Chapter 12: Betrayed
Hisana shivered as a cold draft swept through the road, blowing up withered brown leaves scattered all over. She was on the road again, this time back towards where she had been trying to get away from. The thin, shabby yukata that hung on her figure now was loose and short, so immodest that Hisana flinched at every look thrown at her, and so thin that her body trembled involuntarily in the chilly night air.
She had been travelling on the wagon of an old peddler out of Inuzuri with the hope of settling in a nicer district with Rukia. The little wagon had made stops in several districts, before turning into the forests that separated the South of Soul Society and the West side. When they reached the 30th district of West Rukongai on the fifth day of travelling, Hisana, pleased with the neat, quiet little town, decided to settle down there. She thanked the old peddler, gave him three more yen, and set off to explore the town and to find a place to settle in. An inn near the edge of the town agreed to take in Hisana and Rukia for the night. The innkeeper's wife had remarked Hisana's worn kimono, which looked like it had been very expensive and had been given out of charity to this tired looking girl by some nice rich lady; and the dirty little cloth that Rukia was covered in. She had commented this to her husband with a sympathetic click of her tongue and then forgotten about it when she busied herself with preparing for her lodgers' dinner.
It was around dinner time perhaps, when loud, rude knocks on the inn's door interrupted the lodgers' dinner. Before long, a group of rough looking men pushed their way into the inn, demanding for money, cruelly beating the first man who had stood up and asked who they were. The innkeeper was tied up next to the door, and the innkeeper's wife had started weeping, pulling out her box of savings and other valuables while one of the thieves kept a dagger pointed at the side of her throat. Hisana had escaped the dining room to the adjacent one, cowering in a corner when Rukia's terrified cries alerted the thieves of her hiding place. Two of the men took her out of the inn, tied her up, and were about to push her into a sack when a group of men in the black shinigami uniform appeared, surrounding the thieves and the inn. Some shouting ensued, which got louder and louder, and then gradually followed by drawn katanas and the clashing of metal. Hisana was immediately dropped to the ground, falling next to Rukia, whose cries added to the confusion of the scene.
Hisana's head was spinning, and her forehead hurt terribly from where she had hit the ground. She raised her head slightly after a while, and felt to her horror, a stream of warm, metallic smelling liquid running down the side of her face. She tried to get up, but with her hands and legs tied, she could only wiggle and turn her body.
She could see then from where she was the intense fighting that was going on between the shinigami and the thieves. The thieves were soon outnumbered, many of their men were either killed or badly injured. Hisana watched, cold with horror and fear, the men being systemically cut down. Suddenly, someone came from behind her and held her up, clasping his hand against her mouth and holding her out as a hostage. That did not, however, deter the shinigami from coming forward. Hisana winced when she felt the blade of the man's katana dangerously close to her neck. But within seconds, there was a painful cry from behind her and the man's grip on her loosened. She fell forward onto the ground, with the man dropping with a heavy thud on her. Crushed by the man's weight, Hisana struggled to turn over and kick away the body on top of her. She screamed when she saw the man's lifeless eyes staring back at her, his mouth hanging slightly open from his cry of death. In vain, she had tried turning her face away, her tied up legs wildly pushing his body away, but her senses had gone numb from fatigue, fear, and the overwhelming smell of blood – her own blood that had plastered her hair to her face; the blood of the man that had spilled all over her; and the blood of the other fallen thieves on the ground nearby.
A hand helped her up, and she realized that her arms and legs were already untied. She was about to be led to a corner where the lodgers of the inn were seated, huddled together, when she remembered Rukia. With what remaining strength she had, she broke free and scanned the grounds for her sister. She spotted Rukia's pink bundle lying near the wheel of a cart and her blood froze as she got closer, when she saw that the pile of pink lying there was just the limb lifeless form of Rukia's blankets. She looked around again, and only breathed again when she spotted her sister sitting upright in a corner, looking slightly older than before, her hands clutching the dirt on the ground.
