Summary: When everything is taken away from you, that's when you really need believe in something.
Notes: Shaolin was Soifon's name when she was a child. Also, I am spelling it Soifon out of habit. Too old to change now. Please forgive my playing fast and loose with the timeline.
Yoruichi's heel shattered the mask to pieces as she followed through on her axe kick. The body had hardly dissolved before she smashed her fist into the next hollow's face and whirled to drive an elbow through the mask of a third. She leapt and twirled, struck and dodged, laying waste to the invading hollow force with reckless abandon and fierce joy.
Soifon wished her leader would slow down as she struggled to keep up. Normally, fighting alongside Yoruichi-sama brought her nothing but awe and pride, but today was different. The hollows had attacked this small village in an unusually large group and seemed to be everywhere! She swung her asauchi with fierce determination as she did her best to watch Yoruichi-sama's back. The team that accompanied them fought bravely as well. Unlike Soifon, they fell further and further behind.
"Youruichi-sama!" She yelled. "We have to fall back! We're getting too far away from our defensive line!"
"Oh come on." Her leader shouted as she followed two hollows out to the surrounding meadow. "These guys are weak." She took the two monsters down with a flying scissors kick.
"It's still too risky!" Soifon insisted as she slashed another hollow down.
The ones she faced didn't seem to be weak. They fought ferociously, almost desperately. As the number of enemies thinned, she was starting to detect a pattern. The hollows were doing their best against her and the team, but not against Yoruichi. In fact, they seemed to be yielding before her. They were letting her win, letting her get too far ahead.
"Youruichi-sama!" Soifon screamed as she frantically struggled to reach her. "It's a trap!"
"Huh?" Yoruichi said as she turned to face her bodyguard.
At that very moment, a garganta opened behind Yoruichi. Soifons eyes widened in alarm as several thick, ropy tentacles shot out before the portal was even fully open. She dodged around hollows who tried to block her path and ran to Yoruichi's side, shoving her to the ground.
Yoruichi landed hard, rolling with the momentum of Soifons push. Quickly regaining her feet, she witnessed the remaining hollows in full retreat, running from her team and diving into portals back to Hueco Mundo. The battle was over. Her people ran to her.
"Are you all right, captain?" They asked as they reached her.
"I'm fine." She replied as she looked around the field. "Where's Soifon?"
Everyone began looking around. She was nowhere to be seen. The team spread out, calling her name, hoping she would respond. Yoruichi retraced her steps to where she had seen Soifon last. She was certain she had reached the spot when she found something lying in the dust. Soifons asauchi.
Soifon was thrown roughly to the sandy ground.
"That's not who I sent you to fetch, Iskander." A booming voice said.
Raising her head, she saw old, pitted stone steps, worn and grooved from years of use. Following them upward, they led to a dais where someone or something sat under a canopied throne. In the light of a full moon, the tent-like covering formed a deep shadow over the seated figure. She could make out little more than his shape and a glint here and there from what appeared to be a crown.
"There were complications, your highness."
The huge hollow that had captured her was kneeling besides her. A good two meters tall with blue scaly skin and an almost human-like mask save for a horn in the center, he was distinguished by having several tentacles attached to each shoulder instead of arms. So his name was Iskander, eh? Looking around her, she was in some kind of open arena. The night sky spread out above her. The air was stale and dry, with a steady wind blowing gritty sand in her face. She was surrounded by hollows. Thousands of them. Everything she saw matched the descriptions of only one place. Hueco Mundo. She was trapped in the hollow's home dimension.
"Complications don't interest me, Iskander. What am I going to do to relieve my boredom now? Redecorate again?"
The hollow known as Iskander waved some tentacles in Soifon's direction.
"I realize she is not the shinigami you requested your majesty, but perhaps she can serve to amuse you."
"Oh?" The shadowy figure exclaimed. "And who might you be little monkey?"
