View Full Version : Flower on the Precipice
03-26-2013, 07:12 AM
[OOC: This is Kaoru Miyazaki's history thread. All chapters within have already been graded.]
Chapter 1: Falling Blossoms
The darkness of night had fallen over District One of the Rukongai and a few hours later, intense shouting errupted from within the Miyazaki manor...
"How could you do such a thing!?"
Kaoru, the family's eldest son, was just twelve years old at the time. He was of an average height and weight for his age, with skin as pale as porcelain. His eyes and long unbound hair were of the same color, a vibrant shade of purple, which looked all the more dazzling against his pale skin. The boy was dressed in a dark blue yukata that was tied closed with a solid black obi. Currently, he was enraged at his father. An angry expression had stamped itself upon his facial features...
"You ungrateful little brat! You should be thanking me for trying to ensure your future in that place!"
Lord Iashi, who was equally enraged, towered over his son, glaring down on him. The man also had long unbound hair and a flawless appearance. His clothing, however, was far more lavish and luxuriant, made with silken fabrics and jewels sewn onto the garments. He wore them with an over-inflated sense of pride surrounding him.
"I didn't need your help nor did I request it in this situation! I had complete confidence in myself!", Kaoru countered and then continued.
"Circu-sensei trained me for this for the past three years... He said I had talent and showed promise. He said I could become an excellent shinigami, and he encouraged me to take the Shino-Reijutsuin entrance exam. I have every intention of making him proud, and I want to do it by myself...'
"But you went and tried to bribe the Headmaster into accepting me, without me knowing about it... Just stay out of my business!"
Upon hearing his son's spiteful words, Iashi's glare intensified. He raised his right hand and struck the boy sharply across his face. "Enough! How dare you show such disrespect to me! Get out of my sight and go to your room, you wretch!" His screaming was loud enough that it shook the dust loose from the corners of the cieling above the room.
Kaoru didn't even have time to brace himself before he was hit. The force of it threw him to the side and caused him to topple to the floor, where he lay stunned for a few moments, listening to his father's voice. His cheek stung harshly where it had taken the initial impact. Eventually, the boy managed to push himself to his feet and he left the room silently, his eyes hidden behind his dark hair...
Outside in the hallway, the younger son of the Miyazaki family, Kusa, was waiting for his brother's emergence. This young child of eight looked entirely different from his father and his brother. He had slightly darker skin, earthen brown hair, and ember orange eyes. All of the yelling had worried him a great deal and thus, when Kaoru finally exited the room, Kusa eagerly ran to meet him. Though, he spotted something troubling immediately...
"Niichan, your cheek... It's red and puffy...", said the younger sibling.
Kaoru slowly looked up. The expression on his face was carefully blank, though his eyes appeared to have dulled in color. "I'm fine, don't worry about it, Kusa. Come on, it's way past bed time.", he said calmly, leading his little brother away down the hall...
03-26-2013, 07:17 AM
Chapter 2: Decision of Departure
Shortly after leaving the hallway that lead to their father's study, Kusa reached the door of his bedroom with his brother right behind him. He opened the door but did not bother turning the light on after going inside. Instead, the child ran over to his bed and hopped up on it, waiting for Kaoru.
Kaoru moved slowly, walking over to Kusa's bed, tucking his dear younger brother in for the night. He carefully laid the top of the quilt across Kusa's shoulders and gently petted his hair a few times. Finally, a small smiled reappeared on his face. "Kusa, forget about everything you might have heard tonight. Just get some rest and have a good sleep.", he said quietly.
Afterward, the elder sibling left the younger and exited the room, shutting the door softly behind him. He could only hope that Kusa would take his words to heart and not worry about the argument that he had had with their father. It really didn't involve him and it certainly didn't need to. With that thought set in his mind, Kaoru made his way to his own bedroom.
Not but two days later, sometime in the late morning, a letter was delivered to the Miyazaki manor. It was addressed to Kaoru...
His hands shook gently as he held the envelope between them. Its content had come from the Shino-Reijutsuin. He feared what it might possibly contain. Had the Headmaster declined him entry into the school because of his father's attempt at bribery? Had he failed the exam or done too poorly to be taken in? His immense worrying was making him sick at his stomach. But he soon swallowed his fear and carefully opened the letter.
Purple eyes scanned down the page with rapt attention as Kaoru read about what had been decided for his future. A smile slowly blossomed into his expression when he was finished. The letter had turned out to be his letter of acceptance. It also had his scores from the exam and a list of the classes he would be attending while in the academy.
"What's it say, Niichan?", came Kusa's curious voice.
Kaoru turned to his brother and gently pulled him into a hug, still holding the letter in his right hand. "I've been accepted...", he replied.
"Ah! You did it!", Kusa exclaimed happily, returning the hug with a big smile.
"Hold on a minute. There's something that I have to tell you, Kusa... I'm not entirely sure if you're going to be happy about it.", said Kaoru, releasing his little sibling. The sibling in question looked up at him, blinking.
"Since I have been accepted, I'm leaving our home here and going to live in one of the dorms at the academy. This means I won't be able to see you very often. But I promise that I will come and visit you whenever I can. Is that all right with you, Kusa?", Kaoru explained, going silent at the end.
Kusa was utterly quiet for a few tense minutes. But then the child resumed the hug with his brother and nuzzled his head gently against Kaoru's chest. "Yes, it's all right... I understand, Niichan.", he said tearfully. "You're going to become the best shinigami around, I just know it."
The elder brother closed his dark eyes and held Kusa for a little while, thanking him for his understading and his encouragement. Kaoru had been very worried about leaving his little brother behind, but now he was certain that Kusa would be all right during his absence. However, explaining his decision to leave to their father would be a tougher task, especially since he hadn't mended the ties between them after their fight.
03-26-2013, 07:18 AM
Chapter 3: Leaving Home and Family
Iashi was sitting at the desk inside of his study, reading a rather thick novel in the calm silence. Reading anything and everything he could get his hands on was his personal hobby. Novels, documentaries, biographies, histories; he collected them all. Devoured them one at a time for his leisure. The man had given more of his time to books than he had to his own children, if such a thing was even possible.
As the door to the study was opened, Iashi glanced up from the page he had been reading. His eyes caught on a splash of purple that was moving towards the desk. He sighed deeply and placed a marker between the pages, closing the book afterward. "What is it now, Kaoru?", he asked, though his voice didn't hold the slightest hint of care.
The boy ceased walking upon reaching his father's desk. He carefully placed the letter he had recieved earlier in front of Iashi so that he could read it for himself. "I was accepted. I'm entering the Shino-Reijutsuin, and I'm... I'm leaving the manor to go and live there...", Kaoru explained. His voice and his words were shaken, broken in some places as he spoke.
"Ah, I see. Is that so?", Iashi responded. "Well then, go and pack your things right away. I'll send for someone from the school to come get you. Oh, and don't forget to tell your brother good bye before you leave." He then stood up and, after handing the letter back to his son, left the room to go and do as he had said he would.
Kaoru was now alone among the books. It seemed as if he had frozen while listening to his father's words. Many thoughts began to invade his mind. 'That's right... Of course he doesn't want me here any longer than I have to be. All I have ever been to him is a disappointment, in one way or another. Fine then, leaving today is perfect.' He exited the study and returned to his bedroom to pack his things as he had been instructed to.
Ember orange orbs observed the image of an elder brother neatly storing certain objects into a large suitcase. Kusa's expression, however, was very solemn. The child had been quiet ever since coming into his brother's room. But he just could not allow himself to be away from Kaoru until their actuall seperation was to take place. Pain continued to swell within his heart, though he decided to keep it all silent.
Kaoru carefully folded his clothes and stacked them on top of each other, so as to conserve space within the suitcase. After he was finished with his clothes, he placed the Shinai he had used while training under Circu in as well. Next came some precious family photographs that were preserved in a small leather bound album. He paused to think for a moment, to wonder if he had left something out...
It was then that Iashi stepped inside the room. He was holding a red velvet pouch that apparently contained something valuable inside of it. With a flick of his wrist, he tossed the pouch into Kaoru's suitcase, where it landed on top of all of his other possessions. "You may behave like a wretch, but you can still at least dress like what you are. Take those with you.", he said. "Now, come on. Your escort is waiting outside."
Not being given much of a choice, Kaoru moved to close his suitcase and pick it up from his bed. Kusa hopped up as well, making an effort to remain at his sibling's side for as long as he possibly could. The two of them walked out of the room and followed their father until they were all standing outside, in front of the man who was to escort Kaoru to the academy. Kaoru hugged his brother good bye while Iashi merely stood there, watching his eldest son's departure without any emotional display whatsoever.
03-26-2013, 07:20 AM
Chapter 4: His New Dorm
Kaoru had known that the Seiretei was different from the Rukongai, but he had still been immensely surprised after learning just how different the two actually were. The Seiretei was massive and it had a rather strange feel to it, unlike the manor he had been living in just half an hour ago. He was very grateful that Tomitsu, the man who was escorting him to the academy, knew his way around.
One hour later, the boy found himself standing in the reception office of the Shino-Reijutsuin. His purple eyes traveled around from one thing to another in rapid progression while Tomitsu proceeded to obtain all of Kaoru's needed paperwork from the school's staff. It wasn't long after that the two of them made their way into the male dormitorys, in search of the correct one that Kaoru would be staying in.
Since he did not want to spend half of his time getting lost in this place, Kaoru tried to memorize the paths they were taking. He wanted to have an accurate mental map in his mind before he started attending his classes. If, Kami forbid, he was ever late, then perhaps he might be able to find a few shortcuts to conserve time. However, it was highly unlikely that the boy would ever be guilty of such misconduct.
Eventually, Tomitsu located the designated dorm. "Ah, here we are, Miyazaki-kun.", the man said cheerfully. He then produced a key from his pocket and unlocked the door, setting Kaoru's suitcase down inside for him.
"This is your dorm key. Be sure to hang on to it. Oh, and here is your paperwork. Read over it tonight sometime." The key and a large yellow envelope, which contained a packet of papers, were then placed into the boy's hands.
"Now that my task is finished, I must be going. Farewell, Miyazaki-kun. If you ever need help with anything, then please talk to the school staff.", Tomitsu advised before offering a low bow, leaving afterward.
"All right! Thank you very much for everything!", Kaoru called out, waving as he watched his escort disappear down the hall.
The dorm he had been given seemed to be of a decent size for a room. It was adequately furnished with a bed, a dresser, a mirror, etc. There was another door that opened to reveal the closet, and one last door that lead into a private bathroom and shower. Kaoru explored each space before starting to unpack his belongings. His key and the envelope of paperwork had been placed on the dresser.
Now was as good a time as any to open the red velvet pouch that his father had given him. For a moment, he hesitated, wondering if he really wanted to know what was inside of it. There was no movement and it wasn't making any noise nor did it feel heavy. Finally, Kaoru opened the top and dumped the contents out onto his bed. He was a bit stunned, to say the least.
Laying there on his quilt were several white Kenseikan hair clamps and a single purple Kazanohana Usuginu that matched his eyes and hair. The Kenseikan weren't worth very much; just a common symbol for nobility. But the Usuginu surpassed the combined total cost of at least ten houses or possibly more. His father had given it to him as though it were nothing more than a mere sock.
Kaoru reached down and picked up the Usuginu, brushing aside the hair clamps. He honestly didn't want to wear those damnable things if he could avoid it. They were a pain to put in and were a strong cause of headaches. His hair was meant to flow unrestrained down his back. But he had every intention of wearing the Usuginu in some way.
"Well, I guess I can't say he never gave me anything of value now...", said the new student quietly.
03-26-2013, 07:22 AM
Chapter 5: A Different Individual
Several days after enrolling in the Academy, Kaoru had been settling in quite comfortably. He had started attending his classes and learning his way around the school and its grounds. His teachers seemed to grow fond of him rather quickly, which was always a plus when you were new.
But he soon realized that he had had very little interaction with the other students outside of their classes. Most of his free time was spent in the library or in his room where he could study and do his assignments in peace. Perhaps that would soon change...
Kaoru was walking to his next class of the afternoon, his nose buried in one of his textbooks. Even though his eyes were focused on the text in front of him, he still managed to dodge all of the other students that filled the hall. Behind him, he could hear the whispers of his classmates. He heard names such as nerd, bookworm, teacher's pet, etc. But he ignored them. It was just another part of his day now.
"Hey, watch where you're going! How dare you run into me! Don't you know who I am, you common trash!?"
Harsh yelling from up ahead of him caused the purple-haired student to lower the text book he'd been holding in front of his face. Just a few yards in front of him, there was a growing crowd of gathered students who appeared to be watching something with great interest. Kaoru carefully stowed the book away into his bag and made his way toward the crowd as the yelling continued to issue from the center of it.
"I-I'm sorry! I didn't mean to... It was an accident!"
"If you've stained or torn my uniform, then I'm going to make you pay for a replacement and I doubt you can!"
Kaoru pushed and shoved through bodies clothed in red and blue uniforms until he emerged at the front of the crowd. He stopped in his steps as his saffron eyes took in the scene before him. A brown-haired boy, who appeared to be not much older than himself, perhaps a year of difference between them, if that, was on his knees on the floor. In front of him were three other students, one of whom was doing all of the yelling.
"What's going on here?", asked Kaoru, approaching closer to the trio.
"This street rat bumped into me just now.", came the response from the trio's blonde-haired ringmaster.
"That's no reason to yell at him or bring him to his knees, especially in front of other people.", Kaoru snapped back, glaring at the blonde.
Ignoring the sudden eruption of loud whispers from the crowd of students surrounding him, he slowly approached the brunette and bowed forward to him, offering his hand with a gentle smile. The brunette appeared to be stunned and wasn't exactly sure of what he should do. So Kaoru continued to assure him with a few words.
"Come on. Everything's all right now. You have apologized for the accident and it's time for all of us to be going to our classes.", he said calmly.
"Wha... what's your deal!? Are you even really a noble? Helping trash like that is beneath the likes of us!", the blonde roared, realizing that Kaoru was trying to steal his spotlight.
The brunette timidly reached out and accepted Kaoru's hand. Kaoru gently tugged him to his feet, releasing him afterward. He then quickly whipped around to the blonde, a very intent glare taking over his expression.
"I've heard enough from you! The status granted to you by your family's name has spoiled you rotten to your core! Honestly, don't you have better things to do with your pathetic life, other than picking on those less fortunate than yourself? You absolutely disgust me, you-"
Before Kaoru could continue any further, an arm was thrust out in front of him, blocking his view of the blonde. He stopped speaking and looked up to see who the arm belonged to. There was a small bit of fear in the pit of his stomach, as he thought that it surely must have been a teacher who had come to check out the commotion. But to his surprise and mild relief, it was Tomitsu, the man who had brought him to the Academy.
"Miyazaki-kun, please leave to your next class now. I shall handle this situation. So please do not worry about it any longer.", came Tomitsu's calm and yet firm reply.
Kaoru bit his bottom lip and then lowered his head forward, his eyes closed, a rather solemn tone decorating his expression. "Yes, sir, I understand.", he said, turning around to leave along with the dispersing crowd of students. As he opened his eyes again, he continued to stare at the wooden floor beneath his feet. 'I guess I really am different from the rest of them... But how can that be such a bad thing...?'
All around him, his classmates continued to whisper new rumors and harsh words about him and what he truly was: "He can't possibly be a noble. He was probably just adopted from the rest of the trash and made up to be like one of us. How pathetic!"
03-26-2013, 07:25 AM
Chapter 6: Abuse the Outcast
The following six months saw Kaoru as the victim of several acts of abuse...
It all began one morning as the young student was getting ready to leave. Kaoru had woken up around his usual time and had fixed his bed in the same manner as always. He shed his night clothes, proceeding to take a quick hot shower. Tending to his long purple wave of hair took its usual twenty minutes. Then it was time for him to get dressed.
As he pulled a fresh uniform from his closet, he didn't notice anything out of the ordinary. Nothing had been misplaced nor did anything appear to have been tampered with. Kaoru slid the kimono over his shoulders and was suddenly met with a sharp sting of pain to the back of his neck. Yelping in surprise, he quickly removed the kimono again to examine it.
Upon closer inspection to the collar, he discovered a small silver sewing needle, which had been carefully placed within the fabric so that it would no doubt stab the person who tried to wear the kimono. He proceeded to remove the needle and held it up to look at it.
"What the...?", Kaoru wondered aloud. "Did someone place this in my uniform on purpose or something?"
Since he did not wish to find any more surprises the hard way, he placed the needle aside and started to check the rest of the uniform for others. Four more were found through his scrutinizing investigation. It was now clear that someone had intentionally tampered with his clothing. He would have to remember to check the rest of his wardrobe later on that day. Only after the clothes appeared to be safe did Kaoru actually put them on.
From that day forward, the purple-haired male started to find small surprises waiting for him everywhere.
Kaoru had started keeping his dorm locked during the day and night, when ever he wasn't there, but still the perpatrators found ways of getting to his possessions. He tried to never leave his bag unattended but sometimes it was unavoidable. Even so, for whatever reason, he refused to tell the teachers or any of the staff about the things that were being done to him.
One day, after classes had been let out, Kaoru reached into his bag to retrieve a text book from the lot. He cried out sharply as cutting sensations of pain tore into his hand. Immediately, he pulled it from the bag. A few pieces of broken glass were still stuck in the gashes they had created in his flesh. Small rivulets of blood streamed through his fingers and dripped to the floor as he stood in mild shock.
It took him several minutes to recover himself. He carefully removed the bits of broken glass from his hand, trying to hide the wounded appendage while he quickly made his way back to his room. Instead of opting to go to the school clinic, Kaoru was adament in treating the injuries himself with a first aid kit that he had found stored in the dorm.
The abuse then turned in the direction of public humiliation...
Kaoru had just stopped off at his locker. To his surprise, nothing strange, harmful, or disgusting had been placed inside of it. This gave him high hopes that perhaps there would be no abuse today. He would soon find that he couldn't have been more wrong.
There was no warning. None of the students bothered to care. They just let it happen. A young man baring the description of a typical noble was carrying a large bucket with him as he was approaching Kaoru from behind. With a smirk on his lips, he lifted the bucket and proceeded to dump its contents, a good amount of wet mud, on the unsuspecting victim. He ended the act by letting the bucket fall over Kaoru's head.
Laughter erupted from the other students. With his eyes covered in mud and the darkness provided by the bucket, Kaoru didn't know what had happened. The mud drenched his hair and clothes, tainting every inch of him it could touch. He suddenly felt cold down to his inner depths... With a shaking hand, he reached up and shoved the bucket off of his head.
The mud covering his eyes was much harder to get off. But he couldn't do anything else. He couldn't think of anything to say or to scream or to do... For the longest moment, he honestly wished that he had never left his home. Becoming a shinigami wasn't worth him having to suffer through this kind of degradation every day.
Suddenly, Kaoru felt a hand touch his shoulder. He was about to strike out at whomever it was that was touching him in this condition. But the owner of the hand began speaking before he could.
"Miyazaki-kun, it's me, Tomitsu. Everything is all right now... Please, come with me and I'll help you get cleaned up. As for the student who has done this to you, I've sent him to the Headmaster's office.", said Tomitsu.
Feeling utterly defeated and drained of all of his energy, Kaoru slowly allowed himself to be led away from the dirty hallway.
03-26-2013, 07:29 AM
Chapter 7: Emergence of the Darkness
Weeks had passed after the mud incident ocurred and still the other students continued to torment him with their harsh laughter and their cruel words...
Kaoru had decided to remain at the academy, despite everything that was happening to him. He had slowly come to realize that what all of the other students thought of him didn't matter in the least. His little brother, Kusa, and his former sensei, Circu, had both believed that he could become a decent shinigami, and it was their hopes that mattered most to him. It was for the both of them, and possibly even himself, that he stayed.
Try as he might, the purple-haired student could never keep a constant watch on all of his possessions. Each and every day, he was forced to leave his bag unattended while practicing Kidou on the target dummies in the field. Recalling each word of the incantations and actually casting the Kidou required all of his focus and concentration. Not to mention that his back was turned toward the small classroom that his bag had been left inside of.
On this particular day, unbeknownst to Kaoru, the three nobles which had originally started this entire mess had concocted a devious plan to get back at him for having insulted their leader.
The three of them were standing inside the classroom where all of the students left their stuff when doing Kidou practice outside. Saiga, the blonde, was currently searching through Kaoru's bag, looking for something that might have been of value to the owner. His cohorts, Agito and Kellin, were standing off to the side, waiting and watching for anyone that might be coming back to the room.
"Damn it, this brat has nothing in here but his text books...", said Saiga.
"So then steal one of his books.", Agito suggested. "I mean, he'll eventually need it to do his homework tonight and then he'll come looking for it, right?"
"Ah, all right, fine...", the blonde reluctantly agreed as he carefully removed one of the text books from the bag.
"Got it? Good. Then let's get out of here.", Kellin stated.
Saiga nodded whilst tucking the stolen book underneath his arm. The three of them then proceeded to exit the classroom and leave to make their preparations for the following night.
Later that evening, Kaoru sat down at his desk to start his homework. He pulled his bag up into his lap and began to search for the book that he would need for his assignment. But strangely enough, he couldn't find it. Just to be sure that he wasn't making some sort of mistake, he stood up and dumped the entire lot of contents from his bag onto his bed. The required book really wasn't there... So then where was it?
"That's strange... What did I do with it? Could I have left it in one of my classrooms or maybe dropped it somewhere...?", Kaoru wondered to himself.
It was fairly late into the evening and most of the other students would be in their dorms at this time. Could he risk retracing his steps in order to find his book? There was a decent chance that he might be able to without being confronted by anyone else. Besides, he needed the book if he was going to do his assignment tonight. Kaoru ended up leaving his dorm...
He'd spent an hour searching through most of his classrooms and retracing his steps around the school, but so far had not found his missing book. With a gentle sigh, Kaoru made his way to the last classroom left on his list. It was the classroom that let out into the Kidou practice field. If his book wasn't in here, then perhaps another student had picked it up and turned it in to one of the teachers or staff.
Kaoru entered the room, beginning his search anew. Minutes later, he heard the door to the room shut. He turned around to see what had happened and suddenly found himself facing three familiar students. It was the blonde who stood out most accutely to him... A very displeased expression conquered Kaoru's features as he stared at them.
"What are you three doing here...?", he asked quietly.
However, none of them seemed inclined to answer him at the time. Before Kaoru could react accordingly, Agito and Kellin dashed forward to grab him while Saiga stood back and watched the scene unfold. The two larger nobles easily pinned their smaller victim up against the wall with his back turned to them. Kaoru began to struggle, but to no avail, as Saiga started to approach the rest of them. The blonde was carrying something in his hand, something sharp and made of metal...
"What the hell are you doing!? Let go of me!", shouted the pinned student.
"Be quiet, wretch. Nobody here believes you are a noble as you claim to be. So we've decided to alter your looks a bit, so that you look more like what you really are, just a common piece of trash.", answered Saiga coldly.
The blonde stopped walking when there was just mere inches between him and his victim. He slowly raised the object that was in his hand. Kaoru still couldn't see exactly what it was, which made him all the more desperate to escape his captors. But his struggling was still in vain as Agito and Kellin held him steadfast against the wall by his arms. He suddenly ceased all movement as he felt Saiga running a hand through his hair...
That sound, the sound of scissors cutting hair, reached his ears next. A long lock of purple hair fell listlessly to the floor at his feet. Saiga was cutting his hair! Snip snip snip... The cutting continued in a random order. Saiga cut with no aim or precision, chopping off whatever section he wanted to. Uneven lengths, angled cuts, ragged ends... Kaoru felt every cut, reacting as though he would start to bleed from losing his hair.
Before long, the floor around them was covered in various lengths of purple locks and strands. The cutting ended and the scissors were set aside on one of the desks as Saiga stood back to admire his work. Yes, now the little brat who had insulted him was robbed of his crown and it was replaced with tattered rags. He smirked and laughed aloud at his accomplishment. Kaoru still hadn't moved or said one word...
Mood Music: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ejsM0VF-Os
'You don't deserve this... You know you don't. So why do you let these heathens do such things to you? Why do you quietly accept it, when you could fight back and make them regret their actions instead?', an unknown voice whispered in the back of the boy's mind.
Kaoru said nothing, did nothing, remained utterly motionless.
'I know you want to... I can help you. Let me help you, Kaoru...'
At this, the purple-haired student started to laugh softly. He closed his dark eyes and leaned his head forward. Some of Circu's training returned to him and he immediately managed to break Agito's and Kellin's hold on him, sending them both back a few steps while he turned to face them. Saiga looked at him in a confused manner. Something wasn't right...
It appeared as though Kaoru's hair was slowly turning black from the roots down. When he finally opened his eyes once again, they were black as coals. Was this just a trick of the darkness or was he seeing things? Regardless, Saiga took a step back, moving closer to Agito and Kellin.
