"Ah! Such a surprise to see you Kyoraku-taichou!"
The captain tipped his straw hat towards the younger captain, immediately inviting him to a drink. For a moment, the younger captain hesitated but eventually agreed at the insistence of Kyoraku. In a moment, the younger captain fell into step with the other as they made their way down the busy streets of Seririte.
The cool autumn afternoon had Kyoraku intently daydreaming about his warm drink that he barely paid attention to what the younger captain was saying.
"Huh? I'm sorry Sousuke-kun I was too busy thinking about something else," he answered sheepishly.
He gave a slight smile, as though familiar with his senpai's absent mind.
"I was just mentioning that I heard a rumor the other day. From what I heard, the Tenth Division is finally getting a new captain."
"Does all of Soul Society know already? It wasn't supposed to be revealed for another month," Kyoraku said with a slight laugh. "But you are correct. After the horrendous death of the previous captain so long ago, it seems that old Yamm-jii has found a suitable replacement."
"I heard that it was Hyorinmaru, the legendary ice dragon; but that certainly can't be correct. Hasn't the ice dragon stop reincarnating? It disappeared over seven centuries ago."
"You are certainly quite informed Sousuke-kun," he answered somewhat surprised. "For a moment, it was believed that the ice dragon had stopped reincarnating but to everyone's amazement it was found not too long ago."
The younger man paused in his steps, surprised by the sudden revelation. "Isn't Hyorinmaru a malicious spirit? Haven't the last wielders lost control?"
Kyoraku looked back at him. "I believe that this new wielder will be different from the others. Yama-jii certainly thinks so."
He explained the name of Hyorinmaru's new wielder- a young boy from Roukongai. From what everyone praised about him, he was a genius- the sort that only come about every century or so.
"Is it alright then if such a young boy were to be placed as captain?"
"We all had our reserves but Yama-jii is certain that it this boy is more than capable enough. If he has already achieved this much control, I'm certain that within a century or two, he'll be able to fully control Hyorinmaru—and he'll certainly be much stronger than any of us, perhaps even the commander-general!"
The harsh wind whipped against her face, creating the sensation that tiny needles were individually prickling her cells. Within a matter of minutes, the temperature dropped drastically- dropping and dropping until the Fake Karakura Town transformed once again. When she had first arrived to the tiny town- a time so long ago, but really it had only been a month- there had been such an assortment of colors. The sky had been blue- a lovely blue, unlike the dark nights and lone moon of Hueco Mundo- and the landscape had been devoid of the ugly gray sand dunes that characterized the land of the hollows.
The colorful town had transformed into the remains of a bloody battlefield. Buildings and homes had easily toppled down, roads had been cracked into pieces, vehicles were thrown aside as though they weight like nothing more than paper. Perhaps much more noticeable were the blood stains that would never be removed from the soil. Matsumoto's blood had been spilled in this land and because of it, the tiny town had transformed once again.
Now the tiny town that reeked of death and tears was transformed again- this time into white tundra.
"Hirviendo!" Harribel shouted, thrusting Tiburon in the air, willing the snow to melt. But the ice and snow would not melt—no, the temperature was much too extreme causing the liquid water to quickly become into pure, solid ice.
"Toshiro has your anger done this? Has the pain you felt truly transformed into this rage?"
Briefly her thoughts went back into the eager faces of her fraccion. They had died here- their bodies burned to ash and thrown into the wind- and though she had felt the tremendous sadness and pain, she remembered the horrible rage that had filled her. This rage was so different from what she had felt—it felt almost self-destructive.
She shifted her weight, adjusting the weight of Inoue on her back. Perhaps, it was wise to leave the girl behind- the extreme weather and influx of spiritual energy was intolerable; but Harribel could sensed the arrival of more people- people that were considered dangerous in the current situation.
"He's here, and he brought others with him," she thought the vile feeling growing in the pit of her stomach. "Aizen is still here, as our Ichimaru and Tousen." Despite the unsettling amount of spiritual energy in the field, she could easily sense their presence. She closed her eyes briefly. "Wait Has he separated from the group? Why? Does he not see it?"
