Volume Three

Just as Tsuzuki is about to dig into a glorious breakfast spread of sweets (and Hisoka leisurely reads "Crime and Punishment"), they're called to Kachou's office for a special assignment in conjunction with Hong Kong. Apparently deceased souls bound for the Hong Kong division have disappeared before arriving. Souls aren't supposed to disappear--they wind up *somewhere* in the afterlife, there is even a "lost" division for that purpose. All investigations of such occurrences lead to the same place--a cruise ship owned by the Japanese Kakyouin Group, the Queen Camellia. At the same time, the Earl has reported a recent increase in the sudden lengthening of individuals' lifespans. Tsuzuki and Hisoka are to go undercover on the ship as it travels between Fukuoka and Hong Kong to check if there's a connection.

Hisoka is given an identity as the son of a powerful company head and will be a VIP passenger. Tsuzuki, on the other hand, is a dealer in the ship's casino. (He does a good job, despite his disappointment.) The time limit of their investigation is two weeks, the length of the cruise. Tsuzuki tries to visit Hisoka's suite, but gaijin guards block his way (he can't speak English). He's rescued from his predicament by the ship owner's special guest--Muraki.

Hisoka attends the VIP party, though it makes him uncomfortable to be around so many people. (He's given a brief once-over by a med student, who notices him looking ill.) Three big shots are pointed out to him--an actress, Kanako; an elderly politician, Wakabayashi, reportedly her lover; and the owner, Kakyouin. All five of the owner's VIPs are in suites on the same floor. Hisoka retreats from the pressure of the other guests, when abruptly he feels a call, "Come to me, my puppet..."

He realizes at once that it's Muraki, reliving the echoes of the spell cast on him, though he doesn't understand why. He staggers away and bumps into a young girl, the owner's daughter Tsubaki. She loves tsubaki (camellia) flowers and always has them with her, so her doctor gave her the nickname "Tsubaki-hime" (the name of a character in a novel, a high class prostitute who fell in love with a noble). Her doctor turns out to be Muraki himself. He performed a heart transplant that saved her life, and she's enchanted by him.

Meanwhile, Tsuzuki is having a conversation with Muraki (who calls the shinigami "cute" for thinking the previous attack had been enough to kill him). Tsuzuki accuses him of planning more death and mayhem, to which he replies, "So what if I am? What are you going to do about it?" He also claims he's not involved with their current assignment. Tsuzuki can't afford to get on the bad side of the owner's special guest or he's out of a job and his investigation is shot. Muraki uses the opportunity to flirt extravagantly, going so far as inviting himself into Tsuzuki's bed.

He comes upon Hisoka, cheerfully offering to examine the boy at Tsubaki's request, but of course Hisoka staunchly refuses. Tsubaki is startled that he and the doctor know each other. She gives him a kiss to cheer him up. Afterward, Tsuzuki cries to Hisoka about how Muraki is harassing him, and he's not likely to be of much use on this mission. A commotion draws their attention to Wakabayashi's door, where the butler was called but no one will answer when he knocks. Tsubaki finds a tarot card under the door, the Ace of Wands. Sensing something unusual inside, Hisoka orders the door unlocked, and they discover Wakabayashi's body with his heart torn out--and twin punctures in his neck.

Muraki examines the body and reports the cause of death as strychnine in Wakabayashi's wine, with the heart having been removed after he died. (There was no blood missing, so the neck wounds weren't from vampirism.) The murderer had to be someone with access to the VIP floor--namely, those present. Kanako insists it's the owner, who has the key to the room. On top of the murder, the ship has also lost communication with land. Muraki advises that they should stay on course, though the shinigami don't trust him, figuring that'll just give him time to stalk more victims. However, Tsubaki vouches for him, saying that he was in her room attending her during the time of the murder, so it couldn't have been him.

The shinigami don't know what to make of the situation, nor have they made any progress on their own case. Tsubaki comes to show them a card that had been left in her room. It mentions the "heart of a sacrifice" and the Ace of Wands. She tells them that the meaning of that card is "Beginning." Then Muraki shows up with a bouquet of roses for Tsuzuki. (Muraki-"Red roses signify passion. A wish that tonight you will bloom beautifully beneath me..." Tsuzuki-"Who are you saying will be *beneath*?!") He challenges Tsuzuki to a game of poker, with Tsuzuki's body as the stakes.