Monkey was it? Oh no, he couldn't be more wrong. She was not a little monkey. She was a little bee. Soon enough they would get a taste of her sting.
"I am Soifon, retainer and bodyguard to the house of Shihōin, and I am going to kill you."
The wind keened and moaned in the silence that followed. Soifon kept her body loose and ready for whatever came next.
The glint from the hollow king's crown winked in the dim light as he threw his head back and laughed.
"Perhaps you're right Iskander. Maybe she will be amusing. Let's try her out."
Immediately, Soifon felt a body rushing at her from behind. It wasn't hard to figure out what they were trying to do. If they wanted to give her a little test, she'd be happy to oblige.
She leaped upward into a backward somersault, the small, man-sized hollow diving beneath her, failing to tackle her as it had planned. It spun on its back legs, revealing praying mantis type claws and an undershot jaw with two upward curving tusks. As she landed in front of the creature, it lunged for her face. Side stepping the attack, she kicked the beast in the knee, shattering it and causing the hollow to fall to the ground. Jumping on its back she seized it by the head and snapped its neck with a sickening crack.
"Splendid, splendid!" the king shouted. "More! Send more!"
Three more small hollows were selected from the crowd to attack. Knowing she was expected to fight to the death made things easier. Her opponent's animal ferocity was no match for her speed and skill. In a matter of minutes, three more bodies were lying on the ground while Soifon stood, panting but unharmed.
"Not bad." The king said. "Not bad at all. Very well, we'll keep this one for now."
"It is my honor to serve" Iskander replied with a low bow. With lightning speed, his tentacles shot out and wrapped themselves around Soifon's arms and legs, totally immobilizing her.
"Bring out the collar." He ordered.
Two squat, muscular hollows approached. One carried a smoking brazier filled with red hot coals. The other brought a thick iron collar, jointed in the middle and open. Without a word, it placed the collar around Soifon's neck. The hollow then took a slug of lead and closed the arms of the iron collar on it. Taking a pair of glowing hot pincers from the brazier, it squeezed the iron parts against the lead slug. Under the heat from the tool, the lead began to melt. Soifon strained to get as far away as she could. A drop of the crude solder fell on her shoulder burning her, though she refused to cry out. When the hollow stepped back, Iskander released her. Two large hollows seized her by the arms.
"Take her to her cell until the king wishes more entertainment." He commanded.
The heat of her collar was barely tolerable as it rested on her clothes. The cloth started to smolder under the hot iron as they dragged her underground to the dungeon level. As soon as she was thrown into a cell, she wrapped her sleeves around her hands and held the collar away from her body. The door, made of thick wood with a slot on the bottom and a small barred window on top, slammed shut. Only two thoughts were in Soifon's mind in the echoing silence that followed.
First, she was glad that she had frustrated the monster's plans to capture Yoruichi-sama. Even if she died at tomorrow, it was still worth it.
She was left alone for several days, the monotony broken only by her feeding times. She tried not to worry about the burns on her neck and shoulder, ignoring the pain. She made up a routine to stay busy scheduling in regular sessions of calisthenics, meditation and forms practice. It was during meditation that she felt the disturbance.
It was a very small thing. She could barely feel it herself. It was a presence, a hint of energy, tiny and frail. She could feel it moving, slowly and indirectly. It was coming her way. She was not surprised when the hell butterfly flew through the barred window of her cell.
Holding out her hand, the small insect fluttered across the room to land on her palm. She gently stroked it, being careful to avoid its delicate wings as it rested. The message is carried from Yoruichi-sama was short and direct.
"Get free. Get Clear. Use the signal."
There was more to it, of course. The butterfly also carried the echo of Yoruichi's worried mental state. It made Soifon smile. Checking the butterfly's legs, she found what she expected. The signaling device was as much as a butterfly could carry. A very small disk of what looked like gold. It was like a flattened bead. Crushing it should result in activation. It was mounted on a pin and could be worn as an earring. Soifon sighed. Unfortunately for her, she had never had her ears pierced.
