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Maruigakko (Case: The Round Schoolhouse)

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What had once been well-maintained school grounds had, over the course of more than forty years, descended into a dishevelled and unkempt mess. Whatever paint or external treatment that had been applied to the building's exterior had long since worn off, exposing the raw stone to the elements while the flora had overgrown to the extent where any paved expanse which may have been laid down in the Sixties had drowned beneath a cacophony of wild grass, weeds and the occasional cluster of random flowers. Now that Kyle had escaped the strange spatial loop, the sky had returned to the hue expected of the early-to-mid evening this late in the year; a sky that was tending towards purple as the light sank away.

This time, however, the main absence Kyle felt around him... was of sound. He couldn't hear any birds in the air, nor the whispers of a breeze; as though wildlife and weather alike knew to give the schoolhouse ruins a wide berth. Quietness was never a good thing when investigating the Secret World. He preferred the noise. Of a creature, of conversation, of anything. He didn't care what it was. This deathly silence - the absence of anything that wasn't made by him - was fundamentally wrong in his mind. Every so often, Kyle found himself idly playing with his ear with his right hand just to reassure himself that he hadn't suddenly gone deaf.

It had only been a few short minutes since he'd yanked the bullet out of his own arm but, already, he could feel the flesh inside the wound starting to knit itself back together. Hyperaccelerated healing was always an odd sensation; to actually feel what was, in essence, a time-lapse progression of the mending process working away inside his own body. What would have been a fixture of a mundane person's life for weeks, if not months was something that Kyle would see the end of in just a few hours. Despite the silence, however, he refused to have the nearest gun anywhere more than a few inches away from his hand at all times. Occasionally kicking at any wildflowers in his path as he walked, he began to slowly make his way towards the ruined school.

For something which had been abandoned for just over forty years, it was remarkably intact. The external walls hadn't yet crumbled and, while each and every window had at least one hole in it due to decades of vandalism, his cursory - if distant - glances through them that, despite most of the furniture being destroyed, stolen or missing, the inside of the school was at least able to allow people to carefully venture inside. He was no structural engineer, but the old Bibai schoolhouse didn't look like it was in imminent danger of collapse.

It took him a few moments of trudging around the building's perimeter before he located the entrance; a wise, six-and-a-half foot tall rectangular frame which had once housed a set of double doors. Now, however, one of the doors was missing completely while the only signs of the other's existence was a jagged section of half-rotted wood still somehow clinging to one of the metal hinges bolted to the frame. Even without some of the interior walls and most of the furniture, Kyle could tell that he'd found the lobby. To his left, sat what appeared to be a reception area; a low wall forming the beginnings of a counter at which a member of staff would have greeted visitors and students alike.

Although the walls had fallen apart in places and there was nothing covering any of the windows, the late hour meant that Kyle still needed help to see where he was going. Wincing as he spurred his injured left arm into action, he reached for his phone and, after some awkward fumbling with his thumb, managed to activate the light. Would space have allowed, he would have fitted an actual dedicated LED torch light to the back side of his phone for the task but, alas, the camera's flash bulb would have to do. With the phone held up, he could once again pick his way through the dilapidated ruin and, after double-checking the reception desk in search of anything useful to his investigation, he set off down the curved corridor towards the first set of classrooms.

Nudging open a door with his foot, Kyle - having travelled about thirty feet - decided to take a detour into one of the classrooms. Between the exposed sections of wall were a series of corkboard façades, each of them displaying remnants of a brightly-coloured display; pieces of paper either pinned or taped there for all to see. From the relative lack of kanji - or fragments of it, after forty years - and the once-vivid colours, he surmised that this was likely a room for younger students; first-graders, perhaps. Despite the classroom's size, many of the desks had been reduced to rubble, with only a couple still able to stand under their own power.

