Eiki's hand is soft and warm in my own, a desperately needed beacon of comfort. Judging from the tightness of her grip, she feels the same way. Silently, I reach back and close the front doors, muffling the sound of the rain ever so slightly. It makes the silence of the mansion all the more stifling.
Silently, rigidly, the two of us walk up to the message on the wall, considering its meaning, its ramifications.
"Fresh ink," Eiki notes, "It would have been written while we were outside. Maybe while we were talking to Yukari. Maybe while we were running for the house."
I mull it over. "The former," I decide. "Judging from the signs of exertion those other eyes showed, whoever did this would be too weak to run back inside and write this message. This was another set-up; they were expecting to grab Parsee, possibly you as well, and leave this message... for me? For us?" I shake my head.
"Arrogant," Eiki notes. "Whoever is doing this is trying to present themselves as omnipresent, and in absolute control, when they clearly are not. Though they clearly do have great power at their disposal."
I frown, thinking. "Eiki, who has gold eyes that you know of?"
She shrugs helplessly. "Any number of individuals, really. I can think of a dozen off the top of my head. What interests me more is the nature of the powers at their disposal."
"It seems quite broad in scope," I muse. "Incredible speed, silent movement, warping the structure of the household, plus summoning those monsters... whose bodies looked partially composed of the same material as what we saw outside."
"And Yukari indicated that her powers were being subverted," Eiki agrees, thinking hard. "With that in mind, much becomes clear. Yukari ws the first to be captured. 'Taken by surprise,' were her exact words. Then she was hooked up to some sort of machine."
"That figure in black was using some sort of device on its wrist," I remind her.
"A control device, no doubt," Eiki nods at me. "If we assume that Yukari's powers have been hijacked somehow, or she's being forced to act in a specific way, we have a reason for our enemy's mysterious strengths. For instance, if Yukari was being forced to manipulate the boundary between what is loud and what is silent, we have an explanation for our foe's stealth."
I see where she's going with this. "Manipulate the boundary between slow and fast for speed. Tamper with the boundary between near and far to warp the house. God knows what sort of manipulation to create those monsters."
Eiki nods, grim certainty marring her visage. "Yukari was hooked up to some sort of mechanism, and her abilities bent to someone else's will. That is the source of our problems. Everything started after Yukari was taken."
"She got blindsided, knocked out, and abducted," I nod. "That is... troubling, in many ways." I glance back at the front doors. "Yukari seemed to be troubled by how her powers were being used. She said there were dangers of some sort within the spaces she uses. Plus, our opponent clearly doesn't have a good command of her subverted powers, given how they seemed visibly exhausted by using them."
"They barely knew what they were doing," Eiki says. "Part of that may be exhaustion on Yukari's part; her powers are broad in scope, but immensely draining for her. As much as she can warp reality, reality tends to push back at her. I fear that she's being pushed beyond her tolerances."
There is a moment of silence as the two of us consider this. After a moment, I tug Eiki towards the mansion hallway.
"Where are we going?" she asks me.
"Parsee first heard the sound of some kind of machinery around here," I recall. "If we can find the source of this sound, we might find the others. Not to mention our foe."
Eiki nods seriously. "When we find... that individual, we should try to damage the control unit on their wrist. That should cut them off from their control of Yukari." I nod in agreement, and come to a stop in the middle of the hallway.
"...It was around here," I murmur, recalling that terrifying walk through the dark. I get down on my stomach and press my ears against the floor. There it is; some sort of vibration, similar to the generator running in the basement, but just slightly off. A different model.
Eiki is humming cheerfully above me. "What has you so happy right now?" I ask.
"I just have a very good vantage point to check you out right now!" Eiki replies cheerfully.
I laugh a little at the absurdity of it, then shift my head to observe Eiki's magnificent legs from an excellent vantage point. "I concur," I say with a smile.
"I suppose I have that coming," Eiki admits, "But don't let your eyes go too high, mister!"
