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Chapter 5 is here.


It turned out her luck was incredibly poor today. Dreadfully poor. Instead of the skinny naked girl she’d been expecting, she was suddenly faced with a shirtless giant of a man, crimson eyes gleaming as he scrutinised her down the barrel of his revolver. Water ran down him in rivulets as they stood there for a few moments, frozen, as her brain tried to comprehend what was happening.
 
Trap it’s a TRAP! Get out getout GETOUTNOW!!!
 
She panicked and slashed wildly, taking the man a little by surprise as the very tip of her knife sliced into the skin of his hand. She turned to run without thinking, ignoring the cry from the drenched man behind her, who had almost dropped his gun as he recoiled from the stab. She had to get out, it didn’t matter if they knew who she was, there were ways of disappearing! She crossed the bathroom threshold, aiming for the front door...
 
... and crashed to the ground as a leg came out of nowhere, catching her around the ankles as she tried to flee. She hit the carpet hard, the hands that shot out to save herself gaining friction burns on the way down. The knife flew across the room, landing neatly near the sofa. Her attempt to scramble to her feet and continue escaping was quickly thwarted by the foot in her back, followed by the quick swipe of the butt of a gun to her temple. She was out before she could even despair over her capture.
 
“Crazy bitch,” Kurogane grumbled, straightening himself from a crouching position. He stashed the gun back into his waistband, bringing his injured hand up to his mouth; thankfully it was a shallow wound.
 
“Now, now, Kuro-K.O., you should always treat women with the proper courtesy,” the blonde idiot said, flexing the ankle of the leg he had used as a tripwire. “Even if they are trying to kill our adorable little princess...”
 
Said princess poked her head around the door from her bedroom. She had been hiding in there, in the dark, since their attacker had entered, along with the mage as backup in case anything went wrong on Kurogane’s end.
 
“Is it over?” She asked fearfully, stepping cautiously towards the unconscious woman. Seeing Kurogane’s bleeding hand, she darted into the bathroom momentarily, switching the shower off and returning with bandages, antiseptic wipes and a large fluffy towel.
 
“Yeah, princess, it’s over.” Kurogane replied, grabbing the items as he went over to the sofa, flipping open his mobile to notify the inspector of their citizen’s arrest. Whilst he was doing this, Fai leaned over and grabbed the mystery woman, turning her over so that they could see her face. He sat himself down next to her, cross-legged, staring at her like a curator in a museum.
 
“Alright they’re on their way,” Kurogane confirmed, phone snapping shut. “What the hell are you doing down there, sleuth?”
 
“Just examining our lovely captive,” he replied, smiling, “I was right, after all.”
 
Of course you were. Now if you would stop being so smug about it, I might actually congratulate you out loud.
 
“Why does she hate me so much?” Sakura asked, sinking to the floor herself, more out of relief than anything else. “What have I done to make someone want to kill me?”
 
Fai’s smile grew even wider, which was not really the best way to reassure a scared teenage girl. Kurogane frowned at him, but said nothing, choosing to towel himself dry instead. He could sense one of the blonde’s deductive spiels coming on, and he didn’t want to interrupt when all the answers were being revealed.
 
Said blonde gazed down at his captive, then up at the two people looking down at them. “First of all, look at her.” His hands descended to the woman’s face, gently brushing the hair back from her features. “Notice a resemblance?”
 
Kurogane looked. He couldn’t see anything, not at first. So he kept staring. His time with Fai had trained him to scrutinise things closely, so he did just that, looking at each tiny feature in turn to find out what the sleuth was hinting at. Suddenly, information leapt out at him, little similarities akin to those of another person. Those cheekbones, the shape of the eyes, the flick of the nose...
 
Hang on a minute... what the hell’s going on here? She almost looks like—
 
Sakura stared down in shock. “I’ve never really looked close enough to see this before, but there’s a definite similarity to Yuuko, more now because of the hairstyle, I think. I don’t understand- what’s going on?”
 
“It’s actually simple to deduce, one you’ve figured out the true motive behind the murders. Our killer felt that Yuuko’s money shouldn’t go to you, and so she devised a plot in order to remove the inheritor. The thing is, in order to get the money once she was gone, there’s a certain requirement one has to fill. You have to be related to the deceased.”
 
