Originally posted on 9 July 2018
The Silver Case, Case #4.5 "Face": Chapter 4


The moon's cold light shone through the valleys between the buildings. Even the areas that would normally be packed with office workers during the daytime were devoid of human presence once night fell.

A huge steel dumpster sat behind the rear of one of the buildings. Beside it was an empty space for making deliveries. The surface of the grey concrete now shone a wet dark red. Someone lay in the centre. It was a young woman, hair falling to her shoulders, wearing a suit and mini skirt.

Her eyes and mouth were closed. Her face was perfectly still. A gaping slit ran across her neck below the jaw, marked with bloodstains. Her clothes were dyed completely red from the blood that had gushed over them, making it difficult to tell what colour they had been originally. Her hands were pressed together on top of her chest, as if she were praying.

The man stared at her, illuminated by the light of the white moon, in a daze. His hands were stained with blood, the right one still gripping tightly onto the small, sharply-glinting blade.

"...Still not right. Why is it never...?" he muttered softly, stooping over her sluggishly.

He took a small piece of hair between his fingers, cut it off and tucked it carefully into the pocket of his raincoat. He believed that it would serve as a charm, protecting him until he located his next target.

He held her face, spotted with blood, in place with his left hand, bringing the blade in his right closer. With deliberate handiwork, he carved a small cross into her forehead. Perhaps crazed by the red liquid covering her skin, the point of the blade grazed his fingertip. His movements slow, as if he felt no pain, the man stared at the small cut on his finger in wonder.

The woman's blood, which had thickly coated his hands before, had already dried out and hardened dark red. A trickle of his own blood ran over it, flowing like a florid thread. His fingers were long, nails neatly and skilfully clipped.

At long last he stood, looking up at the night sky.

"Where are you? Please show yourself to me. This is my prayer. I dedicate this offering to you," the man whispered softly. Only the lying body and the moon heard his prayer.

Even after several days had passed since Kana's murder, there appeared to have been no developments in the investigation. Sakura had handed in the tape from her answering machine, and since then had had complete radio silence from the HCU's end. There had been no word from Morishima, either.

The funeral had been held, and day by day coverage of the story on talk shows began to fizzle out. Even still, Sakura couldn't forget the horseplay that had occurred right after the announcement that Kana's body had been found. Since the crime was linked to the "Jack the Ripper" who had been causing a stir, plus the fact that the victim had been both a model and a popular TV personality, a flood of reporters had barged uninvited into Kana's funeral.

Kana's parents lived in the district adjacent to Ward 24, long known as an exclusive residential area. Sakura, who had been in attendance at the service that had been held at a nearby funeral home, even felt anger at the clamour of the reporters who converged upon the hall.

Kana's private life was dug through in the blink of an eye, splashed across all of the gossip shows. Even former classmates of Kana's could be seen talking about her on some of them. Sakura had looked on in disgust. She wanted to avoid seeing it if at all possible, but recorded the TV shows on video tapes and checked as many as she could, wondering if there had been any new developments in the investigation.

But even that effort had been in vain. There didn't seem to have been any new discoveries whatsoever about the killer.

After the funeral, Sakura headed to the crime scene, still in mourning dress. A makeshift barricade had been erected around the empty area behind the shop that Morishima had told her about, making it difficult to get inside. It had most likely been installed after the incident. Maybe some rubberneckers had gone poking around and caused a fuss.

Rather than attempt the feat of vaulting the barricade, Sakura surveyed the scene from the outside. They seemed to have made a rather desperate attempt at cleaning up after the police had concluded their investigation. No bloodstains were visible on the concrete floor. As she stood there absentmindedly, an employee who had come out of the back door watched her with suspicion.

"Um, excuse me. Might I have a minute of your time?" she asked, but the worker ignored her, shutting the door roughly.

The man seemed to have mistaken her for a reporter or something like that. It was likely that once rumours began to spread that there had been a murder right behind a shop dealing in foodstuffs, they would see their profits plummet. Of course he would look annoyed. With this in mind, Sakura now entered from the front door.

"Welcome," said a different, female employee with a smile.

Just as their reputation for freshly-baked bread suggested, the shop was filled with the fragrant aroma of it.

Sakura explained her business to the female employee. The woman's face stiffened suddenly, but apparently feeling pity for Sakura after being informed that she had been a friend of the late Kana, she went into the back to fetch someone. Perhaps the mourning dress she wore on her way back from the funeral had lent credence to the story.

