Your Name is Angels Whispering
Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! This was partially inspired by the prompt Cemetery/Mausoleum at Paranormal25, as well as by a graveyard game available online. I did not intend for this to happen, but once I began this fic, it decided it wanted to be part of the mini-saga I've been doing with the ficlits I Guess It Doesn't Matter Anymore and Your Presence Still Lingers. I was not going to continue that timeline beyond that second installment. The story had other ideas, but I'm glad, because the twist that happened because of its insistence gave this a lot of depth. Thanks to Kaze for plot help!
Of all the places Ahiru could be late at night on a Monday—or any day—the location she wanted to be at the least was the Kinkan Cemetery. Centuries old and surrounded by a cast-iron gate, it was filled with gnarled trees, leaning and toppling headstones, and family mausoleums. Ahiru never walked past it if she could at all help it.
Piké and Lilie's horror stories about the old graveyard did not help in the least.
"They say that the restless spirits of those who died before their time wander the rows of headstones, looking for the way back to our realm," Piké intoned, her face twisted in a grotesque manner as she loomed over Ahiru with clawed and waving fingers.
"And the tombstones themselves get up and move," Lilie added, her expression and actions a mirror of Piké's.
Ahiru cringed and cowered over the barre in horror. "Why do we have to talk about scary things?!" she protested.
"Because tonight is the night when you're sure to see them," Lilie said. "One of the stories even says that once every hundred years, one soul deserving of life has it restored to them."
"And everyone's saying this is the year," Piké said. She had sobered a bit now, looking to Ahiru with sympathy. She knew what this would make the girl think of. And if some part of her did not wonder if there was some level of truth to the tales, she would not have even gone along with Lilie mentioning it.
Ahiru stiffened, her eyes widening. "W-what?" she gasped.
"But there's one condition to it," Lilie cooed, placing her hands on Ahiru's cheeks. "Someone who has a deceased loved one has to go to the cemetery to get them out! They won't even know if their loved one has been chosen if they don't go."
Ahiru stared at her. "This is really true?!" she exclaimed.
"Well, there's only one way to find out," Lilie said. "You have to go there tonight and see! And other people will be there too, hoping their loved ones will be picked!"
Ahiru swallowed hard. She wanted to believe, but it seemed too fantastic to possibly be true. "So many people will end up disappointed, even if someone is chosen," she mumbled.
"Oh I know!" Lilie said. "But don't worry, Ahiru; if your music student doesn't come back, we'll be here to comfort you!"
Ahiru flinched and pulled away from her. The last thing she wanted, if she could not have her wish, was to come back to Lilie's joyous delight over her being in need of comfort. Ever since Autor's tragic death rescuing a child from a runaway carriage, she had found herself growing more distant from the two girls. Piké, more mature than Lilie by far, had offered a listening ear if Ahiru wanted to talk, but Ahiru had thought it would be too awkward and only cause more problems if she tried to get away somewhere to talk with Piké and not Lilie too. Lilie would be sure to find out, after all, and Ahiru did not feel like dealing with the discomfort that would result.
"Um . . . I just remembered something else I need to do," she said, and hurried off to change before either of the others could protest.
"Oh yes, Ahiru!" she heard Lilie call after her. "You need to always do your best, even though you'll still fail!"
Ahiru gritted her teeth, fighting to hold back the tears that were threatening to fall. For the umpteenth time, she was grateful she no longer boarded at the academy and instead lived at Charon's with him and Fakir.
Even though being with Fakir since Autor's death had not been easy, either. Fakir being Fakir, and having had a very awkward friendship with Autor, he had not known how to deal with the other boy's demise. For weeks he had closed himself off, barely even speaking to Ahiru and growing more and more distressed over the rumors of Autor's ghost lingering at the campus and at his house. Neither he or Ahiru had been able to make contact with their friend, and it had bothered Fakir to no end.
Ahiru's pace slowed to a walk. Only recently had Fakir come home with a completely blank, numb look in his eyes that had greatly alarmed Ahiru and Charon. He had uttered the words "He's really gone," in explanation before wandering up to his room and shutting the door. But starting the following morning, he had seemed to have finally begun to accept Autor's passage from the mortal world. He had told Ahiru and Charon that he had gone to Autor's house and had managed to get inside, but it was empty. There was no ghost. Perhaps there never had been.
"You were given a rare gift, Fakir," Charon had told him in a quiet, grave tone. "Autor appeared to you after his death as his farewell."
"I still wish I'd known he was dead," Fakir had growled. "But I'm going to try to accept what is and move on. I'm tired of living this way."
And Ahiru had embraced him, crying tears of relief and joy. She would not have to lose Fakir as well as Autor.
Ahiru bit her lip. She could not tell Fakir about the cemetery legend; it would only open up a wound that was trying so hard to heal. But at the same time, she could not ignore what she had been told. Somehow, she would have to sneak out of the house that night without anyone noticing. Even if it was a myth with no basis in truth, she had to know.
Because . . . if it was true, there was still a chance for a miracle she had prayed for in vain so long—fulfilled in a way she had never dreamed possible.
The evening passed like any other. She and Fakir went home, had dinner, and helped Charon around the shop for a while before it was time for bed. Ahiru scampered up the stairs and to Raetsel's old room with a smile and a wave. "Goodnight!" she called before vanishing inside and pulling the door after her.
She sighed as she leaned against the closed door. The hardest part would be waiting until she could leave, and making it look like she was asleep until then. She could not make any noise or give any indication of a light being on.
I'm sorry, Fakir, she thought to herself. I hope you'll understand when it's all over.
Of course, if everything went according to plan, Fakir would never even know any of this unless Autor really was allowed to return.
But as Ahiru had long ago started to realize, very rarely did anything go according to plan.
Fakir stood at the bottom of the stairs, frowning towards the attic rooms with crossed arms. "She always has been terrible at acting," he growled.
Charon sighed, shaking his head. "What do you think she's up to?" he said.
"I don't know," Fakir said. He hesitated before speaking again. "I know what I hope she's not up to." He turned to look at his adopted father, his green eyes serious and dark. "They're saying this is the year that one worthy soul is allowed to come back from the afterlife and live again."
Charon stiffened. "And you think Ahiru may have heard about it," he said.
Fakir nodded. "There were whispers about it in school today," he said. "She didn't bring it up, so I didn't either. If she hadn't heard about it, I didn't want to be the one responsible for letting her know." He glared at the opposite wall. "You know what would happen if she did hear about it. She wouldn't be able to resist going to the cemetery to see if it would come true. And then she'd just get hurt."
