Soul Nemesis [VOLUME I]
The rain had completely stopped, as Naomi kept running down the deserted streets of her neighborhood. Everything seemed so lifeless. Empty. She wasn’t in a state of mind to relax and observe her surroundings though. Everything rushed past her amidst her fleeting vision. Like blurry images, distorted and unrecognizable.
Why was she running away?
Her mind was hazy.
Her upperclassman, Eiji, had offered to help her get rid of a supposed curse that threatened her life. Rid her of being able to see all those spirits, all those images of people that were no longer there.
Then why was she feeling this way if her senpai only wished to help her?
It was because she had hoped for something more.
Right as he had grown weary of running aimlessly, an image flickered into existence before her. Like a digital picture that had just been turned on, the vision of a creature came to life.
At first glance, it seemed like she had already encountered one before. But something about it was clearly different. Odd. Why was it looking straight at her? Her heart instantly grew cold.
Was it due to the curse? Had it come to claim her?
Although the creature with no eyes before her didn’t resemble the specter in the parking lot one bit, something about the two felt similar.
With firm, steady steps, the creature moved forward, almost preparing to charge at Naomi.
With her breath catching on her throat, the young girl turned on her heel and ran down the street once more. This time though, she knew all too well why she was running.
As she took a turn down an alley, the creature appeared before her yet again.
Naomi took an emergency turn and emerged onto a street unknown to her. Nevertheless she kept running. She had to.
Her heart was pumping blood into her veins faster now. Her palms had grown cold.
The creature appeared before her again and again. With a roar like a distorted emergency siren, it caused her to change direction each and every time.
Soon, Naomi ran down a familiar street, her predator hot on her tail.
She had reached the abandoned parking lot without even realizing it. Yet she couldn’t stop there. The monster was getting closer by the second. For some reason, it seemed to be even faster than earlier. Naomi had no choice but to continue forward, and find a place to hide inside the parking lot. Inside the space she had lost her dearest friend not too long ago.
Even so, she pressed on. For the threat on her tail was real. Alive.
“Damn it!” Eiji clicked his tongue. He had rushed out of the apartment in a hurry, but as he had guessed Naomi was nowhere to be found.
“Eiji-dono! We need to find the girl as soon as possible!” The Shikigami cried.
“I know… but where—“ Before Eiji could even finish, a very plausible scenario manifested itself through seer speculation.
“…The parking lot.” He muttered. It was entirely possible she would be led there. Either by her own conviction, or some sort of elaborate scheme on the agubanba’s part. Those specters really were crafty after all.
“Eiji-dono, Meh is sensing a great deal of malevolence from that spot, indeed!” Meh flew about in circles, probably in sheer impatience.
Without saying a word, Eiji rushed back inside his house, and collected a set of items. A: his motorcycle keys, and B: a cross-body bag he threw over his shoulder.
In a flash, master and Shikigami were out of the apartment complex and on the chilly road of the night.
“Meh!” Eiji said, as he flicked the throttle of his bike “Go on ahead and warn her not to step inside.” He ordered hastily. If Naomi somehow did find herself inside that specter’s den after all, Eiji couldn’t prevent her from meeting the same fate as her friend.
“As you command, Eiji-dono!” The Shikigami bopped up and down, as if nodding, and flew down the road ahead of his master. It was a good thing Shikigami could leave their master’s side if it was within a 666 meter radius. Of course, they couldn’t maintain that distance for long, before they were forcibly sent back to their exorcist’s side. But for now, that little amount of time could settle a matter hanging between life and death.
With a start, the two of them rushed down the empty streets with their eyes fixed firmly on the target: The abandoned parking lot.
As Naomi rushed inside the parking lot and used her phone’s flashlight function to scan her surroundings, she came across the same thick atmosphere she had experienced back when she had come here with Hazuki.
