Brave New World

Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with sleep.

–The Tempest [Act IV, Scene 1]

i.

Someday, Urahara thinks, he will be old. Vast (vested) and bondless, he will be frailer than a scarf of dust, a forgotten symphony. But now, he is young and majestic and freshly caged. He is grateful for this respite, is proud to learn—

(disdainful and unnaturally bright)

"Urahara Kisuke?"

He turns at the call of his name. Cordially, the pleasantries commence. "Who're you?"

"Sousuke. Aizen Sousuke. I'm a first-year at the Academy."

Aizen-Sousuke, So I See.

Nodding, Urahara leaves and thinks nothing of the encounter or the strange boy with warm, earnest eyes.

He is late (no one likes to wait).

. . .

Urahara excels in his classes. Easy, languid, the numbers and characters swim over him (tiny fishies with broken fins) and tease him bored.

He retreats into the fortress of summer naps and dreams of beautiful ladies with long, black braids and white, powdery robes. Somnolent, hushed and clinging to bare-dried, withered ramblings on spells and enchantments.

It's automatic, sneaky. Urahara learns via infiltration, over rue. Something unfathomable, intolerable.

Slumped over (an abrupt snore), he casts kidou a thousand ways—not once does he fail. And soon, he is crowned as genius and hailed as legendary.

. . .

Thing without a soul
man with the key

Child without delusion
boy with a vision

. . .

He graduates with all the appropriate honors.

Cool and fluid, he slays (is praised). It's becoming tedious and he's been immured in this selfish, empty, heterodox farce masquerading as worship. Urahara begins the count towards infinity.

"A promotion, Yoruichi-san?" echoes and mocks.

"One well-deserved," she retaliates.

. . .

Occasionally—he'd rather not—Urahara substitutes for Yoruichi at the Academy when she's on a mission (tripping over clouds or flash-tailing some prey). Usually, she supplies him with her lesson plan. But this time, it seems she forgot.

And so, he improvises. Brilliant, mesmerizing, he dazzles and dazes the students into submission. They are entranced, unable to turn "Page 180, please" around and balk. High on his podium and wasting nothing, he tests them like teasing foil from tesserae.

They are holding (holed in hell) their breaths. And he has all the answers.

In the back of the lecture hall, Aizen Sousuke glows with admiration and awe (the shade of envy festering). He wrestles down time, simmering. After class and dusted in ink, he will confront:

"Urahara-sensei. I was somewhat confused by your lecture today."

"Oh?" keen and quick.

"Could you tell to me who is the one standing at top of the world?"

. . .

Maimed.

Urahara witnesses the enslavement of the spirit king. Defiant, the thing shackles itself short of divinity.

The twilight of the gods. On this, he promises never to speak, to reveal—of that which will eventually come to pass.

ii.

Hirako Shinji is smart, but Aizen is smarter.

Therefore, Aizen will win.

Theretofore proven, Aizen wears a carefree mask and calls him "Captain. Should we head out?"

. . .

Urahara becomes an unexpected mentor. To his astonishment, to someone he's known for a long-long, too morbid of a time. Someone he's been wanting to but can't forget (eviscerate in clean-nibbled bits).

Cordial and stringing along mutual disbelief, Aizen requests for a lesson.

"I'm not really a teacher. And you're no longer a student," Urahara responds.

"But once we were both, Urahara-sensei. Since you are renowned for your…intellectual pursuits, you must understand my desire to learn."

Like kindred souls cleaved at birth.

Urahara smiles— "Well, you've got me at that. What do you want to learn? I'm afraid I can't teach you bankai, if that's what you're seeking. I'm merely a jailer for the Onmitsukidou."

"I want to know about the spirit king."

—evolves into a Cheshire grin. "Oh dear, oh dear. That too is beyond me."

"Is it true that no shinigami has seen the spirit king?"

Urahara does not answer. It is for the best.

Perhaps.

. . .

From the shadows, Aizen spies him meditating. He is tranquil (dozing off) and beautiful in mist-cast light.

Aizen steps closer, cautious in stealth (it's all in the tendons). Creeping in voyeuristic and—

"Ah, Sousuke-san, is that you?"

"Forgive me, Urahara-san. I was walking by and noticed your reiatsu."

Liar.

Urahara cranes his neck. "Let me guess. You want another 'history lesson' on Soul Society?"

"Well, frankly, I wanted to ask you for some tea."

Cheerfully, Urahara pours him a generous cup. Slyly watches as Aizen takes a slow slip, wondering how he's acquired this sudden protégé.

. . .

There is madness in the water, sickness in the trees, and a massacre rising—unrivaled: toppling

—Urahara stops.

Quiet, shocked, and almost mournful, he stares down into the gorge. It is a hot, gory mess. Limbs hacked up the vines, green-charmed bile spilling out. He fights the repulsion rioting in his stomach.

And then he sees it, senses them: the neat little rows of sandal-print. Like patterns on an April kimono, they bloom in bursts and torrents. Shinigami—and their death warrants.

Because this is Rukongai, where nothing mattered.

Because they (and he) are loyal only to Seireitei, where everything signified.

It will be wise to remember this, Urahara thinks.

Because one day: Soul Society will crumble with Seireitei and its bastards at the helm. Weak, ravenous, it will ingest and annihilate itself from parasitic rust. But one day is still too far off, and he was growing impatient.

Yet for now, he must not act, must wait and see. And find its (both of theirs) poison-point.