Charon was silent, reverting his attention to the tool he was cleaning. Recognizing the lack of response for what it was, Fakir whirled to stare at him.
"You don't think there's any truth to the legend," he exclaimed.
Charon gazed at the instrument in his hands. ". . . If I'd truly believed in the legend of the Prince and the Raven, I never would have told you that you were the knight reborn," he said. "But look what happened." He turned, his expression serious. "Can we really afford to dismiss any legends as nonsense anymore?"
Fakir's eyes widened. "But . . ." he tried to protest, "it's not possible for . . ." He shook his head. It had been possible for a story to come to life, for a prince to shatter his heart to seal a monstrous beast, for a knight to be reborn as an average human—the descendent of the writer of the story, no less!
And it had been possible for a little duck to become a girl and change a certain tragedy because of her precious gift of hope.
He averted his gaze. Charon had driven his point home. ". . . Even if the story is true, only one person can come back," he said, his voice growing gruff. "What chance is there of it really being Autor?"
"Well . . ." Charon continued to look at the conflicted boy. "There's only one way to know for certain."
For a long moment Fakir did nothing. Then at last he raised his eyes to meet Charon's and gave a barely perceptible nod.
The house seemed to be in quiet darkness when Ahiru was ready to depart. She eased the door open, wincing in alarm as it gave a creak of announcement. For a moment she froze, waiting to see if anyone would appear demanding to know what was going on. Her heart raced, pounding in her ears. But when nothing happened, she breathed a sigh of relief and slipped into the hall. Walking on her tiptoes, she crept down the stairs to the first floor.
And without warning, the light flipped on.
Ahiru jumped back, her eyes wide in alarmed surprise. "Quack!" she cried, even as Fakir grabbed her arm.
"You're going, aren't you," Fakir greeted.
Ahiru stared at him with an obvious, deer in the headlights expression. "Going?" she said. She tried to laugh. "What are you talking about, Fakir? I was just hungry, so I thought I'd get a midnight snack. . . ."
"You heard about the legend of the cemetery," Fakir said, his own visage not changing one bit.
Ahiru flinched. There was no use in pretending. Yet . . . how did Fakir always seem to know what she was up to? She could not seem to hide anything from him.
"I'm sorry!" she exclaimed. "I know there's probably nothing to it, so I wasn't going to tell you and get you upset. I was just going to go and see and then come back and try not to wake you or Charon . . ."
"I'll come with you," Fakir interrupted.
Ahiru, her mouth open to continue her ramble, now gaped at him. Had she heard right? Fakir was not going to try stopping her? He would support her and even join her on what was likely to be a futile quest?
Fakir let go of her arm. "I knew it would be pointless to argue about it," he said, shoving his hands in his pockets. "You'd just end up going anyway, so why bother wasting the time and energy?"
Gradually Ahiru began to come back to her senses. "You really mean it, Fakir?!" she said, still in a bit of awe.
Fakir grunted, looking uncomfortable. "That's basically what I just said, isn't it?" he retorted. He turned to the door. "Just don't get too disappointed if nothing happens."
Ahiru nodded. "I won't!" she said, hurrying after him.
Fakir caught sight of her bright face, then looked away. He did not want to see those blue eyes fill with tears if Autor did not return. Part of him still wanted to call off this whole thing. But he knew he was right; it would be pointless. Ahiru would go anyway. He might as well go along. He would much prefer being there and knowing what was happening, especially when otherwise he would just be pacing around the house and getting nothing accomplished.
"Thank you, Fakir."
He stiffened. "I just know how you hate cemeteries," he said. "If you get scared, you might trip over a headstone or fall in an open mausoleum or something."
"I wouldn't do that!" Ahiru exclaimed. But then in a softer voice she asked, "Fakir . . . do the gravestones really get up and walk?"
Fakir wanted to snort in derision. It sounded ridiculous. But, remembering Charon's counsel, he did not mock. Instead he said only, "I wouldn't know."
Ahiru shivered out of the corner of his eye.
I know I'm going to regret this, he said to himself.
The Kinkan Cemetery was dark and still at first glance, as always. The iron gate was drawn shut and locked. But as Fakir and Ahiru approached, footprints impressed into the grass on the cemetery side of the barrier were visible. People had been climbing over the gate to get inside.
"This is it," Fakir said. "Are you still sure you want to go in there?"
Ahiru looked worried, but she gave a firm nod. "Let's go, Fakir!" she said, marching up to the gate in determination. Taking a deep breath, she gripped two of the cold bars and began to pull herself to the top. Fakir tensed as he watched, grateful that she had thought ahead enough to wear her casual clothes and not her school uniform with its poofy skirt.
Halfway up, her foot slipped and she let out a worried squeak. Fakir braced himself, holding out his arms to catch her. But as she steadied herself and drew herself up the rest of the way, he relaxed. . . .
. . . Only to wince as she arrived at the top and promptly swayed, flailed, and fell over, right into the grass by a grave. She groaned, dazed for the moment.
Fakir hoisted himself up and over the gate in one swift move. "Are you alright?" he frowned, dropping to the grass beside her.
Ahiru gave a weak nod. "Yeah," she said. Suddenly realizing what she was sprawled beside, she gave an "Eek!" and scrambled into a kneeling position.
Fakir looked most unimpressed. "You're going to see a lot of those," he said. "You should prepare yourself for it."
Ahiru smoldered, pulling herself to her feet. But as she stared at the extensive memorial grounds around them, the full weight of what they were here to do crashed back on her shoulders. Her anger vanished, replaced by the desperate hope she had been fighting to keep alive. Autor was buried deep within the cemetery, near a large pine tree. There was a long walk ahead of them.
"Come on, Fakir!" she called, running over the grass.
"Hey!" he exclaimed. With no other choice, he chased after her. "Running in a cemetery is disrespectful to the dead."
Ahiru screeched to a halt. "And that could make ghosts come out?" she quavered.
Fakir sighed as he caught up to her. "I guess anything's possible," he said.
Ahiru swallowed hard and slowed her pace to a walk. Somewhat relieved, Fakir stayed alongside her. But he remained partially tense, glancing in one direction, then the other, as he sought other mortals who might be there. It would not surprise him if some idiots would play pranks, which was another reason he had not wanted Ahiru to come alone. There was no telling what kinds of people she might encounter.
He blinked at her quiet tone. "Huh? What is it?" he asked.
She continued to stare at the ground ahead of them. "If Autor does come back, what do you think you'll say to him?"
Fakir stiffened and looked away, uncomfortable. "I never thought about it," he said, which was completely opposite to the truth. He had thought about it a great deal when he had believed Autor's ghost haunted the academy and his house. "I'd probably yell at him for not telling me he was dead when he showed up before."