Did they not understand the working of Aizen's mind? Did they not understand that this was a part of Aizen's plan?
Harribel opened her eyes then seeing the environment so desolate, barren of life and hope- a striking similarity to the deserts of Hueco Mundo.
Turning her face, she looked at the barely conscious girl. "Inoue are you awake?"
The girl opened her eyes, staring at her in a mixture of confusion. This girl was dying- with each passing second, her heart beat a little less, eventually beating no more. She couldn't just leave her here. "If they find us, will they help her?"
She was not sure. It was true that Inoue was not executed for escaping to Hueco Mundo, but still she did not know the extent of good grace that seem to accompany Inoue. Still what was to be done?
Her green eyes scanned the environment, trying to see pass the white, blizzard to search for a shelter.
"We'll stop for shelter," she muttered to the half conscious girl, her mind already made up.
A standing shop stood off into the distance- almost half buried and lost within the snow- but still bravely standing against the cruel blizzard. Kicking open the door, Harribel found an empty shop with an assortment of objects upon the shelves. Like outside it was covered in ice and snow- the weight of the snow must have caused a hole in the roof, causing the snow to quickly creep in.
Inoue fell onto her feet when she was finally put down. Her eyes were still blank, her body violently trembling at the lack of warmth.
"I'll look for a blanket," she informed the girl.
"No… no…" Inoue muttered, clutching her body into a ball, willing to have some warmth. " J-j-just … go…Go… I-I'm h-h-h…olding…" Her voice stuttered and quivered, but the look on her face said she was determined to finish this sentence, "You…. Go…."
A sort of pity be settled Harribel seeing that barely conscious girl. Inoue's creamy, pale skin was blue; her full lips red and bleeding. She was going to die here, the snow burying her fragile body in an unmarked grave. Inoue looked up, perhaps realizing her hesitation. She wanted to say that she was alright- so long as she knew that her friends were safe- but the cold had robbed her of her speech, and slowing it was robbing her mind.
Inoue offered a weak smile, and sign that she valued her friend's life much more that her own.
"I will, I'll find him- I promise," she answered after a moment's hesitation- she hadn't thought they would find her so quickly. "I'll be back," she answered, putting her entire wager on these people.
She leaped outside, the cold striking her face, the snow and wind pushing her down. Within a short times traveling, she could already sense their presence, staggering towards her.
"When will you continue hiding in the shadows?" She said at last, unable to keep the harsh emotion from her voice. The howling wind carried off her voice, but she knew that they heard her.
A man came out of the shadows, an easy smile on his face, and a pink flowery shawl over his shoulders. "I had a feeling you could sense us. It seemed too unusual for you to be emitting so much spiritual energy." he answered, the easy smile remaining on his face. A woman accompanied him, carrying a bundle of books and pushing her glasses to the brink of her red nose. The man, a shinigami captain briefly looked at his vice-captain- a silent order being uttered within them.
In a moment, the woman disappeared.
"It has become too dangerous," the man answered as though she had asked where the other had disappeared. "My lovely Nanao-chan is retrieving Inoue Orihime-chan."
"I hardly care," she answered the coolness in her voice still there. "I had taken her hostage, but she has only slowed me down." Harribel would not mention that Inoue had come running to her for help- that would be a sure sign of treason. There was a pause before she finally asked. "Will she be punished?"
It was a frugal question, but she had to ask it- to have the smallest of reassurance that Inoue would be safe.
"Of course not," the man answered without hesitation. "Like you said, she was kidnapped and taken against her free will. It was by luck that she managed to escape," he answered, knowing quite well a human could escape in this environment.
"Have you come for Toshiro?"
The captain raised his eyebrow. "Yes," he answered.
"He has released Hyorinmaru, but he cannot control such power. Will it end up... kill him?"
There was a brief hesitation before he sighed. He gazed off into the distance, remembering how he had proudly told the Primera Espada that this boy would one day grow to be more powerful than any of them. "Possibly... the longer his full bankai is released the higher the probability of death. Yamamoto-soutaichou and I..."
