An Occupational Hazard
Disclaimer: I do not own Inuyasha. Cheers!
Destiny is usually just around the corner. Like a thief, a hooker, or a lottery vendor: its three most common personifications. But what destiny does not do is home visits. You have to go for it.
Carlos Ruiz Zafon
It was a gray, misty day; a day made increasingly more ominous with the threat of the thunder rumbling in the distance, scenting the wind with ozone and darkness. It was a day made for shadows and horror, the perfect prelude to the scream-inducing battle that had broken out between the Shard Hunters and the rogue band of animalistic, red-eyed kitsune.
Death had splattered viciously across the forest floor in scarlet streams and grotesque anatomical pieces, courtesy of Sesshoumaru, the Taiyoukai of the West and guardian of the young Rin. His finesse in the art of killing had never been more apparent than that day when every flash of his sword had resulted in an abhorrent, visual disregard for life. In the few moments that had comprised the battle, the silver-haired inuyoukai had personified the essence of brutality, filling the space between the barren trees with the sound of breaking bones and harsh, cut-off screams. Even Inuyasha had stopped attempting to assist his hated half-brother, leaning instead on an untransformed Tetsusaiga at the edge of the clearing near the Shard Hunters.
The hanyou had only half-watched his elder sibling, trying not to admire his obvious skill. Instead, he was more interested by the miko's lack of reaction. Her blue eyes, so different from his former love, had watched the horror with a strange sense of numbness, as if the brutality of war no longer affected her. It made him wonder if she would wake up with nightmares this night as she usually did after such a battle. Ears twitching, he turned back to the center of the small clearing as silence fell over them, sudden and complete- broken sporadically with the whimpering of the terrified children as they hid near Kirara and Jaken, clutching at one another and trying not to look at their surroundings.
His brother stood pristine in the middle of the massacre, absently flicking his sword clean, shoulders straight and stance loosening to relaxation; however, in the next instant, the Taiyoukai had whirled to the left, Bakusaiga pointed and gleaming towards the newcomer. Like puppets, the Shard Hunters mimicked his movement, whirling around to find that the previously unoccupied darkness beneath the trees, was now occupied by a tall, foreboding shadow- a man.
Fragments of ghostly light whirled around the tattered, black robes of the man, howling with the winter wind so eerily that the very sound made their flesh ripple with fear. They watched, terror beginning to creep into their nerves as a scepter- bloody and gleaming with malice rose over him, flickering in and out of view. He faded in and out of the shadows, the very source of the eerie wind, slowly, creepily filling them with a primal sense of fear. It was by reaction of pure instinct that they all clutched their weapons closer, knowing deep in their bones that this individual-whoever he was, was somehow completely impervious to their mortal defenses.
Inuyasha transformed Tetsusaiga with white-knuckled hands, edging closer to Kagome, the weakest and most valuable link of his small group. She had cuddled the children into her shoulders, hiding them from the carnage. The dog-eared young male could smell her fear and he shifted his stance, drawing breath to speak aggressively past the fear in his gut. The newcomer spoke before the second son of the once-famed Dog General could do something as rash as his wont.
"Well done, Sesshoumaru, Heir of the Dog General." Subtle, sardonic amusement and vague flashes of immeasurable power, echoed around them beneath a sudden and ferocious rise of the winter wind.
Clutching Rin closer, the priestess of the Shikon no Tama peered curiously at the terrifying figure, her intellectual mind flipping through the myths and legends she knew, trying to place this new character in the drama that had become her life. As if detecting her perusal, the figure turned towards her and her hair flipped back with the force of the screaming winds, the frozen strands cutting her delicate skin to mar her neck with thin rivulets of blood. She lowered her gaze and twisted so that Rin was protected from the ferocity of the aura seeping around them, barely able to breathe past the sudden force, the cold. The petite young woman barely discerned the movement before her, so focused was she on remaining standing beneath the onslaught of the oppressive aura and the breath-stealing power. Fear curled from her fingertips and rose like a slow tide through her nerves to steal into her heart. She barely kept her scream in her throat, her whimpers from escaping into the air to join the cries of the scared children she held.
Sesshoumaru shifted, drawing the figure's attention from the Shikon Priestess and his ward by kneeling in the bloodied, icy mud of the silent battleground, red and brown soaking through the white of his silken clothing. Behind him, he heard the humans and the half-breed follow his lead, satisfyingly cowed in the face of such distinct, overwhelming, nerve-numbing power. He could safely assume that the humans had probably never seen such an auspicious event before and as such had no idea as to what was occurring.
