A Dash of Grim
Chapter One: Shion
"Lord Koenma believes she'll be born sometime this week. I'm awfully excited! It's been fifteen years since Spirit World has had a new ferry guide! We won't know anything about her until she arrives, naturally. But I do hope she has a fun personality. Too many of the girls I work with have such a dreary disposition about them, if I'm to be frank."
I don't know what I expect as a response, but Yusuke's bored harrumph wasn't it. Though, I can't say I was at all surprised. He pulled a strainer from the sudsy water in his sink and started scrubbing it with a wad of steel wool while I sat watching him from one of the few cushioned stools that lined the counter of his pop-up ramen shop.
"You could at the very least pretend to be interested!" I scolded him, crossing my arms on the freshly cleaned counter. "Kurama thinks the prospect of having a rookie Spirit Guide about the team is quite fascinating, and Kuwabara is already setting about making plans to show her around the human world. I believe he said something about visiting a theme park."
"Kurama could talk to you for hours about dirt and still make believe that he gives a fuck, Botan. And Kuwabara's just looking for another excuse to goof off. But, yeah, totally, invite me when you go. Sounds like fun. Mind if I bring Keiko?"
Oof! That boy! Here I was, enthusing over the newest addition to our little collective of grim reapers and he simply glazes over it like it's little more than a filler story on the seven o'clock news. Something like this didn't happen every day! I was practically getting a little sister! Someone that I could care for and take under my wing until she was confidant enough to fly on her own—and here he was raining all over my pinatas and pointy hats. He was quite the party-pooper.
Before I could tell him as much, Yusuke threw me for a loop.
"Do you guys hatch from eggs, or what?"
Honestly, what goes through that boy's head is beyond me.
"No, silly. We don't come from eggs." My fingers twirled circles around a salt packet. "To be perfectly honest, I don't know the specifics. I'm the youngest of the Spirit Guides, so I've never gotten the opportunity to experience a new birth before."
All I remembered was waking up in a sparkling white room, surrounded by several other girls all garbed in their most formal kimono. They welcomed me with well wishes and open arms. Their kindness wrapped around my body like an embrace. And there was Ayame, calm, beautiful, perfect Ayame, extending herself to become my mentor.
It was such a joyous memory.
"We—ferry girls, that is—aren't born in the human sense. You see, Yusuke, we never existed as infants and do not experience growth. Instead, we come into being when we are needed; blank slates that exist in a singular state. We are trained to perform our duties and from then on out that is what we do."
The gears were turning in his head when he rinsed the strainer and set it to the side. "So, basically, you generate like NPCs in a videogame. You've gotta get through boot-camp first, but then you're ready to send the players off on their quests, or whatever it is you do with ghosts. And every once in a blue moon you'll get a rare side quest like me, right?"
Yusuke was a lot of things. Frustrating? Absolutely. A little bone headed? Sure. But stupid he most certainly was not.
"I suppose it is similar, when you put it like that, yes." I held the salt on its edge and aimed it like a little paper football.
"That's pretty neat, I guess. Weird, but neat." The powerful demon that I had once trained to be the Spirit Detective of earth wiped his soapy hands on his remarkably clean apron. He kept everything in that little dive spotless, such the opposite of the disorderly apartment that he still shared with his mother. "Wait." He paused to snag the little packet I'd punted at him from the air before it even came close to touching the wide open target of his back. Yusuke turned to look at me, his upper lip twisted in a knot as if I'd just shared with him something particularly gross. "If you're the youngest, does that mean you're only fifteen years old?"
I couldn't help the wide, cheerful smile that came to my lips as I stretched my arms out in front of me along the cool surface of the counter. "Ah! So you were listening!"
"Yeah, enough to learn that everyone I've ever worked for has been stupidly young! What were you when we met? Twelve?!"
I laughed. "I'd say that my age hardly counts, considering I've always appeared the same as I do now."
"Like I said. Weird." He grumbled and untied his apron to pull it over his head. "When do we get to meet little miss Botan Jr.?"
"First of all, she hasn't even been born yet." I reminded the wolf in boy's clothing. He seemed to ignore me as I rattled off my list, closing up shop with an expert's grace despite his narrow two months of work experience. "Secondly, I highly doubt that her name will be 'Botan Jr.' Koenma will surely give her a beautiful name for an identity all her own. He named me, after all."
"Yeah, a gigantic reeking peony flower. Suits you perfect." He quipped from the far end of the kitchenette.
"An otherwise flamboyant flower, wouldn't you agree? Thirdly," I continued, pushing past any snippets or comebacks that Yusuke had prepared. "I'm afraid you won't be meeting her anytime soon. She'll still need to go through her training. However, I have been assigned to be her trainer. Since you proved to be such a piece of work and have been released from my charge, Spirit World felt I was up to the task. Which means that when she is ready to visit the human world, you and the others will be the first to meet her!"
