"In theatrical representations, ghosts were the most prominent among otherworldly subjects, perhaps because they provided opportunities for spectacular dramatic effects. Spectral themes were well-accepted by audiences, since the belief in possession and hauntings was still extremely prominent."
--James L. Secor/Stephen Addiss, Japanese Ghosts and Demons
Shaman, Chapter 7
released 26th September, 2004
The minute he opened the door of the flowershop, Subaru knew they were in the right place by the virtue of being in the wrong place.
The cloud of faded ghosts, their agonized features drawn in washes of gray, surrounded a red-haired young man who held a potted plant. Sakon, too, had tensed the moment they entered the store. "Can you see them?" Subaru asked sotto voce.
"Sensee," Ukon replied nervously, "I can hear them screaming."
The young man whom the ghosts, so many, surrounded, seemed oblivious to them. The Sakurazukamori had always tied the souls of their victims to the tree to prevent themselves from being driven mad... how could this young man have enough power to bind these souls to himself, yet not enough to see them?
Subaru took a step forward, then another. The door fell closed behind himself and the bunraku pair.
"Can we help you?" a cheerful young blond asked.
"I need to speak with your coworker," Subaru said.
"Don't mind Sumeragi-sensee," he heard Ukon advise cheekily from behind him as he walked over to the redhead.
"A puppet?" the blond asked, clearly startled.
"Heheh." Ukon, Subaru mused, probably liked the reactions he inspired.
Aya set down the African violet. "How may I help you?"
The answer was soft; he almost had to strain to hear it. "I am not sure this is a matter you would care to have discussed before your coworkers."
"Anything you have to say to me," Aya refuted, "can be said in front of them."
The man paused, then asked, still quiet, "How many have you killed?"
Aya's eyes widened. "How do you know such things?" he asked in reply, testing. If the man wasn't Kritiker.... Aya's sword might be up in his room, but there was a pair of florist's scissors on the table behind the man, and Omi and Youji to provide backup.
"You've bound their souls to you."
Sakon didn't hear what his mentor said to the red-headed young man, but suddenly the latter fell to the floor clutching his head. Some of the ghosts that had been surrounding him turned their attention outwards--and dove shrieking towards Sakon.
"Ha!" Ukon yelled, holding a hand out. Sakon blinked, finding that his left arm had moved in unison with Ukon's. Glimmering mere inches away from both of their fingertips was a translucent amethyst shield. The ghosts and Subaru and the red-haired florist were on the other side. Two other florists, the blond and a tall brunet, stood behind Sakon.
"What the hell?" one of them, probably the brunet, asked. He sounded stunned. Sakon wondered if they could see the shield, then dismissed the thought, concentrating on the shield.
"Hey, Sakon," Ukon muttered, "do you have a clue what we're doing?"
"No," Sakon had to admit.
"Great," Ukon replied.
The ghosts on the outside of the shield screamed and howled, scrabbling at the dome, trying to claw their way inside.
"Should we be worried about that guy and Sumeragi-sensee?" Ukon asked.
"I think," Sakon answered, "Sumeragi-sensei can take better care of himself than we can."
Subaru held a single ofuda card. It blazed in the darkness, burning at the edges of any ghost who came too close to himself and this young magician. They fled shrieking away from the light, only to return in a few seconds to try to get at himself and their killer.
He knelt next to the florist and placed a gloved hand on the fallen man's shoulder. "I take it you can see and hear them now," he remarked. A nod was his only reply. The violet eyes--a fifth person with those rare eyes, a part of him mused--showed shock. "I can't dispel them," he told the man. "That's your task as their killer. I can only keep them from you for a while."
Lips opened. The man's breathing was stuttered. He'd killed this many, yet the sight of their ghosts attempting to rend his body with their undead flesh was apparently still unnerving to him. It was something that had stopped bothering Subaru by the time he was six. "Please," the man said. It sounded like a word he did not often need to use.
Subaru nodded and closed his eyes, hands folding together into a particular mudra position. The ofuda was held between his two index fingers. He had grown in power over the years; for a simple protection charm such as this a triple repetition of the incantation was now enough. He opened his eyes and handed the talisman to the florist. "Keep it on you," he advised. "They won't be able to hurt you as long as you carry it." It was at best a stopgap measure, but one that would hold for as long as it was needed. Subaru very much doubted the young man would refuse to learn to use his powers. Few individuals sought to spend their lives surrounded by a cloud of onryou out for their blood.
Turning his head to see how Sakon and Ukon were handling themselves, Subaru's eyes widened a bit. A kekkai... he hadn't taught either yet how to make such a thing, yet there it was, called forth by need, a glittering purple shield protecting them and the two others. He found himself smiling.
Aya got to his feet still holding the ink-brushed white card the stranger had given him. All around him were the screaming ghosts, their talons blunted by the protection he held in his hand. His mind shied away from looking at any one of them for too long, knowing that he'd be able to identify them all perfectly. Instead he looked at the black-haired man. The ghosts didn't come near him. Aya had the feeling they didn't dare to. "Who are you?" he asked. Then, "What are you?"
