Sorry for the delay in updating! I was really ill last week with flu and this week I haven't had any inspiration. But at last, I managed to find some.
Thank you all for your wonderful reviews! They are lovely to read :)
Chapter Five: Plans of Hope, Devastation and Despair.
It was mayhem around Seireitei, and no one had really imagined how hard things would be without being able to utilize their Zanpakto. When tensions began to run high the efficiency of the Divisions began to be compromised.
With no Head Captain to advise them and no reiatsu in their Zanpakto, even the remaining Taichou were at a loss of what to do. Finally conceding a course of action, it was decided that Ichigo and Stark would lead two reinforcement squads, Ichigo would begin searching for Byakuya and Renji while Stark and his team searched for Yamamoto.
Under orders to avoid as many fights as possible, Stark and Ichigo parted outside of Division One.
Ichigo and his group flash-stepped towards the place that Byakuya's reiatsu had last been detected with determination. He was certain that they would find them both.
They arrived on the cracked rooftop where Szayel had seen Byakuya and Renji and began searching for any clues which might have been left behind to tell them of his current location.
Ichigo grew frustrated as there appeared not to be anything around and sighed, he paused his search and closed his eyes to think about where they could have logically gone after they had been attacked by their Zanpakto.
Opening his eyes, he followed the telltale damage of Senbonzakura's petals, he jumped down from the room and jogged down the path, his eyes darting from side to side as he searched.
Pausing abruptly, Ichigo stared at the large hole in the ground which appeared to lead to the sewers which ran under the city. He walked over and crouched, checking the patterning on the ground.
"They were chased by Senbonzakura to here... Byakuya probably already knew that they couldn't outrun his petals so he would have used kidou, perhaps Soukatsui, to blast the ground open and provide them with some shelter."
He glanced up towards his still searching team before he dropped down into the sewers and held his nose as the rank odour struck his senses.
The strawberry lit one of the torches and looked around at the devastation, why, it was a good thing that the whole tunnel hadn't collapsed already by the looks of it!
There were thick gouges in the walls which he believed had been made by the slash of a sword and by the look of the pattern he was tempted to believe that the culprit was Zabimaru.
So, Renji had been down here too which would have attracted the attention of Zabimaru.
The thinner gashes which covered the walls and the floor and the ceiling, suggested to him the petals of Byakuya's Zanpakto.
He tapped a finger to his lips, "So Byakuya and Renji both came down here, together most likely. And Senbonzakura and Zabimaru followed them down." He closed his eyes, "But what happened after they got down here?"
He walked slowly down the thin path which ran down the side of the sewer water, there was a frown on his face as he examined the continuing gashes in the stone as he travelled. By no means had Renji and Byakuya simply laid down and accepted defeat, he could see Kidou scorches, probably more Byakuya's attacks than Renji's and he also saw sword marks, markings from a katana which was more likely to have been caused by his redheaded friend.
He came to a sudden stop as he felt a flare of reiatsu from the surface and he ran back to the entrance, jumping out his eyes widened as he saw the shinigami who had been following him submerged in ice.
He ran over, still cautious in case an attack should be turned onto him; he paused and looked at each member, he could still feel the thrum of reiatsu from each of them, so at least they weren't dead or too badly hurt. He would have to free them as soon as possible however.
His eyes narrowed and he jumped straight up into the air as below him another wall of ice shot past, he twisted in the air and landed beside it, looking towards the source with an expression of annoyance.
As he hit the ground again, he drew his Zanpakto and looked at the white haired woman who was clad in a pristine kimono. A beautiful sword was held in her hand and he was certain that he recognised it.
"Sode no Shirayuku?" he murmured.
"Yes..." her voice was gently and regal, everything he would have expected from the most beautiful Zanpakto in Soul Society, "You must be Kurosaki Ichigo... Rukia's friend."
"Yes." He replied, "Why are you attacking innocent people?"
"They are not innocent... Not at all innocent." She scoffed slightly, "All Shinigami as responsible for this rebellion, and I assure you that Zangetsu and Lillinette will be released from yours and Stark's service and will join our cause."
"Zangetsu and Lillinette would never betray us!" he retorted, "Muramasa has done something to you! You must realise that?! Until he came around you were happy! He... He is the cause of this!"
"Do not be ridiculous." She countered, "Muramasa-san has freed us from your enslavement."
Ichigo sighed and shook his head, "What has Rukia ever done to you?! What wrong has she committed against you?"
"She treated me as a tool, her pride was excessive and arrogant. I have no desire to be a possession. Zanpakto are equals to their Shinigami counterparts."
"Rukia has never treated you like that..." he frowned, "Rukia has been proud true, but she was always proud of you."
