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Maruigakko (Case: The Round Schoolhouse)

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(( This'll be gradually expanded as I go, eventually forming a full story. Yay! ))

Just getting to Japan was a difficult task, even for someone like Kyle who could cross continents in minutes using Agartha's maddeningly large network of branched portals. If both legend and the almost nonsensical wisdom of the Buzzing were to be believed, the locations of many capital cities across the world were no coincidence. Ley lines wormed their way around the globe like a magical circulatory system and when early mankind had deigned to settle, they had been inexorably drawn to the largest founts of such power. The fact that two of the three largest Societies were based in a capital city only served to support the theory.

The detonation of a Filth bomb in a corner of Tokyo near the Orochi Tower, while thankfully not spreading beyond the borders of Kaidan, had adversely affected just about every single Agarthan portal with an exit point on the Japanese landmasses. Despite efforts to reinforce and ward the portals against the "interference", the portals had had a reputation for being temperamental at the best of times. Nevertheless, even with Agartha, it was impossible for Kyle to jump to Bibai directly. Like a railway, the portal network simply didn't serve everywhere and, in order to reach his destination, he had to travel to Sapporo before taking the Hokkaido Expressway for the last sixty-three kilometres.

But, in somewhere like Japan, technology could only get Kyle so far. Without any real knowledge of Japanese beyond a couple of words and phrases that, combined, still didn't amount to enough to be considered a conversational grasp of the language, assistance might as well have been a galaxy away. It wasn't long after he started making his way along the streets of Bibai on foot that, as he'd expected, he started getting odd looks from passers-by. It was inevitable, really. After all, when was the last time anyone here had seen a six-foot-two English guy with electric blue hair strolling around?

He'd managed to find himself a hotel he could use as a base of operations - the Hotel Suemono on Chuo Street - which, luckily, was within sight of a supermarket and a handful of restaurants. Checking in and getting himself a room had been nothing short of a nightmare. An AR app on his phone could take care of the written signs with ease but, when it came to verbal communication, it was laborious and slow; mostly his own fault. "Hello!!"

The voice - greeting him in accented English out of nowhere - took Kyle by surprise. It took him a moment before he spotted the voice's owner: a likely senior-year high school student who, along with a couple of her friends, had passed him a few seconds earlier. He'd tuned them out for the most part, chalked up their conversation as just idle words among a trio of friends. But when he heard rapid-fire utterances of "aoikami!"; something his time in Kaidan had taught him meant blue hair, along with a tone of voice that sounded like someone was being goaded, he found that he'd inwardly braced himself for something like this.

"Hey!" It seemed that, no matter where in Japan he showed up, Kyle got some sort of attention because of his hair. Maybe, he surmised, it was because he looked like an anime protagonist. He didn't need to be cosplaying in order to look as though he was one who'd sprung to life. This time, the attention was working in his favour. It was the first time - not counting the receptionist at the hotel - that someone had tried speaking to him in English and, as a local student, there was every chance that she'd know something about where he was headed. "Your... hair looks awesome!"

"Thanks," Kyle replied with a brief bow of his head. "Are you able to help me?" As well as doing his best to shed most of his accent in order to make himself sound more comprehensible, he resisted the urge to launch into a full-length explanation of his reasons for being in Japan in the first place. "I need to learn more about the school ruins out in the forest."

"Oh..! The, ano... marui gakko! Round school!" The look on the faces of the student's friends turned to one of mild concern as they realised the intent of the random guy they'd passed on the street. He was here to go out to take a look at the haunted ruins of a schoolhouse that had been closed down years before any of them - even Kyle - had been born. "A lot of stories say... the school... is?" From how she'd been thrust forth to speak to him over either of the others, Kyle guessed that she had the best grasp of English out of the three of them. Of course, English was probably a hellish language for anyone to learn; especially for the Japanese where, to them, the sentence structure and even the way one recited their name was 'the wrong way around', let alone dealing with other linguistic tricks such as homophones, silent letters and the like. If the concept of trolling was able to speak, it'd probably do so in English.

Nevertheless, Kyle stayed quiet. "No-no... was!" The student got a brief eureka moment as she solved the problem of which tense to use on the fly. For her, this was great practice. "The school was closed, uh.. long time ago. No-one knows why. Tables and... chairs; all stay. People say that only shiryo - spirits of the dead - go there. Some say even worse things."

"That's why I'm here," he announced, with more than a hint of pride in his voice. He doubted anyone this far away from London knew who Knightsbridge were. It likely didn't help that they were named after a part of that very same city. So he kept things simple. "I want to find out what's causing it. It's been haunted for nearly fifty years. There has to be a reason."

"Why?!"

"It's my job." Kyle said, responding to the incredulous question with a smirk. "I work for people who take a closer look at... weird stuff. Scary stuff." Now the high schooler was looking at him like he was slightly insane. Then again, he was affiliated to a society that the vast majority of people on the planet either weren't aware existed or refused to believe existed. He fought against both people from other such organisations and the supernatural on a near-weekly basis. Not that long ago, he'd been in the forests of Washington, gunning down wendigo that had been cybernetically enhanced to achieve the power of invisibility. A haunted ruin was, if anything, almost mundane by comparison. "Do you know where I can read about that school? The history? The more I can learn, the better."

"Maybe, uh... city hall? Or the library!" Both had the potential to offer more insight, at least into the history of the building itself. Right now, anything would have helped; records detailing the school's closure, newspaper articles. He just hoped the same app he was using to decipher the road signs could manage something so complex. "You find them; go back to Chuo Dori, away from, uhh... the train. Follow street all the way. Both buildings next to... swim pool!"

At least now, Kyle had something to go on. The language barrier was a bridge he'd cross when he inevitably got to it again. The city hall and a library, both situated right next to a swimming pool at the end of Chuo Street; luckily enough, the same street on which his hotel was situated. "That's gonna be a big help. Arigato gozaimasu." With a smirk, he bowed his head again, reciting one of the few Japanese phrases he actually knew. The student grinned. "That's good! Are you... learning?"

"Trying to. I really don't know very much Japanese." Kyle chuckled, holding up his customised phone. He knew how to greet people, ask restaurant staff what they recommended and... that was about it. "I've been using my phone just to read all the signs." That got a laugh out of the trio, especially when the student supplemented their curious inquiries with a brief translated response.

"If you are... going to stay; look at the school ruin, I could help?" Kyle's eyes narrowed slightly. "No, not with shiryo! Um... help... you... change words..?"

"Oh, to translate? The things at the library?" That definitely made way more sense than his original thought. "Uh... sure. But... don't you have schoolwork to do?"

"I hate to study. To help you sounds more fun!" Fishing her own phone out of her pocket, she rushed over to Kyle. "My name... Araki Mitsuko! Uh... no. Mitsuko Araki. I, uh... forget. Family name is last in English, heh." After a few keypresses, Mitsuko held up the phone's screen. Displayed on it were a series of kanji Kyle couldn't make heads or tails of but, nestled in the middle, were a series of numbers. "You can call me; ask for help. I know where the library is. So... what is your name? Number, too!"

"My name's Ky-..." Quickly, he realised yet another linguistic hurdle. In Japanese, the letter L pretty much didn't exist. Deciding to alleviate the confusion and expedite at least half of the process, his attention dropped to his phone. "Hold on." Some quick button presses of his own followed. After quickly entering Mitsuko's number into his contact list, he delved into the internet and, after some quiet thought, he finally turned his own phone around. Sitting above his own phone number were a series of katakana symbols; the purpose-built alphabet the Japanese used to phonetically spell foreign words.

カイル・マーディアン

"It's, uh... my way around but... there you go," he announced triumphantly. Mitsuko's smile widened as she realised what he'd done. "Ky... le Mardian!" With the exchange complete - and Kyle inwardly wondering what someone like Maya would think about him scoring the number of a girl fourteen or so years his junior - Mitsuko pocketed her phone. "Nice to meet you, Kyle!"

"Nice to meet you too, Mitsuko." With each repetition of his name, he could hear Mitsuko doing her best to condense the three syllables - "Ka-i-ru" - to match how he would say it; nudging the second one up against the first and trying to shift her tongue to produce a different sound for the last one. "I'd better be going. Thanks for the help!"