"Then I have permission to stare? Lovely!" I say happily. "But fear not, the view is perfect right now, I assure you!" Eiki laughs but doesn't scold me further. Actually, she flexes her legs a little bit, letting me see the delicate play of muscles under her silky skin.
God dammit, I love nice female legs.
"All that aside," I say standing up, "I can't tell where the noise is coming from."
Eiki nods. "All right. Then here is my suggestion. Let's sweep the mansion from top to bottom, and see if we can hear the sounds more clearly from one area than another. For all we know, this being's headquarters could be in a crawlspace upstairs."
I nod. "All right. Then let's search the mansion, and then go into the crawlspaces again. There may be something that we missed there."
Eiki sighs. "You're right... but let's see if the gods are merciful, and leave them for last. I do not relish going into them again."
"Nor I," I say quietly, taking Eiki's hand in my own.
We start off in the east wing, looking through each bedroom in turn. In each one, we find a secret door leading to the crawlspace, a ladder leading up to the next room, and leading down to the secret passage itself. The small stairway at the end of the wing is barren of anything unusual, but all of the women's bedrooms on the second floor naturally have a secret door of their own.
"Such preparation." I murmur as we walk down the hallway, "To prepare a network of tunnels and surveillance equipment. No wonder Yukari was taken off guard; our enemy probably waited until she was distracted, slipped into her room, and somehow neutralized her."
"At least the security equipment seems to be ruined," Eiki points out. "Whenever we stick our heads into one of the passages, the wiring is damaged. Using Yukari's powers to warp space must have ruined their devices."
"Though we can't assume that they're completely blind," I note. I glance into the rooms as we pass them. "Just think. These rooms were supposed to be filled with the merry cries of lovemaking, while us servants tried very hard to hear nothing. Such a tragic waste."
"Why Alfred," Eiki says in a sultry tone of voice, "Are you saying that you want to remedy that situation?"
I glance at Eiki's teasing face. "Yes," I say evenly. Her face immediately flushes red. "Though I fear that our enemy would enjoy the show a little too much, don't you think?"
Eiki snorts in embarrassment. "I walked right into that one, didn't I?"
"Like a minefield," I agree. "Besides, I much prefer an appropriate period of courtship before any intimacy."
"You know, there are those who would consider that terribly lewd, Alfred," Eiki chuckles.
I shrug helplessly. "What can I say? The depravity of previous guests has infected me." I push open the doors to the ballroom. "Now this is a room that I regret we didn't get to use."
Eiki considers the grand ballroom approvingly. "It's quite lovely. I would have loved to have a dance here." She sighs. "But it's another case of this not being the time, isn't it?"
"I fear so," I say with genuine regret. With its grand windows overlooking the garden, this would have been a lovely attraction for the guests. "Well, so far we can barely hear anything from the east wing, and I really don't hear a thing up here, either."
Eiki hesitates. "Show me around anyway?" With her hand already in mind, I find it hard to refuse my fair lady.
There isn't much upstairs anyway; the central building is mainly taken up by the ballroom, a large open sitting room, and some storage closets, none of which have any clues to provide. After a few fruitless minutes, we set off for the west wing.
The upper west wing has two huge rooms to its name: a massive library, and a long sunroom where guests can lounge even on a rainy day. There's a sort of interior greenhouse in here. "This is one of the favorite rooms of the staff," I mention to Eiki. "On a rainy day, you can sit in here with a nice cup of tea amid the plants and just watch the rain dribble down the windows."
Eiki looks out at the dark sky, just barely starting to brighten up with the coming dawn. "A pity. I would have liked to relax here. Though I think I would have preferred your company to one of Yukari's hired men." She adjusts her grip on me so that our arms are linked. I smile a bit.
Neither sun room or library have anything to offer us. Instead, we make our way down the stairway at the end of the hall and slip into the pool room. The signs of our earlier battle are still there; rents in the floor where those peculiar golems tore up from the ground. We look around the pool and jacuzzi area for a bit before peeking in at the sauna and then into the changing rooms. I do manage to find the secret entrance Yumeko and Parsee had noticed earlier. Holding my head into the empty, still passage, I shake my head.
