shape emerged from the darkness before them. Firelight reflected off of metal plates as the figure stepped closer. Its steps clanked loudly in the eerie silence that permeated the castle. Towering almost eight feet tall, the newcomer was clad from head to toe in medieval armor. The visor was down so they couldn't see his face, but they had no trouble seeing the massive sword he held in his right hand.
It came to a stop a good fifty or so steps away from them.
"Um, hello?" Shinichi greeted a tad hesitantly. "We're sorry if we're trespassing, but we didn't have a choice. Is this your castle?"
There was no answer—or rather there was no verbal answer. Instead, the armored figure raised his sword.
Indigo eyes narrowed as Kaito tensed. "I don't think he's trying to say hello."
Shinichi didn't have time to answer as the knight chose that moment to charge.
Faced with all that heavy armor and the clearly sharp edges of that swinging broadsword, the two explorers turned and bolted. Despite his armor, the stranger was incredibly fast, and his sword scythed through the space where the two had been mere moments after they'd vacated it. They could actually hear the blade as it split the air.
After that, Shinichi stopped wondering who the armored knight was and why the hell he was attacking them and focused all his attention on not being chopped in half.
They sprinted down corridor after corridor. Torches blurred past them, interspersed by shadowy doorways and glittering, glass-eyed reliefs. Yet no matter how many corners they turned or how many staircases they skittered down, the knight remained hot on their heels. Shinichi had thought the guy would slow down once the strain of hauling around all that mail caught up to him, but it seemed he'd underestimated the man.
Suddenly they were running out across a tiled floor as the ceiling soared away. Tiers upon tiers of balconies marked out the other floors of the castle until they reached the domed roof. From there, the largest chandelier Shinichi had ever laid eyes on hung like a frozen galaxy of sparkling stars. At the same time two more armored knights emerged from other hallways around the floor.
Kaito cursed as he and Shinichi skidded to a stop in the center of the enormous chamber. They were surrounded. Standing back to back, they eyed the circling knights, watching for any signs that the three were about to launch another offensive.
Shinichi's hand crept reflexively towards his belt buckle before he remembered that he wasn't wearing the resized soccer ball belt Agasa had made for him. He would have slapped himself on the forehead if it wouldn't have obscured his view of the knights. "I should've brought my belt."
"Bit late to be thinking about it now."
"It's strange though. I still only smell metal."
"Lot of it to go around, certainly."
"No, I mean, I just thought with this nose I would've been able to pick up their actual scent. Not to mention the fact that no matter how fit he is, the one that was chasing us at least must have started sweating by now under all that armor."
"He doesn't seem to be breathing hard either," Kaito observed.
Reacting instinctively, the thief ducked and rolled past a pair of armored legs. Leaping back to his feet in one fluid motion, he spun and swept said pair of legs out from under their owner. The entire suit of metal went over with a tremendous clattering of metal on stone. The knight thrashed angrily for a moment before rolling over and beginning to clamber back to its feet.
A few feet away, Shinichi ducked under the swing of another long blade just barely in time. The blade passed so close over his head that he could have sworn he felt the wind from it ruffle his hair. The sensation was followed by a loud, metallic crash. Rolling to the side, he spun around to see that the knight whose attack he'd just avoided had not been able to stop his swing in time and had just cut through the second knight's midriff. Blue eyes widened in horror, but instead of the gory scene he had been expecting to see unfold, the top half of the knight parted from the lower half without so much as a drop of blood and fell to the floor in a cacophony of hollow clangs. Hollow because there really was no one inside. The helmet bounced and rolled away. The broadsword spun across the tiles. Yet the knight's legs were still standing.
"They're just animated suits of armor!" he gasped. Even as he said it, the legs staggered over to stand beside the fallen chest and back plates—which were beginning to inch back together.
The magician let out a short bark of laughter. "Oh good. At least we know it's not anyone we know trying to chop us into little bits. I don't suppose you see any off switches anywhere on them?"
"What would that even look like?"
"No idea. But we've established they don't tire, and reasoning with them didn't go so well either."
Kaito jumped to avoid another sword swing. What happened next, however, was not what he had expected.
Shinichi's jaw dropped.
Kaito was an athletic person, and he kept himself in good shape. After all, he needed the strength and dexterity to be able to regularly vault over policemen's heads and the variety of other acrobatic stunts that helped him stay out of jail. Shinichi knew for a fact that the magician could walk around on his hands just as easily as he could his feet, and that wasn't something you could do just by having a good sense of balance (human legs were three times stronger than their arms for a reason). But even Kaito had never actually been able to jump straight up four stories without the help of some trick.
There wasn't, however, any time to gape. The knight who'd accidentally dismantled its fellow suit of armor had stepped around the regrouping pieces and was once again striding towards him.
Leaping over the helmet the knight in pieces had yet to retrieve, Shinichi threw himself towards the said knight's fallen sword. Grabbing the hilt, he rolled back onto his feet and spun around to face his attacker. He didn't know anything about proper form or whatever despite having been forced to watch a few of Hattori's competitions. However, he did know two things. One, this sword had a sharp point, and two, it had sharp edges. That meant you could stab with it or cut with it. It was long and very heavy though, which would limit his maneuverability. It was also likely that any swing he started would carry itself all the way through just by virtue of weight. He wouldn't be able to stop partway if he wanted to, and he would have to be careful not to overbalance. Therefore, the wisest course of action would be to hold his position and wait until he had a clean shot (just in case that was the only one he got).
