Chapter 9: Wicked Temptations
"Tetsuya Kuchiki," Aizen said calmly, "Byakuya's right hand within the Kuchiki clan...protector and enforcer, If I remember correctly."
"So I am," Tetsuya said sternly, blue light beginning to glow around his zanpakutou, "Now, set my cousin down and step away, or I will attack."
"I will hand Byakuya over to you, but before I do, you must listen to me. I am not responsible for his injuries," Aizen began.
"The hell you're not!" snapped Renji, drawing his sword and taking a position alongside the young noble, "We all know the kind of disrespect you show to the noble families, who make up the bulk of the Central 46 council! We remember that very well. So, if you value your life, then put him down!"
"Tetsuya Kuchiki," Aizen said, more stridently, "There is no time to argue. I know that you can feel the decline of Byakuya's reiatsu. And you will feel something else if you wait much longer. He was attacked by a spirit demon."
Tetsuya's eyes widened, and the hand that held Re-kuhime tightened. As if to punctuate Aizen's words, Byakuya's eyes blinked open, and the others gasped softly in distress at the odd, red glow beneath the steely gray of his eyes.
"Open a doorway into Karakura Town immediately!" insisted the former captain, "We need to reach Orihime quickly if we are to stop him, not just from dying, but from the encroachment of the reiatsu of the demon who attacked him!"
"How do we know this isn't one of your illusions?" Rukia asked savagely.
"She is right," agreed Ichigo, "We can feel that the seal that bound you has been broken."
"It has," affirmed Aizen, "And it was Byakuya, himself, who freed me so that I could act to stop the slaughter of his clan. I know that he came to you and told you of the corruption within Central 46. But what we found upon arriving here was that the corruption extends into the spirit realm, where powerful demons have killed the royal family and seized control."
"Kami!" breathed Tetsuya, staring in disbelief, "This cannot be!"
"After sending the clan elders and subfamilies into hiding, Byakuya returned to me here and he sensed that demons were attacking illusions of the elders and family members that we left behind. He realized then that what was going on had to go beyond Central 46, so he immediately went into the spirit dimension to learn more. Just before your arrival, Byakuya arrived through the archive doorway, injured as you see him. Look at the claw markings. You can feel the disturbed reiatsu within his wounds. It is slowly claiming his life and turning him into one of them. We need to eradicate the demon's reiatsu if we are to heal him."
"B-but," said Hanatarou, "The only healer I know if who is strong enough to do that is Captain Unohana, herself!"
"We cannot risk taking him to the fourth division now that the demons have become aware he knows of them. Remember, they are trying to destroy the heart of the Kuchiki clan. They are going to attack the Seireitei, and they wanted to gain control of Central 46 and to destroy the Kuchiki clan to pave the way. Yamada Hanatarou, you must report to the first division to sound the alarm! Tetsuya Kuchiki, I will give Byakuya over to you, but please first open a family senkaimon so that we can reach Orihime!"
Tetsuya's eyes blazed, but he gazed at Byakuya for a moment, then nodded and sheathed his weapon. He stepped forward as Ichigo, Renji and Rukia watched, and Hanatarou flash stepped away. At the young noble's command, a doorway began to open. Aizen sighed in relief as it did, and carefully set Byakuya in Tetsuya's arms.
"Come quickly now," he told the others, "Things will swiftly deteriorate within the Seireitei."
The group hurried into the precipice world, leaving the quiet environs of the archive behind.
"Just so you know," Renji said to his former captain, "Just because we have accepted, for the moment that you didn't attack him, doesn't mean we trust you. We don't plan on forgetting who you are, Sousuke Aizen!"
"Nor do I expect you to," Aizen answered, leading them on, "I accept that you will not trust me, but I think we need to set aside our differences and save full explanations until after Byakuya's life is out of danger. Byakuya took action before the destruction of Central 46 to stop some of the guards who were attacking me within my cell. Then, after the blast, he assisted me in finding the way out, and then gave me the token to enter the Kuchiki archive."
Tetsuya nodded briefly.
"The entry token is necessary for anyone not of the clan, and is ascribed to only the one or ones who he permits to enter. He gave a token to Rukia to assist Hanatarou, Renji and Ichigo in entering the archive. But even had the token fallen into enemy hands, it could not be used by them. It is identity specific...which adds credence to your story, as even your Kyouka Suigetsu cannot have overcome the protections on our family's archive."
"I wonder, with war breaking out in the Seireitei," said Rukia, "...if it was really a good idea to take my brother from the archive."
"But it doesn't look like we had time to bring Orihime back," said Renji, "Look at his eyes. They're getting darker, and his reiatsu is darkening too."
"Orihime will be able to reject it," Aizen said firmly, "We only need reach her before the demon reiatsu steals him away completely."