Despite the obstacles, Kyle still made an effort to search through the room. Whatever cabinets, drawers or desks he could reliably access and force open, he searched. Right now, the object of his quest was something he'd know once he found it. Any sign of the Dragon's involvement in whatever had caused the schoolhouse and the surrounding mining town to fall into abandonment and ruin. Anything that seemed out of place or abnormal against the backdrop of a 1960s-era school. Each drawer he searched was torn out and tossed to the floor; a more expedient way for him to keep track of where he'd already looked. Many of them were full of shrivelled, distorted textbooks, seemingly burned or exposed to a violent flameless heat at some point in the past.

Once beyond the first classroom, the preliminary leg of Kyle's investigation became somewhat monotonous. While the rooms had once been distinct and different from one another, the destruction had rendered them all a homogenous mess. There was no longer any way to decisively determine which room had served which purpose - for Kyle to tell the difference between a first-graders' classroom and the teacher's lounge - which left him with little more than guesswork to piece together the layout of the school. Unsurprisingly for a building left to the elements for forty years, no-one had thought it prudent to keep a floorplan to hand. And, having never thought to ask Kaito Miyamoto precisely where he'd caught a glimpse of the Dragon's emblem, he was somewhat at a loss as to where to look next.

Without foreknowledge of what he was expecting to find, Kyle was left with the options of what he would do were he in the shoes of this mysterious agent from forty years in the past. While he was far from an adept ritualist or versed in almost any kind of magic, the fact that many spells necessitated the building of some kind of circle was one so ingrained into the collective consciousness that even mundanes who watched television - binging on their Buffy The Vampire Slayers and their Supernaturals - were unknowingly privy to it. He hadn't found one yet. He hadn't found so much as a magical rune scratched into the wall or daubed on a desk in blood.

Around twenty minutes had gone by as he removed the last of the drawers on the teacher's desk. Having made it to his fourth classroom and turned up nothing, Kyle was beginning to think that he was going about the investigation the wrong way. He was trying to apply logic to a situation that, if his assumptions about the things discovered in his interview were true, the Dragon had created. They were a secret society that thrived on - and made use of - chaos, after all. Nothing they did, when viewed alone, made sense. It didn't make sense because, in the moment in which their acts were committed, it didn't have to.

Sifting through the drawer's contents, it was clear that, once again, he'd turned up very little of interest. The only thing in there that wasn't damaged or faded beyond recognition were the remains of what appeared to be a curriculum textbook; a plain-coloured cover with lines of Japanese detailing the content in a businesslike and altogether mindnumbingly boring font. A part of him was tempted to take it. It looked like any book in its situation would, having sat in a dark drawer in a destroyed classroom for four decades. The fact that it had been somewhat shielded from the elements had been instrumental in keeping it in one piece and, from flipping his way through it, just about all the pages were still legible. The potential interest in something like this wasn't insignificant: education historians and museum curators would both have appreciated a look back into how lessons might have been conducted in the 60s. He might even get some money out of it; certainly enough to buy his colleagues a round or two. It depended on the exchange rate.

But, as he dropped the drawer to the floor, a muffled banging caused his whole body to whirl around in the direction of the wall which shielded him from the corridor. Somewhere, back the way he'd come from, a door had slammed shut. On instinct, Kyle's right hand went for a gun while the left set the textbook down on the desk. If he remembered, he'd be taking it out of here with him. A part of him had expected something like this; for some sort of presence to show up unannounced and, with the potential for danger now escalating by the second along with his heartrate, his senses were training themselves on his surroundings.

. . . a o i k a m i.....n o.....o t o k o . . .

The syllables hissed their way through the air; a sing-song voice conveying the eight syllables in a strangely slurred fashion. Kyle's eyes widened as his mind processed the words. It was no coincidence that the three main words were all ones he recognised. It was also no coincidence that the three words in question were calling him out. The only way it could have been creepier was if the voice was doing so by name. He squeezed his eyes shut, just for a moment. He wasn't scared. Not yet, at least. He just didn't want an errant thought to give something any ideas.

Blue-haired man.

