EDIT: I noticed that the formatting of this story had been ruined – the line breaks between scenes had vanished, making the story rather unpleasant to follow. I've gone back and fixed it, in case anyone is starting from the beginning. Enjoy!


Prologue: Ars Moriendi

What the hell happened?

The last thing he clearly remembered was staring up at the blinding sunlight, shivering as blood spilled from his neck and chest onto the hot sand beneath him. He remembered his fight with the Shinigami kid; he remembered his resurrección falling off his body in shame and embarrassment as his pride was crushed beneath the power of his opponent; he remembered being filled with rage and fear and despondency as he forced himself to attack once more, bringing him one last chance at victory.

He recalled Kurosaki Ichigo throwing his own sword to the side as he effortlessly caught his wrist. The Shinigami spoke softly to Grimmjow Jaggerjaques, his words a gentle trickle of compassion so different from the rapidity of hatred Grimmjow had seen only minutes ago. He hung his head at these words, trying to decipher the feelings churning through his chest. You have lost, Grimmjow...He could feel the immediate and familiar rise of contempt for his opponent at the mere concept of this kid pitying him. …I don't know about you being a king…Grimmjow could also sense the rusty emotion of respect for Ichigo, for this fighter who was fueled by love rather than rage. ...but becoming a king by yourself…And, almost completely eclipsed by these two other emotions, Grimmjow could feel the longing for a companion, for someone to talk to, for someone to help him off the ground when he's down.…where's the happiness in that?

Perhaps for someone to love him, even when he fails.

The sudden realization that he was even considering himself weak brought a wave of rage to his mind with the ferocity of a great and dark tempest. Despite his opponent's mercy towards him, Ichigo looking in his eyes, pleading for him to stop, the anger won over Grimmjow Jaggerjaques and he yanked his arm out of the Shinigami's gentle grip.

"Don't you fuck with me, you bastard!" Grimmjow roared as he stepped back, preparing to attack once more. He would kill this kid. He would tear him in half with his bare hands. Nobody takes pity on Grimmjow Jaggerjaques and lives. He rushed forward with his sword, relishing the look of surprise and disappointment and fear on his opponent's face. He didn't care about serving Aizen and he didn't give a fuck about protecting Las Noches.All he wanted to do was bring Kurosaki Ichigo down to his bloody knees.

Yet despite Ichigo's shock at the sudden attack, in spite of the Shinigami's zanpakuto being ten feet away, and despite the enormous killing intent held in his sword, Grimmjow was the one left on the ground, blood pouring from his body.

He landed on his back, eyes swimming in their sockets as he tried to focus on his new attacker. When his eyes finally forced themselves to focus, he was completely stupefied to see that his downfall had been brought by his immediate superior, the Espada Nnoitra Jiruga.

"Nnoitra," he wheezed, blood beginning to gather in his throat. "You bastard."

"Sorry to interrupt but—" Grimmjow began to lose the words his former comrade was speaking towards his. Everything was growing hazy. He vaguely recalled the young Shinigami, who he had only moments ago tried to skewer with his zanpakuto, leaping to save him as Nnoitra's enormous blade came swinging down to end his life; he vaguely remembered the sounds of battle and pain around him as his eyes closed on the hot, yet illusionary, desert sun above him. He barely noticed when everything became dark and quiet around him, his breaths becoming shallow as he choked on his own blood, the wind ripping cruelly over his lonely, dying body.

What the hell happened?

He had to ask this question to himself again as his eyes struggled to re-open, to stay focused. He heard the faint beeping of electronic equipment somewhere far away. Or was it right next to him?Where am I? There were sounds of someone screaming in agony the distance, sounds of someone vomiting, sounds that seemed dredged up from the pits of hell. Grimmjow began shivering as he realized he had no idea where he was or how he got out of the desert. This isn't Las Noches,he managed to think before his head started to spin and his vision began to grow dark. His eyelids fluttered as he lost all concept of the world around him, the strange room, and his unexplainable survival.

Horrific pains suddenly shot through his stomach, spreading upwards to his chest, and lower into his groin. It felt as if someone had poured acid into the hollow-hole in his abdomen, allowing it the entrance it needed to spread itself throughout his body. He shook and wretched against the pain, only to find that his wrists and ankles were strapped down to the operating table on which he currently found himself. What the fuck is going on?His mind screamed out. He tried to yell, but began choking on the tubes that were shoved down his throat and nostrils. Another wave of fire coursed through his veins, causing his body to throw itself backwards against the table with a sickening and metallic thud.

