Soul Nemesis [VOLUME I]
Voices echoed through the rain-soaked darkness of Shina's narrow alleys as the three teenagers engaged in a frantic chase.
Honoka, fueled by anxiety, raced to reach her mother's side. Eiji pursued her, his only goal being her safety. Naomi followed closely, determined to stay by her upperclassmen's side. As it was clear to all, running out onto the night, while a specter was targeting you was one of the gravest mistakes one could make. And yet, at the sound of the news, Honoka never stopped to question her own actions.
As Eiji sped up, hot on her tail, he clicked his tongue. Why did every specter-targeted classmate of his had to go out for a run like that?
The relentless rain fell, its icy sting clinging to their clothes despite the arrival of spring. The streets were deserted, and the alleys, which Honoka used as a shortcut to the medical center, were even more desolate. Their footsteps splashed through puddles, mingling with the sound of heavy rain and sporadic calls to each other echoing through the wet Tokyo night.
Initially, it appeared that Honoka's foot injury had healed enough for her to outpace Eiji, but her advantage didn't last long. The pain from the previous day, combined with the shock that initially enabled her to run, began to wear off.
Honoka skidded to a sudden stop in the middle of a dark alley, and Eiji sighed with relief as he also slowed down.
A snarl interrupted the young man, as a small creature emerged from the darkness, baring its yellow, sharp teeth. And then another.
Soon, a swarm of unknown entities blocked their path, all of them crawling along the ground like insects. With long thin legs, yellow sharp fangs and a set of three glowing eyes an army of specters emerged. Eiji clicked his tongue, and dashed down towards Honoka once more.
“E-Eh..?” The calm senior’s face was overtaken by shock. What she could only hear up until now, had taken shape and form before her very eyes. And that very entity that materialized, was now slowly yet surely, crawling towards her.
The girl took a few steps back, unsure of what to do. And the first specter of the group, used that moment of hesitation against her.
With a sudden leap, it licked its blade-like jaws and lunged at Honoka, its teeth poised to sink into her flesh…
And it would have succeeded if Eiji hadn't acted swiftly, grabbing the creature mid-air and hurling it away from his paralyzed upperclassman. The young exorcist brought his index and middle fingers before his face, a flicker of red lightning enveloping his arm as he incinerated the small creature.
Eiji looked up with his now fiery red eyes, as thunder softly crackled around him.
“Koburogumo.” The young exorcist spat.
“Koburo… gumo?” Honoka muttered, looking back and forth between her schoolmate, and the small in size, but numerous in numbers, army of unknown creatures. Koburogumo were a species of lesser specters, typically dealt with by Shamans with relative ease. When they assembled in great numbers like that however, they posed quite the problem.
“Senpai!” Naomi cried, having finally reached the both of them. As the small specters crept up on them, Eiji patted his pockets frantically.
“The yakubyo-gami is channeling Takenaka’s negative emotions as a beacon to attract all these lesser specters here. It’s become… powerful.” Eiji stopped searching and looked up. “Here!” He tossed a small pack out of his blazer towards Naomi.
The petite girl caught it, furrowing her brows as she examined the contents. “Cigarettes?”
“Take a closer look.” Eiji gestured, and Naomi's eyes widened when she peered inside.
Nestled between the cigarettes and the case was a folded piece of paper. Naomi retrieved it and recognized the intricate patterns running along its length.
Eiji didn't have time to provide a detailed explanation. Instead, he spoke urgently.
“These will keep coming until we locate the source. Keep that talisman with you and protect Takenaka!”
The young exorcist leapt into action once more, confronting the advancing specters in a brawl between exorcist and monster. The entities leaped and lunged, but Eiji deftly dodged their attacks, blasting and swatting them away. Each strike left the specters crumbling into shimmering blue dust. They weren't individually strong, but their sheer numbers posed a challenge. For every one defeated, two more seemed to take its place, a relentless tide that pressed on. Of course, this was a race against time for Eiji, who knew his powers weren’t limitless. Significant strain and fatigue would set in should he use them for an elongated period of time.
“Protect, he says…” Naomi whispered, her voice trembling, as she edged closer to Honoka. “But how?”
“Mizuno-san…” Honoka's voice quavered as she scanned the alley, trying to grasp the severity of the situation. “What is happening? What is Kanzaki-kun fighting? What's that red aura? And those... monsters?”
Naomi furrowed her brows, struggling to find words to explain the bewildering situation she had become accustomed to. Meanwhile, Eiji continued to fend off the relentless horde of specters, but their numbers only grew. All the while, the exorcist looked around in an attempt to catch a glimpse of the culprit.
“Damn it!” He spat every time more enemies emerged.