She stroked the butterfly once more.
"My thanks to you, little warrior."
Stuffing it in her mouth, she swallowed it as quickly as she could. Only a few minutes later, Iskander's mask appeared at the barred window.
"Something strange is going on shinigami." He said in accusingly. "Something I can't quite put my finger on. Is it your doing?"
"How could I possibly be doing anything in here?" She snapped back, glaring defiance. "Besides, you don't have any fingers."
He stood there staring at her for a long time. Soifon ignored him and went back to her meditation. Eventually, Iskander went away.
There was no outward change in Soifon's routine or appearance. She hid her true feelings, keeping her face placid and still. Inside, she was very excited. Her resolve to escape had just received a huge boost. Yoruichi knew where she was. She had found a way to enter Hueco Mundo. She had given her the means to escape. It was still going to be difficult and dangerous. It was much easier knowing her idol was waiting for her. It gave her hope. Best of all, her first opportunity should be arriving in only a few hours.
The hollow that brought Soifon's food arrived on time as always. Mostly human in appearance, it shuffled along dressed in rags, a wide leather belt holding a large key ring. No doubt, it felt completely safe as it shoved the tray under the slot and turned its back to the door to leave as it had been doing as a matter of routine for days. However, today was different. Today, Soifon's belt looped over its head and tightened around its neck. She pulled on the belt with all her strength, dragging the hollow backwards until it slammed into the door. It had to stand in its toes to keep breathing. It felt the sharp prick of metal against its throat.
"The keys." She demanded. "Now."
Slowly, clumsily, the monster groped for the keys at its waist. It blindly waved them behind its head. She snatched them from its hand.
"Thank you." She said as she let it go, drawing her belt back into her cell.
It took off running down the hall, anxious to escape and raise the alarm. The kunai Soifon had concealed flew from her cell's window, punching cleanly through the back of its skull. The door soon opened to show her re-tying her belt around her gi. She ran into the hallway when she was done and retrieved the kunai from the hollow's already dissolving body. She was free. Now she had to get clear.
She had memorized every twist and turn of the underground passages leading to her cell. She ran along the passages as if she did it every day. It wasn't long before she was on the surface breathing in the slightly less stale air of the eternally dark desert. She tightly suppressed her reiatsu to keep from being detected. All she had to do now was pick a direction and keep running until there were no hollows nearby. She would then activate the signal and wait. Simple.
Reaching out with her senses, she was not really surprised to see it would not be that simple. There were hollows of various power levels all around her. Not surprising being she was in the capital city of their home dimension. What was surprising was their pattern. They all seemed to be converging on her. How? She should be undetectable to any creature more than a couple meters away. Three hollows rounded a corner and ran at her full tilt, filling the night with their terrible cries as they spotted her. She threw the shuriken she had kept concealed in her gi and flash stepped away as the last one fell. Stopping to get her bearings, she was confident the hollows would still be headed towards her last location. Instead they were changing direction to intercept her! One leapt from the shadows. She plunged her kunai into its flank, cursing as it stuck on a rib and was wrenched from her hands. Another shuriken took it down, but she had no chance to retrieve her kunai before more hollows were upon her. Reaching down to her boots, she pulled out two collapsible batons and prepared for close quarters combat. Even as she struck her opponents down, she knew it was futile. Enemies were closing in from all around. Her window of opportunity had vanished.
She was forced to drop her weapons when a tentacle wrapped itself around her neck, cutting off her air. She choked and gasped as she struggled to free her neck. Lifted off her feet, she was soon eye-to eye with the hollow Iskander.
"Where do you thing you were going, shinigami?" He sneered. "As long as you are wearing that collar, there's nowhere you can go where we won't find you."
He dropped her to the ground where she rose to all fours, gasping as she tried to force air into her starved lungs. Even as she wheezed, she mentally thanked her enemy for being so stupid. So the collar was giving her away? That was a good thing to know. She glared up at him as she recovered. He was going to pay for arrogance some day. She swore she would make it so.
