Soul Nemesis [VOLUME I]
Even as Eiji approached the lone girl sitting solemnly underneath the bus stop, she didn’t even spare him a single inquisitive glance. Maybe her thoughts took that much out of her awareness.
Right as the young man stopped before her, he heaved a sigh.
“Oye. You’re gonna get that sketchbook wet again.” He simply stated. Indeed, sitting there for long wouldn’t keep anyone dry, what with the wind bypassing this simple shelter. A simple roof over your head simply wasn’t enough to stay out of the rain in this scenario.
The girl raised her head in a start, looking quite taken aback by the sudden appearance of the schoolmate who had saved her just a few hours prior.
Soon though, she lowered her head again “…Sorry.”
Another sigh from Eiji. Maybe he wasn’t good at this, he thought. “Don’t apologize either…”
The rain was getting even stronger now, and that spot really wasn’t one they had the luxury to chat casually at. Looking around briefly as if to drive the point home through his mind, Eiji spoke once more.
“I live just across the street, so if you don’t wanna go home for whatever reason, you’re free to wait this rain out at least.”
“Eh?” The girl looked at him in puzzlement. Her face almost beckoned the question of how serious Eiji was, even without her saying so.
“You heard me.” The young man replied flatly. He wasn’t about to say it again after all, even if she didn’t hear him the first time.
“Is it really okay for me to—“
“I just said so.” Eiji remarked once more, and handed her the umbrella. He didn't want her thinking he was some sleazebag that would cling onto her at any given opportunity.
“Wait!” The girl raised her voice as she sat up from the bench, umbrella now at hand.
“This way.” Eiji walked on ahead through the rain. He didn’t really mind getting a bit wet, since he lived just a few feet away.
Much to Eiji’s surprise, the girl actually followed closely behind him, with long hurried steps. Then again, with legs as short as hers, long maybe wasn’t the most fitting word.
The young man and his tail, quickly walked up the rusty, slippery steps towards his apartment complex, and soon were under the protection of a wider, more solid roof over their heads.
“Come in.” Eiji spoke as he unlocked the door and made his way inside.
Peaking her way through the door, the girl scanned the room in puzzlement. It was indeed a normal home, albeit a really small one. With nervous steps, she made her way inside.
The place didn’t look particularly clean, or messy either, and there was a smell of cigarettes hanging about the air.
“Pardon the intrusion.” She muttered gingerly. There she was, waltzing into a complete stranger’s home just like that. With decisions as spontaneous as this, her trusting nature was sure to come back and bite her behind one of these days.
Well, not that she had any friends to trust anymore either…
The girl’s weird train of thoughts was interrupted by a black fur ball sitting on the ground. Upon closer inspection, she noticed a pair of two glowing cat eyes staring back at her.
“A kitty!” The girl cried in delight, forgetting all about her worries in a mere instant, as she kneeled in order to let the feline know of her deep affections.
“You’re the second stray I pick up today.” Eiji commented, looking over to the two of them in silent confusion. Were cats that big a hit with young girls? He seemed to think.
“I see…” The young girl replied, too enamored by the cat’s cuteness to care. “Does she have a name?”
“Not yet.” Eiji replied, as he wiped off his wet hair with a towel.
“I see I see…”
“Here.” Eiji spoke as he threw a towel towards the young girl’s direction. She had a hard time catching it in mid-air, but ultimately managed to nonetheless.
“Uhm… Thank you.” She bowed, albeit somewhat stiffly.
Eiji exhaled. Was it getting awkward or was it just him?
“Kanzaki Eiji.” He decided it was best to introduce himself.
The girl looked on in puzzlement, probably thinking how weird it was to enter a person’s house, while you don’t even know their full name.
“Mizuno Naomi.” The girl smiled despite herself. She hadn’t introduced herself either. This might have been the third time the two met, yet they only introduced themselves to each other just a few seconds ago. “And thank you about earlier today, too. You went out of your way to—“
The rustling of clothes caught Naomi completely off guard. Eiji had removed his wet hoodie, and thrown it straight into a basket.
“K-K-Kanzaki-senpai! You shouldn’t do that in front of me!”
“It’s fine, I’m wearing an undershirt. Cool your jets.” Eiji scoffed, despite his lack of common decency.