He paused dramatically, cerulean eyes gleaming as he observed their reactions.
 
“So our assailant must be a relative that has done something so as to be ignored in a will, or Miss Ichihara had no significant contact with her and thus did not consider her family enough for inheritance. I thought the latter, so I did some digging when we split up earlier today.
 
“’That child’, as Kuro-inquiry informed me of later on, confirming what I had learned, was definitely not referring to you, young princess. Neighbours can be quite nosy, and the ones living next to the Ichihara family were no different. Sakura’s grandmother, as it turns out, had quite the complicated love life. Her husband died not long after the birth of Nadeshiko, their second child and Sakura’s mother, and she’d hopped from one relationship to the next since then. When her two daughters were attending secondary school, their mother was involved with a certain man. He was charming, sure, and financially prosperous in his business ventures... the only problem was that he was a mobster. She probably got in too deep, saw the ugly side of her beloved, and started looking for ways out. The last straw came when she realised she was carrying a child. A female child.”
 
Fai delivered a light poke to the unconscious woman’s cheek as if to emphasise his dramatic reveal.
 
“Though no one really knows what happened, it’s fairly obvious that she would’ve had to have taken some drastic measures to escape from gangsters, particularly when it seemed that the man was extremely taken with her. So we’ll assume that she stole some money and used it to move far away with her two children. Although she couldn’t bear to terminate her unborn child, I don’t think she wanted to keep her either, sadly. Maybe it was the association with the man she had come to fear, we’ll never know, but the child was given up immediately after birth.”
 
“So when I overhead mum and Aunt Yuuko talking on the phone...”
 
“Yes,” Fai confirmed, gesturing at the prone woman, “they were talking about her. Calculating quickly, that would have been the year she turned 10. Maybe your mother brought it up, wanting to get in contact with their long-lost half-sister. Yuuko evidently disagreed, and thus the argument. Whether any contact was made, I don’t know. What I do know is that something must have warped the mind of this young lady to the extent that she would resent you enough to want to remove you from the picture.
 
“Being adopted will have been hard for her, no doubt about that. When I found her records, as scarce as they were, I noticed that she spent the first eleven years of her life in a children’s home; growing up in relative poverty will have affected her in some manner. Not all kid’s home occupants turn to murder, however, so there must have been another influence. Now, which profession do we know of that could teach an impressionable girl how to kill so precisely?”
 
Goddamn it. He found her?”
 
“It’s the most likely explanation. Since she wouldn’t have any knowledge about the circumstances of her birth, there would normally be no reason for her to resent her lost family to the point of murder. But if there was someone there with a bitter anger, someone who likely resented the two other daughters for taking his woman away, then she might be turned against our poor princess here. Especially if that person had a motive for wanting a large amount of money; he felt that it was rightfully his, after all, plus interest for all the years since his woman had fled. So he probably told her about the circumstances of her abandonment, then built upon it with poisonous lies. Give it another eight years to fester, and we have the woman she is today. Meet Xing Huo, in many ways a victim of unfortunate circumstances, and our guest this evening.”
 
Kurogane studied the delicate features of the unconscious woman. “And because our mobster hates Yuuko, who became famous and was loved by so many people, he helped devise the plot to make it look like a vengeful spirit.” Kurogane added, frowning down at the pitiful woman. Suddenly I feel a little guilty for whacking her so hard.  “Plus she looks a lot like her in the wig and clothes, which provides something extra to throw the police off of her actual plan.”
 
“Precisely. But we stopped her before she managed to carry out her objective. The real mastermind is rather well known to the police, and though I doubt our captive is going to give him up, there’s no way he can make a move on Sakura now that all of this is out in the open. It’ll be just the excuse the authorities need to finally take him down. Not a perfect victory, I’ll admit, but there’s always future opportunities to correct that.”
 
And that guarantees that Sakura won’t be hunted down later. That’s the most important part, idiot sleuth, not your perfect case record...
 
