Chapter 4: Dark World

Orochi's body crashed down into the black water, and ice seemed to explode through his veins. Shock numbed the initial impact, but then gave way to a moment of panic, then a hard plunge into an even deeper abyss.

"M-mother?" he wondered, scenting her, but feeling confused at her presence not relieving the sensation of not being able to breathe, "Mother, why? Why are you...?"

The woman leaning over him and holding the pillow down over his face trembled as his muffled voice reached her. His hands grabbed wildly at her wrists, his small fingernails scratching the fine skin.

He wondered why she didn't answer him.

"Mother?" he said, more weakly.

"Maria-sama!" cried a familiar, feminine voice.

Orochi found new strength in his small arms and struggled harder.

"Kaiyo!" he screamed through the pillow.

But he could only manage the name once.

"Maria-sama, what are you doing? Stop!"

"Maria, for the love of kami, stop!" cried Isas's frantic voice.

Strong arms pulled the woman off of the bed, and the pillow fell away from Orochi's face. He fled the bed, diving into Kaiyo's comforting embrace. He caught a frightening glimpse of his mother's enraged expression, then buried his face in Kaiyo's shoulder, shivering under her hands as his mother screamed in frustration.

"Get your hands off of my son, you despicable peasant WHORE!" she howled, "You tried to kill him!"

"Shh...there now," Isas said soothingly, "It's all right now. It's going to be all right. Maria, dear, please. Please be calm."

"But she has my son! She tried to kill him to spite me! She's whispering all sorts of hateful things to him! Can't you hear? Orochi! Orochi," she sobbed, "Come to Mommy! Come, Orochi!"

His hands held on more tightly to Kaiyo and he dug his face deeper into the housemaid's shoulder.

"Orochi," said his father, "Come here."

"N-no! No!" he cried, holding on tightly to Kaiyo.

"It's all right. I need you to help me calm her down. She needs to see that you are all right. Come."

He swallowed hard and unclenched his hands, feeling suddenly very small as Kaiyo released him and reluctantly exited the room. Orochi moved towards his parents on shaky legs, his black eyes wide and frightened. His mother lifted her head and looked at him, and Orochi froze, staring back at her. The deadly glare was gone, and had been replaced with a look of teary relief.

"Orochi," she said softly, sniffing and wiping away tears.

He stood still, his chest heaving softly and his eyes still wide and distressed.

"Come," his father said quietly, "It will be all right."

He didn't know what made his legs move again, but somehow managed to close the distance between them. He kept his eyes on his father as his mother's quivering arms wrapped around him.

"Orochi," she whispered, "My sweet, beautiful son."

"Mother?"

"She is gone. Don't worry," Kuchiki Maria said soothingly, "I won't let her get near you again."

"But...?"

"Shh," his mother went on, her eyes gentle again, "I will keep you safe from her. That peasant trash will never touch you again."

He didn't dare answer her, but relaxed in her arms, waiting as his father invoked a kido spell and sent her off to sleep.

"Son, I know that her behavior is confusing. She is very ill. She needs special help, and will have to go away from home for a while for that."

"No!" Orochi objected, confusion making him uncertain, "She said that it would be all right if you make Kaiyo-san go away! She said that Kaiyo-san is making it happen! Send Kaiyo-san away!"

Isas closed his eyes and took a steadying breath.

"She was wrong to say those things, segare. They are not the truth. Your mother is confused. She is...ill."

"No! She said that you should make Kaiyo-san leave and it would be all right!" Orochi sobbed, "Make her leave and Mother will get well again!"

"Go to the kitchen now," his father instructed him, "Cook will make you something to eat."

"I don't want to eat!" Orochi shouted, "I just want to..."

He broke off and began to struggle as his father started to lift Kuchiki Maria into his arms.

"No! Don't take her away! Don't take her away! I hate you! I HATE YOU AND THAT PEASANT WHORE! You ruined EVERYTHING! If she didn't have that baby...!"

"Orochi, where did you hear that?" his father asked sternly.

"I heard Taba and Eri say that Mother went crazy because of Kaiyo having a baby!"

Isas shook his head firmly.

"You don't know what you're talking about, Son. There was no..."

"LIAR! Mother said there was a baby! You're lying! I know you are!" he screamed, "Leave me alone! I hate you! I hate you both!"

He ran from the room sobbing, and ignoring his father's frantic calls for him to stop. He ran aimlessly through the gardens and collapsed under a plum tree beside a small koi pond, crying piteously.

"I don't believe you!" he sobbed, "There was a baby! There was! I will find him. I will find him and I will kill him. I will kill him for making mother sick!"

Orochi laid suspended beneath the turbulent surface of the water, his mind spinning with the memory and muddied even further by his father's last words.

I have something to tell you.

His hands clenched and he felt his lungs screaming for air. He felt again the sensation of the pillow over his face, held down by the confused woman who was trying to kill him.

"No!" he screamed into the water.

His frozen legs found new strength and he kicked hard, straining madly for the surface. His mind spun and his father's voice continued.

"Segare, things are not what they seemed...n-not at all."

