Bearers of the New King
Chapter 1: The Coming of the Black Rain
(Thanks so much to Walkure Leuad for suggesting this storyline! Does she have great suggestions or what! This is not a part of any series...just a stand-alone story. Thanks for reading! And please remember to review. It's such a gift to hear from you! Luv, Spunky)
Renji paused in the midst of signing the report he had just finished, upon hearing the sound of rain falling outside. He enjoyed the way it sounded, the way it felt on his skin when he walked in it, and the way it brought such good smells and the growth of new flowers everywhere it fell. He was glad for the rain falling now. Hearing it, he couldn't help but think about how what he and his taichou had experienced together in the aftermath of Aizen Sosuke's treachery had been like the rain falling on parched ground.
Renji had fully expected that Kuchiki Byakuya would seek to have him removed from his post, perhaps arrested after all that had happened. It's what he would have done before. But despite the fact that Byakuya seemed, in most ways, to have returned to his distant, stoic self, some things had changed. Renji was surprised to learn that not only had Byakuya refused to pursue action against him for his insubordination, he had also made a point of telling Soutaichou, when asked, that he preferred to keep Renji at his side.
It had confused Renji at first. He wondered what could be the reason for him doing that…and waited for Byakuya to say something. But Byakuya had never been one to reveal his reasons easily. One had, Renji knew, to look beneath the hardness and quiet at the surface to see what lay beneath it, and when Renji looked at the things Byakuya did, what he saw was a new level of respect growing between them…a sense of gratitude for Renji's persistence in protecting Rukia, and a sincere desire to improve their working relationship. Renji answered his taichou's veiled overtures with a return to his general friendliness in exchanges with his taichou, in sincere efforts to improve his fighting skills and in finding small way to indicate to Byakuya that, despite everything, he too, wanted to improve their working relationship.
He couldn't help but feel proud at how well their division had performed ever since. Byakuya's strategic knowledge and Renji's ability to communicate the taichou's commands to the others in such a capable way, resulted in a squad that worked together seamlessly. But even with all that had improved, there were some things Renji wished would change.
He looked over at the quiet form that worked at the desk across from his…hardly looking up, hardly acknowledging he wasn't alone, hardly seeming to notice the world around him. Despite the fact that Renji understood what had changed between him, he longed for some kind of shift in demeanor, something stated openly, something other than having to interpret every small sign. He wanted Byakuya to tell him in words that he was valued, that he was capable, that he was appreciated. He knew very well it wasn't likely to happen. Byakuya simply wasn't made that way. When one worked alongside Kuchiki Byakuya, he had to be willing to rely on the small details, the half-hidden things that said what he was thinking beneath those calm gray eyes. And in absence of a way to do that, Renji made the choice to simply accept Byakuya as he was. After all, Byakuya had done the same for him.
Still, there were times…
"Abarai, is something wrong?"
The tone was placid, like everything else…not cold, but not warm either. And it told Renji to stop daydreaming and to return to his work.
"Sorry Taichou," he said softly, "I was distracted by the rain."
"Hmm…" came the noncommittal reply.
In the past, he would have issued a reprimand for Renji not to lose focus or slack off…but this small concession was another reminder that something was different…in a good way. Anyone else would have overlooked it, but Renji saw it for what it was and responded in kind.
"Would you like some tea, Taichou?" he asked pleasantly.
"Yes, tea would be good, Abarai, arigato."
Again, not a word was wasted, but there was something there. Renji smiled congenially and, rising to make the tea, contented himself with that. He hadn't taken more than a few steps when the alert sounded.
Code Red Emergency…Code Red Emergency…The dimension wall has been breached. All squads report to the dimension wall…The dimension wall has been breached…all squads report to the dimension wall.
Byakuya's eyes rose to meet Renji's and Renji nodded, then shot down the hallway, calling the squad to assemble. The barracks erupted in the sounds of startled voices, the swish of clothing, and the hiss of flash steps as the squad quickly assembled outside the Squad Six Headquarters and Byakuya and Renji led them away.
They heard the sounds of battle even before they arrived, the shouts and grunts, the crashing of swords. Byakuya's eyes met Renji's again and Renji turned and shouted to the group following.
Zanpakutou clicked free and hissed as they were drawn, then moments later, the noise exploded around them. Renji shouted to the group to break for the palace and followed as Byakuya flash stepped forward. They shot through the break in the wall and bypassed the entangled forces engaging the hollows. Their duty was clear. Protect the royal family at all costs.
