Ghost Hunt Fan Fiction ❯ Dialogue Between the Spirit and the Dust ❯ Chapter 1

[ A - All Readers ]
Yaaay, Ghost Hunt Halloween fic! Well, okay, not really, this honestly has nothing to do with Halloween except that Death has come visinting. I just felt like posting it for Halloween (several days late).

And if you recognize it, I probably don’t own it. Also, the poem at the end of this? Written by someone else in the 15th century, I think. Not mine. None of the riddles are mine!

Dialogue Between the Spirit and the Dust

It was a rather mundane job that called the members of Shibuya Psychic Research away from their office – a few poltergeists gone rogue. And the fact they considered such a job mundane was obviously telling of the experiences they had garnered prior to this job. Besides, Mai had managed to get through this job without being attacked more than twice – and even then she hardly got a scratch.

So the team was rather elated, despite the relative simplicity of it all. They were planning a party of sorts for when they got back to the office, with Takigawa proclaiming that he would treat Mai in celebration of this ‘momentous occasion’ and Naru studiously ignoring them all. The gaiety continued all the way until they reached the office once more.

Waiting for them there was a young woman.

This in and of itself was not so unusual – any number of SPR’s clients were women. But what was unusual (and thus worrisome and concerning) was the fact that the young woman in question had not been standing outside the closed and locked office suite. In stead, she had been lounging on one of the chairs inside, sprawled across it carelessly.

Immediately, everyone was on their guard.

“What are you doing here?” Naru demanded, raising an eyebrow. “Breaking and entering is a crime hardly worth the effort.”

The young woman just laughed. “As dry as ever,” she chortled, amber eyes sparkling. She seemed harmless enough, and she certainly looked harmless – amber eyes, dark hair, petite frame with a delicate structure – but there was something about the way she reclined in that chair that just rubbed the members of SPR the wrong way.

“And besides, picking locks is so old fashioned,” she said with a wave of her hand. “Hardly an effective use of my time when I can simply step inside and wait comfortably. There’s no need for me to stand on pretense in this kind of crowd, now is there?”

“Excuse me, but I don’t think we got your name,” Takigawa said slowly, having edged to stand slightly in front of Ayako, Masako, and Mai.

“I never did give it, did I?” the young woman said brightly. “Never a need to, you all recognize me eventually. Now, to business,” she said, her demeanor changing drastically with the subject switch. “Wish I could stay and chat, but I’ve got work to do and it won’t get itself done, especially not on my timetable.” She swung her legs off the chair’s arm and down to the floor, then stood with an odd grace, brushing her hands together.

“Come along, Mai darling, and stop hiding behind the monk. Like I said, we’re on a tight schedule, and I’ve already put this whole thing off for as long as I could, but really, dear, tick-tock!” She clapped her hands together twice, quickly, as she spoke the last two words.

“How do you know my name?” Mai asked, stepping out from behind Takigawa.

“Mai isn’t going anywhere with you!” Ayako insisted hotly, grabbing Mai’s arm and dragging her back to where she had been standing. All the rest of SPR unconsciously arranged themselves to stand between Mai and the stranger, who sighed and propped her hands on her hips.

“None of you recognize me? Really, I’m quite disappointed in all of you, but especially you two, Mai and Naru.” She shook her head in despairing affection. “Honestly, you two of all this group should be the last ones to forget what I look like. All of you ought to know, after your cases.” She sighed again, then shrugged philosophically. “Ah well, you’ll recognize me in due time. Again, everyone always does.”

“How do you know my name?” Mai repeated again, emphatically. The stranger blinked.

“Why, darling, I’ve always known your name. I know everyone’s name, of course; it is part of the job, after all. Now, come along. And move aside, all of you. I’m not here for you yet, just Mai.”

Naru’s eyes narrowed, and his gaze focused intently on the strange woman. There was something about the way she spoke – and what she was saying – that nudged an old memory…

“Now, come along, darling,” the woman continued, holding out her hand in Mai’s direction and beckoning the girl over. “You can’t outrun me forever, and unfortunately your time is up.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Takigawa growled. Ayako tightened her hold on Mai’s arms. Masako stared wide-eyed between Mai and the young woman, a strange expression crossing her face.

