A Glimmer in the Dust Storm
The cloudy skies overlooking a barren village in disrepair could scarcely be viewed beyond the blanket of dust in the air. Not a single soul was present upon the dirt road between the settlements other than a battered adolescent clothed in tatters. Draped in sweat and breathing profusely, the young man dragged his body away from a certain threat with his final dregs of strength. Every other villager had promptly hidden themselves away before they could meet the sight of the scourge they had known for far too long. That scourge, shaped as a rugged man wearing only a black hakama; numerous scars decorated his bare chest. The sword he brandished as he closed the distance between him and his victim-to-be displayed his roguery as an unaffiliated Shinigami.
“Don't waste my time, peasant!” the Shinigami roared with bloodlust in his eyes. “You're just prolonging your sufferin'; makin' me cry.”
“N—no, I can't...” with no stamina to his name, the peasant lost his balance as his sole collided with a rock and sent him face-first onto the ground. Rolling on his back, the peasant could only watch from below as his assailant lifted his blade to usher in his final sentence.
What should have been the certainty of his kill was suddenly replaced with unease, and confusion. His sword had disappeared from his grasp, he could hear it flipping through the air causing his brow to furrow in accusation. He'd felt a powerful spike run through his arm when his sword had been unceremoniously ripped from him, his first assumption had been Reiatsu, the Reiatsu of someone strong, but he couldn't sense anything. It had to be a trick.
Somehow, the pathetic wretch beneath his feet had mustered the means to discard his sword, but it wasn't the only way he could dispatch the peasant in kind. His arm went down, to lift the cretin from the dirt so that he could show him just how bad of a mistake he'd just made. "You shouldn'a done th-".
His taunting had been cut off as he came to the realization that he'd been sent careening into a nearby wall with such force that he found himself trapped within a sizable earthen indent. Loss of feeling in most of his body quickly followed and a wave of fear washed over him. "W-what the Hell did you do!?", he screamed at the bewildered peasant who the Shinigami had only just now noticed to have since passed out. Was it exhaustion? Fear? Or... could his initial assumption have been correct?
As if in answer to that very thought, a visage emerged from the dreary shadow of a rickety shack. "Oi, oi, who gave you permission to traipse around killin' folk?", the visage asked whilst covering the distance. Through the dust and the sunny haze, the Shinigami made it out to be a woman, dressed none too differently from the other members of the local rabble and carrying a particularly large gourd in her hand, that she'd lazily cast over her shoulder. The sloshing as it swung back and forth made it clear that it had been filled with liquid, and it somehow managed to increase the feeling of dread that was slowly overtaking this particular 'Soul Reaper'.
"Was it Genryūsai? Nah, there'd be a whole Division runnin' 'round here, and nobody screamed that it was for the good a' Soul Society yet", her pondering and the plodding pace with which she walked made time feel like it had slowed to a crawl. The Shinigami's mind was a blur of frantic guesswork and he couldn't pin any particular answer down that would help his situation. "Was it that Aizen fella, he's still a Captain, right?"
"Who the Hell are you!?", the Shinigami finally screamed in frustration, there was an impressive echo in the wind that carried his voice a fair distance, his anger and desperation caught up in it like a kernel of unease.
"Me? I'm just a nobody", there was a crack, and the rock shifted, her Reiatsu had shuddered and the Shinigami was dead.
And so began a frightening moment of silence, at least for the peasants yet locked in their abodes, until one man finally mustered the courage to step outside. Housed nearby the unconscious peasant, the old man carefully opened his front door, making his bravado known with the grating creak caused by his own action. Upon fixating on the unconscious peasant in the distance, his face became painted with woe. “Kane!”
Nearly stumbling on his steps, the old man rushed to the aid of his relative, the leash of a lengthy collar held in his hand. And before the old man could travel far, the snow white canine at the end of his leash frantically dashed outside, stumbling once as it did so, and leapt over the his head in its path to the unconscious peasant who seemed to be its master. In a panic, the old man loosed his grip on the leash, allowing the dog to reach the unconscious peasant unhindered and lick at his face, its lengthy tail wagging with excitement.
