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Everness

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It’s all very melodramatic and don’t get Reigen started on ye olden dialects. To cut a story laden with purple prose short, he fucked up. It was, for all intents and purposes, a failure in the Hidden Art of Shmuck Profiling.

The signs were there. Unreasonably large suitcase, wide-brimmed hat, tragic mien, and crucifixes laden across his would-be victim’s garb – culminating in the usual mental chant: DON’T DO IT BRO. DO NOT WANT.

If it were any other time, place, or circumstance, things would have ended at that. Only, this is a tale of revenge. An incubus wounded and grieving on one hand, and an exorcist on the other.

He breathes his last to the sound of laughter.

 


 

It’s a rollercoaster of highs and lows until reaching his 4th century. Lifetimes blur into one amalgamate and no matter what Reigen does, he loses a little more. Nights spent in tense desperation from demonic spell-scripts to zealous revision but it’s the same routine. Journals scorched and memories lost.

At the beginning of each interval is the same ensorcelled repartee:

“Repent and live again.”

“What are you doing with your life.”

“I said don’t fucking do it.” Ad infinitum.

The seals inhibit much but Reigen is still, by nature, an Incubus of Some Standing. Each victim is followed by the heady rush of a drain, and lifetimes are spent in addiction and deterioration before losing his very last recollection Before Binding.

With it is the departure of much of Reigen’s power, if he could call it that. Sly smiles and soft touches become less of an enchantment and more… a matter of mortal seduction. Physical and psychological labours escalate, and as does the difficulty. If incubi and succubi were likened to any occupation of purport, they would be politicians; con-artists to the highest degree. The act of selling an ideal – be it a one-night fling, a branch of empathy, or a lonely ear – advances into an exact science.

The shift is rankling at first. Demeaning, like having someone reopen a wound before flinging salt in your eyes instead.

Reigen’s victims survive. And despite every precaution from shutting down communication, staged confrontations, or moving on to another hunting ground, so do his attachments. If it weren’t for the dread mounting on his thoughts… he’d find it nostalgic.

Accidents and not-so-accidents happen. Friends, family, and acquaintances, because not all love is eros. With each, his circle is hewn apart. A small voice protests the thought of letting go so easily, and for a time that clarity and isolation is the only thing he knows.

The weak, human part of him cuts this short, and he begins anew with the next lifetime and the ones after that.

 


 

It’s warm day of spring when he leans against the back of a couch, considering his options. A breeze wafts through a half-open window, rich with the aroma of pastries, car exhaust, and the usual tang of smoke. Nowadays, Reigen’s cycles are less an exercise in self-gratification, and more a positive loop of satisfaction when resolving the needs of a – preferably paying – customer.

Thus: A spiritual agency. Supernatural encounters were never common to begin with, and after much time and research into the virtues of the placebo effect Reigen wasn’t one to look a gift horse in the mouth.

And if an encounter needed something more than gusto and a sack of salt… who said his powers were simply psychological profiling and manipulation?

It was an effortless set-up. The only thing he lacked for were the customers and a steady stream of revenue to break even.

Moonlighting was an option, and as was a different field altogether. With his empathy, it’d be cinch to ascertain a guilty conscience, the satisfaction of pulling off a lying countenance, or at least the closest approximations before backing “detective’s intuition” with hard evidence.

Still, something about changing, about giving up so soon left a sour twist every time he entertained the thought. Not when it was such a rich source of sustenance. The response was variable at the end of every case, bordering on sharp dissatisfaction and resentment at the very worst; the best ones were precious few, and the most satisfying – effusive gratitude from a middle-schooler who had all but 50 yen to offer in return,

You found it! Thank you, thank you so much Reigen-ojisan!!

the harmony from grief laid to rest,

It’s really over…

or the raw glow of companionship. 

Thank you for believing in me.

Reigen’s thoughts are interrupted by a soft voice and… a familiar susurrus. Nostalgia and dread in equal parts. Whether they belonged to his unexpected visitor or Reigen himself was something of a mystery.

“Excuse me?”

A child walks in. Middle-schooler? Perhaps younger. Shy and shoulders hunched, eyes darting across an office littered with unpacked boxes before settling on Reigen. The bowl cut is unfortunate.

If you were to ask an impartial observer, Reigen handled the situation well – revelations and all.

The conversation flows, going from gentle – if disbelieving – understanding, to a decisive stance on how the middle-schooler-turned-genuine-psychic was the same as anyone else. That it wasn’t the knife at fault, but how you used it. That everyone had the same potential for good, and if any part of Reigen was still reluctant to take Mob under his wing, it vanishes at the sharp twist of hope and companionship radiating from the kid. Because that’s what he was. And it was what Mob deserved if other figures in his life had left that emotional connection desolate for so long.

Mob finds a shishou where he least expects it, all effusive innocence laced with an undercurrent of immensity. A volatile organ of threads, knots, and feelings compacted to a smaller space. Too foreign and too much.

In all honesty, Reigen is at a loss. Death is an eventuality and a shredded, hateful husk of himself rails against the attachment. He shuts it away because he is still an Adult of Some Maturity.

