haunted - Chapter 1 - whatitis - 呪術廻戦 (2024)

Chapter Text

They found the girl’s body about a mile from the school, on a little-used access road that connects the local power plant to the rest of town. Nobody could place why she would be there. Her home was in the opposite direction, and her mother was expecting her back by dinner, so it was truly unaccountable why she chose to walk for half an hour in the rain to a remote drainpipe and slowly, methodically, cram herself inside. The evidence doesn’t lie: nobody else was there, and there was no sign of foul play. The evidence doesn’t lie: no human body can contort itself in the way that she did, foul play or no. They blamed it on the floodwaters, but Rika knew.

Rika was just on the cusp of sixteen when the girl died, but she was fourteen when two other students at the middle school were killed in a hit-and-run with no perpetrator found, and when a teacher committed suicide in the staff bathroom. She was thirteen when an upperclassman from the high school across the street was found with a broken neck, and she was twelve when her grandmother passed away due to a weak heart, and she was eleven when Okkotsu Yuta was killed.

It was an accident. Even she can’t contest that. It shouldn’t have happened, but she crossed the road without him, and they made sure to install blinking pedestrian signs in all of the school zones. They held an assembly about it. The teachers all told them they had to have a buddy to cross the street with, like two dead kids would be preferable to one, like if Rika had just died with him maybe something different would have happened, but it was always going to end the way it did.

People screamed, and someone called the police. The parents that were there hid their children from the sight. Rika felt some part of herself detach from her body, and so it was easy for her to kneel down and take the wedding ring from Yuta’s mangled hand, and that’s the only time where she could have decided differently. If she’d left it there, none of this would have happened, but why would she want that?

Her grandmother already prayed around when Rika walked into a room, gnashing her teeth, but Yuta dying seemed to confirm something she already knew: that this devil-child in her care was inhumanly cruel, perhaps just inhuman, and she left carnage in her wake. Something was poisoned about Rika Orimoto. Some people are unlucky, but some are cursed. That’s the irony of the whole thing: everything her grandmother attributed to a stain on Rika wasn’t due to a curse. What happened after, though—who can say?

For her whole life, her grandmother was the only one who cast any real suspicion on Rika. Sure, there was playground teasing, ugly words written on her desk, whispers behind her back, but kids will do what they want. Kids will be cruel and callous. Kids will say things they don’t mean. Kids will break every bone in their body to fit inside of a drainpipe a foot wide, not a drop of blood on them. It’s just a part of life.

Only her grandmother, and the man who called himself Gojo Satoru.

He didn’t seem suspicious, in any sense of the word. He wore dark sunglasses on a sunny day and carried himself in a funny, exaggerated way, like grownups do when they try to cheer kids up, except he didn’t even seem to notice Rika at first. They were walking in opposite directions on the sidewalk: Rika home from school, and Gojo to Rika, always Rika.

“Oh, hey,” he said, like greeting an old friend. “How’s it going?”

“I’m doing well!” Rika smiled, because grownups love it when Rika smiles. “Have a good afternoon.”

“You’re not going to ask me how I am?”

f*cking adults. They always act like she’s an infant.

“I apologize! How are you today?”

“I’m doing great.” The man grinned back at her. “Hey, I’m not from around here. My name’s Gojo Satoru; do you think you could help me find a friend of mine?”

“Maybe,” Rika answered pleasantly. “I can try. I know a lot of people around here.”

“Super. So, he’s—I don’t know, maybe your age, a little bit younger.”

“The middle school is in session until 3:30.”

“It’s a weekend, isn’t it?”

“Maybe he has detention,” Rika replied, touching her chin with a finger.

“Huh. Maybe, I guess.”

“What’s his name?” Like she would ever actually point a random stranger to a kid in town. Besides, she didn’t know everyone. Maybe she would genuinely not know who he meant.

“Oh! Okkotsu Yuta,” Gojo Satoru said brightly, placing a hand on her shoulder. She didn’t even have the chance to laugh.

