Rebuked and... Promoted?
"Last of all," a stern man said from his seat at a large, dark wood desk, "the park restoration might have covered up the struggle, but the noise's reach was too far to account for augmenting any mortals. That means you two have damage control of the district until this whole thing gets put to bed! Got it?!"
You and Mei stood with their hands behind their backs as the manager for their division tore into them. The youth maintained her usual, placid expression through the intense reprimanding, but You winced with each inflection of rage. While it was true the oni situation had finally been resolved, the last one had created a dramatic exit the night before. Between the apartment attack and the storming through the streets, Yoko, You, and Mei had spent the rest of the night fixing surface damage. A special team of mystics had restored the park grounds to its original beauty. It was a blessing shinigami only slept when they needed to heal themselves.
"Got it," Mei said flatly while You nodded, timidly. "To be fair though, sir, we have contained things to just rumors, and rumors usually turn into faithless superstitions with belief on the decline, like the Red Paper incident."
"We don't talk about Red Paper, Yamamoto." The manager groaned as he rubbed his eyes at the memory of the mischievous, bathroom slaying yokai.
"Just saying that rumors and ghost stories never hurt anyone, sir."
"You're really not helping our case, Mei-chan," You sighed heavily.
"Ono, show a better example to your kouhai, and stop acting like a rookie already. You're both dismissed, and don't cause your supervisor anymore trouble this quarter!"
The two shinigami bowed before leaving the office. Outside the manager's door, the seemingly endless rows of desks for the Japanese division stretched across the massive room. As You and Mei walked toward their own, several whistles rose up from the nearby desks.
"Awesome work with those oni, Ono, Yamamoto! Forget the boss, you guys earned the ace collar this week!"
"Thanks," You said sheepishly with a wave. "I wish Mr. Higure saw things that way."
"Like I said," Mei said in a bored tone, "Lord Eiji covers your ass all the time, You. We should have gotten extra rotation shifts for this, but nope, we just have to augment memories whenever there's too much chatter."
"Honestly, I doubt it's the lord prince, Mei-chan," You said with a small smile. "My master has almost the same pull as Lord Eiji, you know."
Mei glanced up at the mentioned person. While she said nothing to the comment, her eyes gaped at the realization her partner had just pointed out. From the shiver in her shoulders, she seemed to agree with him.
"Anyway," You changed the subject, "I wonder what Yoko's up to right now. She never gets pulled into the manager's office, but she was just as involved as us."
"Doesn't she report directly to Lord Eiji? Her desk's at the front of the branch, so she must have some serious seniority, right?"
"Yeah..." The older shinigami let the topic drop. He had known Yoko since he accepted his charter. Mei was a younger shinigami, so he realized she didn't know much about the other's background. If he didn't want Yoko breathing down his neck, it might be best to leave an air of mystery. "You could say that."
Just as the two rounded the aisle for their row, a red oni approached You. His obsidian eyes locked on the man's, drawing his attention instantly. In the stocky arms, a scroll was held gingerly against his chest.
"Master Ono You, correct?"
"Yes, that's me. Can I help you?"
"Madam Takahashi has requested you and Madam Yamamoto join her special assignment. I have come to collect your seals for the scroll. Your desks will move once you accept the task."
"Yoko wants our help?" You gawked at the oni a moment. Why would she request their help when she had a partner? "I mean, we would be honored to assist, but why us?"
"Madam Takahashi and Lord Prince Eiji believe it is time to change their approach, and as you are the assigned shinigami to the area, you both would make optimal allies in protecting the tennin."
"She missed us," Mei huffed with a smirk, coming around You's trench coat. "This beats watch any day, and front-row desks sounds like the life, You! Where do I stamp?"
"I am pleased to see you finally making some progress, Yoko," Eiji said from where he leisurely leaned against the front of his desk. "I know this assignment has been difficult. There was not much any of us could offer to assist you, but your experience as a kunoichi seemed an optimal option for us. Thank you for indulging in my mother's request."
"It has been my honor to act on your behalf, lord prince, but..." Yoko broke eye contact with the deity a moment, collecting her words. "Why did you chose me and not... my partner? Her experience far outweighs my own as a kunoichi, and it was my lack of which that has cost us so much time." Finally looking up at her master, Yoko's eyes trembled. "What do I possibly have to offer that she doesn't?"
"Oh, Yoko," Eiji said with a gentle smile. Shaking his head as he stood upright, he approached the shinigami with open arms to embrace her. "It was your regret."
