Riku Aibetsu was not entirely sure of the atmosphere she expected when deciding to eat lunch in an abandoned classroom lined with talismans, but in that moment she found herself thoroughly unnerved nonetheless. The slightest of noises caused her to jump, and she transfixed her gaze on every shadow that shifted a centimeter.
Not helping her paranoia was the room’s other inhabitant: one Iori Katanagi, nibbling on melon bread a few arms’ lengths away. The young shaman had power over shadows, and while he would swear up and down how terrible and fearful this power was, Riku would swear from how much the darkness around her moved that he was using it just to mess with her. In the absence of any other stimuli her mind started to wander, from the shadows Iori controlled to the phantom that let him do so. Her eyes landed on the food in the boy’s hand, and in a moment of revelation her brain connected two dots no human was ever meant to connect.
“Hey Iori,” she chimed, moving her head ever so slightly in his direction.
“Mm,” he grunted, his eyes meeting hers but his mouth too entranced by melon bread to give more of a response.
“You look like you’re really enjoying that melon bread.”
“Moo camt haff emmy,” he retorted, crumbs escaping from his full mouth.
Riku paused. “What?” she asked, before dismissing the question with a wave of her hand. “No, I was going to ask if you’d ever tried feeding Ongyoki some.”
Iori grew silent. His half-eaten melon bread fell from his hand, but made no sound. Riku grew silent in return. That silence expanded around them and covered the rest of the room. Its expansion did not stop there, continuing to encompass the whole of the school grounds and even further beyond, to the farthest reaches of the earth. For that one moment in time, not a single object on earth made a noise.
That moment passed, and Iori managed to shut his slack jaw before asking, “You’re asking if I’ve ever tried giving Ongyoki food.”
Riku looked everywhere in the room but at Iori, now keenly aware of what she had just asked. Finding nothing else to latch her gaze onto, she forced a laugh and nodded.
“The phantom I had to forcefully tame and that will kill me if there’s no other target for it.”
There was a very particular rhythm to Iori’s next few actions. One, two, close eyes. One, two, clap hands together. One, two, sharp inhale.
His next action cut that rhythm short, for the instant he finished inhaling he leapt from his seat, getting right up in Riku’s face and gesticulating wildly while shouting, “What on earth would ever make you entertain that idea?! You’ve seen the chaos it causes even when I only summon its arm! The idea that I’d just casually summon it for tea time or whatever you’re thinking is inane, it’s utterly ridiculous, it’s beyond any normal human logic, it’s-”
“Normal human logic,” Riku was quick to point out, the slightest of smiles creeping up her face. “You’ve never exactly called yourself normal before now, have you?”
Iori staggered back like he’d been shot, muttering, “That’s a low blow.”
“But I’m not wrong, am I?” Riku rebutted with a shrug. “We might as well try it.”
“Oh yeah, that sounds like a great idea,” Iori said, weighing the options with his hands. “Best case scenario, I summon Ongyoki and placate it with sweets so it doesn’t murder me on the spot. Worst case, I end up a smear on the ground.”
“Oooooor it makes Ongyoki more willing to work with you and you discover some super cool hidden power!”
Riku’s glimmering eyes punctuated her declaration, and Iori had to avert his gaze to not be blinded. Running a hand through his hair and heaving the heaviest sigh he could muster, he mused, “You’re really hung up on this, huh.”
Interrupting their conversation as per usual was the buzz of the young shaman’s phone, and to neither of their surprise, the screen identified the caller as his elder sister, Yayoi. Iori was quick to answer, and Yayoi was equally quick to point that out, greeting her brother with, “That’s the fastest you’ve ever answered my summons. Is something the matter, my bratty little brother?”
“It’s nothing,” Iori lied. “So, what’s the mission this time?”
Yayoi let slip a laugh so sharp Iori reflexively pulled his phone away from his ear, and she answered, “Truth be told, I was made aware of your little conversation just now, and it piqued my curiosity as well. Instead of a phantom to hunt down, do try giving your little friend a snack. And make sure to tell me how it turns out.”
Iori’s phone fell. Then his face fell. As he got on all fours to pick up both, his sister continued in her usual disturbingly upbeat tone, “And remember, if you shirk this responsibility, I’ll be the first to find out.”