Everything was pitch black, save for the beam of her flashlight, and the air felt damp against her already wet cheeks. With another distorted roar at her back, the young girl rushed forward and hid herself behind a run-down, dusty skeleton of a car. With her breath ragged and uneven, she opted to cover her mouth.
What was happening?
She seemed to think, as her mind recalled the events of her and Hazuki coming here as some sort of fun excursion. And now, she was hiding in the lair of a spirit, while being chased by another. She had never believed things would escalate the way they had.
Just as the uneasiness of such a prolonged silence settled into the unnerving atmosphere, Naomi turned her light to scan her surroundings. Had the spirit disappeared? Was she—
With her head now turned, and her arm falling to the side, her fingers brushed against something on the floor. Something itchy. Something thin. It was hair.
With a sudden blow of wind to her face, she felt an unimaginable stench rush past her nose. A stench so strong, her stomach almost made a leap of its own. A stench, similar to death itself.
With urgency and tremor in her grip, Naomi illuminated the figure before her with her light.
There it was, standing before her. A mouth so big it could swallow her whole. A body so deformed it didn’t even look remotely human, and hair so thin and prickly, they felt like nails against her skin. A few months back, Naomi thought the creature wasn’t as big, but now that it laid in such close proximity, the girl thought it could even cover the sun, with the way it towered over her.
It was the agubanba.
Its blood-red eyes widened in the face of the light, and its mouth opened even wider. With a cry so pained one would think it wept, the specter attacked.
With a cry Naomi somehow managed to jump out of the way as the agubanba rushed forward. It hit the wall with a thud, as it sluggishly clenched its jaws once more.
The girl laying on her stomach from the fall she had to take in order to escape death a moment ago, couldn’t even rush to her feet as the creature attacked again.
With another pitiful leap to the side on all fours, the girl managed to evade yet another attack.
Right as Naomi got to her feet and stumbled into the darkness, flashlight still in hand, she heard a squeaky, familiar voice.
“Eh?” She exclaimed, looking for both the agubanba and the voice in one.
“Over here!” A floating eyeball emerged before her. “You need to leave this space! Eiji-dono can’t— Look out!” Right as the Shikigami spoke, the specter at their backs charged once more, its mouth so vast it could gulp them both down in one go.
Naomi leapt to the side again, and looked around for the exit as she regained her footing. Her breathing was ragged, and she could barely hear the Shikigami over her rapidly beating heart.
“Quick!” Meh cried, as it flew ahead of the girl, towards the exit leading up to the lamp-lit road. The agubanba wept angrily at their advances, and prepared yet another attack as they ran.
But Naomi couldn’t afford to look back. With all her might, she kicked off the dusty concrete time and again, as the lights grew closer and closer each time.
The agubanba’s weeping too, sounded closer in proximity, but Naomi had faith she could outrun it. She was almost there after all. Not slowing down even for the steep incline she had to face, the girl ran up from the underground in a matter of seconds.
The agubanba sounded like it was preparing to charge, but Naomi was close now. Just a few more steps.
Just a few more…
With a cry the specter dashed. She could hear it getting closer and closer. Could she really be saved? Doubt started creeping in her mind. Even if she did manage to escape… what then? Would she just pretend nothing ever happened?
Just there, outside of the parking lot, the street lamps painted the outline of a familiar figure.
Was he really there? How did he find her?
With a hand outstretched, he laid there waiting for her. Naomi didn’t know what was about to happen, but she knew she had to take that hand, no matter the cost. Her senpai’s hand. She knew if she did…. Then she might have a chance.
With the longest jump her short legs could muster, she stretched out her hand and caught ahold of Eiji’s
In one sharp motion, Eiji pulled her into him, as the agubanba rushed past them in breakneck speed.
In an instant, the grip she felt around her palm tightened, and a sense of security spread throughout her whole body, putting her mind at ease.
He had come. He had come to save her.
Just like earlier that day. Just like 6 years ago.