"My what?" The shinigami gaped into his shoulder as she reached her arms up to embrace him in return.
"While Chiyome does possess a great deal of experience, your link to your life does not weigh upon you the same as her own. Your longing to protect the downtrodden prevents you from moving forward, but it gives you strength as well. That is your unique art granted by your charter, after all, the power to protect in the darkness."
Yoko buried her face in his shoulder, willing herself not to tear up over the compliment. This was why she loved her work as a shinigami. Her master saw her strengths and invested in them. In life, she thought she had lost her drive in the end, but it seemed that fire had not been smothered after all. In fact, it was at the core of her power now.
"Thank you, Lord Eiji," she said softly. "You always know how to lift my spirits, just like he did."
"I am sure he was far better at it than I. After all, you chose him over your chosen profession." Leaning backward, the two smiled at one another a moment before they broke apart.
"Now, I understand you have asked You and Meiko to assist. I admit I was surprised to hear you request help. As a former covert operative, you usually prefer to work alone, so it warms my spirit to see you opening your heart this way." Eiji walked back toward his desk as he continued. "This is to open time to research this Kazuki individual's death record, am I correct?"
"Yes, lord prince," she replied with confidence. "After everything he has done to help the tennin, Karura and I are in agreement that Mr. Kazuki has earned our trust, and I believe your initial assessment that I was meant to shepherd his soul is well-founded. There is a weariness in his eyes that tells me he has waited too long for help. I only hope I am up to the task of reaping his soul."
"I am pleased to hear such confidence in this new direction you have chosen. However, the oni have informed me that his files have proved difficult to retrieve." The youthful-looking deity rounded his desk to take a seat. The topic at hand seemed to baffle him as much as the shinigami. "Are his names truly not in the compendium?"
"It would seem so, but I can confirm that Fujimoto Mamoru's name was his last birth name. Even that name does not exist in the Mortal Compendium, Lord Eiji. I augmented the mortal's surrounding his death myself. He existed."
Eiji leaned backward in thought. This was highly unusual, as all names were recorded at birth with their lives documented thereafter. These files served as evidence to the court at the soul's trial. Each soul had a trail through those records to track its karma, but if the names themselves could not be found, how else could one track down a soul's path of reincarnation? Even lost souls had files to reference. In all his years in Meido, he had never encountered such a phenomenon. There had to be something they were missing.
"I will see what I could do about finding these lost names for you. Perhaps I can use some of my own power to uncover this interesting lapse in documentation," Eiji spoke up after a brief pause. As unsettling as the circumstances were, the challenge of something new was welcome for the noble. Things had run smoothly, for the most part, since he created the shinigami division, so discovering a loose end after all this time impressed him.
"For now, I would encourage you to explore your new source of information through the network of trees. Kodama are gentle and generous. I believe they will work diligently on your behalf. Was there anything else you wished to discuss?"
"The knowledge Kazuki gathered about this clan called the White Wolves, I doubt that the kodama can learn much on their side of the Veil. Is there any guidance you can offer me on investigating the Spirit Realm, my lord?"
"The Spirit Realm is outside your jurisdiction to search, and your charter would not protect you from the effects of that plane. Until a new source is located, you will have to rely on the kodama to give you what they can. There is a power at work there that influences spirits and yokai alike. I will research a means to secure such a source for you. My mother might be about to help us finally."
Yoko gaped at the mentioning of the bosatsu. While she had never encountered the goddess, Lord Prince Eiji's mother had a reputation as the healing aura to the Great King Enma's rage. Her power and influence were legendary across time, so the idea that she might offer assistance could be a game-changer. Originally, she had withheld her aide since the crime was unheard of in Tendou, but with a third party, perhaps she could finally step forward.
"I would be honored to accept help from the Merciful Goddess," Yoko bowed low as she finally found her voice. "For now, I will return to work. I'm certain Ono will have questions for me, but I want to check in with the tennin and Mr. Kazuki. After leaving them to clean up after the oni, I did not have a chance to ask about Mr. Kazuki's injury."
"Then by all means," Eiji waved a hand in dismissal, "do not let me keep you. Please extend the gratitude of myself and my mother to Mr. Kazuki though. His offer to help has been most advantageous. Until next time, Yoko, be well."
The door behind Yoko opened behind her as she rose. Smiling with a youthful gleam in her eye, the shinigami took in the paternal aura a moment before turning to leave. As much as she preferred her professional approach to her work, Lord Prince Eiji's encouragement gave her a strength she had only known once in her life, and it had changed her forever.