Parting ways, Kyle and Mitsuko set off in opposite directions; Kyle continuing on down the street while Mitsuko rejoined her companions, presumably to do something school-related. While he could have made a beeline straight for the ruins, he'd quickly realised it was folly to do so without adequately preparing himself. His time on the wendigo case; both alone in Pennsylvania and with Annie, John and Maya in Washington, had led him to draw certain parallels between working a Knightsbridge case and hacking into... well, anything, but primarily computer systems. The more supplementary research was done beforehand, the better equipped he would be to pull the job off when the time came.

He spent the better part of the next couple of hours strolling around town, making mental notes of various landmarks and other places that might be useful during his strange stay in Bibai; grocery stores for miscellaneous supplies, restaurants, the police station, anything that resembled a clinic or medical centre. But what Kyle was really looking for was proving to be much harder to track down. While bees such as himself could instinctively sense Agartha portals and anima wells, no doubt a capability bestowed upon them in much the same way as their superhuman physical capabilities, finding an anima well in Bibai had quickly grown infuriating.

Whenever he felt that the flow of anima was pulling him in one direction, the sensation would roll around to sit behind him after travelling a few hundred metres like a broken compass. He was wandering aimlessly within minutes and, after turning to head down yet another street, he realised it was getting him nowhere. The plan of simply following compulsion clearly needed a rethink. Kyle had expected things like this purely based on the fact that he was in Japan, but to experience such phenomena eight hundred miles away from Tokyo? To him, it didn't seem plausible. The Filth in Kaidan hadn't ventured out from that tiny slice of Tokyo and, for the time being, it seemed to have no intent to.

So if the Filth wasn't to blame - because he'd seen no evidence thus far that it could have been - Kyle's next target for the blame settled on the schoolhouse ruins. As well as being the only remotely supernatural thing he'd either heard of or read about within a hundred miles, they were only five and a half miles away; on the town's doorstep in comparison to Japan's capital. Which led him to another question: if they were responsible for these disruptions, why was it the case? Anima could be suppressed or diverted by any number of means; spiritual, technological, magical... there was simply no way for him to know which until he actually got out there.
Posted Aug 21, 18 · OP · Last edited Aug 21, 18
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For Kyle, a well thought out plan was something approaching sacred. They were, of course, subject to change - often on the fly - but it was that degree of preparation which had served him well for years. Information gathering, research and even things as simple as ensuring he had enough spare ammo were so ingrained into his routine that he could scarcely imagine a task in the Secret World without them. Investigating the supernatural on behalf of Knightsbridge lent itself rather well to that routine and so he remained in Bibai. With firearms being illegal in Japan, Kyle had effectively smuggled his own equipment - namely, his Orochi-model handguns and the rather more off-the-shelf shotgun he'd used against the wendigo in Washington - into the country, with enough ammo for each to hopefully avoid the need to trek the sixty-odd kilometres back to the nearest Agartha portal to fetch more.

Although he wouldn't have considered himself a user of magic, his initiation as a Dragon agent had included a few lessons in rudimentary glamours which could interfere with a mundane person's perception of objects. They had impressed upon him the need for such measures; more often than not by saying how missions would inevitably require them to bring their 'combat paraphenalia' across international borders and get away with it. Practitioners of blood magic had their ritual blades and perhaps the odd textbook or two. Elementalists had a focus and, while they could be made from seemingly innocuous objects, they would certainly have looked weird enough to attract undue attention. The fact that Kyle had decided to use guns only made that need even greater. Just about every country on Earth had some sort of gun law and the last thing he wanted was to wind up in jail on firearms charges.

More often than not, he disguised them as computer components; something he could quickly and skilfully explain away. Hard drives, graphics cards, server blades... it all played into his skills with social engineering. He just subjected any knowledgeless idiot that got nosy to a torrent of bullshit until they gave up. It had worked thus far and, until that changed, he saw little need to change how he did things. This meant that, while he could have quite easily made his way out of Bibai immediately, looked around the ruins and perhaps got the whole case closed in a weekend, it was likely safer for him to be thorough.

Keeping himself fed wasn't as much of a pressing issue as Kyle had originally thought. It might have been quietly infuriating for him to try and convey his needs in what little Japanese he could remember but, from the way the fifty-something proprietor of the small ramen restaurant had reacted to his effort, he didn't seem to be faring too badly. The older man was meeting him halfway with some limited English, as well as teaching him how to refer to various things on the menu in Japanese and, between them, Kyle managed to score himself a bowl of beef ramen. He'd had the crappy instant noodles dozens of times on both sides of the Atlantic and, finally, he'd got an opportunity to try some actual Japanese ramen for once.

It wasn't healthy by any stretch but, with ramen generally being considered comfort food, it wasn't meant to be. Then again, ever since being assimilated into Gaia's ranks, Kyle had come to realise that he was able to get away with a lot more, nutrition-wise, than he remembered being able to before the bee had flown down his throat. The fact that he was able to - and, sometimes, ordered to - engage in rigorous exercise on a near-daily basis helped; whether it was Knightsbridge or the Dragon giving the orders at the time. With a meal over and done with, Kyle set out in search of his next port of call.

The library, according to what Mitsuko had told him, was over on the other side of town to where he'd eventually found himself; at the opposite end of Chuo Street, nearer to his hotel. With his attempts to find an anima well still ending in confusing failure - not that finding a solitary one would have particularly helped him to get across town any faster than on foot - he instead reverted to type and resorted to technology. A run-of-the-mill GPS routeplanner app soon allowed him to plot a course back towards the library and, before long, he found his way onto Chuo Street, leaving the remainder of his trip as little more than a rather lengthy straight line.

It had been a good two hours, if not more, since he'd run into Mitsuko; a hundred and twenty minutes he'd filled with aimless wandering, some food and very little else. With no other leads for him to follow, the library was the ideal next step. Turning his attention to his phone as he made his way along the street, he scrolled through the long list of contacts he'd amassed over the years. Unlike many, he rarely - if ever - deleted anyone from the list, even if they and Kyle had fallen out of contact; just in case they checked in after a lengthy period of silence. Funnily enough, Mitsuko was the only entry under M he had, making her number rather easy to find.

He hoped, as he tapped the screen to begin the dialling process, that, by now, school had finished for the day. The last thing he wanted was to suddenly be calling her in the middle of a lesson. The dialling tone went on and on, seemingly forever and, after a minute or so, Kyle was half expecting his call to be kicked to an incomprehensible voicemail message. A couple of times, he took the phone away from his ear and glanced at the screen, wondering if he'd accidentally muted the audio or hung up. But, eventually, the monotonous ringing gave way to the slightly muffled sound of a large crowd of young voices.

If Kyle was to guess, the phone was either outside in a school playground or in the cafeteria. Eventually, a familiar voice chimed in over the crowd. "Moshi-moshi..!" The traditional Japanese telephone greeting had stemmed from ghost stories and folklore. According to numerous stories, a telltale way to determine whether someone was actually a yokai - a catch-all term used to refer to demons, supernatural monsters and hostile spirits - in disguise. The story had become so ingrained in Japanese culture that the shibboleth had entered into the modern lexicon and had become the way that people commonly answered the phone.

"Hey, Mitsuko." Kyle could hear the high school senior - distant all of a sudden - chastising someone; telling them to be quiet. "It's Kyle; the aoikami guy you met earlier today?"

"Kyle-san! Hello!" Given that he was over a decade older than her, convention normally dictated that she stick an honorific at the end of his name to reflect the difference in social standing. The fact that she'd used one while speaking English could easily have been explained away as a force of habit. Neither of them decided to pick up on it, silently agreeing that the likely excuse was good enough. "Are you still in Bibai? Do you need my help?"

"I do, actually." By now, he had already passed his hotel and was now on a section of Chuo Street he hadn't seen before. According to Mitsuko's directions, he had to follow the road all the way to the end in order to find the library, nestled next to City Hall and a swimming centre. "I'm heading for the library you told me about when we met. I want to find out more about the schoolhouse ruins aaaand, well..." For a moment, he trailed off. The difficulties in going to a library in a country where English wasn't the primary language were inherent and obvious. While the augmented reality translator app on his phone might have been able to deal with the text, relying solely upon it would have slowed him down way more than he would have liked. "...I need your help to tell the staff what I'm looking for. And translate stuff from whatever we manage to find."