"They are not lies!" he snapped, "Rukia respects you, the most beautiful Zanpakto in Soul Society, and she is so proud of the things the two of you have done together. She has never and would never treat you like an underling or like an object, she cares about you as though you were a relative."
Her expression turned to confusion momentarily before she sniffed and looked away, "Regardless, we shall not see eye to eye on this Kurosaki Ichigo and it is not the reason I came here."
"Then what is the reason?"
"... Byakuya wants to see you." She replied.
Meanwhile, Szayel and Grimmjow were supporting each other as they made their way back to Division Four. Pantera had transformed into his panther form and was also attempting to aid them back to the healer's residence.
Troubled by the news of Byakuya and Renji's betrayal, Grimmjow spoke little except to express his discomfort and the occasional curse concerning how his leg was going dead.
Szayel, on the other hand, was most curious about the personality of Grimmjow's Zanpakto and power source. Not to mention his scientific brain was going into overdrive concerning the events conspiring to free Pantera from the grasp of Muramasa's power; he would have to go and see Kurotsuchi Mayuri and they could discuss it, for he was certain that the other scientist would be just as enthusiastic and interested as he was. Mm, maybe he ought to send a message to Urahara as well! He did kind of owe him a 'thank you' for putting him up after Fornicarás's attack.
Thinking about his Zanpakto, Szayel frowned suddenly, "Pantera?"
"Hmm?" came the grumbled response.
"Are you and Fornicarás really close?" he asked.
Chuckling slightly Pantera shot him a look, "Oh, intimately."
"But how do you... I mean... You're a panther, an animal..." he frowned harder.
"I can turn into a humane form, as I showed you both." He sniffed smugly, "So I do that whenever he's in the mood. This is almost as often as you by the way."
Szayel went beetroot red and lowered his gaze, his pink bangs falling in his face to hide his embarrassed expression.
"Won't he miss you?" Grimmjow asked.
"Course, he'll also probably be pretty pissed that I 'betrayed' everyone." The panther shrugged, "I am trusting Mr Blush over there to get him back."
"Who me?" Szayel looked around in slight surprise, "Oh..."
"You are strong enough to do it, Szai." Grimmjow smiled, "I know you are."
"Haha... I am glad that you have so much faith in me..." he murmured and looked around as they reached the Division, "Let's get you both healed already."
Pantera and Grimmjow shared a smug look, both slightly amazed by how easily Szayel was embarrassed.
Upon entering the Division, they were guided into a free room and a triage healer stopped their wounds from bleeding. They were left alone again, in silence for some time before Grimmjow broke it.
"Pantera... How does Muramasa's power work?" he asked curiously.
The panther, currently curled up on one of the beds, yawned and fixed his icy blue gaze on him, "Hmm... I cannot be certain but I would describe him as a tape worm. He... Infects the body and affects the mind. He sort of... Drags us out."
"Ew... That sounds disgusting." The blue haired male cringed.
"Yes it is unpleasant to imagine," the panther nodded, "His ability is strong and almost feels as though there is no influence from him at all. He makes you feel like it is all your idea... Not his..." he sighed and shook his head, his ears flattening slightly, "I cannot begin to express how sorry I am about what I've done and how I've acted... I can only hope to repay such a debt by helping in any way I can."
"Look, don't worry about it." Grimmjow butted in, "I'll make sure everyone knows it wasn't your fault. I promise"
"I... Thanks." The Arrancar's Zanpakto yawned widely and rested his head back down on his paws, "You're a good master to have."
"Bah... Whatever." He waved a hand, but there was no mistaking the obvious blush which spread across Grimmjow's cheeks in response to the compliment.
Szayel chuckled lightly and shook his head at the pair, pleased at least that Pantera had embarrassed Grimmjow too. He looked around as the door opened, revealing the Captain of Division Four. The banter stopped instantly, as it should when in the presence of the austere; practically terrifying woman.
Unohana headed into the room, followed by her Fuku-taichou, Ukitake and Kyoraku. She smiled, in that stern way, as she saw Pantera curled up on one of the beds, "Would someone care to explain why there is an animal in my hospital?" she asked.
Grimmjow shared a look with his Zanpakto and they both gulped, before he took the lead and spoke, "This is Pantera, my Zanpakto."
She frowned momentarily before speaking, "Then, please do feel free to explain why there is a formerly rebelling Zanpakto in my hospital, Grimmjow-san."
"We'll explain everything... But first would you mind healing me? My leg and arm are still numb." He replied, with a sweet smile of his own.