The group fell quiet as they stepped down into the living world, emerging just short of Orihime's apartment, in a small park.
"I'll go and inform Kisuke and Yoruichi about what's happening," offered Ichigo.
"We will need to go into hiding until Byakuya is through this," said Aizen, "We need to have time to formulate a strategy for dealing with what is happening in the spirit dimension."
"I will tell him!"
The others hurried to the apartment building and up the stairs, arriving at Orihime's door and knocking urgently. And although she evinced a moment of shock at seeing, not only the injured Byakuya in Tetsuya's arms, but Aizen Sousuke, she quickly ushered them inside and knelt beside Byakuya, releasing her powers before even asking any questions.
"Be certain that you reject the malevolent reiatsu within him before you begin the healing," Aizen warned her.
"Th-this wasn't done by hollows, was it?" she asked, sounding as though she knew the answer already.
"No," Aizen confirmed quietly, "Byakuya was attacked by demons of the spirit dimension.
"Why?" the girl asked, studying Byakuya's pained features with sad eyes.
Aizen looked up at Orihime, Renji, Rukia and Tetsuya.
"Rukia and Renji are aware," he said, blinking slowly, "They were inside Central 46 after the explosion."
He glanced at the two in acknowledgement.
"I know this because when Byakuya came to you and you told him this, he was being protected by Kyouka Suigetsu, so I could monitor what he saw, heard and experienced."
He paused, turning his eyes to look down at the unconscious noble.
"Just before the bombs went off, Byakuya passed near my cell and stopped, because he heard the sounds of guards attacking me as I laid bound and unable to fight back in my cell. Most men, knowing who I am would likely have merely walked on, but Byakuya could not allow such a thing and burst into my cell. He intimidated the guards, and was preparing to leave, when we heard and felt several explosions, and debris began to rain down on us as parts of the prison failed and collapsed. Again, although he needn't have done so, Byakuya quickly freed me and protected me from the destruction...a reflex, he said. When things settled, we began to look for a way out, but most of the ways out had been either sabotaged before the attack, or destroyed during. Amidst our search for a way out, we discovered...bodies of councilors...not killed in the blast, but executed. We found others who had previously been reported dead or missing, incarcerated in the lowest levels illegally."
"We saw guards after the explosion," Renji added solemnly, "We saw them killing, not just fleeing prisoners, but councilors. We knew right away that something fishy was going on."
"We were still trying to escape the prison, when injuries that Byakuya had sustained in the explosion, and that I could not heal because I was without my powers, began to overwhelm him. Knowing that he was dying and desperate to protect the Kuchiki clan from whatever plot was afoot, Byakuya gave me a token so that I could enter his family's archive. He died moments after...but...before he did, he released the seal on my powers and asked me to protect his clan on his behalf."
"M-my brother...?" Rukia began.
"He died," Aizen affirmed, "He stopped breathing and showed no signs of life. However, the hougyoku, which was still sealed away, spoke to me and said that if I would free it, that it would help me by saving Byakuya's life. I broke the seal and it healed Byakuya, as it had promised."
"Holy shit!" exclaimed Renji, "So that thing is..."
"Freed," Aizen said quietly, "I understand the distress this causes you. However, you can be reassured that as Byakuya did assist me by stopping the guards that were tormenting me, I will not harm him, nor allow harm to come to him. I will not harm any member of his clan, nor allow them to be harmed. So...as long as none of you attack or try to imprison me, I will not harm any of you."
"Well," said Renji, dryly, "With all due respect? That doesn't really reassure me very much."
"No, I imagine it does not," Aizen agreed.
"But," said Tetsuya, meeting Aizen's eyes calmly, "The fact that he allowed you into the archive with him is an indication that he trusted you to some extent. It does not mean that we will forget what you have done, but it does mean we will attempt to keep an open mind. Just...be warned. We will be watching you closely...and if you do anything to..."
"I have no reason to attack you," Aizen said, shaking his head, "Just do not give me one, and you will come to no harm from me."
"But what are your plans?" Rukia demanded, "How do we know you're not using my brother to try to get to the spirit king?"
"Did you not hear me before?" Aizen said, looking into their eyes, "Demons have slain the royal family. The spirit king is dead."
"You want to repeat that for me?" said Kisuke Urahara's voice from the doorway, "because you can't have just said what I think you did."
He entered the apartment, followed by Ichigo, Chad, Uryu and Yoruichi.
Aizen met Kisuke's intense eyes and nodded.
"It is what Byakuya told me," he said solemnly, "I have no reason to believe he is mistaken. And that means an attack on Soul Society is imminent. And while they attack, they will be searching for the Kuchiki subfamilies and elders that Byakuya sent into hiding, as well as trying to find and kill him. I sent Yamada Hanatarou to warn the captain commander of the impending attack, but demons have already broken into the Seireitei and tried to murder the Kuchiki elders and subfamilies. They want to break the back of the strongest clan so as to have no powerful resistance."