 


 

It’s the beginning of a beautiful, if stereotypical day. Petals scatter to the wind with each wispy breeze, cherry blossoms lining the stairway to their client’s temple. For all intents and purposes, it’s a sight worth mulling over. Having plant parts buffet your face repeatedly is another thing. Reigen already has an idea of what’s happening.

“Mob?”

“Yes, shishou?”

“As your esteemed master, you know I have your best interests at heart, right?”

Seeing Mob’s bob cut dip in his periphery, Reigen takes that as an affirmative and shortens his strides. Soon, he and Mob are walking side by side.  

“Good. I want you to practice your powers and protect the both of us from anything that may attack. I’m sensing some malevolent spiritual energy and we need to be extra careful.” Voice dipping low, Reigen paints a serious mien and he maintains eye contact for a solid few seconds. Not that the theatrics were necessary.

Mob is earnest as ever, aside from a (curious) crease of his brow. At times like this, Reigen is glad of his empathy.

“Shishou, wouldn’t it be better if you did it?” Honestly, no. But Reigen has reputation and teacherly-respect to maintain.

“It wouldn’t be practice then, would it Mob?” Reigen claps a hand against Mob’s shoulder. “Have at it!”

And that’s the end of that. The remainder of their pilgrimage is uneventful, with each preternatural gust of plant matter rebounding away like confetti. Reigen has never been lazier. Or more grateful to a portable battery of emotion and psychic energy in equal parts – but that’s the flippant side of him talking.

Over the past weeks of mentorship, if one could call it that, his life has settled into a routine of fielding client requests at an increasing frequency, showering Mob with pep talks and encouragement, unwinding his own anxieties, and defaulting to awe. There’s a certain novelty to knowing you’re responsible for a small human being.

One final flight of steps later, Reigen raps his knuckles against the temple gate before leaning against a pillar, body aching in protest. Mob is better off, thrumming with excitement as kids are wont to do, just a smidge out of breath.

“Shishou, are you okay?” Mob’s eyes are wider than usual. If it were any other occasion, Reigen would find it amusing. Here, it’s just another hit to his ego.

“I’m—“ huff, wheeze, “fine, Mob. No need to worry.” Straightening up, Reigen waves a dismissive hand. “The most important part of being a psychic is ensuring you have a strong mind and body. Clearly, I have some catching up to do.” Mob’s staccato burst of wonderment is worth curb-stomping Reigen’s sense of self, probably.

It doesn’t help that he ran out of cigarettes early this morning. Between the short notice for their client’s request, wrestling Mob away from torrents of morning commute, and undertaking his own precautions Reigen hasn’t had the time to restock. Sweet kami it is too early for this.

A lock clatters, distracting him from the impending migraine. Reigen realigns his tie before the gate swings forward, revealing a young woman garbed in formal wear and a stricter bearing.

“You must be Reigen-san. Good morning and welcome,” she dips into a curt, efficient bow, “please follow me to the main chambers. Touyama-san is waiting.”

Complete apathy, then. Not the warmest welcome, but Reigen’s weathered worse. “Good morning! Accompanying me is my disciple, Mob. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, miss…?”

Her stride doesn’t falter, but she does cast a glance back. “Akiko.” A touch of impatience warns Reigen not to test his luck.

He settles with a hum of acknowledgement, surveying the temple. The make is clearly archaic in design, but enduring. Much of the interior is well-tended and exactingly tidy. Streaks of sunlight dapple their path through each twist and turn of the wooden interior – the very portrait of urbane domesticity. It’s a change from the usual sites of a haunting.

And yet, it’s a mess. Quicksilver blends of mirth and mischief dance across his eyes in smattering bursts. The cornerstones of hearth, and a fine ribbon of grief. The usual disarray of emotion soaked into the panes of lumber and intricate tapestries.

Reigen searches harder, and there it is: the bitter shear of resentment long seethed into something rancid. Fear manifest in tumult and turbulence.

A home.

Just not the sort he wants Mob seeing in unadulterated honesty.

 


 

Touyama is a monk of the temple, weathered and honed to a humble lustre of practicality. Seniority places him at the head of the table when Reigen and Mob inevitably barge in. Severe, yet fair. Reigen would know, because the man has no compunctions on holding back even with visitors present.

“—and you should know better, Naoto. Years of training and you still neglect your duties.” A glance to Reigen, then to Mob with the slightest question in his demeanour. “Reigen-dono, was it? I won’t stand on ceremony – it is good to have someone of your expertise.” And the man means it.

Reigen bows with a flourish, guiding Mob along, “it’s good we finally meet in person, Touyama-san. Please, just call me Reigen. Accompanying me is my disciple, Mob.” The disciple in question nods and waves in a marriage of enthusiasm and nervousness. It’s a marked improvement, and Reigen feels just a bit prouder, mouth twisting into a smile.

To the immediate right of Touyama is Naoto, who looks both chastised from the previous conversation and skeptical of Reigen’s non-existent credentials. The man is young in stark contrast to Touyama, but is similarly garbed in an earthy yukata.

“And I’m Naoto. You’re not the first exorcist we’ve had here, you know.”

Naoto.”