Hisana hurried over and picked up Rukia, musing over her increased weight and slightly larger form. She no longer looked like an infant, but a small toddler. The shinigami who had followed Hisana then led her back to where the other lodgers were sitting.
As some of the shinigamis began taking away the thieves – the injured ones into the back of a wagon, and the dead ones to a corner, a few began questioning the lodgers one at a time, and asking for identification papers.
When it was Hisana's turn, she replied that she did not have any. The shinigami then narrowed his eyes and asked which town she was from and what she was doing here. Hisana, lacking in worldly experience, and still in a state of shock, answered honestly that she had come from Rukongai South's 78th district, and that she had just arrived in this district to settle here. The shinigami's tone then changed. He took her aside to where the thieves were being held and roughly handed her over to his colleague, muttering, "One more here."
A female shinigami then came over, stripping Hisana of her kimono and searching her body. When she found Hisana's little pouch with her jewelries, she began questioning Hisana, in an intimidating tone – "What were your objectives in coming here? Where did you meet your accomplices?" When Hisana objected, finally realizing that she was being suspected by the shinigami, she felt a slap across her face. Hisana then pleaded with her interrogator, insisting on her innocence. Just as the shinigami raised her hand again, threatening to land it painfully across her other cheek, a middle-aged looking shinigami walked up from behind her, calling a halt to her interrogator. He looked down at Hisana, narrowing his eyes. The innkeeper's wife came over as well, no doubt attracted by the commotion. Upon recognizing Hisana, she spoke in her defense, but was soon interrupted by the older shinigami,
"Why Madam, you are very kind indeed, to speak on this girl's behalf. But you must never trust tramps like this. They are very well trained in the art of deception, to take advantage of good folks like you." He said, looking down contemptuously at Hisana, who was confused and terrified, and despite shivering in the cold, night air, wearing only her undergarments, her face flushed and warm from the indignity she felt in being scrutinized like a wild animal on display.
The innkeeper's wife looked uncertainly from the shinigami to Hisana, who, just a moment ago, had looked like a poor, harmless girl; but now, after the shinigami's warning and the mishap that had just fallen upon her husband's establishment, it was only natural that she should be affected by the general zealous suspicions and paranoia, and suddenly found Hisana's eyes a little too big and wide to be honest, and her face perhaps a little too sharp, like those poor, wild children that sometimes came in gangs to steal from the town. She frowned and looked down, stepping aside, feeling unsure now.
Hisana looked around at the people in front of her anxiously. She held on to Rukia tighter and took a step back.
"Please… please believe me… I came here with an old peddler this morning. I have nothing to do with the thieves. I am not an accomplice." She stammered, despite being afraid that another protest would lead to a fresh slap on her face again, but still unwilling to be misunderstood and falsely accused thus.
"You came here this morning with an old peddler? From the 78th district of South Rukongai eh?" The older shinigami asked. "And you have said that you planned to settle in this town." He related, leafing through the notes that the female shinigami had passed to him. "Then by what means do you plan to make a living here? You can't just come into a town penniless and expect to rely upon its residents' charity to feed you and your child. You can't molest the town's residents for food and lodgment, or wander the streets the whole day like you do back in the slums where you come from!" The shinigami exclaimed dramatically.
"I plan to sell my jewelries… I did not steal them. They were my possessions back in the living world." Hisana replied quietly, indignant that they would only be satisfied by stripping her down even further, prying into details and intimacies that they had no business with, laying them out open for their amusement.
"And these jewelries… are yours, you said?" The shinigami asked, dipping his fingers into the pouch and fingering them, bringing up her ring and rubbing his thumb over the tip of the sapphire before letting it slide down his hand and back into the pouch.
He turned to Hisana with a sneer, "How would you prove these are yours, miss? Or that," he added, his face twisting uglily, "you didn't steal them?"
