Ekt hovered about, casually watching a scene unfold before him, essentially disinterested. "Bishoujo," he muttered to himself. "Mahou, I shouldn't wonder. No doubt she'll win the fight. I rather hope so, at any rate. I suppose. Maybe. I dunno. I don't really care, much. Whatever."
He was watching a pretty young woman, or actually a girl, perhaps in her mid-teens, fighting a ghost. His mind wandered. "Youkai? Mononoke? Yuurei? Gah, about a dozen other words I can't think of... You'd think being dead I'd have time to learn a few foreign languages, but it's hard to find anyone to teach me. Either they don't see me or they run away. Those few I can chat with from time to time, well they're hardly language instructors. I don't know what to call this ghost. Or whatever it is. Bah! Who cares...?"
The ghost, whatever the best term for it in Nihongo, seemed to be losing. Oh, it got in a few good licks (Heh, thought ektomage, licks. Like the weakest damn ghost-Pokémon move...), but on the whole... yes, it definitely seemed to be losing. "Good show, kid" ekt said under his breath (or lack thereof), speaking as if to the ghost hunter, though of course she wouldn't hear him.
Finally, the battle ended. The ghost dissipated. The girl stood there, breathing hard, trying to catch her breath. Ekt thought he could see her mutter something under her breath, between heaves, but he couldn't quite make it out. He thought it sounded sort of like "easy," but not quite. He certainly didn't think the battle had looked all that easy, at any rate...
"Neat trick, though," he said, still to himself. "I wonder how one goes about doing that to a ghost, and what becomes of one, after..."
"I'll show you, if you like," said the girl, turning toward him. After a few more moments of heavy breathing, she seemed to regain her strength and composure, and began walking in ekt's direction.
He was surprised. He hadn't thought she'd be able to see him. Not because he was a ghost, for obviously she could see them. And not because he'd been hiding; he hadn't, but... he hadn't exactly been out in the open, either. It simply hadn't occurred to him she'd have any reason to notice him, in his casually semi-concealed position. But what really surprised him was that she'd obviously heard what he said. "Oh, hi!" he called out to her. "I was just talking to myself, didn't expect you to overhear. Well, if you want to talk, that might be-"
But she cut him off. "I don't talk with your kind. I dispatch them."
"Hmmm? What? Oh... but you see, I thought... well, I assumed you'd only be after, you know, evil, vengeful sorts of apparitions. I considered doing some harmless haunting, a couple years back, but I never quite got around to it. I've mellowed a bit since then, not that I was ever evil, or anything. Now I pretty much keep to myself, so really, there's no reason-"
She was still walking. He wasn't sure, but he thought she might be walking a bit more quickly. He started to get nervous. "Really... I, uh... I hope you... don't, like, hold any prejudices against my type...." He began floating slowly backwards. At this, he could clearly see her pick up speed. Not so she was doing anything remotely like running, as yet, but still....
"You know," he said, "I've been looking for someone to teach me Nihongo... you look rather like you might speak it. I'm not making any assumptions, of course, I mean I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest if you didn't. Just making conversation, really, but if you did, I'd greatly appreciate it if-" Her pace continued to increase. Ekt increased his own.
"Well, I'll take your silence as a negative. I wish you the best of luck in future endeavors. There are plenty of nasty apparitions out there, I've met some of them, occasionally fought a few, myself... I'm glad there are folks like you out there, keeping them in check, and all... But really, I must be going..." He tried to teleport away. Anywhere. He couldn't think where. Every specific place in the multiverse flitted past his consciousness too quickly for him to concentrate on coordinates. "Damn," he said. And in what passed for his head, he thought, Home!
He saw it. The cottage, by the Wheel of Worlds. Just for a moment he saw it, but then he was back on the desolate plain, watching the ghost hunter come ever closer... He couldn't get away! So, he stopped trying. He made himself as solid as he was able, and stood in place, instead of hovering. He steeled his nerves. He stared at her. "Well, fine, then. If you want to kill a dead guy, which is about as kicking-someone-while-they're-down as you can get, go ahead. I'm tired of this damn afterlife, anyway. Maybe the after-afterlife would make a nice change of pace. Whatever it is."
She reached him. She stopped, standing directly in front of him. She peered into what passed for his eyes, held his gaze for what seemed an eternity. It probably wasn't more than ten seconds, but then, in life, half a second's eye contact with anyone had always seemed far too much to him.... Finally, she said, "You do not deceive me. Your words are true. I hope you understand, many of your kind have spoken such words, but they have lied. I had to get close enough to see. I could not, however, let down my guard, until I was sure."
Had he breath, ektomage would have breathed a sigh of relief. As it was, he lost cohesion, became ethereal again, and drifted backwards a bit, slumping in a way only ghosts can slump. "Ah," he said. "Well, that's just luverly. Gosh. Gave me quite a fright, there, you did." He tried to think of something else to say, but couldn't. So he hovered and waited.
"I'm afraid I haven't got time to be giving language lessons."
Ekt grinned. "It's okay. But I still wonder how you dispatched that other ghost...?"
