Chapter 9:

Investigating the Root

Red is the Color of You


      The following day, Izumi goes to work the first of his two shifts, and although he passes by Eiji on the way, he ignores his calls and continues on. Too much is on his mind currently for him to think about how to approach the situation between them. Progressively, Wraith has been edging his way into Izumi’s life, and he doesn’t know how to feel about it. On one hand, Wraith has some kindness past his sometimes annoying playfulness, but there’s some charm to it. While on the other, he’s a malformed creature that’s only human on the outside. 

Nothing terrified Izumi more than when he recalled Wraith playing with Lala when they first met, and remembering that it could’ve been her, or possibly even himself. Is it just a matter of anger? Even if it was, just the fact that he didn’t seem to hold any remorse was unnerving. Regardless of Wraith’s actions, Izumi still wanted to know more about him, as he held firm in his heart the belief that Wraith is more than his grotesque deeds. 

Later that evening, Wraith assisted Izumi in securing an appointment with the executive the following day, using magic to make the receptionist compliant. After Wraith carried out his purpose, he left and Izumi headed for bed immediately, exhausted from a long day of work. A dream plagued him that night, as it contained Wraith, yet in a way in which Izumi never wished to visualize. It was promiscuous in nature, and of all places it was at his cosplay café job, yet before the deed could reach its completion, Izumi shot up. He sat in his bed, his head in his hands, realizing he’d never be able to look at Wraith the same. 

Of all people...uAgh, I can’t believe I let what he said about four years get to my head let alone his stupid...face, he regretfully reflected. 

Flustered, Izumi goes to shower to try and brush off the strange dream he had. 

Upon leaving the bathroom, he finds Wraith waiting for him on the bed, laying down. Immediately, Wraith sits up and Izumi tries to avoid eye contact with him in order to avoid being reminded of his salacious dream. Although Wraith notices this, he decides to file it away for later. Regardless, he still attempts to set him off in order to gauge his reaction.

“So, what’s the plan little Izumi?”

Izumi tries to ignore his antics. “Well, since we already made the appointment, all I really need help with is just making sure that the director actually tells me the truth, which you said was related to that other specter’s spell right?”

“Yea but it won’t be a problem.” Wraith nonchalantly stretches and rises from the bed, making Izumi realize their height difference now that they’re standing side by side. Incidentally, he also finally noticed that Wraith keeps his dress shirt a bit open. “I could just override it by making him tell the unfiltered truth. What I’ll probably do is just turn invisible so no one else will see me, but you still can, then after we could go to that girl’s grave.”

“I’m alright with that.” Izumi agrees.

Since Kanae wasn’t home, Izumi made himself breakfast while Wraith waited for him, smoking outside and having a drink. Afterwards, the two set off to talk to the executive.

     The corporate building was pristine and clearly high-class judging from the immense use of glass and marble, and while Izumi was gazing with starry eyes, Wraith, who was translucent, didn’t seem to be impressed in the slightest. A receptionist guided Izumi to the executive he was scheduled to have an interview with, who was the very definition of business oriented and money hungry, as the middle aged man’s suit barely held his overweight body together and he always seemed to be in a rush. There was an earpiece connected to his lobe and on his right wrist was a smart watch which he checked constantly for notifications, irking Izumi slowly.

Much to Izumi’s surprise however, the executive’s office was made primarily out of dark red wood, although unmistakably high-grade judging by the gloss it had. Other than that, the office was quite average, excluding its above normal size, allowing it to have a lounge room, where the two spoke. Wraith stood behind the couch Izumi was seated on, which was across from the executive. Izumi fumbled for his notebook and tape recorder, his nerves finally getting to him.

“May you please make this quick? I have other matters to attend to, so the faster this is concluded, the better.” The executive snapped.

“Ah, right! Um..” Izumi glances at his notes with his nervous behavior resulting in Wraith suppressing his laughter, nearly forgetting his job. “Mr. Saito? I wanted to ask about Fuhiro Nakamura, he went by VIX in tournaments?”

“He left us not too long ago.” Mr. Saito responded.

“That’s what I wanted to ask about. He seemed to be a very good player from what I could tell, so there was no real reason for him to have stopped playing competitively, especially considering he played the game as a full time job for years. Why did he stop? Or did the company let him go?”

“I don’t kn-” Wraith snaps his fingers and Mr. Saito restarts his sentence, although awoken from a trance. “Nakamura was a good player, yes, but he got himself involved in quite a bit of controversy.”

“Which was..?” Izumi pressed.