To Mitsuko, libraries were boring places reserved for studying and, normally, she would have flatly refused to venture into one for fears of dying of that same boredom. But, despite the similarities, what Kyle was asking of her was completely different. This wasn't studying by any means, even if helping him with translation work was effectively studying to improve her English. This was an investigation! "My school, uh... is not close to the library. But I do want to help! Will you wait for me?"

In the distance, Kyle could see the road terminating in a junction, beyond which he spotted a cluster of buildings. One of those, he presumed, was his destination. "Of course. I'll wait outside for you. Just look for the blue hair, okay?" Again, something pulled Mitsuko's attention away from the phone. From the sounds Kyle managed to catch, he guessed that one of her friends was asking for a play-by-play of her phone call. They were no doubt intrigued by the fact that she was on her phone, speaking English to someone. The fact that he was sure heard his name a couple of times before she next spoke to him only confirmed his hunch. "I will go to the library and find you! Oh! Can a, um... to... mo-... can a friend come along with me? She wants to meet you! I tell about your blue hair and how you want to see the ruin!"

Word, it seemed, was spreading. It was inevitable, really. Thankfully, he hadn't technically given the game away with regards to the supernatural. His story had stuck to the folklore legends that the people here already knew about the Round Schoolhouse. As far as they were concerned, he might as well have been another western ghost hunter who'd read up about the ruins on the internet. He had... sort of. But, unlike the other charlatans, he knew that most of these stories and elements of folklore were utterly true. "Sure. But only one friend though, okay? We don't want to make the library noisy and crowded, y'know?"

"One friend. I understand. I won't make you wait long!" Mitsuko relayed Kyle's willingness to her friend, meaning another few seconds of incomprehensible background noise until the familiar voice returned to sign off. "Goodbye, Kyle! Thank you for letting me help!"

By the time Mitsuko hung up, Kyle was a short distance away from the buildings at the end of Chuo Street. As he crossed the street and approached, he fired up the text translation app and aimed his phone at the signs as if about to take a picture of them. Eventually, he managed to find which building was the library and, just as he'd said moments before, he leaned against the building's external wall and waited. It might have looked strange for someone like him to be waiting for a pair of high school seniors, but they were the only interpreters he had. They would have to do.
Posted Sep 7, 18 · OP · Last edited Sep 8, 18
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It was a good thing that neither of them had any extracurricular club meetings today.

As well as not wanting to leave Kyle hanging, Mitsuko and Kaori - the friend she'd mentioned during the phonecall earlier in the day - had been smiling far more than usual as they, like many at their school, whiled away the last twenty minutes or so helping to clean up the place. Insofar as it being done in schools was concerned, the practice of osoji was, apparently, used to help instill a sense of routine in them which, like their education, would serve them well later in life; hopefully turning them from attentive students into model adults. It was tedious, monotonous and, way more than she felt was normal, Mitsuko had a sneaking suspicion that many of the crappy jobs were dumped on her.

But it had been a part of her day-to-day life for over a decade. Suddenly excising something so deeply rooted from her school routine would have been like clicking one's fingers and snapping the sun out of existence; abundantly noticeable by its absence. On the bright side, she was a senior, which meant that the cleaning jobs around the school were something she would only have to endure for a few more months. As soon as she graduated and moved on to... whatever, the cleaning jobs would all be over. Today, Kaori had been taking a broom to the corridors - a relatively easy job - while Mitsuko had been emptying out the garbage and tossing it into the recycling dumpsters at the back of the school.

The fact that she'd been given rubber gloves and a plastic sleeved poncho/apron thing to wear and she had been part of a team of two dozen really didn't make her feel any better. She was sure she could smell something hovering around her general vicinity. At least her school uniform made it through the ordeal unscathed. As they made their way off the school grounds and onto the streets of Bibai, their conversation quickly turned to Kyle and why he'd shown up in town.

Between them, they playfully theorised why an English-speaking guy with blue hair would show up in Japan to go hunting after ghost stories. Sure, the schoolhouse ruins a few miles out of town were creepy as hell and had been in the public consciousness for decades, but most people living locally knew to leave well enough alone. In recent years, as western-style Hallowe'en celebrations became more popular, groups of teenagers and young adults had ventured up to the forests around the ruins. Some just stayed for an hour or two, using it as a spooky denouement for a costumed bar crawl while others had camped out there either as a dare and to see if they could make sense of why the place was so renowned for creepy goings-on.

As with anything shadowed by the potentially supernatural, conclusions were often vague, confusing and contradictory. Hallowe'en wasn't for another few months, which quickly removed that particular theory from the running. Kaori, ever the sceptic, had surmised that Kyle possibly wasn't in Bibai to look at the schoolhouse at all; that he was there for some other, more nefarious reason. As for what that could have been, she wasn't sure. Her theories, clearly, weren't getting very far; idle thoughts to keep the conversation going and little else.

Because many Japanese students remained at school for anywhere between one to almost three hours after their scheduled lessons finished at 3:15, Mitsuko and Kaori didn't have to worry about their parents as they made their way along their somewhat sudden detour. Getting the bus from the school to the library might have been easier, especially on their feet, but they knew enough about the city to know that walking there allowed them to take a much more direct route to where Kyle was waiting for them.

From where he was standing, the constant trickling flow of pedestrians and traffic barely seemed to change as time gradually progressed further into mid-afternoon. Having lived in the UK for most of his life, Kyle was used to seeing a discernable increase in both as schoolkids - and their parents - buzzed around in order to get back home. Japan did things differently and, if there were any changes in the flow of traffic to be seen, they weren't for a few more hours. What also surprised him somewhat was how nobody had approached him, either to strike up an innocuous conversation or to try and ask him to leave. Surely, he must have looked a little suspicious; a man in his thirties loitering outside one of Bibai's landmarks in the middle of a weekday.

By the time he caught sight of Mitsuko making her way towards him with Kaori in tow - cutting across the same vaguely square section of tree-lined grass he had in order to make a beeline for the door - it had been almost forty minutes since he'd reached the end of Chuo Street and found the library. "Kyle!!" As she waved and got his attention, Mitsuko made the differences between her and her companion even more apparent. Kaori was noticeably taller; her slender frame a couple of inches shy of six feet in comparison to Mitsuko's decidedly average - for Japan, at least - five-six. Combined with her long hair, Kaori was the quiet and slightly aloof-looking counterpoint to Mitsuko's smiling, energetic disposition.

Both of them, having just left school and headed straight to the library from there, were still dressed in their matching uniforms. With a tiny shift of his muscles, Kyle pushed himself away from the wall and reared up to his full height once again. "Sorry! Did you wait long?" He didn't much mind the wait; nor did he care that he'd been made to, meeting the inquiry with a shrug of his shoulders and a noncommittal noise. After dealing with the Dragon's bullshit for however long it'd been since he'd awoken that one day in Seoul, waiting forty minutes for a couple of school seniors was nothing. "This is my friend. Her name is Kaori. Her, uhh... English is.. quite bad."

Despite that point, the taller senior was quick to spot that she'd been name-dropped. Almost seeming impressed that she was meeting someone taller than her, she eyed Kyle with a faint smile. "Hajimemashite. Yamauchi Kaori desu." As well as not feeling like being overly formal after such a long school day, Kaori realised that Kyle's Japanese was likely as bad as her English. So she kept things simple; short phrases anyone could've looked up in a phrasebook It was, if not nice then at least interesting to meet him and he now knew her name. If there was anything else she wanted to know, she could just ask Mitsuko. "Nice to meet you too." And, once Kyle proved that he'd got it, she nodded slightly, returning to her quiet self.

To be honest, after learning that her best friend had stumbled across a random English guy on the street, she'd found the whole thing a bit dubious. It was meant to be a trip to the library but, if Kyle tried anything, she'd ram her knee into something squishy on his body and haul Mitsuko out the door. Of course, it likely wouldn't have come to that, but it didn't hurt to at least be prepared. "What are you looking for, Kyle?" Occasionally, when Kyle spoke, Kaori would pepper Mitsuko with a quiet inquiry; one which prompted a brief interpretation so she could easily keep up. "Things about the school?"

