Author's Note: What...what's this? Finally uploading stories again? Enjoy it. I'm so unreliable; you don't know how long this will last. XD

Disclaimer: There's a lot of stuff in here and I promise you none of it is mine. Except maybe the crappy jokes and grammar errors only a seven-year-old would make.


-Episode 05-

In Case You Were Wondering Gods Don't Need Toothbrushes and Ghostbusters Don't Get Paid


The morning greeted her with birds trilling away softly in the bare branched trees outside her window and too much sunlight filtering inside a room with closed blinds. The ash blonde slowly pulled her brain from its sleepy haze and yawned, stretching thin arms and legs beneath a floral bedspread. Warm, comfortable and, most importantly, alive, the young girl felt like today was going to be a good day.

Then, the morning decided to greet her with "whispering" male voices. But when had Black Star ever been quieter than a dull roar?

Maka sat up, alarmed to discover that said voices were not outside her door as she originally presumed but right there…in her room…or more specifically her bathroom.

"Seriously, dude. Best case scenario, she hits you with one of her encyclopedias. Worst case, she'll probably kick off your head! So. I suggest we leave before she wakes up, yeah?"

That was Soul, fretful and wise to be as such. Black Star on the other hand…

"Bwuh swee wonn whined cwuss mime hwer GOTH!"

She tilted her head to the side, confused with his garbled speech and terribly annoyed with finding one not-ghost and one wraith-thing standing in her bathroom. Honestly, it was too early for her to deal with them. She was just about to chunk the dictionary she kept on her nightstand at them (cackling evilly on the inside as she imagined them scrambling for cover like cockroaches) when the blue-haired boy turned to one side and there was neon pink against his tan skin. What…what was that hanging out of Black Star's mouth?

Oh, fuck no. That better not be what Maka thought it was.

"Are you using my toothbrush?" Her screech was warbled and disjointed due to a tight throat and thick tongue, but she still managed to pack it with a fairly normal dosage of ferocity and dismay. Soul's eyes grew large on discovering the beast awake and she heard him mumble something along the lines of "run" or "flee" though his partner-in-crime merely gave her a foamy, off-white grin.

"Gwood moaning, pweazant!"

Soul growled lowly and clapped a hand over his eyes like he couldn't bear to watch what would happen next. Maka's mouth dropped and her vision blurred either from shock or anger. She wasn't completely sure which. She pointed at Black Star with the same conviction someone might use to identify a criminal.

"You! Are you serious?" Her attention fixed on Soul. "Please tell me he's not serious!"

Black Star's brow furrowed as a dumbfounded look settled across his face. He spat noisily into the sink, even going as far as hawking up a glob of Maka-didn't-want-to-know-what, before turning back to them.

"What?"

Maka spluttered with indignation and, judging from the heat along her face and neck, her cream skin was carefully communicating her feelings by turning a dangerous splotchy red. How dare he? How dare they! This was her room for goodness sake! They had the entire rest of the house to loiter in, damn it!

"Get out of my room. Now." Despite speaking softly, her message rang hard, cold, and clear.

To Soul at least.

He huffed irritably but proceeded to disappear with a faint vibration in the air and ringing in her ears. Black Star remained. His forehead wrinkled in puzzlement as he scoffed at Soul's hasty departure and Maka's angry demeanor.

"Rawr. Bitchy, much? What's your deal this morning?"

"My deal is that you were using my toothbrush! That's supposed to go in my mouth, not in yours! Plus, this is my bedroom." Black Star grinned at her misgivings and waved them off.

"Your bedroom…and Soul's bedroom, technically speaking. And my man was here first."

Let her repeat that it was way too early for this.

Maka took a deep inhale and slowly removed her clenched hand from the spine of the dictionary and proceeded to fold them as calmly as possible in her lap.

"Take the toothbrush. And leave please."

His simple reply was to laugh hysterically and wipe at nonexistent tears.

"That's a good one, titless! Hah! Why would I do that? Gods don't even need toothbrushes."

He left with a rush of wind and a cackle or two. Maka had to resist the urge to scream in frustration. Her head hit the pillow with a poof as she fell backwards and moaned lowly in her throat. Whelp, there went her good morning…and her neon pink toothbrush.

Don't get her wrong, she was honest to gods happy to suddenly find herself with company. What used to be lengthy, silent walks to and from school every morning and evening were now filled with Tsubaki's gentle giggles and Liz's bawdy jokes. Her once typical supper, consisting of a book in her lap and a TV dinner nuked in the microwave, was replaced with cook-offs between Liz, Soul, and sometimes herself (who could all cook surprisingly well) while Black Star and Tsubaki traded odd, generally silly, stories and riddles. Maka found herself laughing more than usual, smiling more than usual, and feeling better all in all. Her lonely days waiting for a phone call from her mother or for her father to return, who worked just about twenty-four/seven nowadays, were replaced with actual friends; a commodity she hadn't expected to find in this insane Nevada city with only a year left in high school.

But then…there were the secret conversations she'd walk into where a room full of talking immediately grew hushed. There were the sly and condescending looks exchanged between Black Star and Soul or Liz and Tsubaki when she would dare to step over the boundary of don't-ask-cause-we-can't-tell. And…there were the unfortunately common, always unannounced appearances of two particular boys in her house who rarely saw reason to restrain themselves from touching and/or using her belongings.

And all of that got pretty annoying, fairly quickly.