Kaoru started to walk toward them, picking up the pair of scissors from the desk as he did. With a small bit of strength, he snapped the screw holding the blades together and now held one blade in each hand, laughing softly. He continued walking towards the three nobles before him. They tried to turn and run for the door but he easily leaped over their heads, landing in front of them to cut off their escape from the room.
One of the scissor blades found its place embedded into Saiga's skull. His body crumbled to the floor and Kaoru stepped over it, going after the other two. He only needed one blade to tear into them...
Agito came up missing one of his eyes and had one lung impaled, with multiple gashes all over his body. Kellin had just as much damage, but instead of his lung, both of his kidneys and his stomach were stabbed and lacerated. Several gallons of blood were covering the floor around the corpses, gently lifting and moving the discarded purple locks around.
Only after he was certain that they were all dead did Kaoru finally loosen his grip on the scissor blade. He tossed it away into the red sea and examined his body and his clothing. It was all soaked through with noble blood, how fitting. At least now he wouldn't have to deal with them anymore. But the foolish flower would now have to deal with the crisis that had been created.
03-26-2013, 07:32 AM
Chapter 8: Missing Memories
The Following Afternoon
Everything felt soft and warm. As Kaoru began to regain consciousness, he soon became aware of the fact that he was laying in a bed with a blanket covering him to his shoulders. The room he was in was warm and smelled clean. Even the pillow beneath his head felt too good to be real. Dark purple eyes soon cracked open to observe their surroundings.
The boy found himself in what appeared to be a hospital room. Every inch of it was a clean, sterile white. There was some medical equipment set up in different positions around the space. Warm, golden light from the setting sun flowed in through the window, bathing him in its touch. But how did he get here? What was going on? He couldn't remember anything from last night...
Kaoru gently pushed the blanket down and sat up, clearly dazed and confused. However, it didn't take long for him to start feeling that something was amiss. His head felt lighter, as though a familiar weight was missing from it. He raised his arm and only then did he discover that he was dressed in a clean white yukata, which must have belonged to the clinic. But he quickly pushed that thought aside, reaching up to feel of his hair.
His eyes widened as his fingertips felt short, uneven locks and strands. It had been cut and cut really short at that! But how, who did it and why...? He gave a small whimper as his dazed mind franctically tried to recall the events of the previous night. What in the world had happened to him...? Kaoru brought up his hands to hold his head as he whimpered gently, feeling very scared and uneasy about the entire situation.
Suddenly, he began to hear raised voices coming from outside of the door of the room he was in...
"Get away from me! I'm going to see my son, and you cannot prevent me from doing so!" It was Iashi's voice, his father's voice...
"I want to see my Niichan!" That one was Kusa's voice. His dear younger brother was here as well.
The door burst inwards and there stood a very distraught Iashi and a critically concerned Kusa, both of whom quickly crossed the room to stand beside Kaoru's bed. Kaoru slowly turned his shocked gaze up to see his father's face, desperately hoping that he wasn't in some sort of trouble. But then he felt his father's arms wrap around him, holding him gently. Kusa scrambled up onto the bed beside his brother and hugged him as well.
"Kaoru... Are you all right...?", Iashi asked, his voice low.
"Father... What happened? Am I in trouble? I can't remember anything...", said Kaoru, shaking like a leaf in his family's embrace.
"Niichan... are you hurt anywhere...? Your hair is...", Kusa questioned.
"I... I don't know what happened... but I don't think I'm injured...", replied the elder Miyazaki sibling softly.
Tomitsu took this opportunity to make himself known to the occupants by clearing his throat rather loudly.
"Miyazaki-sama, I would like to speak with young Kaoru alone for awhile, if that is all right...?", he inquired calmly.
Iashi seemed reluctant to release his oldest child but he eventually did so, straightening himself up. He then helped Kusa down from the bed and the two of them exited the room, closing the door behind them, leaving Tomitsu alone in the room with Kaoru.
"Tomitsu-san... What happened...?", asked Kaoru, looking to the man.
"Early this morning, I found you passed out in a pool of blood, surrounded by the corpses of three other students. Your hair appeared to have been chopped off and there was a broken pair of scissors laying among the bodies. I was afraid that you'd been injured and so I immediately brought you here, to the Fourth Division of the Gotei Thirteen.", Tomitsu explained.
While listening to the story, Kaoru's eyes had gone wide once again. His pale slender hands were now gripping the blanket so hard that one could see the whites of his knuckles. Not once during the entire time had his petite body ceased its shaking. Now, he was even more frightened and confused...
"But... I can't... I can't remember anything...", he said in a broken voice.
"I believe it is safe to say that you were attacked by the three students... They cornered you in that classroom last night and chopped off your hair. But you fought back and accidently ended up killing them. It was all just a horrible accident. You don't remember anything because you might have hit your head and passed out, or it was just so traumatizing that your mind is blocking it all out from your memory.", surmised Tomitsu in a calm tone.
'I... I killed them... murdered them...?' Tears had begun to swell in Kaoru's dark purple eyes as he continued to shake uncontrollably.
"Miyazaki-kun, please try to calm down...", Tomitsu said, placing a hand on the boy's shoulder.
"It was an accident, and not your fault. I've known for awhile now that the other students tease you and bully you all the time. But you've never once informed the teachers or myself about it... I had hoped you would before something like this happened. Sadly enough, this happened and only now is your torment brought into the light.'
"I am going to personally explain your case to the Headmaster and make sure that he knows it was not your fault."
But Kaoru didn't hear a word of it. He had already buried his face into his hands and was crying, sobbing uncontrollably at what he had supposedly done to the other students. In just ten minutes, his entire world had been thrown into chaos and he couldn't manage to pull himself free of it...
03-26-2013, 07:34 AM
Chapter 9: Festival
As soon as Kaoru had recovered enough to leave his room in the Fourth division relief station, Iashi had immediately taken him back to their home in the first district of the Rukongai. Tomitsu had previously informed them that all classes at the academy were being canceled for a week so that the students could recover from the recent deaths of their class mates. But this wasn't the reason that Iashi had taken his son home instead of letting him return to his dorm at the school. After the incident that had taken place, he had every intention of keeping Kaoru out of the academy.
Kaoru didn't offer up any sort of protest to this new decision. Instead, he simply let himself be led back home and back into his old room. He sat down on his bed, looking more like an empty shell than the teenager he had been before he had committed murder. It was as if he had disconnected himself from the rest of the world around him and had tried to console the fear that he would end up hurting more people. But it hadn't been enough.
'Because of me, three families no longer have their children. The students that I killed... their futures are gone, stolen by me. Even if I scrubbed until my flesh came off, I could never wash away their blood from my hands.'
These thoughts had repeated themselves in his head at least a hundred times since Tomitsu had told him about what he had done. Never once did his crime leave his mind. Moments of peace were rare for him now. Even when he slept, he had nightmares that revolved around death and his part in it. Only when his younger brother hugged him did Kaoru's eyes alight and he seemed to return to himself. Feeling Kusa's smaller arms wrapped around his neck brought him a certain sense of comfort. He returned the hug, holding Kusa in his lap for awhile.
"Niichan... it's okay... You aren't a bad person. Those kids who picked on you are... Please, cheer up, okay?", the younger said.
"He's right. You need to take your mind off of this, even if it's just for a little while.", said Iashi, who had been standing in the doorway of the room.
"But... how...? I don't know if anything can really keep me from thinking about what happened.", replied Kaoru, still holding his brother gently.
"Well, there's a festival going on tonight. Why not take your brother and go have a little fun out there?"
"Okay, I guess I can do that...", Kaoru nodded gently. "We'll change clothes and be on our way."
Iashi gave a curt nod and turned around to leave, closing the door behind him. With a small sigh, Kaoru sat Kusa down on his own two feet and then stood up, walking over to the closet. He opened it and began looking through his clothes for something that would be more suited to a festival. After a short time of searching, he decided on a simple blue yukata with a black obi.
Both brothers changed into different clothes and went to fix their hair. Kusa's short brown hair was easy enough to manage. Just run a comb through it a few times and he was done. But Kaoru's needed a bit more tending to. His hair was longer and had gotten more tangles in it from his recent lack of care towards his own appearance. He slowly worked out every knot with the comb, checking his image in the mirror. Now he was starting to look more like himself. Retrieving a black hair tie, he pulled his purple wave into a ponytail.
"I think that's it. We can go now, Kusa.", he said, taking his younger brother's hand in his own as they walked toward the door.
The festival street was filled with people and lined with stalls of all kinds on both sides. Long strings of lit lanterns were hung above the street to keep things bright and add to the peaceful atmosphere the place offered. Several smells from different types of food also permeated the air. Children and adults alike made sounds of happiness as they sampled the food and played the little games that had been set up. Kusa smiled brightly as he entered the street, still holding his big brother's hand.
Even Kaoru was starting to feel a little bit better for having come out here. It didn't completely erase all the thoughts that were swimming around in his head but it would provide a pleasant distraction for awhile. He walked down the street with Kusa at his side, both of them looking at the stalls and games that were open to the public. Kusa was the first to spot a stall that was selling all sorts of candy and treats, and he immediately pulled Kaoru over to it. They bought a few snacks to eat while looking around.
"Kaoru-nii, look! This stall is selling swords! You should get one for your academy training.", said the younger sibling, pointing at the stall of swords.
"No, I don't think so. But if you'd like one, I'm sure Father wouldn't mind if we got one for you.", answered Kaoru. "Go and choose one you like."
He let go of his brother's hand and went to sit down on a nearby bench so that he could watch Kusa while resting at the same time. The small bag of candy they had bought rested in his hands which were planted in his lap. Not even once had a single smile come to his lips, even though he seemed to be having a nice time out. Someone sat down beside him, startling him before he sunk too deeply into his thoughts. This new person caught the candy bag as it fell from his lap, preventing it from becoming ruined on the ground.
"That's not like you at all. Would you like to tell me what's wrong, Kaoru-chan?", said Circu, popping a piece of candy into his mouth.
Kaoru turned his head to look at his former teacher. His eyes widened slightly as he found that Circu was dressed in a Shihakushou. He must have returned to the Gotei Thirteen shortly after training the elder Miyazaki sibling. Though it came as a mild shock to see him again after all this time, he still couldn't bring himself to smile and be his usuall cheerful self. Instead, he too picked up a candy and proceeded to eat it.
"No, thank you. It's nothing, really.", he said.
"Oh? Because I heard that some deaths ocurred at the academy and that you were connected to them. The Headmaster decided not to take any action against you after determining that it was an accident and the result of you being a victim to their bullying for a long period of time. Now, your father is intent on keeping you out of the academy. You going to take that?"
"When did you... where did you hear... Ugh."
"Tomitsu told me, of course. He and I are old friends, and we both share a common fondness of you. But seriously, you're going to let this silly little incident rob you of the future you so desperately wanted? Even when my training got tougher on you, you didn't quit. I don't tolerate quiters, Kaoru."
"But... it was my fault. How can I ever show my face around the rest of the students again...?"
"You're stronger than this. I know that much. Stop acting like it's the end of the world. You've grieved enough. Now quit feeling sorry for yourself and indulge in your classes and training. Fulfill your dream and don't let anyone else try to take it away from you. Don't disappoint me, or yourself."
Kaoru clenched his hands around the fabric of his yukata, taking in a deep breath before exhaling it slowly. Circu's kind, gentle hand touched the top of his head, petting him as though he were a young child again. He closed his eyes once and opened them again as a determined expression etched itself into his features. His voice came out more calmly now.
"All right, I'll try my best, Sensei."
03-26-2013, 07:40 AM
[OOC: I'm breaking away from the academy day posts. This is after Kaoru has become Taichou of 11th, and after he has made Crimson his Fukutaichou and Kimura his Adjutant.]
Chapter 10: Dreams
It was getting close to midnight when the rain started to fall. Dark storm clouds had gathered overhead, casting out the luminous rays of moon light. At first, it was only a light shower but then the heavier drops started to come down, drenching anything and everything that wasn't protected by some form of shelter or cover.
Miniscule rivers were formed along the streets where they drained into the sewers beneath the city. The rain was a gift, always able to wash away that which is tainted, to leave everything clean, fresh, pure... But there are some things even the rain cannot take away.
A line of street lamps bathed a small neighborhood in soft yellow light. There was no light coming from any of the homes themselves, indicating the residents had all retired to their beds for the night. Most of the houses had gardens growing in their front laws.
The flowers were all beautiful, made even more so by the rain that landed on them, giving them a longer life. Each tiny droplet reflected the light from the street lamps and only added to the loveliness of the area. However, a little further away from the serenity of the gardens, sat a scene of overwhelming carnage and despair.
The waning light of a single street lamp was casting itself down on three figures. Kaoru was kneeling down, sitting back on his legs in the center of the street, oblivious to the pouring rain that was soaking through his hair and haori and uniform. Dark red splatters stained the white of his haori in several places. His hair had turned the same red color near the uneven ends.
It was taking such a long time to drain away with the rain. A blade had obviously cut into the fabric covering the top of his right shoulder, and it had carved right down into the tender flesh beneath, possibly even slicing into the bone. In his lap, he was trying to cradle the resting heads of his best friends.
Crimson's fiery hair was matted against his head and face. The blood was indestinguishable from the flawless red locks. But Kaoru knew that there had to have been some there, even if he couldn't see it properly.
Even the white sash of the Fukutaichou's badge had been stained red on one side. His skin had gone from a healthy cream color to a distinctly pale shade all over. More and more of his blood was spilling out from two noticable impalement wounds in his chest. A blade, no, a Zanpakutou had been used to effectively shatter the redhead's Saketsu Chain and Hakusui Soul Sleep.
The same had been done to Kimura. Both of them bore the same parallel set of wounds, each mirroring the other. Kimura's hair tie had been lost sometime before that and his raven hair was now spread out around Kaoru's left leg. It too was probably soaked with blood and rain.
Kaoru was hunched over them, each of his arms wrapped around his friends' shoulders as they lay bleeding into the street. Several large tears fell from his dark saffron eyes in a continuous flow resembling the rain as he heaved sob after sob for his two best friends. He knew in his heart that even if they miraculously survived, they would never become shinigami again. What was left for them then...?
Hanamaru had long since been discarded on the cold, wet pavement nearby. Beside it rested several small fragments of what appeared to be Hollow masks. Had they been fighting a Hollow? Or each other? But then... What was going on? Why had he been forced to do this to them? Why...?
An agonizing shreik split the silence of the night as the young taichou practically threw himself forward in his bed. His hands gripped the cover as his body shook uncontrollably. Finally, he wrenched one hand free and slowly brought it up to his face. Even before his fingertips brushed against his eyes, he knew he had been crying, just like he had in his nightmare. Only his hair hadn't been drenched with rain; it was matted with sweat.
Kaoru drew in a few deep breaths and exhaled them little by little while he tried to calm down his pounding heart and ease his shaking body. The image of Crimson and Kimura dying as they lay in his lap was still fresh in his mind.
'Why did I dream that? Why would I... What's wrong with me!?'
A gentle, caressing breeze wafted through the bedroom, playing with his hair and cooling him down. 'Calm down... Everything is all right.' Hanamaru was now trying his best to comfort him.
'Hanamaru... I thought you said I had conquered all of my mental problems. Why the hell would I have dreamed something so terrible? Tell me...'
'I do not know. But I don't think this had anything to do with your past issues. It was only a nightmare. Please, try to rest and go back to sleep, Young Master...'
'No. That dream must have meant something. But it... no... I won't be able to sleep now. They were dying as I held them, and I couldn't do anything... What if that actually happens one day...? No!'
'Kaoru... I am sorry that I tried to pass it off as something so trivial before. If you are so intent on being able to protect those whom you hold dear, then may I make a suggestion on how you can become stronger?'
'You must achieve Bankai. I think you are ready. There is more than one method of going about it but the normal method will take too much time, more than you're willing to wait I assume. So there is one other way but you must be absolutely certain that you're willing to do it.'
'I am. I will never let what happened in that dream happen in reality. Tell me how I can attain Bankai, Hanamaru.'
'Very well then. I would have liked it if you had gotten just a little more rest first, but I'm sure you'll be fine. When you're ready, swing by the Twelfth division and ask to borrow a Tenshintai. Then we must find an isolated area for training... I'll tell you more after that.'
03-26-2013, 07:47 AM
Chapter 11: Isolation
It was high noon before Kaoru was finally ready to start on his way to training for his Bankai. He changed out of his night clothes and into a clean shihakushou, slipping his taichou's haori on over his shoulders.
Months had passed since he had been given his haori and yet he still felt its weight as more of an assuring comfort than as a symbol of his rank and status. After combing his long purple wave of hair down straight, he pulled it up and tied it in a high ponytail with a simple white hair tie.
As soon as he was finished, he left his bedroom, heading into his main office. There were some letters and a notice that needed to be written before he could leave. The first letter was to Bael, and it would contain an explanation of where he would be for the next few days and what he was trying to do, as well as a request that he be left alone for as long as it was needed:
Don't worry, I'm not going away forever. Just for a few days, or however long it takes for me to achieve Bankai. But I can say with certainty that it won't be the ten years' method. I have patience, but not to that extent. So I'm just going to barracade myself inside the Kenkai arena and let Hanamaru walk me through the entire process. I should be back within a week's time, if even that. Till then, handle all your responsibilities and don't worry about me. Also, please don't come looking for me. I have to do this by myself.
P.S. I am also informing Crimson and Kimura about my plans, as they will be in charge of things while I'm away. So seriously, don't start worrying.
The taichou then folded the letter and signed the front of it in his neatest handwriting before placing it on the desk where Bael would be sure to find it. One letter down, two to go. His next message was for his fiery Fukutaichou, Crimson.
Kaoru cringed visibly, a sweatdrop forming on the side of his forehead, as he thought about what might have happened had he simply gone about his training without informing the redhead of his plans. It would have probably brought down a rain of fire on the entire division.
'He really should try to control his temper, that firefly...'
Guess what? I'm leaving for a few days to obtain my Bankai! But before I do, I felt it was only right to tell you where I was going and what I was doing, since you seem to worry about me often. I'll be using the Arena as my personal training grounds so you can find me there. However, I only ask that you do not disturb me unless it's a really big emergency. I'm leaving you in charge of the division until I return. So do your best, Firefly! I'll see you when I come back. Later!
P.S. Do me one small favor and inform Kimura about all of this as well. After all, both of you will probably be running this place in my absence, and I don't want him to start worrying either. Thanks!
Again, Kaoru folded the letter and signed Crimson's name on the front, tucking it safely inside his shihakushou for later. There was just one more thing left for him to write now; a notice that the arena was off limits to anyone and everyone until the taichou declared otherwise.
Attention all Eleventh division officers and any and all visitors to the division! No one will be permitted past the gates of the Kenkai arena, as I am using it for my own personal purposes.
If any hell butterflies come to find me, I will hear out their message. But if it is not an emergency that would require my immediate attention, then I will not be inclined to answer. The butterfly will be sent home without a reply.
If it is a Taichou or Fukutaichou that has come to see me, then you may enter but at your own risk. I have no intention of interacting with anyone while I'm working to achieve my current goal.
If you decide you want to be a dumbass and ignore my order, then be prepared to have your balls ripped off by hand. This means you, Shirosawa. Oh, and if you come looking for a fight, Hikaru, please be patient and wait a few days until I return. I'll be more than happy to take you on after that.
This concludes my announcement.
"Well, I think that covers everything. Just gotta slip Crimson's letter under his door and then swing by the Twelfth before heading out to the arena.", said the taichou, snatching up his notice before moving away from the desk.
He retrieved his Zanpakutou from its resting place against the wall and proceeded to leave his quarters, walking towards the Fukutaichou's room. When the letter had been safely slipped underneath Crimson's door, Kaoru smiled, vanishing into a high level shyunpou. A moment later, he had reached the gates of the Twelfth division.
'Let's see... Hanamaru said I needed a Tenshintai, whatever that is.'
The gates of the Kenkai Arena loomed over him like some imposing monument. But Kaoru was not so easily intimidated anymore, especially not by a place he had practically grown up in. In one hand, he carried the strange Tenshintai doll. Using his free hand, he plastered his notice on the gate door before going inside and closing them behind him. He smiled; it felt good to be back. All of the dirt, dust, dried blood, damaged walls and stands, everything felt so right here. It was the perfect place for his training.
'All right, Hana. How shall we start?'
'Set the Tenshintai in front of you and then stab your sword into it.'
Kaoru took the doll in both hands and gently set it into the ground so that it was standing on its own. He then drew his Zanpakutou from his obi. Its elegantly decorated blade gleamed in the bright sunlight. With a quick thrust forward, he impaled the Tenshintai. There was a flash of light and suddenly, the taichou was no longer holding Hanamaru. Instead, the spirit was now standing in front of him, where the doll had previously been.
"Ah, so that's what that thing does. It brings you into our world, instead of me going into my own inner world to see you."
"Yes. But we really don't have much time to be idly chatting, Kaoru. By me being here, your training has already begun. You have three days, including today, to successfully complete a test that I will give you."
"What!? Why didn't you tell me that before I stabbed you then?", Kaoru asked, another sweatdrop forming on the side of his forehead.
"Because you told me that you were ready and willing. Now, would you like to hear what your test is?"
"Oh, yeah... Yes, tell me what I have to do."
"Very well then. You must survive an onslaught from me and force me to submit to you within the three day period. Should you fail, your only option will then be to do the ten years of training normally required for this. Do you understand, Kaoru?"
"Survive an onslaught? Make you submit...? Okay, I think I can do that. Or at least, I hope I can do that. But I, uh, don't have a sword to use..."
"Don't worry, I will allow you to use the twin katanas that you normally wield after unleashing your Shikai. I will be using twenty, much larger blades to attack you with. Just don't go relying on me to help you or go easy on you. You must be strong. I have faith in you."
With that said, Hanamaru gently waved his hand. Two black twin katanas appeared in Kaoru's hands. They seemed to radiate a calming breeze and small air currents surrounded their blades as he gripped their hilts tightly. However, they paled in comparison to the twenty blades that suddenly errupted from the floor of the arena. Each one must have been the size of a small shinigami, a silver edge gleaming on their blade.
The wind was really starting to pick up now, throwing Kaoru's ponytail this way and that. But he easily strengthened his resolve to achieve Bankai, if only because he desperately wanted to be able to protect those he cared about. He grinned, watching as Hanamaru grabbed the blade closest to him. It was time for his test to begin.
03-26-2013, 08:03 AM
Chapter 12: Test
The fight was on. Kaoru mistakenly believed that his high level shyunpou would grant him an edge in this battle. But he was wrong. Even before he could vanish, Hanamaru was right in his face, swinging the massive sword down at him. He managed to bring his katanas up in a cross just in time to avoid being cut right down the middle.
"You know better than that, Kaoru. As I am a part of your soul, we also share some of the same abilities, which includes the use of speed.", said the spirit, pressing down harder on the triad of blades.
They were whining against each other from the strain being placed on them. Suddenly, Kaoru caught sight of something flying towards him just out of the corner of his eye. It was another one of Hanamaru's large swords. So they could move on their own, and they were just as fast as the wielder. He managed to parry the first sword and disappear seconds before the other sword missed him.
'Damn... Am I really ready for this? I mean, really? It's a little too late to start questioning yourself now, idiot. Just do it!'
A blur of purple and white materialized behind the Zanpakutou spirit. Kaoru stared down at him before diving towards him, swords poised for a strike. However, all Hanamaru did was grin and remain still. Thwack! The blunt edge of a sword slammed into Kaoru's mid-section. It sent the taichou flying back like a baseball hit by a bat, and it could have been a home run.
He impacted on the arena wall so hard that it shook the dust from every nook and cranny. Kaoru cried out, barely managing to keep a half-way decent grip on his weapons as pain wracked his body. It was made worse by the fact that he dropped like a ragdoll to the ground below. But he didn't have long to recover. Just as he looked up, another flying sword launched itself straight at him. The taichou vanished again.
'All these swords... I can't even get close to him with them flying around. There has to be some way I can get past them...'
"What's the matter, giving up already? Is that really all you've got to give, Kaoru? If so, then everyone will be very disappointed.", chided Hanamaru, keeping a look out for his young master.
Kaoru phased in right in front of him, slashing both of his katanas forward at the spirit. Each strike reverberated with a loud Klang as Hanamaru raised his own blade to block them. His comments seem to have fulfilled their intended purpose of throwing Kaoru's concentration off.
Another blade came in from behind and firmly swatted the taichou to the side with the flat. He didn't have time to recover before he was met with another sword and suddenly, he became a human ping pong ball, getting knocked back and forth between the two swords. It was a rather amusing sight, one which Hanamaru couldn't help but burst into laughter at witnessing.
"Oh, come now! Surely you can do better than that, Kaoru.", he laughed.
