This was originally going to be a little oneshot, but it sort of sprouted a mind of it's own... so now it's not little, nor is it a oneshot...
But anyway! Enjoy~
"M' Lord!" A guard in full armor rushed into the throne room, a rich, violet cape flowing behind him. His helmet was in hand, held under his arm and his sword still rested in it's scabbard at his side. Around him, the King, his advisors and the few others in the mighty room fell silent. The guard took a quick glance around before gracefully dropping to one knee and bowing his head, waiting to be spoken to.
"Yes?" Lord Aizen asked after letting that initial moment drag out in dramatic silence. His voice was quiet but commanding as it broke the hush that had befallen his throne room with the guard's arrival. No one dared move while the guard finally raised his head to look upon his King, the most powerful man in all the kingdom.
"Word of your hunting party has been received, my Lord. Only one made it out of the forest."
At the King's sides, his personal knights stiffened. These two men were the strongest of all the royal guard, the most skilled in sword combat and archery both. They followed the King everywhere, his loyal protectors. They insured no one would attempt to harm Lord Aizen, even when he rode his horse outside the castle walls and through the city.
A set of cold, dead green eyes slowly found the still kneeling guard's form, sending a chill down the man's spine. Ulquiorra was like cold steel, ever silent and waiting where he stood in the King's shadow. The fiery blue orbs of the man standing at the King's other side, however, looked far more excited and lively. The larger of the two guards, Grimmjow, was the one most knew of well. His fiery, brash personality coupled with his unmatched skill and the stories of his deeds in battle made him second to none in his infamy.
"He died before he could be brought here, Sir," The guard continued, dragging his gaze away from Aizen's knights and back to the King himself. "babbling nonsense about a monster."
At the King's side, the quiet, even voice of one of his knights interrupted the lower ranking guard. "This is your third hunting party, Lord Aizen."
"Yes, thank you, Ulquiorra." Aizen's voice was a drawl, not quite sarcastic but not pleased either. With this most recent party, that made nine of his best hunters dead. That didn't even count all the stories circulating around the villages, even neighboring kingdoms, about missing and murdered hunters.
It seemed everyone sought out the rumored creature, a rare fox of unknown origins. And why shouldn't they? It was said that the creature's coat was an enchanted white, like that of snow, unmuddied even in the middle of summer. It was believed by many that albino animals were magical and a good omen and so they were sought after for the luck they could bring or sometimes simply for the price their hide would fetch. It seemed this wasn't the first time the rumor of a white fox in the area had cropped up either. The stories dated back decades, yet no one had ever actually captured the creature, nor even brought back evidence of it's existence. Few that ventured into the forest it was said to dwell in with their search made it back and of those few, most hadn't found hide nor hair of the creature. When they had seen it, or claimed to have seen it, they were usually mortally wounded and spouted nonsense about monsters and phantoms and other ill things.
From the King's other side, his second knight spoke in a rumbling voice. "You still desire the albino fox, Sir?"
Aizen looked over at the infamous knight, a slight and knowing smirk quirking his lips. He ignored the guard still kneeling upon the floor before him. "I do. What have you in mind, Grimmjow?"
"Allow me to go after it." Grimmjow requested, a wicked grin spreading across his angular, handsome features like oil upon water. His armor glinted in the dancing light of the wall mounted candle sconces, lending him a dangerous quality.
The man, his hair a wild blue to match his even bluer, crystallin eyes, was sometimes more predator than man, or so it was said in the villages around the castle. It was no secret that he was among the most deadly of men in Lord Aizen's castle, nor was it a secret that he found himself rather bored at most times. Something like this, an impossible hunt, chasing a creature that probably didn't even exist, would be perfect for him. It would give him the chance to get out of the castle and roam the forests for a few days at least.
Aizen let out a small chuckle. "Why Grimmjow, I thought you skeptical of such superstitious things."
"I am, your highness, but whether there's really a magical white fox lurking the forest around the kingdom or not, something is still killing your subjects."
"You make a valid point." A very small frown marred the almighty man's features. He leaned forward in his seat, resting his elbow upon the arm of his throne as his intelligent eyes scanned chiseled features. With a small nod, he turned back to the intruding guard and spoke. "Lead Grimmjow to the recently found hunter after he's mounted up. You are to aid him however he deems necessary."
"Of course, my lord." The guard stood, bowing deeply before he straightened to stand at attention while Grimmjow left the king's side.
The blue haired knight swept his own cape, the color of dark storm clouds and a symbol of his high rank, out behind him as he stepped away from the king's throne. Long, powerful strides took him from the room and the guard fell in step behind him as Grimmjow made his way to the royal stables. When he arrived, the stableboy was already saddling his favored war stallion, a sturdy but swift beast that would be able to carry him through the forest in full armor should he find he needed it. As he was at the moment, he wore dress armor, meant for looks more than battle. The breastplate was fully functioning, but it was thin and intricately designed. His helmet was absent, as were the heavy thigh guards used in mounted combat. His armored boots were studded along the sides and back, plated with intricate metal like the breastplate along the front and shin. A sword hung at his hip, the guard an odd and intricate shape and the scabbard just as decorated as the rest of his dressage armor.
He deemed it sufficient for such a simple hunt and snagged the heavy leather reins from the stableboy, declining the young man's offer to affix battle armor to his horse. He doubted he'd find much to give him trouble in the forest. If the rumors were true, which he highly doubted, and he did find a white fox with magical properties, the bow and quiver of barbed arrows he pulled from the stable's wall would prove sufficient. He had an excellent shot, as all the king's men did. And if he found what he suspected he would, a group of lowly bandits perhaps, than he'd arrest them and bring them back to be tried for their crimes. If they resisted, well, that's what his sword was for.
One foot in the stirrups, Grimmjow swung himself up and onto the horse's back in a single, fluid motion that showed his ease and experience with such a beast. The horse tossed it's mane and snorted but held still as it's rider settled in the saddle. Grimmjow guided the horse from the stable, the guard at his side. They paused briefly before the castle's gates so that the lower ranking man could mount his own horse, then they took off at a swift canter across the village.
Grimmjow's presence brought attention from the citizens and people lined the roads, whispering amongst themselves as the infamous knight passed by. He ignored them, his steely blue gaze held forward as he sat straight and regal in his saddle, one hand looped in the reins and his darkly colored cloak-like cape fluttering like dark wings out behind him and his horse.
When they made it to the other side of the village, he dismounted and landed upon the ground as his horse slowed to a stop. He walked the animal close and handed the reins over to man in Lord Aizen's colors before kneeling at the body's side. He studied the marks; bloody, ragged gashes and deep bruising. "This is where he exited the trees?" Grimmjow asked, looking up toward the forest's edge.
"It is, Sir Jaegerjaquez." The guard that had led him to the body answered, according Grimmjow the proper title attached to his high rank as a knight, as he too dismounted. "We left him where he fell."
Grimmjow nodded to himself as he straightened again and looked away from the trees and back down at the body. The wounds were far too jagged to have been made by a knife or some other blade, but they were too clean to be from the claws of a wolf or small bear. Going on the whole mythical fox theory, they were far too large as well. The bruising, already darkened against sallow skin by the time the man had made it to the edge of the forest, suggested blunt force trauma, enough to break bone in a few places, but it didn't have the right pattern to have been a weapon and if Grimmjow was being honest, he would have told the guards around him they looked like they were done by human fists.
