Chapter 1: A Dark Cliché
The off rhythm tic of a clock, and the tang of something metallic. In a dimly lit room where dust swirled like mist, slurring and melding with the stabbing pain in my skull, they were the last weight that tipped the scale.
My own ragged breath echoed in my ear as I keeled over, gasping for breath.
Gahh…! It hurts…
"Argh.." I groaned, the sound barely audible to my ears as the clock continued to echo, despite its unimportant place in the background.
My eyes squeezed shut as a wave of nausea swept through me, accompanied by a pain akin to multiple nails being driven straight through my skull and into my brain. The gruesome image that was conjured at that thought only worsened the need to regurgitate my breakfast onto the hardwood floor, but surprisingly, I didn't have enough in my stomach to throw back up.
Everything felt wrong, the dim room that I had no recollection of, the darkness beyond the eerily still curtains, and the fact that my hasty convenience store breakfast wasn't falling onto the floor as I heaved from an invisible pressure in my lungs.
I could feel it, there was a disconnect, an unsettling sensation of my breaths and efforts to move being delayed. I stared down at my shaking hands, which seemed foreign and distorted as my vision swam.
Knotty joints and claw-like fingernails, singed black at the edges. One dug into the polished hardwood, leaving a light gouge on its pristine surface. The other clutched a revolver, brass and embellished with a symbol that took a moment for my sluggish brain to recognize.
It was the kanji character for eclipse.
Residual threads of smoke followed the flow of dust as a light air draft crept through the only window in the room, bringing with it the heightened sense of that metallic stench. My eyes flicked to the source, a large mahogany desk to the right of the window, illuminated by the faint moonlight and a singular gas lamp. My gaze fixed on the red speckles splattered on the beige white wall behind it, following the path of dark crimson as it seeped through the array of documents and books neatly arranged on the desk as if to retain a normalcy it could no longer grasp.
I stared, forward, and then down, my shaking eyes focusing on those mangled hands, which I refused to believe were mine. Drop of red trickled down my left arm, dotting the floor like a crimson galaxy. My only wish, for a shooting star that never came, was for it to be paint.
The lamplight glowed warm and inviting as I stumbled to my feet, the revolver in my hand clattering to the ground. My body froze as my eyes found the source of the crimson which had splattered like a burst ink cartridge. The smell of blood intensified, burning into my nostrils as my body forced me to face reality, my eyes glued to the slumped body on the desk chair. The upper body had followed gravity to hang precariously close to the floor as one arm snagged limply to the desktop, leaving a trail of blood along the wood. A flash of dark crimson flickered into view as my eyes adjusted to the dim lighting, a pool of blood directly below the head, seemingly white hair drenched in red.
I staggered back, by feet moving instinctively as my voice died in my throat. Ragged breaths replaced any scream I could muster, while my mind temporarily went blank.
A man in a gray haori, and a white dress shirt that was no longer white, a lifeless body present like a dark stain against the incongruently warm lamplight. Until my back pressed against the cold brass of a doorknob, my hazed vision could only focus on the scene in front of me.
I moved slightly to the side, my back pressed against the door frame as my hand grasped for the doorknob. One swift turn of my wrist, and nothing. Beyond a few millimeters of rotation, it would not move.
Whirling around to face the door, I rattled the door knob in a blind panic, my own shadow blocking out the weak lamplight. The door hinges creaked, unoiled and stiff, but the door itself would not budge. It was locked. I glanced down at my hands, noticing two things. One, my hands were back to normal, tan and with the residue of a scar near the right wrist, like they've always been. Second, was the absence of a keyhole on the knob that I grappled with.
It was locked. From the outside.
I stared at the door knob for a moment, my hands falling back to my sides. It was still too dark to see clearly, but the simplistic but detailed molding on the brass shone slightly as the curtains fluttered, a gust of wind allowing passage to faint moonlight. A bloody fingerprint lay smudged into brass as the only thing I could focus on, for a moment more.
A stifled chuckle left my lips.
There's no way…
My own laughter echoed alongside that incessant clock, hesitant and low, almost inaudible but there nevertheless. I didn't know what I was laughing at, the ridiculousness of this situation, or my own naivety.
