Reunion Hollow


The folks of Port Jasington celebrated Halloween out of begrudging obligation. Originally, the holiday was part of a Druidic harvest ritual involving a night of scares to power nature magic, but some up-and-coming cabal entrepreneurs had a plan. They wanted to bastardize a once-religious harvest festival and turn it into a day where children beg for sweets. Why? Nobody knows. But the idea struck true with the secular nature of the city: anything would be better than paying fealty to Gods that were only sometimes around.

And really, it’s pretty hard to scare anybody when the entirety of the populace can, in some way, warp reality with magic.

The first thing they wanted to do was put a price on scares. That way, you could legally give somebody a heart attack because they agreed to it. That’s where the Truthless Graveyard came in.

The Truthless Graveyard was a haunted house. Located in the always-expanding harbour edge of Port Jasington, it was a manor filled to the brim with pseudo-gothic charm and plenty of authentic cobwebs. It was in a prime spot: a few blocks down from the theatre, a few streets up from the Food Avenue, the perfect spot for a consumption-based business flourish. Over the years, plenty of folks tried to acquire the seemingly dilapidated house over the years.

Problem is: sometimes, the dead still retain property rights.

Technically, the original owner of the home was still there. Just not alive. This would be a nonissue in most places, but Port Jasington had its population of undead.

A Jiangshi chef. The occasional vampire office worker here and there. Some Juju zombie reggae singers are trying to make a name for themselves. People were still getting used to the dead sometimes just not dying, but this was a progressive city. If they were sentient, then they were welcome.

But City Management threw a fit when they realized there was an underutilized house on a busy street. One call to the Order later, they sent in an Exorcist and Lamia to figure the situation out.

They hired the worst people for the job.

Long story very short; instead of exorcising and cleansing the house, they left a new contract on the front door and mucked it off. City Management wasn’t happy, but they sucked it up at the time.

Another problem: the demand for scares was zero. The supply happened to be very high. This led to a grand total of zero paid visits for the Truthless Graveyard this year. Same as last year. And the year before that. And so on.

This meant the city was taking a big loss on the house. No business, no taxes. Some bureaucrats saw it as a sign to send in their own problem-solvers. Lots of hand-twiddling and scheming later, and a contract for an exorcism came up with an exorbitant reward — but not as exorbitant as the boatload of coins that would come from property taxes.

Within five minutes, it was accepted. They found their new Exorcist.

 

That night, a hooded figure slipped through the sparse holiday crowds and reached the front door. After Inspecting the weathered door frame and slightly yawning doors, they slipped through the front door and sealed their doom.

They conjured a faint orb of blue electricity to light the way, illuminating waterlogged halls and rotting paper walls. But light itself no longer cooperated in this place; their spell tittered off to feeble lashes of light beyond a few metres.

Age had not been kind to the manor. While some artifacts had survived the rough seasons, the rest had been eaten by the rain and snow and winds — most of the walls were peeled raw, revealing bare wood and stone. The Stranger kept their light trained forth, occasionally pausing to inspect some of the artifacts left behind.

The Stranger inspected one such artifact: a picture frame. It contained a crystal-rendered image of a family of Raiju wearing traditional eastern robes and sandals. There was a mother, a father, and two cheery-looking sisters — the younger one had purple hair, while the older had indigo. They were from another era, another time; a time before Port Jasington was an international port.

The Stranger braced themselves, gently placing down the frame, as though to not disturb the potential spirits within the manor.

They had done their research. They knew exactly what they were getting into.

“That place may be open for… whatever business it may be,” said an elderly Kappa from the harbour. “But it’s cursed. That name ain’t for show. There’s no truth to be found in there.”

According to the rumours, the house gained a unique property over the years: within the premises, any creature that drew breath was forbidden from the truth. This included writing it down, acting it out, and of course, verbal transmission.

The Stranger pushed further into the manor’s depths, braving the cloying darkness and stale air. The house opened up in turn, exposing frost-laden long corridors that echoed with faint reverberations. Shrines appeared and disappeared as the Stranger turned corners; some fresh with offers, some barren and decrepit.

There were whispers in the air. Faint mutterings at first, then guttural sounds without sources. It was coming from the courtyard. The Stranger followed, ignorant of the manor’s tricks.

