Chapter 4: Two Truths
"I came to see Byakuya...to visit his grave," said Renji.
Tetsuya gave him a blank look.
"Byakuya?" he repeated questioningly, "Who are you talking about?"
Renji frowned in confusion.
"Byakuya...your cousin? Former clan leader? Rukia's brother?" he clarified, "Tetsuya..."
"I don't understand," said Tetsuya, shaking his head and narrowing his eyes, "Ginrei Kuchiki was our last leader."
"Okay," Renji said, a desperate look on his face, "C'mon Tetsuya, quit messing with me, here! Byakuya! Captain of the sixth division. He was the guy who rescued you from the half-breed's prison. For kami's sake, you grew up with the guy!"
"I am sorry," Tetsuya answered, looking increasingly spooked, "but you are not remembering correctly, Captain."
"Look, stop calling me that, Tetsuya," Renji complained, sitting up, "You and I are friends. We became that way because we both are protective of Byakuya. He means a lot to both of us! I don't know what's happened to you, but something really crazy is going on."
Tetsuya went quiet, not knowing what to say to calm the redhead. Renji thought carefully.
"Tetsuya, you have Arashi, right?"
"Arashi?" Tetsuya repeated, "Yes, of course. He is part of my own soul. Why?"
"Then, let's talk to him. He saw me here, just like you did. Tetsuya, you were waiting for me to have tea in the gardens with you. Something's really messed up here!"
"I agree," said the noble, "I don't know you to be an eccentric person. You are usually very grounded."
"Th-thanks," the redhead said uncertainly, taking another look at the room they were in, "Um, Tetsuya, it looks like we're in the manor, but...I don't remember this room. Where are we?"
"I...when we found you, Arashi sensed an odd reiatsu in the area...something or someone of extreme power, perhaps on a transcendent level. Because of that, and the fact that the blaze appeared to have been purposely set, I brought you to the only place that you would be safe from that kind of enemy...the Kuchiki family archive."
"The archive," Renji said, looking around.
"This is a recess I normally use when conducting involved research, so I do not have to leave for long periods of time. I brought a clan healer in to heal you, then masked your reiatsu and sealed the archive, so that only you and I can enter it."
"So...whoever set the fire, was seriously dangerous," Renji mused, "I wonder if that person is the one who screwed with your memory."
Renji closed his eyes and thought carefully for a moment.
"Tetsuya, Byakuya once told me that the clan leaders here keep diaries...books that sort of 'write themselves' as the clan leader experiences things. It's done from the leader's perspective, right."
Tetsuya's eyes widened.
"Yes," he confirmed, "that is how the diaries work."
"So, if they are stored here, we can just look at them and see what they say, ne?" Renji suggested.
"Yes," Tetsuya agreed.
He touched a hand to Renji's chest as the redhead started to rise.
"Wait," he said, shaking his head, "You were injured and need to stay here. I will bring my diary here."
"And see if Byakuya's is there," Renji said, sitting back.
Renji waited quietly, his mind overwhelmed with trying to figure out what was happening as Tetsuya left the room for several long minutes. Just as the redhead began to lose his patience, the door to the recess opened and the clan leader returned, wearing an unhappy expression.
"What is it?" Renji asked.
"You can look for yourself," he said, handing Renji his diary, "I scanned it several times, because I know that you are usually reliable, and that you sincerely believe what you are saying. But your reality seems to have shifted somehow. It does not match with what really happened."
Renji gave him a stunned look, then frowned and opened the diary. He turned back several weeks and scanned a page, then caught his breath and looked up at the noble.
"Tetsuya, what are you talking about? It's right here!"
"What?" the clan leader queried, wearing a mystified expression, "What are you talking about? I just read it and..."
"Tetsuya, look! Right here!" Renji exclaimed, holding up the volume, "In your own words!"
He turned to a page and held the diary so that Tetsuya could see.
"Byakuya died over a month ago, in the war!" he insisted, "You wrote about it here. See? It is one of the most difficult days imaginable, and the end of an era. Word came from the battlefield that my cousin, Byakuya, died at the hands of the enemy quincy, As Nodt. There, see?"
Tetsuya's face paled.
"I see," he said, staring, "But Renji, the name of the one killed is clearly 'Ginrei.' Do you not see that?"
"No," Renji said, suddenly making a connection, "Tetsuya, we are looking at the same thing and seeing something different. You know what that means."
Tetsuya gazed at him quietly, comprehension falling over him and leaving him chilled.
"An illusion?" he whispered, "But...no shinigami, not even Aizen could do something on this level. This enemy we have, the one who did this, is a transcendent."
He stared at the diary, thinking.
"And we have to find out, because both of us feel equally strongly that our 'truth' is the real one. We have to find some way of divining whose past has been altered! Did Byakuya never exist and someone wanted to discredit you by making you believe that he had...or..."
"Did someone try to erase him?" Renji breathed.
"Thank you, Masato," Byakuya said quietly as his attendant accompanied him out of the palace and into the gardens, "I know that you are busy, but I needed some privacy to think for a bit."