"Oh, yeah?" There was genuine surprise in his coppery brown eyes when he made his way back to lean against the upper ledge of his workspace. "How long'll you be gone?"
Seeing his earnest disappointment made my heart grow warm. He truly was such a good kid, and growing into a fine young man at that! Naturally I was compelled to push his buttons. "Well, aren't you being awfully conversational today! Could it be that you're worried I'll be gone too long and you will miss me?"
His ernesty fell like a timber in the woods, shattering the wholesome illusion and sending me plummeting back to the presence of the bratty little trouble maker I knew all too well. "Hardly!" He barked and ran his fingers through his gel-slicked hair. "See, I just got back to this place and I hadn't got the chance to stretch my legs yet. If you're leavin' then I've gotta know how long that'll give me to cause chaos and civil disorder before you get back to breathing down my neck!"
I grabbed a handful of the salt packets from where they were tucked ever-so-neatly in their container by the napkins and thew them at him. This time he didn't make to intercede them, instead they each met their measly mark before plopping to the table one by one. And he laughed. Oh, did that little monster laugh!
"I should have known you'd say something like that!" I shrieked without dignity, more annoyed at my self for almost falling for his charade than at him for being, well, him. "You haven't changed a bit in three years!"
"That's not true and you know it! My skin's grown twice as thick as it was before, it's practically an exoskeleton now! Go ahead! Take a wack! I won't even feel it!"
With an annoyed huff I reigned myself in and summoned my solid wooden oar—the perfect device to do just that—and jumped to it from the stool so that I was hovering above the ground. Floating there I was eye to eye with Yusuke.
"As much as the idea of walloping you upside the head tempts me, Yusuke, I really ought to be going." I let my annoyance soak the words like a marinade so he knew exactly how I felt with each dripping syllable. And yet I knew my anger would fizzle to nothing in a matter of moments. That was part of Yusuke's charm. I couldn't ever find myself staying upset at him for long. "I've got my communicator if you need me for whatever reason. Don't you even hesitate to call if something happens! You do still have yours, I hope?"
"Yeah, yeah. It's around here somewhere."
He feigned looking in his seemingly empty pockets before moving on to pull out every drawer at hand. I knew he was only joking around, of course. No matter where he went Yusuke always kept the little compact tucked away in his pant's rear left pocket, safe and sound in the canvas wallet Keiko had given him.
As if discovering gold in a quarry, Yusuke pulled out the mirror from exactly where it was supposed to be and waved it. "See? I knew it was around here somewhere! Now go on, go hatch your egg and be gone for who-knows-how-long." He stuck his pinkie in his ear to itch what I could only assume was his brain. "Leave me here alone. It's not like I haven't seen you for three whole years or anything."
"Oh, boo." I mocked him with a grin. "You'll survive."
"You don't know that!" He yelled after me as I phased through the locked metal shutters of his stand and out into the cool night sky. "I'm a walking disaster! The third time's the charm!"
Yusuke's shouts faded away as I flew off to the stars above, my long blue ponytail snapping at the clouds I passed like a mane of wild snakes in the gusting wind. As I'd predicted, the irritation quickly slipped from my veins into the wind around me, only to be replaced with a near overwhelming bubble of excitement.
I could not wait a moment longer to meet Spirit World's newest guide!
The torpid caress of darkness was both a blessing and a curse.
It was true darkness. I don't think anybody really understands true darkness, not unless they were born blind or had that cord that connects the back of your eyeball to the brain—the optic nerve? Yeah, the optic nerve—severed clear in half.
Darkness is bright and colorful.
Don't believe me? Close your eyes and look around.
When you close your eyes and there's any sort of light source near you, you can still see the veiny red glow of that light illuminating your lids. And when there wasn't any light? If you were in a windowless room on a moonless night with every nightlight unplugged? There were still hazy specks of gray and blue, floating around there like little nanobots watching slow-motion meteor showers in your peripheral vision. Rubbing your eyes or pressing them shut doesn't turn it off. Just the opposite. When you're counting to ten and digging your palms into your sockets, swearing not to peek, that's when the lightshow really starts. Fireworks, kaleidoscopes, and spinning tie-dye blobs of oranges and purples and greens become mesmerizing, almost hypnotic.
Darkness is beautiful.
But I wasn't in normal darkness. Not living darkness.
This darkness was matte black.