In the end, however, even speaking to the baker who had found Kana's body turned up no more information than she had heard from Morishima. Sakura thanked him and left the shop.

Her legs carried her in the direction of Kana's apartment building. Anyone who wished to could get inside the underground car park. The entrance gate was automatic, and cars without a special card key were unable to get inside, but a person could nimbly pass through.

Sakura entered the car park the same way. She remembered roughly where Kana's parking spot was located, having come here before in Kana's car. Sakura strode from Kana's parking space over to the elevator hall. Kana, with her long legs, had been a brisk walker. It took just 33 paces. The hall, much like the first floor entrance, had an automatic lock that required a key to get inside.

At some point during those 33 steps from there to here, Kana had been abducted by somebody. That person had probably been hiding in the shadows of a pillar, or something like that, lying patiently in wait for Kana's return...

Sakura stood before the elevator hall for some time, almost as if she were waiting for the killer to reappear. Finally, her stride sure, Sakura began walking towards the car park exit.

Even afterwards, Sakura continued her own independent investigation. She attempted to look into the pasts of the previous victims during the gaps in her training schedule, but all this resulted in was fatigue and sleep deprivation, turning up no new information.

That day, about ten days after Kana's funeral, Sakura finally left the institute at a fairly late hour. Thanks to her investigation into the serial killer, her homework and reports had begun to pile up quite significantly, and she could no longer even remember the last time she ate a proper meal. She was, not too surprisingly, growing fed up with reading all she could of the data detailing the bloody affair. All she wanted was a normal, peaceful conversation with someone that had nothing to do with the case or the investigation.

On her way home, Sakura headed for the diner run by Chinami, her neighbour at the apartments. There, she would be able to enjoy both a solid meal and solid conversation. Getting off the subway earlier than usual, she transferred to another train. Three stops later she disembarked, making the roughly five-minute walk to Chinami's diner.

The lights inside the diner spilled out through the large glass window that faced the street, illuminating the pavement in yellow. Each time she visited the diner, she thought about how coming here felt much more like a homecoming than returning to her dark house. Sakura vigorously pushed open the red plastic-coated door. Perhaps she had arrived at a quiet hour, as the diner was empty.

"Evening, Chinami!" she called cheerfully.

Chinami, standing behind the counter, turned around. A smile appeared on her perpetually perfectly made-up face.

"You finally showed. It's been a while since I told you to come here and grab a bite. Look at you, pale like you're malnourished as usual. You'll make yourself ill one of these days."

Sakura seated herself upon the stool opposite Chinami, resting her elbows on the counter. "I told you, I've been busy. I'm so fed up of those nasty convenience store sandwiches. They made me pine for the food here."

"What'll it be?"

"Coffee, club sandwich, tuna salad, onion soup, hash browns... and I think I'll take a pie, too."

"You think you manage all of that? Don't overeat and give yourself a stomach ache."

"It's fine. I'm making up for about two weeks of malnutrition in one go."

Chinami shrugged, taking her order to the kitchen. The diner had two employees, Chinami included. The silent, strapping chef in the back made her sandwich and soup. He rarely showed his face to the customers, but would apparently repel drunks and others who came there by mistake without a word.

Large-framed and solidly built, he was a fairly bizarre, middle-aged man who looked more like a martial artist than a chef, probably a little older than Chinami. She had asked Chinami in the past whether she managed the diner with her husband, but Chinami had instantly laughed it off. Boyfriend, then? she had continued to dig, and had been informed that he was simply an employee; that she trusted his skill as a chef, but that was all. Sakura was still suspicious, but decided not to press her any further.

Chinami set a cup down on the counter, filling it with coffee. Its fragrant aroma filled the room. As Sakura cradled the cup in her hands, taking small sips, she heard the door slam open behind her.

"Welcome," Chinami said in an affected voice, looking over in the direction of the door.

Another customer had probably entered. Sakura didn't pay it any particular mind. But when she realised that the customer had taken a stool one spot away from her, she looked over at them. Why do you have to sit so close when the place is totally deserted? she wondered, irritated.

"Oh, what a coincidence," the young man said, looking Sakura in the eye.


The man had a gentle smile on his long face. He wore a knitted, black cotton turtleneck under a tweed jacket. She did feel like she'd seen him somewhere before, but couldn't remember who he was. The man seemed disappointed.

"You don't recognise me? That's understandable, I guess. We've only met once, after all. I was dressed differently, too, and I suppose I don't leave quite as much of an impact as an autopsy," he muttered despondently, his shoulders dropping slightly.

