After I looked through every photo on the digital camera, I put away both the digital and film cameras in my bag. To make sure not to damage anything, I put them in vinyl bags I had prepared beforehand, and filled the gaps with a towel.
“Hmm? Mr. Daniel, is that everything?”
On Jessica’s question, I let out a sigh as I answered.
“Yeah, thanks. I learned quite a bit.”
Really, I didn’t learn anything, but let’s thank her for now. There, Jessica forced her cheekful of cake down the back of her throat with water, took a deep breath, and held out her right hand.
“Ehehehe. Oh, you know. I’m asking for my payment, of course.”
“Ah, I can’t give you that yet.”
“Eeeh!? Why’s that!?”
Raising a cry, Jessica stood from her booth seat. She was probably holding back her anger, but seeing the twitching movements of her green hair, I honestly felt afraid.
“I need to send this camera in for examination. It’s not like I’m doubting you, it’s because it’s a piece of evidence that’s going to be submitted in court. I need a certificate that says these photos were undoubtedly taken in the Dark Forest.”
“I see. That’s irrelevant to me.”
“Oh, but it is. In the first place, you weren’t even able to find the client’s house, were you?”
“Urgh! That’s true, but… I mean, I was lost, and with my level of skill, any more exploration would really be impossible, and…”
As she headed into the latter half, her words gradually became smaller, finally giving a powerful “But still!” She tried to add something after that, but I interrupted her.
“Don’t be so hasty. It’s not like I’m saying I won’t pay you. In the first place, I already gave you an advance payment of fifty thousand. Why not trust me a bit?”
Jessica complained, “I already used that… rather, I feel somewhat cheated.”
“Then do you want to come with me?”
I invited Jessica.
“That should be obvious, to the magic theory research lab.”
Her face was as if a question mark was floating above her head. Of course, I myself didn’t know exactly what sort of place it was either.
For the magic theory research lab was a tale of these passed ten-odd years. It was set up as a research institute under the government’s national police agency by people specializing in crimes committed through magic, and experts in criminal psychology.
A similar agency called the forensics lab also existed, and that one focused on forensic medicine, engineering, chemistry, and writing analysis in its research.
While their topic of study differed, both were research institutes under the main branch of the police, and they’d often do joint investigations, the driving force who supported the police investigation from the shadows. That sort of thing.
Both labs had access to the highest level of technology the country could offer, and especially in recent years, the entrance of investigation through magic parsing was garnering attention from the world.
… Magic parsing. After the first hearing ended, I looked into it aside from the case.
What I learned was that, by using magic, there would always be a trace left at the scene, apparently.
And a trace left behind once would never go away, whether ten or a hundred years passed, you could pick up the same data as if it had been used at that instant.
This was different from fingerprints, or blood, or hair samples. Give fingerprints a week, and you’ll lose their pattern, and DNA samples were easiest to take when the blood was fresh.
By the way, even after hair is plucked, it’s surprisingly tenacious in its will to live. The reason hair grew a few millimeters to centimeters after being cut was because the cells were still alive.
Anything with shape would eventually break. A broken sample had little value to serve as evidence. But evidence collected through magic parsing was different.
Regardless of time, with magic parsing that could always pick up fresh data, unsettled cases, and cases of centuries ago could be brought to light, making a new key to cornering culprits.
The other day. There was something that bothered me on my phone exchange with Jessica.
The moment she entered the house she found in the Dark Forest, the call was suspended. Even when it was a satellite phone that could supposedly be used anywhere in the world.
In a place without electricity or gas or water, I couldn’t find any normal reasons a satellite phone wouldn’t work. Excluding magic, or course.
And… I looked at my bag. There was the broken camera I’d gotten from Jessica.
The camera was also strange. Why did it explode?
The camera I bought wasn’t junk. I’ll admit it was cheap, but I chose out a considerably good brand name.
What’s more, the test shots Jessica took before the Dark Forest, or rather her selfies came out without a problem.
Yet once she entered that strange house in the woods, it exploded?
It was too put together to be a coincidence.
… It’s time for some magic parsing.
I stood from the sofa. Jessica made upturned eyes as she stared at me.
“It’s time to settle something. Do you want to come along?”
“… I’ll come.”
Jessica made an anxious face as she muttered, “I kinda want to see.”
“Ah? Did you say something?”
“I said I kinda wanted to see.”
Jessica left the café with swift feet. After paying the check, I went outside, to find Jessica doing some stretching exercises there.
“What sort of person is your client?
For a moment, I thought of how to play if off, but I somewhat hesitated to lie.
“She’s a girl around your age.”
… I see, Jessica gave a rare blunt mutter.