They burst into the palace, shaken by the sight of the shattered doors, the bodies lying all about and the blood running beneath their feet. They heard voices ahead of them and turned toward the throne room, shuddering inside as they turned the corner and saw the blackened remains of the throne room door and the guards that had tried to protect it.
Suddenly, Byakuya slid to a stop, releasing a small, barely audible gasp of dismay. Renji stopped as well, catching his breath sharply as his eyes fell on the scattered bodies that littered the room…the queen, fallen with her protectors all around her and behind her, the children that she and the others had tried to protect. And all around them, the royal guardsmen, their white uniforms splashed with their blood and the blood of the royal family they had sought to protect. And at the final doorway, they found the bodies of Gin and Tousen…not torn, like the others, but neatly executed…at the moment their usefulness ended.
He had never heard emotion like that in Byakuya's voice, but he heard it now. He turned to the rest of the group.
"Check for signs of life, no matter how small. Save anyone you can! And stay here…"
He turned back to Byakuya and the two stepped forward into the Spirit King's Garden, where none but the royal family and royal guardsmen were allowed to go. They had only gone a few steps in when they found the two…their bodies locked against each other, blackened and ruined.
Renji stared in disbelief. He turned to say something to Byakuya, but the noble had dropped to his knees. Renji moved closer and felt a new wave of shock pass over him as he realized that Byakuya's body was shaking. His breath came out in trembling bursts and his eyes were filled with tears.
"Oh, kami…Taichou…" he breathed.
Byakuya's next words nearly shattered his heart.
"They…trusted us to…protect them. The Gotei 13…and especially the noble families…Renji…"
He opened his mouth to reply, but was struck silent as the spirit energy rose around them and the other taichous flash stepped into the gardens. Soutaichou approached Byakuya and as he quietly observed the fallen king and Aizen Sosuke, he brought a hand to rest on Byakuya's shoulder. The noble's eyes closed and his head bowed.
"We…failed them…" Byakuya managed in a whisper.
"Hai," the old voice intoned sadly, "but do not let yourself be overcome with grief, Kuchiki Byakuya. Our enemies have fallen as well…and we have the ability to bring forth a new king. The way will be difficult…but we will find our way."
He turned to the rest of the taichous.
"We must seal off the palace and gardens and begin repairs on the dimension wall. As soon as the crews are at work, I want all of you to meet with me to discuss our plan of action. The worlds of shinigami, hollow and human will begin to collide quickly. Unless steps are taken to provide an interim king and consort, everything will be lost. Move quickly now!"
Byakuya stood quietly in the first division meeting room alongside the other taichous, awaiting the arrival of Soutaichou. Calm had been restored to the stoic features as realization set in that there was nothing anyone could do to change the facts of the situation. Aizen Sosuke had managed to break through the dimension wall and had murdered the royal family. And although he paid for the attempt with his life, he had forced the Gotei 13 into a desperate situation. Byakuya shivered softly, wondering how awful the process for restoring the royal family must be.
The king commanded great power…power protected by several deep enchantments. Byakuya knew that upon the death of the king, his powers had left his body and had returned to the king's prism…there to await the arrival of the interim king and consort…and the way of renewal. He felt another shiver pass through him as he wondered how the interim king and consort must be chosen.
He felt the approach of Soutaichou and felt as though the breath had been suddenly sucked from his body. But he held himself perfectly still…surrendering nothing of the turmoil within.
"I thank you all for gathering so quickly. As you know, the royal family has fallen and it is left to us to bring forth the new king…or our worlds will collide and end. As long as the palace remains empty, our worlds will close on each other. We will slowly lose our powers as our worlds collide and, in the end, all life, human, shinigami and hollow, will perish. Only the birthing of a new king can prevent this."
"How do we birth a new king?" asked Ukitake in a soft, sad voice.
"The birthing of the new king is a process, the knowledge of which is given solely to Soutaichou…me. I will tell you the process and we must decide how best to achieve it."
He gave a deep sigh.
"This will not be an easy path, but we have no choice. First, we must decide upon a consort to bear the new king. That person may be male or female, because the process of birth is a different thing for the king. It is a gathering of power within the consort and a yielding of that power when it has grown sufficiently to maintain itself. It is like the human process of giving birth, but in the rebirth ritual, the power exits the consort and forms into the body of the new king. But it needs the body of the consort to contain it until it is safe for the king to emerge," explained Soutaichou, "The body of the consort will not change as human bodies do, as the power being housed in the consort's body replaces that person's own power for the duration of the rebirth ritual."
"What happens to the consort's own powers?" asked Hitsugaya, frowning.
"The consort's powers are sacrificed for the duration of the ritual…as is all connection to his or her zanpakutou. This is what creates the necessary space within the consort to hold the king's spirit energy."
