Meifu's Gate: Third Chronicle
Argh, I seem to be writing another sequel.
Well, here goes.
The Second Manuscript was about their first term at the Academy, and maybe a little bit over into the summer recess.
This story picks up at the start of their second year, because there are a few things I want to do with them and figure it's better to have them in second year by the time I do. Consequently some time has passed since the last story ended. There may at some point be an Ukitake-ke omake to slot into the winter before this story begins - but right now it's only half finished, so I guess we'll see how that goes. (It's only a short story anyhow).
From the prologue, it's fairly clear that this story has connections to the last one, but also differences. One of those differences is that I intend for the zanpakutou issue and Gotei issue to play a bigger part in this story than it did in the last one. But the political intrigue is also an integral part of the world I've created (I must be mad) so there'll be some of that as well.
The boys are older and a tad wiser now than they were in their first term. Consequently...the story may take different angles and explore different routes. More than that...I don't think I'll say right now.
The story is still being written, so updating may not be as fast as on the last one. But I had to begin it today, since today is July 11th and that's Shunsui's birthday!
As ever, the boys and the original world belong to Kubo-sensei, and my OCs and the random babbleness belongs to me. But without Bleach there'd be no babble, so Kubo-sensei wins overall :)
Ukitake's zanpakutou: I've tried to keep what I've written as much in with what Kubo-sensei has given us as possible. However, there is a caveat to this. So far as my story goes, his elements are storm and sea and that will remain to be the case throughout Meifu even if it later winds up contradicting the manga directly. This is because I'll continue as I've begun...and also because with a release command like that, Juu has to have some connection to the waves and the lightning...right? Riight...?
I'm also paying no attention to the anime zanpakky filler, just in case anyone is wondering. Because it's anime. And it's filler. Even if Kubo-sensei is involved, I'm working from the manga and always have been, so. And if that takes it AU, so be it. *rebel!*
Prologue: Ancient Skeletons
The streets were lined with people as the sombre procession made its way through the central square.
The horses were black, and those who rode them wore muted colours of office.
Between them, a bare-foot individual walked, his hands bound and lashed to the harness of the leading horse to prevent him making an escape. Straggly straw-blond hair fell loose and unkempt around his face, his chin showing sign of neglected stubble and his eyes mere shadows in his face, squinting and blinking against the harsh light of the sun.
It was becoming an all too familiar sight for the people of Third District.
This was, after all, not the first execution to have taken place in their territory in the past few weeks.
But of all of them, this was the most significant.
Shunned in shame even by his family, this was the last walk of Keitsune, brother of the Lord of the Urahara-ke, and most significantly, the disgraced Head of Research.
The stories had flown like wildfire throughout all of the Districts since the news had broken. That the Clans had played with fire, and that a power had driven them to madness and destruction – that Urahara Keitsune had performed witchcraft, and condemned them all to death.
The Head of the Urahara-ke had had no choice, many had whispered, in the end. The Council had made him submit to an impossible decision - forsake his brother or forsake his power base. In the end, he had chosen his District, adding his seal to the Warrant of Execution and turning his back on his brother the moment the sentence had been handed down.
Since that time, the rumours had spread from the gaolers to their wives and from the wives to other wives at market and at shrine – rumours that Keitsune had written numerous letters, and that each one had been met at the Main House with stony, unrelenting silence.
The Urahara-ke no longer claimed him. His body was now the property of Council justice, to avenge all those damaged by the experiments into reiatsu enhancement.
For daring to play with nature, Urahara Keitsune would pay with his life.
From a side alley, well back from the gathered crowds, a small boy peered around the corner of a dusty wood-frame building, eyes big with fear and fascination as he watched the parade of dark-clad missionaries escorting the nobleman to the place where he would take his final breath.
He had seen the same thing happen three days in a row now – men he knew, men who had once visited them – each one clad in black and each one led to the same place of death.
Later, he had seen the cart carrying away their decapitated corpses to be burnt. There was no honoured burial for the condemned – those who had crossed Soul Society in such a grave way deserved no such final memorial.