Maka sat up with a sigh and ran nimble fingers through her fine, tangled hair before gathering what little resolution she currently had for the day and using it to plop her feet on the cold wood floor. She blearily glanced at the blinking neon blue numbers on her Tardis clock and somehow knew that each minute would last longer than sixty seconds today. Or feel that way at least.

It took her all of fifteen minutes to rinse the sleep from her face, persuade the knots in her hair to straighten, and slip into faded grey sweatpants and a Hogwarts t-shirt. Distantly she heard words like "lack of taste" or "no sex appeal" echo in her ears with a voice that sounded astonishingly like Liz and Soul but she stuffed them back into their respective time-out corners where they belonged. The honeyed blonde bombshell could gripe about her "nonsensical and utterly atrocious fashion sense" to her heart's desire.

Today Maka Albarn made it her mission to not care.

She would not get angry at the rude comments and taunts concerning her figure (or lack thereof) from Black Star. She would not get upset or jealous of Tsubaki and Liz's whispered dialogues and furtive glances. And she would not let her stomach sink and heart tremble over the fact that it was mainly Soul who tried to keep her out of everything. She would not care when he reminded them that she was not a part of their "Dark World" or whatever.

Not today.

But she might care that she now had to burn her toothbrush and scatter the ashes. Plus, she had to go get another one as well as a tiny locker to keep it and her other toiletries in lest the "god" decide that he would use her hairbrush, loofah, lotion, or eyeliner…even though he didn't need it.

Damn you, Black Star.

The stairs creaked lightly at the third and seventh step respectfully as the young blonde skipped down them, hair swishing in her characteristic relaxation hairstyle—pigtails. She was unsurprised to hear voices drifting in from the front sunroom. For a moment she paused at the bottom of the staircase and took a deep breath, readying herself for the whole "not caring" aura showcase. Eventually she mustered enough attitude to push the handsomely carved wooden doors aside and "strut her stuff" in.

As previously predicted (she really should start betting someone money) the second the doors parted and she became visible to the lounging teenagers, things went dead silent (no pun intended to Black Star and his sorta dead...ness.) She huffed irately and waved her hands at them.

"Chill out. I'm just passing through to the kitchen. Do any of you want breakfast? Oh. And when exactly did you two get here?" Maka pivoted and pointed towards Liz and Tsubaki. Her father was practically living at his office lately so she didn't have to worry about him coming downstairs and hitting on her two "hawt" friends…though it did make her wonder who let them in since she'd been asleep until Dumb and Dumber had woken her up at 8:45ish. It was Tsubaki who answered, chipper as usual.

"5:30. Or something along those lines." Liz's only response was a muffled groan from her curled fetal position on the huge paisley armchair in the corner. No one bothered to give her a second glance except Maka who simultaneously raised an eyebrow in question at the beaming Tsubaki. The group stayed in that strange tension-filled position for a minute while Black Star rolled around on the floor twiddling with his thumbs and Soul searched Maka's form apprehensively. After a bit Tsubaki finally blinked and jumped as though a light bulb flickered on.

"Oh! Uh, Black Star kindly let us in so that we could all discuss-"

"EHEM." Soul interjected with a loud, obnoxious clearing of his throat, causing the raven-haired girl to stutter and end her statement with a pathetic whispered "stuff."

He immediately went back to appraising the skinny sweatpants-clad female with the frozen eyebrow and throbbing blood vessel along her temple nervously. Maka allowed him to squirm tensely for a while before remembering that she wasn't supposed to care today.

Instead she mumbled a quiet and sullen, "What?"

"I-er…I'm just making sure you don't have a dictionary on you. I mean, you could knock my brains and doofus' brains all over the floor and all. And since this morning, you know, um-yeah. Sorry about that. Shouldn't happen again."

Against her will Maka found herself smiling. Not only because he was so obviously distressed and fearful of her (probably the best thing to occur over the last couple of weeks) but because Soul seemed to possess the uncanny ability of annoying the hell out of her…and then saying exactly what she needed to hear.

"Yeah, yeah." She gestured lazily at him as his lips curled into a devious grin at her acceptance of his apologies. "You're lucky I'm merciful. Anyways, breakfast anyone? And, Liz, a cup of coffee for you I'm guessing?" Gold hair rippled with her heavy breathing as she passionately grumbled something into the fringed throw pillow. Maka waited patiently until her already thin, non-existent morning patience was sliced into a delicate sliver. "Hmm? What was that?"

"She said 'only if you lace it with a pound of cocaine.'"

Everyone (except the curled Liz) stared down at Black Star as he nonchalantly chewed on the edge of his thumb in an attempt (Maka hoped) to remove a shredded hangnail. He continued gnawing for a time without noticing the room's collective silence and stares. When he did though, he repeated the request with a face devoid of sarcasm and with a slow seriousness that made Maka feel like he thought she was stupid. She tried to raise an eyebrow but couldn't (her muscle was stiff from the held position earlier) and gratefully nodded in Soul's direction when his did for her.

"And why exactly does Liz need cocaine-laced coffee?"

Black Star blinked as if the question had never occurred to him. "To…wake up?"

"Uh huh. Well kindly remind her that Tsubaki's dad is a police officer so I can't pull out the cocaine just yet. Self-incrimination and what not. But maybe when the caffeine hits her brain she can sober up long enough to ask me where my stash is located later."

The boy with a blue starfish for a head glanced apprehensively at Tsubaki's now, Maka noted with shock, crestfallen expression. She returned the eye contact and shrugged once which, for whatever reason, ended up being the sign Black Star needed to get off his ass and head towards Liz to repeat verbatim the hostess' "reminder." Maka hastily shook off her previous annoyance at Tsubaki and the doofus' muted conversation and instead opted to roll her eyes at Star's idiocy before pushing on the ivory swing door behind her and entering the kitchen.