When she comes to, she can hear before she sees, and what she hears is a jaunty whistle, a television jingle with bits and pieces missing. It smells musty, with a stomach-turning hint of mildew and rot. Something binds her hands behind her back, behind the frame of an uncomfortable wooden chair. It feels warm.

“I don’t have any money,” Rika says, her head still heavy, the words coming out slow. What did he do to her? It’s not like she was poisoned, or knocked out. One moment she was awake, and the next she was here.

“Oh, I don’t need money,” Gojo says cheerily.

“And I don’t have any family, so you can’t post a ransom—”

“Jeez, actually?”


“That’s a bummer. That’s, like, really sad.”

Rika finally opens her eyes, and the hazy image before her doesn’t provide any clarification as to where she is. The room is small but high-ceilinged, and the walls are covered in scraps of paper, inked in red and black with characters both familiar and alien. She *is* tied to a chair. (Isn’t that kind of clichéd?) In front of her is the man who introduced himself as Gojo Satoru, now clad in a black fitted uniform and a black blindfold, pulled all the way around his head. Rika blinks at him, tilting her head.

“Oh, this is one of those cult things that’s been in the news,” she says, satisfied to at least have figured that much out. “Sorry.”

“No, that’s the funny thing—”

“Do you want me to start over?” Rika asks. “I can cry this time. Hold on, I can cry.”

“Aw, you don’t have to do that,” Gojo says, sighing.

“Please, Mr. Gojo!” she wails, struggling feebly against the chair. “Spare my life! I’ll give you money, anything you want—I’m too young to die!”

“Hm—” He touches his chin thoughtfully, studying her like he could actually see anything from behind that dark blindfold. “Pretty good job, but not convincing.”

“I thought it was.” Rika’s shoulders slump.

“No, no! It’s nothing to do with you. That really was pretty good, I mean it. It’d make any hardened criminal go all soft and weepy. The trouble is—” He runs a finger under the edge of his blindfold, shifting it around. “I know you’re not actually scared.”

“You kidnapped me, and I don’t know what you’re going to do to me!” Rika could laugh in disbelief, but that would only prove his point more, so she pivots to more of a hysterical sob. “Why wouldn’t I be scared?”

“Relax, I’m not gonna do anything to you. But any other kid your age would piss themself and cry, and all you did was tell me what’s in your bank account.”

“I really don’t have any money—” Rika mumbles.

“But!” Gojo claps his hands together. “I know you’re not scared because you think you can knock me out without lifting a finger.”

Rika pales, looking around at the room again. She doesn’t even see a door, which is troubling. There seems to be some kind of high window letting light in, but the scene is primarily lit by a thousand flickering candles, some precariously close to the walls covered in paper.

“In fact, if you were really worried, I bet we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. Hey, you have a pretty good handle on it, at least.”

“On what?” Rika asks, though she knows.

“Sorry, I guess I shouldn’t use ‘it’. That’s kinda rude, huh? Him.” Gojo leans forward, steepling his fingers. “Yuta.”

She feels her blood go cold, the way it does whenever anyone mentions Yuta. It happens less and less now, declining with each year he’s been dead, but it’s never going to end. It’s never going to end. Maybe it would be better if he was gone, because Rika doesn’t feel anything beyond the most perfunctory grief for her parents, but he’s always going to be here, and it’s always going to feel like a broken bone that never healed.

Summoned by a mention of his name, polite as always, a darkness pools around her bound feet.

“Hello,” it says, tentative, in a voice that echoes as if coming from a deep well. “Hello?”

“Ah, there he is! Hi, Okkotsu.” Gojo beams, waving. “Come on, come out and play.”

“You don’t have to patronize him,” Rika says, before hesitating. “What did you do?”

“What do you mean?”

“He’s—” Rika tries to flex her hand, and she realizes for the first time that her ring isn’t on her finger. Panic rises in her throat. “What did you do to him?”

“Relax, he’s okay,” Gojo answers reassuringly, despite not having a voice made for reassurances. He pulls a small wooden box, hardly bigger than a lighter, from his pocket, rattling it around. “Just wanted to take some precautions. I’ll give it back in a second.”

