Ghost of a Second Chance
Hello all! I found this in my backlogs, something that SleepArypsure and myself worked on a while back. I figured I'd see if anyone liked the idea instead of letting it just lie there. So, let me know what you all think!
Chapter I: Consequences of a Mistake
[Gensokyo, Higan, Shiki Eiki's Courtroom]
Konpaku Youmu couldn't help but feel a bit dizzy as she opened her green eyes, placing a hand on her head full of shoulder-length, snow white hair, adorned with a green ribbon. Seeing unfamiliar surroundings, the girl immediately reached for her waist and widened her eyes. Looking down at her outfit, her swords were gone. A short-sleeved white blouse with a black bowtie under a green vest and a green skirt with white frills at the knee-length hem and a pair of polished and black dress shoes with white socks made up said outfit. Largely missing, however, was the katana at her back and wakizashi at her waist that named her the loyal gardener of Yuyuko-sama.
Thinking her surroundings might give her a clue as to why her precious blades were missing, Youmu took them in. The walls were high and made of some sort of black wood that shone in the light the stained glass windows allowed through. Lining the walls between each window were large statues of ebony depicting people the girl didn't recognize. They were certainly odd looking for anything in Gensokyo. Some looked vaguely human, others were more likely youkai. The only thing they had in common was that they had this look of… age to them, like they knew things others didn't. The windows themselves showed the people depicted on the statues in different statues. One of the men sitting beneath a tree in the lotus position. Another of them hanging from a cross. A third standing atop a mountain holding two stone tablets. Following the depictions as she walked down the hall, Youmu eventually found herself before a set of large doors of that same black wood. Maybe the answer was through here?
The girl raised her hand to touch the door but found it stopped just shy of physical contact. Swallowing, she felt her face break out in a cold sweat and pulled her hand back. There was… something on the other side. She didn't know what it was, but it was powerful. She didn't have Yuyuko-sama's swords. She didn't have Roukanken and Hakurouken. Even still, she needed to get back to her mistress and protect her. With that in mind, she pushed past the fear she felt and opened the doors. As they swung open, Youmu found her heart skip a beat.
This chamber was vast. Looking up, she couldn't even make out the ceiling, which itself was held up by thirteen immense pillars arranged in a circle. Each of them were made of a different material - this one of ebony, this of ivory, this of sapphire, bronze, and so on. Some of them looked pristine, others looked cracked and fragile, as if one touch would crumble them. Along these walls stood large statues that appeared like imperial soldiers, each carrying spears raised to the ceiling. Six pairs of larger than life statues lined the walls and seemed to be guarding some sort of monarch, warning all who pass that they were outnumbered and outclassed.
Raised above all else, even the statues, was a dais. On the dais was a larger than life throne of black wood and a red leather back. To either side of the throne were large, crystal chandeliers that cast light upon the chamber and a Chinese dragon made of gold rose up, curled protectively around the throne itself. To contrast with the high back of the throne that would rise even above the tallest of the oni, a prepubescent girl sat in it.
Short green hair that barely covered her ears was kept under a blue hat that had the shape of an imperial crown, with a golden crest above the center of her forehead in the shape of a pentagon. Blue eyes stared down at Youmu from her ivory-skinned face. To match her hat, she wore a white, long-sleeved shirt and a blue vest kept together with four golden buttons, and a black skirt with red threading at the hem on the left side, and white threading on the right side. The girl stayed seated as Youmu approached. Even when the doors slammed shut and caused Youmu to jump and yip in surprise, the verdette stayed collected.
"Welcome, Youmu Konpaku, to Higan. I am Shikieiki Yamaxanadu, the High Judge of Souls, leader of Shinigami, Lord of the Afterlives and Princess of the Soul Court, at your service." Finally, the girl stood and brandished an ornate rod in her right hand. "While I would normally need to use my Kaigo no Bou to know what I should do with a soul, you are a special case. I have always kept an eye on the Konpaku, due to them being close to that gluttonous ghost. It seems that my loyal Lieutenant was able to be in the Netherworld at an opportune moment.