Slowly reaching the door, Kyle raised his arm. The concept of hauntings and haunted places had worn somewhat thin over the years. More often than not, hauntings followed the same small collection of traits; various things which led someone such as himself merrily along the path from A to B. A was learning how the culprit was tethered to the mortal realm, while B was taking the swiftest option to extricate them from it. Normally, by focusing on what needed to be done, he evaded the whole idea of being scared. But this... was different somehow. Urban legends had always said that the old Bibai schoolhouse was haunted but, up to now, nothing had suggested that this even was one.

And then he opened the door.

For a split-second, Kyle thought that Mitsuko had somehow followed him all the way out here. The figure which stood motionless on the other side of the threshold shared a couple of physical characteristics with his interpreter; black hair, a slender figure. But, from the way it seemed to occasionally flicker as though caught on a broken videotape, Kyle knew he wasn't looking at a high school student. A pallid-skinned Japanese woman was standing before him, dressed in attire that appeared far too modern to be placed in the mid-20th century. Skinny jeans held around the waist by a studded belt, coupled with a military green croptop which had been paired up with a black, long-sleeved bolero. And, like many members of the Japanese public, the lower half of her face was shrouded in a surgical mask which almost blended with her skin.

"Aoikami no otoko." The figure spoke flatly, regarding him with a set of glassy eyes. With the mask on, it appeared as though she'd been frozen in place; as though it was a cardboard cutout that had just spoken to him. "Wata-..." Kyle's momentary theory compelled him to pull the trigger, the bullet cutting the figure off before the start of her next sentence. Where the wet sound of lead meeting flesh should have been, there was a blast of heavy air as though he'd landed a hit on a bag of flour. In an instant, the figure recoiled from the impact before losing all cohesion, fading away into plumes of smoke.

Even when the figure had gone, Kyle didn't move. He was frozen, slowly panting as he fought to harden his composure. A part of him had been expecting to see a yokai - a Japanese malevolent entity - at some point during this trip. But he hadn't prepared himself to have one stare him dead in the eyes without warning. Why was it here? Had it just drifted in at some point after the school's abandonment? Or had it been deliberately brought here? He didn't know. And, rattled for the moment as he was, he was struggling to think which was more likely.

It was a good few seconds - almost thirty - before his right arm started to retreat to his side. He didn't bother to holster the gun. Now that he knew that yokai were close by, there was no way that he was going to walk around unarmed. He needed to be prepared to open fire at a moment's notice. In hindsight, he knew that he'd already finished searching the room he was in. The only thing remotely interesting he'd turned up had been the old textbook in the teacher's desk; something which might have scored him some money - or, at least, some appreciation - from a museum curator or an antique store. There was nothing keeping him in that room. He knew he should have moved onto the next one.

But he turned around anyway.

"Watashi wa utsukushii desu ka...?"

This time, the loudest noise which rang out in response wasn't gunfire. It was Kyle's back as he flinched his way against the classroom door. With no warning - and no sound whatsoever - the same figure from a few moments ago had been standing behind him, waiting for the moment where he would pull an about-face to stare at her. Kyle's mind began to race again. This time, his mind leapt onto the inquiry. A normally innocuous question that just sounded eerie and unsettling coming from the woman before him. Five words. And, as he pieced them together, the pit in his stomach only grew.

Am. I. Beautiful.

The mask.

The question.

Watching the figure slowly reach into its pocket and produce a set of large tailoring scissors - an implement that should not have been able to fit - only cemented the notion. The kuchisake-onna sounded like something out of a horror movie; so much so that it had been used for one. A masked Japanese woman would approach lone people at night, asking if they thought she was attractive. According to the legends, the victim was in for a violent death or mutilation regardless of their answer. There were, apparently, ways to at least confuse or distract her for long enough to make a getaway but, with his assignment requiring that he stick around, none of them were particularly viable. And, for the ones which required him to actually speak, Kyle didn't know enough Japanese to convey them.

