This is a work of fan fiction, based off the work of the masterful, Tite Kubo. A special thank you to user Jace2pt4 who always gives me input no matter how many times I ask. You are awesome. +Dedicated to and written for NIGHTMusic4167. Thanks for all your inspiration and support. +
The Woods of Arcadia
"What brings you to Falaisia, stranger?" The Barkeep was rather plump, his apple cheeks stained red. He pushed the soiled rag into the tin cup he was holding, inspecting it in the dim lighting before shrugging. "What can I do you for?"
"My business is my own." The dark stranger replied dryly, his dark blue eyes searching the sleepy inn and its degenerate patrons.
"Well if ya ain't got business, get to gettin'. We don't like strangers here, especially strangers with mean looks." The Barkeep paused a moment, scratching at his unshaven chin in thought. "Best not to leave too late, either. These woods are cursed."
"How much for the night?" the dark stranger spoke aloud, his deep, commanding voice rousing a drunkard at the end of the bar.
"I don't think you'd like the place." The Barkeep muttered, weighing in his mind the cost of trouble against the price of a room.
The dark stranger swung his legs to the side, standing from the barstool silently. He tossed back his long, brown curls and shot one last look around the room. He opened his satchel, the Barkeep noted the fine camel leather, and placed twenty gold drachmae on the bar with a clatter. "I require room and board for a fortnight."
"Ah! Welcome, Master…?" The Barkeep cried out jovially, a wide grin spreading his fleshy face.
"Starrk." The dark stranger answered simply, his heavy boots pounding on the wooden floor as he walked to the door.
"Master Starrk, I am Christoforos Petros, proprietor and barkeep of this most noble establishment," Christoforos the Barkeep explained with a grin.
"I am out for the night. I require no further assistance." Starrk, the dark stranger commanded, his face vacant except for his smoldering blue eyes, locked on something in the distance.
"What about dinner and breakfast?" Christoforos Petros called after him, scooping the heavy gold coins into his apron. "Wait! Master Starrk!"
Starrk turned and held up a large, gloved hand. "I require no further assistance Christoforos Petros of Falaisia."
"Aye, Master Starrk, but I have to warn ya. The woods are cursed, best to stay away." Christoforos murmured and several patrons shook their heads in agreement. "Especially at night."
It wasn't long before the news of the strange visitor had reached the entire village. "Is he a Christian?" "He's a Turk!" "So he's a Muslim!" "I'm not entirely sure he's not a Venetian, ya know." "What could he want?" "Why is he here?" "He spent a golden drachma at Petros' Inn." "Inn? Everyone knows it's nothing but a pit for drunkards!"
Naturally, the most titillating gossip came from Christoforos Petros himself, who couldn't complain about the boost in business. He hurried from place to place, pouring bottles of wine and pints of beer, and actually charging full price. "Ya know, I couldn't say if he was Christian or Muslim, but I can tell ya menfolk, he has a mean look."
"Is he trouble?" Eteocles Gogola exhaled heavily, his dark brows knit together in concern. "I have not one but four daughters to worry about, ya know."
"Christoforos can't say he's trouble or not, but I can say a man wandering around by himself is suspicious." Chryses Kalfas exclaimed to a murmur of agreement. "If he ain't selling and he ain't buying…"
"Now keep your minds, gentleman!" Christoforos Petros complained, knowing all too well that this kind of talk was a staple in his establishment. "He paid me full and upfront for a fortnight. The man wants his privacy, that's the least I can do for an honored guest."
"Starrk." Chryses Kalfas muttered to himself. "What kinda name is that?"
"Deutch, I think." Christoforos Petros suggested with a shrug.
"Mercernary from the Holy Roman Empire." Chryses Kalfas whispered. "Here to spy on the Ottomans no doubt."
"Well no matter," Christoforos Petros clicked his tongue approvingly. "If that's the case, we are all good Orthodox Christians. We've nothing to hide."
The bell jingled at the door and two broad men entered the inn. The townsfolk of Falaisia dispersed quickly, making room for the two foreigners to approach the bar. The dark haired warrior smirked, speaking to his partner in a strange tongue before leaning against the bar and addressing the room in very disorganized Greek. "Evening, gentlemen."
"Ah! Masters Kyoraku and Ukitake." Christoforos Petros fumbled over toward them, pouring two large glasses of wine. "Have you heard the news? You are no longer the new guys in town."
Shunsui Kyoraku's eyes widened in surprise and he turned to the white haired man, relaying the message in their own tongue. The Falaisian villagers watched them in awe, it was a rare treat to see the beast hunters from Far Away. "Is that so? And where does our new friend hail from? Surely not as far as we?"