Logic spun tales and fabrics out of the nothing that surrounded me, engulfed me, became me, trying to make sense of my predicament. I'd come to two rational conclusions time and time over: either I was dead, a homeless mass of energy living out some sort of perpetual punishment in this suspended animation with nothing but my memories to suture my rationality to my consciousness, or I was gathering dust in a hospital somewhere, locked deep within my comatose body.
Did it even matter, though?
No, I suppose it really didn't. Not when the result was the same with an end nowhere in my nonexistent sight. I was still trapped. Explanations weren't going change that, haven't changed that.
Besides, that was old news, conclusions that I had recently come to a long time ago.
I was getting confused again.
It could have been ancient history fossilized to my soul or a sparkling new thought just now swimming to the surface. I was never certain which since I wasn't totally sure how long I'd been there.
How long have I been there?
Time stopped being relevant when there wasn't day or night or heartbeat to calibrate your mental clock to. I was no longer part of this planetary system, spinning on my axis and revolving around a flaming mass of extraterrestrial gas. I'd devolved from satellite, gracefully weaving through life with path and purpose, to useless space junk aimlessly rattling thoughts in a starless Vacuum.
Okay, so that was a bit of an exaggeration. I was a runner, not a dancer, so I was lacking a bit in the grace department. I mean, I used to be a runner, in the time before that time before this these timeless times—shit, if I wasn't confused enough already.
You know when you say a word over and over again, how eventually it stops sounding like a word? I've done that a thousand times over with every word I've ever spoken in my entire lifetime. And that life didn't have much of a purpose before this happened to me. Not yet anyway. I was still trying to figure all that out. I was young, I had plenty of time. I should have had plenty of time.
Now look at all the time I've got.
What was the quote on that poster hanging at the back of the room in my second year English class? Water, water everywhere but nothing you can drink? Yeah, something like that.
How long have I been here?
Had been, have been, would be?
Where is my perspective in all this?
Am I even living?—I had to be living somehow, otherwise how would I be thinking?—Or was I just existing, somewhere hopelessly forgotten in the darkest reaches of the lost and found bin with nothing to keep me company aside from the soundless, shapeless words that I continued to build and build and build.
My thoughts kept me grounded in the void.
It was so silent that it left a phantom buzzing in my ears that radiated through the head I may or may not still have, like static on the screen of a TV left on in the other room. One that I could never reach to turn off. It buzzed within me, a bee ricocheting against my formless walls, the empty nothing of my everything. I was grateful for that white noise, just as l was sometimes grateful for the clarity of the darkness, free from blips and blobs that I couldn't control or identify.
At the same time I hated them both.
But it was something, that hum.
It was proof that my mind had not yet faded away and become just another unseen shadow in the darkness.
Proof that l existed, somehow, somewhere, in some form.
Proof that I was still there.
How long have I been there?
"Just me!" I announced with a quick knock before slipping between the cracked doors of Koenma's office. My hair was probably a tousled mess from the flight, but I was too excited to fret with it.
"Botan! Good timing." The Spirit World prince turned away from the floor to ceiling Window that overlooked the River Styx
with a grin, his cape swaying at his heels.
That teenage form of his had started off as an innocent disguise for him to be seen as the authority figure he was during the Dark Tournament and later to fit in while undercover in the Human World, but I suspected it's become much more than that. Appearing more mature seemed to give him more power and command as the seven hundred year old demigod he was—especially when it came to challenging his father. No doubt the sight of his son as a stone willed young man unnerved King Enma, and Koenma took full advantage. So he wore it even then, alone in his office.
Well, he wasn't completely alone.
"Ayame was just about to go down to tend to our new arrival."
My gaze pulled from the more elegant Spirit Guide still looking out over the river and back to my favorite—not to mention only—boss of fifteen years. "She's already here, then? Don't tell me I missed the birth!"
"Not to worry, you haven't missed anything. Her Spirit body has completely formed, but she still has yet to awaken." He walked over to lean against his desk. "The progression is going well. I'd even go so far to say she's well ahead of schedule. She might even wake in the next day or two."
"How exciting! Is that fast?"
"Quite." He anticipated my next question before I could even form the thought in my head and gave me a full expositional rundown. "It takes a while for the body and Spirit to fully link. The time between the completion of the Spirit's body and the awakening of her conscious is usually between four and five days. Excluding you, of course, Botan. You were quite the outlier. You had us all worried sick."
"I did?" That was the first I'd ever heard such a thing. They never did speak much about the time before I was born, but I hadn't had any reason to ask of it, either. I was more than content in my existence as it was. Not that I wasn't enthusiastic to learn more as it became relevant! "How long did I take?"
"Twelve days and thirteen nights." Ayame's unwaveringly formal voice responded, though she never turned away from the window.