"That mistress of yours miscalculated her ritual and instead of becoming whatever halfling she intended you to be, she killed you on the spot." Youmu stepped back from the smaller girl and clutched her dress to keep from shouting out. She realized the force she felt before was this… Child. The way she carried herself, spoke and acted drove home that she was older than Yuyuko-sama even. Maybe even older than Yukari-sama…
"I see you understand the situation you're in." Raising the rod so that Youmu could see it, Shikieiki pointed it at her. "My Kaigo no Bou has the ability to measure sins of one's life. It becomes heavier the worse one has been in life. While it has indeed gained some weight with your entrance, it is hardly noticeable. I could only tell due to my experience in this matter. Therefore, I believe I will do something… Special with you. Normally, the only options are Hell or Reincarnation." Youmu didn't know what Shikieiki had done, but suddenly the room felt heavy around her. "Instead, I shall do something I never thought I would do here in Gensokyo. I think that Genryusai should like someone as powerful as you might become. Enjoy your time in Seireitei, little Konpaku. I expect greatness from you."
[Seireitei, Forty-Second Rukongai]
Youmu had been forced to shut her eyes, as something Shikieiki did caused a blinding light to explode into the chamber. When it finally died down, she opened her eyes and felt confused once more. She really hoped finding herself transported to unknown locations wasn't going to become a trend. Pushing that thought aside, she decided to observe her surroundings. What had the girl called it? Seireitei?
On first glance it didn't appear to be anything grandiose. In fact, she noted that she was in something like a slum, complete with dirt roads, foul stench and suspect infrastructure. Walking down one of the roads, there were various hawkers crying their wares - all of which appeared to be of the lowest quality - and abodes that could topple with a tap of her blades.
Yuyuko-sama… The thought of her swords made Youmu remember her mistress. If the child was to be believed, then the ritual had not gone as planned. Instead of becoming half-ghost so she might aid Yuyuko-sama in a greater capacity for a longer time, it had made her a full ghost. Then, if the child was still telling the truth, a Shinigami under her employ had swooped in and sent her to the chamber where Shikieiki sent her here. She was dead. Still, it was odd. She didn't feel dead. The afterlife also seemed to just be a slummy village. Didn't the girl say that she had done very little sin? Shouldn't she have appeared somewhere… Nicer?
Her thought process was interrupted as a figure suddenly appeared in front of her. Short for an adult, though still taller than her, the woman had long, white hair set in a braided ponytail and a pair of sharp, green eyes. Her pale skin contrasted deeply with the black and white haori and hakama pants she wore. Youmu disregarded most of this though, and eyed the katana at her waist. If anything happened… She knew what she needed to do. "Are you Konpaku-san?" The woman asked. Youmu noted the way other people eyed this new figure with some measure of fear and respect. She figured she was likely someone with authority and conceded with a nod. "I am Ashina Reiko, Sixth Seat Officer of the Second Division. I have been sent to gather you for an audience with the Captain-Commander Genryusai Yamamoto." At the name Genryusai, Youmu perked up. Shikieiki had mentioned him. Perhaps she would finally learn why she was sent here?
"Of course, Ashina-san." She agreed, and followed the woman. Of course, she never took her attention from that katana of Reiko's. There was always the chance she would need to take it.
[Seireitei, First Division, Captain-Commander's Office]
Youmu thought she had been prepared for anything. She was ready for a barrage of danmaku. She was ready for a seemingly neverending army of soldiers surrounding her. She was even ready to kill Reiko with her own katana and run if need be. She had not prepared for the sudden motion sickness and subsequent toppling of her legs when Reiko grabbed her shoulder. When the room stopped spinning she groaned as she noticed she had appeared in yet another unknown location instantly.
This time, she found herself in some sort of military officer's office. It was a room large enough for a dozen people to stand comfortably, with a single window allowed the daylight to stream in before her. Meanwhile, behind her stood a sliding door of wood and rice paper. It seemed Reiki and her had bypassed that. The oak walls were mostly barren, while the only piece of furniture was a desk with a single seat.
In that seat, seated at that desk was a very old man with little, if any, hair atop his head and the longest beard she had ever seen, longer than even Youki-jiji. He wore a similar outfit to Reiko, though with a white coat as well. Leaning against his chair was a very gnarled looking staff. She could tell it wasn't just a cane though. Jiji had long since taught her to recognize all types of energies, and there was a lot coming from it. It felt like… All her senses were on fire, and she couldn't escape it no matter what she did.