Ahiru sighed, staring into the distance. "I'd like to know why he wouldn't talk to us, if that was really him playing the piano and claiming the library at night and stuff," she said, "but I've kinda decided it probably wasn't him at all. He would have talked to us if he could have. Anyway, there's other things I'd want to say to him more." Her voice lowered again. "Like . . . that I missed him. That I hope he'll be able to just stay and not go away any more. I want him to stay."
Fakir was silent. Was he still angry at Autor? Even if he was not, would his pride allow him to confess that he, too, had missed the other boy—much more than he had ever imagined he would?
"Do you think he'd be the same, Fakir?"
Fakir started. "What?" He looked to Ahiru in surprise.
"Well, I mean . . . being gone for so long. Do you think he'd be the same?" Ahiru shifted, looking embarrassed by the question.
Fakir let out a sigh. "You're the one who always said he would still be the same Autor in death as in life," he said.
"I know. But coming back from being dead seems a lot different than being around as a ghost," Ahiru said. "Though . . . I don't know . . . it seems like being a ghost for a long time would change you. It'd be so lonely, not being able to talk to anyone." She shuddered. "I don't think I could stand it."
I don't think I could stand it, either, Fakir thought to himself. If it was you or me.
His expression softened as he looked at her earnest face. "I don't know whether he'd be the same or not," he said. "You're right, he'd probably be somewhat different. Unless he didn't remember being dead at all."
"That'd be even worse!" Ahiru declared. "It'd be so horrible when you were told."
She rounded the next corner. Both she and Fakir had come this way before, at the funeral, and she had tried to overcome her fear of cemeteries to visit at times since. Fakir, on the other hand, had rarely been here after the memorial service, if he had come at all. He followed her lead.
But something felt wrong. Gray wisps and tendrils were beginning to swirl around them, the tombstones, and the trees and grass. That was not supposed to happen. Fakir had never heard of such a thing before, other than in the legends he had never really believed.
"It's getting so misty here," Ahiru said, staring at the growing fog in horror.
Fakir frowned at it. Somewhere in the distance, vague voices seemed to be reacting to it in uneasy surprise as well. He reached out, taking Ahiru's wrist. "Don't wander off," he warned.
"I don't want to!" Ahiru exclaimed, cringing as the fog thickened. Was it her imagination or could she see faint fog-shapes beginning to form? She whimpered, clutching Fakir's arm.
"It's probably just the other people," Fakir said, though he looked and sounded tense.
"It doesn't look like people!" Ahiru wailed, as what looked like a clawed hand sliced through the air in their direction. She shrieked, pulling Fakir with her as she ran ahead.
"Hey!" Fakir yelled, again with no choice but to run as well. He glowered at the mysterious hand as it vanished into the mists, somewhat grateful that he had brought his sword. Yet on the other hand, would his sword have any effect on the enemies they might find in here?
Ahiru screeched to a halt, nearly causing Fakir to stumble and crash into her. She looked around wildly, her eyes wide as it dawned on her where they were.
"That voice," she whispered. "Is it really . . ."
Fakir looked around as well, his blood running chill.
The mist parted just enough to reveal a teenage boy sitting atop a nearby gravestone. He smirked at the two of them, pulling back his ruffled sleeve to check his wristwatch. "I've been here for twenty minutes and forty-seven seconds. But I knew you'd come."
Ahiru stared at him, her heart increasing in speed. Was it . . . could this actually be real? Was he more than a spectre? Was he alive?
"Autor?" she breathed, stepping closer to him.
He sobered, looking back to her. "Ahiru. . . ." He glanced over her shoulder. "And Fakir. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that you came too."
Fakir glowered at him, still on guard. He was not ready to believe. He could not believe, not after having suffered so much sorrow and anguish over the other's death. "Can you prove you're really Autor?" he asked.
"I have only my words to offer," Autor said. "And any spirit could impersonate me if they'd observed enough. However, I'm not a spirit. And could something else be revived with my body?"
Ahiru ran forward, unable to keep her emotions back any longer. "Autor!" she cried, throwing her arms around him in a joyous embrace. "Autor, it's really you. You really came back." Tears of joy slipped from her eyes as she held her treasured friend close.
Autor rocked back at the sudden glomp. But then, slowly, he drew his arms around Ahiru in return. He smiled a bit, looking gentle and kind in a way Fakir had never seen from him before.
"I missed you," Ahiru whispered. "So much. . . ."
"I've missed you too," Autor said. Glancing at Fakir he added with a half-smirk, "And even Fakir."
Fakir grunted. "I'm sure," he said.
Ahiru pulled back, looking up at Autor. "Are you really here to stay?"
"Yes," Autor said. Looking to Fakir once more he said, "If we're able to accomplish one task first."
Fakir crossed his arms. "What's that?" he queried, still looking suspicious. Ahiru might be willing and able to accept this here and now, but it would take him a while.
"We have to escape the cemetery," Autor said.
Ahiru stiffened, looking around them at the heavy fog. "Escape?" she squeaked. "It's not as simple as just going to the gate and climbing over?"
"Unfortunately not." Autor sighed. "As I was told, the spirits of those unworthy to ever have the chance to return haunt the cemetery and will try to detain us."
"Wonderful," Fakir growled.
"Your sword won't be any use here," Autor said, looking to the weapon sheathed at Fakir's waist. "But there won't be any time to stop and write us out of this, either." He slid off the gravestone and stood, for a moment looking disoriented. Then he pushed up his glasses with a finger. "We should start now. Potentially, getting out of here could take all night."
"No way!" Ahiru gasped.
"And we can't afford to be separated," Autor cautioned. "The spirits will try to drag us all to the underworld."
Ahiru cringed, but then straightened in determination. "We'll just prove them wrong!" she declared. "Of course we'll get out of here, because that's what we have to do."
"You haven't changed any," Autor commented with a touch of amusement.
"What about you?" Fakir said as they started to walk. "Have you changed?"
Autor was silent for a moment. Then with a smirk, he adjusted his glasses again. "I have to get used to these," he said. "There isn't a need for corrective lenses in the afterlife."
"Yeah, I guess not," Ahiru said. "I never really thought about it before, but it makes sense."
Fakir watched them without speaking. Autor had used that topic as an excuse. He did not want to talk about his experience. Fakir certainly would not push it. But there were still other things he wanted the answer to.
"There were a lot of rumors," he said. "People said your ghost was haunting Kinkan Academy and your house. I saw some weird things a couple of times, too."
Autor shook his head. "I was rarely around," he said. "It was probably someone playing an elaborate trick."