"It's too quiet," I say, "The generator is most probably under the central building."
Eiki doesn't respond, instead looking towards the ladies' changing room with a curious expression. "I just want to check something while we're here," she says at last.
Eiki turns to me with an awkward expression. "I'm very curious as to what Yukari considered an appropriate bathing suit."
Sixty seconds later, we have an answer to just that, regarding ten boxes each with the names of one of the guests on them. My eyebrows are raised nearly to the roof, while Eiki's gapes at her own offerings with a crimson face.
"Bathing suits?" I wonder, "There look more like handkerchiefs with a very small amount of string."
"Th-this one's transparent!" Eiki sputters.
I take a long considering look at Eiki's rather exposing swimsuit, held in her trembling hands, then at her rather lovely body. "It would be a nice look," I say gallantly.
Eiki gives me a cold glare before marching over to the men's changing room and marching back with something very small and neon-pink. "Only if you wear this," she challenges me.
I am silent for a moment.
"Never mind," I say at last.
"Good," Eiki nods in satisfaction. Then she regards the extremely abbreviated swimsuit. Then me again. A somewhat perverted grin crosses her face as her eyes glaze over.
"Stop that," I tell her.
"Nope!" she cheerfully replies.
We leave the pool room with Eiki still grinning at her private fantasy, while I consider what it would be like to paint a posing Eiki in that lovely transparent swimsuit. Yukari is such a creative woman, after all. We take a moment to peek into the empty game room, and then the devastated television room. There is no sign of our friends. Not even a scrap of cloth.
I look around at the dilapidated hallways. "...This is going to be a bitch to repair," I note.
Eiki shrugs. "Make the culprit pay for it. Repeatedly." I nod my agreement.
From here, we make our way back to the central building, checking in on the front lounges. One is ruined. The other, spotless. There is no other sign of activity.
"Have we been forgotten after all?" I wonder.
"Doubtful," Eiki replies, "It's more likely that we are still being targeted, and being lulled into a false sense of security. Keep your guard up." I nod. Eiki is probably right.
We check the hallway and then make our way into the dining room, which shows no signs of any secret passages. Then into the kitchen, where one of the tall cupboards has a false back opening up into the concealed hallways.
"They really are all over the place," I note, "Who the hell could have done this?"
"The kappa, when they're motivated," Eiki says simply. "I'm just glad that these doors are easy to locate once you know the trick."
"Each of them are subtly marked," I agree, "Perhaps so that our opponent could recognize them on the run?"
"Perhaps," Eiki muses, "Which makes me wonder once again just how prepared this individual actually was."
From there, we take a moment to slip into the servants' quarters. We find no sign of any hidden passages in the walls, but do ultimately find a trap door in one of the closets. So even this place would have been vulnerable to attack. I also notice that the noise of the generator is a bit louder here. We must be getting close. As I turn to tell Eiki this, I see that she is caressing the frame of my painting. Turning back to me, the Yama notices my gaze and shrugs.
"For luck," she tells me. I nod my understanding. "Anyway, which room is yours?"
"My, how forward for a judge," I say in mock astonishment.
Eiki just gives me a sultry smile and tilts her head. "I'm on leave, after all~." she sings. It takes me a moment to find my voice after that. Damn if the woman doesn't know how to act appealing when she wants to.
In any case, I show Eiki my own room. It's fairly small, but does have some of my personality imprinted on it. Mainly, other paintings I've made and some books on art and sailing. And of course, my personal collection of teas. Eiki looks around for a moment before sitting on my bed and bouncing on it for a moment. She looks up at me and winks suggestively. "I think Komachi would call this a good one," she tells me. I feel my face flush and Eiki laughs merrily. After a moment, I join her and the two of us fill the empty hall with our mirth.