Somebody help me!

After a few minutes, passing like several agonizing hours to Grimmjow, the venom racing through his body slowed and finally subsided. He lay on the table, chest rising and falling heavily as he attempted to catch his breath. Blood began to slip from various orifices in his body; his face was adorned with red lines coming from his eyes and nose; his ears allowed the blood to fall freely from them, forming a small pool around his head. He could hear the blood begin to splatter onto the floor as it slid across the table and cascaded downward. As he came to the sickening realization that the majority of the blood on the table was escaping from his hollow-hole, his eyes betrayed him and once more rolled backwards into his head. He fought to keep them open, but they continued to struggle against him.

The last thing he saw before he once again retreated into the darkness was a pair of golden eyes sitting atop a maniacally large smile.

Prologue: Waves of Blood

She strode through the streets of Seireitei with one single purpose: she needed to get home.

The burials had been long, but the ceremony afterwards had been even longer. She consistently found herself floating between conversations with captains and lieutenants, kidou corp. members and unranked shinigami. She never said much but, of course, that went unnoticed. She had a strong reputation based upon her silence. Yet on top of her normal speechlessness, and for this she was admittedly grateful, a solemn occasion such as the burial of war heroes omitted anyone from the necessity of conversation. Besides, as captain of the second division, as well as commander of the secret mobile operations, Soi Fon had more to worry about than making small talk at a funeral.

The war against Aizen Sousuke and his army of Arrancar was at a temporary cease-fire.

When the former captain of the fifth division made his move to create the King's key by way of destroying Karakura town, one of Soul Society's strategic strongholds in the real-world, the Gotei 13 met him there with every intention of bringing his head back with them. Yet in spite of the information they had gathered on the Arrancar, the captains of Soul Society had greatly underestimated the power of the top three Espada.

The Fracción,a select few Arrancar handpicked by each of the Espada to act as their immediate subordinates, were dealt with rather swiftly. With the exception of Madarame Ikkaku, every battle against the Fracciónwas won swiftly and decisively. When the Espada stepped in, however, the overwhelming difference between their abilities and those of their fellow Arrancar became painfully clear.

In the middle of the battle, Soi Fon could feel the reiatsu of her fellow shinigami vanish one by one. Ukitake Juushiro was seized by a coughing fit during his fight with one of the Espada, Stark, and was forced to drop his guard. The Arrancar used this opportunity to place his sword through the chest of the sick captain. His was the last casket to be placed into the ground today.

Hitsugaya Toshirou, captain of the tenth division, suffered a near fatal blow from Halibel, the only female among the Espada, and is currently in critical condition at the fourth division's medical facility. This genuinely saddened Soi Fon, as she has always held a soft spot for the white-haired captain. She took up the space against Halibel as Hitsugaya fell to the ground, his lieutenant immediately following him. She was not so lucky as to escape with her life.

As Soi Fon walked home from the funerals, the list of the dead and injured continued to race through her mind: Captain Kommamura Sajin, of the seventh division, critical condition; Lieutenant Iba Tetsuzaemon, also of the seventh, deceased. Third-seat Madarame Ikkaku and fifth-seat Ayasegawa Yumichika, both of the eleventh division, hospitalized. Captain Hitsugaya Toshirou and Lieutenant Matsumoto Rangiku, both of the tenth division, injured and deceased, respectively. Captain Ukitake Juushiro, of the thirteenth division, deceased. Lieutenant Oomaeda Marechiyo, her own lieutenant from the second division, was in critical condition and did not look as if he would make it through the night.

Despite their numerous casualties and Aizen's obvious advantage, a retreat was called by his army. Soi Fon was in the middle of a vigorous duel with Halibel when it happened. She had just landed a blow with her Suzumebachi on the female Arrancar, and about to finish her with a second when the negaciónfield erupted from the sky. She jumped back just in time to be missed by the harsh yellow column of light, her eyes widened in shock and anger and disbelief. She looked around the battlefield, seeing four other negaciónfields, swallowing up the three Espada and extinguishing the flames of the Captain-commander's Ryuujin Jakka to reclaim the three traitorous ex-captains.

The skies were darkening with enormous thunderclouds as Soi Fon approached her unit. Trying to avoid eye contact with any of her squad members that were outside the division, she stopped as a warm voice called out to her from behind her.