"Maybe," Fakir said in a noncommittal tone.
Ahiru looked to Autor. "But if you were rarely around, doesn't that mean you were around sometimes?" she asked.
"Yes," Autor conceded. "I couldn't communicate. I could only watch." He stared into the distance, not wanting the look in his eyes to be seen. "Usually I was busy, however." He smirked. "Heaven isn't a place to play harps all day. Not that I ever thought that was a particularly logical description. . . ."
"Why did they let you come back?" Fakir countered.
Ahiru turned to stare at him. "Fakir!" she exclaimed.
"It's a logical question," Fakir said, throwing Autor's word right back at him. "If there's so much to get done up there, why would they let you come back here? And if you were supposed to live, why didn't they keep you from dying in the first place?" He clenched a fist at his side.
Autor turned to look at him with an unreadable expression. Then he smirked again, but with a bit of a dark hint to it. "That would have so much easier, wouldn't it?" he said. "It's a shame life—and death—are never that simple."
"It really is, isn't it," Fakir said, the darkness in his tone much more prominent. "What kind of game are they playing? Or is it you playing games—pounding on the piano in the middle of the night, haunting the library . . . kicking the inspectors out of your house one by one until they give up and leave your place alone?"
Ahiru grabbed his arm. "Fakir, don't!" she pleaded.
But he pulled away. He had kept this bottled inside for too long. He had never had the chance to resolve it. And seeing Autor turn up behaving largely the same as ever only brought his patience all the more to a breaking point.
"And let's not forget that you played me for a fool that first night you were dead," he said. "You never let me know the truth. You left me to find it out from Ahiru after I went home. You couldn't even be bothered to let me know it was the end."
"And how was I supposed to do that?" Autor retorted, gaining an edge to his own voice now. "'I'm sorry, Fakir, but your comment about me being lucky your horse wasn't a carriage came a little too late!' Is that what I should have said?"
Fakir flinched. The sheer irony of his remark still haunted him.
"'To be honest, Fakir, you've been playing ferryman to my wandering spirit! You'll find my broken body lying under a carriage somewhere in town.'" Autor's eyes narrowed. "I wouldn't have said that. But I wondered what to say. The words wouldn't come to me."
"How ironic, when normally you can't find any end to your words," Fakir said.
"I did the best I could!" Autor retorted. "I dropped hints. But of course you didn't pick up on them."
"Why would I ever once think you meant you were dead?!" Fakir roared.
Both boys jumped a mile and turned to look at Ahiru. The poor girl was clearly distraught. Her blue eyes were filled with agony and unshed tears as she clenched her fists in front of her.
"Why do you have to fight like this?!" she demanded. "I know you care about each other! Why can't you just talk things out?"
Autor and Fakir looked away, walking in silence for several minutes. At last Autor said, "If we didn't care, it wouldn't be worth getting angry about." He pushed up his glasses. "And don't deny it, Fakir. I know you feel the same."
Fakir gave a grunt of consent, his hands shoved in his pockets.
"I regret what happened," Autor admitted. "Not that I was killed saving that boy, but that I wasn't able to communicate my fate. I regret I was never able to try to comfort either of you. I wasn't trying to be mean, Ahiru."
Ahiru stared at him. "One of the times you were around was when I said that?" she said, stricken. "I didn't mean it, Autor. I really didn't! I . . . I was just so upset wondering why we couldn't talk to you when it seemed like you were around. I always tried to stick up for you and tell Fakir that I knew you wouldn't just ignore us, but deep down I . . ." The tears slipped down her cheeks. "Part of me wondered if Fakir was right. I'm sorry, Autor. I'm so sorry. . . ."
"No," Autor said, looking to her. "You had a right to be angry with me. So does Fakir." He glanced to the other boy, who froze briefly at those words before continuing to walk.
Ahiru looked to Fakir as well, then back to Autor. "You can still patch things up, can't you?" she said, the sadness prevalent in her voice.
Fakir gave a gruff shrug. Autor sighed.
"We'll have to see," he said.
After a moment Fakir looked up. "It really wasn't you playing the piano and kicking the inspectors out of your house?" he said, his voice gruff as well.
"No, it wasn't," Autor said. "But I'll have to thank whoever accomplished the latter. Is the house vacant then?"
"Yeah. You'll probably have a rough time explaining this one to the executor of your estate, though," Fakir said.
"Oh well." Autor smirked again. "It will give me a challenge. I always enjoyed them."
Fakir snorted. "You haven't really changed," he said.
"You certainly haven't," was Autor's only reply.
Ahiru looked uneasily at the scene around them. "The fog's so thick now I can hardly see anything," she said. "Even the gravestones just ahead of us. Not that I want to see the gravestones," she hurriedly added, "but still. . . ."
"It's strange the spirits have been silent so long," Autor frowned. "I wonder if they've held back, enjoying our escalating confrontation."
Fakir did not comment.
Ahiru turned to look at him. "Fakir?" she asked. But then she gasped in horror. "He's gone!" she shrieked. "Autor, he's gone!"
Autor whirled. Ahiru was right; Fakir had been walking on her other side. Now he was nowhere to be found.
"Fakir!" he called, his voice dominated by both exasperation and worry. "Fakir, where are you?"
The only answer was an eerie, indiscernible whisper in the fog. Autor grabbed Ahiru's hand, even as she screamed for Fakir as well.
"We can't afford to be separated too," he said. "Come on, we'll go back and see if we can find him."
Ahiru gave a shaky nod. "Autor?" she quavered. "He'll be alright, won't he?"
Autor hesitated. "We'll hope and pray so," he said.
"Take care of Ahiru, Fakir. And tell Rue . . . no, nevermind.
"I expect you to continue your writing."
Fakir groaned, his fingers curling on the cold ground as consciousness slowly began to return. It was bringing with it the memories of the painful weeks he had wanted to—he had thought—he had put behind him. He gritted his teeth. Right now it was debatable which hurt worse—those images and words or the pounding in his head.
"Autor," he mumbled, "why?"
"Why?" an unsettling voice hissed. "Why what? Why does this Autor concern you so much?"
Fakir started back to full awareness, pulling himself into a sitting position despite the searing agony that ripped behind his eyes. "Who are you?!" he demanded. "What is this place?!" He could not see a thing. It was cold and damp and musty, and when he felt with his hands, he found a heavy wall just behind him.
"This is where I live," the voice said. "I invited you in for a chat."
Fakir glowered in its general direction. "Is this a mausoleum?" he said.
"You're smart," the voice purred. "And yet you're not smart enough to be able to resolve your inner conflicts. How amusing."