So he shot her again.

And, when he ran out into the corridor and made it all of ten paces before she fizzled back into existence before him, he did the exact same thing. Having now been chosen as a potential victim, Kyle knew that he had to keep moving. He also knew that, with a kuchisake-onna breathing down his neck and able to teleport her way around the school on a whim, his ability to investigate was going to be hampered. But, despite all of that, his mind soon went back to his earlier thoughts about ritual circles. They were so prevalent in magical theory; the bigger the circle, the more powerful and more difficult the spell. They could be drawn to incorporate objects; candles, relics and the like; the designs giving each one its proper place.

But what if the ritual circle was the object?

What if, in a crazy idea to end all crazy ideas, the Dragon agent had built their ritual circle... out of the entire school?

It would have taken a lot of work and preparation just to get into a position to try and pull it off but, as far as Kyle knew, it was theoretically possible. The only variable which changed between the run-of-the-mill incantations found in spellbooks and this... was scale. In his mind, the theory was almost taking on the form of a scientific experiment. He'd conjured up a hypothesis; something which he believed might have explained everything he'd seen as well as compelling Mitsubishi to shut down their entire operation.

Now he just had to prove it.
Posted Jan 25, 19 · OP
x 4
The bullets weren't doing anything to her. Not really.

When it came to killing creatures from the Secret World, spirits were an especially tricky bunch. Their incorporeal nature meant that, unless one had precisely the right tools, dealing lasting damage to them was almost impossible. All Kyle's bullets were really doing to the kuchisake-onna which had been hounding him for the past fifteen minutes was destabilise it. It took energy and concentration for a spirit to visibly manifest itself and, more often than not, violent interactions such as being in the path of gunfire did a lot to break their train of thought... but very little else.

Kyle had two pistols and a shotgun on his person and, right now, he was losing a fight against a very pissed off woman armed with a pair of scissors. Whenever he dismissed her from his vicinity, the yokai would reappear somewhere else. On more than a few occasions, she would take him by surprise; manage to bring one of her scissor blades to bear against him before he would dart away and open fire. His shirt - a garment which, while inexpensive, had been faultless and clean when he'd arrived - hung over his body as a bloodied and partially shredded mess. The seams hadn't yet come apart but Kyle knew that the straps of the holster housing his shotgun were doing quite a bit to help ensure he wasn't roaming around the ruined school topless.

At the moment, as much on the proverbial back foot as he might have been, the two of them were locked in a stalemate. Kyle had already recalled how a rural schoolhouse wasn't the traditional stomping ground for the kuchisake-onna. From their origins as a samurai's former lover to the modern day, they had always chosen victims who lived in towns, cities or other settlements; the vast majority of accounts stated as such. If that specific piece of lore was still accurate, then something must have been binding it to the school. Annoyingly, he still needed to find it and hadn't the slightest clue about where to begin. On the other hand, Kyle Mardian was the host of a Gaian bee, with all of the heightened regenerative capabilities thereof. The cuts and minor stabbings were wearing him down, but slowly.

Still running on the theory that the Dragon agent who had preceded his arrival by forty years had somehow turned the schoolhouse into a colossal ritual circle - mostly because he had been too distracted to think of another one - Kyle had tried looking for answers closer to the the centre of the structure. Whenever he thought of magical rituals, there was always something at the centre of them. The altar, the person casting it, a relic or some form of focus through which the effects could be conveyed; it didn't matter. If he found it and destroyed it, he might have got himself a step closer to solving his first solo case.

As he bundled himself through the next door in his path - part stumbling, part diving - he heard the dull thunk of a blade biting violently into the wooden door. The kuchisake-onna, having long since dispensed with her traditional conversation starters, had become a shrieking ball of rage. Over and over again, she'd repeated the same things whenever her thoughts became coherent enough to string a word together. He didn't need a phrasebook for those. Wishing for someone to die or hatefully proclaiming that they would kill someone was pretty much universal. With the building itself being circular, it left very few avenues for Kyle to flee either from or to. Built around a central hub room dominated by a spiralling staircase, every single other room was accessed from there and, as he'd quickly realised, there wasn't much room for a ritualist to place something down where it wouldn't be found.

