Date of Publication (Part X): 2/24/11
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach; it rightfully belongs to Tite Kubo. I am borrowing his characters for the following piece of fiction for solely non-profit purposes.
By Rome OMD
"No, don't go out there!" his mother and sister cried out, grabbing the boy by his arms to prevent him from leaving.
"Let me go! I left it outside, and I have to get it!" he responded.
"Leave it! It's dangerous out there! It's just a ball!"
"But it's the ball Dad gave me!"
"Dad will understand. He's got more important things to think about than the ball. When he comes back from the rebellion, he'll buy you a new one—no, don't go out there!" his mother cried when the boy managed to free himself from her grasp and escaped into the streets.
The clack of the door closing behind him echoed amid the stillness outside, a stillness that was completely lifeless and was occasionally disturbed by passing tumbleweed or emaciated stray dogs. The boy marveled at how dead the town had become in the span of only a couple of days. The silence was so pervasive that it rang deafeningly in the boy's ears. As he looked around, he noticed a few indistinguishable shadows on the ground that upon closer observation, he realized, horrified, that they were actually the bodies of men lying prostrate on the ground, unmoving. With his gaze fixed upon the faces of men he was afraid he could recognize, he missed the tall imposing figure standing in front of him and accidentally bumped into him. When the boy looked up, he saw a man dressed in white with startling blue hair and eyes and a wide, gaping hole in his abdomen.
"My son!" The boy turned around. "I'm terribly sorry, sir! Please, don't hurt him!" His mother cried as she rushed from her house to grab her child, eyeing Grimmjow's sword uneasily. When Grimmjow didn't move, she quickly brought her son inside their house.
Either the rebellion had been completely squelched by the Gotei 13 or it had been so successful that they had moved on to revolutionize another district so that by the time Grimmjow and his Fracción arrived, the streets of the seventy-third Rukongai district were already abandoned. It wasn't that there weren't people, for Grimmjow could clearly sense their presence from within the houses; they were all just inside hiding.
That meant that Seireitei's forces had been, or still were, here.
Grimmjow unsheathed his sword, prompting his Fracción to do the same. As if on cue, a multitude of new reiatsu signatures appeared and surrounded them. They were now fenced in by a circle of Shinigami that Grimmjow was sure belonged to the Gotei 13. Although the ratio between Shinigami and Hollow was completely unfair, Grimmjow wasn't concerned for his subordinates since he sensed that most of the Shinigami in this division were throwaways with power levels tantamount to only low- or medium-leveled Hollows. But one important figure was missing: Where was the captain…?
"Surrender, and we will not attack," a low baritone said from behind him. Grimmjow turned around to face what must have been this division's captain. He noted the captain's kenseikan and stiff posture, which signified his wealthy and privileged upbringing. Despite the captain's seemingly apathetic appearance, Grimmjow could sense the tenseness in his aura as he gripped his zanpakuto. The thrill of battle jolted through the Espada's spine like a spark of electricity. He grinned slyly, anticipating the battle.
"Too bad I don't a give shit," Grimmjow replied as manic laughter left his mouth. He charged straight for the Captain as his subordinates attacked the Shinigami around them.
At the first clash of their swords, Grimmjow's smile widened as he said, "Not bad! But…" Catching the captain off-guard with a sudden elbow to the gut, Grimmjow threw his opponent into a nearby wooden fence, which easily toppled under the captain's weight. "…you'll need to let go of your traditional rules of battle if you're gonna hold up against me. I don't fight the way you do."
The captain staggered back up wordlessly.
"What's your name, Shinigami?" Grimmjow asked.
"Kuchiki Byakuya, and you will remember me as the man who captured you today," Byakuya replied. "Senbonzakura!" he said, as he released his sword into shikai.
Grimmjow watched curiously as Byakuya's sword separated into small pieces of reiatsu that resembled pink sakura petals. "How… pretty," he amusedly noted, raising his eyebrow before shooting a cero at a nearby cluster of the petals. When they swiftly dodged his cero, he noted the extraordinary speed of Byakuya's shikai. Still, Grimmjow was not chagrinned: after fighting with Ichigo so many times, he knew how to deal with speed.
In any other scenario, using Sonido would've been more than sufficient to avoid the shinigami's shikai, but the more he moved, the more he aggravated the wound on his abdomen. When he reached to touch the bandages, he found that he was bleeding again. Damn it, he cursed, as he searched for a way to simultaneously dodge Byakuya's shikai while minimizing the strain on his wound. Needless to say, this significantly impeded his movements and caused one too many close calls.