Kaoru growled, unleashing a massive burst of his reiatsu as he was passed from one blade toward its partner. Both weapons were thrown in different directions, one sinking into the dirt while the other became securely lodged in the wall of the arena. Neither could free themselves to bother him now, and he made sure to note this new developement as he reiatsu died down.
'Aha! If they get stuck, then they can't come get me anymore! That's it!'
'Well well, seems he's finally figured out one strategy to use. Certainly took him long enough.'
The purple-haired taichou was grinning as he dropped back to earth, both katanas still held firmly in his hands. His confidence had grown and now he had some knowledge of how to manipulate the other swords. Hanamaru observed this, hoping his master wasn't getting too full of himself just yet. Their battle was still in its infancy, and there were more tricks yet to come.
In the blink of an eye, the Zanpakutou spirit disappeared. His earthen brown hair swayed gently on the breezes that had settled inside the arena as he popped up in front of Kaoru, swinging his sword at him. Kaoru was just fast enough to throw up his own weapons in defense. Their blades connected once more and Kaoru's sandals slid across the dirt as Hanamaru pushed him back up against the solid stone wall.
"Don't get too cocky yet, child. You're still aways off from obtaining Bankai yet. Focus on the battle at hand, do you understand?"
He watched with a calm expression as the taichou struggled to keep the large blade from slicing into the thin flesh of his throat. Holding his free hand out to the side, Hanamaru summoned another sword into his grasp. Its silver edge gleamed evily as he raised it high above his head with an intent to bring it down on top of his master.
Kaoru saw what was coming and immediately reacted to the situation. He crouched down just slightly, bringing his knee up into Hanamaru's arm with a ton of force behind the movement. This elicited a sharp cry of pain from the spirit and caused him to drop the sword that was keeping Kaoru pinned up against the wall. His other sword came crashing down but the taichou was no longer there. It carved into the wall, becoming stuck in the thick stone.
A spray of blood shot into the air. More blood began to soak through the regal clothing that adorned Hanamaru's shoulder and arm. Kaoru's katana had impaled him through his left shoulder. As the taichou withdrew it, he made sure to make it slow and more painful. Hanamaru could only stand still for a moment in silence when the katana came free of his body. Slowly, a smirk came to life on his face as he looked at Kaoru.
"Now, that's what I'm talking about! Just keep it up!", he exclaimed.
The end of day one had come. Hanamaru returned to his sealed Zanpakutou form and began tending to his wounds. Kaoru was left alone in the arena to reflect on the day's events. So far, he was mildly impressed with his progress. Though, his aching body was silently screaming in protest to any more movement for the evening. He already knew he had some heavy bruising where the swords had struck him and from when he had been thrown hard against the wall.
"Agh... Man, everything hurts. And I have two more days of this? Ooohhh... I know I can pop over to the Fourth division to get some healing done but... I don't even wanna move right now.", Kaoru sighed, partly in exhaustion and partly in frustration at himself for being too lazy to go and get help.
03-26-2013, 08:08 AM
Chapter 13: Bankai!
The third day, the final day of the test. His last chance to prove himself worthy and subdue his Zanpakutou's spirit in order to obtain Bankai...
The blazing hot sun hung high in the sky over the arena in the Eleventh division, casting its glaring heat down on the poor unfortunate combatants. Glistening beads of sweat covered every inch of his exsposed flesh as Kaoru panted gently from his efforts. He had long since shed his heavy haori and stripped down to nothing but his hakama. It was all that he could do to avoid a premature death from over exsposure to the heat.
All around the arena, several large black swords lay in shattered pieces or were embedded into the walls or the floor or the stands. Thus far today, the young purple-haired taichou had successfully managed to break or entrap at least twelve of the swords that Hanamaru was using against him.
He had spent the vast majority of his second day in the Bankai test combining his speed and agility to dodge the swords or embed them into the walls and in some cases, he had experimented with breaking them. It had become yet another successful method for him to use.
As Kaoru tried to catch his breath and even himself out, he found that he was just slightly agitated at the current state he was in. His hair felt gross, littered with dust and dirt, and matted with sweat and oil. The same substances also coated his bare torso, chest, and arms. He hadn't gotten this filthy in quite a long time. But he was fully aware that it was all a very small price to pay, considering what he was after in this battle.
'I can handle anything; any battle, any opponent, anything. I can and will if, in the long run, it means I can protect those I care for. I will win. I have to. Now, he's got eight swords left and I still have just two. I can do it...'
"What's the matter, Kaoru? You've slowed down. Should you really be taking a break on your last day? Bit of a risky move, don't you think?"
"... Bite me. I'm regaining my breath.", snapped the taichou, switching both of his katanas into one hand so that he could push some of his hair out of his face.
There was a moment where Hanamaru seemed stunned and remained utterly silent. He then quickly shook it off and snatched one of his swords from the air around him, moving in to attack his young master before he could completely recover himself. However, Kaoru had been expecting something of this nature to ocurr and he was ready for it.
Just as Hana raised his sword and attempted to bring it down on top of him, the taichou tightened his grip on both of the katanas that were in his hand and brought them up to catch the incoming blade. He exerted a fair amount of strength to keep the massive sword from slicing into his skull as he held it just mere inches above his head, glaring up at his spirit.
"Very good. You're getting better all the time. But it's not enough yet. Beat me before the sun goes down or you fail. It'll be your loss."
Kaoru didn't much care to hear such a statement, one which voiced the knowledge that he already possessed and was feeling very concerned over. The overwhelmingly heated glare that was being cast by his dark purple eyes only intensified as a result. In one swift movement of his wrist, he effortlessly twisted the large sword, wrangling it free of Hanamaru's grasp and into his own.
A fast slash sent a spray of blood shooting into the air. Hanamaru was sent stumbling back, his arm now bleeding profusely from a deep gash. There was a look of mild surprise on the spirit's face now. Kaoru then proceeded to bury the sword into the floor of the arena, almost up to its hilt. Once finished, he placed one katana into each of his hands, ready to start again.
Vanishing into a shyunpou, the taichou moved forward to attack his opponent once more. It seemed Hana was now having a much harder time keeping up with him. This drastically increased his chances of achieving his Bankai before the day's end. Now, if he could just subdue the spirit... He observed as Hanamaru scrambled to grab two of his remaining swords.
'Oh no, you don't...!', he thought, pouring on a burst of speed.
Two things happened simultaneously. Hanamaru reached the blades, picking them up while turning around just in time to face Kaoru. There was a harsh stabbing noise as the taichou purposely impaled the left and right sides of his waist on the sharpened edges of both swords. His katanas were raised and crossed in front of him, the point where their blades were connected resting ever so ominously against the flesh of Hanamaru's neck. They were now in a check mate.
"If you try anything funny, I'll cut off your head before you can cut me in half or stab me through with one of the other swords.", said Kaoru, apparently oblivious to the fact that he was even injured at all.
"... I almost don't believe it. You did it, you got me...", Hanamaru sounded grim but then a grin lit up his face. "Kaoru, you did it! You did it, you're a fine taichou. Now, I can give you exactly what you deserve. Bankai..."
A blingingly bright flash of light suddenly engulfed the entire arena. It faded to reveal that all twenty of the large swords had been freed and repaired of any damage, made just like new again. They now hovered in the air around Kaoru, all except for the two that were sticking through his abdomen. His Shikai katanas had disappeared completely and his clothing had changed as well.
The taichou's eyes widened as he felt even more reiatsu surging through his body. He had done it, finally. Now he felt certain that he had the power needed to protect his friends from any danger that may come their way. After calming down a little more, he realized how much of a jerk he had been just previously to obtaining Bankai. With a subtle pout on his lips, he looked back to Hanamaru.
"Um... thank you so much, Hana. I'm sorry for... ya know. Anyway, this feels great and all. But do you mean to tell me I was fighting my own Bankai all along?", he inquired, his voice just a little raspy.
"That's right. You've proven that you can manage it quite well. And I forgive you for all those harsh moments. In some ways, I deserved them, but hey, I was only trying to help you out anyway. I'm still very happy to serve you, young Master.'
"Oh, and by the way, you might want to... reseal your Zanpakutou, and get over to the Fourth division. You're kind of losing a lot of blood."
"Yeah, I guess you're right.", Kaoru consented with a small nod.
He focused what remained of his strength into resealing his Bankai into the long bladed silver katana that he usually wore on his hip. With the blades free of his body, more blood gushed out, soaking his hakama and the ground below him. But he pressed on, retrieving his other clothing and haori before heading towards the arena gates. However, he didn't quite make it outside.
Instead, Kaoru hit the ground, unconscious, just at the gate's edge...
03-26-2013, 08:21 AM
Chapter 14: Down for the Count
Dark purple eyes slowly opened as Kaoru started to awaken from a very deep slumber. His body felt heavy, as if it were made of lead, and his mind was shrouded in a thick darkness which prevented him from immediately remembering what might have happened.
From what he could feel, he was laying in a very comfortable bed. Everything was clean and soft. It only took a minute for him to realize that he was in the Fourth division, sleeping in one of their beds, wearing one of their clean white yukatas. But the taichou could not recall what had put him here right off the bat. He yawned, covering it with his hand.
'What happened to me? My body feels so heavy...', he thought, trying to search through the black fog in his mind for an answer.
Kaoru gently pushed the blanket away from his body and moved to sit up. A sharp pain caused him to cry out in sheer agony as he crumbled back to the bed. Both the left and right sides of his waist throbbed with a horrible ache that seemed to protest any movement of his abdomen at all.
Upon discovering this, he shifted the yukata around to find that the lower section of his chest and his stomach had been bandaged in several layers of gauze. His injury now revealed, he began to remember the events that had led to him recieving it. He had been fighting Hanamaru in a challenge to obtain his Bankai and he had won but at a cost to himself. The cost being that he now had two gaping gashes in his waist.
'I must have had some sort of deathwish when I did that...', he reprimanded himself, cringing in pain once more.
"Miyazaki-taichou, you're up! Did you hurt yourself?", said a semi-concerned voice from the doorway.
Slowly, the taichou looked up to see a young healer that he had become familiar with through their meetings in the past; Hijiri Minatou. He was always easy to recognize due to his pale golden eyes. The look on his face seemed to belay the stress he must have been feeling, as it looked like he was trying to remain calm but a sliver of concern could not be hidden.
"Hijiri-kun, how lovely to see you again. I should have known that you would be the one taking care of me during my stay here.'
"I'm sorry about that scream just now. I honestly wasn't expecting to feel so much pain from trying to move around. Guess these wounds haven't entirely healed yet? Or are they maybe just really sore?", asked Kaoru, doing his best to smile despite his discomfort.
"They haven't healed yet. You need to remain in bed, laying down, so that they can close up properly. By the way, you've been asleep for three days. Are you feeling anything besides pain?", responded the healer, walking into the room and over to the bed.
'What!? Three days? Oh, man... I really hope Crimson and Kimura were handling the division while I was asleep.' "Ehrm, no, not really... Why? What should I be feeling after getting impaled on both sides?"
"Are you trying to be funny to lighten the mood, taichou? Well, you can just spare me and yourself. I'm not that worried about you, you've survived much worse than this before. So just relax and act as you normally would.", said Hijiri, flashing a genuine smile at him.
Moving a long lock of purple hair from his face, Kaoru returned the smile before laying back down to rest his battered body. He merely observed as Hijiri moved around the bed to retrieve a clipboard with his information on it. Now that he actually looked around the room, he noticed that a small table had been covered in flowers, cards, plushies of his friends, and several other assorted items that must have been get-well gifts from his friends.
"Say, Hijiri-kun, who was it that found me and brought me here? Do you remember?", asked the taichou curiously.
"Well, you might be surprised. It was Ouji Shirosawa. He didn't give us much of an explanation other than he found you passed out and bleeding profusely in the Eleventh division arena.
After he brought you to us, he just grumbled a lot and then moved to leave, saying something about the arena being open to the division again and some stupid notice was about to be torn down. I'm not sure what that was about but ah well.", came Hijiri's deadpan answer.
'Ouji took me here? He must have been the only one ignorant enough to ignore my warning posted on the gates of the arena... But now I'm grateful and I owe him a lot for this, especially since he hates the fourth division.'
"I see.", Kaoru laughed softly, stopping as the action caused his stomach to throb with pain. "Were you the one who gave me a bath and cleaned me up then? I'm just curious, since I was out for so long."
"Actually, the moment he found out you were here, Bael rushed over and insisted that he be allowed to see you. I permitted him into your room. He seemed to calm down upon seeing that you were all right.'
"But then he pleaded with me to wash the filth from your hair and body, saying that you'd prefer it that way. I was happy to comply with the request and both of us got you cleaned up in little to no time.", said the healer, now partially focused on writing down some information on the clipboard.
Kaoru could feel a definite blush coming to life on his pale cheeks. Even though he had been with Bael for years and he trusted Hijiri with such matters as his personal bathing, it was still a rather embarassing scenario to think about, especially since he had been unconscious during the event. He buried his face into his pillow to hide the blush as best he could. It was only when Hijiri started speaking again that he revealed himself once more.
"You've had a lot of visitors since you've been asleep. Aside from Bael, your Adjutant and his girlfriend, your fukutaichou, the taichou of Eighth division, and several others dropped by to see you and leave presents for you.", said the young man, indicating the table of gifts with another smile.
"All of those purple roses are from Bael. That single bundle of red ones came from Crimson. Kimura and Yumikiro brought you some sweets, and Yumi insisted that you have those plushies so that you wouldn't be lonely while you were staying here. Really sweet of her.'
"Satokurifu-taichou wasn't sure of what to give you so he merely sat at your bed side and watched over you for a long span of hours, as though waiting for you to wake up. Even Ouji came back after a day or so and asked if you were still alive. He brought your haori and Zanpakutou in for you as well."
The blush which had taken over only turned a dark red as Kaoru looked at each of the gifts in turn. He was a little surprised to find that all of his friends cared so much for him. Even Crimson, who had been mad at him for some time now, had brought him a bundle of lovely red roses. It made him feel warm inside, and in his heart he felt an immense happiness.
Reaching over, he managed to retrieve each of the plushies of all his friends, cuddling the lot of them against his chest before snuggling into the bed and blanket. Bael, Crimson, Hikaru, Kimura, Yumi... Seeing all of their little faces made him smile as he held their plushie dopplegangers in his arms. His recovery wouldn't take as much time as it probably should have because he now wanted to get back up on his feet and visit everyone.
"Thank you for everything, Hijiri-kun. I have to thank them all as well, so I swear I'll get out of here in a day or two, just you wait and see...", said the purple-haired taichou happily, smiling.
"Yes, I kind of expected that attitude from you, Miyazaki-taichou. But just do me a favor this once and rest to let your wound heal. Okay?"
Kaoru gently nodded his head, which was starting to feel foggy again. A soft yawn made its way out of his mouth as he rested his head on the pillow. He had grown very tired yet again. His dark purple eyes fell closed, his arms now gently holding the plushies. Within a few minutes, he was asleep once more. Hijiri gently shook his head, smiling as he quietly left the room.
03-26-2013, 08:26 AM
Chapter 15: Drowning in a Stream of Thoughts
The young taichou of the Eleventh division was feeling less than enthusiastic at the moment. Today was the day he had been officially released from the Fourth division relief station and he was finally allowed to return to active duty for the first time since he had been injured over a week and a half ago.
But ever since his stay in Fourth, Kaoru's mind had suddenly began to torment him during every waking moment. Normally, he was able to keep his thoughts in check and not let them fall into chaos or let them affect him in a negative way.
Hanamaru had made sure that his master had a better grasp on his own sanity when the two of them had directly confronted the entity known as Kaito, who had been created as a result of Kaoru being unable to accept his own horrific actions in the past. Kaoru had at last come to terms with what he had done and Kaito disappeared from both his mind and soul.
However, for some reason his thoughts were now causing him great doubt and pain.
A stray gust of wind swept up, traveling down the path that he was taking to reach his division's home. It whipped up his long purple wave of hair, which seemed to have gotten much longer since his promotion to taichou, while it also fluttered his haori out to either side of his body.
Kaoru slowly raised his hand into the air a little and settled the gust into a gentle breeze. His powers over the element of wind had grown exstensively since he'd obtained his Bankai. But he recieved no comfort from such a fact now.
'Even with my power, I feel utterly and completely useless. But why? I go out and do my job of cleansing Hollows, plus manage the whole of Eleventh, as well as tend to the needs of my friends... So then why?
Because I'm just a joke, a mere stand-in at best. I only stepped up to take leadership of Eleventh because no one else did and I was only made taichou because of a silly little duel with the Soutaichou, in which I managed to impress him by giving him one good cut from Hanamaru. Why...?
I'm just a babysitter right now. I've made no real difference here, other than rearranging the rankings to better suit the power structure and adopting one or two strong shinigami into the division to increase our number and strength. But that isn't enough for the division which embodies the fighting spirit.
Who was I trying to fool? Who was I trying to impress? Who was I trying to prove myself to? Why did I ever think I was meant for this!?
I mean, look at me. I certainly don't look the part of a taichou for Eleventh, and I was even descended from Nobility, which made me very formal and polite that was never needed or wanted here. I was only allowed to join this division as their Adjutant because I borrowed power to crush the one before me and get him shipped off to Second.
But even now, even with my power, I'm useless beyond killing Hollows or just watching over the division so that they don't all kill themselves in pointless little squabbles. Sometimes, I wish someone would finally step up to challenge me and kill me...
Crimson would be a much more fitting taichou than I ever was, and he's already the fukutaichou. Why doesn't he just-'
'Stop right there.' Hanamaru's calm yet commanding tone suddenly pierced Kaoru's thoughts and called him back into reality.
'I've listened to quite enough of this, Young Master. It's been three days since all of these ideas started flooding your head. But you had better listen to me right now. You aren't useless and you've been an amazing taichou up to this point. Don't let anyone, especially yourself, tell you otherwise. Am I understood, Kaoru?'
An intense heavy sigh spilled from Kaoru's mouth as he slowly raised his hand higher and held his head gently, shaking it a few times afterward. Every part of his mind and body was starting to hurt now. As much as he desperately wanted to believe Hanamaru's words, he found that he couldn't. The seed of doubt which had always inhabited his heart was only growing stronger. But nevertheless, he eventually lowered his hand and continued walking towards what he had always considered his home.
'I'm sorry, Hana... I want to believe you. I really do. But it's like something has taken hold of me and I just can't shake it off. Has Kaito come back? Am I going off the deep end again? Please, tell me.', he pleaded silently.
'No. Kaito will not revive or return unless you bring him back yourself. You're not to that point yet, for which I'm very glad. But I refuse to allow you to put yourself down and beat yourself up over this matter. If you really want to hear it from someone who wasn't born of your soul, then why not ask your division members instead?'
'I guess you're right... I mean, at least I know they would all be giving me a very honest and crucial answer. Unfortunately, I'm such a coward that I don't even have the guts to ask because I'm afraid of hearing them. What if all I've done is make everything worse?'
Before the spirit of his Zanpakutou could respond, a noise sounded in the silence that had been surrounding their mental conversation. Kaoru reached into the pocket of his hakama and retrieved his mobile. He flipped it open to check it, only to find that a new assignment was waiting for him. His saffron eyes widened at first but then slowly drooped half way closed as he shut the phone before putting it away again.
"Well, at least this is one part of the job I know I can take care of. Let's go, Hanamaru.", said the taichou, drawing his katana from his side and opening up a Senkaimon to the world of the living. In less than a minute, he had vanished from the Seiretei altogether.
03-26-2013, 08:29 AM
Chapter 16: Caught by a Gaze
The spectral gates of a Senkaimon appeared in the world of the living, slowly opening to let out their single occupant. Kaoru gracefully lept through and touched down on the smooth pavement of a street in a darkened neighborhood as the gate disappeared from existence behind him.
Beneath his shihakushou, the black limiter which imposed itself on his power and cut it down to nearly one third of what it would normally be became visible in the form of the Eleventh division's symbolic flower on the left side of his chest. It was easy enough for him to ignore so he instead focused on trying to locate his target in this assignment.
Checking his phone for a signal, he found that he was definitly in the Hollow's general vicinity. The taichou used a series of shyunpou to quickly search around the city block until he finally found what he was seeking. His long hair flowed behind him in the cool wind as he landed on the rooftop of a high building, having just caught sight of a moving figure below.
Fortunately, Kaoru had remembered to tie his hair back before engaging in this battle. Ever since Crimson had chopped a few strands off during their last little training match, he had wanted to preserve his hair as best he could. He didn't have to worry about such an incident ocurring this time.
Using his position on the rooftop as a vantage point, he observed the Hollow that he would soon be facing. It must have been at least an Adjuchas in its level and it was a little more complex than the lower grade Hollows he was used to dealing with. This particular creature could not be identified against any kind of animal but was somewhat humanoid in its shape. Though, it had several different striking features that stood out.
The Adjuchas walked on two legs and was a good ten to twelve feet tall, which meant it would easily tower over the young taichou. Its skin was an unnatural coal grey blue. A whip-like tail that he judged to be around seven feet long was trailing behind it like a living snake, and it had a spade shaped tip on the end. But the most disturbing things were this Hollow's eyes.
Whereas the typical Hollow's eyes were simply hidden behind a boney white mask, this Adjuchas had two eyes, each in a different location away from its partner. One eye did indeed sit in its natural place in the skull and it was an eery milky white color, as though the creature were blind.
However, the other eye was embedded into its shoulder, surrounded by several layers of spiked bone that were presumably part of its mask. This eye was the size of a beach ball and it was constantly twitching, as if looking in every direction.
Kaoru noticed one more bizarre feature of his would-be opponent. The Hollow's arms were different sizes. Its left was at least three feet wide and six feet tall, while its right arm was very long and thin with only two razor-like claws on the end of its hand. Everything about this monster's appearance gave him the creeps. It definitly needed to be cleansed, that was for sure.
He gripped Hanamaru's hilt tightly before leaping down from the roof. Just as he was descending toward the ground, the Adjuchas' larger eye caught sight of him and it turned its hulking body around to face him. Instead of talking like a normal Hollow would have done, it merely roared once and did nothing more. Something just wasn't right about this Hollow. It was starting to really stir up a sense of paranoia in the taichou.
"I don't know why you're so different from your brethren. But it doesn't matter. You must be cleansed. Trust me, it's better than remaining as you are now.", said Kaoru distantly, preparing to fight the beast.
The Adjuchas roared once more but made no move to attack the man who had just appeared before it. Such actions only arroused Kaoru's suspicion that this beast was actually smarter than it would let on and it was probably waiting for him to make the first move instead. Perhaps it had some kind of trap or tactic waiting in the wings. His gaze shifted onto the large eye that sat in the Hollow's shoulder, and that's where it all went wrong.
As his purple eyes locked with the highly abnormal eye across from him, he felt his body instantly sieze up and become completely paralyzed. It was like a spell had been cast simply from its gaze. That's what he was assuming, anyway. But he honestly didn't care at the moment. He had just walked right into his target's trap and now he couldn't move even a single muscle to fight or defend himself against it. Worse yet, he didn't know if he had any way of escaping before he was turned into Hollow chow.
'I'm such an idiot. I should have figured that something was up with that eye. But no, I just had to go and look straight at it, which is what any fool would do. That's what this creature was betting on, my stupidity and ignorance towards the fuction of its unusual anatomy.', he thought, angrily reprimanding himself.
'Calm down. Freaking out or getting mad at yourself won't help you out of this. You have to collect your thoughts and focus on finding a way of getting free now. Come on, I know you can do it.'
Kaoru slowly closed his eyes and took in a long deep breath, letting it out little by little before finally opening his eyes again. Trust Hanamaru to be the voice of reason in such a critical situation and he was absolutely right. He glanced around, looking for anything that could have served as a distraction that would take the Hollow's attention off of him for even a minute. Finding nothing, the taichou began to feel a twinge of panic rising in him.
'Damn it... I really got myself into trouble this time. Maybe if I just wait and watch what it does next, I can figure something out about it.', he thought, looking back at the approaching Adjuchas with a scrutinizing gaze.
Unfortunately, he couldn't have known at that time just what kind of torture was about to be inflicted upon him, both physically... and mentally.
03-26-2013, 08:31 AM
Chapter 17: Twisting the Truth, Part 1
The Adjuchas stopped its approach so that it was less than six feet away from Kaoru and it simply stared at him. All he could do was stare back, his body caught in its unusual paralysis. His mind was at a complete loss as to what to do next. Unfortunately, this left the taichou at the Hollow's mercy. Every last fiber of his being was telling him that this would not end well.
Suddenly, it was as though a thick veil of misty fog had descended over not only his mind but his eyes as well. This caused the world around him to become very distorted and hard to discern. Having been effectively robbed of his sight, Kaoru began to feel a surge of panic flood through him. A viscious jolt came from seemingly nowhere and rocked his body harshly, resulting in him now feeling very disoriented.
