The Guardian Reaper
Before he could inquire further, all three of them looked up at another knock at the gate. Karura groaned as he stood to check on the newest visitor. Akiko frowned. That was two visitors first thing in the morning. She watched her father walk out before crawling to the doorway of the room to peek around the corner.
"Were you expecting someone today?" Kazuki asked, innocently. "I'm sorry for intruding. You're missing school today, too."
"You did me a service," she replied, staring at the front door. "I've lived through high school more times than I can count. One day away isn't going to deprive me on a test. I stay average on purpose anyway."
"Ever wonder how you would fair if you actually tried?"
"I'd be top of the class. Duh."
Kazuki snorted loudly at her answer. She didn't look back, but a smirk curled on her lips at the reaction. It was nice to know that he still found her personality amusing. He had told her once that he might fall for her if she stayed so stubborn. Oh, how she had hung on those words like a dumb kid. Still did a bit...
"To what do we owe this visit?" Karura's voice reached them as he opened the front door.
"Ah shit..." Akiko moaned as the visitor came into view beside her father.
"What's wrong?" Kazuki asked, suddenly hovering over her to see the guest.
"Hey...! What do you think you're doing?!" Akiko griped in a hoarse whisper.
"I came to check in with you," a feminine voice answered Karura's question. "There's been some movement I wanted to discuss."
Kazuki and Akiko looked at the mature woman slipping off her pumps at the front door. Karura was hanging her brown blazer on their coat rack. Kazuki noted that Akiko looked less than pleased to see her.
"Akiko," the woman sounded surprised to see her, "is school not in session today?"
"I'm taking the day."
"Karura," the woman glanced back at the tennin, "not drawing attention is essential to your security. What reason does she have to stay home?"
"I can speak for myself, Yoko! Someone came to visit that I actually wanted to see, so that's why I'm home. What reason are you here other than to deliver bad news?"
"Akiko, please." Karura made a sympathetic expression at his daughter. "Yoko is only looking out for your safety."
"Yeah, well the last time she moved my school landed me less than a decade from my last graduation. I'm still pissed at all the 'don't I know you's and 'have we met before's. I had to swipe the yearbooks for two months!"
Kazuki stared down at her as she wiggled out from underneath him. This must be the shinigami that helped them stay hidden. She seemed more collected than Akiko made her sound. The woman was holding a black portfolio in her left arm. Her thumb was tapping it as her sapphire eyes glared back at him. He waved sheepishly, slipping back inside.
"Who was that, Karura? Was that the visitor Akiko spoke of?"
"Yes," he replied, curiosity peaked by her question, "is there something wrong?"
"He came through the barrier without incident?"
"Yes, I watched him myself. Why?"
"I sense a strange energy from him," Yoko replied, flatly. "There is little point in warning you if he is already inside your home, but I must stress your need for discretion. We haven't cleared him with Lord Eiji."
"I trust him, Yoko," Karura said in a stern tone. "He means Akiko no harm. I would trust him with both our lives."
"Your trust is exactly what your enemy desires. Might I point out your wife's murderer could have been someone you trusted? Who else could have violated the shrine?"
Karura quieted, having nothing to counter her argument. His eyes glazed over at the thought of betrayal from someone close to them. It had been a possible theory from the beginning, but the idea didn't sit right with him, as if his instincts rejected it. The shinigami waited a moment to see if he would speak, but when he closed his eyes, waving her into the house, she walked toward the tatami room.
"I had come to discuss business," Yoko said at the entryway, "but I suppose it can wait until your guest leaves."
Kazuki glanced up at the woman with a casual grin. The shinigami stared back flatly. It bothered her that someone she had not cleared was with them unattended. What reason did Karura have to trust him?
"Whatever you had to say to Dad, you can say to us," Akiko crossed her arms defiantly, sitting back at the kotatsu. "He does tell me everything, and Kazuki is here to help. He's a lot more effective than you and the rest of Meido have been."
"Aki-chan," Kazuki said softly, "don't be so harsh. I'm sure they're doing everything they can for you and your father. It's not easy doing their job."