She took her time rummaging through the kitchen cabinets, laying out a bowl for her instant oatmeal and four cups to fill with the brown holy nectar of the gods. For a brief instant she almost grabbed a fifth cup, but paled when the thought of Black Star under the influence of caffeine entered her mind.

Some things were better left a mystery.

Maka began humming quiet tunes under her breath as she set the coffee pot in the machine and fixed her oatmeal (which included but was not limited to TV theme songs, book accompaniments, and her favorite movie scores.) Eventually she settled on a haunted melody that had been floating around in her head lately as she drifted around the kitchen. The music set her heart pounding and she froze, wondering where she last heard it. The song, which teased her lightly in the back of her mind, was becoming harder and harder to remember. Slowly it was disappearing as if someone above her was plucking the notes one by one from her memory. Perturbed, she started to replay the song in her head from the beginning only to wonder how the beginning went.

"Is…everything alright?"

Though the voice was gentle and soft, Maka still jumped about five feet in the air before whirling around frantically. She stared at Tsubaki's outstretched hand and wide navy eyes for a bit until her cringed position relaxed.

"Um, yeah. You just…startled me." The blonde chuckled lightly…awkwardly as the willowy girl retracted her hand and proceeded to lean on the counter.

Watching her.

Maka tried to continue with the simple action of making their (honestly, her) meager breakfast, but kept glancing at Tsubaki's pensive eyes. They followed her every movement, monitored her every breath, and did not seem at all embarrassed about being caught. With anyone else she would've probably thrown coffee and screamed at them to just come out and tell her what was on her face or something but Tsubaki was different. She was cordial, polite, and utterly sweet. Most importantly she kinda became Maka's hidden favorite.

So instead of throwing things she calmly poured the coffee and set her oatmeal in the microwave before meeting the raven-haired girl's gaze.

"Okay. What gives?" Tsubaki had the gall to look surprised at her confrontational stance.

"What…gives?"

Okay. Maybe she's not completely Maka's favorite yet.

"What do you mean 'what gives'? You were staring at me. What were you doing? Trying to read my mind?" The girl's answering giggle was a tad too fake and high-pitched for her tastes, but the microwave beeped so she let it slide.

Plus, she had just recalled the whole "not caring" thing.

Gosh living with dead people and almost-but-not-quite ghosts made it really hard not to care! It also made her wonder if there were levels of death; for instance, could one be medium-ly dead and another well done dead? Perhaps zombies fell under the term 'raw dead?'

Tsubaki interrupted her odd musings. "I wanted to be certain you were okay. You looked like you were in pain when I entered."

"Oh. Uh, no, I'm good. I was trying to…remember something…?" Wait, what was it again?

Both girls shrugged at Maka's inconsistent memory though secretly the blonde knew she would be going over the morning again and again until she brought whatever she forgot back to the surface. Tsubaki leaned against the wall as Maka "doctored" her oatmeal with honey and some brown sugar. The pigtailed girl then gestured at the numerous coffee cups.

"Mind grabbing a couple? I don't think I can carry all of this." Her gorgeous companion nodded but instead of reaching for the coffee she grabbed the young girl's elbow.

"Maka…" The blonde's eyes flickered from the thin pale hand death-gripping her elbow to the suddenly hardened oceanic blue gemstones staring lasers at her.

"…Yes?" Why the sudden change in attitude? Tsubaki floundered for a moment, the determined shell cracking under Maka's dubious look, before resetting her shoulders and plodding forward.

"I want you to help us. With some Dark World related issues."

Well…that was unexpected. Though not totally undesirable. In fact, as a slow moving smile crept across Maka's cheeks, she decided it was incredibly desired. Finally! To be in on things! To learn about something no one else knew about. Maybe she would find out a few weaknesses of wraiths so when Black Star aggravated her she had more than just a thick book to slam into his skull under her belt…

"I understand you may have misgivings—it will be dangerous and there are still things we must refrain from mentioning in your presence but I think the benefits out way the-".

"Sure. I'm down." Once again her awestruck companion could only halfway open and shut her mouth as Maka nonchalantly shrugged her shoulders and whisked into the sunroom feeling several pounds lighter.

Her acceptance happened to be the easiest part of joining the group however.

It took two hundred and thirty-eight minutes of screaming, yelling, and arguing (she started a timer the second after she walked in and announced herself a part of "Team Ghostbusters" and Soul's face turned as red as his irises) but eventually they got around to the logical side of things.

"I know we originally assumed Maka would not participate in any of this, but it is truly an unreasonable assumption. She lives in Gallows Mansion, which is the place of dwelling for both Soul and Black Star, and she was attacked by a prekishin. How can we expect her to completely forget that? And, more importantly, how can we expect her to be safe when there could be another prekishin prowling about and there is a high probability it will end up here?" Tsubaki murmured her speech with a strength Maka rarely saw in her. Despite her calm folded hands and meek gestures, the steely blue edge Maka glimpsed in the kitchen had returned and the others were quickly succumbing to it. She sat forward suddenly and the ashy blonde on her right immediately perked up as she recognized the carefully controlled "voice of reason" expression.

Tsu was going in for the kill.

"In addition to all of this might I remind all of you…there are still some places we cannot venture without…certain permission. Maka, however, is not tied to such rules and can go wherever she pleases or wherever is needed. Add in her superlative intelligence and she is a valuable, practically necessary ally."

