AN: Welcome! I'm fascinated with horror and the psychological effects it has on the human mind, I thought I may try my take involving Byakuya despite that I fear I've made him unrecognizably out of character. Writer's block dictates chances this story will ever be completed is not high. Bleach is Kubo's. I have also enjoyed writing the accompanying poetry, please don't use without my explicit permission. On another note... I'm also looking for a beta for this chapter and the next ones. And lastly, I don't believe there will be much romance...but so far pairings include: Ichiruki, ByaHisa, and implied onesided RenBya.
There's talk of religion, but just in passing. This story will not focus on religion or be about it. In fact, the artistically-creepy, gorgeous chapter 501 embodies what I am trying to do with this story: bring fear into Byakuya and show a process of recovery.
Deepest thanks and dedication to StarLight9 whose friendship and long ago advice allowed for this...
'By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.'
Chapter One – Once Upon a Dream
Walking this path was familiar. He took it when he wanted to clear his mind and think, sometimes just to write poetry or practice calligraphy. It led to a charming traditional tea house with alluring gardens and cherry blossom trees surrounding it and the small lake. It was their little haven, Byakuya and Hisana's. Byakuya frequented that private breadth still years even after his wife's death, finding comfort in the familiarly and lingering memories.
It was further down, enough a length away from the main section of the family mansion that it drew no attention. Taking the long wooden bridge elevated above the water by merely a foot or so, he followed the zigzag pattern until he reached the entrance of the area he sought. It was not the largest he had beheld; in fact, it was rather small. Byakuya didn't mind it in the slightest. Stepping in, a hint of a smile crossed his features. The poems with dried black ink were ones left from his last visit; they were still in place, as ever. Nothing was ever misplaced. No other he knew of passed through this particular area anymore other than him, especially during this time late into the evening.
The darkening loom was replaced by flaming candlelight. Gently bathing the room in its light, it also began mixing with the air to create more warmth. It brightened the noble's off-white silk robes, enhanced further by a contrast of inky black from the obi at his waist.
Sweeping the room with one final glance, he sat to the side, carefully picking up calligraphic brushes, ink and the heavy white sheet papers and assembling them to his preference. Then the ink from the brush tainted the whiteness of the paper.
The palest of pinks
Mingled in tints of yellow
And some lavender
Sits upon the rainwater stream
In the form of a rose
But being pushed gently
By the stirring water
The rain comes down harder
And I see you – rose - drift further
And out of my vision
To be missed
In your death
In our closeness
I can never let you go
Several hours later, Kuchiki Byakuya stretched lightly, and turned his head.
Adjacent to the entrance laid a half barrier, the left side exposed to an open overview of the pond and gardens. They were almost in full bloom at this season. Walking onto the platform outside that area, Byakuya took a seat on soft thick sheets previously spread out. Breathing in, he again noticed the freshness and crispness of the night air.
Small tiny blossoms and their petals, so resembling Senbonzakura's flight, fell around him. The wind picked up and blew them even further into the tea house, above the rectangular shape beyond the shorter wall on the outside where he sat, to lay scattered inside. His hair flew around his face and his irritation at the gesture escaped his bearing. Even more irritable were the sleeves of his robe that flew upward enough to brush his checks several times. Byakuya turned his face fully toward the wind so his hair and sleeves flew instantly behind him before turning his face toward his left to look through the sadouguchi entrance. He glimpsed that out of the many lit candles he donned in lieu of light, four flames were out. Alone without an audience, the noble allowed himself a sigh. He frowned then; a small furrow on his brow and the slightest narrowing of eyes. The wind was unusually heavy in this area. The carefully planned trees and gardens usually prevented such amounts of wind from passing through. And where he was, at the heart of the elaborate gardens, it should not have been so strong, it never had been before.
Through the tall cherry blossom trees the speed and power of the wind increased, enough to startle the small pond, caressing the water into forming ripples. Even the petals of cherry blossoms and various plucked flowers moved roughly toward him, rippling water guiding the ones resting atop. It was as if they were there merely for the purpose of blowing him away. The reflection of the full moon on the dark waters became distorted but the scene looked beautiful even in the chaos.
Byakuya allowed his eyes to flutter close, a response to the heavy wind searing at his now burning eyes. He took a heavy breathe and with the sense of vision temporarily absent, the scent he picked up in the air rose richer. So intoxicating. Like a sweet dose of wild roses and a rich flavoured sake brew. He could not help but inhale it because soon the clarity of air became intermingled with the scent, the scent twirled everywhere.
What was the scent? His eyes suddenly shot open but nothing appeared out of place in the scenic area. No movement, not any sign of life present. Even the wind seemed to have disappeared.
