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V7 Story I – Part 04

“Okay, I understand,” I said. “Please wait a moment.” I turned to Mayuzumi. “Mayu-san, it’s the client from earlier.”

I explained the situation briefly. Mayuzumi did not respond; instead, she took a piece of chocolate.

A black flower touched her lips, and she bit off a petal. She smiled, the butterflies that adorned her ankles swaying.

“That skull was beautiful, with not a single crack,” she said, singing the words. She didn’t sound particularly interested.

Death was not an uncommon occurrence. There was not a scratch on the skull. I didn’t know what passed as entertainment for Mayuzumi currently, but a girl clutching a skull apparently did not fit the bill.

I inhaled deeply, attempting to gather my thoughts into a coherent string of words.

I couldn’t see the memories of the deceased, so my only option was to count on Mayuzumi for help.

“Mayu-san, what do you plan to do with the girl? We can’t let her stay here indefinitely, can we?”

“The client will retrieve her. She wants to find her, doesn’t she? The girl is here, so the mission is essentially accomplished.”

Mayuzumi dismissed the issue with a careless shrug, but that was not enough. The girl was frightened of something, and it was highly unlikely that Misaki’s wish for the truth to be uncovered would be granted.

“What the client really wants to know is if the girl killed her brother,” I quickly added. “Handing her over right now could complicate matters. We have to take the girl’s safety into consideration. I believe we have to know exactly what happened. Please, Mayu-san.”

I couldn’t see the memories of the dead. Her cooperation was crucial. Mayuzumi remained silent. Yusuke, unusually, observed the situation with a grave look.

Mayuzumi cast her gaze towards her bedroom door. “Fly, fly, flutter, flutter. Poor thing, huh?”

Her languid voice dissolved and faded away, and her crimson lips curled up.

“Very well, then. I don’t approve of your cheap and self-serving request, mind you. I’m bored anyway. This should help kill some time.”

Mayuzumi extended her hand, moving her black nails in a beckoning gesture. I quickly handed her the receiver, which she brought to her ear.

“I’ve been informed about the matter,” she said. “I will take the actual case. I shall reveal all that you desire to know. What happened, why he died, why he turned into bones. On one condition.”

Mayuzumi raised a finger. Chocolate appeared on her fingertips like magic.

A butterfly with black wings.

“I will take you to the spot where your brother died,” she spoke in a honeyed tone. “To where his head was separated from his body.” She bit into the chocolate.

The butterfly’s wings fell.

As soon as Mayuzumi stepped out of the car, she unfurled her parasol. The intense red hue seared my eyes, casting a circular shadow on the dim, semi-underground parking lot.

I peered outside to a gray and foreboding winter sky. Feeling suffocated, I loosened my collar.

Misaki had driven us to a grand, three-story manor in the neighboring prefecture. Its façade was stripped of any unnecessary ornaments, giving it a sophisticated appearance. Situated in a vast plot of land, it resembled a small multi-floor building. It was too luxurious to be privately owned, boasting an excessively spacious parking lot that afforded Mayuzumi ample room to twirl her parasol.

“Ah, this is quite the place,” Mayuzumi remarked. “I doubt your voice can be heard from outside.”

Mayuzumi flashed an unpleasant smile. She was holding a parasol in one hand, and an unusual bundle in the other. Misaki shot a suspicious glance at the bulging cloth, but remained silent. And I was grateful for that.

I approached Mayuzumi. “Mayu-san, did you really have to bring that along?”

Mayuzumi glanced back at me. Instead of answering my question, she tossed the object at me. “You carry it from here, Odagiri-kun. It’s too heavy for me to hold while on my feet.”

I quickly caught the object, relieved that it didn’t fall to the ground.

The bundle contained the skull that the girl had been holding. While she was napping in Mayuzumi’s bedroom, we took it for reasons unknown to me. One could easily imagine the commotion the girl would make upon waking up.

I carefully held the package. I wasn’t scared of a stranger’s bones, but I felt pity. Their body had been robbed of its dignity.

“Odagiri-san, I can carry it if you like,” Yusuke said. “Me and skulls go hand-in-hand, you know. It’s my kinda thing.”