“Uh… senpai?” Naomi stammered, shrinking further back into the exterior wall of the nearest building. The specters were so numerous, they started ignoring the exorcist and encircling the two girls instead. Their menacing snarls and gnashing teeth drew nearer with each passing second.
“Mizuno-san?!” Honoka gripped her skirt tightly, having being driven into a corner.
“It’s not looking any better, here…” Naomi trembled, a result of her rapidly beating heart. Her knees shook with fear, while her upperclassman was preoccupied fighting.
“You basta—” Eiji's voice was laced with frustration as he was repeatedly bitten by the specters while struggling to keep them at bay. As he swatted another pesky foe away, the young man realized he couldn't hold out forever. When using his powers, his body was coated in the same aura as his fists, but that sort of barrier wasn’t impenetrable. If anything, it meant Eiji’s powers were running thin all too soon. With a deep breath, he shouted at Naomi.
“Use it, damn it!”
Naomi perked up, clutching the paper in her hands.
“Just…” Eiji kicked a slightly bigger koburogumo away, “Think of being protected! A fond memory of a person that helped! Believe! That… you’ll be safe.”
“Safe?” Naomi glanced around frantically. The specters seemed to cackle with malevolent glee as they prepared to pounce. Honoka huddled close, her eyes filled with hesitation.
How could I feel safe in a place like this?
Naomi’s mind raced only with negativity. Thoughts of the impending pain. Thoughts of her being bitten….
She shook her head.
“What are you waiting for?!”
“Safe, eh?” Naomi clutched the talisman tighter, and brought it across her face, just as Eiji did when he used his powers. She forced her mind to think. Think about feeling protected.
Each word summoned memories of her and Hazuki, of moments of warmth and security. And thoughts of her… and Eiji.
The way he saved her. Kept her out of harm’s way time and again.
Despite the situation, and the fact, a specter leapt off the ground, Naomi stopped shaking. Eiji had spoken to her about how ordinary humans could use talismans, since the exorcist’s blood already acted as the catalyst.
Naomi only needed to believe. Believe that she’d be safe.
That talisman was given to her by her senpai. There was no way she wouldn’t be.
In a brilliant, otherworldly flash of light, the talisman burst into shimmering blue sparks. These sparks coalesced around the two girls, swirling around them like birds in the sky, all in order to form a protective dome that incinerated any specter that dared to approach.
With another dazzling flash, the dome exploded outward, reducing the remaining specters to ashes.
The impact however was strong, causing the two closest to the peculiar spell to fall to the ground. Naomi and Honoka opened their eyes to a brilliant white orb, that illuminated everything across the alley. A light so bright, so pure, it put all artificial lights to shame. Naomi couldn't help but think of Hazuki's fireflies, and a small smile graced her lips.
“I think… I did it, senpai…” She muttered wearily, realizing how much it took out of her to use a talisman. Her knees now shook in a different manner.
In the midst of the brilliant light however, Eiji advanced, his eyes now adjusted to the radiance. He could see it clearly.
“What a sick trick...” Eiji muttered, locking eyes with Honoka, who had just risen to her feet, dusting off her clothes.
“I apologize in advance.”
The two girls looked on in astonishment as Eiji approached Honoka, extending his arm toward her. In a swift motion, he grasped the emerald jewel of her necklace, the same one that matched her striking eyes. The same one gifted to her by her grandmother. That very same necklace that glowed in a green light, and exuded a malevolent aura this whole time.
With a tug, he snapped the emerald jewel off the chain, and flipped it open like a pendant. Beneath the green exterior, laid a small mirror. And within that mirror….
A pair of demon eyes stared back at him.
Everything suddenly fell into place for him. Eiji had been aware that certain yakubyo-gami could reside within mirrors, but since none were present in previous encounters, he had dismissed the idea. Who would have thought Honoka was carrying one with her all along?
“Show's over, you little bastard,” Eiji sighed, tossing the necklace to the ground. As the mirror cracked, the entity trapped within erupted like smoke from a jar, materializing a short distance away. The brilliant protective light Naomi had produced, granted them a moment to reflect and identify the culprit.
The specter, resembling a dark, amorphous blob with spindly arms and legs, as well as a pair of goat horns, moved swiftly. Eiji knew that if he hesitated, the specter might escape. But, the young man decided to not leave it to chance.
He thrust his arm forward, releasing a red bolt of light that struck the retreating troublemaker. Upon impact, the red light enveloped the black entity, which began to overflow and crackle with energy. In a flash, the space around it became a blinding burst of light, and the specter disintegrated like a fireworks display, letting out a defeated, squeaky roar.
“Phew...” Naomi exhaled as the amalgamation of blue and red particles in the air combined into a spectacular display, signaling the end of their harrowing battle. It was ironic how a creature that had tormented a single girl and her family so relentlessly could go down so pathetically. It served as a reminder that yakubyo-gami were only dangerous due to the mischievous circumstances they created rather than any inherent strength of their own.