At the word "autopsy", her memory came crashing back.

"Wait. Are you that doctor!?"

"That's right. ...Ahh, I'm so glad you haven't forgotten all about me."

"I mean, you were in your white coat last time. And today you're dressed normally, so..."

"Did you think doctors wore their coats everywhere they went? Maybe I should've come in mine today, too."

"Yeah. I'm sure I would've recognised you at first glance if you had." Sakura smiled, holding the menu out to him. "You must finally have made time to come and try the pie here, then. It's really good, but it's worth giving the rest of the menu a go, too," she said, and Chinami shot her a fleeting, suggestive look.

The man's face reddened. "...Actually, I've already come here a few times since you told me about it, so I've already tried most of the menu."

"Oh, really?"

Sakura, a little surprised, looked between the man and Chinami, who hovered wearing an expression suggesting that there was something she wanted to say. Chinami walked over, setting a cup in front of the man and pouring in coffee even though he had not yet ordered.

"You know, when he first came here he was asking about you, Sakura. He mentioned a girl of around 20 who was training to become an investigator, and you're the only one of my customers who fits the bill. I didn't know whether you actually knew each other, though, so I didn't give up much. He's come here a few times since then. I suppose it must have been you drawing him here rather than our exquisite flavours."

Chinami shot him a joking scowl, and the man leaned forwards, making hurried excuses. "Uh, no. I love the pies here too, of course. If the food tasted like crap then no matter how much there was a girl I wanted to meet, I wouldn't go to all the trouble of coming here once my shift's over."

"A girl you wanted to meet?" Sakura asked, flustering him further.

"No, listen... It's true I thought that I might be able to see you again if I came here, but look, it's not like that's the only thing I was after. Today really was a total coincidence, and it feels like a stroke of luck, but..."

"You certainly have plenty to say for yourself. People will get sick of listening to all of your excuses," Chinami declared flatly. He fell silent, overpowered by her punch, and gulped down a mouthful of coffee.

"Agh, hot!"

In his hurry to put down the cup, he managed to splash coffee all over the place. Although she felt bad about it, Sakura couldn't help but burst out laughing.

"No composure at all... Who is this guy anyway, Sakura?" Chinami asked in amazement as she mopped up the spilled coffee with a cloth.

"He's a doctor at the university hospital who I bumped into recently. He said he liked pie, so I told him yours were delicious," Sakura answered with a laugh.

"Hmph. A doctor? He doesn't look anything like one to me," Chinami said bluntly. "What'll it be today, then, Doctor?"

"What would the pie of the day be?"

"Halloween is close, so it's pumpkin."

"I'll take that, then."

Having made his order, the man finally seemed to relax a little. He turned to Sakura, giving her a bashful smile.

"This got pretty weird, huh? ...If I'm being honest, I've been coming here because I wanted to see you again. The pie is great too, of course. I got to see you, so I was hoping to style it out and pass it off as a coincidence or something, but..."

"Sorry for spoiling it," Chinami said teasingly, placing a plate of pie in front of him.

"If you are, could you not get in the way?" the man huffed. Chinami's eyebrows shot up, but she left without further comment. "Are the two of you close?"

"Yeah. She's sort of like a big sister to me, even if we aren't related by blood."

"It's a good thing you aren't."

"She's a good, caring person. And she makes a killer pie too, right?" Sakura said, her face sober, and the man rushed to agree.

"Oh, no, of course. I don't mean to be disparaging, not at all. ...Um, by the way..."

"What is it?"

"I was hoping we could drop the formalities. I feel kind of like I'm speaking with a patient. Expecting you to suddenly come out with something like, Doctor, I've been feeling dizzy lately, what's wrong with me? is making me nervous."

"Me, too. I get a lot of people saying, I got a ticket for illegal parking recently, and I was wondering if you could do something about it for me? all the time," Sakura replied with a laugh.

"And one other thing."

"There's more?"

"I still don't know your name."

"You don't? Sakura. Sakura Natsume."

"So it's Sakura, huh. I'm..."

"Minato Sawaguchi. I remember."

Minato looked pleased. "Great. I was sure you would've forgotten it."

Sakura couldn't help but smile back. She had thought that the doctors at the university hospital were all self-important, but this one didn't seem quite like the others. Everyone called him Doctor, and he really was one of the elite, but she didn't get a sense of eagerness from him at all.

