So I got this out a lot earlier than the last break, which is good, but still not as quick as I would've liked. This is a powerful chapter and I decided to cut it off where I did for the effect. We'll be focusing on the Seireitei side of things for this chapter and the next, then maybe we'll see some more of Aizen's side of the fence.
My thanks to Abstract for her great support on this segment.
You may want to reread the end of chapter 12 to get into the feel of where we start off here
Kindly let me know what you think, enjoy chapter 13
The Price She Absolutely Could Not Pay
Tears ran fresh down Retsu's face as she finally managed to move to Mayuri's side. He eagerly took a step back, allowing her to fully face his greatest success. The machine hummed with power, feeding precisely measured reishi particles into a cylindrical capsule roughly as large as her forearm.
Her fingers trembled as she slowly reached out, and a small cry escaped her lips. Amidst her jumbled thoughts and racing heart one thought cut a clear path through the haze.
The reiatsu was warm. It was real.
She exhaled in jubilance, lifting a hand to cover her wide smile. She took several quick breaths in succession as she tried to dry her eyes with the back of a hand. The glow was so faint, barely a pinpoint against its surroundings, but the azure light was the most beautiful she had ever seen.
"Magnificent, isn't it?" Mayuri mused at her side, peering over her shoulder. "Absolutely astonishing."
She hadn't found her voice but she graced him with a glance and a quick nod, unwilling to tear her attention from the speck of life growing before her.
"The reishi reaction will be able to support the soul for approximately three hundred and thirty six hours." Mayuri explained, but Retsu barely heard him. "We can safely implant at your convenience, however the sooner the better. Your reiatsu…"
"Implant?" She breathed, interrupting him.
He nodded eagerly, "Of course. The soul will best be able to thrive by nourishing on the reiatsu of its mother."
"Mother?" Her heart nearly stopped and she was close to stammering. "That is a bit premature." Mayuri opened his mouth to speak but Retsu continued on before he could cut in, "I certainly appreciate being offered the opportunity, Mr. Kurotsuchi, however to be frank I wasn't expecting you to be successful. I have to give due thought to how this will affect my other responsibilities before I can make such a commitment."
He looked at her for a moment, incredulous, "Perhaps I was being too obscure." Mayuri started. "The soul was created by the combination of two reiatsu's while supported by a reishi reaction."
She was suddenly uneasy, "What are you saying?"
Mayuri waved his hand over the capsule, "Your reiatsu comprises half the makeup of this life, Captain Unohana. You will be the mother whether or not it resides within your womb."
Her throat seized up, completely dry, and her stomach knotted fiercely, threatening to bend her in half even has her legs trembled, desperate to support her. "I…" She started with a dry rasp. "I never gave my consent for such a thing."
Mayuri seemed slightly taken aback, "What do you mean? Your participation in the project was because of your desire to create life. This is what you wanted from the beginning."
She stared at him for long moments, horrified. He was legitimately confused, she realized. He had no concept, no idea of the violation he had committed upon her. "Who was the other donor?" She whispered, frightened of the answer that already screamed at her from the depths of her soul.
"Of course, it was I." He affirmed.
She almost vomited. Her grace and poise utterly failed her as she clamped a hand over her mouth and wrapped the other around her convulsing stomach. Her Zanpakto slipped from her shoulder, clattering harshly as it hit the floor even as she stumbled back several steps. Finally her knees caught on something and she fell onto the cold metal of a work bench.
She spent several moments trying to control her breathing, trying to recover from the dramatic spikes of excitement and disgust. Her eyes were shut and her head bowed, his mere presence was just an exacerbation of the taint that was filling her senses, an ever increasing tide of nausea.
For his part, he did what he always did when something confused him, he analyzed. Her obvious distress, the physical revulsion, and her difficulty in breathing all pointed to a conclusion that mystified him. "Whatever is the problem, Captain Unohana? Don't you understand what I've accomplished? It is due in no small part to your own contributions, your own brilliance." He paused for a moment, "I could think of no tribute more fitting to offer you. Think of the potential this life has with us to guide it…"
"Shut up." She interrupted, mortified, without bringing her eyes to him. "I can't hear this, I can't."