They reached a snow-smothered courtyard raging with wind. The sheen of a full moon beat down upon the scene, highlighting frozen trees and disorderly gardens.

Something was watching the Stranger, now. The faint presence lurked around the courtyard, flitting through the shadows, slowly approaching.

The Stranger acted swiftly. Gemstones liquified in their palm; a stream of ruby-silver poured from their hand to the snow. The liquid traced out a complicated glyph in the ground, then erupted in violet light.

An imperceptible vortex emerged in the center of the glyph, pulling in snow and Ether. The manor creaked in agony; the temperature plummeted, coating the Stranger’s cloak in frost. The cold bit at their fingertips. But they concentrated on the spell until all supernatural phenomena ceased.

The Stranger peered into their psychokinetic trap. There was a creature of ectoplasm contained within the arcane circle; it raged against the walls of their new prison, smashing ineffectively into walls of constructed Ether.

“Ow, ow, ow, ow… ow!” came a cry from within the barrier. “I just wanted to have a little fun! I wasn’t going to hurt you!”

But this was the Truthless Graveyard. Such words were lies — nobody could be taken at their word. It was a mere fact.

I am here to exorcise you, thought the Stranger. But their actions spoke for them: they raised a Spirit-Sealing Talisman and grimaced.

But at that moment, a harsh wind suddenly blew, blowing the hood off the Stranger.

The Spirit’s eyes widened. They crumpled to their knees, gaping at the unveiled figure.

“Sister?” they asked, dumbfounded. “Is that you?”

There was no margin for hesitation.

It was all lies. Lies. All of it was a lie.

The Stranger closed their eyes and activated their talisman, unleashing a single bolt of cleansing energy. A bright flash consumed the courtyard and faded, leaving only the howling winds and cruel moonlight.

 

A long time ago, two sisters sat beside each other on a warm, coastal summer afternoon. Albeit similar in stature and build, the younger sister had bright violet hair while the older had deep blue hair.

It was the last day of summer, a time where the crimson autumn blossoms were beginning to bud on the trees in the courtyard. They sat on the deck, sipping cool barely tea and listening to the quiet song of cicadas and crashing waves.

They were growing old in relative terms, already in the twilight of their youths. Having both completed their education, they had a few months before they had to join society as adults.

The younger sister, a girl named Reikou Hikaru, focused her gaze upon the horizon. She seemed to be concentrating on something far beyond the walls of their imperial manor.

“Kino-chan, Kino-chan,” Hikaru suddenly said, tugging on her sister’s sleeve, “Which academy did you decide to go to?”

It had been many months since Hikaru brought up this topic. She had asked Reikou Akino at the start of summer.

The answer hadn’t changed during those peaceful, laid back summer days, but it perked the older sister’s curiosity. She turned and tilted her head. “Why do you ask this time, sister?”

“I want to know,” said Hikaru with a grumpy look.

Akino responded with a reserved smile and faint nod. “I’m still deciding, Karu-chan.”

“But you’ve been deciding for over a year.”

“I’m dealing with a lot of things as of late.”

Hikaru looked away grumpily. “That’s what you say every time I ask you.”

Akino was having none of it. As an older sister, she instinctively knew when her younger sibling was hiding something. Hikaru always stared away grumpily in an incredibly specific fashion when she was withholding information.

“You can speak freely around me, Karu-chan,” said Akino, patting her sister on the shoulder. “No need for indirect questions.

Hikaru looked at her sister. Then, hesitating slightly, she looked back at the horizon. “I was accepted into the Arcanaeum overseas,” she said in a low voice. “They set up a new academy in Talmaii.”

“Ah! Congratulations!” Akino was overcome by an uncharacteristic burst of cheer: she lurched to the side and hugged her precious younger sister. “I didn’t think you took the exam — I’m so proud of you!”

Hikaru was oddly stiff. Akino pulled back after she got over the initial rush of excitement, noticing her sister’s hesitance. “Eh? Is there something wrong, sister?”

There was a long silence. Then Hikaru spoke in a quiet voice, “I want you to come with me, sister.”

Akino froze up. “I… can’t do that.”

It was this conversation again. Hikaru was oddly insistent on Akino’s attendance of higher education, but she was trapped in responsibilities. And as many times as they’ve had the argument, the answer never changed.