The agubanba rushed past them and unable to contain its momentum landed against the iron gates of the parking lot. In the strong light of the street lamps, the creature seemed even more hideous than in the dark. It was exactly how Naomi remembered and worse. Like a floating ball of flesh, it hovered over the ground, with its yellow jaws clenched and red eyes peeled just underneath it. Its thin black arms hanging at its side, and grey prickly hair, the specter looked nothing sort of disgusting.
“Heh…” Eiji smirked, his eyes sparkling. “Good job. Now stand aside.” He spoke reassuringly, and lightly pushed her to the side.
How was he so confident against such a hideous creature? Was it because he was an exorcist? But what did that entail?
Right as Naomi looked on, the agubanba suddenly turned around and charged yet again. This time it was faster, deadlier.
Naomi’s eyes could barely keep up with the movement, as it slammed against Eiji, sending him flying and burying him inside some nearby rubble.
“Senpai!” The girl cried out in concern. Was it too much for him after all?
“Someone’s eager…” Eiji though, didn’t stay down for long, as he got up from the pile of trash with that same grin. “And I even guarded…” He muttered.
It had been quite some time since he had faced a formidable specter, but still, now that he lured it out of hiding it was nothing he couldn’t handle. Despite that, the thrill of the fight burned bright within him still.
With a pat of his clothes, the young man readjusted his stance.
“If you want a fight… Then a fight, you’ll get.” Eiji muttered, unable to contain the fire within him. In a steady motion, he brought his index and middle finger before his face, whilst linking the other three together. With a soft inhale, he closed his eyes.
The agubanba though, did not give a damn for waiting as it charged up yet another dash.
“Senpai, watch out!” Even Naomi’s call though wasn’t enough to snap him out of his “ritual”
Eiji exhaled once more, and opened his eyes. With two red glowing irises, the young man stepped forward. At his step, red lightning crackled near his feet. With another step, the thunder particles rose from his feet and danced all around his arms. With a clench of his fists, the lightning crackled even brighter, obeying his will to fight.
The agubanba rushed once more, this time with its thin, long black arms sweeping at Eiji. In contrast to earlier, the teenager didn’t just blindly take the hit, but bent backwards instead to avoid it. The agubanba, unrelenting, rushed at him again, closing their distance.
Eiji grinned in anticipation. With a spin of his torso, he launched a lighting-coated punch straight at his opponent’s circular deformed body, before it could open its mouth wide.
Thunder particles manifested in the air, as the sound of lightning echoed back from the strike like a distant storm.
That was Eiji’s exorcism technique. The kami his soul belonged to was none other than Susanoo, the god of thunder himself, and thus the young man had gained the power to bend lightning to his will whenever he deemed it necessary.
“Uaghh…” The agubanba tried to bounce back from the shock of being blasted quite some yards away, as it locked eyes with the exorcist yet again.
“Come.” Eiji said, with every clench of his fists giving rise to new electrifying crackles and flickers.
As if accepting the challenge, the specter dashed once more, this time striking at the young man with numerous strokes of its arms, as if flaying them around recklessly.
Eiji ducked underneath some and leaned away from the rest, preparing to strike once more. Having realized attacking from a distance wouldn’t work on this lousy hunter of its kind, the agubanba moved in. Its abnormal mouth opened once more, big enough to swallow Eiji whole in one gulp.
The young exorcist though didn’t move, yet instead lured the beast in even closer.
When its mouth stood big enough to tower over him, Eiji moved his arm back, his index and middle finger outstretched just like before. As lightning gathered at his fingertips, and particles hugged his arm all across, he thrust it forward swiftly, unleashing a fiery beam so bright and crimson, it completely lit up the darkness around them.
With the roar of thunder, the beam pierced the specter throughout, leaving it convulsing from the sheer amount of electricity.
In one quick motion, it fell to the floor, like the lifeless ball of flesh and hair that it was.
Eiji exhaled, the red hue of his glowing eyes disappearing. “Thought you were tougher than that…” He muttered, stepping closer.