"To start with, yeah." Being the best suited to communicate with everyone in the group and the library staff they were about to encounter, Mitsuko took the lead, heading into the building's lobby first while Kyle and Kaori followed in her wake. "I'm looking for anything relating to the old school's history; names of old staff members, documents from the school, newspaper articles... that sort of thing. I want to know what the place was like while it was open. And, if possible, any theories as to why it closed. Apparently, the whole place closed down really quickly; pretty much without warning."

"Yes!" Mitsuko fired back, nodding. "I hear stories from elders; how the children at the school were all sent home on same day. Then news say school closed. No-one talk about the school after." In and around Bibai, the local folklore surrounding the ruined school ran along the same general theme. Those over a certain age - usually those old enough to have been beyond the school leaving age in the mid-to-late seventies - all remembered how, out of nowhere, a legion of children totalling the entire student body flooded the local buses in the early afternoon one day. Having been sent home with little explanation, both they and their parents were baffled as to why the school had suddenly shut down.

That, she surmised, was probably not what Kyle was here to find. Those stories were likely going to be the first pieces of information they'd encounter. The trick of being a member of Knightsbridge was the ability to dig beneath that and find the concrete reason as to why something had occurred. "You can wait here, please!" Mitsuko announced, briefly turning around to face her companions. "I will go tell the librarian what you need." Before long, the high school senior was at the library's front desk, chatting away in effortlessly-fluent Japanese, leaving Kyle to stand beside Kaori; the two of them feeling similarly awkward without a way to reliably communicate.

Occasionally, Kaori would glance up at him as they stood in silence, surveying his face. While westerners did come to Japan; whether for a vacation or even to migrate, it was rare to see them this far north. More often than not, they remained on Honshu; the colossal central island which - as well as making up the majority of Japan's total landmass - housed many of the main cities which drew outside attention: Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and so on. It was only curious travellers who ventured to the other three main populated islands, where bustling metropolis often gave way to farmland, forests and fishing.

No matter how much she knew that social convention deemed it impolite, Kaori just couldn't tear her eyes away from Kyle's eyebrows. There was a story there; she just knew it. And, once curiosity had grabbed her, she couldn't help herself. She just had to ask. "Hey..." The noise turned Kyle's head to face her at the precise moment she realised that she had no idea how to get her point across without Mitsuko's help. "You-... uhh..." She'd taken English lessons, just like the rest of her classmates. But, unlike her currently indisposed counterpart, she just hadn't had the same knack for foreign linguistics.

And yet, as she struggled, Kyle just... smiled at her. Was it understanding or mockery? Whichever the case, Kaori had dropped herself into an embarrassing situation. But she wasn't going to give up. She'd find a way to ask, even if it killed her. "Mayuge..?" Questioningly stating a single word, she gauged whether the taller man understood it.

He didn't. "Uhh... not sure what mayuge is. Sorry." Kyle's Japanese was limited at the best of times. Kaori, on the other hand, wasn't giving up. "Uh... eyes?" That didn't sound right. But Kyle's mayuge were above his eyes. So, in a laborious, roundabout way, she was actually getting somewhere! She didn't care what Mitsuko thought. She was calling it a win. Extending a hand a few inches, she pointed up at his face. "Aoikami?"

The chuckling which followed caught Kaori off-guard but, contrary to what she was expecting, it wasn't from Kyle. After they shared a glare, Mitsuko rattled off a question in Japanese intended for her classmate. Kyle was able to catch a couple of familiar syllables, but nothing specific beyond "what" and "you". His best guess: Mitsuko asking Kaori what she was trying to say. The conversation continued back and forth for a moment or two, by which time Kyle had mulled over the fragments of words Kaori had managed to say to him. "Hey, Kyle..? Kaori wants to know wh-..."

"...why my eyebrows're blue?" Having already known what aoikami meant, he'd taken Kaori's mention of eyes and extrapolated the likely result. Mayuge, it seemed, must've been Japanese for 'eyebrows'. Made sense to him at least. "I was really bad with hair dye when I first used it. It dripped down onto my eyebrows and... well, I didn't want my eyebrows to have blue spots. So I just dyed them too." Again, Mitsuko gradually took his response on board and relayed it to Kaori. Finally learning the brief anecdote, she couldn't help but laugh a little. "I'm guessing we're allowed into the library now?"

"Yes." Mitsuko gestured to one of the sets of double doors which flanked the front desk at the back of the lobby. "The librarian say... to start with Local History. It has old newspapers and, uhh... building things."

"Good place to start, I guess," Kyle remarked, making his way over towards the doors his companion had indicated. "I think the best place to start is seeing if the closure was in any of the newspapers. Just hope this place has a decent collection of 'em..."
Posted Sep 19, 18 · OP
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"What was it you said this said again..?"

Trawling through one newspaper article after another, Kyle was struggling to keep up. In order to help mitigate the inevitable degradation of things from Japan's past, the digitisation of historical records had become increasingly commonplace. In the case of paper-based media, such as newspapers, this had taken the form of high-resolution scans of each and every page. With the advent of the internet and computer networks, it was a much faster - and, to Japanese historians, preferable (unless they were analysing the paper itself) - method of obtaining the insight Kyle needed; far better than giving him a pair of gloves and sending him into a storeroom with an escort he couldn't understand.

They'd only been at it for forty minutes but, to Kyle - who couldn't read a word of what was on the screen without assistance - it already felt like a few hours. "The, uhh... title say Mining Town Shrinking After Mitsui Mine Close." Much to his annoyance, his text translator app wasn't able to pick up anything that was displayed on a screen. It hadn't taken long for Kyle to see - or, more accurately, hear - the pattern emerge as Mitsuko translated each new article; the information they gleaned prompting them to jump forward or backward in time with regards to the newspaper issues for which they searched.

Japan, like many countries, had a prominent coal mining industry in the 20th century. A number of mines were located on the island of Hokkaido; half a dozen of them being opened near the town of Yubari. It wasn't until Mitsuko and Kaori lent their knowledge to the cause that Kyle learned that two mines had been opened near Bibai around the time of the First World War. "Bibai still here, buuuut... people remember smaller place - like town, but for miners and family - nearby. This newspaper is from, uhh..." It took Mitsuko a moment to scroll up to the head of the page to find the date. "Ah. Year 38 of Showa-jidai. That is..."

"1964." In official documents - and, so it seemed, in this particular newspaper - the Japanese expressed the year by their own Imperial "era" system rather than the Gregorian calendar. With the death or abdication of each Emperor for the past quarter of a millennium, the successor chose a name by which their reign - and themselves, once they died - would be known. Kyle had been keeping track of the little things, one of which being the need for him to translate between one system and the other. Mitsuko and Kaori, being just eighteen, had only known about the current Heisei era; the one they were born in - and one which was scheduled to end next year - while Kyle, being in his early thirties, was just old enough to have been alive in two of them. "That does sort of match up with what I've already read about this school. Round buildings like that were apparently pretty popular with architects around the Sixties. And the last of the mines in Bibai closed down in... 1972."

His fingers were swiping all over the screen of his phone as he jumped from one application to another. "Try jumpin' forward again," he suggested. With the library keyboards - and the settings - all in Japanese, he'd thought it best to leave that computer for Mitsuko and Kaori to control while he worked on the leads stemming from whatever they found. "Go to, uhh.... Showa-46. See if anything comes up again about this mining town. If there suddenly stopped being a need for miners around Bibai, then that might be close to the time all their families packed up and went somewhere else."

The high schoolers chatted back and forth in Japanese, Mitsuko relaying the new instructions to her companion like a running commentary while Kaori offered her own quiet insight into the matter. Mitsuko's sudden adoption of an admonishing tone of voice caught Kyle's attention, as though she was quickly shooting down a somewhat unhelpful comment while she typed and shifted the mouse around. Before long, she had navigated through the menus and was delving into the local newspaper issues dated from the year Kyle had suggested. To help speed up the process, the database also listed each and every article that had made it onto the pages of each issue of the newspaper. While Hokkaido had its own prefecture-wide newspaper, the subprefecture in which Bibai was situated - Sorachi - had four of its own. Thankfully, modern technology made things far less mindnumbing.