"It's a mystery." Christoforos replied with a smile. "I'm afraid I have nothing but speculation."
"He's a Turk." "A Venetian!" "Obviously a mercenary from the Holy Roman Empire."
Chryses Kalfas cleared his throat loudly before turning to face the two foreigners straight on. "I don't know what he is, but a Foreigner is a foreigner and we've had enough of 'em. Ottomans, Venetians, even Edo or Yamato or whatever ya call yourselves."
"We call ourselves Samurai, Mr. Kalfas." Shunsui Kyoraku explained with a smile. "And let me assure you, once our task is complete, we are on our way."
"Task." Chryses Kalfas laughed to himself. "Oh yes! Your task to eliminate the monsters of our forest. How could I forget? You killed a werewolf last month!"
Jushiro Ukitake, the white haired warrior who had fallen ill at the beginning of their journey stepped forward. His green eyes narrowed and his low voice rumbled. The townsfolk stared at him in wonder, completely unable to understand a word he spoke.
"Don't you dare!" Eteocles Gogola cried out, his forehead breaking out in a thin layer of sweat. "He could be cursing us! It's a bad omen to speak in unknown tongues!"
"I can assure you, Mr. Gogola." Shunsui Kyoraku groaned in frustration. "We mean no harm."
"Strangers bring death. You can't argue with that fact, Mr. Warrior-SAN." Chryses Kalfas called out in challenge. "Those woods were good when I was young. Stranger came one day, we let 'em into our fold set him right and now we can't even step in 'em woods without bringing death to our house."
"Well, we don't mean to upset anyone," Shunsui explained with a kind smile. "We'll take our supplies and be on our way."
"You still staying in that shack on the hill?" Christoforos called over his shoulder as he hefted a large bag of grain onto his shoulder.
"Wouldn't you know first if that were to change?" Shunsui asked with a laugh.
"Well ya know," Christoforos offered with a wriggle of his eyebrows. "There are several maids of marrying age in the village. Two men can't keep a house, if ya know what I mean."
The townsfolk laughed, the tension breaking like ice. Shunsui laughed along easily, relaying to Jushiro what the joke had been. Jushiro Ukitake laughed, responding in his own language with a smile.
"Wha'did he say?" Christoforos asked curiously.
"He said no woman would want me." Shunsui admitted, his ears growing red at the chorus of laughter.
"Eh, fine built man like yourself could find a pretty little girl if ya wanted, especially with all that money ya keep on you." Christoforos teased, placing the last bag of supplies on the counter. "I have a niece, she might be a bit plain but she's young and unknown by man."
"Oh, it is such a compliment, but no thank you." Shunsui bit down on his cheek, resisting the urge to laugh. "I'm afraid no woman would want me, truly."
"Good evening then, Master Kyoraku." Christoforos called after him. "And you as well, Master Ukitake." They had no more than stepped out the door before the townsfolk began to buzz in conversation.
Coyote Starrk nudged the ravaged carcass with his boot, brushing his thumb through the cold blood. The creature had been dead at least four hours. He licked his finger clean, searching the area with intent. The breeze shifted and the hair on the back of his neck bristled. He sniffed the thick air and frowned. "Where are you?"
He climbed a nearby tree, his thick, long nails digging into the bark. He pulled himself onto a dense branch and laid his head against the trunk. He fought to keep his eyes open, red beams of dying sunlight warming his face. His stomach clenched painfully, complaining of hunger but he ignored it, watching with detachment as the sun faded into the West.
With sundown came a salty breeze and Coyote felt rejuvenated. He dropped from the branch, dropping limberly to his feet. He stretched his body, pulling his gloves from his breast pocket and pulling them over his long, thin fingers. He opened his satchel and removed his sickle-shaped blade, a Falcata sword. He licked his lips hungrily, his pronounced canines blindingly white.
Jushiro swallowed a mouthful of green tea, the warmth spreading down his chest and to his stomach. He sat beside the window, watching Shunsui unhitch the mules from the wagon. Shunsui's shirt was slicked against his skin, his pronounced muscles flexing as he carried about with the manual labor.
Jushiro took another sip of tea with a thoughtful frown. Snow was beginning to fall on the mountains behind them and already there was a light dusting around the shack, it was cold. He shivered, pulling his robe more tightly around himself. He was suddenly very homesick, yearning for the warm kotatsu and delicious yosenabe.