“You…I know you,” the medium whispered quietly, and with inarticulate noises of shock the members of SPR turned to stare at her. The strange young woman just smiled.

“That you do, dear. Don’t worry, it will come to you in – ”


Everyone turned then to stare boggle-eyed at Naru, except for the young woman who simply and sweetly said,

“Yes, Naru love?”

“You are Death,” Naru stated again, taking one step forward. The woman clapped her hands in delight.

“Oh, you always were a smart one, dear boy! I knew I could count on you to recognize me.” Death’s face was wreathed in a smile as she spoke. “Now that that’s out of the way, I really must insist that Mai come with me. We’re long overdue as it is, and I really can’t wait any longer.”

There was little response but the sputtering of shock and incredulity coming from everyone.

“Death?” Ayako finally managed to squeak out. “Death?

“Somehow I always imagined something…different,” Mai said weakly, sagging in Ayako’s grip. Masako, meanwhile, had gone paste white.

“What,” said Death, “I can’t look like a regular person?” With a blink, the young woman was gone and in her place towered an imposing, faceless figure of shadow.

IS THIS MORE TO YOUR LIKING? Death questioned. Immediately, Death was once more the young woman. “That image is copyrighted, though, to an absolutely brilliant writer – in England, I think. Shame, as that figure does tend to get more respect than a bubbly, friendly young adult. Ah well!” she sighed with a wide grin. “Death is Death, and, as I have said several times, it is time for us to go.”

There was a general outcry at this, suddenly punctuated by Masako’s voice:

“Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave,” she said, staring straight at Death, “gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind.”

Death’s head snapped to turn in Masako’s direction, her gaze sharpening intently and focusing with frightening intensity upon the young medium.

“Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave,” Masako continued, swallowing heavily. She opened her mouth to continue, but no words came out. A smile began to creep over Death’s face – a nasty smile this time, very much unlike the warm and friendly ones she’d given them so far; this one very much fit with the image of Death as a power beyond mortals.

“I know.” Death’s head one more snapped in a new direction, that intensity focusing now on Naru. “But I do not approve.” The two locked stares, neither one blinking or backing down. “And I am not resigned,” Naru finished quietly.

Death grinned in a wolfish manner, a manner that belied the hungry state of the void.

“So you do know the tradition,” she said gleefully. “I had hoped to expect no less from you. And what a lovely thought, to use Edna St. Vincent Millay’s ditty. I always did approve of the sentiment for these instances.”

“What tradition?” demanded John, who had remained silent until this point. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”

“If you mean bargaining with Death, then yes, love, I am saying exactly that.” Another flash of the ruthless, hungry grin. “It’s a long and proud tradition on both sides, to challenge Death and for Death to be challenged. There aren’t many live ones with that kind of gumption, you know,” she added conversationally. “More often than not I sweep in, collect my soul, and sweep out. It’s a nice change to be challenged for someone, but especially for a girl as nice as Mai. It only confirms her worth, you know.”

“No, I didn’t know,” John said, a little unsure. Ghosts, spirits, and demons were one thing, and he could deal well with those. But cosmic entities coming to take a young woman he considered friend and colleague? That was just a bit outside his parameters of knowledge, and was consequently harder to deal with. Especially in the face of the revelation that they might not lose Mai after all.

“Well?” Death said, almost impatiently. “Who’s going to be the champion?” Immediately, Takigawa, Ayako, John, and Naru stepped forward, quickly followed by Lin and Masako. Death was silent a moment as she surveyed them thoughtfully.

“All of you,” she mused. “What a collection I will have. …And you do know the rules, yes?” Her eyes narrowed, and she gave a focused glance to each face before her. “I’ll not tolerate whining or complaining afterwards should you lose.”

“Why don’t you explain the rules, then, so that everyone is sure they know,” Lin said quietly, never taking his eyes off of the woman named Death.

“I will pose a task – or several. You will attempt to succeed. Should you be successful, I will leave Taniyama Mai complete, whole, and untouched by Death – she will remain alive, in full possession of her soul and mortality. But should you lose…” And here came the wolfish, hungry grin again, sending shivers down their already frozen spines, “should you lose, not only will Mai come with me, but all your souls will be forfeit as well.” She clapped her hands together happily. “Oh, what a collection I will have!”

What?” burst out Takigawa. “What do you mean, our souls will be forfeit if we lose?”