After all, the gods rarely showed themselves to anyone on the mortal plane, only deigning to make appearances every few centuries or so. The monk was the only one of the Shard Hunters who would have any chance of comprehending the event before it was over. Certainly not his uneducated younger brother, the pathetic, woman slayer hunting Naraku, or the untrained Guardian of the Jewel.
The young priestess from the future seemed to be particularly lacking in her understanding of the nature of myth and legend, a testament to her environment as a child, no doubt. How strange, he mused, that she was one of the witnesses to such a phenomenon when she was barely able to digest the day to day occurrences of the past she had been cast to. To be sure, she was a curiosity unlike any other he had ever encountered.
"Rise, son of the Dog General." The God's voice slithered like far-off thunder, power muted now, it's absence all the more terrifying for the knowledge of it. The young Taiyoukai was brought from his wandering thoughts quickly by the quiet words of a divine being.
His ears twitched as he lifted himself from the ground, sword tip pointed towards the ground, focusing momentarily on Rin's shivering behind him. The miko holding her soothed her quickly, quieting her whimpers and allowing him to focus wholly on the God before him- Death, Lord of the Underworld, Brother to the Sea and the Sky.
Sesshoumaru lifted guarded, golden eyes to Death's face, wondering if his soul was going to be reaped by the slim male before him. The God pushed his hood back and reduced the stinging ferocity of the howling winds, further easing his presence on the mortals he had appeared before.
Interestingly, the God looked quite healthy instead of emaciated and skeletal as described in the old stories. He had a becoming face with the bone structure of foreign lands and eyes of black to match his hair. Upon his head he wore a circlet of aged silver, the jewels glowing with poisonous black flame, sparking green smoke. It was the helm of his power and the source of the breath-crushing aura, and it cast a strange, divine ambiance over their surroundings.
A flash of light came from the God's side, revealing none other than Persephone, his famed wife and the personification of innocent beauty, Demeter's Sorrow. Sesshoumaru caught a glimpse of startlingly-beautiful, sea-green eyes caught in golden tendrils of hair and a happy, rosy smile before she turned to face her husband, leaning up to kiss his cheek. "Good evening, Lord Death."
Death smiled at her. "Good evening, Lady Spring."
Then he turned back to Sesshoumaru, his hands lifting the circlet of black flame from his brow. With a twist of his wrist, the circlet became a bracelet, gleaming metal thickened with glowering, magical jewels. Another twist and the bracelet attached itself to Sesshoumaru's sword hand, clasped by shadowed power that he knew could only be broken by the God before him.
Whatever the bracelet was for, he would not be able to remove it without pleasing this God, his patron God… or completing a task for him. If the old stories were true, then his patron was notoriously hard to please and he may or may not have just been enslaved for eternity. Interestingly, the bracelet did not feel any different on his skin than a regular piece of metal.
Behind him, the priestess shifted and he knew, somehow, that she understood what had just happened- more clearly than he, himself, did. Strange, that when she was ignorant of so much else.
Persephone touched it gently before bestowing Sesshoumaru with a pleased smile. "You have been honored, son of the Dog General, for paying such great homage to my husband's power."
He bowed low. "Death holds the greatest power over the mortal realm, Lady Spring."
She frowned and then smiled peaceably. "Death holds half the power over the mortal realm. Life holds the other half." A pause. "You will learn the balance of mortality well, son of the Dog General. It is in your fate line- as it was in mine and my Lord's."
Sesshoumaru said nothing, confused by her words and quite unwilling to show it; though, he was sure that the deities before him already knew of his confusion.
Hades shifted, placing an arm around his wife's waist. "You will take over my duties for the course of a year, son of the Dog General."
The priestess gasped behind him and spoke out of turn. "What?"
Sesshoumaru frowned when Inuyasha elbowed roughly her to keep her quiet, resulting in a small hiss of pain. Yes, she had spoken out of place but violence towards female pack members was entirely unnecessary. Idiot half-breed. He drew the gods' attention back to himself, not liking the amused curiosity in Persephone's eyes as she gazed over his shoulder at the priestess. The miko was the guardian of his ward and as such, by creed, he was guardian of her. A God's interest was often deadly, regardless of whether they wore the guise of Spring or Death. He spoke quickly, bowing his head to draw their attention once more. "It is an honor, Lord Hades. I ask your indulgence with an inquiry as to the reason."
He winced internally, wondering if he had overstepped his bounds; but, he knew that if he hadn't the priestess' life would have been forfeit for interrupting the God of Death.
Surprisingly, it was Persephone who answered, sharing a strange and secret smile with her husband. "We are going on vacation, Sesshoumaru." She paused, eyes gazing at the dark-haired, blue-eyed priestess for a long moment. "An additional requirement for the honor gifted by my Lord to you?"