The hollow knight lunged, blade swinging so fast it blurred into a single, silver arc. Shinichi sidestepped the attack and the weapon smashed into the tiles where he'd been standing, sending chips of stone flying in every direction. At the same moment, Shinichi stepped forward and swung the sword as hard as he could at the place where the plates of armor met near the knight's waist.
The impact sent a jolt straight up his arms and through his shoulders, rendering them almost completely numb. The sword's momentum tore it from his nerveless fingers. Fortunately, it had done what he'd hoped and now there was a second set of armor scrambling to reassemble itself. He kicked the helmet away as hard as he could. It sailed almost all the way across the massive chamber and rolled into the shadows of a hallway mouth. He proceeded to separate the pieces: kicking, rolling, and shoving them in every direction.
In a different section of the chamber, Kaito had come to a decision. He now knew that he hadn't only sprouted fangs overnight. He had also gained a supernatural amount of physical strength. Kind of like the typical, media-propagated idea of vampires, he mused. He stored that observation away for the time being to tell Shinichi later.
In the meantime, he had some knights to dismantle. Leaping down from the balcony he'd—quite accidentally—landed himself on with that first miraculous jump, he dropped to the chamber floor four stories below and landed in a light crouch. The action felt incredibly effortless, as though he'd done nothing more than hop off a tall step. The knight reacted instantly to his landing and charged, but Kaito was much faster.
And he knew now that all that armor wasn't worth any concern over.
Moving in under the knight's guard, he grabbed the thing's sword hand and squeezed. Metal gave beneath his fingers. The sword clattered to the floor as he tore the gauntlet right off the end of the suit of armor's arm and crushed it into a shapeless twist of metal. As he'd guessed, the whole thing took a lot less effort than it should have.
Apparently the suit of armor didn't know what was good for it. It tried to hit him with its remaining hand. The next few minutes were filled with the tortured screech of rending metal.
Stepping back, Kaito observed the twitching pile of scrap metal and dusted off his hands. Bits of it were clearly trying to piece back together, but he had made sure to disfigure every piece to the point where they couldn't be recognized. He might have felt sorry for it if it and its friends hadn't just been trying to behead him and his dear detective. Speaking of Shinichi…
Turning, he scanned the chamber. His eyebrows rose at the sight of two pairs of disembodied, knight legs chasing after assorted pieces of their armored upper halves as Shinichi kicked said pieces of upper halves as far apart from each other as he could. It looked like some kind of bizarre, Halloween comedy act.
Striding over to where Shinichi was setting up to give one of the helmets another hard kick, he stopped him with a hand on his shoulder.
"Allow me. We can't hang around playing with them all day, and I get the feeling they'll chase us forever if we don't disable them completely."
"But how do you propose to do that?"
"Like this." Picking up the helmet, Kaito tore the visor off, folded it into a bow, and tossed it aside. Next he scrunched the rest of the headpiece into a wrinkly, metallic ball and bowled it into the mouth of an adjoining hall. "Now, if you can keep the legs distracted a little longer, I can work on the rest of the bits. Then we can find a way to trip them up and deal with them too."
And that was what they did.
Two more twitching mounds of scrap metal later, they were finally able to rest.
Shinichi dropped unceremoniously to the ground, legs stretched out before him as he leaned back on his arms, panting. Playing bait in an impossible game of tag with two pairs of running, armored legs was exhausting. It only made it worse that the things themselves didn't tire while he did. At least all he'd had to do to trip them up was turn around and dive at their feet. Kaito had done the rest.
There was something strangely satisfying about watching Kaito reduce the knights to tiny bits that couldn't hope to pull themselves together if they had a hundred years to figure out which bits went together.
"Maybe we should mix them up while we're at it," he suggested as an afterthought.
Kaito chuckled. "Feeling a bit vindictive are we?"
"I'd rather call it being practical. I am not spending another few hours being chased around by suits of armor just because we weren't thorough enough."
The magician looked down at the bits of metal heaped before his toes. There weren't any pieces left bigger than a clenched fist. "Somehow I doubt that's something you're going to have to worry about."
"I hope you're right."
"Shall we get going then or did you want to stay and find out?"
Letting out a weary sigh, Shinichi clambered back onto his feet. He couldn't help but notice that Kaito wasn't even breathing hard. Granted, he hadn't been running all over the chamber like Shinichi had been, but he would've thought that tearing metal to shreds should take some effort, even for a—for someone with supernatural strength.
Kaito frowned. "We can stay and rest a bit you know. I really don't believe these scrap heaps are going to be able to reassemble. A few minutes can't hurt."
"No. I'd rather find out what's happening, and we can't do that by sitting here. Besides, we don't know if there are any more of these things lurking around. We can rest once we're outside."
"Provided that A, there aren't more monsters outside, and B, we can find our way out to begin with."
"I think I can lead us out of here. I'm pretty sure I can smell fresh air in that direction." Shinichi pointed towards one of the hallways on the far side of the chamber.
Kaito sniffed but, again, he couldn't smell anything unusual. "Lead the way then. I'll watch our backs."
The glow of the galactic chandelier dimmed then faded away completely behind them as they walked back into the maze of hallways. Once again they found themselves passing through pockets of flickering firelight and shadow. They didn't speak much, both listening hard for the sound of metallic footsteps.
"We're close," Shinichi said finally just as they rounded a corner.
And came face to face with a grinning skeleton.