She shook her head. "Trade secret. Sorry. However... if you like... I could still show you. Just not the same as Ichi, over there."
"Ichi? Oh, I thought you said 'easy'. Well, actually I thought you didn't, but that's what it sounded like. Hmmm... that's 'one,' right? See, I can count to ten or so... ichi, ni, san, yon, go... okay, I can count fo five...."
She smiled. "Each day I keep a tally of how many I dispatch. Tonight is a slow night... slower even than I expected."
"So, I would have been 'Ni'."
"Hmmm. Well, glad I'm not. But... what were you saying before?"
"Oh... yes. There are two ways I can deal with ghosts. I can... send them to the next realm, where they should have gone as soon as they died, or I can... restore them to life."
Ekt was speechless for a few moments. Then he asked, "You said what, now? But... I was told, by someone I trusted, that I could never return to the same sort of life I knew, before."
She shrugged. "Well, you know, nobody can know everything. It's a big world out there, full of many orders, many disciplines. It's impossible to be familiar with them all. Certainly, the ways in which I have been instructed are far from commonplace. I'm sure there are other ways with similar abilities, of course..." She stopped, gazing at him questioningly. Then she said, "Do you want to return to life?"
He wasn't quite sure what to say. He'd thought about it from time to time, of course... usually he thought 'no,' but of late, the answer was more often 'yes.' He never gave it much serious thought, however. Just then, the Gorlab sprang out of his head.
The girl jumped back, drew her weapon. Ekt had seen her use this earlier, but hadn't been sure what it was. He thought it looked sort of like a katana, but with a vague hint of lightsaber about it. Or more like something entirely unlike either weapon. Since she'd put it away, he'd stopped thinking about it, at least specifically. "What are you?" she demanded of the Gorlab.
"I am him. I am nothing. I am- feh, I'm tired of explaining myself. It doesn't matter. I'm here to keep him dead, that's all you need to know."
"Shut up, Gorlab," said ekt, quietly.
The Gorlab grinned a malicious grin. It couldn't be seen, of course, but ekt and the girl both sensed it clearly enough. "I'm sorry," he said, "did you say something?"
"I said," ekt replied, more clearly this time, "shut up."
The Gorlab stopped grinning, started unseeably but eminently sensibly glowering. "I don't think-"
"That's right," said ekt, "you don't. I'm the only one of us who gets to do any thinking. I was weak when we jumped. I'm still weak, but I'm stronger now than I was. My will power is something I can once again call upon in full force, if I so choose. Yes, weak I may be, but my resolve allows me to be stronger than you. So shut the fuck up, bitch. You. Do. Not. Control. Me."
The Gorlab was obviously, if not quite visibly, angry, now. "You-" it began, but was briskly cut off by a slash of the girl's weapon. The phantom disappeared, back into ekt's head.
"What did you do, just there?" he asked. "You didn't kill it. It's part of me. It-"
"Yes, yes. It will always be part of you. You couldn't live without it. No one could. We all have one of our own inside us."
"But I'm not-"
"No, not living, not now. But you haven't passed on. Unless you pass on, it is always possible to restore your life. Even some who have passed to the other realm can sometimes... but that is beyond my skill, and certainly beyond my will. I deal in this realm, and the area between realms, as it appears to those on this side. Those who have had the proper training, that is. Or the innate ability to see.... Anyway, I think you have demonstrated your answer. You do want to live. Whoever told you it wouldn't be the same, well, they were right. There will be differences from your old life, of course. But they will usually be subtle, often go unnoticed, by you or by others. We have already taken the first step to restoring your life, and it was far easier than it is for most. You're stronger than you think. I do understand, however, that it may not feel so."
He hovered... he stood... thinking. Finally, he said, "Well then, do what you have to do. I'll take a second shot at life. And I thank you... yes, domo arigatou..."
She held her sword in front of her with both hands clasped on the blade, as if in prayer. She closed her eyes, her lips moving silently. Ekt closed what passed for his own eyes, a symbolic gesture, for he had but to will himself not to see... all of a sudden, he thought he felt a slight gust coming toward him, quickly, then it was passed. It took him a moment to think he hadn't really felt any sensations in quite a while. He thought he must have imagined it, then. And then, he got the sensation that he was lying on his back. On a bed. He opened his eyes. He was in his home.
Zack's home, he corrected himself. For I did sort of posthumously bequeath... He stopped thinking. He sat up, swung his legs over the side of the bed. He was in his pajamas. "How did I get here?" he asked himself, aloud. After half a minute, he slipped his feet into a pair of slippers sitting on the floor, and stood up. He walked to the kitchen, mechanically started brewing a pot of coffee. He walked back to his bedroom, took off his slippers and pajamas, put on a robe, and walked to the bathroom. He was about to sit, out of force of habit, then realized he had no need, at the moment, and instead took a shower. He had no need for that, either, but... he felt like it.
He took a long time about it. Finally, he got out, toweled off, put on his robe, went to his room, and got dressed. Then he went back to the kitchen, poured a cup of coffee, and started thinking about what to do with his day....
Rebirth part 2
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