He was now one floor up from ground level and, thanks to the devastation, his new momentary refuge looked as broken and nondescript as all of the other rooms he'd been in. As hardy as his body might have been, most of his wounds were still weeping blood and, as he began to study the room while he had the chance, he found himself stumbling in his efforts to get back to his feet. For now, the yokai hadn't elected to take advantage of its incorporeal state and simply drift through the door as though it wasn't even there. Occasionally, the door would jolt in its frame as the kuchisake-onna jabbed at it with her scissors; not to claw her way through it like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, but just to taunt her prey. Just to let him know that she was still there.

The room - the largest one Kyle had found thus far - was filled with the broken remains of tables and chairs, strewn in a haphazard heap which threatened to spill out of one of the windows with how it had all been deliberately swept to one side of the room over time. Over the course of hundreds, if not thousands, of visitors; official or otherwise, paths had been cleared through most of the rooms as people dared to venture further and further into the ruins. In places, he'd seen doorways blocked off by metal shutters; one of which had been adorned with the phrase 出口 in black spray paint. It was one of the few words Kyle recognised in Japanese without the aid of his phone or Mitsuko: deguchi, meaning "exit", no doubt put there to dissuade people from trying to break through them lest they wound up tumbling out of a first or second-floor window.

With such a large amount of furniture left to rot, coupled with the room's sheer size, there weren't many things the room could have formerly been. Kicking gently at the odd piece of broken wood and metal piping, Kyle wasn't finding much in the way of technology. Then again, with the ruins being of a school which closed before he was born, he hadn't really expected to. With that in mind, he surmised that this was some sort of assembly hall. Either that or a dining room for the students. Then again, his junior school back in London had used the biggest room they had for three purposes; for assemblies, for PE classes and as a dining hall. There was no reason this place hadn't done the same.

Making his way over to one of the room's exposed windows, Kyle peered outside. Now that he was on the opposite side of the building to where he'd entered, he could see more of what surrounded the school. Or he would if night wasn't rapidly falling around him. Amidst a cluster of trees and overgrown plants, he could see the skeletal remains of some kind of outbuilding, a collection of rusted girders sprouting up from a stone foundation. From the way they were arranged, he could clearly make out where the walls would have stood, capped off by...

...the roof.

That was it.

As far as he knew, the schoolhouse roof was still mostly intact. While many rooms on the ground floor had been carpeted by nothing but muddy ground, the floors and ceilings had held up remarkably well for a place which had languished in disrepair for decades. As well as being the closest anyone would have got to the exact centre of the building, the roof was also a near-impossible location to reach, especially now. Kyle had seen no fire escapes of any kind while navigating his way around the building to find the entrance; such constructs likely having rusted and fallen away long ago. Without the aid of a fire truck or a crane, getting onto the roof would take a daredevil. Or someone with just enough bloodloss to give in to recklessness.

Languidly pushing himself away from the window frame, Kyle trudged back towards the door. The kuchisake-onna hadn't stopped needling the door with her scissors, the dull noises sounding through the wood in a random rhythm. She might have chipped away at an outer layer or two by now, but there were still no holes in the rather thin wood to speak of. Deciding to dispense with his pistol for the moment, Kyle exchanged it for the shotgun on his back and, after chambering a shell, he aimed the larger weapon at the door before gently kicking it open. "Shii--"

This time, Kyle wasn't giving the yokai a chance to get a word in. He'd grown tired of her squealing and, thanks to his wounds, had grown pretty tired in general. The kuchisake-onna's ghostly, visible form withered away under a barrage of buckshot and explosive noise. The latter syllable of her death threat burst into a pained, gasping scream, fading out along with her and giving the blue-haired man a chance to run. Still only on the first floor, he needed to take the stairs up another level before he could even think about trying to scale his way up to the roof. Banking on luck as he stumbled his way up the remaining steps of the spiral staircase, Kyle's eyes scanned the ceiling in the hopes that some form of partial collapse would have created a hole through which he could clamber through and reach his destination.