"Captain Soi Fon, I would like to speak with you for a moment."

Soi Fon turned around, looking for her addresser. She immediately tensed as she saw Captain Unohana Retsu. It's not her fault,she said to herself as her fellow captainapproached, as she gritted her teeth. And it really wasn't. The Captain-commander had ordered four captains, including Captain Unohana, to go to Hueco Mundo to aid the ryoka's mission to rescue the human girl. But when Aizen left his palace to attack the real world, he sealed off the gargantathe captains had usedto enter Hueco Mundo. But if you had only been there,Soi Fon thought as Unohana reached her outside of the second division's barracks. If you had only been at the battle, maybe some of our captains wouldn't be lying in a hospital bed.

Or in the ground.

"Captain Unohana," Soi Fon said in a calm voice that did not belie the seething anger she felt under her skin. "What would you care to discuss?"

Unohana smiled warmly at Soi Fon. "I just wanted to let you know that Captain Hitsugaya is in stable condition and should make a full recovery. We can expect him at the captain's meeting tomorrow morning."

Soi Fon was very relieved to hear this news. Ever since the ryoka invasion, she and Toshirou had maintained a very low key friendship that few people knew about. Unohana Retsu was one of these people. But both captains had a sort of 'loner' image they were trying to uphold, so Unohana did little to acknowledge the relationship. "I assumed you would appreciate the update on your—" she stumbled slightly. "Our fellow captain."

Soi Fon exhaled a small sigh of relief. "Thank you for the news, Captain Unohana. I am looking forward to seeing him tomorrow."

Soi Fon began to turn to go back to her division when the female captain called her name again. Soi Fon inhaled sharply at the sound of Unohana's voice, knowing that this would not be more good news. She turned, seeing Unohana looking at the ground.

"Lieutenant Oomaeda's condition has worsened. Despite our best efforts, the lacerations he received on his neck and chest were too severe and allowed too much blood loss. We do not foresee him living through the night." She only then made eye contact. "I am truly sorry, Captain Soi Fon."

Soi Fon did not hate her lieutenant. In fact, she genuinely enjoyed his company, despite the way she treated him in public. Oomaeda Marechiyo had always made her laugh with his upper-class naivety and oafish sense of humor. On top of that, he was an extremely capable second in command in both the thirteen protection squads and in his secret mobile operations unit. She felt a small tremor in her lower lip, as well as a lump form in her throat.

"If you'll excuse me, Captain Unohana," Soi Fon managed to say without revealing her extreme sorrow at this news. "It looks as though it will be raining soon, so I will take my leave." She turned away from her fellow female captain, not even looking over her shoulder as she continued.

"I recommend you do the same."

A small hell butterfly fluttered up to the other captain, who immediately strode off towards the fourth division. Soi Fon knew what the message had been; her lieutenant had died. She walked slowly into her division, hoping to make it to her room before her feelings caught up with her.

Soi Fon entered her quarters and began to disrobe herself from the formal clothing she had worn to the ceremony. She let the clothes fall to the ground as she stepped into the flowing water of her shower. The scalding water left red streaks along her fair skin as it raced down her body toward the drain. She made no movements in the shower, no effort to clean herself, no attempt to evenly distribute the hot water over her body. She simply stood naked in the shower, silently mourning the loss of her companions.

I miss Yoruichi,she thought to herself. I really wish I could talk to her right now. She always knew how to make me feel better.

Where are you?

The captain of the second division, finally away from all eyes and alone in her shower, began to cry. "Why do you always have to leave me, Yoruichi? Why am I never good enough for you to stay?" she found herself asking aloud, between the silent sobs that wracked her body. She hadn't felt this alone since Yoruichi first left, over a hundred years ago. Back then, she had spent a lot of time in this same exact position; her silently crying as the hot water of her shower fell over her. She clenched her jaw at that thought. I am not as weak as I was back then. I don't need her. I don't need anyone. I've been alone for this long, I can handle being alone. I don't need anyone's love.

Even though, she thought sadly, it would be nice to have.

Tomorrow she would wake up, and attend the captain's meeting, even if she was afraid to step foot into such an empty room; so many faces missing, so many faces that were gone forever. But her responsibilities as a captain of the thirteen protection squads mandated that she would appear, the need to grieve for the lost expected to be finished by the end of tonight.

So Soi Fon stood in her shower, inviting the pain of the hot water, wishing it would wash her away.