"What…is this?" My own dry laugh echoed back at me as I turned, and walked forward, crouching in front of the body. I tilted my head, staring at the face of the dead man in maniacal disbelief. A young face of a man in his late twenties, hair white as snow straight from the roots, and a gruesome bullet hole through the back of the head. Dark red blood trickled from the mess of red, obscured greatly by the hair which the blood had crusted onto.
"A locked room cliché? A nightmare? Haha…" My voice shook as I glanced away, focusing on the blood pooling underneath. My eyes narrowed, and soon, I couldn't look anymore. Unsurprisingly, an intro to forensics class wasn't enough experience to go off of, neither did it reduce the shock. Better yet, I was only a year into my degree, my university life had just begun, yet somehow, it felt like it was about to come to a sudden end.
I stood up, a hand over my mouth, then shifted my attention to the desk, taking care to avoid the blood on the floor. Official looking documents, a letter, a black and gold fountain pen, and an inkwell that had tipped over, splattering onto the papers and the wood underneath. From what I could glimpse, the documents were a mix of English and Japanese, while the letter was in full English.
"Moriarty…" was the name the letter was signed by, earning a faint snort from me in my state of stubborn dissociation. "As in, the Dr. Moriarty?"
Is this…some sort of set up? An elaborate prank? A...sick recreation…? Was there a case like this in the Holmes books...?
No way. That's not it.
I traced the still damp ink of the letter, its handwritten words somehow both messy and concise.
The letter was an invitation to a private meeting, at a location simply stated as a 'teahouse'. The rest of the letter was purely curtesy, a simple thank you for a previous conversation, upon which specifics were not alluded to. The only other thing of note was the mention of sakura blossoms, almost unprompted.
"...The sakura viewing season will end soon, will it not....?" I read out, my voice a tired whisper as my eyebrows furrowed.
"...?" I stared at the loose handwriting, only to retract my hand as a drop of red splattered onto the white paper, trickling from somewhere on my arm.
I winced and craned my neck, noticing a tear in the coat I wore, and the tinge of red on the fabric near my left shoulder. I reached my fingers towards it, but stopped.
...What was that?
The hair on the back of my neck bristled, as the faint sound of footsteps entered my ears, in rhythm with the off rhythm clock that was positioned on the desk. The small ornate clock face was set in a wooden base. Dashes stood in place of the number format, and from what I could discern, it read to be half past midnight. Which meant that, somewhere outside that locked door, in a hallway beyond it, there was someone wandering during the witching hour.
My eyes widened, flickering to the splatter of blood on my hands, the doorknob, then to the revolver on the floor only a few feet away.
A gun was fired. It doesn't matter, whether or not the details add up in my head, I can't deny it. This...looks like an old model, aside from old noir movies I've never seen one of these. From a revolver like that…there would have been a gunshot. There's no way no one heard it. I have no memory of it…but, it should have been loud, unmissable in close proximity…Is that why my ears are ringing..?
I took a shaky breath, my hands clamping into fists.
...Whoever's outside, they…should have heard...
I could hear the footsteps approaching, my mind going into a panic as it stopped, just in front of the door.
A moment of silence passed as I forgot to breathe. My paralysis was broken by the soft rap of a knock, inadvertently grabbing the revolver, pushing it into my coat pocket, and dashing to the window; the only exit my eyes found. My forehead pressed against the cold glass as I pushed the curtains aside, fumbling with the latch. A floorboard creaked beneath me, but I paid it no mind as my frantic breath fogged the glass, my view of the dark street below being enveloped in a white haze.
Another knock, followed by a concerned voice. "Mr. Watanabe…?"
The window latch opened with a click, and silence followed. The footsteps receded, for a moment it was as if the woman had left, but the jingle of keys dashed that hope. The door creaked open, faint footsteps trailing inside, then again, silence.
I clenched my teeth, stalling even my ragged breaths as I clung to the windowsill, my arms straining as the cold wind bit at my fingers. My feet scrambled to stay on the barely viable footing provided by the window pane of the room below, my knuckles white as I pressed myself against the side of the building.