Mitsuko had come up with her own system. Rather than go through the database one publication at a time, she had lumped all five newspapers - the Hokkaido paper being there for thoroughness' sake more than anything else - into a group and was searching through them all at once, month by month. Knowing that she was looking for anything relating to the Bibai mining industry, she'd used related terms to 'control-F' her way through the database at a decently high speed, clicking from one reference to the next after she'd skimmed through the headline and first couple of paragraphs to make sure she wasn't missing anything important.

Most of the time, results were in the form of vague references to the area; a crime which just so happened to take place out in that part of town or an influx of much-needed supplies coming there from another mining town. But, eventually, after getting halfway through the articles dated for May, Kaori's voice suddenly piped up, snapping Mitsuko out of her routine of hitting the return key by frantically telling her to wait. After some more equally frantic chatter from her companion, Mitsuko scrolled back to the article, where she began to peruse it in more detail. "Find something?"

"Yes! I... I think." Instinctively, Mitsuko pointed at the screen before realising that written Japanese was - at least without technology - beyond Kyle's ability. "You can... print this? Here." Gesturing over towards the nearest staff-manned desk, she brought Kyle's attention to a networked printer sitting at one end. A small sign had been set beside it which, with the exception of an easily recognisable ¥25, was full of typed-and-printed Japanese. But it didn't take much to guess at what it was saying. "But it costs money for each time. You... have money, don't you?"

"'Course I do." Even for someone without access to a company expense account, twenty-five yen was practically nothing. Delving into his pocket, he fished out a series of coins and began to sort through them. Eventually, with a couple of thousand yen's worth of coins in his hand, he glanced back at the desk situated across the room. "What, do I just pay the woman at the desk or something..?"

"No, no!" Chuckling quietly, Mitsuko pointed at the sign and effortlessly recited it before offering an on-the-fly translation. "It means, cost is twenty-five yen to retrieve printing. Insert coins, then type number of computer." Kyle was slightly intrigued at the prospect of a coin-operated ordering of the otherwise first-come-first-served network printing queue; more in how it was accomplished than how they were siphoning extra money from people, three near-worthless coins at a time. Mitsuko's head then craned around the monitor in search of a series of characters which had been Sharpie'd onto the back of it. "Uhhh... this is sanjuroku! You know Japanese numbers, Kyle...?"

It was one of the few things he did know. "Yup. Number thirty-six. Got it!" Making his way across the room towards the printer, he filtered out twenty-five yen with his finger before depositing the three coins into the slot. With Mitsuko's simple instructions, the printer sprang to life in seconds, allowing him to collect the printed copy of the newspaper they'd found. With the newspaper's front page - or what he assumed to be a front page - now transferred to paper, Kyle was sure that his phone would at least be able to try translating the article. Even if it couldn't - and it was too complex for the program to manage - he still had Mitsuko to help him out.

"Okay...", Kyle sighed as he sat himself back down. With the printout sitting propped up against a framed picture of what looked like a historical building, he aimed the camera of his phone at the text and fired up the translator application. By using augmented reality to scan the words and project an English translation onto the screen, he hoped that he'd at least get something legible out of his twenty-five yen expenditure. "Let's see what we get." After a few moments of silence where, for a moment or two, it almost looked like the program had locked up on him, the screen began to spit out letters and words he could actually read.

"Looks like the council here were taking funds away from the mines as they closed," Kyle mused, much to Mitsuko's mild surprise. Being the only one who could speak both Japanese and English, she couldn't help but look over at her blue-haired companion as he gradually skimmed through the article she'd found. "Wait, hold on. It says here that they were cordoning off the school with armed police. That right?"

Acting as verification, Mitsuko looked at the original article and began to search for what Kyle had recited. Sure enough, in between the cryptic nonsense about unexplained goings-on at the schoolhouse and an abundance of rumours surrounding the mining town's closure, she spotted the references to how the police had been called in to keep the general public away from the site. If that had been the case back in 1972, then why was the schoolhouse now accessible by anyone with a decent pair of shoes? "Yes! Police granted approval to use weapons at the school. That is-... that does not happen often at all for normal police."

"Yeah, that's what I thought." Unlike the States, Kyle wasn't aware of whether the rank-and-file Japanese police were permitted to carry firearms. With such an uncharacteristic approval to do so, he knew there must have been some sort of reason as to why. Of course, finding the official reasoning behind a choice made by a Japanese police chief forty-six years ago wasn't going to be easy, especially if the chief in question was either long-since retired or even dead by now. "My phone even managed to get the name of the person who wrote the article too: Kaito Miyamoto. Think it'd be worth trying to track him down rather than goin' to the police?"

It was a long shot, to say the least. But, with little else to go on, Kyle was quietly banking on the odds of the average investigative reporter being markedly younger than the average police chief. "It is an option, maybe?" Mitsuko didn't seem to be much of a fan of either idea. "But... you cannot speak Japanese; maybe very hard to ask questions. And Kaori and I not able to go everywhere because of school." She did have a good point, even if her prowess with English might not have been high enough to convey it. With the two of them being high school students, there were a number of reasons why Kyle couldn't just have them tag along as his interpreters-on-retainer; the most innocuous of which being that they probably had exams to study for. Beyond that, things might have got a little... sketchy.

"Yeah. And I can't just drag you 'round everywhere with me, either. What if I just called you? Y'know, put you on speakerphone and have you help me out with language stuff that way?" It wasn't the most convenient of ideas, but it was a lot better than an alternative which would have given the people of Bibai the wrong idea. "That will work!" Mitsuko grinned, before looking back at the screen. "Are you finished now? Need to find more newspapers?"

"For now, yeah. I'm done. I've got a couple leads I can follow; that'll last me at least the next day or so. Though can you do me a favour?" Mitsuko nodded enthusiastically while Kaori's expression remained neutral, unable to keep up until her classmate recapped everything in Japanese. "Could you ask if I could have copies of anything relating to the, uhhh..." Looking at his phone again, he reminded himself of the owners of the mines which had been running just outside town. "...the closing of the Mitsui and Mitsubishi mines here in Bibai? Tell them about the newspapers we already found and ask if there are any official documents that the public can have copies of. Seeing as you're a resident here, you'll probably have to make the request in your name rather than mine but... that should be fine, right?"

"Yes, Kyle! I'll do it!" Satisfied, Kyle got up and made his way out of the library, spending just long enough in there to hear Mitsuko calling after him. "Good luck!!"

He was probably going to need it...
Posted Oct 4, 18 · OP · Last edited Oct 4, 18
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Tracking down a resident who had done something noteworthy in Bibai just over four-and-a-half decades ago was infuriating to say the least. Not only did Kyle not know enough Japanese to get by, let alone conduct first-hand research with the people around him, but there was every chance that both of the people he was searching for - Kaito Miyamoto, the man who had written a newspaper article about the closure of the Bibai mines in 1972 and whoever had been the local police chief at the same time - were unable to help him, whether due to not reliably remembering specific events so long ago or simply being dead.

In Japan - a place whose average age was markedly higher than almost everywhere else - both had a decent chance of being true and, the longer Kyle's latest task continued, the more he realised just how that was interfering with the investigation as a whole. Deciding to start with the "highest profile" lead and work down, his first port of call had been the local police station. As expected, conveying his request for information had been pretty difficult, even with Mitsuko on speed-dial. Not only was he a civilian trying to get information on who had historically held the highest post in the local police force, he was a foreign one.

But, once he had spelled out his reason for being in Bibai, people were somewhat more forthcoming. While he hadn't been granted access to any of the police files pertaining to the mining town's closure - and, frankly, he hadn't been expecting to - they had divulged the identity of the police chief from back then. For all the good it did him. In the space of the intervening quarter of a century, Chief Kobashi had retired from the force and been struck down by a heart condition; his death in 1997 being a matter of easily-accessible public record. From the various glimpses he'd been able to get of the interior of the police station while he'd been bounced from one officer to the next, Kyle had seen enough to realise that, like any modern building, they had a pretty sophisticated computer network.

Or, at least, enough boxes with flashing lights for the average layman to believe they did. The police station likely had a couple of in-house IT techs as any large-scale business was wont to have, with the number of a specialised company on their speed-dial in case things really went wrong. The fact that he'd been forbidden from accessing files when he'd physically been there was largely irrelevant. He wasn't going to admit defeat that easily.