“Exactly that,” Death said, gazing frankly at the monk. “If you fail my tasks, and thus fail your challenge, then I shall reap the benefits of such – namely, your lives. It will be tragic, to die so young,” Death continued. “And especially together.”

“Now hold on a minute,” Ayako protested, “we haven’t lost yet!”

“True,” Death conceded. “But you must know, not many people defeat Death.”

“So you’ll let us challenge you to something we’re inevitably going to lose?” Takigawa demanded in outrage.

Death simply shrugged. “It’s not my fault you have finite lifespans. Such was the Creator’s choice, so blame Him for the inevitability of your own demises. I simply carry out the orders. Now, as to your accusations that I’ve rigged this challenge, no, I have not.” And here something dangerous crossed Death’s face – irritation, and indignation. “I’ll have you know that I at least have honor, which is more than I can say for most of the human race.” Her voice grew sharp and almost acerbic as she spoke, and the color of her eyes both heightened and seemed to liquefy, until they were merely pools of amber fire. “True, defeating Death in an ultimate sense is impossible. But beating me back for a time is always a possibility.”

“My apologies,” Takigawa murmured.

“Accepted,” Death said shortly. “Now, are we ready to proceed? I really did mean it when I said I was on a time limit. The dead will not collect themselves.”

“Fine,” Naru said, arms crossed over his chest. “Begin.”

Death smiled thinly.

“I will pose four riddles,” she said. “You will answer them. If you do not know them all, you are forfeit in this game.”

Adrenaline coursed through their human systems, priming them all for this most desperate yet bloodless fight.

“I never was, am always to be,” Death began, “None ever saw me, nor ever will. And yet I am the confidence of all who live and breath on this terrestrial ball.”

Silence fell. Takigawa shared a look with Ayako and John, and Masako raised her sleeve to cover her mouth in reflex, a thoughtful look entering her eyes. Naru and Lin continued to keep their eyes on Death.

“You have five minutes,” Death said, ignoring the glares she received.

“Hope?” Ayako offered, and the beginnings of said answer began to lighten everyone’s faces (but for Naru and Lin) until Death shook her head once. Silence fell again.

“Three minutes,” Death said.

“Oh!” cried John softly. “Tomorrow! The answer is tomorrow!” And Death smiled warmly at the priest.

“Yes, love. Tomorrow,” Death said kindly. “Next riddle! I am the black child of a white father; a wingless bird, flying even to the clouds of heaven. I give birth to tears of mourning in pupils that meet me, and at once on my birth I am dissolved into air.”

“Black child of a white feather?” Takigawa mouthed quietly, brow furrowing in thought.

“Oh, I know,” Mai said, “it’s – ” Mai’s mouth opened soundlessly on the next word, her eyes widening in shock and no small fear. Her hands flew up to grab at her throat as her eyes darted from one person to another.

“You are not allowed to participate, Mai darling,” Death said, one finger raised in warning. “You are the prize for which they challenge, and as such you can give no help.”

SPR stared at Mai and then Death in helpless fury.

“Cold hearted little…” Takigawa started to grumble, stopping as he saw Death raise one eyebrow.

“Let’s focus back on the riddle, everyone,” John said nervously. “We only have two minutes left of the five minute time limit.”

Ayako, John, and Takigawa immediately fell to a hushed discussion, trading answers.
“Smoke,” said Masako, lowering her sleeve from her face.

Death nodded, another small but warm smile crossing her lips. “Yes, dear, that’s correct.”

“Only two more,” Takigawa said, hope shining in his eyes.

“We’re doing pretty good,” Ayako said, though her voice still wavered. She was not so sure this would be as easy as it was appearing to be.

Death paced a circle about the group, hands clasped behind her back as she made her circuit. “Your third riddle is this,” she said when she came back to her starting position. “I am unknown to the conscious, unwanted to the young and greatly needed by the eldest of all.”

“A cane?” Takigawa guessed, and Ayako smacked the back of his head.

“Idiot!” the miko hissed. “Listen to the first clause – ‘unknown to the conscious!’ You can only use a cane when you’re awake, fool!”

“Geez,” the monk grumbled, rubbing his head.

“Memory?” offered John, only to receive a shake of Death’s head.

