Not long after, the two were already standing outside the abandoned building.
“So how do we go about this? Do we sneak in and wait for our moment like bang? Or do we barge in and whoosh catch it by surprise?” Naomi swung her arms about animatedly, her anticipation palpable.
“Neither. It sensed us already, so no point beating around the bush.” Eiji shook his head and ventured forth.
Upon entering the building, he immediately felt two pair of eyes pierce him from straight ahead. Of course, one belonged to Makoto, the orphan. The other one though, belonged to a spirit. A spirit resembling a beautiful woman in her mid-30s. A warm, blue glow enveloped her silhouette, and her eyes betrayed a hint of hollowness within them.
Of course, that wasn’t even its true form to begin with.
“I didn’t find anything around the park…” Eiji declared, stepping into the room. “But I think I have now.”
“What do you want from us?!” The boy spat angrily, as he got to his feet.
“Hey Makoto-kun, calm down! No need to get upset now, right?” Naomi threw her hands up, and spoke reassuringly.
“I don’t even know you!”
“Kanzaki Eiji. Exorcist.” The young man spoke. “Now you know.”
“Exorcist?” Makoto shrunk back briefly.
“What do you want from Makoto, exorcist-san?” The spirit of the woman, that had been silent throughout the whole exchange finally spoke up.
“From the kid? Nothing. It’s you who I’ve got business with.”
“Can’t a mother worry over her child even after death?” The specter declared, its tone soft and pleading. “Can’t you overlook this?”
“Maybe… If you weren’t lying that is.”
“I was just trying to—“
“Devour him!” Naomi suddenly butted in, momentarily shifting everyone’s focus on her. “Uhm, isn’t that what they do? Specters I mean…”
“What are you talking about? Just leave us alone!” The kid couldn’t really understand the ins and outs of their exchange. All that it wanted though, all that it needed, was based on a very humane, survival instinct. Makoto just didn’t want to be separated from his mother.
And it somehow fell to Eiji, to unmask the wolf in sheep’s clothing. To tear away the son from the false parent.
That was the duty of an exorcist. Cruel. Unjust.
Someone though, somehow, had to do it.
“That is not your mother, Makoto.” Eiji gritted his teeth as he spoke. Yet his gaze was unwavering. Stern, yet soft.
“What are you talking about?! She’s right here!”
“Your mother is dead, and dead people don’t come back. And when they do, it’s never for good.” The young man stated slowly, as if turning the knife over in a wound still wide open.
“You’re lying!” Makoto spat once more. “You’re a liar!”
“Makoto, don’t listen to him. He just wants to pull us apart.” The specter spoke again, this time colder, in a haste.
“Senpai isn’t lying!” Naomi furrowed her brows, and stepped forward as well.
“Why would I believe you?!” Makoto barked angrily.
“You don’t need to.” Eiji sighed, and pulled out a white piece of paper from his pocket. “The little charade is over.”
“No!” The specter cried out, its voice almost transforming into a hoarse howl.
But it was too late for any resistance. Eiji held out the small sheet of paper in front of him in between his middle and index finger. The kanji for “seal” drawn on top of it in red shone despite the lack of light.
“Reveal.” With only a single word, the kanji on the paper lit up like sparks, and soon the paper in whole was set aflame.
Accompanying the distinct sound of a bell, the paper vanished with a brilliant flash of light, and soon the specter howled and screamed in pain.
Under the moonlight, its body convulsed and shrunk, transforming into an insect-like creature with multiple legs and an almost human face contorted in disgust.
“CURSE YOU!” It spat in a clicking voice, as it crawled up the stairs of the building hoping to escape.
“What have you done to my mother?!” Makoto looked on in horror at the creature that looked like his parent no more.
“Damn it! You, handle things here!” Eiji declared, flying up the stairs behind the escaping specter.
“You mean me? Handle things here?” Naomi was taken aback by such a sudden request.
What was she to handle? And how would she do that anyway?
The girl thought, gazing at the wide-eyed boy before her in bewilderment.
“Come back here, you little…!” Eiji clicked his tongue, as he searched around the ransacked building,
Suddenly and soundlessly, the glowing specter emerged from the ceiling and lunged at the young man.
With a backstep Eiji deftly evaded its outstretched claws. The spirit’s body resembled closely that of a spider, save for its head, which looked like a mask of contempt, worn on an ancient play.
Such was the look obake had, when forced to transform back to their original form.
With a growling sound, the creature pulled back, and convulsed once more. With a howl, its body stretched out and formed into a colossal creature, closely resembling an ogre.
“RAAAH!” With a wild swing, it attempted to strike at Eiji with its newly obtained weight and power.