Unfortunately, while the mysteries of the universe revealed themselves to him under his dedicated scientific inquiry, the subtleties of the human heart were simply alien. So, by reflex, his anger surged forwards, "I have given you what you've always wanted! I've achieved a feat unrivaled in the history of the Soul Society! You dare reject this gift!? You DARE look upon my creation and heave in disgust!?"
"Monster." Retsu's eyes, devoid of warmth or compassion burned through him. "I made a terrible mistake ever trusting you. I let myself be blinded by my own selfishness, and I refused to acknowledge what is so painfully obvious. You're a sociopath, a monster."
Mayuri's hands curled into fists as his lips spread to sneer, "You too then? My academy instructors were just as short-sided when they condemned me to that hell. I thought you more intelligent than those peons. You disappoint me."
Any and all considerations of rank or protocol were completely nonexistent. When her open palm spun his head sharply to the left Retsu wasn't acting as Captain of the 4th squad, or even as a Shinigami. She was a wounded woman lashing out, desperately seeking an outlet for the anguish and rage choking her.
He turned his eye to her without bringing the rest of his face back from the blow, "Ungrateful cow."
She added reiatsu to the next blow, but Mayuri anticipated the attack and caught her wrist, and in a spout of sheer audacity stepped into her, neatly completing a full body hold.
She cringed at his proximity, his reiatsu invaded every pore. His scent, the dull tang of antiseptics burned her nostrils, and his grip was impossibly strong, using fingers more akin to steel clamps than flesh and bone.
Mayuri's eyes were motionless and unblinking as he stared her down, shattering her focus and resistance, his breath inducing her to wretch. "I will forgive these insults only because our child…"
He was the first one to say it aloud, and it shook her to the core.
"requires your reiatsu to live." His grip tightened to the point of pain, "Do you understand, woman? Our child will die without you. So get over whatever irrational lunacy is destroying your focus and chose a time for implantation! Sooner rather than later if you please, the supplementary materials are degrading even as we waste time with your attack of hysterics!"
Supplemental materials? Retsu's mind homed in on the phrase with sudden startling clarity considering the situation. Her breathing slowed to normal, and her muscles tensed as she reasserted herself. "Unhand me and step back." She ordered darkly. Her reiatsu rippled, an unspoken threat of the damage she was prepared to inflict if he refused to obey.
As she had appeared to calm, he did as instructed, releasing her and taking two large steps back.
"You are to never touch me again. Make no mistake, there will be consequences for what you've done here. The only small hope you have for retaining even a measure of the freedom you currently enjoy is to be absolutely candid with me, right now."
"I have done nothing but tell the truth." Mayuri asserted with no fear. "Ask whatever you desire."
Her eyes narrowed dangerously, "What supplemental materials are you using to sustain the reishi reaction?"
He spun on one foot and strode towards the rear of the chamber, past the device housing the child. Retsu exhaled as she saw what he was moving towards, cursing herself for not noticing it sooner. She reached down and quietly retrieved her sword while his back was still turned.
His eyes narrowed when he turned to face her again, but betrayed no other reaction. "As you no doubt know, this device is a storage compartment with thick reishi blocking materials built into it. Its intended purpose is the safe storage of hazardous waste until proper disposal. With a few modifications I've utilized the technology to slowly and precisely dilute the reishi to induce conception, and sustain the child."
"The quality and grade of reishi necessary to fuel such a technique doesn't exist." Retsu argued.
"Of course it does." Mayuri responded. Her breath left her in a rush. She immediately realized what he was saying but he spelled it out for her anyway. "The purest reishi is readily available in every human soul."
She froze for half a second, but her eyes hardened as she planted her leading foot. Minazuki cleared its sheath with a harsh scrape, "Open it now! Get the soul out before it dissipates!"
He growled, "Are you completely insane?" He slapped a button and the black shield obscuring the device slid into the floor, revealing the form within. "This trash has already been sentenced. I merely rescued invaluable reishi from being squandered in transmigration when instead it could be used to create new life! What good is it to recycle such a flawed and destructive soul? What I've created here is a much greater use of this reishi!"
Minazuki's tip dipped to the floor as Retsu's mouth worked in horrified awe. It was a girl, her body no more than fifteen years old with long black hair and green eyes. Her mouth was working in screams. "Dear god," Restu moaned. "She's conscious."