Tsuzuki loses.

However, just as the doctor is happily about to claim his prize, Hisoka interrupts. (Hisoka-"If you want to borrow my dealer for the evening, that'll be $5,000..." Muraki-"Sold." Tsuzuki-"Hisokaaaa! I'm begging you, save meee!") Hisoka finally challenges Muraki to another round for the prize. The casino manager tries to console Tsuzuki ("Don't worry, the doctor's a pro. It won't hurt."), the topic eventually turning to a previous dealer who had worked there, Irene, from Hong Kong. She had suddenly vanished one day without a trace. When confronted, the owner claims he knows of no such person.

Despite the doctor's attempts to mess with his head, Hisoka keeps his cool and wins the game. After expressing his gratitude, Tsuzuki relates what he discovered about Irene, adding that even though she vanished years ago, her name has just appeared on the ship's register (but she isn't aboard), and passengers claim to be hearing strange noises like someone roaming about. (Tsuzuki spends that night in Hisoka's suite, having a blast with room service.)

Tsubaki finds them the next morning to say she's received another card. When they realize no one has seen the doctor recently, they run and get the owner to unlock his door. Muraki is lying on his bed covered with roses and poker cards. His tarot card, written about in Tsubaki's message, is the King of Swords ripped in half. The shinigami can't believe he's really dead. Tsubaki has an attack from shock and collapses. The med student does his best to perform an examination and concludes that the cause of death is the same as before--strychnine.

Kanako demands that they turn the ship around and go back, but the owner refuses, not wanting to admit to the rest of the passengers that there have been two murders. She tells him that if she's killed next, she'll curse him for valuing money above their lives. Hisoka wonders why he doesn't feel anything at Muraki's death, guessing that maybe it's because he didn't get to take revenge personally. The shinigami go over what they've learned to date, Tsuzuki deciding to follow up on the Irene angle while Hisoka sticks to Tsubaki to find out why the message cards from the murders are being sent to her. When they try to report back to Enma-chou, unfortunately, the connection won't go through, so Tsuzuki has to resort to a spirit message bird.

They discuss the murder clues, particularly the fact that the two tarot cards are from completely separate decks. Kanako comes to see what they're talking about, and Tsuzuki changes the subject to her bracelet--which, it turns out, she took from Wakabayashi as sort of a payment for all the unpleasant things she's had to endure. Hisoka notices that Muraki's door is open when it should be locked. He checks inside and meets up with Tsubaki, who misses the doctor. She considered him an angel when she was younger and fell in love with him, but she knows he's been in love with someone else for a long time. Out of loneliness, she asks if Hisoka will be her boyfriend for the remainder of the trip, just like the young noble in the Tsubaki-hime story.

Later, another card is delivered to her. This one accompanies Kanako's body, again the heart removed, and the Six of Pentacles. Back at Enma-chou, the message bird hasn't arrived, and Gushoushin realizes there's something jamming their communications. Kachou orders his assistant Tatsumi to put together a strike force to go in after the missing pair of shinigami. Hisoka notices that the most recent message to Tsubaki has two cards inside rather than one. They remember Kanako arguing with the owner and go rushing off to locate him. He turns out to be dead as well, strung up by the neck with all four limbs removed in addition to the heart and his mouth sewn shut. His tarot card is the Seven of Wands.

The med student accidentally drops something, Kanako's bracelet, but he claims he didn't commit the murder. Still on his bed, Muraki opens his eyes, forcing himself to move before "she" awakens. Hisoka goes to comfort Tsubaki, and she clasps his hand, sending him a whirlwind of mental images about saying goodbye to Irene and finding a heart donor that overloads his talent.

He plunges into his nightmare about Muraki, unable to do anything but scream for Tsuzuki to save him. He wakes with his partner beside him. Tsuzuki had found Hisoka and carried him back to his suite. Embarrassed, he asks if he said anything aloud, but Tsuzuki assures him there wasn't anything intelligible. When they're out of earshot, Gushoushin chides him for lying. Tsuzuki knows that Hisoka isn't ready to admit that he would ask for help.