Black Star snorted at her last line, but in the end exchanged weird glances with Tsubaki and nodded curtly.

"Yeah, okay. If 'Baki thinks it's the right thing then I, as god, will allow my subject to participate in the kishin hunt." He whirled quick as teal lightning and landed with a finger obnoxiously entering her very clear personal space. "But don't forget, titless, I'm your god and the star! So don't go getting any funny ideas."

Maka was just about to spout a vicious threat or two when she was interrupted by Liz's joyous ear-splitting squeal.

"Alright! Another one for Team Vagina!"

Oh boy.

The two blondes wrestled with one another; Maka trying to get away while Liz kept attempting to pull her into a suffocating hug. Eventually they stopped their rough-housing when Soul got up and, without one word, left.

Maka immediately froze, the back of Soul's snowy white head disappearing as the decorative front door closed with a slam. She glanced at her companions' concerned faces and felt a tightening in her abdomen as well as a heavy layer of annoyance settle along her shoulders. Was he really that upset that he would just up and leave? The knot suddenly expanded in her stomach as a uncomfortable and potentially frightening thought came to mind.

Did this mean he was gone for good?

"Wait a second...did he just leave?" She was rather disappointed in herself. Instead of sounding like a concerned potential ally she sounded sort of like a sad ex-girlfriend. Liz simply huffed irritatedly as she folded her arms and rolled her eyes.

"Pssh. If only. Nah he'll be back. This is his dwelling place after all. Big baby boo needs to pout and be angry since he didn't get his way and then he'll be fine." Her smile stretched too tightly for the newest recruit to be reassured but there wasn't much else for her to do.

She supposed she'd have to wait and see what would become of her joining the amply named "kishin hunting" group when Soul got back.


Two weeks passed and Soul still hadn't returned.

For some reason it bothered her more than it probably should have.

The young blonde wasn't sure if it was because she felt guilty for practically making the guy run away from his home (which couldn't technically be pinned on her) or if the others' (namely Liz and Black Star) blasé, unfazed reactions gave credit to Soul's assertion that she might wanna worry for her life. Sure, Tsubaki swore they'd take care of her and protect her but whenever they actually discussed the prekishins or being attacked by them Liz would moan about the possibility of a hang nail while the blue-haired monkey (as Maka referred to him internally) got a wild not at all reassuring look in his eyes.

Maka began to wonder if Soul was the only sane one of the group. Perhaps it would've been Tsubaki but she insisted on being kind and gentle, constantly afraid to say "no;" she couldn't bear to not support the monkey's insane battle tactics or Liz's pleas to be deferred to the sidelines lest she get monster guts on her new jeans.

Which left the untrained, semi-helpless Maka possibly fighting one of those...beasts by her lonesome.

Never mind the fact that she almost died at the claws of the last one and it frequented her numerous nightmares.

The meetings at her house persisted despite the missing occupant. Only now instead of being hushed, shooed, or shuffled out of rooms, Maka was allowed to sit in. She swore to make the most of her new permissions and eagerly settled in corners where she could take in every word spoken between the other three and commit to memory any unusual word or fierce phrase. She even grabbed an unused journal one evening and jotted down vocabulary and brief paragraphs explaining what was discussed and what that could mean for her and the appropriately nicknamed "Light World" she lived in.

Intelligent and resourceful as she was and with the help of her growing pile of information, she began to sense and understand a strange hierarchy in the oh-so-cleverly named "Dark World" that Liz, Tsubaki, Black Star, and Soul were all somehow a part of. She hadn't quite pieced together certain things like how they even got introduced to this underground ghost-busting life style but after some telling comments she had a pretty solid hypothesis.

It started when Liz spouted a passing comment about an awkward, ill-tasting dinner Maka made one night; she did it jovially and without any meaningful infliction but it caused the insulted chef to ponder over some things.

I think I'm gonna skip this one, Maka. In fact, I think I'd rather swallow my tombstone then eat this stuff.

She could've been alluding to a tombstone in a roundabout, general sort of way. As one referred to "taking something to the grave." But Maka couldn't help feel like it was more than that. The mere concrete, factual tone Liz used sounded as if…as if she actually had a tombstone somewhere to eat.

Like she was dead or something.

And in that moment Maka's mind took a 360 degree turn.

What if they were all in some way, shape, or form dead? Not ghosts or spirits but something else entirely. Black Star was a wraith and Soul was a spirit-thing. Would it be so big of a jump to assume Liz and Tsubaki were something similar? Plus Soul had already unequivocally squashed the old folklore and assumptions people (including Maka) secretly kept regarding the afterlife. But that didn't mean there was nothing else…simply that no one had thought of it or guessed it correctly yet. And logically, what other reason could there be for them to reside in cursed mansions and chase after monsters nobody else knew about?

What if the heavily guarded Dark World was actually where people went when they died?

Underneath her worries, fears, and apprehensions, that thought clicked.

And suddenly it was as if Maka was reintroduced to Tsubaki, the monkey, and Liz and the Dark World they inhabited. She started voicing deeper questions, cleverly concealed under jokes and sarcasm. Her banter with Black Star and depreciative whining sessions with Liz proved the most informative. Her journal filled with more and more notes and her chicken scratch grew wilder and heavier every day.

"So, Liz, when exactly do we get paid for our 'hard work'?"

"Paid! Puh-lease. We don't get paid." Angry snort. "We'll never get paid."

Forced laughter. "Then we should quit!"