Naomi held back a chuckle as well. For some weird reason, she felt some of the tension leave her body. Despite his intimidating appearance, he wasn’t hard to talk to, nor was he scary in any way. One could probably even go as far as call him, easy-going, although that may have been a stretch. What was this guy, really?
Right as Naomi crossed her arms over her pillowy chest though, did she realize how wet her own school uniform had gotten. What was she to do? Surely she couldn’t—
“You can use these.” Eiji said. He had gotten all changed out of his wet clothes too, and was offering her a set of his own, old clothes.
Naomi though, threw her hands up in a display of modesty. “I can’t accept these!”
“And I can’t accept you walking around the place while soaked. The place is already messy as it is.”
That was a fair point, both of them seemed to think.
The young girl reluctantly accepted, as she was guided towards the bathroom. Eiji was immodest enough to change in front of her, but Naomi certainly could never accomplish such a feat.
Right after Naomi was done changing into a red hoodie that fit her more like a dress, and a pair of oversized pants that were miraculously tied through some laces at her waist, Eiji put all of her clothes in the drier, which was arguably the best commodity his apartment had to offer.
As the two of them sat across from each other cross-legged, Eiji popped open the lid of one of the instant ramen cans he had just bought.
“Want one?” He offered, as he looked over the girl looking at him in puzzlement.
“Eh? No I’m not—“
Despite her efforts, her stomach’s cute grumbling had betrayed her at the worst possible time. The aroma of the ramen must have triggered something in her famished brain.
Despite the fierce blush on her face and the considerable embarrassment, Naomi accepted the cup of ramen filled with steaming hot water all the same.
“T-thanks…” She muttered shyly, despite Eiji not looking concerned at all.
Eiji had noticed how restless the girl had been acting at first, and although it seemed like she had gotten over it, some of her fidgeting suggested otherwise. She kept glancing around the room, and for some reason, she fixated her gaze in one part of it in particular.
“So… why were you sitting out in the rain?” Eiji asked, completely out of the blue.
The girl before him gulped in response.
“I just…” She thought about the answer she would give for a second. “Didn’t wanna go home. I had so many things to think about. I just couldn’t face everyone with a smile like usual.”
Ultimately she didn’t have any reason to lie to Eiji. It wouldn’t be right either, since he had done so much for her already.
“With a smile, huh?” Eiji muttered, as he slurped some of his noodles.
“I’m the eldest of three siblings. I can’t let them see me in such a pitiful state…” Naomi replied, her lips forming a solemn smile.
Eiji thought. At school she seemed like that one helpless girl, that couldn’t stand up for herself. That much was true. But back home, she acted like the big sister figure for her siblings, and made quite the effort for it too as it seemed.
That didn’t really strike Eiji as pitiful.
Eiji’s train of thoughts was interrupted by his cat’s leap onto his lap. With an elated expression, the feline reveled in the scent of the piping hot noodles.
“Oye, that’s not for you.” Eiji scolded.
“Meow!” The cat seemed to protest.
“You just ate too, so pipe down already.”
“Meowww…” The cat seemed to give up on her pursuit for noodles, as it slumped onto the young man’s lap.
Naomi’s expression softened at the sight. He certainly didn’t strike her as the scary delinquent type after all.
“So you live alone, Senpai?” She asked.
“Do you think one can share this dump with anyone else?” Eiji retorted.
“Heh, not really, no.”
A brief silence ensued, as they silently slurped on their noodles, with the protesting cries of the kitty still working as the background noise.
“About back at school…” Eiji broke the silence yet again. “What did you do to get them all up against you like that?”
“Oh you mean those upperclassmen? They were just….” Naomi stopped briefly. “…I don’t know.” She ultimately sighed.
“It’s all a little complicated.” She finally voiced. Somehow, she didn’t really want to go into detail about how she was harassed, and how she was even getting nasty looks from those girls in question even before the whole incident had even begun.
“And why wouldn’t anyone stand up for you?” Eiji questioned, as he slurped up the last of his noodles, causing a last resounding meow to ensue.
“I don’t… have any friends.” Naomi smiled sadly once more. “Not anymore at least.”
“Not… anymore?” Eiji muttered back. Despite being quite cryptic about it, it somehow seemed like it wasn’t just a mere fight between friends she was referring to. At least that’s what Eiji seemed to think anyway.
Contemplating on whether or not to talk about it, Naomi looked at her reflection through the water filled cup.
“I had a friend, not too long ago.” She finally spoke, unable to contain her will to open up any longer. “Her name was Hazuki.”