Koenma laughed. "Historically speaking, that's far from the longest wait we've had to endure. But it had been a while. First it was just Ayame keeping an eye on you, and then the others started to get curious. Soon enough everyone was poking around in your room. We were all relieved when you came around, it was like a party."
"I remember. I'll admit, I thought everyone woke up with such a greeting."
"No, it's usually a more intimate affair, to keep from overwhelming the newborn. Two or three people at most. You're just a magnet for excitement."
"Mayhem, Sir." Ayame finally turned and started walking towards us in small, precise steps. Her eyes serene, hands cupped in front of her, the picture of ideal feminine grace. The same grace that so many of the other ferry girls emulated and that I deeply admired. "She attracts mayhem."
"Oh, that's not completely true!" I waved her away with a chuckle, because surely she was making a joke.
90% certain she was joking.
It was sort of difficult to tell for sure, even after all the time we'd spent together those first few years.
I returned with my own somewhat-joke. "If you truly think so, then are positive that you want me training a newborn? What if something goes horribly wrong?"
Like my last case.
That had been more or less a complete disaster. While at the same time somehow ranking among my greatest accomplishments.
Yusuke's case was originally supposed to be the simple revival of a human that had died beyond the realm of their intended time. It wasn't common, but it happened. A once in a hundred years opportunity that Koenma had personally requested I take on for the experience. It wasn't until he taught Yusuke the spirit gun and gauged his potential as Spirit Detective did Yusuke's path start spiraling and whirling out of control into ever more dangerous territory. It was a case that I probably wasn't quite ready for at the time, but somehow I managed to roll with the punches! Quite literally.
Despite the ups and downs and occasional reeling terror, I wouldn't trade the time I spent with those boys for the world.
"Nothing will go wrong." Koenma reassured. His head lolled back before he caught sight of the disapproving look from Ayame that made him sit a little straighter and smooth the creases from his sleeves. "You couldn't get a more routine assignment. And if anything were to go wrong, which it won't, then I still would stand by my decision of putting you on. You can handle anything the that gets thrown at you, Botan. I've seen you stand strong through the end of the world, after all. A training mission is practically a vacation, at this point."
I couldn't help but recall the events that nearly did bring about the end of the Human World as we knew it. Mostly I remembered how dangerously close I'd come to shattering the moment I realized that Yusuke had been killed by that monster of a human man.
"You never let it break you." Koenma said in that gentle voice of his as if reading my mind. He wasn't, I was just exceptionally bad at keeping my internal drama from showing on my face like the cover of a cheesy rag magazine. And thank goodness for that! It was hard enough working with a telepath, let alone working for one.
When I didn't respond right away—no doubt because I was too distracted thinking of what horrors would befall a world where Lord Koenma was in possession of his own evil third eye—he pushed away from the desk to pluck a long strand of hair from where it had fallen between my eyes.
"I trust you Botan. And I trust you'll take care of our sleeping beauty."
He gave up trying to figure out where the lock belonged and settled on tucking it somewhere within my ponytail.
Before I even had the chance to get frazzled—hearing just how much faith Koenma had in me and my abilities sent me to the moon and back!—Ayame interrupted as politely as possible.
"You must excuse us, Lord Koenma. We really should be going now."
He took a step back. "Of course."
After a drawn out bow she left the office, moving with a magically unhurried briskness that made it seem as though she was floating across the floor instead of taking steps. Following her example, I offered my own bow of respect "Thank you for the assignment, Sir."
I was halfway out the doors when I paused and turned back to the prince of the underworld. Drawn short by something I'd almost forgotten to ask. I couldn't have questions unanswered, now could I? Silently I thanked Yusuke for the sarcastic reminder. Miss Botan Jr.
"Have you given her a name, yet?"
The sparkle in his eyes was nearly visible from across the room. I couldn't help but smile, even before he answered the question. The joy surrounding the birth of the newborn Spirit was virally infectious. "As a matter of fact, I have. Her name is Shion."
"Shion?" I tasted the name of my newest coworker, my trainee and student, and hopefully my soon to be newest friend. It was light and petite, if a tad bit masculine. "That's another flower, isn't it?"
"It is. A dainty aster to add to an already exquisite bouquet." With the flowers he'd already assembled, the ferry girls were more similar to the haphazard backroom of a flower shop than any orderly bouquet, but I didn't point that out to him. "It suits her, believe me."
I chuckled before turning to leave. "I'm sure it does."
Once more my head popped in the office. "Yes, Sir?"
"Please inform me the moment she wakes."
"Absolutely!" And with that I left for real, an extra skip in my step and Shion's name replaying in my head to keep myself from forgetting it.