"Nice," muttered the shopkeeper, shaking his head, "But don't think that this gets you a free pass, Aizen. I know what a bastard you are, and I am not going to let you get away with anything."
"What would I try?" asked Aizen, "I may have the hougyoku unsealed, but remember that it has rejected me as its master. It honors those of my desires which also benefit it, in some way, but I do not control it anymore."
"All the more reason for all of us to keep our guard up," said the shopkeeper.
"As though doing so would help you, if indeed I wanted to attack you. So do not trust me. Instead, just do not interfere with me, and I will not interfere with you."
"I think we have enough problems as it is without compounding them," said Yoruichi, shaking her head, "If what you said before is true, and the king has been killed, then the three worlds are on a course for destruction. Things will fall apart very quickly."
"The king is the one that holds the three worlds together," said Kisuke, "If we are going to have any chance to hold things together, we need to get into the spirit dimension."
"Byakuya used his family archive entrance," Aizen remembered, "But it only allowed him through...not me."
"Only the Kuchiki clan leader may pass freely into the spirit dimension," explained Tetsuya, "but with his permission, family members and other clan leaders may pass through as well."
"So, Byakuya, Tetsuya, Rukia and I have a way in," said Yoruichi, "But judging by the beating that Byakuya took, I think we're going to need more than the four of us."
"We will deal with that later," said Kisuke, "For now, we need to focus on strategy. I would say that, at this point, we have a day, maybe two to get Little Byakuya on his feet again and work up some kind of plan for getting into the spirit dimension and stopping this disaster. As soon as Orihime finishes stabilizing him, we'll all go to a safehouse, where we can monitor what's happening in Soul Society and make some kind of plan."
He nodded to Aizen.
"So you have a reprieve as far as any of us trying to interfere with you. You're not a threat as long as you have no way into the spirit dimension...which, lets face it...you don't."
"Not at present," Aizen said dryly.
"Great," Kisuke muttered, sounding less than pleased, "Looks like we have ourselves a grudging alliance...for the moment."
"For the moment," Aizen agreed, smirking.
Kisuke leaned over Byakuya, studying the readout of a small device he held over the noble's sweaty, tremoring body. He frowned and shook his head, then sighed.
"What's wrong?" asked Yoruichi, "I thought that before we brought Byakuya to the safehouse, you said he had stabilized. He doesn't look so good right now."
"Well," said the shopkeeper, "He isn't dying or turning into a demon, so he's okay on those counts. But even though Orihime was able to eradicate the demon reiatsu, it left some residual echoes and flutters in his system. His reiatsu is in fits. I'm concerned he might go haywire here and blow our cover. We don't want him being sensed. Obviously, we'd have more demons breathing down our throats. So we have to keep his reiatsu from flaring too brightly."
"I don't imagine a reiatsu cage will even be enough to stifle it, ne?" asked Aizen, frowning.
"No," said the shopkeeper, shaking his head, "Because...well, here's what's happening. The demon reiatsu that was in his body was forcing his systems to shift towards becoming a spirit demon, which, as you know, is a transcendent being. And even though that reiatsu is gone now, and not pressuring his, Byakuya's reiatsu is in a chaotic state and has to calm. But it will have flares that touch transcendent levels, and not even a reiatsu cage can hide that. I am not sure what can."
"I may be able to help with that," suggested Aizen, "If we can gain the assistance of the hougyoku, it is able to hide transcendent level reiatsu. It did this to assist me as I laid my plans. However, I will need four captain level shinigamis...'pillars' at the four corners to anchor the seal on the nullifying structure. Byakuya and I will be within the structure, but no others as Byakuya's power flares could be quite violent."
"You are not being left alone with my cousin," Tetsuya said warningly, "I will risk being within with you...and do not expect me to back down on this. I won't."
Aizen sighed unhappily.
"You may come to regret that decision, Tetsuya Kuchiki," Aizen replied, "However, as a gesture of cooperation, I will not object to your being there, if you wish to take the risk. I will be completely focused on holding down Byakuya's reiatsu. You will have to manage, yourself."
"I understand," said the noble.
"Okay," said Kisuke, "It looks like we'll have Yoruichi, Ichigo, Renji and me as the 'pillars.' Aizen and Tetsuya will be inside with Byakuya, holding his reiatsu down, and the rest of you will take turns on guard duty around the safehouse. Any questions?"
He noted the silence and nodded.
"All right, then, let's get started."