He didn't find one.

Which meant - as the kuchisake-onna's howling began to pipe up again - he'd have to get there the hard way. She was reforming herself quicker now, seeming to realise what Kyle was up to. After so much time bound to one place, her mind had all but unravelled. The fact that she'd remembered her usual preamble at all was a moment of clarity spurred into being by a human's mere presence; asking if they thought her attractive more a compulsion than a desire. Kyle had the beginnings of a plan for reaching the roof, but they depended mostly on what he could find in the schoolhouse. He needed something long and sturdy - the longer the better - and an abundance of excess weight.

Backing into the first of the second floor rooms, he watched as the yokai rose up through the floor where he'd been stood only seconds earlier. He'd been waiting for her, knowing that she'd persist in following him. The moment she charged forward, he unloaded another shell from his shotgun before immediately turning his attention to the room he'd chosen. The room's only window had long since been destroyed, the resulting hole having been covered up by an iron shutter which had been bolted in place. No matter whether his plan succeeded or failed, the shutter needed to go. After trying to kick the shutter away, Kyle turned his shotgun on the relatively flimsy sheet metal. By blasting away the upper corners of the window frame, it was a simpler task of pushing at the shutter until it bent over on itself like a hatch, exposing the room to the elements once more.

With a way outside exposed, Kyle set out in search of usable furniture while also keeping his eyes open for the kuchisake-onna's inevitable return. By draping a full-height cabinet against the rear end of an upturned bookshelf and filling it with as much rubble and broken furniture as he could find, Kyle's plan was to create a platform out through the window from which he could jump and climb his way to the roof. Just finding the bookshelf and cabinet in a state that looked like they could support his weight was a miracle in itself. Getting them back to the second floor room he'd chosen - especially with the cabinet originally being down on the ground floor - with the yokai hounding him at every turn? It felt as though he was rebooting the trials of Hercules.

With shell casings in his wake - and another twenty-odd minutes gone after knocking down the shutter shrouding the window - a still-bloodied Kyle finally managed to set up the haphazard array of furniture without everything falling outside. Climbing up onto the bookshelf, the see-saw of 1960s hardwood furniture began to pivot against the window frame, gradually opening a way for Kyle to edge his way outside. He didn't need a long-lasting platform. As long as it remained in place long enough for him to jump, he'd be fine.

"Kutabare!!" If the kuchisake-onna wasn't out for blood before, she definitely was now. Her shrieked insult made it abudantly clear Kyle was far from welcome. By the time he heard the quartet of syllables, he was gradually shifting up to his full height, tentatively waiting for the makeshift platform to settle as he eyed his destination. "The fuck am I even doing..?", he sighed to himself. Deciding not to wait any longer than was necessary, Kyle tensed his muscles and jumped. But, as soon as his fingers found purchase on the edge of the roof, he felt a rather familiar sensation digging into his calves.

With his makeshift platform now settling back into its starting position after the absence of his weight on the other end, the yokai had rushed after him. Unburdened by the laws of physics, she hovered there, stabbing at Kyle's lower legs as he fought to claw his way up. "Kuta-ba-go fuck yourself!" It was Kyle's turn to yell into the night. Without a way to effectively excise the kuchisake-onna from his vicinity without letting go of the roof and risking an express trip straight down to the forest floor, his only option was to endure the pain and do his best to continue. With blood starting to stream down to his ankles, he weakly flailed his legs around and used his upper body to haul the rest of his mass upward and roll his way onto the roof.