For someone as cool as a cucumber and with such a passive personality, Ayame sure did move like a gazelle. She was nearly rounding the third comer in the maze of hallways by the time I finally caught up to her. At first I followed slightly behind her like the duckling I'd always been, but with a sudden wave of confidence I fell in line beside her. Try as I may, and believe me I did try fairly hard, I wasn't able to train my lips into the same neutral line as hers. I was all dimples and grins.
This assignment made us equals, after all. No longer senior and student.
Was she this excited to meet me as I am to meet Shion? I sure hope so.
"Is it normal for a name to be picked before they wake?"
Ayame gave me a sidelong glance, iris-purple eyes peering through her curtain of razor straightened black hair. "That is entirely dependent on Lord Koenma's mood." Nothing was given away in her voice, no hint of emotion or personal feedback. Straight facts only. It could have been unnerving, but more than that it was immensely reassuring, like she had everything figured out. "I was not named until after my first week. You had been given a tentative name prior to birth, but were renamed once he saw your eyes."
That was a shock. "Really? What was my original name?"
"Asagao." My nose scrunched and turned up at the sound of the name. "I can't say I like it. I much prefer 'Botan.' I'll have to remember to thank him for changing his mind."
The taller Spirit didn't say anything else. She wouldn't, not without prompt. The silence could stretch on for a fortnight and she would still remain as content as could be, so I usually took it upon myself to fill the silence and draw her out into conversation.
As much as I respected her as my trainer and envied her as a woman, there was still an unbridgeable gap between us. We were not close friends, and quite possibly never would be. Not for lack of trying, not in the slightest. Ayame simply kept all of her relationships professional, and her willpower was as strong as steel.
That distance was something I didn't want between myself and Shion.
We were going to be inseparable. Like sisters. I was going to use every teambuilding strategy that I had in my arsenal to help her become a confident and reliable reaper.
And, oh, couldn't wait to show her the ropes!
A familiar set of footsteps made me look up. How odd it was that certain patterns and sounds could become so ingrained over the years, even one as light as that.
"Hiei! How good to see you again!" Although it's only been about a week since I last saw him. He worked the cleanup crew in Makai, erasing the memories of the humans that stumbled into the demon world by mistake, and thanks to his preexisting relation with Koenma he was oh-so-happily elected to act as liaison to Spirit World. Whenever they had to take care of a human, it was Hiei's job to report it. Which meant I got to bump into him every now and again.
"Did you hear the news? We're getting a new— "
The little beast walked right past me, without so much as a word of acknowledgment.
Indignation rose as a shriek in my throat. I spun on my heels to watch as he disappeared deeper into the hallway, black cloak taunting me. "You could at the very least say hello!" I yelled after him. "How rude! I swear, he makes my blood boil. Hasn't learned an ounce of tact."
While it was a relief to not be his acting parole officer anymore, sometimes I missed the authority. Would it kill him to at the very least be friendly to a former teammate?
I turned back to where Ayame was waiting patiently for me.
"He's a good guy, really." I defended. "Just a little sharp around the edges, is all. We're friends. Honest!"
She actually broke her polite mask to look skeptical, and I couldn't say I blamed her. Hiei wasn't exactly the type to regard anybody in terms of friendship.
On the other hand, I considered him a friend whether the little fire-starter liked it or not.
But my friendship with Hiei wasn't the priority at hand.
My friendship with Shion was.
As we made our way down the stairs to the waystation's lower levels, my thoughts returned to my next assignment. First giddy and excited. Then as we got closer to the Spirit Guides' dormitory they began to curdle with worry.
"There's no way to know what she'll be like before she wakes, is there?" I asked when we reached the bottom landing.
Unlike the floors above, the lower levels that housed the Spirits' rooms were well lit and painted in friendlier, neutral tones. We walked through the large gathering space with its overstuffed seating and tables and through the kitchenette to the hallway of bedroom doors.
Ayame's door was the first we'd passed, then perhaps a dozen others. My own door had a placard for my name in pink and a small collection of the cutest floral penguin stickers that Keiko had given me. The fat little birds were blue, just like Puu. They were so precious, I simply had to display them for all to see.
Right next to mine was a room that had previously been empty.
My mentor stopped at it.
"What if she's really snippy, or doesn't take me seriously? I'm not exactly the picture of professionalism. What if she is afraid of heights? I can think of at least six ways that could be problematic. Or if she doesn't like cats, or pineapple, or—" I gasped. "What if she doesn't like me?"
Oblivious to my crisis, Ayame opened the door. All of my frets and nerves lodged somewhere deep in my throat before ﬁzzling out completely.
The room was clean and white, like mine had been when I first awakened; a clean slate awaiting the personalization of it's host. Devoid of furniture, save for the single white futon lying on the floor towards the back wall. A futon cradling the form of a teenage girl, draped in a clean white sheet.
