Title: The City Of Masks
Genre: Romance / Horror / Angst
Rating: M (for dark themes)
Pairing: Szayel x OC, probably others
Spoilers: Only for sword releases, because it's completely AR
Summary: The question of good or evil, reduced to one simple choice: Survive. Or perish.
Word Count: 1,979
Warnings: Alternate Reality, massive character deaths, 100-years post Winter War in which the shinigami lose and Aizen pwns.

Disclaimer: Szayel is mine. Mine I tell you! Summery belongs to Heroes and Tim Kring.

A/N: Was watching Renji and Szayel fight and decided that Szayel ties with Grimmjow for my favorite Espada. Why, I don't know. Probably because I'm still angst-ing over Renji killing Ilforte. And no one ever writes about poor Szay. So I'll do it.


"Revovling. And each time it's touched by the light of the sun and the moon. The world is always changing into something new."
-Ichigo, Episode 109: Ichigo And Rukia, Thoughs In Revolving Sky


She didn't really remember too much about the end of the war. She was young at the time. Not a child, but young nonetheless. Just a soul in Western Rukongai District 34. Not even knowing she had even the slightest shred of spiritual energy, not knowing much about the Seireitei or the war. Only knowing that a few of Soul Society's captains had defected and was attempting to create something by sacrificing a large number of souls. And she definitely didn't know how horribly her life was going to change one night in December.

The Gate had opened so suddenly in the Rukongai, that souls, hers included, had fallen through, landing in human world, in a place called Karakura Town. Later she would learn that a man named Urahara Kisuke had opened the tunnel, in order to send Hitsugaya Toshiro through for reinforcements.

And she had never seen the living world, not since she died. And even though the memories of her human life were cloudy and fragmented, she knew it was nothing like was she found when she landed on the other side of the Senkai Gate.

They were in a deep hole, dark night sky above them, smoke covering everything. She remembered being grabbed roughly by the shoulders by a man with blond hair, his grey eyes impossibly wide in shock as he shook her. "Who are you?!" He had demanded, fingers digging painfully into her shoulders. She couldn't answer, too shocked, too confused. "You shouldn't be here!" He continued, still loud. "Aizen is going to attack any minute! This city will be destroyed! You're not even-" He froze when, from above them there came a blood-curdling scream. "Ururu…" he whispered, head whipping around, before letting her go and vanishing.

She, and the other souls who had fallen through the gate stood there, confused and scared, screaming in shock when a explosion went off in the air around them, rocks tumbling into the hole and rumble and dust flying everywhere.

They scattered and she found herself alone, climbing out of what seemed like a miles deep ditch, coughing, scraping the skin off her hands, her knees, as she slid and tumbled and tried to reach the surface.

She had never seen a war-zone before, or any kind of battle. And she knew that, if given the chance, she'd rather never see it again.

She had assumed, when the blond man had said that the city would be destroyed, and knowing what she vaguely knew about the defected captain sacrificing souls, that it would have been sudden. That, one moment the city would be there, and the next it would be gone, encompassed and compressed into whatever that energy was needed for. But that was not what was happening.

Explosions bombarded the air, debris flying everywhere. There were people screaming. Humans running from enemies that they could not see, wondering what was happening. The few and far between humans who could see the enemy, but did not understand what it was. Souls from the newly dead, not understanding what had happened. Children where crying. The street she was on was littered with bodies.

Among the human corpses, she could make out the lifeless forms of figures clad in black, shinigami who had died for this war. And some of them, she saw as she ran by, were young. Too young. Academy students, not old enough to fight, to know how to properly wield a sword. Too young to have been shoved into this battle. Too young to have died for it.

She remembered tripping over something in the road, falling face first into uneven concrete, feeling the gravel bite into her hands, her knees, her face, felt blood pool in mouth as her lip split. Half turning, she screamed when she saw she had tripped over the body of one of those young shinigami students. She scrambled backwards, eyes wide and teary as she stared at it's eyes, lifeless and vacant, neck bend at an unnatural angle, sword several feet from his outstretched arm, next to her.

A shockwave shook the ground and a chill shot up her spine as she heard laughter from behind her. Heart beating loudly in her ears, throat dry, she turned.

She remembered staring up, feeling fear clutch at her heart at the evil grin the man's mouth was stretched into, felt her heart tremble in terror at the maniacal glint in eyes half-hidden by sea-green hair. Scrambling for purchase, trying to rise so she could run, her hand fell on the hilt of the dead shinigami's katana. The fact that it hadn't dissipated with the boy's death, meant that it wasn't fused with his reiatsu yet. It's wasn't a zanpaktou; it was just a regular sword.