Upon picking up his leash, the old man pulled the dog back before taking its place beside the unconscious peasant—his son. Noticing the presence of the mysterious woman, the dog growled menacingly until it was silenced with a hush from its old master. After whispering his gratitude at his son's survival, the old man lifted the boy into his arms and rose to his feet, looking at the woman with bewilderment before shaking his head.
“No, I don't need to know anything,” he stuttered with tears in his eyes. “You saved his life, and that's all that matters to me. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.”
In the midst of the old man's crying, the dog slowly narrowed its eyes at the suspicious woman, its tail kept low and still. That was something the woman had been used to, just as certain Shinigami had a predilection towards abusing their power, animals, especially dogs, tended to react a certain way with this particular woman. She took it in stride, almost ignoring the canine entirely. "Think nothin' of it", she said, addressing the weeping man casually.
She turned to walk away, though found herself stopping almost as quick as she'd started. "Ah, give the kid an hour or two, he'll be up an' rarin' to go, if there's a lucky girl he has an eye now'd be the time to chase her down", she remarked vaguely to the fact that the poor lad who'd been knocked out by her powers would soon be awake with all the vigor of a bolt of lightning. She wasn't sure whether or not she made it obvious, but she shrugged and slowly made her way back to the run down shack that she had originated from.
A Night in Frost
After curiously observing the woman as she retreated to her abode, the old man solemnly bowed his head before turning away and retreating into his own den to retire for the night, his canine companion following closely behind in a sunken posture.
In truth, the sudden emergence of a murderous Shinigami came as little a surprise to the villagers, who had found themselves dealing with bizarre threats of late. One rogue Shinigami did not even compare to the horrors they had been subjected to in the past—most notably, unexplainable hollows numbering in the dozens that would suddenly disappear as well as hailstorms so extreme that they could have sworn the entire sky were coming down on top of them. It had all begun with the arrival of their newest addition, none other than the long-tailed canine in the old man's possession. The old man first chanced upon the odd creature in the woods on the outskirts of the village, fatally wounded and famished; it surely would have died if not for a savior. Disregarding the advice of his son, the old man took the unfortunate canine home and nursed it back to health. Before the Shinigami, every disaster upon the village had strangely precluded the presence of the old man and his family. The other villagers were quick to attribute every incident to an obscure power of the unusual dog, but the old man was never so quick to judge, and even then, he would never accuse the creature his family had grown so attached to of having deliberately periled its neighbors.
The dust had settled just in time to welcome the presence of the moon in the starlit sky. It would have been a quaint night if not for the frigid temperatures accompanied with disembodied whispers in the wind. Suspecting another impending disaster, nearly every villager had wasted no time secluding themselves in their homes with their doorways kept secure under makeshift barricades. But those inquisitive enough to listen to the whispers picked up on a spoken title—“Shinigami Slayer.” Remembering the brief account told by the old man of the woman who had saved his son by slaying the rogue Shinigami, those villagers retired to their beds to stave off the cold night, assuring themselves that the “Shinigami Slayer” would soon return to confront whatever entity had chilled the air and called out to her in the same breath.
This too had applied to the ramshackle bar that Seia had been hosted up in. The keeper of the establishment had locked away his limited variety of liquors and retreated behind a wooden sliding door that led to his quarters above the bar. The long-haired woman, however, was left to remain lightly dossing. Her posture was rather impressive, sat cross legged with her head resting atop her left hand and her right clung tightly to a half emptied bottle of sake. She cast out heavy breaths that went a long way to stave off the whispers carried on the wind, perhaps betraying how lightly she slept. Watching over her was a large canine with beautiful snow-like fur and a rather thick kimono heaped atop it. It sat there, beholding its master as dogs often did, and though the expression on its face was as stoic as always, the glimmer in her eyes gave away the irritation this canine was feeling.
An instant bled into moments and those moments further bled into minutes. All was quiet in the small hut apart from the whispering wind, and Seia's louder breathing. That was, until, the canine lost its patience. It barked with its powerful lungs, at once dulling all of the sound around the building as well as killing the flickering light of several burning candles around the wooden establishment. Its tone was rough, coarse, but carried a regal air behind it. "How long must you play the fool? It beckons for you".
