A/N: Inspired by the manwha "The Bride of the Water God" and fairy tales and folktales along the lines of "Cupid and Psyche", "Beauty and the Beast", among others.
Revision notes: This story is undergoing some edits. The full unedited and uncensored version can be found at the-tower-room dot livejournal dot com (no spaces and replace "dot" with period; there's also a link to it in my profile since I can't put a link here :/ ).
Chapter 1: Sacrament
"The plague has taken over the village―"
"―We really have no choice about it―"
"―We must do it―"
"―For the village―"
"―It's the only way―"
"―We must offer a bride to the God of Death."
Such finery she wore―the best the village could scrounge up. As the oblation to the God of Death, nothing but the best had to be offered in order to appease the god.
Today was Orihime's wedding day, and yet on her face lay solemnity, and the procession that accompanied her seemed more like a funeral march. She pulled the hood of the red velvet cloak farther down over her eyes, not willing to see where they led her as she sat inside the rickshaw.
By unanimous vote she had been bestowed the honour of becoming the bride of the Death God. She was alone; her brother had taken her away from their family and into this village, and for a time her childhood had been free of the abuse they'd both suffered. And then she was made an orphan at her brother's sudden death by the very plague that ailed their village. As the rest of the villagers had not been willing to sacrifice their own family members, they deemed her the best candidate as she had no one to make an opposition for her.
Orihime herself had not protested. The only thought she had was that she would be with her brother soon, and that this way she could make amends for the harsh words she'd said to him prior to his death.
Soon, brother. Soon.
She was surprised by the sudden trail of wetness down her cheek, and she quickly wiped it with her sleeve with a sniff. From what she could see of the ground and what sound she could hear, they were close to the river. So it was to be a barge, then, she thought. The rickshaw stopped, and she descended from it, walked down the way marked by the villagers on either side of her. She must be brave, strong, despite the uncertainty ahead of her.
As gracefully as she could without assistance (as she had her pride) she went on the boat, and with a push she was on her way with the flow of the river. Should she lay down? She didn't know how to proceed. By the silence that followed, she knew that no one mourned her.
Loneliness engulfed her, and with a heaving breath she allowed the tears to finally fall.
The sounds of crepuscular cicadas greeted her, and Orihime rubbed her eyes. She had fallen asleep, the gentle rocking of the boat had lulled her. She sat up, amazed to find that the boat was docked against the most magnificent building she had ever seen. The boat bobbed gently against the stone steps that descended into the water. She rose, eyeing the white balustrade that surrounded the dock and the bridge, continuing to encompass the palace. A lone horned, white statue stood guard on the balcony at the top of the stairs, as though to intimidate any trespassers from entering the place. For being the house of the Death God, it was unusually surrounded by life: flowers grew along the columns, walls, awnings, and roofs; so much green and delicate blues, reds, and pinks in contrast to all the white stone.
The Lunar Palace, was what it was called, for this God of Death was also the God of the Moon.
Heart beating with trepidation, she nervously stepped off the boat and ascended the stairs, careful to not get the hem of her clothes wet. She eyed the statue warily, eyebrows crinkling. Was it a trick of the dusk light? She could've sworn that statue had been white save for the black trimmings, but now the colours seemed inverted: what had been a black mask with parallel white stripes down over its face was now white with black stripes, and the long fall of white hair now was bright orange, with the black tuffs of fur on its wrists and the base of its neck turned to red. It seemed as though colour seeped back into the statue as the sun waned from the sky.
As she got closer, she gasped, even more frightened than when she first saw it as she watched the head move. Beneath the white mask she saw eyes of gold with black sclera, and she realized that she had been mistaken; it wasn't a statue at all. Pulse quickening, her steps faltered as she half-turned, wanting to flee back down into the boat.
But what about the village, and the plague? came the thought. She was reminded of her duty. She had agreed to become the sacrifice in order that they could be saved, and however engulfed she was with fear, she had been ready to face death. She couldn't just leave and the let the village perish. It had, after all, accepted her and her brother.
Trying to even her breathing, she turned back and came face to face with the statue. When did it get here? It had moved quickly and silently, and she barely had time to stagger back and scream when it grabbed hold of her waist and hauled her over one broad shoulder, and with a flash, seemed to have flown her inside the palace.
The wind got knocked out of her with the speed of the god's passing, and she could only clutch at its side in panic. Everything passed by in an upside-down blur, and Orihime thought the flight would never end until suddenly, without much ado, it stopped finally at a balcony of what seemed to be a bedchamber farther and higher into the palace.
Contrary to its earlier action, this time as it let her slide down its body, it was gentle, and she couldn't help the blush that entirely heated her at the full intimate brush of her body against it. She could feel her nipples harden, her pulse quickening to a different rhythm as it kept its hold on her tight against it. As she became aware of their location through her periphery, she could only now process one thought:
"You're the God of Death?"
Her voice was husky and tremulous; her throat parched.
It gave a single nod.
Her eyelids fluttered; the harrowing events of the day had finally caught up to her. Her vision of the Death God blurred, and she could only remember those piercing golden eyes being overtaken by the black, as she too, succumbed to its darkness.
Orihime awoke to the feel of hands on her. Eyes still closed, she felt exposed, feeling air against her skin. She moaned as those hands stroked down her body. Her eyes flew open as she became fully aware of what was happening.
Candlelight flickered in the chamber, the shadow of the god before her dancing on the walls and ceiling. Her garments had been ripped straight down the front, and the remaining tangle of fabric pinned her arms down at her sides. The Death God knelt between her spread legs, wearing only black hakama. On its chest was a circular hole with black lines raying out of it symmetrically, and despite those unusual markings, the god seemed an almost perfect specimen of masculinity and beauty. She writhed helplessly as it pushed against her, and she shook her head as she groaned out, "No."
As if in anger at her rejection, it planted the long horns of its mask on either side of her head, pinning her hair in place and she could only gaze up at it in fear. Above her, it moved its head, dislodging the mask, and she saw the Death God at last.
It seemed that doffing the mask triggered a transformation, and she could only stare in wonder. First it was the eyes: the black from the sclera ebbed, and with it, the gold faded to brown. The long curtain of hair flared out behind him before receding into his scalp, leaving him with short orange spikes. The deathly, marble-like pallour of his skin had taken on a more lifelike tan hue, and the black marks and red fur faded. Most inscrutable of all, the hole in the middle of his chest healed itself. The weight on her hair disappeared as the horned mask dissolved away.
His head descended to capture her lips, and she closed her eyes tightly. She frowned at the feel of his heart beating at the press of his chest against hers. At the back of her mind sprang the incredulous thought that a death god had a heart, and that it pulsed to match her own.
Could that even be possible?
Thanks for reading :)
Dec/2010; revised 2012