"The situation has changed," she interrupted. At once she felt her blood boiling at the sound of his name. "Don't you see? Aizen is using Toshiro as a tool! This is all part of Aizen's plan! His greatest strength is in using other's feelings. Aizen knows he cannot win against him, so he has created a handicap for the wielder of fire!" She turned her body, signaling the wild blizzard.
"He cannot create his fire in this tundra, and Aizen will take the opportunity to kill him!" she spat out viciously.
The eight division captain took a step back, realizing the danger his old teacher was in.
"I will save Toshiro, but not the murderer that killed my fraccion."
"Waaait Gin! Wait for me!" she cried out, hastily trying to follow the boy in front of her before tripping on her feet, landing face first on a pile of mud.
Eventually he stopped, frowning in annoyance. "Hurry up, Rangiku. You're slowing us down."
She pouted. It had only been two months since he found her on the dusty streets of Roukongai but already she showed improvement. Her cheeks weren't as hollow as before, her frame not as bony and he could see the beginning of color on her face- not the pale, waxy complexion as before. Gin had quickly found out that she wasn't as shy and soft spoken as before. Rangiku was rather jaunty and good-humored, stating her opinion in a matter of seconds
"Because you're walking so fast!" she answered, wiping the mud off her face. "Where are we going anyway?"
"You probably won't understand," he responded, helping her on her feet.
"Why don't you ever tell me anything?"
"You ask too many questions," Gin answered with a yawn, starting to walk up the rocky trail.
"That's because you don't tell me anything!" she complained, throwing her hands in the air. Rangiku yelped then realizing that she was falling behind. "At least slow down Gin!"
"No, you've got to learn to catch up Rangiku. I'm not waiting for you. So hurry up and catch up!"
His fingers were numb, goose bumps and shivers running along his body. Years of training and knowledge could not protect him from the ruthless cold; Gin knew that heating spells would be utterly obsolete. Immediately the warmth would get sucked away- this was Hyorinmaru after all, the merciless, ice dragon. Shinso's bankai state, Kaminishi no Yari, greatly increased the blade's speed, but with the blizzard was causing Shinso's movements to become more sluggish and sloppy.
The sharp blade of Shinso extended across the white plain, breaking the pillars of ice that sprouted from the earth. The ice shattered into pieces, collapsing in loud crashes. Instantly, pillars of ice protruded from the solid ground, sharp enough to draw blood. He forced his legs to dash across the snow, his flash steps slower than usual but with enough speed to weave about the sprouting pillars.
He gasped to a halt, the cold just too much for his lungs and heart.
It was irony- one could state- despite his tampering in forbidden arts, in the end it was his body's physical weakness that was bring about his death. Death was so obvious now, and all those years he wasted trying to become more powerful, seemed so frugal now. His core body temperature was drastically dropping, his skin pale and blue, and his mind skimming to incoherence.
"This time I have to catch up to you, eh Rangiku?" he laughed—his voice lost, so lost and lonely against the wind.
Gripping the hilt of Shinso and bring it up against his chest, but the blade did not extend as long as it was supposed to. It extended to roughly a mile, splitting the ice pillars into pieces before coming to a harsh stop. The blade would not move any further, which was odd, considering that Kaminishi no Yari could slice anything.
Shards of ice and snow blocked his vision, but he could see something, something large and terrifying that had stopped Kaminishi no Yari in its track.
He barely jumped in time as a pillar of ice erupted from the ground, soaring higher and higher until it disappeared into the sky. There was a settling noise underneath his feet as myriad of ice pierced the sky —sharper than any sword.
And then he saw it—the creature that was creating devouring all warmth, that existed solely for revenge. Its eyes… its cold sinister eyes poured over him… exposing him and all his ill deeds.
Gin stepped back, a tremor that had nothing to do with the cold, washing over him.
The blizzard hid away the sunlight, creating a thick blanket of utter whiteness with the occasional specks of black. A thick, towering icicle obtruded from the ground, the height disappearing in the white skies. He lifted his head, and realized that something had shrouded itself in that long, long icicle. It was a creature- an enormous creature, bigger than the release of the Sokyoku- that clung onto the ice.
