Part 3. This is the end of this very short story, and this is what I meant when the ending isn't necessarily happy, for the reader must take the word of the beings known as Death. In the words of a very good Inuyasha fan fiction author, "There had to be something definite. Their love HAD to live forever, and I knew the only way to do that was to give them something more than life."
This is my personal view of celestial beings, the ideal creatures of death, time, and so forth.
Thank you all for your favorites, your words, and your time. As always, I own nothing. If I did...don't let me finish that sentence, I won't cease with my demands.
"Years, following years, steal something every day;
At last they steal us from ourselves away." ~Horace
There were countless instances where man had attempted to dissuade Her from the post she held. The tests to reach Her were purposefully challenging, for only the elite could walk into Her world unscathed, much less emerge with answers. Only the strong received their reward.
Still, they tried. The attempts ranged from pitiful, in which case Her familiars devoured men and warrior alike, or chased them from Her lands for sport.
Some made it halfway, realized they were playing upon the battlefield of a deadly game, and ran until their legs gave out. Others made it halfway and then died, either with the nobility of acceptance, or with the meager light of sorrow in their eyes.
Those that made it down into her domain were not the same as they had been at the start of their journey. Such a notion was unavoidable. They were bleeding from dripping stumps where an arm, or a leg used to be. Others gasped on poison, their lungs unable to resist against the taint of the oxygen. Their requests died on crackling venom-bleached lips, but still she upheld Her position.
For those who came before Her, there was a small percentage of those who were too stunned to utter their questions. Be they a foolish and heart-brave human, a lowly oni, or a youkai, they found that the words they had longed so desperately to speak dissolved in their throats, evaporated by the horror of Her world.
Sometimes, their fear amused Her, for she thought that the place she made Her home was quite opulent, in a macabre way.
Words chattered on clacking teeth, beads of sweat slicked over grimy brows, and the fever of faith flared to life in black-pupiled oculars. The requests had not changed, even after the centuries. Illness, diseases. Child-bearing gone nightmarishly wrong. Infants, stolen before they could walk. Wars, the fault of natural disasters, storms...on and on, for a spiraling pit of eternity, did she listen. They were worthy, hence she gave them Her full attention.
Her answer left some satisfied, but not many.
Driven mad by the answer, some threw themselves at the remnants of Her minions, and the sound of smacking mouths and crunching bones was a steady cacophony in her chambers. Others begged, claiming they would sell themselves, give up, pay any price for the one they had traveled all this way for. Tears meant nothing to Her, nor did the ugly staccato of sobbing stir the recesses of empathy. She had no heart, hence she felt nothing for them.
The others...they stumbled out, some half-crawling, whispering or raving about justice, about life and what would become of them. They hurled every curse at Her, every foul word that spoke of how unfair she was being; she would take them soon.
There were those that left with acceptance. There were those that had managed to summon strength and wreath it around their bodies, not caring about loss of limb and pride. They smiled, for they had made it here, to a place where no one simple of spirit could make it to. That alone was a feat in itself, one that they celebrated in their minds, even if the reality was tainted black with the thievery of life. These human, youkai, and oni left with a smile on their lips, and they only served to perplex her.
In the hour when she had nothing to ponder, no life to snatch and throw into whatever manner of afterlife they served, she thought about these souls. Why, she wondered, would they be so content to make it to Her, simply to speak? Why would they care so much about being answered, about overcoming an obstacle that was infinitely smaller compared to the beings she was created from? Humans, and everything lower than Her, were so easily satisfied.
The last soul that came to Her held particular interest to Her mind. This being was named after the perfection that slew all in its path, merely to be flawless, this Sesshomaru that had once coveted power and the ultimate way to defeat an enemy that had done him wrong. His spirit had once longed for no one or thing other than the nebulous title that would serve as a panoply over everything in his life.
What separated him from the blurs of voices, of faces and poorly fashioned questions was his compassion, the change in spirit that held precedence over all facets of his personality. The soul he had been born with, thrived in, and lived with was different than the soul she saw within him during that moment. Before, he had been like the unforgiving winds of winter, very much a blistering chill that both coated his spirit in frost, and obliterated all thought of outward kindness. His features, though they held extreme beauty, seemed to be carved in marble, for they were always unflinching and impassive. Even the eyes reflected the frigidity, and it surprised Her that those who he focused his gaze on didn't turn to stone.
The being he had been, and the being before Her were separate entities.
Once, his clothes had been in immaculate shape, mended and trimmed to fit his body frame. The garments that had at one time gleamed with a royal, elite touch were now drenched in gore and the filth of what he had trekked through to reach Her. Some of it stained his hair and armor, but he had not bothered to wipe it away, or make means of presenting himself. This was rare, for with youkai, especially if they were pure-bred, tended to favor looking their best, at all times. This shattered any air of eminence he might have had, and for that, this Sesshomaru held Her attention.