“But you were always better at me than magic. Why not?” Hikaru grew visibly agitated. “Why can’t we go together?”

“Somebody has to take care of our parents,” said Akino. “And the family business — somebody needs to carry on the tradition. I can’t just abandon everybody here like that.”

Hikaru was a frighteningly bright girl. Without studying, she had intuitively grasped many complicated concepts and scored within the top twenty-five percentile of her class. It was a result far greater than Akino had accomplished — for the older sister, she had studied through many nights to pull off a slightly more impressive grade.

“It’s only a year or two of study. You told me I should work hard — I did this for you.”

“I know.”

“Then why? Why won’t you change your mind?”

Hikaru’s cheeks were red. It was strange seeing her upset; anger just didn’t suit her.

“I’m glad,” Akino said, smiling wistfully. “I truly, truly am. But I can’t go with you — I still need to take care of things here.” She embraced her Hikaru in a tight hug, resting her chin on the younger Raiju’s head. “I’ll be cheering you on, wherever you are. I promise.”

“I have to leave in two weeks,” said Hikaru, quietly.

“I know,” said Akino.

“I’ll miss you a lot.”

“…I know.”

“I… don’t know whether I’ll be able to see you again.”

Akino didn’t say anything. She couldn’t reach her — changing the young girl’s mind with words was impossible. She could only hold her sister close, regretting the loss of a peaceful everyday life that would soon be gone.

Hikaru protested. She got mad. She shouted, threw a child’s tantrum, slung hurtful words, raging until she broke down in silence. Despite the lack of words, she understood that Akino was not coming with her.

Eventually, Hikaru returned the embrace, burying her head in her sister’s shoulder. They stayed there for the rest of the afternoon, slowly becoming aware of the growing distance between them.

Akino left first, rushing to help her parents prepare dinner. Hikaru stayed behind to watch the sun trail through the air — and to be alone for some time.

She knew the route she was taking. The path of a Magus was a lifelong one, a lonely path that treads through dangers beyond danger. No longer would she be able to see eye to eye with her hardworking sister, her parents, or any of her former friends. It was abandoning one life for another.

It stung the young girl deeply. Soundlessly, she allowed herself to weep, thankful that nobody was there to witness her tears.

“You forgot our promise,” said Hikaru, wiping at her moistened eyes. “You said we’d see the stars over Aurorea, sister. You… promised.”

A promise forgotten in the spring. A child’s dream, abandoned.

That was one of the last times the two sisters would speak to one another. They went down incompatible paths in life, never to see each other again.

 

The Stranger and the Spirit sat together on what was left on the manor’s broken deck. An incantation was able to clear the snow away, but the Stranger couldn’t do much anything to repair the damage done by time.

“I didn’t think you’d ever come back,” mumbled the Spirit.

“It was on a whim,” said the Stranger. “Don’t think too much of it.”

“I’d pour you some tea, but, as you can see…” They press their hands against the deck. Their flingers slip through. “Incorporeal.”

“As Spirits tend to be.”

This Halloween scene was a different time than they remembered — the sounds of the ocean had been replaced with crowds and machines. The firecrackers that had once been reserved for festivals were popping all around them in a continuous stream of noise, but were thankfully quiet enough to preserve some semblance of peace.

It was a cold and snowy night. Clouds occasionally passed over a disk moon, scattering spotty shadows upon the lands. But neither of them really felt it.

Neither was alive, after all.

The Stranger was a statue in the moonlight. Her skin was a violet porcelain that was practically grey in the shadows. Age and innumerable arcane experiments had drained her hair to a violet-tinged grey and snuffed the life from her eyes. There were two vulpine ears and a bushy tail, but those were expertly hidden by her cloak. Due to illusion magicks, most people would only see a black shadow when they gazed upon the Stranger, but it was better to be safe than sorry.

The two sat together for a while. Then, after letting the world pass them by for several minutes, the Stranger regarded the Spirit out of the corner of her eye. “How’d you die?” she asked.

A bitter smile passed over the Spirit’s face. “Suicide.”

The Spirit had fared much better in appearance. Though slightly transparent and tinged cyan, she appeared much as she did in life: an attractive Raiju of indeterminate age. But her eyes were dark red, the lower half of her body blurring to a blob of ectoplasm; the practical archetype of a ghost. But even in death, her hair was a deep indigo.