"Damn…" muttered Zaraki, shaking his head, "Well, you can count me out for that!"
"Now…as to the qualifications. The consort must be taichou level…must be willing to sacrifice all powers and the connection with his or her zanpakutou for the duration of the ritual. And the most important factor…The consort must be virginal."
"But Soutaichou," said Ukitake, looking around, "There aren't any virgins among the taichous…I don't think…unless Hitsugaya…"
"No…" said Hitsugaya, shooting an angry glare at Ukitake, "I do not qualify."
"I don't know a damned one of us who will!" laughed Zaraki.
"Well then," Soutaichou went on, "We shall have to attempt purification of one of you."
"Purification?" queried Soi Fon.
"A captain may be purified by bathing in the pool at the center of the King's Garden. The water there will purify the body, but the memory of the consort would be made a clean slate as well…"
"Would the consort regain his or her memory after?" asked Hitsugaya.
"If the completion of the rebirth ritual is successful, then, yes, the consort would regain memories along with the sacrificed power at the end of the process. But be warned, there are no guarantees the rebirth will be successful…or that all memories would be restored perfectly. It is a risk the consort must assume."
"But you say that if the taichou level consort is virginal, then there is no need for loss of memory in addition to the loss of powers," Byakuya said, not raising his eyes.
"Weren't you paying attention, Kuchiki?" Zaraki said, impatiently, "There aren't any virgin taichous…or taichou levels…right?"
"That is incorrect," Byakuya said softly.
All eyes turned to stare at the noble. He looked up at them warily.
"Weren't you married?" asked Soi Fon, frowning.
"I was married," Byakuya said, raising his eyes, "but due my wife's fragile health, we did not consummate our marriage."
The room went deathly still. Soutaichou's eyes met Byakuya's questioningly.
"Then will you offer yourself as consort?" he asked the noble quietly.
Byakuya took a steadying breath.
"As I have the least to lose in doing so, in that I will not be forced to lose my memory…I think it would be best for me to do so."
"It is best if the consort is able to remember. It assists in the recovery of both consort and interim king after the rebirth ritual. If both are not able to remember, it makes the recovery process more difficult. I do warn you, however, that you may end up wishing you did not remember, Kuchiki Byakuya. Because in giving yourself over to this process, you must yield everything for the duration of the ritual. You must travel to the palace with the interim king and live there with him until the new king's birth. You must be able to accept yielding your powers, your connection with your zanpakutou, your identity as taichou and clan leader. And you will share this ritual with one you know, but who will not know you in return…one who has lost all sense of self, while involved in the rebirth ritual. Having your memory may become a burden that threatens your mission. Are you certain that you wish to do this, Byakuya?"
The noble met Soutaichou's eyes calmly.
"Very well. Kuchiki Byakuya will act as consort for the rebirth ritual. Now, as for the interim king…"
Several hands rose among the taichous, but Soutaichou's glare made them quickly fall again.
"You must all understand. The situation is likely to grow dangerous during the ritual. We are already short several taichous and we are losing another to this ritual already. Therefore, I wish to choose a captain level fukutaichou or equivalent to act as interim king."
"Do we need another virgin?" asked Zaraki.
"No," said Soutaichou, "The reason for this is that the interim king must bathe in the waters in the King's Garden in order to receive and contain the former king's soul power. His body must slowly render the former king's power into a new reiatsu and place this reiatsu within the consort's body."
"And how does that work?" asked Shunsui.
"How do you think it works?" asked Soutaichou, glaring.
"Oho," chuckled, Zaraki, "looks like our virgin taichou won't be virgin for long."
There was a sharp click and the hiss of a flash step, then the clash of swords crossing.
"Enough!" shouted Soutaichou.
Byakuya and Zaraki stood, braced against each other, swords drawn and crossed.
"Go ahead," Byakuya said in a dead-calm voice, "Say that again and I'll cut your throat."
"As if you could!" Zaraki replied, pulling his weapon away and sheathing it.
Byakuya hesitated a moment longer, then returned his weapon to its sheath as well. Soutaichou's reiatsu flared dangerously, silencing both.
"I have already considered all of the qualified shinigami and there is one who stands out as the one most likely to be successful in this process."
He turned to Byakuya.
"It works out well, I think that you have worked together. Perhaps that will ease the discomfort of your mission. Byakuya, it is your duty to go now and collect the one who will act as the interim king and assist you in birthing the new Spirit King."
He paused, gazing into the noble's dark, guarded eyes.
"The one I have chosen to aid you in this mission…is Abarai Renji."