"Oh." I took a step into the room. "Oh."
Suddenly I found myself fanning my face. Emotion drew tears to my eyes. There she was. My student. My protege. My sister.
"Oh, Ayame. She's perfect."
The more experienced reaper knelt beside the futon and placed her hands above the girl's chest. They glowed gentle and white as she felt the condition of Shion's energy.
"I feel like a new mother." I confessed and wiped away a tear with the hem of my sleeve. "This is so cool."
"That is natural." She informed me. "Newborn Spirits have an energy signal similar to any living infant. It will fade soon. Her progression seem to have escalated within the past hour. I suggest setting up a vigil. Waking to the solitude of an empty room can negatively affect the Spirit."
"I'll stay glued to her side! She is my responsibility after all."
I knelt to the floor and got myself settled in for the long haul. I wouldn't leave her, not even for a second. Not if it could harm her.
Ayame nodded and stood once my roots were firmly planted. "I'll bring you something to drink."
"Sure, thank you."
Once she was gone I leaned in to brush the long, wildly waving locks from the sleeping girl's face and got a better look at her.
"Welcome to the Spirit World, Shion. Koenma was right, that name really does suit you. I hope you'll like me as your coach, and I'm really looking forward to getting to know you."
Light interrupted my darkness, searing white in my sightless mind.
That horrible, tempting light that never lasted as long as I needed it to. I would have flinched away from it if l were able.
Every now and again it showed up out of the blue. They. They showed up out of the blue. One a razor sharp scalpel that pried into the fabric of my being to frog the stitches out one by one, that left me me, my life force, my energy?—winded from clinging to the bits of myself it tried to steal away. I never gave into it, never let it rob me. The other an angel's halo that gently stroked away my worries and tears in its pool of warm honey. It was my mother's embrace after I'd scraped my knees to the bone for the first time. It filled me with heat when l was normally as hollow and empty as the void l haunted.
This was the second one. The one I craved.
When was the last time it was there? It didn't seem like all that long ago. Although that question bugged me, I didn't let it overwhelm my thoughts too much more than it already did. Which it did. I was the worst authority to ask about time and I never once fooled myself into pretending that i knew anything more than I did. I knew the limits of my knowledge, extent of my faults.
And I still had absolutely no clue how long I'd been there.
Just as quickly as it appeared, the glow vanished, leaving me to wonder if it had even been there at all or if my imagination was somehow growing more vivid in my solitude.
But even the most fantastic of my thoughts and memories couldn't place the pinprick of a star that remained in the blackness after my favorite light blinked from reality. That'd never been there before. That didn't belong there. Not in my crisp, clear dark.
The impurity hung there in the sky, beckoning.
I focused on it. For an entire year I clung to that speck, but it might have just been an hour. A month, a minute, millennia, I didn't care how long it was.
It was something different.
The spark gradually grew bigger. A pixel, then a rice grain, then a ladybug, then a pog. It wasn't until it was the size of an overpriced watermelon that I saw the glowing orb for what it could be. What I could feel in my gut. What it was.
A way home.
The thought both excited me and terrified me to the extreme ends of each spectrum.
For an eternal moment, when the passage—it had to be some sort of door, right?—was immediately before me and filling my pseudo-skin with tingling kisses, I hesitated.
What awaited me on the other side? Was I passing over to the land beyond death? Or was I waking up to the life I'd left behind?
Was I going to see my dad again?
It happened much quicker than I was ready for. The light began to absorb me before I could think through the innumerable possibilities that lay ahead. It coated me faster than a time-lapse of powdery blue mold on bread. Starting from the front, the illumination worked its way to my tailbone until I could feel the stiffness that had settled itself into my lower back.
I needed more time to think this through!
I could feel my back.
And my toes, and my calves, and my elbows, and my ears. I swear I could even feel the individual follicles of hairs sprouting from my head.
Do you know how good it feels to feel? Feeling feels terrific after a long vacation to the devil's wonderland.
How long had I been there?
Apparently not as long as I'd been starting to believe.
How could it have been when the memory of the time I'd spent there was already beginning to fade to the background of my mind like the throbbing of an old cut, yet the memory of waking up in my bedroom yesterday morning—the memory hovering somewhere just above my head—felt, well, an awful lot like yesterday morning?
Other things came back slower, after my every finger regained their nerve endings. The texture of a crisp fabric hugging my body, tied at the waist. The cool of the room's air pressure brushing against my exposed face.
The shuffle of socked feet against hard flooring was the first thing I heard, followed by the sweet tinkling of something porcelain.
And the colors, oh the colors of the darkness behind my closed eyes. I was in a bright room, that red and orange exposure told me.