The shrouding fog disappeared almost immediately after settling upon him. His vision cleared once again, only to bare witness to a very shocking sight before him. In the wake of the fog, there now stood the form of his younger brother, Kusa Kabe Miyazaki. Kaoru's dark purple eyes widened as he took in the image of his own flesh and blood, the sibling he had lost not so long ago.
Kusa's short brown hair was completely matted down on one side with what could only be dried blood. The bangs on that side fell to cover his right eye, which had obviously been forcefully torn out of its socket if one were to judge by the amount of blood stained onto his skin. His remaining eye was now casting its warm orange gaze on Kaoru, watching him closely. Many rips and tears were suffered by his shihakushou, making it look very tattered.
But the most shocking thing about him was the gaping wound that had torn open his abdomen from one side to the other. Kaoru found himself staring right into the cavity at his brother's mangled entrails and organs. A sudden wave of nausea washed over him and he would have buckled to the ground had he not been paralyzed against his will.
"Hello, Niichan. It's nice to see you again. Though, with only one good eye, I'm afraid it's a little hard for me to see you clearly. Must be that purple hair of your's. Always so easy to find you that way...", said the younger Miyazaki sibling in a kind voice.
Kaoru finally managed to open his eyes to look at Kusa once more, taking careful measures to avoid seeing the disembowelment wound in his stomach. But he was so stunned by this turn of events that he couldn't even speak to his brother. His mouth fell open a few times and nothing came out, despite his mind racing to form some kind of response. The thought that this was simply a trick of the Hollow had not even surfaced yet.
"Aww, what's the matter, Kaoru? Don't you have anything to say to me?", said the corpse of his brother. "After all, it's because of you that I'm dead. You weren't around to prevent that person from murdering me. You failed me, Niichan. I should make you suffer, as I have suffered..."
The taichou suddenly felt an instensely sharp sensation spread outward from his right arm. He was unable to stop a small cry as it wrenched itself free of his mouth. Outside of the illusionary world it had created for its victim, the Adjuchas had slashed open Kaoru's arm with its razor-like claws. But Kaoru was none the wiser to what was really happening around him. A rivulet of crimson blood began to flow from the wound and soak his sleeves while dripping down to stain the pavement of the street.
Slowly, Kaoru composed himself and when he looked back to where Kusa had been standing, he was surprised to see that his brother had vanished. In his place now stood one of the taichou's long time friends and his current Adjutant, Kimura Tomokane. But something was very wrong.
As he observed his friend, he couldn't help but notice that Kimura was slowly transforming into something that reminded him of a Hollow. Kimura's eyes had bled into a stark golden color while his skin, hair, and clothing had turned a pale ghostly white. Seeing this left Kaoru completely unnerved yet again. It was one of his worst fears brought to life right in front of him.
"Hiya, Taichou. I assume you've already realized that I am no longer the Kimura that was your friend. Oh, no. I'm something much, much worse. That wuss isn't coming back. You were foolish to think that you could ever even hope to save him. Guess that's just one more person you've failed. Ha, you're truly pathetic, you know that?", said the apparition in a harsh tone.
A metaphorical blade of crushing guilt suddenly pierced Kaoru's chest, eliciting a gasp from him. His eyes were still abnormally wide while his body had started to quiver beneath the immobile spell. He looked away from what had once been one of his closest friends and stared at the ground beneath his feet. It was another bad move on his part. The massive blade of Gendokiho slammed down on top of his left shoulder, shattering the bone and carving deep into the flesh. Kaoru screamed as the Zanpakutou was being pulled free of his body with a quick jerk.
"That's to punish you for your stupidity!", exclaimed Arukmik, letting loose a harsh cacophony of wicked laughter.
Kaoru's haori was becoming ever more stained by his blood as he panted harshly from the pain that was being inflicted on his body. But that was the least of his concerns. If he wasn't able to get free sometime within the near future, he might as well have been doomed. Who knew what else he would have to suffer through. He did have some idea of what might be coming up next but he defiantly tried to push those thoughts away. Each one of them was far worse than what he had endured so far.
The Adjuchas was enjoying its time playing with this sad little shinigami. It took advantage of everything it could find tucked away in his heart and mind, twisting the images of his loved ones while injuring him on the outside. So much blood was already spilling onto the ground from Kaoru's body. But perhaps it could play with its prey for just a little while longer.
03-26-2013, 08:34 AM
Chapter 18: Twisting the Truth, Part 2
The maniacal laughter of the white apparition who had taken over Kimura's soul soon faded away, leaving Kaoru with a few brief moments of agonizing silence. He forced his mind to clear away the pain which had flooded it.
Thus far, he had suffered only the one truly critical hit of Gendokiho effectively breaking the bone in his shoulder. But his increasing blood loss from said injury could become a real problem for him very quickly. Not to mention that there was probably still more torture yet to come. His only option was to find a way to free himself from the unyielding paralysis.
His heart had not entirely fallen prey to the Hollow's sick little mind games. He now held the suspicion that it was merely warping the images of his friends from what he held in his mind and combining them with his own fears. By remaining silent, not answering to the illusions of his friends, the shock at seeing them in such a way would slowly start to subside, leaving more room for him to think properly. But he wasn't sure of how long he could keep it up.
Kaoru slowly closed his eyes to fully regain his composure from the last attack before opening them once more. Another illusion had stepped up to replace the Hollowfied Kimura. Now he was facing none other than Hikaru, a fellow Taichou who was currently heading the Eighth division. The psychotic redhead already had his precious Shuurajou drawn from her sheath.
'Oh, Lord... That thing would have to go and select the one person among my friends who really would kill me without an ounce of hesitation and probably enjoy the act entirely. I really may not live through it this time.'
Hikaru grinned in a devilish manner at him, as if he had just read his thoughts. Kaoru would not have been surprised if that was exactly the case, though he probably wouldn't find out the answer. Instead, he was now keeping an eye on the drawn Zanpakutou which could very easily eviserate him into several dozen pieces. Perhaps if he was lucky, Hikaru wouldn't deal out the killing blow in the beginning since he'd been known to have a small crush on him.
"I hope you're ready to play, Kaoru. Because even if you're not, I am. Here I come!" The illusion mimmicked Hikaru's voice while bringing to life that eery gleaming madness in his golden eyes.
All that the Taichou from Eleventh could do was observe as his redheaded friend popped out of sight via shyunpou. He would have liked to have braced himself for any incoming attacks but the first one came too quickly for him to even draw in his next breath. A searing pain made him gasp aloud as the tip and several inches of Shuurajou's blade protruded through the flesh of his good shoulder, now sitting parallel with his face as he glanced over at it.
'Not really a kill shot... Maybe he's just going to hurt me little by little before getting serious. I kind of thought this would happen one day. But not quite like this, especially since this Hikaru isn't real.', thought Kaoru to himself. 'Why does it seem like these illusions always go for the shoulder first? Are they playing by the old tale, wounded shoulder is a warrior's disgrace? I would rather hope not, seems kind of pointless.'
Indeed, his assumption proved to be correct. Shuurajou slowly slid out of his shoulder with an unpleasant wet noise accompanying it and was then thrust through many other areas around his body. But any major veins and organs were purposely avoided. The blade never went in deep enough to amputate a limb either. Hikaru was enjoying himself, laughing as Kaoru had never heard him do before. And was that theme music playing...? Or just the blood loss starting to affect his mind?
Kaoru shook his head vigorously, attempting to regain a good measure of focus. If he became further unsettled, he really would lose his life during this ordeal. Hikaru suddenly appeared in front of him using a burst of shyunpou. The taichou raised his head to look at him and their eyes met for but a second. There was nothing behind the fake gleaming golden orbs. Before he could avert his gaze, Shuurajou impaled him through his waist.
"It really is too bad, Ruru. I do like you. But not enough to spare you, I'm afraid. You're a little too weak, so sucks to be you."
A cough laiden with fresh bright red blood spilled out of his mouth as he closed his eyes against the new painful sensation. As if to increase the damage done, Hikaru twisted his blade in a circular motion and slowly pushed it in deeper. Only when his knuckles had a fair bit of blood splashed on them did he see fit to stop, swiftly pulling his Zanpakutou free of Kaoru's body. In turn, Kaoru let loose another scream of sheer agony. His tolerance for pain, as well as endurance, was being tested and pushed to its limit.
'Damn... I don't know how much more of this I can take. Would be nice to know. Not like I can move yet, anyway. I have a guess as to who that thing is going to show me next and I really, really don't want to see...', he thought, now panting heavily from the wounds inflicted on his body.
The Adjuchas observed the shinigami it had caught. It felt a mild sense of surprise to see that Kaoru was still conscious and alert. Normally, those it toyed with would have passed out from blood loss or the severity of their injuries by now. Or they would have stooped so low as to beg for an end to its spell, which was a signal for it to kill them.
But this one was different, apparently stronger than the shinigami it had captured before. Perhaps this time could be made more interesting. With a grunt, it began to dig deeper into his mind, searching for other friends with whom it could cause him harm.
03-26-2013, 08:41 AM
Chapter 19: The Flames Beneath Your Feet
The Adjuchas displayed what was tantamount to a monsterous grin as it found what it had been searching for within Kaoru's segmented consciousness. Before conjuring up the next set of illusions, it decided to make this game a little more interesting. Raising its smaller arm, it dispelled the paralysis that was holding Kaoru up. Now it would be a test of the taichou's mental strength. Could he bring himself to attack or would he die?
Kaoru was very surprised when the paralysis suddenly lifted from his form. With nothing to support his battered and wounded body, he fell heavily onto his hands and knees, palms pressed flat against the blood-stained concrete. His Zanpakutou clattered noisily on the ground just a few inches away from his right hand. Hanamaru had been eerily silent for a long while now. Closing his eyes for a brief moment, the taichou attempted to gain control over his breathing and cease the harsh panting that was causing his chest to heave.
A constant sound was echoing in his ears while he had his eyes closed. It sounded familiar, as though he had heard it numerous times before. After a few seconds passed, he realized that it was the sounds of foot falls. Two distinct sets, one heavier than the other, were approaching him. He almost didn't want to look up because he already knew who it was he was going to see standing in front of him this time. But he pried his eyes open reluctantly and slowly raised his head once more. His assumption was confirmed.
Crimson stood not but three yards away from him, glaring down at him with the same heated gaze that he always wore when in the taichou's presence. In his hands rested the Shikai axes of Ryuujin. Their chains were dangling evily above the ground, the soft clinking only rattling his nerves further. Another shinigami was standing just behind Crimson. Bael wore an expression that Kaoru had only seen him possess when he was engaged in combat. It was utterly distant and cold, and being directed at him. The massive battle axe that was Kyouko was drawn and being held one-handed.
'I knew it... I just knew it. That damnable creature was building up to this, saving the worst for last, playing with me and tormenting me near the end. It must have let me go to see what I would do when faced with them... Even if I can bring myself to fight them, I'm wounded and still losing blood. This will be hard, much harder than I can guess at... I'll make it pay for this, I swear.'
"How fitting. You're on your knees for once. Right where you should have always been. Whoever made you our taichou was either a fucking idiot or a pathetic bleeding heart who must have felt incredibly sorry for you.", the redheaded fukutaichou snapped off at him, spitting on the ground afterward.
'And so it begins...', thought Kaoru, reaching over with his hand to grasp Hanamaru's hilt before miraculously managing to get back up on his feet.
"Aww, I kinda liked you down there, Ruru. Maybe if you'd been more obedient and subservient, I would have loved you more. As it stands, I was only interested in you because you look feminine enough to pass for a female. But then again, looks don't count for everything. You were a pleasant substitute, just not good enough to win me over to your side. Pathetic is right. Spilling your guts, proclaiming your love, giving your body-", Bael was cut off.
"That's enough! Just shut up! I don't want to hear anymore!", shouted the taichou, panting gently as a thin trickle of blood leaked from his mouth.
Crimson and Bael shared a glance between themselves, smirking in unison. Both of them then tightened their holds on their weapons, apparently getting ready to start a joint assault on him. Kaoru wanted to kick himself but that would have been pointless. He was fairly sure they were going to do that for him after his outburst had given away the fact that he was clearly upset by some of the things that they were saying. If only he'd held his tongue. But what's done is done and now he would just have to deal with it.
The first attack came from Crimson. He grabbed the chain that was connected to one of his axes and began to twirl it through the air, letting it gain speed as it swung around faster and faster. In the blink of an eye, he released it, causing it to hurl through the air. A miniscule spray of blood shot into the air as the axe blade sliced through the right side of Kaoru's cheek. Even if he had wanted to, he didn't flinch at the weapon whizzing past his face or at the sharp pain radiating from the cut. His body felt dead and he could not force it to move as he wanted it to.
"What the hell's the matter with you? Are you trying to act all tough by not showing what you're feeling on your face? That pisses me off, especially when it's a wimp like you. Fine then.", Crimson said, recalling his axe again.
'They're not real. They're just fake images that were created for the sole purpose of harming you. You have to raise your sword at them and fight to survive. Don't look at their faces, don't say their names... Do what you must to win this battle of wills. Break the wall and let your anger spill forth... Come on! You have to do this, or you'll never see the real them again!'
But still he could not move. Something buried deep within his own fragile consciousness was preventing any attempt at defending himself or fighting back against them. His pale slender fingers tightened around Hanamaru's clothed hilt, but he was shaking so much that it was a failed effort. More blood continued to pool together on the sidewalk where he was standing. If he didn't do something soon, then he would be too weak to do anything.
'Move, move, move...!'
03-26-2013, 08:48 AM
Chapter 20: Shattered Boundaries
Time slowly ground down to a complete halt. The world and everything in it began to turn ashen gray right in front of the taichou's eyes. All noise had ceased and a perfect silence had replaced it. Bael and Crimson, or at least their illusions, were now motionless, like a pair of stone statues. Even the small droplets of blood that were leaking into the puddle below had seemingly stopped falling and the puddle itself no longer rippled.
Kaoru wondered if perhaps it was already too late for him now. His whole body felt unrealistically heavy and an unnatural cold was starting to settle over him. He felt his stomach drop while he observed the changes that were occurring. Fear and overwhelming despair tightened their grip painfully, robbing him of all coherent thought and mobility. However, just when he was sure it was the end, a familiar figure appeared before him.
“Is this really how you want to die? Beaten, broken, bloody, and defeated? Giving up without putting up a real fight? That is what would make you truly pathetic, Kaoru. I know you've got a lot more strength left in you. If you would just use it properly, then you could ace this ludicrous test of will and win this battle without winding up dead.”
Twin saffron eyes widened slightly as they fell upon Hanamaru. The Zanpakutou spirit was standing in front of Crimson and Bael, as if acting like a barrier between them and his young master. He was dressed in his usual robes of nobility and his earthen hair was unbound and down. An expression of pure disapproval had stamped itself on his features and there was an intensely sharp gaze being aimed at the taichou. Both hands were resting on his hips to convey that he was indeed upset.
“Hanamaru...? What's going on? Why has everything stopped...? I'm not dead, am I?”, Kaoru inquired softly after finally having found his voice and mind to speak again.
“No, but you aren't far from it. I have stopped everything around you because I want to give you one more chance at winning and surviving afterward. You and I, between us we have a lot more strength than you might believe. Now is the time to use it. I can temporarily hold back any further blood loss from your injuries and you know what you must do to gain access to all of your strength. Isn't that right, Kaoru?”
“You... you mean remove the limiter...? But that would take too long. The seiretei would never take it off in time and those two would tear me to pieces long before it was gone.”
“Oh, come now. Do you really need to ask permission for everything? I don't think so. There are other ways of taking it off, I'm sure. I'll help you break it. Is that okay?”
“Break it...?” The taichou blinked, questioning if such an act was even possible. “I don't know if it's okay... We have no idea of what it would do to me, my body, if it is broken. It might cause more harm than do any sort of good. What would we do then...?”
“Look, if you're going to be the taichou of the Eleventh division, then you're going to have to be willing to take big risks when it comes to battle. You can't be scared or hesitant, because that is what gets you killed in the end.”, Hanamaru sighed. “Either you muster up the strength and fortitude to do what needs to be done or you let someone else do the job right. Basically, what I am trying to say is... You get your ass in this battle before I am forced to kick it myself! Do you understand me?”
“Alright, alright... I understand you. Sheesh. You know, you don't really act like a noble sometimes, Hana. But then again, neither do I, so... whatever. I'll do it. Besides, I don't want to let these cheap illusions of my friends do me in. I'm going to get that Hollow for defiling their images. Just let me know when I'll be able to break the limiter and I'll get right on that.”, Kaoru stated, grinning despite the awful condition that his body was in at the time.
“Very well then. But you will need one more thing first.”
Hanamaru removed one of his hands from his hip and held it out so that his palm was facing up toward the sky. A flash of light erupted and suddenly, he was holding his master's Zanpakutou in his grip. The katana appeared to be completely unharmed. Without waiting for his master to take it from him, he merely moved his hand back and brought it forward just as quickly, casually tossing the weapon back to its purple-haired wielder.
Kaoru yelped softly and scrambled a bit, barely managing to catch the hilt with his less damaged arm before the blade could splash into the pool of blood surrounding him. The frantic movements only agitated his wounds and he cringed as a new flood of pain washed through him. But at least he had his Zanpakutou back. It was comforting to feel the solid weight in his hand once more. Smiling softly, he looked up, only to discover that Hanamaru had vanished and his effects had not.
'I will prevent you from losing any more blood. Brace yourself. The moment things return to normal, we'll use a massive spike in spiritual energy to break that limiter and then you'll be able to fight at full strength. Our Bankai should be more than enough to end this.'
“Yeah, I'm with you. Let's do it.”, he answered, turning his full focus back onto the two frozen warriors that were positioned just mere feet away from him.
The world around him resumed its course of life. Color and noise and movement all returned to normal again. Bael and Crimson began to look around, more than likely wondering what had happened. That was the cue the taichou needed. Strong currents of wind kicked up around him when he quickly started to raise his spiritual pressure and energy towards their maximum peak. A pure crystalline purple aura exuded from his body during the process. He closed his eyes, tightening his grip on the hilt of his sword as felt Hanamaru lending him more energy.
With an ear-splitting scream of defiance, the black flower on his chest shattered and melted away, leaving only some minor burns behind. Kaoru's hair and haori were flung upward sharply as the gale force winds whirled around him. His aura of spiritual pressure spread outwards from his body and lanced up into the air like a spurt of flames. Though he was a little winded from preforming the necessary feat, he didn't feel nearly as bad as he had before. But he still would not be able to move much. That was where his Bankai needed to come into play.
“Shine in the Heavens, Shirotsuki Hanamaru.”
The katana in his hand vanished in another blinding flash of light. His arm fell limply back to his side. Kaoru grinned, watching the surprise and anger etch itself onto the faces of the shingami across from him. A large black blade fell into his view. Followed by another, and another. Twenty large black swords of different shapes dropped from above and hovered in the air around him, encircling him protectively while rotating. Each one was about the size of Kaoru himself, only a little taller and wider. They all hovered in the air without him even having to touch them. Indeed, his psionics would be needed here.
“Damn you, you sneaky son of a bitch!”, Crimson shouted, glaring heatedly at him.
“But you should be half dead by now... How the hell did you even manage to...”, Bael trailed off, confusion evident in his voice.
“I just needed a little kick to get serious. Besides, why should I bother answering a couple of fake copies who aren't even going to be around much longer?”, the taichou replied, smiling as he watched them shift their weapons around for an attack. “Fly... and impale.”
His Bankai blades immediately broke their formation and individually raced through the air at his intended targets. Half went to assault Crimson, while the rest went for Bael.
“Oh, and I have one more thing for you. This is for violating my memories. Carriage of thunder. Bridge of a spinning wheel. With light, divide this into six. Bakkudou Sixty-One: Rikujyoukourou!”
Kaoru raised his hand one last time as he casted the kidou at them. The blades of light slammed into their bodies, effectively pinning them in place and erasing the possibility of them dodging his attacks. His dark purple eyes fell closed while the slaughtering of the illusions took place. He did his best to ignore their screaming, convincing himself that he would never hear it for real. When he opened his eyes again, he could tell that the Adjuchas' spell over him had been broken. One large disfigured eye was opened wide in shock and it was watching him from a short distance away.
“What the hell are you staring at, ugly? Ah, yes... that's right. I have a job to do. Time to finish you off and be done with this assignment.”, the taichou snapped.
Before the creature could even think to move, a good ten or twelve of Kaoru's blades skewered it from every side and every angle, mangling its body almost beyond the point of recognition. A fountain of blood shot into the air from the brutal attack. Little spatters landed in his hair, adding to the blood that was there already. But he paid it no mind. He kept his gaze on the Hollow while it began to disintegrate and dissolve away into nothing. Finally, his fight was over and the mission was cleared. His Bankai came together and reformed into a single katana again, which then dropped into his waiting hand. Sighing softly, he tried to steady himself one last time.
'Will you be able to make it back home again...?'
“No... but I'll call them for a medical team... I'll be fine, don't worry. Thanks for your help, Hana. I really don't think I'd have made it if not for you.”
'Hey, that's what I'm here for. No need to thank me.'
“If you say so.”, Kaoru smiled, sheathing his Zanpakutou and drawing out his mobile to make the call back to the Seiretei.
03-26-2013, 09:19 AM
Chapter 21: Requiem in the Rain
“What the hell were you thinking!?”
Kaoru was so shocked by the sudden outburst that he failed to defend himself. He yelped softly as Hijiri struck him across the face in an open-palmed slap, one which held the healer's anger and other emotions which he couldn't quite get a read on yet. One hand raised from his side, tentatively touching the now stinging flesh of his cheek while he slowly turned his confused purple gaze up to the young fukutaichou. Hijiri had never laid a hand on him in harm before and now that he had, the taichou had to wonder what he had done to deserve it.
“Hijiri-kun... what's the matter...?”, he asked, keeping his voice as calm as he could manage. “I mean, I know I'm a little worse for the wear, but... this is no worse than any other time I've returned here injured. I've come close to dying plenty of times before and you've never reacted this way to them before. So then, why...?”
“Idiot! Yes, I know you've come back in worse condition before now, but that was then and this is now. Not only did you ignore my request to take it easy for once and let yourself fully recover before engaging in another intense battle, you also did something so stupid that I've never heard of another incident where it occurred.'
“Honestly, shattering your limiter without allowing someone else to remove it for you instead. What if it had incapacitated you or even killed you? Was it worth the risk? Do you know how many people would have been affected by your death, and such a stupid way to die too? Did you even bother to think about them? About your friends? Crimson? Everyone?”
“But... Hijiri, I... I had no choice... I did what I had to do to survive, and destroy that creature.”, Kaoru replied, closing his eyes while letting his head hang forward, hair spilling down from his shoulders to pool in his lap. “I didn't have time to request that my limiter be removed... I would have ended up dead before the Seiretei could assist me, so there was really only one way I could have... I had no choice. I did what I thought needed to be done. What I thought was the right thing to do.'
“You know me better than that, or at least I thought you did. I would never intentionally put myself into a position where I was sure I would be killed... because you're right, I don't want to leave behind my friends or... Crimson... I know I've done some stupid things before. Gotten myself beaten up pretty badly, but I was defending my comrades and the people that I care about. My strength means nothing if I don't help others, protect them with everything that I have. I'm sorry... I'm sorry I didn't listen, but I never meant... to upset you like this...”
The purple-haired taichou covered his face with both of his hands, concealing his eyes from view, so that he couldn't be seen hiding his tears. He heard Hijiri sigh somewhere at his side, and his body convulsed gently as he let out a quiet sob. Bit by bit, he let the healer slowly, carefully, maneuver him into a position where his wounds could be treated. He kept his eyes closed, laying as still as he could during the small crying fit, relaxing while the warm healing energy seeped into him, mending and closing all of his injuries from the previous battle. It was a slow delicate process, one that he wished would go by much faster. He wanted out of the Fourth division, and soon.
“Listen, Kaoru,”, Hijiri's voice was now soft, as if he were trying to console a young child that wouldn't cease their crying, and maybe he was. “I'm sorry. I don't know what came over me just then, but I'm really sorry. I shouldn't have hit you like I did. It was way out of line, and I have no excuse for it. You can report my misconduct to my taichou, Himura-san. After that, I wouldn't blame you if you did. It's just that I really don't want to hear that you've been killed because of something like this. You might not believe me, but there are people who would be sad if you died. All I'm asking is that you try and avoid it at all costs.”
Kaoru didn't answer him, didn't want to answer him. He had stopped crying but the whole ordeal had left him feeling more than a little depressed. His eyes remained closed while the healing session continued toward its end. Above him, he heard Hijiri sigh, resigning himself to the silence that followed. There was no tension in the room. Only a tangible sadness that dampened the air like an early morning mist. Several more minutes passed, and finally he was done, his pale skin now baring the newest set of scars from a battle that had nearly claimed him as a victim. Hijiri moved away, allowing him to sit up in the bed. Both eyes were open now, revealing nothing but dull saffron pools, as if his pupils had sunk into the ocean of purple.