But the man before her was taking sauntering steps forward, wide strides bringing him closer and closer as his sneer grew wider and wider at her attempts so shuffle away. Her hand tightened around the hilt of the sword, subconsciously knowing it would do no good, but instinct forcing her to try.

Arm trembling in terror, she clenched her muscles as she forced herself to swing the weapon. But the man, the monster, in front of her, grabbed her wrist and stopped her. With a harsh pull, he yanked her towards him, her eyes level with the impossibly wide grin, the glinting fangs.

"Nuh-uh-uh," he said, the grip on her wrist tightening to the point of pain. "That's not very nice." And then he yanked her by the arm again, moving fluidly out of the way so she sailed past him.

She remembered slamming violently into the crumbling wall of a building, remembered her face colliding with the concrete, felt her nose break, felt the sword she was still holding fall from slack fingers. She felt herself slide to the ground, the back of her skull thudding against the road, as rubble fell from the wall and on top of her.

The last thing she remembered was the blurry outline of the man who had thrown her tossing his head back and laughing. And then… everything went black.

-

She woke to a pale face above her, dark hair, glasses glinting off of broken glass. Their mouth was moving, but she couldn't hear them. Eyes wide, she looked up at them, blood dried uncomfortably to her face, pain shooting through her nose.

"Concussion," the man above her said to himself, before his eyes, as blue as the sky she remembered in Soul Society, focused on hers. "I'm going to help you."

-

After the boy (for he was a boy, too young for the weight of responsibility she saw in his eyes, in the set of his jaw and shoulders) had patched her up, she had found herself alone in the remains of Karakura Town, now a desolate wasteland of what it once was.

Buildings broken, falling down. Roads torn up and uneven. Glass everywhere. Blood everywhere. Bodies everyone. The entire city filled with the sound of crying, crying, crying. Dust and smoke blotted out the sky, until it seemed like it was night all the time. The survivors wandered with dazed looks on their faces or cried next the bodies of those that they knew. Souls stood over their bodies, not knowing what would happen. And the shinigami who were still in the living world fell to the ground where they stood, knowing that they had lost. Lost the war, lost their friends and comrades and families, lost the will to fight anymore.

The Winter War was over.

Later, she would learn that, it was impossible to return to Soul Society. The leader of their enemy did not control his new world from there, but Seireitei had crumbled, too. It was there, but it was nothing like the power it had once been. And wasn't that what the man had wanted? He didn't want to rule Soul Society, he wanted to bring it down. He didn't want to be the captain-commander of the Gotei 13, he wanted to be a god. And so now, from his throne in the Hollow world, he reigned over the Arrancar and he knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that he had won.

She could see it in what happened to Karakura in the aftermath. Hollows roamed free. Without the ability to open gates to the living world any longer, only the few shinigami still there could deal with them. They were stuck there. The Hollows ate the souls that were now scattered throughout the city. But soon, because there were so few shinigami and so many Hollows, soon there weren't enough souls to feed them.

And Aizen's plague began to spread. Out from Karakura like the creeping tentacles of an octopus, searching for new prey, searching for new food. And it infected everywhere it touched. Every city in their wake, was left like Karakura. Until the government sent scientists and specialists to find out what was causing the death of so many, the destruction of so much.

But it did no good. How could you study that which you could not see?

And when the government send in troops to forcibly extract the cause of the ruin, they were destroyed. And when country after country took interest in the plight of Japan and send in troops to help, they too were destroyed. You could not fight something you couldn't see. You couldn't attack something you couldn't see. And soon, the entire country of Japan belonged to Aizen and his Hollows.

It was decided by the leaders of the world, that the problem in the land of the rising sun was a disease, a virus, and the country was shut off from the outside world by a great wall, and the humans within it were left there. And the country was forgotten by the rest of the world. Something to be read about by children in their textbooks. An hour-long special on the History Channel. Some question on a game show.

People in the outside world didn't take an interest in the world inside the wall. Not since it had been built… one hundred years ago…


A/N: Okay, so this is like, just a prologue, so I can see what people think. This chapter is kind of from an outside perspective, from someone who didn't know a lot about what was going on, so that's why descriptions are nameless and why not many of the normal characters are mentioned. The next chapter will be from Ichigo's standpoint, so you'll find out what happened to who. Since I did mentioned there'd be mass character death. Also you'll find out how the hell there are still survivors, since cannon-ly, Karakura was supposed to be completely destroyed. Also you'll find out what happened to Soul Society, the thing with the gates, and all the other things that get left out of this one. Well, maybe not all, but a lot… okay, some.

So, let me know what you think, I've never written something so far from cannon before, let along a post-war losing-shinigami something. Lol. So, tell me what you think!