The woman opened her eyes to the voice of her companion, her eyelids lazily raising to regard her surroundings. "Alright, alright, sheesh", she replied with a dusky air, her throat had gone dry in the stifling cold though more noticeable was the alcohol streaming from her breath which caused the canine to recline as it reached her nose.
A small grin landed on Seia's face and soon enough she left the now darkened bar, with what little remained of her alcohol tied to her sash. She walked with an uneven posture, struggling for balance on her way towards the center of the barren street. "Now, what could it be?", she asked rather playfully.
And nearly before Seia could phrase her question, the whispers in the wind fell into silence, the chilling influence resigning from the bounds of the village in that same instant. In its wake, a quiet storm of white hovered over the woods just beyond the village. Within it, a phantom tail dwarfing the very trees swished repetitively in the air as if the creature in motion it belonged to, its figure obscured in the depths of the expanding blizzard, were teasing Seia to follow in its steps until its tail could no longer be seen over the distance and its Reiatsu mingled with that of the blizzard. Whether the creature had disappeared or simply ventured deeper into the woods, there seemed to be only one way of knowing for sure.
"Not even nice enough to greet us, figures", tutted the woman as she followed. She couldn't really match pace with the wind, especially not as she stumbled and staggered her way forward like a shambling husk. She trampled across the dirt with plodding, if heavy, steps that kicked up a rather impressive trail of dust in her wake, which soon gave way to the rustling of grass and snapping twigs as she ventured from the view of the district. Rickety houses in the distance gave way to foliage and even more foliage whilst the woman struggled her way deeper and deeper into the woods. At first it was twigs and sticks, but then the trees themselves started to get in her way. Some were nestled annoyingly close together, such that they were almost invisible in the dark and caused one too many near collisions than Seia would have liked to admit. Some had fallen over, cut down by errant Shinigami, or by fierce weather, it didn't really matter. What did was the sight of this millennia old woman hobbling across them in her stupor, like a toddlers first attempt at ascending a staircase.
"Alright, who did I piss off?", she asked herself clearly bemused with the situation.
Indeed, one would have surely expected a trail of ruin to have followed such a gargantuan creature, assuming it had indeed tread the path at all; but the way remained littered with so many uneven snags and obstructing shrubbery that one might have questioned how even a regular soul could find their way through the perilous maze. And as Seia ventured deeper, the blizzard once prevalent in the air eventually settled, clinging to the woods as a layer of snow.
But in that instant, a dog's whimpering sounded from behind a rustling shrub ahead. From that shrub emerged the very canine adopted by the village, limping on three of its legs as and stumbling on fallen twigs and branches on its way to Seia. Upon reaching the so-called Shinigami Slayer, the canine brushed aside the chaff beneath its feet before sitting down, peering deeply into the woman's emerald eyes during a moment of rather awkward silence. As if coaxed by some pleasant revelation, the canine adopted a far more human expression, one of cautious curiosity, before slamming its previously “injured” leg upon the ground, churning dirt and tiny debris outward from the point of impact.
“To have had my summons answered at such a dire moment… It would seem that fortune favors us, Shinigami Slayer.” Despite, oddly enough, voicing its gratitude in a deep, yet soothing tone, the canine's face remained contorted with something resembling anger. “I would ask for your aid, as best as you can provide it.”
In spite of the canine's request for help, Seia was left without the words for an answer. Her mouth opened to voice a response, but nothing would come. She had found herself stunned. She was a woman who'd thought she'd seen it all. Who could blame her, considering where she came from? She went from the banks of Tyre to one of the first seats of the Gotei 13. She had prowled the deserts of Hueco Mundo for a thousand years, nearly lost herself to the pits of Hell and even confronted that Human-made monstrosity known as television. But here she was, having stood in the face of innumerable world ending horrors, rendered speechless by a dog.
"I didn't think I was this drunk", she finally spoke, just in time to creak forward in a brief fit of lost balance which only served to confirm that she most likely was as drunk as she believed. "How much did I drink?"
Her own canine companion looked at her with that all too common death glare, in what must have been a pretty peculiar scene for their guest as Rairyōken was all but non-existent to anyone other than Seia, such that it looked like she was talking to herself. Not that, that happened to be untrue given the nature of that particular canine.