The world is rotten, wicked in decay. But he'll make it okay.

. . .

Aizen listens with his heart alert and crucified.

Enthralled (in thralldom) by seizing devotion—respect—he begins to realize that there's something filthy with how things are. But Urahara never comments on how to change the status quo. And Aizen doesn't ask.

Urahara-sensei is always right.

. . .

In an ideal world, there is no need for kings and idols and the naïveté of idolatry. Like clockwork, the world will run. Accurate, constant, without fail.

And nothing bad ever happens.

. . .

"Urahara Kisuke of the Second Division."

"Good morning, Captain Hirako."

Shinji scowls. He's heard the rumors and has come to confirm (no mood for games). "A birdy tells me that you've taken Aizen Sousuke under your wing."

"So the birdy says."

"Is it true, Urahara Kisuke?" Fingers drumming to a staccato tempo, up and down the hilt of his sword. Shinji leans forward. Waits for an answer, weighted and deadpan.

"We are only acquaintances. But why would a captain be so interested in little, old me?"

"Just curious, I suppose. Good day, Urahara-san. I hope we will see each other again. It's good to expand one's taste in friends."

Shinji's hand travels from zanpakutou to shoulder (from master to pupil). Urahara is startled by the slight, reassuring pressure of bones digging into tendon. Their eyes lock as Shinji sweeps past, sleeves billowing and electrifying the air.

. . .

"What is the purpose of the spirit king?" Aizen demands for the millionth time.

And Urahara replies, same as before, "Something we can't understand."

. . .

How do I?
With you.

Caged in solitude with his research, Aizen rewrites theology. He is transfixed, petrified. There (glows proud and bright) is the secret he's been seeking. The shrill, shrewish voice of immortality.

And so, Aizen imagines for them a brave, new world: one that is full of wonder. They will chant him as a hero, and he will be apotheosized at long last. And he will be equal to (worthy of). Jubilant, an exultant mad on high.

He hurries to tell Urahara, eager to be extolled (to be adored).

iii.

Aizen wants to play god, but there's no god-role to be auditioned.

Urahara already killed it.

. . .

As they pass—glance and near-apocalyptic collide—on judgment day, Urahara stops the parade. Their dragged thin, overdue, childish charade. For a second, there is silence and the brevity of a pitiless empathy and then, they are blown asunder.

It is shameless, is noble, how they have arrived at this juncture.

"You honor me at my internment, Urahara Kisuke. Are you here to gloat?"

"No. I'm here to petition."

Aizen narrows his eyes. "For what?"

"Your sentence."

Lips curling into a smirk, Aizen dissolves from memory and domain. Eminent and dignified to his penultimate breath, with black straps binding him.

. . .

Eight levels below purgatory, Aizen feels the rumble of the earth, the emasculation of skies. He sees the corpses and smells the canals drowned by blood and rain. He can hear their screams.

Traitors. All of them (not him).

They deserved this (their holocaust).

. . .

Sometimes, Urahara drops down for a visit. In the heat of war, only he (gifted in squalor) engineers enough time for leisure.

"I see that you are well."

"What do you want, Urahara Kiuke? Are you here because you're scared? Because you need my help?"

"No. Think of this as a social call."

Urahara approaches, bone-bruised with patchwork shadows staining his skin. Haggard and pale, he's been tried and conquered. Is secure, confident, is the final nuance of a pristine nightmare.

And when he is there, firmly rooted and undone, he delicately cups Aizen's cheek. Whose skin is smooth, cold like steel (a rotten blue).

Eager and laughing, Aizen braces for the inevitable. Has anticipated this for more than a hundred (thousand) years.

. . .

Remember how the wind works, how the river growls.
How the ferryman comes to gather the dead.

Is elegant.
Are sent.

Tell me, once again: who is the spirit king?
The dead king,
The hollow king.
The king without body,
Thing without soul.

Spanned between existence
Tucked in distance.

. . .

Bleak. Miserable and dank, unforgiving the world is, the un-ideal.

Urahara chokes on his guts and entrails. The wound is deep. And he is alone.

. . .

Shinji is precise and graceful as he slices the melon, tossing the seeds skyward. His fingers are long and slender (almost dainty) and perform an intricate tango across the cutting board.

"What will you do now?"

Now that it ends.

That evening, they prepare for the funerals: seven boats lined up for the burning ghat. Flowers (their vanguard) drift along currents, and the river is inflamed. Smoke-hazed and rampant-run, flooded. Blooded.

Urahara closes his eyes (and heart). Standing beside him with head bowed low, Shinji recites the oration.

. . .

"The spirit king is the intercessor between god and men, the gears in the clock. And we shinigami are its agents. Without that thing, the entire system disintegrates."

It is ugly but absolute.

Calm and simple, Aizen responds, "You are a fool for following that thing."

And always will be.

Urahara sighs and looks at him sadly. "You still don't get it. That thing is unique and can't be replaced. Unlike shinigami who are born of souls, it has never been alive. So how can you even kill it?"

How can you dethrone the throne itself?

. . .

When everything is over and done, when the world has stabilized (to stagnate) is when it starts hurting the most. Admitting—

That they are so very alike in ideals, that their only difference is in the execution. Which is too hideous and treasonous to say—aloud. So, Urahara jokes and acts innocent (ignorant) though he knows he's not really fooling anyone.

Sitting down, he waits for the spirit king to arrive.

That thing is late.