She looked at Death for permission, smiling when he nodded. "You," she turned to Sesshoumaru, the scent of pomegranate flowers beginning to fill the air, "are to take care of the Shikon no Miko."
So saying, the pair disappeared into the shadows, a dark-leafed baby plant growing in the space where they had last stood. For a moment, no one moved then the hanyou jumped up.
"What the hell does that mean?!" He shouted, the snow-filled clearing ringing with his irritation. He turned to a flabbergasted Sango and Miroku, waiting for them to regain their wits so they could plan around the stupid Goddess's decree. Largely ignored by them as they began to discuss the implications of the divine decree, Kagome, fascinated by the recent event, was inching closer to Sesshoumaru.
Sesshoumaru turned, carefully searching the surrounding area and sealing the memory within his conscious. It wouldn't do to forget the place of his patron's favored fruit tree- the reason his wife remained with him in the underworld, by his side instead of her mother's. As he watched, the tree grew taller and taller, going through seasons with the speed of rainfall until at last, it bore its first fruit. The petals fell gently away onto the snowy ground, preceding the sudden, harsh smashing of the ripe pomegranate. Seeds flew like droplets of blood to stain the patch of white snow, revealing a small, black-winged creature in the center of the fruit.
Kagome peeked around Sesshoumaru's arm, eyes wide with delight as the wings began to unfurl and flicker. "It's a death fairy, a Hell butterfly… your guide for your new duties, Sesshoumaru-sama."
He glanced at the small, high-cheeked face of the mortal priestess, astonished to see a pair of numbers over her head. "19," he murmured softly, wonderingly.
A tiny, breathy voice spoke up beneath him. "It is the amount of time she has, my Lord. Until such time as she will become 0 and you return for her soul."
He glanced down at the black-winged butterfly, his heart beating strangely in his chest. "She only has 19 years left? That is too young for the death of a human."
Kagome looked at him wide-eyed, before frowning at the butterfly. He could hear her pulse speed up, the blood rushing in her veins. She pushed a strand of her glossy black hair behind her ear, hands falling to fiddle with her tunic top. Clearly, she knew what he was talking about and knew what it meant for her- she would be dead before she was 40.
"Months, my Lord." The Hell butterfly finally seemed to have dried out its wings and began fluttering them, trying to take off. "The rest will live longer, if you would but look."
Sesshoumaru swore he felt his heart stop and absently wondered why, even as he blinked at the priestess now frowning at the circle of her friends. His gaze shifted to the others and he saw what the Hell butterfly was speaking of. The others had pairs of numbers over their heads separated by a single line: the years and months of life left. He felt vaguely sick as he returned his gaze to the priestess, catching her eyes and seeing the fear and sorrow within them.
As he watched, her spine straightened, resignation flitting through her gaze before being replaced by resolution and… happiness?
He cocked his head to the side.
"Everyone faces Death at some point." She smiled up at him, answering his silent question before walking towards her friends.
The corners of his straight mouth turned down just slightly as he watched her walk through the snow, her long hair swaying in the cold wind. The Hell butterfly settled on his shoulder. "Of all of them, she is the most deserving of a long, happy life."
"The Lord of Death can not grant Life." The butterfly fluttered in front of his face before flying away. "I will take you to the Palace."
"Hold," he commanded the butterfly, unwilling to take orders from the harbinger of bad news- why he considered the priestess's early death bad news, he wasn't quite sure. He gave her the honor of her name, knowing she probably wouldn't respond immediately if he didn't. To their mutual surprise, it came out sounding intimate and strangely, correct in its intimacy. "Kagome."
She turned, eyes glimmering like the ocean in the light of the dusk, her beauty striking against the stark black and white of the winter forest. He felt that strange jump in his heartbeat again and decided to ignore it. It would be folly to become interested in a creature with so little time left in the world. She cocked her head to the side curiously and her hair fell over her shoulder to frame her stunning eyes with darkness. "Yes, Sesshoumaru-sama?"
He held out a small pendant, a crescent carved from one of his adolescent claws. It had been his first successful attempt at protection spells. "Your protection has been remanded unto my keeping. This will notify me when you are in life-threatening danger."
She smiled at the irony of her life being protected by Death and took it in her mittened hands. "Do you know why you were ordered by the Goddess Persephone to protect me?"
He shook his head before turning away and calling back over his shoulder. "Keep it on your person at all times, priestess. Naraku is a complex foe."
Kagome watched as the shadows swept them up and instinctively knew that he and the Hell butterfly were gone from this plane. If she tried to track him, she would find nothing- only a few of his footsteps in the snow. Quickly, before Inuyasha could do something stupid like take the pendant from her, she slipped it onto the chain holding the shards.