"Hey, Mitsuko. 'S Kyle again." The excursion to the police station had been a day and a half ago. In order to keep the police station as a viable option, he'd taken a trip back to London to fetch a laptop from home. More often than not, when he needed to hack into something, he normally used his phone. It was convenient and, for basic mundane networks, more than enough to overpower their defences. However, the police station's systems were something he envisioned to be much more robust; chiefly because of the confidential information which formed the basis of criminal cases, regardless of whether he actually needed it.

Which warranted the use of something more powerful in order to mitigate the risk. While Kyle knew he could (eventually) get the job done with his phone, its limits meant that he would have to be inside the building in order to pull it off. And he wasn't the most inconspicuous of people at the best of times, especially in Japan. Nevertheless, it was a mission for later. "Hey!" Behind him, the Agartha portal languidly swirled around in the distorted branches, a quiet buzzing moving along with it. "Where did you go?"

She wouldn't have believed him if he told her he'd gone to London and back. Even after he'd spent over half of the last thirty-six hours doing next to nothing besides rest and swing by the Knightsbridge office. "After the police station? I just went back to my hotel room," he explained, the lie flowing effortlessly from his mouth. "After learning that the police chief we were lookin' for died twenty years ago, I needed to think about what to do next."

"And you think something?" It was now the middle of Saturday afternoon. School wasn't much of an issue if Kyle ended up needing her help again. "Kaori and me can help today; no school! Also, I get the documents about the mines for you."

"Yeah, I've thought of a couple of things. I need another favour from you for one of 'em, though." It might have been a bit of a dick move to technically make Mitsuko an accessory to a cybercrime but, with no real alternative, he pushed on. "You think you could te-... uh, send me a few SMS messages with some words in Japanese?" Understandably, the high-school senior was confused. "I need to know what they look like in Japanese if I'm suddenly able to look for information and you two are in school. I need... "mitsui mine", "mitsubishi mine", "mine closure"... that kinda stuff."

"Uh... sure. I can do that. What was the other thing?"

"Miyamoto. The newspaper reporter. I need to find out if he's still around and, if he is, where he lives these days." Strolling away from the portal, Kyle began to make his way towards the nearest road. From there, it was a short walk to the nearest town. Renting a car again was an option. Or, if he could plot a route that avoided civilisation, he could just run there. Granted, the car was faster than him, even with his superhuman abilities, but running would have attracted less attention. Provided no-one saw him. "I'm not holdin' out much hope though. He wrote that article in 1972. If he was my age back then, he'd be pushing eighty by now."

"You think he will be alive?"

"It'd be easier if he was." From the beginning, Kyle felt like the investigation thus far had been leading him on a long-winded wild goose chase. The leads had been few and far between and, up to now, they had resulted in nothing more than dead ends. Sometimes literally. "I doubt he will have kept any of his own research or other notes for this long." Being a few dozen miles away from Bibai, Kyle had to get back into town before he could think about following up any leads. "Are you able to look up Kaito Miyamoto's address for me before we meet up at the library again?"

"I can. But... how will I know the right Miyamoto?"

"Easy. You call them up and ask." Social engineering 101. It was amazing just what you could get from someone by politely befriending them. Better yet, this wasn't for a nefarious purpose and, being a reporter, Kyle thought the man might have appreciated some further honesty. "Ask them if they worked at... whatever newspaper it was and if they wrote an article about the mines outside Bibai in 1972. If you find 'em, ask them if Kyle Mardian from Knightsbridge Consulting could ask them a few questions about it."

"Knightsbridge? What is that?"

Deciding not to run while he was still in the middle of a phonecall, Kyle looked like any other hitchhiker-slash-hiker as he trudged along the roadside. "It's, uh..." How best to explain it without giving everything away? How had the website put it? "We're a detective agency who investigate weird stuff. Basically, if people think that the normal police won't believe them or think they're insane, then they call us. And I got the case to come look at the school ruins."

"You are a yokai hunter?!" Mitsuko couldn't hide the elated giddiness in her voice. Now she knew why Kyle was out here, the prospect of helping him was even more appealing. "So good!" He still had no idea what - if anything - was lying in wait for him at the school ruins, but he wasn't going to dispute being called a yokai hunter. As long as the yokai here in Bibai weren't another bunch of wendigos, he'd be happy. "Guess I am," Kyle eventually said as another car whizzed by without stopping. Traffic was sporadic at best and, if anyone did see him when he started to run, nobody would have believed them. "Anyway, you get on with finding Miyamoto and I'll see you at the library, okay?"

"Yes! Good plan! See you there! Goodbye!"

Finally able to put his phone back into his pocket, he set his sights on Bibai and, with a push from his feet, started to run. In a dense forest, like the one in Washington, he could hit a shade over thirty miles an hour by running as fast as he dared. Out on the open road, however, he was able to push himself closer to twice that. He'd never actually put himself on a treadmill to see just how fast he could stand to go, but having driven around in cars for years, he had a fairly good idea of how certain velocities felt. By his reckoning, he was hovering somewhere around fifty miles an hour. If his speed remained constant, he would be in Bibai in around forty minutes.

Even now, years after he'd gained the superhuman capabilities of a so-called "warrior of Gaia", the fact that he could do on foot what even Usain Bolt needed a car to accomplish made him feel slightly giddy. He'd heard how the anima flooding people like him manifested the boosted human capacity in different ways for each person the bees chose. Some saw an improvement in their raw strength or their intellect while others saw a higher potential for magical aptitude. Kyle had his own theories on the subject; most of which boiled down to the bees shoring up the "weaknesses" in the people they chose in order to make them the best they could be. Being a skilled hacker, codebreaker and a budding self-taught electrical engineer, he likely already had the intellect part nailed down. The fact that his health and general fitness had shot through the roof in comparison to what he'd been before only served to make his deductions more plausible.

He definitelty hadn't treated his body all that well before Gaia - and, by extension, the Dragon - had laid claim to him. He'd been slightly overweight and far from as physically fit as a man his age should have been. Once the bee had begun to bond with him, it had quickly set about fixing the litany of problems it had found. The excess weight began to fall off almost immediately and, within days, he felt as though his energy reserves were verging on boundless; like he could do anything. So, like any research-minded guy, he'd put it to the test. The trip from his old apartment in London to his favourite supermarket was the better part of a mile and a half and, rather than walk as he usually did, he decided to run the entire way.

Running a three-mile round trip wasn't something he'd dreamt of doing before but, upon his return home, Kyle had noticed that - including the time inside the supermarket where he'd known precisely where to go in order to get what he wanted - the whole trip had taken him less than an hour. And it had been easy. He wasn't even out of breath. So then he'd pushed things further. Could he outrun cars on the motorway in a dead sprint? How far could he run before he felt tired? While the answer to the first question had, sadly, been no (although it had been close), the second question had somewhat alarmed him. Deciding to head west out of London along the M4, he'd buried everything else under a layer of metal music and kept going until his legs refused to carry him further.

By the time he surfaced from the aura of noise with his leg muscles stiff and on fire, he realised he'd wound up in Bristol; a maritime city around a hundred and twenty miles away. It had taken him four and a half marathons to get tired. And, just to spite common sense and prove a point, he just checked into a hotel for the night before running all the way back again. Suffice to say, the bee had made him really good at traversing relatively short distances. For everything else, his newfound compatibility with the Agartha portal network made it easy to get from point A to point B, no matter how far away they happened to be.

By the top of the next hour, having slowed down to a walking pace as he reached the Bibai city limits, Kyle was in sight of the library where, sure enough, Mitsuko was waiting for him. This time, however, Kaori was nowhere to be seen. "Kyle! Hi!" Upon seeing him, Mitsuko dashed over to meet him on the grass verge. Clutched in her hands was a plastic folder, filled with a small stack of printouts. "Kaori busy today! She has, uhh... small... time... job? No..! Uh... short time?"

Kyle couldn't help but chuckle quietly. With Mitsuko, this was the first time he'd ever experienced the phenomenon of meeting a foreigner who wanted to try out their English on him. Apparently, or so he'd read, it was a regular occurrence in places like Japan and South Korea. "A part-time job," he said, politely correcting her. "What does she do?"