"But it is not too unpleasant, ne? The way his majesty dotes on you? He obviously loves you very much."
"Y-yes," the noble agreed, "But a lot has happened, and I just need time to process it all. You understand, ne?"
"Oh, yes, of course, your highness," the young man said, nodding, "You have been through a lot, nearly dying at the hands of that quincy, then waking up here at the palace. It has to have been a great shock. Take your time, then. I am in no hurry. Take all of the time you need, sir."
"Masato, you do not need to be so formal when we are alone."
"Ah, but his majesty is very stringent in his rules about that. I don't mean to make you uncomfortable, but I must speak correctly when addressing a royal family member."
"Oh, very well," Byakuya sighed, shaking his head and starting down the pathway.
The two walked in silence for several minutes, leaving the green, grassy area and walking into the forest.
"It is so odd how all of this is contained within the king's 'cocoon' structure," Byakuya mused, "It is larger on the inside than the outside makes it look. Strange..."
"I think so too."
Byakuya breathed in the pleasant scents of pine and damp soil, letting his mind wander back over recent events, and trying to make peace with them. Masato walked quietly at his side, stealing measured glances at him, from time to time and wearing an affectionate, but somewhat worried expression.
"Your majesty, we are wandering quite far. Are you sure that we shouldn't turn back now?"
"I am sorry," Byakuya said tolerantly, "I was accustomed to long walks at home. If it is a problem for you, I could meet you back at the palace."
"Oh no!" Masato exclaimed, "His majesty would have me executed if I came back without you! He is very protective of you, your highness."
"I am capable of looking out for myself," Byakuya said, giving the young man an annoyed look, "I don't know why he is so..."
He stopped himself forcibly.
"Forgive me," he said, more softly, "I am grateful for the king's intervention that saved my life. And he has been very patient with me while I've adjusted."
"But giving up your life and all of the people who you knew must be very distressing for you," said Masato, "I understand, sir."
"Again, I thank you, Masato. And I will be fine. It was an adjustment, but I do feel like I have made progress. And I am grateful for your part in helping me do that."
"Ah, you are most welcome, your highness. I am glad I was of help to you."
"I just wish that there was some way to occasionally look down and see how my loved ones are doing."
Masato looked away uncomfortably.
"I would bring back the viewer if I could," he said, shaking his head, "but his majesty said that it would only cause you pain to continue looking back."
"Hmmm, perhaps he is right in that," Byakuya said carefully, "Forget that I asked you about that."
"Oh, no problem, sir."
Byakuya turned them back towards the palace, taking a different trail to keep the scenery fresh. They had walked about halfway back, when he paused and swayed dizzily for a moment.
"Your highness?" Masato said, touching his arm to steady him, "Are you...? Your highness!"
Byakuya felt himself collapsing, but could do nothing to stop it. Masato's worried voice disappeared for a time, and his mind spun haphazardly around the facts of his situation. But he could make no more sense of the details in this state than he could awake. He wondered briefly what had happened to him, and if he might be dying. But what he felt was not at all like what he had experienced after his battle with the quincy.
The darkness seemed to go on forever, but some time later, his mind cleared and he began to hear fuzzy voices around him. The king, his advisor, the guards, Masato, then a feminine voice that seemed heartbreakingly familiar.
Byakuya inhaled sharply and opened his eyes, then stared up into that, much longed for face that he hardly dared to believe that he was seeing.
"Rukia?" he whispered back.
The violet-eyed girl let out a soft sob and curled a hand into his.
"Rukia, how did you get here?"
"I brought her here," said the king, stepping into view from behind her, "You were having such a difficult time, and I thought that having someone familiar near to you might ease your unhappiness."
"But...Rukia is an officer of the thirteenth division," the noble objected, "She worked hard to reach that position...!"
"And she willingly gave that up to come here," said the king, "I did not force her."
"He didn't," Rukia insisted, "Brother, when the king's messenger came, all I wanted to do was to get to you! I thought that you were dead! We all did."
"But Rukia, you had a life there, in the Seireitei," Byakuya said, shaking his head, "You cannot just leave it behind. What of your friends? What of Renji? He's like a brother to you!"
"Oh," said Rukia, "you don't know? Brother..."
"What is it?" Byakuya asked breathlessly, "Rukia, what is happening?"
"Brother, I am so sorry. I thought they must have told you. Renji was killed in a fire yesterday."
"What?" Byakuya whispered, reeling from the impact of the words.
"Perhaps, we should let your brother rest now," suggested the king in a concerned voice, "He looks overwrought at the news. This wasn't the best time to tell him, I think."
"But Renji is...?"
"I am sorry, my love," the king said, sitting down at his side and taking his hand, "I wish that things could be different, but I am afraid it is true. Renji Abarai was killed."
"But, I just saw him...at the cabin," Byakuya managed, his face going ghostly pale.
"The cabin at the manor?" Rukia said, staring at him, "Brother, that is where Renji died. There was a fire at the cabin on the Kuchiki estate!"