I was more than content to just lie there, soaking in the sensations that I'd been deprived of for so long and thinking over that strange nightmare. But my body's recalibration had other plans for me. Images of the life I'd lived played out like a film reel behind my closed eyes, passing by quickly as they were pulled from wherever they'd been floating in space and back into my brain. Everything was covered, from dancing on my dad's feet as a child, to track club tryouts in middle school, to putting on my lipstick the day I'd gotten lost in the void.
After that... there wasn't anything after that. I could see my self in the mirror, applying the deepest currant color I owned and then the reel broke like you would see in the cinemas. A fragment of sky here, a large summer bug there. Then nothing.
The movie screen went dark. Okay, so not truly dark, but closed-eyes dark.
That was it? It wasn't going to tell me how I got where I was? I begged my mind for something more to go on, a hint, a peek, anything.
A second later I wished I hadn't.
I was accosted by a vision of heinous eyes and a swirl of black, a darker black than the inside of my eyelids, and the fear that filled me when I'd seen them before.
That fear was the prelude to my journey in the darkness.
With an electric jolt and the hard gasp of air entering my lungs for the first time in forever, I sprang upright. All at once someone beside me shrieked, a delicate teacup went shattering to the ground, splashing liquid on the sheet that covered me, and the sheer brightness of the room threatened to burn my corneas. I reminded myself that it wouldn't. My eyes would adjust.
I closed them again just in case.
"You're awake!" The girl that was in the room with me exclaimed, her voice stretched somewhere between horror and excitement. "You're awake and I just doused you with tea! I'm terribly sorry! Talk about horrible first impressions! I promise, it wasn't supposed to go like this! You weren't supposed to wake up so soon and, oh dear, the other girls are all out on call and not here to greet you. Don't you move, there's shards everywhere."
Squinting, I watched as the young woman pulled the soiled sheet from me to sop up the tea and brush away what remained of her cup. Instinctively my hand reached out to the floor beside the futon, but grasped nothing.
"Where are my glasses?" My voice didn't hold any of the cragginess that I'd expected and that surprised me.
The girl stilled. "What?" She looked up at me, bundle in hand. She laughed awkwardly before drawing short once more. "You... you don't need glasses, silly. We aren't born with ailments like poor vision."
My astigmatism begged to differ. I rubbed my eyelids and hoped that would help me adjust to the sterile white room. "Plenty of people are born with bad eyesight. I've worn glasses since I was eight. Nearsighted with a power of -3.25 and axis of 80. I've been using contacts, but my mom would have brought my glasses to the hospital for me. They must be in a bag somewhere. Could you please ask one of the nurses—"
I opened my eyes fully to scowl at her, but instead I gaped.
The girl before me had satin smooth skin and was wearing a floral pink kimono with the longest formal sleeves I'd ever seen in person. I didn't want to say her ponytail was sky blue, because that was a terrible descriptor; the color of the sky was never consistent enough to be one distinct color, but somehow that's exactly what her hair was. No doubt the best dye job I've ever seen. Her eyes were wide with crystalline pink circle lenses and her lips parted slightly with the confusion that was sketched there. She was probably one of the most beautiful people I have ever seen, too.
And I was able to see each one of her lovely features in full high definition.
"I don't need glasses." I announced.
"Well, no. I would hope not."
I tentatively touched the corner of my iris to confirm that I wasn't wearing my contacts. Then I looked around the room I was in. It wasn't like any hospital room I'd ever been in, that was for sure. The walls were the cleanest white with pale planked floors, yes, but other than the futon beneath me it was completely empty. No medical devices, no cabinets for supplies, no TV for watching the national news when you've reached the point beyond boredom. And at my back there was a glowing square of light on the wall that logic told me was a window. A window without a view.
I looked back at the girl. She'd dropped the sheet and started flipping frantically through the pages of a little book.
"This can't be right."
"Is this a long term care facility? Are you a volunteer here?" That was the only logical explanation for her appearance that I could think of right then. She must've been an idol or cosplayer doing community service to polish her brand as local sweetheart.
Then why was she staring at me like that? Like I was a giant rainbow spider that just crawled out from under her fridge. Was it my bleached hair, stripped and primed for it's next temporary color? The piercings? Those always got me sidelong looks on the streets, but it was strange coming from someone far more decked out than I was.
"Do you at least know how I got here? I can't remember anything after I left the house, so I must've hit my head. Did I get into an accident? My family knows I'm here, right? Have I been in a coma?"
The girl leaned in real close, uncomfortably close. Close enough for me to see that she wasn't wearing colored contacts at all. Her eyes were actually pink.
Large glittering sapphires trying to examine my soul.