"How knowledgeable for a mortal," Yoko spoke up from where she stood in the doorway. His aura wasn't threatening, but something was not right about it. What were her instincts telling her? "You must be Mr. Kazuki. I am Takahashi Yoko. What job is it you think I do exactly?"
"Well," Kazuki turned his head toward the shinigami with a smile, "I'm sure there's a lot I don't know, but shinigami ensure that life flows as it is intended. You shepherd the wandering dead to the court of the king of Meido, so they can stand trial and pass onto their next stage of existence. At least, that's what I've heard. Akiko told me you were a shinigami though."
"Did she now?" Yoko made an irritable expression as the shadow beneath her feet shifted about.
"Yoko, please sit." Karura opened the door the rest of the way, trying to coax her to enter. "If you have an issue with Kazuki, then investigate him if you like. I told you that he has earned my trust."
"Thank you, Karura."
Akiko glanced at the mortal in the room. He sounded relieved to hear her father's words. Yoko could be a bitch all she wanted, but Kazuki was a good soul. Staring so obviously in his direction drew his attention though.
"You were about to tell me what it is you're hiding from," he said, trying to pull her back from her daydreaming. "Is that something your friend here objects to?"
"I would object to any person with an aura of your nature being anywhere near these tennin, but," Yoko said as she took a seat at the kotatsu, "they seem to be relaxing their guard. That leaves me to ask who you are and why you are here."
"Oh, I originally was only here to pick up some items they were looking after for me," he replied without any sign of being intimidated. "Akiko remembered me though, so we were catching up. I was just offering my help when you knocked on the gate."
"The bokken and seeds I have been keeping," Karura replied as he returned to his place at the table.
"I thought those belong to the detective that died when that oni abducted Akiko?"
"Yep, those would be mine."
Yoko glanced back with a hint of anxiety. She had cleaned up that whole situation. The soul of the man was long gone when she had arrived, but a very distinct detail about the human had stood out to her. Perhaps she could clarify it now.
"The human that died was a police detective name Fujimoto Mamoru. He had no family left and no ties to spiritualists in his bloodline. Still, his right hand was bloodied, and Demon's Blood resin was present in his bloodstream." The shinigami narrowed her eyes in the young man's direction. "What would you know about that, Mr. Kazuki?"
The black eyes blinked blankly back at the shinigami. Karura looked back at Kazuki, curious to know the answer as well. Akiko looked confused, but she figured Kazuki would explain himself. With all eyes on him, he sighed heavily in defeat.
"Shinigami sure are nosy when you don't want them to be," he said with a light laugh. "Look, if you think I'm some kind of dark, Taoist sorcerer or an evil priest, I'll clear that up right now. I'm just a soul with collected knowledge of my past lives. I have studied spiritualism and exorcism before and have fought less than pleasant beings in multiple lifetimes. I picked up skills and tricks along the way to help those that don't know how to protect themselves. That's all, Miss Takahashi."
"Then your bokken and seeds are tools you use to fight?" Akiko sounded excited at the thought of a mortal fighting monsters for the sake of the innocent. It was something she might read in some young adult novel from the library these days. If people like that really existed, she might have a shot at getting her life back.
"Yep," Kazuki nodded in the tennyo's direction, "I see things most people don't because my soul is so old. I'm not the type that can sit by and let things happen to people. I try to be better than that."
"Then we could use your skill," Karura said with a tired smile. "Was there anything else you wanted to ask, Yoko?"
"No, but I will be checking into who you are, Mr. Kazuki." Yoko tucked a stray strand of chestnut-colored hair behind her ear, signaling she was ready to move on. "It might not matter much though, considering we intend to move you both this week."
"What?!" Akiko cried, whipping her head around to look at the shinigami. Slamming her palms on the tabletop, she glared down from her vantage point, rising to her knees. "Why are we moving?!"
"I told your father there has been some movement that concerned us. We think the enemy has sniffed you out again. There have been some deaths in this area that were not destined, and the victims were similar in appearance to you, Akiko. The shinigami of this area believe oni are responsible, based on the inflicted wounds and testimony of the souls, so to avoid any interaction, we are moving you to Hokkaido."