He doesn't look anything like a hotshot, Sakura thought, and suddenly the words Kana had said before came flooding back from the depths of her memory. She met him at a party... A guy who's a pretty big deal... She had forgotten until now. Kana had been talking about her new boyfriend. In the end, though, she wouldn't divulge much. All she would really say was, We're not even properly dating yet. I'll be sure to come bragging all about it to you again if anything comes of it. Why was she remembering this now? Had the word "elite" triggered it?

"Sorry to keep you waiting. Our special club sandwich, onion soup, tuna salad, and hash browns."

Chinami set each dish, piled high on large plates, in front of Sakura one at a time. Minato watched in amazement.

"That is a lot of food. Are you gonna eat all of that?"

"Yeah," Sakura answered coolly. "I normally eat twice as much as this."


"I'm kidding. Don't take it seriously. I was hungry, so I ended up ordering loads. I think I can manage it, though. Being a trainee is pretty hard labour. What, do you actually think all women are constantly fretting about their diets and eating like little birds?"

"Gimme a break. I was just a bit surprised. I wouldn't make such a stupid misunderstanding as that. I see my colleagues do it. You have to eat whenever you can, since you have no idea when you'll get another chance. Man, woman, it makes no difference. Just ignore me and eat up. Go on, before it gets cold."

"I will. Shouldn't you be getting stuck into your own pie?"

As instructed, Minato took up his fork and began pecking at his pie. Sakura opened her mouth wide and took a bite out of her sandwich, which must have been five centimetres thick.

"...You know, though, if you put it really generally, the man and woman would be the other way around. In terms of your orders, I mean. But as long as it's okay with you two, I guess it doesn't matter," Chinami said, refilling Sakura's cup of coffee.

In the end, Minato also added a sandwich to his order, and some time later the two were left sitting before a mountain of empty plates. If Chinami hadn't cleared every one, they would surely have looked like a gluttonous couple to the other customers. As the hour grew late, the diner gradually began to fill up, and Chinami had no time to stand around eavesdropping on their conversation. As a result, the pair had begun to relax.

"This isn't just me speaking as a doctor, but your colour looks better than it did last time. Maybe it's thanks to the food here," Minato said, watching Sakura's face closely as if observing her.

"You think? Was I really so pale last time?"

"Yeah. You looked like someone who'd just passed out due to anaemia."

Sakura was shocked by his accuracy.

"You even saw that? Doctors really are observant."

"You mean you actually had fainted due to anaemia? So the autopsy did make you feel sick. Just like me," Minato said happily.

Sakura scowled. "Could you not sound so happy about it? I hadn't eaten anything, and I was sleep deprived. I ate properly today. I'm fine now. Still sleep deprived, though."

"You're so busy that you don't have time to sleep?"

"No, I don't mean it like that. ...I have this dream. It's always the same, uneasy dream. They're called nightmares, right? I've been having it continually as of late. It's always waking me up in the middle of the night, and then when I wake up in the morning I feel absolutely exhausted."

"A dream? What kind?"

"I'm in a gloomy place. It's a wide open area, like a dome, with several tall, conical buildings beneath a large roof. They look just like Christmas trees. There are lots of kids around them, and they're all doing something with vacant stares. I can hear a sound like the low vibrations of some sort of machine."

As she spoke, the unease she felt during the dream began to return, and Sakura trailed off.

"Then what? What else is there?" Minato urged, encouraging her to continue.

"...I don't remember the rest," Sakura replied in a mutter.

Even Sakura herself didn't know whether she couldn't remember or just didn't want to remember. She wanted to forget the dream, but she couldn't. Why did simply recalling it like this make her feel so anxious? Minato fell silent for a while, as if deep in thought.

"Hmmm. I don't know much on the subject, since I don't specialise in psychology, but maybe it's some sort of obsessive thinking?"

"Obsessive thinking?"

"Yeah. You're so busy every day and pressed for time, aren't you? You feel cornered, with no time to even decompress. That pressure manifests itself as the insular space within your dreams. The buildings like Christmas trees you mentioned... I wonder what those are. Maybe a symbol of something authoritarian?"

"Wow. Ever thought of becoming a counsellor?" Sakura responded, impressed. "But I've been having this dream for a long time. Ever since I was in elementary school, even."

"Maybe you have it when you're stressed or anxious somehow. Like before an exam or recital, for example?"

"...Now that you mention it, maybe. ...Yeah, it might be."


Minato smiled. Sakura smiled back. She hadn't totally swallowed his analysis, but she still felt ever so slightly as though the fog in her heart had cleared.

