Volume One

Tsuzuki Asato works in Enma-chou, one division out of ten that exist in the world of the human afterlife. He's a "shinigami," or "god of death," assigned to the Kyuushuu sector. He's been working there for seventy years, though his physiological age is only 26, and he's second only to the division head in seniority. As the story begins, he's given a new partner, Asuka (though Tsuzuki never bothers to call him by name), after his last partner transferred. Normally, human souls travel where they're supposed to when they die, so the shinigami only have to intervene in special cases. Tsuzuki's specialty is people who don't die when they're supposed to. He's a top agent...but for some reason always loses his bonus.

The current case is a girl, Ayako, whose body is still alive though her soul has died. When Asuka sees the picture of her, he reacts strangely, but he pretends it's nothing. They find the girl about to commit suicide and Tsuzuki stops her--then remembers she's *supposed* to die. When she sees Asuka, she throws her arms around him, calling him "Masaki"--her cousin who died six years before.

She explains that Masaki died saving her life after she fell in a river. Feeling responsible, she wanted to die herself, but none of her suicide attempts have worked. Tsuzuki says that she's probably being protected by spirits of her dead relatives, so he offers to put up a strong kekkai around her to allow her to suicide without interference. Asuka berates her for thinking she killed her cousin, but she only becomes more determined.

Tsuzuki visits the Gushoushin brothers (deities who record all humans' good and evil deeds) to find out what happened to Masaki. Asuka is feeling down that after Masaki gave up his own life so the girl precious to him could live, Ayako will die anyway. Tsuzuki explains that, to her, a world without Masaki isn't worth living in.

As promised, Tsuzuki gives Ayako the chance to kill herself, but Asuka comes charging in. When he tries to save Ayako from drowning, however, it turns out Tsuzuki had created an illusion of her to draw out Asuka's true self. Masaki had wanted to continue protecting Ayako even after he died, so he became a shinigami under a fake name and secretly kept preventing her from suiciding. He was ashamed to let her know because he had always told her he would be a doctor and save lives, while now he's a shinigami and takes them. Tsuzuki throws Ayako's "judgment summons" at Asuka ("whoops, I'm always dropping things") and says to do with it whatever he wants. As a punishment for quitting, Asuka is sentenced to go back to the human world to repeat his training.

Of course, Tsuzuki loses his bonus...

* * *

Tsuzuki is assigned to go to Nagasaki, where there has been a sudden increase in unnatural deaths. His new partner has already been sent on ahead, so Tsuzuki is accompanied by Gushoushin (otouto) to fill him in on the details. All of the recent victims died the same way: being completely drained of blood. As he's walking down the street, a girl trips over him, and for the instant he meets her eyes he gets a strange feeling from her.

A short distance away, a dead body is discovered. Tsuzuki goes running after the girl, thinking she's the key to the case, but is trapped in a kekkai. He breaks free, but a boy behind him puts a gun to his head and accuses him of being the vampire. Not believing his protests, the boy threatens to fire, when Gushoushin shows up and says, "What are you doing getting into a childish squabble with your new partner?"

Kurosaki Hisoka has exceptionally strong spiritual power and high healing and defense abilities. He says he died at age sixteen of an incurable illness. He had been told Tsuzuki was the best agent in Enma-chou, which was why he requested to be his partner--an assertion that causes Gushoushin to bust a gut laughing. Upset, Hisoka gets drunk and passes out, forcing Tsuzuki to carry him back to the hotel room (a single--Enma-chou has precious little money). (Tsuzuki-"He's cute when he's quiet...maybe I should give him a brotherly kiss...") Tsuzuki wonders what Hisoka's true motives are for being a shinigami.

Gushoushin starts organizing files on his laptop, particularly unsolved cases, saying there's a recent one about someone who died from a spell made to look like an illness. Pulling up the file, Tsuzuki sees that it's about Hisoka--he was murdered by a spell that made him suffer until the very end.

Tsuzuki flips on the TV and catches a program about a singer named Maria, whom Tsuzuki recognizes as the girl he met earlier. He and "bouya" go to her office in the morning. When they spot her, Hisoka says she's like a doll walking around with no soul. They're about to start asking her questions when her stepmother kicks them out. They go back to Enma-chou to ask for info about her, only to discover that she died two months before, having slit her wrists. They figure it means someone is manipulating her dead body (hypothesizing that a girl who killed herself wouldn't continue to stick around willingly, so it wasn't her own doing).