"Don't spare your sympathy for this creature." Mayuri scoffed with disdain. "She was found guilty of seven murders, including that of a shinigami sent to capture her."
"Whatever her crimes, nothing can justify what you're doing! You can't predict what this soul's next reincarnation will bring for good or bad! You don't have the right to make that decision! Open it!" She commanded harshly as she strode forward.
"Out of the question!" He shouted. "Any disruption in the process will kill the child!"
She stopped. Her eyes were locked on the girl before her, who was screaming soundlessly as Mayuri's machines ripped her reishi apart to feed his fiendish process. Her arms trembled, and she cursed her hesitation, hated herself for not springing into action.
Despite her desperation to act, she was shackled by the smallest of things. The nascent reiatsu was still pulsing steadily, growing with each passing moment, sweeping over her senses with every heartbeat. Her child.
"Sheath your sword." Mayuri commanded harshly. He had placed himself between Retsu and the tank. His fierce gaze and stiff ready posture displayed his resolve to stop her. "I won't let you kill our child."
It was a harsh blow, and Retsu suddenly felt like she was surrounded, being attacked on all sides. He was painfully reminding her he had stolen her essence, violated her in one of the most horrid ways imaginable, but at the same time to act against him and save the life of his victim…would mean the death of her baby.
The very thought seemed to shut out any other consideration. Ten minutes ago she would have never been able to guess that something could change her so profoundly, so completely.
What Kurotsuchi was doing was wrong, monstrous, evil even. All of her training as a Shinigami, her conscience and her compassion begged her to step forward and end the poor girls' suffering.
The reiatsu still held her paralyzed nonetheless. Maternal instinct she had craved to experience for millennia exerted itself so ferociously that her whole body was shaking.
"I'll say it again." His voice grated against her soul, and forced her to meet his unblinking yellow eyes. "Sheath your sword."
She almost let Minazuki fall from her fingertips, but movement over Mayuri's shoulder caught her attention.
Her breath hitched in her throat the moment she met those jade eyes. They were wide with panic, desperate for help. A living breathing soul was being tortured to death, her violent throes smashing against her cage with everything she could muster…
Retsu took a deep breath, and resigned herself, even though she knew it would break her heart.
Kurotsuchi was ready for her charge. His left hand came up, palm open as he began to rotate his body. The flash of light from his Kido was brief, but powerful, successfully blinding Retsu long enough for him to finish his spin, and come up at her with his Zankapkto in a diagonal slash.
Their blades scraped together harshly, but Retsu was forced to retreat backwards. Mayuri was within her reach, pressing the advantage of his shorter blade by denying Retsu the room to maneuver her much longer Minazuki.
His initiative was short lived, Retsu was far too experienced to let herself be controlled. Mayuri overreached on a thrust by a small margin, but it was enough. With a deft spin her sword was arching down for a slash that would open Mayuri from shoulder to hip.
Off balance, and in no position to bring his own blade back to parry in time, he leaned precariously back, turning a fatal blow into a shallow cut.
Retsu allowed the momentum of her blade to assist a second spin, crouching low, and kicking out with her leading foot. The sweep was surgical in its accuracy and power, tagging the backs of Mayuri's knees with just enough force to bend them forwards, letting them slam awkwardly to the ground while his torso was still falling backwards.
His shoulders had barely smacked the tiles before Minazuki was coming down for a final slash to his neck, but despite the jarring impact Mayuri was able to brace against the blow with only one hand on his sword.
He grit his teeth against the strain, and his eyes narrowed when Retsu's attention left him.
"Hadou 4, Byakurai!" Her left index finger was glowing with power waiting to be released, but Kurotsuchi's eyes widened when he realized he wasn't the target.
He didn't need to strain his neck to realize she was planning on destroying the tank. Swift as a snake his left hand dug into her signature braid.
Retsu's head was violently and painfully yanked downward to meet Mayuri's elbow. The blow caught her directly in the cheekbone and eye, and she grunted as her aim was completely destroyed. Her Kido burned a line into the ceiling.
Refusing to let go of her braid, Mayuri instead used it as leverage, mercilessly pulling with all his strength to hoist his shoulders off the floor, all the while twisting his sword hand to position another elbow strike to Retsu's opposite cheek.