“You may go now. Be sure to give your body a little more time to rest and recuperate. Have a nice evening and take care, Miyazaki-san.”, were the last words Hijiri gave to him before immersing himself in the task of completing some medical paperwork.
Again, the taichou did not feel like giving him an answer. He merely swung both of his legs over the side of the bed and stood up, straightening his uniform and haori over his body, pulling his hair free of the collar so that it spilled down his back in a cascading flood of purple waves. His clothes were still stained with blood, dark blood from the Hollow that he had killed, and bright crimson red blood that was his own, slowly drying to a musty brown color on the white of his haori. He felt a bit of stiffness throughout his body but it was nothing he couldn't deal with. Sparing one last glance at the healer, he soon moved toward the door and left without even offering up a word of thanks for the treatment. It was clear that Kaoru was in a mood.
It was still somewhat early in the evening when he emerged outside of the Fourth division. The sun had set low in the sky, coloring it with various shades of orange, red, and yellow. There was still plenty of light left to see by, and it should have been a beautiful moment where the day is slowly turning to night, but it wasn't, not for him. Kaoru watched the sun setting lower on the horizon for a few slow moments before starting to walk away in the direction of the first district of the Rukongai. In his mind, he already knew exactly where he was headed.
He chose a table tucked away in the corner of the bar, far enough away from all the other tables that he felt a secure sense of solitude in the location. However, he couldn't avoid the stares of people within the bar who had seen the taichou enter. It wasn't every day that a taichou from the Seretei came in, or so he assumed. He felt their curiosity, their awe, their envy, and paid them no mind whatsoever. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he was certain that no one would approach him, at least not casually, for conversation of any sort. Even if someone did express interest in him, Kaoru knew he would simply brush them off in favor of being left alone because that was what he truly wanted right now.
“A bottle of plum sake. No cup will be needed, thank you.”, he said to the waitress who came over to his table.
She nodded her head, and departed to fetch his order. For the most part, the bar was tolerable. Not many people had gotten loud, though a few who were drunk were mumbling and laughing, and most seemed to be enjoying their evening with the help that only alcohol could offer them. No one appeared to be interested in him anymore so he settled himself in, crossing his legs and leaning against the back of his chair. He didn't feel comfortable enough to remove his zanpakutou from his hip, instead letting it rest there like a reassuring weight. Fortunately for him, the waitress returned within minutes, setting a single bottle of sake in from of him before rushing away to tend to other customers.
He leaned forward, lifting his hand to take the bottle from where it had been placed. The first scent of plum drifted up to meet him and he closed his eyes to savor it. His slender fingers slipped around the bottle and raised it to his lips, tilting it ever so slightly. The liquid washed into his mouth and he drank it down slowly. Kaoru had never been one to drink in excess and he wasn't about to start now, he still held himself in a higher respect than that. But the sake tasted so nice, and soon it would allow him to forget the earlier events of the long day.
'Maybe I shouldn't have been so standoffish to Hijiri-kun...', he thought silently to himself as he lowered the bottle to the table once more.
'He seemed genuinely concerned about me... Those amber eyes of his were searing with heat from his anger. I'd never seen that before. But he was only worried about me, wasn't he...? So he said. Maybe I was being childish when I didn't thank him for his help. But... but he slapped me... Sure, I might have deserved it, but it still stung...' He sighed, letting his shoulders sag downward.
'My father has slapped me before, but that was when I was still only a child... No one has ever hit me as I am now... not even Crimson when he was at his worst with anger or rage. I didn't know... how to react properly, and I even gave an apology... He did too, but that's beside the point. Why am I letting this get to me? It was only one slap, right? Most people can take that and go about their day like it never even happened. I should be able to too, shouldn't I?'
“Damn it... Damn it.”, Kaoru muttered softly under his breath, his dark eyes falling closed.
'It's okay. Everything is going to be okay, Kaoru.', Hanamaru's soothing voice said in his head, a gentle caress of wind brushing against his face, playing with his long hair gently. 'You survived the battle. You're alive and well. You'll be able to continue protecting your friends. By this time tomorrow, you'll have forgotten all of this ever happened and you'll be yourself again.'
'If only it were truly that easy, Hana.'
'Trust me, if you trust nothing else. Drink the sake, and let yourself relax a little more. Then you will start to feel better.'
'Right. If you say so.'
Kaoru's fingertips played along the rim of the bottle until he finally raised it up to take another drink. He tried not to think very much while he sipped the sake, letting the alcohol make its way into his system. Slowly but surely, it began to loosen him up and dissolve away his stress and self-conflict. His mind drifted toward a calmer place. A place that somewhat resembled his own inner world where the wind was always blowing in a gentle breeze and scattering sakura blossoms filled the air, their scent as pleasing as their lovely color and soft texture.
There was no pain. No sadness or despair. Negative emotions and feelings no longer existed. There was only an inner peace which prevailed over everything else. He immersed himself in it, allowed it to cleanse him of everything that had tainted him, his soul was washed and purified. Part of him was sure that it was Hanamaru trying his utmost to help him. The other part didn't care so long as he could continue to feel better. A single blossom fell into his lap, a spot of pink against the white of his haori. Kaoru looked down at the blossom and smiled for the first time since leaving the Fourth division. He opened his eyes, finding that he was still sitting within the bar, the empty bottle still in his hand, but now he was actually smiling rather than moping.
'Hmm. You were right, Hana. I feel better, much better. I guess I was just being silly before, letting myself get so down over that incident. You would think I would have learned by now not to be so hard on myself. But old habits do die hard, I suppose.', he thought, his smile remaining.
'So long as you're feeling better, that's all that matters.'
The taichou nodded, a gentle motion of his head, before carefully standing up from his chair. He slipped his hand into the inner pocket of his uniform and retrieved some money. He laid the coins beside the empty sake bottle, making sure that there was a little extra as a tip for the waitress who had served him. When he was ready, he made his way through the tables and exited the bar, stepping out onto the dirt streets of the Rukongai. It was dark out. Night had fallen, and with it had come rain. The moisture in the air made it humid, but he didn't mind.
Kaoru had always loved the rain. If asked, he would have said that it was undoubtedly his favorite kind of weather. The rain made everything clean, and pure. It washed away impurities, dirt, blood, anything it could reach. For him, it was not depressing, it was uplifting. He felt right at home in the rain, happily letting it soak through his clothes, drench his long purple locks, and touch his skin. He was smiling, standing in the rain as if enjoying a warm summer's day. Sadly, his reprieve was interrupted.
His senses were alerted due to an abnormal presence. The presence of a low level Hollow. It was fairly close, close enough that he could feel it heading towards him. A lamenting sigh trickled out of his mouth as he slowly brought up his hand, drawing his zanpakutou from its sheath. First and foremost, he was still a shinigami, a taichou of the Thirteen Court Guard Squads. His mission was to vanquish and cleanse the Hollows, ensuring a balance of power between the worlds, and ensuring that innocent lives were spared. He could handle this particular Hollow quite easily or so he thought.
From within the darkness of the nearby alley, it loomed. As he had expected, it was a smaller beast but imposing nonetheless. It appeared to be some sort of cross between a dragon and a dinosaur from ancient times in the realm of the living. It had two massive horns growing from its head. Both horns were pointed backwards. It had wings and a long tail, and a bone white mask that was average for a Hollow. Claws grew from its arms and feet, long sharp talons that could slice open flesh with little effort. The dragon had a captive. A woman was wrapped in the coils of its tail, trying desperately to free herself from its grasp. Kaoru felt his eyes widen when he saw the situation she was in.
'Fuck. That thing has a hostage.'
'Calm yourself. At least it hasn't devoured her yet. It probably sensed your energy and came to eat you instead. Bet it didn't know it was targeting a taichou. But you can handle this. Just move behind it and cleave through it. If you end this quickly, no harm will come to the lady.'
“Shinigami-san! Please, help me! Please!”, the woman cried out as she saw him, reaching forward with her arm, reaching for help.
The dragon ignored her cries, and Kaoru did the same, concentrating on the moves that he was about to make. He hadn't been made a taichou for nothing, though some would argue that. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly to steady himself. Then he was gone, vanished into a shyunpou, leaving behind only a disruption in the falling rain. The Hollow never saw what was coming, and neither did the woman. Kaoru had appeared behind the beast and in the blink of an eye, his sword cleaved through the Hollow's head, destroying its mask and sending a fountain of blood into the air. Its corpse began to fall to the ground.
He tore his nodachi free of its skull and quickly wrapped an arm around the woman's waist, pulling her from the now loose tail. He managed to move away with her in time to avoid the fall. The Hollow's body landed in the mud with a wet sound and it lay still. Slowly, it began to disappear into shimmering gray particles that vanished in the rain. It never had a chance, Kaoru had seen to that himself. With the danger having passed, he carefully set the woman down on her feet, sheathing his sword afterward. He finally got a good look at her.
She was young, in her early or mid-twenties. Her clothing suggested that she lived a good life though he doubted that she hailed from nobility. Her hair was black, a pure black that reached down past her hips, and it was tied in a loose ponytail, wet with rain. Her eyes were the color of dark honey, not quite brown but a deep gold. Some of the Hollow's blood had landed on her and it caused the ghostly paleness of her skin to seem even more pale in contrast. She wore no make-up of any kind, but it was possible that it had been washed off in the rain. She was slender, not petite, but average. She was a beautiful young lady, he realized.
“Are you alright, Miss?”, he inquired, subtly checking to see if she had any injuries that weren't immediately visible in the dark of night.
“Yes. Yes, I'm fine, thank you. Thank you so much, Shinigami-san.”, the woman answered, throwing her arms around his neck in a hug. “But... I need your help. I was with my son when that beast attacked us. It caught me, but my son managed to get away. Please, won't you help me look for him? He's just a boy, and he might be lost out here all alone. Please... I beg of you...”
Kaoru wasn't used to other people hugging him. Let alone women hugging him. It had surprised him, but he didn't throw her off. But he didn't return her hug either. He simply patted her on her frail shoulder and gently removed her arms from his body, stepping back so that there was a little distance between them now. Finding lost children wasn't exactly in his job description but the look in the woman's eyes was enough to sway him somewhat. He had a big heart, and some people took advantage of that, unintentionally or otherwise.
He thought back to his own mother. She had abandoned their family soon after his younger brother Kusa had been born. But he had been old enough to remember her, at least a little. She hadn't loved him, or his father. She loved money and status and an impressive public image. Because of that, she had tried her hardest to make him into an upstanding young gentleman. Forcing him to lessons every day, on how to read and write, arithmetic, good manners, playing the piano, how to dance at social gatherings, and he had hated every bit of it. He had been happy when she left, despite the fact that his father wasn't a very good parent either and he wound up raising Kusa on his own. But now, here was a mother who wanted to find her son. She had begged him for his help, and he was going to give it to her. No ifs, ands, or buts involved.
“Of course I'll help you search for him, Miss.”, he said, giving her a small smile as assurance.
“Oh, my name is Sorata, Sorata Masana. My son's name is Shinta.”, came the response. She hesitated, then continued. “Actually... Shinta has eyes like your's. They're a deep purple. But he doesn't have your hair. His is black like mine. If you're going to help look for him, then you should know what he looks like. I really hope he's all right.”
'She makes it sound like I'm this boy's father or something. Saying he has my eyes. But I've never even been with a woman before. I don't want to. Crimson is the only person I want.'
'She didn't mean it that way. She was only trying to inform you that this child has the same color eyes that you have. That's all. She's not your wife, and Shinta isn't your son, and you can still chase after Crimson to your heart's content. But only after we've helped her find Shinta.'
The taichou nodded to himself, and looked to Sorata once more. “Let's start our search in the area where the attack occurred. Can you lead me to that location?”
“Yes, of course. This way, Shinigami-san.”, she answered, moving past him to show him the way.
“Oh, sorry about that. I haven't given you my name yet. I'm Kaoru Miyazaki. I wish we could have met under better circumstances, but it's nice to meet you all the same, Masana-san.”, Kaoru said, stepping into line behind her so that he could follow.
“Miyazaki...? I know I've heard that name before.”, Sorata muttered, seemingly trying to recall.
'Damn. I forgot... That name is still tied to nobility. Even though my father is the only one who still carries his noble status. I gave mine up years ago. I really hope she's not impressed by it all. Lord knows I don't need a fan hanging on me or begging me to marry her, or any of that.'
'The truth is always the best course. If she suddenly adores you, then simply tell her of your decision to renounce your heritage and that you are not attracted to females. She can't fault you for that.'
'Once again, you're probably right.'
'I usually am, and tonight I seem to be on a streak of it.'
Fortunately, Sorata decided not to question him about his name and to instead focus solely on the search for her missing son. It made Kaoru think better of her. The two of them trekked through the rain, inspecting every possible hiding place that a child might have chosen, calling his name, trying every method that they could think of to find him. Hour after hour passed, and still they couldn't find him. But neither of them was willing to give up, even if it took them all night and then some. Finally, in the hour of midnight, they stumbled upon an abandoned home. The house was made of wood, from what he could tell. Its roof had collapsed inward and some of its walls were falling down. But there were still areas inside where a child might be hiding. In spite of his better judgment, he felt it was worth checking out.
“Masana-san, wait out here. I'll go in and have a look around.”, Kaoru instructed, carefully opening the door of the run-down home.
It creaked in protest, but didn't seem in danger of crumbling. Slowly, cautiously, he entered the house. There was no light whatsoever. He cursed under his breath, the darkness made it impossible to see anything inside. He stopped just inside the door and hesitated, knowing that venturing in any further without light to see by was a risky gamble. Then an idea blossomed in his mind. Smiling, he gently closed the door behind him with his foot, hoping that his plan would prove successful. Closing his eyes, he tapped into the vast well of his own reiatsu and brought it out, letting it bath his skin, casting a gentle purple glow around the home.
When he opened his eyes, he found that he could see enough to tell where everything was. There was very little furniture if any at all, and there was a door that lead deeper into the home. Kaoru carefully made his way through the door and emerged into the main living area. He scanned the room as best he could given his limited light. His senses were still on high alert, just in case. One had was poised around the hilt of his zanpakutou. Around him, nothing moved, nothing made a sound. He couldn't feel anyone else inside. But he didn't want to leave without looking through the entire house first.
A scream split the night. Kaoru jumped, his heart slamming against his ribcage. Then he felt it. Another Hollow was outside, and he had left Sorata alone, defenseless. He started to curse himself for his foolishness, realized there wasn't time for it, and spun around on his heel, running for the front door. With a swift kick, he shattered the wood, emerging into the street. But for all his speed and haste, he was too late. Too late to save the woman whom he had already saved once that night.
He stood motionless, as still as a statue, his dark eyes wide as he tried to take in and register the scene in front of him. Sorata's fragile body hung limply from the Hollow's mouth. Blood poured in a flood from her body, staining the ground below, mingling with the falling rain. The beast had bitten into her, ripping her open from shoulder to hip. Her eyes were closed. Some small part of him knew that her eyes would never open again. That their dark honey glow would be gone forever. Kaoru had drawn his zanpakutou, and didn't remember drawing it. He wanted to scream, to say something, make some sort of noise, but his voice was missing.
“Momma!”, a child's voice came instead.
Shinta came running out of the house. He was fast approaching the Hollow when Kaoru stopped him. The taichou thrust his free arm out to the side, his long white sleeve barring the child's way and preventing him from seeing the image of his mother hanging in the Hollow's jaws. Shinta skidded to a sudden stop, turning a confused and horrified expression up to him. Kaoru couldn't bring himself to look back at the boy so he kept his gaze firmly planted on the beast in front of them. It was still feeding on the soul that it had caught, and he was going to put a stop to that too.
He vanished. A blur of purple and white became visible less than a second before he plunged the length of his zanpakutou into the dead center of the Hollow's forehead. The blade cracked its mask, sending pieces of it falling to the ground here and there. It was dead before it even knew what had hit it, which was a merciful death compared to what the creature had done to Sorata. Kaoru stood in front of it, still holding the hilt of his sword, his purple bangs hiding his eyes from view. Its mouth opened, and what remained of Sorata's body fell into his waiting arm. He gave no sign that he was upset, no sign that he was enraged, no sign that he was stricken with grief, he merely held her while the Hollow disappeared.
His sword came free, causing his arm to fall limply back to his side. He sheathed his weapon before slowly, carefully, kneeling down to lay Sorata's body on the ground. She was cold to the touch. Death had stolen the very warmth from her body. He removed his haori from his shoulders and laid it over her, hiding her face from view. Shinta came up beside him, crying and sobbing, screaming for his mother to wake up. Kaoru did the only thing he could at that time. He wrapped his arms around the child and held him close, letting him cry against his chest. He closed his eyes, feeling Shinta clinging to him, and rested his cheek atop the boy's wet hair.
“I'm sorry... I'm so sorry...”, Kaoru whispered, raising a hand to pet Shinta's long black hair. “I won't leave you all alone... I'm here for you... but I'm sorry... I couldn't save your mother...”
'It's all my fault... if I hadn't left her alone outside... Again... This child doesn't have his mother because of me. Sorata is dead because of me... I let her die... just like I let Kusa die... Shinta... I'm so sorry...'
'It wasn't your fault. You tried to save her. You found Shinta. Sorata might be dead, but she would have wanted Shinta to be safe... You can still make that happen. If you wish to repent for her death, then protect her child.'
'You know that's easier said than done, Hanamaru. I can't return to the Seretei with a child to take care of. I have too many responsibilities already, and every time I went out on a mission, he would be left alone. I can't bring him back with me. But I can do something else for him. I can give him a new home, with a parent to take care of him...'
Kaoru didn't answer. He opened his eyes and looked down at the child he was holding in his arms. Shinta was small, probably not even ten years of age yet. He did indeed have his mother's dark hair, that same solid black, and his too was held in a ponytail, though Shinta's was higher up so that it bounced and played whenever he moved. The boy had also been gifted with his mother's fair skin. Kaoru couldn't see his eyes because his face was still buried into his chest. But he didn't need to see them to know that they were purple like his own. Shinta let out another sob against him, and in that moment, he made up his mind on what to do next. He stood up, holding Shinta securely in his arms, starting to walk away from the area.
It had been a very long time since he had been home. The Miyazaki manor looked the same, as if nothing had changed, and probably nothing had. Ever since Kusa's death, their father hadn't had much enthusiasm to change anything, even himself. But Kaoru couldn't blame him for that. He noticed the look of surprise that crossed his father's face when Iashi opened the front door, dressed in his night robe. After all, it was the middle of the night, and this was the first time that Kaoru had come home since entering the Shinigami Academy. He knew it was probably more shocking that he had returned home holding a crying boy.
“Kaoru...?”, Iashi didn't seem to trust what he was seeing, but that soon went away. “Come inside, out of the rain. What in the world is going on here...?”
'As if that's not a valid question.'
'Quiet, please.', Kaoru thought, entering his childhood home and moving past his father.
“...Yes, it's me. I'm sorry that I've come by so late, and in such a state as this too... But it was an emergency. I need your help... Father...”, he said, turning to face Iashi while still holding Shinta close.
“This boy's mother was... killed by a Hollow. He has no where else to go, and I can't take him back with me. They would never allow it. He's too young for the academy right now. So... I thought, since Kusa was stolen away from you... maybe Shinta could live here... No one can ever replace Kusa, I would never even suggest such a thing, but... Shinta might be able to help you heal, and you could help him heal as well... Please. Please do this for me, and take care of him...”, he pleaded, finally starting to feel the tears welling up inside of him.
Iashi stared at him, confusion stamped across his expression. But then he moved forward. Kaoru gently shifted, passing Shinta into his father's arms. The child seemed reluctant to let go of him at first, clinging to him around his neck, but at Kaoru's gentle urging, he turned to hold onto Iashi instead. Kaoru reached out, gently petting Shinta's wet hair once more. In his heart, he knew that he should stay to explain everything to Shinta, but he didn't know how. How do you tell a child who's lost their mother that they're going to have a new life? A life they might not even want, because their old life had been stolen from them. He choked down a sob and withdrew his hand.
Tears spilled over from his eyes, falling down his cheeks, lost in the rain on his skin. He closed his eyes tightly, both of his hands balling into tight fists at his sides. His entire body began to shake with a mixture of intense emotions. Shock, and a sense of urgency had been the only things compelling him to go this far without losing control of himself. But as the shock wore off, other feelings replaced it. He was no longer numb, but sad, and angry at himself, at his inability to save Shinta's mother from her terrible fate. He wept silently, standing in the foyer of his father's home.
“I understand... I'll take care of him. Don't worry about it, Kaoru.”, Iashi's voice sounded so distant, as if he were very far away.
But Kaoru knew that was only because he was hearing it through the outpour of his own emotions. He struggled, fought for all he was worth, to regain enough of himself to stop crying. Blood streamed down his knuckles from where he had been pressing his fingernails into the palms of his hands. He hadn't even felt the pain. His breath came out in a shuddering sigh as he slowly opened his hands, and his eyes. Iashi was still holding Shinta, and Shinta seemed to have quited down a little.
“Thank you... I'll come home when I can to check on you two. Farewell, Father. Goodbye, little Shinta. I'll see you later.”, he said, walking around them so that he could go out through the door.
'Shinta will be safe here... I hope... At least I know he won't be all alone. I've done all I can for him right now... but he wouldn't even need to be in this situation if I had only been able to save Sorata... He'll probably never forgive me for the rest of his life, not that I could forgive myself either... but this is all I can offer him... another chance at life...'
'Some day, you may be able to do more for him. But you need to stick around long enough to see. Watch over him in Sorata's place. That's the least you can do for her.'
“Kaoru, wait... Are you going to be all right?”, his father's voice inquired from behind him.
The taichou stopped, pausing for a moment. He nodded and continued on his way out. He didn't feel that he was worthy of sympathy right at the moment. He gave a soft wave back at them over his shoulder, and was gone. Kaoru kept his eyes forward, not daring to look back, to look at the mess he had left in his wake. Right now, he needed to make it back to his division. He was still their taichou, still the one who kept everything running smoothly. Inside, he felt conflicted. He debated on whether he should or shouldn't tell anyone about what had happened this night.
Would they care that a Rukongai woman had been a casualty in a Hollow attack or that she had left an orphaned child behind? Would they care about Shinta and his plight? Probably not. But Kaoru did. In his heart, he was sure that perhaps Kimura and Crimson would as well, but he wasn't sure how to tell them. He thought about it on the way back. Despite the tragedy that had befallen him, he realized that he still wanted to continue protecting his friends, his comrades, anyone who needed him. Rather than let it eat him alive, he wanted to use it as fuel to be better, stronger, so that he could prevent it from ever happening again. He had to. Otherwise, he would never be able to forgive himself.
'I swear it... for Shinta's sake, and for mine... I swear I will become stronger, strong enough to defend them all from harm, from things like this... I won't lose anyone else. I won't!'
03-26-2013, 09:36 AM
Chapter 22: Father and Son
It had been several days, at least a week or more, since Kaoru had brought Shinta to his childhood home, the Miyazaki manor. He hadn't wanted to leave Shinta and his father in such a tangled emotional mess, but at the time he hadn't known what to do. So in the end he had run and used his position as a taichou of the Thirteen Court Guard Squads as an excuse to hide behind until he was half-way certain that things at home had settled down for the most part.
Now Kaoru was seated in a large comfortable armchair in his father's private study, sipping tea from an elegantly crafted china cup. He was dressed in a casual midnight blue kimono with a black obi tied around his thin waist, holding the kimono securely closed and in place. His sandals were simple wooden geta sandals. He wasn't wearing any socks under them. A pure white hair tie held his long saffron hair back in a gentle ponytail that flowed down the middle of his back. It was all simple yet elegant clothing that made it hard to decide whether or not he resembled the noble he was meant to be.
Iashi was seated behind his polished wooden desk, a cup of tea sitting nearby within arm's reach. Behind him, massive bookshelves lined the study from wall to wall. Every last shelf was filled with hundreds upon hundreds of books that covered every genre imaginable. Ever since Kaoru could remember, his father's favorite activity to indulge himself in was reading. Anything and everything, from the real to the not so real. From the truth to based upon the truth, but twisted with imagination and creativity. Kaoru stared at the books for a moment, wondering if his life would be any less stressful if he too took up a hobby like reading.
'Hmm... I barely have time for anything but work... I could send some of my paperwork to Kimura, but that would be like taking total advantage of him. Though, he has offered several times before. It might be something to think about... But less paperwork doesn't guarantee anything. I still have the division to run, training to keep up, and Crimson to spend time with...' he thought, setting his cup down on its plate.
'You make it sound like spending time with your boyfriend is a chore rather than a joy.'
'That is most certainly not true. I love spending time with Crimson and we rarely get that time together so that makes it even more precious. I would never sacrifice it to take up a hobby.'
'Are you even using that brain of yours? You don't need a hobby for stress relief. Your relationship with Crimson will do that naturally. Give it time, you'll see.'