"This isn't right at all." She fretted, speaking more to herself than to me. "You're certainly a Spirit. But newborn Spirits are supposed to be completely blank. It says so in my guide book. You shouldn't have memories. Spirits and ghosts are two completely different things! Somebody must've made a mistake. Oh! You must be awfully confused." Her gaze fell to the wet spot on the white kimono undergarment I was wearing that had already gone cold. "Right! A fresh change of clothes! I can get you a fresh change of clothes! You sit tight, I'll be right back!" She hopped to her feet and skittered to the doorway. When she looked back at me her pretty face was a jumble of confusion and concern and nerves. "You'll be okay if I leave, right? Since you've already woken? Oh, It'll just be for a minute! I'll get to the bottom of this Shion, don't you worry!"
I tried not to worry about just what I wasn't supposed to be worrying about. Instead I focused on the context clues the girl had given me to get a better understanding of exactly where I was.
Spirits and ghosts.
So I was dead.
That kind of figures. I won't lie, I was hoping that wasn't the case. But I wasn't terribly surprised by it, either. It only made sense, after all, it was one of my two scenarios. However, that didn't necessarily mean that my life was over yet, not if the breath in my lungs and the warmth of my skin were any indication.
My heartbeat on the other hand... Okay, so there was no heartbeat.
I felt my jugular. Instead of a pulse, there was a steady stream. It was a perpetual motion of lifeblood—or energy, or jet fuel, or the purple stuff that alien guy bleeds in that manga my brother liked. Whatever was in there, if it kept me at some level of living and I'd gladly take it.
After a moment of letting that sink in I glanced back to the empty doorway.
Who in the world was Shion?
I could feel the feel the tumblers clicking shut through the wood of the door as Shion locked me out of the shared bathroom.
"Are you sure that you don't want me to help you get dressed?" I asked, resisting the urge to slump my forehead forward and slide down into a puddle at my feet. Only adrenaline and worry tacked me upright. "Kimono are very difficult to get into on your own."
"I can figure it out." The girl's voice answered after a bit, muffled by the barrier between us. "...Thank you."
Koenma had been wrong.
Koenma had been very, very wrong.
He assured me that this would be a simple, routine, fun assignment. A vacation!
So why on earth did our new Spirit have human memories?
Spirits were unique beings, created from scratch without history or prior incarnation. And her energy certainly felt like that of a Spirit. Yet Shion was acting more like a typical ghost than any reaper. Textbook confusion and drawing conclusions.
How could such an immense switch have happened!? Was there a newborn ferry girl lying prone somewhere, alone in the Human Realm—a blank, innocent slate without guidance or task? Or had something crossed during the birthing process? Could a rogue soul have found the opportunity to inhabit her body before Shion's conscious had yet to awaken, not unlike what Kurama had done to achieve his new found life within a human's body?
Ayame wasn't there to give me the answers I needed, she'd left nearly an hour prior on assignment. Everybody was on assignment.
Why did things only ever seem to go awry with the cases that I was involved in?
An inch before my brow could kiss the wood in defeat, I sprang straight and back to the task at hand.
I needed to inform Koenma right away.
But the second I stepped away from the door, though, Shion screamed.
"What's the matter!?" I yelled in a panic, testing the doorknob that I already knew to be locked.
"What did you do to my hair!?"
I paused. Looked down at my hand, at the blasted lock that stood between me and my charge. If I was capable of having a heart attack, this girl would have given me one. "Your hair?"
Why would she be possibly be worrying about her hair at a time like that when there were so many more important, existential things to be freaking out over?
She must have looked in the mirror.
Well, if her hair was anything like mine—which it should be, considering she still was inhabiting the body of a Spirit—she had nothing to worry about.
"That's your natural color, dear! You'll get used to it, I promise!" I hollered back at her.
"No." I heard her muffled reply. Then louder. "No. Purple is not a natural color!"
"It's a very lovely lavender! The same color as an Aster flower!"
There was a thump. Perhaps she had fulfilled my desire and slumped her head down on the sink counter.
The defeat in her voice nearly made me cry.
"I don't even like purple."
Chapter 1: End
Hello! So, this is going to be a little different that my usual fics, it's very experimental for me. Not only have I never written first person before, but this is also the first story that I haven't planned all the way through before writing. I'm excited to see where it takes us!
Also, another first, Shion is my first ever Yu Yu Hakusho OC! Any OCs that I've created for Just Instincts, My IYYYH Crossover, have always in my mind been Inuyasha OCs. I look forward to getting to know her as a character. I know that she wasn't very, well, solid this chapter, so chapter 2 will be her true introduction.
For anyone who is worried; I am not abandoning Just Instincts! Just wanted something fresh.
Thank you for reading!