The shade was exactly as Sano had described it. That is to say, to a necrovisually colorblind exorcist, the shade could easily be pictured as exactly what Sano had described. What Hajime actually saw was close enough: a glowing white haze approaching across the park’s green field at that uncannily swift but somehow leisurely speed shades usually moved with; something more oblong than the typical amorphous but generally spherical shape favored by the collections of mindless emotional energy people sometimes left behind when they died — and, indeed, as it drew closer, visibly hollow inside. Once it had begun hovering around their bench, in fact, Hajime thought he was able to make out the vaguely humanoid shape of its center.
Sano stood and walked a few paces across the sidewalk into the grass. He turned, and, with a scowl, flung out his arms. “Meet my stalker,” he said as the shade moved to resume its orbit around him.
Hajime also stood, unsheathed his sword, and approached. The glowing figure in the air didn’t seem to react to him at all, only drifted slowly and apparently aimlessly around Sano. This was odd; usually angry shades were (predictably enough) aggressive, which was the specific reason they were a problem. But this one was just floating.
The sword Aoshi had modified for him in December had so far proven worth every one of the considerably many dollars Hajime had spent on it, and did not let him down now. As he drew nearer, the blade smoothly, quickly turned red. Sano made an admiring sound as he saw it, but said nothing. Hajime braced himself, concentrated on the removal of the shade from existence, and thrust the sword into the glow in front of him.
Whoever had left this anger behind had been strong-willed and persistent, and probably a little crazy. The anger itself was fierce and gave the impression, somehow, of being only the tip of the iceberg — or perhaps a better metaphor would be ‘only the first flow of lava from the erupting volcano:’ wherever it came from, there was a lot more of it.
And for all this, it wasn’t a problem to deal with. The aura writhed, clinging to the figure in its center, did not counterattack, and soon gave way to Hajime’s steady desire for its dissipation. Slowly the air cleared; the aura vanished, rendering the floating figure invisible. Invisible, but not absent. Without the shade anger, in fact, it was discernible on its own, though Hajime couldn’t have described how he could sense its presence. There was one thing he was at least closer to certain of now, however. He returned to the bench and sat down again, thoughtful.
Sano joined him there. “Too easy, huh?” he commented, gesturing to the air where the shade had been. “But then it always comes back.”
Hajime nodded slowly.
“So what do you think?”
“I think…” Hajime said, “that you’ve got a real ghost here.”
Again Sano sat bolt upright in surprise. “What? Are you serious?”
“You notice it doesn’t attack.”
“Yeah, that is kinda weird.”
“And the shape.”
They sat still for a while, staring at almost nothing — though Hajime thought he could already see a faint glow gathering around the invisible spirit again.
Finally Sano muttered in wonder, “A ghost… a real ghost…”
Shades, which were Hajime’s stock in trade, were a measurable, understandable phenomenon. But ghosts… ghosts were another story. Nobody knew why, every once in a great while, a human soul with thoughts and emotions and memories intact would remain after its body had died. An exorcist considered himself lucky to hear about a ghost cropping up somewhere during his career. Dealing with a real ghost could make an exorcist’s reputation. Which was why Hajime had come out here to meet Sano at all upon hearing the description of the apparition haunting him.
From the glowing aura that was definitely beginning to gather again, Hajime looked down to the sword that lay for now across his lap. Interestingly, the blade had never quite lost its red tinge, as if the angry aura had never actually gone.
“But who would be haunting me?” Sano finally wondered.
“You have no idea?”
“No! I haven’t had anyone die any time recently… my grandma went about five years ago, but that’d be way too long for her to be showing up now, and she wasn’t this angry anyway.”
“You’d probably know if it was a close relation in any case.”
Sano nodded, and another long silence followed as they watched the ghost’s aura grow and Hajime contemplated. Finally he said, “I’d like to have my familiars take a look at this.” He had hesitated about this because taking the ghost anywhere would involve taking Sano to the same place, and taking a client to his own home wasn’t usual. But, then, neither was encountering an actual ghost… and, given that they hadn’t actually discussed services and payment yet, Sano wasn’t exactly a client anyway.
Sano seemed less interested in that particular end of ‘usual,’ and instead commented, “Don’t think I’ve ever heard of an exorcist with familiars before.”
Hajime shrugged. “I’m more of a communicator than a necrovisual.”
“Oh.” Then Sano sat up straight yet again, demanding, “So does that mean you’ve been reading my mind this whole time?”
Hajime smirked. “Not if I could help it.”
“So why are you an exorcist, then?” Sano asked this in some haste, a little flustered, making a very obvious attempt not to think anything he didn’t want Hajime to hear. When people did this, the result was usually that the thought they were trying to repress got broadcast so loudly that Hajime heard it even without trying. In this case, somewhat to his surprise, it was, “…probably heard me thinking what a sexy voice he’s got…”
Young men finding Hajime’s voice sexy — or, rather, anyone finding anything about Hajime sexy — was not something he was accustomed to (nor something he particularly sought), and he had to admit it threw him off a bit. Fortunately, Sano’s question was one that everyone even a little involved in magic asked when they found out he wasn’t making his living in the branch where he had the most natural talent, so he had a ready answer. “None of the communication career options appealed to me.”
“I hear the government loves communicators, though.”
“Mostly to monitor and control the general awareness of magic.”
“So you’d rather be beating up shades than brainwashing people?” Sano shrugged slightly. “I guess that makes sense.” Hajime got the feeling Sano thought so because the idea of beating something up was so much more straightforward than that of brainwashing.
This largely pointless exchange had gotten them past the bulk of Sano’s nervousness regarding Hajime’s telepathic abilities (as well as the bulk of Hajime’s disorientation regarding Sano’s thoughts about him), so Hajime stood and said, “My familiars may be able to confirm whether or not this is a real ghost.” For good measure he added, “Since you obviously can’t tell.”
It worked. Sano jumped up as well, flaring bright again, and retorted, “Well, neither can you!”
“Why don’t you follow me to my house?”
Sano’s angry aura dissipated and was not followed by any significant resurgence; he really did seem to have a excess of internalized energy that couldn’t possibly be making his day-to-day life any easier. And since it was amusing to watch him get mad, Hajime was happy to try to draw it out. So as he headed toward his car and Sano hastened to catch up, he commented idly, “And try not to rear-end me or anything.”