“Damn it!” Eiji had to bend low to dodge the blow, and while he had succeeded the same couldn’t be said for the walls blocking its path, Unable to withstand the force of the blow, the two inner walls collapsed on themselves, scattering the pieces of debris all around the first floor.
Unwilling to let his opponent seize the upper hand, Eiji took on the initiative and stepped forward. With a bend of his torso, he ducked underneath another blow, and smirked.
A bigger body also meant he had to hit a much larger target now, after all.
Having activated his powers, and bearing a fist coated in red crackling lightning, Eiji sunk his arm into the ogre’s gut with professional efficiency.
“ARRGH!” As the specter stepped back from the blow, it spat and cursed “You lowly human…!”
Probably realizing its bigger size wasn’t much help, the specter’s body trembled from within once again, this time shrinking into something smaller.
With a hissing sound, and bearing the skin of a snake, the specter attacked the exorcist once more, this time opting to use its miniscule size and speed to tis advantage.
With side steps and head movement to avoid the poisonous teeth of his enemy, Eiji pulled back.
“DIE!” The snake hissed, its voice sipping with rage. As it lunged forward yet again, this time even faster than before. Eiji braced himself for the attack.
Not taking his eyes off the specter, Eiji raised his arm and with one fell swoop caught ahold of his enemy. “Gotcha.” The young man spoke, as he unleashed a stream of lightning across its body, charring it inside out.
“AAAARRRGH!” As the spirit’s pained cries filled the building throughout, its body fell limp as it was discarded to the floor. Not a second later, its shape changed once more, back into its original, hideous form. From deep within its body now however, shone a bright, red flame.
This was indication that the specter had been weakened completely.
After a deep exhale as a means of catching his breath, Eiji kneeled before the dying spirit.
“Say, does this ring a bell?”
As if waiting for that moment this whole time, Eiji revealed a playing card from within his pants’ pocket. Of course, it was the same card he had found on his sister’s house that day.
Although its eyes or appearance didn’t match with everything the young man remembered, a shapeshifting Obake could have easily taken a shape or form quite similar to it.
Not to mention its ability to speak, hide and transform cleverly.
The specter though, with its soul slowly fading away like a flame in the wind, crushed Eiji’s hopes.
“I’m not the one you’re searching for…” It said lowly, as if already too far away from the mortal plane where Eiji dwelled.
“Does that mean you know WHO I’m searching for?” Not satisfied, the exorcist posed yet another question.
Yet the spirit was silent. If one could be conscious, then it seemed like the obake was on the exact opposite side of that scale.
Its artificial body was withering away, and the flame within it flickered. Its soul was already waiting by the threshold.
With a click of his tongue, Eiji rose to his feet, and pulled out his key.
With a flick he formed the item into his blade, and with the soft click of a suzu bell, the chord of its soul laying within the dying flame was severed. The chains binding the spirit to the mortal world were destroyed, and the doors to Yomi opened wide.
As the fleeting particles of light arose from the dead specter, Eiji gathered each and every one of them in his small vial, the room filling with bursting light.
Switching out of his trance, Eiji stood silent for a second. The heavy, strong atmosphere of a specter’s lair vanished from the air, slowly but surely.
There was peace once again, as the moonlight filtered through the collapsed walls.
And thus, the exorcism was over.
It was over, yet Eiji knew, there was another matter yet to be resolved.
He had told Naomi to handle it, but the young man wasn’t quite sure if that was the right decision. Let alone handling it, Eiji feared the girl hadn’t even realized her own role yet.
She was inexperienced, naïve and pure after all. How could she deal with such a grave matter?
Descending the steps to the lower floor, Eiji’s ears picked up the sobbing of a young child.
He thought as he proceeded.
What he was met with when reaching the lower level, though, was something that took him completely off guard instead.
Naomi was hugging the young boy close, as it stifled its sobs on her shoulder, all the while having his head softly caressed.
“Wha….” A weird exclamation escaped the young man at the sight.
“It’s okay, Makoto-kun…” Naomi spoke. “Your mom wouldn’t want to see you sad.”
Her tone was gentle, and her voice so enticing. Her vocal chords worked in such a way that it eased one’s heart even through the slightest of sounds. The most insignifacnt of words.
“But… But I…”
“I know the orphanage will never be like home. But it will turn into your safe place in time.” She spoke once more, patting the child’s head with a smile.
“What am I gonna do now…?” The boy questioned, his tears streaming down his face like a sudden downpour of rain. “Without mom, I…”
“Your mom will always be with you, Makoto-kun. She gave up her life for you, and she would do it all over again if she had to.” Naomi chuckled. “That’s how moms are. So you need to keep on living for her sake too.”
“For mom’s sake?”
“Yes. For her sake. And through time, you’ll find your own purpose too.”
The kid separated from the girl slightly, sniffling heavily.