The door banged open and Shunsui stepped into the shack, little flakes of snow melting to the floor. "Brrrrr."
"You should wear a coat." Jushiro suggested with a smile, gesturing to a freshly poured cup of tea on the table.
"Mmmm." Shunsui licked his lips after downing the tea in one gulp. "Needs some liquor but it's still good."
"Not so fast." Jushiro chastised halfheartedly, shaking his head as Shunsui poured himself a glass of spirits. "When the green tea is gone it's gone, until the Chinese traders return we won't be able to get more."
"Well, they should be around the next few days, before winter really hits and the mountain is impassable." Shunsui looked out the window absently, his eyes focused on the horizon.
"What do you see?" Jushiro's deep voice was nothing more than a whisper.
"Hmmm?" Shunsui turned, shaking his head as if to clear it. "What was that, love?"
"Do you see something out there? In the woods?" Jushiro pressed, leaning forward in his chair with expectation.
"No." Shunsui answered quickly and firmly, turning away from the window and busying himself with the fire stove.
"Shunsui…" Jushiro's voice was gentle and coaxing. "Has he come?"
Shunsui exhaled heavily and leaned against the wall of the shack, his dark brown eyes wandering back to the window. He ran a hand over his goatee and shook his head sadly. "He's bound to come for me… since she's gone…"
"If we explain, he's bound to understand reason! Surely, the dark end you envisage is not the only outcome…" Jushiro crossed his arms over his broad chest, a heavy strand of white hair falling over his shoulder. "After all this time…" Shunsui murmured something under his breath and Jushiro allowed the comment to pass. "Are you hungry?"
"Eh," Shunsui shrugged his thick wool coat over his shoulders. "I'm gonna run a perimeter check."
"Alright," Jushiro replied quietly.
"Don't wait up."
Part II: Ancien Rẻgime
It started with a headache. And then she couldn't even stand the firelight. Next come the nausea and vomiting. For two days he ignored the signs, hoisting her up against the wall in the alley and washing her face and body with the runoff water. He swallowed heavily, his hand brushing against the lumps on her inner thigh and abdomen.
"It burns, Coyote." She whispered, her teeth grinding across each other.
"Shhh!" Coyote growled, covering the small girl with a blanket as a rowdy group of prostistutes passed. "Bite your tongue."
"I've got it," the girl groaned in misery, scratching her bitten nails at the pools of black under her skin. "Just leave me to die."
"Lilinette," Coyote whispered running his hand over her small, upturned face. "I would rather gut myself as a coward."
"You're so stupid." Lilinette grumbled, swatting his hand away from her face. "I'm dying. Go away!"
"You are my responsibility, Lilinette Gingerbuck." Coyote spoke lowly, his dark blue eyes smoldering in the torchlit alley. "As long as you breathe, I shall remain by your side."
"Come on, Coyote. Jus' cause yer daddy stuck his co-" Coyote's large hand covered her mouth, silencing her with a sad frown.
"Don't break my heart." Coyote whispered, pressing his lips to her sweaty forehead. He brushed her matted vert jaune hair out of her eyes and smiled down at her kindly. "I'm a worthless man. What would I do without a purpose?"
"You're too close." Lilinette whispered, rubbing her hands over her eyes with a loud sniffle. "You'll catch it."
"Catch what? You're a picture of health." Coyote answered self-assuredly. He rose to his feet, covering the small girl with their one possession, a soiled threadbare blanket. "I have to go for a little while, will you be alright alone?"
"Yeah, I'm just gonna go to sleep."
"Rest will do you well." Coyote agreed, pulling his ruffled shirt up and over his mouth.
"Hey, Coyote," Lilinette called after him. Coyote turned around, dropping the shirt from his face. "It's okay if you don't come back. I won't hold it against you."
"Don't be such a simpleton." Coyote muttered, waving lazily before heading back down the alley. "I will return shortly, mademoiselle."
Coyote stepped out onto the uneven cobbled street and threw himself forward, thrusting his hands in a nearby horse trough. He rubbed his hands together briskly, splashing water on his face and spitting. His hands shook and for a moment he thought he might cry. He cleared his throat and looked around, aware of the critical glances.
"Washin' will kill ya, Garçon," a beautiful woman spoke aloud, her muddy boot resting inches from Coyote's face. "Black death ain't a pretty way to go." Coyote climbed to his feet, sparing the prostitute a curt nod. "If ya wish to die, I can send ya to Heaven for a fair price."
"I regretfully decline, Mademoiselle." Coyote's arched brows knit together in thought and he frowned. "Many an honest man has met his decline by the seduction of a courtesan."