It had blue scales, iron-like strong scales that could withstand any spell or attack that ran along the length of its body. Black claws dug deeply into the ice as it continued to carefully observe him before it finally let out a low snarl- revealing jarred, crooked teeth. Gin gripped Kaminishi no Yari preparing to extend the sword to its full length, but the creature moved at that instance. In a second it released its wings—wide almost leather-like wings.
At once the weather seemed to respond to the simple command- and what not? This was Hyorinmaru, the fully awaken ice dragon. Ice snapped, as easily as though it were twigs, quickly crashing down. Kaminishi no Yari darted out, pushing the fallen ice apart. He had little luck though, as an acute blade of ice penetrated his left shoulder.
Gin collapsed onto the ground, his shoulder blade broken into indistinguishable pieces. The pain was agonizing, unlike anything he had ever experienced.
"Why are you always leaving me behind? Why Gin?"
"We'll be together soon Rangiku," he muttered, rising to his feet. He didn't even notice the blood that was gushing from his shoulder or the excruciating pain.
"You're always disappearing and you never tell me anything."
"Together I promise!" he yelled off into the wind, half-mad from hypothermia and grief. "And this time I will never leave your side!"
Kaminishi no Yari disintegrated into dust, the tiny sharp blades easily disappearing into the blizzard. The blade shards gathered together, expanding once more, attempting to pierce the dragon's scale. A shard of ice quickly blocked its path, breaking into pieces. Again the blade's shard moved towards the dragon, this time meeting contact. But the dragon seemed hardly fazed by such a meaningless attack.
"I swore I would stop your tears! Yes, yes I will wipe away every one of your tears," Gin continued, Kaminiari no Yari expanding in random directions. "I swore I would take it back!"
He could picture her screams and cries as she begged them to leave her alone, as she begged them not to touch her. As a child, people had whispered he was emotionally instable- who could react with a smile when they found out their parents were devoured by hollows?- but as he saw and heard that poor girl being raped, he sobbed silently to himself. He sobbed, not just because she was being violated but because he couldn't do anything. He didn't have power.
The dragon roared- its roar somehow louder than the wind. The snow cascaded down, hurriedly brushing off anything in its path. It tumbled down, as strong and powerful as any avalanche.
His speed was horribly diminished from the cold and he could not easily evade the avalanche. The snow roughly threw him on the ground, knocking the wind out of him and sending him into a brief period of darkness. When he regained his wits, he leaped from the piles of snow.
"You apologize but then you leave again! I don't understand you Gin!"
"Soon, we'll be together soon," he muttered looking at the monster- for there was no other word to describe it- that had once been Hitsugaya Toshiro. He was wild and derange now, no longer resembling the collected and precocious captain that he was well known for. No something had broken... this time Aizen had gone too far, and had broken him.
In an instant the dragon moved, instantly at its side and swinging another sharp claws at him. The claws easily broke his skin, and blood- blood that he thought must have been frozen by this weather- spilled out, the scarlet red a huge contrast with the white, white snow. It tore at him again causing more blood to spill out, more bones to break.
"Kill Kaminishi no Yari!" Gin yelled out. The poison within the tiny blade that had engulfed itself in the dragon's scales quickly released, as though a bottle of poison had been broken. This was his bankai's special ability, and the most deadly- a tiny blade could easily pierce one's skin and bury itself deeply within, the poison could kill anyone within a matter of seconds.
The dragon moved its tail in one easy strive, throwing Gin off into the distance. Blood erupted from his mouth, as he released that something sharp had cut through his belly and warm blood was creeping out and staining the white snow.
"I swore I would get it back to you," Gin muttered, blood gushing from his mouth, his voice a little more than a whisper. "I swore but I needed power. I needed power, you understand, don't you? But... but that power wasn't enough! Being a shinigami wasn't enough! I needed more, power and only he could satisfy it. Only Aizen could give me the power I yearned for!"
He turned his head up, eye to eye with the dragon.
"This is your full power?" he said, glimpsing the figure that harbored rage and hatred. "This is the power that Aizen had wanted to see..." he broke off, a smile on his face."Of course, this isn't your full power. Up till now, you've done nothing but toss me around."