“My husband left me after our third child,” she continued. “I passed on the family traditions to my children, waited until they didn’t need me anymore, then poisoned myself.” She looks at her hands, then, after a long moment of deliberation, chuckles. “I guess I did a pretty bad job of it if I’m still here.”

The Stranger shrugged. “That’s about what I expected.”

The Spirit narrowed her gaze. “Well, what about you? I think I recognize what you are — you’re a Lich, aren’t you?”

“Yeah. Took a while to get to this point,” answered The Stranger. “I joined the Order of Cosmos and helped in the subjugation of the Lady in Shadow. Turning into a Lich was the only way to stay alive in that hellhole.” She raises her hand, levitating many magical implements from underneath her cloak. Namely, a Grimoire and a Catalyst — a steel and leather book and a perpetually moving metal orb bedazzled with arcane gems. “I became a hero of sorts. I think there’s a few statues of me here and there. They called me The Storm Magus after a while.” She flips through a few pages of her floating Grimoire, as though looking for something. “Well, I have a lot of names.”

“Ah. I see. Are you… Hm. Can I still call you Karu-chan?”

“You may.” The Stranger scoffs. “Better than all the stupid names people insisted on calling me.”

A long pause passed between the two undead. Then, the Spirit raised her voice. “Karu-chan. Were you satisfied with your life?”

The Stranger did not say anything. Instead, she took a brief pause, then returned the question. “Were you?”

Neither of them responded. They glanced at each other, then looked away.

“I died alone,” said Hikaru. “At least, the first time. That was intended. People were scared of me after that. I trained the occasional pupil, but nothing really came of those. I think most people still think I’m a monster.”

“I… think I was happy,” said Akino. “I made it a long, blissful fifty years. Then I ended up like this for a long time. I think. It wasn’t the best, but… hmm…” Akino trailed off, recounting the poorer parts of her life.

“We went down completely different paths in life, but neither of us were happy.” Hikaru sighed. “Bit of a depressing realization, thinking about it.”

“I think our extended family is pretty big now, though.” Akino offered. Then, gazing at Hikaru’s Catalyst — an instrument of war — she looked away. “But… I do regret it. That’s probably one of my biggest regrets — not being able to accompany you on your journey.” She sank, sheepishly. “I never really had a heart for adventure. Sorry.”

Hikaru ran a hand through her hair and fiddled with her sidelocks. “I think it was probably better that you didn’t come along. A lot of people died — sometimes I wake up, wondering how I made it through all three hundred years of war.”

“Probably because you’re an immortal Lich.”

“…Yeah. That’s probably it.”

Above them, the moon shimmered. Somewhere was the laughter of the living, cheerful despite the weather.

It was a different era now, one that neither belonged to. The world no longer had a need for heroes or woodblock painters — they were completely and utterly replaced by peace and new art forms. Both of them could sense it clearly tonight, seeing the state of their long-lost sibling.

“How’s the family?” asked Hikaru. She shifted her seating, pulling up her legs to sit cross-legged.

“The family line? Pretty big, I guess.” Akino shrugged. “Descendents come to visit me once in a while. Usually a branch every few months — some of the locals bring me things, too.”

Hikaru furrowed her brows. “The house is in this state with frequent visits?”

“Have you forgotten the day? It’s Halloween.”

“Eh?”

Akino snapped her ghostly fingers. The manor responded — walls rebuilt, windows repaired themselves, and the rot gently removed itself from the floor. In a matter of seconds, the manor reverted to a respectable piece of property — albeit slightly dusty from disuse.

“Glamours. That was always my weakest theory,” said Hikaru, wistfully.

“Well, I had a long time to practice. Figured I could pick up a few new tricks with the times.”

“Why the illusion, then?”

“Because it’s a haunted house. It’s more genuine this way, don’t you think? A spooky, foreign house from the old times. There’s actually a few people inside right now — they’re kinda wandering in circles and getting themselves worked up.” Akino puts her hands on her hips and puffs out her chest triumphantly. “Part of my service to the community. It was supposed to be an inescapable maze where I get to feed off some scares and hang around my guests afterward they give up.”

“Inescapable?” asked Hikaru, incredulously.