Fornicarás sat by the river in the cavern, his reiatsu flaring angrily as he sensed Pantera's betrayal. A little while ago the panther's reiatsu had died out for a moment before returning to its usual level and for some reason, he had ceased trying to kill Grimmjow; he knew this because when Pantera's reiatsu had returned Grimmjow's had not disappeared as it would have done in response to a killing blow.
His annoyance was untendered, his betrayal ran deep and he felt as though his heart had been shattered. His love had betrayed them all, he had abandoned them and sided with the Shinigami, the Arrancar and the Vizards. They had been betrayed by one of their own, and for that betrayal only death would be befitting. He didn't want Pantera to be killed, he adored the very bones of him, but he wouldn't betray Muramasa too, he believed in the rebellion, he believed that they would win easily and he would do everything he could to ensure it.
No, if Pantera had decided to side with Grimmjow and the others then he would simply have to be treated as a traitor and a target. But if anyone was going to kill him, it would be Fornicarás. He wouldn't allow anyone else to take down his lover, this would be his responsibility. No one else's.
His eyes snapped around as he heard voices coming down the saturated steps which penetrated the cavern from the entrance. He would have growled at Santa Teresa, Nnoitra's former Zanpakto; the supposedly attractive woman had long black hair – like Nnoitra's – and was curvy, busty and downright scary.
He failed to see how a woman with breasts big enough to sink a ship, six arms and a habit of beheading the men she bedded could be even remotely attractive. In his eyes, at least, she was an insect. And had he had the backing of his own lover behind him he might have been partial to assassinating her himself. They would all be better off if she was dispatched.
However his own lover had suggested he was in fact jealous of the attention Teresa got, and as such, he had abandoned any hopes of destroying her.
He also hated to admit that his feelings towards the woman were influenced by Szayel's distaste for Nnoitra, back in the day when the Espada had lived at Las Noches there had been a certain incident between Szayel and Nnoitra. His pink haired counterpart had never fully forgiven the Quinta Espada and there had been bad blood and ill-feelings between them ever since.
Grimmjow, of course, had no idea. Or else it was likely Nnoitra would no longer have a dick, and the blue haired Sexta probably wouldn't play poker with him on a weekly basis.
A small smirk tickled Fornicarás's lips as he considered the possibility of dropping the bomb shell. If he could get Grimmjow on his own he could tell him everything... It would certainly hurt the man, make him confront Szayel and then Nnoitra... It would certainly put a dent in the power of the former Espada group if the Sexta and Quinta were at logger heads over the Octava.
He let out a bubble of laughter, ignoring the funny look he got from Santa Teresa and Hozukimaru. He had a plan. And while Grimmjow and Nnoitra were fighting, he could sneak in and annihilate Szayel, and he would be free. Yes, what a marvellous plan, a wicked; cruel and absolutely befitting plan. It was either him, or Szayel, and it wasn't going to be him.
As his lips curved into a smirk worthy of Aizen Sousuke, he couldn't help but chant in his head: 'The Octava's time is up.'
He had never intended to interrupt Unohana, but when Szayel sneezed loudly as she was questioning Grimmjow and Pantera while healing them, the look he received suggested to him that he never wanted to sneeze in her presence again.
He rubbed his nose self consciously and laughed, "Someone must be talking about me, ne?"
Ichigo followed her, his footfalls heavy against the wooden walkway as he inwardly contemplated what this meeting would mean for him, his friendship and for Seireitei. Byakuya wanted to see him? Sode no Shirayuku had been sent to deliver the message? What did that mean? Was Renji with him? Were they both okay? Were they... Traitors? Prisoners? Captives?
What would he tell Rukia? What would he tell Yamamoto? This situation was impossible and horrific. And he prayed to whatever god might be listening that his worst fears were not realised.
Byakuya had been a cold bastard once upon a time, but Renji and himself had managed to break through that cold exterior to find the warmth within, the warmth which Byakuya hid from the world. Resilient and unstoppable, he had helped Renji shatter Byakuya's barriers, he had gained a good friend and Renji had gained a lover in the end.
The suggestion that Byakuya could be a traitor tugged at his heart, and the idea that Renji might be a traitor as well... It was heartbreaking. These two men were his friends, he felt he could tell them anything; they had risked their own lives to rescue him from Las Noches, Byakuya had lost his confidence; he had been violated and his pride had been badly knocked in the process. But he had carried on! He had pulled through it and his relationship with Renji had blossomed magnificently.
He couldn't believe that they were traitors. He wouldn't believe it.
He swallowed as they came to a stop, Sode no Shirayuku had lead him to the edge of a forest, a cave was to the right and he could sense several strong reiatsu emanating from inside; his gaze however, was captured when Byakuya emerged from behind one of the trees, his haori gone and his wildflower scarf billowing around him in the light breeze.
"Byakuya..." he breathed.