Soul Nemesis [VOLUME I]
Hello peopoooole, we ARE back! After this small break right after the contest, Soul Nemesis will resume Friday uploads as usual starting today! There's not many chapters 'till the end of the first volume, according to my calculations, but let's see how that goes. For now, hope you enjoy the chapter!
“Make yourselves at home,” Honoka said with a welcoming smile as she gracefully removed her shoes and stepped inside. Eiji and Naomi followed suit, their eyes wandering around their upperclassman's humble household.
It was a typical Japanese-styled apartment, one of many nestled in the sprawling Shina apartment complexes. The place exuded a sense of tranquility, but it also seemed oddly empty.
“Pardon the intrusion…” Naomi voiced, before lowering her tone a tad further. “Is no one here?”
“Uh… I’m alone at the moment…” Honoka shook her head. “I’ll fetch some tea; you can sit wherever you like!”
Brushing her sudden change of attitude aside, Honoka gracefully glided to the kitchen, gesturing for her guests to make themselves at home in the living room. The room was sparsely furnished, with only a round coffee table and cushions resting atop the plain tatami floor. Eiji and Naomi took their places, the cushions providing a comfortable spot to settle.
Eiji, positioned near the window, reached for a cigarette, his fingers moving with the precision of a well-practiced ritual.
“Senpai…” Naomi narrowed her eyes at him, before the young man could even voice his question.
“You know, you really ought to quit smoking.”
“What’s this about?” Honoka mused, as she brought with her a tray lined with steaming tea cups.
“Takenaka-senpai!” Naomi perked up, “I was just telling senpai he should quit smoking!”
While the upperclassman remained puzzled by the sudden exchange, the lively girl continued. “Don’t you think so too? Smoking is bad for your health, right?”
“What’s it to you?” Eiji grumbled, while Honoka looked on between the two.
“Pfft…” She gave a small chuckle, as she sat in the standard seiza position.
“Your kouhai is concerned about you, Kanzaki-kun.”
Eiji exhaled, as if he deflated, and looked between the two girls.
“Fine.” He grumbled. And put the cigarette aside. For now.
“Hm… hm… hm…”
The gentle pitter-patter of rain outside mixed harmoniously with Naomi’s soft humming as she diligently sketched on a sheet of paper, a gift from her newest upperclassman. Crayons and colorful pens were scattered like an artist’s palette around her budding masterpiece.
As Eiji found the perfect window, both literally and figuratively, to have a smoke, while Naomi was distracted, Honoka spoke up.
“It’s still raining isn’t it?”
“Hm…” Eiji hummed.
As minutes gradually gave way to an hour, and with no sign of the elusive specter, Naomi’s phone chimed, breaking her artistic reverie.
She glanced at her screen and sighed. “It’s my mom,” she murmured, her fingers swiftly typing a reassuring reply.
“I just told her we’ll be staying for a little while. I hope it’s not too much of a bother, Takenaka-senpai!”
In the face of Naomi’s smile, all Honoka could do was grin back.
“Sure… Just make sure you’re not worrying them.” Her gaze then rested on Eiji.
“Shouldn’t you, uhm… contact your own parents Kanzaki-kun?”
There was a brief silence, before Naomi dropped her colorful pen on the tatami floor, and pretended to go all the way beneath the table to fetch it.
“Heh, nice weather today, huh?” She smiled as she retrieved it.
Thunder boomed in the distance. The rain had just gotten heavier.
If there was one thing Eiji didn’t like apart from specters was people tiptoeing around him.
After a slight pause, he began.
He stopped midsentence.
The matter with the yakubyo-gami was still stuck in a stalemate. He thought.
And Takenaka Honoka didn’t seem like sharing more of her life. Or past. Or whatever bit of information might prove useful for the case, for that matter.
Maybe, if he opened up first…
“I lost my family when I was young. My mom is…” He hesitated, his voice filled with raw emotion. “Comatose in a hospital.”
Honoka froze at his words, gulping down nervously, and tightening the grip around her mug like a vice, almost as if seeking comfort.
“I… am sorry, Kanzaki-kun maybe I—“
“Don’t worry. It’s not meant to be a secret anyway.” Eiji shrugged, extinguishing his cigarette before it became a point of contention again.
“That means senpai trusts you, senpai 2.0!”
“Now that I think about it, there’s only one senpai…” Naomi muttered to herself, while Honoka was still out of the loop.
Yet that wasn’t exactly what Honoka was hung up on. Did Kanzaki really trust her with such sensitive information? Shouldn’t she at least reply in kind?
Honoka gulped once more, her eyes travelling back and forth between the two.
“I… the reason I’m alone right now…” She nodded to herself, briefly, “Is because my mom is hospitalized too.”
There was another silence in the room.