“It’s low level glamorous — you just managed to see through all my tricks.” Akino shook her head. “As expected of my younger sister.”

“Hm.” Hikaru cast a backwards glance, noting the illusion. She fell for it a little, so it must be one or two levels above beginner level. “I suppose.”

Maybe the exorcism request was a little misleading — some sort of guerilla marketing tactic. But at the same time, there was a disconcertingly large bounty. Hikaru already received the quarter upfront payment: it wasn’t much to her, but a pouch of scilitite coins could buy a year’s worth of food and then some for the average person.

“Anyway,” continued Akino, “I think we’re up to the eleventh generation — or so. That would make you a great, great, great, great, great, great, great… great… Um…” She began counting on her fingers. “Great, great… great…?”

“Great aunt,” finished Hikaru. “Though ancestor has a better ring to it.”

“Mhm.” Akino lowered her hands. “Well, most of them are running Reikou Macrosorceries. They founded the company, after all.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“Hmm. Think I could get a family discount on bulk reagents? I was thinking about building a new Catalyst.”

Akino chuckled, mirthfully. “You’ll have to take it up with them. I think I own a single share worth a few hundred gold — I don’t really pay attention to material goods anymore.” She bobs up and down in the night air, as though to emphasize her incorporeality.

They sat there for a while longer. There was a distinctive lack of shivering and frosted breaths between them, but they made up for it with a sudden silence.

They didn’t have much to talk about. Time and distance had eroded all familiarity between them, and a few hundred years of it made them strangers to one another.

The lull was broken by a brisk almost-winter gust. Akino waited until the wind chimes calmed to ask, “So, what brings you back home, Karu-chan?”

Hikaru looked to the side. “I’m not really sure. I’ve been wandering for a long time now — figured I may as well make a stop here.”

“Did you expect to see me here?”

“Honestly? I expected there to be an entirely different building here.” She sighed and placed a hand on her cheek. “I was fully expecting to spend the night wandering in the cold, monologuing about bygone hopes and dreams. I could’ve put something like that into my memoirs, but no, here I am.” She shook her head. “Maybe it was fate.”

“Ah. My apologies.” Akino bowed apologetically, pondering the idea.

Fate. Such a fickle thing, confounded with random chance, the idea that all events were meant to happen. A weave constructed by a benevolent — or, more likely, a malevolent God beyond this world’s current deities. A fool’s refuge, perhaps. But if it really exists—

No, no. Such musings were beyond her. Stranger things have happened in this world. “Hmm. Maybe you could put this encounter into your memoirs instead?”

“Hah. Maybe.” Hikaru laid back on the deck and closed her eyes, feeling the familiar, yet cold wood against her back. “…Truth be told, I think I was drawn here because I was tired. I’ve already seen and done it all. All that’s left to me is my magic — but my interest in even that is starting to wane.”

Images flashed behind her eyes. Her entire life, to be precise, presented in a slideshow of colour and sensation.

Becoming a Lich provided a photographic memory, but imbued the curse of crystalized intellect. She could think at speeds that would put many mortals to shame — as such, she has already seen her memories countless times. She has simulated entire lives in her boredom. But when she opened her eyes, nothing had changed. When she opened her eyes now, all she could do was reach out towards that distant blue moon.

“I’ve analyzed everything. After I deciphered the secrets I wished to, it hit me: everpresent, hideous boredom. The friends I made moved on, whether to the Heavens, or in life — perhaps they simply got bored of me. I saw the signs, how devotion and attachment began to lose their meaning to me. The power was nice and I guess I saved a lot of people, but… I was always alone.” She let her hand fall to the side, sighing. “Soon enough… I started wondering what I had really signed myself up for. My phylactery was so well hidden that not even I could remember where it was. Maybe a deity took it in for safekeeping as thanks. I realized there was no way out, and it seemed like the world itself was conspiring to take those few comforts away from me. And then I realized…

“Just… what kind of fate is this?”

Akino listened patiently, with all the grace of an older sister. Then, when Hikaru trailed off into silence, she offered a tender sidelong look.

“It’s a terrible fate, isn’t it? But at the same time, it’s… beautiful.” Akino tilted backwards, floating on her back, staring up at the same starry night as her sister. “I’ve seen my children come and go. And my children’s children. And theirs, too. I couldn’t leave the house since I’ve been bound here, but their smiles were radiant… and there were always people who would come to see me. There’s a Dragon who stays for a few months at a time every year for the past… long while. Well, erm… I was never good with my words, but I guess it’s just what you make of it.”