Naomi too, released a breath she didn’t know she was holding. At first she was unsure of Eiji’s words, but now she could be sure. Her senpai was definitely not just a normal student. The way he moved and the powers he possessed were nothing sort of spectacular. It was like every character she ever read from her manga, or drew herself had come to life. What had she just witnessed?
“Say…” Eiji leaned against the dying creature. “Does this ring a bell?” He pulled a playing card out of his pockets, and waved it in front of its almost lifeless eyes.
Despite its irises focusing firmly on the item, the monster didn’t respond. It probably couldn’t understand them altogether.
“Not intelligent enough… Figures.” The young man muttered and stuffed the card back into his pocket. His eyes didn’t match those burning coals he had faced that day either. Nor its size…
It was a shot in the dark, but he wanted to be sure, nonetheless.
He had vowed he would find the one responsible for his family’s death one day, and he would never stop until he did. No matter what.
As the monster continued withering away, through its wide open jaws, a yellow, glowing flame started to flicker.
Seeing that, the young man produced a peculiar object from his pocket. A jet black key with an ornate design.
The flame that had appeared beneath the specter’s thick skin, was indication that the exorcist would finally be able to do his part.
Twisting the key around along his fingers, the item formed into a small blade resting in his palm. It was a wakizashi, a short katana blade. That dagger-like weapon served as Eiji’s means of severing the cord binding the specter to the human world.
As the young man gripped the blade tight, he stretched out his hand and touched the flickering flame with the tip of his weapon. Not a few seconds later, a golden thread enveloped the blade, hugging it all across its length.
With a thrust of his arm, the thread was severed and the distant sound of a suzu bell ensued, as the hideous creature before him dematerialized into green, glowing particles, that shone like stars in the darkness of the night. With the exorcism complete, a sense of tranquility enveloped the atmosphere and the previously eerie parking lot had regained its serenity. Nothing lurked in the shadows any more, and more importantly, the young girl’s curse standing in wait was but a thing of the past.
“It’s…” Naomi looked up in awe, at the fleeting lights rising up into the night sky one by one “…Beautiful…”
She was left unable to believe such a hideous creature could produce such a surreal sight.
The young girl gingerly walked up to her savior, clutching her palms together, probably still in a state of disbelief.
“Is it over… senpai?”
“Not quite…” Eiji muttered, as he pointed at one lone firefly, still lingering alone in the place the specter once stood.
“What do you—“
“Naomi?” The firefly spoke at once, with a voice almost as young and feminine as the girl before it.
“H-Ha…zuki?” Naomi muttered in silent awe.
“It is you!” The firefly chuckled, as it glew even brighter.
Probably realizing it wasn’t appropriate to listen in, Eiji silently withdrew a few feet away.
“Hazuki! But how…?” Naomi questioned, stretching out her palms for the small flicker of light to rest on.
The firefly obliged, and hovered closer to her friend.
“Listen Naomi…I’m sorry.” It spoke, its glow fading as if it were ashamed.
“What are you saying Hazuki? I’m the one that left you behind! I’m the one that should be sorry!” Naomi winced as if she were in physical pain at the mere memory of it. “I should have helped! Maybe we… Maybe I…”
“It’s not your fault, Naomi… Stop blaming yourself.” The voice spoke softly, and with great affection. It was clear Naomi was loved deeply by her friend.
“But… but…” The girl though, couldn’t seem to find the right words to express her true feelings.
“Naomi. Listen, and listen well.”
“Heh, as obedient as ever.” The firefly chuckled in delight. “Naomi, I’ve been seeing your struggles.”
“You’ve been having trouble making friends, right?”
“But how do you—“
“I do know. And it’s my fault.” The spirit said bitterly. “You were always too sheltered. Too dependent on me. And that was my fault. I never let you out of my sight after all…”
“But that’s what friends do! You were just… looking out for me.” Naomi teared up, as her memories resurfaced.