"Sumeragi Subaru," the man answered, still looking at something else. "An onmyouji."
Aya followed the man's gaze, and his eyes widened. There inside the shop, protecting Omi and Youji, was a perfect violet dome. Unless there was something his teammates hadn't told Aya, the young man who had come into the shop with Sumeragi, and the doll Aya could now see was held in his arms, had to be the one who had created it. The howling ghosts didn't seem to be able to enter the shield.
"Is he also an onmyouji?" Aya questioned.
"No," Sumeragi replied. "He's a shaman." He stepped toward the others.
Aya looked at the card he held, tucked it into the pocket of his apron, and followed.
"Wait," Ken said, "so Aya's being haunted by all the people he's killed?"
"Maa," Youji opined. "That's what those two witch-doctors said before dragging him away, anyway."
Omi sat down with a mug of hot chocolate between his hands. "After seeing those ghosts and that shield, you think they're lying, Youji-kun?"
"Not lying," Youji replied, leaning lazily back in his chair. "It's just a little hard to swallow. We all knew Aya was weird, but... magic? Not really what I'd expect." He cocked his head to one side. "Do you think we should tell Kritiker?"
Blue eyes met green met brown.
"I think it's Aya's business," Ken said, drumming his fingers once on the table. "As long as it doesn't effect his job performance, I don't think it's they need to know."
"I don't know if they'd accept magic and ghosts in the reports either," Omi agreed. "I had to push hard enough to get them to believe me on Schwarz." It had taken three reports and only his long standing in the organization had eventually gotten Kritiker to believe that psychics existed. He didn't want to have to push to get them to believe in ghosts.
"What about those two guys who took him away?" Youji asked. "They know he's killed people. You don't think that's putting Kritiker at risk?"
Ken shook his head. "Didn't you say the guy was a Sumeragi? I really doubt he's going to try to blow the whistle on Kritiker."
"Eh? Do you know something we don't, Ken-kun?"
Ken smirked lopsidedly. "Omi, they're the head onmyouji clan in Japan. They're, like, untouchable and unbribeable. They are the white hunters of the spiritual world."
"Ken," Youji said slowly, "do I want to know how you know this?"
Ken slumped back in his chair. "My Gram had a badger spirit really making life difficult in our house when I was five. An onmyouji came out and got rid of it. It was cool. I did research later." He absorbed their looks. "What? I was five!"
Youji's eyes met Omi's. "'Cool'," the older assassin opined, "is not the word I'd use to describe this afternoon."
Omi had to agree. "Terrifying" was probably closer to the mark.
His mentor, Sakon was coming to understand through the tone of their conversation, had no intention of turning this young murderer over to the police. The thought disturbed him. He couldn't see how Sumeragi could countenance murder. On the other hand, the man had admitted to him on their first meeting that he had loved, and was heir to, an assassin. Perhaps becoming his student hadn't been the most considered of Sakon's decisions. But, a part of him argued, it had been the right one. He had these powers, and with that came an obligation to learn how to use them.
Maybe Subaru's lack of caring about turning Fujimiya over to the authorities, Sakon realized, thinking back to the endless ethical critiques of various plays his grandfather had given over the years, was because that kind of justice wasn't the Sumeragi's job. The Sumeragi walked the ways of the spirit world, not the mundane one. Subaru's primary obligations were perhaps to the demons and the dead, not to the living. He kept a balance between worlds, which necessarily would take him partially out of the one Sakon lived in. Maybe from that vantage point things looked differently. Maybe in the bigger picture, an assassin's work helped things.
Sakon was drawn back out of his thoughts as Fujimiya stood at Subaru's nod and headed for the ceremonial katana stand on the far side of the salle. He took the sword off the stand, unsheathed it, and headed to the center of the room, where he stopped, took three deep breaths, and began a kata.
Sakon felt Ukon stir with interest in his arms, but could not take his own eyes from the sight. As Fujimiya worked his way through cuts, blocks, and slashes, the ghosts around him grew quieter. Slowly, like the movement of clouds across a summer sky, they began to disappear, one by one. Almost a third of their number were gone by the time Fujimiya, pale and sweating, opened his eyes.
Then one of those remaining turned and dove, suddenly, for Ukon.
Caveat: "Onryou" is a term which translates more or less to "angry spirit," or in this case, "angry ghosts." The kekkai that Sakon and Ukon create is not the Kekkai of X fame, but a regular spiritual shield. Even within X it is noted that there are kekkai that ordinary mystics can make and then there are the alternate dimension Kekkai that the Seven Seals create. I've taken the route from the old fan-translations of the series and differentiated between the two via capitalization of the latter.Back to Chapter 6 On to Chapter 8 Tales From a Ramen Stall page Send comments to author