Focusing on him rather than the stick, she assumed this was Genryusai. "Welcome, Konpaku-chan." The man spoke in a grandfatherly sort of way. It reminded her a lot of Youki-jiji. Stern, but compassionate and protective. "Yamaxanadu-sama had informed me of your imminent arrival, and I sent Ashina-san here to collect you. I'm sure you have many questions. I will do my best to answer them."
Youmu looked from Genryusai to Reiki and back to him before thinking a moment. "I do, Genryusai-san." Youmu watched the man for his reaction to her honorific and noted he didn't have any. She wasn't quite ready to call him anything else right now though, even if he was an authority figure here. Well, wherever here was, that is. Actually, that might be the best place to start. "Where am I?"
"This is the Seireitei. Think of it as a place where the souls of those with particularly strong spiritual energy gather after their death. While normally no souls from Gensokyo appear here due to the Hakurei Barrier, despite their potent spiritual energy, Yamaxanadu-sama specifically sent you here. She saw potential in your ability to help us. That is quite a high endorsement, I assure you."
"Help you?" Youmu asked. "What exactly is it that the Seireitei does?" Genryusai was silent a moment before explaining.
"The Gotei 13 Court Guard are a group of Shinigami that serve the Soul King. Our purpose is to help guide lost souls to the next life, whether that be reincarnation, hell, or here. Each member wields a weapon known as a zanpakutou. The hilt can perform a ceremony which purifies any wayward spirits and sends them to their judgement. The blade it also used to purify beings known as Hollows. These are creatures, monsters formed from a ghost's loneliness and regret. The katana you see there on Reiko-san's hip is a zanpakutou."
Youmu looked at the katana again before turning to Genryusai. "So… She sent me here to help guide spirits to their judgement?" Genryusai gave a slight nod. It seemed like a pure enough concept. She wasn't actually hurting, she would be allowing others to face their own fate based on decisions they made. Still, it wouldn't be helping Yuyuko-sama. Yuyuko-sama likely already had one of her cousins being trained to become Gardener though. She would be fine. She would… Right?
"How about this, Konpaku-san. Why don't you attend the Shin'o Academy for a time and come to a decision based on your experiences there? If Yamaxanadu-sama thinks you will be a good fit, I'm willing to offer something like that." Youmu paused a moment before nodding. There wasn't really much of a choice at this point, was there? She was here, she might as well help people while she could. "Reiko-san's cousin has offered to adopt you into his clan. She will escort you to his estate, and then you will be shown to your quarters, I imagine." Youmu nodded once more to the man.
"Thank you… Genryusai-sama." The old man smiled and nodded at the new honorific even as the two left in a Shunpo.
Youmu was really starting to hate this pattern of shifting space-time. Every time she thought she was in simply going to walk somewhere - every single time - somehow she was moved from one location to another in an instant. Thoughts were moving in her head that heavily insinuated Yukari-san was the cause of this whole thing. If only that were actually the case. At least then she could be relatively certain that she'd be reunited with Yuyuko-sama once more.
As the world stopped spinning for the fourth time that day, Youmu found herself standing before a mansion. It wasn't anything near that behemoth of a structure situated near Misty Lake, but it was still impressive nonetheless. Six floors high and made from oak in a traditional Japanese style, the house was made of a red-painted oak, with black tiled rooftops, and several dozen clear as crystal windows overlooking all directions. The cobblestone road that the pair stood on led directly to the paper door entrance through a torii gate that stood taller than the one at Hakurei Shrine was in between them and the mansion.
"Welcome to the Ashina Estate; owned by the Ashina Clan, and headed by Ashina Moriuji." Reiko remarked. "Moriuji-sama and Morimi-sama aren't in right now, as they have responsibilities as officers, but I will gladly introduce you to the heiress, Hibiki-hime." When Youmu seemed confused, Reiko expanded. "Moriuji-sama is the one who adopted you. Hibiki-hime is your sister from this point on." With a nod, Youmu followed the swordswoman under the torii and into the castle.