“Give it back now,” she snaps, straining her wrists against the rope, very much not feigning discomfort this time. “Give it back!”

“It’s okay, Rika,” Yuta says, peeling a dark shadow of a hand from the floor. “It feels kind of nice.”

“Yuta, what’s going on?” Orimoto forces herself to take a deep breath.

“I don’t know! Why would I know? Rika—”

“Hey, hey, it’s okay,” Gojo says, stowing the box back in his pocket. “Don’t worry.”

“Yuta, do something.”

It’s a rare blank check from Rika: Yuta usually prefers very specific instructions, and so does she. He still has the clumsiness of a boy his age, of course, but at least then she can direct him with more precision. Now, she doesn’t know what to do. She’s scared. He’s scared, too, but he always is.

“Rika, I—I can’t!” The hand swats petulantly at the floor. “I can’t!”

“How many times do I have to tell you guys to relax?” Gojo sighs. “You’re both fine. Can we get down to talking already?”

“What do you want from me?” Rika asks, drawing in on herself.

“I’m trying to help you. Some very big sorcerers in the business—”


Sorcerers?” Yuta echoes, curious.

“Yeah, there’s a whole structure. Yikes, do I have to give the whole spiel right now? Basically, you’re considered a jujutsu sorcerer—or a curse user, pick your preference—because of your little buddy here. Like me!” Gojo wiggles his fingers, grinning. “But some of the old guys in power are a bit worried about what you’ve been doing.”

“What do you mean?” Rika asks carefully. “I haven’t been doing anything.”

“Sure, sure. I guess it’s been Yuta, huh?”

“I haven’t been doing anything,” Yuta repeats, dutiful.

“Well, let’s say that you did. Good news and bad news. The higher-ups really don’t like sorcerers running wild, ‘cause it’s kind of a whole liability to the structure of things, so their idea is to—” Gojo runs a finger along his throat. “Sorry, I guess it’s not good to talk about that kind of thing with a kid in the room.”

“You’re here to kill me?” Rika asks, pressing her lips together.

“That’s the good news!” Gojo beams. “I’ve spent a whole lot of time arguing with them, and I’ve worn them down to the point where they don’t want to anymore.”

There’s a long, long silence as they process this information.

“C’mon, can I get some claps at least? Some ‘good job, Mr. Gojo’?”

Another hand reaches up from the floor to clap obligingly.

“That said, there’s a corollary. Uh, a caveat. Um—” Gojo puffs his cheeks out. “A catch.

“What is it?” Rika has resigned herself to the worst possibilities, despite the high-energy demeanor of her captor. This is exactly what she’s been trying to avoid. She’s done so, so well, and she was so close to being able to leave that rotten town forever. Just a year or two more.

“So~o, I work at a school here in Tokyo—”

“We’re in Tokyo?” Rika asks, eyes wide. How long was she out?

“Ooh!” Yuta presses against her consciousness with excitement. “Rika, Rika—we’re in Tokyo!”

“Tokyo! I’m a first-year teacher at Jujutsu Technical College, but don’t let the name scare you. It’s just high school. The catch is that while you won’t be executed—say ‘thank you, Mr. Gojo’—they want you to enroll there so I can keep an eye on you. It’ll be fun! You’ll love the other kids.”

Rika scoffs.

“I mean it,” he adds.

“It sounds like you’re not giving me a choice,” Rika says coldly.

“Die if you want. The council won’t care. But I also don’t think you want to.” Gojo looks at her, really looks at her, and she feels a dread so whole that she’s sure he can not only see her but see through her, and that he’s merely suspending his disgust until he can coerce an answer out of her. She tries to urge Yuta again to hurt this man who clearly wants to hurt her, but he’s bound as tightly as she is. “Besides, do you really want to go back home?”

Rika thinks of the drainpipe, and the concrete walls of the school, and her mother’s empty dresser drawers. She thinks of the crosswalk.

“No,” she decides. “I’ll go.”

“Rika, are you sure?” Yuta says quietly.

“Yes, I’m sure. It’s alright, Yuta. It’ll be okay.”