"She work in a convenience store." Mitsuko was grinning, seeming to enjoy that bit of information. "She has to wear uniform and play nice. I think it is funny. Because I know her, yes? I... want to play joke on her, but... I am too nice." Kyle hadn't really seen much of Kaori's personality when they'd met. He'd chalked that up to the language barrier and felt she'd eyed him more with understandable mistrust rather than disdain. After all, who wouldn't have thought it a bit weird to learn their friend was going out to meet a random foreigner in their thirties? It wasn't her fault. "Anyway! I have things about the mine! Also, I find Miyamoto-san! He is... very old, but does want to talk! He thinks the closing mine was strange; is happy that someone wants to look at it."

"That's awesome," Kyle remarked, taking the folder from Mitsuko as she handed it over. He'd definitely have to look at the contents later. "You think he'd be okay with me - well, us, seeing as I need an interpreter - going to meet him today?" He still hadn't conducted many interviews as part of his work with Knightsbridge. In fact, Kaito would be his second; and definitely the first where he'd needed an interpreter. "Yes! He say for me to call when you want to go see him. I can do that now?" Kyle nodded and, within seconds, Mitsuko was on the phone, making the customary greeting and chattering away with who Kyle assumed was Kaito Miyamoto.

When the high school senior began to move, Kyle followed along. Not so much with the conversation, however. He just couldn't make heads or tails of what was being said. "He is ready. We can go!" It was only when she hung up and switched back to English that things became clear. "Do you know how to enter someone's house, Kyle..?" For a moment, Kyle's head tilted. While in a literal sense, anyone knew how to enter a building, he quickly realised that Mitsuko was trying to ascertain his knowledge of the cultural conventions which surrounded his being a guest at someone's residence in Japan. In that, his knowledge was lacking. "I've gotta take my shoes off..? I know that bit. And, uhhh... you've gotta say something when you're heading in..?"

"Yes! And no worry. I will do all the talking. Until you ask questions."

While the trip from the Bibai library to Miyamoto's residence could have been expedited by public transport, Mitsuko chose to lead him there on foot; giving them an opportunity to discuss the printouts she'd collected for him. "Some of the things were, uhh... removed? Words covered away and... entries missing." It hadn't taken Kyle long to find a strangely redacted section of a paragraph. The printouts themselves were in Japanese, but seeing jet black strips where words should have been? That was a universal symbol which meant someone had something to hide. "Redacted, yeah. I can see that." With little they could do while they were on the move, Kyle returned everything to the folder and carried on walking. "We can look at it all later."

Kaito Miyamoto's house was a humble, yet relatively modern affair nestled on a sidestreet, complete with creamy, off-white external walls and a small balcony on the upper floor. The front door, hidden in a recessed part of the façade, took a brief moment for Kyle to spot but, once Mitsuko was heading up the path flanking the driveway, he knew where we was going. "Hey, uh... Mitsuko?" Fishing out a digital audio recorder from his pocket - the same one he'd used for his first case back in Pennsylvania - he decided to ask the official question before they headed inside. "I've gotta record the talk I'm gonna have with Miyamoto-san; y'know, for office case file stuff? Which means, 'cause of the language barrier, I can't really avoid having you be on there. You okay with me usin' your real name..?"

He wasn't sure what the age of adulthood was in Japan but, assuming it was somewhere around eighteen, he decided to ask anyway. "Yes! It's good." Once Mitsuko reached the door, she pressed the doorbell. Having set up a similar system to an apartment block in order to lessen the burden on a nearly-eighty-year-old man, Mitsuko wasn't waiting for Miyamoto to greet her in person but for the doorbell to respond with a buzz which signalled the remote disengaging of the lock on the front door. "You will see where shoes go, Kyle! Always beside the door inside." Following the high-schooler's lead, Kyle tugged off his shoes and set them down along hers before slowly heading along the hallway.

His electric blue hair was likely going to get a disapproving look or two but, now that he was already inside the home of someone he'd come to interview, there was little he could do. He stayed quiet as Mitsuko pushed open the door leading into Miyamoto's study in slow-motion, offering her a wide opportunity for the customary "ojamashimasu!" as she led him inside. Mercifully, she took care of the introductions too. With him technically being her superior, both in age and the fact that he was the consultant as opposed to her, she introduced Kyle first. He bowed, of course. But, although he knew he was supposed to say something, his mind drew a complete blank.

Nevertheless, he had a job to do; a lead to follow. After being shown where he could sit, he showed Miyamoto the audio recorder and explained himself, Mitsuko's voice gradually following behind as she interpreted everything. "I'd like to ask you a few things about the mining towns outside Bibai, Miyamoto-san; specifically the round school building that was set up there and has apparently become haunted ever since. As big as the language barrier is, the usual policy at Knightsbridge is that we document everything as best we can. So, if you're willing, I'd like to record the interview so I can go back to it later."

There was silence - at least on Kyle's part - as Mitsuko caught up and relayed everything to Miyamoto. The collection of printouts had already been laid on the table, ready for the questions Kyle had in store. Eventually, Mitsuko was able to return the response. "He says that it is fine. You can start the interview now."
Posted Oct 26, 18 · OP
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KM-SchoolhouseBibai_Interview01.mp3 wrote:
**AUDIBLE: Single pop as the recording begins; a built-in quirk of this particular model of digital audio recorder. It allows - when the audio is dumped onto a PC - for a user to see precisely where a recording begins.**
[Kyle Mardian (male voice, London accent)] This is Kyle Mardian of Knightsbridge Consulting, conducting an interview as part of the Bibai Schoolhouse case. The date and time'll be added to the audio file as well as the compiled reports. I'm currently in Bibai, on Hokkaido in northern Japan and, because of the language barrier, I'll deal with introducing everyone who's present. As well as myself, we have Kaito Miyamoto - a retired newspaper reporter whose articles on the mining closures in 1972 I'm hoping to follow up on - and, helping me out as an interpreter, is Mitsuko Araki.
**AUDIBLE: Quiet exertion as someone reaches to retrieve some sheets of paper which had been laid out on the table**
[Kaito Miyamoto (older male voice, Japanese (Hokkaido) accent)] <The elderly man muses quietly to himself before getting Mitsuko's attention and posing her a question.>
[Mitsuko Araki (young female voice, Japanese (Hokkaido) accent)] <Mitsuko briefly responds in Japanese, then switches to English> Miyamoto-san says he... not expect to see r-.. redacted things on the paper I found at the library. Says it is very odd; government do have secret things, but never about closing mines.
[KM] Right. Well, that's as good a place to start as any. Did he ever try to go out to the mining towns near Bibai to see how the police were blocking off the area? Did he notice anything strange back then that they might not have put into an official report?
[MA] <Mitsuko reiterates the question in Japanese> <<Note: She was my interpreter/translator for this case; she does this a lot. Do I really have to repeat it every single time? -KM >>
[KaM] <Kaito issues a lengthy response, stopping every couple of sentences in order to allow Mitsuko to keep up.>
[MA] He went to the mining towns twice before they closed. The first time, he could go into the town to look around. He saw police searching all the houses in groups of, uhh... <Mitsuko quietly counts up on her fingers in English> ...five?
[KM] Close. It's four.
[MA] Four. Yees. I always forget. So... groups of four. They search each house; go in with large industrial trash bags. Sometimes, bags are full when they leave. Miyamoto-san was not allowed to look inside the house, so tried to look inside one of the bags. Police then tell him to leave. Second time, police make things much more secure. Using cars to block the road and forest path which lead to the school.
[KM] I read that the police were armed; that they were all given permission to carry guns. Do you remember if that was true? And, if so, do you remember hearing any kind of statement as to why they'd been allowed to carry them?
[KaM] <Again, Kaito responds in Japanese once Mitsuko had finished translating>
[MA] He remember a... chief detective saying that wildlife had gone crazy. Bears had killed some of the miners who were slow to leave... birds dropping dead from the sky... and even plants dying. They say that... radiation harmed the land and were carrying guns for safety.
[KM] Well, that's obviously BS. Doesn't Hokkaido only have one nuclear plant?
[MA] Yes! Tomari Hatsudensho. My father work on building it before I was born!
[KM] Hold on... <Kyle taps away on his phone> ...yeah. Not only is it on the other side of Sapporo, it wasn't even built in 1972; didn't start producing power 'til 1989. Must've been banking on the post-war fears of nuclear radiation. Either that or Godzilla.
[MA] Maybe Bibai scared of Gojira-bears? <Mitsuko giggles>
[KM] Yeah. We're gettin' sidetracked, though. That cover story might sound crazy, but there's one part of it that sounds "normal". The dead miners. Sounds like something killed them, but they weren't able to say what. Or weren't allowed to. Can you ask if Miyamoto-san ever tried sneaking by the police blockade?
[MA]/[KaM] <A short back-and-forth ensues as Mitsuko relays the question and Kaito answers>
[MA] One time. He wait until midnight - when guards change places - and sneak through the forest. He make it to one of the houses in the mining town. Find body inside, under plastic... sheet. Holding tiny bag in one hand. Jacket nearly ruined; like burning away. Before police arrest him, he sees... part of a badge on shoulder? Look like... oni?
[KM] Oni..? What d'ya mean?
[KaM] <Kaito responds to Mitsuko's confusion>
[MA] He say it like... kabuki mask. Of oni; a demon.
[KM] Bit of a long shot, but... can he draw it? The part he remembers.
[KaM] <After getting Kyle's request relayed to him, he tentatively agrees and gives Mitsuko some instructions. She then gets up and retrieves a pen and paper from across the room. A few seconds later, some methodical drawing can be heard>
[MA] <Approximately three minutes later, amidst the shifting of paper and a brief explanation from Kaito> He's done. This is all he saw. He says it look like a hollow eye and.. huge eyebrow. He said the badge would have been a circle shape. Maybe sym-... uh... same on other side.
[KM] Symmetrical. <Another sound of paper as Kyle picks up the drawing> Y-.. Yeah. That's one weird badge.
[MA] You see it before..?
[KM] Somethin' like that.
**AUDIBLE: The recording abruptly cuts out.**
Posted Oct 29, 18 · OP
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"Kyle!"