“Sleep,” rumbled Lin. “The conscious do not need it, the young do not want it, and the elderly require great amounts.”

“Yes,” Death said simply, nodding her head at the tall Chinese man. “You have done very well so far. Congratulations – you may yet succeed.” Takigawa, Ayako, and John exchanged triumphant glances. Masako raised her sleeve to cover her mouth once more, but her eyes remained troubled. Lin and Naru remained silent, watchful.

“You final task,” Death said slowly, quietly, almost reverently, “is to answer this last riddle.” When next she spoke, she had a lilting quality to her voice, as if reciting a poem:

“What thing is that, nor felt nor seen
Till it be given? a present for a Queen:
A fine conceit to give and take the like:
The giver yet is farther for to seek;
The taker doth possess nothing the more,
The giver he hath nothing less in store:
And given once that nature hath it still,
You cannot keep or leave it if you will:
The workmanship is counted very small,
The labour is esteemed naught at all:
But to conclude, this gift is such indeed,
That, if some see't 'twill make their hearts to bleed.”

Once again, silence reigned.

“And we only have five minutes to answer that?” Takigawa asked in a strangled voice.

“No more and no less than you have had for the other riddles,” Death replied.

“But this one is at least twice as long as the others!” the monk protested. “That’s not fair!”

Death looked him straight in the eyes. “Death is always fair, as impartial as anything could ever hope to be,” she said softly. “No more, and no less. You now have four minutes left.”

An inarticulate noise left Takigawa’s throat, and he turned with a sharp, savage motion to face the rest of SPR. He, Ayako, John, and Masako immediately fell into discussion, but every answer they offered was denied.

“Three minutes.”

Still no correct answer.

“Two minutes.”

Still, no answer. They were growing desperate now – if they didn’t answer this riddle correctly, not only would they lose Mai, they would die themselves!

“One – ”

Death paused as Naru let out an almost irritated sigh. He let his arms drop from their crossed position over his chest, and took the few steps necessary to reach Mai’s side. Reaching out, he grasped her gently by the arms and turned her unresisting body to face him. Mai stared up at her boss in something akin to fear.

“Naru…?” she asked, looking up at him, the fear replaced by pleading. He would save her, wouldn’t he? Just like he always had?

“Idiot,” Naru muttered, and before Mai’s face could cloud over with indignation, he swooped down and captured her lips with his, placing a surprisingly tender kiss upon them.

They broke apart several moments later – Naru broke them apart, in truth, as Mai was too stunned to do anything more than stand there and stare up at him in shock and something akin to wonder.

Death smiled. “Good answer,” she said with a warm and caring smile.

“What?” Takigawa asked, voice pitched higher than usual. Everyone else was still staring at Naru and Mai, who were still looking at each other. Naru had one eyebrow raised, and Mai was as red as a tomato. Takigawa cleared his throat and began again. “That’s it? That’s the answer?”

“Yes,” Death said simply, a happy smile still on her face as she gazed at the two teenagers. “This particular riddle could not be answered by voice alone, but had to be proved. And it has been proved most wonderfully!”

Takigawa gave her an odd look.

“What?” Death replied innocently, though her smile suddenly held a tinge of mischief. “You’ve never heard of love triumphs over all? True Love’s First Kiss, and all that?”

Takigawa sputtered.

Death ignored the monk, and made her way over to Naru and Mai. “Now, be good to each other,” she gently admonished, placing a kiss on Mai’s forehead. “And you,” she said, turning to Naru and reaching up on her tiptoes to kiss his forehead (and to everyone’s shock he did not block her or recoil), “take care of her. I’d rather not return unless absolutely necessary, aye?”

And with a final smile, she was gone.

“Huh,” was all Takigawa managed, followed by, “I need a drink.” Ayako voiced a hearty agreement, and John said he would go with them to make sure they didn’t hurt themselves. Masako swept out after them silently, leaving Lin, Naru, and Mai the only ones in the office suite. Lin quickly made his way into his office, closing the door behind him, leaving the two teenagers alone.

“Naru – ” Mai began, only to once again be cut off by Naru’s kiss, only this one was a little less tender and a bit more possessive.

“Idiot,” Naru murmured against Mai’s lips, before kissing her once again. “I’ve thwarted death too many times to let her take you now.”

Far away and unseen, Death smiled.