“A girl, I don’t quite remember her name-” Again, Wraith enchants the executive. “Toshiko Eri.” Both of their eyes widen at the familiar name as Mr. Saito continues. “She had accused him of sexual assault. Judging by the severity of the allegations and the amount of evidence she presented, we had no choice but to let him go. Subsequently, he was banned from tournaments and left the professional scene altogether.”

“How can people be so sure he did it? Isn’t it difficult to prove that?”

“There were people who claimed to have witnessed either his suspicious behavior towards her or they interacted with her after the fact, in which she was obviously distraught.” Something didn’t seem right to Izumi, and Wraith felt the same.

“Kid, I don’t think you’re going to get anything out of him. Stories are stories, people lie all the time. Even if I make him tell the truth, if she spread a lie, to him it’s the truth, and we’ll never know unless we take it to the source.” As Wraith was appearing ethereal, people other than Izumi can neither hear nor see Wraith.

Izumi agreed with Wraith’s take, he didn’t feel like he would get anywhere with the executive, but at least he knew ahead of time to pressure Toshiko.

“Well, thank you for your time, Mr. Saito. That’s all I wanted to ask.” Izumi wrapped up the interview and shook his hand.

“My secretary will see you out.” He immediately rushed out of the room and his secretary took his place, guiding Izumi to the exit. Once they were outside the office, Wraith took on his opaque appearance once again.

“We have some time to kill until then, so, you got somewhere in mind?” Wraith asked Izumi, to his surprise.

“You want to...hang out with me?”

“No, I’m just asking so I can juke you. Yes? You’re always brimming with questions, so gives you a chance to ask, and hell, maybe I’ll ask my own. If I’m gonna be stuck with you for who knows how long, I might as well learn more about you.”

“There’s a park nearby we can go to, if you just wanna sit and chat.”

“That’s fine with me.”

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     Upon arriving at the park, the unlikely pair sit by the fountain, with about a foot space between them. Wraith immediately pulls out a cigarette and smokes.

“Are you, how do I phrase it...like, does smoking harm you? Like how humans get lung cancer and stuff.” Izumi right away lets his curiosity get the best of him and Wraith smiles, knowing it would happen sooner than later.

“Nah. Ghosts don’t really get sick or things like that the same way humans do, most that’ll happen is if they have some super strong addiction to something, like stronger drugs.”

“Human drugs?”

“Yea, some use them, not a lot though since you have to really hit them for them to be effective. For specters though, basically nothing works.”

“Woahh, so you don’t get sick or hurt or anything at all then? How do you guys even die?”

“I didn’t say we can’t get hurt. I already told you before that ghosts can devour other ghosts, and really ghosts can only die to another ghost period. We sustain injuries, but they heal fairly quickly, especially for specters, and especially especially for me. I could cut my arm off right now and regrow it instantly. Dying though, basically the same way normal people do, just in some cases it takes a bit longer, like blood loss. If you cut off their head, slice them in half, things like that, they’ll die like any normal person.”

“But not you?”

“Not me.”

“Why’s that? Do specters die to things like that?”

“Well, yes and no. To kill a specter, you have to be a bit more meticulous than that, like cutting them up a bit more so there’s too much damage to repair, or just straight devouring them, which really wouldn’t work but hey it’s technically still an option. In my case though, I’m just special.” Wraith grins, clearly not wanting to answer the question, giving Izumi the impression that no one knows how to kill him then.

“That’s cool though, you guys are basically immortal!” Izumi relaxes into the park bench, turning to watch the fountain.

“Well, some would disagree with you. Not everyone wants to live forever.” Wraith had a hint of solemnness in his voice, catching Izumi’s attention.

“And what about you?” He watched Wraith’s face.

“Hmm.” Wraith thinks for a moment. “I can say without a doubt that I’m one of the oldest ghosts out there, and sure it was boring sometimes, but in that case I just sleep if I really can’t find something. Then I wake up and it’s a new era so I get to do new things again.”

“Sleep? Like hibernate?”

“Exactly that.”

“And you can do that for years?”

“Yep.” He responds nonchalantly.

     Izumi’s face is clearly impressed and a little jealous that he can brush off problems so easily. For a moment, they sit in silence. The fountain is giving off a refreshing mist which compliments the slight spring breeze. Unsure what to say, Izumi nervously looks down before watching Wraith, hoping to find a hint in his face. Wraith eventually turns to Izumi, making him jump a little in his seat.

“Am I that pretty that you have to stare?” He blows a puff of smoke and puts out his cigarette on the floor.