“Great!” Gojo reaches his hand out for a high-five, before abruptly remembering their situation and getting up to go untie her hands and feet. Rika rolls her ankles and her wrists in turn, finally standing up to stretch. The haziness of waking up seems to have abated, which she appreciates. She’d rather be thinking clearly for this kind of thing.

“Thank you,” Rika says. She has to be polite, after all.

“No worries. Oh, here!” Gojo retrieves the object from his pocket again, sliding it open like a matchbox to reveal a ring, Rika’s ring, and flicking it over to her like a coin. She barely catches it, but she does catch it, and slips it on her finger fast like he might try and take it back.

“Thank you,” she says again.

“Really, no worries. Like I said, I’m sorry to have to do it, but you know how it is—” Gojo sighs as he turns around, picking up the chairs to stack them.

Rika slowly, carefully points a finger at his back.

Okkotsu unfurls from the floor, creeping up her body and down her arm to align himself precisely with where she’s directed him. He shines like an oil slick after a storm and moves with the ease of ferrofluid. Rika reaches up with her other hand to pat him reassuringly, and feels the warmth of his gratitude before he darts off towards Gojo, impossibly fast.

Not fast enough.

Gojo reaches up behind himself before she can even realize he’s done it, and Yuta struggles in his grip, thrashing and splashing in a panic. He should be able to incapacitate Gojo just by touching him, but after a moment, Rika finally puts together that he isn’t touching Gojo, as if the man was wearing a glove. Even then—even then

She stares in horror, but all Gojo does is hold the writhing, wailing mass that is Yuta tighter. He sighs.

“Come on, Orimoto. Let’s be friendly with each other.” Gojo Satoru smiles. She knows this to be a threat.

As it turns out, there’s no door in or out of wherever that is, and Gojo instead very casually takes her by the arm and walks her outside by means Rika cannot perceive, as easy as stepping out of an elevator. Their feet land onto a well-maintained white sidewalk, and when she looks up at the world around her, the brightness and chaos makes her reflexively shield her eyes. It’s beyond disorienting. Every part of it makes her queasy.

Strikingly, she realizes that the time is all wrong. She met Gojo in the early afternoon, but the sun is low in the sky, and she catches glimpses of tailored leather shoes striding on their way to work with purpose. It’s morning. The temperature difference causes her skin to prickle out in goosebumps.

Slowly, Rika looks up and around, taking in the busy streets, shops, parks, towering offices, restaurants hawking gourmet food, parents and children, men and women in suits, garbage collectors, electric billboards advertising face creams and new flavors of seltzer—and that’s only the things she can see.

“See? Tokyo!” Gojo grins, letting go of her shoulder to gesture around. “Isn’t it so cool!? You kinda take it for granted if you live here, but there’s so much to see and do! You’ll have a lot of free time, don’t worry.”

“How long has it been?” Rika asks shakily, sitting down on a bench. “What day is it?”

“Eh, first talked to you yesterday, but it took some last little finalizations with the council before I could lock the deal down.” Gojo continues gesticulating wildly. “Do you want to eat lunch, or something? Breakfast? There’s a really good udon joint near here—”

“No,” Rika says, feeling nauseous.

“Not even coffee or something? Some pastries?”

“I’m not hungry,” she says, taking a deep breath.

“Alright, alright.” Gojo makes a face but doesn’t push it further. “In that case, do you want to head to the school? It’s right near here.”

“I—guess.” Rika stands again, fiddling with the ring on her finger.

“Yay! Right this way, then.” Gojo steps aside with a comical bow, pointing the way. He’s not putting his back to her again, but she has a feeling it doesn’t matter. That blindfold is a bluff, and a pretty obvious one, hiding something far more sinister. It reminds Rika of her grandmother, who was able to see into her black heart and reacted with the appropriate scorn. Gojo is too comically cheery for what he knows about her. It’s unsettling.

“—Hey, what about my things?” she asks, looking back over her shoulder at Gojo. “I need to go home to get my clothes and stuff.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that. I’ve got Ijichi on it.” He gives her an enthusiastic thumbs-up.