The speaker on Iori’s phone clicked, and just like that the call was over. Iori sighed once more, deeper and longer than he thought himself capable of, while Riku’s glimmering eyes shone ever brighter. “Isn’t this great, Iori? Now you might actually get to make friends with Ongyoki!”
Without a sound Iori approached Riku, placed both hands on her shoulders, and looked her dead in the eye. The directness of the actions caught the girl unawares, but before she could vocalize that surprise, he stated, “Tonight. After dark. Track field.”
That statement only deepened her confusion, but once more he preempted her question, elaborating, “If I die doing this I at least want someone to bear witness to it.”
Riku nodded with a gulp, that statement only now making her aware of the situation she may have just gotten them both embroiled in.
A dead silence settled over the schoolyard, with nary a sign of life. The only existences within were the duo keeping low to the ground, hiding from any other presences that may not have been there at all. The girl questioned the point of hiding when their forthcoming activity was sure to arouse attention regardless, but the boy was quick to shush her entirely valid question. Not another word was exchanged between them until they reached the center of the track, and Riku released the load she had been holding to her chest up to that point.
Several bags of melon bread and all other kinds of sweets tumbled onto the grass, and Iori did his best to hide his conspicuous sidelong glance. He wiped the slightest bit of drool away with his left hand, and in his right he held aloft a key ring with a single, ancient-looking key on it. “I can’t believe I’m really doing this,” he said, more to himself than his partner.
“It’ll be fine,” Riku replied, a bead of sweat trailing down her face and betraying her confidence in that statement. “Look at all these sweets we got! Surely Ongyoki will like at least one of them.”
“Such a waste of perfectly good food,” murmured Iori, his bottom lip quivering ever so slightly. Even under the veil of night Riku made out the faintest shimmer trailing from his eye; although she was tempted to ask if he was crying, her better judgment ultimately won out.
With a deep breath, Iori clenched his hand, and with that slightest of movements, the air around him froze. Not a moment later, reality around him swirled, the pale moonlight illuminating him consumed by a vortex of black. The faint shadows of him and Riku extended, deepened, and gained a life of their own. They too became one with that vortex, which evolved into an amorphous maelstrom not five feet in front of the two teens. Just as quickly as the storm started, it stopped, the blot of darkness that formed its heart suspended in midair. With one last shot into the sky, the darkness leapt to immeasurable heights and fanned to the side.
The storm faded, and in its place lay a newly formed gate. For as massive and ornate as that gate was neither of the two had time to perceive it, for it quickly gave way to a demonic hand slamming it open. The creature that stepped forth from the opening was one they both were all too familiar with, yet that knowledge gave neither of them the slightest comfort. The two glowing spots where its eyes would have been shone directly down onto the duo, blinding them to all but the most gruesome aspects of its form. In one of its hands it held a worn-down sword that reeked of blood and rust, and sparks flew all across the field as the creature dragged the weapon across the ground. Tattered robes covered most of its body, and the tears in the cloth hid traces of flesh not unlike a rotting carcass. Its mouth creaked open, revealing countless rows of teeth that gnashed against each other with a horrible squeal with every movement of the monster’s jaw. From that maw escaped a sound that could be charitably described as a laugh, wavering between shrill and baritone irregularly. The phantom formed from the sum of those traits stepped forth from the gate holding it prisoner just seconds ago, and it regarded the two beings before it with a grin wide enough to split its face in two.
Before Iori and Riku stood Ongyoki, the phantom that ruled shadows.
“I told you this was a bad idea,” Iori whispered, but Riku ignored the boy, instead signaling to the bags of sweets with quivering hands, making the figure before them aware of the offerings for the first time.
Ongyoki leaned forward to inspect the tribute, its visage now encompassing the teens’ entire field of vision. Throughout its consideration its laughter never ceased, and its newfound proximity meant the two felt more than heard it. The vibrations in the air the noise produced made their skin crawl, and they each hugged themselves in a vain attempt to abate the sensation.
The ruler of shadows lurched backward into an upright position and raised its blade, the tip reaching so high into the sky it nearly pierced the cloud covering above. It then turned the weapon downward and thrust it at the ground, right at Riku. Both she and Iori froze, all too aware of this possibility yet still unable to process it in that moment. A flood of images flashed before both their eyes, an erratic collage of their lives up to that point and all that they had yet to accomplish in their short time on this earth.
