Night had fallen over Tokyo. Without the sun's rays, the light in Midori Kimura's bedroom was eerie and shifting, cast only by six tall, slender white candles placed at the corners of a hexagram, the six-pointed Star of David within a circle. On one side of the magical circle knelt Subaru Sumeragi, his attitude almost prayerful as he chanted softly. Opposite him Midori waited, also kneeling, her lack of faith and her fear obvious in her expression.
She was not the only worried one. Subaru had told Midori that he thought her troubles could be solved tonight, and he was wondering whether he could make good on his promise. He had not meant only the exorcism of the haunting spirit, but some kind of resolution to her deeper problems.
He was sure that it was possible.
He had to be right.
Because lives depended on it.
What worried Subaru was that even if his beliefs were correct, that would not in and of itself be enough. The outcome would still depend on his skills?
What if they were not enough?
He had been casting the spell for over an hour; now, he stopped chanting and raised his head.
Subaru could sense the barrier that he had set up around the room earlier in the day. It was battered and frayed, almost gone, eaten away by the spirit from the outside, devoured from within by Midori's guilt and desire not to be protected. Now, Subaru brought it down entirely.
The poltergeist came raging into the room, its anger modified by its time spent forcibly away from its victim. The window cracked, the blinds rattled, small objects shook wherever they sat. The explosion of swirling death was about to come.
Subaru defiantly snapped out one word.
The hexagram blazed into light. The candle flames lashed upwards, becoming bars of fire reaching to the ceiling. A wordless howl filled the room, but the shaking subsided; objects settled harmlessly back into their places.
Subaru's prison was working. By setting it in advance, he had been able to overcome the poltergeist's intangible nature that made it nearly impossible to sense and confront it. It was a relatively weak spirit; he thought that he could hold it like this for some time.
Immediately, Subaru began intoning his next spell, one he had used in many other circumstances, to banish the spirit's threatening nature and allow him to reach the person beneath. So often, ghosts returned in forms like this one that reflected their purpose in returning to the living world but not their complete identity, forms that drowned out their true selves.
The narrow colums of fire began to tremble. The poltergeist was trying to fight its way past the seal. There was a shimmer in the air, though; Subaru's incantation was beginning to strip away the ghost's invisibility and intangibility. The shimmer grew, taking on form and color.
The circle's light began to fade.
The transluscent image of a slender man took shape.
The candle flames guttered out.
"Keiji!" Midori screamed.
"Midori? What...what is this?"
Midori buried her face in her hands, weeping.
"Oh, it's true," she sobbed out. "He despises me now. Just as I thought, his spirit has come back to revenge itself on me. Oh, Keiji..."
"But that's not true, Midori-san!" protested Subaru. "Please, tell her , Keiji-san!"
The shadowy form of Keiji Kimura knelt next to his wife.
"Midori, how can you think that?" he said. "I could never hate you."
"Then why are you haunting me?" Midori asked, her voice choked with sobs.
"You called him to you," Subaru explained softly.
Comprehension shone in Keiji's face.
"Yes...I...I remember feeling the injustice of my death, wanting to punish my killer, sensing her guilt..." The outline of his form began to shimmer and break up; as he focused on his emotions he was beginning to revert to the poltergeist.
"You were confused," Subaru quickly put in to head off the transformation, "by Midori-san's feelings. Her love for you was so great, and her pain at losing you so deep, that she believed that your death was her fault. It was her guilt that you sensed, her false beliefs that brought you here."
For the first time, Subaru thought he saw hope in Midori's eyes.
"How can you say that?" Midori pleaded with him. "How can you be sure?"
Subaru touched the small bandage on his cheek that covered where the shard of flying glass had cut him.
"He refused to hurt you, Midori-san."
It really was that simple.
"No matter how clouded his reason was by the nature of the poltergeist, no matter how much your guilt drove him on, he would not harm you. A ghost driven by revenge could not hold back from attacking its killer."
"Then someone else is responsible!" Keiji suddenly reasoned, and once again his image began to shimmer as he rose to his feet.
"No!" Subaru and Midori shouted as one, not denying his statement but his intentions.
"Please, Keiji, don't!"
"Don't do this thing!"
"Please, Keiji-san. Your wife loved you as a kind and honest man. Don't make here remember you as a killer."
Keiji turned to Midori, who rose to face him.
"Subaru is right, dearest. This hatred isn't the man I knew..."
He put his arms around the beautiful young woman.
"You are right, both of you." He looked at Subaru. "Thank you, young man, for helping me to find myself when I was lost." Turning back to Midori, he concluded, "And thank you, Midori, for letting me love you for the short time we had together..."
He was fading again, but without the shimmer; he was not transforming, but only going away. Without the craving for revenge, nothing was left to bind Keiji's soul in this world.
"I love you so much, Keiji."
"I wish that I could stay and protect you, Midori..."
Keiji smiled; he had nearly faded away.
Then, he was gone.
Midori had begun to cry again, tears streaming freely from her eyes.
This time, though, she was smiling.
Subaru was smiling too.
-X X X-
Ayaka Sato was gritting her teeth as she pulled herself into the center of the room. She wasn't used to getting about on one leg yet, but then, she had no reason to go anywhere.
Certainly, she was absolutely not going out this evening.
Her eyes flickered around the main room of her small apartment. Doors and windows were sealed with parchment strips marked with cabalistic symbols; similar strips were placed on the walls at regular points. She was as ready as she could be.
It was still going to hurt.
A shadow caught the corner of her eye. Ayaka snapped her head around.