“Ijichi! He works for me. He does whatever I tell him to: it’s pretty cool. I imagine he’ll have everything brought up later today.”

“You sent a strange man to go through my things?” she snaps.

“Aw, he’s not strange. He’s very not-strange, actually.” Gojo seems thoughtful. “Once everything gets here, it’s all yours. You can set it up how you like it. We’ve only got one other girl student in your class, so you’ll be in the same block with her! Really, I’m excited. I was worried about her getting lonely.”

Rika bristles.

It’s a short walk to the school, and Rika wonders where they could possibly host this kind of thing in such a dense urban area. People on the sidewalk pay them no mind, which surprises Rika. Gojo is a distinctive guy, but it seems like he floats through the air, untouchable, a ghost among men. She’s still not sure how he sees anything with that blindfold.

The hustle and bustle of downtown Tokyo fades little by little as the day settles in, their shadows growing shorter like time could run back. Gojo ushers her through a gate and down a path, and all at once, the world goes silent save for the gentle calls of birds and wind through the trees, cicadas starting to wake up and wail. Gojo whistles every now and then. Yuta peers out of her eyes with uncertain excitement.

“So, do I learn normal school things, or is it just weird magic?” Rika asks after a period of silence. She still hasn’t seen any buildings through the trees. Maybe Gojo is still going to kill her. She keeps getting proven wrong, but she won’t ever be proven right until it’s too late. She has Yuta back, at least—no matter what this freak can do, she can do him one better. As long as Okkotsu feels like cooperating. As long as Okkotsu doesn’t panic.

“Oh, it’s a mix! Sorry, you’ll still have to do your math exams. But I personally like to focus on the sorcery, yeah.” Gojo shades his eyes like it matters, staring into the far distance. “You’ll get to have me as your first-year teacher!”

“And you said there’s other students?” Even she can’t keep the dubiousness out of her voice.

“Relax. They’re great kids!”

“They’re always great kids,” she mumbles.

“You’ll get to meet them in a minute. We’re coming up to the school now.”

Rika feels the sinking feeling in her stomach that you get when you miss the top step, or when the elevator moves a little too quickly—your body going somewhere that it thinks it shouldn’t be able to. How long have they been walking? Tokyo seems so, so far away, but it’s the largest urban area in the world. They should have hit another cross-street by now. When she looks up, the sky is perfectly blue.

Looking back forward, though, she finally sees the heavy-painted outlines of old wooden buildings, built in the traditional style. When Orimoto steps over the threshold, the shadow of that towering red torii, the soft whispers of animals and foliage disappear, and the world lapses into total silence. She brings her steps to a dragging halt to match it, uneasy.

Gojo knows better than to touch her, so he just jauntily jerks a thumb over to one of the buildings as he passes her.

“C’mon, Orimoto! We’re already running late. Man, we should’ve gotten breakfast,” he sighs.

Rika blinks, scuffing her shoes in the gravel.

In a matter of moments, she feels a pressure against her hand, and when she looks down, she sees a thin offshoot of her shadow darting up to cup a small hand in her palm, reassuring and completely cold. She sees Gojo stiffen, pausing only for a moment, before continuing as nonchalantly as before. Yuta squeezes her hand.

“C’mon, Rika,” he says, on the verge of tears. “You can do it.”

Gojo leads her—them—through a gap between the buildings, into one of them and up a flight of stairs, chatting all the while. It’s a schoolhouse, smaller than the one’s she’s used to, but recognizable nonetheless. The dusty windows filter the light that comes in, turning everything pale and dreamy.

Gojo stops outside of a closed door, placing both of his palms on it.

“Are you ready?” he asks, grinning.

“Ready for what?” Rika asks in return.

“You have to make a good first impression, right? Here, I’ll do the hard part for you. I’ll lead you in, and then you do something cool, okay?”

Rika doesn’t have a chance to protest before Gojo slides the door open at a velocity that shakes the frame, hopping inside to spread his arms in welcome.