"What business is it of yours?" Fakir snapped. He pulled himself to his feet, feeling across the wall. He remembered vaguely now; something had pushed him from behind and he had struck his head on the open door as he had lost his balance and fallen inside. Now the door was shut again. And judging from the tomb's occupant's sense of humor, it was probably locked too.
"I always wondered what it would be like to come back from the dead. Observing the three of you, I realized that it wouldn't be without disagreements. It wouldn't be a perfect reunion."
Fakir looked away. The intensity of the argument had surprised him too, if he was to be honest. But apparently Autor was also not without mental baggage. He was not as fine as he had wanted it to appear. In fact, when Fakir thought of it, he could not remember ever seeing Autor so upset. Derisive of Fakir's temper, Autor had prided himself on being cool-headed.
"Every situation is different," he answered. Finding where it felt like a crack, he threw his weight against the door. But it held fast, much to his frustration.
"Hey!" he yelled, slamming his fists on the wall. "Ahiru! Autor! Are you out there? Get me of here!"
A chill substance took hold of his throat, bringing his cries to an abrupt end. He gasped. The hand, or whatever it was, was starting to squeeze. He could not catch his breath.
"Have you ever heard that where there's a birth, there's also a death?" the voice whispered in his ear.
Fakir stiffened, even as he clawed in desperation with his hands at an enemy he could not defeat.
"I think a resurrection could count as a rebirth. And maybe you, the knight who should have died, should pay the price right now."
Fakir's vision went blank and his eyes began to water. He choked, the cry for air swiftly taking over all other thoughts. He fell back against the door, his hands still struggling to grasp the unseen murderer.
No! he exclaimed in his mind. I will not succumb to this miserable fate now. And I will not pay the price for Autor to live. I will stay alive too. And maybe the two of us can . . .
He trailed off, slamming his body against the door in desperation. It had to open. If it refused, then the others had to hear him. They had to all leave together.
Outside the mausoleum, Autor turned to stare at it. "Did you hear something?" he asked Ahiru.
She nodded. "Fakir's in there!" she burst out, horrified. "I know I heard his voice a minute ago. And now there was that big sound!" Pulling free from Autor, she ran over and pulled on the door. "Fakir!" she called. "Fakir, hang on! We're going to get you out!"
A weak thump was her reply.
Autor ran to her side, gripping the stubborn door with her. "It's stuck," he noted as they tugged in vain. "And why isn't Fakir speaking now if he was a minute ago?"
"Fakir!" Ahiru cried. She was only growing more frightened as the seconds passed. They could not open the door, and if Fakir was not speaking, it must mean he could not for some reason.
"Fakir!" Autor called. "If you can hear us, then push on the door from your side. We'll pull at the same time. Maybe we can get it open if we work together."
He braced himself for the impact. At the moment it came, he and Ahiru pulled with all their might. And at last, miraculously, the door popped open. Ahiru and Autor tumbled backwards, sprawling on the grass. Fakir fell as well, collapsing on his side. He gasped, breathing heavily as he fought to push himself into a kneeling position.
Ahiru scrambled to her own knees. "Fakir!" she exclaimed. "Fakir, what's wrong?! What happened?!"
Fakir coughed and choked, inhaling the precious oxygen. "I . . . the spirit in there tried to strangle me," he said, forcing the words to his lips.
Ahiru cried out in horror. Autor frowned as he walked to them, his visage deeply concerned.
"There's only going to be more incidents like this," he said. "Can you get up, Fakir? We should get away from this site as soon as possible."
Fakir managed a weak nod. After resting for only a scant few seconds, he gulped in more air and then stabbed his sword into the ground. Using it for balance, he pulled himself to his feet. "Let's go," he said. "And not come back."
Ahiru was at his side in an instant. "Are you sure you're okay, Fakir?!" she gasped.
He nodded. "Fine. Come on." Taking a few shaky steps forward, he paused and replaced the sword in its sheath. His vision had cleared now, and with his breath restored to him, he felt he could resume their trek.
He looked to Autor as they made their way far from the mausoleum—and from any others they passed along the way. "I've nearly died more than once now," he muttered. "The feeling right before you're sure you're going under is strange. Any panic you might have felt starts to give way to a feeling of acceptance, once you're sure you can't change it."
Autor hesitated. "I wouldn't know," he admitted. "I don't remember dying." He stared into the distance. "I pushed the child to safety just as I was kicked in the head by one of the rampaging horses. I fell. I remember the pain as they trampled me, but then there was nothing. I didn't have the chance to think. Suddenly I was standing there, watching everything transpire while I was nothing more than a spectator."
Ahiru stared at him, the tears pricking her eyes again as her heart clenched. "That's so horrible!" she said. A shudder ran down her spine at the image Autor had painted of his passage to the next plane.
Fakir hesitated. "Did you know you were dead?" he asked.
Autor hesitated too. "I didn't understand what was happening at first," he said. "I saw the body lying in the road and wondered who had been killed. Then I realized it was me. I tried to reenter, but I was blocked from doing so.
"I was in shock at first. I was wandering the town aimlessly when I stumbled upon you and your horse, Fakir. I wasn't ready to see another of those animals. I panicked, and it panicked to see an apparition, and . . . well, you know what happened next." A grim smirk crossed his features.
Fakir shook his head. "And yet you managed to not even act panicked when we started talking," he said. "Even though you showed some hesitation about getting on the horse."
"I didn't want to show my alarm to you," Autor said. "And I was still trying to grasp exactly what had happened to me. I knew I was dead, but I didn't want to believe it. Maybe . . ." He hesitated. "Maybe that's also why I couldn't bring myself to tell you outright. I hoped that if I didn't say it, I could still somehow find out that it wasn't true."
Ahiru was further sorrowed. "Oh Autor," she said. "I'm so sorry. . . ."
"No, I'm sorry," Autor frowned. "I should have tried to find the words anyway. I wasn't thinking that far ahead.
"It was when I entered my home that I fully realized the truth," he continued. "No matter how much I wanted to deny it, I couldn't. And that was when I was taken to the afterlife. I didn't have a choice in the matter; I was just suddenly there."
Fakir was silent, gazing at the still-heavy fog as he digested what he was being told. Autor had not been trying to hurt him. He never had. He had only longed to not have to accept death as his fate, and that was something Fakir understood well.
"I've been angry at you when I shouldn't have been," he said at last. "I'm the one who should be sorry."
Autor looked at him in surprise. "You don't owe me an apology, Fakir," he said.