Hikaru closed her eyes again. “I guess.”

Some sort of understanding came between them. It wasn’t like old times — far from it. But in the falling snow was a faint semblance of the two sisters that had once spent many summers together.

Akino still remembered those days well. And she saw something equally nostalgic: Hikaru was restlessly looking at the moon, fidgeting with her hands. She thought for a moment, ran through all the possibilities, then looked over with a well-educated guess. “You’re here to exorcise me, aren’t you?”

Hikaru hesitated. Then, with a heavy sigh, said, “Yeah. I am.”

“You were always a terrible liar,” Akino said, smiling.

“What gave it away?”

“Older Sister’s secrets, you see. Can’t tell you that.”

Hikaru clicked her tongue. “Damn.”

A subtle, yet profound shift occurred in the atmosphere. They gazed at each other for the first time in many years with an intensity that could melt the snow around them. It was a visual duel, a race to learn the other’s secrets with eye contact alone.

“Who put out the contract?” asked Akino.

“The city,” replied Hikaru. “Apparently the home’s boundary of Anti-truth is spreading — which is seriously disrupting nearby businesses.”

Akino’s ghostly eyes widened. Then, imaging the scenarios and hijinks involved, she burst into light-hearted conniptions. Hikaru cracked a small smile.

“The complaint was put forth by a woman trying to order a coffee,” continued Hikaru. “One day, they tried putting in an order for a coffee and ended up with fifteen milk-only lattes. The manager got involved. Then the city guard. Things got silly.”

“Oh, dear. You know what, that’s reasonable.” Akino put her hands up guiltily. “I never managed to figure out where that property was coming from, but alas.” She looked up at the moon and sniffled. “I guess we’ve all got to move on at some point.”

“We do. It’s about time for us — today belongs to the living.”

“There are always new things to see,” offered Akino.

“They’re not for us.” She looked away for a brief moment, frowning. “Halloween is a day for warding off spirits. It’s time to move on.”

Hikaru had already made up her mind about something. Arguing now would be a practice in futility, Akino realized. “Well… I’m alright with this. I got to see you again, so I’m happy. I think there may be one too many people waiting for me in Heaven these days, anyway.”

Hikaru stood up, levitating herself to her feet, then stepped into the snow. She didn’t leave any footsteps behind. “There are two ways to exorcise a spirit,” she explained, withdrawing a prayer scroll from her cloak. “One: resolving the spirit’s past regrets. But sometimes, a spirit doesn’t have any regrets — or simply cannot be appeased. In that case, a liberal application of True Ether is required.”

A faint sigil emerged around an outstretched palm, then grew and encircled Hikaru’s arm. A violet and white serpent, ever coiling, ever-shifting; within its scales were intricate patterns that were rewoven each second, every colour and line and light containing the basis for a miracle. Merely gazing upon it roused a long-forgotten feeling within Akino’s chest — she did not have to breathe, but involuntarily drew a breath.

It was the first time Akino had ever seen Magic. While sorceries were commonplace, few had the aptitude to acquire abilities beyond what was given by blood. Even fewer transcended to the levels of an Archmage, and fewer still could reach an apotheosis. The arcane hierarchy was the lifeblood of this world, but such intricacies were lost on her.

Instead, she admired the miracle being crafted in front of her. Pride and sorrow coursed through her — as well as a twinge of surprise. She merely looked on, spurred by her sister’s achievements, saddened by their lost relationship, amused by the acceptance of her fate. Those emotions fed into the luminous miracle until it rushed forth through the snow.

A white wind blew. It was a gentle wind that erased the world without a trace. It came from somewhere outside this world, something impossibly warm, something so gentle it made Akino want to cry.

It picked her up and carried her somewhere far away from that snowy courtyard. Her ethereal body ebbed away in that infinite white expanse, replaced by the warmth of a forgotten summer day.

She wondered what she would see if she tried opening her eyes. Was there truly a paradise beyond the land of the living, where the fields were green and rippled with the northern winds? Would she see her family and her children that had passed on first? Her parents?

Was there something left to this existence that she had forgotten about? If so, she welcomed it.