“You want to make your mom proud, right?”
“I… do!” Makoto nodded.
“Then you need to be strong for her.” Naomi smiled wiping the kid’s tears away.
“Right…” The kid looked around the abandoned building solemnly before nodding strongly once more. “Strong…”
As Eiji listened in on that exchange a certain saying rushed to the front of his mind, like a vision. A forgotten visage.
Words will save someone far more than strength ever will.
Was that what his sister meant?
Just ridding the world of specters didn’t instantly amount to happiness.
The girl before him had done, if not a more significant, than just as significant a service as Eiji himself.
The girl he had deemed naïve and weak. In the face of such a grave situation, she had managed to turn despair into hope. It seemed her reserves of optimism and brightness didn’t run even remotely as shallow as Eiji had predicted.
Her willpower certainly was commendable, and her bright smile wasn’t just for show. Maybe in a world as dark and grave as the one she had decided to step into, her light could illuminate even the depths of the darkest of minds.
Eiji owed her one, he thought.
As the young Makoto had regained the courage to venture through this unjust world once more, the two teenagers dropped him off at the orphanage shortly after. Not before he had promised not to sneak out again of course. Thus, the abandoned building didn’t seem like it would see any more visitors in the near future.
After receiving several words of gratitude from the lady caretaker of the orphanage, Eiji and Naomi moved on.
“Do you think Makoto-kun will be alright, senpai?” The young girl spoke as she looked up at the sky. The night had come and gone, and soon the sun was about to be appointed the ruler of the wide blue yonder anew. Some beams of light had already made their appearance, casting their glow across a grey blue canvas.
“He will.” Eiji replied, taking ahold of his bike’s handles.
“Heh, we did a good job tonight!” Naomi smiled despite herself. “Come to think of it, what was that thing you used to unmask that specter?”
“That was a talisman!” Meh popped out to explain, serving as the narrator for useless exorcist trivia as usual.
“It’s a strip of paper painted with an exorcist’s own blood. It’s got magical properties, but is mostly used to unmask, and protect—“
“Long story short, it’s a useful item…” Eiji sighed.
“Then why don’t you use it all the time?”
“Oye, these things take a toll on the user too, just like my abilities…”
“Wow! Sounds to me like more ideas for my future manga!” Naomi beamed.
“Oh, nothing… we going home now?”
Eiji shook his head lightly at that question. “I still have a place I wanna go to.”
“Really? But the sun’s about to rise!”
“You coming or what?” Despite the absurdity of still hanging around completely sleep-deprived, the young girl struggled to find the conviction within her to refuse.
Not to mention there was a high probability that her brain had in some way concluded her senpai was inviting her out on a date.
A peculiar one, but still a date.
“Argh…” Naomi struggled, “I am!” She finally declared, her gaze burning with determination.
“Hop on, then.” Eiji beckoned her over to his bike.
The route they took in order to reach their destination, wasn’t long, yet it was steep. Nothing Eiji’s bike couldn’t handle though, despite Naomi clinging onto him a bit too tight.
The streets were completely empty when they began their ride, yet somehow as they approached, more vehicles seemed to emerge from their slumber and take to the streets. That was the evident sight that indicated the district, and even the city altogether, was slowly awakening.
After the steep inclines were over, they reached a rather flat surface, and at just the end of the road, laid a flight of steps reaching up even further.
At the top, elegant and sharp, stood a Shinto shrine, surrounded by blooming cherry blossom trees.
After Eiji parked the bike by the side of the steps, they began their ascent. And of course the clearly not athletic Naomi had plenty to say about it. Although she somehow managed to refrain, or was probably too preoccupied huffing and puffing for dear life.
“We… there… yet?”
“I’m already there.”
Eiji declared, as he walked on ahead nonchalantly.
“Senpai… you…” With the last of her strength, the young girl pushed through the last few steps, and reached the spacious area of the shrine, clad in fallen cherry petals.
Right as she turned to her upperclassman, a complaint already loaded at the tip of her tongue, the sight before her somehow managed to make her swallow it back down.
“Woah….” She exclaimed, instinctively walking closer to the magnificent view. At the top of the shrine, where no trees and buildings could obscure one’s vision, the city laid there in full display. All the buildings, the cars, and shiny billboards merged into one colorful canvas, so simple yet astonishing. The half-rising orange bead of a sun too, merged with the scenery painting those small blocks of concrete over with its gleaming hue.
“It’s beautiful…” Naomi muttered, walking up to Eiji who was leaning close to a red painted railing.
With a nod, the young man withdrew and made for the shrine. Taking out two vials glowing with what seemed like liquid crystals, he offered up to the shrine box, and clasped his hands together.
“May you find peace in Yomi, where you lie.”