Water invaded his mouth and nose as he screamed again to block out the voice and kicked harder.

"K-kaiyo...Kaiyo-san is..."

Orochi's body broke the surface of the roiling lake and his pained howl blended with the cracking of thunder.

"Shut up! Shut up! Shut up, you BASTARD!"

He sucked in water and coughed violently, then squinted in the darkness and found a bit of shoreline. Gritting his teeth, he threw himself against the current and headed for the safety of solid ground. His feet found purchase a few minutes later and he crawled onto the shore, collapsing in the rain soaked sand and barely registering the rain that pelted down on his back.

"Water," he mused, "It figures that the hell we'd end up in would be filled with water that can drown me and not harm you, ne Tetsuya? You're probably laughing at me."

He closed his eyes and tried to sense Tetsuya's direction, his breath catching as he found nothing, at first. Focusing harder brought a weak flicker that came from the direction of the water. Orochi rested for several minutes longer, then climbed wearily to his feet and started down the beach, following the shoreline. To his relief, the beach angled around the lake and the soft glow of Tetsuya's reiatsu seemed to come from someplace ahead of him, and out of the water. Some time later, he found the glimmer of shielding within the rocks, some twenty or so yards from the shore.

He moved faster, drawn on by the promise of warmth within the barrier, and found Tetsuya lying, curled within a small alcove in the rocks, with Kisho held snugly against his body and the protective shield around them. A gratified sigh escaped him as the barrier allowed him to pass, and he found respite from the rain and cold near his cousin's side. He was unnerved by the fact that Tetsuya didn't wake at his approach, nor did he respond as Orochi gently tried to shake him awake.

"Tetsuya?"

A shiver went through him as the heat of his cousin's skin seeped into his hand.

"Damn it," he muttered, "You didn't rest for long enough before our enemies attacked."

He carefully extracted Kisho from the younger man's arms, breathing a few words of reassurance as Tetsuya stirred sluggishly and moaned in protest.

"K-kisho!"

"Be still," he said in a low voice, "Your illness has returned and you need to rest. I will tend to the heir."

"No...no, I..."

"Be quiet and don't strain yourself. You don't want to make things worse."

Tetsuya groaned and shuddered, then his eyes opened and looked dazedly up into Orochi's.

"Don't...hurt him."

Orochi shook his head and frowned.

"I have no reason to hurt this child, Tetsuya. Nor you. Be quiet and rest."

"But," Tetsuya panted, "You hate us."

"No."

"You have always hated me."

Orochi bit his lip gently.

"That is in the past. Forget it, Tetsuya. All that matters now is survival. We have to survive and find a way back. Rest now, so that you will be strong enough to do that."

Tetsuya's blue eyes blinked in confusion.

"You...don't hate us anymore? Why not? Are we not still of poorer blood? Are we not beneath you?"

Orochi stiffened. Then, he reached down and sent a throb of kido into Tetsuya's body, making him fall into a deep sleep. He held the sleeping baby against him and pressed into the corner of the alcove, grateful for the protection of the shield around them.

Nothing, he mused grimly, Nothing is as I thought it was. The past is just a sea of lies. There are more lies in that place than there are raindrops falling here. If I hadn't forgotten how to cry long ago, my tears would join them.

How could they do this to me?

XXXXXXXXXX

"What is it? What's happening?" Renji called out to the house guard, his hand on his weapon.

"There was an attack on Urahara Kisuke's residence," reported the guard, "Word has come that there were several killed and many injured."

"Is there word on whether Tetsuya and Kisho were among the casualties?" Byakuya asked stridently.

"No," the guard said, shaking his head, "We know that some shinigamis entered the precipice world, but none reached the Seireitei."

"Did they...?" Renji began.

"None returned to the living world either. Sirs, it seems that all who entered the precipice world must have perished!"

"Come, Renji," Byakuya said, moving to open a senkaimon.

"But Kuchiki-sama!" the guard objected, "The precipice world is not secure. It isn't safe for you to...!"

"Hey!" yelled Renji, "Our kid and one of his fathers are back there! There is no way we are leaving Tetsuya and Kisho there! Get out of the way!"

Byakuya and Renji pushed past the sputtering guard and ran into the opened senkaimon. They proceeded at flash step speed, their sharp eyes peering into the darkness and their senses extended.

"I don't sense anyone ahead," Renji said, looking around.

"Stay on your guard," Byakuya warned him, "We do not know what happened to the ones who entered the precipice world. There could be enemies anywhere along the way."

The two continued swiftly down the dim corridor, remaining quiet and focused, both prepared to fight at a moment's notice, and concentrating on finding any hint of Tetsuya or Kisho's reiatsu.

"Maybe they are still at Kisuke's," Renji said hopefully.

"Perhaps," Byakuya said through tightened lips.

They said no more until they reached the exit that led into the secret training ground beneath Urahara's shop. As they emerged, they were met with the threatening points of numerous blades and a shout of warning. Then, the two were recognized and waved on to where Kisuke awaited them in the shop.

"Byakuya-san, Renji-san," he said, acknowledging them, "I would have thought that you would be back in the Seireitei with Tetsuya and your son."

