3

Morning?

Shugo woke up on his bed the next day with nary a scratch on him. Glancing at the window, he saw that the sun had yet to come up.

Not yet, I guess.

And when he checked his phone, the clock read 4:30 AM.

Was it all just a dream, too?

Shugo looked down at his hands and at the clothes he was wearing. Not a trace of blood there.

Except…

Wait a minute. Why are my clothes different?

Which indeed they were. When Shugo went to bed the night before, he was wearing a white shirt that bore the face of the rapper Kendrick Lamar, rather than the old and faded Linkin Park shirt which he bought together with their third studio album several years ago. Likewise, the pair of navy blue jersey shorts he now wore was decidedly not the same pair of shorts he was wearing last night, which were dark gray with black stripes on the side. And when he got to his feet to check the foot of the bed…

How’d all of this get here?

Sure enough, it was there that Shugo found his clothes from the night before.

And as he did so, he felt a mild headache coming on at the sight that greeted him.

Because when Shugo checked, he found – to his profound shock and horror – that the discarded clothing was covered in blood. Similarly, a cursory inspection of his shirt revealed a bullet hole at the lower left corner, exactly where he dreamed he was shot. But when he lifted his shirt slightly to check his lower torso, there was no bullet wound, nor was there so much as a scar.

What the literal hell!?

Now thoroughly freaked out, Shugo ran to the bathroom beside his bedroom, where he checked himself in the mirror. He did notice how his emerald green eyes happened to be bloodshot at a glance, but all seemed well apart from that. Not a strand of his chestnut brown hair was out of place, and more importantly, he found no gunshot wound or scar there either.

And then he took off his shirt, and what he saw cleared away any remaining doubt.

As Shugo stared at his reflection, his eyes were focused on the brand – three star-shaped flowers at the top, conjoined to what looked like a shrub whose five points pointed downward – that now adorned most of his chest. Moments later, he then began to feel a tingling sensation on the recently branded and burned skin that compounded his increasingly severe headache.

What is this… it hurts…

Shugo held his head in agony as he laid back down on his bed.

And, then, like a flood, a sudden rush of memories consumed him from the inside.


What’s wrong? Why don’t you try shooting me again? It might actually work this time.”

Shugo stared down his would-be murderer as he got to his feet, bemused, as the blood continued to trickle down from the two gunshot wounds that had been inflicted on him moments ago. At this point, though, the wounds themselves had inexplicably healed, the spent bullets lying harmlessly at his feet.

He allowed himself a smirk as he continued to stare at the man standing paralyzed before him. “Well?”

The next words out of Shugo’s mouth came in a voice that was not just his own, but were spoken in tandem with that of another – this one resonant, feminine, and slightly higher-pitched.

Take your shot. I’ll wait.”

What are you!?” demanded the erstwhile assailant as he shook uncontrollably, the gun in his hand seemingly reduced to a useless metallic contraption even as he tried to aim it at the youth he thought he had killed. “What do you want from me!?”

Shugo’s response was a laughter – a peal of cold, cruel, and malicious laughter in a voice that continued to harmonize with that of the unseen entity – before his features contorted into a crazed, toothy grin and his eyes flashed a horrifyingly vivid shade of red.

Fear.”

I want you to fear.”

The scream that followed was a deafening howl of unholy terror.


“…I see,” murmured Shugo to himself as he sat up in bed an hour later, having just coming to terms with the events that played out last night. “I did that to him.”

You did,” said a voice in agreement.

And very well, I must say.”

At those words, Shugo leapt to his feet as if struck by lightning.

“What was that?” he demanded. “Just what did I do to him anyway!?”

For a moment, Shugo was unsure whether the spirit would humor him. Much to his surprise, she obliged.

It was as you said,” she explained matter-of-factly but patiently, with the air of a parent teaching a child to tie his shoes. “You taught him to fear.”

“Which means what, exactly?” he persisted. “Taught him to fear, how?”

She didn’t answer right away, which caused him to worry that he’d overstepped or otherwise offended her somehow.

And when she did respond, he breathed a sigh of relief. At least we haven’t gotten off on the wrong foot.

“You brought him face-to-face with a collection of his worst nightmares and deepest fears,” she helpfully explained. “While neither of us has any way of knowing exactly what those are, what I can say for sure is that whatever he may have experienced and may still be experiencing is but a fraction of the torment he himself has inflicted on others.”