"You sure talk fancy for being in such ragged shape… fall on misfortune lately, Garçon?"
Coyote nodded dismissively once more, ignoring the taunts of the prostitute. He walked with his head down, his shirt over his mouth, paying careful attention not to come in contact with anyone who looked ill. He paused a moment outside of a clockworks shop and slowly looked at the sign as it caught his eye.
Nuremberg and Fremersdorf Style
Finest Quality Spring-Driven Clocks
Coyote pressed his face and hands into the shop window curiously, his breath steaming up the stained glass window, a product of the 'so called' Renaissance. He peered inside the tiny shop, his dark eyes lingering on the shiny gold pieces.
"May I help you?" Coyote looked up at the large man with a sheepish grin. He was broad shouldered and handsome, with thick brown hair slightly curling around his face. He didn't smile at Coyote, instead he seemed intent on shooing him away.
"Pardon," Coyote raised a hand apologetically, stepping away from the shop display. "I was simply admiring your work."
"Ah." The shopkeeper smiled at last, and even though it was warm and bright it sent a chill down Coyote's spine. "Have you an interest in timekeeping?"
"Well… no, to be honest, I once saw a Nuremberg piece as a child visiting the Duke of Burgundy." Coyote explained, his eyes locked onto the man's as if hypnotized. The shopkeeper's brown eyes were heavy but it wasn't an entirely unpleasant feeling.
"As a child? You can't be much more than sixteen winters along now, can you? And the Duke of Burgundy? Certainly you hold prestigious company." The shopkeeper ushered Coyote into his shop, pushing him down on a low stool. "Who do I have here?"
"Gentilhomme Seigneur Coyote Starrk, Vicomte of the County of Nevers." Coyote blurted out before he could stop himself.
"And what purpose do you have in Paris, Vicomte?" the shopkeeper moved forward, his hands wrapping around Coyote's slender wrists. Coyote recoiled from the touch but was unable to move, as if his body was frozen to the spot.
"We've run away…" Coyote whispered.
"We?" the shopkeeper moved a dark strand of hair from Coyote's cheek.
"My sister." Coyote exhaled slowly. "My half-sister, Lilinette Gingerbuck. Her mother was an English whore…"
"Where is Mademoiselle Gingerbuck?" the shopkeeper pressed and suddenly Coyote snapped to. He pulled his hands free and stood, sending the stool scraping backward nosily.
"Actually, that is why I am about at this unholy hour. She has fallen ill and I am falling upon the mercy of the streets of Paris."
"You will find none." The shopkeeper replied coldly, his broad shoulders shrugging.
"I beg of you, in exchange for some nourishment and a warm place for my sister to sleep, I will render myself into your service." Coyote stood at his full height, rolling his shoulders backward and sticking out his chest.
"And what would I do with a girl dying of the Black Death and an unskilled worker such as yourself?" the shopkeeper challenged with a wry smile.
"She… the Plague… I…" Coyote stammered before pausing a long moment to regain his thoughts. "Unlike everyone else in this cursed place, I can read and write and complete complex arithmetic. I am a hard worker and she will be of little nuisance to you."
"Vicomte Starrk, what if I ask you to do terrible things? What if I do terrible things to you? Are you so eager to make bedfellows with a complete stranger?" the shopkeeper suggested absently, turning to rummage through the papers on his impeccable desk.
"You may do as you wish with me so long as my sister has food to eat and a warm place to sleep." Coyote burst out, and he knew it in his heart to be true. He would do anything for his younger sister. "She doesn't have long." Coyote paused, clearing his throat. "She does not deserve to die in the streets, surrounded by filth."
"You will sign a contract." The shopkeeper instructed, pulling a scroll from inside his dress coat. The sight struck Coyote as queer and a shiver crept down his spine once more. "Sign yourself away to me, if it's worth it to you."
Coyote reached out for the scroll, taking the proffered quill. He began to skim the handwritten contract, his mouth growing dry as he realized his name had already been filled in. The shopkeeper leaned forward indicating a space at the bottom of the parchment. "Don't take too long to decide, your sister is not long for this world."
Coyote scribbled his name along the bottom of the page hurriedly and in the next moment the scroll and quill were snatched from his hands. "Perfectly wonderful decision, Vicomte Starrk. May I call you Coyote?"
"Yes," Coyote replied with a slow nod.
"My name is Sosuke Aizen." The shopkeeper explained calmly, his eyes traitorously dancing in excitement. "And as you may already suspect, I'm not from these parts."