It was definitely a ghost. This was what Tokio had to say after sitting, placid but for the twitching end of her tail, staring up at the thing as it moved gently from one end of the small living room to the other.
Definitely a ghost, added Misao, who’d been galloping around beneath and occasionally rising onto hind feet. And to the counterance of anyone’s suspicions that she hadn’t sensed this herself but was just piggybacking off Tokio’s pronouncement, she added that it was a ghost, but covered in shade.
Hajime nodded, thinking this an apt description. And a ghost covered in shade was probably going to be somewhat difficult to deal with.
Sano had been laughing at Misao’s antics, but simultaneously growing more and more tense as the cats examined the glowing form. At Hajime’s nod he demanded impatiently, “Well?”
“Oh, yes,” Hajime said as if he’d just remembered, “you can’t understand them.” He was already developing a theory, though, about Sano the casual necrovisual that claimed not to be a communicator but was comprehensible to familiars and didn’t like to have his magical senses clouded…
When Sano’s usual irritation appeared, Tokio remarked that it was the same angry energy that surrounded the ghost.
Hajime replied to her instead of to Sano, just to see if Sano would become more angry. “Yes, he’s been absorbing it trying to deal with this, but it hasn’t been working.”
Tokio thought this was no wonder, because… but Hajime wasn’t able to catch the rest of her statement as Sano interrupted:
“Stop having conversations I can’t fucking understand and tell me what they think!”
Chuckling at the vehemence of the command, Hajime obeyed, briefly. “It’s definitely a ghost.”
Sano turned brown eyes beneath knitted brows toward the glowing shape, which was still floating aimlessly back and forth in front of him, and commented (not for the first time that day), “Shit.”
Misao was complaining that she couldn’t hear anything from the ghost, and wondered why it wasn’t talking. It was a good question.
Taking the last sip of beer from the can and replacing the latter on the table, Hajime stood and began to follow the ghost’s slow progress back and forth through the room. Up close, it felt slightly different, and he concentrated on that difference, trying to describe it to himself. Finally he decided that the angry shade energy swathing the ghost and the ghost itself had each a distinct sense about them; and one, in wrapping the other so thoroughly, was masking it to the point where the ghost could only be detected through the anger at close proximity.
The anger was giving him a headache at that proximity, however, so he finally stepped back. How had Sano lived with this thing for three weeks? Not to mention absorbing all the anger off it five times…
“Well?” the young man demanded again.
Hajime continued pensively watching the object of their discussion. “Now that we know it’s a ghost,” he finally said, “we need to find some way to communicate with it. But the shade energy is probably going to get in the way.”
“How can someone be a ghost and a shade?” Sano wondered. He was clearly about to elaborate on his confusion, but evidently couldn’t quite articulate it and decided not to try.
Hajime understood what was bothering him, though: shades were just leftover strong emotion combined with the energy of death, and, since they were created at the moment of death, were limited to a finite amount. Once that moment of death was over with, there was no more of that death force to create a shade out of an emotion… so even if the ghost was angry, how was that anger continually translating into a shade? Or did the very presence of a ghost generate an ongoing death energy?
But, then, with so little information documented about ghosts, this was only one of a thousand questions that might be answered if they could just talk to the thing.
Hajime was primarily only familiar with the basic techniques of communication magic: enough to keep his own thoughts in check, access the open surface level of others’, and so on. Though he’d picked up a minor skill or two here and there, he had never bothered with distance telepathy or brainwashing or skimming power from memories or the like, mostly because he’d never been interested enough in what went on in other people’s heads. He wasn’t sure to what extent any level of talent or practice in communication was going to help with the undead, and necromancy was a skill he’d never had occasion to develop. But he might as well make the attempt.
Resuming his seat on the sofa, he focused on the ghost even more pointedly than before, working to order his thoughts into a direct channel toward it. Unfortunately, he could not even begin to sense a mind in there, nor any thoughts at all analogous with his own. Whether this was because the shade energy was blocking him, or because his powers of communication simply didn’t work on a ghost, he couldn’t tell. So he resorted to the next best thing, or at least the only thing he could think to try next, which was his line of sight: he simply directed his outgoing message at the figure on a physical basis.
Beside him, Sano was shifting restlessly, clearly aware that Hajime was up to something but restraining himself (for the moment) from demanding to know what. At Hajime’s outgoing thought (merely a greeting and the idea that he wanted to communicate), he stiffened a little; the cats also reacted, looking over at their human somewhat accusingly. Misao wondered what he was trying to do, Tokio remarked that she didn’t think anything was likely to reach the ghost, and Sano demanded, “What was that?” The ghost, however, as Tokio had predicted, did not even seem to receive the thought, let alone respond.