'You may be right about that,' the shinigami admonished, nodding his head gently while in thought.
“Kaoru? Kaoru, are you listening to me?” Iashi's voice swiftly plucked him from the world inside his mind.
“Huh? Oh, I'm sorry, Father. I wasn't. I was thinking about work,” Kaoru replied, having the grace to look embarrassed before he took a sip of his tea.
“I said, Shinta has a gift for you,” Iashi repeated, gesturing to the child with his hand.
Kaoru turned his head to look at Shinta where he was seated in the adjacent armchair. It had only been a number of days since they had first met and last seen each other. There was almost no sign of the crying child he had first brought home. Instead, he saw a young boy with bright purple eyes that mirrored his own and long silken black hair that was tied back into a similar gentle ponytail that laid down along his back. Shinta was smiling, a soft gentle smile. In his lap was a long, thin white box; the gift that Iashi had mentioned.
“I wanted... to give you something because you saved me... and brought me here... and... I... you're my family now... Thank you so much... Niichan...” said the boy, blushing lightly across his pale cheeks. He carefully stood up from his chair and walked over, depositing the box across Kaoru's lap before smiling innocently up at him. “I hope you like it.”
Kaoru felt a lump form in his throat. His eyes burned with the beginnings of tears. Shinta's words had tugged on his heartstrings with a strong emotional pull. He set his cup aside and nodded softly, moving his hands to open the box that now lay in his lap. It hadn't even been a year since his younger brother, Kusa, had been killed, stolen away from him and his father. Shinta could not replace Kusa in their hearts, but he did help to heal the pain that remained there.
The inside of the box was filled with several sheets of white tissue paper that were layered over something in the center. He gently unfolded the paper as if he were searching for some delicate treasure, and he was. When all that paper had been peeled away, it revealed a beautiful red sword sheath that gleamed in the light. His eyes widened as he stared at it, examining it from one end to the other.
It was not a normal sheath. There were articulate rose stems carved into the wood on both sides and painted the emerald green of the actual plants themselves. The stems trailed from the bottom and climbed toward the top where they bloomed into the delicate red rose petals that made up the sheath's top. He tentatively ran his fingertips over the sheath's surface, tracing one of the rose stems before gently lifting it out of the box. It was an ideal weight, sturdy, but not overly heavy so that it wouldn't weigh him down; a beautiful, reliable sheath for his zanpakutou.
“Oh, Shinta... Thank you... I love it,” he strained to speak past the lump in his throat, a single tear finally squeezing free of his eye to trail down his pale cheek. He carefully placed the sheath back into the box and gently pulled Shinta into a hug. More tears streamed from his eyes while he held his new brother, petting Shinta's hair in a soothing gesture. “This was so thoughtful... Thank you, really thank you.”
“You're welcome, Niichan...” Shinta replied, timidly wrapping his small arms around Kaoru's neck to return the hug, a small smile gracing his expression.
'What a gorgeous piece of work. I love it.'
'You and me both.'
'So you'll be carrying me in that from now on?'
'Well, of course. You don't even need to ask.'
“I don't mean to break the two of you up, but I would like to speak to Kaoru alone. Shinta, please return to your room for a little while,” Iashi said from his place behind the desk. He was smiling.
Kaoru nodded gently, releasing Shinta so that the boy could be on his way. Shinta smiled up at him, waving cheerfully to him as he left the room to give them privacy. Kaoru retrieved a tissue and began to wipe his face clean of the tears. Upon finishing, he tossed the tissue into a nearby waste basket and carefully closed the box containing his new sheath. He set the box down on the floor before returning his saffron gaze to his father, smiling pleasantly.
“I'm really happy that he seems to be doing so well now. I knew bringing him here to you was the right thing to do,” he said. “I also know that it was your money that paid for that sheath, but you let Shinta say that it was from him. You've become much softer from the father I knew when I was little.”
“Shinta really did want something special made for you. It's the thought that counts, not the money that goes into it or the end result. Besides, I thought receiving a gift would put you in a more agreeable mood,” Iashi answered, folding his hands in front of him on the desk.
'Well, that sounds ominous.'
'I don't like the sound of that either.'
“Why, whatever do you mean by that, Father?” he asked, trying to play innocent and naive.
“Kaoru, you have grown into a respectable adult. Even though you left home when you were still fairly young and were raised among those shinigami in the Seiretei,” Iashi said, as if implying that the residents of the Seiretei had been a bad influence. “The man I see before me still has his manners, his formal personality, his noble heritage, his charming appearance, his unfailing sense of responsibility and his dependability. Everything a man needs.”
“Um... needs for what, exactly?”
“Everything a man needs to marry a beautiful, respectable woman,” Iashi said, his voice neutral.
'Oh. So that's it.'
“Please tell me you're joking,” Kaoru said, subconsciously digging his fingernails into the cushioned arms of his chair. 'I really don't want to have this conversation... not now... not when everything was just starting to become stable.'
“I would not joke about such a serious matter. You are the last member of the Miyazaki family. Isn't it about time you stopped playing swordsman and settled down with a nice girl? Then the two of you could focus on raising Shinta together and maybe even having children of your own. You can still have a normal life if you'll just leave the Seiretei and do what I'm suggesting.”
'Shit.' He didn't know what to say to that.
'You have to say something to him. What're you going to do?'
'I don't know. He doesn't know that I had male lovers. He doesn't know about Crimson. He doesn't know anything about me. I have no idea what he'd do if I told him here and now.'
“No. Absolutely not, no,” he said, shaking his head.
“Why not?” Iashi inquired. It was a simple question, but not so simple to answer.
“As wonderful as that all sounds, that isn't the life I want. I joined the Shinigami Academy because I wanted to be a shinigami. I worked very hard to be where I am today. I'm proud to be the taichou of my division. This is the life I want. How can you ask me to give that up?” Kaoru leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest as he stared at his father.
“Because I have already chosen a fiancee for you. A lovely girl from another noble family. Her name is Natsume Ayumu, and she's very eager to meet her husband-to-be.” Iashi answered his question with a carefully blank expression plastered over his face.
“You did what!?” He shouted, quickly standing up, his hands clenched into fists at his sides. “How could you arrange a marriage behind my back without even asking me about it first? Don't tell me you were honestly foolish enough to believe that I would give up my way of life and marry a total stranger because that's what you want me to do? I can't believe you... I thought you had changed, but I can see now exactly how wrong I was.”
“Oh, come on, Kaoru. Are you honestly telling me that you want to continue being a shinigami when you know there will be more deaths in your future? Deaths that you can't prevent or stop? Deaths like that of Shinta's mother? Is that really what you want?”
“How dare you? Now you listen to me, Father,” Kaoru fixed a very heated saffron glare on the man sitting behind the desk. “I learned early on that I couldn't save everyone. I've lost people before. But that has never stopped me. It has only motivated me to become stronger in the hope that I can protect those I care for. Shinigami might not be able to save everybody, but I'll be damned if we don't try to protect everyone that needs us.”
“No, you don't! You have never seen what I'm talking about. When Kusa and I were little, you shut yourself away in this room and read your books. You never paid any attention to us. I took care of Kusa more than you did. I can see you've made an effort to do better for Shinta and that's wonderful, but it doesn't erase my resentment of you. You never wanted me to become a shinigami... either of us to become shinigami... You never supported us and instead made us feel bad about our choices.”
“Stop!” Iashi's voice filled the room and silence fell. “That is quite enough. I'm sorry I wasn't the father you wanted when you were little. I'm sorry that I didn't want my children running away to risk their lives. I'm sorry that your little brother, my son, is dead. I'm sorry that I arranged a marriage for you. I just don't want to lose my only remaining child. I don't want to hear you've been killed and devoured. Is that so wrong, Kaoru?”
“No... no, it's not, but... damn it, dad... I don't want to be married. I don't want to settle down. I am content with the life I have right now. I won't wind up dead... I swear it. I have too many people to protect and I want to be around to see Shinta grow up, to be apart of his life too.”
“If you're not going to wind up dead, then why not have a wife waiting for you when you come home to visit? Don't shinigami have wives and children of their own?”
Kaoru sighed, falling back into his chair where he slumped against it, one hand resting on his forehead as if he had a headache. His eyes had fallen closed, and he gave an exhausted sigh. “You want the honest truth?”
“The truth would be nice, yes,” Iashi nodded.
'Kaoru, think carefully before you speak. Don't say anything you'll come to regret later.'
'I won't regret saying this. If I can't admit my feelings for Crimson aloud to my own father, then I'm a coward... That's not what I want.'
“Look, dad,” he said, opening his eyes to watch Iashi. “The truth is I'm not into women. Ever since I graduated from the academy, I've only ever been with other men. No, I'm not a slut either. They were serious relationships that didn't last. But... ever since I first met him in the academy, I've been in love with my fukutaichou, Crimson Shenkibeto... and recently, we... we expressed our feelings for each other and now we're a couple. So... that's why I'm against the idea of marrying this girl, who I'll remind you is still a prefect stranger to me.”
To his surprise, Iashi smiled at him. It appeared to be a genuine smile. “I understand, Kaoru. I'll inform Natsume's family that the marriage is off. You'll still come home to visit Shinta, won't you?” he asked, taking a sip of tea from his cup.
Kaoru blinked, having been thrown for a real loop by his father's calm reaction of acceptance. He straightened himself up in his chair and nodded gently. “Yes, of course... but... aren't you angry at me for ruining your arrangements?”
“No, son, I'm not. In fact, there is no Natsume. There wasn't going to be any wedding. It was all a rouse to trick you into being openly honest with me about your life and your choices. I can see your passion for being a shinigami and I can see you're doing a magnificent job at it. I can also see that you really love this Crimson of yours and I wholeheartedly support whatever makes you happy. I'm sorry I made you so angry. But I didn't think you would tell me if I simply asked in the beginning.” His father bowed his head in apology before smiling up at him once more. “Can you forgive me, Kaoru?”
'And you fell for it like a ton of bricks.'
“Actually, you're probably right... I would have lied to please you... and then the truth would never have come out,” Kaoru said, looking embarrassed again. “I'm sorry I yelled at you and I'm sorry if I was mean. Thank you for understanding, dad... Father. It's really quite a relief having gotten that off my chest. I guess it needed to come out. But I think I've had enough excitement for today, if you don't mind.”
Iashi nodded in agreement. “Yes. Don't forget to say goodbye to Shinta before you leave, and be careful getting home.”
“I wouldn't dream of it and don't worry, I can handle anything that comes my way. Thanks for the tea. I'll be back to visit soon.”
Kaoru offered his father his most sincere smile before he stood up, stretching his arms high above his head with a gentle sigh. He then bent down to retrieve the box that contained his new sheath, tucking it securely under one arm before turning around to head toward the door. His long purple hair swished along his back as he moved. He was still smiling when he reached the door, turning his head just enough so that he could speak to his father over his shoulder.
“Farewell, Father,” he said, and then was gone.
03-26-2013, 09:44 AM
Chapter 23: Corruption of Dreams
Day was slowly ebbing into night and as the hours passed, Kaoru found himself growing increasingly tired. Any number of things could have been factors in his mounting exhaustion, but none of them mattered to him at that time. He only knew for certain that he would be heading to bed earlier than was normal for him. The lights were turned off and he crawled into his bed, his eyes closed before his head even hit the soft cushion of the pillow. In next to no time at all, he was sound asleep.
Normally, in his dreams, he visited his own inner world, where there was but a single cherry blossom tree that bloomed all year round. But tonight, he found himself wandering inside a completely different world, one which he had never seen before. It was odd. There was darkness all around. He couldn't see anything in any direction he looked. Beneath his feet, there was no floor, but water. Water so dark he couldn't see through it, but his own reflection stared back at him nonetheless. Each time he took a step, the water rippled gently, but he never fell through its surface as he would with normal water.
“This is strange... Where am I?” Kaoru asked, though he knew he wouldn't be receiving an answer.
He turned his head this way and that way, searching for anything or anyone that was there in the looming darkness. But his saffron eyes couldn't find anything. By this time, a feeling of dread had settled in the pit of his stomach. He could feel that something was amiss, but he didn't know what it was yet. Suddenly, a hiss of wind dispelled the silence and a bone-white arrow sped past his head, cutting the flesh of his right cheek in a shallow wound. Blood trickled down his cheek as he whipped his head around to find the one who had fired the ghostly arrow.
“What the...!?” he cried out, his eyes now coming to rest upon another male who stood upon the water a little ways away from him.
The male was tall and lean, with long blond hair that cascaded down around his hips. He had differently colored eyes. His right eye was a deep shimmering blue, the color of warm coastal waters, while his left eye was green like vibrant healthy grass in an open field. On his right cheek was a small red vertical scar that ran down from the base of his eye.
His clothes consisted of a pair of white hakama that flowed elegantly around his legs, a solid black undershirt that defined his chest and slim waist, a long white coat that fell to his ankles with long white sleeves, and a pair of light brown wooden geta sandals with no socks. He was also wearing a sterling silver collar around his pale neck. In his hand was a long bow crafted from porcelain white bone.
But there was one more thing on the blond's body that made Kaoru's eyes widen in shock. The blond had a crescent moon made of bone on his forehead and was wearing a matching set of human finger bones as earrings. The other man was an arrancar.
“Who are you? What are you doing here?” he stammered out, groping blindly at his side for his zanpakutou. His fingers grasped the hilt tightly, ready to draw at a moment's notice.
“Greetings, my dear shinigami,” said the blond, smiling. “My name is Laam Nightray. It's so very nice to meet you. As for how I came to be here, well, you see, dreams are my realm to control, which includes the dreams of others aside from myself. I can view them, enter them, manipulate them, and even... crush them. I have seen you in the dreams of some of my comrades, most notably Lady Julia. She finds you quite disgusting and pathetic, but I'm sure you already know that. Anyway, I was interested in seeing you for myself, so here I am.”
Kaoru stared at the arrancar, as if examining a complex puzzle that was utterly confusing. He had no idea of what to say. But the sharp stinging sensation in his wounded cheek reminded him that Laam had opened fire on him before they had started talking and then he had some choice words to say. “For being so formal and polite, you certainly didn't say hello very nicely. I'll ask you again; what the hell are you doing in my dream?” he said, keeping his tone even but demanding.
“I believe I just answered that. I came to see you... and I must say, you're a lovely one,” Laam replied, his smile transforming into something wicked. “But it's too bad for you. I hate people who are more beautiful than I am. It just makes me want to slice them to pieces. Perhaps that's what I'll do to you, my dear.”
That was all Kaoru needed to hear to draw his sword from its sheath. However, just as the muscles in his arm tensed to perform the task, he found that he couldn't move. His body had suddenly been frozen in place, leaving him ultimately vulnerable to another attack from the arrancar. His saffron eyes widened once more as he shifted them back up to look at Laam. Only to find that Laam was now walking toward him, the water rippling elegantly beneath his feet. The taichou's heart raced inside his chest, pounding so hard with fear that he was sure it would burst.
“What's going on...? What did you do to me?” he asked, his voice trembling softly.
“I told you that too,” Laam answered softly, coming to stand in front of him. He smiled, gently taking hold of a lock of the taichou's long purple hair. “In the realm of dreams, I am in control. I can even control the people inside of the dreams. So paralyzing you was quite easy, Kaoru.”
“I never told you my name. Let me go,” Kaoru barked, yelping at Laam touching his hair as if he'd been touched by fire. He soon came to the realization that the arrancar was increasing his fear and intensifying his reactions to certain things. The worst part was that he was having trouble fighting it.
“I've viewed your dreams before. Did you honestly think I would come to meet you without knowing about you and who you are? Come now, I'm not stupid,” said Laam, rubbing the purple strands gently. “I know you're a taichou for the shinigami... I know your name... I know your zanpakutou's name... I even know that you have a hot boyfriend.”
“Leave him out of this,” Kaoru said, his tone firm and unyielding. Upon hearing the mention of Crimson, he had found the strength to truly start fighting off Laam's manipulation. After all, no one was going to mess with those whom he cared for so long as he had something to say about it. He slowly tightened his grip on the hilt of his zanpakutou, straining against the spell to move his arm. Laam didn't seem to have noticed yet.
“No, I don't think I will. Who knows. Maybe after I've torn your body apart and made you into nothing more than a mess of meat and blood, I'll waltz into his dreams and seduce him. Then, when he's in the palm of my hand, I'll do the same to him too,” the blond-haired arrancar whispered near Kaoru's ear, even going so far as to lick the shell of it gently in a teasing gesture.
“Bastard!” Kaoru growled, easily shattering the wavering paralysis in one fowl swoop, drawing his zanpakutou in a flash of silver. The edge of his blade cut into the fabric of Laam's shirt just as he barely dodged it by leaping backward. His differently colored eyes showed a hint of mild surprise, but there was a grin upon his lips. Kaoru stood holding his sword, panting softly from exertion and anger. Though he was normally the peaceful type, he was now revved up for a fight with his unwanted visitor.
“Touched a nerve, did I? How fun,” Laam exclaimed, laughing softly. “Well then, since you're a taichou and I'm just little ol' me, I'll even the field a bit.” At this, he raised the bow above his head. “Dissolve the reality of this world, Sueno Luminoso!”
He was engulfed in a blindingly white light. As the light faded away, his new form was revealed. There were four massive stunningly beautiful white angel wings growing from his back, towering into the air behind him. His hair had grown longer, trailing all the way down to his ankles. Instead of fingernails, he had supremely sharpened claws made of bone. In this form, his differently colored eyes were one color in the same; shimmering silver. Kaoru was slightly taken aback by the angelic transformation of the arrancar. But he wasn't about to let it fool him. The blond was anything but an angel.
“Bring it on,” the taichou called, racing forward to confront his opponent.
But Laam merely grinned again, snapping his fingers once. The water beneath Kaoru's feet suddenly shot upwards in the form of a column, capturing him in its center. He thrashed about, trying to free himself as quickly as possible before he drowned. However, the water was unyielding. An idea came to mind, and he held up his free hand, mumbling something behind the wall of water. The column exploded in a rain of water, dropping him onto its surface once more. Though he was soaked and coughing up the water that had invaded his lungs, he was unharmed.
“Oh? And what was that, my dear?” Laam inquired, as if amused.
“Hadou... fifty-eight... tenran...” Kaoru spat back, rising to his feet. “Stop hiding behind these stupid tricks of yours and fight me.”
“If that's really what you want, then gladly,” the arrancar answered, spreading his wings wide. From within the feathers came hundreds of small babbles that glistened. The babbles fluttered through the air, soon surrounding Kaoru on all sides. Laam snapped his fingers again. Every last babble exploded like a miniature bomb, catching the taichou in the center of the chaos. He screamed, his figure disappearing in the resulting smoke of the explosions. Laam laughed aloud. “You asked for it.”
“I'll get you...” came Kaoru's voice. “Shine in the heavens, Shirotsuki Hanamaru!”
Another blast of light cleared the smoke away and sent back the shadows as Kaoru unleashed his bankai. When the light dissolved, he was standing amidst his twenty bankai blades. He was bleeding from a few injuries and burns on various places of his body, but he was standing on his own two feet and more than ready to continue the fight. Slowly, he tapped into his well of reiatsu and called it out, a light crystalline amethyst aura seeping forth to surround his body. A wind began to blow from nowhere, creating a current in their general vicinity. The taichou reached out, grasping one of his swords.
“I won't let you beat me, even if this is a dream,” he called out, throwing his free hand forward to send the rest of his weapons to attack the arrancar.
The blades soared through the air, their speed increased by the power of the wind, and they sought to slash and hack and impale Laam if they could manage it. Laam flinched back, clearly shaken by the sudden turn of the tables. His silver eyes narrowed in a glare as he flapped his massive wings in an attempt to create a gust of wind powerful enough to knock the approaching swords away from him. Some of them were thrown off course, but the rest continued their mission. He cursed under his breath, leaping upward into the air above to let the swords pass by underneath him. But he couldn't escape. They simply lurched upward after him.
“Damn it... You may have won this time, but you won't win against the Espada. Mark my words,” he said, vanishing from sight.
Kaoru sighed, recalling his weapons to his side. Ever so slowly, he sank down onto his legs as the water underneath him rippled gently. His swords hovered in the air around him, offering a constant guard. His body was aching with pain and the burns he had received were the worst. Some part of him wondered if he would be waking up to find that he had the injuries in real life as well. That would be damned hard to explain to the healers in the morning. But the most important thing was that he had chased the arrancar back to where he came from. One thing was certain; he hated Laam Nightray.
'Young Master... are you okay?'
'Yes... I'll be fine. I just wish I had been able to get some restful sleep instead of having to fight that arrogant, narcissistic, egotistical jerk...'
'I would never have thought it was possible that there was an arrancar who could enter and control the dreams of others, even others from another world. You should probably make a note of him and inform everyone, especially Crimson.'
'If that asshole thinks he can take Crimson away from me, then he's dead wrong. I'll be the one tearing him apart if he so much as says hello to Crimson in a dream.'
'Calm yourself. He's gone now. You need to focus and tend to your wounds, assuming they are real and not simply illusions caused by this twisted dream.'
Kaoru trailed off, the water and the darkness around him slowly dissolving. In reality, his eyes fluttered gently as he stirred. He opened them slowly and only part way, finding himself looking up at the ceiling of his bedroom. As the dream had faded, so did his pain. He hadn't really been physically hurt in the real world, but even so, his skin still crawled where Laam had touched him. Nevertheless, he was sure he wouldn't be able to get any more sleep that night. Raising his arm, he rubbed his eyes gently and sighed, wishing that Crimson could have been there to keep him company until the first rays of morning sun showed themselves.
03-26-2013, 09:52 AM
Chapter 24: Corruption of Dreams, Part Two
Delicate pink cherry blossoms fluttered softly through the air as they fell free from the single tree in the area. Strangely, though there was only one tree, the air was filled with blossoms and it seemed there should be more trees around to produce them, but there wasn't. Such was Kaoru's inner world. Nothing but lush soft grass as far as the eye could see and a single blooming cherry blossom tree that was growing in the center of it all, forever filling his world with the petals. One of them landed in his hair.
Kaoru was seated beneath the tree, contently covered in its looming shadow, but he wasn't alone. On this night, his dreams had been exactly what he had hoped for. Beside him was none other than Crimson, the Eleventh division's fierce fukutaichou. But he was far more than just that to Kaoru. They had known each other since their academy years and had been friends for a very long time, but still there was more to them now. For Kaoru, he couldn't see Crimson as anything but his lover, or rather, boyfriend sounded a little more appropriate, if a bit childish as well.
“You've got a blossom in your hair,” Crimson said, smiling as he reached up to remove the petal from the top of Kaoru's head.
Kaoru couldn't suppress a blush, but he remained still as the other shinigami took the petal in his hand before offering it to him instead. “Thank you,” he said, managing a small smile as he accepted it. Though it was small, it felt so soft against his skin. Some part of him realized that that was because this was his inner world, and things like that tended to happen here.
“You're welcome,” Crimson answered, seizing the opportunity to kiss his cheek, grinning at him. “You're so cute when you blush like that.”
Those words alone caused Kaoru's blush to darken by several shades so that it was practically dark. He gently looked away, attempting to hide his embarrassment behind a curtain of purple bangs. “Stop it... Saying things like that only makes it worse, you know.”
“That's the point, silly,” Crimson said, laughing softly.
Kaoru smiled to himself, a tiny smile that held untold volumes of happiness. Even if it was just a dream, everything was going perfectly. They weren't fighting or acting awkwardly around each other. The dream version of Crimson had even initiated the touching and feeling, and that was perhaps the one thing he valued most. He slowly closed his eyes, trying to still the rapid beating of his heart enough so that he could calmly face the redhead once more.
Sadly, he didn't get that chance.
All around him the sounds of shattering glass could be heard. His eyes snapped open as his senses suddenly flared to life, warning him of an impending danger. He quickly looked around and saw his dream breaking apart. More so he realized that there was nothing he could do to stop it because he didn't understand why it was happening. Then a thought formed in his mind, one which caused him to sit rigid, as if he were suffering from a cold that wasn't there. Kaoru wrapped his arms around himself, hoping against hope that he was wrong.
'Oh, no... Please, not again...'
But it was exactly as he had thought.
What replaced his dream/inner world was the same dark abyss with a ground that was actually deep, dark water. The purple-haired taichou found himself kneeling on the surface of the water, staring down at his own reflection. He gave a soft cry of frustration and lashed out, his hand blurring the reflection and sending droplets of water scattering into the air. He panted gently for a few seconds before finally standing up, looking around for this world's owner, the same one whom he'd met before.
“Come out,” he said, clenching his hands into fists at his sides. “I said come out, you coward!”
“Who are you calling a coward? As if you're really one to talk,” Laam said, stepping forward as if he had suddenly been born from the darkness surrounding them. Perhaps he had.