“Since we’re confessing…” Naomi straightened up, and gave a hearty nod before her face contorted slightly. “I lost my best friend to a specter not too long ago… before senpai saved me.”
The longest silence yet ensued, as the weight of their confessions settled in. Despite the strangeness of the situation, there was a sense of relief in the air, a shared mixture of emotions. Acceptance, and… newfound trust. What Eiji initiated as a means to learn about the specter, had him feeling somewhat lighter himself.
Honoka and Naomi exchanged a knowing look, followed by warm smiles.
And then a tiny little laugh, a rare moment of levity in the midst of their angst.
“We all have it rough, don’t we?” Honoka sighed, her shoulders slumping slightly as she visibly relaxed despite the absurdity of the situation. The emotional bond forged through their confessions seemed to have lightened the mood, even if just slightly.
And so, Honoka capitalized on that feeling, and clutched the emerald necklace adorning her neck tightly.
“You know... my dad works abroad so I don’t see him often, but there was always my grandma to help my mother with raising me.” She smiled wistfully. “…But she passed when I enrolled in high school.”
With a glint in her eye, that matched the shine of the beautiful glass bead, that small treasure of memories, Honoka sighed.
“Baa-san got this for me, a few months before… we went to a summer festival, and got it from a stall that sold all kinds of cheap shiny trinkets. I didn’t know why that particular one caught her eye.”
“It’s… beautiful.” Naomi nodded, her smile warm.
“That’s why I made a point of keeping it with me, always. Even if I have to bend a few school rules,” Honoka confessed with an innocent grin, her cheeks tinged red. “Childish, isn’t it?”
Childish? Eiji thought back to the photograph he cherished so dearly. His duty to have his revenge.
“Who’s to say it’s childish?” Eiji scoffed. “If it means something to you, nobody can ever take that away. No matter how hard they try.”
Honoka blushed slightly at those words, while Naomi’s eyes shone in a peculiar, teasing fashion.
“Senpai, you softie.”
Honoka, lowered her head and giggled at their bickering, something that did a lot in lightening the mood tonight.
“After baa-san passed, everything’s being going downhill. Small slip ups happened every day, but they also increased in quantity and magnitude. The point where my mum fell ill 2 months ago, was the point I thought maybe somebody had cursed us… It’s been rough, managing without her… But I thought, there was no way it was something as irrational as a curse… But now I don’t know what to believe.”
“The yakubyo-gami…” Naomi fell in thought, as Eiji, the real professional, maintained a silence of his own.
Illnesses were common, and yakubyo-gami causing them was also rather common too in the spiritual world. They never really lasted for long though, and somebody losing to such an illness was… uncalled for. Yet, when left unchecked, specters had a tendency to escalate their mischief, often causing more damage than one could imagine.
“Your mother will be alright. We just need to deal with the source. Doctors are there for a reason too.”
While Eiji's words did little to quell Honoka's anxieties completely, they provided some solace. The ringing of the house phone, however, cut the moment short.
The young girl swiftly trotted over to the hallway, and grabbed the phone from the tabletop near the entrance of the house.
Back in the silence of the living room, Eiji and Naomi exchanged a few glances as they involuntarily listened in on bits and pieces of the call.
“Yes… it’s me.” Honoka nodded her head, her bangs swaying in the rhythm of her frantic motions.
“I… under— What?” She gulped. “I… will be there shortly.”
After a short exchange, it seemed whatever business the caller had with the teenage girl ended. Or at least from over the phone.
With hurried banging steps against the wooden tatami floor, Honoka returned to the living room, her eyes darting around the place.
“I-It’s… my mom!” She managed to voice, the tension in her tone apparent. Eiji raised a brow, and leaned away from the window, but didn’t interrupt Honoka as she opened her mouth to speak again.
“They say her condition is getting worse and they don’t… they don’t know why!” Her voice was jittery, and her trembling hands was testament to her overwhelming anxiety, “You don’t think it’s because of that… spirit…?”
Naomi lowered her head, likely recalling the pain of losing someone to a specter. The trouble such a being can bring.
Honoka leaned back, drawing a shaky breath. “I need to go to the hospital!” she exclaimed, gathering her keys in a hurry. “You can leave the front door unlocked! I... bye!”
Without another word, the usually calm and collected Honoka darted out of the room with hurried, shaky steps. Not even Naomi’s call could stop her from leaving the two behind.
In a matter of seconds, Eiji and Naomi were left staring at each other, amidst a silent room, with only the booming of thunder serving as the ambience, to such a twisted dramatic play.
“Se-senpai..?” Naomi voiced, as another thunder roared like a beast in the distance.
Eiji exhaled, as he pushed off his knee and got on his feet.
“What are you standing around for? We’re going after her.”