As soon as she entered, Youmu was presented with a scene that contrasted heavily with the Konpaku family, despite both being noble clans. Where she was used to cold walls bare of decoration, spars amongst her kin in every room so that they might prove themselves to Yuyuko-sama, and a generally lackluster atmosphere, the parlor immediately ripped any notion of familiarity away from her quite rapidly.
The walls were colored a calming blue with pictures of different clan members. She didn't recognize anyone - it was unsurprising given she only knew Reiko - but noted that everyone was fair of skin with white hair, though the eyes varied from browns, blues, greens and even one girl who had pink eyes. When Reiko caught her looking at the girl, the woman spoke. "That is our heiress, Hibiki-hime. Just like you, she'll be starting Shin'o Academy soon. Moriuji-sama will likely ensure that the two of you are placed in the same class as well."
Youmu nodded and followed the woman further inside. As they traversed the parlor, she noted busts of different heads she'd never seen before. There were definitely at least a dozen people amongst them though, so she didn't imagine they were all the Clan Head, or even just Clan Heads. "Reiko-san, who are these?" She wondered.
"These are a way to remember our clan's greatness. Any time an Ashina becomes an officer, they are given a bust in their image which Moriuji-sama presents for everyone to see. Currently, four of the Seated Officers of Second Division come from our Clan. I am one of them as are Moriuji-sama and his wife, Morimi-sama. The final one is Moriuji-sama's adopted brother, Fuyu. We've also got one officer in 12th Division and one in 10th Division. Since Moriuji-sama first united the Ashina in the afterlife, we have had 17 Seated Officers through the last four centuries. We only allow our best members to become Shinigami, and they always prove the strength of the Ashina to those who would otherwise doubt us because of our small size."
"Reiko-san, you talked about Divisions, but I don't really get it. What did you mean?" The Ashina thought over the question a moment as they climbed the stairs across the room.
"I suppose that's a good question. The Second Division, my personal one, is in charge of stealth, assassination and infiltration. We are quick, quiet and efficient, like a blade of shadows in the night. The Third handles border patrol to ensure Hollows and other things that don't belong in the Seireitei don't get in. Fourth Division is our support. They handle all things medical in addition to logistical concerns. Our Fifth Division is chosen based on their ability to utilize Kidou. Aside from the actual Kidou Corps, who are Shinigami that specialize into Kidou specifically, they are the most talented as a Division. Sixth Division is in charge of Capture and Retrieval; they handle any and all deserters, escaped criminals and bounties - whether the mark is Shinigami, Hollow or something else. Eighth is in charge of coming up with the counter tactics for the enemies we face and most of their field work involves researching Hollows in a very up close and personal manner. Ninth Division is in charge of policing the other Divisions which requires each of them to be as neutral and law abiding as possible. Tenth is like the eighth in that they are a strategic Division but they, instead, develop the tactics that our Shinigami utilize in each field assignment. Eleventh… they are our frontline assault Division. They are good at what they do, but not much else. Twelfth is of the same vein. Our Research and Development Division comes up with all sorts of ways to make our lives easier, but hardly ever leave their labs. Seventh are our general forces and where the Shinigami who don't have any particular specialization are assigned. Those that are too specialized into a particular area but not skilled enough in general skills to be assigned to the other Divisions go to Thirteenth in order to become more well-rounded. Lastly is our First Division, headed by Genryusai-sama himself, who are hand-picked elites and the best in their fields."
Youmu looked a bit dazed as Reiko finished. "I… I think I understand." Youmu replied, hoping that the Academy professors didn't speak quite so quickly, and drop quite so much information on her at once. Reiko nodded in satisfaction as they arrived at a particular room on the fourth floor. "This is the room of Hibiki-hime. It feels as if she's asleep at the moment, so I think your introductions will have to wait."
"What do you mean feels?"
"Hm… you have much to learn it seems. I could tell that you could feel the energy from Ryujin Jakka, but can you not feel the differences in Reiatsu between a conscious and sleeping being?" At Youmu's confused expression, Reiko sighed. "You have much to learn if you are to make the Ashina proud. We will teach you though. That much you can be certain of."
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Orpheus out! Ja ne!