"You were hiding a few toys from us, were you little monkey?" Iskander asked.
He waved one of her shuriken in front of her face.
"That was very naughty of you."
He picked her up, tentacles immobilizing her arms and legs. She was too weak from the fighting and her recent strangulation to resist. One of his free tentacles waved hypnotically in front of her face.
"Before we put you back in your cage, I'm going to make sure you're not hiding anything else.
Keeping her suspended in the air spread eagled, bound hand and foot in his powerful limbs, he ripped her clothes off as he began his search.
Scratched and bleeding, Soifon was roughly thrown naked back into her cell. A few filthy rags were tossed in to replace her destroyed uniform. She lay there for a few minutes gathering her strength. She felt dirty and violated. The hollow had searched thoroughly and deeply into every possible hiding place on her body. More than anything, she wanted to bathe. Knowing that wasn't going to happen, she lifted her head and took comfort in her small victories. She spit into her hand, bloody foam concealing her prize. Despite Iskander's best efforts, she had managed to keep the signaling device hidden under her tongue. The sharp post on it had cut and punctured her mouth repeatedly. It was a discomfort she cheerfully ignored. She hadn't escaped, but she was in a better position for her next attempt. She had gained valuable knowledge and was in a good position to exploit it. She had also managed to palm a small sharp rock as she was dragged back to confinement. She put on the ragged, ill fitting clothes as best she could, sat in a dark corner of the cell and began to pick at the lead sealing her collar.
How many days had she been here? She was beginning to lose track. They were very careful handling her now. Guards stood outside her door at all times. No less than two hollows saw to her care and feeding. They were very careful to chain her up before bringing her to the arena. Even after they gave her enough freedom to battle her opponents, all avenues of escape were carefully guarded. Though she hated the thought of her skills entertaining the evil monsters, she never held back as she destroyed them, one after the other. She consoled herself with the thought that there were a lot less hollows to prey on the living. The king quickly grew bored with her killing hollows her size. Soon they tried bigger hollows. Then multiple hollows. It didn't matter. Soifon slaughtered them all. As the king got bored even with the uneven matches, Iskander hit upon the idea of giving her opponents weapons.
The tall, ape-like hollow lowered its halberd at her and charged. Soifon almost snorted in contempt. Clearly the creature had no skills. She waited until the point nearly touched her chest before twisting her body. The weapons passed harmlessly where her torso had been. It was simplicity itself to put her tiny foot out and trip the creature. It sprawled face first into the dust, its weapon rolling away. Soifon leaped, using her weight to kick as hard as she could on top of the monster's head. It had no effect that she could see. As it rose up, she waited for just the right moment. Seeing her opening, she gave it a spinning kick in the throat. It grabbed at its neck, fighting for breath. Soifon probed its body with punches and kicks, searching for weaknesses. All too soon, the hollow recovered and lunged for her. She taunted it, throwing rocks and sand at its face. The hollow pursued her. Faster and faster the hollow chased the quick darting figure of its tormenter, fighting to keep its eyes clear of the sand and dirt she threw in its face. Finally, she seemed to tire out. She stood still, facing the hollow, bent over, hands on her knees as she panted and wheezed. Sensing victory, the hollow charged at her screaming, arms spread wide, ready to crush her. A split second before it reached her, she picked up the halberd and braced the butt end on the ground. The hollows own momentum drove the weapon completely through its body. It fell to the ground, instantly dead. The arena was completely silent.
"Did this match not please you, your majesty?" Iskander asked the king.
Everyone in the arena could hear the monarch's bored sigh.
"This is getting too predictable Iskander." He said. "She always wins. Can't we do something to, I don't know, slow her down?"
The large hollow thought about it for a moment.
"We could stop feeding her your majesty." He suggested.
The king's cold laughed rang out from under his shadowed canopy.