Izumi becomes flustered, his ears burning. “N-no! I was just thinking-”

“So I’m not pretty? How harsh of you.” Wraith teases, setting off Izumi even more, his face becoming more red hot and his grip on his clothes becoming tighter.

“No I didn’t mean-!”

A boisterous laugh erupts from Wraith as he struggles to get his words together. “You’re killing me! Pfffft- hah, I can’t do this anymore you might actually make me feel bad, go ahead go ahead, what did you want to say?” He tries to stop laughing, Izumi feeling a mixture of frustration and embarrassment.

“I-I wanted to ask you if you were ever lonely!” He shouted accidentally, catching Wraith off guard.

“Oh.” His laughter immediately ceases, Izumi calms down upon Wraith’s change of tone. “Huh. Hmm. I’m gonna have to say no. I was...hmm…” Wraith stops to think several times, trying to dance around his past. “I have people, let's just say. I had a time where I didn’t, and I was fine then. Then I had people, and still have them, and I’m fine now too. So, I’m fine either way. A question for you, then. What happened to your dad? I looked around your house the other day and didn’t see any pictures of him, or any other family member for that matter, excluding your mom.”

Wraith can tell that it’s a somewhat touchy subject judging by Izumi’s more tense demeanor. “I don’t know what he was like, really. According to my mom, he was a deadbeat and left before I was even born.”

“A fling then? If you don’t mind me asking.”

“If you want to put it that way.” Izumi kicks at the floor, his head low. Wraith gets closer and rests one arm behind Izumi. He jolts, whipping his head to Wraith, not realizing how close he got, as they’re now side by side. Lightly stroking his hair, Wraith studies Izumi’s mint eyes, noting to himself how soft Izumi’s expression always seems.

“As far as I’m concerned, you’re not a mistake, Izumi.” This time, Wraith’s kind smile and soft voice sets off Izumi’s heart rate and cheeks. “Even disregarding your special prowess with the supernatural, your life holds more worth than a lot of people I’ve seen, and I’ve seen more than you can imagine in terms of scum of the earth. I may ask for people to give up their child, spouse, or relative, but that doesn’t mean I hold people like that to a high standard. Anyone willing to do something like that for monetary value, looks, what have you, is disgusting. That’s why… I’m glad. For you. Neither your mother nor you are marked by a specter.”

“I-I thought you liked your job? At least that’s what it seemed like.” Izumi half mumbles, still distracted by the lack of distance between them.

“I do. Hell, I love it. I’m basically taking out the trash.” Wraith scoffs as he gets up from the bench. “We should get going now. By the time we get there, it’ll be night.”

“Ah, r-right.” Izumi shakes his head from his dangerous thoughts and follows after Wraith to the cemetery.

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     To help Izumi find the grave, Wraith asks the other shades there, who are clearly terrified of him, to point out Toshiko, but when they arrive, there’s no ghost at the grave.

“What do we do now-” Izumi turns and asks just as Wraith kicks the gravestone. “What are you doing!”

“Get the fuck out here before I drag you out of your grave.” Wraith snaps at the gravestone. Instantaneously, an ethereal young woman comes out of the grave. Her hair is long and her clothes are somewhat plain.

“Don’t you guys know anything about respecting the dead-” She starts to bark back, then retracts. “A-a specter?!”

“You really are famous.” Izumi comments to Wraith.

“No, she can just tell, consider it like an aura. Well? Ask your questions kid. I’ll be here if she doesn’t want to comply.” He glares at Toshiko, who shrinks in terror.

Izumi nods and focuses on the young woman. “You’re Toshiko Eri right? You died recently? Murdered to be specific.”

“Congratulations, you can read the gravestone.” She sarcastically responds. After accidentally exchanging a look with Wraith, she changes her attitude slightly. “Is this about that guy? Fushiko or whatever his name was.”

“Fuhiro, Fuhiro Nakamura. I don’t want to talk about him yet though.” She seemingly gets irritated at Izumi’s approach, but tries to contain herself out of fear of Wraith. “To back track, how did you two know each other?”

“I was at some of the tournaments, not as a player, just as a moderator. Doing stuff like setting up the brackets or livestream. I never really had genuine interactions with him, just stuff in passing. There’s usually an afterparty for bigger events and I got a bit tipsy so he helped me back to my room-”

“And you accused him of rape?” Izumi purposefully interrupts to catch her off guard so she won’t lie, which he’s successful in doing as she starts to get more agitated and defensive.

“Moderators don’t even make that much money! I have to work all these stupid little jobs just to get by and do you know how much publicity people get when they do shit like that?!”