The knight snorted an almost annoyed sound. Just as he'd thought, bandits or some other band of men, but certainly nothing magical or less than human. It was a shame his talent and experience was needed in hunting down common criminals, but at least it got him outside of massive, stone walls for a while. Perhaps when he returned from his impromptu hunt, he'd convince Lord Aizen to allow him to train their patrol units and policing forces so that they were actually useful.
He snagged the reins of his horse back and quickly mounted up. When the guard began remounting as well, he halted the man by raising his hand. "Stay. I shouldn't require assistance, only hounds."
"Yes, of course, Sir Jaegerjaquez." The guard bowed and hurried off to secure a pair of the kingdom's best hunting and tracking dogs. It didn't take him long and he bowed slightly as he approached Grimmjow and his mount, handing him the leashes of to two, finely bred hounds of the most expensive bloodline. Foxes were tricky little things, cunning and smart when they wanted to be. To hunt them, dogs specifically trained for such a task were needed.
Grimmjow accepted the leather leashes and tied them around the saddle horn of his horse and nudged the much larger beast into motion. The leashes were long enough to allow for the dogs to wonder several meters in front of the horse and stay out of it's way as they entered the forest. Grimmjow quickly lost sight of the village as the thick forest seemed to swallow him and his mount. Keeping the horse at a steady walking pace, he listened carefully to the quiet sounds around him; the birds and insects, the quiet crunch of the horse's footsteps and that of the dogs' as well. The skies above were bright and blue, a clear summer afternoon, but the shadows created by the trees' thick canopy were dark, letting only shafts of wavering light to filter through and strike the leaf littered ground. Over all, the forest seemed exactly as it should have been and nothing really seemed out of sorts.
The hounds instantly began their tracking, noses to the ground, long ears nearly dragging at their feet and tails held out straight behind them. Grimmjow kept the reins of his horse held tight to keep the large animal at an even pace while the dogs worked, crisscrossing back and forth in front of his path. All the while the dogs sought out the scent of a fox or other game animal, Grimmjow let his keen gaze wonder the forest for signs of people. Other than the broken, twisting trail of the now dead hunter's desperate flight toward the village, he found nothing.
Finally, after nearly a half hour of fruitless tracking and searching, the first hound lifted it's muzzle toward the canopy and let out a low howl. The horse snorted through flared nostrils and side stepped at the sound but otherwise held steady. The second hound instantly went to the first and they both began sniffing out the trail the one had found. When it became clear the dogs had indeed found a solid trail, Grimmjow let a derisive expression cross his features but pulled the leashes free of the saddle horn and released the hounds to do their job. Both took off through the trees, noses to the ground as they followed what only their keen senses could detect.
Grimmjow kicked his horse into a trot behind them, a scowl on his features. Still he kept his sense tuned outward, searching for signs of the bandits or trouble. The barking of the hounds grew more aggressive and more frequent as their pace increased the more fresh the trail grew. They'd obviously found a fox, whether or not it's coat was white, however, was still a mystery.
Pulling his bow around before him, Grimmjow reached behind himself for an arrow. Skilled and practiced at all things necessary for war and battle, he nocked the arrow on the go, using only his knees to guide the powerful beast he sat astride. With the arrow in place against the bowstring, he shifted it to his left hand and snagged the reins once more in is right, urging the horse a bit faster through the trees as the hounds began putting distance between them and him.
He watched as their heads came up, no longer scenting the ground but using their other senses to track their prey. Looking passed the now sprinting hounds, brilliant blue eyes widened in shock. Standing stock still between two trees not far off, head turned toward the hounds and himself, stood a fox. But the cause for the knight's surprise wasn't the creature itself, nor even it's odd lack of fear of the barking hounds, but the color of it's fur. White unlike any other animal he'd ever seen, the fox seemed more like a void of color, like it bleached the greens and browns of the forest around it. It was a blank space in an otherwise richly painted canvas.
Tricky like all foxes were, it spun about and disappeared into the dense forest and thick underbrush as the hounds neared it. The dogs gave chase without hesitation, all eager aggression and bared teeth. They disappeared from Grimmjow's sight as they sped around a thick bunch of brush at the top of a gentle slope. The man spurred his horse into a quicker pace and crested the top of the subtle hill just as the first yelp rang through the trees. A second quickly followed and aggressive snarling shattered what was left of the silence. Anger flashed through Grimmjow. The hounds were trained to track and chase, but not attack. If they ruined the albino fox's pelt, the very thing his king had sent him after, he'd skin the mutts instead.
What he expected to find was not at all what greeted him. The fox's head jerked up to look at him, it's fur stained a gory red. But it wasn't the fox's blood around the albino creature's maw and one of the prized hunting hounds lay crippled at the base of the hill, it's snarling turning to pitiful whimpers. The other hound hesitated where it crouched near by, despite that it out weighted the fox by more than fifty pounds.
As for the white creature itself, none of the aggression it had obviously been showing was to be seen. It disregarded both hounds, the still living and the injured, dying one, as it looked at Grimmjow. A dark tongue curled from it's mouth to clear away the blood staining it's jaws and wipe it's unstained coat clean as it sat. It's gaze was what held Grimmjow's attention and stayed his hand however, despite that he had his bow ready and held toward the creature. All that was left was to pull the string back and let fly the arrow, but he was stunned and found himself frozen.
Rather than brown like a normal fox's eyes, or even reddish as would have been expected of an albino creature, this fox's eyes were of an unnerving, fiery golden. It was far from a light shade of brown, but a truly rich color. Making the odd hue seem all the brighter and more fierce, the golden irises sat in a dark abyss of black sclera. Slitted pupils were narrowed in the light of day, despite the dark shadows the fox stood in. That dark tongue came out again to once more lick away blood and Grimmjow finally snapped himself from his shock.
He eased the bowstring back with his right, the bow held steady and lifted toward the fox with his left. Below him, his horse remained still, trained and practiced at such things. The fox simply watched. There was a strange sense of awareness in it's gaze and it didn't bother to look at the remaining hound, nor at the arrow and bow, but instead it's gaze found and locked unerringly with Grimmjow's cool blue eyes.
Brows furrowing further than usual, Grimmjow held the air in his lungs and released the arrow when the string had been drawn tight. His eyes didn't track it's progress though, and remained glued to the fox's gaze. The barbed projectile sailed through the air, spinning in a tight rotation as the fletching caught the air to keep it aloft. A low whistle tracked it's swift path, but at the end of it's flight, it struck only the tree that had been behind the fox and the white creature was gone.
The instant the arrow thunked into the tree truck, Grimmjow snarled and tapped his heels against his horse's flanks, spurring the beast into motion. He pulled up beside the remaining hound, hardly sparing the crippled dog a second look, and barked out a command for the damn thing to begin tracking again. The poor hound cowered under the anger in his tone but pulled itself up and did as it's master bid. It trotted over to the tree, nose to the ground, and began scenting out the fox again.
Of course it didn't take long to find the fox's trail again and the hound took off around the tree, arrow still imbedded in the trunk. The trail unsurprisingly led further into the forest and Grimmjow nocked another arrow as he rode behind the hound. Just as before, the dog quickly lifted it's nose from the ground, baring it's teeth as it drew closer to the fox it tracked.
This time, before the dog could engage the creature, Grimmjow gave a sharp whistle, drawing the hound's attention. With silent hand commands, he instructed it the go wide and push the fox back toward him. Being a rather intelligent breed of dog and expertly trained for this exact kind of thing, it understood and listened to the commands given to it. Grimmjow angled his horse out wide a bit, hoping to catch the fox in it's flight away from the hound as it headed straight toward him.
