Dead and Back Again
Two men raced on foot toward an old factory. Flustered and anxious, they glanced about for any sign of intruders. One gripped a longbow in his left hand. A full quiver rested on his left hip. The other held a bokken sword in his left hand and an old buckskin, drawstring bag in his right. The factory had been temporarily abandoned due to some recent accidents, but these men seemed unfazed by the rumors. They had a purpose to be there, and they weren’t leaving until it was resolved.
“This guy must be an idiot, bringing her here, but we can’t take any chances.”
“I will not leave him alive this time,” the other said with a venomous bite. “I should have killed him when I first noticed his presence.”
“We’ll find her, Karura,” the swordsman told the archer with calm in his voice. “I promised I wouldn’t let him hurt your daughter. I’ll do whatever it takes to keep that promise.”
Karura glanced at the man beside him. The bokken in his hand was gripped with purpose, so he sensed the swordsman was just as concerned about his child as he. He nodded curtly, a sign of trust, but he said no more.
The two came to a pause in front of a storage building. There were long poles along the sides, reaching skyward from the cement ground. The detective glanced up quickly. Karura noticed, drawing an arrow quickly from his quiver.
“Did you hear that?”
“Was it Akiko?”
The swordsman gaped at the roof a brief moment. His dark brown eyes darted around the building, coming up with a plan. He turned to Karura. The long-shafted arrow had an ofuda talisman tied to it. His eyes met Karura’s before he approached the archer.
“Karura,” Mamoru said in a low voice, “I need you to hold onto this bag for me. I’ll come back for it.”
“What is it?”
“Something passed down in my family for a long time,” Mamoru said with a smile. He pointed with his left finger, still gripping his bokken. “Aim for the roof. If you see him reveal himself, take your best shot. I get the feeling you don’t miss.”
“Then she is up there with him.”
“I’ll make sure she’s safe, Karura. I keep my promises.”
The swordsman gave a reassuring smile at the archer. Karura put the bag in his quiver, hearing the soft rustling of whatever was inside. Mamoru nodded once more before rushing for the storage building.
Surprise was imperative as he moved quietly for the fire escape along the side. It didn’t take long for him to reach the top. The young woman’s raised voice grew louder the closer he drew. He paused to glance around before revealing himself.
Akiko was struggling to free herself from her captor’s grasp. The tall figure had shed his trench coat to expose blacken flesh. The short, curved horns protruding from his disheveled, black-haired head confirmed that the stalker was an oni. Only something of supernatural origin could have evaded the police protection placed on the poor girl over the past few months. This was his only successful abduction though, so Mamoru had to act quickly.
“Let go of me!” Akiko was not crying out of fear. She was angry, channeling all of her rage into her struggle. “My dad and Ma-kun will grill you for lunch!”
“Such vigor,” the oni remarked with a laugh. “I like it! I thought your kind were docile and obedient. Seems the rumors weren’t well-founded.”
“Oh, gods! Shut up, you perv! I ought to sing your ears off!”
As the oni continued to laugh at the girl’s futile fight, Mamoru snuck over the ledge of the roof. He pulled something out of his right pocket, gripping it tightly. He listened for a brief time, gathering his wits. The beast was closer to the side of the building than the front. How could he get the bastard near the edge?
Akiko was brave to face something like this alone. Mamoru thought her words were inspiring, considering how frantic he and her father were. Karura would be proud of her. He had to reunite them. They deserved to feel safe again. Opening his eyes, he took a deep breath before standing upright.
“I think that’s enough harassment for one day,” Mamoru said with that calm grin, walking into view.
“Ma-kun! You came, just like you promised!” Akiko looked so relieved to see him. A bright smile spread across her lips, despite the fact that an oni was trying to make a meal out of her. “I told you they would be here, you dumb ogre!”
“You’re that detective that kept noticing me,” the oni snarled. Curling his thin lips back, he displayed two rows of sharp, spiked teeth. “You smell mortal, but your aura’s different from before. What are you?”
“That doesn’t matter,” Mamoru said as he slowly walked toward the yokai. “Now, you have two choices, big guy. You can die quickly or not so quickly. Which do you prefer?”
“You tell him, Ma-kun!”
“I have the girl! What could you possibly do to stop me?”
“Oh, you’ve already lost here, oni,” Mamoru said in a serious tone. He reached up with a bloodied, right hand toward the yokai. His eyes looked different all of a sudden, even Akiko paused at the change. “Drop your arm, beast.”
The oni gawked back at the detective. His grip on Akiko slipped, allowing her to free herself at last. Instead of running to the man though, she moved to the side to watch the detective. Her heart skipped every other beat as Mamoru walked closer to the oni. How was he doing that?
“Akiko,” Mamoru spoke in a commanding voice without looking away from the entranced yokai, “get out of here! Now!”
She jumped at his voice. It sounded like it was changing, too. The kind detective she knew had never shown this side to her before. Before she could question him, her feet were compelled to run for the fire escape. What was she afraid of? Mamoru didn’t frighten her. Even like this, she was intrigued and maybe a little excited. What was she running for then?
By the time she reached the bottom of the stairs, she rounded the corner of the storage building as fast as she could run. Her father was standing ahead of her, aiming for the roof. Was that what Mamoru had been talking about? Were they setting the oni up to be exorcised? When she reached her father, she noticed he was gaping in shock. As she turned to see what he was looking at, her heart stopped in her chest.
Mamoru was falling from the roof, embracing the oni. This wasn’t happening. The detective had promised her he would make everything okay again. From the way they were falling, it seemed he had rushed the creature, twisting around in mid-air. In the few seconds before impact, Akiko screamed as she rushed toward the poles below them.