"Yeah, I do," Fakir grumbled. "But at the same time . . . I wonder if the person I've really been angry at deep down is myself. I hated that I hadn't realized you were dead. If I'd known, there were things I would have wanted to tell you. I wouldn't have wanted to have left it as it was."
Autor was staring ahead at an ominous shape in the fog. "There'll be time for that when we're safe on the other side of the gate," he said. "Right now we have unwelcome company."
Ahiru froze. "Eh?!" She turned to look, her eyes widening in sheer horror at the rectangular form. "Quack!"
Fakir gawked. It was rapidly moving towards them, and as he trained his small flashlight on it, he was met with a truly alarming sight.
"This is impossible," he breathed.
"Obviously, it isn't!" Autor exclaimed. "We'll debate the logic of a walking tombstone later. For now, run!"
Neither Fakir or Ahiru had any problems heeding that command. They followed Autor's lead, fleeing over the dark grass. And the tombstone lumbered after them in hot pursuit.
"How is it able to move so fast?!" Ahiru wailed. Its clomping, with one bottom corner and then the other, was very audible to all of them. She dared to glance over her shoulder, then wished she had not when she saw how close it was coming. Gritting her teeth, she forced herself to run faster. But her adrenaline rush would not last indefinitely; it would soon wear off when she grew tired—or tripped or something. She soared over a low gravestone with a jeté that would have astounded Neko-Sensei.
"How is it able to move at all?!" Fakir retorted. "Is something controlling it?"
"Why would they make it move so erratically?" Autor countered. "Why not simply have it jump? It would cover more ground much faster."
"Don't give it ideas!" Fakir snarled.
As Ahiru leaped over another gravestone, it leaped too, slamming into her stomach. She let out a horrified cry, crashing to the ground. The wayward headstone sprang, intent on jumping on top of her.
It met with Fakir's shoe before it had the chance. In fury Fakir kicked it across the lawn, while Autor helped Ahiru stand.
"Are you alright?" he asked.
Ahiru could only manage a shaking nod. She held one hand over her stomach, in pain from the harsh blow. "Ow," she hissed.
Fakir looked back to them. "Can you still run?" he demanded. The original tombstone was still pursuing them, and judging from the shapes in the fog, it had been joined by several others.
"I don't know," Ahiru admitted. She really wanted to stretch out on the grass until the pain passed, but of course that would not be possible.
"If we take the rest of them out, maybe they'll return to being normal, inanimate stones," Autor said to Fakir. "The one you kicked hasn't moved."
Fakir narrowed his eyes. "Okay then," he said. "Let's do it."
As the tombstones approached, Fakir lashed out with a sharp kick, then pirouetted into the midst of the things. He smirked as he set off a domino effect, knocking a great deal of the slabs to the grass.
Autor picked up one, relieved to find it completely still in his grasp. He threw it with all his might at another cluster, sending the first one in line to the ground. Its wild flight did not stop there; it charged the next stones as well. Soon all were lying still on the ground.
Fakir did not stop to admire their handiwork. He turned back to Ahiru, who was watching both wide-eyed and in pain. "How bad are you hurt?" he asked.
"Oh, it's nothing!" Ahiru said, trying to smile. "Just a bruise or something, I'm sure. . . ."
"You'd better make sure of that," Fakir said.
Ahiru reddened. "Um, shouldn't we worry about that later?" she stammered. "We don't know what might come at us next and . . ."
"We won't look," Fakir growled. "Just hurry up and see."
Ahiru pouted. "This will hold us up," she protested, but turned and lifted the edge of her turtleneck enough to see the red mark on her stomach. She winced, but pulled her shirt down again and turned back. "Yeah, it looks sore," she said. "But I'm okay, really!"
Fakir frowned but nodded. "Do you have any idea where we are in relation to the gate?" he said to Autor, who glanced around at the nearby monuments.
"Thanks to the wandering tombstones, we're now off-course," Autor said at last, keeping one hand on his hip. "We've gone deeper into the cemetery instead of closer to the exit."
"Oh no," Ahiru moaned.
"In fact . . ." Autor pushed up his glasses, studying a group of graves surrounded by a small cast-iron fence. "I believe we've gone over by the Kaufmann family plot."
Fakir just gave him an expectant look. The name meant nothing to him, and judging from Ahiru's confused expression, the same applied for her.
Autor ventured closer to the fence. "It's supposedly one of the most haunted spots in the cemetery," he said, "but from my extensive research, I never found anything to verify the claims."
"Why would you care, anyway?" Ahiru said. "I mean, you're not one of those people who go around catching ghosts."
Autor smirked as he usually did when he knew he had a bit of information that his audience did not. "Kaufmann was a writer," he said. "Not a Story-Spinner, but he was acquainted with Drosselmeyer and it's rumored that they collaborated on one work." His eyes gleamed. "Unfortunately, no one has ever found the manuscript."
"And so you wanted to find the ghost and ask him where it is," Fakir said, most unimpressed.
"Yes!" Autor said. "Such a find would be priceless in value." He crossed his arms. "I came here several times looking for him—or even members of his family, who are also supposedly haunting the area. But I found nothing, and have only been able to conclude that . . ."
Ahiru shrieked. "Get out of the way!" she cried.
Autor's eyes widened in confusion, but he obeyed the warning and dove to the side. A heavy tree branch crashed where he had been standing.
Fakir glowered at it. "Why didn't you just ask the guy about it in the afterlife?" he said.
Autor straightened up, staring at the fallen limb. "I actually asked about him," he said. "I was told he wasn't there. Something bound him so strongly to Earth that he remained there after his death."
"I can see that." Fakir looked up at the tree, which was violently rocking back and forth despite the absence of wind. "Autor, let me just say that your research was incorrect."
Autor flinched. "There's no proof that these actions are being caused by Kaufmann," he said.
"But they're being caused by someone, contrary to your ideas about the place not being haunted," Fakir said.
"I actually didn't say it wasn't haunted, just that I hadn't been able to verify it was one of the most haunted spots!" Autor shot back.
"Now you're grasping at straws," Fakir said.
Autor looked at him in annoyance.
An eerie creaking sound brought all of their attention towards its direction. The iron fence was easing itself open, with no one visibly assisting it.
"So much for iron barriers holding the souls of the dead," Fakir remarked.
"He must not have wanted to obey that rule," Autor said.
The grass pressed down, as if being stepped on by unseen shoes.
"I don't care who's doing this!" Ahiru wailed. "Let's not hang around and find out!"
The boys concurred. Again they ran, flying over the grass. Fakir tightly took hold of Ahiru's wrist, not wanting her to fall behind from her injuries.