As the hound took off in a sprint, floppy ears back as much as they would go and teeth bared, it disappeared from sight and rushed into the thick underbrush. Grimmjow kept the reins loose, letting the horse respond as it liked, but still guided it's direction with his knees as he pulled the bowstring back once more, preparing his arrow.
But again, yelping and the rustling of the brush reached the knight's ears. He kept his features schooled, despite that he knew his second hound would soon be dead. He didn't know how the cunning little thing was able to take on a hound more than three times it's size, but it had clearly found a way. Snarling and the tearing of flesh broke the quiet of the forest. The other animals around fell silent, the birds and insects hiding in fear as predators clashed.
After a moment, the forest fell silent again. Grimmjow watched as the underbrush shook ever so slightly before a white tail and hind quarters came into view as the fox slowly, silently backed it's way out of the thick brush it had left the dog in to die. It took another backward step before, as quiet as a ghost, turning about. It took two trotting steps before it froze, strange eyes locked with Grimmjow as they slowly widened in what seemed like surprise.
This time, however, Grimmjow wasn't taken by surprise with it's clever gaze. A slightly cruel smirk pulled at his handsome features and he released the already taut bowstring, loosing the arrow to arch through the air in a perfectly aimed path. Unprepared to come face to face with the man hunting it, the fox hardly had time to flee this time. The arrow struck just as it was kicking itself into gear. The arrow didn't pierce it's heart like Grimmjow had been intending, the tricky little creature had managed to move out of it's direct path, but the barbed arrow still embedded deeply in the front of it's chest.
The fox let out a watery yelp and jolted, nearly thrown to the ground by the force of the arrow. It staggered a step, one front limb pulled up close to it's body as it refused to put weight on it. Finally finding it's footing as Grimmjow prepared another arrow, the fox spun and shot back the way it'd come, leaping the fallen hound and exiting the underbrush on the opposite side as the knight. Dark, nearly black blood blossomed against it's white fur, dripping down it's leg and coating it's lithe, heaving chest. The foreleg of it's injured side hardly touched the ground as it fled, yet still it weaved between the trees and through the underbrush with crafty precision.
Grimmjow hissed a curse and once more kicked his horse into motion after the troublesome creature, thinking it couldn't possibly go far. Oh how wrong he was. His horse crashed through the underbrush, sailed over debris and weaved between trees after the lithe fox, but Grimmjow quickly lost sight of it. The shadows lengthened as the sun began it's downward journey, leading into evening. Forced to slow his wild chase, Grimmjow guided his horse at a walk as they picked their way through the forest, following the subtle trail the injured fox left behind, namely the blood that dripped from it's wound.
At a small clearing in the trees, where a decent amount of light was allowed to filter through the canopy above, Grimmjow pulled his horse to a stop and dismounted. Reins in hand, he crouched and let his fingertips brush through the thick substance splashed across the ground. He pulled his fingers away, studying the blood as he rubbed it between his thumb and forefinger. The color was odd, far darker than the blood of most creatures, but it was still clearly blood. It was still warm too, meaning he couldn't have been as far behind the albino creature as he had thought. The wound must have been taking it's tole on the fox.
Standing back up, Grimmjow looked behind himself at the slowly sinking sun. He debated waiting until morning to continue his search, but if the fox died through out the night, chances were good that a larger predator, a wolf perhaps, would come about and steel the carcass, turning the white fox into a free meal. Left with only one option, Grimmjow walked his horse over to a sturdy tree and tied the reins to one of the low hanging branches. He dug out a shallow pit in the dirt near the center of the natural clearing, pushing all the brush and dried grasses away, and started a small fire. It wouldn't really be needed to keep his horse warm, it would be a mild summer night anyway, and clearly he wouldn't be there, but the small flame would help him find his way back if he ended up tracking the fox after night finally fell. He left the horse saddled, figuring he'd ride back to the castle later that night, white fox in tow, and went back to the thick splash of blood upon the ground.
Angered that his hounds had been killed, by a little fox no less, the knight muttered a few curses as he stalked off into the forest, eyes searching out the winding trail of blood. Grimmjow was a knight to Lord Aizen himself, one of the highest ranking men in all the kingdom. Tracking, weather it be game or an enemy, was nothing new to him. Even without the aide of hunting dogs, he knew his way around a trail, but for a simple minded creature, even something as cunning as a fox, the trail Grimmjow was trying to follow was well covered. If he hadn't known better, he would have wondered if the little albino creature somehow knew just how to deceive him and knew how to purposely cover it's tracks. The trail, consisting of a few splashes and drops of blood here and there and the occasional foot print or tuft of pale fur, wound around trees and through underbrush. It looped back on it's self and crossed with the less fresh trails of other animals. It even doubled back and crossed over Grimmjow's own trail at one point.
After more than an hour, Grimmjow a bit surprised the fox was still going after it seemed to have been loosing so much blood from the arrow jutting from it's chest, he finally traced the trail to the edge of a rocky area. Shrubs and small, hardy plants grew around the outcropping and some of the larger, old trees crowded the entrance, but the small cave was still visible.
Grimmjow frowned and quickly nocked another arrow as he strode forward with nearly silent steps. Injured, cornered animals were not to be taken lightly. They always put up a fight and this one had already proven it wasn't ready to die just yet.
More blood smeared against the wall near the entrance, about level with Grimmjow's waist. Blue eyes narrowed as the knight realized the stain was much too high up for the small stature of a fox. A quiet, but harsh and carefully controlled pant reached him. It sounded pained, but it certainly didn't sound much like an injured animal. The moment his armored boots hit the solid, dirt coated rock of the mouth of the cave, the panting quieted and all went deadly silent.
The man paused, waiting to see if anything would move inside the shadowed cave. No sounds reached him for several long seconds, so he continued. Within, the fading sun cast deep shadows but it was still light enough that he could see decently well and surely white fur would stand out amongst the dark colors of the rock anyway.
He strode through the entrance as quietly as he could, the only sound the quiet click of his armored boots on the rock ground. He pulled the arrow back and held it level, prepared to let loose at the first chance. He kept his steps slow and even, hoping not to spook the injured animal within any more than it already was, lest it out right attack him before he had a chance to spot it and deliver another arrow. He was hoping to find it huddled in a corner where he'd be able to end it's misery as swiftly as possible.
But that's not at all the sight he was greeted with. Instead, the cave seemed empty. Grimmjow straightened to his full hight in the center, spinning a curious circle as he lowered the bow and let the string go slack again, though he kept the arrow nocked and ready. He cast his keen gaze around, searching every shadow, every crevasse in the rock's surface, but there was no sign of anything white, no sign of anything alive. Perhaps the panting he'd heard had been the creature's last breaths? It seemed possible that it may have dragged itself somewhere deeper in the cave to die.
Grimmjow turned toward the back of the cave to investigate any possible areas he'd missed, but he only made it a single step before he was halted by a distorted, harsh snarling. The low sound rumbled through out the cave, aggressive and warning and intense. It wasn't the growl of a cornered and dying animal, nor was it the sound of a scared and desperate one, fox or not. The knight spun about, pulling the arrow back and bringing it up to bear level, but he found nothing behind him, despite the menacing snarl, only the cave's entrance.