What was that scent? How could he not have noticed before that it was certainly not natural? It could not have been from just this natural premise. It was a scent that had to be laid out, sprayed, and leaked, due to the amount and strength. Certainly it did not originate from where Byakuya sat. The wind must have carried it. But the wind continued on even after the scent engulfed you, yet it is still here, a small part in his mind seemed to say. Perhaps it came across from where the mansion lay. He frowned again. The directed of the mansion is directly behind me. It could not have come from there. It was an odd occurrence for sure because he knew no living establishments were near enough to produce the directed scent.
He froze. Completely still, he peered over the stagnant water of the koi pond into the greenery.
But what left Byakuya a little more started were the eyes he felt on him. He could not see anyone, it was merely a feeling. Years of shinigami training and battles had taught him to trust in his first instinct. It had saved his life countless times. He felt watched. Byakuya was at a disadvantage. He felt watched yet he could not discern from where. Senbonzakura a silent weight next to him felt reassuring and his slender hand reached toward the deadly weapon.
His pale hand gleamed in the moonlight as he picked up his zanpakuto silently. The light touching his hand dimmed as Senbonzakura was finally in his grasp as his other hand reached to pull the scabbard away slightly. The gleam on Senbonzakura's exposed blade shone a reflection of the moon.
No other hint of reiatsu present, nothing indicating others around him except the distant ones of those in the Kuchiki mansion. His sister, his lieutenant and Kurosaki were there as well as the rest of the Kuchiki household. That was to be expected, however, who else could be here? In all his time of coming here, with Hisana while she still breathed and alone after Hisana passed, he had never encountered another person even near. The tea house resting upon the outer portion of the small pond was deep in the Kuchiki gardens. Many centuries ago, the small but elaborate tea house was constructed by the clan leader for his bride as an honour to their love for the two had fallen in love at the very location. Since then, the tea house was only used by the main line of decedents. Byakuya's own father had mentioned sharing moments there with his mother to him as a child.
The breathe he let out was manual, only then did he realize he was previously trapping the air flow. He inhaled again softly. Despite the unknown situation he remained calm. It was the key to overcoming such a circumstance.
The blade in his right hand, the sheath in his other, Byakuya slowly moved from his position of seiza to one of standing. Glancing behind him swiftly alerted him that two more flames went out, leaving only four remaining. Little light left, but he could see well enough. He could use a kido light superbly if that happened, and if worst came, he would not need it. There was sufficient moonlight for fighting. Fighting required no light.
"Come out," he commanded his voice steady and low. Nothing happened. Then abruptly-
A sudden movement caught Byakuya's right eye and within that very second his blade slashed through the air, touching whatever it was. His eyes narrowed. It was only a leaf. Two halves of a leaf fluttered to his feet. Byakuya didn't let that distract him; his attention was focused on another threat. He surveyed the area while also thinking of his foolishness. Only a leaf had managed to accelerate the beat of his heart so! It never had happened like this in very, very long. Not since he was a child. He felt foolish and suddenly very young again. He felt the teenager that his grandfather had always reprimanded due to his grandson's quick temper and rash decisions again. But he could not dismiss the strangeness of the situation. He knew he felt something more than what his eyes presented to him. He felt a motion coming toward him, too heavy to have just been a leaf. It was as if an invisible being somehow brushed against him. A gesture pressing toward him, perhaps even passing him was what he felt. The touch, for he could not discern the exact feeling of what the gesture brought, lingered on his face. Byakuya's right side of his face tinged as if the lightest of clothes, perhaps his silvery windflower scarf, had pressed against his porcelain check. He didn't display the effects of the experience.
He didn't think further on that, it was back. The rousing scent that enveloped Byakuya before appeared and settled back around his willowy form. There was no wind to bring it to him this time. The willful scent was so close he could not escape it. Not even when he moved backward, stepping further into the tea house did the scent leave. It seemed to do the opposite, instead of staying in place, it moved with him! But perhaps his rattled calm was just lending to this feeling! Surely a scent could not follow him in the manner this one seemed to! It clung to his adornments and above his face.
Four of the candles still lighted the small chamber overlooking the pond. They were the ones at the innermost part of the tea house and sat in diamond shape. Their light seemed to have gotten grander from their previous pitiful state without Byakuya's notice. Three inches in height were the flames, about half the length of each slim, teal candle. Wax dripped faster than ever to the white-gold center of the candle holders. The golden lights beamed toward the tea ceremony set sitting innocently in the corner. The glass bouncing the light back in a way the polished cherry wood could not. He breathed a sigh in, and regretfully inhaling the scent he had become wary of.