"No," Akiko whispered as she slumped to the floor again.
"Akiko, why?" Karura asked with concern. "You have never protested moving before."
"People might be dying because of me, Dad," she replied in a serious voice, weighed down with guilt. "Kazuki helped us last time, so maybe we can figure out how to get rid of them again. I mean..." Her purple gaze shifted toward their new ally before she continued. "I'm sure we can find a way to stop them without Kazuki dying this time."
"My priority is your family's protection, Akiko," Yoko said flatly. "The oni in this jurisdiction are not our responsibility. Let the shinigami here deal with them. Remove the target, and the predators should leave."
"I don't want to leave."
Akiko stared at the tabletop. Of course, she didn't want to move away. Kazuki had just moved there, so they could see each other whenever they wanted. Yoko would show up as soon as he got there to tell them to get out of town. As foolish as it was to imagine Kazuki could become more than just her confidant, it was comforting to have someone that knew the real her. Was it so much to want companionship other than her father?
"How long can we wait?"
"Excuse me?" Yoko raised an eyebrow at Kazuki's question.
"How long can we hold off on this move to settle the oni problem? Was that a hard question, miss?"
Kazuki was smiling back at the shinigami. He didn't seem bothered by her disapproving gaze. The confidence was surprising, since mortals normally were overwhelmed by the other realms. If he truly was just an old soul full of memories, he could have crossed her kind a time or two. It didn't alleviate her intuitive sense that he was not what he appeared to be, but for now, she would listen to what he had to say.
"Not difficult," Yoko replied, trying not to sound disinterested. "I just see little reason to wait on an oni to slit their throats. What are you offering, Mr. Kazuki?"
"I mentioned that I don't like to sit by and watch innocent people get hurt. If you give me some time, I can try to handle the oni attacking the young women in town. It would be beneficial to you, the tennin, and the shinigami assigned here. What do you say? How long can you give me?"
Karura glanced between them a moment. After seeing Kazuki's ability with one oni, he could only imagine what he planned for several. With his mystic knowledge, he might be able to bolster the mortal's efforts. If it would make Akiko smile, he would try to keep the one friend they had found in their alienated lives.
"I can give you the remainder of the week, but it would make moving them rushed. Is that something you can do with little to go on?"
"The rest of the week is generous of you, Miss Takahashi," Kazuki replied. His right hand went behind his ear as he smiled. Karura and Akiko both noticed this time, and the gesture made them grin along with him.
"I suppose I'd be on my own, since you don't trust me just yet. Honestly, if you really need to, look me up. My name in this life is Suzuki Takashi. You can trace my death record from there, right?"
"We shall see." Yoko opened her portfolio, drawing a fountain pen from within. She wrote down a brief note on a blank page, pausing for a moment. Her sapphire eyes widened slightly. "It seems your request has been approved. A shinigami is willing to meet with you this evening at your residence."
"Wow! That went smoother than I thought!" Kazuki laughed at her response. "I see you still use that paper to communicate with the home office. I haven't seen one of those since they were in scrolls though."
"That was some time ago." Yoko retorted. How did he know so much about her job? It was strange to hear those details from a mortal, but he wasn't exactly a typical mortal.
"Karura, I would like to speak to you about something alone though. Could we have a moment, Akiko? I assure you it is nothing intended to be hidden from you."
"Want to take a walk, Aki-chan?"
"I guess..." Akiko groaned before standing to her feet. "Just don't try to ask Dad out. I don't want you for a stepmom."
Kazuki snorted as he rolled to his feet. Karura rolled his eyes as his daughter walked passed the shinigami. Yoko closed her eyes, as if ignoring the comment. When the two had left, there was a pause as they waited to hear the front door close.
"What is it, Yoko?"
"It's about Akiko's power," she replied in a grim tone. "Has she had any success tapping into it?" Karura looked sadly at his hands in his lap. "I will assume that means she has not. Do you still believe it will awaken?"
"I do. She just has to find a reason to sing."
"Then might I make a suggestion..."