But the big man trusted his senses, and didn't lower his weapon or go back to his search. He was positive the growl had come from behind him and should an animal have ran in or out of the cave, he surely would have heard that too. Another distorted snarl sang through the air, accompanied by the hollow clatter of slim wood on rock. Grimmjow first looked down as a bloodied arrow dropped at his feet, the shaft chewed and the fletching mangled. His chilled blue eyes widened slightly as they shot upward, the aim of his bow following.
He froze at what stared back at him. Crouched naked upon a high ledge above the entrance, a young man with a startling lack of color watched Grimmjow's every move. Golden irises burned even in the shadows, as if lit with their own light, staring directly into his own eyes. Very human features were twisted into an angered, dangerous snarl, pale lips peeled back to bare white teeth. The young man's colorless features were framed by flowing, ashen hair that cascaded around his lithe shoulders. His chest rose and fell in even, but heavy breaths and dark blood, nearly black in the shadows, smeared across pale skin and dripped down one arm. The blood streaked arm hung nearly limp at the strange man's side, while the hand of the other was pressed to the front of that shoulder and where Grimmjow assumed the origin of the blood came from.
Grimmjow slowly lowered his bow, letting the taut string relax as his blue brows furrowed and confusion, even surprise, overtook his angular features. "Sir, are you-"
But his inquiry was cut short as the pale man let out another watery rumble and pounced from his perch. Grimmjow was forced back and knocked to the ground under the man's weight and strength, despite that the knight was larger. Even as the smaller male attacked, Grimmjow did his best to refrain from hurting him. He snagged pale wrists, yanking the man's hands out to the side to stay his blows.
The action drew a yelp from the pale man as he scrambled off Grimmjow and pulled away, pale features pinched with pain. The knight slowly climbed back to his feet, watching the strange lad the entire time. Holding his hands out to the side in a neutral show of being unarmed, Grimmjow took a single step closer. "I'm not here to hurt you..."
"Lies!" The other hissed in an echoing, lilting tone. It was as though he spoke with multiple voices, all coming from one body, forced through one throat. It was snarling and angered, deranged even, yet musical and warbling.
A scowl found it's way to Grimmjow's features as he watched the other. He shook his head slightly, mind working to come up with answers as to what was going on. What a very strange day it'd turned out to be... "No, I'm a knight under Lord Aizen. I do not harm innocent people, let me-"
But he was once more cut short as the white figure pounced with a speed almost impossible for a man. A pale fist connected with the knight's armor protected abdomen. The sound of knuckles connecting with hard metal echoed through the cave. The ghostly man jolted back a few steps, shaking his hand out as he snarled and bared his teeth in an almost inhuman rage.
Astonished, Grimmjow pulled in a deep breath, returning the air to his stunned lungs as his brows raised. His hand came up to settle along the ornamental armor, feeling the indentation of knuckles. Even though the breastplate was mostly for show, it was still functioning, there was nothing wrong with the material it was made of and it should have been plenty strong enough to withstand such a simple and basic attack. The strength of a man should not have knocked the air from his lungs, let alone dented his armor.
Blue eyes widened even as the knight's brows furrowed again and his mind was pulled back to the harsh bruising and broken bones of the dead hunter he'd inspected. With measured motions, he shifted his bow back around behind him where it would be out of his way, and dropped his hand to the hilt of the sword strapped to his hip. His keen gaze never left the strange young man.
Before he could draw the weapon though, the smaller man surged forward with incredible swiftness. He paused for the briefest of moments, just long enough for Grimmjow to register the wide, knowing smirk that creased ashen features, before his fist was colliding with the bigger knight's body once more. Attempting to react through his surprise, Grimmjow threw one arm up to block the attack. He failed, however, and white knuckles caught him under his blocking arm, hard against his ribs and in the area that his armor didn't wrap around.
A pained grunt issued forth through gritted teeth as Grimmjow dropped back, staggering under the smaller man's impossible strength. His mind scrambled for answers, trying to catch up and compensate for his surprise and what it had cost him already. He was a knight, after all, and it was a title that wasn't just handed out to anyone. He wasn't placed at his king's side for no reason.
When next the pale stranger attacked, Grimmjow saw it coming and dropped back, falling out of the smaller man's direct path. A gauntleted hand shot out as Grimmjow attempted to get ahold of the other and halt further attacks. The colorless male danced out of his reach though, his steps light and swift and so silent it was as though he hardly touched the rock floor. Something white flicked out from behind the man and caught Grimmjow's attention. In the slowly darkening cave, the sun beginning to settle below the horizon, it was difficult to see just what it was, but it moved with the young man and Grimmjow was beginning to question his own lack of superstition.
Grimmjow's wide eyes took in as much of the man as was possible in the deep shadows. It didn't seem the dark bothered the smaller man at all. He moved deftly through the cave and over the uneven rock surface they stood upon. His movements were fluid and easy, though he seemed to favor his injured arm, holding it tight against his body even as he attacked.
"You're...but that's impossible..."
He received nothing but another lilting snarl in answer. The aggressive young man sprang in close again and Grimmjow drew his sword, fearing he'd need it despite that his opponent was unarmed. He once more dodged the other's attack and a renewed, angered growl filled the cave. Spinning out of the pale man's path, Grimmjow turned his sword sideways and swung. The flat of his blade connected across the smaller man's shoulder blades in what should have been a strike that knocked him from his feet and planted him firmly on the ground.
But the strange young man didn't fall under the blow. He yelped and stumbled, but before Grimmjow could begin another attack or attempt to capture him, he spun in a crouch to glare with vivid, burning golden eyes. His arm wrapped around his upper body, hand once more pressed to the front of his injured shoulder and his chest rose at a quickened pace, quiet panting breaths issuing from between bared teeth. Sharp eyes landed on the sword in Grimmjow's hand, narrowing slightly.
"What are ya called, Knight of Lord Aizen?" The pale man asked, nearly spitting the king's name out like it burned his tongue to speak it. His voice was once again strangely distorted, musical yet harsh all at once. He rose from his crouch and began moving again, circling around and forcing the bigger man to back away to the side in order to maintain the safe distance between them.
"I'm named Sir Grimmjow Jaegerjaquez..." Grimmjow hesitantly gave the other his name and title, unsure why the white figure would wish to know it. He watched the man closely, waiting for another attack. "And you? Who is it that attacks an unprepared man?"
"Hmm, a strong name." The pale man mused for a moment, head tilting slight. "But it was you who attacked me." He watched those brilliant, crystallin eyes widen as he swished his white, almost fluffy tail around behind him and into view, letting it curl around his side to warp around the front of his legs. The knight's surprise only grew as pointed, colorless fox ears rose from where they'd been pinned back against long white hair in aggression, and swiveled to face forward, standing tall and proud. "I'm known as Shirosaki, chief shaman of the hollow tribe."
Grimmjow's apprehension and slight confusion showed in his expression. He could hardly believe what he was seeing or what he was being told. "The hollow tribe... but they-"
"Yes. Killed by Lord Aizen an' his knights. I am the last." Shirosaki pounced again, his ashen features drawn into an angered expression and his canine ears falling back in renewed aggression once more.
Grimmjow grunted under the impact as the smaller threw all his strength and weight into his attack, but the knight was still the larger of the two and he was beginning to recover from his shock. Reacting accordingly, when the shaman landed upon him, Grimmjow once more grabbed hold of his wrists. Pulling pale hands up, he quickly and almost effortlessly flipped the other onto his back, pinning him against the dirty rock floor. He glared down at the smaller male with icy blue eyes, but could only really see a pale shadow and brightly burning gold in the darkness that was steadily over coming the cave. "I'm not here to fight. I do not wish you harm."