“Good morning, my wonderful students! We’ve got you a new friend.” Gojo turns his wild flailing in Rika’s direction, and she obligingly steps inside, smiling her best smile, all dimples. She bows low.

“I’m Orimoto Rika!” she says. “It’s a pleasure to meet you!”

When she looks up, however, even she can’t stop her eyes from widening.

Tucked into wooden desks are three people—...no, she can’t even say that much. Three things? Three beings. There’s a girl and a boy around her age, looking just as surprised as she is, and what seems to be a panda, the kind she’d watch TV programs about as a kid. She doesn’t have any time to react or even process what’s going on before all three of them spring into action.

The girl, tall and broad-shouldered with glasses, unzips a bag at her side and slips out a dual-bladed knife, twisting it to get a better grip, and the guy tenses, pulling his scarf down from over his mouth like he’s about to yell at her. The panda (the panda?) puts up its dukes, and Rika feels fear if only because she’s never been in this situation before. She isn’t sure what she expected, though. Like her grandmother, like Gojo, they all know that something is wrong with her. Her face falls.

“What is that?” the girl asks, spitting the words out.

“Hey, hey, calm down,” Gojo says, pouting. “That’s Orimoto. She just said so.”

“Not her.” She points the knife in Rika’s direction, at a point over her shoulder. “That.

Rika doesn’t have to look. She knows what they all see, and while she rationally couldn’t blame them for their reaction, she will. Cold anger rises in her—at Gojo, at these people, at the world around her—but she keeps smiling.

“That’s Yuta. He’s my best friend.” Rika reaches up to take his hand again, but he hides behind her, conforming his shape to her outline. She watches them all flinch, and feels a degree of ugly satisfaction. “Say hi, Yuta.”

“I don’t wanna,” he whines, his voice warbling and echoing.

“This is a school for people who want to kill cursed spirits,” the girl in the glasses snaps, addressing Gojo rather than Rika and Yuta. “Not for those cursed spirits themselves.”

“It’s a special case, Maki,” Gojo explains, patient despite it all. “Orimoto uses Yuta as part of her cursed technique. She’s like you guys in that regard.”

“Is she?” the panda says doubtfully, in the deep, firm voice of a man.

“Fish flakes,” the other boy mutters—or something that sounds like it, anyways.

“Are you insane?” the girl—Maki—asks. “I knew you were an idiot, but this is—”

“Hey, that’s no way to treat your favorite teacher.” Gojo pouts. “Orimoto, this is Zen’in Maki.”

Rika waves, but she wonders if this was the other girl Gojo was talking about. So much for being friends.

“And then you’ve got Inumaki Toge—”

“Kombu, kombu,” the guy says, sighing. He pulls his scarf back up, sitting back down at the desk.

“Sorry?” Rika asks, polite.

“And then Panda,” Gojo finishes, gesturing at the panda. It’s straightforward, she supposes.

“I’m sorry,” Panda says sullenly, bowing his head. “I didn’t mean to be inhospitable. It just scared us, is all.”

He,” Rika corrects. “His name is Yuta.”

Yuta wavers behind her, and she can tell he’s still scared. This could still go very, very badly.

“Thank you for the apology, Panda,” Gojo says, nodding approvingly. “You get extra credit for being the only one here to do it.”

“Caviar,” Inumaki mumbles, rolling his eyes.

Maki stands there in incandescent irritation for a few moments, eyes locked with Rika’s. Rika doesn’t give her the satisfaction of fear or even mild concern, even as Yuta’s spirit trembles. Eventually, Maki sighs, stowing the blade back in her gym bag.

“This is still a dumb idea,” she tells Gojo.

Rika sighs in relief, providing another little bow as reintroduction.

“I’m Orimoto Rika! I’m looking forward to learning with you all!” She lets her eyes slide up to Maki, nominally friendly but always a little too cold. “I hope we can all be friends.”

“You will be!” Gojo says confidently, putting his hands on his hips. “Nothing brings people together quite like high school.”

Maki scoffs. Rika smiles.

haunted - Chapter 1 - whatitis - 呪術廻戦 (2024)
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