A brief lapse of silence ensued, quickly broken by a rap on the door and an announcement of police presence. Kurogane shouted that it was open, and then all manner of chaos entered. Two armed policemen led the procession, quickly assessing the situation and lowering the barrels to train them on the prone woman’s back. Inspector Doumeki entered next, followed by another half-dozen uniformed officers.
 
As they dragged out the unconscious woman a brief commotion could be heard in the hall, making Kurogane wonder if she had woken already, then a teenage boy burst onto the scene, dodging the restraining grip of a rookie officer. He would’ve gotten all the way to them if not for the quick reactions of the armed police, who performed an about-face even Kurogane was impressed with. The boy froze instantly, giving the rookie time to wrestle him to the floor in an arm lock.
 
Syaoran?!” Sakura called out, suddenly recognising the young man.
 
“Sakura! Are you okay? What’s going on?” His voice was fraught with worry.
 
“I’m fine, Syaoran. There was a little trouble with my family, you know all about the murders and everything, but it’s all right now.” She smiled down at him, and suddenly it was like everyone else in the room was insignificant. At least, that was how Kurogane saw it.
 
I see... he was the one she meant before. If he’s here, I don’t think we’ll have to worry about the princess in the slightest... not that I’m worried. She’s not my kid. But still...
 
“Are you sure you’re alright?” He asked again, scrambling to his feet once the police released him and dashing over to the girl. His hands came up to her face, eyes roving over her features. “You’re not hurt anywhere at all?”
 
“Yes, yes, Syaoran, I’m fine! Please just calm down!” She brought up her own hands to grasp his fingers gently, smiling sweetly at him. “Thanks for coming to check on me.”
 
Their hands lowered and separated after a moment, and the two teenagers turned to face the policeman waiting to take a statement from Sakura. They went over to the couch together, the boy a pillar of support for his princess, whilst Doumeki grilled Kurogane and the sleuth on the exact events of the night. They recounted it quickly, Fai revealing his deductive process once more, blue eyes glazing with boredom as he did so. He hated having to go over anything twice for them, Kurogane knew that from experience, but he gave his statement without complaint, leaving out everything but the vital parts. They could go over everything more extensively the next morning, when he’d had time to pass out for a while without interruption.
 
The kids came back over to them after a long twenty minutes, just as Doumeki was finishing up with them. Sakura looked extremely tired, which was to be expected, but Syaoran was on hand to be her physical support also, allowing her to lean into his side so as not to fall over.
 
“So it’s finished.” Kurogane said as they approached. “We’ve caught the woman, and you’ll be safe from now on.”
 
“Yeah...” Sakura agreed, though a distant thought could be seen forming in her eyes, a fire kindled in the midst of hazy fatigue. “Do you know where she’ll end up?”
 
“Who, that woman? Why do you want to know that?”
 
“I was thinking of visiting her, after this has blown over a little.”
 
What? You want to visit the psycho that just tried to kill you?” Kurogane exclaimed.
 
Why would you want to do that?” Syaoran spluttered.
 
Sakura merely smiled in reply for a moment, as their outbursts abated. When the room’s atmosphere appeared to be a little calmer, she said “I want to make amends for what my grandmother did. I know it’s not entirely her fault that Xing Huo turned out that way, and I know that she’ll probably not want to talk to me, but I want to try to understand her more. I want to try to be her friend; a real friend this time, with no secrets.”
 
“Sakura...” Syaoran said softly, returning her smile as they lost themselves in each other’s eyes.
 
What a naive outlook on life... and yet, I do envy her, this princess that has so much forgiveness for her enemies. It could get her in trouble again someday, but at least with this kid she’ll be protected from whoever tries to hurt her.
 
“Ahem,” Kurogane said more loudly than necessary. The two teenagers suddenly realised where they were, surrounded by a captive audience, both going from zero to crimson in less than three seconds. “Our work here is pretty much done, so we’ll leave you two alone now. You know where to call if you need anything. Look after her, kid.”
 
“Try not to do anything too naughty~, you two lovebirds...” the idiot sleuth teased as they left, huge grin widening as he managed to turn them an even brighter shade of red. Rolling his eyes, Kurogane followed the blonde man out of the door.



Epilogue...


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tarmachan

October 2012

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