“What the hell are you doing here? Why did you come? Didn't you get the hint last time that I don't want you here?” Kaoru asked, practically shouting each question at the arrancar.
“Temper, temper. You really should be nicer to me,” came the reply.
“Oh, yeah? And why is that? You aren't exactly being very nice to me by stealing away my happy dream and dumping me in this ghastly place,” Kaoru said.
Laam clucked in a disapproving manner and crossed his arms over his chest, much like a parent might when speaking to an unruly child. “I didn't know you could be so rude. Maybe I really shouldn't bother telling you. But you will regret it, I can assure you that.”
Kaoru sighed, closing his eyes once more. He took in a deep breath and exhaled it slowly, trying his best to force himself to calm down and act a little more civil. Although, considering his company was part of the enemy, that was harder than it sounded. Not to mention the fact that Laam had rubbed him the wrong way on so many levels during their first meeting. But in the end, he finally managed to put out the anger that had stirred inside of him. He opened his eyes, staring at the blond.
“Okay... I apologize,” he said, his tone even and calm. “Now, will you please tell me why you've come back to see me again?”
Laam smirked at him, adjusting his arms so that he could place his hands on his hips. “Good. But first, answer this for me. Did you have a younger brother named Kusa?”
'What did he just say...?' Kaoru froze on the spot, his breath catching in his throat as the name of his deceased younger brother was uttered from the mouth of a being from Hueco Mundo. “I... I did, yes,” he said, not willing to give away any more information than was necessary.
“Excellent, then it's definitely him,” the arrancar chuckled wickedly, in an I-know-something-you-don't-know manner.
“What are you talking about?” Kaoru demanded, unable to keep his voice from sounding panicked and anxious to the point that it shook a little.
“Wouldn't you like to know?” Laam asked, clearly taunting him.
'Damn it... this isn't getting me anywhere with him. I don't want to play his stupid little games, but he mentioned Kusa. That... this just can't be good, but I have to know...'
“Please, tell me what you know,” Kaoru said, bowing his head forward to show that he was serious about wanting to know, and that he could play nicely in order to get the answers.
“Fine,” Laam finally relented, nodding his head. “But you won't like it very much either way. It seems your precious brother was sent to Hueco Mundo after his untimely death. At present, he is an arrancar like myself, and he too is currently serving one of the Espada living in Las Noches. Oh, but there is more to it than that.”
But Kaoru didn't hear the last part. He had already fallen to his knees, bracing himself with his hands on the water's surface so that he wouldn't fall down completely. His form was trembling, and his breathing came in pained panting, as if he were on the verge of tears, and he was. The tears had started quickly enough, falling in large full droplets that rippled the water below. Part of him was screaming. Another part was sobbing so forcefully he could barely breath. And yet another part of him was yelling at him to get a grip on himself and be on guard around Laam. The last part wasn't getting through, and then it was too late for it to be heard.
The water rippled gently underneath him as Laam moved to stand above him. Grinning, the arrancar reached down to grab him by his hair, and Kaoru watched his movements in the water. At the last second, he swatted Laam's hand away from him and lashed out, kicking at his legs. One foot hit the mark as he kicked Laam's knee joint, sending the arrancar stumbling back and hissing in pain. Kaoru was back on his own two feet as fast as he could make his body move and he immediately put some distance between them once more.
“I don't believe it! It can't be true! Not Kusa...” he shouted defiantly.
“So that got a real rise out of you, huh? Too bad for you, that is the truth. I've seen him with my own eyes, even taken the liberty of visiting his dreams a few times. Do you want to know more?” Laam asked, grinning, though he was rubbing his injured knee while speaking.
Kaoru closed his mouth and his eyes, turning his head to the side, but he gave no answer.
“I see. Guess what, princess? Your dear little brother, the one whom you've suffered over since his death, in fact blames you for his death. He holds you responsible because you weren't there to save him like a big brother should have been. He hasn't missed you at all. No, he's spent all of his time thinking of how best to kill you. Little Kusa isn't so little now. He's got revenge and murder on his mind, and his number one target is none other than you.”
The taichou slowly raised his hands from his sides, sliding them through his long hair and over his ears as more tears flooded down his cheeks, leaving him shaking from head to toe. His eyes were closed tightly, possibly signifying that he was trying as hard as he could to hide from the truth, but in his heart he knew that somehow every word of it was true. “Kusa...” he whimpered, nearly choking on the name.
“That's right. The child you raised with your own two hands, the brother whom you loved so dearly, longs for nothing more than your death,” Laam repeated, this time approaching him without much of a problem. “You poor, poor thing.”
Kaoru slowly opened his bleary saffron eyes, looking up to see the arrancar leaning in toward him with a strange look on his face. He flinched, fearing that Laam was going to kiss him, but Laam's lips met with his forehead instead. It was a very brief, chaste kiss that was apparently meant to be comforting. But all it did was send his skin crawling so that he was shivering as well as shaking and sobbing. To make matters worse, his legs suddenly gave out on him. Laam caught him in the blink of an eye, using little to no strength to keep him upright with one arm wrapped around him.
“Don't touch me...” he said softly, but he didn't have the strength in him to shove or free himself from the other man's hold. “Why are you being nice all of a sudden?”
“Nice? Oh, how wonderfully naive you are. I'm not being nice for your benefit. I just like seeing how much pain you're in. I love seeing you fall. In fact, one might say you've left yourself at my mercy, and I rather like that thought. Besides, I'm your one and only link in this world to your brother. He might hate your guts, but you still want to see him, right? I can give you small updates on how he's doing in Hueco Mundo, but that means me coming here to see you a lot. What do you say?”
Whatever Kaoru's reply might have been died in his throat as he merely struggled to breath again. Being this close to Laam, he knew Laam was manipulating his body so that he couldn't, or maybe wouldn't, move. The thing that really scared him was that he didn't care. Even if he had free will, he wouldn't have moved or tried to get away. Because, for the second time, Laam was right. He had no other way of knowing what was happening to his brother. In his mind, he wondered if that was really worth becoming a tantamount slave to the arrancar holding him. The correct answer was no, but his heart was having an especially hard time accepting that.
“I can't,” he murmured. “I can't be in league with you... I'm a shinigami taichou, everything I have is here in the Seiretei.”
“Oh? So you would abandon your brother now? Interesting,” Laam said, running his hand through Kaoru's long soft hair. “Shall I inform Kusa that you've also replaced him with young Shinta then? I'm sure he'd love to hear that.”
“Oh, my God, you wouldn't...” Kaoru's voice came out as half-cry and half-whisper.
“I don't see why not. You saved Shinta, brought him home to daddy, daddy adopted him, thus making him your new little brother. The difference is: you failed to save Kusa, but you saved Shinta. Now how do you think Kusa will feel when he hears that? It might as well confirm his accusations that you failed him in every way and let him die,” came the answer, much like another crushing stone falling on him.
“You... are you blackmailing me with this...?”
“That's one way of putting it, yes.”
“Why?” Laam repeated, looking down at him as a sinister grin curled his lips. “You're so easy to tear apart, at least mentally. I also told you that I enjoyed bringing pretty people like you down as low as they can go. I won't hurt you, but we will be keeping each other company from now on. Otherwise, I'll tell Kusa everything that's happened since he died and left your world. Got it?”
“... Yes...” was all Kaoru could say.
“Excellent,” Laam grinned once more, before suddenly hooking a hand around the back of Kaoru's head and suddenly pulling him into a kiss.
Kaoru visibly flinched, his eyes closing tightly. The blackmailing he could take, but being forced to accept another man's romantic, no, sadistic gestures was something that he simply wouldn't stand for. He did the one thing that he probably shouldn't have done; he bit down on Laam's lip with every last ounce of strength that remained in his body. Laam reared back, yelping in pain, and the taichou had the satisfying taste of blood on his tongue. His lips actually formed a small smile.
“You might be able to invade my dreams... but you have no right and absolutely no permission to try and enter my heart or my body. Everything I am still belongs to Crimson,” said Kaoru, watching as the arrancar attempted to nurse his bleeding lip with his free hand.
“Fine... I suppose I'll just have to break you of that eventually,” Laam spat, a hint of determination in his voice. “Oh, and speaking of that red-haired bastard, his last name is Shenkibeto, isn't it?”
“Why do you want to know?” Kaoru asked.
“Well, as it just so happens, our Septima Espada is Lord Nova Shenkibeto, so naturally, I was wondering if he had any sort of connection to your boyfriend,” Laam answered without playing any games this time around, and he was extremely glad for that.
“I... I guess... I'll talk to him about that...” the taichou said, his voice coming across tired and worn.
“Do be careful about whom you tell, though,” said the blond, grinning down at him. “Telling people news you've heard from an arrancar might get you into a lot of trouble.”
“I'm aware of it,” Kaoru said. “Now, please, will you leave me alone for a little while? I really, really would like to be alone right now.”
“Sure.” One word, and that was it. He was almost afraid to wonder why it had been so simple. But even that was suddenly answered for him.
He felt Laam's arm remove itself from his back, and he dropped. But he didn't land on the surface of the water like he normally did. Instead, he fell right through the water's surface so that he was sinking. A surge of panic roared through him, and he struggled, trying to swim up toward the surface, but he only continued to sink farther down. Above him, Laam smiled sweetly and waved to him once before vanishing from sight, leaving him to deal with the rather uncomfortable sensation of drowning in the deep, dark water.
In reality, Kaoru was laying in his bed. But as soon as the drowning in his dream had started, he started to gasp and struggle, arching his back high up off the bed as he fought to survive. Even though his dream couldn't actually hurt him or kill him, the sensation of it was still there. He continued to thrash and writhe. Suddenly, a loud noise broke through his dream and freed him so that he could finally wake up. Just as he was stirring and regaining his breath, Hanamaru, still in its sheath, fell onto his legs. His immediate response was to grab hold of it. Its weight felt reassuring in his hand.
'It's okay. You're all right now, you're safe.'
'No, I'm not,' Kaoru thought back, slowly, carefully sitting up and holding his sword across his lap. 'You know what happened in that dream. You know he's going to come back, and I'm not safe from him. He's got me on a leash because of Kusa...'
'... I know... but, surely, there has to be something we can do about this?'
'How can you stop someone from invading your dreams and overtaking you? I was helpless. God, I was so fucking helpless...' He fought back a real fit of tears that threatened to spill from his eyes.
'... None of this is your fault.'
'That doesn't matter. He's going to come to me, whether I want him to or not. The only way to escape him is to not sleep, and I don't know how long I could possibly keep that up.'
'Who are you going to tell about this?'
'Who can I tell?'
'I'm sorry, Kaoru. I promise, we'll figure out a way of stopping this before it becomes too much for us to even handle.'
'I hope... you're right...'
03-26-2013, 09:59 AM
Chapter 25: Courage or Cowardice?
The taichou's sheathed zanpakutou slipped from his limp fingers, crashing on the floor below. It clattered softly before going still. But the spirit inside the sword was anything but silent.
Hanamaru was screaming, trying to reach his master.
His voice couldn't reach Kaoru anymore. Something, no, someone was keeping him out of his own master's mind. Which meant the situation had gone from bad to worse.
Kaoru was bent over his desk, his upper body laying across it while the rest of him was still seated in his chair. One arm was outstretched on the desk surface while the other hung limply above the floor where he had dropped his zanpakutou. His haori and his hair were splayed messily across his unconscious form.
His eyes were closed, but his chest rose and fell with the rhythm of his breathing, meaning he was still alive, but practically dead to the world outside of his own mind.
It wasn't simply that he had fallen asleep. He had literally passed out cold on the spot with no prior warning. A devastatingly long period of sleep deprivation had finally caught up to him.
But even though he was getting some sleep now, it was sure to be anything but restful.
For a few blissful moments, everything was simply black. There was no feeling, no sound, nothing. Just a calm darkness that stretched on endlessly. He wasn't even sure he still existed somewhere inside the abyss of it all. He just knew that it felt good not to feel anything.
Whatever comfort he had was soon ripped away from him.
Pain exploded outward through his body from his stomach as someone slammed their foot into his midsection, sending him sprawling over a very hard ground that was actually a bottomless lake of dark water.
He coughed, and it hurt more as the muscles in his stomach clenched in reaction, but he had to try and get some air back into his lungs. He came to a stop, laying on his back, clutching his stomach with his hands. His hair spilled across his face, making it all the more difficult to breathe past it and the pain from having been kicked.
Sadly, the pain hadn't helped him all that much to push past his very tired mind, though it made it very difficult to go back to sleep as well. It was more of a nuisance than anything.
'Someone just assaulted me and all I can think of is sleep... That's not right.'
Kaoru finally cracked open his eyes, opening them part-way, tearing his attention between trying to see who it was that had kicked him and trying to keep breathing despite his body's protest of pain.
Seeing a blond-haired man with differently colored eyes standing over him came as no real surprise to him. If anything, he should have realized it sooner who exactly it was that would hurt him like that.
“It's you... of course it's you...” he groaned out, closing his eyes once more. This too was probably a big mistake, as he could have been attacked again and not even seen it coming. But he was almost too tired to even care that he was being beaten. Such was the normal routine as of late that he scarcely even lifted a finger to stop what he had come to accept as the inevitable.
“Who were expecting? Prince Charming?” came the retort from somewhere above him.
“Just shut up and go away. I'm so tired, and I just want to sleep,” the purple-haired taichou replied, turning on his side away from the other man in the hopes that he could protect his stomach.
“You are starting to look like shit now days,” Laam's voice held a hint of amusement which then turned to mocking. “But if you would just go to sleep every night, you'd be right as rain.”
“I don't want to see you every night of my life. You're repulsive,” Kaoru shot back, curling into a ball with his eyes closed tightly.
“I see your lack of sleep has made you bold, or just plain stupid. Talking to me like that only puts me in the mood to cut you up and show you that beauty is only skin deep.”
“I don't care. Passing out from blood loss would be a welcomed reprieve compared to staying in your company,” he murmured softly, a yawn slipping past his lips in the end.
Laughter reached his ears, which did surprise him, since he was expecting another kick this time aimed at his unguarded spine.
'Oh, dear God, that beast is laughing. This is probably going to be very bad.'
Kaoru yawned once more, carefully unfurling himself so that he could sit up. He was still the most tired that he had ever been in his life, but that laughter definitely meant something bad was coming. More than likely, something far worse than he had been exposed to as of yet. And that was bad.
“Okay, I'll bite,” he said, looking up at his blond-haired tormentor. “Why the hell are you laughing?”
Laam lashed out so fast that he didn't even see the movement until he felt fingers squeezing around his throat, lifting him up off of the water's mysteriously solid surface.
He let out a gasp before he could stop himself and was left slowly suffocating in the arrancar's iron grasp. He raised his hands, placing them on Laam's arm, but in his current state, he was no where near strong enough to free himself.
“I knew you were a slave to your emotions, but I didn't know you were a fucking idiot too,” Laam exclaimed, grinning up at him. “You seem to have forgotten our deal, you pretty little fool.”
'Deal...? There was a deal?' Kaoru sought desperately for some coherent thought as his lungs burned with a need for air.
The world started to blur at the edges, slowly dissolving into water-colored streams of light. His body went limp as he began to tread the thin line between conscious and unconscious. At the last second, Laam reared back and hurled him off into the darkness of the world to which he had been confined for what seemed like years but in reality was only weeks.
His body collided with the water's surface, but it didn't even give a little to provide a softer landing. It was like hitting solid concrete. He yelped softly, pain once again spreading out from his stomach now joined by his aching body.
Kaoru lay still, his eyes closed, his chest rising and falling as he panted for air, still somewhat on that unsteady verge of passing out.
“I'm not feeling the least bit merciful tonight,” Laam called to him.
He didn't answer. Saying anything more would probably only make what was coming hurt more, and he didn't want that if he could avoid it.
But nothing came. Silence permeated the air, disturbed only by his pained panting. He waited, hesitant to open his eyes to find out what was coming. Still, nothing came. Then, another voice spoke, shattering the quiet of the atmosphere.
“What the...? Kaoru, is that you?”
Kaoru's eyes snapped open wide as he realized that he knew the voice, knew its owner. Even after such a long time apart, he could never forget it. A sick feeling of fear stirred in his aching stomach, and he jolted as if he'd been struck again. At that moment, he would have given anything to be able to wake up and escape this nightmare.
“It is you,” the voice spoke again, this time closer than before.
Kusa's face entered his field of vision. He looked a bit different as an arrancar, but he still had the same earthen brown hair and ember orange eyes. Kaoru winced, an image of his brother's zombie briefly flashing through his mind as he recalled another such encounter. Compared to that time, this wasn't quite as bad, but this was the meeting he had been dreading since learning what had become of his younger brother after his death.
His mouth opened, but he discovered that his voice had vanished. He couldn't speak. But then, what could he possibly say to his brother?
'It's... it's not really him... This is just his dream self. Laam must've brought him here because I kept mouthing off to him... Damn it...'
“How odd. Usually in my dreams, you're more active and you always try to hug me or apologize for the past. But now you can't even talk?” Kusa mused to himself, apparently under the impression that this dream was nothing outside of the ordinary.
That thought had not occurred to Kaoru up until that point. Maybe Kusa didn't need to know that they were closer to each other than he believed. It wasn't much of a break, but it was the only one he was sure he'd get this time around.
“I... I'm sorry, Kusa...” he said, his voice coming out broken as well as painfully honest and convincing. “I never meant to let you get hurt...”
He felt hot tears brimming in his eyes as his vision blurred once more.
For a moment, Kusa seemed at a loss. But then he proceeded to slam his sandaled foot down on his brother's midsection.
Kaoru cried out, immediate pain searing through his body. He felt sick again and turned on his side, struggling past his tears to breathe again.
“You have no right to beg for forgiveness,” Kusa said, watching his sibling writhe on the ground. “It was all your fault. You should be seeking to atone for your sin.”
“You're right...” Kaoru panted, coughing and cringing as another wave of pain flooded through him. “I should have been there... I could have saved you or at least died in your place... I would have done... anything to see you safe... and alive... but... I didn't know... I'm sorry, so sorry...”
“Liar,” Kusa spat, that single word dripping with malice. “After the academy, everyone else mattered more to you. Especially that redhead. I'll never understand what the hell was so special about him. He was a total asshole to you and still you showered him with your attention and affection. I didn't even exist while you were in love.”
Kaoru lay still on the ground, tears streaming down his face as he listened to Kusa's stinging comments. Every one of them was another stabbing blade of guilt that drove itself in deep. Before long, he was shaking, his whole body trembling uncontrollably.
Sorrow, despair, overwhelming sadness and guilt ate away at him, so much so that he shut down. In that moment, he couldn't even function. He was nothing more than a painfully raw bundle of nerves.
“I tell you this every time I see you in my dreams and only now it sinks in? No pitiful attempt to defend your beloved? No attempting to push the blame off on others? No begging at my feet to forgive you? What the hell has changed?” Kusa demanded, crossing his arms over his chest.
Kaoru didn't answer him or rather, couldn't answer him.
The arrancar sighed, delivering a none-too gentle nudge with his foot to his brother's body, prodding him for some sort of response.
'Is that... how you really felt...? And I never realized...' he thought helplessly. 'You wanted my attention and I ignored you? But I... I would never... or did I... I can't remember anymore...'
“Kusa... please...” he rasped, reaching out with one shaking arm to take hold of his brother's leg. “I'm sorry... I'm sorry if I was selfish... I'm sorry if I was neglectful... I'm sorry if I ever made you feel insignificant in any way... I'm sorry I wasn't a good brother to you... and I... I would do anything to make it up to you... even lay down my life for the taking... if that's what you want...”
'If this is really the only way to atone... then I have no choice...'
Kusa paused briefly, watching him while he mulled over everything in his mind. However, he suddenly kicked his brother's arm away, stomping his foot down on Kaoru's hand as well.
Kaoru screamed, feeling the bones splinter and fracture underneath the crushing weight.
“You're pathetic,” he said, disgusted.
“The Kaoru I remember would never have given up his life so easily, never thrown it away so selfishly without regard as to how other people would feel about it. It's not noble to throw your life away, it's cowardice to the extreme. You know how it feels to lose someone close to you. The feelings you had when I died, they'll become the feelings of all those who know you if you just up and hand over your life to the sword of an enemy. You've changed, I don't even know you anymore. I hate you.”
Kaoru gasped softly, the tears still trailing down his cheeks as he looked up at his younger brother's face, seeing an expression of pure hatred and disgust.
'He's right... Oh, God, he's right about all of it... What have I done? What have I become? Who am I now?'
“You're not even worth the effort of killing,” Kusa said, removing his foot from his sibling's hand. “I had so hoped you would fight me up until your last breath so that I might have had the pleasure of stealing it from you with my own two hands. But you're just a weak, cowardly insect now.”
“I...” Kaoru used his good arm to push himself up into a sitting position. He cradled his injured hand against his chest whilst searching for words that did not wish to come. Even he had to admit that he too was sickened by the person he had become.
“I couldn't help who I fell in love with... no more than I could control my own birth...” he started, turning a pair of dark saffron eyes up to his brother.
“When you died, I was broken. I thought I'd never be myself again. But so many people helped me to grow and pick up the pieces of myself one by one. I thought that I was doing something good by trying to protect everyone I cared about, so I would never have to know true loss and suffering again. But you are right... all of this has only been the product of selfish and cowardly behavior.'
“I've never had the courage or confidence to be a true leader... and I've been content with the way things are for far too long. But you are right again... This has to change. I have to change. I don't know how, I don't know what exactly I want to become, but I'm certain it will be better than this. I can't do that... if I let someone, even you, kill me.”
Kaoru struggled to get up on his own two feet again, ignoring the pain from his injuries and that little seed of doubt that had long since taken root in his heart and mind. He stood up, panting from the effort, but standing nonetheless. He fixed his brother with a determined gaze.
“I'm not going to let you kill me!” he shouted. “Not in a dream and not in real life either!”
Kusa actually appeared somewhat pleased, but the smile was still absent from his face.
“We'll just see about that then, won't we.”
A familiar voice shattered the dream, releasing him from it.
Kaoru's eyes snapped open and he sat up a bit too quickly, nearly falling out of his chair, just barely catching himself in time to avoid ending up on the floor.
His heart was pounding against his rib cage, his breathing coming in rapid panting, and he couldn't shake the feelings of fear and anxiety. But at least he was awake now, though there wasn't much relief in that either.
He slowly looked around, coming to realize that he had fallen asleep in his office. His gaze traveled down to the floor where he had dropped Hana. Leaning down, he retrieved his sword and moved to set it on his desk. But what he saw on his desk caused him to freeze on the spot.
A small spatter of bright red blood sat in the center of the polished wood.
He raised a trembling hand to his face, his mouth, and his fingers came away with fresh blood on them. His eyes widened as he saw it.
'Damn it... this has never happened before. Is his influence getting stronger? Did that old injury start acting up while I was sleeping?'
'Kaoru, are you okay? That bastard was keeping me out,' Hanamaru called for his attention again.
'I think... I'm going to go to the Fourth division.'
Kaoru ignored any more questions from his zan-spirit and stood up, promptly sliding Hana through his obi before making his way to the door of his office.
'This is bad... What am I going to do? The pain isn't just a phantom pain anymore, and this time I'm bleeding...' he thought, fretting as he headed toward the Fourth division.
'I have to get some help.'
03-26-2013, 10:08 AM
Chapter 26: Fighting for One's Own Sake
“Kaoru? What's wrong?” Hijiri wasted no time in discarding the pile of laundry he'd been holding and immediately rushed over to the taichou's side as he wandered in, looking a little worse for wear. The bit of blood on Kaoru's uniform was more than enough cause for concern.
Kaoru fell heavily against the nearby wall, using it to remain upright as he tried to keep from coughing. He turned his head to look at Hijiri, wondering how he was going to explain the situation. Logic told him that people didn't normally receive injuries from dreams or people in them, and it sounded insane even to him. But he had to tell the Fourth's fukutaichou something.
“I'm not sure,” he lied, his voice low and careful. “Just woke up and starting coughing up blood... I think it might be an old injury still causing me problems.” That part was the truth at least.
“Come with me,” Hijiri took hold of his arm, supporting him while guiding him toward an empty examination room in that wing of the clinic. On the way, he caught a passing healer and sent her off with orders to gather his medic team and send them back to him.
“Can you tell me more about this injury?” he asked, carefully helping Kaoru to sit down on the end of the bed.
“Um...” Kaoru closed his eyes, thinking for a moment. “I know I was impaled through my chest once, and it nicked one of my lungs, I think... I don't think that particular injury ever healed as it should have, and then it happened again... a repeat of the same injury in the same place. That's probably what caused this mess to happen...”
“Are you telling me you didn't come here to get either of those wounds healed right after they happened!?” Hijiri demanded, raising his voice uncharacteristically.
“N-no...” Kaoru stammered, flinching back from the healer's wrath. He wondered if he was about to be slapped again. “I, I mean, I... well, I passed out after each of those times and so... I think my friends brought me here for treatment, but... somehow, that injury just never healed correctly and it's starting to cause more trouble...”