"Yes, let's give that a try. Maybe it'll be more interesting when she can't hop around so much anymore."
Soifon was uneasy at this latest turn of events. Returned to her cell, she looked at her shaking, damaged hands. Days of steady fighting with little rest and no medical attention was taking its toll on her body. If they cut off her food, she would soon be too weak to escape. Even now, she wanted nothing more than to lie down and gain the peace of unconsciousness. She fought against it. If she was going to escape she would need to use all of her training, all of her discipline. She would need to stay strong. Just as she had been taught...
That spring morning, she was well into her lessons with the other children of her clan, practicing roundhouse kicks in formation when sensei interrupted her.
"Shaolin!" He called. "Come here."
Curious as to why she was needed, she quickly trotted before him and bowed.
"Yes, sensei." She acknowledged.
"Shaolin, Grandfather Shan is here to watch your class practice. Go and fetch him some tea." He ordered.
Young Shaolin felt instantly nervous and self conscious. The great Grandfather Shan? Here? And she was supposed to serve him tea? Her eyes nearly bugged out of their sockets as she saw the great man himself enter the practice yard. Dressed in purple robes, he walked slowly using a cane, back bent with his many years, his long white hair and beard fluttering in the breeze. Shaolin felt as though she had walked into a fairy tale. The actions and deeds of the Great Shan were legendary throughout the clan and beyond. Not only had he been the clan's greatest warrior, not only it's most effective leader, he had done something almost no one else in the clan had ever done. Grown to old age and retired.
"Shaolin!" Sensei hissed. "Stop staring and get the tea!"
Snapping out of it, she bowed low in apology.
"Yes sensei, right away!"
Actually getting the tea was a blur in her memory, although she remembered being very careful carrying the tray out to the yard. She didn't want to think of the shame it would bring if she spilled the tea. As she returned, she saw someone had already set up a chair and table. Grandfather Shan sat under the warm sunlight, smiling and nodding as he watched the youngsters practice.
"Your tea, Grandfather." Shaolin said as she carefully poured him a cup.
He gave a slight nod of acknowledgement to her as he picked up the tea. He took a sip, then held his hands around the cup to absorb its warmth. Shaolin was unsure of what to do next.
"Should I go back to practice Grandfather?" she shyly asked.
He shook his head.
"Stay here in case I need you." He said.
Shaolin thought her heart was going to pound right out of her chest. The great man had actually spoken to her. She stood by his side, still as a statue, ready to do whatever he commanded.
After a while, he turned his head and looked at her. Looked DIRECTLY AT HER!
"Everyone is working very hard I see." He said.
Shaolin could barely hear over her pulse pounding in her ears. He had spoken to her directly. He was engaging her in conversation! What should she say?
"Yes, Grandfather." She said. "We are working hard to get strong."
"Are you now?" He said. "Why?"
Why? Shaolin thought. What kind of question was that? It's what you did as a clan member.
"To serve the clan." She answered. "To protect the house of Shihōin."
Grandfather Shan nodded and smiled again, but said nothing more. He soon seemed to be lost in thought. Shaolin had a sudden impulse. She surprised herself by her own boldness as she disturbed him.
"Grandfather." She asked. "Can you tell me how I can be as strong as you?"
Grandfather Shan looked at her in surprise. It wasn't often people were this direct with him. He was also more than a little amused by his tiny grandchild.
"You want to be as strong as me, eh?" He said. "Can't you see me hobbling around using this cane? Surely you want to be stronger than that?"
"That's not what I mean Grandfather." Shaolin said. "You have accomplished more than any other member of the clan, survived where everyone else has died. How did you do it Grandfather? How can I be like you?"
The old man began to laugh.
"That's all you want, eh?" he chuckled. "You don't want much, do you?"
He leaned towards her.
"The answer you seek is very simple, but it's also very hard. Are you ready?"
Shaolin leaned closer, eyes wide as she nodded.