“No, Naomi. I should have let you see the world for yourself. And now you can’t depend on me anymore…” The firefly’s glow grew even dimmer as it spoke. “Listen Naomi. From now on, you need to live your own life.”
“But how am I supposed to?” Naomi looked down at her small palms. Those powerless palms of hers. How could she do it, now that she were alone?
“You’re strong Naomi.” The spirit said sternly.
“You’re stronger than you think. You never did need me.”
“That’s not true!” Naomi protested strongly at those words. They sounded ridiculous to her.
“But it is. You can be so much more than you think.” The firefly, Hazuki, spoke as if it knew already. With such a strong, reassuring conviction. She knew her friend was capable.
“And you’re not alone, either. I’ll always be right here, with you.” At once, the firefly leapt from the girl’s palms and into her blazer’s pocket. “See?” As if resting within her heart itself, the spirit spoke with glee.
“Hazuki…” Naomi muttered weakly, unable to contain her tears flowing down her cheeks any longer.
“Naomi. Be brave.” Hazuki said once more, as the light flickered and flickered. Eventually like a candle in the wind, its glow died down and disappeared.
“Hazuki…!” Naomi gripped her blazer tight. For the first time in a while, the girl felt whole again. She felt like everything would be alright. That somehow it would just… work out.
Even from the land of Yomi itself, Hazuki always looked out for her. Some things just never change.
Without a word, Eiji produced a small vial from his cross-body bag. In an instant, the lingering fireflies in the atmosphere got pulled into the item, filling the area with a bright green light once more.
“Woah…” Naomi uttered in wonder.
“Gathering the souls, so they can return in peace.” Eiji muttered, and closed the vial shut.
Everything was over.
It really was over.
Naomi could feel it.
Yet something felt amiss. Something crucial…
“Senpai I…” Naomi began, her face still stricken with tears. Yet this time her expression had changed. Her resolve had shifted.
“No matter how many times I save you… That harassment will never change.” Eiji answered, putting away the vial, and catching Naomi off guard.
“It won’t change unless you do. It won’t change unless you stand up for yourself.” The young man looked up, hands stuffed in his pockets. It felt like he could somehow hear his sister guiding him, almost spelling out the answers for him. A projection of Hifumi flickered through his mind.
“Only YOU can save yourself.”
“Hah…” Naomi exhaled, and looked at her locked in thought. “Only me, eh?”
“You need to set that line. That limit…” Eiji turned to his underclassman, his hair fluttering in the night breeze. “If you can do that, I’ll deal with whoever dares cross that line myself.”
“Heh…” The girl smiled at that silly promise.
“But you need to take that first step yourself.”
“I will… I promise.” The girl nodded, clenching her powerless palms into rock-hard fists. She would find it in her to change, She needed to.
“Then good.” Eiji started walking on ahead, towards his parked motorcycle.
As the young man walked almost absent-mindedly before her, Naomi found herself staring at his back as a strange sense of satisfaction settled within her.
And you’re not alone, either…
Those words kept playing on repeat inside her mind, echoing all the way to her heart.
Naomi nodded to herself.
She was sure of it.
Kanzaki Eiji had saved her.
And she in turn would—
With a cheery tone, she skipped over to him.
“Will you join me at the occult club?”
“No.” Eiji replied flatly.
“Ah-re, but you already said yes!”
“When did I…?”
“When I asked you inside my head!” Naomi replied animatedly, jumping over leftover puddle after puddle. Yesterday’s rain had come and gone after all, and she couldn’t care less.
“Uh…” Eiji paused for a moment.
“Then will you drive me home? It’s getting late…”
With a long sigh, the young man looked over at the road in the distance with a fleeting gaze. “…If it means you’ll stop talking so fast.”
“Yatta! Wait… I have a ton of missed calls from mum!”
“You’re on your own, then.”
Yesterday’s rain really was over, and a new day, a new dawn, was clearly in the horizon. Somehow, somewhere, with a soft click, the wheels of fate started spinning once more, putting the time that was once frozen solid, into motion again.