"Then why did ya shoot me?" Shirosaki hissed back, teeth bared in the knight's face as he struggled to free himself of the other's strong hold.
"I would never-" But the knight paused, his words dying as everything finally clicked into place. He'd never believed in magic or myth, in monsters or shape shifters or any of the other things the superstitious people around him told stories of. It didn't seem possible, none of it, but the proof struggled below him, had killed trained hounds three times it's size, and even now, as a man, fought with the deranged rage of a cornered animal. "You really are the white fox..."
"I am." Shirosaki snarled as he finally managed to free one hand long enough for black nails, more vulpine than human, to find tan flesh.
Grimmjow pushed back, jerking away from the vicious claws that hooked through his skin. He hissed a breath as fire flashed down the side of his jaw and neck. Slapping his hand over the bleeding wound, he crouched into a defensive stance, searching the dark shadows for the pale figure as the shaman slipped backward and seemed to disappear.
Backing himself up against a wall, Grimmjow reached behind himself, pressing his palm against the cool surface, his sword held out in a guarding position before him. He could feel the warm trickle of fresh blood that dripped down his neck to stain the undershirt below his armor.
The creature he fought against wasn't human, something closer to animal than man, perhaps. The shaman had no issues seeing in the dark, he had the senses of the animal he could take the form of. Grimmjow knew he'd never be able to fight against something so powerful without being able to see it. The vague light of the moon that filtered through the surrounding trees outside marked the cave's entrance and the knight took a careful, mostly silent step in that direction as he sightlessly searched the darkness. But before he made it there, a pale figure straightened in the exit, blocking some of the meager light. Grimmjow breathed a wordless curse and moved to face the figure.
"I won' let ya flee... I can'. Not now tha' ya know I exist an' where I dwell." The shaman said in a low tone. The voice was quiet, despite it's strange quality, but there was no masking the threat, the promise, even the touch of desperation that it held.
A small growl rumbled deep in Grimmjow's chest at the other's words. So the shaman would slay him where he stood? Unable to properly defend himself? But at least while the pale creature was talking, Grimmjow knew his general direction. "Are you really so dishonorable?"
"Heh. Says the man whom fights under a blood thirsty an' cruel ruler." The shaman's chuckle was dry, humorless. There was nothing amused in his words, only a bitter hatred. "A knight under Aizen has no right ta speak of honor."
"I've never killed anyone from your tribe..." Grimmjow once more put his back to the rock wall as the shadowed figure moved from the entrance, again becoming invisible to him. He took a careful, sideways step, one hand in contact with uneven stone and the other wrapped tightly around the hilt of his sword. His progress was halted, however, when the pale shaman spoke from much too near.
"No. I suppose not." Shirosaki effortlessly danced out of the sword's path this time. "It was years ago, early in Aizen's reign. Yer much too young ta have been a knight then."
"So you would punish me for the wrong doing of others?" Grimmjow curled his lip, his tone angered and maybe a bit indignant.
"No," The shaman's voice was quiet, nearly a whisper, but he stood at the blue eyed knights side, close enough to smell the man's blood as it dripped down his neck and stained his underclothing. To the younger, much younger, man's credit, he hardly flinched this time and his sword didn't move. This knight didn't seem like such a bad man, he was only doing what was commanded of him by his king, but Shirosaki wouldn't allow himself to be killed. Not yet. He had unfinished business first. "but I will do wha' I must ta survive for a while longer."
A small rumble left the larger man's throat, his lip curled to flash white teeth and his swirling blue eyes alight with a fiery, simmering rage. Shirosaki had to admit, this boy was fascinating, different from the other hunters that had been sent after him.
The shaman lifted one pale, blood streaked hand and waved it before the knight's face in the dark. Blue eyes narrowed, like the knight was sensing the movement, but not seeing it. Despite his impressive abilities, he was still only human. Shirosaki nodded to himself, gingerly pressing his hand to his wounded shoulder, where the knight's arrow had embedded deeply. He was growing tired, his panting becoming harder to mask as the wound bled away his strength and energy.
"I will not kill ya this night, but ya will not leave here, either." The shaman paused, took a deep, painful breath and a single, silent step backward, closer to the cave's entrance. "On the morrow, we will end this."
"Why?" Grimmjow's voice was nearly vicious. He knew the position he was in, knew he would defenseless through out the night. "Why not end me now and be done with it?"
The shaman let a smirk curl his pale features, not that the knight could see it. "Because yer an honorable man. Ya jus' happen ta be fightin' under a dishonorable bastard. So I would kill ya with yer dignity intact.
Grimmjow watched as the silhouette of the shaman reentered the hint of light coming from the entrance. He watched the smaller male lower himself to sit cross-legged in the cave's mouth and tilt his head slightly, watching him with those strange eyes of his. Grimmjow too sat, facing the shaman. He knew he would not be killed through out the night. A man who spoke of honor so much would never do such an underhanded thing. "Why do you not flee? You know I would not be able to stop you right now..."
"Yes, I do know." The shaman hesitated, considering whether he should reveal his secrets to the young man, but the knight would be dead with first light, so he would be unable to tell anyone of those secrets. "I have need of this cave and this forest, and if I were to flee, you would bring others in search of me. I would be unable ta return here."
The knight frowned, but he didn't deny the truth of the other's words. Then his brows furrowed further as he thought. "Why must you return here?"
A small chuckle escaped the shaman. He took a moment to answer, careful to keep his voice calm and unstrained as he removed his hand from his still bleeding injury. He tapped his chest, knowing that the movement would just barely be visible to the knight as he sat in the splash of feeble moon light. Then he spoke in his strange, distorted voice and Grimmjow knew he was telling the truth, despite how unbelievable it sounded.
"They are here, within me...the spirits of my people. I cannot allow anyone ta get in my way until I release them, an' let them find peace." He grew silent for a moment, lost in memory of what happened more than a decade ago, when Aizen had first risen to power as the land's youngest king. "It was the only way I could save them, keep them from Aizen. I was the last shaman left ta try an' not even I was strong enough ta contain them all...but I hold most of them."
It was an old tale, a classic, told thousands of times in every country. His people were naive, too friendly with the newcomers. They'd been the natives of the land Aizen now claimed for himself. When he sought them out, searching the forests for the tribe's camp, they'd welcomed him with hospitality. The man known now as Lord Aizen had taken advantage of that. He'd brought an army with him. When Shirosaki's people wouldn't join and lend the would-be ruler their magic, he slaughtered them so that they could not become a threat later. The native tribe had been unprepared. The earth had been churned to mud, the creeks and streams ran red.
Shirosaki, only a young man at the time Aizen had come to his tribe, had been born silent and without color, but not without life. The chief and witch mothers had claimed him to be chosen, a prophesied gift from the gods. It had been quickly learned that he was gifted, but he had not yet been a shaman when Aizen arrived. In order to save their only hope, the learned shamans, witch doctors, even the tribespeople, had done all they could to protect Shirosaki, but they'd failed. When they'd been slaughtered in his defense, Shirosaki's true power had awakened. He'd consumed them as they died, their spirits joining with his own. When the last had been killed and only he remained, standing knee deep in the blood of his family and his people, he'd cried a single tear and screamed the first sound he'd ever made and thus found the power to shape shift. A white fox, it's fur unstained and pure despite the blood and carnage, had been the soul survivor of Aizen's army, and Shirosaki had disappeared.