“You’re the one who keeps lecturing about honesty, Touyama.” No honorific, huh. Cheeky kid.

“If you weren’t such a poor study I wouldn’t have to repeat myself.” Touyama shoots Naoto a pointed look before releasing a gusty sigh. “My apologies, we’ve veered off topic. Please take a seat and I’ll appraise you of the situation…”

It’s the usual rigmarole. Reigen’s gone through it hundreds upon thousands of times – the art of listening, or at least feigning greater attention than the effort invested. Having centuries of practice is good for that sort of thing. Or maybe he’s always been like this.

What Reigen takes away from the exchange is a series of unfortunate events. Years in the past with a few harmless haunts. Botched onigiri courtesy of salt, sugar, and incense ash in consistently switched places. A shattered window (later plastered with leaves, not a gap in sight). Cherry blossoms blooming in summer, spring, and the aching stretch of autumn.

The tone wavers. Touyama slides across a file where the rest is documented in painstaking detail. Wooden panes rasping in the twilight hours – warped and blemished beyond recognition. Hours of silence in the early dawn. Reigen reaches the police report. A body.

He remembers. The missing child report a little under a decade ago, and the media’s derisive stance on the reportedly supernatural happenings. An unextraordinary case if it weren’t for the brutality and location – a child found near the temple steps, lacking select body parts. An arm, a kidney, a lung.

Further detail is omitted from the document, and Reigen’s progress slows to a stop.

“Mob?”

“Yes, shishou?”

“How about you explore the temple? No point in hanging around while we handle the boring stuff.” When it looks as though Mob’s about to insist on staying, eyes shining in curiosity, Reigen settles: “I’ll fill you in later, okay? As my disciple, you need to balance work and relaxation. Let that be an important lesson for today.”

Mob departs with an eager nod and an unenthused Akiko chaperoning. Finally, Reigen feels at peace.

Naoto cuts in, rife with vitriol. “Was that truly necessary, Reigen-dono? Tired already? Or just intimidated by a real case?”

Touyama is the first to react, cuffing the younger monk lightly. “Now is not the time, Naoto.” A recurring point of conversation, then. “Reigen clearly has his priorities in order – the contents of that file are no conversation topic suitable for a child.”

The routine is familiar. One party to the request is earnest, opening their door to all sorts in hopes of an answer; the other jarring, burnt and cheated where past failures have arisen. Put them together and you’d have a well-adjusted human being, and Reigen would be out of a job.

Some part of him doesn’t want to advance beyond this point. Tangents running awry and a thin excuse at his tongue – the real work is never pleasant, not when a placebo would leave him wracked with nervous tension. Who was he to abandon people in shifting, selfish degrees? Were they friends and family in another life? Or in the near future?

Why did it matter at all?

A hand at his shoulder shakes him into focus. “Reigen?” Touyama’s tone is too even to be sincere. It takes something away from the man; the briefing and interrogation in turn. Every heightened hope.

Reigen bows his head, hand running through his hair in a deliberate – but no less genuine – nervous tic. “My apologies! I was lost in thought,” he says, before taking another breath: “Touyama-san, forgive me for asking but is the lady of the temple available for questioning?”

For once, it’s Naoto’s turn to retreat – twisting in discomfort. “She isn’t, no.” The reaction is unthinking, visceral as anything else. The surge of déjà vu is something Reigen files away for a later time.

“My wife succumbed to illness not too long ago,” finishes Touyama, patient, stricken.

Reigen nods, because there’s nothing that could be said to that. He casts a questioning glance around the room before settling on the koi garden, sunlight rippling and reflected against the walls in easy patterns. He fixes himself in the moment – a quiet serenity that stretches into you, beyond the geometric dispersion of light, not unlike a song humming under your breath, or the whisper of leaves through the wind.

A different topic, then. Reigen rests the folder on the table, pages marked with creases and adherent from unease.

“The missing child – they were found near the temple?”

Touyama’s immovability wavers. “They were.”

“Could you tell me anything else?” The turning point. No further detail, and Reigen will have to assume they’re against him, against what he represents: upheaval, hurt, and a nightmare made real. Or, at least, someone is.

Touyama – for all his trust and goodwill – hesitates, features contorting into a remorseful frown. He releases a sigh that curls around the room, protective. “Naoto? I know this must be difficult–“

The younger monk is brusque, almost frozen in the moment. “The left side,” a piercing stare, “if it even matters. The… the parts that were taken. Missing. The body was just beyond the temple gate – before the first flight of stairs, even.” Reigen moves to confirm his understanding of the matter, but Naoto continues.

“It was my brother,” a pause, or a reflection. “Touyama’s real son, but that isn’t a surprise to anyone that matters. I was eight, he was fourteen,” Naoto hones into an empty space. “You know, I never knew why they called it a missing child case. Because if Yoshino was a kid, what was I?”

Touyama stands, abrupt. “Reigen-san, do you mind examining the grounds?” There’s fury there, at himself, or at some unwelcome assailant. Pain, inadequacy, and grief painted like an open, persistent wound. “We’ll be with you in a moment.”

Reigen leaves, because there is little else to be done. He needs to speak with Naoto alone.