"It is not a delusion, I see him as well", she replied, her maw moving to a static rhythm that conveyed the idea of speech but not the mannerisms behind it.
"Oh, right then!", Seia spoke, a little more chipper this time. Seemingly delighted that she wasn't insane, or more drunk than usual. It was hard to tell. "So... uh... how can we help?"
The odd canine, having bode his time by grooming his formerly dangling paw, lifted one of his eyelids as Seia spoke to the spirit he could not see nor hear, clearly suspecting she had lost her mind. “'We?',” he resounded with his tone lacking the grace it once exuded, clearly taking full advantage of the woman's inebriation. “Whom in blazes might you be referring to, my dear knave?”
"We, y'know, Royal?", her response was curt, in spite of the smirk that drew itself on her face. Though she was still red faced, and in no way capable of standing still for longer than a millisecond, it was clear that she hadn't gone entirely foggy under everything that she'd drank. Sparks had found themselves caught in the air, appearing from nowhere to lash out at errant snowflakes in the quiet dark of the forest. Given how they appeared just after her change in disposition, perhaps the flickers of light hinted at something?
"I see," the canine muttered while pacing to and fro, its bitter tone suggesting some degree of suspicion or, at the very least, impatience. "Now, as I was to explain, you need not be alarmed by the form I have chosen to assume for my given task. My name is of little importance, but I will say that I am a celestial guardian called upon by the village chieftain to aid in warding off forces that may do harm to our people, a task I had solely fulfilled without fail until this very moment. I find myself in a rare predicament, Shinigami Slayer; I am at my wit's end against a spirit I do not know, one with the power to command cold itself. You may have caught a glimpse of some towering creature before you came to me. That was not my doing, and so it would seem that the spirit has beckoned you here for a purpose I will soon know. Nevertheless, if you have found something of value in the lives of my summoners, I beseech you not to hesitate to lend me your aid; we must act quickly."
As the canine spoke, residual snow gradually collected into a thin cloud hanging high above the area, a phenomenon it wholly ignored as it awaited Seia's response with a suddenly homely look, twirling its tail in the air as if somewhat excited.
"Huh, I didn't even know we had one a' those", she remarked with an absent glare towards the tree. She had expected such things to come into formation around the Rukongai, especially in the face of an uncaring Central 46, but it still hit her as a surprise to find out that her own district had a chief. She spent a long moment puzzling on how they'd never met... Maybe he wasn't a drinker, she mused before returning to the subject at hand with a sluggish mash of fist banging against palm. "Well, alright dog-spirit-guy, poin' me at this thing and I'll do what I do".
"Pray let that not be falling over in a pool of vomit this time", barked her spiritual partner.
"You have my deepest gratitude, Shinigami Slayer," the canine cackled. With a slight stumble, he managed to point a paw deeper into the woods. "Upon nigh rending my body, it faded before my very eyes; but fret not, my senses serve well. I will set us both in the right direction without—"
But before the "Celestial Guardian" could lead the Shinigami Slayer away, a massive, massive shadow cast over the area. Emerging from the very layer of snow above the duo was a gargantuan paw comprised wholly of ice. Nearby trees were thrown aside by a furious blizzard clinging closely to the disembodied appendage before it landed upon both Seia and the canine. In the wake of the event, a winter-esque clearing formed a wide radius where the paw stood.
The canine lay at a distance away from the paw, buried in the newly-formed snowfield and seemingly left unconscious. Following a period of silence, it opened its eyes stood on its legs with some effort and brushed off its fur coat. As it lifted its head to gawk at the cloud from which the giant paw existed, it exhaled an exasperated sigh. Indeed, it had only eluded death by a hair's breadth.
Such was the result not of its lack of preparation, but from a careless miscalculation. The canine, Glacies Fidus, a ravenous Venator Scientiae, had always wrought such chaos upon the Rukongai for little more than the gleaning of knowledge. It was his very own doing that his newest homeland was so often threatened with bizarre encounters since the day he first arrived, and it would be his own doing that the so-called Shinigami Slayer would meet her end after having foiled his agenda; but not before providing him with enough knowledge to quench his insatiable hunger. After all, what else was a being such as he ever meant to do?
