Disclaimer: I don't own Inuyasha (eternal thanks to Takahashi-sama), 'cause if I did, the neighbours would start complaining about the noise wicked grin I'm also only borrowing this storyline for my own nefarious purposes.
Bouquets: Thanks, Wheezambu!
A/N: Welcome all, to my particular patch of the IY AU sandbox. This is my first go at an IY fanfic, and I'm all ready with my ACME flameproof underwear! A friendly advisory to underage or over-sensitive readers: this is definitely an adult fic, so don't read it if you're not old enough to know what inventively consenting adults like to do with each other, or if you're easily horrified by historical and/or episodic inaccuracies as well as a fair bit of coarse language. Consider yourselves warned…!
The Phoenix Blade: Time Lapse
Chapter One: Imperial Prelude
I'm a little teapot, short and stout…
:snickers: Bored, huh?
I'll be starting on show tunes next…
What's with the wriggle? Gotta go potty?
'Cause I'm gonna be crippled if I don't get up soon!
Cadet Higurashi sighed and shifted carefully, trying to ignore the aches in her thighs and calves. She squirmed slightly, trying to ease the strain. They'd given her a small padded stool to tuck under her rear so she wouldn't be totally crippled by the end of the ceremony, but it wasn't helping very much. She was utterly bored. She tried staring at a speck on the opposite wall to take her mind off her complaining shoulders, but she couldn't tune out the comments of the crowd as they passed the platform. She felt like an elaborate porcelain doll, on display for Girl's Day, as yet another guest cooed, "Oh, look, there's the Emperor's Celestial Bodyguard! Isn't she delightful?" Mentally the twenty-year-old rolled her eyes, mindful that the protocol demanded a strict "eyes front". Stifling another sigh, she squirmed one last time, and then quietly slipped into the dusty corners of her memory before she started making faces at people, and somebody official had to get involved.
…The day, four long years ago, that the official notice of entry to the Imperial Academy had arrived at the shrine, hand delivered by a crisp military attaché, all white gloves, starched collar and gold braid. His appearance was a little spoiled by the sheen of sweat caused by his hike up the shrine's staircase in the heat of summer, but he was impressive none the less. Her bafflement as he sonorously intoned her invitation to join the chosen few at the most prestigious, and incidentally most hidebound, school in Japan. Why on earth her? ...
…Entrance day. A lofty, darkened, echoing hall reeking of age and beeswax. Her sixteen-year-old self, trying not to itch her topknot or twist the rich dark brocade of her formal cadet uniform as she waited, alone. An old, solid wooden door swung open on well-oiled hinges, and she froze, back straight, face blank, staring straight ahead.
"So, this is the candidate, Lord Sessaki?" inquired a high-pitched nasal voice. The top of an elaborate headpiece bobbed into view and stopped in front of her. Dear gods, he must be a gnome, she thought, desperately fighting the impulse to look down, or giggle, or both. "Hmmm. You are aware, I'm sure, that the Imperial Military Academy has never before opened its doors to a female candidate?" continued the voice.
"Yes, Lord Tekko," purred the cool voice of the elegant courtier she knew as Lord Sessaki, her unlikely sponsor into the Academy. He entered her line of sight, except that he was so tall, she was looking at his chest instead of his topknot. "This young woman has an exceptional pedigree. Both Lord Kogashu and I agree that she will be a credit to the Academy and a beacon for those to come." She held her breath, as the topknot circled her, wheezing. His very traditional geta stopped behind her, somewhere to her left.
"Well, Lord Kogashu, she is entirely your responsibility now. Make sure she understands the honour involved in her acceptance here, and her duty to the Emperor." With that, the geta clopped briskly out the door. Someone closed it, and she remembered to breathe.
"At ease, Higurashi." She obeyed, and looked up at Lord Sessaki. "Thank you, sir," she said meekly. A ghost of a smile hovered around the tall courtier's lips. He was dressed in his official capacity as the Emperor's First Sword, in a dark blue haori and hakama, his dark hair, streaked with a little silver at the temples, pulled up into a simple topknot. She noted his unusual eye colour, dark golden brown, before he looked over her head. "Well, Lord Kogashu, you've got your work cut out for you, but I think you'll find Higurashi is more than prepared for it. She's setting a standard; she will have to be better than the best." A long-fingered hand dropped onto her shoulder; she was spun around to face a tall, dark, powerfully built man smiling at her rather toothily. She blinked, thinking of how he reminded her of a wolf, when that cool voice spoke over her head. "We all know what is at stake here; there cannot be any mistakes." The hair on the back of her neck stood up…
…The very first day at the Academy. All one hundred cadets were lined up on the exercise ground, all wearing white tanks and dark blue shorts, all with buzz-cut heads…except one. Kagome stood, feeling the sweat run down between her shoulder blades as her ponytail bobbed liked a red flag. The hostility positively radiated from her colleagues, wrapping around her neck and choking her. Only the sound of breathing broke the silence, as if a pack was circling, about to strike.