Heavy sigh. "If only we could."

There was a surplus of unanswered questions and a constant appearance of blanks or areas where Maka couldn't get any headway from all three of her friends (such as who their employer was or how they came to be "ghostbusters" as she fondly referred to them as) but at least there were a few almost facts that she could depend on now.

Almost fact number one: The Dark World existed and you had to be dead or "somewhat dead" in order to be included into it (Maka had the feeling she was a very special case).

Almost fact number two: The people involved with the Dark World (aka the "dead") get superpowers?...or something along those lines after they die. She came to this conclusion when Black Star was graphically describing how he fought a prekishin as big as the house they were standing in and with one well-placed punch "took the sucker down!" It reminded her of how Soul seemed to pull a scythe out of the shadows…one with enough mysterious power that it killed the prekishin chasing her with a single swing. She wasn't completely sure about Tsubaki and Liz but since Black Star was protective of Tsu and didn't have too much concern when she talked about facing prekishins she guessed both girls had some aces up their sleeves as well.

Almost fact number three: There was someone in charge of Soul, Tsubaki, Black Star, and Liz and there was a high probability that "he" (whoever "he" was) possessed a leadership role or position in the Dark World.

Almost fact number four: No "living/normal" person saw, heard, or knew anything related to the Dark World (once again Maka had accepted she was some sort of accidental case). Soul had acted as if the punishment for bringing someone in was death but the others did not seem concerned so she wondered what exactly upheld the rules for this particular fact and why she wasn't supposed to know. At one point she thought it might upset the "balance" of the world (if there was such a thing) but in the end scrapped that idea.

Maka didn't worry too much about the inconsistencies of her other ideas as she felt she'd soon stumble across a breakthrough. With Soul gone, whose prolonged absence upset Tsubaki greatly and loosened both Liz and Star, the aforementioned two began speaking so freely Tsubaki would resort to violence to quiet them. Though it had been her idea to include Maka (who actually hadn't provided anything useful yet) in the first place, the raven-haired girl agreed with the missing Snow White and asserted there were some things the curious blonde was not privy to.

And then her quest for ultimate understanding of the afterlife was interrupted by the news of five more ripped apart bodies found.

And Soul's untimely midnight return.

By now Liz and Tsubaki tended to camp out in one of the spare rooms in Maka's wing of the house, near enough to keep her "safe" but far off enough that her father never stumbled across them when he eventually returned home. It was nice in an odd way, something Maka found she both loved and hated. Being raised as an only child left her desiring siblings and she finally had a setting she often dreamed of when she was younger. Simultaneously though, she wasn't entirely enthusiastic about Liz nagging over her appearance or Tsubaki complaining that she didn't eat enough from sun up to sun down. Older sisters were cool and all, but people weren't kidding when they said they mothered. And Black Star…

Well, Black Star was the younger brother no one particularly wanted but somehow everyone loved anyways. And she found she did. He provided her with entertainment and annoyance, anger and joy. Plus having someone to constantly argue with kept her brilliant mind on its toes (never mind the fact Black Star didn't get half the stuff they debated). Although having to repair the numerous household items he would break in his bursts of speed and passion-fuelled rampages exhausted her monthly allowance and once took a chunk out of her college funds…so there was that little drawback to his presence.

And the issue of him having absolutely zero volume control. Which was how Maka awoke one night and knew Soul had reappeared.

The next morning (a Saturday, thank gods) started with a commune in the front sunroom. The entire setup was so familiar it gave Maka a vicious, foreboding sense of déjà vu. Her stomach clenched when she entered and everyone but Soul greeted her.

Well then, ya idiot. Be that way.

The pigtailed teenager defiantly stomped to what she dubbed "her corner" of the room and got comfortable in the velvety chair, eyes glued to Soul's lazily lounged position. She was welcome at this point whether he liked it or not and the big baby would have to stop pouting and get the fuck over it. She had made too much headway to go back to not being told anything.

Black Star and Soul immediately fell into an overly-complicated, intricate fist bump that was apparently sealed and completed with both of them punching the other's face.

Boys.

In a fascinating and interesting display of camaraderie against the stupidity of the male species, Liz, Tsubaki, and Maka all rolled their eyes at the exact same moment.

Then, as if a switch flipped, a stillness settled over them; the four veteran "ghostbusters," even Black Star, were remarkably immobile and alert almost as though some hidden signal was given that turned them to stone. Maka fidgeted slightly, the scratchy noise of her sweatpants catching on the chair's upholstery louder than a gunshot. She winced, cringing at the thought of being told to leave because the "sitting straight and not moving and being quiet" was part of some test she obviously hadn't passed. But the four teens continued staring at one another and ignored the awkward muffled sounds her shifting made.

Which honestly wasn't that spectacular of a reaction either.

The distressed teenager held her position for a bit longer, stewing awkwardly in the noiselessness. It was honestly quite embarrassing how she was having trouble staying put and not making a sound while Black Star of all people didn't even breathe. Who would have thought the loud ass could shut his trap for once?

Eventually she grew fed up with the stare off and steeled herself to shatter whatever mood was going on. Fortunately, she was able to retain her pride because Soul beat her to it.

"There's a kishin. Here, in Death City. A fully formed one I believe. Not too powerful or we'd have received info or orders by now but nonetheless..."

Liz quirked an eyebrow while Tsubaki and Black Star both took deep breaths. Maka leaned forward, intent on drawing in the conversation like a sponge taking on water. She had discovered the differences between a prekishin and a kishin a week ago and was thrilled to have a situation to apply the knowledge to.