"I only hope she does not die so soon," Glacies muttered to himself as he considered the consequences of his mistake.
For her part, Seia emerged from the smattering of ice and snow that she had been buried beneath by the sudden collision with all the craze of a canine slinking from a puddle. She brazenly rustled and shook every part of her body from her hair to her toes in order to get rid of the frozen particles that clung to her form.
"Oh no, it got down my back", she yelled aloud, her shaking quickly becoming something more akin to fitful spasms until the ice cold feeling running down her spine subsided. That strike, and the shenanigans that had followed did wonders to wake up Seia from her haze. She was aware now, and the way she moved was something well beyond someone in the midst of a drunken stupor. The alcohol was still in her system of course, but now that the former Captain had been alerted to her unseen opponent, she had already begun the process of expunging it from her body. It was also a perfect excuse to hit the bottle again later, of course.
"Wait, something is amiss here...", said the other canine that was present, cautioning her master. Seia could only see Rairyōken from the corner of her eye, but even that was enough to see that she had been completely unphased by the gigantic paw that had superimposed itself upon the world, and everyone present. It made sense, after all, the kimono-draped canine wasn't actually there, her presence simply bled through Seia's Reiatsu allowing her to comment, and criticise, just about everything that happened.
"Yeah? We'll cross that bridge when we get to it, I guess", Seia dismissed her with a wave of her hand, which she then held out behind herself. Her fingers were fanned out, as holding a large wine glass. Bit by bit, tiny fragments of electricity began pouring in from out of nowhere until a bright golden lance of lightning had formed in the woman's hand. She casually tossed it into the air, then caught it once she had adjusted her grip. Not a moment after that, she had catapulted the bolt into the stars, with a sudden show of force that shook the earth and roared through the air. In the presence of such a lunge, it was no surprise that the cloudfront that had been looming over the forest dispersed.
The black-haired woman grinned with pride. Driving a clenched fist into an open palm, she was clearly raring to go. She glanced at Glacies, wounded as he was. "How 'bout it, was that the guy?"
At this, Glacies at first returned a blank stare. He did not expect the woman to survive with little a scratch, if at all. He furthermore did not expect that very same woman to so easily scatter one of his own creations. But that was good—it meant he would have much to learn.
"Ah, yes, so it would seem," he finally replied upon setting his thoughts straight. "But do not be brash; we've not yet won."
Just then, a savage uprising of snow and ice flooded the area around Seia and Glacies, but Glacies was this time well prepared. Gaining further distance with a somewhat strained backflip, Glacies squinted his eyes in search any humanly silhouette within the whirlwind. But all that stood before his eyes was a massive bestial head, one pointed upward and emerging from the ground. As the frozen torrent settled, the giant, red-eyed ice canine, seemingly trapped below the earth with only its head above ground, came to a silent pause, a tenuous frost emitting from its open maw.
With the sheer mass of the beast blocking his view of Seia's former location, Glacies lay on the ground to feign another injury, clearing the surrounding snow just enough to allow him to observe the woman's next move. Now that he had witnessed some degree of her power, he had no reason to doubt she had again survived.
Having been consumed by the sudden storm of hail that had engulfed the area, Seia wasn't particularly surprised to have lost her voice. She had the perfect comment too, brash, huh?, she thought, almost contemplating the meaning of the words as ice and snow alike pelted her form, though the results were sparks and flickers of electricity rather than the expected cuts and bruises one would expect from being pummeled by a snowstorm. Though she was quick to shield her eyes from the stormy onslaught, she had been perceptive enough to see Glacies flip away; not so perceptive however to realise the motion was his own, and not the result of the storm. For her part, she remained rooted in place.
That wasn't so good now, though. Emerald eyes regarded the enormous maw that rested before her, at first with shock, then with disingenuousness. Absolutely not, she refused. Between Rairyōken's constant jabs, the haughty nature of Glacies, and that earlier snow paw, Seia quickly found herself becoming convinced that dogs had it out for her. But that couldn't be right, she loved dogs.
"What is with you guys today? Did I accidentally upset some divine butt sniffer?", she complained loudly, largely for the sake of it than for any real answer.