“Has this happened before? Tell me now,” Hijiri pressed, his anger coming off of him in waves. “If this has happened more than once and you never came here to be healed, then you're still an idiot.”
'So it would seem, Hijiri-kun.' Kaoru had to admit that the fukutaichou was indeed right about that. “I... yes, this has happened once or twice before... and... I just never got around to coming here... I thought that it would heal itself in time...”
“Idiot!” Hijiri shouted, grabbing Kaoru by the shoulders. “This just means we'll need to take more extreme measures now. It means you'll need to have surgery, so that we can see how much damage has been done and how much of that has healed improperly, and then we'll have to correct that and heal it all over again.” The boy heaved a frustrated sigh.
“I'm sorry,” Kaoru said, feeling the stirrings of guilt in his heart. “Hijiri-kun, I'm sorry that I'm such a pain in the ass sometimes. I don't mean to cause you so much trouble... or anyone else. I'm sorry...” His sentence ended as a coughing fit began. He raised a hand to his mouth, trying to keep from making a bit mess inside the room.
Fortunately, Hijiri's medic team filed into the room shortly after, each standing ready to receive their orders. Hijiri threw a few quick words over his shoulder, along the lines of “wash your hands, put on your gloves,” and so forth, followed by a brief explanation of what they would be doing after everyone was sterilized and ready.
Though he was struggling to regain his breath without drowning in his own blood, Kaoru managed to hear most of what went on. However, as Hijiri carefully secured a gas mask over his face, he breathed through his nose and inhaled deeply a few times. He remembered slowly falling into a blissful darkness that was sleep.
One brief moment seemed to last an hour as his mind reveled in the simple darkness. There were no arrancars waiting for him, hunting him, tormenting him. No nightmares of tragic events from his past. Nothing but a calm reprieve, an escape from everything.
“He is right, you know. You really are an idiot sometimes.” Hanamaru's voice ghosted through his mind. It was still a thousand times better than hearing Laam's voice, he reasoned.
“Yeah... I've been aware of that for a while now.”
“Yet you still continue to do foolish things that don't benefit anyone and instead cause the reverse effect. Why is that?”
“... I don't know.” That was perhaps the most honest thing he had said all day. He couldn't for the life of him think of one possible reason as to why he continued putting himself in danger when there wasn't a single person whom he cared for that benefited from it.
“Regardless, it stops now. All of it stops now. Do you understand me?”
“... How do I stop it, though...?”
Kaoru's inner world appeared before his eyes in a flash. He was sitting in the field, in the shadow of the sole cherry blossom tree, watching its petals flutter through the air. His attire had changed. Rather than his taichou's haori, he was dressed in a very plain blue yukata, his hair tied back in a ponytail.
“This is different,” he observed quietly, examining his clothing before looking around a bit. “Hana, you haven't answered me. How do I change it?”
“You know the problem, don't you? You might have a wealth of spiritual energy and strength, but you completely lack the will to use it unless you're fighting for someone else. You never bother to think about yourself and your own well being.”
Hanamaru materialized in front of him, wearing a look of pure disapproval. “Ever since that arrancar showed up, he's made that part of you worse. You won't even stand up for yourself, and look where it's landed you. It's time you learned to start fighting for your own sake, because no one else is going to fight this battle for you.”
“Fight for myself...?” Kaoru's head tilted to the side slightly, staring curiously up at his zan-spirit. “But, Hana, my purpose is to protect.”
Hanamaru's steel fan cut through the air, swiftly hitting Kaoru on top of his head, causing the taichou to yelp in both surprise and pain. “Stop being such a dumbass!” he yelled. “Pardon my language, but seriously, start using that brain of yours already. If you get yourself killed because you were too pathetic to defend yourself, then who the hell is going to protect them? If you want to help them, then help yourself first. Did you learn nothing from what your brother said to you in that dream?”
Saffron eyes widened. Kusa's words replayed through his mind. 'He... did say something along those lines... but he put it differently.'
“You're right,” Kaoru murmured softly, nodding once. “I need to get stronger, to build and fortify that will, to start pushing back...”
“Then get up off your ass, and fight me.”
The taichou was visibly taken aback by the sudden challenge from his zan-spirit. He blinked, wondering what in the world had gotten into Hanamaru to make him speak and act that way. Then he wondered if it was perhaps Hana's way of reacting to his weakness, his way of assisting the other half of his soul in his time of crisis and need.
'For him to be behaving that way must mean I have become a terrible master...'
“Oh,” he said, momentarily at a loss for anything more intelligent to respond with. “Yes, okay. But, I will need my weapon.”
Hanamaru nodded, the nodachi, his sealed form, suddenly appearing on the ground beside Kaoru. He then lowered both of his arms to the sides, two of the much larger bankai blades appearing in his hands. Kaoru quickly grasped his nodachi and stood up, issuing a protest.
“Hey! How come you get those and I get your sealed form?” he demanded, half-pouting and half-trying to appear angry.
“Because in order to make sure you're really trying to defend yourself, I'm going to try and kill you, and these weapons will make that easier for me and harder for you,” Hana answered simply.
Kaoru stared at his zan-spirit in disbelief, nodachi hanging loosely in his grip. “...you what?”
“Did I not make myself clear?” the spirit asked. He brandished one of his swords. “Get ready, dumbass.”
In the blink of an eye, their fight began.
03-26-2013, 10:16 AM
Chapter 27: There's A New Light...
The off-white sky of Kaoru's inner world was filled with sakura petals, hundreds of them gliding and swaying on an unseen breeze that gently brushed against his skin in a comforting caress.
However, Kaoru noted with lament that there weren't as many blossoms as there had been before. Ever since he had started receiving almost nightly visits from a certain blond Arrancar, he had also noticed a decline in the number of sakura that usually filled the sky enough that it appeared pink instead of white. He had also noticed that the tree which bore the endless blossoms seemed to be looking frail, as if it were starting to whither somewhat, a thought which disturbed and concerned him. If the single tree in his world were to die, then there would be no more flowers. He shuddered to think what might happen to Hanamaru as well, if that tree were to die.
For the moment, he was sitting in the dark purple grass that grew around the tree's base, resting his back against the trunk of the tree, watching as the sakura drifted by on the breeze while relaxing in the shade. He didn't need to look to know that Hanamaru was seated in the same manner he was opposite of him, also resting against the trunk, probably with his fan laying closed in his lap. Each time the breeze touched him, he could feel that that was Hana's way of trying to comfort and sooth him, and it made him smile softly.
Hanamaru had not gone easy on him at all during their last confrontation. Truth be told, Kaoru considered himself lucky to have survived, considering that the zanpakutou spirit had been wielding his own Bankai against him while all he had were the twin blades of his Shikai to defend himself with. True to his word, Hana had indeed tried to kill him; there was still a small, paper-thin cut across Kaoru's throat where he had very nearly suffered decapitation at the hands of his own Bankai. He had come within a hairsbreadth of dying, but had come away from the training that much stronger for surviving it. This gave him a small feeling of pride, and of gratitude toward his spirit. Hanamaru truly did have his best interest at heart.
Yet, even after surviving the bout with Hana, Kaoru felt as though he needed to reflect on his past for a while, before actually entering into another confrontation with the Arrancar who was still pursuing him. So he sat quietly within his inner world, letting his mind dive deep into his thoughts and memories.
He had left his home behind, refused the life of a Noble, and entered the Academy in search of a life that seemed more fulfilling. At that time, he had believe that becoming a Shinigami would grant him a better life than that one he'd had. Such was the ignorant bliss of a child who knew nothing of how the real world worked. Although he possessed the potential to become a Shinigami, he had quickly discovered that he lacked the heart and soul to live up to the standards of what was required of a Shinigami; a fact which made Kaoru wince.
In his early Academy years, he had attempted to defend those who were bullied or picked on, mostly commoners from the Rukongai, as well as his own younger brother, and stand up to those who did the bullying, mostly Nobles who assumed that they were simply better than everyone else. While his intentions had been good, the end result was that he became the target. Being bullied and harassed had left a few emotional scars, but those paled in comparison to what he'd done to them in return.
Kaito, the evil entity that had tried to guide him in place of Hanamaru, now long since absent from his soul, had first appeared on the night when three Noble boys had cornered Kaoru in a classroom and chopped off his hair, claiming to have removed his Noble crown and made him into another commoner just like the ones he'd defended. Kaoru had given into Kaito's whims and while he couldn't remember killing the boys, he had in fact done so. Three lives, ended, because he had been pathetically weak and unable to stand on his own or endure their teasing. To this day, their deaths still weighed heavy on his heart, even though he had been granted pardon on the grounds of self-defense.
It was only after he had forced Kaito to disappear that he felt he had finally done something right for Hanamaru. Up until that point, he had always felt that he'd failed his zanpakutou spirit, due to the fact that Hanamaru had taken the form of a fan instead of a full-fledged sword. After facing Kaito in a battle for his own soul, and coming out on top as the victor, the fan had transformed into the glorious, gleaming Nodachi that Kaoru wore at his hip in the present day. Hanamaru had never complained, but Kaoru had still striven to do better for his zanpakutou spirit.
Kaoru's potential strength had landed him in the Eleventh division's Third seat. But, ever the weak-willed child playing warrior rather than becoming one, he should have lost that position early on when Sai Amilay had challenged him for it, and he had lost...quite horribly. For some inexplicable reason, Sai had seen fit to let him keep the position in spite of the fact that he'd lost and was fully prepared to hand it over. Perhaps Sai had thought that Kaoru would simply grow into his own strength with time. But he had not been afforded that time.
On his first full-scale mission in the world of the living, when the mission leader had vanished, Kaoru had found himself suddenly thrust into the role of leader without any forewarning or time for preparation. He had done his best, which had inevitably fallen short, and only through some miracle had led the mission through to its end, though that end had been thoroughly unpleasant, in that he had had to kill a Shinigami traitor and their mission leader was found half-dead. Still, it was after that mission that he'd applied to become the new Taichou of Eleventh.
The position had been empty for a long time. Back then, Kaoru wasn't sure how many other applicants had tried to claim the position, but no one had done so, and he thought his chances were the same as anyone else's. Even the Soutaichou himself had pointed out his distinct lack of warrior spirit and yet, in the end Kaoru had been given the position and the haori that went with it. He'd figured that if nothing else, he could at least hold down the fort until someone more qualified came along to take it from him. Or, as was once the case, he gave it away to someone more qualified.
He remembered, and wished he could forget, the fight that he'd had with his Fukutaichou that had led to him finally relinquishing the position of Taichou in a most undignified and unsightly fashion. He had simply tossed his haori and zanpakutou on the ground at his Fukutaichou's feet and shut himself up in his room, believing that he was the most pathetic Shinigami to have ever existed. It was that shocking lack of any self-confidence or self-worth that had then later led him to be caught in an old enemy's trap, and that had allowed him to simply relinquish not only his position, but his life. He had given up, believing he was worth nothing, until his Fukutaichou came to save him and bring him back home, back to the Eleventh division, and put him back in his haori.
However, though Crimson had saved his life and brought him home, he was of the opinion that it was not because Crimson wanted him to be the Taichou; it was more that Crimson simply wanted his best friend to stay close by and never disappear again. The fact that he'd let Kaoru remain the Taichou was simply due to Crimson not wanting the responsibility of that position yet. Still, Kaoru took a measure of comfort in knowing that Crimson at least wanted him to stay where he was.
That aside, he hadn't been able to shake the feeling that there must have been someone more worthy to be the Taichou of Eleventh than himself. Up until quite recently, that had remained his intention; make someone more worthy than himself the new Taichou while he took a lower position that required far less of him, one that would allow him to adjust and move more at his own pace. He had met someone whom he'd thought very, very worthy, someone who seemed perfect, far more so than himself...but...
“You were thinking of giving it to him, weren't you?” Hanamaru spoke from the other side of the tree, his voice gentle and calm.
“Yeah...” Kaoru smiled softly, his eyes half-lidded. “As the Taichou, it was my duty to do what was best for the division as a whole, and...Shadrin is what's best for them, I think...”
More so than anyone else in his life up to that point, Shadrin Kain had had a profound, soul-shattering influence on Kaoru.
More so than his father, who hadn't really connected with him until recently. More so than his dear friends; Crimson and Kimura, who meant the world to him. More so than anyone, quite literally. Kaoru felt himself very fortunate to have his father, adopted younger brother, and his friends, Crimson in particular, but...it was Shadrin Kain who had stepped into his life and led him to realize that he needed to make a very big change, both for their division and for himself, if he was ever going to get better. It was the need for that change that had most likely led Hana to train him again, and why Kaoru now had every intention of confronting and defeating the Arrancar that plagued him.
Kaoru found it just a little funny that, even though Shadrin had roused him into action and had made him see that a change was necessary, and that indeed he needed it, there was no way that that could have been the blond's intention when they'd first fought. Shadrin was simply an honest person, and he'd simply been telling it the way it was, something for which Kaoru had found himself grateful.
“But, now you're thinking something different, aren't you?” Hanamaru inquired, and Kaoru could hear the smile in his tone of voice.
“Yeah...” the purple-haired Taichou repeated the answer again, smiling. “Everyone was kind enough, supportive enough, faithful enough to give me a chance to be the Taichou, and I repaid that faith by being weak and pathetic and making a mockery of the real warriors in our division. I was playing the role, and never really stepped up to be a real warrior. I think, instead of giving up and letting him take things from here, I should get off my ass and be the Taichou I should have been from the beginning. I need to make it up to everyone, and become someone I can be proud of, so that I'm not beating myself up all the damn time.”
“Good,” Hanamaru smiled behind his fan, “very good, indeed. That's what I was hoping to hear. I might have been a tad angry if I had trained you only for nothing to come of it.”
“Don't worry,” Kaoru assured, finally rising to his feet and gently dusting his uniform off. “I promise that my next fight will leave you speechless.” He smiled, ever so slowly fading from his inner world.
The world in which Kaoru next found himself was a dark one.
It was the world that the Arrancar, Laam, had seemingly created especially for him in his subconscious mind, his dreams. There was hardly any light to see by and yet Kaoru could see as clearly as if it were a bright sunny day. He realized that he was standing upon the surface of water so dark that one could not see down into its depths. The water stretched outward in all directions, as if he were standing on a lake of sorts, and that lake ended in utter blackness on all sides. It was cold, depressing, and quiet, and he was determined that this would be the last time he ever visited the place.
If he was in this world, then he knew without a doubt that he would probably be seeing the one who had made it very shortly. Kaoru took in a deep breath, exhaling it slowly to calm and steady himself, before raising his hand and bringing it around to grasp the hilt of his zanpakutou. Hanamaru had indeed accompanied him, apparently more than ready for the both of them to be done with Arrancar and get on with their lives. Kaoru agreed, and slowly drew the Nodachi free of his obi, bringing it forward so that the gleaming blade was parallel with the surface of the water.
And so that the tip of his sword was pointed straight at Laam's chest.
Just as he had expected, the blond Arrancar had shown up almost immediately after he'd arrived. Kaoru regarded him from down the length of his sword.
Laam didn't look to have changed at all since their last meeting. He still had long golden blond hair that appeared full and slightly wavy. His eyes were still two different colors, with the left eye a bright grassy green and the right a warm ocean blue. There was still a thin red scar running down his cheek from the base of his right eye. He was still dressed in his white Arrancar uniform, and his mask fragment was still a small crescent moon of bone on the center of his forehead. The Arrancar still had the ornately crafted longbow made of bone that was his weapon slung across his back.
No, Laam had not changed at all, but Kaoru was pleased that he himself had.
Laam, who had been fussing with a tangle in his hair, finally seemed to notice that Kaoru was pointing a sword at him. His discontent expression darkened, and he narrowed his eyes, leering at the Shinigami from mere yards away. He dropped the strand of hair he'd been trying to fix and folded his arms over his chest, staring at Kaoru intently. It was clear that he was not pleased with the greeting.
“What the hell do you think you're doing?” he asked, his voice edged with blatant contempt. “Shouldn't you be on the ground, begging for me to leave you alone and let you sleep?”
“No,” Kaoru answered immediately, his voice filled with unwavering assuredness. “To be perfectly honest, I'm not taking any more shit from you. I'm not going to grovel on the ground or cry or let you do as you please. All of it ends now.”
Laam stood silent for a moment, apparently taken aback by the Shinigami's declaration or perhaps by his newfound determination, or both. His expression briefly displayed his surprise, before his lips curved into a grin and he sneered, showing his teeth. “Is that right?” he gave a small laugh. “And when, may I ask, did you suddenly grow this new spine?”
“Recently,” Kaoru smiled, pleased to have witnessed his foe's brief surprise. “Actually, I think I've always had the potential to stand on my own, to stand strong, to do what needed doing...but...I lacked the will to do so. I lacked the will to kick someone's ass when it was deserved. At least, I did...now, I find that I'd rather kick your ass and move forward with my life, with the people who want me around, and put my division back on the right track. I'm tired of wasting my time with someone like you.”
“Someone like me?” Laam repeated, raising a golden eyebrow to accompany his inquiry.
“You're even more cowardly than I was,” Kaoru stated, his voice rising in volume just slightly. “You only target people through their dreams. You targeted me because you knew, through my brother, that I had weaknesses that you could exploit. You knew I lacked self-confidence and that I blamed myself for my brother's death. You were using my brother against me, keeping me pinned down. But I'm done being all weak and pathetic and emotional. I'm done letting you take advantage of me.”
Laam closed his eyes and tossed his head back, laughing aloud. He laughed for a span of a few moments before lowering his head, setting his mismatched eyes on the Shinigami once again, and once again, his expression turned dark and he was not pleased. “So, then,” he began, his voice low but with an edge like steel, “does this mean that you don't care about your brother anymore? You don't care if I tell him that you don't care and justify his hatred of you?”
“I really don't care what you tell him,” Kaoru smiled, his head lilting gently to the side. “From the sound of it, he hated me before you ever even came into the picture, and he'll hate me regardless of what you say to him later. But it's okay if Kusa hates me. Whenever I see him, if I see him, I'm going to send him into a different, better, hate-free life where he won't remember me or you. Especially not you.”
That did it; Kaoru saw it in Laam's eyes. The Arrancar had just realized that he no longer held sway over the Shinigami anymore, that Kaoru had somehow shrugged off all of his shackles and had somehow found the will to face him. Fury flashed across his mismatched eyes before they opened a fraction in fear, and Laam unfolded his arms, taking a single step back from the Shinigami. “How...” he growled, baring his canines, “How could a fucking weakling like you have suddenly...” he trailed off, as if he simply could not believe it.
Kaoru felt his smile soften and he righted his head, smiling warmly, or perhaps threateningly, at the Arrancar. “Even when I sunk to the lowest a person can sink, there were still people around me who cared about me and wanted me to remain with them. There are still people I have to protect, promises I have to keep, friends I have to see, people I need to thank, people I need to apologize to, and a job that I have to do. Fuck being scared...I know that I can do that job now. I'm strong, a hell of a lot stronger than you, I'm sure.'
“I guess...I've finally found my will to fight, my courage.”
With a graceful sweep of his arm, Kaoru brought his zanpakutou to his side, and the darkness that covered the dream world like a blanket shattered. The darkness cracked and crumbled like a dome breaking, allowing light to cascade inside. Once the light penetrated the darkness, it began to melt the darkness away, allowing more light to seep in and brighten the world. The dark lake beneath their feet gradually turned from black to a dazzling crystal blue. Within the space of a minute, the world was reformed to reflect the light that Kaoru had found within his own soul.
Visibly panicked by the sudden, overwhelming change to the area, Laam looked around in shock, his mismatched eyes wider than they had been before. Eventually, he looked back at Kaoru, visibly trembling from head to toe. Deciding that now was a good time to take hold of his weapon, he reached for his bow, but he stopped short as the Shinigami spoke again, still wearing his warm smile.
“Bakkudou Sixty-One: Rikujyoukourou,” Kaoru raised his hand, his palm facing Laam, before six large beams of light suddenly slammed into the Arrancar's waist with such force that it wrenched a gasp from him, and he was left pinned in place by the spell. “Sorry,” Kaoru murmured, lowering his hand before raising his sword, “I'm not pulling my punches today.'
“Shine in the Heavens, Shirotsuki Hanamaru.”
The moment the words left his lips, the Taichou's spiritual pressure soared to staggering levels and he was enveloped in a pure, warm, bright light. Laam gasped again, the breath knocked from his lungs by the sudden mountain of spiritual pressure crushing down on him, and he barely managed to turn his head away from the blinding light. However, escape was very much impossible, due to the spell.
The light began to fade, and it eventually revealed Kaoru. His shihakushou and haori had disappeared. He was now dressed in a pair of dark blue hakama that flowed freely around his ankles, a matching kimono with large flowing sleeves up top, a pure white obi tied around his waist, simple sandals, and a long, flowing purple haori that was draped over it all. His hair remained flowing freely, swaying in the wind that accompanied his Bankai.
Twenty massive black swords, each the size of an average man and each with a different style of blade, now hovered in the air space surrounding Kaoru, floating freely without needing to be held. As Laam finally looked back at the Shinigami, the color drained from his face, and he shuddered in obvious terror at seeing the swords which surrounded Kaoru. Kaoru reached out a hand and grasped the handle of one of the swords, bringing the massive blade down to point it at the Arrancar.
“Why do you look so afraid?” he inquired, smiling. “This is just a dream, right? Even if I kill you here, you won't actually die, will you? Whatever... I suppose it's satisfying to see you cowering for once.”
“Please...” Laam rasped out, trembling as he stared at the Shinigami.
Kaoru sighed, the smile fading from his expression. His eyes, normally a bright saffron, darkened to a much deeper shade of purple, as he watched the Arrancar. “Get out of my dreams, get out of my head, get out of my life altogether, and never come back. Don't even think about bothering any of my friends either, because I will know if you do. Now...die.”
The purple-haired Shinigami raised the sword he held and brought it down, swiftly cutting through the air. It was the signal that sent the other nineteen blades soaring forward through the air, toward the immobilized Arrancar. The sounds of flesh being sliced open, bones snapping, organs rupturing, and Laam screaming in sheer agony filled the dream world. Blood poured in a small waterfall down into the lake beneath their feet, staining the water an unpleasant red. Kaoru looked away, a gentle breeze playing with his hair and caressing his cheek.
He closed his eyes, and the dream world, along with everything in it, vanished instantly.
Kaoru awoke to find himself laying in his bed, in his room, in his home, in his division...right where he should have been. For the first time in quite a while, he woke up smiling, instead of crying or screaming in frustration or trying to breathe. Although it could have just been his imagination, in the back of his head he thought he had felt Laam being jarred awake and falling out of his bed all the way in Hueco Mundo. He smiled, knowing full well that he had officially resolved his problem.
Later that night, the arena within the Eleventh division was destroyed.
Spiritual pressure, so high and heavy, and purple, that there was little doubt that it belonged to the Taichou manifested itself as a towering pillar of purple energy situated in the center of the arena and stretched towards the sky. The pillar generated gale force winds, and the spiritual pressure was so strong that it actually shattered the thick stone walls of the arena and caused them to crumble into mere piles of rubble. Indeed, the unleashing of such spirit energy had probably woken every single Shinigami within the division who was not already awake at that time.
After a minute or so, the energy began to dissolve and disappear, along with the wind. The area within the decimated arena began to settle, and Kaoru stood in its center, wielding one of the massive swords that made up his Bankai. The blade of the sword he held appeared to be surrounded by a miniature twister that lashed out with gale force winds. Kaoru smiled, easily swinging the enhanced weapon as if it weren't a massive thing with a dangerous tornado attached to it.
“Fang Blade Rage...” he murmured softly, speaking aloud for the first time the name of his newly learned second Bankai ability.
“You do realize that you've just leveled the arena, don't you?” Hanamaru sounded rather pleased despite this.
“I'm not worried,” Kaoru laughed softly, proceeding to reseal all twenty of the twister-wielding blades of his Bankai back into the Nodachi that he normally carried. He reverently slid the Nodachi back into his obi. “After all, we can have it rebuilt. It'll be a new canvas for everyone to etch their strength into.”
The Shinigami felt rather than saw his zanpakutou spirit smile at the statement.
Stretching his arms above his head with a soft sigh and lowering them back to his sides, Kaoru then made his way out of the center of the arena and walked over to a pile of rubble that looked as if it could serve as a chair or perhaps a throne of sorts. Smiling, he sat down and inclined his head backward just slightly, staring up at the stars that glistened in the night sky above.
“Just think, Hana,” he murmured quietly, “if I've become this strong just by trying to protect those I care about, then just imagine how strong I'll become now that I actually know what I have to do as the Taichou of this division.”
“I'm sure you'll reach the stars someday.” Hanamaru answered him.
“Yeah...” Kaoru laughed softly, smiling up at the stars.
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