Prekishins, apparently, were like lower demons. They killed but with rarely any distinct strategy or pattern. Like starved animals, the monsters would plague a certain city with only one goal: to steal all the souls. They attacked when their hunger became too great and did not seem to care whose soul they ate. They often were unsuccessful in their goal, however, since there were many groups of "ghostbusters" hidden and spread out across the nation, probably the world, trained in tracking and destroying them. Though their lack of a preference in victims sometimes made locating them difficult, their messy leftovers and lack of a plan usually caused their downfall.

Kishins were of an entirely different sort. Dangerous, powerful, and with the capability of controlling prekishins and concocting a scheme, they were on a whole 'nother level. Once a prekishin consumed so many souls, they underwent an intense transformation. Thankfully this occurred only once in a blue moon, but the malevolent willpower and strength of just one kishin was so great that even once in a blue moon could become too much for the "ghostbusters" to handle. The idea of hunting prekishins with such accuracy was based on the principle of preventing a fully blossomed kishin from emerging. Because when they did…tragic events unfolded without pretense within days and whole cities were decimated within hours.

And Soul believed there was one, at this very moment, in Death City.

She couldn't hold back a shudder no matter how hard she tried. Goose bumps and fine gray hairs lifted along her arms and covered legs. In her mind's eye she saw the prekishin she faced; how its gaping mouth and black ropy tongue lunged for her and she wondered how anything like that could possibly become worse.

"How do you know?" Liz's question came softly but determinedly. There was no challenge between the two of them and her inquiry was full of honest suspicion.

"Because of the sheer number of prekishins. I've gotten rid of four by myself and obviously there's at least one still hunting since meat bags keep popping up. When have you ever heard of five prekishins randomly descending on one city at the same time?"

Liz nodded thoughtfully and Tsubaki mirrored the action, though she added another worry to the quickly growing pile. "But, Soul,…even a poorly formed kishin with few powers…should we not have received some type of communication from K-" Her eyes flicked to Maka's eager face and she stuttered over the beginnings of a word, replacing it hastily with the non-descriptive "him?"

"Pssh! Who needs him and his 'reports' and 'feedback' anyways?" Black Star cackled with the weird gleam in his eyes that Maka started to connect with bad omens and dangerous fights. "Obviously we can handle this so they didn't even bother tellin' us."

The lovely blonde on his right immediately shook her head in disagreement. "Nuh uh. No way, Jose. That's not like K-ehem, him at all. He's very 'by the book' and methodical. If we haven't received word that just means something else, something bigger, may be going on or perhaps they've decided to handle this themselves." Liz tilted her head to the side and turned her gaze to the window, blue gemstones carefully studying the rising sun. "Whatever's going on, any shit we get done is bound to do some good though."

Soul bobbed his head in an easygoing manner. "My thoughts exactly." Black Star's agreement was a bit more enthusiastic. He jumped out of his folded position on the floor too fast for Maka's eyes and screeched, "YAHOO! KISHIN HUNTING HERE I COME!" Tsubaki, who Maka was learning stayed nearly always by the energetic 'god's' side, clapped her delicate palms together gently and smiled as though she, too, were excited for the decision to go on a full-fledged monster hunt.

"And, um, what exactly should I do?"

After sitting in the shadows and observing for so long, Maka flinched a bit when eight eyes stared at her with the intensity of the noonday sun, even though she technically asked for it. She could see in at least three of their faces that they each had some plan or idea of what to do with her. Black Star, however, was the first to share his idea. He cocked his head to the side in confusion and then replaced it with a burning, mischievous smile.

"You're the bait, of course!"

Maka blanched. "B-bait?"

A chorus of "no's" followed the exchange and Black Star's shoulders slumped while his face looked completely put out. The pigtailed girl couldn't describe how much she wanted to bash his oddly shaped head in with a book right then but unfortunately there were none in sight (she really should remember to carry at least one on her person for such instances). She settled for tossing her journal with expert aim and precision and grinned when it met its mark with a satisfying thwack!

"Hah! I think you're the one who should be bait, Star! All you do is yell for attention anyways."

She couldn't hear his mumbled response but guessed by the kick Tsubaki gave him that it was something entirely atrocious. Nothing else would have provoked such a passionate reaction from the even-tempered beauty.

"Well, Maka, I don't think we'll be really needing you much at all," Soul proclaimed as he scratched the back of his neck. "I mean if you could get your hands on some city plans of the warehouse district that'd be great, but other than that…" He shrugged half-heartedly.

Her heart twisted unexpectedly at the obvious extrication from the "ghostbusters" party but then again what had she been expecting? She wasn't dead and she didn't have any powers so she wouldn't be of much use anyways. Still she had a nagging feeling that they were going to push her away and out of this newfound world…and then would they disappear from hers? Would they return to the shadows once this kishin was destroyed and leave her to her "normal" life in the light?

Why did she have this sinking feeling…like she didn't want that to happen or something?

"City plans. Right. I can probably do that. I'll go tomorrow morning and ask Papa since he works up at City Hall. I'm sure if anyone will get them for me, Papa will."

"Whelp." Liz sighed, a smug smirk flashing impeccably white straight teeth. "Glad that's settled. Now who wants to watch America's Next Top Model?"