The boy could still remember their faces and their laughs, even though he could no longer sense the prickle of their presence in his daily lives. One had brought him snacks and another had teased him about learning to spar and fight when he finally managed to achieve some growth. That they were gone was a fact – he accepted it, but he did not fully understand it. They had done something bad, his mother had told him, her eyes red with tears. Something the Council had found to be unforgivable. But even so, the boy had not been able to fathom it. They had been his Father's friends, after all. Men he knew. Men he liked. How, then, could they be guilty of any evil?
That day, however, he had begun to find his answer.
As the procession passed by his hiding place, the condemned man turned his head slightly, meeting the young boy's pale, mud-slurried eyes with his own more distinctive Urahara gaze. It was only a split-second of contact, but in that moment, the young boy felt the wash of hurt, fear and anguish that littered the man's soul. Keitsune was a thin, ragged figure of a man now, robed not in finery but in the rags befitting a prisoner who had spent the last month holed up in a lightless, draughty dungeon. But even despite the hollow cheeks and hopeless expression, the boy knew.
This was his father.
His father was a bad man too.
As they met gazes, Keitsune mouthed a word – his pale lips parting slowly into just three shapes, but enough for the boy to understand. Kei-Ta-Rou. His name. The name Keitsune had chosen for him that summer day when he had squirmed and mewled into the world, kicking and screaming the announcement of his arrival in District Three. Keitsune had often said it – that he had named the boy 'Kei' because he wanted to share a part of his name with the name of his first born son. Now the boy remembered it; his father's teasing, intelligent gaze and the man's soft spoken, well-measured words.
And in that moment, Keitarou understood something else.
His father was his father. Whatever he had done, and whoever he had worked for, he was not a bad man. He had been forsaken, that was all, by the people he should have been able to rely on for support. He had heard the word many times in the weeks leading up to Keitsune's arrest, but until that moment, had never really understood what it meant.
But now he knew. Now he understood.
His father had been betrayed.
And in that moment, for the first time in his young, protected life, Keitarou felt true, searing anger.
"Kei-chan, why are you here?"
The soft tones of his mother pulled him away from the crowd, turning to face her in the gloom of the narrow side street. She was caped and hooded, her usual fine garments cast aside in favour of dull, nondescript clothing, and her features, usually painted and glowing with life showed the strain of the previous few weeks.
On the night Keitsune had been condemned, she had taken him from his bed at midnight, and with the help of sympathetic maids and man-servants, they had slipped the notice of the guards, disappearing into the night. Through the next three or four days they had hidden in the old sewer tunnels deep beneath the noble estates, whilst above their heads the shouts of men and pounding of horse hooves had heralded the desperate search for their whereabouts.
Even now, Keitarou knew, he should not be above ground. Even now, just by being here, he was taking a risk.
"I came to see Father." The boy raised his gaze to his companion, and the woman bit her lip, tears welling in her eyes as she slipped her arm around his tiny shoulders.
"We're leaving this place. Now." She whispered. "The Hikei-no-Ichizoku have agreed to help us over the Unohana border and we have to leave tonight or risk never leaving this place again."
"But Father…" Keitarou struggled in her arms, confused by his mother's apparent lack of understanding, and the woman shook her head, merely tightening her grasp and pulling him tighter to her body.
"You no longer have a father." She murmured. "So the Clan has decided."
"You don't know what words you use, Kei-kun. Please, don't…"
"I know what words I use!" Keitarou struggled free, something strong and vibrant pricking at his aura as he made to dart back towards the place he had last seen his father. "Father was betrayed! I have to tell them. Father was…"
He faltered, as a sudden wave of anguish and despair flooded his young senses, overloading his brain and causing him to stumble to his knees. It was far away, he realised, too far for him to see it, yet even so, the sudden flow of spirit power into the ether told him exactly what had happened. As though painting the picture in his mind, his childish brain set about piecing this sensation with the ones he had felt over the previous days – the ones which had led him to see decapitated bodies piled up and dragged away for disposal. The memory filled his senses with technicolour, and tears welled in his own eyes – tears of anger, not grief, as he worked out what it meant.