Hisoka goes off to investigate on his own. Gushoushin talks to the division head about the boy's peculiar death and special powers, and is told that's exactly why he was partnered with Tsuzuki. After waiting (in vain) for Hisoka to meet up with him, Tsuzuki comes across a child who collapsed. A doctor in the crowd attends to her, introducing himself as Muraki Kazutaka. Muraki goes off on an odd rant about how weak humans really are, and how working as a doctor has taught him that it's impossible to escape death. He claims he wants the power to overcome that, to find the perfect body. His parting words are, "You should be careful too, Tsuzuki, that you don't lose someone special to you again."

Tsuzuki goes to catch up with Hisoka at Maria's office and tries to take his arm, but Hisoka knocks him away. Tsuzuki asks if Hisoka really hates him that much, but Hisoka explains that he's an empath, and he can't prevent himself from synchronizing with others, especially if they touch him. Tsuzuki tells him that shinigami are a collection of souls who tenaciously cling to the desire to be in the human world even after death. To serve that purpose, they're willing to do a job that requires killing people. The reason they're always assigned to work in pairs is so they can keep watch on each other, to stop them from going off on independent actions relating to whatever had driven them to have such a strong motivation. That said, he gives Hisoka the freedom to continue following Maria by himself without interference.

Tsuzuki chats with Gushoushin, thinking about how Hisoka's beautiful eyes could be so cold. Gushoushin tells him that Hisoka came from a proud old family, and his parents had been ashamed of his powers. They locked him up if he ever used them in the slightest, demanding how he could be abnormal, accusing him of not being their child but a monster. Saddened, Tsuzuki insists that Hisoka isn't alone anymore.

Tsuzuki spots Maria and sets himself as bait. (Who could resist that gorgeous neck?) When Maria is forced to attack him, he binds her, then comforts her for being manipulated into doing such horrible things. (Hisoka, shadowing Maria, gets upset that he had worried when Tsuzuki was only faking. Tsuzuki-"What? You mean you were concerned about me?") Tsuzuki's spell keeps Maria temporarily protected from whoever's controlling her.

They meet with her stepmother and ask her to spill everything. Tsuzuki threatens her by saying he holds her life's candle and if he snuffs it then she dies. She taunts him that he's in no position to judge her for what she's done (having Maria reanimated to continue making money as a singer, despite the side effect of vampirisim), she knows he's a killer too. Tsuzuki responds that she must realize, if he's killed before, he's willing to do it again. She still refuses to talk, so he supplies her with the fact that he already knows Muraki is behind it. She caves and answers that Muraki is trying to become stronger by absorbing the power of a shinigami.

Muraki shows up and captures Hisoka, claiming he'll make another puppet of him. For the first time, Tsuzuki starts desperately crying out for him by name instead of "bouya." Blaming himself for being careless, Tsuzuki gears up for battle. Meanwhile, Muraki reveals that Hisoka had accidentally stumbled upon him in the middle of one of his experiments with death, and he had cast a spell on the boy to prevent him from talking. He doesn't kill those he's fond of quickly, he likes them to suffer, slowly draining the life from them.

Tsuzuki bursts in, and Muraki tells him that everything he did, the whole vampire scenario and the collapsing little girl, was to draw him. Out of the eighteen shinigami in Enma-chou, Tsuzuki has the strongest spell power and ability to control shikigami (powerful creatures from another plane). Totally pissed at how Muraki could care so little for life, Tsuzuki starts attacking. However, when the kekkai he had set up to protect Hisoka shatters, he shields the boy with his own body.

Knowing that it will take too much time for Tsuzuki's injury to heal on its own, Hisoka voluntarily synchronizes with him to share power. Tsuzuki summons one of the twelve shikigami he controls, the phoenix Suzaku. The force of the ensuing explosion demolishes the whole building. Tsuzuki stumbles out, supporting Hisoka, and all ends well. (Except Tsuzuki loses his bonus for all the destruction he caused.)

Tsuzuki ponders that both Maria's stepmother and Muraki killed others to benefit themselves, and he's no different. He kills humans just so he can remain as a shinigami. Regardless of the necessity for the job, he feels it makes him just as much a vampire.

He has a talk with Hisoka when the boy recovers from his injuries. Hisoka reveals that he knew he had been murdered--he overheard it at his last posting. He decided to accept the offer to become a shinigami in the hope that he'd meet up with his murderer. He just wanted to know the truth about why he had to die. He says that if Tsuzuki doesn't want him as a partner anymore, he'll leave now that he's done what he set out to accomplish. Instead, Tsuzuki asks him to stay partners forever. ("And whatever hentai you get tangled up with, I'll come save you.")

Hisoka demands to know why Tsuzuki cares so much. He had felt Tsuzuki's anger when learning about his death (the emotion was so strong he could pick it up even while he was sleeping), the feeling as intense as if it were Tsuzuki himself who had been wronged. He couldn't believe someone would care so deeply what happened to him. Tsuzuki replies simply, "Because you're my partner."

End Volume 1

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