The swift dispersion of the group left Maka curled in her corner analyzing all that occurred and all that may yet come. She contemplated her surroundings, her world, her home, her family, and how each one slowly shifted into nothing of importance to her. Being invited into the knowledge of a place that thrived in the unseen turned the reality of where she belonged dull and smaller. Less important. In a similar manner, this mansion which should have been her safe haven was actually a monstrosity, a gateway drug into near death experiences and possibly dead friends. And her family…her mother was far away in an untouched paradise, one she wouldn't bring Maka to, and she hardly ever saw her father any more.

She squeezed her knees to her chest and promised that the one thing she dared not lose to Death City was herself.

The next day the ashy blonde departed in a flurry, grabbing a protein bar, an apple, and a doughnut as well as a pre-packed lunch for her father as she skipped out the house. The others had simply waved though they appeared perturbed by her hasty retreat, especially a squinty-eyed Soul, and she tried not to mull that fact over. She was still undecided about…well, everything. One second she thought it would be grand to stay stuck in on the Dark World and to figure out the mystery of Death City and Gallows Mansion; in the next she conceded that getting removed from the Dark World might be a good idea. She was gradually growing behind in school work what with so many distractions; Black Star really wasn't a good person to have around when studying. A banshee maybe or even a screamo mosh pit, but Black Star?

It was a miracle Tsubaki got anything done around the ecstatic wraith. That boy could give the Energizer Bunny a run for his money.

She climbed onto several different buses, somehow losing her way despite Death City's limited size and population. Eventually she gave up on the idea of riding public transportation and opted for walking, though a few minutes fried her skin and dampened her ponytails. Nevada was a blistering state with merciless heat and Death City was a tiny dry spot on its expansive desert. Maka glared up at the shining, laughing sun whose mouth was contorted in a gleeful grimace as if it was too hot to be happy but relieved it got to share its pain with the entire town.

She raised a weary, sweaty hand and gave it the bird.

He most likely didn't see it but inside she felt a bit better.

Eventually she wandered in the proper direction, her feet tripping often on the cracked sidewalk, and caught a glimpse of City Hall which rose in a weird half-dome, half-triangle shape. If she squinted and the light hit it just right it almost looked like a skull. The dehydrated teenager snorted to herself and shyly grinned. Her head was so wrapped up in the Dark World she was seeing mermaids where there were manatees.

Wait…were mermaids real?

She'd have to ask Soul. Or perhaps Liz and Tsubaki. The white-haired boy had been oddly distant from her. Not that they were particularly close in the first place but she had felt a connection with him. He was the first "ghostbuster" she had known, even if she had thought he was an illusion, and he seemed to genuinely care for her safety. He was smart and sarcastic, a perfect verbal sparring partner in her mind, and he elicited interesting responses from her.

For instance, sometimes when she stared too long at him, she heard that odd music. It was unlike any sound or symphony she'd ever heard before so she was unsure as to how and why her brain made it up but he inspired that from her. A dark, trembling concerto where a piano screamed at the same time it sang.

She kind of liked it.

As she neared City Hall, the heavily-breathing blonde attempted to hum a couple notes to herself, but, as usual, could not work out where the song started and where it ended. She was lucky enough to recreate some of the middle notes and a good portion of the tempo when her stomach fell like a ship dropping anchor.

She paused, legs locked and shivering as an almost supernatural cold settled over her, drifting lazily down from the back of her head to the very tip of her left big toe. A spot on her throat buzzed angrily and she, without thinking, scratched it relentlessly. There was an overpowering sense of dread quickly claiming her and her knees began to literally knock together.

What the-?

And then the smell. The stench of rusty iron so strong she tasted metal on the tip of her tongue. The scent of something so foul and rotten her stomach almost shoved the meager breakfast she'd eaten back up and out her mouth.

Her heart jumped into overdrive, thudding almost painfully against her ribcage, because all of a sudden she knew what this was. A memory, sharp and clear, rippled across her mind of a man that wasn't a man covered in blood and skin oozing off in spongy chunks.

Somewhere a primal instinct howled for her to run and run fast and don't stop, never stop, but she pushed it down and held it in her gut.

And marched in the direction the feeling emanated from.

What was she doing? She didn't know. Wasn't thinking. Had to go. Why? Why was it so important to follow this? She didn't know. Maka shockingly desired her father's warm embrace, his puppy dogs were right down the street just turn around! Go the other direction!

She couldn't…or wouldn't.

Which was it?

Her feet led her down a curved alley unnaturally dark and gray. Maka directed her eyes above and noted that yes, it was almost noon and the sun was very bright and very high in the sky, but its light didn't reach this area. She shivered and shook but plodded forward. Familiar noises bounced around her, a ripping, soggy sound that no one should ever have to listen to and an upbeat snuffling that somehow communicated to her how gleeful and elated the creature was in its catch.

It was behind a corner and could not see her, but she understood to a degree that if she tarried there too long it would find her and it would tear her apart.

Maka swallowed a large lump in her throat. She carefully reached for her back pocket and, as calmly and quietly as she could, removed her cell phone. Once in her hand she pulled up a Maps app and waited patiently as it booted itself and loaded her position. The fearful girl cautiously slid her thumb over the location and copied it, hurriedly switching to her text message center and punching in Tsubaki's cell phone number. She was in the middle of typing "Found a kishin/prekishin" when her phone started to ring.

Oh dear gods, no. Oh please no. Please, please, please no.

But the snuffling had stopped and a distorted head slid from around the corner, black holes appraising her near form.

She ran.

It would do her no good, but what other option was there? Stand and shake and die? As if!

In some ways, though, this chase was worse than the last one. Last time she didn't know what the monster was capable of. She had the hope and the drive and the will to overcome it. Maka had assumed she could fight back and get away.