"Well," Seishiro commented amiably, "as I thought, you're not a complete amateur."
"How did you get in here?" Ayaka spat at him.
Seishiro ignored her question.
"Your spell was badly miscast, of course. I sensed it at once, the moment it struck. So did Subaru-kun; he knew at once that you caused Midori's car to crash." He chuckled softly. "Of course, Subaru-kun was far more interested in freeing poor Midori and Keiji from their little tragedy than in punishing you for your crime. He'll be here soon, though. The Sumeragi clan is, after all, responsible for protecting Japan from those who kill using magic."
He slipped off his glasses.
"It would be interesting to see what he decides to do with you."
"Damn you!" Ayaka swung the tip of her crutch at Seishiro's head, but he stepped out of the way with negligent ease. Off-balance, she tumbled to the carpet.
"Still, I really don't think he should be forced to choose between killing you and letting a murderer go. It's far too harsh a choice for a young man to face."
Ayaka got to her knees, her mouth twisted into a feral, snarling expression.
"I see that you know enough to prepare for the backlash from your spell." His eyes took in the various protections designed to stave off that force. "A spell full of so many mistakes, of lethal power, must create a tremendous reaction. Far too much for such weak wards. I noticed right away, of course, that your crutch was new."
Seishiro smiled, a very different expression than his usual kind look.
"Hokuto-chan would call it poetic justice, I think."
A rustle behind her made Ayaka turn her head. With mounting horror, she saw the slip of parchment with her protective charm sealing the door flutter down to the floor. Looking around the room, she saw the other seven charms falling away as well.
Leaving her defenseless.
She looked for Seishiro, but he was no longer there.
When the end came, Ayaka was wrapped in a fetal position, weeping not from regret, but for lost opportunities.
-X X X-
"So when I got there, she was already dead. The backlash from the spell she cast this afternoon had killed her." Subaru sighed glumly. "Perhaps it is for the best, but I wish that there was something I could have done for her."
Hokuto, perched on the edge of the table, shook her head.
"You never met her, Subaru. I don't think that she was sane."
Seishiro nodded. He was busy at the stove, working on the trio's late dinner ("After all," Hokuto had said, "if you're going to marry Subaru, you'll need all the practice at cooking you can get, Sei-chan!").
"I think that Hokuto-chan is right. Miss Sato had no reason to believe that we suspected her of anything, and yet she tried to kill us."
"She didn't even realize that I wasn't with Sei-chan anymore when her spell finally caught up to him! I think," Hokuto added, "that it was the pain of knowing that she was responsible for Keiji's death that caused it."
She tapped her finger against her lip.
"Then again, maybe not. She was certainly much less sorry about it than Midori was."
"Her grief was weak enough that a vengeful ghost was decoyed away from her," Subaru mused. "I doubt we'll ever really know what drove her over the edge."
Hokuto nodded in agreement.
Seishiro turned off the stove and began dishing out the yakisoba he had been preparing.
"There's one thing that I don't quite understand," Hokuto said, swinging her legs idly.
"Well, Ayaka originally wanted to kill Midori in revenge for 'stealing' Keiji from her, right, Subaru?"
"That's right," her brother agreed before tasting his first bite. "Seishiro-san, this is really good!"
"Oh, do you think so? I'm really not very good; simple dishes are all that I can make," Seishiro accepted the compliment graciously.
Hokuto got down off the table, making room so that Seishiro didn't have to eat while standing up.
"Well, what I don't see is why she tried a method of murder that was as likely to kill the passenger in the car as Midori."
Subaru thought about that for a moment. It was odd, he reflected, how he had gone through this entire case without ever meeting the one who had been ultimately responsible. He wondered if that affected his perspective, made him miss things going on under the surface.
"I'm not really sure, Hokuto-chan. Ayaka certainly wasn't a very talented onmyouji. She was just an angry girl who had read a few books. She might not have known anything else to try. Or, she might have wanted to create an accident, instead of an obviously unusual death. She couldn't hope to win Keiji-san back," Subaru reasoned, "if he thought--regardless of what legal action might be possible--that she might have been involved with Midori-san's death."
"That's quite good thinking, Subaru-kun," Seishiro commented. "There's something else, though, I think."
"What?" Hokuto asked eagerly. "Don't keep us in suspense, Sei-chan!"
"Stupidity. Or perhaps arrogance would would be a better way to express it."
Hokuto didn't understand and had no qualms about saying so.
"She cast her spell so that it would make a particular person's car lose control whenever that person drove near to a dangerous area," Seishiro explained between mouthfuls. "It made Midori's car crash and would have done the same thing to Subaru and me if it hadn't been an easy spell for even a modest practitioner to break."
"So how does that make her stupid?"
"I'd think that a defender of womanhood like yourself would get it at once," he teased.
"Ohhh, Sei-chan! Tell me!"
Seishiro chuckled softly.
"Oh, all right, but only because it would be mean to keep teasing my future big sister-in-law."
Subaru dropped his eyes to his plate. Really, he thought, those two were incorrigible!
"It never occurred to her that Keiji would let his wife drive him anywhere."
"That's right!" Hokuto exclaimed. "In a mixed party, it's expected that the man will drive!" She cackled. "What a poor example of womanhood, to have her plans fail because she underestimated her own sex!"
"People in love often don't think clearly," Seishiro said.
He smiled again, that slight curve of the lips that made him look as if he knew a secret that no one else did.
"That's why all of the great love stories are tragedies."
"Subaru!" chided Hokuto. "Don't just stare at Sei-chan; your noodles are getting cold!"