Disoriented and reeling, Retsu instinctively kept her feet under her as she pooled her spiritual pressure into her free hand and struck out.
The bones in Mayuri's left forearm snapped like twigs and he cried out as his numb fingers were forced to let go. Both combatants scrambled back several steps to regain their footing and collect themselves.
Retsu could feel her face beginning to swell and tasted her own blood, her lips and nose torn and broken from Mayuri's barrage. With barely any conscious effort, her spiritual pressure was already gathering at the wounds, soothing the pain and accelerating the healing process.
His breathing was haggard as he tried to push down his own suffering, his left arm hanging at his side. "What is wrong with you, woman?" He hissed. "How can you even contemplate destroying our creation?"
"We don't have the right to sacrifice this girl for our own selfish ends." Retsu argued bitterly. "No matter what they are. For pity's sake, we're shinigami. It is our responsibility to protect all human souls."
Kurotsuchi's eyes narrowed, "Our child does not qualify? We should protect a murderer before our own? Are you truly so repulsed by me you'll kill the child merely because it is mine as well as yours?"
Her anger flashed, and her stomach rolled at his audacity. "That isn't why I'm doing this. I would have never chosen you as the father of my child, but I could never let that destroy my love for it. I simply can NOT bring life into this world tainted by this depravity. Stand aside." She beseeched him.
His grip on his sword tightened, "You'll have to destroy me! Claw Out, Ashiogi Jizo!" He was attacking before his blade even finished shifting to shikai.
His ferocity and tenacity surprised her as he engaged her in a brutal display of swordplay. His attack was relentless, diving on any opening no matter how small regardless of the risk of a counter.
His eyes were hard and focused, and his mouth was open in an enraged sneer. Retsu was briefly taken aback by the strategy. First, because despite her own experienced prowess in sword combat, Mayuri was proficient enough one-handed to prevent her from disarming him. Second, he seemed willing to take serious injury for merely a glancing blow.
When he threw a thrust towards her shoulder that completely bared his stomach for a devastating slice, she finally guessed it had to be due to the ability of his Zanpakto. She realized she couldn't risk even a minor wound as long as his Zanpakto's power was a mystery to her. Dealing with his furious assault became more of a problem. He was refusing her any time to focus her kido or spiritual pressure, kept her sword locked down in defense, and the room was simply too small to effectively utilize flash steps or summon her own shikai.
Every moment he distracted her brought his victim was ever closer to the point of no return. Retsu had to end it, quickly.
In the space of a breath, in the small lull between one slash and the next, she acted. Her movement was smooth, like water flowing around a stone. Spinning on her rear foot and reversing her grip, freeing her off hand, she caught Mayuri's blade on its side while she secured his wrist in an iron grip.
He instantly recognized the danger, and retaliated harshly. Her forehead rang with the dull crack of his headbutt, but she kept her grip.
"Bakudou 4, Hainawa." His fingers went slack as he released his sword, but it was suddenly held taut by the yellow rope of his spiritual pressure.
They both focused their kido at the same time, her to her left hand, him to his left leg.
"Bakudou 8, Seki!" An energy shield materialized over Mayuri's left shin as he kicked out and pulled with all of his strength on his sword arm, sweeping his blade into a sharp pendulum motion.
Her spell had no name, it simply sharpened her spiritual pressure into a precise and deadly blade, a variation of her healing arts.
They both grit their teeth as the sound of tearing flesh invaded the room. They disengaged once again, skidding to a halt as both of their swords clattered against the floor.
Blood was freely flowing from Mayuri's wrist. A deep laceration stood in stark contrast to his unnaturally pale skin. "You severed the tendon." He mused darkly.
She didn't indulge in his banter, easily dismissing it as a delaying tactic. She didn't even spare thought as to why her own arm was numb when his clumsy attack was neither deep nor debilitating. She lifted her free hand to focus, and started her incantation, "Hadou 4, Byakurai!"
His flash step was crude, and he reappeared at her side precariously off balance, but he was still able to lift his leg in a swift kick that slapped her arm up and again destroyed her aim. His right hand was numb and lifeless, but he was still able to throw his right arm into a hard elbow strike.