"At the cabin," Byakuya repeated numbly, "But he was only there because I...this is my fault..."
"No," said the king, squeezing his hand gently, "You did nothing wrong, Byakuya."
"But I was the reason that he went there! And I made him sleep. That must be why he couldn't escape! I...!"
He started to go on, but felt a gentle throb of kido pass through the king's hand and into him. The air grew dark around him and he faded out again. But even in the darkness of unconsciousness, he couldn't escape the facts.
Renji is dead.
And he is dead because of me!
"Before we leave the archive," said Tetsuya, "Use this mod soul. It will conceal your reiatsu and change your appearance. Remember, everyone thinks you are dead, so we want to take advantage of that, if we can."
Renji managed a small smile.
"It sounds like you think that I'm the one who's right," he chuckled softly.
"Not necessarily," Tetsuya said, watching as Renji swallowed the soul candy and his appearance changed, "I am just 'hedging my bets,' as it were. Whatever the truth is, someone is going to a lot of trouble to rearrange things. And it's a powerful person. A misstep could end with us all being killed. But, first things first, where do we start?"
Renji thought carefully.
"Rukia," he decided.
"Byakuya's sister," said Renji, "She lived here at the manor. Let's go and check out her room."
"Eh...where?" Tetsuya asked.
"Just follow me," Renji said, leading Tetsuya out of the archive.
The two flash stepped across the manor grounds until they came to one of the rooms, where Renji stopped and gestured to the door.
"That's it," he said, "That's Rukia's bedroom."
The two walked into the room and looked around.
"I see a room full of her things!" Renji announced.
Tetsuya swallowed hard.
"And I see an empty extra bedroom," he said, shaking his head, "Renji..."
"And frightening," Tetsuya whispered, "Do you have any idea what it would take to do something like this?"
Renji sighed softly, considering the facts again.
"But we still don't know for sure who's right here."
"So, we should move on," Tetsuya concluded, "But where to next?"
The two considered for a moment, then exchanged glances.
"You said that you came to see his grave," Tetsuya said.
They flash stepped out of the bedroom and through the gardens, passing through the back gate and racing down the forest path to the cemetery gates. They slid to a halt as a large, dark form loomed up in front of them and an equine whinny sounded.
"Hey Fleabag," Renji chuckled, "Good to see you're still here. What, with everyone and everything changing around me. Sorry, no hair tie to steal. You already stole it, remember?"
Arashi looked back at him blankly.
"What?" said Renji, "You don't remember either?"
The redhead looked back at the sakura tree and caught sight of the hair tie still hanging in the branches, near the top. He frowned and flash stepped into the air, snagging it and then settling back onto the ground in front of the noble and his horse. The two stared at him, squinting oddly.
"Renji, what are you doing?" asked Tetsuya.
"The hair tie," Renji said, looking down at it and turning it over in his hands, "You...don't see it?"
Arashi stepped forward and sniffed quietly at Renji's hand, froze for a moment, then stepped back, snorting and showing the whites of his sapphire eyes.
"What is it? What's wrong?" Renji exclaimed, staring.
"Arashi sees it too," Tetsuya said in a stunned voice, "He remembers you being here."
Tetsuya laid a hand on the stallion's face and closed his eyes, and a soft blue glow rose up around the two for a moment.
"What is that? What are you doing?" asked Renji.
Tetsuya looked back at the redhead, his eyes displaying deep distress.
"Arashi is...he is...an extension of my own soul. But, we exist separately, except when we enter my divine form."
"Divine form?" Renji queried, his eyes going wide, "You...?"
"It is not known to others, though Ginrei knew, I have begun to train to be inducted into the ranks of the king's mounted guard, the Norite. It is a special appointment, but requires ten years of training outside the spirit dimension, learning to take on the divine form of the shinigami tenba, the Pegasus. I am a shinigami, but Arashi is my fighting spirit, which has begun to transcend. When I connect with him, I see things through his eyes and he sees through mine. And when we connected right now, he shared with me, and I was able to see the hair tie."
"You see it now?" Renji asked, relief rising in his eyes.
"Yes," Tetsuya confirmed, "I see it. But Renji, you realize that we are going to have a difficult time convincing anyone else of this."
"Not to mention, we don't have any idea at all, who we can trust," the redhead added.
"There may be someone," Tetsuya posited, "but we will have to attempt that after some planning. In the meantime, you should return to the archive."
"First things first," Renji said, shaking his head, "I need to make sure Rukia is okay."
"But...how do we do that?" asked Tetsuya, "How do we find her when, to my knowledge, she never came here?"
"There is a computer in the archive, ne?" asked Renji.
"Does it connect with the central database?"
"Of course," answered the noble, "We have several family members on the Central 46 council, and high clearances."
"Good, then we can look her up and see where it says that she is."
Renji paused for a moment, frowning.
"Tetsuya, I thought you said that you saw things my way now."
"I am no longer in physical contact with Arashi," the noble explained, "so, I see things from my shinigami state."
He looked up at the stallion and nodded.
"Come, Arashi. We are going to need your help."