Then without warning, Byakuya released his zanpakuto's bankai. In response, Grimmjow willed himself to assume Resurreción. However, as Grimmjow began to transform, his wound suddenly burst open and rivulets of blood poured generously down his midsection. He could barely register the faint calls of "Grimmjow-sama" from his Fracción as the searing pain of his bones and muscles twisting into new conformations snapped against his insides like a thousand whips. He didn't remember much after that—just that he was soon on the ground and that someone (most likely the Shinigami captain) hit him on the head with the blunt force of a zanpakuto's hilt to knock him out.
But as everything faded to black, he knew what was going to come next: he knew he was going to wake up in a prison cell in Seireitei and that he was going to be scheduled for execution. But he also knew one more thing: that he would not be abandoned, that he would be caught during this fall—that Ichigo would come and find him.
The portal from Las Noches opened up directly outside of the walls of Seireitei. "Oh, not again, Kurosaki-kun! I'm sorry!" Inoue apologized, getting off of Ichigo's body for the second time that day as they exited the portal. The black hole from which they came degraded into weak wisps of energy that eventually disappeared.
"No worries," Ichigo said, albeit rather hoarsely as he rubbed his midsection. "So, what's the plan?" he asked as he realized that everyone had gone on ahead. They were walking towards a peculiar arrangement of trees and shrubbery a few meters ahead. "Hey, wait up," Ichigo called as he jogged to catch up.
"The plan is simple: break in, find Renji and Rukia, and get out," Yoruichi answered. Her eyebrows were furrowed in concentration as she maneuvered through branches and brushed away dirt while everyone else looked on, curious to see what she was searching for.
Ishida asked, "Question: how exactly do we achieve any or all of those objectives?"
"First, we travel through here…" Yoruichi began as she revealed a carefully camouflaged trap door that led underground. "…which will lead us to the underground sewage system. It's not the most pleasant way, but it'll be the safest."
"That looks good," Ichigo replied and mentally adding, Despite how the smell makes me want to stab myself with something pointy. "But, how about the spirit barrier that blocks foreign…" He was quickly silenced when Yoruichi fished around her pouch and presented yet another black cube, courtesy of Urahara no doubt.
"We will use this. It'll take us through the barrier, unnoticed." Yoruichi opened the trapdoor. "And afterwards, well, we'll just play everything by ear. Although things have most likely changed since the last time I've been in Seireitei—not as a criminal, I mean—I have a very good idea of where they've been imprisoned. Those that are convicted of treason are generally placed in the prison by the Black Ridge Gate to the north, where security is of the highest-level. The prison itself is not very far from where we are, but we must still move quickly." She motioned towards the door and said, "Get in, everyone, we don't have much time."
Ichigo was the first to jump in, the thought of rescuing Rukia and Renji in the forefront of his mind.
It was the first dream he had had in months. But it was ended prematurely by the sound of Shinigami guards opening his prison door, who were undoubtedly bringing him to the site of his and Rukia's imminent execution. Renji struggled against them as they tied his wrists together but to no avail.
In his dream, he and Ichigo were standing under the shade of a gazebo in the Sixth Division's headquarters. A few shafts of sunlight danced pleasantly upon the bottoms of their shihakusho like a footbath of warmth. They were conversing, but Renji could recall only one part of their conversation together.
"Have you ever broken a promise?" Ichigo asked.
Renji looked at him strangely. Ichigo was leaning against the wooden railings of the gazebo, staring off into the distance. His face was marred with a frown that spoke of inner turmoil. "Why are ya askin'?"
Renji raised an eyebrow but answered all the same. "Yeah. Yeah, I have. Not proud of it, though."
Renji looked away, suddenly feeling quite chilly despite the warm summer weather. "It's war out there, Ichigo, and it just ain't pretty. People die all the time, and ya can't do nothin' about it, 'cause the war against the Hollows ain't ever gonna stop. So when yer soldiers are just a couple minutes from death, what can ya do but give 'em hope by promising 'em things that ya know will never come true? 'I promise we'll get out of here' or 'I promise everything will be all right' or 'I promise you'll get to see yer wife and children again.' It don't mean much when I talk about 'em like this, but when yer lookin' at one of yer soldiers—no, a man—in the eye, ya see so much. Ya see hope, desperation, fear, regret… and when ya see a man like this, ya can't help but promise 'em things so that when they pass, they've got somethin' to hold onto. Even if it's a lie. I remember every time, Ichigo."