"With anxiety, you get even more anxious because you don't know what it really is. If you can figure out the cause, then it's as good as halfway solved. You can face up to it. You just need a bit of a change of pace. How about chatting with your family sometimes, or going out with friends?"

"I have no family. I do have friends, but..." Sakura swallowed the rest of her words: I do have friends, but my best friend isn't here anymore.

"Let's go somewhere together, then, to take your mind off things."

For a moment, Sakura stared back at him blankly.

"You don't have to look so shocked, you know."

Minato watched Sakura, looking surprised. Sakura finally realised that he was asking her out on a date. Amused by her own slowness, Sakura let out an involuntary smile.

"What? Did I say something funny?" Minato seemed perplexed, but couldn't help but smile wryly.

"No, nothing like that. I just don't know what I should do."

"Don't think so deeply about it. When you find the time we can go on a little trip, somewhere you usually wouldn't really go, and forget all about work. What about grabbing a bite to eat?"

"We just did that."

"A movie, then? Anything. The important part is that it's out of the ordinary," Minato insisted.

"Why not? Go on."

Unnoticed by Sakura, Chinami had come to stand before the pair.

"You really are in need of some R&R. Every time I see you these days you have a frown on your face. Go out and enjoy yourself once in a while," Chinami told Sakura, refilling her coffee yet again. Sakura hesitated, looking up at Chinami.

"Maybe. If you say so, I guess maybe I should."

"Chinami puffed out her chest, looking victorious. "You, young man. See the influence of my words. You'll pay if you don't take me seriously."

Minato bowed his head, laughing. "You're right. I confess to thinking you were a nagging old lady, and apologise for it."

Chinami glared sharply at Minato. "Don't you dare date a guy like this!"

They left the diner, Minato telling Sakura that he would see her home in his car. Plenty of time had passed as they were deep in discussion. Not liking the idea of hurrying around worrying about the last train, Sakura gratefully took him up on his offer. His car, parked close to the diner, was a completely average car of domestic make, which Sakura actually found relieving.

"Where do you live?"

"The north side of Area B."

Minato nodded, pulling out of the parking spot. He was a better driver than she had expected. Sakura had obtained her licence during her time at university, but didn't own a car and had hardly driven at all during the past few years. Despite recognising that she should practise from time to time, the chance never presented itself.

Minato appeared quiet and not possessed of good reflexes, but he operated the gear stick smoothly, his steering technique precise, too. Sakura watched his hands with admiration. They looked so clean. Perhaps as a consequence of his occupation, his nails were clipped short and even. She noticed a plaster on his left thumb, which held onto the steering wheel loosely.

"What happened to your finger?" Sakura asked casually.

Minato raised his left hand, keeping his eyes on the windscreen. "Oh, this? ...How did I get that? Maybe I cut it at work. That's probably it. I don't really remember." There was a curious ambiguity, almost confusion, in his tone."Hmph."

Sakura's attention had already turned elsewhere. She was more preoccupied with the blue bruise she couldn't remember sustaining. Intense concentration had a way of dulling minor pain.

Sakura got out of the car right in front of her apartment building.

"See you again next week, then. I'll come pick you up."


Sakura waved casually, Minato too leaning a little way out of the driver's side window and waving back.

After watching the car leave, Sakura walked cheerfully inside the apartment building. That night, she managed to fall asleep in high spirits for the first time in a long time. And yet Sakura, as always, found herself standing in that very same place within her dreams.

A gloomy space. A sound like a low moan.

Ahh, I'm back here again. Gotta get out of here, fast. I wonder where the exit is.

Looking up, Sakura saw conical buildings lit with dim lamps. There seemed to be ten of the buildings in total. They stood in a triangular formation, almost like bowling pins. Sakura stood in front of them, in a plaza-like area. She walked around, searching for an exit. Several apathetic-looking children drifted around, too, but none of them looked at Sakura.

Sakura made her way over to the entrance to one of the conical buildings. She peered inside, seeing that there was an atrium in the centre with a spiral staircase crawling up the surrounding wall and leading high into the distance. A row of small doors were set into the wall. The buzzing in her ears grew stronger. Sakura hurried out of the building.

Approaching the central building, she found someone standing before it. The figure was tall. Their back was turned to her, but it seemed to be a young man. He gripped something in his right hand. It glinted faintly in the reflection of the dim lamp on the building's outer wall. A pool of black water spread out around his feet like darkness. Although concealed by the man's shadow, she could see something lying on the ground beyond.