“You ruined his life for publicity?!” This is the first instance that Wraith’s seen of Izumi full heartedly boiling with infuriation, as his voice is more aggressive and clamorous, making him feel a hint of pride. “He lost everything because of you!”

“Well I lost my life because of him!” She snaps in retaliation. “Why are you acting like I’m the only one who’s done shit like that?! People do it all the time and they never get punished for it!”

“Others doing something deplorable doesn’t make the action any less-You-!-UGHH!” Izumi reaches a loss for words, unsure how to convey to her the wrongdoings she committed.

“Let’s go, you got the information you needed.” Wraith interjects; Izumi reluctantly nods and leaves with Wraith.

     Outside of Izumi’s house in the driveway, Wraith sits on the bike rack and smokes while Izumi rants to him about how greatly in disbelief he is at her incapability to realize how detrimental her actions were. For once, Wraith listens without saying a word. No teasing, no sly remarks. Out of breath, Izumi finally stops and sits beside Wraith.

“I guess, at the least, thank you. I know you said it’ll cost me and all that, but still, thank you.”

“Just doing my job.” He blows a cloud of smoke. “You mind getting me a drink? Should get one for yourself too.”

“I’m alright, I’m a light drinker haha.” Before retreating into the house Izumi smiles, the street light illuminating his face, throwing off Wraith slightly so he looks away in an attempt to suppress his attraction. Down the dark alley, a familiar man runs past Wraith, eyeing him the entire way. Wraith recognized him immediately as Eiji, Izumi’s best friend, who seemed to be doing a late night workout, but decided to keep his appearance to himself. Izumi returns shortly with a cold drink for Wraith.

“I’m glad you at least remembered that I prefer alcohol.”

“Well, you only eat a few things, it’s not that hard to remember, even for me.” When Izumi chuckles, Wraith realizes the line that Izumi is threatening to cross, which scares Wraith to the point of complete and utter disbelief, so he shakes off the possibility entirely. “You said you were planning on telling me what you wanted after the fact, right? What is it? I know you said it wouldn’t be blood since I had you do a lot this time around.”

“I’ll tell you tomorrow, since you’ve had a long day.”

“But I have work tomorrow.”

“Then I’ll see you at work.”

Izumi is reminded of how embarrassing it was for Wraith to see him in his maid outfit. “Please don’t.” He instantly requests.

“What are you going to do to stop me then?” Wraith smirks as he turns to Izumi, his right hand holding both the drink and the cigarette while his left is resting on the bike rack.

Izumi tries to think quickly of a proposition. “If I give you some of my blood, will you not show up while I’m working?”

“Fine with me.” Wraith puts out his cigarette and holds out his left hand; Izumi didn’t think it would be that easy. He rests his right wrist upwards on his hand. Leaning in closer, he bites down. Once more Izumi winces slightly from the quick yet sharp pain, then after he doesn’t feel anything. While Izumi watches Wraith drink, he thinks about how soft his hair feels as it barely grazes his hand and arm despite its somewhat short length, although his bangs are much longer. When he licks the wound, Izumi feels a bump on his tongue once again, but decides to hold off on asking about it.

“Does it still taste the same?” Izumi rubs his wrist again, still amazed that the wound closes so quickly.

“As sweet as before.” Wraith makes space between them. “And I’m still at a loss.”

“You really have no clue why?”

“Well, anything I thought of was already debunked. I know someone I could ask, she’s like an encyclopedia with a heartbeat.” Wraith pauses for a moment before mumbling, “as much as I don’t want to talk to her.”

“Huh?” Izumi doesn’t hear the last part.

“Nothing, I’ll probably go ask her about your case whenever you start talking to that Fuhiro guy, since you’re gonna take forever buttering him up.”

“I thought you didn’t want too many others to know about me?”

“She’s an exception, I’ve known her for a while, just was kind of a last resort, for reasons.” Izumi decides not to press him about her, since it seems like a sore spot. After his last sip, Wraith hands the empty glass to Izumi and stands. “Then, I won’t see you at work tomorrow, since I’m a man of my word. But no one said anything about not seeing you period, so maybe you will, maybe you won’t, depends on how I feel.”

“As long as it’s not while I’m working.” He firmly reminds Wraith.

“Promise it won’t be.” Wraith reaches over to Izumi and ruffles his hair. “Keep your head up kid. See you.” As per usual, Wraith fades into the darkness of the alley before Izumi can react to his antics. Slapping the blush off of his cheeks, Izumi shakes his head to keep himself together before going back into the house.

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