“‘Unless and until’?” Shugo echoed with a chill and a shudder. “You make it sound like I tortured the guy.”

“You did nothing to him that he did not already deserve.”

Though the spirit’s response was clearly intended to ease his mind, the clear evasiveness nevertheless made him unsure how to feel about it.

“Rest assure that any suffering he may be enduring as we speak is of his own making, and that all you did was confront him with the gravity of his own wicked deeds. All the sins he committed will continue to haunt him, until he finally realizes the folly of his ways and embarks on the road to repentance, or until his own wickedness finally brings him to a well-deserved end.”

Shugo fell silent for a moment so he could consider the implications of the horrifying new powers that had been bestowed on him. If the spirit’s words were any indication, it was difficult to deny that he what he did do to the man had inflicted mental and psychological torture of the purest kind. And though the teen hadn’t so much as laid a hand on him, an argument could be made that he, Shugo, had turned the man’s own mind and memories against him and twisted them into a source of profound pain and suffering.

In other words, mind rape.

No sooner had the thought been formed in his head, than the spirit accommodated his curiosity in a manner that all but confirmed that she could read his mind.

“What matters most is that you exacted vengeance. Regardless of how you did it, the fact remains that you avenged yourself along with everyone else he aggrieved, and all that without so much as spilling a drop of your foe’s blood.”

The spirit allowed a moment’s silence to fall, presumably so her words could sink in. “I approve.”

Shugo looked up. “Excuse me?”

I approve,” she repeated simply.

And a moment later, she went on.

Make no mistake. I no longer understand petty human sentiment, nor do I care to; I abandoned my humanity long ago. What I do know is that dead men can no longer fear, nor can they be made to realize the gravity of their actions. And if the dead can no longer repent, neither can they be punished. By leaving him alive and instead teaching him the meaning of fear, you ensured that he would pay for his sins not only for an instant, but for the rest of his life, or for however long it takes until he himself takes this harsh lesson to heart by changing his ways.”

And that, dear child,” the spirit concluded, an odd tone creeping into her voice, “is a punishment far grimmer and far more profound than death.”

Shugo was uncertain of how to feel about that. Nevertheless, he considered those words carefully. On one hand, ending the man’s life right there and then had a kind of poetic justice to it, old-fashioned though it may have been. The man nearly killed him, after all, and it was only thanks to the spirit he was now contracted to that he even survived. More importantly, the man clearly intended to kill that woman and her child, and if Shugo’s inference was correct, that might not even have been the first time. From an antiquated, Abrahamic point of view, the man indeed deserved to die.

…But if it came to that, could I have done it?

“Every rule has an exception,” she clarified. “Do not doubt there are those in this world who commit sins so severe, so diabolical, that a swift death is in order for these evildoers who engage in such actions. I will leave it to your discretion to deal with our enemies as you wish; however, I must caution you against underestimating, or making light of, the power I have entrusted to you. While targeted executions are acceptable and may even be inevitable, wanton slaughter and mass murder are much less so.”

Either way, Shugo knew he was no killer. While he had little doubt the spirit had empowered him to inflict serious harm, even death, if he truly wanted to, that was still just part of what it came down to. It hardly meant Shugo was mentally or psychologically prepared, much less willing, to do so. He might have no qualms about using lethal means in defense of his life, but cold-bloodedly killing a man who had already lost the will to resist was another thing entirely.

And even the spirit seemed to sense something bothering her contractor, because it was at that moment that she chose to speak.

“Cast your worries and trepidations aside for now. The kind of fear you showed him is not easily forgotten, nor will you be likely to encounter him again soon. Your time would be better spent preparing yourself for other enemies, and attending to other, more important matters.”

Shugo knew there really was no use dwelling on what had already happened, and that she had a point. He knew that sitting around worrying and anticipating reprisals did nothing to keep them at bay; if anything, his experience was that indulging those worrying tendencies only made those worries that much more likely to materialize. For now, all he could do was to keep his guard up, to exercise constant vigilance in case that man – or anyone else, really – tried anything foolish.

And if they do?

Well, I’ll just have to deal with it.

Whatever ‘dealing with it’ entails.

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