Lord Kogashu stalked out of the archway in front of her, followed by four other instructors. He positioned himself precisely halfway along the front row, and folded his arms, his dark eyes glittering under darker brows. He glared at the entire group, and Kagome was fairly sure that if movement was possible, they all would have cringed backwards a step. He spoke, his voice level and distinct and no-one had to strain their ears.
"Now hear this, you lousy bunch of candy-ass bastards. I know what has been said around your dinner tables, and I'm only gonna say this once. If I have to say it again to any of you personally, you're gonna wish you were six feet under by the time I'm done with you. Understand?"
Ninety-nine heads nodded; ninety-nine voices shouted, "Hai, Sensei!"
His eyes lost none of their dangerous edge. "The Emperor does not have any problem with Cadet Higurashi's presence here, and neither do you. You will treat her with respect; you will not attempt to deliberately injure her or insult her. Anyone who does not follow both the spirit and intent of these orders will receive a dishonourable discharge and be sent home. Do I make myself absolutely clear?
"Hai, Sensei!" And that, surprisingly, was that…
…The day two years ago she'd learned her grade school friend, Yuka, was stricken with leukemia. She couldn't concentrate, and opponent after opponent had disarmed her, or sent her flying to the mat. Lord Kogashu had found her, huddled in the corner of the kendo room, head on knees, sobbing heartbrokenly. Instead of a harsh lecture, he'd dropped to his knees and pulled her into his arms, cradling her until the storm had passed. He'd dried her tears and sent her on her way with words of encouragement that helped her through a dark period…
…The day her motorcycle had arrived. It was a complete mystery as to who had sent it, yet there it stood, shining in the morning sunlight on her eighteenth birthday. Her mother had fussed that it was too powerful for her to control, but she had fallen in love with it from the first. It was flaming red, with a rather masculine graphic of a snarling, decidedly demonic dog lunging down the engine cowling. She loved blasting along the expressway en route between the shrine and the Imperial grounds, especially when a particularly thumping beat encouraged her to put a little body english into it. However, she'd quickly learned to pay closer attention to the road than the music, after one too many incidents where she stood up on the pedals and whooped, punching the air. She was very, very glad that her helmet had a tinted visor…
…The day she'd scandalized Lord Tekko and a clutch of older courtiers when she'd stripped off her uniform hakama in the parking courtyard before donning her helmet and roaring off, her cadet haori streaming behind her like an indigo banner. What was the big deal? She was wearing a pair of bike shorts underneath…
…The day she knew she'd mastered the bow, shooting a series of clean targets, and then repeated the feat on horseback at moving targets, under the critical eyes of several senior courtiers, including Lord Sessaki…
…The day she finally bested tough, demanding Sensei Yashita, when she'd forced him to yield after they had battled up and down the length of the room for nearly an hour. He'd capitulated gracefully, for him, commenting he wouldn't want to face her with a real blade in her hand when she was really pissed off…
…This morning. Graduation Day. Four long years of training had toughened her body and roughened her language, and taught her she could take on anybody and anything with a better than 100 chance of winning. She knew how to kill silently, how to rig plastic explosives, how to treat battlefield wounds, how to destroy terrorist cells – in theory. Ironically, aside from the emergency medic course, she had excelled at the far more traditional arts of war, which was probably why she was chosen to squat uncomfortably on this platform today.
She was proud of herself for surviving the Academy, and knew what those words printed at the top of her resume were worth outside of the walls of the Imperial Palace. However, she was not continuing in the Emperor's service. No gold braid of officer rank for her, aside from this signal honour, of being chosen as Celestial Bodyguard, the first in half a millennium. She would grace the court on ceremonial occasions, but that was it.
Today she was free – fat lot of good being skilled with the bow or the sword was going to do her, she though wryly. Her little brother thought she ought to become a stuntwoman, or open a private dojo to train weekend warriors in the correct stances for reenacting famous battles of the feudal era. Her mother thought she should take up one of the offers from high-profile private security firms that had been discreetly delivered to her door. She herself had been given quiet notice that she was being considered for the diplomatic corps. How would they all take it if she told them that she really wanted to travel?...
That did it. She came back to reality with a jerk, blinking hard to refocus her eyes and hoping she hadn't been too obvious in her daydreaming. The lacquered metal breastplate squeezed her ribs a bit, but it thankfully kept her upright. The Emperor's gift was as beautiful as it was archaic; gleaming black lacquered armour picked out with delicate chrysanthemums along the edges and lined in silky-soft black kid leather that matched the black kidskin trousers. The multiple lacquered plates of the abbreviated armoured skirt clinked gently as she shifted carefully, trying to ease the strain of kneeling, but not disturb the folds of the fabulous crimson kimono covering the armour and the silver silk haori. She allowed her eyes to drop to the sleeves of the robe, spread out in a shimmering sweep for the guests to admire the pattern of silver flames and black phoenixes rising up the fabric. Her eyes flicked to the antique blade cradled against her left shoulder. What was it called again? The name had rippled from Lord Sessaki's lips like water bubbling over smooth stones – "Fenikkusuken" – that was it. The Phoenix Blade. It went with the kimono design, she supposed, but she had been surprised at how responsive it felt when she gripped the sharkskin-wrapped hilt and carefully drew it. For a sword supposedly four centuries old, it looked new-forged and was razor-sharp.