While Eiji gathered the particles of the specter that was no more, and probably regretting how he didn’t press for information of the card he always kept with him, Honoka squatted down.
With a sorrowful look, she scooped up her broken necklace, but smiled despite that. When her underclassman had broken her treasure, she felt a tremendous weight lift from her shoulders. And when the specter was defeated, she experienced a liberation like no other. It was akin to shedding a heavy, burdensome cloak.
She had failed to realize how much her cherished possession seemed to drag her down—both mentally and, as it seemed, physically. Each stroke of bad luck had added a minuscule weight, and her mind had adjusted to these gradual increases, falsely perceiving them as insignificant. But now, with the removal of the necklace, all that pent-up bad luck and frustration dissipated into the air.
Honoka was finally free, and with her mother's well-being hopefully secured, she could look forward to the future once more.
“Kanzaki-kun... Mizuno-san…” Honoka's voice trembled as she fought back tears. “Thank you…”
“Senpai, did you see how brilliant and sparkly that light I produced was?!” Naomi beamed, her enthusiasm contagious. “I'm telling you, I'm cut out for this!”
“It was… impressive.” Eiji said simply, yet the context of his words was not lost on a dumbfounded Naomi.
“EEEH?! Did you just praise me?”
“Put a sock in it.”
It was undeniable that Naomi's light had been blindingly powerful. Talismans could be used for various purposes, with their effects and strengths tailored to the user's desires. While protecting the user was the most standard use, the effects the shield she conjured and the potency of its glow was rather intriguing. That fact really couldn’t be denied. Maybe Naomi had much more willpower than she let on?
Eiji, however, pushed aside these musings as he noticed Honoka jogging toward them, her radiant smile a stark contrast to her earlier distress.
They were now in the hospital's waiting area, while their upperclassman attended to her mother. Eager to escape the uncomfortable seats and the sterile atmosphere of the hospital, Eiji rose from his seat, with Naomi following suit.
“My mom…” Honoka stopped before them to catch her breath. “She’s okay!”
“REALLY?!” Naomi's face lit up with joy. “That's amazing, Takenaka-senpai!” Unable to contain her excitement, she jumped forward and hugged her upperclassman tightly. A gesture that caused a smile to blossom in each of their faces.
“I’m glad.” Eiji nodded, giving a rare grin too. “It seemed the specter was the cause after all.”
At the face of such an overwhelming moment, Honoka’s cheeks were flooded with tears that couldn’t be contained.
“She was… fighting for so long…” She wiped her eyes with her sleeve, “But now she’s free… She can come back home…”
Naomi tightened her embrace, providing comfort to her friend, a role she seemed naturally suited for.
“I can't thank you enough,” Honoka whispered, finally expressing her gratitude, but Eiji shook his head.
Maybe, just maybe, seeing that look on her face was enough of a reward for him.
“Nothing is holding you down, now. You’re free too, Takenaka.”
The next day at school, Honoka seemed to ease back into her routine. No more weird mishaps. No more slip ups. No more forgetfulness, and no more inexplicable burdens weighing her down.
Of course, bad luck was everywhere, so minor inconveniences were bound to happen. But the emerald-eyed girl calmly dismissed them as mere happenings of everyday life. Because she knew, they weren’t there to stay.
Although, there was one lingering thought she couldn't escape—the presence of two people who had become irrevocably intertwined with her life.
Fate, or perhaps luck, had reunited them at the school gates as she prepared to go home.
Naomi beamed with enthusiasm, while Eiji nodded with his usual stoicism.
“You two…” Honoka clutched her chest. She had searched for them all throughout the school day, initially believing the entire adventure might have all been a dream.
Honoka chuckled to herself. She was very glad it wasn’t.
“We know it's not the same, but...” Eiji began, while Naomi produced a small box from her bag.
“We picked this out for you.”
Within the box laid an emerald green necklace. Honoka’s eyes shone anew once more, her smile unable to be hidden any longer.
It could surely never replace her grandma’s broken treasure. But there was no need to. This one was given to her by two different people. A sign of their time together. The brief adventure they had. A sign of the bonds they formed.
She thought she would like it, if she could call them friends.
“Do you like it, Takenaka-senpai?”
“Say...” Naomi shifted nervously, a hint of shyness coloring her cheeks. “Would you like to join us in the occult club?”
“The occult club?”
Eiji didn’t look away as the two girls shared a smile. With one final look between the three, Honoka giggled softly and nodded, sealing the deal.
Her adventure was no dream. And her luck was about to be turned on its head. Finally she could look forward to school again, dance classes and everyday life. She could live without burdens. All thanks to those two.
She was happy to call them friends.
“I’d love to.”