Ahiru let out a scream as the ground opened up underneath her, sending her plunging through a perfect rectangle. Dragged to the ground, Fakir gasped, pressing his free hand against it in an attempt not to fall himself. He gripped Ahiru's wrist tighter still, desperate to not let her plunge deeper into what was clearly an open grave.
"Don't let go of me!" he yelled. "I'll pull you back up."
Ahiru clutched Fakir's arm with her other hand, her eyes wide in sheer terror. Skeletal hands were reaching up from the bottom of the pit, trying to take hold of her ankles. Blindly, she kicked out at them with all the strength she could muster. One broke off, flying across the space to take hold of the wall. After remaining suspended there for only a moment, it began to walk across the wall like an arachnid. The second hand and its arm fell back to the ground, but soon were straining again.
"Stay away from me!" she wailed. Swinging in mid-air, she twisted around to better face the wall. If she could just get a foothold and start to climb!
Instead she descended several inches further. The second hand caught her left shoe and began to pull.
"Fakir, what's wrong?!" she demanded in panic, straining to look up to the top. Fakir was clearly distracted; the presence walking over the grass had made its way over to them. Ahiru hugged his arm, trying to pull herself up higher and break the skeletal hand's grip. It was like a vise, even though it was only old bones. Ahiru had never thought they could have such a tight grasp. And she wished over and over that she had never had to learn the truth.
At the top, Fakir was fighting with all his might to keep hold of Ahiru. The mysterious presence was throwing whatever it could find at him, hoping to send him crashing into the grave along with Ahiru. And the more he could feel Ahiru slip and sway in his grasp, the more it looked like the evil spirit would succeed.
"Cut it out!" he yelled as small rocks and twigs and pinecones bounced off his back. How could he even contend against this thing? He could not hit it with any physical blows. And he did not have time for a battle like this!
"Stay away from them!"
Fakir looked up with a start as Autor ran over, his eyes flashing in determination and anger. He had gotten ahead of the others but now had come back, having realized they were not with him.
The ghost was distracted by the other voice too, though only for a moment. But it was a moment that was valuable. Fakir reached for Ahiru with his other hand as well, straining with all his might. Something must have grabbed her in the hole; she was far heavier than she should be.
"What's got you?!" he yelled.
"Whatever lives down here!" Ahiru shot back. "Fakir, get me out of this!"
"That's what I'm trying to do!" Fakir retorted. This was not a time to argue. Taking a deep breath, he pulled harder. The pressure on his back had suddenly been released, so now he had only to deal with whatever was holding onto Ahiru.
Suddenly, with a sickening splintering sound, she came free. As he drew her up, they both collapsed on the grass.
Ahiru breathed heavily, still clutching at Fakir. Was it over at last? Was she safe from whatever had grabbed her?
Without warning Fakir pulled away from her. She looked up with a start, only to see a flash of metal. Fakir had drawn his sword. Her eyes widened in shock and horror as he lowered the blade dangerously near to her leg. Severed bones fell to the grass. Fakir kicked them into the open grave in disgust.
"Are you alright?" he said, looking back to her.
She gave a weak nod. "Y-yeah. . . ." Shuddering, she stared down at her leg. Marks from the bony fingertips had gone all the way through her striped stocking. But as she rolled it down for a better look, she sighed in relief. The skin had not been broken, despite the red marks that currently marred it.
Fakir watched her as he sheathed his sword. Then he looked up, his eyes narrowed. "Autor?" he called, glancing around for their friend.
Autor had led the poltergeist away from Fakir and Ahiru, but now it had turned its attention to him. As he tried to defend himself with a tree branch, and his skills at diving and dodging, he was being pelted with all manner of objects.
Ahiru got to her feet. "Autor!" she cried, running towards him.
Fakir drew his sword, running over as well. "And you said this would be useless," he smirked at Autor as he sliced a heavy limb that was flying in their direction.
"I wasn't anticipating an assault like this!" Autor answered. "But they'll always find more things to throw. The best solution now is to run!"
"I'm all for that," Fakir said.
And with that the trio turned and ran as fast and as desperate as they could. The spirit continued to assail them with whatever it could find, even loose pieces of tombstones, until they were far away from its domain. But even as it abandoned the chase, others took the mantle and followed suit. They were not going to allow the three humans to escape.
Ahiru reached out, catching hold of Fakir's and Autor's hands. "We have to stick together!" she exclaimed as the fog swept over them with a vengeance.
"Are we even going the right direction?!" Fakir said. If the fog grew any thicker, they would not be able to see anything in their path. Tripping over gravestones would become too much of a likelihood. And if they fell, with their luck, would they have any chance to get back up?
"For once, I haven't any idea," Autor said.
"That is not encouraging," Fakir growled.
"There's a light over there!" Ahiru called, staring ahead. "Maybe it's from a streetlamp outside the gates!"
Fakir looked. "I see it too," he said. "It's our best chance right now. Let's keep going."
As he spoke, he stumbled over a tombstone in his path. Ahiru and Autor faltered as well. Holding hands to keep track of each other could have a negative domino effect.
Fakir growled, righting himself. "Come on!" he ordered.
But then for some reason, he hesitated, frowning. How could he be sure this was the right way? They were basing it on seeing the light, yet what if the light was not what they thought at all? What if it was a light generated by the spirits to lead them further into a trap?
"What's the problem?!" Autor exclaimed. "You just said to go!"
Fakir shook his head. "I'm just wondering if it's the right direction after all," he said.
"It might not be, but it's our only clue," Autor countered.
But then he froze. What if it actually was the wrong way? When he looked towards the direction they had been going, it no longer seemed hopeful. He had rarely felt such a dark, cold sensation, and never to this extent. If they went that way, they would only meet a grisly fate. Ahiru and Fakir had come in here and had been going through all of this for him. And now, if they tried to escape and were only fooled by the spirits, plunging into despair, everything would have been for naught.
Ahiru cringed. "There's something creepy up there," she whispered.
But no, it was not just ahead; it was all around them. The gray fog was darkening, turning to black as it floated in all directions. They were being pulled into the shadows of the night.
Fakir growled. "We'll have to keep going!" he decided. "If we stay here trying to figure out what way to go, the fog will take us before we do anything."
"It might take us anyway," Autor said.
"Then we'll go down fighting," Fakir said.
Ahiru gripped their hands. "No," she vowed. "We'll get out. We have to!" But she still cringed when she thought of moving ahead. The fog was nothing compared to what was out there, waiting for them. Maybe they should try going to the right or the left. Any direction would be better than the way they had been going.
"We won't if we stand here. Come on!" Fakir ordered.