"Father." He whispered, and behind him he heard his mother's soft moan of despair.
"You are my eldest son, Keitarou. Remember that, because one day this duty will be yours and this knowledge yours as well. The Urahara-ke is a Clan to be proud of – a Clan of exploration and knowledge – a Clan where status quo is no longer good enough an answer. Your family have the greatest scientific wealth of data in all of Soul Society, and one day, we will use it to change the world. One day, that knowledge will steer Soul Society in a new direction. And on that day, the Urahara will be the Clan most celebrated in everybody's hearts."
As he slowly picked himself up off his knees, Keitarou remembered his father's words, open and strong as he had talked about the research he loved. The smell of books mingled with the soft scent of herbs and chemicals washed nostalgically across his senses, reminding him of the many times he had been allowed to walk through the great Urahara library, with its walls and walls of texts on every subject imaginable.
There was nothing that the Urahara didn't know – so he had believed. Nothing they could not accomplish. No way they could fail.
But they had failed.
As if a curtain had suddenly been dropped over the memory, Keitarou's mind and thoughts became shrouded in black.
His father had believed in them, and his father had never been wrong. His father…his father had been…
"Betrayed." He whispered, clenching his tiny fists as the flare of rage washed through him once more.
"Kei-chan." His mother's voice was barely more than a faint murmur, her pain and grief only adding to the young boy's dark rage. "We have to go. If they find us here, they'll kill us too. For your father's sake, we have to go. For his sake…we must."
Keitarou did not respond for a moment. Then, very slowly, he turned, raising a cold, impassive gaze to his mother's anxious one.
"I am ready." He said coolly. "Let us leave."
Keitarou opened his eyes, blinking for a moment as he tried to place his darkened surroundings. His brain still half in sleep, he gazed around him, making out the dim shadows of furniture and clutter piled up all around him. A small window provided the minimum amount of light into the chamber, but as his eyes became accustomed to the gloom, the fleeting wisps of that childhood memory dissipated into nothing, and he sighed, stretching his arms over his head as he realised he had fallen asleep at his desk once again.
It was a long time ago, yet even now it's imprinted into my brain. I'll never forget it…the reason why I hate the Urahara. The reason why I'll betray them – and keep betraying them, so long as I live.
A faint, cool smile touched his lips.
To them I'm nothing. A flicker of ash from a bonfire – a wisp of smoke on the wind. Probably they've forgotten that Urahara Keitsune had a son, after all this time – they've worked so hard to repair their reputation, and it's easier to forget those things that don't make pleasant listening. But I haven't set it aside so easily. Father died for it, after all. My family and my home were torn apart because of it. Because they all betrayed him – all the Clans who were greedy for power and strength. They used him, abused him and betrayed him. But most of all, the Urahara. Father's work taints their noble name. The longer I keep it alive, the harder it will be to forget.
He got to his feet, moving aside his papers and glancing at the diagrams he had sketched out roughly the night before. Chemical formulae littered page upon page in his distinctive, spidery scrawl, and as he scanned over them, his smile widened.
It's a double edged sword, in the end. Their betrayal destroyed my life, and also gave it its purpose. As an Urahara, to press forward and discover. As a Clansman, to always push to reach the top. As a scientist…to succeed.
He scooped up the discarded tantou knife that lay to one side of his pages of screed, running his finger gently over the monogrammed blade as he did so.
Or as a spider, pulling together the threads of an invisible, unavoidable web.
A thumping at the door jerked him from his reverie, and he frowned, sliding the blade into his obi and crossing the room to unlatch the thick panel divide. As he pulled it back, he saw the impatience in the messenger's eyes, and he pursed his lips, realising that the man had been waiting for some time.
Perhaps it was you, then, that drew me from my nightmare.
He raised a quizzical eyebrow, reading as he did so the distinctive emblem on the man's attire.
"Well?" He asked softly. "You bring, I think, some good news?"