Grandfather whispered as if passing on a great secret.
"To do as I have done, to get through where no one else can bear, to endure trials and suffering that would crush anybody else, you simply have to have something or someone to believe in."
Shaolin didn't understand.
"Believe in something or someone?" she asked. "Believe in what? In the gods? In the clan?"
"Ah, now that's the trick." He said leaning back. "What you believe in is unimportant. What is important is that you know in your heart that in times of trouble, what you believe in is worth striving for and gives your suffering meaning. More importantly, that things are expected of you and that you have to live up to those expectations. It doesn't matter if it's the gods, the clan or your pet goldfish."
He paused to take a sip of tea, a faraway look in his eyes.
"In times when things looked hopeless and I felt like I couldn't go on, I would draw strength from my beliefs. No matter how much pain I was in or how weak I felt, I couldn't give up. Death seemed like a coward's way out compared to betraying my beliefs."
Shaolin was confused. How did goldfish tie into any of that? She didn't understand at all. "So what should I believe in Grandfather?"
He smiled down at her and reached out to tousle her hair.
"That, grandchild, is up to you. I know you don't get it now, but someday it will all make sense…"
Ignoring her pain and fatigue, Soifon continued to pick out the solder on her collar. It did make sense to her now.
I do have someone I believe in now Grandfather, she thought, and I will not shame her by giving up.
Though her fingers were slippery with blood from the sharp rock and metal shavings, she focused beyond her pain, focused on the person she believed in, focused on living up to her expectations.
"Yoruichi-sama." She whispered. "I will not give up."
Cutting off her rations had the desired effect. She had a much harder time defending herself. She still won all her matches, but it was getting to be a very near thing. She was taking more injuries and without food, her body could not heal. This latest match felt like it would be her last.
They had whips this time. Emaciated from days of starvation, Soifon barely had the strength to dodge. Two hollows circled her, their lashes whipping out in unpredictable patterns she could hardly see. There were bleeding tracks across her back and legs where she hadn't been fast enough. A sudden crack echoed across the arena as the hollow lashed out and her cheek was gouged. She had barely moved her head in time to keep from being blinded. The hollow tried the same move again. This time, she was ready for it. Catching the whip in her hand, she ignored the burning pain and pulled. She yanked the weapon from the hollow's grip and spun the handle around her head in a tight arc. Releasing it, the metal counterweight in the grip smashed into the hollows face, shattering its mask, killing it. The other hollow used the opportunity to charge, tacking her and dragging her down. They wrestled and struggled in the dust, Soifon desperately tried to use her agility and skill to get out from under the bulk of the masked creature. She was too weak. No matter what she did to gain leverage, she didn't have enough strength to follow through. Screaming in triumph, the hollow reared back its head, preparing to tear out her throat with its teeth. This gave her just enough of an opening to jam her fingers into the eye socket of the creature's mask. As if flinched backwards, she wriggled free. Grabbing the whip the creature still held in its hand, she looped the braided leather around its neck. Twisting with all her might, she cut off its air and crushed its throat. It got to its feet and staggered around the arena, slamming her against the walls, falling on top of her over and over as it attempted to get her off. Soifon refused to let go. The hollow grew weaker and weaker, eventually collapsing to the ground. She didn't let go until she was sure it had breathed its last. Releasing the whip, she found she didn't even have the strength to stand up. She lay there in the dust, blood turning the dust on her skin into a sticky paste.
"Boring!" The king shouted. "That was even less interesting than when she was bouncing around."
"Would you like us to start feeding her again, your majesty?" Iskander asked. "She should become livelier then."
"No, I'm bored with the whole concept." The monarch rumbled. "We need to think of something new. Go ahead and kill the little monkey and we'll start thinking of what else we can do to pass the time."
Iskander bowed. "As you wish, your majesty."