Instead of answering, Eiji decided to not intervene just yet.
“Despite her being my only friend, I never really had the need for another. We were inseparable for many years. She was all I ever needed…”
Eiji looked on as her expression shifted into one of pure melancholy.
“It will probably come as a surprise to you senpai but, one of our favorite past times was investigating the occult.”
Eiji raised a brow. This was suddenly getting extremely interesting.
“We loved scary ghost stories, and urban legend talks. Now that I think about it, it was Hazuki who got me into it in the first place, but I can say with certainty I was fascinated by the subject just as much as she was.” Naomi sighed in the face of her resurfacing memories.
“But one day, 3 months ago, we payed the price for our curiosity.” The young girl’s expression grew darker. “You probably won’t believe it. I mean why would you? But something really weird happened.”
Eiji perked up at the sound of that.
‘We went into a supposed haunted place here at our neighborhood. It was an abandoned parking lot.” Naomi gulped. “We thought it would be a nice experience to have but… we couldn’t… I couldn’t be more wrong. Something jumped at us. A weird, monster-like presence, with big eyes, and even bigger jaws…”
Naomi’s fingers were trembling as she grasped her cup and exhaled shakily.
“It… got Hazuki. I… I didn’t know what to do so…” The young girl exhaled once more, trying to find what little composure she could muster. “I ran away… She told me to run so I… I did.”
Eiji sat back once more, not leaving her from his gaze in the slightest.
“I went straight to her family and later that night… they found her… her… body.” Naomi finally finished with a sigh, as if to expel all those negative feelings together through it.
“So I’ve been alone ever since. I know you probably won’t believe me… But that’s also why I created the occult club in the school. I think it serves to remind me of her… Although it was quite the stupid decision. I’m the only member after all.” Naomi smiled sadly once more, as she looked back at her cup of ramen, that had probably gone cold and stale.
“Must have been rough…” Those were all the words Eiji spared. He had come to a conclusion about the projection of that girl he had been following after all, and about the mysterious parking lot too. He needed to know a bit more, but he really couldn’t press her further for now.
“Ah…!” Naomi exclaimed underneath her breath. “The noodles got soggy.”
“I have another if you want.” Eiji offered, but the girl shook her head with a small smile.
“It’s okay…” Naomi replied still looking quite shaken. Probably sensing that, or just out for treats, the kitty resting on Eiji’s lap ventured towards her.
After eyeing the cat, Naomi looked over to Eiji with an almost pleading look.
“Can I… feed her?”
“Go ahead. But only a little.” Eiji said as he got up and looked at the girl before him in silent contemplation. This case was much more complex than anything he had faced before.
Just as Naomi was feeding the delighted kitten noodle after noodle, Eiji moved to his old TV set and bended over to turn on a device sitting underneath it. It was a quite new gaming console and believe it or not, Eiji hadn’t spent a penny on it. He was rather fortunate to win it in a lottery held by the convenience store he worked on right after New Year’s. It was probably the luckiest thing that had happened to the young man in ages, even. Not that it amounted to anything, though.
“Eh?” Naomi cocked her head at the gesture. The reason he had turned it on though was because she herself had been eyeing it constantly since the moment she sat down.
“Here.” Eiji passed her a controller, as he sat down on his bed with his own in hand. “You wanted to try it, right?”
“Heh, my brothers were pestering my mum nonstop about one, and now they got it they won’t let anyone else near it.” Naomi chuckled “…So I am a little curious.”
“Cool.” Eiji remarked, as he selected a game called “Road Brawlers” from the home screen. It was in fact, the only game Eiji owned, and the reason why is none other than it came with the package he had won.
“What game are we playing?” Naomi inquired, looking quite intrigued.
“It’s a fighting game.”
“Road Brawlers, huh?” She leaned closer, eager to peer into the small, old-fashioned television.
Eiji pressed button after button, and soon a colorful screen loaded up. With big letters in a sharp strong font, it read “PICK YOUR FIGHTER” in typical fighting game fashion.
“Woah, there are so many…” Naomi reveled in the seer amount of characters to choose from.
Eiji on the other hand, moved to the only character he had an interest in, and selected him without even sparing a glance to the rest.