Leading the way, he pulled the other two with him. The blackening fog was almost completely obscuring his vision now. The light they had seen was only a tiny pinprick in the distance.
A light to what? Freedom? Disaster? Every warning signal in his mind was going off, insisting that they not go towards it. But if they did not, they would plunge deeper into the darkness around them. The light was their only hope.
"Fakir, what are you doing?!" Ahiru screamed. "Don't go that way!"
But as the words left her lips, she frowned. The light had been a beacon of hope until they had started to go towards it. Was their fear of it their true feelings? What if that was the ghosts trying to deceive them? Maybe the ghosts did not want them to take that path because it was correct.
She clutched tighter at Fakir's and Autor's hands. She would believe in Fakir and the light.
Autor looked up at Ahiru as her grip became filled with resolve. Yes, they should go towards the beam while they could still see it. Now that the decision had been made, the fog was growing darker still, trying to blot it out. That must mean that the spirits did not want them to go that way. And that surely meant it was the correct path.
Fakir reached out, grasping something cold and hard with his free hand. "It's the gate!" he called. "We'll have to climb up and over even though we can't see it!"
"What?!" Ahiru said in horror. What if they got stuck at the top and impaled by the sharp points?
"Autor, you get out of here first," Fakir directed. "You've been in here long enough."
Autor stiffened, looking to them in concern. "Are you sure?" he said. "Shouldn't Ahiru . . ."
Ahiru smiled and shook her head. "You go, Autor," she said. "We'll be right behind you. I promise, we won't leave you. After all, the condition is that we all have to get out, right?"
Autor nodded. "Yes. . . . That's what I was told. Alright then." Letting go of Ahiru's hand, he grasped the gate and began to pull himself up to the top. Enraged, the fog's tendrils reformed into a clawed hand and swiped at his back. He let out a cry of pain and surprise. His foot slipped, his grip loosening.
"Autor!" Ahiru cried in alarm. Fakir tensed, bracing himself to catch Autor if he fell.
But instead Autor forced himself to the top of the gate. His back burning, he fell forward and over the side into the grass just outside the entrance. For a moment he lay where he was, his breath coming in drawn-out gasps. He stared blankly ahead of him, his glasses slipping down his nose and warping his poor eyesight.
He was free and alive, wasn't he? It still seemed too incredible, too impossible to be real. He had lost all hope of ever returning to mortality after he had found himself in the next life. But still, here he was. He had been granted a second chance. He whispered his sincere gratitude.
Someone dropped down and knelt next to him, gently reaching a hand to slide his glasses back up. "Autor?" Ahiru called. "Are you okay?"
Autor pushed himself to his knees. "Yes," he said. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Fakir scaling the gate and jumping over. As he landed, Fakir rubbed a sore spot on his arm. They had each been attacked, but they were all safe.
"I'm so glad," Ahiru said softly.
Fakir walked over to them. "Let's try to get home before anything else goes wrong," he said gruffly, albeit clearly relieved as well.
Autor nodded, pulling himself to his feet. "Ahiru. Fakir." He looked to each of them in turn, feeling awkward. "You went through this to get me back. I . . . I don't know what to say."
"Don't think it was completely selfless," Fakir grunted. From his expression, he felt just as awkward.
Ahiru blinked in surprise. But then, she supposed, that was true in a sense. She and Fakir had both wanted Autor back with them. They had gone through this because of that. But also, they had wanted him back because they had hoped he wanted to be back. And . . . he did, didn't he? They had never actually asked.
"You wanted to come back, didn't you, Autor?" she said worriedly. "I mean . . . after being there so long, I suddenly realized maybe you would have rather stayed. . . ."
He looked to her in equal surprise. "I wanted to live," he said. "It's true, I grew to be happy there, but I still wanted to return most of all." Glancing to Fakir as they started to walk away he said, "You asked me a question a while back, Fakir. You wanted to know why I was allowed to come back after all this time.
"I hadn't been supposed to die that night. When I did, it threw everything into disarray. Still, there are others who die before they're supposed to, due to choices of their own, who are not allowed or able to come back for one reason or another. It looked like I would be one of those cases. It was my parents who pleaded on my behalf. Mine . . . and yours."
Fakir stopped walking, staring at him in disbelief. "Mine?!" he said. Ahiru was also staring.
"Yes." Autor looked away and continued walking, forcing Fakir to resume his pace.
"Hey. Why mine?" Fakir demanded as he hurried to catch up to the other boy.
Autor did not so much as look over his shoulder. "Apparently, they felt the two of us had 'unfinished business,'" he said as he adjusted his glasses.
"Unfinished . . . what the heck?" Fakir frowned.
Ahiru smiled as she walked with them. "They probably thought you needed to work things out and have more time to be friends!" she said.
Fakir flushed and looked uncomfortable. Autor made no comment.
"In any case, it was their collective argument that granted the decision for me to be the one chosen to return." He kept his arms crossed as he walked, facing the street.
Ahiru chased after him until she came alongside. "I'll have to thank Piké and Lilie tomorrow!" she declared. "They're the ones who told me about the cemetery legend."
"They were?" Autor gave her a sidelong glance.
Ahiru nodded. "I'm not really sure what Lilie was thinking, but I'm pretty sure Piké wanted to help," she said.
Autor looked ahead again, his expression absent. It was certainly going to be strange returning to school—and everywhere else. He had wondered if everyone's memories would be erased concerning his death, but he had been told that they would remember. So maybe that was for the best. He knew that as for himself, he did not want to forget.
He stared up at his house as they approached it at last. It felt surreal to see it again. From the outside, nothing looked different. But he wondered what he would have to do to the inside to get it in working order once more. Digging into his pocket, he pulled out the key.
"Hey," Fakir frowned, "how did you get that? I don't remember burying you with it."
Autor turned to look at him, his eyebrow quirked. "Maybe not, but I was sent back with it," he said. Unlocking the door, he stepped into the vestibule. "I still expect you to continue your writing," he said. "And Ahiru, I expect you to keep an eye on him." He smirked.
Not sure whether to go along with Autor's teasing or to scold him, Ahiru just stared with a mixed expression. Fakir ignored the topic altogether.
"Get some good sleep!" Ahiru said. "It's probably almost morning now, but oh well."
"As exhausted as I am, I couldn't care less," Autor said. He might skip school this first day in favor of rest. Perhaps it was because he had not needed it for so long, but he felt especially weary now that the adrenaline rush of escaping the cemetery had passed.
"We'll come by to see you later!" Ahiru said.
"And this time you'd better still be here," Fakir grumbled.
"I will be," Autor said.
For the briefest moment before he closed the door, his smirk faded into a genuine smile.