Ah. It was coming now. The end. The river was fading to black.

She tried opening her eyes, then. To catch a glimpse of the twilight before the end. She wondered what she would see—

But when she opened her eyes again, she was still in the manor’s courtyard — still in the company of her younger sister, basking in pale moonlight.

“Now, exorcism can simply be described as the removal of a spirit from a location,” Hikaru said, lowering her hand. Her fingers were smoking with teal residue, the barrel of an arcane gun. “So that’s what I did.”

Akino was still there. She pat herself down, noting the existence of all of her ghostly parts and pieces — she was still there.

Nothing changed. She was sure to check every part of her body, nothing really changed. All she could notice was that there was something strange blowing against her and a strange warmth in her core.

Akino stared in confusion. “What did you do?”

A tiny smirk came to Hikaru. “I fulfilled the contract. Spirits are bound to the site of their death, so I circumvented that boundary.”

“Ah… I see.” Akino didn’t really know how to react. Her sister just said something really ridiculous, but she was always the smarter one — it was inevitable that she would fall in and master spellcraft.

Hikaru turned away, facing the moon. She pulled back up her hood and spoke softly. “I suppose this was more of an opportunistic deed. And, well, quite self-indulgent at that. But I told myself the same thing for five hundred years: if I saw you again, I’d make you fulfill that promise you made me.” She shrugged. “And I guess this is the one thing I didn’t simulate in my mind. I never imagined what would happen if I ever journeyed with you — the idea was like a ration to me. Like the last cigar in a case. Guess I’m not old enough to truly angst over immortality if I had something like that in reserve.”

A promise to see the stars in a foreign land. To gaze upon new constellations in a different sky. Akino nodded, remembering the words she had once whispered. “You want to go on a journey.”

“Yeah. Though… now that I’m here again, I don’t know what to say.” Hikaru shook her head. “I’m five hundred-some years old and feeling like a little girl again. If my old Cabal saw me, they’d laugh until I died again.”

Akino bobbed up and down, recollecting her thoughts. “I suppose I do have some responsibility, but… I’ll do it. I’ll do it, I swear.” She wiped at her eyes with a ghostly sleeve and nodded. “I missed you so much, Karu-chan.”

Hikaru crossed her arm and shook her head. She faced away from her sister but could hear the raw emotion in her voice. “As much as I don’t want to admit it… I did too. A little.” Her tail wagged as she spoke, but then quickly settled.

There was a brief silence as both sisters regained their composure. Once they got all the bleary eyes and sniffling out of the way, Akino floated closer and looked up at the moon. “There’s going to be some problems with the property rights and—”

“I looked into it.” Hikaru waved her off. “I’ve got a lot of money. I’ll get my familiar to take care of it. I might build a magic school here.”

“But what about being undead? We’re going to have to hide…”

“Don’t worry about it. The war’s been over for a long time now.”

“I can’t really touch anything, either…”

“I know. That’s why I gave you enough Ether to materialize. Couldn’t return you back to life, but… I can do that, at least.”

Eyes widening, Akino looked down at herself, inspecting her ghostly body. She held out her arms and felt the distinct tickle of snow.

The wind was blowing. Her fingers were cool, but not enough to be uncomfortable. Her sister was radiating a faint warmth. Sensations she had once lost returned and embraced her tenderly.

“Then…. I want to… I…” Akino lost control of composure. Overcome by a sudden burst of emotion, she reached over and pulled her stoic sister into a tight hug, rubbing her cheek against Hikaru’s while wailing softly. Emotions she had wanted to show her sister in life all spilled out now in a terrifying display of sobs and mumbled regrets.

Hikaru reached up and gently pat her sister’s head, groaning loudly. “Hey… knock if off. No need to get so damn worked up about it.”

Most emotions were suppressed in Hikaru, but even she got worked up a little. She blushed from the sudden gush of attention, gently trying to pry her sister off her. But now that Akino was corporeal, it was quite difficult to escape her grasp. The Spirit was unexpectedly strong.

‘Hey, you can let go now—”

“No, no, no, I’m so sorry! You don’t understand—”

Rapidly realizing that Akino was going to be like this for a while, Hikaru muttered tiny grievances and absentmindedly patted her sister’s head, smiling faintly at the moon.