...Has somebody collapsed...?

The collapsed person had long, light brown hair, and seemed familiar to Sakura. She wasn't sure who it was, but they were someone important to her. As she watched carefully, the man slowly began to turn. Sakura felt like she was freezing over with terror.

Don't turn around. Don't look at me. Please, don't see me! I have to get out of here, and fast. No, I have to wake up. Wake up, self! What'll happen if he catches you? ...I'm scared.

Sakura sat bolt upright. Her heart beat at an unusual pace, pounding hard against her chest. She felt like she'd been running with all her might. As was always the case when she had the dream, her whole body was drenched in a cold sweat. Her cotton pyjamas were wet, clinging uncomfortably to her skin.

Still sitting up on the bed, Sakura gathered the blanket around her and waited for her heart to stop racing. Finally, she slowly got to her feet, turning on all of the lights in the room and heading for the bathroom. After a hot shower, she finally felt like one of the living again.

Donning a bathrobe, a towel still wrapped around her wet hair, Sakura sat down on the living room sofa. It was still dark on the other side of the blinds. The hands on the clock pointed to 5 AM.

That dream had been different from the others. Had it been "Jack the Ripper" who had been standing in that place? The person lying on the ground had been Kana without a doubt. The pretty, light brown hair was definitely hers. The murder weapon in his hand, the black pool of water resembling darkness at his feet. Was it blood? What was he doing inside her dream?

Dissecting that morning's dream calmly like Minato had shown her the day before, Sakura decided that it wasn't unreasonable at all for the person she'd been investigating with such fervour recently to appear in her dreams, since she was afraid of both. But oddly enough he didn't look out of place there at all, almost as if he had returned to the place where he belonged all along.

"What about me, then? Seen through someone else's eyes, would I look like I belonged in that place, too?" Sakura murmured aloud.

Even though the place had been lit by dim lights, it reeked of darkness. Sumio Kodai's words swam through her mind.

"The darkness within my own heart..."

What if that very scene itself was the "darkness" within Sakura of which even she was unaware? A sudden chill ran down Sakura's spine. She realised that in the time she had spent deep in thought, her still-wet hair and body, clad only in her robe, were chilled through.

Sakura stood in the kitchen, using her towel to dry the water from her hair. She put on the kettle, changing into a thick hoodie and jeans while she waited for the water to boil. Making up some instant coffee, she settled back down on the sofa. Sakura had disposed of most of her furniture when she had moved from the spacious family apartment she had shared with her father to this one dining, one kitchen apartment where she lived by herself. No matter what, though, she couldn't let go of this battered old sofa that had been she and her father's favourite. The cloth-covered cushions were faded and stained in places, but it felt almost the exact same to sit on.

Sipping at her flavourless, too-hot coffee, Sakura turned on the TV using the remote control. The first news broadcast of the day was just beginning. The female newsreader was reading out the top news item of the day in a calm tone. It was an announcement stating that a new victim of the serial killer known as "Jack the Ripper" had been found. Sakura set the cup down beside her, engrossed in the images playing on the screen.

The screen cut to a distant shot of an old building somewhere. The body had supposedly been discovered on the other side of it. The crime scene was covered with a huge blue tarp, and the only things visible were the investigators coming and going. They didn't yet seem to know the identity of the woman who had been found dead in the early hours of that morning, but from the way she had been killed they had apparently surmised that this was probably the work of the serial killer. None of the particulars were being reported by the press, but this, at least, seemed certain: she would be 22 years old. Her throat would have been slit, her hands folded upon her chest, before being laid down.

"The darkness," Sakura said to herself.

What was the perp trying to achieve through his repeated crimes? That answer lay within the darkness inside the heart of the killer himself. Just what kind of form did that take?

"If you can't connect with the darkess inside your own mind, you can't understand the mind of a criminal," Sumio Kodai had said. If Sakura could figure out the true form of the darkness within her own mind, would she find herself a little closer to the darkness within the killer, too? Then that was where her pursuit would have to begin.

Also on her mind was the phrase "shelter kids" that reporter named Morishima had uttered when he had come to speak with Sakura. It certainly did seem like he had come to some sort of realisation. Sakura had done some investigating of her own since, but was unable to find a trace of anything related to the words. She had tried calling Morishima, too, but despite his informing her to contact him, no matter when she called she was only ever greeted by his answering machine.

The screen changed to the next headline, but Sakura didn't notice, curled up on the sofa and deep in thought.

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