"I did bring these jewelries with me from the living world! The staff at the clinic of the 4th division for injured souls in Seireitei can confirm this. I was there for a while before being sent to Rukongai! There's Aino Matsu san… and… oh and Vice-Captain Shiba Kaien too from the 13th division…"
"Shiba fukutaicho?" A younger shinigami from behind Hisana's interrogator asked, looking interested. He edged slightly forward into the semi-circle that had formed around Hisana but immediately shrank back when the interrogating shinigami turned to give him a look.
"Well my dear girl," the interrogator continued, turning back calmly, his gaze at Hisana sharp and cunning, "I am sure you must have met Shiba fukutaicho and Aino Matsu san at some point before being sent over to Rukongai. But I am afraid you mustn't be so conceited as to think that they would want to bother themselves with your troubles. If you were indeed speaking the truth, I would gladly return your jewelries to you," He said, taking the pouch from the female shinigami, and making a gesture of restoring it into Hisana's shaky hands, "however, I would advise you, young lady, to stay away from trouble, and to return to where you come from. You have molested this town's residents enough."
Hisana's eyes widened at the unthinkable suggestion. "But sir, I beg you! Please! I don't want to go back there!" She cried. "Please let me stay here sir! Or I could move on to another town! Anything but going back there please!"
The shinigami raised an eyebrow and shrugged unsympathetically, looking down to leisurely examine his nails. "Why miss, we can't possibly let you wander around disrupting the peacefulness of other law-abiding citizens! And I am sure the residents here would all agree with me that they do not want a little tramp loitering around here with a fatherless child!" Hisana's eyes widened at that suggestion, her cheeks blushing with embarrassment. "Also," he added in a sugary voice, with a gleam in his eyes, "you must have a family that misses you a lot in the district where you came from! You running away like this has no doubt caused them unnecessary anguish and worry!"
Hisana knitted her brows, perplexed. "I am afraid I do not have family in the 78th district, sir." She said.
"Nonsense! All souls who come to Soul Society are assigned a family to stay with. Where were you originally dropped off at when you were first taken to Rukongai?"
Realization hit Hisana. She shook her head and bit her lips, refusing to speak.
"A rather obstinate child we have here, haven't we?" The shinigami sneered. Pulling out a note from his pocket, he announced, "We have a report sent in by Madam Kinjo of the 78th district, Rukongai South, that a girl by the name of XXX Rukia, assigned to her family by the 8th seat of the Soul Immigration Centre, Tamayama Ichiro, that is, myself, has yet to arrive." He glanced the horrified look on Hisana's pale face, suppressing a small smile, then continued, "Madam Kinjo is requesting that her dear child be sent back to her."
He now bent down, feigning a look of paternal concern at Hisana, and said, loud enough for everyone to hear, "I understand rebellion at your age, my dear girl. But you mustn't cause your mother anymore trouble. Come, come, we will help bring you back." He put a hand on Hisana's head and turned to the female shinigami by his side, "Would you please call for my wagon and have Kanzaki come over?"
"But…" Hisana shook her head of the shinigami's hand instinctively, unwilling to have any form of contact with the man in front of her, "Madam Kinjo… she…" Hisana searched her head for a less offensive way to reveal the business that Kinjo ran.
"She is a most generous woman who takes in homeless girls like you. A truly charitable and outstanding individual." The shinigami, Tamayama declared, looking sternly at Hisana, as if inviting her to openly disagree.
Hisana shook her head, trembling.
"No…", was all she managed to whisper.
When she turned around and attempted to run, Tamayama planted a firm grip on her arm. She tried to pull away, her eyes sweeping over the people in front of her pleadingly.
Touched by the scene of a runaway child and aroused with maternal instincts, the innkeeper's wife stepped up. "Sir, Tamayama-sama, please let me at least wash the girl and give her a change of clothes before she leaves for home." She said, her voice shaking from her sense of civic duty and the excitement of taking upon herself the responsibility of an important job.
Tamayama beamed at her and replied courteously, "Of course Madam. Thank you very much for your kindness. You are indeed, as rumoured, a most exemplary citizen of this esteemed town." He gave the innkeeper's wife Hisana's arm, which she took gently, and led her towards the inn.