 

“That’s so good…!” Akino said, sighing dreamily. She put down her tea cup and began pouring herself another cup.

The first thing Akino wanted to do after the initial rush of emotions was just to drink a lot of tea. But most of the stuff in the manor’s pantry was, understandably, several years out of date. Hikaru relented and offered some of her personal mix.

“It better be. It took me forty years to perfect the ratios of herbs and minerals.”

Akino paused. “Minerals?”

Hikaru sipped at her own cup of tea. “Yeah. Grind them up enough and you’ll never even notice them.”

Akino regarded the teapot with a pouty look. Then, deciding that rocks probably don’t matter when you’re dead, continued pouring another cup.

They took their tea and moved onto the porch to the yard, staring out at the snowy yard. Once a view overlooking bountiful fields and the ocean, they were now closed in by several frighteningly tall buildings — relatively speaking.

“It’s not much of a view these days,” Hikaru said, teacup resting in her lap.

“It’s still somewhat okay,” replied Akino. “Oh. Oh! Hey, you haven’t told me what you’ve been up to. I bet you have a lot of stories.”

“One or two,” replied Hikaru.

“What did you do in the war? How many bad guys do you kill?”

“Well, that’s a bit of a complicated answer—”

“Oh, did you ever fall in love? Did you have kids? I want to touch your kids—”

“Okay, you need to really work on your phrasing—”

“Where did you go, too? What did you learn? Can I touch you more? You’re so warm!”

Overwhelmed by her sister’s sudden talkative nature, Hikaru leaned away from the Spirit that was rubbing against her. But it’s a little hard to lean away from somebody who doesn’t care for gravity.

Soon, Akino was rambling about her life storm; the ducks she feeds, the kids down the street, the youngins that talk with her sometimes — like some sort of old woman. Hikaru burst into laughter, clamping a hand over her sister’s mouth.

Hikaru figured that being a very lonely spirit for a long time would turn anyone into a chatterbox. Even the reserved Akino — but this was just silly.

“What’s the rush? We’ve got a while to catch up, don’t we? Plenty of time to move on.” Hikaru sipped her tea. “Though, if experience dictates, we might end up in the same place after all’s said and done. Loneliness is one hell of a curse.”

“I doubt it,” said Akino. “Being dead has its perks. I don’t get taxed and I have no responsibility — I just read books and surf the Leynet. There’s a lot more around now then back then.”

“…Wait. That just sounds like the habits of a teenager without a job.”

“Well, I’m trying to be more in tune with the youth of today. I lost my ghost-touch needles — no more knitting for me.”

“What are you, an old lady?”

“I mean, I am pretty old. I heard some old people revert to how they were as kids: playful and carefree.”

Hikaru looked the Spirit up and down and grimaced. “Some more than others, it seems.”

“Hey… what’s that supposed to mean?”

Ignoring her sister, Hikaru smiled and raised her teacup to the moon. “Say, you know it’s technically a festival for us, too, right? How about a cheers?”

Akino initially pouted, but shrugged in turn. They would have plenty of time later to converse. Deciding to store the question for later, she raised her cup in both hands, smiling back. “To eternity?”

Hikaru cringed at that word. “Maybe not that long.”

“…Another five hundred years?”

Hikaru glanced at her teacup, watching the circular reflections of the moon perfectly contained within, then shrugged. “Sure, why the hell not.”

In a thematic story, both spirits would move on from their pasts and continue living — or move onto the next life. This one hadn’t quite gotten to that point: you could say it just began heading in that direction. Maybe one day in the distant future, they would have one last conversation before going to sleep one last time, having no more connections to this world. But there were plenty of things to do before then.

Sometimes, the world was kind enough to let you figure those lessons out in due time.

 

Author’s Note: Hey. Me again. Like my stuff? Want to see me attempt to tell an actual story?

I wrote a book. Please buy my book. It has monster girls and cyberpunk and the monster girls aren’t just an epic prank just to drive sales (probably). Also, it has illustrations. Buy it so I can keep creating these self-indulgent short stories and not have to worry about writing to feed myself. I’ll personally refund you if you don’t like it. Slide right into my DMs.

Guess I have an obligation to shill myself forever from now on. Happy Halloween, by the way. Hopefully, this story warms your heart on a cold day.

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