Then the sword pierced one of the bags of food and those images were gone. With a flick of its wrist the delicacies flew off the edge of the blade and directly into Ongyoki’s mouth. A single movement of its jaw shredded the contents of the bag into scraps, but it contented itself with chewing those remains for a few seconds longer before swallowing. Once more a laugh as shrill and irregular as ever from its mouth, but at the very least it did not impart the imminent fear of death upon all others present.
Iori gawked. “I cannot believe that worked.”
“Isn’t this great, Iori?” Riku asked, clasping her hands together. “This might be the start of a beautiful friendship!”
“I cannot believe that worked!” Iori exclaimed, turning on his heel and storming off. His exit caught Riku off guard, at least enough so to draw her eyes away from Ongyoki devouring the remaining bags of sweets. Lingering fear of the phantom drew her gaze back to it, before she looked at the departing boy once more and chased after him.
Although the young shaman had been quick to make his exit, Riku did not take long to catch up to him, and the moment she did she scolded, “You’re not gonna make friends if you just storm off in the middle of a conversation like that!”
Iori regarded the girl with the flattest stare humanly possible. “I don’t think giving Ongyoki offerings is going to do anything other than make it expect them every time I summon it.”
“You won’t know unless you try!” Riku huffed, and before the boy could protest any further she seized him by the wrist and started dragging him back. “Besides, I don’t think your sister would like to hear about you abandoning a mission like this.”
The mention of Yayoi drained Iori of any token resistance, and he limply followed behind Riku, having to practically be dragged along the ground for how little effort he put into walking.
The two rounded the corner to the back of the school building right as Ongyoki finished consuming the last bag of sweets. Their movement drew its beaming gaze, and with a shriek it barreled toward them. Vestiges of the duo’s lives once more flashed before them, but they only lasted for a few seconds before the phantom skidded to a halt in front of them. It stood stock still without a sound after stopping, and with a groan Iori asked of it, “So, how were the sweets?”
Iori twisted to look at Riku, who could only offer her own befuddled look in response. They traded confused expressions until Riku looked beyond Iori at the phantom, causing the shaman to look back as well.
Right in time for a drop of viscous liquid to fall onto his head, drenching him. He looked up to discover the cause, only to be met with the sight of Ongyoki sitting and panting like a dog, its salivating maw right above him. With a shiver he held the key aloft once more, and as he whisked the phantom back to its own realm he stated, “Please just get out of here.”
A flash of inky blackness enveloped the creature and disappeared along with it, and Iori ran his hands through his hair, trying to rid himself of the slightest bit of demon spit. Riku meanwhile clutched her stomach with both hands, doing everything in her power to contain the laughter threatening to spill out. Iori, hearing her fruitless attempts, let slip a sigh and told her, “Go ahead. Get it out of your system.”
The girl promptly burst out laughing; Iori figured it was at least more pleasant than the laugh permeating the area a couple minutes prior. “I’m sorry,” she said between gasps for air, “but this whole thing is just so ridiculous.”
Iori, still covered in spit, forced a chuckle. “Well, it’s a good thing you were here to witness it then,” he retorted, “because I’m never doing anything like this again.”
“Aw, c’mon,” Riku giggled. “I’m sure Ongyoki still just wants to be your friend. Did you see the way he looked at you?”
“Being drenched in its saliva made that difficult.” As the boy continued to wipe himself down, realization dawned upon his face. He gave Riku the most pointed look he could muster with saliva still in his field of vision, and he told her, "I’ll do it if you pay for all the offerings from here on out.”
Finally free enough of her laughter to form full sentences uninterrupted, Riku responded, “Fine, fine, I'll do it. How much could that cost, anyway?”
It was Riku’s turn to gawk. “What?”
Iori gave an off-handed flourish to the side, in the process sending droplets of saliva careening across the schoolyard. “I was trying to pacify a demon that could kill me in a second, I wasn't about to cheap out on that.”
“W- Well in that case, I’d better start saving up,” Riku stammered, putting a hand on her bicep to convey the confidence she very clearly did not have.
With the widest, fakest grin he could muster, Iori responded, “I look forward to it.”
Riku never did save up that 60000 yen, her savings always cut just short by the myriad struggles of life as a high schooler moonlighting as an exorcist.
Iori never did tell her that the sum total of all those sweets was actually not even 3000 yen.