He appeared startled, weather-beaten, and above all, sick with desperation. It emanated off of him in great waves, almost becoming a tangible mist in the acidic air. He wanted an answer, not for his life, but for the life of another.
This was what had sparked the great change: another person, another being.
He was before Her with his head bowed, his knee on Her staircase, displaying the decorum of a commoner to their Lady. This was significant in a portentous way; this act showed Her just how far he was willing to go to seek his answer to the question that had gone without a reply.
"I seek an answer, a way for a being to live." She laughed, for she did not deal with matters of life. She could however, perform against Her title, if it was fated. Even youkai forgot that fact."This being is a detachment from an evil entity that holds her captive. She has no heart, and is bound in the contract of flesh." That was interesting to Her. She had heard and listened to the pleas of men who wished to bring their beloved's back to the world of the living, and occasionally, there was the matter of ghosts and becoming associated with them. This however, was new. "Is there a way to free her?" Freedom. Death could provide that.
Out of both curiosity and duty, she probed into his mind. She wanted to know just what he needed answered, and what could possibly be worth this journey.
There was nary a reason not to seek out the truth. Memories, tangled and strewn things that they were, never lied. They might have placed select details out of order, or replaced select sensory projections, but they never lied.
Flashes of colors and sounds filled her mind, and she absorbed it all, missing nothing. There was the Great Dog Demon, howling on the night of his mate's death. Tears paved a silent trail down a younger Sesshomaru's face, and then they were no more. Promises of power spoke to him, late in the night, like the rapacious call of the Siren, and he resolved to have the Tetsusaiga for his own.
A limb was lost, logic and clarity was found at the cost, and he went about the road of vengeance merely for his own benefit. A human girl smiled at him through matted hair, and something about her toothless grin reached forward, melting the first layer of ice he donned like resilient armor. Compassion was gained, and despite his futile attempts to dissuade the facts, he changed.
The avaricious Naraku became his goal, and he did not wish for delays, for anything that would stray him from the path he set. Yet it happened, in the form of a beautiful, fiery-spirited woman. The irony, the doom in the situation that he had thrown himself into, was that she was fashioned from the fibers of his enemy's skin, created with breath and an ill-volition.
Passion roared to life beneath his skin, and though it was spun with the threads of lust, it became far more than a superficial tapestry. One purpose was replaced with another: revenge became the longing to free her from her enemy's clutches, for if he found out that they were involved in such a tryst, she would be killed.
Beneath the edges of the story was a tale that had been told countless times, but with new faces and worlds, new situations and names. Something separated the aforementioned couple, either through illness, misunderstanding parents and guardians, or the fact that they were enemies. There was always a factor that prevented bliss, something that kept the pair from truly being together for the remainder of their lives.
This was no different.
Still, she knew of a way to help him in this circumstance. It was not an offer she gave willingly, for it came at the price of Her duty. Either way, she would come for them both.
"This is a blade that kills almost instantly, and no being is immune to its cut. Should you wish to join her, there will be no healing, nor will there be a promise of a peaceful reunion." All beings had a lurid personification of death, one that was romanticized by the poets, the scholars, and the singers. They spoke of peaceful endings, of passing on into the ether through dreaming, or through moments of pain that equaled ultimate Elysium How foolish they were to think that they would see their loved ones immediately, if at all.
It was what prevented mass self-slaughter however, and for that reason alone, she let them keep their delusions.
Sesshomaru bowed before Her, and she could sense that he was restraining himself. Behind his efforts was every lover who yearned for there to be a way, no matter how foolish the hope that sustained it, for there to be life where there was the unquestionable shadow of the ending. They yearned for the beginning, for a way to start anew, without the horrid complication preventing their loved ones from parting from their arms. In his movements, she saw the thousands upon thousands of physiognomical features, some with tear-stained eyes, others with barely suppressed indignation.
He left, and she knew he was off to grieve, to live his final day. Her mask was not removed, nor did she feel anything but an inkling of curiosity as to what he would do with the small amount of time he was given. Time, even in the hands of the grieving and dutiful, was wasted evermore.
An entire day passed, the cycle of constellations shimmering in the black horizon like ever-searching eyes. Children laughed, the breeze wafted between the drooping branches of trees, and sunlight warmed bodies that had long since been chilled.
Only in special cases did she bear witness to the severing of the thread.
By the chanting of a few words, a rush of breath that felt as if she had broke the surface of the ocean, and the leaping motion of Her pulse, she found herself in the realm of the living.
She had appeared in a closed off glade, one that had not been tainted by the prints of animals and men alike. It was a place undisturbed by all but serenity, for not even breath broke the quiet. Trees encircled the area, as if the branches and undergrowth were a mother holding her pronounced womb from the world that threatened her unborn kin. The comparison was both brilliant, and bleak, for no life resided here; not anymore.