"They did all they could for me an' I'll do the same for them. Even now, they give me my strength an' my power. They give me their voices, since I don' have one. Ta show my gratitude, I'll give them back ta the earth so tha' they might be reborn inta another life."
Grimmjow strained his meager night vision to catch the colorless male's actions as he fell silent. He sat as though lost, his ashen brows pulled together and his jaw tight. He no longer sat up, back straight like before, but hunched over slightly, one hand pressed tightly against his wounded shoulder. He made not another sound the rest of the night.
The knight didn't know it, but the shaman spoke with those that resided within him. They weren't really people anymore, but they weren't exactly mindless either. They worked to repair the damaged done to the shaman's body, the deep puncture from a flawlessly fired arrow. Had it not been for them, the wound would have killed him before he'd veered, before he'd fled, still in fox form. Now they worked to stop the bleeding, at least enough for his mortal body to begin repairs of it's own, but the short lived scuffle with the knight hadn't done them any favors.
It may have helped Grimmjow, though, more than he knew. The knight didn't know if he really slept at all, but his body must have demanded some sort of rest in the dark, silent night while the fox shaman guarded the entrance. He was awakened by bright, harsh streaks of light spilling into the cave's entrance, his back now to the cave wall and his legs stretched out before him. When he looked to the mouth of the cave, Shirosaki sat as he had the whole of the night; legs crossed below him, back hunched and hand pressed against his wounded shoulder. Dried blood caked his hand and chest, cracked from his deep, steady breaths. It looked black against his pale skin, not the red it should have been. Not even the warm, golden rays of early morning sun could give the young man's white skin some color. It was as though he stole the light, the dark, and every shade between. His eyes were closed and his long, tangled hair fell around his face but he didn't look asleep, nor like he'd rested in ages.
Grimmjow slowly, cautiously moved from the rock wall, standing to his full height. With his movement, the pale, blood streaked hand fell away from the shaman's lean chest to settle in his lap, revealing the still open but no longer bleeding wound, raw and purple against his ghastly pallor. His back slowly straightened as he sat up, head tilting back and hair shifting away from his features. He slowly opened his odd and enchanting eyes to look up at the knight, a deep, impossible knowing swirling in liquid gold.
"It will not be so easy as ya think." The shaman told the knight, as though he could hear the bigger man's thoughts, as though he knew Grimmjow had been thinking he looked too weakened and out of it to put up much of a struggle.
"How did you kno-"
"I am wise beyond the years ya see on my body. Beyond yer years. Beyond Aizen's." Shirosaki slowly, gracefully climbed to his feet, his motions smooth and elegant, just as a fox's should be. A smirk touched his pale lips. "I posses the souls of hundreds, the wisdom of a thousand years. Ya can't lie ta me, nor can ya hide wha' yer thinkin'. It shows clearly in yer gaze."
Grimmjow grunted, nodding his acceptance of the explanation. In the chaos and surprise of the night before, coupled with the sinking sun, Grimmjow hadn't given the man much of once over. Now, as the shaman stood facing him, still and motionless, his body bare, the knight was faced with a slim but well built young man. Lean muscle was toned beneath pale skin, shaped and built from living in the wild, from running and killing and surviving. He balanced on the balls of his feet, his stance relaxed and at ease but his eyes sharp and ready. White, fox-like ears faced forward, unlike the previous night and his equally ashen tale hung low behind him. Despite what Shirosaki claimed, he looked young, just barely reaching his second decade like Grimmjow himself, perhaps, certainly no older. But he claimed to have seen Lord Aizen's rise into power, when Aizen had been no more than a young man himself, the youngest king the land had ever seen. Now, Aizen was a mature, middle aged man. It stood to reason that Shirosaki should have been nearly the same age, yet while Aizen looked his age, Shirosaki looked half it.
But that hardly mattered. The knight couldn't simply let the shaman leave. Nor could he give up and allow himself to be killed. He couldn't leave that cave and return to his king empty handed, either. Pride demanded that he succeed, demanded that he be the very best of all those around him. He would not fail.
Shirosaki knew that too. He could see and read the promise of it in cool blue eyes, and he knew that if he did not kill the blue haired knight, than he would be dragged back to Aizen, to the man that had slaughtered his people.
"I was not lying when I said I didn't want to harm an innocent man." Grimmjow said in a quiet, almost soft tone, but he hefted his sword, letting the wicked blade gleam in the early morning light. "Make this easy on the both of us, and I will insure that you're given leniency."
The shaman let out a dry laugh, something like regret shining in his strange eyes. "There'll be no such thing. Once he finds I still live, he will seek ta enslave me or kill me. No, I must kill ya."
With the last of his words, the shaman pounced with a grace unmatched by any man Grimmjow had ever seen. On instinct alone, the knight reacted and swung his sword. The strike would have cleaved a normal man in half, would have put a sudden and bloody end to their scuffle, but Shirosaki wasn't normal. His pale palm flayed open. Blood dripped down his long fingers, but he'd managed to push the blade away by it's flat and engage the knight in combat too close for a long reached weapon. He forced the knight to engage personally and abandon his deadly sword.
Grimmjow growled as his blade was pushed out wide and a colorless visage pressed in mockingly close to his own face. A wide but humorless smirked pulled at deathly white lips as black, vulpine claws screeched across the plating of his armor, leaving pitted, twisted trails in their wake. Had it not been for his breastplate, Grimmjow had little doubt he'd be tripping over his own entrails at that moment.
Letting his sword drop to clatter against the rocky ground, Grimmjow put all his strength and weight into grappling with the smaller male. He managed to grab hold of a thin wrist, wrenching Shirosaki's tearing hand away from his own body. A pained grimace flashed through pale features and the knight's blue eyes narrowed as his vision zeroed in on the arrow wound. He knew it was a bit underhanded, but he couldn't allow himself to fail in this, and the man he fought was something more and therefore had more at his disposal.
A gauntleted fist connected with the shaman's wounded shoulder, lighting fire in Shirosaki's lungs. A pained scream froze in his throat as he grit sharpened teeth and desperately tried to pull out of the knight's iron grip, only succeeding in twisting his arm and further fanning the flames of his pain. Now that the knight had managed to slow the shaman enough to gain the upper hand, he used it to his advantage, not wanting a repeat of the previous night, when he'd been overwhelmed. The next strike left Shirosaki sprawled upon the cool ground as the rock walls around them seemed to spin.
Grimmjow moved to hover over the smaller man as Shirosaki lay prone on the ground, beginning to attempt to get his feet under him again as he shook off the effects of the heavy hit. He looked up with a vicious sneer, baring white teeth and sharpened canines at the knight. The shaman's ears dropped back and his chest heaved, like an animal cornered by a larger predator. A truly menacing snarl rang through the cave as Grimmjow kneeled close and snagged ashen hair in one hand, making a fist of his other. Blue eyes found and caught burning, desperate gold.
"I am truly sorry, Shirosaki of the hollow tribe. I hold to my word; I'll do everything I can to insure you're granted leniency." A horrible sort of acceptance settled over colorless features just before Grimmjow delivered his next blow, rendering the fox shaman unconscious and limp upon the ground.
He didn't stir again until the knight had managed to carry him back to his waiting horse. A barely there, disoriented and pained groan crawled up the pale man's throat as his mind began reawakening to his surroundings. Something tugged hurriedly at his wrists but Shirosaki hardly moved, just barely registering the harsh pressure. When he managed to pry his eyes open and cast his gaze around, he found himself propped up against a tree, facing a dead hearth and the blackened rocks of a fire circle. Off to his left, only a few feet away, a large war horse stood passively, it's ears and tail flicking to ward off a few buzzing insects. Kneeling in front of him and studying him with chilled blue eyes, the knight held a length of rope in his hands and watched his every move.