"Don't be sorry. Ya can't do anything about it." Curious, Renji asked, "What about ya?"
Ichigo closed his eyes. He was very still. "I may have to break one. And break someone in the process."
"What d'ya mean?"
"They don't normally feel anything, do they? And when they do, it's only after centuries of not feeling anything. They would probably be fragile, right?"
Renji was confused. "What are ya talkin' about? Ya talkin' about someone in particular?"
"No matter how hard the exterior, the interior would be fragile. Like glass."
"He'll break. Because it'll be my fault."
"Renji!" a new voice called.
Renji groggily opened his eyes but immediately turned away, the sunlight blindingly bright after he had spent countless days in a dark, indoor prison cell. It lacked the same warmth it had in his dream.
"Renji! How are you feeling? Renji!" the voice called again. This time, he recognized it as Rukia's.
He also recognized something else: he was able to move around freely; the arms constraining him earlier no longer there. His eyes widened when he saw the Shinigami guards lying unmoving beside him on the floor. "What…? What the—" Then he saw Ichigo standing in front of him, smirking, warm eyes twinkling in the morning sun.
"Yo, Renji," Ichigo said.
But then Renji remembered his dream. "Ichigo…" he muttered before he succumbed to weariness and fell unconscious.
They had to keep two things in mind as they were escaping.
One, they had to move quickly. Time was of the essence. It would only be a matter of time before hell butterflies would swarm the whole of Seireitei like a torrent of locusts, bearing Yamamoto-sotaichou's command to "CATCH THE RYOUKAI!" for anyone with ears to hear and then obey (with perhaps a postscript of a generous reward for their success). After all, it wasn't the first time Ichigo and his friends had broken into Seireitei to save prisoners sentenced to execution. But hopefully, it'd be the second time they succeeded.
Two, they had to move carefully. Not one road or corner was left unwatched by at least two Shinigami on patrol. Stealth had never been one of Ichigo's strong points (his method usually consisted of using shikai to break in and bankai to escape) and to weave quietly back and forth between shortcuts and main roads or to back-track their steps seemed like too intimate a dance with danger. He couldn't remember feeling his heart pound so hard against his chest. Just one wrong move could mean the failure of their rescue efforts. But as fate would have it, being careful was a lot more difficult than being fast.
"Kuchiki-san!" Inoue called, turning around to find Rukia leaning heavily against a wall to catch her breath.
"Sorry, it's just…" Rukia began. "No, look out!" She suddenly felt a heavy arm hook around her neck, catching her off-guard.
"Kuchiki-san!" Inoue repeated but was silenced when a hand clasped over her mouth. Her eyes darted nervously around to find the identity of her captor.
From ahead, Chad noticed the disturbance of reiatsu behind him. "Wait up, everyone. Where are…?"
"Crap!" Ichigo cursed, unsheathing his sword and running in their direction.
"No, wait! Don't release your spirit energy! They'll sense—" Yoruichi yelled from behind, but it was too late. It was only a couple of seconds later when she heard the painful cries of two Shinigami no doubt having been impaled with Ichigo's shikai. A minute later, Ichigo turned the corner with Rukia in his arms and Inoue walking not far behind.
When Ichigo met Yoruichi's reprimanding glare, he suddenly understood. "Oh, shit."
A hell butterfly gracefully flew past, as the sound of at least a hundred pairs of feet approached them.
"'Oh, shit' is right," she said, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath.
End of Part X
Author's Notes: Hey, everyone! Thanks for reading and I hope you take the time to review, if you can.^^
So…maybe this was to be expected, but I just wanted to tell you that I will be taking a (most likely permanent) hiatus with this story from this point on. (So, I guess this isn't so much of a hiatus, then, huh?) It's been quite a while since I began this story, and I must confess that my enthusiasm for writing this story has pretty much disappeared since a couple chapters ago. (Hence the OOC-ness, which is something that I guess has become increasingly prevalent in the recent chapters.) That coupled with my absolute void of enthusiasm for where Bleach is currently at/going and how I'm on the verge of going into the real world (yes, I'm probably older than you thought) just won't allow me the opportunity to continue with this story.
And so, I want to thank you so much for reading and (for some, but hopefully most!) for enjoying this story. Your support and kind words have been so encouraging, and I will forever be grateful for that.
So, enjoy life and take care!