Are they still there..? I can't tell. They didn't scream. Just silence…did they faint..? No, I didn't hear a thud. Shit. Shit. Shit..! My grip is...slipping...!
The wind picked up, much to my disdain as my coat began to flap like a flag, along with my hair which fluttered over my vision, making it increasingly hard to hold on. I glanced to the side of the building, where a drain pipe was visible in the darkness, seemingly running along the length of the building.
Following the window pane…its a bit of a jump from the edge, but if I can just…
Shuffling my feet along the wooden pane, I inched towards the pipe, biting back a yelp as my inflexible shoes slipped for a moment before I could scramble back to the safety of what felt like a swaying tightrope. I froze there, my fingers desperately gripping the window ledge as I pressed myself against the wall, trying not to focus on what seemed like a three story drop to the dark cobblestone street below. I took a shaky breath, the cold air biting at my nostrils alongside the acidic tang of blood that clung to me like a curse. Even still, my only reliable light source was that lamp, glowing faintly through the windows that I had shut in haste. They creaked slightly in the wind, left ajar, the latch was still unlocked.
One window swung open, and I stopped in place, feeling the shadow cast by a hand as it blocked the precious little light I had. I glanced up as a older woman propped her head out of the window above me. Her features were obscured by the shadows, but the moonlight shone on her white hair, which was pulled back into a tight bun.
"Guests do have a habit of leaving their windows unlocked…how unfortunate" She sighed somewhat flatly, before pulling the windows shut with a clack. I heard the footsteps as I hung there, long after they had fallen silent to the whistling howl of the winds. My hands shook with strain, a numbness starting to spread as the temperature only seemed to drop with every agonizing minute in the darkness. My breath came in puffs of smoke as I tried to focus my eyes on the pipe to my left, the opposite direction from the darkened closed window, and the horror that lay within it. With only the moonlight as my guidance, it wasn't an easy task, but I managed to edge my way in reach of the pipe, my body leaning as far towards it as it could while keeping my tip toes planted on the precarious footing. While one hand clung to the edge of the windowsill, my right arm stretched as far as it could, the tips of my fingers gracing the cold iron.
My fingers strained, stretching as far as its joints would allow, all to loose its chance at grasping the rusted iron if loosing my footing and freefalling into the darkness wasn't part of my plan. It was mere inches out of reach, making getting a good hold of it impossible, if I didn't throw myself off the ledge at it that is.
My impulses screamed to jump for it, and my rational mind agreed wholeheartedly, because as of right now, it was not very rational. My so called rational mind was a mess of screaming and panicked rationalizations. My options had long since run out.
For a moment, all I felt was a falling sensation, before my hand caught the iron vine. The metal groaned under my weight as the pipe bowed slightly. My body hugged the pipe in a frantic movement, the rust flacking off under my palms as gravity began to pull me downwards, strands of rusted metal digging into my sweaty fingers. Beads of blood trickled down the rusted metal, the acidic smell hitting my nostrils once again. My eyes trembled, and in that moment, my grip failed, and I fell.
A sharp intake of breath, and the cut off of all light as my eyes locked themselves shut, bracing for an impact that never came. Instead, there was a distinct feel of a sharp tug at the collar of my coat, momentarily strangling me as my fall came to an abrupt stop.
My gasping breaths rang in my ears, but it was accompanied by another. A strained voice that wasn't mine.
"Bloody hell...!" The voice hissed, and I felt a tug, the knuckles of a hand gracing the back of my neck. The only thing that stood between my face and the terrible notion of it kissing the cobblestone street below, was a hand clearly struggling to hold my weight. Before I even had time to react, an arm wrapped around my midriff, and I was yanked upwards, a yelp escaping me as I was pulled through an open window. My momentum send me tumbling into a heap onto the floor, knocking over a small table, my fall cushioned by something that I didn't care to name. A stack of papers fluttered to the floor, flashed of white in the darkness as my vision itself began to stain with black. Refusing to handle the shock that hit as the adrenaline drained, my consciousness cut off, like a weak radio signal.