I didn’t know how to react to that. Good thing Misaki didn’t hear what he said. Besides, if there was anyone I couldn’t hand the skull over to, it was Yusuke.

I shook my head. “No, thanks. I’ll carry it myself. Please, just wait in the car. Don’t follow us for once. Why are you even here?”

“Where’d that come from? It’s a little late for that, don’t you think? Where there’s a case, there’s always a bored me. Just think of it as a freebie. Don’t worry about it.”

“That’s no reason to bring you with us. Give up.”

Yusuke narrowed his eyes and studied the object in my arms.

Then, he bared his teeth and let out a laugh that reminded me of a skull.

“I get it now,” he said. “Then all the more reason for me to come.”

Yusuke gave me a rough pat on the shoulder and walked away. I let out a sigh. Yusuke’s traumatic past involved human skulls. My desire of not wanting him to come triggered a backlash instead. I tried calling his attention, but he was already by Misaki’s side.

She pressed the elevator button, and an eletronic noise echoed through the garage.

“Only rich people have elevators,” Yusuke said. “Are you an enemy of the common folk?”

“This place was owned by my grandfather, not my brother. No other family members, except me, can come here,” Misaki answered detachedly. She didn’t exactly answer his question.

Her indifferent face was filled with tension, yet she remained expressionless. The elevator doors opened, revealing handrails inside. There was no elevation. We entered with Misaki.

“I see. So you were able to handle your brother’s death on your own,” Mayuzumi muttered with a laugh.

There was no answer. Her silence most likely meant an affirmation. Word of a headless body not going public suggested some form of a cover-up.

Misaki pressed the up button. The elevator ascended to the first floor and opened with a ding.

My breath caught.

Bright colors crossed before my eyes.

Countless butterflies were dancing wildly in the air.

The corridor was filled with various colors. I found the beautiful yet creepy swarm frightening.

There seemed to be no room for people to walk. The corridor was so packed as to appear suffocating. Butterflies perched on my cheeks and shoulders, and every time their tiny feet touched my skin, I felt my skin crawl.

The fluttering swarm, a myriad of colors, seemed like tropical flowers scattered about. There were even black and white mixed in. A closer inspection revealed butterflies on the walls and floors alike, hundreds of them crawling, flapping their wings. The space was an explosion of vivid colors, so much so that it seemed unlike a human dwelling.

The entities before us were all living creatures. The thought caused my chest to tighten.

“Ah, I see. So this is what they meant by butterflies,” Mayuzumi said, her voice soft as a sigh. Her parasol too was covered with butterflies.

The fact that colorful creatures did not disappear even when coming into contact with Mayuzumi’s parasol meant that the butterflies were not a spectral apparition, but a tangible presence. Where did they come from? This was not what one would expect to find in a human home.

“Why… Why are there so many butterflies?” I muttered.

“I don’t know,” Misaki answered dispassionately. “I haven’t been to this house in a long time. Perhaps my brother kept them as pets when he was still alive.”

The sheer quantity of butterflies was abnormal, making it seem like the air was mixed with poison. This place was a butterfly sanctuary rather than a place for human habitation.

“This place is kinda creepy,” Yusuke muttered, as if reading my thoughts.

“You think so too, huh? That’s surprising.”

It was unusual for him to be crept out by something.

He flailed his arms around. “They’re so annoying. I might accidentally swallow them.”

“Don’t you dare. But you do have a point.”

I swatted the butterflies in front of me. I didn’t want them entering my mouth.

We needed to get a move on. I turned to Misaki, and my breath seized.

She was covered in butterflies from head to toe, like a statue adorned with countless wings from a foreign land. Wings rustled.

I saw the lips hidden underneath the wings, curled into a smile. She stepped forward, and the butterflies took flight.

“You said you wanted to see where my brother’s head was severed,” she said calmly. “This way.”

Misaki walked down the hallway. The sea of wings parted to the left and right as the butterflies moved around her feet, trying not to get stepped on. We quickly followed her.

The moment Mayuzumi passed by me, she closed her parasol. Butterflies took off at once, covering my vision.

A sense of foreboding filled my chest.


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