“Oh you’ve already picked yours, Senpai?” Naomi looked over to the blonde brawny character moving about in his fighting stance. The fighter was sporting a black biker outfit, and had arms like tree trunks, as well as a very distinct spiky haired hairstyle. The name up above him read “KYLE”
“Heh…” The girl chuckled. “He looks kinda like you, senpai.”
Eiji paused for a second, probably thinking it over.
“I beg to differ.” He finally said, but not spoiling the fun for Naomi, who turned back to her own selection.
“I think I’m gonna go with her…” The girl finally decided, as she locked in her own character. It was a sparsely clothed ninja girl, with kunai in both hands, and a ribbon holding her black straight hair up. Her name apparently was “KOYOMI”
After they picked a random stage to battle it out at, the word “BRAWL” flashed onto the screen, signaling the start of the battle.
“Okay!” Naomi braced herself, gripping the controller tight.
Eiji though, didn’t speak a word, but instead began mashing button after button, stacking combo on top of combo.
“Eh?” Koyomi, the poor ninja flew in the air in an instant, getting pummeled by punch after punch, kick after kick.
In no time at all, Koyomi’s health had completely depleted to 0. Three times at that.
The words “KYLE WINS” and “PERFECT” Bopped through the screen in big red letters, as if mocking Naomi even more.
“EEEEEEH?!” The girl exclaimed in utter disbelief. Eiji might not have cared if he had won the lottery that day or not, but he had never had any kind of games to play before, so he found that opportunity to really sink his time into it. When he wasn’t working either job of course.
“I didn’t even land a single hit…” Naomi slumped forward.
And as if to add fuel to the fire, Eiji scoffed at her. “Wow, you really suck.”
All of Naomi’s thoughts of Eiji being a kind and considerate person evaporated in an instant.
“Senpai, you’re a meanie!” Naomi stuck her tongue out in a showcase of anger, and gripped her controller once more.
“One more round!”
“Yeah, let’s see you try for a change.” Eiji retorted, and restarted the match.
Hit after hit, combo after combo, Koyomi was still getting pulverized, but Naomi was considerably getting closer to land some more hits each and every time.
The second, third and fourth game ended in her utter defeat, yet by the fifth, she was landing some kind of kick and punch combo too. Although not enough to faze Eiji just yet.
“Trynna distract me?”
“No… why would you think that?”
“Dunno…” The two of them spoke, as the thunderous clicking of numerous buttons served as their Battle OST.
“So you’re a year older than me… right?”
“I’m 17. I just got…” Eiji paused mid-sentence, landing his ultimate in a swift pulverizing motion “…held back a year.”
“Really? You did?”
“I just said so.”
“I... see.” Naomi said, frowning upon the screen that flaunted her opponent’s win once more.
“So you’re definitely my senpai then.” She continued.
“And why do you live alone, if you don’t mind me asking.”
“…Sorry.” Naomi muttered.
With a sigh, Eiji landed another powerful combo, and ended the round in victory. “I just don’t have any family I can live with.” He finally explained, thinking it might have been selfish to not disclose anything while Naomi had literally spilled her guts to him a few minutes ago.
“Oh…” Naomi exclaimed, before frowning once more. “I died again…”
“You still suck.” Eiji thought it wise to comment on her performance yet again.
“Fwaaaah…” Naomi yawned and stretched. It was quite clear she was getting comfortable around the young man, and while the reason was lost in her, she couldn’t do anything about it.
“So…” Eiji started, putting his controller aside. “…What kind of monster did you see? Back in that parking lot.” He finally asked, his gaze shifting into a serious, non-bullshit look.
“You really believe me…?” Naomi inquired, surprise audible in her tone.
“O-okay...” The girl ultimately nodded, seeing as to how serious the atmosphere had gotten all of a sudden. “It was… a strange creature.” She gulped as she remembered. “It wasn’t extremely big, yet its mouth was gigantic. Its teeth were yellow but sharp, and its eyes, were glowing from beneath its mouth. It really was strange. It also had long grey hair I believe, and a pair of long, stretching arms… Those arms that caught Hazuki and…”
Naomi shuddered at the image she herself had forced to resurface.
Eiji stood silent for a moment, thinking to himself.
“A big mouth, eh…?” Meh suddenly popped up out of nowhere. Eiji of course was used to it, but the kitten silently enjoying the company of the two students was completely startled.
Naomi, probably startled by the cat, looked on puzzled too.
“Maybe, an agubanba?” Eiji finally muttered.