Once again, he lay in wait - rather more literally than before - for the yokai to inevitably follow before drawing his pistol and opening fire. Once again, the creature teasingly withered away. Once again, Kyle knew she'd be back in a few minutes to torment him further. Nevertheless, he had a case to solve and a theory to test. Crawling his way to his feet, he slowly paced his way along the partially moss-covered roof, making his way towards a rusted cylindrical protrusion that both marked the centre of the building and served as the only visible landmark. Every few moments, a wave of lightheadedness brought him to a halt as he fought against his mind's unwillingness to remain focused.

Stopping before the barrel-like object, he took a moment to silently survey himself, mostly to check if he wasn't on the verge of falling unconscious. Occasionally, his legs would tremble as they supported his weight and the level platform of the roof would gently sway but, for now, Kyle felt he was able to ignore it. He'd endured worse than this before. He'd died before; more than once. Things were certainly a cause for concern, but he wasn't quite on the verge of keeling over just yet. Stowing his pistol and grabbing his shotgun once again, Kyle crouched down and studied the base of the object. Measuring a good few feet in height, the metallic vessel looked like an old-style boiler or other water supply system but, being far from a master in the history of plumbing, he couldn't say for certain what the thing was.

Tapping the barrel of his shotgun against the metal, the quiet, yet reverberating clang was enough to inform him that the tank was hollow; no doubt having been drained of its contents long ago. His entire working theory was riding on this hunk of formed metal. After taking a moment to ensure that he wasn't about to inadvertantly blast himself in the face, Kyle began to noisily ram the butt of the shotgun against the metal. It was the most solid object he had to hand and, after a few seconds, he started to see results. With each successive impact, the metal began to cave in on itself, causing a noticeable crater in an otherwise mostly perfect convex curve. Not wanting to risk damaging the gun further, he set it down beside him and, despite the pain as he stood back up, began to kick at the hopefully weakened area as hard as he could.

Even the strongest of mundane men wouldn't have experienced much beyond a jarring feedback running through their leg and perhaps a broken foot. But, in spite of his injuries, Kyle was still able to augment himself with both anima and the enhanced qualities he enjoyed as a bee. Focusing away from agility to raw strength wasn't something he did often but, on some occasions, the situation had warranted it. If it had been a solid metal door, he probably wouldn't have bothered trying and instead found some form of explosives to do the job for him. But, at the end of the day, the tank was basically sheet metal; metal which had been left to the elements for over forty years.

After a dozen kicks - and the sheer luck to have started his task beside one of its welded seams - the tank had started to split open. A couple more, and he'd made a gap big enough to stick his hand through. Sure enough, the tank was devoid of liquid and, without apprehension, Kyle reached in through the hole and started to grope around in the dark. After touching nothing but metal, he would angle his arm a different way and search elsewhere. Using the light from his phone wouldn't have done much due to his bloodied limb blocking the way, forcing him to settle for the imprecise search. Until, that was, his fingertips found fabric.

And he immediately recoiled.

Grunting in discomfort, he felt a distinct burning sensation on his fingers. But, rather than be dismayed, Kyle actually smiled. A warding spell cast over a ritual bag could dissuade others from removing it in all manner of ways. Inflicting curses upon them that brought monsters down on their heads, burning anyone who touched it... if anything, this was progress. "C'mon. Out you get..." And, while he didn't have the expertise to counter the magic - or the time - he knew of other ways to get the job done. His throat making involuntary noises of both pain and exertion the whole way, he grasped hold of the fabric he'd found earlier and tore it free from its prison.

A ritual bag had been made out of a large, dyed-green burlap square, tied off with what looked like - but more than likely wasn't - a braided electrical cable. An assortment of runes had been scrawled over it, surrounding a crude depiction of the mask-like Dragon emblem. Back when it had been placed there in the 70s, the one responsible had likely opened up the tank from the top and simply dropped it in. But, after four decades of neglect, all of the usually accessible orifices had likely rusted shut. Regardless, both the bag and its contents needed destroying.