Gold on black widened as Shirosaki realized he was about to be dragged to the man he hated above all others. He jerked to his feet, despite the wave of dizziness that made him stumble and nearly loose his balance. His pulse pounded in his skull and spots danced before his eyes, but the blood of his people raced through his heart and he could not fail them, not after he was so close to the one thing he truly desired. Hardly realizing he was bound, he took a spinning step in the attempt to flee. He hardly made it a step before he was jerked to a sudden stop, the rope around his wrists burning and pulling tight against his flesh. He snarled an angry sound and spun back toward the knight and his horse, tugging at the makeshift bindings only to find that it wasn't the knight that held him so firmly in place, but that the end of the rope had been tied off to the massive horse's saddle. He tugged and yanked and growled, digging his bare feet into the soft earth and struggling with the tenacity of a wild animal but he went no where. The horse didn't budge. It hardly even bothered to look annoyed by his considerable strength.
"Will you sit properly on the horse, or will I have to drag you?" Grimmjow asked the shaman. He received only another round of vicious snarling in answer and snagged hold of the rope tied about Shirosaki's wrists. Yanking the smaller man forward, he looped the rope he'd held around the other's pale throat before he pulled the shaman from his feet and heaved him onto the back of the horse. As Shirosaki clutched at the animal, attempting to gain some sort of leverage so that he could drop back to the ground and reattempt to flee, Grimmjow caught hold of his kicking feet and bound his ankles as well, swiftly eliminating the shaman's thought of running.
Hands bound, ankles tied and a makeshift leash looped around his throat, the other end of which was in the knight's hands, kept Shirosaki where he was as the bigger man tucked a foot into one of the stirrups of the saddle and swung his other leg over top of the shaman and around. Grimmjow settled in the saddle and grabbed the reins, his captive secured behind him. Even should the shaman chance the drop to the ground while they traversed the forest, he was bound and would be unable to run. Grimmjow would simply stop and heave him back up onto his mount.
A harsh, displeased growl rumbled in the shaman's chest as the horse was kicked into a trot. There was a hint of desperation in that sound, even more moroseness and dreadful understanding marking it. The shaman knew what his fate was to be, and part of the knight knew that Lord Aizen would never listen to him and spare the pale captive, but the knight was unwilling to believe it and unwilling to think on it. He had a job to do.
Nearly a half hour went by in silence, after the shaman's snarl had finally quieted. If Grimmjow were honest with himself, and he was, he would have to admit he was quite surprised the pale young man had yet to attempt to free himself and flee. As if on cue with the knight's thoughts, the shaman did just that.
The horse tossed it's head, forelegs rising as it jolted in surprise. Sharp claws hooked into the large animal's flesh behind where the saddle sat, not cruelly tearing, but instead only seeking purchase. The tightly wound rope around human wrists and ankles fell away as bone shrank, muscle contracted and shape changed. White skin gave way to white fur and Shirosaki slipped his bindings, leaping from the horse's back as he was freed from most of the rope.
Looking behind himself as he calmed his horse, Grimmjow hissed a curse and clutched at the end of the rope he'd looped around his captive's neck before the fox could go far. Shirosaki, now a fox, managed to slip one front leg through the noose as he took off across the leaf littered forest floor, intending to simply slip through the circle of rope. But the knot slipped, tightening across his chest and under his foreleg, pulling tight with his movements. The small creature yelped a startled sound as the knight caught hold of the rope and he was jerked a sudden stop.
Grunting an almost amused sound, Grimmjow dismounted, one gauntleted hand still wrapped around the makeshift leash. He looked down at the struggling fox as the shaman spun to bare small but vicious teeth at him, backing away and still fighting to free himself of the tightened rope.
"You didn't really think I'd be so simpleminded as to not take precautions against your shape shifting, did you?" The knight asked as he cautiously neared the snarling little creature. The shaman was no larger than any natural born fox, but he retained the intelligence of a man and the desperation and cunning of both animal and human. He held no illusions that Shirosaki wouldn't attack and he knew the creature would do so with more aggression and strength than should be possible for such a small body.
True to his prediction, when he reached out to grab hold of the fox, Shirosaki snarled and snapped his jaws closed around Grimmjow's hand. Even through the armored gauntlet, the knight could feel the strength of that jaw and the sharpness of those teeth. His breastplate was dented from bare knuckles and furrowed from wicked claws. Now his gauntlet would surely sport the indentation of fangs.
Letting the shifted shaman gnaw at his protected hand, the knight reached over the fox with his other and hand snagged hold of the scruff at the back of Shirosaki's neck. He lifted the man turned fox from the ground, effortlessly pulling his hand from the small creature's mouth as Shirosaki froze as all animals did when held by their scruff. Still he snarled though, fangs bared and ears pinned back. Gold on black eyes, the pupils slitted now, burned with a deep hatred as the shaman stared the knight in the eye, refusing to drop his blue gaze even as Grimmjow frowned and neared his horse again, saying not another word.
They rode the rest of the way to the castle like that; with Grimmjow holding tightly onto the fox and keeping the shaman from squirming or attempting to shape shift again. When he made it to the town, near where he'd entered the forest at, people flocked to the streets. He'd been gone a full night and half of the next day. Rumor had spread of his death at the hands of the magical creature. The creature he now carried.
Crowds formed and people pointed in awe as the infamous knight of Lord Aizen carried a living, breathing albino fox. Grimmjow kept his gaze trained ahead of himself, guiding his horse with one hand. He sat straight and regal in his saddle, looking the picture of royalty and calm perfection, but inside, his stomach clenched as a knot began to slowly form in his chest.
The people around him, the villagers, the subjects of Lord Aizen, thought he'd done the impossible and caught their king the fox he'd wanted, but Grimmjow knew what he'd really done. He told the fox, in whispered words as they neared the castle's walls, that he'd speak with his king, that Shirosaki would be shown mercy, but in his heart he feared he was sentencing an innocent man and the very last of a native tribe to his death. And with the shaman's death, he would inadvertently bring about the tribe's extinction as the souls Shirosaki carried within him died as well.
As the castle's front gates were opened to grant the knight entry, Shirosaki spoke, but it wasn't to Grimmjow. His voice was quiet and resigned, his vulpine ears falling forward and his strange eyes shining with his dread. "I am sorry... I have failed..."
Grimmjow knew who he spoke to and the apology left a sour taste in his mouth and a burning in his gut. The knight dismounted outside the castle's entrance and handed the reins of his horse to a stablehand so that the animal could be divested of it's tack and bathed before being shown it's stable. He strode through grand doors with his usual air of confidence, his strides long and even, but his displeasure showed on his angular features for all to see. He didn't bother to announce his arrival, nor allow one of the door guards to do so as he threw the double doors of the throne room open with one hand, the other still grasping the white fox.
Everyone within the throne room fell silent with his not so subtle entry. Lord Aizen stood off to the side, previously speaking with a guest, a high standing property owner of a neighboring kingdom, but now the king watched his knight enter. He no doubt recognized the scowl pulling at handsome features, but a smile tugged at his lips as his intelligent eyes landed on what the knight held.
The guest Lord Aizen entertained clapped happily. "Bravo, Sir. King Aizen was just telling me of your hunt. Marvelous that it ends so successfully. And alive too! Oh, Lord Aizen, it seems you have a new pet and what a truly grand one it will make."