“A what…?” Naomi cocked her head to the side.
“Agubanba. It’s what we call spirits that hunt and curse young women. They mostly originate from jealousy of older women against those younger than them. They must have had great malice within them to be turned into that though…” Eiji explained, probably forming the longest sentence Naomi had ever heard from him. He was quite knowledgeable when it came to specters after all.
Naomi’s interest though, laid with a single detail “What do you mean by… We?”
“Is Eiji-dono sure he wants to tell her?” Meh looked quite concerned.
Ignoring his Shikigami, Eiji spoke once more. “I’m an exorcist. My job is to hunt those same spirits that you and your friend were so fixated on.”
“An… exorcist?” It was quite evident Naomi couldn’t quite wrap her head around it all.
“That’s what they call us. Believe it or not, all those things you and your friend were desperately searching for do exist.” Eiji paused “….And some are far more dangerous than you can imagine.”
“And you knew I had a run-in with a… spirit?”
“A specter, yeah. To put it bluntly, that encounter left you with a residue of malevolence. In short, the specter cursed you.”
“It cursed me? And that’s how you found me?”
“Practically.” Eiji answered, and Naomi felt a strong pain surge through her chest. What was that about? She thought.
“And that weird eyeball floating next to you is…?” Much to both their surprise, the girl very clearly pointed at Meh as she spoke.
“You mean you can see Meh?” “You mean you can see Meh?”
Shikigami and master said simultaneously.
“Yeah, after the incident… I’ve been seeing things, actually…” Naomi lowered her head. “Weird figures of people. And other, shapeless creatures.”
“That’s astonishing! So her contact with malevolence caused her to develop the sight!” Meh exclaimed in visible astonishment.
“Pipe down, already.” Eiji scolded him, notwithstanding his squeaky excited voice so close to his ear. “Now that you know. I may need your help.” The young man said, as he leaned forward.
“My… help?” Naomi looked quite surprised at that statement.
“There’s a barrier protecting that specter, and I can’t go through.”
“It’s complicated, so I—“ Right as Eiji was about to get into greater detail, the phone he had placed on the table went off.
After a glance, Eiji sighed. It was his manager from the convenience store.
“Wait here. I’ll be back in a bit.” The young man spoke as he rose from his seat and exited through towards the small balcony door behind the TV.
With Meh having disappeared with his master, Naomi was suddenly left all alone. And for some reason. The hole in her chest only grew bigger by the second. The only difference was that she had realized the cause.
Eiji was an exorcist.
His duty was to dispose of evil spirits.
That’s how he had found Naomi. He needed her, to get to the spirit.
He wasn’t doing all this from the kindness of his heart.
He wasn’t doing this because of Naomi.
He wasn’t her guardian angel, as she had initially thought.
She was just a means to an end.
Why did she let herself be played as a fool?
They weren’t even acquaintances nor friends, so why did she think otherwise?
Through this hour they had spent together, Naomi had thought of Eiji as someone she could trust. Maybe, he remembered how they had met too, 6 years ago, and got close to her because of that. Or maybe he had wanted to be her friend…
She was such an idiot.
For a split second she had seen Hazuki in Eiji’s eyes. Maybe just maybe, they could become something more than strangers.
But that hope was dying out within her.
After Eiji’s deed was done, he would just go on with his life.
He would forget about her.
Oh, how foolish…
Naomi wanted to punch herself in the face. Always trusting someone so readily.
She had had enough.
Naomi swiftly rose from her seat and made for the bathroom. In a haze she put on her uniform, threw the clothes she had used on the floor in a hurry, and ran outside the apartment.
She wouldn’t be played like a fool.
She thought as she ran, enraged at herself.
“Where the hell…?” After finishing the call with his manager, Eiji walked back inside the apartment. There, he noticed something was clearly off. Naomi, the girl sitting just there, was nowhere to be found.
“Eiji-dono!” Meh popped up out of nowhere, looking anxious. “It appears the girl has left. And it’s past midnight!”
“Past… Shit!” Eiji clicked his tongue at the sight of his front door left ajar.
“The curse’s malevolence has grown stronger… she might be in danger!”
“Damnit!” Eiji spat once more, as he ran out the door in a flash.
Malevolence and specters were significantly stronger after midnight, and curses were even more so. It wasn’t mere coincidence that victims only rose during that time after all. And now it seemed the specter was on the move again…