Kanako's bracelet breaks, and Hisoka spots a microchip inside it. It seems the med student had picked it up because he was a fan of hers and wanted to have something that belonged to her. Tsuzuki says it's too bad the boy had to perform an autopsy on someone he had admired, to which Hisoka replies that it's all part of the job and there's no use crying over it. Tsuzuki beams at him, pleased that he's recovered enough to make snarky comments again. Hisoka protests over having his hair ruffled, but inside he muses that--though no one had saved him when Muraki had attacked him, and he knew no one could--if it were Tsuzuki, he would probably come to his aid.

Tsuzuki researches the meanings of the tarot cards. Muraki's is "advisor" or "cruel man." Kanako's means "to receive a bribe" and the owner's means "to be blackmailed." The microchip from the bracelet contains a map of the ship with a big X on a lower deck. While Tsuzuki goes there, Hisoka checks up on Tsubaki. She wants to know what connection he had with the doctor. He spills the truth about Muraki having killed him and how he became a shinigami. In the ship's storage area, Tsuzuki is attacked. When he fights back, he realizes his opponent is Muraki.

After finishing his story, Hisoka asks Tsubaki if she knows Irene. She explains that Irene had been her only friend, until one day she vanished. The doctor tells Tsuzuki that he hadn't died from the poison, he was in a near-death state--he's been taking small doses of poison since he was little to inure himself to it. He claims he needs to take a bit of another's life energy to recover fully, which was why he attacked. He continues to be aggressive, half tormenting and half seducing. When he gets tired of playing (for the time being), they exchange information. It turns out the owner was being blackmailed by Wakabayashi and Kanako. He paid by letting Wakabayashi win at gambling.

Hisoka figures out right away that Muraki's still alive (smells his cologne all over Tsuzuki) and decides it's for the best, he wants to get revenge himself. They go exploring the ship together and locate a secret compartment. Just then they hear a scream and follow it to stumble upon Tsubaki strangling the med student. However, she insists she's not Tsubaki but Irene. It was her heart that had been transplanted into Tsubaki.

She tells them that the secret room is where the owner kept children sold to him by parents desperate for money. Their arms and legs were amputated so they couldn't get away, their mouths sewn shut so they couldn't cry for help. The owner could then sell off their organs. Irene committed the murders--Wakabayashi because his blackmail forced the owner to continue, Kanako because she was a witness, and the owner simply as payback. Muraki had performed the transplant knowing it was Irene's heart. Just as she begins to say that Wakabayashi wasn't the only blackmailer, Muraki appears and shoots her in the back.

Muraki had been the true blackmailer--he lied about his business aboard the ship not being related to the shinigami investigation. He had helped Irene with the murders, offering her the poison and making the fang marks to turn suspicion away from her. The owner had intended to quit selling organs on the black market once he found a heart for his daughter, but Muraki wouldn't allow that. He told Tsubaki about Irene and manipulated her into a split personality, thus forcing her father into a position of needing the doctor to manage her.

Tsubaki returns to herself and says she loves the doctor, though he only sees her as a broken toy he doesn't have a use for anymore. When he taunts Hisoka about how he's treated her, Tsuzuki strikes out at him, so angry he cracks the bulletproof glass the doctor had taken shelter behind. Then a bomb Muraki planted goes off and he uses the distraction to escape. Tsuzuki gives chase, but Muraki gets away in a helicopter he had arranged for beforehand.

Tsubaki tells Hisoka that she knew all along what Muraki was doing to her, but she didn't care because she loved him and at least it meant he would spend time with her. She refuses to let Hisoka say anything bad about him. Instead, she asks Hisoka to kill her, since that's not something she can ask of the doctor. She says he shouldn't be sad, he has someone much more suitable for him than she is, someone who will protect him and help him grow. Someone who understands him, who knows everything about him and forgives him. Someone who loves him.

As the boat continues to sink, the Enma-chou rescue helicopter breaks through the barrier that had been surrounding the ship and picks up Tsuzuki. With Tsubaki's last words ringing in his ears, Hisoka runs into Tsuzuki's arms. Between sobs, he reveals that he shot Tsubaki in the heart with Muraki's gun. He's terrified that he'll turn into a copy of the doctor, reveling in death. Tsuzuki holds him and assures him that it will never happen.

End Volume 3

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