"There really is nothing there and I am foolish or there is, but… is unnatural," he could not help but say softly.
"Master," Senbonzakura's whisper touched his thoughts. Hmm.
"Master, I feel a presence. I cannot recognise what it may be." Byakuya exhaled and his zanpakuto continued. "It is not human. It carries no reiatsu, it is nothing I have seen before."
I will tread carefully, the noble related back. His hand shook slightly, almost unnoticeable before his eyes.
He inhaled sharply.
Byakuya took another step further into the room, but could not help the imbalance of his weight. A small weight seemed to press him lightly on the back of his neck. A tight sting seemed to have been placed at his ankle horizontally so when he took another step his foot touched it harshly. He stumbled but managed to break his fall, just enough that he noticed the closeness of the fire. It was inches from his face - something that greatly alarmed him. Heat from the candle flames touched his skin fiercely, breathing it, relishing it, kissing it. His light pants drawing a reaction from the large flame. It wanted to harm him it seemed.
Swiftly he rose and glanced at the ground. There was nothing. No string or anything that could suggest his fall was not merely out of his own clumsiness today. It is to be expected, Byakuya warily though, given the vague nature of this…presence.
Byakuya didn't take his eyes off the candles, couldn't. The lights were flicking in the darkness. A small amount of smoke seemed to be rising from the one furthest from him.
He inhaled once again.
This time the scent caused a slight tingle as it touched the back of his throat. Light spots danced over the dark richness of wood interior, the candles, and then eventually overwhelming even the flame lights, they increased and covered what should be clear vision. Byakuya brought a hand up to his face and squinted then blinked many times to clear his vision to no avail. Senbonzakura clanged to the floor. His head spun. The illusionary vision of the room he saw swayed and seemed to spin before his eyes, leaving him disoriented. He was like a bloom in the sea, powerless and being consumed, not meant to be. His breathing sharply increased to short, jagged pants when his vision left him entirely. What is this?
Byakuya first collapsed on his knees, scrambling desperately to grasp his katana blade. The ringing in his ears augmented. He could not think clearly.
"Master, you must -"
And it was the last thing he heard before he fell entirely to the floor, unconscious. Long black hair spread across the floor and the body lay in an uncomfortably warped position lying on the side. The white kimono's outer layers splayed out created a still vision of beauty.
A page of calligraphy fluttered in the wind.
Lying still bittersweet
Crushed exquisiteness upon a portion
Dead in the breeze
Voice caught in my corpse
It was dark even with the candle light flickering, and it was when he first opened his eyes that he noticed the flicking of the candle. The night was still, yet the candle moved as if a wind blew it. Compared to the extraordinary length of the previous flame, it was very small now. Byakuya did not want to ponder of what had caused that to occur, many strange things had taken place already. He was startled, loathe to admit such a weakness, but unable to help but feel it pull at his heart. Not one to lie to himself about his feelings, he freely admit that.
He could feel his hands shaking, unable to stop the reaction.
In front of him, his left arm was stretched, palm upward. As he lay on his left side, he could not help but notice the obvious: blood. Little in quantity, but there on his fingertips it was blatant. Pearls of red formed little droplets and then joined others. Crimson liquid dripped down his fingertips, into his knuckles and down in-between. Pages were scattered across the floor. Byakuya felt the droplets settling down into the poetry pages beneath his hand, staring in morbid fascination, unable to stop for unknown reasons. He felt lightheaded…he didn't recall ever feeling so dizzy before. It seemed to cause his limps to feel weak, rendering movement difficult.
How could he have allowed himself to be reduced to such a position?
The noble felt extremely vulnerable. Never before was he exposed to being in such a strange position. While his mind tried to tell him it was just a thief or a common trickster, his racing heart and his zanpakoto warned him only of a feat he thought once impossible: that concerning the unseen.
Byakuya remembered back to the time many years, before he even met Hisana, when he had once faced a hiding assailant. His enemy had hid so well that his movement locations were tricky to spot. His weapons thrown at him at such a speed it was almost impossible to tell which direction it was coming from and which way it was headed for. Byakuya had become tired of the game of dodging. His far more easily angered and younger self turned the game around. He had used the superior shunpo, moving at such a speed that he had managed to be the one hidden predator and the target the lost prey. This was not such a situation. The movements of this unseen were unpredictable. Perhaps the only thing he could gather at all was the candle flames and lingering scent as evidence for its whereabouts.
It was his body's reaction to the unexpected to jump slightly. A small wet something touched his ankle. Something long and silky slithered up his left feet, curling around once then twice in slow movements. The hissing sound started and Byakuya started in mute horror as the snake's head rose above his position on his shin looking right at his eyes. It looked through him. Deadly and starved, it wanted to consume him.