Grimmjow merely nodded his acknowledgment of the man's praise, still silent. Aizen had yet to look away from the fox and Shirosaki held the Lord's gaze with a fiery, seething one of his own.
"Yes, very well done, Grimmjow. I'm quite surprised and very pleased." The king finally said, eyes still locked with the shaman. Grimmjow's jaw tightened, teeth grinding as he realized the king knew he'd been after something more than just a fox. "I fear that this creature would not be tamable enough to turn into a pet, however."
Aizen turned from the man he'd been talking to and began walking toward his throne. "If you'll excuse me, good sir."
"Ah, yes of course, my lord. I should best be on my way at any rate." The land owner wished the king well and took his leave as Aizen took his seat.
When the man had gone and it was only Aizen, his two knights and a handful of his closest advisors, the king spoke once more. "Why is he still alive, Grimmjow? When you hunt an animal, you generally kill it before bringing it home."
"Yes, Lord Aizen, but there were extenuating circumstances in this case." Grimmjow released the fox, tossing the shaman to the ground none too gently.
As Shirosaki's vulpine claws slid across the smooth flooring, he bared white teeth and began to shift as he slid into the center of the room. Where a fox had cowered, snarling up at the king, now a young man glared murder. Naked now that he had no fur to cover him, he sat upon the tile floor, his shoulders hunched with tension and aggression. Long, white hair cascaded down his back and over his shoulders and fox ears were pinned back. His canine tail curled around between his legs, a sure sign of his distress despite his apparent hatred. His pale features showed a light bruise from where Grimmjow had knocked him out and the arrow wound was still purple and open, but over all he was intact for the moment.
"You knew." Grimmjow's voice was a deep rumble of thunder, volume not needed for him to be heard. His crystallin gaze was cold and hard, his eyes not straying from his king's.
Around them, the few advisers whispered, gasping shocked breaths and making warding signs against their chests. Ulquiorra, Aizen's other knight, stood at the king's side, hand on the hilt of his sword as his dead green eyes took in the pale creature.
"I had my suspicions, yes." Aizen looked away from his knight and back to the captive shaman. "I'd wondered if he still lived, but when my men kept turning up dead and the rumor of a white fox cropped back up... Well, what other creature has a hide so pure and white?"
"Why did you not tell me you sought out a man?" Grimmjow's blue eyes flashed to the pale figure in the center of the room for a moment. Shirosaki had yet to attempt anything, he hadn't even moved from where he'd landed, still firmly planted on the ground. He waited, bided his time and remained quiet in the effort to appear small and unthreatening while he waited to see what would happen. It was a technique all animals used when they were scared.
"You would not have believed me, Grimmjow." The king answered, a small but pleased smile resting on his lips. No doubt he knew the shaman feared as well, despite the aggression Shirosaki allowed to show on his porcelain features. "You were skeptical of magic and myth. Surely you would have declined the offer and thought me mad."
The knight's eyes narrowed by he inclined his head, conceding the king's point. "So what do we do with him now?"
"Lock him away for the moment. To be honest, I hadn't put much thought into it. I had my doubts you'd find him and I had assumed that if you had, you would have killed the white fox before you realized he was a man."
Grimmjow grit his teeth and sneered up at his king, angered that he had been used in such a way. But he remained quiet and briskly crossed the distance between himself and the shaman. Bending, he hauled the smaller male to his feet and turned on his heel, tugging the pale man with him as he left the throne room and headed toward the dungeons below.
When they were out of ear shot from the horrid king, Shirosaki spoke in a hissing, distorted voice. "You know a simple cell will not hold me. Release me now, I'll be gone b'fore anyone realizes ya never made it ta the dungeons. I won' come back, I won' seek revenge. Jus' release me..."
"I cannot." Grimmjow said shortly, hand wrapped bruising-ly tight around the pale man's arm. "And you wont be taken to a simple cage. Aizen has always believed in magic, despite my own beliefs. He has a cell warded against it."
"An' now you know why he always believed." Shirosaki hissed, finally beginning to struggle now that he knew the knight wouldn't simply release him. He could see the bigger man's guilt swirl in blue eyes. He knew the man wasn't happy about what was going on. Grimmjow couldn't lie to the shaman, only to himself.
A guard rushed forward as Shirosaki struggled and pulled against his capture. "Would you like assistance, Sir?"
"No." Grimmjow snapped, his white teeth bared with his quickly worsening temper. "Just open the damned cell."
"O-of course, Sir!" The guard scrambled in front of the infamous knight, doing as he was told before he could further anger the blue haired man. The cell door was thrown open as Grimmjow stormed up to it, the guard bowed at it's entrance.
"Leave." Grimmjow snarled at the guard as he tossed Shirosaki inside, hard enough to make him stumble against the back wall and give himself plenty of time to close and lock the warded door before the shaman could turn.
When Shirosaki managed to catch his balance, he turned and threw himself against the bars. White fingers wrapped around the cool metal tight enough to make the bones of his knuckles visible through his pale skin. His eyes were wide with the fear and helpless understanding the knight had seen earlier, but his brows were furrowed and his colorless lips were twisted with hatred. "You commit genocide." He said in a low, watery voice.
"I know..." Grimmjow's own brows furrowed. "But I've yet to speak with Aizen. He values my opinion as his knight and he's not yet sentenced your death..."
"He plays you!" Shirosaki hissed through the bars, his ashen features grave yet enraged and desperate. Grimmjow knew he wouldn't give up, despite that he felt the situation hopeless. The shaman knew he'd met his end, but he couldn't give up on his people, not while their souls rested with his own. "He cares nothin' of your thoughts, he manipulates you. Like a puppet."
Grimmjow sneered, a rumble of his own crawling from his throat, but he said nothing. The shaman was right, despite what Grimmjow told himself.
Another guard quietly entered the dungeon and neared the knight. He stood silent for a few moments, carefully looking between the knight and the caged captive, before Grimmjow finally turned to him. The expression on the powerful knight's features had the man scrambling to explain. "Lord Aizen has sent me, Sir... You're armor is in need of repair... I-I'm to take it to the blacksmith for you, Sir."
The big man let his fingers trail down his abdomen, feeling the pitted indentations of knuckles and the deep gouges of claws before his eyes flickered over to the pale man responsible. He looked back to the guard and nodded as he pulled his gauntlets off, handing them over so the damaged one could be repaired. Next he unbuckled the straps under his arms so that he could remove the breastplate and hand that over as well. When the armor was out of the way, his thin undershirt was revealed, as well as the blood that stained the collar of it from where claws had torn through the skin of his jaw and down his neck the night before.
The guard's eyes widened a bit. "Should I send for a healer, Sir?"
Grimmjow gingerly touched the dragging marks before he shook his head and waved the man away. He'd be fine. The marks weren't so deep that they would cause any permanent damage. They'd merely bled so freely because of where they were located.
When the guard had once more disappeared, the knight's armor in his possession, Grimmjow turned back to the cage. "I know you've no reason to believe me, even less to trust me, but I give my word I'll do what I can to see that you keep your life. I will work something out."
The shaman said nothing, merely studied the knight. After a moment, the bigger man turned away and Shirosaki was left alone, locked in a cage below the castle of the man he hated above all else, knowing he'd soon face his death and had already failed his people. He believed the knight, but he also knew Aizen cared little for what the big man said. Aizen would see him dead, his tribe gone and with it, the last shaman in all the land.
Thoughts? Please let me know what you think