He was already there, her partner, lover, and ever-constant double. The blade of the sickle gleamed in the gilded sunlight, the light that washed everything in a dazzling array of lambent beauty. This was a fragile moment, made only so by the corpses in the grass.
In death, they had never looked more magnificent. Even if their eyes had been open, their skin broken with the marring of countless wounds, they still would have appeared lovely to Her. Both pairs of eyes were closed, the clothing around them was mussed, as if they had died making love to one another, and their faces revealed peace.
The woman, Kagura, had gone willingly, for she yearned for freedom more than the want to stay in the husk of flesh another had created for her. The Demon Lord had surprised Her with his onslaught of emotion, for though he was truly deceased, the feelings he allowed himself to execute threaded through the air, as if they were strings that wished to join the current of sunlight.
There was anger, the anger that could have easily killed hundreds of creatures that day on that yearning alone. There was grief, the sort of sadness that choked the breath from throats that once spoke of how sorrow was weakness. There was the feeling of endless, looming hopelessness, of time that would be wasted without the one who made time matter.
Once she realized why this struck Her as ironic, she could not help the few steps she took toward the bodies. By allowing himself to feel, Sesshomaru had opened his soul up to the emotions that could kill not only the heart, but the body as well. It was this feeling that killed him, the torrent of life flooding his chest, his lungs, until his heart had no choice but to give out.
Her eyes met Her lover's, and for now, the present situation at hand was forgotten. He was clothed in identical garments, fashioned from the ashes of those who tumbled to ash eventually, the rubies and baubles that humans were so obsessed with, as well as the flesh that was stripped from them. They were a physical representation of what life was, at least the parts that they were instructed to present to all those who spotted them. His mask was the same, and in one another's company, they could remove them.
He removed his first, and she was struck by his features in the way that she always was. He was everything that she could willingly belong to, and she was everything he would ever harmonize completely with. His eyes glittered like pieces of obsidian, flecked with a gold iris. His hair fell in skeins down his back, tumbling to His waist like yards of auricomous silk. He removed Her mask, and the gesture was sensual, the most intimate thing that He could have ever done towards Her.
She mirrored Him, and she felt waves of her light-colored hair fall from the attachment of the mask, and Her eyes adjusted to the true sunlight, the peace of the morning. Their lips met, and for the moment, all was forgotten. Death always needed a lover, and it had been this way for centuries: the commander of the end of life was always granted an immortal lover who would be with them until the pinnacle of their existence. Together, they would fade into the empyrean paradise that their kind reigned over, hand in hand.
Neither had hearts however, hence they governed all that were their responsibility with iron-rimmed logic. Mercy would not be part of their world, nor could it ever be.
After a moment that promised passion later on that evening, they separated. The focus was then, on the fallen bodies. His duty was to sever the final ties their lives held, the slight shimmering thread that bound them to their bodies. Until then, their spirits would float in an in-between that knew no end, a cloudy limbo that would spiral into abysmal oblivion.
In some cases, if she knew that more life had to be lived, she could grant them life. If it interfered with what the Fates had in store, or what Destiny, on her throne of stars and galaxies had planned, then there was no helping any feeble desire that germinated in Her breast. It had never truly happened, - the hope for lives - and for that, she was thankful. Any weakness, anything that would lower Her to the level of empathizing with someone who was not Her lover, of someone who was not a being like Her, would result in Her untimely end. It seemed like a foolish cycle to all those who were not accustomed to it, but it was merely the rule that governed the world, the chain that remained on its immortal tether; others had their way of life, and this was theirs.
Still, she could sense her lover's trepidation, the unspoken question in His throat. It was reflected in His eyes, and in the gleaming morning light, it was impossible to ignore. The question was simple, but it could not be; they had to remain dead, for their time had run out. For beings who had run out of time, there could be no bartering, no wishes granted; it would upset the balance of the world, she would lose her post and Her lover would turn to ashes before Her eyes.
Together, they touched the slick wood of the scythe, focused on the dancing cords that flashed in the sunlight, and severed the ties the two entangled lovers shared. She raised Her hand, and the bodies vanished with the daylight, glaring brighter and brighter until there was nothing left to see.
There was a hint of solace beneath this, for she knew where the souls were headed, not towards the Stygian waves, but to a place where there would be no such word as futile. Life, the life that she was breathing and taking in right now, had no place for beings who were enmeshed in a cluster of ceaseless manipulations.
In another time and circumstance, they could have been together and lived. She would have conquered Naraku and become the Lady to the Demon Lord. Their children would speak of victory prevailing over the darkest of adversaries, and life would be unblemished by the wounds of sharp truths.
Nonetheless, there was no hope for such events. There was a forlorn note of finality on the air, an orchestra that brought forth a score of shattering notes, opening and razing any thought of more time.
It was the doom of life, a place she and Her lover had no place in.
Together, in an embrace of shadow, they escaped where the futility of man did not touch their minds, and along the way, they knew that the souls found peace.
Perhaps all was not lost, after all.