Something about what Kaito had said was rattling her blue-haired companion. Almost as soon as he'd seen the drawing, he had shut off his recording device and rushed out of the room as if he'd seen a ghost. Both she and Kaito spent a moment in silence, utterly confused at the reaction. At first, their shared belief was that they'd inadvertantly done something to offend him; a concern they voiced between one another in Japanese. Mitsuko's command of the English language might not have been the best in the world, but she knew she could get by enough to dwell on what had been said. As far as they knew, they weren't responsible.

After giving the much older man a hasty and rather profuse apology, Mitsuko excused herself and, after gathering up all of the printouts they'd brought along, made her way out of the Miyamoto house. Kyle hadn't gone far. With Kaito's drawing half-scrunched in one hand, he was pacing anxiously out on the street. In the space of a few scribbles done by an elderly man, the whole case had taken on a rather awkward spin; one which both confused him and made perfect, yet twisted, sense. And, no matter how much she tried to coax answers out of him, Kyle knew that he couldn't tell Mitsuko anything.

Bringing her this close to the supernatural was already a risky thing for him to do and neither of them had been within five miles of the ruined schoolhouse. But, after this revelation, the case had turned from an errant fragment of the supernatural world into a troubling facet of the Secret one. "What's wrong, Kyle?!" Understandably, she was concerned. He'd just left without warning. Why wouldn't she be? "You were... a little rude. You just left."

"Things've just got dangerous, Mitsuko." Oh, if she only knew the half of it. He really had to take care with his words from now on. "Way more than I expected them to be." Keeping secrets was tough. The longer someone like him remained in the Secret World, the more burdened he became by everything he'd learned, especially where the various societies were concerned. Regardless of how much members of each tried to deny it, everything was interconnected and woven amongst each other to a maddening extent. "Let's just say that I know the symbol Miyamoto drew and, if the people who wear it are involved with this, you don't wanna be anywhere near it."

"But.. Kyle, I-...!"

"But nothing," came his abrupt and terse response. A bit much, perhaps, but the time for thinking of the case as a detective investigation had passed. Tensing up his hand, Kyle screwed the drawing into a tight ball before stuffing it into his pocket as he turned to look at Mitsuko. "Look... you've gotta understand something, Mitsuko." Gradually, he calmed down, sounding apologetic for a moment. He had to keep reminding himself that, despite the potential turn the case had taken, he was still speaking to an eighteen-year-old girl. "The monsters - yokai - that people are saying might be at that schoolhouse? They're obviously dangerous, yeah? But... if someone intentionally summoned them there as part of a mission forty-odd years ago, they - and whoever they work for - are gonna be even worse. Okay? I'm talking about the type of people who won't think twice about making sure you don't talk."

"You mean they'd... kill me?"

"And me too, if they figured out I was involved." And, given both what and who he was, death might very well have been just the start of what'd happen to him. "This drawing? It's changed everything, Mitsuko. I'm gonna head out to the schoolhouse tonight." As inadvisable as it was, he wasn't going to let a high school senior get killed by people she didn't know for having near-inconsequential knowledge about things she didn't understand. Not if he could help it. "There's pretty much no more leads left here in town. But I want you to be careful too."

Mitsuko was starting to look concerned. Even scared. "You are worried. Very worried, hm?"

"Yeah." Kyle sighed quietly. "'Cause if someone comes after you, it's gonna be my fault. I need you to keep your eyes open while I'm gone, okay? Stay close to, uhh... Kaori, if you can. Just do anything to make sure you aren't alone." Stepping closer, he angled his head down, staring directly into Mitsuko's eyes. "And if you see anything weird - I don't care how small it is - whether you think you're being followed or something in your routine's suddenly out of place; if anything pops up that doesn't feel right, I want you to call me."

Mitsuko took a moment to watch Kyle as he gave her a serious order. His eyes had fixed themselves in their sockets; a steely gaze levelled her way. He was not joking around. "Okay. I will." She wasn't sure what was scaring her more between Kyle's reaction to an incomplete drawing and the thought that the cause of the schoolhouse being abandoned could still be out there and have her in mind as a next target. "Are you going to be leaving right now?

"Not immediately, no." Going to the schoolhouse ruins without adequate preparation beforehand was bordering on suicidal. "Gonna go back to my hotel room to grab a few things first." But, unlike the Araki family home - or Kaori's place - it was a place in Bibai he actually knew. It would have looked weird to everyone else but, right now, Kyle didn't care. "In fact... you know where the Hotel Suemono is?"

"Yes?"

"I want you to pack some food and water and meet me there. Kaori too, if you can talk her into it." Yeah, it definitely sounded weird. But it was the best of a whole bunch of bad ideas right now. "The hotel's got security. And I've got the only key to my room."

"You want me to stay in your hotel room..?"

"Yeah. But it's not like I'm making you a prisoner. I'll give you the key so you can get out whenever you want. And I'll make sure the hotel won't be able to hand out any spares to anyone." Kyle barely realised that he'd started walking down the street - and that Mitsuko had followed him - until he reached the corner and saw cars rushing down one of Bibai's main roads. Protecting an innocent person wasn't something he'd done very often. Protocols be damned, he was making it up as he went along. "If you wanna order room service, you can do that too. Knightsbridge've got an expense account. I'll be able to pay for it when I leave after all this is over."

From the street corner, Mitsuko had two likely routes already planned out in her head; one which would lead her home while the other swung by Kyle's hotel, where she'd soon be meeting him. Whether or not she'd have Kaori in tow was another matter entirely. "Okay. It sounds... weird. But I trust you, Kyle. I know you want to protect me. I'll meet you there."

"Okay. Keep your phone on!" Reluctantly, Kyle allowed Mitsuko to part ways with him, watching her for at least ten seconds before he even moved. As he started making his way towards Chuo Street - and his hotel - his hand began to retrieve the drawing from his pocket and unravel the misshapen ball the paper had become. His attention quickly split; half on the path ahead, half on the incomplete symbol Kaito Miyamoto had drawn. For now, what awaited him at the schoolhouse could wait. What Kyle really wanted to know...




...was why the hell the Dragon had sent an agent to a small mining town over forty years ago.
Posted Dec 1, 18 · OP · Last edited Dec 1, 18
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