Lord Sessaki himself had tied the red-and-gold obi around her waist, and showed her how to seat the blade in its scabbard above her left hip. He'd stepped back, and she'd smiled wryly up at him. "I'm afraid that this sword won't be seeing much use, my lord. There aren't too many dragons – or demons, for that matter- left to be slain." His eyes widened. A loud snort from Lord Kogashu's direction distracted her, and by the time she'd looked back at Lord Sessaki, his countenance was a composed as ever.
"The blade has a proud history, and is even rumoured to have slain a few demons in its time, but I'm sure you won't be adding too many notches to it in this modern age, Higurashi." Lord Kogashu was making muffled noises into his sleeve that sounded suspiciously like giggles. She looked over at him, then back at Lord Sessaki, and her eyebrows shot up as his eyes flashed briefly – if she'd blinked, she'd have missed it – brilliant, angry gold…? But, when Lord Sessaki turned his eyes back down to hers and smiled graciously, his eyes were as dark and unreadable as ever. Had she imagined it?
She squirmed again, feeling the greave bite into her shin through the thick leather boot. The elegantly recurved bow leaning against her right shoulder felt very familiar and comfortable. The matching silver-trimmed quiver at her back bristled with white-fletched arrows. They were beautiful and deadly, their razor tips and long shafts designed for killing at long range. Another mental grimace. She knew the Imperial guardsmen carried sub-machine guns. If one of them went "postal", was she really expected to pit her arrows and sword against him? Now, if she had one of those light-weight American assault rifles hidden up her sleeve – and the sleeve certainly was capacious enough – hmmm, maybe she'd have to talk to the Imperial Armoury about that…
What? Did you really pee yourself?
Of course I would get an itch in the most obvious place possible!
Don't think about it, don't think about it…!
Damn, damned, damnable…
She became aware of the crowd's silence, then realized no one was bothering about her – the court ceremony was nearly over, and she'd missed most of it!
She was rescued by Lord Kogashu gliding up to her. He faced her fully for a few seconds, and then winked roguishly at her. He was rigged out in full-on formal court dress, including a headdress at least two feet high and a sword-like iron fan. "Come along, Higurashi, before your legs drop off." Kagome carefully rose upright onto her knees without dropping either the bow or the sword. Lord Kogashu extended his hand to her, and she gratefully braced against it as she arose from her cramped position, hoping she wouldn't keel over as the blood, tingling, rushed to her lower extremities. Attendants flurried around her as she stepped off the platform, rearranging the glorious red kimono so it trailed most elegantly behind her. When she absolutely knew that she wasn't going to fall, she let go of Lord Kogashu and paced slowly the exact and correct distance from the gold-brocade draped dais. She bowed, very low, to the descendent of the goddess Amaterasu that now occupied the Chrysanthemum Throne. The Emperor raised his hand in both crisp salute and dismissal.
She still had the formal graduation luncheon to get through, but then the afternoon and evening were free. Her mom had booked a private room at a karaoke bar for her and the girls to celebrate, as she's gone to their graduations two years previously. The Imperial Military Academy may have had a definite cadence, but it had made her life out of step. Everyone else was two years into college, while she was either two years behind or two years ahead, depending on your point of view. Ayumi and Eri had hinted that they might bring Hojo, too. She hadn't seen him since visiting Yuka in the hospital, the day they'd found out she was going to live.
Ж Ж Ж Ж Ж
On a soft late-spring afternoon, Celestial Bodyguard Kagome Higurashi enjoyed a stroll through the shrine grounds. She was still wearing her full regalia, because her mom had insisted on more photos at home before she got changed to go out with her friends. She'd shoved the katana through the obi, and slung the quiver and bow over her back to free her hands while she enjoyed aimlessly wandering the grounds. The soft breeze lifted her hair, the gold-tipped thongs previously restraining it now twisted around the sword's hilt. She paused under the Goshinboku, feeling supremely content, enjoying the dappled light and the whispering leaves. Her gaze fell on the old well enclosure.
The wind, suddenly less soft and gentle, swirled around her, rising in strength, seeming to tug her forward, towards the building. She resisted; the wind became stronger, a voice sighed in her ear, "Come…" Suddenly the rich scent of deep forest was in her nostrils and her feet moved of their own accord. She mounted the steps and slid the door open. The wind rushed against her, the voice insistent, "Come…it is time…" Without conscious thought, she shrugged off the crimson kimono, re-shouldered her weapons, and stepped through the door. A blue glow, a startled scream….and silence.
The swirling wind rose, pulling at the robes and ruffling the silver hair of two figures silently balancing on the ridgepole of the house. The taller of the two, his face framed by rippling white fur, blinked and sighed, dropping a clawed hand onto the red-clad shoulder beside him.
"And so it begins, brother…."