"Are you trying to become a shinigami is that why you're always leaving for so long?"
He spat blood, hating the copper tasted.
The ground shook, and he looked up at the eyes of the beast, trying to look beyond to see the boy that had once been.
Hyorinmaru was a malicious spirit, but everyone had believed that little Hitsugaya would one day grow to tame and control the wild beast. The commander-general had seen Hitsugaya's pure nature and had believed that he would never be tempted by the prospect of power.
"Is this the price for yearning for power?" Ichimaru asked to himself, the cold was almost numbing the pain away. He could no longer feel his broken bones, his guts spilling onto the snow, his dismembered legs; he could no longer taste the cooper blood in his mouth. Oddly enough his mind seemed clear. "Is this the price you have paid little taichou? Have you lost your reasoning and replaced them with raw instincts? Ha, you've become just like your friend, Kurosaki Ichigo."
"But you just wouldn't listen to me! You didn't understand! You didn't understand that I was trying to get power for you, that I wanted to give it back to you!" he muttered madly to the girl that would not stop crying- that constantly asked him why he kept leaving. He laughed cruelly, at the irony at the situation. It was his yearning for power that had killed Matsumoto; it was his greedy, never ending thirst for more power.
"I've become a shinigami, Gin," an older Rangiku said- no longer the helpless girl she had once been. "I've grown tired of waiting for you."
Gin let out a cry, realizing, finally realizing his mistake. "My quest for more power made her unhappy. I swore I would stop the tears, and yet I did nothing but bring her more pain. You... you were the one that she counted on... you were the one that soothe her loneliness... you were the one Rangiku Matsumoto loved the most, perhaps you believed that she loved me, but really she loved you the most."
"She was thinking of you, little captain- her final thoughts were of you, the person that has always been there for her.
"She said, "I do not ask any mercy from you... though we have known each other from our childhood, but I do ask this- as my final dying wish- please tell my taichou that I am sorry; so very sorry and sad that I could not keep my promise to him. I can only hope that he will forgive me and that maybe, just maybe he'll be able to celebrate his birthday with someone else."
The dragon let out a strangled roar, its jaws smashing Ichimaru's skull- emitting a sickening crack that reverted across the frozen tundra.
His mind was lost, lost in a sea of grief and rage. The sensibility and rationality that characterized his personality had disappeared; replaced instead by wild instincts. A destructive hatred had developed over him and he wanted the whole world to feel it. He hardly cared who he attacked, friend or foe; he just knew that the world had to feel this pain. Perhaps, then this pain would lessen.
"One day the pain will lessen."
This is what she meant right? This was the only way to deal with this crippling pain- the pain of forever loosing Matsumoto- by making the entire world feel it and the only way he could make others feel it was by obtaining power- the consequences hardly mattered.
Wait... what was that? What was that feeling- that feeling that seemed to lessen his madness? What was that feeling that seemed to soothe his troubled mind? He couldn't understand what this feeling was, but it wasn't unpleasant...
Hitsugaya opened his eyes into a white, hospital room. The question of 'Where am I?' was forgotten by the overwhelming, caustic feeling that filled him. It was as though his flesh was burning- that wasn't an accurate description. What on earth could describe this torture?
He screamed out in pain, gripping his hair in anguish. The sudden noise caused Unohana to dash into the room, yelling out orders to the fraying medics. Within a second, a syringe was pulled out and injected into his skin.
Hitsugaya panted in exhaustion, the pain killers slowly diminishing the pain.
"I had a feeling this would happen," Unohana said wisely. She motioned for the medics to leave before she sat down. "How are you feeling now, Hitsugaya-taichou?"
He mumbled something indistinguishable, something that even he couldn't understand.
"You released Hyorinmaru's full power, Hitsugaya-taichou," Unohana explained. "The sudden power has caused a strain in your body. Since your body has yet to developed, it cannot accommodate so much spiritual energy as a result there is an excess. This excess is causing you-"
But really he wasn't listening. He shut his eyes letting Unohana's words sink in.
"Oh taichou what's with all the questions?" she said with a laugh ruffling his hair. "What matters is that you found us. See I knew that you would be back. Isn't that what I said Hinamori?"