There isn't much to see after that. We do take a moment to duck down into the basement, but while the other generator can be heard form there, we do not find any other passages. Storage room, wine cellar, and laundry room all show no signs of tampering. Though I doubt we could have holed up in here; our enemy probably had a contingency if we tried to make this our refuge.
And so, Eiki and I return to the kitchen and stare at the doors to the servants' quarters, hand in hand.
"That's the place we can hear the sound the best," I note. Eiki nods in agreement. "Then, we'd better check it out, hadn't we?" Eiki nods again and turns to me, something glimmering in her eyes. I open my mouth to ask what is on her mind, when Eiki leans into me.
And kisses me.
Her lips are very soft and warm.
It feels very nice.
I'd really like to keep doing this, but we don't have the time, do we? Cursed cloaked figure.
After a moment, the two of us break the kiss and stare at each other, breathing heavily, and hungering for more. At least, I am. Judging from the look in her eyes, Eiki feels the same. Something to aspire to, then. End this madness, then kiss a Yama. I can get behind that.
"For luck," Eiki says quietly.
I nod. "I feel lucky already," I tell her quietly. Eiki gives me a dazzling smile and slings her crowbar over her shoulder. Returning a confident smile to her, I heft my hatchet and stride forth, opening the door to the servants' quarters, Eiki by my side.
I see the figure in black pointing a gun at me. It pulls the trigger with a loud *clack* and I feel a sharp pain in my shoulder, which proves to be a dart of some sort. I stare at it, stunned, when a blast of wind hits my face. I look up, mind numbing, to see Eiki's eyes bulging with shock, a chemical-smelling cloth held to her mouth by a black-gloved hand. I try to raise my arms and do something. I can't. I can't move. I can't think. My vision is going blurry.
I see Eiki slumping over. I see the hood turn to face me. I see cold golden eyes boring into my own.
And then I see nothing but darkness.
I open my eyes.
I am alone.
I am sitting slumped in a chair in the intact first-floor lounge. The rain has stopped, and early-morning sunlight is streaming in through the windows. The storm has finally passed.
And then I remember. Eiki. The figure. Eiki.
I surge to my feet, breathing heavily. I slap at my shoulder, searching for any sign of a wound, but there is not so much as a bruise. What the hell kind of tranquilizer was I hit with?! But screw that, Eiki's gone, I have to do something-
It is then that I see the envelope sitting on the table in front of me, and the huge wad of cash sitting beside it. The envelope is addressed to 'Mr. Westcastle' in flowing script. For a moment, all I can do is stand there and stare at it, shaking. Then, with halting steps, I lurch forward, pick up the envelope, and slowly, carefully open it, unfolding the letter within. I read. Mr. Westcastle,
I apologize for any trouble that I may have caused you last night. Rest assured, that I will make reparations to the house. It will be as good as new, you have my word. I also apologize for the injury I was forced to give you last night. You have proven to a be a worthy foe, and I felt that I had no other option but to use drastic measures. Still, I believe that any inconvenience caused you will be more than made up for the the sum of money I have left you. It should be enough for you to pursue any dream you may have. And on that note, I would like to express my great appreciation for your assistance. Miss Shiki is indeed a fine woman, and I will certainly find good use for her. I approve of your taste thoroughly, though I am certain you understand that pursuing an actual relationship with her would be pointless. You are better off leaving her in my care.
I will be direct, Mister Westcastle. I am declaring victory. You know my resources, my powers. It would be better if you simply accepted defeat at this point and left peacefully. Forget this night ever happened. Claim you were attacked, if you must. But I have no further use for you. Take your payment, and leave.
I trust you will find the logic in my argument.
By the end of the letter, my fist is shaking in rage. A FRIEND?! How dare this... bastard, talk to me like that?! And resources? Where were your resources when you had to throw Lyrica at me, god damn you?!
I crush the letter in my hand, not even looking at the pile of money. Eiki has been taken. I will get her back. And nothing will stop me, even if I have to rip through hell itself.
[ ] Your enemy has Eiki. Get her back.