"I bring a message from Endou Seimaru-sama, sir." The man bowed his head, his irritation masked by his show of formality. "He wishes to speak with you – as soon as humanly possible."
"I see." Keitarou's eyes were like flint as he digested this. "And the obstacle formerly in our way?"
"There is no obstacle, sir."
At the man's words, Keitarou smiled.
"Then at last, the old hunter has roosted with her prey?" He reflected. "I'm sure there are many in Seventh District who will mourn her passing. Many…many indeed."
"But not, I imagine, Seimaru-sama." Keitarou's smile became more sinister, and he nodded his head. "Very well. When dawn comes, I will see him. It will be in the usual place."
"Yes, sir." The messenger nodded again, then, "Would you like me to convey that to him, sir?"
"No. He'll expect my response. Your duties are discharged." Keitarou shook his head, bringing his right arm up suddenly and thrusting his fingers against the man's chest.
"Hadou no Yon. Byakurai." He whispered, watching with a detached amount of interest as the shards of white lightning jerked through the unsuspecting soldier's body, charring him almost immediately from the inside out.
"I'm sorry, but the location of this place is a close guarded secret." He murmured gently, watching the man's expression stiffen and jerk with the force of the unexpected voltage, then sag as life flickered out of him. "Any sent with a message to this place is on a one way trip. So Seimaru-sama agreed, when first I told him of its location."
As the man fell to the ground, Keitarou stepped over him, kicking the body idly out of his way.
So it was time, then, to come out of hiding. The matriarch of the Endou-ke had, at last, drawn her final breath – and now, everything would begin again.
The only thing sure in life is change, after all. The ones who can adjust to it survive. The ones who can't, die.
Keitarou's lips twitched ruefully, even as he pressed his fingers together, drawing on the dead man's dispersing spiritual energy to form a tiny, blue-black butterfly that flitted and circled around his head. Spreading his hands, the blurry, jagged edges of the insect's wings flickered and spread, as one butterfly became two, then two became four, darting around the room like tiny specks of cursed energy.
"Impure creatures though you are, drawn from the souls of the dead and dying." He whispered, holding out his left hand and watching as the insects skittishly darted around his fingers, eventually landing one by one on his outstretched palm. "True insects from Hell. My Father theorised for a long time about this - that somehow Soul Society's latent spiritual energy could be drawn together in such a way, to pass messages more quickly and easily by confining ideas in an empty shell and sending them out into the ether. But there is still much to do, it seems, before I can call on you at will. Summoning you from the corpse of a dead man is simple - but it is not always convenient to have to kill one messenger with free will in order to create more who only act on your commands."
The butterflies fluttered their wings, their half-formed, drone-like consciousnesses buzzing against his senses, and Keitarou smiled.
"For now, you'll do, however." He whispered. "While the Urahara-ke stall and ponder over the notes Father left behind, I've at least taken it to some conclusion. Unlike Father, there are no boundaries on my research. And from this point on, those opportunities can only increase."
He closed his eyes, conveying his instruction to each insect as he did so.
"Go." He said softly. "Take this message to those who need to know. The Urahara-ke's exiled scientists are once more at the disposal of the Endou-ke…and this time, we will prevail."
Author's Note: Keitarou
I feel I should clear this up for anyone who is confused. This character being written about in the prologue here is the scientist from the "Endou Dungeon" chapter of Second Manuscript - the man in whom Seimaru entrusted the investigation and the making of the reidoku. Yes, the man who was referred to as Aizen.
This character has several names for the purpose of the story, so I thought I'd clear them up right at the start. This was mentioned in Second Manuscript, but just as a recap...
His real name is Urahara Keitarou. His mother changed his surname to her maiden name - Aizen - when they fled, and so he is known to Seimaru as Aizen Keitarou. In this plot, he is essentially in the shadows for the second time - and for that reason, he may well develop other pseudonyms in order to keep himself under the radar.
For simplicity's sake, therefore - I will refer to him in the text as Keitarou all the way through this story. That way, hopefully, people will not be confused :|
And yes, he is intended to be Aizen's direct ancestor.