Hisana, now out of earshot of Tamayama, again tried to plead with the innkeeper's wife. "Madam, please let me go! I really cannot go back…"
The innkeeper's wife patted Hisana's face, smiling knowingly. "Hush now child! You must be still very confused and in shock from what had happened. You saw just now how dangerous it is to wander outside. You surely do want to return home to your family, don't you?"
"No madam, the woman that Tamayama-san talked about, she is not family. I don't know her at all… I…" But before Hisana could continue, the female shinigami that had been interrogating her came into the bathroom where they were. "Innkeeper-san, we must hurry. The wagon is waiting and we have a very tight schedule." The innkeeper's wife nodded, "There, there," she said to Hisana, "don't fidget about now! We are in a hurry to get you cleaned and ready to go here!"
"May I assist you at all?" The female shinigami asked.
"Yes, that would really help!" The innkeeper's wife answered quickly. "I will attend to the infant, so if you could please help the young lady…"
The female shinigami nodded and turned to Hisana. Without any word, she stripped Hisana and poured the lukewarm water from the tub over her thin body. Hisana shivered and sneezed. She gasped when the wound on her forehead responded painfully from contact with water. The shinigami then roughly scrubbed her back and washed her hair, pulling at it when she rubbed it dry with a towel. She was given a thin, old yukata to wear. When the innkeeper's wife saw it, she protested, saying that it was too meager for a chilly night like this one. She offered to go find an old one that she could give away to Hisana, but the female shinigami politely rejected it, repeating again that the wagon must leave. Hisana's forehead was hurriedly dressed and she was given a pair of old zoris at the door.
Two shinigamis saw Hisana to the wagon. She sat in a corner, huddling against Rukia, shivering. Her hair was damp and the roots felt frozen, numbing her head. The innkeeper's wife gave her two originis and part of the money for the night's lodging. The wagon then set off without more ado. Hisana leant back against the side of the wagon. She sat up with alarm when she faintly heard Tamayama say to his subordinate, "… about the payment from Kinjo…"
But when she turned back to inquire about it, the wagon was already nearing the town's gate, and Tamayama was fading deeper and deeper into the night with distance.
Hisana could feel her body weigh down heavily, her heart beating fast and painfully against her chest, her mouth dry with fatigue. She could not remember now for how long it had been since the wagon had set off from West Rukongai – her back ached from leaning against the hard, wooden hedge of the wagon, and her bottom was sore from the bumpiness of the road. The road, the trees, the night itself… everything seemed to be stretching on forever, a never ending repetitive motion that would implant itself in Hisana's head and haunt her dreams for the years to come.
She had tried to sleep a little, so that hopefully, when she awakes later, everything would dissolve and this night would be naught but an unfortunate nightmare. But after moments of frustrated shifting and turning, finding to no avail any comfort from the hard, bobbing floor of the wagon, she resigned to leaning against the hedge. She stared out into the dark, into the nothingness in front of her, her gaze perhaps as blank as what one could see in the unlit path that the wagon left behind.
When the wagon suddenly came to a halt, Hisana sat up straighter and looked behind her at the shinigami driving the wagon. He had gotten out of his seat and had wandered behind the bushes, rubbing his bottom wearily and yawning as he went on his way.
Hisana gave a little sigh. She straightened her legs out and wiggled her toes, wincing a little at the painful sensation of stinging needles. She was more awake more, despite the heaviness and dread in her heart at the looming future that was to come closer with every gallop of the wagon's horses. She could no longer feel the cold in the air, her skin already numb from exposure, and the muscles in her face insensitive, frozen as well.
Before long, she could hear the rustling of leaves below footsteps, and then, the shinigami reappeared, adjusting the sash around his waist as he nonchalantly climbed back onto his seat. He raised the reins, and without delay, the horses started galloping again, continuing the journey.
More of Hisana's journey… Again, will be updating as frequently as I can. :)
Next chapter: "Escape"