The hollow strode over to where Soifon lay, glassy eyed and panting. He decided he was going to take his time. She had been quite a bit of trouble for him. His tentacles reached out towards her neck. He was going to strangle her, just as she had done to her last opponent. Strangely, before he could touch her, she suddenly wasn't there. Flash step? Impossible, she was absolutely exhausted.
It took only a fraction of a second for those thoughts to go through his head and for Soifon to reappear above him. She dived towards his face, pulling her iron collar open, the last bit of lead solder breaking with an audible crack. The last thing Iskander saw before he died were the jagged metal ends of her collar entering his eye sockets and oddly enough, a flash of gold in the shinigami's ear.
The confusion covered her tracks well. She finally saw the perfect opportunity to activate her emergency reserves of energy. She would be able to operate at top capacity, but only for a few minutes. When it ran out, she would be helpless as a newborn. She stopped using flash step as soon as she was free of the city to save energy and ran as fast as her legs could carry her. She was well out of the capitol now, surrounded by scraggly dead trees and sand dunes. Distance was her only defense now. If she stopped moving, she would probably never move again. It was either escape or die. She focused her mind on how proud Yoruichi-sama would be if she succeeded and how good it would feel to get home.
At last, she could run no more. Swaying uneasily on her feet, she pulled the small gold device from her earlobe. She squeezed down on it, feeling the soft metal give. She had done it. Now all she had to do was wait.
The wind howled over the lonely dunes. Sand and grit worked its way into her mouth as she gasped open mouthed for breath. Nothing happened. She continued to wait. She had faith that Yoruichi-sama was doing everything she could to get to her. In the back of her mind, she felt something. As worn out as she was, she needed a few seconds to focus on it. She was feeling the reiatsu of the hollows. They had picked up her trail. If she wasn't rescued soon, they would capture her again. She did not move. She would not move.
"Yoruichi-sama is coming for me." She whispered. "I know it. I will not lose faith."
Closer and closer she felt the hollows come. Their anger was loud as they sped her way.
"I will not lose faith."
They couldn't be more than ten seconds away.
"I will always believe in you."
"Even if I die here, I will never stop believing in you, Yoruichi-sama."
She didn't turn around as the hollows crested the sand dune behind her, bellowing in triumph as they spotted their prey. She didn't believe in them.
The air before her ripped open, revealing Yoruichi-sama's face.
"Duck!" She screamed.
Soifon didn't duck so much as collapse. A dozen kunai flew from Yoruichi's hand, taking out the first wave of attacking hollows. Second division troops poured out of the garganta, engaging the monsters. Two picked her up and dragged her inside the time/space rift.
"Everybody back! Now!" Yoruichi ordered.
The soldiers gave a fighting retreat, preventing any hollows from entering as the rift closed. The clash of blades and the screams of hollows was cut off by the dimension sealing itself. Soon there was nothing but the silence between worlds. Soifon was placed on a stretcher and covered with a blanket. A fourth division member put her glowing hands over her as another gave her water.
"How is she?" Youruchi demanded.
"Not good." The woman treating her said. "There are old burns on her neck and shoulder that look like they didn't heal properly. She's badly malnourished and dehydrated and has suffered a great deal of trauma. I'm surprised she's still alive!"
"Hachi, is there anything you can do for her?" Youruichi asked.
"I'm sorry Captain." The large pink haired man said. "It's all I can do to maintain this pathway through the dangai and keep the hollows out."
"Then let's get ready to move people!" Youruichi ordered. "We have to get her home fast."
"Youruichi-sama." Soifon croaked. "I'm so happy you're here."
"Surprised?" she asked as she knelt down beside the stretcher. "It didn't take Urahara long at all to figure out a way to access Hueco Mundo."
Soifon weakly shook her head
"No, I'm not surprised." She whispered as she fought to stay awake. "I never doubted you would come for me. No matter how long it took."
"Well, of course!" Youruichi declared with a warm smile. She picked up Soifon's hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. "I knew you would escape somehow. I have faith in you. I'll never stop believing in my little bee."