They were both breathing hard in pain and exertion. Each had an arm that hung listless, threatening to destroy their balance as their battle shifted to hand to hand combat. Their hakama rustled loudly as they continued to furiously kick and stamp, a violent dance to secure position for a take down.
She was beginning to grow frustrated, and she berated herself as the battle dragged on. It was true that Mayuri's combat abilities and his vicious tenacity made him a far more formidable opponent than she would have first estimated, but she had allowed him excessive opportunity to prolong the battle.
She should have finished him when she secured that first pin, her blade inches from his throat, or when she rendered his sword arm useless. She wasn't focused, she wasn't concentrating. She was distracted. In the space of a few minutes she had learned she was going to be a mother, that Kurotsuchi had violated her body and trust, and that a young soul was being slowly murdered to feed the life of her baby. Angry, confused, and hurt she had conducted the fight poorly, knowing that every step forward was another step towards killing her own defenseless child.
With a start she realized that the victim's struggles were starting to die down, her form was beginning to distend and stretch.
The soul was losing cohesion.
Time was almost up.
Her heart thundered ferociously in her chest, ringing in her ears like cracks of thunder. She couldn't let this happen! "Enough!" she screamed. Her focus was finally honed to a blade's edge, her concentration restored, and her hesitation dispelled. It was almost too easy, his movements were as predictable as the path of the sun through the sky. In two moves she feinted, drawing him in as he attempted a round house kick. She bowed backwards, catching herself on her good hand, and pivoted into a stiff kick that caught his left knee at the joint.
Not even his agonized scream could drown out the terrible crunch as the joint was simply obliterated. He was going down fast, but she wasn't done yet. "Bakudo 61, Rikujokoro!" Six razor thin beams of light impacted with enough force to bruise, and he was left hacking and sputtering, dangling in midair, completely unable to move.
She breathed hard twice before resolutely declaring, "It's over."
His yellow stare was pure bile and hatred as he began shrieking, "Don't do it, damn you! Don't you dare lay a finger on any of this equipment!"
Her stride towards him was quick and determined, and his voice grew more desperate exponentially. "How could you even think to do this!? Can't you see it's potential? Can't you understand the opportunity I've provided you? That I can provide for others like you? Just think of all our child could accomplish with our combined intellect and guidance! Don't take that away! Don't…!"
The touch of two of her fingers upon his forehead was surprisingly gentle considering the fierce brawl they had just finished. The surge of her reiatsu was precise, and Mayruri's eyes rolled back into his head as his neck lost all tension. His head slumped suddenly but he refused to slip into the slumber that Retsu's kido induced. He couldn't lift his gaze to her and his words were slurred and groggy, a piteous moan, "Please. Don't do this, please."
Retsu shut her eyes as she focused her hadou, "I don't want to…I have to."
Mayuri made a sound deep in his throat, drowned out by the crack of Retsu's spell. The tank was neatly sliced open at the bottom, but the glass shattered nonetheless. The lights flickered dangerously as the machine increased power, desperate to continue drawing reishi from a nonexistent source.
Retsu managed to catch the girl, and wrapped her in her haori as the poor thing continued to twitch, spasm, and moan in pain. Retsu kept her voice low as she whispered soothing reassurances and her spiritual pressure sought out the damage to begin mending it.
Mayuri's machinery continued to hum louder as the reishi supply was exhausted, a rising crescendo that tore at Retsu's heart. Her senses reached out, desperate to hold onto a reiatsu that was pulsing erratically…and ever weaker by the second.
Her grip tightened around the young girl in her arms instinctively as she caught her lower lip between her teeth, clamping down painfully. Tears began trekking down her face as she began sobbing softly deep in her throat, shaking her chest.
It wasn't fair, she mused. It simply wasn't fair. Millenia of patience, and she was rewarded with her greatest gift…at a price she absolutely could not pay. For only a brief glimpse, the gentlest brush of the joy she had craved so desperately she now had to endure a pain that clawed at her heart and emptied her soul.
There was a dull click as the machinery finally gave up, its power expended. The humming died down swiftly…and with one last dull flare of reiatsu it was over.
She seized up as something deep inside her, a piece of her soul was shattered forever.
Her scream tore her throat raw.
Ummmmmm....Happy Early Valentine's Day?