"Senbonzakura," Byakuya whispered out fiercely in a hoarse voice to his blade although he could not spot it anywhere beside him. In fact, he could not even sense him causing visible confusion to display on his feature. He didn't think further on that- there wasn't much time.
The snake was black except for the red hissing tongue reaching across toward his face.
It didn't get a chance to bite- Senbonzakura's petals flew across the space and severed it into pieces. Blood splattered everywhere. The silky white kimono attached crimson spots amassed at the hem. The noble almost didn't even feel the sharp spots of pain appearing as his shock mounted, his own zanpakuto's blades digging into his flesh.
A second later the illusionary petals disappeared, this time the blade that he could not locate appeared just next to his right side. Not only that close, but it dug closer, enough that Byakuya could feel a sharp shock pass through his form. It was of pain and he could hardly believe it that Senbonzakura's complete blade would allow the spilling of his blood. It was one or two inches inside his side and close enough to scrape his rib bone. The tears welling up in his eyes were a helpless reaction of shock and incomprehension of his situation. His breathing stopped as he was trying to retreat from the pain. Deep within himself where there would no longer be any confusion, any cadaverous telling.
The pain wasn't something he had never felt before. To wield his willful zanpakuto he had trained vigorously, enough to gain small fading scars telling of struggle. But those were different; they were of a sort of victory. This touch burned like never before. It was as if the blade was made of acid for the sheer purpose lay to bring about his deterioration. His hands became bloodied as he gripped Senbonzakura's bare blade, anything to dislodge it from his body.
It would not move much, it was as if a pull was placed. Every time his hands managed to pull the blade out by a millimeter, it would force back into his flesh by two more. His own blade was trying to eat at his heart! He tried to muffle his protests of pain. He could no longer think enough on them. Moments spent trying to catch his breath, coming out jagged and harsh and the usually shell pink lips turned a bright red at the helpless damage done. Such was his pain that he barely felt the smooth movement glide up his tense legs.
Without evening seeing them, he knew. The hissing reverberations on his skin gave them away entirely. There were more snakes. Tiny, but still threatening, Byakuya became all too aware as the snakes continued to reach him. He didn't know how many, but of a substantial quantity, enough to be jarring. They breached his skin and the noble could not help but let out a pained gasp.
Byakuya had never felt so helpless before. It was so…terrifying. Being so helpless was disturbing, even more with the threat of his own zanpakuto embedded in his flesh.
What could he do?
Desperate enough to try anything, even without his mind's consent, Byakuya's body acted on pure impulsive, panicked reactions. He jumped, trashed his legs as an attempt to divert the snakes, in vain. They swung on; becoming angered even more, rage visible in their hissing song. Senbonzakura's blade a permanent thought on his mind as it dug deeper and poked at vulnerable flesh. Byakuya scrambled back again, and to his immense relief the blade came free with a clang. The pain of that fall was enough to bring a short yelp through his throat.
There was no time to think of it. The snakes were rushing toward him and the one on him still slithering forward. They were not feeling threatened, but threatening. Byakuya risked getting up; snake still attached to his leg, and flashed through the opening of the tea house. There was hardly any breathe left in his lungs. He felt they would tear, explode due to the lack of oxygen and breathe. He could not even notice the sweet scent any longer. He didn't stagger much longer because the side of the entrance he had taken only led to an elevated back sitting area with only a standing overhead, with no escape.
He felt something begin to drip down his nose. Perhaps it was water, or perhaps blood. It became cold enough that he could no longer tell, even though the pain.
He could no longer help himself. He fell slack sideways, almost into the still pond. His balance and disorientation were abysmal. I cannot even support myself, my fall, he though. And with that thought, he watched as the liquid trickled down his nose, into his mouth where he was forced to taste it.
Blood, it was only more blood. It dripped into the pond.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
He heard his own breathing and black spots filled his vision. The left arm he held onto the edge of the platform loosened slightly and the right arm he clutched at his wound shook. His knees were underneath him and the snakes were around him, touching him, violating him. Byakuya barely felt it as he dipped, orientation lost, into the blackened pond, dragging the snakes with him.
Immersed in the water, the pressure of the water triumphed over the prone figure and in that moment, a superior pressure hell-bent on breaking him was discerned. The pressure was on his chest, it was as if something was trying to penetrate into his being- something trying to pry open his chest and see what his heart looked like. Byakuya could provide no defensive response to it - the trashing of his hands and legs futile and the layered kimono he had donned earlier becoming so heavy through the water.
What pitiful life.
He took his last breath.
The pain of previous air was futile. Only water entered his lungs.