It was quick, but the sudden pain of a pole piercing through his midsection was enough to make Mamoru gasp. The oni screeched as the bloodied iron ran him through as well. Its flesh was engulfed in a white blaze, gripped in Mamoru’s arms. As the beast turned to ash, the burns didn’t seem to faze the man. Karura wanted this thing gone. They couldn’t have it leaving a trail for others to find Akiko again.
As his eyes clouded over, the last thing Mamoru heard was Akiko’s voice. It was a desperate cry she had never expressed to him before. He found it ironic. In the short time he had known her, the youth had never made a feminine sound. She was such a spitfire, yelling or cursing in an argument. He thought it was adorable, honestly. Still, he wished he could have seen the face to match that voice. She sounded like a grown woman for once.
“Mamoru!” Akiko dropped to her knees beside his head. Reaching her arms around his light brown hair, she pulled his head to her chest to cry. To hell with the charred blood all over his face and trunk, she wanted to hold him. “Mamoru, don’t leave me! Please don’t leave me!”
Karura walked up cautiously behind her. His rich purple eyes gaped in disbelief. Not only had Mamoru exorcised the oni, but the beast was rendered to ash, leaving no trace of it physically or spiritually. He had no idea the detective possessed any spiritualist ability. This was almost unheard of at the human level. At least, in these times…
“Yoko…” Karura dropped his bow to search for something on his person. “Yoko can handle this…”
“Mamoru…” Akiko’s voice finally started to crack as the tears fell in torrents. “Come back… Please… come back…” As her father rummaged his yukata sleeves in shock, the young woman closed the brown eyes she had drawn strength from in the past few months. Kissing his forehead, she whispered.
“I wanted… to sing for… you…”
“Akiko!” Karura’s voice bellowed, “You are going to be late if you do not come down now!”
Tennin Akiko shot up from her desk. She glanced at the book she had fallen asleep reading the night before. Why did she have to go to high school again? These books were so redundant.
“Sorry, Dad!” The youth yelped a reply. She had slept in her uniform, so that made dressing easy after a quick spray. Grabbing her brush from the shelf above her cold bed, she raked through her long, dark locks as she ran down the stairs. “I fell asleep over biology.”
“Forgetting something?” The tall man asked her by the foot of the stairs. His amethyst orbs stared into her matching ones as she considered what he was asking. “Your shoulder is empty.”
“Ah! My bag!” She ran back up the stairs.
“I’ll pack your breakfast with your lunch.” The father groaned at his child’s absent-minded behavior. It was a wonder she was able to do anything on her own.
“Thanks, Dad! I know I’m hopeless without you!” Akiko called as she rushed into the kitchen with her satchel slung over her shoulder. She raided the pantry for snacks to restock her desk. “Am I really out of gummies?”
“I am going to the store today, so you’ll have to make do with what you have at school.” The man gingerly placed a tamagoyaki omelet into a bento beside steaming, white rice. “I left the sausage for you to trim to your liking.”
“Nice!” Akiko grinned, watching the mini sausage links line the space between the cheese and spinach omelet and rice. “Did you add the furikake?”
“Your lunch, yes,” Karura replied in an exasperated tone, “but since you did not get up in time for breakfast, this one is plain.”
“I know you don’t like when I slack off,” Akiko walked up to hug her father under his arm, “but I really did fall asleep over a book. I forgot to turn on my alarm. I’ll remember tonight. I promise.”
Karura lifted his arm to embrace his daughter. He leaned down to kiss the crown of her head. There was his little girl. Sometimes he thought she would turn into a kijo with her reckless antics, but then, she did sweet things like this that melted his heart.
“I know I say this often, but I envy how free-spirited you are. All I know is discipline. I wish I could do better for you than that.”
“You do your best, and I do mine.” Akiko looked up with a smile. “That’s something Mom would say, right?”
The two looked up at the sound of their gate knocker. The house was surrounded by a tall, wooden gate with ofuda place around the inside. The arched entrance had a knocker that alerted the spiritualists by disturbing their protection spell. It wasn’t broken, but Karura definitely sensed something waiting on the other side of the gate.
“Wait inside, Akiko.”
Akiko followed her father to the front door, but she remained where he had asked her to stay. Her hand gripped at the scarf around her neck. The material shimmered under the sunlight. Her purple eyes stared hard at the gate her father had just reached. She watched him draw an ofuda slip from his left yukata sleeve. He opened the door to see who their morning caller was.
“Can I help you?”
“Ah!” A young man smiled back at Karura. His black eyes had a gleam of joy the spiritualist did not understand. “This is the Tennin residence, correct?”
“Why are you looking for it?”
“Oh, my apologies,” the visitor said as he laughed lightly, scratching behind his ear. His smile told Karura he was unfazed by his unpleasant expression. “My name is Suzuki Takashi. I just moved here to start at the university, but I’ve been waiting most of my life to come to your home.”
“Why is that?” Karura narrowed his eyes at the young man. He seemed overly excited to be meeting people that did not want to be found.
“You see, I was hoping to pick up some things that were left in your care. A bokken and a bag of seeds to be exact.” Karura gaped at the description. “My late uncle supposedly left them to you when he died nineteen years ago.”
Akiko made a mad dash from the door to look the young man in the face. Karura barely managed to stay on his feet as she pushed ahead of him. Her purple eyes gaped at the young face. The eyes weren’t brown, but she would know that gentle gaze anywhere. Tears welled up as she tried to keep her voice from cracking.
“Ma… mo… ru…?”
The young man gaped down at her face with surprise. After a moment, that same smile from nineteen years ago spread across his lips. Running a hand through his shoulder-length, obsidian hair, he shrugged.
“Was I that obvious, Aki-chan?”