And with that the ritual was over. The cleansed, untainted souls lying within the vials could finally rest.
As Naomi watched, she found herself thinking about the curious young man before her. There definitely was a sense of familiarity about him, which yet she couldn’t quite put her finger on.
“Here.” Eiji snapped her out of her trance, throwing a can of juice from the nearby vending machine her way.
“Woah!” The young girl fumbled with the can as it flew about in between her palms before finally managing to secure it.
“100% Ichigo! Strawberry juice…” Naomi read the label with a wry smile. “Uhm, senpai..?”
“What? I thought you’d like strawberry or something.” Eiji shrugged, before leaning against the railing once more, and taking a sip of his own canned orange juice.
“I do like them! It’s just kind of a weird choice for a juice don’t you think?” The young girl chuckled to herself, before she too leaned over at the railing.
For a moment there was a brief silence, between the two teenagers, as a gentle morning breeze blew around the clearing of the shrine, and the early birds sung a tune only they could understand.
There it was. That feeling again… Was that what peace felt like?
Naomi thought to herself.
“Senpai?” Breaking the silence, the girl addressed the boy before her.
“Thank you for bringing me here.” And then she bowed deeply, without any shame nor hesitation.
Taken aback, and very visibly not used to being thanked, Eiji turned towards the awaking city once more.
“…Nee-chan loved this place.” He muttered lowly, yet loud enough for Naomi to hear.
“Your… sister, senpai?”
“Yeah. And my mother too. We’d always come here for New Year’s, despite it not being neither flashy nor full of people. Most of the times it was just people living nearby, and others just us and the priest.”
“It is a… beautiful place.” Naomi looked over at the shrine once more, decorated with various bells and wind chimes that danced in the air.
Eiji nodded and sipped on his drink, looking further into the city, as if searching for something. “You wanted to know what happened to my family, right?”
“I…” Naomi hesitated, before ultimately shaking away the doubt. “I do.”
“My father abandoned me, my mother and sister when I was a newborn. We somehow managed to make ends meet for a few years, before mother fell ill. Shortly after, I moved in with my sister and her boyfriend, and at my 11th birthday, I found both of them inside our house, dead.”
Naomi gasped briefly, clasping her hands tightly together.
“Then a stranger took me in, before I moved in on my own last year.” Eiji almost chuckled to himself. “Pathetic, right?”
Naomi thought about apologizing, yet she managed to hold it in instead. “I’m sorry” weren’t the proper words for such a tragic tale. Those words hardly bring any comfort, if at all.
“Is that why you became an exorcist?” She asked instead.
“I didn’t become one of my own volition. My father apparently sold my soul to a God or something, before making off…”
“Sold… your soul?” The young girl looked baffled at those words.
“Long story short, that’s how exorcists come to be.”
“Wow…” Was all Naomi uttered in response. How was one meant to reply to something like that in the first place?
Yet despite the awkwardness, the confusion and the very visible thickness of the air around them, a light was shed over the senpai previously shrouded in darkness.
Naomi couldn’t help but smile. It was evident Eiji wasn’t very good with people. While it was also evident he wasn’t even in good terms with himself either. Yet despite those insecurities, that darkness, his visage, his eyes reminded her of someone very familiar.
“Hazuki…” Naomi muttered.
“Oh, nothing.” Naomi chuckled, leaning closer to her upperclassman.
As both of them stared at the city before them, the sun took to the skies like a true king, shedding its light across every inch of land before him.
The sun had risen, and the city was no longer sleeping.
Naomi couldn’t wipe the grin off her face even if her life depended on it, so to hide her giddiness, she broke the silence once more.
“I’ve never seen the sun rise before.”
“Even if you don’t, it still does.” Eiji muttered.
“Life really goes on like that, I guess…”
“That it does…” Eiji sighed turning away from the blinding light of the day. He really wasn’t the type to bask in the sun after all.
“Say, senpai!” Regaining her usual energetic demeanor, like a sun-powered android, Naomi smiled mischievously.
Sensing her usual burst of energy once again, Eiji exhaled deeply. “What now?”
“I forgot to tell you, but I’ve already submitted your form to join the occult club!”
“But I didn’t sign any form…”
“There was no need for that! I signed it for you.”
“Oye, I’m suing.”
“Eiji-dono!” Seemingly out of nowhere, Meh somehow seemed to sense the banter and popped up as well.
“Not you too…”
“We need to be on our way! The news broadcast is about to start!”
“I couldn’t care less about—“
“WHAT?!” Like a boxer on the ropes after multiple hits, Eiji hissed at the excited girl beside him yet again.
“I can’t believe it slipped my mind! We have school tomorrow… I mean today!”
“Oh, fuck me.”
“Wow, and 10 missed calls from mom?!”
“I am out…”