"You four take up positions at the true north, south, east and west," Aizen directed them, "You will face inward and will be able to see and hear what is happening within. Do not move from your positions or divert any power to us, nor take any. You are the barrier that will conceal us as we bring Byakuya's reiatsu under control."
Tetsuya and Aizen knelt on opposite sides of Byakuya's resting form as the others positioned themselves, then all eyes focused on the former captain of the fifth division. Aizen rose and walked to each of the four pillars, calling on the power of the hougyoku as he moved about, touching each lightly and speaking the incantation. He frowned after a moment, realizing that something was wrong.
What are you doing? he asked the hougyoku.
I am not going to help you, the spirit said, matter-of-factly, You have not delivered on your promise to give me life. Either you will seduce Byakuya Kuchiki into acting as the vessel or you must offer your own body to complete the task.
I have not forgotten, nor abandoned our bargain, Aizen replied, his reiatsu darkening, but you threaten to undo us to the point where you will never be brought to life.
The hougyoku sparked fitfully in his chest.
I am not going to do your bidding, only to have you turn your back on me in the end, as you did with your colleagues, Gin and Tousen, and in the very end with your own zanpakutou!
Perhaps a compromise, then, Aizen suggested, You assist me with the pillars and I will hold Byakuya's reiatsu in check, myself.
You cannot hold back transcendent reiatsu on your own! the hougyoku objected, But try, if you wish. I will let you handle it and only interfere if it looks like you cannot manage. But do not expect me to be so magnanimous in the future, Sousuke Aizen. You forget that I know you. I will let this go so far, and then I will...
Do not threaten me, Aizen warned the spirit, If you turn on me, I will find the way to destroy you. Then, you will never know life. Play your cards carefully now. Do not be too brash or you may lose everything.
The hougyoku laughed softly in his mind.
Take your own advice, shinigami. You are as vulnerable to me as I am to you.
Yes, agreed Aizen, This is a cold war. But if we cooperate, we can both have what we want. Now...set the pillars and I will manage Byakuya's reiatsu.
He smirked at the hougyoku's disgruntled flutters as its power flooded the pillars, concealing the reiatsu of the ones inside. He noticed the younger noble's intense sapphire eyes observing him closely as he knelt again at Byakuya's side.
"Is there a problem?" he asked softly.
"No," Aizen said shortly, "Now, focus your energy on keeping Byakuya's reiatsu from going out of control. That will be our singular focus. If he goes out of control, you and Byakuya will be swallowed up in the resultant explosion of reiatsu. I will survive because of the hougyoku."
"Is that so?" Tetsuya asked, holding his gaze steadily, "because you said that it is no longer in acceptance of you as its master. Can it not, then, abandon you to possess another?"
"It would only do that if there was another, more powerful being to possess," Aizen answered, leaning forward and joining his power with Tetsuya's.
"I see," answered the younger man, bowing his head slightly and increasing the flow of his reiatsu around his unconscious cousin, "But...if Byakuya's power goes out of control, in that the reason is that transcendent level power flares are affecting him, could the hougyoku not simply invade his body instead and force it into actual transcendence...as the demons have primed it to be able to accept the additional power?"
"It is a danger, perhaps," Aizen said, looking into Tetsuya's eyes, "So...if you sense that the hougyoku is attempting it, we must combine our power to keep it from entering his body."
Tetsuya thought for a moment.
"There may be something that I can do that will assist you in amplifying your power, and will enable me to guard against the hougyoku entering my cousin's body. It is an altered interpretation of a healing power that my zanpakutou allows me."
He laid a palm on his sheathed weapon and focused deeply.
"Mizu no shouheki, Re-kuhime," he breathed.
Aizen watched in wonder as the younger man's body began to glow the same bright sapphire color as his eyes. The light grew nearly blinding, and as he stared, Tetsuya's body slowly lost its definition and flowed down to wrap around Byakuya's body in the form of a dark blue shield.
Mizu no shouheki, Tetsuya's voice whispered into his mind, allows me to sacrifice my body to become a shield that both amplifies power I allow entrance and repels malevolent forces. Coupled with my cousin's will to resist, and your own will to keep the hougyoku within your body, this will ensure that the hougyoku does not choose this moment to abandon you.
Aizen nodded in approval.
"Thank you, Tetsuya."
I am not doing this for you. My life belongs to my cousin, and I will die before I see him poisoned with that thing.
"You had best be prepared to follow through on that," Aizen whispered darkly, "I do not know exactly what will happen when Byakuya's reiatsu begins to flare."
The two fell quiet then, each focused deeply on the rising swell of Byakuya's errant reiatsu as it slowly coalesced around him and began to burn.
Shades! Tetsuya's voice hissed in Aizen's mind.
"Steel yourself, Tetsuya Kuchiki," Aizen whispered aloud, "This is where it begins."