"What?" asked the noble, his face paling, "You mean...Tetsuya and Kisho left here?"

Kisuke nodded grimly.

We took in a group of shinigamis who were beat up by quincys from one of the remaining 'killer cells.' There were a lot of injuries, so the shop was full of people. Tetsuya-san had improved, and so he was taking care of Kisho. When the attack began, I held them off at one end of the hallway, and I told Tetsuya to take Kisho and run for the underground training area senkaimon. After the battle, we sensed his reiatsu, Kisho's and Orochi-san's at the senkaimon entrance."

"Orochi was with Tetsuya and Kisho?" Byakuya asked, his eyes darkening.

"We don't know," said Kisuke, shaking his head, "We can only place all three in this area at around the same time. We can't determine who entered the senkaimon first, or if they were together. There was just such chaos when those bastards attacked. Half the guys we had just healed were killed. Tessai took some damage too. I'm sorry, Byakuya-san. These guys may just be the remnants of Bach's forces, but they are still very dangerous, as this proves."

"Yeah," said Renji, "Well, at least we have a starting point."

"And perhaps an ending point as well," Byakuya said solemnly.

"Hey, don't say that," the redhead objected, "There are still possibilities, you know? Kisho's a baby and Tetsuya was sick. Maybe their reiatsu was too weak to be sensed. Maybe the quincys screwed with the precipice world and threw off the twelfth's ability to track them. They could have entered Hueco Mundo."

"Or," Byakuya said, frowning, "They could have met up with Orochi. He is capable of hiding their reiatsu."

"You think he abducted them?" asked Renji, his red-brown eyes flickering malevolently.

"I do not know," confessed the clan leader, "But he would have had the opportunity amidst all of the confusion."

"Damn!" muttered Renji, "How do we check out all of these possibilities? I mean, we may not have much time to work with here!"

"Then, let us help," said a male voice from behind Kisuke.

Byakuya and Renji looked up in surprise as Kuchiki Koji, Torio, Sadao, Mai, Aratani and Kohana joined them. Sadao stepped forward and bowed his head respectfully.

"Tetsuya is a part of my subfamily, and he is my son," he said quietly, "Whatever needs to be done, we are at your disposal, Byakuya-sama."

"Very well," Byakuya said gratefully, Kohana, as you are in the military, you and Aratani will go to the twelfth division to check their records of passages through the precipice world. Torio and Koji, you will go to Isas's residence with a contingent of house guards and search for any clues there. Sadao and Mai, you will check to see if they may have entered Hueco Mundo. Renji and I will begin from this point and try to reconstruct their path from here."

The group dispersed, leaving Byakuya and Renji at the senkaimon entrance.

"All right," said Byakuya, examining the traces of reiatsu at the opening, "The three of them passed through here, and that is the last time they were seen. There are signs of a skirmish, and a few traces of blood, but it does not appear that any of them were in quincy custody when entering here."

"So, they escaped into the precipice world, then what?" mused Renji.

They stepped into the senkaimon, then pulled up short as they were greeted by a frantic whinny.

"Fleabag!" exclaimed Renji, "There you are! Did you find Tetsuya and Kisho?"

No. I know that they entered the precipice world, and that my master was in some kind of distress. There was fighting going on, and they were in danger. I felt a moment of intense fear, then Tetsuya's voice disappeared from my mind. I have called to him repeatedly, but I cannot connect with him.

"Damn!" Renji swore.

"That can only mean one of three things," Byakuya said grimly, "They may have been killed while still within the precipice world, they may have been abducted by someone who knew of Arashi's connection with Tetsuya, or..."

He paused, looking unnerved.

"...or...they may have taken refuge in an uncharted pocket dimension within the precipice world."

"Holy shit," Renji breathed, "You don't think they'd really do that, do you? Some of those places are just death traps."

"And many contain beings trapped there in the past to remove them from our society," Byakuya added, "The doorways that open into them are not so much under our control..."

"So, entering them can be a one-way trip," finished the redhead.

"Yes," agreed the noble, "But...despite everything, it does leave us with hope that they are still alive."

"Holy hell," mused Renji, "Who'd have thought we'd find ourselves ever thinking that Orochi abducting them would be the better option..."

Byakuya moved forward and studied the area around them, then looked back at Arashi.

"Arashi," he said quietly, "I want you to track Tetsuya to the best of your ability. Being in tune with him as you are, you will pick up smaller traces than we can. Start here, where we have lost track of him, and see if you can find anything...anything at all."

Of course, Byakuya-sama.

The stallion closed his blue eyes and stood for a moment, reading the last traces of Tetsuya's passing, and trying to connect with his master's mind.

I still cannot sense where Tetsuya is now, he admitted, but...I am getting a sense of what was happening through emotional markers and flash images he left behind.

"What do you see?" asked Byakuya.

Very little here. He was afraid. I see an image of him carrying Kisho and...

The stallion made a deep sound of angry discontent.

"What is it?" Renji asked quickly, "What's wrong?"

That man.

Orochi was with him.