"I'm sorry but there is nothing here, nothing but sad memories."
It seemed as though the dagger had finally taken a physical form. The pain that he felt in his chest—the pain that he had been trying so long to deny and convince himself that didn't exist—had resurfaced.
"Matsumoto's dead," he finally admitted.
The perfect world was already destroyed beyond repair. There was no point denying it anymore. Matsumoto would never return, no matter how long he waited- Matsumoto was gone.
Unohana hesitated, unsure of what to say. She had wanted to say that at least Matsumoto died peacefully- but that was not true. She had seen the bloody corpse, mutilated beyond recognition.
There was a knock on the door before Kyoraku-taichou, accompanied by Ukitake-taichou. "I hope you don't mind the intrusion," Ukitake said- a fatigue look on his face that had nothing to do with his illness. "But there are pressing matters that we must speak to you about."
Unohana took that as a cue to make her leave. She excused herself before warning them that they were only allowed ten minutes- the Fourth was particularly strict with the wellbeing of her patients and she would always have the final verdict. She closed the door softly behind her before Kyoraku began. He described how the commander-general and himself had gone to the Fake Karakura Town in search of him; how they had instead met the full release form of Hyorinmaru, how Ichimaru was brutally killed, how the commander-general had been forced into the fight, how Aizen had escaped wounded...
"I'm only trying to tell you the truth- the truth that everyone is hiding from you. Nobody told you that there was one person responsible for all this—one man that has completely destroyed your life. It was no one else but Ichimaru Gin."
"Good," he answered simply. He closed his eyes briefly, expecting to feel some sort of relief, but he felt nothing. It was simply empty words that had no meaning or consequences, whatsoever.
"Hitsugaya-kun there are other present matters to speak about," Ukitake said. He briefly hesitated before continuing. "The commander-general is dead."
"What?" he looked up in surprise.
"Genryusai Shigekuni Yamammoto is dead." He looked over at Kyoraku, seeing for the first time the scars about his face.
"We have already aprehended the person responsible. Aizen may have gotten away, but we were able to capture that was involved in all of this. As of not preparations are already in way for the new commander-general- it will be Shunsui- the strongest captain among the Gotei-13."
Kyoraku seemed neither pleased nor upset by the announcement, though he made some remark that Nanao-chan will have her hands full now.
"The official ceremony will begin a week from now; you as well as all the captains are to be present."
Hitsugaya said nothing, his mind still unable to fathom that the commander-general was dead. He had always had some foolish notion that the old man would continued to be the head captain until the end of time. He closed his eyes, recalling that the last time he saw him he was arguing with him—arguing over Harribel.
His mind became alert. "Wait... what happened to Harribel and Inoue?"
"Inoue-san is currently hospitalized. Hyorinmaru's spiritual pressure was simply too much for her to bear."
Hitsugaya felt a stab of guilt.
Neither of the captain said anything. Finally, Kyoraku stared at him curiously. "Are you referring to that beautiful woman- the Third Espada?"
He didn't know whether the annoyance he felt was Kyoraku's reference that Harribel was beautiful or that she was an Espada- when he knew she had long abandoned that post.
"Hitsugaya-kun..." he had some difficulty coming up with the answer. "We don't we leave that question for next time? You have just woken up after a two week coma."
"What happened to Harribel?"
Ukitake attempted to move the conversation away until finally Kyoraku blurt out the response. "She left. After seeing Hyorinmaru's true form, she left."
Hitsugaya was quiet.
"Lies may be easier to deal with in the short time but that is it. Eventually you will be caught up in your lies and the pain—the pain that you have been so desperately trying to escape from—will be just as strong. It may be difficult now, but one day you will come to terms with it. One day this pain will lessen."
She had whispered, her warm arms surrounding him. In that period of confusion, she had provided a small sense of comfort and he had believed in her... believed in everyone of her words.
"She... left? She left without saying anything…"
"Yes," Kyoraku continued keeping his eye on him. "Now we must continue on-"
"Leave me alone," he interrupted.
The two captain looked at him startled.
"I want to be left alone."