"Do... ra... gon..!" On any other night, Kyle might have wondered why the kuchisake-onna elected to say the name of his secret society in English - or with katakana syllables - rather than in Japanese. But, after having shot her and seen her rematerialise over and over again, he was far past the stage where he might have cared. Maybe, she'd been specifically summoned by a Dragon agent before being bound to the schoolhouse. It would certainly have made the most sense and explained why Kaito had seen the shredded remains of a Dragon patch near a corpse. "Yeah," he sighed, sounding exhausted as he retrieved his shotgun. "I'm a Dragon. So what?"

The yokai shrieked at him, its ghostly hand trembling as it gripped her scissors; still slick with Kyle's blood. It glanced down at the ritual bag, then up at her adversary/victim, watching as he began to switch one set of shotgun shells out for another. The non-metallic section of the casings were a different colour - orange instead of the usual blood red - but it had no idea what that meant. Not wanting to find out, the ghostly woman advanced. Her form flickered once more as she moved far faster than her walking gait would have suggested.

Only to find a pistol bullet suddenly scything through her chest. "I'm busy," Kyle grumbled as the yokai's corporeal form withered away. This time, whether sensing some kind of mortal danger or simply the baser desire to see this annoying foreigner dead, the kuchisake-onna wasted no time in reassembling herself. Appearing from another angle a few seconds later, she tried to attack Kyle again. This time, before another bullet temporarily sent her packing, she managed to ram one of the scissor blades into the human's shoulder, forcing him to move aside. "Gonna need bigger scissors!", he taunted, staggering away from the site of his latest attack.

Unloading the shells he'd initially loaded had been the most time-consuming part of his task but, once they were all out, the next step was far quicker. With so many supernatural creatures reacting to being burned, Kyle had made a habit of packing some dragon's breath shells with him whenever he set out on an assignment. With the regular buckshot switched out for magnesium shards, the act of firing them produced a brief plume of three-thousand fahrenheit flames; more than ideal for burning buildings, creatures or, in this case, sturdy fabric. Electing not to waste any more time, he operated the pump-action lever and unleashed both of the incendiary shells he'd managed to load before being interrupted.

It didn't take long for the bag to go up in flames and, before long, the trinkets went up along with it. A swift stomp with one of his boots made doubly sure that any residual magical effects were eradicated. The kuchisake-onna, seeming to have noticed that the tethers binding her to the school had fallen away, didn't reappear again after that. Making his way back down from the roof and out through the school's main entrance took a few minutes and, without the wayward magic in place, the strange spatial loop which had resulted in his first - and most embarrassing - injury of the evening was completely absent. Before long, he was back on the rural road which, if he turned left and followed it for a few kilometres, would take him all the way back to Bibai.

This time, Kyle decided to walk. He didn't have the energy to run and, with the state he was in, he needed the extra time for his wounds to heal. Nevertheless, he found himself taking hold of his phone. Originally, just to turn the light off to avoid draining the battery but, when he saw the missed calls from Mitsuko, he thought it best to return them.

"Kyle?!" The high-school senior's voice was more surprised than anxious. "Are you okay? We... try calling, but you didn't answer."

"Yeah, Mitsuko. I'm fine."

"Did you go to the school? Are you coming back here now?"

"I'm walking it. Might be a while."

"Did you find what you were looking for?"

"Yeah. You know how it is: go out for a night in the country, meet a crazy masked ghost girl with scissors...."

Mitsuko gasped. "You saw a kuchisake-onna?!"

So that was what they were called. "Yeah. But we didn't hit it off. Got the feeling she hated me." Humour was all he could really manage. He just wanted to rest, let his wounds heal, maybe get drunk. So, rather than keep talking, he decided to keep the phonecall as short as possible.

"'s the last time I'll let some creepy girl at a school hit on me, that's for sure."

~ ~ ~ T H E....E N D ~ ~ ~
Posted Jan 28, 19 · OP · Last edited Jan 28, 19
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