But now, with her vast knowledge of prekishins and kishins, she knew no mere mortal had any chance of escape.

Not like she wouldn't try anyways!

Maka's sneakers pounded the pavement, a deep yowl of bloodlust telling her the prekishin was following close behind. She had the thought to press send, halfheartedly glancing at the screen and watching the progress of the green bar fill, but in the end chucked her phone as hard as she could overhead and briefly grinned when the surprised screech vibrated her eardrums. Her pursuer's beats stilted for a moment and Maka gained some well-needed ground.

Her biggest mistake was allowing her movements to lag. Never mind that it was a split second in which she filled her lungs with precious air because a split second was all the beast needed.

Her breath, which she had just caught mere moments ago, whooshed out of her in a painful exhale as something crashed into her backside and knocked her skittering across the ground. She whirled around quick as a top and kicked her feet out, successfully connecting with the monster's misshapen mouth. It growled over her and opened its gigantic disproportionate maw, showing rows and rows of tiny needle-thin teeth as well as sending lemon yellow spittle flying over her. Where it landed on her skin it stung and itched like multiple mosquito bites.

Maka yelled back, throaty savage sounds pouring out of her throat because to hell with screaming for help. She only had minutes, if even that, to live and she would go down fighting, roaring her pride at this demon and promising it a trip to Hell when she died and joined the Dark World.

If she joined the Dark World.

The beast raised a black-clawed paw, its form reminding her distantly of the orange alien-monster from the Ben 10 series, and she found herself closing her eyes.

"YAAAAAAAHHHHOOOOOO!"

Maka's green eyes flashed open in time to witness a round teal-shaded form knock heavily into the prekishin's side. It went flying down the alley, crashing with tremendous force against a thick concrete wall while the blue-ish shape gracefully unfolded out of its wrecking ball position and stood upright.

"Don't worry, Maka! Your god has arrived!" Black Star then gave her a thumbs up and a not at all bashful smirk. "You can sit back and enjoy yourself now."

En-enjoy herself?

"Maka! Are you okay?" The blonde's head moved towards the call and was partially surprised to find Soul, the Brooding One, sprinting to her. He reached her in Olympic gold-medalist time and quickly knelt by her side. "Maka? Maka! Is everything alright? Are you injured?"

She shook her head haltingly from side to side.

"Oh thank the Eight. I thought-we thought, I mean—hey there! You've got its spit on you!" He hurriedly rubbed his sleeve over her sprayed arms, the pale skin covered in miniscule red dots as if she had the chicken pox. The bumps sorta irritated in a similar manner, too. Once he was content in the removal, his red eyes appraised the wounds meticulously.

"They're not too bad. I'm sure Liz or Tsubaki have something for this…Star and I usually don't carry supplies on hunts 'cause we don't normally need them, but I kind of wished I had them now…" He looked up, gracing her with his rare crooked smirk-smile. It was only then did he notice the blank expression on Maka's face, the haunted look in her eyes. The green was bleached to an almost colorless gray and they sparkled ominously.

Soul immediately understood and, after sighing bitterly, folded the smaller girl to his chest.

"It's okay. You're okay. You're…you're not dead yet."

Maka Albarn nodded stiffly into his shoulder and, in an indecent manner she would punish herself for later, promptly collapsed into tears.


Encore: I won't bother you all with the details of life and I'm done promising things I may not be able to keep. I will promise, however, that this story will be finished eventually. I can't offer a definite time frame, but it shall! Also, I believe we are all looking at a "four season" show so expect this story to drag on for forever. XD

(But the entire plot is basically done and I think you will all enjoy it if I say so myself. Then again maybe not. I'm usually open to criticism and suggestion though. Usually.)

Replies:

SymmetricalGirl8DeathTheKid: You are so kind and wonderful. And I'm glad I made some people laugh. I don't generally consider myself a funny person so it's nice to know I can do it somewhat. :) I really hope you enjoyed this episode.

Guest from Chapter 5: Yeah I couldn't help it. I think I've decided to include at least one Maka-chop/Maka scary sequence in each chapter. This chapter's was dialed down and some others might be but hey, I'm gonna still shoot for it. :)

GrapeSodaBandBabies: Thank you so much for your review. I don't think people realize just what encouragement can do for a person, especially someone in an artistic avenue where there are no clear cut methods or answers. Most the time, especially lately, I've felt like my writing quality is down-grading (which I chalk up to lack of inspiration) but I still try and write because I love it. I'm very glad you think this little story is a gem and I'm sorry about the whole lemon thing (Hey, I could totally change my mind). I may end up around a certain point include one (maybe maybe maybe) but as of late possibly nah. I did recently write my first "detailed" lemon if you're interested though in my story Falling Stars and Lost in Black Holes.

Jewelz Experimental: Um, you're fucking amazing. You read and reviewed not one but two of my stories? I kind of love you. And yeah initially I wondered if I was gonna have tangible Soul or what was going to go down and then once I started writing I just...lost myself and the story came to me as well as most of the alternate world in this AU. It was weird and enjoyable and I call it "creativity slamming the shit out of you." It's brilliant and I wish it happened more often. Also, I hope you enjoyed both of these updates and I'll try (I really will) to update again soon!

Love each and every one of you who dares read, review, favorite, or follow this story. Thank you for your support!

-Bright

NEXT TIME ON WE ARE THE DEAD:

-Episode 06-

Here's What You Do If You're Ever Allergic to Dead Things