“I’m trying to get through to him,” Hajime explained, frowning. Communicative magic probably wasn’t going to work, which meant they would have to do the séance thing, and he didn’t think he had any candles.
“Maybe if you got up close…” Sano suggested.
Hajime nodded and rose from the sofa once more. He didn’t approach the ghost again just yet, but instead went into the kitchen to retrieve the sword he’d set down on the counter when they’d entered the house. He didn’t plan on getting any nearer to that thing than he had to until at least some of the angry shade was gone.
Sano didn’t comment when Hajime returned, nor did he have anything to say as the exorcist drew the sword and advanced on the ghost — but Hajime got an impression from him that he doubted this was going to work any better than it had before. Hajime rather thought so too, but it had to be attempted.
As previously, the angry energy, though volatile, was worrisomely easy to defeat; Hajime almost thought he could even have done it without the sword. Having replaced the latter in its sheath and set it aside, he then returned to the now-invisible ghost and raised a hand into the space it occupied.
He could definitely sense its presence, but still no trace of a comprehensible mind. He tried first to send another thought at it, then to open himself up to any message the ghost might be trying to broadcast; but the former had no discernible effect and the latter only gave him an instant headache.
“It never all quite leaves,” he muttered. He couldn’t see any remaining shade energy, but when he opened himself as he just had, he felt as if he were being battered by a hot, heavy wind.
Sano stood. “Let me see if I can get the rest of it.” Hajime nodded; a combination of techniques might be exactly what was needed.
The only time the ghost seemed to react to anything was when Sano moved. Hajime had been slowly pacing the room in order to keep right next to it as it drifted, but when Sano approached, the thing finally held still. Could it sense that Sano wanted it to? Perhaps, despite claiming not to be a communicator, Sano might have a better chance than Hajime at talking to it.
Now he’d reached up so his hand hovered in the air near Hajime’s, and his face had taken on an expression of angry concentration. Shades had a certain resonance that varied from one to the next, and people that were able to absorb the energy did so by matching that wavelength precisely. It was about the only field where a talent for feeling a particular emotion became a trade skill. And it seemed that Sano was particularly good at getting angry — either that or he’d been around this specific spirit so much that it only took him a moment to attune to it and draw off the last remaining shade energy into himself.
But it wasn’t the last. Or at least the action did not help. Continued attempts at communicating with the ghost, either giving or receiving ideas, met with the same failure as before, and that sense of being attacked (and the near-migraine that went with it) did not diminish. Hajime still could not begin to sense a consciousness anywhere in there, and that he didn’t know whether or not he should be able to only complicated things.
So did Sano’s increasing anger. The young man hadn’t moved from where he stood facing Hajime (across the ghost, as it were) with his hand in the air, but he’d closed his eyes and was looking — and feeling — more and more angry. The sense of its growing radiation was interfering somewhat with Hajime’s concentration on something that wasn’t working anyway; so finally Hajime put his own raised hand over the younger man’s, which had by now clenched into a fist, and pushed it out of the ghost’s space.
“This isn’t working,” he said quietly.
Sano’s eyes started open, and the irate gleam in them was surprisingly hot and strong. It occurred to Hajime, looking into what seemed at the moment an inferno of unfathomable depth, that Sano might be dangerous if he absorbed too much anger; not that it was likely to be anything Hajime couldn’t handle, but they must remember to keep the lethal weapons out of Sano’s reach at such moments.
Sano jerked away from Hajime and the ghost, turning abruptly to stalk back over to the sofa and throw himself down. “Damn right it’s not,” he growled. “You were right: there’s just no end to the fucking stuff.”
Hajime also stood back, out of the way of the headache-inducing energy, letting his mental shields rise back into place, and nodded again. It looked like they really were going to have to try silly séance business, candles and all, and it was so hard to get cats to sit still for things like that, and he honestly didn’t think it was going to work any better than what they’d already done — though, once again, the attempt had to be made.
He glanced at his watch. It was getting to be mid-afternoon already, somehow, and they’d made no progress except to confirm that the thing was, in fact, a ghost. If the lack of results continued and Sano got much angrier, he might decide to take his ghost elsewhere. And though he wasn’t exactly a paying customer (yet… though Hajime sensed that ‘ever’ might be a better term), he’d presented the exorcist with a unique opportunity that Hajime did not want to lose. He would talk to this ghost, no matter what it took. Which meant he needed to try to keep Sano happy.
“This might take a while,” he said. “How do you feel about ordering Chinese?”